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Does Alzheimer's Let Us off the Hook in Our Relationships?

Figuring out the mess of illness in the midst of God’s creative work on us

Earlier this fall CBN's chairman Pat Robertson started quite a scandal when he told his 700 Club viewers that he wouldn't "put a guilt trip" on someone for divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's disease. He called Alzheimer's itself "a kind of death." A week later in the midst of the uproar his comments had made, he made an attempt to apologize for his remarks yet left many feeling betrayed.

What Robertson failed to understand and express is really about the symphony of love that God created and designed for our relationships. The symphony of love begins with giggling children who mimic emotions by chanting, "I'll love you forever." Teenagers may steal a kiss at dusk. The symphony becomes stronger when adults ignore butterflies and hold hands before a minister and vow to love, honor, and be there for each other through thick and thin, sickness and health.

A song for these lovers might include chimes and skipping beats. As time passes will the vivacious symphony become richer or will it end when tragedy arrives? Instead of Robertson painting the beautiful, although sacrificial and often painful, view of marriage expressed by our Creator's symphony, he instead concentrated on personal needs, turning a love song into a melancholy whine. Instead of a symphony, it became a solo for one.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.4 million people suffer with Alzheimer's and 14.9 million unpaid caregivers provide love and support. Many of those caregivers feel Robertson belittled their sacrifices. The pain and suffering of the caregiver is real. Although it's a heartbreaking tragedy, the symphony of love can survive.

The symphony of love represents more than a chase after personal desires. The melody and full tones beat the drum of respect, honor, and commitment. The tempo changes as we age. Important issues that once were fought over are set aside. Desires often take a back seat to the determination to be unselfish with your spouse. The symphony God wants to write for you will mimic the love of God. His love isn't self-seeking and doesn't run from tragedy.

My parents are ministers and recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. Mother is wired for emotions, conversation, and connection. Dad loves to study and can spend hours at the computer. They made a great team doing church work. Mother attended to the emotional needs of the church while Dad prepared spiritual food for its members.

Retirement has taken a toll on their abilities. Back pain is worse when Dad climbs stairs. Study is harder due to memory and concentration issues. Mother's osteoporosis and immune diseases keep her from chores and hobbies. Dad would rather spend the day in his study while Mom craves connection.

Robinson's advice denies the love symphony that flows through my parent's marriage. Only a rich orchestration will carry them through their daily struggles. When Mother needs help, Dad rushes to care for her even if it means he can't finish his work. When Dad needs a little quiet time, mother is patient.

Most any day you can find them playing their symphony of love. Mom sits in her favorite chair and stares out the window. Loneliness covers her like a heavy blanket. She prays and waits for Dad to finish his work. Later, Dad dresses in silence and wishes he could stay home. A cup of hot soup and a chance to rest his back would feel so good. He sighs and understands that Mother has been patient.

Dad winces with pain as he descends the steps. They smile at each other. He takes her hand to help her out of the chair. He steadies one side until she anchors her cane. She reminds him to lock the door. He reminds her to check for her cell phone. He places the jacket around her shoulders. They walk hand in hand to the car. This back and forth symphony of kindness is no longer a tinkling gentle lullaby. The orchestra of love that plays now is full of deep rich melodies that resonate out from their life and seem to fill every space they inhabit.

A less committed love wouldn't be able to play their song. The gentle ring of a bell or the soft high pitch of a flute wouldn't be strong enough to carry them through these difficult times. Their love is a duet, not a solo performance.

I often stare at my husband, Ron, and wonder what our symphony will become. Will I be like Mother and need full time care? Will Ron need my help to find grace as he works through some awful pain? I hope that we're learning how to play our instruments properly. I hope I'm learning how to be kind even when the beat urges me to stomp away. I hope Ron is learning to give grace even when the trumpet encourages him to run.
God creates—that's what he does. He creates the beauty of a mountain stream that blesses every plant along its run. He creates a sunset bold with deep reds and brilliant yellows. He blends colors and weaves golden experiences through our lives like a rich tapestry. The Creator of true love wants to write a symphony for your relationship. He wants to blend tones and melodies that are uniquely yours. He wants to write a vibrant anthem that builds to a crescendo and brings tears to those who hear your song.

In our disposable world it's important to cherish sacrificial love. We must practice kindness, unselfishness, and total commitment until we can hear God's love song. When we allow God to teach us to love, his symphony will lead the way to the biggest treasure of our lives.

Debbie Jansen is a family specialist, speaker, author of Discipline Exposed, and founder of The Family Training Center. She and Ron have been married 36 years. www.debbiejansen.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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