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.