Sometimes, she would engage her dolls in a question and answer session, much like the ones she and I often had. "Who was born at Christmas?” she'd ask the silent group.
Then, in a peculiar voice, she'd yell out, "Jesus!"
"Who died on a cross so you could go to heaven?” She was the teacher again.
"Jesus!" she'd yell again.
One morning I sat at the breakfast table watching her putter around with her corn flakes. It was time for a question and answer session of our own. I decided on a difficult question, just to see how much she was retaining.
"Who found a silver cup in his sack of corn?" I queried.
"Noah!" she shouted, sending a spray of corn flakes and milk across the red-checkered tablecloth.
Great. "No," I told her gently. "Remember? It was the baby brother of Joseph."
She wrinkled her nose and thought a while. "I give up," she said.
"Benjamin," I said. "Remember Benjamin, sweetie?"
"Mama," she said, "That's too hard for a little girl like me."
Maybe she was right. Maybe I expected too much of her. I just wanted her to be learning and not just listening.
Later in the day, she wanted me to play church with her. This particular version differed from when she played with the dolls; it required my active participation. For reasons known only to her, I needed to be the preacher. And as is the case sometimes with small congregations, I was also the song leader, the pianist, and one of the church soloists.
This day I had just rendered a humdrum rendition of "Deep and Wide" when she said, "Okay, Mama, now you get in the microphone and say, 'Anna Marie Shockley, please come up.' So I took the microphone—an overripe banana—and said, "Anna Marie Shockley, please come up."
She marched sternly to the piano where I sat. In my best pretend voice I said, "Mrs. Shockley, what are you going to sing for us tonight?"
"You are my helper," she said.
"Okay," I said, agreeably. "I'll be your helper."
"No, Mama," she said. "That's what I'm singing, You Are My Helper." She punched each word for emphasis.
"Hmmm.” I looked thoughtful. "I don't believe I know that one, ma'am. Can you play it?"
She nodded, so I slid off the piano bench. Looking earnest, she climbed on and soon the ivories were making a joyful—okay, loud—noise unto the Lord. Her small voice lifted and fell sporadically as she sang out in a most unstructured fashion.
"You are my helper.” Clang! Bang! "You are my helper.” Clang! Bang! "You are my helper when somebody needs a helper.” Clang! Bang! Clang! Bang! "When I need a song, you are my helper.” Clang! Bang! "When I'm on my knees, you are my helper.” Clang! Bang!
With her eyes clamped shut, she belted out about three rounds of this. At last, she sat smiling and breathless. "Okay, ma'am," she said, turning to me. "It's your turn now.” I hesitated. "No," she said, abruptly. "Church is over."
I let out a great sigh of relief, for I feared I could never follow such a moving act. Besides, a giant lump had mysteriously settled in my throat.
Without question, my sweet child’s song to God had been heartfelt. I remembered all of the times I had offered the Lord petty lip service, my mind on frivolous concerns. Hearing my daughter deliver such a genuine praise offering opened a window inside of me, forcing me to examine my soul's staleness. Where on earth had she come up with that song? I wondered.
As I prepared the evening meal, I glanced at the art work she'd brought home from church and stuck on the refrigerator the week before. Every week the teacher made each pupil a little memento with a Bible verse written on it, hoping to help the little ones remember the day's lesson. This one was a piece of red construction paper in the shape of my daughter’s left hand. In the middle of the small palm were printed these words: I will help thee (Isaiah 41:10).
Staring at those four simple words, I smiled. Now I knew where her song had come from. Anna Marie was learning. And in the process, so was I.
"From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Matthew 21:16 NIV).
Lord, when my worship becomes stiff and formal, You send a child to point the way.
Taken from the book, Whispers From Heaven (Pacific Press), by Dayle Allen Shockley.
Spiritual Sundays. If you haven't visited them before, they'd love to have you stop by. Please be in prayer for Charlotte. She's having surgery on Monday and I know she would appreciate your prayers.