Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Stanza 3 of How Firm a Foundation: Fear Not!


So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God. 
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  
Isaiah 41:10


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

May Our Strength Equal Our Days


This lesser known verse of How Firm a Foundation holds special promise for every condition of life.  Here are three Scriptures the lyricist may have used to compose this verse:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 
I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea, 
Even there your hand will guide me, 
Your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:8-10).

The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze,

and your strength will equal your days (Deuteronomy 33:25).

Friday, March 8, 2019

How Firm a Foundation

In every season of life, God is our refuge. 
A few months ago this hymn came to mind and I googled the lyrics. I began looking up Scripture references for each stanza and found no fewer than a dozen Scriptures that I believe the writer must have used to compose the hymn. 

I read an article recently that says music isn't forgotten in Alzheimer's disease.  It occurred to me that if I memorize the lyrics of this hymn, then maybe, time and age won't rob me of the Scriptural comfort it contains!  This is the same premise behind the devotional I wrote for my mom, which includes the lyrics to familiar hymns with each devotion.  Mom still can recall the word to many hymns even now, 15 years into her Alzheimer's journey. 

Throughout Lent I'll be posting stanzas to this beautiful hymn with accompanying Scripture references. 
~~~
Scripture for Stanza 1 of How Firm a Foundation  
(See the lyrics to stanza 1 in the meme at the beginning of this post)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Psalm 89:14
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. 
Isaiah 28:16

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. 
Isaiah 33:6

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised...
Hebrews 11:32-33

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness. 
Psalm 31:1  


A lovely recording of the hymn:  

  


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

For Caregivers--and All Who Are Tired and Weary


I love this version of Jeremiah 31:25 because it holds such sweet promise for caregivers, and for all who are tired and weary.
Today is Ash Wednesday and marks the first day of Lent. I'm giving up sweets and adding on a memorization challenge that won't be too difficult, because it entails music. I'll share more in a blog post later this week.
God bless you today as we draw near to the Lord in remembrance of His journey to the Cross--and to victory over death!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Contentment

I live in a 100 year old farmhouse. 
The basement was once a coal cellar, and it leaks.  I'm married to a farmer, and those of you who understand what that means will know that home repairs tend to rank low on the list of priorities while available cash flow is directed to putting a crop into the ground.

The woodwork in several rooms of my home sports a 1980's orange tinge, some of the sheetrock has cracked because of settling during drought years, and the kitchen, which was last remodeled 20 years or so ago, sports a wallpaper border.  That border has become the focus of a lot of my angst lately.  Our ceilings are 9 feet high and I'm not as secure at the top of a stepladder as I used to be.  I have taken to staring at that border with a feeling of helpless resentment; I have so many friends who live in newly remodeled homes. Their woodwork is white, their walls are gray, their furniture is not floral.

I made plans to mount a cautious ascent to the top rung of the big stepladder, and peel that wallpaper border down.

I hadn't mentioned this plan to my grandchildren, but what happened next makes me wonder whether they somehow caught wind of change in the air, because just a few days after my decision to remove the border, my youngest grandson looked up at it and said, "Grammy, I really like those apples up there."

I was stricken with guilt.  Here I was poised to tamper with a portion of his childhood memories: to trespass on the sanctity of "Grammy's house."  I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't let this sweet child's fondness for my decor belay my plans. "He's three years old," I thought.  "He's resilient.  He'll get over it."

A week or so later, I invited my middle grandson, age 6, out for a play date.  We had a wonderful time.  He was sitting in the same chair his little brother had occupied a few days earlier, and we made  cinnamon rolls together.  Incredibly, he sat back in the chair, raised his eyes to the spot where ceiling meets wall, and said, "I just love those apples, Grammy."  He paused thoughtfully, and added, "...and those chickens."  The two metal chickens that grace the top cupboard of the north wall of my kitchen had also suffered my baleful stares, and are at risk of the same fate that threatens the wallpaper border.  How did those two little boys know exactly how to make their grandmother pause in her rampant plans to bring unwelcome change to a beloved portion of their lives: Grammy's kitchen.

Perhaps my three grandsons had discussed this matter among themselves, or maybe the Lord is just trying to get through to me, because when my oldest grandson, age 11, was here just last week he too mentioned how much he likes my kitchen.  I said resignedly, "I suppose you like the wallpaper border."

And he looked at me very seriously and said, "I do Grammy, I really do."

My grandparents' home.  
I finally prayed about my discontent with the sweet home the Lord has provided me, and in response, memories of my own grandmother's house came to mind.  My grandparents lived in a home that had begun as a one room log cabin. Grandpa added a second floor, built a room that connected the main house to the tiny cabin he'd built for his own mother, and added a final addition that he called "the utility room."  If you dropped a marble on the floor in Grandma and Grandpa's bedroom, it rolled with increasing speed, to the opposite wall. Their kitchen was small, and I adored it from the white enameled corner cupboard to the tiny window over the sink that offered a closeup view of the propane tank outside.  In lieu of a door, the entry off the kitchen to Grandma and Grandpa's room sported a length of patterned fabric stretched on a string across the top of the doorway.  The ceilings were just seven feet high.

I loved my grandparents' house and love the memory of it still. It never occurred to me to critique it based on whether the appliances were new (they were not) or the furnishings up to date (definitely not).  With the perspective that comes with adulthood I recognize that Grandma and Grandpa were what we would now call "poor," but I don't think any of us knew it or cared.  There was love there, and blessed familiarity: arms that stretched wide to welcome us when we visited, and my grandma's tear-filled eyes when we drove away.  Beloved, beautiful memories that have nothing to do with the quality of material things.

I will confess that the apples that rim my cheery farm kitchen are still not safe from my urge to renovate and remodel, but my discontent has evaporated.  I am the blessed proprietor of "Grammy's house," and I wouldn't trade that role for all the shiplap in all the beautifully renovated farmhouses in the world.

~~~

"...be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5



Monday, February 11, 2019

Resources for Caregivers

My Mom with her youngest great grandson, Isaac.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease nearly 15 years ago, and at age 94, is still able to recognize me, eat without help, and carry on a conversation.  She can no longer read, watch TV, or tolerate groups of people, because she can't keep up with dialogue and group conversation. However, she enjoys listening to music and says she has a good and comfortable life.  We cared for her in our home for 12 years, and she's been in a nursing home since August of 2016.

Some people succumb very quickly to Alzheimer's, but others, like my mother, are able to have a good quality of life for years following the diagnosis.  

The following links do not constitute medical or other recommendations for you, but are based on our experience and may give you a starting point when you are in the information gathering stage. Here are some resources that have helped us: 

1.  The Alzheimer's Association.  This has been the single, most helpful resource for me as a caregiver.    

2.  Most cities have Alzheimer's support groups for caregivers.  Our local Alzheimer's support group helped us through a difficult time when my mother was first diagnosed.  I attended meetings for about a year, and during that time was helped with finding an elder law attorney who in turn helped us through issues such as obtaining Durable Power of Attorney for Health and Financial needs.  To begin a search for local resources, the Alzheimer's Association has a data base here. Click the tab at the top of the page that says "Finding Local Resources."  

3. If at all possible, find an attorney who is a member of the Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.  This membership will at least provide evidence that your attorney has expressed an interest and may have some specialized knowledge regarding current elder law.  You want someone knowledgeable about such issues as Medicare approved resources for dementia patients, current Medicaid laws, and in the case of spouses, division of assets.  The Medicare home health benefit covers some types of skilled therapies.  

4.  Mini Mental Status Examination--Now, don't offend your loved one by playing amateur diagnostician, but this little test can be helpful in revealing whether further testing is needed.  At the time of my mother's diagnosis, our nurse practitioner administered this test.  Mom's score was 24/29.  

5.  Find out about current drug therapies, and seek help from medical professionals.  My mother experienced improvement when she began Aricept, Namenda, and a prescription anti-depressant.  She continues with these drugs and I feel they are responsible for her continued, relative well being.  There may be an adjustment period.  It took about a year for her to adapt to the medications.  Aricept gave her bad dreams for awhile, but this effect receded as we stuck with the therapy.  

6.  Video and book resources--With the wonders of the internet, you can always do a Google search, but it is better to obtain lists of dependable resources from your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.  I found resources by contacting The Heart of America Alzheimer's Association.  


8.  Legal planning and legal documents are available at Alz.org.  

9.  Depression is often a part of Alzheimer's disease.  I feel that treating my mom's depression greatly helped her cognition.  Consult your physician regarding this issue.  

10.  Extra help may be available, based on income.  Our Heart of America chapter of the Alzheimer's Association had a program called the Family Service Fund.  My mother qualified for their program that provided incontinence supplies. Other services may be available.  

11.  Your state's department on aging has valuable resources regarding choices in longterm care, in-home services, and many other topics.

12.  As a member of my mother's care team, I have familiarized myself with late stage caregiving strategies.  I feel I know Mom better than anyone else, and I have several times noticed needs even ahead of the competent and caring staff at the nursing home.  Even after a loved one enters nursing home care, he/she needs a patient advocate.  I consider myself a caregiver, still, although I have been relieved of the day-to-day burdens of being Mom's primary caregiver.

13.  We found dependable sources of information in local people who had traveled the road ahead of us as caregivers for loved ones. I made phone calls, sent numerous emails to friends and relatives, and even stopped folks on the street of our small town as I gathered information on Mom's behalf.  

14.  If you are in need of Scripture-based guidance and support, the Youtube video series I completed several years ago may be of help.  Much of the information from my caregiving book is included in these videos.  You can find week 1 of the series here.  A complete listing of links to each episode is available at my website, here.

I hope this post has provided some help for new caregivers as well as those who have been on an Alzheimer journey with a loved one for a longer period of time.  God bless you as you provide care to those you love.  

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Comfort for the Dying and for Those Who Love Them

My mother is 94 years old, and is very slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. Her long journey has given me time to confront my fears about the separation her death will bring. And because a parent's demise forces us to face our own mortality, an added benefit of this time has been the exchange of fear for peace regarding my own eventual departure from this earth.

Well into adulthood, I coped with immature fears regarding death. I avoided funerals when I could, and separated myself emotionally from the inevitability of death at some point for myself and for my loved ones. I don’t think these are unusual strategies, but they are unnecessary when we remember that Jesus came to free those who all their lives have been imprisoned by fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). The truth of what Christ has done for us liberates us from the horrifying aspects of death and brings peace (1 Corinthians 15:55-56). As Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).” Death is not our destination; it is only a passageway, and because of Christ, death is not a place we can become entrapped.

There is nothing of paralysis, constriction, or altered consciousness about death; the opposite is true; in God’s hands and in His perfect timing, death is a freeing process that delivers us to new life. To onlookers, death may resemble falling asleep, but it is the physical body that falls asleep in death, not the spirit. For the Christian, death does not entrap, it releases. The distorted awareness and paralysis of anesthesia, which also looks like sleep, is responsible for fears some of us have harbored, but we can release any misconception that death is like anesthesia; it is nothing like being asleep and unable to awaken. In Christ, when our physical bodies fall asleep in death, our spirits awaken to new life.

The Valley of the Shadow is a passageway to be traversed, not a place to set up camp. God's children do not linger in the valley. In the same way that a baby being born is pushed down the birth canal and then delivered, death is only the passage between this world and the next; and the Lord is with us. Dying is sometimes as simple as stepping across a threshold, and there is no need for fear.  Those who live in Christ only pass through the cold vale of death, and enter immediately into the warmth of His eternal, perfectly protective, presence (Revelation 14:13).  

Confusion may arise because the discerning may sense something akin to an unconscious presence when in proximity to the physical body of a loved one who has departed, and in a cemetery there is a peaceful somnolence that makes us feel that something, if not someone, is still present. This sense of a presence we don’t understand can be disturbing, but in light of Scriptural truths regarding the resurrection of the physical body at Christ’s return, it makes sense that the seed of the body that is sown perishable but raised imperishable might have a presence—the “something but not someone” we feel in the restfulness of a graveyard—that can be sensed (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). St. Paul clarifies the truth that we can’t be two places at once (Philippians 1:23); we are either at home with Christ, or we remain in the body. Yes, the body “sleeps” in the grave, but the spirit goes directly to Jesus just as we’ve always been taught.

And so our physical bodies have no consciousness, and return to dust. Remember we are created in God’s image, three in one. The spirit, mind/consciousness, and physical body are the three.  Our spirits, including our consciousness or what we think of as “independent thought”—that sentience that makes us human—go to Heaven at death. If we think it odd that we will continue to be able to experience consciousness apart from a physical brain, let us be reminded that the Almighty God Himself is spirit and not flesh.  Spirit and flesh are an odd coupling that God has engineered to work together.  Sin corrupted the workings. Jesus died to reset the clock, so to speak, to a time when flesh and spirit were at peace with one another, undamaged by sin’s influence. Sin took body and spirit out of harmony. Jesus made a way for for harmony to be restored. 

The inaccurate conviction that thought or consciousness is impossible in the absence of a physical brain has to do with one of Satan’s great victories, which is to make us believe that we are animals. This faulty belief leads to faulty conclusions. We inhabit physical bodies, but we are created in God’s image. We live in these temporary bodies, but these bodies made of flesh are not who we are.  We are able to be separated from our bodies with our beings intact. Yes, this is a mystery to us, but it is not a mystery to God, who created us.   

Those who love us and have gone before are members of that great cloud of witnesses described in Romans 12:1. They have departed and are at home with the Lord (Philippians 1:23), and so they see Christ with unprecedented clarity. The Holy Spirit is the One who is constantly present with us (John 14:16) and God is the One who constantly watches us, (Proverbs 5:21) but our loved ones who have died are surely informed about us as they see us through the Lord’s eyes. Love is the strongest bond of all, and those who love us do not lose interest in us when they enter Heaven. C.S. Lewis thought our loved ones may have some special influence on behalf of those they love, especially when they first depart, and so while we know that the Lord is our source of perfect love and help, there is comfort in the truth that our loved ones love us still. Death is not stronger than love. (Song of Solomon 8:6).  Love remains (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Find the C.S. Lewis reading at Biblegateway, here:  https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/cs-lewis-daily/1913/04/23 ). 

One of the unfortunate ways we deal with death is to trivialize it. It is impossible to watch an evening of television without running across a murder mystery or seeing someone portrayed as dying; but real death in real life is a holy and solemn passage. The emotion death elicits is something close to awe; similar to the feeling one might experience when walking into a huge cathedral with an immensely arched celling overhead. The terror is gone because of Christ but from our perspective, something of the chill of the Valley of the Shadow remains for us as onlookers.  Our Lord is sovereign over death, but he does not dismiss our passage through death as being a trivial thing. The passage from this life to the next is precious to the Lord ( Psalm 116:15).  

Of one thing we may be certain, those who have died in Christ are not dead, but very much alive, awaiting with joyous anticipation the final resurrection at the end of all things, thrilled to participate in praise in the presence of God, joyous because suffering has, for them, been put into its proper perspective. If they see us at all, they see us in the light of God’s eternal perspective, and are full of the knowledge that our light and momentary troubles are gaining for us a greater weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Indeed, they nearly rejoice in our sufferings, because they know great reward awaits, and although they may feel compassion (God’s compassion) they do not grieve for us. They can see more clearly than we how sweet the reunion we will experience with them will be, but even more, knowing firsthand the all-encompassing pleasure of seeing God’s face, they thrill for us because they know that we who die in Christ will also have this pleasure.

Some of us have worried whether cremation is acceptable, or whether our physical bodies need to remain more or less intact. These are needless concerns. At the resurrection, our physical bodies do not remain in their present form, but will be raised, transformed. When we leave our bodies, they are empty husks until the resurrection awakens them and we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, clothed with our new, resurrected bodies, not of perishable flesh, but imperishable.  The Lord does not lose any entrusted to Him (John 6:39). That which is imperishable cannot be destroyed by fire or by any earthly element.  This is a mystery we cannot comprehend, but trust in God and in the reassurances He’s given us in Scripture tells us that the manner in which the physical body is destroyed is of no consequence.  The Holy Spirit is the power that preserves the imperishable seed that will spring forth with new life at the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit cannot be compromised or influenced by anything temporal; He cannot be broached.

I will close with a mind picture I had of a death experience, and whether it is accurate or not, I was gifted with peace that replaced my old fears of what dying might be like.  From my journal:  
I had a mind picture the other day of, well, dying.  Passing through that tunnel…the Valley of the Shadow…was not frightening because I was moving at great velocity toward the light at the end, toward a goal; not under my own power, I was being propelled, or drawn... I didn’t have time or the inclination to feel claustrophobic.  Two things struck me:  one, this isn’t frightening, just sort of interesting.  And, two, it is a great distance…great in distance, but not in time.  It doesn’t take very long to traverse the Valley of the Shadow.  “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…” (Psalm 23). It is a safe journey.  
And one last word of comfort: the melody of one of my favorite songs, Cello Song by the Piano guys, builds and builds and then pauses…and then the melody begins again.  While listening to this beautiful piece one day, the thought came that the song of my mother's life, of His life in her, of her life through eternity with the Lord, and of our relationship with one another, will continue.  The pause in the music represents for me her passage through death, but the melody resumes!  Just as I can hear that song in my head right now although the music is not playing, I will still be able to hear the song of my mother’s love for me and mine for her even when her heart is no longer beating.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  
1 John 3:2-3 NIV
~~~


A C.S. Lewis reading on Heaven for comfort and insight: 


Scripture for the Dying and for Those Who Love Them:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 5 NIV).

I am the resurrection and the source of all life; those who believe in Me will live even in death.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never truly die. Do you believe this?  (John 11:25 The Voice).

We are awaiting a new body...
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the spirit asa deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NIV). 

So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 The Voice). 

  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them” (Revelation 14:13). 

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5 NIV).

  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23 NIV).

  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NIV). 

 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV).


~~~