September 28, 2012
Dear Rev. Johnson,
This week I came across several very old Christmas letters from the Fellows family, Pete and Marlene, who were part of the congregation who started Christ UMC, I believe. More than thirty years ago, when my husband and I were in our mid-twenties, IBM moved us to Roswell from Burlington, Ontario, in Canada. While we lived in Roswell on Charles Place, our neighbours and the congregation of the old North Fulton UMC were our family, and that was very important to us.
During our three years at North Fulton, we added two children to our family, Nathan and Elizabeth, whom Nathan called E.J. because at the age of two her name would come out ‘Didibif’. While we were attending there, I sang in the choir with Pete and Marlene Fellows, which is how we got to know them. Both the choir and the support of the other moms in the congregation is how John and I learned what we needed to raise two very small children so far from our own family supports. Nathan was baptized by Rev. Larry Rary, if there are some who still remember him, and it was the predecessor to your congregation who cared for our son in his first years in the nursery.
When Nathan was still a baby, the choir learned an anthem that has been out of print for a long time; it is called ‘Teach Me Lord to Wait’. I felt at the time that its message was very valuable, and that I would have future need of it, so I made a point of memorizing the lyrics. Sometimes I used to sing this anthem to baby Nathan on long car rides, when he was tired and fussing for his bed while still stuck in his car seat longer than he wanted to be. This past February, that song came back to me and held me together through two grueling weeks of anxiety and emotional pain.
One clear, mild February day in 2012, a week before Nathan’s birthday, I arrived home from choir practice, only to have my phone ring as soon as I walked into the kitchen. It was my daughter’s number, with my son-in-law’s voice on the line. Nathan had been riding his bicycle on this clear, bright and, for Canada, relatively mild day in Ottawa, hundreds of miles north-east of where we live on Lake Ontario. An impaired driver had hit him from behind and the hospital and my family had been trying to reach me for hours. After two hours of phone calls and planning how and when to leave for Ottawa, ‘They that wait upon the Lord …’ came back into my head, for the second time that day. The first time had been at choir practice.
For no reason that I could explain at the time, we had come to the end of choir practice that Thursday evening, and I had thought what a shame it was that ‘Teach Me Lord to Wait’ was no longer in print. I had enquired about it seven or eight years ago and discovered that I would not be able to offer it to any of my choir directors for a Canadian congregation to hear or to sing. On my way out of the sanctuary that Thursday, I told one of the sopranos about this little gospel song that I had learned in Georgia, and the entire lyric and melody just flowed back from memory, and I sang it for her.
From the time I got off the phone at midnight on Thursday, through a week of Nathan being in a drug induced coma, through his 32nd birthday and the following week, while we hoped and prayed that the brain damage might still permit him to recover, I sang those words from Isaiah 40:31.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary;
They shall walk and not faint.
Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.
Back and forth to the hospital I.C.U. every day, most of the night because I couldn’t sleep, I sang to myself and kept my composure to deal with what had to be done.
In the end, Nathan never woke up again. His pupils were hardly even responding to light, and the brain scans showed signs of bleeding in multiple places. On the third Friday, two weeks after he was struck down, the doctors gave us the final prognosis. That night I switched songs because the waiting was over. We had been given our answer and we were going to have to let Nathan return to God who gave him to us. During his last hours, I sang to him the lullabies that I had sung to him when he was very small, while we lived in the bungalow in Roswell. He had always been soothed by my singing to him, so I had sung to him a lot when he was small.
For the last few days we had in Ottawa, I had been recalling another piece of church music, one that I had learned under my current director - - Do-o-na, no-o-bis, pa-a-cem, pa-cem.
I would like to thank those from the former congregation of North Fulton, and its choir, which is now Christ United Methodist Church, for everything they shared with us and for everything I learned as a young mother and choir member during our years in Roswell. It has occurred to me to wonder if your choir still has the music from the old church. There may be a very significant little gospel song in there that has helped me over the years, but never more so than the February that I lost my first born.
I am trusting that you won’t mind my sharing my story of North Fulton and its music ministry with you. Please share it with Christ UMC, even if there are only a few people left who might remember the young Canadians who brought their 3 week old to church for the first time in 1980 when there was enough snow that the service was cancelled.
Blessings upon you all always,