Here’s What A Tone-Deaf Christian Taught Me

I love to hear people sing. I love to hear voices blended together, no matter how perfect or imperfect they are.

I grew up singing in church. Many members of my family serve as ministers in the community. My grandmother’s late husband was one of them. We were just getting to know him when we visited his small church in Denison Texas.

I was barely a teenager when I realized the power behind a broken, tone-deaf voice, not afraid to stand in front of a crowd and belt it. The recognition came from another person, but I don’t know her name.

She was skinny and frail with short red hair and probably in her late 40s. She definitely wasn’t dressed for church the way my family would’ve expected. We wore dresses in the church as a sign of respect. She was dressed in rugged jeans and a T-shirt.

Before his sermon, Reverend Logan Harper asked the congregation to share their testimonies. He asked people to raise their hands and speak. I sat there, like any regular kid, bored to death and counting down the minutes until lunchtime offered religious relief.

The crowd was small and the church was pretty quiet. She was two rows in front of me. I saw her raise her hand once and put it down. After someone else spoke, she raised it back up. The pastor called on her, and she stood.

She didn’t look around like most people did. She held her head down and didn’t say much. After a few seconds of silence, she started to sing…

All to Jesus I surrender.
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever learn to trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

She definitely wasn’t a singer at all. And back then, I wasn’t a very good Christian. I knew how to walk with the poor and broken a lot better than I knew how to walk with Jesus. But her testimony captured my heart. It touched me.

Looking back now, I understand that emotional rising was because I was looking at the whole picture. I was looking at all of the things I just described. I wasn’t listening to the imperfection in her voice. I was listening to the story she wrote out with her life. I saw her that day. I’m not sure many people can say the same.

She left a mark on my soul and it wasn’t because of the Holy Spirit. It was because she sang. The truth is, if she had just stood up and spoken, I wouldn’t have listened. Eventually, every “praise God” sounds the same. Not that day. That day, I learned love has a language all of its own, mixed with blood and sweat and tears.

As the congregation sing with her, I swear, my age advanced beyond my years. Because it wasn’t about Jesus. It was about survival and acceptance. It was the way she held herself, the way she doubted herself… but she was brave enough to stand up anyway. She was on a mission to inspire someone else that day. She reached out for a purpose.

I never got to tell her she attained it. And I never really got to say thanks. But I think of her often. Usually, in the middle of sinners and beer and midnight karaoke that I have to sleep off the next day. And I’m okay with that.

Because she reminds me that rags might be torn, loads might be heavy, love might be lost, mistakes might be made, but we all deserve grace.


In loving memory of Reverend Logan Harper.

How I Became A Preacher

I have been given a lot of reasons not to like Christians. I wish I could say I know in my heart God is real and Jesus loves me, but no one really knows that for sure, and I am a very logical, practical, girl. I always have been.

When I was a teenager, I went to youth camp every summer. The Pentecostal kind. At the end of the service each night, I would watch all of the other kids flock to the altars. They’d be there all night; slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues, crying, and holding hands, and I’d just be in my seat… watching.

I remember one year, I made sure I was “slain by the Holy Ghost.” I thought people would think something was wrong with me if I kept choosing to stay in my seat. Everyone else was hugging the concrete, so I faked it. It hurt like hell when my head hit the ground! (Note to self: Make sure you have somebody there to catch you.) I never tried a second time around.

My last church sealed the deal on my view of Christian organizations. Around age fifteen, I decided church wasn’t the place for me. I began to see through it.

I had just signed a ministry contract. I thought it over for a week before I finally committed. They included a whole clause about tobacco use, and I did not want to be dishonest by alleging that I wouldn’t use it. I was an underage smoker.

I told my youth pastor my dilemma and he encouraged me to step into leadership anyway. I poured myself into the youth group. I spent my weekends and summers at the church. I lead national See You At The Pole day at high school, helped organize the first statewide youth rally in our town and led praise and worship.

Yet, the very second that I was placed in an Oklahoma psychiatric children’s center, my family-owned church deemed me unworthy to serve. I wasn’t worthy enough to be a leader. I wasn’t even worthy enough to sing in the choir. People like me aren’t worthy of positions like that.

“Like me” meaning suicidal. People, like me, who struggle with the impacts of trauma, we’re tormented. In the eyes of the church, we’re sinners in need a deeper relationship with God and a closer walk with Jesus Christ. We’re not worthy of anointing, love, or light.

So, there I was — shunned at Christmas. I wasn’t even allowed to sing in the church cantata! I couldn’t possibly worship God with my voice. It was spotted. The choir director did her best to pretend she wasn’t judging me as she stopped me in the bathroom and told me,

It’s for the best.

That is the same thing the youth workers on the children’s behavioral unit said. And how many times did my church leaders or church family come to see me? Not once. Who came to visit outside of my parents? Nobody. Did any of them confirm or hear me say that I wanted to die or that I had made an attempt on my life? No. Nobody asked me.

After that, I was behind in school six months before graduation. I lost my only social outlet, and I worked until 2 o’clock in the morning nearly five days a week. I tried to hold onto the church and the fake smiles they all seemed to master. But every time I dared to attend, I was blinded by darkness.

It was full of judgment. We made the same judgments in our family. A lady in our church was dating an ex-convict and living with him out-of-wedlock and wanted to serve in the church. They wouldn’t allow her. They asked her not to return until she got her life right with the Lord. The sad thing is, the deacons and youth ministers were judged the same way. It was the same way the pastor treated his children.

When we’re younger, we’re not deaf and we’re not blind. I meticulously watched people my entire life. No one in the church or the family bothered to get to know me. They didn’t then. They don’t now. I was never accepted into their church… or family. Not since that new poor-little-adopted-girl smell wore off.

While the last three years have found me verbally open about it and in public confrontations on social media platforms, I find it all ironic. All this judgment as if they know who I am, all my sins, and my soul’s darkness. Yet, here I am shining the brightest light.

Not once did those who served in our church tell me I was anointed or called, but they had plenty to speak over my sisters. I must have been really terrible at faking it. The only part of the church I embraced was worship. My voice. I lived and breathed for the youth group and music.

Since my birth, people have prophesied over my sisters and me and stamped our lives with scripture. I remember each time. The last person to speak anointing over the three of us girls was Ms. Brown. She was a vibrant lady. She professed God would use each of us; one of us would write, one of us would sing, and one of us would preach His word. I always liked her.

While people routinely praised and ordained my sisters, purpose in my life was merely remnants written in cards from my foster parents, DHS workers, or people from the church, like Lydia. She prophesied Psalm 100 over my life. Years later, after dad gave me a box of our adoption records and collective other things, I found an old card addressed to a younger me. “Charity.” Mrs. Brawner, my foster mom, penned Psalm 101 inside. All those notes and cards stopped by the age of five.

What do I do today, even though I don’t get to feel the warmth of the sun on my face or know what it’s like to face the world every day, much less face myself in the mirror? Write, sing, and … preach.

I am a preacher. I send God’s love out into a dying world, and I don’t throw conviction or scripture, but I shout His word. When I speak, people listen, and I have a powerful voice! The world is my church.

Funny how home became my prison. Blame mental health (or religious culture?). Today, I have a full congregation. And we don’t worry about building funds, smokers, gay people, or offering plates. We don’t abandon suicidal children, addicts, or whores. We serve.

I guess that is the kind of sinner I am. I shine brightly from all the way inside of a dark, forgotten, apartment. And on the days I remember to pray, it’s usually to ask Jesus what happened to all of His lighthouses.

Dear Pastor

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