diego santamaria.

Pornography is like digging. You keep doing it believing you’ll strike gold someday.

Pornography was a piece of flesh and like a school of piranhas we attacked it. One of my friends started and then the rest of us, as if on cue, followed suit. I always thought it was separated from reality, just something to watch and engage in behind closed doors. But it permeated my life and next thing I knew my interactions with girls was a surreal experience, almost just like seeing her through my computer screen.

When I was 21 years-old I messed around with a woman in her thirties. In one of our escapades is when I heard that still, small voice: What are you doing?

***

New Life.

Diego sits on his bedroom’s mattress as he hears the words, sees the three-story building, imagines what goes on within the walls.

Motorcycles and cars motor through the narrow streets, dodging the huecos, as the Costa Rican sun sets below the clear horizon. Dogs bark, children kick and scream, women haggle, chicken cluck. The 22 year-old’s keyboard sits, tantalizing him. He gives in. The music will ease my mind.

New Life.

His fingers skim past the keys as the notes melt together to produce healing. The distraction works. He remembers a composition he’s been working on and comes to the part that always stumps him. He pauses. Tries again, slower this time. He carefully listens to the part in his mind’s ear, his fingers stumble.

New Life.

Food. Food always helps in these situations. He scampers into the kitchen, looks for leftovers. Chips, salsa, anything. He grabs a pop. And some crackers. Hurries back into his room eager to be inspired by the food’s creative power.

New Life.

The time has slipped away. The part has been overcome by repetition and he is writing it down, recording it so he remembers how to play it. His phone dings. Natalea.

“New Life?”

Diego pauses. Feels the street’s noise travel through the black air as it turns to white noise and lulls him into thought — but the thoughts take him nowhere. They just maze into a central question: yes or no. And since it’s been nagging him for so long, he answers yes.

He leaves his piano and snacks behind. Off to discover what makes this building in San Jose called New Life so important.

***

I knew I was in the right spot when I saw a building with three floors: the first two floors had no lights turned on, the third one did. The sign said something like ‘all welcome,’ or ‘Jesus is Lord.’ This was it.

As I climbed the flight of stairs, the muffled sounds became more clear. Piano. Guitar. Drums. Bass. Voices. I’ve experienced this before, shouldn’t be so bad. It’s Christian worship music and people are singing together — maybe raising their hands.

When I approached the door, the music changed. It was one voice. One piano. It was like the air changed with the music. It became harder to breathe, thicker. I peered through the door’s glass pane and witnessed the source of the sound. It was a guy, around my age. He was singing softly, carefully. Others were surrounding him, eyes shut, arms raised. Girls’ makeup streaked down their cheeks. Hands were laid on other people. And the people were dressed like goths, punks — non-churchgoers. The scene was unlike any I’ve seen.

Something intense was happening and I was standing on the outside, right on the edge, wanting to experience it but knowing it might make me feel naked and exposed. People might see who I am inside and they might not like what they find. I think God is what is happening inside this place. These people are overcome by something. The air is heavier.

Again the question: yes or no.

Yes.

I walked in and instantly my onlooker eyes welled up. My locked heart clicked open and my working lungs relaxed and my ears accepted the sounds.

So this is what it was like to strike gold. I finally found the something deeper. 

***

My dad bought my brother a little kid’s keyboard/piano to play with because he was interested in music. My brother never played it, though. I did. At seven, I started tinkering around with it, not knowing it would serve as my primary tool of expression and means of making a living.

When I was 10, I started getting lessons and five years later decided to apply to a music academy and I made it in. Music was a competition at that age. I was always competing against my classmates — each song we learned was a chance to prove myself and everyone else that I had chops. And I did.

Just two years in to being in the academy, my teacher asked if I’d like to teach smaller children because he noticed my bend for making children laugh. I agreed and then I started learning that music was not only for me — I had to share it.

Two years in to teaching various classes within the academy I got a job at another small school for four to 12-year-olds.

Piano was my life. I studied its masters, the intricacies behind their discoveries and I dummied it down so the children could understand. I also played my own music in my own way with a jazz band I had joined when I was 19-years-old. It gave me the chance to step outside the classroom and try new things and to make my music my music.

Music was always my way of escaping and becoming a master of my own world. But it still wasn’t the gold I was after.

Three months after teaching in the small school, I moved on to a Catholic school of 400 students where I taught in tandem with a friend for three years before moving to the United States to marry my Emily.

***

That night at New Life changed my perspective on music’s purpose forever. Up until that point, my music ability was something I used to fit in to the world. Now it was something God used to help me and others fit into His world.

I didn’t realize it, but the pornography I watched with my friends as a young teenager morphed when I realized it wasn’t good for me to watch it anymore. The new pornography was my infatuation with my piano playing skills. And just like the kind you watch alone in the dark on your computer, it left me empty. No matter how much I loved and adored it.

I started playing piano in New Life’s worship band shortly after that first night. I remember the first time I played vividly:

My keyboard weighed heavy in my arms as I lugged it up the three flights of stairs. After plugging everything in, the worship leader announced we weren’t playing any music that night. He felt as though the Holy Spirit was leading them to pray and hang out together. That’s when I got it.

Worship isn’t about playing music. Worship is about bearing our hearts to the Lord.

*Author’s Note:

Diego and Emily Santamaria got married October 2014 in a small church in Tiffin, Ohio. They now live in Mansfield, Ohio where they attend Berean Baptist Church. They both teach a Sunday School class of fourth graders every Sunday. Diego also plays piano and keys for the worship band. They are both also active members of Awakening Ministries Inc., a ministry aimed at reaching out to young adults in the area. Emily teaches Spanish at Lexington High School and Diego is a music teacher for Richland Academy of the Arts.  

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