Its an interesting journey at 40-something to think back to the significant things that impacted who you were growing up. My hope with this series of posts is that my kids will see a bit of what made me, and by extension, what their heritage is. And I want to write it down, because its easy to forget to share this stuff. After the last post, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stories that I can remember and what had the biggest impact on me. Today I want to share about a series of memories that were a common theme in my childhood.
Songs in the night
When my girls where young and I was getting them settled for bed, I would sing. I would sing the first songs that came to mind:
These are old church choruses and the reason that they were the first songs to come to mind at bedtime, is because they are the songs that I went to sleep to… hundreds of times.
When I was in 2nd grade, my parents worked for a church in New Orleans, LA. My dad taught in their Bible college and ran a printing press for them (it used to be the only way to mass produce flyers and bulletins and such, to run a full sized, plate and ink printing press), and my mom did the graphic design and layout work for the printing press. Then on Wednesdays we would pack up and take our school work with us and drive to Bay St. Louis, MS, where my parents were starting a Church.
I don’t remember much about what we did then, but I know that we had a place at the Walnut Grove apartment complex in New Orleans for half the week and we rented a house in Bay St. Louis, I think on Melody Lane, for the other half of the week. I also remember sitting in the back of a home or two, some that smelled of sulfur and too many people and slightly past my bedtime, and falling asleep while the meeting was going on. My dad was pretty much a one man show. He sang and spoke and did everything. What I remember most is going to sleep to the sound of a man singing songs that gripped my heart.
When my dad lead that group of people in singing, he played guitar and sang songs that were simple enough that you didn’t really need words printed out to follow. He would close his eyes and sing these songs, to God; not like a religious figure from long ago or following some liturgical pattern, but like God was right there in the room, and like when he closed his eyes it was just him and God, and he sang like that might be his last moment to share with this God all the love and adoration and respect that he had… and he had a lot.
Thinking back, I remember many times like that. I remember going to sleep in a dark room and a wood-slat floor with my mom sitting beside me and my brother while my dad was in the next room singing and talking, some in English and some in Indonesian; I would have been 3 or 4. I can still remember some words to some simple Indonesian songs that I learned listening, while I fell asleep. And though the language wasn’t his strong suit, it was the same passion and intensity and honesty.
And then he would reach that point in the singing where he would keep playing his guitar and he would make up a song right there. He had taught everyone in the home meeting about this type of worship and so all at once, the group would go from singing one song together, to singing 30 or 40 songs at the same time, and they would all get loud.
I don’t think my dad ever gave a second thought in those moments to his two young sons laying down in the back of the room, but nothing could have had a bigger impact on me than to feel the reality of God in a room while 30+ people shouted words of love and adoration, that should have sounded like chaos, but instead had the most amazing harmony and unity.
At 7 or 8 years old, I had no idea how rare these moments would be. Throughout my life I have rarely encountered anyone that would sing with the emotion that my dad does. But this is the foundation that I had to build on. When it was my turn to go and find God for myself, I didn’t have to look very hard. My dad showed me how to connect with Him, not in words or theory or religion, but in pouring out my heart in emotion.
So today, you will notice that when I sing, I sing loud. I don’t like music that is sung without emotion. U2 remains my favorite band, because Bono brings raw emotion to every song. And songs like this make me cry…