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Precious Lord, Take My Hand — Introduction and First Chapter


From the book Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Shelly Beach

INTRODUCTION

I told myself it would be a simple task, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I sat on the floor of my living room, staring blankly at the music books fanned out in piles encircling me. Songs Everybody Loves, Duets and Trios, Favorites Number One, Favorites Number Two . . . different titles, but all bearing one distinct similarity. On the cover of each, in curling, graceful script, a name had been penned in the top right-hand corner.

The name of my mother, whose velvety voice had graced listeners over five decades in churches, at rallies, and over the airwaves in the heyday of live radio. My mother, who taught me to draw sweet harmonies out of the air before I knew what a musical note looked like. My mother, who was slipping into the shadows of Alzheimer’s disease and whose needs were drawing me home to hold her hand on the journey.

As I reminisced over the stacks of books before me that summer afternoon in 2004, I knew I had to let them go. There would simply not be enough room in our new home in Michigan for the dozens of titles that bore my mother’s markings.

During the weeks of packing, I spent hours culling through them, fingering the pages as the melodies played through my head. His eye is on the sparrow . . . Nothing between my soul and the Savior . . . I come to the garden alone . . . . For days the music drifted through my thoughts as I stacked boxes for the move from Iowa to Michigan. And for days the books remained in uneven piles on the living room floor as I deferred the inevitable. My husband Dan—wise, gracious, and a man of few words—said nothing and simply walked around the scattered stacks.

On a hot July afternoon I knelt on the living room floor for the last time, a plastic grocery bag beside me and a craft knife in my hand. Dan would come after I had finished my task and place the remaining books in the trash. I quickly slid a half dozen choices into the sack, then carefully ra-zored a song I had known to be my mother’s favorite from one of the books and slipped it inside a file folder. That past Christmas, on an evening when even my name had slipped behind the clouds of Mom’s memory, she had sung every word of it with the family as we sat at the piano at Paul and Sheryl’s.

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, help me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

In the months since Christmas, the song had wedged its way into my heart as I watched Mom’s descent into the thickening mist of Alzheimer’s. The words had become my plea for the presence of God to overwhelm her in the growing darkness. The words were my prayer for my brother Paul and his wife Sheryl who had joined hands with my husband Dan and me as caregivers. They were my entreaty for my father as he watched the ravages of disease smother his wife’s mind as he quietly faced his own physical losses.

Over the next months and years, the sweet melody of this song would sooth Mom to sleep in the difficult night hours when her mind was most tormented. It became the prayer that wove itself into the fabric of my life as Dan and I, Paul and Sheryl cared for Mom and Dad. It spoke hope when I felt hopeless and gave voice to my broken heart that often could find no words of its own.

Christmas of 2004 we exchanged only token gifts as a family. We were gathered at my brother Paul’s house—Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters. Dan and I were now less than an hour from my parents’ home and overseeing needs that seemed to be spiraling downward. Their future with us seemed tenuous, and the health challenges that Paul, Sheryl, Dan, and I all faced had transitioned from worrisome to daunting. Being together was gift enough, we had all concurred.

But the need to give one gift compelled me. It was a gift for my brother Paul, but as much a gift for my own heart. A matted, framed, and faded copy of Precious Lord, Take My Hand. It was more than a sentimental memento. The gift represented my desire to razor truth from a musty book and set it in a gilt frame in a place of prominence in my heart.

Precious Lord, You hold our hands.

You lead us on and give us grace to stand when we are tired, weak, and worn.

No matter the storm or the night, You lead us on to the light.

You hold our hands, Precious Lord.

Lead us home.

The faded music bearing my mother’s breath marks and underlinings sits atop Paul and Sheryl’s piano in their dining room. But its truth has wound itself around my heart, binding hope there in the velvety tones of my mother’s voice.


CHAPTER ONE: PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23–24

When Dan and I began our caregiving journey seven years ago, I believed it would be many things.

I believed it would be a timeline of events with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I believed it would consist of acts of care, service, and sacrifice.

I believed it would be a time of ministering to our loved ones, perhaps set to a soundtrack resembling strains from Little House on the Prairie.

And while these things were true, except that the soundtrack sounded more like music from Diary of a Mad Housewife, I was to discover startling things about caregiving that knocked me off balance and left me breathless, as though I had been caught unexpectedly in a sudden summer shower.

I did not expect the work of caregiving to come wrapped in the trappings of my childhood, in my compulsions to please others, to be thought of as the good daughter, and to keep the affairs of my entire family in well-ordered balance like the plate-spinner at the circus.

I did not expect caregiving to expose wounds at the center of my being, where my identity had been shaped as a child and I had named myself Unworthy and Unloved.

I did not expect caregiving to be about childhood roles and hurts that had carried into adulthood and hidden them¬selves like dust bunnies behind the family refrigerator.

I did not expect caregiving to be a mirror that reflected my own broken image of myself. And I did not expect caregiving to be a path of restoration for my own heart and a journey of redemption in my relationships with others.

What I expected and what I got in my caregiving experiences were two entirely different things. Praise God.

What He gave me was the soul-searching opportunity to journey back into my childhood and find my true identity in Christ. He gave me the privilege of re-shaping my relationship with those around me as I learned to establish healthy boundaries and a foundation of respect. He granted me new vision for those I love, and with that new vision, a new sense of compassion and grace.

The work of caregiving should be reserved for the truly courageous or the blindly naive. It is soul-crunching, spirit-bending, body-wearying work because it is redemptive work. In caregiving we reflect Christ’s love: unconditional love, unequivocal love, unreserved love. We are called to love in ways that will either change us or break us.

The day that Dan and I began our caregiving journey, we linked arms and plunged off a cliff. We didn’t know that the hardest tasks we would face would be to allow our hearts to be molded, to be searched, and to allow God to use this special time to conform us to His image in new ways. On days when I felt I was plunging toward earth in an out-of-control freefall, God showed me my agendas, my reservations, my fears, my vanities, my pride, my selfishness. He used my infirmities to show me His sufficiency.

My pastor has said, “The best day is the day you see yourself for who you are, desperate without Christ, then see yourself as He sees you, complete in Him.” This was the blessing of caregiving in my life. As I saw who God had created me to be, I turned and ran weeping into His arms.

This is my prayer for you—that as you see yourself in the days ahead, that you, too, turn and run weeping into the open arms of God.

Dear gracious Father, may we need of You, that You are the grace. We confess that we are Your love and forgiveness. I ask sin and for Your restoration of Search me and know my heart. and offensive ways. You know You desire to see me whole. Pour my life like a healing balm.

© 2007 Discovery House Publishers All rights reserved.
The title and lyrics of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” are used by permission of Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., Van Nuys, CA.