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Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

—Isaiah 55:7-11

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. She has spent the last four-and-a-half years in a nursing home 300 miles away, living with some kind of dementia. Mom used to be a force to be reckoned with—an energetic woman who worked outside the home during a time when few women did. A woman who, with my dad, raised six daughters and then spent several years at Dad’s side when he was in a nursing home bed, unable to arise, but with his mind and spirit intact.

Now Mom spends her days in a Broda chair. She can’t walk or talk or even eat much anymore.

How sad, people say. Does she know who you are?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

The honest answer is that I don’t really know.

The honest answer is that the last few times I’ve visited, I’ve hardly recognized her myself. Had to check the name on the back of her chair to be sure it was really her.

What kind of life is that? I can’t help but wonder. What is God thinking?

I don’t really know for sure. But over the years, as Mom has progressed from forgetfulness to confusion to being completely dependent on others, my sisters and I have gotten some inklings, some hints of what God might have in mind.

We’ve come to realize that our mom is still teaching us some important lessons.

Lessons such as the fact that our value as humans doesn’t lie in what we do or accomplish, but simply in being children of God. Even when the personality that once drew people to us, the work that gave shape to our life, and the health that enabled us to move through our days are all gone, our name is engraved on the palm of God’s hand. God knows us. Whenever we screw up or fall short of what we hope to be or do, that’s a comforting reminder.

Mom’s also teaching us that it’s not all about us. When we visit her or anyone else who doesn’t seem able to appreciate our presence, it’s an opportunity to show the love of Christ, even if the person we’re visiting can’t remember our name or say hello.

Every once in a while my sisters and I are surprised by a note of grace: a gleam in Mom’s blue eyes, a look of recognition. It’s as if her spirit is swimming to the surface from a long way away. Those are reminders that she is still capable of giving and receiving love.

God’s ways are not our ways, says Isaiah. But God accomplishes what he sets out to do in our lives.

As we walk alongside the people in our lives, as we join in their struggles, weaknesses, and joys, we may wonder about how God is working in a particular situation. But we can remind them and ourselves that God’s ways are not our ways. And we can trust that God is good. All the time.

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