Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Morning Meditation

This morning I read Isaiah 49. The first few verses of this passage always make me smile, because my last name is "Born." And so when I read, "...before you were born, I called you," the words carry a double meaning for me. I'm always reminded that before I was Mrs. Born, even when I was just Linda, I was loved by the Lord. The same love of God that was with me from childhood carries me now. I am not lost in my roles of wife, mother, teacher, and caregiver; to Him I am loved uniquely and am specially chosen beyond any roles I fill.

For those of you who are feeling lost in your role as caregiver, I would encourage you this morning. The Lord's love for you is not bound to your service to others. He sees beyond your present station in life to the unique heart of you. To Him you are still the child you once were before the burdens you now carry became so heavy. The Lord sees your heartache, He understands, He weeps with you.

Caregiving is a temporary role that we will someday outgrow. Thank God for His strengthening and sustaining presence through all the times of our lives.

Scripture: "Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name... But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:1, 4).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

For Lo the Winter is (almost) Past

I've suffered a virus this week, one of those aching, sneezing, feverish colds that depletes the available supply of Kleenex at an unbelievable rate.  Despite liberal use of germ gel and Clorox wipes, this morning my husband, John, woke up with unmistakable signs that he too had fallen victim to this virulent rhinovirus. 

"I've caught your cold," he accused. 

"It is not MY cold," I replied grouchily.  I was a victim.  Do not blame the victim!"

And so our morning went. 

After John left for work with a thermos of hot tea tucked under his arm, I came back upstairs thinking I would rest awhile longer.  I paused at the doorway of my bedroom and surveyed with distaste the crumpled wrappers from cough drops, wadded tissues, and rumpled bed linens.  I decided to purge the area of all germs, and as I began to clean I raised the window shades and looked outside.  After days of sub-zero windchills and too much snow, the temperature had reached a balmy 45 degrees. Letting go of a negative mindset is not easy, but as I gazed at the melting snow, I allowed myself to feel a hope of spring.  I looked at the propane tank that holds fuel for our house furnace, and just beyond it noticed the neat stack of firewood.  I thought about how inclined I am to focus on the storms life brings me rather than to thank God for the protection He provides from those storms.  Warmth, heat, and light were all ours in abundance throughout this bitter winter.

I turned from the window and came into my little upstairs office room, noticing signs of comfort all around.  The little electric heater that warms my feet as I word process...

And the afghan made by my cousin's wife as a Christmas gift about thirty years ago.  It has survived many washings intact, and is our go-to source of warmth when the bed doesn't have quite enough blankets.  We wander around the house looking for it, because it quite often gets carried to wherever someone wants to settle down to read or watch TV.  "Where's that afghan," John will ask, "You know, the one Carol made..."

After several weeks of grousing and complaining about my lot, today I'm willing to admit that God has been very good to us. Life brings its storms.  My mom's Alzheimer's disease is just one of the challenges we've faced over the past few years.  But when I focus on how God has seen us through, I feel hope.  Winter can't last forever, but while it lingers the Lord's comfort and provision will see us through. 

Scripture:  "You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm..." (Isaiah 25:4)

"For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come..."  Song of Solomon 2:11-12, KJV

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Unnecessary Embarrassment of Dementia

This post is the most recent article  submitted to our community newspaper for my monthly caregiving column.  It is based on the January 19 blog post here at God, Mom, Alzheimer's, and Me; but I thought it worth re-posting because it contains a few additional points.  And, I have to admit that I spend more time editing the column than I do the typical blog post.  It is a bit more polished.  Hope you find some encouragement here today.  Blessings, Linda

Most of us remember feeling embarrassed by a parent during our teenage years.  One of the times it happened to me occurred the summer I was 13.  My best friend arrived at my house unannounced, and my father answered the door wearing what we used to call Bermuda shorts.  My excessive humiliation seems laughable now; how silly to be so embarrassed by the fact that my father had legs.  Even worse than the embarrassment itself was the horrific guilt over feeling ashamed of my father. 

When a loved one is stricken with Alzheimer's disease, there can be a similar sense of guilt-producing shame on the part of the caregiver.  Most caregivers attempt to "cover" for their loved ones who have dementia, and a few take it so far as to avoid an official diagnosis.  This can't go on indefinitely, because untreated Alzheimer's disease tends to progress in ways that become hard to hide.   

When dementia strikes, the patient may no longer respond appropriately in social situations because behavior characteristics that might accurately be labeled “sinful” can no longer be hidden.  Since there are no perfect people, this is a universal problem.    

I love my mother fiercely and protectively.  I remember her as she was pre-dementia, when she was my closest confidante, my number one admirer, and the person who could be depended upon to pray for me any hour of the day or night.  When I look in the mirror I am blessed to see a strong resemblance to my mother. I love her so much that when she is gone from me, the ways that I resemble her physically will be a comfort to me; a way that she will remain with me for all of my life.  I am determinedly glad for all the ways I am like my mother. 

Occasionally, someone will respond to Mom’s dementia related behaviors with disapproval or misplaced humor.  When this happens I always wish I could stage a showing of a home movie of my mother as she was 25 years ago.  The person who responded negatively to her would be forced to admit that my mother was admirable back then, and that behind the facade of dementia and old age, she is admirable still.

I guard my mother carefully and sometimes keep her separated from social interactions in order to protect her.  However, just as I once felt humiliation over my father’s choice of summer attire, I now sometimes experience a sense of unnecessary shame concerning my mother.  There are times when it is good and right for me to shield my mother from situations that I know might trigger a negative response, but at other times, I am guilty of being overprotective.  My hope for myself and for other caregivers is that we can release the sense of misplaced responsibility that causes us to attempt to control how our care recipients are perceived by others.  There is nothing shameful about being afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Right Where I'm Supposed to Be

When I first began taking care of my mom, I remember struggling against a restlessness that made me feel that caregiving was robbing time from other responsibilities. At first I saw providing care to Mom as an interruption in my life's plan, rather than a holy purpose assigned to me by God. I came to understand that the Lord desired me to have the same kind of commitment to caregiving as I had experienced in my dedication to teaching children to read during my career as a teacher.

I've since learned that it is a mistake to define myself by the job assignments I am given. Back then I thought of myself so strongly in terms of my identity as a teacher that it was difficult for me to cut my job to half time in order to assume the new role of caregiver. And now, as I prepare to retire from my teaching career a few years early, this message has been reiterated to me again and again:  I am never to think of myself as being defined by the job I do, but rather in terms of the relationship I have; I am a child of God.

Flexibility is not and has not ever been my strong point. The transition to the role of caregiver was difficult for me just as letting go of my teaching career is hard for me now. I tend to resist new roles until the Lord sort of knocks me upside the head and says, "I am in this! Stop resisting! Blessings are in store!!!"

One of my newer roles is that of grandmother. I love my grandson dearly, long for him when I don't see him for more than a few days; and delight in him when he is with me. However, I'm ashamed to admit that I do not enjoy babysitting. Tending to the needs of a toddler always elicits in me that restless feeling described above, as though I am not doing what I'm supposed to do.

Yesterday my husband and daughter went on a grocery shopping expedition together, and I was left behind, taking care of not quite three-year-old Daniel. We were having a wonderful time, but beneath my enjoyment of this precious child lurked the the oppressive weight of all of my other responsibilities.  That restless, ever-present voice in my head whispered that I ought to be accomplishing something else.  

I'd pulled out an old teaching unit and found a folder full of colorful, laminated photos of different kinds of birds. As I pulled each photo from the folder, Daniel named them. I was laughing in delight at the fact that he knew "flamingo," when three die cut letters fell from the folder. 

"Probably a caption from an old bulletin board," I thought. I looked through the folder to get a clue as to what the caption might have been, but found no more letters.

"D," said Daniel, picking up one of the letters.

"D is for Daniel!" I smiled, once again amazed at my grandson's knowledge.

And then I picked up the other two letters. Slowly, and with the strong feeling that the Holy Spirit wanted me to pay attention, I set them out.

"S for Scott," I said. Daniel's middle name is Scott.

With goosebumps, I put the final letter in place. "Here is an R for your last name, Daniel."

Sure enough, my grandson's initials, DSR, lay before us. There were no other letters in the folder or in the box from which they came. I have no idea why those three letters were placed in the folder initially, because that file hadn't been opened for at least ten years. I know the Lord was telling me there will be opportunities still to use the materials and experience I've gained over the past thirty years as a teacher.  Most of all, I understood that yesterday afternoon as I sorted pictures of birds with my precious grandson,  I was right where I was supposed to be.

As human beings we long so much to attain a place of security and to remain there. When we draw feelings of self-esteem from any source but the Lord, we will be disappointed. In this life there is no consistency apart from Him. I continue to learn that I am secure only when I find my identity in the Lord. 

Scripture: "I, the Lord, do not change..." Malachi 3:6.