Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deep Faith and Old Hymns

--
I went to visit my dear friend Fran yesterday. Late in her 80's now, she lives with her son and his family and she is slowly slipping away. She doesn't really know me anymore, and she doesn't remember 30 seconds after I leave that I've been there, but I go as often as I can because she went so far out of her way so many times for me.

Fran, or "Franacious" as we lovingly called her "back in the day" was the librarian at the Bible college I attended. She started that library from the ground up and she painstakingly logged in every book, and spent countless hours lugging boxes and shifting shelves to put a proper library together for the Bible college students that had descended upon her church.

She was an excellent librarian, yes, but she was so much more--
She was a kind of surrogate grandmother to anyone who needed one.
She asked questions and listened like she really wanted to know . . . because she did.
She comforted all manner of homesickness, lovesickness, the common cold (she had been a nurse in an earlier career), and the bone-crushing fatigue of all-night study sessions--she would stay as long as anyone needed the books.
She fed anyone who was running a little short on cash.
She gave a place to stay when roommate issues were overwhelming.
She drove those of us without cars all over creation (if not for her and all the rides she gave me to the BART train station, Hero Husband and I might not have even gotten together).
She encouraged, reassured, helped, commiserated and loved so many so well.

We have stayed in touch ever since. Christmas cards, phone calls and the occasional visit after I moved away from San Jose where we met. She came to my wedding, which I'm convinced wouldn't have happened without her.

Last year I asked our worship team to go with me to the memory care facility where she lived then to sing hymns for her and they agreed to come. When we arrived, Fran was in a very blue mood and was reluctant to come out to the main room. With a little coaxing she finally shuffled in, head down, shoulders hunched, teary and sad.

I introduced her to my friends and we began to sing everyone's favorite hymns. Much to my surprise, Fran started singing right along, not even looking at the hymnal in front of her! Here was this woman who has trouble stringing one thought to the next and suddenly she was singing, loud and strong, sometimes going into harmony parts and doing hand motions she had learned as a little girl. We were all fighting back tears as we watched her literally unfold out of the huddled, inward shell she had been moments before and we saw the real Fran emerge, feisty, funny Franacious, by turns directing the singers and even joking with everyone and basking in the attention they all gave her.

What a transformation!! What a revelation!! It was as if the hymns we sang had flipped a switch to a part of her that was still whole and alive. We had a marvelous time that day with her and with the other residents who also were touched and blessed by those familiar old hymns, so rich with timeless truth. I have never visited since without singing a few hymns with her and the effect is dramatic to me every time. The moment I start singing Jesus Loves Me or Trust and Obey or Victory in Jesus, she comes back from that distant, disjointed, frustrating place her mind takes her and her blue eyes get clear and focused and Fran is Fran again, if only for a few minutes. Yesterday we sang Christmas carols together and I made her fluffy white teddy bear dance to the music--she was delighted!

I can see that it does her good, but it is such a blessing to me to see that for this sweet lady, whose deep faith has seen her through so much, the most real part of her, maybe the only part that is still intact is the part that rests in knowing "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." It is not mere rote recall of words and music she learned long ago, but that those songs and the faith she placed in the truth they contain are breath and life to her.

Thank God for the hymns you know--they're stored in a very durable place in your brain and they are powerful medicine. If they can have that kind of effect on someone at Fran's age while her mind is deteriorating, imagine what they can do for us--SING, SING, SING!!

"Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained by a righteous life." Proverbs 16:31 NIV


Is there an elderly person in your life who needs a good old-fashioned hymn sing?

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