On a recent Sunday morning, when we weren't quite awake, but the coffee was hot, my husband picked a CD from his vast collection and said, "We could use a little Gospel."
He was right. We hadn't played it in ages. But when something finds a home in your soul, it stays with you forever.
"Steal Away — Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs," by bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Hank Jones is an instrumental collection of hope. It was released in 1995, which is likely when my husband bought it. He first played it for me 20 years ago, when we started dating. He was my friend and former editor. I knew him well. But hearing that CD made me want to know him better.
If you're a fan of Gospel music, or even if you're not, I'm pretty sure you'd like "Steal Away." I know every song on the album. They're all instrumentals, but I learned the lyrics as a child growing up in the South, where Gospel and Country played nonstop on every radio.
My husband never complains if I sing along with the CD. I like that about him. I could tell you stories about those songs — how I heard them as a child and replay them in my memory, like good medicine, as often as needed.
Here's my favorite: The first title on the album is "It's Me, O Lord (Standin' in the Need of Prayer.)" It reminds me of a time long ago when I felt I was drowning in doubt and fear.
My first husband was a high school teacher, a basketball coach, a marathon runner and the father of our three children.
When he was 49, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and told he had six months to live.
By the strength of his will and the grace of God, he stretched those six months into four great years. But when he could no longer teach or coach or climb the stairs, we knew the end was near. And I began to doubt, not his strength, but mine.
How would I do this? How could I be all that my husband and our children needed me to be? How could I make our last days be the best of our 30 years? I couldn't think of any answers.
But some good friends gave me what I didn't know I needed. They arranged to take care of my husband for a weekend and sent me off on a "silent retreat."
Maybe you've never heard of such a thing. Neither had I. The best part of it is not needing to talk. Silence can be a godsend.
On arrival, I was told I could walk in the rose garden, reflect on the reflecting pool or practice not talking. Otherwise, all I had to do was eat, sleep and pray.
But there was a catch. I was asked to make a list of every person and thing I wanted to pray for, and give the list to the retreat leaders, who'd pray for every concern I listed. I was to pray for just one thing: Me.
Me? I usually prayed for loved ones or, well, the whole world. I seldom found time to pray for myself. Where would I start?
That night, as I drifted off to sleep, my soul began to sing a song from my childhood: "It's me, it's me, oh Lord...." And I found myself singing along.
At the end of that song, I asked God for three things: A vision for the days ahead; an assurance that I would be all my husband and children needed me to be; and an unwavering faith to give me hope and free me from fear.
The next morning I awoke from a dream I'll never forget — a beautiful vision of what would be my husband's final days. It assured me that he and I and our children would have all we needed — grace and peace and hope and joy — with the love and support of a great many friends. In the end, we'd all agree, "It was a fine and lovely departure."
That dream that came true for me and my husband and our children. I wanted it for all of us. But I asked it first for myself.
It's good to pray for others. The world needs all the prayers it can get. But sometimes, if I'm beset by doubt and fear, I find it helps to sing along with my soul, "It's me, it's me, oh Lord...."
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at email@example.com.