When Malakai’s afraid, he chews on his bottom lip like his grandmother.
And there’s no getting around it: He looks like a caged coon up there in the pew before the piano — biting at his lip, hands fidgeting.
He looks like he’s already flung ahead in his mind to the part of this piano adjudication nightmare where his fingers tangle on the piano keys and a screeching F flat grates across our eardrums like fork tines on Corelle china.
He’s eight. How can I really tell him — that catastrophizing is how we make our own soul-cages. That fear’s always the flee ahead.
That he really could take one long, deep breath and just relax. Abide. Because it’s never about your capabilities. When you’re in covenant with Christ, it’s His responsibility to cover your cracks, to be all your competency and completeness. Inabilities, in Christ, are made all-sufficient, just-right abilities. Abandon worries — and wholly abide.
Malakai writhes in his seat, looks about wildly for me. All I can do is try to hush his wide-eyed nerves with a feeble smile. But is it really possible to make a nod from the fourth row of a music festival enfold one scared boy into arms that hold tight? I pray.
The adjudicator steps forward with his sharp yellow pencil in hand. Malakai eyes bore into me.
“Now, boys and girls, when I call your name, you may come up to the piano, introduce your piece to us — and then play your very best.” He punctuates the air with that graphite point.
“And don’t forget to bow when we all clap. Then you’ll return to your seat. And so it will be the next pianist’s turn. But please–” The adjudicator looks over the top of his glasses, pencil suspended in one long, midair pause —
“Please — each of you, wait until you hear your name called. I will need time after each student to write my notes and give you each marks.”
Malakai steals a look my way.
Is it possible for nerves to chew right through a bottom lip?
The adjudicator takes a seat at his folding table at the back. Waves the air with his #2 graphite pencil and invites in a low bass, “Roseanne Wideman?”
A little girl in brown braids and mirror-shiny black patents steps up to the piano, murmurs something undecipherable and wills her trembling fingers from middle C to a halting G. You could tell — the only Hallelujah chorus moment for Roseanne Wideman was after she curtsied and lunged for the refuge again of the pew. We clap her relief.
As our applauding fades, Malakai rivets around to find me again in a sea of tight-faced, anxious mothers. I’m the one smiling thinly. He mouths it large: “NOW?”
No, I shake my head, no. I nod in the direction of the adjudicator bent over his portable table.
Malakai lights up, nods back his remembrance. Ah, he nods — yes, yes.
“WAIT” he mouths it to me and to all the wound-tight, out of tune mamas. Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise — a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience — because is the Lord ever late?
So we wait.
That one adjudicator graphite pencil scrawls loudly. Big loops. Rapid underlinings. Scratch, scrawl, scribble in all this waiting space.
Malakai twists his hands. The boy beside him keeps rubbing both of his hands up and down his pant legs, his head bobbing backward and forward in time, a kind of sedentary pacing.
And then he springs. The boy beside Kai. The boy beside Malakai springs to the side of the baby grand piano — a thin boy in a faded yellow plaid shirt, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. Kai stares bug-eyed. Swings his head back. Does the adjudicator sees it too?
Why is this wisp of a boy, bangs hanging in his eyes, standing up there already?
Has his name been called?
The adjudicator’s still furiously writing. He hasn’t even looked up.
Kai’s eyes are these big platters, pleading soundlessly with me. “Mom! Do something!”
“I am going to play Tennis Waltz for you today.” The little boy’s quavering whisper’s hardly louder than the scratching of the pencil.
The pencil at the back stops abruptly.
Us parents look back to the adjudicator helplessly.
The yellow-shirted boy is already playing. Playing the notes gently, surely.
When Kai’s taken, he leans forward and half smiles, like his mother.
He and I are twin reflections across the sanctuary.
And the little boy plays a shy grace. A duet with a divine calling. A clarion.
Malakai doesn’t remember his mark from that music festival. Doesn’t remember what the adjudicator said when he assessed his performance. I pray he remembers how loud I clapped when he grinned and bowed big.
But on the backroads home, Malakai leaned up over the seat and I can’t forget this:
“Mom? You know when the adjudicator was still writing down his report and we were all waiting for him to finish and call out the next name? When that little boy got brave and stepped up…”
“Did he hear it in his heart — God calling his name?”
I shake my head with the wonder of that.
Is that always what music is? Answering the call of God?
Because on this whole spinning planet — this is the only rhythm that makes music: to do the will of the One whose heart beats at the center of the cosmos. Regardless of what anyone thinks of us.
Maybe the genuine followers of Christ always march to their own drum — Thrum: I will walk with God. Thrum: Even if I walk different than everyone else.
Was it just that he heard his name called down the canyons of his heart — and love compelled him to lunge forward?
Love is never a trite feeling. Love is a wildfire in the bones, a burning flame willing to serve — willing to say yes.
“Mom?” Malakai’s speaking to me — but he’s looking out the side window … Or within. “Do you think God’s calling our name too — all through our hearts — to come step out — and we’re just not listening?”
Stillness sits between us. A waiting….
And then it comes, a humming….
Malakai making music from willing lips… one song of strong surrender from his heart….
By Ann Voskamp @A Holy Experience who invites you to take a deep breath and step out and say Yes to God! Will you join the nothing-short of God-infused Lysa TerKeurst and I in a free webcast, “Yes to God” on Tuesday, September 6th at 8:00pm (EST)? You don’t have to go anywhere, just curl up in your pjs, or get together with some of your amazing girlfriends right around the corner — or around the world — and make it a retreat — right where you are. And we’ll pray together and laugh together and look to Him together — and it’s entirely free — just tune in online. Just a way to gather together and figuratively wash each other’s feet, truly encourage one another’s hearts — and sincerely say Yes to God. It’d be such a blessing to meet you there… Click here to come to the ‘YES to God’ webcast.