"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12).
As a "sandwich generation" fifty-something woman, I often felt claustrophobic near-panic when my grandchildren's or my aging mom's needs trumped my own. This sensation that my own needs might go unmet often expressed itself as paralyzing fear. Over the years I've found that if I will push through this kind of fear in prayer, I am often provided strength to serve the needs of others even when I feel weak. It usually takes the loving intercession of a praying friend to get me over the fear barrier.
It is instinctive, but not Scriptural, to take our own oxygen first, as the world's wisdom advises, but grabbing what we need to make space for ourselves robs the Lord of the opportunity to show us His miraculous generosity. This is not to say that God won't sometimes instruct us to say "No," and He often gives the command to come apart and rest awhile. But we need not to make decisions out of our own sense of weakness before we inquire of the Lord. Oftentimes strength for the journey is given along the way.
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Luke 6:37-39 NIV
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4 NIV
On Easter morning, 2004, I slid into my customary pew at church with several minutes to spare before services were scheduled to begin. I noticed that my mother’s space at the end of the row was empty, and felt a glimmer of worry. She was a stickler for punctuality and never missed church. She taught me always to arrive early, especially for holiday services.
I excused myself and called Mom. “Oh, I just decided to stay home today,” she said. When I reacted with shock, she complied with my wishes and came to church, arriving twenty minutes late. This incident was one of many that let me know something was wrong with my mom.
Apathy is a common side effect of dementia, and is sometimes the first symptom noted. Dementia patients may display indifference regarding schedules in combination with an apparent lack of emotion toward concerned loved ones who object to their behaviors. Symptoms of apathy probably cause more conflict between caregivers and patients than any other early warning sign of dementia. A caregiver may have an intellectual understanding that the care recipient should not be held accountable for disease related responses, but it is difficult to transfer that “in the head” understanding to the heart. The tendency is to react to the loved one based on the relationship that existed before dementia occurred rather than to respond from a caregiver’s perspective.
Apathy may be a result of the physical damage that occurs as the characteristic plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease wreak havoc in the brain, but there is a psychological and emotional basis as well. Forgetfulness and confusion cause dementia patients to lose confidence in the ability to successfully perform everyday tasks. Repeated failures can result in a reluctance to make the effort to try. People who suffer dementia often ask others to carry out tasks they are still physically able to complete, a behavior that in the general population might be labeled lazy or self-centered. However, for the dementia patient, requesting help is actually a viable coping mechanism that helps to compensate for failing memory.
When I respond to my mother’s requests with irritation, I take from her the dignity of retaining a measure of control over her environment. She has learned a new way to get what she needs—she asks!
It is only in recent years that Alzheimer’s disease has been widely recognized and diagnosed. There are doubtless a number of readers who remember a parent or grandparent becoming stubborn or demanding, and only in retrospect have understood that Grandpa’s “hardening of the arteries” and Grandma’s stubborn streak were dementia related. It is my hope that our current, more accurate understanding of the physical basis for the behavioral changes of dementia will ease the sad memories some of us have of the puzzling or hurtful behaviors a loved one exhibited toward the end of life. When my own mother goes home to be with the Lord, I pray to remember her as the vital and loving person she was before dementia robbed her of the ability to think clearly and respond appropriately.
This article first appeared in the November, 2010 issue of The Lebo Light, which was a much-loved local newsletter that was the brainchild of Lennis McCreary, its editor. Lennis has gone home to be with the Lord now, and I know that The Light is one of many stars in her crown.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV
In accordance with God's instruction to Joshua, we are to go in to take possession of the blessings God has promised us (Joshua 1:1). "When he received these instructions, Joshua must have been prepared for the resistance shown by the inhabitants of the land, because his reply revealed, in Matthew Henry's words, '...an earnest desire to know the will of Christ, and a cheerful readiness and resolution to do it'" (100 Days to Freedom, Day 74).
Dear Lord, when You have given promises of blessing, help us not to be lazy, just waiting for treasure to drop into our laps. Instead, let us stride forward in faith, willing to suffer the inconvenience of obedience as we strive to take hold of that for which You have taken hold of us. In Jesus' Name we pray, amen.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20 NIV
The Scripture above is from the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery but was then prospered by the Lord to rise to a position of leadership in Egypt so that God's people would have grain during famine.
I was thinking about this verse today and, in prayer, said, "I've not had suffering in my life such as Joseph's..." but then I thought about having been an Alzheimer's caregiver for 16 years.
There were unexpected seasons of peace during Mom's illness, but there was also suffering. Because of her disease, my mother turned against me during her final years and although to the very end she continued to express love, those expressions alternated with vitriolic anger. Responsibility for her was a constant weight on my heart whether I was providing her daily care or not.
That I did not at first think of caregiving as a signpost marking suffering in my life is due to God's provision for me during those years. When the enemy hurts us, we can depend on the Lord to help us. He will make it right, more than that, He will bless us exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He brought me blessings in spite of Mom's illness, and in some ways even because of it.
I have been able to help other people through what Mom and I endured during the years she suffered dementia. This blesses my heart. And in a way that only the Lord could orchestrate, the labor of writing about our struggles forced me to analyze and express the specific ways God supplied our need. Repeating stories of God's goodness to us imprinted these incidents on my mind and heart. My own faith was edified as I worked to comfort others who were facing similar struggles to ours: blessing upon blessing.
Once tragedy strikes--and Alzheimer's disease is a tragedy--there is no escaping its impact. For me, the title of caregiver was bestowed by default and not through some noble or even obedient-to-the-Lord choice; there wasn't anyone else. I always think of Pippin's words in one of the Lord of the Rings movies: "I don't want to be in a battle. But waiting on the edge of one I can't escape is worse."
Alzheimer's disease is a battle indeed, but we serve a God who has gone ahead of us and has already won the victory. In every event of our lives, the Lord has plotted a course through the challenges we will face. His love cushions every blow, and His enabling power sees us through.
The meme above features my favorite Matthew Henry quote, from his concise commentary on Psalm 121.
I am sorry to say my faith has often faltered beneath the threat of a frightening outcome. Most recently, I watched my mother die and then walked through the aftermath of loss, was told that my husband had cancer and endured 6 months of diagnostic tests culminating in surgery for him (he ended up with a benign report), and suffered an attack of ocular rosacea that has left me with diminished vision that I pray is temporary.
Some times of life are just terribly uncomfortable. These challenges and others have shown me that while I can't depend on myself or my own responses, or even on my faith, I can depend on the Lord.
Most of the time, all I've done "right" is to cry out. And even then, I've rarely prayed in a manner that would seem likely to gain a positive response from the Lord; I was often so bound with fear that I felt resentment over the bad thing that had happened even as I cried out for His help.
Blessedly, my deliverance in each of these difficult circumstances did and does not depend upon me, but on Him.
I praise His Name.
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Psalm 131 NIV
I have a wonderful little Scripture book that is full of inspirational quotes along with three Bible verses for every day of the year. This morning's selections included this quote:
I know not what the future
hath of marvel or surprise;
Assured of this, that life and
earth His mercy underlies.
John Greenleaf Whittier
It is such a comfort to be reminded that the Lord's great love will unfailingly see us through.
I found my little book a few years ago at, of all places, Walmart, and have used it every day since. Here is an Amazon link to the book: Bible Promises to Bless Your Heart.
Inheritance issues nearly always add stress when one child has performed more caregiving duties to aging parents than another. Emotions run deep, perspectives differ, and even people who strive to live their lives according to the guidance of God's Word can stumble.
The solution is to trust the Lord for our own well-being and that of our children, to pray for one another, love each another, and let God's peace rule in our hearts. We can cry out to the Lord with the hurt of what we perceive to be inequity, allow for different points of view, and pray not to do damage out of our sense of injustice or fear of lack.
In matters of inheritance of wealth or possessions of those who've gone before, we often aren't really afraid that God's will won't be accomplished; we are afraid we won't like God's will. When we strive to take control of a situation out of a desire to lessen our own stress level, we risk causing turmoil that does not yield the results we had hoped, and may actually work against our own well-being. Peace floods our hearts when we say to the Lord, "Thy will be done."
It is actually freeing to recognize one's helplessness to influence a situation, even a situation we believe is unjust. As we let the music box of circumstances play its crooked melody, we can trust the Lord to elevate the imperfect into a tune of redemption that has power to undo any harm human sin or negligence has wrought.
We can trust the Lord for the future both for ourselves, and for our loved ones.
But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God." My times are in your hands...
Psalm 31:14-15 NIV
Self-condemnation is the unrepentant sinner's equivalent of repentance. We wallow in self-condemnation over a sin we have no real intention of releasing to the Lord.
From 100 days, day 62: "Dying to sin can be an agonizingly slow process, and may happen in increments too small for us to discern...every small act of obedience removes another obstacle to the transformation we long to experience. Meanwhile, God's mercy and grace cover us as we undergo the metamorphosis set in motion when we accepted His payment for our sin."
Dear Lord, bring us to genuine repentance for the sins we have been unwilling to release. Thank You for Your mercy and grace, and most of all, for Your love. Amen.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:25 NIV
Here is the prayer that ends Day 58 in 100 Days, and I pray it once again now:
Father God, I entrust my future into Your hands. Forgive me for seeking comfort in sources not of You, and show me how to find all my needs met in You. Show me how to remain steadfast in honoring You in my behavior even when I am lonely, hungry, or tired; teach me not to let my physical state dim the expression of Your Holy Spirit through me. Amen.
"Time and again we forget that our relationship with our Savior is based on love: His great love for us, and the passion of humbled devotion that fires in our own hearts in response. We are made of frail flesh, we live in the world, and we forget that our relationship with God is spiritual and must be nurtured; we neglect the realignment with truth that occurs when we pray, praise; and absorb Scripture. It is when we live only by what our five senses can perceive that we lose focus on Christ; we may keep lip service to love for a Savior but we don't live as though we believe it. We begin to treat our relationship with God more as a business partnership than a love relationship" (One Hundred Days to Freedom, day 56).
When we are discouraged, when life circumstances have not unfolded as we thought we heard the Lord promise they would, when depression threatens and hopelessness sends its creeping tendrils around our hearts, God does not ask us to try harder or demand that we do better. He reminds us of His love, and then, as Jesus inquired of the Apostle Peter, our God inquires: "Lovest thou me?" (John 21:15).
Our hope lies not in the fact of our love for God, but in His love for us. If, when we focus on the sure fact of His love, there is a responding glimmer of reciprocal love in our own hearts, then we have what we need to move forward in faith.
Yes, Lord, I love You.
In the fifth month of my pregnancy the Lord caused my path to cross with a woman who asked if she could pray for our baby. She placed her hands on my small baby bump and when she prayed, I felt the child leap within me. A sonogram a few weeks later renewed my hope for our child; all looked normal. Our healthy baby girl was born in November of 1980, and is now the mother of our three beautiful grandsons.
When we go through difficult times, it is important to remember that God's love is with us and that it is safe to place our hope in the future He has planned.
Poem based on Jeremiah 29:11 by Freda Hanbury Allen
I have been feeling discouraged. It seems to me that I fall far short of all God would like me to be. I need to be kinder. I need to change my eating habits. I need not to be so afraid, because God is with me, and I should not fear His will or doubt His protection.
In prayer this morning, these thoughts came as from the Lord to me:
Child, I do not tell a caterpillar that it needs to change. It is in the process of changing. It is unable to change faster, indeed, efforts to accelerate change ahead of the organism's natural timing are detrimental; the chrysalis must be left alone, not cut away.
I was depressed over my sins and failures, and, feeling more like a slug than a caterpillar, I inquired of the Lord how one tells the difference between the two.
The answer came gently: we tell the difference between a slug and a caterpillar by the end product. A slug remains a slug, but a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. And there came the gentle assurance that both the Lord and I will be pleased with the transformation He is working in me.
The Lord has put a vision in our hearts of what we will one day be; let's allow Him time to work the needed changes in us. Meantime, let's not be hard on ourselves when we see that the transformation is not yet complete. We each are a work in progress
Fear has always been my biggest challenge. My life verse is Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
In Alzheimer's, my mother never expressed fear. I often felt this odd and nearly unfair considering that during my formative years her fears for my welfare as her only child were so deeply instilled in me that I have struggled with fear my entire life. Mom, by contrast, relaxed into faith in the Lord. Five years into her Alzheimer's journey she wrote these words into her journal, "It is sad that we humans so often view death with sadness and dread—the actuality is that it is a blessed doorway into God’s continual presence." In the final years of her life, Mom was not bound even by fear of death.
I pray to relax into trust that God means me good and not harm, and that my times are in His hands. I won't make this transition in the same way my mom did; each of our journeys are uniquely planned by the God who created us and loves us. But today I affirm that I do trust You for my future, Lord, help me to trust You more...and deliver me from the fears that would overcome me but by Your grace and care. Amen!
But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Psalm 31:14-15 NIV
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56-57 NIV).
I think one of the most difficult things about caregiving was the guilt. I eventually learned to hold my tongue in response to Mom's harsh words toward me, but initially my heart was so hurt that I would either respond in kind, or try to talk her out of her point of view, which was fruitless. When I became defensive or angry, I inevitably suffered guilt afterwards. The emotions were complex; loss of a mother who provided care for me, hurt that she was so often angry with me, and a sense of betrayal were chief among them. But over all of this was the knowledge that she could not help having Alzheimer's, and if change was to happen, I was the one who needed to change.
Change did come over time, by God's grace. But on days when I failed, I always found peace when I sought the Lord in repentance. He accompanied us on every phase of our journey through Mom's Alzheimer's. You can trust Him to walk with you as well.
My prayers and empathy are with those of you who are still in the throes of caregiving journeys of your own. God bless and keep you.
I have been posting a daily calendar thought on my Facebook caregiving page, and only today has it occurred to me that this might provide encouragement for any who follow this blog. Heartfelt prayers now for those who are walking through a caregiving journey with a loved one. God bless you and may His strength and encouragement bless your hearts today.
If you prefer to follow these posts on Facebook, here is the url for my "Encouragement for Caregivers" page: https://www.facebook.com/Encouragement-for-Caregivers-151922870549.
We caregivers often face aging issues vicariously through our loved ones whose bodies and/or minds are suffering the ravages of age. This can lead us to fear for ourselves and for the future. Isaiah 46:4 reminds us that the Lord will not leave or forsake us, even if we are old and gray, even if we become dependent on others. This issue of prospective dependence is what frightens us the most, but we can remind ourselves that other people are only the vessels through which God provides His care. The Lord will continue to be our shepherd. He has made this commitment to us for our lifetimes here and on into eternity, by grace and grace alone, through Jesus. The Lord will always be our Shepherd, so we have no need that will go unmet. He will deliver us safely home.
The quote above is a favorite of mine from Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on Psalm 91.
During the pandemic, I have prayed Psalm 91, 121, and 139 for my family repeatedly. We know people who have died of Covid, and with my husband's and my own age-related health issues, I have been afraid.
We have prayed hard before each excursion and trusted the Lord to keep us safe. I thought I heard the Lord say, "It will not come near you," and claimed this promise.
But last week our nine-year-old grandson was diagnosed with Covid, followed by every one of his close family members in succession. I counted this as coming very near to me indeed! It threw me for a proverbial loop; I felt my defenses had been broached and fought through a sleepless night of being nearly overwhelmed by fear.
Our grandson was very sick for two days and then recovered quickly, perhaps having an easier time than he otherwise would have done because he is fully vaccinated. The challenges his brothers and parents have faced have also been relatively minor. They did not feel well. But they are recovering.
When I sought the Lord, He did not explain Himself to me. He rarely does.
It's no good nursing a grudge toward the Lord. If one works through this kind of upset somewhat respectfully, with Bible in hand, it isn't necessarily sinful, but beating one's fists against the chest of the Almighty God just doesn't have an impact. He doesn't let go of us, He waits until we are through with our reaction to whatever life event has caught us off guard, and then He reminds us of truth: He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35), and He will work all things to our good (Romans 8:28). Nothing catches Him by surprise, and He has planned for every future event, indeed, He is already there, working on our behalf. We don't have to understand, but we do need to trust.
But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you...