abide with me

December 16, 2016


I had spent three weeks trying to remember which hymn it was that had been so meaningful to me in one worship team I sang for. At the time, our worship leader was trying to get the church to develop a love for classic hymns, and for the beauty of their lyrics. He would bring in various musicians (incredibly talented with instruments ranging from banjo to djembe, to contrabass), vary up tempos, and promote an end result of soaring pieces that transported not only the congregation, but me as well, as we sang. I knew how difficult it was for me to get lost in worship while leading, so I was constantly in a state of grateful awe as we practiced and praised.

During one practice, I was doing my usual pattern of listening for harmonies as I semi-read the sheet music he had given me. Suddenly the leader stopped and stared at me: “What are you singing?” I started to apologize, assuming I had hit something discordant. He stopped me, though, and asked me to sing it again. I tried to recreate what I had just done and, looking at the music, he said that I seemed to be singing the cello part. Sure enough, when I compared what I was singing to the string sheet music, it looked like I had begun following that line. I tried to change what my ear wanted me to do but he said no: it sounded surprisingly good. I felt self-conscious but also musically proud and I spend a good chunk of time going over that song in my head, and out loud—at times bugging family and friends till they agreed to sing the melody so I could sing that part alongside them and feel the singular thrill of creating a sound that sinks straight to the core, striking a chord of beauty.

Last Saturday night, once more, I ran through two notes in my head, desperately trying to remember the rest of the song so I could enjoy that musical bliss once again. 

The next morning I walked into church to begin practice and began humming along with the pianist. I was talking to a friend at the time but stopped in mid-sentence and dashed over to the piano. I blurted out a rapid-fire explanation before begging her to start at the beginning and play again. There it was: “Abide with me.” Without words (the lyrics on her music were all in Korean ;-)), I sang along as best as I could remember, repeating the lines that came to mind but not caring all that much: what mattered at the time was that this song-love was back in my life.

This happy bit of serendipity came shortly after a significantly less happy “coincidence.” Less than a week after the anniversary of my family’s original trauma, my mother and stepdad had a serious car accident. Graciously, what should have been fatal (the car flipping over) ended with an almost injury-free complete roll, so that the vehicle landed back upright. I did not know it had happened until two days later, due to one of our periodic power outages. When I did get the news, I was beyond distraught, carrying my laptop around the house as I read the email, squinting through my tears and gasping for breath while I, in my panic, wailed. In this instant, my sensibilities reverted back to my 9-year-old self, with one too many parallels for comfort: the lapse in time between the event and my awareness of it, for one, since the initial accident had been concealed from me until a family friend could break the news, days later. Also, the parallel of the distance between myself and other members of my family (being at boarding school for the original accident). And then, as mentioned, the date of the accident itself.

After the shock had subsided, and I had communicated with my mother so as to ease the panic, a new feeling set in—a highly uncomfortable mix of guilt and anger. I felt guilt over the fact that I had been ignorantly going about my daily business before learning of it, and that I had just sent a silly one-line email to my mother before learning of it. And I felt anger: anger that my mother, who had suffered so much in life, and who had managed to care for the 4 of us by plodding along through the grief, material hardship, and physical pain, in order to raise us with as little knowledge of each of these as she could manage. She concealed her pain—to a fault, in fact, as I later wished I had some sense of her human frailty when she always appeared so strong and “together.” I sensed the struggle, so wished, when I encountered my own battle with depression, that she had let me know of her own.

Like Job, I raised my proverbial fist to the heavens last week, and cried out: 

Why let her be in severe pain again? … Why should she have to worry about finances again? … Why let her relive the living hell of that trauma? . . . Why, Lord, why?

Did God answer my questions? Truthfully, no. Does He need to? As much I wish he did, the fact is that no, He does not. He is a just God. He is a true God. He is a right God. And He is right, when the world is not. My own idea of what is right cannot compare to the deep truth of HIM.

*image is one of the Christmas card designs I drew many years ago. One of the hobbies I have almost forgotten about, and had to hunt a while in email files to locate a visual of . . .