I've started reading an interesting book that describes the details of a study conducted by two researchers, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse. There were two goals of the study: 1) to determine whether a homosexual orientation can be changed and 2) whether participating in “ex-gay” ministries is harmful.
There are a couple of reviews of the book here and here.
Rebeccah and I were with the Wagner side of the family on Christmas day this year. As we opened gifts, I was worried. Worried that my brother wouldn't enjoy his gift, or that other gift surprises would be spoiled before opened. I was worried, but my brothers and sisters are gracious and appreciative. They're the kind of people who put "give money to the poor" on their Christmas lists. They felt blessed just being able to breathe. I think my Grandma did too. But I'm not sure. That's why I think she got gypped.
The Wagners shared some fun times over the week...We talked and shopped and opened presents and sang songs and read the Christmas story and prayed and played soccer and got angry with each other over a game of Settlers of Catan. I helped my dad prepare a property for rent and threw away a whole slew of computer parts from years past (including four Mac Plus computers from the late eighties!) that have been gathering dust.
There's always too much to do, right? I remember a number of times coming into the house and blowing right through the living room, minutes later realizing I hadn't even greeted the woman lying in the recliner silently. I'd return to give her the customary kiss, then explain that I had some important "act of service" or "Christmas gift preparation" I was right in the middle of.
My Grandma turns 97 in just a few weeks. She's pretty feeble, and it appears she can't see or speak all that well. She just sits with all of her limbs propped up with various pillows and looks off into the middle distance. And if we have the good grace to sit in her field of view, she looks at us. She doesn't say much, even when I sit and just ask her how she is.
Sometimes I sit and just give Grandma a few strokes on her arm. But before a minute is up, I give up, and get up, just to go do something more interactive. See, I want to know I'm making an impact. I want to get something for my trouble. I want it to be a two-way street. And I want the response to be interesting. And that's the problem.
Grandma isn't able to do that anymore. And I realized that I'm not really concerned about her. I'm helping her and all these other people because it makes me feel better about myself, more significant, worthwhile.
When I did take a moment just to sit with Grandma just because she matters, I realized that maybe she wanted to communicate a different way...maybe she just couldn't speak or didn't want to. So I asked her to smile if she wanted more water. She smiled. I sat with her a few more minutes, letting her sip water through a straw. But another activity presented itself...another need...and I was off. To care for myself.
This is the challenge of caring for the old. It's also the challenge of caring for those who feel alone and those who are disabled and those who hurt from past abortions or abuse. Caring for these people means I won't get a warm feeling at the end of the encounter. I won't feel like I've successfully changed their circumstances or made them feel better. In many cases, I can't heal them. In my Grandma's case, I couldn't figure out what she needed, beyond a sip of water. For all of these, the best I can do is take time to share their burden for a few minutes or hours. But many times, even if I've spent hours (or many years!), I must leave them in the same state they were in before (at least visibly). And if I really came to the interaction for the feeling of significance I would feel at the end, I am leaving disappointed. I am leaving empty-handed.
My brother Jonathan wasn't going to be home for Christmas. I asked him if he was going to spend the day with friends. He said he was planning to visit the folks at the convalescent home. Just listening and being there. Breathing with them, taking the time to let them communicate in whatever way they can. Letting them know they are significant. Worthwhile.
My mom sits with her mother a lot these days just trying to get her to eat and caring for her needs. At least one person is spending quality time with Grandma, but I'll bet the sight of young people running to and fro doing so many "important" things made Grandma feel a bit ignored this Christmas.
I think Jon had the right idea. I'm hoping to visit Grandma again soon. But this time I'll spend a few more minutes just sitting with her and letting her direct the time on her own terms...with smiles and murmurs...or silently. In those moments, I'll let her teach me how to bear burdens and fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). It's not by off-loading the burdens and feeling significant because I've done something important. It's sharing them without taking them over, without calling their successful resolution ours. Many times, it's sharing them for long periods of time. Letting Grandma feel her feelings and work through the unique challenges of growing blind and mute and feeling largely useless and largely ignored. I can help with the ignored feeling, a bit, and maybe that will give a little strength to metabolize the other feelings too.
But even if I can't help, if I can't do anything to make a big difference for her, I think I'll sit with her anyway.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water? Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know---
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again. The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb---.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM
Some of those "facts" we thought were true, it turns out, aren't. We don't have 90% untapped potential in our brains. Reading in dim light doesn't ruin your eyes, though it may give you a headache. And more....