Tuesday, July 31, 2018

One at a Time

Sorry for my absence, but my son was in the hospital most of last week. Just part of the journey, right? But it sure does stir up a wide range of emotions. I'm not sure if the social isolation or the battle for the soul is more difficult. By the soul, I mean the mind, will, and emotions. It sometimes feels like life has taken me captive and sentenced me to life without parole.

The caregiver can struggle with so many things on an emotional level as the tasks of taking care of loved ones wears away at our heart. We do what we do because we love them - but that doesn't mean it's easy. Jesus died for us because He loves us - but that didn't make the cross a pleasant journey.

Maybe I am only speaking for myself, but my emotions can be all over the place from one second to another. Fears and doubts try to chip away at faith leaving my heart and mind in shreds. Oftentimes, I feel like a prison caught between my faith and the reality of the day-to-day. As it all closes in around me it can be an internal war zone. Often I feel like a victim - but I refuse to take on a victim mentality. One of the lines in a Zach Williams song says, "I don't want to be a prisoner."

This morning as I was running laps around the parking lot with Chris looking on, I was praying about these feelings. The thought came through my mind of Moses. He led the Children of Israel out - one step at a time. God didn't pick them up and set them in the promised land. He walked them through struggle after struggle, through battle after battle, through challenge after challenge.  Joseph didn't have a dream and then see it fulfilled. He walked through years of struggle, dismay, and maltreatment before he saw it come true.

I guess I'm saying that the deliverance of our souls come one step at a time - not just once and done. God walks us through each fight with fear, each battle with doubt, through the weariness - and temptations... He delivers my soul one little piece at a time. I'll cherish each step of the journey then because I realize each time I finish upright and faithful He's freed a little more of my soul.

Today, I will begin to rejoice that we are still winning - even though it is a difficult journey. Even though life rages against the soul He is the keeper of my soul. Today, I will trust Him to keep me and my soul intact. Will you join me?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Safe and Loved

tender moments between mom and son
This morning as I bent over my son's hospital bed to kiss his forehead, I whispered, I want you to feel safe and loved. Many times, our loved ones are so vulnerable and unable to protect themselves. As a mother and a caregiver, I have such a sense of needing to also be advocate and protector.

My son cannot speak for himself, I have looked at some camps designed specifically for brain injury victims - they look wonderful. But I cannot stay with my son. Since he cannot speak, he would not be able to tell me if there was anyone hurting him in any way. I just can't take him. When I get respite for him I take him to a nursing home where my sister works. I also know several of the staff so I feel he is better watched over.

Those who need caregiving are often the most vulnerable among us. I just wanted my son to be assured I was here to protect him and to ensure his safety. Specifically, I wanted him to know he is loved. He seems so alone sometimes even though I am with him always.

As I was having this tender moment with my son, I realized how God must feel the same way about us. He longs for us to feel secure. He longs for us to feel His love for us. Sometimes I wish I could just take my son up in my arms and hold him. He's just a little too big for that! But does God wish we would present ourselves to Him in such a way that He could scoop us up and hold us? I think maybe He does.

We are safe in His arms - He is the protector of our souls - that part of us that doesn't die.

Today, I'm going to meditate on His intense desire to be with me. (and you....) I'll turn my thoughts to how He longs for us to come to Him, to rest on Him and to feel secure and loved. I'll think about how He guards my soul - my mind, will and emotions and how He keeps the part of me that will never die safe and securely tucked away in His heart. And with that I'll trust Him for one more day - will you join me?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Circle of Determination

This photo may not look like much to you, but it means a lot to me. See the path that has been beaten along the outer edge? I've done that over the last few weeks. My treadmill malfunctioned and I was on a running streak (still am) and didn't want to give in. I measured the distance around my tiny backyard and it's .01 mile. That means running around it 100 times is a mile. I made it a tiny bit longer by adding the patio in the mix.

It may look like a silly path but I call it my "circle of determination." I am on a fitness journey here. As caregivers, our own health often gets laid to the side because of all the duties we need to complete each day. The reality is, even though I hate for people to remind me of it, that we have to be healthy for our loved ones, if not for ourselves. As much as I want to care for my loved ones, I also want to feel good while I do it as much as possible. So I laced up my running shoes and started putting some miles in - then my treadmill broke and the aide doesn't come in until it's way too late to get out there. So, I made a way. Isn't that one of the caregiver's finest qualities we develop? lol

My point is that I was determined to do whatever it took. When my caregiving journey started my first prayer was that I would not get bitter along the way. I remember crying out to God in the chapel at the hospital and asking Him to guide me in a way that I wouldn't get bitter. I prayed I'd become like heroes of faith I'd heard of who like Paul took their prison time and turned it into opportunities to share and spread the Truth of the gospel. I cannot yet say I've succeeded, but I can say I'm still determined... and that'll go a long way!

One of the main things I've determined is to stay in the Word, even when it doesn't make sense. And even when it makes me mad. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 can bring a cloud of confusion and frustration along with a barrage of questions. How can He bring something good out of this? How are these good plans and hope? That's actually one reason I stay in Psalms where David and other psalmist are gut-level real about their emotions as well as the fears and struggles they are facing.

Our questions don't hurt God's feelings or frustrate Him. And they don't mean we don't trust Him either. Sometimes those heart-wrenching questions are our way of seeking Him more deeply as we try to find our way through caregiving. He continues to patiently reveal His heart toward us in the midst of the struggle. I love that He never throws up His hands and quits on me no matter how difficult the questions I ask. I do think He may shake his head and close His eyes from time to time though.... lol

Today, I'm going to meditate on keeping the faith in the midst of the struggle. I'll be thinking about my tiny little footpath and the determination it took to create it. And I'll apply that to my faith walk. My thoughts will turn toward staying in the word... (Thy word is a lamp unto my path and a light unto my path.) and a renewed determination to hold on to faith. And to hold on to Him as I trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

I Will Care for You

My mom and aunt

I will care for you
When your strength is gone
And you can’t do it on your own
When you aren’t sure what to do
Or don’t remember how to…
I will care for you.

When reality passes away
Like it’s the end of a day
Your mind’s in the clouds
But you know everyone in a crowd
Your memory starts to fail
And your body is oh so frial..
I will care for you.

You misunderstand the simplest stuff
Don’t know if you’re hungry or had enough
When you don’t know the time or the day
I’ll take your worry away
And I’ll care for you.

I’ll assure you of my love
Hug you and tell you  - you’re safe with me.
I will care for you.

I’ll help you dress
And all the unspoken rest
Showing you dignity even in my pain
Tears in my eyes as I watch you fade
I will care for you.

When you can’t talk – I’ll be your voice
If you don’t know – I’ll make the choice
I’ll listen to your stories again and again
Because soon they will be silent…

Although we’ve gotten here by life’s chance
I’ll be your lead in this long slow dance
It wasn’t what we expected
Didn’t see it coming at all
We’ll do the best we can –
Just take my hand

I will care for you.

(c) J Olinger 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Better Set That Watch!

Today is one of those days. My prayer this morning has been "set a watch over my lips, Oh God!" I'm stressed out beyond belief. My fellow caregivers understand. Everything has piled up and it takes very little to feel like you're falling off the edge into an abyss of emotions and struggling with depression.

I love caregiving for both my son and my aunt, but there are those days when it seems overwhelming and it's not one particular thing you can put your finger on. My humanness shows and my cape is missing. lol

Things pile up. We get tired. We feel lost, cut off from the rest of the world and like no one understands where we are or what we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

This morning I was praying for the Lord to guard my heart and my lips. I looked up the scripture and found it in Psalm 141:3. The New Living says it this way: Take control of what I say, Lord and keep my lips sealed. I backed up to read the previous two verses. David was calling out to God and spoke my heart. He prayed O Lord, I am calling to you. Please hurry! Listen when I cry to You for help! Boy, do I feel that one on this day. Lord - please hurry - I need You to come to my rescue!

As you read the rest of this psalm, David is asking God to save him from his enemies. In verse 8 he says, don't let them kill me! David feared for his life and perhaps I cannot relate to that. But I can relate to feeling like my emotional life has been sapped, drained and left for dead.

When I can't feel anymore - I can run to Him. As David said in this psalm, I look to you for help... You are my refuge. No matter what this day or any day brings, I know I have a refuge, I know my help comes from the Lord. I will trust. And hope He sets that guard over this heart of mine as well as my lips.

Today, I'm going to allow Him to work on my heart. I'll trust Him for the peace that passes understanding that He promised. My heart will continue to lean into Him and wait on Him. And I'll pray like David in this psalm that He accepts my prayer as an incense offered up to Him because I trust in Him. And I will trust Him for one more day. Just for today. Will you join me?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

For Long-Distance Caretakers, Neighbors Can Be a Lifeline to Loved Ones in Need

Are you providing care for a senior loved one who lives in a different city or state? When you’re a long distance caretaker, it can be stressful not knowing whether your loved one is safe when you’re away. But if your loved one has a network of neighbors and friends to help you out, it can make life a little easier for you both. Here are some ways you can get to know these neighbors when you live out of town:

Send an Introduction Card  

If you want to get to know your loved one’s neighbors, a simple card or handwritten note can be a warm way of introducing yourself. People love getting cards and positive pieces of mail. You can provide your contact information and some information about your loved one in the card, if you feel comfortable doing so. For neighbors that have already proven themselves to be helpful to your loved one, consider sending a thank you note or a little gift card to show your gratitude for their assistance. Don’t forget to keep these people on your mailing lists for holidays to further build a warm, caring connection.

Find an Organization to Help   

When you don’t live nearby, it can be really tricky to try and get to know your loved one’s neighbors. Luckily, there are local organizations that can help you and your loved one make these important connections. In Denver, organizations such as A Little Help, are connecting seniors to neighbors who can offer assistance, friendship and caring when they need it most. These programs also reach out to younger generations, connecting seniors to high schoolers and middle schoolers who can assist their elderly neighbors with tasks around the home. You can do a quick web search to see if there is a similar program in your loved one’s area.

Make Some Phone Calls

If you can get contact information, why not give your loved one’s neighbors a call to introduce yourself? You can let their neighbors know that you are available if needed and ask them for resources that could help your loved in the area. Even if you don’t make an intro phone call, having the contact information for people living near your loved one is a smart move. You never know when you may need to reach out to get help checking in on your loved one or helping them with a difficult task.  You can also keep a list of emergency numbers in case you need to help your loved one from afar.

Use Social Media 

It’s easier than ever to connect with family and friends with the growing popularity of social media. You can connect with the neighbors of your loved one through social media to make contacting them an easy task. There are even social media sites dedicated to specific neighborhoods. Sites including NextDoor are specifically tailored to encourage communication between neighbors and neighborhoods. Once you’re logged in, you can even look up people on a map to see who lives around your loved one. There are benefits of social media for seniors as well, so connect your loved one, too.

Say “Hello” During Visits 

Being the primary caretaker for your senior family member most likely means a couple of visits from time to time. When you’re in town, try to make some time to get to know the neighbors in person. Pick up some baked goods or bottles of wine and make some house calls to say “hello” and connect with people living in the area. Or, if your loved one feels up to it, host a little house party for the neighbors. All you need is a couple of hours of conversation and some light refreshments to get to know your loved one’s neighbors a little better.

For seniors living alone, having a network of neighbors and friends can be a real lifesaver. By taking the time to get to know the people around them, you can give them this helpful network while giving yourself peace of mind when you are far away.

by Claire Wentz

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

So Easily Forgotten

chris and mom
Yesterday, a post by a friend got me to thinking. (That's not unusual, and it's very easy to do.) They stated how they are dealing with a serious condition and how lonely they were feeling. As their condition had progressed and they were sent home from the hospital, visitors waned until they were left all alone to deal with their own emotions and thoughts. Not only do those in these situations have to sort through such a wide range of emotional changes, fears, thoughts, and decisions - on top of all that they are left to deal with the loneliness of being forgotten.

Those on the outside don't always see it that way. They would quickly say, Oh, you're not forgotten. I think of you all the time. I pray for you daily. But this doesn't erase or dilute the sinking alone-ness that the ill or caregivers deal with.

Reading her post reminded me of the day I was informed of my son's wreck. I had to fly from Chicago where I was living to Shreveport, LA where he had been medi-flighted earlier that day. When I finally got there after an all-day ordeal, the ICU waiting room was still full of people. For the three weeks he was in ICU there was a constant flow of people in and out. Once we moved into an isolation room on the regular floor, visitors became fewer. Then even less came when we finally transitioned to a nursing home 4 months later.

After we finally made it "home" (which had to be recreated since I'd been headed to the mission field) there was no one. As if we were fine now. Today, even when we are in the hospital there are few visitors if any at all. It's like everyone thinks you are okay now that the initial crisis or initial diagnosis is over. But that's not really the truth. Caregivers live in crisis mode, we just adjusted - nothing went away.

Since God knows everything, we can assume He knew we would have those times when we feel forgotten, forsaken and all alone. Those times just come as caregivers. It's easy to feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders because we sort of do - on behalf of another.

The scripture, When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me is nestled in an interesting passage. I'm going to assume for clarity's sake that he's speaking of when his parents pass away. He precedes the thought with do not hide Your face from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger, You have been my help. Do not leave me or forsake me. What a plea for God's ever abiding presence to remain. Then the acknowledgment that even if his parents forsake him, he knows God has him. He follows it all with teach me Your way O Lord.

I then turned my thoughts to this verse in Isaiah 49:15 God asks the prophet, Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? The obvious answer is no. It's not natural to forget or neglect a child. But God follows the question, which He didn't ask just to receive information with Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. What a promise!!

We can feel so easily forgotten, forsaken and like we are having to forge through caregiving on our own. But He sees. He knows. He will never forget or forsake. He draws near and answers our unspoken prayers, fears, cares and cries with a simple I am here. 

Today, I will meditate on His nearness, whether I feel Him or not. I'll turn my thoughts away from the crowds who left to the One who stays. I'll be thankful for that and trust Him just for today. Will you join me?

Monday, July 9, 2018

When Everything is Broken

broken van
Ever have One of those days? That's a funny thing to ask a caregiver since every day is pretty much one of those. Our best days and altered-normals are what some might consider Mondays every day. We can live on such an emotional edge that the slightest seemingly smallest thing can tip us over the edge. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with us - it's the nature of the situation. Dealing with the broad range of emotions can cause great conflict because religion can be condemning. But what are we supposed to do with that?

I guess I am thinking along these lines because this has been one of those weeks. An already tough spot has been majorly complicated by taking on the added responsibility of caring for my aunt. While dealing with our elderly loved ones who can no longer use the logical processes to reason can be difficult it's not going too badly. But I won't lie - I'm tired. No, I'm exhausted. I can't ever quite keep up. Working as in job-wise needs to be done between 4 and 7 AM or it's not going to happen most days. The struggle is real. lol

Then this week the lift in the van malfunctioned and my sweet release - my rusty now not-so-trusty treadmill is not working. I was like is everything broken? My life already feels broke, now even the small things I counted on for escape are broke. Well, I'm not going to be beat that easily. I've been running my mile every morning in small circles around my backyard. My neighbors are certain I'm crazy now if there ever was a question about it. lol

Sometimes when the small things we forget we count on get broken it can leave us feeling emotionally stranded. I'm broke. My van is broke. My treadmill is broke. My bank account is broke. My life is broke. Everything is broke.

But it's not. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Timothy 2:19. The foundation of God stands sure having this seal: He knows those who are His. He ain't broke, ain't gonna be broke and has never been broken. Not by my horrible attitudes or my situation. He is the only constant we can rely on and He knows.

He knows and sees when our lives look broken, and He knows when we come to Him in that broken state and bring our heart bathed in our own tears before Him. He draws near to the brokenhearted. Perhaps that is to help carry a load that both are fully aware cannot be carried alone.

So, today when everything feels broke - I will rejoice that He still knows my name! I will meditate on the fact that Him knowing I am His will never be broken. It's sealed in eternity. His love will never be broken although His heart may break for us. I will rejoice today that His love for me will never wane, weaken or break. He loves with an everlasting love. And with that truth tucked deep into my broken heart - I will trust Him for today. Will you join me?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Already in the Boat

STanding with chris
Yesterday I celebrated having Chris home for 8 years. While I celebrated I thought a lot about all the different things we've been through over this last decade. I didn't express it, but it took a lot just to get to that point 8 years ago.

I'd gotten rid of almost everything and was headed to the mission field when I got the call he'd been in a wreck. There were times I felt like such a failure because I couldn't just "take him home." I'd been living with families for several years focusing on ministry. I felt like I had failed him by not providing that even though he and my daughter were both adults.

When Chris got accepted into rehab in OKC, they wouldn't take him until I established a home so he'd have a place to go on discharge. When we moved him from New Orleans to Oklahoma, I started staying with some of my daughter's friends who generously gave me a place to stay while he was in the nursing home. Now it was time to get a place of my own... again.

The shorter version is - I got a small, single-bedroom apartment right before he went to rehab for 3 weeks. You know how the caregiving journey is - lots of ups and lots of downs with some interesting spots in between. It's full of opportunities to give up, give in or die of exhaustion. lol

This week as I was studying my Bible, I found myself in Mark 4. The last part of the chapter is talking about when a storm came up and Jesus commanded it to be still as they were going to the other side. 8-10 years ago I couldn't tell you what this "side" might look like. I was a mess and still continue to suffer from the traumatic experience. But there are those times when Jesus speaks peace to my soul. They are invaluable. But that's not what stood out in the story this time.

In verse 35, Jesus told His disciples, let's cross to the other side. Then in the NLT it says, He was already in the boat. I have meditated on that ever since I saw it again for the first time last week. He was already in the boat. Before they loaded up, before they launched, before they started across, before the storm hit, before they got to the other side. He was in the boat and ready for the bumpy journey.

To say caregiving is a bumpy journey is an understatement, as you well know. But wherever each of us finds ourselves today - He's already there and ready to take it on for us. He's pumped up and rested up enough to speak peace to any storm that might arise.

Today, I will thank Him that I do not have to walk this all alone. My thoughts will be on how He purposes for us to go to the other side - victorious through whatever life might throw. I'll meditate on His faithful provision, His unmeasurable peace, and His constant watch over my soul. And I'll trust Him for just one more trip across this day. Will you join me?

From time to time I'd like to give you the opportunity to give to Dove's Fire Ministries if God leads you to do so. You can donate at this link if you feel led. Dove's Fire Ministries.