When treasure fails

Black and white portrait of a very sad old womanHer husband died a couple of years ago, after a long, lingering illness. Left alone in her advanced years, she quickly lost her grip on reality. She tried to drive places, got lost, and was taken back home by the police. She frightened some of her neighbors as they swerved to get out of her path when she careened through the neighborhood. She began verbally abusing her neighbors, shouting and accusing them of stealing her food, her clothes, her mail. She taped threatening notes to their doors, telling them her lawyer would be contacting them soon about those missing clothes.

When the county was alerted by the police, Senior Services came to investigate. She told them sweetly that her neighbors were taking good care of her, and they went on their way. But her neighbors shied away from her abusive nature, instead of “taking good care” of her. Some did try. They brought soup over and shoveled her driveway. But for the most part, they stayed away. Can you blame them?

The story gets worse. Neighbors called her son, who was living in another state. Come and take care of your mother, they urged. But the son, emotionally paralyzed, was unable–or unwilling–to do the right thing. And can you blame him?

His story was told to neighbors by the woman’s husband before he died. The woman was mean, abusive. She abused those around her, all her life. Her son couldn’t get away from home quickly enough once he was grown. Her husband shielded the world from her nasty, abusive temper. His kind, gentle nature was the buffer that everyone saw, and no one suspected what was going on behind closed doors.

But once her husband was gone, that buffer was also gone. The son, paralyzed by his years of torment at the hands of his mother, couldn’t bring himself to deal with his father’s death, nor could he attempt to manage the estate his father had left behind so that his mother could be cared for.

So for a couple of years, the old woman began drifting farther from reality, continuing to shout abuse at her neighbors. She began hallucinating about a big black dog in her house, calling people to say that she was cornered in her bedroom closet, because the dog had chased her there.

Finally Senior Services had done enough research and decided that, because no one was able to take care of her, she would become a ward of the state. She was taken to a nursing home.

The house stood empty until the state took over and put it up for auction–the house and all its contents. The proceeds would go toward her care.

On the day of the auction, the neighborhood was packed. Someone set up a concession stand with hot dogs and water, chips and soda. All the house’s contents sat on tables lining the driveway. The furniture inside was also up for auction. And bit by bit, all the accumulations from the past 30 years were sold off.

“And this box of Tupperware. Who will get the bid started? Two dollars? One?” The auctioneer named the pieces from the home–a porcelain pig. A few cross stitch patterns. An electric fondue pot. On and on, for two hours. And then, finally, the house itself was auctioned.

How sad, how very tragic, that this woman’s life was taken apart and sold, piece by piece, to pay for her long-term care. And even more tragic–the son, who couldn’t bear to bring himself to take care of those details himself, still paralyzed by the abuse he endured all through his childhood.

15 Pile of GutsThe piles of her household goods, sitting on the driveway, reminded me of a few trips we had taken to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf States. One by one, houses were emptied of their contents and left on the curb for disposal, mountains of furniture, clothes, books, and treasure laid bare for everyone to see. Though we were the ones to gut many houses, we averted our eyes from the mangled, moldy contents, such a pile of personal treasure completely ruined. We saw the grief in their owners’ eyes as they watched the years of accumulation reduced to garbage when two weeks of high water destroyed everything.

When what you value in life is ripped away, what is left? When the buffer between you and the world is taken from you, who are you?

The ancient book of Job describes just such a scene. This wealthy man, with many grown children, an abundance of livestock, servants, and treasure, had everything stripped away from him. He was afflicted with pain, illness, and sores all over his body. As he sat on an ash-heap, his wife scornfully advised him, “Curse God and die.”

What would you do? What would you say, if you were Job? He did moan; he groaned aloud, nearly paralyzed by grief and pain. “Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?  Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.  When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope” (Job 7:1-6).

But Job, even sitting on the ruins of his lost fortune, and grieving the loss of his children and betrayal of his wife, and suffering physical pain as he was, had a deep assurance that there is something–Someone–more, and he invested his trust in that.

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! If you say, “How we will pursue him!” and, “The root of the matter is found in him,”  be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment. (Job 19:23-29; emphasis mine)

Life is hard; cruelties abound. Experience proves that we cannot rest our faith in our treasure, and that people will let us down. So when all around you fails, where do you place your trust and your faith? Job declared out loud that his faith was in God, and his faith never wavered, even in the midst of the worst kind of horrors. Be assured that there is only One who keeps His promises (“I will never leave nor forsake you,” Joshua 1:5) and who will never leave or forsake you, if you have placed your trust in Him.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Health, Pain and suffering

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