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


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).