WHEN GIVING IS ALL WE HAVE - by Alberto Rios
*One river gives
Its journey to the next.*
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it--
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
~ ALBERTO RIOS © 2014 for the Academy of American Poets today
Used with permission. To learn more about this poet, go to http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/alberto-rios
This beautiful poem turns my thoughts to a passage of scripture. Jesus talks about what it means to be a disciple in Matthew 10. At the end of his teaching, He says, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
This is a guide to being a follower and reflector of Christ. Not everyone is called to be a great teacher or powerful evangelist. Not everyone is called to be a reformer or influencer of nations. But anyone and everyone can extend their hands and give cups of cold water.
By their very nature, cups of cold water are small things, easily forgettable if you aren’t paying attention. The people who extend them do not draw attention to themselves, but life would be poor, indeed, without those small, and I would argue significant, acts.
Moving Mom to Grand Rapids opened up a treasure trove of cups. So many people helped pack, transport, move, and clean…it was amazing. People I knew, and some I didn’t know at all came out to help. In one day, her house was cleaned out, her furniture was transported and cleaned and her apartment was set up and made hospitable. Each person did a part so that I didn’t have to do it all. That was a day of incredible blessing to us.
One woman took her dog to visit Mom occasionally, which delighted her. Another volunteered to pick her up for church every single week. Another would go walking with us in a nearby park. When I had to ready Mom’s house for sale, people extended help of all kinds. Painting, patching, ripping out carpets, visiting, and encouraging. Whatever they were able to give, it was all appreciated and refreshing.
Cups of cold water seem insignificant, especially in a world that screams that to be successful and fulfilled, you need to have notoriety. But the Lord notices what is done to and for the least of His followers. It seems it’s not the cost, nor the skill, nor even the quantity He observes. He’s paying attention to the motive. What we do to His followers because they are His, He will repay with the riches of His grace. While many of the people who offered help loved me or my mother, many didn’t know me at all – they just wanted to extend God’s grace through their lives.
The giving and receiving of cups of refreshment makes something great and beautiful.
Frozen water was everywhere. Another polar vortex had arrived turning November into January in one blast of frosty air.
Of course, I could not stay inside and keep warm sipping cocoa. My mother-in-law had been hospitalized and was being released that day…in a snow storm. I had been shoveling for four hours. First, to clear off the walks and steps, then to clear the front of the garage door, and then to dig out a path in the alley to get the car to the main street. The snow was wet and heavy and I was feeling my age.
But perseverance paid off. I broke through to the street. It was now time for a cup of tea and a breather. Time to try to pull myself together for the next part of the day. Getting Mom discharged, bundled up, into the car and back to her apartment. This time, I was leaving Dad at home. Dealing with dementia and a blizzard plus transporting Mom with an oxygen tank was too much for me and I had to draw the line somewhere. The left side of my back was starting to throb.
We could have transported Mom home in an ambulance, but she had gone into the hospital in her nightgown and I didn’t want her exposed to the extreme cold. She needed warm clothes and a warm ride. When I called to check on the discharge process, she was talking to someone from rehab, so I told her I’d be there in a couple hours and rang off. Experience told me that when leaving a hospital, it would take hours for every department to sign off so I didn’t hurry. As long as the nurses knew someone was coming everything would be good.
Sitting down with my cup of tea, I asked myself, why was I doing this? Why was I working so hard to make it to the hospital as the snow kept coming down? It had occurred to me as I was lifting that final heavy shovel full of snow that no one would do this for me. My husband would find a way to get me home, make no mistake, but he wouldn’t shovel out an alley to do it. I have no kids, nephews or nieces or even cousins that would do this on my account. My friends all have problems of their own and wouldn’t be able to expend themselves like this. I pondered on this as I sipped my tea.
John 15:13 (NASB) says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’ I had done this as a sacrificial act of love. While I love my mother-in-law, this was really for my husband. He’s been stretched as thin as I’ve ever seen him between long hours at work and caring for his parents, and though I’ve been doing a lot to help and I love them, too, I don’t have the same history or memories that he does and I’m not grieving the same way he is. This was a laying down of time and effort to show my husband he is not alone in his care journey for his parents and to bring him encouragement.
Sacrifice. It makes life richer. I should do it more often.
There are times I am amazed at the wonderful man I have for a husband. It’s not that I didn’t date good men when I was young and single, but because I didn’t have a good self-image, I would sabotage those relationships and end up obsessing over men who, frankly, were trouble.
But I did a wise thing in my youth. I prayed a very fervent and sincere prayer. Seeing many of my friends doing foolish and destructive things for ‘love’, I knew that on my own I would make the very same mistakes. So, I cried out to God not to let me settle for second best. In spite of my foolishness and willfulness, He honored that prayer; but I did not make it easy for Him.
Nonetheless, I ended up with a man who is kind and supportive beyond measure. He has been a studio assistant, a copy editor, a compassionate caregiver, a lifter and mover of heavy things and whatever else I’ve needed along the way. He cares for me, encourages me, he’s helped me care for my mother as she descended into Alzheimer’s and now he’s caring for his parents. Just this week, he took care of me as I went through some medical procedures, he cared for his dad as he had to relinquish his driver’s license, and in the middle of the night he cared for his mother’s geriatric cat who is diabetic and was in serious stress of an unknown infection – going to pick up the cat and his parents, taking them to the animal hospital, and caring for his mother as she had to leave her beloved pet for the night. Now he is making sure the cat lives another day by going over twice each day to get antibiotics down her throat, ointment into her eyes, and give her shots of insulin.
His sacrifices for love are monumental. I am truly blessed. I will leave you with this....
Sonnet by William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his
height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy
lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
You know your life is out of balance when you are looking forward to a colonoscopy, knowing that for one day you will be unavailable and blissfully under anesthesia. I recognize this feeling. This is how I often felt when I was taking care of my mother. This is called “compassion fatigue” and it is a form of burnout. It happens to those who serve others without giving enough thought to their own needs. I have reached this point. It is not because I am unaware of my own needs, but rather that things have to be taken care of and it’s up to my husband and myself to care for them.
This past week my sister-in-law and her husband were here from out of state and they were a big help. We were able to search for some care facilities that would provide memory care for Dad, but also provide a space where he and Mom could stay together. There are precious few facilities that provide that sort of service. After many appointments, phone calls and visits, we were able to find one that we could all live with and are in the process of getting on the waiting list.
Tomorrow, I take Mom to a doctor appointment. Of course, Dad will come to “help” which makes the process longer. After the appointment, I take them back to their apartment, get them safely squared away and then go to work for eight hours. Tuesday is an equally busy day, but Wednesday…ah Wednesday! I’m scheduled for a colonoscopy. I will sleep for most the day and no one can expect anything from me.
The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Colossians to ‘clothe yourself in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience’ (Col. 3:12 ISV). I love the metaphor of wrapping myself in the garments of kindness. I don’t love the fatigue that comes when I don’t show the same kindness to myself.
When I was caring for my mother, there were wonderful people who came along side me and helped me helping her. The very best was when someone would come and visit her to give me time off. God bless each and every person who did that. Taking a therapy dog to visit her, spending and evening making dinner and sitting with her, taking her to church or into their homes for a holiday so we could spend time with Mike’s family. Priceless, priceless gifts of their time.
If you know someone caring for someone with dementia or some other disability, have compassion on the compassionate. Clothe yourself with kindness and give them some time off to catch their breath. They’re in a marathon and they need you.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.