Thursday, May 26, 2016

Which Way do I Go?

Although this picture doesn't do it justice, sunsets in Oklahoma are gorgeous. I rarely get to catch one and when I do it can be breathtakingly beautiful.

As I was reading this morning, I came across a scripture that seems very simple, but has packed a lot of punch with me over the years. It's Psalm 104:19. The NLT reads: You made the moon to mark the seasons and the sun that knows when to set. It might not seem like much insight, but it has a lot more than we might think.

Over the last few weeks things have been a whirlwind with me. Several things are happening all at once in the many arenas of life: family, work, relationships, physical challenges, finances, etc. And of course, this is all on top of caregiving which is its own world inside a world. Suffice it to say my life, head and emotions have been spinning and I really didn't even know where to start reading this morning.

I opened to Psalm 104 looking for a scripture I'd read in a blog last night and found what I was looking for. I love this psalm as it speaks of the greatness of God and the power of creation. The whole chapter is good, but verse 19 is what caught my attention. To me - it says the sun never forgets to set. It never comes up in the morning and says Which way do I go from here? 

Scientifically, of course we know the sun doesn't come up or go down but that the earth spins to give us that effect. So to me this says - the earth is still spinning on its axis and it remains in the perfect rotational spin to keep all of His creation in balance. What He set into place all those years ago - is still in place. The earth doesn't get off its axis, plants haven't stopped growing, and the birds are still singing. When He does something - He does it right....once.

All of a sudden as I turned my thoughts to the wonder of His creation and His powerful display, my problems began to shrink. In verse 34 of this same chapter, the psalmist finishes by whispering a prayer: may He be pleased with all these thoughts about Him. How do I know he whispered? I don't, but after stopping to recognize such magnificent glory and power it's very likely he did - I know my soul began to whisper and silently worshiped in awe of His splendor and wisdom.

Today I will think about the effort He put into creation, and how He put that same effort into making me. My meditations will be on the glory of his creation and how He watches over it - and me. I will rejoice in His splendor and be silent at His power. I will trust that He made me, and He watches over me. I will rest in that truth and trust this powerful creator for one more day. Will you join me?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Did you find it?

Did you find it? I did. What were we looking for? Grace to help in time of need. Can you tell I'm still in Hebrews 4? This chapter has really grabbed my attention this week and I've pretty much camped there.

The last verse of this power packed chapter in Hebrews tells us to Come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There  we will receive mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (NLT) When we need it? That is probably all the time for the caregiver. This verse starts out with an understood subject, "you." It's understood to be saying "You Come..." and when we come look at what we get!

While I am a caregiver, and on any given day I may need to go to the throne for grace at any given time, this is an open invitation to every believer to take action, get before His throne and obtain His mercy and grace. I don't know about you, but personally I need extra measures of both to make it through some days. And honestly, today I'm just tired. Maybe weary offers a better description. It can seem like we are pushing ourselves all the time with no place to let up and eventually, we get tired. Or at some point - we just stay tired. That's where I am anyway - it may just be me.

There's so much to keep up with. Caregiving is not for the faint of heart! lol. Taking care of another person's needs (all of them) is tiring. And not only does it take its toll on our bodies, we can become emotionally strung out too. It's a tired that runs through your entire being. When I am like this - I just want to sit, drink coffee, stare at the wall; and think. Seriously.  But instead, I will boldly (because it takes courage) get up and take my burdens to the throne room of God. We were invited, after all; and He has an open door policy - we can come anytime we want.

I'm going to take my tired body, weary mind and exhausted soul before Him this morning and I'll lay it all out at His feet. And in exchange, He will fill me back up with His mercy and grace. And I'll make it one more day.

Today I will meditate on how His grace carries me. I will turn my thoughts off my weariness and consider His grace, mercy and truth. I'll trust Him for the strength to make it today. And I will leave all my cares at His feet - and let Him care for me. He is our caregiver, you know. I'll trust in that truth today. Will you join me?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Working the Rest

Sometimes I think it would be nice if caregivers could be exempt from dealing with the rest of life. But most likely, if we were then I'd be pouting because we were missing out on everything else.

Do you find you are more easily overcome with life in general? It's not like we don't have enough on our plates to begin with. Caregiving alone is a full plate and can be complicated by what seem to be little things like supplies not coming in, aides not showing up or blenders breaking.

Even in the midst of the craziness of caregiving, life still goes on around us. Loved ones pass away, close neighbors fall ill, friends and family seem far away, bills need to be paid and on and on it goes. If we are not careful it's easy to get caught up and carried away in life's whirlwind. So now that I told you what's going on in my life let me tell you what I reminded myself this morning.

Hebrews 4:1 says this: God's promise of entering His place of rest still stands. There is a place of rest in Him and I'm finding it's an art to learn how to get there. It's a lot of work to rest. Who has time? As caregivers there may not be a lot of time in our day to literally stop and rest - but we can remain at rest in Him, if we are willing to work to get there.

On down in verse 3 of this chapter the writer says this place of rest has been ready since He made the world. Life doesn't have to suck us under it's rolling current; but when it does - we can find rest in Him. It's not a new thing to need  to find rest in Him. I think of the old Christian hymn written in 1857 that lets us know those who have gone on before have needed to seek out His rest too. The third verse of What a Friend we have in Jesus goes this way:

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He'll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

We are not the only ones who have needed to seek out this place of rest in Him! And you know what? We won't be the last. His rest existed since He made the world, still exists and will continue to exist. Somehow just that every-abiding refuge He prepared for us brings me comfort. 

Today, I will relax. I will seek out that refuge and let my soul rest in Him, even though my body will be busy. I will purposefully acknowledge and trust Him as my refuge and I will rest in Him. My thoughts will be on how He prepared this rest for us - all we have to do is come to Him. And I will put all my thoughts and efforts into resting in Him today. Will you join me?

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Right Kind of Changes

There's no doubt the wilderness changes you, and caregiving can be it's own special kind of wilderness experience. Social interactions change, getting out changes, friendship statuses change, work can be different; just about every aspect of life can be different after we become a caregiver. For some, the changes may be less dramatic, but for others they are enormous. In my particular situation virtually everything changed. How we deal with these changes is a good indicator of our character.

Actually, how we deal with the wilderness reveals unique aspects of our character. The wilderness changes you. I was reading in Hebrews over the weekend and spent quite a bit of time in chapter 4, but this morning I backed up a bit because I wanted to see why the writer started talking about entering into God's rest.

Just before the author's discourse on God's rest he was talking about the children of Israel and how they failed to enter God's rest. Their choices in the wilderness were what separated them from His rest. My loose interpretation is: these same people who loaded up their stuff, spoiled the Egyptians and followed Moses out of slavery to freedom - lost it in the wilderness. They stopped believing God's promise, disobeyed Him and missed the opportunity to enter His rest as a result.

The wilderness isn't an easy place to be. And if you want to look at it one way - Moses was the caregiver for a million rebellious people. How'd you like to tote that around for awhile? They were willing to go with him when they packed up and left the cruelty of Egypt. What were they expecting? Of course they ran smack dab into the Red Sea - God stepped in. And then they ran out of fresh water - God stepped in. And even though they saw God's hand over and over again - they chose to rebel and complain. They were so hardened they missed the opportunity of enjoying His rest. The wilderness changes you.

As we walk through the wilderness of life - we will make choices; we will make changes. One of the first cries of my heart when my son became injured was that I would draw closer to God, not pull away and not become bitter. My desire has been to let life's crucible squeeze out a sweet fragrance and that my life would be lived in a state of worship.

I have not always accomplished this. I have fought, and fit, and spit and cussed many times. I've argued, faltered, given up and been angry more times than I can mention. But in the end - I cling to Him rather than fighting against Him. The wilderness experience forces us to make deep and lasting decisions about our faith and our relationship with God.

Today, I will seek to enter His rest. I'll reflect on the ways the wilderness has changed me - the good and the bad. I'll rejoice in the good and give Him the bad and ask Him for grace. My thoughts will be on His ever-abiding presence and how He hasn't left me in the dry wilderness even when I became a hot mess. I'll embrace His grace today and be thankful for the changes He's brought about in my life, even in the wilderness. Will you join me?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

In the Midst of the Storm

This morning during my devotions this poem just came to me. As caregivers, it can feel like we live in a storm; one that never goes away. My heart is set - I will trust Him no matter what a day brings. Here's the poem I got this morning - I hope it speaks to someone today.

Through the Storm
Lord I want to know You
In the midst of the storm
To see You walk on water
And tell my heart "peace, be still"

Let me....
Feel You, hear You, touch You
As life rocks along
I trust You have me 
In the center of Your will

Carry me above
The deceit of wind and waves
May I hear You above the roar
To be with You is all I crave

May I not be distracted
By the crashing tide
For I'm tucked in tight
Held close by Your side

Though the storm keeps raging
May my soul keep seeking
And may I listen carefully
To hear You speaking

Peace be still...
I'll be still...
and Know You are God

(c) May 21, 2016 J. Olinger

Friday, May 20, 2016

Beyond the Cave

As I was going about my early morning routine of making coffee, bolusing and changing my son etc. I just felt heavy. Over the last few weeks I've been toying with the idea of getting rid of stuff... my house is so full. I do think this is a factor. I simply have too much to keep up with. As I walked through the apartment with one eye open (this is BC - before coffee), I thought of how I need to just go through and get rid of stuff. Lots of stuff.

As I walked through my living room, my medal rack caught my eye and I though about how I carry as little as possible with me when I run. I strip down to shorts and a light t-shirt, put my phone in an arm band to keep my hands free, and wear a small runner's belt to hold my keys. I do not wear long pants even when it's cold. And if it is chilly out, I still wear as little as possible because I don't want anything to weight me down.

With a big sigh, I wondered if I got rid of stuff in my life that was weighing me down, could I run the race of life more easily? Hebrews 12:1 immediately came to mind. The writer says: let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Once I got my coffee and sat down, I looked it up and read through the chapter. I'm so thankful God continues to show us new stuff when we read His word. He didn't exempt us from learning more about Him and His ways when we became a caregiver, did He?

When I got to verse 12 I read and then reread it. It says this: So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Boy, did I need to hear that this morning! But then, something else caught my attention. The next verse starts out with then those who follow you...

Now I am really focused. You see, the chapter starts out with us running because there is a crowd of witnesses who have already walked the life of faith cheering us on. We are looking at Christ - the author and finisher of our faith, being cheered on by the stories and lives of those who have walked it before... all because there are more folks coming up behind us who need to see examples of His work in our lives.

We can't stop. We can't quit. No matter how difficult life is, how weak we feel, how encumbered we feel - there's more reasons than ourselves to keep on going. They did it - we are doing it - so others can do it too. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in our own little caregiver's cave we forget about others and their struggle.

So today, I'm going to take these weak, tired hands and get a good grip on Him one more time. I'll pull myself up on my tired, shaky legs so I can continue to walk this walk of trusting Him. My thoughts will be on how He empowers me to walk the walk of faith. Those before me have clung to Him with all their strength and I will too! Today I will cling to Him with everything I have and I will keep my focus on His faithfulness. I will trust Him for one more day - will you join me?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Safe Keeping

As usual, my mind kicked into high gear as soon as my alarm went off this  morning. I've got so much to do! On one hand, that's a good thing because I don't tend to push the snooze as many times when my mind starts running through today's to-do list before I get one eye open. On the other hand it's very tiring.

I will freely admit I am an over-thinker. I either have hundreds of questions to ask before a statement is finished, or I've worked through 101 scenarios in my mind of what could occur, knowing most likely none of them will!

I do the same thing with caregiving and daily life. As I'm going through my list of gotta do's today, and some get-to-do's too, I realize there really is a lot more than just caregiving on my plate. As I mentioned earlier this week, the aide quit so I've not had any help in the daily chore arena for about 2 weeks - and there's no aide in site.

I never thought of myself as a juggler, just not that coordinated; but lately I'm wondering if I should try again! lol. As caregivers we juggle a lot - our daily caregiving tasks, household chores, finances, and maybe when we are lucky some sort of social interactions. Add to that the fact that many of us hold down full or part time jobs or go to school and we can be a hot mess at any time. What's a caregiver to do?

So while my mind was running through the health coaching session I have scheduled for this afternoon, the work I need to get done for my job, how I'm going to try to relax and just enjoy my grand kids today while they are here, whether or not I should go to taekwondo tonight and rescheduling my late payment I got an email about today, I had this novel idea. How about I just give it all to Him?

Of course my mind went to 2 Peter 5:7 - Casting all your care on Him for He cares for you. Actually, I'm learning that this is the easy part. I can give it all to Him for safe keeping. He will guard my soul, he will provide in the area of finances, and He will give me peace in the midst of my day. So what's the problem?  I keep going back to pick up what I've given Him for safe keeping - like I'm there to pick up a scheduled delivery!

It's one thing to give it all to Him and quite another to leave it with Him. I can give it to Him - but will I trust him with it? 

Today I will seriously put my efforts into learning to leave my cares with Him for safe keeping. I will meditate on 2 Peter 5:7 and figure out how to give Him my worries and concerns. My thoughts will be on trusting Him for another day - and letting Him establish His peace in my heart while I wait for Him. I'm trusting Him with one more day - will you join me?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are We Looking?

One of the things we face as caregivers is this deep sense of being alone. For me, sometimes it's not as bad; but I can even feel vastly alone even in a crowd. Our lives are just different and it causes gaps that can't always be made up just by being with others.

The feeling can often come and go, but there are times where it feels like it just swallows me whole. Last night was one of those times. I really am not sure I have the words to adequately express what it feels like because it's a lot more than just feeling lonely. I feel totally alone in this world, on my own, and unlike everyone else. Even among caregivers our situations are so unique we can still feel alone. This was still on my mind when I woke up this morning and opened my Bible for morning devotions.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular and my Bible opened at John 14 so I started reading this passage that has been a long time favorite. Firstly, I love Thomas, even though the church has given him a bad rap over the years. Jesus says I am going to prepare a place for you...I will come and get you so you will always be with me where I am. Then He says You know where I am going and how to get there. Thomas is so honest - he says, No, we don't know, Lord. We don't have any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?

Don't you love his honest expressions? How many times have we asked where are You, Lord? And how many times have we felt like we didn't have a clue where He was, where He was going or what He was doing? This can seriously be a daily thing for the caregiver!

Since I wasn't looking for any answers, and not expecting to find them anyway I continued reading until I stopped after reading verses 15 to 21. Jesus is explaining how He will be sending Holy Spirit to live in us. The Spirit is with the disciples, Jesus explains; but He will be in them. He assures them they will not be abandoned. My thought is I've felt that way. There have been times when I've felt like I was abandoned by life and God.

But Jesus assures the disciples that He is with them - and His Spirit will continue to live in them and they will not be alone. The catch? They will have to look for Him. He's there... He's everywhere. The world will not recognize Him or receive Him. Why? They are not looking for Him. (v.17)

This made me stop and think for a few minutes. Do I recognize Him in my life? More than that, can others recognize His work in my life? Do I acknowledge His ever abiding presence; or just go about my day hoping He is following along? According to scriptures He is always with us; always in us. And even though it might not make that aloneness go totally away - it does bring some comfort to know He is walking this out with me, with us.

Today I will purposefully look for Him as I go about my busy day of caregiving. I'll watch for His touch as the day goes by. My thoughts will be on how He interacts with me throughout the day and how I can recognize that, rather than ignore the truth that He is here. I'll be looking for Him today - will you join me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Huge Soul Sigh

You know how everyone talks about how they dread Mondays? I guess it's because they go "back" to work and have to change up from a more relaxed, weekend schedule. I'm finding though that for the caregiver, Mondays are not much different than other days. We don't get weekends off. When Saturday and Sunday roll around, we still have the exact same things to do that have to be done other days of the week. Bathing, transferring, feeding, laundry - none of those stop on Saturday to wait until we are "ready" to go back to work come Monday.

But yesterday did become a little more complicated for me. The aide who hadn't been here in 2 weeks quit. Now that will mess up your Monday especially if you had errands planned. This last minute change-up and lots of work to do for my jobs along with just all the general chores piled high on my plate early in the morning and tried to pull me in under a deluge of anxiety and crazy thoughts. I literally had so many different things to do all at one time that I honestly was confused as to where to start.

So you know what I did? None of them. I decided if I was so distracted it was time to stop. And  I did just that, I stopped, picked up my guitar and began to worship. After I had done a few songs, I went to the keyboard and sang some more. I even wrote a simple chorus - hadn't done that in quite a while.

My point is that there is never too much on our plate to stop and give Him praise. Our plates are always going to be overflowing, our schedules are full and there's not many times there is any relief. But it can all be put on hold for just a couple of minutes to take some time to praise Him for who He is.

Singing a simple chorus, reading through a few verses or saying a prayer is not going to take one thing off our plates. But it brings just a bit of relief. You know what it's like to let out a huge sigh? All your muscles relax and it just feels good? Stopping for just a few minutes to acknowledge His goodness, His faithfulness and His continued provision and offering Him a sacrifice of praise is like a huge soul sigh. When we focus our thoughts on Him for a few minutes and get it off all the things we have to do - our thoughts will tend to gather themselves. Even though it sounds counterproductive, I've found if I give Him some time first - I have a much more productive day.

Today, I'm going to do it again. I will purposefully take a few moments to find something to praise Him for. If I can't see a thing He seems to be doing now - then I will start with thanking Him for creating us all, for giving us breath, for just being there to hear our heart's cry.... My meditation will be on His greatness and not my sense of urgency to get things done. I will let my soul sigh, and I'll turn my heart toward His for one more day. Will you join me?

Friday, May 13, 2016

One More Time

I have to admit this morning that my emotions are all over the place. I'll spare you the details and just say there's a lot going on. We've discussed before that we are not exempt from the rest of life just because we are caregivers. So suffice it to say - I'm on usual.

Yesterday as I started realizing how much was going on around me, my head started spinning with thoughts. I've admitted before I'm an over-thinker. Someone makes one statement and I've worked through 900 scenarios in my head that could possibly happen. Sometimes it's annoying. :-)

So with lots and lots of different things making my head swirl, I heard my heart cry out to Him last night. In my mind I'm standing before Him with hands outstretched just waiting for some sort of answer. There's not really one answer that will make everything better and I think I just needed to be reminded that He hears my heart. I just needed to know it one more time.

As caregivers, we can live in overload mode (or maybe that's just me!). We need the comfort of His voice, His gentle nudge letting us know He is still with us, He still cares, and He still hears our heart's cry.

I crawled out of bed this morning and drug my emotional self in to search the scriptures for a glimmer of hope; and of course - He met me there. He has this way of showing up when He's invited. I started with Psalm 18 where David so eloquently describes what we hope God does when we call out to Him. He says he called out to God and he prayed for help and my cry reached His ears. (v.6 NLT) And God showed up.

Then the earth quaked and trembled;
the foundations of the mountains shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
Smoke poured from His nostrils,
fierce flames leaped from His mouth
glowing coals flamed forth from Him.
He opened the heavens and came down.....

So I waited this morning for the earth to begin to shake as my heart cried out in anguish. Nothing. I got nothing. So I searched a little further to find that David also had moments like these. In Psalm 22 he describes it pretty well by saying:

My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?
Why do you remain distant?
Why do you ignore my cries for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. 
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

I love it when God comes riding in on His white horse to rescue us. But what about the times when He doesn't? In both of these Psalms - David went on to praise the Lord. Immediately following his distressed cries in Psalm 22, David says, Yet you are holy.  I cried God - and you didn't listen! I called out and You walked away! I did not get the answer I wanted.....but I know You are holy.

And by the end of Psalm 22 he is singing God's praise:

I will declare the wonders of Your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among all Your people.
Praise the Lord, all you who fear Him!

Why? David knew, like we know deep down - God has not abandoned. In Psalm 22:24 David goes on to say: He has not ignored the suffering of the needy. He has not turned and walked away. He has listened to their cries for help.

Today I will follow this righteous example. Whether God comes riding in on thunderous clouds, or remains silent in my distress, I will praise Him. My thoughts and meditations will be on His goodness. I will keep myself hidden in Him today and I will trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Busy, Busy, Busy

There are so many areas caregivers can struggle with. We can experience bouts with fear, discouragement, depression, frustration, weariness, loss and deal with what I've learned is a living grief. We may feel helpless, hopeless or alone. And for me I went through a period of time when my faith was totally redefined.

On any given day we may have to work through any combination of emotions. And all of this is on top of what we have to do physically. I think it's safe to say we are busy - inside and out. For me, my emotions can be churning around inside like a roller coaster while on the outside I'm working my full time job, doing laundry, prepping meals, or helping my son with some type of therapy. I'm out of breath just thinking about it!

How do we slow down? How do caregivers find some sort of peace - inside or out? Is there even time for that? It's easy for someone on the outside to tell us we need to take a break. But rarely do they also offer to do anything to help us get that break. I actually contacted a house cleaning company to see how much it would cost to get some help. It was so expensive I'd have had to take on another job to pay for it!

So here I am again with my thoughts running a hundred to nothing. And once again I have to recognize that He knows my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23) And I remind myself of 1 Peter 1:7 which tells me to give Him all my worries. I like the Amplified version which says: casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]. 

So today as I struggle just trying to figure out how to live this busy life, once again I will stop. Take a breath. And give it all to Him. Honestly He is the only One who can make something out of this mess. Isaiah 61: 3 tells me that He is able to give beauty for ashes, and joy for mourning, and praise in place of despair. So once again, I wait.

Today I will purposefully wait on Him. I will un-busy myself enough to breathe and acknowledge His presence in my life and home. My thoughts will be on the peace He provides and I will wait for Him to bring beauty for ashes. I will trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rambling Thoughts

Today is one of those days where I woke up and my thoughts were running away with me. Seriously, my thoughts are all over the place. When I first got up, something someone said yesterday started running around in my head and it went mentally viral from there.

I work for an SEO company - we work on websites. Its founder is a believer and a group of us meet online to pray for the company and all the employees. During that meeting yesterday, someone told me that God would restore these years to me. 

I know the guy meant well, but even as my heart can agree my head can't grasp that thought. My biggest question is How? I have become very familiar with the story of Job and everyone gets all excited at the end of the story about how God restored his fortunes (I had none of those before my story began! lol), and Job had 10 more kids! Yippee!!

I'm not overlooking or lessening the work God did in Job's heart and I understand the story had a good ending. But Job didn't get his first set of kids back either. That was a loss that could not be made up for. Let's be clear, I don't want any more kids - I'm too old for that!

When I think of "restoration," my mind goes to Joel and how he prophesied that God would restore all the cankerworm had destroyed. Caregiving can be like that worm that chips away at life one piece at a time. Can God put that back? Can He heal a living grief? Can He make restoration?

 I have to hold to God's word and know that He is able to restore in ways I don't even understand. And then....I just have to trust Him...for one more day. Then tomorrow, I'll trust Him for another. and so, in my crazy thoughts I come full circle back to the heart of the matter - trusting Him.

No matter how He chooses to restore, or what that looks like for each of us, it's all about finding that place of trust. Job said, even if God kills me, I will trust Him. So no matter what a day brings, or doesn't bring we have to keep our hearts in His and live in a continual state of waiting on Him.

Today I will picture my heart in His and do what I need to do to keep it there. My thoughts will be on trusting Him just for today, and I'll rest in that spot. I will give Him my concerns, my worries, my crazy thoughts and I will wait to see how He works on my behalf. I will trust Him for one more day - will you join me?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Power of Determination

Over the weekend, I spent most of my study time reading in Daniel. For this week, he's my favorite Bible character, and I continue to learn from reading about his faith in the midst of his life's trial. Like caregivers, his trial didn't miraculously go away one day; it was a lifelong journey. Actually, the 12 chapters this book contains cover a lifetime of over 70 years. Sometimes we tend to read through it in a matter of a few minutes without realizing the time element.

70 years he was in captivity. He lost his family, his country and his life to become the servant of a king. While there is the good side of things - we can't minimize the losses he went through. He was young when he was carried away to Babylon but we see him develop into a man of God in the midst of extreme circumstances.

I literally lived in the ICU waiting room for 3 weeks before my son was moved to the floor of the hospital and during that time I prayed that whatever the outcome would be - I wouldn't become bitter. There had been many instances where I'd seen individuals go through tough times to come out bitter and angry in the end. And about 18 months later when I was able to re-establish a home and bring my son home finally - I prayed again that I would not become bitter but that I would be like many saints who let harsh circumstances develop and deepen their faith.

I don't know if I've accomplished that goal - but I see it in Daniel. In chapter one, it says he was determined not to eat the king's food. He did not want to violate his convictions - and he knew he could die. The king could kill him for his request; or he could starve to death! He could have been kicked out of the palace and placed with those who were not "chosen" by the king to serve. He risked a lot by making his unusual request.

And then years later we see a matured Daniel being told he could not pray to anyone but the king. And in chapter 6 verse 10 tells us this: when Daniel learned the law had been signed (that there was to be no prayer to anyone or any god but the king) he went home and knelt down as usual....and prayed! I love that!

I want to have the determination we see in Daniel. It was like nothing on the outside mattered, he was determined to serve God no matter what. The scriptures make no mention of him being bitter or angry at God for all that befell him. And in our "new world" thinking - he had every right to be. As caregivers the world gives us that right too. And I will admit - I've been angry at God, He and I have discussed it many times - and we don't have any details on what Daniel was thinking - perhaps he and God had discussed it too.

My prayer today is that over the years of this caregiving journey I end up like Daniel - with my face in His. I love the way Daniel took the king's decree in stride and once again followed his heart and conviction rather than just blindly doing whatever the king said. He wasn't obstinate, rebellious, or hateful. He just turned and went to his prayer spot just like before - as if the decree had never been made.

Today I will be thinking about Daniel and how determined he was to serve God in spite of his circumstances. My meditations will be on how I can work on relationship with God instead of being angry that He let bad things happen in my life. I will think about how He walks through it with me and never leaves me on my own. And for me, I'll even think about how patient He has been, and continues to be as I work through my issues. Today, I will embrace His grace and His presence and focus on Him instead of my circumstance. Will you join me?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Outside the Cave

It seemed as though Philippians 2 was written just for me this morning even though Paul penned it years ago to Christians in very different circumstances. I found a few nuggets to think about today, and a couple of them stung just a bit.

I ended up thinking about verse 1 a lot more than the others because these can be very real questions for the caregiver. The NLT reads Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? any fellowship together in the Spirit?  And Paul goes on to talk to the believers at Philippi asking them why they are not getting along.

While my focus isn't on getting along with other believers, I did think about these questions as a caregiver. Obviously, believing in Him hasn't kept difficult times from visiting. Knowing Him didn't "protect" us from being caregivers, and it didn't keep us from having to face some very difficult situations in life. Just think about Job - his faith didn't protect him from terrible things happening; but it did carry him through it.

So, we may still be asking if there is comfort and encouragement in Him. I have to say, "Yes!" He may even pour out a little bit more on us caregivers from time to time, knowing that it takes a bit more for us to make it through - and that is His ultimate goal. We don't get to escape caregiving, losses, or the grief that might be accompanying it for many - but He will walk us through it.

Paul goes on in this verse to ask the Philippians if they have fellowship. And if they are tenderhearted and sympathetic with each other. I can say I've found most caregivers to be very sympathetic. Why wouldn't we be? We get it. We understand each other's struggles most of the time and are familiar with the heart wrenching duties as well as the intense blessings that come with taking care of a loved one.

But what Paul says later on in verses 3 and 4 stuck out to me today. The NLT says Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble; thinking of others better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. Is he serious? I have enough going on - enough of my own concerns; like making it through the day with my sanity in tact!

It can be so "easy" to withdraw into our caregiver's cave and forget about the rest of the world. We really do have enough on our plate to take care of - but let's not get absorbed into our own world and forget there are other hurting people out there, other caregivers out there. There's lots of other people out there who are hurting. Can you think of one? Pray for them today.

Today I'm going to be aware that I am not alone in my pain. I will make a list of those I know of who are hurting and pray for them specifically today. I'll think about how He comforts me in my pain, how He encourages me to keep the faith; and I'll pray that they experience his comfort, encouragement and peace today too. Will you join me in this venture out of the cave?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Full Package Deal

This morning my devotions led me to the gospel of John and I found myself reading through familiar chapters. I've always enjoyed 14-17, they are mostly Jesus' words and each verse seems to be so rich. But today I landed in chapter 15, verse 26.

The New Living Translation interpreted it this way:  But I will send you the Counselor - the Spirit of Truth. He will come to you from the Father and will tell you all about me.  My Bible has a footnote on "Counselor" which elaborates a bit. It says: or Comforter, or Encourager, or Advocate, Greek Paraclete. Today - this made my day!

There are two things that stuck out to me, first of all that Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth which to me means when I embrace Him I embrace truth. I won't be looking for words that just make me feel good, half-truths or anything but truth as I seek Him.

The second thing is that there are so many interpretations of the Greek word, Paraclete. Holy Spirit is sent to us, but He also lives in us. "Paraclete" can mean one who walks alongside; and I like that. But Jesus says He will be in us not just with us. But He is also our counselor - helping us find wisdom to make each decision caregivers have to make. And He is our comforter - to console us on those days we can't seem to get a handle on.

 He is also considered an encourager to offer us positives when the world around us seems to be mostly negatives. I love encouragers - they can say just the right thing to keep you going. When I ran the OKC half marathon a couple weeks back, the road was lined with people who encouraged the runners. They kept offering words that motivated us to keep going when it got tough. Holy Spirit knows just what to speak into our hearts to help us keep our morale up and keep going.

And He is our advocate. We are our loved one's advocate - or one who speaks on their behalf for their benefit. Holy Spirit can present our case to God when we are not even sure what to ask.

So there is SO much in this seemingly short phrase - I will send you the Counselor. As believers, we have Holy Spirit living inside of us to comfort, counsel, encourage, and advocate for our soul's deepest needs. It's a full package deal! God didn't say that because we are caregivers and Holy Spirit might have to work overtime so we don't get the package deal. Actually He pours out more grace on us and wants us to know that Holy Spirit can handle us and our stressful environment. We have all of Him and He has all of us!

Today I am going to think about the all-sufficiency of God. He really is all I need. I'm going to let Him deal with the feelings of loss that oftentimes are associated with caregiving. My meditation will be on all I have in Him. Will you join me?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The True Battleground

Does it ever seem like you are just truckin' along and everything is going great when BAM! Seemingly, out of nowhere your thoughts start running away with you? Maybe it's just me, but that totally happened to me this morning.

I got in my recliner, coffee in hand, Bible in lap, all ready to read a bit. I'm cruising through the Psalms and hit chapter 81.  In verse 11, God has noted that His people are not listening to Him. They stubbornly pursue their own desires. And by 14 He says if they would listen to Him - He would subdue their enemies.

That's when my mind went nuts on me. My initial response was something like - so if I get myself together and really pursue God - really listen to Him He sill subdue MY enemy? My greatest enemy in my thinking is a brain injury. Well, if God could "subdue" that - my life would be so much easier. And from there I got mad once again because I don't figure God's going to swoop in and take the TBI away.

But as I kept rolling some thoughts around and trying to get un-mad at God again, I realized the TBI isn't my worst enemy. My enemy isn't even life. We understand the life of a caregiver is not easy and every day brings difficulties  needing to be worked through. Everything is complicated, even the most basic of our daily chores like cooking, eating, bathing etc. It's all complicated and it can get to the place where it nags at us chipping away at our faith and trust in Him. That's when I recognized my enemy.

It's not a TBI that I honestly do wish was not there, but it's in the day-to-day grind of living life as a caregiver that chips away at my faith. Trying to control my thoughts and battle against depression can be an enemy. I want to trust but life can be so frustrating. I can't tell you how many times I've honestly wanted to blame God and throw my hands up in the air to give up on my faith. I have these weak moments when I feel as though I am totally overcome by life. And that chipping away at my faith, the eroding of my trust in Him, battling the crazy thoughts that go through my mind - that's the enemy.

As difficult as it is, and as simple as it sounds - if I can turn to Him one more time - He can help me conquer these enemies. He knows I cannot conquer them on my own - and He is not going to let me get swallowed up by them. All He is waiting for is for me to give up the battle and try to trust Him for one more day. And that I will.

Today I will focus my energy on turning my heart to His. I'll listen for His subtle voice and try to shut out the craziness that tries to chip away at faith. My thoughts will be on how He can crush these enemies of my soul, and one more time I will wait for Him. Will you join me?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Still at Work

As I was starting to organize my day and get my thoughts together this morning, my mind kept returning to a familiar scripture. Us church-kids memorized it as children and it serves as a constant reminder that He ain't done with us yet.

Paul writes to the church at Philippi, And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again. (Philippians 1:6 NLT) I don't know about you, but I was pretty sure when that since I am a caregiver, He had given up on working on me. The day my son had the wreck I lost my life, my goals and my dreams - the ones I thought for sure He had given me. Literally everything in my life changed as I moved into the caregiver role. I thought for sure I was exempt from Kingdom responsibility and the basic requirements laid out and understood by being a church kid. But I was wrong.

As the life of caregiver leveled out and the emotions settled down to a not-so-calm norm, I realized that God hadn't changed the things He had required of me. He still held me to doing right, loving mercy and walking humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8) He didn't lessen these, He didn't tell me that I didn't have to worry about them any more since my life situation had changed. Actually, over time I came to realize that He didn't change what He was requiring of me at all.

At first, I thought this was unfair. But then I began to realize that it wasn't all that bad. Even though my life situation had changed, my standing with God did not change a bit. I was still His child, still had all of the responsibilities that go along with being a child of God - but all of the blessings of being a child of God were also still intact; and Philippians 1:6 was still true. He is still working on and with me.

Even though my life changed dramatically in one instant - His work in my life did not. But the question then remains, what work is He doing in me, that won't be finished until the final day? I think the answer is in chapter 2 verse 13: He works in us both His will and His good pleasure. (NASB) Even though I don't understand why certain things happen, I am learning that He is still working in me - He is still working for me - He is still working on me....and shaping me into the image of Christ - just like every other believer.

Today I will rejoice in the truth that He continues to work on and in me no matter what life throws at me - and no matter how I react. He continues to perfect the image of Christ in me with the goal of me looking like Him. I'm going to rejoice today - because He didn't give up when life got hard - or when I had an attitude and wanted to give up. My meditation today will be on how He continues to work in me for His pleasure - and I will think about how I can completely surrender to His will in me. Will you join me?