Friday, April 27, 2012

Do Not Repine

This morning at 4:00 a.m. my cell phone rang.  It was my mother.  She said, "Linda, why would you hide my glasses and my remote? I need them now."  She hung up before I could speak.

I went into her room and found her sitting in the dark in her recliner.  "Give me my glasses and my remote," she said.

I coaxed her back into her bedroom, and although she was not happy about it I was able to get her snuggled back in bed.

Back upstairs in my part of the house, I turned the baby monitor's volume up several notches and came into my office to write and pray until Mom fell back to sleep.  Soon I could hear her gentle snoring over the monitor, punctuated by my  husband's bass log sawing in our bedroom next door.  The injustice of my being the only one in the house awake ran deep, but I wasn't sleepy at all and began to fret.  Maybe I shouldn't' have quit my job. When Mom came to live with us I had no idea this Alzheimer journey would last so long. Maybe we should have handled this differently...

As I word processed my thoughts I felt the Lord speak to me with the clarity that seems to come only very early in the morning. That conversation went something like this (note: in my journal I record words I feel are from the Lord in bold-faced print, while my own meandering questions and comments are in regular font): 
 Do not repine. 

 I always forget what “repine” means. 

Don’t give way to emotion, or even to logic.  Give way to faith. definition of repine:  1. : to feel or express dejection or discontent : complain. 2. : to long for something.   

"Repine" also means to indulge regret over decisions that have already been made and opportunities that are lost.  Inherent in the Lord's command not to repine is  encouragement to look ahead and not behind. The Lord has provided for your needs and will continue to do so.
Temptations to indulge regrets and second guess decisions I've made in the past are not of the Lord.  A phrase from the great hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" comes to mind:  Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow...

Praying for wisdom and strength today to follow God's command: "Do not repine." 

"Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ, and 
go out into the irresistible future with Him." 

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, February 18th reading

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anointed to Serve

I've had durable power of attorney for my mother's finances and health for the past nine years and have cared for her in my home for seven years and counting. The support I've received from friends and members of the community in which we live has been overwhelmingly positive, although from time to time someone will shake their head and say, "I could never do what you are doing."  My feelings about this statement are somewhat mixed. What I've done hasn't been much more difficult than the ministrations most people end up providing to elderly parents.

It is a sad fact of life that people get old and need help. Whether an adult child places an elderly parent into an assisted living complex, a nursing home, or makes the choice to provide care at home; there are responsibilities to bear. The most difficult part of my caregiving experience thus far has been the emotional transition into the caregiver's role, and this is an experience that is far from unique. Watching a loved one fade from view because of dementia is a grief many have to bear, and regardless of the level of caregiving responsibilities undertaken, that emotional transition must take place. It does seem strange to some people, however, that I've chosen to care for Mom at home.

Once in awhile someone will say something that is upsetting, as happened recently when a person said, "I think Anna Ruth is really enjoying Linda waiting on her hand and foot."  This comment was not stated to my face, but was repeated to me by another person who evidently did not realize how hurtful such a statement would be.

This kind of attitude embodies not only a harsh criticism of my mother, but diminishes me to the role of a victim of her supposed exploitation of me.  The accusation is that Mom is lazy and demanding and that I have played the role of being a willing victim of her vices by babying her.

That is not the case. 

When Mom came to live with us she was roughly at the same level of functioning she is now (medication afforded her a few years at a higher level and she has only now regressed to that former level). The poor woman couldn't then and can't now remember what she did 30 seconds ago! Just this morning she knocked on the dividing door between her apartment and our part of the house, saying, "My senior brain caused me to forget who lives in the other part. I was just curious! Sorry I bothered you."  She has in no way exaggerated her difficulties. She has to have support and I have chosen to be her primary caregiver. 

Furthermore, Mom pays me a salary care for her, a salary that has been a great blessing, especially since  the reading program I'd taught for 11 years was discontinued last year due to budget cuts. Thanks to Mom's support I was able to take early retirement and was saved from having to go back into the regular classroom full time, which I do not have the stamina to do.  The Lord has blessed both my mother and me through this current arrangement.

The opinions of other people need not hurt me or cause me undue concern so long as I maintain obedience to God as to His purpose for my life. I think what upsets me the most is that the attitude expressed by that person makes it seem that my gift of time and love to my mother was unnecessary.

I daily lay down my life in a way that is still is a struggle for me as I strive to graciously love and serve Mom as Christ has loved and sacrificed for me.  I am convinced and convicted that this is what He wants me to do for His precious Anna Ruth; I am led to certainty by God's compelling hand upon me. I know I am precious to Him as well and He has not, will not forget me.  I have obeyed the Lord.  I know He will not abandon me or leave my needs unmet.  It is a precious privilege to take care of Mom. 

I have not been manipulated into being used; I have been anointed to serve.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Different Kind of Strength

I was walking my mother around our driveway on our evening stroll the other night and marveled, not for the first time, at how much weight she is able to lean onto my arm.  My husband usually walks on her other side, and Mom, intent on taking as much weight as possible off her bad knee, manages to place what we estimate to be a fluctuating load of between 20 and 40 pounds on each of our supporting arms. Sometimes we feel like we are practically dragging her, but her feet keep moving and she gets out of breath so at least she is getting some aerobic exercise!  Her arms have become very strong as a result of leaning so hard on us; somewhat in the same way one becomes strong when crutching (a fact I learned when I learned to use crutches for the first time after breaking a small bone in my left foot; I remember swinging past my son and feeling flattered when he said, "Wow, Mom, you are actually getting some definition in the muscles in your arms!")

At the same time my mother's arms have become strong by leaning, I have become strong by supporting. My biceps often ache after I have taken Mom for a walk.  

I've recorded at this blog the fact that I've been through another season of struggle against resentment toward Mom. Accepting the mom I now have and releasing the mom she is no longer able to be  is a process that has to be renegotiated pretty regularly.  But this morning during devotion time, it occurred to me that I don't give my mom enough credit for the grace and patience she often exhibits.  She has learned to eat when her meals arrive rather than when she is in the mood to eat. She bathes when I say it is time for a bath.  She receives her daily exercise when I arrive at her door with fifteen minutes to spare, and I confess I'm not always kind and empathetic if she is not pleased to hear that she must get up--now--and go for a walk!  The ability to submit to another's rule requires grace, and though Mom sometimes protests; she has learned this kind of submission. 

Thinking about the ways in which my mother has become adept at coping with the life of being a care recipient has shifted my perspective and helped me to release a measure of the resentment with which I've been struggling.  In short, I'm allowing myself to harbor respect for the grace God has allowed my mother for this season of her life and to recognize it as a different kind of strength.   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Repenting of Resentment

As caregivers it is vital for us to keep our hearts clean of resentment. When we fall to judgmental criticism of our care recipients for the ways they've let us down, we know resentment is having its way with our hearts. 

Resentment creates a sense of entitlement that truly makes us a menace to others.  Terrible sins become possible when we, as the stronger partner in the caregiver/patient relationship, treat our loved ones badly because we feel they deserve it. We place ourselves in the path of the Lord's anger when we fail to exhibit to others the same love and forgiveness He has shown us. 

Today the Lord has brought me to repentance for harboring resentment toward my mother, and in His wisdom He brought the truth to me in a way that made me feel the truth of His reprimand.  

My daughter, Melinda, is married and lives near us. She is expecting her second child in a couple of months, and last evening was suffering from an aching back from carrying groceries.  She was exhausted and uncharacteristically irritable, while I was characteristically sensitive.  Long story short, I got my tender feelings hurt. Tonight I have found myself falling to worriment that my daughter might not admire me or respect me as I want her to do based on her one brief episode of irritation toward me. 

I admire  Melinda so much. She has the spiritual gift of longsuffering, a gift we don't hear very much about these days; but I  believe is one of the most Christlike characteristics a human being can possess.  There is an excellent article by Don Hooser of Good News Magazine here, in which he refers to longsuffering as  "a fusion of grace and power."  This describes my daughter perfectly.  Our Mindy is the blessed buffer of our family, grace personified in the midst of a group of sensitive and more volatile characters; all of us  blessed by her steadfast love and support. 

But I was hurt, and so in my characteristic style I hammered out details of my injury in an email.  As I reread it the Lord touched my heart and said, "These words are not for your daughter. They are for you in relation to your own mother." 

Pretty cool how the Lord got me to write down exactly what I needed to hear.  I am reminded of King David's experience with Nathan the prophet--he didn't recognize his own sin until it was placed before him through an allegory of a sin committed by another (this account is found in 1 Samuel 12:1-13). I trashed the email that was not for my daughter after all, and have kept the thoughts below which are for me, from the Lord.  
I need to see the value of what my mother is able to give to me and let go my judgment of her for the things she is not able (or willing) to do for me (both now and in the past).  I need to be aware and thankful of the blessings I receive through her, even now; eight years into her Alzheimer's diagnosis. 
I pray for grace to accept the mother I've had and to release the mother I wish I'd had. I need to appreciate her for who she is rather than resenting her for her failure to be who I wanted and even needed her to be. I must forgive her for the ways she failed me and honor her for the ways she has blessed me.
I have taken for granted the great blessings God has given me through my mother, and have made her feel I am disappointed in her for what she is not able to be. 
You see, lately I've sinned against my mother by repeating her offenses to others rather than covering them over. This has happened because I've allowed resentment to gain a foothold once again. Mom was hurtful toward me yesterday, but when I complained about her behavior to my husband and daughter I left out the fact that my impatience and resentment toward her had triggered her responses.  I've repented of these sins and I know the Lord has forgiven me.  And I have prayed for my mother.  

I'm ruefully grateful at how skilled the Lord is in bringing me to the repentance I needed today, and  I praise His Name. I am so grateful for his patience with me, and this morning I'm truly, humbly aware of the great blessings He has given to me through my beautiful daughter and  my precious mother.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Christ Has Done

This past Saturday I attended a book fair on the public library grounds in Hutchinson, Kansas. I was one of several authors who spoke throughout the afternoon, and was grateful to be assigned to speak first.  After my own sharing time was done I was able to relax and enjoy the other authors' talks.  

We were under a large tent with the authors' tables set up in a U shape filling the back third of the space. On the other end of the tent, about 50 chairs were set up in front of a raised platform that served as a podium for a small wooden lectern.  

My husband, John, attended the event with me, and had gone to a used book sale on the other side of the library.  I was sitting somewhat isolated from the other authors, next to the entrance to the tent and adjacent to a busy street.  A young man approached my table just as I knocked over a cup that contained a bit of water. 

I jumped to my feet, tore open my purse, and began to rummage around inside.  I glanced up at the man and smiled, saying, "I just have to find some Kleenex to clean up this water spill before it reaches my stack of books.  He had a strangely disconcerted expression on his face, and in order to put him at his ease I tried to make conversation. He was staring at my caregiving book and so I asked, "Does anyone in your family have Alzheimer's?"  He seemed to find this amusing and laughed at great length, a sort of spine-chilling giggle that unnerved me.  

He moved to the basket of chocolates I'd brought along. "I don't want one of those books but I'll give you a quarter for some of this candy," he said.  I told him to take some and welcome to it.  

Still laughing, he plunged his hand into the container and took a fistful of the candy, and then came around to my side of the table and began eating it,chuckling all the while.  He was standing uncomfortably close.  I began to pray silently, "Lord Jesus, Father God, Holy Spirit, protect me."  I made one more attempt to converse with the man but when I did he threw back his head and laughed loudly as though he couldn't believe I would chat with him. I decided he was either unstable or had evil intent; or perhaps both. 

A phrase from the Lord's prayer came to mind and I began to pray over and over, "Deliver us from evil..." 

I pulled my phone from my purse and held it to my left ear pretending I was receiving a call. The man was standing about two feet from me on my right and slightly behind me. I pressed speed dial for my husband's phone and he answered immediately.  I said, "Well hi, how are you doing? Oh, are you headed here now?  Yes that's fine."  John got the point somehow and said he would be right there. After he hung up I continued talking to the dead phone. I pretended that the person on the other end was asking about how the day was going and conversed animatedly. I was still talking away to no one when John appeared.  John stepped between the man and me and took a seat in the folding chair to my right. When the man turned his back to walk a few steps away I saw the outline of a handgun stuck in the back of his jeans. He had his t-shirt pulled down over it.

The man was still standing too close to us for me to tell John what I'd seen without being overheard.  I sat there frozen for a few minutes and then pulled out my phone. I pulled up a text screen and typed, "He has a gun stuck in the waistband in the back of his jeans."  I said, "Oh look at this text message I just got..." and stuck my phone right in front of John's face.

John read the message then turned,  pretending to adjust his chair so as to see the speaker more clearly, but in actuality so that he could keep his eye on the man.  John said later that he planned to tackle him if he reached behind him for the gun.  The man seemed nervous, and continually checked the street behind us--for traffic? Checking for witnesses? Waiting for a ride? 

The man hovered uncomfortably near to us for maybe 20 minutes, and then walked across the book fair site and entered the library.  John followed him (and I texted prayer partners for intercession) but the man quickly disappeared and we did not see him again.  We told the library personnel about it and they did a sweep of the library. He was nowhere to be found.  

I think maybe he'd planned to demand  my change box, or perhaps to grab my purse and run;  but when I spilled that water and jumped up I startled him. 

Yesterday morning I felt the Lord wanted me to read Psalm 121, and on a whim I read it at Biblegateway in a different translation than usual; the New Life Version. I prayed through it and claimed its comfort for our day. In the morning when I had read this Psalm, the part about God not letting me stumble really spoke to me.  I didn't want to trip on my way to the podium, nor did I want to stumble over my words.  But when I re-read the Psalm in the evening after the events of the day had transpired, this portion jumped out at me:  "The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your safe cover at your right hand" (Psalm 121:5 NLV).  

I believe that as that man stood uncomfortably close just to the right of us yesterday that the Lord stood between us. I believe we were delivered from evil. 

This morning in church I pondered yesterday's events as our pastor spoke about the great humility of Jesus, and I understood anew what Christ has done for us.  He has delivered us from evil.  By humbling himself to death on a Cross, Jesus Christ paid once and for all the terrible price demanded because of the sin of humankind.  Because of His awesome victory over sin and death, Jesus stands for all eternity between us and evil. 

I think the Lord delivers us from evil more often and in more ways than we know. I won't ever know what would have occurred had I not just happened to spill that bit of water on my table yesterday. Whether or not the young man who acted strangely and appeared to carry a concealed weapon intended us harm, I have received an Easter illustration of what the Lord has done for us.

Sometimes the Lord protects us from evil, and sometimes He sees us safely through it in the way  He is seeing us through my mom's Alzheimer's.  Either way, I praise His Name. 

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13 NIV84).