Everyday Weakness - Abundant Strength

 

A few days ago, I was privileged to speak to the women of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.   They had asked me to recount the ways in which the Lord blessed Gary and I throughout his years with dementia.  Recalling the sweet grace of God poured out on us, and thinking through how ANYONE can take hold of grace, was a joyful experience for my own heart.  May you be encouraged, and strengthened in your own situation as well.  

 
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A bonus blessing for me was being introduced by my sweet April, who made me get a little misty-eyed right before speaking!  After our time of worship and study in the Word we were served a lovely tea by the men of the church.  It was a wonderful day with these dear sisters in Christ.   

Audio of my message, click HERE.

Printable PDF version click HERE.

OR you may read it below...  (I've also included some of the overheads that I used.)

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It was 3:15 am and the alarm was going off.  Thankfully, my husband did not wake up.  I slipped out of bed and quietly got ready for my day.  The night before I laid out my uniform so I could find it in the dark.  It was imperative that Gary stay asleep until 8:00 am when I would return from my opening shift at Starbucks.  This particular day, I had a migraine.  I would end up sick at work, but since I was one of two openers, I had to be there until a replacement arrived.  2 hours later they came and I went home, feeling miserable.  I was 56 at the time, and every one of my coworkers were younger than my daughters.  The pace was fast and hard for me.  I felt out of place and exhausted at work.  At home, my responsibilities had doubled because my husband, Gary was changing, and so our world was turning upside down.  We were being led down into a dark valley, forcing changes we never would have wanted or imagined.  In that valley, I came to see my weakness.  Every day.  AND in that same valley, I came to know strength that I had never known before. 

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Today, I get to tell you about those weaknesses, and how Christ uses our suffering to display His power in us.   

 

 

10 years ago, life was rolling along.  We’d been married 32 years.  We had a small electrical contracting business, and were serving with College ministry at church.  We were living in the same house since we got married.  We were enjoying our grandkids and occasional travels to visit family and friends.   But around this time, Gary began to have difficulty with his thinking, particularly with problem solving.  This showed up in his work first and then other areas.  We wrote it off to being over-worked and super busy, but his cognitive problems got worse so we went to the Doctor.  After months of testing it was determined that he had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Type Dementia.  He was 57.  (Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.  It’s like reverse development, from Adult to Youth to Child to Toddler to Infant.)    I would guess that most of you have been impacted in some way by this illness, so you understand.  Gary was sick for 9 years until he went to Heaven 2 years ago.  For 3 of those years, I was caring for my sweet parents (both in their 90’s) who moved in across the street.  At one point I was managing 9 caregivers between their house and ours.  It was like we had our own Assisted Living Complex.

Since I was one with my husband, this trial was for me too.  Taking on Gary’s responsibilities was a crushing weight and we both had to give up so much.  The transition was difficult.  Could I be unselfish enough?  Could I keep home with me? Would I love him enough if he didn’t know me and couldn’t love me back?  We shed many tears together.  We were weak and we knew it.

Would Gary be belligerent, violent, and inappropriate, towards me, or would he be a wanderer? Would our love degenerate into insults and anger?

Forced to close our business meant tremendous financial needs, and I worked at Starbucks for the medical insurance.  Liquidating Gary’s inventory and equipment, and prepping our house to sell at the same time was a daunting task.

Life was so hard – Leaving our home, and ministry, and not being able to help our family or babysit our grandkids was painful.  All the while, Gary was growing more confused about who I was.   

What is distressing to you?  What about your life is difficult, impossible to fix?  Do you feel helpless?  What do you dread?  Are you Rejected, Alone, Persecuted?  No one is exempt from the hard seasons of life, those times when you are at the end of your own abilities.  Everyone here has a story to tell.  Everyone’s suffering is intense TO THEM.  I get to tell you how God worked through our trial, but we are in this together ladies. 

Today, we get to look at someone who has gone before us, into the valley of suffering, weak and helpless and found strength there.  So let’s go together to the One who loves us, to God’s holy word, where all the answers lie. 

We’re going to be mostly in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 so as you’re turning there, a little background.  The Apostle Paul wrote this particular letter during the most painful time in his life.   He needed to defend his authority and ministry to the Corinthian church, because false teachers were lying about him, and discrediting his ministry and were preaching some kind of a “different” and therefore false gospel.  The people he loved and had poured his life into, were questioning his motives and what he had taught them.  In order to protect them from error, he had to defend himself, even though he hated to do it. 

THROUGHOUT CHAPTER 11:

Paul gives multiple reasons to trust him because he was afraid they would be deceived. (v.3)  His character, humility, honesty, love (v.9-11) contrasted with the false teachers who “enslave, devour, take advantage and exalt themselves.” (v.12-20)  His suffering for the sake of the gospel, proved his integrity (v. 23-27), and his daily concern for them showed his caring heart (v. 28).

FINALLY, IN CHAPTER 12:

In order to convince them, he BOASTS.  Boasting is "to glory in", "be proud of."  Why would this humble apostle be boasting?

In v. 1 he said, “Boasting is necessary, (to protect them), though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”(v.1)….”  Fourteen years before, (v.2) he had been “caught up into the third heaven, (v.3) paradise, and heard inexpressible words…” (v.4)  He could have boasted in all these things, but he wouldn’t. 

Being transported to Heaven set him apart from all of the false teachers.  But even though the vision experience was amazing, it was all God’s doing, and not his, so he refers to himself in the third person, saying “On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast except in regard to my weaknesses.”(v.5)  The only thing in HIS LIFE he WOULD BOAST about, was his WEAKNESSES.  That’s where God’s power was displayed most clearly, and the best evidence that Paul could be trusted.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Here’s where Paul begins to boast about his weakness…and I’m going to boast about mine too as we look at this passage together.  Paul’s situation was unique to him.  Mine was different, but I want us to follow Paul’s example and glean principles to help us in our trials.  There is much for us to learn from the Lord, as we face difficulties, and even though trials come in different forms and for different reasons, if we seek Him, the reward is the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Heb. 12:11

Humility From Pain

v. 7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!"  

Paul could have easily become proud because of his vision so God gave him a thorn to keep him from exalting himself.  In particular, a messenger from Satan influencing and driving the false teachers in this church.  This thorn was painful.  Greek for “thorn” indicates “sharp, painful, irritating; like a splinter or even a stake.  It was extremely painful for Paul. 

When things are going well, we are all susceptible to pride.  We love our autonomy and self-sufficiency, but God hates pride.  He’s “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b)  He gifted us with a trial.  Our painful thorn was dementia.  Gary gradually lost all control and I needed to accept help and seek advice.  Not easy for a couple of ‘do-it-yourselfers.’  Our self-reliance gave way to beautiful ways to display grace in our lives.

ADMIT YOUR NEED FOR HELP:

There were so many big decisions to be made, and my husband couldn’t lead or help me.  For example…  Should I continue going to church without Gary?  Should my parents move to assisted living?  How many caregivers could they afford to hire?  What about “end of life” planning?  What would Gary want?  How long should my mom be on life support?  After my Mom died, should my Dad live with me?  etc., etc.  Hooray for James 1:5.  “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.”  Absolutely true!  Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for. 

GO TO YOUR SHEPHERDS:

In the early stages, Gary was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to.   He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from one of our pastors.  Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign.  Pastor Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home.  That incident, laid the groundwork for me the following years.  I will never forget it.  GO TO YOUR ELDERS!  (Heb 13:17) “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”

INTIMACY WITH GOD

v. 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 

Paul begged God to remove the painful trial 3 times. For Paul to ask repeatedly, and then mention it, it must have been extreme.

I too, prayed intensely for God to please remove our “thorn.” The Alzheimer’s would not go away, but we both prayed for relief and strength to endure.  I repeatedly poured out my hurts to the Lord and was reminded of His incredible love for us.  I too was driven to deeper intimacy with Christ.  Others were drawn close too. 

 

Gary’s “I love yous” eventually stopped, and when the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer.  God heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it; in the form of a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past.  God gave me more love than ever for Gary and reminded me that He loved Gary even more than I did.   And now as a widow, God is my husband.  God is replacing the loneliness in my heart with Himself. 

 

(1 Peter 5:6-7)  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” God is planning to lift us up as result of our hard times, (either by removing the thorn or giving us grace to flourish) so bring all your hurts to Him, because He cares. 

GRACE FOR WEAKNESS

v. 9a And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.’ 

God answered Paul’s prayer.  Not with “OK, your trial is ending now,” but with more than enough grace to strengthen Paul in the MIDST of it. 

What exactly is Grace? In greek: charis.  Defined: God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ freely given to us for salvation, and for every other spiritual blessing. (Eph. 1) 

 Paul was no stranger to Grace.  He wrote...

  •  We are saved by grace… (Eph. 2:8) “For by grace you are saved, through faith; but that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God...”
  •  We are glorified by grace…(Eph. 2:7) “...so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
  • In between, we live by grace... (Titus 2:11-12) “…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…”

 We are completely dependent on GOD’S GRACE to live our Christian lives.

 It’s MULTI-COLORED grace: (1 Peter 4:10) “manifold [multifaceted] grace of God."  We need...

Grace to believe the Gospel

Grace to understand the Word

Grace to trust God instead of ourselves

Grace to be assured of our salvation as we persevere

Grace to obey

Grace to endure with joy, and more

My pastor, John MacArthur, says ‘Grace is like the air we breathe.’  Sometimes God sovereignly intervenes in some way independent of our actions, but Paul told Timothy to “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:1)  We are expected to live lives pleasing to God.  But how do we do that in the midst of difficulty, confusion, and sleepless nights?  The Holy Spirit is in us, infusing us with grace as we engage with Him in four ways.    

TAKE HOLD OF GRACE – In the following 4 ways…

 1. Draw near to the THRONE OF GRACE. – PRAY

(Heb. 4:15-16) “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Good news… For believers, this is not a throne of judgement, but a throne of grace.  Jesus, your Savior is there, listening, caring, making intercession for you, He is going to help you live a godly life as you draw near and ask Him for help.

Jerry Bridges writes:  “So Jesus does fully understand and sympathize with us in our times of trials.  We can be sure, whatever the nature of our hurts, they are not new to Him.  Because Jesus can enter into our hurts, and does sympathize with us, we can approach God’s throne with confidence, without being ashamed to lay our weaknesses before Him.  He understands and He cares.” (p. 215 TBG)

  • Thank Him for His love and salvation.
  • Admit you are weak.
  • Ask for the spiritual strength to say “yes” to this situation.
  • Ask for help with specifics; practical AND most importantly, character.

2. Absorb the WORD OF GRACE -  the BIBLE

 “…word of grace to build you up.” (Acts 20:32)   Like eating healthy food, sustains your physical body, assimilating God’s word makes for a healthy spiritual life.  Sermons, Notes, Memorized verse that apply to your situation.  Not just reading it, but doing what it says.  Hiding it “in your heart” (Ps. 119:11) for a rainy day makes it available for the Holy Spirit to recall for you.

There were times when I really needed truth.  As Gary gradually stopped reading, talking, smiling and understanding it was heartbreaking, even depressing at times.  But God used His truth to display His grace and give me comfort and even JOY.  (Romans 8:32)  “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”  This verse became precious to me because, if God gave the very greatest gift (Jesus Christ) for our good, then everything else He gives is good for us too.  It became my go-to verse when tempted to despair.  By (Phil.4) “thinking about what is true.” God healed my broken heart and not just once!  Facing the fact that this trial was not going to go away, God gave me grace to think of ways to give Gary a meaningful life.  (i.e. making his flip book, memory books, PVC and screwdriver board)  This has turned into a way to help others on my website.  When we take God at His Word, and believe him, we find JOY! 

3. Embrace GOD’S PLAN for you. – SUBMIT

Because we believe God is sovereign and good we accept our situations.  Be humble like Joseph “…it was not you who sent me here, but God….God meant it for good…” (Gen. 45:8 & 50:20)  Be encouraged.  Your exaltation is coming if you “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) 

Shortly after Gary’s diagnosis, Gary asked me to find the Alzheimer’s Association website so he could read about what he was facing.  (Memory Loss, Confusion, Personality changes, Repetitive behavior, Loss of communication, and the ability to walk, sit or control his body.  Eventually he would need full time assistance with everything.)  I watched him read the list, with tears in his eyes.  He never asked about it again but a few days later he prayed and asked God “that during his illness, he never do anything that would dishonor the Lord.”  He feared that as he would lose control of his mind, he would do something sinful, but Gary didn’t panic, get angry at God, or beg Him to take it away.    Gary was content with the biggest, scariest trial he would ever face.  He submitted himself to God’s plan for him.  And God did answer Gary’s prayer.

4.  Be open with the Body of Christ. – BE VULNERABLE

Be willing to accept help from Christians AND non-Christians.

  • Practical Help:  Humbling to let someone into your “kitchen.”  Remember, there are many ways to do things.
  • Spiritual Help: Be vulnerable to others and cultivate a small group (including spouse & elders) you can really trust.
    • Need their prayers
    • Need their help applying scripture
    • Need their objectivity

One of my good friends, reminded me about some scripture that helped me in a big decision regarding my dad in the final days of his life.  (tell incident)

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.” (Ecc. 4:9-10)

POWER FROM WEAKNESS

v. 9 And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

 Paul didn’t love the pain, but he did love the amazing grace that lead to spiritual power.  He had to be weak in order to be powerful. 

 What does “Perfected” mean?  Greek: telos = accomplish, complete, finish

 GOD’S STRENGTH ACHIEVED IN HUMAN WEAKNESS.

Anyone who thinks they are “strong” are fooling themselves.  The phrase: “You’re such a strong person” is a joke.  It’s God’s strength we need and that is a byproduct of the grace He displays in our human weakness.   As Christians we want Jesus Christ to be lifted up and not ourselves.

(Cor. 4:7-10) “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 

 GOD’S STRENGTH IS UNLIMITED:  Paul prays that the Colossians be “…strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)

 You can put your confidence in God.

 “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10)

 “For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'” (Isa 41:13)

“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.” (Isa. 40:29)

 I want to draw attention to two different types of God's power that I've noticed:

 Example of INTERVENING POWER:

About 5 years in, as Gary was losing his physical strength…God did an amazing thing.  During the day, he would sit in his recliner and listen to music or work with his "gadgets,” but helping him move was hurting my back and shoulders.  Something needed to change…I told the family:  "What we really need is someone to help for 10-15 minutes, sporadically throughout the day.  Caregivers?….too costly with nothing to do 90% of the time.  College student?... gone to classes when I need them during the day...  Impossible, right?   We ended the discussion with "We'll just have to keep praying about it, and see how the Lord will work it out.”

LITERALLY, just a few days LATER, our answer had come.  Of course you know this guy.  Jason, being part of the ministry here, had been praying for us, and offered to help us with no prompting.  Well, God prompted him independently.  He was perfectly suited to help in every way.  Working from our home, a trained nursing assistant, and STRONG!   Jason was with us during a very important transitional time and served us wholeheartedly during those months. Jason will always be a reminder that... “God is intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Ps. 139

Example of DAY-TO-DAY POWER

In my soul, that will always be a monument to God’s strengthening grace, but so are the day-to-day, moment-by-moment graces that enable us to put “one foot in front of the other.” At the start of our Alzheimer’s journey I didn’t know when the end would be.  But I did know that Gary needed to have a smile from me, and my family and friends needed my prayers and love.  The Holy Spirit helps us live by grace, strengthening us for every task.  “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34.  We may not have tomorrow.  We are only guaranteed the breath that is currently in our lungs.  How will we live in the next moment?  Elisabeth Elliot often quoted an old Saxon Poem:

Do it immediately; Do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly, casting all care;

Do it with reverence, Tracing His Hand,

Who placed it before thee with Earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence, Safe 'neath His wing,

Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING

EVERYDAY WEAKNESS BECOMES ABUNDANT STRENGTH

v. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul's example...Because of the refining process due to the weaknesses in his life, for Christ’s sake; he was “well content” (that means well pleased) with all of it.  He had experienced the spiritual benefits so he embraced the hurts with deep joy and peace. “Suffering is the path to spiritual victory.”  John MacArthur

How often are we well-content with our trials?

I came to love how Gary’s illness displayed God’s grace and power in our lives.  I found out that when we were the weakest, we were the strongest. 

Forty-two years ago I said “…till death do us part.”  Two years ago God parted us and I said “good-bye” to my Gary.  Gary is in Heaven with his Savior.  He is fine now, "extremely fine.”  He is finally "home" and I am so relieved and thrilled for him.  His mind is whole.  He is experiencing joy like never before.

At the beginning of his Alzheimer’s, he carried a letter he wrote to himself so he wouldn’t forget…

“I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…to be all He represented Himself to be in the Bible.  The Christ, the Son of God.  I believe Him to be the soon and coming King.  I am not a believer by birth, nor can I be without God enabling me.  Jesus has forgiven all my sins, and has made me a member of His family.” G.P.   Half way through his illness, Gary shared the Lord with our 4 year old granddaughter.  Though he was barely speaking during those days, he very clearly said to her… ”When you get to know my Jesus, it’s gonna be great!” 

If you DON’T have a saving relationship with Christ, you might be asking, “What’s so great about knowing Jesus?  God wants to show His strength and glory through people, and so he gives them something painful.”  If you look around you, you’ll see that suffering, loss, pain are part of the human condition.  Everyone is subject to them.  Way back in the Garden of Eden, sin was unleashed in the world because man and woman (and all men and women since) chose to assert their own will over God’s.  God made the universe and everything in it.  He is holy and perfect.  It is SIN that has brought the curse of suffering into the earth and eternal punishment and separation from God. 

If you are unsaved, I am sad to tell you, the grace of God is not available to help you with life’s hurts and struggles and this is the best life you will ever have, and any sufferings during this life are nothing compared to the eternal torment that that awaits you after you die.  Our sins separate us from God, BUT long ago, God made a plan born of His love.  Here’s the GOOD NEWS!  BY GRACE, He would freely offer to mankind, a perfect substitute (that’s Jesus Christ) who could bear the punishment for the sins of any who would repent and believe.  His anger satisfied, and the gap bridged.  So GRACE is being offered to you today, by God Himself.

I want you to hear this in God’s own words…

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) 

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

If you don’t know Jesus, and have not yet turned from your sins, and submitted to His Lordship in your life, please don’t delay in making things right with God, through Christ.  “…now is the ‘acceptable time,’ behold, now is the ‘day of salvation’…” (2 Cor. 6:2)

There is no victory, no success apart from Him.  Will you humbly admit that you are helpless to please God, turn away from your own efforts to do so, and believe what He says in His word?

GRACE FOR SALVATION – GRACE FOR LIFE – GRACE FOR GLORY

For believers, the grace of God is available to help you suffer “well” knowing that God is your loving Father, and these sufferings will be nothing in light of the glories of eternity where there will be no suffering; only joy in His presence.  If you are hurting or weak today, BE ENCOURAGED!  GOD WANTS TO GIVE YOU HIS ABUNDANT STRENGTH.  Sometimes it comes in surprising ways, sometimes, day-to-day, but His grace is “super-abundant” and He doesn’t waste anything.  Every single thing in our lives are for His glory and our good. So see your weaknesses as a good thing, bring your troubles to God, to know Him better, and then keep relying on His grace and power working in your lives.  Will you thank Him for the grace to endure it with joy? 

“God is able to make ALL grace abound to YOU so that ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING, you may have an ABUNDANCE for EVERY good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8)

WHEN I AM WEAK THEN I AM STRONG

I’m right there with you Ladies.  I have to remember these things too.  Widowhood has its own unique thorns and struggles as I find my footing in my new role.  

My hopes of Gary smiling at me, or saying a word, or noticing if I walk through the room, are over.  I will never have that again.  But I am so happy for Gary.  I can’t wait to see him again, in Glory, where he and I will be face to face with the One who gave us the power to keep our vows and love each other “no matter what.” I'm forever grateful to God for that.  And grateful to you for letting me BOAST about His wonderful grace!

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If you would like have some of the precious verses from this post, I've designed on little cards for memorizing, or daily encouragement, or to share with a friend, you can order them at my shop... Click HERE                                 

 

 

Dear Caregiver

Dear Caregiver, (or anyone entrusted with the well-being of another)

I know you are doing a really good job taking care of your loved one.  You know what kind of food they like the best, their favorite music and TV shows, and how to help them into and out of a car.  You have been caring for them for a long time, and have sacrificed much, maybe a job, free time, space in your home, involvement in church or other activities.  In a world where human life is being devalued, you are giving yourself to someone and honoring them the best way you know how and if you are a Christian, you are most likely serving, “as unto the Lord”

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." (Colossians 3:23-24)

There are times when you enjoy the satisfaction of serving with kindness, and patience, and you are glad for the sanctifying work God is doing in your life through the difficulties you experience day-to-day.  And then there are the other kind of days…

Frailty.  Exhaustion.  Frustration.  Confusion.  Caregivers live with a burden.  It is a good and worthwhile burden to have, but still hard. Being in charge of another person’s welfare, is a daunting task.  I want to remind you that you can and should share the load.  Being physically worn out, and mentally burned out will not make you a better caregiver.  Actually you do your loved one a disservice if you don’t take care of yourself.  

Share the Load

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As a caregiver for my husband, Gary for nine years, I disliked the phrase “the caregivers must take care of themselves first.”  It sounded selfish to me.  I guess, dropping the word, “first” from the phrase would make it a little more palatable.  The fact is, that if the caregiver is a mess, they have nothing left to give.  Just as the airlines know that adults need to get their own oxygen flowing BEFORE their kids’ oxygen, we need to be as healthy and rested as possible. 

Sounds logical, right?  Well then why are caregivers known for being burned out?  For one thing, we don’t like to ask for help and if it’s offered we only want it on our terms.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I often thought I was the ONLY one who could take care of Gary well.  PRIDE.  Yep.  In reality, we probably do know what works best, because we’ve been doing it the longest, but as long as our loved one is safe, and the help is reliable, and trained, it is a good thing, to have a little time to yourself, for shopping, relaxing, being in church and fellowship.  There are many ways to do things, and sometimes we need to humbly learn from others.  Our way is not always the best, and certainly not the ONLY way.  I gained many good tips from Gary’s several caregivers, and volunteers who came to spend time with him.   Gary went to Adult Day Health Care a few times a week for a couple years too.  Even though I resisted the idea at first, he liked it and the programs there were designed for his level of ability.  I’m glad a dear family member convinced me to give it a try. 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”  Ecclesiates 4:9-10

Gear Up

Another reason for caregiver burnout is failure to GEAR UP for your situation!  By this I mean, remember that depending on the cause of the dementia, it is not likely going to get better.  Your loved one will get worse, so make use of the many helps available.  Here are just a few examples:  My friend, recently bought a “nanny cam” so she could keep her eye on her father, just a couple of rooms away.  This allows her to get a good night’s sleep by just peeking at the monitor, and can see him still safely in bed, and she can go right back to sleep.  The alternative was going down the hall to check on him several times a night.  Another great help is fixing pureed meals for an entire week at a time.  Have a caregiver do it, or do it yourself, but it’s a big time saver, especially if your loved one is not awake or eating on a normal schedule.  You have their food at the ready when they are.  So if your loved one is needing softer foods, consider investing in a blender.  (See short video on meal prep HERE.)  RAMPS YES, THROW RUGS NO…Eventually your loved one will shuffle or scissor-step, and will not do well with loose rugs to trip on.  If you have even a slight step down you should have a ramp.  (For more tips on Accessibility, click HERE.)  Of course there’s a cost to these great tools, but figure out what you may need and do need now, and start asking around.  If you know exactly what you need, you will know what to ask for.  I realize there is a cost to these things.  Start praying and be specific as to what you need.  Maybe family members, who know the specifics will be able to help.  God supplied all our needs, in sometimes surprising ways.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

Stay Connected

Lack of fellowship and worship can be really tough for Christians.  We thrive on the spiritual friendships and encouragement we receive from other believers and we need to participate in corporate worship.  Of course there may be seasons during a long illness when you will not be able to leave a loved one on a Sunday, but again, if you pray about it, and let God know your desire to continue with worship and fellowship (even if it is different than before), my experience was that God provided.  I had to entrust Gary to someone, not “hand-picked,” but qualified, but he was in God’s hands and I had to exercise faith.  Church attendance was limited and sporadic for me during those years, but it was so WONDERFUL when I could be with other believers singing praise to God and enjoying the preaching of the Word.  In a pinch, I could Live-Stream the service, but it’s not the same. 

 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25

So, my caregiving friend...

I hope some of these thoughts and ideas will be helpful and not burdensome for you.  Mostly I just want you to be open to all kinds of help, both human and practical, and staying connected to your church.  I know how heart-wrenching and wearing it can be to be responsible for a loved one.  May you find contentment, and peace as you face each day by resting in Christ’s provision. 

Love always, Laurie

 

 

My Grief Diary: A Happy, Grieving Heart

Next Friday will be the Anniversary of our last goodbye.  Over the last year, as a recent widow, I have sought to understand my new and different life.  After forty plus years with my husband, I find myself alone.  For all those years, and right up until Gary died, I knew exactly what I would and should be doing each day.   My life with my sweetheart was good and fulfilling.  In the months following his departure, adjustments have been made in my life and are still happening.  I suspect the future will hold more changes, and growth for me as well.  That’s ok.  The changes are sometimes hard, or painful, but I'm seeing that there is good on the other side.

Discovering (and dealing with) the new me!

I’ve been learning about “the new me,” the “me-without-Gary.”  We were one flesh for 40 ½ years and I’ve been shaped by him.  Being alone, and being in the grief stage, I've found some things in my heart that need to be repented of.  I've also found more depth in some of my interests and creative side.  There are brand new and faith stretching opportunities to explore and I plan to do so.  (Specifically an upcoming trip I'll be sharing about here.) The Lord has used Gary to help me grow, as a Christian and as a woman.  I am still “me” but I am finding new ways to grow. 

Saying "yes" to everything - well not EVERYTHING, but too much!

One thing I’ve noticed is that after nine years of having certain restrictions on my life, (because of Gary's health needs), I began to say yes to everything.  Well maybe not “Everything” but lots of things.  I kind of went crazy with going here, going there, doing this and that, and taking on a lot.  Nothing bad here, just LOTS.  I was wondering how the Lord would direct me, and unfold what He wanted me to do.  I’ve been able to see more clearly now certain things that are more important than others and great ways to enjoy life.  I don't think I will EVER really get a handle on time management, but I've noticed that I need to be on guard against being greedy.  For instance, I like to put many intriguing things on my list of "to-dos" but sometimes it's better to do fewer things, and do them better.  There will never be enough time or opportunity to do everything.  It's ok to dream, but when something can't be done, I must not get frustrated, but rather be thankful for what I AM able to do. 

Changing roles is not easy.

My sorrow for Gary, has been ongoing for many years.  When he departed, I was already kind of used to missing him.  What I was NOT used to, however, was feeling the loss of my main “occupation,” being his helper.  This has been the thing that brings the most tears.  I miss Gary, I miss being his other “half.” It's a slow process, but God is steadily healing this part of my heart.  I've been able to study about the beautiful role that widows have in the church.  I'm excited about that.  We widows, have a special place in God's heart and He has much for us to do.  "...so that they (older women) may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." Titus 2:4-5

I’m almost through the first year of being on my own, and all the first holidays without Gary are behind me.  I’ve been up and down with emotions as I approach the anniversary of Gary’s home going in a few days.  Mostly happy for Gary, but sad when I think about the final goodbye, and missing my role of helping him.   Through this entire first year, God has been at my side, drying my eyes, giving me things to laugh at, and love, and reminding me of wonderful memories with my sweetheart.    I hope you are all expressing your love to your dear ones and treasuring your days together.  We are only guaranteed the breath that is in our lungs at this present moment so make your day a good one.  May we all feel and think deeply, and give ourselves completely to Jesus Christ so that our lives will count for eternity. 

 

 

 

 

Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. 

Ecclesiastes 7:3

 

I've read a couple of wonderful books on grief.  The most recent was The Undistracted Widow, by Carol Cornish.  I highly recommend it!  (Click HERE for my review.) 

"Where Can I Go?"

Imagine with me for a minute.  What if your mobility was completely dependent on others.  You are able to walk, but you are too wobbly to be safe.  Maybe you are unable to decide anything for yourself because your brain no longer takes initiative.  You can't just get up and walk outside even if you used to go for a walk every day.  You feel restless but you don't know why, and your muscles are getting stiff because they aren't being used as much anymore. 

Folks with dementia are in a pickle.  They need our help.  I made this little video to inspire and help with some tips when it comes to getting our loved ones moving.  This "How To" video is number five in a series. 

But before you watch it, I want to draw your attention to someone in the video who is the winner of BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR!  Karl's wife, Becky was our primary caregiver during the years that Gary was still able to walk.  Karl was INVALUABLE for helping Gary "see the world."  He and Gary actually had similar interests, so he was a perfect walking support for Gary.  He gently and humbly helped my husband enjoy the great outdoors while Becky documented their many outings.  "Many thanks, Karl!" 

To view the video, click on the arrow in the middle of the scene below.   (If you are a subscriber and are reading this post in your email, you'll have to click on "Read in your browser" down at the bottom, to view the video.)

I have made FOUR other videos in this series.  To see them, click HERE.

Success To Spare

A few days ago I had the privilege of telling our story to a group of ladies at our church about our 9-year trial.  I was asked to share how God had helped us along the way.  It's been 5 months since Gary went to Heaven and it was the first time I'd gathered my thoughts about our years with Alzheimer's Disease as a whole, and the key ways our Lord impacted us during that time.  It's a story of God's power on display through human weakness.  If you would like to listen, click on the photo of Gary and I below.  (It's audio of my talk along with a slideshow of the photos I showed during my talk.)  OR, If you would rather read the notes of my talk they are posted below the photo. 

To listen to the talk, click this photo:  (If you are viewing this in an email, you may need to view in your browser. 

To read my notes, start here:

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I’m so happy to be here tonight to BOAST about my weaknesses because Christ used them to display His power.  In order to do that, I need to go back a few years so you can see how God gave us more than we needed to succeed.  Tonight you’re going to hear a sad story, but I don’t want you to be sad. You may be afraid that something like this would happen to you, but I don’t want you to fear.   You may be right in the middle of something just as hard or harder, but I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed.   I want to encourage you.  I want to bring us to the God of grace who wants to strengthen you.  I want you to smile with me at our great God, because I’m going to tell you what He has done. 

40 years ago...

my husband and I promised God that we would love and serve each other no matter what.  “For better or worse.  For richer or poorer.  In sickness and in health.”  Looking back, we are grateful to God for our daughters, their husbands, and our grandchildren.  We began attending Grace about 34 years ago and loved serving in the college ministry here for many years.  Gary was an electrical contractor and I helped him with his business.  We lived in the same home our entire marriage and had no plans to leave it ever.  We were enjoying our grandkids and looked forward to travels to visit family and friends. Our lives were full and like most people, we had plans and dreams for the future.  Our plans were not to be.

About 9 years ago, Gary began to have difficulty with his thinking, particularly with problem-solving.  This showed up in his work first and then other areas.  Because of some other things going on right then, we both wrote it off to his being over-worked and super busy, but the cognitive problems got worse.  We sought medical help.  At this point, it was clear, he had “mild cognitive impairment” so there were months and months of medical and psychological tests to discover the cause, and after eliminating a long list of possibilities, it was determined that he had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Type Dementia.  He was only 57.  (Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is rarely contracted under age 60.  Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.  I would guess that most of you have someone in your family or know someone who has dementia of some form.  As the Baby Boomers age, there are going to be more and more who suffer with it.)   

Shortly after Gary’s diagnosis...

he asked me to find the Alzheimer’s Association website so he could read about the typical symptoms of his disease.  (Memory Loss, Confusion, Personality changes, Repetitive behavior, Loss of communication, and the ability to walk, sit or control his body.  Eventually he would need full time assistance with everything.)  I watched him read the list, with tears in his eyes.  He never asked about it again but a few days later he prayed with our friends and asked God “that during his illness, he never do anything that would dishonor the Lord.”  He feared that as he would lose control of his mind, he would do something sinful, but Gary didn’t panic, get angry at God, or beg Him to take it away.  He submitted himself to God’s plan for him.  Gary was content with the biggest, scariest trial he would ever face.  It was scary for both of us because we knew what would likely happen as the disease would progress, and we would begin the “long goodbye.”  But even so, back in 2010, Gary shared the Lord with our 4 year old granddaughter.  He was barely speaking at the time when he very clearly said to her… ”When you get to know my Jesus, it’s gonna be great!” 

"I am well content with weaknesses..."

I wasn’t always well content…I had my own set of fears. 

Would we both be unselfish enough to go through this trial in a way that pleases the Lord? 

I would have to give up my time, pursuits, energy for the sake of serving Gary completely.  He would have to give up the things he loved, his work, his home, his fish pond.  Gary’s responsibilities were added to my own, and it was a crushing weight.  The transition into my new role was not always smooth.

 Early on someone gave me a wonderful book by Robertson McQuilken who gave up his career in order to care for his wife with dementia, because of his vows of love before God.  This book set the tone for me.  God used this man’s wonderful example to encourage unselfishness in my life.  This trial really revealed the idols in my heart that were stealing my worship away from God.  I found that “keeping things the same and comfortable” was an idol in my life.  At times I resisted the changes coming.  It was a grace of God that He revealed this to me.

 Would I be able to keep Gary at home with me or would he need a nursing home?

I couldn’t bear the thought of him not being with me, yet what if I wasn’t capable of caring for him.

Would I keep loving Gary when he no longer knows me? How do you love completely with no return on that love? 

He was already getting confused about who I was.  He thought I had a twin sister who was trying to come between us.  Between these episodes and the loss of his abilities to care for himself, there were many tears and prayers shed together.  The losses were painful.  I was in desperate need of grace and strength.   

“I am well content with distresses.” 

On top of the personal losses, there were financial losses. 

We had financial needs. – Recently I was going over the events of the early years of the trial.  Things were so difficult then.  With Gary’s diminished capacity to work, we needed extra help to keep business alive, until we knew what was wrong.  His business had been suffering for multiple reasons, but mostly because of his increasing mental problems.  There was a real estate investment we had made before we knew Gary was sick, and it became a financial burden because Gary couldn’t keep up with it.  We were financially unprepared for Gary to stop working.  Once we knew what was wrong with Gary, we closed our business but that meant we lost our medical insurance as well as income.    We were left with no resources of our own, and had to depend completely on God to care for us.  HE DID.  There were financial gifts and practical helps abounding from the body of Christ.

God showed us that He was listening to my cries for help in a remarkable way. – I decided to apply for a job at our local Starbucks.  For minimal hours there were full benefits, so we could get our medical insurance.  It was close to our home and Gary could stay alone for short periods at that time.  I don’t know how I got the job, apart from the Lord.  There was a group interview with about 15 young people.  Around the circle of applicants we were all asked ‘Why we wanted to work for Starbucks.’  Many noble answers were given, such as ‘wanting to be part of the SB community,’ or ‘wanting to change the world’ by selling such a good product that is fairly traded, and helping third world farmers.   When it came round to me I said, “I really need a part time job, close to home that provides medical benefits.”  The next day I got a call from the local store manager, and I was hired.   I asked for the opening shift so I could get home to Gary when he was waking up.  I was there for two years while we waited for Gary’s Medicare to begin.  Though it was not an easy job, it was perfectly tailored to our needs, by the One who upholds us with his strong arm. 

Those years were exhausting. – I had to be at work from 4:00 am -8:00 am every weekday.  When home I was liquidating Gary’s electrical inventory, tools and truck.  There were many medical appts., as well as my regular activities.  On top of that, our house was becoming a burden, since Gary was unable to take care of all the maintenance issues in the house and garden.  I'd get off work, come home and mow the lawn or fix broken sprinklers...the things Gary used to do.  I decided we should downsize and sell our beloved home.  That added more work to do as we prepared it to sell.  Looking back, it is amazing to me that I was able to persevere during these two years.  Only by God’s strength.

“I am well content with difficulties.”

What seemed difficult for us, was easy for God.

There were so many difficult unknowns.  How would we survive financially?  Gary was confused about who I was.  Our ministry at Grace was fading away.  We ended up switching from College Ministry to Mainstream because Gary couldn’t keep up with the pace and the constantly changing faces of the college students any more.  For instance, he used to be involved in the lives of the students, having conversations on a Sunday morning, but he increasingly withdrew, getting his coffee and donut and sitting down alone.  It seemed our usefulness in the body of Christ was ending.  I didn’t know that God was preparing us for a future ministry.  I will tell you about it later.

In 2010 we moved to a smaller place that I could manage.  At the beginning Gary and I went for walks and even took a couple of trips across country to see family, but his physical difficulties progressed, confusion got worse and soon we were staying close to home, limiting our days out.  Gary’s world got smaller and smaller.  So mine did too.  I was depressed for several weeks over how Gary was declining so rapidly.  This verse really ministered to my heart then, and repeatedly since.

 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32

If God gave the very greatest gift for our good, then everything else He gives is good for us too.  Through redirecting my thinking to what was true, God healed my heart and restored my joy.  I referred back to this verse many times during the ensuing years.

One year later

in 2011, my sweet parents (both in their 90’s) moved in across the street.  It was such a blessing to have them nearby but as their needs increased over the next three years, a new layer of responsibility was laid upon our family.  I was able to help them some, but eventually caregivers were needed for them as well as Gary.  During the next 3 years, even though there were ups and downs, we settled into our trial.  It was at this time that God did an amazing thing.  In addition to 6 caregiving hours, Gary and I received wonderful support from our Bible Study and other friends at church.  But on the days I was alone with him, Gary was needing more assistance than I could give him.  Most of the time, Gary was content to sit in his recliner and listen to music or work with his "projects."   But when I needed to move Gary to the restroom, or in or out of the car, or getting ready for bed, or up in the morning, my body was getting hurt.  The wheel chair was heavy.  My hands hurt, trying to help Gary dress, as he gripped the fabric.  Supporting him as he “scissor stepped” was hurting my shoulder.  Something needed to change… I told the family:  "What we really need is a young man with a strong back who can help with sporadic physical and personal needs throughout the day...10-15 minute segments and then go.  It doesn't make financial sense to hire someone to be here all the time, since caregivers need a 3 hour minimum and they'd be sitting twiddling their thumbs 90% of the time."  Well of course that seemed impossible.  The timing seemed right for a live-in helper, but we couldn't even think of the right type of person.  A student would be gone too much.  A retired person likely lacks strength.  The Lord had provided the room, but who could fill the bill?  We ended the discussion with "We'll just have to keep praying about it, and see if the Lord will work it out.”

Just a few days later, April called. A young man in their college ministry in Florida who had been praying for us, and following my blog, said he’d really like to come out to California to help you both.  He wondered if you'd like his help?"  He’s a CNA, works from home, loves Jesus, responsible, young, strong, and willing to exchange rent for care.  No one suggested this to him.  God prompted him to come to our aid.   Jason was with us during a very important transitional time and served us wholeheartedly during those months.   He forever endeared himself to our family.  He will always be a reminder that... “God is intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Ps. 139 

God had been graciously strengthening us for seven years.  He proved His power in our lives in each daunting situation.  I think it was to prepare us for 2014.  We would need it more than ever.  It is hard to describe the stresses and losses of last year.  Even with all the good help from family, friends, and caregivers, there were times I wondered how I could manage to help all three of my dear ones. I felt like I was putting out fires constantly.  For most of the year I was managing 9 caregivers between the two households.  Gary became completely bed-bound, sleeping comfortably 22 hours a day, only awake while being fed his pureed food or having his teeth brushed.  On the rare occasion he actually opened his eyes he did not appear to recognize me.  He could do nothing for himself.  My father was bed bound from a small hip fracture, and my mother was hospitalized with a heart condition.  Things deteriorated and by October, both of my parents were in Heaven.  There was much to do in planning their memorial services, settling their affairs and selling their home.  There was little time to grieve their loss.  I found myself increasingly lonely for Gary, sad about his condition, and overwhelmed with the pace of life and big decisions to be made throughout the year. 

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Remember…2 Corinthians…

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” I was strengthened over and over.   In fact God gave me victory over these things.  Here’s how:

“In all these things we over-whelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

Romans 8:35-37- Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Pastor John explained in his commentary that to "overwhelmingly conquer" means to “Over conquer.”  It's having victory with "success to spare."  If we belong to Christ, He will make us victorious in our weaknesses. 

Yes, I was lonely. 

Since 2011 there had been no more “I love yous,” but I found that God was enough.  When the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer.  I remembered Romans 8:32; that God made the greatest sacrifice and would fill the voids in my heart.  I did not despair. He heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it.  It might be a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past.  Remember that at the beginning I feared that I wouldn’t be able to love Gary enough.  God gave me more love than ever for Gary.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!

Yes, I was sad. 

Gary’s ability to read, talk, smile, understand, steadily diminished for years.  Thankfully, he was comfortable and peaceful, but watching his helplessness was heart wrenching at times.  Early on, by GRACE, I began “thinking about what is true.” (Phil.4)  This trial was not going to go away.  I tried to embrace that fact, and began to think of ways to give Gary a meaningful life.  (flip book, memory books, gadget box)  This has turned into ministry on my website.  It gave me SO MUCH JOY to do these things for Gary. GOD CONQUERED SADNESS WITH JOY!  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE

 


Yes, I was easily overwhelmed and uncertain. 

2014 was a rollercoaster ride.    It is hard to pace your life, when you don’t know how much longer your dear loved ones will be alive.  There were multiple events across the street.  My mom had heart problems, my dad was falling and ended up with a hip fracture and bed bound for 6 weeks.  The days with my parents were precious and I’m so glad they were nearby.  I would not have been able to travel to be with them.  During this crazy time, my health began to give me trouble.  Headaches, blood pressure, weight gain, allergies, neck pain.  I was encouraged to get refreshment in order to not “burn out” so I knew I needed to carry on with my life a little.  I enjoyed a couple of small trips last year, some special weddings, and kept up with my artwork which is always a sweet time for me to think and relax.  I feel like I’ve been in a time capsule for years and lost time with my family and friends, especially the grandkids.    Gary’s condition was fairly stable as he slowly declined, but precarious.  Some event would occur that would take his life.  A bed sore could lead to a systemic infection.  Aspirating his food or drink could lead to pneumonia.  Failure to swallow, could lead to starvation.  He was so weak, that I began praying that God would take him home in God’s perfect time.  On the other side of this trial, He is giving me back the postponed relationships and my body is recovering.  GOD CONQUERED UNCERTAINTY WITH TRUST.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!


Yes, I was in need of wisdom.

There were so many big decisions to be made, and my “head” couldn’t help me.  (I could use the entire evening on this point alone, but will just give you a couple of examples.)  Should I continue going to church on Sundays without Gary?  Should Mom and Dad go to assisted living?  How many caregivers could they afford to hire?  What about “end of life” planning?  What would Gary want?  How long should my mom be on life support?  After Mom died, should my Dad live with me?  When should my dad go into Hospice care?  Etc., Etc. 

Hooray for James 1:5.  “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.”  Absolutely true!  Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for.

Gary set the example for me way back in 2007.  It was a time when he was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to.   He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from our pastor, Rick Holland.  Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign.  Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home.  That incident, laid the groundwork for me when up against big decisions throughout the following years.  I will never forget it.  GO TO YOUR ELDERS!  Heb 13:17 “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” 

Many decisions I needed to make involved our family.  Thankfully, my daughters and their husbands are all believers so their advice was invaluable to me as well.  We came together over many issues to see what the Word of God said.  One of them helped me think through my concerns with going to church without Gary.  Leaving Gary with a caregiver on a Sunday morning was one of the hardest things I had to do.  I would be a weeping mess during the hymns.  Why? Grateful to be there, praising God’s character, but sad to leave Gary at home after so many years of being at Grace together.  But God wants us to meet together with the body on the Lord’s Day.  By His Grace, I chose to obey, and it was such a blessing every Sunday morning to know I was pleasing God. 

GOD CONQUERED MY QUESTIONS WITH BIBLICAL ADVICE.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!


In all these things...

'GARY AND LAURIE, overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’

Our Pastor, JOHN MACARTHUR wrote… “Just as we can only love God because he first loved us, we can only hold on to God because he holds on to us.  We can survive any threatening circumstance, and overcome any spiritual obstacle that the world or Satan puts in our way because…‘in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’ Romans 8:37”

Continuing in Romans 8, For I am convinced that neither death (Gary’s death) nor life (my life alone) nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present (our trial, your trial), nor things to come (the unknowns we fear), nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, (even Alzheimer’s Disease) will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   

Forty years ago...

I said “…till death do us part.”  Five months ago God parted us and I said “good-bye” to my Gary.  Gary is in Heaven with his Savior.  He is fine now, "extremely fine.”  He is finally "home" and I am so relieved and thrilled for him.  His mind is whole.  He is experiencing joy like never before, because, at the beginning of his Alzheimer’s, he wrote in his own words…

 “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…to be all He represented Himself to be in the Bible.  The Christ, the Son of God.  I believe Him to be the soon and coming King.  I am not a believer by birth, nor can I be without God enabling me.  Jesus has forgiven all my sins, and has made me a member of His family.” G.P. 

One of his favorite verses is:

Romans 6:23 - “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you don’t know Jesus, and have not yet turned from your sins, and submitted to His Lordship in your life, please don’t delay in making things right with God, through Christ.  There is no victory, no success apart from Him. 

Meanwhile, my earthly life goes on.


My hopes of Gary smiling at me, or saying a word, or noticing if I walk through the room, are over.  But now there is something new.  Feelings of joy and satisfaction, for Gary's new condition.   I can’t wait to see Gary again, in Glory, where he and I will be face to face with the One who made it possible for us to keep our vows and love each other “no matter what.” I'm forever grateful to God for allowing us to travel this road together upheld and strengthened by the love of God.

My 40 year ministry of serving my husband is over.  God has me changing gears and it feels odd.  Please pray for me going forward.  As I grieve the loss of my Gary, I want to grieve in a way that brings God the attention and honor He deserves, letting others know that God is more than enough for any problem or loss, for those who are truly His.  It’s easy to get ‘self-focused’ as a new widow, with many options before me.  I want to make the best use of this time for the Kingdom.  The faithfulness of God has not diminished just because Gary is not here with me anymore.  God was faithful and good to Gary.  That was evident in his life.  The same faithful and good God is MY God too.  I am excited to see how else He will continue to display His strength through my weakness.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is being useful at our Alzheimer’s Dementia ministry at GCC. We meet on the last Saturday morning of each month, for breakfast, spiritual encouragement, and prayer.  We offer others spiritual support.  Please pray for this very special ministry.  There are no doubt many in our church who are touched by dementia, and could use the spiritual refreshment.  Perhaps you would like a place to serve.  Some in our group have a hard time coming to church, because there’s no one to sit with their loved one at home for a couple hours, or assist them on the campus.  (i.e. You can’t drop off a loved one with dementia while you go park.  They will wander away.)  Others need help applying online for govt. services.  The needs of primary caregivers are great and always changing.  If you believe the Lord would want to use you to help us, please join us.  Please let others know about this and encourage loved ones to come. 

Pastor Rick McLean gives oversight to our group at Grace Community Church.  818-909-5519

I love sharing the practical things I’ve learned in caring for Gary.   I've made many of them available in the Alzheimer's Resources section of my website. 


I can’t think of a better way to finish our time together, than by reading what Susannah Spurgeon wrote after the death of her husband, and preacher, Charles Spurgeon.

I have traveled far now on life's journey; and, having climbed one of the few remaining hills between earth and Heaven, I stand awhile on this vantage-ground, and look back across the country through which the Lord has led me.

A well-defined pathway is visible, but it appears devious and wandering; sometimes skirting a mountain-top, whence one could catch glimpses of "the land that is very far off"; and, further on, descending into a valley shadowed by clouds and darkness. At one time, it runs along amidst steep places, and overhanging rocks; at another time, it winds across an open plain, brilliant with the sunshine of goodness and mercy, and fanned by breezes which are wafted from the fields of Heaven.

There are flowers of joy and love growing all along the way, even in the dark places; and "trees which the Lord has planted," give shade and shelter from too great heat.

I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand—heart linked to heart. True, they have had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years."

Mostly, they went on their way singing; and for one of them, at least, there was no joy greater than to tell others of the grace and glory of the blessed King to whose land He was hastening. And when he thus spoke, the power of the Lord was seen, and the angels rejoiced over repenting sinners.

But, at last, they came to a place on the road where two ways met; and here, amidst the terrors of a storm such as they had never before encountered, they parted company—the one being caught up to the invisible glory—the other, battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road—alone.

But the "goodness and mercy" which, for so many years, had followed the two travelers, did not leave the solitary one; rather did the tenderness of the Lord "lead on softly," and choose green pastures for the tired feet, and still waters for the solace and refreshment of His trembling child. He gave, moreover, into her hands a solemn charge—to help fellow-pilgrims along the road, filling her life with blessed interest, and healing her own deep sorrow by giving her power to relieve and comfort others.


Please pray for me and yourselves as well, that God’s strength would be abundantly displayed through our weaknesses.  Let us anticipate how our Lord will give us success to spare…enough for our own difficulties, with an overflow to help others also. 

 “in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

That’s Success To Spare! 

I would love to hear how God has strengthened you in your weakness, if you'd like to leave a comment below...

Seeking Caregivers?

"WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR GREAT CAREGIVERS?"

From those seeking practical dementia related advice, that’s my most Frequently Asked Question to date.  The answer is, “lots of places.”  Over the years, Gary’s care needs ranged from accompanying him on a walk with him, to complete physical care.  We had a team of family, friends, volunteers from church, agency care givers, private hire care givers and home health aides (through hospice).

Perhaps you can no longer leave your loved one alone.  You need to go to work, or need respite time.  You are ready to hire a care giver.  I hope that my experiences will be helpful as you navigate this new season in your family’s life.    

For both my parents (in their 90’s) and Gary, I have used a care giving agency AND have hired my own caregivers.  Between my mom and dad, and Gary, I was managing eight caregivers concurrently, for over a year.   There are benefits and challenges with each method.  Mainly it depends on your availability and your personality. 

Many think it is not possible to have private pay caregivers and do it legally, without paying “cash under the table” to hide the income, but this is not true.  Payroll can be done properly with use of an online payroll system.  There are many payroll services, but I used Intuit.com $20/month. At hiring time, I entered the employee’s information, then each week, entered their hours and mileage if any.  Intuit generated the pay stub and I wrote the check.  Caregivers are classified as Household Employees by the IRS so you don’t have to withhold their personal income tax.  You DO however have to withhold and contribute for FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and a few other taxes, but like I said, Intuit does all this calculating for you.  Then they generate the Quarterly tax forms when they are due. 

These observations are based on my experience and are intended as an overview.  Please do your own research regarding your own situation.

This entire post (including the table below) is available as a pdf file. To print, click HERE

A couple of suggestions to get started if you choose to…

 Use an agency

 1.      Ask around for some word-of-mouth recommendations.

 2.      Call the agency to set up an interview.

 OR...Hire your own caregivers

 1.      Be sure you have the personality to hire and fire, keep records, and do payroll, AND the connections where you can find some good, qualified people.  I personally would be hesitant to advertise in the paper.  I met someone in our Alz. support ministry at our church, and also advertised for caregivers in our church opportunity sheet.  Either way, you’ll need to manage the caregivers, by training them to the specifics that your loved one needs.  (Their tastes in food, music, tv, hobbies, etc.) 

2.      Call your homeowner’s insurance.  Ask them if they cover household workers if they get injured in your home

3.      Ask around.  Talk to lots of friends and acquaintances.  Maybe someone knows someone…etc.  Run an ad in your church opportunity sheet.  State the job requirements, hours rate of pay, and the qualifications you require.

SAMPLE:  Elderly couple in Santa Clarita, need part time caregiver.  Must be able to assist with transfers from bed to wheelchair, provide transportation to appointments, (fit wheelchair/walker in trunk and have a good driving record. Assistance with phone calls.  Housekeeping (laundry, meals, cleaning, etc).  Assistance with bathing.   Certified Nursing Assistant level of experience preferred but not required.  Must have strong communication skills.  Character and/or professional references needed.  Rate: $10/hour and $.50 per mile for use of car.  2-3 days needed.  (Especially weekends) 7:00am-3:30pm.  Payroll status: “Household employee” for tax purposes.  Contact information: (your info here)

4.      Integrate the paid caregivers with the free services available.   Friends or family who offer to help regularly, Hospice aids (if hospice is involved) should be worked into the routine for your loved one.  If a friend has offered to help you on a regular basis, reduce your care giving needs by that amount of time.    

5.      Be flexible.  There may be seasons when an agency is a better fit than a private caregiver.  For instance, most of our caregivers were folks from our church, so when it became impossible for Gary to attend church with me, we had an agency caregiver who was willing to work on Sundays.

6.      Build a team.  We started with one agency caregiver, and as Gary’s needs increased over several years, we eventually had four plus a hospice aide.  If someone was sick, or planning to be out of town, it gave me some others to call on.  Sometimes my plans had to be changed, because there was no one available, but that was true with the agency too.

Take your time in deciding what to do.  It may feel like you must decide immediately but a little more thought sometimes is just what you need to be confident with your decision.  As with anything new, there is an adjustment period.  Give your choice a chance to work out, before you panic and go back to "square one."  Communicate with your new care giver to help them understand your loved one.  I truly hope you have benefited by our experiences.  Gary would be pleased as well.  

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. 

Celebrating Gary's Life

It was a joy to celebrate Gary's life three weeks ago with many of you.  There are few events in my life that have been so meaningful.  Thinking through his whole life, as I wrote his story,  gathering the photos for his Eulogy, and selecting his favorite music, often brought me to tears of joy.  Over the most recent years, I've wanted new friends and younger grandchildren to know the "old," healthy Gary.  His memorial service was the opportunity.  Looking farther back, it always amazed me how Gary's life was transformed by God.  That was the best part of his story. 

April made the comment that "It's nice that we do Memorial services, because they give us a purposeful way to remember."  So true.  I'd been thinking about Gary's life for a long time during his steady decline, but planning this tribute has been a significant part of the grieving process for our family.  Many who attended, had the same experience.  We want to remember the things we love.  I love my husband, and many of you did too. 

Thank you to all our friends who helped our family realize the dreams and plans we had for this very special day.  And though Gary would not have wanted so much attention, we wouldn't have changed a thing. 

If you missed the memorial, you can watch it right here if you'd like. It includes tributes from family members, friends, and our Pastor John MacArthur, the Eulogy video, and reception photos.  It is not brief but of course, neither was Gary's life.  (If you are reading this via email, you'll have to click the "Read in Browser" link at the bottom of your email.) 

NOTE: My apologies if you already received this post.  I was having a problem with the RSS feed, and needed to republish the post for those of you who subscribe to my blog.

What's Next?

(A quick note here before I get started...  Our family wants to say a huge THANK YOU to those of you who came to Gary's celebration service on Saturday.  It was a truly wonderful morning.  Your presence with us was SO SPECIAL and my heart is about to burst with things I want to say about the morning.  That's for another post.   If you had to miss the service, it was recorded, and I'll let you know when it's available.)

Not sure what it will be yet...but right now, am basking in God's love, remembering my amazing husband, and thinking about the future.  In the three weeks since Gary's departure, many of you have asked me this question...

"So what are you going to be doing now?" 

Now that my number one love and ministry is not needing me anymore, my life is going to look a little different. 

One thing that struck me yesterday, is that the faithfulness of God has not diminished just because Gary is not here with me anymore.  God was faithful and good to Gary.  That was evident in his life.  The same faithful and good God is MY God too.  I am excited to see how He will display that in MY life in the years I have left. 

I don't know the details yet, but I do know some things for sure...  I want to spend more time with younger women, encouraging them to live lives pleasing to God.  (Titus 2)  I am looking forward to more time with grandkids so I can help them along the way as I enjoy them. 

"Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons." Deut. 4:9

As I move into my new role as a widow, there will be things to learn and discover.  Gary would want me to embrace it, and try to see God's work in my life.  There will be grief, but that is normal.  I will try to seek comfort from the Lord. 

In my home, Alzheimer's Disease is gone but I'm not walking away from those who are suffering from it.  I'm going to have more time now to help with our Alzheimer's Support Ministry at church.  I intend to continue making the little instructional videos to encourage care givers, and provide other resources as well.

Peace

I stood on our favorite beach yesterday, and cried, because the final chapter of Gary's life is finished, and I miss him.  It won't be the last tears, but there is peace in the missing.  It's so hard to explain and if you are a Christian, you know what I mean.  It's a deep-seated joy and comfort that comes from the One who gave His life in exchange for mine.  He said He would never leave or forsake me and he hasn't.  He said nothing would separate me from His love and it hasn't.  Gary is gone, but I am not alone.  I'm anticipating a closer relationship with the Lord, and new opportunities to see His grace and love in my life. 

I know there will be aspects of my future that will be really difficult but not impossible.  As you can see from this photo from Gary's Bible (Romans 8), nothing can separate Christians from the love of Christ.  In verse 38 you can see that includes DEATH.  Gary has died, but lives on.  He is fine.  I am fine.  I'm very much loved by God, because I'm in Christ.'  v.39

There will be joyful and sad discoveries, strange new feelings, and things to learn in these next weeks.  I'm wanting to bring you along this next part of my journey too.  Thank you for caring.  Thank you for listening.  I love to share with you and hope to continue doing so. 

One, Two, Three, etc.

Today is a big day!  I finished a third "How-To" video.  I've waited to announce this series on my blog, because  it takes "three" to make a series.  This is just the beginning!  I have so many more I want to make.  After 9 years of living with Alzheimer's, Gary and I have experienced many things.  Some things have become so valuable to us, that I just HAVE TO SHARE.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a short video is worth even more. 

 

 


My mind is flooded with ideas, so get ready to see regular additions to the Creative Ideas on my Alzheimer's page.  I'll put all three videos right here on this post.  Just click on the image to watch. 

<-----"Who Am I?" (2.5 min. Video)

(NOTE: If you are an email subscriber and are reading this post in an email you'll have to click on "View in Browser" in order to play the videos.)

 

 


 

 

Many of the ideas have come from others and the books on my Book Review section, but hopefully these short videos will be a quick help to others.

                     "What Can I Do?" (3 min. Video) ---->

 

 


 

<------"What Can I Work On?"  (3 min. Video)

The BIG IDEA here is to focus on what the loved one CAN STILL DO and help them do it.  Wishing, prodding, and hoping that they will be like they used be is only frustrating for them and sad for you. 

 

 

Please share these videos with anyone who would benefit.  You can share this post anywhere, or share the videos from YouTube. I'd love to get feedback from you too.

Flowers in the Wilderness

One of the HUGE blessings of our Alzheimer's journey has been the refreshing, and fulfilling opportunity to be creative again.  It would be hard to explain how much it means to me to be able to paint my watercolors and share them with you.  Each painting is a little "vacation from my problems," to quote Bob Wiley.  It gives me time to reflect, and learn from life.  Once finished I get the privilege of bringing joy to you, my friends, through my art.  If Gary weren't sick, I would probably not have found my love of painting again. 

This little two minute video explains the "Why" behind Colors By Laurie.  Our friend, Jason made it for me.  He is the young man that lived with us for 6 months to help Gary.  (For more on that story see HERE.)  It is awkward and humbling to promote myself, but thankfully, this was Jason's idea and I couldn't be happier with the result. I've been surprised and blown away by the Facebook response already.   You may have seen it at my Colors By Laurie Facebook page, but if not, just click on the image below.  Then if you feel so inclined, please share, pin, post, email or whatever to your friends.  (to share the video, just click the little paper airplane in the upper right hand corner of the video.) 

Thank you for your love, care and prayers. 

Watercolor Journal - A Pebble in the Hand

Small actions end up meaning so much later on.  At the time, I didn’t know how much a few little rocks would mean to me.  Yes, they are pretty, and smooth, and remind me of a special place, but now they speak to me in a much deeper way.  Gary and I collected them at Moonstone Beach during our many visits here.  I’m here again.  This time alone since Gary can no longer leave the house.  It’s hard to leave him, even though I know he is well cared for, but I know he’d say… “GO!  Have Fun!”  So here I am. 

 

If interested click HERE for note card and print.

 

Last week, in anticipation of being here, I had the pleasurable experience of painting this exact handful of pebbles. 

 

 

 

 
 I stood still for about 20 minutes waiting for this Egret to get this close, and right after this he caught the mouse and took it farther away to dine in private.&nbsp;

I stood still for about 20 minutes waiting for this Egret to get this close, and right after this he caught the mouse and took it farther away to dine in private. 

I’m here to relax, remember, and make some new memories of my own.  Today, in fact, I explored a new area nearby, and saw something new!  An Egret hunting in a grassy field, and catching a MOUSE if you can believe it!.  I’m so happy I got to see 5 of them when on a walk in the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.  They were too far away for a good photo, but easy to see in person. 

 

 

 

Gary was so good at noticing the unique things.  One time he’d say, “Let’s collect all GREEN pebbles this time.”  Another it was “Collect pebbles that look like jelly beans.”  Anyway, we did, and over the years have accumulated a few jars of smooth, little rocks.  One time I found all the colors of the rainbow and laid them out on Gary’s handkerchief.  He was also good at finding the perfect flat pebble for skipping too.  I marveled at how many skips he could get out of a throw. 

 

 

Why so special?  It was time spent together, marveling at Creation.  God didn’t have to make rocks in various hues, but He did.  He didn’t have to make light with a spectrum of color, but He did.  I’m happy to be here, for the both of us, being able to look at things with fresh eyes, and refreshed for serving again. 

Getting time away for respite looks different for everyone, but Jesus set the example for us long ago.  Let’s all try to find a way to follow in His footsteps. 

“But Jesus Himself would slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16. 


Nine

Last January I posted a summary of the last 8 years of Gary’s dementia. (Click HERE to read it.)   I wondered if there would be a 9th.  Well, here we are on the brink of 2015 so as of today, the Lord has seen fit to give us more time with Gary.   I thought an update might be in order. 

 Frequent visitors in 2014...Canada Geese

Frequent visitors in 2014...Canada Geese

Some of you know there have been many challenges in our lives this year, with the loss of both my parents (in their 90’s) who lived right across the street.  Between Gary’s and my parents’ failing health, and my own health issues, 2014 rivaled 2002, (the year I had cancer), and (2006-2007) the years we were first faced with Gary’s dementia.  Even though there were many special moments, and encouraging days, in the midst, I’m glad 2014 is over.  It’s easy to say something glib like that, but not at all realistic.  I don’t know what lies in store tomorrow, or today for that matter.  2015 might be even harder.  It is so presumptive to think that we can so easily dismiss difficulties, with the turn of a calendar page or a New Year’s resolution. 

The good news is, that God has given us lots of leeway within the responsibility of stewarding our time, bodies, and resources.  With less loved ones to care for now, I’m seriously trying to do some things to “catch up” on my own health, and do what I can to make Gary’s life comfortable, and interesting. 

The following is not a list of resolutions.  Just things I’m grateful to have the time for and a feeling of stewardship of the gift of time. 

More time with the Lord

I sure do need it.  The keys to wisdom and peace are within the pages of the Bible.  Many days this year, my soul has been sustained by a familiar verse studied long ago.  But on recent days, I’ve been able to dig in to God's word, exploring more deeply, and finding rich treasures there.  Recent curiosity of mine:  If a Christian’s sanctification is guaranteed, how does a Christian with dementia grow spiritually?  Thankfully, the Word of God speaks to this. 

 Used my mom's dishes for Thanksgiving 2014.

Used my mom's dishes for Thanksgiving 2014.

More memories to savor

It's been fun to go through my parents' things, and sort what to keep, give, and toss.  Discovering little instructional notes from mom, and some of my dad's old model airplanes he'd packed away, were like having them here again.  I miss them so much.  I'm looking forward to preserving my dad's movie films digitally, and using some of my mom's paint brushes.   

 

 

 I'm pretty sure this was Gary's last outing...a family birthday party.&nbsp; It became too hard on him to drag him to social gatherings.&nbsp; March 2014.

I'm pretty sure this was Gary's last outing...a family birthday party.  It became too hard on him to drag him to social gatherings.  March 2014.

More time with Gary

 Another milestone of loss...during the summer I decided to stop getting Gary out of bed to walk him to his recliner.&nbsp; He does better in his comfy bed.&nbsp; July 2014.

Another milestone of loss...during the summer I decided to stop getting Gary out of bed to walk him to his recliner.  He does better in his comfy bed.  July 2014.

Since my dad passed away, a couple of Dad’s caregivers came to work for us and we’ve all been pretty busy getting Mom and Dad’s affairs settled.  Now that things are wrapping up across the street I’ve been finding a more comfortable balance of time with help and time alone with Gary. 

More focus on Gary’s needs

Physically, Gary has stopped losing weight but this is not good news.  It’s because he has no fat or muscles to loose.  He is literally “skin and bones.”  Diligence is required to protect his skin from breaking down, and a careful touch as he has no padding.  His heart and lungs are good but many things could trigger an irreversible downturn; a pressure sore, a couple of days of not eating, pneumonia, etc.  Mentally, it’s getting harder and harder to find ways to stimulate him.  He can’t hold his eyes open for more than a few seconds a couple of times a day unless he’s lying flat on his back or on his side.  I found a kid’s animated acquarium-nightlight, that I can put on his tray, or prop next to him.   Truly though, most of the mental stimulation he gets now is hearing, and touch since he really doesn’t focus on things more than a few feet from him.  I try to play hymns for him daily, and read short passages of the Bible out loud.  He loves his Christmas Bells.  I wish he could listen beyond Christmas, but I need a way to hang them, other than the Christmas tree.  Hmmmm…

 

 

 A visit from family and their doggies...good medicine!

A visit from family and their doggies...good medicine!

More focus on others.

I'm not sure exactly when or how, but I miss having a regular ministry at church, and have had to put off friends I care about.  Hope to have a bit more time to invest in others.

More attention on my health

For the month of January, I’m trying the “Whole30 plan” hoping to eliminate inflammatory foods and then reintroduce categories to see if I’m healthier without milk, grains, sugar or legumes.  Click HERE for more info on "Whole30".  I’ve been checking off some deferred Dr. visits, and trying to find ways to exercise without hurting my heel spur.  I’m looking forward to a couple of days away by myself pretty soon (like I did last May) for a little time of mental refreshment.  I’ll bring my watercolors with me this time too.


Will there be a "TEN" year post about Gary?  I don't know.  For now I'm happy just knowing that today he is comfortably snoozing away near me.  We made it to our 40th Anniversary last week.  I get really sad sometimes seeing how weak he is, and wonder how much longer he will be with us.  Only God knows the answer to that, so I will keep entrusting my sweet husband to Him.  Each and every day I have with him is a privilege.  Meanwhile, thank you for your love, and prayers and going along on our journey with us. 

 Our 40th Anniversary - December 28, 2014

Our 40th Anniversary - December 28, 2014

"Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. 

For our heart rejoices in Him,  Because we trust in His holy name. 

Let Your loving kindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in You."

Psalm 33:20-22

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My Mini-Retreat (Caregiver Care)

This week I did something I have never done before.  I took myself on a mini-retreat in search of a breath of fresh air, time to think, remember, create, and rest.  Everyone is busy, not just caregivers, but there is a daily weariness that I experience that is hard to explain.  The idea of leaving Gary for a couple of days, was not appealing until recently.  A couple of years ago, he would have been confused about my absence, but now he is unaware of the passing of time, or who it is that is caring for him.  Things have been much harder in 2014 and my attention is diverted in many directions in addition to the sad decline in Gary.  So, for several weeks I've been planning to take a couple of days off, and let the Lord take care of me.  I packed a good book, my watercolors, and my Bible.

Sunday

Sunday morning, Gary's caregivers arrived and I said good-bye.  It began with a beautiful drive.  I enjoy driving when there is no traffic, beautiful vistas and Keith Green's music playing.  Two of my favorite's are The Prodigal Suite, and Stained Glass.  I was surprised how many times I was reminded of former times, and in a way, Gary came along with me.  We were dating when we first heard Keith Green at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.  His worship music was a big part of our early years, and still is. 

IMG_0720.JPG

 

 

I arrived at 3:00 at Moonstone Beach in Cambria on the Central Coast.  Gary and I have stayed in several different hotels here, but The Fogcatcher Inn is our favorite. 

 

 

 

My adventures began with a brisk walk along the boardwalk along the bluff.  It was quite windy, and cool, but very refreshing.  How often I had walked hand in hand with Gary on the same boards.  But this time I was alone and it was ok. 

 

 

 

I took tons of photos.  Tried some "selfies," and shot scenes for painting reference and of course capturing the views to help my own memories.   

I walked along the beach too, scoping out a good location to paint the next day, and found a 3 pebbles to save.  Each time we went to Moonstone Beach, Gary and I would gather "theme" pebbles.  One year he'd look for jelly bean shapes and colors.  Another, it was all white, or all green or all brown.  They sit in jars in our sun room.  I must confess, it's not as fun gathering them, without someone to show your special "find" to. 

 Painting reference

Painting reference

Back at the room, I worked on a sketch for the beach painting to be done the next day.  It is an amazing thing to have uninterrupted time.  Throughout my retreat, I kept thinking, "What?  It's ONLY 5:00?" instead of the typical "What?  It's 5:00 ALREADY?"  Here's a preview of the scene I was planning to paint "plein air" (outdoors). 

At dinner time I got a Tri-tip Sandwich to go at the Main Street Grill in Cambria and brought it to my room and saved half for lunch the next day. 

The evening's entertainment was the film, "Miss Potter" about Beatrix Potter starring Rene Zellweger.  I've seen it before, but somehow it seemed fitting for this occasion.  One of her comments as she was anticipating the publishing of her Peter Rabbit book was "We shall look upon it as an 'adventure'.  It is a very sweet story, and I related on many levels; especially her love of watercolors, and the outdoors and her losses. 


Monday

One of the reasons we love the Fogcatcher is the complementary breakfast!  It is not just danish rolls, mind you, it is the real deal, complete with sausage, eggs, waffles, and pastries.  Peets coffee and a tray to take it to your room if you want.  Now, about the room...Cozy, and facing the ocean, the view from here was better than the nicest restaurant. 

I had brought along "The Glory of Heaven" by our pastor, John MacArthur because I decided to focus my thoughts on Heaven this week.  I want to think about Gary's future (and mine).  A couple of thoughts on this...Since, as Christians, our "citizenship is in Heaven," (Phil. 3;20), we already belong there.  It's where we are going one day and we can benefit partially now, from all the bounty of Heaven.  Something else...To be "absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord!" So when we're in our earthly bodies, we are not at home with the Lord.  We are walking by faith not by sight.  One day, Gary will shut his eyes for the last time, and when he passes into eternal life, he will walk by sight, not by faith.  His faith will become sight! 



I spent the rest of the morning painting the view out my window.  I'm only including one tree because I'm allowed to do it however I want!  :) Here's the start of it.




The afternoon was spent browsing the gift shops and galleries in town.   This might seem odd, but it reminded me of Gary too.  He enjoyed looking in all the "cute little shops" as he called them.  We never came to the Central Coast without coming home with a new plant from a local nursery.  One favorite place in town, is an old house, complete with gardens in back, and each room in the house is a showroom.  The mud room is for gardening related gifts, and the kitchen is where they sell herbs, essential oils, and potpourri.  Out back there is a 'fairy' garden with cute displays.  This is where we first saw a Newport Fairy Rose bush.  It is an aggressive rose, and gets really big.  Gary bought one 15 years ago, at the same shoppe and planted it by out arbor out back.  in no time it covered the big arbor and was beautiful.  It was one of the things I hated to leave when we moved.  Seeing it again, made me miss Gary. 

In the late afternoon, the lighting was just right and the tide was low enough to go back and paint the outdoor scene.  I got set up in just the right spot, on the sand, and began the fun challenge of capturing the beauty and feeling of the place, while keeping up a pace to beat the encroaching waves and mist as the wind began to pick up.  I suppose I was out there for 90 minutes before snapping a couple more photos and calling it quits, planning to finish it up later. 


The day ended with another long walk and a good dinner.  This time, Asian Chicken Salad.

Tuesday

Breakfast. Reading about Heaven. Prayer. Painting.  Frequently I would start to think of doing something...such as going for a coffee refill and ask myself "Will Gary be ok if I go downstairs and get the coffee?"  "Oh, yea, he's not here.  Go ahead and get the coffee."  It's a big adjustment being 'on my own.'  One thing caught me really off guard and hit me hard.  I decided to wash the windows before heading out.  As I did, it reminded me how Gary loved to do that whenever we were getting ready to travel.  He took great pride in getting them streak free.  Silly, what makes you get emotional, but I really missed him right then, washing my car windows in the hotel parking lot. 

I stopped for one last long look at the ocean at the south end of the beach on my way out, and had a snack there.  I decided that I would like to do this again, maybe next year.  It would be nice to look forward to.  I was able to go to the same places Gary and I shared together, and enjoy myself.  It was a happy/sad time, but I know he would want me to be doing these things and that makes me feel bold about venturing out a little. 

 

Driving home, normal anticipation of being with my love again was clouded by the knowledge that he wouldn't be able to participate in my joy.  But in a weird way he does.  We are 'one flesh.'  My joy or sadness is his, and his is mine.  On the way home, I stopped for a late lunch in Solvang, which was OUR first stop on our honeymoon road trip 39 1/2 years ago.  I was facing more memories, and again, It was ok.   When I got home and greeted Gary I wish I could say he responded but he didn't.  I told him all about my time, away and maybe he caught some of it, but I couldn't tell.  I put the 3 pebbles in his hand, and helped him hold them for a minute.  Hopefully it brought back a good feeling for him like it did for me. 

"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."  Psalm 23:6