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Some of my first memories are from being at church. I’m sure I left teeth marks on those rickety, nursery cribs. Besides my immediate family, the church family was the community setting I knew and one which grew to be comfortable. It was familiar from the very beginning—a second home.
I learned about music in church, more specifically, about harmony. We attended a small, old-fashioned Baptist church with hell-fire and brimstone preaching paired with four-part, gospel singing. I remember following along in the hymnal while listening to my mom sing. I listened to her voice while moving my eyes over the printed chords in an attempt to find which note she was singing. She would switch from melody to alto to tenor seamlessly. How the notes and voices blended was much more intriguing to me than the words.
In the mid-1970s, when I was seven years old, my family moved from small-town Texas to Brazil for my dad’s job. I was a TCC (third-culture kid) before that was even a thing. I don’t remember much about the move besides feeling nervous for months, not being able to down the little red worm pill, and imagining that toilet paper must not exist over there because my mom filled the dresser drawers with it in our shipment. (I completely understood this when we moved our family to Asia, and I packed many things we would end up not needing.)
So much of my childhood is blurry, likely from not being able to acknowledge and process my uncertainties and emotions, but a few vivid memories stand out. The first couple of years in Brazil revolved around getting settled, playing with the other American kids on our cul-de-sac’s circle, and learning Portuguese, mostly from TV commercials. We jammed to The Gaither Vocal Band, ate bread with sand in it (the bakeries lined the beaches), took adventurous trips, and frequently visited a local orphanage. My mom made homemade pizza and root beer, would clear the voodoo curse paraphernalia from the end of the street before we went down to catch the school bus, and my tiny self would climb through the burglar bars on our neighbor’s houses when someone locked themselves out – for some reason, this was a regular thing.
My childhood was surrounded by music. My parents bought a baby grand piano while we lived in Brazil, and I began learning how to play there. Mostly by ear, but I took lessons off and on. My dad had a harmonica, and I loved playing it. He said he would buy me one of my own if I learned how to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” on his. I did, and he did. I got a record player one Christmas and bought my first record at the supermarket in town – Bill Haley and the Comets. I still have it and one of my favorite songs remains the not-so-politically-correct, “Shake Your Fat Fanny.” My album collection would grow by a Wizard of Oz album and multiple Donnie & Marie Osmond albums. Good times!
The specifics of this event are blurry, but I remember my feelings with clarity. I would have been about nine-years-old. My mom had tickets to a concert by an American group called The Heritage Singers. As we waited for the doors to open, the crowds grew and grew. It quickly became utter chaos, and my small-framed self was at risk of getting trampled. My mom held on to me with a death grip, and I don’t recall how, but we made it inside to our seats.
I imagine the singer’s matching, 70’s-style, polyester outfits brought order to the chaos in my soul. But when the music began, the harmony mesmerized me. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. “This is what heaven must be like,” I thought.
A choir’s voice, in all its glorious harmony, filled the room; and my heart. I met Jesus there. I don’t remember if they spoke words inviting us to salvation, but the music was enough for me to know I wanted Jesus in my life. As I said, the memories are a bit fuzzy, so I’m not sure if I prayed a prayer there at the concert or home, or if I even prayed at all, but I knew without a doubt that I now belonged to Jesus and He belonged to me. With Jesus, I felt like I was home. I belonged.
Throughout my life, I have endured significant trauma, both little “t” and big “T.” Childhood sexual abuse, monumental moves and transitions, countless losses, depression, anxiety, the damaging effects of confusing and unbiblical messages from the church regarding baptism, purity, and the role of a wife, and most recently, healing from marriage betrayal trauma to name a few. My faith in Jesus has been the firm hope which has held me together (Colossians 1:17). Have I doubted His goodness? In moments, sure. Have I questioned His plan? At times, absolutely. But my song is His, and His mine. And His song, introduced to me over four decades ago, overflows with the harmony of His faithfulness.
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