Monday, June 22, 2015

Thank you, God, for those who give care to the elderly.

Our world worships power and money. People who work in politics and those who tend to financial matters have jobs that earn them respect and high salaries.

The workers we pay the least and seemingly dismiss, are those who care for our children, for our disabled and our elderly. In these jobs, the pay is low, and the workers must grow thick skin as they find themselves victims of the frustrations of others. They are rarely honored and rarely thanked for the tireless and quiet work they accomplish each day.

The world gives a strong message about what is important, but the world has it wrong.

Nothing is more important than guiding a lost grandfather to the dining room. Nothing is more important than calming a grandmother who still does not see her home as a familiar place. Nothing is more important than checking on a father who has fallen or taking care of the soiled briefs of a mother. Nothing is more important than lovingly arranging the day’s meal on the plate or carefully cleaning the bathroom. Nothing is more important than celebrating a birthday with bingo or greeting a family member at the door. Nothing is more important than getting medicine to the right person, clean teeth to the right mouth, or the clean clothes to the right closet. Nothing is more important than patiently answering the same question as many times as it is asked.

Nothing is more important than tenderly moving a dying body that can no longer move itself. Nothing is more important than assisting someone with her last bath, her last meal, her last time to dress. Nothing is more important than offering food or comfort to family members waiting by the bedside of a loved one. Nothing is more important than explanations gently offered for the signs of the end of life. Nothing is more important than the phone call no family member wants to receive and no caregiver wants to make.

Nothing is more important than the tears you shed behind closed doors when you lose yet another friend who found a place in your heart. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in [an unfamiliar place] and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in [an unfamiliar place] and go to visit you?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 34-40

For those of you who are caregivers for our precious loved ones, the only thing more important than what you do, is what God has done for you. 

You are loved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Dorris circa 1935

The nurse made a note in the hospice logbook that Dorris has begun her journey. As we sat with her on Sunday afternoon, I considered this metaphor. A journey implies a “moving toward.” What we are experiencing does not feel like a journey so much as a waiting.
We are waiting. We are visiting. We are resting. Dorris is not leaving; God is coming to her.

As we sit by her bedside, I think a proper metaphor would be waiting on the porch. We are waiting for something wonderful to come around the corner. Dorris’ bags are packed as she takes with her the only true thing of value – her faith. We wait for her Savior - then the journey will begin.

At this point, Dorris’ communication has reduced to utterances of 2-3 words. Among the last things she said that made sense are a conversation with her son, Paul after a nurse came in to visit.

Paul: Is she a friend of yours?
Dorris: (dismissing the question with a wave of her hand) People know the name.

And this rather poignant exchange with her daughter-in-law, Jan:

Dorris: I’m keeping a mental inventory.
Jan: Anything left?
Dorris: Just Marx.

Looking at Dorris in her bed requires a reminder that this is indeed the Dorris we know and love. The woman who always talked, always had an opinion, advice, or comment now utters mere remnants of a conversation that sound as if she is talking at a meeting. She can no longer sit up and walk. Her legs and arms show remnants of motion as if she might get up and take us for a walk in the garden. Strewn about her room are the remnants of her life – pictures of family, artwork, hair combs, scrapbooks, and newspapers. 

Her family members sit and talk in remnants of stories wrapped in the music of her son’s guitar.

We wait on this “front porch” and create silences. We pray and think about the wonderful gift of Dorris.

In the last few weeks, we have been through many “lasts.”

The last trip to church.
The last visit with the cat.
The last question.
The last meal.
The last bath.

Soon, it will be the last hand movement, the last breath, the last heartbeat.

Then, the journey begins.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15, ESV

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
 It will be said on that day,
    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25: 8-9, ESV

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
Isaiah 40:11a, ESV

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Over the last six years, I have watched Alzheimer’s narrow my mother-in-law’s world.

She used to travel with her husband. Then that became too much. Soon after that we had the conversation about no more driving. Now, she walks to the dining room and back to her room. Her current travel is limited to church on Sunday and that takes most of her energy for the week.

She used to live in a house in a town she loved and served. Then she moved to a small apartment. She downsized, again, to a little room with a kitchenette. Now, she lives in a room the size of a dorm room. Last week she told me she was going to quit school and go home.

She used to read. She subscribed to three newspapers and a couple of magazines and countless publications that came with membership in various organizations. There was little that happened in her hometown or in her state that slipped her notice. When we moved her to her current location, Paul continued two of the newspapers and a magazine. She now opens the newspaper merely out of habit.

The reading she does most often is on a white board that sits on the floor by the television she rarely turns on anymore. The words are a list that she used to find comforting, but now she reads repetitively:

You live at the Arbors.
Your teeth are at the nurse’s station.
Marx passed away in 2011 – Ed and Molly are gone, too.
You need to use your walker.
You are retired. No meetings!!!

Her world is now very small, very quiet, and a bit lonely. 

There are people in her world. Friends come to visit. Attentive caregivers and family are in and out of her room. Occasionally, a cat tiptoes in, curling up in her lap.

Her world is not lonely because it lacks people. It is lonely because of her lack of awareness. A lack of awareness so complete that she will inquire about the cat not even realizing it purrs under her resting hand. When her son comes to visit, she looks at him with astonishment and asks, “How did you know where to find me?”

It is not a brain-wasting disease that causes my world to narrow. It is, in fact, my selfishness, my arrogance, my sin that makes my world all about “me.”

My world narrows as I focus on my needs and wants. It narrows as I focus on my expectations of how things “should” be and how reality falls sadly short of those expectations.

As I narrow my focus in such a way, I lose sight of the world around me. I no longer see the good I could be doing. I no longer see the need of my neighbor. I no longer seek God’s wisdom in His word.

I must be repetitively reminded of my sin and of the forgiveness offered by my God.

My God, on the other hand, is all-knowing:

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.        
 Psalm147:5, ESV

He knows everything about us:

The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. Psalm 33: 13-15, ESV

He knows our sins; even our silent sins:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?                 
 Matthew 9:4, ESV

He loves us nonetheless

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.             
 Romans 5: 8, ESV

Our awareness is a gift from God. We know we are His child. We know He forgives us. We know He fills us with His Spirit. Our awareness is faith.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5: 1-5, ESV

Dorris' lack of awareness is not of her making. Her disease is responsible, but disease cannot change her heavenly Father’s awareness of her.

We know so little in comparison to God. We know we have the gift of faith. God knows the rest.

Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
Psalm 88:12, ESV