And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.(Romans 8:28)
Life is not easy, and trouble is usually around the corner. I don’t know about you but my life experience has taught me that whenever I start to feel that things are going my way, wham! Something happens that sets me back on my heels.
My mother always told us that God would never give us a cross we didn’t have the strength, (with his help), to bear. It is true, but many times when hard times come we find ourselves unprepared and our first reaction is to blame others, or get angry, or break down into “woe is me” mode. Some people go right to prayer, while others seem to have the need to try to work it out on their own. I myself have often thought, “It’s not that big of a deal, I can fix it on my own,” only to discover that my “fix” inevitably makes things worse.
In my family we have been dealing with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease. Those of you who are familiar with it know that it’s generally slow in building and then begins to accelerate. In the beginning it manifests itself in slight confusion, a difficulty with numbers and telling time, and small behavioral changes. Over time the confusion becomes worse, the patient begins to “shadow” their caregiver, they begin to wander, do odd things, speak in gibberish, and their behavior becomes so unpredictable that they need 24 hour care. As the disease progresses more severe physical symptoms appear, eventually resulting in death.
My father is 77 and has had the disease for at least 5 years. He was once a brilliant businessman, a legend in his field, and the kind of man everyone came to for advice. He has also always been one of the sweetest people on the planet. He and my mother taught the 2 and 3 year old children at our church, and I will never forget walking into their classroom to see my 6’2” father with children hanging all over him. They adored him, as did we.
You see, I was one of the lucky ones. My parents married young and have stayed married for the last 58 years. My father provided well for us, but most importantly, he always loved us and we knew it. He worked very hard, but made it a point to leave his work at the office and so when he was with us, he was really “with” us. We enjoyed doing things as a family, and my father was more like one of us kids than an adult. He always loved the “little things” and could have fun wherever he was.
Almost six months ago my mother made the very painful decision to place him in a care facility. The decision was the most difficult of her life and we knew it. If there was ever anyone who gave her all to taking care of someone it was my mother. However, it had reached the point where his confusion and propensity to do odd things made his continuing presence at home dangerous to both of them. She had to act.
Fortunately, when my father first found out he was ill he made my mother promise that once he became too difficult for her to handle that she was to put him in a care facility and that she was not to feel guilty about it. He said that no matter what he said and/or did when that time came that she was to remember him telling her while he was in sound mind that that was what he wanted. It would be the disease talking, not him.
We are fortunate that they have the means to place him in a great place, where he’s well cared for. Of course, he still asks my mother to take him home, but now he’s settled in and if she took him home he’d probably ask to go back.
These last few years have probably been the most difficult of our lives. However, in the midst of it all we can still see God’s hand on my father and on us.
Since he’s been at the care facility he has become an extra hand around the place. Although his health has not been great lately, he still fusses over the other patients. He checks up on those in wheelchairs, opening doors and clearing paths for them. He’s always got a pat on the back, or a kind word to those in distress. One lady in particular cries all of the time. He’s made it his mission to make her smile and every time he sees her he does something silly or tells her a little joke. The staff adore him and whenever they do something for him he thanks them and tells them how wonderful they are.
While watching these interactions I am struck by how God has given my father a gift. He has a ministry, and a flock to tend to. He can no longer quote scripture and I’m not even sure if he would know what the Bible is, and yet he is living a life closer to Christ than ever. He acts from a place of love, selflessly, and with no hope or thought of reward. Every day he tries to make these poor people’s life a little richer, a little more human, a lot better.
I suppose that if one has to have this horrible disease, then God has found a way to make it for the good. It comforts my family that maybe, just maybe, he has been called to God’s purpose and that is why he became ill, so he can serve where he is needed.