Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Disappearing Words

A caregiver's day is full; and that's an understatement. Many days I find myself running to Him to unload it all. It's scriptural. Paul said, or actually instructed us to bring all our cares to Him. For caregivers, that's quite a load. Some days it can also be hourly. Maybe that's just me.

It's easy for our heart to be simply overwhelmed with caregiving itself. I touch on the daily tasks a lot - but they are many and can be expansive depending on the health and status of the loved one we are taking care of.

For me it's the basic stuff - bathing, clothing, pureeing foods, cooking, feeding, changing, exercising...basically everything I might do for myself I do for my son. That's double daily tasks from the get-go. That just all the outside stuff. While those can keep me busy, it's the emotional stuff that can get me down. That's the real baggage and memories can tug on my heart. Personally, I deal with what is called living grief. My son is gone - but he's still here. And when it overwhelms, I can only run to Him.

Yesterday I sat down with my guitar. I'm trying to have quiet time everyday. More than anything else, I need to be quiet and I need to listen. As I sat down to focus on Him for a few minutes I started singing a chorus I'd written several years ago. I was strumming and singing and realized how focusing on Him had washed away all my fears, all my raw emotions.. and all my words.

I had come to Him with my gauge on "full" only to have Him take it away - as I focused on His holiness. Words disappeared when I focused on Him. Here's the words to the chorus I was singing:

Words run like rivers through my head
So many things I felt need to be said
But when I'm in Your presence, Lord
My words are few
My lips fall silent 
As I gaze at You...

My heart cries Holy is my King.
Holy is our God.

With just one gaze, His holiness washed away all my words. My heart was full of Him instead of the cares of the day. I was refreshed. I was a new person. Oh if I can remember to take the time to focus on Him instead of letting my words run away with my head. I have to remind myself that my situation does not change His holiness, His faithfulness, His Kingship, His Strength...He did not get off His throne when my little world fell apart. He is still God.

Today I am going to get outside my head. I will shift my focus to how constant He is in my shaky world. My thoughts will be on His holiness, His strength and His unending love for me..right where I am. And I will rest in Him and trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Help Us Remember

This morning I skimmed through the story of Joshua and the Children of Israel. I wanted to refresh my mind on how God provided for them throughout their years of traveling in the wilderness.

As I was glancing through chapter after chapter I realized how much they had to fight to get where God promised them they could be. I'm thinking it would have been a lot easier for them and God had He just picked them up and put them where He wanted them. But would they have grown?

I read over how they faced struggle after struggle in many different ways. They marched around Jericho and saw it's walls crumble right before their eyes. The crossed the Jordan river, which sounds simple - but it's not. Because of Achan's sin they were defeated at Ai; but eventually came back and won the territory.The sun stood still as they fought at Gilgal. And the list goes on until they reached the promised land, divided it up and began to settle in.

The Children of Israel faced so many ups and downs, struggles and victories over their journey. But God provided everything they needed along the way. Recently, I did some reflection on how He has provided for my son and I on our long journey too.

We can look at the history of the Israelites and see how God took care of them. He rained manna and quail down from heaven, provided fresh water from a rock, carried them across two seas, and put up with all their whining and moaning and groaning all along the way.

The more I think about it, it seems to parallel my life as a caregiver - at least the whining part! lol.

Where my thoughts settled after refreshing my memory on all this was in Joshua chapter 22. Yes, they had been complaining over the years, yes they had made mistakes. The earth literally ate the sons of Korah, Achan sinned at Ai, they created and worshiped a golden calf - idolatry and unfaithfulness was rampant all the way through. Yet here in chapter 22 of Joshua we find one of my favorite (yet little known) characters in the Bible, Phinehas.

Reuben's bunch built an altar and the priests questioned if it was acceptable or not. It wasn't protocol. Phinehas led the charge against Reuben's crew. How dare you build an altar to another god! Phinehas charged. But Reuben explained that they built it to remember what God had done for them. And so that when future generations asked about it they could be told of how God provided and cared for them over the long journey.

The two things that stand out to me are these. One, Phinehas' passionate protection of worship. He was adamant that they were not going to worship anyone but God. Secondly, Reuben's worship of God. He set up the altar so they could remember all God had done - not so they would remember all the bad stuff.

The caregiving journey is not an easy one. There are battles and struggles all the way and on many fronts. We face giants and Jerichos pretty much every day. Our own thoughts can attack us until it can be hard to stay the course. I want to be like Phinehas in the sense that I protect my heart from setting up an altar to anything other than God. And I want to be like Reuben who only remembers the struggles as a way to focus on all God has done.

In the most difficult circumstances, God has provided quite literally more than I could have ever imagined. I will be the first to say it's a difficult way to walk - but I'll also be the first to shout how God has taken down the giants that were in the way. And I have to admit, I've been a lot like the children of Israel, fussing and crying and moaning and complaining all the way out. But God has been faithful and I want to remember like Reuben all His works and how He's brought us to a good place in Him even though it took many battles to get there.

Today, I will meditate on all the works of God I've seen as on the caregiving walk. My focus will be on His faithfulness, His patience, His provision and His focus on caring for me. As I reflect on this journey and His faithfulness, I will express my gratitude to Him for all He has done. I'll smile. And I'll rest in Him knowing He's got me for one more day. Will you join me?

Monday, August 22, 2016

As Honest as a Psalmist

I was working on a project over the weekend and found myself enjoying the depth of the Psalms once again. I know I spend a lot of time in these chapters, but I've always enjoyed them. Maybe it's because I am a songwriter, a poet or always running from a lion. (lol)

For whatever reason, my love for the psalms and identifying with the psalmists who wrote them have grown over the years. The candidness about their true feelings and how they turn the related emotions around into pure worship amazes me.

This morning I found myself back in Psalm 37, one of my long-time favorites. Although the entire chapter is wonderful, my focus remained on the last two verses where David says:

The Lord saves the godly;
He is their fortress in times of trouble.
The Lord helps them,
rescuing them from the wicked.
He saves them,
and they find shelter in Him.

I zeroed in on two or three things that stuck out to me. First of all, not once, but twice, David mentions the Lord saving the godly. He saves them - He is their fortress. He saves them - He is their shelter. I'm not sure what the technical difference is between the two, but to me a fortress is a shelter, but a shelter is not necessarily a fortress. Whether He is our shelter or our fortress (I'm thinking a fortress is bigger and stronger and more stable than a shelter) we needed saving. Either way I figure, He's got us covered!

The second thing that grabbed my attention was the phrase: in times of trouble. We don't need "saving" from nothing. I live in Oklahoma and we only go to the cellar when there is a storm, but we don't live there all the time. God is our fortress in times of trouble. For the caregiver, I think this is an ongoing thing. Maybe it's just me - but it seems every day I am faced with discouragement, raw emotions, struggles, fears and uncertainty. I find I need Him every second of every day.

If I am as honest as a psalmist - I'd tell you how my thoughts and emotions have tried to run away with me this weekend. I'd tell you my soul was in despair.  If I was as honest as a psalmist I'd say my emotions tried to carry me away on a stream of fear. I'd tell you I've told God I don't know if I trust You anymore. If I was as honest as a psalmist I'd tell you I've questioned everything. 

But if I were as honest as a psalmist I'd also tell you I've learned to rely on God for everything. I'd tell you I have clung to Him more tightly and every doubt, fear and moment of uncertainty have ended up in deepened praise, raw worship and utter amazement at the glory of God.

Today, I will turn my thoughts to His glory rather than my story. I will on-purpose run to Him with my raw emotions and crazy thoughts and I will give them all to Him. I will back up and live out verse five of this psalm. I will commit everything I do to Him, and trust Him to help me. And as my life is poured out in this act of worship, I will rest in Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

One More Day

Did you ever feel like you're a bit schizo? I'm not making light of a legit condition, but as a caregiver it's so easy to be up one minute and bottom out the next. And on some days it seems like it takes very little to have those extremes.

In my situation personally, I've found myself bottoming out lately. I see all the things my son's friends are now doing and I wonder where he would be if the accident had not occurred. I know it's futile - but the mind still goes there. It fills with questions about would he be married? Have children? Be a famous drummer? Would he have achieved his goals? Where would he have lived? How would he have interacted with his sister's kiddos? The list could go on I know for a fact because questions like these can wreak havoc in my head and heart.

I'm sure it's not the same for every caregiver, but we each deal with our own set of questions. So this morning for my devotions, I turned to an old favorite, Psalm 42. I knew that's where I'd find this verse:

Why am I discouraged?
Why so sad?
I will put my hope in God.

I took the time to look back over this familiar psalm written by Korah's sons. The psalm starts with longing for God, and an intense desire to be with Him. And then immediately the thoughts of the enemy enter in the mind - where is your God? What caregiver hasn't asked that? It's too easy to look at situations and wonder where God is, as if He isn't already in the situation. Trust me - He's invested in each of our situations. He's right here - no matter what we feel or don't feel.

The psalmist goes on to express his broken heart as he looks back over how it used to be. He used to  lead worship. He used to  sing and give thanks and celebrate the Lord as a worshiper. I can relate to this as BC (Before the Crash) I led worship in the church setting too. The past can haunt us if we let it.

Then in verse 6, the psalmist says Now I am deeply discouraged...he states openly and honestly just how he feels. It's the next word that is pivotal. But...I will... I will remember Your kindness. And then his tone changes. Instead of thinking about the past and what he felt he had lost, the psalmist is now experiencing waves of God's love.

The writer of Psalm 77 does something similar. He basically says, Lord, I can't see a thing you are doing right now, but I will think about all you've done. Sometimes we just can't see what He is doing and working in our lives in the present moment. But that does not mean He's not working at all. God is always working for His good pleasure. He is always working things out for good - for His good. We may not see a thing and it may seem like He's moved far away - but He has not.

Today I will do just what these two psalmist have modeled, I will turn my thoughts to all God has  done already. I'll meditate on His faithfulness, how He has been a comfort, a stronghold, my protector and provider. My thoughts will be on all He has brought me through. I won't look at what I'm going through right now - I'll tell my soul to look to Him. And then, I will rest in Him and trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Impresses God?

I've been watching the Olympics this week and thoroughly enjoying them. I guess working from home does have some benefits! I am amazed over and over again by the many athletes. I admire their dedication, tenacity and endurance. Even on some of the sports I don't normally watch I am glued to the TV in awe of these elite athletes.

During my devotions this morning I was reading in Psalm 147 where it says The strength of the horse does not impress Him; how puny in His sight is the strength of man. I kind of smiled at the thought of God not really being all that impressed with our strongest athletes. While they are wonderful, strong and way above the cut as far as we humans are concerned, their strength is basically nothing in comparison to God's.

One of my favorite passages includes the last few chapters of Job where God describes creation from His point of view. It reminds us of how strong He is, how weak we are and how much we need Him! While we are admiring the strongest among us, God is probably just shaking His head.

Psalm 147 goes on to say in verse 11 Rather, the Lord's delight is in those who honor Him, those who put their hope in His unfailing love. He doesn't admire our physical strength - it really does not impress Him. What does impress God then? He is impressed by our trust in Him and our fear of Him.

I did a brief search through Bible Gateway and looked at just Psalm 147:11 in all the English translations. This verse has lots of interpretations. Basically it boils down to the fact that He takes pleasure or even enjoys those who wait for Him and those who trust in His love, mercy or unfailing love.

He is impressed when we trust fully in Him. I believe He smiles when we lean a little closer in to Him and it brings joy to His heart for us to rest in Him and find our hope Him. And like a proud father, maybe His heart beats just a little harder - hard enough for us to hear it if we lean in close. Sometimes, the day of a caregiver is so loud, hurried, busy and loud we have a difficult time hearing His heart. It requires our quietness.

Today I will quiet my heart, soul and mind as I lean in a little closer to hear His heart. My meditations will be on how I can cultivate the hope and trust He is impressed with. My thoughts will be on His unchanging love and dedication to us - His children. And I will rest in Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What is normal anyway?

One of the difficult things for caregivers (or at least for me) is the emptiness and sense of loss we can deal with on a daily basis. For me, when I look at all the cool things other runners get to do and how they travel and participate in some of the most creative or scenic races - while I sit here in flat Oklahoma and don't get to play....it can get discouraging. Seeing all the things I don't get to do can wear on me and I can battle lots of negative emotions. 

But when I came across Psalm 119:5-6 this morning it helped me refocus. It says this:

Oh that my actions would consistently reflect Your principles!
Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with Your commands.

Why am I comparing myself with others? What if I compared myself with the word? Can we find ourselves in these ancient pages? I think so.

I have shared before that as we lay down our lives day after day for our loved ones - we look like Him. I'm reminded of the scripture no greater love....and we demonstrate that daily. Maybe you can see yourself in David - daily facing Goliaths that stand in your way. Or perhaps you identify with Daniel - and feel your faith is tested in a den of lions. We might identify with any one of our Bible heroes. Maybe we demonstrate how patient God is with us by working patiently with our loved ones. 

Maybe as caregivers we are tenacious like Benaiah. He was one of David's Mighty Men. He chased a lion into a snowy pit, fought him and killed him. He stood up against all odds - weaponless against a lion, and killed him while trying to keep his footing in the snow.(2 Sam. 23:20) This could go so many directions - but it boils down to finding ourselves in those pages. I believe we can.

As caregivers we really can't compare our lives to what most would call normal, because we have our own normal. We rarely see ourselves in the entertainment world - no one talks about us. They really don't know what to do with us and our individual situations can elicit emotions in them that they don't know how to process. So we don't see a caregiver's class - we are politely ignored by society. We cannot compare ourselves to that. But we can measure our lives and our hearts by the word. Isn't that the true standard anyway?

Today I am going to shift my focus to what is happening in the word instead of what is happening in the world. I'll make God's attributes my meditations and set my mind on whatsoever things are honest just, pure, lovely and good report. I'll think about what I look like to Him rather than what I think I look like to everybody else. And I will curl up in His lap - let Him hold me - and I will rest in Him for one more day.Will you join me?



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Freedom is in the Wait

I got up this morning with the tasks of the day wearing on my mind. Do you have mornings like that? It seems like the alarm not only wakes up your body, but it wakes up the mind and signals it to start running (or thinking) a marathon. That's what it was like for me this morning.

Over the years, I have learned a few strategies that help with that a bit. I write down what I have to do for the day now and prioritize what has to be done first. It seems like it helps me get more organized and get more accomplished in a day. But it doesn't help slow my mind down one bit. Actually, it seems like it frees it up to run other races.

My usual morning goes something like this:

  • push snooze 3-4 times when the alarm goes off at 5:30
  • drag out of bed around 6
  • put on coffee
  • change and bolus Chris
  • get coffee, Bible, notebooks and laptop and head for the recliner
  • stare at wall sipping coffee while my mind goes through daily tasks at 100 mph
  • open Bible......try to make sense of what God is trying to say......
That's about it - every morning.

This morning my Bible fell open to Psalm 119 and the first verse I saw was 45 which says I will walk in freedom for I have devoted myself to your commandments. And off went my mind in a hurried rush. As the question queen I had about 100 of them rolling out of my mind immediately. I thought about how David must not have been a caregiver because freedom is something we definitely don't have. It's something we gave up to be able to care for our loved one. Our lives seem to be anything but free. 

My mind starting racing about true definition of freedom and how my freedom isn't measured in the natural - but in the spirit. Jesus said it is the truth that makes us free. BC (before caregiving) I participated in prison ministry and one of the most touching songs I heard was written by a prisoner who wrote about being free in Christ even though he was living a life behind bars. As caregivers it can feel like life has us on restrictions. That can be difficult to sort through.

But what did the psalmist know about freedom? Or what did he know about the lack of freedom?And why did he throw it in here - in the middle of this psalm? I think he saw God's word as a liberating factor in his life. David had spent years running from Saul, waiting for the promise of kingship. He never raised his hand against Saul even though he could have rightfully taken the throne God had promised him. Instead, he waited.

There's that four-letter word wait again. It keeps coming up doesn't it? Is it just me or does it feel like every day is spent waiting on Him anymore? What are we waiting on Him to do? In truth - He's waiting on us too - He just wants us to bring it all to Him. All of it. All our fears. All our doubts. All our frustrations. All our anxiety. He says to bring it all to Him - and He'll take it as a trade-in for rest. 

That's what Paul said. He said to give Him all your cares -  Why? So He can do the caring for you! So we can walk this life free from fear, guilt, frustration, doubt....and that's what our freedom is all about. It's not about being able to come and go as we want (although that would be nice). It's about not having life burden us down - being free in Him.

Today I am going to explore this freedom. My thoughts will be on how truly free I am no matter what my situation looks like. I will meditate on how free my spirit is; and I'll turn my thoughts to how He will take all my cares. He'll take everything I give Him - but nothing I withhold. And today I'll find it in myself to figure out a way to let go - and let God. I'll let Him do the work as I just rest in Him. Will you join me?