Monday, July 30, 2018

Praying for Grace to Accept Positive Change

 It has been a more than a year since my mother exhibited negative words or behaviors toward me, other than a normal, transient irritability when she is physically uncomfortable.  Gone is the focused, resentful, anger that held me in its throes during her last year at home, as her Alzheimer's progressed beyond her ability to reason logically or perceive accurately. She now views me as her advocate and defender, and this has allowed her to release her past anger toward me.  This has been a healing time, and I am grateful for it.

Interestingly, I've not had much trouble accepting our current, loving status quo.  This has to be God's grace; how sad it would be if I'd gotten stuck on our timeline at the soul-shriveling point where my mother was so angry with me that she often expressed a desire that I would suffer in some way. Somehow, I've been able to accept this change, and to relate to Mom as though she has now come to an accurate understanding and remembrance of me as her beloved, only child.  This is real; that other was just a terrible misunderstanding that came from Mom's diminished ability to draw accurate conclusions from environmental cues.

I want to encourage caregivers who are suffering verbal abuse from their care recipients; things can change. As your loved one's disease and circumstances transition to a different stage, positive changes can happen, even late in the disease process.  Your time of suffering is temporary.

And I also have a word for all of us, as we relate to loved ones whose past hurtful words and actions can't be attributed to a disease.  Even in the absence of a physical condition that gives us a reason to excuse aberrant behaviors, we all do one another wrong.  How do we forgive one another?  How do we relate to our loved ones based on current realities rather than past wrongdoings?  Because onlookers, especially children, tend to accept the current status quo and be largely unaware of past sins or grudges, we are at risk of looking like fools and bringing judgment onto our own heads if we respond to others based on past wrongs while failing to accept current behaviors that may reflect positive change.

Well-rehearsed spiritual truths come into play here:  judge not that you be not judged, forgive and you will be forgiven, keep no record of wrongs, cover over the sins of others, always hope for the best, trust, persevere...

If we trust the Lord to take care of us, we don't have to keep anger over past wrongs as a preceived defense against the same kind of hurts happening again. We don't have to judge in order to keep the other person in his or her place; that is God's job.  Forgiving past wrongs frees us to live in present peace.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, keep us from getting stuck on our timelines at a point of hurt, and grant us the freedom of forgiveness so we can move forward into the safe and peaceful times You have engineered for us.  Thank You for hearing our prayers back when we were hurting so badly.  Now hear our praises for bringing us out into an easier, blessed place.  We pray for those who are suffering, that they will call out to You and be ushered into spacious places of their own.  In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Respect, Love, and Raising Kids

Our daughter and her son, age 10 (and #10!).  
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 14 years ago, but to this day, when she gives me a word of correction, I listen.  The Lord still uses her to speak truth to me.  She has a wonderful way of getting to the heart of a matter.

When I've gone on and on about some problem or another: "Just trust in the Lord!" she exclaims.

"Pray about everything!  Jesus is always with you!  Don't worry about anything!"

It's surprising to me how often these pithy little statements bring me back to the center of trusting the Lord. And this makes me wonder about how to establish a parent/child relationship that will lead to the lifelong respect that enables me to "listen to my mother" to this day.

This morning I was talking with my daughter about my concerns with the plethora of teen literature that inevitably begins with kids being out on their own for some reason or another.  Adults can't be trusted or are absent, so the protagonists have to rely on their own powers to succeed.  This makes for thrilling stories that are fun for a young person to read, but I worry that it feeds the feeling that after a certain age (12?  13?) the advice of parents becomes archaic and even foolish, and it is best to trust in oneself and one's friends for guidance.

Here is my counsel to my daughter for words to speak to her 10-year-old (going on 16) son:

Short version: 

Satan is going to try to discredit your parents in your eyes.  It won’t be hard to do, because like all human beings, we are imperfect and sinful.  The devil knows that we are the best you’ve got because of the deep love we have for you. No one on earth loves you as much as we do, and no one on earth prays as much for you as we do.  And so you can trust the Lord’s love and guidance for you as it flows through us.  

Additional words to speak as the child can receive them: 

The Bible says no one has ever been able to keep doing what is right, that’s why God had to send His son to take the blame for our sins.  It was God’s love that saved us from ourselves.  When, as your parent, I do something sinful or foolish--when you see I’m wrong about something--the devil will try to get you to ignore everything I say because of those things I do or say that are wrong.  He does this because he wants to destroy you.  If he can shut you off from the wisdom that flows through me as God speaks to you through me, he has a better chance of putting you on the path that will lead to your destruction. 

No one likes to be told what to do.  Discipline is uncomfortable and sometimes painful (no one likes to pick up trash from the yard on a hot day).  It is natural to resent having to do something that someone else tells you.  Satan will use this resentment to try to get you to rebel against authority God has placed over you.  It is discipline that God uses to sculpt you into the person He wants you to be.  It is discipline that enables you to lead the life that He wants you to lead, the life that will bring you great blessings of peace of heart and mind.  In God’s plan, learning to receive His discipline begins with learning to receive our parents’ guidance and discipline. 

Satan will tell you “Why can’t God just speak directly to me; why do I need to submit to the wisdom of a parent?’  Here is why. Our physical senses overrule our spiritual senses as we are growing up in Christ.  For a long, long time, we can’t trust that what we feel is true, because we can’t see spiritual truth clearly or understand God’s guidance as we will someday be able to do.  During this time of training, we learn what faith is.  Like a soldier follows his captain, like an employee follows his boss’s rules, like a child follows a parent, we have to have faith that the guidance of our parents and others God has placed in authority over us is in our best interests. 

Inside info: 

Our challenge as parents is to become spiritually mature, trusting in what we cannot see, believing what we have not experienced with physical senses, placing our hope and trust fully in the invisible God whose visible works surround us...

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...*

When we grow in faith to the degree that we can say, ...but I trust in you, oh Lord, I say, you are my God, my times are in your hands**...even when the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine***...then our hearts are set right.  And when our hearts are set right, the rest follows.  Until this point in our faith development we need wise counselors and guidance from those God has placed in authority over us.  And when those counselors fall away, well then... though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.  Another version says though my father and mother drop me, the Lord will pick me up. ****

Our goal as parents is to make believers of our children, and yes, that rings with dual meaning.  Discipline makes a “believer” of a child—he believes you will do what you say and he respects you for it.  Respect is synonymous with love in the child/parent relationship.  You teach the child to believe you.  You teach him to respect you. 

You teach him that discipline is for his good.  You teach him about real love and you become your own best PR person: perhaps not proclaiming “after all I’ve done for you” (not because it isn’t true but because it won’t be well-received) but “I have loved you from before you were born and have prayed for you every day of your life.  You can trust the Lord in me because He flows through this love channel that is unequaled by anyone else in your life.”


*Hebrews 11:1
**Psalm 31:14-15
***Habakkuk 3:17
****Psalm 27:10

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Right Decisions

Isaiah 61 promises the Lord's comfort to those who mourn, provision for those who grieve, and a heart that can praise rather than a spirit of despair.  And then, at the end of verse 3, we are promised something a little bit unexpected.  It says that we who have received all these wonderful comforts from God's hand will then be called "oaks of righteousness."  We've done nothing but to receive God's good gifts, but now we are called righteous!

As I've made difficult decisions on my mother's behalf it has comforted me to know that when I couch every decision in prayer, it isn't my own "rightness" I'm depending upon, but the Lord's. This has helped me to be a little less fearful about making mistakes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Seek Ye First...

My grandmother was a loving, hard-working farm wife who, in her later years, feared a diagnosis of cancer above all other prospective ailments.  Following a severe attack of diverticulitis, she relaxed in her hospital bed when she received the news that all biopsies had been negative.  She sighed deeply. "I know I'm dying," she said, "...but at least it isn't cancer."

Her loved ones chuckled gently at this, after all, if one is dying what difference is made by the name of the malady?  But, like many of us, the dreaded "C-word" had assumed monumental proportions in her mind, and her fear was such that to die of some other illness seemed a blessing by comparison (by the way, she recovered and lived another dozen years in relatively good health).

Fears such as Grandma's terror of cancer and my own deep fear of developing Alzheimer's disease are powerful.  We research ways to avoid the thing we dread.  We may enroll in exercise classes, buy brain-healthy cookbooks, and relax just a bit when we are able to follow self-imposed rules for better health. I'm reminded of my dad, who harbored a deep fear of the colon cancer that killed his own father. And so Dad underwent regular health screenings, ate a raw onion a day at the recommendation of his gastroenterologist (this is a remedy I've never heard elsewhere...) and insisted on having two salads at both the midday and evening meals: one green, and one of seasonal fruit. His efforts paid off.  He did not die of colon cancer.  Unbeknownst to him he had been exposed to asbestos in his youth, and he died of Mesothelioma, an asbestos-specific lung cancer.

I do not have a "what's the use" attitude toward efforts toward greater health.  The Bible says that physical disciplines are good, but it also says that spiritual exercise is better (1 Timothy 4:8), and that if we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first, then other things we desire will be given us as well: given, as gifts, not as something we are able to achieve or earn on our own (Matthew 6:33).

It is so important to focus our energy on initiatives that will reap eternal rewards. The state of our physical bodies should concern us less than the state of our hearts.  If we nurture spiritual health, focusing our minds upon God's truth as revealed in Scripture, the rest of the good gifts we desire for ourselves will follow according to His perfect will (Matthew 6:33).  As we trust in His love, we come to peace in the understanding that it is safe to put God first. In fact, our only true safety comes through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, because of the perfect love of Father God.

The world would convince us to place our efforts behind human empowerment based on human understanding. This is backed by two, difficult-to-get-around forces:  1)  Our human need to avoid suffering and death and 2) The enemy's subtle attempts to nudge us just enough off-center so that our strength is spent on goals that will not yield fruit that will last.  One of the devil's favorite strategies is to lead us down a wrong path with promises of escape from some fate we fear, and then to blindside us with some awful thing we didn't know enough to avoid. Seeking God first thwarts this strategy.  As Matthew Henry says, "The Lord shall prevent the evil thou fearest, and sanctify, remove, or lighten the evil thou feelest." 

If we can trust God enough to put Him first in everything, we have His promise that our fears will recede and our eyes will be opened to the blessings He provides.


Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust."
Psalm 91:1-2