Friday, October 11, 2013

The Perils of Hope

Before we had kids I was an awesome mom. I had great ideas and big plans. I would not fall into the trap of over scheduling my kids and running them all over Texas six days a week. And I would, by the way, not live in Texas. Well, here we are. I’ve kept to the not over-scheduling part but only to hear the onslaught of messages that if I don’t introduce my girls to a myriad of sports, music, dance, and all manner of extracurriculars in the early days, I’m doomed. Doomed to a life raising girls in goth dress whose greatest skill is manufacturing homespun meth out of our garage. It’s hard not to feel the pressure and to know where to begin with the many choices of activities, sports, clubs, and leagues offered at every turn.

We’ve tried a few things and haven’t found the "thing” yet. Though Emie loved dance (press in and I’ll whisper this) her little ballet moves leaned much more readily into the “donkey kick” category than a swan’s grace. Soccer was equally torturous where she actually asked me for refreshments while running across the field (more than once) during a game.

Music and theater really seemed to be a better fit since she has used every opportunity to perform in some fashion or another since she was so little. Even as the giggliest little one she used to practice making sad faces in front of the mirror when she wasn’t even two. I could waste my breath and suggest she not be so dramatic but I’m pretty sure it’s in the girl’s DNA. And music just seems to come naturally to her. The girl loves to sing and she’s pretty good.

Last year she joined the church choir and loved everything about it. Especially the part where she could look at the jumbo screens and find herself on camera. She was excited to move up to the next age level this year because they, as she pointed out, “get to sing solos and hold the microphone.” I’ve reminded her that every child is not automatically handed a mic and told to let fly. Our church is big. In the last membership class 800 people joined. That’s three times the size of my in-laws' entire congregation including each baby and shut-in. And this is just the number of new members to add to the 11,000 already showing up each week. Even in a church so large every child in our church is invited to join the choir, there’s no audition necessary. Come and sing your praises to the Lord one and all. But as for holding the mic and singing by yourself, well, they wouldn’t mind ensuring first that you can umm, well, actually sing since 11,000 people will be leaning in to listen.

When Emie mentioned the upcoming auditions for solos in the choir I encouraged her to give it a go. But I honestly didn’t know if she was good enough to come out with a part on the other side. I wanted to encourage her to try but did attempt to temper her expectations. On the way to the Saturday audition she was filled with excitement and not a single butterfly. I had enough for the two of us. I feel responsible for this little gift of hers. I want to nurture it. Encourage it. Fan the embers to help it to grow. The last thing I want is for her to start to believe it’s not a gift at all and shove it deep within her at such a young age.

When I picked her up after it was over her face told me the story. She looked sad and ready to leave in a hurry. The directors thanked her for coming and said “You did a good job today.” Though they’re as genuine as the day is long I did feel a twinge of that vibe. You know the one where someone congratulates the effort of the donkey kick when it was swan’s grace that was the aim. Yea, I’ve seen it before.

So you can imagine where my heart went when I asked her how she thought it went and she said, “Not well.” She shared that she had to sing a solo in a circle of about 20 kids and a handful of adults. She said there was one part she just couldn’t get and was asked to repeat it…in front of everyone. The way she mixed up the words got everyone to giggling and the director actually had to remind the kids that laughing at someone is not nice. She said she could feel her legs shaking and was petrified by the process. My heart sunk beneath the earth. It’s one thing to think everyone’s laughing at you but when you hear someone tell them to stop, you pretty much know your nightmare is real. The thought of her little soul sitting out there vulnerable and exposed only to experience embarrassment shot right through me. I was so sorry for her.

The audition went the way neither of us had wanted it to. But I knew it provided a great lesson for life. Try. Do your best. You win some, you lose some. But I so wished it would have gone another way. We talked on the way home and I shared the standard platitudes that I was sure she’d done better than she thought and she was so brave for pushing through her fears and singing out in front of the group – knees knocking.

I prayed that God would redeem it somehow. That together we’d find a place for her to discover her gifts and let them grow. But inside I was afraid that she’d want to give up. That she’d remember how perilous hope can be.

Listen. I know this wasn’t her last chance at life. That not getting a part in the church choir at the age of eight wasn’t a life defining moment. Yet I did, however, wonder where we’d go next and if the experience would lead her to believe singing just isn’t her thing. And worse still, that she doesn't have a thing. And selfishly I wanted no part of returning to the torture zone that is intramural decision making.

She was over it much sooner than I was having moved on to birthday parties, play-dates, and art projects. Two weeks had passed when I opened my email to find a note from the choir director which read: Your child has been selected to sing a solo. The parts were assigned and Emie'd been chosen. An opportunity had not come and gone - they hadn't even made any decisions up to that point - or at least they hadn't communicated them.

Sometimes we do better than we think we did. Sometimes we get the break. I don’t know if this opportunity means anything for her future of signing in the shower or in a select chorus but I do know this: hope is worth the risk. It’s good to go for it. It’s good to reach for something with the knowledge that it may be a beginning. A starting a place. A place from which your gifts can stretch and grow. It may also lead exactly nowhere but the real glory goes to the one who stepped out of the boat. The one who was willing to try even when her knees were shaking, and let’s face it – the ultimate humiliation ensued – people laughed. But she pressed on. Sang the song. Gave it a go. This is the good stuff. The life lessons.

I called her into the office and asked her if she remembered how she had auditioned a few weeks back and how courageous she had been about it. “Yes,” she said while looking down at her suntanned feet. “Well, you pushed through your fears and you got a part!” I read her the email and she was as surprised as I was. I handed her a bracelet showing her the word Hope. “This is who you are,” I said. The girl’s middle name is Hope. “It’s good to hope for things, Emie. Ours is a God of hope.” I was so glad I had this little bracelet for her for that moment. I had purchased it a few weeks back and knew she’d love it. I was waiting for the right moment to pass it on, the moment when she needed to be reminded how good it is to hope and this was that moment.

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