Psalm 150:6: “Let all things that have breath praise the Lord.”
At the homeless shelter where I stay, we’re required to attend chapel every night. Monday, for the first time in months, Jervis Ray preached. His text was Psalm 23. However, he was soon enough back to his same old same old, haranguing us that we’re not grateful enough for our “blessings.” “God woke you up in your right mind,” with the use of two arms and two legs.
He calls us to praise God that our bootstraps aren’t like others’. “There are lots of people in hospitals who don’t know where they are.”
That stung me, as my oldest brother will be soon enough in just that state.
Zach is ten years my senior; he just turned 70 in July. As a young man, and into middle age, he loved to play basketball and engage in distance running. His civilian career was in education. He served as a grade school teacher and principal. He earned a doctorate, and taught at a teachers’ college. Even in Viet Nam, he taught: in Da Nang City, he found a Baptist mission where he taught English to Viet Namese children. One of them became a pen-pal to me, and we corresponded for 15 years. Her English was exceptional.
Zach had a parallel career in the military, alternating back and forth between the air force reserves and active duty. He served a term as the commandant of an air force war college. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
In the meantime, he and his wife Mary raised five children. They were completely faithful to each other; there were no other partners, and no other children.
He introduced me to the concept that one can choose one’s feelings.
Having been exposed to Agent Orange, about seven years ago Zach developed Parkinson’s disease. It has progressed quickly. As of my last word from Mary, a few months ago, he had a 100% disability rating both physically and mentally. As of my last phone conversation with Zach, again a few months ago, he was attending adult day care two days a week to provide Mary respite.
There are a number of people whom I pray for by name every day. In the past several weeks, when I have prayed for Zach, I have consistently received the impression that he is deteriorating even further — and knows it. The last piece of information I received intuitively, Tuesday morning, was that they’re about to move into a different living facility because Mary can no longer take care of him.
I went through some distress behind this, Wednesday.
The day will come when Zach is confined to a wheelchair or bed, unable to walk on his own, dress himself, wash himself, possibly feed himself. He may not know where he is. He will wear diapers that someone else will have to change.
What can he possibly do then, to praise the Lord?
He can love.
Our father was about the same age, when Alzheimer’s began to take him away from us. For the last ten years of his life, Dad was essentially Mom’s favorite vegetable. But when I would visit them, the bond of love between them was awesome to behold.
Zach can love his parents (of blessed memory), his wife, his brothers, his children and grandchildren. He can lighten the load of caregivers, brightening someone’s possibly stressed-out day. “It’s always a pleasure to deal with Mr. Tell.”
If his distress can affect me (and it did), his love can affect me, too.
One need not be compos mentis. One need not even be awake. I have evidence we serve God in our sleep.
Many of those who call themselves the victims of injustice, complain always that they have no bootstraps. I say no. I say, as long as you have life and breath, you have bootstraps.
What are they? How will you use them?