Music to My Ears
By. Elizabeth Charles - ACE 23, LA South Central
Driving home from school after our first choir practice of the year, I called my mom to tell her how wonderfully it had gone, thrilled that our first practice had been a success. I bragged that I now had 40 students in choir, that they’d already sounded great on the first day, and that I was already looking at choir t-shirt designs when my mom interrupted.
“You know,” she said, almost laughing, “high school you would really be shocked to hear this right now. Appalled almost.”
I laughed at the idea of 14-year-old me watching 24-year-old me as I pranced around my classroom, waving my arms in equal parts jubilance and vague musical direction while singing at the top of my lungs.
Yes, my mom was completely right; 14-year-old me would definitely have been embarrassed. But on the contrary, 24-year-old me was loving every minute, because what 14-year-old me didn’t know was how many moments of pure joy these 40 little people would bring me every single day. That they would teach me what it means to look at God in wonder, sometimes shouting, “I love Jesus!” right in the middle of practice, unable to contain their awe. That they would teach me about perseverance and hard work, coming back day after day even though learning the music was incredibly difficult for them. That they would teach me that it’s okay not to be the best, because sometimes what matters more than being the best is trying your best and having fun while you’re doing it. That they would teach me what authentic, contagious, Christ-like joy is, the kind of joy that makes you skip around your classroom, waving your arms to the karaoke-track music, smiling so wide that, at moments, you can barely sing.
In all fairness to my slightly judgmental high-school self, my 22-year-old-beginning-of-ACE self really couldn’t have predicted this either. Though of course I knew I would be spending my days with presumably adorable children, two years ago I couldn’t have predicted how these students, the ones learning in my classroom every day, and the ones singing there every afternoon, would wiggle their little selves so deeply into my heart. And yet, slowly but surely, one lesson, conversation, hug, and praise-and-worship song at a time they snuck themselves into my life, expertly filling it with joy and laughter and love until one day I found myself leaping around a classroom of 8-year-olds, singing with very full heart and voice, reveling in these precious moments, and the children I was sharing them with.
On Tuesday we ended our choir practice with the fan favorite Yes Lord! filling my classroom with the sound of “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord” as we sang the song through all the repeats, dancing along with our made-up actions. Ten years ago, I would have seen my choir students as a slightly motley group of kids singing slightly off-key to slightly corny liturgical karaoke tracks. But now, as I looked at their enthusiastic faces, half-singing, half-screaming “yes Lord” in total delight, I knew that I will forever be indebted to them for teaching me to do just that: to say yes to God, no matter the circumstance. My students taught and continue to teach me to say yes to God, even when it means saying yes to singing along with a CD because you can’t find an accompanist, even when it means saying yes to hours spent after school planning and rehearsing for upcoming masses, even when it means saying yes to waving your arms emphatically as you direct 40 children singing “Thanks Be to God” in Swahili.
They’ve taught me that saying yes to God can surely be difficult, uncomfortable, and even messy. But moreover, they’ve taught me that when you say yes to God, you will always grow, probably in ways you never could have imagined. They’ve taught me that this growth, growing with God, is often challenging and surprising, but it is always joyful and worth celebrating. And thanks to them, I can come to school and try to celebrate it everyday–preferably with lots of singing, dancing, and coordinated hand motions.