Thursday, April 16, 2015

Great-grandmother to a King

This week we've been talking about how adversity can offer a door to hope. It's not that hope makes the pain of losses any less, but it does give way to a brighter future no matter what the circumstances are. Today's character is Ruth; it's such a beautiful story. As most stories do, it starts out with conflict and trouble. Ruth had married young and her husband died after about 10 years. To make matters worse, as real life does, there was a famine in the land. Naomi decided to return to Judah to her family since her husband and two sons were dead.

Ruth decided that she was going to remain loyal to Naomi and go with her to Judah. Naomi tried to discourage her by telling here there was no hope. She told Ruth, Go for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons would you therefore wait until they were grown?....for the hand of the Lord is against me.(Ruth 1:12-13)

The custom of the day would have been for Ruth or Naomi to marry a brother of their deceased husband who could raise up children in his brother's name. Naomi had no other sons and she was a widow herself. There really was no hope in the womb. Ruth decided to see despair as a window of hope and she pledged her loyalty to her mother-in-law and returned to Judah with her. This had to be a difficult decision. She had lost her husband and was leaving her native land and traveling to a foreign one. But her great adversity became very hope-filled.

Naomi's kinsman, Boaz ended up redeeming Naomi according to the custom of the day. This meant that he ultimately provided for her and took her as his bride. Through their union - which occurred because of an adverse situation, Ruth gave birth to Obed; he was Jesse's father. And Jesse was the father of our beloved King David. So even though her situation was painful, she became the great-grandmother of a king.

Things had looked bleak, as they often do in life. Naomi stated there was no hope and she felt like the hand of the Lord was against her. It can be easy when life piles up on you to feel that way. Honestly, I've felt that way many times. It can seem like there is nothing good and that life has taken aim at you. Or maybe it's just me! Caregiving is a rocky ride at best and stressful situations abound and have a tendency to snowball on you at times. But there is always hope. Adversity and pain are not signs that God is against you. Sometimes it seems options are few and there is no end to pain. But there is always hope on the horizon. Remember that He is the God of hope. From the darkest seasons of our lives will come a ray of light and hope will arise. What an opportunity to trust Him more!

Today I will meditate on how He opens up a door of hope even in adversity. I will not dedicate my time to my trouble; but instead I will look ahead to where He is leading. When I feel like life has blinded me - I will trust Him to give me new vision and hope. I will trust Him for today and for tomorrow for there is hope. Will you join me?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Joseph's Journey

Yesterday I spent more time thinking about how adversity can open the door of hope. My thoughts led me to Joseph. God had given him dreams when he was a young boy and his family had made fun of him and judged him for it. I am sure he wondered some about those dreams as he was imprisoned for something he did not do.

Joseph's situation was dire. First of all, prisons back then were nothing like they are today. While our prisons are not pleasant, they are humane. I figure it had to be a very lonely place for Joseph. His family was far away and they weren't coming to look for him. Did he think back about those childhood dreams?  I wonder if he thought about his brothers and family while he was there. Did he ever think about what it would have been like if he hadn't been betrayed and sold by his brothers?

I also wonder if forgiveness and acceptance were daily choices for Joseph. In my situation, someone else caused the accident which injured my son and made me a caregiver. Sometimes I think about what my son would have been doing if the accident hadn't occurred. This can easily make forgiveness a daily choice. Just like Joseph most likely sat in a dark prison, caregiving can seem very dark and lonely at times. But it doesn't mean the dreams are dead.

God didn't say, I know I gave you dreams Joseph, I just forgot this other stuff was going to happen. He didn't erase the dreams because of life's adverse situations. Instead, the prison became its own door of hope. Of course, we read these chapters in a few minutes while Joseph lived out years of his life. In one chapter we see that he is brought out of prison and becomes a great leader. In another his brothers come seeking food and there is a great reunion. And then they lived happily ever after.

Joseph's dreams came true but not in the way he thought they would; and not in the time frame he would have probably preferred. His adversity became a door of hope for his whole family. And in the end, his dreams played out just like God had promised.

Caregiving can be a lonely place and it can seem like there is never a light in the end of the tunnel. But just like Joseph we have choices even in our situation. We can choose to forgive, and keep trusting God or we can quit. It's as simple as that. Maybe life isn't playing out like we thought, and maybe our dreams seem on hold. But we have a choice over our attitude and whether we will use adversity to find hope or use it as an excuse to become bitter. Me? I choose to look for the door of hope each day. Some days I have to look harder than others to find the positives, to find hope. But it's there if we look for it.

Today I will meditate on the hope that knowing Him brings. I will purposefully look for the positives today and rest in hope even in adversity. I will set my mind on things above and let God handle the big stuff. I will choose to forgive and I will keep dreaming even when it looks impossible. Will you join me?

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Door of Hope

The first couple of chapters of Exodus contains two things that I have found very interesting. In the first chapter  I found it interesting that the midwives were directly blessed by God for disobeying Pharaoh. Verse 21 state that they feared God and He established households for them.  Even though it was a very tough time for them and their people, they continued to trust and fear the Lord rather than caving in to man's evil commands.

In chapter 2 we read about the birth of Moses and how his mother protected him until he was found by Pharaoh's daughter in a basket in the Nile. Those who are familiar with scripture know that as the story unfolds, Moses becomes the deliverer who God uses to take His children out of Egypt's bondage and into the promised land. This time of great adversity became a door of hope for the Children of Israel.

The caregiver's life can be filled with adversity and some days every breath can be a struggle. But there's a scripture in Hosea 2:15 that says the valley of achor will be a door of hope. "Achor" means pain or trouble. Sometimes when we are facing another day of caregiving we can't see the hope that lies beyond our present circumstances. And there are times when we are so busy with caregiving that we forget there is anything else out there. But adversity gives way to hope.

For me personally, I was able to become a writer after becoming a caregiver. When my son was injured I began looking for work I could do online because I knew he was going to need care for the long haul. It was an area I would have never explored before. Over the last couple of years I also completed a Master's degree. I would not have taken the time to do that had I not been in this situation. While those things do not make the caregiving go away - they give me hope that I can make a living for us without compromising the care of my son.

Adversity has a way of bringing out the best and the worst of us! If we can take a deep breath, manage our attitude, and move forward with grace there is hope. Moses didn't look like a leader lying in that basket floating in the Nile. The midwives were not trying to change a nation, they just desired to honor God. The times of adversity that they faced were painful and trying at best - just like caregiving. But the adversity gave way to hope for an entire nation of people.

Our struggles are making us stronger in faith whether we recognize it or not. Just like the butterfly's wings are strong enough to fly because of the fight to get out of the cocoon, our faith becomes strong as we fight to face each day. And faith gives way to hope; and there is no shame in hope.

Today I will meditate on His faith-full-ness when my faith feels so small. I will turn my thoughts to the good things that have happened since I became a caregiver. I will look at my adversity as a doorway for hope and allow it to enter my heart and life to bring about grace and change. Will you join me?

Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm Okay

It can be difficult to answer some of the simplest questions like How are you? The easiest answer is I'm okay. But a lot of people don't really like that answer. What are we supposed to say? I'm sure they do not want a rundown of what our day really  looks like. We could say: tired, frustrated, exhausted, too busy to breathe, hurried, emotionally drained... you get the idea. So we opt for a simple I'm okay and just leave it there. It's okay to be "okay".

Okay is an in-between term that lies somewhere between really good and horribly bad. Maybe it actually signifies a balance in our lives for the moment. It's actually a fair answer to a very difficult question. We can also use it when we just really are not sure how we are doing for the moment. What caregiver has time to check to see if they are okay or not? Sometimes when I get up I might consider my energy level and assess how I feel; but we don't have time to think about if we are okay or not - we have to get going there is so much to get done and really how we feel is irrelevant.

I think of the story in 2 Kings 4 where the prophet had prayed and blessed the Shunammite woman with a son. When he died she went right out to find the prophet. Elisha's servant ran ahead and asked how she and her family was. Even though her son had just died, she said, "It is well." In today's vernacular that would be about the same as It's okay. Yet her son had just died, so was she lying or was it a statement of faith? Sometimes just saying I'm okay takes great faith.

By the time the woman got to the prophet her true feelings were displayed. She fell at his feet and he recognized the anguish in her soul. Then she spoke from the pain she was bearing. Are you ever worried that someone will "push the wrong button" and you'll just spill your guts? That someone will hit just the right nerve and you'll start saying what you really think and feel? We can stay guarded all we want but sometimes there is a deep pain or grief that remains unspoken. I'm okay really is the best answer sometimes.

It doesn't mean you are lying or weak of faith. It means you are holding on for one more day. To say I'm okay also means you are not acknowledging defeat but are pushing forward and continuing to move in a positive direction no matter what the circumstances look like. It's not a negative statement at all; but rather an acceptance of yes I can do this. It might be the most positive statement filled with all the faith in your heart.

Today I will meditate on the fact that I'm okay. I will think about how God has my back and how together we can handle anything life and caregiving brings. My thoughts will be on how God pours His strength in me so I can care for another; and today I will think about how He has not left me alone on this journey. My meditation will be on the truth that He equips me for the journey and because of His strength, grace and mercy in me - It really is okay. And that's a good place to be. Will you join me?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Daily Bread

As a general rule I am a planner. I'm pretty flexible inside my "plan" but I like to have everything organized, thought out and well planned. At the same time, I can get by with some fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants days. The one thing about caregiving is that a schedule can mean absolutely nothing. Everyday stands (or falls) on its own. Joni Erikson Tada is someone I've followed for many years now. I read her book about how she was injured and became a quadriplegic in her teens. She says the thing about having a disability is that it's so daily. There isn't a day off - ever. Caregiving is the same.

We don't have weekends, holidays or days off. Even though I try to get out of town two or three times a year just to have a break I'm on call and never really "off" even though I get somewhat of a break from daily tasks. Caregiving is a constant - ever moving, never ending, never done job.

As I am getting in bed at night my thoughts are combing back over the day's activities and turning toward tomorrow's. Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I thought of how daily caregiving is and I prayed for strength for another day. I thought of Lamentations 3:22-23 that tells us His mercies and lovingkindness are new every morning. I thought about how I was going to need a fresh dose upon rising this morning!

Jesus taught His disciples to pray give us this day our daily bread. And while God was leading the Children of Israel across the desert to the Promised Land, He provided them just enough manna for each day.

So today I have to say that I trust Him to carry me and provide for me just what I need for today. Tomorrow is to be planned for but not worried about. Today He will give me the mercy, grace, peace and sustenance to make it to tomorrow. And then He will do it again!

It's the day-to-day struggles that can get us down if we do not stay focused on Him. That constant grinding of daily activities can wear us down. So today I will focus just on today and His provision for it. I will meditate on His fresh mercies this morning and trust Him to see me through until I face another day tomorrow.  My thoughts will be on His sustaining grace and how He alone can make each day new. I will trust Him for strength for today. Will you join me?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What a Wait!

I've never been very good at awaiting no matter what the situation. From doctor's offices to DMVs to standing in line at WalMart - I just don't do well. It may be that my mind is going a hundred miles an hour, or it could be that I finally have time to think of all the things I could be doing instead. Whatever it is about my makeup waiting just doesn't fit me well.

We've talked a lot in our devotions about waiting on God and maybe I have seen just a tiny bit of improvement since I've become a caregiver. We have some great examples of men and women of faith who waited on God patiently; and some who waited not-so-patiently too. Abraham and Sarah waited for years for God to fulfill His promise; and Joseph waited many years for his dream to come true. When we read the scriptures we can cover several chapters in a matter of minutes and it can be easy to forget that years passed between one chapter and the next.

Last night I was reading in Daniel. I love his story and how he remained faithful to the Lord even though he was in a tough physical situation. We can read this entire book in just a few minutes but we are talking 70 years from the first chapter to the last. That's a lifetime of waiting.

In chapter 9 of Daniel, we find him looking back over the prophecies that were given by Jeremiah. Daniel had most likely read and reread these prophecies during his captivity and he recalled that God promised it would only last 70 years; and it had been 70 years. That's a long time to keep the faith and to continue to trust God through daily adversity. As caregivers, our journeys are not always super smooth or pleasant but most of us have not been in our situation for 70 years.

So Daniel realizes that the 70 years are complete according to the Word of the Lord and he sets himself in prayer. Toward the end of the ninth chapter, he prays this:

Our God listen to the prayer of Your servant,
and to his supplications
For Your sake, O Lord 
Let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.
O my God, 
Incline Your ear and hear!
Open Your eyes and see our desolations...

Caregiving can be a lonely place and sometimes, like Daniel, we just need God to hear and to see us. Our challenge is remaining faithful during the trials of day-to-day living. It can be difficult to be patient. And while there are some pleasant days - each day can be filled with hard work that leaves us exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally at the end of the day.

Today as we take care of our loved one, let us meditate on simply remaining faithful in our walk with God and meditating on the truth that He has not left us to walk it alone. 

This will be my meditation today - will you join me?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some Things Never Change

It took me awhile to learn that it was okay to grieve the life I lost when I became a caregiver. Of course, it's not healthy to park there emotionally, but it is okay to grieve over what was lost. I think at first I felt guilty for grieving, like maybe I didn't want to be my son's caregiver if I was sorry over what I had before his accident. Once I grieved, cried and got it out of my system though, I was able to move on and be a better caregiver by giving my full attention to his needs.

There are a lot of things that change as we transition into the role of caregiver. For some there are a few schedule changes but for others it is an entire lifestyle change. In my situation I lost the freedom to come and go as I wanted to, the spontaneity of life no longer existed. I had to gather all my stuff and my son's stuff up into one location which took quite a long time. I physically moved twice after his wreck to try and provide better care and to make sure he was close to family.

For a long time I felt the loss of my "former" life; but now it seems so far away. Contentment did not come over night. Yes, I know Paul said that he learned to be content  in whatever state he was in but it was a rather sharp learning curve for me! My whole world changed that morning I got that phone call, plans were on hold and all my possessions left behind. But this morning I am reminding myself of some of the things that never changed  in my life.

In Jeremiah 31:3, God tells the prophet that He has loved with an everlasting love. His love for us does not change when we face adversity. His care for us is not moved by life's hard knocks. The psalmist said that God is a very present help in time of need. (Psalm 46:1) His presence and His love are just two things that will never change. Our whole world can be turned upside down and inside out - but He will be constant in His love, His mercy, His grace and His ever abiding presence in our lives.

He won't leave us to walk it alone. I look at it this way. My son needs my full attention and care. He became an adult, left home and was about to finish college and in an instant became like a baby again. I did not walk away from him when life got tough. In the same way, God will not abandon us just because life no longer looks ideal. He is ever present, ever helping, ever sustaining us by His love. Some things never change. And for this I am thankful.

Today I will meditate on His ever abiding presence and never ending love. I am going to let that carry me through today. I will purposefully think about the mercy He continues to extend to me on this caregiving journey; and I will rest as I trust in Him. Will you join me?