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We have always studied hymns in our homeschool, dating all the way back to our “practice homeschool” year when my oldest was in pre-K. Our church is more contemporary in style, which we enjoy and appreciate. At the same time though, traditional songs link us with previous generations and remind us of our heritage. I want my children to know that they’re part of something greater than just their current cultural moment.
When I was in college, I took an active role in our chapter of Circle K International. We did various service projects together. Most often, I ended up at a local nursing home. The residents loved for us to chat or even just sit with them. We also played weekly rounds of bingo. These people took their bingo seriously, and picked up their 25 cent prizes with joy and relish.
Every once in a while, my Circle K compatriots and I would put on a special event. On one such occasion, we passed out threadbare red hymnals. The cloth covers frayed at the edges and the print faded, but the key components were still there.
Some of our elderly companions couldn’t see well enough to read the lyrics anyway, but most of them didn’t need them. One of us plunked away at the piano, trying to at least get the basic melody across. The voices drowned out the ancient upright piano. They didn’t really need accompaniment either.
Come thou Fount of ev’ry blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
The voices warbled and growled, and yet the blend was distinctive. It was the sound of decades of faith and life experience and perseverance, all combined together. At 19, I didn’t have much life experience. I didn’t quite understand the depth of meaning that the songs had to the group. They didn’t sing them casually. Every word dripped with hard fought meaning.
Little did I know that those hymns would someday comfort me in the same way.
A few years later, I stood in my toddler son’s PICU room and sobbed. I begged God to PLEASE let someone in this hospital figure out how to help him. Lost for my own words, I sang hymns to him. I got to the verse of “In Christ Alone” that starts No guilt in life, no fear in… and I realized that I couldn’t go on.
Hours passed and I wondered what I was going to do if I had to go home with only one baby because so many doctors had been in and out of that room and hadn’t been able to figure out how to fix my firstborn. I stopped wondering. I couldn’t think about that.
After fourteen hours, two hospitals, a CT scan of his brain, five or six doctors and residents, and an ultrasound of his intestines, we finally got a diagnosis: intussusception. Basically, his small intestine was telescoping in on itself and creating a blockage.
A kind doctor with a bass voice told me that he was going to have to operate. My vision blurred with tears as I signed papers saying I consented to them making an open incision on my 2 year old’s body. (They ended up being able to do it laparoscopically, but I didn’t know that would be possible at the time.)
I stroked my son’s hair and held his weak little hand. I started reciting as many Bible verses as I could remember, in one big jumble of words and tears.
Be strong and of good courage, be not afraid…The Lord is my shepherd…In the beginning was the Word…blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…Lo, I am with you always…
Oh victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever…my voice cracked, but I didn’t care.
I walked with his little rolling cot to the doors of the OR, and then I had to leave him. I told him I loved him and that God was always with him, and then they took him away.
He made a complete physical recovery from all of that. He still has three tiny scars. And every time I see his little scars on his tummy, I think about how thankful I am that God provided doctors and a diagnosis and a cure for him.
And I realize what those folks at the nursing home a decade ago knew: that when you can’t find your own words, sometimes someone else’s words of truth can strengthen you for the journey. Not forever, but until you find the strength to take your next step.
Three days later, I brought my oldest son home from the hospital – again. My husband carried our younger son. As we passed the desk, a nurse remarked on how cute and close in age the boys were.
“Aww, you have two babies!” she smiled.
I looked my toddler in the eyes and gave him an “ugga-mugga” on the nose.
Yes, I smiled to myself. I have two babies.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Lyrical”.
This is beautiful, Laura. What an experience for all of you! My grandmother used to run a nursing home. Every time we visited she would have my Dad and I sing for the residents. It was something I continued through adulthood with him at home. To this day the hymns still move me. ❤️
Thank you, Jessica! <3
Got a little teary there… Just sang “In Christ Alone” this past Sunday and read your words today – truth will always touch home no matter what day it is, and touches differently, sometimes more deeply, on different days. Thank you for this reminder of how hymns aren’t just songs we sing, but often sources of strength and comfort we can draw on in hours of need.