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.
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.