My life feels busy—sometimes crazy busy. While homeschooling five kids who are in various activities, it feels like a lot of juggling to make it all work. And although I aspire to have a clean and organized home, the reality is that I am so not there. I can even feel the chaos creeping in—a few more dirty dishes in the sink, a few more books piled on the counter, a few more puzzle pieces left out. Then, if I’m not careful, it’s full on crazy-town house, where there is crusted play dough on the carpet, piles of dirty clothes, and don’t even ask about the kitchen. What happened? Why is it so chaotic? Because kids? Because I’m a bad house keeper? Because my hubby doesn’t pick up the slack?
It’s not really any of that. It’s that my surroundings begin to dictate my feelings, and I have let the chaos in. It enters through my perception of my circumstances. Because the truth really is that even if I had a perfect system and was on top of my schedule and my house was perfectly clean and my kids were actually tiny self-cleaning robots, these things would not guarantee my sanity—and I would not automatically have peace. Because there would always be something else. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair, and even if I had the best hand, he’d throw in the ace he’s hidden up his sleeve. He cheats by whispering: You aren’t good enough. You haven’t cleaned up enough. You are failing miserably, and it is your fault. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Because it’s not an equation. Because a clean house doesn’t equal success whereas a messy house equals failure. Because there are seven of us and we are all still learning how to live together. Because we all need grace Every. Single. Day. Grace says, I refuse to judge you for your sticky floor because I see your heart and know that making pancakes with your toddler says love so much more than a freshly mopped floor. Grace says, yes the space is cluttered but let’s work on this together as a team—without blaming or casting judgment on the sloppiest child (who also may be the most creative). Grace says, in the midst of the chaos—the whirling storm of judgment beating down on your soul—choose peace.
In the gospels, there is an account of Jesus calming a literal storm. Jesus was with his disciples late one night on a boat, and a “furious” storm broke out, where waves were actually crashing into the boat. The storm was so terrible that the disciples thought they were going to die. And in the middle of this awful storm, Jesus was sound asleep. He was at complete peace in the middle of complete chaos. The chaos was around but it was not within. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:38-39)
I am reminded of Jesus on that boat when I think about my daily struggles. When I choose to reject those critical voices within, the storm calms and there is peace. Because there will be seasons that things don’t look perfect on the outside. There will be sticky counters and messy projects and piles of laundry. And so the storms will rage. But looking past the outward, going deep within—that is the place to find rest. And this is a reminder to me, to choose peace in the middle of my mess.
Imagine being unaware of who your loved ones are, or not knowing what to do when someone puts a toothbrush in your hand, or not knowing the words you once used to describe a sunset. This is the reality of some people who are living with dementia. They are truly drowning in a sea of forgetfulness. It can be a daunting experience to watch one’s mother or father lose their capacity to think or reason, to move or speak, to acknowledge that you are their child.
By 2030, it is projected that the U.S population of people over age 65, will double and by the middle of the century, 16 million Americans will be impacted by Alzheimer’s (Alz.org). The implications of 1 out of 8 baby boomers having Alzheimer’s, on my generation (the Xennials) is striking. This means, that for each baby boomer that has Alzheimer’s, 1 or more of my peers will be tasked with taking care of their parent that may or may not remember they are their children. To be forgotten by old classmates, neighbors, or a beloved teacher is one thing, but to be forgotten by your parents is another. To be forgotten by the very ones that helped to shape your own sense of identity is a hard pill to swallow.
But, this sea of forgetfulness can be a double edge sword for those who will be the caretakers. On one hand, it is a burden to face the reality that some of the very memories that shaped you, that made you who you are, may be forgotten by the ones closest to you. This realization can lead to one enter into an anticipatory grieving process (long before the loved one ever dies a physical death). On the other hand, this sea of forgetfulness, requires you to enter into a new kind of relationship with your loved one. It requires you to truly enter their world, to see their world from their perspective, which sometimes shows up like disconnected puzzle pieces. And it’s not our job to put the puzzle pieces together for them, but to hold the pieces they give us, to explore these pieces as far as they will go. This sea, requires us to not be afraid to sink in and lose touch with our own reality, in order to enter theirs.
As a chaplain, providing pastoral care to people with dementia, I have found music and religious rituals seem to be “sticky memories”. There are residents I work with that may never enter into a full substantial conversation with me, they may not always remember the names of their children but if you sing a familiar song (maybe a hymn of the church, or even a song from their school days) or begin reciting the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s prayer, they have no problem reciting it line by line. These things miraculously have not been drowned in the sea. Which makes me think even more deeply about the importance of cultivating one’s spirituality while we have the full capacity of our minds and bodies. I’m beginning to believe that maybe it is the spirit that somehow keeps one’s head above the water when the mind and even the body seems to be drowning in the sea of forgetfulness.