Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jealousy Blinds Us to Blessings

I took care of my mother in my home for 12 years following her diagnosis with Alzheimer's.  My one, repeated prayer during that time was "Please don't make me put Mom into a nursing home." I'd been horrified at my beloved grandmother's rest home experience, and felt that all my sacrifices on Mom's behalf would be worthwhile if only I could avoid enduring the agony of watching her go through a similar trial. But in the fall of this year, Mom's needs increased just at the time I was facing numerous small but strength-draining health challenges. I became physically unable to meet her needs and was forced to do what I felt I'd paid my dues against; we placed Mom into nursing home care.

As I watched Mom struggle to adapt to her new schedule, I suppressed resentful thoughts toward the Lord. I kept up a cursory morning devotion time but stopped praising or reading very much Scripture at all. However, resentment can't be repressed for very long; it is like bacteria that grows exponentially and causes infection. I began expressing anger toward my husband over inconsequential things. The past, no longer bathed in the clean light of the faith that had led me to the decisions I'd made, became darkened  by a vision-clouding haze of resentment that tainted every thought and memory. Years after the fact, I became angry that I'd  quit my job to take care of my mother as others kept right on building fat retirement accounts. I no longer thanked God daily for the many, often miraculous ways He has met my needs. 

We don't recognize jealousy for what it is; we think it is as simple as wishing that we possessed something that belongs to another. But true covetousness, the kind forbidden to God's people by the tenth commandment, is a deeper and more perception-bending sin than a mere, oftentimes fleeting desire that our possessions were as nice as those of our neighbors. It is when we withhold compassion and empathy from those who need it--justifying our hard-heartedness because they are more blessed than we--that covetousness becomes commandment breaking, God-displeasing sin. I coveted the lives of other people that I viewed as having had easier paths than my own. I dreaded my daily trips to the nursing home, and my appointed ministries not just to Mom, but to other residents there. In her classic book, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, Hannah Whitall Smith describes this resentful, covetous state of mind: "I felt as if any kind of manual labor would have been easier, and I would have preferred, infinitely, scrubbing all day on my hands and knees, to being compelled to go through the treadmill of my daily Christian work. I envied...the servants in the kitchen, and the women at the wash-tubs.”

Sometimes, before we can be truly thankful for our blessings, we have to repent of sin. My sin has been a bitter envy of other people's easier-looking lives; Lord forgive me. I haven't given God the praise that is His due even though I've been aware of His gracious provision for me through this hard time (for example, on a recent drive to the nursing home I plowed into a deer at 55 mph, with no damage to me, little damage to the car, and even the deer seemed ok). I have been like a child who eats a meal her parent has prepared, but complains that the food is not presented on her favorite plate.

Repenting of this jealousy and anger I've been carrying around is such a relief.  My vision has cleared and I am able to praise my Lord without reservation this morning.  Blessed be His Name!

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:21-26
In an amazing postscript, this afternoon when I visited Mom she was unusually, amazingly lucid. Much of the time, she is unaware that she is in a nursing home, but tonight she said, "You know, all my life I tried not to dread the possibility of being placed in a nursing home, but I did dread it anyway.  But this is so comfortable!  I am content, and grateful."  She was actually looking at me, with good eye contact, and so I snapped her photo and didn't realize until I got home and reviewed the photos I'd taken that a beam of light was falling on her, as though the Lord was showing me that He is with her, and she is under His protection, and that this is the way He is answering my long years of prayers that we could avoid nursing home care for Mom.  I have been relieved of the heavy burden of her daily care, and Mom is content.  I couldn't receive this blessing until I released my idea of how things ought to be, and repented of my vindictive jealousy toward people who don't have to deal with Alzheimer's disease. Mom's nursing home experience has been nothing like my grandmother's. God has taken such good care of us, and I'm grateful.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Not Only Survive, but Thrive

One of my current blessings: my daily trip to the nursing home offers beauty that nurtures my spirit. This has been an autumn of unusual, gold and green color, especially in the late afternoon when  I'm driving home after a visit with Mom.     
My high school home economics teacher taught us that whole cow's milk is such a complete food that one can live on milk, and milk alone.  "We can not only survive, but thrive on this food that offers everything our bodies need," she said. Although modern knowledge of nutrition would argue with her assertion, the phrase, "...not only survive, but thrive..." has stuck in my head over the years.

This morning, after my visit to the nursing home, I thought of how God's provision to us during adversity could be likened to what we once believed about the merits of milk; during hard times we can not only survive, but thrive because of His love.  Scripture says it like this: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..."  (Genesis 50:19). This is from the account of Joseph, who suffered greatly at his brothers' hands, but was used by God to save his people from famine.

There is comfort to be found if we will look for God's hand even in things that break our hearts. It isn't that circumstances are magically made easy by this practice; I have encountered real difficulties during Mom's transition to nursing home care. However, I've also been provided the strength I need to meet those challenges along with some unanticipated blessings. For example, I've lost a good measure of my fear of nursing homes as I've spent time in the one that provides care for my Mom, and I've made some friends of several of the elderly patients I've met there.  I didn't know how much I missed being the youngest person in a room!  Their sweet smiles, kind gestures, and even their aged, gravelly voices have ministered to my heart in ways I didn't know I needed.

Now, I don't believe God has caused the hardship of Mom's Alzheimer's just to bring about these blessings.  But I have learned that if we look for His provision in the middle of difficult times, we will find what we need not only to survive, but to thrive.