Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A room at the zoo

Last week, in a conversation with Paul, Dorris was convinced that she had a room at the zoo.

No, she wasn't speaking metaphorically. She actually thought she was living at the zoo. 

She was so convinced of her new living arrangement that she was able to persuade another resident they were both at the zoo. Not only that, Dorris was trying to find her way back to where the tour began so her friend could be escorted out of the building since she obviously did not have the authority to be there.

The next time she spoke with Paul, she was just as certain that she had a room at the library. Her most recent phone call to our daughter Anne, insisted she was living at a bowling alley.

Rest assured, the facility in which she lives is quite calm. Other than the large birdcage, it in no way resembles a zoo, a library, or a bowling alley. 

These episodes of surreal living arrangements occur right after a late afternoon nap. For this reason, I think she is carrying over her dreams to explain her confusion about her living situation. It is not unusual for her to recognize her furniture but still think her room is not hers. A vivid dream may be serving as an explanation for surroundings that confuse her.

Our brains are built to hunt out confusion and find an answer for it. Dorris's brain does not have enough accumulated memories to recognize her room as her home. Her brain is used to having memories associated with surroundings, so not having them creates confusion. The only answer, to that confusion, is that she is living somewhere that is less familiar. I suspect a dream about a zoo, library, or bowling alley gets dragged into the current perception. To a brain, that cannot reconcile its own changes, a room at the zoo seems logical.

What surprises me is the persistence of this reality. It takes some doing to convince her that she is home, safe, and not responsible for anyone else. The mixture of dream, logic, and the lack of persistent memories is difficult to fight. I listen to Paul talking to her on the phone and I can hear him gently reassuring her, over and over, until I can imagine her voice, on the other end of the line, calming down. Because her ability to make memories is impaired, that dream that felt so real, becomes adamant. In her mind, it is real. 

Sometimes a quick visit is what it takes to calm her down and reassure her she is home. We are grateful that we are close enough that we can do this for her. I admit that I wonder, and worry, about what we will do when the time comes when this is not enough. It is difficult when her brain can't make sense out of reality; what will she have left when our presence, our words, and our hugs can no longer make sense out of reality for her?

She's lost so much: her husband, her house, the town she loves, her garden, her car, and so many memories. It is hard to see her lose her sense of well-being, too. Her world forces me to trust that while her memory and cognition fades, her faith remains.

I wonder what God thinks when He watches His people create a different reality. What does He think when we turn from His blessings only to create a life of pain and misery?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV

This verse is one of my favorites about trust. I uphold that the first eight words are easy, but the second eight are impossible. I cannot, I will not, let go of my own understanding. Leaning on myself prevents me from acknowledging Him. This twisted reality that I create, persists. This stubborn persistence destroys proper trust. My reality, my world, my perception, remains distorted. 

Let's look at some examples.

What about when my hard work creates a false reality regarding my success? It is not only a false reality, but also a false humility for me to think that I have earned anything that I have: money, job, accomplishments, talents, etc. I am so quick to take credit for success and equally quick to deny responsibility for failure. This false humility is akin to the prayer of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like this __________ (poor person on welfare, single mother on food stamps, high school dropout, stressed parent, or struggling believer). 

In my distorted reality, I am better than that. In truth, I am nothing without God.

Or, we could flip the coin and talk about a different sort of false reality: the hollow humility that comes from putting myself down. “No, I can’t do what you ask; I am not good enough.” This lack of trust leans on my own ability (or lack of ability) rather than trusting that God will provide the needed skills. It is not a false humility that brags; it is a false humility that insults God.

True humility is not about me; true humility trusts God.

My most common, my most persistent, alternative reality is the false belief that I am in control. This false reality is responsible for all of my fears and anxieties. My brain sees a problem and wants to find a solution from within its memory cells. I can’t solve the problem, or prevent the bad outcome, so fear of failure results. This fear is a persistent fear. “I won’t be able to do this.” “I am not good enough.” “Things will fall apart because I will fail.” “The worst will happen.”

I might as well move to a room at the zoo, or the library, or the bowling alley. It really does not matter, does it? If my reality does not put complete trust in God, if I persist in leaning on my own understanding, I might as well create a bizarre, unexplainable, alternative reality and call it home. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV

Dear God, take me away from this zoo! Tuck me into Your heart. Replace my distorted understanding with Your wisdom. Make my path straight and let it lead to You.

Amen, amen, amen.

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