Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Gift of Joy & Miracles

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

Whose hope is in the Lord his God;
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever; . . .
(Psalm 146: 5 & 6)

The past few weeks have been such a wonderful celebration of joy and life! It was Christmas, and I love everything that Christmas is about. I love singing Christmas carols, decorating every room in my house, and sending Christmas cards. But the best thing I love about Christmas is visiting with my family. But this year, there was one visit that I really wasn’t looking forward to. I didn’t know how Christmas would be - visiting with my mom . . .

I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
(Psalm 146: 2 & 7)

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the visits with mom had been difficult. The mom I had known growing up - seemed so far away. That mom had loved Christmas, and birthdays, and celebrations of all kinds. As Christmas drew near, the memories seemed to flood my being . . .

I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

It was Christmas, and my children were about 6 and 10 years old. We, plus my brothers and their families, were all going to visit my mom and dad on Christmas afternoon. Both my brothers had two little ones as well, and it would be great to see them all! As we drove up to the house, the decorations twinkled at us from outside as well as in. We all laughed as we looked at mom and dad’s tree - another “Charlie Brown” tree (as we always teased them!). The tree was actually from their church, and always seemed a little small and sparse. But they always decorated it so pretty! The grandchildren were always excited to open their presents, as my dad played “Santa” and handed out the gifts. This year though, when the gifts were all opened, my mom went to the organ and pulled the bench out to the middle of the room. That’s when she told us that the 3 of us- my brothers and myself - had to sit on the bench. As we sat together on that little bench, we kidded around - seeming to grow a little younger. We had no idea what surprise mom had up her sleeve! She brought out 3 stockings, just for us! Inside were all sorts of little gifts. As we each started opening up our stocking, we all started to laugh! Inside, mom had wrapped up little gag gifts - that had us laughing so hard! It really was so much fun! And mom did it more than once over the years. She gave stockings to all the “in-laws” one year. And we laughed so hard, as we watched them open up all sorts of little gadgets and funny little gifts.

One year, my mom tied me to my sister-in-law with a red ribbon. The rules were simple, we had to find a way to untangle the ribbon, and get ourselves free. I remember Jean being so pregnant with one of the boys, as we tried to fit our bodies underneath the string! We laughed and laughed, as we tried to figure out how to get ourselves untangled! That was my mom - always full of laughter and fun - full of joy! Her New Year’s Eve parties were famous with her friends! She always had lots of food and games that made the night so special. And then mom changed . . .

When things began to change with mom, we had no idea what was ahead of us. “Alzheimer’s” started to take away memories and moments of her life. She didn’t remember who her grandchildren were. She wasn’t able to plan things, and started buying little gifts all year long. As my dad grew sicker with cancer, my mom’s mind became more and more lost . . .

. . . Weeping may last for the night.
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
(Psalm 30:5)

As Christmas and my mom’s birthday grew closer, I wasn’t sure what to expect with mom. She has no memory of my dad; and I never know if mom will know me or not, when I visit. We had always thrown mom a party for her birthday, but that ended over a year ago. Mom didn’t do well with “strangers”, even when those “strangers” were her family. Each year is now a struggle, as I tried to find a way to celebrate my mom.

This year I finally decided I would bring in little cupcakes (to share with her morning activity group), a couple of balloons, and a present. The ladies sitting around mom clapped and smiled, trying to sing along to “Happy Birthday” as I walked in. A few of them were eyeing those cupcakes! As I put the cupcakes down and tied the balloons to mom’s chair, she looked up at me with a bit of confusion. “It is your birthday mom” I told her. She looked at me as if I was talking in another language. Then she kind of nodded as I told her again that it was her birthday.

The nurses and aides had come into the room to help. They handed out cupcakes and napkins, as I put the present in front of mom. Her eyes lit up, and she lifted the present up to show everyone around her. “Look, look” she said. And all the ladies smiled and nodded at her. She put the present down on the table, showing me the pretty pictures that were on the wrapping paper. That is when I realized that she thought the “present” was the wrapped box. “No mom” I told her, “you need to unwrap the present”. She just looked at me - not understanding. “You need to rip the paper” I told her. She looked at me so upset. I started pulling at the paper, telling her to pull with me. When we finally had the paper off the box, mom held up the box for all to see. The box had a picture of Santa Claus on it, and all the ladies smiled and nodded again at the pretty picture. Again I had to tell mom “no”. “You have to open the box” I said. And quickly I removed the top of the box. Disappointed, mom looked down at the white tissue paper, and back up at me. “No mom” I said for the 3rd time. “look what is inside” I told her. And I pulled the tissue paper back to reveal a very pretty purple jacket and pant set. Mom took out the jacket and held it up for all the ladies to see. Again, they smiled and nodded. Finally I put a cupcake in front of mom. She looked at it and said how pretty it was. “You eat it mom” I told her. And finally she took a bite. Three cupcakes later (they were the very small ones), my mom seemed very happy. I had kept a piece of the wrapping paper and bow for her. Holding her paper and bow, we walked down the hall. “Did you like your party?” I asked her. “What party?” she answered. “Your birthday party” I told her. “It is your birthday.” I said again, as mom just looked at me. “Oh” she said, and we continued down the hall . . .

It wasn’t quite the party we used to have for mom’s birthday. There was no cake, or candles, or family gathered all around. Mom’s birthday seemed to be something that “I” celebrated that day. Mom just didn’t have the ability to understand what the day was all about. As I drove home that day, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. “Lord” I asked, “how will there be any joy for her this Christmas?”

“The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ’Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, . . . ”
(Jeremiah 33: 11)

As Christmas Eve came, Ted and I got ready to head north. We were going to visit with my mom, and then go over to my brother’s house. We had a few presents for mom, although I wasn’t sure that we would get her to open them. Darkness had come quickly that afternoon, and as we headed to mom’s - we looked at Christmas lights and listened to music. Inside, I tried not to let my heart become sad. But the joy I wished for my mom, seemed so far away.

When we got to the nursing home, there were decorations everywhere! They had decorated the halls and rooms, and it really looked beautiful. As we got in the elevator, I could hear Christmas carols in the background. Maybe mom would have a nice Christmas after all!

“Merry Christmas” we said, as we hugged my mom. Taking her hand we headed for her bedroom. Sitting on her bed, she wondered what we had in the bag. “Presents mom” I told her, and I took one out of the bag. She looked at the present and loved the little card I had put on it. Ted helped her take the card and bow off, and soon mom had opened up her first present! She liked the pretty glitter on the tops I had bought for her; and I smiled as she held each one up. Then I handed her a 2nd gift. Again mom loved the little card on it. When the card and bow were taken off, mom opened the present. It was a pair of black pants, and she seemed to react the same way my kids used to - when they were little and got clothes for presents! She put the box aside and asked if there was anything else inside the bag. “Yes there is mom” I told her. I held the bag in front of her and she quickly looked inside. Down at the bottom of the bag was a teddy bear. It was a little girl teddy bear, dressed in a Christmas dress with a bow on her head, and the date on her foot. Mom pulled her out and looked so happy! She showed her to Ted and me, and then she held her close.

We decided to take mom for a walk down the hallway. Mom brought her teddy to show to anyone who would look at it. She showed the nurses and aides. She showed the other patients how pretty the teddy was. And she kept showing her to Ted and me. I was so happy that mom loved one of her presents. As I stopped to talk to my friend Wendy who is a nurse there, I didn’t realize that mom had stopped behind me and shown her teddy to one of the ladies on the floor who was in a wheelchair. “Look” Wendy said. I turned around just as I saw the little lady pull the teddy close to her heart - her eyes closed and smile on her face. “She is responding” Wendy told another nurse. And all around, the nurses and aides came to watch.

As I walked over to the little lady, her eyes were shining and she was smiling up at me. “Merry Christmas” I told her. Then I bent down and gave her a hug, and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled at me and said: “You kissed me”. “Yes I did” I told her. She then told me that she had been far away at church, and that God had been with her. She touched my head and told me that I was “blessed”. As I looked at her I couldn’t help but smile. As I stood up and turned toward mom, Ted bent down and started to talk to the little lady. She stroked his hair as they talked, and I knew that something special was happening that night. All around, there were smiles, and I could feel joy in the air. Turning to my friend, I asked about the little lady. She told me that she hadn’t been showing any signs of hearing or talking over the past few weeks. She had seemed to disappear somewhere deep inside of herself. And then mom had handed her a little teddy bear . . .

The voice of joy and the voice of gladness - - -
Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting; . . .

It turned out to be a Christmas of surprises. Mom was happy in moments of time. She didn’t have a miracle that Christmas Eve. But she was definitely a part of a miracle! The Lord was all around us that night. I could feel him from the top of my head, down to the tips of my toes. He had brought joy to the little lady, and to all of us - as we spent time with her. As she handed the teddy bear back to my mom, she smiled and waved at us. I have to admit that I don’t understand all that happened that night. But I do know that the Lord was there, touching our hearts, and bringing joy to a little nursing home in Massachusetts.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity - to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Some days, I admit, I do not understand why my mom has this terrible disease. Truthfully, I don’t know why people have so many difficult times that they go through. But I do know one thing - I know that God loves us, and is always with us. I know that my mom has times of happiness, and even joy. She surprises me with times of understanding and love. These are gifts from God.

Each one of us will face times of hardship and grief. That is a promise - as we walk on this earth. But there is another promise that we can hold on to - if we choose to ask God to walk with us, He will help us through whatever lies ahead.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,”

Each day, each moment there are possibilities for joy and wonder. As we go through life - celebrating Christmas and birthdays, and love and new life - it is in those times that we find the miracle of joy, and the gift of God’s love. So when we find ourselves facing the sadness and grief that is also a part of living - it is my hope and prayer that you will ask God to also be with you, holding you and bringing you back to His Love.

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
(John 15:11)

God bless you and keep you as we begin a brand new year of living.

In His Love,
Debbie & Ted Ayers


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