Fridays in April and May were busy for my family growing up. My sisters and I would get home from one school, my dad from the high school where he worked, and my mom from the nursing home where she worked. We would change out of school and work clothes and into something a little bit dressier. If we had time, mom would curl our hair. We would load into our tan and maroon conversion van with speakers and microphones and tape decks and head out to one church or another for a covered-dish mother-daughter banquet.
Because my family was The Mountaintop Experience.
Through much of my childhood, my family performed music and skits together.
My mom, like all of her daughters would eventually, studied music in college, and my dad had been a theater major. Performance was coded in our DNA, as much as our dark hair or our love of board games.
We traveled to area churches (mostly Lutheran and Methodist churches, but I think there might have been a Presbyterian congregation or two that snuck in) and performed for the price of dinner and a love offering. We primarily sang to tracks – lots of Sandi Patti and Amy Grant with huge orchestras and choirs singing back-up to the five of us, but sometimes we would put our instrumental skills to use and play our own accompaniment. I remember playing from an old Twila Paris book while my mom sang the song Same Girl, choking back the tears almost every time, even though she sang it regularly.
Part of our act was a parody of the Ghostbusters theme song called “Prayer Warriors.” Over top of our floral dresses, we adorned t-shirts that had “Prayer Warriors” spray-painted on the front and painter caps and at some point, my dad would cover the audience in silly string. I don’t really remember all of the particulars, but it got a huge laugh every time. I can tell (promise?) you that it was among my first and last attempts at writing song lyrics.
One summer we did a New England tour. The pastor of our church was from outside of Boston and he had family still there, along with other pastoral connections. We attached a pop-up camper to the van and visited all of the states of New England. We did five shows in ten days. We climbed Mount Monadnock. We saw Ronnie Milsap perform. We attended an impromptu pool party/BBQ. We did a walking tour of Historic Boston, and somehow managed to get completely lost. We fought and laughed and grew together as a family.
One time, we performed at a retreat for our denomination. The day after we sang, we attended a sermon where the pastor demonized Christian contemporary music, which naturally made us all feel uncomfortable. But I remember my mom going home after that and making that pastor a mixed tape of various Christian songs and including the Bible references that each was based on. Her passion in that instance was something that struck me. I saw strength there that I’m not sure I had ever noticed before.
And that was so much of being a part of the Mountaintop Experience. It’s where I learned about harmony. It’s how I learned to accompany. It’s where I discovered that family is at the same time more complicated and more simple than I thought.
We were the Mountaintop Experience because when Jesus took the disciples up to the mountain, they were able to behold the fullness of his glory. It was so beautiful and amazing that the disciples never wanted to leave. But as my dad said at every performance, they were never meant to stay on the mountaintop. They were meant to take that glory into their everyday lives.
My life was changed by the Mountaintop Experience.