It was the worst of times I have personally known. This year, 2011, began in the emergency room in Colorado Springs, when a second stroke on New Year’s Eve left Mother-in-law completely immobile.
Her existence as a rational human being really ended Aug. 27, 2010, when her first stroke, in my presence, left her 99% blind, with only occasional fleeting, foggy memories of who she was and no recognition of her own home. She could not even remember she was blind, and would get up from her bed or chair at all hours of the day or night to go she-knew-not-where and fall down. It required 24/7 alertness, and sleeping in shifts, to stop her before she hurt herself. We were not always quick enough.
One night prior to her final stroke, after I had helped her to the bathroom for the umpteenth time, we sat alone on the edge of her bed and she asked, “Who are you and why are you so good to me?” And, “Who are all these other people in the room?” Heartbreaking.
Her stout heart finally gave out in the late afternoon of Feb. 28, 2011, at age 90 1/2. Karen and I each held one of her hands on opposite sides of her bed as her breathing slowly and peacefully got more shallow and intermittent until it was no more.
We were exhausted from 6 months of sleep deprivation and stress. My high blood pressure, a family trait, was in the stratosphere. There was no funeral, in accordance with her wishes. For me it was a devastating end, having prayed for her salvation while witnessing a catastrophe unfolding in the life of someone I loved.
Another family trauma began at that same time. My little sister up in Denver had to quit work a few months short of retirement age due to dementia. Her decline was dramatically quick. Less than a year after being diagnosed, she was institutionalized and unable to communicate beyond “Yes,” or walk without assistance. This Christmas she is in the hospital, having fallen at the assisted living facility, and developed blood clots. Hers has been a most difficult adulthood, and surely her dementia is stress-related, but she is a devout Catholic and we can only hope and pray that her uncommunicative mind knows the peace that passes all understanding.
But by His grace we were afflicted…but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… (2 Corinthians 4:8). My experience is pretty insignificant compared with Job in the Old Testament, but I, too, still know, with battle hardened conviction, that my Redeemer lives, and I will see Him in the flesh on the other side of death (Job 19:25-27).
The year has not been without its joyous blessings—the best of times even. Three weeks after mother’s death the Isaiah 6:3 Tour resumed and we found ourselves camped in endless fields of glorious wildflowers in the Southern California desert. What a wonderful part of God’s magnificent creation for rest and recuperation! Then we eased north to enjoy spring in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains amid towering Sequoia trees and the spectacular waterfalls and rock formations of Yosemite National Park.
Mid-summer found us three-quarters of a continent east, by way of the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the Black Hills, living in the neighborhood of our southern Ohio grandkids for 6 wonderful weeks in a new, relatively palatial RV—a changed lifestyle with more family and less movement, and a first-ever grandchildren sleepover at Grandma’s house on wheels.
After a fall season among gorgeous Appalachian autumn colors and dear friends in western North Carolina, we are now ensconced for the winter near grandkids on Florida’s southernmost gulf coast. Earlier this week we babysat the grands, ages 6, 9, and 11, at the beach on a beautiful day. Love and peace abounded and all we had to do was enjoy their company and “ooh” and “aah” over seashells discovered and sandcastles built. The day ended on their sofa, with three hot little bodies draped over and around Grandpa, watching a Christmas classic on his Kindle Fire propped in his lap. All the near-catastrophes and assorted trauma of parenthood are a small price indeed to pay for grandparenthood. What a joy!
We are worshiping regularly in the same church now (something we greatly missed while traveling) and it is full of young families! The pastor is much younger than my son, but gifted way beyond his years in passionately communicating God’s Word.
By His grace I’ve recovered from the caregiving wear and tear, reacquired some self-disciplined eating habits and can easily slip into my 45-year-old flying suit, and generate a blood pressure reading in what my fellow codgers in this 55+ RV Park call the disgustingly healthy range.
The Holy Spirit is hovering over the stagnant waters of my self-indulgent, slothful retirement, and I am pondering a number of ways I might be useful, motivated by my re-emergent fitness and a sentence from Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary that hit me like a ton of bricks: “All Christians should earnestly desire that their last works may be their best works.” Only God knows what that might be, and He’s in charge. I eagerly, prayerfully anticipate His direction. Here am I, send me (Isaiah 6:8).
This Christmas Season our world’s desperate need for a Savior has never seemed more painfully obvious to me, not only because of what I feel with my finger to the wind, but, more importantly, what our Creator makes plain from another year’s immersion in His Word. As you tear the bright wrapping off your Christmas gifts, remember that Christ-child in a manger, wrapped in rags, is the only gift you need. And if your church has canceled services this Sunday/Christmas Day, you are most cordially invited to come to ours. And if you have an ereader or get one for Christmas, here’s my Christmas gift to you, the first time it has ever been available free (till Dec. 31, 2011). Use this coupon code on checkout: KY44C To borrow a dying wish from Martin Luther, burn all the books I’ve ever written after I’m gone…except this one.
Dear friends, in this upcoming New Year fraught with ominous global uncertainty, may our sovereign God’s truth reign in your mind and His peace rule in your heart.