“I could lift you up
I could show you what you wanna see
And take you where you wanna be
You could be my luck
Even if the sky is falling down
I know that we’ll be safe and sound.”
-Capital Cities, Safe & Sound
When you move to a new city, there are always gaping holes, and these holes take time to fill. My daughter Avery, who was eight at the same, had a major hole in her life for over a year after our move. Every Wednesday afternoon, she’d have a lesson with her new guitar teacher. This instructor was vastly different than her previous one who’d been the gregarious worship leader at our church. While her new instructor’s formal approach may have been suitable for some, it was soul-crushing to Avery. Couple that with severe homesickness, and in a short time the joy diminished from the pluck of her guitar strings, as well as her eyes.
I vowed to be keep looking for the right person to fill the gaping hole in my child’s life.
The right person would stand up in a crowded room to introduce herself shortly after she and I were selected for a live storytelling event in my new city. Kaitlin Curtice introduced herself as a wife, mother of two young boys, a Native American author, singer/songwriter, speaker, and worship leader.
Singer/songwriter? Worship leader?
I squealed inside – or maybe out loud. I don’t know, but I was overjoyed by the prospect.
Kaitlin had barely returned to her seat, when I leaned over and whispered, “Do you give guitar lessons? I would love for you and my daughter to meet.”
Kaitlin smiled and admitted she was self-taught with no formal instruction whatsoever, but was willing to give it a try.
Two weeks later, Kaitlin and Avery strummed together and sang “Amazing Grace” in a little blue room at the front of our home while I sobbed in the kitchen.
When a prayer is being answered, you just know.
Their voices were beautifully compatible and completely at ease – it was as if two sisters who’d sung together their whole lives were doing a little after-dinner routine.
But it’s the compatibility of their souls that I give thanks for every Sunday at 4pm when the two sisters huddle close in the little blue room and cultivate music, laughter, and hope for the world.
Yes, I said, “Hope for the world.”
What Kaitlin and Avery create with each other and because of each other is far more than music. They feed off each other to create tangible goodness that goes out into world with them.
Sometimes Kaitlin arrives for lessons in Native American attire, hair in braids, adorned with a necklace from her Potawatomi ancestry. Avery most often arrives in comfy pants, hair disheveled, smile wide. Kaitlin exudes a welcoming presence and one of strength. “Be who you are,” she tells Avery often, along with, “Don’t change to fit in with the rest.” Kaitlin’s eyes notice the marginalized, the oppressed, and the alienated. She gives voice to their injustices and their pain. She’s taught Avery to speak up by teaching her to sing out.
When I peer around the corner during their lessons, this is what I observe:
“Come as you are,” Kaitlin’s voice implies.
“Sing with me,” her smile says.
“You matter,” her posture suggests.
Some people just know how to make others breathe easier.
When it’s time to say goodbye, the sisters are stronger, more hopeful, ready to take the goodness they created together out into the world where it is needed most.
A few months ago, Avery brought her guitar to her fourth & fifth grade girls’ Sunday School class for show-and-tell. As she strummed the final chord of her song, her impressed teachers asked if she would lead the class in song every Sunday. Avery eagerly accepted this new role and comes prepared with music Kaitlin teaches her, with the voice Kaitlin develops in her, with the confidence Kaitlin brings out in her.
I got a little emotional when Avery’s Sunday School teacher sent me a blurry video of Avery leading her class in song. To my surprise, she was singing, “Cups” (You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone). Let’s just say, a song with the lyrics, “I got my ticket for the long way ‘round, two bottle ‘a whiskey for the way” was not what I would call a worship song.
But Avery knows far more than I do about people and music. She knew that particular song would bring people together.
In the video, you can see every girl in the room knows the words to this song. But what made me cry was what happened over the course of that two-minute song. One by one, girls of different shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds rose from the carpeted area to come stand beside Avery as she played.
“Come as you are,” her voice implies.
“Sing with me,” her smile says.
“You matter,” her posture suggests.
Some people just know how to make others breathe easier.
Avery was recently asked by the Children’s Ministry Director to be the worship leader for the lower grades. Minutes before her first official debut, it was discovered she’d been given the wrong song to practice all week. The children would not be able to sing along. I saw the fear in my child’s face as she looked out into a room full of little people waiting to hear a familiar song. Avery took a deep breath and played the song she’d practiced. The children were mesmerized. Some tapped their feet. Some caught on and sang along. All was okay.
Afterwards, Avery told me she knew she had a decision. “I could either cry and fall apart or I could just sing. So I did my job, and I sang.”
I shudder to think about all the vital life lessons, experiences, and opportunities Avery would have missed if Kaitlin hadn’t come into her life. She has been so much more than a music teacher – she has been a soul-builder – positively directing the course of Avery’s life and her view of herself forever.
The reason I share this story today is quite critical. Over the past six months, there have been a disturbing number of people coming to me at speaking events with devastating stories of children who have become lost … of children who say they hate themselves … who are cutting into their precious skin … who no longer want to exist.
I know full well my child could be in that place of darkness today had it not been for the refuge, the connection, the soul-building time spent with her mentor.
One tearful parent recently described to me how she found her daughter on the bathroom floor repeatedly calling herself fat, ugly, and worthless.
Hugging the woman tightly, I asked the first question that came to my mind. I said, “Does your daughter have a place away from the pressures, the noise, and the judgement of the world to do something she loves to do? Does she have a refuge?”
The woman shook her head and said, “Not really.” I’ve since learned her child is receiving therapy and finding peace in painting rocks and horseback riding. Her mother reported the joy is slowly coming back to her child’s eyes.
I believe it’s imperative for the mental and emotional health of our children to have places and people of refuge. As I read through Kaitlin’s newly released book, GLORY HAPPENING, I was overcome with emotion seeing how all these pieces fit together. In the story, The Cave, Kaitlin writes:
“When I was in fourth grade, we had a science unit on nature, and we chose to transform our classroom into a cave—making papier-mâché stalagmites and stalactites, cutting and gluing and painting after school.
Because there was no view from the windows in our small classroom, someone had painted an outdoor scene on one of the glass windowpanes, so that instead of seeing bricks from the classroom wall beside us, we saw rolling hills and sunbeams. We treasured that scene because it brought us peace in our little fourth grade hearts.
That year my parents divorced, and that little room became a second home, a haven—from the early morning bell well into the afternoon hours. I would have been content to stay in that classroom with my teacher, Ms. DeGruson, instead of playing with the other kids at recess.
She was exactly the person I needed to care for me in one of the most volatile seasons of my life. She created a sanctuary for me in every sense of the word. After school, a small group of us would work on that cave project together, cutting and pasting, brainstorming and dreaming. I lived a few blocks away from the school, so walking home was easy enough, and I stayed as late as I could.
I loved the darkness overtaking our room, the beautiful gloom that only a cave can give. We worked so carefully, making sure every inch was covered with care. Day by day we worked until the cave was complete, until everything was in its proper place and all was black and brown.
And it’s still there, deep in the folds of my memory, the place I rested during that long winter storm, a distant home.”
Kaitlin knows first-hand about finding refuge in what excites us … finding sanctuary in people who love us … finding hope in mentors that cultivate the gifts within us.
Kaitlin also knows that what she provides Avery in that little blue room every Sunday afternoon is so much more than instruction – it is protection from the world’s harshest elements. It is a pair of loving hands around a young girl’s light that could easily be snuffed out. Kaitlin knows that what she pours into Avery will be poured into desolate souls in middle school classrooms, mourning hearts in funeral parlors, and, feeble bodies in nursing homes (see video).
Upon learning the tragic meaning behind the lyrics of “One More Light” by Linkin Park, Avery wanted to learn how to play it for the girls in her Sunday school class.
“Maybe it will help someone believe she matters,” Avery said. (video)
That is my hope too, but we can do more than just hope.
We can ensure the children in our lives have a cave of security, a place where they can breathe freely and be themselves. This will require some effort and some uncomfortable truths.
It means understanding that sometimes we may not be able to give our children everything they need to thrive – but someone else can.
It means asking for help and allowing other people to teach, nurture, and empower our children.
It means being inconvenienced by making these places of refuge possible and understanding their passion might not be what we had planned for their lives.
It means having faith and trusting that the gaping holes will be filled in time and in unexpected ways if we remain open to possibilities beyond our control.
It means surrounding our children with people who build up; it means listening when they say someone makes them feel uncomfortable or inferior.
Now more than ever, our children need a cave.
Spending time with a soul-building influence can help them stay strong with their voice and certain about their purpose, even when they have the wrong song, the wrong job, the wrong friends, the wrong path.
We all need a place and people of refuge. So let’s give it to our children and to each other.
“Come as you are,” our voice can imply.
“Sing with me,” our smile can say.
“You matter,” our posture can suggest.
Let’s be the kind of people who make others breathe easier.
We might just be the answer to someone’s prayer. (see video)
My dear friend Kaitlin has eyes that see beyond the ordinary and prayers that speak our greatest fears and longings. When Kaitlin takes her observations and experiences to paper, hope is found. Her words change us, lift us, inspire us, transform us, heal us. You can find out more about her new book GLORY HAPPENING by clicking here.
Friends in the Bay Area, I am coming to Lafayette, CA on 1/19 to speak on the topic of YOU ARE ENOUGH. Seating is very limited for this event so register as soon as possible. Cost is $15 and childcare is available. Click here to get all the details. I will be coming to Homewood, AL on 2/2 for a women’s missions fundraiser. Click here to register. On March 4, I will be speaking in Chattanooga at the MCR Foundation for the Prevention of Eating Disorders 7th Annual Mom & Me Tea. Ticket details coming soon.
If you have wanted to come to one of my speaking events but have not had the opportunity, I’d love for you to join me for my first-ever online course called SOUL SHIFT kicking off in January. Enter your email address here and be among the first to receive information about this new opportunity to work hand-in-hand with me on the most important areas of our lives. I appreciate you all so much.
*A special thanks to my precious friend, Amy Paulson, for several exquisite photos used in this piece.