Now I want to sing

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By David Whitlock


Some people are gifted with beautiful solo voices to bless an audience. Other singers, perhaps not quite as vocally talented, bless others with quartet voices. Then there are those that bless others by not singing.

I've always thought of myself as being in that latter category, but that's changed of late.

Let me back up.

When I was about 10 years old, I was in what we called in my church, "Junior Choir." One day after Wednesday afternoon choir practice, the music minister asked me to stay behind, "for just a few minutes," which I didn't like because I was in a hurry to beat my friend, Jimmy Coker, to be first in line for fried chicken, mashed taters and gravy at the church fellowship meal. Anyway, the music minister had me stand next to him while he sat at the piano and hit one note after another. After each successive tap on the key, he would ask, "Is this note higher or lower than the last one?" And I would answer, wondering all the while why we were engaging in this strange exercise.

The music minister kept wincing and shaking his head as if he were trying to solve a difficult math problem. Befuddled, he said, "Well, you aren't tone deaf." Whatever that was, I was glad I didn't have it. Then, as if I weren't in the room, he said to himself, "I've never known anyone to sing so flat."

His concern, he explained to me, was that with the upcoming statewide church music contest, my voice might diminish the choir's chances for placing, or maybe even winning.

I managed to skip choir for a couple of weeks. Then the weekend of the contest, I pretended to have a sore throat.

I couldn't completely quit the choir. Mom wouldn't allow that. But whenever I did attend, I would sing like Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith episode where Andy convinced Barney that the solo mic was so "hot" that Barney had to mouth the words silently.

By the time I was in junior high, I had become a church choir drop out. 

It's not that I didn't enjoy singing. I did, and still do. This morning, in fact, I sang to my garden, "Rise up, o plants of God," to the tune of the hymn, "Rise Up, O Men of God."

But garden singing is like shower singing, it's not meant for human consumption.

To this day I double and triple check my lapel mic during the worship service for fear that it somehow might be on, allowing the church and TV audience alike to hear my off-pitch voice. I can imagine it all going viral, with a YouTube title, "How a preacher couldn't get his congregation to stop laughing."

A few weeks ago, our church joined several other churches for an evangelistic event. I discovered that the other three preachers involved had actually been ministers of music before they became pastors. I confessed my envy. They could actually leave their mic on while they sang, without fearing that people would hear and laugh uncontrollably.

My fellow ministers have the advantage of breaking out in song during their sermon. It's like having a 30-second commercial break, only the advertisement supports the program.

I tried it once, sort of. The words of the hymn, "Grace, Greater Than Our Sin," popped into my head as I was preaching, and before I could stop myself, I was singing the hymn's first lines, "Grace, grace, God's grace."

But that was as far as I got.  My wife looked gimlet-eyed at me. A dear, sweet lady suddenly stiffened up in the pew as if she had been struck with a pain of indigestion. Several youth looked up slack jawed while one of my best sleepers momentarily stirred.

I ceased singing and retreated to my sermon manuscript.

But like I said, my perception of my singing has changed lately.

You see, I've found a new audience, my grandson, Eli. It's practically a nightly ritual. My daughter, Madi, Eli's mom, delivers her baby into my arms and out the back door Eli and I go.

That's when the singing begins. That kid loves my voice. Soon, he's curling his legs up to my chest as if he's a little ball, and before I've finished singing all stanzas of "Jesus Loves Me," he's fast asleep.

As I hand him back to Madi, I thank the Lord that he, like Eli, is not concerned with the quality of my voice. He hears the song in my heart. And when it overflows with love, God receives what I have to offer.

And even applauds.