A new friend

I made a new friend today. I want to respect that her story is her own story, not mine. It’s important that this blog be a place to express my “thoughts from below” and not hers. She isn’t able to use a computer and follow a blog, so I certainly could get away with telling her story here. But I want to respect her and her story the way I hope others respect me when I’m in her shoes. So I’m going to work hard to express my thoughts and not pretend to know hers.

My new friend has early onset dementia. Every time I’ve encountered someone in the early stages of dementia, my experience is that there seems to be complete denial. This is not true for my new friend. She is aware. She is self-conscious. She is apologetic. She is not much older than I am. Because all of my past experiences were with people who denied the onset of dementia, who insisted that nothing was wrong, I have wondered if it would be possible for me to be self-aware as the changes come. After today I know that it is. And I caught a glimpse of how heart-breaking it is going to be.

People say, “As long as you are concerned that you are forgetting things, you don’t really have dementia.” After today I know that’s not true. I have wondered what it may be like to know my brain is changing, to be self-aware as the disease begins. Now I know. Well, I don’t know what it’s like inside my friend’s thoughts and feelings, but I got to see what it looks like from the outside. It’s painful.

I made a new friend today. I mean that. I didn’t visit this person out of a sense of duty or charity. I truly want to be her friend and for her to be my friend. I want to listen to her and learn from her, just as I speak with her and share with her. I want to know about her life, and I want to tell her about mine. I want to share fears, and hopes, and simply “to be” together. Friends have things in common. She and I have something in common: A disease that is affecting her now and that will affect me in years to come.

It’s been nine hours, so I don’t know if she even remembers my visit, but I will go back. I hope it’s not too late for her to build a new friendship that she can enjoy, at least in the moment. I want to hear her stories. I want to know what brings her joy. I want her to meet my children and my mother. I want her to know that she still matters not only to her long-time friends but also to someone just meeting her. I want to “do unto her” as I hope others will “do unto me” in years to come.”

I’ve met a lot of people with dementia. Today was different. I know it’s not all about me, that it isn’t really a friendship if I’m putting my own thoughts and feelings first. But there are so many thoughts and feelings swirling in my tired brain. It had to take courage for her to open her door and welcome me in. I’m so grateful that she did. I hope that she will open it to me again. I pray that I will discover ways to put her first and not grow obsessed with my own thoughts, feelings, or fears when we are together.

As I finish this post, I don’t really know what to say. Funny, several times today, my new friend stopped mid-sentence or mid-story. She would apologize as she stumbled and didn’t know what to say. I would tell her not to worry, that it didn’t matter. Yeah, I don’t quite know what my point is in this post. But I hope you don’t mind me opening this door and sharing with you like my new friend did with me today…  Yeah, I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but thank you for listening.

Remember to love your neighbor

I love to write, but it’s interesting that I didn’t write a blog post all summer.  It occurs to me that writing is therapeutic to me.  Summer isn’t very stressful, for the most part, in my work… and perhaps that’s why I didn’t write a blog post.  I didn’t really need to write.  A few sermons were enough to keep the candle burning.  But… the school year is beginning, the to-do list and responsibilities are growing fast, and I suddenly feel a need to write.  So here’s today’s insight:   

Today I saw a friend in the grocery store.  She lives far out in a rural area, so I rarely see her.  Recently her family has been going through an extremely difficult time.  I’ve had her name written in my prayer journal and on my to-do list that reminds me that there’s something she needs help with that I can continue to work on.  Seeing her was wonderful She’s a warm, generous soul.  We embraced, she updated me on her family, then she pointed to another woman nearby and mentioned that she had brought this person with her to the store because that woman doesn’t have transportation unless someone helps her.  “I could have asked for her shopping list and done it for her, but everyone wants to get out of the house sometimes.  Everyone needs a break,” she said.  This friend is under intense stress right now, but she opted to help another person this afternoon and to meet their needs for grocery-shopping together.  Even under great stress, she loved her neighbor, and they both seemed happy because of this.   

This afternoon I took mom with me when driving my daughter to an event half an hour away.  We passed a church and I mentioned that I will be attending a funeral there next week for a co-worker.  Mom asked about the person who died.  I mentioned that he had been his mother’s caregiver so his sudden death is especially difficult for her and for many others.   Mom, who seems to grow more confused lately, spoke up:  “Well why don’t you bring her to see me sometime?  We could go out and do things together.  If she enjoys my company, we could get together often.  I’d like to help her if I can.”  Mom doesn’t know what town or what state we live in.  She doesn’t know how old she is or how long she’s been living here.  She doesn’t know what she had to eat for dinner once she gets up from the table.  But she wants to help cheer up the stranger and give her company.   

In our culture, we often think the ones who can “help” or who can “give” are the “fortunate” ones:  the rich, the popular, the ones with the easy life.  How beautiful to be reminded today that a friend going through a very hard time is also the one offering help to another, the one giving the priceless gift of friendship.  My mother, deep in the confusion of dementia, still wants to offer solace and friendship to a stranger 

For those who follow Christ and take seriously His call to love our neighbor as ourself, I hope that my day is a comfort.  Yes… we are called to love our neighbor generously on our good days, when we are strong and well-rested, when we have some cash or energy to spare.  But… even when stress builds, even when life takes an unexpected turn, even when we or our family goes through a very difficult time that call is still there because it has become a part of who we are as a follower of Christ.  My surely overwhelmed friend helps her neighbor, because that’s who she is.  My mom, who is profoundly forgetful, remembers to comfort the grieving.  May we all practice this sacrificial love of neighbor NOW so that if or when we encounter difficult times or a progression of dementia, it will be second nature to us to love our neighbor as ourself 

I hope I never experience the challenges of my friend or of my mother, but if I do, I hope I’m as generous and kind as they are.   

Thanks for helping me remember!

I stopped by to see mom a few days ago, planning to take her out with me to run errands.  It doesn’t sound special, but she seems to enjoy just browsing the grocery store or hardware store with me.  I had errands to run, so that was the plan.  But mom had showered early and was in her pajamas when I arrived.  Thus, I had to slow down, sit down, and just visit in the living room with her.  She was sitting next to a lady who moved in just a few months ago.  Since the first time I saw her, I thought this woman looked familiar.  I’m bad with names, but it wasn’t just that… I truly couldn’t place her, had no idea where I might have known her.  So I just assumed she had a familiar face but that we had no previous relationship.

I sat with mom and her friend.  Let’s call her Bessie.  That’s not really her name, but I need to respect the privacy of the people mom lives with if I’m going to write about them.  Bessie and mom seem to sit together often because they are among the more verbal people in the assisted living facility.  We made small talk for a while, and because I had errands still looming before me, I will confess that I wasn’t finding the small talk very engaging.

Then Bessie said something like, “Back in Caroline, we used to…”  And I snapped to attention.  Caroline County is the county just north of where we live now.  I used to pastor two rural congregations there.  I loved the people and the community I got to know there.

“Are you from Caroline County?”  I asked.  “Oh yes… Signboard Road,” she replied.  A smile crept across my face.  “Really?  Do you know St. Paul’s Church?”  She did.  She wasn’t a member, but it turns out that her really good friends were and she sometimes attended special events or services at the church.  Undoubtedly we had crossed paths many times.  The next 15 minutes was a lively exchange between us as I asked if she knew one person or another.  She knew them all, well.  She told me stories from the past, things I never knew, neat treasures about things people had said or done mostly long ago.  These were all people I loved dearly, most of whom have now passed away.

Before I realized it, I knew that I wouldn’t be running errands that evening.  Listening to Bessie’s tales made me laugh and smile and remember and appreciate people I haven’t seen in a very long time.  Let me say that again more clearly:  A woman with dementia gave me the gift of remembering. 

I forget sometimes when I drive up to the assisted living home each day, but the residents there have something to give to me, to share with me.  It’s not just me (and others who come to visit) who are offering something to them.  When we think of relationships as “one way,” where all the giving comes from one party and all the receiving is done by another, those relationships are never very deep or meaningful (for either party.)  Bessie not only gave me the gift of remembering and appreciating some amazing folks from my former church, she also reminded me what I should have already known.  Their assisted living dementia-care community is full of people who can give me gifts and enrich my life.  I just have to slow down, sit down, and look for what they are offering me:  a smile, a hug, a song, and more.

Thanks, Bessie!  Thanks for helping me remember!

Reasons to pick up rocks

People with dementia sometimes develop new habits or routines that family members or caregivers find challenging.  One of mom’s habits in her last years of living alone was to pick up small stones or rocks when she was out walking.  She brought them home and created a rock collection.  If asked, she would pick them up one by one and marvel at them.  “Look at how smooth this one is,” she might say.  Or “Doesn’t this one sparkle just like it’s jewelry?”  “Sure, mom.”  One was smooth and one had a little sparkle, but these were just ordinary rocks.  I wanted to appreciate her child-like wonder, but I also knew that someday those piles and pots and bags of rocks would be mine and Ron’s to clean out.   

Yesterday as mom and I walked around the edge of the property where she lives, mom felt a rock beneath her shoe.  She paused and would have bent down to pick it up.  But her balance isn’t what it used to be, and she recognized this.  “Why don’t you bend down and pick up that rock for me?  We could take it back and put it in a pot,” she suggested.  I tried to think of a distraction, something to get us walking again and leave the rock behind.  But I couldn’t think of anything. 

“Mom, you don’t really have extra space for a rock collection where you live now.”   

“But I do have a few pots with plants, right?”   

“Yeah.”   

“Then pick it up, we’ll put it in one of the pots.”   

I suppose I was tired or my patience was thin, because contrary to my usual efforts, I didn’t play along.  I didn’t do what she asked.  I didn’t pick up the rock.  I made some weak excuse, and we kept walking.  I knew she would forget in minutes if not seconds, and I knew there was no real reason to put a rock in her flower pot.   

She took a few slow, stiff steps and then she spoke again.  “You know why it’s good to have a rock in your flower pot, don’t you?”   

I was surprised that we were still talking about this.  “I don’t know, mom.  Why?  Because they are pretty?”   

“No, because rocks absorb water and then let it out real slow-like, so it’s good for the plant.” 

I… was… speechless.  Dad was the scientist.  Dad was the one who explained things.  Even before dementia, mom didn’t talk like this.  She didn’t explain why things happened or the reasons behind things.  I think I just stared back at her for a moment.   

“You didn’t know I knew all that, did you?”  She asked.  Then she giggled, “I didn’t know I knew all that either!”  Her sense of humor has been active lately.  The conversation went on and we kept walking.  It was only after she was back indoors and I was driving away that I realized we never picked up a rock for her to place in a flower pot in her room.   

We didn’t pick one up because I, in all my judgmental wisdom, knew that there was no good reason to pick one up.  But mom knew better.  Mom knew a scientific reason to pick up a rock and to place in a flower pot.  But she also knows that rocks can be really smooth and sometimes really sparkly.  And those are good reasons too. 

Before I go visit tomorrow, I plan to pick up a rock and bring it to her.  She will always know some things that I don’t know.     

 

A View from a School Bus

Today I rode on a school bus for the first time since the late 1980s.  Sure, I’ve been on other buses, but not a true school bus.  Today I chaperoned a Middle School chorus trip so I rode on an actual county school bus with actual school kids.  Because our middle school draws kids from several county elementary schools, some likely live fairly far away from the school.  In other words, when we took the “back road” from the Middle School toward a high school in the West End of Richmond, many kids weren’t familiar with the route.  Of course, these are middle school students.  They aren’t driving yet, so they may not know as many landmarks as those of us who drive.

It was fun to listen to their conversations.  I didn’t know a single child on the bus I was assigned to, so I had no preconceived notions.  There were three girls squeezed into one seat singing songs from the musical Hamilton.  There were two girls swapping friendly stories about classmates.  There were a number of kids expressing anxiety about the chorus competition where we were headed.  “What would it be like?  How strict are the judges?  I heard you have to stay perfectly still and perfectly quiet or you’ll get a bad score.”

The angst conversations were the ones that grew and spread around the bus.  The Hamilton songs faded and the funny stories stopped.  “What if we get a bad score, what will our teacher say?  What if the sight reading is really hard?  Where are we going anyway, what is the school like?”  One student had been there before.  “It’s huge,” she said, “and it’s really nice.  It’s the rich kids’ school.  It’s way better than ours.”

Ugh.  I felt the weight of that statement:  The hierarchal view of the world where all that is new and nice seems superior and all those who enjoy what’s new and nice seem superior too.  Suddenly the busload of students seemed lost, uncertain, scared.  Then one student who was looking out of the window shouted with confidence, “I know where we are!  There’s the church.  When I see the church, I know where I am!”

She wasn’t speaking theologically, she simply meant that on this long, windy rural road, there aren’t a lot of unique landmarks.  Cow pasture A looks a lot like Cow pasture B.  Pond A looks a lot like Ponds B through J.  But when you see Forest Grove United Methodist Church, you know where you are.  It’s a true landmark in Western Hanover County, Virginia.

No, she wasn’t speaking theologically, but her confidence and excitement about knowing where the bus was located and which direction we were headed in was contagious.  The other students stopped naming their fears and instead asked questions.  “How big is the auditorium?  Do you think we are ready?  How many other schools will be there?”

She wasn’t speaking theologically, but I was listening theologically.  The church should be a beacon in our communities that helps us know who we are and where we are.  It should root and anchor us and prepare us to be better community members and neighbors.  It should take away our fears and give us confidence to ask questions and to move forward.  “When I see the church, I know where I am!”

“We are not alone, we live in God’s world.  We believe in God who has created and is creating…We are called to be the Church.”  And what does it mean to be the Church?  “…To celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.  (Yes, that’s from Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada.)  Church… that’s how we do it, that’s how we “be” it.

Whether we are navigating the sometimes scary, often painful journey of dementia beside a loved one… or stumbling along a path of discerning denominational identity and hoping for a way forward… sometimes I feel like a middle schooler on a school bus.  I don’t where the heck I’m going.  Someone else is at the wheel, and I have no choice but to be along for the ride.  The whole thing makes me a bit nauseous.  I don’t recognize the scenery, and I’m scared about what waits for me when I arrive.  But thankfully, I see the Church along the way.  I see it in the steeple I drive past.  I see it in my brothers and sisters I pass on campus or in the local grocery store.  I see it online in the words shared by friends and colleagues.  And when I see the Church, I see Christ and I know where I am.  May we all be clear about our call, may we be the Church for one another and for our broken world so that we all can know where we are and where we need to go.

 

 

 

Photo Album Memories

This afternoon mom and I looked through her old photo albums.  She has about twenty large three ring binder style photo albums in her room.  When we decided what items to move with her to assisted living, my brother and I knew that the photo albums were a “must.”  She worked hard over the years to create the albums, and looking through them always gives her joy.

Today she turned the pages carefully as she always does.  She took her time and went picture by picture, commenting on the friends and family captured on film.  Only today… I noticed a change.  Several times, Mom got the names of those in the photo album wrong.  I am patient enough most days to know not to argue with her when she has forgotten something.  I may suggest a correction, but more often than not, I just roll with it.

First, she saw a photo of my aunt during the 1970s and she thought it was my cousin.  This made me sad but not too much.  It was sweet that she saw a family resemblance and made a connection even though she got the name wrong.  It happened several times, confusing generations but still realizing which branch of the family tree she was looking at.

Then there was a series of photos from a party my parents had attended when they lived in Augusta, Georgia in the early 1970s.  The people in the photo were friends of my dad’s from dental school (the series of photos comes just before his graduation photos.)  These people are strangers to me.  I’ve seen the photos many times, but I don’t think I ever even met these people (well, after age 3.)  Yet… mom insisted that one of the photos was my aunt.  For some reason, her inability to recognize that this was not a family member, that this was a stranger or someone she had known only briefly about 45 years ago, really bothered me.  I found myself pushing back, insisting, almost arguing.  I wonder why?

When I realized that I was upset, I paused, took a deep breath and talked to God.

“She doesn’t know a stranger from a close relative!” I cried out.

“So…?”  God answered.

“So, there’s a big difference!” I argued.

“Is there?”  God replied.

Sigh.  It’s true that mom had her facts wrong.  The woman in the photo is not my aunt.  But whoever she is, the woman in the photo is someone special.  She’s part of the human family tree, even if she’s not part of the Grimes or Walker family tree.  I see a stranger; mom sees family.

I thought of Jesus in a stressful situation, surrounded by a crowd, asking them, “Who is my mother?  Who is my brother?”  Family is such a gift, but Jesus reminds us that all our neighbors are gifted and valuable also.

So… pretty soon we put the photo album away.  I looked over at the staff person having a rough day with a challenging resident, and I tried to think of her as family.  It was easy!  I looked at mom’s neighbor sleeping in the recliner and thought of her as family.  No problem.  Then, later today, in the aisles of the grocery store… I saw strangers and prayed for them as though they were family.  Making small talk with the cashier, I recognized her as family.  Human family, brothers and sisters.  No barriers, nothing to separate us into categories where some are more important than others.

I guess mom was right.  The woman in that old 1970’s photo is family too.  Someday I’ll learn not to argue with mom!

 

 

 

 

Stand Up, UMC, and Walk!

There are only a couple of hours left in the 2019 Special Called Session of the General Conference of the UMC. I have live-streamed most of it. I am emotionally exhausted.

This morning I picked mom up from the assisted living home to drive her to the doctor’s office. I try to be present and attentive when we’re together. But this is General Conference. This is my Church. My Church is my family too. So I confess that I live-streamed the Conference on my phone as I made the 20 minute drive with mom to the doctor’s office.

As we went through the first major intersection in town, there was a very large tractor trailer making a turn. Mom always marvels at “big trucks” and worries about how they can safely make a turn, but today she was over the top. “I have never seen a truck that long! How in the world can it change direction? I’m so glad I’m not driving that truck!” I chuckled and said, “Mom, I’m glad you aren’t driving that truck!” Then immediately my mind went to General Conference. I’ve heard back stories about strategies that different groups had going into Conference. I wondered, “Who is driving General Conference?” I felt that bottomless twinge of hopelessness. Then I paused to realize what I actually believe. “No matter who is driving General Conference, I believe the Holy Spirit is driving the Church that nurtured me, that I made vows to serve and that I intend to continue serving.” I believe that. But I don’t know what’s about to happen when the “final vote” comes. Maybe there’s a giant turn ahead? Maybe the church I know becomes two (or ten) churches? Maybe “nothing” happens (which of course means all sorts of things are happening but they are complicated and don’t make good headlines or bumper stickers.) But surely, whatever happens, this isn’t the final word, the end of a journey.

Before my train of thought went much further, mom spoke again, “Have you heard from anyone at Pittman Park?” That was the church I grew up in. Mom asks me this several times a week. She thinks it would be neat if we could go back and visit and I could preach there. It warms my heart, but we did that very thing two years ago for her birthday, she just doesn’t remember. Before I can answer her, she says, “Going back to your home church is like going to a high school reunion… at least for me, because my high school friends were so special to me and our church is like that too.” I nodded because I was crying and didn’t want her to know. My Church is special to me like that: Pittman Park UMC, Trinity UMC, Monroe First UMC, Buchanan UMC, and Philadelphia UMC in Georgia… also, Duncan Memorial UMC, St. Paul’s UMC, Mt. Vernon UMC, Front Royal UMC, and Mt. Hope UMC in Virginia. My Church is special to me and I feel a huge burden right now… a burden that we have so much further to go to be faithful in embodying Christ with Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.

Just as I’m finishing (in my thoughts) the list of churches I’ve served or called home, mom spoke again. “Look at that beautiful Crepe Myrtle,” she exclaimed. We had one of those in Cairo, right next to the house. It was so beautiful, but we had to keep it pruned. It was a lot of work to keep it pruned.” Deep sigh. Pruning… the Church… General Conference…

Then she asked, “Tell me again where we are going?” I answered, for probably the fifth time in 10 minutes, “We’re going to the doctor.” Oh how I wish I could ask God, “Where are we going?” and receive a clear, direct, precise answer about the UMC. But this is a journey not a transaction. My friend Lauren shared a reflection this morning on Numbers 21 when Israel had left Egypt but wasn’t yet in the Promised Land. It helped to hear her words. This is a journey. And it ain’t fun. And it ain’t easy. And it ain’t pretty. But I am determined to stay on this journey, to love my neighbor, to love my enemy, and to be whom God calls me to be.

“To the doctor?” mom asked. “Tell me more about him? How old is he? Is he single?” And I laughed out loud, through huge tears. I wasn’t sure if the tears were from my sadness and pain from the past three days of Conferencing or from the joyful, honest abandon that Mom now lives in. Oh, it felt good to laugh. Mom laughed too. “You’ve met him before, Mom. I don’t know if he’s single, but he’s a lot younger than me, just so you know!” Then she laughed too. And we laughed and laughed. And I cried as I laughed, but then we laughed some more.

I’m posting this before the final “vote” comes in. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few hours. I am deeply concerned for my Church. But once again, mom helped me today. She reminded me that no matter what happens, I’m not driving the big, long, truck called the UMC. Neither is General Conference. Yeah, General Conference might affect the journey, might take us down a very wrong path, but ultimately, I trust that Someone greater is driving and will take us to our destination, even if we forget where we are going. She reminded me that we all need pruning. She reminded me that it’s ok to ask questions when we aren’t sure. And… she reminded me that it’s ok just to speak what’s on my mind and my heart.

By the way, the doctor’s appointment went really well. For the first time in two months, mom is allowed to put weight on her right foot. The physical therapist came today and spent extra time with her. She sent an incredibly positive text predicting good days ahead for mom. My prayer is that soon my Church will be up and walking again too. There is so much to do. Stand up, UMC, and walk!

Wonderful Words of Life

With mom in the wheelchair and still in a temporary “boot,” she isn’t supposed to put any weight on her foot.  That makes it hard to go out and about, transferring her from wheelchair to car and back, especially in the cold and rain.  So once again tonight, I grabbed the United Methodist hymnal and went to visit her in her space.

While others talked or watched TV, mom and I went over to the piano.  “What song would you like to hear?”  Her first request was Wonderful Words of Life. 

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life
Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Always in the first hymn I play, she starts to cry and miss my dad.  I’m prepared for that and comfort her.  Then we keep singing  Amazing Grace, Take Time to be Holy, Let us Break Bread Together.  Then she asks for it again:

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life
Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

We’re in the middle of the hymn when Fran walks over.  Fran is another resident at the assisted living.  I work with her son, so I feel a special connection to Mrs. Fran and always enjoy visiting with her.  She talks a lot, but it’s worth noting that her many phonetic sounds rarely come together to create words you can follow.  You might even say that she’s talkative, but Fran is very hard to understand.

Because I’m playing piano, I don’t pause to speak to Fran in this moment.  But mom stops singing and they exchange words.  Fran hugs mom then walks away.  But mom, I notice, still isn’t singing.  Why?  Because she’s crying!

“Mom!  What’s wrong?!”

“I want to help that lady.  She’s so sweet, but I don’t know how to help her.  She needs something, I can tell.  We should take her out to a nice dinner or something.  I just want to help her…”

Fran has a loving family and to the best of my knowledge, her needs are well attended to.  But Fran’s confusion and muddled speech leave the impression with mom that something is really wrong.  I’m moved at mom’s tenderness and compassion.  “I just want to help her…”

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life
Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Beautiful words…

the lyrics of the hymn, written in 1874 by Philip Bliss…

the muddled jargon from Fran to mom…

the tearful generosity expressed by mom…

Beautiful words, all of them.

I pause to reflect at the end of a long day.  How many words did I speak today that were unkind, snarky, frustrated, egotistical, limited to my own perspective, hopeless…?  There were words I wouldn’t be proud to record here, no doubt.  Tomorrow, I’m going to try to be more like Mr. Bliss of 1874, more like Mrs. Fran, more like mom.

I found my inspiration at the assisted living home tonight.  Yeah, I found my inspiration in the kind of place that many people avoid, from the people that many others pity.  Perhaps you think that one’s days of creativity and possibility are over once dementia sets in and your independence is gone.  Not at all.  The more time I spend there, the more I learn and grow.  Tonight I found wonderful words of life.

May your day be filled with wonderful words of life also.

 

“I’m here!”

I’ve been spending more time at the Assisted Living home rather than taking mom out while her ankle heals.  Though I miss our adventures, I’m getting to know the other residents and the staff much better.  And that’s a good thing.  Each resident is unique, and it’s a gift to begin to recognize their gifts and graces.

This morning I was playing checkers with mom.  A lady I’ll call Maggie was sleeping in her wheelchair not far from us.  She woke up and looked at a staff person nearby.  Her tone was calm and inquisitive as she spoke, “Who am I?”

The staff person answered patiently, “You’re Maggie.”

 

“Well… OK… I’m here,” she replied sweetly with a smile.

 

We all grinned at the seemingly odd statement, and yet I felt tears fill my eyes.  I have felt ignored before.  I’ve felt taken for granted in the past.  But I’ve never felt so invisible that I forgot who I was.  I cannot imagine what that is like.

And yet… Maggie wasn’t upset.  Once she heard the affirming words (her name), she was empowered.  Like a school child answering the roll call, she announced, “I’m here!”  Maggie went from being lost and uncertain to being available and purposeful.  She has a name.  She has a place.  She IS.

Dear God, so many of us have forgotten who we are.  Remind of us of what you see in us, of who you created us to be.  Name us.  Call to us.  Remind us.  In the name of the One Who created us, Who saves us, and Who sustains us, Amen.

 

“What do people do…?”

Mom has a friend at the assisted living home.  I’ll call her Delores.  Like mom, Delores may have advanced dementia but she still speaks in sentences and can carry on a fairly long conversation.  Both are able to read social clues and sometimes joke or roll their eyes together about the zany things that happen around them.  The two of them are good friends, sharing a genuine warmth and friendship.  Delores worries about mom and her broken ankle.  Mom is wheelchair bound (temporarily we think) and sleeping a lot more (even during the day.)  It’s not just the injury, but something is different for mom right now.  Delores notices the change and talks about it each time I visit.

Tonight I brought my United Methodist Hymnal with me and invited mom and Delores over to the piano.  Oh, how the old hymns perked them up.  Delores was able to request several that she wanted to hear.  Mom couldn’t come up with hymn names but could sing along with at least the first verse if not more of every hymn I played.  Both smiled and swayed and clapped at the end of each song.

Mom got tearful wishing my dad were there to sing with us.  Delores got sentimental and thanked me for bringing back old memories.

I asked Delores if she grew up going to church.  “My mother was Methodist, so you better believe we never missed church,” she smiled and shook her head as she remembered.  I felt a twinge of sadness.  I’m not sure that’s what it means to be Methodist for most families today.

But then I felt my heart warmed (yes, this is part of being Methodist still today) when I said to them both, “I hope you enjoy these old hymns.”

“I’m enjoying them because you are here with me,” Mom smiled and said to Delores.

Delores was touched and speechless so I chimed in, “And I couldn’t play them for you both if you (I looked at mom) hadn’t paid for all those piano lessons I took.”

Mom look confused, “I did that?”

“Yeah, Mom.  Thanks for making this possible.”

Then we sang, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer…”

Delores chimed in, “I don’t know what people do if they don’t know God.  How would you get through things?”

It’s hard sometimes knowing how to best support mom on this journey through her later years with dementia.  We second guess ourselves a lot.  We overthink even small decisions.  But tonight I am not second guessing anything.  I am filled with gratitude…. Grateful to know God (…even though I know I only am just beginning to know God and there’s much more to be discovered in this life and beyond.)  I’m grateful for Delores, who, like mom, is a transplant to this area and finds herself living among strangers who have become friends.  I’m grateful for the staff of Alpha House and all the other residents.  Who knew that even here, at this point in the journey, we’d be making new friends and growing closer to others and closer to God?

“Delores, I don’t know what people do if they don’t know God.  Let’s do all we can to be sure others meet God in us.  Ok?”  Yeah, Ok.