Monday, May 15, 2017

You Haven't Lacked a Thing!

Over the past few months I've come to recognize more about the destructive powers of jealousy.  This is pertinent to those of us who are caregivers because we may feel that if others have avoided the heartbreaking ordeal of taking care of someone who has a terminal disease, then they are more blessed than we. When the disease is Alzheimer's, our caregiving journeys may have become expensive both in terms of our finances and our hearts.

My mom had been acting strangely for at least two years when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the spring of 2004.  It is with a sense of grief-tinged wonder that I realize our lives have been impacted by her Alzheimer's disease for 15 years.  It is too easy to begin to think in terms of what I've lost because of this enforced caregiving assignment when I ought to focus on the many ways our needs have been provided. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert, I'm in danger of taking manna for granted.

When God is with us we have no business envying other people.  To complain at length about what I have lost is to ignore a balance sheet upon which truly amazing blessings have far outweighed any losses I've sustained.

When we forget that the body of Christ has different members with varying gifts and assignments, we become vulnerable to a sense that it is unfair that others have been given what we would very much like to have had. It is the enemy who whispers "They are better than you..." or, more damning for the unfortunate victims of our jealousy:  "They think they are better than you."  A sense of having been downtrodden then blinds us to our own unique blessings and creates a fertile ground for jealousy to take root.  We feel justified in ignoring suffering when it happens to someone the enemy has convinced us "deserves it."

The destructive and hurtful results of covetousness are a hard heart toward the suffering of others coupled with a sense of entitlement.  In its extreme form,  jealousy of what others have is at the root of many crimes. Sinful logic says that if you have what I have always wanted then it's only right for you to take a hard knock so I can feel better; you didn't deserve what you have, and I have never gotten what I deserve.

I have been praying to be protected from the envy of others and that my own heart stays clean of jealousy toward other people.  Since I've been thinking in this way it's as though my eyes have been opened to how behaviors ranging from petty to cruel have their roots in one person's envy of another.  Let's pray in this way:

Lord protect us from the hard-heartedness and lack of compassion of jealousy in our own hearts, and keep us from being harmed by the covetousness of others toward us. Keep us from being blind to the suffering of another person simply because we see that person as having been blessed in ways we are not, and make us aware of the many ways You have provided for us all along our life journeys.  In Jesus' Name we pray, amen.  

 You are not to plunder this nation because the Eternal your God, has blessed you in every way. He’s watched over you as you’ve journeyed through this vast wilderness. Throughout these 40 years, the Eternal your God has been with you, and you haven’t lacked a thing.
--Deuteronomy 2:7  The Voice--

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just One...

I have been discouraged.  Christians aren't supposed to be discouraged, so I have added guilt to my discouragement load.  Thus I've found myself struggling against depression, because guilt makes me want to hide from the Lord.

Yes, I know, this is, in a word, dumb.

But here's the thing: I am not very successful as a wage earner, or a teacher, or an author in terms of numbers of people reached, and sometimes this is discouraging. My way of ministering to others has always been one lost sheep at a time.  When I was teaching school I nearly always adopted one special child into my heart, carrying that little one in prayer and spending an unusual amount of time creating activities and interventions that might help just that one.  I felt the Lord provided me these individual children who needed a special prayer and ministry intervention; sometimes it was almost like a spotlight illuminated one little guy or gal; this is your one!

And then I was provided Reading Recovery training; an amazing, life-changing, child-saving intervention for struggling readers.  Reading Recovery teachers meet with their students one-on-one, and I consider the eleven years during which I implemented this intervention to have been the most effective and satisfying of my career.

And then I started writing books.  Books reach a whole bunch of people, right?  Well, not in my case. Almost always the Lord provides me one reader who reaches out, and a spotlight shines around them, and the Lord says, "Here is your one."

It is human nature to think in terms of numbers.  "How many people did you have in your Sunday School class today?"  or "How many copies did your books sell last week?" seem viable measures of success as a teacher or an author.  How often I've had to answer such questions with this reply:  "Just one."

My mom's Alzheimer's disease has been the most challenging, grievous, heart-rending journey of my life.  I've worked to comfort others with the comfort God has given me.  Today my current "one," a precious, Godly young woman whose mom is undergoing the grueling screening process for Alzheimer's, sent me this message:
 "Thank you for allowing the crushing of your own heart and dreams yield a fragrance that draws others to Christ!  I know it does not make up for your pain but perhaps in some small way softens it to know God is truly active, alive and at work through your words and your story!  I know it comforts me that some day (very far from today) I may be able to do the same."
I'm humbled and blessed.  I've asked forgiveness for my discouragement.  How precious is it that our Good Shepherd loves us individually, each of us uniquely, each one of us precious in His sight!  The Shepherd who left the 99 to seek one that was lost does not devalue a ministry that reaches just one.

I am grateful and blessed.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Just a Little Off...

ARGH!  It is TILTING! 
After visiting my mom at the nursing home today, I decided to take a backroad home, past a wind farm.  I've shared here the sweet way the Lord linked my recovery from a childhood fear of large, manmade objects to new freedom from another lifelong fear: nursing homes. As I came to peace with my mother's new living situation, I also learned to appreciate the massive beauty of the gigantic wind turbines that stand like sentinels around the place Mom now resides.

But the past few weeks have been tough for me. Freed from the daily burden of the caregiving role that defined my life for twelve years, I've had time to process the sorrow of watching my mother fade from view over time.  Grief of this caliber is not unusual, and I ought not be surprised (see 1 Peter 4:12). What has puzzled me, though, is the intensity of sorrow I've been feeling over a number of other painful memories from the past, the distant past, when I was young.  Yes, a very long time ago.

This is a phenomenon I've seen happen in others who are going through a grief process. It's as though a new heartache opens a Pandora's box of grievous memories from the past that all come flowing out to surround us. Thus it seems life is sad now, has always been sad, and there is no hope of ever being free of sorrow again.  This morning I prayed the Psalms, and felt a terrible weight of former sorrows, present sorrow, and the inevitability of future sorrow. I asked the Lord to give me a word of hope, but left my prayer time still feeling puzzled and sad.

A few hours later, I was driving along down that familiar dirt road past the wind farm, when I looked up from the bottom of a hill and saw one of those gigantic wind generators looming over me, wings not turning.  It was perfectly still while all of its comrades were turning at normal speed, and this seemed weirdly ominous. The one wing that stretched toward the ground, looked, by a trick of perspective,  unnaturally large and as though it was nearly touching the treetops.  And...was the tower tilting? I had to drive past this thing, just a couple hundred feet away, and the tower portion alone stretches over 300 feet into the sky. If it tipped over, I could be squashed like a bug!  I actually felt physical symptoms of fear, something that has not happened to me for many years as a response to my phobia of great big manmade things.  But I ignored my pounding heart, refused to make a U-turn, and kept right on driving.

As I topped the hill it was as though the tower straightened, that drooping wing shrank to an appropriate distance from the ground, and although the watchful stillness of the massive machine still seemed unnerving, it no longer looked unnaturally tilted.

As I sped on down the road, I felt chagrined and said aloud, "Lord, what was that all about?"

The answer was immediate: "Your perspective is off."

And I understood that my perspective of past injuries is unnaturally exaggerated right now. It may seem odd that this is a vast relief. Not that I like being "a little off"--(although my children will tell you that I've had a lot of practice at it)--but if things aren't so bad as they seem, I can be released from hopelessness.  I don't have to take action to right past wrongs (that's in the Lord's hands anyway), and I don't have to give up the hope of feeling better at some point.

As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a young woman whose father had died:
 "Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once."
I tell you what though, tomorrow I'm taking the highway home.  😅

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Great is His Faithfulness

This is the view that inspired my mom to say, "I love the big tree outside my window and the country scene in the background--it is beautiful in each season."  This provided me the title for the devotional I wrote for Mom, and is a good way to think about the stages of our lives; Beautiful in Each Season.  

In the wake of placing my mom into nursing home are back in August of 2016, I'm just now emerging from a time of exhaustion and grief that almost certainly has had an element of depression mixed in. I've learned that pain is not an anomaly, nor is grief something of which to be ashamed. Scripture speaks of suffering in a matter-of-fact way:  
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you...(1 Peter 4:12).
And Jesus spoke of what we can expect:   
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NIV).  
 Sometimes the enemy whispers that when we live our Christian beliefs, we paint a target on our foreheads for the devil. This is a lie of the most devious sort, because in the first place, everyone has trouble in this world, and in the second place, failure to live our Christian beliefs robs us of the sweetest solace imaginable: Christ with us.  God is sovereign over everything that happens to us, and He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).  Good things happen to good and bad people. And bad things happen to good and bad people.  The very best we can do is to abide in the Lord so that we may have the sweetness of His presence, the blessing of His provision, and hope for the future, even in the midst of sorrow.  

This morning I snapped the photo above, brightened the photo, applied a filter, and sent it to my daughter with this message, "I love the view from Grandma's window, but I wonder if it will ever seem right without her here with us to enjoy that view?"  

While I waited for my daughter's reply I looked at the photo and thought, "I've made this look even better than in real life; maybe this is what it will look like when we get to Heaven."  

And at that very moment my daughter replied, "When she gets to Heaven her view will be SO much better than that...she won't be missing anything!"  

In Christ we have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.*  He is faithful.  

~~~

*From the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness.  You can listen to Chris Rice sing it here.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Peace in the Midst of Pain...

Once in a great while, an inspired thought comes to me in the middle of the night. I'll awaken with some phrase or thought in my head that I know is of the Lord.

When Mom had to go into nursing home care, I was heartbroken and I struggle still.  But one morning at the beginning of her time at "the manor," I awoke with this phrase in my mind:  Joy in the midst of sorrow.  

So I dictated those words into the notes app on my phone and went back to sleep.

The next night, the same thing happened again.  I'd forgotten the first phrase, but when I opened the notes app at 2 a.m., there it was.  I added this night's phrase, peace in the midst of pain, and went back to sleep.

The next night yet another phrase came plus a closing thought:

Joy in the midst of sorrow, 
Peace in the midst of pain, 
Faith in the truth of God's promise; 
There will be sunshine after the rain.  

When we have confidence in the Lord's presence with
us, we are able to appreciate the beauty He provides
along the way even when we can't see how or when the
journey will end.  
I think the Lord brought these lines to me on successive nights to emphasize the importance of the truth behind them; otherwise, I would probably have forgotten them. I have notebooks full of random thoughts and often find slips of paper in drawers with a line or two of verse or inspiration jotted down from I know not when. And I don't even want to think about the hundreds of Microsoft Word documents I have stashed in folders on two computers.  

The Lord wanted me to take note of the thought that He is like the eye of any storm we face; present with us, sustaining, protecting, providing. Also, we always need to recognize that any storm we are enduring is temporary.  

Toward the beginning of my mother's Alzheimer's journey, our attorney looked me in the eye and said, "There will be life for you after your mother's Alzheimer's."  It doesn't seem so.  As Mom very slowly fades from view I feel that the end of her will be the end of me.  But God has promised strength for the present challenges, and ... sunshine after the rain.   

"I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content..."  (Philippians 4:1).


Monday, April 17, 2017

Wind Sentinel


When we placed my mom, who has Alzheimer's, into nursing home care in August of 2016, I grieved. To make matters worse, Mom's new home is in the middle of a wind farm, and this was difficult for me because since childhood I have had a fear of large, manmade objects. From base to the tip of an outstretched wing, these turbines stretch 500 feet into the sky. 

I was praying about this one day as I drove to the nursing home, and a thought came into my mind:  "Think of them as sentinels."  Just this one idea changed the way I felt about those huge machines. The turbines no longer seemed threatening, but benevolent; like guardian angels keeping watch over my mother. My acceptance of the wind turbines was mirrored in a gradually increasing ability to see God's wisdom and provision at work as He helped me release my mom into the care of others.  

On my drives to visit Mom, a story idea began to form in my mind about an angel who inhabits the tower of a wind turbine, keeping watch over the people below. I began taking back roads on my daily trips to the nursing home in order to drive closer to the turbines, eventually gaining courage to stop my car and stand behind the gate to an access road only about two hundred feet from one of the huge machines. Over a period of months, I took the photos at the beginning of this post, and many more. 

In early March, as I finished writing the novella length ebook, Wind Sentinel, the horrific wildfires had begun burning through Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. A story about a wildfire became interwoven into Wind Sentinel, and when I completed the story I knew I wanted to use it to donate to farmers and ranchers who suffered such heartbreaking loss in Clark County near Ashland, Kansas.

100% of my first days’ proceeds (including preorders) from Wind Sentinel will go to the Ashland Community Wildfire Relief Fund.  Order your copy now for just $3.99, and share this information with anyone who enjoys reading with the Kindle app. The book will be delivered to your Kindle device April 21.    

The Lord can bring beauty from ashes. I’ve seen this during my 13 year and counting Alzheimer’s journey with my mom. Whenever life delivers blows we might not think we can survive, we can look for the Lord’s provision. He always comes through for us.  Blessed be His Name! 

*********

To make individual contributions:
Go to Ashlandcf.com or
Bring checks to Stockgrowers State Bank or
Mail to: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund
P.O. Box 276
Ashland, KS 67831
Please note: Wildfire Relief Fund in the memo line

A touching video that describes the losses endured from the wildfires of 2017 along with accounts of heartwarming relief efforts can be found here:

If you would like to donate to help others who faced devastating losses from the 2017 fires, go to http://www.beefusa.org/ and follow the fire relief resources link.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Blessed and Grateful


Caregiving doesn't get easier when your loved one goes to a nursing home.

Well.  That's not exactly true. The physical labor portion of the job absolutely does lighten.  Of course it does. My mom now has a work crew of approximately 40 people in three daily shifts available to support her as she has need.  Before there was only me.

But the emotional toll doesn't necessarily ease, in fact, for a time it may increase. There is grief and there's guilt and...more grief.  I miss my mom.  For all the things we'd lost, I still had the knowledge she was just next door. There was some sort of security left over from childhood just in the fact of her presence.

And, seeing her struggling to adapt to new circumstances is just awful, more for me than for her.  My mother, because of her faith, has adapted well.  She has never cried, not once.  She gets cranky sometimes, but for the most part she is philosophical about where she is in life. This is entirely due to her relationship with the Lord.  She talks to Him constantly.

My heart was eased on Mom's behalf yesterday, when I called her on the nursing home's cordless phone, and talked with her for maybe five minutes.  She wasn't in a very good mood but was polite to me...and then wanted to hang up. Instead of disconnecting though, she placed the phone in her lap. Without breaking the connection with her, I used my landline and called the nursing home to tell them our conversation was over and that Mom had asked for a diet coke. But they forgot to come to her room, and I didn't break the connection with Mom.  I was thus privy to her spoken thoughts and prayers for the next hour.

Here is a partial transcription of her words:
"I'm someplace between 88 and 91 I'd guess (she's 92), and I'm blessed (wracking cough).  My worse problem is that I'm old and I need help--but I'm blessed because I have that help. If You have anything You need me to do, Lord Jesus, please guide me...(prolonged coughing).  I do thank you for my comfort. I'm dressed in comfortable slacks and long-sleeved top. I hear pleasant music--male sings, pleasant volume. Lord, if You have guidance for me...but I'm not complaining because I'm cared for in reasonable comfort.  I have no pain; my main aggravation is sinus drainage (wracking cough) but to top it all off, I have the Lord's presence with me, and Lord Jesus I bow down, guide me to be what You want me to be....I am grateful to feel as well as I do at this age...
Over an hour's time I sat and prayed for Mom and recorded her words.  In my 4 pages of notes she used the word "blessed" 5 times and the word "grateful" 6 times.  She prayed for those who provide her care, and for "my daughter, Linda."

Today when I visited the nursing home, there was a resident with dementia who was hitting, biting, and scratching. "She has bad memories," one of the aides told me.  This sweet young lady also talked with me about a research study she'd read that proposed a specific drug to quiet fears in a patient's mind.

I know something that works better than drugs to silence fears and uncertainty.  And so does my mom.

She is nearly 93 years old, has lost much of her eyesight, and can't stand without help. She can no longer read,  watch TV, or write in her journal.  She prefers her recliner to being in groups, and so sometimes she is alone too much, but her confidence in her Lord's abiding presence keeps her from suffering unduly from loneliness.

We are blessed, and I am grateful.  😃