By Gloria Nesloney
Have you ever just turned on the radio and said, “I love this song?” You started singing the words. It didn’t matter if you were off key. For just a moment, your mind remembers when you heard that song for the first time. If the song had any real meaning, your emotions can be heard as you try to get the words out. You may find your emotions shift as your memory allows laughter, love, strength, or joy to be experienced. Sometimes the thoughts may go to a time where you went through heartbreak or loss. That kind of song gets stuck in your throat, but the memory lingers until you hear the next favorite song to change the atmosphere.
It amazes me that music has these different effects for me. A silly jingle that got stuck in my head known as an earworm would remind me of my younger years when I was first learning how to sing. If the songs of my high school years would play, I would remember cruising the city streets with my best friends. There was that one song that the disc jockey had chosen that I could not sing in public because I knew I would break out in tears while I remembered my first love. Some ballads just bring back memories I do not want to remember, so I would change the station quickly. I learned that I could sing my way through life to help me get through some great times and hard times.
In my hometown, it was common for trash from the nearby gas stations to be blown in by the dry wind that would reach our fence. When I was in elementary school, my Father made it fun to pick up trash with sawed off broom sticks with a nail on the bottom of it. With the splintered trash stick in one hand and oversized trash bag in the other, my brothers and I would pick up trash. I recall my Father teaching us how to use the tool. He would work alongside us as we were learning, then as time went on, he would come out to check up on us. Once in a while he would sing a silly song, “First you pick it up, then you put it in the bag. He would give instructions like “then you turn yourself around” or “then you touch your toes.” Then we would respond loudly “Bump, Bump.” It helped make the monotonous task a little more enjoyable.
It was not about having a clean yard. It was about being productive during the summer. It was not about doing work. It was about being obedient. It was not about us complaining about the heat. It was about us spending time together and learning to work together so that the task would be done faster. I may never know what it would amount to, but this has stuck in my memory as to how to find joy while I worked. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing the look on my Father’s face when he saw the yard cleaned. His eyes sparkled just a little more when we did what we were told. I can only imagine how the Lord would have felt about us in our younger years when we were obedient doing what we were supposed to do.
At the age of fourteen, I was in a summer program for youth who would work while going to summer school. Working at the school as an industrial maintenance assistant gave me the opportunity to upkeep the school grounds, scrub, wax, and buff the hallways, paint the teachers homes and clean air condition ducts. When I was assigned to clean air condition ducts in the hot summer temperatures while school was out, I did not know what to expect. I was just happy to work. Air conditions were off and the temperatures raised that made the dirt stick to the sweat on my scrawny framed body.
As I would wipe the sweat and mud off my face, I would remember why I was actually working. My family. It was for my family that I worked because we needed the extra finances. I knew that if I didn’t work, it would be difficult for our family to afford the school supplies I would need for my next school year. Like the seven little dwarfs who would whistle while they worked, I learned to do the same when the labor was hard.
I was on a mission trip to San Blas Islands in Panama that allowed me to see a life through the native Kuna Indians who worked day and night just to make ends meet throughout their whole lifetime. The young children were encouraged to work with the family. They would rise up early in order to prepare the boats and nets, and head out to sea to catch fish. Those that were not able to attend to boats would gather fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Still others who were maimed or older cooked, cleaned, and attended to babies or elderly. The whole Kuna Yala Nation community worked together and no one complained.
I sat with a group of young girls around the ages of ten through fifteen that were learning how to make jewelry and molas (sewn tapestries that can be worn or used for decoration). These items were made so that they could be sold on the mainland for tourists. Since we had a language barrier, the oldest in the group showed me by humming in a simple tempo and moved my hands to her rhythm. As she hummed higher notes, she moved my hands to move higher on a jewelry loom. I was learning as fast as the younger girls. The older one would tap the next in the group to continue the long song. The next girl didn’t seem to mind as she had a different melody of her own.
All of the girls methodically moved their hands through certain colored beads, twist the string, and catch another colored bead. We repeated the process until we all finished our wearables. When we all finished and showed our work to each other, everyone laughed and noticed the minor mistakes I made. It was my reward to keep what I made. It wasn’t about being perfect, it was about learning from each other. It was about spending time together. It was about laughing and sharing songs and stories. I will never forget it. I did forget about the many dangers that surrounded the islands when I was with the little ones singing.
When I signed up for the Marine Corps, I did not know what to expect. Now that I look back at those days, I can remember the cadence, repetitive words in a certain tempo that would help the platoon stay on the same foot motion when marching. Left, right, left… Why was it repeated? I already knew my left foot from my right foot. It wasn’t about knowing my position, but getting the multitude in the same position at the same time. For those who took band, I can understand why it was important to know the cadence from the drum major or in my case the Drill Instructor. It was to keep others from bumping into each other. It was so that we could be disciplined and work as a team to do this one thing called, stay in step. When someone did not listen to the cadence, it would be noticed by everyone.
Cadence is also a method used to help motivate the platoon when the marching, running, or hikes were long and tiresome. The Drill Instructors had some interesting beats they would sing cadence that would make my feet move without thinking of the blisters and calluses that built up in the sweaty jungle boots. A deep rooted song that replays in my memory is “From the Halls of Montezuma” I remember singing every day. One time the platoon had to sing it while in the gas chamber. We were told to sing this so that we could focus on the song instead of the terrible pin and needle feeling that the burning chemical left on our skin. It helped to sing as we cleaned each other off when the tears and snot were dripping from our eyes and nose.
When there was no cadence, it was because it was time to eat, sleep, or there was danger. I am reminded of some times when there was no jingle, no whistle, no humming, no song in my heart. It occurred each time I was scared, threatened, in pain or angry. Who wants to sing when one is hurting in any way? The Bible mentions it is not wise to sing to a heart that is full of sorrow. As I went through some difficult times in my life, I did not know of any song that would bring consolation to my weary soul. With so many genres to choose from, and so many top hits that were ever written, none told my story better than the groanings that were whispered under my breath.
The turning point of singing my way through came when I was in writhing pain in a hospital several times in my life. In the room where the doctors gave me grim news and no hope, I had to fight for the words to come out of my head, into my heart, and out in some kind of rhythmic noise. Noise became my song. The noise in my mind catapulted my fear, frustration, and anger for every terrible thing that has ever happened to me. But then, in the latest hours of many nights, my voice gave way to lyrics and melodies of my own to sing to the Lord the songs that may never be heard by others. It was the way I sang through my hurt and found my unexpected blessing of finding joy through writing and singing songs.
The Lord never promised me that life would be easy. To clean a yard full of trash, to clean the dirty air condition ducts, to clean toilets, to clean snot from noses after the gas chamber in the military was not fun. Hearing dreadful news from the doctors was never at an appropriate time. I found that I can change the atmosphere of the mundane to something phenomenal through song. Why not throw in some silly jingles, whistling, humming tunes that have already been written. If you have groanings in your voice because the words of truth are hard to sing, write it down. It is the key to finding joy in the hardest times. That new song will become your anthem of hope.
I find joy in thinking that one day the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant for honoring your Father when he asked you to pick up trash and clean the yard. By doing so, you kept peace with your neighbors unbeknownst to you. When you took the time to clean those air condition ducts, you can now respect those who labor under harsh conditions. You kept multitudes from hidden illnesses that are caused by spores, mites, and molds. When you were making jewelry with the young girls, you had opportunities to minister. When you joined the military to serve your country, you gained strength you didn’t know you had. Now you can help others overcome their fears. Show them how to sing their way through whatever life has thrown them.” Maybe the Lord will sing His song to me.
What songs move you to certain emotions?
Write the song and how it made you feel.
Ask the Lord to help you if the feelings were painful, hurtful, or need healing.
Sing your way through!
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” Colossians 3:23 KJV