Making a List, Checking it Twice

I met Tiffanni in tenth grade, she was in ninth. She had just finished her first summer traveling with the Alabama All-State Youth Choir and I assumed that she sang like a songbird. But with words. When you’re young, there are some things that seem more admirable than when you’re older. Anyone that could sing captured my wonder and a pretty girl with a great voice was like a dream.

I hate to admit it, but I had a real list when I was a teenager. Not just in my head, because you can adjust those subconsciously to match changing values, but a real list on a real sheet of paper- loose leaf, college ruled. It was what I wanted in a mate. We lived in the South, so I assumed that I would be married within a few years, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to think about marriage as a teenager. Maybe as a guy, but not as a teenager.

The list was pretty specific if I remember correctly. In fact, I broke things off with more than one girl because she didn’t seem to match the list at the time. I made up terrible reasons that I’m embarrassed to admit now, “God told me to” kind of commandment breaking, using the Lord’s name in vain stuff.

But when I saw Tiffanni for the first time, singing with a choir- because “can sing well” was on the list- my heart skipped a beat. I imagined marrying her from high school on. Which is an odd thing to say when you’re 16, but I really did think I wanted someone like her. And the summer after my senior of high school, I was certain.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I accepted my first ministry position in 1998, we weren’t married yet and the job was for a youth pastor and music minister dual role. I felt good about pastoring teenagers, I was unconvinced of my ability to sing, play the piano, and lead people in worship. “Are you kidding, you’re amazing!” She told me. “If anyone can do this, you can. And I’ll be with you the whole time.” She was a brilliant liar, so good at it that she believed the lie herself. Which is the best way to encourage someone- you actually believe what you’re saying.

So, we accepted the position and moved to Tennessee. I began leading hundreds of people in worship from day one. The first Sunday that I was there was the third time that I had ever led worship in my life.

Every Sunday that I led, I got a little better, a little more confident, and every week Tiffanni bragged about how amazing I was. Just so we’re clear, I wasn’t and I knew it, but I honestly believed that she thought I was everything that she said about me. Admiration from someone you love, someone that I had watched in awe sing for years, goes a long way. Every week, we led, side by side. She sang, I sang, and when she harmonized, I sounded ten times better than I really was. It was like going to the studio and adding auto-tune and reverb and studio magic and all that jazz. She brought the best out of me.

Last weekend my daughters participated in the Fine Arts Competition. Several hundred teens from all over the state enter a contest of arts- music, drama, writing, dance, design, photography. It really is a great opportunity to discover a talent sans Simon Cowell. Both of my girls entered two categories. Photography and Vocal Solo. They have a knack for both. An artist’s eye and an angel’s voice. And that’s not just dad talking- they really are great. Their pictures were beautiful and their songs entrancing. All the feels, all the chillbumps just hearing them do something that they loved. Everyone should sing, but the best of us should sing in front of other people. I’m not sure that I ever had any business singing in front of people except for the fact of what it has afforded me for my girls. Singing gave me an appreciation of song and beauty, of lyric and rhyme. I’ve spent a lot of time with music only to end up average, however, I know what good is and I know what it takes to be good- drive, natural ability, and truth. I’m pretty good at two-thirds, but I see in my girls all three. You can’t go through what they go through and not be able to tap into an area of feeling that can only come from deep wells. Trust me, there is little girl drama, but they are full of truth, deep human raw truth.

Every time that we get into the car they ask for me to play a song. They assign melody and harmony and sing a concert for dad. I sometimes play my music just to hear them sing my truth because it sounds better that way. It sounds real and lived and honest and true. True, not in the sense of facts, I stink at those, but true in the sense of what Dumbledore said, “It’s a beautiful and a terrible thing, truth, and should be therefore treated with great caution.”

My truth is that my kids now sing the song that my wife can’t. I can’t remember a time that Tiffanni and I got into the car and didn’t sing. I also can’t remember when that singing stopped. It happened over the course of years and it happened all at once. Her voice slowly began to fade just as Addyson and Carsyn were discovering Veggie Tales. Singing and bouncing on the edge of the bed, every word, most of the notes, all of the fun. In some ways, lists are dumb. What I wound up with that didn’t make that list was far beyond what I could have desired. But I’m so thankful that I stumbled upon singing, that I added it to a teenager’s list of arbitrary preferences. Without a song that once was and is no more, I never would have recognized this new song and the beauty that it brings.

14 Comments for “Making a List, Checking it Twice”

Susan Bethea


This is beautiful and wonderful and heart breaking. I love that you and Tiffany played and sang at Jodi’s wedding and it is recorded and I can still hear you and Tiffany. Thank you.


Thank you for allowing us to see into your heart, and for sharing a part of your everyday life, thoughts and memories with us.
You and Tiffani had a beautiful, fun time dating. She was your encourager, your buddy, best friend. Now you are her support, her cheerleader.
And you are doing a great job cheering her on, caring for her.
Sending many prayers

Janet Smith


The last song that I remember Tiff singing was “Mercy Seat.” I had heard her sing it before, but this time it sent chills throughout my body. Of course there was no way that I could know that this would be the final time I would hear that sweet voice with all the God given talent pouring out, but it made an impression on me, one that lasts to this day. Thank you for believing in her belief in you – and for sharing your talent, even if you thought you had little to none. I look forward to your girls following in the path laid before them by their passionate parents. Love you guys.


In days of old, God’s people built altars to acknowledge and to remember the places where He had performed a miracle, or had saved them, or had revealed Himself to them in a significant moment. Your list is a kind of an altar, I believe. Years later, as you ponder the points you had written with idyllic innocence and naïveté, you might realize that your seemingly dumb list has brought you to the exact place where God has performed many miracles – a place where He has saved you from your own selfish inclinations, a place where He has revealed Himself to you over and over and over again, a place where you have learned to trust Him with every detail of your life – to trust Him enough to view the past with triumph, to live today with gratefulness, and to step forward into tomorrow with a promise to persevere in the waiting. Today, if you could read that list you wrote so long ago, I would guess that it would include an addendum of ancillary notes and thoughts scribbled in the margins of your mind. But I would also bet that you would read it choosing to believe that all things – ALL things, truly do work for good in the plans that God has for your lives… choosing to believe that the rain and the clouds and the valleys and even the desert journey has a purpose… choosing to trust that this path will lead to the perfect fruition of a portrait that at this moment in time, you cannot even fathom in your imagination. God bless you as you continue to build altars with your family in gratitude and and worship. God is good.



Your post reminds me of a a couple of songs from some Southern Gospel groups.. Greater Vision.. “God Wants To Hear You Sing”, Jeff and Sheri Easter.. ” Hear My Heart” and The McKameys ..”I’ve won” … (Maybe you will have the opportunity to find them on youtube) Music bring healing to the soul. . God is so ever present in music.. In some of my own darkest moments.. when I did not have the strength to pray.. God would give me a song… Keep singing … Sing with your girls, sing to Tiffany. . YES SING…



I was sitting In church one morning and I was getting ready to get up and sneak out before the alter call. Then I heard Ron Cox say “I want Tiffani to come sing this song that I fell I love with.” She looked around like, “well guess I have to do this thing?” She got up on stage and Ron hummed the tune. She smiled at her dad and began singing ‘it covers me’ by Christy Nockels.
I remember right then. I wanted to sing. I wanted to use my voice like Tiffanni and fill a room with such joy.
She is one of the first people who inspired me to use my vocal abilities and every time I hear that song I think of that moment. How beautifully she sang and how moving it was. For me it was my epic moment.

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