Last night, after dinner, I felt like a train hit me.
My chest was aching, my head was burning up, my body hurt all over.
Annie sprang into action.
She brought me to her bedroom and laid me down on a small mountain of pink and purple heart-shaped pillows. She pulled out her doctor kit and rummaged through her stethoscopes. She is only four-years-old but she has three stethoscopes. We really like to listen for heartbeats around here. She found one that fit her ears and listened for my heart.
“I can’t hear it,” she said matter-of-factly and promptly buried her head into my chest to listen with her ear. “Whew. Ok. Your heart is beating. That’s good.”
What happened over the next few minutes were the most strange, bizarre and brilliant litmus test’s for signs of my wellness. Annie put a Slinky toy on her mouth and connected it to my nose.
“Ok mom- tell me if you can smell my breath.” She blew into the Slinky with as much air as her thirty-six pound body could come up with. I died laughing. “Mom, this is not funny. Can you smell or not?”
“Yes, baby. I can smell.”
“Ok good. Your nose works.”
She picked up a dancing ribbon and traced the outline of my body with it. When I giggled because it tickled, she said, “Good- your body works.” She played her guitar to see if my ears worked. She hit my knees to see if I had reflexes. She turned the lights off and on to see if I saw spots. She made beeping noises in my ears to see if I passed the test. Moving from test to test with complete seriousness and concern, she was on a mission to diagnose. Finally, she played music and asked if I would dance along. I tried, but my body just flopped.
She ran out of the room. “MOM’S BODY WON’T DANNNNCCCCCCEEEEEE.” She ran to find Ryan and tell him that I couldn’t dance and that she thinks I have, like a real fever, and that she needs lotion.
Then- she healed me.
She spoke to me with such care. Gently, slowly, as if she were carefully handing me a diagnosis that would forever alter my world.
“Mom. Your body can’t dance. But I am going to make you better. Ok? So you just be still and tell me where it hurts the most.”
I told her my chest and my back hurt the most. With no words, she took the lotion that I bought for her, and put it in her hands. “Roll over mom.”
I rolled over and she pulled my shirt up exposing my back. She took her tiny hands and rubbed lotion into my back, making sure not a single inch was missed. She rubbed my back and gently worked her tiny fingers over my rib cage. She gently patted my back, pulled my shirt back down and then whispered, “Ok, roll over Mom.”
She pulled my shirt up and started putting lotion on my chest. Her little hands gently massaging over my heart. For a moment I remembered what it felt like for my Mamaw to invite me into her bed and put her Mentholatum on me; I felt so grown-up, so loved on. I was lost in memory and pure relaxation when Annie turned the lights off.
“Mom,” she whispered in her most tiny voice, “You just lay here and rest. I won’t leave you.”
And she stood watch.
Two short minutes later she popped up, shot the bright lights on, picked up her pink guitar and asked me to dance. I feigned a dramatic dance and she squealed with joy, “I’m the best doctor ever!!!! I fixed mom!!!!!! She can dance again!!!!!”
Last night I went to bed reminded of what it looks like to care for another human being.
This is what it looks like.
Stopping what you are doing to relentlessly pursue another person.
Not after they have asked, but before they even know to ask. Before they have a chance to ask. Before they dare ask. Just going to them. Just doing. Just showing up and pursuing them without an invitation to even do so. It’s picking out a stethoscope and caring enough to find a heartbeat in the first place.
Human care looks like trial and error.
It looks like a bizarre and ridiculous string of litmus tests to figure out symptoms and disease and why someone suddenly can’t dance. It takes a brave doctor to chase implausible and laughable scenarios. But sometimes you need someone willing to breath into a Slinky and see if you can smell on the other end.
It is perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of human care, but it is life-giving. The gift of touch. Putting lotion on our hands and rubbing someone’s back might be more than you or I are prepared to do at the drop of a hat- but Jesus certainly wasn’t phased by it. He let children climb on him, touched lepers (without an array of preventative vaccinations), used His own spit to heal a blind man and physically touched almost every person he came into contact with.
We are a touch-averse people, aren’t we? We can give a homeless man or woman $5, but don’t ask us to hold their hand. We can visit someone in a nursing home, but don’t ask us to help them bathe. We can paint houses in Africa for those suffering with AIDS, but don’t ask us to rub lotion into their hurting hands.
Feeling my little girls hands on me, rubbing lotion into my back and across my chest was healing. And it shouldn’t have been. She was just playing doctor and I was just being a little bit whiney. But all of a sudden, I was laying on her floor surrounded by stuffed animals and heart pillows and fake doctor instruments and I was being healed through little fingers that were gently touching my wounds and making me well. And it was uncomfortable at first. I mean, is it even legal for a little kid to rub lotion all over an adult? What would my husband think? Is she going to need therapy by the first grade?
And then I let go. She was so gently doing what Jesus modeled (and what the world has yet to tell her is creepy or wrong or weird). She was touching me to make me well. And her little fingers felt like Jesus himself. And I realized it has been a long time since I have been physically touched by someone for the sake of my wellness.
Human Care comes in all shapes and sizes.
And it follows a progression. First you show up. Then you trial and error your way through caring for the person. Some approaches work, others don’t. And then, you get really brave and go beyond the money given, go beyond the time spent, go beyond the comfortable- and you touch them. You give a hug. You hold their hand. You dress their wounds. You intimately open up to one another and touch for the sake of another person’s wellness.
I love how Lisa Harper describes it in her post, Jesus and the Gift of Touch.
“There are multiple cases in which our Savior reached out and embraced people when a simple nod or quick handshake would have sufficed… Jesus’s gift of touch provides healing connection and can warm even the coldest heart.”
May we each live with eyes open to those in need of human care.
May we be brave and show up.
Try out Slinkys, stethoscopes, music, cards, dancing, food, or whatever else we might think of to get to the heart of the person’s pain.
And then, may we touch.