Monday, March 18, 2013

A Couragous Start

There is no doubt that it takes courage to be a caregiver; it also takes courage to deal with many of life's toughest battles. I like the story in the Bible about Benaiah who chased a lion into a snowy pit to kill him. Now that's courage! He didn't just chase a lion away but chased him down and jumped into the snowy pit with him to attack him.Now I am not into chasing lions, but I do admire his courage. Check out his amazingly courageous story in 2 Samuel 23.

There are days when we do not feel courageous at all and it can be very tiring to have to fight with various health related agencies over and over again; it can sap your strength if you're not careful. As believers we know we do not function in our own strength anyway - He gives us strength to face each day and to accomplish our tasks. But there is also a certain amount of want-to on our parts and it even takes self-motivation to follow Him. It will not happen without a conscious decision. Keeping ourselves going can be very tiring. Tenth Avenue North has a song called, "Worn." It's a great song for caregivers - check it out. One phrase says "I'm worn even before the day begins." This is not always the case - but many days it seems it takes our strength just to get out of bed! Love drives us on.

Being on the tired side of things, I was very excited to find this scripture this morning in my reading. Isaiah 57:15: I refresh the humble and give new courage to those with repentant hearts."  (NLT) I stopped and read it several times and my first thought was what it takes to have a repentant heart. Does this mean I need to run around all day repenting of present or past sins and incessantly asking God to forgive me? Not at all. It's a state of being. I think...it is purposefully staying humble before Him and keeping our hearts in a position to change and yield to His Spirit in us. We live repentantly by listening to His voice. When we stay up close to Him we will hear when He gently says Don't do that. And we stop. Living repentantly means that I am constantly listening for His instruction so I can follow Him more closely. It's like living constantly with a readiness to change. And this is when new courage will come.

Today I will meditate on listening to Him with my whole being. I will consciously think about living with that readiness to change per His command. I will remain pliable in His hands. Will you join me?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Got Your Back!

This morning as I was reading about some of Paul's hardships in 2 Corinthians 6, I thought about the caregiver. He really nailed a few things on the head for us even though our hardships take very different courses. He talks some about having patience and working to exhaustion and  sleepless nights as well as our sincere love, purity and kindness all through the power of God. Verse 9 says we are close to death, but here we are still alive! Sound familiar? In verse 10 he talks about how our heart aches, but we still have joy and many spiritual riches to share. As I was reading this passage I thought about how much all of this seems to apply to our situations as well.

But something else caught my eye - verse 7 says this - God's power has been working in us. We have righteousness as a weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. I thought about that a lot and even matched it up with Job and how he had to keep telling his "friends" that he was righteous before God. His circumstances did not indicate his standing before God. It's the same with us - There are times when I feel so faithless and occasions when well meaning church people have added to that burden. But think about it a bit - our circumstances do not alter God's righteousness in us. We are covered by the blood of Christ no matter what trials life brings our way. We wear his righteousness as a breastplate as it protects our heart (Eph 6) - and Jesus is our righteousness and He never changes.

Today I will continue to meditate on the title of today's blog - But I will remember that God has my back! His righteousness covers and is strong enough and unwavering enough to cover me in both good times and bad! Will you join me?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Will You Carry Me?

God is so awesome! Yet sometimes it feels as though He has moved a long way away. Mentally, and in my heart, I know He hasn't; but it can feel like He is not working in the present. He is though. This is one aspect of faith that we forget about in our materialistic culture - it's not about getting stuff - it's about believing He's there and cares whether we can see Him, feel Him, sense Him or not.

Yesterday, I was looking for a scripture that would remind me how awesome His is, how majestic He is and how present He is. I found this one in Deuteronomy. It's at the very end of Moses' blessing over the people before he died. This little phrase toward the end of his blessing caught my eye - verse 27 says: The eternal  God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you.(NLT) I stopped and thought about that simple phrase a lot. He is my refuge - but He is an eternal being so that means He has been my refuge, is being my refuge and will continue to be my refuge - forever! (I like that!) And His arms are not just appendages...they are everlasting arms - He will not get tired of carrying me!

I was thinking how much I love to hold and play with my grandchildren. But after awhile my arms can get tired. As much as I love them, I have to put them down so I can rest now and then. But not God. His arms are everlasting.  His strength lasts forever...that means that He has always been carrying me, is carrying me now and will continue to carry me - forever! (I like that too!)

Sometimes I am more like the child as life plays out...you know. They want to have you hold them until something more intriguing comes along. That's when they want to get up and run around and only come back when they think they need you! We would love to just sit and hold them - but they get too busy and only come back when they get hurt or it's convenient.

Today I will meditate on my everlasting, eternal Father. I'll even attempt to rest in Him and let Him hold me today. Will you join me?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Comfort in the Midst of Affliction

Every day for the caregiver can be filled with various types of afflictions or discomforts. It's easy to be distracted by the battle because of the intensity with which we must live every single day. Just yesterday evening as I was trying to get ready to retire myself I thought of all the things we had accomplished during the day. There's preparing special foods as well as foods for myself (and they are not even close to being the same!), getting my son up, laying him down, working on mobility, working on cognitive skills, struggling because I am trying to help him get better and he really wants to go back to bed! lol And that just scratches the surface. Add to that these types of activities the fact that on top of working with our loved ones we still have all the "normal" things to accomplish like laundry, dishes, dusting (does anyone do that anymore? lol), and various other sundry household tasks. Plus for some of us we also have jobs. For me it is working at home - but it is still working. Do I sound afflicted yet? lol

As a general rule when I am overwhelmed I will turn to the Psalms and often I will read through the longest one - Psalm 119. Verse 50 is one of my all time favorites. I actually found it back in 1986 when I was ill with some mysterious disease that they never figured out. I really thought I was going to die! I was so ill and so weak, I just lay on the couch and dwindled away. While I was sick I actually didn't have the strength to lift my Bible up so I could read it - plus my eyes burned if they were open. But once I was on the mend - just as mysteriously as the condition had occurred - I found this scripture in Psalms 119:50  This is my comfort in my affliction; for thy word hath quickened me. (KJV) I realized during the time of sickness that His word still spoke to me and brought me comfort.

In our times of affliction as a caregiver His word can still put life in these tired bodies! I think I found comfort most in the simple fact that his word still touched my heart. His word does not change with the circumstance. It is forever settled in Heaven. No matter what types of difficulties or trials we are walking through today - allow this truth - that His word does not change to bring you comfort. If His word still "quickens" or speaks to you - then you are not dead. And even if you do not feel it - but you continue to look to His word for strength and guidance, then be comforted by the fact that you have not given up yet! Even when we do not sense Him - if we seek Him we will find Him.

Today I will meditate on the fact that I'm not dead; physically nor spiritually. How do I know? Because I am still longing and looking for Him. I'll turn my gaze to His word and allow Him to bring comfort to my soul. Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Silently Taboo

Maybe it is just Western believers who take scriptures apart and use the sections we like and ignore the rest. Over the last 4 years of caregiving I have "found' pieces of scriptures which have been somewhat ignored. Perhaps because it does not match our own theology. Somewhere along the church-y path it seems we were indirectly (I hope not directly) taught that pain was wrong - even a sin. Maybe no one said it, but various things led me to interpret sermons to mean that pain was not acceptable. When's the last time you heard a sermon on how to handle those pains in your heart? The soul pains that the caregiver suffer are deep and oftentimes unexpressed, because we indirectly are led to believe that they are taboo.

We even ignore books of the Bible that don't match our anti-pain theologies. When is the last time you heard a sermon from Lamentations? Right. Because the prophet penned that book when he was in intense pain for the losses he saw his people, God's people, going through. If we do hear Lamentations mentioned in a sermon I'd lay money on the fact that it is probably the 22nd and 22rd verses of chapter 3. The Lord's lovingkindnesses never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  (NASB) That is a wonderful scripture and really does offer much peace and hope. I need to know that His mercies are fresh and keeping me alive in Him every single day!

We do not hear the context of these courage building scriptures. Here's what the prophet shared about the anguish of his soul leading up to these true nuggets: My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, 'My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord.' Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. (NASB) That's verses 17 to 21 in which the prophet shares honestly how he felt and pours out his anguish in an open and transparent manner. We really do not see that a lot today. Perhaps because it's not allowed. It is silently taboo.

The more I live the more pain I see , not just for the caregiver who lives in daily soul pain. People are diagnosed with serious life threatening diseases, children are killed in car wrecks, and loved ones are lost. Pain is real - and if we ignore it - we cannot take it to the Lord in exchange for His mercy. He cannot help me carry a load that I will not acknowledge I have.

Today, I will meditate on acknowledging my pain and giving it to Him. I will think about how great His mercies are and how thankful I am that when my strength has perished He will lift me up. Will you join me?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Social Isolation

One of the things I hear a lot about is social isolation. Most caregivers become such under varying circumstances for me it started with an automobile accident followed by a hospital stay. At first the SICU waiting room was filled with concerned people. As the usual "custom" visitors began to dwindle when it turned into a 4 month hospital stay; and dwindled even more as we moved to the first nursing home. By the time we moved to our first apartment visitors were pretty much nonexistent. This is typically how it goes and it's not that people do not care, it's just that they went on with their lives and somehow had the illusion that since you are "home" yours sort of went on too. That's just the way it is.. no blame.

 Caregiving can end up being a lonely place - but you eventually adjust to this social isolation and it finally becomes the norm.  As a general rule, caregivers do not have the freedom that many others have. They cannot decide on the spur of the moment to go see a movie, go to lunch with friends or grab a cup of coffee with someone. Many cannot even take care of personal errands except when an aide is present. Even if our loved one is mobile it is not so easy to just jump and run to buy necessities. It all has to be carefully planned out and it greatly involved depending on the mobility level of our loved one. All of this can lead to a feeling of abandonment. 

When we feel like the world has kept turning and left us sitting still we can consider this scripture in Psalm 27:9-10. The psalmist prays: Do not hide yourself from me. Do not reject your servant in anger. You have always been my helper. Don't leave me now; don't abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.

I am guessing that David had moments he felt isolated from the rest of the world. He was basically running and hiding from Saul who wanted to kill him. I'm sure there were some lonely moments in some dark caves while he was hidden away that he felt abandoned. But he encouraged himself in the Lord more than once! In this psalm he goes on to talk about seeing the Lord's goodness in the land of the living. And then he makes this statement seemingly to himself in verse 14: wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. (NLT)

Today I will turn my focus to the Lord who will never abandon - never leave me alone. I will meditate on these two phrases from this psalm: you have always been my helper and  the Lord will hold me close. This will by my meditation for the day - will you join me?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Lord Will Hold Me Close

Psalm 27 seems to have a little bit of everything. David starts out by pretty much disclosing his crazy emotions. He expresses fear and trembling and tries to console himself by saying he will remain confident even if he is attacked. I think many days, as caregivers we can feel like the world continues to attack in an ongoing battle. Our daily struggles can take many forms which can sometimes feel like we were put here on earth to just get others to do their jobs responsibly. (Those who work with health related agencies will understand that one!)

Even as David is consoling himself and working on releasing his fears to God, he begins to think about living in God's house. David states that this is where he is concealed when trouble comes.(NLT) He goes on to say that in God's house he is lifted high above his enemies  and from there he will offer sacrifices, shouts of joy, singing and praise. I am not so sure David is solely talking about the physical temple or tabernacle in Jerusalem. David understood that God was his rock, his hiding place...it looks to me that he was just simply talking about hiding in Him. I want to relearn how to do that.

As the days get tough and continue to be filled with broken, no shattered, dreams and constant pain, or hopelessness we tend to crawl back out away from Him instead of remaining hidden in Him. If we do not protect ourselves we can get so wrapped up in our own pain and fail to keep our eyes on Him - our source of strength. David could get busy running and forget to hide in Him! We are not much different. I've found over the years that we tend to run to our "religion" first - But there is a day that it will no longer make any sense and theological reason is tested and falls short. What a perfect time to return to Him! Theology nor religion can carry us through these days - it will take the supernatural strength of God to carry the load.

David must have understood that even though the struggle was physical, as is ours, he listened for God to call him away. He said in verse 8 - My heart has heard You say,"Come and talk with me." And my heart responds, "Lord, I am coming."  What a beautiful interaction between man and God! In this moment of surrender David states The Lord will hold me close.

Today I will meditate on letting Him hold me close. I will concentrate on simply resting and waiting patiently for Him. I will let Him be my rock today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Faith for the Furnace

Yesterday I was looking through some old files I had stored on a previous hard drive and came across a recording by Nicole C. Mullen: My Redeemer Lives! I listened to it and thought of how that song is such a wonderful reminder that our God does indeed live. My mind then went to the scripture where the phrase is found  - Job 19:25. Such a wonderful song - why did it have to be Job that said it first? None of us read Job - it's rarely taught in a Sunday School lesson and I cannot recall a single sermon that used Job as the primary character.

We are afraid of Job's story because we do not understand it. Much like the church seems to be afraid of those of us who are suffering in our own furnaces because they do not know what to do with us. I suppose we can be thankful that they do not come and park on our doorstep offering such accusations as Job's "friends." (*smile*) Does it seem to you that sometimes well meaning church people want us to feel as though we don't have faith or we would have been able to escape this furnace? Isn't it more likely that we have faith for the furnace - that faith is what helps us navigate through these fiery trials of life rather than avoid them? I think so...but that's just my opinion.

When Job made the statement I know my redeemer lives, he was talking to his friends who were trying to convince him that his "house was evil" or all of this would not have come upon him. I found in the first part of the chapter that he describes the anguish of social isolation well. As many times we are cut off (not really on purpose - but once again because people do not know what to do with us) from the ones we love. And if the trial lasts for years - people no longer call or drop cards in the mail as they used to. This type of social neglect and isolation can wear on a soul and Job really describes it well in chapter 19. He even goes so far as to say that his "complaint is with God." That's raw honesty right there - might do us all some good!

But then in verse 25 it's like the faith inside of him took hold and all that he just said didn't matter as much as this: but as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God. Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Today I will say with Job - I know my redeemer lives! And I will  see Him... because I will seek for Him with all my heart - even in the furnace. Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

He Remembers

It can be way too easy to let the pain of each day have our focus; but it does not have to be that way. Starting in the morning we can begin to shift our thoughts to Him and away from our circumstances. I'm not trying to minimize the pain that a day brings as for many caregivers, as well as those who are being cared for because of chronic or serious conditions, the pain of the circumstance can be almost unbearable. Quite honestly, some days we do not have the energy to let pain have our attention as we spend the day taking care of the needs of our loved one. But each day hurts. If we are not careful our thoughts will major on things that we are missing instead of what we have - life. And not just life - but life in Him. We can chose to celebrate that life in Him from any circumstance.

As believers we understand the concept of hiding in Him. Psalm 91 talks about hiding in the secret place  of the Most High; and Psalm 46:1 speaks of the Lord being a very present help in trouble and our refuge and strength. And in Psalm 61, the psalmist cries out that the Lord has been a refuge  and a place of safety from the enemy. We understand that we can hide in Him when life gets out of hand or we are overwhelmed.

Just knowing that He is my refuge and I can hide in Him when the pains of life try to overwhelm me is a great comfort to me. But listen to this in Nahum 1:7 - The Lord is good. When trouble comes He is a strong refuge. He knows everyone who trusts in Him. (NLT) He knows those who seek refuge in Him because we trust Him. He knows every time we crawl up into His lap and say "I just can't handle this anymore." He remembers us...

Today I will meditate on the truth that He knows I seek Him for a refuge and He knows that I trust Him. I will meditate on His peace and the strength He fills me with to walk each day I must face.