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.)


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter's Meaning for the Caregiver

(I am re-posting a post I wrote at Easter last year.)

We are celebrating Easter today. What does Easter mean to you, dear Christian caregiver? How does it relate to family care-giving? 

Easter means that the Lord Jesus came to this earth and lived a perfect life for you and me. He later died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and then He arose again on the third day to prove that He had won over sin and death and Satan. If you and I have accepted his gift of salvation by repentance and faith, we are His child now and for eternity.

Easter also means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, identifies with your pain and the pain of your loved one, dear caregiver. As you struggle to help your loved one who is perhaps fighting against an incurable disease, He identifies with you. Having suffered the worst possible pain for us on the cross He is able to sympathize with our heartaches and weaknesses. He is also an all powerful Savior to whom we can freely go for grace in our moments of sadness and overwhelming and crushing needs.  Check out Hebrews 4:15-16 in the New Testament.

Because of Easter and Christ's sacrifice you can freely approach God the Father Himself with your and your loved one's needs, dear Christian caregiver. You can cry out to Him for help and call Him your “Abba Father,” because He considers you His special child. (Romans 8:15) Easter also means that when your heart is so weighed down with the heartaches and overwhelming circumstances of family care-giving that you do not even know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will intercede and pray for you! (Romans 8:26)

Easter for the caregiver means that although you will always face trials and troubles in this world, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  He is also your source of peace even in the most challenging of times. (John 16:33)  Even in the overwhelming circumstances of family care-giving, even when we do not understand God's ways in allowing certain things in our lives, and even in the most unthinkable circumstances God is working for our ultimate good. We are victors in Him! (Romans 8:28)

Dear Christian caregiver, my hope for you would be that your loved one is healed on this earth. Whether he or she is healed on this earth or not, however, a child of God is whole and perfect upon entering heaven. No matter what happens in your care-giving situation you too, dear caregiver, will slowly heal emotionally and spiritually. God will always be with you, and joy will return one day. His love for you will never fail. He proved that love for you on the cross. That is the meaning of Easter for the caregiver and for all of us.



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!