WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! My music teacher’s directing stick beat out an impatient staccato beat against the metal music stand. “Someone is still singing off key and we are going to get to the bottom of this!”
I loved to sing but I hated my junior high music class and the teacher’s pronouncement gave me the shivers. She began in the front row with the sopranos and made each girl sing solo the last line of the Olivia Newton John song we had just practiced. She moved through the sopranos dismissing each singer quickly as she searched for her culprit.
I wiped my sweating palms nervously as it drew closer to my turn.
“Now you,” she pointed at me then gave me my key on the piano.
Breathing deep I began, “but now there’s nowhere to hide, since you pushed….” “Stop! Stop! Listen to your key!” She pounded the corresponding piano note once more and I tried my best to absorb that note into my chest, my mind, my vocal chords my lungs wherever it need to be to please her. “Now try again from the top!”
“NO! NO! NO! You’re not listening and you have to sing from your diaphragm!” She marched over to me and stuck her finger into the area of my chest that held my obviously defective, offensive diaphragm. “From there. Try again.”
My girlfriends close to me shifted sympathetically as she continued berating each attempt I made. Tears that had sprung up with the insulting pokes at my chest quickly burned away with indignation and anger. Finally she threw both hands up and returned in theatrical disgust to the front of the classroom. “Well, class it is obvious we have found the person ruining this song. Let’s just hope the rest of us can sing a little louder- and better- than her.” She turned and gave me a direct look. It cut through and wounded my heart, the seeping blood finding a new home in my face. I finished that class period on sheer will power and determination to not let her see the utter humiliation I felt inside. I never sang in that class again and passed at the end of the year with a C- which I accepted without comment- the same way it was given.
I was thirty-four years old and weeping during the worship at church one Sunday morning. “Oh Lord, you know how grateful I am, if you want me to make a joyful noise I will, but if you want it to be a sweet sound to your ears, you are going to have to make me able to sing.” The music was incredible and it was expressing my soul’s lament but my voice was making it a mess, or so I was convinced. “Father, please let me be able to sing to you. Help me find that note. Help me nail it! Please.”
I felt ridiculous crying over not being able to sing. Who cared anyway? It wasn’t like I was up in the choir singing in front of everyone. I was just standing in the congregation and following along. But it wasn’t ridiculous. I wanted to belt out that song with all the emotions it was filling me with and I wanted to worship the Lord will all of what was in me but I couldn’t. Something was between me and the cross. My mind was filled with the fluorescent lighting of that hateful classroom and the teachers face was still in front of me cursing me with the ability to cause only ruin with my voice.
I broke inside again and stopped singing. “Lord, please fix this. I want to worship you without this hanging over me. Either help me or take away this desire.”
“Try again.” words that had been so harsh before now came in a healing whisper. The choir had changed songs. The lights had dimmed and a quiet spirit had settled over the congregation who had been lively and energetic when I had first bowed my head. I listened to the song so many were unknown to me as a new Christian but this one seemed familiar. I felt hopeful, the range didn’t sound too awfully high, I took a deep breath and obeyed. The only thing between me and the cross now was a new voice. His.
Psalm 75:9 As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob.
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