Setting the Caregiving Stage

I love to get my hands and feet dirty. Try as I might, I can’t seem to keep my shoes or gloves on when I garden. I guess I’m a tactile sort of person who enjoys the feeling of the warm earth squishing between my toes or sifting through my fingers. I try my best to make things grow, but know in my heart that very little of it is up to me.

Landscape designer Tish Treherne wrote an article for Sunset magazine that I really enjoyed. Tish wrote about how she designed her personal garden space around their gorgeous waterfront home. She likes to keep things slightly wild looking by “loosely layering unfussy perennials.” I love her garden design philosophy and enjoyed reading her description of how the plants she chose nestle into one another like puzzle pieces to create a seemingly effortless whole. 

I start planning my garden in the dead of Wisconsin’s winter when the first seed catalog comes in the mail. I get out my Sharpie marker and circle the flowers that capture my attention in the catalog pages and dream about where I’d put them in the garden. I get out my garden journal and jot down a few notes about what I’d like to plant, what I want to move, which plants I’d like to dig out, and what I’d like to purchase.

Whether shopping by catalog, or cruising the aisles of my favorite garden centers, I pay attention to the description of each plant, determining whether I have adequate space or light, or whether I’m in the right planting zone. My dear husband fully supports my need for dirt therapy, allowing me to add to my cart whatever little lovely attracts my eye.

Bug-infested Roses

Even with careful planning, planting and faithful watering, not all of my plantings survive. I have lost count of how many failed butterfly bush and clematis vines I have planted. Likewise, each tulip and daffodil bulb I plant in the fall holds the promise of a gorgeous bloom to follow in the spring, but not all of the bulbs I plant make it. Winters can be harsh, Springs too wet or too hot, cute little critters eat my plants and bulbs, disease strikes, insects munch away. Like Tish said in her wonderful article,

“You’re setting the stage as a designer, but you don’t have total control over what’s going to happen.”  ~Tish Treherne

I often draw parallels for life from my garden, and Tish’s philosophy holds true on that front as well. As I seek to take care of my mother’s increasing needs for care, I am just setting the stage as a designer. With the help of our family, my husband and I turned our dining room into a lovely bedroom for her. She has a special spot at our kitchen table where she can watch the birds and view the gardens. We make sure she has meals that are reasonably healthy, treats that make her life enjoyable. I make sure she receives appropriate medical and dental care, and that she is adequately clothed and groomed. We try our best to ensure her safety by putting up baby gates, installing handrails, building half-steps, using video monitoring systems while she sleeps, and making sure someone is with her 24-hours a day.

I can design a stage for her care, but I do not have total control over what’s going to happen. She may take a fall. She will undoubtedly get a urinary tract infection and have hallucinations which will keep her (and us) awake. If this disease takes the usual sad course, she will lose the ability to walk, talk, swallow, toilet herself, or perform even the most basic of personal care. I have absolutely no control over her future. I have no idea what even this day will bring forth. But God does, and He will give me wisdom for the next step of Momma’s life journey…and mine.

In the meanwhile, we will enjoy the flowers that survived, each moment of restful sleep, the birds playing in the fountain, the September breezes, porch-sittin’ days, visits from family and friends, knees that are sorta working today, and all the other beautiful daily benefits that come from God’s storehouse of blessings.

 

Life: Just a Few Handbreadths

As I take care of Momma, the familial aspect of Alzheimer’s disease sometimes scares me. That fear isn’t all bad, in that it helps me realize that it is true that my lifetime is just a “few handbreadths,” a “mere vapor” that will pass before I know it. What I do with my days really does matter. Continue reading “Life: Just a Few Handbreadths”

Gifts Given in Secret

When our children were little, I recall an occasion when we secretly planned something we called “Operation: Secret Drop.” Whenever we would grocery shop, we’d let the kids pick out an extra item or two for someone else. We didn’t have a huge grocery budget ourselves, so just bought a few non-perishables every week. A few weeks later, we had a few Continue reading “Gifts Given in Secret”

Weeding the Heart

Anyone who knows me at all realizes that I love flowers. This time of year, my garden is brimming with them. But you only see what I post on Facebook…the loveliest of the lovely. But, there are things that are not so lovely.

Wayne and I appreciate my sister’s every-other-week caregiving visits and are learning to take advantage of time when mom is well cared for to spend time together. It was a blessing that a recent visit fell on our 41st wedding anniversary, allowing us to get away for a day at a nearby bed and breakfast.

Walking Iron B & B

Besides well-pampered time with my hubby, I appreciated the gardens at Walking Iron Bed & Breakfast. With one step out of our beautiful first floor room’s door, we could sit a spell in a comfy Adirondack gliding chair on the immense wrap-around porch and enjoy the cottage garden’s beauty. Of course, being a gardener myself, that wasn’t enough. I had to traipse around the whole garden touching, smelling, photographing and making mental notes. As I wandered, I sensed innkeeper Karissa’s gardening style was much like my own. Like my garden, Walking Iron’s gardens are not professionally planted or tended by a landscaping company. The owners of the B&B plant and care for the gardens themselves. In fact, when we arrived, our hostess was dressed in her grubbies and staining the garden arbor which graced the entrance to a very beautiful corner of the earth.

I loved Walking Iron B&B’s very beautiful sunny gardens brimming with beautiful daylilies, hardy hibiscus (some grown from seed), Asiatic lilies, coreopsis, zinnia and roses. The shady gardens included many gorgeous ferns, astillbe, a nice collection of hosta, and I loved the innkeeper’s use of a smattering of repetitive elements – a sort of eclectic order. But, you know what I loved most? On close inspection, Walking Iron’s garden had weeds. Lots of them. And many of the weeds were the very same type I had in my garden. In a twisted sort of way, I was encouraged and inspired by that.

Walking Iron Weeds…Just Like Mine
Beauty is always marred by sin’s curse

Seeing the weeds in someone else’s otherwise gorgeous garden spoke volumes to a heart that struggles with frustration over the number of weeds in my own. You might not believe it if you have only my Facebook garden pictures to look at, but not all of my garden is composed of lovely, healthy plants and well-mulched, dead-headed and weed-free spaces. Much of my gardening time is devoted to digging and pulling weeds, including attempting to get rid of plants with “weedy habits” which threaten to push other more favorable garden lovelies out of their respective beds. Wayne hauls a trailer filled with garden debris over to our city’s composting site nearly every other week during most of the summer. My friends rarely see me post photos of my weeds. Or my Japanese beetle infested roses. Or my phlox and honeysuckle plants ridden with powdery mildew. Or the nasty “stretchy weed” that is a menace in my flowerbeds. But weeds, disease, barren spots, insects, burrowing critters and other pests are all part of of the world of gardening. Gardens aren’t perfect. And people aren’t either. My pastor, Jeremy Scott put it well when he reminded me that, “Beauty is always marred by sin’s curse.”

Powdery Mildewed Phlox

Just as closer examination will reveal weeds in the most manicured of gardens, close examination of our lives reveals weeds – things in our lives we choose not to reveal. Sin, actually. We may try to hide it from others, and might even do a pretty good job of that. However, Scripture reminds me that I sometimes can’t see the weeds in my own life.

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; let them not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”  Psalm 19:12,13  (NIV)

Some of my sins are much more obvious than others. I can’t deny I have a problem with overeating. That particular problem is easy for the whole world to see. But there’s also that stinky attitude that crops up whenever I don’t get my way. And my more often than I care to admit struggle with redeeming time wisely; my Bible may sit in the same spot gathering dust for way too many days while Facebook gets checked religiously.

But, there are many more hidden things in the garden of my life, known only to my Master Gardener. God sees my weeds. He knows the condition of my heart. The mean words that slink their way into my thoughts – not spoken aloud, but spoken in the heart. The ungrateful spirit.  The judgmental attitude. The worry. The irritation I feel when my Alzheimer’s plagued mother disrupts my sleep. The wicked thoughts and imaginations of my heart.

The Psalmist teaches me that, no matter how beautiful our lives may seem, we all have those hidden weeds. Those things known only to God. How thankful I am that verses 12 and 13 of Psalm 19 are followed by the more well known verse 14; the prayer of David’s heart – and mine.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14 (NIV)