Lift Up Your Voice
My mother says I started singing a little before I started talking, and I started talking earlier than most.
My first concrete memory of Myself: Singing is probably age six, hanging off the ladder of my bunk bed, one arm thrown out wide, warbling “The hills are alive!” in my best Julie Andrews (complete with a bit of old lace curtain for my nun’s wimple – these things count.)
I sang by myself, often spending a few hours with my own spur-of-the-moment libretto, narrating my imagined life to tunes I knew well. Usually in a British accent. With costumes.
I sang with my family at home. I sang while visiting extended family. I sang in the car. Sitting right behind my dad’s driver’s seat in our 1968 Volkswagon van, I could hear his tenor easily, and chime in on duets with the radio or cassette tape.
I sang so often to my baby brothers that one of them called me “La La” until he was four.
I sang at church, reveling in the acoustics when the whole congregation got it Just Right. I sang with my Sunday school friends (though I really appreciated it when the Music Lady let us sing from the real hymnals, not the baby songs.) I sang with my friends in youth group, and with their cousins anytime family was in town.
I sang “O Holy Night” for a church Christmas service four days after having my wisdom teeth out, and nearly fell off the chapel rostrum when I popped a stitch and everything went wobbly. I sang back-up for an Elvis-As-a-Chicken impersonator in the ward variety show (Elvis, in the form of my favorite duet companion’s older brother, was pretty cute under that chicken head!)
My brother’s good friend played the piano gorgeously; I’d sing along with her at our house or hers, or travel to the summer camp in the upper valley, where she worked days as a cook, to sing with her in the camp community room after supper, when all the campers were off at the campfire.
I sang for my high school baccalaureate, and then for graduation, which shocked the vast majority of my 35-students class because first, I was pretty darn good; and second, they had never heard me do it before. Ever.
I didn’t sing alone in public. Not real public. Strangers-type public. Or even People-I-Didn’t-Really-Know public. That was too scary.
When I was sixteen, I decided to see about my patriarchal blessing. I was hoping for (and let’s face it, expecting) a nicely detailed list of what I should do for the rest of my mortality, up to and including specific instruction to go ahead and pursue archaeological work in South America or the Holy Land (extreme Scottish complexion notwithstanding, because with God, all things—including being saved from dying of sunburn—are possible, right?)
Instead, it felt like the whole blessing consisted of Develop Your Talents, Use Your Talents, Share Your Talents, Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Lift up your voice.
Sure, singing was a talent. I could do it. I was pretty good. But I didn’t sing alone in public. That was… uncomfortable. It made me feel too warm, and too cold. My scalp felt too tight, my hands numb, my stomach clenched.
I’d prefer to Develop, Use, and Share my other talents, thanks.
I fought the stage fright a bit in the first year or so at my university. I sang at home, with groups in church, and with a friend around the campfires at some living history events we enjoyed. But that stage fright kept creeping up, gaining momentum. It got harder to resist.
When I did try to resist, and forced myself to perform anyway, I had no recollection of the performance. I have large blank sections, where I know I sang in some capacity, but have no memory of any part of it. It is simply dark space in my brain.
By my third year at school, my voice teacher stopped requiring me to sing in front of our small class for term recitals, because it was distressing the other students to hear me retching into the trash can outside the door. Stage fright had become panic attacks. He graded me on our private rehearsal sessions instead. I gave up. Fear won.
By the time my first baby was born, I could work myself into a panic just singing lullabies to her. Some days were fine, but others? The fear was too much. After all, she was… listening. Her little infant self might be critiquing my voice, which was growing rusty from disuse. My husband tried to be supportive and understanding, but I knew he missed me singing. I didn’t sing around the house anymore. I didn’t sing in the car. I didn’t sing in groups at church. I didn’t hum to myself. I accepted a calling to lead music in Primary in my branch, and I didn’t sing along with the kids.
I just… stopped. I buried that talent, and refused to think about it much. I could still use other gifts, right?
One day, I had a cold. My voice got scratchy, and the cold progressed into laryngitis. Speaking hurt, so I whispered. Singing was entirely out of the question.
The cold went away, but that scratchy, husky, irritated voice stayed. And stayed. And stayed. Most days, I had some sort of speaking voice, but singing? It wasn’t possible. I tried. I worked my breathing, focused on muscle placement and posture, memorized lyrics.
On good days, I could get sound, but I couldn’t call it singing. My dear husband stopped asking. Our little girl spent her days singing her own libretto, and doing lullaby duty for her baby brother.
Fast forward nearly five years. Reading my scriptures, I came across the parable of the talents.
And I wept.
I had always considered sin as something concrete: do this stuff, and you’re sinning. I had not considered that my fear could harden into something like pride, into my stubborn refusal to even attempt to release my panic, my terror, because God told me to. How far had I gone over into the unprofitable column, with my pathetic attempts to scrabble my little talent down into the dirt, where no one could see it or hear it, all the while hoping it would still be there, bright and shining and perfect, should I ever choose to dig it up again.
I poured out my grief to my Heavenly Father. How I missed the singing me! I missed that little blonde girl hanging on the bunk beds and asking Mother over and over, “I sound just like her, right?” I missed working out harmonies with a whole stack of teenagers for church the next day. I missed sitting in the firelight, singing songs to my husband. I missed rocking babies to sleep with a hymn. It was gone, all of it, swept away in my fright, my self-centered desire to never fail, never falter.
I longed for my voice.
I resolved to be worthy of forgiveness. If I was worthy enough, perhaps I could uncover and excavate that one precious talent again. I would go to church with a more reverent heart. I would be a kinder Mom and wife. I would keep the house cleaner. I would get the laundry folded. I’d do all of my visiting teaching, every month. I’d volunteer for things. I would repent, I would do anything, if I could just please, please have this one thing back.
Lift up your voice.
It was quiet. It was infinitely kind. It was filled with an entire universe of compassion and understanding. It was inviting. It was firm.
Lift up your voice.
It was hard.
Singing in the shower (if no one else was home), then singing with the congregation in church, then singing in a large section of sopranos in the choir. I felt blessings every week: my speaking voice continued to be hit and miss, but most Sundays, I could make music. It wasn’t as strong or loud as it had been formerly; my range was weak, my endurance poor. But it was music. I was still afraid, but I felt so strongly that Heavenly Father had allowed me to feel the lack of a voice to help me fully understand what He had told me in that blessing years before, and I knew I could not risk that gift being removed again. Obedience, sacrifice; I knew I had to obey, and lay my fears on the altar as my sacrifice.
I accepted a call to direct the choir, and this time, I sang along with everyone. We moved to a new ward, and I joined that choir. I accepted invitations to sing with the Relief Society ladies, and then in small groups with my favorite Church Ladies, for funeral services. Quartets followed, then trios, and even duets. I sang at home. I sang in my car. I sang to my husband (so long as he didn’t look at me.)
Lift up your voice.
There came a Tuesday in May. I answered the phone to greet my very most favorite Church Lady, a dear neighbor who also served as our organist. An old friend of her family had died; she would not be able to attend the funeral due to some important reasons, but she wanted to know: would I be willing to sing a particular song in her stead, as her gift and proxy?
I did not sing in the car on the solitary drive to the cemetery. I prayed.
Standing under the arch of a clear blue cathedral of sky, on a spring day in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I stood before strangers and sang “O My Father.” I sang it alone. No mic, no accompaniment. Just strangers, me, the song, and my God.
It was all there. Volume, pitch, control, tone… every technical skill had been restored.
It was all there. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, comfort… I had been restored.
Since then, I sing. I cannot stop myself. When I sing, I worship. When I sing, I pray. When I sing, I live.
Lift up your voice.
I am grateful to finally receive my blessing, over two decades later, and lift it back up to Him from whence it came.
- Are there capacities and talents you have lost through rebellion?
- Has repentance changed your experience?
- How have you been blessed by challenge?