Throwback Thursday: Okay! Okay! Alright already!

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 23, 2016 and has been slightly revised.

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When I read/watch a media interview of an older person, there’s often a question at the end asking if the individual has any regrets in their life. I have more than a few things in my own life that I’m regretful about.

Our pastor is currently doing a series on Sundays on proper parenting in the Lord. Ouch! That’s a very tough topic for me. My wife and I married very young and began having children right away. We were basically kids raising kids. My model for fathering was my own Dad. He didn’t have to spank too often because he was pretty strict right from the get-go. We didn’t have much of a relationship. My Dad was a VERY formal and private person and found it difficult to get down to a child’s level. I found out many years later that his own father had been very strict and tough on him.

When I accepted the Lord I was 26 and our boys were 8 and 5. I was joyful and enthusiastic about my relationship with the Lord , but for some reason I didn’t do a good job of communicating that joy and knowledge to our boys. We all packed into our minivan and went to church on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights and on Wednesday evenings. I thought that was more than enough. We didn’t read the Bible together as a family. We didn’t pray together. When I counseled them about anything, mention of the Lord rarely entered into it. I guess I was thinking that they were getting enough about God at church and that I didn’t need to bring Him up at home, too. Ach! What a dummy!

I was also very firm with my boys just as my Dad had been with me. The older they got, the more rebellious they became, and the more of a tyrant I became. I was trying to control their behaviors, but I had done very little sowing and working in their hearts along the way. My boys and I had a lot of fun together playing outside, watching sports, etc., things my father couldn’t do, but I could also turn into a disapproving and critical drill sergeant on a dime.

I had become exasperated with our independent fundamental Baptist church and we stopped attending when my boys were 16 and 13. I didn’t mention the Lord at all after that. After some VERY difficult teenage years, both our boys went into the Air Force. My wife and I actually divorced after our youngest son went into the service as our circumstances were changing so quickly and the Lord was not our foundation.

Praise the Lord, my wife and I got back together the following year, and we remarried! The Lord kept working on my heart and I finally returned to Him in 2014. Our sons are now 46 and 42 and they’ve done “okay” as the world might define it, but neither one knows the Lord and they both have very messy domestic situations. I’ve apologized to both of them for being such an inept father and they’ve both been more gracious than I deserve.

So hearing about the proper way to raise children every Sunday is very hard for me, especially when my wife turns to me occasionally during the sermons with that “look” on her face. Thanks, Dear. The Lord wants us to realize our sins and mistakes and to learn from them, but He doesn’t want us to dwell on them either. Great is His mercy and forgiveness! If the apostle Paul had dwelt on his earlier persecutions of the church, he would have been no use to the Lord whatsoever.

So if you’ve wronged someone; children, spouse, family, friends, acquaintances, seek the Lord’s forgiveness, seek their forgiveness, and then move forward with the Lord in your heart. Satan wants to keep you defeated. The Lord wants to use you for His glory! We have children and grandchildren we need to reach for the Lord! Young parents, make Christ the center of your household and everything you do with your children.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.” – Psalm 37:23-24

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

“Thoroughly wash me, inside and out, of all my crooked deeds. Cleanse me from my sins. For I am fully aware of all I have done wrong, and my guilt is there, staring me in the face. It was against You, only You, that I sinned, for I have done what You say is wrong, right before Your eyes. So when You speak, You are in the right. When You judge, Your judgments are pure and true.” – Psalm 51:2-4

“Whoever tries to hide his sins will not succeed, but the one who confesses his sins and leaves them behind will find mercy. Happy is the one who always fears the Lord, but the person who hardens his heart to God falls into misfortune.” – Proverbs 28:13-14

Mental illness impacts a family

Life got a lot busier for me in 2021. After being unemployed for 15 months, I started a new “career” in January at the young age of 64.5. At the same time, I began regularly helping out my 71-year-old, unmarried sister, Sue.

We all have our personality quirks, but my sister Sue had some particularly unusual ones. Sue is an ardent animal lover and purposely attracted wild critters (squirrels, chipmunks, rats) into her modest house (photo above) by leaving a trail of nuts to her open back door and into her kitchen. It’s obvious that that behavior wasn’t so much a personality quirk as a mental health problem and a precursor of things to come.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I began to notice that Sue was also starting to have memory issues. Most noticeably, she would get lost driving to or from our house. Medical tests revealed she had onset dementia. Sue kept driving until she had a fender-bender in January and her doctor barred her from the road. I then became her official chauffeur, taking her to medical appointments and grocery shopping.

Along with the dementia, Sue was a hoarder. The conditions inside her house were halfway to the horrors you see on the “Hoarders” cable TV show. The harsh odor (mainly a combination of cat urine ammonia, cat feces, and rotting cat food) that permeated her house was staggering. The hoarding and unclean conditions didn’t happen overnight. We noticed Sue started to become careless about her housekeeping habits ten to twelve years ago. It gradually reached a point where her neighbor friends would no longer venture inside her house because of the mess and the smell. Sue was incredulous when she was told about the nauseating stench. She freely admitted her house was “a little messy,” but was totally oblivious to the overpowering odor.

Given the progression of her dementia and her living conditions, the family needed to intervene. I have three other sisters who live in a house together in Florida. A plan gradually evolved for Sue to move into a senior living facility in the same Florida city. She would start out in an independent living unit (she’s already far past that capability in my opinion), but will transition to assisted living and then to memory care as the dementia progresses. Sue strongly resisted the plan at first, but gradually and reluctantly conceded that she was no longer able to continue living in her home.

The departure day was swiftly approaching and one of the other sisters flew up to Rochester to help Sue pack. On the day of their flight to Florida, we scrambled to catch one of Sue’s two cats and put it in a carrier. In the frenzy, I discovered another large, dead cat under the bed where Sue slept every night. After it inflicted some scratches and bites*, we caught the frightened, fugitive kitty and they all got on the plane to Florida.

Since then, I’ve been working with a realtor to get Sue’s house ready for sale. The realtor utilizes a crew of college students to clear out houses and over the course of two weeks they filled four large roll-off dumpsters with Sue’s furnishings and belongings. Extensive work will be needed on the interior; getting it cleaned, painted, and fixed-up before putting it on the market. Most of that work will be hired out. I’ve been very busy working on Sue’s finances and getting them in order. She had reached a point where she was not writing checks for critical monthly bills. Sue has Social Security, a modest pension, and had managed to squirrel away a decent amount to an IRA account, but the monthly bill for an apartment in the memory care unit will be very expensive and the funds will flow out quickly. The additional responsibilities of helping Sue have been a strain and a source of tension in our marriage. I’m just being honest. My three sisters in Florida (one in particular) have picked up even bigger responsibilities by overseeing Sue’s care from here on out.

Most everyone has a tale to tell about someone in their extended network of family and friends who is dealing with some type of mental challenge. I’m glad mental health is becoming more “out in the open” and freely discussed. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s many years before she died in 2014. My doting father ascribed it to “just a little forgetfulness” until the disease was full-blown and could no longer be denied. I have a fifth, married sister, who still resides here in Rochester who is only 66, but is already severely limited by Alzheimer’s.

I discussed the Gospel with Sue over the years, but she was not receptive. She was a school teacher for forty years and taught exclusively at Catholic grammar schools, but doesn’t believe in God. She thinks the Bible is “fairy tales,” but, of course, she never read it.

*After she arrived in Florida, Sue spent several days in a hospital due to a severe infection caused by the cat scratches and bites on her arm and hand.