Are You Happy?

I was feeding my mom a meal the other day and I asked her, “Mama, are you happy?”

She turned her head to face me and looked me directly in the eyes and then abruptly and very loudly shouted, “NO-OOO!”

I couldn’t help laughing in the moment, at her bold, startling reaction. But now I feel like shouting the same thing. Though we’ve had some sweet blessings lately, it has been a very stressful time. And we don’t see anything changing for the better soon. In fact we mostly see dark clouds that hint at worse things to come.

And if anyone asked me right now if I was happy, and if I answered them frankly, I would want to shout with Mama, “NO-OOO!”

No, I’m not happy. This is such a hard time. I feel like life is heavy right now, and news from many directions is depressing. I know I have so much to be grateful for, but life is changing, and more sacrifices are required. And I’m so tired.

I know I have more help than so many people. And I feel guilty complaining. And I wonder where my faith is. And I ask God what He is teaching me.

I open up my Bible and read…

I pour our my complaint before Him; I declare Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. (Psalm 142:2-3, NKJV)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:3-5, NKJV)

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy. (Psalm 147:11, NKJV)

And I find comfort. Because I have a Lord I can pour out my complaints and troubles to. He knows when I’m overwhelmed. He knows the paths I’m on and the ones to come, and He will be there with me. Guiding me. Guiding us.

We have a Lord that is compassionate and heals the brokenhearted. A God so mighty that He knows the name of each star He created, and the name of each wounded servant of His on earth. And He binds our wounds.

And as we look to Him with trust and hope, He is pleased that we are depending on Him. He is pleased when we hope in Him for mercy and grace for each day. He is pleased when we realize we can not get through this on our own, but have faith that He is with us and that He will preserve us and keep us and sustain us.

And someday when this hard time is over, because we know this too shall pass, we will be stronger for having lived through it. And we can declare His truth and love with greater boldness for having been held up by it in the storms.

Earlier today my daughter showed me a video she had made of Mama some time back. She asked Mom, “Are you happy?”

And with a very grouchy voice and tone, Mom had shouted, “Yes, I’m happy!”

Annie asked again, “Grandma, are you happy?”

And with a slightly less grim tone Mama shouted, “I’m happy…all the day!”

I can’t honestly say that I’m happy all the day. This is a tough time of life. But I KNOW that Jesus is with me all the day. And I know that He won’t leave me. And I know that He will give grace and mercy enough for each moment as I hope in Him.

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Back in Time

It finally came!

My aunt had called me several weeks ago to check in about Mom. She’d mentioned that she’d found a few pages from a letter from my mom, in one of my grandma’s old cookbooks.

“The letter has a recipe for doughnuts in it.”

“I don’t ever remember Mom even making doughnuts.”

“Well, you must have been young when she wrote this, because Michael wasn’t born yet. She says she made cinnamon rolls too, that your dad loved. Would you like the letter?”

“Yes! I’d love it!” I answered.

“Okay, I’ll mail it to you.”

And I’ve been checking the mailbox daily, like a child waiting for a prize to come, ever since. I almost missed it today, as it hid between bills and charity requests. And then I saw it– and my heart soared!

I do have a few recipes in Mama’s handwriting already. But letters and cards have sadly disappeared over the years. And something about reading a letter Mama wrote herself to her own mama brought me back in time.

Back to a time when Mama was younger than my oldest daughter, but living a whole country’s length away from her own mama.  A time when long distance calls were expensive and no one had computers or texting. A time when thoughts were written by hand on paper and a stamp was required. A time when Mama didn’t have her own car and had to figure out a way to get that stamp.

A time when doughnuts were homemade by Mama and her cinnamon rolls were loved by Daddy. A time when she had to stop writing so she could go take care of her little daughter, Sherry.

I wish the whole letter had been saved. But reading even these two pages paints misty memories of a sweet, joyous era. I can almost smell the freshly baked cinnamon rolls. I see my smiling Mama carrying me into the kitchen. The letter to Grandma is still on the table, waiting for that stamp. I see Daddy coming home and enveloping us both in a big hug.

I choke up just picturing the tender scenes. I read the pages through blurry eyes.

It was such a precious time. And now as we take care of Mama, it’s a challenging time, but still rich with moments to treasure. There are still cuddles. There are still sweet words shared and moments of laughter. There are still songs sung and soft touches. And I think the love keeps growing even deeper. More sacrificial. More full of tender mercies.

We haven’t had any homemade doughnuts or cinnamon rolls for decades… maybe I need to make that happen.

And I know I need to remember, that even the very best memories I have here pale in comparison to the ones we’ll make together someday in heaven, because of the love of Jesus and His sacrificial love for us.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”    I Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV)

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What a Friend we Have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…

I was in tears. Becky, the music therapist, came again today. Dad requested more hymns this time. And hearing Becky sing How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace was balm to my soul.

Because it’s been a tough week. A few days ago I had called 911 for my mother-in-law with fears that she was having a stroke. Thankfully she wasn’t, and she’s doing well now. But she spent a night in the hospital with all the anxiety that surrounds that.

We’ve had other stresses I won’t share here, except to say caregiving can strain relationships. And life doesn’t stop because you are caregiving or since someone you love is in hospice. It keeps flowing on, and problems and conflicts and emotions keep crashing like waves, threatening sometimes to flood your heart and pull you down under.

But something about hearing the strum of a guitar, and a lovely voice singing, O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer, becomes a life raft to collapse on in the storm.

I looked at Mama reclining in her chair, as Becky sang. Mama looked so pale and still. She seems more quiet this week and I’m afraid maybe I really am losing her. Because even though she’s in hospice care, there’s a big part of me that’s in denial. I’ve heard of people living two years in hospice care and I’ve been counting on that all along. At least two years.

But when I see her eating less. And talking less. And moving less– it’s harder. And more fearful. I looked at her today and made sure she was breathing. I remembered how, a few years ago, Dad had called me to come help because Mama had fallen. When I’d walked into the living room Mama was lying on the floor on her side singing, What a Friend we Have in Jesus. And I thought, at the time, what a perfect song to sing when you’re stuck on the floor and waiting for help.

And I wished Mama could join in and sing with us again. But she just rested, pale and quiet. And I blinked back tears.

Dad told Becky that he had altered some of the words to You Are My Sunshine. Instead he sings:

You are my sweetheart, my only sweetheart. You make me happy when days are gray. You never know dear, how much I love you. Won’t you be my sweetheart today.

So Becky sang the song Dad’s way. And Dad’s chin quivered. And my eyes watered. And Mama opened her eyes. So Becky sang it again.

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a hard day. But I’m thankful for the support of our hospice team as they surround us and hold us up with love and caring hearts and hands-on help.

And I’m thankful for the gift of music and the comfort it shines on us, like sunshine breaking through a storm cloud. It’s still raining, and yet somehow we are warmed and cheered in a ray of sunlight at the same time.

And most of all I’m thankful that we truly do have a friend in Jesus. And He does bear my sins and griefs. And I can go to Him in prayer and pour out my heart to Him and know that He is carrying me, and Mama and Dad and my family. We are in His strong arms. We can trust Him always.

Jesus won’t drop us. He won’t let go. He can calm the storm or He can walk on the waves. I can rest in Him and know that He is faithful and good always. What a friend we have!

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Have Faith

Being a caregiver has taught me, among many other lessons, that God has a sense of humor. And He often sends me a smile when I need one.

And I’ve needed them a lot lately. Because caregiving is hard. It’s stressful. It can be grueling.

The last few weeks have been especially tough. My daughter, Annie, and I feel the weight of Mama’s care and all the decisions and work and pressure that surround that. And my Dad has strong opinions and is grieving as he is slowly losing his beloved wife.

And sometimes the stress of it all clashes loudly and we say things we don’t mean and emotions pour out in strong words and flowing tears. And I cry out to God, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!”

And then we pray. And we apologize. And God speaks wisdom through my husband. Calming wisdom.  And we are learning to walk in that wisdom, but stumbling along on the way.

As new challenges come up we have begun to tell each other, “It will be okay.” And “Have faith in God.” And we look for the next wise step to take.

Yesterday, we were having another challenge. Our caregiving agency had assigned a brand new caregiver without giving her any training with Mom yet. They usually have a new person shadow an experienced caregiver first. Thankfully, Annie was available to be over with Mom at the same time, or it just wouldn’t have worked.

Anyway, the good news is that according to Annie, the new caregiver has great potential! And when she was introducing herself to Dad, who is hard of hearing, Dad said, “Fay? Your name is Fay?”

And she answered, “No. Faith. Like faith in God.”

How Different Would Life Look if Everyone Did Their Part

Sometimes life is heavy. And though I cherish time with my Mama, I wonder if I’m really doing what God has called me to do.

I was reading today in Acts 13:2 and God clearly called out Barnabas and Saul and told the church to separate them to Him and send them off on mission work.

And sometimes I envy that a bit. Because my mission doesn’t feel very adventurous and I’m just trying to figure out what ways to serve in my church and how to find time to bring a meal to a new mom as I juggle helping care for my mother with Alzheimer’s and my mother-in-law with dementia.

And it’s not very glamorous. Or exciting. And often it is just plain hard work.

I was praying about it the other day and I randomly opened my Bible and it “happened” to open to I Timothy 5. And I read, “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable to God.”

And then in verse eight, of the same chapter, I read, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Wow! These are strong words! From God’s Word.

God IS calling me to care for my mother and mother-in-law. This is a responsibility He has given me, and really all believers.

It may look different for everyone. Some people live far from family. But that doesn’t excuse Christ-followers from making provision for parents and grandparents who need help.

It is our God-given job. And everyone can do their part, even if those parts look quite different from one another.

And it makes me wonder.

I wonder how loved and cherished aging parents would feel if each of their children and grandchildren did everything they could to meet the needs of their elders.

I wonder how many phone calls and meals would be shared. I wonder how many spirits would be lifted with cards, flowers, letters and gifts. I wonder how many songs would be sung together and ring cheer into hearts.

I wonder how clean houses would be and how lovely yards and gardens would be. I wonder how many errands would be cheerfully run and how many repairs would be promptly finished.

I wonder how many stories of the old days would be shared. And how many home-cooked goodies would be relished. I wonder how many puzzles and games would be enjoyed together and how much laughter would fill the rooms.

I wonder how many prayers would be lifted up together to our Lord. And how many wrinkled hands would be held tenderly by younger hands.

I wonder how excellent personal cares would be, and how comfortable and well fed every bed or wheel-chair-bound person would be.

I wonder how many loving hugs would bring tears. And how many conversations would build up faith and courage.

I wonder how many blessings would be poured down from Heaven.

If everyone did their part.

Because God is watching. And He sees the sacrificial love given by some.

And He sees the neglect and loneliness and unmet needs that wouldn’t have to be there. If everyone did their part.

Sometimes I struggle with my own attitudes and feel like it’s all too much. But this is the mission in my life right now. And I know I don’t do all I could do. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will direct me and help me so that I’ll make better use of my time for His purposes, in this season of precious ministry.

Because life isn’t all about personal pleasure or comfort, though God often blesses us with both. Life is about loving God and others. And that is where the real joy and fulfillment is anyway.

It reminds me of a quote from Mother Theresa…

“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools…You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see…”

Sometimes life is heavy. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I’m thankful for the grace and strength and blessings He gives for this mission.

 

 

 

The Comfort of Balding Gray Heads

I went to a funeral yesterday, of an older cousin of my husband’s. And sitting in front of us, filling a couple pews, were about a dozen old men. And I found the backs of their balding, gray heads comforting.

They were the Casket Bearers and the Honorary Casket Bearers, aka Main Street Coffee Group. Many of them had hearing aids attached to their eye glasses, hiding behind their ears. They sat shoulder to shoulder in the pews in front of us, dressed up in their suits and sport coats.

And as the pastor spoke of their friend, I saw some of them nodding. And a few wiping at their eyes.

And the pastor shared that the man’s widow had said,  “He ate dinner with his family at home Thursday night. And by Friday morning he was eating a meal with the rest of his family.” And I pictured the joyous reunion with his parents and his brother.

And then this morning my dear 93 year old mother-in-law told my husband she thinks she has lived too long. Her memory is so bad and she has a hard time doing anything and she feels useless.

And my husband told me that he told her, “God numbers your days. If you are still here, He still has a purpose for you.  You can still sew. And you can still pray for people. That’s very important. Even if you can’t remember names, God knows. And even if you could do nothing… Think about your great-granddaughter (just months old) what can she do? But she is still precious and loved. And so are you.”

And I so loved that he said that.

And then my daughter came home from helping my parents. Mom is getting so difficult to get up and is struggling to walk and fights against standing up.  She said Dad is fearing that Mama will have to go to a nursing home and they won’t take good care of her and that he’ll be left at home alone.

And he told Annie that he’s praying a tornado will just take them both at the same time. Because he doesn’t want to live without her. And he can’t stand the thought of being in bed without her cuddling up to his back. He loves her so much.

And I cried.

And I wondered why life is so hard. And I thought about all the people I’m praying for and all the difficult challenges friends are dealing with.

Life can be so painful. And heartbreaking.

I have no answers to the “why questions” in my mind. All I can do is echo King Jehoshaphat’s prayer, when he heard a vast army was coming against him, “…we have no power against this…that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles20:12, NKJV)

I don’t know what to do. But I can keep my eyes on Jesus. And I can listen for His promptings and do my best to follow them. I can pray for my hurting friends. I can serve Dad and Mama and try to give them moments of joy.

And I can know and trust that He is with us always, and we are not in this battle alone.

And I can’t help but remember the backs of the old men in front of me. And I wonder how many funerals they have been to. And how many friends and loved ones they’ve said good-bye to. And I think of them as soldiers marching on, showing me how to keep going.  I picture them meeting up on Main Street for coffee. I wonder if a chair sits empty, or if the circle gets tighter…

But I somehow know they are there. Drinking their coffee. Remembering their old friend. Laughing over a joke while they wipe away a tear. Carrying on.

And I picture their backs, and their balding gray heads, as they pay respect to their friend. And it is comforting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunny Days

I’ve been sick and haven’t been to see my folks for a week.  But I’ve had times in the week when I’ve felt well enough to scan some slides, and so memories of childhood have been peeking at me…making me smile…reminding me of sunny days…

I saw pictures of Mama laughing with her babies and cuddling them. I saw her at her sewing machine creating things. I saw her providing picnics and birthday parties. I saw her smiling and beautiful. I saw her alert and intelligent looking, loving and blessing her family.

Dad is blind and can’t see the pictures obviously, but he loves to hear about the slides and the memories. So I called him and tried to describe them to him. And while I was talking Mama was hollering near the phone on the other end.

She was sitting next to Dad and almost drowning me out, shouting, “Mama! I want Mama! Raymon, where are you?” And in-between shouts, she’d say quiet, irrelevant things like, “I guess so. Okay. Where is it?”

She kept repeating the irrational shouting and talking during our whole conversation. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just the way she is now. We will check and make sure she’s dry. We’ll offer her a snack or drink, in case something is bothering her that she can’t communicate. But often, we never figure out why she’s agitated.

I’m used to her acting like this, but it stood out to me this week. It stood out to me in sharp contrast to the pictures I was looking at. The photos are a fresh reminder of the mama that was. And I’m struck by how blessed we were and how much I took for granted.

And I wish I could run back into one of those photos—like an “Our Town” moment—and give Mom a big hug. And I’d tell her how amazing and beautiful she is and how blessed I am to have her as my mom. I would thank her for sewing and cooking and caring and listening. I would tell her how sorry I was for all the times I didn’t appreciate her or was rude.

I would sit at dinner and relish every bite of her cooking. I would ask her to look in my eyes and say my name and I’d know that she knew me. And I’d know that she knew I was her daughter and she was my mom. I would ask her stories of her childhood and record them. I would ask her for stories of my childhood and do the same.

And I choke up thinking about this all. And then I think, I don’t need an “Our Town” moment. Because I will have heaven for eternity.  And all who know Jesus will be restored. And the glory of God will be our light and give us the sunniest days ever.