Mark and I sang "Do You Hear What I Hear?" for the prelude to our congregation’s Christmas Eve service. Beyond the lyrics and melody, what most of the people there will likely remember is how the song ended. Our friend Kelsey, smiling brightly and speaking excited words of greeting, joined us on the dias for the final verse and chorus. She didn’t join in singing, but she certainly joined in sharing a message.
I think the song was a secondary delight for Kelsey. She was simply pleased to be with Mark and me, friends she hadn’t been able to hug or speak with in more than a month; for Kelsey, that amount of time might as well be a year.
As for the song, Kelsey heard what others heard. That’s how she found us. And, those who saw what I saw noticed how Kelsey entered the sanctuary while we were singing. In typical style, Kelsey’s feet carried her forward with an eager and ever-so-slight bounce. It’s apparent she loves coming to church. She loves touching base with people in the church who accept her for who she is. I am proud to be in that category, along with Mark.
That’s why I didn’t mind what Kelsey did next, even though I recognize that some in the congregation did.
After taking a few steps into the sanctuary, Kelsey’s head snapped our direction in recognition. I watched her recognize us by sound; and then, after visually confirming that it was really Mark and me who were singing, she did what I anticipated she would. She traveled with charming swiftness to stand directly in front of us, waving and calling out: “Joy!” Her voice carried over our piano accompaniment. “Mark!”
I knew that she would continue to call out and wave until we both returned the motion, if not the greeting. So I waved (a small motion at my hip) while singing and watched Mark do the same.
I credit the added energy of the Christmas season to what occurred next. While Mark and I continued to recount the lyricist’s poetic description of Christmas Eve’s night wind, shepherd boy, and mighty king, Kelsey moved step by step up the stairs that shape the boundary of the altar area until she was close enough for us to touch her outstretched hand.
“Joy! I heard you singing!” She said even as we were, in fact, still singing. And then she hugged the side of me that wasn’t holding a microphone. When our hug ended, I kept her by my side, leaving my left hand around her shoulder while continuing to hold the microphone with my right hand. Mark and I were on the final chorus, and the least distracting place for Kelsey at that moment was to be exactly where she was: by my side quietly listening to us finish the song, oblivious to every other person in the congregation – even though they couldn’t miss her.
I hope most saw what I did: a loving young woman following her heart to a place where she felt accepted.
And I hope those who didn’t see what I saw understood this: The gift of Christmas is a gift of acceptance so that all children might know they are God’s.
Kelsey gets it. Her response to the question, “Do you hear what I hear?” was to coming running to a place she felt accepted. And to anyone who might have been appalled by her boldness, I extend the same invitation. Come on over. Come on up. Come to wherever you feel the love of God is and then revel in the acceptance you find.
Don’t worry about the conventions of “church” or “religion.” The God of the Universe is calling your name, every moment of every day. Open your eyes. Or open your ears to listen. Follow your heart, for you are loved; you are accepted - just the way you are.
Note: The middle photo gives you an idea of what happens whenever Kelsey hears us singing. It was taken two summers ago when our band was playing in a local summer festival. This video below (which I post with her mom’s permission) was made at the same festival this summer. Watching it will help you meet Kelsey. She loves music and loves being part of what music means. Enjoy her joy!