Swimming In Words, Then Wrapped In Warm Wisdom

This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Marsha Bolton Rivers.

iStock letterpressI work with words. My job is to immerse myself in them as in a swimming pool. Every day I jump in, splash around, and explore the water like a child on a hot summer’s afternoon, searching for small toys or loose change that might have sunk to the tiled floor.

Once I have collected the best words and phrases I can find, my next task is to dry off, stand at my loom, and weave—weave the rescued symbols into tapestries of meaning. Tell the story of the pool in a way that will entice more swimmers and then wrap them in a warm, dry, sweet-smelling towel.

Newspaper customers, would-be scholars, expectant teens and cancer patients. An unlikely assortment of pool party invitees? Not for me. These have been my word readers. I was first a journalist, then a college recruiter, next the leader of a crisis pregnancy center, and now a fundraiser-publicist for my local hospice. In all of my professional situations so far, I have gravitated toward word-working, delving, discovering and displaying the choicest representations of communities, aspirations, the miracle of life, and the inevitability of death.

“The mission of Hospice of Orleans is to embrace those facing advanced illness with the optimal levels of comfort, compassion and expertise.” Five months into my newest position, I can quickly quote this statement. I use it daily in grant applications, press releases, newsletter articles, and appeal letters. I inherited the mission—that is, I didn’t have a part in crafting it, and perhaps I’d tweak the wording if I could. But I didn’t fill the pool. I just swim in it. And when I splash around in this sentence, the word I grab first is “embrace.”

I’m not from a huggy family, mind you. The Boltons are British by heritage, exhibiting the stoicism to match the stereotype. Not that I wasn’t lavishly loved. I was. But not like my next door neighbor friend, growing up in an Italian Catholic household where throngs of relatives were forever coming and going, exchanging hearty hugs and sloppy kisses. I liked letting them “love on me,” foreign as it felt.

To embrace is to be with (em-) and to support (-brace). It’s the perfect verb to describe what Hospice does, and to invite other swimmers. Because families treading the dangerous waters of cancer, or heart disease, or any of the other scary illnesses that take our loved ones’ lives, truly need companionship and help. Unfortunately, people often make the mistake of withdrawing from families swimming in crisis. We don’t know what to say; we don’t know how to help; we politely keep our distance and give people the space we think they desire.

Thank the Lord for not leaving us alone in the treacherous ocean of this sin-sick world! “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31) That’s us. By sending the best possible Word into our midst, Jesus, the Master Weaver makes the most attractive cloth imaginable, one that drapes us in ultimate comfort, compassion and, yes, expertise—divine wisdom. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable (Christmas) gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

Marsha Bolton Rivers, MA ’04, is director of development and community relations at Hospice of Orleans, Inc., in Albion, N.Y.

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