Monday, February 06, 2012

A Found Song - Eleanor Shepherd

It seems like a random series of events.  A Norwegian friend recounted a story to comfort me in Montreal in 2009.  She tells of an incident that happened at a camp in Newfoundland in 1983.  This eventually leads to provision of music to a tornado survivor in Alabama in 2011.  God sometimes seems to orchestrate dates and events in strange ways for His purposes.
In 1983, Brynhild Pelley attended a women’s camp in Newfoundland.  The speaker at the event, my mother, had just received the news that nothing could be done to reverse the deterioration in her vision and she would eventually lose her sight.  During the camp, in introducing a song, my mother affirmed the words, though many of the women did not know the challenge she was facing. They sang,
“Pilot of souls, I trust Thy guiding hand;
Take thou the helm, and at thy blest command,
I sail straight on until, the harbour won,
I reach the glory of they sweet well done.
O man of Galilee!”
After living with and seldom complaining about her blindness for thirty years my mother, Elizabeth Pitcher died in 2009. While I was preparing the tribute for her funeral, Brynhild told me the story of this event at the camp.  I included it in my tribute, as I talked of my mother’s deep love for God. 
Shortly after my Mother’s funeral, my turn came do my Word Guild blog for that month, so I posted the tribute to my mother.  With the positive comments I received from that blog, when International Women’s Day came around in March 2010, I reposted the article on my personal blog.  I had no idea this blog would pop up on Google, a year later when Greg Ables in Alabama was looking for words of a song.
In April 2011, a series of tornadoes hit Alabama, causing horrendous destruction and loss of life.  The news even made headlines as far away as Montreal and Toronto, where Canadians prayed for those whose lives were literally torn apart by this disaster.  In Toronto, I was preparing to be interviewed about my book, on 100 Huntley Street on Friday, April 29. Before the show, as we prayed together we remembered those who were hit by these dreadful storms.  I had no idea I would be involved personally with some of them.
Saturday morning, we were back in Montreal and when I opened my computer, there was a note from an unfamiliar name, Greg Ables.  The headline was the title of my book, so I assumed that it was someone who wanted to comment about it. Instead, I discovered Greg lived in Alabama where he and his wife, Paige had been cleaning up after the tornadoes. 
As Greg surveyed the damage in his yard that morning, he came across a scrap of paper. He realized it had come from the home of someone who had not fared as well as he and his family.  On that paper were the words,
“Pilot of souls, I trust
Take thou the helm
I sail straight on until
I reach the glory
The words on this little fragment of paper spoke to Greg and he wanted to find out more about them.  He thought they might be a hymn but he could not find any reference to them in his hymnal.  Greg’s home was still without power, but as soon as electricity was restored, he booted up his computer and searched on the Internet for the words of this hymn.  One of the references that came up was my personal blog, where I had quoted the words in telling the story of my mother.
I still have no idea why the name of my book came up on the subject line.  He wanted to know if I had the music for these words.  He managed to find all the words of the song between my blog, and other places on the web.  I was able to provide not only the music, but also a little of the history of the writers of both the lyrics and the music for the hymn.   
            Robert Hoggard, (1861- 1935) a Salvation Army officer in Australia, wrote the words of the song.  Another Salvation Army officer from England, Edward Henry Joy (1871 – 1949) composed the tune.
My husband, Glen and I are Salvationists and had a copy of the music at home that I could scan and send to Greg.
Greg could not thank me enough for sending him this music.  He told me how much our prayers for the people of Alabama were appreciated.  His words were optimistic, in spite of the situation.  He said,  There is so much devastation, but I do believe that this tragedy will wind up bringing Alabama together (and that is something that many here have prayed for)”.
I thought the Lord weaved a beautiful tapestry with these seemingly random events.
·      My mother’s sharing at that women’s camp
·      My hearing the story from Brynhild at the time of my mother’s passing,
·      My posting the words on my blog to celebrate International Women’s Day,
·      The scrap of paper from a Salvation Army songbook landing in Greg’s yard during the tornado,
·      The fragment of paper coming to his attention in all the debris,
·      The electricity coming on so he could search the Internet,
·      The search engine taking him to my blog
Here is the fragment.
·      My having the music available in my home when Greg asked for it,

In the Master Artisan’s hands the finished product brought hope and encouragement to our new friends in Alabama, Greg and Paige Ables.  They had been going through their own personal challenges before the tornadoes hit.  However, when they became aware of what others had suffered, their trials took on a new perspective. The fragment of song they learned to sing and teach others has given them new hope. 
In the e-mail he wrote to thank me for the music, Greg attached a scan of the partial hymn he found in the yard and thanked me for helping them make it whole.  Then he said, “Paige and I will do what He calls us to do - although that is still unclear at this point. But, for now, we will learn (and teach) a new song!”

            God showed His compassion once again in giving a song in the midst of disaster.  
Winner of 2011 Word Guild Award  in  Christian Leadership
Story Winner of 2009 Word Guild Award of Merit


Peter Black said...

Eleanor, what a lovely account of the skillful Master Hand weaving together what may seem like disparate threads from the past and present of unassociated lives into a beautiful tapestry, revealing His mercy and grace. Thank you for sharing it.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Thanks, Peter. As always you have encouraged me by your comments. What a gift you have. I hope that your health is improving.

Peter Black said...

Thanks Eleanor,
I really am very well, despite the pain and limitation the injuries have accrued over the years. And I thank God for the improvement over the past few weeks. I'm functioning better and can put in longer sessions at the computer again and am getting some more writing done, although I have to remind myself to stop and have short breaks.

Gillian Fisher said...

Maybe there is another circle completed with your blog, Eleanor. When I was a teenager I attended the Salvation Army Wimbledon Corps in south west London, England. Majorie Joy, daughter of Edward Joy, writer of the music, went to the same corps. I spent quite a bit of time with her as when she was obliged to be on her own in the house overnight I would stay with her for company and to help as needed. It is amazing how God links up people and places one thought could have no possible contact with each other.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Wow, Gillian I had no idea. Isn't it really a small world after all? Thanks for letting me know about this connection as well.

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