It’s just before 7:00 on Friday night. I sit in the high school auditorium, about the fifth row from the front, and smack in the center. I am not all that thrilled to be here – the annual student talent show. Based on my attendance for three years prior, the word “talent” feels a bit of a stretch. But I will, as I have before, wince my way through the next couple of hours. Still, I’ll give them credit – these brave souls. Teenagers who have seized a moment in the spotlight to sing pop hits that sounded far better in the shower than on stage.
I could do without the whole experience. (Well, except for Emma.)
The lights dim and I lean back in my chair, settling in for what’s ahead. Two girls, the emcees with printed scripts in hand, begin the painstaking process of introducing one act after another. “That was great, wasn’t it? How about another round of applause for __________!” No. Not so great, but nice of you to say so. Keep it moving, will you? Let’s get to the real talent!
Finally. She walks on stage. Smiling and poised. How is it that she is so comfortable in her own skin, so at home? I watch as she tries to adjust the mic and jokes about it being way too short for her. She is nonplussed. How is that possible? Unable to raise it, she finally pulls it out of the stand and holds it loosely in her hand – as though it’s an everyday occurrence. Oh, her confidence! Where did that come from? She steps back, lets herself breathe, then looks up at the sound booth with a nod that says, “I’m ready” and the music starts.
She sways slightly as her eyes lock on her audience. Then one, slow, deep breath and “At . . . last . . . ” The first two notes are more than enough to know that this girl deserves to be here. Perfect pitch. Perfect vibrato. Perfect presence. The cheers erupt before even her first measures are complete. “. . . my love has come along.” Indeed.
Emma Joy channels Etta James.
I want to stand up and cheer, but need to hold my phone still – the video recorder capturing every moment. I feel the tears brim behind my eyes, but know she’s only getting started and that I dare not. And I am inundated with flash-backs: an infant, a toddler, an adolescent, and now this strangely-unfamiliar young woman – my daughter. Electrifying. Captivating. Stunning. Perfection.
Then, all-too quickly, I hear the last lines: “You smiled, you smiled. Oh, and then the spell was cast. And here we are in heaven, for you are mine . . . ” And her final notes – held even longer and stronger than the first: “At . . . last.”
As she places the mic gently back into the stand, she grins slyly, steps back, and takes in the well-deserved applause. I turn off the camera and wipe away my tears.
Moments of personal power and strength are the closest we ever get to God. For in these moments we are most fully ourselves. And though my theology has too-often convinced me of just the opposite (acknowledge your lack, your sin, your need) the truth is this: when we are most fully ourselves we are reflecting the very image of God. Genesis 1. It is good.
I have spent a lifetime trying to be good enough, to make the mark, to meet expectations and, in the process, have missed God because I’ve not been myself.
How much more of God might we know, incorporate, and feel if we were just ourselves – unapologetic, glorious, wild, dangerous, bold, and (pitch)perfect. If we were in families, relationships, jobs, circumstances, situations that consistently allowed and encouraged our on-stage selves. If we sang out unrestrained truth with conviction, no 2nd guessing, and not a hint of doubt. If crowds went wild. And if tears flowed in response to the rapture and beauty of it all.
Those 2+ minutes of Emma Joy singing Etta James was God made-manifest. I’m certain of it. No trying. No striving. No question of her ability, her right, her value, her worth, her deservingness. And no holding back. She was power. She was strength. So very good. She was (and is) the Divine enfleshed and dwelling among us. Impossible to miss. And if in and through her, this 18-year-old girl-turning-woman; so too you . . . and me.
Emma sang and God said, “At . . . last . . . ”