Turning a Task into a Treasure

Study after study points out the challenges of caregiving. And, if we were asked, each of us could quickly put together our own very personal list. Not policy issues. They’re beyond us. But the closer-to-home, very personal issues that can so easily wear us down. Things like taking care of ourselves…in order to be able to continue taking care of others.

To some self-care sounds selfish. “We’re called to serve others”. But a lift to your spirit has a way of touching others…deeply. Here are some simple steps:

Instead of struggling with what we haven’t done, let’s recognize the grace that God  has given us. Celebrate every act or attitude of compassion and patience you see in yourself and in others. Give thanks.

Begin to approach the most routine procedure as if you were giving a gift of life. In the simplest of acts you are privileged to be the loving, supportive hands of our LORD.

Fill your cup with joy. FULL. And even FULLER. Then give it away, as freely as our LORD gives it to you. There’s no such thing as too much joy.

And one more thing: the person you serve is much more than a care-receiver. They can be a giver. They have history, experience, wisdom and insights as well as the attitudes and opinions we encounter. Honor them by listening. You may discover a treasure.

Prayer – LORD, in all the routines of this day may I be source of joy. Amen

Waiting

I just wasn’t made for waiting. That artificially efficient voice on the doctor’s automated voice system, even after I’ve pressed 1, 2 or 2: “your call is very important to us and it will be answered…” And you wait…and wait.

I read the Bible…and the psalmist says “Wait…on the LORD” Fifteen times. Even twice in the very same verse. “Wait for the LORD: be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psa.27:17) Unlike the doctor’s office, that waiting isn’t because God’s busy and I have to wait my turn. But it’s still waiting. And words like “be strong and take heart” make me think it could be a long wait.

I’ve prayed about several major things. Now I’m waiting. And I’ve used the time to suggest several potential answers to my prayer. Honestly, I’m anxiously frustrated. But I’m beginning…just beginning…to see that the LORD is looking for a totally different kind of waiting. The word the psalmist used for “wait” comes from a word that means to bind together. That’s the reason for the waiting. It’s for  surrender. Not the surrender of defeat. But one of re-shaping. And wonder. And FULLfillment. For re-shaping and binding my plans and designs to his.

Prayer – O LORD, forgive my impatience, and teach me to surrender to your re-shaping. Amen

Jesus and the Caregivers

Two women – two very different women – loved and cared for Jesus – in two very  different ways. You know them: Martha – busy, preparing food for Jesus, and Mary- unbusy, at least in Martha’s mind, choosing to sit at Jesus’ fit and listen when there was work to do in the kitchen. Everybody knows that story.

Martha’s the “take-charge” person. It’s her home, and she’s determined to make Jesus feel “quite at home” (Luke 10:38 THE MESSAGE) For her, caring and loving meant doing, and everyone ought to share in the work. Sitting was for later. There was work to be done…“NOW!” You know that feeling…and you can understand Martha’s frustration.

Mary’s caring took a different direction. She had questions for Jesus. Things she needed to learn. Events she wanted to re-live. Who knew how long he would be with them? For her, kitchen duties could wait. Listening and learning came first.

But what does that say to caregivers?

To the “Martha” in all of us – frustration and stress destroy. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. Getting away – it’s now called respite – restores and deepens your ability to care for others.

And to the Marys – those with a patient, listening heart: Celebrate the memories of the one you serve. Share them with others. Treat them as a precious gift. Give dignity to declining years.

Prayer – Teach me, O LORD, the value of rest and renewal, and give me, I pray, an affirming, listening heart. Amen

The Source of Help

The psalmist said: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills…” (Psalm 121:1)  At first glance that sounds like good advice for a desert traveler.  Hills could be a source of surprise and danger, a hiding place for enemies.  Or they could be a refuge, a place of protection in times of danger.

But the writer wasn’t simply posting an ancient travel warning.  Whatever the “hills” of our lives may bring us, what challenge we are called upon to face, expected or unexpected, he asks “where does…help come from?”

And his answer echoes loud and strong in the dark “caverns” of our questions and uncertainties: “My help comes from the LORD”.  Then…uncertain souls ask of his experience. “{He is} the Maker of heaven and earth.”  “Forgive me, but can you tell me, is he dependable?”  All eternity witnesses to the fact that he is.  “He will not let your foot slip – he that watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he…will neither slumber nor sleep”. (Psalm 121:2-4)

Attentive, compassionate caregiving is not something of our own invention.  It flows from the forever-trustworthy, forever-caring heart of our LORD to caregiver and care recipient.

Prayer – LORD, help me today to be a channel of your ever-faithful help,  Amen

Tender Mercies

Some days…caregiving is simply routine. You do this in the morning, and something else just after lunch.  You follow the doctor’s instructions. You make sure the right medicines are taken at the right time. You have a “to-do” list written down. Or, more-likely, it’s in your head. Routines help to make your days manageable.

But what about the unexpected? The mood changes in the one you care for? Frustration? Rage? Emotional withdrawal? Or insistent demands? Lashing-out bursts of anger? How do you deal with this dark side of caregiving?

When a blind beggar heard that Jesus was just down the road he called out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He“called out”? I imagine he hollered. Pent-up anger, years of frustration, hope and more, combined in that plea. And when the crowd told him to be quiet, “he shouted all the more”.

The one you serve lives day after day with a deepening sense of loss…and that loss may show itself in a whole range of disturbing emotions. May our ever-compassionate LORD give you the special grace needed to respond as Jesus did – with tender mercies.

Prayer – Merciful LORD, make me a tender, caring instrument of your peace and understanding. Amen

Photo courtesy of Jill Naumann, copyright 2017

“Learning to Follow”

When you think about it, caregivers are followers. The safety, the health, the comfort…and even the attitude of the one we care for depends on our willingness to follow instructions. Caregiving is a world of “read this”, “do it this way”, “watch me”.  And before long following becomes second nature.

But caregiving is more than a set of correct processes and procedures. It calls for our “heart” even more than our head and hands. For right attitudes as well as right actions. For following the instructor, rather than a set of instructions.

“Follow me” was Jesus simple invitation/instruction. “Follow me…and I will make you fishers of men”. In 21st century terms, he was saying “I’ll re-make you and give you a new sense of purpose. You’ll learn to touch lives deeply…and see them change.”

Following doesn’t mean having a new rule book. It does mean spending quality time with Jesus. Maybe even time without words. Time to ponder the depth of his love and compassion. Time to explore the wonder of obedient following .

Prayer – Save me from busyness, LORD. Teach me the simplicity of following Jesus. Amen

Photo courtesy of Jill Naumann, copyright 2017

The Wisdom of Waiting

It seems as if the modern soul was not made for waiting. We live in an era that demands rapid response. We eat at fast food places. We often pay extra for same day delivery…or at least next day. Waiting isn’t in our vocabulary anymore. In quieter days, waiting used to mean anticipation. Now…waiting seems to have come to mean wasting time.

The Psalms – our time-tested guidebook on prayer – approach the pressures of life from a totally different perspective. They offer no instant solutions. Instead…over and over again the psalms call us to “wait on the LORD”. (Psa. 27:14) In anxious times, the psalmist goes even further, calling us to “wait patiently”. (Psa. 37:7)

Waiting allows the LORD to reshape our prayers, showing us needs we hadn’t recognized. Or attitudes that hinder his work in and through us. And sometimes “waiting on the LORD” (Isaiah 40:31) is not so much about getting answers to our prayers as it is opening our eyes and our hearts to the wonder of GOD’s love…and power…and purpose – beholding “ the beauty of the LORD”. (Psalm 27:4)

Prayer – I’m not good at waiting. Quiet my heart, LORD, so that I may see your beauty and love you more deeply. Amen

Photo courtesy of Jill Naumann, copyright 2017

Deliverance and Delight

Have you ever waded through emotional “deep waters” and encountered “foes who were too strong for [you]”? Or felt like you were facing “the day of [your] disaster”? King David did. Those are his words from Psalm 18. Hard, raw words, meant to give the most timid soul the freedom to come to our LORD with our most honest fears and feelings.

But there’s more to David’s story…and yours and mine. Let the weariest places of your heart hear it. “…but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

Repeat after me: “because the LORD delights in me”. Underline it. Write it down somewhere. Start your days with the reminder that he delights in you. He calls you “friend”. His “beloved”. And he has invited you to share with him in his holy work of caregiving.

There’s a little note just under the words “Psalm 18” in the Bible – “[David] sang to the LORD the words of this song…”  Your song, like David’s, will delight the heart of our LORD.

Prayer – Fill me today, O LORD, with a deep sense of your delight. Amen

Photo courtesy of Jill Naumann, copyright 2017

Living ‘Stranded-Together’

On the roadside just outside a small Mexican town I found a master woodcarver. He made grand pieces…life-size. The work of a skilled and careful hand. His deer seemed alive. His winged creatures looked to have been captured in full flight.

Then, as so often happens in a craftsman’s shop, I found a small wonder. Nothing grand. Yet, for me, finding it was a truly holy moment. It was a cross unlike any I had ever seen. From a single block of wood, the master had carved  a cross that appeared to be two strands woven together, as if the Savior’s life and mine had gone together to Calvary’s hill. In truth…they had. The Sinless One died for me.

That was years ago, but that “stranded cross” is just a few feet away as I write. It serves as a visible reminder that we were “stranded together” in his death…and in his resurrection. And that “stranded-together-life” continues. Held together by a holy fellowship – my ongoing confession and his willingness to forgive.  And like that craftsman made a single piece of wood into a two-stranded cross, our LORD weaves our lives together with his in order that we may touch needy lives with his  love and mercy through the wonder of this stranded-together life.

Prayer – Keep me, O LORD, from serving in my own strength. Teach me the wonder of being stranded-together with you. Amen

Living Easter’s Brightness

Easter isn’t simply a day on the Christian calendar. It’s an experience. A seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year experience. It’s an empty tomb…that offers us a full life. It’s tragedy…turned to triumphant living. Alive-from-the-dead living. An Easter Sunday that rushes with resurrection life into…Easter Monday.

The holy explosion of Easter can’t be contained in a single day. So there’s Easter Monday…and Easter Tuesday. In fact, a whole week of celebrating Easter resurrection. And still more: an Easter quality of life. Where resurrection transforms frightened deniers – like Peter. And prove-it-to-me doubters-like Thomas. And all the rest of  us who quietly seek to live resurrected, liberated lives.

For centuries some in the church have called this week Bright Week. Today is Bright Monday. Tomorrow is…well, you get the picture. Traditionally, prayers that would normally be said…are sung. And Psalm 67, with its plea –“May GOD be gracious to us and make his face shine on us so that [his] ways may be known on earth” is sung throughout Bright Easter Week and beyond.

May our dark places give way to GOD’s bright light. May our brokenness be remolded into vessels for his life-giving service. Have a bright week

Prayer – Fill my life with your brightness, O LORD, and may it shine in warm and caring ways. Amen

Photo courtesy of Jill Naumann, copyright 2017