Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 4 of 5)

Ah, Lie number 4. It is a doozy: Things will never get better. This is when you take the idea of “things could always be worse” a step beyond being grateful that they aren’t worse and start actively expecting them to get that way.  This is a poisonous path. It can break your heart.

Life is hard sometimes. When you are watching someone you love slowly or quickly deteriorating, it can be difficult to believe things can get better. When there is an obvious pattern of worsening, when you are tired and your loved one is tired and the pain keeps getting worse and there is nothing you can do….it is tempting to think things are never going to get better. It is almost a relief to let go of your hope. Because…why? It’s so exhausting to keep looking for help/cure/treatments, chronic illness is so relentless in its progress, and it takes so much energy to fight it and seems to do no good. And, after a while, it feels like you’ve tried everything already anyway. Why keep praying when the heavens are always silent? Why pay for another MRI when the last four have shown nothing abnormal?  Perhaps accepting the situation is for the best.

This kind of thinking is what I call the Voice of Job’s wife, or the “curse God and die” mentality. And it does us about as much good as she did for Job in his trials. If you know the story of Job and you live with/care give for someone with a chronic illness you are bound to draw a few parallels between Job’s suffering and your loved one’s.

Good old Job.  He was just going along living a righteous life, abounding in God’s favor and blessings and BOOM out of nowhere he loses everything: His livelihood, his children, his health, his peace of mind. He keeps his wife, but that’s not much of a comfort. He keeps his life, the purpose of which now seems only to suffer. He suffers in every way possible short of death. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, he is destroyed. His “friends” show up to preach to him and spout highfalutin sermons. And, repeatedly, his lovely wife looks at his sorry state encourages him to curse God and die already. It’s bad.

But throughout it all Job never completely  gives up. He acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He boldly questions his situation. He even feels sorry for himself. But he never does curse God. And, honestly, that may not sound like much but I have to give Job some kudos for that. That took some real faith.  It is certainty better than I can say for myself and I haven’t endured near what Job did. There is a reason why people say someone has “the patience of Job”.

Of course, eventually Job’s suffering ended.  His faithfulness pays off. Satan loses the cosmic bet and God even comes down and sets Job’s long-winded friends straight, and Job too while He’s there. Then God blesses Job even more richly than he was blessed before. It’s a happy ending for good old Job.  It’s a happy ending for us, believers, too. But right now we are still in the midst of the story.  We are in the mean time. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”.  So, in a “pie in the sky by and by” kind of sense, things will get better. Believing that is part of being a Christian.

But what about in a more immediate sense? People get sick. People get sicker. They suffer. They die. Even though we do and say and and believe all the “right” things. Even though we stay faithful sometimes, more often than not, there is no miracle.  The answer to our prayers is, “No.”  How do you nurture hope and expect the best when you are going through the worst?

The short answer is you CHOOSE.  When Job’s wife’s voice starts to ring in your head and the belief that things will never get better beckons, you CHOOSE to believe God instead.  It is tempting to give up. You are tired, you are hurting, you are filled with grief for your loved one and yourself.  Every day, every moment, every breath you are choosing to believe what you see with your eyes or what God has said in His word.

Things may look bad. Really bad. To others you will look like a fool. But your soul will live. Your loved one’s soul will live, even as their body may fail. And things will get better. Your heart will heal and you will feel joy.  As Rich Mullins wrote in his song, “My Deliverer,”  “…I will never doubt His promise, Though I doubt my heart, Though I doubt my eyes.” The promise is real. The promise is eternal.

Here are few promises to hold on to, every one of them is a lie breaker:

  1.  “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.  They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 God’s Word Translation).
  2. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  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 8:25-28 NIV)
  3. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation).
  4. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:17-18 NIV)
  5. “…teaching them [new disciples] to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ISV)

(The western sky from my kitchen window.)

Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 1 of 5)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” (Genesis 2:8) (NET Bible)

1. I AM ALONE

Ah. Lie number ONE. I like to think of this lie as my imaginary isolation chamber. I have spent a lot of time bound up by this lie. Believing that I am alone has brought me nothing but overwhelm and depressed misery.  God never designed us to go through life alone.  We were created to live in communion with others and with Him.

( One lonely flower…)

This lie is a tricky one because it has a grain of truth to it. When you are taking care of someone (or a group of someones), sometimes you are working so hard trying to accomplish everything that needs to be done every day on your own, it is hard to reach out to others to maintain relationships.  It often feels like you are barely getting by and there is just no time left to connect with others. You most definitely FEEL alone.

For example, when you have no energy to entertain company or to make your home look presentable, is very tempting to never invite people over. With this kind of thinking you really can build yourself a kind of isolation chamber life as you slowly cut yourself off from your friends. Believing you are alone causes you to actively make choices that result in making yourself more isolated. If you don’t break the cycle of this lie you can cut yourself off from your whole social support system, which can be disastrous.

The good news is that you can break free of this lie. Here are a few ways to jerk your brain and heart back to the truth:

1. Reach out

Take a moment to reach out to someone (a friend, a neighbor, a family member, whoever). There are so many easy ways to connect: Send a text, make a phone call, write a quick Facebook message, or take a silly SnapChat and share it etc. Even a superficial interaction can break your illusion of isolation and sometimes a quick message turns into a conversation where you can make a real connection with someone, which is often very helpful.

(If you don’t get an instant response try reaching out someone else. You are not really as alone as you feel.)

2. Change Your Script

Realize that the more you tell yourself that you are alone the more alone you will become.  So choose to start telling yourself something different.

For example, instead of telling yourself that the house is too messy to invite a friend over, tell yourself that a real friend won’t care. Then invite a friend over – even if things are a mess. (Maybe they will pitch in and help you. Most likely they will at least talk to you while you go about what needs to be done, which is also very pleasant.)

3. Seek God’s Presence

Make peace with the fact that there will always be moments when the human presence you crave will be impossible to get. God designed human beings to need each other.  But even when you can’t lean on another human, you’re still not alone.  Here is a helpful exercise:

Speak each of the scriptures below out loud:

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) (New Living Translation)

“…God Himself has said, “I will never, never let go your hand: I will never never forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) (Weymouth New Testament)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) (NIV)

Then say them again only this time add, “Thank you, Father/Yeshua/Jesus/Holy Spirit (pick your favorite) that…(insert above scripture)”.  Speaking them out loud is important–not to God, He knows your every thought. Speaking them out loud is important to your brain and your emotions. You need to hear them with your ears. Faith comes by…wait for it…HEARING. By doing this, saying them out loud, you are boosting your faith.

Now that your faith is ramped up, start praising God. You can say things like, “Father I praise You for faithfully keeping all Your promises.” (Or whatever you can think of to praise Him for…running water, your loved ones, your favorite flower. Just pick something.) Alternatively, you can turn on some praise and worship music and sing along, that also works.

After a few minutes of praising God, you will find you are not alone. Jehovah inhabits the praises of His people. When you start praising God, His presence shows up. He is always with you, He is always everywhere…but loneliness calls for presence.

(The same flower, no so alone. Just a small shift in perspective can change everything. )
There are more ways to fight the “I AM ALONE” lie, I am sure. For me, most of my successful outcomes have been variations of the three ways above. Please leave a comment if you have something that has worked well for you when you are fighting feeling isolated, I would love to hear it.
Coming up next in this series:

Lie number two: NO ONE UNDERSTANDS MY REALITY

Anchoring 

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.(Heb. 6:19)(NLT)

I want to tell you a story. I call it The Story of Ethan’s Heart.

I was born with a heart defect. Statistically any children I have are considered to have a higher risk of having a heart defect also. That is why the doctors wanted to do a fetal echocardiogram during my pregnancy. It seemed reasonable to me. It was considered a high risk pregnancy to begin with due to my age, weight, and preexisting type two diabetes and preexisting high blood pressure. I was very nervous and I did every single thing the doctors asked me to (and more) trying to give my baby his very best chance at a normal, healthy life.

The first specialist who conducted the fetal echo was mildly concerned. The blood was flowing a bit fast through the aorta of my baby’s heart. This can indicate a narrowing of the aorta. It was difficult to tell for sure. She wanted to have another more experienced specialist look at it again in a few weeks. She gave me strict orders not to worry about it yet. I agreed, but I could not help feeling some agitation and anxiety anyway.

In the worst case senario my baby would undergo a short surgery to correct a narrowed aorta a few days after birth and then go on to have a perfectly normal life with no restrictions. But that most likely wouldn’t happen so I pushed what seemed unlikely aside. It seemed fairly easy just to keep pushing the worry down and shoving the unwanted thoughts to the back of my mind. 

A few weeks later the day came for the next fetal echocardiogram. I went in fully expecting the situation to be resolved. I was depending on answers that would allow me to make my plans one way or another. I reclined as the specialist patiently tried to get the views of my baby’s heart that he wanted to see. The baby wiggled, contrary to being pushed on from the outside world. I watched the screens intensely, trying to see what the pediatric cardiologist was seeing, but it was futile. I recognized the heart pumping, the blood moving through the chambers. Parts of the the picture flashed back and forth between black and white and red or blue for what felt like an hour. I stayed silent, not wanting to distract the man from his work. 

Finally he turned off the equipment and the screens. He was silent for a few moments. Then he spoke about agitation and the velocity of the blood in the aorta. It was significantly higher than it should be. He drew me a picture and explained how when a baby is in the womb the oxigenated blood enters the baby’s heart from the plecenta through a special blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. After the baby is born the lungs oxigenate the baby’s blood and the vessel closes. When that happens, if the baby has a narrowing of the aorta, the baby will die unless the issue is not corrected promptly by surgery. 

Ultimately, he still could not tell with certainty if the aorta was actually narrowed. We would not know until after the baby was born and they could get a better image. After birth, the baby would need to have a series of ultrasounds. One immediately and then two or more as the vessel closed. (The closing of the ductus arteriosus is a process which can happen very quickly after birth or may take up to 5 days.)

He told me that if the baby’s aorta was narrowed then the child would have to be transported by ambulance to the children’s hospital for surgery before the vessel closed.  He also told me that I would be left behind when my baby was transported, possibly for two or even three days.

“Unacceptable!” my heart screamed.  I refused to risk a 70 mile separation from my newborn.  I declared on the spot that I would deliver at the women’s hospital next to the children’s hospital. I didn’t pray. I didn’t discuss it with my husband. I called my doula and confirmed that she would drive the extra distance. I called my mom. I called my mother-in-law. Soon almost everyone knew the new plan.

When I got home I informed my husband of my decision. He assured me of his certainty that the baby would be fine and that nothing was wrong with his tiny heart. I didn’t have his certainty.  Not at all. I started focusing on mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could imagine. In the past having a plan in place for every contingency has effectively eased my anxiety. Nothing feels as frightening when I can convince myself that I am prepared. 

I created a best case senario in my mind and began to hope for that. The baby would be born, they would do an ultrasound and the aorta would be fine. The ductus arteriosus would close and the turbulence would disappear. 

This worked for me… until I went for my tour of the women’s hospital birthing center. The tour was unremarkable. Seeing the NICU was unsettling but no more so than I  expected. After the tour I had my meeting the the neonatologist, and it stopped working. 

She seemed youngish, perhaps my age or younger, but she had a manner that portrayed her expertise. For one so young, she had some serious gravitas. She gave me the run down of what would happen. I would check in, labor would be confirmed and I would be admitted to a labor room. I would remain there until it was time to  deliver and then I would be transported to the OR. I might be able to bring my doula in to the OR, it would at the discretion of the gynecologist and the neonatologist on call. After delivery my baby would be taken immediately from me to be checked. If the baby was doing well I might be allowed to hold him for a minute and then he would be taken to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Meanwhile I would then be transported back to a patient room.  If the baby was doing extremely well I might be permitted to try to nurse him. She warned me that typically with these type of defects it was difficult for the infant to coordinate nursing and breathing so breastfeeding wasn’t possible. If it was determined that my baby needed surgery he would be transported after three or four days to the children’s hospital for the surgical procedure and then transported back to the NICU where he would be for seven to ten days and possibly even as long as two weeks . If he did really well he might be able to be transferred from the NICU to the transitional nursery for the tail end of his stay. 

What I immediately took away from all this was that this expert fully expected what I had only thought of as a worst case senario to happen. When I questioned her as to the possibility of my best case senario she gently told me that it was extremely unlikely. I was dumbfounded. I went through the motions of thanking her and saying goodbye. 

On the way home my mind was racing. My hormonal body and my emotions fed off each other until I worked myself into a state of full blown freak out. I had to deliver in an OR. I might not be allowed to hold my baby—possibly for hours after giving birth. My newborn baby was going to be pumped full of antibiotics and anesthesia and they were going to cut a hole in his little back to fix his aorta. We were not going to be able to bring him home for two maybe three weeks…

About that time I started praying. I prayed for my baby’s aorta to be the correct size and for his heart to work perfectly. I prayed that the vessel would close in exactly the way it was supposed to and at the right time. I prayed for the amazement of the doctors and that God would be glorified.  I prayed that they would be calling me to the NICU immediately to nurse my healthy and hungry baby. 

And then I  remembered  that as this baby’s mother I had spiritual authority over him. My prayers changed. I prayed in the name of YESHUA the MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC AND JACOB. I prayed by my authority as his mother and as a daughter of THE MOST HIGH and I started commanding that little heart to be perfect. I quit begging and started praying with boldness. I did this every day, usually on my way to work. And every day my faith grew a little stronger until I was praying with total confidence that what I was asking for and speaking over my baby was already done. I was taking my hope in God’s word and dropping it like an anchor into the chaos and fear inside me. 

It felt irresponsible to change my plan to deliver at the women’s hospital. It probably wasn’t necessary but I didn’t see any harm in it. So I gave birth in an sterile operating room, surrounded by medical staff  who were gowned, masked and gloved. They wisked my baby away from me instantly. He soon rewarded them with a hearty wail. They could find nothing wrong. His APGAR score was nine. Both times. They wrapped him in  blankets and pulled a little hat down over his head. Then they put a 9 lb 3 oz burrito into my exausted arms. I held him. It’s blurry looking back. It seemed short. It was maybe three or four minutes. They told me the neonatal cardiologist had arrived and they had to take my son to the NICU. I instructed my baby to go show them his perfect heart and they took him. 

A short while later the neonatal cardiologist came into the OR to talk to me. He smiled widely as he told me that my son’s heart looked fine. If he had not been told otherwise he would say nothing was wrong. He would repeat the test in 48 hours to see how the heart was doing as the ductus arteriosus closed. I rejoiced as I thanked him. 

They took me back to my room and the nurse did her medical stuff. My husband left so he could escort my in-laws to the NICU to see the baby. The nurse left me. I called my workplace and gave them the stats and good news. I tried to rest, for about twenty minutes. The nurse came back in and asked if  I would please get in the wheelchair? My baby’s bloodsugar was dropping and they wanted me to nurse him right away. I smiled. You betcha.

Less than 48 hours later the neonatal cardiologist stopped by to tell me that the ductus arteriosus was totally  closed and the baby’s heart was fuctioning just fine.  “Already?” I exclaimed, shocked. He laughed and assured me, “Yes, already.” He asked me to bring my son back for a follow-up echocardiogram at six months. He also told me that as soon as the neonatologist on duty could sign the papers my son would be released from the NICU and brought to my room to stay to stay with me. 

I was stunned. I never thought to ask for things to turn out this well! My Heavenly Father did it for me anyway, over and above my request! The next day we went home. Not two or three weeks later…three days.

This is an important story for me. I have build an Ebenezer monument in my heart so that I will never forget how God came through for me when I believed His word enough to ask for something while fully expecting Him to give it to me.

 It’s scary to do that.  You risk looking like a fool and you risk getting your heart smashed by disappointment. It can look like a big risk. I decided I would rather trust God and have peace even if I looked like a fool in the end. I traded my fear and pride for peace and hope.  I had an anchor for my soul when my  outward circumstances didn’t look good. 

The six month check-up confirmed that Ethan’s heart was perfectly fine. No abnormalities, no restrictions, no need for more follow ups. The neonatal cardiologist told me to treat my son as if there had never been anything wrong with his heart. I laughed. No problem for me there, as I had been doing that since they released him from the NICU.

(Ethan at about 7 months)

Hovering

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (GEN. 1:1-2)(KJV)

    I ask that the Spirit of THE LIVING GOD hover over me and this blog as I begin and as I continue to write. The ultimate source of creativity can be none other than CREATOR OF ALL THINGS so to HIM I must appeal for grace, truth and beauty in my expression. In the name of YESHUA, THE MESSIAH, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC AND JACOB. Amen.

    It is almost mid-January but today it feels like March. The wind is bringing in a front of warm, damp air from the South and, after a few days of living in the Artic Circle, it warms not just my face but my heart. It even smells a little like Spring. 

    On days like today the wind makes me feel like I am being lifted up. Up out of myself, up out of the cold, up above my troubles. I get a strong urge to raise my arms up to shoulder level and run into it. As if I could take off like a plane….

    When I was a kid I would always wait for a windy day to attempt what I called “building a fort.” (This consisted of placing a large cast off couch cover over my mother’s clothes line and making a tent using strategically placed bricks and then furnishing my shelter with the comforts of home, like old throw rugs laid over piles of leaves.) I waited for a windy day because it was more fun to do this when I was facing a little resistance. It felt like I was winning a game against the wind. Also it gave the shelter I created a purpose. It would have never kept out rain or cold but I could keep out the wind! 

    I don’t always like the wind. Sometimes the wind just downright hurts. It makes the cold colder and it can damage exposed living tissues in mere seconds. It steals your breath then makes your eyes water and promptly freezes your tears. Other times the wind carries dust or sand–unpleasant at best and blinding at worst. There are also the moments when the wind seems to rage, frighteningly flattening or removing anything in its path. 

    But whether the wind is warm and caressing or a cold wave of misery it is always bringing something with it and it is always going somewhere. The wind is never still or stagnant. You can feel the wind. You can hear the wind. The wind is an unseen and powerful force. The wind can come in a million different combinations of strengths and temperatures. The wind in all of the manefeststations I have ever encountered has never left me indifferent.  If I notice the wind, I have a response. 

    When I think about the wind, the following often will come to mind:

    The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell from where it came, and where it goes: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit  (John 3:8)(KJV2000)

    John 3:8 seems to tell us that those born of the Spirit are like the wind. That sounds really poetic and pretty, but check out this more literal translation :

    The Spirit breathes where he will, and you hear his voice, but you do not know from where he comes and where he goes; thus is everyone who is born from the Spirit.(John 3:8) (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

    That makes it sound more like those born of the Spirit are like the Spirit. That would make sense. We see that reflected in other areas of creation. Man was made in God’s image. Our experience tells us that human children tend to resemble their parents. Lions give birth to baby lions and so on. So to be born of something would give one a reasonable expectation of a resemblance between the progenitor and the progeny. 

    So, now I wonder if the Spirit of God is really like the wind? Is that scriptural? Is there any other place in the Bible where God is described as being similar to the wind? 

    The wind is a powerful symbol in the Bible. There is a strong theme that the the wind is God’s obedient servant. He uses it to express His judgements. He keeps it in His storehouses. In Acts a gust of wind brings the Holy Spirit to the upper room.

    Like the rest of creation the wind does paint us a picture of some aspects of the character of God. The wind is a powerful force that we cannot see. The wind is mysterious. The wind moves in ways that are hard to understand.  However, throughout the scriptures the wind is presented over and over as a servant or a tool and not as a descriptor of God. Because of this pattern I start to prefer the second translation to the first.

    But the first one is more familiar and sounds so nice that I almost don’t want to give it up.  I think in Greek the word for spirit and breath are the same word or very similar words. I am sure that the translators had great arguments for the way they chose to present the verse. Something that breathes/blows where it wills and no one knows where it came from or is going…that does resemble our human experience of the wind.

    So next I turn to another tool for understanding the scriptures: Context. If we back up from our verse about the Spirit a bit into the chapter of John 3 we find we are smack dab in the part of John where Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about being born again. If we go forward a bit we end up at: 

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life,(John 3:16) (KJV). 

    This is an important section of scripture! A red letter section. (You should go read it.)  And then flip back. Way back. To the beginning. Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Before God created the wind. Before God spoke. Before light. When the only thing moving was God Himself. Some translations say He hovered or fluttered. In the beginning God hovered over the formless, dark void.

    Do you ever feel like a formless dark void? Chaotic? Empty? Hopeless and helpless and lost? That’s a good time to ask the Holy Spirit to hover over you. Because we all know what comes next. God hovers and then He starts speaking. And He makes light, and order, and life– SO much life, and He makes beauty. He starts creating and He creates perfection. He creates good stuff, where there was a formless dark void. A whole amazing UNIVERSE of good stuff. Because that’s His nature. That’s the nature of love. 

    So, if I had to choose between being like the wind and being like the Spirit of God I would choose the Spirit. I mean the wind is great, but I would rather be Love. It’s like the difference between a reflection of a thing and the thing itself.  I think of my son. He can use a crayon to scribble on a piece of paper,  and I love his drawing. He made it. It is an expression of him. But I’d toss that lovely piece of paper in an instant to hold my son.   Perhaps there is no perfect analogy for what I am trying to say, but I have a feeling you understand in your heart. There may be Love in the wind, God can use the wind to express His love,  but the Love itself is what is important. Just like we can see Hope in the sunlight, Grace in the rain, Beauty in places you would never expect. The message is more important than the messenger.

     You know that breeze– it’s warm but not too hot, with just a hint of rain, the one that brings the promise of tiny green things bursting to life after a long cold winter?  That’s a love wind. Or that wind that catches you by surprise when you turn the corner of a tall building –it tosses your hair in the sunshine and ruffles your clothes and for a second it feels like you will come right up off the ground and float right up to the sky like a helium balloon–and you laugh?  That’s a love wind too. It gets your attention, it refreshes you, it reminds you to breathe. It blows a little hope your way. I hope this blog will be a little bit like a love wind blowing over you. Blessings.