Learning – About Who We Are

About eighteen years ago my husband, Joe, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and my world dropped out from under me. At the time, I was working and Joe was going to college to get an Associates Degree. I was supporting the family and that wasn’t unusual since my husband could only get jobs that were low paying. I had already done my school time and had gotten my Associates, so it was his turn now. But Joe never completed school. He never worked again. He did live for another sixteen years and I became the touchstone that held the family together. Our boys were 16 and 20 years old and this greatly impacted their world.

When you become a caregiver, everything that you want is set aside. The world revolves around the one that you are caring for. And that’s the way it should be. But in that shoving aside the wants and needs that you have as a person tends to make a person disappear. Hobbies go away because you don’t have time, in fact, just to take small bits of time for yourself is a logistical nightmare.

I managed to go to counseling during that time and I still continue to go. I didn’t want to lose myself but I could feel parts of me drifting away. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never been through a crisis situation. When it’s all done and over, if you didn’t have a good sense of self to begin with, you find that all you’ve gained is gone. You feel like you live in a shell and the person that was in the shell is gone for good. It’s empty and scary.

Fast forward eighteen years through all the surgeries and medical decisions and hardship and tears. I look back now and see all the changes that I had to make to my life, some good, some bad. Decisions I made, some good, some bad. The life I lived, some of it good, some of it bad. The point is this: It’s done, it’s over. I will probably still make good and bad decisions. Bad things will still happen in my life.

The one constant that I had during this time was my faith, it actually got stronger. I learned to lean on Christ, who always gave me strength to go on. Now I’m learning to live again, who I am. I’m not going to be the same person that I was eighteen years ago, and now that I think more about it, I don’t want to be that person again. I’m a new, improved version. Yes, I’m a bit ragged around the edges and I still have my bouts with depression and sadness. I have a goal now. To be the best me I can be.

Being the music person I am, I have to post a song. This song touches me and the tears start flowing when I hear it. It so strikes my heart because this is what it’s about. Coming out of the shell and being the person God wants us to be. Thank you, Danny Gokey, you’ve really hit the mark on this one. What follows is the lyrics and a link to the song:

“Tell Your Heart To Beat Again” by Danny Gokey

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
Your heart to beat again
Beat again

Oh, so tell your heart to beat again

Tell your heart to beat again by Danny Gokey

Changing Relationships

Last week I went with two of my siblings to my mother’s quarterly assessment meeting at the nursing home.  She has Parkinson’s, high blood pressure, dementia and heart failure.  We spent a good bit of time reviewing end of life decisions …. do we want a DNR (do not resuscitate) order?  do we want her transferred to a hospital for anything other than an acute injury?  do we want a feeding tube or artificial hydration in any situation?  These things are difficult to even think about.

The social worker gave me a booklet to read.  It talked about the difficulties and guilt involved in putting a parent in a care facility.  The thing that struck me most was the statement that at some point, our relationship with a parent changes:  the child becomes the parent and must make hard decisions based on what is best for the parent, even when it isn’t what he or she wants.  It’s especially hard in cases like my mom’s, as her dementia makes it impossible for her to understand why she cannot live at home.

Other relationships change, too.  Our children grow up and we have to learn to become friends and mentors instead of parents.  Friends move and we have to adjust to relating via phone calls, email or letters instead of regular socializing.  Our spouse takes a new job, or retires and we need to change our daily routines and chore assignments.  Sometimes changing relationships have results that are good and welcomed, but other changes are painful and difficult, and almost all change is unsettling.

It’s good at times like this to remember that there is one person whose relationship to us does not change …Jesus Christ.  Oh, sometimes we may think He is ignoring us, but as a friend once told me, “if you feel further away from God than you were last year, who moved?”  The author of Hebrews tells us:

“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:8

He is our rock and our fortress, the one we can count upon when every other relationship changes.

Dancing in the Rain

dancing in the rain quote

I have this saying up on my living room wall and I was looking at it this morning and thought I’d share a bit.  I used to say “Why Me?” when things happened in my life, but someone came back to me and said “Why not you?”.  I didn’t have an answer to that.

I’ve had a lot of things happen to me.  In fact, I would think that I’ve been in the rain more than most people.  (My counselor agrees!) I’ve been a caregiver almost all my life starting when my father had a heart attack and my brother had a bad car accident and my mom and sister-in-law had to go to work to keep the family afloat.  I came home from school and took care of my niece and nephew, made dinner for everybody and put the kids to bed.  I was 15 at the time.  It goes on throughout my life.  One need after another. My father, my mother, my husband….

I look back at all that I’ve done (and struggled through) and wonder how I even made it through in one piece.  With all the changes in my life, some made within hours, I’ve learned to Dance in the Rain.  Now I know that my Lord Jesus has always been with me and He guided me through all my past changes.  As a result, I’ve grown stronger in my faith and in life in general.

Unanswered Prayer

I’m sure there are those of you out there that are reading what we’ve put up so far and are saying to yourselves “But God never answers my prayers!”

Let me tell you a bit of my story.  I spent many years as a caregiver to my husband and before that a “co-caregiver” with my Dad for my mother.  I prayed a lot.  Many of the prayers that I prayed went unanswered in the way that I prayed them.  “Heal my husband”; “Heal my Mom”.  Neither my husband or my mother were healed and both eventually died.

When my mom died, I got mad.  I had prayed and God didn’t answer my prayer.  I moved away from the Lord during that time because of my anger.  It was a very dark time in my life.  Then my husband got sick.

I would pray for healing for my husband, but there was a difference this time.  I had come back to the Lord and I knew I would never get through this time with out Him.  During my prayers other petitions would slip in.  “Give me strength” and “Help me cope”.  Now I have to tell you that those prayers were answered.  I found strength and hope through this prayer life.  I stopped praying for the healing and just raised my husband in prayer, because God knew what was what…  I didn’t need to keep asking for healing.  If God wanted him to be healed, he would be.  If not, then I needed all the strength I could get.    God is God.  I started to trust him with everything.

There is a song by Kutless (yes, I’m the music person on this blog!!) and they say the same thing so much better.  Here are the lyrics and a link to the video:

“Even If”

Sometimes all we have to hold on to
Is what we know is true of who You are
So when the heartache hits like a hurricane
That could never change who You are
And we trust in who You areEven if the healing doesn’t come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn’t comeLord we know Your ways are not our ways
So we set our faith in who You are
Even though You reign high above us
You tenderly love us
We know Your heart
And we rest in who You are

Even if the healing doesn’t come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn’t come

You’re still the Great and Mighty One
We trust You always
You’re working all things for our good
We’ll sing your praise

Even if the healing doesn’t come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn’t come

You are God and we will bless You
As the Good and Faithful One
You are God and we will bless You
Even if the healing doesn’t come
Even if the healing doesn’t come

And for those of you who would rather listen:

 

Washing Feet (continued)

In our society, few of us experience being a servant.  We have bosses at our jobs and we are subject to their authority, but we can walk away at any time and get another job.  Most of us would not put up with being treated like a servant in our relationships – we would get a divorce or just refuse to comply with those expectations. We are taught to avoid “being a doormat.” Yet as Christians we are called not just to be servants, but “slaves of God.” Romans 6:22.  A slave has no choice in where he goes, or what he does, he is totally controlled by the commands of his master.

 Once in a Bible study a member of our congregation told us she learned to be a servant when she cared for her mother with Alzheimers. That really impressed me.  I had never thought about being a “servant” as an opportunity. 

 I am thankful to this friend for her insight because in a few years God gave me this same “opportunity.”  Once a week, I went to my mothers house (a one hour drive).  Mom had dementia.  I helped her to shower – yes, I washed her feet.  If you have never done this, it is a humbling experience.  I knelt on the hard bathroom floor and having arthritis myself, it was sometimes hard to get up.  It was not easy to see Mom in such a vulnerable position.  I had to help her dress and undress.  Sometimes she soiled herself.  Next I fed Mom lunch, or took her out to lunch.  I cleaned her house and checked her refrigerator.  Sometimes we went to the bank.  We looked through her picture albums or watched TV.  Most of the things I imagined doing with her when I retired were not possible—her attention span was too short, and her memories just not there anymore.  It was difficult for us to carry on a meaningful conversation.  It wasn’t always pleasant.

 Now I am not holding myself up as a wonderful Christian example of service.  Far from it. For one thing, I love my mother.  She took care of me, so in a sense caring for her was no more than payback.  The Bible tells us that “even the tax collectors” do good things to those they love.  I also am fortunate to have six siblings who shared in her care.  Some of them did much more than I.  I gave up my time only once or twice a week and I did this only for a year before Moms condition worsened, and she went to a nursing home.  Many, many people care for family members constantly and under more challenging conditions.  What I want to say is I am thankful that due to my faith, I was able to accept this task as what God wanted me to do, and know that it was not just for Mom’s good, but mine.

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

 So what did I gain from this experience?  I learned patience and humility.  I learned adjust my expectations to what Mom was able to do.  I learned to slow down and do the best I could each day I was with her. I learned to appreciate her as a child of God, rather than anything she could do for me. I learned gratitude for other family members and for small affirmations, like the time Mom told me, “all my children are good to me.”

 So, I ask you again, “whose feet have you washed?”  How do you feel about being a servant, and what have you learned?