Growing up in a preacher’s home in the 70s meant moving around a lot. In 1974 Dad was asked to start a new church in the small town of Kilgore, Texas. We moved there and stayed for 9 years, the longest we had ever resided in one spot. Since the majority of my childhood memories began there, it was home. It is where my story really begins.
Dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket (bless his heart, right?), but Mom had a beautiful alto voice and played the piano. I grabbed on to that genetic code at an early age and began a lifelong musical journey before I ever started elementary school. Music just made sense to me. And so, I followed it around like a puppy dog. I joined the big leagues in 6th grade, and signed up for band and choir (I’d still be there today but they made me leave when I graduated.) My favorite, though, was choir.
All through Middle School I couldn’t wait to go to High School, because the choir there had a thing. I’m not sure I’d call this thing a reputation; it was more like an ethereal realm that surrounded a regal core. Ok, reputation. They called it A Capella Choir. It was its own entity. If you were in A Capella Choir, that meant you were something. You had been handpicked. You had to be a sophomore to even try out, but turns out I tried out and made it my freshman year. I always thought it was because of my unparalleled talent; I was told recently it was because of a scheduling conflict. Well gah to that.
Back to the story. I am a lover of words but words really can’t do this season of my life justice. I’ll try. In the center of this core was a lady named Marilyn Marshall. Mrs. Marshall was unlike anyone I had ever met. Her smile alone gave you a standing ovation when you walked into her classroom. You mattered (but you’d better not be late for warmups). She was classy, she was feisty. She was talented, she was funny. She commanded dots on clefs to come to life, and by golly, they did. Practices, performances, concerts, contests, trips, training. Fun stuff! Hard stuff. Mrs. Marshall loved you but she wouldn’t hesitate to take a switch to your feelings if it meant facilitating your growth – as a musician and as a human being. In retrospect, she was the first one to introduce me to the notion that my life is not all about me. It’s about being a part of something much grander. It’s about offering my gifts to others so that the whole group can produce something lovely. It’s about giving and belonging.
Ask anybody who was around then. A Capella Choir wasn’t a class; it was a privilege.
For 4 years my schedule revolved around 4th period, Monday through Friday. Who am I kidding…my life revolved around 4th period. Well, almost 4 years. Six weeks into my Senior year, my dad was called to pastor another church. 50 miles away. It didn’t take long for the realization to set in that a 45-minute commute to school wasn’t going to be an option, and it didn’t take long for my heart to be crushed. This was to be the first true heartbreak in my story. Do you know what Mrs. Marshall said when I told her we were moving? She said no. That I couldn’t go. So, we searched for new options. She offered me a place to live so that I could finish out my Senior year. What teacher does that? I wound up moving, so she called my new choir teacher to set up the transition and make it as smooth as possible. Truth be told, it wasn’t smooth at all. It was insanely difficult. Not a day went by that I didn’t miss my every single one of my friends, especially her. Gratefully, I got to go back for our final Senior concert 7 months later. Home.
Last weekend a bunch of us made a trip to Kilgore to honor Marilyn Marshall. We were able to thank her for all she gave and meant to us, 30 plus years later. We leaned in and listened to story after story, from people whose lives were profoundly impacted by this one special lady. We sang a couple of songs for her, but the finale of the evening was when she was helped onto the stage and she led us in the benediction, The Lord Bless You and Keep You. We performed this song hundreds of times back in the day, but talk about a moment in time that you wish you could capture in a globe and place on the mantel. It was that very moment. With grace and elegance and not one beat out of place, she commanded her true audience…us. We went to leave something of value, but we left with more than we could have possibly imagined.
Have you ever been stunned with gratitude? That pretty much sums it up for me right now.
Let me ask you something. Who has made a positive impact on your life? Tell them. Please, don’t wait until you get the call and it’s too late. Pick up the phone, pack up the car, just do something to let them know how much they mean to you. While you have time. There is something special that happens when you say to someone else, “You made a difference in my life…thank you.”
Do it. You’ll be better for it.