Saturday, May 27, 2017

A place for you

We were having our morning coffee when Brad said he woke up thinking of the verse, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” A good morning conversation. I looked up the verse in my New American Standard Bible reading several verses. Jesus said:

Do not let your heart be troubled, believe in God believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go to prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14: 1-4)

Over the last several years, since we found that Brad has mild cognitive impairment, and since he has not been able to work, I have been, probably, over concerned, with our house. It is now one hundred and eleven years old. And it was looking very old indeed! In some places the paint had completely peeled off and we had already experienced the sewage backing up in the downstairs apartment. We got a reverse mortgage and have been slowly repairing and renewing our home. But thinking of the above verses I realized I am too, too concerned about my earthly living space.

As I studied and thought of the verses through the week several phrases and words jumped out at me. The beauty of that place that Jesus has and is preparing is that it is his preparation and his alone. No worries; we rest in him.

Brad is finding it harder and harder to do simple tasks. He wanted to make coffee himself one morning, but he needed me there to show him each step and still it was hard. In that place with Jesus the tasks will be joyful, graceful and once again full of dignity. And dignity will be given with grace because we are in Christ and belong to him.

William Hendriksen in his commentary on John points out that Jesus isn’t just coming to take us somewhere, (heaven), he is taking us to “himself.”  He writes:

“Observe that instead of saying what one might expect him to say, namely, ‘And when I go and prepare a place for you, I come again and will take you to that place,’ Jesus says something that is far more comforting: “I will take you to myself’ (or: to be face to face with me …). So wonderful is Christ’s love for his own that he is not satisfied with the idea of merely bringing them to heaven. He must needs take them into his own embrace.”

I am learning to be still in my soul and body, just sitting and listening and visiting with Brad. We have coffee every morning except Monday when he goes to a small men’s Bible study. With our morning coffee we sit in the kitchen/family room and visit. Morning and evening are the hardest times for Brad to put his thoughts together and remember words and concepts. But he does remember so much of the past. And we talk about the past and people we have known.

Yesterday he asked me where we lived before we lived here. (We have lived in this house for 30 years. Thirty one in August.) I told him, and then he wanted to know which of the children were still at home when we moved here. We talked about all of the people who have lived in our house and in the apartment downstairs. About the different children who have moved back home and then moved out again. About Miles Saunders who lived in our front bedroom for a year, and Gwen Davies who lived in our apartment before going to the mission field. And all of the great granddaughters who have lived down stairs. One was even born down there.

Often in the evening, (Brad usually goes to bed by 8:30), we sit on the front porch and visit. And watch for airplanes. That is something Brad can see because of their flashing lights; we have a small local airport near us so there are low flying planes.

But homes don’t last forever—except—the home that is found in Jesus. Found in him now, and found in him forever.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Watching the signs grow, seeking discerment

For a Christian, discerning the times is important. How do we live in the midst of unbelief or revival? How do we react in a society that has reached the edges of collapse amid the decadence of materialism? Or how do we live during the years of spiritual hunger and intentional seeking after God? The same is true when we consider the lives of our loved ones when they are sick and in need. And part of that discernment is discovering why someone close to us is finding life so difficult. Perhaps why they are reacting in anger, why they do the seemingly strange things they do.

Almost thirty years ago, visiting my father-in-law and his wife, my husband’s step-mother, we laughed about several incidents but then never considered that anything was wrong. My father-in-law, and he could be rather pushy, made a big deal about his wife using instant coffee in the coffee maker. He said this because coffee grounds can look like instant coffee when they have been used, and so not ‘remembering’ that instant coffee would have disappeared if boiling water was poured over it, he lectured my mother-in-law about using the wrong coffee.

Later, on Sunday morning, Amy called me into their bedroom to help her convince her husband Jack, that he was dressed strangely. His plaid shirt did not match his checkered pants. Jack had always been a very sharp dresser and she didn’t understand why he insisted on dressing that way for church. (She outflanked him in pushiness.) I don’t remember who won that battle, but I carefully stayed out of it.

I am sure that Amy, experienced many other dilemmas before they both discovered what was wrong, Alzheimer’s.

Watching a loved one, especially a spouse slowly lose parts of themselves, is devastating, to say the least. It is called the long goodbye.   

My husband Brad was at one time the main Steinway piano tuner in Sacramento.  He tuned for both individuals and concerts including the University of California at Davis, and the Mondovi Center. It was a wonderful career, an honored career. And I enjoyed the fruits of his labors in many ways including attending many concerts. Our experiences together were so fun: back stage at ‘Governor’ Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration concert which included Jack Benny, back stage at a Johnny Cash concert, backstage at a Garrison Keillor show where we were invited to sit with the performers as they waited for their turns on stage. What a gift.

He made chili for Ursula Oppens at the Bear Valley Music Festival, shared dinner with Russian pianist Olga Kern, at the same festival, and tuned pianos for Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis concerts.

And the friends, so many. Piano teachers, concert pianist, families, churches—God has blessed us both through these many friends.

And then Brad kept forgetting tunings he had for the university on Sunday afternoons. He forgot to pencil them into his appointment book. And that became one of the final problems—over about a three year period—he slowly lost the ability to schedule the Sunday appointments and after he lost the person who made his weekly appointments he couldn’t do that job himself. I heard him on the phone telling old customers how glad he was to hear from them and that he would gladly tune their piano, but he never made the appointment or called them back. I took over the job. At the end he couldn’t drive and one of his son’s drove him on his days off. And then he couldn’t tune—partly his eyes—partly his inability to sequence—and I am sure just loss of memory.

There were earlier clues. They started slowly but finally came fast and furious. An inability to follow rules and sequences in games, our two favorites, cribbage and scrabble. I put them away out of my sight several months ago. An inability to take care of money or business issues. But it happens slowly at first. The questions come. Why didn’t that bill get paid? Why is it that every time he takes checks to the bank he makes a mistake on the deposit slip?

And now the loss of language, and the loss of memory of recent events. (But not all!)

What I am trying to show here is that there are early clues and awareness is a friend although painful. The doctor gives a small test, checks everything else out, and then if needed sends the patient to a neurologist, who gives further tests and does Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.  

And all of this is so important, because how else to understand the person you love and their loss and yours. I find myself trying, praying, to put away the demand sound in my voice when I ask why are you doing that? What are you looking for? I already told you we are going …! How now shall we live, Francis Schaeffer asks in his timely book. Indeed, how shall I, or any of us without the love and promises and presence of Jesus Christ in the midst of our sorrow.

Today Brad went for a walk, he does that safely for now, although he does get lost trying to use his bike. He told me, when he returned, how he had met a man in the park who was a Jehovah Witness and who had also spent time “in the big house.” Brad used to do prison ministry. He sat and talked with the man about Jesus. Perhaps in the end God turns us from what seems like great events toward his better events—witnessing to the lost about Jesus.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The crown of glory ... and some dirty clothes

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked out of the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I [Zechariah] said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments while the angel of the Lord was standing by. (Zechariah 3:1-5)

My husband has tucked away among his keepsakes a shirt his mother made him when he was a little boy. It is covered with pictures of trains and train items. It is so old it is starting to fall apart. Clothes and memories are often intertwined. Brad has always loved steam engines. When he sees the shirt he is probably thinking of his mother and his many experiences with trains.

The Bible sometimes uses clothes as metaphors which embrace the promises of God. Sometimes clothes are a picture of our sinfulness and our repentance. People have an interesting relationship with clothes. The good wife of Proverbs clothed her family in scarlet. Jacob gave his favorite son Joseph a coat of many colors.  The armies of heaven are clothed in white.

But how clothes are worn and treated can be a symptom of disease.  In practical terms people experiencing mild cognitive impairment and different forms of dementia have a problem with clothes. And a problem with cleanliness. No one knows why they don’t like showers or bathing. But many do not. No one knows why they don’t like to change into clean clothes.

Thinking about this I thought of the verses I have placed above from the prophet Zechariah. And while I have at times not had the tolerance I should have, about not showering or changing clothes, God truly blessed me with promises that these verses and the rest of the chapter provided. But first the biblical context.

Joshua, as high priest after the Babylon captivity, represents the people gathered from their exile. Satan wants to accuse them of their past sin, but God wants to redeem and does redeem them. Joshua does not change his own dirty clothes, it is God’s command and God’s doing.[1] And there is a promise at the end of the chapter of the coming Branch, the servant of God. The Messiah.

Sometimes I think we, me, as caregivers get a bit snobbish. About cleanliness. But this person who loves to stay in the same clothes day after day, and generally would if allowed—has that sweeter disposition—it’s the people who he cares about, it’s the books he wants to share and the conversations he hopes for. His is a heart transformed in the middle of a reluctance to conform to my expectations. So, as some expert I read, I can’t recall who, stated, two or three showers a week is enough. And if necessary lay out the clean clothes. And you might add, it is going to be hot today you might want to wear a short sleeve shirt, or I think it is rather cold outside why don’t you take your jacket.

And now the blessing. As usual the biblical text is speaking of a particular time in Jewish history. After the exile, while the temple is being rebuilt. But the text is also a promise of God’s work in his people’s lives and a promise about a coming savior.

Thomas Edward McComiskey in his commentary on the text writes of Joshua receiving a clean turban and points out that this replaced the shame the people felt because of their past sin and exile. As he puts it, the turban “crowns the high priest’s glory.” McComiskey goes on to remind his readers of a crown in the New Testament. He writes:

“The New Testament speaks of the “crown of glory” that completes the believer’s process of glorification: ‘And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away (1 Peter 5:4; see 2 Tim.4:8; James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).’ As Joshua stands before the heavenly assemblage in this vision, he symbolizes his nation, but he foreshadows as well the experience of the believer under the new covenant.”

The image I am left with is of a Savior who will clothe all of our brokenness with a clean turban, a crown of holiness, which is his and his alone. I will see him, Brad, in the cleanest of clothes that will shine with the righteousness of Jesus. And because of that I see him different now—glorified with the love of Christ.

[1] For good commentary see, Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries & Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Zechariah,” in The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical & Expository Commentary. Vol. 3 (Baker).