Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Sitting on the front pew at church a few weeks ago I glanced over my left shoulder. We were singing "Faith is the Victory," and there, across the center aisle, on the third row was Betty. She was sitting with her husband, Don, and daughter, Cate. But in some ways, Betty wasn't there. She had a far away look and any one could tell she wasn't in the moment. Some of the people who know simply call it "the stare." Betty has Alzheimer's.
I couldn't help but wonder, "where's Betty?" Perhaps as she looked toward the choir, her choir, she was back in her place again. Maybe she remembered back when she started the music for our chapel and there were only five of them instead of the fifty the choir now has. Since we were in church maybe she remembered starting the bible study she and Don had in their home that led to the beginning of the chapel. Could she be remembering helping start the 4L's club for older ladies needing a place to socialize, fellowship, and pray. It was impossible to know from "the stare" where Betty was at that moment. I can only hope and read into those eyes something good for her.
On the next verse I glance again and I see the stare hoping she is somewhere with children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Is she in her garden? She loves to grow beautiful things and unusual. She's forgotten more about plants than I will ever know. It hurts. Maybe she is remembering all the visits she made in the early days of the chapel inviting people to attend. Probably less than half of the chapel knows how hard she worked, how outgoing and friendly she could be and that most of us might not be here in this building, enjoying this worship, and singing these songs were it not for her and a handful of other faithful saints.
What disturbs me more is that she may not remember any of this. But I can hope and I hope that behind the stare she hears the beauty of a symphony she and Don attended and supported for years. She loves music. Maybe in her mind she is playing the piano herself, accompanying Cate on the violin. I don't know because her stare can't tell me. It is somewhere far off, in the past, in the future, I can't know. I can only know that she and others with the stare deserved better than this. Her family deserved better than this. But they didn't get it. I get aggravated with God at these times of her confusion, their exhaustion, and everyone's frustration with this disease. I not only ask "where's Betty?" I ask ''where's God?" I ask Him this about a lot of situations. He doesn't say much, at least that I can hear. My theology tells me that even when I can't see or hear much, I should know He does much and that eternity will reveal it. But now the stare hides it. I have to trust that He loves Betty and will take care of her. We sing the third verse: "on every hand the foe we find drawn up in dread array..." Yeah, I see that foe and he put the stare on her face and I hate it. "Faith is the victory....that overcomes the world." I guess that stare is in some ways the battle face of one with a few battles still left to fight. I see that stare and by faith must trust that God sees and feels it too. But it's still haunting and I wonder--where's Betty?
After church we go into the fellowship hall for coffee and conversation. I make my rounds. I try to say "hello" to new faces and faces that seem sad or alone or that I just haven't seen in a while. Then I see Betty. One of the sister saints has seen her too. She knows her, her past, her present, her future. She engages Betty. At that moment Betty smiles, her eyes are bright, she speaks. There is joy. There stare is gone and for a few minutes I know where Betty is. She is here; she is with family by blood and by faith. God is with her in this moment, and though harder to see, He is with her in the stare. She is here and will be until "we vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus' conquering name."
Faith is the Victory, even when it is hard to see.
II Corinthians 5:7
Used by permission from the family. For more information or to volunteer, please call the Alzheimer's Association. The Hill county number is 254.458.6560.