A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Two things get me about this. One is my own impression, one is a point I heard somewhere (can’t remember where to give credit where it’s due).
My impression is that this is a glimpse into the caring and loving nature of Jesus. He was filled with compassion. This poor guy was sick with a highly contagious, incurable disease and no one else would have dreamed of touching him. Jesus didn’t hesitate. Do you realize this may have been the first time in YEARS that this man was touched by another human being?
James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask God. I wonder about the leper. Going by other passages in the Bible, like the Jewish leaders berating the formerly blind man and accusing him of being steeped in sin from birth, it is likely the leper believed his disease came about by sin. It is almost certainly true this is what others believed about him. He might easily not have approached Jesus, thinking, “I don’t deserve to be healed,” or, “He won’t want to talk to me.”
I know from reading the gospels that Jesus NEVER just went up to people and healed them (My only beef with Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but that’s another story). He healed in response to either someone coming to him, or someone coming to him on someone else’s behalf (the only exception I can think of is the soldier in the garden but that is a totally different context). So that guy could have sat around wishing Jesus would heal him until the cows came home and nothing would have happened. He was risking public humiliation and maybe worse by approaching Jesus when lepers were generally shunned from society. But what he got from Jesus was love, and kindness.
I pray for other people all the time but have a hard time praying for myself. Not because I’m so angelic and selfless but because I don’t think I have any right to expect God to listen to me. Even after all these years—all the things he’s done in my life, all the times he’s proven his love for me, individually, I still don’t approach him with confidence. I’m in a lather about taxes this year because of the health insurance tax credits. I’m expecting a big tax bill and have no clue how to pay it. I’m seeing my tax person tomorrow and I’ve been in knots over this for weeks. It only occurred to me this morning to lift it to the Lord in prayer. Why? Because I’m a sinner who deserves to get a mammoth bill when I don’t have the money to pay it. I deserve whatever I get.. . . Oh, wait, I forgot: His blood washed away my sins, the temple curtain has been torn, and I’m allowed into the holy of holies. I get to talk to my Heavenly Father one-on-one.I was missing my earthly dad this morning, then remembered I have a heavenly one who is far more capable than even my own excellent father was.
Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe if you’re reading this you feel the same way — unworthy. Just talk to him, anyway.Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.– James 5:7.
I’ve read up through Matt 5:12 (the Beatitudes) so far. Can’t believe how much happens in just a few pages when you’re paying attention.
Matt 2:1-2: Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East [or: when it rose] and have come to worship him.”
Okay, fodder for a million Christmas pageants, but listen to what’s going on here! We take from this that GENTILE scholars read the HEBREW scriptures (Daniel 9, Jeremiah 23:5, Numbers 24:17), did the math, and knew that the time of the Messiah was at hand. These Gentiles not only read the scriptures but believed them, so when they saw the “star” they knew what it was and traveled a great distance to greet the King they knew would be there.
But then read on to verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. A) Why were they disturbed? And B) Why weren’t they looking or expecting for their own scripture to be fulfilled?
A) Well, why Herod was alarmed is obvious—he would hate and fear what he saw as a threat to his throne. We know that he was an Idumean (Edomite) and so had little if any Jewish blood, so he wasn’t a descendant of David and had no real right to the throne. He was really just a puppet king installed by Rome for their own purposes. So he wouldn’t feel secure on his throne, and we know from history he was paranoid and even murdered his own sons.
Why was all Jerusalem also disturbed? My guess is it wasn’t because they loved Herod so much. More likely they feared what Rome would do if it caught wind of a possible uprising. But we also see here that they weren’t looking for prophecy fulfillment and were taken by surprise. The chief priests and scholars hadn’t pointed out the star or what it meant, and did nothing until Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Herod found out about the star from the Magi, not the Jewish scholars.
Side note: This ain’t no ordinary star! It moved ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was (2:9). Reminds me of the presence of God in Exodus, that moved ahead of the Israelites in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, leading them where it wanted them to go and stopping when it wanted them to stop. Whatever the star was, it likely wasn’t a giant ball of gas billions of miles away.
The Magi — foreigners — were overjoyed. They worshipped Jesus and gave him expensive gifts. Up to this point no one had worshipped or felt joy at the presence of Jesus, except Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her unborn baby John.
The history of the Jewish people is, in my opinion, a reflection on all of humanity at our best and our worst. And especially about how thick, stubborn and even ridiculous we can all be. We see it here. The entire history in the Bible of the Jewish people follows this same basic path: Rescued by God>Prosperity>Rebellion>Punishment>Repentance>Restoration. Repeat ad nauseum. After the return from the Babylonian exile the Jews were no longer idolators, but they got so caught up in obsessive observance of every letter of the law that they missed the big picture. They were for the most part oblivious to the greater truth of God in their midst, his purpose, and what he really wanted for them.
Which, if they had only realized, was more beautiful than anything they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.
What my NIV notes say about Matthew: Most likely written by Matthew (Levi), the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, somewhere between 15-40 years after the Resurrection (how they got these dates I don’t know).
Nabeel Qureshi, Christian apologist and former Muslim, on the first time he opened the Bible for guidance: “I went to Matthew Chapter 1. The first thing I saw was a bunch of genealogies, so I skipped ’em! Don’t judge me, Christians, I had an excuse!”
I don’t have an excuse and have come to believe that every word in the Bible is there for a reason, so I did read the genealogy. My favorite is “Ram the father of Amminidab.” That just sounds great. Wonder what their story was.
What I take from the genealogy:
1) It is demonstrating the undeniability of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.
2) Jesus is a descendant of David, from the kingly line through Solomon. That would make him a rightful king of Judah, so why is Herod–an Edomite–on the throne? (Side note: I wonder how many other descendants of David were alive at that time? Just curious. David and Solomon both had like a gazillion kids each).
3) Women are mentioned in this genealogy, unusual since women in Jesus’ time were regarded about the same as women in strict Shariah-ruled Islamic countries are today. We see Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her, Rahab the prostitute, Bathsheba the adulteress (although she is only mentioned as the wife of Uriah), and, of course, Mary.
4) Comparing Matthew and Luke (Spoiler Alert! They’re not the same.) I’ve read from different sources that scholars generally agree that one genealogy traces Jesus’ line through Joseph, and the other through Mary. Matthew traces the Davidic line through Solomon while Luke traces it through Nathan. Both were sons of Bathsheba, not one of David’s other wives.
Now we get on to the story — Mary is already expecting by the Holy Spirit. Engaged but not yet married to Joseph. He finds out she’s pregnant. We aren’t told his personal feelings on the matter but we do know he isn’t about to go through with marriage to a girl he now considers an adulteress. But he’s a decent fellow and doesn’t want her exposed to “public disgrace” (i.e., stoned to death), so plans to divorce her quietly.
Then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, gives him the scoop, then assigns him the task (privilege?) of naming the baby. …”you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). “Jesus” is the anglicized Greek form of the Hebrew “Yeshua,” which means “Salvation.”
Matthew is all about showing how Jesus fulfilled OT Messianic prophecy, and here is the first one: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’– which means, ‘God with us.’ “ (Mt 1:22-23, referring back to Isaiah 7:14)
So what do I take from this? Matthew is establishing the basis the rest of his book will be built on — Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and Jesus is God.
This isn’t what I had planned on posting. And it isn’t about caregiving, or dementia. Oh, well.
September 16, 2017
About a year and a half ago I became interested in Christian apologetics. It occurred to me that I have absolutely no tools with which to defend my faith. Truth be told, I don’t have the tools to defend why breathing is a good idea and everyone ought to try it. I am beyond non-confrontational. I am more the “hurl one accusation at me and I freeze solid” type. So, to try to remedy that, I started listening to what the apologists have to say. It sent me on a journey I never expected, one that I now feel has only really just begun.
C.S. Lewis was the obvious first choice. For many years, I believed that Christian apologetics began and ended with him. I had no idea anyone else ever did it. He is the best and the brightest (please, please read Mere Christianity no matter what your personal beliefs are. You won’t regret it), but I learned he’s not the only one. I’d heard Ravi Zacharias on the radio, and through him discovered other great modern Christian minds, including John Lennox, Andy Bannister, and a convert from Islam named Nabeel Qureshi.
Nabeel especially captured my attention. Young, handsome, passionate and charismatic, he was captivating to listen to. He gave many lengthy talks on his journey from Islam to Christianity (as well as writing books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One), and from him I gained many insights on Muslim thinking and way of life. He was a gifted teacher with a bright future ahead of him. Then he was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. For the past year he has released many video blogs of his cancer journey, from chemo, to radiation, to more chemo, to immunotherapy, as well as the other treatments, surgeries, and procedures he endured along the way. It was hard to watch, and pretty much obvious from the get-go that his healing would only ever come from divine intervention. Many thousands of people, including myself, prayed for him throughout this past year and waited on a miracle from God.
Nabeel died today. I will never understand this side of eternity why an all-powerful God said no to our prayers. I don’t know what the answer is. I do believe his ministry will continue to bear fruit; if nothing else, I know the effect it has had on my own life. I also know that Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he tells the twelve disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” Which they did. One committed suicide, ten were martyred, and only one died of old age. But he followed up that statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What exactly does that mean? To an outsider, it’s just hot air coming from a deluded nut job who duped his buddies into enduring hell on earth for however many years before dying. A few days ago I posted a request on Twitter for prayer for Nabeel. Some guy who wouldn’t use his real name (I’ll call him Poison Pen), responded with a bunch of vitriol against Nabeel and God. We had a discussion on Twitter that was interesting for a couple of days until he abandoned his arguments and kept throwing “God is a psycho” around and not responding rationally to anything I or anyone else on the thread had to say. Before things deteriorated, Poison Pen kept circling back to how could a loving God let people die, focusing on the millions who died in the Flood. It is the age-old question. The answer boils down to Free Will, pure and simple. Without the opportunity to rebel against God, we could never be rational creatures capable of thought, creativity, love, or anything else worth having. That statement opens up millions of avenues for discussion, and people far cleverer than I have devoted volumes to the topic.
It doesn’t, however, explain why a 34-year-old God-fearing man with a wife and daughter who need him, just died from a disease that usually attacks people far older. Poison Pen, a self-described atheist, apparently speaks on behalf of all Muslims, for he told me that Muslims believe Allah cursed Nabeel for abandoning the faith. (I asked him then what do Muslims believe when a young Muslim gets cancer? He just told me to go ask a Muslim. Pointless arguments are such fun.) Anyway, I don’t understand why Nabeel has died; I do believe God can and does cure people. My neighbor, a cancer survivor, was told her cancer had returned and spread to her bones about the same time Nabeel received his diagnosis. She opted for no treatment, is currently in remission and just finished a program at the local college and recently welcomed her first grandchild. Is God brutal or weak because Nabeel died? Is he gracious and strong because my neighbor is alive? Or is it maybe that we just live in a miserable, fallen world where people get cancer, shot, ran over, overdose, choke on a cherry pit, or eaten by piranhas, every single day? Shit happens.
What the whole point is, ultimately, is what happens after. Whether you die at 5, 34, or 117, the fact remains that sooner or later you’re going to die. No one gets out of here alive (except Enoch and Elijah, but that’s another topic). What happens after? It is eternity that counts. Life on earth is short. Eternity lasts for, well, forever. Poison Pen couldn’t get that concept through his head. He kept telling me how Nabeel’s legacy is ruined and his life was pointless. He wouldn’t understand that Nabeel’s life was well-lived and defined by integrity, faith, and love. His thirty-four short years on earth were precious, and this very afternoon I am sure he heard the words all believers long to hear when we meet Jesus face to face: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
How has Nabeel’s life changed mine? For one, he helped to kickstart my prayer life. He encouraged me to fervently seek God in prayer and the word. He bravely demonstrated consistent faith in and love for God in the most trying circumstances imaginable. He fought the good fight, he ran the race, he kept the faith. Now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Nabeel is partying right now! He is with the Lord, he is enveloped in love and peace, and he will never know sickness or pain again. He is reunited with a child he never got to meet on Earth when his wife miscarried last year. The tragedy is for the ones left behind, not him.
I want to be like Nabeel: that brave, that bold, that passionate. He is a huge inspiration to me. I will never be an apologist, but I was able to answer Poison Pen intelligently and kindly, two things that would have been beyond me a year ago. I have a lot of questions, and wish this isn’t how Nabeel’s earthly story would have ended. But I know he affected my life. He helped me draw closer to God. I know his legacy will live on, in his family and his testimony. I know I will meet him in Heaven. And I know that, someday, I will fully understand the age-old problem of why we endure pain and suffering.
This poster showed up on my Twitter feed last week. As well-meaning as it is, it immediately got my hackles up.
Don’t get me wrong; this is great advice from the National Institute on Aging. They are right that caregiving is so much easier to bear if you have help, spend time with friends, have a support group, and take time for yourself and your hobbies. The only thing they fail to mention is that, for many of us, none of those things are even an option.
To be a long-term caregiver is to be perpetually exhausted, both mentally and physically. For many people, such as myself, caregiving makes you basically a shut-in. You can’t get out. You get to the point where you can’t think straight, it is hard to make even small decisions, and you don’t have the energy to look for help when you need it the most. That’s when you see something like this poster and your eyes suddenly blaze red.
How exactly are you supposed to take care of yourself? Don’t they know how impossible it is to follow any of these tips when your hands are full 24 hours a day? In case you don’t know, this is a typical day in the life of a Dementia caregiver:
Wake up at 6 AM, completely unrested because Mom was up five times during the night demanding to be taken home, or to the “other place,” or to the police station to turn herself in (this really happened).
Mom decides she needs to put on three bras and you try to calmly get her to wear only one. After half an hour you give up and she wears three bras.
Breakfast is fine, until she tries to feed it all to the animals.
10 minutes after breakfast is over she angrily demands to know where her breakfast is and do you want her to starve?
You have another go-round for thirty minutes when she decides to brush her teeth with a tube of Neosporin. You realize just how strong people in their 80s can be as you try to wrestle the Neosporin out of her grip.
She calms down for few minutes over a cup of tea, then messes herself and you have to strip her down, get her into the shower and put clean clothes on her. This takes about two hours.
You have a couple hours of relative peace to try to clean the house and prep dinner, but then she goes all Mom on you and starts badgering you to “take it easy! I’ll do that!” which sounds nice but she doesn’t let up and your blood pressure escalates into the danger zone.
At 3 PM the sundowner’s sets in and she starts her loop of the day. Could be anything; with my mom it was “Where is Jim? When is Jim coming home? Where is Jim? Is Jim home yet? I need to go find Jim. Where is Jim?” This goes on and on for hours, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. It is as unendurable as Chinese water torture. Then, somehow, you might both bag a couple hours of sleep before she’s up again, demanding to be taken home.
This, and many, many other things besides, make up the average day in the life of an Alzheimer’s (or other dementia) caregiver. Sometimes they have a good day, but as the disease progresses the good days get fewer and further between, until what you call a “good” day is what you would have called a “bad” day a year ago. So again I ask, how do you take care of yourself?
In my experience, the longer time went on, the more isolated I felt. I was luckier than many people; I have family that spelled me off so I could take one vacation a year and have little breaks now and then. But they were busy with their own lives and they all live far away. That’s a big problem – even the most loving friends and family just can’t be there for you as often as you might want them to be. People have to earn a living and raise their own families and deal with their own problems, which are undoubtedly as insurmountable to them as yours are to you.
Getting out to a support group wasn’t feasible for me, so I spent a lot of time in online groups and forums. They do help a lot. You can vent to other people who know exactly what you’re going through, and hearing their stories makes you realize you’re really not alone. The problem with those, for me, was that so many other people were relentlessly negative. I understand they were as exhausted as me, but hearing people say over and over “I’m stuck here,” “I can’t get out,” “I hate my mom,” etc., didn’t make me feel better. If I read stuff like that on a bad day it could quickly set my mind on a dangerous downward trajectory.
What saved me was – as he always does – Jesus. OH NO SHE’S GETTING ALL RELIGIOUS, UGH! I understand if you feel that way, but no. I’m not “religious,” I am a Christian. Being a Christian is a relationship, not following some set of rules hoping to get some kind of result. “There is a friend who is closer than a brother” – Proverbs 18:24. Who else is there to turn to, in the end? Really, think about it. My friends and family could only tolerate hearing my Mom woes for so long. Getting to support groups wasn’t an option. But the Lord is with us, ALL THE TIME, even when we’re not aware of his presence. I knew that, and it is him I poured my heart out to. He never said, “you’ve already told me this a thousand times,” or tried to get rid of me with a useless platitude like “you need to take care of yourself.” He knew I couldn’t take care of myself, and so He took care of me. He listened all those nights I sobbed about how exhausted and lonely I was, about how Mom was driving me crazy and I couldn’t endure one more day. Looking back, I can see his love and compassion for me, how he gave me strength, how he gently chided me and turned my thoughts around when I got too far down the self-pity path, how I never really felt as isolated as so many people do. In his amazing way, he used family and other resources to provide the help that both Mom and I needed. “He restoreth my soul” – Psalm 23:3. By ourselves, none of us are big enough to tackle life’s toughest battles. But we have someone on our side who is big enough to fight those battles. And He does.
If you’re new on your caregiving journey, I would strongly advise you to put resources in place BEFORE you get to the really hard times. There are places to go where you can get respite help, sometimes even for free. I think most parts of the country have an Area Agency on Aging or similar service – you can find links to your area on the National Institute on Aging’s website: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers/caregiving. They also offer some good tips for caregivers which are perhaps best taken to heart BEFORE you reach burnout stage like I did. It may still not be as much of a break as you would like, but it can be enough to keep you going one more day. Most of all, pray. Get to know the Lord, discover what a relationship with Him is really all about. Give him every step of your caregiving journey and all of yourself, the good and the bad. Your life is already never going to be the same again, but He can make it not the same in a different and better way than you could possibly imagine.
From Psalm 28:
To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,
As I lift up my hands toward your most Holy Place.
…Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy.
My mother, Muriel, passed away a month ago. She was 92 years old, but her death still came as a shock. I thought she would be here forever; my family always said that she would outlive us all. The reality that she is no longer here hasn’t sunk in yet. I suppose it takes time for something like this to reach the deepest part of you. I wrote her this letter and had it read at her memorial service. Many thanks to Cathy Taylor for doing my dirty work for me–I was a mess that day.
Mom, how do I sum up a lifetime with you? My mind is a swirling, colorful kaleidoscope of memories that won’t gel into any specific point. My earliest memory is you holding me up to the mirror after I fell down the stairs, to see my two big, black panda bear eyes. You took a scary, painful situation and made it funny.
Every day when we came home from school, you were waiting for us, and would make Jimmy Snider and me a glass of chocolate milk and listen to us talk about our day. You did “surgery” on my favorite teddy bear whenever parts of her would fall off. You showed me how to stand up to bullies in a way that was far more effective than Dad’s boxing lessons. You let me skip one school day a year, which would be “our” day to do something special together. You made me endure endless hours in the fabric store as you pored over patterns, but then you made me the prettiest clothes. You encouraged Dad and me to have father/daughter date nights, because you were making sure I had the kind of relationship with my dad that you never had with yours. You encouraged me to travel because you knew how much it meant to me. I never would have seen Europe or the Holy Land without you running interference with my overprotective dad. You told me once, “I would have loved to backpack across Europe when I was your age, but unfortunately there was a bit of a war going on at the time.”
Swirling, colorful memories, some painful but mostly good. Then Dad got sick and life got hard. I didn’t realize for the longest time that you were having problems by then, too. As his Alzheimer’s got worse, he became more paranoid and delusional. My worst memory is him screaming at you, calling you a dirty witch and worse and to get out of his house. You stood there, helpless, sobbing, “but I’m your wife! I’m your wife.” You never understood what was happening with him, you just saw the only man you ever loved rejecting you.
Those memories and ten million more we shared, until the Dementia came for you, too. I could only watch as, one by one, they all disappeared. Now it’s just me holding onto the memories you and I shared, until the day may come when the Dementia steals them away from me, too.
But, I think about where you are right now. They let me spend a few minutes with you after you died, to say goodbye. As I saw your body lying there, I knew that you were already gone. YOU weren’t in that room. What happened then? Did you open your eyes to the most beautiful Light you’ve ever seen? Did the loveliest voice in all the universe welcome you home? Did He wipe away your every tear? And then, in that moment, did you finally understand what a Father’s love really is? I hope so. I believe so.
I miss you, Mom, and look forward to the day I see you again. We will look back over our lives, even the hard times, and have a good laugh, just like we did over my panda bear eyes.
Yesterday I ran into a neighbor who is studying to be a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). I asked if she knew which area she would like to pursue specifically. She said she’s been considering doing in-home health and asked if I thought that was a good idea. I told her YES! In-home health helped me survive the last few years that my mom was home. After we parted I started thinking about all the CNAs I have worked with over the years, and what separates the good from the bad.
First off, it has to be one of the most thankless jobs on the entire planet. Their reward for long hours of heavy lifting, dirty diapers, oozing wounds, and irritable, uncooperative, and even violent patients is usually a pittance of a wage with few (if any) benefits. Why on earth do they do it? I had a hard enough of a time just caring for my own mother without completely losing my mind, and I love her. I don’t know if I would be able to do it day in and day out for anyone else.
The good ones do it because they have a genuine heart for people in need. They provide love and acceptance in situations most people walk away from. They wash, dress, feed, and nurse people who can’t take care of themselves while treating them with dignity and kindness. They don’t lose their temper. They don’t argue with the sick; they listen and then gently guide. In short, they MAKE PEOPLE’S LIVES BETTER.
While my mom was at home, the only respite I got was about four hours a week when a CNA would come into the house so I could leave. With the worst ones, I’d come home to a house dirtier than when I left, and an irritable Mom who obviously had had a bad time even though she couldn’t tell me why. My mom’s beautiful 25th-anniversary ring was stolen by a home health worker because it never occurred to me I would need to lock up our valuables.
BUT: With the best ones—and there were more good than bad–I’d come home to a sparkling house and a mother who was clean, well-fed, and happy from having one-on-one attention (from someone besides me) for awhile. Now at Mom’s assisted living, the good ones are the ones who have time to give their patients a hug, or do a little project with them, or make the effort to engage them in conversation, which is what all of the residents like best. No matter how far gone they are, they all love to have one-on-one interaction with someone. And, most importantly, they appreciate people who treat them like rational grownups even if they act like they’re lost in the Twilight Zone.
So here’s to you, Penny, Meagan, Cathy, Bridget, Stephanie, Audra, Kim, Jared, and all the others who have made life a little better for my mother and people like her. You should be earning what movie stars make, and I trust that God will one day richly reward you for the important work that you do. You truly are heroes to all of us who have been lucky enough to know you and benefit from your skill and generosity of spirit. Three Cheers for CNAs!!!