When I was in sixth grade, I had to choose an elective. My heart was set on band - and being a drummer! Beverly got a little nervous, about how loud our house might become, and she gently nudged me to pick choir. "You know how much you love to sing, Ashley. Choir is really the best choice for you." She was right, I did love to sing. So, I signed up for choir, and in the beginning of the 1986 school year, I met my choir teacher. This lady would influence me for the rest of my life. Her name is Marla Wilson.
One of my first memories of Mrs. Wilson is this. I was put in the alto section, because there wasn't a bass section for junior high girls. We started to sing our little hearts out, and she stopped us. (We were singing the melody.) She looked at us and said, "You don't get to sing the familiar part. You get to sing the part that makes the song beautiful." I wanted to know all this lady had to teach! She poured so much into us, and demanded that we give back one hundred percent. I will never forget how passionate she was when she directed us. It was magical. She loved what she was doing, and we loved it too. More than that, she loved us, and we loved her.
At the end of sixth grade, she sponsored a talent show. I decided I would dance, instead of sing. I worked in my basement for weeks, trying to perfect my dance. I loved dancing in my basement, and would continue until I was much older. When I danced, the world faded. The music lead me, and I was free. To this day, it is stress relief for me. So, back in sixth grade, I chose Janet Jackson's "Nasty". Let me just clarify that the song is about NOT choosing "nasty boys". :) The show was during the day, and my parents both worked, so I didn't make a big deal about them coming. I don't even think I asked them to come. I was just a sixth grader, anyway. I knew an eighth grader would probably win.
I dressed in all black, with my key earring. When I was on that stage, I became so excited. It was like dancing in the basement, except I had more room. It felt like being on the inside of a TV. The lights were bright, so I really couldn't make out anyone in the audience...but I knew they were there. I gave it my all, and I was having so much fun. Mrs. Wilson was smiling at me from the wings. After all the performances, all the contestants were on the stage. I got pushed to the very back, behind some very tall eighth grade boys who lip synced to "I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight". Third place and second place had been called, and the boys in front of me were high-fiving - because everyone knew they were the winners. Then, I heard Mrs. Wilson's voice say..."and the winner of the 1987 Talent Show is...Ashley England!" The boys in front of me were so confused. Then they looked down at me as I made my way in between them. The first thing I saw was Mrs. Wilson's smiling face, and apparently I was crying because she asked why I was. I don't know if she or I was more excited.
The next two years, I was in her Show Choir - um, that means singing AND dancing. What could be any better than that?! I learned a lot of songs, and dances, but I learned so much more than that. I watched this lady who didn't flaunt herself. She was modest, but she was fun. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and boy did we catch it! I learned that you could sing all kinds of songs, but when you sing to Jesus you're giving Him a gift, and you are fulfilled. Somedays you get picked for the solo, and if you wait til tomorrow to try out, the solo may go to someone else. Humility is ALWAYS pretty. Beauty is when you hold your head up, and you look people in the eyes- because they are the lamp of the body. You become beautiful when you reach down to help someone else reach the potential that Jesus has placed inside them. You become captivating when you help someone realize all of this when they started out believing that nothing in them was good. Oh, how I looked forward to the time I spent in her class! It was a safe place. It was a place where we all grew wings, and she taught us how to soar.
Sometimes her love was tough. There was a particular day that I stayed in P.E. a little longer than I should have. She had been looking for me. The pass that I brought to her class did not appease her. She told me she was about to turn me in for skipping class. WHAT? Me? Don't you know who I am? Can I tell you how fast she put me in my place?! Looking back, I'm so glad she did, but at the moment...I was scared to death! Then there was the time I was talking to a boy I had no business talking to in her hallway. She raised one eyebrow as she walked by me, as if to say, "What would your Daddy think?" Message received.
Junior High days were my glory days. When my friend Tracy and I talk about the good ole' days, it's not high school, but junior high that we loved. Mrs. Wilson was a constant in our glory days. She taught me about my gifts. You may be surprised that singing is not one of my spiritual gifts. My husband does have that gift. He let me sing on the praise team that he lead, and I loved it. If Julie would sing the alto part in my ear, I could get it, but otherwise I was no good on my own. Randy would bang on the piano for my part - which would remind me of Mrs. Wilson, but his voice just didn't sound like hers. I know I was a thorn in his flesh, but when I finally got it, I didn't sound so bad. My oldest daughter is definitely blessed with the gift of music. I love it! I am so thankful that Mrs. Wilson encouraged a love of music in me.
I knew when I went to college that I wanted to help teenagers. Those were my most difficult years. I wanted to be a person who would try to understand what they were going through. So many times, I felt like teenagers were misunderstood, or that their problems were overlooked. All teens need a safe place. So, I chose secondary education as my major. I taught ninth graders. So many days, I thought, "How would Mrs. Wilson handle this?" She cared for my friends and me, and I was determined to care for the ones who thought they were unloveable. It's these kids that make it the hardest. They mask their hurt with outrageous behavior. They are hurting and they need someone to break through the rough exterior. She taught me this.
My husband and I worked with youth at our church. We would put on Christmas plays that were so much fun! He lead the choir and praise teams, and I loved helping with the human videos. Just like Show Choir! I treasure those times that we had with so many amazing kids. Now, I do it all on a younger level. Three year olds through fourth graders! I love what I'm doing now as well! We just have to be available to whatever the Lord needs us to do. He will use it all for His glory, and He will bless us in the process.
Usually, I end by asking you to look in your own heart for what the Lord might be speaking to you. Tonight, I'd like to ask you to pray for this incredible lady, Marla Wilson. She is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. I am only one life that she has touched over the years. There are so many, y'all. She's amazing, and she needs us to stand together for her. Imagine a huge choir of kids (who are not such kids anymore), but instead of singing songs, we're singing prayers to Jesus, thanking Him for placing this amazing lady in our lives, and pleading for a complete healing for her. Will you join with me?
Jesus, we ask in Your name, that you would touch Marla's body. You are the Great Physician, and You tell us that we have not because we don't ask. We ask humbly tonight, Jesus, that You would miraculously sweep this cancer out of her body. Lord, we know that she still has people to reach for you, and more music to sing and share. Let her voice continue to be heard. Amen.
P.S. Her nephew was in our class, and he always called her "Aunt Marla". We thought we were just as special, so we called her this also. She told me the group after us began calling her "Momma Marla". See how precious?!
P.S.S. As Christians, we may feel like we miss out on some things. I say the familiarity of this world is made beautiful by the melody we can bring when we reflect the love of our Jesus. Find your calling, and use your gifts for His glory, friends!