Six years ago, my husband and I took at long car ride intending to make a decision. Mollie had been home for China for six months and we were trying to decide whether or not to adopt another little girl from China. When we had started the adoption process, we had thought God had two girls for us, but along the way, we had the miracle of Sophie’s birth. So we had agreed to wait six months before even talking about the decision to adopt again and bring our final count to five.
A large part of our decision was whether or not we were going to be responsible to take care of our parents. We didn’t want to be overwhelmed by so many responsibilities that we couldn’t do a good job raising our children. That winter, Christopher’s parents had decided to move to our city, and had even bought a house. However, just a few days after signing the contract, they had changed their mind and gone back to Arizona.
Talking it all over while driving in the car, we decided that his parents would never move to be near us and would probably end up in some sort of assisted living in Tucson. My parents were so much younger that we didn’t really worry about caring for them.
So we started the adoption process, and two years after I traveled to get Mollie, I brought home our dear Steffi. Just two months after I got home from China, when we were still adjusting to sleep schedules, all of our ideas about our future in caring for our parents came crashing down.
I had gone to pick a friend up from the airport and was talking with her when the phone rang. My dad had fallen and was severely injured. Right after this, my in-laws called and told us they had sold their house and were moving to our city (we hadn’t even heard they were planning to see their house!). Bringing my friend back to Dallas the next day, I got a call from the neurologist who wanted to find out how I felt about taking my father off of life support. As I came out of the bedroom I had gone in to take the call (at my friend’s co-worker’s house), I saw a wall of pictures. The couple told me the pictures were from their 50th wedding anniversary. I had been thinking about planning a party for my parents. Suddenly, I realized there would be no 50th anniversary. Driving the two hours home, I started arranging flights to California for me and the kids, while Chris was arranging flights for his parents and talking to real estate agents.
I spent three weeks in California helping my mom with the three little ones in two. Sophie and Mollie were three, Steffi was one. Steffi fell down the stairs and hit her head at the mortuary when we were choosing caskets for my dad. The girls had a great time running in the cemetery. I bagged up all my dads clothes–almost 40 large trash sacks–and gave them away. My mom couldn’t do it but wanted them out. I fielded all the phone calls, realizing that it was a lot of emotional work taking care of the other mourners. When I left, I told my mom I would call every day. For the first year, I did. Since then I have not been able to keep up that schedule, but we still talk several hours a week.
While I was in California, Christopher’s parents came to buy a house. They managed to arrange for the move, but then absolutely collapsed and seemed unable to do anything or find their way around town. I spent two weeks unpacking everything and many hours arranging doctors and dentists for them, as well as trying to help them drive to the store.
For a very short time, everything seemed fine and they seemed grateful for all we had done. Then suddenly, everything changed. They hated Texas, they had moved here for our sakes and it wasn’t working out. They started calling real estate agents and planning to move back to Arizona. For two years, we lived through a crazy cycle of their vacillating decisions about whether to leave or stay, and their terrible arguments with each other and with us. We were very overwhelmed. So were the real estate agents who somehow managed to get my cell phone number. “Who are these people?” they would complain, “they are calling me 20 times a day and in the middle of the night. Somebody should do something about them!” I guess that somebody was us, but we had no idea what to do. It wasn’t until two years along this process when Christopher’s mom ended up in the hospital after a big fight (while we were in California visiting my mom) that we began to realize that both of his parents had Alzheimer’s.
Had we known what was ahead for us, we would not have adopted Steffi. We would have thought it would be too overwelming. We would have been right. Dealing with my dad’s death and Christopher’s parents has been very overwealming. However, it has not crushed us, because what we would not have factored in to our decision was the grace of God, which gives us power to do all he has called us to do. When we needed his strength, it was there. When we needed wisdom, he provided.
I feel our journey was a fulfillment of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, in verses 2:18-20, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
Through the last four years our eyes have been enlightened to our hope, our inheritance and the power available to us by God’s grace. And not just any power, it is the power that raised Christ from the grave. We needed that power as we faced the tragic lives my in-laws had lived together with no hope of God, no hope of heaven.
If I had known what was ahead, I would not only have missed out on being Steffi’s mom, I would also have missed out on the deep lessons God had to teach me through this journey. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” A good work God had prepared for us was taking care of Christopher’s parents in the last four years of their lives. It was not easy mediating between them as they warred with one another. It was not easy to take their abusive words. It was not easy to take them to doctor’s and dentist’s appointments with three preschoolers trailing along behind. It was not easy to tell Nicole every day for five months that Michael had died and that was why she hadn’t seen him. But then again, God never told us things would be easy. He told us He would be there.
Last Friday, we were told by the hospice nurse that Nicole had less than 72 hours to live. As soon as I could, I went in to see her. I recited verses. I sang hymns. I talked to her about who Christ was and how he loved her and wanted to save her from her sins. I had done that for Michael the day before he died. Neither of them would ever have allowed it when they were cognizant and able to speak. Yet how could I let them die without giving them a last chance for hope?
After a while, Nicole started to open her eyes just a little. Her breathing was labored. I sang some more. Then, needing a rest from the emotions, I stopped to water the plants I’d gotten for her birthday. She started to make a noise. I went over and started singing again. She stopped moaning. Again she opened her eyes just a little to look at me. For the rest of the time I was there, she tried to stay awake. She seemed to want me to keep on singing.
Finally, I had to leave to take care of the children. Christopher came and stayed with her for the next five hours. He told her to look for Jesus where she was going. At about one, he came home, thinking she was going to make it through the night. In less than an hour, he got a call. She had passed away.
Until I go to meet Jesus myself, I will not be able to say for certain what has happened with Nicole and Michael. However, for the rest of my life I will know that I fulfilled the task God set before me in caring for them until their last breath. God had bigger plans for me than I could have ever conceived.