Sunday, July 13, 2014

On chaos and peace

The nurse at the Arbors called. Dorris was upset and was not to be appeased.

I found her in the hall sitting on her fancy walker with a look on her face that spoke volumes.

“What papers did you folks sign that put me in this loony bin?”

No manner of soft patient discussion could convince her that this place was not a loony bin, but instead a safe place to live.

“Why do I have to live in this place that has protection all around? I want to go home.”

But, when I ask her about home, she describes the farm of her youth. I gently tell her she has not lived on a farm in over 50 years and she looks at me in disbelief.

“Wait a minute, I am checking your math.”

I assure her this is a good place for her to live because her memory is no longer strong.

“I do not have memory problems, I just lie a lot.”

Nice try, but, no. 

Again, we talk and she agrees that the people are nice, the food is good, there are things to do, and people who visit.

But, it is not home – even if she can no longer really remember what her home was like, she knows this isn’t it.

“Trust me, Dorris, you are a perfect fit for a memory care facility. I know because I am teaching a class on cognition and memory, so I am an expert.”

Finally, a smile.

As I leave, she sternly informs me that this discussion is not over.

I counter with: "If by 'not over' you mean that you still hope to convince me to take you to the farm, it's not happening."

"We'll just see about that" she says, always with the last word. 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32, ESV)
As I drove home, I was reminded of a favorite song by Audrey Assad: You Speak. This line especially resonates today: 

“You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos”

The Arbors is well suited to its name. It is a place of protection, of calm and of order. The chaos Dorris feels is not in her environment instead, it is created in her mind. The truth does not make sense for her, and it does not bring her freedom – freedom from where she lives, or  freedom from her confusion. 

This point in my life does not speak of chaos. Even though I have forgotten pretty much everything I learned about statistics, my memories are fairly well intact. I am nearing the end of my degree program with one big step remaining. My children are happy, healthy, productive, and live a life of faith. Paul and I rattle around in a peaceful house.

Yet, just as Dorris seeks liberation, so do I.

My chaos is my sin, my lack of trust, my need to control, my tendency to gripe and complain, my need to be needed and admired, my seeking after an earthly peace. Freedom from these things eludes me.

What I have is freedom from the eternal consequences of my sin. I have freedom from the power of the Law. I have the freedom to live a new life in Christ.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, ESV)

It is a strange thing that we have both sin and freedom. Our sin still surrounds us and brings us grief, but we are not slaves to it. We serve a loving, forgiving God, a God of liberation.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4, ESV)

We are blessed to live in the freedom of a new life, a new purpose, a new faith.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (II Corinthians 3:17)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where are we going?

I am preparing to teach a graduate class on human cognition – no really, it is a cool class. One of the things we learn about is memory. I was looking for an example of how memory systems are functionally separate when I remembered this conversation:

Dorris: Where are we going?
Kim: I am taking you to the Arbors, where you live.
Dorris: Oh, she said with no clue as to what that is.

(moments later)

Dorris: Where are we going?
Kim: I am taking you to the Arbors, where you live.
Dorris: To get rid of me. . . .that wasn’t very nice of me to say.

“Where are we going?” and “Where am I living?” are two questions we hear from Dorris on a frequent basis. This is an example of a problem with short-term (working) memory. Things she sees or experiences just do not move into long-term memory. This structure of her memory has a very short duration so that she does not even remember asking the same question a few moments before.

However, her sensory memory is intact. She still enjoys the sunlight, a beautiful tree, a sweet song, or the taste of her favorite green beans. She also frequently astonishes us with her long-term memory. The stacks of photos her sons have given her are new to her each day and it brings her joy to point to people, or things, and recall a story.

The aspect of her thinking that continually amazes me is her metacognition. This is the ability to think about thinking. When she gets a bit snarky and announces that she has no clue what “Arbors-where-you-live” means, she is assessing the situation quite nicely. Likewise, when she looks at me with repentant eyes after saying, “that wasn’t very nice of me to say” she is evaluating her words and their possible effect on me.

She is losing her ability to make new memories, but she is not losing her intelligence, her empathy, or conscience. She is still Dorris, she is just a bit lost in the here and now.

When she asks me why she lives at the Arbors, I tell her because it is a place that helps people with their memory. 

Her typical response to my reply is. "well, I certainly need that." 

The only perfect memory belongs to God. There are no limits to his sensory memory, his working memory, or his long-term memory. He is omniscient.

Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. (Psalm 147:5, ESV)

Yet, once he has forgiven us, he chooses to forget our sin.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103: 10-13, ESV)

There are people who wonder if they could have the patience to answer a question repeated again, and again. To me, it is a bigger mystery how God can have patience with me when I repeat a sin again, and again.

 But you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15, ESV)

I have metacognition about my sin. I know it is bad for me, bad for my relationships, and needs to be stopped. But, in the short-term, or the long-term, that ain’t gonna happen.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and  blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:1-6, ESV)
Instead of impatience, God responds with forgiveness and grace. He sends his Spirit to help me with this daily struggle. Some day he will welcome me to heaven with open arms.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:23-24, ESV) 

When I get to heaven, I will see Dorris and I will ask her “Where am I living?”

We will both get a good laugh out of that. 

(With a special prayer for my friend, Brenda, whose mother is a new resident of heaven. She is waiting there, for her loved ones, with a perfect memory.)