It is good to be back with you today after a month’s absence. I thought I would update you on what has been happening in my life as my way of getting back to regular blogging.
I’m very pleased to say that the majority of this past month has been spent completing my Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. My goal was to have it completed prior to October, and by God’s grace, I made it!
The other part of my absence has been spent on family issues, with the decline of my elderly father taking center stage. My father is a part of the Greatest Generation, a World War II veteran who spent his time in the Pacific on a medical ship caring for the wounded. Like many of that generation, my father is not an emotional man. He is not one to talk about his feelings or express tenderness as men do in our current culture. He is also not typical for a Navy man from that era. He never smoked, has no tattoos of anchors or women on his forearms, and only socially drank alcohol.
Despite his clean living, my father has age-related dementia which is a form of Alzheimer’s disease. I think most people are familiar with what Alzheimer’s does, and how it affects the brain and the life of the person who is afflicted with this horrible disease. My dad can remember with amazing clarity things that happened while he was in the Navy, but cannot remember what he had for lunch.
His physical stamina is amazing for being almost 94 years old. He still goes bowling twice a week and goes golfing several times a week despite being unsteady on his feet. He has also begun night wandering. As is typical for someone with Alzheimer’s, his nights and days blur together and he has no regard for the clock. Regardless of the time of day or night he wakes up, in his mind it is time to get up, take a shower, and get dressed. He becomes increasingly anxious and agitated when he thinks it is time to go somewhere and his ride is not there to pick him up; even when he is ready several hours early.
This disease causes him to be irrational. When he gets something in his head there is no arguing, explaining, or rationalizing with him. Sometimes when he doesn’t get his way, he will become combative. He doesn’t seem to have the sense of danger, for example, that one would have when thinking about opening the door on a moving vehicle. He has periods where he is a danger to himself.
My dad is not a regenerate Christian. He has been in church his entire life and continues to cling to a works-based religion. This is my greatest sorrow. I have been reading a book that has brought me great comfort entitled, Second Forgetting, by Dr. Benjamin Mast. In this book, the author reminds the reader that all diseases are a result of the fall (Genesis 3). He then says, “The fall is not the final theme in the story of God, for although we are fallen and now suffer, we are not forgotten by God. In loving grace, God keeps us as his image bearers. Sin and decay do not change our worth or value as human beings.” (pg 59) My dad is not only someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; He is a child of God, created in God’s image (Psalm 139:1 – 18).
My prayer for the last 30 years has been that my family, especially my parents, would come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. God graciously answered that prayer with my mom who now lives and will reign with Jesus, but to this point my father is unsaved. This has caused me no small amount of anxiety as I see him slip further and further away. I have wondered what will happen when he can no longer understand at all, when he has gone away to a place that is unreachable by human beings, due to the disease that is eating away at his brain. Again I found hope in this wonderful book. Dr. Mast says, “Even the seeming darkness of severe Alzheimer’s disease does not separate us from the Lord and his love… God is all-knowing and he is all present. When [my dad] groans in the confusion of Alzheimer’s, God is with him. [My dad] may not understand his groans, but God does, and he also understands the deepest longings of [my dad’s] heart. And God doesn’t stop with merely knowing and understanding [my dad]. He responds to him— in grace” (pg 65). God is bigger than Alzheimer’s disease, and he will continue to search my dad’s heart (Romans 8:26 – 27). He knows my dad better than anyone because He created him.
Source of Comfort
While I am tempted to fret and worry about my dad’s eternal destiny, I am encouraged to take deep comfort in knowing that my Heavenly Father can reach my earthly father. Dr. Mast says, “Those with dementia need not speak. Not even the disease’s ravages can separate us from God’s radical grace and love. We don’t really know what turning to him looks like in deep dementia, but we can know that God doesn’t require that we have the right words. He looks at what is within, at the heart. We may never know how the person hears him, whether as a still, small voice or gentle whisper deep within (1 Kings 19:12), or as a bright blinding light (Acts 9:3)” (pg 69). God’s ability to reach my dad is unchanged despite my inability to speak into his mental fog.
I am comforted in knowing that Alzheimer’s will not eliminate the possibility that my father will come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ before he takes his last breath. I hope and pray that I will have another opportunity to speak Gospel Truth to him before that time. Meanwhile, I continue to ask the Lord to send someone to the memory unit where he now lives to speak truth to him. I know there are messengers of God within the walls of our hospitals and care units. I have heard their stories of ministering the gospel to dying people. This is the fondest desire of my heart, and I trust God with the outcome.
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