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.  (   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!