Last night as I watched a basketball game played in the Boston Garden, it reminded me of the time I sat in that arena and watched the Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2008 NBA Championship. Even though I am not a Celtics fan (Go Pistons!) and I could have lived my entire life without the hugs from the mostly drunk, elated Celtics fans on the way out of the arena that night, it is one of my most favorite memories. I was able to go because my friends, Larry and Lynne, were generous with their tickets and my father-in-law offered to pay my airfare to Boston.
Sadly, Arling doesn’t remember his generosity these days. He frequently doesn’t know me or Karla or even Mary, his wife of nearly 60 years. Alzheimer’s disease has robbed him of so much of his life. He is unable to share his cherished memories with anyone most of the time.
This past Sunday, like every Sunday, my in-laws were at our house for dinner following church. Typically, Karla or I ask the blessing for the meal, but this week she asked her dad to pray. Arling’s Alzheimer’s doesn’t allow him to have too many meaningful conversations. His words aren’t always coherent. Real communication is more guessing what he might be saying and thinking than knowing what he is actually saying and thinking. But at Sunday’s dinner, just like he has so many times in his past, when asked to pray, he had a conversation with our Heavenly Father. Just like old times he prayed for protection, direction and peace. He prayed for God to help us and be with us. It was a beautiful prayer except he forgot to say “Amen.” He just kept praying and praying, repeating his words while continuing to pray. Eventually, more hungry than blessed, we finally helped him out and said, “Amen, let’s eat.”
Later I was reflecting on Arling’s prayer and concluded: Maybe, just maybe, Arling didn’t “forget” to say “Amen.” Maybe he just didn’t say it. Maybe in his Alzheimer’s state, Arling is living in constant communion with the Father. Maybe he’s in a fellowship with Jesus where no hellos or Amens are required. Just because he can’t communicate with us like he once did, that doesn’t mean that he has stopped communicating with the Father. Moreover, I’m convinced the Father is still conversing with him.
My father-in-law has lived his life serving Jesus. He can’t express his faith to us most days. But it’s still there. His communication with the Jesus is different now than in days gone by, but maybe it’s better without the clutter of this world’s chatter. If you heard Sunday’s prayer, there would be no doubt of a sweet fellowship that is shared between Jesus and Arling. Jesus words are true for Arling and all those who suffer, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).