Author Steven Lake

An Interesting Ministry Encounter
Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 11:17pm
Keywords: Experience, Ministry, Dementia, Love, Care, Pain, Compassion, Joy, Sorrow, Blessing

Today, completely by surprise, I had one of the most interesting and exciting ministry encounters I've had in a while.  But first, before I explain what I encountered, for those of you who don't know me, or don't know what I went through prior to this encounter, allow me to provide you with a little bit of history to help you better understand why this encounter was significant.  For a period of about six years, from 2011 through 2017, I took care of my mother as she slowly succumbed to dementia.

At first things weren't that hard for me.  Most of what I was given responsibility for was just taking over the bills, making sure they were paid, signing rent papers each year, getting mom to doctor's appointments, etc.  It was really pretty easy stuff.  Kinda the same type of stuff we do every day.  However, by the time I was asked to take over these things, mom was at that point in her life, and her slow decline into dementia, where she was struggling to do even those few simple things.  She wasn't completely helpless.  Far from it.  I mean, she was still playing Sodoku at the time, for crying out loud!  Even I struggle at that, and my brain still works pretty good!  Then again, that's not all that surprising either, as mom was always good with numbers, and I never really was, so that's part of the explanation as to why she could keep doing that even with early onset dementia.

This was at the start of the six year period.  By the end of the first year, even Sodoku was out.  Anyhow, as the years wore on, the task of taking care of her grew more and more difficult.  Eventually my job of taking care of my mom because a 24/7/365 adventure that taxed me to my limits.  Yet, for the love of my mom, I kept at it, even though I was hitting a wall and nearly burning out trying to keep up.  I mean, it got so bad I had to install a driveway monitor in my mom's room to know when she was getting up during the night, or even the day.  Because, if she was on her feet, I had to be on my feet, even if that meant I only got 2-3 hours of sleep a night.  Because, if I didn't, she'd fall and hurt herself.  Even when I was paying attention she still fell down and hurt herself several times as she'd get up and start walking, then lose her balance and fall down, sometimes injuring herself.

And to make matters worse, mom was about one step short of a ninja.  That woman could move with a silence that astounded me.  I mean, she could walk right up to you and you'd never hear her coming.  It was crazy.  I've never known anyone in my life to be that silent, even when they tried.  And she did it naturally.  That was the crazy part.  Anyhow, on April 26th, 2017, she went home to be with Jesus.  The funny part was, I'm such a workaholic that I was ready, as soon as the paperwork and all the formalities were resolved, to get back to work and making money, paying bills, etc.  And that's not me acting selfishly.  I mean, after all, I gave up six years of my life to take care of my mom, and even pretty much threw my business under the bus in order to take care of her rather than focusing on growing it and getting rich.  So I'm hardly selfish.

If anything, I'm hyper task focused.  I see what needs to be done, and I just do it.  And, in this case, I knew what the next step was; namely getting a job, and getting myself solvent again, given that my business was pretty much dead at that point, and not easily resurrected.  Plus, I was burned out too.  The riggers of a business, and taking care of mom, pretty much sealed its death right then and there.  So, normal employment was my best way forward.  The funny thing is, I wanted to hit the ground running within a few weeks after mom's funeral, to make her proud, to show her (even though she was gone) that I would be alright, and that things would be fine.  And, even though I couldn't show her directly, I knew that Jesus would tell her for me so she wouldn't have to worry about me anymore and could enjoy Heaven more.  Plus, I'm sure part of that effort was for me too, to know I'd be alright too without my mom, as she'd been by my side for so many years, through thick and thin, like any good parent will do.

The funny part is, while I wanted to hit the ground running and get back to work, God put me on hold for exactly two months after she died to give me time to grieve and heal.  And two months to the day even.  And, while I didn't want it (remember, task focused), in hind sight I'm glad He did as I can't imagine how useless I would've been at my new job without those two months.  Anyhow, my first day of employment was exactly two months to the day after mom passed away.  So I had a full two months to grieve.  However, it still took me well over a year beyond that point before I was finally able to both heal and grieve enough to eventually return to normalcy in my life.  But even then you don't ever truly heal completely.  You just heal up enough to be functional again, despite the reality that the pain of your loss never really goes away completely.  I still cry periodically when I think about mom, and how much I miss her.  I even cry when I remember the horrible six year decline that she had to go through, and how much she suffered, and how much it hurt me to have to experience that.  But what probably hurts the most is what I saw.

I was forced, against my will, to watch my mom slowly, bit by bit, fade away, even to the point where she didn't know who I was.  The last twelve days of her life, the days she spent in the hospice house (btw, I want to give huge props to Southwest Michigan Hospice House on the excellent care they gave her) were the hardest.  I was emotionally and physically spent, and in no condition to go through what I was about to be asked to do.  I remember my first visit there was nearly impossible for me.  I went in, doing my best to be with my mom and stay with her as long as I could.  But the emotion of the moment made it almost impossible for me to remain for more than an hour.  The next two times my sister had to drag me over there because it was so hard to go back, and the pain so great, that she pretty much had to pin me to a chair so I wouldn't run away.

And don't get the idea that I was abandoning my mom.  If you've never been through this before, you can't hope to understand the tempest of emotions I was going through at the time.  We knew we were but days away from mom's homegoing.  And that, combined with the grief and emotional exhaustion from the previous six months, had made an emotional train wreck out of me.  I was doing all I could just to hold it together, and if Jesus hadn't been there with me through that valley of darkness, I would never have made it.  It was Him who held me tight in His loving arms, and it was Him who held me together during that period, and for that I am eternally grateful. :)  But even so, to say I was emotionally maxed out is an understatement.  If it hadn't been for Jesus, I would've crumbled.

But anyhow, I say all of that for the purpose of providing a background for today's interesting missionary encounter.  To start this explanation, I will unequivocally say that I love is auctions.  They're great entertainment, and I sometimes get some great deals there besides.  And, even if I don't buy anything, it's still fun to go.  Trust me, auctions are a blast. :)  And this auction was no different.  I came in like I always do and began to scout around and see what they had for sale.  As I did this, I passed by this sweet old lady in the front of the room in a wheelchair.  At the time I didn't realize who it was.  But later on, after talking with her caretaker, I learned it was someone I knew as a kid.  Anyhow, as I passed by she asked me for a drink of water.  Being the kind person I am, I found her caretaker and informed him.  He, of course, went over and took care of her.

Later on, I found myself sitting behind him and the sweet old lady, who it turned out was his mom.  Having been a caretaker for someone with dementia myself, it didn't take me long to realize what I was seeing.  I mean, even nearly two and a half years later I still remember what that was like.  In fact, it made me want to cry, because the memories of those years are still so fresh in my mind.  Even trying to write this I'm tearing up and it's making it hard to write. ^_^;;  Anyhow, upon seeing what this poor man was having to go through to take care of his mom, I leaned forward and began to encourage him.  But this wasn't the dry, standard, presumptuous encouragement that people give when they're trying to encourage or console someone with whom they have no commonality, or with whom they do not share a common experience.

I've been there.  I've experienced everything he has, and is.  I know every drop of pain, frustration, sadness, exhaustion and more that he has and is going through.  So I had a connection with him that nobody else, who hasn't been through the experience first hand of taking care of a relative with dementia, could ever hope to have.  If you haven't done it, or you haven't been there, you may still be able to help someone, but not to the same degree as someone who has.  And what makes this interesting is all the people in the past who talked about this kinda thing.  Namely God putting you through a given experience so you can help others going through that same experience.  My mom had it happen to her, when she was diagnosed with cancer the first time.  Someone else who had been there already stepped up and ministered to her as she went through it.

Later on, when others got it, having gone through it herself, mom was now able to both empathize, and truly reach out to those going through cancer, because she had been there.  The same with her broken leg.  Or her divorce from my dad.  When she first went through those, others were there to minister to her and help her through those situations; people who had already gone through those same experiences themselves.  Through those experiences, she then became equipped to help others going through those same things.  Myself, I always found it interesting to see others going through the same things my mom was.  But I'd never really had anything as painful or heart wrenching as what she'd gone through time and time again.  Yeah, I've experienced some painful things, but before my experiences taking care of my mom, what'd I'd experienced couldn't hold a candle to what mom had already gone through.  So I couldn't empathize with others the way she could.

Then mom got dementia and ALL that changed.

Now I am the one who is able to minister to others, especially caretakers, as I've now been through that roll as a caretaker and know all the pain they go through, as I was there, first hand.  It's really interesting how God puts you through certain things in your life so that you can minister to, and be a minister to those who are in need.  I don't know why he needed that encouragement at that moment in time, but for twenty to thirty minutes I sat there with him, speaking words of encouragement to give light to him in the midst of his pain and trials.  But I was also a sounding board to him, as I could see that he was lonely, and needed someone to talk to.  And, while I didn't do much talking, as I mostly listened, I was very patient (something I'm normally not) with him and listened for as long as he wanted to talk, even though the painful memories of my own experience were welling up in me as I did.

So I wasn't just ministering to him.  I was sharing in his pain.  And I could tell that was something he needed, and because of that, God put me in the right place, at the right time, to fill his need that he had at that moment.  It still amazes me that God could take all the pain that I went through during those six years to help someone else, at the right place, at the right time, and in the right way.  So if you've been through something painful in your life, and God has brought you through it to the other side, never curse that pain, but instead consider it a blessing from God.  Because, without it, you couldn't minister to others who are currently going through the same thing as you did, and do it from a position of experience and empathy, rather than at arms length and disconnected.

Those who are the greatest ministers to others, are also those who have been wounded the deepest.  Because, it is from the depth of your own wounds that you can be the salve that helps heal the deep, gaping wounds of others who have yet to go where you've gone, and come out the other side.

Edit: Gramatical and spelling corrections.

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