Be Still, My Soul

Some of our days can feel like conflict…and we are the battlefield. Or the battle is over…and we’re not sure whether we’ve won or lost. Maybe we have no voice – or heart- for singing, but the deepest place in us calls out the words of the old hymn, “Be Still, My Soul”. And our hearts wonder, “Is there a source of care for this caregiver?”

Bill Gaither wrote, “Gentle Shepherd, come and lead us, for me need you to help us find our way.”  And our hearts, so prone to wandering, need the loving correction and nurture of a “gentle shepherd”, the one who leaves the flock in the protection of the fold…to search and rescue one lost sheep.

Even in the often stern message of the prophets there’s a picture of our patient Father “who taught [us] to walk, taking [us] by the arms…leading with cords of human kindness, with ties of love, like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and bends down to feed them.” (Drawn from Hosea 11:3,4)

Take courage , then, in the hymnwriter’s message: “Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still my soul: the waves and winds still know his voice that ruled them while he dwelt below.”  Kathrina von Schlegel

Prayer – Teach my heart, O LORD, to know and respond to your tender ways. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Sustaining Joy

Stressful situations call for a realistic appraisal, a thoughtful weighing of options, a plan of action and, in most cases, a quick, confident response.  That’s known as quality care. But…something in us calls us to more than efficiency or excellence. Something not so easily defined. We seek a quality of the heart that brings a special grace to the everyday demands of caring. Grace not of our own making. Grace that is all gift. Un-meritted. GOD given. Freely.

That grace begins in a thankful heart.  A heart that rejoices. Not in the situation. Situations, after all, may be dark and demanding. “My brothers and sisters”, the apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice in the LORD”. (Philippians 3:1)  Draw on his insight and his resources. Later in the same letter he makes that message even stronger: “Rejoice in the LORD always.” Then, for those whose hearts may be hard of hearing he insists, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  And lest we argue that Paul doesn’t understand the stress of our situation, his call to rejoicing was written in a Roman prison.

This day, good day or bad, “is the day that the LORD has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.” (Rev. 19:7)

Prayer – No matter what the situation, O LORD, teach me to rejoice in your presence and power. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

A New Song

Some days feel like a “Hallelujah Chorus”. Maybe not with full orchestra and choir. But at times…alone in a quiet moment, we are touched by the loving hand of GOD…and our hearts sing. With words we long-ago learned…or even some of our own creating. Cherish those moments. They’re like food for the soul. They lift us, as if we’ve been given eagle’s wings.

Then there are dark and cloudy days. Outside…and in our tired souls. Days when our inner springs seem to have run dry. Days when even the thought of singing seems so out of place. Dry times when our LORD longs to give us a new and lifting song.

There is something about singing that opens our souls to the resources of heaven. Psalms of praise…and psalms of deep distress…were sung to the LORD. Before leaving his last supper with his disciples and heading to his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane…Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples. (Matthew 26:30) In a prison cell, with their feet fastened in stocks, Paul and Silas “sang hymns to GOD” (Acts. 16:25) As they sang  a violent earthquake shook the prison’s foundations, the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. Singing liberates!

Prayer – O LORD, in times of sunshine and even more in shadow times,  teach me to sing with thanksgiving.  Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Share the Burden, Share the Joy

As a caregiver it’s easy to feel very much alone, carrying a load you hadn’t planned or prepared for. What you do day-in-and-day-out calls for… Well, you know the list, and it’s a long one. There are things that are routine, and others that call for skills you’ve had to learn. Then there’s one more list – probably only a mental list – a list of people who could – or “should” be helping to share the load.

Life…and its challenges are meant to be shared. Partnership is the pattern established in Eden’s Garden. It was our Father’s idea. Solomon agreed. “It’s better to have a partner than to go it alone…by yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (Ecclesiastes4:9, 10, 12 THE MESSAGE)

Asking others to share in the caring divides the work…shares the emotional pressures…and multiplies the joy. Remember that line from Solomon about “better…a partner than to go it alone”.

Modern families tend to stretch across counties and continents. The ability to share directly in the family’s caring may be shaped by geography and circumstance. Old wounds may have created great divides. But the crisis of caring for a loved one – close at hand or from a distance – can be our Father’s instrument of healing emotional wounds.

Prayer – Open my eyes, O LORD, to see those you are calling to share in this ministry of love and caring. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Living with Open Hands

Hands seem to reflect our heart and soul. In times of tension our hands may make a fist…as if, without even thinking about it, we are preparing to do battle with enemies known or unknown – seen or unseen. We’re trying – hard – to get a grip on things. But…fisted hands and hearts cut off circulation and make it impossible to grasp the relief we seek.

By contrast, open hands are a wordless prayer, a confession that we need resources beyond our own. Extended hands express the depth and urgency of our need. Deep needs are not met with timid gestures. Sighs and groaning can become wordless prayers. And lifted hands say that I’m through doing battle with GOD. I’m finished with my poor efforts at resolving the seemingly irresolvable.” I surrender” is not defeat. It is opening the heart to the limitless resources of our LORD.

A lawyer tells of instructing his clients to sit with their hands on their upper part of their legs-palms up – as they are being questioned. He has discovered that open hands encourage honest answers. And honest praying.

It’s hard to fill a clenched fist, but an open hand is receptive. In the stresses and tensions throughout this demanding day, let your open hands be the first step to opening your heart to our Father’s help.

Prayer – Teach me, O LORD, the joy of living with open hands. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

“A” is for Acceptance

I’ve got a list – in my head; I wouldn’t dare put it on paper – a list of actions, attitudes and appearances that are acceptable to me. And, of course, there’s a second list of things that are unacceptable. The disturbing thing is that many of the things on my list of unacceptables are petty. I’m too embarrassed to name them. But they keep me from accepting the person as they are. The truth I’m coming to deal with is simply this: living judgmentally places my limits, my life-patterns on
the other person… and keeps both of us from living fully in a welcoming,
supportive relationship. And the pressures of caregiving heighten any tension.
I’m coming to see more clearly that living in judgment of others distorts my understanding of my own need for forgiveness and renewal. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.: (Matthew 7:3 NIV) I’ve stewed and stumbled over many a “speck of sawdust” and lived self-righteously with the” plank” that clouded my ability to see people and situations clearly.
We’ve long since learned that caregiving is not simply the work of our minds and hands, as essential as both are to what we do. But the attitudes of our hearts are meant to bring a nurturing, healing grace and tenderness to even our most demanding tasks. Dealing with the “specks of sawdust” and the “planks” in our relationships with all who share in the caregiving process turns judgmental attitudes into healing .
Prayer – Help me to see my judgmental thoughts and ways more clearly.
Forgive me, and teach me to show your grace and acceptance to others. Amen
Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

“Judge Not…”

I’m not a judgmental person. Really. At least I didn’t think I was. And when I am judgmental…it’s justified. After all, if you’re caring for someone and their life or health is in your hands…

But most of the time, the issues we face are not a matter of life or death. For me, it’s often the little things that bring out judgmental attitudes. Or words. I hate to admit it, but I still judge people by their appearance. Even as I write this confession, I’m beginning to see the ways in which nothing more than my likes and dislikes have turned to judgments that can damage and destroy relationships.

Like many another convicting, life-renewing insight, this one came from Scripture, in words I’ve read over and over again. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1,2 NIV).Judgment sewn reaps a harvest of judgment in return.

I’m beginning a new journey – one where I am learning to be quick to recognize a judgmental attitude, and quick to repent. It will warm and soften the rigors of relationships…and this caregiving journey. Won’t you join me?

Prayer – LORD, my attitudes and life-patterns are long since set into judgmental  habits I cannot easily see. Open the eyes of my heart. Show me your way of repentance and healing. Amen 

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Surrendered Plans

“The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft askew.”  Robert Burns, the Scottish poet wrote those words in 1785. And now – over 200 years later – nothing has changed in the everyday “schemes of …men”. In the world of caregivers, our plans “go oft askew”. But a trusting, prayerful, listening heart can discover that our LORD has already written  a second, more hope-filled, faith-strengthening second verse to that old poem:

…but the plans of GOD,
his loving hand doth nurture.
There’s his wisdom to be found in the quiet.
There’s FULL-fill-ment in my surrender,
and his strength is strong, yeah stronger
in the weakest of my weakness.

In the wise and wondrous ways of GOD, failed plans are a window to new discovery…and deeper obedient trust. To new challenges beyond our expectations. To rich resources beyond anything we can imagine. To quiet hearts. And deeper confidence.

The “best laid plans” are surrendered plans. Surrendered to our loving Father’s all-wise and wondrous plan.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Prayer – Teach me your sure ways, O LORD. Forgive me for the arrogance of insisting on my plans. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Plotting Answers to Prayers

I have a list of people I’m praying for. Some of them have sent prayer requests to our Caregiver Prayer Team. And I have another list: people I think could help with this ministry. People with social media skills. And people who could help with financial support. I think they could be the answer to our prayers.

Every caregiver faces pressing needs. Survival needs. Who can help with this or that? Who could share the loud or provide even brief relief?

Prayer lists are good. We often need the discipline they provide. But I have a hard time leaving my list in the hands of the LORD. In moments of frustration I try to figure out what I should do to answer my prayers. Who knows this person…or that? Who could present our need? I begin planning and strategizing the answer to my prayers.

But the right answer, the resource that brings true peace to our struggling heart, comes from knowing that GOD hears. GOD cares. The disciplines of the heart – our waiting and our listening-are freeing the compassionate hand of our LORD to do what is best for those who are learning to trust his wise plan. I still make lists. It’s part of my DNA. But it’s becoming a “Trust-the-LORD list” rather than a “pray…then-make-it-happen list.”

Prayer – Save me, LORD, from the sin of seeking to answer my own prayers. Teach me to trust…and wait. Amen

Photo courtesy of Alek Zaslawski (www.awzorchids.com), copyright 2017

Why Wait?

Waiting! I confess. I don’t do it well. I move…almost automatically…from praying to planning how and when the LORD will answer my prayers. Or who he will use as part of his answer. Or what I need to do to help answer my prayer. Anything but waiting. But…

I’m beginning to see that waiting is an important part of prayer. Maybe even an essential part. It creates a kind of testing time, sharpening my sense of the depth of  the need. And it teaches me a quiet, patient listening, allowing the Holy Spirit to clarify my sense of the need. And only waiting may show me a need beneath the  need for which I’m praying. And waiting teaches me to release the answers I  anticipate, surrendering them to the wisdom of our all-knowing LORD.

And waiting time is for wonder and anticipation. For worship and surrender.We  wait…patiently. But we wait. Not in some outer court or sterile waiting room. We wait in response to a royal invitation into the awesome presence of our always- loving, all-sufficient LORD, the King above all other Kings. And the waiting begins to become a wondrous part of our LORD’s answer.

Prayer – LORD, forgive my impatience and teach me the wonder of waiting. Amen.

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2017