Friday, 28 September 2012

A Lesson in Hope

My grandfather had Alzheimer's disease. I didn't realize it as a child, but thinking of him now, I realize how bitter a thing that disease was to him. It separated him from us, and from everything, almost, that made his life worthwhile. He had watched his own father gradually fade from the world about him and recede into a shadowy realm of old memories. He hated the shame and the division Alzheimer's wrought, and prayed that God would spare him.

God didn't. Why? I don't know. I just don't know. But my parents, along with us four children, moved in to help take care of my grandfather, and four little girls watched every day as a man who had lived life with active gusto and discipline and patience and intelligence slowly but surely lost his independence and his confidence along with his memory. Four little girls saw the end of a life lived step-by-measured-step for God. Four little girls watched a man be broken down and closed in until he didn't know where he lived or how many children he had. And four little girls learned what makes a person beautiful and a life worthwhile. Four little girls had their hearts branded with what matters to God. Four little girls were marked and changed forever by the broken, faded end of a man who couldn't escape the disease he feared.

My grandfather spent his life traveling through the furthest and poorest reaches of Nova Scotia, preaching the good news of Jesus' death and forgiveness. He never preached to us at home, nor do I remember the days when he didn't have to pause in speaking to search his memory, stumbling a little and then suddenly unsure. Yet my life and my consciousness have been seared by the conviction and the peace that marked even the man undone by the bitterness of a disease like Alzheimer's. I think he would have called that worth it.

Sometimes I just can't imagine what God is thinking, or why his mercy seems so far away. Then I think of my grandfather, and the sermon his life preached when he could no longer remember the words. I believe it was the greatest sermon he ever preached. The message it spoke to my heart marks the borders and the foundations of my spiritual life even now, 25 years after his death. It remains strong and sure when my heart melts and grows limp in the heat and grind of life.

When the bitter thing I fear comes to me, and I am tired and sore, and I do not understand what God is doing with me, and I seem to be accomplishing nothing, I remember my grandfather and the deep beauty hidden in his "bitter thing"; the triumph in his breaking and his humiliation. God's mercy to me is not less. He is giving me the beauty that I seek. He has read my heart, and he will satisfy my deepest longing.
You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:68)

1 comment:

janelle said...

so hard to read. and so good.
i miss grampie.
and i never thought about the way we knew him differently from everyone else, because that was the only way i knew him.
even in the midst of his lost emptiness, he just kept overflowing with fullness - patience. tenderness. time. i love that God gave him to us then.