Sondra was a beauty with black ringlets and clear, pale skin. But Sondra was from Union County, Florida. This is not the metropolitan Florida that so many know from DisneyWorld and Miami Beach. This is Deep South, Florida Cracker, Southern Redneck, Union County, and when she talked you heard every bit of it. But her voice? She could sing Italian arias and German lieder and American art songs like they were meant to be sung. And despite her country upbringing, she loved every one of them.
Her very first year with me she made it to finals at State Contest. Since the students were all participating in more than one event and had to fit them in their schedule as they could, the judges could not go by the computer-generated list. The students simply signed up ahead of time on a paper at the door, guessing when they thought they could be at each particular event. That meant the judges had to be careful to know exactly who they were judging, so they could find the name on their alphabetical list. Sondra had signed up first for that event and when her name was called she walked before the panel of judges and I sat down at the piano, which was slanted away from the judges, but a bit toward her. As they had asked her to, she told them her name and the name of her song.
"Mah nay-eme is Sawndra an' ah will be singing 'Mah How-oose' by Leonard Bern-steen," and say that with a wide mouth and an accent as slow and countrified as you can. I watched the judging panel as they each began to lower their heads and look down at their judging sheet. I couldn't tell if they were smiling or grimacing, but I knew exactly what they were thinking: This one doesn't have a chance. How did she ever make it to State?
After that I had to turn my attention to the piano so I did not get to see the judges' reactions when she began to sing, but one of my other students told me that as soon as the first note came out of Sondra's mouth, the judges all got whiplash as they jerked their heads up and sat there in amazement. Yes, Sondra was a country girl and no, she could not pronounce Leonard Bernstein correctly no matter how many times I corrected her, but man, could she sing! Sondra won State Contest.
Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment. (John 7:24).
Lucky for Sondra, she had a panel of righteous judges. They refused to be swayed by a whale of an accent, but rather, when the evidence was placed before them, saw—and heard--what was clearly the best voice in the state that year, at that level. By Sondra's senior year in high school, other people could finally see it, too. She was invited to perform a presentation of four songs in the county's Stellar Student Concert Series.
Don't ever think that you are not prone to "unrighteous judgment." Keith has been banned from a couple of pulpits because he is "loud and everyone thinks you are mad." I want to grab them by the collar, give them a good shake and say, "He's loud because he is deaf. Where is your compassion?" I know a marvelous Bible class teacher. The first time I heard him, I had to pinch myself to stay awake a few times, but by the time he finished, I realized that I had heard possibly the best lesson of my life. This man knows his stuff and he leaves you thinking about passages in new and exciting ways. But because his delivery is dry, I have heard people call him the worst teacher they ever heard. Over the years, with Keith's encouragement, he has improved his methods, but still, few can get past that first impression from so many years ago. How fair is that judgment?
And how about those folks who walk into your assemblies not dressed up to your standards? Could I just make one suggestion? Watch and listen with an open mind. If they sing the songs like they know them, and their children know the Bible class lesson as well as the teachers do, and if the parents make comments in Bible class that make you stop and say, "Hmmm," don't embarrass yourself by assuming they are drifters who just hoped to get some money out of you. If you have been with me for years and years, you know my story on that one.
And if you have been unfairly judged yourself, do yourself a favor and let it go. If the circumstances had been reversed, would you have done any better? Be honest with yourself and then get on with your life. Letting a perceived unfairness color your attitudes from then on will make you more miserable than the ones you harbor resentment against. Someday, sooner than you want to think, you will stand before the righteous Judge of all, and He will be fairer than you really want Him to be. But He will also offer far more grace than any human you ever have to deal with in this life.
Just keep doing your best and remember this: Regardless of what anyone else may think about you, someday, that righteous Judge will look at you and say, "Well done."
And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. (Isa 11:1-5).