My mum has dementia – alzheimers. As part of her condition she also suffers from sundowner syndrome. If you know anything about these conditions you’ll know they’re pretty awful. They’re distressing for the patient and distressing for their loved ones and carers.
Derek and I had been married only two years before moving into the garage of my mum and dad’s house in 2010. Two years later in 2012 dad passed away and Derek and I moved with my mum to another house. The three of us lived together from early 2013 to December of 2016 while I became her full time carer. Since then she has been living in a cabin where my sister is now her full time carer.
Initially she wasn’t too bad. She was only showing signs of cognitive impairment. You know, forgetting where her wardrobe was for a few days before getting used to a new house and getting a surprise every time she saw she had ice cream in her freezer, not recollecting how it got there. That was in the beginning. By early to mid 2016 she was repeating her stories, asking the same question over again, was weepy and emotionally fragile any time of the day, couldn’t remember how to use the microwave or how to turn on the oven. But she could still feed her dog, make a cup of tea, tidy her room, do cross-words, read magazines and play free-cell on the computer.
I found it very hard living with her, not only because of her condition but because I just didn’t want to be living with my mum. But mum’s worsening conditions made it very hard and I would get very frustrated with having to deal with it. I would often be in tears and feeling like I was losing my own mind! When I look back, I was more frustrated and burdened because I was resisting it. Mum’s deterioration as difficult and sad as it was, wasn’t really the major problem for me. The major problem was my resistance to my circumstances. And it was God who put me in those circumstances. Anyway, as you know, we moved away for 3 years and have recently returned. Now that we’re back in NSW , I get to visit mum every week. She’s much worse of-course but I am so grateful the Lord has mercifully allowed me to be in her life again before He should take her home.
Living in Perth, WA, I was blessed to be part of body life with a certain sister called Elsa. Elsa worked with the elderly and was familiar with alzheimers, dementia and various other conditions that the elderly can suffer from so she was very helpful to me in coming to terms with my mother’s changing ways. Elsa had a way of seeing people that was different to mine. What I would see as frustrating, irritating, sad, distressing, annoying, disappointing, worth complaining about, Elsa would see as sweet, loving, joyous, light hearted, worth celebrating and/or in a positive light that just didn’t come naturally to me. Sometimes I was almost frustrated because I would want her to just join me in my complaining! But that wasn’t Elsa. She always had a positive spin that she would share with a thrill in her voice and a smile on her face! Best of all, this was genuine. It was just Elsa.
Elsa also became a grandmother during the time I was there, even though she seems like a very young grandmother at that! I observed her arrange a beautiful baby shower for her daughter and smother her daughter with so much love and grace, spoiling her and nurturing her and rallying support around her. I watched her welcome her little grandson into their lives and love him with as much love as anyone could. Elsa also got a kick out of making pretty settings for the sisters – warmly surrounding us with welcoming table settings and an atmosphere that would just embrace you with the warmest hug. I spent just under three years doing body life with Elsa and then God called us back to NSW and back into my mother’s life.
Recently, I had the opportunity to have my mum come and stay with us for two nights. It was going to be a risk as far as disorienting her and potentially causing a whole bunch of confusion for her whilst staying with us and then also when going back to her house. But I was keen to have her come and stay for a couple of reasons. One was so that we could trial run giving my sister some much needed respite. (Of-course, I can empathise with her since she is now mum’s full time carer). The second reason was because I just simply wanted to have my mum come and visit. I was actually so excited to have her come and stay.
I had made up a spare room for her. I’d bought her a new doona cover and brought in some of her own familiar furniture, made it all pretty and pink and set up a little computer for Netflix. That meant she would be able to watch her favourite detective shows which would normalise things. She wouldn’t know how to use a different TV remote anyway, so it didn’t matter that we didn’t have a spare TV, the computer did the trick. I cleaned the house and made it all lovely and cosy for her. I cooked dinner both nights and we all ate at the table together. I even cooked a slice. I made her breakfast in bed and cups of tea, I took her dog Buddy for walks and enjoyed watching him play with our little bloke, Rocky. I made sure she took her pills and I continued to reassure her throughout the day and nights where she was and that she was just visiting and reminded her where she lived and so on. I gave her hugs and cuddles and told her I loved her, I affirmed her as my mum and as a woman and as a Christian. I had resigned myself to the likely fact that I would get no sleep at all on both nights because of her late night confusion and wanderings due to sundowners and so prepared by setting myself up on the couch at night so that Derek could hopefully get undisturbed sleep locked away in our bedroom.
I was thrilled to have her. I was so full of love for her. I wanted to serve her, care for her, make her feel special, be kind and gentle with her and I felt truly honoured to love her this way. Nothing was too much trouble. Nothing was annoying or grating on me. I wasn’t frustrated or rolling my eyes when she wasn’t looking or talking under my breath. All things I had done in the past. I even found her sarcastic tones and digs that come out at night time due to her condition to be quite amusing. Not in a derogatory way but in a light hearted and tender way. I found her inoffensive and I felt nothing but compassion for her even when I had to speak to her sternly the night that she unlocked the front door and let her dog out into the unfenced yard on the street, telling her to get to bed and stay there. I found myself seeing her as Christ sees her. Dear and precious, dependent, helpless and of great worth.
This wasn’t me. I’m a complainer you see, by nature (even genetically perhaps?). God had been showing me over recent years just how much of a complainer I am in my old man, my flesh. So what was going on? Why was I so different to how I’d been in the past? In the midst of these three days with my mum, something became apparent to me. Something surprising, amazing and beautiful. I felt like Elsa.
I was behaving like I’d observed Elsa behave. I wasn’t even putting it on. I wasn’t pretending or trying, it was genuine. I wasn’t even thinking of Elsa. It was coming out from inside of me. It was clearly the love of God for my mum, which is so beautiful. It is beautiful to feel His love for her. Once I realised this, all I could think of was Elsa. In my thoughts I could see her smiling and laughing and making light of things that would ordinarily have driven me crazy but now didn’t. And you know what else? I wasn’t feeling burdened in any way. The Lord sustained me through the days without sleep, or lack of. He kept my heart filled with love. Oh, I was tired for sure but it was OK. He kept me going. His burden is indeed light, and His yoke indeed is easy.
There’s allot to be said for acceptance. Resistance is painful and burdensome, endless and only deepens the angst of a situation. But acceptance is light, much easier and we can breathe, adjust and carry on.
Elsa had rubbed off on me. Or should I say that Christ in Elsa, had rubbed off on me. That portion of Christ that is uniquely expressed in her had gotten in to me by osmosis. The definition of the word osmosis is quite complicated for one who isn’t a good science student and so I have my own understanding of what it means (I don’t know if you’re allowed to have your own version of what a word means but I do??) However, I did find one definition to fit my understanding.
Dictionary.com gives this alternative definition; Osmosis – a subtle or gradual absorption or mingling:
To me, osmosis is when something is unconsciously changed to the likeness of something else as a result of being in the company of that something else over a long period of time. In my experience this osmosis type process occurs in authentic body life. And that ‘something else’ is Christ in another brother or sister. Just take a look at this beautiful image of the butterflies.
The two butterflies (which are actually twins apparently) reflect one another. They are both living from the same Vine – a picture of us living from Christ together. They are facing one another -i.e. face-to-face community. They are both transparent with one another and the Light of the world is shining through them to one another.
Knowing Elsa, in her humility I’m sure she would be quick to point out her flaws and weaknesses, she would be the first to say that she’s not perfect (though in Christ, she is perfect). The point is, that Christ in Elsa, had gotten in to me without anyone trying or being aware of it. And isn’t that just how body life is supposed to work? Each member in the body of Christ supplying the other members? What a perfect instrument the Lord has created in His body. His body absolutely carries His life to its members. Here are a few different translations of Ephesians 4:16 that explain this fascinating and beautiful process in the body of Christ.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (NLT)
from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (NAS)
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (KJV)
The members of the Lord’s body supply one another in a variety of ways of course. It might be through their testimony, something they share at a church meeting, a sighting of the Lord or in a song. It might be in their hospitality for weekly dinners or get togethers, their humility, their gentle spirit. Or through their encouragements and exhortation. It may occur practically through financial giving, practical helps in community life. Even through offering godly sound counsel or correction, as the Spirit leads. Some of these things will be obvious in the moment but other things are by osmosis as in my example of beautiful Elsa.
An important point to highlight here is that this authentic body life in which the life of Christ can supply each member as described in Ephesians 4:16, can’t happen one day a week for a couple of hours. We are called to body life, not body meetings. And its within the context of body life (community/family/being in one another’s lives) that we are changed. There is the ebb and flow of Christ’s life among the saints, as their lives are shared openly with one another. In that environment, as it says in the Ephesians verse, the whole body grows up healthy and full of love. In other words, the whole body becomes a larger expression of our Lord in our geographical locality. This is a reflection or expression of the community of the Godhead. As each member of the Godhead supplies one another, God (three in one) builds Himself up in love, because He is love! And it’s out of His love that we the church have come into existence.
The Lord’s life is eternal. Therefore, it makes sense that even though I now live 5,000 kms away from the saints there in Perth, the portion of the Lord that has been expressed through one or each saint that I have been built with over 3 years, lives on. His life is a continual flow. I can’t predict how I will be next time I have my mum come visit, though I do know I’m looking forward to it again. I do pray that the Lord is doing a deep and permanent work in me in this regard for His sake, for her sake and for mine. It feels that way so far. All I know is that it’s not my life, its His life in me, that is loving her. And that has been imparted to me through body life. And this experience has become life to me and subsequently for my mum. My mum has been loved by Christ all the way from Perth without her ever knowing. God is so gracious and merciful.
On a practical level, sure, I’m not living with mum full time. It’s definitely easier to cope with her deterioration when I only see her once a week or for a short stay. I’m certain that if she was living with us full time I would be most tempted to return to complaining and grumbling and to resistance. Though I hope not. I would rather like to imagine that though I would find it hard no doubt, I would have been so changed by Christ that I would find a place of rest and acceptance. However, where and what the future looks like concerning me and my mum isn’t the point of this post. My failings and weaknesses also aren’t the point of this post or we’d be here all week, but rather the amazing surprises that come from authentic body life.
There is indeed a Life that is living in the body of the Lord that changes us, that lives on and reaches out beyond ourselves to touch others around us. It is the life of Christ in His body. It is His characteristics. It is Him. He is in His saints. In each and very member. A face-to-face community of believers learning to live together by His indwelling life is a hot house for His life to be released to the world as well as to one another. I’m sure He loves it when we finally see what He’s been up to, like me seeing Him revealed in Elsa, in having my mum visit.
Be blessed saints, God is working in ways we don’t always see at the time. And if you’re in an authentic community of believers learning to live together by Christ’s life indwelling you, you are blessed beyond measure. And I encourage and exhort you to continue to bear the cross with one another, continue to give your lives for one another, lay down your preferences and opinions, open your hearts, lives and homes to one another and hold fast The Head at all times. He is in His body.
And if you’re not in such a community can I encourage you to seek the Lord on whether or not to relocate if need be, to be part of one if there’s not one where you live. You can contact the guys over at 3rdrace.org at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where there are communities of saints living out true authentic body life in the United States and other countries including the two existing ones we know of in Australia.