Thursday, June 22, 2017

Restore, Renew, Revive

I can't see the outcome of the changes that are happening in my mother's life
and my own, but the Lord is with us, and the results of this time of change are in His hands.

 I've feared that my mother and I are so connected through bonds not only of love but also of her powerful need of me, that her death might cause a life-threatening rending in my heart.  I've caught glimpses that the Lord has caused my mom to remain here so long in order to give me time to bring these ties that have bound me to her into His light.  Severing those connections is not a surgery I can do for myself.  

This is embarrassing. What if those tiresome, only-child jokes about apron strings and being Mommy's little girl turn out to hold truth? But of much greater concern to me at this point, what if the severing of those ties finishes me off?  I've had a mind picture of my mother and me in separate vehicles, traveling side-by-side.  I've escorted her on her journey to a boundary I can't cross, and it is time for me to make a U-turn and head back to finish my own journey.  How do I make that turn?  

A few mornings ago I awoke with the terms "restore, renew, revive," in my mind.  I think that the Lord is telling me that when Mom passes away that I can trust Him to restore what has been lost, renew my zest for life, and revive me, even physically.  But I can't see past that seemingly final blow of my mother's passing.  It's like that uneasy moment when one restarts a computer and the screen goes blank.  Will it spring to life once more?  

The one sure promise to which I cling is that the Lord is with us.  He's promised never to leave or forsake us. Whether healing and restoration occurs on this side of the Jordan or after our crossing, He is there.  This fact of His promised presence brings peace.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 
--Julian of Norwich


I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.
--Psalm 27:13-14

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Resilience

From the hymn I've Found a Joy in Sorrow by Mrs. T.D. (Jane)
Crewdson, Manchester, England, 1809-1836
Some genetic scientists have begun a new way of researching inherited diseases. Instead of attempting to repair the devastation wrought by disease, they are focusing on people who have a genetic predisposition to illness, but somehow remain well.  The scientists call these people resilient.*

The world's wisdom bombards us with a host of terrifying "if/then" statements.  If you have high cholesterol or don't eat vegetables, or fail to exercise enough, or have some sort of a genetic predisposition, then you are more likely to die of a host awful diseases.  For example, I recently read that people whose mothers have Alzheimer's have a higher risk of suffering the disease than if the illness comes through the paternal line (if that doesn't just make me feel warm and fuzzy inside...).  However, if we stop at the point of a sad prognosis that is based solely on human wisdom, we haven't gone far enough, because the Lord bids us to hope and not fear. It isn't that the wonderful volume of knowledge we human beings have managed to accrue is inaccurate, it's that the Lord speaks a better word based upon His complete understanding of...everything. 

Those resilient people sought by the scientific study I mentioned above somehow escape illness. When we think about resilience from a spiritual perspective we might come up with something like this:  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).  

When we are broken physically or emotionally there is always a temptation to give way to despair. But lets remember those resilient folks who, based on their broken genetic health, ought to become sick but do not.  We serve a God whose trademark move is to bring life from death.  There is no greater, more unexpected outcome than that.

~~~

*The Resilience Project looks for hidden factors that cause people to be resistant to disease. Read more about it here--scroll to the bottom of their page to see links to news articles.  


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).