Though diseases change people, they still need us

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Minister's Forum

I have a couple of friends who give me books. They only ask that after I am finished with the copy, I pass it on as a gift to someone else who enjoys reading.

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was handed a work of fiction entitled “Still Alice.” I don’t want to do a book review here, but this is something worth reading. Though it is fiction, it is written as a documentary from Alice’s viewpoint as she, a Harvard professor, begins coping with the diagnosis, and worsening symptoms,  of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50.
Reading the book made me pause to examine how I, as a Christian,  react to folks who are changing. Those who change do not do so by choice, but from some disease, an accident or some other life-altering event.  They may now talk differently, move differently or think differently. But they are still the same person on the inside.
A lady I know is confined to a wheelchair, but she is still the same person. A friend lives with someone else’s heart beating in his chest, but he is still the same person. Someone else lives on life support two or three days each week, but they are still the same person. And I really believe God wants us to treat them as such. Isn’t that covered by the Golden Rule – that we treat other people like we want them to treat us (Matthew 7:12)?
But the Golden Rule is not just a minor teaching that Jesus happened to mention. When I review the list of the Ten Commandments in the first part of the 20th chapter of Exodus, it is easy to note that four of those are directed to a person’s relationship to God. The other six deal with how people are to relate to each other. I don’t want to minimize my responsibility to God, but by the same token, I shouldn’t minimize my responsibility to friends, neighbors, family or acquaintances.  In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verse 31 and following, Jesus tells us what may be the only way we can serve him or do something for him. We do it by doing it to "the least of one of these." Those who hurt! And that seems like an important Biblical teaching to me.    
The irony that I found in this aforementioned turn of events, (about the book, etc.), concerns my niece. For nine years she has been battling cancer.  Occasionally, the enemy would withdraw for a spell, but most often the disease was relentless, and pushed hard, which called for stronger medication and more severe treatments. This, in turn, produced more changes –  physically, mentally and emotionally.
They were changes she didn’t want, changes she didn’t like.  Changes that, quite honestly, were difficult and uncomfortable for many of her family and friends to accept, and to be around. But she is still the same person on the inside. And I’m thankful for the gift of a book that reminded me that I  need to treat her as such.    
But this is not about me and my niece, but about you and your family member, friend or someone you know.
So let me remind you, if you need reminding, that no matter how much unexpected, unwelcome and unchosen change has taken place, the person is the same inside. The same parent.  The same child.  The same mate.  
Don’t be ashamed of them.  Don’t shy away from them.  Don’t get impatient with them.  And above all, don’t be afraid to talk with them. They need you, and they need your love.  They need God’s love channeled through you. Don’t let them down.
Just this past week, the news wasn’t good for Cheryl. They cancelled the surgery. They stopped the medications and treatments. And now she is waiting for the Lord to call her name.
I thought I had plenty of time to visit, talk, care for and sit with her. I did have, but I wasted much of it on selfish adventures.  And now there is not much time left for me to do what I should have been doing. So it brings me to the question: Am I going to continue to waste what time I have?