The stories of Donald and Iris have reached perhaps their final installment. It’s nothing more than an examination of what it means to be human – and redeemed – in a world that has largely forgotten you, unless it’s to ensure you suffer and doubt.
“We’re so blessed.”
Donald turned to face Iris as she rested awkwardly in her motorized bed. Various tubes tangled with the sheets, complicating the task of helping her sit upright for a light lunch. Donald reached to smooth her hair and push her glasses further up her nose, paying more attention to Iris’ condition than her words.
“We are, you know.”
Donald stopped, one hand on the railing.
“We are what?”
The air pump feeding her gel-lined mattress hummed, noisily competing with the whoosh of the ceiling fan required for Texas summers. John Piper’s voice trickled from the television. Straightening slowly, Donald attempted to process injection schedules, grocery lists, and Iris’ non sequitur. He failed.
Donald stared out the kitchen window and considered Iris’ words from the month before. He tried again to reconcile her sentiments with the reality of her now-passed life.
Tubes and catheters. Home health nurses and injections. Twenty hours a day in bed. Pain patches and numbing injections and semi-opioid pills to control the agony. Bed-sores. Cold feet and hot flashes. Isolation and boredom. Death.
Iris had gone gently into that good night, passing from her earthly prison made of non-functioning flesh into a freedom unlike anything she ever imagined.
In the post-funereal silence, after the kids went home and the casseroles had been put away, Donald slouched into the recliner and stared at the TV. Staring was his primary hobby these days. Fingers began to push buttons on the remote. News. Baseball. Spanish news. Spanish novellas. An “I Love Lucy” marathon.
Blessed: to have been shown great favor, usually by someone in a position of power or authority.
How could she have said such a thing? Surely her mind remained sharp until the end. Surely she felt the pain and experienced the isolation. Surely she knew that while their lives could be described in many was, “blessed” was not the first adjective that sprang to mind. She had been poured out – either like a drink offering or spoiled milk.
Her friends golfed and sailed and skied. They sat on park benches with grandbabies and took selfies with the dog; planting in springtime with chubby toddlers, and kneading dough with the smart-phone addicted teens. They spent their time smiling, walking, and not hurting.
Iris knew, didn’t she, that she was a have-not? That in all His sovereignty God had apparently decreed she would go without?
The channels ceased to flip – stopping on one of those churchy stations – and the screen filled with the gleaming smile of an author/pastor/self-help guru talking about success. These guys on the television – finely-coifed purveyors of all things theological – always went on about God’s blessings and presence and victorious Christian living. “God wants you to be happy! Be victorious! Name it and claim it! Trust and obey, for such is the way to divine prosperity.” To hell with them, Donald thought.
What would they know of soul-rending pain? Where on their ever-upward trajectories did they have the chance to see any definition of victory other than in finance, power, or fame? What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh to them? Or the man born blind simply to glorify God? They framed their theology in an anesthetized bubble in which heath, money, success, comfort, and warm fuzzies deflected illness and lawsuits and arguments with the insurance company while your church kicks you out and your former son-in-law wraps his car around a tree.
Don’t speak to me of your sterile prosperity.
When Iris watched the video of her daughter’s appointment to missions, smiling through her proud tears as she reminisced of the missionary stories she used to tell – was that not victorious Christian living? All the hours she spent staring at the large windows through which she watched her flowers and birds move in the breeze – were those not happy moments? The reduced price on the wheelchair van? The donated Hoyer lift to move Iris from bed to chair to shower? The mysterious restaurant gift-cards that regularly arrived in the mail, always for places that delivered? The photos from the family, six grandchildren, the better than expected finances after their life savings vanished in ’79?
Don’t tell me that blessings equal health and wealth.
Donald smiled at a memory; Iris had slid out of her chair onto the kitchen floor. He hurried into the kitchen, arms outstretched to hoist her into her chair. As she lurched forward blindly, hands reaching out for assistance, Iris head-butted Donald’s bad, left knee. He collapsed. They spent the next 10 minutes lying on the kitchen floor, laughing.
Isn’t laughter a blessing?
Donald rose from his chair, tucking in his shirt as he did. He needed to return that phone call from the folks to whom he was donating Iris’ custom-made electric wheelchair. The van needed detailing before he sold it to the fella down the street, the one who had to carry his kid to and from school. The hospital bed was already installed in Ed’s house; chronic back pain following a fall at work. The medical supplies went to the free clinic. The nightgowns were in Annette’s trunk for delivery to the nursing home.
His brain engaged once more, Donald remembered his buddy George was coming over that evening. Their debates of culture and theology had been the highlight of his week for the last few years. Tonight it was…racism something…Greeks and Jews maybe, with police violence and immigration tossed in somewhere. Maybe George would bring some of that Indonesian coffee. Oh, and his Bonhoeffer book! Donald needed it for the good-natured Sunday School argument they were having.
He shuffled quickly across the buckling wooden floor, leaving his chair behind as he stumbled forwards towards something – the phone, the van, George, coffee, Bible studies, grandkids, plants in springtime – thanking Iris as he went.