“I’m Still Here”
Psalm 71:1-9, 17-21 and Matthew 5:1-12
September 21, 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Psalm 71:1-9, 17-21
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Your power and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Six years ago,
I had the privilege to attend the Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference in Toronto, Canada.
At that time I was the Director of Science and Education
For our local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
I felt it was my responsibility to always learn as much as I could,
As thoroughly as I was able,
Given the opportunities I was afforded.
I placed myself as a student at the master’s feet
Before our local researchers and clinicians,
Before our national leaders in the war on Alzheimer’s and related brain diseases,
And, in the case of Alzheimer’s Disease International,
Before some of the smartest, most creative scientists and researchers
On the planet.
While in Toronto
I became acquainted with friends and staff members from the Alzheimer Society of Canada;
A marvelous organization,
Well organized and funded,
That provides support services across the vast nation of Canada.
I was especially impressed by the sensitivity
And cultural respect that was shown
Towards First Nation people
(North American Native Americans);
Of how they viewed life, wisdom, spirituality, and aging.
When visiting Canada last month
I saw a commercial on my hotel room television sponsored by the Alzheimer Society of Canada
That made me warm with nostalgia.
The tag line went like this:
“I’m still here”.
I’m still here.
Drinking deeply from the Psalmist, we hear an elder’s petition to God:
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.”
I hear an elder’s voice rising up to God saying,
“I’m still here!”
I also hear a care partner’s voice crying out,
“Don’t forget me, Lord.
I’m still here, too.”
Though much of the world’s attention is stolen by youth,
Masculine strength, pecs, glutes, and solar plexus;
Though much of the world’s attention idolizes youth,
Feminine curves and cleavage, fashion and beauty, charm and personality,
Elders experience the wains and wants of strength weakening every year.
Aging adults, many like me, look in the mirror and see how
The body stretches and sags as time marches on.
With growing anxiety, elders are confronted with the effects
Of age associated memory impairment.
Elders! You who are pushed aside and pressed to the margins
Lift your heads high,
Join your voice with the Psalmist,
And resolutely remind our God,
“I’m still here!”
God knows you are still here.
The Psalmist reminds us with this promise:
“You who have made me see
many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.”
Probably more so than the increasingly dependent elder,
The one who most needs to hear and experience
The promise of revival from the Psalmist is the care partner;
That elder spouse, or
The adult member of the sandwich generation,
Who is caring for family,
Children or grandchildren,
And parents or grandparents.
Revive, O Lord, our care partners,
Because we’re running out of gas,
And our fuel consumption is rising each and every day.
Because I live with one.
Over the past 11 months,
My mother-in-law has made no fewer than five hospital visits,
Numerous emergency room visits for bloody noses,
A shattered pelvis, and goodness knows how many strokes,
Some big, some small.
Marsha has moved from house to hospital,
From hospital to rehab,
From rehab to assisted living,
From assisted living to hospital,
From hospital to rehab,
And, just a week and a half ago,
From rehab to memory care.
There’s not much gas left in the tank.
“Revive me again” is our petition,
Taken straight from the lips of the Psalmist.
“I’m still here,” says my beloved wife, Cynthia,
“O Lord, I can’t do it without you.”
Value comes in life
From the relationships that we make,
From the people whom God brings together.
The relationship between care partners,
The mutual respect between
One with memory impairment and one without,
Has an opportunity to deepen and mature with time,
Especially if seasoned with faith, grace, and love.
Though ability changes,
“I’m still here” peals like church bells
As a reminder that providing care
Is an act of mercy and love,
That originates with the call directly from God.
Recognizing the value of life found in relationships
Is in direct opposition to what our culture tells us is most important:
Society tells us that intellect is the greatest prize.
As a people, we value smarts.
We lift up intelligence,
College, university, and graduate school success.
The metric for success
Comes in the form of earnings.
Smart, over-achievers earn a lot more
Than those at the opposite end of the bell curve,
Who, after 40 years, still get up early
To barely scrape out a living wage.
The divide of intellect is nowhere more glaring
Than in the community of people who are intellectually challenged;
Often known as the disabled,
Or “other abled”, as I prefer to say.
Individuals with different abilities are often overlooked, under employed, and with few or no meaningful friends.
People with other abilities are often treated by society
With special classes, group homes, and vans with tinted windows.
People at the lower region of the intellectual bell curve
Are asked to leave houses of worship because of “behaviors,”
Are surrounded by well-meaning staff
Who often don’t see the value of mutuality,
And are often subjected to countless, repetitive assessments
Which serves no good purpose.
Most of all, many suffer from loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.
(To satisfy your deeper curiosity, Google “Eden Alternative”)
“Oh, those poor people,” many of us sigh,
As the ARC bus is cued at the stop light in front of us.
Then, a loved one,
Or, perhaps, we ourselves,
Begin to experience cognitive, intellectual decline.
Fear sets in.
We are introduced to our old friends: anxiety and depression.
We panic that one day, we will become the ones
Riding the Happy Bus with tinted windows,
While others take pity on us.
We fear communal living,
Group homes known by different names:
Memory care or nursing homes.
Many of us fear being forced to cut our anchor of faith,
Leave our home house of worship,
And to be subjected to a watered down service or Mass
At the facility,
If they even have one.
Life turns upside down with cognitive changes
And we begin to cry out,
“Stop it, dear Lord!
“I’m still here.”
“Yes, you are still here,” our Lord replies.
“I created you perfect,
And in my own image,” God reminds
Our increasingly forgetful brain.
“You are still here,
And I remain right by your side.”
You are still here
And God is right by your side.
Our Divine Creator,
The one who gives us life and calls it sacred,
Re-orients us to the very beginning,
On the seventh day when He rested
And proclaimed each and every one of us
Every one of God’s precious children
Is created perfectly in God’s image
And is considered very good in His loving opinion.
In God’s eyes, sacred worth
Isn’t measured by physical or intellectual abilities.
Sacred worth is granted by our Divine Creator
When we are given the light of life,
When we become a living soul,
When our lungs are filled with the Spirit of the living Lord!
When intellectual impairments become obvious
Or cognitive changes begin to take place,
Thoughtful theologians and seekers of the Spirit
Are led by the hand to the fact
That God calls us to value the soul,
To honor every life,
And to give thanks for the opportunities that
Each life places before us.
In contrast with my mother-in-law relative rapid cognitive changes,
My mother, Alice, has been riding
The Twenty-Year plan of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Can I just give a shout-out to my sister, Cindy, who is my mother’s primary care partner?
God loves you, Cindy, and so do my brothers and I!
Initially the diagnosis was hard.
Our imaginations ran wild.
We feared mom’s trajectory would resemble a similar trajectory
Of her two sisters, June and Jewel.
They came before mom,
From an era
Whose care was institutionalized
And many suffered terribly from well-meaning but ignorant care.
However, my mother’s slow cognitive descent
Has taught me many valuable lessons.
I have learned
Life doesn’t end with diagnosis.
Life simply changes.
And for some, for those brave enough to embrace it,
Life begins anew.
Over the past sixteen years
Our mother has remained as the matriarch of our family.
She continues to be
The steward of wisdom and deep pockets of family information.
Mom remains a solid rock of faith, as evident
In every telephone conversation, every note, and every personal visit.
I can now see that
God has blessed our family with a mother with Alzheimer’s
And she continues to give each of us more
Than any of us could ever give her
Each and every day.
It is easy to correlate the Gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount
With a blessing for those who are the unwilling dance partners
With plaques and tangles or with bleeds or clots.
Indeed, I would hope and pray that you would add your blessings
To these, our beloved elders.
At the same time,
I’d like to push our theological envelopes
By suggest that our Lord is also blessing care partners,
Those who shoulder an ever increasing load of responsibility,
And who are also in need of Divine support.
Blessed are the poor.
Yes, caregiving makes you poor, in both money and spirit.
May you be blessed with support.
May your blessings come with a community network
To ensure your every need is met.
May you also be blessed
With the refreshing, sustaining Holy Spirt
To keep your soul nourished.
“I’m still here!” is answered with God’s blessings.
Blessed are those who mourn,
Prematurely and after the fact.
“I’m still here!” is answered with God’s comfort.
Blessed are the meek,
For being a care partner often isolates one to the home
And an early bedtime.
The party becomes pooped.
Emotional, spiritual, and medical vulnerability sets up shop
Unlike it never has before.
“I’m still here!” becomes a cry that is answered
With the gift of God’s presence and companionship,
You’ll never be alone along this unknowable journey.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers, because only God knows
The stress of inter-sibling rivalry, whining, complaining, and sniping.
And blessed is the merciful,
For mercy is of God,
And mercy comes from God.
Mercy is that quality of life
That is a value added commodity
Which gives life meaning.
Mercy is that open heart
That becomes the vessel of God’s grace
And channel of God’s love.
Blessed are those who cry,
“I’m still here,” who have mercifully surrendered their lives
For the benefit of another.
Blessed are the merciful.
Our Lord values every life;
Considers every life sacred,
Regardless of circumstances or challenge.
Just as you are valued by God,
Let us value one another,
The sacred soul
That has been given to each.
Whether you are on the journey of dementia
Or you’re the care partner stepping up, and stepping in,
Know this to be true:
God knows you are still here.
May the rest of us recognize the fact
That you are still here, too.
May the God who named you
Give you mercy.