The hand that feeds her

It was mostly out of a sense of duty that I visited my grandmother.  I don’t really believe myself when I say it’s not that I don’t care for her; it’s that I cared so much.  It’s hard to see her not know who I am, to be bed-ridden, and so confused about where she is, and so deaf she can not hear me, and so unable to talk above a mumble that really I can not hear her, either.

In honesty I’d have to admit that I was relieved when I found her sleeping in the dining hall.  I was home free!  I didn’t have a whole lot of time.  I’d made an attempt.  I did my duty.  Now, I could go about my day feeling like at least I had tried.

I think that God smiled, though, as he put a nurse in my path.  One of the things about God: he figures out a way to make who we really are show through.  He exposes when we’re posturing and when we’re the real deal.

  “We can bring her out here and you can talk with her.” The women motioned to the sitting room I was passing.  It had a decent sized television screen mounted on the wall and a book case with ancient paperbacks and a few semi-comfortable, institutional chairs and love seats.

“Oh, sure.” I said, with mixed feelings.   I took a seat and watched the news for a few minutes on the television.

They brought her in this wheeled, reclining seat.  A tray was across the front.  It featured a strange assortment of food: milk, orange juice, oat meal, ice cream, tuna-fish sandwhich, pasta salad.   The nurse smiled at me.

“She needs to be fed these days.” She explained simply and to be honest I was shocked.  I had no idea that things had come this far: she needs to be fed!   She’d once been so fierce and vital: more a force of nature than a grandmother.  How could it have come to this?  How could I have been so out-of-touch that I didn’t know?


“If you’re not comfortable doing this then we’ll have to bring her back to the dining hall and feed her ourselves.” she continued, and I thought, “What?”

I had this ungenerous moment when I wondered if she minored in being a used car salesman in nursing school.  I’d agreed to hang out with my grand mother, not feed her!

I am not proud of how those words look.  I was not then and I am not now.  I have all these rationalizations and explanations.  But the truth is that they do not matter.  I had a choice to make at that point.

And I’m not proud to admit that having that nurse watch me and wait for me to make a decision was what tipped the scales.  I should do it because it’s the right thing.  I should do it because God’s wants me to.  I’d probably never see this nurse again.  Why should I care what she thinks?  The fact that God is always with me and always will be is what should matter.  But if the nurse hadn’t been there, what would I have done? 

I don’t know.

But in my brokeness I care what she thinks too much.  And I don’t care enough what God thinks.    I guess that God knows this.  I suspect that he orchestrated this whole thing in a way that would nudge me toward doing the right thing.

I nodded.  I wondered if my grand mother understood what was going on.  She’d once fed me.  I wondered if she felt something, anything, about the idea that I’d now feed her.  The nurse smiled and made the food ready.  “She loves her sugar” she said affectionately, dumping a packet into the oat meal.  “And her ice cream.” She opened the little styrofoam container.  “She’s not eating much these days, so do what you can.”

Perhaps this was the best moment of the afternoon: My grandmother always had a sweet tooth.  It was so reassuring to know that there was somebody in this place who knew that, who took care of her.

I’ve been a Christian long enough to know how these stories are supposed to end.  This kind-of story is a sub-genre unto itself.  The writer is supposed to write about finding Jesus in the least of these.  We’re supposed to revel in the idea that we get to pay back some of the care that we were raised with.  Through this experience, we’re supposed to find this whole new level of communing, me, and my Grandmother, and God.

The closest I can offer to any of this is that I did what I new I was supposed to do.  And it did make me happy to do it, to have something I can do with my grandmother.  But it freaked me out, too.

I’m acutely aware of how much this isn’t about her at all.  It’s about my own selfishness, my own fear of loss of power and control, my fear of aging, of not being taken care of… and I can pray that someday it’ll feel like this spiritual act.

But it doesn’t yet.  And I don’t do anybody a service by pretending that it does.  Pray for me.  Maybe someday it will.


Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s