Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fighting the Downward Spiral

For caregivers, emotions can run on edge. Oh, eventually we adjust to the hectic life and can hold it together through all the basic stuff. We really don't have much of a choice so we get used to aides not showing up, not getting enough supplies, and advocating for our loved one on a daily basis. The daily chores become routine as do all the things we have to get done to care for another person. For some of us that basically means you do everything twice because they need total care. We adjust, figure out we are still alive, and we even learn to laugh again. And then something happens.

We get used to the craziness and then a vehicle breaks down, the hot water heater malfunctions or we get sick. It really doesn't take too much because we run on overload. For me personally it can mean the emotions go toward that downward spiral. Even though there are some strategies that I've learned to use to help prevent me from bottoming out - it is a difficult fight and each step "back up" takes every bit of energy that can be mustered.

In times like these I think of David and of one scripture in particular: David encouraged himself in the Lord. (1 Samuel 30:6) And like the caregiver, he had to -- no one else was around! David had been anointed king but had instead faced a multitude of troubles. He had a lot on his plate at this time since his own had rejected him, he was running from Saul, had joined in with "the enemy" (Philistines), and they didn't trust him to fight with them. THEN the Amalekites came in and tore up Ziklag and took all the women and children. David was just a little bit upset. Like the overloaded caregiver, he already had enough on his plate. But he stopped the downward spiral and encouraged himself in the Lord. 

If my sources are correct, David wrote Psalm 16 while facing the struggle at Ziklag. He starts out with a prayer for God to preserve him  and then declares that he will trust the Lord. I'd say that's a great place to start each day. He says things like:

You are my portion
I will bless the Lord
I have set the Lord always before me
I will not be moved (because He is at my right hand)

It sounds to me like David knew how to reach down, up or around and find his source and supply in God. I think two things that stick out to me today as I fight the strong pull of the downward spiral are in verses 9 and 10. In verse 9 David says My flesh will rest in hope.  I really like that! And in the next verse he says You will not leave my soul in Sheol. I'm going to take that to mean for me that God will not leave my soul in turmoil and anguish. To encourage himself, David looked toward God first and then reminded himself of the role God played in his life. Verses 7-8 line that out pretty well. Here David says:

I will bless the Lord
I will set Him before me
I will not be moved

Then in verse 9 he says therefore my heart is glad and my  glory rejoices - and  I will rest in hope.

Today I will meditate on who God is to me and I will rest in hope. I will set my mind on the truth that He is with me and He has not and will not abandon my soul (mind, will, emotions). I will try to see myself in His hand; in His heart today. I will also be reading this psalm over and over today. Will you join me?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

After all That?

We are finally at the end of Psalm 119! I've said before that I really enjoy this psalm I'd encourage you to take the time to read it again and again. David's heart is revealed in this psalm. We see him on the mountain rejoicing to broken and deep sorrow. But overall it reveals  a heart that is seeking the ways of God.

I find the final verse of this chapter very interesting. After all the seeking and longing after God the last verse says: I have gone astray like a lost sheep. What is that? All of this talk of praising God, longing after His ways and His word and you go astray? It was just a few verses ago in v. 165 that he said Great peace have those who love Your law and nothing shall offend them. How can I love the word, be offence-less and then go astray? It happens.

Thankfully, David didn't leave it hanging like that - his next phrase (or perhaps prayer) is Seek Your Servant. After penning 176 verses about how he is seeking God, he is asking God to seek him. I like that! When we are seeking God with all of our hearts - looking into His word for guidance and direction; and we accept His strength for the journey - all we need is a glance from Him. What peace it brings just to know he is looking our way. We are not politely ignored!

It's so easy to get lost in the shuffle even when we are seeking Him. Sometimes I need Him  to find me!

Today I will meditate on the truth that He is seeking me with more intensity than I am seeking Him! I'll consider how much He values me that He would come looking for me on those days I just don't have the strength to try. I'll enjoy His embrace today...will you join me?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Breath of Life

You can probably tell by now (assuming you're still reading) that I like Psalm 119. It's the longest chapter in the Bible but it is so rich. Today we'll look at verses 153 to 160. David starts out with a plea for the Lord to consider his affliction. Ever felt that way? There are times we can feel very loved and watched over and the next thing you know we feel like He's packed up, moved away and left us to ourselves. (or maybe that's just me!) David must have felt some of those emotions to ask God to consider him once again.

Something that seems to stand out in these few verses is David's request to be revived once again. It's noticeable throughout the entire chapter but three times in this passage he asked for the lord to revive him.

revive me according to Your Word (v. 154)
revive me according to Your judgments (v. 156)
revive me according to Your mercy (v. 159)

It makes me think that David didn't care what means God used to do it -- he just needed to be revived! Boy, can the caregiver relate to that on some days.Our cry can easily become "give me life!". There are days when the Word seems to be beamed down from heaven straight into our hearts; and days it feels like we couldn't hear God speak if He used an audible voice. But no matter what it feels like on any given day, the word is life. (John 6:63) When we give our attention to seeking Him and His word, it brings life to our soul whether we see it, feel it or not. It goes directly into our hearts and feeds our faith - even when our flesh feels like we are in a major disconnect. 

Caregivers tend to be survivors - we can't help it, really. It becomes our very nature over time if it wasn't before we began the caregiving journey. But sometimes we have to admit we cannot do it ourselves. One thing I've heard myself say is that caregiving has shown me how strong I am; but it has equally revealed my weaknesses. We must learn to trust in Him - more than we trust ourselves.We have to become more dependent on Him and trust Him to breathe His life into us through His word.

Today I will meditate on His word and think about how it breathes life into my spirit. I'll pray for His strength to make the next part of the journey no matter what it brings; and I will rely on His strength instead of my own. Will you join me?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mercy's Filter

I don't know many caregivers who wouldn't pay for a good night's sleep. Personally, it's not too bad for me overall but for short periods of time I may have to get up during the night. Early on I secured a mattress that helps prevent bed sores which means I don't have to turn my son every 2 hours. It really helps when we can get chunks of sleep like 4-6 hours at least. But then there are still those nights usually several in a row when I am disrupted throughout the night. Usually on top of just having to get up during the night there are other issues occurring like illness or discomfort to address.

David says in Psalm 119:148-149:  My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word. Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness... I must say that when I am up during the "night watches" it's not always so I can meditate on the Word. In fact, it's never so I can meditate on His Word. You really don't want to know the kinds of things I think or say when my sleep is disrupted. But I can promise that my prayers are not always pure at 3 in the morning. I'm usually concerned for my son and so my prayers may sound more like yelling at God things like, "Where are You now?" or "Can You even hear me?" I have crazy thoughts like  can you see me? Have You even noticed my situation? Do You have any answers? Is there any hope?

...just bein' honest.

But the psalmist also prayed for the Lord to hear me according to Your lovingkindness or mercy. I pray that God hears my cries for help through His mercy and not from my desperation. Perhaps He filters my earnest anguished thoughts through mercy's filter. I really believe He does. When we are at our most desperate point - He looks at us through mercy not disdain. He sees we are desperate - He knows we need Him. And He extends His mercy every time.

The last portion of verse 149 reads this way: revive me according to Your justice. David is asking God to hear me and revive me. This is my prayer today.

Today I will meditate on how He extends His mercy even to me! I'll think about how He filters my cries through His mercy and revives me by breathing His life into my being. Will you join me?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

You're an Original!

No two people are exactly alike. Even identical twins who look alike can be very different in their thought processes and ways they deal with life. No two caregivers are alike and no two situations are alike. We are all originals - worth saving.

In Psalm 119:94 the psalmist states: I am Yours, save me! Our flesh is just dirt and it's not what God is interested in saving. We are a spirit being and God saves the real us - that part of us that is not going to die. There is only one  of us - only one spirit being that makes us - us. We are an original through and through and God sees us as worth saving. He went to extremes to make sure we had a way to get back to Him.

I think there is a lot in this desperate plea for salvation. The two verses prior state this: Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts for by them You have given me life. It would be very easy for caregiving to consume us and for many it does mean losing our own lives to care for another. But even in our affliction - His law, His word can be our delight. We must admit that sometimes we hold on to it with just a little thread of strength! But it sustains us even in our affliction. His word gives us life and light to make it through each day.

As life continues to shape us into the individuals we are, we must continue to hold on to His word. It's too easy to give up and become bitter and hard. But when life gets hard we must cling to His word with even more diligence and allow it to shape us until we look like Him. This is our comfort in our affliction that we can still look like Him - His word still works in us and for us. We do not have to perish in any affliction - we may have to endure it! But His word is able to sustain us and give us life.

Today my meditation will be on the truth that He gives me life. His word gives me the strength to breathe. I'll turn my heart and mind to accepting His help for the journey instead of trying to make it on my own. Will you join me?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walking it Out

It can be the day-to-day grind that is so difficult for the caregiver. Even though each day can bring it's own set of "surprises" and circumstances, the caregiver's life just goes on. There is often no relief or end in sight. If we are honest, no matter how positive we choose to be and how hard we remain focused, there are times when it seems overwhelming. Our situation can be constant and unchanging. Some have hope of a "better" day while others quite frankly, do not. Joni Eareckson Tada says that disability is just so daily. It's the same for the caregiver - there isn't always a break. It's not as much about learning how to "take a break" in the middle of the journey - as it is learning how to walk it out.

What I mean by walking it out is how we handle the day-to-day grind. How do we respond when pressure rises in an already pressure-filled situation? (I won't tell how horrible my responses are if you won't! - or maybe I'm the only one who explodes now and then!) Sometimes it can seem like we are dealing with thousands of issues on a daily basis - and others forget that there is actually so much more to our lives than just caregiving - even though it consumes our lives.

We have children, grandchildren, aging parents, our own health issues, financial decisions, friends, and perhaps tons of other responsibilities too. How we walk it out says a lot about us and our character.

In Psalm 119:74 says this: Those who fear You will be glad when they see me because I have hoped in Your word. This is how I want caregiving to appear in my life - when others see my walk - they find joy and hope because they see that I have hoped in His word. I don't want them to see the frustration, agitation or craziness I can portray. I hope they can look past all that and see that in the middle of the storm I am clinging to Him, that I find hope in Him.

It seems life is really about learning to trust Him no matter what comes. One hymn said it this way: He is all my hope and peace. I must agree. And even on the crazy days - He is a constant source of peace and hope.

Today I will meditate on the truth that He is my peace - He is my hope. I will turn my thoughts to His peace and put my hope in  Him. "Put" is a verb - an action word. I will focus on actively placing my hope in Him - for He is my hope and peace.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Our Own?

Life can bring with it many afflictions - sometimes life just hurts. And it doesn't need any help from unexpected tragedies or sickness - it's just painful. It is really up to us how we choose to respond to pain life deals out. And don't you hate it when someone tells you it's a character building  experience? What experience is not a character builder? In each circumstance we face we are staring down a choice - how are we going to handle this?

Are we going to fall apart? Run crying to a friend? Give up and quit? Shut down our emotions? You may list anything else here that is your MO (Mode of Operation)! I'm not saying that these are right - or wrong - just typical responses when we don't know how to deal with situations. But no matter what - eventually we have to work through it and live. Caregivers are no different. We don't get a separate instruction manual than the rest of the world! Our choices are the same as everyone else's and our decisions just as individual as the next guy.

In Psalm 119:50 the psalmist states: This is my comfort in my affliction: for Your word has given me life.  I clung to this scripture years back as the very fact that His word still "quickens" me, still speaks to me, still brings healing, hope and peace even in my affliction - is a very comforting thing. Wouldn't it be awful if when we faced trials His word shut down and waited for us to come around? Thankfully it's not that way! His word is alive, the writer of Hebrews said.

Verse 52 says basically that the psalmist comforted himself by remembering God's word. Ever been there before? Caregiving can be a lonely place and we can live in social isolation. There may not be anyone nearby to help lift your hands and your heart during those dark nights of the soul that are unavoidable. But when we are on our own - we still have His word and we can comfort ourselves.

As a matter of fact, verse 55 gives us another clue to how rough it was for the psalmist. He states I remember Your name in the night. It's those dark, lonely times that can get us isn't it? That's when we feel  the most alone - but when we are "on our own" is when we have to dig down and let His word comfort us. That's right - we actually have to be willing and yielded to His word to receive His comfort.

Today I will meditate on being yielded to His word. I will turn my thoughts to Him and put my heart in His hands. I will let His word bring me comfort, peace direction and correction today. (Correction? who said anything about that?!)  Will you join me?

Monday, January 19, 2015

No Disclaimers for Caregivers in the Bible!

Did you ever read a scripture and wonder if it could really apply to caregivers? When I first started the caregiving journey I thought for certain that there were some scriptures that would no longer be applicable to life. But as my emotions settled down and I adjusted to my new "normal" I found that there is not one disclaimer for us in the Bible.

This weekend I was reading Psalm 119 - one of my all time favorites. I was surprised at how many times David speaks of the word reviving his soul. In verse 25, he says:  my soul clings to the dust, revive me according to Your word. Who knows what the psalmist was going through to feel like his soul (mind, will and emotions) were having to be scraped up from the earth just to go on! I've had a few days like that - just like every other caregiver. I guess where I found comfort in this scripture was realizing that the word is not void because I'm in a caregiving situation. There's no disclaimer that says His word can revive my soul unless I'm a caregiver - or unless anything.

His word still gives power; it still gives life. And we still have the responsibility of hiding it in our heart - where the word can do it's best work. I like the preceding scripture too - v. 24 states: Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors. Oh how I need His word to bring life and delight back to my weary soul! I also find comfort in knowing that His word can offer wisdom for dealing with different situations. But once I again, I have to tune my ear to hear Him and my heart to truly listen.

He did not offer a disclaimer which nullifies the power of His word in the life of a caregiver; and we are not exempt from following Him, listening to Him, hiding His word in our heart, etc.

Today I will meditate on the power of His word in my "messed up" life. I'll set my mind and heart on pursuing Him and listening to His heart in mine. I won't "check out" today - will you join me?

Friday, January 9, 2015

There was a Crooked Man

Do you ever wonder why life can't be easier? Why can't things go smoother? Life can get so hectic - and do so suddenly with no warning at all. I'm sure you've had those days. You know - things are rocking along pretty good and Bam! Out of nowhere it's helter-skelter. Now it's anything but smooth sailing. And since the caregiver lives on the edge - it really doesn't take much, does it?

What do you do when life makes a sudden change? How do you handle it when the day is going along smoothly and the aide doesn't show, you realize you're out of wipes (that's serious y'all!) or you didn't get the right formula? Usually, the aide shows up fine as long as you don't plan anything, right? But decide you're going to run to the store for some necessities like coffee or toilet paper and she won't show up - guaranteed. We really do have to just laugh about it (later though because when it happens it's usually traumatic!).

Usually, things do have a way of working themselves out. It may take some crazy, frantic phone calls, or some huge schedule juggling to get through some days; but we do live. And we do get toilet paper again! lol Even though it may seem to the caregiver that there are more hectic days than gentle ones - it does even out.

These were some of my thoughts earlier this morning as I was preparing for the day. This can be a difficult task as things can change on a dime. Presently, the aide comes whenever she feels like it and leaves when she thinks she's done. Oh, and she brings her lunch from Church's Chicken and sits at my table to enjoy it! Sounds silly, doesn't it? It happened yesterday for real. I just shake my head in disbelief - We really can't make some of these things up!

So what's a caregiver to do with all the craziness a day may bring? Scriptures promise us that there is a "place of rest" for God's people (Hebrews 4:9). For the caregiver, it can seem far away. But it's there. In my meditations this morning I thought of Isaiah 40:4 -He makes the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth. You know, Isaiah was right (of course). It all evens out in the end.

At the end of a hectic, crazy, long day - we will still be able to rest in Him. He is still there for us, He is still carrying us and it all smooths out eventually.

Today I will meditate on the peace of God. I'll set my mind and heart on letting His peace guard and keep my heart and mind. I will purposefully shift my focus to the peace and rest He offers and I'll accept a full serving today. Will you join me?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Not What it Looks Like

Sometimes the life of a caregiver can seem very barren. We can suffer from loneliness and social isolation even in this technologically "connected" world. Personally, I can go an entire day without holding a conversation with a real person even though I have plenty of interactions online. Online is certainly better than nothing but it does not replace actually hearing someone's voice, seeing their facial expressions or sharing laughter. It can seem very barren sometimes like we don't exist even in the world in which we live.

Isaiah 54 says Sing O barren, you who have not borne! Break froth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman, says the Lord. God is able to take what looks and feels empty and make it full. He has sort of specialized in the field.

Think about two women: Sarah and Mary. Sarah was considered too old to be fruitful and Mary was in a way too young to be fruitful. God took these two extreme "barren" situations and made them fruitful. And He did it way beyond both of their imaginations. What looked fruitless to man God touched and made fruitful.

Even though our lives may look unfruitful and we can feel barren, God is behind the scenes doing something. We may not know what He is up to - but He's always doing something. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4 to keep our eyes on the things we cannot see - instead of the "lack" we can see.  Paul also reminds us in Ephesians 3:20 that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can imagine. (I have a pretty good imagination too!)

Today instead of concentrating on the lack, or the barrenness that can accompany a caregiver, I will meditate on what I can't see.  I will look harder and find what God is doing behind the scenes. I will think about what He is doing in me instead of around me. Are you up for the challenge?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Shielded from What?

In Genesis 15, God told Abraham, "I am your shield." Why would Abraham need a shield  and why would God need to announce it? It was a little rough going for Abraham at the time, so you have to wonder what he thought about this Divine declaration. It certainly didn't mean that the father of our faith was going to be exempt from adversity. The preceding chapters indicate that Abraham had been going through a tough time.

In chapter 12 he faced a severe famine and had to relocate. After he relocated, he must have experienced fear thinking that the king was going to kill him off to take his wife. Moving (chapter 13) always brings change and that's never comfortable. Then also in chapter 13 his men fought with Lot's men so intensely that they had to part ways. Lot, his nephew was then kidnapped in chapter 14 and Abraham led a small scale war to go get him back! Times were not easy when God said, I am your shield.

Actually, the fact that he even needed to be shielded at all lets us know that life was turbulent. It certainly didn't exempt him from adversity. In the next couple of chapters Sarah and Hagar are going to have a huge fight and Abraham is going to witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Once again scriptures demonstrate that faith does not indicate the absence of adversity or in this case, adversities. But it does show us that even in the midst of trials and tribulations God protects us. While He doesn't protect us from the trouble itself - He does protect our souls. He shields the part of us that matters most - the living part. He keeps our souls from damage during life's deepest, darkest moments. And although we are not spared from the trials themselves, we can rest in  those times knowing that He has us in His hands no matter what life throws at us.

Our soul's salvation - our spiritual well being cannot be damaged by the things life hurls at us. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us above all - take up the shield of faith.  Faith is trusting that God has our back even in the worst of times.

Today I will meditate on the truth that He has me in the palm of His hand and I'll choose to see myself in His heart where my soul is safe from harm. Will  you join me?