Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the Storms

It’s happening more often these days. It happened tonight. My 94 year old mother-in-law bowed her head and put her hand to her forehead and sat that way, looking perplexed. “Are you okay, Eunice?” I asked.

“I’m confused,” she says.

“What are you confused about?”

“I don’t know where I am, or how I got here.”

“Well,” I say, “this is where you’ve lived for over two years now. You live here with your son, Jeff and me. I’m Jeff’s wife, Cheryl.”

She looks at me and nods, but doesn’t seem reassured. She puts her hand on her bowed forehead and again says, “I’m so confused.” My heart goes out to her. I pray with her and that seems to give her a little comfort.

Eunice was a strong and very intelligent woman. She knew the names of hundreds of children she worked with through the years at church. She knew every verse of probably a hundred hymns by heart. She read profusely, completed crossword and jigsaw puzzles faithfully, and sewed quilts beautifully.

But now she looks at her son and some days asks, “Who are you?”

“I’m your son, Jeff. You’re my mom.”

“I’m your mom?” she says with disbelief, and laughs.

The confusion is showing up more frequently. It reminds me of my own mama’s journey with Alzheimer’s, except I don’t remember Mom ever actually saying that she was confused. But she would very often say, “I want to go home!” Even though she was still in the same home she’d lived in for over 50 years. And she would holler and say, “Mama! Mama where are you?”

My own Mama passed on to Jesus this past December. It was a challenging journey through Alzheimer’s with her. And now we are on another one with my mother-in-law. A reader liked an old Facebook post I’d shared in 2014 today. When I saw the notification I reread the post and it reminded me of lessons I learned back then, that I need again now.

Here is the gist of it….

Thunderstorms are in the forecast for later, so I go over early to give Mom her bath. Afterwards I sit by Mom on the love seat, and the rain begins to pour, and the thunder claps, when she says, “You are me and I am you.”
I’m not sure how to respond to that. So I say, “I love you, Mama”
“I love you, too,” Mama sweetly answers. A bit later she stares at my face and abruptly asks, “Who are you?”
“I’m Cheryl.”
“Who are you?” she immediately asks again.
“I’m Cheryl.”
“Oh,” Mom smiles, “YOU’RE Cheryl.”
“Yep, I’m Cheryl. Who are you?”
“I’m Nina Fay.”
“You’re Nina Fay. Do you love me?”
“Well,” Mom says cheerfully, “I used to.”  
I’ve noticed a scratch on her arm and so I rub some ointment on it while I tell Mom what I’m doing. She says, “Bless your little heart!”  

 

There’s a break in the thunderstorm, so I get up to leave. Mom gets upset and urgently shouts, “Stay here! Stay here!” She’s never done that with me before, so I settle back down next to her. She seems reassured and she pats my arm and tries to rub away my freckles.

And I think now what a strange conversation Mama and I’ve had. And I know a few years ago it would have broken my heart. Well, actually something similar did I’m sure. Alzheimer’s is a journey of heart breaks.

But please hear this…God keeps healing the brokenness and the cracks. His love seeps in and soothes and repairs and heals until you find out that your heart is much stronger than you ever thought it could be.

And on this unwanted journey, God keeps raining grace on us. He gives strength to get through the day. He sends lessons we would have learned no other way. He gives tender moments and smiles that are more precious seen through the pain.

My dad was just saying today, as we heard the thunderstorm crackling overhead, that he liked to sit out on the porch during storms so he could hear the power. I know what he means. God is powerful and mighty and there is something about a thunderstorm that reminds us of that.

And there is something about walking through Alzheimer’s with a loved one that reminds me of His power, too. Because I know I couldn’t bear it without Him. I know He is surrounding us with His love and growing us in new ways. I know He is with us through it all.

So I can sing the words of a favorite song of mine, (by Casting Crowns) with confidence and faith, “I will praise You in this storm….”
“……And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in Your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm.”

He is so good. He is worthy of our praise!

 
I’m so thankful I read this today. It reminds me how faithful God is. He was with us through the Mama storms. He will be with us through the mama-in-law ones, too.
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God is Here

It’s been a tough week. On Saturday we thought maybe God was taking Mama home to Him. She wouldn’t wake up no matter what we did. She was unresponsive. She was so cold. Her breathing was erratic, with long, scary gaps. I was sending messages to people asking for prayer. I was comforting my crying daughter and trying to stay calm myself.

But after many hours she did wake up! And she ate a very late supper. And we all exhaled a big breath and smiled. We hadn’t lost her. Not yet. We could savor some more cuddles. We could still hold her hand and feel her squeeze back in response once again.

The next day, Sunday morning, Mama told my daughter, “God is here.”

Annie answered, “Yes, He’s here.”

Mama said, “He is bigger.”

And we continue to take comfort in those precious words. Because even though Mama rarely seems to know who we are anymore, if at all, she knows that God is here. God is with her. God is with us. And He is bigger. Bigger than Alzheimer’s. Bigger than our pain and sorrow. Bigger than our stress and worries and fears.

God is bigger.

I’m so thankful Mama knows this. I’m so thankful God continues to teach us through the few words Mama says these days.

Other concerns and stresses weigh down on us too. Our prayer list is long. This is a challenging season of life as we oversee the care of three elderly parents, one who lives with us. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and cry and call out for help and prayer.

And I feel the comfort of God in kind words and offers from friends. In family members who step in and help. In devotional passages and Bible verses I read. Like one I read today…

“If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 (NKJV)

Yesterday I cuddled Mama before supper, “Mama, it’s me…Cheryl.” She repeated my name so clearly! I rarely hear her say my name and often it sounds slurred. But yesterday she said it clearly twice! “You said my name, Mama! Thank you!”

She answered, “Yes, Ma’am.” Which made me smile even more and gave a nod to her Southern upbringing. I’m grateful for this gift of hearing Mama say my name again. And especially for the pricelessness of hearing her speak of God’s presence.

God is here. He is bigger.

GOD is here. God IS here. God is HERE!

And He is bigger!

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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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Sweet Support and Stories

I love hearing from readers, even though many of your stories are heartbreaking or bittersweet. You have all been a support group for me through this journey. You have blessed me, encouraged me, and prayed for my family–even though most of you don’t know me.

And occasionally your stories make me smile.
Today Dona commented on a blog post What I’ll Say to my Children if I’m Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s and I just have to share it…

“My 89 year-old mom, too, had Alzheimer’s. It was during one of her more lucid days that she said, ‘I don’t know why God just doesn’t take me now. I’m ready to go.’

I went into my preaching mode and reminded her that Jesus said he was going to prepare a house for her and when her house was ready, I was sure he’d come for her.

She replied ‘I can just live with my mom and dad! They won’t care!’

Thank you for sharing Dona! And a big thanks to all my readers! I can’t even express how much you lift my heart! May God bless you all and give you each grace for your own journey.

The Grace Gift

In the midst of Mama’s angry dementia, God sent me a sign of His tender mercies…

Mom shouts so much these days. And she frequently shouts, “I hate you! I hate you, Mama!”

I don’t believe she hates anyone, and certainly not her mama. It’s just the name that flows out without thought. Probably the first word she ever said. The name she hollers out in her distress.

The other day I was changing Mom and cleaning her up and she was shouting in a loud, rough voice, “I hate you! I hate you, Mama!”

And then suddenly she turned and looked at me. And in a soft, reassuring tone she said, “I don’t hate you.”

She sounded normal, like her old self. Like somehow in the midst of her dementia she had a moment of clarity, and wanted to make sure I knew she wasn’t yelling hate at me.

I think it was a grace gift from God.

It warmed my heart and I smiled and said, “Thank you for telling me that, Mama.”

And it brought back sweet thoughts of the caring person Mama is. And it reminded me to look for the grace gifts.

Alzheimer’s is hard. It continues to get more difficult. But… “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV)

Alzheimer’s will not consume us. Because God will not fail us. His mercies surround and protect and comfort His children. His compassions are new every morning. I will look for His grace gifts each day. i will pray for eyes to see Him at work and for a grateful heart.

And I will sing of His faithfulness. Forever.