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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Joy in the Longings

Today is Mother's Day in the United States.  It is also the time of year when spring is bursting forth. In the area where I live spring is always late in coming, but even here we are being blessed with evidences of spring.

Special holidays and changes of seasons can be a source of joy.  They can also be a source of longing for the better days of the past.  They can further become days of sadness.  These events we tend to look at as markers in our journey through life.  Perhaps you are feeling some of these emotions today, dear caregiver.  Perhaps your children will not be here for Mother's Day, because they have moved away. Perhaps you feel very alone in your care-giving duties this year.  Or perhaps you will have family present but because of your loved one's health, you wonder if there will be another Mother's day or another new season like this again.

Sadness and longing seems to be part of the care-giving journey at times.  In fact it is part of our journey on earth.  It is a realization that this earth will never fully satisfy.  Only heaven and the Lord's presence can fully satisfy.  Yet trials in this life like the challenges of family care-giving can also make us more in tune with beauty and the blessings of the Lord even now on this earth.  It can also make us more in tune with the presence of the Lord in our lives.  That is the sometimes disguised blessing which accompanies care-giving challenges and heartaches or any other difficulty we encounter in this life.

I have a hanging on one of my walls in my home.  It says, "Each day is God's gift to you.  Make it blossom and grow into a thing of beauty."  It is a good reminder to me each morning.  Life can be difficult, but God is always good.  So no matter what emotions the changes of seasons and holidays may evoke in you, dear caregiver, seek to rest it with the Lord.  Thank Him for the little blessings and love gifts you see God giving you every day.  The Lord has been laying on my heart the need to also thank Him even for the difficult things which make life so challenging.  Consider doing likewise, dear caregiver.  By doing that, you and I will be showing our trust in the Lord.  Also joy always follows gratitude.  Unlike happiness joy is not dependent on perfect circumstances.  There can be joy in the midst of the longing.  May the Lord bless you with His joy even in the struggles and longings, dear caregiver.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Lord Understands

Each of us has unique struggles, as we walk through this life. Few of us are free from difficult challenges. Taking care of my husband while he continued to decline due to his neurological disease was one of those very difficult and challenging experiences that I faced. For over four and a half years my husband continued to decline in his health, and he became increasingly dependent on me until his death on January 2, 2011.  

I wrote the following words while I was caring for my husband:  “Lord, give me grace and strength for this role.  Others do not really begin to understand what I am experiencing, but You do, Lord. Thank You for that, Lord.”
     
The challenges of care-giving can be intense. As a caregiver one can feel so alone. Only a fellow caregiver can begin to understand the intensity of the emotions that accompany caring for a loved one who has an incurable disease. As a caregiver sometimes people would say things to me like “You are so strong,” or “You are a good example of perseverance in your Christian life.” This would often make me feel somewhat guilty when they would express such thoughts. I was not strong at all. Were it not for God’s grace and strength I could not have continued to persevere. I did not choose or want that role in life, but it was the path God had assigned to me. I just wanted to be a “normal” couple.
     
When people would say such things it not only sometimes made me feel guilty, but it also made me feel more alone in my struggles. It almost gave me the feeling that I had to live up to a certain image of strength.  When people instead would say that they were praying for me I was truly blessed.  Those people who gave me physical help were also a gift from God to me.

The truth of the matter is that another human being is not able to possibly understand all our physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles. Only God can do that. On a later date I wrote the following words:
     
My Lord is always advocating for me, and He fully understands everything I am experiencing. Other people may not fully understand, but my Lord does. If I could only always keep that truth in the forefront of my mind.”
     
Dear Caregiver, others will not always understand and identify with the struggles you experience.  Know and rest assured, however, that the Lord identifies with your every need. He also cares about you deeply. He will supply you with the guidance, grace, and strength you need to meet the challenges of each new day. 




(This post is also found as a chapter in my book: DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. You can purchase one my books by clicking on one of the links on the right hand side of this page.)

  







Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Wise Caregiver

Care-giving is one of the most challenging endeavors an individual may have to face in life. This is especially true, if one’s loved one for whom one is caring is either terminal or enduring a long-term illness. In such cases a grief process already begins to take place the day of diagnosis. I know it did for me. As a caregiver if I had not had a solid faith foundation, I would have folded under the emotional and physical pressure of care-giving. 
     
That reminds me of the parable of the wise and foolish man in the Bible (Matthew 7:24-29). The wise man built his house on the rock. When the rains and winds came and the streams rose the wise man’s house stood, because it was built on a solid foundation. The foolish man built his house on sand. When the rains and winds came and the streams rose the foolish man’s house fell flat.
     
This parable is so applicable to care-giving with all its heartaches, storms, and challenges. Wise caregivers will dig deeply into God’s Word. They will hear, read, and obey God’s Word. They will rest in God’s promise that He will always be with them and never forsake them. They will believe the Lord their God when He tells them of His love for them. They will look for and trust God’s guidance and strength in facing the discouragement and sometimes agonizing decisions of care-giving. 
     
Wise caregivers will often experience difficult emotions and even spiritual storms, as they go through their care-giving experience. They sometimes feel as if they will not be able to hold up under the pressure of the whole care-giving experience for even one more day.  When that happens they once again look to God for strength to face each moment of every day.   Wise caregivers have learned that they should not seek to be self-reliant, but they must rely entirely on the Lord God.  They know that their lives are based on the sure promises and the sure foundation of the Bible and of Lord God Himself.
     
Dear caregiver, make sure you are not trying to persevere in the storms of care-giving alone. Perseverance is a good virtue, but sometimes we have to reach out to other people for help. We are not meant to live this life in the power of our own perceived resources. Most importantly, we have to make sure we are relying on the sure foundation of God’s Word, the Bible, and on a saving faith in the Lord God. The storms of care-giving are often extremely intense. Hence, it is essential that we are standing on God’s sure foundation instead of the unstable sands of our own feeble efforts.  




(This post is also found as a chapter in my book: DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. Links to my book are found on the right hand side of this page.

On an another very personal note will you please pray for my daughter-in-law's sister. I cannot give details here on social media, but it is an urgent potentially life and death matter.)




Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strong In the Lord

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and discouraged by your care-giving responsibilities, dear caregiver? Recently in my devotions I was struck by a passage in Judges 6 and 7 in the Old Testament. The Israelites, God's Old Testament people, had been under severe and brutal attack for many years by an enemy nation.

One day God came to a man named Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12b.) Gideon response in effect was as follows, “But Lord, what about all the horrific things that have happened to us the last years? If you are with us, Lord, why has this happened? Why have you abandoned us?” God's response to Gideon in return was “Go in the strength you have and save Israel---am I not sending you? (Judges 6:14.) Finally Gideon said, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in the family.” (Judges 6:15.) The Lord replied, “I will be with you.” (Judges 6:16a)

Have you, dear caregiver, ever asked the Lord why he has allowed the difficult circumstances of your loved one's disease? God did not give Gideon answers to his “why?” questions. He just told him to go in the strength God and given him and to do the task God had assigned him. He even called Gideon a “mighty warrior” in spite of the fact that Gideon felt as if he was the weakest of the weak. God will not usually give us the answers to our “why?” questions as well, dear caregiver. He just asks you to lean on Him for strength, as you go about your care-giving tasks. He understands your feelings of weakness and even discouragement at times. He asks you to do the “impossible tasks” knowing that He uses weak people in powerful ways. Dear caregiver, He even calls you His “mighty warrior!” He is our peace.

My years as a caregiver for my husband and my years as a widow since have taught me much about the need for dependence on the Lord. When I am weak, He is strong. God does not want self-reliance. He wants God-reliance in our lives. Tremendous victories come from that. It did in Gideon's life (Judges 7). It will in your life as well, dear caregiver.

Your victory may be different than Gideon's victory over Israel's enemies. God may choose to heal your loved one on this earth. God may also choose to take your loved one Home to Him in eternity. There is victory either way for your loved one. No matter what happens there is victory for you as well, dear caregiver. God will use your story to touch lives. He will make beauty come from ashes. He will use your weakness by giving you His strength. You too, dear caregiver, are God's “mighty warrior,” for in your weakness God is and will continue to use you in mighty ways! So persevere, mighty caregiver! God is with you!







(On another note I recently gave my personal testimony in church. It you want to listen to it go to my church website here: http://www.oostburgopc.org/ Then click on sermons. Then click on “by month.” Then click on “recent.” After that scroll down to the evening service for March 29, 2015 entitled “patient endurance in trials” based on James 5:7-11. I would recommend you listening to the whole sermon, but if you wish to just hear my part go about 30 to 32 minutes into the sermon, and it will be mostly just my testimony which is about 6 minutes. The text of what I said is actually in my blog here a couple blogs posts ago called “My Personal Testimony.”)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reality

The word reality can seem like a harsh word. It often reflects the gap between what we would like life to be like and the actual circumstances of life. In March of 2009, almost two years before my husband’s death, I wrote about what reality had come to mean in my husband’s life and in my life as his caregiver.  

I wrote the following: “The reality I daily face is seeing my husband continue to have to use his walker for basically almost every step he takes. Reality is my husband sleeping 9-10 hours a night and still dozing in his chair during the day. Reality is that my husband’s speech is so poor that communication between us is very difficult. Reality is very seldom seeing a smile on my husband’s face. Reality is that there will most likely come a day in the future when I will not be able to take care of him by myself. Reality is that life is not like it was for many years of our married life. Reality is seeing this disease slowly taking more and more from my husband’s ability to function in this world. Reality is discouraging sometimes.”

As I mentioned before my above comments were written in March of 2009. Reality in actuality became even harsher. Before my husband’s death in early 2011 his mobility and a host of other issues declined even more. By that time my husband had graduated to a wheelchair, and we needed a lift to transfer him from place to place.

Even in March of 2009 I knew that there was another reality in place also, however. In that same journal post I wrote the following: “Reality, however, also is knowing that I am not in this alone. My Lord and God is with me every step of the way. He will give me the strength and courage to press on. My Lord God will continue to add many blessings in my life also. Reality further is knowing that there are many people who care about us and are praying for us.”

Care-giving was the task that God had given me to do. It was not the task or life for which I had aspired. The life of my dreams and which I had envisioned was much different than reality. I am sure the same is true for you also, dear caregiver. The gap between what we envision and reality as we live it forces us to run to God. Our Lord God is our great Reality. He is unchanging. He also loves us and promises to never leave us alone.

It is also God who places us where we are in life. Even in the challenges and grief of care-giving caregivers are right where they belong. They are doing what God has called them to do. In the measure they accept and receive this set of circumstances humbly, quietly, and thankfully they will be blessed; for they are indeed doing God’s work! 


(This post today appears in my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. April of this year marks the one year anniversary month of the publication of my book. Having been a caregiver for my husband, I understand the struggles family caregivers encounter on a daily basis. My book represents my passion to help and encourage family caregivers. It can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both paperback and e-version. http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Caregiver-Sharon-Vander-Waal/dp/1629524263/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1428767394&sr=1-1&keywords=Dear+Ca

You can also purchase it directly from me by contacting me by e-mail for specifics at jesuschild54@hotmail.com  During the month of April, the one year anniversary month, if you get it directly from me by e-mail you can purchase it for the special price of $13 which includes shipping. This is barely above my cost.)