Unafraid

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You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

(Psalm 91:5-6, 11-12)

Anxiety can be one of the most crippling aspects of dementia in the elderly. It is so difficult for people who have always been in control to allow others to help them.

Psalm 91 was a great comfort to my mother. Songs remain in the mind after many other memories have faded. Musical settings of scriptures full of assurance can be such a comfort. Thank God for the strength of music.

Without those treasures buried in our hearts throughout a lifetime of learning to trust, the darkness can be very dark indeed. I see the difference in my four family members who have walked or who are walking this memory loss path. We reap what we sow. The fruit of a lifetime of sowing seeds of faith and the fruit of years of sowing seeds of fear look very different when night falls.

Lord, teach us to trust you and dwell in your shelter now, so that it will always be a familiar refuge we can slip into easily.

 

 

Snap

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I delete a lot of photos. Because the camera lies.

I have deleted photos of people with eyes half closed, limbs twisted in odd configurations and facial expressions from disgust to lust, none of which reflect the personality of the subject. They were snapshots of moments in time, captured moments on the way to more meaningful moments.

I kept this photo in my collection because I find it visually interesting. Some photos are like poems and condense an expression of an entire day into a moment. Some photos suggest cause for judgment where there is no actual cause. It is a snapshot. That is all.

Yesterday I realized how easy it is to make a snap judgment based on one moment. Social media can set these snap judgments in concrete. Mob justice is a terrifying thing. Mobs don’t have the time to make an effort to see the larger context. They grab only what they want to project onto the snapshot from their own hearts. Angry, unloving people accusing others of being insensitive, power-seekers labelling others as the source of avarice, perpetual victims waving the flag of someone they presume to be an oppressed innocent, worshippers of personal peace and prosperity attacking those who would seem to be in competition for the avails of a life of careless ease…

Only God sees the heart. Only God understands the context of an entire life — and not just a person’s past, but their future as well. Judgment based on a snapshot without the wisdom and insight given by the Holy Spirit is highly inaccurate. It is easy to imprison people, especially public figures, in the restraints of one moment in time. (Can I admit a profound distrust in media lately?)

I am learning when I pray for someone to ask the Lord how he sees them first. It is invariably a better picture than my own.

This is a photo I snapped one day. I don’t know the people. I don’t even remember the context. I do not attach any agenda meaning to it. It’s a fraction of a second in time. There is more to these people’s lives than this.

Turn

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I took a wrong turn.

I’m helping my elderly mother-in-law. Her apartment is in the centre of the downtown core of  large city. I am not used to this kind of traffic or the visual and auditory distractions everywhere. Sirens, flashing lights, construction barriers, drivers honking at me. It takes a while to build up selective inattention; my senses feel assaulted. And I always seem to be in the wrong lane! I just slipped out on a quick errand and by the time I was halfway home my nerves were shot.

Well, I was in the wrong lane again and ended up in a parking lot in the river valley. Instead of aiming my poor little car back into the fray I got out and went for a walk (a stomp would be more accurate). I came upon a green space and followed the asphalt trail, jumping out of my skin every time a cyclist whizzed by me and blushing every time I happened upon couples who really needed to get a room. I saw a deserted-looking path going up a narrow gorge. I know, probably not a good idea for a woman alone in the big city but I craved solitude and missed the woods back home. So I followed it.

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Ahh. There, right in the midst of rush and shove of angry people (including me) an unpopulated refuge. A gift. The song in my head was about God being a strength and shield. “You give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk with him.”

Thanks, Lord. I needed that.

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I’m still learning to maintain that peace while looking for an address in heavy traffic. My husband will tell you I’m not there yet, but at least I know peace can exist in the middle of a stressful place.

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I had my quiet time in the woods yesterday. And there were no bears.

Choosing Gratitude

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“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly.”
-Henri Nouwen

Teach Us to Number Our Days.

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I’m in Edmonton, Alberta this week. Autumn has begun here. Coloured leaves fall like rain when the wind shakes the elm trees arching over the streets of the older districts. This morning thick green hostas and a few remaining flowering perennials lined the flower beds outside my mother-in-law’s apartment building. This evening they are gone. This afternoon volunteers pulled up and chopped back the greenery, then toted away bags of vegetative debris for composting as they prepared the beds for winter.

I was shocked. They were still green and blooming. I guess the calendar says summer is over so the volunteer gardeners went to work while they had time. Somebody has to do it.

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I think seeing the bare beds reminded me of my own pain this week. It is becoming increasingly clear my husband’s elderly mother is moving into a new season. It’s a bit of a shock. We knew it was coming, but still… She doesn’t recognize – or remember – the ominous signs of declining health that make it unsafe for her to continue to live independently.

She is not happy with her sons and daughters-in-law or grandchildren right now. We don’t want to deprive her of freedom. There are still areas of her life that are green and thriving, but at 91 she has suffered noticeably from the shock of her second son’s death a few weeks ago. We know it is time for her to downsize so we can provide more care for her.

Because she lives in a different city than her surviving sons there is no ideal arrangement that will not involve more loss, especially of possessions that carry so much meaning for her. Frankly, we don’t really know what to do. We need wisdom.  It’s a sad season and I hate the role I now find myself in. Pushy is not a characteristic I admire or ever wanted to acquire, but somebody has to do it. Sometimes love is costly.

The hardest part for me, after seeing my mother, then my father, and now my mother-in-law lose parts of themselves to failing memory, is to confront my own mortality. I’ve noticed that it is very difficult to change in old age. For those who have survived the trauma of war and famine and death of loved ones in youth, but who never completely escaped the tyranny of fear, old age can be utterly terrifying. Frightened people can hurt the very ones who are trying to help them as they return to child-like vulnerability. This is a time of testing for all of us.

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My prayer this week is that I will end my days with a healed and whole heart, trusting in the love of my heavenly father who has promised to never leave or forsake me. I pray that he will teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom before my final season in this body. I pray that I may burn with the colours of love right until the end and that I would be willing to change now in order to get there.

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It’s a big request.