Saturday, February 20, 2010

Even the Happy Parts are Sad

The title for this blog post came to mind this morning as I sat in my cold car waiting for my husband to attach the battery cables. I'd left my headlights on. Again.

Happy to have someone who will come and charge the battery when I call. Sad to have a mental block about turning off my lights.

Taking my mother to the beauty shop. Happy I don't have to wash and set her hair at home, sad for the stress that comes from my fear she will fall as I help her to the car.

It's lovely to have Mom's beautiful room addition on our home. Happy for the material blessing of added space and beauty, sad that my mom won't always be here to enjoy the blessing she made possible.

So much about caregiving is like this. Even the beautiful moments are bittersweet. If I allow myself to bask in my mother's love, grief is just behind the warmth of her regard. My eyes fill with tears. I am happy to have my mother still with me. I am sad to have her so dependent on me, and that she is in the process of leaving me.

Sometimes there is no happy outcome, regardless of the choice one makes. If I choose to withdraw emotionally from my mother, I will suffer grief of loss ahead of her actual death, and guilt after. If I do not withhold myself, I face the daily blows that fall on my heart as she acts out resentment toward me or expresses love for me by turns.

Sad to be at this point in my life where grief cannot be avoided, happy to remember that those who mourn will be comforted.

My mother and I are walking the valley of the shadow of her death, but the Lord is with us. There is no place to run but into His arms.

And I am happy about that.

Scripture: "Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by the experience of God's favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!" (Matthew 5:4 AMP)

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you" (Matthew 5:4 The Message).

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4 ESV).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Don't Blame the Victim

Children can rarely comprehend the nature of wounds their parents have received, and I am very much a child when I respond resentfully to my mother's negative behaviors. Today I had to have the Lord's help to reach a place of compassion for Mom.

My heart had been battered once too often by my mother's acerbic responses to my well-intentioned caregiving efforts. Angry at my mother and also with God, I ran to my word processor to unleash my frustration. I felt a strong sense of righteous indignation, because I was aware that Mom's resentful attitude toward me had been well established even before Alzheimer's disease robbed her of finesse.

As I prayed, I was immediately aware that the Lord's heart was sorrowful over wounds my mother had suffered. I was led to remembrance and new understanding of two devastating heart hurts she sustained as a young adult. When she was twenty, my mother's fiance died in an air training exercise during World War II, and then just a few years later, she nursed her sister, Goldie, through a losing battle against breast cancer. Mom was in charge of administering her sister's injections for pain relief. There was no hospice care in those days, and Mom stayed by Goldie's side until the cancer took her life.

Out of the terrible grief she suffered as a result of those deaths, there was born an overwhelming fear of loss. Thus, in her mothering she gave more than she had the capacity to give. This giving broke her mind and her heart, and not in a way that was God's will for her. Rendered unable to trust by those early deaths, she could not trust God for her little daughter's life, and so she spent herself unwisely in an effort to protect me. Her mental stability and emotional health crumpled under the strain.

Having grown up observing my mother's responses, I learned to be overly cautious and yes, fearful; but there is a difference between a learned response and the front line trauma of post traumatic stress. I am able to see the truth that release of my children into God's hands is possible, and holds blessing both for them and for me. My mother was not thus enabled. This is a difference that will bring me peace that my mother was not able to attain. I must not blame her for her negative behaviors any more than I would blame a car crash victim for being injured. The crash upon my mother’s heart came from watching her sister die and from having what she perceived to be future hope of happiness robbed from her through the same portal—death, another death, that of her young fiancĂ©. She was frightened out of her mind and withdrew from the fear of loss. I feel the Lord say to me, "She gave unwisely but Child, can you not honor the fact that she gave so much?"

Sadly, giving that is done out of a need to protect our own hearts tends to become self-centeredness. We become bound by that we cannot release, and so my mother was and is still to some degree bound by her need of my love. This is what I've found to be so repellent; this is what I found to be suffocating and has caused bonds against which I struggle. My current resentment of my mother has grown from the feeling that she has reeled me in at last; that I am now merely an accessory to her life, by turns maid, nurse, mother, friend, and daughter; I am her all in all, or would be if God would allow her to make me so. But He will not allow it. I do not need to be afraid. I am precious in His sight and He will protect me, even as He has provided for my mother.

The “caregiver’s perspective” will save me grief now. My mother takes her cues from me. I can be cheerful, positive and not unduly upset when she is not pleasant. I can respond in compassion to her, grieving with the Lord over the heartaches that cost her so much, but knowing that the Lord has taken those heartaches upon Himself. Mom is not to blame. The Lord has taken the blame.

Everyone is broken; all of us have been injured in some way. We will never know or understand the full extent of the injuries sustained by those for whom we care. This is undoubtedly the reason the Bible says "Judge not." We don't have enough information. As caregivers, we must recognize that our loved ones have received injuries from which they could not recover, injuries not of their own making. To love as we've been loved and forgive as we've been forgiven is the Lord's will for us through our faith and trust in Christ Jesus.

I'm praying for grace today to manifest love to my mom, even when she is not loving toward me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Isn't He Amazing?

Don't you just love it when the Lord shows us that He is intimately involved in every facet of our lives and that He knows us completely? This week I have received a powerful demonstration of the fact that the Lord doesn't drop one thread in the intricate weaving of the details of our lives.

The Lord has been speaking to me about release. In my last post I wrote about the reasons I felt frightened of giving God free access to every part of my life. Letting go was difficult, but the ensuing sense of freedom is wonderful! Since I let go in order to let God, I've been waltzing around as though I hadn't a care in the world; this in spite of an impending root canal, an absent son, high cholesterol readings, and twenty extra pounds that my own efforts have not banished. I've released those things into the Lord's hands! If He has to hurt me to help me, then He'll be with me in the hurt. And if He wants to bless me beyond my wildest dreams, well then, I'm not standing in His way there, either!

Now here's the really cool part of this story. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short story about a woman named Lydia, who had been a follower of John the Baptist. The story chronicles Lydia's spiritual journey as she learns to be a follower of Jesus. While struggling with this transition, Lydia is helping to clean a campsite where John has spoken to a group of his few remaining disciples. She has bent to gather a discarded linen wrapper from the ground along with some crusts of bread, and when she straightens, she finds herself looking across the river to where a large crowd of people have gathered around Jesus. At this juncture John calls to those who have remained with him, and explains to them that they too must cross the river. Lydia makes the crossing, but it isn't until she meets Jesus face to face that she is able to release her allegiance to John. This is symbolized when her hand relaxes and the crusts of bread that she has been clutching so tightly fall to the ground.

This story meant a great deal to me when I was young because even then I understood that though the Lord often asks us to release to Him things we would very much prefer to keep, He always has something much better if we will only let go the past and move with courage into the future.

One day this week I just happened to find an old notebook. It was a thick three inch binder containing about five years of journal entries. I randomly flipped the book open about forty pages into the sheaf of single spaced, typewritten pages. I found myself reading Lydia's story, written so long ago. I had forgotten the details of the story, and I had forgotten where I had filed it. If you'd have asked me, I would have said it was lost. My renewed acquaintance with this story just happened to occur on the evening of the day that I wrote my last blog entry, which was about a similar spiritual journey of release. Wow!

It gets better. This morning in church we took communion. When it was my turn to receive the bread, the pastor broke an unusually large chunk from the loaf he held in his hands. I tore a smaller piece from the chunk, partook of the bread and the grape juice symbolizing the Holy sacrifice of our Lord, and returned to my seat. At the end of the service I opened my hand saw that I'd been clutching a remnant of bread. As I tossed the crust into the trash on my way out of the sanctuary, I remembered Lydia's story.

The Lord certainly is able to emphasize a point. I am aware that He is speaking "RELEASE" to me and wants to be certain I get the message. I'm newly aware of His complete knowledge of me and His deep love for me. I'm trembling a little bit because I'm silly...I'm wondering what difficult or wondrous thing might lie just ahead on my path. But an overwhelming awareness of God's power, knowledge, and love puts those fears to rest. Isn't He amazing?

Scripture: "Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you" (Joshua 3:5).

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Do You Not Understand...

Well, I've done it again. I have spent weeks, perhaps months, struggling against releasing myself fully into God's hands. I've resisted the release: I've struggled against the repose that is mine through the inheritance provided me in Christ.


Because although I believe that God intends me good and not harm, I'm afraid He'll harm me for my good. And so I hold the Almighty at a distance while I struggle fruitlessly to put to rights the wrongs created by my own sin.

For years the words that have sprung to my lips when I enter into the Lord's presence are, "Here I am." But of late that kind of presenting myself to the Lord for His examination has been absent. "Here I am," is another way of saying "Take me and use me as You will." I'm fine with that portion of the release, but it is the implied, "Search me and correct what is wrong," that I've resisted. I'm afraid the correction will hurt.

This morning, once again, I was struggling in my devotion time when, in my mind, I heard the Lord say, "What do you not understand about 'never again'?"

You see, I've come through some difficult times in my life--not difficult compared to the life journeys of many others, but difficult, nonetheless. There are portions of my past that, having survived once, I never want to revisit. I know that God was with me. I can see that He brought me through wonderfully and with blessing. But I don't want to revisit the kind of suffering I once endured, and it is this fear the Lord addressed with me this morning.

Of the reluctance to release ourselves fully into God's hands Hannah Whitall Smith says, "We have most of us tried to do it for ourselves at first, and have grievously failed; then we discover from the Scriptures and from our own experience that it is a work we are utterly unable to do for ourselves, but that the Lord Jesus Christ has come on purpose to do it, and that He will do it for all who put themselves wholly into His hand, and trust Him to do it" (The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life, Hannah Whitall Smith, public domain).

Another Christian writer (my mother) said, "Continually look for things that remind us that God is in all things we see or experience. Don’t hold back from life in fear of being hurt—or of seeing or feeling things that are devastating to us. Sometimes these are the things [in which] we may find some of God’s work for us" (Anna Ruth's journal—July, 1962).

It is time to forget the things that are past and to move into the future in faith and trust in my Lord and my God. He hasn't let me down yet. I'm asking His forgiveness today for my lack of trust.

Here I am, Lord.

Scripture: "You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed" (Joel 2:26).

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In His Hands

During a reading lesson one day last week, one of my students wanted to talk about God. He said, “I think God holds us in his hands like one of those balls with the falling down snow inside.” Here, he cupped his hands and drew them near his face, peering into his imaginary globe. “I think God can put His face up close and see everything that goes on in there,” he said.

Touched by the faith that enabled this child to conceptualize God’s involvement in the lives of those He loves, I thought about my own perception of God’s presence with me. I realized that what I believe can be stated pretty much as my little student said it; I believe everything is in God’s hands and that there is no safe harbor apart from Him. Other human beings will let us down, even those who love us the most and who are most dependable. They fall prey to human frailty, perhaps through becoming so involved in their own pain that they can't see ours, or through betrayal, or they get sick; and sometimes they die and leave us all alone.

I believe that God alone loves perfectly and with sovereign power that enables Him to use even those circumstances that seem disastrous to me for my blessing. I can trust Him for myself and I can entrust those I love into His capable Hands. He won't let me down. He won't let them down. He can be depended upon to bring forth beauty and blessing from the ashes of human failure and disappointment.

I believe God puts His face up close to mine and sees everything that goes on in my mind, my heart, and my world; and that he holds me safely in His hands.

Scripture: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 NIV).