A few years ago at Christmas, I was the mother of a four year old, a two year old, and a nine month old. In the first week of December, the four year old came down with pneumonia. We lived in DC at the time, and the kids and I stayed home for the duration of her illness, away from the frigid wind and snow. She had a fever and a wicked cough for 7 days. On the 7th day, just as she was feeling better, the two year old started running a fever and having a wicked cough, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. We continued to hibernate in the house while the illness ran its course for another seven days. On the seventh day of his illness, just as I thought I was going to lose my mind from cabin fever, the baby coughed a raspy little cough and looked at me with those glassy feverish eyes. You know the ones. I immediately took the baby to the after-hours clinic and informed the on-call doctor that she had pneumonia. The doctor disagreed. I insisted on an x-ray. The x-ray showed the early stages of pneumonia. Pneumonia that stuck around for, you guessed it, seven more cough-filled days.
At that time, my husband was the worship pastor at our church, and was in the throes of his busiest season, working from early in the morning until late at night, coming home occasionally to catch up on sleep and lend a hand when he could. I missed every single Christmas party we had planned to attend, including the one that I was to host. I couldn't go to the grocery store (thankfully there was an online delivery service in our city). I basically stayed inside our house with all three children for most of the month of December.
There was a sweet sweet lady in my life at that time by the name of Mrs. Ruth. Mrs. Ruth was the first person I met at our church in DC, and while introducing herself to me, she announced that she was going to grandparent my children. I didn't know how to react to that, as no one had ever announced that to me before, and besides, my children already had grandparents, only they happened to live very far away. So I smiled and thanked her, but I wasn't sure what to think about someone who would just pledge to serve a family of strangers like that.
From then on, Mrs. Ruth took me under her wing and ministered to me. She called me almost every Tuesday and asked if she could come over and watch the kids while I ran errands. Sometimes she went with me on outings so I could have an extra pair of hands. During my pregnancy with Katie, she made sure to write down all of my doctor's appointments so she could watch the kids for me. When I went into false labor at 4 a.m, hers was the number I called, and when she got there, she informed me that she would not need the guest bed because she was going to stay up and pray for me as I went to the hospital.
When Katie was born, my parents and then my mother-in-law could each only stay for a few days before they had to return home. My husband was in the throes of Easter season at church, and couldn't take any days off work. (sound familiar?) Mrs. Ruth called me a few days after everyone had left, and asked who was helping me. When I told her I was going it alone (with a 1 week old, a 19 month old, and a 3 year old), she announced that she was on her way. That woman picked up my older two children every morning at 9, took them to her house, and delivered them back to my door at 5, just as Greg was getting home from work and my Sunday School class was delivering my dinner, every day for two weeks. I remember hugging her with glee that first day and saying, "I don't know what to do first, take a shower or take a nap!"
On Christmas Eve in the Year of Pneumonia, the baby still had a fever. I had looked forward with such anticipation to celebrating Christmas Eve at church that evening, and I was devastated that I would have to miss it. When the phone rang that afternoon, I should have known it would be her. "Make sure you're dressed," she said, "and I'll come over after I attend the early service, so you can go to the later one."
A few weeks later, we announced that we were moving to Texas, and she kept my children for four days while we flew to Dallas to look for a house. I wish I could have convinced her to move here with us.
I think I learned a lot of things from Mrs. Ruth about being a friend. I now employ her 'announcing' technique quite a bit. I used to ask my friends if there was anything I could do to help, and of course they would always answer 'no', and then I would go home and think, well, I offered, that's all I can do. But now, when I see that someone needs something, I simply inform them that I am going to do it. Are you sick? Well I'm coming over to get your kids. Don't have food in the house? I'll bring you some. Going to the doctor? Drop the baby off here on your way. It cracks me up to do that to people and watch their reactions of surprise, protestations, and then relief, much like my reactions were to many of Mrs. Ruth's declarations. The wonderful thing that I am seeing now is that my friends adopt the same tone with me when I need help, and I have learned to accept it gladly, another lesson learned from Mrs. Ruth. It's a tremendous blessing.
I don't really know what the whole point of this story was, except that my friend Joy is home with a very sick baby right now, and I just have this overwhelming desire to show up on her doorstep with food...only she lives a thousand miles away. I can only hope and pray that she has some friends that live nearby that are as pushy as me.
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