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Looking for hope…

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(Found this art on Facebook with no credits. So, to whomever, thank you!)

Our church celebrates the Resurrection. Every. Single. Week. What a hope-filled day!

I can tell you from personal experience when someone you love is dying or has died being surrounded by those who love God makes a  huge difference.

That upper room filled with grieving disciples, well, I can just imagine it. They were together. They were looking for HOPE when all seemed hopeless. They were comforting one another. They were  living in community.

Chronic illness and caregiving is isolating. Depending on the degree illness — so very isolating. Hanging on to hope, to friendship, even, can seem like a lost cause.

Recently I spoke to a senior saint who cared for her husband. She said she lived from years at the edge of our small town and didn’t know anybody! I was heartbroken for her.

If you’re single-handedly supporting the family and picking up the slack at home, time for fellowship doesn’t seem possible.

I’m telling you now, don’t walk this road alone! Just don’t! You’ll end up being sheep-steak for the Enemy!

Get on your knees now and ask. Keep asking. I’m telling you, I needed local friends in the worst way, and God has provided. Pray this for your husbands, too.

Remember Pilgrim of Pilgrim’s Progress? He lost his friend Faithful to a martyr’s death. Then God sent him Hopeful. Love that!   Pray for a Hopeful. Pray for a friend who will love, encourage, and keep you on track. I think that is a Biblical prayer.

 I’m hoping you’ll also find community and encouragement here on this blog. The Apostle Paul loved and prayed for the Roman Christians before he laid eyes on them.

Let’s be that loving community of the broken.

Let’s lift up each other’s feeble hands and weary feet.

Let’s pray for each other, near and far.

Let’s look for hope in our Risen Lord and Coming King today and every day.

 

 

 

 

 

3 ways to unlock Doubting Castle

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Survey question: how many of you have read Pilgrim’s Progress in some form? Watched the film version?

If you have, you may recognize this blog’s title. If you haven’t, I will give you a tiny overview of the plot line. The key character is Pilgrim. He is on a dangerous journey to the Celestial City. Alone at times, he also meets and travels with two key friends for part of his   journey.

One important fact to note is that the author John Bunyan wrote this classic allegory in prison.

Quite a few tales of courage, faith, and redemption have been linked to prison time.

Joseph — betrayed, lied about, imprisoned;

Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom incarcerated by the Nazis for hiding Jews;

Les Miserable’s Jean Valjean languishing in a wretched labor prison for the paltry crime of stealing a loaf of bread are just a few examples.

The particular prison Doubting Castle in the Pilgrim’s Progress is run by the GIant Despair. He lurks around the countryside and snags those who have strayed off course or missed a sign for the Celestial City.

The Giant Despair caught Pilgrim and his friend when they took a side road.

Ever met this demonic Giant? I know I have. I’m sure our husbands have.

Chronic illness and depression are bedfellows.

The Psalmist wrestled with Despair. “Why are you cast down, oh my soul? Hope in God.”

He admits in Psalm 34, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”

HE couldn’t pretend the pain, sorrow, and affliction didn’t exist. It does.

If you aren’t currently undergoing some personal hardship or sorrow, just scroll down your Facebook or turn on the TV. The tragedies will sucker-punch your soul. (If you have a tender heart of compassion like Jesus, that is.) What a broken world!

Well, it’s one thing if your sick husband is chronically depressed.

It’s quite another thing when that depression spills over to your heart. You’re the caregiver. The heart of the home. Someone has to keep their head above water, right?

Like Pilgrim and his friend in the stone cold dungeon of the Castle of Despair, neither one could figure out how to break free. No way out. No strength to fight the Giant. Certain doom!

Suddenly they remember the key on a chain around Pilgrim’s neck. It’s called the key of faith! In the nick of time, they try the key. It fits the lock.

Making a daring jailbreak, they return to the narrow path that leads to eternal life.

I love the key of faith reference! So many times I forget about that key. Faith was a gift given to me by God.

When trial strikes, I feel the panic attempt to swallow me like being hauled off to a dark castle dungeon. Like a friend wrote to me recently, I hate that feeling! I should know better!

Time and time again I have seen God answer prayer and provide for our current need when we cry out to Him in prayer. So this little post is a reminder to me and an outstretched hand of hope and encouragement for you.

1.) Take time to “Be still, and know that I AM God.”

Like that famous line of poetry ( Browning?),”How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Remembering AND naming God’s great acts and His attributes is very faith- building. Pray these attributes.  God, I know You are faithful. I know You are just, yet merciful. I know there is no limits to Your resources. Your wisdom is bigger far than my problems right now.

2.) Like Israel’s stones of remembrance, make a list of answered prayers.

Yes, there is surprising power in the worn out cliche, Count your blessings, name them one by one. When I do this, my eyes just can’t stop leaking! Sometimes, like Paul and Silas, you start praising and the prison door does swing right open. Other times, your patience and faith will grow when you feel like you are forgotten in prison like Joseph. But God was with Joseph all along.

3.) Ask a friend to pray with you.

That happened to me this week, also. A friend reached out to me. We shared prayer requests. It was so very encouraging! Dear ones, do not hesitate to ask for prayer. Right here. Right now. Not only will I pray for you, I know other readers will.

Pray for me, for us? I want to hold tightly to the key of faith as my husband starts chemo this week. Also, months of pain management has failed to help. Chronic pain! Ugh! It’s wicked ugly awful! It wreaks havoc on body and mind.

With Jesus’ strength, He will keep our souls and our feet on the paths of righteousness straight to the gates of the Celestial City. Mutual prayers needed. Share below, please!

 

 

 

 

Store up comfort…

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That’s what I like to think my blog is: a store house of comfort.

A place that is real.

Caregiving wives have their hands full in a different sort of way. You and I need to feel we are not alone.

This week I received a lovely little surprise in the mail. A lady in our church mailed a new devotional to me. Her gift will go on my upcoming post “ways to help your hurting friend” list.  So I’ve been taking time to rest, refresh, and read for my soul’s sake today.

Otherwise, this coming week is so busy, so stressful that I could just quit. Quit. Right. Now.

Ever had one of those weeks? Where does a caregiving wife go to hand in her resignation? Especially when the weeks and months ahead look just as intense!

Time for a focus reboot.

Time to quit for one day. One beautiful day in seven exists in which God Himself chose to rest from His creation labors. Time to sit and cry and read and pray in my chair in a quiet house (for the moment). So let me share from my beautiful devotional today, okay?

January 11…”Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)

“Store up comfort. This was the prophet Isaiah’s mission.

The world is full of hurting and comfortless hearts.

But before you will be competent for this lofty ministry, you must be trained.

And your training is extremely costly, for to make it complete, you too must endure the same afflictions that are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood.

Consequently your own life becomes the hospital ward where you are taught the divine art of comfort.

You will be wounded so that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere.

Do you wonder why you are having to experience some great sorrow?

Over the next ten years you will find many others afflicted in the same way. You will tell them how you suffered and how you were comforted.

As the story unfolds, God will apply the anesthetic He once used on you to them.

Then in the eager look followed by the gleam of hope that chases the shadow of despair from the soul, you will know why you were afflicted.

And you will bless God for the discipline that filled your life with such a treasure of experience and helpfulness. (No author given, just says selected.)”

This sweet comfort reads like a sermon on II Corinthians 1:3-6

“Blessed be the God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Father of mercies,

and the God of all comfort;

Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort which we ourselves are comforted of God.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also our consolation abounds by Christ.

And whether we be afflicted it is for your consolation and salvation,

which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer:

or whether we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”

Praying you, too, will find comfort and strength for this coming week, dear sisters.

 

 

What to do when you’re dried up and worn out

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By the end of winter, I’m not the only one crying the blues.

Some of you LOVE winter. That’s fine with me. I’m not offended. But some of us have to dig deep to remain cheerful and upbeat for the first three months of each year.

We live in an old, 1885 home. It’s never quite snug and warm in every room.

Winter seems to bring a blizzard of troubles, too. It’s as if the minions of hell know we’re at our weakest.

One year we discovered we had to rebuild part of our foundation in FEBRUARY! Just as we had the floor open semi-permanently, a major cold snap hit. It makes me shudder, still, to think about that.

Inevitably my husband succumbs to weeks of a semi-bedridden state. I pick up the slack. Once it was MRSA. Other times, the old immune system just bottomed out.

So enough already of this list of winter miseries. What are some ways to combat the blues?

1.) Try very hard to get out of the house to worship in the Lord’s Day.

I’ll be brutally honest here. There’s been many a Sunday when I open my eyes and can’t feel like getting out of bed. I have to shake myself and make myself get up.

Maybe your husband can’t go at all. Or maybe you are the caregiver for someone bedridden. Maybe http://www.sermonaudio.com can become a secondary church service for you.

I would still encourage you to ask for some help or a fill-in companion so that you can touch base with God’s people in person at least sometimes. The Lord places a special importance on gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25. David, the Psalmist, speaks of his gladness in going up to the house of the LORD.

I rarely leave worship without at least one encouraging nugget of truth to carry with me.

2.) Say yes to visitors.

I’ve been regretful that I’ve not exercised more of an open door policy. To my shame, I’m always worried about my home being in an acceptable state. My food might not be the finest. Really? Is that important? The simple gift of company is a worth it!

When I’ve invited a guest from church or local friends to visit us, it has done a world of good for my family’s morale. We. Feel. Almost. Normal. Today we had company. It was wonderful! My food? Hmmm… not terrific.

Right now, I have someone else I need to invite over. It’s on my to-do list. The meal will be simple. I will only clean a few rooms. That’s the best I can do.

What about you? Too tired to cook and clean for company? I hear you! Maybe you could even just do snacks on the back patio? Or a cup of tea and sliced apples with a friend? Make the visit as low stress and restful as possible.

 3.) Most importantly, know that God is with you in the valley of the shadow, in all the winter seasons of life. His love is your greatest hope! Here’s a passage I’ve thought about all week.

Although the fig tree shall not blossom,

neither shall fruit be in the vines;

the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;

the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD.

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind’s feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

The context of these words is fear, trouble, judgement of the nations, and the depth of human tragedy and brokenness.

It’s like being frozen in winter miles from anyone with hungry wolves surrounding you. You alone facing the whole wolf pack…

The prophet finds light and joy in one Source alone. He finds conquering strength. He finds the ability to teeter on the edge of precipices of trouble with the agility of a mountain goat.

In the end, dear caregiving wife, only the LORD can cause you to overcome.

With the eternal aid of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can find joy on this journey even in our sorrow, weary bodies, and worn souls. Praying we will overcome together.

Thine be the glory forever and ever, Amen.

 

enCOURAGEment for lonely caregivers…

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Confession: I recently got razzed by my husband for indulging in a bit of southern gospel.

To be fair, I returned the favor by mentioning his return to his childhood roots. This genre of music, ahem, largely focuses on how sad and lonesome you are because your lover left you in the dust, the dog died, the bills are piling up, and the old pick-up truck’s run its last mile. 

To tell you the truth, my life kind of looks like his genre of music.

When I got a request from a reader for a post on the lonely side of caregiving, it hit an instant chord with me. If you’re a long-term caregiver, it’s especially true. I was reminded again that caregivers deal with this constantly, but we aren’t the only ones feeling lonely!

One of my senior saints told me again this week for the upteenth and maybe last time, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

She and her husband have walked with Jesus for more than forty years. They’re in their eighties. He’s faced two bouts of cancer. Since December her husband has been in and out of the hospital.  Last week, their only nearby daughter was in the ICU while they were packing and moving into a senior apartment.

I sat and cried and hugged her. I have never seen her so sad and lonely. “My daughter’s been my rock. I’ve leaned on her a lot. She would be right here helping me today. Now I don’t even know what is wrong with her!”

All the while, her home of more than forty years was suddenly being torn apart like a living plant being ripped up by the roots. This lady has literally kept most things in the same spot for the past ten years that I’ve done housekeeping for them. Every. Single. Item.

My tears dripped and mingled with hers. I wonder if her heart will ever recover from this dual shock. Yet, I pray in hope – hope for her and for myself.

Where is the hope in this, you wonder?

If you’re at all like me, no one near you know really  understands your struggles as a wife to a chronically ill husband.

At home you don’t share your struggles because you don’t want to further depress your struggling spouse.

You certainly don’t want to discourage your children, if you’re a parent.

There’s no human being to talk to, you feel like, who will listen with compassion and not criticize your already bruised heart. However, like me, you have friends. Christian friends who love the Lord — they express their care and compassion in the ways they know how.

But you are too busy trying to survive to get to their Bible studies, their ladies’ nights out, etc., because you are literally doing the job of two people at home. It’s incredibly hard to find time to invest in other relationships.

Jesus is our only true hope in loneliness. My relationship to Him is my top investment.

His hands have made and fashioned me. (Psalm 139) He knows my every move and my every thought. Have you read this passage lately? Put your name into it as you read!

I can pour out all my feelings and needs to Him without shame, because He already knows what I’m struggling with at the moment.

When I do have shame because of sin, I can freely confess this and be freely forgiven. His wounds have paid my ransom.

While we can never receive from another human being this level of understanding, we should not cut ourselves off from Christ’s body, either.

We want to let Christ make us better, not allow ourselves to be bitter.

We have to be willing to continue to love Christ’s body even when it’s messy, even ugly, and imperfect, just like us.

Some things you just cannot share.

Some things will never be understood by someone who has never walked this road.

But share what you can. It takes courage.

Be willing to have some vulnerability. Be willing to say to that friend who asks how things are going, “Yes, life is incredibly challenging. Pray for me to juggle wisely! Or, pray for this upcoming doctor’s visit to actually be worth our time and effort.”

I recently told a friend that my husband has been walking through a very dark valley. She knew this partially already because of some things he had (unwisely) posted on the internet. Sigh.

But, she didn’t know the whole story. I couldn’t and won’t tell her everything, but I did share what I could. If she could see the whole picture, like God does, her perspective would be very different. She’s not God. Neither am I. But I’m the one person on earth that should have the most compassion and understanding for my husband. That’s what Jesus wants from me.

Even Jesus’ closest friends fell asleep during his hour of deepest need. Peter even betrayed him. Jesus does understand loneliness.

I’ve come to understand you have to choose your “inner circle” wisely. Shut out the negative. Shut out those who think they’re helping by criticizing, at least in the sense of limiting contact. But make sure you also keep those close to your heart who truly love Jesus.

Soak yourself in what is true, lovely, and right. Once again, may I recommend the Psalms?

True love and understanding waits for you right here. There is not a sorrow or struggle you feel that isn’t mentioned in the Psalms.

I also love the book of John where Jesus gives out the different I AMs.  I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Water. I am the True Vine. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Light of the World.  All I need, He is.

Then there’s Isaiah. The gospel and Jesus are so clearly seen in this book, it’s amazing. Parts of it read like a Psalm. For sure, the prophet knew his Messiah!

The Word. The Church. Christ’s Bride. I find these to be true cures for loneliness. I hope this helps you battle loneliness, too. How may I pray for you this week?

 

God’s girl…

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Trials and tribulations, worldly situations…yep, it’s a quote from a country southern song.

Sometimes you pick up the phone, and you can hear the hiss of the serpent on the other end of the line. Wouldn’t you think that chronic illness and pain is enough trouble for one lifetime? Cancer? Financial strain? Ever had one of those weeks?

Last Lord’s Day I reminded a senior saint that it is God who is the “lifter up of my head.”

Today she bumped into me at church. “Notice the Scripture reading for today?” Psalm 3.

A week-long struggle with various trials big and small, and I’ve just had to say, God, I’m your girl. You are the reason I can lift my head off of my pillow and get out of bed. You are my Song in the night. You are my peace.

I wept through the hymn today, “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.”  Why? Because I know as hard as this time in my life is, His love is for real. I’m God’s girl. He’s got my back. I understand a tiny bit of David’s boast, I will not fear if ten thousand men should come against me.

I’m beginning to fathom the courage that countless martys have laid hold of in defending their faith. He gave me strength to hang up the phone on evil. He’s giving me strength to say yes to life.

Saying yes to life is Gianna Jessen, a survivor of a failed saline injection abortion. Go look up her story for a courage reboot! www.giannajessen.com

I keep hearing her voice, I’m God’s girl, His princess! She was rejected as an unborn infant, and now suffers from MS. Yet she has become a beacon of courage, hope, and joy? She knows she is loved!  So are you, dear sister in Christ.

When Daniel was praying, his prayers were being hindered by demonic forces. But when the angel arrived to speak to him, he was told his prayers were heard and that he was greatly beloved.

You are God’s girl, dear believer in Jesus.

Revel in that love. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. Jesus’ body was indeed crushed for us. “He that spared not His own Son, how shall he not with Him freely give us all things?”

Lift up your head in your lonely spot, and give Him the shame that you feel for not having the “perfect” Christian family. Your not-so-normal life is under His watchful, caring eye.

Pray like you are God’s girl. Shields up this week!

Don’t let Satan’s jabs or even the well-intentioned words of the clueless Christian crush your spirit. This week I took a free personality test. Took it twice in fact. It actually pegged me well.

I’ve always struggled with being over-sensitive to the words and actions of others. Sometimes I’ve been overly defensive. More often, I’ve cowered and let others just walk over me. Don’t want to pick a fight.

That has been changing. Seemingly incredible odds have served to drive me to my knees again and again.  I pray that God will destroy the plans of the wicked. That He will keep my husband’s doctors from doing harm.

That He will provide each day for our current battles with insurance, schedules, and wisdom to choose wisely. I pray for true sanity in the fog of pain-filled days. I pray for kindness.

Without the Lifter up of my head, I could not face my current challenges. Now I’m learning to speak His truth, praying I do so with compassion and boldness.

I’ve been seeing His loving care in my daily life and answers to my prayers. Just today I was told that God used me indirectly to answer another’s pray. Talk about a courage booster.

Now I’m asking Him to glorify Himself in ways that will show this generation His power and glory. HIS! Not mine. Red Sea parting power belongs to Him. Manna in the wilderness. Power to stop a raging storm!

God’s girl, faith, hope, and love are yours for the asking! Mine, too. He will walk with us in the fiery trials, and never ever leave us alone.

 

 

 

 

Rest for the restless soul

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Sometimes life flings such a shock at you that you wonder if your heart will ever be at rest again.

I remember the sleepless nights after the stage 4 diagnosis came for my sis now with Jesus. Her baby son, all smiles and dimples, was only six months old. Her little princess was three. Loving husband and precious kids. Life was almost perfect. Then it broke.

Somehow I knew God was bigger than this, but fighting through to a place of peace was more like several rounds in a boxing ring than a one-two punch. Tears when I least expected, nights when I couldn’t sleep for the pit in my stomach as I gave her to God over and over again.

Watching her suffer, rebound, and suffer again ripped my heart to shreds. It was a four year boxing match. Sorrow and peace, beauty and ugly pain at war with each other. God’s goodness versus evil suffering.

“I can’t wait for heaven,” my brother said to me with a voice of intense, quiet sorrow at our final visit to her home before the call from the hospital. It was a longing for rest. An overwhelming desire for that final home — the other world we are made for.

I hear the same tones in my husband’s voice. The long, sleepless, pain-filled nights. Brain fog. Fatigue. Medical issues that no one but Jesus can heal in that final day. The day-to-day of trying to live with diagnoses that no one would ever want to face.

My heart feels the same restless tossing and turning. But the amazing power of God’s Word breathes life and hope into my soul. When I am crushed, He was already crushed for me. Bruised and broken for my sins.

 I cry with the Psalms. God, you are the Lifter up of my head. When I can’t lift my head to face the day, You will go before me. I am on this journey with You. The faithful who have gone before prayed the prayers of David, Make haste to help. Hear me speedily!

I am not ashamed to be weak if You will be my strength.

Yes, God is my Refuge from the “strife of tongues”, from those who will purposely cast the worst possible light on our life situation and struggles. Psalm 70 and 71. Yes, those enemies do exist. Satan being the chief accuser of Job and saints through the ages — many follow in his steps, even false brethren.

Shame. Confusion. Fear. The enemies of the heart’s peace and rest.

“The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom, then shall I be afraid?”

What shame, when we are clothed with His righteousness?

What fear, when we know our final home, our destination is prepared especially for us?

Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. (Words of Christ) In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-2

(I’m pretty sure my place has a lovely garden, a room full of musical instruments, an art studio, and a chef’s kitchen with plenty of room for family and friends to gather and linger.)

Though our longing hearts may be restless for home, fearful of this dangerous journey, yet our God never leaves His children alone.

He shut the mouths of the hungry lions for Daniel, was with Joseph in prison, kept His three faithful witnesses from even being singed as He walked with them in their blazing furnace, and parted the Red Sea when the entire Egyptian army was racing toward the unarmed Israelites with chariots and weapons of war.

The list of His marvelous care for His children is too long to write.

Come to Jesus this week, dear sister! He is ever praying for you at the Father’s right hand. His wounds have paid your ransom. Let His love soothe your restless heart and lift your head up to face another week. I’m praying for you, too!