A Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s


Not simply just a word, but a “diagnosis”.
(That word “diagnosis” makes it sound even worse.)

Ugly words: “Not curable.” “Progressive.”

Dr. Sanchez spoke quickly:  of the disease, of how the brain works, of Jim’s MRI,
of the future, of what might happen.  As with many specialists, it was all very clinical, it was all very quick, it was all very cut and dried.

I felt Jim begin to wither beside me.  That was the word he most didn’t want to hear.  He seemed shocked, frightened, sad, diminished, angry, backed into a corner.

But Jim is not his “diagnosis”.
He is a human being.
He is a man, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a priest.
He is still Jim.

Amazing how one word, Alzheimer’s, can change your life, your outlook, your hopes, your dreams, your plans, your future.

So now what?

Now, more than ever,
we look for opportunities to love while we can,
we look for opportunities to serve while we can,
we look for hope always.

Now, more than ever,
we look confidently to God for strength, for guidance, for wisdom, for comfort.

Now, more than ever,
we look to each other for love, for acceptance, for patience, for kindness, for companionship, for partnership, for compassion.

Now, more than ever,
we look to family & friends for support, for love.

We can do this together.

We have faced new seasons before.

We will be given grace for the moment

Please, Lord, let this new season simply be another way to show Your grace,         Your strength, Your faithfulness.

Let this new season be a Holy Time.



Expect the Unexpected

Jim’s Aunt Helen was on the phone.  Uncle Bill is recovering from a stroke.  He is paralyzed on one side, making living on their own rather difficult.  So Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill moved into an assisted living facility near their son.  “We weren’t planning to do this for another 5 years when we were old”, Aunt Helen explained.  “We’re only 90 now.”  (So, in case you were wondering:  90 isn’t old; 95 is old.  It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it?)  I stifled a laugh and responded, “Well, Aunt Helen, sometimes things happen that we don’t expect.”

When I left for Nepal, I expected to live there until I was “old and grey”.  God had other plans, calling me home after only one term.  A year later Jim & I were married.  We expected to have children, but that was not to be.  Instead, we got to invest our lives in the children of the parish, letting them build tents in the living room with blankets and chairs, having sleepovers and roasting marshmallows in the fireplace.  Emily and Sarah entered our lives as Goddaughters.  We had the privilege of being involved in their lives weekly (sometimes daily) in their early years.  (I will always remember Sarah’s exclamation one evening:  “Pam!  Fr. Jim is an expert at roasting marshmallows!  No wonder you married him!”) Those children are still in our lives, as they continue to make time to have coffee, visit during college breaks, send emails, and (for some) bring their children to visit.  God is good.

I expected when Jim retired, our life would settle down.  Yes, we would work, but I expected things would move at a slower pace.  I expected to spend six months on some mission field, giving a missionary a break or working on a short term project, then returning to the US to visit family and rest, and then beginning the cycle again.  Then we got the unexpected call:  “Come get Barry.”  (Barry is Jim’s younger brother’s adopted son, who is developmentally disabled.)  Our missionary dreams ended.  Since our family motto is “Semper Gumby” (“Always Flexible”), we adjusted our sails and changed course.  We gave away to other missionaries the money we were given for our mission work.  And we began to see our role in God’s work in the world in different light.  God is good.

Now things may be changing again, as Jim’s health changes.  My continued insistence that I am still a “Sweet Young Thing” is starting to become somewhat less accurate as well.  It looks like once again we need to adjust our sails and change courses.  As always, God is good.

This morning I woke with a sense of hopeful expectation.  I know that God is always leading us, even if we cannot see it at the moment.  He knows exactly what he is doing.  And he us unfailingly trustworthy.  I am peaceful and relaxed, with a twinge of eager expectation to see what God is going to do next.

In our phone conversation, Aunt Helen said, “Pam, every day I ask God what it is he wants us to do.  And I promise him that we will do our very best to do it!”  What an attitude!  Aunt Helen says her biggest job right now is to be Uncle Bill’s cheerleader.  And she added that she and Uncle Bill want to be good examples for their children of growing old gracefully.

Her comments reminded me of one of my mom’s favorite devotionals by Max Lucado in his book He Still Moves Stones:

Growing old can be dangerous.   The trail is treacherous and the pitfalls are many.  One is wise to be prepared.  You know it’s coming.  It’s not like God kept the process a secret.  It’s not like you are blazing a trail as you grow older.  It’s not as if no one has ever done it before.  Look around you.  You have ample opportunity to prepare and ample case studies to consider.  If growing old catches you by surprise, don’t blame God.  He gave you plenty of warning.  He also gave you plenty of advice.

Your last chapter can be your best.  Your final song can be your greatest.  it could be that all of your life has prepared you for a grand exit.  God’s oldest have always been among his choicest.

Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill are living examples of choosing to accept the unexpected with grace and trust in One who will never leave us or forsake us.

May Jim and I grow up to be like Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill!






I have been teaching Sunday School for children and youth for many years.  The joy I feel in teaching children is life-giving to me.

However, today I had the privilege of leading a Bible study for a small group of older adults who were very much engaged.  How satisfying it was!  We read the portions of the ninth chapter of Mark, asked questions and listened to each others insights.  We looked at photos of icons relating to the verses we read.

I was reminded of the Bible study group I attended in Minneapolis — a group of mature women who had been walking with Jesus longer than I had been alive.  People like Ruby Patzold.  What wisdom!  I was very happy to simply listen and learn.  It was like being back at the Lutheran Bible Institute — such wisdom and such love.

Today was like that.  Great insights and opinions and wondering.  I left joyful, lifted up and very, very grateful.

The power of music

I continue to be astounded at the power of music.  At church yesterday I experienced the soaring of my spirit and later tears both of loss and joy.  All within the same hour.  All because of music.  Amazing.

A hymn new to me, “Commit Thou All That Grieves Thee”, ends with the verse:

“Hope on, then, broken spirit; hope on, be not afraid:  fear not the griefs that plague thee and keep thy heart dismayed:  thy God in his great mercy, will save thee, hold thee fast, and in his own time grant thee the sun of joy at last.”

Powerful words.  My spirit soared in confidence and hope.  How many people need to hear those words!

Later we sang “Amazing Grace”. Familiar.  Comforting.  One of my mom’s favorites.  Today when we reached the final verse, I couldn’t stop the tears.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand year, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

All at once I thought my mom, my dad, grandparents, Leadore, Coletta, Michael, John, Nancy, Mary Ellen, and so many other people who are in heaven at this moment, having loved their Lord and finished their life on earth.  Briefly I felt the losses.  But almost immediately I thought of them singing in heaven:  whole, happy, healed, at peace, and maybe even on key.  Eternally.  My heart flooded with happiness and joy for them.

How does music do that?  You know how a song will come on the radio or record album or CD (or cassette tape, if it still works!  I won’t even mention 8-track tapes!) and immediately you are transported to a time when you heard that song?  You can recall the people or event or surroundings as you heard it.  Or how at a concert, if you close your eyes, all those around you somehow magically disappear and you simply are transported to a higher place by the music.  How does that work?

Music speaks to me.  My husband laughs at me, because I can remember the lyrics to many songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s, but can’t remember where I put my keys!  (I now have a bowl for my keys.  I lose them less frequently now.)  But I digress.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of music.  Thank you for those who write music, who play music, who sing music.  Thank you for the way you speak to us of your goodness, your love, your power through music.  Thank you for the memories that come with the music.  Thank you for the calming or emboldening that music can produce.  Thank you for the gentle empowering and uplifting through the music playing in the background as I write.

And thank you for the gift of hearing.

You are good…all the time.




Emptiness is an interesting feeling.  Not sad.  Not lonely.  Simply empty.  Empty is not a bad feeling.  Just interesting.

It is fairly quiet today.  All our house guests & visitors are gone.  It’s just Jim and me today.  Only one official thing on the calendar for today.  Lots of laundry to do, but I feel no sense of urgency about it; simply a quiet nagging in the background.  Housework, organizing and computer work nag a bit as well.  However, I am — so far — ignoring them quite easily.

I am trying to figure out where the emptiness is coming from.  Is it the death of my dear friend?  Is it that my brothers are gone again?  (I do enjoy their visits.  I am blessed.)  Is it all the news I received from my brother about the events of my nieces & nephews and their families?  The sense of family growing up and expanding and moving out and away?  Is it simply being so tired?  Is is an awareness of the temporary nature of this world?  Perhaps it is an awareness of my own sinfulness and failures.  I am 61 years old — when will I grow up spiritually and emotionally?  I want to be loving, to be mature, to be the things I have taped to my laptop in hope:  gracious, gentle, generous, kind, meek.  I want to be a woman of God, a “woman after God’s own heart”.  When is that going to happen?

Perhaps it is none of these things.  Perhaps this feeling of emptiness is simply a comma in my week — a pause before life roars up again.  Yes, maybe that’s what it is.

The nice thing about this emptiness is that I do not feel alone.  I am aware of the love of God.  I am aware of the patient love of my husband.  I feel open…waiting to be filled.

Lord, please fill me.



I finally got to meet Cecilia.  She is beautiful!  Not old enough to sit up by herself, but old enough to totally charm those around her with her smile.

Her mother, Elizabeth, is one of those women to whom God gave wonderful maternal gifts.  What a calm, relaxed, attentive mom.  She looks as though she is truly enjoying the gift that Cecilia is.  Cecilia’s father, David, is an experienced father, having had children previously.  However, as experienced as he is, David is already under Cecilia’s spell.  Cecilia has him firmly wrapped around her tiny finger.

Cecilia is blessed.  God has given her parents who are committed first to him.  They will teach Cecilia that God loves her more than they do.  They will share with her God’s Word, and teach her the wonderful songs of the faith.  They will pray along with her, acting as role models for her own prayer life.  They will teach her that a relationship with God is possible, and that God is infinitely interested in every detail of her life.

Cecilia’s life will be steeped in love — love of family and love of God.   It will be a life steeped in service to others.

As I looked into Cecilia’s beautiful eyes, I saw a glimpse of God’s goodness.  When I saw her smile, I got a glimpse of God’s joy.

Cecilia, my prayer for you is that you will become the gently strong woman of God that he has designed you to be.  I pray that you will grow in your relationship with God, revel in his love, and joy in his delight in you.


Another graduation announcement arrived at our home.

Ellie is graduating from North Valley High School.  She has used her time in high school well: graduates in the top 5% of her class…president of the Honor Society…participated in choir, drama, Brain Bowl and Speech & Debate…first place in 2016 Academic Masters regional competition in Social Studies (1st in 2015, 2nd in 2014).  She is an artist, musician and scholar, and will major in Anthropology and minor in Peace & Social Justice at Pacific University this fall.  Besides her “accomplishments”, Ellie has one of the most beautiful hearts you can imagine.  She is kind, encourages others, takes time for people. (The fact that she was one of my preschool students does not make me prejudiced at all!)

I looked at the news on my cell phone this morning:  AP, CNN and BBC.  After reading all the anger, sadness, abuse of power, conflict and fear, I picked up and read Ellie’s graduation announcement…again.  At once my heart was lifted.  It is young adults like Ellie who will be leading our country, searching for peace and justice.

What I am bugged about this morning, is that we seem to love to focus on the negative, rather than on amazing young people like Ellie.  This is a woman who make a difference in our world…already has, I should say.  Ellie has been a positive influence on her campus, in her family, and on those of us on the periphery of her life.  She has influenced me by her kindness, her laughter, her perseverance, her ready smile, and so much more.  We will probably not read about her in the paper or on AP, CNN or BBC.

Ellie was raised in an Orthodox home (Russian Orthodox, I believe).  She will need God’s help (protection, perspective, strength) to not become disillusioned in college.  I have already begun praying for that.

Thank you, Lord, for Ellie.  Thank you for the privilege of intersecting with her life just a little bit.  Thank you for what she has done and for who she is.  Thank you that you have made her your own, sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  Remind me to pray for Ellie and for the many hidden sparks of goodness.  And, please, Lord:  protect Ellie and provide good companions for her at Pacific University.


I met Emily when she was three years old (I think).

Jim asked me to accompany him as he went to talk with her parents about baptism.  When we arrived and sat down, I was immediately smitten.  Emily, however, kept her distance, eyeing us.   Soon she warmed to me and we sat on the floor together, looking at her Minnie Mouse doll.  I was asked to be her godmother.  That was the beginning of something special for me.

Last Friday, I went to Emily’s thesis show which fulfilled her final requirement for graduation from Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland.  We drove to the gallery, spotting it by the sign the graduating students designed as the symbol of their show.  Amazing variety of works filled the gallery.  There on one entire wall was Emily work, except for three pieces she had already sold.  (Totally unbiased decision:  Emily’s was the best by far!)

And there stood Emily, now a poised young woman, standing next to her husband (he’s wonderful, by the way), sharing her photography with the world.

I couldn’t help it…my thoughts went to the past.  I thought of Emily at her baptism; Emily playing basketball at her tiny hoop in her front yard; Emily eagerly awaiting the Tooth Fairy’s arrival; Emily’s total delight in the birth of her little sister, Sarah; Emily singing the Great Litany beside me, quickly picking up the sung responses, then frowning when the response changed; Emily asking if she could roll up her “pant sleeves” so she could wade into the water to see the “wollypogs”; Emily’s decision to be a clown when she grew up, all the while carrying around a particular law book, with a particular page marked; the phone call I got the first time her little sister broke one of Emily’s toys; watching Emily sleep while I got to babysit; Emily reading books to Sarah; sleepovers and roasting marshmallows in the fireplace; and thousands of other memories.

When she was younger, Emily’s eyes sparkled with delight at the world.  As she got older, her eyes were sometimes sparkling with tears, as she experienced the hurts of life.  On Friday, Emily’s eyes sparkled with joy and pride at her accomplishment and at the delight of having her husband and her family by her side.  It was a mature, calm sparkle.

My life has been infinitely blessed by this human being.  Her parents’ generosity in sharing Emily with me is a gift they will never fully understand.  Emily’s willingness to let me in to her precious life for the past 20 years has changed me and made me a better person.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift and the blessing that is Emily.  Bless her and Chris as they continue to build their life together.


We have two young people living with us these days.  One will only be here for a week.  The other may be staying for six months or more.  To be honest, I was expecting stress.  Just the opposite is true.  When Jim and I allow people to be who they are, they are happier and so are we.  We promised our visitors space for time alone, availability if they wanted conversation, and freedom to make decisions about how they want to live their lives.  We have invited them to share our activities with Special Olympics — one has accepted that invitation wholeheartedly, one has avoided the opportunities.  To be honest, I wish both could stay permanently.  Not an option, I know.  But I’m glad the desire is there.

God did not make us to be identical to one another.  No cookie cutter people.  Each of us was made unique.  Different gifts, different talents, different weaknesses.  I think the trick is to value the differences, not take the similarities for granted, and encourage one another to grow.  If we can truly see the other as a gift from a loving Father, it can be really fun!  I am enjoying these young adults.

Thank you, Lord, for your wonderful gifts.


Patience: n 1:  the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient.  Patient: adj. 1: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.  2: manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain.  3: not hasty or impetuous. 4:  steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.

Why is patience so difficult?  I see so much impatience around me.  And I struggle so much with patience:  patience with others, patience with myself, patience with God.  Why?

Patience with others.  Why can’t I show others the same respect I desire for myself?  When others fail to act in the ways I think they should act, I get impatient.  Well, who says I have the right to say how others should act?  Who is God here?  Each person is on their own journey.  And they are in different places in their lives than I am.  Can I not respect them as they are, where they are?

Patience with myself.  Again, I get impatient with myself when I don’t act the way I think I should or wish I could.  When I fail to measure up to my standards, I assume failure and grow impatient.  Really?  Failure?  Should?  Could?  Would I treat a friend this way?

Patience with God.  I , of course, know how things should be.  I offer my opinions to God regularly.  Funny thing about God:  He does things His way…and He’s always right (which is somewhat irritating).  Again, who is God here?

I think patience is a good goal to work on in 2016, and the rest of my life.  Help me, Lord.