Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Personal Testimony

(I was asked to give a personal testimony after the sermon this evening in my church. The sermon this evening was about patience endurance in trials and was based on part of James chapter five in the Bible. Following is what I said tonight.)

Good evening everyone. Let me say first that I was a little blown away by the request extended to me to briefly speak with you this evening. I am certainly not a great example of “patience in trials.” Anyone thinking so, makes me very uncomfortable. Yet caring for Wayne and the years since his death certainly have been a spiritual experience and a lesson in leaning on the Lord.

Most of you know some of my story of being my husband, Wayne's caregiver. In 2006 Wayne was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease called Multiple System's Atrophy. In the midst of all this was my own diagnosis of breast cancer in July of 2007 about a year after Wayne's diagnosis, and my subsequent eight months of treatment following that.

Seeing my husband's body deteriorate during the next four and a half years after his diagnosis was definitely the most difficult experience that I had ever encountered on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

A difficult lesson I had to begin to try to learn during this time was to rest things with the Lord. I am not sure I did such a good job of that.  Perhaps, Wayne did a better job of that.  I never heard him ask, "Why?" during the whole course of his illness.  So many things about care-giving were out of my control.  The Lord is the only one who is really in control, however.   

During this time I knew in my head at least that God was in control, but I think I subconsciously thought, however, that everything I did or didn't do could possibly lengthen or shorten the progress of Wayne's disease.  It says in Psalm 139, however, that the number of our days are ordained for us by the Lord.  I had and have to learn that I am not in control. God is the only one in control.    I don't have to be so stressed out about everything, although I still fight that tendency.  The Lord is still on His throne, and I am still His child.    

I think I have learned that I can have a greater confidence, while at the same time I see my desperate need to depend on the Lord alone.  He has become my confidence.  Plus, now because of all I have experienced in these past years, I feel I have a story to tell, and I have passion to tell it.  I have learned of the Lord's faithfulness in very difficult circumstances and that joy can reside alongside grief and difficult times, because joy is not the same as happiness which is dependent on perfect circumstances.  Family care-giving  and my years as a widow have been a time when my character was and is being stretched in ways I would never have imagined.  It is a time when I have grown in my faith, and my faith has become so much sweeter.   

Another thing I had to learn was the value of gratitude. A piece of advice was given to me while I was a family caregiver. That advice was to write down a few things at the end of each day for which I was thankful.  It was difficult to be thankful in the chaos and drama of family care-giving, but this gratitude exercise did much to shape my attitude and to see the little wonders of God in my life.  It is a practice I still carry on today.   

My past care-giving experiences has also given me an insight and concern for other people's struggles, especially family caregivers.  It has given me a basis for being able to help them and for them knowing that I understand their struggles on many levels.  It has given me a platform to tell my story or rather the Lord's story.  

After Wayne's death I struggled with what was my new purpose in my post care-giving days.  Family care-giving becomes so consuming that it can almost become one's identity instead of just a role.  So I had to rediscover who I was as an individual and what my new roles were in life.  My roles were no longer wife and caregiver.  I think I have discovered that it is not a matter of a complete break with my past, but rather building on and using my past experiences and using them in new ways.  

There are so many beautiful Scripture passages which have become so meaningful to me through the experiences of these past years.  One of my favorites is Hebrews 13:5b which says, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  This is a verse that I write in every one of my books that I sign.  It is a verse to which every Christian can cling.  

About a month after Wayne passed away I started a blog to encourage family caregivers.  They say once a caregiver always a caregiver, and I felt the Lord leading me to start this blog. It can be found at http://christiancaregiving.blogspot.com    Finally, I wrote my book called DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers.  It was published in April of 2014. 

And so Wayne has received his reward in eternity; and though I miss Wayne every day, God is with me.  

I would say in conclusion, depend on the Lord.  Trust His promises.  Take time to be in His Word everyday.  Don't give into fear. Also know that the Lord will use your difficult experiences in ways that you never imagined. We must tell our stories of God's grace in our lives   You may not write a book like I did, but God never wastes our experiences. We need to share them. 
  



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Just Cry

As I go back and read my written thoughts during my care-giving days, I discover that I almost never sat down and had a good cry.  As I look back on my posts, I am able to find only one time when I wrote about crying, even though I often experienced some very deep and negative emotions during my care-giving days.  

These deep and negative emotions were especially present as my husband’s disease progressed.  I very seldom cried, however.  I cried much more freely after my husband’s death.
     
I think as a caregiver I thought I had to be strong all the time, and so I didn't want to let go of my emotions and cry. I think many caregivers feel the same way. Seldom crying and letting those emotions come out of me was probably not the best idea, however. Crying occasionally is a good release for one’s emotions. It tends to cleanse the soul, so to speak.
     
It is also good to cry out to God. We need to be honest with God about our every emotion, even the negative ones. God knows our feelings anyway, without our telling Him. Many of the psalms in the Old Testament are psalms of lament and crying out to God. In fact, there are more psalms of lament than psalms of praise. As long as we are turning to God, drawing closer to Him and not turning away in bitterness, it is good to cry out to God.
    
Dear Christian caregiver, just let the emotions come. If you do not want to cry in front of your loved one who is ill, find a quiet and private place to do so. Also come to God in prayer, and cry out to Him. Cry if you feel the need. Just cry!  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Lord Will Restore!

 I have been meditating on Psalm 71 this past week. It is a beautiful Psalm. Psalm 71:14 says, “But as for me I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” Then Psalm 71:20-21 says, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”

Are those verses not beautiful words of comfort and encouragement, dear caregiver? My devotional this week also encouraged me to go through the entirety of Psalm 71 and write a list of WHO all God is in His character according to this wonderful Psalm. The Psalm points out His faithfulness and He being a place of refuge among other things. What a source of hope and encouragement!

I would urge you also to go through Psalm 71 this week, dear caregiver. List all the characteristics which you can find about God in this Psalm. Care-giving for someone we love can be overwhelming sometimes, but when we think about all God is in His character we can have hope and not grovel in fear and discouragement.  He is our refuge and fortress. He is the sovereign Lord and source of confidence and help. He is the restorer of our lives, and we can look back on our lives and see His faithfulness to us over and over again.

If you are His child; The Lord will be with you step by step, dear caregiver. He will help you navigate the sometimes difficult path of care-giving step by step and moment by moment. His righteousness is covering you. His strength is enabling you. His wisdom is guiding you. Rest in Him to guide, and live each day for His glory. Emotions may sometimes tell you that you are not living up to all that God would want you to be and do for your loved one, but don't trust your feelings. Instead trust that God loves you and accepts you as you are. Trust that He is leading you.

Remember Psalm 71:14 says, “But as for me I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” Biblical hope is not an “I hope something will happen, but I do not know if it will” type of hope. Rather it is an assurance or expectancy of things coming which has not yet happened. God is in control of your life. Therefore praise him more and more. An attitude of gratitude and trust in the Lord will greatly lighten the heaviness of your load, dear caregiver. I said this before, but when I was a caregiver someone suggested I write down three things each day for which I was thankful. That little exercise alone did much to lighten my load.

Rest in Him, dear caregiver. Your life and the life of your loved one is in His hands. He will restore and build up you and your loved one either in this life or in the next. You can count on His promises to do so, dear caregiver!



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why?

As a caregiver, have you ever asked the question, “Why?”  I am sure that I consciously or unconsciously asked myself at one time or another, “Why did my husband get this awful disease? Why are people older than him walking around seemingly healthy and carefree? Why does this disease have to rob us of the relationship we once enjoyed? Why was I assigned the often discouraging and always challenging task of care-giving?” Seeing my husband deteriorate before my eyes during those care-giving years was very discouraging to me. 

These are not easy questions to answer. We can give general answers to these questions, but the whys of the specifics of our lives are sometimes mysteries. We do know that we live in a broken world. The world was created perfect, but sin entered the world through Adam. Through Christ, we as believers are forgiven and restored to a relationship with God. We do still temporarily live in a broken world, however. 

We also know that God has a master plan, but we do not fully understand why He allows certain painful things in our lives. God never promised us a life free from heartache. To the contrary, He said that there would be trouble, heartache, and challenges in this life. He also said that He will give us peace in the midst of it all (John 16:33).  God further uses the challenges to mold our characters to be more like Him.  

Knowing these things does not answer all of our “why?” questions, however. Some of the answers to these questions will remain a mystery in this life. Some of these secret things that we do not understand need to be left with God (Deuteronomy 29:29). This is because God is so much above us that we do not have the capacity to understand Him. He just wants us to trust Him. These “why?” questions remind us that we, as human beings, are not ultimately in control. Sometimes caregivers have to fight so hard for the well-being of their loved ones that they may lose sight of the fact that they really are not in control of the situation. Everything ultimately belongs in the hands of God.  

Perhaps a better question than the “why?” question would be the question, “What can I learn through this, and how can I grow through this care-giving experience?” Another question might be, “How can I bring glory to God through this whole care-giving experience?” Yet another question might be, “How can I put one foot in front of the other and continue to persevere?” 

Dear caregiver, trust that God has the answers when you do not. He does not give us the answer to all of our questions. Instead, He wants to give us Himself. We also need to trust that He has revealed enough of Himself so we can live lives of purpose and obedience. 


(This post is taken from my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Xulon, my publisher.  See the links on the right hand side of this page. You can also get the book directly from me by emailing me at jesuschild54@hotmail for specifics.)


Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Lord is Leading

The Lord is leading you, dear caregiver.  He is leading you step by step.  Do you truly believe that, dear caregiver?  Do you believe it deep down in your heart?  I did believe that in my head and yes, I believed that in my heart when I was my husband's caregiver for over four and a half years.  Yet I so often let fear and the desire to control heap unnecessary emotional burden on myself.  As I said in my last blog post, I think I subconsciously thought that everything I did or did not do could lengthen or shorten the progress of my husband's disease.

It is so easy to worry and to fret.  It is so easy to fear.  That is why the Bible tells us over and over not to fear and not to worry.  The Lord knows our weakness and predisposition to do so.  So He keeps reminding us not to fear.  I have grown through those care-giving days and in the days since as a widow.  God has shown His faithfulness to me over and over.  Yet it must be a daily choice to leave things in the Lord's hands.  It is the only way to peace.

The truth is that the Lord IS in control.  He is leading us and guiding us.  A favorite verse of mine is Psalm 32:8.  God says to us there, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."  Hold on to His precious hand in trusting dependence, dear caregiver.  You do not know what is going to happen in the future, but He does.  You do not know what is going to happen with your loved one for whom you are caring or to yourself even in the next moment.  But God is in control.  You are merely an instrument in His hand.  Rest in Him.

If your loved one's illness is incurable or terminal a grief process may be going on in your heart right now.  It is heart wrenching to see one's loved one deteriorate before one's eyes.  I know that to be true, because I lived that reality as my husband's caregiver.  Yet we can rest in and trust the truth that our loved ones are in the hands of the Lord.  Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be."

Hence, dear caregiver, do not add emotional guilt or trying to control situations which are uncontrollable to the already heavy burden of your grief about your loved one's illness.  Instead leave it with the Lord.  Trust Him to guide your path step by step.  In the process just enjoy the Lord's presence, and love your love one as he or she is at the moment.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

God As Our Confidence

As I have mentioned before I have been leading a woman's Sunday school class the last few weeks. Today was the last week of a seven week series.  Some of my thoughts in the post below are once again borrowed from this series.

Family care-giving is often emotionally and physically draining.  It also can be the cause of feelings of panic and feelings that God has abandoned us.  In Psalm 31 verse 22 the psalmist, David, says of God, "I am cut off from your sight!"  David was convinced in that verse that God had abandoned him and that he was all alone, and so he became alarmed.  But David was wrong.

Feelings are powerful.  We are so programmed to look at our circumstances and listen to our unreliable feelings, but we must not trust our feelings.  Instead we must trust God's Word.  Our feelings may tell us that God has deserted us, but God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b).  Our feelings may tell us that God has more important things to do than worry about us, but God's Word contradicts that (Luke 12:24 and I Peter 5:7).  

We can't help our feelings, but we should not let our feelings immobilize us.  We need to instead focus on the truth and promises of God's Word.  Our life is like a train.  Faith and God's Word needs to be the engine.  Feelings are the caboose.  Faith and not feelings must drive our life.  We need to trust in God's presence and act accordingly even when feelings do not immediately follow.  We need to cling to what we know is true and keep singing praises to God in spite of our feelings.  If we do this even when we do not FEEL God's presence our faith will grow by leaps and bounds, and even our feelings will follow in due time.  

When we feel abandoned or afraid, we need to trust God's promises and run straight into the arms of God.  God is our only true hope and source of joy.  This means we ask God for help (Psalm 31:2), give everything we have to God (Psalm 31:5), and let God lead us (Psalm 31:3).

We need to find our confidence in the Lord alone.  Confidence come from having an eternal perspective.  When we have an eternal perspective we see that our future and our loved ones' futures do not depend on every decision we make.  As a caregiver for my husband for four and a half years I think I subconsciously thought that every decision I made or thing I did would either slow of hasten the progress of his disease.  This put unnecessary emotional burden on my shoulders.  The truth is that no matter what happens today or tomorrow or whatever happened in the past God is still on His throne, and you and I are still His children!  Paul's attitude in Philippians 1:21-22 was that he could not lose.  Whether he lived or died he was a winner.  The same is true for you and the love one for whom you are caring, dear caregiver!  

Confidence comes from having an eternal perspective, from seeing God's big picture.  Confidence also comes from trusting God to meet our needs (Psalm 123:1-2 and Philippians 4:19) and from making everything in our lives a matter of prayer (Psalm 34:6).  God doesn't just listen to our prayers, He does something about them in His perfect timetable and in His perfect wisdom.  God had led you to the task of family care-giving.  If you are seeking His will, He is providing and will continue to provide each step of the way.  As you see God providing for you step by step your confidence will grow and continue to grow as you face each new day and new situations in the future.

Don't listen to your feelings or Satan's lies, dear caregiver.  Satan wants you to believe God has abandoned you.  In reality He will always be with you (Hebrews 13:5b).  Satan wants you to believe that God doesn't care how difficult life is for you and your loved one right now.  Yet God says He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).  Satan wants you to believe that God must not be in control, because life has become so chaotic.  The truth is that God is very much in control (Psalm 31:15a and Acts 17:26). Satan wants you to believe that God does not have a purpose or plan for your future and that of your loved one.  God says just the opposite (Jeremiah 29:11)  Rest in the Lord, dear caregiver!      

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Identity

Our identities are so often wrapped up with our various roles in life. Our identities, however, really should be a reflection of who we are inside. Our identities should reflect our values, passions, likes and dislikes, and our tastes. 

My husband, Wayne, and I were married for over 39 years. During that time I was his wife, lover, and best friend. I was also the mother to our three sons and later a mother-in-law and a grandma.  

During the last years of my husband’s life, I also took on the role of my husband’s caregiver. As my husband’s caregiver I was often bombarded with questions like, “How is Wayne?” I never knew how to answer that question. Outside of a miracle, my husband was NOT going to get better; only worse. He was not going to get over his disease like the common cold. There was no treatment for his disease, and his symptoms were predicted to continue to deteriorate. So how was I to answer a question like, “How is Wayne?” People knew this, and I still was asked that question. I also felt that I was more than my husband’s caregiver, and I didn't constantly want to be identified only as Wayne’s caregiver.  

As my husband’s wife and caregiver, I grieved each step backwards that he took in his disease. It was painful seeing the love of my love deteriorate before my eyes. The role of being his caregiver did become almost all consuming. Because of this, it also almost became my identity. After my husband’s death on January 2, 2011, my new status became “widow.” I now had/have to work my way through the grief process and struggle to find a new purpose and role in life.  

As we said before, however, our identities are not equal to our roles in life. Our identities should reflect our inner beings and passions. The roles we play in life should merely be a vehicle for fleshing out our identities. Also, as Christians, our true identities are really only found in our relationship with our Lord. That relationship will get us through the most difficult of challenges and trials. 

Dear caregiver, the care-giving role can be so consuming that you forget who you are as a person. In the midst of the overwhelming decisions and challenges of care-giving, it is important that you do not lose sight of who you are as a unique individual. Most importantly, do not lose sight, Christian caregiver, of your significant identity in Christ.  


(This post is taken from my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Xulon, my publisher. You can also get it directly from me by emailing me at jesuschild54@hotmail for specifics.)