A Christmas (Concert) Story...

Saturday, December 5, 2009
Note: I began writing this before the concert tonight, and finished it afterward. I know it is quite long, but I found the process of writing it all out to be healing for me, and so I don't want to cut anything out just because it is long. I think being able to finally share this full story - I never have before - will also be healing. If you can't make it all the way through, I understand. But if you do, thank you. Thank you.

This is kind of a different post in that it's just a story from my life that I would like to share, in hopes that someone may be encouraged by it.

Tonight is the opening night of Christmas at Northwestern, my school's annual Christmas concert. It has been a long week, with long rehearsals almost every day, but the concert is finally here, and it is going to be amazing. I absolutely love being able to sing as a part of the choir, listen to the band and orchestra and the narration in between songs. It is the most worshipful concert I have ever had the privilege of participating in. We aren't just up there singing pretty words, we're singing words that we believe, that we truly mean as we are singing them. We're not just singing to the audience, we are singing to God and leading the audience in worship. I love it so much.

Last year was my first year at Northwestern, but it was not my first year performing in Christmas at Northwestern. Back in 2001, I was a part of the Vivace Voices youth choir through the Academy of Music here. It was rare for the youth choir to be invited to sing in Christmas at Northwestern, but I'm guessing it had to do with the processional at the beginning of the concert. I've sung it in other choirs since, and there is a part that can optionally be sung by a children's choir. That is the part we sang in Christmas at Northwestern. So because we were already there for the processional, we also got to sing two songs on our own. For the rest of the concert, we had a few rows near the front reserved for us. Since our two songs were in the middle of the concert, we got to sit through all three concerts.

Fast-forward to last year, Christmas at Northwestern 2008: This is important for me to explain before I continue. My first Christmas at Northwestern as a college student! What an experience. I think my favorite part of the whole thing is at the rehearsals, or before the performances, when one of the directors or a student from one of the ensembles will get up and talk to us about what this means. About how this is not a performance, but a worship service. Just encouraging us and helping us to prepare our hearts for this time. Last year, at one of the rehearsals, someone had the idea that we should go out into the auditorium and pray over the seats, for the people who would be sitting in them each of the three nights. That they would be touched by our music. That they would see God's love in what we were singing and playing. That God would use the concert to speak to them, no matter their situation. Wow. What a powerful way to get us to really think about the audience and the message we would be communicating to them. What a way to remind us of our purpose in this event. I kept that fresh in my mind as we continued to rehearse and through the actual concerts. I'd look out at the audience, and remember what I was up there for, and pray for them once again. Let me tell you, a concert means a lot more when you know it will be touching people's lives like that.

And now back to 2001. How do I know the concerts will be touching people's lives? Well, along with the many times the directors tell us, and the knowledge that God answers prayer, I know from experience.

I was in 9th grade. It would be an understatement to say that it wasn't such a great year. It was pretty rough. Starting the summer before, with working every day to remodel our grandparents' old house so we could move into it. It was a terrible summer, but that's a story for another time. It was during that miserable summer that I began having suicidal thoughts. At first, it didn't seem like a big deal. I'd never actually do anything like that, right? It was just thoughts. Things would get better once school started. For a little bit, they did. But then it was back to the same old misery and self-hatred. Eventually I realized that I was probably dealing with depression. I was afraid to tell anyone, but the longer I put it off, the worse it got. Every day, I'd walk into school, and tell myself that today was the day I would go into the counseling office and make an appointment. Every day, I walked right past it again. Sometimes multiple times a day. Never the courage to open the door and walk in. By December, I felt like I was reaching the end of my rope. I thought of it as being stuck in a deep, dark pit, alone, with no way to get out.

That's where I was, that Saturday of Christmas at Northwestern. One of our songs was called "We Are The Children Of Light." I remember thinking, how can I sing about being a child of the light when I am so stuck here in this deep, dark pit? 

Since I had already heard the whole 2-hour concert the night before, I had plenty of time to sit and think while I was listening. I searched my mind for ideas, ways I could maybe ask for help. Eventually I concluded that none would work. I just couldn't do it. I would never be able to tell someone. I didn't think I could stand living in that darkness for much longer, and if I'd never be able to tell anyone anyway, what was the point?

*Suicide Trigger*

My ideas and plans turned to a different direction. I had gotten a ride to the concert with the family of a friend who was also in the youth choir. My parents were at an annual Christmas party hosted by some of their friends. I knew they wouldn't be back until late. I'd be back hours before they would. I had done some thinking on this before, but there was just never a good opportunity. And now I had one. I spent the rest of the concert making plans and refining them. I was going to kill myself when I got home. Take all the pills I could find and just go to sleep. My parents wouldn't find me until morning, and by then I'd be gone. I didn't want the shame of waking up in a hospital because someone found me earlier.

*End Trigger

I remember two specific points in the concert where I found myself wavering in my determination to go through with my plan.

The first was during a song that the band played. "Russian Christmas Music." It was almost thirteen minutes long, and it was amazing. From where I was sitting, I could see the two girls playing the chimes, which are used a lot in the piece. It was so cool watching them. (I have actually loved chimes ever since, just because of this song!) As I was sitting there watching the band play this beautiful, intense song, a thought came to my mind. I am never going to hear this song again. This is the last time I will ever get to listen to beautiful music like this. I won't be here tomorrow to hear them play it again. It made me want to cry. And that shook me a little.

The second was when the men's chorus sang "Prayer of the Children." The impact of this one will be best understood with the lyrics written out:
Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to see the morning light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take."
Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto
but hope for a better day, a better day.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home,
give me loving arms, 'way from harm."
Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you're near,
bringing peace again."
Beautiful song. Sad -- yet hopeful. This one was intense too, but in a different way. I know the song is meant to be about the devastating effects war has on children. But so much of it spoke right to my heart, to what I was dealing with that night.

I felt so empty, hopeless. Defeated. 

Then that first plea: "Jesus, help me to see the morning light of one more day..." Somewhere deep down, some small part of me was making this same plea: "Please, God, don't let me do it. I don't want to die." I didn't know it, but it was there. 

Then, "Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto but hope for a better day, a better day." That's how I felt...silently reaching and screaming for help, for someone to see that I was not all right. But no one did. I hid it too well. I didn't have anything to hold onto anymore. But maybe...

"Give me loving arms, 'way from harm." I had such a longing for this. For someone to care and to help me and protect me. Someone I could trust. Who wouldn't hurt me. Someone safe...but no one was there.

"Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?" Shattered. Maybe not in the way the song meant, but emotionally, I felt shattered. I had even used that word in a poem I wrote over the summer (a broken plate, shattered. / like-- my summer. / like-- my life.). I just wanted it to stop. I didn't want to hurt anymore. I didn't want to continue being hurt. Pleading for silence...no more yelling, swearing. I just wanted to feel safe again. I wanted somebody to see I was hurt, to care, to gather up those broken pieces and help me put my life back together.

Crying, "Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face
For when darkness clears, I know you're near
bringing peace again."

When I looked up there at the men's chorus singing, with gentleness and with passion, I truly felt like they meant what they were singing. 

I needed to know that someone cared. That there was hope, and not just hurt. I needed to hear that Jesus cared. I found myself silently pleading, "Jesus, help me!" along with the men when they sang it. Jesus, help me...give me hope...lead me out of the darkness...let me see the sun again. That song was just what I needed.

As I left the concert that night, I was unsure of what I would do when I got home. I still wanted to go through with my plan...but now, part of me didn't.

On the way home, I managed to quietly admit to my friend, after making her promise she wouldn't tell anyone, that I thought I was depressed. I didn't go any further than that, but that was enough. I had told someone. And if I told one person...maybe I could tell another. =)

God saved my life that night. God used Christmas at Northwestern to save my life. And that's why I can say with certainty that people's lives are touched by this concert. That's why the focus on leading the audience in worship and praying that God will use our music to reach them wherever they are at is so important to me. Because I know He will and He does. And maybe there's someone out there in the audience that's like me back in 9th grade...maybe there's someone out there who feels like they've lost hope and they don't want to live anymore. And maybe God will use our music to save them like He saved me.


  1. Recovering Alumni said...

    Thanks for sharing your story, Grace! What a beautiful thing that God has brought you full circle and now you can participate in that life giving concert as well. Beautiful.

    December 6, 2009 at 10:22 PM  

  2. Anonymous said...

    God is so good! Thank you for sharing Grace. Truely an inspiration!

    December 7, 2009 at 2:19 PM  

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