Thursday, February 26, 2015

Faith Looks Different In the Furnace

Life brings us a series of trials. Caregivers are not exempt from trials, tribulations and troubles. We don't get a we don't get a break from life just because we are in a caregiving role. Along with taking care of another whole person, we still deal with friendships, breakups, deaths of loved ones, births, marriages and all the incidents that go with life in general. There is no exemption ticket that protects us from the rest of life just because we are a caregiver. And I'm finding that eventually, we adjust.

Most trials will pass in time; or at least settle down enough for us to handle it. The things we end up facing in life have no impact on eternity. It may be rough and tough here in the present, but our inheritance in Him is not tainted or destroyed because of the sometimes lengthy trials we must face. 1 Peter 1:3-4 tells us that we obtain an inheritance that is imperishable, and undefiled and will not fade away.  It is being reserved in heaven for us. It's not going to disappear, we just have to patiently endure tribulations in order to get to it. But it will be waiting in full!

Faith can look different from in the furnace. It's not so much a way to escape the trial as it is to face it.  The furnace exposes our faith. Verse 6 tells us to rejoice in our trials because they prove our faith in the same way fire purifies gold. However, gold is perishable; it will pass away eventually. Our faith is not perishable, it stands through it all making it more precious than gold.

Our faith is working for us while we are enduring our trial. Faith is what carries us through, even when we don't feel it. I was asked recently how I had kept the faith during my trials. My reply was I haven't - it has kept me. Faith is what holds us together when it seems our world is falling apart. Faith is what carries us through the flood, through the fire and over the mountain. It really doesn't matter if we can feel it or not - it's there with us and working for us. Today may be a good day for you - or you may feel like you are holding on by a thin thread of hope. Either way - or somewhere in between faith is working for you to ensure you can walk through the furnace; to make sure you get to the other side.

Faith comes down to trusting Him. Today I will meditate on how trustworthy God is. I will trust Him with my situation and hold on to the truth that He walks through the furnace with me. I will think about how faith cannot be destroyed even by the most intense of life's fires. I will trust Him. Will you join me?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Measure for Measure

Before I was officially a "caregiver" I lived in an ICU waiting room for three weeks and then in a hospital room with my son for another 3 1/2 months. I had flown in from another state and there was no "home" to return to. One thing I noticed was the instant connection all of the people hanging out in the waiting rooms had. We shared stories, food, laughter and tears; yet we had never met before whatever trauma had brought us in.

We understood each other. One event had turned our lives upside down and even though we had never met we became instantly bonded with one another. I felt like this unique experience offered a picture of how the church should act. We shared our lives for the short time we were together and all of the normal boundaries like social status, economic status and our belief systems really didn't matter. We helped each other out in any way we could. When one was down- another would comfort knowing they may need the same thing within the next hour. We held each other and poured out our hearts. Each person in the waiting area had had a significant event that brought them there and we could be mutually supportive and comforting.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul states that God is the God of all comfort. In the next verse he explains why God comforts us - so we can comfort others. I noticed that verse 4 says He comforts us in  our affliction - not before or after - but during our affliction He provides the comfort we need. It seems that He is able to provide the perfect level of comfort needed to match the level of suffering or affliction. And since He is the God of all comfort He has enough to carry us all the way through the trial. He doesn't walk half way with us and say, "that's all I got." He is in it with us for the long haul; in it for the duration of the trial.

No matter how intense our days as caregivers may become, how deep or difficult the trial becomes, He provides us the comfort we need to endure.

Why? Why does He comfort us in the midst of our trials? So we can comfort others. We are comforted by the Great I Am and then we are to turn to others and be His hands and feet. No one understands the path like someone who has walked it before. Just like my "waiting room church" who comforted each other in our shared afflictions we as caregivers can receive His comfort and then minister it to others. 

Today I will meditate on receiving His comfort and allowing it to bring peace to my  whole being. I will turn my thoughts toward His word and think about how He alone is the God of all comfort. And I will look for opportunities to share His comfort with others. Will you join me?

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Will Remember

Did you ever feel like God isn't doing anything? Sometimes when we pray we don't see any immediate actions and it is easy to think that God isn't doing anything on our behalf. Over the last few caregiving years many times my thoughts have turned into prayers. All day I am pouring out my heart before the Lord. I'm not asking to be rescued anymore; and I'm not necessarily looking for Him to ride in on a white horse and save me. But I typically am asking for wisdom to handle the various situations caregivers must face. Sometimes I'm asking for help, strength or peace.

It seems like this is what Asaph was doing as he penned Psalm 77. He was at his wit's end, a place the caregiver lives. We mean something entirely different from the rest of the world when we say we are livin' on the edge! Even on a good day it only takes one phone call, one mishap or one small change to topple our worlds. In this psalm, Asaph pours it all out before the Lord. Asaph went so far as to say when I remember God, then I am disturbed;when I sigh,then my spirit grows faint. (v.3) In the next verse he says I am so troubled I cannot speak. I have to admit that I've had many days like that. I've been so distraught that there are not even the right words to form into a prayer. What do we do when we are so overwhelmed with the tasks of caregiving? What do we do when we don't see God doing anything on our behalf?

It seems this is precisely where Asaph was; he was praying but not seeing God at work. These are the times when we can start reminding ourselves of the things we know God has already done. Asaph spent the rest of Psalm 77 listing the things he knew God had done, simply reminding himself of how he had seen God work before. In verses 8 and 9, Asaph asks if God has ceased being compassionate and gracious. Has God forgotten His promises? Has He withdrawn His hand from my life? These are all common questions for caregivers who find their lives have turned upside down. But starting in verse 11, he starts with I will remember....

Asaph shifts his focus from his present distress and focuses on the things he has seen God do. We see this shift in verse 11 - I will remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on all Your deeds. And he then begins to list the things he knows God has done. This can be a powerful tool in the hand of a caregiver.

Today even if I don't see God doing anything specific in my life, I will meditate on the things He has done in my life. I will purposefully refocus my thoughts and heart on His ever abiding presence. My thoughts will remain on how He has given peace, walked the valleys with me, offered wisdom for decisions that have to be made. I will meditate on His love, grace and mercy that never changes toward me. Will you join me?


Friday, February 20, 2015

Waiting for the Light of Day

Long nights are one of the most difficult situations a caregiver has to face. It's 2 AM and your loved one is ill or not sleeping comfortably and you don't know what to do to help them. What a miserable place to be in! It's in those dark hours that I struggle a lot with faith. In those dark, lonely hours there is no one to reach out to and I find myself asking questions like Where are You God? Do You see us? Do You care? For many caregivers, the wee hours of the morning can be the hardest time to wait.

Nights in hospitals or just being up with your loved one can lead to sleep deprivation which has a whole host of adverse effects on the body and the mind. We can find ourselves in a perpetual state of waiting on Him. Isaiah 26:8 says we waited for you eagerly. I'm not sure "eagerly" is a word I could use to describe my manner of waiting sometimes. But then, maybe we can.

If I am "waiting eagerly" it would mean that I am waiting in expectancy - knowing that God is right there within reach. To wait eagerly means I am trusting Him for help. I wait for Him because I know He is going to give me the strength to make it through the longest night. He is going to give me wisdom for making decisions about my loved one; and then He'll give me peace about the decisions I've made. So even during the longest fight and darkest night I can wait eagerly on Him for help.

So what do we do while waiting for the light of day? I think the answer is found in verse 3 of this same chapter. The King James Version says -I will keep him in perfect peace - whose mind is stayed on Me.  The New American Standard translates it as The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace because he trusts in You.  Either way it is beneficial to keep our minds on Him while we wait.

I'll be the first to admit that this is not always all that easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But when I choose to keep my mind on a scripture and my heart in a prayerful mode - the going gets a little easier and peace is my reward. Sometimes it doesn't take a long night for the mind to run around in crazy circles. Most caregiving days are lived at a hectic pace. But when we slow our minds down and focus on His grace, His love, and His ever-abiding presence - peace will follow. Peace in our hearts is necessary for this journey.

Today I will meditate on the fact that He is with me and He doesn't bail ship when the going gets rough. I will turn my thoughts to His everlasting grace and never ending love for me. I will let Him carry me through this day. And I will purposefully embrace His peace and rest in Him. Will you join me?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Waiting with Integrity

Caregivers have unusual enemies. I say that because our circumstances in life offer different perspectives of the battle. We have unique concerns that others perhaps can't even understand. Day-to-day decisions can become very complicated for the caregiver and simple tasks like making meals or figuring out how to go buy groceries can be huge tasks. It can be a huge undertaking to complete the things most people don't even have to give a second thought to. For me I either have to figure out how to do things like buy groceries or supplies inside a very limited time frame while an aide is here or make ride arrangements 24 hours in advance. It's not a simple thing to just go buy a bag of groceries. And what if I'm about out of eggs and the aide doesn't show up? Let's get real with it - what if I'm out of toilet paper and today's the day I gotta get to the store; and the aide doesn't show up?

While others are worrying about their jobs, which coffee to buy at Starbucks or which movie to go see on the weekend, the caregiver is trying to survive another day. Our enemies can be discouragement, exhaustion, or fighting to keep our chin up and remain positive from day to day. In Psalm 25, the psalmist asks the Lord to not let my enemies win. For caregivers our prayer might be, Lord don't let caregiving take me under! Don't let it define me; You define who I am. It's very easy to lose yourself in caring for another person so much that you can't find yourself anymore. That can be the biggest enemy of all.

In verse 16 of Psalm 25, David says I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged, bring me out of my distresses. That's getting up close and personal. To ask God for help, we have to be honest with Him. It's not that He can't just reach down and rescue us no matter what we are going through - but true deliverance comes through honest and earnest prayer. How will we know what He has brought us out of if we don't identify it? How will we know what we are fighting if it's not identifiable? Personally, I can get sucked into this huge pit of depression which can be debilitating. I can barely take care of daily caregiving chores. Over time, I've recognized the patterns and learned strategies to preempt a long bout with depression. By identifying it and being honest about it I can avoid the deep, dark pit. It's okay to be specific with our prayers - and it's okay to admit to God how we really feel. (It's not like He didn't already know!)

Verses 20 and 21 say this:
Guard my soul and deliver me;
Do not let me be ashamed 
For I take refuge in You.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me
For I wait for You.

God is able to guard our souls - that is a lot deeper than just taking care of our flesh. He protects the part of us that truly feels the pain of caregiving. He can keep our being safe - even if our body is broken. It takes integrity to be honest with ourselves and with God. To truly wait on Him means I admit I need some help here! The caregiver can wear themselves out trying to rely on themselves - but there comes a time when we know it's not our strength we are running on. When we wait on Him He will guard us and keep us hidden in Him.

Today my meditation will be on how He guards my soul. I will yield to His peace and His strength and allow Him to carry me - mind, will and emotions - through this day. My thoughts will be on how He preserves me in trouble.  And I will speak honestly with Him about how I really feel - so He can heal my heart and soul. Will you join me?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More than Adequate Protection

There have been many times in my life when I have turned to Psalm 27; it just has it all. David talks about trusting the Lord in a very intimate way even through some very tough situations. The psalmist is honest about his feelings and speaks of dread and fear. As he usually does, David reminds himself of Who God had been in his life and asks God to "not abandon or forsake" him. He also takes the time to ask God to teach him, lead him and protect him.

One of the verses that sticks out to me today particularly is verse 5. Here David says: in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me... Not just any day - but the day of trouble - God will hide us. And not hide us just anywhere - He hides us in His tabernacle; and in the secret place of His tent. To me this speaks of intimacy. God doesn't just drop us in a cave somewhere and put His hand over the entrance so the enemy can't find us. Even though that would provide adequate protection, He hides us in His secret place. He hides us in His heart - where life cannot touch us or destroy us.

Perhaps with this intimacy in mind David penned the final verse to this psalm. The first 13 verses seem to be written in  third person. David is speaking about his own personal experience. He's crying out for the Lord to hear him, rejoicing in the Lord's victory and asking God to teach him, lead him, and protect him. But in the final verse it's as if he turns to address the rest of the world and he gives more of a command. Maybe he had no idea of the multitude who would read this passage and find hope when he addresses the reader directly by saying:

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

He changes from first and third person to second person and reminds us all to wait for the Lord. The old King James Version translated it this way: Wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. "Let your heart take courage" and "He will strengthen your heart" both indicate to me that we must yield to Him and wait for Him and allow Him to strengthen us and encourage us.  Waiting on Him means we let Him do the work while we rest in His faithfulness.

Today I will meditate on His faithfulness and His protection. I will purposefully move out of the way and allow Him to provide intimate protection. I will trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

There it is again!

There are many scriptures that talk about waiting on God. It seems to be a favorite theme that runs throughout the psalms. Psalm 62 is just one of the many times there is mention of waiting on Him. Actually, the first verse of this psalm begins with a declaration of My soul waits in silence for God only. Not only is the psalmist, David saying his soul is waiting for God, but he is doing so in silence. Now I don't know about you, but it can be a rare thing for my soul  to be silent. My mouth may not be making a sound but my head and heart are going a hundred miles an hour (on a slow day!).

As a caregiver it can feel like we are always in "waiting mode." Even getting up in the morning means waiting to see what the day will hold. How will our loved one respond to care today? Will the aide show up today? Will supplies arrive on time? Am I going to be able to go grab some groceries or will something preempt it? And that's all the thoughts that start running after hitting the snooze the first time. But no matter how hectic the day starts out we have to learn to wait on God alone. We have to learn to trust Him in every situation.

Psalm 62:5 says My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. Even though he started the psalm with this thought it's like he needs to remind himself to wait - in silence. Then it seems like he is reminding himself of who God is to him:

My rock
My salvation
My stronghold
My glory
My strength
My refuge

I will trust Him at all times.

I can truly pour out my heart before Him because He is a safe place. He knows what we are going through and understands each intricate detail of our crazy lives. But He never condemns or judges us. He even understands the thousands of thoughts that run through our heads in just a few seconds. And you know what? It doesn't scare Him off! 

Our task is to quiet our souls before Him. This can be a true act of worship as we learn to become quiet before God and wait on Him. 

Today I will work on quieting my soul before my God. I will meditate on trusting Him more fully. I will work on surrendering my mind, will and emotions to Him as an act of worship. Will you join me?