Tag Archives: affirmation

What Is

Some pretty incredible things happened this weekend. Potentially life-altering types of incredible things, and it was capped off by this epiphany:

My adult thought-life has been a battle of a) “What might have been” versus b) “What is”, when it needs to be a dance involving b) “What is” and c) “What might still yet be.”

From the time I started taking lessons on the drums in second grade through high school, playing music was an integral part of my life. I wasn’t the most disciplined kid when it came to practicing, but I was gifted. I won lots of awards, was first chair in the Maryland All-State Band for three years straight, et cetera, et cetera.

When I graduated high school in 1994, my life seemed pretty planned out. I was accepted into the music department at the University of Maryland campus, I was in a band with some good friends, and we had just recorded our first album. I was a drummer. Life was great.

However, through an unexpected set of events that I’ll leave to explain at another time, God made it plain to me that there was a much different plan that I should adopt instead. I packed up my stuff, left my plans behind, and moved back to where I was born in northern Indiana.

To this day, I’m convinced that decision was the best one for me to make. However, when I chose to move to Indiana instead of attending the University of Maryland to study music, my mind started comparing my life from two different perspectives: a) What might have been, and b) What is.

“What might have been” was that, if I’d studied music, I would have been spending hours of every day practicing.

Honing my craft.

Pursuing more opportunities to play.

Becoming a better drummer.

“What is” was that I was someone who didn’t have time to do any of those things because I needed to work to make ends meet. Thankfully, music didn’t completely disappear from my life, but I didn’t feel like I could focus on drumming.

Because of that, for all of my adult life, I haven’t felt like a drummer. I’ve been someone who enjoyed playing the drums, but if you were to ask me what I do, I would not respond with, “I’m a drummer.”

Whenever I’ve played, I’ve been comparing my actual, “What is” skill level, technique, and style with the “What might have been” fantasy drummer that went to college, majored in music performance, and made music my full-time pursuit.

My entire adult life, I’ve considered myself to be about half the drummer that I could have been if I’d gone to college. I’ve never been able to measure up with the fantasy in my head. “What might have been” Drummer versus “What is” Drummer has been a mental war that I’ve been fighting for over 20 years now, and “What is” Drummer has never had a chance of winning that war.

Over the past few years, I’ve been drawn toward practicing more, improving my playing, and to “get ready.” Playing and recording for my wife, Nikki Lerner, has opened up opportunities to perform alongside some phenomenal talents, both nationally and even globally. It’s been an incredible experience, but I haven’t felt worthy of the opportunities, because I’ve constantly been comparing myself to what might have been.

This past week, Nikki celebrated her 40th birthday by holding a free concert. She invited our friend Mark Lettieri, one of the guitarists for Snarky Puppy, to come play with us, and even to open the evening with a set of his own music.

And Mark agreed.

Because he’d be flying in from Dallas, Nikki offered for our band to be his backing band for the evening.

And Mark agreed.

To let me play the drums for his set. The set of a two-time Grammy award winning guitarist, who’s played with a ridiculous number of world-class musicians. And now me. Wait, what?

I immediately had a mental list of a dozen drummers locally who would absolutely crush Mark’s set. But I kept that list to myself, decided to accept the challenge, and immediately began praying that I had chosen wisely.

I practiced my ass off for weeks in preparation, because I knew that I had one shot. I wasn’t just doing this so Mark would be pleased with our performance. I was doing it so that I might finally win the war.

The show was this past Friday night. Not only did I not pee myself (which was a victory in and of itself), but it was a rare moment when I was actually proud of how I performed. And we even got to play with him again on Saturday for a clinic that he held in the area. And again on Sunday for our church’s services.

It. Felt. Great.

You see, throughout the years, people have often spoken to me quite kindly about how much they appreciate my playing. People whose opinions I highly respect and value. I’ve thanked them, of course, but my internal response has always been, “Well, if you could only see what might have been, you’d realize how flawed your opinion is.”

What this weekend has helped me realize is this:

Everyone that I’ve ever played with, and everyone that has ever complimented me, has no idea about “What might have been.” They’ve only ever seen and heard “What is.”

“What is” was worthy of appreciation in their eyes.

“What is” was enough for me to be chosen to play some incredible music with some incredible people, throughout my life and especially this weekend.

There is no “What might have been” to anyone else. There is only “What is” and “What might still yet be.”

I am a drummer.

So I’ll keep practicing and working on honing my skills. Because this story isn’t over yet. It is, and has only ever been, “What is” and “What might still yet be.”

May we all keep striving to move what is toward what might still yet be, and stop trying to compare it with what might have been… because it doesn’t even exist.

l-r: Mark Lettieri, Nikki Lerner, Stephen Waddy (in the back), me, David Phillips
l-r: Mark Lettieri, Nikki Lerner, Stephen Waddy (in the back), me, David Phillips

When We’re Alone

I cannot count how many times I’ve been writing something over the past couple of weeks (throughout my life?) and the fear in my head says, “So what?  Why are you even writing this?  What do you even have to say about this that’s worth mentioning?  What do you think you can accomplish with this?  Why bother?”

And the first answer that I always come up with is, “I don’t know.”

So I stop.  I lose focus, I lose sight of the trail I was following toward whatever point I was hoping to make, and I stop.

There are a number of drafts that are saved on my blog that haven’t been published, and countless more ideas that I haven’t written, because I’ve questioned myself, lost my nerve, and stopped before they were done or even started.

Even though I’ve already launched this site, and even though a lot of folks have told me how much they appreciate what I’ve been writing…

I’m still not sure I should be doing this.

Purchasing the domain name for this site was a complete spur-of-the-moment, do-it-before-you-lose-your-nerve-and-back-out-of-this decision.

I’ve taken such a long time learning to believe that maybe I have something worth saying.

Sometimes I am so unsure of what I’m even trying to say when I sit down and start writing.

I don’t feel like a writer.


I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that stop me.

Because I know I’m not alone… and neither are you.

We’re not alone in doubting our skills, our voice, our life.

We’re not alone in feeling lost sometimes.

We’re not alone in feeling stuck sometimes.

We’re not alone when we feel like we’re in way over our heads.

We’re not alone when we feel like we’re stumbling around in the dark sometimes.

We’re not alone when we feel like it’s taking far too long to learn life’s lessons.

We’re not alone in feeling like we have a world of questions but so very few (if any) solid answers…

That’s why I’m writing, and that’s why we all have to keep going, keep doing what we can’t not do.  To keep asking questions, and sharing any answers we may stumble upon.  To keep reminding ourselves that we’re not alone, and to keep reminding each other that they’re not alone, either.

Because we’re all on this long road of life together.

Celebrating the Underdog

There is no feeling in the world quite like seeing people that you know and care about doing what they love to do.  So last March, Nikki and I drove down to Roanoke, VA with a group of our friends to see the band Snarky Puppy film a live recording.

The night was magical, and featured some great singers, including the legendary Lalah Hathaway, who shocked everyone in the room when she sang entire chords.

By herself.

That’s three notes coming out of one throat at the same time.

Just let that sink in for a second.

She even had the guys in the band tripping out when she did that, as you’ll see in the video:

Continue reading Celebrating the Underdog

The Discipline of Change

In my last post, I revealed that a t-shirt was the catalyst for the changes I’ve started making over the past two years.

One deliberate shift in my behavior (what I was eating) caused me to fit in a new t-shirt.  That was the first small step I took in realizing that, even after countless years of believing otherwise, change was indeed possible.

And a few months after that, as the Earth’s odometer flipped from A.D. 2011 to 2012, I found myself a hundred pounds lighter and in desperate need of a new wardrobe.  So we put the money into new clothes, considering it a worthwhile (and necessary) investment.

When we make big changes in our life, it’s tempting to hang on to things from our pre-change world.  You know, just in case things don’t work out.  But I didn’t want to give myself that parachute.

Continue reading The Discipline of Change

Slow Progress

With the milestone of my 30th birthday looming on the horizon, my wife Nikki decided to seize the opportunity and bring me some much needed encouragement.

She invited a number of our friends and family to pool their resources and get a special gift for me.  Then on my birthday, she gathered a number of those friends (and even some family from Indiana) to surprise me with a party.

During the party, Nikki asked some folks to say a few words to me.  Words of affirmation, words to breathe life into me.  Afterward,  she presented me with my gift.
Continue reading Slow Progress