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Unexpected providence.

A few weeks ago, I saw an old friend at a first birthday party.  We attended high school and college together but hadn’t really seen each other since college graduation.  She mentioned that she read my article for Desiring God, where I wrote a little about my grandpa’s journey through Alzheimer’s and to salvation.

Then she lowered her voice a little, “I never told you this, but I had rotations at your grandpa’s skilled nursing facility during my nursing program.”  She and another friend from our high school both worked a few months at the facility where my grandpa stayed, but because of privacy laws, she wasn’t sure if she could share that information with me at the time.

“I didn’t realize he was your grandpa until I saw your photo by his bed.”  And she shared with me how agitated he was back then, how she tried to help translate for the other nurses since his English was limited, and how she prayed for him.

By then, we both had tears streaming down our cheeks.

She didn’t know until she read my article that he had come to know Christ about a year after she had cared for him.  And I never realized God had provided for my grandpa in such an incredible way — a nurse who, unbeknownst to my family or me, joined us in petitioning God for his soul.

In how many more unseen ways did God work in my grandpa’s life back then?  Stories I don’t even know about?

And in how many more unseen ways is He working now in the lives of those for whom I am praying but not seeing fruit for yet?

His ways are higher.  Unsearchable.  Perfect.

Muffin tops.

Over four years ago, I was asked to describe my relationship with JE as if describing it to our children, and I summed it up with this story:

We ate dinner at Sweet Tomatoes one evening in 2011.  A transcript of our conversation would have read like playful children dined together, as well as two very serious adults.  At one point, we talked about how the muffin top was the best part of the muffin.

Later, your appa picked up a blueberry muffin for us to share.  I thought he would use his knife to cut the muffin in half, but with one swift motion he popped off the entire muffin top and handed it to me.

I didn’t know what to do, so I took it, a little stunned.  Thoughts like, Oh, shouldn’t we share this?  Do you want half of this?  Didn’t you just say this was your favorite part, too? came to mind.  But I just watched as he quietly and happily ate the bottom part of the muffin.

What is our relationship like?

Your dad giving me the muffin top.  Me, melting.

Which is why this next recent story is especially dear to me.

Last Saturday, JE was gone for men’s retreat, so the kids and I had a special morning at Starbucks.  We split a blueberry muffin three ways, and in his haste and excitement, Pup took a bite and then dropped the rest on the floor.

His face crinkled into a cry.

Then Cub popped off the top of his muffin — the best part with all the blueberries and sugar crystals — and handed it to Pup.  The piece he gave Pup was almost his entire portion, and he happily started eating the little he had left without a word.

I think I almost cried myself.  As if I didn’t already think he was so much like his dad, he repeated history in almost the same, unassuming way.


Just wanted to record the sweetest rebuke I ever received — from my firstborn a couple weeks ago.

Pup had been wetting his pants again and again for a few weeks, making for some really inconvenient clean-up situations.  I lost my patience with him, and I yelled at him for an accident.  And as he cowered under my shouting, Cub quietly left the room and then returned shortly after with a little note in his hand.  He shyly handed it to me:


Kapow.  God’s grace.

Little apple of my eye.

This morning, Pup came to snuggle with me and fell asleep as I patted his head. When he woke up, I stroked his cheek and looked at his little face for a long time. He looked straight back at me. Then he said, “Umma, I can see my face in your eyes.”

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.”