"Why Am I Even Here?"
"The greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life you will never get back." ~ Rick Warren, who is credited with making this thoughtful and thought-provoking statement, wrote this in his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Ironically, this book title is the very question I have battled with for much of my life. In-fact, it is the very question I have been locked in fierce battle with for the past 17 months. Although for some time I have been keenly aware God has blessed me with multiple talents -- including an immense skill-set of vision, creativity, organization and the discipline to get things done -- God's timing and my timelines haven't quite aligned as I might have them to do. (Smile) I have diligently planted a multiplicity of seeds, nurtured them with great care and attention to detail, and buds have formed but fully-formed fruit has yet to appear.
The lack of viable fruit has been at the root cause of my very real internal struggle -- lately, increasingly ending with the same frustrated variation of this conversation:
Well Lord, you've given me all these gifts -- for which I am grateful and yearn to use for your maximum glory and honor. But, if the activity in which I'm presently engaged is not aligning me with my destiny, or it's not my time to walk into my destiny just yet, then please just help a sister out. Please just enlighten me. What on earth am I here for? I mean, I thought I finally figured it out. If you could kindly confirm it for me. All I'm asking for is, "Yes, you're on the right track"; "No, you're not"; or even, "Yes, you are, but I need you to wait for a bit. Just hang tight."
Now, before some of you [readers] begin criticizing my conversation with God, my admitted frustration -- and yes, a bit of tone -- I want you to be completely honest for just a moment. As I know you have had some conversations like this too -- whether verbalized or not! James 1:5 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." However, it has been this very human frustration that has led to the grand revelation of my purpose here on earth...
The Day the Sky Just Opened Up
The morning of February 28, 2017, I received a phone call which would supply the answer to [this] my most burning question. That morning began like most (days) these days -- with me asking God for strength. As I have come to expect of Him, being the most faithful of fathers, He answered my prayers. However, as I should have learned by now at this juncture in our 18 year relationship, God provided that blessing of strength and revelation in the most unexpected manner.
Here on my website, I share my perception of my role as a death care provider (i.e., funeral director & embalmer). I view myself as a trusted servant; and, I consider it a great privilege to be able to hold hands, wipe eyes and place my arms around sagging shoulders. I am humbled by the opportunity to lead, guide/or advise during the most challenging time in the life of families. For the past 4 years, during which I have been blessed to serve families, I have been called to utilize the entirety of my gift-set -- from administrative to social, to technical, to creative. Still, no ability has been more important than my God-given capacity to invest -- to deeply connect on a human level and provide what families need most during this time -- care and concern, to have someone capable of anticipating and catering (even) to those needs one is unable to articulate. The answer to my question of what on earth am I here for -- I am a caregiver...This ability is natural and instinctive; and, typically, my other abilities are activated as a result of seeing a hurt or pain someone else is experiencing.
As I sat reviewing the new messages in my email in-box on February 28th, I clicked on a message from a woman named Toula Wootan of the Caregiver Coalition of Northeast Florida -- a program of Community Hospice, focused on caregiver advocacy and education. While in the midst of replying to her email, my telephone rang. It was a very welcome voice on the other end -- Cari Eyre, Associate Director of Programs for the Alzheimer's Association, Central & North Florida. Since meeting Cari a little over a
year ago, at a caregiver workshop series generously hosted by Clarity Pointe -- a local memory care facility -- Cari has become a god-send to me both personally and professionally. Earlier this year, she even partnered with me to help fulfill a major component of my vocational ministry -- to help the members of the Jacksonville community devise a solid plan for the latter years of their lives.
Cari explained that her office received a phone call from Action Jax News, earlier that morning, regarding a story they planned to air. The story would feature a recent discovery made by researchers at (the local) Mayo clinic. The research revealed a gene mutation that may be a risk-factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease in African-Americans. Apparently, despite being twice as likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer's disease, in comparison to Caucasians, African-Americans are less likely to be diagnosed. Thus, Action Jax News contacted the Alzheimer's Association hoping to interview an African-American family dealing with Alzheimer's disease. Cari graciously stated that upon receiving the request she immediately thought of me. While honored and willing, I explained to Cari that I needed to speak to my family. As this is not just my story. After receiving the consent and support of my family, I confirmed my participation with Michelle Branham, Vice President of The Alzheimer's Association; and, shortly thereafter, I was en route to meet the reporter covering the story.
Under a tight deadline, and still needing to interview researchers at Mayo, we agreed to meet in a Publix parking lot near the Mayo campus. After spotting the Action Jax News van and camera man, who was in the parking lot adjusting his camera and setting up for the interview, I parked in a nearby spot and walked over to introduce myself. I was a bit nervous, not knowing what questions would be asked; and, while I was willing to share in the hope of helping other families who will undoubtedly face this cruel diagnosis, I was feeling quite protective of my loved one at the moment. Did these strangers even care about my family and our (largely) silent daily struggles? Or were we simply another story?
Well, as I closed the gap between myself and the camera man, I received my answer. As I introduced myself, he smiled warmly, extended his hand and walked me over to the van to introduce me to the reporter -- Letisha Bereola. Immediately, I felt reassured that I made the right decision. Letisha obliterated the less than positive stereotype one often hears of the "overly ambitious, cut-throat, sensation-seeking news journalist," which in some cases justifiably exists. However, I found Letisha to be kind and considerate from the beginning. Also smiling, she introduced herself, easily established common ground and took the time to explain what I could expect from the interview, in spite of the obvious time constraints within which she was operating.
Before we began, promising not to share my loved one's name or our precise relationship on camera, Letisha asked if I minded sharing with her to whom I serve as a caregiver. While experience taught me long ago not to be naive, to be cautious in so quickly trusting total strangers, my instincts assured me that I could trust Letisha to keep her word to me. So, in that moment I chose to bring this virtual stranger into my confidence. During the interview, which lasted 15 - 20 minutes, we discussed the quandary which exists between the increased likelihood, and seeming genetic predisposition of African-Americans toward developing Alzheimer's disease, yet the decreased likelihood of evaluation and diagnosis; the challenges of daily life for my family and my loved-one; my family's support-system; and what the Mayo study and recent discovery means to me -- the significance it holds for me personally. For me, the two most important aspects of the interview, (which felt more like an ordained meeting between two strangers), was the question of why African-Americans are not being diagnosed and the significance of the recent Mayo findings for me personally.
While throughout my life I have developed a great distaste for being asked to speak for all African-Americans -- as if we are not unique individuals with manifold reasons for taking a specific course of action -- I can still acknowledge certain intragroup commonalities, certain economic/cultural/social factors which affect racial/ethnic groups on a broad spectrum. As a result, I can acknowledge certain occasions like this, when such questions have a more reasonable basis in being posed. Therefore, I offered my thoughts in response to the question.
A social/cultural norm which exists within the families of many African-Americans I know is that the bounds of privacy should be extended only so far. Furthermore, we are taught to live in survival mode, to accept many unpleasantries and keep conducting the business of life. These deeply rooted mindsets, coupled with the economic reality that as a whole African-Americans still maintain the lowest income levels of any other group, (even with certain notable, individual intragroup gains), lends toward certain common intragroup challenges -- such as health concerns not being addressed with those best equipped to offer accurate diagnosis and treatment options. In response to her question of what the research being performed by Mayo meant to me, I told Letisha quite simply that it gives me hope. I explained that although a cure may not be found in time to help my loved one -- my family -- my constant prayer is that a cure will be found so that others won't have to suffer the anticipatory grief and sense of loss we live with daily.
My meeting with two human-beings, who were mere strangers just 20-minutes prior, ended in the most unexpectedly beautiful manner. The camera man asked if he could hug me. With tears filling my eyes, I readily consented. Letisha, dubbing me a "little warrior princess," asked if she could have one too. It must have been a strange, curious sight to any onlookers and others passing by -- to see three people hugging in the isolated corner of that Publix parking lot on a windy, late Tuesday afternoon. As it happens in the world of constantly breaking news, much of our substantive conversation didn't make the final cut. It was reduced to this 2:03 clip; but, by God's design, my message of hope did make the cut. This is what I received from that crucial, 20-minute human interaction -- restored hope.
I know that God is with me. I know He sees and He cares. Therefore, out of my pain comes purpose -- my ministry. I am assured Lord, once again, that You won't let all of this be for nothing. In all things may You receive glory and honor. I will search for You...even in the darkest of places...You most certainly are there.
©2017 by Kandice Jacobs Creations, Incorporated. All rights reserved. No portion of the copy, ideas, illustrations, images, recordings or photographs may be copied, transferred, transmitted or otherwise reproduced without the express written consent of Kandice Jacobs-Armstrong, CEO of Kandice Jacobs Creations, Incorporated.