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Borrowed Words

It’s the New Year. I’ve been away. Over the last two months, I’ve driven to three states, celebrated four Christmas gatherings, welcomed two new grandchildren, wept, laughed, cradled all my grandchildren, drank hot chocolate with peppermint sticks and brought in 2020.

I haven’t written in almost two months. This story has been pressed on my heart for nearly eight weeks. In the fall, our oldest daughter was in the hospital twelve days. And I, her Mom, was there with her. For eight of those days, she was awaiting the birth of her first baby. With the complications that plagued her, she seemed like a medical ticking time bomb. Hospital culture is it’s own world. The beeping. The interrupted sleep. The constant monitoring of vital signs. The food. The convertible chair to cot. Gowns. Visitor badges. The waiting room. Medications dripping from i.v’s. Doctors entering the room with bad news. No news. Labs drawn. Nurses. Techs. Housekeeping. Leaving after hours through the ER. Parking garages at midnight. Hand sanitizer drying your knuckles and nails. I am not a stranger to medical things or places. I’ve worked as a nurses aid, sat by many bedsides and have had a couple of occasions to be overnight at hospitals other than the births of my own babies.

So, it wasn’t that I was uncomfortable. Instead, I was the Mom. All of my daughters have been healthy over the years. No stitches. No broken bones. No overnights for bruises, bumps or procedures. I got by most of my parenting years with children’s Tylenol and Benadryl. In my natural phase, we lived and breathed tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar and black walnut juice. I was a pro at feeling their foreheads for a fever and haven't owned a thermometer in at least fifteen years. Hot bubble baths, foot rubs, cold washcloths to the eyes and Vick’s cured most everything.

This was different. I was a traveler in a foreign land. I was a guest at someone else’s house. I was a visitor to a circumstance beyond my control. I was the Mom.

I walked the ‘tightrope of time’ familiar to moms the entire hospital stay. One minute, I was carrying her home from the hospital and the next I was helping her adult body move to the rhythm of labor. One minute, I was watching her four year old self introduce herself to the entire grocery store with a smile and a wave. The next minute, she gave a different last name than mine and introduced herself to hospital staff taking her vitals, yet again. Even though I brought her into this world and taught her everything I could cram into twenty five years--give or take, I’d (rightfully) given up any claim to decisions over her health in the case of major crisis. Those decisions were now her husband’s. It wasn’t lost on me that he’d known her a grand total of four years. I wanted to protest that I was better equipped to have a voice, to have an opinion— to make a decision. But I knew my place.

The ‘tightrope of time’ gives Moms these rich memories of little girls with princess wands yet sees adult women perfectly capable in handling their own affairs. I kept walking that precipice between nostalgia and stark realities. All of my home remedies couldn’t fix this. None of my Mom memories were being weighed or discussed as her medical troubles — much like high winds — threatened to plunge me from the tightrope.

I missed my other (healthy) children. I missed my husband who made me a Mom. I contemplated this circle of life that I was called upon to dance from wife, to mother to grandmother. I was this inward wad of gratefulness and doubt, caution and concern, peace and pensive, rocking & singing to my little ones while wiping the brow of my hospitalized offspring.

My daughter and I are both verbal processors and ‘thinkers’ on the Meyers-Briggs personality tests and so we talked. And talked. And talked. And asked more questions than you could imagine. Our minds comprehended it all with clarity. It traditionally takes awhile for our hearts to catch up.

For my heart to catch up, it’s almost always with borrowed words.

My daughter‘s medical situation intensified. Her hoped-for unmedicated, uncomplicated, minimal-interventions birth would not be realized. Medical providers were directing dramatic decisions and providing data to support them. Over the course of her stay, she received at least thirteen medications, four units of blood and numerous needle sticks. At times, it was life threatening. It was a lot.

The Mom. Mama Bear. Onlooker. Ponderer. Making carefully calculated updates. Not knowing what to think or feel in real time. Because we were waiting. Waiting for this baby. Waiting for the symptoms to ease. Waiting for relief. Waiting to hear the newborn cry.

The coffee shop closed earlier than I hoped. I needed fresh perspective that I had been gaining to this point from hot drinks, sweet conversation and faithful friends. Twelve days in a hospital is a long time.

I followed the signs to the chapel. It looked every bit like the ones on TV. Ecumenical. A stained glass window. A few pews, a lectern, a kneeling bench, and a place to write out your prayers for the hospital chaplain to gather them and pray. I scribbled out my prayer and crumpled it into the box.

I knelt at a kneel-er to pray but my knees hurt. And it felt more awkward than organic. The prayer seemed contrived like the TV cameras were secretly rolling and the lone tear had to well up and drip from my chin. My head was doing overtime. My logical brain was still sorting and categorizing and thinking and planning and reconciling all that was going on.

I was exhausted. I wanted to lay down. I couldn’t decide if I came to the chapel to seek rest for my body or my soul more. I couldn’t decide if I needed to verbalize my child’s needs in prayer because I just knew He knew. You know when you know? His Presence had been sustaining us all week. I knew He knew.

Then, borrowed words.

Words I hadn’t heard, read or sung in likely the same amount of time that I haven’t owned a thermometer. Or more.

I had to sing because He inhabits the praise of His people. I couldn't help but sing. He had to know that I knew that He was there— in control of every blood pressure and every heartbeat. The song came out of nowhere.

“Day by day and with each passing moment, Strength I find to meet my trials here; Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear. He whose heart is kind beyond all measure Gives unto each day what He deems best-- Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure, Mingling toil with peace and rest.”

Written by Lina Sandell-Berg. She is called the ‘Fanny Crosby’ of Sweden and easily one of the most prolific hymn writers in that country. I kept singing; louder for the people in the back! I am certain the homeless woman sitting in the waiting room just outside the door heard as she watched TV. Clasping her hands with the stereotypical cut off fingers to her frayed gloves, she barely noticed my warbling voice.

“Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me With a special mercy for each hour; All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me, He whose name is Counselor and Pow'r. The protection of His child and treasure Is a charge that on Himself He laid; "As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure," This the pledge to me He made.”

Twenty-six year old Lina wrote this particular hymn after she watched her Lutheran Pastor father drown on the lake before her very eyes. She experienced childhood illness. Her only child died. She knew hardship, trial; tribulation. Her poetry came from the same deep places I couldn't yet verbalize or feel.

Help me then in eve'ry tribulation So to trust Thy promises, O Lord, That I lose not faith's sweet consolation Offered me within Thy holy Word. Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting, E'er to take, as from a father's hand, One by one, the days, the moments fleeting, Till I reach the promised land.”

And so, the Lord met me with borrowed words in a chapel of a small community hospital down the hall from the coffee shop behind the back door to the parking garage. He met me with the words of another woman, a poet. She had penned her words over 150 years ago. She had penned them after tragedy. She had penned them with the utmost trust in a wise, kind, loving, merciful, protective God whose name is Counselor and Power. They were taught to me 40 years ago at my mother’s knee from a hymnal hanging about our home or church.

At the moment of one of the hardest circumstances I’ve ever faced, those words popped into my head like I had sung them every day of my life. Like it was a familiar TV jingle or ear worm I couldn’t shake, they reverberated in my voice box. I hadn't expected a tribulation in Mid-November. I hadn't expected a trial would include my daughter‘s and grandchild’s health and well-being. I hadn’t expected the profound reassurance from a poem; a song that was tucked away on my tightrope: the pendulum of time recalling sacred words I had all but forgotten.

The ‘tightrope of time’ was reduced to these moments and this day. I only needed Mama prayers for this hour. I didn’t need to borrow trouble from tomorrow. I needed only to borrow strength for today. I needed the words of Carolina Sandell-Berg to carry me across to the other side of this experience as I marched my way back to the purple elevator to comfort another weary soul.

So, as you face what you face in this new year, borrow from those willing to lend. Borrow my words on your journey to healing. Recall to mind the borrowed words penned long ago that resonate in your soul. Commit to memory the faith of another when your faith is small. Read poetry. Sing songs. Get out of your head and into your heart.

The medical crisis finally averted. The joy of new life entered the world. Rest and recovery have made their rounds. And the interrupted sleep has a sweeter sound than the nagging beeps and constant whir of monitors and blood pressure cuffs.

It’s the New Year. I’m home now. My new year’s resolution isn’t penned anywhere but here:

Live day by day.

Find strength to meet my trials here.

Trust in a Wonderful Counselor whose Name is Power.

Borrow Words.

stain-glassed window in the chapel of a small community hospital down the hall from the coffee shop behind the back door to the parking garage

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