Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Confinement of Caregiving

All of us find ourselves dealing with difficult people from time to time. In fact, I’ve noticed that once in awhile, I am the difficult person with whom someone close to me has to cope!

A few days ago I received a prayer request from a friend who has the daily challenge of interacting with a difficult person of her own. As I prayed, the story of Jonah came to mind; and I remembered the strange way the Lord made provision for him: “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

I wrote an email to my friend saying, “Being confined by any situation not of our choosing can be viewed as a provision from the Lord. God has gifted you through your difficult person. As you've learned to cope with her, you’ve gained virtues of patience, long-suffering, and forbearance.”

As I proofed the email I’d written to my friend, I realized that my words could be applied to a caregiver’s relationship with his/her care recipient. Taking care of someone who has dementia is certainly confining emotionally and usually physically as well. To think of my caregiving duties as a situation the Lord has provided for me reminds me there is no circumstance He has not designed. This is a liberating thought that gives freedom from the misconception that “If only this situation was different, I could be happy.”

If you have been provided a difficult caregiving situation, I hope you are encouraged today by the thought that God plans blessing for you and not harm through the circumstances that seem so confining now. Jonah didn’t stay forever in the belly of that fish! For caregivers, the knowledge that caregiving responsibilities will someday come to an end is bittersweet, because when that day of freedom arrives it will mean that our loved one has departed. God is with through these confining days of caregiving, and He will be with us when this time is done.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Encouraging Word for Christian Caregivers

The loneliness of caregiving is intensified by the fact that we tend to think something is wrong when we are in relationship with other human beings but still have a sense of isolation, of not being understood or truly seen; of being alone.

We need to accept that as long as we are at home in the flesh, we are away from Christ; and that this terrible homesickness and longing we feel can’t be satisfied by other human beings. We must accept as a fact of earth-bound life that we will feel lonely; that the only satisfaction for our heart’s needs is in our Savior’s face. We can access Him now, through the Spirit. Things that feed the flesh tend to weaken our perception of Him. Once we recognize this it becomes easier to discipline the flesh.

It’s difficult to accept that happiness--true, complete, lasting happiness--does not exist for us apart from Jesus. We can begin to participate in that happiness now, but flesh wars with the Spirit; and not until we leave the flesh behind will we be truly at home. Accepting this doesn’t have to do with spiritual maturity so much as it has to do with faith and the willingness to accept that on this planet, we are never going to have things just like we want them. Perfection can be found only in the Lord; it does not exist in the material world.

This acceptance is necessary before we can truly let other human beings off the hook for satisfying that aching emptiness within our hearts.

When circumstances require us to assume caregiving responsibilities for a fellow human being, there is a spiritual and emotional transition that must occur. We must come to understand that mature Christian love is Christ’s love, and Christ’s love makes no demands based on personal need. His only demand of us is that we become perfect as He is perfect. We can be perfected because we are perfectly loved by the Lord. That process will not be completed until Heaven, but it can begin now.

When I was a little girl, a dear friend of my mother's, Ruby Roberts, lost her husband to cancer. I was around eight-years-old and could not fathom living alone, as Ruby was doing following her husband's death. I asked her, "Are you lonely?"

She smiled and said, "I am alone, but never lonely. Jesus is with me."

As Christian caregivers I pray that we are able to participate in Christ's presence to the degree that we can say with Ruby, "I may be alone, but I am never lonely."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Name Game

An occupational hazard of taking care of a loved one who has dementia is fear. Almost every day some minor memory glitch finds me grappling with a low level anxiety that doesn't ever completely recede. I'm afraid that what has happened to my mom will happen to me.

I've never been great with names, which is unfortunate, because I've been a teacher for 30 years; and an almost universal pet peeve of students and former students is running into a teacher who does not remember their name.

Wal-mart is a treacherous place under the best of circumstances, but during the Christmas season everything that oppresses me about the store is multiplied about tenfold. Crowded aisles along with a ridiculous over-abundance of color, lights, and purchasing choices all combine to cause me sensory overload. I tend to retreat inside myself to the point that I might not immediately recognize my own children if I met them cart to cart in the produce section. Unfortunately, it is when I am rushing through the aisles in my Wal-mart induced haze that I am most likely to meet a former student.

Teachers are not helped when parents choose to bestow similar names upon their offspring, who almost always resemble one another. I think of three little boys in our community who are named Tyler, Timothy, and Trent*. These three little T's do not only have names that begin the same; their resemblance to one another is strong. I have actually prayed not to confuse these guys' names, only to find myself calling Tyler, Trent; and then running through each name in succession until the child in question (often with an air of resigned disgust) corrects me.

Last night at Wal-mart a tall, rangy young man with a full beard and long, blond hair asked the dreaded question, "Mrs. Born, do you remember me?"

I actually thought that I did. "David?!" I said.

"Close," he responded. I'm his brother, Daniel. We do look alike. I chatted pleasantly with him for a few minutes and went on my way. I actually felt somewhat self-congratulatory that on a moment's notice I'd managed to find a family resemblance in the 20-year-old I'd last seen when he was six.

In the very next aisle a beautiful young woman approached me. "You probably don't remember me," she said.

Sherie???" I said.

"No, Sheila," she replied. Sherie is my sister and she's over in the clothing department if you want to say "Hi."

In retrospect I don't know whether to feel happy that I was able to remember the correct families or sad that I did not instantly recall the right name for each of those precious young people who greeted me last night. Perhaps I'd best choose to accentuate the positive.

One strong positive has just occurred to me; after approximately 15 years (and 15 pounds or so) they were still able to recognize me!

My former students each possess a portion of my heart, and I hate when I don't recognize them or fail to call them accurately by name. Once again I fall back on God's grace as today I say a prayer for Sheila (and her sister Sherie) and Daniel (and his brother David).

Scripture: "...though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15).


*The children and their same first letter names are real, names are changed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Alzheimer's is Bad, but God is Good

Years ago I saw a TV show that contained a scene I've not forgotten, although I have no idea now of the plot surrounding the imagery that's stuck with me over time.  An infant was lying inside a special containment area because the child had to be protected from environmental dangers.  When medical personnel needed to minister to the child, they placed their hands into long gloves through specially designed portals in the clear box that held the sleeping infant.  The baby was completely shielded from bacteria and allergens that might be in the room.  Oxygen and food were somehow given through sterile and sealed portals such as the ones that held the gloves. 

That scene has been in my mind today as I think about the saying, "Everything comes to us by God's hand."

Sometimes, people who have been terribly hurt by life events take exception to this and similar statements.  I don't blame them.  If I believed that God had afflicted my mom with Alzheimer's as a sort of blessing in disguise, I would certainly object to the idea that life events that cost us terrible sorrow are actually good in some cosmic way we can't yet see.

In my early days as a caregiver, I struggled with the facts of my mother's suffering and the burdens I carry because of her Alzheimer's disease. I cried out in prayer and sought help through Scripture, aware of the Holy Spirit's comfort and help.  In chapter ten of my book,  My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers, I recorded the guidance God graciously provided in response to those prayers:  
God does not willingly bring grief or suffering (See Lamentations 3:33;) His will flows over all that is grievous and changes darkness to light (See Psalm 18:28;) all things are incorporated into and transformed by His perfect will (See Romans 8:28;) where time and eternity touch, His will is done on earth as in Heaven (See Matthew 6:10;) we can’t yet perceive what we will one day see clearly because we walk by faith and not by sight. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12.)
 We are like that infant in the scene I described at the beginning of this post.  No outside influence touches us that is not covered by the protection of God's Hand.

Alzheimer's is not in any way a good thing, but the Lord has blessed us through it.  The blessings have come by the Lord's protective power and not from the disease itself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good Medicine for a Weary Caregiver

This family of four penguins graced the tree skirt and child's rocker next to last year's Christmas tree. 
During my devotion time this morning it occurred to me that as a caregiver, my emotional and spiritual energy is most often directed toward cultivating perseverance as I navigate my way through grief of loss. This could be likened to a physical diet of meat and vegetables with nary a dessert in sight.

This morning I've remembered that God’s “foolishness” is wiser than the best wisdom of human beings. God is sometimes whimsical—how else do you explain penguins? The Lord’s playfulness is never heavy-handed or awkward, as when an old college professor makes an attempt at humor that he does not truly feel; but is as delicate as the perfect choreography behind the spring dance of hundreds of dragonflies in the air above my front yard. A book could be written about the “foolishness” of God, and it would be a beautiful book.

Last year at Christmastime, I purchased some appealingly funny, nearly life-sized penguins and placed them around my Christmas tree. This afternoon I think I'll put forth the effort required to dig through the back of the storage area beneath the eaves of our old house to find where I've stashed those penguins.

I'm praying for each of my readers right now: may the sweet relief of humor lighten your caregiving burden today.

Scripture: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:35).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Caregiver's Dilemma: Coping With Apathy in Dementia Patients

Note: the following entry is my December column for our community's local, online newsletter, thus the difference in tone from my usual blog entries.

On Easter morning, 2004, I slid into my customary pew at church with several minutes to spare before services were scheduled to begin. I noticed that my mother’s space at the end of the row was empty, and felt a glimmer of worry. She was a stickler for punctuality and never missed church. She taught me always to arrive early, especially for holiday services.

I excused myself and called Mom. “Oh, I just decided to stay home today,” she said. When I reacted with shock, she complied with my wishes and came to church, arriving twenty minutes late. This incident was one of many that let me know something was wrong with my mom.

Apathy is a common side effect of dementia, and is sometimes the first symptom noted. Dementia patients may display indifference regarding schedules in combination with an apparent lack of emotion toward concerned loved ones who object to their behaviors. Symptoms of apathy probably cause more conflict between caregivers and patients than any other early warning sign of dementia. A caregiver may have an intellectual understanding that the care recipient should not be held accountable for disease related responses, but it is difficult to transfer that “in the head” understanding to the heart. The tendency is to react to the loved one based on the relationship that existed before dementia occurred rather than to respond from a caregiver’s perspective.

Apathy may be a result of the physical damage that occurs as the characteristic plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease wreak havoc in the brain, but there is a psychological and emotional basis as well. Forgetfulness and confusion cause dementia patients to lose confidence in the ability to successfully perform everyday tasks. Repeated failures can result in a reluctance to make the effort to try. People who suffer dementia often ask others to carry out tasks they are still physically able to complete, a behavior that in the general population might be labeled lazy or self-centered. However, for the dementia patient, requesting help is actually a viable coping mechanism that helps to compensate for failing memory.

When I respond to my mother’s requests with irritation, I take from her the dignity of retaining a measure of control over her environment. She has learned a new way to get what she needs—she asks!

It is only in recent years that Alzheimer’s disease has been widely recognized and diagnosed. There are doubtless a number of readers who remember a parent or grandparent becoming stubborn or demanding, and only in retrospect have understood that Grandpa’s “hardening of the arteries” and Grandma’s stubborn streak were dementia related. It is my hope that our current, more accurate understanding of the physical basis for the behavioral changes of dementia will ease the sad memories some of us have of the puzzling or hurtful behaviors a loved one exhibited toward the end of life. When my own mother goes home to be with the Lord, I pray to remember her as the vital and loving person she was before dementia robbed her of the ability to think clearly and respond appropriately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trusting

A friend's mother died earlier this week at age 85, after a ten year struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

My mother is 86.

This morning I went into Mom's room to perform my usual morning chores; I opened the shades, changed the date on her whiteboard, and filled the carafe with freshly brewed coffee. I used the TV remote to select the "easy listening" music station, and adjusted the thermostat to Mom's preferred 72 degree level. With the changing season and fluctuating temperatures, it is difficult to keep the room temperature just right; and it doesn't occur to Mom to put on a sweater if she is cold or to open the window if she is too warm. Furthermore, it is an effect of her Alzheimer's to make her believe that however she feels in the moment she is in is how it always is. So if she is too warm (or too cold) she feels exasperated and upset because she thinks this discomfort is her usual state, and not a seasonal anomaly.

Today things were unusually quiet in Mom's bedroom. I usually hear her on the baby monitor as she talks to the cat, or she will call out a greeting when I come into her room. This morning I did not hear so much as a cough.

You may think this odd, but I did not go into her bedroom to check on her. I left her apartment, came upstairs into my part of the house, and began making my bed and straightening my room. It was a blatant denial of the possibility that Mom might have passed away in the night. All the while the baby monitor remained silent.

In the corner of my bedroom is a basket filled with supplies I've prepared for my mom's funeral. I compiled these items at the time that we bought her prepaid burial plan five years ago, when I was asked to write her obituary for our funeral director to keep on file. He said that at the time of a death, people often are not thinking clearly, and it is good to give this necessary task thought and prayer ahead of time. And so, being forced to face facts, I went ahead and gathered items that I thought would make a nice service for my mother. There is a slide show of photos of her life, a collection of picture stands that will hold some of her oil paintings on display, a box of the pink, engraved cards that she included with each picture sold at the arts and crafts shows she attended, and a few of her journals with meaningful quotes highlighted.

Of course, as I cleaned my bedroom I tripped over this basket. "You can run but you can't hide," I thought ruefully.

It is human nature to seek escapism from things that are unpleasant. It is an ongoing challenge to balance the grief of losing my mother with the need to enjoy her in the days that remain.

Awhile later I did open the door to Mom's room and found her enjoying coffee and toast. She greeted me with her usual smile and so, for today, we have one another still.

Prayer: Lord grant me grace to enjoy my mother while she is here. Grant me freedom both from fear of losing her and from fear of being increasingly burdened by the care she may require. I place my faith in You, Lord. I know that You will support and sustain me through joy and sorrow, and through all the days in between. Amen.

Scripture: Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka (bitterness) they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion (Psalm 84:5-7).

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Pitfalls of Being Nice

A couple of posts ago I wrote about overextending myself to the point of exhaustion as I cooked, cleaned, and cooked some more for my son and a group of his friends.  In the midst of my labors I caught a glimpse of insight into my own motivations, and not all of them were selfless.  A good portion of my hard work was aimed toward gaining the admiration and appreciation of my son and his friends.  I loved taking care of them and seeing them around my table, but did I need to prepare a huge Sunday morning breakfast that none of them really wanted to get out of bed to eat?  No.

I have gained a new blogger friend named Carol Noren Johnson, who saw the aforementioned post, and in response shared her book, entitled Getting off the Niceness Treadmill.  In the book, Carol writes:
"We get pumped up on our niceness treadmill thinking of what we can do for someone else to the exclusion of our devotion to the Lord, who never needed us to do His work anyway...by helping others we may have short-circuited our own needs and responsibilities" (p. 7).  
"I am narrowing my focus on Whom and What I please.  Whom is God and What is what He wants"  (p. 47).
"Good deeds have to come from godliness purified by Jesus Christ as summed up in Titus 2:11-14"   (p. 63). 
"Now I dare to care not whether my giving is recognized or even outstanding.  Why have I needed that glory!  Off the treadmill!  I surrender to the Lord and His glory"  (p.64). 
"I can always say and mean it, "I will pray about my involvement with your need" rather than rush to help.  We need to see how the Lord will supply their needs"   (p. 66). 
"We crown Him, tremble before Him, offer our lives to Him.  We do not need praise. We glory that He is praised"  (p. 68).  
Aren't these great quotes?  You can find Carol's book at Amazon.com.  And, if you head over to her blog,  you'll see that she has reviewed a caregiving book that you may find to be of interest!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Changing Relationship Roles--Stressful!

Making the transition to the role of caregiver is especially difficult when the care-recipient is someone who once took care of you. When the loved one is a spouse or a parent, becoming that person’s caregiver brings a burden of grief as well as an increased workload. The combination of these two stresses can cause clashes between the caregiver and patient as each suffers through difficulties associated with changing relationship roles.


During the early days of my mother’s struggle with dementia, she suffered confusion and feelings of failure. She understood that her inability to pay bills and remember appointments was causing inconvenience for those around her, and she felt a deep sense of shame. As a new caregiver I was more likely to scold than to provide comfort and reassurance. Despite Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I continued to respond to her as though she was the mother I’d always known.


One of the little frustrations I experienced with Mom was that she struggled to fasten her seat belt, and I had to help her. I didn’t say a word, but Mom had to know from my exasperated sigh and grim expression that she had failed once again. During that time I happened to read an excellent publication entitled “Pocket Reference of Tips and Strategies” by Coach Frank Broyles, whose wife, Barbara, was an Alzheimer patient. When his wife had difficulty fastening her seat belt, Broyles saved her dignity by telling her that all cars have seat belts that fasten differently. This one helpful tip served to be a catalyst for a change in my attitude toward my mother.


When Coach Broyles’ wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he approached her disease utilizing the same positive approach that made him the winningest coach in Arkansas Razorbacks football history. His “Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers” and the companion pocket reference book that was so helpful to me are available for free download at http://www.alzheimersplaybook.com.


When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, there must be a release of who that person has been in the past, and acceptance of who they have become. This release is a process and not an event, but with much prayer and a network of support that includes guidance from caregivers such as Coach Frank Broyles, the transition can be made successfully.


Linda’s book, My Mom Has Alzheimer’s: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers, is available at Amazon.com. If you would like a signed copy, contact Linda through her website at http://www.godmomandme.com.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tired Monday

My son, Jonathan (front) and his friend Nathan. In November Nathan will be married to his fiance, Becca.  What better way to celebrate an upcoming marriage than by shooting targets and fishing??!  They do have some incomprehensible-to-me male characteristics, but they are Godly young men of whom I'm very proud. 
Our son hosted a large gathering at our home this past weekend in order to celebrate the upcoming marriage of his friend, Nathan.  A group of young men gathered for a weekend of hunting, fishing, and skeet shooting; and I chose to have them gather around our table for meals rather than sending them to a restaurant.  The most I fed at any one meal was seventeen; and honestly, I loved it.  I cooked and baked and cooked some more, but I wore myself out in the process.  

God's grace has seen me through.  I don't feel well physically today but I know from experience that the Lord is going to strengthen me from His deep well of grace as I walk the path before me.

In the midst of all the hoopla this weekend, Mom sat placidly; reading, listening to music, and enjoying a somewhat higher quality and variety of food than usual as I brought her samples of my baking projects.  Thankfully, I've moved beyond resentment toward her for lack of support in my labors as she would have given me in the past. Throughout this weekend I felt only gratitude that she had no issues that would have cost me additional labor.

There are times in life when other people place burdens on our shoulders.  Sometimes, the freewill choices of those who love us cause them to need our support, sometimes there are accidents or diseases that could not have been avoided no matter what precautions were taken; and once in awhile, as with my cooking and cleaning frenzy of this past weekend, we place ourselves into jeopardy out of good intentions that we end up lacking strength to see through.  Whatever the cause--and most times it is probably a combination of reasons--we can find ourselves depleted and feeling taken for granted.

I'm always a little bit surprised that the Lord rushes so quickly to my defense when I'm aware that at least a portion of the discomfort I'm experiencing is self-inflicted.  No one forced me to overeat this weekend! But this morning I'm feeling so much gratitude to God for His unmerited grace. Today God's grace brings with it strength that is going to see me through this tired day.

Thank You, Lord!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mother-In-Law Addition

Mom's window, her  personal source of light therapy.  The furry lump curled in the dry sink is Kitty, who provides pet therapy. 
Our house.  Mom's addition is on the right, with its own entrance and wheelchair accessible ramp. 
One of the many serendipitous outcomes of our somewhat impulsive decision to have mom come to live with us is the fact that her apartment is flooded with spirit-lifting light.   I had seen a bay window our builder had done in another home, and asked him to recreate a similar window for Mom.  I was thinking only that Mom would enjoy looking out at the bird feeder, and didn't give much thought to the fact that the window would face to the south. The resulting brilliance sometimes causes me to have to stand and blink for a few moments while my eyes adjust to the abundance of light when I walk into my mother's room.

And so, on  the few occasions someone has approached me for advice about how to build a "mother-in-law addition," I have recommended southern exposure and a large window.  Light therapy is one of the experimental treatments for preventing "sundowning" in Alzheimer's patients.  I am convinced that this abundance of light is one of the reasons Mom has done so well. 

In the 1920's, my grandparents built a "granny house" for my grandfather's mother.  It was a little square building that sat about 20 feet from the main house.  I often think of how similar my mother's situation is to her grandmother's, albeit with a few more amenities.  Mom's living quarters are separate from the rest of the house, and so we have our privacy and yet are close by.  She rarely comes into our part of the house, mostly because she is so much more comfortable in familiar surroundings, but also because we have cultivated the feeling that she is in her own apartment.  She has trouble remembering who lives in "the other part," as she calls it, and has learned that we respond to her as though she were Goldilocks checking out someone else's accomodations if she wanders into our part without our knocking first.   

Other factors that I believe have helped Mom to maintain her level of functioning for the past six years: 
  • Prescription Medication:  Aricept, Namenda, and an antidepressant
  • OTC supplements:  Fish oil, a decongestant, and a multivitamin
  • Music, most often the "easy listening" channel on DISH TV, but sometimes Christian music or jazz.  
  • Books--favorites include the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and, always, her Bible.  
  • Spiral notebooks and an abundant supply of pens.  
  • A refrigerator full of diet coke and a carafe full of coffee; caffeine has been shown to improve cognitive function
  • Her own furnishings and photos surround her, most of which pre-date her Alzheimer's by many years so that she remembers them and is comforted
  • A pet that provides companionship 
  • Frequent visits from great grandson Daniel, age 2
  • My husband and I are in and out an average of 6 times a day with meals and/or meds 
  • Friend and respite caregiver Sandy visits twice a week
  • Handicapped accessible shower and grab bars in the bathroom add to safety and convenience when I bathe Mom or when she uses the bathroom
This has been a wonderful solution for us. If you are considering building a "granny house" of your own, feel free to contact me through the customer contact page at my web site.  I will email you with further details of how we made our plans for Mom with the advice of an elder law attorney, and although I won't advise you what you should do in your own situation, I will be happy to answer questions about our way of handling Mom's Alzheimer's disease. 

Our solution would certainly not be right for everyone.  Mom does not wander, has never been combative; and although she sometimes discusses my negative personality characteristics with the cat, she is rarely openly rude.  She is still cognizant enough of what we do for her to speak words of gratitude.  This set of characteristics makes her somewhat rare, as far as Alzheimer patients go.  But I like to think that at least a portion of her easygoing ways has to do with the fact that she feels content and secure.

Any decision that impacts a loved one's living situation must be surrounded with careful thought and much prayer.  Every situation is unique.  If  you are struggling to find solutions for a loved one who has dementia, my prayers are with you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blessings Await

My son-in-law and grandson

It's interesting and a little bit shameful that I am so suspicious of God's intentions toward me.  

It's no excuse that I am stuck on a finite timeline, imprisoned by a body suit, and perceive the world through physical senses; because the Lord has explained that what is really real (eternal)  is spiritual and not physical.  

Well, that sounded a little bit convoluted, didn't it?  I'm sorry.  

Let me explain:  we walk by faith and not by sight, and when we take our eyes off the Lord we find ourselves walking blind. 

OK, I admit it.  I've taken my eyes off the Lord and have fallen into fear.  Once again I'm struggling with fear of my mother's death, and that fear brings with it dread and depression over the fact of my own mortality.  And yet, at the very same time Mom is fading away from me due to her Alzheimer's disease, the Lord has touched my heart with the knowledge that my future holds blessings.

This morning I felt the Lord speaking these words of comfort to me:  
Receive my assurance that nothing is amiss.  No health crisis looms, no trial awaits; this time of preparation is not meant to prepare you for distress but for blessing.  Blessings require preparation as well. 
As I contemplated this assurance, a memory from over 25 years ago came to mind.  

It was Christmas morning and our three-year-old daughter, Mindy, had been awakened from a sound sleep and instructed to come downstairs to see what Santa had left for her.  I was at the foot of the steps, calling her name; camcorder in hand.  Mindy slowly entered the room and cast an anxious look  around her at a space made unfamiliar by stacks of gifts, which included a huge rocking horse wearing a bow on its head.   Overwhelmed, she sat down on the bottom step and began to cry. 

If our girl had been awakened gently and given forewarning about the abundance of gifts that awaited her, she would have been been prepared for the blessing of Christmas morning.  The abrupt transition from sleep to being confronted with a stack of presents was overwhelming for her.  


Sometimes the Lord awakens us gently by providing a time of transition such as the one I'm so suspiciously inhabiting now, as my mother fades from view.  During times such as these, He does not need us to train for battle so much as He needs us to be well rested so that the blessings He has prepared for us can be enjoyed to the fullest extent. 

Transition times can include grief.  The promise that blessings await does not lessen the terrible grief of losing my mother, but it does give me hope for the future.  
"In the bulb, there is a flower; 
In the seed an apple tree; 
"In cocoons, a hidden promise: 
Butterflies will soon be free!  
In the cold and snow of winter
There's a spring that waits to be,  
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see."
from Hymn of Promise by Natalie Sleeth: Copyright © 1986 Hope Publishing Company
You can listen to this beautiful hymn here.  



Saturday, September 18, 2010

What if My Loved One is Not Saved?

This beautiful photo is from FreeFoto.com
Last week I received an email through the customer contact page on my website.  The man who wrote told me a heart-rending story of his mother's struggle with dementia.  She suffered early onset Alzheimer's, the most devastating form of the disease, often striking its victims before the age of 60.  His grief over his mother was more intense because he felt uncertain of her salvation. 


I felt great compassion and spent time in prayer for this man and his family.  In my reply to him there may be comfort for others who feel uncertain of the salvation of a loved one who is ill, or who has died.  In the end, our confidence in the Lord's love and perfect plan overrides our fears that we may not see someone we love in Heaven.  Here, in part, is the reply I sent: 


Our salvation comes through believing in Christ, not through any works or even a formal profession of faith.  It is the belief itself that constitutes the faith in Christ that saves us.  "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (italics mine). There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). 


Although you didn't say so, I imagine that your mom is exhibiting behaviors that are not Christlike, and that this increases your concern over whether or not she is saved.  The "all have sinned" portion of the Scripture above is always reassuring to me.  My mother, too, exhibits unlovely, un-Christlike behaviors.  And because Mom has declined cognitively, she no longer recognizes that she's done wrong.   I don't believe she confesses the sins she commits now.  But I have no doubt of her salvation.  She has believed in Christ Jesus. 


We enter into the Kingdom of Heaven by grace and grace alone.  It was Christ's blood, the Father's will, and the Holy Spirit's power that purchased our salvation.  Nothing is required of us but that we believe in what Christ has done.  Of course it is desirable that our faith bears fruit.  But Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." 


You have prayed fervently for your mother's salvation.  The Bible says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15).  And so this  leads me to believe that the Lord will assure your mother's place in Heaven.


I would like you to let yourself off the hook for not having led your mom more fervently to the Cross.  If you really feel you have sinned in this area, then ask the Lord for forgiveness.  Pray that He will heal any sins of omission you committed, and that He will show you how to make restitution if necessary. However, I really don't think this is the case.  I think you are experiencing a normal cycle of grief as you lose your mom, and that remorse and guilt tend to be a part of grieving.  It must feel like your mom is drowning and you just aren't quite a good enough swimmer to get out there and save her.  But please remember that saving sinners isn't something we as human beings are able to do.  I remember a story about Billy Graham saying he never saved one sinner.  He gave all the credit to the Lord.  Jesus said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32).  The Lord Himself is the one who does the "drawing."  As human beings the most powerful thing we can do toward salvation for our loved ones is to pray.  Your mom has had the salvation message presented to her.  She knows of Christ and of His death and resurrection.  What has transpired in her heart is between her and the Lord. 


I pray God's peace for this man, and for any reading these words who suffer fear or uncertainty over the salvation of a loved one. 

Scripture: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-9)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What God Pours Through Us

When I was a child, I was filled with fears of various sorts. This morning, as I prayed about my grief over losing Mom, it occurred to me that everything I feared most as a child has happened to me; I've lost my parents.  The unthinkable has become reality, and yet I am fine because of the Lord's abiding presence with me. 

My dad died 12 years ago, but my mother lingers as a sort of living memory of who she was. It is sometimes almost uncanny that she still has the same voice and mannerisms, but much of who she was is absent.

Once, not long after my father went home to the Lord, I had a vivid dream of him. It was incredibly painful to see him and to be so clearly reminded of him in that dream.  It made me understand the wisdom of  the  mandate in Scripture that we not seek to interact with the dead.   Alzheimer’s disease creates a situation for the caregiver that is reminiscent of the sorrow I experienced as a result of the dream of my dad.

The most difficult aspect of caring for my mother is this ongoing, ever present pain that comes from seeing her face and hearing her voice, but not being able to interact with her through meaningful conversation.  She's not able to support me as she once did because she has lost the ability to grasp the nuances and depth of meaning that has to occur for mutually supportive interactions take place.  

In spite of all of the pain, it has been sweet to learn of the Lord in the midst of it. A life of comfort would not have brought me to the knowledge and awareness I now have of Him. 

With these thoughts still lingering in my mind, I read today's reading from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, that includes the following quote:
If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain, but what He pours through us that counts. It is not that God makes us beautifully rounded grapes, but that He squeezes the sweetness out of us. Spiritually, we cannot measure our life by success, but only by what God pours through us, and we cannot measure that at all.
  Ministering to my mom has been sweet, because the sweetness of the Savior is present with me through the joy and through the pain.  

Scripture: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Incredible Value of a Single Human Life

Mom's beautiful bay window, just one of the many blessed features of the apartment that was built just for her. 
This summer I've been reading John Piper's, A Hunger for God. Through this book, the Holy Spirit is doing a work in my heart and mind. I'm being changed in the best possible way; through the sculpting influences of God's Word and God's Spirit.

In his chapter on abortion, Piper's clear teaching on the sanctity of human life has led me to this conclusion:  in order to be God's hands and heart as I provide care to my elderly mother, I must respect the value of her life to God.

There is a worldly view of human life that is gaining prevalence in our society; a view that would consider human beings to be just one life form that shares the planet with other, equally important creatures and plants. This is not the view of human life put forth in the Bible. Not only are human beings created in God's image, we are His beloved. It is the love of God for my mother that has time and again turned me from a worldly train of thought that, if followed to its logical end, would lead me to conclude that my mother's life is no longer of  value.

In the eyes of the world, my mother is utilizing resources while paying back nothing, but in God's eyes she is precious.  I believe He loves her scribbled praises and prayers, and that the sound of her warbling voice singing hymns gives Him joy.  

When I was new at the job of caregiving, the inequality of my labor versus Mom's life of relative leisure sometimes caused me distress.  The sacrificial service God was asking of me seemed beyond reason.  Furthermore, I could clearly see that my mother, although in possession of many honorable traits, was not and never had been perfect; and thus did not particularly deserve such an extravagant display of love.  The Lord was gracious to explain to me that I was seeing the fruit of His mercy and grace in my mother's life; she is incredibly precious to Him simply because she belongs to Him:
This was God’s love in action; the sacrificial love that allowed Jesus to die so that my mother could live the life of a beloved child of God. When I began to comprehend God’s grace toward Mom, I was helped toward greater trust in His grace and provision for me. From My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers p.238
As human beings living in a fallen world we become so easily convinced that there should be a limit placed on the resources and sacrifice expended for the sake of one human life.  But in the economy of God's Kingdom, there are no limits; His love is beyond reason. He has withheld nothing from us, not even His only Son.  I've been reminded once again that we are precious in His sight. 

Scripture: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beauty in Unexpected Places

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided to re-do a little upstairs bedroom in our old farmhouse.  OK, let's be honest here; I am the one who made the remodeling decision.  Poor Farmer John is so busy in the hayfield and so tired when he comes home at night that he would not have initiated such a project, although to his credit he helped me with every phase of the process.  At times (when texturing the ceiling, for example) he took over the work altogether.

Our house is nearly 100 years old, and has its idiosyncrasies.  For example, the door to the room we refurbished doesn't belong with the rest of the house.  Our theory is that the builders were one door short and so used a door from another building project, or perhaps from an older home that was being torn down.  This door has only four panels while the rest of our doors have five, and there is a plate beneath the doorknob that the other doors do not have.  The hinges and the doorplate had been painted over so many times that I took them off and applied paint thinner to remove multiple layers of color.  As I scraped away at the doorplate, this is what emerged:


The way I carried on you'd have thought I'd won the lottery. It was such an amazing feeling to see that beautiful pattern emerging from beneath the layers of sticky old paint.

I'm sure you can see it coming. I'm about to draw an analogy here! But that's the way the Lord speaks to me, so go with me on this...

I can't see beauty in my Mom's Alzheimer's disease. The disease itself is like those layers of sticky paint that hid the pattern beneath.  Alzheimer's is a travesty, an invader; a robber and a thief.  It takes so much from an individual and from a family.  It robs not only the memories of the patient, but also the memories of those who care for her.  It is hard now for me to remember who my mother was before Alzheimer's.  However, I have it on good authority that when my mother goes home to be with the Lord, that the effects of the disease will fade away much as those layers of paint dissolved.  And beneath will be not only my memories of the mother I once knew, but also the beauty of the pattern of God's perfect plan.  I can't see it now.  Someday I will.  Meantime I have faith that God has a plan, and that it is a good plan.  
 

Scripture: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Like a Well-Watered Garden

 The  little kitchen garden just outside my back door, with its lush crop of two varieties of basil (and non edible petunias)!  Note the water hose in the upper right corner of the photo.  Frequent watering has kept this little garden green and growing during the triple digit temperatures we've experienced the past few days.  


My cousin Pam is a woman of God who has withstood many assaults on her heart and her faith.  She nursed her husband, Brad, through the cancer that took his life at age 51, and was holding his hand as his spirit left his body.  God's ways are not our own, and at the point at which a human administrator of life might have designated Pam's grief quota to be complete, she's had other sorrows to bear.  And yet over the years her faith has deepened while her sense of peace and well-being in the Lord has increased. 

Isaiah 58, sometimes called the fasting chapter, tells us that when we give to the Lord that we will become like a well-watered garden, bearing fruit even in times of drought.  Pam is a generous person, giving unreservedly to her children and to her Lord.  Recently she said to me, "I need to be cautious, because sometimes I give without praying." 

In one of those Spirit driven flashes of insight into my own sin I replied, "I think I tend to pray without giving."  

If we had to chose one sin or the other, I think it would be better to err by over-giving than on the side of ignoring God's nudges to meet the needs of those who are in need.  If Pam's life is any indication, the fruits of a giving heart are well worth pursuing.  

When we are identified with the Lord,  His concerns become ours, and then our giving is sanctified by His own heart.  I'm thanking God today for the presence in my life of my generous cousin, friend, and sister-in-Christ, Pam. 

When you have time, stop by Pam's blog.  I especially like her reading about flexibility in one's quiet time.  Here is the link for the home page of her blog, which is called  "Somewhere in Time."  And if you would, say a prayer for Pam today. 

Scripture: "The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail" (Isaiah 58:11, NIV).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fear of My Mother's Dying

Last weekend my husband and I attended his mother's family reunion, a huge affair complete with a sign-in book, name tags, an amazing variety and quantity of food, and about 250 people we were supposed to know. There are so many members of this family and they are so prolific that, apart from this biennial reunion, they would completely lose track of one another. Even so, it was common to hear whispered queries of "Who is that?" The children were particularly hard to track. They moved too fast for us to focus upon their name tags, and they tended not to stay with their immediate families!

The M.C. for the program portion of this event was Max, the family's version of David Letterman; complete with sly humor, engaging grin, and witty repartee. This year, however, Max's comments were tinged with sorrow. His father passed away earlier this year, and Max was with him when he died.

As he stood before the crowd, Max shared, "My dad fought death. And even after he was gone, his body continued to fight. I tell you, it's not just an easy 'lights out' like they show you in the movies."

I shuddered. I thought of my own father's death. My husband was with Dad when he died, I was not. John won't answer my questions about the particulars of Dad's passing and I wonder if this is why? Perhaps there was a death struggle. Perhaps it was horrifying for John.

And then I thought of my dread of my own mother's passing. I will probably be by her side. I felt fear, and no small annoyance with Max. "What I did not need here today," I thought, "Was a description of a not-so-peaceful passing followed by rigormortis."

The morning after the reunion I was especially tired. I'd painted the ceiling in one of the little upstairs bedrooms the evening before, and my middle aged muscles were aching. As I lay in bed, I stretched my tired muscles; one of those full length, luxurious, to the tips of your fingers and toes type of stretches ending in one last shuddering, tightening of every single limb and muscle; and then I collapsed into a state of complete relaxation. It was pleasant, there was nothing awful about it; it was just my physical body's response to being overworked the day before.

As I lay there the Lord touched my heart and I saw the correlation you've probably already made. Rigormortis is simply a part of the physical body's release of the spirit. It is not awful. It is not horrifying. It is a tension and release similar to my stretching followed by relaxation.

The Lord has spoken to me about this before. Here is a quote from My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers:  


I saw my body as a fragile shell housing a precious treasure. Our physical bodies are like the alabaster vase that held the nard Mary poured upon the feet of Jesus. The vase was broken to release the perfume. Each of us is headed toward an appointment with physical brokenness because no one escapes physical death. Sometimes the process of death is painful and for just a little while, we are preoccupied with the breaking of the container, but then the fragrance of Christ flows forth as the spirit is released.


Death is not lovely, but though we must walk through the valley of its shadow, there is no need to fear. In just a little while we will see Jesus and no one will take away our joy. Until that day we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit; a guarantee of what is to come. We have a promise that will not be broken; grief will turn to joy.

I have been so afraid of what I may have to see and experience as my mother goes through the process of dying. I am beginning to rest in trust in the Lord. If He allows my heart to break, He is able to mend it together again.  God is with me.  I will not be afraid.

Scripture: “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20b-22).

Monday, July 26, 2010

God Has a Reason

My mother has lived with us for six years. She is completely dependent on us for all of her basic needs, but is quite content to spend much of each day alone, reading the books we provide and listening to the music we choose for her. Caregiving duties are sometimes oppressive, but what if I change the way I think about these responsibilities? Perhaps my mother has somehow chosen to stay with me for this extended period of time because of her love and concern for me.  What if I choose to focus on the blessings of this time we are spending together?  

I do know that my mom's illness is blessing me with the time I need to adjust to the fact of her leavetaking. 

St. Paul said that it would be far better for him to depart this mortal life and to be at home with the Lord, "...But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live (Philippians 1:23-24, NLT)." On days when I feel so stressed over wondering when and how my mother will finally leave me, it is a comfort to recognize the ways the Lord is blessing me through her extended time with us.  In so many ways it has been better for me that she has stayed. 

This morning I talked with a friend whose brother has just passed away.  She said, "I believe everything happens for a reason.  I'm having trouble figuring out the reason for this, but I know there is one."  This more positive way of looking at Mom's Alzheimer's disease leads me to a train of thought in which I begin to make conjectures about the Lord's reasons for allowing these circumstances, but the conclusions I draw may be inaccurate.  God has His reasons.  I won't always be able to understand, in fact, I know that as Hannah Whitall Smith says, my part is to trust, while God's part is to act. 

However, today I've been comforted by imagining a conversation between my mom and the Lord that might have gone something like this:  

Lord:  You know, Anna Ruth, Linda is going to have a terrible time letting you go.  

Mom: (With a tear in her eye) Yes, Lord, I know.  What can I do?  

Lord:  Well, there is a solution that will ease her pain and help her to make the transition to life without you, but you may not want to consider it.  

Mom:  Anything Lord, what is your plan?

Lord:  Alzheimer's disease.  

Mom: (Scarcely hesitating)  If it will help my girl and honor you, well of course, Lord.  Let's do it.  I know you'll be with me in it, and I've found your yoke easy and your burden light.  

Lord:  (Smiling)  I will be with you.  
***************
Thinking about my mom's illness in this way helps me accept the slow loss of the mother I knew and to cope with the behavioral changes that hurt my heart.  God is with us.  

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Woman of God...Sometimes

This morning my daughter, Melinda, told me of a comment from a friend of hers who is reading my book. Melinda's friend is not new to the concept of caregiving, having nursed her own mother through a lingering illness until her mom passed away. Of this time in her life she said, "I just loved taking care of my mother."

This brought me up short. I love my mother. But I do not love taking care of her. The precious young woman who uttered these words is 25 years my junior, and her day (and night) job consists of taking care of her five month old twins who were born prematurely and have special needs.

I often experience an uncomfortable suspicion that I am not as good or Godly a person as I ought to be, and when I encounter such Holy Spirit fed sweetness as exhibited by Melinda's friend, I become certain of it.

This same young woman went on to say, ""I love your mom already and I haven't even met her. She has such a great way of expressing what she has to say."

In response to this kind comment I wrote the following message to my daughter via an email:

I appreciate your friend's kind words. Thank you for passing them along. I am, of course, more likable via a medium (my writing) in which one doesn't have to live with me from day-to-day. But there truly is a lot of me in the book, and because it was written with a daily prayer that it be for God's glory,  the portion of me that is apparent through my writing is the part that will remain when God's refining fire gets done with me. So, your dear friend will recognize me right away when she meets me in Heaven, but stands a good chance of being unpleasantly surprised if she meets me before then! Meantime, it is sweet that she loves the person I will someday be. I love her back."

All of this brought to mind a truth the Lord has been speaking to me for some time; whenever we place our confidence in fellow human beings, we will eventually be disappointed. As a woman of God (sometimes) and a Christian author, I have more than once had the sad experience of seeing disillusionment in the eyes of someone who had admired me or looked to me as a role model. This can happen when I am overheard snapping at my husband, or being flippant, or responding with angry or hurtful words in response to some small hurt; but sometimes it happens through no sin of mine at all, merely as a reaction to the revelation that I am human. We don't like to see our role models fall from their pedestals.

A few years ago I learned that a pastor I overheard speaking harshly to his wife on a Saturday afternoon nevertheless had some Holy Spirit fueled instruction for me from the pulpit on the following Sunday morning. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the pool of perfect people from which God has to choose contains no members. Once we become legitimate members of the family of God through the forgiveness that is ours in Christ, God begins to use us for His Holy purposes even while He is in the process of burning away the dross. And so it becomes necessary for us to recognize that God can use imperfect people to instruct or to help us, and that He can use us--while we are yet sinners--to help others. We don't have to wait to be perfect to be of use to God, and we don't have to wait for our authority figures and role models to be perfect in order to learn from them. As Christians we are not perfect, we are only in the process of being perfected.

Scripture: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).

"Far better to take refuge in God than to trust in people" (Psalm 118:9, The Message).

Friday, July 9, 2010

The God of Little and Big

It is a seeming contradiction that while Lord places a great urgency in our hearts to spread the Gospel, He is simultaneously willing to take all the time necessary to bring about His perfect will in our lives. Sometimes that entails a period of rest; but rather than restful I've felt restless during these slower-paced summer days when I am supposed to be abiding in the Lord. This summer I've chastised myself for spending time with such inconsequential pursuits as shopping for home decorations, but an incident that occurred earlier this week helped me to think differently about this and other activities that do not seem to be directly related to spreading God's Word.

I am always surprised when the Lord reveals His intimate involvement in the seemingly mundane moments of my seemingly unimportant little life.  For example, last week I noticed Queen Anne's lace has burst into bloom along our roadside ditches and in the pastures.  I picked a single blossom and placed it in a bud vase on my kitchen table. Intrigued by the intricacy of the stems and the many tiny blooms that make up a single flower, I photographed the blossom from the underside (above).

On Wednesday evening I took a half price off coupon and headed to a little shop near my home that offers items of surprising variety and beauty for a small town store.  I found the print pictured below and was delighted to bring it home.  I  hung it over the mantle in my living room.

I stood back and admired it and then felt a twinge of guilt.  I wondered whether the Lord approved of me spending money on such a frivolous object.  I was still staring at the picture as these thoughts ran through my mind and suddenly I noticed that the white flowers depicted in the print could very well be Queen Anne's Lace, and that the blossom at the top center is depicted from the underneath side, in a similar way to the photograph I'd taken a few days earlier.  I went in to have another look at the blossom that was still gracing my kitchen table, and found that it had opened further, increasing its resemblance to the flowers in the picture I'd just hung. 

I think we underestimate the degree to which God's love and involvement extend to every facet of our lives.  I am not, so far as I know, accomplishing great things for the Kingdom of God this summer, but rather I am immersed in the ordinary duties of my ordinary days.  I am humbled and thankful to be shown that the Lord is present with me whether I'm picking a wildflower by the roadside or am involved in activities that I would judge as being more important. 

Scripture:  "...God is with you in everything you do."  (Genesis 21:22)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Times of Refreshing

I’ve been suffering a really uncomfortable summer version of the flu, complete with fever, body aches, and stuffy nose. This afternoon I’d taken meds and was laying in bed, near sleep, when I heard Mom’s voice over the monitor. She was singing hymns to herself, and in my half-awake state I had the sensation that the voice belonged to the mother of my childhood; my mama singing to me, focused on me, concerned for me. But then, in the same way one regains awareness of reality when awakening from a dream, I came to the present. In that not-quite-awake place where my conscious mind’s defenses did not reach, grief of loss had found its target. I was surprised by the intensity of the emotion. I felt despair. Resentment, anger, terrible love for my mother, and a sense of having been abandoned by her suffused me.

Miserable physically and hurting in my emotions, I cried out to the Lord. I begged him for refreshment of spirit.

Awhile later I began to chill. I lay huddled in bed awhile and then it occurred to me that just outside my front door the concrete steps were heated to egg frying temperature by the blast of the midday summer sun. I sat on the steps for awhile and then threw a blanket down onto the sun drenched grass. I stretched out and soaked in sunlight until I felt thoroughly warmed.

I got to my feet and wandered about the yard for a bit, then pulled the spigot on the hydrant and refilled the bird bath. I then turned the flow of cold water onto my bare arms to cool them from the sun’s heat. I watered the hosta and admired the beauty of its lavender blossoms, just beginning to unfurl.

When I came back inside I felt well enough to do a few household chores, and then I retreated to the couch to rest. I felt so much better. The Lord had answered my prayer. 


As caregivers, I believe our most difficult and vulnerable moments occur when we feel weak or infirm. This is especially true if the care recipient is someone who once provided nurture and support that is no longer present. A time of need will cause emotions of grief over the loss of that relationship to surface.  Illness, even a temporary case of the flu like mine, will cause childlike emotions; and today I longed for my mother's support.
 
God is so good.  He heard my childlike cry and soothed my aching body and my troubled spirit with sunshine and simple beauty. Tonight, though my flu symptoms are still present, I feel peace.

Scripture: "...turn to God...that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't Do Without Her Before You Must


My Mom has lived with us for nearly six years.  This has worked for us because Mom has her own space, a three room apartment adjoining our home.  Over the years she's learned to think of her apartment as her "house," and her Alzheimer's has not yet progressed to the point that she habitually dispenses with deeply ingrained social rules.  For example, she still understands that she should not enter someone else's house and roam around at will! Oh there have been times when, like Goldilocks, Mom has entered our part of the house when we weren't at home; but she is generally happier and more at ease in her own familiar space. And so, we have our space, and she has hers; and in this way we've all survived quite nicely. 


I take good care of my mother.  I bring her three meals and two snacks a day, empty her trash cans, do all of her shopping and assist with much of her personal care.  I've negotiated the transition from the role of dependent daughter to dependable caregiver quite nicely, thank you.


However, a side effect of keeping too strict a perspective as caregiver is that I suffer an unfortunate tendency to detach from the emotional connection I shared with my mother in the days that I interacted with her as a daughter.  I always said that my mom was my best friend, and in those days I would call and beg her to come to spend time with me, or I would show up unannounced at her house.  In short, I enjoyed her company.  As I transitioned to the role of caregiver I grieved over the loss of this kind of connection with my mom, and for the most part it was easier and somehow safer emotionally simply to detach.  This is sad, but grief is a portion of the burden of being either a caregiver or a care recipient. 


This afternoon, as a part of my caregiving duties, I sat down with my mom in her apartment. Our respite care provider is on vacation and I knew Mom needed the stimulation of conversation. She was entertaining herself by singing snatches of old hymns, and so I rummaged through a box and found the hymnal she'd used as a child at Union Church in the Ozark Hills of Missouri.  About twenty minutes later I suddenly realized that I was no longer interacting with Mom in my role as caregiver, but was myself receiving nurture from my mother's voice, the familiar hymns, and undoubtedly from the presence of the Holy Spirit. 


My relationship with mom will never again be what it once was, but I pray for the ability to continue to find ways to enjoy her for the person she has become, and not just as someone who needs my caregiving services.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

And I Wonder Why the Cat Doesn't Like Me

An unanticipated caregiving challenge has been the necessity of adjusting my life to serve not only my mother's needs, but those of her cat.  It isn't that I don't like cats, it's just that this particular animal, dubbed "Kitty" by my mother, does not particularly like me.  I feed this cat, groom her, and talk sweetly to her to no avail.   Kitty treats me with disdain.

To make matters worse, a sort of sibling rivalry has developed between Kitty and me.  If ever I make an even faintly critical remark about cat hair on the couch or claw marks on the woodwork, Mom defends her pet vigorously and chastises me for my complaints.  "She's just being a cat," Mom says, "And she's a wonderful pet." 

The only time Kitty is accepting of my presence in Mom's apartment is first thing in the morning, when she perhaps feels lonely because Mom has been asleep.  At night Kitty must miss the steady dose of endearments and admiration that Mom lavishes on her pet during the day.  And so, when I appear early in the morning, I find a higher level of feline acceptance than at any other time.  I take this opportunity to stroke Kitty's soft fur, and have found that if I take a strip of duct tape and run it lightly down her back that I can remove a lot of hair that otherwise would end up on the furniture.  The animal seems to enjoy this process, arching her back and purring.  


But this morning Kitty was distracted by a goldfinch that landed in Mom's feeder just outside the window, and made a sudden and unexpected turn just as I stroked down her back and tail with my strip of tape.  Somehow the two ends of the tape stuck to one another around her tail.  I quickly attempted to disentangle it but succeeded only in pulling it tighter.  Alarmed at the tugging going on at her back end, Kitty let out a yowl and lept from the window seat.  She ran under Mom's bed and I could hear her thrashing and meowing as she attempted to pull the tape from her tail with her teeth.  


There ensued a fifteen minute rodeo as husband John and I chased the cat around Mom's apartment.  Poor Mother was still in bed and asked, "Now, what's the problem here?"  As I ran past brandishing a large bath towel with the intent of wrapping the cat in order to avoid being clawed, I tried to explain.  Mom closed her eyes tightly and appeared to be praying--probably for the cat.  


I finally captured Kitty who, to her credit, neither bit nor scratched me.  I handled her swaddled form to John, extracted the tail, and used fingernail scissors to free her of the sticky tape.  


Somehow I think that my early morning quality time with Kitty has come to an end.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Future and a Hope

I've been suffering from a discouraging, debilitating exhaustion as I struggle to lose weight.  I've begun taking a statin which has caused muscle aches, I've been fretting more than usual about my ability to continue to care for Mom as her level of need increases, and I am just...so...tired. 

Today in the car as we were on the way home from a grocery buying expedition, I turned to my husband and said, “How does anyone have energy to accomplish anything? How does anyone ever build a house or landscape a yard or plant a garden? How did Mother Teresa find strength to nurse the sick and feed the hungry? For that matter, how do evil dictators find the energy to take over countries and carry out their dastardly plots—think how much energy that must take? I'm so exhausted that I can't even figure out how to just take care of my home responsibilities, much less accomplish anything impressive.” 

I lapsed to silence and stared out the car window.  I prayed for help, and then scribbled the following words onto the back of the grocery list:  
"There are no perfect solutions this side of Glory, but in the midst of every solution, at the heart of every outcome; there is God."  

I came home and crawled into bed, still fully dressed.  I was feeling that I'd always been exhausted, would always be exhausted, and despite the Lord's encouragement given me on our way home, my thought processes went something like this:  "What's the use, why try; and really, who cares?  All I have to do is to make it through this world and then head home to be with Jesus, which after all the Apostle Paul said, '...is better by far.'"  I fell asleep and slept soundly for two hours.  

When I awoke this Scripture was in mind, ""Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you" (1 Kings 19:7).  

I didn't move.  "I'm on a diet, Lord," I reminded Him.  

Then, a bit nervous for speaking to the Almighty in a flippant tone, I said, "I guess You already knew that." 

I pulled my computer onto my lap and found 1 Kings 19 at Biblegateway.  The prophet Elijah is frightened for his life, discouraged, and exhausted.  He flees to the desert and falls asleep, and an angel awakens him with instructions to eat.  

And so I came downstairs, fixed myself a generous plate of leftovers from the fridge (keeping in mind that Elijah went in the strength of his angelic meal for 40 days, I assumed the Lord intends me to reinstate portion control tomorrow), and sat down in front of the TV.  President Obama was just finishing his address from the Oval Office regarding the crisis caused by the oil disaster in the gulf, and I switched on the set in time to hear him say the following words, a quote from a former fisherman and priest regarding the annual blessing of the fleet of fishing boats that head out into the gulf each year, some of them for months at a time:  

"The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers.  The blessing is that He is with us always; a blessing that's granted even in the midst of the storm."    

Tears began to roll down my face as I recognized the similarity between the thought that had come to my mind in the car on our way home this afternoon and the president's words.  Sometimes I'm a little bit slow on the uptake.  Today it took an affirmation of the Lord's words given through the President of the United States for me to get the message.  


Thank You Lord.  Thank You for being our future and our hope.  Thank You for Your unfailing presence with us.  

Scripture:  "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'"  (Jeremiah 29:11).   

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Time to Rest


As I came back up the driveway following my morning walk, I was greeted on the front porch by the mama cat I call "Pretty Kitty." She has five kittens living under the ramp that goes to Mom's entrance.

We had a morning rain shower just at sunrise, and so it was very humid as I walked along. The temperature had reached nearly 80 degrees by 8:00 a.m. When I got to the steep incline of the driveway that leads to the rock quarry south of our house, I was entranced by the sight of dozens of dragonflies swooping and diving just above the grass, disturbed by my footsteps. At dusk they will fly twenty to thirty feet in the air over our heads as Mom and I take our evening walk around the driveway. They are carnivorous hunters of smaller insects, and I always feel they are protecting us from Kansas mosquitoes, which have been known to carry off new calves and small children. Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but we do grow 'em big around these parts!


The milkweed is beginning to bloom. It fills the air with a sweet, heavy fragrance that is at its best just following a rain like the one we had this morning.

I feel the Lord has directed me to rest during June.  I feel disoriented, anxious, and guilty.  Yes, guilty.  I feel I should be doing great things for the Kingdom, and instead I'm taking walks and literally stopping to smell the flowers!  But the Lord's direction to me to rest has an edge of warning that I know I'd best not ignore.  I have learned that if I don't rest when He says to rest that He is able to arrange time off for me.  I remember the summer I spent with my foot in a cast.  Voluntary rest is to be preferred over enforced rest!  Father help me to honor You in this time of rest.  Help me to be disciplined in my rest.  This is not a time to pursue whatever activities I want, it is a time to move deeper into my relationship with the Lord.  

Scripture: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).   

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Vindication

Most of us fail to receive recognition that might be termed "deserved." I've concluded that this fact is actually a relief of sorts; because if anyone examined me so closely as to take note of my selfless acts of service, they would also see many other behaviors; the ones that are not so praiseworthy. I wouldn't want a record kept of my pettiness, rudeness, and general sinfulness.

However, I've found that my own records of my past behaviors are not so accurate as ones that would be kept by an impartial observer. I tend to excuse the the hurts I've dealt, and to magnify the ones I've endured. In this way, I've built quite a portfolio of "wrongs received," and I've bemoaned my injuries at length through prayer. Sensing God's great love and compassion, I have too often concluded that He is in full agreement with me that I am right and those I deem responsible for the hurts I've suffered are wrong. The inaccuracy of such a view lies in the fact that because God has forgiven me my many wrongdoings, He expects me to forgive others. To enjoy His grace to me but to fail to treat others with the same compassion places me in the path of His judgment. God takes a dim view of those who enjoy unmerited favor but then do not extend it to others (see the parable of the unmerciful servant).

Since my book has been published I've prayed almost daily to be protected from the sin of pride, and that nothing in me would hinder the Lord's work through me. It's my heart's desire to comfort with the comfort Mom and I have received through God's grace to us on our caregiving journey. So, yesterday morning when I felt that familiar nudge in my spirit that told me the Lord wanted to correct me, I immediately feared I'd been prideful, and proceeded to repent. I knew I wasn't quite on target and prayed for the Lord to explain to me what was wrong. Here's what came to mind, written as to me from the Lord:

It’s this attitude you have of vindication. It’s as though the recognition you’ve received for writing a book has vindicated you; proven that you are of value after all. I want for you the confidence that you were always of value. Being recognized has nothing to do with the fact that you are precious and of great worth in my sight. Your status with Me has not changed simply because you wrote a book. I remember your travail. I honor your tears; I’ve collected them all in my bottle. The writing was your labor, the delivery came by My hand; and the fruits are with Me as well.


Someone who seeks vindication is going to fall to the sin of vindictiveness. Not a nice way to be. Not a Godly characteristic. Lord forgive me for and cleanse me of a vindictive spirit, in Jesus' Name I pray.

We are precious and of great worth in His sight apart from any achievement or failure; apart from any recognition or lack thereof. I suppose that such silly, sinful people such as myself will misinterpret God's grace as being God's acceptance of our sin. Not ever. Not at all. I'm a sinner saved by grace and grace alone, as are the fallen human beings who have caused me harm. As are you.

"Not because of who I am, but because of what You've done, not because of what I've done, but because of who You are..." from Casting Crowns "Who Am I," (here is the Youtube link to "Who Am I" with lyrics).

Scripture: For the Lord will vindicate his people, and have compassion on his servants" (Psalm 135:14).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Trust

I've had trouble sharing my thoughts of late because I've hesitated to belabor the point that I'm in an uncomfortable place right now. I've been waiting for some humorous incident that would elicit a lighthearted anecdote. I wanted to bring smiles to my readers' faces.

This morning it occurred to me that the people for whom I write--caregivers--are well aware that the caregiving journey includes times of struggle and tears.

All my life decisions now are contingent upon my mother's presence in our home and my continuing responsibility to her. After a time of uncertainty during which the special reading program I've run for 11 years was cut from our school's budget, I grappled first with the possibility of being released from duty after 30 years as a teacher; and then with the realities of a change in my job description when I was finally offered a contract for another year. During that time of uncertainty I struggled before the Lord, contending with fear. If I gave up my job in order to provide care for my mother, her social security check and the small salary she pays me for taking care of her would become my only contribution to our family's financial well-being. Mom's condition will continue to deteriorate, and I did not want to be financially dependent upon a source of income that will evaporate overnight if and when she needs rest home care.

I know that when at all possible, caregivers should not choose to become financially dependent on their care recipients. If this occurred due to circumstances outside my control, then, God knows best and would provide. However, as I worked my way through uncertainty and grief, it seemed clear to me that giving up my employment is not an action I should initiate.

On the other hand, I suspected myself of depending on some other source than the Lord for my sustenance, and I suffered guilt. For a time I considered resigning my job as a sort of leap of faith, to prove to the Lord I trusted Him where I could not see. This path also offered the attraction of escaping the possibility of being pink-slipped. I would resign before having to suffer the humiliation of being told I was no longer of value professionally.

This morning, having decided to sign that contract, I prayed, "I doubt myself, oh I doubt myself Lord. Maybe I refused the incarnation You were placing before me. Maybe I got to the threshold and turned back." I thought perhaps He was desiring me to launch out in faith, to give up my fear of being bound to serve my mother's needs past my physical or emotional capacity to survive the burdens intensive caregiving would bring. I prayed, "Lord, my release to You of my job and my income was not a conditional release. I was and am willing to go through the fear and grief of whatever loss You might allow me…key word, “through.” I trust You to bring me through."

But I felt concern that I'd failed some kind of a test, that the motivations behind the course of action I'd chosen were not pure. Fear of financial lack and of being stressed beyond my ability to bear by caregiving duties didn't seem to be Godly motivations. I prayed, "Please don’t let me have failed You."

In response I received this comforting word from the Lord:

I will not fail you. Trust Me. I am Sovereign over your circumstances; over your going out and your coming in. I am with you if you go and I am with you if you stay. My presence will not leave you, I will not forsake you for all the days you walk upon the earth, and afterward I will bring you safely home to Glory. Your fear is that you will lose the light of My presence. Do not be afraid, I Am with you. This is my promise to you.


Regardless of our circumstances as caregivers, we can trust the Lord to gather all our tears, to heal all hurts, to right all wrongs; to bring complete victory in a way that makes all that has been bitter, sweet.

Scripture: "This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation" (Isaiah 25:9).

"But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God" (Isaiah 49:4).

"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands" (Psalm 31:14-15).