Redeeming the Time

 

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“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray………” Luke 5:16

“Our conditioning as members of a consumer society prevents us from abandoning hope that, with sufficient planning, we might yet be able to see and do everything. To move slowly and deliberately through the world, attending to one thing at a time, strikes us as radically subversive, even un-American. We cringe from the idea of relinquishing, in any moment, all but one of the infinite possibilities offered us by our culture. Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty. In saying yes to everything, we attend to nothing. One only can love what one stops to observe. “Nothing is more essential to prayer,” said Evagrius, “than attentiveness.”
― Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert

I read this wonderful book years ago and it has remained with me ever since. I believe it holds a very important message for our times as the world and the people in it seem to be moving at a faster and noisier pace than ever before. What does it mean to be fully in the moment of our lives? Do we skim over our days not fully touching down until we collapse in bed and wonder where the time went?

Do I treat people like things to check off my to-do list or do I give them my undivided attention?  I don’t know much but there are certain things I am absolutely sure of. I know that one day, I will give absolutely anything to hear a story I have heard a million times before and the voice I love telling it. I will hear the silence where they used to be and maybe my heart won’t be able to take it.

Listen to the stories, look into their eyes. Hear what they are saying, the desperation and earnestness behind it. Slow down long enough to honor them as individuals the way we would like someone to do for us. We don’t get to decide who’s worthy, God says we all are. That’s what real love looks like.

What makes a good day for you? For me it means that I was able to keep my finger firmly on the pulse of the day most of the time. I felt it from the time the sun came up until it went down. It made for a happy day, a fulfilled day. I rode my bike over ground I covered in childhood. I felt the bumps in the streets, I saw things, beautiful things. I took pictures so I wouldn’t forget.

I took care of Elaine who is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. It was a joy to return a gift she has given to me many times. I got to go to the store with Mom and Dad both, one to the grocery and one to the pharmacy. I went to Lowe’s to look at flowers with my Aunt.

I was in the moment most of the day. I  wish I  could say I have this  down, but too many times I  fail miserably.  But that’s why God knew we needed  days.  They are strung out like pearls until this life ends and eternity begins. The thing is, we can  never be sure when one ends and the other starts.

I like how the King James Bible puts it here:

Walk  in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming  the time.  Colossians 4:5

And this one:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

And just maybe I can try to repeat today what I did yesterday.

 

The Thrill of Hope

 

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The rain is watering the earth and I can almost feel it breathing a sigh of relief. You have just left and it’s the cat and me for a few days. There is a vacuum in the space where you used to be. Sometimes it’s those small things you take for granted that are the most keenly felt when someone you care about is no longer there.

Things, life, the world goes on even in the wake of losses great and small. All over the world and in many different situations people are waving goodbye; all kinds of faces tinged with emotions reflected in retreating tail-lights. Psychiatrists, counselors and ministers devote much of their time helping people deal with it. That monstrous thing we call loss.

It is raining harder now and the air grows colder inside my space. I see your handiwork wherever I look, traces of you and how you always make things work better. I open the pantry and see the motion light you put there, and everything is just so.

You are going back to a happy place and to see friends. Old friends, old footprints retraced. Everything will be clean and bright the way I remember and you will have sun and that makes my heart glad for you.

It was quite a life we had there and a good one. It was like a foreign land at first, that desert. But it turned into a place that folded itself around us, comforted us in the loss of both your parents and all we went through with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and the grief that went with it.

My words seemed to flow more freely there in the little shop, my first prayer closet. A blog was born there to the backdrop of doves cooing, roosting on the rooftops next door.

Almost from the time we are born, our hearts and souls are acutely aware of a sense of loss and the fear that stems from it. Life at its most painful becomes synonymous with loss. Loss of a job we loved, loss of a loved one, death of a marriage, physical loss, loss of a home. Sometimes one loss turns into another. Such as when a deep loss turns into a bad habit. Then we have to kick the bad habit and we have that loss to deal with too.

But here is the big hope rests within and through all this. Here is where the story gets happy. That at the other end of this spectrum of loss, there is gain, without which we wouldn’t know loss at all. And that little word, gain, is what God is, and has always been concerned with.

For at the cross, His loss became our gain.

When we were determined to ruin ourselves and each other, God said, “No, I won’t let the story end this way.” He didn’t just write a happy ending. He came in physical form to become our happy ending. He came to fill that, as C.S. Lewis so rightly said, “God sized vacuum” in our hearts.

Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Christmas.

Gratitude tips the scales

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O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever. Psalm
107:1
 
We had our gift exchange last night, Elaine and I. It was our little window of opportunity for some Christmas quiet time and we took it.  Her Mom had gone to bed early, as she has done ever since winter has brought early darkness. It was a touch and go day yesterday, the Alzheimer’s was kicking in and she was a bit combative.  
 
At one point, Elaine peeked in the door and found that she had taken every last pair of pants out of her closet and piled them on the bed. Then she opened Elaine’s jewelry box and had the contents spread all over the bed. She said, “I don’t know where all this came from.”
 
And she has been going through other things in the house.  I guess that is common at certain stages of the disease, along with not wanting to bathe and the rocking and pacing.
 
It has been a very challenging year no doubt about it, and yet last night Christmas came there in our little island of peace by the tree. And all I kept saying over and over…”This is just too much, this is too good…..I don’t deserve it” and I was feeling it on the inside as well as the outside.
 
And it wasn’t just the gifts, it was everything that went behind the gifts. Because I know the giver. I know her heart, and I have never stopped seeing it give giving this whole year. That’s why it matters. 
 
And when you know the Giver of that most perfect gift the world has ever seen?
 
Only Endless gratitude can be the heart’s right response, no matter what the world throws your way. Gratitude tips the scales when you know God has already given you everything He has to give.
 
Today, I drove on an almost deserted freeway to put in my last day of work, but  in my heart, I am bearing treasures too many to count.
 
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

The Blessing

 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. Matthew 19:13-15
“I am doing a new thing with Lauryn now before she goes to her class,” my Mom said. “I lay my hands on her and pray a little blessing.” She saw someone do this on one of her Sunday morning shows. “I thought, why not do it for her.” So now right before she slings on her backpack and heads off to join her friends, my Mom holds both hands on a very fidgety child and says:
“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.”
She went on to say that the first time she did it, she was wiggling around a lot, wondering what she was doing. “But now,” she says, “She expects it, and I think she likes it a little.” I verified this with my own eyes when I was there. She got this little mischievous smile that I caught on camera right after the prayer.
What a blessing to have a Grandma who prays for you………..and the laying on of hands? The Bible encourages it.
My Mom paused in her activity and said……..”Do you remember how you and I prayed before school by the fire?” Of course I do. I told her I blogged about probably more than once, and I know I have thanked her more than once too.
How could I ever forget those times? Just she and I in the warm glow of the firelight. She praying for a very unhappy teen aged daughter because she just didn’t know what else to do. I can still hear how she sounded, and feel her work-worn hands of love in mine. It makes me want to cry for the gratitude of her.
And it’s not like you are really praying for safety, because things do happen, despite the prayers before going out. It’s more like a release. It’s a way of saying:
I give you to the Lord, and no matter what happens, we will be okay.
And we will.
For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy 1:6,7

Alzheimer’s Diary…..A continuing lesson in love

And above all these put on <sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”>love, which <sup class="crossreference" value="(B)”>binds everything together in <sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”>perfect harmony. And let <sup class="crossreference" value="(D)”>the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called <sup class="crossreference" value="(E)”>in one body. And <sup class="crossreference" value="(F)”>be thankful. Colossians 3:14

I have probably tacked this verse onto the beginning of posts more often this year than any other. Have you put on your love today? This past year, I have had to start over time after time, day after day. As most of you know who read my blog on a regular basis, we are working on year two of Elaine’s Mom living with us.

It’s been tough, to say the least. Hygiene is an ongoing issue more and more. We are working on week 4 with no shower, again. The last time, Elaine had to physically get in the shower with her because she refused to put water on her head. And she was washing with shampoo. Incontinence is also a problem. She refuses to wear the undergarments so bedding has to be changed often….laundry done several times a day.

Because she has been increasingly combative, her dose of Anti-psych drug was doubled just this past week. We noticed the rage has been just barely contained….it’s always just under the surface. The pacing and the agitation seem to go hand in hand.

It is disheartening and sobering for Elaine to realize that right now if her Mom were not on the Seroquel she would be in a lock down unit as we speak. Her Mom still knows very well where she is, but when her Doctor tells her that if she won’t let people take care of her she has to go somewhere where they can, he is met with indifference, a shrug of her shoulders.

It has been a constant challenge for both of us to do that “putting on love” thing Paul is talking about. And I am on another trip to California to see my family on Sunday. It’s hard to be the one always left behind. For two years, she has had to watch others travel, go on weekend trips, vacations. That is what caretakers face every day…….for them life has stopped. They feel just as chained as if they were in stocks.

And how can life still feel like it’s at a standstill, when the workload never stops?

Please pray? For wisdom, and strength to bear up. To keep laughing somehow. To know when to say “when.”

Pray for strength and grace for me as well. That I can be the right kind of support. Too often I feel like the check marks on my own personal report card are screaming out a big red “fail.” But God knows my heart, thankfully.

I take comfort in the fact that He hears my prayers of forgiveness uttered after every exasperated blown out sigh……He knows we are all dust after all, nevertheless a kernel of God keeps us all preserved for eternity.

Praise God.

And more and more and more, we are craving the peace, the harmony that used to fill the house. We still have it for the most part, we just have to fight for it where before it was effortless.

Here is the magic formula that works for any and every situation:

Love + Peace = Harmony

I will need until every last breath to put it into practice.

The Final Answer

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
I smoothed the sheets on my bed this morning and said a prayer of thanks because I didn’t feel like I did yesterday morning. Yesterday I wasn’t ready to enter into the day and I did something I never do on a day off……I went back to bed. Yet, even as I crawled back under the covers, I was aware that it was a luxury.  Just the fact that I could do it. Most can’t.
I pulled the covers up, curled into a ball and slept until 9. For me, that’s late.
After that I went to Walmart, which is my new place between places. I call it my own personal Bermuda Triangle. I sat with my cart amongst the fake Christmas trees and patio sets and smiled at the irony. The depression snaked behind me, but just then I felt I had outsmarted it. I felt cushioned in an island of peace. Even the pink one didn’t bother me, it stood there innocently wearing sparkling white lights. How could I get mad at it?
I sat there playing my Words with Friends like I had nothing else to do. And it was good.
I got back and put everything away. And Joyce was agitated and pacing. I had closed my bedroom door and I think that threw her off too. Alzheimer’s patients are like Autistic kids in that they like routine and they like normal. They don’t like change.
And she forgets that Elaine has a job now and wonders where she is. Imagine never remembering anything? Your mind would have to work 10 times harder than anyone else’s.
Every time I sat down at the keyboard to clack out words…..she came in or out the door. I gave up trying to write. I felt hemmed in, so I went outside for awhile and watched the birds eat the bread I left. The cactus wrens were up to their usual antics and I couldn’t help but smile watching them.
And later the phone rang and it was a dear blogger friend just calling to say……”I have been praying for you.” Never underestimate how important that is. To me it was grace like spring rain.
He told me his frustration about how some of his young friends just don’t seem to get it. That it’s not all about them, but it’s about us and how we are all in this world together. And about Haiti and a world of people in need. And suddenly my problems felt smaller again. And I was able to write about just that very thing. Thank you, Duane Scott. You are a treasure.
Elaine came home after having to call four parents for out of control kids on the bus. They were new kids added to her route. She was exhausted. It was obvious the other driver had been ignoring the bad behavior. And then she sat in a training class where one of the other drivers constantly interrupted the instructor with unbelievably foul language.
Nobody was saying anything, so she finally did.
Then later my Mom called and told me of her friend’s daughter in law. She is in Stanford right now, a mother of three. They were all camping and she came home with a fever. Now something is attacking her liver. She is in Stanford undergoing tests and they can’t find anything wrong, all those very bright minds.
And it was morning and it was evening and God is pulling the shade down on another day.
And the team we were rooting for last night is going to the World Series.
Each day has its own set of wins and losses. Sometimes people get it but sometimes they don’t. And it’s okay……..We do the best we can any given day. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and prays for us with groans that words cannot express.
And in every conflict, as my friend so wisely said, the answer is always the same……Love.

Unwrapping His Promises

How long we wait, with minds as quiet as time………….Thomas Merton

And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
 “And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
Isaiah 58:10-12

 
My time in the desert has taught me much. When the heat stretches on and you see no end, you long to escape it. You drive up north, you go to the coast, or you go to the theater or the mall. You learn to adjust what you do. You learn from the little creatures you see that somehow thrive, and it inspires you too to go on. This imagery is easy for us desert dwellers. But here, God is trying to teach a different kind of lesson.

A lesson for when the soul is parched and needs refreshing.

He is trying to teach us a new way of living for when life burns you out. We say, “I need a trip to the Spa,” But He tells us we need to give to those who have less. New life, new energy, new hope is found when we do for others, and when we lean on Him in the doing. In a way, God is saying, “Get your mind off yourself and you will feel better.”

But unless we also harness the power of the Holy Spirit, we will quickly be burned out. It’s only when we join hands with the Creator that this regeneration and refreshment happen. The body might be beat, but inside the Spirit leaps.

In caretaking I have found this to be true. As soon as I stop harnessing God’s power, I find my anger flaring up at all those little moments….a shirt getting stuck on the hanger, her pacing back and forth, her opening and closing the door 10 times.

I focus on a Motorhome that sits idle in storage for the lack of freedom to just get up and go. I lament the loss of freedom and say it’s not fair. What is fair? People in Haiti are living in tents and have no clean water.

It wasn’t fair the Jesus had to go to the cross but He did. And now despite everything I deserve, I get Heaven here and now. And for eternity. With that in view, I can be more than a conqueror.

Whatever we are going through here and now, it is only for a season. And there are blessings everywhere we turn when we have the Lord to refresh us in all those scorched places in life.

Let’s unwrap His promises today, the basket is overflowing……..