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Back in the day…

He was a travelling evangelist, garnering crowds in Asian villages with Billy Graham-like zeal. The good news of Jesus was new to those majority Hindu gatherings. His proclamation of God’s grace was met with an enthusiastic response, one life after the next surrendered to Jesus. He followed those boisterous crusades with the hard work of developing faith communities where young disciples could learn to walk with Jesus, to trust Jesus, to live their lives for Jesus. He gave twenty-five years of his life to that work. In a country of 1.4 billion people, the thousands who came to faith over those years seem like a drop in the bucket. But he saw each life as precious and worth the sacrifice.

When God called him back home, he brought that evangelistic zeal to a fledgling church on the east coast of the United States, hoping to find fertile fields yet again. He quickly discovered that American soil can be a bit more challenging. Here, most believe they know Jesus, but few choose to follow Jesus. He dreamed of growing his small farm church into a mega church that would draw from far and wide. After years of faithful preaching, reality fell far short of the dream. Yet, he was beloved by the people of that faith community, so when one of their founding members recently died, he was asked to come home to pray at the service. His passionate voice resounded through the worship center that morning, calling the faithful to trust in Jesus again.

I was privileged to be in the gathering that day, so grateful to share in worship leadership with my long-time mentor and friend. But I came to that moment with a bit of fear and trepidation. The pastor-preacher I knew back in the day has met the fate many of us feardementia. His mental clarity now fluctuates with unpredictable waves of bright and dark that leaves each moment a question mark of uncertainty. On Saturday, the wave crested midservice as he rose to lead us in prayer. His voice was clear, his passion contagious, his memory focused as it was back in the day. He led us in a prayer that day which welcomed us all into the very presence of Jesus. When he finally returned to his wife’s side, she and I shared a sigh of relief. For just a moment, a very important moment, he had been the pastor we knew from back in the day.

But today is a different story. Today, he is confused, forgetful, struggling to do even the most simple of tasks. Today, his wife is more caregiver than partner. For her, these days feel like a slow, painful good-bye. How hard to feel such grief even as your loved one’s heart still beats. Mind you, she is grateful for every day shared, but she grieves the loss of the man she used to know. Though she feels lonely these days, she is not alone on this journey. Her reality is far too common. Many of us have watched friends and family slowly slip away. None of us would choose this end, but the choice is never ours to make.

Survival seemed to be the only option when dementia strikes. But then I met a man who found the way of grace through the dark passages of loss as his wife slowly slipped away. His wife had been a bright light back in the day. She led Bible studies, raised children, baked tasty treats, and created a beautiful garden. Her card skills made her a coveted partner in Bridge circles. But most of all, she was sweet, kind, gentle, a woman of deep faith. Thankfully, when dementia began to ravage her memory, the sweetness stayed. Yet, the physical and emotional toll of caring for her was challenging. Many of us urged her husband to place her in a care facility to ease the burden, but he refused. We feared that survival would become the order of the day, that his world would be swallowed up by one task after another to meet her basic needs. But in those difficult days, he discovered God’s path of grace. Even as he grieved the loss of his life-partner, he chose to welcome the woman he met each day. She was a gift, even if that gift kept changing, even when that gift bore little resemblance to the woman he once married. This dance of grace is a bit tricky and certainly has its turns of grief. But there was also laughter and even moments of joy shared with the ever-changing woman he cared for. Those of us who watched this dance of grace were often swept up in their spins of joy.

Watching their dance, I learned that path of grace- instead of a slow, sad Good-bye, I learned how to say a soft, determined Hello. May we hold in prayer those who are trying to learn this dance of grace.

With you when the path is challenging,
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1 Comment

Peter Gregory - June 11th, 2024 at 6:58am

When my father was diagnosed with onset dementia by a process of family related events at the time my wife and I became his caregivers. And true there are many paths and milestones on that journey. As it progressed he would have his moments of lucidness or awareness or current time and situation but mostly he existed in what Jung would call an altered schema. Not wrong or bad or a departure from reality but altered reality. And that is key



nSo many times we try to drag or drug the person with memory issues into our schema. Our world our reality. No if you choose to have someone in your life with memory issues you voluntarily enter into their world their reality their plane of understanding. And on that basis you have a relationship. Or not. I could have easily dismissed my dad’s instance that my mother was alive when she had died 20 years sooner or fought him over such lapses. But when he asked when she is coming home I would respond she is out doing things and soon and then we talked about their lives I never knew about as if she just stepped out. Calm and relationship.



nMore than likely most if not all of us will care for someone who has dementia or other memory cognition issues. They are not coming back to your world or reality even with best and most advanced drugs. Only question is do you choose to enter into their world. And for how long. You would be surprised how rich and dynamic their world can be.