Thursday, April 17, 2014

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

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life. This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  

An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our 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 family vacation
 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...


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 sixteen 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:


What mourning stories have formed your life 

and 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.

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