Monday, January 19, 2015

"Recalculating"

I love my GPS.  When I first started using it, I already had some favorite routes for getting in and out of my side of town.  When I would go to a new place, the GPS would usually direct me a different way.  I would ignore that, of course, and hear the automated voice say "recalculating" to adjust for the new directions.  Sometimes I heard that a lot.
 
That's what life is like right now - adjustments.  I never know from day to day what I will find or have to respond to in caregiving.  Some days I feel guilty at the end because I had gaps of time that I didn't use productively.  Other days I'm relieved that we get to bedtime with everyone fed something.   This is not the "me" I've been used to.

Before this season of caregiving, I loved planning.  Organizers and charts were my friend.  I had running lists for chores, groceries, clothing items, household projects, etc.  Now I find that planning a week's menu feels like scaling a mountain.  I've been so frustrated by that, feeling like I'm somehow losing myself and my orientation to life around me.  I want to be able to manage efficiently, but I just can't get that "jump start" to get going again in that direction.

I find myself wondering if this is a response to the uncertainty of life, if there's a part of me that just feels overwhelmed and responds with "why bother".  That's not on the surface of my thinking, but it is a possibility, I think.  At the more practical level, there's a learning curve to what I'm doing and I know much emotional and intellectual energy is going in a lot of new directions.  Maybe things will settle.

At any rate, I have been so thankful for the peace that comes from knowing my God has the map in hand.  With each new challenge, I can look to Him for recalculating so I can continue to faithfully follow the course that's been set for me.  This is often in my mind - "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...".  Heb. 12: 1-2

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Speaking life

Have you seen the commercial with "Negative Nancy"?  Honestly, one of the biggest challenges for me in caring for my mom is the daily losses we have to deal with.  She's still aware enough to know what's changing and she will voice her dismay and, sometimes, her anger about this.  And I get it.  I know I value my independence and love my connections with friends and family.  Slowly losing that is hard.  But meeting that day after day has stretched me.  I haven't wanted to be dishonest or just offer empty clich├ęs, and sympathetic hand-patting seems inadequate.  Thankfully, I have stumbled across a couple of ways to meet this challenge that have been a blessing for both my mom and me.

  One thing I've tried to do each day is initiate a distraction early in the day - a distraction of beauty with an expression of gratitude.  Mom loves birds and flowers, so we're putting seed on the handrail of the deck steps so she can sit on the porch and watch the birds.  She's spending a lot of time doing that and taking great joy in their antics.  With her memory issues, each day is like a first time seeing them!  We also have put a pot of mums on the table and she's paying close attention to them.  I originally planted them in the yard so they'd become part of the garden, but she went out and pulled them back up because she liked them on the table.  So I had to repot them.

  Yesterday she was pretty discouraged and overwhelmed by her awareness of all the help she needs now - meals, cleaning, even personal care.  We were on our way back from the grocery store and she commented on the fact that she couldn't do anything any more and how worthless she felt.  She thanked me for what I was doing and I said, "Mom, every single thing I'm doing I've learned from you.  I watched you do it for us and I watched you do it for your mom.  In a way, you are still doing things."  To my surprise, her face just lit up! 

  I know we'll have to repeat this conversation again many times, and there will come a time when even that connection will go, but I'm so very thankful that I can be here for these moments and keep her connected for as long as possible. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just Be

One of the most difficult lessons to learn during my young mom years was to slow down and enter my child's world.  As a task-oriented personality, I was often dragging my little ones through my to-do list, especially when I had to run errands out of my home.  Occasionally, I would give in to their excitement over flowers or rocks and stop and admire with them.  As I matured, I learned to organize more with their needs in mind.  But, when push came to shove, I could always pack a snack, pick them up, put them in their car seats, and take off to do what I needed to do.

I'm once again being challenged to slow down and orient to the needs of another.  This time, though, it's not little people.  It is my mother and my sister.  Both are challenged with declining cognitive abilities as well as physical struggles.  To walk to the end of the driveway with either of them is a s-l-o-w process.  For my sister, it's primarily the physical challenge of muscular dystrophy.  We have to stop, rebalance, and take very small steps. She looks at the ground at her feet and is unable to see and process the rest of her environment. For my mom, it's partly physical and partly the distraction of the world around her - flowers, birds, the car across the street that's always parked there but that she thinks is new (every single day).  Unlike earlier years, though, I can't just pick them up and put them in the car to pursue my tasks.  I must orient myself completely to the world as they experience it, and I'm learning how to anticipate and flex with daily changes in abilities and behaviors.

The most important lesson of these past few months for me is this - while the body and brain may deteriorate, the soul of a person stays until the last breath.  Mom needs me to look right at her when I speak.  If I'm not right beside her, she will come and stand in front of me to tell me something so she can see my eyes.  That's such an important connection.  It is more significant for her (and for my sister) to know that I am there for them, not just doing tasks but simply being there.  For me, this means far more sitting and T.V. time than I would ever choose for myself, but for them it communicates that I value and love them.  Yes, I still feel restless in this season.  I'm praying, though, that I'll learn to rest and enjoy those moments with them, because, like childhood, I won't have them here forever.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Difficult Questions, Easy Answers

In the movie Shadowlands, one of C.S. Lewis's friends describes him as a man who specialized in "easy answers to difficult questions".  Lewis was already famous for his Narnia books and was a popular speaker, especially on the subject of the problem of pain.  His friend Christopher was not as convinced of the truth of Lewis's view as others were.  But he got to see the ideas put to the test as he witnessed the plunge into the "dark night of the soul" that Lewis experienced after his wife Joy died.  There were no easy answers now, only dread and emptiness. How would he find his way out of the darkness? How could he explain the silence?
 
One of the many reasons I love the Bible is the honesty that is found there.  Honest truth, not platitudes.  Job spends many days grappling with finding his way forward after the loss of everything.  And in a supremely ironic twist, his comforters prove to be his biggest opponents.  No easy answers there.  Almost all of the prophets are called to deal honestly with the grim realities of their particular generations.  Yet, as each one does so, he is made aware of God's personal presence.  Not necessarily an answer, but a presence.  One of my favorites is Habakkuk.  He opens his book with these questions - "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?.....Why do You show me iniquity and cause me to see trouble?.. Why do you look on those who deal treacherously and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?"  That's a lot of questions!  He then says this - "I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected."  He expects God to show up.  That is faith.

Lewis did find the way forward, and he wrote about it in his novel Till We Have Faces.  At the end of the book, as the main character Orual finally has her chance to voice her complaints and questions, she concludes, "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.  What other answer would suffice?"  Lewis found what we all need to find - not answers but presence.  Emmanuel. God with us.  Simple - yes.  Easy - no.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Homeschooling - with Joy!


 
  Some of you may have heard of Ann Voskamp’s best-selling book One Thousand Gifts.  In that book, she explores the secret to a joyful life.  Not surprisingly, she returns to a truth of Scripture : “in everything give thanks.” (I. Thess. 5:18) It is in gratitude that we learn the secret of joy.  As we begin to truly see the nature of life – that all good gifts are from God, and that there are so many gifts! – our orientation turns from grumbling and gloom to delight and joy.
  As the new year begins, finding joy in the aftermath of vacations and celebrations can be challenging.  Math, spelling, and grammar aren’t usually considered joyful endeavors for most of us.  While the year is still young, consider  folding in a new habit for your school focus – thanksgiving.    I’ve been challenged to take up Ann’s Joy Dare this year.  (www.aholyexperience.com)   She encourages me to look for three “gifts” each day and write them down while giving thanks.   Having that idea before me each morning turns the day into a treasure hunt!
   You can make this “gift hunt” as general or specific as you like.  You could just keep a tablet somewhere handy to your daily focal point (that’s the dining room at my house) and ask the kids at lunch or dinner time to name three “gifts” that they’ve seen that day.  Be sure you’re contributing as well!  If you need the guidance of a more specific approach, you could consider Charlotte Mason’s recommendations for daily organization.  She said that each day children need something or someone to love, something to do, and something to think about.  These can provide good categories for thanksgiving.  What evidences of love are you thankful for today?  What activity or job are you glad you got to do?  What idea, story, music, part of nature, or art was a gift or blessing today?  With these categories in place at the beginning of the morning, you’ll be more aware of the gifts that come your way each day.
  Ultimately, turning our hearts to thank God for these things creates deep and lasting joy.  As we get older, we begin to realize that even difficult things hold hidden blessings, and we learn to give thanks for those things as well.  The fact that we get to learn this supremely important lesson along with our children in our homeschool is a huge gift.  It’s at the top of my  thanksgiving list!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wilderness Wanderings

"Not all who wander are lost" wrote JRR Tolkien.  Lost or not, the experience of wandering in an unknown place - a wilderness - is not a comfortable one.  Whether it's a literal wilderness of an unknown land or the metaphorical wilderness of a life experience, for the Christian there are some recognizable landmarks and a promise of hope.


I've come to recognize that "wilderness experiences" have some common characteristics.  One of these is isolation. This is the season of aloneness, a season that can leave you wondering if there is really love to be found in this life.  It can make us doubt our perceptions.  Another is danger.  We know there are unknown (and sometimes known) pitfalls, yet, because we are alone, we can't take a break from being watchful.  It's exhausting.  Because of both isolation and danger, we can feel very vulnerable and subject to temptations.  Things that wouldn't entice us under ordinary circumstances can pull very powerfully on us during wilderness times. 

It is during these time that we realize how much we truly must depend on God for everything.  In fact, in looking back over the times in my life which have felt like a wilderness, I realize that the questions being posed are always the same - "Did God say?" and "Do you trust Him?" 

Another characteristic that wilderness experiences share is the one that encourages me that I'm not lost there.  It is this - they are temporary, designed by God and allowed in my life to prepare me for what He has coming next.  Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Jesus himself were all prepared for service in the wilderness.  So even though I feel the isolation, I know I'm not alone.  Many have walked this route before and found God to be always good and always faithful.  They are that "great cloud of witnesses" that Hebrews 12 mentions, continually urging me on by testifying to the greatness of our God.

I don't see the end yet to this bleak landscape I'm currently in, but each day gives me the opportunity to move forward in faith.  I'm wandering right now, but, thankfully, I'm not lost.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why I'm a Terrible Blogger

All the conventional wisdom I've seen on blogging maintains that a good blogger needs to post regularly - daily, weekly, bi-weekly - in order to keep in touch with readers.  And I must confess,  I do have a couple of blogs that I read on a regular basis.  However, I'm never going to be a good blogger myself for a couple of reasons.

1) I don't have something worthwhile to say on a regular basis. :)  Most of the time I'm swimming in the mundane aspects of life and enjoying the beautiful things as they are flying by.  I'm a slow processor, so whipping out a quick blog isn't going to happen for me.

2) I am woefully aware of my tendency to be reactive and sharp-tongued.  I purposely keep things on hold while I try to think through the best way to write about a subject.  Again, this takes me a while, so I'm not one to generate a lot of impassioned posts on current topics.  "Where words are many, sin abounds." Proverbs 10:19

That being said, I've got a backlog of ideas to explore this summer, so I may just get out more than a quarterly blog!  Stay tuned. :)

I recently got an invitation from someone to join twitter.  I've thought about that a bit, and decided that my challenge in life is to NOT say the first thing that pops into my head.  Twitter would make me feel obligated to do otherwise.  So, no tweeting here.  I'm still working on this space, though.