Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unknown Void


"B-64, N-22, I-15"

Rachel called out the numbers in a much louder voice than I'd ever heard fall out of her mouth.

"G-78, O-52, B-1"

Shriveled hands attached to shriveled, non-gently used bodies, slowly reached for tiny plastic circles.

It was Bingo night at the nursing home.

We sat and watched the residents play.

The boys each had a card.

I was a little surprised at how eager Hayden was to totally smear the elderly at Bingo.

"We'll talk about that when we get home." I made a note to myself and kicked his chair under the table when he talked trash too much.

I wonder if anyone can leave the elderly without something "not quite right" sitting in their chest. I can't sit with someone who is 98 years old and not have monstrous, tangled thoughts mulling around in my mind on my drive home.

I'm no mother Teresa. This isn't a post about "look at me, I went to the nursing home." Rachel, from our church organized the event. I wanted to go, but it's a hard place to be. The "old folks" are precious, sweet and kind. But you have to yell at them so they can hear you, and that's weird. Talking loud makes my face hot. The elderly tell the same stories over and over like a record that needs readjusting. That can be awkward for some reason even though you're the only person aware of the spin cycle the conversation seems to be caught in.

There were times, I'll admit that one of them would cough and I would think, "What if they died...right now. right here."

I asked Aaron if he wanted to go with me and he paused. "What?," I said with a teasing head tilt. "Yes. I'll go," was his response. I stared at him...deep into his face. "Do you want to go? You don't have to go. I'll take the older boys and you can stay home with Hudson."

pause

"There's no good reason I don't want to go, so I'm going" was his answer.

Just putting all that out there because I don't want to tell our story and jump straight to the noble parts leaving out the all the yuck.

We want to care for the elderly. We just stink at it.

Nursing homes are a hard place to visit and a hard concept to think through.

It's difficult, I think to sit face to face with reality.

We're all going to "get old."

Our parents are going to "get old."

No one likes to think about the last dance or the last day of vacation.

I found myself looking at the sweet men and women

thinking

"Who were you way-back-when, before a mob of days slowly, diligently pecked away at your outsides?"

Were you stunning?

Were you brilliant?

Were you loving?

Were you kind?

Did people want to be around you or avoid you?

So weak, so frail...

But there was a time when your son thought you were a mountain.

We were blessed last night to sit with these hidden treasures.

As I tossed around in my bed last night I couldn't help but wonder...

Surely we are missing something.

Some crucial ingredient has been lost.

I believe God created us to learn from every stage of this journey called life. I think He created us to learn from every "member" every "season" of our church body...even the weaker elements.

The church is molded in some ways by how we consider children, minister to them, and accommodate their special needs.

We learn things from babies, whether they are our own or someone else's.

I think of who I was before I had children. I am not the same person. Having my babies in my life has molded me into someone else. someone different.

The way I think and process information has changed because I am a mother.

The way I relate to God, know Him and read the Bible is not the same today on this side of motherhood.

God has used these tiny beings, God's sweet creation to teach me about the gospel and given me opportunities to live out the gospel in my life.

I can't say the same for the elderly.

I'm never around them. They are a part of the body that is removed from me and I from them.

And so I find myself wondering...is there a void in my life? Is there a black hole in my thinking, in the way I process information?

If the elderly are no longer included in the life of the church, is the church hurting? Are we missing out on God's desire to teach us through the lives of older saints?

Would we be a different group of people because of the way we cherished, cared for and made accommodations for the elderly? Would we be a more radiant bride?

After only a short time, I left that group of people last night with a clearer perspective.

An hour and half in their presence, and I was changed.

I literally felt it.

In the middle of bingo numbers being yelled (and repeated several times) I found myself sitting with Jesus

confessing...

So much of what I do every day will not matter one day.

asking...

Help me live for what is eternal.

begging...

Help me to leave a legacy of faith and love.

wondering...

If something big is missing in my life and in the life of the church because the "old people" are no longer there.

12 comments:

Bob & Judy said...

"...those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor.... But God composed the body, having given greater honor to the part which lacks it."

"Now you are the body of Christ."

It hit me some time ago that I am probably failing to honor the weaker parts of the Body.

Surely the frail, those lost inside their bodies, even those who are demented, surely those hold some hidden treasure.

Like a liver. Ugly, uninviting, but I can't live without it. And if I mistreat it, I pay the price.

Keep going. The elderly become less scary. And don't make Hayden treat them like they're not real people.

Bless you, Rachel, for making it happen.

Rachel H said...

I have been thinking about those people all day. I cannot imagine being stuck in the same building all day having nothing to do but watch tv (from conversations, that seems to be what they do the majority of the day). I have been trying to think of other things we could do instead of Bingo since I am pretty sure they have been playing that multiple times a week for years.

I have also been thinking about how back years and years ago prior to nursing homes, I am assuming that the elderly were cared for by their families. Families that if they were believers, probably brought them to church so they could be a part of a body.

I just wonder how many of these elderly people are believers who have been ignored by the body. I read some of Piper's sermon "Alone in a Big Church" and a few quotes really hit me in regards to the elderly:

"You can tell whether someone has learned his doctrine of eternal security from the Bible or not by whether he thinks the doctrine makes warnings and exhortations superfluous. If he says: "I am secure from falling; therefore, you need not warn me of the danger of falling or exhort me to hold firm to the end," then you know he has not learned his doctrine from the Bible. But if he says, "I am confident that the Lord will continue to preserve me for himself, but I know that my heart is open to the deceitfulness of sin and that I will only hold my confidence firm to the end if I take heed to the warnings and exhortations of my brothers and sisters," then you know he has learned his doctrine from the Bible. Let us not be wiser than God. His way of keeping his sheep secure is through regular warnings against sin and exhortations to trust Christ.

That has tremendous implications for the way I preach, but notice it does not say, "Take care, pastors, to exhort your people daily." It says, "Take care, brothers, . . . exhort one another every day." Christ gives pastors to the church, pastors equip the saints for ministry, and you, the saints, minister to each other; that is, you exhort one another every day and thus become God's instruments for the preservation of each other's faith.

Eternal security is a community project. You are responsible (and this is a weighty statement) for the perseverance of your brothers and sisters."

Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
Hebrews 3:12-14

You can read the rest here:
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1981/310_Alone_in_a_Big_Church/

I just feel... very weighty, almost sick to my stomach, actually. I think last week and even after last night I tried to push these thoughts out of my head because they are so uncomfortable to think about. I could probably keep typing, but there is so much I wouldn't know how to get it all out.

Rachel H said...

BTW- that John Piper article was not in reference to the elderly, in case you read the beginning of it and thought "This doesn't have anything to do with nursing homes at all!"

I just thought Piper did a good job explaining the importance/ necessity of being in a body and then I related that to the elderly in my head.

(You know how when you type something that makes sense to you but aren't sure if it makes sense to everyone else?)

Hendrick Family said...

I loved the link.

I think it goes well with what was going on in my head at least...and obviously yours!

Don't you love it when Aaron's mom comments? I always learn so much.

Heather

Rachel H said...

I actually didn't see her comment before I commented... it seems we are all thinking the same things. When I read her comment I almost laughed because it was like she was reading my mind through the computer even though I don't even know her!

Ursula said...

My grandpa spent the last 5 years of his life in a nursing home. Slowly eroding from dementia. I visited him about once a week. I hated it at first. The smells. The not knowing how to act. The wierd conversations. And then something changed. Here was a place where I could just be who I was. No pretense. No need to keep up appearances or appear interesting or smart. Just a place to sit and be with people. Let them be with me. Say anything or nothing becuase no one would remember. My son is 2. He loved the place. Because I think with both ends of the age spectrum pretenses don't matter so much, and love does.

Interesting research about the elderly has just come out - people get happier as they age, even as they face losses. The average 85 year old is happier then the average 25 or 35 year old by a lot. Love that that's true and how it challenges our assumptions about happiness.

little ole me said...

The answer to the question, "Is something big missing in my life and in the life of the church because the "old people" are no longer there?" is a big yes!

Don't get me wrong, my church needs growth in many ways, but we have one resource that has blessed me and my family beyond measure, our senior adults.

When we can we go to play dominoes on Monday nights.

Probably 1/4 of my regular attenders are approaching or over 80.

One of my favorite saints is 89 and drives herself to church and her spirit is so very refreshing. She also makes a BIG deal about how nice I look (on those rare occasions when I shave my goatee - i know what she's really saying... and I've called her on it. We had a good laugh.)

Another in 87 or 88 and until about 1 year ago she was on her ridding lawn mower nearly every day... would even drive it to prayer on Wednesday morning (she lives right behind the church).

I have two, maybe 3 couples who have been married over 60 years... one celebrated 64 last month. Another man would have been married 64, but his wife "fell asleep" a few months ago.

Once a month we have worshsip at the local nursing home on Sunday afternoon. Once a month we take a cake up there for a "birthday party". Sometimes my kids go with me.

All that to say... to look into their eyes, to really HEAR them, to listen to them pray for their country, their children, their grandchildren, and to watch them care for each other... It cannot be communicated, I am not that good with words. My life has been impacted greatly by these beautiful saints and if anyone ever wants to come visit, we'll sit around afterwards and I can tell you some more of their stories.

God is faithful... and his faithfulness to those who live long is a testimony too many people are robbed of.

Kristin said...

I have been talking a good bit to my mentor (friend) about this very thing. She is in her 70's. Wonderful, beautiful lady. She says she's not real sure how to talk to young people sometimes bc she doesn't feel like the conversation is needed or wanted. This sweet woman is our First Place leader and she exercises with myself and some other ladies every morning. She has so much insight and so much wisdom. I love talking to her. Anytime I have a problem I know who to go to, the lady who's been there, done that. We young people are missing out on a big wisdom tap when we overlook our seniors.
Then there are the ones who are even older, who are missing their sweet husbands and just want to talk to someone and let them know how wonderful their spouse was. I use to hear the same story over and over from Ms. Nellie about her husband, and I loved hearing it, esp. when I was angry at my husband for the silliest things. She really put things into perspective for me. All this to say, we are missing out on great opportunities not only to care for these sweet beings, but also to gain knowledge and understanding. And they are great prayer warriors!

SNM said...

When I visit my grandmother in the nursing home I do the talking. She can't very much. She doesn't know who I am and hasn't for a while. She's puzzled by my kiddos. She will say how pretty Charlie is. That will make me smile. We went in the other day and I woke her up to visit. Sometimes I want to yell out from her room...."Do you know this woman could make the best turkey and dressing EVER?" "Do you know she taught Sunday school?" Do you know she ran a service station?" But I don't because that would be super weird. So I just think it instead. I hate that she's there. Hate it. It's reality. I guess it makes it easier knowing that she doesn't know where she is. Easier on who? Ah, I digress. Loved your post. Keep going!

Anonymous said...

Oh. You and I are on the same wavelength. I started working with the nursing home population in hopes of God using me to bless them. I never knew how much I'd be blessed instead! Thank you for sharing your time, and your precious family with them. You can't imagine how much it meant to them to be around children! CathyT

ren said...

When I was in college, I worked at an assisted/dementia and independent living community in Kingwood. I waitressed most days, but on Wednesdays I hosted the Coffee/dessert bar hour. It was awkward at first, but over time I loved those people. They begged me to tell them about the ways my boyfriend was courting me. They loved talking about their young love and children too. When I got married, they all hopped on the community bus and came to our wedding in Cypress. What a special honor to have them celebrate with us that day!

You get used to which ones will repeat themselves, who needs help walking to the elevator, who loves a good joke, who is cranky and just needs a hug anyway. (I love to tease the cranky ones, it usually brought out a smile).

Working there felt like I could be a little bit of Jesus's light in their day. So many of my older friends didn't have children or family in town to see them. Those are the ones I tried to love on the most.

Just wanted to share my story and encourage you to keep going, relationships take time. Now that I'm older with my own little ones, I'm hoping in the future to love on some more old folks :)

Ashley said...

I work with Cardiac patients so most are in their later years. They bless my life in ways I never realized was possible. All to often we discredit them as "old" and yes they are old, but not the way we humanly make them sound. God has given me a soft heart for them, even when I have to yell for them to hear. Many of their stories touch my heart. One lady told me "Ashley I know you are a Christian" I said yes and how did you know, she said the Joy in your smile is evident of Christ. Others have said it is refreshing to see the young who love the Lord. I have loved the time I have spent with this generation and feel they bless my life. They are fading fast and most are ready to "go home". They are confident in their faiths and have served this country and the Lord during some of the darkest times. I love them and they love me, what a gift from the Lord. Hope you get to hang out wtih them more frequent. Often they just want to chat and someone to listen!

Blessings,
Ashley