Sunday, August 31, 2014

An Amazing God




Last week was a week of emotions and circumstances all over the spectrum for this writer.  Is not that the way life tends to flow?  Yet it is usually not all in the same week, as it was for me that week.  Yet through it all in the joys and sorrows the Lord's beautiful presence is with us.  Do you believe that and rest in that, dear caregiver?

Last week for me brought warm expressions of love from others on my birthday.  It also brought a circumstance in my life which made me feel sad and vulnerable.  After a day of struggle God gave me a measure of peace/joy about this situation in the midst of the still sad feelings.  The Lord also blessed me with devotions that spoke so amazingly to the point of my discouragement.  God is an amazing God.  Then later in the week something unexpected occurred which may change every thing again for the good in that situation.  I do not know this will change this for certain, but I do know my Lord is in control.

Last week another experience occurred, however.  This was an awesome Ephesians 3:20 experience.  My family care-giving experiences and God's grace through it all was featured in an article on the front page of our local newspaper.  This story is not just my story, however, dear caregiver.  It is YOUR story as well.  It is OUR story.  It is a story which educates others about the struggles of family care-giving, but it is also a story which tells others about the strength which can be found in the Lord through it all.  So I am excited about this story being told, because of my love for you, dear caregiver.

If you want to read this article you can go here for the web edition:  http://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/news/local/2014/08/26/caregiver/14628253/   I also have a picture posted above of how it looked in the print and e-paper version!

God is an amazing God who sees us through all our mountaintop experiences and valley experiences.  We grow spiritually, however, through our valley experiences.  Family care-giving teaches us that.  Our best experiences on this earth are not perfection, because we do not live in a perfect world.  As someone recently said there is no "happily ever after" in this life but only in eternity.  Yet our most difficult experiences are also always blessed with the Lord's presence, grace, and love.  Yes, we serve an amazing God.  Rest in that dear caregiver!

Now on another note I recently had a sweet online friend offer to donate my book, DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers, to someone who reads my blog post.  She wishes to remain anonymous, but has extended this kind offer.  So here are the conditions.  The book will be sent to some individual who makes a comment in the comment section below.  Please share an experience about God's grace in your life as a family caregiver AND also send me your home address in a separate e-mail to me at jesuschild54@hotmail.com   The person or person who does that will have a chance to receive a free book.  If there is more than one person who makes a comment, I will draw a name out of a hat.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chapters of Our Lives

We have many moments and chapters in our lives.  Some of these chapters in our lives are joyful ones.  Some are them are difficult and challenging.  We tend to look at special dates on the calendar and reflect about the past moments of our lives.  I especially tend to do this.

Sixty-seven years ago on August 24, 1947 a little baby girl was born.  Her parents named her Sharon Lynn.  She was her parents first child, and she was born two weeks earlier than expected.  She was born on a Sunday, the same day her birthday lands in 2014.  As you may have guessed this little girl is the author of this blog post.

The chapters in my life included my birth in IA and my growing up years in MN and SD.  I was a quiet introvert type child.  Later came the early adult chapter of my life.  I moved to WI, taught first grade for three years at a Christian school, met and married my husband, and raised a family of three sons.  Later chapters in my life included the marriages of my sons and wonderful grandchildren. One of the difficult chapters of my life was the diagnosis of my husband's rare neurological disease (Multiple Systems Atrophy) in 2006, my breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, and my husband's death in early 2011. 

Yet all these chapters in my life were ordained by God.  Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be."  God has ordained all the days and chapters of your life as well, dear caregiver.  If I had been able to chose, I would have not chosen the care-giving chapter of my life or perhaps even difficult moments which occurred before that chapter in my life.  I certainly would not have chosen the chapter of widow.

Yet God truly does bring beauty from the ashes of the difficult chapters of our lives.  God says in John 16:33b, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart I have overcome the world."  He has overcome the world, and He will use our heartaches to advance His kingdom and for our spiritual growth and even joy.  Dear caregiver, the Lord is using your care-giving experience to stretch and grow you in dependence on Him and in love for Him.  He is using it to bring new spiritual fruit in your life.  Finally, He is using it in His kingdom both now and in the days ahead.  Dear caregiver, I understand how difficult the care-giving chapter of your life can be.  I lived it.  Yet God wants you to walk with Him holding His hand during this chapter of your life.  He wants you to rest in Him trusting that He will lead you through this time in your life with purpose for now and the future.  If you belong to Him; He delights in you, dear caregiver!



Sunday, August 17, 2014

God Will Use Your Story


I want to use this opportunity to thank those of you who have e-mailed me with kind comments about my blog or my book. It has been such an encouragement to me. I also want to share a few stories that people have shared with me. I will always protect the identity of people. Also this is not meant to brag but to show God's glory and working.  Finally, by sharing these stories with you I hope  to encourage you, dear caregiver.  I want you to believe that God will use your own care-giving experiences as well as mine in your post care-giving life. It may not be through a book or a blog, but God will use your experiences in family care-giving to help and serve others some day as well as to grow you spiritually through these experiences.

Just the other day I had a caregiver that I know personally share with me that she had experienced a difficult day.  She went on to say that a meditation from my book had given her perspective and blessed and comforted her in regards to that difficult day. It made her see that her calling as a family caregiver was a noble calling in spite of the challenges and difficulties which sometimes accompany it. Then there was yet another woman who I also personally know. She said that one day she had been standing at her sink crying while performing a less than pleasant task in taking care of her husband's needs. This unpleasant task had involved hours of work. That very day my book DEAR CAREGIVER had come in the mail. It had come just when she needed it. She said she had practically devoured the book in one day and had plans to go back and reread it more slowly and “chew” on it in a more reflective manner.

There is the story of the woman who herself is a former family caregiver and who ordered multiple copies.  She had plans to give copies to people who would be blessed by the book, and she was planning to enclose her own personal testimony in each book that she gave to others. Later she emailed me and said that she had received a note in response to one of the books that she had given away. It was from a nurse who leads a caregiver support group at a nursing home and was planning to read it during meetings and encourage other caregivers to buy it. This same woman who ordered the books was planning to give a copy to a woman whose husband has Parkinson's Disease. This same woman is also the woman who after reading my blog posts encouraged me to write my book in the first place.

There is the story of the gentleman who is a caregiver group facilitator at his church. He was a former caregiver himself and purchased a book. He was going to encourage others in his church's care-giving groups to buy books. In addition to this he wrote a wonderful review of my book at his web site: http://www.christiancaregiversupport.com/caring-for-caregivers.html    He also wrote a review of my book  at my order page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Caregiver-Sharon-Vander-Waal/dp/1629524263/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408296105&sr=1-1&keywords=Dear+Caregiver

There is also the story of a woman who had searched for some time for resources which would fit her needs, and then one day in one of her darkest hours came across this blog. She has been her husband's caregiver for many years, and her husband is now completely disabled. She also purchased the book, and wrote that she loved having it at her fingertips and not only in blog form on the computer.

There is the story of the woman who bought the DEAR CAREGIVER book on Kindle for a friend whose husband was experiencing health issues. There was yet another woman who wrote me that my blog post had brought her such comfort that day when she was having a particularly bad day. And there was the woman who while thanking me for my blog and saying she was going to order my book said that when she feels overwhelmed she remembers that Jesus says He will never leave us or forsake us. Isn't that what life all about, dear caregiver? It is keeping our eyes on the Lord.

I say all this to encourage you, dear caregiver. God will use your story too some day in some way, shape or form. Sometimes it is easy for me to feel discouraged when I look strictly at numbers of books sold or number of comments made on my blog. Yet these stories that I have shared with you are encouraging to me. On a purely emotional level nothing will make up for what my husband and I endured with his disease. Nothing will make up for the loss of my husband to me on this earth. But I can tell you that God does bring beauty from the ashes. God does bring a sweeter relationship with Himself because of the heartaches.  Finally, God does use our stories for His glory. Rest in Him, dear caregiver. Trust that He is using and will continue to use your care-giving story for His glory.








Sunday, August 10, 2014

Your Noblest Hour


During the years that I was a caregiver for my husband it was easy to feel discouraged and impatient at times. Care-giving for someone who is continually declining in his health is a difficult and challenging experience. People would sometimes say that they admired me for taking care of my husband, as I did. Sometimes people said things like “you are so strong,” or “you are a good example of perseverance in your Christian life.” I felt somewhat guilty when they would say that. I am and was not strong at all.

Were it not for God’s grace and strength I would have really fallen apart during those care-giving years. I hadn’t chosen or wanted this role in life at all, but it was the path God had assigned me. I just wanted to be a “normal” couple. I had to daily ask God for grace and strength for this role. Even at that it was a constant struggle to fight against the negative emotions. I constantly was aware of the fact that I was a very imperfect vessel that God was using in caring for my husband.

Dear caregiver, I am sure that you have at times experienced similar emotions. Be aware, however, that your care-giving days are important and significant days in your life. You are an imperfect human being, but you are doing a very important work in God’s kingdom. Also you are doing for your care recipient what no one else would do. You have stepped up to the plate, and you are doing the job of caring for your loved one even though perhaps no one else has chosen to help you in this endeavor. This dear caregiver, is your finest and noblest hour.



(This post is one of the meditations in my book, Dear Caregiver subtitled Reflections for Family Caregivers. If you would like to order a book click on the Amazon or Xulon links to the order page for my book. These are below the picture of the book.  E-versions are also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.   If you would prefer to get a book directly from me, e-mail me at the e-mail address at the top of the page for details.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thankfulness When Feeling All Alone

"I feel so alone in this."  Have you ever said or thoughts those words, dear caregiver?  I know there were times when I felt all alone as a caregiver.  Sometimes I still have those feelings in my post-caregiver days.  Feelings are fickle and changeable, however.  The truth is that the Lord is always with us. 

We can make ourselves more aware of the Lord's presence, however, by taking daily time with Him in prayer and in His Word.  God has so many promises in His Word assuring us of His presence.  It is very helpful to remind ourselves of these promises when we become discouraged or feel all alone.

Another way we can make ourselves more aware of the Lord's presence is through thankfulness.  I was reminded in my devotions recently that when we choose thankfulness, it in turn opens the door to an awareness of the Lord's presence in our lives.  The devotional went on to say that thankfulness is built on the foundation of our trust in the Lord.  If we are thankful for both the small and large blessings, it will soften the impact of the trials in our lives.  God want us to give thanks in all circumstances even the difficult ones like the heartaches that family care-giving can sometimes produce (I Thessalonians 5:18).

I have suggested in the past the idea of writing down at least three things each day for which you are thankful.  I found this to be immensely helpful to me as a family caregiver.  It is so easy to get weighed down with the heartaches of seeing one's loved one deteriorate in health step by step.  This in turn can cause one to lose the perspective of seeing God's grace and daily blessings.  The exercise of daily writing down three things for which one is thankful can do much to bring one's focus back to the Lord and His presence.

I would think it would be even better to take it a step further.  Would not it be both wise and a blessing to thank God for His blessings multiple times throughout the day?  When feeling overwhelmed by the emotional and physical burdens which sometimes accompany care-giving, it may be difficult to do this.  How about starting by looking right outside your window, dear caregiver?  Thank the Lord for the sunshine or rain, the trees and grass, and the flowers and skies.  Then look around your house.  Thank Him for the things He has given you to help in the care of your loved one.  There is no end to the blessings for which we can thank the Lord.

It is strange.  Giving thanks the Lord even when we do not "feel" like it adds to our joy and makes us feel less alone.  It reminds us of the Lord's presence which never leaves us.  See God's blessings, dear caregiver.  Cherish these blessings, and thank Him for them. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Anniversary Reflections

On July 30, 1971 I married my husband, Wayne, so it will be forty three years ago this week that I married the love of my life.  He was a wonderful husband, and we had a good marriage.  We raised three sons together and were able to see each of our sons marry Christian woman.  For two of these weddings we had to travel internationally to witness the weddings.  (God has a way of bringing surprises into our lives that we could never have envisioned.)  Wayne and I were also able to experience together the birth of seven of our eight grandchildren.  The last grandchild was born after Wayne's death. 

As I said before our marriage was a good marriage.  We faced some trials, but we faced them together with the Lord's help.  Wayne was the love of my life.  But the last few years of Wayne's life and of our marriage were very difficult.  As you know from my previous blog posts these years were the years of Wayne's neurological disease.  These were difficult years, as I saw Wayne deteriorate step by step until he was completely disabled.  They were emotionally and physically draining years, and they took all the spiritual reserves that I had.  (I wrote about those care-giving years several posts back in my post called "My Personal Care-giving Story" which was posted on May 4, 2014.)

As I think about the upcoming anniversary of my wedding to Wayne, I am thankful for who Wayne was to me in my life.  I am so thankful for the love that he showed me in so many ways.  I also am saddened by the years that his dignity was slowly taken from him by his disease which step by step made him increasingly disabled.  I am saddened by what I went through as his caregiver during those years.  Yet I am also joyful in the thought of Wayne being free from all that now and with the Lord.  I am joyful in the realization that I know the Lord was with me every step and will continue to be with me every step of the way the rest of my life.  Yet I miss my husband, so I ask that you will pray for me especially in this week on the anniversary of our marriage.

I have learned so much through my care-giving experience and my grief experience.  I have learned that dependence on the Lord is the only way to navigate this life.  I have learned that weakness in my self is a good place to be, for then the strength of the Lord can be shown.  Another words I am the strongest when I recognize my weakness, because then Christ's strength flows through me in amazing ways.  I have learned that I am in control of nothing, but I am never alone.  The Lord is with me step by step.  My relationship with the Lord has become so very sweet, and I know He loves me and delights in me.  I have learned that He is sufficient.  Others may fail me, but He will not.  I may not always understand His ways, but I can trust Him.

So, you too can depend on Him, dear caregiver.  He is your strength in your weakness.  He is in control and will walk with you each step of your care-giving journey and throughout your entire life.  He loves you and will be with you, dear caregiver.  Because of my experiences as a caregiver, it is my passion to encourage you in these things as a caregiver.  That is why I write this blog, and that is why I wrote my book.  I care about you, dear caregiver.  God bless you in all you do.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Running the Caregiver Race


Care-giving is physically and emotionally draining. It often involves pouring out all one's energies and resources for the well-being of another human being. This can be especially difficult, if one is caring for a loved one. It is difficult to remain objective when it is one's own loved one. It is also difficult when in spite of the caregiver's best efforts his or her loved one continues to deteriorate in health. Yet you are doing God's work, dear caregiver. Hence, He will give you the power to persevere and remain firm in the faith.

As the apostle Paul wrote I Timothy 4 he was nearing the end of his life. It was Paul's desire that Timothy would carry on the work of the Lord. Paul wanted Timothy to be ready to speak and apply God's Word in any and every situation. It was also Paul's prayer for Timothy that Timothy would remain firm in his faith. Paul told Timothy to keep his "head in all situations" and to be willing to "endure hardship" for the cause of Christ. (II Timothy 4:5a) This was Paul's desire for Timothy, but it was also God's desire and will for Timothy. It is also God's will for our lives today. It is His desire for you too, dear caregiver, as you face the challenges and sometimes hardships of family care-giving.

Paul knew that he had fought the good fight of faith and finished the race of life with his faith still strong. Paul had willingly "poured out" his life for the Lord. Jesus Christ was number one in Paul's life. Jesus Christ and his service to Him was Paul's consuming passion and purpose in his life. Can we say the same? Is Christ our consuming passion and purpose for our lives? Is our personal love relationship with the Lord and our obedience to Him our purpose and priority in our lives? Are we willing to be "poured out" for our Lord? Will we be able to say the same at the end of our lives? Have we truly run the race and kept the faith in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? Have we sought to keep our eyes focused on the Lord and to not be distracted by the world's distractions and life's trials?

Paul knew as he approached the end of his life that there was a "crown of righteousness" in store for him (II Timothy 4:8a).  Because we belong to the Lord, we experience His joy even in this life. Because sin is still present in the world and in our lives, however; we also face many trials and struggles in this life. Family caregivers especially understand this. We must struggle to run and finish the race of life in a way that is pleasing to the Lord in spite of the many obstacles and trials of life. We do this with the Holy Spirit's help and strength, but we must be the runners in the race of life. We as the children of God long "for His appearing." (II Timothy 4:8b) We long for Christ's second coming. Then we will receive His "crown of righteousness" given to us as His gift of grace! Then, at last we will be completely free from the presence of sin and its effects in our lives. Revelation 7:16-17 promises us, "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Praise the Lord for those precious promises! Let us run the race of life faithfully and in manner that is pleasing to the Lord!

Dear Christian caregiver, the care-giving race is a difficult race. In spite of this keep persevering. This is the race the Lord has given you at least for now. It is not a glamorous race. It is a difficult race. Yet a crown of righteousness is waiting for you. You are doing God's work. Someday the tears of both you and your loved one will be wiped away!