Recently I was asked, as a representative of Omega Writers, to attend the awards ceremony of the Stories of Life writing competition.
It was a blessing to see the South Australian writers present in person and know that interstate writers were able to watch online.
Stories of Life is a great competition, giving opportunity to writers at any stage of development to apply themselves to tell a story that encourages, inspired by real life events. A number of people I know from this network and other connections were published in the anthology that resulted, and it was great to read their stories.
I have a real-life story of my own I’d like to share. It is about the love of God in a difficult situation.
It’s a true story, a little bit funny, a bit sad, but it’s an inspirational story. It started Easter 2015, on Good Friday to be exact.
As is often the case on Good Friday, I found myself part of the Good Friday church service. I was playing the piano, and my husband (the pastor at that time) had arranged, among other things, that I would play the old hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ as a background accompaniment while three people read pieces of Scripture. I needed to get a scanned copy of the music as I couldn’t find my old hymn books. I had it all sorted and I’d practiced it, and it was all good. The service went along as planned, and it was inspirational and a little bit stirring, as all Good Friday services should be.
At the end of the service my husband did one of his special spontaneous moments that he is famous for, and announced to the congregation that he would get his wife (that’s me) to come back to the piano and sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. I’m sort of used to these surprise put-you-on-the-spot ideas that pop up from time to time, and I can usually fumble about and make something happen, but I honestly hadn’t played ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ in years. I couldn’t remember half the words, was not sure which key it should be played in so that I didn’t find myself shattering the glass windows with notes that were too high. AND you know with old hymns, they are notorious for throwing in odd chords outside the usual easy progression. I just wasn’t sure if I could actually do it on the spot with no opportunity to practise first. But the congregation had their eyes turned towards me in expectation. My husband magnanimously says: “Is that all right?” He'd already told the congregation I’d do it, so it had to be all right, didn't’t it? I shrugged my shoulders and said weakly, “I guess so...”
I got to the piano and took a guess at the key, and hoped for the best. I spotted another singer who is like me (from times past and should know ancient hymns) and invited him to join me, especially since I wasn’t sure of the words. If I was going to fall flat on my face, better to have someone else go down with me. So off I launched.
‘On a Hill, far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain...’
I’m pleased to say we got the right key, there were no awkward and difficult elusive chords, and the computer operator found the words and threw them up on screen. Crisis averted. Job done.
After the service my husband came to me aside, and he was really quite cross. He said to me: “Why did you have to make such a fuss about playing that hymn?”
I was a little annoyed myself, as I thought I’d done a sterling job under pressure and said so, pointing out how many obstacles I’d had to overcome without practise or music to guide me.
“But you’d just played it earlier in the service!” he said, prepared to continue the argument.
“No!” I replied. “That was ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’. It’s a completely different hymn!”
“That’s what I wanted you to play,” he said.
“Well that’s not what you said!”
“Yes it was. I said, ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’.”
“No, you said, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’!”
“Yes, you did!”
I waited for the humble apology, which might or might not have emerged, but instead something miraculous happened.
A lady by the name of Julie came up to my husband, beaming and full of enthusiasm.
“That is my favourite hymn”, she said. “I was so cross with my family this morning, because they were so slow getting ready for church, we missed the singing at the beginning, and I said to them, if I miss out singing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, I’ll be very upset. I’m so glad you kept it until the end.”
Several months later, Julie passed away after battling a long illness.
That Easter morning eight months earlier was the first time I had met Julie as she was new to the church. In the following eight months I got to know her really well as she travelled the journey of battling cancer.
In that time I never saw her that she didn’t say how blessed she was because God had done something for her. Even when she was weak and really quite sick, you never really knew it, because her whole outlook was God is in this moment. He is blessing me all the time.
That Good Friday morning there had been no plan to sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. No preparation, no thought of it, and my husband didn’t even mean for it to be sung. But God did. He knew it would be Julie’s last Easter Friday, and that hymn was special to her.
I know this is a bit long, but I just wanted to honour God, because when I spoke to Julie four days before she died, she said to me, all I want to do is see God glorified.
Even when things aren’t supposed to happen sometimes, they do, but if Julie was commentating on it, she would very definitely have said: ‘It was God.’
If you have something in your heart inspired by a real-life event, check out Stories of Life and perhaps you’d like to enter the writing competition for next year.
I'd like to wish all the CWD readers a blessed Christmas season, and hope that as you spend thoughtful time you may recall that story that needs to be shared.