Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trusting While Not Understanding

My grandmother is a beautiful woman, inside and out.

She has the smoothest skin of any 88-year-old I've ever seen. Her voice is a precious sound. As a child, I remember its melodies echoing through her house as the smell of fresh-baked cookies would fill the air. She was a sharp dresser, had a big laugh, and always had a hug and a kiss for me.

When I was a child, I remember tea parties in the bathtub, having her put pretty ribbons in my hair, and always planning new projects that we could make for Mom and Dad. She taught me how to knit, sew a pair of shorts, and quilt. I would watch her in amazement as she put together stunning flower arrangements from her own garden and twist ribbon to wrap packages in a way Santa's elves would envy.

She was full of wisdom, generosity, creativity, and love.

My grandma had a stroke 2 years ago and has had several more since then (we recently found out). She had always been very independent and lived on her own until her first stroke, but since that time, she has had to live with us. My mom is her full-time caregiver, and I help when I can too.

Strokes can affect different parts of the brain to cause disability. The part of my grandma's brain that was affected was her ability to process speech and her personality. Communicating with her can be very difficult, complicated by the fact that she is also hard of hearing. Only some words get in, and those words can often be easily mixed up. An example:

Me: "I need a vacation."
Grammy: "You need a big table? I'll clear this one off."

Misunderstandings like that can be amusing and harmless, but they can also cause a lot of problems.

Just like anyone else, Grammy values her independence fiercely. She is reluctant to accept help now when she needs it the most. For instance, when it comes to bathing, she is unsteady, weak, and needs help ordering and completing the tasks required to wash. For her own safety, we have to be there to assist her. Unfortunately, she does not agree and can become quite agitated when we try to help her ("GET OUT!"). It can escalate into a full blown war if not handled delicately. Bath time is not always a very happy time.

After many encounters with washing Grammy, some good, some not-so-good-at-all (accusing my Mom, who was bent down washing her feet, of being "not Christian!"), I've realized 2 primary things that make it hard for her:

1) She feels out of control.
2) She doesn't understand why she needs to do what we ask.

I can relate so well to these feelings, personally, and when I keep reassuring her that she needs to trust me and that I'm trying to help her, I become suddenly aware of the spiritual parallel.

I don't always understand what God is doing. It isn't always easy or comfortable. And it certainly doesn't always make sense. But God is working on washing me clean on the inside, promising that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) This process is an incredible gift from God by his Spirit. The Bible promises that through faith in Christ, we "are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) Another Bible translation says our inner change is "from one degree of glory to another." I like the King James version best that says we are changed into his image "from glory to glory." Each trial with God is an opportunity for him to make us one degree of glory more like Him. The choice is up to us if we plan to resist Him or to trust Him in faith.

So often I am suspicious of God. I don't say it like that in my head, but when things get too difficult in life, I feel doubts that he really has good plans for me. Scripture clearly says that he has my very best interest in his heart, but I think to myself, "This surely isn't good for me." My view, narrowed by the frail human mind, is all that I can see, and when I start to feel out of control, I instantly bristle and resist as my first line of defense. Though my grandma's resistance is due to physical illness, my resistance is based in the spiritual illness of sin. I like to think that I'm an expert in what is right for me and when it is right, and, to quote my grandma, "This is NOT RIGHT for me!"

It's been very eye opening for me to see how willfulness, lack of understanding, and failing to trust can cause harm and consequences in the future. My grandma doesn't want to make life harder for my mom or for me, but due to her illness, she can sure bring consequences for all of us when she doesn't trust our guidance. Spiritually, I can suffer consequences by not trusting God's guidance.

How much must I hurt God and make life more difficult when I resist him and say, "I know better than you what should be happening here."?

Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?'
Isaiah 45:9

How much better instead to say: "Father, I know you want what's best for me. Even though I don't understand and wish I felt more in control, I will submit and trust you."

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

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