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.