My very first week in Young Women as a frightened 12-year-old I volunteered to lead the music. This was something I knew I could do and in a small way I wanted to show off for the older girls. I stood by the piano and raised my arm. The hymn was "Come, Come Ye Saints" and if you don't know, it switches from 4/4 time to 3/4 time several times within the verse. The song began just fine but didn't stay that way long. The time changes, coupled with my nervousness, resulted in very choppy, incorrect, and desperate conducting. I was disappointed I hadn't done better when I knew I could do it perfectly! But it appeared that no one really noticed because their heads were buried in their hymnbooks. My leaders gave me a "good job" smile as I sat back down. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I went on to lead music many more times without incident.
Then when I was about 14 I went to a Sunday-night devotional called a fireside. This was a stake event for all the youth in our area. I was asked to lead the music, to which I gladly agreed. When it was time for the opening hymn I stood up and opened my book. We were to sing "Carry On", a hymn I did not know well. As the piano played the introduction I looked out on the congregation, smiling. I waited for my cue to begin. I waited . . . and waited. The piano just kept playing. And then I was hit with a terrible panic: You missed your cue. You were supposed to start singing. Or maybe you're supposed to start singing now?
I was confused and too terrified to make eye contact with the pianist. I listened to the piano and thought that I'd bring the group in . . . now. That seemed right. With a swoop of my hand the people obediently followed me and began to sing, "Firm as the mountains around us, Stalwart and brave we stand --"
I heard the music end, the notes pricking my mind with uncomfortable clarity: I had a problem.
It was the longest piano introduction in the history of hymns, practically the entire song, and now it was time to start. For real.
The congregation train-wrecked the end of the stanza and then started over, at my direction, "Firm as the mountains around us--"
I was so mortified. Because I was a teenager, everything I felt was raw and personal and intense and it would have been a blessing for me to have shriveled up and died.
After the opening prayer, imagine my dismay when the stake president praised me for my perseverance.
"We can all learn something from young Sister Cook," he said. "She made a mistake and everyone followed her. She obviously had no idea what she was doing but she just pressed forward. I mean, she really, really screwed up! But she finally got it right in the end. It was pretty brutal but what a lesson we can all learn from her. Great job!"
(These were not his actual words but that's how they fell on my ears.)
Oh my goodness, I really did want to melt into the floor.
But I didn't, and I survived.
I thought of this story as I sat by the organ last week, ready to sub for our regular ward chorister. Here I was, a 38-year-old woman, in the same position I was when I was 14, ready to stand and lead a congregation in the singing of hymns. I began to feel grateful that I hadn't given up when things had gotten hard, or I was humiliated, or hadn't succeeded. I was grateful that people had let me try and fail, and let me try again. In fact, they lifted me and praised me in my most embarrassing hour. And that got me thinking about life in general.
I've been blessed with supportive family and friends who believe in me. When I fall they encourage me to get back up and try again. And we all have a Savior who watches us try and fail, but does He ever stop cheering us on? No--He never stops!
He knows that we won't be perfect, that we'll make mistakes, that we'll feel disappointed, discouraged, embarrassed, or afraid. But as many times as we pick ourselves up He is there to help brush off the dust. When we struggle with things we can pray and He will give us strength--sometimes that comes in the words of a scripture, a friend who does a kind deed, or a feeling of peace and conviction that helps set us on the right path. I have felt that strength many times, especially on the weightier matters of mortality I have yet to master. But He gives me chance after chance and each time I try, I get a little better.
He said: Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)
He is with us always, through trials and triumphs and everything else in between.
And that is music to my ears.