Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The "Here I Am Lord" Story

A couple of years into my time as a Director of Music Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Galesburg, Illinois, I began to feel restless. I loved what I was doing with all of my heart and had a deep commitment to the people of that congregation, but I sensed an unknown nudging.

I know now that the nudging was God’s call into ordained ministry. In my experience, I did not encounter a burning bush, that solitary moment of call. Hindsight has revealed more like a series of mini-calls over the course of two years, little whispers here and there. One of those whispers was “Here I Am, Lord.” So here is the “Here I Am, Lord” story…

(By the way, I mentioned this story way back when, when I wrote a two-part post about being called to ministry. Click this and then this to read it.)

For some, “Here I Am, Lord” is an overdone, trite, and rather cheesy hymn. I agree with that in part, on the surface level, but honestly it is a song with a deeper resonance in my life. It truly stirs my spirit when a congregation joins together in robust voice and belts out the refrain with a full organ and piano accompaniment. Often, people who would never ever otherwise do so close their eyes, tilt their heads back, and lift up their hands in the moment. It’s great!

To tell you the truth, I cannot remember if the “Here I Am, Lord” story took place before or after I had announced to the Galesburg congregation my intention to go to seminary and become an ordained pastor. My memory is telling me that it was after I had made the announcement. Either way, it was another nudge in the direction God wanted me to go with my life.

We had a great kids’ choir program at First Presby, from the preschoolers on up. In the upper elementary choir were two Melissas, who also happened to have last names that started with “B.” So we called them “Bucky” and “Missy B” in order to distinguish them from one another. They were wonderful girls from wonderful families, fourth graders probably, very active and involved in the church.

One afternoon, at the end of rehearsal, the two girls lingered for a little while in the choir room as the other kids went down to their next activity. They wanted to ask me a question, they said.

“What’s your favorite hymn?” Missy B asked.

It is a hard question for me to answer, since I love so many. But the one that came to mind most readily was “Here I Am, Lord.” When I told them, they just sort of nodded and smiled and said they were just wondering. We went downstairs, and I really didn’t think very much more of it at the time.

Well, the next week after rehearsal, they hung back again as the rest of the kids left the room. They held hymnals in their hands. They caught me in the hallway just outside the choir area. “Wait,” said Missy B., “We have something we want to do.” She glanced over at Bucky, who kind of nodded and grinned at her.

They opened the hymnals to the page they had marked with their fingers. Bucky nodded and said, “One, two, three, four,” and they began to sing to me. You guessed it - “Here I Am, Lord.” All of the verses.

We just stood there in that hallway as I listened to them sing. They had worked all week, practicing the song so they could sing it their very best. No congregation, no huge pipe organ, no elaborate praise band. It was just two ten-year-old girls singing with the most sincerity and sweetness that I had ever experienced. I was indescribably moved.

The moment they were done was a holy moment. I didn’t want to say anything that might interrupt it. They closed the books and looked at me with shy but satisfied smiles. Missy B’s face was turning as red as her hair, and Bucky breathed out a small giggle.

I was eventually able to say, “Thank you. That was really great.” I smiled at them and bent down for a big hug.


I have wept for love of them…
…I will hold your people in my heart.


Anonymous said...

Emil anonymously said, "My son Frank sang 'Here I Am' at his high school baccalaureate service in '99. The seniors jumped to their feet in a standing ovation after the last note. The memory still gives me goosebumps."

Nancy said...

I don't think I'd ever heard this story. Holy moment, indeed.