Give Me A Song to Sing
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” (Mayou Angelou)
When I was a little girl, I used to imagine what it would be like to be a bird. To fly free and high to wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. When playing outside as a child, and I would feel the wind rush across my face, I wished so badly that I could in fact fly. I wished that the wind would sweep me away to new heights and new places.
As a mother, my own children now ask me, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” And my response is today, what it was then...I would want to be a bird.
Only, the reasons for this response have changed. I grew up. And as I grew, I discovered my love and passion for music, and the awareness and gratitude that God did in fact gift me with an attribute of a bird—He gave me the ability to sing.
After our daughter died, my ability to sing was silenced. But only by me. I had sung so much during her pregnancy, and singing has been the most vulnerable and intimate form of prayer for me. Aside from the Blessed Sacrament, it is how I have felt closest to God. However, when my heart broke, my ability to praise Him in the midst of my deepest sorrow became unfathomable.
At our daughter’s funeral mass, our pastor paraphrased a quote by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who watched four of her nine children die early deaths: “Even birds sing after the storm.”
In that moment, those words sounded nice and offered a momentary consolation. However, when I began drowning in the torrential waves of grief in the weeks and months to follow, I didn’t remember them. It wasn’t until a co-worker dropped off a canvas painting of the phrase with a red cardinal that I remembered what he had said months before. But the storm had not stopped.
Not long after, I came across the story behind Kari Jobe’s most recent album, “The Garden,” which I had listened to daily during the third trimester of my pregnancy. I was stunned to discover that the album was written in the midst of her own personal grief following her sister’s stillbirth. The first song she wrote for the album was entitled, “I Will Sing” (lyrics below). She was in the midst of deadlines for a new album, and said that even though she couldn’t pray, she knew she needed to write, “because praise brings breakthrough.” And even though she didn’t quite have the words for God, mostly questions, she offered a declaration of what she needed from Him.
In that moment, I decided that maybe I could open myself up again by opening my mouth to lift a song. Attending mass was completely painful anyway, so why not sing with my husband and lead worship to offer as a distraction? Little did I know how much this decision would change things for me.
At that first mass, in that first song of true and profound prayer (because I didn’t even know how to pray anymore), I felt her, and I felt heaven, and I had a vision of her eternity of praising God the Father, endlessly. And it kept me going. Week by week.
Each Sunday I chose to sing, and the words were not just words. They were the prayers and cries from the depths of my heart. The questions still remained. The anger and the longing didn’t subside. But there was comfort and a peace and an encounter with the divine each time. (“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”)
And so, has this ability to sing meant my storm has ended? I don’t think so. Honestly, I still feel as though I’m in the thick of it. The grief still hits hard and heavy, and there’s still so much transformation to take place. It’s not even been two years.
But do you know what I have come to notice? I’ve come to notice, that birds do in fact sing in the midst of the storm. And they sing in the darkness before the sun even rises. And they sing in the peace of a calm breeze after the rain passes. And they sing even though no one is listening. Sometimes, they sing only for themselves. And they sing, day after day...because they can. Because that is what they were created to do, and their gift—it brings beauty.
I notice that their voice is often the first sound I hear of the day, which takes me back to my silent retreats when the birds sang in constant. And I feel comfort, and joy, and sorrow all at the same time. Because I long for consolation again. I long for a song to sing.
Today, a little girl asked me and my friend: “Do you like birds?” (I giggled, because the bird theme is just so intense right now. I hear you, God.) I responded, “Oh yes, I love birds. Do you know what I love most?”
“When you see them?,” she asked with her brows raised high.
“Not when I see them,” I smiled. “When I hear them,” I replied. She nodded her head in agreement.
It doesn’t matter the circumstances...birds still sing.
Even without words...birds still sing.
After our daughter died, I prayed for a new song, and I feel like in the past month, God has been showing me the melody. It’s a beautiful one. And I’m ready to sing it. And I’m ready to sing it without being fixed. Without having all the answers. And with my wings still broken. Because if I choose to sing it, if I choose to sing, then my voice might yield the song and the beauty that someone else so desperately needs.
Give me a song to sing...and I will sing it.