No Pat Answers

If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!

When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.

And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.

When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.

Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.

But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.

Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story)

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It’s not for nothing

Joni Eareckson Tada recently passed the 50 year mark in her wheelchair as a result of a diving accident in her teens. I just cannot imagine – it would definitely take the grace of God to do that. I read a number of articles about this milestone, especially her testimony here, but this one had me thinking for a long while afterward, not just about Joni, but about her helpers.

The article mentions a wake-up crew who helps Joni get out of bed and ready for the day every morning. I can empathize with how hard that would be, even with joyful and willing helpers. We so easily take for granted the ability to use the bathroom on our own or brush our own teeth and hair.

But I thought of these helpers from this angle: many of us aren’t comfortable or don’t feel qualified to be the out-front people. We prefer to be behind the scenes, enabling someone else in their ministry. We can’t have the unique ministry Joni does, but we’d be overjoyed to have a minuscule part in helping her.

But what about those who need that kind of care and don’t have any kind of public ministry? Who don’t speak and seem less and less present every day? Like the thousands of contracted, shriveled, seemingly vacant forms in nursing homes. Like my own mother-in-law.

I’ve written before that I am not a “natural” caregiver like many people I know. I don’t think I could ever have been a nurse. But every angle we have looked at it over the years comes back to the conviction that this is the best place for her at this time (I’ve shared before our journey with my mother-in-law through assisted living, nursing home, and then to our home.) And, like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and others who didn’t feel qualified to do what God was calling them to do, we trust Him for His grace to do it. And He provides, not in one fell swoop of “feeling” qualified, but in the day-by-day ministrations from Him through us.

Sometimes it seems like it’s all for nothing, this trying to encourage food into someone, cleaning up the results of eating, changing position, showering, keeping comfortable, watching out for skin breakage, etc., when there is less and less response or even recognition from the person who sleeps maybe 20-22 hours day for years now, only to do it all again the next day and the next. My aunt called it “the long good-bye.” My husband describes it as watching someone die one brain cell at a time. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder why God still has her here and when He’ll release her from this crumpled, silent body to her new glorious one in heaven.

I’ve shared before what one friend who cared for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s said, that sometimes God leaves them here not so much for what He is doing in their lives, but what He is doing through them in ours, showing us our innate selfishness, teaching us to love unconditionally. And I have found that to be true in my own life as well.

As I remind myself of the truths I know, I thought I’d share them with others who are caregivers now or will be someday, who labor behind the scenes, doing the same thing day after day during a long decline. The care you provide is not for nothing, because:

God has made everyone in His image and that imbues them with value.

Jesus said when we minister to others, we minister to Him.

We should treat others as we want to be treated.

God wants us to honor our parents and care for them. They cared for us and deserve our care in return.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27

“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

“To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews. 13:16

“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:7

When our children were little, my husband and I often lamented that they wouldn’t remember the youngest stage of their lives and the fun things we did with them, but those years were the foundation of and a major part of the overall relationship. A baby can’t articulate what he needs or thank you for responding to him (at least until he can smile. 🙂 ) But how you care for him matters. He can tell a difference between loving touch and care or harsh treatment. I believe the same is true of the elderly. They may not be able to understand, acknowledge, or define it, but loving care contributes to their overall well-being.

There may be little to no response from the person in our care: some of my friends have even experienced a negative response. There may not be any obvious results from your ministry. But it’s not for nothing. Your loved one or patient would probably tell you how much he or she appreciates your care if they could think right about it and express it. And God knows right where He has you for now and sees your loving care.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

 

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Manufactured Spirituality

I’ve had this draft sitting here since last July, and had jotted some notes and spent a lot of thought on it even before that. I’ve (obviously) had a hard time bringing my thoughts into a cohesive and coherent unit. I thought about calling it form vs. function, or the mechanics of ministry, or using artificial means to accomplish spiritual ends. Finally what seemed most apt was manufactured spirituality.

I see this on three different levels:

1. To try to be more self-disciplined, we establish habits to aid in godliness, like regular times of reading the Bible or prayer, church attendance, etc.  And that’s a good thing. But we all know what it is to have days when we’re just going through the motions, when our eyes are dragging across the page and we check “Have devotions” off your list of things to do for the day but haven’t really engaged with the text or been affected spiritually. Or we “feel spiritual” if we’ve crossed that duty off or don’t “feel spiritual” if we haven’t.

2. To try to minister more effectively as a church, we set up various programs or committees. But sometimes our routines and programs not only don’t accomplish the ministry for which they are intended, they can even hinder them. For instance, we’d all agree it’s a good thing for church members to greet visitors. But once when we were visiting a new church, no one spoke to us or even looked at us the whole time we were there – except at the hand-shaking time built into the service.They had squeezed all their greeting into that few moments, leaving visitors feeling awkward and not really greeted at all.

We can fall into the trap of thinking that when we show up for church visitation, then we’ve gotten our witnessing obligation in for the week, or because we have official greeters at church, none of the rest of us needs to greet new people, or because there is a committee to take care of x, y, or z, we don’t have to be involved.

3. We try to force results. For instance, we can feel that small groups would be good for the congregation to get to know one another better, and they work best if everyone participates. So we “make” the quiet person participate by putting undue pressure on them to say something, calling them out and putting them on the spot. Then we feel self-satisfied that the group went quite well today because everyone spoke, when we left the quiet person miserable and determined not to come back. Or, as happened to us once in a new church, whatever the pastor was talking about (I’ve forgotten now), at the end he asked everyone to break into family groups and discuss and pray right then and there about how to implement what he preached on. That seemed to my husband and me like forcing the issue or “making” people respond instead of letting God use His Word to convict and change. Another example: we want people to “go deep” in their conversations and relationships, so we have “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” sessions instead of letting those opportunities arise in a more natural way. We’ve known people who made a profession of faith after a zealous Christian buttonholed them and would not back off until the person responded, yet there was no life change, no interest in the Lord afterward. By contrast, Jesus let people walk away sometimes.

Setting up good habits and routines and even programs can greatly aid us in our walk with God. But we have to keep in mind what they are for and not get lost in them for their own sake.

A book I read recently about getting more from our reading of God’s Word emphasized applying what we learn. That’s a good thing: we’re told to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. But his illustration went something like this: we need to apply God’s Word in measurable ways, not vague ones. So if, say, we come to a passage about prayer, instead of saying to ourselves, “We really should pray more,” according to this book, we should instead make plans to pray six minutes every day. As if God cared how many minutes we pray. The better approach, in my opinion, would be to stop and think about what I could and should be praying for. That in itself would generate a longer prayer list than I could probably keep up with (some people divide their prayer lists into categories over several days). Then the next step would be to study the prayers in the Bible, particularly in the epistles. Paul’s prayers in Philippians 1, Ephesians 1 and 3, and Colossians 1 are wonderful examples. Granted, that author probably intended that, if a person planned to pray six minutes and ran out of things to pray in three, that would lead him to these other ways of expanding his prayer life. But the emphasis on “measurable results” can lead to outward exercises without always the accompanying inward change. Similarly, if I read a passage and am convicted about needing to be more loving and less selfish, it might help to think of specific ways in which I need to do those things. But it would be wrong to check those off my list at the end of the day and think, “There! Done! Good work!” Sometimes instead I need to carry those thoughts with me all throughout the day and apply them in ways I couldn’t know I would need to when I first read them.

Years ago we were visiting my in-laws, and a couple of ladies from the church came by to visit my husband’s mother. I think it may have been her birthday, or maybe they were just visiting her as an “older” church member, but they brought a small plant, and, I believe, a card. She tended to be profuse in her thanks, and perhaps to counteract that a bit after she thanked them several times, one of them responded, “Well, you were on our list.” Wow, what a way to deflate any good feelings about someone coming to visit. She never said anything about it after they left, but it would have been understandable if she had thought, “They don’t really care: they just came because I was on ‘a list’ to visit.”

Our ministry isn’t boxed into a particular time, place, or group of people. Our programs don’t take care of all of our obligations. There is a sense in which we should always be “on,” always at the ready to serve. Even if there are official greeters at church, we can greet people when we see them or help a confused visitor find the right place. Even if there is someone designated to send cards to sick Sunday School class members, we can send one, too. If God has placed on our hearts that we need to help someone else in the church, we need to pray about how to do that rather than just dismissing it because our church has a benevolence committee to take care of those things.  If there is trash on the floor, we can pick it up instead of thinking, “There is a custodian for that.”

On the other hand, I’ve known women who felt terrible for not “serving” in church when their whole lives were ministering in “unofficial” ways. One lady would often apologize for not being more involved in our ladies’ group, but she lived next to and helped her elderly mother, cared for a disabled son, was the go-to baby-sitter for the rest of the family. She sang in the choir and took an interest in people, yet felt she wasn’t really being used of the Lord because she couldn’t plug into some of the ministries. Another had to step down from a position for which she was uniquely qualified, and I watched and was blessed as she found various other ways to minister: greeting newcomers, inviting ladies over for lunch, and other ways that didn’t fit in with any particular official ministry in the church, but ministered very well to the people involved.

Habits, routines, programs help greatly in organizing a ministry, and we need to use whatever systems are set up (reporting a plumbing problem to whoever is in charge, signing up for taking a meal to someone so she doesn’t receive two or three in one night or receive something she’s allergic to, etc.). And sometimes we do need those systems and routines because we don’t always “feel like” doing what we need to. A former pastor once said that the best time of prayer he ever has was when he didn’t feel like praying and had to confess that to the Lord right off the bat. Sometimes just doing what we should whether we feel like it or not is the first step to feeling like it.

But we should seek God’s grace to serve not just out of duty, and not to check off all the designated boxes, but with a right heart. The mechanics of ministry and spiritual disciplines are tools, but not the main focus, not the end-all of our efforts. Routines, habits, programs are an avenue of ministry, not an end in themselves, and ministry doesn’t take place only within those parameters. On the other hand, sometimes we can perfectly follow all of our routines, and our programs can seem to be going swimmingly, but we’re unaware that we’re missing something vital.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now, as always, God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

God created whole systems of programs and routines for Israel in the Old Testament. But there were times He told them He hated their sacrifices and feasts – the very sacrifices and feasts He had commanded them (here, here, and here, for a few). Why? Sometimes because they harbored sin in their hearts even while performing their religious duties outwardly. Sometimes because they missed the main point, like those who kept the systematic observations but failed to minister on a personal level, or like Pharisees whose religious zeal was wrapped up in keeping not just God’s law, but their additions to it. God said to them through Hosea, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). We’re no longer under those systems, but in the same way I think He would want us to implement whatever habits, routines, systems, or programs are helpful, yet not get lost or fixated on them for their own sake, and to keep in mind that the main point is to know Him and make Him known and minister to others in their need in His Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3

Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:6

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 (Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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The Introvert in Assisted Living

img_1894One of the things that stood out to me in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was just how much society is set up for the extrovert, from schools to businesses. I don’t know if she mentioned assisted living facilities or nursing homes, but I found that they, too, were developed primarily with extroverts in mind.

Most activities at the facilities my mother-in-law has been in involved  trying to get everyone together in the common room for some event or performer. We’d get a calendar of events every month, filled with exercise classes, bingo, craft times, magicians, movie nights, and various groups coming to sing. I’m sure many of the residents loved a lot of those opportunities.

My mother-in-law was always content with a small circle of friends. She never drove. Her husband got groceries and ran most errands. She enjoyed going to church and helping with Awanas there until she couldn’t hear well enough to continue. A big portion of her dislike of getting together in large groups had to do with her hearing. She has worn hearing aids in all the nearly 40 years I have known her, and she told me once that in crowds, the aids magnified everything, so it was not only hard to pick out the voice of the person you were talking to, but it was unnerving that everything was so loud (they may have improved on that aspect now – I’m not sure). But even besides the hearing issues, she preferred home to just about anywhere else. They loved to go visit family or a handful of close friends, or go and get wood in the hills for their wood stove. She didn’t have many hobbies besides reading, her favorite activity when her work was done. She and her husband loved to watch the Atlanta Braves baseball games together and tinker in their garden or around the house.

One of our reasons (not the main one) for having her in assisted living rather than in our home was so that her world wouldn’t be reduced to just us. But when any of the aides asked if she’d like to come for whatever was going on down in the common room, she’d politely say no, she’d like to just stay in her room and read her book. Occasionally they could get her to if they didn’t ask, “Would you like to…” but rather just said, “It’s time for…” If they started helping her out the door for something that she seemed to be expected to do, she wouldn’t protest, though she didn’t like it (you do have to be careful of that kind of thing, though, so that you’re not running roughshod over their wishes). But once when I walked in and she was out with the others listening to a church group, she couldn’t understand what they said when they were talking, but she could get enough of the melody of old familiar hymns that she could sing along.

Once when I was trying to encourage her to participate more and telling her it would be good to get out of her room sometimes, she said, ” I DO get out of my room three times a day for meals!” Residents had to go to the common room for meals and sit at a table with two or three others (unless they were sick, and then a tray was taken to their room). And I thought, that’s true, and that’s quite a lot of social interaction compared to her life before assisted living. So I didn’t urge her that way any more.

She enjoyed coming with us to my son’s basketball games and to our home and church. We would take her out to eat with us sometimes, and I could tell she was tense and not entirely comfortable, but as long as we ordered for her (so she wouldn’t have to) and stayed close, she was fine.

Now, of course, with her decline over the years, her lack of mobility and speaking, about the only place she goes is outside occasionally in her wheelchair.

I know it was more cost effective and needed fewer workers to do things as a group rather than have one-on-one activities. There were just a few individual activities they did that worked well. A couple of the places would bring in therapy dogs and take them to individual rooms for residents to pet and interact with for a short time. She always had pets until assisted living, so I think she enjoyed that. One activity director would come to her room and paint her fingernails. I don’t think she ever painted her fingernails in her life before that, so I never knew quite what she thought about that one. But at least it was one-on-one.

My husband and I often thought that someone could make a business out of being a personal trainer in those kinds of facilities. My mother-in-law was under a physical therapist’s care at different times, but eventually their time with a patient comes to an end, and they leave them with a list of exercises. My mother-in-law never did the exercises on her own and didn’t want to go down to the group exercise classes, but she would work with the physical therapist (as she declined, she needed my husband to be there for the first few sessions so they could learn to communicate with each other. He was from Croatia, and she couldn’t understand him, so he thought she was just being uncooperative, and she didn’t really care if he came back or not. :-/ But after just a few visits with my husband there to interpret for her and urge her on, and showing the therapist how to communicate with her, they got along quite well.) We didn’t want our own visits with her to be all about exercising, so it would have been nice if there was someone on staff, or even someone who worked with different facilities, to come in and help people with their exercises.

One lady who used to visit my mother-in-law used to read and discuss with her parts of the Reader’s Digest, her favorite magazine. Nowadays, visitors often read a part of the Bible to her, valuable since she can’t read for herself any more (it’s important to remember if you are reading to someone with hearing problems that you stand or sit where they can see you clearly and speak loudly). Other one-on-one activities that we’ve done and others could do are taking her outside (one facility had a lovely screened in porch) for a change of venue, looking through pictures or photo albums with her (people love to talk about their families), or show her things on the computer. Sometimes when we had her over for a meal, my husband would show her some of the family members’ Facebook pages, or use Google Earth to see some of the places where they used to live. We talked some about her life before I knew her (I discovered she had been the editor of her high school newspaper!), but I wish I had done that more and then written it down. I also wish I had come up with some bit of interesting news or information to share with her. Often our conversations would start out with, “Well, what’s new?” And I’d reply, “Well, not much.” When you visit someone almost every day there is really not much new every visit. I did share family and church news and sometimes current events, but I wish on those days when I didn’t have anything new to share that I had taken the time to look up or come up with something she’d find interesting. I also wish I had put some of her old photos in a scrapbook with her, not just for the activity, but to hear more about the people in them.

Although my mother-in-law would not have had the dexterity or interest in these, some might enjoy games or puzzles (although she did enjoy Scrabble sometimes at our home. We had to take it very slowly and she’d argue with us about words like “qi” and “xi.” 🙂 ). Some might even enjoy some of the group activities if they have a companion they know to go with them, at least the first few times.

The biggest help, though, both in any facility or in our home now, is just visiting with her personally. At different times over the years different individuals from our church would take it upon themselves to just go see her. Sometimes different groups within the church or community would make something for residents and bring it to their rooms, and that was nice, but really, the main help was just a short time of personal conversation and interaction.

When I was in college, one of the ministry groups I participated in for a couple of years was a “foster grandparent” program. There were other groups from college who would do Sunday morning and week night services at a nursing home, but our group would ask for names of residents who didn’t get as many visitors, and we would each choose two and then spend Friday nights visiting those two, just to talk and get to know them. I still have fond memories of “my ladies.”

Of course, staff members do not have time to do all of these things, and some are best done by family. But for those like the activities director who only painted fingernails, ministry groups, and individual visitors, these are a few ideas of things to do with one older person rather than a group activity.

Social interaction is important to every person, but introverts prize it on a smaller and more infrequent scale, with one or two people and quieter activities. That may be a little more time- and labor-intensive than group activities, but it can be highly valuable for both sides.

For more in the Adventure in Eldercare series, click the graphic below.

Eldercare

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But That’s Not My Spiritual Gift!

IMG_1761Some years ago it was all the rage to do spiritual gift tests. Spiritual gifts are those particular abilities that the Holy Spirit gives people when they are saved by which He wants to work through them to edify the body of Christ. You can find lists of them in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11. They have been taught about in almost every church we have been a part of, and in two churches we actually did the test during a church service, with one of them having a subsequent series about them.

The idea was to help people identify their spiritual gifts so they’d know how they best fit into the ministry of the church and not waste their time frustrated and ineffective in an area where they’re not gifted. And that can be helpful. When I first started going to church regularly as a teenager and then was recruited for various ministries, it seemed like a young woman was just naturally gifted for working with children, right? I was usually asked to assist and then later to teach in the nursery, Sunday School, children’s church, Awanas, etc. I could do it, I learned from it, I hope God used me in it, but it wasn’t until I was asked to take on a more administrative role that I felt I had found my niche and just sank into it with a delight and joy I hadn’t previously found in ministry. As other opportunities have opened up over the years I’ve had a similar response in a few different areas.

I think that might actually be the better way to discern one’s spiritual giftings: trying different ministries to see which one “fits.” The tests can help to a degree, but sometimes they’re more like personality tests; sometimes their definitions can differ from one another and/or from my understanding of what a particular gift entails. Sometimes the particular ministry I am in hasn’t really fit in any category I’ve seen on a test.

Another fault with the tests and perhaps too much of a focus on what *my* gifts are is the “That’s not my job” syndrome. I don’t have the gift of evangelism, so I don’t have to do that, right? No, we’re all supposed to be a witness for Christ in some way within our sphere of influence, though there are some who are especially gifted in that way. It’s the same with giving, showing mercy, extending hospitality, helping others, and many of the other spiritual gifts.

And then sometimes God drops us into a situation that we don’t feel gifted for at all: in fact, we feel totally inadequate. Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others didn’t greet God’s call on their lives the the attitude, “Sounds great! That’s just the kind of opportunity I was looking for!”

That’s where I am with caregiving. Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way – another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake here. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea.

I was convicted by this sentence as well as other truths in the True Woman blog post “Serving in Church: When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers“: “This doesn’t mean my gifts aren’t important. What it means is that “sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift.” And from another article on the same web site, What About Your Desire to Do Something Great For God?: “When the desire to do for God supersedes the desire to obey God, it reveals that God is no longer the source of joy. A heart delighted in God desires to obey Him. A heart delighted in self desires to see what self can accomplish. A person delighted in God doesn’t care so much how God uses her, but rather that she is useful to God, the object of her delight. A person delighted in self cares deeply about how God uses her, because seeing the self she loves underused causes grief.”

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Bible Verses for Caregivers

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One of the first things I learned about caring for my mother-in-law was that I could not do it in my own strength. There are some Bible verses that I go to again and again. I thought I’d jot them down here both for my own remembrance and also for other caregivers. Of course, none of the lists is exhaustive, and I will probably add to them as I discover more.

The need to care for aging parents:

  • Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.  Exodus 20:12
  • And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:9-13, ESV
  • But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8, ESV
  • If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. 1 Timothy 5:16
  • Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12
  • As I have said before, this doesn’t mean that every Christian must care for elderly loved ones in their own homes, but they must see that they are well cared for.

The need to care for widows:

  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

Serving:

  • Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded…If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. John 13:3-5, 14-15
  • Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28
  • For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:35-36, 40
  • Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26b-28
  • Now we exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. I Thessalonians 5:14
  • Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Matthew. 10:42
  • To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews. 13:16
  • God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10
  • With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men. Ephesians 6:7
  • Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. I Timothy 5:10
  • Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Love:

  • A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  John 13:34
  • This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13
  • And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:5
  • For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
  • And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. 2 Corinthians 12:15
  • With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
  • In speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:12, NASB
  • And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Ephesians 5:2
  • May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
     2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12
  • Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.  1 Thessalonians 4:9
  • Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. 1 Peter 1:22
  • Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. 1 Peter 3:8
  • Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8
  • If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, ESV
  • Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12
  • And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

Encouragement:

  • Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 15:58
  • We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:3b-5
  • And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9
  • God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10

Source of Strength:

  • He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 41:29-31
  • Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10
  • As thy days, so shall thy strength be. Deuteronomy 33:25
  • The joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10b
  • But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
  • The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. Psalm 28:7
  • I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13
  • Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:4-5
  • He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
  • Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not. 2 Corinthians 4:1
  • And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
  • But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19
  • Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. Colossians 1:11
  • But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
  • And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I probably should have a section about selfishness, because that is what I wrestle with the most. But a lot of verses under Service and Love deal with that.

Linda has a different list here. Our lists overlap a bit, but her situation is different in that her mother has Alzheimer’s and can be verbally abusive sometimes, and some of her verses deal with handling that.

I hope these are as helpful to you as they are to me. Do you have particular verses that help you in loving and ministering to others?

For more about caregiving, see:

Eldercare

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Woman to Woman, Testimony Tuesdays, Tell His Story, Works For Me Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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