Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:17
Last night I went to a Christmas party at the assisted living center where my Mom now lives. I am there pretty frequently these days and am getting to know the residents. How is it that there are so many people living in assisted living and nursing homes and I can relate to them better now than any other time in my life?
When I was young, every summer we drove halfway across the country to visit my Dad's mother who lived in a nursing home in a small town in Iowa. When we went there, I didn't take time to talk to the other residents, I was just there to see her. I did not view it particularly as a sad place, but for me saying goodbye was always tough. The reality is that people go to these places to die. It is their last stop after a long life.
Some of them are happy and lively, some are not. "Life is hard," my Mom reminded me last night.
"Yes, life is hard, Mom. I see it now," I could have said to her.
We joined all the others for the party in the dining hall as people scrambled to find a place to sit. Some were struggling with Alzheimers, one was blind, others had dementia. They all were there because they needed to be there for one reason or another.
As we came in, we were going to sit at the table where she eats, but one of her table mates snapped that what, were we planning on coming at midnight? Now it was too late for us to sit there, the seats were gone. She scowled at us for not being there earlier, but I didn't want her mood to get Mom down. I remained cheerful and eventually we were seated in the middle of the room, facing the beverage table and with a good view of the musicians there to sing to us all.
People who have a hard time remembering what they did a few hours ago remember the lyrics to the Christmas songs, like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindoor" and Jingle Bells. But we also sang songs that reflected the true meaning of Christmas like Silent Night. A real treat was listening to singers perform the Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I closed my eyes and though there was lots of room noise, I focused on the lyrics and the incredulity that God Incarnate came down to dwell with broken people like us.
Then, "Santa" and "Mrs. Claus" arrived to wish all the residents a Merry Christmas and hand out little bags with small gifts and candy inside. I thought to myself, "This is the first Christmas where my Mom is a resident at a home." Just like a little child getting candy, she eagerly took her gift bag from Santa.
Before the party, I attended a ladies Bible study across town. I hadn't been there for a while. It was a bit treacherous getting there with snow coming down but I had a 4 wheel drive and was OK, even going through the Fort Pitt tunnel. The day before, I really felt the seasonal affective blahs. I knew the day would be long and dark if I didn't brave the weather and go meet with likeminded ladies.
Though I drove 45 minutes to get there, I was reminded of why shortly after my arrival. I needed the encouragement that God's plan is grace. It is not based on merit that I can stand before God but on what the Son did for me that made me acceptable to God. How is it that we so easily forget that?
And so, when I reached the assisted living last night for the party on a bitter December night, that love and grace was still sustaining me and filling me. I realize I am starting to get attached to some of my Mom's companions and enjoy being in their company. It won't be long 'til I am in their shoes.
There are some there who are believers and some who are not interested in faith. It makes a difference, I think, as their end draws near. For the believers, they are confident that soon they will make an exit to a "better resurrection," that they will not be stuck with their limitations forever. I can see joy in their faces when we talk about Christ at our little devotions on Thursdays. Sadly, those who have said "No" to God all their lives seem unable to change their minds at this point in life. I am sure there are those who do, but they are the exception.
Looking at the residents there last night, I was overwhelmed with the fact that God loves us and wants a relationship with each one of us. He still honors our free choice, though, even when we are old and frail. Yet any time, any day, any person can simply take the free gift of salvation God so generously offers us. Then we truly can have a Merry Christmas, no matter what we are going through. For we possess the greatest gift of all: Christ living inside of us and sharing with us His gift of eternal life.
And so I will continue to share the good news, for "now" is the appointed time, now is the season. It is always a good time to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christmas is a time when we can truly think about why we are celebrating anyway.
It's about Christ. God with us, Immanuel. He will be with His children always, even to the end of their lives.