As many of you know, D and I have spent the last 3 weeks or so helping his grandma in the last weeks of her life. A lot of 2 hour trips in the car, late nights, and phone calls to doctors and nurses. And a lot of times we hear things about how blessed she is to have us helping her or about how involved we are as grandchildren...essentially a lot of people singing the praises of D and myself.
However, if I were to be completely honest, those accolades are a bit misplaced. To start with, we are in this position by default. D's mom was an only child. D's grandma was an only child. D's grandma is deceased as is most of his family. And D's brother lives in another state. We are the closest family members. We are obligated to do those things.
And to continue with the confession type feel, D's grandma was not the easiest person in the world for me to love. She had done some very hurtful things towards D's mom many years before I became a part of the family. During D's mom's illness and death, D's grandma was almost like an absentee parent who expended little time or effort in helping to care for Sheila. And often, D's grandma had a tendency to be controlling about the littlest things which drove me batty.
So why would I choose to share those feelings now, when it might seem a bit disrespectful? (It is not that Marie was an awful person. Because she wasn't. It's not about venting or laying down every flaw she had. In fact, I can certainly list many positive things about her.) It' because God is writing this story and I feel like I would be remiss to write about Marie's death without writing about the way God used her to push me to love in ways that were better than what I could do on my own.
On my own, I wanted to be angry with Marie because she had hurt D's mom, Sheila. On my own, I wanted to resent Marie for not helping D and his brother as they dealt with their mom's terminal illness. On my own, I wanted to be frustrated with Marie when she stood over me and told me how to wash the dishes, nevermind that I am 32 years old and have a pretty good idea of how to wash the dishes. And on my own, I wanted to push her away, to ignore her and leave her to her own devices which included aging at home, alone.
A while back I found a quote that said "It is easier to control people than to love them." And that probably summed up a lot of my feelings about Marie. I often wanted to love her on my terms, when she acted in the ways I wanted. I would find myself thinking "If only she'd do x, then it would be easier to feel a deeper love for her." Or I'd think the opposite of that. "If only she would stop doing y, then I could invest myself more in loving her."
I know that love is not about conditions, that we should not love people for what they do. But knowing that and living that are two different things.
And while I wasn't out to control every detail of Marie's life, I was instead seeking to mete out my love for her, to control my love for her based on whether or not she was at least willing to meet me in the middle so to speak. I wanted her to compromise a bit. I wanted her to not be so stubborn. I wanted her to understand that some of the things she had done in the past were hurtful to others. And if she could at least give me that, then I could love her better.
But God had other plans. God used those thoughts on love and control to little by little chip away at a shallow love. God continually reminded me that people who have difficulty loving and living freely often have never experienced the unconditional love of their Creator. I honestly believe that to be true of Marie. She suffered a lot of hurt in her life and had many reason to doubt that she was loved by the Maker of the earth.
Two weeks ago, when we came up, I was very concerned about our time with her as her health was failing, and I was not sure she could stay at home even though that is what she wanted. As we were driving, God continually placed 1 Corinthians 13 before me. He reminded me that I was not there to convince Marie, to persuade Marie, or to chastize Marie but that I was simply there to love Marie and to tell her how much He loves her.
So as we arrived and found ourselves in a situation where she had fallen on a previous day and was unable to get up off the couch, we realized we would have to call the ambulance to transport her to the E.R.. She was unhappy and a bit angry. I matter of factly told her to remember that we loved her to which she snorted and said something along the lines of "It doesn't feel like it!"
As we sat, I gently told her that love always protects and that even though she didn't like what was happening, that it didn't mean that we didn't love her. I also told her that God loved her more than we did, that no matter what, His love for her would be evident in her life. We talked a bit and Marie shared how God had put plenty of suffering in her life. My heart continued to soften and God reminded me of how Marie spent most of her life missing out on the greatest love of all, an intimate and personal relationship with God. Yes, she believed that God existed but believing that and believing in the redeeming and rescuing power of His love are two different things.
As the last few weeks have progressed, God has worked in me and the lives of a few other people to remind Marie of the truth of His love. I don't know if Marie ever fully grasped exactly how unconditional His love is or if she ever was able to rest on this earth in the provision afforded by His love but I can certainly hope that she is sitting in His presence now, wrapped in a marvelous, awe inspiring, completely radiant love like she has never known.
And me? Well, I guess I can walk away knowing that God has stretched my definiton of love, that He has encouraged my heart to press on when love is hard, when love is not fun, when love is taxing and when I am spent. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. " (1 Cor. 13)