A short story by Judy Gerlach published in the anthology A Cup of Comfort for Christian Women (Adams Media)
I lay my sleepy infant down in her crib, wind up the musical mobile with its colorful, whimsical animals dangling above her head, and stroke her soft strawberry-blond hair. Together, Lori and I listen to “Brahms’ Lullaby” until her eyes surrender and she falls asleep. It is in moments like this that I stand in awe of God’s goodness, wondering how my heart can possibly contain all the love I have for my children without bursting. It is a perfect moment . . . almost.
A recurring pain in my legs reminds me that something is wrong. I have no idea what it is. I know I should seek medical help, but we’re new in town and I have yet to find a primary care physician for myself. The possibilities frighten me. I lean on the rail of the crib and wait for the pain to subside. Please, God, I silently pray, make this go away. Help me. Feeling very much alone in a town full of strangers, I question whether God even hears me.
No time to worry about that right now, though. With my husband, Greg, at work, I must tend to my responsibilities at home. I hobble to a chair in the family room and watch my four-year-old daughter, Lindy, play with a friend while I wait for my nine-year-old daughter, Lisa, to come home from school.
“I hope your legs get better, Mommy,” Lindy says, reminding me through a still, small voice that God is near.
I smile at her. Eventually, the pain goes away, and I forget about it.
Life is unpredictable for the next few weeks. During the intervals when I’m able to walk without pain, I manage to catch up with the housework and get away to do the grocery shopping, leaving our three girls at home with their daddy.
I’m thrilled when Sunday comes and I’m feeling well enough to take the girls to the church we’d visited several times before. The people in the Sunday school class that I attend welcome me with smiling faces. Basking in the warmth of the fellowship, I experience the love of Jesus firsthand. Several friendly ladies introduce themselves to me, but one particular face lingers in my thoughts long after I’m back home. I can’t remember her name, but I look forward to seeing her again the next Sunday.
Days pass, and the leg problem comes and goes regularly. My tendency to view life through rose-colored glasses keeps anxiety at bay. But when my faith is put to the test, I find it increasingly difficult to stay strong.
At the end of the week, without warning, I wake up in the middle of the night with a high fever. My knees swell like melons, and the pain becomes excruciating. Strangely, the fever disappears almost as quickly as it came, but I’m unable to walk. My two older girls, mature beyond their years, help me with their baby sister as much as they can.
The next day, the storm clouds burst over us like Niagara Falls. The doctor looks at me and in a very matter-of-fact tone says, “You need to be admitted to the hospital.” His voice is calm, but that usually doesn’t help when the patient is scared out of her wits to begin with. “How soon can you get over there?”
My emotions run the gamut all in an instant. A lengthy hospital stay looms on the horizon. We need help, but we hardly know anyone. Greg can’t stay home from his new job, and we’re not in any position to hire someone. This can’t be happening. What about my little girls? My baby? I can’t leave my family. This whole thing is out of the question.
My husband manages to keep a level head. “Are there any other options?” he asks.
The doctor’s answer is a definitive “no.”
Greg tells him we need a few hours to take care of some little details.
Little details? This is huge!
“What do you have in mind to do?” I ask him. “What about your new job? Who’s going to watch our kids?” I shake my head. “This won’t work.”
“Call the church.”
“But we don’t know anyone there,” I argue.
“We don’t know anyone else around here, do we?” he counters. “Whatever’s wrong with you is getting worse instead of better. We don’t have a choice. We have to rely on strangers to help us, one way or the other.”
He’s right. Everyone in town is pretty much a stranger. Images of all the smiling faces from that Sunday school class float across my mind. But they are faces with no names. Still, I call the church.
The caring voice on the other end of the line reveals genuine concern for my desperate situation. She tells me she’ll make a few phone calls, check with some folks who are in the Sunday school class I’d visited, and get back to me. Within the hour, my phone rings.
“I’ve found someone to keep your girls while you’re in the hospital,” the secretary says, “and she doesn’t expect any payment.”
“The baby, too?” I ask, incredulous that anyone would be willing to take in a four-month-old.
“Yes, ma’am. She and her husband have three children, and their youngest daughter is the same age as your oldest.” Her words are sweet music. “They’re very nice people, and she says she remembers you from the class. She wants you to call her so you can discuss the details.”
She remembers me? In God’s amazing Providence, the benevolent soul who has so graciously offered to keep my children is Shirley, the same lady whose face I remember so clearly. When I speak with her on the phone, her compassionate voice quickly disarms my overly protective, maternal instincts. I feel as though I’m talking with an old friend. She says she’ll come to pick up the girls after school and that my husband can take the rest of their belongings to her house later that day.
From the moment Shirley walks into my bedroom, I feel bowled over by so much love that I almost forget she is still basically a stranger. She’s obviously a natural with babies. I watch with intense scrutiny as she picks up my infant daughter and loves on her as if Lori is her own. Still, when the moment comes to release my little girls into the hands of a woman I barely know, that powerful tug at my maternal heartstrings somehow overshadows the fierce pain in my swollen knees. Tears pool in my eyes, and pretty soon my girls dive in with me. But Shirley keeps her cool and finds all the right words—things I want to express but don’t know how.
Shirley tells me the church will pray for me. She also tells me that she has made plans for the ladies of the class to bring meals to my family for as long as we need. I want to know how much all that is going to cost.
She looks surprised. “Nothing,” she assures me with a smile. “This is what we do when someone needs help.”
As I watch her leave with my most precious possessions, I say a little prayer for them as best I can under the circumstances. I know I like Shirley. She must have been heaven sent.
After I’m admitted to the hospital and after surviving a battery of tests for several days, I’m told I have a blood clot behind my left knee. That means staying in the hospital at least another ten days. I also have rheumatic fever. Lonely and depressed, I wait out each day for Greg’s report about our girls.
“They miss their mommy, but they’re fine,” he says. “They’re being well taken care of.” And he lets me know that the home-cooked meals provided by the ladies from the class are delicious.
That’s all I need to know to make it through until I’m well enough to go home. As I heal, I count the days as well as my blessings, so thankful for Shirley and for God’s incredible goodness and mercy.