I love singing but am not the best at it. Sometimes, I can sustain a note and actually sound pretty decent at it. Other times, it’s like putting a cat into a blender. No offense to all you animal lovers out there. But my voice will crack and yowl and that is abuse to my poor dog and cat.
When I was in college, I was a member of Inner-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Every Thursday, we met in a large room in one of my college’s dorms and the first twenty or so minutes was praise and worship. It was here that I found a voice that I could use and that actually found its harmony within the other fifty or so voices surrounding me.
My first year, I was introduced to a song that just rang true with me. It comes from the ending of Psalm 139:
“Search me, oh God, and know my heart.
Try me and know, my anxious thought.
See if there be any hurtful way in me.
[repeat]See if there be any hurtful way in me.
Lead me in everlasting way.”
And repeat the entire song.
This song became a huge source of comfort for me over the years. First of all, most of the notes fell into the alto section and even though I thought I was a soprano (they usually have more notes and the altos are nothing more than background oooooer’s for the sopranos) I usually sound my best when I sing in a lower range.
Second, the song is slow and peaceful. I am a woman characterized by energy and happiness, which is exhausting to people who know me and even more exhausting for myself. Fast songs are great, but they wind up my energy levels to the point of being almost frantic and I have to find a way to shove that energy back into my joints and away from the balls of my feet. Hence, slow songs generally make me calm down. Come on, give me a break. My nickname was Tigger in college. I earned that nickname.
Third, this song is about surrendering to God. I know that some or many or most people would think that this is a sign of weakness. Not for me. I know who I am. I know who and what I want to be. I also think that my talents and my choices are given divine nudges by God because He knows what’s best for me. Too often, I can’t figure out what are the divine nudges and me being stubborn. I can justify the most insane action to myself; trust me. I’ve done it. I won’t talk about it. That’s my embarrassing story to hide.
But I have huge levels of anxiety that, thank God, do not keep me up at night. But they drive me insane. I usually call my anxiety neuroses “the gerbils” because the anxiety-thoughts go in circles in my head but never go anywhere. They are on constant replay. This is much like a gerbil in an exercise wheel. It keeps on running and running but it never goes anywhere.
I am good at holding myself accountable for my mistakes. When I was a young teenager, my brother taught me the lesson that “you have to be responsible for your actions.” Boy, he did a good job teaching that to me. I don’t even remember why he took it upon himself to teach me this lesson. I must have needed it and, thirty years later, I can still see him at the top of the stairs while I am splayed out in my father’s favorite chair, watching TV. My legs are dangling over the edges of the cracked, black vinyl armrests and I’m glued to whatever stupidity is playing out on the screen. And Peter is shouting at me….”You have to be responsible for your own actions.”
Somehow, I internalized this lesson into something far more serious than what my brother was trying to communicate. I somehow took this lesson to be that I must ALWAYS be responsible for ALL of my actions, that the statute of limitations regarding my actions (especially my mistakes) is infinite.
Wow….I have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders….no wonder I’m short. I have a lot weighing me down..and it’s not just my butt….. (ha ha ha! Sorry…but I do think that’s funny).
So, flashforward to me being 18 and new in college and dealing with paralyzing homesickness that has lead to depression and introduce this song.
God, search my heart and soul. See me for who I am. Find what is destroying me and destroy it. Lead me on a new path.
Yup. I can deal with that. Go for it! Give me the emotional inventory and pull out everything which is steadily destroying me because I hold on to the litany of my mistakes and it’s turning necrotic.
When we sang this song, a couple of young women (one was named Betty-Joe) would sing an incredible harmony that pulled the second line out of the repeated chorus of the first and lifted it. In the flats or sharps or whatevers, I, too, was pulled out of the ordinary and thrust into the inspirational. I would close my eyes and lean back slightly, my head thrown back so that I sang to the ceiling because this song was naked in its emotion so I, too, was naked in mine. I needed God then. I need Him now.
And this song opened me up.
When I went home to Germany for Christmas and, later, summer breaks, I took this song with me. That first summer after college, when I was getting ready for my sophomore year, I worked at an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) hotel as a barmaid, waitress, maid, etc. Once or twice, I worked into the night and had to ride my bike home. Although the majority of the roads in the three to five miles separating the hotel from my parents’ apartment were well-lit, I had a few sections that were completely dark. And I had been raised by a woman terrified of everything and who had taught me to search every nook and cranny of every shadow because a person would be there waiting to kidnap me (and the rape, mutilate, torture, murder, resurrect me and the re-do the entire process).
And I was afraid. My heart would be pounding against my rib cage (it might not have been fear…that might have been because I was over-weight, out of shape, and smoking cigarettes…but we’ll just pretend it was fear, okay?) and my legs were quivering as I pedaled as hard as I could on a piece-of-crap-bike that went one speed: slow. All right…three speeds: slow, slower, and slowest.
So, I sang through those shadowy curves. I sang my song about God knowing my anxious thoughts and leading me in the everlasting way. I sang as I rode by a horse stable, a restaurant/pub, and Bavarian houses that looked out upon the highest mountain in Germany. I sang as I rode past a memorial for a girl who died (Kaya) and up a hill and then down a little street in a town that was so small it didn’t even have a stop light.
And I sang..to myself, to any pedestrians who might have been out, to the people who might have been awake which means I was breaking German quiet-laws. But the anxiety was submerged beneath the peace that “passeth all understanding” and I got home safely.
I still sing that song today. No one in my circle of friends knows it. I can’t find it on youtube or iTunes. But I have it. It’s right there, next to the gerbils which are sleeping right now.