While we are up in Alaska, one of the special jobs our children are getting the privilege of doing is scanning "Gramma Mary's" (Dale's mom) extensive collection of letters so as not to lose their contents. My mother-in-law was a very deep, thoughtful person who wrote on a consistent basis, mostly to her siblings who lived elsewhere, as she and her husband braved the "new frontier" of Alaska to build their lives, home and family. Even though she was busy raising five sons, she took the time to write these letters and had the foresight to use carbon paper – yes, carbon paper! – to keep a copy herself. They are an amazing treasure of insights both into the early years of my husband and his family as well as the heart and mind of a truly incredible woman.
One small example among many:
"The sun is shining, you see; and whenever the sun shines up here, it inspires me to a sensation of having infinite energy and ambition – but insufficient time or ability to organize enough to accomplish anything except to be happy."
Although Alzheimer's is a tragic disease, it struck me that God's objectives in allowing this huge struggle, especially at the stage Mary's at (pretty advanced now, not recognizing much), is as much, if not more, about teaching those around the one with the disease unparalleled lessons of patience, presence and purpose.
Patience – because you have no idea how long a victim of Alzheimer's will live, and the care can be tedious and lack reward. Presence – because all that really matters is the moment. I am learning that what matters is to make the moments with Mary count, to freely smile at her, hug her, whisper "I love you" and remind her that she's in a room with others who love her so much. When a smile comes to her lips, which can no longer utter much, it speaks volumes.
And finally... Purpose. What I mean by this is the importance of being intentional in all we do. Not just let stuff slide, but to have a clear intention and purpose in what we do, how we connect, how we love. In most of our relationships, there is still an easily recognizable feedback loop. That is a huge gift, and we need to cherish it while we have it.
I know these lessons can be used in ministering to and loving on international students as well, so I am grateful for the chance to learn them in new ways here.