Even in this, we can trust God for His goodness and seek Him for His purpose in His all-sufficient grace.
He is 76 and just a bent, bony shadow of the strong, rough-sawn man he used to be. He unsteadily shuffles instead of walking now, always looking a little uncertain about where he’s going and what’s going on around him on the way. Along with his body, his mind is fading away. He has Alzheimer’s.
I met Curtis twenty years ago, when I was eighteen. As he watched T.V. in his recliner (his wife, Sharon, having let her brother and me in), I got a disinterested passing glance from him when Bill introduced me. He might have looked me over a little more if he had known that I would marry his daughter seven years later, as well as be the one preaching and to baptize him when he would profess his faith in Christ nine years later. Eleven years have passed since that joyful time in that small church in Calvin, Oklahoma - years that have taken a heavy toll on him.
Curtis’ progressing Alzheimer’s is now taking a toll on those who love him, as it digresses him, with his loss of independence, his forgotten conversations, his repeated questions, his obsessive worries, his watching of movies and shows for the first time over and over, his fear of the unknown (or forgotten), his almost childish aversion to bathing, his embarrassing accidents, and his (sometimes dangerous) confusion and absentmindedness. As you can imagine, Sharon is especially feeling the stressful brunt of her husband’s deterioration, as she has more and more taken on the role of his in-house caregiver, rather than his intimate life partner.
As I pitch in from time to time to help take care of Curtis, I am struck by the opportunity to see and channel God’s grace in this final season of Curtis’ life. Even though we may wish for Curtis not to have Alzheimer’s at all, and not understand why God allows such a degrading disease, if we believe in the faithful love and full sovereignty of God, we must consider how He is working for us and working through us - even working on us - in this.
This is just one trial in the ongoing tribulation Jesus told us to expect in this dilapidating world, but not in despair, rather in the uplifting understanding that He has overcome the world and all of its tribulation (John 16:33). Therefore, He has overcome Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s has not slipped through His fingers. These last days for Curtis were written in [His] book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16 NIV'84). We may not understand God’s planning, but we must understand that He has planned for this. He has planned this for us as much as He has for Curtis - his days are our days, too, also having been written in God’s book.
If God is Who He says He is and does what He says He does, then His grace is all-sufficient for us in this trial (2 Corinthians 12:9) - it is sufficient for the trial in us. In facing the inconvenient humiliation of Curtis’ weakness - in facing the insistent hobbling of our own weaknesses - we can experience God’s power being activated and perfected in us, as He helps us and provides for us. There is no step-by-step formula for this - this happens in abiding with Him and in Him, looking to Him in constant prayer, taking in His Word, and trustingly walking with Him in His will. If we are in touch with Him and surrendered to Him in this, He is taking us beyond the joy-stifling boundaries of our selfishness to make us more like Himself, not just giving His grace to us, but also channeling His grace through us. This is an opportunity for us to fellowship with Him in blessedly doing for someone else who can no longer do for us. After all, He is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. (Acts 17:25)
As I watch Curtis fade away in the frailty of his old age, I am struck by how precious is the time we have left with him, as time’s steady wind carries more and more of him away in his final season. What will we do when he doesn't at all know what to do with himself or know what to make of us anymore, if he lives that long? I don’t know the answer to that right now. But I know that God has already planned for it, and if/when we get there, His grace will be sufficient then as it is now. Right now, by God’s grace, we still have Curtis. Sharilee can still look forward to the same conversation her daddy can’t go without having with his daughter every morning. She can still talk to him about the work and play he still (mostly) remembers doing with his rough, scarred hands. Felisha and Katelyn can still get their hugs and "how are you's". Joshua can still get flustered from Bull’s (what he calls his grandpa) playful pestering and cackle as Bull squirms and fights me off when I try to hug him, with him bellowing, “I only hug pretty women!” I thank God that Curtis is not as bad as he could be, and I know we can trust Him to help us with however bad Curtis will be.
Curtis has Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s does not have Curtis. God has all of us. Does God have a purpose for Curtis’ Alzheimer’s? A better way to ask that is this: Does God have a purpose for Curtis with Alzheimer’s? In planning and writing Curtis’ days, did God plan a purpose for Curtis’ last days with this debilitating disease? He must have. We only have two other options: 1) God has the power to prevent/cure Curtis’ disease but doesn’t care enough to; or, 2) God very much loves Curtis and would very much love to cure him of this disease but doesn’t have enough power to. Either one of those possibilities is hopeless. And both of them are unbiblical.
God does have a wise, loving, and eternal purpose for Curtis with Alzheimer’s - not Curtis without it, but Curtis with it. I do not presume to be privy to what His entire purpose actually is, but I know He is the One who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11 NIV'84) - His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2 NIV'84). I also know that He is not letting this slip through any crack in His promise that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I don’t know what ultimate and eternal good He will bring from this, but I know that each step of the way, He is good to us through all of this. There is no crack in that promise for us if we are truly among those that truly love Him, having been called out from the world for His purpose that eternally transcends whatever quality of life we tend to think we should gain and maintain in this world, which is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17). In this life, Curtis is passing away, and we are all passing away. Yet even in this, we can trust God for His goodness and seek Him for His purpose in His all-sufficient grace.