There have been at least two times in my life (in recent history) when I knowingly used my gifts when I didn't want to. Both times, I ended up being surprised and amazed by the grace I was rewarded with.
It shouldn't surprise me any more, but it does.
Recently I was asked to sign a song for a good friend of mine. Of course I said yes, but when I first listened to the song I had more misgivings than this song had repeats. And boy, did it have a lot.
The list was long: it wasn't the style I usually signed, the words were so modern, the repeats, etc. I put off looking at it until it was far too late and I spent a week practically kicking and screaming, complaining to anyone who would listen, but begrudgingly learning this song.
I ended up learning all the signs and by Saturday I felt rather confident that things would go well. I mean, as confident as I could be given the amount of time I had left to study (zero) and number of days until the performance (um, again, zero). I ran through it a couple of times before bed and then decided it would have to be enough. I sent at least five alarms, got ready for bed early (for me, of course) and tried to sleep.
I was jolted awake sometime around 3 AM to the shouts and arguments of my downstairs neighbors. I tried to will myself back to sleep, knowing that if I got up to do anything, I would be unable to even think about sleeping. I couldn't tell you how long the noise went on but when my alarm went off at 6 a.m., I was sure I could afford a few more moments of sleep. However, the 4 other alarms I set didn't go off and I found myself waking up 15 minutes before I needed to leave. Things were just not going my way.
I aggressively ignored some of the speed limit signs on my way to church. I prayed that the cops would either all be asleep or at church already and that the people in front of me weren't going to my church. It wasn't just that I had overslept; I was late heading to my first practice and first performance of the song I really wish I hadn't agreed to sign.
Thankfully, I got to church with enough time to run through the song 1.5 times with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, most of the coffee I had hastily made that morning was still in my travel mug. I gulped furiously. As I gulped, our keyboardist prayed for us before the service started. His prayer quieted me and reminded my heart that this thing we were doing was simply enhancing the vocalist's gift. I needed to hear that.
I'm always nervous when I sign. Always. Even if it is a song I choose and like, I get nervous. But here I was, exhausted, under-caffeinated, wishing I was somewhere else. This was more than just normal nerves.
I signed twice on Sunday, first service and second service. In between services, I talked with friends. I've written about these friends before, the ones who ask "How are you?" and "Are you safe?" and "Do you need anything?" and expect an honest and real answer. The ones who can see the tears in my eyes before I really know they are there. They could see I was exhausted on all levels and made sure to ask me about it. I started waking up. Not just in the way you do when the coffee kicks in, but in that way you do when your soul has been run down for so long that you think you are alone in the universe and you finally start seeing a way out.
It wasn't until I started signing in the second service that it all really hit me. I was signing about tired faith and a vast feeling of hopelessness and I didn't realize I was signing about me until that moment. I might have been asked to sign the song to help spread the message of God's love and grace to the congregation, but in that moment, the message of the song was for me.
I wasn't on my best form. It was the first song I've signed in ages, probably since Easter. My gift that morning was a halfhearted dusty offering. But in all of that, I left church that morning with a tear in my eye and the echoes of hope in my heart.