March 31st. Beyond Words.

March 31st. Beyond Words.


Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.

“Beyond Words” by Tracy Mooty

With depression as his constant companion, my father, large in stature and quick tempered, was a man of few words.  Because he had more than he could handle just surviving day to day in the world of commercial banking, there was little left of him when he trudged up the driveway each night.  As children completely unaware of the deeper challenges he faced, my sister and I, exuberant and chatty, faced nearly constant reminders from our mother to find some way to better contain ourselves because our father always seemed to need more rest.  As he frequently sought refuge in his bedroom where he either slept or read, the back of his head became almost more familiar to me than his face.

Though my sister and I tried in various ways through the years to find and maintain a more positive connection with him, we were mostly unsuccessful.  His pattern of withdrawal persisted.  Upon his retirement, sleep became his most welcomed friend.  Though he would wake and come to the table for meals, he would soon quickly and quietly excuse himself and retreat to his bedroom.  When the demon of dementia consumed what was left of him in his early eighties, the few words he had used were taken from him, leaving me with the jarring awareness that my hope for some semblance of a relationship with him had disappeared with his speech.

One morning, as I quickly readied myself for what now had become the heartbreakingly silent time we would spend together, this day at the eye doctor’s office, I felt what I have come to refer to as a God nudge when I applied my hand lotion.  It was as if I heard the instruction, “Take that lotion with you!”  There were a few other times I’d experienced this, a sense that I was receiving an important message, heard internally; the sharing of wise counsel that would come to rest, warmly, at the center of my being.  I had resisted some of these nudges and as bewildering as this one was, I was tempted to dismiss it too.  Pushed by the clock, I simply couldn’t engage in any further analysis, so I threw the tube of lotion in my coat pocket and rushed out the door.

Our appointment was supposed to have been fairly straight-forward and brief.  Instead, we sat, at first expectantly but eventually thumbing aimlessly through all the waiting room magazines and then watching the aquarium fish swim round and round and round. An hour into our wait, as I shifted in my seat, I became aware of the little tube of lotion in my pocket.  Why had I brought this?  I noticed my heart start to race.  Was I being invited to use this in some way with my father?  Though I yearned to build some sort of bridge between us, to hold his hand in mine, I simply couldn’t.  I wouldn’t dare. In his prime, my father had been a large, intimidating figure who took his roles as authority figure and disciplinarian in our family very seriously.  If words had been few between us, any sort of nurturing physical contact was almost unheard of.  Why would I think anything could change now?

And yet, as a hospice volunteer, I had experienced myself how hand massage had helped bring a sense of comfort and peace to patients who were unsettled.  Compelled again by the God nudge and longing, always longing, for any possible form of connection, I haltingly, and with quaking voice, asked my father if he thought he might possibly like a hand massage.  Before I could even begin to reach out into the air between us to frantically retrieve those words, to get that question safely back into my mouth where my terrified self was sure it belonged, my father offered me both an affirming nod and his outstretched hand. 

As I reached out, stunned and breathless, to cradle his frail hand in mine, it felt as if all the years, the issues, the pain, the longing were gently being brushed aside.  In their place was the warmth of his skin, the pulse of life coursing through his veins, his story revealed in the shape and texture of his hands. In that moment, I realized that while the dementia had seemingly taken with it much of my hope for some sort of healing with my father, it had also graciously dissolved many of the other barriers that existed between us. Soon, not just my father, but the two of us together, were joined in a place of peaceful connection we had never known. 

From that day on, I carried lotion in my pocket at all times.  It helped ease long waits in medical offices; it reduced anxiety in unfamiliar settings; it brought peace and comfort during times of transition; and most importantly, it provided many opportunities for healing between us in the sacred space I never knew existed beyond words.

PRAYER. God, on this Holy Saturday, we remember those places in our world and our own lives that are the spaces between death and resurrection. These are the places where pain and brokenness confronts and confounds us. On this day, and in these moments, these places, and these relationships, we long for the promises of resurrection; of hope that is beyond explanation, beyond words. In this sacred space we wait and long for your restoration. AMEN.


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