Spirituality for Today – May 2016 – Volume 20, Issue 10

Embrace the Good

Janice Alonso

A photo of daisies

Years ago in the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and while I was serving on our church's Local Outreach Council, I spent a Sunday morning sitting at a table in our Gathering Area. At this table our Outreach team was encouraging people to donate grocery store gift cards. These cards would be distributed to families in our community in need of assistance during November and December. In addition, our church hosts a lunch on Thanksgiving Day for anyone with "no place to go," so there was a signup sheet for individuals to bring side dishes and desserts for this meal. There were also several other tables with various groups collecting for items for their particular Thanksgiving and Christmas projects. All the tables offered opportunities for the congregation to serve and/or give to worthy and much needed causes.

An older woman, whom I knew from the years I had volunteered as a greeter on Sunday mornings at the doors entering our church, walked up to me. She smiled, but genuine concern clouded her eyes.

With a confused look, she said, "I don't know what to do. I'm retired and live on a fixed income – I can't afford to give to everybody – and they're all such good projects!" She sighed. "I feel so guilty that I can't do more." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I just can't."

I returned her smile and placed a hand on her arm. I responded in an apologetic tone, "Please, you shouldn't feel bad or guilty about what you can't do. Pick a project and feel happy about supporting that group." I added in a light and what I hoped was an encouraging tone. "Feel good about what you can do and don't let what you can't do steal the joy from what you can give."

Why was I so quick with an answer? God had supplied this response years earlier when I'd had a similar feeling. For a long list of reasons, my mom and her four brothers decided to place their mother in a nursing home. Everyone was upset and in a turmoil about the situation. Arguments and harsh words electrified daily phone conversations, but no one was equipped or experienced to take on total responsibility of her well-being. Rotating her from one household to another would be too confusing and disrupting for a woman in her nineties. And because she was deaf and experiencing the beginning stages of dementia, she needed full time supervision.

The facility my family selected was in a small town where one of her sons and his wife lived, and the home was located near their house. It was also about halfway between Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia – the two cities where her brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, and longtime neighbors and friends lived.

I loathed the whole idea of a nursing home, and yet logically, I realized I couldn't accept full time responsibility for her care either. I had two youngish teenaged sons with activities, and we had only lived in Atlanta for six months. It took all the energy I could muster to be a cheerleader for these two disgruntled children: I, too, was unhappy about our move and was trying to adjust to these changes myself. Since my husband was out of town each week from Monday through Friday, all this responsibility fell on my shoulders. The timing couldn't have been worse.

I felt I was abandoning my grandmother. After many sleepless nights, I decided I could at least visit her one day a week. So, every Thursday I'd get my sons off to school and then drive two hours to spend the day with her. I'd return just as they were getting out of their Thursday after school activities. It would be a long day, most likely a depressing day for my grandmother and me.

The day arrived for the first visit to the nursing home. I got out of my car with knots in my stomach. The receptionist buzzed me through the double doors. I showed her my identification and then wrote down my name and the arrival time on the login clipboard. As I made my way down the halls to her room, tears streamed down my face: I passed residents in pitiful levels of deteriorating health. The smell of disinfectant alone was enough to make me want to turn around and run home. Pausing just outside her room, I cleared my eyes and put on a large smile.

When I walked in, she was thrilled to see me. Then she went into a tirade about how much she hated being there. I felt like agreeing with her, but instead I listened with a pounding heart. I decided right then and there that Thursdays were going to be her best day of the week. And as it turned out, Thursday became the best day of the week for both of us!

During her time there we visited parks, took walks around lakes and by rivers, enjoyed picnics, shopped, and took long drives to nowhere. We feasted on Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and any other ethnic cuisine we could find. We rated the local barbeque cafes. Our favorite place became a local Mom and Pop diner that specialized in Southern cooking, although we both agreed her cornbread was the best.

On bad weather days we played canasta, dominoes, and Scrabble. We brought in burgers, fries, and chocolate milk shakes as we tried to guess the answers to Wheel of Fortune before the contestants did. Reruns of Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr followed the game shows. We'd watched the original series when it began in the late fifties. Often these old episodes became a springboard to memories we shared from when I was a little girl, and more special, I'd experience a flashback from her childhood that I'd never known. If possible we drew closer and our relationship stronger.

Our parting was always tearful with me lingering on that last hug just to breathe in her grandmotherly scent for a little longer. I'd stop at the door on my way out and ask if there was anything she wanted me to bring the following week.

"Just bring you – that's enough," she'd say as she blew me a good-bye kiss.

"Just bring you." That's all God asks. I believe that He doesn't want what we can't do to steal the joy away from what we can provide. I believe God has created each of us in a special way to give just what is needed for anything we may face.