It was chilly in Manhattan but warm inside the Starbucks shop on 51st
Street and Broadway, just a skip up from Times Square.
For a musician, it's the most lucrative Starbucks location in the world,
I'm told, and consequently, the tips can be substantial if you play your
I was playing keyboard and singing backup for my friend who also added
rhythm with an arsenal of percussion instruments. During our emotional
rendition of "If You Don't Know Me by Now," I noticed a lady sitting in
one of the lounge chairs across from me. She was swaying to the beat
and singing along.
After the tune was over, she approached me. "I apologize for singing
along on that song. Did it bother you?" she asked.
"No," I replied. "We love it when the audience joins in. Would you like
to sing up front on the next selection?"
To my delight, she accepted my invitation.
"You choose," I said. "What are you in the mood to sing?"
"Well ... do you know any hymns?"
Hymns? This woman didn't know who she was dealing with. I cut my teeth
on hymns. Before I was even born, I was going to church. I gave our
guest singer a knowing look. "Name one."
"Oh, I don't know. There are so many good ones. You pick one."
"Okay," I replied. "How about 'His Eye is on the Sparrow'?"
My new friend was silent, her eyes averted. Then she fixed her eyes on
mine again and said, "Yeah. Let's do that one."
She slowly nodded her head, put down her purse, straightened her jacket
and faced the center of the shop. With my two-bar setup, she began to
Why should I be discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
The audience of coffee drinkers was transfixed.
I sing because I'm happy;
I sing because I'm free.
For His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
When the last note was sung, the applause crescendo to a deafening roar.
Embarrassed, the woman tried to shout over the din, "Oh, y'all go back
to your coffee! I didn't come in here to do a concert! I just came in
here to get something to drink, just like you!"
But the ovation continued. I embraced my new friend. "You, my dear,
have made my whole year! That was beautiful!"
"It's funny that you picked that particular hymn," she said.
"Why is that?"
She hesitated again, "That was my daughter's favorite song." She
grabbed my hands. By this time, the applause had subsided and it was
business as usual. "She was 16. She died of a brain tumor last week."
I said the first thing that found its way through my silence. "Are you
going to be okay?"
She smiled through tear-filled eyes and squeezed my hands. "I'm gonna
be okay. I've just got to keep trusting the Lord and singing His songs,
and everything's gonna be just fine." She picked up her bag, gave me
her card, and then she was gone.
Was it just a coincidence that we happened to be singing in that
particular coffee shop on that particular November night? Coincidence
that this wonderful lady just happened to walk into that particular
shop? Coincidence that of all the hymns to choose from, I just happened
to pick the very hymn that was the favorite of her daughter, who had
died just the week before? I refuse to believe it.
God has been arranging encounters in human history since the beginning
of time, and it's no stretch for me to imagine that He could reach into
a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan and turn an ordinary gig into a
revival. It was a great reminder that if we keep trusting Him and
singing His songs, everything's gonna be okay.
By John Thomas Oaks