When you watch UGM volunteer Ruthie LaFreniere play the piano, you’ll think twice the next time you want to say, “I can’t” when faced with a challenge. Her extensive career as a professional pianist affords her the ability to produce beautiful music from her instrument, a feat in and of itself. But much more, Ruthie bends the piano to her will to create beautiful, rich melodies…while playing one-handed.
In 1983, she sustained emergency brain surgery that paralyzed her left side, forcing her to re-approach many activities that were once second nature.
Ruthie dresses in confidence, dignity, and poise despite her uneasy yet deliberate movements. In God’s time Ruthie learned how to relive life, but not without refining fire.
“The Lord has given me a….very stubborn nature,” admits Ruthie, who dug into life with grit and determination. Once chronically impatient, her paralysis forced her to slow down and learn the rhythm of rest. Even something as simple as fitting the backing onto her earring took delicate technique.
Things seemed to only get worse after the surgery and, for a time, Ruthie was no stranger to a depression that beckoned her to darkness.
“Two years after my surgery, my marriage ended, and a year or two after that, my oldest daughter decided she hated me and went to live with her dad. And then a year after that, my youngest daughter got pregnant at 15.” Ruthie described life as a roller coaster ride.
She is vocal about her life story; a story marked by pain but brimming with evidence of the Lord’s presence and a sustaining joy that filled the voids in her life. Ruthie was inspired to write a devotional called “Stories, Psalms, and Songs for the Darkest Night,” and a matching album she and her late, second husband Paul (an accomplished trumpet player) created together.
Ruthie has taken her talents far and wide, to people and events of all classes. Yet today, she can be found ministering to the ladies at Simonka Place, a favorite audience for her heartfelt piano playing.
“They’re so responsive,” says Ruthie. “I just loved being with them. And then there’s been a couple times when I’ve been in the community and a woman will come up to me and say ‘Ruthie, remember me? I went to Simonka.’”
Ruthie confesses that these women bless her more than she could bless them. She was even compelled to write a song based on their collective life experiences, empathetically named “Life is Tough.”
“God has given me a passion for [volunteering at UGM]…I have a love for [the women]. I feel compassion for where they are...I have a message for them that God has given, and I want them to hear this message that God’s love brings,” says Ruthie.
Even if you think that you don’t have gifts or skills to offer, we all have love to give. Whether your worship looks like sacrificing your time, a listening ear, or a smile – it’s music to Him.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”