Monday, March 23, 2020

Uncertain Times

On one hand, many caregiver's lives have not changed much over the last couple of weeks. We are used to being locked in. Caregivers often suffer from social isolation because we don't have much of a social life anyway, if any at all. Personally, I didn't anticipate having any problems with stay-at-home orders as they were broadcast. But the climate change surprised me.

Most of us as caregivers are used to advocating for our loved ones. But this feels different. It's more intentional, more constant, more personal. And it could have dire ramifications if we let up for just one second - or at least it feels that way to me. When times seem to be even more trying and each day is uncertain - never knowing what news will unfold - I have to go back.

When my son was first injured and my caregiving journey was beginning even though I wasn't aware of it at that point, I started grabbing for sanity. In that moment, I had to go back, back to what I knew. I found much of what I had learned from the church was only meant to keep their church alive - feed the mind and soul - but not the spirit. I was beyond devastated.

The last day or so, I've been thinking about some of those first things I learned after Chris' wreck. One thing was that the kingdom of God did not change when he got hit in the head with a truck. God didn't get off His throne or throw in the towel. He didn't throw His hands up and wonder what to do.

Today, this is what has comforted me. God's kingdom hasn't changed even though the face of our world has changed temporarily. We are still His children and His salvation is sure. What we have and who we are in the kingdom of God - is unmovable. He still loves us. He still gives us His peace. And He will strengthen our hearts. That's the scripture I've been meditating on. The old KJV says in Psalm 27:14 - Trust in the Lord and be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart.

Today, this will be my meditation - that I will continue to trust Him come what may. And I will be thankful that He knows those who trust in Him. When my thoughts go crazy - and they will - I will bring them back to the truth that I trust Him with this day - because He is still on the throne and He still has us. I will remind myself that His throne is immovable - my situation does not dethrone Him. With an immovable King and unshakable kingdom - I will trust Him with this day. Will you join me?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Adjust the Focus

Yesterday was a rather rough day. We are pretty much quarantined in light of the recent developments surrounding the Coronavirus. We’ll avoid crowds and the only place we might go would be the trails where there is not much chance of exposure. This meant that yesterday when I went to see my mom in a healthcare facility, I was turned away. It was so surreal, like something out of a movie. I totally understand, but it still stung for it to become so real.

It was also Chris’s 36th birthday and I take his birthdays hard. He got one phone call and one card. How can he just be forgotten? He’s still here. It’s just an emotionally rough day. Add to that the declaring of a state of emergency across the country and it was just a heavy day. I didn’t even realize how bundled up my emotions were. Then, late last night Nicole C. Mullen popped up on Periscope. She was supposed to be traveling to a scheduled meeting, but it was canceled in light of the Coronavirus.

She just started singing. It was old school, praise choruses taken from scriptures. There was no music other than a simple beat. She was in her kitchen and just singing to the world. As I got lost in all those old church songs, I felt the burden begin to just lift off my shoulders and out of my heart. Then I began to cry – and it was one of those ugly cries. If you know me at all – you know I rarely cry. I just don’t.

I began to lift the depths of my pained heart to Him as she continued to sing. It was like one by one the burdens were being lifted off of me. My mom. My son. My aunt. My daddy. Work. Tiredness… need I go on? I know caregivers understand! We carry so much for other people we can so easily forget about ourselves. But He does not forget about us.

Just those few minutes of changing my focus from the multitude of things bothering me to praising Him just because He is – changed my perspective. Then this morning as I opened my Bible and just began to read, I found myself in Psalm 33. The first verse says Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Well, I guess my ugly cry was beautiful. Lol. Praise did give way to freedom for sure.

I encourage you today in light of all that’s going on – take a minute to praise Him. If you can’t find a reason, look at Psalm 33. Start with verses 8 and 9 that say: Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitance of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke and it was. He commanded and it stood fast. What a great place to start. Look at Him today.

Today, I’ll take my eyes off all that’s going on around me and I’ll fasten my gaze on Him. I’ll meditate on His greatness which does not diminish one iota with all the trouble and cares of the world. My thoughts will be on His grace. His mercy. His compassion toward us. Will you join me?

Friday, March 13, 2020

He Won’t Forget

My mom has a form of dementia. Right now, she does remember us, but she doesn’t remember life events. Many caregivers I meet are caring for parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia of some kind. It’s so hard on the emotions and heart because they still look like mom and dad, but they are not fully there. My mom has no memories of the ministry we did together for all those years. We traveled some and she’d speak at women’s meetings and I’d usually take my guitar and do some music. One year, we planned a whole women’s retreat. Our good friend Johnnie H. came and spoke, and I did all the music with our friend Linda P. Such good memories – but she doesn’t recall them at all.

Of course, my mom isn’t the one “suffering” so to speak. She’s chipper, friendly, and still loves everyone. She just doesn’t remember her life and all the people she impacted through her years of serving as a nurse and a minister. It’s sad for us – but she seems fine with it. She’s not troubled over it – because she really doesn’t know.

All of this was going through my mind this morning as I was reading in Isaiah 49. Verses 14 to 16 in the New American Standard translation read:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child?
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely, they may forget you,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continuously before me.

Our parents may forget – and it’s a horrible feeling. The person we knew who cared for us when we were children, those who raised us to be adults and parents of our own children, don’t even remember it. The comfort here is that even if they forget us – God won’t. This verse says: they may forget – but I will not forget you.

Caregiving is tough, no doubt. We can suffer from loneliness and social isolation. Our friends walk away because they don’t know what to do with us. The church doesn’t know what to do with us either and they turn their attention to the younger generation. It’s so easy to feel like we fell through the cracks and no one is coming in after us. We don’t feel worth it.

But we are to Him! God has His eye and His heart on us. This says he has tattooed us on the palm of His hand – it’s not possible for Him to forget us because we have become part of Him.

Today, my heart hurts because my mom doesn’t remember; but I’ll shift my focus to the One who cannot forget. My meditation will be on the steadfastness of His memory which has extended into these caregiving years. People seem to forget, church seems to forget, friends have forgotten it seems, but He knows right where I am and senses everything I feel right now. He’s that close – and He won’t move away. The world may forget us – but He doesn’t have the ability to forget us! And for that – I am thankful today.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Corona Virus and Faith

No matter what you believe about the Corona Virus and the “pandemic” declared by WHO, it’s a concerning situation. While the virus itself doesn’t pose much threat to the general public, and recovery is expected, to those most vulnerable among us, it can be fatal. That puts a bit of stress on us as caregivers as we strive to take the necessary precautions to try and shield those we care for from exposure.

Where do we run in times like these? As a caregiver fear knocks at my heart’s door. I want to batten down the hatches, spray everyone with disinfectants and move further back in the caregiver’s cave. The social isolation of being quarantined isn’t scary – many of us have been living like that for years. I discussed this in another blog I maintain by stating, Welcome to My World.

We hold on to faith every day as caregivers. It takes faith most days for us to continue living and moving forward. But add something like this crazy virus on top and we have to dig down just a little deeper. I’ve watched Christians on social media platforms plea the blood and quote scriptures declaring it won’t come nigh their dwelling. But over the last few years of caregiving, I’ve learned that faith isn’t so much keeping horrible things at bay – instead, it’s what carries us through them.

One of my favorite scriptures comes to mind, and I’ve seen it quoted a lot lately. David talks about abiding in the shelter of God and how God is our refuge. We don’t need a refuge if there isn’t a storm. Some of the phrases I’m seeing pulled out of context in this psalm are:

He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from pestilence,
It shall not come near you….
No evil shall befall you nor any plague come near your dwelling…

I love to claim these too. But there really is a catch. First off, we must admit there is a fowler’s snare, pestilence, plague, arrows flying, and destruction. It exists and we are not exempt as much as we’d like to think so. Now, don’t get me wrong, one thing I’ve learned as a caregiver is how He continues to watch over us and walk with us through things. Daniel didn’t get an exemption card – he faced the lion’s den. David faced Goliath. The three Hebrew children walked through that fire. Jesus faced the cross. There is no exemption – only deliverance.

Think for a second about the writer of this psalm. David ran for years from Saul. He hid in caves and ran for his life. His son, Absalom killed his brother Amnon. Then, later on, Absalom was killed. David lost two sons. He knew heartache. After his sin with Bathsheba, he lost a baby son. He knew God didn’t keep all bad things from happening. But here in this “protective” psalm, we try to quote like it’s an enchantment or incantation,  David stresses that God is our shelter – we don’t need shelter if nothing is happening to us. I don’t hide under an umbrella if there’s no rain. There is no running to the storm shelter if there isn’t a storm.

God does not promise a free ticket and exemption from problems. What He does promise is that He will never leave us. He does promise to be faithful. He promises to keep our souls in the midst of the storm. There is no promise that the storm won’t come – but rather the calm assurance that He’ll keep us in and through it.

I will take the necessary precautions to protect my son from the Coronavirus and the flu. I will pray that he nor anyone in this household gets it. But whether we face it or not – I will trust God to carry me through.

Today, I will focus on God’s faithfulness. My meditation will be on how He remains calm in the craziest times. I’ll turn my thoughts to the fact that whether we see uncertain days or not – He will remain with me. He will walk each day with me. And today, I’ll be grateful for His presence and His beyond-our-understanding peace in the midst of chaos and craziness. I’ll trust Him – for today, for tomorrow, and forever. Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

In His Hands

This morning, I was working on my latest devotional 31 Days in Psalm 31 which I hope to complete and have in my bookstore by the end of the month. There are so many things in this one psalm and I've read it so much my Bible falls open to it automatically now. lol. I was thinking about fear, grief, hurt, and the dark night of the soul. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. Sure, there are those caregiver moments like when my son actually hugged me the other evening. Those moments erase a ton of pain. They make it all worth it. But they are not lasting and it's back to the day-to-day grind.

As I was working on the devotional, I took a look at Job again. His story intrigues me. He took all the overwhelming pain and turned it into worship. It wasn't about a congregational song on Sunday morning, he wasn't sitting out back playing his guitar, and no Kumbaya around the campfire either. He took his deepest grief and pain and he worshipped.  Like David in Psalm 31 said, my life is in Your hands - Job took the tragic moment and spent it on his knees acknowledging that God was still his God - and he gently, with tears, placed his life in God's hands and gave Him back total control. Such a precious worshipful moment.

I can't say I have reacted that way. Oh, I eventually get back to that position of worship. I always return. But usually, I throw a fit, cuss and scream a little and pout for a while first. I do always return to that position though. Worship is just that - we become the sacrifice. Our lives are like an Isaac placed on Abraham's altar. All of our promises, hopes, and dreams are there on life's altar. Even the broken promises, shattered dreams and lost hopes - they are all there. All being poured out before Him as a sacrifice. And you know what? He gets it. He understands. He accepts it. Even in our most broken state - He scoops us up and carries us through. But we must remain in His hands.

When we were kids we used to sing a song He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. All us church babies remember that one! Well, you know what - He still has the whole world in His hands. It's the ultimate act of worship to say with David - my life (all that I am, all that I've lost, all that I've gained, all my pains, hurts, griefs, caregiving struggles) are in Your hands. Then, we must leave it there - and trust Him with it - trust Him with our souls. Like Job, we lift up our hearts to Him and say, Blessed is Your name O Lord no matter what life brings today. It's all in His hands.

Today, I will meditate on letting every ounce of my being stay in His hands. I'll turn my thoughts to how I can trust Him enough to realize my life is in His hands, and it's alright. He can handle it. I'll let Him handle it today as I trust Him for just one more day. Will you join me?

Monday, March 9, 2020

Into the Wlderness

This morning during my private reading and journaling time, I was reading along and just minding my own business. Little things were standing out to me like the fact God had to tell Moses that all the curtains were to use the same measurement. I just found it funny and understood why God didn't have me build it. I'd have one short panel, and none of them would be exactly the same length. lol. It was sort of fun reading all those little particulars as some of it should have been common sense. But God was specific, for sure.

But when I got down to chapter 29, verse 46, I stopped. This verse tells us the why behind God bringing them out of Egypt. It says He brought them out - so He could dwell among them. The whole thing was so He could walk with them. I was humbled that He sent Moses after His people just so He could be with them. His heart is always about pursuing intimacy with His people, isn't it?

My "wow" didn't last long, though. I thought the fact that He brought them out of Egypt so He could be with them, live with them, and walk among them was cool. But then I remembered that at the writing of this verse by Moses - they were sitting in the middle of the wilderness. The dessert for crying out loud. I'm not sure it looked like they thought it should. They celebrated that they were going to go out of Egypt and meet with God. But the reality was setting in by now, I'm sure.

Why would God want to meet us in the middle of the wilderness? Maybe it's an area free from distraction. Or perhaps it was to keep them from being bogged down in the idolatry of Egypt. I had to think about that for a minute or two because oftentimes intimacy with him doesn't come by the route we thought it would. Caregiving, difficulties, struggles, illness, deaths of loved ones, and any other obstacles life throws at us doesn't detour Him from seeking us.

As bad as it was in Egypt, the Children of Israel were comfortable. They didn't realize how bound they had become. They didn't realize what they were missing because they were blind to anything outside the norms of Egyptian bondage. And yet, intimacy with God awaited them - in the wilderness. 

God meets us in those dry times. He meets us in life's wilderness. Sometimes we can see Him more clearly and hear Him more readily when the shackles are gone and so is the world. Sometimes, I've seen caregiving as bondage. But maybe it's just my wilderness - where God wants to dwell among me. Maybe if I could see the spiritual freedom that I've found in the caregiving wilderness, I'll appreciate being free from the bondages of today's religious system. The wilderness has a way of helping us (okay, forcing us) to look at Him.

God said He had brought them out of Egypt so he could dwell among them and be their God. The wilderness has a unique way of shucking us down, doesn't it? But today, I won't shun it, I won't hate it, I won't despise it. Instead, I'll be thankful to be out of Egypt and in a place where God desires to meet me. How about you?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Small Reminders

Today has not gotten off to a great start, and it’s not even caregiving that’s the problem. Sometimes I have wished that when we became caregivers all the rest of life’s “stuff” would just take a break. But, of course, that’s not the case. We must juggle caregiving responsibilities will all the norms of life too.

This morning I was trying to sort out my insurance stuff. I tried two or three things on the site, and then it came up and said I was denied, even though I supposedly had two more days to send in the next 900 forms they were requesting. Evidently, my tax forms are not enough. I’m not even sure at this point what it is they are wanting. So I called the helpline (twice) only to be sent off into some three ring circus of press this for that – chasing answers that never came. Finally, I got to push the button for a person. Expecting to be put on hold, I was instead told, “We are sorry you are having difficulty. Please call back later.” And it disconnected.

Not to be outdone, I went fishing for an email from years ago. The lady was a legal advocate and helped me sort through similar issues half a decade ago. I send her a quick note only to receive an “I’m out of the office” email. I was so excited when I saw another number I could call for assistance. (*sarcasm at its finest) I hurriedly called it and got a recording. Again. “The voice mailbox is full for the number you called, please call back later.” I had to laugh.

If you know me at all, you know patience is not one of my stronger suits. By now, I’m living. My blood pressure is shooting up and my heart has begun to jump around in my chest again (the reason I’m trying to make sure I have insurance so I can see a cardiologist!)

But in that moment, something odd happened. I realized way down inside I could hear a song rising. It was one I’d written right after my son’s wreck. Part of it goes Come to Me and rest, find shelter in my love, let Me sing over you My child…. I acknowledged the coolness of that moment and went about my pursuit of insurance coverage. But in a few minutes, I realized my heart was singing another song I’ve heard many times. You probably know it. It goes like this My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.  But still, I acknowledged it and went on moving my son to his room transferring him from chair to bed to be changed and back to his chair again. Then another song was in my heart. Waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness – that is who You are.

Well, by now it had my attention and I realized it was just a small reminder that I trust in Him. Psalm 121:2 says: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! (NLT) I think He wants me, us, to know He’s got us. No matter how rough the spot we are in right now – He is still our help. He signed up for it and He’s no quitter. He doesn’t walk out on us when the going gets tough like so many people may have done.

Today, I will remind myself that He is my help; I cannot do it on my own. I’ll be thankful for all the little reminders that He really is still in control. He did not get up off His throne or throw in the towel when life got complicated. I’ll turn my thoughts to His reminders – that I am His child. He is carrying me – He does that a lot. And I’ll be thankful that He is my waymaker, my shelter, my friend, and my light in the darkness. I’ll choose to be grateful today in the midst of the mess and I’ll trust Him – just for today. Will you join me?

Monday, March 2, 2020

Juggling Acts

The last weekend in February has been a fun one for the last seven years. It’s usually the weekend of my daughter’s birthday but sometimes falls the weekend after her actual birthday. We have ridden the train to Fort Worth and participated in some way in the Cowtown races. This year, we did the 10K together on Saturday. The rest of the weekend is ours to enjoy. This year, we just relaxed other than the expo for the event and the 10K we finished early on Saturday.

Giving her this one weekend a month where it’s just mother-daughter, is not really enough to make up for giving all my time to her brother, Chris, whom I care for 24/7. It doesn’t really give her back the time she’s lost these last 11 years. But it’s a special time for her and for me – we spend it together just being us. It’s always loads of fun and she calls all the shots as to where we eat and what we do. This year, planning did not go off without a hitch.

We get some respite through the Advantage program (if you are a caregiver check it out in your state it helps with a lot of things). It wasn’t approved two days before we were to board the train, so I was jumping through mental hoops looking for alternative care for him on Friday. Of course, at the last minute, the approval came through. I don’t understand why something requested weeks ago take to the last minute. It’s like they really don’t care about our feelings – we are just a number on a piece of paper.

Then, my friend who was going to pick Chris up on Friday night fell very ill. Before we board the train I’m trying to jump through hoops to get someone else to take him home and stay with him the first night. It’s all quite funny now – but it wasn’t then.

As caregivers, if we even get a break, it can feel like we are being punished for wanting one. It takes more work to organize all the particulars than it does to just stay home and take care of him. Or at least it feels like it. Overall, it all went well, and he was definitely well cared for and he did very well this time with eating and things like that. Plus, my daughter and I had our special time together and we both got some much-needed downtime. Overall, I’d have to say it was a juggling success. Lol.

Sometimes I wonder if God is looking down on my juggling act and shaking His head. Maybe He is burying His face in His hands. But juggling isn’t a one time a year thing for us caregivers. Many don’t even get that opportunity. Day after day we juggle caregiving tasks, cooking, work, other children’s needs, and our own needs are the pin that gets dropped while we try to keep everything else in the juggle. I know He sees each of us and He understands, even when He seems silent.

I’ve said many times, that God doesn’t make a convenient exit just because life gets ugly. He never stops painting because the picture isn’t pretty. He doesn’t stop listening when life’s song sounds out of key. 1 Timothy 2: 19 reminds us that the foundation of God stands firm and He knows those who are His and we are still His when we become a caregiver. Our standing with Him is not altered because life throws us a curve. He is with us in the juggle, strengthening us and calling us His own.

Today, in the hustle, I will remind myself I am His. He has not abandoned. He is near. My thoughts will be on His ever-abiding presence and I will lean in to Him to hear His heart still beating for me. I’ll trust Him with today’s juggle as I try to get back into the day-to-day of caregiving. I’ll be grateful and purposefully thank Him for not leaving alone to walk this journey. Will you join me?