When Malakai’s afraid, he chews on his bottom lip like his grandmother.
And there’s no getting around it:
He looks like a caged coon up there in the pew before the piano — biting at his lip, hands fidgeting.
How can I really tell him — that catastrophizing is how we make our own soul-cages. That fear’s always the flee ahead.
That he really could take one long, deep breath and just relax. Abide. Because it’s never about your capabilities. When you’re in covenant with Christ, it’s His responsibility to cover your cracks, to be all your competency and completeness.
Inabilities, in Christ, are made all-sufficient, just-right abilities. Abandon worries — and wholly abide.
Malakai writhes in his seat, looks about wildly for me.
All I can do is try to hush his wide-eyed nerves with a feeble smile.
But is it really possible to make a nod from the fourth row of a music festival enfold one scared boy into arms that hold tight? I pray.
The adjudicator steps forward with his sharp yellow pencil in hand. Malakai eyes bore into me.
“Now, boys and girls, when I call your name, you may come up to the piano, introduce your piece to us — and then play your very best.” He punctuates the air with that graphite point.
“And don’t forget to bow when we all clap. Then you’ll return to your seat. And so it will be the next pianist’s turn. But please–”
The adjudicator looks over the top of his glasses, pencil suspended in one long, midair pause —
“Please — each of you, wait until you hear your name called. I will need time after each student to write my notes and give you each marks.”
Malakai steals a look my way.
Is it possible for nerves to chew right through a bottom lip?
The adjudicator takes a seat at his folding table at the back. Waves the air with his #2 graphite pencil and invites, “Roseanne Wideman?”
A little girl in brown braids and mirror-shiny black patents steps up to the piano, murmurs something undecipherable and wills her trembling fingers from middle C to a halting G. You could tell — the only Hallelujah chorus moment for Roseanne Wideman was after she curtsied and lunged for the refuge again of the pew.
We clap her relief.
As our applauding fades, Malakai rivets around to find me again in a sea of tight-faced, anxious mothers. I’m the one smiling thinly. He mouths it large: “NOW?”
No, I shake my head, no. I nod in the direction of the adjudicator bent over his portable table.
Malakai lights up, nods back his remembrance. Ah, he nods — yes, yes.
“WAIT” he mouths it to me and to all the wound-tight, out of tune mamas. Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise — a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience — because is the Lord ever late?
So we wait.
That one adjudicator graphite pencil scrawls loudly. Big loops. Rapid underlinings. Scratch, scrawl, scribble in all this waiting space.
Malakai twists his hands.
The boy beside him keeps rubbing both of his hands up and down his pant legs, his head bobbing backward and forward in time, a kind of sedentary pacing.
And then he springs. The boy beside Kai. The boy beside Malakai springs to the side of the baby grand piano — a thin boy in a faded yellow plaid shirt, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. Kai stares bug-eyed. Swings his head back. Does the adjudicator sees it too?
Why is this wisp of a boy, bangs hanging in his eyes, standing up there already?
Has his name been called?
The adjudicator’s still furiously writing. He hasn’t even looked up.
Kai’s eyes are these big platters, pleading soundlessly with me.
“Mom! Do something!”
But the little boy speaks.
“I am going to play Tennis Waltz for you today.”
The little boy’s quavering whisper’s hardly louder than the scratching of the pencil.
The pencil at the back stops abruptly.
Us parents look back to the adjudicator helplessly.
The yellow-shirted boy is already playing. Playing the notes gently, surely.
When Kai’s taken, he leans forward and half smiles, like his mother.
He and I are twin reflections across the sanctuary.
And the little boy plays a shy grace.
A duet with a divine calling.
Malakai doesn’t remember his mark from that music festival.
Doesn’t remember what the adjudicator said when he assessed his performance. I pray he remembers how loud I clapped when he grinned and bowed big.
But on the backroads home, Malakai leaned up over the seat and I can’t forget this:
“Mom? You know when the adjudicator was still writing down his report and we were all waiting for him to finish? Because we had to wait for him to call out the next name?” I’m driving, nodding. “And then that boy in the yellow-shirt just stood up and announced his song…?”
“Do you think he just heard it in his heart — that God was calling his name?”
I almost hit the brakes.
Sometimes you have to answer — when no one else hears a thing.
Sometimes you need to step up — when everyone else is still sitting down.
Sometimes in living your best life, the most missed ingredient — is to live obedient to God.
How else can there ever be a song? Unless you answer the call of God?
That’s the only rhythm that can make music: to do the will of the One whose heart beats at the center of the cosmos.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of us.
Maybe the genuine followers of Christ always march to their own drum —
Thrum: I will walk with God. Thrum: Even if I walk different than everyone else.
Was it just that he heard his name called down the canyons of his heart — and love compelled him to lunge forward?
Love is never a trite feeling. Love is a wildfire in the bones, a burning flame willing to serve — willing to say yes.
“Mom?” Malakai’s speaking to me — but he’s looking out the side window … Or within.
And I can’t believe he says this:
“Do you think God’s calling our name too — and we’re just not listening?”
That we are waiting for someone else to call our name — when God’s already called us?
That nothing is lost by sacrifice and everything is lost when you’re sitting down when you should be stepping up?
That when you’re waiting for an answer and it seems like life is silent — God is actually calling?
That who answers God’s call loses nothing, but a life deaf to God’s call loses everything?
And there’s this stillness that sits between us. A waiting….
And then it comes, a humming — an answering.
I can hear him. Malakai’s making music from willing lips —
One song of strong surrender from his heart….