And when I want to sing


My maternal grandmother was a wonderful Christian woman. She brought nine children into this world.  From those nine came so many grandchildren that I have lost count. I consider myself blessed to be numbered among them. She came from hardworking, no nonsense German and Norwegian ancestry and she was an efficient and very practical woman. This practicality applied even to music. She was a self taught musician, played the organ for many years at her church, and taught me and my sisters to play the piano.

We weren’t as disciplined in getting to our lessons as we might have been if we had been paying for a teacher, but we made some progress. Grandma always made it very clear however, that she would only take us so far in our musical education. Her goal for us was that we might be able to be of service to the church, to play hymns for services and to be a good accompanist. She always said that the sign of a good accompanist was when they weren’t noticed, which is very true. Grandma also often warned me that talent and ambition were highly dangerous things that usually led only to vanity. It was safer to be in the background.
I carried that warning with me when I went to college, and as I wrote before, found that balancing my love of singing with true humility was indeed a struggle. After graduating and after abandoning my feeble attempts to join the opera world, I found myself a member of a wonderful university choir in my home town. I was determined to be content as a supporting member of a larger group and I truly enjoyed my time there. But after a year or so, that old ambition reared up it’s head. My director introduced a new piece that would be the core of our next concert. It was a lovely mass, combining our choir with a local children’s choir, and there was an extensive and beautiful soprano solo woven throughout.
I wanted to sing that solo. I just ached to sing it, and as I sat in my car after practice, debating whether or not I should audition for it, my grandma’s warnings kept echoing through my head. What did it mean to glorify God with my talents without drawing attention to myself?  How could I truly be humble and stand center stage at the same time?  As I struggled with these questions, snatches of hymns came to mind.

Take my voice and let me sing; always, only for my King. Take my lips and let them be, filled with messages from Thee.”  

And this simple but lovely line from an old spiritual-

And when I want to sing, give me Jesus.”  

I prayed there in my car, and told God that if I tried out for that solo, it would be for his glory alone.  I wouldn’t do it for any praise or personal recognition. I just wanted to sing his praises to the best of my ability.  I truly believed that I meant it, and decided to try out for the solo.  I got it.  Well, partially, at any rate.  It was such a big concert that we were doing two performances, so my director split the solos.  Another soprano was to sing on Friday night and I was to do the Saturday concert.  I was elated.  I told my hubby and my mother, but didn’t bother broadcasting the news much further.  After all, I wasn’t singing for myself.  My mother told people- my sisters, some aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, but that was nothing to me of course.

The night of the first concert came, and I was so glad I wasn’t the first one to sing.  I would be able see how the other soprano did, and have one more night to get over my jitters.  I walked into the practice room and my director smiled at me.

“You ready to sing tonight?”, he asked.  I laughed, thinking he was joking and I told him I would be ready tomorrow.  His face fell, and he said

“Didn’t I tell you we had switched nights? That the other soprano can’t be here tonight?”

My face must have answered his question, since he began apologizing profusely and asking rather nervously if I would be ready to go on anyway.  In a falsely confident voice I gave him my assurance that I would be, and left the room.   I was shaken up.  I told myself it was fine, that it didn’t matter what night I sang, so long as I got to sing. But then I thought of my hubby and my folks and all the people they had invited, and I burst into tears.  I wanted them to hear me!  I didn’t even have a cell phone in those long ago dark ages, but someone passing by saw my distress and offered to help me.  I asked her if she had a phone, which she readily lent me.  I called my husband and through my tears, I tried to let him know what had happened.  The concert was starting in fifteen minutes, and I knew he had a twenty minute drive to get there, but I hoped he at least could make it for part of it.  That was all I could do.  I had to be on stage.

As I stood there, watching the last of the audience filing in, I had to laugh at myself.  I realized that God had taken me at my word, that I was being given the chance to sing for his glory without the praise and encouragement from my family and friends that I was so often greedy for.   I sighed a little, and then shot up a little prayer saying, “All right then God, give me Jesus.”

I will never forget the feeling of joy I had that night as the concert began, but my heart nearly burst a few minutes later when I saw my hubby sneak into the concert hall, followed by my mom and dad, my sisters, even a few other relatives and friends.  I never learned what super human efforts they all made to get there that night.  I did learn that when you ask God to give you Jesus, it is sufficient.  But I also found that God is not stingy.  Along with the peace of Christ, he can send the love of a supportive husband, the pride in a parent’s face, and the devotion of sisters who came, even when they were sick and feverish and suppressing their coughing so as to hear you better.   He can even give the opportunity to stand in front of four hundred people and share the grand and ancient hymn of his people that we closed our concert with that night-

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise him all creatures here below

Praise him above, ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.