The Lesson I Learned After Church

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I keep thinking about the church service I went to this morning. Well, actually, I’m mostly thinking about the few minutes of fellowship after the service. And I still feel the impact of it.

My mother-in-law, Eunice, is deep into the dementia of Alzheimer’s. She’s still walking, though not as well as a few years ago when she first moved in with us. So we try to bring her to church with us, even though we don’t think she gets much out of it anymore.

And occasionally one of us will bring her back to her own church, so she can maybe keep some connections there. This morning I asked Eunice, “Do you want to go to church now?”

“What’s church?” she answered.

“It’s where we sing hymns and songs to God and hear a pastor preach about Jesus.”

Her face brightened and she agreed to go. We found seats towards the back of the church, because she will sometimes talk at inappropriate times now days. I read the bulletin and noted that next week the church is celebrating it’s 90th anniversary!

I thought of all the decades Eunice had served in this church as the Sunday School Superintendent and then a church secretary. I remembered the Bible studies she’d enjoyed and the Circle she’d faithfully met with. I wondered how many cakes she had baked and set out for funerals, how many dishes she’d washed in the church kitchen, and how many stitches she had put in quilts for the mission’s raffle.

I leaned over and whispered, “Does this place look familiar?”

“A little bit,” she answered.

The worship songs were more contemporary, so I didn’t notice her join in, though she had been singing with the hymns on CD I’d played in the car.

But when the pastor was preaching, and read a verse, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is….” he paused, to have the congregation fill in the missing word. And Eunice was one of the first to say, “Light.” And she said it with confidence!

But it was when the service was over that I got my real lesson. We waited in our row, for the crowds in the aisles to thin and before we stood up an older man, a retired pastor that now leads a Bible study at the church, came over and kneeled on a chair in the row in front of us, so he could greet Eunice.

He gave her a hug and then held her hand warmly. “Eunice, it’s so good to see you! You were always so faithful to come to Bible Study. We miss you! We love you!”

Eunice’s eyes sparkled and she smiled back at him. He looked at me with a smile and asked, “How old is Eunice now?”

“She just turned 96.”

“Well, she’s our second oldest member then. A—- Nelson is 97.” He turned back to Eunice, “You remember A—-, don’t you? And remember when you and Rollie had us over to your house for supper? Oh we miss you and love you!”

His wife saw us and came over next to Eunice and hugged her. “Oh, we’re so glad to see you! We love you!” she said with a big smile.

Eunice smiled back and said, “What’s his name?” as she looked back at the pastor still holding her hand.

“He’s John,” she replied kindly. Eunice nodded and smiled. And somehow we knew, even though she didn’t remember their names, that she knew these people. And that she felt known!

And I’m thinking now what a beautiful example of Christian love they are! It was seemingly such a simple thing to stop and talk with an elderly person, but I know it touched Mom. They took time to remember with her. They expressed with the warmth and sincerity in their eyes and touch and smile and words that they loved her and cared about her.

Sometimes the elderly, especially maybe those who can’t communicate well anymore, become invisible or ignored. I don’t think most people are meaning to be rude or thoughtless. Many times they are busy in their own “world” or just aren’t sure how to deal with dementia.

But people with dementia are still people. And their souls still yearn for what we all need. Understanding and notice and love.

And we have the ability to bless one another by just taking a few minutes to truly care. This couple’s sweet visit with Mom is still warming my heart hours later.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God…”  I John 4:7

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  1. So often a remembrance like you described brightens the dim corners of memory. It happened in my mother’s life as well. Thank you for the reminder of how precious such reunions can be!

  2. It surprises me how often I am guilty of being in my “own world” when I worship with fellow believers in my local church. And you’re right. My lack of concern isn’t purposeful. Even today, I sat next to a lady I probably would not have noticed or spoken to until her friend said, “Cindie, did you know that TODAY is Ruth’s 85th birthday?” How thankful I am for my friend, Barb, whose question shook me out of the bubble of my own world and helped me see that, sitting right next to me was a lovely lady who just needed a birthday hug and a wee conversation about her celebration plans.

    My own Momma no longer attends church, but quite a few of her friends (who live about 100 miles away from her now) still remember her with cards. Though she no longer remembers their names, or how she knows them, she is blessed to have so many lovely cards to sift through and read over and over again. More importantly, she has many friends who still remember her name in prayer.

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder of what a church family should be, and for offering a little glimpse into how to relate to someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or other life-altering infirmities of mind or body.

    1. Thank you barefootlilylady! I’m too often in my own world too! It’s very easy to do. But just observing the way my mother-in-law lit up after this little conversation reminds me how important it is to look for those who especially need encouragement and to pray the Holy Spirit would point me to them.

      My mother-in-law got quite a few birthday cards from friends at church, too. I wish she could remember then, but she does enjoy the cards and it warms my heart that she is being remembered!

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