Song Unstolen, or, Lily in the Lions Den

Sweaty palms squeaked across the concrete wall.

I looked down, and I saw my child, hands cupped over her face, body pressed tightly against the white bricks like a clinging vine, a true wallflower.

She slid around the corner of the Sunday School room and inched through the doorway.

Bright posters and small children everywhere, it smelled like bleach.  And cheerios.  And vaguely of bacon.

Lily was convinced that this class was not a good idea.  She did not care for crowds of kids.  Or crowds.  Or kids. Their ways were not her ways.  She was six going on forty.  Clean and quiet and well-read.  Not like the sticky savages in that Sunday School class.

The teacher and I looked at each other.  “Do you want to come to storytime, Lily?”

Um, no.

Forget those crunchy carpet squares.  Lily backed up to the plastic table far behind the story circle and looked at me.

I sat on the little table, and she held tight to my arm.

“Daniel in the Lion’s Den” was the day’s felt board feature.  My daughter was not impressed.  She gazed out the window and twirled her hair with her free hand, the hand not clutching my arm.

She stayed close to me for the entire hour.

Some people had theories about how we should raise Lily–she needed discipline, we were told.  She needed bribes.  She needed something, anything, different than whatever we were doing at the moment.

But, sometimes, kids just need time.  And an arm to hold on to.

Near the end, about half the kids took turns leading the class in short songs.  They were pink cheeked and earnest and endearingly off-key.  The teacher thanked each one and was ready to dismiss.

But, before I knew it, my daughter was at the front of the room.  I looked down at the fingerprints she left behind on my arm and back at her.  She stood calmly near the felt board, small golden felt lions looking out over her shoulders, their mouths decisively shut.

I stared.  My mouth fell open.  A first grader walked by and dropped a cracker in it.

The teacher said, “Oh!  Lily!  I’m so glad you joined us!  Did you want to sing a song?”

Lily announced,  “Yes!  I am going to sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and do the sign language.”

Which she proceeded to do, loud and clear.  I didn’t even know she knew “Jesus Loves Me” with the sign language.

When she was finished, the teacher said, “Lily.  Now, do you think you could do that a couple more times so the rest of us can learn?”

“Oh, yes,” Lily said, and led the class in the song, with the sign language, a couple more times so everyone could learn.

Then they were finished.  Lily walked to me and smiled.

The teacher and I looked at each other.  Shook our heads.  Kids.

I was stunned by the transformation in my child.  One minute, a trembling, clutching case of social anxiety.  The next, a cabaret choir conductor.

We didn’t talk on the way out.  Or, rather, I didn’t talk on the way out.  Lily chattered and held my hand.  She talked about the morning all the way to the car and then halfway home.

When she paused to take a breath I said, “Lily, can I ask you something?  Can you help me understand what just happened in there?  One minute you seemed  really scared, and then the next minute, you were leading a song.  What changed???”

“Oh,” she said.  “Well.  First, I wanted to sing my song.  Then, I didn’t want to sing it.  Then, I knew it.  The debble was trying to steal my song.  And I thought, ‘oh no, I am not letting that debble steal my song.’  So I got up there, and I sang it.  And Mom.  You know a spirit of fear is not from God, it’s from the debbles.”

Holy metronome.

All those nights sitting by her bed, teaching her scriptures to ward off screaming night terrors.

She had actually listened.

And then.

She sang.

***

What song are you longing to sing?  

Don’t you let the debble steal that song.

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Tim 1:7

Open Letter to Fear

Goodbye, Fear.

You are such a bully.

You are a tiny little bully with a big mouth.  You need to know that I am done listening to you.

You wanted me weak.

You tried to control me.  You wanted me scared and codependent.  You wanted me paralyzed by doubt and frozen by insecurity.

But, I have a new love.

I am in love with Love–real, vulnerable, courageous, sacrificial Love.  I have a new strength.  I have a life.  And, I am so over all the wasted time spent listening to your lies.

It is over between us.

When you talk to me, I’m going to out-talk you.  I’m going to tell you that you are a liar.  I’m going to tell you to shut up and get out of my head.  I am blocking your calls.  You are getting no more air time with me.

When I see you coming, I’m calling out to Love.  I’m slamming the door in your face.  I’m doing something good that scares me, just to shake you up a little.  It’s your turn to be shaken for once.

You won’t find me in the same places.

You won’t find me on the phone asking for approval.

You won’t find me trying to make people like me.

You won’t find me trying to impress everyone else, including myself, with my packed calendar and busy schedule.

That thing you do?  Perfectionism?  What a dirty trick.  It’s a trick I’m not falling for again.  You tried to shut me down and keep me quiet with a promise of perfection.  And, all this time, you’ve been running around and cheating me out of  something real.

Those nights you showed me every bad thing that could happen so that I would be “prepared?”  Ha.  The more you talked, the more I studied and planned so I could have it all covered.  And yet, you always left one thing out, and I could never get ahead of you.

But, Love has a way of covering it all, so I’m putting my trust elsewhere.  I’m done hanging with all your thuggy friends so I can get to know how they think.  Death, Violence, and Failure?  They can all go with you when you go.

And, you know where you can go.

That’s all I have to say.  For now.  But know this: if you come back around, it’s never going to happen this way again.  Because you will find something different at my door.  Love will answer.  Love punches Fear in the face, and you will fall.  Again and again.

Consider yourself warned.  And beaten.

Goodbye, Fear.

Hello, Love.

***

Perfect love casts out all fear.  1 Jn 4:18

What do you need to say to fear? 

What other letters do you need to write?  

 

 

 

The Beginning of Wings

Kids climb to the top of everything.  And fall off.  And climb back up.

My son fell facedown on concrete more times than I can count.  It never seemed to slow him down.

These kids.  They are born fearless.

When does it start, I wonder.

I rest my hand on a child’s back and feel the beginnings of fear.  I am struck by the sharp protrusion of his scapula, the tension that holds his shoulders so high and tight against the world.

He seems so young to hold his body this way.

I know this kid.  He is mostly happy.  His parents are mostly happy, like the best and most honest couples are.  He is well fed and cared for.  He has a bunch of Legos and a little dog.

What is it that fills him with such anxiety?  What at his young age and ideal situation robs him of so much peace?

I ask him.  He is worried about some things at school, academic things.  He worries about poison ivy, he says.  He worries about his parents getting old.  He is only eleven, but he wishes he were younger.  He liked being really little, he says.  He wishes he could stay little, just a while longer.  He tears up while he talks.  This is not a joke to him.

“Why did you like being little?”  I ask him.

“I just did,” he smiles.

I liked being little, too.  I remember feeling the same way, somehow knowing that my parents held back the world for me.  That, just for a minute,  I got to wear my capes and my dress up dresses and run through the yard barefoot and climb trees and play telephone.  Just for a minute.

I remember being about eight years old and hearing about an older cousin at college.  “College,” I thought.  “Oh no.  I don’t even know how to graduate from middle school.  How will I ever manage college?”  And, as a third grader, I added “college” to my ever-growing list of worries.

I thought I had to figure it all out right then.  My shoulders, high and tight.   Like my young friend thinks he has to figure it all out.  Right now.   Including his parents’ elder-care.  They are in their 40s.

“Figuring it all out” is one big lie.  One big fat lie.  We can’t figure it all out.  And most of it isn’t going to happen the way we worry it anyway.

I just saw a quote from Shelley Hitz today.  About how 99% of the things we worry about never even happen.  Strategizing worry is just one big waste of time.

Worry and fretting and anxiety–they are all little ways that fear sneaks in and grows in our lives.

I ask my young friend what would help him worry less.

He says other people can’t really help him.  He says it’s something he has to do.  He says he needs to capture his thoughts.  He says sometimes you just need to let yourself cry.  And then think of something else.  And sermons, they probably help a little bit.

I rest my hand on his back.  He smiles, and the sharpness in his shoulder blades suddenly feels like something else.  His choice is the thing that makes the difference.

That sharp protrusion, not the beginning of fear, but the beginning of wings.

***

What do you think you have to figure out today?  What can you do to capture your thoughts?  

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.  Phil4:8