(All Names except Shirley changed in the following true story to protect privacy)
Written in memory of my dear friend, Shirley Wallace
My friend Carol had been “helping” with a Sunday School class. She was going to be out of town. She asked if we could “help” while she was gone.
She was not specific and we did not ask. We were willing to do what we could and it was just for a couple of Sundays … or so we thought.
The Lord had other plans.
We arrived in the chapel where class was held. An elderly woman was sorting out the new quarterly Sunday School books. We learned her name was Shirley. She was courteous, but obviously more dedicated to the task at hand than social pleasantries.
She told Jay where to “go get the podium from the pulpit” and told him specifically what pew to place it in. When he almost put it in another pew, she corrected him.
She said, “Put it there. It’s got to be close enough for Dan to hear. And Sarah, she does not see so good. She’ll go to sleep if she can’t see the teacher.”
When Jay got the right pew, but walked in a little too far, Shirley said, “No, closer to the aisle. Chris and Suzy come. She can’t get out of her wheelchair. So she has to sit in the aisle where she can see and hear.”
She then turned to me and said, “Do you sing?”
I thought she was asking if I could participate in group singing. I said yes. She then said, matter of factly, “Good. You’ll lead the singing.”
She directed Jay where to find a microphone for me. I was a little panicked because it had been a long time since I had done any public singing. I was frantically trying to figure out what I might sing.
But there was no need. Shirley continued, “We always begin with ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,’ just the chorus. We hold the verses for special occasions.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew that song well. I had grown up in The Lord, but I had had a special time of commitment during a revival service at my hometown church when I was a teenager. The revival preacher had us sing that song (with verses) every night for a week.
However, relief was short lived, as another elderly lady swept through the door. It turned out she was the substitute pianist for the day. She immediately went to her post at the piano.
Shirley said, “You’ll have to check with Sue about what we are singing today.”
Sue was already flipping through pages in a hymnal. I went up to the piano, which was located at the front of the chapel.
I never learned the reason why the class met at the back of the chapel. We learned from the git go not to question long established traditions.
Sue informed me what hymns we would be singing that day. Fortunately they were old standards. I thought once again I had been saved.
I returned to my seat as the class members began to arrive. It turned out all were on the far side of their 80s and beyond. Sandra, who was later identified as the Vice President of the class (Shirley was the President), very sweetly welcomed us.
My husband and I were in our 60s. Sandra said, “It’s so nice to have young people in our class!” Jay and I looked at each other and realized we had found the fountain of youth. Hang out with people who are older than you are!
Shirley began class precisely at the appointed hour, not one minute before and not one minute afterwards. She called out the first hymn number and introduced me as their new song leader.
I looked at Jay. This was supposed to be a two week help session. He shrugged his shoulders.
Everyone looked at me expectantly. I turned and waited for Sue to begin playing the piano. She stared back in equal expectation.
We seemed to be at a stand still. Finally Shirley said, “You have to wave at her to start.”
I was very puzzled, but in our short encounter, I had already learned to just do what Shirley said. I turned and waved at Sue.
It was like starting a race. Sue smiled, fingers hit the ivories and it felt like we were off to the races. Sue played all hymns at a speed that would have equaled the minute waltz played in 30 seconds.
Since I had been an accompanist myself, I had learned to follow the timing of the singer. Not so with Sue.
It turned out she had a hearing impairment, and hearing what was said or sang in the back of the chapel was impossible for her to hear at the front of the chapel. When she played, she was in her own world. Everyone else had to keep up.
After the first hymn, I felt like I was going to need oxygen to make it to the next one.
But when I looked out at class members, it was like a preview of Heaven. All were worshipping in their own ways and the light streaming through the chapel windows gave a glow to every face.
They were not old. They were not impaired or handicapped in any way. They were united in love and friendship and The Glory of God.
When Shirley said, “We’ll see you next Sunday,” Jay and I did not even need to discuss it. We knew we had found a home.
And so we had. We stayed with that wonderful family for several years. We stayed and walked many of them as far as we could go toward their Heavenly Home.
There are more stories to tell about Shirley and the group she led with such Love and Joy. I have no doubt those who arrived Home before she did welcomed her last week with open arms.
And they were able to turn their eyes upon Jesus and look full in His Wonderful Face!
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate The Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His Image with ever-increasing Glory which comes from The Lord, Who is The Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18