Autopilot – the mode of operation for long-term caregivers

And the God who gets us through

In times of trial, when it feels like we’re flying alone – God provides better than “autopilot” and becomes the pilot of our journey

Autopilot becomes the way we handle things flung at us as new caregivers.  Actually, who am I kidding?  It didn’t get easier just because it became longer – in fact, the longer I lived on emergency-ready, life-and-death mode, the grayer my world became.  My son was four-years-0ld when we started his cancer journey, and I was 39.  When we finished chemotherapy, he was 7 1/2  and I was 93.  My always-learning brain had turned to mush (Anita calls it chemo brain by proxy) and I literally saw through a gray haze. I functioned on autopilot – but it worked, because of Who my pilot is:  this is a poem I wrote shortly after finishing chemo and realizing I was in deep-struggle-mode.

I’m on autopilot

Feet float

From place to place

Unaware of where they’re going

Lost from where they’ve been

 

Eyes drift

Across words on a page

Reading and rereading a passage

Unable to soak it in

 

Ears buzz

Around conversations flying by

Desperately trying to pick out information

Confused by threads of thought

 

Mouth stumbles

Over pieces of a conversation

Tripping over thoughts refusing to be expressed

Incapable of coherence

 

Hands flutter

From task to task

Forgetting how to accomplish anything outside of an emergency

Helpless to proceed

 

I’m on autopilot again Lord,

Lost,

drifting,

buzzing,

stumbling,

fluttering

Autopilot

The only way I can do anything at all

Is to have You

Be my pilot

Caregiver coping - #autopilot. Let God be your pilot! #caregiving Click To Tweet

Put God in the pilot seat!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Expectations Can Make All the Difference

Choosing what we expect from life.

Father and son at the start of the cancer journey, on the way to chemo.

It was one of those mornings where expectations of an normal chemo treatment were obliterated – everything that could go wrong, was going from bad to worse!  We had arrived on time for four-year-old Andrew’s chemotherapy, but the nurse hadn’t.

When she finally arrived, the doctor wasn’t there yet, neither was the medicine.  When the medicine arrived, the doctor still hadn’t and the nurse couldn’t give the medication without written doctor orders, even though it was standard procedure.

Finally the doctor arrived and checked Andrew out.  Everything was fine.  Phew.  She suggested we start the Vincristine drip, which would take a little while, because, wonder of wonders; the Operating Room wasn’t ready for his Lumbar Puncture procedure yet.

The nurse hooked Andrew up for the treatment and was just ready to start when the OR called and, well, they were now ready.  The nurse unhooked Andrew and we wheeled him down to the OR holding area.

Can you believe it?  The anesthesiologist wasn’t ready.

Five year old Andrew didn’t care about any of this.  I mean, after all, he had the attention of mommy, the oncologist, the Peds nurse, the OR nurse and the OR assistant.  He chattered happily to any one who might be listening and followed his normal procedure of happily climbing onto the gurney and lying there while they readied the oxygen, the electric probes, the pulse/ox indicator, gloves, swabs and who knows what else.  He demanded a pillow (the OR nurse apologized, after all, it’s in his chart that he wants a pillow) and got it.  Still the anesthesiologist wasn’t ready.

Andrew chattered on about the need to go to Dairy Queen for breakfast (he did not get that idea from me) and declared it to be way better than Taco Bell and decided maybe we would have time for the library.  He proceeded to quickly announce anything else that popped into his little head – it was how he handled his nervousness.

Still we were waiting.

The nurse checked the flush syringe that was hooked up to the port in Andrew’s chest.  It was waiting for the anesthesiologist.  Suddenly Andrew noticed the syringe.  His eyes got big and he reached down and grabbed hold of the syringe.

            Let me pause for a moment

and explain to you the normal procedure that we’d gone through countless times in the last year and a half.  Usually, Andrew hops on the table, the oxygen mask is placed near, the anesthesiologist introduces himself, assures himself of who Andrew is, and injects the propothol (the anesthesia), into Andrew’s port.  Andrew has the same reaction every time the anesthesia hits.  He frowns, starts to tell me it smells funny (I know that because he used to get the sentence out, but now that they know his dosage, he never completes the thought).  Then his eyes get really big, he half yawns, half yells mommy, his eyes roll back in his head and in the middle of the yawn, he collapses onto the pillow and he’s out for the however long they keep him under!

On this day, suddenly Andrew determined in his little mind that the syringe on his chest must be the anesthesia and we just didn’t tell him.  His eyes got huge, he yelled, “Mommy!  Is this the sleepy medicine?”  Then, believe it or not, he half yawned and his eyes began to roll back into his head.

I quickly explained, “No Andrew, it’s not sleepy medicine, it’s just a flush.”

Instantly his eyes replaced themselves, he lifted his head off the pillow and finished the story he had been telling without hardly missing a beat.

            Expectations!  Who knew?  I have never before seen such a physical manifestation of a mental expectation.

I really wondered what Andrew would have done had I not assured him of it only being saline!  Would he have gone to sleep?  How funny.  Maybe after all this time, they don’t even need the anesthesia!

I have heard the phrase that if you expect people to treat you well, they will.  If you expect to succeed you will.  On the other hand if you expect to be carsick, you better take a container and if you expect to be treated as an outcast, you will most likely be very, very lonely.

Expectations.  Hmmm.

What do I expect for myself?

Do I expect to follow the Lord?  Can I expect to be happy?  Do I expect to live a full life of rewards and loving relationships?  Can I remember that a loving Father will be with me in everything that happens to me, even cancer?

Our expectations for ourselves and for our God can make a huge difference in how we approach life.

What are your expectations today?

What are my expectations of God? How about my #expectations for myself? #inspirememonday… Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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What You Need to Do to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

A Good Night’s Rest Provides the Elixir for Caregiver Burnout

Pedro ‘circled the drain’—his life hung in the balance and no one knew for sure how to stop the infections that waged war on his chemo-weakened body. The doctors had started using drugs they thought might work. They also spent long minutes sitting on his bed, staring at him. It’s never a good sign when a doctor takes the time to sit on a patient’s bed.

caregiver burnout

I felt weary. For six months we had battled cancer, and now this. I numbed myself with food. Praying took too much effort. My friends did the heavy prayer lifting for me.  I had no energy to form words and thoughts and sentences.

My uncomfortable chair-posing-as-a-bed in Pedro’s hospital room kept me tossing and turning. Just when I would fall asleep, a nurse would come in to check Pedro’s vitals, or Pedro would start awake, needing something.

The night before, a family friend had arrived to visit. He posed an interesting question that I answered without thinking. “If you could do anyting you wanted to do right now, what would it be?”

I responded with the first thing that popped into my head, “Soak in a hot tub.”

“Why don’t you do it?” he asked. “I’ll stay here with Pedro and you find a hotel with a hot tub.”

I found a place to stay on a bus route, and safely made my way to a small hotel. For the first time in months I luxuriated in a decent night’s sleep. The impersonal hotel room and soothing soak in a bath had worked like balm to my broken thoughts and frantic worry. I had arrived back at the hospital feeling as if I could handle the next second, the next minute, the next hour, the next decision.

Five Minutes on the Phone Undoes A Night of Good

My cell phone buzzed, and I hurried from the room to take the call. I wish I hadn’t. Unkind words poured out of the phone and into my ear from someone I trusted. Someone I thought was safe and on my side berated me with bitter words for what they perceived to be my horrible actions of the night before. They scolded me for spending the night in a hotel. They railed that I would let a ‘stranger’ spend the night in Pedro’s room.

Each hurtful word pierced my heart. Mesmerized, all I could do was listen and pray for wisdom and the ability to not utter hateful words back. After what seemed like hours, I muttered an apology and promised that I would call my tormenter the next time I felt the need for a break or feared I suffered from caregiver burnout.

Broken and wilted once again, I entered Pedro’s room. Our family friend looked up and smiled. “I’m so glad I could come and that you got a good night’s sleep,” he said. “You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of Pedro.”

I nodded numbly.

“May I pray with you before I leave?” he asked.

I nodded again and bowed my head. As our dear friend lifted Pedro and I up in prayer, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit draw close and pick the broken shards from my wounded heart. 

How to Handle Caregiver Burnout (if You’re the Caregiver)

In retrospect, I know I should have done many things differently to avoid caregiver burnout.8 Tips for Handling #Caregiver #Burnout http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1Cb

  1. Take time each day to relax. This might look different for each of you. A brisk walk in nature, writing in a journal, praying, listening to uplifting music, or recording beauty with a cell phone camera might provide an oasis of relaxation.
  2. Make healthy food choices. Overeating will only make you feel more discouraged and burnt out. Eating well is a form of self-care.
  3. Learn to hang up politely. I should have interrupted the phone call with a polite, “May we talk about this later?” If the caller had answered no, I should have said, “I’m sorry you feel this way. I’d be happy to talk to you about this later.” and then just hang up.
  4. Remember it’s not about you. That other person was experiencing thier own form of trauma because of Pedro’s illness. Althought the catalog of woes focued on me and all I had supposedly done wrong, in retrospect, I think the caller was really pouring out their worries and grief.

How to Handle Caregiver Burnout (if You Know a Caregiver)

  1.  Watch for signs of burnout: memory loss, inability to make decisions, irritibility, changed behavior, depression, and withdrawal from normal activities.
  2. Remember your sphere of influence. Take action based on your relationship to the caregiver. Sometimes, it’s easier to hear the hard questions from a friend and not a family member. My family members thought I was fine (mostly because I kept assuring them that I was). It took a family friend to understand the depth of my caregiver burnout.
  3. Ask. What can you do to ease the burden. Ask the caregiver what one thing they would really like to do and then help them make it so. When others ask, it relieves the fear that caregivers have that they exist in isolation.
  4. Remember it’s not about you. Don’t feel rejected if the caregiver doesn’t accept your offer of help. You might not be the person God has in mind to serve. Don’t burden caregivers with your opinions on the job they are doing. Think twice (or three or four times) before speaking critically.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Don’t forget to visit the other #InspireMeMonday host site: www.anitaojeda.com

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Safe in the Tub – the love in the midst of the impossible

Five-Minute-Friday: Safe

This post is written with the gang over at Five-Minute-Friday where we write on a prompt, for five minutes, and then post.  Don’t think, just do it!  This week’s prompt:  SAFE

It’s been sitting for nine years, safe in the bin I threw it in when I tried to return to “normal” after Andrew’s last chemotherapy appointment in December of 2007.  I cherished each card, letter, poster, and note people sent to us. But suddenly, that year, I needed to hide them.  We had more than enough reminders of Andrew’s travel through three and a half years of leukemia treatment.

I felt desperate to return to life.

Safe in the bin where I placed them. Reminders of support and love.

This week my school is kicking off the Pennies for Patients campaign for the Leukemia/Lymphona Society. On a search for the Pennies for Patients poster that featured Andrew, I rifled through that plastic tub that I have kept safe, but untouched for years. Just opening the lid provided a lightning flashback because of the innocuous heplock flush valve lying on top of the last MRI results.  I could not read more than 6 or 7 cards, as the tears blurred my vision. The valves, flush syringes and deadening cream in the bottom of tub ensured the return of the cover.

But not before a huge rush of appreciation and love flooded me.  I saw some imaginative and slightly odd cards decorated with love by children none of our family have ever met – those children who prayed for my boy.  There were recognizable post-it-notes that I would find on my desk after returning to work after a nine-hour-day at chemo.  I read hand-written poems and prayer placed in my mailbox by my high-school students and a note left on my clean pile of laundry by a friend.  A couple of empty envelopes baffled me, but just until I remembered the lady who sent us half of her over-time check for 6 months straight to help us out.  I hadn’t met her then, but she chose to bless us anyway.

There are more.  So many more.

A tub full of blessings and love waiting for when I need it, or when I can handle it.

A safe place full of reminders that our world holds beauty in the midst of ugly, and safety in the middle of a storm.

There is still beauty in our world that keeps us safe and grounded through hard times #fmfparty… Click To Tweet

Confessions my FMF friends:  I honestly have no idea how long this took me to write.  I got hung up on the tub full of blessings tonight, which forced me to write when I thought I had nothing on the prompt!

 

Five Tips for Celebrating National Survivors Day

National Survivors DayToday we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day—a day to celebrate survivorship as well as bring attention to the fact that winning cancer doesn’t always signify that the battle has ended.

Life after #cancer exists, but one should never expect it to follow familiar trajectories.… Click To Tweet

It’s a day to cheer on those who survived as well as acknowledge that survivors face ongoing challenges. Cancer changes everything—it changes one both physically and financially; it causes trauma in family members and caregivers; it can alter the course of one’s career.

All too often the survivor never mentions the subtext of those multiple ‘survivorships.’ But the reality of life post cancer can prove just as overwhelming as life during cancer.

In our case, cancer’s ravages left Pedro in a weakened state that took over a year to recover from. To this day, he has neuropathy (nerve damage) in his right foot that prevents him from enjoying hiking great distances. The chemo drugs also caused necrosis (death) of the bones in his hips and about seven years after cancer he had to go through core decompression surgery on one of his hips. Eventually, he’ll need a hip replacement.

Each of those subsequent treatments puts a financial strain on our family. A clean bill of health doesn’t mean that a survivor no longer has to worry about financial stresses and corollary health issues. It took us 12 years to pay off cancer. For some families, it takes even longer.

The emotional toll can nibble at different family members like a piranha, quietly wounding the soul until the wound festers and rises to the surface. In retrospect, I wish I would have signed the family up for counseling to treat the wounds as they happened—it may have made a difference. On the other had, I can’t let regret become a piranha in my life.

Cancer survivorship can cause upheaval at work as well. Pedro lost his job because of his cancer, and it took nine long years and additional schooling to rejoin the education workforce as a full-time employee again.

Of course, his experiences during those nine years working in construction, building a house, substitute teaching, and going to school uniquely prepared him for the job he holds now as the principal of a private school that operates almost exclusively on donations.

Remission from Cancer Doesn’t Equal Remission from Its Consequences

#Remission from #cancer doesn't mean remission from it's consequences. #NCSD2016 Click To Tweet

These five tips for celebrating a survivor will help you think outside the box when it comes to celebrating with a survivor.

1. When you celebrate a survivor, remember that that battle might not be over—it’s just being fought on a different front.
2. Continue to come alongside a survivor (which means listen more and talk less).
3. Don’t be afraid to ask sensitive questions—What do you find the most difficult part of your life after cancer? or I know you’re in remission, but do you still need support in any way?
4. Offer to help. Maybe the survivor could use free childcare once a month to reconnect with a spouse. Perhaps the survivor needs help cleaning the house or shopping for groceries as they build back their strength.
5. Give advice sparingly (and only when asked). Survivors don’t need to hear about your neighbor George’s second-cousin-once-removed who had cancer and went on to win an Olympic medal).

What about you? Do you have a survivor you’d like to acknowledge?  Tell us a little about them and their battle and leave a line of kudos and encouragement (and don’t forget to let them know in person, too). 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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Peace for Lifetime: The Self-Help Book I Didn’t Know I Needed

peace for a lifetime

Peace for a Lifetime Review

This book is the first in a trifecta of books that I really needed to read (but didn’t realize how much I needed to read them). Reading Peace for a Lifetime is like sitting down with a friendly counselor in the comfort of my own home. Lisa Murry never pushes or insists, she just quietly guides the reader through the necessary steps to discovering more about one’s self (not an easy task for someone like me).

I first picked up Peace for a Lifetime because I wanted to support a fellow blogger and writer with her book baby—not because I particularly felt the need for increased peace (I thought I had a pretty peace-filled life, thank you very much). But I soon realized that the book isn’t just about obtaining peace.

#PeaceforaLifetime isn't just about peace. It's about emotional abundance, too. Click To Tweet

First of all, Lisa explains emotional abundance and its importance in our lives. A key element (especially for women) lies in learning to stay an individual even in the context of a relationship—it’s all too easy to subsume oneself in one’s spouse or children, as any wife or mother knows.

Lisa constantly points the reader to the only source of true nutrition for feeding our emotional selves—God our Savior. She also points out that we have to get to know ourselves and learn to own our emotions before we can be truly fit to help anyone else.

As a recovering caregiving (from my husband’s journey with cancer and my daughter’s struggles with mental illness), I know all about the importance of self-care. But I learned a new term in Peace for a Lifetime—self-nurture. For me, the most powerful words in the book are these: “I cannot allow myself to be intimately known by another person if I haven’t first spent time becoming intimately acquainted with myself.”

As I progressed through the book, I came to understand that maybe I haven’t spent enough time over the years getting to know myself—which probably explains why I don’t feel ‘grown up’ yet—despite the fact that I’m pushing fifty. I jokingly tell my students that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Ok, so maybe I know, I just haven’t wanted to really analyze or admit it.

Lisa has a great acronym for dealing with communication—LIFE. One must live calmly, implement healthy communication, free others (as we free ourselves) and engage in collaborative conflict-resolution skills.

Peace for a Lifetime is easy-to-read, well-researched (a delicate balance—to be both easily understood AND well-researched), and it includes questions at the end of each chapter that help a reader evaluate her or his self.

If you’ve felt a vague unease about how your life is progressing, or just plain unsettled and unhappy, this book will help you gain clarity about yourself and your needs. I mentioned that it’s the first in a trifecta of books God put in my path—the second one is Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide and the third is Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s Living Forward.

What about you? Have you ever picked up a book, thinking you didn’t really need it, but discovered that it was just what you needed at the moment?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Why That Proverbs 31 Woman Really Chaps My Hide

Proverbs 31 WomanThe Proverbs 31 woman irritates me. I think of her in my head as Mrs. Perfecta Esposa (in a snarky sort of way). Ok, maybe it’s the ideal of Perfecta that really rubs me the wrong way. Well, in all honesty, the fact that people think that anyone should live up to the standard of Perfecta just seems wrong (especially if it’s some very human male pointing out a woman’s shortcomings). Even worse, when a caregiver holds herself up to Perfecta and then slides into depression because there is just NO way one can care full time for another human being plus act like Perfecta.

People don’t understand that the woman mentioned in the epilogue of Proverbs is the ideal woman for that time and place. There are things she has that I will never have—servant girls, for starters. We don’t have that kind of money, but I’m sure if we did, I’d do a great job of portioning the needs of my maidservants.

And seriously, who can get up before the crack of dawn do all the household chores, put in a full day’s work at school AND select the flax and wool for spinning and weaving—I knew how to spin when I was little, but I haven’t found much need for that skill in the last forty years.

In addition to all of the above, I have no skills in stock market trading (although I did act as the general contractor when we built our house), nor do I have extra funds lying around to invest.

I know how to sew, and used to make church dresses for the girls when they were younger—shoot, I even made my own wedding dress and then remodeled it for our eldest daughter when she got married. But I can’t weave sashes (my skills were limited to finger weaving key chains and loop potholders in grade school), nor does my family wear scarlet when it snows (we prefer anything insulated and waterproof, thank you very much).

If the lamps don’t go out at night, it’s probably because I’m up too late trolling Facebook. While my arms work vigorously during my workouts, they complain vociferously the following day (giving me the perfect excuse to avoid housework).

Purple isn’t my favorite color, but when I can afford it, I wear linen—during the winter, though, Gore Tex products are more my style.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Bible is out of date or out of style or worse, not true. I just think that women beat themselves up because they’re not THE Proverbs 31 woman (e.g., a superwoman type).

What we often miss or overlook or ignore is the fact that Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This means that all of those things that the wife of noble character does happen in alphabetical order—not chronological order! Anyone who has ever had a toddler or two running around the house knows that without a nanny, mamma ain’t going to get a lot done.

But that’s ok. The reason Perfecta’s children rise up and call her blessed has a lot to do with Perfecta’s intentional parenting through each stage of her children’s lives. Believe me, I don’t think the writer had teenagers in mind when he penned those lines! Toddlers are too egocentric and pre-teens and teenagers tend to think their mother’s IQ rates the same as charcoal.

The key resides in verse 30 “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;/but a woman who fears the Lords is to be praised.” The ‘fear’ here is not the ‘oh-I’m-so-afraid’ kind of fear. It’s the ‘I-live-in-reverential-awe’ kind of fear.

God doesn’t expect us to meet the standards of an ideal woman. He expects us to live in awe and reverence for him. If I live a life that honors God, that other stuff will fall into place. It probably won’t happen overnight, because allowing God to rework my sinful nature will take a lifetime.

If I focus on all the ways I don’t measure up—I’m wasting my time and energies. Click To Tweet

I don’t need to compare myself to anyone (including Perfecta)—I only need to chart my progress in comparison to the woman I used to be before I accepted a personal relationship with God to change me into who he wants me to become. And that’s good news for the weary caregiver (or momma or wife or teacher or woman).

What about you? Have you ever compared yourself to the Proverbs 31 woman? Have you ever been in a caregiver season and really berated yourself or felt hopeless because there was just NO way you’d ever measure up?

Do You Have a Life Plan?

Living Forward

 out-of-control focus? A Life Plan Can help: Part II (CLICK FOR PART I)

Have you ever had a focus problem? Mine started when I became a parent (parenting is HARD work and seems to require all of our focus!), and intensified during my caregiving journey. About three years after Pedro’s miraculous healing, I realized that I needed to re-find my health. Our girls needed a mom who could keep up with them as they entered their pre-teen years, and I had a hard time doing much of anything. Suddenly, I had a new focus.

It took nine months of hard work, eating better and exercising more, but I eventually lost my caregiver weight (I may have over-focused on weight-loss and healthly eating, though, because our youngest daughter ended up struggling with aneorexia her sophomore year in high school).

When I took a photography class six years after Pedro’s recovery, I started to realize my my focusing problem. Hyper-focusing on something has its advantages—a photographer can create ‘bokeh’ where the subject matter jumps from the print and everything outside the plane of focus takes on a soft blur. On the other hand, spending the time to stitch together a panorama that shows a larger-than-life view of the subject can produce a startling effect, too.

I’ve learned to ask myself which kind of focus I need in a situation. Do I need to focus intently on something small and detailed? If so, for how long should I spend time on that one thing? Would stepping back and looking at the bigger picture help me more?

Learn to distinguish what kind of focus you need for each of life's problems. Click To Tweet

I actually find looking at the bigger picture a difficult task. Out of the 80,000 or so (but who’s counting, right?) photos that I’ve taken in the past five years, only a fifth of them are landscapes.

Life reflects art. I do ok focusing on the small things and the details, and I can even do some mid-range planning (for a few months or years) but I hesitate to step back and look at the really big picture—my life and where I’d like to be in five, ten, fifteen or even twenty years. That’s why a letter in my inbox got me pretty excited this week. I’m on the launch team for Michael Hyattt and Daniel Harkavy’s upcoming release, Living Forward.

Living Forward is a book about creating a life plan. Other than a vague sense of ‘I’d like to get married, have some children, have a fun job and enjoy life’ I’ve never had a life plan. I’ve had a great life drifting, but it’s time to step back and focus on the really big picture. I want to stop drifting and start living intentionally. You can find more information about the book by checking out this post. 

After reading the first chapter, I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and start charting a life plan (aka, focusing on the really big picture).  What about you?  Do you have a life plan or are you like me, just drifting along?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom for some inspration for my Monday! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Out-of-focus Caregiving Can Harm Your Health

watch your focus

I learned the hard way what happens when I lose my focus.

I opened the box and quickly tore the wrapper from around its contents. Ah. Pure bliss—a thick layer of dark chocolate covered an incredible sweet bar of chocolate ice cream. “How do you spell relief?” I asked myself. “H-A-A-G-E-N D-A-Z” I said under my breath as I bit into heaven and I started trudging up the eleven flights of stairs to Pedro’s hospital room.

I took the stairs because I wanted to eat an ice cream bar, and I figured the climb might cancel the calories. A niggle of doubt wormed into my brain. After all, I’d already put on about 45 pounds since Pedro’s initial diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six months earlier.

My internal argument raged as I huffed and puffed up flight after flight to the blood cancer ward.  “Everyone says I need to take time for ME,” I thought. “If I want to eat an ice-cream bar, that’s taking time for me, right?

Unfortunately, I had lost my focus. I had focused so intently on helping Pedro get well, that I lost sight of myself and the bigger picture of my life. I coped with stress by eating—too much, too quickly and too often. I had quit exercising (I had a perfect excuse—big cities had dangers around every corner, and if something happened to me, what would happen to Pedro and the girls?).

My focus had caused a severe case of denial. As in, I thought I needed to deny myself everything good and healthy in my life in order to help Pedro, and then I ignored the results of my denial (increased feelings of tiredness and ability to cope without resorting to crutches—like chocolate).

It's unhealthy to deny yourself everything good in life when you become a #caregiver. Click To Tweet

Photography eventually became the catalyst to help me understand balance in my life. But that’s a story for next week (and my five minutes have ended).

(You can find my first caregiver self-care tip here.)

What about you? Have you ever had a season of caregiving or extreme stress that caused your focus to slip?

Community Caregiving – the best medicine

A visit, a gift, your time and your care - all are huge blessings!

A visit, a gift, your time and your care – all are huge blessings!

“Mommy, I want to go to Cradle Roll class”.  The girls headed out the door with daddy on the way to their classes and then church, but Andrew and I stayed behind.

I rubbed his bald head and said as brightly as I could, “We’ll go read some stories and sing some songs!”

He headed to the bookshelf, but the look on his face told me I was a poor substitute for the real thing.

They told us that Andrew had to be kept away from other kids during certain phases of treatment.  They told us he had to be kept germ free at time – it was in his best interest to miss out on things that other kids his age were doing.  Sometimes that was SO hard.

In fact, it was almost easier when he was actually hospitalized!

We dealt primarily with three hospitals throughout Andrew’s three and a half year chemo treatments.  All of them treated us wonderfully.  The nurses, every single one, were kind and caring.  The doctors were attentive, the treatments were scheduled and we were treated with respect.  Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, in Portland, was truly amazing.  They had social workers to explain Andrew’s leukemia disease to his four-year-old mind and also to his sisters (7 and 10 years old).  They made sure, as parents, we were informed.  We were never treated as though this was old business and our questions were not important.  They had videos, and musical instrument carts and book carts and visiting therapy dogs.

But we lived a long ways from hospitals, social workers, parents-of-leukemia-patient- community support group and a long ways from instant help and the charities often connected to children dealing with cancer.

But one of our unexpected blessings was the way our teeny tiny little community rallied around us throughout Andrew’s fight against leukemia.

Andrew was able to attend his own little church because of the kindness of people

Andrew was able to attend his own little church because of the kindness of people

In fact, the Cradle Roll teacher had someone come in and video the program (I had been the teacher before Andrew got sick) so that Andrew could watch it right after it was done (now it’d probably be live-streamed).

Many times, after a school program, there would be a quiet knock at the door and one of our students would hand in a prize from the program: candy, crafts, it didn’t matter what it was – it mattered that they remembered my boy.

Christmas season arrived and Andrew began talking about last year’s neighborhood Christmas party that was traditional.  “Mom!”  he exclaimed.  “Remember last year Santa knew all about me?  Do you think he will again?”

Santa had been Andrew’s uncle the year before, this year it was going to be a student – one of the ‘big kids’.  I carefully explained to Andrew, “Buddy, I’m sorry.  You and I are not going to be able to attend the Christmas program.  There’s a lot of sickness going around.”

“I’ll wear my mask!  I’ll be careful!” Andrew thought he had a plan.  But we were so far from medical help and if he got sick it became and emergency in our lives.

“No.”  I was forced to say, “We have to stay home.”

Andrew was filled with Christmas cheer because Santa remembered him!

Andrew was filled with Christmas cheer because Santa remembered him!

Imagine Andrew’s sheer joy when right after the party the doorbell rang.  His sister answered the door and a jolly voice declared, “Ho, Ho, Ho!  I missed my buddy Andrew during the Christmas party!  Is he here?  I have something for a boy named Andrew!”

Andrew flew around the corner and attached Santa, who handed him a present.  Santa whispered to me that he had sanitized everything and he wasn’t sick, “Is this OK?”  asked Santa.

Was it OK?  It was the best thing ever.

Those people who don’t forget you in their fun moments and that take care of you in unexpected ways.  What a blessing!

When the community comes to the patient and remembers them during community events, it brings joy! #write31days… Click To Tweet

Read more from the series 31 Days of Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving!