Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Week Lament: Nancy Gilmore Hill (I am thirsty)

The Suffering Servant, Jesus,  gave us a litany of last words; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  These deathbed words form a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

On a few holy occasions I've watched firsthand the deathbed ministrations of crushed ice for the parched suffering.  Priest-like, caretakers spoon feed the dying, hoping this trickle of melting wetness tastes like love.  In today's mourning story, we remember the request of the human Christ -- the Creator of the seas hoping for a drop of comfort on his dried-out tongue.  Only a day before -- the day we recognize now as Maundy Thursday -- He'd lavished liquid love over the lowest, achingest parts of His friends.  Squatted on the floor with towel and bowl He showed them (and us) a new way to be human. The next day He died, parched and dirty, with no comfort for His lament:  I am thirsty.

The story my mom tells today echoes this ordinary care for extraordinary need, made possible for us by the common grace of a thirsty God.

The year was 1957 and the grass was just starting to grow over my father’s
grave. With the stop of my father’s heartbeat, my mother had been thrust
violently into the role of breadwinner, and during that summer of my tenth
year, she sat at a desk miles away from home working on a teaching degree.
For those six weeks, my two teenaged sisters were left to care for my younger
sister and me. In their bobby socks and pony tails, they spent their summer
feeding us from cupboards that were too often bare, hanging our clothes on
the line to dry, and keeping us safe at night.

In the afternoon of the day of my memory, I was taken to the doctor’s office

with a dangerously infected toenail. Dr. Barrall bent his head, with its blazing
red hair, over my foot, injected a shot of Novocain into my big toe, and
proceeded to rip off the nail. My screams shot down the hallway and filled the
waiting room.

That evening I lay alone in my rumpled bed. There were no pictures on the

walls of my bedroom; there were no curtains at the window to sway in the
breeze. This was the house we had escaped to after our house on Main Street
had been taken away from us, after my father had sat down in the living room
chair and died.

With my leg stretched out in front of me, I watched the stain of red seeping

through the fat wad of gauze around my toe. The aching pain moved up my
leg, and I sobbed. I had no mother; I had no father. I felt so very alone, in a
house on the edge of town, with no pictures on the walls and no curtains at
the window.

My sisters’ friend Flossie had stopped by the house, and the three girls were

whispering nervously in another room. They should have been giggling
together, like teenagers do on hot July evenings, but instead they were responsible for a wailing, inconsolable child.

Quietly, Flossie stepped into my room carrying a pan of cool water and a

wash cloth. She sat down on the edge of my bed and placed the pan on the
nightstand. As she reached into the pan to saturate the cloth, she started
cooing soft and soothing words.

I can still see her hands—dipping the cloth in the pan, wringing out the water,

wiping my face, my damp forehead, my swollen eyes. Her hands—dipping
the cloth in the water, wringing it out, wiping my face, my forehead, my eyes.
Making soft, soothing sounds.

My sobs stopped, my body relaxed, and now it was just the murmuring of

Flossie’s voice, the swishing of the water, the cool cloth to my face.

A gentle grace-filled quiet entered the room—and I slept.

Nancy's dad and two older sisters on a spontaneous
fishing adventure a couple of years before he died
Epilogue:  When I first wrote this story, my daughter Kaley emailed this comment:  "I did my share of crying as well--it's a beautiful, painful story. What struck me is that her actions affirmed your pain--which is what you needed at that time more than anything."

And over 50 years later I can still see Flossie's hand dipping into a bowl of cool water...

What mourning stories have formed your life and 
grown your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?  
 Tell us about it in the  comments below.  
If you've written your own post, share the link.

soothing and story telling
(yes, that's me, age  3?)
 My mother, Nancy Gilmore Hill, says that the kind deed of a teenager left a life-long impact on he. All six of her children and fourteen (soon to be 16!) of her grandchildren want to thank Flossie for showing our mother and grandmother the beautiful, healing powers of a cool cloth on a troubled forehead. 

When my mom's not soothing suffering faces of her family and friends, she is telling stories to her English-as-a-second language students and anyone else who wants to listen.  

Would you like to listen?  Click play to hear my mom read today's story:

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