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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Looking for Bright Moments, Not Bare Branches

I stepped out of my door today and a gust of wind hit the trees and bright yellow leaves swirled around me and over me. I walked through the yard as the leaf confetti showered down on me. And I smiled as I reveled in the unique beauty of the day.

Every day is unique. But some are more beautiful than others. And some are bare branch days.

Like one day last week when I fed Mom lunch and she didn’t say a word. I talked to her. I asked her questions. I sang our songs. I told her who I was several times. She kept opening her mouth and eating, but was unresponsive to me.

Until towards the end of the meal, when she suddenly looked me right in the eyes, took a big breath, and asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m Cheryl, Mom.  I’m your daughter, Cheryl…” Mama frowned and squeezed her eyebrows together and up, in a concerned look.”Or Sherry. Sometimes you call me Sherry…. I love you, Mama. And you love me.”

Mama rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling and shook her head back and forth a bit.

But today, as my daughter was caring for her Grandma, Mom asked, “Where’s Sherry?” And when Annie told me she’d asked for me my heart was so thrilled.

Annie also said that she told Mom that she loved her. And Mom asked, “What for?”

Annie answered, “For many, many, many, many, many, many, many reasons.”

And Mom replied, “Two more!” And we couldn’t help chuckling at her delightful greediness.

Looking out my window now, I see many trees, their branches waving in the wind on this crisp, fall day.  Some of the trees still have mostly green leaves. Some have yellow leaves. One has bright orange leaves. In the middle of it all is a tree with almost totally bare branches.

It reminds me of the other day.  I was walking home from caring for Mama, and I found a small, red Maple leaf, only about an inch and half long. It was so tiny, but so lovely. For some reason it made me happy and I picked it up and carried it home.

And it makes me think…Winter is coming. But right now there is still beauty to be noticed and cherished in this season with Mama. Someday the trees will all be bare. But now there are still moments of color swirling around in these windy days. Sweet, tiny moments of mercy to pick up and press close.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a season of learning to focus on the beauty of the bright moments that are still there and not on the branches that are bare.

It’s a time to stop and notice those tiny touches of tenderness. And someday, when the trees are totally bare, and winter chills away the last bits of color, we can take great hope in spring and an eternity with Jesus.

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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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You Really Do

Last night, after going through Mama’s night time routine, I tucked her into bed and then I climbed in next to her for a few minutes. The quilt was tucked up around Mama’s shoulders and underneath her chin as she laid on her side facing me. She seemed more alert than usual, and kept looking at me with her blue eyes wide open, looking so sweet and content all tucked cozy into bed, she reminded me of an innocent child.

I put my arm around her and patted her back. I recited a few favorite Bible passages. I stroked her hair and prayed with her and sang “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” I reminded her what her own name is and listed her siblings and her home town and so forth. She didn’t respond, but she kept looking at me like she was interested. 

After a few minutes her eye lids began drooping, so I thought I should leave and let her sleep. I said, “I love you, Mama.”

I got no response. I tried again, “I love you so much, Mom.” Again, no response.

I kissed her cheek, and said once more, “I love you, Mama.”

And she answered, with no question in her voice, “You really do.”

“Yes, Mama. I really do.”

And I left smiling, with my own sense of sweet contentment. Dad would soon take his place in bed, cuddling up to Mama. God was watching over them both.

And Mama knew I really loved her.

 

“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm4:8

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Mama’s Changing Faces and God’s Unfailing Graces

Dementia seems so arbitrary. After watching it progress in Mama’s life over ten years now, I’m surprised that it can still surprise me.

And yet it does.

Monday was Mama’s birthday. I brought her homemade cake and lit candles and we sang to her. I got no reaction. Not a word. Not even a raised eyebrow or a hint of a smile.

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Later in the evening, my daughter said, “Grandma, it’s your birthday.”

And Mama calmly answered, “I know.”

A few days later, Mama had massage therapy and music therapy at the same time. I usually just watch Dad’s face as he takes joy in the music, because Mama usually sleeps through it all. But this time Mama looked right at Dad, while Becky sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and Mama smiled!

Becky told Dad, who can’t see Mama because of his blindness, that Mom was smiling at him. And oh how his chin quivered and his eyes misted and then how my eyes watered. And Mama stayed alert and awake for the rest of the music and looked cheerful and smiled and seemed to join in with the pleasure of the day.

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Today, the hospice nurse practitioner came to see if Mama still qualifies for services. And though Mom is typically quiet and mellow in the morning these days, today she was agitated and yelling. But the nurse practitioner mentioned how nice she looked. And our regular hospice nurse, Terri, said, “I think pink is her color.” I agreed, thinking Mama looked so pretty in her pink dress with her white hair brushed back from her face.

After the nurses left, I told Mama, “You’re so pretty.”

And she answered, “Yeah, I try.”

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And I think how much her reactions fluctuate. And how startling it can be that though Mom doesn’t know her own name anymore, she can still quickly reply with fitting or witty words at times. Even though other times she says nothing at all.

Dementia still surprises me. Mama uses the word crazy often. She said something about it today and a caregiver asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?”

And Mama calmly replied, “Probably not.”

Dementia is a wild ride with sharp curves and sweet mountain highs and gloomy valley lows. And the thing that keeps me from just crashing is God’s grace.

I was in one of those gloomy valley’s this week and shared some concerns with our understanding nurse, Terri. I told her, “Life is hard. And then it gets harder. At least the end of the story is good though. At least we have heaven.”

And she spoke words of wisdom, learned perhaps through her own valley times.  I wish I’d written down her words, so this isn’t a perfect quote, but basically she said, “God gives us grace each day. Sometimes He seems stingy or slow, but He gives us grace enough.” She spoke with a smile and with the gentle authority of someone who knows she speaks truth. And her words sung courage to my heart.

And I know she is right.

Dementia is arbitrary. The surprises keep coming. We never know what the next day, next hour, or next minute may startle us with. Maybe it will make us laugh. Or maybe it will make us weep. Often it will be heartbreaking. Sometimes breathtaking.

But this we can know. God is with His children. All who trust in Jesus and follow Him can know that He will give grace. Grace enough. For every day. Always.

And the end of the story will be amazing!

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

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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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Oh The Things Mama Says

A couple weeks ago, Mama looked right at my oldest daughter and said, “I want to buy you a duck.” And Amy and I both laughed. And we wondered where that thought came from.

I often wonder about Mama’s thoughts and words.

Some days now she is so quiet. Sometimes I feed Mama a whole meal, and she opens her mouth faithfully to eat, but doesn’t say a word, even though I try to engage her. Some days she doesn’t even look at me and just gazes off at random things. I often wonder what she’s thinking.

And even when she does speak, and her words are clear enough to understand, I still don’t know what she’s thinking.

A few days ago, I was feeding Mama lunch, and she kept looking right at me.

She asked, “Did you?” And she looked at me intently, waiting for a response.

“Um-mm, maybe.” I said. “I might have.”

“Did I do it?” Mama asked, with a concerned look on her face, her eyebrows knitted close together.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

A bit later Mama said, “No one knows.”

“Well, that’s true,” I replied. “There is a lot that no one knows.”

A little while later Mama randomly asked me,”Why do they do that?” her blue eyes fixed on me expectantly.

I was thankful Mama was actually talking, but I wished I could understand what she was thinking about. I longed to truly communicate with her.

After lunch and clean up, I cuddled in bed with Mama for a little while. I quoted Bible verses. I sang hymns and other songs. I told her that I loved her.

Finally I said, “I need to go now, Mama. Should I go get Dad to come take a nap with you? Would you like Raymon to come in here?”

And Mama very clearly said, “Oh, shut up!”

Well, at least I understood that!  And though it’s still strange to hear Mama say words she never said when her mind was strong, I laughed. I think it was just refreshing to hear a whole thought from her that I could comprehend.

But as Alzheimer’s progresses, and language dwindles, every word becomes more precious. It’s a clue to what is going on in Mama’s thoughts. Or at least I want it to be a clue. And I search for meaning. And whenever she mentions my name or speaks of love, my heart is thrilled.

A week or so ago I told Mama I loved her. And she answered, “I know that.” And my heart was warmed and I smiled. Because even though she doesn’t know who I am, or what my name is, or if she loves me — if she knows that I love her, I can be content.

Because someday we will be together with God, and Mama’s mind will be restored. Then she will know my name again. And I will know her Mama’s love again. How sweet and perfect that will be!

And then I’ll just have to ask her– why did you want to buy Amy a duck? And I can see us laughing together about that one!

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