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Transcendent Joy to the World

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The year was 1964, and it was Christmas—our first Christmas in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. My husband, Richard, was serving as the pastor of a newly planted church, and we were the young parents of a “newly planted” family of four. We had two daughters.

Our youngest, Cindy, was 15 months old, but you wouldn’t have guessed it to look at her. Her frail little body barely tipped the scale at 10 pounds. Doctors had labeled her condition “failure to thrive,” suggesting that her oversized, malfunctioning heart might be the root cause. Now her brain was severely damaged too, classifying our little one in the “profoundly retarded” category.

What, then, was the prognosis? No doctor had ventured an answer, except to say that we should resign ourselves to placing our broken baby in an institution. I shuddered to think about it.

Holiday Cheer

Now it was Christmas, and my thoughts were temporarily consumed with the immediate activities of the season. Our meager shopping was done, except for Cindy’s gift. What would be appropriate for an infant who was barely strong enough to hold up her head or grasp anything in her hands? A music box, perhaps? She did seem to respond to music. Yes, I mused, a music box might be just the thing.

Thoughts of music reminded me it was time to collect our supply of small caroling books of the variety donated to churches by local businesses. I counted the copies in the stack to make sure we had enough for a caroling excursion we had planned. We were taking our small congregation to a state hospital for the mentally handicapped in Cambridge, a town not far from us.

It suddenly dawned on me that the place we had chosen was one of those “institutions” the doctors recommended for Cindy. “No, no, no!” my mind screamed in rebellion. I wasn’t ready for that. Nonetheless, I knew my voice was needed and decided I must go to support the others in the group. “Besides,” I reasoned, “maybe I’ll feel better if I can bring a little holiday cheer to those who are less fortunate than I am.”

I Am Here

So I went to Cambridge. The experience was a first for almost all of us. We worked through a system of cottages in which the residents were housed according to the level of their disability, beginning with the most profound cases.

As we passed from one to another, a lump began to form in my throat until I could hardly sing. We were looking into blank faces and empty eyes. These people seemed totally isolated from the rest of humanity. My heart cried out, “God, where were You when these people needed You?”

Cindy Bush, at about age 40, loves the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Bush

I didn’t really expect an answer, but it came anyway. The still, small voice of God’s Spirit seemed to say, “Where was I? I was right beside them just as I am right here, right now, like I will always be with you and with Cindy. Come, let Me show you how I am present here.”

With that word in my mind, we reached the last cottage. These people seemed almost normal. As we sang, a slight, graying gentleman stepped out of the small audience. He had a somewhat dazed but joyful expression on his face as if the music had awakened something profound in him.

Suddenly, he began directing our small choir of carolers. He did much more than beat time to the music. He interpreted the words and music with expressive dynamics. With glowing face and arms flowing, he directed us like a maestro, guiding us with swelling crescendos and poignant pianissimos. It was a time of transcendence—for him and for us.

No More Sorrow

When we came to verse three of “Joy to the World,” I saw my sorrow in a different light. God was and is with us. Someday He is going to make all things right. I decided that I can wait for the day He comes to do that permanently.

No more let sin and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found!

There is a sequel to this story. Fast forward to the year 2018; the exact day is Tuesday, June 12. This is the eve of our (Richard’s and mine) 57th wedding anniversary, and I think we are more in love than we have ever been.

In the intervening years we have learned how to lean together as we lean on Jesus, the One who loves us enough to die for us and the One whose presence has comforted us as we have passed through many deep sorrows. He was there beside us when as young parents we were weathering the storm of caring for and placing our dear little broken baby with a foster care nurse.

Our Cindy still lives today. She weighs only 65 to 70 pounds, and she suffers from severe scoliosis. We have never seen a smile of recognition light up her face. She has never uttered a word. Nor is she able to walk. But every time we go to see her, I tell her about the love of Jesus and that someday this will all be over and there will be no more sickness or pain, not even any sorrow.

Jesus is coming to end all that is wrong in this world and make His blessings flow and spread the wonders of His love far as the curse is found. And then I remember once again the glowing countenance of our “would-be” choral conductor in that hospital on Christmas Eve so long ago.

I’m still waiting, but I’m more certain than ever of the glorious outcome. Now, as a 77-year-old with Parkinson’s disease, I glory in the thought that heaven is next.

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