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The Faith of Jo

May 26, 2016

Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me.

As the group gathered in a circle before me sings out the children’s Sunday school song with more gusto than usual, I cannot help but think how appropriate a selection this is for our morning worship.

The worshippers are all in memory care, suffering from various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Yet God does not forget. And so there is hope to be found, even here.

Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me.

It’s not the same today, though, because Jo is not in her usual place. I look all around. Maybe she is seated at a table in the other room. But I don’t see her. I lead the singing as usual, read stories from the Children’s Bible and say a few words about God’s love – but I am distracted.

Has Jo died?

It happens so often.

But not Jo. Please, not Jo.

What a terribly selfish thought. How could I not be overwhelmed with joy that this faithful woman has finally been allowed to claim her heavenly reward and to escape the ravages of Alzheimer’s?

Jo is my mentor. She discipled me. She taught me most of what I know about doing ministry with Alzheimer’s/dementia patients.

When I first began having a twice-monthly worship service here a few years ago, I tried to preach a sermon like I was speaking from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Looking back on it now, the folly of it almost makes me laugh.

Then Jo showed up and kept yelling in my face that she could not hear me.

She did this every time, until I finally gave up and formed another plan.

Which is what I needed to do.

Now we tell stories and sing and pray – and sometimes we have communion or do anointing with oil. But we always sing, especially children’s songs and the old hymns. And we always talk about the love of God.

Jo was suspicious of me in the beginning. Once, as she glanced in my direction from the back of the room, I heard her say, “I do not like that man.” So I decided I should try to keep my distance for a while, not wanting to cause her any undue alarm.

Then one day, she simply started praying for me.

I found out that’s what Jo does. She may not recall much about her life, but the staff tells me she served as a missionary. And I can see it in her. She still always carries her leather-bound, King James Bible. When staff or other patients are not doing well, Jo puts her free hand on them, and holding the Bible in the other, prays. She encourages those around her, telling them they are loved and appreciated.

At some point, without warning, her attitude toward me seemed to undergo a major shift, and she began encouraging me, too, and telling me how she looked forward to my visits. I don’t know why. Maybe she appreciated that I am still willing to learn.

I always look forward to seeing her.

Recently, she would grab me by the arm, pull me close and say in a hushed voice, “You love Jesus! I love Jesus too!” And I would say, “Yes, Jo, and Jesus loves you very much.”

I don’t know how many times Jo has said something that changed my day for the better by making me more aware of God’s presence. Once she informed me suddenly during our service that she was going to meet Jesus soon – and, having learned not to dismiss those kinds of declarations – I listened. She began to say more. “I don’t know who else I am going to see, but it is all right, as long as I see Jesus. Is there anything wrong with that?”

And I said no, there is nothing wrong with that.

But it wasn’t Jo’s time then. And now is not her time either. I took aside a staff member as soon as worship ended today, and I asked, with trepidation, “Where is Jo?” Turns out, she moved to a memory care center in another town, to be closer to family.

I hope that will be good for her.

Selfishly, perhaps sinfully, I’m not sure how I will get along without her.

Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me.

 

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Hill permalink
    May 26, 2016 9:30 pm

    Beautiful story, beautifully told. Thank you.

  2. Elizabeth Tull permalink
    May 31, 2016 4:50 pm

    My Mother witnessed to me until the moment she passed on. What a blessing it is to have those in your life that keep teaching and to appreciate continued learning.

    .

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