Tuesday, April 9, 2019

PREPARED FOR DEATH



Just after Christmas I wrote my mother’s obituary. She was still alive at the time with no hint her life had but a few days remaining. I told my sister-in-law I felt Mom would not make it to another Christmas, and I didn’t want to be caught by surprise as when my father died. I don’t remember being prompted by any premonition. I just wanted to get some thoughts and facts on paper with plenty of time for rewrites. Three weeks later she died quietly in her sleep.

Death is inevitable for all living things. That perhaps is a part of the definition of life. Life includes birth and death and without these two there cannot be life in the sense we know it. Yet in spite of our knowledge death will come, we greet it with great ceremony and sorrow that reflects our own sense of loss.

So it was with my mother. She outlived almost all her friends. Those gathered at the funeral were mostly children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and a handful of friends who had known her in that small rural community from years long past. Tears were shed, but there were also a lot of smiles and more than one echo of soft laughter as memories were shared of how she touched the lives of so many.

For over ninety-three years she had been family member, friend, and neighbor. Now all that was left on earth was a cold, earthen vessel of embalmed flesh and all the memories in the hearts of those left behind.

The grief shared by those gathered in that small chapel was overwhelmed by the joy all felt for the woman they had loved for so many years as she no longer suffered from early stage dementia or arthritic hands and feet. They rather celebrated the freedom she now enjoyed in a setting the rest of us can only see through faith.

I Corinthians 15:22-26 For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ. But each one will be raised in proper order: Christ, first of all; then, at the time of his coming, those who belong to him. Then the end will come; Christ will overcome all spiritual rulers, authorities, and powers, and will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father.  For Christ must rule until God defeats all enemies and puts them under his feet. The last enemy to be defeated will be death. (Today’s English Version)

I have written in earlier months about the dynamics of older adult life. With the death of my mother, the last of her generation in the family into which she married seventy-three years ago, the desire to keep writing about older adults has lost some of its appeal. No doubt I will return to the subject perhaps in the near future as I myself look at my own soon-to-begin eighth decade. For now however, my writing will take a different turn.

With this last and delayed submission, this blog will come to a close. Perhaps there are those who will look at some previous entry and find something worthy to read. If I live long enough and write here once more, other submissions may also pique their interest. As always portions of the Holy Bible will continue to be the foundation for my worldview, and they will be my starting point for understanding the world in which I live.

God bless you who have taken time to read these random words. May you find some benefit in them in the days to come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Need to Be Needed



You can be alone and not be lonely. You can be lonely and not be alone. It has everything to do with feeling wanted. If you know someone wants you, even if they are not present, you have a sense of value. If you can’t imagine anyone wanting you, then you feel you have no reason to exist. It’s all because of a relationship.

Invitations to any gathering of people indicate we are wanted. We might question the motivation for the invitation, but if it is sincere, we can say we are wanted. Often we go to gatherings for one primary reason. We will be missed if we don’t go, again indicating we feel wanted.

The opposite is also true. We can think of a thousand reasons for not going somewhere we feel we will not be wanted. The rejection will be almost tangible, if not outright obvious. No one enjoys that so we avoid those situations if at all possible.

For the Christian as well as any individual, there is the need to be wanted. Perhaps more so as we want to know we are wanted by God. We take comfort in the belief God wants us and has taken steps born of love to let us know his love.

Jesus told a parable about a lost sheep and made this point,

Luke 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them - what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it.” (Good News Bible)

He uses this parable to illustrate the desire of the heavenly Father to keep his followers. God wants us! He will go to any extreme to keep us close. He even allowed his Son Jesus to die for us to insure that relationship could be maintained.

We want to be wanted. We need to be needed. Almost every senior adult knows what it is like to find themselves in a situation where they feel they are not wanted. We may call that feeling “being in the way”, or “unnecessary”, or “a bother”. Others may not see it that way or understand our feelings, but the feelings are real nonetheless.

As we grow older, our relationships change as they seem to grow fewer in number. Older family members, then siblings and long time friends pass away. Those who are new in our circle of acquaintances already have other relationships which are more important. Younger members of our family or circle of friends have a different set of interests and other involvements in life. We can very quickly begin to feel as if we are “in the way”.

Central to our faith is knowing God never sees us in that light. We are never in his way, never a bother to him, and always of ultimate value to him. One of the reasons Jesus gave us the parable of the lost sheep is to tell us we cannot go on feelings. They do not always reflect the truth. God’s promises are the foundation for our faith, not our feelings.

Incorporate the senior adult into multi-person activities as often as possible. This is especially helpful if the individual’s past interests and skills can be utilized. Being wanted may consist of simply being remembered. The need may be nothing more than a request to pray for a specific person or event. Regardless of a person’s health, wealth, or social standing, we need each other, and God always wants to hear from his children. Fathers who love their children find it to be one of their greatest joys.

For the follower of Jesus the Christ, his birth started a relationship that will never end. God wants us to the point he is willing to be with us – Emmanuel.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Power of a Letter



My wife teaches preschoolers, and one of the lessons I have learned from her relates to the pride of being thought valuable. Maybe it is not so much personal pride in being a preschooler as it is someone thought I was valuable enough to notice me.

Send a post card to a parent about an upcoming event related to their child, and they will note it on their calendar or simply throw the card away. Send that same card to the child and the parent will get to see the notice. However, the card will not be thrown away. The child may carry it around for several days proudly showing a piece of mail they received with their name on it!

In the simplest and most ordinary ways, many preschoolers and senior adults are alike. They love to see smiling faces. They love to hear positive words. They love to feel a gentle touch. And they love to get letters and cards.

The preschooler will carry the card around for days and look at the colorful picture on the front. They don’t have to be able to read it. All that matters is they can claim it as their own; someone sent a personal note to them. A senior adult, especially one who has limited mobility and limited contact with other people, will give about the same amount of attention to a personal letter they receive in the mail.

How do I know this? My mother told me so.

Almost every week (I confess there are those occasional weeks I forget) I send a two-page letter in large print to my 93 year-old mother. The subjects are often the same, even simple repetitions of what were in the last letter. The details are general and involve much graphic description of weather, household tasks, and news about her grandchildren.

In our weekly phone calls she often tells me the most recent letter is on the small stand beside her recliner where she can easily reach it. Not until the next letter arrives will she generally throw that old one away. She will read each one multiple times, perhaps because she forgot what was in it or simply because those printed words represent an intangible link between her and the son who lives far away.

My mother doesn’t want a big party for any reason. She refused balloons that were offered to her on her birthday because she didn’t want people looking at her. That didn’t mean she wanted to be forgotten. She only wanted to be remembered in her own chosen way.

That is what a card or letter says. You are remembered, not because of what you can give, but simply because of who you are. You are valuable because you are a person loved by God and valuable in his sight. That makes you valuable in the eyes of others.

To be remembered is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or any money at all. It needs only to say someone is remembered. A card or a letter lasts a long time, a lot longer than a phone call as precious as that voice contact may be. Doing both tells an elderly person they are loved, the best gift of all.

“You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere the Lord your God; I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32 NASV

Perhaps the seriousness of the command to honor our older family members should be seen in that the writer combines the command of honoring the elderly with honoring God. There is no better way to honor the elderly than to help them remember they are loved.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Old Demon “Change”



 We see our reflection in a mirror or in the water or a shiny plate of metal, and we think, “What happened? What happened to that strong, youthful, in control, fine human being? Where did the hair and teeth go? Where did that stomach bulge come from? My joints didn’t use to ache. What happened?”

We know what happened. Change happened. No matter how much we want it not to happen, it happens. It happens in our personal lives. It happens in the social circles in which we move. It happens throughout the world and universe. We cannot stop it. Change happens.

How do we survive it in a healthy manner?

How can we embrace change as a friend instead of as the enemy?

Matthew 13:52 So (Jesus) replied, "This means, then, that every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of heaven is like a homeowner who takes new and old things out of his storage room."

As we look back through the years, we embraced many changes with pride and excitement. The changes came when we moved through a milestone in school. The changes came in our clothing and shoes as we grew toward adulthood. Changes came as we acquired new skills and took on additional responsibilities. Changes came as relationships changed, sometimes for the better and sometimes not so.

In so many instances we saw change as being positive and a mark of our advancement whether in age, in height, or in skills. Somewhere along the way, however, change was no longer seen as a friend. Change became dominated by what we saw as the negative instead of the positive. Change was something to be avoided rather than sought. Instead of growth and accomplishment, change was taking us closer to the end, to death.

In the words of Jesus found in Matthew 13 we find hope. We also find wisdom and strength as we face this inevitable thing in our lives called change. Jesus tells us that change will happen but it doesn’t have to leave us feeling out of control. We can choose how we face this beast, and in choosing we can control how we will face it.

Every change we face offers us one great area still under our control: our attitude. We can decide what our attitudes will be with each change, and that will give us the control over how we face what is happening. Our attitudes dictate our perspective on the situation. They allow us to evaluate our options. They prepare us for the consequences of each choice we make. Change may happen beyond our ability to stop it, but we can shape the results of the change in many ways.

We can look at what we may be losing and what we may be gaining with each change. Our perspectives allow us to see what we are gaining may far exceed in long term value what we are giving up. Any time we can see we have profited from a change, it is much easier to handle. We may decide what we are losing was of value only because it was familiar and not because it was contributing to the quality of our lives. The newness coming into our lives may be somewhat fearful because it is different, but what it offers is so much more than what we had.

The wise individual in the thought of Jesus is one who willingly looks at all he has and decides how to move forward with it. He draws some from the old because it has proven itself to be of value in the future he now faces. He grasps the new because only with the new will he be able to deal with the change that has occurred. As we move through the years, it is a decision we face often.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

See Me!



An episode in the British mystery series “Midsomer Murders” has an elderly character make the comment in so many words, “You know what the really terrible thing is about growing old? You become invisible.”

Many times in the Bible study I lead each week I have commented about the importance of the word “remember”. You need only look at how many places, buildings, pieces of furniture in churches, and the headstones in cemeteries carry a name to realize how important it is to us humans to be remembered, in some sense not to become invisible.

We call the shy ones “wallflowers”. We use other words such as introverted or backward. The result is often the same. The person becomes overlooked, and if it happens enough, they become invisible.

An elderly person is not as productive as they once were. Their conversations often turn more to the subjects of how they have changed or the challenges they face or the loved ones and friends they have lost than to things of the future or hopes or dreams. The pains and regrets seem to outnumber anything positive in their lives. No one wants to listen to their stories. They are avoided. They become invisible.

They don’t have to become invisible. They can be acknowledged for who they are, valuable human beings with much yet to contribute to the society they helped build. Material productivity may be lost for the main part. One of the great losses of humanity is the lack of importance we should place on simple human interaction and relational enrichment.

Those whom we have allowed to become invisible can still contribute to their society in ways of great value if shown how and given the opportunity. In Japan Living National Treasures are individuals or groups who have earned the right through many years of developing skills to be considered living repositories of these skills. In the same way our eldest may be considered repositories of wisdom and history.

Though in vain I have looked for it, as a high school student I read a short story in a collection of science fiction pieces entitled “The Time Machine”. It was not a typical sci-fi piece as much as it was about the ability of imagination to make valuable what the world has pushed aside. In summary it was the story of a young boy who bragged to his friends that he had a time machine at his house.

When challenged to reveal his time machine, he took his friends to his home and introduced them to his grandfather. As the elderly gentleman told stories of his childhood, his young audience was transported back to a time found only in history books and seen as exhibits in museums. He was indeed a time machine just as surely as were the men I heard relate their personal experience in the great San Francisco fire of 1906 or tales of firing cannons in World War I before they themselves became a part of history.

We will discover something precious if we are willing to stop our mad race with time and still the chaotic noise of the world around us. All we need to do is adjust our lives and give that most precious of gifts, our attention, and we will find ourselves in the presence of living treasures. These individuals or small groups will discover through us they are neither forgotten nor invisible.

Leviticus 19:32 “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” (NASB)