Friday, December 13, 2013

What I Ought to Have Said...

Many of my verbal interchanges with my mother are followed by the vexing realization that I did not say or do what I ought to have said or done.  I often react rather than respond to Mom when she is hurtful; she is my mother still and so it is difficult to keep that lifesaving caregiver's mindset when she uses her still-intact knowledge of me to hone a custom tailored insult. 

And sometimes my unhelpful reactions come, not because Mom is being hurtful, but because she is manifesting some new symptom of this hateful disease.  After all these years it is still my knee-jerk reaction to protest and deny rather than accept and support whenever Mom does or says some new crazy thing. It is so difficult to detach from the disease and its symptoms but to remain emotionally connected to the person who is still present, but that is our challenge as caregivers. 

I've recorded a recent interchange with my mom below in the hopes that other caregivers can learn from my errors!  Background info:  Though Mom listens to a weekly sermon and is provided many faith based books, we do not now and have not ever in the nine years Mom has lived with us utlized "Sunday School material."

How it went: 
(My cell phone rings) 
Linda:  Hi Mom
Anna Ruth:  (Impersonal, as one speaking to a mail order clerk):  Hello, I was calling to ask whether our Sunday School material has come in. 
Linda:  (moment of dead silence, then in a tone that clearly says 'What the HECK are you talking about?):  What Sunday School material???? 
Anna Ruth:  (Haughty)  Well, if you don't know we study from Sunday School material, I do not know how to help you.  (hangs up)

How it ought to have gone:  

Linda:  Hi Mom
Anna Ruth:  Hello, I was calling to ask whether our Sunday School Material has come in.
Linda:  I will check on that and get right back to you about it.
If Mom had persisted I could have named a specific time when I would bring the material to her.  It would not have been difficult to find a devotional from my bookshelf that would have satisfied her request for the time being.

 I must not say, "Oh well she'll forget about it," and dismiss her requests.  I need to respect her communication attempts and prayerfully work to figure out what unmet need she is trying to convey.  In this instance Mom wanted to actively seek the Lord and felt at a loss as to how to manage this.  The solution is in a file on my computer desktop, a set of devotions I wrote for her some time ago, each linked to her favorite hymns.  Like a birthday card signed but not mailed, I haven't followed through on this project that was surely the Lord's nudge for me to provide for my mother.  I'd better have those printed and bound for Mom for a Christmas gift.  

The rules that emerge for me are these:  1)  Don't react to Mom's words from an emotional perspective, 2) Look to the need behind her sometimes strange sounding requests, 3) Respect the person behind the disease and recognize my responsibility to do the best I can to understand and support her.  

Easier said than done; caregiving isn't a tidy venture.  But with the Lord as my help maybe I'll manage to do better next time Mom gives me a call.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gratitude + Faith = Peace

In most caregiver/patient relationships, the caregiver receives the greater share of positive reinforcement from concerned onlookers, while the person receiving care is pitied but not often praised.  I must make a confession: in my relationship with my mother, she is the remarkable partner, not I. To prove my point I spent some time today searching through about twenty of my mother’s journals, spiral notebooks that she fills at the rate of about one a week. 

Mom’s writing reveals that gratitude and faith are key characteristics of her daily life; these virtues are responsible for her generally positive mindset during the years she has struggled with Alzheimer’s disease.

Here, as a Christmas gift to those her life has touched, are some quotes from Mom’s notebooks: 

“Lord please help me—no desperation—just an acknowledgment of constant need. I am so blessed by the beauty of Christmas color around me: the tiny lights illuminate the tree, the big afghan you led me to do long ago, Irma’s Christmas candle pillows and always, gentle music” (December, 2007). 

“No recollection comes to me of what I did today. I wish that was unusual but it isn’t—short, short memory…but I feel fine—remarkable!  Lord, I’m grateful for apparent good health despite flawed memory” (January, 2009).

“When I was young I thought at 85 years of age I would be decrepit and not able to think.  Though nothing as well as 20, I still enjoy life and feel ok about myself.  Just stay open to God”  (June, 2009).

“The contrast between this warm Christmas decorated apartment and the stark outside winter scene is almost startling but gives us a special thankfulness” (Christmas Eve, 2009).

“I am blessed with generally good health, eyesight, hearing, etc. There are no words to express the blessings of a comfortable life at any age, but at this age it is a blessing I never expected to have.  Sure, people live to 88, but with mind and body so intact is very special. I bow down, Lord, no words to express how I think about it…feel in my heart concerning my circumstances.  Amen!  I smile because there are few “happenings” in a senior’s life—and I’m glad! But what is—is peace, comfort with my Lord Jesus ever close.  Yes, blessed!”  (March, 2012)

Every time I consider throwing Mom’s notebooks away, I flip one open and find some gem of wisdom that causes me to slip yet another Rubbermaid keeper full of spiral notebooks into the attic cubby above Mom’s apartment.  When her earthly voice is stilled, I will still have my mother’s notebooks as a reminder that faith and gratitude in the face of life’s challenges bring peace.     

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rx for Depression

 Our world is so focused on achievement that it is difficult to allow  much-needed respite time. I often hear myself moaning, "I just didn't get anything accomplished today!"  But I have learned that when depression threatens, it is important to treat the extra time I need to spend outdoors as therapy. This respite is as necessary to my health as rehabilitation that aids healing from a physical injury.  It isn't just "taking time for myself,"  but is like medicine I must take in order to have strength to continue to walk the path the Lord has placed before me.

I learned about the restorative power of beauty years ago, when I first began taking care of my mother:  

"...taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation refreshes the soul..." 

"Scripture reveals the reason that beauty in nature grants such peace. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20). Our God is invisible, but He has revealed much of himself to us in creation. During stress-filled days it is especially important to take time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Just as viewing an artist’s work reveals something to us of the artist’s character, creation reveals the Creator." My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers, pp. 15-16 
 Caregiver depression can be a difficult-to-cope-with side effect of taking care of someone you love. Today, at another of my blogs, I've written a post about my favorite depression therapy you might find helpfulKansas Beauty: Depression's Cure (please feel free to insert your own country/province/state's name for "Kansas").  

Caregivers' Prayer:  Lord, please banish depression from me today.  Help me not only to be fruitful and productive with my day, but also to take the time to absorb the restorative blessings of nature, beauty that You've provided for respite.  In Jesus' Name, Amen 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Anger Justified? Nope. Not Even at 1:00 A.M.

During my devotion time this evening I felt the Lord's nudge to ask forgiveness for how I responded to my mother when she used her special one-touch phone to call my cell phone at 1:00 this morning.  She has a way of summoning me into her room to take me to task for not meeting her needs adequately, and this was one of those times.  She was not feeling sick; she had no physical need.  

I was angry with her and didn't allow her to voice any grievances.  She saw my upset, and succumbed without much comment to my order that she return to bed.  As she shuffled off toward her bedroom she said, sounding so much like my mother of old that it just made me madder:  "I can see you are angry and I suppose you are right not to give me compassion, it would probably just make me worse."  

But then in an aside (evidently to the cat) she muttered, "...but a little compassion would sure be nice."  

I took her robe, gently helped her to bed, but did not speak to her again except to bid her a detached but pleasant goodnight.  I then returned to my own bed and lay awake for two hours.  This heart-stopping response to being awakened from a sound sleep by the phone is even more acute of late, probably because in the past three months we have received three middle-of-the-night calls from other family members that were legitimate emergencies. Something about that phone jarring me from a sound sleep sent adrenaline through my system that lingered, and when I finally did fall asleep I tossed and turned for the few short remaining hours of the night.  

I was angrier still when tonight I felt the Lord telling me to ask forgiveness for my lack of compassion.  I listed my legitimate grievances toward my mother, many dating back years before Alzheimer's shaded her thinking and actions, but to no avail.  I felt led to the following Scripture passages:
"Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves....Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Live in harmony with one another...Do not repay anyone evil for not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;  if he is thirsty, give him something to drink'...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"  (Romans 12:14, 16a, 17a, 18, 19-21 The Voice). 
My mother doesn't appreciate (or know) how much I have done for her the past ten years since her diagnosis.  Alzheimer's has caused her to become self-focused, and the resentment she holds toward me for wrongs real and imagined only becomes more bitingly apparent as her disease progresses.  She still expresses love and gratitude, but I never know when dark thoughts will gain control of her reasoning; many times now the triggers are internal rather than from any real time event.  And so Mom is sometimes what I call a beloved enemy; someone I love and who loves me but treats me badly. But this does not justify my responding to her harshly.  

So ok, Lord, please forgive me for barking out angrily at Mom at 1:00 a.m.  I forgive her because You've forgiven me.  I entrust my rights into Your hands. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Hidden Treasures

No caregiver would dispute that a walk through a loved one's Alzheimer's disease is a grief-darkened journey.  There have been many sorrows these past nine years as my mother has navigated a slow downward spiral through the stages of this awful disease.  However, there have been unexpected blessings as well.  

My husband and I have drawn closer during this time as we've learned to be co-caregivers for Mom.  He's been so kind to her and so supportive of me that I've fallen in love with him all over again.  This blog, begun nine years ago as a record of the Lord's guidance to us through Mom's Alzheimer's journey, was seen by a book editor, and I became a published author. The caregiving book paved the way for me to finish my first novel, and so the book I'd always wanted to write was published early this spring.  

Last week I decided to tackle cleaning the basement of our 100-year-old house.  The cellar-like lowest level of our old home is dank and dark and I usually avoid it, but it had gotten truly awful and needed my attention.  So I descended the rickety wooden steps, toting a bucket of water mixed with bleach and a stack of garbage bags.  I was busily cleaning and sorting when, at the very back of an old potato bin left behind by the previous owners, I found a heavy, glass object; one I remembered pushing aside during other basement-cleaning attempts over the 40 years we've lived in this house.  It was filthy and thickly coated with red paint, and my hand hovered over the trash sack with the ugly thing.  But a glimmer of light caught scroll work along the bottom edge of the piece, and I hesitated, just as I always had before.  But this time, instead of pushing it back into its dark corner, I carried it upstairs and put it into a sinkful of hot, soapy water.

The red paint began to peel away and I scrubbed in earnest, using steel wool to remove the lines of paint from every crevice.  When I finished I held the heavy thing to the light and was amazed at its beauty.  It is a depression glass oil lamp base, and according to the date around the rim it was patented March 17, 1925.  An internet search revealed an identically shaped and stamped lamp base on ebay that sold for over $80.   

When the Lord brings us through a difficult time there are almost always blessings to be found along with the sorrows.  I never would have expected to find a beautiful lamp base in my awful old basement, nor would I have anticipated any positives at all as a result of Mom's Alzheimer's.  It is so important to remember that God has power to reveal beauty in even the darkest of circumstances.  
"I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name" (Isaiah 45:3). 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Caregiving is NOT Parenting!

When I became Mom's caregiver, the skill set that helped me most was labeled "parenting."  Bathing another person, changing a diaper, selecting and laying out clothing for the day, meal preparation; all these things echo the ministrations I once provided my toddlers.  The vigilance needed to keep a small child safe is a learned behavior, and I remember a strong sense of "deja vu" when I began to care for Mom.  I clicked back into the attentive mindset and willingness to be on call 24/7 that my children had required of me when they were young. 

However, an elderly person--no matter what stage of dementia--is not a child, though behaviors may become childlike.  This is such an important delineation:  although similar skill sets may be involved, caregiving is not parenting.  For example, it is never appropriate to discipline an elderly care recipient.  All too often I am tempted to say something like this to my mother, "You chose to behave that way, and so now you have to face the consequences."  Dementia patients have no memory of sinful/rebellious/negative choices, and to remonstrate with them for behaviors they have forgotten is not only fruitless, it can damage the tender hearts of these vulnerable people God has entrusted to our care. 

It is important to accurately discern caregiving issues versus patient issues.  This is more difficult than one might think.  Indicators of confusion over these two areas are signaled by statements such as this, "She just won't stop doing thus and so..."  or "I've told him and told him and he just won't do what I ask..."  Dementia patients have lost the ability to change in response to environmental cues.  It is up to the caregiver to change the environment, and not in a punitive way.  For example, when my mom was driving me mad by rummaging through the freezer compartment of her refrigerator, looking for something good to eat, it was my fault and not hers when she gouged out a serving of raw meatloaf for herself.  I'd taken to using her freezer to store meals I prepared for our family.  Solution:  I began using that space for frozen vegetables and fruits--if Mom gets into those it is no big deal.  The meals I prepare in advance are now delegated to the chest freezer in the basement.  But I admit I attempted fruitless solutions first, at first asking Mom not to get into the freezer (HELLO!  She has Alzheimer's--she isn't going to remember my heartfelt request).  And I blush to tell you that I duct taped the freezer closed and then was angry when Mom thwarted this strategy by removing the tape. 

As caregivers we have to be very aware that the "tough love" we exhibit to children is not an appropriate strategy for dementia patients.  When something is amiss in the caregiver/patient relationship, it is almost always the caregiver who must be humble enough to make a change of behavior.  Humility is key.  Respect is paramount.  Dementia patients are not children.  I pray to empathize with my mom, to remember that she has lost so much in terms of independence and free choice.  It is within my power to see that she does not lose fulfillment of the most important human need of all, which is to be loved.  I must not withhold my love from Mom when her dementia related behaviors displease me, and I need to be mature enough not to respond to her in anger for behaviors she can't remember.  She needs me to be steadfast in my acceptance and love for her regardless of her behavior. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bear With Them, Love Them

I've written about my mother's case of "pleasant dementia;" she enjoys life, doesn't need constant care, and is happy to spend time alone with her journal, books, and music.  But there is an unpleasant part of her dementia-related behaviors that I feel I should discuss here, and I'm praying to do it in a way that honors Mom but yet assures other caregivers they are not alone.  I also need to write this post for the sake of dementia patients whose upsetting behaviors might otherwise be chalked up to plain old meanness that is deserving of a like response. 

Keep in mind we have a tendency to view the past through the lens of the present, so when an individual's current behaviors are mean and bossy there is a tendency to say, "You know, I remember other times my loved one was like this, and I see now this is nothing knew; they've always been this way!!"  Be careful about this tendency to let the present rob you of positive memories.  Be intentional about remembering ways your loved one has blessed you in the past.  Make a list if you need to.  Alzheimer's disease brings forth behaviors that, in the general population, would be labeled in negative ways.

Becoming dependent on others for care in combination with the confusion of dementia is a vicious one/two blow.  A dementia patient loses freedom of choice that those of us who function independently take for granted.  My mother's meals, clothing choices, finances, and surroundings are all orchestrated by me, and I do not always take her suggestions graciously.  I'm tired, I do everything for Mom, and if she suggests that I have not straightened the cushions on the couch to suit her or that she would like me to change the painting over the chair, I'm likely to convey impatience.  I'm ashamed of this tendency; I need to remind myself that a dementia patient's ability to ask for help outlasts the ability to carry out the multiple steps required to complete a task independently.  I know I ought to be kind and work hard to respond to Mom sweetly when she treats me like a waitress or housekeeping staff.  

I have a hard time with Mom's imperious ways, and I've noticed others do as well.  She has adopted the attitude of one who is paying for services that don't quite measure up to her expectations, and this makes people respond to her negatively.  She also is quick to respond sarcastically (if not appropriately) as though to prove that she understands what's going on well enough to make comment. I've learned that many dementia patients display similar behaviors.  Not long ago I overheard a woman complaining angrily about her sister, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  "She expects me to wait on her hand and foot!  She orders me around like a servant! And she is RUDE to me!" 

Nursing home workers, home care providers, and anyone who works with a dementia patient need to remember the patient has no real power.  As caregivers, we are calling all the shots for our care recipients, and for the most part their behaviors have no power over us beyond that of annoyance.  We are the strong ones in the relationship as our care recipients cling desperately to shreds of free will that have been robbed from them by the horrors of forgetfulness and physical infirmity.

As care providers we can submit with good humor to being ordered around, do a little extra work at the care recipient's command, and continually remind ourselves of the underlying pathos of life circumstances that have placed these dear ones in our care.  Treat them gently, and with love.  Respond to poor treatment with kindness and resist the urge to respond in kind.  They are not children who need to be disciplined, they are old people who have lost nearly everything they once held dear.  Let's not take our love from them at a time when, no matter how they are acting, they need it most.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves (Romans 15:1).  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Gratitude for Forgiveness

Do I make my relationship with my mother sound idyllic?

Well, it isn't.  I get by every day on grace.

If you think the principles revealed through my writing are only for easy Alzheimer's patients and their Very Godly caregivers, think again.

I was going to record, to the best of my memory, a recent verbal exchange with my mother; one that would serve to convince you that there are times when I am not a good or kind caregiver.  But I felt a stop in my spirit; forgiven sin is removed as far as the east is from the west and we aren't to keep a record of wrongs, not even our own.  Suffice it to say that my words were not only rude, they were mean.  Good caregivers are not rude and mean.

I came to my prayer closet and opened a journal file.  Sighing, I began to think of how to word my confession...and instantly, before I had even placed my hands upon the keyboard or gathered my thoughts, the Lord touched my heart with these words:  "You are forgiven." 

I don't deserve forgiveness.  Doesn't matter.  Jesus loves me.  He forgives me.  He died for me and He lives for me.

He loves you.  He forgives you.  He died for you and He lives for you.

Aren't we blessed? 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Logan's Diagnosis; Breath Holding Syndrome

I want to thank those of you who prayed for my grandson, Logan.  At age 1 (the day before his first birthday, in fact) Logan experienced a period of apnea--he stopped breathing--and also experienced seizure-like body movements.

We were terrified.

We have had the best possible outcome; Logan has a benign condition that he will outgrow.   A pediatric neurologist assured us that his symptoms are consistent with a condition in which a child exhales, then fails to take another breath.  Sometimes he may begin to breathe again within just a few seconds, but sometimes he may lose consciousness, at which time he will automatically begin to breathe again.  It is an involuntary response; during an episode the child is unable to inhale.  The neurologist says the syndrome is somewhat misnamed and misunderstood, because the term "breath-holding syndrome" makes people think it is something the child does on purpose or when he/she is angry. Although attacks may follow emotional upset, pain, or a crying bout, they are involuntary. 

Logan did not seem particularly upset when he had his episode, but he had been crying a bit. Perhaps he was in pain from a tummy upset or from some other unknown cause; pain can trigger the response.  Some children never have another episode, and that's our prayer. 

Thank you, thank you for your prayers! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Compare

I have just finished reading an inspiring book entitled Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie Davis.  Katie lives her life for Jesus in a way that humbles and challenges me.  As I read about this woman who, at age 19, gave up her affluent way of life here in the United States and moved to Uganda out of obedience to the Lord's call, I felt at first defensive, then ashamed, and finally repentant.

I want to share with you how gently the Lord dealt with me as I began to open my heart and mind to Him, asking His forgiveness for all the sins I condemn in myself.  I share it at this caregiving blog because I know about the chronic sense of failure that is inherent in being a caregiver for someone who has dementia, especially if that person is someone who used to take care of you in the past.

If you've been a Christian for awhile there are probably points on your timeline where you have answered "yes" to the Lord's call, choices you may have forgotten but the Lord has not.  I want to offer you the comfort I found as I prayed today, recorded with the Lord's portion of the conversation in boldfaced print:

What is in front of you? 

Cleaning the bathroom.  Straightening this room.  Taking Mom for a walk. 

Why do you feel these things are of less value than what Katie Davis has done? 

Things like cleaning dead rats out of stovepipes?  Changing a diaper of a child and finding it full of worms?  Ministering to HIV positive children, kissing the heads of ringworm and scabies infected children? 

While I overeat, sink into laziness and depression, and procrastinate about cleaning a bathroom that isn’t very dirty at all—and …


Stop right now.  You have obeyed me, no less than Katie Davis has obeyed Me.  At the same age she was when I laid My hand upon her life, you responded to a similar call. 
What?  I got married.

You married in obedience to My call;  you were called to marriage.  I remember heart struggles you have forgotten.  I remember wounds that have healed.  I remember prayers and fastings you now dismiss as being of no import.  "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?" (Psalm 56:8 ESV).  
So.  However improbable it seems, the Lord in His perfect knowledge values my small acts of obedience just as He does those of a Christlike role model such as Katie Davis.  And He doesn't want me making tongue-in-cheek analogies, as I might be tempted to compare Katie's ministry to an Olympic gymnasts' floor routine and my own to an out-of-shape 59-year-old's attempt to do a single pushup. But I'm to make no comparisons, because I am precious in His sight and of great value to Him.

You are too. 

You can find out more about Katie Davis's ministry to the people of Uganda at Amazima Ministries' website:  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

When Other Crises Distract...

The events of my life continue to unfold in all their stressful, grief-threatening glory despite the fact that I am my mother's primary caregiver.  When new ordeals loom I long for the days when, as a teacher, I could say, "I'm sorry, I'm already serving on two committees; my schedule won't allow me to take a third assignment..."  Well, sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't--but wouldn't it be nice to feel we had the option of opting out?

Our most recent trauma is so close to my heart that I can scarcely write about it, but I feel that Holy Spirit push to share because it isn't right for me to go silent when I am struggling.  If I share with you only the calm words of guidance that spring from the things in my caregiving journey that are right, then how can I expect to help if you are struggling with things that are wrong? 

Our latest traumatic event is this: our grandson, precious little one-year-old baby boy, experienced a frightening health crisis last week.  Now we are in the midst of a time of trusting the Lord through a trial we did not expect, praising Him that we have been allowed to keep this precious little boy with us, but anxiously vigilant now and struggling not to become fearful. 

My mother senses she is no longer the focal point of my attention, and is not bearing this well. My distraction makes her restless and insecure, and she  becomes fearful and suspicious about whether her needs will be met.  She writes journal entries like this one:  "They are probably having ice cream in there and it would never occur to them I might like some too."  Five minutes after I am in her room I might receive a phone call from Mom:  "I thought you were going to bring me something good to eat," she says.  

Just at the time I'm feeling emotionally vulnerable and still shell-shocked with fear for my grandson, Mom becomes sarcastic and rude.  She is unable to comprehend the gravity of our grandson's situation, and when I try to talk to her about it she brushes it off with some surface level comment such as, "Well I'm sure he'll be fine, I hope they don't get themselves all riled up about it."  Anything that distracts my attention from her is perceived as a threat. 

We've taken measures to alleviate Mom's fears by providing her extra snacks, which she loves.  Our respite caregiver spent more time than usual visiting with Mom this week.  I've learned that the extra stimulus of even pleasant conversations will stir up Mom's discontent the moment I leave the room, and so my strategy has been to be very intentional about eye contact, pleasant expressions on my face, and hugs.  These things seem to reassure her in the way that my words cannot.  It's important for me to leave my anxieties on the other side of Mom's apartment door, because she senses how I am feeling.  A very powerful mood lightener for Mom is shared laughter and so I give myself extra caregiving credit if I can find something that makes her smile!

It is difficult to "put on a happy face" for the person who once shared and lightened my burdens, but that's what's needed now.  If I will just take an extra moment or two to whisper a prayer and to place a smile on my face before I enter Mom's room, I know she'll be reassured. 
My grandson experienced a period of apnea at 2:00 a.m. on his first birthday.  He just happened to be sitting on his mother's lap; she was rocking him back to sleep after he had cried out.  He struggled to breath, would cry out, catch a breath, then stop breathing again.  This cycle repeated several times. Finally he lost consciousness.  Just when my daughter and her husband were preparing to initiate CPR, he opened his eyes, was uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn for awhile, and then seemed fine.  No further incidents have occurred.  He is in the process of receiving medical tests, and is being monitored at night by motion detecting baby monitor.  My prayerful impression is that this is a one time event, but we need prayer for knowledge and wisdom in the days ahead.  Please pray for Baby Logan! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What God Can Do

As Christians most of us become a little bit inured to Biblical truths that ought to cause our hearts to beat faster as our eyes widen in awe. 

"I can do all things through Christ, who strenghtens me (Philippians 4:13)"...knew that.

"When I am weak, then God's strength works through me (2 Corinthians 12:10)"...uh huh.

"God can do much more than we can even imagine (Ephesians 3:20)...yawn.

I'm afraid this is the state I found myself in when the Lord gave me a persistent nudge to seek a TV interview for my book.

I ignored Him. 

Then, when that push became more persistent and urgent, I bargained, "OK, Lord, if someone asks me to do a TV interview, I won't turn down the opportunity." 

I figured I was completely safe. 

Meantime, another one of those persistent nudges began to work on me..."Do a Youtube video series highlighting the information from your caregiving book.  Those who can't afford to buy a book or who might not be reached in any other way can thus benefit from the blessings the Lord has provided you and your mom." 

The technology and "how to" fell into my lap, and though recording and editing were time consuming, this didn't carry the fear factor for me that the thought of a live TV interview did.  And so I obeyed.  I learned as I went, and as I watched myself on camera was surprised at how many funny little mannerisms I possess that I didn't even know about.  I didn't know the Lord was preparing me to obey Him in a bigger-for-me way. 

When the call came it was from the public relations manager of a book store that had invited me to do a signing.  "Call the TV station and ask for Ralph Hipp," he said.  "He will get you on his 4 O'Clock show."  I hesitated and even as I shook my head vigorously from side to side in an emphatic "NO," I heard myself say, "Yes, I'll call the station." 

In the six week interim I fought down my fears with Scriptural promises that suddenly applied to actual situations in my life. The interview went well, and I learned about God's strength in a way similar to that described by a friend who, at age 60, parachuted from a small plane with the aide of an instructor.  "They give you the opportunity to pull the cord," she said, "But if you don't do it the instructor will." 

God never asks us to take a leap of faith without promising to make the jump with us.  Whatever challenges you are facing as a caregiver I can tell you with renewed certainty--"God is with you. He won't let you down.  He will enable you!" 

Giving up my fears entailed acceptance that I wasn't going to perform perfectly!  This week's Caregiver's Corner reveals how perfectionism can cripple us in our caregiving journey...find it here:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Televised Interview

Thanks from the heart to those who prayed for me re my live TV interview--all four minutes of it--last Friday.  I was so frightened, but felt nudged by the Lord to face down this fear.  We stopped by a fast food restaurant to kill a bit of time before the interview, and when I went into the restroom to check my hair and makeup the song that was blaring through the speakers was "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger!"  I had to laugh.  I took this as a promise that the stress wasn't going to cause me to keel over (can't you just see it?  WIBW's Ralph Hipp dialing 911 for his first guest of the day...)

Here is the URL for WIBW's tape of the interview if you'd like to have a look at it:

I don't know what purposes the Lord has for this little foray into televised publicity, but I do have the peace of knowing I was obedient to do this thing that frightened me so.  I appear very calm on tape and actually, once I took my seat on that red couch, I miraculously was.  Not surprising considering I had quite a few folks praying for me. 

I am grateful!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Do NOT be afraid!!

On the eve of my very first TV interview (four whole minutes on a local news segment) I am thinking this:

God's word would not say "Do not be afraid" 70 times if it was impossible to be free of fear! 

It is blessed that my thoughts have shifted tonight from fear of what people might think of me to fear of failing to honor the Lord with my words. 

Prayers appreciated. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wisdom from Matthew Henry

This morning I read Ecclesiastes 7:9 (don't be impressed; I found this particular Scripture while reading a novel that quoted the verse).  It has been a few years since I read through the Bible in a year (o.k., it took me the better part of 3 years), and this verse didn't strike a chord in my memory. I looked it up: 
"Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9, ESV).  

This verse grabbed my attention, but I wasn't sure why.  So I checked Matthew Henry's explanation from his concise commentary: 

"Be not long angry; though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it passes through it as a way- faring man; it dwells only in the bosom of fools."
I remembered that St. Paul said,
"Be angry, and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26, ESV).  
 Many times through the day I experience a flash of anger toward Mom.  This happens when she is rude to me for no reason, when she causes extra work by doing things I've repeatedly asked her not to do, and when she is nonchalant about the extra work these things cause me ("It won't hurt you to do a little extra cleaning up"--or worse, sarcasm, "Ohhh, poor you...").  I know the Lord is telling me not to let this anger take up residence in my heart, where it can give birth to resentment and rob Mom of the childlike comfort she takes from me when I am able to be kind and nurturing toward her.
As caregivers we need to pray for wisdom.  If we are wise, we won't keep anger in our hearts toward those who mistreat us.  And if we can release that anger and respond in love, we are following Christ's example. 
I discovered Matthew Henry's Bible commentary while I was writing my first book.  I quoted from him often, impressed by how the Spirit-filled wisdom of someone who lived in the 17th century could continue to offer such an accurate perspective of human nature three hundred years later.  His writings reveal that he searched for knowledge, prayed for wisdom, and combined these two pursuits with a steadfast commitment to obedience to the Lord. You can find his concise commentary here. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Little Bit of Hope

I’ve been reading about a phenomenon called “pleasant dementia.”  This seemingly contradictory term first came to my attention in a recent edition of the Mayo Clinic’s caregiving newsletter, and when I did an Internet search I found hundreds of articles about individuals who exhibit peace and happiness as Alzheimer patients.  Many articles told of people whose personalities actually improved following a diagnosis of dementia. 

This doesn’t always happen because at least a portion of the symptoms dementia patients experience are due to the specific part of the brain most affected by Alzheimer plaques and tangles.  However, many sources cited environmental influences as playing a part, and this offers hope. 

The “pleasant” portion of dementia is not always evident immediately following the diagnosis as the care recipient loses independence, the caregiver struggles with new responsibilities, and both suffer grief and fear.  My first year as my mother’s caregiver was certainly a challenge.  She was confused, I was angry, and we both were resentful.  There were many physical challenges for her that year as we struggled to reach maintenance doses of Alzheimer medications.  She fell and broke her shoulder as a result of a caregiving error on my part (throw rugs are dangerous for the elderly).  I had to nurse her through numerous stomach upsets and a bout of pneumonia.  I really didn’t think we were going to make it. 

But almost a year to the date following Mom’s diagnosis, things got better.  We both came to acceptance of the changes in our lives necessitated by her disease, and Mom settled into a level of contentment that was unprecedented.  It doesn’t take much to make Mom happy nowadays: soft music, a diet coke, a book to read, and her journal at hand. Her needs are simple.  She’s not like she was but I love who she is. 

Mom doesn’t worry about either the past or the future, and I know her faith has contributed to the ease with which she let go of worry for her own life.  Soon after she came to live with us I found these words recorded in her journal:  This is one of those times when I hardly know who I am, where I am, or why! Well, God knows and when He is ready He will fill me in.” Mom is philosophical about her lack of short-term memory and has a sunny assurance that her needs will be met. 

The knowledge that a diagnosis of dementia is not an automatic sentence to misery goes a long way toward easing fear of the future.  This is a comfort for those of us who dread the possibility of an Alzheimer diagnosis for ourselves or for someone we love.    

Friday, May 24, 2013

Video Series

I've begun a Youtube video series in order to share information from my caregiving book.  These presentations are geared especially toward those who are struggling to make a transition from past relationship roles into news ways of relating to a loved one who has become infirm, but I think they will be helpful at any stage of a caregiving journey.  Since my mother's Alzheimer diagnosis nine years ago, I've learned that our relationship must be renegotiated each time she takes a downward turn. During those times the devotions and Scripture from my book become helpful once again.

The first two weeks' installments are available here: 

Week One--Hold to Hope

Week Two--First Steps (steps to take as a new caregiver)

 Today I read a Facebook post that resonated with me:  "Knowing that you are making a difference in the life of even one person makes everything you've gone through seem worthwhile,"   Please share the links above with caregivers who may be helped by the guidance God so has so graciously provided Mom and me as we navigate our way through her Alzheimer's disease. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Christian Perspective on Aging and Death

My mom as a bride at age 22 and still beautiful 66 years later. 

Taking care of my mother has forced me to face that I myself am poised at the threshold of my own elder years.  When I become bound by fear of someday becoming like Mom, I feel impatient with her weaknesses and inclined to blame her for behaviors she can't help.  My attitude becomes, "Snap out of it!  You can do better if you try!"  Fears of aging and dying are major stumbling blocks that compromise the ability to provide compassionate care to an elderly parent.  

As Christians, we are to view death as a passageway to new life.  In my mother's words:  
"It is sad that we humans so often view death with dread--the actuality is that it is a blessed doorway into God's continual presence"  (Anna Ruth, 2007, quoted from My Mom Has Azheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers).  
Saint Paul says it is "better by far" to depart this life and to be at home with Christ in the next (Philippians 1:22-24), but it is a challenge to abide in Scriptural truth regarding this issue.  If we were allowed to choose a point to inhabit on our own timelines, wouldn't we all choose youth?  When we look at the photos above, who would not prefer to be the lady in the photo on the left rather than the one on the right?  And yet...I happen to know the 88 year old pictured above now lives a life of nearly carefree contentment and ease, while the 22 year old bride had many struggles before her. I think maybe the Lord views a peaceful old age as a reward for a life well lived. 

My difficulties coping with the prospect of aging and dying caused me to devote ten readings in my caregiving book to these topics.  I'll close this post with a quote from one of those readings which includes the Lord's answer to heartfelt prayers as I cried out my fears to Him. 

God does not willingly bring grief or suffering (See Lamentations 3:33;) His will flows over all that is grievous and changes darkness to light (See Psalm 18:28;) all things are incorporated into and transformed by His perfect will (See Romans 8:28;) where time and eternity touch, His will is done on earth as in Heaven (See Matthew 6:10;) we can’t yet perceive what we will one day see clearly because we walk by faith and not by sight. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12).
The sovereign over death. His good and perfect will encompasses every life event, even those that cause us pain. He is able to work every circumstance into conformity with His will, for our good
The Lord is so gracious to us; He doesn't leave us alone.  I'm praising God today for His presence with us throughout every season of life. 

This post includes quotes from My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers, Bridge-Logos Foundation, 2009. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A New Song!

I've been on a fast from music.  Now that sounds a little bit odd, but I think maybe I've discovered why I've been neglecting this part of my life that used to mean so much to me.

Everyone encounters grief and pain.  My sorrows, if I were to compare them to those of others, wouldn't look unusual or particularly awful.  But the Lord doesn't compare hurts, and he knows our hearts. He's shown me great compassion. 

At each life crisis I worked hard to praise God through the sorrow and pain. Thus, certain praise and worship melodies became associated in my mind with the grief of heart I was bearing when I used those songs in my devotion time.  Without even realizing it or deciding to do so, I gradually stopped singing praises to the Lord.  

I've felt guilty about this situation and this morning decided to remedy it.  I wanted to begin my devotion time with praise but to my dismay, every song I began to listen to brought with it the memory of some painful time.  Three false starts and I gave up.  I was in no mood to suffer again through battles that are now in my past, and music is so evocative; it bypasses the brain and communicates directly with the heart.  So I completed my prayer time as has become usual--speaking a few words of praise and then moving quickly to prayer concerns.

Not a lot of fun for me or for the Lord either, I don't imagine.

Later this morning I was washing dishes when this phrase dropped into my mind:  "Sing to the Lord a NEW song."  Just like that, with the emphasis on NEW, and I understood that I needed to take this admonition literally.  I did a google search for "The top  NEW praise and worship songs" and downloaded the top five.  Amazing!  I had the best, most restorative, sweetest time praising the Lord with these new songs!

With the wonderful flow of new Christian music that is so easily available there is no excuse for me to let music fade from my life again.  I read an article recently emphasizing the importance of music to Alzheimer patients; but in this post I'm encouraging caregivers to include music in their own lives as well.  Sing to the Lord a new song!

To listen to the song that was #1 on the list, click on this Youtube link:   The Same Love by Paul Baloche

And here is the song by Paul Baloche that is so blessed for us as caregivers, thanks to Mary over at "Down the Rabbit Hole" for finding this one:   My Hope by Paul Baloche and Kathryn Scott

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him" (Psalm 40:3). 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Prayer for a Cure for Alzheimer's

Each of these lapel pins represents a memory I pray I can keep.    
My mom has Alzheimer's.  Near the end of his life my dad exhibited signs of dementia.  His sister died of Alzheimer's.  Both my maternal grandparents had "hardening of the arteries" and "senile dementia," terms used to describe the forgetfulness experienced by the elderly before Alzheimer's disease was widely recognized.

Of course I worry about forgetting. 

I was cleaning out a drawer this afternoon and unearthed a little plastic container filled to the brim with brightly enameled lapel pins, about 20 in all.  I poured them into my hand and memories began to flow.  The Kansas shaped Reading Recovery pin evoked the strongest emotion; I felt I made the most positive impact on children's lives during my years as a Reading Recovery teacher.  Running a close second was the golden circlet shaped like children holding hands. This brought back memories of years of playground duty.

I've taken to carrying a trash sack with me whenever I clean a room, in order to encourage myself to throw away things I don't need.  I held the pins in my hand a moment, but made no move to deposit them in the plastic garbage bag at my feet.  After a moment or two I put the pins back into their container and returned them to the drawer. 

If only I could hold onto my memories in this same way, tucking them safely away into a protected corner of my mind with certainty I can retrieve them whenever I want... 
Please join me right now in a prayer for a cure for Alzheimer's:  Dear Lord, we pray that Alzheimer's is defeated within the next few years, so this disease that has stolen so many memories becomes only a memory. Make it a defeated enemy with no more power to rob us of our independence and the ability to understand and reason.  Banish this disease in order to keep us from inflicting on our loved ones the agony of that long goodbye.  Free our children of the threat of this disease. We ask this in the name of our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will never forget us, even if we forget, who will never let go of us, even if we forget how to hold on.  Amen

Scripture:  "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15). 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Importance of That Daily Walk

On this day our son took my place for the daily walk, and I became the somewhat shaky photographer.

Each afternoon just before Mom's supper time, we take her for a walk.  With my husband, John, on one side and me on the other, Mom links her arms through ours with fierce strength.  The sensation is somewhat like wearing a too-tight blood pressure cuff with a bucket of water attached as ballast. My bicep quickly begins to ache and so after one circuit around the driveway John and I switch sides, a procedure with which Mom has little patience.

"Oh my you poor thing," she says.

You can't really blame her.  The poor woman is 88 years old, has been dragged from her comfortable chair to suffer unwanted aerobic exercise, and her young, strong daughter is wimping out (I'm neither young nor strong but Mom can't be convinced of this).  By the time we return Mom is breathing heavily and her usual good humor has completely evaporated.  She mutters resentfully to herself as she pushes her walker back to the recliner. "Can't leave an old woman in peace...have to have everything their own way..."

We put Mom and ourselves through this fifteen minute fiasco each night because we've learned there is a dramatic correlation between both her mood and the quality of her cognitive functioning as a result of those few minutes of daily exercise.  When Mom doesn't have her daily walk she is much more likely to suffer "sundowning" (increased confusion and restlessness after dark).  The last time we missed Mom's walk she called me at 3:00 a.m. to ask if it was night or day.  She had made herself toast and didn't know why there was no coffee in the pot.

It seems strange to me that just those few minutes of exercise make such a dramatic difference for her, but time and again we've noted that she is in a more positive mood and is less restless just as a result of that little daily walk.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Everything We Need

There is a scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies in which the angelic and powerful Galadriel struggles with temptation to take and use the ring of power for her own.  There is a frightening moment in which the filmmaker's special effects cause Galadriel's voice to become eerily amplified and demonic.  As she imagines the power she would yield as possessor of the ring, her eyes blaze red and she grows in stature, transforming into a nightmarish creature looming over the little hobbit before her.  At the last minute she chooses not to appropriate this terrible power for herself, and as she shrinks back down into "just Galadriel" says, "I have passed the test."

I watched this scene with my daughter, Melinda, who was not impressed with Galadriel's flirtation with evil.  Melinda said in disgust, "Yes, she passed the test..but just barely!!!"

I was thinking this morning how often I have "just barely" passed a test the Lord has allowed me to face, and how graciously and skillfully He creates challenges custom tailored to my need to grow in faith and strength.

We aren't usually able to see God's hand in a situation that is painful until the trial is past, and this makes faith a necessity.  I've lost count of the times I've had to remind myself, "Remember the way He's provided for you in the past, trust Him for the future!"  Even so, I still struggle with worriment.

Due to budget cuts, I lost my position as a reading teacher due two years ago, and rather than be reassigned I chose to retire early to care for Mom  (a strategy I felt forced into by circumstances but do not recommend for others; see the reading entitled "Don't Quit Your Day Job" in my My Mom Has Alzheimer's...)This morning at 3:00 a.m. I awoke, literally in a cold sweat.  I came to the Lord in a panic and prayed, "We are farmers! We've had two drought years back to back!  How are we going to cope financially?  How will we survive?"

God was so gracious to me.  Most times when I suffer this kind of panic I'm led to read Biblical accounts of His faithfulness to others and am able to pray through to peace that He will care for me just the same way.  But this time He reminded me of a savings plan I initiated when I began teaching school years ago.  A few minutes research revealed that in two months I will reach the minimum age to withdraw from that account without penalties.  Then in about 3 years I will reach the minimum age to begin drawing Social Security.  So I returned to bed feeling somewhat more peaceful about finances.   

Sometimes the Lord asks us to trust Him and does not share with us the particulars of how His provision will arrive.  It was this way when I quit my job; there was just this overwhelming knowledge that this is what God wanted me to do and I couldn't see the path before me.  But once in awhile, in His great compassion for His frightened child, He will say, "There, there.  Look.  See how I've provided for you.  Don't be afraid."  That's what He did for me this morning and I'm grateful.

Fear has always been my Waterloo, and I'm not happy with myself about that.  Fear is the antithesis of faith and dishonors the Lord.  If you are reading this and thinking, "But I have no forgotten savings plan, no way of surviving but for God's grace," please be assured that His provision will meet your need as you trust in Him.  Cry out to Him with your need and place your faith in Him.  He won't let you down. 

Scripture:  "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord"  (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).  

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Comic Relief

As caregivers, we need comic relief from time to time.

A few years ago a well meaning friend gifted me a beautiful book about a woman who had cared for her loved one who had Alzheimer's.  "I thought you would enjoy reading this," she said, "I found it so inspiring."

 I delved right in but found the book to be heart-rending rather than uplifting, and soon cast it aside.  When in the midst of a battle, graphic descriptions of the battle scars of others are not what is needed.  My devotional for caregivers keeps this fact in mind; inasmuch as possible I avoided too-graphic descriptions of my suffering and focused instead on the Lord's solace and help.  

 Caregivers need respite, and I find mine through writing about subjects other than Alzheimer's.  Writing a book isn't much different than scrapbooking, quilting, or any other craft.  It is a creative process that requires focus and concentration, and there is something incredibly refreshing about becoming so immersed in a project that time slips away.  I urge all caregivers to find some "away-from-caregiving" respite that brings this kind of refereshment.

Meantime, if you are in need of a bit of comic relief today, head over to my other blog and read about Farmer John and his cows.  You can't get much further from taking care of a dementia patient than that!!!  Click here:  The Cow Whisperer. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Growing Into the Role of Caregiver

Taking care of someone who used to take care of you is beyond difficult. 

Resentment and grief of loss swirl together to form a cocktail of anger that, if drunk to the dregs, can cause broken relationships and long term damage to the spirit. Negative emotions can't be contained tidily in a box labeled with the name of the one who "deserves it."  Toxic feelings seep out of their  container and are expressed toward innocent bystanders.

 In my early days of caregiving I began with resentment and blame toward my mother, but my attitude poisoned every close relationship I had. My poor husband had to dodge my blame-filled words, an overflow of hurt that didn't belong to him. It is so odd that we are able to shape our circumstances to fit our emotions.  My attitude was "If I feel angry  then you must have done something wrong!"  

Alzheimer's causes an egocentrism that is especially painful to bear when the loved one once was focused on the caregiver's needs; it is heartbreaking when someone who was once your champion becomes demanding and rude.  Separating the disease from the person is nearly impossible at first, because the behaviors exhibited are so familiar.  My mother's anger was familiar to me; who hasn't seen a parent angry?  But it was as though the volume had been turned up, and her target was always me, the one she once had believed was nearly perfect.  I was unable to protect my heart from hurt.

So, I had to grow up.

I had to learn that my mother's anger and disapproval did not have to break my heart.

I had to stop depending on Mom for sustenance and to figure out how to draw my strength from God.
I recognized that the place in my heart that had once been filled with my mother’s nurture and care now needed to be filled with the Lord. A Scripture memorized long ago, Isaiah 6:1, came to mind as I remembered that Isaiah saw the Lord in the year that his king died. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers refers to this revelation given to Isaiah and says, “Our soul’s personal history with God is often an account of the death of our heroes. Over and over again God has to remove our friends to put himself in their place, and that is when we falter, fail, and become discouraged. Let me think about this personally—when the person died who represented for me all that God was, did I give up on everything in life? Did I become ill or disheartened? Or did I do as Isaiah did and see the Lord?”*  from My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers
Caregiving is not easy, but we don't have to sustain emotional injury when our care recipients display vindictive, angry behaviors.  With the Lord's help we can follow His example and respond to negative behaviors with love.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1) . 
  1. *Taken from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, edited by James Reimann, June 13 deovotion, The Price of the vision © 1992 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 49501. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Responding to a Wrong

Taking care of a dementia patient offers regular opportunities to respond in a Godly way to being offended.

It also offers numerous opportunities to respond in a negative way.

If someone kept a record (and I fear very much that Someone really is), on a good day my score would be about 50% Godly responses and 50% negative responses.  These percentages take into account the phenomenon of ignoring Mom's irritating or hurtful remarks, tallying those on the negative end of the spectrum.  A few years ago the Lord led me to the understanding that ignoring a wrongdoing is not the same as responding in love.  A love response requires action; a loving action.

So when Mom makes a rude remark about the intelligence of someone who wears a shirt with hearts all over it even though Valentine's Day was WAY back in February ("that's kind of dumb of you, isn't it?") it is not loving for me to feign deafness and ignore her (ok, I admit it, that's what I did).  This response might be better than snapping some rude comment back at her, but it does not acknowledge her attempt at conversation (Alzheimer patients know they are losing ground cognitively and look for opportunities to display knowledge--Mom was showing me she knew my shirt was not seasonal).  It would have been kinder for me to have laughed and said, "You are absolutely right.  Tomorrow I'll try to find something more appropriate!"

But I didn't.  Sigh.

Here are the Scriptures I've looked up today from The Voice version of the Bible, newly available at Biblegateway.  I hope they bless and challenge you as they did me:

Colossians 3:13
Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.
Matthew 6:14
Jesus says to declare forgiveness of those who have wronged us. This is because forgiveness of other people emulates God’s forgiveness of us. If you forgive people when they sin against you, then your Father will forgive you when you sin against Him and when you sin against your neighbor.
Mark 11:25
When you pray, if you remember anyone who has wronged you, forgive him so that God above can also forgive you.
Ephesians 4:26 When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart

Monday, March 25, 2013

Serving God Not Man

I've always rather piously thought I am pretty good at serving the Lord rather than human beings, as the Bible says we ought to do (Ephesians 6:6-8).

Turns out--not so much.  

I've realized lately how many of my caregiving decisions are impacted by what others might think. For example, today just after I'd had my first cup of coffee I felt that unmistakable, Holy Spirit nudge followed by a specific instruction.  "Bathe your mom this morning."

"But we aren't going anywhere," I whined.  And I went about my business. 

On a continuum with the category "fresh as a daisy" on one end and "health hazard" on the other, Mom's condition this morning would've fallen approximately in the middle.  Her hair needed washed and set, and without my supervision she would've donned the same outfit for the third day in a row; but I didn't think she would be uncomfortable. 

It was while I was taking my own daily shower that remorse struck.  A couple of Bible verses came to mind but in an edited form:  " considerate as you live with your care recipients, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner..."  "Caregivers ought to love their care recipients as their own bodies. The one who loves her care recipient loves herself!"  (adapted from 1 Peter 3:7 and Ephesians 5:8)

I wouldn't wear the same clothes three days in a row (well, not if anyone was going to see me anyhow), and I sure wouldn't risk insulting the olfactory systems of others by going for three days without a shower.  Yet I was willing to allow Mom that dubious privilege simply because she is not likely to have visitors today.

By 11:00 a.m. Mom had been bathed, lotioned, shampooed, and outfitted in a freshly laundered blouse and slacks.  Even if the only person she sees today is me, I think she'll be happier.  And I have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that this time around I followed the Lord's direction rather than letting my primary motivation be what other people might think. 

Friday, March 22, 2013


Today I attended the funeral of a friend.  She was just 52 years old, a bright, always smiling, sweet-spirited person. 

Since my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's I've really had to struggle against fear of her death; and my friend's funeral brought these fears to the surface once again. 

After the funeral today it finally occurred to me to review the teaching the Lord provided me about death back when I was writing my caregiving book in 2009. I sometimes forget that the readings in that book began through my efforts to record God's guidance to me as I navigated difficult caregiving issues that continue to recur from time to time. Grappling with the reality of my mother's impending death was such a knotty problem for me that I devoted an entire chapter of readings to the subject.  Here are words of comfort that have helped me, and if you are taking care of someone with a terminal disease I pray you are helped too. 

It is sad that we humans so often view death with dread--the actuality is that it is a blessed doorway into God's continual presence.  (quote from my mother, June, 2007) p. 243
I was comforted to be reminded that the Lord is in control even of events that are devastating to us. Because I knew Him to be a loving God, there was great peace in this reminder that He was in control. We cannot comprehend the why of distressing events, but we may always find solace when we come to the Lord. It is a difficult truth that our only hope of deliverance from the pain of grief lies in the arms of Him who allowed us that grief.  p. 246

God does not willingly bring grief or suffering (See Lamentations 3:33;) His will flows over all that is grievous and changes darkness to light (See Psalm 18:28;) all things are incorporated into and transformed by His perfect will (See Romans 8:28;) where time and eternity touch, His will is done on earth as in Heaven (See Matthew 6:10;) we can’t yet perceive what we will one day see clearly because we walk by faith and not by sight. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12.)p. 247

Matthew Henry’s complete commentary on Hebrews 2:14-15 says that because of what Christ has done for us on the Cross, “Death is not only a conquered enemy, but a reconciled friend...not now in the hand of Satan, but in the hand of Christ—not Satan’s servant, but Christ’s servant—has not hell following it, but heaven to all who are in Christ.”p. 250

Our physical bodies are like the alabaster vase that held the nard Mary poured upon the feet of Jesus. The vase was broken to release the perfume. Each of us is headed toward an appointment with physical brokenness because no one escapes physical death. Sometimes the process of death is painful and for just a little while, we are preoccupied with the breaking of the container, but then the fragrance of Christ flows forth as the spirit is released. p. 255

Death is not lovely, but though we must walk through the valley of its shadow, there is no need to fear. In just a little while we will see Jesus and no one will take away our joy. Until that day we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit; a guarantee of what is to come. We have a promise that will not be broken; grief will turn to joy. p. 256

There is no Promised Land here on Earth; it waits for us in Heaven. The Lord gives times of rest, like oases in the desert of this journey through life, but I must never mistake a short-term respite for a permanent dwelling. This temporary shelter is where I live for now, but Heaven is my home. p. 262

The timelines of our lives overlap, but they do not begin or end in tandem. There would be a terrible loneliness in this fact, but for the Lord and His promise that He will never leave or forsake us...p. 264 

The life of Christ is at work in those of us who love Him and believe in Him. As we walk with Him we become more like Him. At the end of our earthly lives, all that is not of Him will be swallowed by victory. This comes, not from any good in us, but from the wondrous gift of grace through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. These mortal bodies we inhabit are bent toward sin. Our hope and our salvation are in Christ and Christ alone. p. 268

Scripture: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54) .

Sunday, March 3, 2013

When the Caregiver Needs Care

The most difficult times I've had emotionally as a caregiver have come when I've been and unable to fulfill my usual role in our family.  I've often been hurt by my family's response to me when I'm sick, because although they manage to take care of my needs, I can't help but notice they feel I'm letting them down. Just when I'm feeling most vulnerable and needy and would love a consoling word, an empathetic prayer, and yes, someone to worry over me; I sense them drawing away.  This happens because I express love for my family through acts of service, and when I stop serving, they feel unloved. It's at times like these I miss my mother the most.  Oh for someone to worry about me even more than I worry for myself!  That's the role my mother played in my life for so long, and it is how I minister to my family now.

In My Mom Has Alzheimer's, I write about this problem as I describe my loved ones' response to me when I was suffering the flu.  I came to the realization that I had reacted to Mom very similarly when she was diagnosed with dementia:  

I certainly did not rain down flowers and chocolates on my mother’s head as she began to manifest the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I had depended on her to be the one person in my world who could be trusted to drop everything and rush to my side in any crisis large or small. When she became disabled I felt that she’d let me down, and I was silently resentful. I felt that this new role reversal was a travesty, and although I did not demand that she get out of her chair and minister to my needs, in my heart I felt that such a request would have been justified. I slowly came to accept the changes in my mother’s level of functioning, but it took time. In my temporary infirmity I recognized the need to extend to my loved ones the same grace that had been given me.
 When a caregiver becomes the one in need of care there are battles to be fought against resentment and anger.  We must be aware of the dangers of treating our care recipients unfairly out of our homesickness for a time when they took care of us.

Today I'm curled on the couch suffering the after-effects of a migraine.  I'm praying grace for my family to be assured that even when I am unable to provide for them as I usually do, that the Lord won't forget them.  And, I'm doing my best to turn from self-pity as I revisit the lesson the Lord taught me when Mom stopped showing love for me by doing things for me..."The Lord is my caregiver, I shall not want!"

Prayer:  Lord, help us as love one another with Your love apart from acts of service we are able to perform for each other.  Help us to love one another as You have loved us.  In Jesus' Name we pray.