For someone who isn’t good at singing, I sing a lot. If you ask my mom, my singing is pretty good, but if you ask anyone else, well… they’re not asking me to sing live anywhere. Priscilla and Haven, two of my roommates, can sing pretty well. Between the three of us, our house is always full of blaring music, guitars, a piano, a violin, harmonicas, singing, a cajon drum, and a lot of noise.
I will never forget an experience I had freshman year while I was church hopping. One of my first friends at A&M, Kiersten, was also trying churches and we both lived on campus. She always drove and I never wanted to go to church by myself so it was the perfect gig. One of the first Sunday that we tried churches, we walked in a little late and sat in the very back. We ended up sitting by a woman during worship who sang very loudly and very off key. The conversation that followed immediately after the service went like this:
Me: *stating the obvious, hoping for some agreement and leeway into funny conversation* “Dude, that lady next to me was so loud.”
Kiersten: “Yeah, but it was such a joyful noise.”
Me: *feels bad for trying to talk about someone worshipping* Oh…. yeah… it was.
BAM, freshmen Caleigh convicted once again. That lady may not have had a musical bone in her body, but she wasn’t singing for anyone but herself and God. I’d always thought the word “noise” had a negative connotation, but it became so beautiful once Kiersten described it as a “joyful noise.”
Recently, I went to South Africa on a short-term mission trip which means 15 college students in one house for two weeks. Now, this wasn’t a mission trip where we rebuilt homes, built ramps, etc., this was solely outreach. This means we simply made friends with whoever we encountered, hopefully told them about Jesus and/or got them plugged in with Christian community there. Whatever the long term needed/wanted us to do, we were on it.
At some point after the trip, Quincey, the girl I shared a room with, was hanging out with Priscilla and naturally, Priscilla started singing at some point. Quincey pointed out that during the last two weeks, she’d noticed that Priscilla and I sang out loud, all the time. She also noted that she’d caught me singing in the shower every night (I thought the water drowned out my voice so she couldn’t hear…. apparently it didn’t).
Priscilla told me about this conversation with Quincey and it got me thinking. Why do we subconsciously sing so much, all the time? I usually sing when I’m in a good mood. Priscilla literally sings all the time and she’s one of the happiest people I know. One of my conclusions is that it’s pure joy.
During one of our morning team times in South Africa, we were told to ask God what He had for us during the trip, so I asked. A couple minutes go by, and the thing that was stuck in my head was the phrase “joy in His people and creation” and that was it.
**Some historical context before I keep going: South Africa is still recovering from Apartheid that ended in 1994. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out this summary. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what it was either.**
The very next day, we went to a colored (people that were of mixed races) township outside of town to volunteer. Specifically, we were at a soup kitchen ministry that a man and his family ran out of their little home. His testimony was absolutely incredible. This was something God calls him to do, even though he has no money. However, God has provided exactly what they needed every week since they started. Our jobs were to serve food, encourage the mothers, play with the kids, and be safe.
The moment we pulled up, I felt like I was in a new world. I’d never been in a place quite like this before. This was poverty on a new level, and it didn’t compare to our “ghetto” areas in the states. The adults and kids were all lining up outside of the shed added-on to the house in which they operated out of and in their hands were empty butter tubs or tupperware to receive their food. Before serving the “soup” (it was more like a goulash with nutritional essentials like rice, veggies, chicken, and a slice of bread), they had a routine. The man explained to the parents and children how important it was to stay in school, they said the Lord’s prayer, and the food line began. Children went first, mothers second, men last. After everyone had gone through, we moved to a second location across the main road that I believe divided the two main gangs in the area. Essentially, we did the same thing but this time we were cranking food out from the back of a van.
Both times that we pulled up to serve, I was overwhelmed. There were so many people wanting/needing this food. Often, this was the only hot meal these families got all week. They were rowdy, yelling at each other to get in line. Many looked about our age, but they were all tattooed and obviously in gangs. They were very nice, but some liked to say weird things to make us feel uncomfortable and humor themselves.
Once the food started, however, it changed. They took care of one another. The children all went first. If another kid came up late, he got pulled to the front. A disabled man rolled up and the entire line parted to allow him to get food first. There wasn’t enough food for all of them, but the people still put others before themselves. I watched a little boy, probably 4-5 years old, take some of the food out of his butter tub and put it in his friend’s tub. They don’t have much, but they share what they’re given and are very grateful.
On the ride home, a couple of us were talking to one of the long-term team members and he asked us what we thought. I simply told him that I was a little overwhelmed at how many rowdy people there were but once we started, I was in awe of how much they took care of each other. He said:
“Yeah. It just really puts it in perspective of how blessed we are and how even in circumstances like these, there is still joy and love for each other.”
THE JOY. I went from fine to having tears stinging my eyes in about .5 seconds. This is what God wanted me to see and everything clicked. I had stopped loving people well. All people. People who disagree with me, people I don’t know, people who I take for granted, people who ask for help on Facebook, people who look weird on the bus, people with different political views as me, and well…. you get the point. I want to be like these people, full of joy even when I feel like I have absolutely nothing to be joyful about. I have the joy of the Lord, and I want everyone that I encounter to feel it, just like how I felt it in these people.
Well God, I heard and saw the joy in these people. And finding joy in His creation wasn’t hard. All it took was waking up early, grabbing a cup of delicious African coffee, and walking onto the back patio that had a view of the morning sun hitting the mountains. That view alone is one of my favorite views on earth and it is burned into my eyes forever.
It doesn’t matter if I’m in College Station, South Africa, or the North Pole, I want to be full of joyful noises. Maybe those sounds will look like singing terribly in the shower, sharing words of affirmation, humming while walking, telling someone I’ll help them, worshipping louder than usual, asking a friend to lunch, or being kind to our server even though there are olives and I’d asked to have them taken off. Whatever they are, I want the joy of the Lord to explode out of me because I can’t help it. I want to not care what people think of me, like the lady at church. I want to find joy in every situation I’m in and be grateful like the people in South Africa.
This is all work in progress, of course, but I can thank the tone-deaf lady at church and some rowdy South Africans for showing me what joyful noises can look and sound like. Maybe one day you’ll catch me singing, or maybe I’ll hear yours because everyone’s joyful noise is a good one 😉