Live in a dorm for three months? At age fifty? What a way to celebrate the Five-O milestone.
No nails or screws. No thumbtacks or tape, even—dorm rules nixed hanging any personal decor. At least the barracks sported fresh paint.
Thin walls leaked every sound, each word spoken.
Ancient plumbing simulated banshees with microphones. A dawn shower risked waking the dead. A flush goosed pipes to operatic range. I never saw a drinking glass shatter at a high note but braced for the possibility.
How did that young couple and toddler sharing one room at the end of our floor survive the din? The cramped space?
One night, sobbing jarred me awake—distant, gasping-for-breath tears.
I hunched into my robe, lurched out the door. Maybe I could help the new mom for an hour, ease her inconsolable child.
Old scenes arose as I shuffled past the Common Room, where the fridge hummed. Our firstborn had once shared a bedroom on loan to us. Despite my crooning, she often wakened the generous household who had taken our family in for a time. Torn between pity, sleep-deprived angst, and embarrassment, I’d tried everything to console her. Paced the small square of open floor, back and forth.
Now, one little boy howled. In the glow of the EXIT light, I padded closer. My days as a preschool teacher resurged: finger-plays ran through my head, lullabies surfaced.
Poor baby! Little hiccups punctuated each wail. And oh, that poor mama.
Before my knuckles connected with wood, she started singing. I recognized the familiar praise song: “I Love You, Lord.” I froze. Lowered my hand.
She didn’t know I was there. Would never know how long I stood there, stunned, as the baby calmed. Then fell asleep. To the sound of a song I wrote.
I moved away, mentally walking on my knees.
Passing the restroom, its pipes clanking, I revisited early motherhood.
In 1976, bone-lonely on a desolate morning, this uber-new mama opened her mouth to sing.
We had rented a flimsy mobile home amid tumbleweeds. We lived on $400 a month. Rent gobbled $150. No TV, no family nearby, no church home. No babysitters. No one our age in the trailer park.
We had one elderly car, which my husband used Monday through Friday. With my man in school most of the time, and a child into everything all the time, I’d get a life of my own, I told myself. Sometime.
We lived on soups, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. Crockpots of beans. We remembered our mothers’ roasts and desserts with bowed heads.
Our toddler was walking, but a highway with rumbling semis was no place for small feet, or a yellow stroller.
She needed me, sort of, when not being fiercely “2.”
During her naptimes I wrote a lullaby. “Jesus will be right here with you when I’m gone,” I sang—meaning: soothingly, tangibly present, not one wall away, ear cocked for the slightest peep, like a woman displaced, longing to feel needed.
Jesus, himself, my child …
Not down the street, helping the neighbor. Or out of the country. Right here. With. You.
Was Jesus with me? I tried to worship each day, and felt numb.
No longer in ministry, or working, friendless in a new town and too poor for long-distance calls, I ached to believe mothering was “enough”: in the eyes of God, my peers, and in my own mind.
Enough for the kingdom’s call on my life.
I read Scripture, tried journaling. No blip pulsed on my spiritual radar. Jesus seemed tied up with other projects on days I freeze-dried cloth diapers outside on the line. Days I grilled cheese sandwiches slathered with raspberry jam and called this the three major food groups.
Most evenings, daddy-the-forestry-student memorized Latin names for trees at his jerry-rigged desk in our walk-in closet.
These memories echoed now, in the long, dim corridor where dorm mates slept.
I tightened my robe’s belt. Each generation’s mothers juggle too many demands, I may have reflected: careers and domestic sameness. Burnout and cultural terrors. Being invisible. Feeling unheard.
Hard to keep seeking God when met by silence.
I’d raised our daughter in a world without cell phones. No Skype, or Facebook. No email chime. Back then, talking to another grownup meant telling God I was drowning.
As if recurring, the day of The Song washed over me.
Please, I had prayed on that wintry, overcast morning, Give me words you want to hear. I’ll sing them to you.
Lyrics bubbled up, spilled from my tongue: I love You, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You, oh my soul, rejoice!
Goodbye, self-pity. I would delight in life again, revel in God and hidden-away days.
So long, chronic need to be needed. So petty. Self-serving.
Take joy, my king, in what you hear!
The unfolding words and music made me feel heard. Remembered, and therefore cherished, and needed: the song was entrusted to these hands, this throat.
Let me be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
Humming, I reached my dorm room. Tiptoed in and shrugged off my robe. Slid under quilts on a former soldier’s mattress.
I’d never meant for others to hear my song. I had sung it that night, long ago, for my husband, who later urged me to sing it for a visiting friend, who took it to an international convention where, unexpectedly, it became the theme song, which traveled home with delegates across the globe.
Today, hindsight re-examines this chronic need to feel needed. Or is it a gift?
These words from David Steindl-Rast arrest me:
The circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks.
Help is not a one-way street, but a give-and-take.
God kissed the song of a needy soul, hungry to feel useful; gently blew it across this hurting planet we call home. One song pulled from emptiness, while a baby slept.
Who knows what God may give us next time we ache to feel needed, hungry to be used for some lasting good in this world?
Laurie Klein has just published a wonderful collection of poems, Where the Sky Opens. You can find more about her book, and more of her words, here:
- At Noisetrade, you can download 1/4 of the book (and leave her a tip!).
- Her publisher offers a nice online discount.
- At the big online place, read the reviews.
- Her website.
- Guitarist Phil Keaggy plays an instrumental version of the song.
- And here Laurie is singing it.