One of my great joys has been leading retreats and workshops. It was an opportunity for people to spend time in community, growing spiritually, connecting to God, each other and their own knowing. Often I got to facilitate folks sharing their own stories. This coming year we are all going to be listening to each other’s stories. So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.
(A woman in her late 60’s had never shared this story with anyone outside her own family.)
My father was in the military. During the Vietnam War we were assigned to a military base with a hospital. I was about 14. I would go over most days and visit with the injured soldiers. I’d read to them, pray, talk and read the Bible. They were afraid and seemed to be so thankful for the company.
One day at school I had a seizure. It was frightening. My folks took me to the base doctor. As they ran tests the seizures increased. They got worse. In no time I was having them daily. I was not going to school and I was scared all the time. The doctor told my parents that they would probably get worse and there wasn’t anything they could do.
One day I was feeling good and I went over to the hospital. I sat with a young man and talked. He was quiet but nice. I said to him, “Do you want me to read the Bible to you and pray?” He said he did. Then he reached for my hand. I started to pray and he interrupted. He looked me in the eye and said, “it’s over now. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. It’s all over now.”
He scared me. I wasn’t sure what he meant. But that night I didn’t have a seizure. I didn’t have one the next morning either. All day I was seizure free. When my Dad came home I told him about the young man. He asked me the soldier’s name and what room he was in.
The next day my Dad again asked me what the man’s name was. I told him again. My dad said, “I looked. I couldn’t find him.”
I went over to the hospital. I too looked up his name in the papers but couldn’t find him. My dad said, “tell me again what room he was in.” I told him. My dad said, “that can’t be right. That whole wing is closed. It’s been closed for a couple of weeks for construction.” We couldn’t find my soldier. The room I had sat with him in was torn up for construction. The soldier was not listed in any paper work. My dad looked and looked.
But I never had another seizure. The wounded soldier had been right. The seizures were over. I’ve never told this story. I thought people would think I was crazy. But in my own heart I’ve always thought that that soldier must have been sent to tell me not to be afraid.
(A woman in her mid 40’s shared this story.)
I have always loved music. I learned to play the piano and sing when I was just a kid. I have always loved music and singing hymns. Then a few years ago I got sick. I couldn’t sing. They removed a polyp on my vocal cords and I wasn’t sure I would ever sing again. A couple months after surgery my church asked me to play and sing during worship. I passed. My days of solos were gone.
For the next couple of months they kept asking me. Then I started dreaming that I was being asked to sing in church. I finally decided to try and sing a simple song I had loved from my childhood. But my voice was not the same. It was and still is weak and the tone has changed. I was afraid and embarrassed.
The Sunday finally came and I sat at the piano with my back to the congregation. Tears ran down my face I was so afraid. The choir director motioned for me to begin. I played the first chord but no sound came out. I took another breath and started again. That was when I heard it. The choir had started to sing with me. I was so touched and glad I couldn’t stop crying. Together we sang the hymn. I was so thankful they had helped me. And I was so touched they had kept me from being humiliated.
When the service was over everyone came up to tell me how moving the song had been. They said they had heard the tears and wonder in my voice. The whole congregation had also cried. I thanked the choir director for having the choir sing with me. I told her how afraid I had been and what it meant to me to have them all join in.
The choir director stared at me. She said, “I don’t know what you mean. You sang alone. We were all so moved by your passion. But you were singing alone. We were just listening.”
Even now I don’t really know what happened. I don’t know if I really heard them sing. I sure thought I heard them. But I do know that all of us were moved that day.