1 Corinthians 13
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
I write this in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Muriel, my wife, can’t comprehend much, nor express many thoughts, and those not for sure. But she knows whom she loves and lives in happy oblivion to almost everything else. Tough and resilient as ever, she doesn’t know why nothing works, nothing at all. But she will not let it get her down. She doesn’t remember any more how greatly gifted she was, how effective in mothering and in ministry. And that’s a blessing. It also gives a clue as to the other reason for my decision to resign from a dynamic ministry just when it was orbiting higher than ever.
She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to. She is teaching me so much about love, God’s love. She picks flowers outside – anyone’s – and fills the house with them. Lately she has begun to pick them inside, too. Someone had given us the most beautiful Easter Lily I’ve seen, two stems with four or five lilies on each, with more to come. One day I came into the kitchen to do the dishes or get dinner and there on the windowsill over the sink was a vase with a stem of lilies in it. I’ve learned to “go with flow” and not correct irrational behavior. After all, it is just that – irrational. She means no harm and doesn’t understand what should be done, nor would she remember a rebuke. Nevertheless, I did the irrational l- I told her how disappointed I was, how the lilies would soon die, the buds would never bloom, and please do not break off the other stem.
The next day our youngest son, soon to leave for India, came from Houston for a visit and we were sitting on the porch swinging on the old swing he had made as a Christmas gift long years ago. I had told Kent of my stupid rebuke of his mother and how bad I felt about it. About that time, she comes to the door with a gift of love for me – she gently laid the other stem of lilies on the table with a gentle smile and turned back into the house. I said simply, “thank you.” Kent said, “You’re doing better, Dad!”
I began to think about God. We work so hard at bringing our gifts to him, messing up his best intentions, ruining the beauty of his plans, and he just smiles and says, “thank you.” No hassle, no put-down. He accepts it for what it is- a gift of love. Perhaps our communication with him is similar to Muriel’s and mine, too. We make such beautiful, carefully crafted prayers and maybe a lot of it is just nonsense. But he is good – much better than I with Muriel – in figuring out what we mean and what would be good for us. He says such beautiful, wise things to us in his Book, and we only half comprehend. But we think we’ve got it all together.
Recently the dentist needed to have Muriel open and shut her mouth often to test the new crown. But when he said, “please open” she would clench her teeth. The more he pled with her, the tighter she clenched. I tried, but to no avail. She knew she wasn’t pleasing us, so she tried harder – how she wanted to please. But she got it all backwards. I love her so. Just like God loves us.
And she loves me. She can’t speak in sentences, now, only words and often words that don’t make sense – “no” when she means “yes,’ for example. But she can say one sentence. And she says it often: “I love you.” During the two years the Board arranged for a companion to stay in our home so I could travel and go daily to the office, it became increasingly difficult to keep her at home. As soon as I would leave home, she would take out after me. With me, she was content; without me she was distressed, sometimes terror stricken. The walk to school is a mile round-trip. She would make that trip as many as ten times a day – ten miles at high speed. Sometimes at night when I would help her undress, I would find bloody feet. When I told our doctor, he wept.
So the decision to lay down my public responsibilities and go on a retirement income three years early was not difficult. I had promised her 42 years before and I keep my word. Besides, it’s only fair – she cared for me so faithfully for so long. But it’s much, much more. She is the joy of my life as I watch her brave descent into oblivion and discern daily new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the Muriel I always loved.