Something triggered my memories. Maybe it was a passage in my quiet time this morning. I have been going through Jeremiah this summer and this morning I read chapter 48: 11-12:
Moab has been at rest from youth,
like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another–
she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
and her aroma is unchanged.
But days are coming,
declared the Lord,
when I will send men who pour from jars;
and they will pour her out;
they will empty her jars and smash her jugs.
This passage startled me because I realized God does not want me to “taste” or “smell” the same and so He brings about circumstances to start the pouring process. In my case, He brought some “gifts” my way.
Gifts usually make me happy, but I remember once when I experienced a “letdown” after opening a birthday present. A girlfriend had given an exercise video to me. It was good for me. And yes, I needed it. I learned very quickly that I don’t welcome gifts that require something of me.
This year God has given two such “gifts” to my husband Ed and to me: the gift of adolescence and the gift of Nana. Peter, our son, turned thirteen a few weeks ago, but the realities of having a teenager in our home have been apparent for months. Eugene Peterson, author of Like Dew Your Youth, has helped put this “gift” into perspective. I’ve frequently heard the statement, “children are a gift of God,” but normally I picture a newborn infant or a cuddly toddler, not an argumentative adolescent. Peterson’s premise is this: the adolescent is “born” into our lives when we, in our middle age, are prone to stagnation (like “wine left in its dregs”?) and in danger of being arrested in our growth. Teenagers, as Peterson so wisely writes, “test our love, chasten our hope and push our faith to the edge.”
The second gift is Nana. In the midst of preparing for nana last May came God’s additional gift of a story. But it was not a new story. God reminded me of a story from my childhood…
When I was eight years old, my family vacationed at Lake Erie. One hot, lazy, sunny afternoon, I took my air mattress and swam out a distance to float gently back to shore. The lapping of the waves and the heat soon lulled me to sleep. Suddenly, I was pinned between the mattress and the sandy lake bottom, choking on a huge intake of water. My older sister had sneaked up on me, flipped the mattress and sat upon it. After three attempts I finally raised myself sufficiently to poke my head out of the water.
Why, at this particular moment, did God remind me of this story and in such vivid detail? It was a gift, but it was perhaps the strangest gift I had ever received. This story seemed to accurately convey what I had been feeling as I anticipated providing daily care for Nana…a woman who is my mother-in-law, my husband’s mother and my children’s grandmother, but who has no clue she exists in such a relationship with us. It is as if one moment you are drifting lazily and peacefully along (“at rest from youth”?) and the next moment you are in terrible distress and shock about it because you have been able to “handle” life up to this point. And as a caregiver of one such as Nana, you often don’t know how to communicate your distress to those around you in a way that can be understood. So, it’s doubly difficult because you expect recognition and sympathy, but it is not there because there is little understanding of what you are experiencing.
It is as if God gave this story to me knowing I would feel like that helpless, panicky little girl — perhaps not physically drowning but emotionally going under due to the weight of my feelings of guilt and anger in the care-giving role. God gave me this story because He wanted me to know He understands. But I also think God gave this year with Nana as a gift. He longs to wean me from my idolatry of personal productivity and efficiency. He wants to assure me as I look squarely in the face of the disintegration of self/memory when I care for Nana, that even if others forget, He still remembers, and His memory moves Him to compassion towards me and Nana.
POSTSCRIPT…The year has passed. I look back in amazement. Prior to Nana’s arrival, we received many warnings not to bring her over. But it worked out to bring her here because this culture honors the elderly and it was a fairly simple matter to find two women (two shifts) to provide loving and compassionate care at an affordable price as Ed and I continued with our ministry on campus. She had minimal health problems and we were able to manage without undue stress/strain. We brought her back to the States this summer and were able to get her settled into an Alzheimer’s residential home. I wept when God gave me the remembrance of that story last year. I wept as I tried to take it all in. And I weep today because several women here in the Philippines understood and came alongside me during this past year. I am so grateful for their love and concern. I don’t know if I have changed — if I taste or smell any differently as a result of having Nana and an adolescent son in my home – but there is the delicious comfort of knowing God knows and understands and comes to me at various times and in various ways bearing gifts that put me in a position of having to face myself and partake of His grace.