Finding Your Voice

My hands shake slightly as I sit down in front of his desk; scan the family photos, medical awards and certificates of degrees lining the walls behind the wingback chair. I pull the voice recorder from my computer bag. It is one of my first interviews as a feature writer with the Anglican Mission.

Even though I serve on a missions board with John, share meals around his kitchen table, laugh with his wife over birthday lunches and carry my sick children into the waiting room at his pediatric clinic, I still want to get things right. To honor a man who serves his community like Jesus walking barefoot to my house.

We talk for an hour.

He speaks passionate vision about saving lives in Rwanda, by distributing mosquito nets one house at a time. The same way he saves the lost and least in his own back yard, pushing his stethoscope on the chests of the sick in silent prayer, one child at a time.

The interview follows a discussion about how his body responds to the medicine he takes for the cancer. The way he enjoys this window of time with his wife, how he is putting things in order for her, if the worst happens.

He died a few months later.  The whole town held their breath.

The week he passes, H and I look out of the plate glass window on the twenty-something floor of a hotel hundreds of miles from grief at a conference.  A conference where I plan to conduct several interviews like the one I had with John.  In preparation, I clear my voice recorder. Then I remember. My heart sinks when I realize I just erased the voice of the dead.

A few weeks later, my hips slide onto the couch in John’s living room.  I sit across from his wife and the cat over a steamy cup of tea.  She remarks how she misses talking to John. How she wishes she had thought to record his voice before he died.

I’m not sure if I have ever regretted doing something more than the moment I pushed erase on that recorder.

It still haunts me.

Sometimes it feels as though someone pushed the erase button on my voice. Among the shuffle of piled laundry, grocery lists and the whisper of guilt over time that slips like sand through my fingers to write, the voice disappears. It floats in empty boat adrift on rocking waves of to-do lists from last week.

Then it returns like an unexpected visitor, over the swirl of spatula through eggs and cheese in the early morning hours, among the plastic baggies of potato chips and peanut butter sandwiches. When no one can hear over the noise of the electric toothbrush and Matt Lauer, and time spills like a leaky faucet.

And I stand cupping silver challis, repeat holy words to the least and lost.  The ones that look like me, in their best Sunday high heels and lipstick.  This is the blood of Christ shed for you, the blood of Christ shed for you.  And the more I say it, the more I let go of having a voice at all.

My phone reminds flashing green dot, of voice mails held long. Three voices that stay recorded on my phone permanently for years now to remember in John’s honor. That life is fleeting and voice is a gift and when it escapes mute like a prisoner held captive by fear, it returns in the remembering. Of heads bowed low, hearts flayed open, and words whispered true, the blood of Christ shed for you.

Joining Ann to declare His faithfulness in a list of thanks:

For last minute dinner and conversation with a friend far away from home.

Meeting a blogger friend in real life, and a little picture to remember.

A wrapped around tight hug from Ann Voskamp and the way she remembered me and my words.

Standing next to my husband to serve communion together for the first time.

Late night movies and sleep overs, for them.

Extra early morning hours the day after the late night, for me.

A beautiful sunny day on the beach and a little sun kiss on the skin – in March!

Linking with Playdates with God, Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday, Miscellany Monday, Just Write, On Your Heart Tuesday, Soli Deo Gloria

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60 Responses to Finding Your Voice

  1. Nita says:

    Sad for you because you’re hurting. Grateful you shared with us. :) Sometimes I wish I had a recording of my husband’s voice, but then I wonder if that would be good for me. I do have pictures of him, as my daughter says, “pasted all over the house.” The two pictures that aren’t in
    view, and aren’t easily obtained are those taken by the hospice nurses. I can’t stand to see him in that hospital bed. That picture is burned in my memory, I don’t need or want the physical picture. I still have them, because some day the grandkids, or great grands might want to see how strong he was, even in a hospital bed. Plus, you can see his love for me (at least I can) *shrug*. I have to believe God guides our hands when we create, (or delete), pictures, videos of loved ones. We do what will help us continue the journey with God on one side (or carrying us) and without our loved one on the other side. Quilted blessings, Nita

  2. Lori says:

    I almost couldn’t post this bec/ of the emotion it brought up. But I want to make sure you knew how much this touched me. Beautiful writing and a great story.

  3. ashiashay says:

    despite your loss, what beautiful words to commemorate it all. thank you for sharing!

  4. Sarah says:

    Splashing around in God’s goodness today … Had to stop by and wade in this glorious place. Hope you don’t mind if I stay a bit and let joy soak deep down.


  5. Shanda says:

    How beautiful. I keep voice mails from my father in fear that one day I will no longer hear his voice.

  6. ljbmom says:

    Your love and respect for this gentle man shines here in these words. How you honor him, Shelly. Such a beautiful post.

  7. Jen Ferguson says:

    I am so glad you got to meet Courtney. I am hoping to hang out with her after Easter!

    This is such a moving piece. I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately because the anniversary of my grandmother’s death is coming soon. I can still hear her voice in my heart.

    • Jen, it was quick. We were standing in line waiting to meet Ann and have her sign our books, but precious nonetheless. It is always fun to meet the real people we connect with online.

      And I talked on the phone to my grandparents every single weekend from the time I could dial a phone as a child, unless I was staying at their house. I miss them so much still. I get that.

  8. Kristen says:

    Wow you are such a talented writer! Today I am thankful for notes from my dad who no longer is with us. I am thankful for chirping birds. And I am thankful that Gods plan is so much bigger than mine.

  9. Pamela says:

    When I call my sister I still–after 3 years–hear my late brother-in-law’s voice. His daughter calls sometimes when she knows her mother isn’t home, just to hear his voice.

    How precious to serve beside your husband. I love the “together” times my husband and I participate in.

  10. tracie @ {tsj} photography says:

    simply beautiful … so glad to have come over from write it girl. i’m blessed today by your words …

  11. This is beautiful. Thank you for letting God be your voice. What a beautiful picture of a legacy left behind.

    • Lori, so nice to meet you and perhaps if you come back, I would love to have your blogsite address to visit you as well. One of the glitches with wordpress now if you sign in with facebook. Appreciate your kind comment and thanks for joininig the conversation.

  12. Denise says:

    Amazingly awesome.

  13. Tereasa says:

    Thank you for faithfully stopping by and leaving a comment on my Write it, Girl posts. I hope that we will continue to see each other beyond March. I always appreciate your words and this post is by no means the least of them. What a beautiful reminder to slow down and listen.

  14. cbuxton03 says:

    Gorgeous words, as usual, from you. So glad you used the picture – it was great to meet you in person.

    Hanging on to a voice is precious. My husband interviewed his father many years ago, not knowing he would be diagnosed with cancer and die just a few years later. He saved the tapes and had them made into CDs, just recently. He gave copies to his mother and all of his siblings this Christmas – 8 years after their dad died. It is still hard to hear that voice, but such a gift, too. As much as you regret erasing John’s voice, I imagine that God has blessed his family with special memories in other ways, and He certainly wouldn’t hold you responsible for keeping that particular type of memory alive. In our case, the voice has been a gift for some but very hard for others. It is just one way to remember.

    • I never thought about it that way Courtney, that it may actually prove hard to listen the voice of someone you lose. Great insight for me to think about and more revelation that God is in control of it all isn’t he? Nice to talk with you again.

  15. beana619 says:

    I came over from Just Write. What a beautiful post. It is so true that we easily lose our own voices, then find them again. I’ll be thinking on this for some time to come.

    • I wish I had a link to your blog site, one of the new things with WordPress commenting I don’t like. Thanks so much for visiting and hopefully our voices will meet on the blogosphere again.

  16. This is amazing; I’m so glad to have visited you, here! I know those moments all too well: the regret, the distress at not being able to rewind (in your case, literally) and redo the moment. I’m so sorry for your separation from both your friend and his voice but so glad for your hope in seeing him again in that better and brighter place.

    • Brandee, so glad to bump into you here. John left a beautiful legacy of being a disciple of Jesus in word and deed. He left imprints wherever he went. So grateful to know him for those few brief years.

  17. studiojru says:

    Oh what a touching reminder. Beautifully said Shelly. Serving communion beside your husband… what a special gift! :)

  18. This is beautiful Shelley!

  19. Oh, my. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I said something you wrote was my favorite so far? Well, now here’s a new favorite. This is exquisitely told and so very true – in every way. Tangible things are so expressive of truth, so evocative of memory – that’s why we have these simple things in our community life – water/bread/wine. Voices we love. Yes. Those, too.

    • Diana, you are too kind and I am so grateful for your words here. They encourage me so. Thank you! I had a bit of an epiphany as I was listening to Ann speak over the weekend. How her audible voice revealed a part of who she is in a way that her written words conceal.

  20. tpohlkotte says:

    oh, Shelly… this is just… beautiful. really. I wish I had more to add, except how grateful I am for your voice.

  21. Nancy says:

    See, and I thought I was strange because I hold onto texts and voice mails forever. I know that sick feeling when I realize I’ve erased something I wanted to hold onto. I remember an essay written by Elisabeth Elliott titled, “All That Was Ever Ours.” She talks about trying to hold tightly to memories and the stuff of this life. She says that the things that last, the things that are eternal remain with us forever.

    (Isn’t it great getting to hug Ann for real?)

    • Yes, it was great to hug her for real, and look in her eyes and hear her voice. A highlight for sure Nancy. So grateful that God made her. I love those thoughts by Elisabeth Elliott and the hope that is in them.

  22. Cristal says:

    I recently realized I also have erased my father’s voice that I’d hoped to save for my children. Their grandpa’s booming and unmistakable voice. I try not to ponder the mistake. God is sovereign. He can redeem all that is lost!

  23. Beth says:

    This reminded me of the movie, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, where the boy’s recording of his father’s voice brought both comfort and tremendous grief. Some things are not a mistake and I will pray for you and this man’s family that they will not need to hear his voice but be comforted by the memory of his life. Thanks for this beautiful post, Shelly!

    • Thanks Beth. This actually happened several years ago and it took his wife a couple of years to come out on the back side of grief. Nonetheless, your prayers will be heard and appreciated I am sure. And I haven’t seen that movie, now I think I need to!

  24. r.elliott says:

    Shelly…so glad I can comment again…oh…find our voice through the reminder of the blood…oh thankful for your sweet meet up:)…blessings to you….

  25. C.Allyn says:

    Your writing this morning makes me think about how we communicate.
    Words are precious. I know that “they” say actions speak louder than words and I believe that to be true in part but I also think that words can carry with them the message of life or death.
    Your words have set me on track for the week.
    PS, my husband and I chair our Mission committee at our Anglican church

  26. Dea says:

    I know that “erased” feeling well. And though, I know it when I find it, recording “my voice”, well that’s another thing.

    Have a blessed day, my friend.

  27. So touched by this, Shelly. Thank you.
    (and love the serving communion together. what a moment! Such glory…)
    So blessed by you.

  28. This is truly a beautiful story. Very well written! Thanks for sharing!

  29. It’s all holy ground isn’t it Kim. These things we leave behind as symbols of His faithfulness. I think about it often.

  30. kd sullivan says:

    My mom was looking for something with my father’s voice on it recently, she found it. This post touched my heart…the traces we leave behind…a voicemail, a picture, a recording…even more, a person’s life changed.

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