Self-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

breatheSelf-Care for Caregivers Involves Learning How to Breathe

To breathe or not to breathe, this is the question. I know, we all breathe, all the time; otherwise, we would be dead. But did you know that HOW we breathe plays a huge role in our health?

During Pedro’s cancer year, I forgot how to breathe. It took me several years after his stem-cell transplant to actually learn how to breathe again. Unfortunately, my health (both mental and physical) suffered greatly during my years of forgetting how to breathe.

Fear and pain cause shallow breathing—our bodies naturally respond to threats by changes in breathing patterns. The problem occurs when we find ourselves in a constant state of stress—which disrupts our normal breathing.

According to Alan Fogel, Ph.d., in an online article for Psychology Today, “Chronic breath holding and effortful breathing are not healthy because the muscular effort, coupled with the effects of stress on the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems, can impair both physical and psychological function.”

Caregivers can live in a constant state of fright, flight, or freeze. When I thought Pedro might die any given day, I struggled to assure our children that everything would be ok (regardless of the outcome). I struggled to assure myself that things would get better. Seeing a doctor walk out of Pedro’s room (or into it) at an unscheduled time sent my heart racing.

If I would have known more about the importance of the way that I breathed, I could have avoided a lot of pain and agony later on—when all those months of bad breathing turned into a bad habit that chiseled away at my health.

So, if you care for someone, the number one thing you can do for yourself involves learning how to breathe.

Four Steps to Healthy Breathing

1. Remember the numbers. Four-seven-eight. 4-7-8. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold it for seven seconds. Breathe out for eight seconds.Rescue breathing for #caregivers. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1C3
2. Breathe in through your nose. If you feel like you suffer from chemo-brain by proxy, it probably means you suffer from stress. To regain your ability to remember things, breathe in through your nose when you want to remember something. Scientists recently discovered that breathing in through the nose enhances memory.
3. Breathe to fall asleep. If you struggle with insomnia, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique as you lie in bed at night.
4. Exercise hard on a regular basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular aerobic exercise can ward off viral illnesses, reduce your health risks, and keep excess pounds at bay.

Keeping pounds off is vital for caregivers because caregiving takes a big enough toll on our mental health without having to deal with weight gain. Aerobic exercise doesn’t mean you have to join an aerobic dance class (thank goodness—I have two left feet).

Simply engage your large muscle groups, make sure your heart rate increases, and your feel your body start breathing more deeply. I finally purchased a fitness tracker to keep me honest about my effort. You can do this by walking briskly, climbing flights of stairs, running, bicycling, or dancing like a crazy person in your living room.

What other ways have you discovered to relieve caregiver stress?

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Six Tips for Family Caregivers During a Catastrophe

Baby Steps at the Hospital

catastropheThe Family Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care at the Hospital

“Excuse me,” I interrupted the nurse as she stood at the desk working on charts. “I don’t think Pedro received his pain meds.”

“Let me check,” she replied with a busy frown. “Yes, it says right here that he had his meds an hour ago.”

“If you check your supply, I’m sure you’ll see that he didn’t receive them,” I insisted. I couldn’t believe my bravery—normally, I avoid conflicts at all cost. “The last nurse came in and said she would bring the meds, and then something came up. After that, the shifts changed.”

With a dubious, harried look, the nurse took off down the hallway towards the pharmacy dispensing room. I trailed behind.

Two minutes later, the chagrinned nurse came out of the room with a paper cup full of meds in her hand. “You’re right,” she said, and headed to Pedro’s room.

THIS was why I spent every spare minute in the hospital—to prevent human error from harming my husband. I might not be able to cure his cancer, but I could make sure he didn’t suffer because overworked and underpaid nurses forgot to dispense his meds.

The Slippery Slope of Caregiving

When a family member gets launched into a health crisis, primary caregivers get launched into a tandem trajectory of life changes. Our bodies enter the fright, flight, or freeze state—usually choosing to fight for our loved one.

Within hours, we go through a mental list of everything we will give up or reschedule in order to remain by our loved one’s side until the crisis resolves. All too often, we slip into a state of mind where we believe our presence and participation are indispensible.

Within hours, days, or weeks (depending on the severity of the circumstances) a firm conviction grows in our minds that if we step outside the hospital room, something worse will happen. Our fear keeps us tethered to the bedside of our loved one. Friends or other family members might encourage us to step away and take a break, but we KNOW that if we do, something bad will happen.

I fell into that trap during Pedro’s cancer year. It didn’t help that partway through the year, his early remission turned into a catastrophic relapse. It also didn’t help that he needed specialized treatment a thousand miles away. To make things worse, other family members lived closer to Pedro’s new hospital—and they, too, felt that their presence provided the only barrier between Pedro’s recovery and certain death.

We came to an uneasy compromise (neither of us fully trusted the other to do the right thing) about caregivers in Pedro’s hospital room. For his entire hospital stay during the worst of his illness, a family member spent the night (and often all of the day) with him.

Of course, my single-minded, hyper-focused dedication ended up harming me. In order to achieve balance and not endanger my own health, I finally made some changes.

Six Tips for Family Caregivers at the Hospital

1. Learn the schedule. Know the daily routine—when the nurses dispense meds and when the doctor makes rounds. Use an app on your phone or a good old-fashioned notebook that gets passed from caregiver to caregiver.Six tips for finding balance as a #caregiver when catastrope strikes. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1BZ

2. Keep track of meds and adverse drug interactions. Pedro figured out that Zofran (a drug to prevent nausea) actually made him vomit. More than once, family caregivers had to point out to medical staff that he had a reaction and shouldn’t be given the medicine.

3. Take breaks! Every morning I would walk down the street to the local Starbucks. I always went before the shift change and well before rounds or meds (see #1 and #2). The brisk walk and change of scenery did me a world of good.

4. Take the stairs. Walking up 11 flights of stairs several times a day might not seem like self-care. But believe me, the endorphins helped counteract the stress-induced cortisol. Sneak in as much vigorous exercise as possible.

5. Share the burden. I came to really appreciate the family members who spent time with Pedro so that I could keep my job. Their love and participation in the duties made my life easier.

6. Breathe deeply. I know, it sounds self-explanatory. But throughout Pedro’s crisis, I resorted to shallow breathing—which harmed my health. Take time-outs throughout the day to breath deeply and think of things that bring you peace.

I know these all seem like baby steps. When a loved one experiences a catastrophe, baby steps might be all a family caregiver can take. Remember, survival mode takes precedence—and that actually helps you through the initial crisis.

These small steps will help you maintain balance and a sense of control when the world seems horribly out of the control.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

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

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Extend a Helping Hand

Even when the situation is hard on you

Our family loves hiking in the Sequoias

The first one to lend a helping hand was not the most capable-looking one of the group.

She was, however, the most cheerful.  She pushed past the line leader and they both stood staring at the creek where my daughter, Karina, and I stood, taking a picture to commemorate our hike.  We were about three miles up a trail in the Sequoia wilderness and while the waterfalls cascaded peace into our souls, it appeared, from faces of this group, that peace had left them long ago.  They were coming down from the direction we were heading and as this group of four stood contemplating the log extending halfway across the snow run-off creek, I could see by the shaky ankles balancing on rocks that they’d been hiking awhile.

Miss Cheerful pushed ahead, balancing on a rock and a nervous smile she declared, “I’ll cross and then help you!”  She awkwardly crossed her Nike aerobic shoe over the other and slid onto the log, lunging forward toward the rock on the opposite bank.  Instead of continuing her forward move, she grabbed for a branch of a tree and tried to pull herself across, sending her weight backwards instead, as the tree bowed beneath her weight.  Her plunge into the icy water was met with gasps and shrieks from her friends as they surged forward to help.  Lady Two slid into the water as a futile gesture of help while the last two in line extended useless hands.

Teeth chattering, Miss Cheerful pulled herself up onto the rock before I could slide down toward her to help.  Lady Two desperately scrambled behind her to leave that icy wetness.

 “I’m okay, I’m okay,” chanted Miss Cheerful.

She immediately turned around and pulled Lady Two up the rock.  Ladies Three and Four followed quickly with pleasant coaching from the coldest, wettest and most uncomfortable Miss Cheerful, who also explained to us the beauty of their hike and the amazing trees they had seen.  As soon as everyone was on our side of the creek, another group rounded the bend.

I could see at a glance these ladies were with this first group.

All were dressed in Zumba class style leggings and tennis shoes that were more for fashion than hiking and all were adorable in cute hats and coordinating jackets.  Toward the back of the group walked one woman wearing a white sweatshirt and flowered leggings and suddenly, as she turned to talk with the lady behind her, the reason for this odd group out in the wilderness hit me.  BRIDE scrolled across her back – this was a bachelorette party.

Miss Cheerful muttered something  about “cold water and bathroom” to her group and sprinted up the trail as the lemmings proceeded down the opposite trail toward our creek.  Karina and I just held onto our puppy, who desperately wanted to play and jump.  We watched with fascination as more and more women poured down the mountain and gathered around the creek crossing.

“Watch out for that log!”

“Be careful, that water’s cold.”

“Don’t step on that rock it is slippery!”

Advice poured from our side of the creek as the bridal party attempted different methods of crossing.  Finally, a tall lady in hiking books and brilliant leggings bravely strode across the log and leaped gracefully up the rock.  Immediately behind her vaulted another fairly fit lady dressed for the weather.  Both giggled as they stationed themselves carefully on the rock and leaned back to extend a helping hand.  One by one the ladies crossed the creek. Some grumbled that they couldn’t do it.  Some muttered that the water was cold as their feet dipped in while sliding off rocks. Others shakily asserted that they were fine.

Interestingly, the ones who insisted they were fine were the ones sporting wet looking feet and shaking ankles, sweat-stained shirts and Zumba shoes.  As each crossed, words of encouragement and cheer rang from the two hikers stationed to help on the slippery rock.  The bride crossed without incident, and without a word.

The two hikers, waiting for the last of the party to descend the trail and cross the creek, grinned up at Karina and I.  “I know they’re talking behind my back and they’re never going to forgive me for the worst bachelorette party of their life,” said Brilliant-leggings out the side of her mouth.  She reached out a hand to the next creek-crosser.

Her voice switched to high cheer and encouragement, “You’ve got this! You are doing so amazingly well!”

Her hiking friend doubled over with laughter.  They both turned to look at the bridal party huddled together, waiting for the last one to make it.  Some didn’t look super happy.

“I forget that not everyone finds hiking to be enjoyable,” muted guffaws came from both hikers.  Karina and I chuckled along.

When crossing hard spots in life – extend a helping hand!

“It’s beautiful up here,” I offered, “maybe someday they’ll look back on this and think it’s a great memory.”

“I’m not so sure,” responded Brilliant-leggings.  She stretched out to help the last hiker, who immediately plunged her feet into the frigid water.  Gasps and scrambles followed until finally all were safe on our side of the creek.

“I don’t suppose you want a group picture,” I offered with a giggle.  I often offer this when hiking and watching groups try to take selfies to remember they’re conquering of tough trails and beautiful vistas.

Brilliant-leggings mock-glared at me and her companion chuckled, “I think we’ll pass on that for now, thanks!”  They turned and without missing a beat, began encouraging their group upward and onward to the trail-head.

Karina and I hiked a bit further and then the rain turned us back.  We enjoyed our hike but were happy to get in the car.  We ate our lunch out of the chill air and talked about the beauty of the hike.

I suspect that this group of non-hiking ladies will remember their six mile hike for a long time.

They’ll remember the big trees and the freezing water washing over their feet.  A couple will remember frigid water more places than their feet! They won’t forget the rugged trail and the huge boulders.  I imagine they’ll remember the bride and the beautiful wedding that was probably yesterday.  But I also hope they’ll remember what has stuck in my mind:

The ladies who extended a cheerful and helping hand.

The first lady to help was just as out-of-her-element as the rest, but chose a happy attitude that said, “We got this!”  The next were maybe the ones others were not happy with, but who were trying to be supportive and positive and encouraging in spite of realizing they’d blundered in their planning.  And others were those that were determined to be up-beat in spite of freezing toes and exhaustion.  Those that remembered to say thank you to those hands reaching across the stream and those that hollered encouragement to the next one across.

It’s easy, in this life, to get bogged down by the waters pulled at your feet or the freezing temperatures of discouragement or despair.  The journey, however, becomes so much easier when we lend a helping hand and aide others in their journey.

It’s easy, in this life, to get bogged down by the waters pulled at your feet or the freezing… 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.

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Screaming – Five Tips for NOT Screaming

When you feel like you really need to!

While tempting, screaming seldom solves anything.

“Get out of my way!” I screamed at the driver who cut me off. “Where could you possibly have to go that’s more important than me taking my son to the ER?”

“I don’t have time for this!” I screamed in my classroom at the mountain of papers the substitute had piled up for me to grade.

“You can’t have him, we’re busy!” I screamed at the people wanting to talk to my husband about stupid mundane problems at school. “Can’t you see my son is hurting?  Who cares about your trifling issues?”

“Don’t talk to me about your over-active son’s problems!” I screamed at the couple in the elevator. “My son used to be active, but now he might not even live!”

“Don’t joke about me ‘moving in’ when you see me carrying a suitcase into the hospital!” I screamed at the janitor. “This has become my life overnight, and it’s NOT a joke!”

“How can you all keep going on as though nothing is happening?”  I screamed at the world.

“How can you go snowboarding when my son is fighting so hard to live?  Why do you go shopping when my son is being poked over and over?  Why are you renting movies and cracking jokes when my son is in so much pain?  How can you go to school when my son is going through torture?”

I screamed at everyone!

My son. My only son. Fighting for his life while the world keeps going. My precious, precious son.

Wait a minute.

God’s son. His only son. His precious, precious son.

Does God want to scream at us?  “How can you keep going?  How can you keep doing those mundane useless things?  Don’t you realize my son was tortured, poked and suffering?  My only son?!”

But that’s not the kind of God He is. He doesn’t scream at people, just like I wasn’t really screaming at anyone. But I wanted to.

I wonder if God ever wants to scream.

Five things to do when you feel like screaming (but can’t):

  1. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm.  Seriously, it sounds too simple to be real, but breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can change your mindset.
  2. Vent to a journal.
  3. Pray—if all you can say is, “Dear God!” it’s okay. He understands the groaning of our heart (Romans 8:26-28).
  4. Praise God—it sounds counter-intuitive, but praise wins over rage, every time.
  5. Phone a friend (a safe friend) and ask if you can vent out loud.
Five tips to prevent you from screaming, even when you feel like it! #caregiving #stress 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.

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He Lives within my Heart

After-effects of a battle with Alzheimer's

 “He lives within my heart!”

You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart!

It’s amazing to stand in an auditorium filled with Christian pastors and teachers and have all 300 or so lifting their hearts to God together in song.  I loved every moment.  Until they introduced the hymn, “He Lives”.  The song leader motioned everyone to stand and I felt my heart sink even while it also rejoiced.

“He better not direct and have us hold out that note,” I whispered to my husband regarding the actions of the song leader.  I tried to sing, I really did.  But as soon as we hit the chorus, tears beat the words to my mouth.  Swiping my cheeks frantically, I leaned my head down so my hair could cover my face a bit.  The congregation sang mightily and the chorus sounded amazing echoing around that great hall.

They hit the last verse and I muttered to myself, “Don’t hold it…don’t hold it.”

I’m pretty sure that song leader attended the same university my dad did.  You know, that one where they teach you to hold your arms up and wave the audience into unison singing, where you learn to sing with emotion and emphasize certain notes.

This song leader entered the chorus with gusto and loudly sang the lines, “You ask me how I know He lives?”  He  took a deep breath, and just like my dad used to do, he directed all of us to a grand finale,

“He LI-i-i-i-i-i-i-VES, within my heart!”

“Amen!” shouted pastors and teachers.

“Oh dear!” I whispered.

He lives…

My dad’s been gone just over a year.  The pain and confusion is over for my dad. The caregiving days are over, for my mom.  I no longer wonder or worry about how dad is doing, but it’s worse not having him around.  When I hear those songs he loved so much, or read a verse he cherished, or see a new building being built or spy old blueprints: in those moments the loss of my hero smacks me so hard.  It blindsided me during that hymn and I hate that it did, yet I love that it does.  My dad sang that song out of pure unadulterated joy in his Savior.  He believed God had led in his life and he believed that Christ lived in his heart.  He believed it, he lived it and he sang it.

Watching my dad with Alzheimer’s was difficult, but getting the opportunity to see him cling to the love of his Jesus was beautiful.  I couldn’t sing “He Lives” with my fellow teachers very well.  The tears fell too freely.

But I have the song in my heart, where my dad taught me to place and hold the love of God.  “He Li-i-i-i-ives, within my heart!”

Alzheimer's cannot remove Jesus living in your heart! #HeLives #caregiving 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!

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What a Rubber Ducky Taught Me About Salvation

rubber duckyRubber Ducky Memories

I walked into the guest bathroom this morning and saw my grandson’s rubber ducky sitting on the edge of tub. Memories of a smaller tub and a similar rubber ducky floated into my head.

January 3, 2003—Pedro had eaten his breakfast one painstaking bite at a time. I had braved the San Francisco fog and walked to the local Starbucks for something better than hospital food. Neither one of us ate much, though, because anticipation ran through our veins faster than the IV pump could deliver Pedro’s morning meds.

Transplant day had arrived! For two torturous weeks in November and December, Pedro had given himself Neupogen shots in the stomach each night. In the morning, he would check in to the cancer ward on Eleven Long of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Parnassus campus. For four hours he would sit in a chair hooked up to an apheresis machine that would collect stem cells from his blood and pass the blood back into his body.

In the late afternoon, the lab would count the number of stem cells collected, and the doctor’s office would call to let us know how whether or not Pedro would need to return the following day. We couldn’t leave San Francisco until they had collected enough stem cells. The process dragged on, day after day. While he sat in the apheresis chair, I would scramble to find another cheap hotel or change our plane tickets one more time.

Most people spend 4-5 days in the apheresis chairs. But after all Pedro had gone through to get to remission, his body took longer to produce stem cells. After a month of rest, we had returned to the hospital right after Christmas for one last round of chemo.

First, We Kill You

The doctors had explained the transplant process in simple terms. “First, we give you enough chemo to kill you,” the intern explained. “Then, right before the drugs kill you off, we infuse you with stem cells. They act like smart bombs and repair everything that’s wrong with you.”

Despite the high doses of chemo, Pedro’s energy remained high. He played his theme song each time a doctor came in to visit, and we watched funny movies to pass the time the day before the transplant. We also had our first visit from a hospital chaplain (awkward, to say the least). But nothing could contain our underlying river of joy.

Finally, the nurse pushed through the doorway with a strange cart that held an open tank of water on top. “Transplant time!” she chirped. A rubber ducky floated serenely in the pool of water as it sloshed with the cart’s movement. “Your stem cells are frozen,” the nurse explained, “and we thaw them out and warm them up a bit in this bath before we pump them into you.”

We bobbled our heads, too excited to say much.

“And now you’ll have TWO birthdays,” the nurse exclaimed. “Don’t forget this one, Pedro,” she cautioned. “Imagine, you can have two cakes per year!”

Within twenty minutes the room smelled like slightly rotten grapefruit. “I see you prepared for the day,” the nurse said with approval when she saw me give Pedro his first stick of gum.

The chemical used to preserve the stem cells (DMSO) left a grapefruit-garlicky taste in his mouth. Because of his facial paralysis, gum chewing (any kind of chewing) didn’t come easily. But it didn’t matter. Soon, the nightmare of cancer would end and Pedro would experience rebirth.

Three Birthdays

Of course, after the transplant, healing took time. Lots of time. Pedro didn’t pass from circling the drain to riding his mountain bike again within weeks. Each sniffle and ache sent us running back to the doctor to make sure the stem-cell transplant had worked.

We held our breath at each checkup, and for an entire year he received chemo treatments straight to his brain. He had to get immunized all over again, on the same schedule that babies and toddlers experience.Can a rubber ducky teach you something about #salvation? #BGBG2 http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1Bp via @blestbutstrest

Pedro studied up on super foods and antioxidants in an attempt to resist relapse. Only to discover the scary way that too much chocolate can act as a vaso-restrictor and mimic his original symptoms.

We celebrated each milestone with caution. But deep down, we knew that those stem cells had done their job. Pedro had received healing the day that rubber ducky floated into his hospital room.

The whole process reminded me of another kind of rebirth. The one where we confess our sins and ask Jesus to take control of our lives. The transformation from circling the drain in sin to mature Christian takes time, too.

We make mistakes. We have to go through a relearning process similar to the immunization process. We doubt the efficacy of our salvation. We want to wrest control from our Savior and do things our own way. Others might look at us and question whether or not we are really saved. But deep down, we know we have experienced rebirth.

The rebirthing and regrowth processes take place at a different rate for every patient sinner. We find the key to happiness when we dare to internalize Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a purse heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

The Message that’s Better than any Rubber Ducky

We don’t have to act as doctor, nor nurse, nor stem cell. All we do is ask, and God will do the recreating within us. I read The Message translation this morning, and it stuns me with its beauty:
Psalm 51:7-15

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Transformation happens when we sign up for the process. The process might prove painful and have many dark nights of the soul. But transformation will take place.

New Year or New Every Morning

God's grace offers a fresh start every day

God's grace means we get a new start every day

God’s grace means we get a new start every day

On New Year’s Day, it’s natural to focus on the “new” part.  It’s a new day, a new week and a new year all in one, this year.  Today is a traditional time to make New Year’s Resolutions and a time when the entire country focuses on getting organized and healthy and cleaning up our acts.

For me personally, it’s even bigger than just the start of a year.  In the last few months I’ve switched houses twice, live in a different city and state and of course, I changed jobs. “New” has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve never been much for making Resolutions, mostly because I’m not good at keeping them, also, if I think about all the things I should be changing in my life it becomes overwhelming quickly.  Let’s face it – I have a lot I need to work on changing.  I should straighten out my diet and exercise more.  I should be more organized and more consistent.  I should spend more time in God’s word, I should…I should. The “should” list is pretty much endless.

Yeah.

I’ve never been much for the New Year’s Resolution thing.  In spite of that, I cannot help but think about how great the ability to start fresh feels to my soul.

Today I read this verse in Lamentations 3:22-24

Because of the Lord’s gracious love we are not consumed,
    since his compassions never end.
They are new every morning—
    great is your faithfulness!
 “The Lord is all I have,”[a] says my soul,
    “Therefore I will trust in him.”

God’s grace is new every morning!  Did you get that?  Every morning when you get up, you start new with Jesus.  New Year’s Resolutions?  Not necessary.  Every single day is a new start.  Through God’s grace we get to work on changing what we need to change every single day.

God's grace is new every single day. #godsgrace #newinchrist #blessedbutstressed Click To Tweet

 

My Christmas gang was so much fun. But now it's New Year's and new starts...

My Christmas gang was so much fun. But now it’s New Year’s and new starts…

I’m sitting in my quiet house, after a crazy busy Christmas break with all my kids home, plus other friends and family who visited.  It was wonderful – tiring but wonderful. I had a huge list of things to get done through the break and I completed a good portion, but still have lots to do. I should be…should do…should…

My plan is simple.

I’m going to cling to being new, every day, through the grace of Jesus Christ. God can change in me whatever He needs to change. He will give me the strength to do what I need to do. He provides whatever I need.  I will rest in Him and choose His grace each day.

New Year's Resolution or new start with God? #newinchrist #newyear2017 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 2016!

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!

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The Music of God’s Love

My Christmas Agenda Might be Different from God's Plan

I had not idea the music to make me less homesick could be a blessing to a lonely old man.

I had not idea the music to make me less homesick could be a blessing to a lonely old man.

I leaned against the cold marble, pulled up my knees and brought my flute to my mouth,  and let the beloved music of home and Christmas fill the frozen air.  The French train station was crowded down nearer to the tracks, but not where I sat guarding my backpack.  My traveling companions suggested songs and I tried to comply, having no music, as I felt I had sacrificed valuable space already, backpacking around Europe with my flute.  I played “Silent Night” and the echoes drifted across the high ceilings and wrapped around the marble pillars.  I closed my eyes and tried not to feel homesick as my fingers automatically searched for the next note.  A strange smell wafted into my consciousness and I opened my eyes as my song faded.

There, about six feet to my left, tottered a smelly old man, practically toothless, dirty and hunched over with tiredness and cold.  He stopped when he saw me watching and stayed where he was.  My friend suggested another song and with my eye on the bum, I started to play again.  He shifted closer.

I scooted a tad to the right and continued playing.  He shuffled nearer still, an odd hum coming from his direction.  The backpack to my right prevented me from moving any farther and I lowered my flute to shove the bundle over.  My friend said quietly, “He’s not going to hurt you.  Your music is beautiful and he just wants to enjoy it.”

Scared and insecure, I began playing again and in spite of my self-consciousness and the smell drawing closer, I lost myself in the music and played to the end of “What Child is This?”  In the sudden silence following my song, I heard a burp.  I stared helplessly at my buddies who giggled a bit and shrugged.  “What are you going to do?  He likes your music.  It’s his blessing tonight.  Play more.”

Leaning to the right, trying to appear as though this were comfortable, I played on as the old man on my left leaned with me.  By half-way through “The First Noel” I could look up and see him almost bending over the top of where I sat on the floor.  His eyes were closed and a slight curve lifted the sides of his mouth.

At the sight of that smile, I relaxed for the first time since arriving at the train station hours before when we found out our train wasn’t going anywhere.  I’d had an agenda – through France and onward to Italy.  Let’s move it, Christmas is coming!

I rested my right elbow on my backpack and looked up at the peace on the face above me, smiling and nodding to the haunting notes from my flute.  I played on, the sounds amazing in that ancient marble building.

I had an agenda, but God has a plan! #blessedbutstressed #christmas Click To Tweet

I had an agenda, but now, with 30 years of hindsight, I wonder if God didn’t have another plan.  While I desired travel, to make memories and experience new sights and sounds, maybe I was actually there to be Christmas to a sad and lonely old man on that cold winter night.

I’m facing a crazy busy Christmas season, yet again.  I have a new-to-me house to move into, kids to pick up from airports, gifts to wrap and memories to make.  I have an agenda.  But I need to pause, because I can’t help but wonder what plan God has for me this season.  Who will God send me that needs to feel the beautiful music of His love?

Who needs the sweet music of God's love? #blessedbutstressed #christmas 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 most inspirational post from the previous 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!

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

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How to Bring Joy to a Caregiver

joy Psst! Do you want to bring a little joy into a caregiver’s life?

“How do I know if I know a caregiver?” you might ask. Good question. A caregiver is someone who bears the responsibility of taking care of someone who can’t take care of him or herself. Family caregivers fall into one or more of the following categories.

Emotional Caregivers

joy caregiverSome caregivers take care of the emotional needs of a parent or spouse who resides in a care facility. In addition to the caregiver’s normal life, he or she may spend time calming down an anxious parent or spouse who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s. This involves a commitment to show up in person or by phone when a crisis arises.

Emotional caregivers often get overlooked because professional caregivers take care of the physical needs of the patient. But helping a loved one stay emotionally healthy can take a toll on someone.

How can you bring joy to someone who cares for another person’s emotional wellbeing? Let the caregiver know that you care. This kind of caregiving can often last long term, and caregivers start to feel isolated and discouraged. Send encouraging cards to them. Share words of affirmation. Pray with them and for them. Listen without giving advice.

Physical Caregivers

Other caregivers must care for the physical needs of a loved one. This may include anything from lifting, bathing, helping with personal grooming, dressing, and feeding. Physical caregivers don’t receive money from anyone for the work that they do. They do it out of love—often at great emotional and financial cost to themselves.

A physical caregiver may have to quit his or her job in order to care for their loved one. They may need to work from home and experience increased isolation. The need for specialized equipment or home modifications may strain a caregiver’s bank account.

You can bring joy to someone who carries the brunt of physical care for another human by offering to run errands. Spend time visiting—either the patient or the caregiver—and bring along some joy (find out ahead of time what that would be. Every person has different definition. Dark chocolate always fills me with joy). Show up. Listen. Withhold the advice unless asked.

Crisis Caregivers

A crisis caregiver takes on the burden of caring for a loved one who has a catastrophic accident or illness. Most people don’t prepare for a crisis that hasn’t taken place yet, so the crisis caregiver will feel as if their world has imploded. The crisis caregiver will most likely have emotional needs, financial needs and informational needs

The overwhelming amount of things that he or she must do in addition to keeping the rest of the family together might cause a crisis caregiver to feel paralyzed. When Pedro received his cancer diagnosis, I had so much to do that at times I didn’t know whose house our kids had spent the night at. Thankfully, kind friends made sure the girls made it to school each day—complete with clean clothes and a sack lunch.

You can bring joy to a crisis caregiver by enlisting help from church members, co-workers or neighbors. Groups of people can pitch in to bring meals, take care of children, mow the lawn, shovel snow, or buy groceries. Don’t forget to check in with the caregiver to make sure no one in the family has dietary restrictions. Once again, listen more than you talk and only give advice when asked. 

All Types of Caregivers Appreciate Affirmation

No matter what type of care a person gives, knowing that they don’t serve in a vacuum can bring joy. Use social media to pass on a Bible verse, a beautiful photo, an encouraging song, or words of affirmation. Just remember to respect the caregiver and loved one’s privacy. Don’t be the one to announce to the world that Susie’s husband has cancer by a careless Facebook post or tweet.

During this season of good tidings and great joy, what will YOU do to come alongside a caregiver?

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.

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

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A Neutropenic Christmas

God's Love in the Small Things

We can make the difference - even during a a neutropenic Christmas!

We can make the difference – even during a a neutropenic Christmas!

“All I want for Christmas is…” the song echoed down the hospital corridor as I made my way back to my neutropenic boy’s room.  My mind finished automatically, “…to be home.”   I wanted to be home, I wanted to be with my whole family, I wanted to not be watching temperatures and blood counts.

Truthfully, this was the day after Christmas.  We had been home for Christmas, and the blessings we felt as we gathered around our tree had me fighting back tears most of the day.  December 26, however, brought with it a fever with an unknown source and we were back in the children’s ward, listening to Christmas carols and still smelling the turkey.

I walked into Andrew’s room and saw his brightly flushed cheeks and over-bright eyes and I knew the fever hadn’t abated.  “Are the girls coming?” he asked.

“No.  It’s snowing, Andrew.  They can’t get over the pass very safely.  Daddy says they’ll try tomorrow.”

“Ok”  His eyes closed but his hands still twitched restlessly.  I settled onto my cot.  “Mommy,”  his eyes were on me,  “I loved Christmas!”

“Me too, buddy.”

Andrew during his surprise Santa visit.

Andrew during his surprise Santa visit.

As my four-year-old drifted off to the sleep he needed so badly I remembered the visit from a local Santa, who’d known Andrew couldn’t go out.  I thought about my friends who were all happy to remove shoes, to use Germ-X, to wear a face-mask while they visited.  I pictured the video made by my friend so my boy wouldn’t miss his Bible class.  I recalled the gas gift cards, the books and the music CDs we’d received.  I smiled as I heard again the students who’d come caroling at our door, knowing Andrew was missing the annual Christmas party at the school.

I had been scared, when approaching the Christmas season with a neutropenic boy.  I wondered how we’d make it special and keep our traditions with him being so sick.  I prayed daily we could actually celebrate Christmas at home, together.

I’d forgotten that God is found in the small things.

He’s found in the gifts and thoughtfulness of friends and family.  God gave us presents we’d never thought of, allowing us to see the caring of the world around us in ways we never would have otherwise.  God opened our eyes to the beauty of time together over anything and everything else.

Not every caregiving story provides that kind of Christmas.  As I write I think of the many caregivers I know and love who no longer have a person to take care of: they would give anything to be called a caregiver again.  They are facing a Christmas that feels empty.

My prayer, this Christmas season, is that we remember that God is in the small things… Click To Tweet

My prayer, this Christmas season, is that we remember that God is in the small things:  the things that you and I do to remind caregivers they are not alone.  Those moments we spend sending an encouraging note.  That extra copy of a picture we share with a caregiver to show them we remember, we care and we love.

Maybe sometimes God’s love comes through visits from Santa or maybe it’s in that bottle of Germ-X that caregivers know too much about – whatever form God’s love takes, let’s you and I be the ones to share it!

Whatever form God’s love takes, let’s you and I be the ones to share it! #neutropenicchristmas… 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 most inspirational post from the previous week.

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 :).


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