Saturday, January 25, 2014

Making Decisions for Dementia Patients: A Christian Perspective

Christians make decisions that look imprudent in the world's eyes.  We do it out of faith, and the world doesn't know what to make of us. 

Secular counsel tells us we must be wise in how much we give, spend, and save; the world says we must measure, weigh, count, and predict. We extrapolate from current trends to a projected future, and worry whether we will have enough. It is only as we focus upon Jesus' face that the waves and winds of "what might happen" fall away.  We come to rest upon the rock of His all-encompassing love, and fear dissipates. 

I decided to take care of my mother in my home because the Lord led me to do so.  That's the short version of a story that stretched over several years of time and included numerous sessions on my knees shedding Gethsemane tears; I struggled against the Holy Spirit's push to retire early and take my mother into my home.  God was gentle with me even though the sacrifices I felt I was making filled my vision. I did eventually pray "thy will and not mine be done," but I moved forward with fear and trembling.  I gave God my puny retirement plan, my not-big-enough pension, and most difficult of all, the sense of purpose and calling I'd had as a teacher, and I retired eight years ahead of time in order to take care of Mom.

Sometimes my story can cause undesired outcomes for fellow caregivers.  More than once,  heartbroken sons or daughters of Alzheimer patients have shared, in tones of confession, that they were unable to be the primary caregivers for their loved ones. My response is this:  Unless you resisted the Holy Spirit's push over years of time, you can let go this guilt (and through confession and repentance, you can be rid of it anyway).  It took three years of something that felt like a spiritual vise gradually but irrevocably tightening around my reluctant heart for the Lord to encourage me to move forward with early retirement plans.

If you are a child of God, He knows how to guide you to the path He wants you to follow. Unless you are willing to say, "No way will I do what You want, Lord," then it is pretty certain you won't miss His signals.  He will narrow the path before you and work through your circumstances to bring about His will.  In the end I truly didn't have much of a choice.  It would have taken outright rebellion; a Jonah-like running in the opposite direction, for me to avoid quitting my job.  Even then, the Lord has ways of turning His recalcitrant children around.  I didn't want to experience God's modern-day equivalent of incarceration in the belly of a fish.

Another response to my story has occurred in the minds of just one or two people who have sought my counsel, and needs mentioning.  All of us tend to create "wouldn't it be nice" scenarios of the future.  When we are unhappy with our current life circumstances, even Christians are in danger of attempting an escape by a route God has not provided, and occasionally that deliverance might seem to be taking care of Mom or Dad.  The logic goes like this:  "I'm out of work (or unhappy with my job/circumstances/salary), so  I'll take care of the folks and things will work out somehow because it is God's will.  This kind of castle building tends to backfire (especially if other siblings are involved).

God's purposes may first appear to be at right angles to our own, and this can be a clue that we aren't concocting a plan of our own making. There is nearly always an initial resistance to the Holy Spirit's nudges that must be traversed.  The awareness of blessing and vast relief of being freed from the confines of my job came after the decision was made, not before.

The blessings of obedience are peace of heart and mind, and the cliched saying that "You can't out-give God" is true.  We somehow are better off financially now than when I was working full time; and it doesn't make sense that this should be so.  We are farmers, and two of the three years since my retirement have seen severe drought and low crop yields. 

Every dementia patient is unique, and the solutions that work for one family won't necessarily work for another.  Test the spirits, be much in the Word, and seek Godly counsel.  Pray through to peace about the decisions you must make, and rest assured that for both caregiver and patient " God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). 

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