Posted by Loni
I knew I shouldn’t have worn that stupid skirt.
It was the long, dark, surprisingly heavy “summer” one I bought from Target to ensure modesty while I led worship at church. I didn’t want there to be any question about its length, so I chose the one that went all the way down past my ankles—it was so long it even dragged on the ground a bit. No offense to the Mennonites, but it made me feel like one.
I’d bought it because I’d been given feedback about wearing shorts while standing in front of the congregation a couple of weeks prior. And I’d worn the two sizes too big, frumpy-in-my-mind jean shorts with dorky, bedazzled back pockets because I get hot very easily. And trust me—it isn’t hard to get hot inside of our church building, especially not in the dead of summer.
“Hot”—thanks to the shorts, I didn’t feel it, but apparently, I must have looked it to some members of the congregation…or something like that. “Distracting” was the word that had been used to describe the effect of my shorts.
And so, in an effort to be respectful and accommodating, there I stood two Sundays later, microphone in hand at the front of the church, decked head-to-toe in black fabric like a conservative goth or a mourner at a funeral (my top was also black, with a thick, seafoam green stripe cascading down the front of it like a frothy trail of toothpaste drool). My shadowy appearance should’ve served as an indicator of the unfortunate events to follow, but I just was too gosh-darn optimistic to give it any attention.
As soon as the keyboardist started playing the first song’s introduction, I knew I was screwed. I could feel the red heat rising from my veiled toes, filling me all the way up to the top of my head like you see it happen in cartoons, but I continued to sing nonetheless. My voice began to turn raspy and ragged on the high notes, but I pressed on, struggling to seize control over my failing vocals.
After the first song ended, instead of praying out loud or addressing the congregation with a call to worship like I normally would, I whipped my heavy, brown hair into a ponytail and gulped some water in an attempt to quell the raging wildfire of heat that was silently, but no less violently, wreaking havoc upon my frustratingly fragile system.
The second song was even worse. Far worse. My singing was terrible, to say the least. My voice started completely giving out on the long notes, but I closed my eyes and stubbornly strained on, praying for my internal air conditioner to kick in so the remainder of my time leading worship could be somewhat salvaged.
The song came to a close and I looked down at the words of a Bible verse I had scribbled down as a segue into the next song. Beautiful piano music filled the space between songs, reminding me of the expansive dance of the Holy Spirit we courted. The lights were turned off in the sanctuary, and the stage lights radiated rainbow-colored heat down upon my head as I squinted out at the silhouettes of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I could make out the faces of many of them, staring up at me from the shadows as I sought to encourage them with a few words, though it probably wasn’t hard to see that I was the one who needed a little encouragement.
Reading the verse was a welcome respite from song leading. I dove into my recitation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 with the confidence that can only come from reading unadulterated truth: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
(Unfortunately, this is where things start to get really bad.)
I blinked brightly at the congregation and continued, “Other translations say it was so that we could be made the righteousness of God. When Jesus died on the cross, He traded…”
And just like that, my mind dissolved into a puddle of mush. I had been on the brink of a complete system meltdown since I’d stepped up on that platform, and it was finally happening. I was overheating, and every thought was being smoked out of my mind except the one that screamed, “Cool down now!” Exacerbating the problem was the fact that I had just doped myself up on DayQuil only an hour and a half earlier to combat a sore throat, and it was starting to make me feel…well, dopey.
I opened my mouth and tried to finish my sentence. “He traded…”
I literally groaned into the microphone, “Oh, God…” I secretly hoped people would think I was just getting emotional about what I was about to say, but really, I was praying for God to help me.
I desperately searched the notes I had jotted down beforehand. I’d wanted to say something about Jesus trading beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair as recorded in Isaiah 61:3, but no words were coming to my mouth, so I just repeated myself: “Oh, God…”
Yep, I was stalling.
I thought that maybe if I kept carrying on like this, people would forget that I still had a sentence to finish. From the way things had already been going that morning, though, I knew I wasn’t going to be so lucky.
I tried again. “He traded…He traded death…for life.”
I could feel a sigh of relief coming from not only me, but also from the people in the room, and it swept like peace across the entire sanctuary. Nopers, it wasn’t the Holy Spirit, but I’m sure it was just as welcome in that place after my painfully awkward display.
I recognized the music for the next song starting and bravely resolved to make it through one more melody. And I did make it through. My delivery of it was sloppy and sordid and stained with mistakes, but I didn’t care. After rasping out the last strained note, I turned to the singer next to me and whispered, “I’m overheating and I have to be done, so if you have anything you feel like God is leading you to say, go ahead, but I’m done.” She nodded affirmatively and I turned to the keyboardist. “I’m sorry. I’m overheating. I have to be done.” He also nodded, and internally, I did a little happy dance. “Free, free, I’m free at last! Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!”
It turned out, the other singer did have something to share, and as she spoke, I smiled at her and nodded, reveling in the sweet release from responsibility.
But then she uttered those seven dreadful words: “…And as we sing this next song…”
What part of “I’m done” had she not understood? I dropped my head in complete and utter despair and leaned against my music stand, gripping its flat, metal tray for support. “Help me Jesus,” I exhaled weakly.
I turned to the keyboardist for help, but he had already taken the other singer’s cue and was playing the introduction to the next song. I knew she wasn’t going to lead it, because she had said many times that she was uncomfortable with taking the lead, so I took a few breaths and forced myself to focus and just go with the flow.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out at what point in the introduction I was supposed to start singing. The tune was completely new to me, and though I’d listened to the original version repeatedly on YouTube for the past couple of days, having it played on just the keyboard threw me off.
…So I just stood there as the same pattern of notes played over and over again like a relentless taunt or a recurring nightmare. I looked over to my left, to the spot where our pastor had sat, stood, and kneeled to worship the Lord every Sunday. With the intention of causing as little distraction as possible, I was going to give him the nod I sometimes used to indicate that I was done and he was up.
But of course, all I saw when I looked to my left was an empty chair.
Oh, come on! I’m surprised I didn’t actually say it out loud, because that’s how desperate I was to be done and how little I cared anymore about making that happen in a dignified manner.
I brought the microphone back up to my lips and looked out at everyone. “I’m sorry guys, but I’m really struggling today!” Several worshippers snapped their eyes open, and the looks on some of their faces told me they were expecting to hear a spontaneous testimony—some authentic display of the soul involving crying and confession, capped off with a declaration of God’s unfailing goodness in the midst of unfortunate circumstances.
Well, what they were about to hear was truly authentic, but probably not as moving as they may have hoped. I screwed up my face, cocked my head imploringly, and whined, “I’m really hot!”
So much for being inconspicuous. I had ditched the shorts—the initial source of distraction—and had traded them for the skirt, which was now causing an even bigger disturbance.
And then someone in the sanctuary laughed—it was an instant, unapologetic guffaw that could’ve been construed as cruel, but it was music to my ears (especially when compared to my own singing). It told me that people were having a sense of humor about the whole ordeal.
And to me, humor meant grace. It took repeating myself—whining about how hot I was a second time as I played “Where’s Waldo?” with our pastor—for him to finally come striding down the center aisle from the back of the room, but at long last, it was over. As I made my way back towards my seat, greeting time started, and a woman approached me with a broad smile to match her outstretched arms.
“Were you gettin’ hot flashes up there or what?” she cackled as she squeezed me warmly.
I laughed back at her and shrugged. “I guess so!”
And really, I’d seen it coming all along, which was why I hadn’t made a break for the door the second things had started to go awry. I’d known that this was a place of grace, that these were a people of grace, and most importantly, that we worshipped a God of grace, which also meant that I could extend grace towards myself.
…But towards that skirt?
I think it may need to see its own funeral.
It’s certainly dressed for the occasion.
Posted by Loni