I took my first bow today, my stage the worn, deep rose carpet of First United Church in Waterloo. I bowed three times, once with my fellow soloist and twice with the rest of the Laurier Singers. It felt utterly strange and a little like coming home.
Gold sunlight melted warm shapes on the wall, mirroring the long steeple-pointed rectangles of the window casings. It was one of those moments when you ask yourself, “How did I get here?” and “Where will this take me?” Caught there between the glory receiving and the glory giving, between the young singers at my side and the time-wrinkled faces in the pews, between many yesterdays immersed in holy but human Mennonite culture and these todays immersed in Canadian secular academia.
The echoes of our music lingered under the applause. “Only in sleep, I see their faces, children I played with when I was a child.” And, “I weep for wonder, wandering far alone.”
Afterward, the director complimented me on my singing. (It had to do with singing chest-voice alto in one song and a light, free descant in another.) “You’re so versatile. Like, how?”
I smile, nod, and tell him, “You do know that I’m older than the others here.”
“Yes, what’s your story?” I can tell he’s deeply interested. He says he wants to give me any opportunities he can within this choir to help me grow.
“Conducting?” He asks.
Et tu, Brutus? Isn’t it enough that my former voice teacher and uncle asked me the same question?
I tell him my experience is with children, that I’d overthink conducting.
“Yeah,” he straightens his hair. “It’s really not cognitive. You really need to feel it. We’ll talk about this. Let’s go for coffee and let’s talk.”
When we do meet, I wonder what I’ll tell him. The bald-faced truth is that the person I was at eighteen didn’t belong here, but the person I am at twenty-eight does, and the person I’ve become is a product of the Master Artist. I’m here because He’s gently guided me in this direction.
He identifies as Christian, this director, so maybe I’ll have the courage to say all that. Maybe.
One of the hardest things about university has been finding ways to frame my values, my morals, and my God in words that are winsome and inviting. Like a fire within my bones, the truth of the Gospel burns to get out, but a gentle check in my spirit says, “Wait.” For a woman who’s always expressed herself in words, the silence builds tension inside me.
But then, in those brief seconds when someone asks an open-ended question, I find it hard to bring in the God word. And if I’m honest, I’m finding it hard to do the “normal” spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer.
I wrestle with guilt and shame, but then the gentle grace comes. Relationships look different in different seasons. In this season, Christianity is less about the discipline of words and more about the discipline of presence. It’s recognizing God as He shows up in my day, the light in my windows.
I listen to gentle words on a Bible app as I drive most mornings. Like the slow sun, the question dawns inside me, “How does this moment fit into my future?”
I want to find meaning in the minutes spent repeating that Italian phrase over and over again. I want to find purpose in the tangle of ta-ka-di-mi in my rhythm book. I want to find value in days spent spending money and trying to find parking and playing frivolous games of UNO with my new friends and trying to find that ever-elusive work-life balance.
Then I say it out loud. “Your problem is that you think you’re responsible for finding meaning in this.”
I’m not, actually.
You aren’t either.
We have but one purpose: to become more like Christ for His glory. To allow Him to make us fully human, fully holy. To carry Jesus, not as a baby as Mary did, but as a living, breathing Spirit within us.
Sometimes carrying the Spirit means sharing my salvation story with a new agnostic friend, as we examine a quilt my grandmother made for me. It’s wondering out loud to her why God answered my childhood prayers and not hers. Why I have heard God speak to my spirit and she hasn’t. We both carry histories of grief.
Sometimes carrying the Spirit means fist-bumping that big baritone in fourth year, because we both picked the green spoon at Menchies.
Sometimes carrying the Spirit means holing up in a quiet room and wrestling the song within me into the confines of bar lines and note heads, trusting that it will be ready in time for the Advent service and that God will provide a composer for the piano accompaniment, because that’s not something I can do myself just yet.
Sometimes carrying the Spirit means spending a few extra minutes hearing R’s grumblings about the day—R who presents as female, but wants us to use they/them pronouns. R who has welcomed me joyously and saved me a seat in class multiple times. R who is a person, not a sexuality. How do I handle this whole gender issue? Like everything else, gingerly, one conversation at a time.
Some days carrying the Spirit can be uncomfortable, in a most-embarrassing-moment sort of way.
In the music building, there is a student lounge. At one end are multiple old arms chairs, a microwave and a fridge. At the other is a large square table. I sat there, filling out a scholarship application. To my left was a girl in blue who I know only a little. Across from me was a girl in a Leatherman jacket who I know quite well. To my right, sat another girl with book earrings. Blue was flipping cards to a game sort of like MadGab. I would have loved to play but most of the phrases were far from appropriate. Leatherman was loving it, but Earrings suggested they go to a different stack. Those were a little better.
At some point, they started exclaiming about chocolate and cheesecake. “Cheesecake is so good,” Blue gushed. “If I were to put them in order, I’d have cheesecake first, then chocolate, and then a man.”
“Oh, yeah, definitely!” the other two agreed.
I stared at them laughing, not taking them seriously, sanctity of life and all that. I tucked away my computer. “Can you watch my bag while I go move my car?” I asked.
They agreed and continued to joke around about cheesecake. Chuckling, I turned the knob on the lounge door, “I’d rather have a man than cheesecake.”
Their eyes widened with shock and looks of naughty glee. They shook their heads and laughed in disbelief. Giving each other significant glances.
I laughed, shaking my head as I left the room, turning red and hoping the students outside the door didn’t know what had happened.
What had just happened? What had they heard in what I’d said?
Somewhere, as I hurried down four flights of stairs and across the block to where I’d parked my car, I knew. No, no, no! I felt myself turning red and continued to laugh. How could I have said that?
If you are as obtuse as I am, know that when I said “man” I was thinking of a life-long marriage partner. They heard a one-night-stand.
Earlier in the conversation, they’d discovered that I’d never dated. “Really?” Blue had started back. “I’ve been with five, maybe six guys.” She’s twenty-one.
What were they thinking of this naive nearly-thirty-year-old? I couldn’t even put words to the horrible possibilities. What was I going to say to set this right?
I’d built a good friendship with Leatherman and Earrings. I wanted them to think the truth about me, not this. However, there was no guarantee that when I returned to the lounge, they’d still be alone there. I climbed into my car. How could I explain in a way that no newcomers would have to hear the story?
“God,” I groaned as I waited at the lights on Albert St.
Then I knew. “Occam’s razor”.
In psychology, I recently read about memory and about how the strongest memories are often attached to a strong emotion. Advertisers capitalize on this, seeking to build a positive emotional connection with their product, so you’ll remember it. (“Have a break. Have a KitKat.”) It’s why we remember minute details about our first time behind the wheel, but can’t remember facts for a test. The emotional connection helps solidify the synapses of memory.
I parked my car in a new spot, returned to the student lounge, and joined my friends at the table. Blue had left and other students now sat at the other little tables or on the couches. Leatherman and Earrings were grumbling about theory homework. I joined their conversation.
When a break came in the discussion, I said, “So, girls, you know what I said before I left the lounge?” Their eyes danced and Earrings threw back her head with a spurt of laughter. Clearly, they weren’t forgetting this memory anytime soon. “Well, I was trying to figure out why you all reacted so strongly. I just want you to know—” And then I said the words God had given me at that streetlight, perfectly encoded for the now busy lounge. “I believe in one for life.”
“Oh,” Leatherman drew out the word like a noodle out a spaghetti heap.
Earring straightened her position, “That’s fair! That’s totally fair, and makes complete sense.” We soon moved on to other things.
I could have, in some arbitrary conversation, when they were listing their boyfriends said, “I believe that marriage is for life between one man and one woman,” and they may have remembered it, and I would have sounded like a self-righteous prig.
Instead, they now have an emotionally-charged memory that says that I believe in marriage for life. I’m not ashamed of it, but I still value them as people and want to spend time laughing with them.
I couldn’t have planned it any better.
I wonder sometimes if I’m a hypocrite, finding it easier to talk about my culture than about my faith. But then I think about Jesus and how He treated people.
“But you, beloved, building yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” Jude 20-23
In this season, the greatest act of faith for me is trusting that in earning people’s trust, I’m earning the right to speak the truth. So, today, I bow with the soloist. Tomorrow, we may discuss concert attire. Maybe then we’ll talk about modesty. Maybe not. I’ll leave that to the Master Artist. He paints her life and mine.
Yolanda, I appreciate the way you are carry Jesus in your life. It’s such an inspiration to me. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to describe the feelings of the orchestra and performing to moments with fellow students. God bless your efforts!
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Thank you, Lois. God bless the work you do as well.
Good for you. It sounds to me like you’re doing a lot of thinking and like you’re finding that tricky place where you hang on to your values and but you also love those around you.
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Thank you, Holly.
I feel this. It’s hard to know whether the things I say will be accepted in good faith or taken in the most offensive way possible. Finding the balance between confidence and compassion can be really sensitive, and I’m not naturally sensitive. Thanks for the reminder that God is behind it all.
P.S. This article is really well written! 🙂
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Thank you, and I wonder why… 🙂
I echo Chris’s comment about this article being well-written! I felt ZERO distance from it. 🙂
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