Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans. In all your ways acknowledge HIM and He will make your paths straight.
— Proverbs 5:3
— Proverbs 5:3
Hebrews. 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
We have a great heritage in the church of faithful followers of Jesus who have suffered and endured much. In their pain and suffering they have sought wisdom and understanding of the great love of God.
Joni Erickson Tada has suffered much and is now suffering with cancer. She has her bad days like everyone else. Ken, her husband of 30 years is her caregiver as well. They have help, but Ken carries a primary responsibility. Recently it was revealed in a new book Ken and Joni co-authored that Ken suffered from depression. The book is about their journey together. Ken loves the beauty of her faith and mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to be in a caregiver support group with Ken. He knew up front in their marriage that Joni had special needs. He knowingly choose to link his life to hers.
The book coming out in April is called, “Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story. When Joni was diagnosed with cancer Ken was going through a spiritual transformation of his own. Their new book is about sharing, with honesty, the highs and lows of their 30-year marriage and how, as each looked to God to find strength to carry on. They also found themselves drawing closer, in God’s perfect love triangle.
That triangle with God makes them strong. Like the three cords in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that are not easily broken we are strengthened by God in our life.
So fix your eyes on Jesus with the eyes of faith. You will learn so much about the preciousness and blessings that help to see the wonders God can reveal. It will make you stronger. You will be a greater blessing to the one who needs your love and care. As you live in close contact with Jesus, the Light of Jesus’s presence will filter through you to bless others. Intersperse peaceful interludes with Jesus throughout your day. As with Ken and Joni, let the third chord of God’s presence in your caregiving bless your caregiving.
God bless, Tom
Each week I select articles that I feel might be on interest to my readers and post them on my web site tab called, "Weekly News" I list about 10-12 news worthy tips, stories, resources and other blogs on caregiving. I filter out stories about criminal activity by caregivers who take advantage of their care-receiver because most of those stories are about professional or hired caregivers. Some are stories about relatives taking advantage of relatives. I warn my readers to be very careful in handling assets and posessions of thoser you are caring for. Christian Caregivers are called to a loving service. Honoring the one we care for with our love and integrity is a God given responsibility. May the stories and resources I list in weekly news help us to be mindful in providing our Christian care.
Take Your Oxygen First
by Leeza Gibbons, James Huysman and Rosemary DeAngelis Laird
2009 Lachance Publishing
Leeza Gibbons of Entertainment Tonight shares her experience as a caregiver for her mother. She shares this work with very qualified coauthors to encourage, educate and empower the reader to get a handle in the difficult journey of caregiving for a parent who is experiencing a memory loss disorder.
Readers are encouraged as the title states to take care of themselves first and prepare for a marathon rather than a sprint. Since memory loss is the challenge of her mother, this book goes into a detailed explanation of the various aspects of degenerative memory loss and where to find help.
Caring for the caregiver is divided into three sections.
Caring for the Body covers the special strengthening exercises caregivers might need in caring for their loved one. The back, neck and shoulder muscles may be required in transferring, lifting and other physical maneuvers. These exercises are important to help prevent injury to the caregiver.
Eating well, with a good nutritional plan, is critical for the stamina required in caregiving. We have all heard good nutritional advice, this book provides reasons caregivers should pay attention.
Brain fitness and sleep are critical for the stress placed upon the caregiver. Advice is given on keeping the brain sharp, relaxing the brain and finding the sleep to recharge. Special attention is paid to insomnia, its cause and suggested helps.
Caring for the mind focuses on depression and anxiety. The reader learns the signs of depression and anxiety and ways to available to treat the symptoms. Suggestions are made for lifestyle changes and stress management techniques.
The challenge of overcoming denial and guilt so that our attention can be placed on the loved one is addressed.
Anger is another feeling that must be managed. Helpful suggestion on working through anger are given.
Finally, Caring for the Caregiver’s spirit completes the focus of the book. The family is very important to Leeza. Her encouragement to collect memories and save them in journals, scrapbooks, telling and writing stories that should not be forgotten are helpful, not only to the caregiver, but for those not as close to direct caregiving. She supports connecting with the readers spiritual roots to provide meaning for the caregiver’s life. It is the spiritual life that helps us accept the pain of loosing a loved one and finding new meanings in life. Finding those new meanings are called the payoff.
Eph. 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Caregiving can be exhausting and stressful. We may not always be at our best in handling surprises and crisis. Karen, my wife and Bob, my brother and I had one big challenge in caring for my mom. We had recently moved my mom to independent living and she came down with pneumonia and fell with a suspected fracture in her ankle. While in the hospital and the following rehab facility, her doctor took her off Elavil because he didn’t like that medication for older people. My mom had been on Elavil for years. Her mood changed for the worse and she became very angry. She lashed out at my wife and my brother in very hurtful ways. My mom said things I had never heard come out of her mouth before. She didn’t lash out much at me because she needed me for her care. Needless to say this brought a lot of angst and turmoil in the family. We were in for a very difficult 5 month stretch.
Hurts are very real and can be very deep. We tried to figure out what was happening. Was it the dementia? Was it the medicine? Was it grief from losing my dad, her husband of almost 70 years? Was she suffering from the loss of abilities in sight, hearing, mobility? Was it the move and loss of being with her friends? Was it regrets? Was it the diminished ability to suppress the ‘old adam’ that is in all of us? The answer to all these questions is YES.
Then things got testy between Karen and me. It was stressful time between us when my mom attacked my wife. My mom also told my brother she wished he never had been born. Her anger was tearing us apart. We needed repair in the family.
Scripture doesn’t use the word “repair”. Scripture uses words like confession, forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation. That is just what my family needed NOW. Karen and I were getting short with each other and we hurt each other. My brother kept the phone ringing, just like my mom with her angry calls. We were all creating more mess to clean up in addition to the mess coming from my mom’s anger. I was getting to the place where I couldn’t take any more. Have you ever been there?
Eph. 4:26 says, “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We couldn’t get things resolved before sun down. We were exhausted. In our exhaustion and stress we sinned against each other. Why is confession so hard during times like this? I guess we could only focus on our own hurt and vulnerability and lost empathy for the hurt and vulnerability of the other. We needed to confess two things to each other. I had said things that hurt Karen and she had said things that hurt me. We needed to speak up when we were hurt and tell each other what hurt us rather than strike back. We couldn’t see our hurtful words, only the words launched at ourselves. We needed to give the hurts a name other than ‘you’. The second confession we needed to make to each other was our love for each other. Our vows were for better or worse. Well this was the worse. You have heard of ‘through thick or thin”. Well this was the thick. Bottom line in the values we both held about marriage was marriage is for keeps. This episode in our life would pass, but our love for each other was for life.
So we named our problem and our Christian call to forgive, and we needed a lot of forgiveness in our family. We have to forgive. The Lords prayer we say includes the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive each other.” We needed to turn our reactions around. We needed to respond to each other in helpful ways. I thank God we were in a church that says the Lord’s prayer every Sunday in worship. Each week we also say together the Apostles Creed in which we recite together that we believe in the “forgiveness of sins.” I held on to those words each week. Because of this 5 month ordeal into the pit of stress and the fracturing of relationships those words have grown so important to me in my understanding of the Gospel. The Gospel of forgiveness was the only way out for me and my family. Forgiveness was the only way to facilitate healing.
Absolution and reconciliation are different from confession and forgiveness, but just as important. Reconciliation is a process of restoring the healthy relationship of love. In our anger we had sinned. Confession and forgiveness is only the first step towards healing. As my mom’s demential increased she forgot what she was angry about. We did not want to remind her lest we start everything up again. My mom was not going to move through confession and forgiveness in the way the rest of us could. We needed to believe and accept that the mom we knew did not want to hurt us. She was only expressing the suffering she felt and lashed out because she was hurting and suffering. We had to let go for her and just focus on the confession and forgiveness we needed to make. Christ had made reconciliation for us all. Our reconciliation with my mom would be in our care for her, our continued love for her. Our reconciliation became our ministry to her and her needs. Paul writes in II Cor 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Therefore, we also needed to stop counting sins and holding those sins against each other. My mom forgot what she was angry about. Now Karen and I needed to do the same. It was harder for us because we still remembered the hurts and words. It was the stress, fears, exhaustion and worry that weakened us and our relationship. We have forgiven each other and my brother has forgiven our mom. Now when we worship and confess our sins we hear the words of absolution (the pronouncement of forgiveness in an official way) and receive those wonderful words as Gods words of absolution for us. We are free to live anew.
If any part of our story fits your story we hope that you can find some helpful thoughts to bring healing to your family. Don’t let your relationships die during this time of caregiving. Karen and I have learned from this experience, we have grown through these stresses and challenges of caregiving. Our relationship is moving into a new depth through confession, forgiveness and now reconciliation.
We believe Christian caregivers are called into a ministry of caregiving. We have been helped by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus has taught us through the words of scripture, our worship and devotional time together. We looked for a Christian Caregiver Support Group during this time of care for my mom. We found some listings. When we called so we could participate, we were told that they no longer met. This was true when we were in San Antonio and also when we moved to Kansas City. We could not find any groups in churches in either city. That is why we are starting the Christian Caregiver Support Ministry in churches, beginning at Christ Lutheran Church in Overland Park, KS. That is why I have started this web site (www.christiancaregivingsupport.com).
I am working on a structure and training program for churches interested in organizing a team who are called to be caregivers caring for caregivers. If you might be so called and I might be of assistance, please let me know.
2004 Thomas Nelson
What a wonderful devotional book inspired by an older book called God Calling edited by A.J. Russell and published by the Berkley Publishing Group in 1978. God Calling was given to me in 1973 by Sharon Patton writting to me in the cover, “the simple love in serving God in these passages have helped guide my daily path.” Thanks Sharon for your gift years ago.
Now those words are made anew in Sarah Young’s book that I highly recommend for the Christian caregiver. The medications are short and personal. Written as if god had a special word to us for the day. Karen, my wife, and I read these daily among other devotional books. Each meditation references scripture to be read with the devotion and we read them. Many we know and have memorized. The scriptures are made new in the context of Sarah’s meditation. I have referred to one of them in a previous blog.
It is important to start the day with the Word and Sarah make the Word accessible. The thoughts are not complicated theological expositions. They are directive from the one who is our source and strength to get through the day.
The book is not expensive. It is nicely bound with a cloth book marker to keep place in the book. Each day has its own devotion and can be used year after year. The reader will not grow tired of this devotional book. The message is always just what is needed for the caregiver, just what Jesus would say to you directly.
John 11:35 “Jesus wept”, is the shortest verse in scripture. Did you know this is a caregiver story? Let’s go to the beginning and see what caused Jesus to cry.
The story begins in the first verse of John 11 with the declaration that Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha was sick. We don’t know what is wrong with Lazarus, only that is is serious enough for Mary and Martha to send word to Jesus. Mary and Martha were very concerned. The word they send to Jesus is, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
These words do not sound like a prayer, but they are. Surrounding these seven words are so many feelings. What is your prayer for someone you love? How would you express your words for to Jesus? I wonder why they didn’t say, “Jesus, please come here right away and heal Lazarus, Lord, we need you now.”
These sisters were Lazarus’s caregivers in his illness. They were concerned enough to send word to Jesus knowing they needed Jesus help. Were the sisters anticipating the worst? Do you wonder what lies in the future for someone you love? The sisters loved Lazarus and their feelings of worry and concern were very real. You would think that they would say to Jesus, “Lord, the one we love is sick.” Isn’t that appropriate? Maybe we need to be reminded that our loved one is also the one Jesus loves.
Jesus had a history with this family and they reminded Jesus that Lazarus was the one Jesus loved. These words of the sisters focus on a direct relationship of love between Lazarus and Jesus. I wonder what Lazarus’s prayers might have been in the capsule of his mind.
Jesus delayed two days. Lazarus died.
Jesus came to Bethany and found Martha and Mary being comforted by their friends. The sisters must have felt let down by Jesus. When Martha saw Jesus her feelings came out as she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She blames Jesus! Jesus did not meet up to her expectations. It was His fault. She was hurt. Are you hurt or angry when God does not live up to your expectations?
Martha’s relationship with Jesus is stronger than her hurt or anger. She goes on and says, “But I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha holds on to Jesus love and her faith in Him.
Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha says, “Yes, I know about the resurrection on the last day.” Her pain will linger for a long time, until the ultimate resurrection. The sting of loss. The pain of feeling Jesus let her down. Her long term hope was smaller than her near term pain. Hope sounded to her like a platitude.
Jesus then meets Mary. Her words are exactly the same as Martha’s words. “Lord, if you had been here, m brother would not have died.” The sisters had talked about this a lot before Jesus came.
Martha we know from another time with Jesus. She was the practical one, focused on a dinner for Jesus. Mary we know as the one who sat at Jesus feet to soak up all His words.
Mary, after saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”, bursts out in tears. Those comforting her also could not contain their tears. This expression of love in their weeping moved Jesus deeply and He was troubled by their feelings of loss. “Where have you taken Lazarus?” Jesus asked. “Come and see,” they replied.
Jesus walked with them to the tomb and that is when Jesus wept. The Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
I think Jesus loved them all. He was moved by seeing the sting of death, the human morning of one who has died. Jesus came to the tomb and was once more deeply moved. Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus and joy returned to the house of Mary and Martha. Lazarus would have another day to face his death again, as would Mary and Martha.
Were Mary and Martha good caregivers? What did they do right? I believe they were physically present in Lazarus’s care. I believe they loved Lazarus. They interceded for Lazarus in their prayer (message) to Jesus. Their faith, in the midst of question, remained. The real seed of hope are in the words of both sisters when they addressed Jesus as “Lord.” Jesus is Lord. That is the first confession of the church. Even in their feelings of disappointment, their hurt, their grief, their lack of understanding, the loss in their life, their anger at Jesus delay - in faith and love they addressed Jesus as LORD. By this address and confession they are saying, “I believe you are the Christ, the Sn of God, who was promised and has come into the world.” In life, in death and in life again Jesus is LORD.
Soon they will morn again. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die. They will morn again, not for Lazarus, but for Jesus. But like Lazarus, Jesus will rise from the dead, never again to die. Mary and Martha will remember that Jesus said to them, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
The call to caregiving is a loving responsibility. It is a privilege to honor and love. As Ken Haugk writes in his book titled, “Christian Caregiving, A Way of Life,” there are times when we cannot control all that we would like. Our faith becomes a valuable resource to help us through our difficulties. In Jesus own mysterious way, we pray that He will answer your call and give you what you need. Jesus weeps with those who weep that He may will rejoice those who rejoice. May God bless and be with all, His wonderful caregivers.
Sue Brettmann RN has been devoted to Caregiving both in her career as an RN, Parish Nurse and caring for her aging parents through the last 40 plus years. She has experience in trauma, home care and hospice. Her strong faith walk and relationship with Christ has always been a part of her care and she is committed to helping others see the gift of Christ in their personal journey's.