I haven’t blogged for weeks.  (Months surely – bored Ed).  Frankly, it’s been chaos as I’ve tried to find a suitable Aged Care facility for my ailing father who has a fairly aggressive form of dementia.  Eight weeks in hospital following a fall, told he can never live by himself again, then told that he needs permanent care – it all happened very quickly.

So quickly in fact, that despite my frantic efforts, phone calls, application forms, Dad ended up in a transitional care facility in a locked wing, awaiting permanent placement.  His big fear was ending up in a shared room for the rest of his life.  A fear that seemed only too well grounded, given the facilities I had visited.  You’ve got money?  Fine!  Come on in, here’s your room, here’s your private ensuite, here’s your glass of wine.  Money talks, mutters and chirps away at you all your life; “Buy this, get that, trust me.”  But it positively shouts at the end of your days when you need full time care.  And if you don’t have money?  Well, let’s just say that some of the double/triple/quadruple(!) rooms I visited were featured on one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest.com.  I am still trying to get the smell out of my nostrils from at least three or four of them.

So, did I say Dad’s biggest fear was room sharing? Walking into the transitional facility, bags of stuff hooked onto every finger, I gingerly popped my head around what was his room.

“G’day mate!” said a wide-eyed bloke in his pyjamas, lying on the other bed in the double room.  “Barry” he said, holding out his hand, “I’m deaf, so you’ll have to speak up.”

“G’day Barry!” I shouted.

“Eh?”

It was a solid greeting, but my heart sank anyway.  Dad just looked scared.  We proceeded to write Dad’s name on everything.  Barry hovered, offering – loud – advice.  I made a mental note to scope Barry’s stuff for a set of steak knives with “Barry was here” written on all the handles. Just irrational fear. He seemed harmless enough. In fact they all did, ravaged as they were by dementia, and generally all much older and frailer than my father. Death by a thousand cuts is the order of the day in a dementia wing, and most of the clients were up in the high 900s as far as their count was concerned. I will never forget the feeling of sheer despair as I hugged dad, left him behind and drove off after being let out of the locked doors.

The next few weeks were filled with phone calls, forced smiles during horror tours of locked facilities, paperwork, more paperwork, even more paperwork, and all the while reporting back to dad every second day for a visit.  Truth be told, he was adjusting to this new reality quite well, but was fixed on having that single room with his own ensuite.  One day we sat down, me on the seat of his wheeled walker and he on his bed.  Barry was snoring loudly and I stifled the urge to trumpet “G’day mate!” into his gnarly shell-like.

“Dad,” I asked picking up his Bible, “What have you been reading lately.”

“I’ve been going through the Psalms.  Psalm 5 today.”

We started reading it together.  A psalm of lament. Apt.

It reads like a standard lament; pleading for God to hear in the face of injustice, the call for God to answer as bloodthirsty men abound.  Verse 11, however leapt off the page.

 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,  
that those who love your name may rejoice in you

“Dad,” I said, “Do you see what that is saying?”

He looked up at me.

“The most important thing for you – and for me – in this situation is to realise that God must BE your refuge, he must BE the protection you need. We can’t simply be asking God to provide us WITH a refuge and a protection if we’re not willing for him to be those things to us first.”

Do you see the issue? All along we had been praying for God to provide Dad with a refuge, a protection that would enable him to live safely and in peace and comfort. And we had a list: single room, private ensuite, nice facility, central to family.  And it’s no small thing to ask God for such things, and no small thing that he loves to supply what his children need.  But more than God giving us what we need, in times of deep crisis, he must BE what we need, must BE our refuge, must BE our protection – first!  That’s what it means to worship and serve the Creator rather than the creature/created.  That’s what it means to trust in the God who provides, rather than in the things that he provides us with.

Dad got it.  And I got it too.  For my own life.  It’s not just when we are in dire straits that God must be what we want, rather than give us what we want, it’s in the every day small things in life.  It’s in the minor decisions about jobs, houses, spouses, security,  health.  Do we want God’s provisions more than we want God?

It’s the same issue Israel faced in the desert after they had sinned by worshipping the golden calf.  God told Moses:

“Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

The Israelites would have been forgiven for going “Mmm, an angel with us, our enemies defeated, and a land flowing with milk and honey. PLUS the God who just wiped a bunch of us out in a plague isn’t coming along?  We’ll take it!”

But they didn’t. They mourned! They knew that if God didn’t go with them, it wouldn’t be heaven-on-a-stick, it would be a precursor to hell.

And the same is true of my dad, of me, of all of us.  To want the gifts of the Giver without wanting the Giver himself is a terrible slap in the face to our Creator. To be fooled into thinking that God giving us what we want, rather than being what we want, will actually fulfil us, is the road to idolatry and apostasy.

What better time to reflect on that central truth of the Bible than at Christmas.  The Lord Jesus came to the most rudimentary shelter for his birth, announced during his life that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, was abandoned by his friends and led to the cross in his death, before being laid in a borrowed tomb.  Yet, in all of this, Jesus put his life into the hands of his Father.  And he did it all to prepare a place for us! This Christmas, let’s celebrate the God who is our refuge and provision.

Postscript: On the off chance that the best facility I ever visited in all those weeks, one with single rooms, lovely ensuites and beautiful grounds might have a room available, I phoned them last week, and was informed that a room had just come up that day and we could have it the next day.  Dad is getting settled in there now.