Encounters with Grace

Encounters with Grace

Saturday, November 25, 2018

In his sermon last Sunday, our pastor reminded his congregation that it is easy to miss the beauty of God’s grace in our every day lives. We are so accustomed to receiving his daily gifts and benefits we often grow blind to His goodness and loving kindness toward us. Pastor Jeremy challenged us to watch for ways God demonstrates His abundant grace toward us. To do this, he gave us an assignment asking us to take out a sheet of paper and list 20 things God has given us that we do not deserve.

I’ve been watching and taking notice this week – here’s my list with a little bit of explanation on each.  

 

  1. My copy of God’s Word – with real pages I can turn and plenty of room in the margins to jot special notes. By God’s grace, my granddaughter Violet loves God’s Word and has the same Bible.

    Our matching Bibles
  2. The Grace of Family. Growing up in a family who lived several states away from our kinfolk, I recognize full well the grace of having my family close.
  3. Veiled grace. Our friends had their baby on Thanksgiving Day. My first thought was, “Oh no!” Their wee girl wasn’t due to make her debut until February. While ‘Baby K’ was more than a mite too early, she arrived on the day that was just right on God’s timetable. By His grace, she weighed 2lb 14oz – a good weight for a babe who arrived much too early. Also by His grace, she was delivered by emergency cesarean in a hospital equipped to handle the very special needs of Baby K and her mommy. A careful look at the circumstances surrounding Baby K’s arrival reveal God’s veiled grace in everything.
  4. Grace for Rough Days. Momma struggles with the little things in life. Just getting out of bed is rough. Walking hurts. Underwear are disposable, and for good reason. Sleep comes…eventually, and not always when everyone else wants to sleep. Grace for rough days comes in many forms – usually shaped like people who care.
  5. Hugs. If grace could be measured in a currency of hugs from grandkids, I’m one very wealthy woman.
  6. Testimonies of God’s Grace. We attended a Thanksgiving Eve Service at Wildwood Church where our son serves as an elder and missions pastor. It was a blessing to sing favorite hymns together with brothers and sisters in Christ we were meeting for the first time. We listened, sometimes with a laugh, other times with tears in our eyes as members of this congregation shared their testimonies of God’s grace in their lives.
  7. Grace in having a furnace to keep our house warm. Our thermostat is set at 72 – mostly because my mom is always cold. My body must have grown used to her temperature preference; at times, I felt a bit too cold at my son Matt’s house where it was 63 degrees. Then my mind recalls my husband’s recent trip to India where he discovered winter temps can fall into the 30’s at night. Many folks there don’t have heat in their homes. Or insulated walls, windows and doors. Or a fireplace. I’m thankful for a warm house, socks for my usually bare feet, and money to pay our heating bill.
  8. Grace in owning a washing machine, a convenience totally foreign to many in the world. A blessing for the umpteen loads of wash in the week of a caregiver.
  9. Grace in laughter. A cheerful heart really IS good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Yesterday, one grandson with especially infectious laughter was riding in the back seat of our car and his giggles blessed my heart.
  10. Grace in a Spirit Who prays for me. Sometimes I am so fatigued and emotional, or tired and discouraged. I don’t know how to put my needs into words in prayer. My gracious God knows what I need, and the Spirit of God dubs in the words my heart utters but my lips cannot speak.
  11. Me and my guy (Photo credit: Don Yantis)

    “This is Us” kind of Grace. When it feels as though my caregiving responsibilities are sucking the “us” out of our marriage, I am reminded that God gifted me with a husband whose generosity goes beyond material things. He lovingly supports me in this decision to care for my mom in our home by unbegrudgingly giving of his own time while I give of mine.

  12. Grace notes. Musical ‘grace notes’ are tiny ornaments decorating a musical piece with beauty. I’m blessed with three granddaughters who love to leave little surprise notes for me to discover as I go about my day. I call them my grace notes. I don’t deserve granddaughters who love me like that, but God blessed me with them and I am SO grateful.
  13. Grace in the ability to hear and enjoy music. Momma lives in a rather silent world. Oh, how I wish she could hear the beautiful music I heard this week. Two “hymn sings” in one week; lovely piano pieces played by special granddaughters; my daughter-in-law singing and humming to Christmas music while prepping food in the kitchen, to name a few. I found special joy in watching my daughter teach her daughter to line dance while my son-in-law sang a little boot-scootin’ country tune. I cannot imagine a world devoid of the grace of music.
  14. Grace in Technology. I confess, I really enjoy Facebook. Frustrating as I sometimes find my laptop and iPhone, the ability to see the faces of loved ones near and far gathered around their own Thanksgiving table is priceless.
  15. Diet Coke and Coffee. Enough said.
  16. God’s grace of comfort as I sleep. One of the missionaries we support shared a picture yesterday that made me realize how blessed I am to have a comfortable bed, an abundance of blankets, and pillows that are just right. His photo was a reminder to pray for refugees in Iraq whose city had been hard hit by recent heavy rains, drenching their dwellings and meager belongings. Lord, as I fluff and arrange my pillows at night, remind me to pray for those who have no place to lay their sleepy head tonight.
  17. God’s gracious gift of helpers. Momma’s Friday and Sunday caregivers, Kathryn and Kathi, are an amazing grace gift, allowing a bit of time away from caregiving each week. And I must not forget my friend Waldely, who helps keep my head above water (and dust) by helping me with housework.
  18. Amanda and Lisa. As my caregiving responsibilities grew, I contemplated stepping down from my church ministries, including teaching Sunday School. Then, just as Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses to hold up his weary arms, Amanda and Lisa stepped in to help me with teaching responsibilities. They are a gift of God’s grace in my life.
  19. Grace in a basket of warm, freshly dried laundry. Momma so relishes feeling useful…and handling warm laundry in need of folding brings her extra-special joy.
  20. Grace in the next generation. Tomorrow about 24 young faces will look up at me as we sing praises and learn more from God’s Word in Sunday School at Memorial Baptist Church – evidence of God’s grace continuing to the next generation.

Now, it’s time to flip my list over and start again. Would you join me in the comments below by sharing evidences of God’s grace in your life? One or two will do, but I’d encourage you to begin your own list too.

Thanksgiving and Old Photos

Our son Matt and his family are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. This is the second year they’ve hosted us in their splendid home set on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Hampton, Illinois. I enjoy helping out in their spacious and well-appointed kitchen.

I am thankful my sister is hanging out with mom so Wayne and I can get away from the responsibilities of caregiving for a few days.

What a blessing. God bless her.

On Sunday my daughter mentioned she is bringing the pies…lots of pies. I hear there will be pumpkin, French Silk, and chocolate pecan. On Monday she stopped by my house to borrow a few extra pie plates and Tupperware pie carriers.

Lord, help me.

Knowing Beth will be the bearer of pies made me wonder what I would be bringing. Other than an email asking for my stuffing recipe, I hadn’t heard whether I should bring anything. I sent my son a text which read

Did I miss a memo on what to bring for Thanksgiving?

His reply –

Just yourselves! 🙂

Wow! Another life change happened when I wasn’t looking. Not cooking anything for Thanksgiving?

When did that happen?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that THIS happened?

I found these photos while working on a long overdue project of creating some family photo albums. Matt must have been 4 years old and Beth almost 2, so it must be 1981.

I love everything about these memory evoking photos. The teeny tiny kitchen in our first house on 49th Street. The hand-me-down kitchen table and chairs from my in-laws. The 1950’s wallpaper. The orange tiles on the kitchen floor. Our tiny refrigerator barely had room for the turkey to thaw.

At the corner of one photo I spied the shelving Wayne custom built for our itty-bitty kitchen. The shelf now has a couple of coats of blue paint on it and sits in a place of honor on our three-season porch holding memorabilia of years past. As I examine the photo below more carefully, I see on one shelf a turtle cookie jar (I used to collect turtles), which I have since passed along to my son.

Thirty-seven years later, I still use that very same turkey roasting pan…and the brown-striped kitchen towel!

I love Matt’s facial expression as he examined his messy little hand after helping stuff the turkey. I think we need to recreate this photo.

This helper will be preparing our Thanksgiving turkey this year.

And my little blonde sweetheart Beth! Look at the cherubic face of my little helper. Be still my heart!

My little helper now has four helpers of her own.

These old photos have taught me the importance of capturing images of special moments we have together as a family. Tomorrow we will have Matt and Beth and their families gathered together in one place.

And I will have a camera.

 

 

Tuesday’s Caregiving Tip: Laminated Photo Cards

Whiteboards are a good tool we use to help Mom remember names.

Eventually, with very few exceptions, all those afflicted with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to remember names. In the beginning stages, it’s an occasional inability to remember the name of a friend. Somewhere in the middle stages of this mind crippling disease, my mother began having more trouble with names. I noticed names scribbled in notebooks, on church bulletins, on 3″ x 5″ notecards, and backs of envelopes. It was her tool for hiding the fact that she was beginning to forget the names of her close friends.

Momma belonged to a group of ladies from her church who called themselves “The Lunch Bunch.” Each lady friend took turns choosing the destination for their culinary adventures. It was a sad day when Mom decided she could no longer meet up with her friends. She told me it was because the lunch venues were so far away. In retrospect, the unspoken truth was Momma was embarrassed she could no longer navigate driving to unfamiliar places. Even sadder and more difficult to admit, remembering the names of her closest friends was becoming impossible.

Our church family has become Mom’s surrogate church family now that she lives with us. My mother enjoys visits from her new friends, but is nervous about not knowing their names. To ease her transition toward knowing the names of these new friends, I borrowed an idea from a friend I’ve never met who lives in Yorkshire, England. A fellow caregiver to her own mother with mixed dementia, Heather and I “met” on Creative Carer, Heather’s Facebook page dedicated to inspiring and giving ideas to caregivers for those living with dementia. Our mothers seem to be travelling parallel paths in the progression of their individual journeys in the uncertain world of dementia. Heather is amazingly creative in her approach to caregiving, capitalizing upon her mother’s lifelong passion for all things artsy and crafty (you’ll also find many creative art therapy ideas on Heather’s blog here). As her mother’s memory began to fade, Heather created some laminated pages for her mum, depicting life events, useful information, and snippets of joyful events that had happened in her lifetime.

The laminated cards are double-sided and fit perfectly in her purse.

With Heather’s brilliant idea as seed thought, I made some little laminated photo cards mom could keep in her purse. Each card has a photo of friends and family who come to visit, with names written on the card and perhaps a little reminder as to how mom knows that individual or family. I love seeing Mom discover these cards in her purse. It’s a perfect sundowning activity for her, as she loves to go through the contents of her purse during her late-night purse rummages.

Whenever a new friend comes for a visit, I take a picture of them with my mom, then create a card for her before their next visit. About an hour or so before a guest’s next visit, I take that card out of her purse and show it to her. She really appreciates having the card as a reference.

Next project on the horizon: create a few cards featuring her childhood, family, nursing school and wedding. Memories from her early years are still relatively intact; these cards may help Mom tell (and retell) her stories to visiting family and friends willing to sit with her for a moment and listen.

Tuesday’s Caregiving Tip: Accept Help

My hubby has been gone for ten days on a short-term mission trip in Dehra Dun, India. Ten days. I know, in the greater scheme of things, that’s not very long. If all goes well with travel plans, he should be pulling in the driveway in time for lunch today. His absence has made me keenly aware of all the little things he does for me that make it possible for me to care for my mom in our home. I am blessed and grateful.

More than ever, in the time that he has been away, I have also discovered how very blessed I am with friends and family. They’ve helped me clean my house, mow my lawn, and brought me dinner and companionship. These beautiful people have spent a little time with my mom so I could go to the gym, grocery shop, run a few errands, work in my garden, celebrate my birthday with my family, or take an unhurried bath. After a Facebook post about my sleepless nights, a couple of friends carved time out of their busy lives to take care of mom for a few hours, allowing me time to take a nap. One sweet friend even spent the night so I would be assured of at least one night of uninterrupted sleep.

We caregivers are made of some pretty strong stuff. But, sometimes, some of what appears to be “strength” is just a facade – a false wall of competence that gives others the impression that we’ve got it all together and that we don’t need any help. That facade is a form of pride which causes us to struggle to accept help when it is offered.

I have been hesitant to hit the “publish” button on this blog post, because I realize many of my fellow caregivers struggle with finding people to support them and give them a little respite. My heart goes out to you. As I pull my thoughts together into words to write, I am praying that God will bring into your life people who can help.

I think it is safe to say that most caregivers have heard someone say, “How can I help?” Or perhaps it sounded more like, “If there’s ever anything I can do to help, just give me a call.” This little missive is primarily written for you.  I must admit, I have heard myself reply on far too many occasions, “No, thanks. I’m okay. But, thanks for offering.”

Here’s my tip – If someone offers to help, never turn them away. Don’t put off saying “yes” for a time when you really need it. You really need it now.

I would love to hear how some of you have been helped as a caregiver, or given help as a friend. Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

Mary Poppins – Still Making Housecalls

Momma’s eyes light up when Kathryn shows up each Friday evening. As Kathryn hoists her burgeoning backpack off of her shoulders and settles in at the kitchen table next to my mother, I look over my shoulder as my husband and I leave for our weekly Friday evening of respite and sense that I will not be missed at all. These two friends have already started in on their fun.

I’m pretty sure that our mom’s caregiver Kathryn is a real-life Mary Poppins. Much like Mary’s carpet bag filled with surprises, that backpack of Kathryn’s is always stuffed with hand-selected items which will help my mother “find the element of fun” for the next five and one-half hours. Together they  eat supper, then work puzzles, color in their coloring books, have fun with hidden picture books, make a craft together, and a host of other things. Kathryn will read a storybook with mom, bring her a book filled with beautiful butterflies and flowers to page through, or even read a Bible passage together.

I’m so very grateful that early on in our caregiving journey with mom we decided it would be money well spent to hire a caregiver to help us out on a regular basis (actually, my very wise husband insisted). Mom is by no means wealthy, but Social Security and a modest pension gave her the resources to pay for a little help, so we chose to have someone come in twice a week for a few hours. When she was still living in her own home in Milwaukee (82 miles away from me), we chose Rent A Daughter to help us fill the caregiving gaps when family couldn’t be there to check in on her. Once we moved her to Fitchburg, we chose Home Instead to be our caregiving ally.

Some might argue that it is too expensive to hire someone. From my way of thinking, a few hundred dollars a month is less expensive than having my own health suffer because I never get a break. Preventative medicine, if you will. And it’s definitely less expensive than the cost of assisted living or a nursing home.

Whenever I have the opportunity to encourage someone who is heavily invested in caring for a loved one, I always encourage them to find a trusted substitute caregiver. Even if finances to pay for outside help aren’t an option, I encourage caregivers to reach out to friends (a retired senior), family (for us, our daughter, eldest granddaughter, or sister), a good neighbor…anyone who can give a little break from the physical, mental and emotional rigors of daily caregiving. It might not be for five hours, but even an hour or two away can make a difference.

Another sweet caregiver named Kathi comes on Sunday mornings, allowing us to have six hours to be able to teach our respective Sunday School classes, attend our worship service (my brother comes too), and enjoy lunch together with my brother. Mom doesn’t usually feel much like being social in the morning hours, but spunky Kathi’s positive can-do spirit also manages to keep my mother content and socially engaged during our time away. When we return, we usually find them seated at the kitchen table watching the birds at the birdfeeders and coloring together. And as an added bonus, Kathi always makes sure my dishes are done! Gotta love that!

The blessing of finding TWO caregivers who bond so well with my mother is most definitely Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Missing the ‘Old Life’

“What do you miss most about your “old life”? 

Michelle Daly posed this question for caregivers on a recent blog post. It’s hard for me to choose just one thing, so I’ll mention the ones that come to mind first.

I miss sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. I’ve been sleeping with a video baby monitor on my nightstand long enough now that I’m learning to tune out Momma’s “normal” noises and harmless sundowning activities, such as rearranging her drawers and taking inventory of the contents of her purse. I have learned to tune into her needs, such as times when she needs extra help in the bathroom, or when she’s afraid and confused. So, I am getting more sleep, but uninterrupted, monitor-less sleep would be nice.

Me and my guy

I miss impromptu ANYthing, but especially the little spur of the moment daytrips with my hubby. Those days when we would just hop in the car and end up at Devil’s Lake for a hike, or down on the UW Campus on one of the walking paths, or just meandering through an out of the way garden center. Fun times.

Momma loves Pastor Jeremy and his family!

I miss having people over for dinner. But I’m working on that one. Momma’s usually social self is impaired by her Alzheimer’s frets and fears, making taking her anywhere a chore and very stressful for her. But, the hostess in her loves to have people come and visit with us over lunch or supper, so I’m trying to incorporate more social time with others into our week. Last night our friends Jeremy and Anouk came over for a pizza night with their two children, Mia and Isaiah. Such fun!

A blast from our past – my twisty grandgirls

But what do I miss most? If pressed, I’d have to say “time with my grandkids” is the thing I miss the most. No more impromptu slumber parties, ‘Fun Fridays’, trips to the library, or excursions to the zoo or a nearby park that usually end with a trip to Culver’s for frozen custard.

Violet & Charlie in a friendly game of Othello

Tonight four of my grandkids came over for pie and ice-cream and a little visit. From the moment they walked in the door with their mom and dad, they were clamoring over what we would DO together.  The grandsons wasted no time in pulling out some classic board games. The boys took turns playing “Battleship!” with me, with George getting a little help from big sister Violet. Later, our five-year-old George brought out a chess set and asked for help in playing it. Even though this particular chess set has a few pieces missing, his Papa and Daddy helped him learn to make moves and we delighted in his gloating over captured pieces. Granddaughter Violet and her brother Charlie played ‘Othello,’ another favorite game of strategy. I even got in a few hands of ‘War’ with Henry. When I wasn’t playing one of the games, I was just watching and smiling…beaming, actually.

Momma and her little friend Mia enjoy coloring together.

I love these times with family and friends, and wish there were more of them and that they could be longer. But tonight, I’m just grateful for our little get-togethers. Momma loves to color and will gladly share her coloring books and colored pencils with her great-grands and little friends. Seeing children laugh and try new things brings a quiet joy to her eyes. The memory of their visit will soon disappear, but the contentment and joy linger in her heart just a little longer.