words: Jessica Sowards
image: courtesy Jeremiah Sowards
The earliest memory I have of singing was in my bedroom closet before I’d even started preschool. I’d asked for one thing for Christmas, a real microphone, and I’d gotten it. It stood on a little stand and had a teal foam head. I loved it, but I was so shy that I refused to sing in front of anyone. Instead, I hid away from any listeners and held concerts for the shoes and hangers in my closet.
Ten years after my closet performances, I could be found on a stage. No, not belting my heart out for the world to hear. Rather, I was the one standing in the back row of the ninth-grade choir. I never tried out for the solo, and though I would sometimes daydream about boldly sharing my song for others to hear, I didn’t do it. I tried my best to blend in with the crowd, and when the time came to register for tenth grade, I dropped choir and pursued journalism and photography in its place.
Even though I was so painfully shy, I had such a deep longing to make music. I was drawn to it. I marveled at band performances and loved to attend choir concerts. The school talent shows blew me away, and I would be moved to tears as my peers stood and shared their musical gifting. I couldn’t believe how brave they were, and I always assumed that I would probably be brave too if only I were more talented, if music just came more naturally to me.
I tried to learn guitar a time or two. I mastered a handful of chords and even developed decent callouses on my fingertips, but I’d always quit before I got good enough to enjoy it. I resolved to just enjoy the music in the people close to me, and I settled into the identity of a non-musical person. I’d say it, just like that, “Oh, I’m not musical.”
When you say you aren’t musical, people generally don’t push. Years went by. I grew up, had babies. The only time I was ever offered a microphone was on karaoke night at the local Mexican restaurant where my mom was a regular. She’d coax me, “Oh Jessie Lane, you can sing. I’m sure you can,” and I would decline. Every time.
The thing is, I did sing. When my boys woke in the night, I would sit in the recliner as they settled in at my breast and I would sing to them with my whole heart. I would make up songs about their soft skin and their bow lips and about the wonderful dream-worlds that laid in wait for them to simply close their eyes and rest. Night after night, I sang to them about how much I loved them. Though I was so critical of my voice, they never once complained.
For a very long time, I sang for them alone. But God was not content to leave me singing in the dark. He began to stir my heart. I had spent years mumbling along with words on a screen during church worship, feeling like the music part of the service was just the introduction to the important part, but God began to show me what it means to be a worshipper. He began to show me that worship is not to prepare a room of people for a preacher, but instead to prepare our heart for its King.
Suddenly, I understood that it wasn’t just music I’d always been drawn to. It was worship. And I accepted the reality that it was what I was made for. I accepted the reality that I really was made with a song inside of me, and that God Himself was waiting to hear it.
I call this season of my life the Season of Singing Out Loud, and I think I will always reminisce about it with a bit of awe and mystery. It’s hard for me to lay out chronologically or explain in words how I came to pursue music. But it was kind of like I’d been standing in front of a closet for thirty years, looking in at a little microphone with a teal foam head. Then, urged by the encouraging voice of the Father, I made the deliberate and difficult choice to hang up my insecurity and take the thing out, to take the identity of “worshipper” out of the closet and put it on.
There was no magic moment. It didn’t play out like a Hollywood movie, where the shy girl breaks out with a set of pipes that rival Beyoncé and everyone is blown away. It might make a more entertaining story if my song had come forth that way, but I don’t think it would be nearly as encouraging. No, my song started as a shaky and pitchy thing, rattled with fear but full of love for Jesus. Some people are born with raw talent, but everyone is born with a song. Really, the encouraging part of my story is the fact that God adores our songs even when they are imperfect. They move His heart.
With the help of a very good teacher, encouraging friends, and the reassurance of my husband, I’ve grown tremendously in the months I’ve been singing. I was gifted a keyboard and found it was a much better match for me than guitar. I set it up in front of the window overlooking my garden. Every morning, I pour a cup of coffee and take my seat on a stool in front of it. There, I sing out loud to Jesus. I don’t have aspirations of making a career out of recording albums or selling songs, but if it moves His heart, that’s enough to draw me back to that window every day.
Sometimes, when friends come over, I’ll share new songs with them, playing piano and singing without even a twinge of nervousness. The coolest part of stepping out of insecurity has been watching my kids follow suit. My husband Jeremiah and I have bought instruments for their birthdays and holidays, and now they enthusiastically play their drums and guitars and ukuleles, making up their own songs and thrilling at our response to them.
I feel a little silly sharing this. I can almost hear that creeping voice of fear saying, “What good is a story about a song they can’t hear?” But I know the truth. Sometimes you just need to be told that something matters to face your fears. So I’m telling you as simply as I can. Sing your song. It moves the heart of God.
Follow Jessica @thehodgepodgedarling.blogspot.com.