Through Troubled Waters

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Years ago Simon and Garfunkel sang about providing a “bridge over troubled waters” to those who were “down and out” and needing a friend. But centuries before those words were written, the Author of Life, the Singer of the Eternal Song of hope promised that “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 THE MESSAGE)

Instead of offering a bridge over troubled waters – a way of escape – GOD promises his followers that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

The call to caregiving is a call to face spiritual and emotional headwinds that are often beyond your control. Whatever the “winds” of this day may bring, “[GOD’s] grace is enough; it’s all you need. [His] strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

His promise is not to provide a way of escape, but a way to bring you safely through the storm to a place of safety.

Prayer – Help me today to know that you are with me through this day’s difficult places. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Strength for the Journey

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Great victories are often followed by times of testing. The Israelites had just experienced the miracle of crossing the Red Sea on dry land. Imagine the sense of wonder they must have felt as they sat around campfires, each one telling, and re- telling their experience. Then…just three days into their wilderness journey…they could find nothing but bitter water.

For the Israelites…and for us, testing leads to refreshing. Sometimes God’s refreshing is a surprise, a wonder, nothing short of a miracle. “Moses cried out to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Exodus 14:25)

For Israel…and for us, there is a journey ahead. A long day-in, day-out journey. We can’t camp at the place of wonder. There is a whole desert to cross, a whole life to be lived. And GOD has a place of quiet, calm abundant refreshing for Israel, and for us. “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.” (vs. 27)

Our LORD has an “Elim”, a place of deep, cool refreshing for you. A place of rest and renewal for the journey. He cares. He provides. Drink deeply.

Prayer – LORD, lead me to my “Elim”, my experience of your relief and refreshing. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

A Holy Place

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Begin this day, and every day, with this strong assurance: The LORD is with you. You are never alone, no matter what challenges you face.

When Israel entered the land GOD had promised to them, there were battles to be won and a high-walled city to be conquered. As Joshua, their leader, surveyed the challenge of a battle for Jericho, “he saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua said to him, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ He replied, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’” (Joshua 5:13, 14)

What “Jerichos” are you facing today? What can we learn from Joshua’s response to “the commander of the army of the LORD”?

“Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’ The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy’” (vss 14, 15)

Challenges are meant to lead us to holy ground. To a place of surrender, an inner quiet where the heart learns to listen for our LORD’s direction. To a place where the LORD himself is with us. To a place where the battle we face is his.

Prayer – LORD, please lead me today to a holy quiet, a place where I can know the assurance of your strength. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Stress Less

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As a caregiver, some of your tasks are simply routine. Others are more demanding. But, most of the time they’re do-able. It’s the heart you put into those tasks that makes them them true acts of caring.

Because you care…you feel every discouraging experience deeply. Because  you serve each day with hope…your emotional highs are higher, and your lows are  lower.

It is in those stressful times that our LORD offers both new insight and his life-renewing support.

The Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) While we may or may not shed tears, we all know the stress of sleepless struggles. And “linger” may be too mild a word to describe our stress. An older translation says that they “endure”. But both translations agree that “joy comes in the morning.”

Before our “weeping” can give way to “joy”, our loving LORD offers to make clear the cause of our “weeping” and give us the grace to surrender to his life-fulfilling joy.

Prayer – Help me, LORD, to learn from my stressful times, and lead me to your joy. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Beauty for Ashes

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Our LORD has promised to turn dark experiences into a place of beauty. “Beauty for ashes” is his biblical promise. (Isaiah 61:3) Another translation promises “a garland instead of ashes”.

Ashes are all that’s left after a fire has gone out. Just as the warmth the fire once gave is only a memory, so it can be with our caregiving. Warmth has turned to burnout. What used to give our days purpose and meaning is reduced to the cold ashes of duty and responsibility.

Take heart! Times of burnout are never the last word. The end of our human resources are the beginning of our LORD’s provision and renewal. Let your weary heart hear his strong promise of “beauty for ashes”, or “a garland instead of ashes.”

Today we recognize winners with manufactured things: ribbons, plaques and trophies. But in the prophet’s day winners were honored with a garland woven together out of flowers and leaves. GOD promises us something fresh and living.  Something of beauty. And there is still one more difference in GOD’s promise. His  garland is not in recognition of human accomplishment. It is his gracious gift to those who know the “ashes” of relying on human strength…and draw upon the beauty, warmth and purpose that only he can give.

Prayer – LORD, help me to serve today with your freshness and beauty. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Kind Words

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Acts of kindness enrich the lives of both the receiver and the giver. Sometimes they may even help to create an atmosphere of kindness. It’s as if kindness can multiply. One act of kindness leads to another…and another.

The psalmist seems to suggest that there is an even deeper level of kindness. “Lovingkindness”, he called it. Twenty-one times in the psalms he sang of GOD’s “lovingkindness” toward us. A generous kindness. A constant kindness. An undeserved kindness. A kindness beyond our human ability in the pressures of the demanding day ahead.

And it is only with the strength and support of the wide-open-arms welcome of our Father’s “lovingkindness” that we can bless and lift the loved one we care for . We are not dependent on our own ability to serve with kindness. “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)

Unexpected situations, hurtful responses, or the weariness of the day – or night – can so easily challenge out commitment to doing acts of lovingkindness. And when our best intentions fail, remember that the lovingkindness our LORD shows toward us forgives, and promises to “crown [you] with lovingkindness and  tender mercies.” (Psalm 103:4)

Prayer – LORD, please help me to show your loving kindness today. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Stilling Emotional Storms

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Caregiving has its rewarding experiences. The work you’re doing has lifted the spirit of the one you are caring for. And you feel a sense of warmth and bonding. This is a good day. A day to cherish.

Then there are those times when your best efforts are met with a simmering resistance. A time when a single spark of anger can so quickly erupt into an emotional firestorm, burning both you and your loved one in its wake.

Is there some emotional “fire-retardant”? Some “water” to put out the flame?

“A soft answer turns away wrath”, the wise collector of Proverbs wrote many years ago. (Proverbs 15:1) Newer translations call it a “gentle” answer. And something deep in each of us knows the wisdom of those words.

“Soft” or “gentle answers” have to come from outside the firestorm. It may mean taking a deep breath to allow our LORD who is the Prince of Peace to quiet emotions and control a fiery defense. Or recognizing my loved one’s anger is born of frustration or discouragement. Or a moment of prayer, asking for a “soft” answer to “turn away wrath.” For we all know the truth of the rest of the proverb: “a harsh word stirs up anger”. And each “soft answer” strengthens our ability to respond with a “gentle word” in the next firestorm.

LORD, in the emotional storms of today, give me the inner peace to speak gentle words. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

The Caregiver’s Shepherd – (Part 2)

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Heart hungry? “Thou preparest a table before me.” The LORD knows and provides the spiritual food I need.

Besieged? “…in the presence of my enemies.” When spiritual battles are the most intense, the LORD is most present, supporting and sustaining me.

Discouraged? “Thou anointest my head with oil.” Regardless of the circumstances that brought me to my role as a caregiver, it is the LORD that has chosen and anointed me for this high calling of serving one of his loved ones.

Empty? “My cup runneth over”. The deeper our need, the more abundantly the LORD provides us with an overflowing cup of his joy.

Seeking to make a difference? “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”. When you experience and live out the goodness and mercy of our LORD, it follows you, spilling over into and enriching the lives of all those whose lives you touch.

And in even the most troubled times…”I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever”. To follow the LORD, our ever-caring Shepherd is to live in “his house” in the assurance and promise of his constant, watchful care.

Prayer – LORD. feed my hungry soul with your good food today. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

The Caregiver’s Shepherd (Part 1)

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Uncertain? “The LORD is my shepherd.” He promises to be my guide.

Insufficient resources? “I shall not want.” The LORD provides for all my needs.

Weary? “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The LORD understand my need for renewal and refreshing, and leads me to times of rest.

Disturbed? “He leads me by still waters.” The LORD quiets my troubled heart.

Depleted? “He restores my soul.” The LORD promises to touch the deepest, most troubled places in my life.

Fearful? “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Whatever dark places I face, the LORD promises to bring me through.

Alone? “Thou art with me.” The LORD has promised that we can be assured of his presence and power.

Insisting on my own way? “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The LORD protects me and corrects my sometimes selfish, wandering ways.

Prayer – LORD, be my strengthening, assuring shepherd today. Amen.

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Never Alone

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As a caregiver, day in and day out you face a demanding schedule. Sometimes it can feel as if the full weight of a loved one’s care is on your shoulders.

Jesus promised “Surely I am with you always”. (Matthew 28:20) But in times of pressure, that promise can feel almost glib. And we’re tempted to respond, “but you just don’t understand”. But it may help to look at the situation in which Jesus spoke those words of promise.

For two and half years the disciples had been with Jesus day in and day out. They had walked together, talked together, eaten and slept together. Their lives had been supported and reshaped by his encouraging, reassuring physical presence. And now… all of that is about to change. He is leaving them. Perhaps you can imagine how empty and alone they must have felt.

“I am with you” is now going to have a whole new meaning…for his first disciples…and for you and me. He promises to be an unseen but constant presence. Constant in his insight and understand. Constant in his provision for our needed inner resources in even the most demanding of times.

Burdened? Feeling alone? Questioning? Uncertain? Hear his assuring words, meant for 21st century disciples as surely as they were for Peter and the others: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Prayer – LORD, let those ancient words of assurance strengthen me throughout this day. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016