Our newer folks at Holy Trinity don’t know Janice, but those who have been around a while remember her well from the time when she was a pillar of our congregation. These days, every so often her sister brings her to worship and we’re blessed to have her with us, but those occasions are too few and far between.
For decades, Janice was a faithful alto in the choir. Although her presence was important to us, she didn't have the strongest voice, and you couldn’t really hear her. So, when she announced that she was going to sing a solo in worship, we were all surprised. “Lead Me, Guide Me” was the song. An appropriate one for Janice who had dealt with a number of physical challenges her whole life and truly trusted in God every step of the way.
She was supposed to arrive early to run through the song one last time with our music director. We expected her at 10:30. 10:30 passed, and no Janice. For weeks she had been talking about singing this solo, so her tardiness was odd. (Janice was never late for anything.)
When we started worship at 11:00 and still hadn't seen her, we started to get concerned. At 11:15 Kathy went to her house, which was right around the corner from the church.
Fortunately, Kathy is a nurse, because when she got to Janice’s she saw that Janice had had something that looked like a stroke and Kathy took care of her until the paramedics arrived on the scene.
It turned out Janice had a seizure that erased her short term memory. After several years, it has improved only slightly. She can remember people from her past and stories from before her seizure, but since then, she literally can’t tell you what she did 5 minutes ago.
Over time, Janice has learned to cope with her new limitations. She lives in an assisted living facility where the walls in her room are plastered with signs her sister made for her, telling her what day it is, important phone numbers, what happened to her, and so on. She carries a schedule of daily activities in a pouch that hangs from her neck and she has a pad of paper by the chair in her room where she writes down everything that she does.
Janice has no memory of the weeks leading up to that fateful Sunday and whenever she hears the story, to this day, when it comes to the part where she was going to sing a solo in church, she is hearing it again for the first time, and she laughs hysterically at the thought of it.
"There is no way I was going to sing a solo in church!" she’ll say.
"Yes, Janice, you were." And she’ll shake her head in disbelief.
In truth, if she hadn’t been singing a solo, we would have assumed she was visiting with family that day and no one would have checked on her when she didn’t appear at worship. Another 20 minutes without someone finding her and she would have been dead. So offering to sing that solo, something that was totally out of character for Janice, saved her life.
Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly lose your memory like that? When I think about it, I imagine that it might feel a lot like dying. I have always thought that being alive is synonymous with maintaining cognitive ability. But Janice has me rethinking that. Maybe there's more to life than registering our life experience in our brains.
With Janice, losing her memory hasn't changed the essence of who she is as a person. Janice is still Janice. She is still able to cope with whatever life hands her. She exudes positive energy. She participates in every activity that comes her way with a smile on her face. After spending time with her, I always feel good about myself because she is so loving and supportive.
Janice is fiercely loyal to Holy Trinity. She was always our strongest prayer warrior and she continues to be. She also always gave faithfully to the church financially, something that continues to this day. Whenever I visit her, she will invariably ask me, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” I will tell her we’re just fine. A couple more times in our conversation she will ask me the same question, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” because she can’t remember she had already asked me. This is the question she asks me more than any other. It reminds me of the Biblical truth about how connected our hearts are to our treasures. Janice clearly links her love for Holy Trinity with the support she gives through her offerings.
In the midst of all the things she forgets, Janice remembers what's most important to her. She hasn't forgotten the love she has for our congregation and the love we have for her. For Janice, the faith community she loves is a manifestation of the love of God in her life.
Janice has been a gift to me personally. Spending time with her always brings me to recognize how living moment to moment, caught up in the minute details of my life, distracts me from living from the core of who I really am, a person created to be in relationship with the God of love.
Lead me, guide me, along the way:
for if you lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me.