Friday, May 29, 2015

We Still Look the Same

So many things may have changed when we became caregivers. For me, I had gotten rid of everything and moved to Chicago from the deep south and was working three jobs in preparation for heading to the mission fields in South Africa. But like many, my plans came to a screeching halt with a single phone call informing me my son had been in an automobile accident and had been medi-flighted to a local hospital in Shreveport. From there the changes were astronomical.

I booked a flight to Shreveport and lived in the hospital for 4 months as I sat by his side. We then went through a series of nursing homes and rehab facilities until I could get my own apartment and have a place to "bring him home" to. It's an understatement to say that everything changed. I now work from home as a writer and have a decent little apartment near my family in Oklahoma.

Over time we all change, we evolve into different roles as life throws new things at us. We develop character as we embrace life changes. I think as caregivers we get used to rolling with the blows since we never know what a day is going to bring and who we may have to confront on behalf of our loved ones. For me - recent changes include stepping into  more of a caregiving role with my parents as they age as well. Even though this brings more changes I still look the same.

Of course I don't look the same physically as I did when I began this caregiving journey, I'm a little fluffier and more wrinkled for sure - I'm not nearly the same person I was. I don't put up with as much silliness and I basically have learned how to fight for others. We learn new skills like advocating on behalf of another and dealing with people who don't want to do their job like aides etc. Supplies -- there you go - just getting the supplies that we are due can be quite a journey. Perhaps we don't think about it - but all these struggles and situations mold us into a new person.

No matter what changes we endure - we still look the same to Him. God still sees us as the exact same person as He always has - and He always will. I think we could compare it to how we see our kids. They grow up and eventually leave home to raise their own family. And even though they go through many physical changes they remain "our little girl" or "our little boy." God sees us like that -- we are still His little girls and boys.

Psalm 139:13 states that He wove us in our mother's womb and that He formed our inward parts. I think that means the insides that make us who we are -- not just our intestines, heart, and liver. Job said it like this: You clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. (Job 10:11) To me this means God sees us from the inside out - He sees us like we really are - what makes us "us" and then He put skin on it. So even though our worlds turned upside down or topsy-turvy we still look the same to the one who loves us most.

Today I will meditate on how God sees the real me - and continues to love me. I will turn my meditations to how He chose for me to be on this planet and even though He put skin on the "real me" He sees way deeper than that. I will think about His closeness today and how He loves me with or without skin on! Even though people treat me different and aren't sure what to do with me - He still thinks I look the same....and He loves me. I'll think about His great love and compassion for me today - will you join me?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Like a Dove

There can be different roles we play as caregivers. For me, I am a sole caregiver for my son and get few breaks. But on a totally different level I am in the beginning stages of caregiving (just offering assistance presently) for my parents who are aging. No matter what specific role we play as a caregiver it can be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. This morning I was just feeling tired; too tired to start the day. I thought of the verse in Psalm 55 where the psalmist says Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. But then my next thought was No, I'm too tired to fly away! (smile) - I know you relate.

Evidently when David penned this psalm he was under a lot of pressure from his enemies. And according to verse 12 even his friends had begun to fight with him. The shift is friendships was one of the biggest shockers of becoming a caregiver. Our BC (before caregiving) friends are not always able to handle the changes we need to make. And some are just not capable of offering what they think is continued support. They don't realize we are still the same person. We still have the same likes and dislikes but our time is divided up differently now.

One factor for me is that I just don't have the time to chase people down and make them a friend. If they want to be a friend they will find a way, I've seen that in demonstration. (And I've also spent a lot of time alone lol!) Having to go through the huge shift in our circle of friends is one of the most hurtful parts of the journey; and it can have lasting effects. But thankfully, this psalm offers a couple of bits of help for those who have been (or even just felt) betrayed by friends.

The first thing that sticks out to me is in verse 18 - He will redeem my soul in peace. I like that because not only is God going to reach out and redeem, or rescue our soul (mind, will, emotions), He is going to do it in peace.  He will bring me back to Himself and let me rest in peace. I can handle some of that!

The second takeaway point from this psalm for me is in verse 22- cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you.  That sounds like a winning combination - my part is to cast, or throw my burdens over onto His big shoulders; then His part is to sustain me so I can face one more day.

Today I will meditate on the truth that He will redeem me in peace. I will do my part to rest in His peace. And I will also toss my burdens over on Him and allow Him to sustain my soul. I will let Him be God of my heart, mind and soul today. And maybe I won't fly away after all. Will you join me?

Friday, May 22, 2015

It's a New Day!

Overall I keep a pretty positive attitude especially considering my situation. But when someone enthusiastically says "It's a new day!" I nearly get mad. Because a new day for many caregivers looks just like the day before. We still have the same tasks to perform as we did yesterday and sometimes it's just over and over and over. I know that a routine is important for my sanity but every once in awhile a break would be nice.

Sometimes caregivers can feel like they are tired of being tired. The psalmist must have understood this when he said in Psalm 73:26:  my heart and flesh my fail... For caregivers looking at a "new day" can seem like it's just "another day."

It's important that we don't lose heart while caregiving. Yeah, that's just a little more pressure. Not only do we have to provide care for a whole other individual and meet all of their physical, mental and health needs - there's always someone to remind us to take care of ourselves. When? When do we have time to meet our own needs? Many of us turn those needs off and pour ourselves into our loved ones. We have to.

And even on the good days it can feel like our heart and flesh are failing. We wake up tired but we just keep going. Why and how? Most likely it's because of what the psalmist says in the second part of this verse because God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Caregivers really do know what it means to go in God's strength and most of us wouldn't hesitate to say He is the only way we are making each new day.

It's the verses leading up to verse 26 that the tell us how the psalmist (and the caregiver) draw on the strength God provides. Verses 23 to 25 say:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will receive me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You...

Knowing that God guides us, receives us and holds our right hand (symbolic of power) is enough to help us make one more day. When He is all we have in heaven and all we desire in earth His strength will fill our hearts and carry us through.

Today I will meditate on my need for Him in earth - but not just for His help; I need His presence in my life. My thoughts will be on the truth that He accepts and receives me as a caregiver. We are not cast away and He doesn't gawk at us because we look different than most. I will choose to rest in the strength He pours into my heart today. Will you join me?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Thing I Fear Most

In Job's lament found in chapter three, he made a statement that faith-ers have used against him for years. He said: the thing I greatly feared has come upon me.(KJV) As a caregiver there can be many fears that we have to deal with. Our fears might lead to questions like:

  • What if I can't provide for my loved one?
  • What if I get sick and can't take care of him/her?
  • What happens to my loved one once I am gone?
These are all valid fears and are running around somewhere in the back of our minds most of the time. Because they are not imminently upon us we don't have to think about them too often; but they are still there. Another fear that I have had is that I would become bitter through the ordeal. It's been one of my most frequent concerns and the center of many prayers that the Lord would help me in my quest to prevent bitterness from setting in.

Caregiving can take a toll on you - but it's the rest of life (which we are not exempt from) that can take you down. We all have those times when we feel like everything is crashing in and we have to face our fears. How do we walk through this valley and keep a positive attitude? It's too easy to feel abandoned by other people, and life itself. We're just hanging here with a choice. How am I going to deal with this? Are we going to cave in and be angry and God and everybody? Or are we going to stand up, adjust our clothing and take life on one more time?

Isaiah 26:3 is a scripture that comes to mind in times like this. It says You will keep him in perfect peace - whose mind is stayed on You. To me, perfect means mature. When we keep our minds fixed on God instead of our situations He provides perfect peace or a mature peace; a peace that stands. My job is to refocus my thoughts on the Lord and keep them from gravitating toward my situation or life's events. 

Today I will shift my focus to God's word and allow it to be my meditation. I will purposefully turn my thoughts to the God I trust and keep them off the troubles of life. I'll think about how I trust Him to see me through and I will allow His perfect peace to invade my heart as I let go of frustration and fear. Will you join me?

Monday, May 18, 2015

When the Caregiver Needs a Caregiver

Have you ever felt terribly alone and hopeless? I think those feelings come with the caregiving package as a general rule and perhaps everyone has felt them at one time or another. But when stuff starts to pile up on you it can make an already difficult situation even harder to deal with. The aide doesn't come in, the van broke down, or you, the caregiver doesn't feel well. Any of these can make for difficult days but then there are times they all happen at the same time. Even though we'd like to we just can't give up. What would we give up to? Where would we go? Despair can easily set in when situations are overwhelming. But one look at our loved one and we remember why we are doing this "job" to begin with. Somehow they help us keep it in perspective.

We can think of their vulnerability, their needs and just the fact that we love them and want to protect them and it helps us adjust our own attitude. That's when we seem to reach down a little further and dig out a better attitude and strength we didn't even know we had to face one more day. Are there ever days when you wonder if someone would have that kind of stick-to-it-iveness for you? Maybe we wonder that but we don't have time to dwell there - there's too much to get done to spend time thinking about that.

I'm thinking that God is the only one who is really sticking to it for the caregiver. We get weary, people who help us get weary - but God never gets weary. Some days I can feel like the energizer bunny and I keep going and going. Other days, I wind down and it takes all my energy and strength to just get out of the bed in the morning. God never feels that way. As a matter of fact, in Isaiah 40, verse 28 states that He never gets weary or tired. And the next verse says He gives strength to the weary. Days like today I have to raise my hand and say, "Me! I need strength to make it today!" And He always equips and encourages me from the inside out.

I am amazed at how He can encourage when there is no hope and strengthen when there is no might. So far I haven't seen an intake valve - but He puts it in there somewhere. Knowing He is with me and hasn't abandoned me along the way encourages me to take one more step. This morning I was reading in Psalm 95 where it says we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. I wondered why the psalmist says people of His pasture and not the sheep of His pasture. Then I thought, it really covers everything. By being the sheep of His hand  puts us in His hands, where we are near His heart. And the people of His pasture puts us where our needs are met- we are well taken care of by the Master Caregiver.

Caregivers need to be reminded that as much care and love we put into taking care of our loved ones - God matches it in taking care of us. He watches us more closely and covers us more fully. I take comfort in the fact that He is my caregiver today. And for today - I can rest in that.

Today as I care for my son - I will look at each act of kindness and love and think about how God does that for me. My thoughts will be on His tender, loving care for me as I care for His child. And I will rest content in His arms as a small sheep trusts and relies on the shepherd. Will you join me?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Over the last year I had some of my own health problems and was even in the hospital for a few days. It was amazing how many people stepped up to help with my son during that time. You know all too well how miserable it can be to not feel well. It brings a wide range of emotions that are difficult to deal with and you can feel so inadequate. My daughter stepped right up to the plate and others drove in from out of town to give her a hand. And then of course, once I was better they were all gone! (smile)

During one visit to the doctor's office she prescribed me some meds for high blood pressure. (Go figure, right?) And she said that they would be good for me since they also helped calm down anxiety. I laughed and said, "You think I'm anxious?" I have always been high strung and being a caregiver hasn't replaced or changed any of that. Actually, I started running as a way to deal with the stress of caregiving and am now training for another marathon. You'd think that would alleviate some anxiety, wouldn't you?

Caregivers have to handle so many different things in a day our thoughts can run a hundred miles an hour or more. We have all the regular daily tasks and sometimes have them organized and manageable. But then let one thing get out of whack and "anxiety" doesn't even come close to describing how we can feel. But it only takes a few seconds of thinking it through and coming up with new strategies and it's all back on an even keel.

There are probably some anxious moments for the caregiver every single day. In Psalm 94:19 the psalmist says: When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul. Multiply is probably the best word to describe how our crazy thoughts can run away with us on any given day. Explode might be another appropriate way to describe it! But when our questions and thoughts are in "run away" mode we can stop, breathe and consider our true Help. And He will fill us with His peace, hope, comfort and joy.

Today I will work to control my anxiety and work at resting in Him and relying on Him. I will practice self control and not let my thoughts get away from me too quickly before I reel them back in. My thoughts will be on the hope, comfort and peace He provides me so I can make one more day. I will rest in Him today - will you join me?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Can You Find One?

I noticed something different starting with Psalm 144. David changes the tone and starts these last few pieces with praise. Before that, he started several of them with feelings of despair and cries for help. I will be the first to say that when trouble pops up I'm going to go straight to Him first, there's no other refuge or shelter to run to for me. For several psalms David has been asking for the Lord's help and for the last few he shifts his focus to praise.

As caregivers we have good and bad days inside our cave. Our emotions can run very high and swing from one end of the spectrum to the other in a matter of a few minutes. Some situations, like mine, we deal with a living grief. My son is gone, but he's still here. For many, it's not going to get any better and there is no relief in sight. This can make for a rocky emotional situation. If you are like me some days you can handle it fine; other days - we just won't talk about! Suffice it to say that our emotions can be all over the place!

If we, like David, can turn our focus to praising God even in our very difficult situations we can help ourselves out. I will be the first to admit that some days I just don't feel like it. Period. But if I can talk myself in to picking up the guitar and strumming a few chords and maybe singing something like Psalm 61 I can find myself resting in His arms and filled with praise. Psalm 61 is a prayer for help that goes like this:

Hear my cry, O God
Attend unto my prayer
From the ends of the earth will I cry unto You.
When my heart is overwhelmed
Please lead me to the rock
That is higher than I.
For You have been 
A shelter from the storm
A high tower from the enemy.

And just those few phrases can give us a place to start. Sometimes we have to purposefully look for something to praise Him for. Honestly, I've had days where I've been angry with God for not taking me out of the situation. But if I take the time to look hard enough and long enough - there's always  something to praise Him for. When I start my day off with praise it's going to go a lot smoother. 

Sometimes we can get bogged down and have to find a "praise spot" during the middle of the day too. On one hand it can seem difficult to find something in our situations to praise Him for. But I can always start with Psalm 61 and thank Him for always being present, for being a safe refuge to run to when I'm on overload and for sheltering me during the storm.

Today I will purposefully praise Him for just being God. I will turn my thoughts to His ever-abiding presence in my life and for always being there to run to. My meditation will be on how He is that rock that is bigger than me and my situation and I will praise Him. Will you join me?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I am Your Servant

It's too bad that life doesn't have a "hold" button sometimes. Each caregiver has unique circumstances to deal with on a daily basis and it can be overwhelming. We get used to our "new normal" after awhile though. God equipped humans to be able to adjust and move forward. It can still take a long time to be "okay" with a lot of aspects of caregiving though. For instance going out can be a trying but rewarding experience for many. Even when you get used to it there is so much involved in just grabbing a few groceries it's exhausting. Common everyday tasks can be much more complicated for caregivers. Then add to that other life changes like aging parents and it can be overwhelming to say the least. In my case, my parents are aging and even though I am a caregiver for my handicapped son, my role with my parents is slowly evolving into that of a caregiver as well. What can we do when we are overwhelmed?

I know I spend a lot of time in the Psalms, but I just enjoy the way David is so open and honest about his thoughts, feelings and emotions. In Psalm 143 he is crying out for the Lord to hear his cries and in verse 4 he says my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart faints within me. Boy, what caregiver hasn't felt that at some time or another? There are days, thankfully not every day, where you just feel like you can't handle one more thing!

The other thing I like about David and the Psalms is that he talks himself out of it. As I read through the rest of Psalm 143 I found some strategies that I can adapt and use myself. They go something like this:

I meditate on Your doings
I stretch out my hands to you
I trust in You
I lift up my soul to You
I take refuge in You

Those statements are all mixed in with his heartfelt prayers for help. But the final statement in the psalm sticks out to me: I am Your servant. I think that with this statement David was handing it all, himself included, back to God to handle. To me it was a statement of total submission to God. Like he's praying and asking God for help, turning his thoughts and heart toward the Lord and then settling it all with a huge sigh and a I am Your servant. Period.

I think that may be the key when we are totally overwhelmed by all that life throws at us; yielding totally to Him. I want God to use everything that happens in my life to draw me closer to Him and to teach me more about Him and His ways. Personally, I don't think God causes these things to happen - they are just part of living; but since they have happened I don't want them to be wasted. I want to grow and learn in the midst of the trials. He has not given up on us and He won't stop working on us.

Today I will meditate on yielding my soul (mind, will and emotions) to Him. I will yield  my control and let God have it all: the good, the bad and the ugly! I will turn my thoughts and my heart to totally trusting Him to turn every situation around for something good. I will trust Him. Will you join me?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Always on His Mind

It's easy to get lost in the shuffle of caregiving, isn't it? There are so many  tasks required to take care of someone else that we can forget to take care of ourselves. Aides, doctors, nurses and other professionals focus on our loved ones, and they should. But we can slowly slide back out of view and be nearly forgotten. It's easy to feel insignificant and small in the scheme of things.

There have been times since I became a caregiver that I would go days without talking to another person. Perhaps this is due to the age of technology. I might text with someone or "chat" via a social media outlet; but I've literally gone days without speaking to someone. Sometimes I miss the art of conversation. I want to hear someone laugh not just type "lol." We need to hear inflections in their voice and see facial expressions. When we don't, we can begin to feel so very alone and wonder if anyone cares, if anyone sees; or if anyone even thinks about us at all.

The good news is that we are always on His mind. As a matter of fact, God told Jeremiah that He knew him before he was formed in his mother's womb. In Jeremiah 1, the Lord spoke to the prophet and said Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you. God knows us intimately even when people don't take the time to get to know us well. He is aware of our darkest, loneliest moments and we are on His mind. We are not forgotten. The truth is that we don't even know what people may be praying for us or thinking about us at any given time. But we can rest assured that God has us on His mind all the time.

David said it this way in Psalm 139 - How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up in the morning You are still with me! (NLT) 

Today I am thankful that He is always with me and I am always on His mind. My meditation today will be of His ever-abiding presence and His continuous thoughts of me! I will rejoice today that He does not forget me or my situation - but I am always on His mind. Will you join me?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who's Got Your Back?

Have you ever felt like no one really understands? It seems like it hurts most when it's people who are supposed to be helping. For example, last week my son was up for re-certification in the Advantage program. I was sitting at the table with his case manager and the nurse who will be overseeing his case. They are cutting the hours an aide will come to help because they just don't see what needs to be done. They are cutting the aide from 17 hours to something like 6 or 8 per week. On one hand I could care less because I've found working with an aide to be more of a hassle than it's worth - unless you get a good one.

I was dumbfounded at the ignorance of the situation and I sat and just listened to them talk back and forth about the things the aide is and is not allowed to do. While there are some limitations there are plenty of tasks they can help me with, if they want to. Most of them just want a paycheck. I felt so unimportant and defenseless and very unsure of what to say. (Trust me - I've comprised a lengthy list to have on display now - it will not be an issue!)

Even though it seemed like a small thing I just felt like they didn't understand my situation, but they were supposed to. Aren't they on the team of professionals who are helping me be a good, healthy caregiver? And they don't know? It was one of those moments where as a caregiver I felt so overwhelmed, alone, and like I really don't matter. I felt defenseless and wasn't sure what to do. Should I take up for myself? I'm not one for whining - I am one for just doing. I'll move on without them, even though I shouldn't have to.

We advocate for our loved one probably on a daily basis. But who advocates for the caregiver? No one. I see organizations just trying to save a buck - and I'm frugal so I understand that. But they are sitting there talking about where they can make cuts and save - I felt like it was at my expense.

Then I found Psalm 141:8 where David said My eyes are toward You, O God the Lord; In You I take refuge, do not leave me defenseless. I think I could say that God has the caregiver's back. He sees what we go through and He understands us. The trick is letting it all go and letting Him handle it for us. Caregivers are typically more likely to just roll up their sleeves and get busy and then get busier when the going gets tough. But we must take our refuge in Him. The programs designed to help - are not our help. God is our help and He has our back.

Today I will take deep breaths and relax knowing that God has my back.  And I'll make a conscious choice to rest in Him today. Will  you join me?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

No Sleeping on the Job!

Sometimes the caregiver is left floundering on their own and sometimes there are organizations or individuals who help them out. There are programs to help pay for aides and supplies that are very beneficial for helping us stay sane. When I have an aide it means I get out a little more to run, or run errands and that is good. There are nurses who come periodically to check my son out and see that he is healthy and being taken care of. Family members often sit with my son so that I can do things I enjoy or escape for a weekend. I am very appreciative of this "village" that helps me out from time to time.

However, I learned a long time back when this caregiving journey first began that my help comes from the Lord. I had no idea of the the types of situations and decisions I would be facing on a daily basis back then, but I knew if I was going to survive I would have to look at Him for my help. I began to meditate on Psalm 121 while we were still living in the ICU waiting room. I stayed there day and night for 3 weeks before we moved to an isolation room on a regular floor where we remained for over 3 months.

A few days into our ICU stay I was in prayer and thought about all the wonderful nurses and doctors who were providing exceptional care for my son. But as I was thinking about what a great job they were doing I also realized that they couldn't help me. They could talk to me, calm me down, try to ease my fears...but they were not my help - only God could under gird me in the time of trouble.

One of my son's friends had loaned me a guitar for the hospital stay and I sat down and put some chords and a melody to Psalm 121. I knew I would have to look to God for my soul's help, for my peace and comfort and that He alone was my true help.  I knew I was in a position to look to Him and only Him. As the last 7 years of caregiving have unfolded, I continue to look to Him for strength, comfort and wisdom as the daily walk continues and I meditate on this psalm often.

I will look to the Lord
Where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth
He will not allow your foot to slip
He who keeps you will not slumber
Behold, He who keeps Israel 
Will never slumber nor sleep 

It's such a comforting thing for me to know that God's not sleeping on the job! He is always watching over my soul and keeping me safely tucked in His own heart.

Today I will meditate on the fact that He does not rest; but He continuously keeps me and watches over my soul so that I do not faint. My thoughts will be on the truth that He is always on the job and He never even takes a break to rest. And I will rest knowing He is my peace and strength. Will you join me?

If you'd like to see the video I made of the song I wrote after I got in my son's room you can see it on my facebook page here: Psalm 121.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mind and Heart

Have you ever twisted a dish rag to wring all the water out of it? Have you ever felt like   a wrung out dish rag that's had all the water rung out of it? That describes my last day or two for sure and unfortunately describes the caregiver at the end of all too many days. We talk a lot about the numerous tasks we have to do everyday and how adding one more no matter how small thing can tip the whole boat. Sometimes it tips us physically other times it can tip us emotionally. Either one can be detrimental. But you know what? Because we are caregivers - we just keep going, and going, and going.

My already busy days got messed up by a minor wrist injury that occurred during my taekwondo session last week. Why does it take an act of God and congress to make a doctor's appointment and grab a quick xray? A busy day gets more hurried finding sitters and making arrangements to take care of these little extras. Eventually, I sat down with a cup of coffee and a big "Whew!" and wondered what I needed most. My answer came swiftly: peace.

This morning during my devotion I found myself in John 14. As I am reading through the chapter, I stopped on verse 17. The New Living Translation of this familiar verse reads this way I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives.So don't be troubled or afraid.  I stopped there to think about all that and let it soak in.

It's interesting that He said peace of mind and heart and that He said don't be troubled or afraid. I think our heads get so full of stuff on any given day that it becomes troubled; and that once our minds become troubled and upset - our hearts become afraid. His peace is enough to calm both. I like that. If we can meditate more on the peace He gives which far surpasses the "peace" the world can give maybe we can crowd out all the hyper thoughts that go through our minds as the day works itself out. I think I'll try that.

Today I will meditate on the peace that comes from knowing Him. I will let His peace rule in my heart and mind. I will try to think about Him and the peace He gives so much it crowds out all the other crazy thoughts. Will you join me.