Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Lies in Us

I have never met a person I could despair of, or lose all hope for, after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 17 reading

 A treatise on the innate sinfulness of human beings in general and this blogger in particular may not seem an appropriate subject for a caregiving blog, but stay with me.  Caregivers and their care recipients are human, and so sin is going to cause trouble in patient/caregiver relationships.  This post is about how the Lord would have us to deal with the sad fact of sin in the people we love.  Accepting the fact that we ourselves are sinful is the first step in this process. 

I've learned today that I really can't trust my own motives. During prayer time I was forced to the admission that my "selfless" mothering of my adult children is, to some degree, a cover for a need to assure that I am accorded the honor and loyalty I feel I need from them. 

I resisted at first, denying vehemently that there was any wrong in me in relation to my children, and then engaged in a sort of tug of war against the Almighty.  Guess Who won that contest?  Yes, I was finally convinced of my own black-heartedness as the following thoughts broke through my complacency: 
When you demand loyalty, love takes second place.  You do yourself a disservice, because your true desire is for your children’s responses to you to be directed by love rather than guilt-induced loyalty. 
Their sense of guilt when they fail to accord you adequate respect gives birth to resentment, which engenders a feeling of entitlement.  They sense that the negative feelings they harbor are your fault, and this justifies, in their minds, a demand for repayment from you. 
Appalled, I asked, "How do I make this right?"  
You do not make it right.  You are unable to fix what you have broken.  God is the healer of hearts, the repairer of broken walls.  Trust Him and stay out of His way.
Release your self-imposed sentence of making your life a sacrifice for your children.  You have accepted this burden as a sort of insurance against being abandoned; but see the terrible fear you have taken on along with your burden of service? You fear that when you are no longer able to be of service to them,  they will not continue to love you. 

You have confused loyalty with love.  Let go your demands for their loyalty, and leave their love for you to grow under the Lord's hand. 
Did you catch the sentence above that might make someone who cares for an elderly parent more vulnerable to the sin that has captured me?  You fear that when you are no longer able to be of service to them, they will not continue to love you.  Such astonishing demands have been made on my time and my life by my mother's Alzheimer's disease.  It is difficult for me to imagine anyone being willing to make this kind of sacrifice for me.  I fear being abandoned if  the same disease that has rendered my mother helpless should attack me.  My twisted sin-based logic would have me weave a web of obligation in my children's hearts that would provide insurance for me against disease-induced helplessness. 

Of course this attitude dishonors God.  The Lord is my strength and my provider; I need no further guarantee of future care than this.  It's time I release my children from the obligation to be loyal to me "no matter what." All I really need from them is their love, which, because God is merciful and covers my sin, I already have. 
My son's wedding is in six days.  He and his beautiful bride-to-be share a love for country music and also for swing dancing, areas of life completely foreign to me!  When the mother/son dance song was selected for me by a friend I thought, "Wow, that doesn't sound like me at all, but oh well."  At our one practice session, my son took me in his arms and, because he is so good at two-stepping, I found I could follow his lead and do a good enough job for the 3 minutes of the song.  The twangy, heart rending number we will dance to is called, "I Won't Take Less Than Your Love," by Paul Overstreet. It is amazing to me that the Lord provided this song for us weeks ago and only now do I understand; my son doesn't owe me a thing, but loving and being loved is the best gift of all.  You can listen to the song here. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Following Christ's Example

During devotion time this morning my mind wandered to a scene from a science fiction movie my husband and I recently watched.  In this scene the hero is using his powers against an ugly and terribly frightening alien.  The alien has been assigned to kill our hero, but as the hero valiantly fights, he looks up to see his comrade in desperate need of help as she battles with a flying beast.  He makes the decision to turn his back on his own opponent and uses his powers to give aid to his comrade in her life and death battle.  He saves her, but while doing so, his own enemy revives and nearly finishes him off. 

I brought my mind back to my daily Bible reading with a sense of guilt for my inattentiveness, but then as I opened my heart and mind to the Lord, I realized why this movie scene had come to mind.  These past seven years as I've cared for my mom, I’ve turned my attention to the needs of another.  In so doing I’ve taken my eyes from my own dreams and goals; in fact, I’ve let go not only my wants but also some things that could be categorized as needs. It's interesting how that scene from the movie took root in my subconscious and then presented itself to me as an illustration of the sacrifices I've made for my mother.  

As caregivers we must attempt neither to fall to resentment because so much has been asked of us, nor to dismiss as being unimportant the things we've given up.  I've erred on both sides; in fact, I tend to vacillate between the two perspectives.   Some days you'll find me saying things like this:  "Mom is relatively easy to care for, and the Lord's been with us throughout this journey.  I have no cause for complaint."  

Other days I clench my jaw shut and seethe--yes, seethe with anger because I feel so unappreciated for all that I've done for Mom.  Seven years ago I cut my job to half time to take care of her, and then, this spring, at least in part because of the gentle withdrawal I began from duties at my job at the time of Mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis, I found myself with no real role to play for the coming fall at the K-12 school where I'd taught for 22 years.  I'd subbed and taught summer school for ten years before I was under contract, and a few years prior to that had attended high school at the same attendance center where I later taught.  Thus, walking away from my job entailed letting go of a place that had been a part of my life since I was 16 years old.  

When I walked into Mom's room yesterday morning she first called me by my daughter's name, then by mine, then felt confused and finally asked, "Now, who are you?"  I see that we are coming to the end of Mom's mid-stages of Alzheimer's and are poised for the final act.  And with this cursed disease who knows how long these final stages will take, and what new agonies await?  

I cried all this out to the Lord, citing before Him my grief over what I've freely given for His sake not only to Mom, but to others I love.  As I prayed, I wrote this reply as from the Lord to me and to every caregiver who reads these words:  

You made this commitment, Child.  You have submitted your will to Me for the sakes of these others you love, those precious ones I have loved first and best.  You have become a willing vessel for My love to bless the lives of others.  You are dying to self, and dying is not pleasant; but death must precede  resurrection.  You will yet see My goodness in the land of the living; allow hope to be kindled in your heart.  I will not leave you or abandon you.  I have seen your suffering, I have counted your tears, and I will not just “make it up” to you; I will bless you richly beyond anything you have earned. 
Whether the blessings God promises are for this world or for the next, in the words of the old hymn, "I know whom I've believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that I have entrusted unto Him against that day"  (from the Hymn "I Know Whom I Have Believed" at I can trust Him with this caregiving journey as well as with all I've let go in order to hang on tightly to Him. 

Scripture:  "I have no regrets. I couldn't be more sure of my ground—the One I've trusted in can take care of what he's trusted me to do right to the end"  (2 Timothy 1:12, The Message). 

"I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him" (2 Timothy 1:12, New Living Translation).