As many of you who have been touched either directly or indirectly by mental illnesses know, the brain is a crazy place. Pardon the pun. In early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s people will remember the absurd and forget the important. In late stages, there will be inexplicable glimpses of lucidity in the midst of otherwise overwhelming darkness. I don’t know the medical or biological science behind it all, but I have observed it enough to be awed by it.
I used to visit a woman with Alzheimer’s that had progressed to the point of her needing full-time care. She was a peaceful woman, but had become prone to outbursts. I remember one time in particular I asked her if we could pray the Lord’s Prayer together. She responded, “Well, I don’t think I need that!” It was the disease talking not this devout woman whose Bible, riddled with notes and cards of remembrance, sat next to her bed. That exchange puzzled me to the point where I knew I needed to change tactics. So, I spent the next week learning the Lord’s Prayer in German, her native tongue.
A few weeks later when I went to visit her, we talked for a bit and then I told her that I wanted to share something with her. I asked her to fold her hands and began to pray in German the Lord’s Prayer. Without skipping a beat she joined in. When I stumbled and muddled the words, she boldly kept praying. When it was done, she simply looked up and said something to the effect of, “Those words are such a comfort to me. I have known the Lord and talked to him in prayer since I was a little girl. It reminds me that he loves me better than any earthly father ever could.” The story that she knew, of Jesus and his love, could not be conquered even by a devastating illness that had claimed her ability to recognize the world in which she had lived for decades.
That sainted woman taught me about the importance of remembering the story. The love of Jesus is a gift that is given anew each day and sustains us until the end. Constant reminders of grace, be they prayers, passages, visuals, words, whatever they might be become etched in our minds. They guide us through the natural moments of doubt. They uplift us in the moments when we stumble. The love of Jesus speaks to us in every stage and season of life. The simple message, “God loves you,” enables us to respond in the words of Paul, “I am convinced that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”