Other than marrying my wife, Anne, becoming a parent has been the greatest highlight of my life thus far. Being a parent, as I’m finding out, is much more difficult. There’s simply no amount of prep work that can really get someone ready for parenthood. But thankfully, I’m learning along the way.
So when Anne and I found out several months ago that our then 1-year old son, Josh, was delayed with his speech and therefore struggling to express his emotions in a healthy way, we were rightfully worried. Did we do something wrong with Josh that might have hindered some part of his growth and development? Were we not doing something we were supposed to? Should we force a tired and irritable Josh to read 8 books with us before bedtime instead of 1 or 2? Thoughts, questions, worries, and anxieties flooded our minds. What were we supposed to do? What could we do?
I’m learning that parenthood is far less about what I can do and the control that I so desperately want than it is about allowing myself to embrace the freedom the Lord offers to me as I humbly attempt to live into my calling as a father. As Anne can attest, I’m a planner. I crave structure and order in just about every area of my life. Unfortunately, that often does not jive with parenthood.
The worries Anne and I have about Josh’s speech and emotional development still linger. But what we’re discovering is that God distributes his grace and his care for all of us- myself, Anne, Josh, and his sister Evelyn – in the simplest and yet most profound ways. When Anne and I began playing songs in the car for Josh and Evelyn to listen to, God got to work doing the thing he does best: redeeming and transforming his people in every part of their lives.
While a lot of children’s music is admittedly difficult for adults to listen to, one of the Rector family’s absolute favorites are Ellie Holcomb’s two Sing albums. As we started to listen these albums several months ago, we noticed Josh really enjoyed most of the songs. In fact, he started to sing, which is what I’m sure Ellie Holcomb herself would want.
I’ve stood on the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa and beheld a view unlike any other. I watched in person as Tua Tagovailoa and Devonta Smith perfectly executed a “go” route to win the 2017 college football national championship. I’ve sat in my car on a rainy day lamenting, grieving, and crying as I’ve watched my dad go through an inexplicably difficult cancer treatment. However different, in one way or another, these are all beautiful moments that point toward the gospel. But nothing has been more beautiful than hearing Josh sing.
I have absolutely no musical ability whatsoever, but maybe the good Lord has gifted Josh with an aptitude for music. Regardless, as a result of Josh learning to sing, his speech has improved dramatically. Songs and music play an instrumental role (pun definitely intended) in a child’s social, emotional/psychological, intellectual, and even physical development. It’s no wonder certain nursery rhymes and children’s songs like “Jesus Loves Me” have stood the test of time.
Songs have an incredible ability to shape a child’s spiritual development as well. The more Josh sings some of his favorite Ellie Holcomb songs, or another of his favorites called “Sun of My Soul (Shine)” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, the better he becomes with his speech and the better he becomes at learning how to worship, which in turn begins to build the foundation of his faith. Essentially, Josh is growing, learning, and developing as he sings.
When Josh sings out, “not!” in Ellie Holcomb’s song, “Fear not!” every time he hears it, he is forming a habit that reinforces the right speech pattern for him to shout it at the right time when the song is played. Even better, he is learning, even at age 2, that Christians do not have to live in fear. And, he’s beginning to learn the Bible- in this case, Isaiah 43:1. When Josh yells out, “Shine! Shine! Shine!” in “Sun of My Soul,” he is proclaiming that God is indeed light, and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). But he’s also learning that the literal sun also shines.
How cool would it be if Josh learned to love a passage like Philippians 2:15 one day, where the apostle Paul exhorts believers to “shine like stars,” all because he learned how to sing a song? When Josh tries to stutter out the word “remember” in “Don’t Forget to Remember,” by Ellie Holcomb, how cool would it be if he remembers that God does indeed love him all the time and that there is nothing that could separate him from God’s love (Romans 8:39)- even when he is 16 and he doesn’t make the baseball team, or is 18 and doesn’t get into the college he wants, or is 25 and he goes through a difficult break-up? It’s hard for me to imagine any of those things right now, but it sure gives me a lot of joy thinking God is planting seeds in Josh’s life right now that might be harvested later.
Josh’s speech has been a source of worry for Anne and me, but God has gotten busy meddling in all of our lives through his gracious work of redemption. Josh, Anne, Evelyn, and I are simply learning and growing as we go, whether it be in parenthood or in learning how to talk and sing. And as we continue to do so, I hope and pray we’ll continue to worship along the way. Sometimes, all it takes is queuing “Fear Not” on Spotify in the car and seeing what might happen. How beautiful is that?
 When asked how he could best summarize his theology during a Q&A session at the University of Chicago in 1962, 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth answered, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” If you want to try on a little bit of Barth for size, sample Church Dogmatics II.2 or Church Dogmatics IV.2 and see if your head doesn’t hurt after you read it. I’m confident you’ll appreciate Barth’s “Jesus loves me” answer after you’ve read each.