Who Am I When my Body Fails Me? – Guest Blog by Coral Swieringa

“So we do not lose heart, though our outer self is wasting away,

our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

“. . .  I will still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92).

health fail 4It is a big production, this dance recital for my 14-year-old granddaughter.  Her body, lithe and lean, moves in ways that are supple, quick, fluid, and beautiful. I watch in awe, as I sit, my body still feeling the aches from yesterday’s gardening.

The realization has been dawning lately that what I did easily before now consumes more of me, claiming pieces that I reluctantly have to credit to Aging: that relentless thief which little by little makes claim to most of our body functions.

There is something in all of us, I think, that believes modern medicine can fix us so that we will live forever.  Medicine does marvelous things no doubt, but sometimes it dangles in front of us like a luscious piece of chocolate. Yet tasting it can be quite bitter when it does not fix and sometimes hurts the situation. There comes a time when we cannot be fixed.

I think the way I will deal with my changing, aging body is by examining my life through the practice of some of the spiritual disciplines outlined by Richard Foster:

  • I will remind myself that the God who made me, the One who calls me by name, is sustaining me, so whatever happens in the future, He is going to be there with me. I would lie if I said I do not have fears for what the future might be, but I will read and meditate on his promises so that He can heal and allay my fears.
  • I will count my blessings. I will recall the many wonderful experiences in my years and be grateful. I will recall the painful ones as well, and recognize that the molding that took place during those times, has caused me to be more pliable in His hands.  I can trace the thread of God’s faithfulness through my journey past, present and future.
  • I will be ever aware of the glories of God’s creation around me. I will praise God for the flight of the red cardinal in the snow, or the song of the first Robin, or the glorious reds and yellows of an autumn day.
  • I will remind myself that I am a mortal being, (Eccl 12:7) and submit to that reality so that I will have wisdom to make wise choices when it comes to medical decision dangling in front of me. Maybe I won’t chose that latest procedure that might add a year to my life, at the cost of quality.

LETTING GO 

When I served as a Parish Nurse in my church, I worked with many people whose bodies began to fail them. I observed people eventually having to come to grips with letting go: letting go of playing golf, letting go of a large lovely home, letting go of treasured things, letting go of car keys and the independence that went with it; letting go of a spouse and friends. That experience taught me that one can do this “letting go” with grace and humility or with bitterness and anger.

My 93-year-old World War 11 veteran brother, who once stood tall in his 6-foot frame, now sits tethered to a wheelchair in assisted living.  I posed this question to him, “Who are you now that your body is failing you? Are you still the same person you were at 12 or 22 or 35?”

He looked down for a moment and then through the fog of his dementia, said, “That is a tough question. But I have Jesus Christ as my Savior, and that is all that matters now.”  Then uncharacteristic of our typical Dutch reserve, he raised his hands upward and said, “Praise God!” That kind of witness, gives me the courage to continue on with faith and hope.

As our bodies fail, we need to sort out what our purpose is now. Some feel that when they are failing, they have no purpose for living anymore. My Mother lived through 96 years of change, but when her body failed her, when she had done all of her “letting go,” she made her purpose to never stop praying for all her children and 38 grandchildren by name each and every day of her life.  She made her purpose to bless her caregivers with her smile and gracious spirit. She steeped herself in God’s word.  Her once strong arms, now thin and weak, were still used for hugs when I needed one.letting go 2

So who am I as I anticipate continued changes in my body and mind?  Sometimes I still feel like that little girl growing up on a farm so many years ago. In the laughter and the joy, she is still there.  But when I see myself in a mirror, I have become, as the title of a book states, “the girl with the Grandmother’s face.” My body is changing, but inside I am still the same person God formed me to be in my Mother’s womb, and that me is centrally located, it is that spirit deep inside.

So my prayer is that I will have the grace to loosen my grip and continue through the process of “letting go.”  And when I’ve learned that well, the grave will claim my body, but the God who tenderly though not always gently molded me, will call that spirit to the sky, where perhaps I will dance in joy with the fluidity of a 14-year-old!

Image of letting go by imgsoup.com

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6 Responses to Who Am I When my Body Fails Me? – Guest Blog by Coral Swieringa

  1. Kathleen Coveny says:

    Thank you for this honest expression of acceptance of aging in life. I was encouraged.

  2. Rich Herbig says:

    So beautiful, so beautiful! Thanks for including it, Karen, with Coral’s name. – Leslie

  3. Tim Henley says:

    @Coral Swieringa—your beautiful expression of age and it’s many sides and facets remind me to cherish every moment and relish those times we have to truly connect with those dearest to us. Tonight I will be celebrating Fathers Day with my dad and brother and I will, indeed, be more intentional in my search for ways to share these moments in a more meaningful and rewarding light…this, because of your sharing and openness. Thank you.

  4. This is so inspiring and comforting! Thank you for a beautiful message of hope as we face the challenges of aging.

  5. Jayne Cummings says:

    This was very beautifully written and I can identify with much of what you say. Tom and I are at the point where we are SO grateful for every day because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. The service Sunday left me speechless (and it wasn’t just the sermon) It was almost like being in heaven with the music and prayers! Hope you were there too! Thank you Coral.

  6. Ruth Evenhouse says:

    Thank you Coral. The process of letting go is painful, necessary, and freeing, too.

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