755 Days. That's how many days ago my dad got his formal diagnosis of Younger Onset Alzheimer's. 2 years and 3 1/2 weeks ago our lives were forever changed when we were told what in the dark, unadmitting places in our hearts we already knew. There is something about a diagnosis that slaps denial in the face and punches optimism in the gut. A couple of words can carry with them so much weight that after they trample over top of you, you lay there for a while, nursing your wounds. And that is exactly how I felt on January 15, 2014 when I got the phone call. My insides caved in on themselves at the words, and moments later I found myself still on the bed, in a heap, battered and whimpering like a wounded animal. And the truth is, I still find myself there sometimes. Because the grief that a few words carry with it can be tricky. It sneaks up on you and takes your feet right out from under you sometimes.
In these past 755 days I have learned more than in the thousands of days before. Pain is a very good teacher, if you pay attention. For most of the first year I learned a lot about grief, suffering and God's amazing, tender, un-ending, far-reaching, wrap-me-up-in-a-hug kind of love. (You can read a bitty synopsis of what I gleaned from the first year after the diagnosis here. )
This next year, I have learned entirely new things, things that might actually be more painful, which I would not have thought possible. For the first year every song at church, every inspirational quote from all the wise meme makers out there, every bible verse, applied so perfectly to the magnitude of my grief. It was daunting and right in from of me. I couldn't see past it, so everything I did see I was seeing as I looked through it. Alzheimer's became my rose colored glasses. So while I was facing deep sorrow I had been largely unfamiliar with prior, I was also presented, by the grace of God, with incredible comfort, insight and strength.
I won't say the grief subsided this past year, because the horrible thing about Alzheimer's is that the grief keeps coming in waves, a slow, steady grief, that never really lets you get your footing before it comes crashing in again. But I would say that it has changed a bit, or I have changed. Maybe it is growth. Maybe it is my tendency to stuff and deny. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, I can see past it a bit. It is always there in the corner of my eye, and sometimes comes back and blocks my vision again almost entirely, but for the most part not everything is seen through the lens of Alzheimer's and all it brought along with it. This past year I was seeing with new vision.
And because God is gracious, because God loves me and wants what is best for me, I did not like what I saw much of this past year. What I saw told me that my biggest problem isn't Alzheimer's. It isn't grief. It isn't suffering, or pain, or injustice, or challenges of any kind. My biggest problem isn't carbs. It isn't my struggles to spell or type or proofread. And no guys, it is not the fact that man-buns are trendy now...or that there are men whose messy buns look better than mine. (Poor bald Peter is missing out on this one. Light a candle for his hair.) This past year God allowed quite a few more proverbial punches to my gut, and they came in waves much like the grief-one right after another, punches that made me realize what my biggest problem really is. My sin.
Now every lyric, every falsely attributed Internet quote, every verse injected into just the right moment by the Holy Spirit, they all speak to my sin. And guys, it hurts. In some ways, maybe even more than the previous year, because then I was surrounded by the warm fuzzies of God's love. My circumstances stunk bad, but I didn't have much work to do.
Before you go reading "scandal", let me just say there is not some big, monster sin lurking. If you go back stalking me on facebook you won't find any juice or dirt or vague status updates indicating something big going down in my personal life, some big ugly secret sin revealed. No, my sin isn't one big monster, but instead its more like a bunch of little and medium size monsters. And let me tell you, those buggers know how to hide. And this year has been like one big, scary, agonizing game of hide and seek. With God as the seeker. " Ready or not here I come. Come out, come out wherever you are! Oh, you aren't coming out? Okay. I hear you giggling from under that blanket draped awkwardly over you and I see your toesies sticking out." Turns out God is like the champ, of hide and seek- the grand pumba, if you will. My sin stands about as much chance of staying hidden from him as a baby playing peek-a-boo. Now that we are in the middle of the game it is baffling to me how these little monsters stayed hidden from me so long. Many of them seem so obvious now. In fact, at times they are threatening to become my new rose colored glasses. And that is no good. Because you know probably the second worst thing to ignoring your sin? Being constantly consumed and crippled by the weight of it.
So, if the first thing I learned this year was that my sin is my biggest problem, then the second thing I have learned (re-learned?) is just how big God's grace is. So often we think of grace as something that feels good, something that smells nice and all tied up neatly in a bow, like Channing Tatum in a bow tie, maybe. (For the sake of this desperate metaphor, lets pretend at least one of us has smelled Channing Tatum and that he smells delicious. Sorry, Peter. This is just not your post, friend.) We make grace out to be small, maybe medium sized. But you guys, grace is big. It is not only big enough to cover all my sins, all my mistakes, all my blind spots, all my guilt, BUT, grace is big enough to unearth those sins in the first place. Grace is big enough to spend however long it takes to drag those sins, kicking and screaming, out of their lousy hiding places, the ones they thought were like the best hiding spot ever, but was really under the coffee table or behind a curtain. Grace is big enough to allow painful circumstances, one right after the other, if that is what it takes to clean out the closet. Grace is big enough, gigantic enough actually, to orchestrate the tough side of love, so we aren't left with sin goblins all up in our house. Guys, grace is big. Let's not short-change grace. When we short change grace, we short change God.
For so long, too long, I would bemoan every hardship. I would question God, as if I deserved anything from Him. I would weep for myself, crying hot, arrogant tears. If I have learned anything these past two years, it is about grace. Grace isn't just in the soaring, smiling, share it with the world moments. Grace is not just in the getting the pretty things you don't deserve moments. Grace is often found today, covered in grime and blood, just like it was on a cross on a hill almost 2000 years ago. Why did I stop thinking grace could get dirty? Jesus personified dirty grace when He died for my sins, giving me what I could never deserve-a rescuer, sacrificed in my place. Why would I ever think He would stop getting his hands dirty now? How could I ever see anything but grace in the un-earthing of my sins, in this brutal yet tender game of hide and seek?
No, God isn't going to leave me in my sin. He loves me more than that. He is going to do the messy, hard, painful work of grace-giving me what I don't deserve: the chance to become more like Him, the chance to have victory over these sin monsters. This past year has left me reliant on that grace, made me fall in love with grace, allowed me to see the depth and breadth of grace-the flip side of grace, although it is painful. Many times I have been left wondering "oh, okay cool. So we are really going to find every.single.last.one of these sins, huh? Wow. Hmmm. Can we maybe take a water break? Isn't that monster cool just hiding there for a bit more. He's not hurting anyone too bad. Put him on the "to-find-later" list. No? Awesome. God, can you play this game with someone else for a few. I mean really, like anyone else. I am sure there are some big, bad monsters under her bed. This hide and seek is losing its charm, real quick. I am really more of a board game girl myself. How about some Yahtzee?". But I have come to say, as almost my mantra, "If I say I want to be more like Jesus, than I can't shy away from or resent the things that bring that about."
There is a sweetness to productive pain. There is a soul bolstering comfort in knowing that my God loves me enough to deal with my sin, that he loves me enough to relentlessly pursue my heart through any means necessary to win every last piece of me to the light. And there is a soaring on eagles wings kind of feeling that makes me want to do all the fist bumps (and raise the roofs if this was 1999), that comes with knowing that God handled my biggest problem. He handled it once and for all when He sent His son to die for me and then raised Him from the dead. He handles it every day as it continues to be my biggest problem. So, since he has solved my biggest problem and enabled me to walk in freedom & light, I can rest secure that all the other problems- the Alzheimer's, the grief, the painful circumstances, the stress of life, the concerns for the future, are all solved, even more so! God finishes what He starts. He doesn't let my biggest problems remain my biggest problems. He didn't let me keep thinking grief or suffering were my biggest problems. In His loving-kindness He took off my rose colored glasses and showed me what my biggest problem really is. And then He held me as I gasped at each ugly layer of it. He doesn't let me rest in my sin. He is relentless in His work, but He does it with the tender firmness of the best father. He doesn't let me stay raw and crumbled in a heap. He bandages me up. He carries me when I am weary. His strength is glorified in my weakness. He is willing to let me suffer the good pain to bring about the good change. What a good, good Father. And I can only have the privilege of that painful, loving work, because first His Son suffered indescribable pain on my behalf. What grace! What dirty, dirty grace.