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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?

 

Washing feet with Jesus…

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Dear caregiving sister,

Did you know that you’re following in the way that Jesus taught His disciples? Your commitment and care for your spouse is like Jesus washing the disciples’ dirty feet.

Those roads in Jerusalem were dusty and mixed with animal droppings. Sandaled feet were gross when they reached their destination! Multiply that times twelve. No wonder no one jumped for the washbowl and basin.

This life I lead, well, it’s not the fulfillment of all my hopes and dreams. Some of them have been crushed along the way.

But through this crushing I’ve come to understand so much more vividly the compassion and self-sacrificial love of Jesus for broken people. Dusty people. Sometimes self-focused. Face it. When you’re tired and especially hurting bodily, it’s hard not to be centered on making life less miserable for yourself.

Compassion for the hurting is a theme I can’t get away from. Compassion goes viral when there’s a precious, beautiful little child involved.

Not so much when it involves an aged senile person or someone suffering a lengthy chronic illness (though we have been blown away by the kindness of friends and church family).

My mom and sister have the care of my bedridden, aged, and often combative and senile grandmother. There’s nothing pretty about their daily job for the past three years now. The diapers, the laundry, the schedule that’s always tied down.

It’s a load I can do little to lighten. My own hands have been full.

Mom and sis are some of the most beautiful ladies I know. Their compassion and care continue to inspire me. Knowing that others are in the trenches faithfully showing compassion reminds me that this is life worth living.

Other beautiful women have served Jesus in the hidden byways: Ruth serving Naomi, Gladys Alyward saving hundreds of orphans, those who served the leper colonies, halfway house workers, Amy Carmichael rescuing sex-trafficked young girls in India, a list of Jesus-followers that grows by the day!

Caregiving seems way less glamorous than the list above, right? It’s certainly not romantic. But the God of all comfort, the Father of mercies sees and knows.

When you show kindness for the “least of these”, you do this for Christ. You and I become more like Christ. Being like Christ! Now isn’t this life’s ultimate goal — the fulfillment of all of your dreams and mine?  If I really stop to remember this, it fills my heart with such hope! His good work in and through me goes on.

 Praying you wake up tomorrow with courage and strength to face a new week in Jesus’ name.

Judgment that will bring JOY!

” Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” ( I Peter 4:16)

Care-giving spouses , those who are true believers, are committed to their marriages. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that marriage is under assault.  Someone I know recently lost  their marriage due to their own chronic illness.  The media messages bombard us with thoughts that “you deserve better”,  “life is what you make it”, and “make your own happiness”  regardless of whom you trample on along the way.

Eleven-plus years of marriage to an unemployed, chronically ill man whose illnesses are painful, discouraging, and demoralizing is not what I signed up for!  But when Christ called me out of darkness into His marvelous loving light, I received love I didn’t deserve and forgiveness I could never repay. In my marriage, I have an every single day opportunity to love without repayment.

I could abandon my marriage and probably find fun, fulfillment, and lots of the “pleasures of sin” for a season.  But I know this truth; you reap what you sow (eventually, if not in this life, in eternity for certain).  Temporary pleasures vs. eternal rewards?  Seems like a no-brainer to me.  Easy? Fun?  Not by a long shot!  There are certainly days when I wonder how much longer I can do this, days when I just don’t want to do this at all, anymore, or ever again!

When you are tempted to look elsewhere for joy, companionship, and just a bit of normal, marital fun,  remember Who has promised never to leave or or forsake His own.  Maybe we wives of the chronically ill will show this mixed up world what true love looks like. Maybe they will see in our every day commitment  the covenant love that God has promised His own down the the annals of history.

“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.  To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”  (I Peter 5:10-11)

The last judgment will be a judgment that will bring joy to all true believers. They will hear those precious words, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom;’ ” 

J. C. Ryle

Chronic Comment-tators

Recently, and not for the first time either, I was grilled by a church member about my husband’s health. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, and say they were making well-meaning inquiries.  However, the specifity of the questioning, such as — “how many hours is he in pain a day?” — followed by the comment, “but he looks so good” (which many, many chronically ill people hear with great frequency), gave me reason to doubt his motives.  This man was digging for information and not making a helpful inquiry.  It has happened before. It will happen again.

Walking around your church are chronically ill friends. Unlike a cancer diagnosis, symptoms may be confusing and irregular.  Autoimmune diseases can go into temporary remission and lay low for a while. Or a treatment may provide regular relief. But individuals are like snowflakes with no two alike.  And sometimes, even their disease can behave differently for a time.  What you as a friend need to do is listen, pray, and believe your friend when they tell you they have miserable pain or their immune system is really wiped out at the time.

Don’t be a chronic “investigator” or “commentator”.  While you may hear of a potentially helpful treatment, feel free to mention it. Please don’t be offended if your friend doesn’t choose to try it. You have no idea how many treatments or diet plans they have tried in the past, and it is NOT your job to make sure they try yours.

While a chronically ill friend may look good, be assured they went to special effort to do so.  My husband loads up on pain meds to be able to travel and fellowship with our church family, and especially to enjoy the means of grace.  I do most of the driving so that he can relax and try to enjoy the day.  He is a people person and is enlivened by great fellowship.  I am the one who gets to see his “poopy” side and the crashes that often happen after travels.

As the wife of a chronically ill husband, I do not want to have to deal with detailed questions from people who are not my closest friends.  Most often I will answer general questions generally. I very much appreciate those who do ask how we are doing and quite simply state they are praying for us.

Springtime for my soul…

Right now my family and I are in “survival mode”. Our version of survival is vastly better than what the Ingalls family experienced during The Long Winter  and also so much better than the Syrian refugees fleeing persecution for their Christian faith, huddled in tents in a “wet hell” as Franklin Graham  of Samaritan’s Purse recently described conditions there.  Nonetheless, we long for spring, better health, and moving beyond the stress of enduring winter.

As wives of chronically ill husbands, we also long for better days. Anyone facing old age, cancer, or chronic illness with someone they love can relate. It is easy to get sucked into the mire of depressive thoughts and Eeyore days… “why bother”?

To quote the Puritans, attending to the “means of grace” is a sure way to bring spring to your soul.  The means of grace as summarized by the Westminster Larger Catechism: “WLC Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation? A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.”

The preached word today was especially a healing, warming balm for my soul, so I would like to share my glimpse of spring with you. January does not seem a likely time to hear a resurrection sermon, but, oh, how perfect!  I Corinthians 15:12-29 was the passage preached upon. Literal resurrection of Christ’s body means literal resurrection for us. Like Christ, our resurrected bodies will be glorious and perfect. Death is an enemy, unnatural, yet ultimately defeated. In the future our eyes will be undimmed by tears, our bodies will cooperate and perform beautifully do our Lord’s bidding.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

If you have born with this lengthy post until now, the last tid-bit I will share from this morning’s sermon is a brief note on the death of John Donne (1572-1631).  According to Wikipedia, John Donne had a resurrection portrait of himself commissioned and hung in his house a few months before his death. When I shared this with my husband, who remained home from church due to illness, we both smiled at the thought of what his “resurrection portrait” would include:  a full head of hair and a long, flowing beard that would rival that of John Knox.  My own resurrection portrait: long, thick, sun-lit blond hair, sparkling eyes,a flowing flowered  dress, astride a very amiable horse, riding through a lushly green and blooming meadow bordered by thick, towering trees and a stream. In this portrait I am by myself in the presence of my Lord. However, I would be riding in anticipation of meeting up with a large circle of joyously healthy family and friends. May the circle be unbroken. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Plan for Hope

“Hope that is seen is not hope.”  How things will work out in the tangled, hidden maze of chronic illness is not our business. Thankfully, that is God’s domain. But when the depressing and difficult affects of chronic illness in the family take their toll, we need a ray of hope.

Having things to look forward to is a delightful anti-depressant. “If only in this lifetime we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.” Spending time in the Word focusing on the promises of God and His perfections will infuse new hope in our hearts.  Plan for hope!

In the short-term, try to take a break from chronic illness. I can hear my own cynical laughter as I write this down! How can this possibly happen? There are so many reasons, especially finances, that would make this seem unwise. Money or family ties? You decide what is most important!

Practically speaking, if it is safe, cancel one of those weekly doctor’s appointments and make time for a special gathering with your family. I define family as those who will love, support, encourage, edify, and build up your faith in Christ. Sometimes you have to make your own family ties and keep other so-called toxic family at a distance where they cannot harm and further depress your immediate family unit.

Our long drive through the mountains to visit family and get out of our house was a refreshing reminder. All of Christ’s children will dwell together in His house forever. He has promised. (Ps. 23) Family feast days and fun together are just a foretaste to whet our appetite and keep us hoping for what is yet to come.