Life’s struggles put into perspective

THE GIFT

By Norman Knight

This is a story about a gift.

I play music at our church. It’s the type of music one finds in old hymnals at churches that still use hymnals. Some might call it old-fashioned. Many of my musician friends who do music at their churches play a much more contemporary form of worship songs, often referred to as “praise music.” I am not very familiar with praise music. Still, when a musician friend asked me if I wanted to join him and some others during the holidays to play some praise music at a homeless shelter, I said yes.

I wasn’t driven to do so by some calling to minister to the down-and-out. I was not particularly motivated by the idea of doing a charitable act during the holidays. I said yes because a good friend asked me to do so. I wanted to help him out because I knew he would do the same for me. Nothing noble about it on my end.

The five of us gathered for a couple of rehearsals which cut into my already crowded holiday schedule. Learning the songs was a little more work for me since the others were familiar with the music. I tried to find a chance to rehearse on my own, but time is always a valuable commodity, and is especially so at Christmastime.

On the Friday evening before New Year’s Day I loaded my car with equipment and set out for the hour drive to the Wheeler Mission in downtown Indianapolis. I had hoped to beat the predicted snow, but it started falling before I left.

I hadn’t gone far before I had to pull over and clear my iced-up wipers. By then it was coming down in earnest. It was rush hour and the highways were slow and crowded. This was the first real snow of the season and drivers were re-learning how to deal with snowy conditions.

I thought I had left enough time, but I had to stop for gas. After I sat through five stoplight changes before I could creep through one crowded intersection, I figured I probably would not be there by 6 p.m. I was getting grouchier with each light change from green back to red.

“I don’t like to be late, I don’t like driving in snow, and I’m not crazy about the songs we are playing,” I grumped to myself. I stepped out of the car to once again clean the ice from my wipers.

As I inched closer to downtown, a thought, a voice came into my head.

“Is this really the way you want to do this gig? Is this the angry, frustrated spirit you want to carry into this building on such a bitter winter evening? Is such a clanging gong of a heart what you are offering everyone involved with this project?”

And as I was hearing these thoughts, I was already hearing the answer.

I pulled into the parking lot where the other band members and men from Wheeler Mission were carrying equipment inside. Because of the predicted snow and near-zero temperatures, we had been warned that the place would be crowded, and it was. We squeezed through with our gear.

Crowds of men bundled in layers of clothing clustered along the walls or huddled in the jammed-together folding chairs that filled the large room. Someone was on a microphone calling out bed assignments as we were setting up.

The band was ready when the service started at 7. Pastor Mark offered a prayer and said a few words. We played three songs before stopping for the pastor’s sermon. He spoke to the men as if he valued and accepted them as they were. He spoke words of hope that things don’t have to be the way they are; He promised them things can change.

We played two more songs and soon the service was over. Afterwards, many men came up to tell us how much they appreciated the music. They thanked us. “God bless you,” we said to each other.

On the way home I thought about the gift I had been given. I gave thanks.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.