Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Difficulties of Going Away

One of the difficulties I experienced as my husband’s caregiver was trying to transport my husband to places outside of our home. On May 17, 2009 I wrote the following: 

Yesterday at my husband’s suggestion we went out to eat. He so seldom wants to go anywhere let alone suggest it, so I readily agreed. It was very windy, however, and so we took the wheelchair. By the time I had wrestled the wheelchair in and out of the trunk of the car, gone through the buffet line for my husband and then for myself, and then basically carried on a conversation with myself during lunch; I began to wonder if it was worth it.” 

Sometimes my husband, Wayne, and I were invited to eat with some of my husband’s family. That was enjoyable, as it gave my husband and me a chance to get out of the house. Yet going out to eat with my husband’s siblings presented me again with the same struggles of helping my husband in and out of the car and into the restaurant.  When I saw other couples both in good health I was happy for them. It did make me long for those days when that was true for us also, however.  I longed for a “normal” life.  

Most Thursday nights we would go to our local son’s family’s home for supper and the evening. My son was always so helpful in getting my husband in and out of the car and into their house. First we did this with a walker. Later we had to use a portable ramp and the wheel chair. My son was always helpful when he was with us, but so often I struggled alone when we left home to go places. 

I always knew that there was a divine purpose for all that was happening in my husband’s and my lives. I knew all things would work for my ultimate good as a child of God. I knew I still had overflowing blessings in my life, but that did not stop the sadness in my heart at seeing my husband’s body deteriorate. It also did not stop the struggles of providing for my husband’s needs.  

I certainly did not choose the care-giving role that God had assigned to me those years during my husband’s illness, but I do know that God was with me each step of the way. As difficult as it was, I would do it again. I had to cling very closely to the Lord during those days, as I still need to do now. The Lord God had to give me the grace and strength for this role. He was with me in my unique struggles. He guided me, loved me, and forgave my many moments of impatience.  Dear Christian caregiver, the Lord God is with you also. He knows your unique struggles and heartaches. Lean into His strength. Trust His love for you.

(I will be away from my computer for a few days, so my next post will not be until July 12 or 13. Use this time to read some of the older posts. You can also use this time to order my book Dear Caregiver subtitled Reflections for Family Caregivers which is available at Xulon, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Links to the order page for my book at Amazon and Xulon are on right hand side of this page.)


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Focus on the Lord

A few days ago it was my youngest son and his wife's 10th wedding anniversary. Ten years ago my husband, Wayne, and I were in London, England for that event. It was a lovely event and a lovely time being there. Less than a year later Wayne was diagnosed with his neurological disease. Below is a picture of Wayne and I at the wedding of our son.

As I look at this picture I feel an ache for the loss of this special man and sadness over what we experienced in the decline of his body. Yet I also feel thankfulness for this special memory I have. I also feel thankfulness for all God has accomplished in my life through and in the trials of seeing his body deteriorate during those years that I was a caregiver for my husband. I am so thankful for the treasure of the Lord in my life through it all.

The Lord has taught me that I am in not in control. He alone is in control. Therefore, I need to rest in Him. I know it is a lesson I will have to learn over and over, but being a family caregiver showed me like nothing else that God alone is in control. It is so difficult to do in the midst of the drama of family care-giving, but seek to rest things with the Lord, dear caregiver. In the measure that you do this, it is a soft place to land.

Rest in the knowledge of the Lord's faithfulness. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord and trust in His promises. Family care-giving and the years since my husband's death has taught me that I can have greater confidence, because I know He is in control. At the same time, it makes me see my desperate need to depend on Him alone.

Caring for my husband and seeing his body deteriorate during those four and a half years of his illness was the most difficult experience I had ever encountered. Yet through it all my faith has grown and has sweetened. Family care-giving can be difficult and challenging. It can also be heart-breaking, if one has to view constant decline in the health of our loved ones. We need to acknowledge that pain. God does not expect or want us to pretend that the experience is not emotionally painful. Yet I promise you, dear caregiver, that the Lord never wastes our difficult experiences. They all point us to the Lord so that He becomes our sufficiency alone. They make us let go of our dependence on ourselves or our perceived strengths. They help us prioritize what is really most important in life and cause us to fall more in love with the Lord.

Dear caregiver, don't waste energy in asking the why questions over and over, as you perhaps witness your loved one's decline in his or her health or ability to function in this world. Instead focus on the One who is able to see you through the experience with His strength and comfort. Focus on the One who can give you joy and peace even in the midst of heartaches and pain. Focus on the One who can redeem the worst of circumstances and use it for His kingdom. Focus on the One who has promised to never leave you or forsake you. Focus on the Lord who has promised to love you with an unfailing love. Focus on the Lord, dear caregiver.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Heavenly Minded to Do Earthly Good

We have all heard the saying, "He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good."  Yet is this a true statement?  I suppose it would be if one would just sit in the chair and gaze at the sky.  Yet if we are doing our work here on earth out of a love for the Lord and with the Lord and heaven as our focus, it is only then that we are truly any earthly good.  It is then only that we can experience joy and peace.

Family care-giving with all its responsibilities, challenges, and heartaches can leave us feeling burdened and discouraged at times.  Other life's challenges can do the same.  As caregivers it is sometimes difficult to understand why our loved ones have to undergo the indignities of disease or old age.  It is sometimes difficult to understand why we have to endure the challenges of seeking to meet their needs.  Yet Romans 8:18 says that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

Life on this earth is always challenging.  There are many blessed moments, but there are also many difficult moments.  Yet knowing we and our loved ones have an inheritance in heaven makes all the difference.  If we truly value what we will gain in our heavenly inheritance, we do not have to wallow int the grief  of the losses and heartaches here.  This is because the Lord Himself becomes our greatest treasure.  Knowing someday we and our loved one who love Him will be able to spend eternity with Him becomes our greatest joy.

Knowing this can add joy and purpose to our lives right now.  It makes us more earthly good because we our heavenly minded and focused.  The challenges of this world keeps us from falling in love with the temporary securities and pleasures of this world and keeps us focused on our permanent and only secure inheritance in eternity.

Sometimes life's struggles and pressures can wear us down.  This is certainly true for the family caregiver.  But the Psalmist in Psalm 43:5 asks himself why his soul is downcast.  The psalmist knows that his hope is in God and in his eternal inheritance.  He knows his hope is in God's help and deliverance.  He knows his joy is in praising God through it all and in response to God's help and comfort in the process of it all.  Dear caregiver, praise the Lord in spite of the heartaches.  Keep your focus on the Lord and praise Him.  Finally, keep your eyes focused on the Lord and eternity.  Then you will be the most earthly good to your loved one and others.  Then you will experience the most possible joy and comfort even in the heartaches.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Storms

Like the storms of nature the storms of life can come in many forms. Sometimes we know a storm of life is brewing on the horizon. Sometimes it comes unexpectedly. Either way we usually cannot choose our life’s circumstances. We do have a choice, however, in our responses to life’s storms.
     
I was not prepared for the “storm” of my husband’s diagnosis of a devastating neurological disease in 2006 followed by my own diagnosis of breast cancer in 2007.  I am thankful to report that today I am a survivor of breast cancer. The same was not true for my husband, Wayne, however. For over four years I saw his continual decline until his death in January of 2011.  In 2009 I wrote the following words:
     
Care-giving like the weather always has its ups and downs. Some days feel stormy, and on those days I feel I can’t do it anymore. On other days life tends to take on a certain rhythm and pattern and is workable. Life always tends to be a mixture of joys and sorrows. I am joyful in my faith and in my relationship with my Lord. I am thankful that I know He is always with me. It is difficult living with the reality of my husband’s disease, however. I am happy that the struggles of life are making me stronger in my character, in my faith, and as a person. I struggle with the fact, however, that it sometimes has to be so emotionally exhausting, and I wonder why life has to be so difficult.” 

One of the things the storms of the heartache and pains of care-giving taught me was that I could not rely on my own strength and that I really was not in control of anything. I think this is an especially difficult lesson for a caregiver to learn. This is because caregivers are constantly “fighting” for the best health and well-being of their loved ones. This need to try to control and do it in our own strength has to be offered up to God on the altar of surrender, however; if we are going to be strong in the storms of life.

During my care-giving days the Lord was also trying to teach me that concentrating on the pain and heartaches of the storms of life often can blind us to the rainbow of the Lord’s presence in our lives. We have to look for the wonders and workings of God in our lives. We have to look for His presence. Out of the heartache and brokenness He can make something beautiful in His perfect timing.  

Dear Christian caregiver, the storms of care-giving and life in general can be very brutal and even devastating. Know that the Lord has the answers when you don’t. Know that He is with you each step of the way. Know that He is in control, and He is very present in your life and in the life of your loved one. Finally, know that He sees your stormy days, and is loving you through the storms of care-giving. 



Sunday, May 31, 2015

Seeing Him Clearly

Last week I had new windows installed throughout my house.  The weather tight seals on my windows have been broken for some time, and then in late fall or early winter of last year one of the windows unexpectedly developed a serious crack.  So this was my signal to install new windows this spring.

The old windows often had a hazy dirty look, because the weather seals were broken.  I am amazed as I look out my new windows how much clearer and more beautiful everything now looks.  So also right now the trials of life can cloud our view of the blessings which are in our life and can also cloud our excited anticipation of what lies ahead of us in eternity.

Yet some day we shall see the Lord face to face.  Someday we will have a greater grasp of the big picture of why God allowed difficult experiences in our lives.  We will "know fully" as it says in I Corinthians 13:12.  Someday we will see things clearly, as looking through a clear window.

As a former caregiver I have sometimes wondered why my husband had to endure the indignities of his disease.  Yet I know at this point in eternity my husband is saying, "It was nothing compared to the glories of heaven.  It was worth it all.  God knew what He was doing."  As his caregiver I also do not fully understand why I had to go through the trials of watching his body deteriorate.  I do not fully understand why I had to lose him and why I have had to endure other trials.   Yet I too one day will fully understand.  It will be as clear as the view from my new windows.

Yet if we are looking for it, we can even now have glimpses of understanding as to what God is doing in our lives.  It is trials that make us more dependent on the Lord and make us more aware of the Lord's presence.  That in turn adds to our joy.  It is trials that make us more sensitive to other's needs, and in the end serves as a platform for helping others and telling others of God's grace in our lives. Trials help us see God's faithfulness, and it is an opportunity to watch God work His wonders in our lives. It is an opportunity for our spiritual muscles to grow stronger.

Dear caregiver, you may be feeling very overwhelmed and discouraged in your responsibilities and in the heartaches of caring for your loved one.  It may be difficult to clearly see the work of the Lord in the life of you and your loved one.  That does not change the fact, however, that the Lord knows what He is doing.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  Trust Him and lean on Him.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Look for the Blessings

(Dear caregiver, I hope you can handle one more post on gratitude. The following post can be found in my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. Links to order pages for my book at Amazon and Xulon are found on the right hand side of this page. It can also be found at Barnes and Noble online, or if you want to get the book directly from me just e-mail me at jesuschild54@hotmail.com for specifics.)

As a caregiver I often found myself overwhelmed and discouraged with the challenges of care-giving. It was so easy to focus on the negative aspects of care-giving and forget about the blessings which still overflowed in my life. The Lord wanted me to first of all focus on Himself and not on the challenges. He also wanted me to recognize the many blessings which He daily gave me.  On February 6, 2009 I wrote the following words: 

It is so easy to feel sorry for myself when I think about what both my husband and I have gone through in these past few years, but I have so many blessings yet. I have a home, food, clothing, and the love of family and church people. Most of all I have my Savior who loves me.  In the Biblical parable of the prodigal son, the older son became jealous and angry when the father lavished gifts on his returning formerly wayward son. The father said to this older son in effect, ‘Why are you jealous?’ He went on to say, ‘You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’  I also always have my God with me even in the hard times, and every spiritual blessing God has He has given to me. Yes, life is very difficult sometimes; but this life is not all there is. Also my God provides joys and blessings even in this life. If I could only always keep focused on that beautiful truth.”
     
As a caregiver I needed to remember God’s past workings in my life, and I needed to look for and be thankful for His present blessings and workings in my life as well.  I definitely saw God’s working in my life during the care-giving years. During my care-giving days my husband’s mobility capabilities deteriorated to the point that by late 2010 I knew I could not continue to take care of him by myself. At that low point in time in my life my son was able to greatly step up and help. Soon after that I heard about a sit to stand device which we could also use with my husband. I believe with all my heart that God was leading me step by step. Again I learned, however, that I had to look for the workings and blessings of God in my life. I also learned that an attitude of gratitude is essential.  On Feb 7, 2009 I wrote the following words:
     
I wonder if difficult times in our lives sometimes makes us more appreciative of the little joys and blessings. Thank you, Lord, for daily blessings even the ones we do not always recognize.”
     
Dear caregiver, when you become overwhelmed with the difficulties of care-giving focus on the Lord. Also look for His workings and blessings in your life. It will keep you encouraged to persevere in the challenges of being a caregiver.



(Let me close with a quote not found in my chapter in my book. I do think this quote is very profound, however: “Gratitude consists in a watchful, minute attention to the particulars of our state, and to the multitude of God's gifts, taken one by one...And all our whole life is thereby...filled with a gladness, serenity, and peace which only thankful hearts can know.-H.E. Manning.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing Gratitude

In our last post we alluded to the importance of gratitude.  I was my husband's caregiver for four and a half years.  His disease was a devastating neurological disease.  Seeing my husband's body deteriorate during those years was the most difficult experience I had ever encountered on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level.  It was difficult to be thankful in the chaos and drama of family care-giving.  Life became so very overwhelming at times.  Life as a widow has also involved moments of grief and challenge for me.

One of the things that began to help me in this area as a caregiver was to write down a few things each day for which I was thankful.  This simple practice did much to open my eyes to the little wonders and love gifts of God which were still in my life.  It is a practice I still carry on today.

I think gratitude has to go even further than writing down a few things for which I am thankful each day, however.  It has to be a heart attitude.  In the measure I can have this heart attitude in spite of difficult circumstances, there will be joy and peace.

I am presently reading a book by Nancy Leigh De Moss called Choosing Gratitude.  In  a chapter I recently read she lists eight reasons for a grateful heart in spite of circumstances.  One reason is that gratitude is a matter of obedience.  It is commanded by God throughout His Word especially in the Psalms and the New Testament Epistles,  Gratitude also draws us closer to God.  When we long for a greater sense of God's nearness or life's stresses pile up like they can with family care-giving, gratitude to the Lord is the gateway to the Lord's presence.

Gratitude is further the only sure path to peace.  Care-giving difficulties can pile up and become overwhelming.  Prayer is a good avenue of release, but it must be accompanied with gratitude (Philippians 4:6-7.)  When gratitude combines with prayer and we open our eyes to God's blessings and mercies even in the midst of heartaches, peace follows.  When we thank God even when we can't understand what He is doing in our lives, there is peace.

Gratitude is also a gauge to our heart.  It is often easy to be thankful for the obvious blessings.  It is less easy to be thankful for the more difficult and hard to understand blessings.  If one is thankful in all things, it shows a heart which believes that God is always faithful and good and can be trusted. Giving thanks in all things is not acquired in a moment.  It is the result of many choices to be thankful even in difficult moments.

Gratitude is the will of God.  Choosing it is more important than choices we make about any other of life's decisions.  All other life decisions pale in comparison to choosing gratitude.  Gratitude is proof of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is evidence that we are yielding to His control. Gratitude further reflects Jesus' heart.  Even the night before Jesus was put on the cross He showed gratitude to the Heavenly Father in His prayers at the Last Supper.  He gratefully and willingly submitted to the Father's will in spite of the horrors of the cross just before Him.

Finally, gratitude prepares us for heaven.  Think of all the saints in heaven praising God before His throne.  My husband is no longer suffering from his neurological disease, but he is praising God before His throne right now!  I too can join in that praise by thanking and praising the Lord now.  Life as a family caregiver is often difficult.  I know that, because I walked that path.  Yet in the measure we thank God in and even for the difficulties peace will follow.  Resolve with me to walk that path, dear caregiver.