It was last minute, but we decided to help someone from church move from a condo to a tiny apartment in an assisted living facility so she could be near her husband who is in memory care. There were enough other people helping that the work wouldn’t fall solely on our shoulders.
I didn’t want to give up my Saturday because t was the last sunny day before the rain set in, and with it being so wet, it would be a few days before we could drive Morgen again, since we prefer driving her in the field. But we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. We are called to deny ourselves, to die before we die. I have often been in dread of martyrdom. Would I be brave enough to stay faithful to Jesus despite torture? I don’t know. Would I simply stand up for him in a crowd pushing me to deny him or be violent? I don’t know. But I can give up my Saturday to help an elderly person move.
Richard Beck’s The Slavery of Death, a wise book riffing off of the Hebrews 2 passage that says Christ has delivered us from the fear of death, offers some insight. He says here in the America we show our fear of death by how ambitious we are, how we want to be remembered for our work or art. We want to be exceptional. But to combat this fear, to turn our faces into the wind of our inevitable death, we can deny ourselves. He tells the story of Saint Therese who wanted to die a heroic death like Joan of Arc but she found herself in a cloister. So how could she follow Jesus there? Beck says, “Feeling hemmed in and and limited in her options Therese began to search for alternative ways, more modest ways to make sacrifices in love for others. What she found was not a heroic path, but a little way–a way that consisted of making small, seemingly insignificant sacrifices in loving others” (114).
It was this that echoed in my mind, and the fact I’d probably sit home in front of my computer with a blank mind, that drew me to say, “Yes let’s go help.” And the fact that there were eight other people helping made the task seem less daunting.
Even with ten of us, it was still hard work moving Our Lady Friend (I don’t want to give her name, but she is a warm woman with much dignity and much substance) from her lovely condo to a tiny apartment that was dreadfully dark and looked more like a Hotel Six rooms than a a place to make home. The Facility smelled like Mr. Clean and I was relieved the staff didn’t ask us to put on masks as we huffed and puffed carrying boxes upstairs or dragging a clumsy dolly across the recreation area and lobby to the freight elevator. I saw signs requiring vaccination for Covid.
Our Lady Friend had already downsized and let things go, but by the time we were done her floor space was crowded. Though the place had a lot of storage space in such a small area and she might be able to put away all her beloved things. Small boxes, easy to carry, do take space.
And I felt like I had turned my face to my future. I’ve been nagged by declutter porn to do all kinds of downsizing–burn notebooks of emails, weed books–instead I buy more–and simply clean out the junk cluttering our garage room and shed. I’ve thought of having an auction to clean out the junk, but maybe it’s wiser to wait until we know where we are moving, when the farm gets to be too much, so we know what to purge.
Ever since we moved to our farm, I’ve been conscious of our age and how illness or accident could change our ability to manage the upkeep. Putting up all our hay got to be too much. This season our field produced 1000 bales. Fortunately, we found a farmer who takes the hay on shares, so we get half and he gets half. We have let him take what we don’t need.
I’m not sure how I could stand moving to a facility that doesn’t allow for dogs or cats. Or how would I give up that friend snuffling for bits of grass in her dry lot? Or all my books? The Kindle just doesn’t cut it even though it would save space because I open it to advertising. How could I give up the dry sink that has been part of my whole life? Or the hand crafted step back cupboard Bruce made? Or the journals I don’t pitch?
I thought all these thoughts while we moved her stuff. I know it’s materialistic to want to hang on, but I also know our stuff is a kind of clothing we wrap around us. Material artifacts connect us with memories and people gone before. I saw that when I did archeology as a young woman–the beautiful pottery shards that reflected the beautiful things families brought with them when they immigrated to the US.
The work was heavier than simply moving boxes and furniture to a dark apartment. It felt like a prediction of my future, of when Bruce and I will empty ourselves maybe not quite like Jesus, who left Paradise to become one of us, but an emptying nonetheless. My fear is real, will there be people to help by then? But a friend reminded me, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6: 24).
After lunch with a few of the crew, I walked out and said, “Shoot me now!” A friend laughed. I was serious. I remember a friend saying her brother was given a pacemaker only to live a few years longer and have to be institutionalized for dementia. She wondered at the wisdom of that intervention. But I also read about a woman whose husband died when she was in her sixties and she bloomed as a person radiant with faith, ministering God’s presence to people in her church and others. So maybe there is hope. Our friend who moved, ministered to us by offering us the chance to serve her, by being grateful.
And that lunch was kinda wonderful, because Bruce and I got a chance to visit with Bruce’s good friend along with a couple from church we don’t often get to talk to. So even in doing that hard work–carrying light boxes up steep stairs again and again–was a little unnerving because I couldn’t grab the railing–was full of reward.
Only after I got to church I realized it would have been good to take Every Moment Holy and offer a prayer of blessing for Our Lady Friend’s home. It would have been good to gather everyone who moved Our Lady Friend to say prayers of blessing on this dark apartment, prayers that the Lord’s light would fill it and that she would find good friends and good times, even there in an institutional setting and not forget her old friends back at church. A friend said that the move itself was prayer and bringing light. She thought I’d maybe carried Our Lady Friend’s grief for a bit of time. I’d not thought of it that way, but maybe so, maybe so.
As for me, I came home full of joy from stepping outside of myself, working my body hard, with people from our church community, people we got to know a little better over lunch. When Jesus said that we have to lose our life to save it, He was right. I felt joy–glad I could help and be part of a community offering our muscles and sweat. In Obadiah it says, “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obad 1:16, ESV). With no relatives to speak of, Bruce and/or I may be in the same position one day–frail, needing to move to assisted living. Maybe one day there will be community to help us, but oh my, do I feel the drive to get some of that work done now. And I feel the scatter of needing to drive Morgen, needing to write, needing to serve at church and our activist group, and needing to do the week to week cleaning and decluttering weekly paper. And there was joy in facing what my future might be and turning to trust the Lord with those times because those are in His hands, and settling back into the present with thankfulness for here. For now. And the blessings of Bruce, Mrs Horse, dog and cats…and yes all those books! Oh an my church community.
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