Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

The problem for Alice in eating was not only the difficulty of raising her hand to her mouth. There was an increasingly difficult problem in swallowing. We could tell that the muscles in her throat and chest were becoming very weak. She could not exhale very strongly. In fact, she found it impossible to lie on her stomach and still breathe. It was this weakness which created the problem for Alice with eating: she had great difficulty swallowing, and even greater problem in coughing up anything which lodged in her throat. An activity, which most do spontaneously, created for her a major crisis. When any small object lodged in her throat, she would have coughing spells, hardly able to bring up what blocked the air passages, hardly able to get her breath. It was this awful episode of choking that usually ended in tears for Alice. Each time was such a frightening experience. Would her life end with one of these choking spells? Thus did eating lose all of its pleasure for Alice—and became only a necessity to retain a measure of strength.

Good Morning Alice:

A while ago a dear friend of mine began her letter to me with this verse, “I thank my God on every remembrance of you.” I felt strange about it at first, wondering if we really should use Scripture this way. But I think we can.

These daily visits with you have made me feel this way toward you, Alice. What began as something to cheer your day, has become an important part of my day.

As Paul prayed daily for the Philippians, I do for you. And for your fellowship in the gospel, because even though you can’t share your thoughts with me, it is “with” you that I think about these things.

And finally, I am confident that the good work that He has begun in you, He will perform until the day of Jesus Christ. God will sustain you and hold you up and guard you until the day of Jesus Christ comes in your life.

I’m sure you have “any people in your life that you wish to show thanks—perhaps you can express your thanks to them this day.

With love, Your friend

Please read

Col. 3:12-13

There were occasions in which Alice needed help during the night, though at this point no one was staying with her through the whole night. It was clear to us that she feared the night most of all. Though she did not say so, there was obviously the thought that she would need assistance—but that she would not be able to call loudly enough to be heard. And she could not speak or call very loudly at all anymore. For the present time, the solution was the installation of an intercom system. One unit was placed by Alice’s bed, the other in John’s bedroom. Brother John had the task of distinguishing between the normal noises a person might make and a real call for help—for Alice could not make more than grunting calls. In later months, the intercom had to be hung above her head, near her mouth, to pick up the weakening sounds. To an extent, we could understand Alice’s fear of being alone at night when perhaps none might hear her cry for immediate aid.

Good Morning Alice:

I’m writing this morning, but I don’t know if the mail will be picked up. It is really winter again.

Did you realize I already wrote a note on the verses I gave you yesterday?

When I read it, I knew I had to do more thinking about it.

Why is it so hard to be all these things listed here? Paul says, “Put on”, not, “Try to put on.” With the Spirit dwelling in us, we can do these things, though it comes through our weak flesh.

Humbleness of mind—that really speaks to me. Not just be humble, but put on humbleness of mind. It’s not easy to put others above myself in my mind; to erase all my pride and see myself as the weak sinner I am.

Forbearing one another—to me I guess this means not just “put up with each other,” but “patiently, without inward anger, hold back bad feelings.” All too often only a quiet prayer to God enables me to do this, and so very often I fall short.

Forgiving one another—as Christ forgave me. To me—difficult as it is, that means: forget it; blot it out of my mind. In other words, when I start brewing in my mind what another person did or does, I am to blot that thought out of my mind and remember what Christ did for me. Very difficult instruction, and yet I can see how obeying these things can make me a much more joyful child of God.

With love, Your friend

Please read

Col. 3:16

By the end of May, 1981, the burden of Alice’s care, which rested especially upon John and Judy, was becoming too great. Theirs was a busy family anyway—with four sons and one daughter at home. The added responsibility for Alice’s care, with its unending demand upon their time both day and night, was almost too much. There was also a constant influx of visitors, relatives and friends, to seed Alice. And though visitors were always welcome, and Alice loved to have them come, this created havoc with the family schedule. The point comes when one wonders whether he can do justice to, and find time for, all of these responsibilities at the same time.

Good Morning Alice:

How beautiful it is outside this morning. The wind has calmed way down and the snow is just beautiful.

Col. 3:16

is a beautiful verse too. I really like the way it starts: LET the word of Christ dwell in you. We all have our Bibles, and yet so often we neglect reading it.

When we do read with a desiring heart and strive to remember what we read, we are “letting” the word of Christ dwell in us richly. In His Word is all our richness.

And then right after talking about Scripture, the verse tells us to teach and admonish each other in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. What a beautiful way to fill our day.

Do take some time today, Alice, to read a passage two or three times, and let it dwell in you. And also, with grace in your heart, read some Psalter numbers to yourself, and you will surely grow closer to our God in this day.

With love, Your friend

Please read

Psalm 121

There was also for John and Judy the constant tension of being “on call” constantly. There simply was not a time that one or the other of them was not listening for Alice’s call. Nerves wear thin. Tiredness sets in. And Alice was often very demanding. After all, when one can’t move one’s arm or leg, and it aches, or a limb is “sleeping,” why not call for immediate assistance? There were those times when Alice demanded that her limbs be moved about every five minutes. At such times she expected someone to sit by the side of the bed (usually John), ready to help at her call. It became a very real question whether that kind of constant care could be given to her at home.

Good Morning Alice:

Once again this morning it strikes me that there is no such thing as “normal.” You get busy with one thing in your life and then when that’s over, you think you’ll get “back to normal.” There just is no such thing. When life goes by so fast, the child of God realizes he must take time often to stop and know that God is God.

Psalm 121

is a wonderful Psalm to use to do just that. You see how mighty God is, and how all our dependence is on Him.

The last verse sums it all up. Totally we are in God’s care—in everything we do, now and forevermore.

Oh, how independent we can get. I’m going to do this or I’m going to accomplish that or I’ll never let that happen, or I’d never be able to stand that.

None of this can really be said by a child of God. He controls all our ways and we must be willing and content to let Him do just that.

Last night, alone in the car with many, many emotions going through my head and heart; I heard this song and it really comforted me. Since I don’t have room here, I’m going to copy it out on a separate paper. Don’t read it in a hurry. Take your time as you read it even if you know it—as you probably do.

Til tomorrow, With love, Your friend

Please read

Isaiah 35

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah

Pilgrim through this barren land;

I am weak, but Thou art mighty,

Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven

Feed me till I want no more, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now Thy crystal fountain,

Whence the healing stream doth flow.

Let the fire and cloudy pillar

Lead me all my journey through

Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,

Be Thou still my strength and shield, Be Thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,

Bid my anxious fears subside;

Death of death, and hell’s destruction,

Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

Songs of praises, songs of praises,

I will ever give to Thee; I will ever give to Thee.

On Memorial Day a family conference was held. None really wanted to see Alice placed in a rest home or hospital—but was there any alternative? Each of the relatives, by turn, had been visiting and helping Alice regularly, usually at John and Judy’s home. Now it was decided to try making arrangements for Alice to visit in the home of the brothers and sisters—each would have her for one day of the week. Though Alice could not move many muscles, she could still sit in her wheelchair and be moved about in the van. So, for a time, each family would have Alice in their home for that one day of the week. When Alice felt well, she could still be taken out to shop or even eat in some restaurant. She would be part of that one family for the day. At the end of the day, Alice would be taken back and put to bed by this family. For a time the arrangement worked quite well—and there was some small relief in John’s home from those pressures of Alice’s daily care.

Dear Alice: 

I have not forgotten you! It has been impossible to write before now. When I have time to write, I will explain, but please read

I Cor. 15:55-57

and rejoice in its beautiful promise.

Til later, With love, Your friend