Sunday, January 24, 2010

Getting Mom's Perspective the Hard Way

I've been experiencing sandwich generation issues once again as I ponder the adjustments my husband and I must make as empty nesters. There is a need for us to adjust to the new roles we are to play in the lives of our adult children. At the same time the struggle to strike a happy balance between the roles of caregiver and daughter is an ongoing challenge in my relationship with my mother.

These days of course, my mother is no longer able to analyze and provide for my needs as she once did because now, my mother needs me. If I am to have a successful caregiving relationship with her, I must become able to accept that the rules of our relationship have completely changed. To add to my angst, I am simultaneously experiencing a kind of prequel to my own elder years, because although my son is now an independent adult and does not need me, to my dismay I find that on an emotional level that I very much need him. I miss and long for the strength of his little boy hugs and the confidence he once had that I could make things alright. The Lord keeps using this parallel between my need of my son's affection and my mother's need for mine to teach me how to be a better caregiver, daughter, and mother.

It's VERY annoying.

Yes, I am annoyed with the Lord. I'm careful to be respectful with that emotion since He's in charge of things like lightning bolts and such, but I'm not a happy camper right now.

For example, yesterday I was upstairs when my mother called me on my cell phone (I have her phone set on speed dial so she need only press one button to call me). Lately she's been calling often and for maddeningly unimportant reasons. I was busy and let my answering service take her message, immediately dialing voice mail to be certain her need was not urgent. "I just wanted to talk to you," she said wistfully. Assured that she was physically alright, I completed my task and then forgot to go in to visit with her until much later.

Last evening this incident had been forgotten when bedtime rolled around and I felt my customary pangs of longing for our adult son, who has just recently moved out of our home and is off living and working on his own. I've found empty nest syndrome to be most poignantly painful during the evening dinner hour when we used to sit down as a family, then again and even more strongly at bedtime, when we would tuck our children in and read and pray together. I sent my son a good night text message but he didn't reply. My first thought this morning was of him, and I sent another text, but again received no answer. Late this afternoon I became concerned and tried to call him but--no reply. I was feeling very upset when the Lord touched my heart with the memory of how I had ignored my own mother's wistful longing to hear MY voice less than 24 hours earlier.

Well just great. Now not only did I feel upset because my son was ignoring me, I also felt guilty because vexingly, I could see I'd done the very same thing to my own mother.

OK, Lord, I've got it. On the one hand I'm to be more compassionate to my mother because of my recognition of the very real pain that backs the longing a mother has for her absent child. And, out of my understanding of what it is like to have one's mother call in the middle of some important activity (like swing dancing or sleeping, which turned out to be the case for my son last night and this morning respectively) I'm to cut my errant son a bit of slack. He has a new job, a new girlfriend, and a new life. My place in his heart is secure, but he's a busy young man.


I really don't like this sandwich generation stuff very much. But the Lord is with me. He is kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, and very very good at His job. Thank You Lord, for dealing with me.

Scripture: "...God's kindness leads you toward repentance" (Romans 2:4).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not By My Strength...

I am not naturally patient. I am not particularly kind or empathetic. Apart from the Lord, I'm the caregiver you would hope not to have assigned to your case should you become elderly and infirm.

Before you lavish sympathy and prayers on my mother's head (well, the prayers aren't a bad idea, feel free to go ahead with those), I will hasten to let you know that I do not depend upon any natural propensity toward virtue in the time I spend with my mother. I very rarely enter her apartment without first uttering a prayer for God's help. He answers those prayers.

This gift of grace that covers my lack of qualifications reminds me of a story from my past. When my family moved to the small town where I attended the last two years of high school, I felt a strong desire to be accepted as a hometown girl. I envied the young people who had been born and raised in our little community, and while many of them could not wait to leave, I wanted nothing more than to put down roots and achieve that sense of belonging that they took for granted. I married a local boy and have lived here happily ever after, but for a time the feeling of being an outsider lingered.

When my daughter graduated from high school I was thrilled when we were asked to give the traditional greeting and response at the Alumni Banquet. This honor is accorded to a parent and child who both can call the school their alma mater, and to receive this opportunity to speak at the Alumni Banquet made me feel, at long last, accepted! As I stepped behind the podium that night and spoke my gratitude to the little town that I have learned to call home, I felt the Lord's benediction on my head, "This is the home I've provided you!" His words were almost audible to me.

A few days later someone let it slip that we were the fourth...the FOURTH parent/graduate pair to be asked to give the greeting and response. The others had declined! I took this to the Lord with a feeling of chagrin and received the calm assurance that when the Lord says you're home, you're home; no matter how other human beings feel about the matter. I didn't achieve belonging by earning it, or through human recognition; I was given this blessing by the Lord.

Seven years later I received a call asking me if I would once again do the greeting at the banquet, this time as my graduating son gave the response. I readily accepted but with a bit more humility this time. I didn't ask how many others had turned down the assignment; I just rejoiced in my Lord and Savior who was so gracious to accord me this blessing a second time.

The memory of this experience and the lesson I learned as a result has come to me often in the ensuing years, reminding me that if the Lord says I belong, then I belong. And if he tells me I'm a caregiver, then I can be a caregiver--not by my own strength or merit, but through Him!

Scripture: "No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love...We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you" Psalm 33:16-18, 20-22.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Even When Our Hearts Condemn Us

Our adult son Jonathan's new job doesn't begin until mid January, and so he is spending a few days here with us. Having him here is precious and also oddly painful because of the knowledge that he will be leaving soon. Last night he went to visit his girlfriend, who lives about an hour away, and they went to a late movie. Jon arrived home around 2:00 a.m. and I was awakened by the sound of the front door closing when he returned. Half drugged with sleep, all my mother worries for him began to surface. I could scarcely come awake enough to pray but when I did the words the Lord provided me were comforting.

As parents and caregivers there is a constant fear that we are not doing "enough." Particularly with Jonathan I carry a burden of guilt over having let him down, and a conviction that I did not do enough for him as he was growing up. I went back to work before Jon's third birthday, and he had to go to day care. Later, when he was enduring those difficult transition years from age 10 to 15, my time and attention were focused upon his sister's many high school and college activities. During that time I was fragmented further by my own issues with an overwhelmingly busy work schedule. I have always carried a guilt burden where Jon is concerned, and also an ongoing fear of failing him.

But last night, when this kind of worriment would not let me fall back to sleep, I prayed and then wrote the following message as from the Lord to me:

Protecting those you love is not your job, it is Mine. Rest in the knowledge of the power of My protection. Where your strength fails, Mine will sustain. Where your vision is blocked, I see. Where your knowledge is inadequate, Mine shall not fail. Sleep now in the sweet confidence of a child whose father has promised that everything will be alright. Stop questioning Me and stop attempting to help Me to bear a load that I have already lifted from your shoulders. I have him. You do not need to fear dropping him because you are not the one who is carrying him.

What blessing! When, as caregivers, we are suffused by that crushing sense of inadequacy or fear, let us remember that the Lord is the One who carries our loved ones. May we abide in Him in obedience, but trust Him to succeed even when we fall short. We do not need to fear dropping them because we are not the ones who are carrying them!

Scripture: "This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (1 John 3:19-20).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Future Hope

January 1 of a new year has arrived without my permission. It is a new year whether I would have it to be a new year or not. I would have chosen to delay 2010 indefinitely, because my son has graduated from college and will leave home for good sometime during this year. I believe I have the promise that he’ll be back to this geographic area, but it is the change of "permanent address" that is causing me sorrow. Jonathan will soon pack his bags and move his home base to another residence for good.

My son is about to leave his childhood home and to embark upon his life's journey. I don't know what his future holds, but the Lord knows. The Lord knows where my boy will travel and the Lord knows the path he will take.

As the title of the Celine Dion song states, “My heart will go on.” But today I’m lying in bed feeling half sick and willing time to stand still. I want my Mom to maintain her current level of functioning, my son to stay home, and my heart to be protected from further blows of grief and pain.

As I indulge these thoughts, I feel the slightest sensation of the Lord's discipline, as though He is saying to me, "Don't feel sorry for yourself. Partake in moderation of the comforts I've provided you today and step out in faith. I Am with you."

There is a gentle rebuke in this reminder. God is with me. It is never misplaced confidence to harbor hope for a future that includes God's presence with me.

Scripture: "There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off" (Proverbs 23:18).