Friday, December 21, 2012

Permission to Rejoice

Does the phrase “…and on top of everything else…” seem to become a sort of Murphy’s law motif for your life? 

It does mine. 

My mom got Alzheimer’s.  I cut my teaching job to half time to care for her. Then…

On top of everything else, my job assignment was restructured, and so I chose to take early retirement. 

Then on top of everything else, we are farmers and have had two drought years back to back. 

In the midst of these sorrows we recognize God’s presence with us and begin to breathe more easily.  

But then on top of everything else, the national news brings tidings of a horrific event in Newtown, CT., something so unimaginably grievous that we would not have in our darkest dreams considered it a possibility. 

And then on top of everything else, we receive word of a local family whose home is destroyed by fire on the very day they bring their ailing child home from a five-week hospital stay. 

In the midst of sorrows of such magnitude that our own small sufferings shrink away to nothing by comparison, it seems wrong to smile and say “Merry Christmas.” A grim countenance of despair seems more appropriate, and less likely to rub salt in the wounds of those who have suffered such mind-boggling loss. 

You will understand why I floundered in confusion for a bit when, during my morning devotions, I heard the Lord’s still small voice saying: You have permission to rejoice. 

Jesus was born into a world full of sorrow and despair.  Sometimes we like to quibble about the details of His coming, but it truly doesn’t matter whether He arrived in the midst of winter, or earlier in the season (as the debate goes); or if he was born in a stable, or a cave, or a nicely furnished outbuilding offered by a gracious innkeeper (rather than the grouchy tyrant we’ve come to envision); what matters is that He has come

We have permission to rejoice. 

We are a people in need of a Savior, and the Savior has come.  As we weep with those who mourn and open our hearts and bank accounts to those who are suffering, we become His hands and heart in this world.  In the midst of weeping and suffering throbs a strong chord of hope for the past, present, and future:  God was, is, and will be with us because of what Christ has done for us.  No sorrow we face has to be endured alone; He weeps with our sorrows, provides solace for our wounds, and gives a sure promise for a future when there will be no more tears. 

We not only have the Lord's consent to rejoice, we are instructed to do so!  A search at Biblegateway shows that the word “rejoice” appears in God’s Word 155 times. 

Today I am giving myself permission to rejoice. 

“He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…”  Luke 1:14

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Children Are Tender

I have neglected this blog for the past month as I have been busy with final edits for my new book, which has the current working title The Children Are Tender

My first book was written as I cried out to the Lord for help during the time I was transitioning into the role of caregiver, and while those prayers and the Lord's gracious answers were such a blessing for me and hopefully for others, it was not an easy book to write.  By contrast, writing the fictionalized account of my first year of teaching was just plain fun.  I'd witnessed many shocking, heart-rending, and amusing events during my years of teaching, and writing about some of these (changing names and details) allowed me to give full vent to my love of storytelling.  At the same time I was able to share the passion I shared with my colleagues for helping children.  No, helping is too mild a term; we felt convicted that our mission was to save kids, to save them from that soul-withering sense of self-condemnation that is almost inevitable when children struggle academically.  My special joy was in teaching children to read. You can get a sneak preview of the new book here:   

It has come strongly to my awareness that since little children and the elderly do not have a lucid voice with which to state their own needs, we as caregivers must bear with honor the precious burden of speaking for them. We do this when we identify with Christ's love for those who can't help themselves. I'm thinking tonight of what a blessed privilege I have had to write on behalf of those who are weak.  

You can like the new book's Facebook page, or follow on Twitter, and at Pinterest. The Children Are Tender will go to press sometime after Christmas, and I'll put up a link here when it becomes available.  

"And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die" Genesis 33:13, KJV. 

Lead character  first year teacher Lydia Birn's paraphrase: 
The children are tenderhearted and easily hurt. I will lead them gently, at their own pace.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lord is My Caregiver

During the past twenty years or so, there has been increased awareness of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.  A host of initiatives have come forth to improve public awareness and funding for research.

In the wake of all this new interest and knowledge, caregivers have moved into the spotlight.  We caregivers have a collective voice that speaks compellingly; we write books, attend support group meetings, and elicit empathy by the "noble" sacrifices we have made in order to do the work of providing care to others.  

At a recent meeting I attended, a list of the symptoms of "Caregiver Syndrome" were listed.  Daunting statistics about the well-being of someone who cares for the needs of a health compromised loved one were read.  The implication was that it is unwise to sacrifice oneself on behalf of another person, especially when that person is dementia afflicted and on the way out of this world anyway.  

This line of reasoning can lead to tragic outcomes not only for people who are in need of loving support as they go through the process of suffering and dying, but also for caregivers who receive the subtle message, "Put your own needs first."  A refusal to move into a caregiving role may in truth be a resistance to the honing influence of circumstances God would use to bring great blessing.  

The Lord has made it clear to me that my mother's concerns are paramount in His eyes. Mom is undergoing the final phase of her life journey and it's as though God says to me, "Do not abandon her out of fear for yourself. Be brave with the courage I will provide, be strong with the strength I give.  To say 'I can't' is to say that the Lord is not sufficient for your needs."  

I am strong with His strength, enabled by His enabling power to face down my fear and aversion to illness and death so I can stay by my mother's side as she nears the end of her life's journey.  "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants..." (Psalm 116:15) This is a solemn and precious time for my mother.  It's only right that her needs trump mine for now.  

There will be life for me after my mother's Alzheimer's. I have the Lord's assurance that He will see me through and that His promises to me will be fulfilled.  I don't have to worry about myself; the Lord is my Caregiver, I shall not want!  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

All Things...Even Alzheimer's

At the Authors' Roundup in Abilene, Kansas November 4.  
If my mom hadn't gotten Alzheimer's, I would never have written a book for caregivers. If I hadn't lost the reading program that meant so much to me, I wouldn't have taken early retirement from my teaching job. If I hadn't already had author status, I'd never have written a novel that is a tribute to how much I loved teaching kids to read. If God hadn't kept my heart's needs in mind through the sorrows He allowed, a traditional publishing company never would have picked up either of my books. I am grateful, and have peace in the understanding that God truly does work all things together for good...even Alzheimer's.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Yesterday afternoon I returned home from an errand and tossed my purse into a chair by the kitchen table. I had a writing project to complete, and a quick check of the clock told me I had about thirty minutes before my mother would expect her supper to be served. I hurried upstairs to my computer, inadvertently leaving purse and cell phone behind.  While I was working I could hear Mom's voice on the monitor and assumed she was talking to the cat.

I worked diligently for a half an hour, then hurried downstairs.  I remembered my phone, and while Mom's supper was heating I saw that she had tried to call me three times in that thirty minute period that I'd been upstairs.  I took her plate to her and though she was grouchy, she was happy to see the food.  I put my phone in my pocket and went back to work on my project.

A few minutes later a police car pulled into the driveway.  I hurried to the door.  The officer said there had been a 911 call from our address and said he needed to speak to Anna.  I took him into Mom's sunny apartment, and there she sat, her empty supper plate beside her, music wafting in the background, the cat asleep on her lap.

"Ma'am, you reported that you were being neglected," he said.

And regardless of the fact that her only daughter appeared in danger of being hauled off to jail by a uniformed police officer (and even though his enormously tall colleague came galloping through the door unannounced in the midst of the conversation), Mom drew herself up righteously and said, "Well I DO feel neglected."

I said, "MOM!  You called the POLICE on me!!"  When she looked at my face her attitude changed but only slightly.

She shrugged, "Well, I'm senile. I know I'm well cared for."

There were apologies all around, an admonition from the policeman and his colleague  not to leave my cell phone behind again, and they left.

When I listened to my phone messages it became apparent that Mom had not called the police from confusion or emotional upset, but out of a vindictive desire to hurt me.  In the first two messages she had asked for a box of crackers to eat with her diet coke.  The third message said, "Linda, I am thinking of how I can annoy you the most.  I am going to call 911 and report elder abuse."  And she did.

This dealt me a heart hurt as deep as any I've received during these eight years of caregiving. My son told me I couldn't take it personally, that it was the disease.  "Yes, Son, I know that, but let me have my moment!" I exclaimed.

I needed a moment to feel the betrayal, to suffer the grief, and to process through to forgiveness.  In prayer I felt the Lord emphasize the importance of forgiving Mom now, and I remembered that Scripture that says what is bound on earth is bound in Heaven.  As a dear friend told me this morning, ".. though it is now a dim reflection, at times barely visible at all, one glorious day your momma will sweep her arms knowingly, lovingly around her beloved Linda as the Father wraps you both in His embrace!" 

I want to be ready to walk right into Mom's welcoming hug once the last vestiges of Alzheimer's and sin have fallen away and we meet our Lord in Glory. And so I forgave her, and prayed for her, and today we've had sweet fellowship together once again.  

This morning I installed a nifty one touch phone, with large printed names of four family members Mom can call, both home and landlines. She now has only to lift the receiver and press one of our names so the process of dialing won't be so frustrating for her.  Giving her more options of people to call should lessen greatly the chance of her dialing 911.  

I've vowed never, ever, to forget my cell phone again.  But if I do, I know the Lord will be with us just as He was yesterday when two police officers arrived at my door to inquire about the welfare of my Mom.  

Scripture:  "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).  

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).  

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Have Never Seen the Righteous Forsaken

There have been times when someone in my circle of friends n' relations has quit a well paying job for reasons no one else fully understands.  When this sort of a decision is made from a basis of personal discontent and apart from the Lord (which probably explains the discontent), it is almost always a poor decision.  God tends to put us in uncomfortable situations because we are so weak and He wants to strengthen us.  "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11)."

When I decided first to cut my paying job to half time, then to take early retirement in order to provide care for my mother, not very many people understood.  Earlier posts have shown how hesitant I was to make this decision, how the Lord narrowed the path before me, how I agonized, indulged fear, wept, and prayed.  Talk about "testing the spirits!" I wanted to be positive I was following God's will for my life and sought Godly counsel, prayed, perused Scripture, and prayed some more.  

Now with this caveat that an impetus to step off one path and onto another must be of the Lord--because I don't want anyone to read this and feel moved to indulge an urge to quit their job in order to live off the land in bucolic bliss--I offer the following thought: 

It’s not so much that we need to get used to living with less but that we need to trust that God is willing to provide us more, when we are following His will for our lives.  We cling to our chosen method of making our own way, and in so doing rob ourselves of the abundant provision the Lord would provide free of cost or the terrible labor we expend as we seek to earn our own living.  If we release the need to provide for the future into the Lord’s hands, we’ll find that as we go about His work He provides for our needs and holds our future safe in His hand. 

"I was young and now I am old yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Psalm 37:5).  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Against All Odds...

This morning I find myself at the beginning of another book publishing journey, and this is an enormous-to-me event. To my humble amazement, Les Stobbe, agent extraordinaire, responded warmly and positively to my email asking whether  he might possibly consider becoming my literary agent.  Less than two weeks after I listed my novel with a manuscript screening service that  by its own admission places only 3% of its submissions with book publishing contracts, I have a well-known Christian literary agent and a pending book contract with a well-respected Christian publisher, Ambassador International.

The door to these blessings was opened because I obeyed the Lord when He asked me to release something very important to me in order to do work that is very important to Him.

I really struggled with the decision to obey Him.  

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's she was still so high-functioning that putting her in a nursing home wasn't really an option. She couldn't live by herself any longer, and so we took her into our home.  The next school year I had the opportunity to cut my teaching job to half time. This took away my status as a classroom teacher and began the weaning process from the school that had been the center of my career and the focus of my ministry to children for all of my adult life.  The Lord was very gentle with me as He narrowed the path before me.

Still, it was hard.

When my special half time position was discontinued, I had the opportunity to accept a new job description and to continue on as a teacher, but I knew the Lord wanted me to place my trust in Him and to retire early so that I could write and provide care for my mother. I did not stride forth with faith and confidence.  I took tiny, baby steps, weeping and wailing, clinging to the past and mourning; pretty much discrediting the Lord who had guided me safely thus far and had promised not to drop me now.

He stood by me anyway.

When my first book contract netted a grand total of $164 over three years of royalty proceedings, I thought at first that I was on the wrong track, that I'd heard the Lord incorrectly.  But God doesn't measure success as the world does.  About that time came out with Author Central, which posts a map showing where in the United States an author's books have sold.  As I looked at that map and saw that the fifty some odd books my publisher had sold through Amazon had been distributed all over the country, I realized that the Lord had made a way for a retired school teacher from Kansas to touch fifty lives with the guidance God had graciously provided her. I saw that I'd been blessed indeed.  And meantime, against all odds, the Lord has provided us health insurance (think about two fifty-some-year-old people trying to find health insurance in this day and age...but the Lord provided us a way) and adequate income (even though we are farmers and have faced two drought years back to back).

My mother's condition is deteriorating and I am afraid.  I am ashamed to admit that I can't let her go.  I cannot release her calmly and with sure faith in the One who hasn't dropped me yet.  I will weep and wail, cling to the past and mourn, and will risk discrediting the Lord who has been so gracious to me on every step of our journey through my mother's Alzheimer's.

He'll stand by me anyway.

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watchedover your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything (Deuteronomy 2:7).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Caregiving Comfort

We caregivers always have to renegotiate the relationship we have with our loved ones each time their disease moves forward and our status quo changes. I want to share the Lord's comfort to me from these difficult days as my mother's condition begins to deteriorate.

When your care recipient is demanding and rude...

You belong to Me, but I will never strangle you with grasping arms, accuse you of being inadequate for My needs, or cling to you so that you feel smothered.  Drawing near to Me brings freedom, not bondage.  You do not have to be cautious in your submission to Me; I will not selfishly use you to gratify My needs.

When the path ahead seems frightening and you aren't sure how to proceed:  

Don’t forget, you do not have to make your own way, or to forge your own path.  I am your path maker.  You have only to follow Me.  Seek ye first… 

Reassuring Scripture:  

"The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert..."  (Deuteronomy 2:7). 

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).  

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Faith is believing without seeing.  Think of the challenge this poses for the Lord! He wants to provide His children the blessings of faith; but how does He gift His people with a virtue that must be acquired through the promise of rewards that can’t yet be seen? 

I remember a scene in the Disney version of the Aladdin story.  Aladdin extends his hand to Jasmine and says, “Do you trust me?”  They are perched on the edge of a roof and he is asking her to jump.  He knows, but she does not, that the awnings to the shops below will break their fall.  There isn’t time to explain. Jasmine, of course, agrees. They jump, and all turns out well. 

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s eight years ago, I had no reason to believe all would turn out well. The option of cutting my work schedule to half time in order to care for Mom was presented to me and I was terrified. Money was tight already. How would we survive if my salary was cut in half?  But I heard the Lord saying, “Do you trust Me?” 

After I’d accepted a half time position and not before, we found that my mother could legally (and ethically) pay me to care for her.  With an attorney who was an elder law expert, we set up what is called an “in-advance contract.”  Duties I would perform for Mom were specifically outlined, and for these she agreed to pay me a small monthly salary.  While the amount Mom pays me is substantially less than the halftime salary I gave up, we never noticed the difference.  And there were so many blessings besides, not the least of which was my decreased stress level.

A few years later came the biggest leap of faith I’ve made thus far.  Budget cuts took my half time job.  I was reassigned to new, less satisfying teaching duties. My husband needed my help on the farm, Mom was in need of increasing levels of care, and I heard the Lord whisper, “Now is the time. Early retirement!”

Do you trust Me? 

The Lord’s nudge was unmistakable, and with fear and trembling I turned in my resignation. I was terrified we wouldn’t be able to find or afford health insurance coverage.  After I resigned I learned I would be able to continue coverage through the school’s policy because of my years of service, but the premiums would be a staggeringly huge amount.  I had no idea how we would pay them. 

Do. You. Trust. ME?

Trembling, shaking, staggering forward I replied, “Yes, Lord, I trust You…”

I didn’t know that my retirement check plus a health care tax savings would come to almost exactly the amount of our monthly insurance premium.  At this point, despite our farm income having been decreased by two drought years in a row, we have not been under financial strain as a result of my early retirement. 

Lately I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to worry.  Mom’s condition is deteriorating and I am afraid of the grief of finally losing her.  Her absence will leave a multi-faceted void in my life; the final loss of my mother, my patient, and my last remaining tie to childhood. How will I cope with yet another role change? I was a teacher, now I am a caregiver; what comes next for me?  Even more frightening, how will I survive the circumstances of my mother’s departure?  Alzheimer’s is not known for taking its victims peacefully. 

Do you trust Me? 

I do trust the Lord. He has taught me to trust Him through a series of life experiences that have allowed me the opportunity to take numerous leaps of faith. 

I am so grateful that I was able to scrape together courage to take His hand when He invited me to trust Him.  The lesson to be absorbed is that He does not often reveal the provision He will make until after the step requiring trust is taken.  This is how He grants us the opportunity to take possession of the eternal virtue of faith.  “…trust were not trust if thou could see the ending of the way…” *

Yes, I trust Him.  I may be shaking a bit but I will step forward with confidence.  He has never dropped me.  Not once.  

Illustration of Aladdin and Jasmine was found here

*Quote from the poem by Freda Hanbury Allen found here: Click on "My Plans for Thee"

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Best Insurance Against Alzheimer's

Nurturing a daily relationship with God is the best insurance we can provide ourselves against the devastation caused by Alzheimer's disease.  (I thought I'd just say this right up front so you won't have to read more than the first sentence if you've arrived at this site hoping for a recommendation of a new preventative supplement, diet, or brain exercise!)

Lately I've become increasingly aware that my mother's successful navigation of early Alzheimer's has less to do with quality care (!) and more to do with her relationship with the Lord. To show you how I know faith is a key to my mother's success, here is an excerpt from her journal (recorded  just after she had endured my negative response when she called me for the fourth time in a 30 minute period):

I am well cared for!  Do not call Linda!! My senior mind convinces me what I'm doing (when I call) is right and sensible!  Not so!

Lord, I pray--guide me to write, read, pray, and occupy myself--because all I need is cared for. My senior mind has a hard time accepting I'm not thinking logically. For years I was responsible and accomplished much.  Now--let go--and let God. This pen and notebook will occupy my heart and mind--allow that to be Anna Ruth! When your senior mind causes problems try to grasp what caretakers are telling you. Lord Jesus, guide me to let go and let others with a kind and compassionate spirit--I pray for this, Lord Jesus! 

My mother is 88 years old and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she was 79.  She's done amazingly well for reasons we can't fully analyze, but we are assured much credit goes to her strong faith and the daily (hourly, moment-by-moment) conversations she carries on with the Lord.

Now that doesn't mean all is sweetness and light here.  My mother always forgets her resolutions not to call me for trivialities, and while I've been writing this post she's called three times.  But we both have an ongoing assurance that the Lord is with us.  Even if we forget Him, He will not forget us. 

And that assurance gives peace. 

Scripture: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..." (Isaiah 43:2-3).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More Blessed to Give...and Easier, Too!

              Every month I skim the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Caregiving Newsletter along with several other informative publications about dementia. A term I’m seeing with increasing frequency is “care recipient.”  Care recipients are the ones who are on the receiving end of services rendered by caregivers.

This week an incident occurred that made me realize that while it may be more blessed to give care than to receive it, giving has the advantage of being an easier assignment. Here’s how I learned this truth:
I, like my mother before me, have long been an easy mark for letters from charitable organizations requesting money. Mom used to always send at least $3 to every worthy cause; I’ve upped the ante and send $5. One day my husband came in from the mailbox bearing a sheaf of envelopes so thick that the postman had rubber banded them together.
My spouse said, “Hon, you’ve got to quit sending donations to every single place that asks. It just puts you on their mailing lists forever. And they communicate with each other—the requests for money increase exponentially.”  
“Exponential” is a math term, so my brain automatically shut down. In response to my blank look he explained, “The first organization sells your address to another, and they sell your address to another, and so on. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16…”
I did understand that our mailbox was being stuffed with increasing numbers of requests for money, and so I humbly agreed to stop sending my tiny donations to every single organization that asked for contributions.
The next morning I crunched through the dull brown grass in our front yard and reached the mailbox just as several dried cornhusks settled on the ground in front of me. The drought fueled wind has been lifting the nearly weightless remains of our hopes for a corn crop high into the air, and then hours later they float down to earth like debris after a tornado. I sighed, opened the mailbox, and pulled out an envelope that had the words ‘Desperate Need” printed in large red letters across the front.
“Just one more little contribution,” I thought. “I can’t turn down anyone in desperate need.”
Right there at the mailbox I ripped open the envelope and pulled out the letter inside. Squinting my eyes against the scorching sun’s reflection on the white page, I read, “Drought in Midwest! Farmers are in desperate need! Send your contribution now!”
I stared at the letter for a few moments while the realization dawned that as farmers in the Midwest, my husband and I fit nicely into the category of “care recipients” according to the terms outlined in this particular request for cash. 
Now, I don’t feel desperately needy, but there it was in black and white; other people are feeling sorry for us. In the eyes of this charitable organization—or so they say—we are the ones in need of care. I do not like that thought one bit!
I think of my mother, who patiently accepts my ministrations with gratitude and humility, and realize that being the weaker partner in the caregiver/care-recipient relationship requires special grace.
Now I’m just wondering when will we poor, drought -stricken farmers receive our checks from that organization??