This is a story from about five years ago, when I experienced two firsts–my first candlelight service with my church and the first time I used my cane in front of my congregation.
The Candlelight Service
My ears perked up. A candlelight service? My church! Were they actually going to have a special service of Christmas Eve? It would be our first such celebration. Forgive me if I did a double-take. This was one gathering I would not miss!
I was thrilled to find my church at the threshold of change.
But I had to brace myself. It would be the first time I used my cane in front of my congregation. I could get away with avoiding it on Sunday mornings but not at night, in the dark. It seemed, I, too, was on the threshold of change.
That night, everyone seemed to be staring at my stick. I wet my dry lips and headed for a pew, desperately wanting to be seated. Out. of. View.
My good friend, Sharon, waved to me and motioned for me to sit next to her. Her husband, Bob, stood up to let me pass. I sat down and folded up my cane as fast as I could, placing it near my feet, out of range.
One of the leaders took the microphone. We all looked up expectantly.
“Come on, everyone, up to the front of the church. Let’s fill up those first few pews.”
I groaned. Everyone would be moving forward, and I would have to use my cane in front of them.
All. Over. Again.
We shuffled forward like obedient sheep.
I now found myself seated next Georgina.
She turned toward me and eyed my cane as I folded it up. “Now, Amy, I don’t know very much about this—is it mac—“
“Well, it’s a form of macular degeneration…” Smiling, I gave her the short take on it.
The man who had urged everyone to move forward leaned on the lectern in front of the church and spoke. “So how many of you will be participating in this service?”
Wouldn’t we all? That was why we were here, right? I wondered if this was a trick question.
“Would you like me to get you a candle?” Georgina asked, kindly.
“Oh, heavens no. Thanks but I can get it myself,” I assured her, feeling prickly.
Sharon piped up, “No need, my husband will get candles for all of us.”
That took the choice from me and I have to admit, I felt relieved.
Just then the speaker launched into a complicated set of instructions for the service. “…now if you are married, both husband and wife can come up together to light your candle, and stand while the scripture reading is being read. Then you will be seated in the pews opposite, on the other side of the church. If you’re single, you’ll go up alone…”
I gulped. Alone?! I wiped a clammy hand on the front of my corduroy pant leg. Could I do it?
What was I so afraid of? That was when the “what-ifs” started.
What if I tripped over someone’s legs and sprawled out in front of the congregation?
What if I knocked over the candle?
What if I couldn’t find my way to the opposite pew?
What if I ran into the communion table?
Okay, that does it! I am not participating!
I tapped Sharon on the shoulder and shook my head. “I’ll pass,” I whispered.
She whispered something back that I didn’t catch. I wasn’t even wearing my hearing aids. I had forgotten them again. The moment passed and it was too late to ask Sharon what she’d said.
This was certainly not going well.
I had envisioned simply holding a candle at my seat, and singing, or listening to a devotional. Why did it have to be so complicated? I chewed my bottom lip, trying to decide if the leader had me in mind when he asked if everyone wanted to participate.
The lights began to dim, one-by-one. Finally, we sat in the darkness. I mean it—darkness! Well, at least until my eyes adjusted a little.
Couples were exiting their pews, moving forward and lighting their candles. I followed the dim shapes with my eyes, my heart fluttering.
As I waited, a little voice inside me began to lecture: You can’t just shine the light when it’s convenient. God expects more from us than that. Remember Amy, He never asks us to do anything without equipping us. You remembered your cane. You know how to use it. So when it’s your time, just stand up and get going.
I twirled my short hair around my ear as each moment drew me closer to my turn.
Finally, Georgina stood up and set out. She would walk alone as her husband was already up front leading the scripture readings. I looked on in envy. She had survived her cancer and never seemed to worry or hesitate. I could imagine her serene smile as she looked out over the audience.
Why couldn’t I be like that?
As she left the front of the church to sit down in the correct pew, I hesitantly stood up. My heart was pounding.To my surprise, Sharon and her husband both stood up at the same time I did.
“We’ll go with you,” my friend said quietly.
She held onto my shoulder and we moved out with me in the lead. My cane smacked against the heat register at the end of our pew. Oh no! I quickly turned right. Sharon guided me to the table ahead with gentle squeezes to my shoulder.
I arrived! My hand trembled as I leaned in and dipped my candle into the larger one. The wick caught a weak flame, and nearly went out. Awkwardly fanning it with the same hand I was holding my cane, it grew stronger. Then I stepped aside for Sharon and Bob to light their candles. The three of us stood in front of the church while the scripture was read.
My candle illuminated my cane–or at least part of it–in front of the entire congregation. I tried to smile. I have no recollection what the scripture reading focused on as I stood there.
Vulnerable. But certain at the same time.
With a tap on my shoulder from Sharon, I moved out and headed for the pew on the opposite side. I didn’t know where the next person was seated so rather than stumble over him or her, I chose to move to a new pew.
At last, I was seated in the audience and watching others move forward.
Singing followed the devotional; all our songs contained “the light” somewhere in the lyrics…send the light; this little light of mine; walking in the light, to name a few. I relaxed and sang along with the rest of the congregation. My brothers and sisters. What a great family–and feeling!
As the lights slowly filled the room, I rose. Naturally, I reached for my cane. God had provided for me, as usual. Nothing had gone wrong. I didn’t embarrass myself—unless you count banging the heat register. That didn’t last very long.
Lord, continue to show me that You are Master of every new situation I face. Give me courage to move through the darkness—both literally and spiritually. I want to become the light You so desire me to be at every turn. No matter … how unfamiliar the territory… who is watching … who I feel may be judging me. What if I do trip? Maybe I won’t know exactly where to go … or what to say or do in my position as Your child.
Simply fill me with courage to move out of my comfort zone.
God, You so clearly wove the physical and the spiritual together in a memorable lesson for me: Don’t be a light only when it’s convenient. Between my cane and my friend’s assistance, you supplied my needs to enable me to move forward in the darkness.
I only needed to do one thing: trust You and take that step.
Help me to always take that first step forward, whether physically or spiritually.