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 I’m not saying the Bible is out of date or out of style or worse, not true.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?

Chain of Command: The Rest of the Story

Nick Walters gave Pedro a bendable 'dog' for his birthday shortly before this story took place.

Nick Walters gave Pedro a bendable ‘dog’ for his birthday shortly before this story took place.

A Life of Death Decision

After an agonizing night, an interminable trip, and an expensive taxi ride, I had arrived in Pedro’s hospital room by three o’clock, just as I’d promised. He didn’t have a private room, but fortunately no one occupied the other bed. After all, we had some serious talking to do.

“I don’t want to be a vegetable.” Each word took effort—formed by lips partially paralyzed by lymphoma cells. Pedro’s emotion radiated from his frozen face.

“Tell me again what the doctors said,” I asked. Already knowing the options but unable to believe them.

“More radiation. Like Alzheimer’s. No radiation, die.” His words as stark as the hospital room.

“Can they give you just a little more radiation, and a lot more chemo?”

“Don’t think it will work.”

“When will someone come by on rounds?” I asked, eager to hear first hand and unwilling to accept that Pedro had heard correctly.

“Home. I want to go home.”

“What!” I exclaimed. “You know they can’t do anything for you at the hospital in Bozeman!”

“Just wanna be home. Don’t care.”

“You mean you want to go home to DIE?”

He nodded.

“Do you think that’s fair?” The words popped out of my mouth unbidden and unasked for. Had I really said that? Pedro looked miserable; he couldn’t stand or sit up because of the dizziness. The doctors had subjected him to every regimen of chemo and as much radiation as his weakened body could handle. Who was I to deny him a little comfort?

I had relinquished Pedro to God that very morning, and here I stood spouting off my desires and worried about fairness to our daughters. Where had those words come from?

Chain of Command

We locked eyes and started to cry. I think I blubbered something about needing him and Laura and Sarah needing him, and people in the community needing him. I honestly don’t remember much. The room lacked oxygen and I found it difficult to breathe.

My sobs started to get a little noisy when the door swung open and Dr. Nick Walters bounced into the room. He looked startled.

“You guys o.k.?” he asked.

“We’re just trying to make some tough decisions about Pedro’s options,” I answered while heading to the bathroom to find some toilet paper.

“Options?” Nick looked bewildered.

“You know, about whether to have more radiation or not.”

“No one told you?”

“What?” Hope stole softly into the room. Nick looked too happy for the news to be bad.

“Pedro has too much Dilantin in his system—that’s what’s making him dizzy.”

“No more radiation?” Pedro asked.

“Nope. Evidently there’s still some issues with the cancer, but we’ll tackle that with salvage chemo.”

Nick could make salvage chemo sound like a day at the beach. After a few more cheery words of encouragement, he left to check on the other patients.

Pedro and I looked at each other in relief and disbelief. No Alzheimer’s. No radiation. Definitely no going home to die.

It’s only now, years later, that I realize that the Eleven Long doctors do their primary rounds (group meetings with all of the interns, fellows and attending physicians where they discuss each patient case and decide on treatment options) at about nine in the morning—the same time I received a spelling lesson on the way to Seattle that very morning.

 

What Was God Thinking? {fmf}

Andrew watches the Sabbath School program from home when his white blood cell counts were too low to attend in person.

Andrew watches the Sabbath School program from home when his white blood cell counts were too low to attend in person.

First weekend back since my son’s onset of leukemia. First time teaching my cradle roll/kindergarten church kids. First time home without my boy or my husband, who was giving me time home with the girls. First time singing songs with my little darlings about a loving, amazing God while my son was hooked to tubes and machines four hours away. First time seeing the sympathetic faces of church members as I bypassed the foyer on the way to the children’s division. First time ever, where my boy wasn’t on the edge of his chair bellowing answers with the rest and singing along.

I blinked back tears and continued the program I had developed, knowing how much he loves camping and as we came to the part of the program where the kids gathered around my fake campfire to sing songs, I regretted, again, that he couldn’t be there and that God had decided our family could handle the battle with cancer. What was He thinking?

God knew my worst fear was something dreadful happening to a child of mine. And dreadful it was. Leukemia—smacked into the healthiest kid in the family. How did that happen? Truly, what was God thinking?

One of my little ones turned the “campfire rock” over to reveal the name of the next song we were to sing, “My God is so Great.” I sighed and continued my program as any good Christian teacher should do.

“My God is so great, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”
As we repeated the refrain and the children got louder a mist covered my eyes as my smile became real for the first time all day.

“The mountains are His, the valleys are His, the skies are His handiwork too.” And so is my boy. His.

I looked out the window at the mountains and clouds, wondering if my child was looking out his window.

“My God is so GREAT, so strong and so MIGHTY…” Yes Lord, you ARE.

And the children bellowed, “There’s nothing my God cannot do! For YOU!” and they enthusiastically pointed at me, because usually I was pointing at them.

There’s nothing my God cannot do. FOR YOU.

I’m joining the Five-Minute Friday writers over at Lisa-Jo Bakers. Today’s prompt is ‘Mighty’. Five Minute Friday

The Most Beautiful Crowd (of Six)

Carol BoveeYou probably wouldn’t call them a crowd. Six people doesn’t make a crowd, does it?

But my girls and I have always called them “the crowd on our front sidewalk.”

We had taken my four-year-old son to the doctor expecting to hear about anemia, and instead had called my husband to come quick because Andrew was crying blood. Shortly after that we received the news of Leukemia and when we requested to take our girls home before going to the bigger hospital we were informed that if we were going to do that, they would call an ambulance. So Randy and I said quick goodbyes and he raced with Andrew to Doernbecker Children’s Hospital and I drove home with the girls to pack for Leukemia.

I had called one friend from the hospital parking lot. The friend who’d been talking with my husband when I called. A nurse and a teacher. The wife of one of the nurses on duty in the ER when we arrived. I knew she’d understand. She put us on the prayer chain immediately, explaining things to people so that I would not have to.

Forty-five of the longest moments of my life passed in a weirdly silent car, my two girls in the back braving a question every now and then. My mind whirled with new reality and desperately tried to form a plan of action. After a time I gave up thinking and just maneuvered my car through the curves blinking back tears, feeling very alone.

But then, there they were. One of the most beautiful crowds I have ever seen in my life. A little knot of people standing awkwardly at the end of my sidewalk, watching my car to turn into my drive. Shuffling their feet, talking quietly together in the twilight, they waited. I opened my car door into warm waiting arms that squeezed tight and a whispered prayer drifted past my ears. Hands helped my girls out of the car and shepherded them into the house. As I babbled details and plans that weren’t even clear to me, sympathetic nods and smiles told me I was okay. I distinctly remember wandering in circles in the house and finally blurting that I did not know how to pack for cancer.

One friend took my girls to their bedroom and helped them pack while another readied her car to take them to grandpa and grandma’s house. A third started a load of laundry because somewhere in my litany I whined about not having clean clothes for the girls. A fourth took Andrew’s suitcase from my numbed fingers and told me to go pack for my husband and myself as they would take care of Andrew’s stuff. While I was stupidly packing, this little group decided I should not drive myself the four hours to the hospital in the middle of the night and had elected a driver for me. She was already there, gas tank filled and ready to go when I came out of the bedroom.

That was almost ten years ago. I have never forgotten that little crowd on our sidewalk. Neither have my girls. Whenever I feel alone I think of that little group and know that no matter how tough things get, there’s always a little crowd that is willing to listen to my rambles, enfold me in their arms, take care of me or my family and whisper a prayer in my ear.

There is no better crowd in the world!

I’m joining up with Lisa-Jo Baker at Five-Minute Friday.  Today’s prompt?  Crowd. To join the fun and stretch your writing muscles, click the link.
Five Minute Friday

Proof Discovered in Home Videos

Cancer changes things

Sometimes we don't realize the toll of treatment.

Home videos answered one of my burning questions about long-term effects of chemotherapy .

We watched home videos last night. Videos that we packed up a couple of moves ago and haven’t watched since. Random-moment-movies from about six years ago, and then a Christmas morning movie from 10 years ago. Movies that show our family in action and the changes that life brings.

My mind has been in a whirl since watching them. Several things hit me while watching these tapes with our three tall teenagers spread out around the room, lounging on all the furniture and each other, oohing and aahing, laughing hysterically, and each maybe getting a bit emotional (although most of that was masked with the above).

1. We have a beautiful family (did then, do now. I am just blessed)!

2. Our kids were adorable when they were little (well, come on, they were!).

3. They interacted really quite well together (I have memories of rougher moments, but man, they were really good kids).

4. The personalities they had then are amplified now.

5. Some things have not changed much at all.

6. Some things have changed so much that I had not remembered they used to be different.

Number Six is the one I don’t know what to do with. Even as I sit here typing, I’m not sure how to think or how to react.

You see, I watched my children interact at three, almost six and eight and the three-year-old shocked me. I studied his eyes and his voice inflections and his diction. I watched his eye-hand coordination and his gait. I observed his interactions with his sisters and parents on camera. I found my mouth dropping open a bit. I did not say one word.

After everyone went to bed, I asked my husband if he had noticed Andrew. How on-target he was as a three-year-old. How he spoke and how he moved. His weight. How very…well…how very typical of a three-year-old…he was.

With stunned introspection I realize that my boy’s beginnings have been painted by the brush of the cancer years. Andrew has struggled with balance issues and with coordination issues among other things. I KNOW that these issues present themselves as leftovers from chemotherapy and its side effects. I watched it happen. I spoke with the oncologist about these things. I’ve consulted with neurologists about these things. We’ve been to physical therapy and been on special diets (yes, the whole family has experienced the joy of weird foods in an effort to balance out one child’s system, and while it seemed right at the time, I wouldn’t do it that way again). Somehow, through all that we’ve experienced in the last eight years, my picture of my son has become distorted into thinking he had always had those issues.

Watching that video from 10 years ago, as a healthy little three-year-old trotted around with his new tool set hammering and sawing everything in sight of the camera (and out of sight of the camera followed by, “Andrew, don’t hammer THAT!” orders) I saw my boy back the way he was before cancer. I saw the whole family back before that word changed our lives forever.

People have hinted to me that I see trouble where there isn’t any—that I need to lighten up (no doubt they’re correct). They say to me, “You don’t know, maybe he would have struggled with these same issues without cancer.” They might be right. But watching that video, I don’t think so. You see, we watched one from when Andrew was three, and then we watched one from when Andrew was seven (three years after cancer onset, but still in chemotherapy) and his posture had changed, he spoke with far more hesitation, he had far more of a lisp and speech issues than he had at three years of age.

So now I know for sure that those issues are cancer-related and not something he’s had from birth.

So what? Why am I writing this? Does it change anything?

It doesn’t change a thing. We’ve been handed what we’ve been handed. I could wish us back to 2003, before cancer, and hope to start again with a different outcome. But I’m not God. Besides, would I rather have a thirteen year old without cancer issues but with something else? Would I want my girls to not be strong and independent? Would I want my kids to be less dependent on God? Would I want me to go on thinking that a rough day was defined by Andrew lifting his legs off his toddler tractor and riding that thing all the way to the bridge rather than knowing that a rough day really means almost not having your boy’s veins hold up through the night? Would I want to continue thinking strangers don’t care, or live life knowing that people are incredible and that they will step up in times of trouble in ways that you can only understand by being there.

As a caregiver I have issues that I never had before, probably more issues than my cancer survivor does. I have anxiety that I could never have understood in a million years (why doesn’t she just relax?) and a faith that is so deep it could be misunderstood as apathy (I really am OK with whatever God decides).

The oncologist told me that 70% of the kids in her care that have gone through the same treatment protocol have similar struggles. When talking (mistakenly) about being ready for things to “go back to normal”, the oncologist had shaken her head at me and gently said, “You won’t ‘go back to normal’. You just redefine what normal is and move on.” The PTSD class I went to told me that many caregivers struggle with the same things I do. Whole families bear the results as well.

So, it’s true. Our family is different because of cancer. There it is. We are victims of our circumstances. But we are also stronger because of our circumstances. We love deeper. We hang together. We cling to God. We are a blessed and beautiful family. Well, okay, I struggle with thinking the mom part of the equation is beautiful. But we are a great family! If you don’t believe me, come on over, I’ve got videos.

How has cancer changed someone that you love?  Do the ‘benefits’ of the cancer experience outweigh the changes?

 

Breaking Devastating News to Children

How to tell kids about a parent's cancer diagnosis.

Try to break the news as honestly as possible–yet in an age-appropriate way.

Herkimer the Horrible

“Do you remember me telling you kids about when I worked in the kitchen at summer camp?” Laura, ten years old and full of curiosity, and Sarah, a freshly-minted eight, nodded their heads, not sure where this conversation would lead. They knew Pedro had been in pain; that he’d been to the hospital.

“Did I ever tell you what we named the giant bread-making machine? The one with the hook bigger than your arm?” More nods.

“What’d you name it? I forgot.” Sarah bit my hook.

“Herkimer. We called that big machine Herkimer.” More tentative nods. How does one break the news to little kids that the rug will be ripped out from underneath their little lives?

“Well, Daddy has something growing in his neck and the doctors said it looks kinda like bread dough. It’s a tumor of some sort. I named it Herkimer the Horrible because it’s big and not very nice.”

“Is it cancer?” Laura wanted to know. Cancer?! She shouldn’t know anything about that word. (more…)

Booting Bumbling Bildad from the Room

Don't let your visit stress out the patient or the caregiver.

Don’t let your visit stress out the patient or the caregiver.

The well-meaning man of God sat in the chair opposite from me, vacantly watching the nurse take Pedro’s vital signs. Pedro’s eyelids drifted down as the morphine took effect.

I could use a shot of that stuff, I thought. Then I could escape this insufferable visitor without seeming rude.

The nurse left and Pastor Bildad cleared his throat, eager, it seemed, to impart his wisdom before the morphine called Pedro away from confession. “Sometimes God brings us trials because we need them to grow.” The subtle lift of the eyebrow, another earnest look at Pedro’s pain-wracked face.

I shifted in my chair and nodded. Pastor Bildad’s gimlet gaze shifted to me. Maybe I was projecting, but if that was his brand of theology, I’m glad I wasn’t his church member. When disaster struck, our small congregation was shepherdless, so Pastor Bildad from the sister congregation in the next town felt obliged to do his duty and visit Pedro to provide support and comfort.

Unfortunately, the support and comfort of this virtual stranger stretched into hours. Pedro and I had decisions to make—should he opt for a needle biopsy, or should they just dig in and slice out a piece of the tumor? Should we go ahead and have Sarah’s eighth birthday party on Sunday, or was it wrong to celebrate life in the maw of possible death?
I could feel Pastor Bildad’s expectancy. “Pardon me, what did you say?” I asked. “I was distracted.” That was an understatement. I glanced at Pedro, relieved to find him asleep and enjoying his newfound drug use.

“Aaarrum,” Pastor Bildad cleared his throat, signaling a weighty morsel for my hungry soul. “One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from first John, chapter one, verse nine, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will purify us from all unrighteousness.’”

I kept my face passive, but inside I was dancing a jig. I KNEW it! He’s finally acknowledged the elephant he brought into the room! I nodded my head and searched for a suitable platitude.

“Isn’t God good? He’ll forgive us of anything,” I replied. Including your presumption and your sin of lingering in a sickroom until you lift your pointy finger in judgment. I glanced again at Pedro. He’d get a kick out of this. I was tempted to wake him up the second Pastor Bildad left. I glanced at my watch. Give the pastor sixty seconds, and he’ll find a reason to leave, now that his duty is done.

“Harrumph,” Pastor Bildad bounced out of his chair, his glowing complexion and trim figure screamed a silent message. “I’d best be off now. Looks like our patient needs some rest. Call me any time you need comfort, or,” he glanced over at Pedro again, “anything.”

Confession? Absolution? An opportunity for you to drag your elephant back into the room where it will suck up vital oxygen and slowly kill me? “Thank you,” I murmured. When Hell freezes over. I kept my smile pasted in place until the door closed behind Pastor Bildad, then burst into tears.

Father forgive him, he knows not what he says. I’d just endured three interminable hours of a pastor poking at the edges of reason (and sanity). His last lame offering confirmed my initial impression. Pastor Bildad, who didn’t even know Pedro, was convinced that Pedro was harboring some secret sin that caused his pain. If Pedro would just confess his sin, the tumor in his neck would be benign? If Pedro would give up meat and exercise more and live a healthier lifestyle, God would reward him with renewed health?

But maybe it was my fault? If I were nicer to people who annoyed me and confessed my sins of indulgence (usually in chocolate), God would be satisfied that He’d caught my attention with His heavenly whistle and take away the turmoil our family had been pitched into?

I couldn’t wait for Pedro to wake up so that I could vent with him about Pastor Bildad’s assumptions. But wait, was I projecting? Maybe the pastor’s words had resonated in some way with Pedro, provided comfort instead of anger. But no, I knew my husband, and I was only sorry I was too weak to boot Bildad from the bedroom when it first became apparent he’d brought an elephant with him.

Next time, I would be strong. I would be crafty. I would keep him (and any of his ilk) in the hallway. Note to self—if he’s not in the room, I won’t have to kick him out!

Have you ever wanted to kick someone out of your loved one’s room?  What made a visit from the clergy seem like true help?

Definition of a Caregiver: YOU!

Alzheimer's might steal a family member's memory one chunk at a time, but Carol's parents' love for each other shines through.

Alzheimer’s might steal a family member’s memory one chunk at a time, but Carol’s parents’ love for each other shines through.

 

 

 

I swallowed the ache in my throat as her salt-and-pepper head bent over his snowy white one. My big, strong and wise daddy gazed up out of one of his little-boy moments, “Am I OK?” he asked. Mom nodded and kissed his cheek, “You’re fine, you can sleep now.” He nodded and closed his eyes, letting go of the Alzheimer’s and any other worries, and letting his wife of 58 years carry it for him. I never thought I would see my engineering professor father experience these lapses.

Whether you're the parent of a infant or a teenager, "caregiver" becomes part of your identify.

Whether you’re the parent of a infant or a teenager, “caregiver” becomes part of your identify.

I smiled at the blurry eyes of my niece as she kissed the little bald head of her precious 4-month-old who had wheezed and sniffled through the night, needing to be held upright in order to sleep. I remembered those days, wondering if a full-night sleep would ever be possible again.

I read the Facebook notes I have followed religiously since the miraculous healing of a former student, once pronounced dead, but now struggling for movement, peace and a new identity after her traumatic brain injury. I read of the pain of this beautiful girl and of the struggles of her mom, who has quit her job and become a full-time caregiver, but spends an inordinate amount of time fighting red-tape in order to do her best for her daughter. Both are grateful for the miracle of life; but both are burdened with the fight to figure out this new version. I remember wondering what “normal” was going to look like after cancer.

Feedback to our blog most commonly has this theme: Feelings expressed here are not just for cancer caregivers. Alzheimer’s and dementia, traumatic brain injuries, strokes and anything requiring long-term convalescence seem to fall in the same category and moms can relate to many of the sentiments.

On-line dictionaries provides these definitions for Caregiver:
1. American Heritage Medical Dictionary: an individual, such as a parent, foster parent, or head of a household, who attends to the needs of a child or dependent adult.
2. Dictionary.com: a caregiver is a person who cares for someone who is sick or disabled. Or 2. an adult who cares for an infant or child.
3. Merriam- Webster Dictionary: a person who provides direct care (as for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill)

While accurate definitions, to the heart of a caregiver, they don’t even come close to touching on the changes, the worries, the responsibilities and the love that we wear around our shoulders each moment.

Here is my own definition: A caregiver is someone who gives up pieces of themselves in order to care for and love someone over an extended period of time.
By that definition, all of the above mentioned people are caregivers, plus many more.

We write (for this blog) from the viewpoint of cancer caregivers, moms and wives. Why? Because that’s who we are. We also know from experience that many of you feel similar things even though your journey might look a little different. That’s why we write.

There were things we wished people had told us; things we didn’t see coming that smacked us. Things we felt alone in, but have since discovered there is a whole community out there with similar experiences. We also want to share our growth and a faith that has come —deeper than ever before—that  brings joy in the midst of struggle.

So yes, our stories center on cancer caregiving, because they are our stories– but we want to reach out to anyone who does not want to feel alone in whatever caregiving journey you are on. Moms? Feeling alone? Although usually the joy of raising a child is different than the medical difficulties and emotional stress facing most caregivers, you are still definitely giving up pieces of yourself for the love and long term care of someone! Traumatic brain injury caregivers? Long term? Absolutely! Overwhelming? I’m guessing so! Alzheimer’s caregiver? Feeling like you’ve lost your life partner or a loving parent, but love them anyway? You are not alone.

Long term caregiving takes a toll on each of us. Not one that we would trade, because we love our patient so much. No, we wouldn’t hand over the title of “caregiver”, but we do need to acknowledge that it changes who we are. We do need to realize we’re not going crazy, the fatigue won’t last forever and that God has a plan for every struggle we face.

Caregivers: We love. We live. We laugh. We cry. We pour everything we have into the care of someone else in their best interest. We trust in God. (tweet this)

“Caregiver” is not a label I requested….but it’s not a bad definition for my life.

What is YOUR story?