Sunday, September 14, 2014

Purpose in the Heartaches

Have you ever asked the question "why?" when you think about your loved one's illness or disability, dear caregiver?  Have you ever wondered why your loved one has to experience the difficulties of his or her illness or why you have to face the challenges and sometimes heartaches of being your loved one's caregiver?

I don't think we will ever find an answer to the "why?" question that will satisfy us.  That has to be left in God's hands.  We can trust, however, that God had a purpose in all that He allows and ordains in our lives.  Suffering is not just random and without meaning.  God always uses even the sad and evil things in our lives for good purposes in both our lives and in the lives of others.  This is something difficult to see in our lives, but it does not negate the truth of it.

Just like physical pain is a blessing in the sense that it alerts us to something that is wrong in our bodies, so emotional pain can help us turn to God in a deeper and sweeter way.  We can choose to become bitter in such times, or we can choose to go deeper into God's Word and prayer during such times.  Suffering can cause us to think more deeply about the things of God and give us the gift of a more intimacy with the Lord.  It can give us a greater passion and love for the Lord.

Suffering and challenging circumstances also gives us a chance to prove that our faith is genuine.  It is easy to say that one trusts in the Lord when things are going according to our desires and plans.  Difficult situations like a loved one's illness or disability gives us the joy of knowing that faith works even in very difficult times.  It gives us the chance to see our faith exercised in unimaginable circumstances and in situations we would never have chosen for ourselves.

Suffering and challenging circumstances further give us the opportunity to mature in the Lord.  We prefer things to always go according to our plans and to not have to experience any physical and emotional pain in this life.  We have bought into the dream of "happily ever after" during this life time.  Yet we do not grow spiritually during the easy times in our lives, but we grow spiritually through suffering and difficult times.  This only happens, however, when we choose to respond in joy and trust in the Lord during those difficult circumstances.  This is not the same as happiness in circumstances.  It is a joy in knowing that the Lord is in control and trusting Him.  It is knowing that when we respond in joy and trust our faith is building our perseverance which in turn develops character and spiritual maturity.  There are times during the overwhelming circumstances of my care-giving days and later in my widow days that I have thought to myself, "I could use a little less character building for awhile, Lord!"  Yet God knows what He is doing.  Rest in Him, dear caregiver! 

Suffering and challenging experiences can also be an opportunity for God's glory to be displayed in your life and in the life of the loved one for whom you are caring by your willingness to rest in Him and not question His purpose.  Make it your purpose, dear caregiver, to bring glory to God in this way.  Finally, God also uses suffering and challenging experiences to open our eyes to the needs and heartaches of others.  God will use your pain and the comfort God gives you to better help others now and in the days ahead, dear caregiver.  (II Corinthians 1:6-7)

The heartache of seeing my husband deteriorate step by step at an alarming rate while I was his caregiver for four and a half years was very difficult.  The knowledge that there was not a thing I could do about it was disheartening.  The overwhelming challenges of taking care of a man who was about 200 pounds and in the end completely disabled, while I am only five foot two inches tall was overwhelming.  The grief of finally losing him to death was intense.  Yet the Lord has been faithful.  Care-giving gave me the opportunity to learn that truth in a new way.  Your care-giving experiences have purpose, dear caregiver.  Trust in Him and grow in Him through these times.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Caregiver's Grief


Care-giving for someone you love can be demanding and exhausting. If the person for whom you are caring has an illness without a cure and continues to decline before your very eyes, care-giving can become very discouraging. It can then feel like a grief process that is inescapable. The trouble with this kind of grief process is that one never comes to complete resolution, because when one has accepted one step backwards in one’s loved one’s life, another step backwards appears on the horizon.

As a caregiver for my husband for four and one half years, I experienced many of these emotions. I was a part of a wonderful online support group. This was very helpful, and I would recommend it to anyone who is a family caregiver. There were also many people who were praying for my husband and me, and much kindness was shown to us. It is amazing at times like this to find out who really shows care and concern, and who does not. Sometimes the care and concern is shown from those from whom we least expect it, and it is not given by those whom we would expect to show love and concern.

In spite of all this, I often felt alone in this process. It was I, after all, who basically dealt with the vast majority of the grief and challenges of helping my husband meet his daily needs as he declined step by step. I did have the Lord God with me, however. I know He was with me step by step, guiding me even when I was at my lowest points emotionally.

I also know He identified with me. The shortest verse of the Bible says, “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35).  Jesus further felt crushed with grief when His friends were sleeping and not praying with Him and for Him in His greatest hour of trial just before He was put on the cross (Matthew 26). As well as being my Savior, He understood and identified with my every weakness, sorrow, and need as a caregiver to my husband (Hebrews 4:15-16). Other people are not fully able to understand and identify with the caregiver’s heartache. The Lord God can identify, however. Dear caregiver, trust that the Lord God truly understands your grief, discouragement, and worries. He truly identifies with you, and He truly can help and comfort.


(This is one of the meditations in my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. Click on the Amazon or Xulon link on the right hand side of page to get to my order page for the book. It is also available at Barnes and Noble. Amazon usually is the least expensive.  On another note, Georgene is the winner of the free book I offered in my blog post last week.  This is compliments of a sweet online friend of mine.  Congratulations, Georgene! I will be sending out my book in the mail to you very soon!)

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.