Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sandwiched by Faith

I love reading the Psalms and particularly enjoy the ones written by David. He seems so open and honest with his feelings and doesn't typically hold anything back. David doesn't worry about what everyone else might think about him, he just lays it all out there. Sometimes it can seem like he goes from one emotional extreme to another all in one psalm. That's something many caregivers are very familiar with. Each day can bring a wide range of emotional challenges and changes until we start to think we are losing it for sure. But we are in good company it seems.

In Psalm 31, David makes a lot of "I" statements. In the first few verses, David is declaring his trust in God. He says some things like:

I have taken refuge (in You)
I commit my spirit (into Your hands)
I trust in the Lord
I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness

These are some very powerful declarations and worth grabbing a hold of in our own lives. They are perspective changing declarations that can help us get our attitude in the right place when things have gone crazy in our lives. But at the same time David is making these powerful statements he lets loose with some honest and raw emotions. He says things in the next few verses like:

I am in distress
My life is spent in sorrow
My strength has failed
I have become a reproach
I am forgotten...
I am like a broken vessel

What caregiver has not gone through this range of emotions? On any given day we can feel like we just can't make it one more second, our strength is gone. And oh how familiar we can be with being forgotten. Loneliness can be one of our greatest battles along with depression. We can feel reproached, forgotten and alone...like we are broken and beyond repair. I'm so glad that David took the time to preserve this psalm because we can start to feel not-so-alone knowing that our emotions are not foreign - others have experienced them too and were not afraid to write about it.

In the church world these feelings are oftentimes forbidden. We are told it is because of "lack of faith" that we feel them. We are further reproached because we can't seem to get a handle  on things. So we stuff it all inside and become more recluse. But if David felt them and God approved that they be in our beloved scriptures - they must be a normal part of life. While we need to work through them like we see David do- we should not be shunned or condemned for feeling them.

We do see David get past his emotional hurdles. He begins to turn his focus off his situation and onto God. After he lays it all out there (which is really good to do sometimes) he starts to  encourage himself by saying things like:

I trust in You, O Lord
You are my God
I will call on You
Save me in Your lovingkindness
How great is Your goodness
You hide us in Your secret place

It's sort of funny that he sandwiches his emotions between his statements of faith. Seems like a really good place to put them to me! So it's okay to acknowledge how we really feel - actually it's healthy. Just remember to turn your thoughts back to God when you're done. We can pour our hearts out to God and be totally honest about things that are common to caregivers: anger, depression, hurt, and loneliness. And then declare who God is - whether we feel it or not!

David ends up speaking to the reader and reminding us to trust the Lord who preserves the faithful.  And he offers hope for those who hope in the Lord. 

Be strong and let your heart take courage
all you who hope in the Lord.

Today I will acknowledge the areas where I struggle. And then I will declare that He is my God and my hope is in Him. I will I let  my heart be encouraged and I will declare I trust in You O Lord, You are my God!  Will you join me?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What Does God Want From Me?

Before my caregiving days I functioned in many roles in the church. As a youth pastor I taught the young people scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 - that the Lord has good plans for them - for health and a future. Sometimes on the other side of caregiving, or even during life's strongest trials scriptures like this one can become muddled. If God has good plans for me, why is this happening?

His intentions for us never change. My mind goes back to the Children of Israel. God told them in Leviticus 22:33 that He brought them out of Egypt to be their God. And He said in Exodus 34:14 that He is a jealous God. The New Living Translation interpreted this verse to say He is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. God's desire to have a relationship with His people has never changed; and is not likely to make a sharp turn over 2000 years later!

God performed mighty miracles to bring His children out of Egypt's bondage. But it was not an easy road after that - they did not have it made from there on out. In fact they faced many trials and struggles along the way. They had no water - and God provided; when there was no food God provided. He showed up each time they had a struggle even though their first thought was Let's go back to Egypt!

Caregiving is not an easy road to travel and everyone's picture looks very different. But even on a rocky road, God's heart is to have a relationship with His people - those who believe in Him - you!  He is not going to take all the bumps out of the road, or remove all the rough spots along the way. But He is going to walk it with you and His whole desire is to be in relationship with you.

I am a runner and have run a few half marathons. That's not always easy and training can be rather rough at times. But on occasion I've done training runs or races with friends. There's nothing like a long, hard stretch of road with nothing to do between the start and finish line - but talk and run - to help build a relationship. You find yourself opening up about life's deepest hurts and sharing insights that have helped you along the way.

I believe that's what God wants for us as we travel the rocky roads of life. It's what He desired from the Children of Israel as they journeyed to the Promised Land. He just wanted relationship - and that's all He wants from us today.

Today I will meditate on the fact that He wants to spend time with me - He wants me to talk to Him and share my joys, hurts, victories and failures. I will turn my thoughts toward Him today and think about how He walks this long and lonely caregiving road with me, because He wants to. And I will thank Him for desiring a relationship with me. I will engage with Him today and look for His peace while I listen for His voice in every situation. Will you join me?

Monday, March 23, 2015

There is a River

Sometimes it bothers me when I hear complaints about it being Monday. It seems to me that on many levels the caregiver's days are all the same. There's not much relief on the weekends and our chores remain the same for the most part with maybe some small changes. I don't think that a day is necessarily bad or good just because of its position in the week. Even in our crazy not-so-normal lives our attitude can go a long way in making a day "good" or "bad." We cannot always change anything about our circumstances and we cannot always find ways to lighten the load - but we can always change our attitude and make the best out of what we have.

We all have days that are better than others but some days seem to bring a lot more of a struggle. What are we supposed to do on those days? Typically my thoughts run to the scriptures when I am overwhelmed, and particularly the psalms. Sometimes what seems like the simplest phrase can bring healing and restoration. That phrase for me today is found in Psalm 46:4.

There is a river 
whose streams make glad 
the city of God,
the holy dwelling places
of the Most High.

I read a scripture or passage and then meditate on what sticks out in my mind. There is a river is what captured my thoughts today. To me a river is symbolic of refreshing; but just standing by the rolling water can help one relax and become calmer. I think we can experience that same relaxation by experiencing the river of God  in our lives.

Caregivers can be operating under a huge load of chores and tasks that it takes to just make it through the day. Minimally, the caregiver can experience the burden of care. Which means that many caregivers may not have to do all the physical chores, but there is still a lot of mental work that has to be done as well as choices made on behalf of another. It can be a large load for any heart and mind. How would we experience this river?

When we take a break and turn to His word we are sitting by the river. When we say a prayer and express how we know it is God who is carrying us - we are sitting by His river. Today I invite you to open your Bible with me to Psalm 46. Feel His refreshing as we read:

God is our refuge and strength
a very present help in trouble
therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change
and though the mountains slip into the sea
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
the holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her
she will not be moved
God will help her when morning dawns.

We are God's dwelling place - individually and collectively. He is in us and we can experience the peace of His river even in the midst of turmoil.

Today I will meditate on God's presence in my life; and I will welcome Him. I will turn my thoughts to His peace and let Him bring me the relief my heart and mind needs. I declare today a rest day - and I will purposefully rest in the peace He brings to my heart and life. Will you join me?






Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Power of Weakness

Sometimes I hate it when people tell me "you're so strong." It's not because I don't like to be complimented, but more that I really don't feel "so strong." I also feel like the statement is left hanging like they meant to say "you're so strong compared to...." what? It's like in the back of their minds they think they couldn't handle caregiving. In reality none of us probably set it as our life goal; but it was handed to us and we adjust the best we can; and they would too. We are all very adaptable.

Maybe it bothers me because I feel anything but strong - I feel so weak. The caregiving journey has helped me to see and deal with my weaknesses. There's nothing like the caregiving role to reveal all those weak areas. Even though I feel very vulnerable and weak, I have learned how to rest in His strength. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul was asking God to take away his "thorn in the flesh." There has been much argument over what exactly was giving Paul so much trouble - but whatever it was he asked God to remove it 3 times. God's response was: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."

This answer didn't seem to frustrate Paul at all. As a matter of fact it seems that he offered a quick response: Most gladly therefore will I rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. Rather than fighting to get out of the difficulties, he totally yielded to them so that the power of God could manifest itself in him.

Paul was no longer whining or complaining; but began to boast in being weak! When we realize how weak we are, we can begin to rely on God for strength. As long as we feel like we are strong in our own power we will not fully trust Him. I find that it's more difficult to trust Him for things I feel like I can do myself. When it goes beyond what I can accomplish, then I turn to Him for help. So like Paul we can say that caregiving is beyond what we can carry on our own. Then we can be glad we are weak and rather than begrudging the load - we can rejoice that God's grace is helping us carry it; and that His grace is carrying us through it as well.

When I am weak - I am strong because His grace empowers me. Therefore I can boast in my weakness because it is in those times that I can see how strong He is in me.

Today I will meditate on how He is strong for me and in me. I will purposefully yield to His strength and allow Him to carry me. My thoughts will be set on His grace and how it is enough for what I face today; and on His strength in me demonstrating to the world that His strength is perfected in my weakness. Will you join me?


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Less than Perfect

Have you ever had someone tell you that because your loved one wasn't healed you lacked faith? Sadly enough, I have. Yet if we look at all our Bible heroes we'll see that we admire them because of the trials they endured. Each of them give us a picture of how to trust God in adversity; and how to keep faith during intense testing and trials. Adversity is actually the true test of faith. It's in the midst of the trial that we find out just how much we trust God. Can we trust Him when our lives are less than perfect?

The caregiver's life is definitely "less than perfect" if we compare it to others. For some of it caregiving can mean that we are locked up in our own little cave unable to get out and about. For others, there may be some getting out - but there's not quite the freedom we see in the rest of the world. Caregiving can complicate everything on a variety of levels. We can't use the struggles of caregiving to measure our lives. We also cannot use the pleasures of caregiving as an accurate measure of life or faith.

This morning I was thinking about Moses and how he followed the Lord's leading to bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt's bondage. He led the "great escape" and they were free from Pharaoh's grip. But their rejoicing was short lived because they ran smooth into the Red Sea; and Pharaoh's army was closing in behind them.

Just because Moses ran into the Red Sea doesn't mean they were going the wrong direction.

The Red Sea was not a sign that Moses had done anything wrong or made a wrong turn along the way. It simply became an opportunity to trust God more. Moses and the Children of Israel were in a position for God to show Himself strong on their behalf. Caregiving can be a struggle; but it is not a sign of faithlessness or weakness; just an opportunity to trust Him more. It gives us the opportunity to see Him work directly in our lives.

When my son was first injured I thought for sure I'd done something wrong to end up in the situation. But we cannot use struggles and trials to measure ourselves or our lives. Every Bible hero faced something. It shaped them into the hero of faith we admire and enjoy studying today. When we face a Red Sea or an impasse in our lives it's not time to condemn ourselves and wonder what we did wrong; it's just a time to learn to trust Him more.

Today I will meditate on His sustaining mercy. I will think about how He doesn't abandon me when I face a "Red Sea" in my life; but He instructs me and goes with me through the struggles. Today I will thank Him for His wisdom, peace, direction and ever-abiding presence even in the trials. Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Committed to the Journey

The last few days we've been looking at three men of faith: Job, Noah, and Daniel. These are three of my Bible heroes along with many others. But these three men are mentioned together in Ezekiel 14. Twice, the Lord told Ezekiel that if Noah, Daniel and Job were in the land they would be delivered through righteousness. They couldn't "delver" anyone else, but they would be saved if the land was destroyed. I have spent much time pondering why He listed these three men.

What happened to Abraham, the friend of God? What about David, the man after God's own heart? Why not Moses, the one with whom God spoke face to face as a man speaks to his friend? What made Job, Noah and Daniel's stories so unique that God said these three men could deliver their own soul by their righteousness? Their situations were not similar, neither were their trials. Actually, all three faced difficult adversities of very different types. Like the caregiver has to do many times, they faced them alone.

Daniel stood by faith while he was a captive in a foreign land, Noah stood by faith in a wicked generation, and Job stood alone in the face of losing everything. No one could do it for them; and no one can carry your load for you either. Oh it's nice when someone comes to walk alongside you and it really helps to have friends or family along for the ride. But no one can do the caregiving for you. Like these three men of faith we must live what we know - we must live by faith whether we do it alone, or if others are with us on this journey.

We must be committed to the journey. The three men listed here in Ezekiel were committed to the journey of faith and they didn't let life's trials detour them. We as caregivers must be adamant about our journey of faith as well. I've found that it's not so much that I am keeping the faith; but rather it's faith that's keeping me. Our job as caregivers is a difficult one no matter what particulars we deal with each day. But we must keep putting one foot in front of the other, walking by faith. Sometimes we cannot see exactly where we are going and there certainly is no end in sight; but by faith we continue to seek God's direction for each day and simply walk it out like Job, Noah and Daniel. They did not let go - they continued to trust even in adversity.

I admire the tenacity of these three men; and I want to model it in my own life. They rocked their world because of their faith; and we can too.

Today I will meditate on what my faith means to me. I will turn my thoughts to how I can determine to trust Him more for each step I must take today. And I will thank Him that He is with me as I am committed to this journey of faith. Will you join me?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Standing Alone?

All of our Bible heroes faced some type of adversity. The stories about how they overcame or endured that adversity is what makes them our hero, isn't it? Noah is among those listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. The writer reminds us that was warned by God about things not yet seen. Noah took a huge leap of faith to obey God and began building the ark. He faced his own circumstances and lived in a generation of people who did not believe him. As far as we can tell no one helped him build the ark and no one stood with him. According to Genesis 6, Noah lived in a very wicked generation; he most likely lived in a very lonely place.

The caregiver can live in a lonely place too. In many ways, even if we are able to get out some there are times of isolation. When we do have the joy of getting out it can look so much different than others. For me, it means dealing with my son in his chair. In some settings, that can be isolating enough - no one knows what to do with us; so they do nothing. Yesterday, we walked down to a church in our neighborhood. Only one person greeted us - the speaker. We were sitting in the back to make room for his chair as I didn't want to block an aisle. People coming in the entrance had to walk right past us to get to the seating area. Not one of them spoke to us; not one of them greeted us. The children stared and adults looked away. In that moment I felt so isolated although I was in a crowd of "believers."

Noah faced a different type of isolation in that he was ridiculed for his beliefs. He lacked people to stand with him in his pursuit of God, godliness and righteousness. But he continued to stand.In many instances, the caregiver has to stand alone much like Noah. We must hold up a standard of righteousness even though no one stands with us; and we must do it alone. But verse 8 of chapter 6 it states: Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Last week we talked some about how God's eye is on the righteous - He's watching over us. And like Noah, we have found grace in His eyes.

We are given the grace to make it one more day - whether we walk the caregiving journey alone or in a crowd. God's grace is sufficient to carry us through the toughest hours. Even those situations where no one knows quite what to do with us; His grace holds us secure in  Him.

Today I will meditate on His sustaining grace. I'll let Him worry about carrying me through today - and I won't work so hard. When I get tired, I will turn my thoughts to His mercy and grace and I will rest in Him once again. I will also meditate on the truth that I am accepted in the beloved and I won't look for man's approval. I'll just rest in His love, mercy and acceptance. Will you join me?