Saturday, August 22, 2015

Only One

We all remember the story Jesus told of the Good Shepherd who was willing to leave 99 sheep safe in the fold while He searched for the one who was missing. I’ve always felt kinship to that story because most of my life’s ministries have been to just one person at a time.

My children are 7 years apart in age so that I’ve joked that I essentially raised two “onlys.”   The most effective portion of my teaching career consisted of individualized interventions for troubled readers. And when I’ve taught Sunday school over the years – well, let’s just say I’ve never drawn a crowd. Many Sundays I’ve presented my carefully prepared lessons to just one or two students. 

My books are not best sellers; they average just one sale a week at Amazon. And the past eleven years I’ve taken care of just one little old lady, my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. 

Through this lifetime of service to “ones,” the Lord has taught me that He views success very differently than we do.  We look at quarterly gains, area covered, and dollars earned, and if the numbers are pleasing we call ourselves successful.  But in God’s economy, individual lives are of inestimable worth.  

My friend, Abby, over at Little Birdie Blessings, recently posted a link to this blog on her Facebook page (Abby’s blog is beautiful and encouraging, check it out). The quote she shared reached thousands of people, and one lady—just one—said that my blog had been helpful to her on that day. I just smiled because I realized that this woman is so precious to the Lord that it was not too much for Him to spur me to write the helpful blog post and then touch Abby’s willing heart to share it, all so that this one woman who is so precious to our Lord could be helped. 

God doesn’t count success as we do.  The very young and the very old are neglected members of our society; these vulnerable lives are so easily overlooked. They can’t take care of themselves and so God calls us to be vessels for His tender care. When we offer our hands and hearts to the Lord in service to just one person in need, we are pleasing to Him. 

Caregiving and parenting are difficult assignments and often frustrating, but we can put to rest any thought that we aren’t accomplishing very much in this world when the needs of just one person keep us busy. In God’s eyes, that one individual is of great worth, and we are following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd when we spend ourselves on behalf of just one.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Find a Little Respite

Caregivers need respite, and by that I mean time away from the responsibilities of caregiving. My favorite form of getting away from it all is not very exciting, but is rejuvenating for me; I putter around our farm taking photos as I go. I find that the beauty of God's creation refreshes my spirit.

I urge each of you to find your own respite and invite you to share a bit of mine over at my other blog today: At Home in Karola, Kansas. You'll find my other form of respite there too, because the imaginary town of Karola is the setting of my novel, The Children Are Tender.  I had so much fun writing this book! The work was all-encompassing so that during the hours I spent creating the characters of Karola, I was given a vacation from the stresses of my caregiving responsibilities.

These two activities--writing and spending time outdoors, have saved my sanity during my eleven years of caregiving. I believe that creative endeavors such as writing, quilting, painting, knitting and crocheting, etc. are wonderful respite activities, and I also think that fresh air and exercise are especially important to the well being of folks who are enduring stress. 

Here's a prayer that caregivers who read this post are able to find their own happy combination of creative activities plus time spent appreciating the beauty of nature so that caregiving responsibilities don't overwhelm. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Father, Forgive Them

Anger isn't a constant state for my Alzheimer's mom; much, even most of the time she is pleasant and quiet. But during her restless times, most often in the late afternoons, she lashes out.

In her anger she feels I am not meeting her needs properly, and she becomes vindictive, trying to think of things she can do or say that will upset me. The anger itself becomes a separate entity that can't be reasoned with. It is no good to point out her pleasant surroundings and the large chart on her door that lists her schedule. It doesn't help to tell her that I'm in her room a minimum of eight times a day, seeing that her needs are met. In these moods she doesn't want explanations, she wants a target. She can't explain why she is so viciously angry, but she is very good at voicing the anger. 

I'm just heart weary.  She surprised me last night by mocking the way I laughed at some little joke my husband made about our silly but sweet yellow lab as we walked with Mom around the driveway, and for some reason this particularly hurt my feelings. I've sometimes felt self-conscious about the way I laugh.  Mom followed her scorn of my laughter with these words:  "My knee hurts, does that make you happy Linda? You like seeing me suffer don't you? Someday you will have to pay for this, the Lord is taking notes of this."

I replied, "Ohhh Mama, you'd better hope He isn't." 

But you know I've wondered about this. In someone who doesn't have Alzheimer's, Mom's behavior would be labeled "sin." Isn't she getting herself into deep trouble with the Lord?

When I brought this issue before the Lord, I instantly thought of Jesus' words regarding the people who tortured and killed him: "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Well...if ever there was someone who doesn't know what she is doing, I'm sure it would be a 91 year old woman who's had Alzheimer's disease for eleven years.  I felt so betrayed when Mom, angered because I hadn't answered her phone call requesting saltines to go with her coke, called 911 and reported elder abuse...but how much deeper was the suffering that the betrayal by His own people inflicted upon Jesus.

And then I remembered another verse that says whatever we bind on earth is bound in Heaven (Matthew 18:18).

If I refuse to forgive Mom, I hurt not only myself, I hurt her by deepening her sin before the Lord.  If I refuse to pray, with our Savior, "Lord forgive her, she doesn't know what she is doing," then I make it more likely that Mom will remain bound by her own sin even as I allow the crippling effects of unforgiveness to take root in my own life.

"But Lord," I prayed, "She has broken my heart."

In response this thought came: "No, she has not. Your heart is safe in My hands."

Unforgiveness binds us to the ones who hurt us; in a way, it puts us at their mercy. The Bible instructs us to respond to bad treatment with love, and to pray for the ones who persecute us.

These are not happy lessons to learn at the hands of the woman who once adored me and would have been willing to give her own life for mine. The sense of betrayal runs deep. But I'm praying for grace to forgive my mother even as God has forgiven me for my many sins, and to release her from accountability for the wrongs she's dealt me.  If you've also been treated unjustly, perhaps you'd like to pray with me:

Father, we release our loved ones from accountability for the sins they've committed against us. We know You love us and take action against those who hurt us, and so we release them from our blame and any divine rule that would require Your vindication on our behalf. We lift these, our beloved enemies, to You, and we pray: Father, forgive them, they don't understand what they are doing. In Jesus' name, amen.

Comforting Scripture for Caregivers:  

But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” 
 Isaiah 49:4

...God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:26