Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Perfect Storm

This morning as promised, I stayed in Mark 4. I've been thinking about what I read a lot since yesterday's devotional. I am wondering if caregiving isn't its own little world. And of course each caregiver and their situation is another unique world. Think about the caregivers you know and their situation has its own definitive circumstances. No two situations are exactly alike.

One one hand, we're quick to compare and contrast our situations with others. Yet on the other hand, there's no way to compare what each of us go through with another. We each deal with our own storm the best we can. The cool thing is that God's word doesn't change to match our situation - but it is applicable for each of us.

The first 24 verses of Mark 4 contains teachings of Jesus. He was discussing and describing the Kingdom of God. He talked about a farmer planting seed on different types of soil and how the seed (the message) responded in those situations. Then in verse 26 He described the Kingdom like a farmer planting the seed - from the seed's point of view.  It grows silently, secretly before the farmer's very eyes. And then He said the Kingdom was like a mustard seed - where something small grows into something huge unexpectedly; and provides shelter. (I'll be thinking more on these things!)

Then right after He finished, He and His disciples got in a boat to cross to the other side. But they ran into a strong storm. The disciples were terrified - that kind of scared that's beyond reason. They thought they were going to die. But when they turned to Jesus - He was asleep in the boat!

They yelled at Him, Don't You care we are about to die? He got up and calmed the storm. They were still in the boat. They were still in the water. Jesus was still in the boat. As caregiver's we stay in the water in the boat. And God stays there with us too. Jesus didn't get out of the boat.

Then He said to them Do you not still have faith in me?  In this same story, shared by Luke in chapter 8 this phrase was translated as Where is your faith? He did not rebuke them for their fear, even though He questioned it in Mark's account. He didn't berate them. He just asked them where their faith was.

Over the last few years, I must say my faith has been redefined, but as I read this I thought about His question to the disciples - Where is your faith? There have been times I have been angry that He was asleep! How dare He sleep while I'm going through? Right??? But my faith always comes back around to this deep-rooted trust in Him.

He is not worried about my situation - although He is concerned and connected. He knows there's a storm. He knows it's a strong storm. He also knows how to speak peace in the midst of the storm. Even though He speaks peace - it doesn't mean we get out of our boat! What I love is that God can speak peace into our situation right in the midst of it all. I am wound pretty tight, but when He speaks peace it's overwhelming. Sometimes I need to be reminded to embrace His peace in the storm. Let the world rock crazily out of control around me - but remember that He is in the boat - He did not crawl out or escape when the going got rough.

Today I will turn my thoughts away from the storm and to the peace He provides. John 14:27 says He gives us a peace that's not like what the world gives. Jesus also reminds us, don't be troubled or afraid. My meditation today will be on how I can focus on the peace He provides and how I can keep from being troubled or afraid. My thoughts will be on His peace - the peace that goes beyond our understanding. I will rejoice that He is still in the boat with me on life's troubled seas. He knew the storm was coming and didn't choose to not go along for the ride. I'll rest in the truth that He is with me - and that He gives peace,freely. And I will trust Him for one more day in the midst of the perfect storm. Will you join me?


Monday, November 7, 2016

Seeing Through the Caregiver's Fog

Other than the social isolation of caregiving, I think the wrestling with depression is one of the most difficult things I deal with. I can be fine, having a good day and some memory or small challenge can spark a deluge of emotions that send me off into la-la land. It doesn't take much, honestly. I'd like to say I'm alone in these emotional roller coaster rides, but from what reading I have done, it's common for the caregiver.

Over the last few weeks, the struggle has been so real as I'm sure it is for many. This morning I found myself trying once again to pull myself out of the caregiver's fog. I was actually thinking about storms and how natural storms pass. Caregiving does not. And for my situation I'm looking at a life that looks just like this for the rest of my life. It does get to me from time to time.

So, I went to the Word looking for the story of Jesus and His disciples facing the storm in the boat. I found it in Mark chapter 4. But the parable at the first of the chapter caught my attention. That means we'll still talk about the storm tomorrow! lol

Mark 4 starts with the parable of the sower who sowed the seeds in different types of soil. I know Jesus was giving us an analogy of the Kingdom of God and as He explains to His disciples later the seed is the message of the Kingdom which is sowed and the outcome depends on the condition of the soil. But as I read it I thought about the changes in my life on a day to day basis and my heart's response to the Word.

I can look at my days and see how some days are very fruitful. I have energy, I'm positive, my faith is high and things go generally well. Then other days are more like the thorny soil where every hope is choked out by thorns of caregiving or life in general. Some days the Word of God seems to speak to me personally and lifts me right out of the muck and mire as it sinks deeply into the soil of my heart. Other days God seems silent and I feel I'm left in a dry, rocky place to try and navigate on my own.

Of course there are lots of in-between days where there are series of ups and downs. I can go from laughing and enjoying the progress my son makes to weeping because the "picture" of his life is all messed up. Really. I should be rejoicing that he's marrying, having children, exploring his chosen career; not the fact that he regained head control or moved his right foot. Such mixed emotions - the storms of the caregiver's life.

Now the good part is that later on in this same chapter, Jesus explained the seed itself a little more fully. When the seed is sown there is not always an immediately recognizable growth spurt. As a matter of fact, it seems as if nothing is happening. As the farmer "goes about his days" the seed sprouts and grows without his direct knowledge.

So what does this mean for the caregiver? For me today? It means that God's word is enough.  It means that it is sown - it will grow. On the days I (or we - if you're with me) don't see it  - I'm not feelin' it - His word is still tucked away in my heart. It's not discarded. It's secretly growing and as I go about my caregiving tasks, it'll continue to grow and it will bear fruit in my life.

The caregiver doesn't get an exclusion in the Word. God didn't make ONE promise where He said "this is applicable for everyone but the caregiver."!

So today I will try to keep my focus. I will meditate on the fact that His word IS growing in me - whether I see it or not. I'll turn my thoughts to truths like - I didn't get kicked out of the Kingdom when I became a caregiver. My meditation will be on the truth that His word still stands and every promise is still true. I will shift my focus to those things I cannot see. And I will trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Those Who Mourn Get to Play Too!

The other night, I was headed to taekwondo and glanced over in time to see the sun rays escaping through the clouds. I thought of how dark the clouds had become, how close to earth and how just a tiny little break allowed sunlight to flow through and reach my line of sight. The sun is never gone, we just don't always see it.

On a cloudy day, we don't really forget about the sun, we don't consider that it might be burnt out or displaced. We have an understanding that it is right where it's supposed to be but we can't see it. I think sometimes for the caregiver, life can cloud our way and we can't see, feel or experience God like we'd like to.

There are some days between caregiving and working online I barely have time to breathe. But our God is always right here with us -whether we see Him, feel Him, know Him or not. And He is anxiously waiting for us to turn to Him. He's sort of like the sun - hiding behind the clouds waiting for just a slight break to make His grand entrance into our day.

I'm still in Isaiah 61 and this morning I noted that He is the one who gives to those who mourn in Zion. First of all, Zion is also called the dwelling of the Lord. What? I remember being shocked the first time I realized there was any mourning in Zion at all. How could Zion and mourning coexist? But right here in Isaiah 61:3 God says how He deals with those who are mourning in Zion. He says He will give them beauty for ashes, He will give joy instead of mourning, He will give praise instead of despair. Pretty amazing if you ask me!

He is replacing all the pain and filling it up with Himself. He doesn't ignore the pain and pretend it doesn't exist. Instead, He acknowledges that there are those in Zion - those in Him - who have ashes, are mourning and are in despair. Then He replaces it with the opposite.

They Then it goes on to say that HE planted them like strong oaks for His glory. Wow! I found this very encouraging - we are not abandoned to caregiving, we are the planting of the Lord. I just need to think about that for a little while.

When I'm done meditating on that truth, I want to look at verse 4. I like this verse because it's easy for caregivers to feel inactive as far as building the kingdom of God goes. But in verse 4 the prophet says those who are mourning in Zion are the same ones God is going to use.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
They will repair broken down cities
They will revive what was empty
They will be called "priests of the Lord"
They will be ministers of God

I find that simply an amazing promise to those who mourn. There is life after mourning. There is life after and during grief. He may not change anything about the situation - but He replaces and replenishes right in the midst of destruction and devastation. Remarkable. All is not lost - He visits the caregiver - right where we are and fills us up with Himself.

Today I'm going to look for ways He increases my joy, pours spiritual oil in my wounds, and lifts me out of the ashes of my life. My thoughts will be on how He can use me from here - not waiting to be somewhere else. I will meditate on His total acceptance of who I am and what I do - and His willingness to accept me and use me in the midst of the storm. I'll also do what I can to find that little part in the clouds where His light shines through - and I'll bask in it. I'm ready to trust Him for one more day - will you join me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Point of No Return

This morning I continued reading in Isaiah 61 and there are several things that keep leaping off the page and into my heart. Just for the record, I needed that right about now.

This passage is very familiar to us church-goers and we recognize it as the same passage that Jesus read when He first stood in the temple. It's easy for us to visualize Jesus saying The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed me to proclaim the good news. But it becomes difficult for us to read it for ourselves. I think that difficulty is magnified even more as caregivers.

Sometimes we can be made to feel as though we don't play a significant role in society. I know for me, at least at first, I felt like more of a drain on society, definitely not a benefit. We become absorbed into caregiving - we have to. This can make it hard to see beyond our little box. How can we influence a generation?  How can we proclaim the Kingdom of God? How can we share the good news? We demonstrate it.

Even though we may not be standing up behind a pulpit come Sunday morning because we'll still be doing the same caregiving tasks we were doing the rest of the week, doesn't mean we aren't proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Actually, all the while we are changing, bathing, feeding, clothing, transferring and other tasks associated with taking care of another whole person - we are proclaiming His love. His grace. His mercy. His kindness and His strength to the generations.

The obvious question now is how?  Right? First of all, we've discussed in previous posts how we demonstrate the true love of God by laying down our own lives to care for another. We show another side of the same love that held Jesus on the cross by surrendering our life on behalf of another. Each motion we make in taking care of our loved one is a demonstration of His love.

Secondly, proclaiming His kingdom doesn't always require words. How do I know this? Psalm 19:1 says this:

The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display His marvelous craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
Night after night they make Him known.

So far I have never heard the sun, moon or stars utter a word. We literally do not hear the voice of nature telling of His glory - but we see it demonstrated. Nature is cyclical and doesn't have an end. One plant yields more seeds and more plants grow - so there can be more seeds. The water cycle continues to circle around - the earth isn't making more water - it's a limited supply that goes around and around. Seasons run in a certain order every single year. Even though there can be some slight variations, they don't vary from the pre-designed course that He set into motion.

The same way we hear nature proclaiming His glory, others can see His kingdom demonstrated in the life of a caregiver. If they take time to look. Many don't want to look. It's not always pretty. But neither is nature if you look deeply enough. Every time we do something for our loved one, our actions are declaring His kingdom. Simply wiping the drool from my son's face says, I'll cover you. I'll protect your dignity.  And God does the same thing for us when He wipes away the things in our lives that are not appealing.

I think it's important for us to know, or at least I need to be reminded, that we were not displaced in His kingdom when we became a caregiver. He did not boot us out and call us unfit. We are still just as much a part of the Kingdom of God as a caregiver, as we were before. It has literally no bearing on our standing in His kingdom. We cannot earn His kingdom, we do not work to get into it - it's ours. Period. He doesn't stand there with a clipboard and a checklist asking what our profession is, what social class we are in, our income level or anything else. We are part of the Kingdom because we worship Him as our king. 

He took us from the kingdom of darkness and placed us in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). He did not prepare a way for us to go back. We are planted in Him, in His word, in His kingdom permanently. No tragedy is big enough to remove us!

Today I'm going to meditate on being in His hand, in His kingdom. I'll turn my thoughts to how He can cause my life as a caregiver to bring Him glory. He is the power source - and He is able to cause what feels like a very broken life to demonstrate and proclaim His kingdom. I have to trust Him to do what He says - I don't need to make Him. He's good for it. So I'll trust that He is big enough to keep me in the kingdom where He placed me - and He is powerful enough and smart enough to shape it so it brings Him glory. And with that, I will rest in Him and trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?


Monday, October 24, 2016

Some Things Never Change

Change is inevitable, whether you are a caregiver or not, it's just a part of life. But for the caregiver, change can be the only constant in our lives. Even though every day can seem like we do the same things over and over again, there's always a new wrench or kink thrown in to disrupt, it seems. Frequently (sometimes daily) I have to stop, take a deep breath, and get a grip before proceeding to make a move or decision of some kind. This weekend I was thinking about how much life changes with caregiving.

There have certainly been some times when I wanted to throw in the proverbial towel - and throw anything else in "there" with it....I am typically very routine and living in a state of constant change not knowing what the next second is going to bring, has been difficult. Period.

But this morning I started thinking of what hasn't changed over the last 8 years. I was reading in Isaiah 61 about rebuilding the ancient ruins, and I thought of how my faith walk had lain in shambles, or at least I had perceived it that way. Ultimately, it was simply being redefined and rebuilt.

My thoughts started running along the lines of how God had never left me during the hottest days of the furnace. Even when my faith was shaken down to its core - He didn't abandon ship and toss me aside. He stayed right there. Even though my whole life changed - He did not. I changed. A lot. But He didn't change one iota.

I came up with a few things that have not changed even in the furnace. These are things that are NEVER going to change no matter what we face - what we do without - what choices we make...somethings never change:

The sun rises and sets every day
Weather patterns continue
Nature still cries out to the glory of God
Babies are born
People die
Rainbows come out after a rain
Floods and droughts still exist
Grass is still green
Plants still grow
The sky is still blue..and has clouds sometimes...

His righteousness still covers my sin
Jesus still died on the cross
I'm still forgiven
I'm still righteous
I'm still hidden in Him 
I'm holy in Him
His Word is still the standard
He is still my provider
He is still ever present

This list could go on and on...and in my high octane Google mind it did! I'm just so thankful today that even though my world was shattered nearly 8 years ago, God did not change. I know we usually shake our heads and say some things never change and it's more of a negative. But today - when I say some things never change - I'm thinking of all the things that are constant, have always been constant and will always be constant! As I took my son out for a run in his racing chair the other night we saw a beautiful sunrise, a wonderful reminder that what God puts in motion - will continue in motion....until HE says.

Today I'm going to meditate on the things that won't change. I'm going to rejoice in the fact that His love, mercy, grace, compassion and care is FOREVER and ever, and ever, and ever.....Rather than grieving over the past and the changes life has brought, I'll turn my thoughts to the power of His righteousness and other attributes that cannot be altered by time. And I will be glad in Him, I'll stay hidden in Him and I will rest in Him and trust Him for one more day... Will you join me?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Office Hours?

Good Monday morning world! It's been a crazy place around here of late. I don't really know why I say that as caregiving makes for all days to be crazy! You know, just about the time you think you're holding your own, got the new norms all figured out and have settled in for the duration - everything changes.

How does that happen?

Why does that happen?

For the first time since my son's accident I somehow got signed up for home health. We only get so many days a year since there's no actual insurance involved and I usually save them for "just in case" situations. I've only had two instances where I felt their services were necessary. Well, when the doc was here last Monday - she decided we should let home health come change his feeding tube out. Evidently she signed us up. It's already taking quite the adjustment.

It may seem minor to those who are not caregivers - but even the things that seem the smallest and the simplest can turn everything topsy turvy. You know? (I know you know!) So last week they ended up coming for something every.single.day. I appreciate they got the tube replaced but sheesh. It might have been easier to take him in! lol

I'm not really used to having someone on call 24/7. Usually doctors are only available for calls inside certain hours so this is kind of weird. But I think I might like having more people involved in the decision making process if he does get ill. We shall see.

All this newness got me to thinking about how "on call" God is. Even when I don't feel like it, He is there when my heart cries out. I know some of you understand those midnight hours - two, three in the morning when you are spent physically, mentally, emotionally - and your loved one is sick. Those are the times I've gotten downright honest with God. I tell Him how I REALLY feel - lost, depressed, confused, angry, alone. And even in the midst of my outbursts - I know He is there.

I'm so glad He doesn't sleep. He doesn't take weekends off. He doesn't need a break. He's ALWAYS on call! And just because I don't feel like He answers - it doesn't mean He doesn't listen or care.

Today I'm going to be thankful that He walks in this furnace with me. He didn't leave me to navigate the fires alone. My meditations will be on His ever-abiding presence. I'm going to rejoice that He doesn't have office hours or answering services. I'm going to run to Him today with all my strength. I'm going to talk to Him like I know He's really listening - because He is. And I'm going to trust Him with one more day. Will you join me?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Exiting Crisis Mode

There can be many aspects of caregiving that are weighty. Even though each situation is unique and has it's own set of circumstances, it's never "over" and you're never "done." Tomorrow always awaits with mostly the same tasks today demanded. And even though the initial trauma or gravity that may have occurred at the onset of the caregiving experience are over - the situation usually means we may live in a sort of crisis mode. (Maybe it's just me.)

Two things have been on my mind over the weekend. One is the social isolation that is customary in a caregiving situation. The other is how people tend to act like you had a crisis in the past but they seem to think it's over now. I think this can contribute to the isolation many caregivers experience.

For instance, when we lived in the hospital for the first 4 months of our journey, we had visitors frequently. Not as much toward the end, but people still came to visit from time to time. We could usually expect someone at least on the weekends. When we came home - it felt almost like we were put on a shelf as if the crisis ended. But in reality - it was just a different level of crisis as we brought the hospital home with us.

Caregivers are resilient though. We bounce back. We adapt. We adjust to a new normal and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We do what we do and just keep doing it. With or without help. With or without interaction that seems to slowly subside over time.

Obviously, all is not lost. Our relationship with our heavenly Father deepens as we press more into Him. We adjust to our circumstances, partly because we just have to; and partly because we are too busy to really stop and think about it a lot. But for me, there are those times when I feel engulfed in loneliness and it makes it difficult to navigate spiritually.

The last couple of days have been that way for me. It leaves me feeling pain on every side. It is deep and intense and I feel like it is inflicted to make me lose focus and be counted out in the fight. It's okay to realize how deep the pain is - and how deeply our caregiving experience is affecting us. Living in crisis mode can affect us on every level.

So what are we to do? How do we get clarity in the middle of the fight? These were my questions over the weekend. I turned my heart to two different psalms. One I caught myself singing. It's Psalm 61. The heartfelt prayer of the psalmist cries out:

Hear my cry O Lord
Listen to my prayer
From the ends of the earth have I cried out to You.
For you have been my shelter from the storm
A high tower from the enemy.
When my heart is overwhelmed
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

I find myself singing/praying that during the times caregiving seems overwhelming. The other one is Psalm 13 where the psalmist talks cries out to the Lord and asks Him some very good questions. 

How long will You forget me...
How long will You look away...
How long do I have to struggle...
How Long will my enemy be winning...

But the last verse of Psalm 13 is key. In it the psalmist says this: 

But I will trust in Your unfailing love
I will rejoice because You rescued me
I will sing to the Lord
...because He has been so good to me.

And this is where I am again today. I see the turmoil around me. I feel the grip of living the caregiving lifestyle... and yet I see He has been so good to me in the midst of it all!

Today I will purposefully acknowledge His presence. I will trust Him, rejoice in all He's done and I will sing from my heart about His unfailing love and care. My meditations will be on what He has done and how He continues to work on my behalf rather than on what I see surrounding me. I will turn my heart to trust in Him... for one more day. And I will rest in Him - will you join me?