Some different definitions of the word ‘witness’ are, “one who testifies in a cause”, “one who has personal knowledge of something”, or “one who gives evidence”. As a Christian, when I think of the word ‘witness’, I think of how the apostles of Jesus were first hand witnesses to His teachings, and then to his eventual passion, death, and glorious resurrection. These followers gave up everything they had in order to go and testify how their lives were completely changed by the love of God. I think of how Jesus told them to “Go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). I think of how God calls every one of us to be a witness to His love and mercy in our lives. We are all called to testify and share how God’s love has changed us, or how his mercy and grace has inspired us. I feel personally called to let people know how the promises of God have given me a lasting and joyful hope, as a direct result of watching and caring for my parent who has a chronic and debilitating illness.
When you have a relatively young parent who has dementia and is physically impaired like my mom, it takes awhile to get used to the ways that people tend to react to her. People tend to notice us, both because mom is obviously ill, in a wheel chair, and because we are both relatively young (I’m 38). We often get the sympathetic, sad stares and the disbelieving looks that seem to say, “they look so young!” or “that poor girl or woman”. At times, I even imagine some of them may be thinking, “Thank God that is not me!” Sometimes you also get those welcomed truly genuine smiles of compassion that seem to tell me, “Good for you”, “Good job”, or “you are inspiring to me” On some days, the looks seem to say all of the above!
At the beginning of her illness, I loathed those uncomfortable stares. I would dread taking her places, knowing I would need to receive those unwanted looks of pity. I was having a hard enough time fighting off and coping with my own internal feelings of intense anger, despair, and confusion, that those additional stares felt more like a burden to me. In a way, they felt like just another painful stab at my already wounded heart.
As time has gone on, those looks of pity have given me an odd sense of fulfillment. Sometimes, I hear in my head the words, “I am a witness”, and sometimes I silently pray, “Lord, make me a witness and your example”. At times, I get the feeling that it is no “coincidence” that we are in this particular life situation. I get a strong sense of “knowing” or a sense of a deep purpose, like I was meant to play this role in being an example or a witness for this sort of compassion and mercy that is needed.
An example of this is when I took my mom to the neurologist the other day. She was being evaluated for some irreversible involuntary facial and body movements that were caused by a particular strong psychiatric drug. During the appointment, there was a young med school student who was in her final year, who sat in to observe my mom’s appointment. I could sense the young girl’s uncomfortable posture, with her foot twitching and her legs crossed, as well as her obvious lack of eye contact with me. In those moments, I try to remember that my witness and compassion matter a great deal. It is my hope that I showed this future aspiring young doctor what it looks like to lovingly and joyfully care for a parent with dementia. It is my hope that I showed her patience, gentleness, and kindness; all of the things that she will need to exhibit to her future patients in order to one day be a good doctor.
This lent, I think about the ways I am called to further testify and be a witness to the love of God for others. How can I extend my self even further than I have? In what areas have I been only giving “just enough”? How can I strive to make more of a sacrifice for others by giving more of my time, more of my care, concern, or charity to others in need? Have I given until it “hurts”? Because, sometimes that is the only way that any lasting and authentic growth can occur, when we are forced to “live outside the box”, where it is uncomfortable and difficult. We can then gain a humility and a compassion that we could not other wise receive if we always live to “safe”. Afterall, If we are giving “just enough”, what is our true purpose in giving? Is it to make a true difference and change….or is it just to appear to do so????
The following are a few songs that have been really inspiring me lately to look beyond “my own little world” of comfort…and help me to think about how I can give more, and strengthen my love for God and others! The first is Josh Wilson’s song “I Refuse”. The second is “Small Rebellions” (sorry, this one you need to go to youtube!) by Jars of Clay, from their latest cd “Shelter” (VERY good btw :)) The third song is called “In My Own Little World” by Matthew West. For the last song, all you need to do is click on the address link at the end of this post to hear/see it on YouTube! All of the videos show the lyrics of the song.
……enjoy & let them inspire you too 🙂