Every couple months, we get the amazing joy and privilege of having Jon’s dad, Dick, come visit. To say he blesses us in an understatement.

He’s in an interesting spot in life. After acting as Field Chairman for New Tribes Mission in Bolivia for a few decades, he was recruited for a new position about 10 years ago. Recruited might not be the best description … the guy was drafted. The job? Caregiver. His sweet wife of 50 years had become one of the many causalties of  the disabling disease, Altzheimer’s. The need for care forced them from their home in South America to assisted living (at least for her) in the United States.

If you haven’t had any experience with this disease, it offers a tough road of extensive forgetfulness to disabling fear, depression, anger … pick your poison. I had the pleasure (and I really do mean pleasure) of walking the road with my own grandmother. The hardest part was the beginning of the disease, when she knew she was losing her mind, but wasn’t sure. Jon’s mom, Lucille, experienced the same problem. The saddest part is watching them check out of life because they just aren’t sure about what they might be saying.

So, Dick’s calendar has changed from being filled with meetings, outings and fellowship to repetitive trips to the home where Lucille lives, countless elevator rides up a few floors to the Alzheimer’s unit, and hours of encouraging the love of his life to eat, to converse, to abandon frequent bouts with fear that grip her feeble mind.

It isn’t the way he pictured his later years in life to be. No… not so much. Gone are dreams of spending his later days enjoying the moderate Bolivian climate with native friends, of watching grandchildren laughing and playing at his (and his wife’s) feet, of spending hours reminiscing of a life lived well and obediently. Instead, reality has offered way too much time alone, no one with whom to share memories, hours upon hours talking with someone whose body keeps ticking while her mind struggles with sanity. I’m not speaking for him, but I’m sure he would be honest in saying the road has been less than easy.
But, the man has met it head on … determined to live joyfully … really… searching for the meaning of joy in the midst of far less than cheerful circumstances. How does he do it? In a manner worth contemplation… worth adopting … worth exemplifying to and encouraging in our kids.

First, he has yet fall prey to a “victim” mentality. No one ever said life is fair. In fact, someone once said life is full of suffering. (That same someone also said He would meet us and carry the burden with us.) Let me just interject here – around our house, I get the “victim” story several times a day. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing much to warrant any victim status in this environment. They still try to play the card, though…”It’s not fair (fill in the blank)… She got to do blah, blah, blah last time… Prof So & So gives the hardest exams – no wonder I have a C” … do I need to go on?… I don’t think so.

Second, he makes the most of his situation … even though it is clearly a tough one. That sneaky little secret about getting your eyes off yourself just might be the key to this one. He’s quick to take the focus off their situation (and himself), constantly reaching out to those around him. And let me tell you, he’s around lots of folks who need an ear to hear their story or a good word to brighten their day.

Third (I actually could go on and on… but I love this one so much, I’ll end with it)… he embraces the idea that you’re never too old to learn new things.

Case in point: Last Spring, on one of his visits, I asked him if he would like to go with us to the Landry Center. I had arranged for our oldest kids to have a swim lesson after they expressed interest in the neighborhood swim team. So, even though they are fine swimmers, I thought a quick stroke refresher would help them get a jump on things. Dick, a bit surprised that older kids who knew how to swim could have a lesson, asked a few questions.

“They already know how to swim. Why would they need a lesson?”

“Lots of people that already know how to do a sport keep taking lessons. Look at Michael Phelps, he has someone coaching him, giving lessons, all the time. … Swimming is such great exercise. I figure, why not help them get their strokes down, so it’s easier for them. Then they don’t fight the water. They learn how to use it efficiently”

“Hmmm. I go to the tennis/swim center. I think I’d enjoy swimming, but I’m not sure I remember how … or ever learned properly.”

“Want to join them?” I ask, not expecting an affirmative response.

“Would that be okay?”


So Dick borrowed one of Jon’s swim suits and headed with us to the fitness center. After a small detour navigating the men’s locker room maze, he arrived at the pool, ready to hop in for a lesson with his grandkids. Let me just say… I was impressed. Impressed and hopeful that I might have the same attitude as he when I’m in my eighties. Peron Jones, our friend and instructor, was blown away when he learned of Dick’s age. Again, impressive.

Oh how I wish my kids could genuinely embrace all of these concepts. You’re not a victim, embrace your situation by getting your eyes off yourself and don’t be think you can’t learn … don’t let anything stop you from learning new tricks. For them, it might not be age. They are often crippled by their own perception that they can’t do things. Or are so worried about what others might think, they don’t even try.I guess this all goes toward our efforts to empower here at home. Making them work, sticking to some standards, expecting much … all help support my verbal message, “I believe in you.” How I hope they will see the example set by their grandfather … don’t let anything stop you. He sure hasn’t.

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay(Can’t wait to show you our yard… ooooohhh it really looks great! The greatest part? The kids’ reactions. They’ve owned it – even though a little outside help was required by our big boss :)

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