“I feel like I need to tell you that it’s okay to be afraid. You’ve had to be strong but you need to know that it’s okay with God to be afraid. Spend some quiet time with Him and share what you’re afraid of.”
These were the divinely inspired words spoken to me by a couple from church who were recently brought into my life, to bless me with their friendship.
What God is this, that He doesn’t require us to be strong? He welcomes us as the weak and vulnerable beings that we are. In fact, He invites us to come to Him, honestly, like a child. This is some Awesome God! We can come to God any time, anywhere, just as we are. We can have a conversation with Him without formalities.
I recently had to make a decision to place my father in a long-term care facility. This decision is not an easy one, even though I know he requires around-the-clock skilled nursing care. My prayers and thoughts have been more geared toward, “God please make me strong, give me wisdom to deal with all the decisions I must make for my parents who rely on me to do the right thing for them…”
To instead come to God and talk about my fears, shifts my prayer from a request, to just simply a conversation; Sharing what is stirring within me. I was not focused on what my fears are specifically, since survival mode made me bypass this step and jump immediately into, “I have to be strong.” Bypassing this step is necessary when the situation calls for it. For me it was several days before Thanksgiving, when I had to hop on a plane to see my father. I knew I had to hit the ground running as soon as the plane landed at La Guardia. I had to be strong enough to walk into a nursing home where workers were evasive and patronizing, to assess why my father was experiencing an abrupt decline.
Now, several weeks later, my father is in a safer place, I have returned to Texas, and my friends’ words act as a reminder that I can let my guard down and be honest and vulnerable. They must have noticed me still trying to shoulder it all, on auto-pilot portraying strength.
To put words and form to my fears, makes me look honestly at the moment. Not through a prism of strength which sometimes can distort the truth and mislead one to think one is in control, or doesn’t need anyone, much less God.
"Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." –Jeremiah 29:12-13
Only when we are honest with ourselves, with God, can we search for God with all of our heart. Only when we are open, vulnerable, pour out what our heart yearns to say, the reassurance we need to hear, the loving ears that our cries yearn for, can we shed pride and ego. What keeps our distance from God are the wedges of pride and ego which make us think it’s our problem alone to solve. Even feeling sorry for ourselves for being alone in the crisis is an act of ego – separating ourselves from our Creator. Sometimes we look to others to save us. Though we need the physical support of others during a crisis, we must be cautious not to default to relying on them solely, without coming first to God with our heart.
That November night, alone in a NYC hotel, after my visit to the nursing home where my father was barely recognizable to me — emaciated, lips and tongue wrinkled, parched from dehydration, confused, paranoid, hallucinogenic — I knew I was in over my head. My father needed me, but I didn’t know how to help. Only God could take care of this. Only God could give me the strength to face this fear. Alone, with no visible support system, my vulnerability busted my heart wide open. I could not rely on any one person to get me through this. I turned to my Heavenly Father in conversation and prayer.
I gave Him my tears, I sought Him with my heart.
In the days and weeks that followed, I have felt God’s reassurance in so many ways. In one instance, I initiated a conversation with a stranger at a bus stop, merely asking if she knew of any good nursing homes. Come to find out, she recently went through something similar with her mother living in Florida. She shared a wealth of advice. My parent’s podiatrist, Dr. Yu, unable to treat my father now that he is under the care of a facility, still made himself available to me any time, to discuss concerns and potential solutions.
During one of these evening calls, Dr. Yu echoed my concerns and agreed that, “It doesn’t sound like this is a good facility for Dad. I agree, we need to get him out of there.” He advised me against just single-handedly taking him out without a doctor’s approval. He was afraid there would be health insurance consequences if I didn’t follow discharge protocol. That night I felt an overwhelming urgency to take him out of that facility. I played many scenarios in my head of how I would scoop him up and physically remove him (he no longer walks), but knew I couldn’t manage him physically. I didn’t want to hurt him in the process of executing a poorly thought-out plan. I felt completely helpless.
In the midst of this whirlwind of thoughts, I remembered to return the nursing home doctor’s call. I was expecting I would have another difficult conversation with her — as I grew accustomed to her putting up road blocks — but instead, I heard, “You’re father isn’t doing well. I would like to send him to the Emergency Room, if you are in agreement.”
“Absolutely! Of course I agree! I will meet him there!”
My pleas to God for help were answered! Praise God! Now he was out of that horrible facility, without me having to force the discharge.
Elderly people are so vulnerable, especially when experiencing a health crisis. I was witness to this when I stood by him through the night in the Emergency Room, during his long hospital stay, then later when discharged to a skilled nursing facility. My father is vulnerable every time he requires a diaper change. Naked and requiring assistance to roll onto his side, the nurse and certified nursing assistant (CNA) follow a protocol to clean him.
To be in the presence of this moment, forces both my father and the observer into humility. How can I watch this and not feel mercy for my father? How can I watch this and not feel his pain, his shame, his unraveling? How can I hold judgment against him as a father, for any past expectations he has fallen short of? Naked, not a one of us can withstand scrutiny that is not through the eyes of love. Naked, the shackles of unforgiveness dissolve.
In this moment of humility, whereby I watch my father helpless and in complete need of assistance for his basic needs, my soul awakens with his visceral cry, “Dios! Dios!” (God! God!)
“What’s wrong Dad?”
“I want to die.”
“I am tired of them turning me this way, turning me that way…”
They have to perform this protocol when the patient is unable to roll over on his own. They need to turn him to adequately clean him. Otherwise he is at risk for infection. After explaining that, I added,
“There is still purpose for you Dad. It’s not time for you to die.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because God would have already taken you if your purpose was fulfilled. As long as you draw breath, God has a plan for your life. There is purpose in this very moment, though you may not know what it is.”
“How can I do anything in this condition?”
“I don’t mean literally that you are to perform a physical feat. We don’t know God’s plans, but what if your presence is necessary for those around you? What if you are part of the plan for our lives?”
“I know all that, don’t tell me!”
“Okay Dad, I know that you know. “ I smiled. This is my father. You can’t tell him anything because he knows it already. It’s part of the teacher in him and the way he has always been. This part still remains, though other parts of his personality have altered.
Then I quietly pondered, what is God’s work still to be done in him?
What work is He doing in me, as I witness my father enduring this?
What work is God doing in any of us who are in the presence of another’s pain?
We do not have God’s infinite eyes to see the majestic purpose behind this intricately woven tapestry that defines a person’s life, or a person’s season.
However, one thing I do know, my father demonstrated his love and trust for me by allowing himself to be vulnerable in front of me. Much like I demonstrate my love and trust for God by giving Him my vulnerability.
I demonstrated my love for my father by choosing to stay in the room during his diaper changes, and during moments like the intake process at the skilled nursing facility, when they must uncover his body to assess his ulcers and body’s condition.
Most nurse’s were gentle and polite by informing me I can wait outside the door until they are finished. Some harshly instructed me I had to leave. I responded, “No. I choose to stay. I am my father’s health care proxy.” They typically proceeded on, and most were kind. However, when he was in the prior problematic facility, a CNA threatened that if I did not leave she would get her supervisor. “Go ahead, because no one is removing me from witnessing my father’s care.”
There are times to be bold. God has emboldened me to stand up and show up for my father. I am humbled by His courage which He gives me when I need to call upon it.
Of course it would have been easier to excuse myself and not make waves. It would have been easier to avoid seeing the sacral (buttocks) pressure ulcer, which after they removed the dead and infected tissue, has left a huge 5 inch diameter hole fully exposing his tailbone, spine and ligaments. The cavity is so deep, that one could fit a hand inside it to cradle his tailbone. This is covered by a gauze dressing, which must be replaced every time it gets soiled with a diaper change, to prevent infection.
I am afraid every time to look at his uncovered sacral ulcer. But I do not focus on the fear. I focus on my love for my father, which is independent of how he shows his love for me. My dad has never been one to openly and demonstratively show love. Though, in recent years it was a large victory when he began to tell me the words, “I love you.”
In that space with my father, in his most vulnerable state, I felt the words enter my consciousness, “Honor thy father.” There was no choice other than to bear witness to the truth, to the reality that he is enduring. How can I understand his pain, if I look away from the truth?
There are times in life when there is no one to step in and do something for us. We’re it. As my father’s daughter, I need to be aware, so that I may stand up for him. We all have people who depend on us. We all must make a choice one day, to stand up for love. My strength comes from the Lord, not from me. Those weeks in NYC were not easy to navigate through. God gave me the courage and the wisdom to ask the questions of the medical staff, to seek assistance, to not walk in fear, but rest on Him as my source.
I feel like I am in the midst of the story. That moment in the movie when you look at your watch and realize there is still more to come. Time still left for the plot to unfold.
I do not know tomorrow. I do not have conclusions. I do not know the details that lay ahead. Unknowns. So many. There are seasons in our life designed to remind us that we are not in control. Surely this is such a season for me.
Though earthly time is running out for my father, that is irrelevant to God. God isn’t limited to the timeframe we have come to believe is the only time that matters. Some doctors tend to speak of an 88 year old in a manner that indicates he has been written off. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t write off His children. He loves every one of us with unbridled passion. We are all precious and we matter to Him.
The One who masterfully purposed our lives as He knit us into our mother’s womb, has a mysterious plan to do a wonderful work in my father, in me, in you. He will use our present season to fashion a love story. He will use our fears, our vulnerabilities — anything we lay before Him with an open heart — He will use it all in the vast design of our lives, to reveal His love.
Caption by Ella Venezia