This is a story about footprints in the sand, but not like the one you’ve heard a thousand times before.
As retirement drew close for Martin, he pictured what this next season of life might look like for him and his wife Myra. Long evening strolls along deserted beaches, more time to use and develop his gifts in leading and teaching the Bible, hopefully join the board of a charity or two. The future was bright, the future was sunset orange.
Then, with memories of his leaving do still fresh in his mind, he noticed Myra was beginning to act differently. This intelligent and gracious lady started forgetting things, acting out of character, getting frustrated, that kind of thing. She was experiencing the early stages of posterior cortical atrophy, a form of Alzheimer’s. This was not what retirement was meant to look like.
It would be easy to tell Martin and Myra’s story as a tale of loss. Beaches that would never be imprinted by their feet; sermons that would not be preached; and boards that wouldn’t gain from Martin’s years of accrued wisdom. And of course, this would be as true as it is sad.
Yet being fruitful for God: developing new skills; growing in character; and serving those inside and outside the church has never been dependent on things working out the way we picture them.
As Myra’s health went down, her dependency on Martin went up. For Martin, this meant navigating new C’s, like cooking and Comfort fabric softener. And not only have his domestic skills been honed, his character has too.
Looking after a loved-one with this unforgiving disease is tough, really tough. ‘It’s a constant battle to get her fed, washed, and dressed… Then there’s the maze of social services you have to work through. Drawing on the grace of God is absolutely essential; there’s no two ways about that. Every day I pray for the compassion, strength, sensitivity, calmness, and humility that I need to look after her.’
As he walks humbly with his God, Martin is seeing this prayer answered, and his family and friends from church notice the difference. ‘I’m much more tolerant with other people and the mistakes and wrong choices they make.’ He goes on, ‘I have grown far more as a Christian in these circumstances than I would have done if this had never happened, although I wish I wasn’t in this situation. I would like to think that my life is more Christ-like now than it was at the beginning of all this. I love God more and I love my neighbour more than I used to.’
His feet have carried the gospel to new places too: family members and former colleagues seem to be more open to hearing about the difference God is making in Martin’s life. Then there are the conversations with fellow carers, who struggle with many of the same things Martin does. He even got to talk about the transforming and sustaining grace of God to a room full of health professionals at an Alzheimer’s conference.
For those of us who might find ourselves in similar situations, here’s Martin’s advice: ‘it’s easy to lose so much precious time blaming God – but he never promised that bad things would not happen to us. Our bodies decay and we die, but we have the glorious hope of the resurrection.’
Martin is a man who is learning to live in the tension of the ‘now and not yet’ kingdom. Here and now, he advises, ‘express all of your emotions to God and remember that he understands what you’re going through. He loves you and he has not abandoned you; he wants to grow you through this time.’