letting your light shine
When I was in eighth grade, I really, really, really wanted to sing. The good thing was, I could actually sing. The bad part was, I couldn't do it in front of anyone. Not my family, not my friends, not anybody.

I signed up for a music class that met every afternoon, and only four girls were in it. One was my friend already and the four of us quickly became friendly with each other. We all loved music, and the teacher, Miss Colton, taught us music theory and choral pieces to work on together. But when she decided it was time for us to start working on solo pieces, I panicked.

We decided on "Memory" from Cats (hey, this was the 80s, and that was THE song) and the more we worked on it, the more confident I became about singing it in front of my three classmates. Chorus quickly became my favorite class and I really looked forward to it. Until Miss Colton decided that I should sing "Memory" at the next concert we gave at a neighboring school. More panic.

And that's when inspiration hit.

One afternoon, Miss Colton took the four of us down to the school auditorium, stood me alone on the stage with a spotlight on me and left the rest of the auditorium in blackness. It was truly a frightening experience for me. She left me onstage alone, went to the piano, and started playing the opening bars of "Memory."

I choked up. "Miss Colton, I'm really sorry - please - I just can't do this!"

"Sure you can," she said calmly. "It's just the five of us here - look!" And sure enough, there were the three girls in the front row, grinning at me. It was the same audience I had in the little classroom, only this time the room was darker and more intimidating. And so I found that I could do it then, a little bit.

Miss Colton, God bless her, took us down to that auditorium every single afternoon just so that I could stand there and sing "Memory" at the end of every class. Every day it got less scary. Every time I started to panic I remembered that it really was "just us" there, until it got to the point where I could actually think about looking out into the audience instead of the clock on the farthest, cinder-blocked wall.

She was so patient, so careful. If she had pointed to me and said in class the first day, "And you, honey, will be singing a solo in front of a whole auditorium of people!" I would have fainted. But she took everything one teeny baby step at a time so that I could handle it, and for that I will be forever grateful. Because that day opened up my world in ways I never could have imagined.

Eventually I was able to sing, clearly and strongly, at that concert. I was able to sing at an art show where the stage was in the school cafeteria and the lights would be on AND my family was there. I was able to sing at a concert we did with the local high school. And I lived!

I took the confidence I got from that class to high school with me and became the only freshman girl in the acappella choir (probably partly due to the fact that I didn't know at the time what a big deal it was so I wasn't as terrified!). I was a lead in the senior play. I sang "O Holy Night", the big Christmas solo, at the school concert. I sang in solo recitals and every choir I could join.

I took that confidence to church and asked the Folk Group if they'd let me join. I was encouraged to make up my own harmonies and had a wonderful time.

I took that confidence to college and was accepted as a voice major. I decided not to double major and stuck with art, but it was fun to think I maybe could have been a diva.

I took that confidence and auditioned for an great group, Harmonytryx, and had seven incredibly fun years of singing - winning a competition and being flown to California; singing onstage in New York clubs; recording. I will never forget my first gig - I couldn't believe that you could make such wonderful music and then actually get paid for it! I went places I'd never been, I met amazing people, I tried new things and became a much better singer as well.

And I took that confidence with me when I moved out of my parents' house and joined a new church choir, where I met a certain young man who I will be gladly singing harmony with for the rest of my life. And when choir wasn't enough, I became a song leader so that I could share the music with the rest of the congregation and encourage them to sing too.

The point of all this is that I had a little light inside me. With the encouragement of a wonderful teacher (and other great teachers after her), making music went from something I did in secret in my room to becoming an integral part of my life. By putting me on that stage every afternoon, my teacher helped me face my fears and opened up a whole new world to me. She took that teeny light I had inside and helped it grow until it was so big I couldn't keep it hidden any more.

I pray that some day I can offer that kind of encouragement and support to another dreamer the way she did to me, all those years ago. If anyone reading this is feeling scared about following a dream, please tell me about it. I may not have a magic solution like Miss Colton, but you can sure bet I'll be right there in the front row, applauding wildly for you.

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