Margin meets meaning

I recently had an epiphany as I walked in the relative coolness of my early Georgia morning. By the way, I love the word epiphany. Although the dictionary defines it this way:

e·piph·a·ny ( /əˈpifənē/ )  noun

  1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
    • the festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6.
    • a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.

Wikipedia (the true source of all internet wisdom—HA!) defines it this way: An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. 

ANY.WAY! I had one of those as I walked and prayed about something I’ve been praying about for months…literally months and months. I’ve struggled with whether walking away for a time from some activities that I love is actually God’s will or just a desire to make things easier right now given the family circumstances that we are facing. I believe that I might have finally figured out that those two things aren’t always mutually exclusive. (By the way, change is hard.)

A dear friend and prayer partner recently asked if I was still working on “margin” in my life. I told her that I hadn’t had much time for that lately, but perhaps, I SHOULD be working on it. We laughed and moved on with our conversation. Her simple question set my mind in motion, though, and I began to look for ways to incorporate what I spent a whole year learning about just last year. It shouldn’t have been so difficult to remember–and I really shouldn’t have needed someone to remind me of what I had so recently learned, but it was and I did. (Did I mention that change is hard?)

As I walked along the road I asked God–again!--what it was that He wanted me to do about my schedule. I had thought that giving up our business would open up all the time and allow for all of the personal reserves that we would need, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’m finding–as many of you already know–that physical work is far easier than making our way through the spiritual, emotional and mental battles of dealing with a loved ones’ dementia. Suddenly, I had a thought that tied AJ’s simple question to the ones piling up in my prayer time: What if last year’s focus on Margin was ACTUALLY all done in preparation for what we would face THIS year? What if God, in His infinite wisdom KNEW and provided me with a whole year to practice what I need to practice, grow, and teach in a whole new way during the difficult days that we’re facing right now? (MAYBE because God knows change is hard for us, too?)

Well, well! Hmmm…things. to. think. about!

I shouldn’t be surprised by that. God is always good. He is always preparing us for the next levels and making us fit for the next battles. What surprised me–again–was the WAY that He seems to have done so about this subject. You see, I thought that last year’s focus on Margin was ALL about LAST YEAR and all of the business and busy-ness that it contained. I lost sight of all I have learned from that quote by J.O. Sanders, “God never ploughs [sic] unless He purposes a crop.”

Well, welcome to the season of harvest right here in the first week of summer. I came home and immediately put into action a plan to rearrange my schedule. Some of the changes involve things that I dearly love and that I have held onto out of a desire to serve God and others by using the spiritual gifts that God has given to me. Personally, I had questioned if it would be more selfish to continue in them (and possibly do them poorly) or to step away for a season. Following Christ closely doesn’t leave much room for selfish motives or ambitions, so I am putting some things aside for the moment that will, hopefully, also help provide an opportunity for growth in others. If “the moment” becomes longer than I currently anticipate, then God will be in charge of that, as well. His gifts are never meant to be hoarded or neglected, so I am certain that He will make a way for all of us to grow. Additionally, while I will be laying aside some tasks, He has already shown me ways that I will be able to take up/expand some others.

The main thing I brought home with me from my Monday walk was a sense of release/personally answered prayer and a sense of purposely walking closer to Jesus than ever before. I’m finding that this season of difficulty is also demanding a deeper journey with my Savior (because…well, you knowchange…!)…and I’m finding myself more in love with my God than ever before as I rush to draw near to Him. There is no other way to survive this!

Perhaps there’s more to teaching than simply standing before a crowd or pecking away at a computer. Hmmmm…Maybe, just maybe, I will be teaching others about God by putting into practice what He’s already taught me…when I just thought I was busy and in need of some margin for my soul. Instead of simply going for a walk by myself, I encountered God and He set about changing my expectations, my prayer time, my understanding of past lessons learned, and, as a result, my reality. Epiphany, indeed.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

 

Waiting on perfection

I’m weird. (Don’t laugh too loudly. You are, too.) One of the things that make me weird is that I’m always in pursuit of perfection. That may sound like a good thing…but it can get in the way of getting some things done around here. In college, I would often be found cleaning the kitchen and bathroom the night before an exam because I “neeeded” (yes, ALL those extra “e”s are needed there.) to have things “perfect” before I could concentrate on the studying.

There are other things that contribute to the weirdness, of course. We all have things that make us individuals, but I guess that pursuit of perfection in the strangest things is one of my biggest challenges. I’ve been battling it (as in, I’m rarely distressed over it, but I’m always aware of it!) for a long time, but never more so that these past few months as we’ve battled much bigger issues.

I work hard to keep our home clean enough to be restful to me so I can make it restful for others. That means you can’t eat off the floor (since I have a cat and I don’t eeeven recognize a 5-second rule when there are animals inside), but all the towels and blankets are folded neatly in the closet and I try to keep reasonably up-to-date on the laundry. I’m not such a stickler on the dusting in times of stress, but it does bug me on occasion. I don’t let it get in the way of having friends over for a chat, of course, but I’m aware. Very aware. (Btw, I am only this way about MY house–or the hotel rooms I’m inhabiting. I could not care less–and don’t even notice!–other people’s spaces. I’m there to focus on the people, not their surroundings, aaannnnddd…maybe I should learn from that and cut myself some slack, but…so far…that hasn’t happened all that regularly.)

With all of the traveling and hospital sitting-time we’ve done recently and all of the necessary schedule re-routing as a result, some of these normally-done chores of mine have fallen behind in favor of just trying to catch up on a little rest so we can “do the next thing.” Because of that, I’ve not been able to be as creative…or, rather, I’ve had to be creative about finding ways to do some creating. I’ve optimistically carried painting supplies places that I never allowed them to see outside of the luggage and I’ve resorted to pinning things on Pinterest boards that I would like to try one day…when all things are perfect…and I have the time. Blogging is about as creative an opportunity as I’ve been allowing myself and I think that’s been more sharing than creating for me lately. Yesterday, I chose to allow myself to “create” some mail for loved ones. See, I’m stretching it.

Last night I showed my husband the wrapper off of a Dove Dark Chocolate square that says, “The magic is in the mess. Dorothy S., Louisiana” I don’t know who Dorothy S. is or how the people at Dove chocolates found her, and I would never have believed her to be right in this statement before, but something about her words grabbed me. The more I thought about it, I remembered that if I wait to create until things get “perfect” about the situation we’re in right now, then I might not create again for a long, long time. I can’t do that. I can’t wait anymore to let things be perfectly straight and manageable and comfortable and whatever other word I’ve allowed to interfere with doing something that feeds my soul and expresses life-joy even in the midst hard things.

This, too, is a mental health issue. It’s also a life and time management issue, a willingness to have fun issue, and a seize the moment for joy issue. In short, it is a God issue…as most things are. We don’t have to be perfect to enjoy the day we’re being given, but we DO have to be willing to look beyond our circumstances and remember that Jesus came to give us life! Abundant life! HERE and NOW…and in the time beyond, as well. While taking time to bless yourself may not sound very spiritual to some people, doing so can be a reminder that God created each of us in His image…and the very first characteristic that He shared with us was His ability to create.

“In the beginning God created…” Genesis 1:1.

While we won’t create anything so magnificent as the world and all that is in it, we can choose to create some joy and some peace and some rest right were we are today.

So. What are YOU waiting on to bless YOUR own soul? Don’t get caught up in your circumstances so much that you forget to LIVE in the midst of them! Advice from me to you (and from me to me!): don’t wait on things to be “perfect” before you start making them “better.” Find a way to bless your own self today. Maybe it is by creating, cleaning (uh, nope, that’s probably just me. sorry!), going for a ride or a walk, getting an ice cream cone, reading a book (or even just a chapter?), taking some hobby time or simply sitting still and breathing quietly for a bit. WHATEVER you choose, make sure you take time to thank God for the moments and ask Him to help us ALL choose to really LIVE and LOVE the life we’re given instead of waiting on everything to be perfect.

Grace and peace…and LIFE!

 

The 90%

It’s been a rollercoaster for us lately. You can probably say the same thing about your life. That’s the key word, of course…it’s life! Nothing ever stays the same, otherwise we become stagnant and stale in our outlook, our aspirations, and our prayers. None of that is a good idea. As much as we often say we’d like things to stay the same, growth can’t occur in a vacuum. Change is constant, inevitable, and God’s deliberate idea of blessing us.

As my husband and I have discussed our circumstances, laughed, cried, prayed and driven more miles this month than I can say, we’ve been reminded of the truth that Chuck Swindoll so beautifully penned many years ago:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.

I believe God gave this insight to Pastor Chuck. I’ve had his quote pinned or taped to some surface in every office I’ve ever worked in professionally. I read it every day for years. I think it stuck. I hope so, anyway. The truth it contains has bolstered, encouraged, and (at times!) convicted me. I’ve been blessed by it.

Attitude is important, but so are the people around us. I’ve been blessed by my circle of friends near and far as they have prayed, called, emailed, texted, and made sure my cat was ok when I couldn’t. Some even sent cards and Scripture happies in the mail! IMG_20190617_064938374

Others ministered to us in different ways. My friend Patty (which came out typed as “Party” originally because my fingers obviously know the real Patty!! Lol!) actually blessed me back in December with a Christmas gift that has continued her blessing. Every day, I walk past a calendar she sent to me. Each month has a new reminder as the focus. This month, it has been a reminder to choose “gratitude” as my attitude! IMG_20190617_062805485

Well, there have been days when that was easier than others, but I have done my best to be grateful and express that to God and those around me. Today, I will get to choose again. So will we all.

What attitude will you choose as your 90% today?

Grace and Peace!

Words to live by

I was reading in Luke Chapter 1 the other day and I was particularly struck by the detailed recording of the conversation between Mary and the angel, Gabriel. My favorite line in that conversation is when Gabriel reminds Mary of something she already knew:

“For with God, nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1: 37 (NKJV)

We ALL still need to be reminded of that.

We also need to be reminded of Mary’s response to this news that would put her life in danger and change the world forever as she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Since Gabriel was bringing a message straight from God, what Mary was REALLY saying was, “I’ll do whatever you say, God.” 

That’s still a pretty good response today no matter what is going on in our lives.

I also love that the recorded conversation between Mary and her Cousin Elizabeth. Because I’ve spent a lifetime surrounded by strong, wonderful women, I guess I’m intrigued by these two. So many years and some distance apart, but brought together by their love for God and the miraculous way He was at work in their lives–these women are fabulous!! I think I would have liked both of them!

What really struck me this time, however, was the simple fact that their conversation was ever recorded in the first place. At the time, of course, women–especially the unmarried and the ones who hadn’t able to get pregnant–weren’t typically regarded as important enough to mention, much less record. I don’t think I’d ever thought about that before, but there it is! It’s a conversation full of love and praise and joyous celebration over things that would have been considered odd (at the least), scandalous (for sure), and (for Mary!) possibly even deadly once the news got out to the public. Yep, it’s all laid out in a lot of detail…I guess Zacharias decided to record the occasion since he wasn’t allowed to speak at the time! (grin)

Regardless of who wrote it down in the first place, I love their unconditional acceptance that God was in control in both of their circumstances. Regardless of how they were viewed or valued by society, these women KNEW they were loved and valued by God, so walking out whatever He had next for them was a decision that had been made long before they had this conversation. The knowledge of that showed up in their responses to their circumstances and in the words that they spoke to each other. I find it difficult to believe their communications with other people around them would have been much different. Yes, I really do think I would have liked these women!

While what’s going on in my world is nothing like as big as the announcement that God’s Son would be arriving soon and His heralding-messenger cousin would, quite naturally, be arriving even sooner, I have to take stock and consider some things:

  • Am I willing to believe that what Gabriel said is true–that NOTHING is impossible with God? If so, shouldn’t that show up in the way I speak about my current circumstances and when I listen and speak to others about theirs?
  • Am I willing to accept whatever God has planned for me…even if I don’t like it or know all of the details?
  • Am I ready to stop whatever I’m doing and joyfully welcome others into my circle who are having life-changing things happen in theirs, or will I shut them out and just focus on what’s going on with me?
  • Am I ready and willing to sing God’s praises and tell others of His goodness in the midst of something that feels more than a bit scary and might not go the way I would want?

SONY DSC“For with God, nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1: 37 (NKJV)?

With Him, nothing is impossible! Without Him? Well, that’s not possible.

I’ve made my decision. Have you made yours?

Grace and Peace!

Dementia Chronicles (part 3)

As I wrote this, our loved one had been in an Emergency Room for over a week. (By time of publishing, she had been there for 12 days before being admitted.) I never knew that was even possible. We’re still not sure what the step will be or when it will happen. We’ve cried and prayed and waited for God to show up in calming the chaos and in bringing it under control and He has…for very small, intermittent bits of time. A few times, we were able to have actual conversations with her, but those typically didn’t last very long…certainly not as long as we would have liked!

It’s both refreshing and frustrating to catch a glimpse of her humor and then lose it again. Heartbreaking, actually, is probably the best word for it. We miss her. We love her. We’re working to keep her safe. We tell her all of that over and over…especially the “We love you!”-part. At times it comforts. Others, it barely registers. Instead, she is often convinced that she is in danger and wonders why help isn’t given to protect her and she becomes angry, as a result.

The professional caregivers around us have been kind and sympathetic. Some of them have gone FAR and above their normal call to duty. One of them even brought in home baked cookies to tempt our loved one to eat!  We’ve wondered why it was taking so long to find answers. So have they. Dementia treatment is so individualized that even “normal protocols” are governed by how a each mind and body reacts. Trial and error, wait and see are the order of the day…and that makes long days seem even longer…for ALL of us.

Today (the day of writing), we discovered that we are far from alone in the waiting. At one time there were SEVEN other families with those same questions in the same Emergency Department. Staff is stretched thin and must handle their regular load in addition to these guests who’ve been sent here for days on end in search of some small light along the darkened path of mental illness.

Finding lessons to learn along the way is the only way I know to cope in all of this. So far, we’ve learned the differences between hallucinations (seeing what isn’t there), delusions (believing what isn’t true), and dilerium (a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confused thinking and reduced awareness of the environment). While I AM a word-person, I could have managed quite nicely without ever knowing or being present for all three of these things and more.

We are becoming woefully familiar with drug names and treatment regimens, while working to learn the necessary steps to take as precautions to maintain safe environments and use all available resources. THAT is where God’s enlargement of my community has been most helpful. People in the same boat have a vested interest in sharing knowledge. Reaching out to tell what you know and see what they do can lead to all kinds of exchanged information! It’s even less to some renewed/revitalized relationships!

I think what I’m learning most of all, however, that while we can’t control everything about it, how we end up is greatly influenced by how we’ve lived. The attitudes we choose each day help determine our futures. I am determined to make the most of this lesson! If this is ever to be my lot in life, I’d like to be so full of praise and love for God that He just keeps on coming to the surface even if I completely disappear.

That means I’ll need to practice that more. Maybe you should, too.

No matter where you find yourself today and regardless of what you’re facing, look for ways to lighten the load of the people around you. Choose to look for and acknowledge the GOOD things and the kindness shown to you.  Pass them along! Be determined to share your knowledge and your faith, as well. Pray and remember to include some praise as you do!

Set the tone for the future and make today a better one, at the same time. It seems the only way to live.

 

Dementia Chronicles (part 2)

It isn’t something that gets talked about at parties or even mentioned in prayer requests, but the battle against dementia is being fought by far more people in our circles than we may know. I’m finding that out slowly, but surely as more and more people contact me seemingly out of the blue…but not really. It’s been happening for months now. As always, God has a plan. It seems as though He is determined to increase my faith the hard way, to build my prayer life deeper, and (oddly enough for this introvert!) to increase my community by using a disease that separates its victims from their own.

It’s not that I have all the wisdom about dementia (that is FAR from the truth and simply impossible), but I do have a platform in this blog and since everything else about me belongs to God, this does, too. Just publishing the part 1 of this string on dementia created multiple conversations with people I’ve known for years without being aware that they, too, were parting with loved ones long before their actual demise.

Here’s what I do know: the words that we use to describe dementia aren’t adequate. Insidious. Cruel. Angry. Heartbreaking. Vicious. Painful. Sad. Heart-wrenching. Horrendous. These are some of the descriptors used by friends who know the power or this disease. Every single word applies, but none of them–or even the grouping of them together!–is enough to cover the bases of dementia as it steals the minds and removes the last vestiges of what makes us individuals, the personality God gave us from the beginning and the bits we’ve added along the way.

My only comfort right now comes in knowing that as awful as this disease is, my God is greater…even when it feels like He is being silent. Earlier this week, I stood ready to enter a store. My phone rang with another update. On the other end, another–Strong!–and devoted loved one cried out as she stood in the thick of the battle. Once again, my hands were tied and I was far away, so I did the only thing I could do–the very thing that on the surface doesn’t seem like it will be enough, but which, in reality, is the most powerful tool at my disposal. I walked around the corner and I began to pray out loud as I paced back and forth between the building and the road in this town where no one knows me. I would have done the same thing if I had been anywhere else.

I began to pray the litany that has rung in my own brain for the weeks and months since we started this latest and most drastic decline. I have become dependent on it. I have become persistent in it. I am convinced of the truth and the power of it…though I have yet to see it completely fulfilled in this situation.

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!
God, You are our Provider. Send us Your Provision!
Your Word says that You cannot lie, so help us to see and remember Your Truth in this time of confusion. Order the chaos in her mind, Father God, and bring order to our emotions.
Father, You are full of mercy. Be merciful to us and to our loved one and help us to see that mercy in action!
You alone are the Source of Wisdom, Father. Grant wisdom to those who care for her and direction for us as we make decisions on her behalf.
You are our Peace! Surround us with Your Presence and comfort us in Your Love.
You are our Strength. Steel us for this battle!

God, You are our Healer. Help us to remain healthy so we can tend to the needs of our loved one. Give healing to her, as well, in whatever way You choose.
Father, You are our defender. Shelter us in this time of trouble!
God, You are our Hope and our Joy! Help us to actively search for You in this hard thing and share You with those around us. 

Glorify Yourself in this situation and in us!

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!

 

On and on it goes; attribute after attribute about my God circles through my head. Sometimes, in this order. Other times, it is changed, but it always begins and ends with “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

I am aware, you see, that my faith is flawed even though my God is not. This battle is just the latest in a series for us and, while that used to make me angry, I now see it as having been prepped for this battle. Mostly (but unfortunately not always–because of that flawed faith, again!) it makes me calmer when I am faced with all of the details that I cannot control, contain, or fully comprehend–NOT because I’m smarter or stronger, but because my faith in God is deeper than it used to be. Those same limitations can be applied to what is possible to know and understand about God, so this TOTALLY uncomfortable uncertainty for this Fixer-personality is not new to me. I have a long history of trusting in my Creator when facing challenges. I am completely cognizant that I cannot win this or any other battle alone. None of us can, but I know the One Who can make that a reality…and you can, too. We just have to start out by finding, acknowledging, and speaking the truth about who our God is. That’s simpler than it sounds. He wants to be known. He’s had a whole Book written just so we could know Him better.

He is a personal God and He loves us, individually and corporately. No matter what battle you’re facing and fighting–or running from!!–today, He is available just by calling His Name. Get to know Him and begin to call on Him today! (and call me, too, if I can help you get to know Him better. It would be an honor to share Him with you.)

Dementia (part 1)

I asked my mother why she raised me to be a “fixer.” She laughed. She knows what that means: to be efficient and competent at so many things…and the frustrations that come when all of that isn’t even close to being enough.

My husband didn’t laugh when I told him about our conversation. He just looked at me and said, “that ability has stood you in pretty good stead over the years and we’re both better off because of it.”

He’s right, but I can’t fix this…and if ever there was a list of somethings that I wanted to fix, well, this would probably be right up there near the top. I have grown to hate even the word that names the demon: dementia.

It is evil and hateful and cruel. It steals life both past and present from patient and loved ones before time of death. At times it feels almost alive as we watch the effects of it sweep away in a rage the memories and function and peace of mind in one we love. It is like being unwilling participants in a horror movie that you can’t leave or turn off and God alone knows the ending…and He’s not talking.

That last sentence isn’t quite true. God DOES know the ending…and He IS talking, but for today, at least, He’s not talking about the ending–when it will come or how long it will take. That leaves us reeling from phone call to phone call and gives new meaning to “praying without ceasing” as I remind God of His promises and cling to all that I know about Him.

If God wasn’t an option, I might just lose my mind, as well. I cling to the gift of Him and cry out prayers even as I walk silently among the people around me, desperately walking out my faith even in my sleep these days. I wake in the night to check messages and find myself blogging and not publishing because it feels too real…and too raw to lay out where others can see and touch it.

I have to write it, though, and give voice to the struggle against it, share the every-moment bravery of those who fight it alongside loved ones who may no longer recognize them…and may even be frightened of them as they provide care.

Dementia affects much more than just the individual with the diagnosis. It is agonizing with and for those who are able to be on-site, feeling selfish when you cannot be there to help in any physical way possible…and dreading the time when it will be your turn.