Last week, I had the unexpected privilege of visiting Jim. Jim is my eldest brother. Named James Edward Denison, he is 9 years older than me. He is a larger-than-life character. His charismatic personality persists despite his damaged brain as the result of mini strokes.
My memories of Jim begin when he was a teen-ager. He had the call to preach. Every opportunity he had, someone was hearing about Jesus. He enjoyed public speaking and practiced in front of the mirror. He loved music and sang often, attending concerts as he was able. He engaged with other Christian kids at church activities and camp. At 18, he left the home and attended Roberts Wesleyan College in New York state. There he met his Prom Queen and soon married her.
Jim’s first church was Dunnville Free Methodist. Then he went to Parkdale Free Methodist in Stoney Creek. He had a good rapport with young people and it wasn’t long before a call came from California. He and his family went to the Los Angeles area of California. In later years he had a return call to Canada and served the church in Calgary. The California call remained, and they returned. His three boys married and he and Shirley operated a Family ministry called Destiny Life.
Jim was a strong man. He loved to show it. He took part in iron man marathons which involved running, biking and swimming. This part of his life was as much of a call as his call to ministry.
The man Jim was, ministered to me. He loved people. I never doubted that he loved me. As a little girl, carrying me on his shoulders or a teen questioning life’s challenges or a young woman making lifetime decisions. The words he spoke over me and my other sisters, the actions he displayed towards us communicated our value to him. He respected and honoured us.
Now, mostly, he lies in a hospital bed in Prince Edward Island. The strokes have taken away his quality of life. He has forgotten how to walk. A blanket covers him to maintain a semblance of dignity to the man who dressed meticulously keeping his face clean and his nails clipped. His articulate words full of grace and truth diminished to mumbo jumbo, disconnected thoughts and letters.
Why would God allow such a thing? He served God all those years and for what? Let me give you my answers. While visiting Jim, he said “God is good” one articulate sentence. The spirit within him remains strong and vibrant. He still loves people, chats with everyone around him. He still likes to show his strength, pulling my sister up with his strong arm. He still loves Shirley, he wonders where she is. He is asking about Dad. “My dad is he here?” He knows our names. He knows how to pray. He held on to my husband’s eyes as he recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. He doesn’t know the loss of dignity, God has spared him the knowledge of a mind that has let him down. He stills tells stories, all the phrases and intonations, just the wrong words. He still loves me. I felt it in his warm embrace and when he said “that’s my sister” and when he said my name and when we said goodbye. I don’t know if I will see him again. Our grandmother lived twenty years in that condition and as was she, he is strong physically. It is in God’s hands. God’s purpose in a life sometimes is beyond our understanding. This life is but the womb of eternity. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.
“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob … Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
The way Jim lived his life remains. The building blocks of prayer and worship continue to sustain the spirit within him. He has lost some things but the best remains. And one of these mornings his journey through the birth canal will be complete and Jesus will hold him in His loving arms for eternity. The work he did for God lives on and creates the heavenly home to which he will have entered. No, this world is not our life. We are only preparing for eternity. Jim’s spirit knows that. I do too. God is good.