Peet DickinsonAt the Cathedral, we talk a lot about Being the Heart of God for the Heart of Charleston, and that perhaps evokes all different kinds of ideas of what that means and how that’s lived out. For some, it may seem a bit overwhelming or out of reach to conceive of how exactly this vision is fulfilled. It may seem a bit high and mighty for the average person or the average church. But, I’m here to tell you that we are God’s heart whenever the love of God so fills our hearts that we find ourselves transformed into the likeness of Christ as evidenced by our loving like he loves.

I see this kind of incarnation of the Gospel in our people in all sorts of ways, but I want to focus on one of the ways that might be overlooked or undervalued. Over the years I’ve served as Dean I have observed many in our congregation being God’s heart to their aging and ailing family members. To be a primary caregiver to a parent or sibling in those waning years is some of the most beautiful and often unnoticed missional living there is.

So many in our midst have been or are being the heart of God in this particular way, and to help us all catch a glimpse of the joys and sorrows of this incarnational ministry, I’ve asked Elizabeth Vice to share a little bit about caring for her mother, and our beloved sister in Christ, Alice, as she suffers the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. What’s it like to be God’s heart in what Elizabeth refers to as “the deepest shade of twilight?”

Elizabeth Vice 2

Elizabeth Vice being the heart of God for all generations

 Please share a bit about your mom, Alice, in the years before the Alzheimer’s Disease began to take its toll.

Hospitality, graciousness, generosity, and gratefulness.  I grew up a child of the South with these qualities modeled by my mother.  The folding of napkins, Mom’s signature covered dish, the Sunday calls dad would make to the elderly members of the church, having tea (sweet is the only kind) ready for anyone who came by.  This is the particular way my family lived in community with our Church family, our neighbors, and our extended family.  Being the heart of God is how we put it at the Cathedral.

 

What big questions and doubts have you faced as you all have walked through these most recent months, and how has the Lord encouraged and equipped you for what you face on a daily basis?

How does one have community with someone for whom the idea of community is dimming into the deepest shade of twilight? Our family’s path forward has been one of dogged determination to create a space of community that can enfold Mom in her mental decline.  To do that, I’ve been surprised to recognize the Gospel writers accounting of the absolute dogged determination of Jesus to welcome the leper, the foreigner, the social pariah, and the diminished to become the focus of his practical examples of how God’s Kingdom operates.

That idea began to grow in our hearts.  Jesus sought out people others set aside and then he publicly treated them with dignity and respect.  We too could see this model of God’s heart as one we could follow.  We would not hide her away or quiet her. We would take her with us to church. The Cathedral family acted as Jesus to Mom.  The Cathedral has been hospitable to one whom could easily be set aside and shushed as Bartimaeus was (Mark 10:48).

 

What is a truth God has showed you that you wouldn’t have ever learned were it not for this journey of love and care for your mom?

As our journey has continued, new facets of hospitality have uncovered themselves.  The one that is particularly speaking to us right now is that we are called to live out the ideals of the Kingdom of God in a more blunt manner.  As one of the children in Children’s Chapel said, “the Kingdom of God begins in the Heart of God and goes where ever God’s love is.” We are to love one another with an endowed love – a love beyond one born of genetics and a lifetime of togetherness. The yielding of our “rights” is bearable because we are being the love of the Father by loving Mom as a tangible proxy for Him.  Attempting to love as the Father loves. Being God’s heart for Mom.

 

Any last words you’d want your Cathedral family to know so that we can know best how to pray for you, Daniel, Andrew, Josiah, and Alice?

Honestly, often we are not even remotely joyfully successful in holding fast to the lessons of the Gospel narratives or loving Mom with God’s love.  There are nights when I get up at 3 to take her to the bathroom that I cry from the sadness of it all. We do mourn. We are sad. It isn’t always evident that we have a great hope (I Thess. 4). We as a family have learned that it isn’t my love for Mom that carries us forward; it is being the Father’s love that not only resonates with Mom at a deeply primal level, but also allows us to not be completely overwhelmed by the loss of Mom’s ability to be gracious, generous, and grateful.