When I was twelve years old, I attended church every week in a room above a butcher’s shop in Naples, Italy. Every Sunday, myself and my seven siblings would walk past hanging carcasses of lambs and rabbits to climb the narrow back staircase which opened to a room filled with metal folding chairs lined up in neat rows.
There was a wide diversity in our small congregation. Some were married military men and women, stationed there with their families. Many were immigrants from Africa who had traveled north to Italy to earn money in support of their families. Once, I met an African prince. He carried himself with a majesty and strength that made me admire and fear him.
There is one Sunday which affected me, during these years, more than all the others. It was a fast and testimony meeting, when members of the congregation go without food and water for a period of time.This sacrifice is meant to strengthen one’s spirituality and faith. Members of the congregation are invited to stand and share their testimony, their spiritual thoughts, during the meeting.
This particular meeting, an African woman stood. She was probably in her late twenties or early thirties. To my twelve-year-old eyes, she looked like a mature woman of the world. This woman held herself with a grandeur and grace that, even in memory, make me envious of her self-possession. She proudly looked out at the congregation and she began to sing.
Her song was in her native tongue and I did not understand a word of it, yet the music touched my heart. I knew that her testimony of the Savior was like my own. Both of us were separated by race, by years, by culture, and by language. But I knew she knew her Savior and that she knew He loved her. This was knowledge that bound both of us—despite our differences, we were the same in our journey of discipleship.
That experience helped to shape my life.
My husband is an avid sports’ fan and I am a lover of the arts. So when we began to have children, we discussed that we wanted them to have certain childhood skills and experiences. First, we wanted each one to know how to swim. This is an obvious life skill—I only have two hands. I still have nightmares about being in water with all four children and having to choose which one to help! If they can all swim, there’s no way that nightmare is coming true!
Next, my husband felt that sports taught him life lessons, so we agreed that each child should be involved in some kind of sport.
I feel strongly that every child should understand music and be exposed to the great culture of the arts. We agreed that each child should learn an instrument of their choice.
At six years old, my son fell in love with the violin. A member of our congregation, whom our son idolized, played the violin during a meeting. Our son was hooked! We pushed him through the awkward fourth year of lessons. The fourth year is the most difficult, because students know the fundamentals, and don’t understand the need for lessons and practice.
Then, oh then! Within a couple of years, he learned the difference between merely playing notes and making music! Suddenly his practices became a time of peaceful joy as his music filled our home. His passion for the violin passed down to his sister, who has also become an incredible violinist. Listening to them play duets is one of my favorite activities.
As they became better musicians, I encouraged them to share their talents whenever and wherever they were invited. Before they perform, I take them aside and remind them, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the Spirit you invite. Go out and share your testimony.”
You see, I have not forgotten the memory of that African sister who molded my life through her song.
My son has grown into a wonderful musician who has been asked to play for many large events. He loves sharing his music and he finds peace in playing. Imagine my son’s shock when he discovered that he would need to lay aside his music for the duration of his two-year mission!
When a missionary receives their call, they receive a booklet full of instructions on what to do before their mission, what to pack, and what not to pack. This booklet specified that instruments were not to be packed!
Obedient to the rules, he packed away his violin after playing it for every spare moment and making several CD’s of his playing for us to enjoy while he was away. He did, however, send a message to his new mission president, requesting permission to bring his violin, so that he could share his testimony through music.
After he finished his period of learning in the Missionary Training Center, he met with his new mission president and received permission to have his violin sent out!
As I packed up the rosin, bow, music, and violin, I slipped in a note as well. The note was a re-telling of a story he had heard many, many times growing up. It was the story of a young woman whose parents were struggling with their testimony. They no longer wanted to attend a church where they didn’t feel accepted. This young woman pleaded to be allowed to attend church.
She went to church, where she heard a song from a beautiful African woman, that touched her heart, and changed her life forever.
Growing up all over the world gave Emlee Taylor an opportunity to see the incredible differences the Lord created in humanity; and even better, the passions we all share as members of the human race: love for family, faith, & a desire to make a difference. Emlee lives life with passion—focusing her time now on raising four children and teaching them to recognize truth and to live true to that truth, regardless of others’ expectations. Emlee is passionately in love with her bestest friend and husband of more than 20 years.