I've always been intrigued by the 5th Commandment - " Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (KJV) It is repeated in Ephesians 6:2 -3 - "Honor your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise; that it may go well with you and you will live a long life on earth." There seems to be a clear link between honoring parents and long life. Fascinating! The culture seems to have ignored this promise as few seem willing to make an effort to care for aging parents.
This is fresh in my mind because for the past two weeks Jan and I have been in Michigan spending time with Jan's 89 year old mother, Margie. She fell while in Boston for a granddaughter's wedding and broke her hip. She didn't make it to the wedding as her hip repair surgery was the same day as the wedding. Needless to say this was a huge disappointment for her and for the whole family. We all tried to divide our time between the hospital and the wedding ceremony.
After the wedding was wrapped up, we were challenged to find a rehab center in Boston, as we were all from out of state. Jan's sister and husband, and Margie, are from Michigan. And of course, we are from Colorado. Some day I will tell you how the Lord directed us to the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, MA. It is an internationally known center that specializes in aggressive rehab and innovative elder care. After a couple of weeks there, Margie made such great progress, she was transported to a facility here in Michigan, where we have been for the past two weeks.
Jan and I really wanted to be here to assist with her Mom's transition from independent living to living in an assisted living facility. Why? To honor her. I've been thinking about "honor" every day for the past two weeks. As I walk down the hallways and see all the residents, most using walkers or wheelchairs, I have been moved to recognize the dignity of these dear aged people who never imagined their lives would take a turn like this. I'm sure they all wanted to live independently as long as they could. But now, they are dependent and tied to this facility. Every day, I ponder - "How do I honor them?" I want to honor Jan's Mom first and foremost, but I also want to honor these lonely struggling elderly souls. I have some preliminary ideas about what honoring these dear people looks like. Here are some thoughts about what honoring your father and mother looks like at a minimum:
Giving time to people sends a message - "you matter to me!" In the two weeks we have been here, we have tried to spend as much time as possible with Margie. She is fun to be around and has a very positive attitude, so we look forward to every day. But several residents never seem to have visitors. I don't know their schedules, but every time I see one of them sitting alone in a wheel chair in the lobby or hallway, I get a little choked up. They look so lonely. Yes, they eat in a dining room at tables with four to a table, but some sit alone. This breaks my heart.
Tonight, a trio from a local church came to sing for the residents and the number one thought I had was, "Thanks for taking to time to show these dear ones that you care." By spending time with them. They were only here for 30 minutes, but the joy they brought was priceless. Main gift they gave? TIME! I think you get my point.
It's tempting to walk by people without saying anything as I walk into the facility at various time of the day. I've been reminded that a simple "hello" can be a gift. By looking at a person and greeting them, you honor them. Of course, we talk to Jan's Mom. She isn't a shy person! She talks to us, too! But, ignoring people in the hallway or just walking by sends a message - "I don't have time for you." We have had some very enlightening conversations with several dear people here. I've learned about a mother whose daughter died of cancer, a farm wife who lived on a beautiful farm in Marshall, a doctor of optometry who got her degreee when she went back to college when she was 48, a woman whose son is a local sheriff, and we actually met the mayor's mother during a visit when the mayor accompanied her to visit Margie. People matter. Communication is a two way street. Ask a question around here and it isn't unusual to get a long answer. Today, I told a woman wearing a pink striped shirt and pink slacks that she looked good in pink. She made it clear to me that she was sure it was orange! At least we talked!
This one caught me a little off guard. Think about it. Who touches these dear souls? Nursing assistants who bathe and care for them, of course...it's their job. But who shakes a hand, gives a gentle hug, or pats a person on the back. I haven't asked anyone, but I am quite sure that one of the great losses these people feel is the loss of gentle, kind, and appropriate touch. Some of you have read Gary Chapman's "love languages" book, and you probably recall that for some people the main love language is "meaningful touch." Like babies who are not picked up in orphanages fail to thrive, I believe elderly people need to experience being gently touched. Jan excels at this. I love watching her spread love and light around here.
Elderly people need help with the most simply tasks. At least, the tasks seem simple to us. Get a glass of water, hang a picture, get a tissue, empty a trash can, make a bed, open a bed, do some laundry, get the mail, replace a light bulb, hang a calendar, open a bag of popcorn, cook a meal, and on and on it goes. We take for granted the simplest of tasks, but for these dear people, the tasks can seem overwhelming. Once again, it doesn't take much to help. It may seem so basic to us. But you can give support and care by being willing to help. Realize that you were once in a situation where you needed help with pretty much everything...when you were born! Remember? Guess who did all of that for you? The same person who needs a little help from you now. Think about it this way - what a privilege to honor your father or mother by helping them in their time of need. It's fulfilling, and even more importantly, it's biblical.
We love our dear Margie Salena Nicholson! More than anything, we want to honor her and bless her for all the years she has been a blessing to us. I want to honor her for providing me with such an amazing wife. But so much more, we both want to honor her because in doing so, we honor the Lord.
I'm not 100% certain about the "length of days" part of the promise, but I like the mystery in it. Who knows how healthy it is for us to honor our parents and the elderly? It's not only good for them, it's apparently good for us. I close with a challenge - if you are slipping in the "honoring your parents" category, make a commitment to renew your passion to honor them. If you're in the middle of an "honoring parents season," stick with it...you will be rewarded. And if you need to apologize for failure to honor, take the first step and let God surprise you with His blessing. Start with time, talks, touch and tasks...and start today!