Today marks one year since my dad’s diagnosis. I can’t even explain how weird it seems to be saying that. In so many ways I still feel like such an outsider looking in-as if when the words come out of my mouth to tell our story that I feel I am talking about someone else, someone else’s father, someone else’s family, someone else’s reality. It is strange to not be in denial but still have something feel so surreal.
A year ago today I sat waiting , trembling by the phone. I was too anxious to settle myself enough to focus on anything and the pit in my stomach made it impossible to eat. So I put the kids down for a nap and sat on the couch. I went back and forth between wringing my hands as I sputtered dis-jointed fragment prayers and mindlessly suffering the internet to try to distract myself. I knew the appointment should be done by 4. I knew they would have an answer. And despite the last word from the specialist being an encouraging one, I knew in the depths of me what the answer would be. Then the news came as I had retreated to the bedroom, and although I thought I have braced myself I still doubled over, staggered and fell into the bed and the world spun around me like a trippy merry-go-round,. Everything just circled around me, just out of reach.
Today I have spent most of the day chauffeuring kids to school, making sure Royce doesn’t color all over the furniture, listening to “Let it go” on repeat, frantically searching for Peter’s work ID tag that was found among a (gorgeous) mountain of throw pillows (my beauties were framed), frantically searching for the source of the horrendous smell in the fridge and trying to keep Royce from ingesting the foam part of the mattress from Hayleigh’s doll house and resisting the urge to throw Royce in a snow bank. Just another day in the neighborhood.
I can’t help but think back on this past year-it was harder than I ever wanted and I have learned more than I ever expected. I am pretty sure that’s how it works. So, as a way of processing, maybe as a way of trying to find the good in the wake of this diagnosis I want to haphazardly and incompletely list some of the those things I have learned through the crappy. Here they are: in no particular order and possibly making no particular sense.
Everyone is suffering. Just this past year we have had friends and family who have dealt with infertility, miscarriage, loss of jobs, chronic and debilitating illnesses, financial hardship, death of loved ones, mental health issues and more. My heart aches for the people I love. Who am I to think that no one can relate to what I am going through, or that “X” suffering is less than “y” suffering? God promises we will have trouble in this life, so suffering and pain is something universal that can bind us together as we bind ourselves to Christ. It is so tempting for me to just turn inward during suffering, or to feel sorry for myself (ewww). But I am learning that suffering is an opportunity to be able to show compassion and become more others-centered, rather than self-centered. I still have a LONG way to go on this but God is working on me.
Grief is sneaky. While it is not a new thing for me to cry seemingly out of nowhere, it is new for me to cry spontaneously without even realizing I am crying or what has triggered it. Apparently that is normal with grief. Grief is a sneaky little stinker. You can be strutting along (or plodding along) having a great (or normal) day when all of a sudden grief creeps in and sucker punches you to the gut. It rips the wounds wide open again and leaves you there dazed, wounded and writhing.
While grief is sneaky, God’s grace is more. When grief takes sneaks up on me, God’s love and grace take me by surprise even more. There is a song that says “Where sin runs deep, your grace is more”. I love that. If God has saved me from my sin, He will save me from my grief.
Grace doesn’t always feel good. Grace is often called “amazing” and “beautiful”. I picture flower gardens and sunsets and forgiveness. But grace is really “God’s unmerited favor” or getting something I don’t deserve. Good right? Yes! Very! But it might not always feel good. I have learned in the last year that God’s grace has been reaching me (giving me the favor I do not deserve) through hardship. The suffering draws me closer to God. It makes me more into the person He desires me to be. It gives me the privilege of being an instrument to bring Him the glory He is worthy of and of making His name great even in my sorrow and darkness. I do not deserve ANY of those things. It may be tempting to say “what have we done to deserve this, this Alzheimer’s, and all that comes with it?!”. But the better question is, “what have we done to deserve this love lavished on us by God, always and even now as we suffer? What have we done to deserve closeness, communion with the God of the universe?" Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And that is why grace is amazing and beautiful.
If things weren’t bad the good news wouldn’t seem so good. How good would a rescuer sound if we didn’t need rescuing? Or a doctor is we were healthy? If my hope was found in my earthly circumstances, would good would the hope of heaven be?
I have hope now and for eternity. God has secured a place in heaven for me. And you better believe I am counting on that, longing for that, every.single.day. There are some days where that is the hope that keeps me going on, putting one foot in front of the other. There are some days where in my grief I get so caught up in my grief and my longing for heaven that I lose sight of the hope I have right now, on earth, during the hard times. God sent Jesus to earth. He didn’t stay in heaven. He came down. Hope came down. So, I have this unshakeable hope in heaven waiting for me, but I also have hope here with me, my Emmanuel- “God with us”, as I walk this road I never wanted to walk. God with me now AND for eternity? Bag it up, I’ll take it.
God isn’t a one hit wonder Redeemer. When Jesus died and rose again He reconciled us and redeemed us. He took a seemingly hopeless situation (our sin and separation from God) and made it good. And although that act of redemption is history’s biggest (and also my personal fave), He didn’t stop there. God is not a one hit wonder Redeemer. He is in the business of turning crappy and hopeless into renewed and glorious. He hasn’t taken away my dad’s Alzheimer’s. But he has time and time again used this situation for our good and His glory. He looks at our lives with a vision and sees beyond what the devil would only intend for ugliness and destruction. He masterfully takes his hands and creates beauty out of what appears to be ugly, broken, haggard and just plain useless, beauty that only the purest and most holy Artist could create.
So, there it is- a small smattering of just a few of the slew of things God has been teaching me this past year. I don’t know what the next year will bring, and while part of me is not looking forward to it, (Alzheimer’s will do that to you. Time please slow down!), the rest of me is surrendered to the idea of surrendering to the only God I know who is worthy of my praise and worthy of my trust. He is the great Physician, the Redeemer and my Unshakable Hope. I know that whatever is ahead that God is good. God is sovereign. And- maybe the most radically transforming and beautiful thing I have come to really, truly understand this year- God loves us. Oh, how He loves us. That makes my heart leap! Exhale. God loves me. If that is the only unwavering truth I have for the coming year, that is enough.