Is there another four-letter word more symmetrical? Two consonants and two vowels balanced in tone, depth, and resonance, all perfectly poised in a mere syllable.
Yet is there another four-letter word in the English language whose meaning is more confusing, contradictory, and elusive?
Adding complication to complexity, we are told God is love.
And we’re also told that we need to love God with all that we have and all that we are.
I’ve heard these kinds of statements all my life. And for much of my life, even though I’m Christian, I didn’t know how to do either—to love God or to know that God loves me.
And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve been able to give lip service, but my trying to love an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, infinite, invisible, perfect being we call God was futile. It yielded nothing more than a cosmetic blush.
Nonetheless. As I look back over the path that unfolded for Martha, our children, and me—after we were confronted with Alzheimer’s—the one arc that defined this path is God’s silent, persistent revealing of his love for our family. Despite all else.
When our daughter Kathryn was in high school, she had a friend whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s not long after Martha was.
“When that happened,” Kathryn says, “my friend’s father left the family.” She and her sister were forced to be their mother’s primary caregivers and run the house while going to school. “I can’t imagine having to do that,” Kathryn remembers thinking.
When Kathryn told me about her friend, we looked at each other for a long spell before we hugged. No decisions are easy in this kind of crisis, and the consequences are long-lasting. I recall trying to put myself in that father’s place and wondering if I could just walk out the door. And if I had, where would Martha be? And where would our children be? And I?
Despite all the frustration, loss, and despair that this thing called Alzheimer’s has thrown at us, there have been too many encounters … too many insights … and too many whispers deep within not to know that divine Love transcends all the good and all the dread we’ve experienced. And in transcending, this Love lifted Martha and our family far above our circumstance.
I encountered this kind of divine intimacy in March 2014 in, of all places, a hotel room in Macon, Georgia. As I share in my forthcoming book A Path Revealed, I was on a road trip with our daughter Rachel and her two-year-old daughter Olivia Grace. Curiously, I’d been reflecting on the opening words of an ancient psalm that I hadn’t grasped in any concrete way, but which on occasion offered me a measure of comfort: “He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Right before dawn, Olivia’s tiny voice awakened me: “Mommie . . . Mommie . . . Mommie.” I opened my eyes to see a crescent moon and stars on the darkened ceiling above, lit by a bedtime toy Rachel used to comfort Olivia. I saw Rachel standing, bending over Olivia in her bed. But I could see none of Rachel’s features, not even her flaming red hair. All I saw was a darkened outline—the silhouette of a mother moving silently, hovering over her child, touching her head, checking her diaper, pulling up the sheets, whispering words only her child could hear.
This intimate moment during that pre-dawn hour, with the stars and moon above—finally, I understood: So this is what it means to “abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” During the darkest of hours this Shadow hovers over Martha, mothering her, caressing her, protecting her, singing to her, whispering in her ear. As with Martha, this Shadow hovers over me too, and over our children, and over their children.
With every encounter such as this, it was as though Christ Jesus were whispering to me, “Now, Carlen, do you know our Father loves you? Loves Martha? David, Rachel, and Kathryn?”
Have you, like I, had difficulty sensing God’s love and intimacy? Have you been able to experience this intimacy? Do you care to share? If so, email me at Carlen@CarlenMaddux.com. Or you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
God love us all real good.
I am offering a free guide, "How Can My Crisis Be Turned Into A Spiritual Journey Filled With Meaning?" which shares my experience in learning how to negotiate such a trek. To receive it, and sign up for my weekly newsletter, please fill out this form:
P.S. In closing, I remind you that I’m neither a licensed psychologist/psychiatrist nor an ordained minister. What I’m sharing in this post and others is drawn from nearly two decades of experience in wrestling with the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease on our family. Each person’s odyssey is unique. As you travel your own path and encounter serious obstacles—be they mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual—I strongly encourage you to start an ongoing conversation with a trusted counselor, guide, pastor, or doctor.