Skip to content

There is sweetness at the bottom.

Adoniram Judson, one of the first American missionaries to Burma, after the death of his wife, writing to console a sister and colaborer in the faith who just lost her husband:

You are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat acquainted with…I can assure you that months and months of heartrending anguish are before you…I can only advise you to take the cup with both hands, and sit down quietly to the bitter repast which God has appointed for your sanctification…Take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to your repast.  You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom.. You will find it the sweetest cup that you ever tasted in all your life.  You will find heaven coming near to you…

(Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma, p. 199)

In Christ, there is sweetness at the bottom of every bitter cup appointed to us.

Advertisements

God will not forget you.

This article was first published at Desiring God.

We did not know my grandpa had Alzheimer’s disease until he tried to take his own life.

He should have died from his injuries, but God spared his life — and not just once. Grandpa was not a believer, so with no hope in the face of such a diagnosis, he attempted suicide again and again. Death seemed better to him than losing control over his life and faculties.

My mother-in-law was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease shortly before I married my husband. Over the past several years, we have watched her go from being the bright hub of the family to becoming a ghost of her former self. We are losing her memory by memory, function by function, pound by pound.

Alzheimer’s disease goes for the jugular of a person’s earthly identity and relationships. I have heard many family members and friends question God’s presence. And I have quietly wondered this myself. Where is God in this thick darkness? Where is God as a person’s body and personality is ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease?

Journey Through Darkness

If a person with Alzheimer’s disease could write a psalm, I think Psalm 88would be it. The psalmist, Heman the Ezrahite, despairs as he travels through unending darkness: “I am shut in so that I cannot escape” (Psalm 88:8). And the last thought is “darkness” (Psalm 88:18). No memory of godly hope lifts the spirit at the end of this psalm.

Here, the place of the dead is a place of forgetfulness. Sheol and the pit (Psalm 88:3–4), the grave and Abaddon (Psalm 88:11), darkness and the land of forgetfulness (Psalm 88:12) — all refer to the same place in Psalm 88. It is where “the dead know nothing, and . . . the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

Isn’t this what Alzheimer’s disease looks like? A journey through the land of forgetfulness, from diagnosis into oblivion? An incurable darkness?

God Is There

For the sake of those terminally ill with Alzheimer’s, and for the sake of those who love and care for them, I am thankful that God includes this terminal psalm in Scripture. This life is not a fairy tale. Not everything finds a bright resolution on this side of eternity. And God can seem chillingly absent when circumstances are darkest.

Psalm 88 does not include God’s response to Heman, but as one of King David’s head musicians (1 Chronicles 25:1), Heman must have been well acquainted with Psalm 139:8, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” and Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” So Heman likely wrote Psalm 88 not to confirm God’s absence, but to affirm the human experience of feeling as though he were.

God can certainly feel absent in the Alzheimer’s experience, but he is near even then. And even in the land of forgetfulness, he leads us and holds us (Psalm 139:10).

God Does Not Forget

My grandpa did everything he could to resist God before and after his diagnosis, but God did not forget him. Irresistible grace found him, even in the shadow of his disease, and rescued him from a darkness greater than Alzheimer’s (Colossians 1:13).

The year before Grandpa passed away, on one of his last clear days, he gushed about God’s saving work in his life. This salvation was so sweet to him that even while bedridden and immobile, he felt so much joy knowing that God loved and forgave him as a son. He felt so much joy knowing he could commune with God from his hospital bed through prayer. God’s nearness was his good in a way that penetrated real darkness (Psalm 73:28).

His clear days slowly dissipated to complete oblivion. But even though Alzheimer’s stole away everything else, it could never take his portion in Christ (Psalm 73:26), and it could never take his promise of resurrection (John 11:25), because God’s gospel promises have no exception clause for Alzheimer’s disease. God does not say he will sustain you unless you develop Alzheimer’s and forget me.

Alzheimer’s Sting 

Once we are God’s, not even a grueling disease that strips a person of health and personality can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28), because God’s gifts of salvation and sonship do not “depend on what we do, including our ability to remember,” as Benjamin Mast writes (Second Forgetting, 26). Flesh may forget, but not the sovereign God (Isaiah 49:15).

God remembered Grandpa and carried him through the land of forgetfulness. Even as Grandpa’s outward body wasted away, his inner man was renewed day by day, being prepared by the light and momentary affliction of Alzheimer’s for an eternal weight of glory to come (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

And Alzheimer’s, where is yours?

Light Still Shines

The land of forgetfulness and deep darkness is not our lasting city — thank God! In our lasting city, “night will be no more,” for God himself will be our light and the Lamb our lamp (Revelation 21:23; 22:5).

My grandpa has already reached his lasting city. My mother-in-law, not yet. But in the land of forgetfulness, we affirm with eyes of faith that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Because for those in Christ Jesus, the last word will be light.

3.

Pup turned 3 a little over a week ago, and I’ve been savoring all the snuggles and kisses and “hold me”s I can.  He’s been crawling into my lap and just asking me to hold him lately.  Savoring it while I can — along with his chubby wrists and dimpled knuckles — while he’s still the baby of the family.

5.

Cub turned 5 a few days ago.  And the one thing I want to remember is this:

I had a sharp disagreement with one of my parents while they were visiting this week.  Feeling sick and nauseous compounded my emotions.  I went to my room in tears.

A few moments later, I heard little feet outside my door and Cub walked in, climbed into my bed, hugged me, and told me, “I love you, umma.”

Then he quietly walked back out and closed the door after him.

I was touched by his boyish thoughtfulness, showing me love and then giving me space to work out my emotions (like he often needs for himself).  I believe God used it to soften my heart in a heated moment.  It could definitely use more softening and humbling, but God was kind to use love — and not a rod.

Focus.

It’d been a rough week with Cub, and I felt like I had been talking to him all week about foolish decisions, the way of fools, everything fool related.

So this morning, I pulled him onto my lap and began to tell him also of the beautiful things I saw in his life.  Wise decisions he had made, kindness, thoughtfulness, his love for music and beauty.

And looking into my eyes, he smiled, and said,

“I want to touch your eyeballs.”

#fourgoingonfive

I shall not want.

“When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.”

(Audrey Assad)

It’s easier to say no to the leeks and meat pots of slavery
after I’ve drunk of living water and had my fill
of the bread of life.

From a place of fullness, not
a place of hunger, do You bid me say,
“I shall not want.”

Jesus is worth it.

From Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God, pp. 286-287:

“I have even been wiling to die for Jesus,” he pleaded. “But do you know what I fear? When I go to bed at night, what keeps me awake, and what actually terrifies me, is the thought that God might ask of my wife and my children what I have already willingly given Him.”

“How can He ask it? Tell me! How could God ask that of my wife and children?”

I paused for a few moments and prayed that the Lord would guide my words as I responded … Finally I told him, “I personally cannot answer your question.  But I would ask you another question that I have had to ask myself: ‘Is Jesus worth it? Is He worth your life? Is He worth the lives of your wife and your children?’

He was undoubtedly the toughest man I ever met.  He began to sob.  He wrapped his arms around me, buried his face in my shoulder and wept …

Then he looked me in the eyes again, nodded, and declared, “Jesus is worth it.  He is worth my life, my wife’s life, and He is worth the lives of my children! …”

He is.

In fact, that’s how worth it He is.  Not that there is no cost.  I cannot think of a greater cost than my husband or sons.  But there is no cost that compares to His worth.

Jesus Christ is worthy not only of my life but all our lives.  Except the upside down thing is that He laid down His infinitely precious life for us.  So what is the temporal giving of this life?  Like Amy Carmichael said, certainly count the cost … but take your slate to the foot of the Cross and count the cost there.

Even if.

From Vaneetha Rendall Risner:

Even if.

Those two simple words have taken the fear out of life. Replacing “what if” with “even if” is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God.We see that even if the worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.

From John Piper:

The greatest danger a missionary faces is not death but to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting…

Remember this Advent that Christmas is a model for missions. As I, so you. And that mission means danger. And the greatest danger is distrusting God’s mercy. Succumb to this and all is lost. Conquer here and nothing can harm you for a million ages.

Clenched fists at the altar.

A missionary from Central Asia visited our church yesterday, and we were able to join some others for lunch with her.  One of the questions I asked her was, “Do you ever fear being there?”  When I was single, I was much more fearless (I had nothing to lose!), but now that I have a family, especially children, that’s my greatest struggle.

I expected her to sympathize a little with me and comfort and reassure me that God would care for us, that He was trustworthy, so on.

But she locked eyes with me and, without missing a beat, told me about a missionary couple in her area who had children later in life (miracle babies!).  Their children grew up to love Jesus and were attending college and seminary in the area.  One day, the wife came home from the hospital to find that her home was in flames and her husband, daughter, and son were all shot and killed by — or exploded by — suicide bombers.

That was her answer to my fears.

I was so stunned (and in tears) that I couldn’t ask any more questions.

She told me that those who lasted in her area were those were sure they were called.  And they were willing to lay down everything.  They knew the cost, they were willing to risk it all because God had called them.

Since then, I’ve wrestled with her answer to me.

Am I willing to lay husband and children on the altar, entrusting their “fate” to God, should He call us to a difficult corner of the world?  Is the gospel that precious to me?  Do I share enough of God’s heart for the lost to risk my dearest earthly treasures?  Do I desire His glory that much?  Do I count God that worthy?

And if I’m not willing, am I even willing to pray for willingness?

Hard places.

From Marwan Aboul-Zelof, a church planter in Beirut, writing on The Gospel Coalition today:

Most of the unreached in our world remain unreached because they live in hard places: whether they’re in closed communities, hard-to-access villages, or other dangerous places. The biblical call to go to them is not void because of these challenges.

If anything, this ought to be a more urgent matter for the church. Christ calls us to take the gospel to hard places. And the gospel will always conflict and confront; the setting or location is irrelevant.

… There are so many unknowns in this part of the world, especially now. It’s quite possible we could wake up tomorrow and learn that Lebanon has been pulled into war. What’s been taking place in Syria for the past six years could be our next six years. And the cost weighs even more heavily when you have responsibility for a family.

But while the list of unknowns is much too long, we can’t live in a way that puts too much weight on temporal things. God’s promises in Christ are eternal and sure, and in Christ and his finished work we anchor our hope and trust.

… We pray and hope for peace in Lebanon, but in the meantime we have a commission from our King.