Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving and Family Care-giving

Family care-giving can be very discouraging especially when one’s loved one continues to deteriorate in his or her health.  It is difficult to find things for which to be thankful in such a scenario.  It seems impossible to have a thankful heart under such circumstances.

Yet a thankful heart opens up blessings from heaven and foretastes of heaven that cannot be attained in any other way.  A thankful heart further revives hope and allows us to communicate on a much more intimate level with the Lord.  A thankful heart does not deny the reality of life’s challenges, and care-giving certainly presents a host of problems and heartaches.  A thankful heart does, however, recognize the Lord’s presence and joy in the midst of those problems. 

So perhaps the best place to start, dear caregiver, is to thank the Lord each day for His presence and peace.  Also as you go through the day look for the Lord’s tiny treasures which He has placed on your path.  Look with spiritual eyes for His wonders in your life.  I remember as a caregiver being challenged to write down each day at least three things for which I was thankful that day.  That helped me immensely in persevering in the care-giving role. 

It is said that a thankful heart takes the sting out of trials and adversity.  Family care-giving often facilitates many challenges and trials.  Yet we are commanded in the Bible to give thanks in everything.  We may not always FEEL like giving thanks, but when we offer a SACRIFICE of thanks in spite of our feelings or circumstances God gives us joy in spite of our circumstances.  That does not mean we always feel happy.  Happiness and joy are not the same thing, but joy in the Lord and grief can coexist.  It may seem nonsensical to thank God in and for difficult circumstances, but in the measure that we do we will be blessed even as the adversities may remain.  Dear caregiver, thank the Lord today for His blessings!

In the United States we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day this week. It is a day when we especially try to remember to thank and praise God for the blessings of the past year. Care-giving is often challenging and difficult. Yet there are many blessings in our lives even in the difficult moments. Dear caregiver, thank the Lord for your blessings daily and not just on special occasions. It will lift your burdens and add joy to your life.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Rewards of Family Care-giving

The following article was written by a former caregiver and online friend of mine.  It was written about a year before her husband's death.  Her husband was initially diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, but later that diagnosis was changed to Multiple Systems Atrophy, the same neurological disease my husband, Wayne, experienced.  I think you will find her story inspiring.  May you be blessed and encouraged by her words, dear caregiver:


What Makes Care Giving Rewarding?
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
Since the onset of my husband’s medical condition, God has led us on a spiritual journey into unchartered territory. We did not know where we were going, how we would get there, and whom we would meet along the way. By radical faith, we continue to walk on this path one sunrise at a time knowing that, at each sunset, our destiny is in His hands, in His care, and in His time. As we embrace our daily offerings, we have been transformed into new people and view life and the world through a different lens than before. During the last three years as a full time care partner, while serving my dear husband, I have been, in turn, blessed to learn the value of acceptance, adjustment, appreciation, and action.

My husband and I were very fortunate to meet each other later in life; we have even been told that our love is like a “fairy tale”! As many couples do, we traveled to Mexico, attended sporting events, dined at fine restaurants, and had date nights at the movies. Our families, including five adult children, were united at our wedding on January 1, 2000, opening the new millennium and a bright future ahead.

After only two years of marriage, on April 2002, our world changed suddenly and unexpectedly! My husband, in his early fifties, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive movement disorder. He initially experienced a loss of balance, a softening of his voice-quality, and a change in his gait and facial expressions. With medication and close monitoring by his neurologist, we were able, with modifications, to continue our daily lives, our careers, and our new life together.

As the years passed, my husband gradually required extra assistance with walking, grooming, eating, and general communication skills. It became increasingly difficult for my husband to participate in social/family functions, to drive, and to continue employment as a dealership manager. One summer day while we were sitting on our patio, he said, “The man you knew…he is gone.” Could it be that my husband was accepting his limitations before I was ready to face them?

By 2009, my husband’s diagnosis was refined to Multiple Systems Atrophy, MSA, a rare, debilitating neurological disorder. That heart-breaking day, that moment in time in the doctor’s office, I remember holding my head in my hands and crying with my husband, praying for comfort, and asking God, once again, for strength to carry on. Because my husband eventually lost his mobility and needed help with the activities of daily living, I retired from my teaching career to offer support, assistance, and my spousal devotion. Unbeknownst to me, I immediately began a new chapter in my life as a “nurse”, an untrained one.
The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power…and you will be a changed into a different person.” 1 Samuel 10:6 (NIV)

When God called upon me to carry out the task of being an informal care provider, I soon realized that I might not have the independence, the comfort, and the control that I had experienced in life before. For instance, I went from public service as a teacher, a familiar career, to nursing-care and private service in our home, a foreign vocation. With grooming duties in the morning and a regular routine in the evening, our leisure time during the waking hours decreased.

For the past three years to the present time, I discovered that the following survival techniques are crucial for me to approach each day: simplify life, maintain focus on my Divine assignment, filter out the busyness that surrounds us, laugh, multitask, be innovative, and protect my physical and emotional energy. Some days are intense, overwhelming, and dark, but you see, I treasure our precious God-given moments together and wouldn’t want to miss this dance, our dance!
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:22 (NIV)

I call them our angels! Sometimes I even ask them, “Where did you come from?” According to God’s perfect timing and His Providence, our community-based reinforcements seem to show up at our door at just the right moment. Some resources that have helped support us and lessen our daily loads are: food delivery, Home Health agencies, transportation services, spiritual counselors, and personal care services. I now realize the importance of working interdependently with the designated professionals and volunteers; we were not meant to struggle in isolation. Our band of angels surely guards, shelters, and protects us!
“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

We are following God’s dream for us. Our walk with Him gives us nourishment, discernment, and refinement. May our story and our lessons learned serve as a beacon of hope and as a shining star in the dark. We praise our Godhead for grace, mercy, and miracles. Because of Christ’s ultimate suffering and sacrifice, I must continue on as a care provider in humility and obedience.    

One day my husband cried, “I don’t want to leave you!” I assured him that we would always be together. Why, our love is a fairy tale, it is eternal, he is my prince and I am his princess. As all good fairy tales end, we will one day live happily ever after in the Great Kingdom!



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Purpose Now and for the Future

Care-giving is a purpose-filled calling. It may not be recognized as such by the world at large, however. Caregivers will not usually earn medals or receive honors for what they do day in and day out. Care-giving work does not facilitate the earning of great amounts of money, either. In fact, just the opposite is most often true. Care-giving for a family member can be discouraging and involves sacrificial giving of oneself to the person who needs one’s help. It is, however, one of the most significant and purpose-filled callings God can give us.

Care-giving often involves a lot of heartache and grief, as we see our loved ones continue to move backwards in their health. In spite of this, the caregiver is engaging in God’s work. Not only is care-giving filled with purpose while the caregiver is in the midst of the responsibilities of care-giving, but this phase of the caregiver’s life is also a preparation for what God has planned for his or her post care-giving days. It has been said that God cannot use someone in a significant way until that person has suffered some deep loss, hurt, or pain. The losses and grief caregivers experience as they see their loved one’s health deteriorate will help them to be more compassionate servants of God in future days.

Dear Christian caregiver, the challenges of care-giving are shaping your character to become a more beautiful reflection of Jesus. Think of the Bible characters like Job, Paul, and others. Through their losses and grief they became more dependent on the Lord and more useable in His kingdom. Because of your sacrifices in care-giving and because of the pain you feel while caring for a loved one who cannot recover, you are being prepared to also be used in significant ways when your care-giving days end.



(This is a meditation from my book DEAR CAREGIVER subtitled Reflections for Family Caregivers. If you are interested in purchasing this book click on the Amazon link or the Xulon link, my publisher, on the right hand side of this page. The book is also available at Barnes and Noble online. If you would prefer a signed copy directly from me, e-mail me at the e-mail address on the upper right hand side of this page for details. This book could be a Christmas gift of love to someone on your Christmas list as well as for yourself.) 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Blessings

Care-giving is a noble calling.  That is a theme you have heard often from this writer.  Yet it also is a calling which sometimes is a source of heartache, as we see our loved one deteriorate in his or her health.  As I look back on those days when I was a caregiver for my husband and his eventual death, there is a still an ache which comes into my heart.  Yet I remind myself that it is more than that.  I see it as a place where God met me and blessed me in a special way.  I want to see it as place of surrender to His will and hence the place of His blessing.

We often think of blessing as God giving us the things which we want, things that are comfortable, and that we perceive are good.  Yet the blessings often come through the struggles, because God is there in a special way during those times.  The blessings come when we see how weak and desperate we are without Him, and then run to Him in surrender to His will.  The blessings are in seeing Him meet our needs, comfort us, and give Himself to us.  The blessings then comes in a changed life through a surrendered life.

The blessings comes from seeing and trusting God in a new way during difficult times.  It also comes from praising or as some translations of the Bible say blessing the Lord in the times of struggle and uncertainty.  We often do not "feel" like praising God in such moments, but when our lips praise Him, our hearts eventually also begin to get the message of God's love and grace.  Joy, peace, and blessings are the result.

Dear caregiver, let your care-giving role be the place where you not only at times struggle with pain and heartache; but let it also be the place where you meet God like never before.  Let it be a place of surrender and blessing.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Affirmations of Love

Being a caregiver for my husband for over four and a half years was a significant calling that the Lord God placed on my life.  Its purposes in both my life and in my husband's life were far reaching, and the experience taught valuable spiritual lessons.

Those days were also laden with challenges, however.  My husband's continual decline downward in his health robbed us of so much.  It robbed us of the relationship we had experienced together in the past.  Later in my husband's disease, I missed the easy verbal exchanges we had had in the past.  Also in the past my husband had always been so free with expressions of his love.  I would often long for those days.  I wrote the following comments on May 17, 2009:

"Before my husband's illness, he would tell me I was beautiful, and he would often call me 'his favorite wife.'  It became a standard source of teasing between us, because my reply would always be 'How many wives do you have?'  My husband was always good about giving loving cards on specials occasions also.  So much of that verbal affirmation is gone now.  My husband's speech is so poor that basic communication between us is difficult.  I miss also the basic bouncing of ideas between us."

I knew that my husband still loved me, in spite of him not expressing it in the same way as he had in the past.  More importantly, I knew God loved me with an eternal love.  I knew that God also affirmed that love over and over again in the Bible.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Zephaniah 3:17.  In that verse, God told me and continues to tell me that He loves me and even delights in me!  He actually rejoices over me, and He quiets me with His love.  Furthermore He, the mighty God, will always be with me.

Knowing that God loved me and even delighted in me was a source of comfort to me during my care-giving days.  God's affirming love for me comforted me even more than knowing that my care-giving role had purpose and meaning.

Dear caregiver, if you are God's child, trust that the Lord loves you with an awesome and eternal love.  When the discouragement and negative feelings surface, may you rest in God's love and find your treasure in Him!


(This post is one of the meditations from my book DEAR CAREGIVER Reflections for Family Caregivers. You can order it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Xulon, my publisher. Links for Amazon and Xulon are on the right hand side of the page. If you have already read my book, consider reviewing my book at the Amazon link. It is my heart's passion to help and bless as many family caregivers as possible.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Suffering and Glory

Recently during my devotions I was struck with the connection between suffering and glory (Romans 8:17).  We are "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ," but suffering and glory are intertwined in God's plan.  It was for Jesus, and it is for us. Suffering is making us look more like Jesus day by day.  Is that not what we want-to become more like Jesus?

As a caregiver you may be saying, "Really?  I could use a little less heartaches and trials.  You do not know how difficult it is to see my loved one deteriorate in his or her health.  You do not know how difficult it is to meet his or her needs." Yes, I do understand the difficulty of that experience having lived it myself.  Yet if God promised to bring ultimate good and His glory out of the most difficult and impossible situations, can we not trust Him in everything that He allows in our lives?

Recently I also watched the movie "God is Not Dead in DVD format.  I do not remember seeing such a powerful movie before.  So many minor plots were running along side the main plot; all were pointing to the same theme that God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and He is not dead.  I especially liked the scene where the son was visiting his mother with dementia.  The son said in effect, "If God is alive why has a sweet person like you ended up with dementia, while I have everything going for me?"  This man's mom who did not recognize him any longer said, "The devil sometimes lets people stay in the jail cell of a carefree life, so they do not see their need of the Lord and turn to Him."  Something to think about, isn't it, when we wonder "why?" in the trials of life.

As I look back at my life I see the heartaches of seeing my husband deteriorate in his health and the helpless feelings and sadness this brought.  When I look back I see the grief of loosing him to death. Yet I also see God's care and provision for me through it all.  I see in my mind's eye my husband, Wayne, free from disease and praising the Lord in glory.  I see even blessings that have come to me from this.  As I look at my present life sometimes I see problems and have fears about my future, but I also see a God who has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5b).  I see a God who is redeeming all things for my ultimate good and His glory.

I know that some of the things you are going through, dear caregiver, may not feel good.  You may feel, as if so many things are out of your control.  Although you love your loved one with all your heart, you may feel weighed down with responsibility and heartache.  Remember that the Holy Spirit is praying for you right at this moment (Romans 8:26-27).  Also remember that as you travel this path of family care-giving, the Lord is with you each step of the way.  He has your loved one in His hands, and He has you in His hands.  Your suffering or difficulties is somehow in God's economy bringing about His glory and your ultimate glory.  It is doing the same for your loved one for whom you are caring.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Absolutely Vital


Reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Holy Word is basic to our Christian walk especially for the family caregiver. We would not think of neglecting food for our bodies, and yet it is sometimes so easy to neglect our Bible reading and prayer life. It is so necessary to read God’s Word, however, so that we are able to live our lives for the Lord as we ought.

Meditating on and obedience to God's word is also necessary for our emotional and spiritual well-being (Psalm 119:1&2). The world will not give lasting joy. Material possessions will not give us lasting joy. Only our love relationship with the Lord will give us lasting joy. As we grow in our love for the Lord, our joy also increases.

This is a joy that one can have even in the midst of problems, disappointments, challenges, and sorrow. This is a joy that the family caregiver can have even in the challenges and sometimes heartaches of caring for a loved one. Only in fellowship with the Lord and in our love relationship with the Lord can we have that joy.

We can not grow in our love relationship with the Lord, however, without studying and reading His Word. We need to hide God’s Word in our hearts.  God's Word keeps us on God’s path. The Lord’s path is not always the easiest, but it is always the best and the most joyful path for us. God is infinitely wiser than we are.

Furthermore, by hiding God’s Word in our hearts we begin to understand the vastness of His love for us. We begin to understand the number of promises that He has made to us. We begin to see that He is a faithful God, and we begin to see that His will and timing in our lives is always best. Psalm 119:14-16 says "I rejoice in following Your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways. I delight in Your decrees; I will not neglect Your Word."

There are so many beautiful promises and truths in God’s Word that are so directly applicable to our lives! Some parts of Scripture are harder to understand than others, but I have found some wonderful promises in places of the Bible where one would least expect them. There is always something new and fresh to be found in the Bible, as we read and seek to apply its truths to our lives each day. The Lord is so good!

I have also found it helpful at times to pray Scripture in my prayers to the Lord. What better way to approach the Lord? Hiding God’s Word in our hearts adds joy and peace to our lives. God's Word also helps to direct our steps. We can absolutely count on the truth of every word in Scripture. Luke in Luke 1:4 said that he wrote the book of Luke and Acts "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."  Dear Caregiver, take your quiet time with the Lord seriously. Dig into God's Word and apply its truths to your life. Grow in your love of the Lord through your study of His Holy Word! It is absolutely vital to your life, dear caregiver!