When my girls were little, I used to sing them made-up songs. We sang all the real ones too like “This Little Light of Mine,” “Father Abraham,” and “O Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.” Per the latter, never one to stomach a fountainhead of melodious piety, Keith comprised the added stanza, “Be Careful Little Nose What You Smell.” At times like those, I tried to retain my composure and look at him disapprovingly for righteousness’ sake but, for the life of me, I could not get through that stanza without getting so tickled my side split. It is, to this day, the stanza of the song that gets sung the most often within these slightly hallowed walls. It’s a time-honored tradition around here that rarely includes the children.
Our young family also possessed every single available cassette of “Psalty the Singing Songbook” and we played, rewound, and fast-forwarded them so profusely that the tapes got stretch marks. I could not have been more elated when Amanda found them all on CD a few years ago and promptly ordered them off the internet for her own children. There’s enough generational foolishness to go around in families like ours. Some generational merry-making and God-gladness is a refreshingly beautiful thing.
But, when they were itty, bitty things, my girls were also zealous to request the made-up variety of Moore musical wonderment. So entirely made up were these songs that, when Amanda and Melissa would ask me to sing the one from the day before, well, I’d be left at a lyrical loss. I’d cover for it by suggesting why on God’s green earth we’d want yesterday’s song when we could savor a new one today. If I’d known more Scripture back then, I would have conveniently pulled out the verse, “Sing a new song!” but, then again, it would have backfired on me when I was worn to a maternal nub and needing Psalty to lead out in some memorable – and memorizable – stanzas of the much finer sort.
Since I made them up as they went, these original songs were emancipated from the normal confines of rhythm or rhyme but what they lacked in technical composition, they made up for in personal detailing. One might go something like this:
Oh, Amanda, she is so very smart and fun. She has new shoes. We got them at the mall where we ate a Happy Meal. Amanda ran through the mall in her new shoes so fast that people thought she was in first grade. (She’d be something like 4 years old, mind you, so this kind of line was always received most enthusiastically) No one can catch her so they stand back amazed and clap, clap, clap. I said clap, clap, clap. (At this point, she herself would clap.) She has a wiener dog named Coney Island (true story, she did) and she runs behind her, flying on four short legs and huffing and puffing and wagging her tail and, oh, if she had on Amanda’s new shoes, maybe she could run just as fast. But she doesn’t. But she doesn’t. And why it is she doesn’t? Because she has four legs and would need two pair. Amanda and Coney Island, they win the race together and everyone cheers. But they are hot and sweaty and a little stinky and ask for something cold to drink. They get a rainbow popsicle for a prize and everyone is surprised when they set in to sharing it. All together now! Slurp, slurp, slurp, lick, lick, lick, the race is won. (A made-up song is all the better if the audience is roused somewhere along the way to a heartfelt Eeeeeeeeeeewwww.)
And so it would go.
I inherited the propensity for made-up songs from my mother who likely got it from hers; however, the lyrics seemed to gain more generous license with each generation. Case in point, my mother made up several songs but she tended to sing her original compositions over and over. I rarely sang the same one twice because I’d chased a rabbit so dreadfully far in the previous one that this little piggy couldn’t even wee her way home. (That would be in the vocal sense, of course.) My grandmother’s songs, on the other hand, were short and less sweet. They were more about who was going to get a switch if a batch of kids didn’t get out of the kitchen till supper and she didn’t mean maybe.
I can still picture Amanda and Melissa’s faces as I sang them these songs. Usually it was during rocking-chair time and the more I’d spin the story line through the song, the more they’d stare off into space, wide-eyed, trying to imagine every detail of the scene and suppress a grin. The scenes, after all, always starred one of their very favorite characters.
All of this is fresh on my mind because Annabeth (our recently-turned 4 year old) has started making up songs, a fact that delights me to no end. You can’t make her do it. You just have to catch her and then, ever-so-carefully without her realizing it, lend your ear near. Sometimes she’ll do it while I’m rocking her like a few weeks ago when she sang to me about “The Cross and the iPad.” She is more apt to sing free of self-consciousness if I lean my head back and close my eyes. I guess she thinks she’s singing Bibby to sleep.
Friday evening I got to bring Annabeth and Jackson home with me from work and it was just the three of us for several hours until Keith’s grand arrival from out of town with his fishing boat. These are the golden times with few distractions and minimal background noises. Times when I tend to overhear the most intriguing repartees or can engage them in conversations that run gleefully wild like little colts kicking their back legs in an open pasture. It was that night that I overheard Annabeth singing about God doing ballet. Not Jesus, mind you. God.
It was the sweetest thing ever. And surely I don’t have to tell you that, in her mind and song, He was quite adept at it. He is all-knowing, after all. He’s never required a lesson in His life.
Like most preschoolers, Annabeth’s well-protected world is appropriately small and a big part of her small world is her ballet class. It’s one of the only things in her little family that only she gets to do. She goes to preschool but brother goes to big school so there’s nothing particularly unique about that. She goes to church but so does her family. She goes to her friends’ houses but usually with her mommy. She goes out to eat but, poor thing, she never gets to take the car and go by herself. But, one day a week, she is the only one in her small world that dons a little black leotard, pale pink tights, ballet shoes, and glory-be, a tutu, and runs on tippy-toes into a world of plies and pirouettes.
Part of being a child coming into the knowledge of a great big God through parents who esteem His ever-presence is picturing that He is involved in whatever he or she is doing.
And He is indeed. That is a fact affirmed through the decades that follow and through copious Scriptural accounts. Sometimes He’s involved through fellowship. Sometimes He’s involved through empowerment and anointing. Sometimes He’s involved through conviction and chastisement. But, as long as it’s His child, He’s always involved.
For Annabeth in that lyrical moment, it was God right beside her on the dance-floor. And He was brilliant. Of course He was.
As we grow up in Him inch-by-inch, we begin the slow journey of divine reversal. We still get the ecstatic joy of picturing Him involved and invested in what we’re doing – Lo, I am with you always – but a gradual overtaking of His Spirit causes an aching and an awakening within us to do what He is doing. Instead of limiting our vision to God atwirl on our terrestrial dance floors, we begin to picture ourselves in snapshots of sudden truth raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly places. There we are by position but on loan here by commission, that His Kingdom may come and His will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
We are not just the calling ones, asking God to join us. We’re the called ones, asked to join Him. Right here. Right now. Right on this earth. He works, He lives, He breathes, He moves, He saves, He renews. This is no God-forsaken world.
To Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “I’m going to your house today.” But to His disciples He said, “Come. Follow Me.”
Do what I am doing. Seek to see as I am seeing. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do.” John 14:12
I come to your world so that you can follow me to Mine. One pirouette at a time.
“Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13