Last month I changed my email profile picture to a preschool photo of myself. In it, I’m sitting on my tricycle in the middle of the road (apparently that was okay in 1970), wearing bright yellow sunglasses and smiling happily, clearly unaware of how short and crooked my mom had cut my bangs.
The best part of my day back then was the way it ended: with my mom tucking me into bed and singing me a bedtime song. She did the same for my two brothers and, over the years, for the more than 30 foster children who came to live with us for a time.
Several years ago one of those foster children, now grown, surprised my parents with a phone call. She was passing through our town, she remembered them, and she had a 4-year-old daughter now. Could the two of them stop by? When they arrived at our door by taxi with no place to go and no money, my parents invited the two of them to spend the night. And that’s when my mom heard the song. As she tucked her daughter in to bed, this young mama was singing the very song my mom had sung to her when she was little. “I don’t remember some of the words,” she whispered to my mom, “but I’ve always sung it to her. I remember you singing it to me.”
Last month, as COVID-19 peaked in the province where she lives, my friend Liz and her siblings decided to take their 93-year-old mother out of the nursing home where she was living and move her in with Liz's family. As you can imagine, it’s no small thing to care for one’s elderly mom, especially when she’s in a wheelchair and her memory is failing. It takes up a large part of Liz’s day, a day during which she is also working from home.
“It’s not easy,” says Liz, “but there are beautiful moments. One of those happens each night at bedtime.” After tucking her mom safely into bed and leaving the door slightly ajar to send a stream of soft light into the room, Liz lies down on a mattress placed on the floor near her mom and together they review the day. “What was your favorite part of the day, Mom?” Liz asks. Her mom usually says, “I don’t remember. What did we do today, again?” Liz names the events of the day and her mom picks one. “I liked that the best.” And then Liz sings her mom a bedtime song; the same songs her mom sang to Liz when Liz was a little girl.
It’s the same song that my mom sang to me. And it’s the song my foster sister sang to her daughter as part of her night-time blessing.
Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me,
Bless Thy little lamb tonight;
Through the darkness be Thou near me,
Keep me safe till morning light.
Through this day Thy hand has led me,
And I thank Thee for Thy care;
Thou hast warmed me, clothed, and fed me,
Listen to my evening prayer. A-men.
Yesterday Liz shared with me a video version of the song sung by Justine Vandergrift, a young woman from Alberta. Listening to Justine sing the words transported me back to my little kid self, and I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Maybe what we all need most right now is the quiet comfort of a bedtime song.
Not more to do, not more meetings to Zoom, not more news, not more resources, not more social media suggestions, just a song sung with a deep and gracious love; the words of which remind us that we are secure in the love of the same Jesus who holds the whole world in his hands right now. He always has, and he always will.
If you look closely at the picture of me on my trike in the middle of a street in a small Ontario town, you can see glimpses of my adult self. Especially now since COVID-19 has me cutting my own bangs. But inside, not much as changed at all. Inside, I still want to feel sure the world will be okay. Maybe you feel that way inside too.