The Piano

The Piano

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

The Piano

Coins are round: Sometimes they roll to you, sometimes to others.

~Folk Saying

During the early 1990s, being a Christian recording artist sometimes felt like one big struggle in a world of extremes. I would stand on stage in front of spotlights and thousands of people, only to go back to the hotel room with my family, wondering if anyone really cared about what I did at all. I would fall into bed in a small room shared by six, with one bathroom and suitcases piled everywhere.

We put on large contemporary Christian concerts in churches all over the country. I stepped into some of the most beautiful buildings equipped with state of the art furnishings and accoutrements, only to feel like I was on the outside looking in. For two hours I was the center of attention—lights dimmed, music played and God’s presence filled all of our lives. Then moments after the concert ended, we packed it all up, rolled it out the back door into our trailer and disappeared down a lonely highway into the silence of the night.

I used to walk around those big, empty, church auditoriums as everyone scurried to get set up, wondering how they did it. How did these churches acquire all the wonderful facilities and resources they needed to make a difference in people’s lives? What was the secret? I was doing the same thing they were, only I did it on the road and my “congregation” changed every night. I wondered how anyone ever acquired the unabashed boldness to just stretch their hands open, stand before God and simply receive from his overflowing abundance. It was easier to just believe that everyone else must be doing something right, and I must be somehow flawed. Maybe if I tried harder, worked longer and suffered a little bit more, I would finally be “worthy” of receiving what I needed.

One afternoon between concerts, my husband and I walked into a huge music store filled with the most impressive collection of grand pianos I had ever seen. Row after row of black and ivory concert grands sat there waiting for someone with the gift of music in their soul to sit down and play them. I pulled a bench up to one of the pianos, touched the keys and smiled.

“Nice piano,” I said to the salesclerk.

“Are you looking for a grand or a baby grand?” He perked up, thinking he had a customer.

“Oh me?” I laughed. “Well, I can’t really buy a piano now,” I said sheepishly.

My husband walked over and spoke up without hesitation. “Honey, you’ve been wanting a real piano for years. These are incredible instruments!”

I gave him the you-are-out-of-your-mind look.

“Let me show you a baby grand over here that’s really special,” the salesclerk said moving us to the back of the store.

My husband followed him excitedly. I trailed behind, dragging my feet, wishing we could just get out of there and save ourselves any further embarrassment. We didn’t belong in an expensive music store. I felt like I was trespassing and any minute I was going to be found out.

“This is a brand-new baby grand,” the salesclerk gushed. “It’s the only one of its kind, and we’re clearing it out. It’s on sale—and I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most fabulous pianos I’ve ever seen.”

“Sit down and play it, “ my husband urged.

I wished he’d leave me alone. Why should I play it if I couldn’t have it? To save face in front of the salesclerk, I sat down at the clean, white keys. They felt like smooth silk and sounded like a symphony. The salesclerk propped the lid open.

“Press the pedals and play hard,” he said. “You can’t believe how this thing resonates and fills up the whole room.”

He was right. It was incredible. It moved and inspired me to just sit and play it in the store. I could have written a song right then and there.

“How much is it?” my husband asked casually—as if he had just won the lottery.

“It lists for ten thousand dollars, but since we’re clearing it out, we’re giving it away for only five thousand dollars.” He grinned.

“Wow!” my husband cheered and turned smiling at me.

Wow yourself, I thought, rolling my eyes. What did it matter if it was five thousand or five million! We were struggling musicians who didn’t have the money. I couldn’t have this. I was nobody. We weren’t the pastors with the big buildings. We didn’t have a record company financing our tours. Who was I to spend that kind of money for a music ministry? Still, I wanted that piano, and my husband knew it.

“Let’s put some money down on it and hold it,” he whispered to me frantically. “If we can’t pay for it in thirty days, then we won’t get it, but let’s take a step of faith and try.”

He handed the salesclerk a check for $500.

The salesclerk smiled. “See you in thirty days!” he said, waving goodbye.

As the days passed, I wanted that piano more than anything. Each day on tour I started my day with prayer time, and from somewhere deep down in my spirit, faith rose. Unabashed boldness seemed to come out of nowhere and I talked to God.

“God, if I were a pastor, and I needed one of those million-dollar buildings to share my message, you would provide it without question. If I was a medical missionary, and the ‘tool’ I needed was an airplane, it would come to me. Well, God, I’m a musician, and that’s a God-given calling as worthy and as important as any other calling. I’m not asking for a building or an airplane; I’m just asking for a piano to write my songs. I’m ready to believe that my gift of music is as important to you as the gift of being a pastor or a medical missionary or a brain surgeon. I know you won’t fail me because I’m important, too.”

Every morning I prayed that prayer and as I did, I began to realize that I was just as “worthy” as anyone else, because God had given me my musical gift. In a few weeks, I believed it wholeheartedly and the doubt that I didn’t deserve anything began to fade. I began to tell my friends about the piano I had “on hold.”

Our concert tour ended twenty-nine days later. As we pulled into the driveway and started unloading our gear, my parents, who had been watching our house, appeared in the front yard with a letter in their hands.

“Here’s the weirdest letter,” they said, handing us the stack of mail. “It’s addressed to you, honey, but your last name is spelled wrong, and there’s no street address. I can’t believe it got here.”

I stared at the wrinkled, stained envelope with just my name and my small town and state scribbled across it.

I opened it up curiously and saw a yellow check inside. There was no letter or note, just the yellow check. As I unfolded it, I almost fainted. It was for $5,000, and it was made out to me from my great-uncle Britt. I hardly knew him and hadn’t spoken to him in many years. My parents looked at the check in shock.

“Honey, what in the world?” my mother gasped.

“My piano,” I whispered.

“Uncle Britt did that to me once,” my dad laughed. “Sometimes he just likes to start getting rid of all the money he has. I guess your number came up today!” He giggled at his eccentric uncle and hugged me.

The next morning, exactly thirty days later, I called the music store, wired them the full amount of $4,500 and gave the leftover $500 to a worthy ministry. My shiny, white baby grand piano was delivered and placed in the middle of my living room where the sun streamed down on it from a skylight.

There are still times in my life when I feel like “I’m on the outside looking in,” and I question whether I’m “worthy” enough. I sometimes wonder if God only blesses big names and big buildings. On those days I sit down in front of the most extravagant concert piano that I have ever played, and I remember that whether anybody else thinks so or not, God believes I am “worth it,” and He got a ninety-year-old, eccentric great-uncle to help Him show me.

~Carla Riehl

Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman’s Soul

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