A few years ago, I wrote a devotional book called Find Peace. In Day 9, which you will see below, I shared the story of close friends – “Lara and Aaron” – who were walking with love and grace through the excruciating experience of learning that Aaron had early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Since that time, Aaron has been on a long and heartbreaking goodbye. But he and Lara never lost their love. Aaron prayed for our family even when he could no longer communicate. He worked to keep up his cheerful spirit even when confusion painfully clouded his mind. And he loved his sweet wife even when he could no longer tell her so. He is a true hero.
And Lara . . . she is even more of a hero. She has loved and served through the exhaustion and emotions of watching her husband’s capacities slowly disappear.
Today, I can share that “Lara and Aaron” are actually our amazing friends Lisa and Eric Rice – who many of you know as our co-authors and co-researchers on For Young Women Only, For Young Men Only, and For Parents Only. Lisa was also one of the key writers who helped draft multiple devo days in Find Rest, Find Joy, and Find Peace. And until his illness forced him to step back, Eric and Lisa were also our main video production company. For most of our ministry, if you saw any sort of video of me and Jeff, Eric was the genius behind the scenes.
I share this update, and this excerpt from Find Peace, as a tribute to our friend, who on Friday went racing into the arms of Jesus. Jeff and I are dealing with complicated grief. The anguish of losing a deep friend. The sadness for what Lisa has had to carry and will have to carry as she forges ahead without him. The deep sorrow for their kids who lost a dad way too soon. Comforting our own kids as they grieve the loss of a much-loved godfather. And yet . . . even in the middle of these tears, we are shouting our thanks to the heavens for the life of our friend, who now has a new mind and a new body and is more ALIVE than ever before!
Eric Rice ran his race so well. He was hilarious and adventurous and wise. And he lived a life of Christ-like love through all the hardship. We miss him so much. But we are also so grateful to know that, because of Jesus, we will see our friend again. (You can see Eric’s obituary here.)
Find Peace, Day 9
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .Galatians 5:22
Did You Learn How to Love?
Five years ago, two of our closest friends – our kids’ godparents – received news that would shatter their world. Although barely over the age of 50, the couple, whom I will call Aaron and Lara, noticed that Aaron had been having weird memory issues. After months of testing, the neuropsychologist gravely said, “We believe it’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. And I’m afraid there is no cure.”
The doctor explained to our stunned friends how the disease progressively affects the brain, ending with, “If I were you, I would get your affairs in order. I’m so sorry.”
Knowing that God is the God of the impossible, Aaron and his wife Lara began an intense search for help and hope. They went to many meetings to pray for healing, joined a support group that researched all forms of dementia, transformed their diet, exercised daily, and added powerful supplements and prescriptions to Aaron’s routine.
Yet the disease progressed. They had to give up their family business and saw friends drift away. We no longer have high-energy, hilarious game nights listening to Aaron’s comedic interpretations. He struggles to carry on a conversation, to remember how to take dishes to the sink. Lara now carries the entire burden of providing for and encouraging the family. They continue to pray for healing. But right now, they are walking through a very, very hard valley.
Yet Lara and Aaron’s faith has turned into something that shines like gold. They have lost an entire way of life, but both have a peace that passes all understanding. A peace at which Jeff and I can only marvel. And it is not because they are trying to have peace, but because they are trying to be people of love.
As Lara told me, “We all want logical answers and peace in life. But when you look at the fruits of the spirit, love and joy are listed before peace. I’ve heard it said that in heaven, God will hug us and ask us one question: ‘Did you learn how to love?’ I so want my answer to be yes.”
Love comes before peace. That is a profound truth to consider.
Did you learn how to love? That is a profound question to grapple with.
All of us have uncertain futures. In times of difficulty, we can get so focused on the valley around us that we miss what God wants to do in our life – and our children’s lives – during that time.
When facing turmoil, people tend to choose one of two paths, don’t they? Some are filled with frustration and anger over their trials, while others find supernatural peace amidst the storms. Some grow hard and cold; others find a love that they would never have understood apart from a time of pain.
Today, as Jeff and I and our children watch Aaron, it brings tears to our eyes. But not for the reason you would think. Yes, we have cried many times over the future that has been denied our friends. We have been angry with God for allowing them such a hard path. But mostly, when the tears come, it is because we see the precious love of Jesus shining through them. A love that leads Lara to serve her husband with sweetness and an eternal perspective every day. A love that leads Aaron to pray for our family and dozens of others throughout the day. A love that leads him to tell us, “I may not be able to do much more than pray for people and listen to and encourage Lara each day, but I’m going to try to be the best pray-er and encourager I can be.”
What a key challenge for us and our children: Instead of making peace our ultimate goal, we should ask, Am I learning how to love? As we do, peace will come.
If you are dealing with your own season of grief, I’d encourage you to find a comfortable chair, settle your heart, and listen to this beautiful, celebration-of-life hymn, Come Home. It was written by my mother, Judy Reidinger, who is a long-time songwriter, and has been a blessing to many people walking through such a season.*
This article was also published at Patheos.
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