Tag Archives: Conversation

Amusement in Absurd Conversations

When caring for someone with Alzheimers or Dementia, you learn  that conversation is a lot like an improv exercise in theatre. You can’t control what the other person is going to say or do. You simply say “Yes, and” then go with the flow no matter where the absurdity takes you. As a care giver you can let it bother you, or you can choose in to the amusement.

Our daughter, Taylor, is working and writing for a company in the UK that provides web applications that help Dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities called Storii Care. The following is a post she wrote on their blog that I’m reposting here with her permission.

Confessions of a Carer: Finding Amusement in Absurd Conversations

I used to work as a CNA in the dementia unit of a long-term care home, located in a small town in Iowa. 

I haven’t worked as a nurses aide for many years now, but have continued to be around people with dementia both personally and professionally. 

If you are reading this, you probably already know that having a conversation with someone in the later stages of dementia can be completely nonsensical. In the moment, inside their mind, they are often in a completely different time and place than you. 

The fact that I sort of delight in having these wacky conversations feels like something I must confess (as opposed to simply telling you), because I am fully aware that the confusion and distress that someone may be experiencing in their mind is real and concerning. It is sad when someone endures the loss of their memory and grows increasingly disoriented from reality. There is no doubt about that. There is a time and place for indulging in illogical chat and there is a time and place for redirecting. One has to know when to make that judgement call. 

But, why not meet people where they’re at? That’s all I’m saying. It can be refreshing. Even fun. Especially if you have a flair for the dramatic arts. 

Scene I

Case in point…one time working as a CNA, I passed by the TV room where Lois beckoned me to come over. 

When will the valet bring the car around?

The valet? You see, this is like being in an improv scene where the situation and your identity is provided only through prompts. 

You car should be here shortly, ma’am. 

Oh, wonderful. Thank you, sweetie. And the luggage? Will they bring the luggage down?

Ah, it appears we are in a hotel. 

Yes, I will make sure every item is loaded in the vehicle for you. 

Even the two horse saddles?

Horse saddles?! Alright, then…

It might be a tight squeeze, but we will do our best to make it fit. 

Yes, Gerald spent a pretty penny on those, you know.

Oh, that Gerald. Has to have the best of them, doesn’t he? 

She touches my arm. 

Isn’t that the truth? 

Then Lois chuckled and turned toward the TV, seemingly happy to know everything was in order and would be just fine. 

Scene II

Another time, a different resident approached me. 

Excuse me, could I ask you something?

Sure, what can I do for you? 

She brings my head down so that she can whisper in my ear. 

Do you happen to have any sanitary pads? You see, I’ve just gotten my period. 

There is absolutely no way this 82 year-old woman is still getting a visit from Aunt Flo, but I go along with it.  

Don’t worry, dear. I have some in my purse. I’ll just go grab you one. Would you like some ibuprofen as well?  

She nods and winks at me, mouthing a silent “thank you”. Sisterhood.

I come back with a pad and she stuffs it in her cardigan pocket with the stealth of covert ops mission. 

Later, when I went into her room to start the bedtime routine, I found the pad open and stuck to her nightstand with an oatmeal raisin cookie lying on top. Well, you know, I’m glad she found a use for it. 

A New Perspective 

Sure, these exchanges are illogical. However, at the time, I was invited into someone else’s present reality. Even though it involved being a bit off the wall on my part, the result is that these women stopped worrying. Their demeanors shifted. All was right once again. Who wouldn’t find a little joy in that? 

Building up life stories is such a large part of what care staff focus on in senior homes. When the opportunity presents itself, perhaps you can be part of a resident’s life story by acting out a scene with them. You both might like it.

AuthorBio: Taylor Vander Well heads up Best Practice + Communication for StoriiCare. She lives in Edinburgh, UK with her partner and son. 

A Spring Weekend in So Cal

It’s been a week since my last post and I’ve been on a bit of an unexpected hiatus. Last Thursday Wendy and I arose at 3:30 a.m. to catch an early flight to southern California for a long holiday weekend. We spent Thursday and Friday in La Jolla where we had a chance to spend some get-to-know-you time with our company’s newest Board member and his lovely wife.

Winter seems determined to hold its icy grip on Iowa, and so it was lovely to enjoy the warmth of the California sun. After checking into our room at the La Valencia, we got to stroll along the ocean in La Jolla and watch the seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. We enjoyed some amazing gelato at Bobboi Natural Gelato as we walked, and ended up at the back deck of We Olive & Wine Bar where we enjoyed a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate as we looked out over the ocean. Tony and Joy joined us for a few minutes to make introduction and secure the plans for the evening.

We dined Thursday evening at Catania where we sat on the deck and watched the sun set over the ocean as we dined. Thoroughly enjoyed our meal and conversation with Tony and Joy. After dinner we strolled through some of the galleries in La Jolla. One of the galleries was dedicated to the work of Dr. Seuss, who lived and worked in La Jolla. We learned that La Jolla was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ “Hooville.” There was also an amazing National Geographic gallery in which their award winning photography was transformed into amazing works of art. By the time we got to bed it had been a 20 hour day.

On Friday morning we had breakfast at Starbucks before rejoining Tony and Joy. Joy and Wendy spent most of the morning in a local book store while Tony and I talked business in his office. We gathered back together late in the morning spent some time chatting on their rooftop deck before enjoying lunch together at George’s at the Cove. After lunch Wendy and I checked out and headed to Palm Springs.

Traffic was completely nuts, so Google Maps took us on a circuitous route through the backroads of So Cal. What would have been a 2.5 hour trip without traffic ended up being about 3.5 hours and we arrived in Palm Springs about 5:30. We dropped off our rental at the airport where friends Kevin and Linda picked us up. We dropped our bags off at their place and then headed to the Tropicale for dinner.  We adjourned back to Kevin and Linda’s for a nightcap and cigar on their deck.

On Saturday we enjoyed a lazy morning with Kevin and Linda. Kevin and I did a read through of Freud’s Last Session by the pool. We headed to Maracas for lunch. We’d been there last year and fell in love with their queso with chorizo. We’d really looked forward to having it again and weren’t disappointed. Wendy and went to the hat shop and bought new chapeaus (I think that’s going to be a tradition!). We napped in the afternoon and then got ready for dinner at Il Giardino. We strolled up the strip after dinner and grabbed Ben and Jerry’s for dessert before retiring back to Kevin and Linda’s for the requisite conversation and night cap on their deck.

We were up early on Sunday and spent a long Easter Sunday flying back to Iowa.

It was a wonderful weekend, though I’m learning that age is catching up with me. The long days and short nights took more of a toll than I expected. It’s taken a few days of extra sleep to get caught back up and my morning quiet time and chapter-a-day routine has been sacrificed. Hoping to get back into the normal routine starting tomorrow!

Discussion Question Over Appetizers

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….
Isaiah 61:1-2a (NIV)

I love “If” questions and discussion starters. For years our family used them around the table to kick-start dinner conversations…

  • If you could have dinner with three people from history, who would you choose?
  • If you were only allowed one song to sing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • If you had the power to eliminate one illness from the world, which would you eliminate?

I love “If” questions because the answers can vary so greatly from person to person, and those answers allow you to learn new things about even the closest of friends and relatives.

Having journeyed through God’s Message for many years, it is impossible to read today’s chapter and not connect it immediately to Jesus. Because the record of Jesus’ teaching indicates that He chose this passage for His inaugural sermon in His own home synagogue:

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-20 (NIV)

So, Jesus,” I imagine myself saying to the young carpenter from Nazareth as we sit at the table with a glass of wine and an appetizer of freshly made pita bread and hummus. “If you could choose one passage from all of scripture to epitomize your life, what would you choose?”

I don’t have to wonder what He would say, because I know of all the passages He could have chosen for that message in the Nazareth Synagogue, Jesus chose this passage from Isaiah. This was His mission statement. This was His stake in the ground. He didn’t state it as a desire, or a hope, or a goal. He declared it an indisputable fact. Jesus starts His message with Isaiah’s prophetic, messianic proclamation and then begins His sermon with: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Many people think of Jesus as a nice teacher who was eventually deified by His followers. Others think of Jesus as a kind of confused mystic who said a lot of amazing things, but might have been a little deluded. I don’t find anything confused in Jesus first recorded sermon. It was a shot across the spiritual bow. It was declarative. So much so, in fact, that it created a violent reaction among His neighbors:

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.

This morning I’m reminded that Jesus didn’t stumble onto the scene. Jesus didn’t just happen to be at the right place and the right time so as to fall into this teaching gig. Jesus came wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger because, from the beginning, there was a purpose. It was there when Simeon broke into song at Jesus consecration. It was there when Jesus was twelve years old and confounded the elders of Israel with His words. Good news to the poor, healing for the broken, sight to the blind, freedom to the enslaved, this was the mission from day 1.

So, Tom,” Jesus says to me over morning coffee in my office. “If you had one passage from all of God’s Message to epitomize your life, what would you choose?”

chapter a day banner 2015

The Challenge of Words

“You shall not profane my holy name….”
Leviticus 22:32 (NRSV)

Wall Street Journal columnist, Ben Zimmer, writes a weekly piece in the newspaper’s weekend edition that explores a different word or phrase that has been in the news that week. It’s one of my favorite columns to read over coffee on Saturday mornings.

I have become increasingly fascinated with words as I’ve continued in my life journey. I’m fascinated with their origin, how they become part of our vocabulary, their meanings, and how we use them. I’m intrigued with how our society perceives words as positive or negative, good or bad, acceptable or not acceptable.

Wendy’s and my adventures in community theatre often take us into debates about words. Should we use a word that will likely offend our audience here in rural Iowa? Can we legally change the copyrighted work by using a different word? If we do have the actor use a different word, will it change the play’s character and how the audience perceives him or her? Why would that word offend the audience? Should we risk the offense and challenge our audience to consider their notions about vocabulary? They are challenging questions that prompt fascinating and equally challenging discussions.

Toward the end of today’s chapter God tells the Hebrews not “profane” His name. I was given a definition of the word profane by a professor in college that I’ve never forgotten: “to empty something of its meaning.” I can still remember the word picture as the professor stood in front of the class and mimed turning a cup over in his hand, emptying the contents of the imaginary vessel on the ground.

I’ve always found that an apt understanding of God’s zealous protection of His name. It’s really no different than we as human beings. We don’t like people making fun of our name. We don’t want our name mocked or “drug through the mud.” In Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible, John Proctor tells the witch hunters in Salem to go ahead and kill him unjustly but then begs: “give me my name!

Of course this opens a fascinating and challenging conversation about the name of God. As a child I was taught never to use the word “God” as in “Oh my god.” But, “god” is a impersonal noun that could refer to your generic pagan idol as it could refer to Yahweh (the name God gave Himself to Moses in Exodus 3). The name “Jesus” is much more specific and it packs all sorts of meaning and power. Jesus told His followers to do all sorts of things from prayers to exorcisms “in my name.” History records many signs and wonders that happened “in the name of Jesus.” If I then turn and use “Jesus” as an exclamation of disgust when the restaurant brought me the wrong order it certainly appears that I’ve taken something of spiritual power and authority, emptied it of its meaning, and used it for common swear word. I’ve profaned it.

This morning I’m once again thinking about words. It’s fun and challenging to debate the particulars of words and their usage. Despite the hairsplitting, it’s obvious that throughout God’s Message I’m reminded that words have power to heal, encourage, and build others up. They also have the power to sully, divide, tear down, and profane. I am reminded that the words we choose should be gracious, wise, and kind. May the words of my mouth always exemplify those basic guidelines.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by dorkmaster via flickr

Popcorn Prayers

Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 2:4 (NRSV)

When you have intimate, long-term relationships with others you find that communication takes a myriad of forms. Wendy and I are together almost all of the time. We live together, work from home together, serve in the community together, and spend most of our free time together. We have layers of communication:

  • Conversations about culture and world events over breakfast and  the news.
  • Brief exchanges from the top of the 2nd floor landing to the bottom of the stairs on the main floor.
  • Text message exchanges.
  • Non-verbal body language cues.
  • Short notes left on stickies on the counter.
  • Emotional rants of aggravation.
  • Nuts and bolts planning and scheduling over calendars.
  • Cell phone conversations when one of us are running errands.
  • Long, intense personal conversations over drinks or a meal.
  • Pillow-talk as we retire for the night.

I have found that my conversations with God have similar diversity of communication. From long, structured, formal give and take to brief exchanges and casual conversations of spirit. There are blurted exclamations of anger, frustration, gratitude, or need. I quiet my heart and open the ears of my spirit to hear what God might have to say during my coffee with God each the morning. I sometimes pour out my heart to God in long, hand written letters. If prayer is simply communication with God, then each one of these mediums is a different, yet legitimate form of prayer used as needed based on the time and circumstance.

In today’s chapter we learn that Nehemiah served the Babylonian king, Artaxerxes, in his court. His heart heavy with the news of the destruction of his hometown Jerusalem’s destroyed walls, Nehemiah cannot help be send non-verbal cues regarding his mood. The king notices and asks him why he looks so depressed.

We cannot fathom today the pressure placed on servants in ancient royal courts like that of Artaxerxes. Kings and Queens held ultimate power and routinely took the mantel of diety upon themselves. Servants in a royal court were expected to always be in a good mood, always serve with joy, and to treat the royals as if they were gods who lived in a higher dimension of being than everyone else. Any slight, mistake, errant word or look could result in an immediate death penalty.

When King Artaxerxes notices the cloud of depression on Nehemiah’s face, his immediate reaction is fear. Nehemiah doesn’t know whether to answer truthfully, beg forgiveness, say “it’s nothing,” or make up some plausible story. One wrong word or move, a simple raising of the King’s ire, and Nehemiah’s a dead man. Nehemiah chooses to tell the truth about his depression over Jerusalem’s walls. Then, Artaxerxes raises the stakes even higher by asking, “What do you request?”

Nehemiah is now in an even more treacherous fix. Ask too much and the king could take it as arrogant insubordination. Blow off the request and it could be perceived as false humility and refusing to answer a direct question. But Nehemiah needs to answer the king and he needs to answer it quickly. What does Nehemiah do?

He throws up a prayer.

Nehemiah had no time for religious ritual. He couldn’t stop the moment to languish in conversation about this situation with God. He could ask the King to spare him a moment while he got on his knees and recited a psalm. Nehemiah threw up what I like to call a “popcorn prayer.”

Like a kernel of popcorn jumping up quickly in the heat to explode into bloom, popcorn prayers pop out of my spirit in a moment and last little more than a breath. Popcorn prayers often get uttered in heated situations. They acknowledge in an instant that God is always present, always listening, always open to listen in all of the diverse ways two beings in an intimate relationship communicate.

There are times for long conversation, and there are times for popcorn prayers. Both forms are legitimate methods of communicating with God. God answered Nehemiah’s popcorn prayer, and the desires of Nehemiah’s heart were about to miraculously be answered via a blurted prayer from Nehemiah’s spirit.

Today, as I quietly listen to what God might be saying to me through the chapter, I hear this: “Keep popping.”

“Welcome to the Journey, Padawan”

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:31 (NIV)

Discern /dəˈsərn/ verb [from Latin: discernere]
  1. Perceive or recognize (something).
  2. Distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
One of the more intriguing themes I’ve enjoyed in the Star Wars epic is the spiritual journey and formation of the Jedi. In the world of Star Wars, those who are strong in the force begin their training as “younglings.” Eventually, developing Jedi become a “padawan learner” who is coupled with a mentor. The process of development never ends, as Obi Wan says to his rebellious padawan (Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader) in their final battle: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Great stories resonate with us because they echo our own human experiences and our deepest human longings. Much like a Jedi, I have found that my spiritual journey on this earth has been a journey of ever and increasing self-discovery. When I was a young man (youngling, if you will) I did many things out a sense of compulsion or ignorance. I had no idea why I felt compelled in certain ways. I did not understand why I said and did certain things. I acted out of my broken human nature without giving it a second thought.
When I became a follower (a padawan, if you will) of Jesus I experienced an acute desire to be more like Jesus and the person Jesus described in His teachings. This resulted in the awareness that many of my behaviors did not match up to Jesus’ teaching and example. A process of behavior modification began spurred by God’s prompting/power along with my willingness to change and be transformed.
Some behaviors were snap to change. Others required a wee bit of humility, patience, and determination. I was making progress and feeling good, but as time went on I recognized that there were the pesky, ugly things of my character and behavior that were of the Dark Side. They seemed hard wired and immovable. Discouragement, doubt, and frustration set in.
As much as I desired for God’s power to simply, and miraculously remove such things from my character, I came to realize that this was part of my spiritual journey. God’s power and grace (and patience) would be key ingredients, but much would be required of this padawan learner along this marathon journey of spiritual self-discovery:
  • Self study: A willingness to take the time to dig beneath my words and behaviors to excavate my past, my thoughts, my relationships, my emotions, my personality, and the desires of my heart and soul.
  • Meditation: A willingness to think honestly and transparently about the things I learned about myself, to fix the eyes of my heart steadily on Jesus, and to ingest God’s Word in my very soul.
  • Conversation: A willingness to have an on-going dialogue, not only with God, but with a select group of trusted companions who are on the journey with me. An openness to listen to and honestly embrace what they see, hear and perceive in me.
  • Professional Assistance: The assistance of professionals (in person or through their writings) who understand both spiritual truth and human psychology.
  • Perseverance: Accepting that the process of self-discovery and the spiritual transformation of becoming more like Jesus (a process theologians call sanctification) continues uninterrupted through this earthly journey’s end.
In today’s chapter Paul is writing to a young community of Jesus’ followers. They are spiritual younglings and a long way from becoming spiritual Jedi. Their behavior and conflicts, as described in Paul’s correspondence, reflect the blunt, early stages of spiritual transformation. And to this Paul says that they need discernment. They need to perceive the spiritual, emotional, social, relational drivers of their behavior and conflicts.
Welcome to the journey, my young padawan. Lace ’em up tight. It’s a long trek…. and an absolutely worthwhile journey!

Divine Appointment on a Park Bench

On “Remember When” Wednesdays I like to look back at some great posts of yesteryear and re-blog them for newer subscribers. This was originally posted in July, 2007.

Wendy’s four-month-old laptop crashed last Friday. The past ten days have been some of the busiest for Wendy’s job and the loss of the computer was agonizing. We took the laptop back to the Greek Squad on Friday and they immediately started the process of trying to recover the data off the hard drives. It would be a process of days to get the lap top back and even then Wendy would have to restore all of her software, all of her settings and rebuild her on-line life from scratch. Needless to say, she was angry, frustrated and depressed all weekend.

The situation only got worse on Monday when the Geek Squad called to inform her that they needed her “restoration disks”. Just an hour earlier I had left for meetings in Des Moines. Bad timing. This meant that she would have to drive to Des Moines and personally wait for up to five hours for the computer’s system to be restored so she could take it home. Wendy reluctantly took her book and found herself sitting on a bench outside of the Jordan Creek Mall reading as she waited.

A girl approached Wendy and asked to use her phone. Wendy obliged. Upon completion of the call the girl commented on Wendy’s tattoos. A conversation started. Wendy felt that still, small voice in her heart telling her this was not an ordinary conversation. This was a divine appointment. Seemingly, for no reason, the girl started to share the intimate details of her life to Wendy.

The girl had been abandoned by her parents and lived in a series of foster homes and orphanages. Wendy knows abandonment. She could relate. The girl had been adopted. Wendy knows what it’s like to be adopted and to live in a family with adopted children. The girls adopted parents raised her in the Open Bible Church. Wendy was raised in the Open Bible Church. The girl had run from her family. She ran from God. Her life was a mess. Wendy knows about running from God. She knows mess. She also knows God’s presence in mess.

Wendy didn’t need to mention God. The girl raised the subject. Seeing “Rev. 21:5” tattooed on Wendy’s shoulder, the girl asked about the verse and then asked “Are you a Christian?”

The discussion continued. Wendy silently prayed that the computer guys wouldn’t call her to pick up her computer until after this conversation was over. The two sat on that bench for a long time. The girl  inexplicably poured out her heart to a stranger whom she met on a park bench outside of a mall. Wendy listened, related, and loved, reminding her that no matter where she runs in life – God does not let go. God has a plan for her life, and He won’t let go of her – even as she tries to let go of Him. The divine appointment ended with a hug, and with Wendy’s promise to pray for her. The girl walked away.

Within ten minutes her phone rang. The computer was ready.