Twelve years old, I sat with my legs crossed on the pine floors of our living room visiting with my grandmother. As she left the room to go to the bathroom, I remember sighing and looking to my mom on the couch. “How many times do I have to tell her what grade I’m in or how old I’m going to be?”
“Be patient, Lara. She can’t help it,” she said. “Just answer her like it’s the first time she asked.”
I didn’t fully understand what was happening to my grandmother’s brain, though my mother told me it was Alzheimer’s Disease. They told me she might forget me.
Not me, I thought. She loves me. She babysat me when my mom went back to work after I was born. She brought me my favorite candy bar every time she visited. She told me funny stories and pretended to cry when I said I couldn’t eat any more of my food. She let me build forts in her living room with all the cushions I could find. Not me, I couldn’t be forgotten.
But eventually the day came when she did forget my name. As her grandchild, I would be one of the first people to leave her memory. The older memories stay longer than the newer ones. Some days, her eyes were bright and she could guess how old I was. Other days, I was Tamara, my cousin. And then some days when my mom asked, “Do you know who this is, Mama?” her hazel eyes grew dull as she stared at me and shook her head. “No, I—I can’t remember.”
My grandmother has since passed away, but I cling to the good memories I have of her. The memories of driving by the ocean to her house in the harbour, the days of making “soup” with food coloring in her decorative bowls, and of baking cupcakes, knowing I would only lick the icing off. But even more, I remind myself of climbing the green stairs to church alongside her and watching her read from her worn Bible with her glasses dipped down on her nose.
Alzheimer’s took much of her memory, and I’m sure it took much of what she knew about God. After her death, I wondered what that forgetting meant for her. What if she forgot the Bible stories? What if she forgot to pray? What if she forgot the law of God? If she could forget me, if she could forget her own daughters, what did that mean for the spiritual things? Were they forgotten too? Knowing the hereditary nature of Alzheimer’s, I laid awake at night and wondered at the same questions for myself. What if I forgot God’s Word, despite all my efforts to treasure it away in my heart?
As I have grown older in both years and faith, I’ve grown to take comfort in God’s words of promise to His people:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isa. 49:14–16)
As a mother, these words paint a full-color picture for me. I think of how constantly Levi was at my side as I fed him. I think of him nestled close to my stomach, sleeping peacefully with milk still on his face. Despite the many emotions, responsibilities, and people who demanded my attention, that tiny baby preoccupied my mind. He could not be forgotten.
And yet, my mind may melt away like my grandmother’s, and I may forget my own son’s name—the one who nursed from my breast and clung to my side.
But God says that even if this powerful memory fades from a mother’s mind, His memory never will. Even though I may have doubts that cause me to forget God’s promises or forget the verses I’ve memorized, God has me engraved on His hand (Isa. 49:16). He will not forget, and He most certainly won’t forsake His precious children who call on Him by faith.
Matthew Henry comments on this passage,
Zion’s suggestions were altogether groundless. God had not forsaken her, nor forgotten her, nor ever will. “You think that I have forgotten you. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?” A mother cannot but be concerned for her own child; for it is a piece of herself, and very recently one with her. It is possible that she may forget. But, God says, “I will not forget you.” He has a constant care for his church and people: I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. This alludes to the custom of those who tie a string on their hands or fingers to remind them of things which they are afraid they shall forget, or to the wearing of a signet or locket-rings in remembrance of some dear friend. His setting them as a seal on his arm denotes his setting them as a seal on his heart, and his being ever mindful of them and their interests.
Even in our crumbled bodies, minds, and spirits, God takes care to see and remember us. Even in our most sunken state, God doesn’t close His eyes. He sees our ruins and looks upon us with compassion.
Someday, I may forget like my grandmother did. Or something may happen to cause my husband, or even my children, to forget me. That’s a fearful thought. But I take courage in knowing that God, in His perfection, will never forget me or any of His children he has saved. We are like a bow tied to His finger or words scrawled on His palm. We are ever before Him. Not because we’ve made ourselves worthy to be there, but because He has granted us His grace.
Courage and Comfort Is Ours
I once believed I could stand before God because I prayed each night, read my Bible each morning, attended Sunday school each week, and kept all the rules at school each day. But now I know I’m God’s child because of Christ’s work on the cross. My work will always be insufficient. By grace God called us from our hatred for Him, breathing life and faith into our hearts so we could trust in Him for salvation. If this is you too, you are kept by Him—even when your memory falters. We can take courage in this promise Jesus declared concerning his people,
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:37–39)
I take comfort today that my grandmother had this faith, and God sustained it in her. I take comfort that she was remembered by God each of her days, even to the last. I take comfort that when her mind came to its weakest point, He had her before Him and loved her just the same. I take comfort that after her last breath He welcomed her home saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I take comfort that I, one day, will be reunited with her in glory. Because even if our minds fail, Jesus will not lose us.