Saturday, August 18, 2012

If You Belong to Jesus, Abide in Jesus

I wrote this letter to my children the other evening and wanted to share it here:

Dear Children,
I’d  been feeling unhappy and without even realizing it had slipped away from intimacy with the Lord by feeding my heart—or attempting to—from other sources.  Things that are not in and of themselves sinful can become deadly attractions when we allow them to keep us from putting the Lord first. 

So I decided to go on a 24 hour fast from all reading material but the Bible. And even though I was imperfect in this—I checked my email awhile ago and watched an episode of Cook’s Country on TV—the Lord honored the tiny effort I did make and a thought came into my mind that is definitely from Him. This is an enormous, life changing truth that came with a warning: accept it and you will be happy in Jesus; deny it and you will struggle along, knowing God is with you because you belong to Him but feeling lonely nonetheless:

If you belong to Jesus and do not abide in Jesus, there is no happiness for you anywhere 

Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we belong to Him; and the world loses its pleasure for us.  We no longer belong in the world.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it like this: 

“…those who follow Jesus will be different from the world…They will be offensive to the world. That is why the disciples will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Not recognition, but rejection will be their reward from the world for their word and deed. It is important that Jesus calls his disciples blessed, not only when they directly confess his name, but also when they suffer for a just cause.”

We can’t belong in the world’s club any longer, and we need to lose our desire to do so. We won’t be accepted when we do a Really Good Job for the Lord, in fact; we’re liable to bring criticism down on our heads from worldly people who think we are prudes for waiting until marriage for intimacy or unrealistic for being pro-life.  But aside from these great big issues, there are a gazillion other ways we are different from people in the world and they sense it.  Our differences either elicit a hunger for what we have or hatred because they have made the choice to find their happiness in this world and do not like to be reminded there is a greater happiness to be found.  Through all this we have to be steadfast in living for Christ and not compromising who we are.  It is a fine line to walk; we don’t condemn them, we hold out life to them.

But if we stifle our real beliefs in order to belong, and if we try to partake of the same pleasures they do, we end up feeling awful.  When I used to do that—try to be a member of the “in” group back when I was in school for example—I ended up feeling like even more of an outcast than when I just gave up and sort of let my freak flag fly.  Oh well.  I’m different.  Can’t belong to your club; I know it, you know it, but I have happiness you don’t know about (I started wearing a cross around my neck about then in case anyone wondered about where my happiness came from). 

The only antidote for the awful feeling of not being at home in the world is to be at home in Jesus.  The quickest way to be at home in Him is to be obedient to Him. Obedience is like  a magic key that opens the “Happy in Jesus” door. 

Our walk with the Lord is a love relationship. We don’t have much to give Him but our praise and obedience.  Though the way it works out for each individual person varies, our relationship with the Lord should have these elements: prayer (tell Him what’s on your heart), Scripture (even just a verse or two), meditation on that Scripture (open your heart and mind to Him and apply it to your life), and very most importantly, obedience.  Obedience is golden.  Obedience has such wonderful rewards that Satan will work hard to keep us from it.  His favorite tools are resentment and rebellion; if you cannot be told what to do this is a red flag that the devil is having his way with you  (a wonderful way God has taught me to do what I’m told is to put me to work for my Alzheimer parent.  She’s great at issuing orders and I’m still working on handling that with grace…).

Monitor yourself.  How do you respond when a loved one asks you to run an errand, put out the trash, help with a household task or whatever?  Submitting to one another in love is Scriptural. The Lord put that command in the Bible, I think, because He knows that submitting to one another is great practice for submitting to Him.    

Ohhhh the Lord has such a sense of humor. My mother called and asked (demanded) that I come into her apartment for a visit just as I finished writing that sentence above.

Remember the old hymn Trust and Obey?  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”  That hymn has excellent advice and I suggest you follow it.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to/get to go visit with my mother for awhile. 

Love you guys.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Little Disclaimer...

The post just below entitled "Heart Pain" is heavy.  Not cheerful.  I'm leaving it up because sometimes it is important to acknowledge the dark feelings we have as caregivers. I've had people tell me they feel such relief when I speak or write about the negative feelings that occur when caring for a loved one with dementia. "I thought it was just me" is a comment I've heard more than once. 

So I'll leave it and trust the Lord to guide those who need it to read those words--and pray that those who don't need it, won't!  

When grief comes, as it will when we are watching a loved one slip away, I think it is important not to set up camp there.  After all, our loved ones are still with us, just not in the way we wish they were. Focusing too much on what we've lost will blind us to what we have.  

We mustn't allow resentment to get the upper hand, as happens when we focus on grief of loss.  Resentment is a relative of a larger and more deadly ill, rebellion.  It's important  recognize resentment when it begins to send it's creepy little tendrils around our hearts.  Kick it on out of there.  

The antidote for resentment is thankfulness, and when we turn our eyes on Jesus it is easy to be thankful.  He doesn't abandon us.  He doesn't let us down. He's led us every step of the way for all of the years of our walk with Him. 

Scripture: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands" (Deuteronomy 8:2). 

"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, August 12, 2012

Heart Pain

Taking care of a loved one who has undergone personality changes because of dementia hurts, and it is a multifaceted suffering.  There is the grief of facing end of life issues, a sometimes desperate sense of claustrophobia that comes from not knowing when the burdens of caregiving will come to an end, and more, much more.  I don't think it is of much value to peel back each layer of pain and examine it; I'll leave that to the Lord.  But I do know that on a day to day basis, dealing with a loved one who is sarcastic, rude, and unappreciative is the most wearing part of my journey right now.

It breaks my heart. It is beyond difficult.

My responsibility becomes to respond in a manner that is not sinful. Lots of wonderful opportunities to become more Christlike.

My mother, unlike many Alzheimer patients, is often thankful and loving.  Most days she says something along these lines, "I am so grateful to the Lord for this time of my life, and to you for making it possible."

But these times alternate with hurtful behaviors so that I'm kept off balance.  At times she woos me into that comfortable mother/child relationship we shared (at times) in the past.  But like the sun going under a cloud she can very quickly become angry and resentful so that I just long for this journey to be over.  And since the only way for it to come to an end will be when one of us dies, I can't very well long for that option!  But yes, in my secret heart, I sometimes do wish she would slip quietly away in the night, home to Jesus.

Those of you who have walked in a close relationship with someone who is unpredictable and hurtful know what I mean.  This desire for the hurt to be over and for peace from the uncertainty does not in any way touch the deep love I have for my mother.  I don't know my own heart, not really.  I don't know if I hold unforgiveness toward her; I know it is important not to.  But here is the solid assurance I do have; these circumstances will work together for my good, and Mom's too (Romans 8:28).  I'll have strength when I need it (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I can delight in the midst of hardships and insults, not because of them, but because of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10).

And I know He can heal the heartbreak caused by my mother's bad treatment of me.  And I can pray, "Father, forgive her, she doesn't know what she is doing."  Because of her Alzheimer's, Mom really doesn't know when she is being rude or unkind, and she is not any longer able to empathize with my sorrow or pain. Father, forgive her.

I found a song at Youtube that speaks so eloquently of the difficulties of the journey we undergo as caregivers. We cry out to the Lord to come and give us relief...but until relief and release come we have the sustenance of his presence and it is enough, yes Lord, You are sufficient for me, and I praise Your Name.

If you are hurting today have a listen to this song by Jeremy Riddle:

I covet your prayers today as I am experiencing odd physical symptoms in which my heart seems to go out of rhythm for a few beats and then returns to normal.  Off to the doctor tomorrow if not sooner--but this is scary and I do need prayer.  It is interesting how the spiritual and physical are so intertwined; thanks for your prayers.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Biker Angel??

"And we know that  in all things God works for  the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

My mother's Alzheimer's has taught me the truth of Romans 8:28.  Although I would never have believed it possible eight years ago when Mom was diagnosed, I can now list blessings that God has brought to our family not just despite Mom's disease, but in some instances, because of it.  It takes time to see the pattern and purpose behind the Lord's plan, especially when sad or bad things are the catalyst for difficult changes in our lives. I truly have learned to wait and watch.  Eventually His purposes become clear, gold rises from ashes, and we can say with true fervor, "Blessed be His Name!"

One of my blessings has been the opportunity to write and speak about Alzheimer's. To my amazement the Lord has often used me as a vessel to speak or write words that have helped other caregivers.  Among that counsel has been a steady urging to take care of the caregiver.  I have often used the "take your own oxygen first" story (airline flight attendants are instructed to breathe oxygen themselves before administering it to passengers to assure the passengers will have the help they need--an unconscious flight attendant is not of much help!). I'm usually urging people to spend plenty of time in soak before the Lord when I use this example; I never say we ought to put our desires ahead of the needs of our loved ones.  But sometimes we caregivers fail to recognize that some things ought not to take a back seat to the needs of our loved ones.

Physical health issues, for example.

Here it is:  I've let high cholesterol and higher-than-it-ought-to-be blood pressure take a back seat to the needs of my children and my mother.  In the past year our family has celebrated a wedding, a birth, and of course, my mom's needs of me as her caregiver continue to escalate.  I've had responsibilities relating to all of these events. As I said in an earlier post, on the days I find myself bathing my elderly mother in the morning and my young grandson in the evening after cooking and cleaning for my family all day, I understand the true meaning of the term "sandwich generation".

I would also like to confess that I've gained 15 pounds in the past two years.  Bleh.

The self-condemnation I feel about having let my health issues go is unpleasant. Today I was shopping at Wal-mart and kept catching sight of my profile in the reflections of the refrigerator cases.  I felt so sad and overweight.  At the end of an aisle I turned a corner and nearly ran into a great big man about my age.  He was wearing a sleeveless denim shirt I think…and had tattoos, and looked like a biker.  I apologized and he smiled the most beautiful smile at me.  As he walked on past me he said, in a deep rumbly voice, “You’re alright, you’re alright…”  and he was gone.  I didn’t see him in the store again.  His voice…it penetrated to my spirit and I felt like the Lord Himself was saying to me, “You are acceptable.  I accept you where you are and how you are.  You are alright.”  Tears came to my eyes right there in Wal-mart. 

Now either the Lord sent his angel in the guise of a great big middle aged biker, or I am in worse shape emotionally than I thought.  I just can't describe how comforting that man's words were to me.  Angel or no, God used him to deliver a message to me today.  

God accepts us right where we are. He puts His arm around us and says, "Because of the Blood of Christ you are all right. Put your sins behind you and come along with Me, and I'll take you to a better place.  Obedience will close the portal the enemy has been using to gain entrance to your heart."  

OK.  I'm confessing to Him and with you, my readers, as witnesses, that I haven't taken care of myself like I should.  I've disobeyed the Lord in my health habits and right now, Father, I ask forgiveness.  

Turning over a new leaf here.  Will report back to you as I go.  Covet your prayers.  Thank you!  

Ugh.  Humility is not easy for me.  

God bless each of you today--and if you are a caregiver who has been ignoring health issues of your own while you take care of everyone else, considering coming along with me on this journey.  

Tomorrow morning I will actually weigh myself.  

Pray for me!  

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure"  (1 John 3:1-3).  


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going With the Flow

            I’m embarrassed to admit that I handle informative literature about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in much the same way I deal with TV violence; I stick my fingers in my ears and close my eyes. 

            I wasn’t always this way. When my mother was first diagnosed, I read everything I could find about dementia; and thanks to an encyclopedic treatment of the subject at the Alzheimer’s Organization’s website, I was able to find quite a lot. I learned about effective drug treatments, strategies to slow the progress of the disease, and many helpful resources for both caregivers and patients.  However, every article I read ended with the same dismal and irrefutable conclusion about the prognosis of the disease.

            After absorbing this wealth of information, I approached my beloved mother with pity dripping from every pore.  “My sweet, unfortunate, afflicted Mama,” my attitude seemed to say, “How can I ease your suffering?” 

            My mother quickly set me straight.  No one had told her she was terminal, and she’d have laughed at them if they had. Mom brings her plucky take on life to every new challenge, and is rarely willing to admit to misfortune or discomfort no matter how bleak a clinical analysis of her symptoms would look in print. 

Here is an approximation of the sort of information I absorbed during my days of researching Alzheimer’s:  “As the language center in the brain is compromised by the characteristic plaques and tangles of the disease, vocabulary becomes compromised and repetitive words or phrases are used rather than the more complex language patterns of the past.”  Cheerful, isn’t it?  But in Mom’s hands, or should I say, mouth, repetitive phrases deliver a wallop unequalled by more eloquent articulations of the past.  For example, two of her repetitive phrases are, “That’ll be a plus,” and “Go with the flow.”  There are very few situations in which one of these phrases won’t work.   

Linda:  I’m going to bring you a lunch tray in a few minutes.
Mom: That’ll be a plus.

Linda (annoyingly preachy and longsuffering): I have cleaned the jelly from the floor and am going in the other room now.
Mom: That’ll be a plus. 

            Mom is still praying, praising, and thanking God for her life. She goes with the flow and comments upon many “pluses” in her daily life. When in the throes of anger or grief, I have sometimes felt it might be appropriate to explain to her the hard facts of her situation. However, I have learned to allow her to maintain a blessed disregard of the seriousness of her disease. It is actually a great comfort to recognize she feels no pathos over her circumstances. I’ve been told that my mother has reached the late/middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but I am continuing to learn from her.

 I’m going with the flow!  

" Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).