Monday, October 27, 2014

The Song We Begin With--My Story

Every girl’s story begins with her mom. She teaches you so much about life and how to live it. My mom taught me how to speak my first words and how to play with others; how to dress appropriately, how to cross my legs like a lady, how to cook, and how to fold fitted sheets. She taught me to sing and to love good music. She taught me how to be strong, and that it’s OK to cry when you don’t feel strong anymore. She taught me to love Jesus, read my Bible, and to be active at my church. In fact—because my Dad rejected church when I was very young—everything I understood about God, when I was a child, was learned from my mom. . . and then from my church. 

My spiritual wires got crossed somewhere along the way, and I began to see God as demanding, and my relationship with Him became performance based—based on fear of failure. I became acutely aware of my flaws, my temptations, and my mistakes. “Jesus loves me, this I know” became distorted into “Jesus (only) loves good little girls”—and I really struggled with being good. I mean, REALLY struggled!  

Every opinion I had about myself became grounded in worries about being good enough. Bible lessons about obedience became a spiritual earworm** that tormented me; a song stuck in my head that I could not resist and could never finish. I knew I was not always a “good little girl”. Some days I wasn’t good at all. Eventually, I began to wonder if there was even any point in trying to be good.

All of my spiritual struggles stood in sharp contrast to my sister, for whom being good just seemed to come naturally. She didn’t swear, or hit our little brother, or talk in the sassy tone that was my specialty. She loved to be in the kitchen helping our mom; I hated it. She was so good that it was clear (to my young brain and immature emotions) that she didn’t deal with the same temptations, and certainly didn’t make the same mistakes! To illustrate:  On ONE occasion, she uttered a curse word in my presence and I used that as blackmail over her for at least 3 years—“What would Mommy think if she knew you talked like that?” Yep, in the arena of being good enough to win Jesus’ love, I was clearly out-classed. She made it look easy.

There was, however, one area where I could excel. School. I still love school today—and long to return to college—because I know that is my place to shine. 

In school. . .
I could raise my hand and know the answer.
I could get the perfect test score.
I could be better than good enough.
I could be the best at something.

Yes, I was THAT student. The one you hated in school. But, oh were my parents proud!  They encouraged me, and when my grades faltered on a couple of tests, they asked if I’d really done my best. The lesson I internalized was that, if it wasn’t an “A” grade, it must not have been my best. I embraced the belief that, if I didn’t get that “A”, I was less of a person—less than I could be. Not living up to my potential. And so, I worked harder.

My report cards were decorated with “A” grades, but no grade can fill a heart that doesn’t feel good enough.  I know this is true, because none of mine did. There was this Jesus-shaped hole in my soul, and I was trying to fill it with straight “A” report cards and Honor Roll membership. Eventually, I would try to fill it with food, intimacy, and even being a “perfect” mother.

In time, I would learn that none of these things, and none of my relationships, could fill the place reserved for God.

And no one could teach me the song He wanted me to sing; one I wouldn’t mind having stuck in my head.

Jesus Loves Me, this I know.

**Earworm:  According to Wikipedia, an earworm is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I can remember the day I first became fascinated with mockingbirds. I’d seen them around my house in South Carolina for over a decade. I’d just never paid much attention to them because, honestly, they’re kind of plain. I love bird-watching; I learned to appreciate the beauty of birds from my mother-in-law. There was simply nothing intriguing to me about mockingbirds—they aren’t brilliantly colored and they have no interesting markings. 

The problem was that I was too busy looking at birds and hadn’t taken the time to really listen to them.

In the summer of 2013, I was enjoying a beautiful evening in Pennsylvania, sitting on the front porch at my in-law’s house, when my focus changed. It was almost dusk and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I was sitting there with my son, Ian, chatting about our day and how great the vacation had been. Out of the blue, he told me that he thought the mockingbird must have at least 20 songs that it could sing, because he was pretty sure he hadn’t heard one repeated yet. I really hadn’t been paying attention (there are always bird songs to be heard from that porch!), so I listened closely and, sure enough, I could hear the same bird singing one song after another. I must have heard at least 15 unique tunes; I was struck by this unusual talent, and began wondering:

Why does the mockingbird sing the songs of other birds?
How many songs does it know?
Why does it sing those songs—how does it pick a song to learn? 
Does the mockingbird even have its own song? 

As these thoughts unraveled in my head, I heard the Holy Spirit gently tell me that I was just like the mockingbird.  I have as many “roles” in my life as the mockingbird has songs.  I am a wife to Dave; mother to Scott, Ian, and Katie; daughter to JoAnn and Dave; daughter-in-law to Don and JoAnn; sister to Barb, Jim, and Linda; friend; church member; Bible study leader; nurse; co-worker; neighbor. 

Am I the same person in each of these roles?  
How does my “song” change with each role?
Are these roles that I chose, or ones that were assigned to me?
Are any of them the real me? 
Have I even found the real me?

Since that day, the mockingbird questions have been relentless and undeniable; repeatedly bubbling to the surface of my thoughts and prayers. I know I must try to answer them; it's the only way I will learn the song I was born to sing.

And, singing is very important to me. I've been singing for church and special events since I was a child. I love music and I love to sing. I love the flow of music and the harmony. I love the perfect blend of lyric and melody. 

When I began singing as a child, my Mom selected my songs. She appreciated good music and taught me that same appreciation. Naturally, her choices reflected her taste.  I grew up regularly attending church and learned the favorite hymns of my church family--adding more music to my life. In High School, I took vocal lessons and expanded my musical repertoire. These songs reflected the taste of my very serious Yugoslavian Choral Director. 

Eventually, I reached the point of making my own musical selections. Still, I chose my music carefully--always mindful of my audience and what they would find worshipful or appropriate.

But, on my own--in my car, on my iPod--that's where I express my true musical identity. I sing along with the radio and "dance" in the seat of my car.  I move to the music while I'm cleaning the house or ironing. Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed NOT to learn to dance!

I need music that "moves" me in other ways, too. Music that can reach right into my soul and find the me that is hiding there.  I know it touches me more than any sermon ever has.  Perhaps that is why God is using the mockingbirds to teach me about Him, and who He has called me to be.  

You see, I have a song to sing, and I can't allow it to lie dormant. I need to share it. I need to sing God's song.