Friday, March 25, 2016

Our Hearts Will Warm Again

It is human nature to believe that whatever state our hearts are currently experiencing is permanent.

When we are content and our circumstances are easy, we feel things will always be that way, and this is the time we are most prone to forget the Lord. I've always thought we are safest spiritually when things are a little bit difficult, because it is when we are aware of our own weaknesses that we are more likely to depend on God's strength.

But there comes a time in most lives when our hearts are numbed by terrible grief. When a loved one dies, our lives are irreversibly changed, and sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we are unable to pray. Sometimes, though, we suffer ahead of the final parting. Watching a loved one fade away due to dementia causes grief that is compounded by uncertainty; we don't know how or when it will end. 

I remember the Abraham Lincoln quote

Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. 

The Lord expressed this thought a little differently, emphasizing that our only hope for today or tomorrow is in Him:  "You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy...Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy" (John 16:20, 22). Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we don't have to suffer grief alone. He sent His Holy Spirit to us so that we will never be left without comfort.

Until grief eases and our promised joy arrives, we can rest in the certainty of our our Lord's abiding presence with us.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Connected by Love

The long goodbye of Alzheimer's holds a few blessings. One of these is that this slow progressing disease allows us time to adjust to the fact of a loved one's leavetaking; it is somewhat like removing a band-aid very slowly rather than ripping it off suddenly. I've come to accept that the Lord in His wisdom has granted me a good long time to release my mother into His care.  

After all these years of caregiving, I think I'm finally recognizing some truths that make this release a little less painful. All human relationships are tainted in some way by sin, and when a sinful pattern of interacting with another person becomes familiar--most often because it began in childhood--we may grieve its loss.  Haven't there been days as caregivers when we would welcome familiar sorts of arguments or critiques from our loved ones just for the sake of having them back as they once were?  But the Lord isn't with us in grief over what ought to be a release of the burden of human vices that are familiar and thus "dear." Dwelling in a human grief over these kinds of sorrows can separate us from the Lord and block our praises.  

When familiar, negative patterns of interacting endure into a caregiver/patient relationship, the results can be just plain awful, and so our challenge is to release human, sin-based ties while keeping the strong bonds of love that run beneath. Love is eternal, and when backlit by the Lord's presence, can bring beauty into the most broken of relationships.  This is how we can be sweet to a dementia patient who is displaying anger; we remember the love that runs beneath the negative behaviors and pray for the Lord's love for the patient to shine through us. I visualize His strong, supporting love as a brightness that illuminates what is positive in my emotions toward my mother and powers my own love for her into my behaviors. 

When our loved ones die, we aren't to grieve as those who have no hope. What is lost isn't worth keeping (anger, resentment and bitterness can't enter into Heaven) but what is blessed will remain.  People we love in the Lord aren't lost to us. We remain connected in the Lord even though Alzheimer's might mask the love a patient once was able to express, and even after our loved ones pass away.  In Christ, we remain connected by the strong cords of His love, even through the challenges and sorrows of Alzheimer's disease.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Little Miracles

Mom with her great grandson, Isaac Lee. 
Our Lord interacts with us in unexpected ways, and I've come to believe that we miss a lot of little miracles because we aren't looking for them. Once in awhile, the Lord reaches out to us in a way that seems so strangely coincidental, we are prone to dismiss a God-connection because, well, it just seems too unlikely.

Discouragement can blind us to the little ways the Lord seeks to reassure us of His active presence in our lives.  Caregiving can be a discouraging job assignment, and it's good to be intentional about keeping the depression of discouragement at bay. One way to do this is to pray that the Lord opens our eyes to the many ways He shows us that He is not a God who is far off, but is intensely interested and involved in our everyday lives.

I was thinking today of one of those unlikely little coincidences that occurred when my daughter was about 4 months pregnant with her third son.  She had chosen a name that I just didn't think I liked.  It was a little unusual, I thought, and I wanted our newest baby to have a good strong name like his brothers, Daniel and Logan.  I had given the matter cursory prayer, but had nearly decided to urge my daughter not to name the child Isaac as she had mentioned. The baby's middle name would be Lee, after my father.

I was thinking all this over, and feeling conflicted about it, because I didn't want to be negative or interfering. But I knew I had influence with my daughter and that if she believed I thought her name choice not a good one, that she would probably go with another selection.  An episode of Antiques Road Show was playing in the background as all this was going through my head.  Suddenly, a snippet of dialogue from the program sounded crystal clear, "...cartographer Isaac Lee."

I grabbed the remote, skipped back, and listened again. Back in the 1800's, a man named Isaac Lee had done work on a map they were showing on the Antiques Road Show.  The name "Isaac Lee," as it fell from the narrator's lips, sounded beautiful to me. And this was more than enough impetus for me to keep my maternal mouth shut about my opinion of my daughter's choice in names.

Five months later, Isaac Lee was born, and I now truly do believe he has a beautiful name.

Here's the clincher.  My daughter-in-law was also pregnant at the time. She and my son decided to name their little daughter "Rebekah Ruth."  The middle name is in honor of my mother.  The two couples chose their babies' first and middle names without consulting with one another.

And so we have new babies in our family named "Isaac and Rebekah..." (you'll remember the Biblical account of Isaac and Rebekah) and as if that weren't a cute enough coincidence, their middle names, Lee and Ruth, honor my parents: Robert Lee and Anna Ruth.

Little miracles.  May our hearts be open to the ways the Lord desires us to receive reassurance of His active presence in our lives.  

Rebekah and Isaac

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bide Just Awhile Longer...

This photo reminds me that in each season of darkness we can expect brighter times ahead.
Recent downward turns with my mother's Alzheimer's have reminded me of something I thought I knew but oh my, when we are in the middle of the high emotions that surround a patient who feels her needs are not adequately met and a daughter/caregiver who feels rejected and betrayed, well, it is easy to forget.

The air has cleared; as Mom's caregiver I've made necessary adjustments (I always resist any change in her status and even after 12 years I will spend a fruitless time of insisting that Mom resume carrying out whatever self-care that she's stopped doing).  Mom once again is relatively happy most of the time and I've become a little better at fielding her negative responses when she is not.

I understand my reluctance to accept each progression of Mom's Alzheimer's; each downward turn brings her inevitably nearer to the time when she will leave us, and I dread that final blow.

This last time of struggling to adapt to Mom's increasing needs has reminded me of an important truth in caregiving: don't make major decisions for a loved one's care while emotions are running high on either side. Give the situation a little bit of time, let emotions cool, and make the necessary, perhaps temporary, adaptations. Just as there are seasons in a marriage when spouses don't like one another but continue forward because they know from experience that the time of discord will pass, we ought not to throw up our hands and call it quits in the middle of a caregiving trial.

During this last time of adjustment I decided I couldn't go on and that Mom would need rest home care immediately.  Each time I took this to the Lord, I'd hear this phrase, "Bide just awhile longer."  I did not appreciate this, one might even say I felt angry with the Lord. I wanted to take things into my own hands, but of course a sudden decision and the upheaval surrounding an emotion-based decision would not have brought an end to the heartache I was feeling.

I am surprised by how much better things are now, and that shames me a little because I should have known, I should have known.  The Lord just has such a precious way of bringing us through hard times.

So--this is a reminder for us all--if emotions are running high and you feel like giving up, say a prayer and bide just awhile longer.  The Lord will bring you through.

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, 
and he shall strengthen thine heart: 
wait, I say, on the Lord.
Psalm 27:13-14 KJV

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Yet Will I Trust in Him

This inspiring graphic is from my friend Abby over at Little Birdie Blessings. She has a wonderful ministry of encouragement; pay her a visit!
My Alzheimer's mom is very fond of me when I place a warmed blanket over her, deliver a savory meal, or bring her a piece of her favorite fudge.  She expresses gratitude and approval with thanks and compliments about what a good daughter I am and how well I take care of her.  But when I must guide her through the bathing process, encourage her to swallow pills, or help her prepare for bed, she does not like me at all, and tells me exactly what she thinks of me. Her opinion of the daughter with whom she has had the misfortune to be inflicted is low at such times. 

This morning I brought a warm breakfast and hot coffee to Mom, and as she praised my character and abilities I realized this is exactly how I treat the Lord! When my circumstances are pleasing to me, I praise His Name, but when times get hard, as they have seemed for me of late, I bow my head but keep my silence.

I know better.  We are taught to praise Him in all things...ALL things.  And the reason we do this is that His character does not change! Although Mom often has ample reason to withhold her approval of me (she noticed long ago that I am far from perfect and my moods are mercurial), we serve a God who does not change. He is just as powerful and holy when our circumstances are awful as He is when everything is beautiful. We are to find our rest in Him, regardless of the difficulties we face, because unlike fallible human caregivers, His good intentions toward us do not fade, His love does not waver, and He always has a good and holy purpose for us even in the midst of things the enemy means for our harm. God's power is such that He can bring blessings from the most potent of sorrows. Even in the midst of tragedy, if we look for His provision and deliverance, we will eventually come to see and understand how He brought us through. 

As we begin to praise our Lord, He brings remembrance of the ways He has provided for us in the past, and we are encouraged in hope and faith that He will bring us through the challenges we are facing today.  Praise His Name!