This past week, I visited a dear lady who has been living at our local Alzheimer's facility for a while. She is now under Hospice care. I think she just turned 86.
Mary is special to me because she is someone who, many years ago, impacted my life for good. I knew her and her family because we went to the same church when I was growing up, and I was good friends with her oldest daughter.
She was a no-nonsense type of children's church leader, but she was always soft spoken and kind. Her heart's desire was to share the love of Jesus with children, which she did through telling stories, teaching songs, and offering crafts, both at church and regularly in her home.
The beginning and the end of Mary's days on earth were not easy ones. I know that she grew up in an orphanage. She married a man who grew up in the same orphanage, and together they raised four lovely and musically talented daughters. They were the ideal family, serving the Lord faithfully and with passion.
Unfortunately, after decades of marriage, Mary found out her husband was not the man she thought he was. He left her for a younger woman in another state, and left the relationships with his grown daughters as well. It was a devastating blow not only to the family, but also to the church community.
On the heels of the lost marriage, Mary began having symptoms of Alzheimer's. Slowly the disease robbed her of what was left of the life she once knew. Before she got too bad, I had an opportunity to tell her point blank how much I loved her and how much she had influenced me as a child, and how I've never forgotten the fun times I had in her home painting plaster molded plaques and singing songs and listening to her flannelgraph stories.
One time when I was about to visit her at the nursing home, her daughters told me that she no longer recognized them. I went anyway, taking along my mom and another lady friend who have known Mary for many years. We found her in the dining room area, staring blankly at the food on the tray in front of her. She obviously did not know who we were. I told her that my dad was now in heaven. She looked up at me and repeated his name, with obvious recognition, and smiled. Then it was gone.
The three of us chit-chatted for a while about "the old days" and Mary would occasionally look at us, but mostly had that familiar far-away look in her eyes. Her hands also shook, and she had a confused, worried look on her face. Finally I decided to go look in her room as I was sure she would have a bible in there somewhere, and I wanted to read her some verses.
Sure enough, I found it, and it was full of favorite passages that were underlined, and handwritten notes were all over the margins, remnants of years of bible study. I flipped through her bible, and came to the 23rd Psalm. I began reading it aloud. Slowly, the tremors in Mary's hands stopped. She became peaceful. As she folded her hands in her lap, she turned her face heavenward, closed her eyes, and there was a slight smile on her face.
Then she started reciting the familiar verses with me! Here, a woman whose mind has been stolen by a terrible disease, and who didn't even know her own loving daughters, was able to recall the Word of God that had been planted deep in her heart years prior! Tears were running down my face and I could barely get the words out. Once again, Mary was having a profound impact on my life.
The other day when I visited her, she was much more detached from her surroundings, but resting peacefully in her bed. It was hard to know what to say, but again, I found her bible and read Psalm 23. She again tilted her head upward, and with the faintest smile in her eyes and on her lips, listened to the words. This time she was quiet. Her hands only stopped shaking when they were being held.
Through tears and with a great effort to control my trembling voice, I said softly, "Mary, you have a glorious reward waiting for you. You have served the Lord faithfully all your life." In my heart, but not out loud, I said "you will see Him soon."
In this season of harvest and all the Thanksgiving holiday represents, I'm reminded that I, too, someday will be leaving this life on earth. Some day I may be too old or too sick to be busy preparing my favorite holiday recipes. Some day I may not even be able to recognize my loved ones. Some day, life as I have always known it will be non-existent.
Just as a farmer reaps the fall harvest of the crops he sowed much earlier in the spring, the day will come when we will reap an eternal reward for the sowing we did in our lifetimes. Only eternity will tell the lives that have been impacted by Mary and by the seeds that she so lovingly sowed in the hearts of young children for so many years. But there is a law of sowing and reaping that is certain and will be fully known someday.
May we be mindful of the seeds we plant each day of our lives, knowing that harvest time is coming. Be encouraged my friend, and don't grow weary.
"...he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."--Proverbs 11:18
UPDATE: My beloved childhood teacher, Saint Mary Talbot, entered into the eternal joy of the Lord this morning, Sunday November 29, 2009. All four of her daughters were with her during the holy time of her passing. As I stated previously, only eternity will tell the number of lives she touched. May God be praised!