Sunday, August 2, 2015

Shifting of Roles

(This post is another chapter from my book. Links to the order page for my book at Xulon and Amazon are found at the right side of this page.)

It’s becoming difficult to remember what it felt like when he wrapped me in his arms, and I felt secure and wanted instead of motherly and needed.” Such was a comment made by Jennifer, a woman on an online care-giving site. Those words so echo the feelings I experienced as a caregiver for my husband. My husband’s neurological disease robbed him of so much. It also robbed our relationship of so much. When a relationship becomes a caregiver to care receiver relationship, things change. 
For a period of time during the progression of his disease, my husband Wayne enjoyed listening to audio books. One day almost three years into the progression of his disease, Wayne was listening to an autobiography about a man who suffered through MS. My husband’s disease was a different and (I would say) a worse neurological disease, but there was much in the book with which my husband could identify.  
While my husband was listening to this audio book on this particular day, I overheard a few comments made by the author of the book. The man was speaking about how much the disease had robbed them of his and his wife’s relationship with one another. He said that their relationship had become more of a mother or caregiver to a child relationship than a wife to a husband relationship. I also felt the loneliness of that reality so often myself with my husband’s disease. That shifting of roles was so difficult sometimes. I loved my husband, but this was not how I had envisioned living our retirement years.  
I look back now with pleasure on the many good years my husband and I had together. I thank God for the blessing of a husband who loved me, protected me, and was my life’s companion. His disease and subsequent death changed that. Life has a way of changing things. So is there anything in life we can count on not to change? 
My Lord God never changes.  Although my husband could not be there for me as he had been in the past, God was there for me. When I longed -- and still long -- to be wrapped in my husband’s arms, my Lord wraps His arms around me. He is my source of security and joy.
Dear Christian caregiver, sometimes the pain of care-giving can be so intense that it is difficult to feel God’s presence, peace, and joy. His presence is with us at all times, however, in spite of our feelings. Trust Him. Rest in Him. In the measure you do this, you will begin to feel His presence above the noise of your pain. You will feel His arms wrapped around you in love. You will feel His strength.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

God is Good All the Time

There are so many emotions going through my being, as I write this post.  As I wrote in my last post, this has been a month where there were moments when I felt very vulnerable.   Yet I have also seen God's hand in abundantly providing.

After I returned home from my trip to visit family in Iowa and Minnesota in early July, I was also able to enjoy some quality time with some grandchildren who live closer by but whom I also hadn't seen for a little while; because they also now live three hours away.

I also had an interview with Guideposts magazine.  They called me a few weeks back about doing an interview with me.  That phone interview took place a little over a week ago.  It was an hour and a half interview.  It was a very good interview.  Good questions were asked, but I was a bit emotionally drained afterwards.  Then on Tuesday of last week they sent a local photographer to the place where I volunteer for a photo shoot.

Guideposts is doing a whole series of articles this year on family caregivers.  My article is scheduled to be in the October issue and will center on the idea that once a caregiver always a caregiver.  This is because my volunteer work involves giving respite to family caregivers through a wonderful social program three times a week for their loved ones.  I personally volunteer one of those three days.  So look for my article in October, if you have access to the Guideposts magazine.  Also read the other articles on care-giving in their magazine this year.  It is so good to see a magazine giving acknowledgement to all that family caregivers do for their loved ones.!

In addition to these things there are other day to day issues which have come up in my life recently which needed tending.  Also this week on July 30 would have been my 44th wedding anniversary.  I ask for prayers for me on that day.

Please forgive me, dear caregiver, as I have diverted a bit in this post to talk about personal issues.  I guess one of my main reasons for sharing this with you here is to encourage you that God will use your care-giving experiences in the days ahead in ways you never imagined.  He is transforming you and growing you in your character and in your love for the Lord through this experience.  He also may use that experience in other people's lives.  Also I believe God uses these experiences to teach us to lean on the Lord and to see His protecting and guiding hand through it all.  I see and have seen that over and over.  I sometimes struggle with how the good things which have come from my experience can possibly ever make up for the pain of seeing my husband's body deteriorate during those four and half years of his illness and then my losing him.  Yet God is good all the time.  He knows what He is doing.  Rest in that, dear caregiver.        

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Life is Fragile

Life is fragile, and it can change in a moment.  I saw that as a caregiver.  One moment I thought I life was "normal," and the next moment I found out that my husband had something wrong with him and needed a MRI.  This in turn led to a series of doctor appointments and tests in the months ahead which confirmed that my husband did indeed have a serious and rare neurological disease called Multiple Systems Atrophy.  Perhaps the signs were there before diagnosis, but I had not picked up on them.  The next four and half years of my husband's life reinforced the fact that life is fragile, as I saw my husband's body deteriorate step by step.  It also reinforced in my mind, however, that God was faithful and that He was in control.

I saw that again recently when I was gone for a few days in early July.  My friend and I were traveling together on a 500 mile trip to IA and MN.  We both have family in the same general area there. While we were traveling to our destination we were sideswiped by a motor cyclist.  The motorcyclist never fell, and everyone is okay.  Yet I was reminded that life is fragile, and it can change in a moment. There is another factor in all this, however.  God is in control.  He was protecting us, and He was protecting that young man on his motorcycle.

While I was gone on my trip for a few days something else happened to show that life is fragile and to make me feel very vulnerable.  The engine light in  my car came on, and my car was acting very strangely at times.  It was determined that is was a sensor issue.  I was 500 miles from home, and it was likely but uncertain if I could make it home safely,  The nearest place to fix my car was an hour away, but my sister and her husband were able to take me to pick up the needed part; and a local neighbor in their area was able to put the new sensor on my car,  All this was accomplished at minimal cost for me.  Life is fragile, and I felt so vulnerable in this situation.  God's fingerprints of protection and provision were all over that situation, however.

Then just recently after safely returning home from my trip a nineteen year classmate of my niece in culinary school was killed in a car accident.  Once again I am reminded that life is fragile.  These kinds of things are so difficult to understand.  They make us stop in our tracks and perhaps make us feel very vulnerable.

I remember also having many vulnerable feelings as a caregiver.  I wondered if I would be able to continue to  handle caring for my husband in the days ahead. Later in his disease I wondered if I even would be able to handle the next transfer to the bathroom or bed.  Yet as I look back, I see that there was always a way. God was and is faithful.  I did not like the difficult circumstances which God had allowed, but God was with me.  He was teaching me that I was not in control.  He was teaching me that I needed to depend on Him.  He was bringing about greater intimacy between Himself and me.  The Lord continues to do that even now since my husband's death.  I want freedom from problems.  He wants me to grow in grace and love for Him.  He wants to show me that He is a God of power and awe even in "impossible situations."  He wants to wow me with His faithfulness.

Dear family caregiver, trust in the Lord.  Depend on Him.  He will be with you step by step even in the "impossible" challenges of family care-giving.  Look for His wonders.  We do not always understand His ways, but we can count on His promises and on His faithfulness.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

God's Great Love Story for You

 (The below post is a chapter in my book Dear Caregiver subtitled Reflections for Family Caregivers. My book is available online at Xulon, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Links to Amazon and Xulon are on the side of this page.)

If I were to write a book about the story of my life, I wonder what events in my life I would include in my writing. Would I write about all the sad things that I have experienced in my life, or would I concentrate on the joys of my life? What about the care-giving chapter of my life? Would I concentrate on the discouragement and grief of seeing my husband continually decline in his health and eventually pass away, or would I concentrate on the blessings and joyful moments of my life even in the midst of care-giving? 
What about you, dear Christian caregiver? If you were to write an autobiography of your life, what would the story of your life be like? My guess is that you would share many special and joyful moments, but I am equally convinced you would share moments of heartache and pain. No matter whether you would be sharing joyful moments or sorrowful moments, however, as a child of God the chapters of your autobiography would reveal that your life’s story is a love story. Your life’s story is a story of God’s love for you. In fact, perhaps especially in the difficult moments of your life’s story, God’s love for you would shine forth the brightest. 
The pain and discouragements of some of life’s circumstances do not define who we are. God’s unfailing love for us in all circumstances shapes who we are now and who we are becoming by His grace. If no one else knows or loves us, God does. God’s love for us is everlasting. It never fails (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love for us is passionate and comforting. It is also a powerful and personal love. God actually says that He delights in us! (Zephaniah 3:17.) 
As we become more and more spiritually rooted in the knowledge and experience of God’s love, we begin to grasp the vastness and depth of His love. His love for us is so great we will never fully understand it completely, but in the measure that we do begin to understand the fullness of His love, we will be filled with the fullness of God Himself in our lives. We will slowly begin to reflect Him more and more in our lives. Also, we will begin to see in deeper ways His workings, love, and guidance in our lives. 
Your and my life’s stories with both their difficult moments and pleasant moments are beautiful stories of God’s love for us. We are also part of God’s story for the world around us. Even when we do not understand the tragedies of our lives, God still loves us. We just have to trust and rest in His love for us. Dear caregiver, as you face the heartaches, difficult decisions, and challenges of care-giving; never forget God’s love for you!  Your experiences are part of God’s great love story for you! 

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.