Caregiver Loneliness Can Delay YOUR Recovery

Five Tips for Avoiding Isolation


Take a Peek at Caregiver Loneliness

ICU minutes stretch like bubblegum—at some point, I know they’ll burst and slap more messiness into my life. I wait, lonely in the busiest place on the planet, for the nurses to allow me back into Pedro’s room. The tubes cascade out of his mouth, bringing life and hope that I won’t have to face the future alone.


Hospital minutes twang with anxiety—Pedro’s not in ICU any more, but nurses rush in on quiet feet each time I press the call button. Days have passed since he knew that I sit next to him, counting each breath and movement—hoping that this crisis will pass. The beeps of his vitals accompany my prayers. The loneliness presses in—squeezing hope into the corners.


I am on a highway, looking towards a bright future, yet time whizzes past me in a blur. I tend to Pedro’s needs during my lunch break, than hurry back to work. The four of us (Pedro, Laura, Sarah and I) relish his recovery, and long for time to regain its measured pace. Normalcy dances within reach, yet I feel lonelier than when minutes stretched like bubblegum.

The bills, the burdens, the new normal, all build an invisible wall between me and everyone else. No one understands the sheer panic a sneeze or a sniffle produces in my mind. No one understands the confusion of no longer living in panic mode.

I blindly hang on to the one constant from my journey. I know I have never been alone. Never been forsaken. But MY road to recovery is a lonely one. #caregiver Click To Tweet

Lessons Learned in Retrospect

Fifteen years have passed since Pedro’s stem-cell transplant saved his life. For him, recovery lasted about a year. For me? A lot longer. Cancer and other catastropic illnesses can act as blinders for the caregiver. We hyper-focus on the tasks at hand: taking care of our loved one, finding answers, and willing them to live. We forget that the world continues while we fight an isolated battle.

In retrospect, I would have done things a bit differently.

1). I would have found a support group for cancer caregivers.

I don’t know if they didn’t exist at the time of Pedro’s illness, or if I just didn’t see signs offering help. A few years after his recovery, I went to the same hospital and noticed posters all over the place for caregiver support groups. It would have been helpful to know that I wasn’t the only one having all the feelings that accompany caregiving.loneliness

2). I would have taken more interest in my friends.

Pedro’s illness took place before the advent Facebook and Instagram, so keeping in touch with friends meant phoning or writing letters. Nowadays, constant communication takes very little time and effort. You can take an interest in other people’s lives while you wait.

3) Make an effort to keep in touch with friends and family on a regular basis about non-caregiver related things.

This seems counterintuitive, because your world seems consumed by caregiving matters. But if you come out of the bubble, you’ll find connection with others that will help you when the crisis has ended and you return to normal life.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask for prayer for yourself.

I had no problems asking for prayer for Pedro and his specific needs. I had no idea that I could ask for prayer for myself. You can ask to join our Blessed (but Stressed) group of caregivers on Facebook. We pray for each other every Wednesday.

5) Acknowledge that YOU need time to recover, too.

Hopefully, if you take care of yourself during your journey (I didn’t), you’ll find that recovery takes less time. By staying connected with friends and family about non-caregiver related things, you won’t feel so isolated when your caregiving duties have ended. You’ll find it easier to resume activities that feel ‘normal’ to you, thus decreasing your sense of isolation and loneliness.

Know a Caregiver?

Do you know a caregiver?  Have you wondered if he or she might might suffer from caregiver loneliness?  What can YOU do to help? Don’t feel rejected if your caregiver friend seems distant and unresponsive. Keep reaching out! Caregivers suffer from loneliness but often don’t know how to express their feelings. They need YOU!

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A Near Truth is Really a Lie

Give the Gift of Honesty (and a Helping Hand)

nearGoing to Church, but Avoiding the Members

The exhaust from our 4Runner billowed like clouds in the sub-zero temperatures. Snow squeaked under my feet as I went outside to check the temperature in the vehicle. I felt chagrinned that we would drive less than a block before parking. Church was so near, but Pedro couldn’t risk a fall on the ice, nor prolonged contact with the cold. He wanted to go to church, but didn’t want to see church members.


Pedro and the girls in front of the tree that transplant Christmas.

“Don’t want to see anyone,” he had told me. “Tired of everyone telling me how good I look. I don’t.”

And he didn’t. When people he knew saw him, I could see the quickly veiled shock and the scarcely masked struggle for a response. They usually blurted out, “You look great!” A near lie, if by that they meant he looked good. A near truth if they meant he looked like an extra for a movie about the Holocaust.

After assuring myself that Pedro wouldn’t freeze, I went back inside to help him bundle up for the short drive. I could give him the gift of church without people.

“Drive up the sidewalk,” Pedro instructed.

I blanched. Pedro must have noticed, because he assured me, “They drive a pickup on it all the time to clear the snow. It won’t hurt anything.”

“Ok,” I breathed, before backing out of the drive way and heading to the sidewalk. I needed to let go of my compulsive rule-following and concern over what others thought of me. I pulled up near the front steps and helped Pedro inside before dashing outside to get the car off the sidewalk.

When I ran inside, Pedro had made it across the lobby and up one of the steps leading to the mother’s room.

Nothing but the Truth

He looked so frail—more like a 90-year-old than a 34-year-old. After battling cancer for eight months, he looked like he’d walked off the set of Schindler’s List—emaciated, expressionless, and practically immobile.

Many church friends hadn’t seen him since the summer, when he looked near-healthy; just a young man dealing with a bout of cancer. The battle had turned ugly in late July, and he had experienced several near-death experiences in the interim. No wonder he wanted to avoid them.

We labored up the stairs together, and sank into a comfortable couch in the darkened room. The annual Christmas program came through the speakers, filled with songs and readings of hope. After the program, I went back down to the 4Runner to get it warming, and then went back inside to visit with a few people and wait for the crowds to clear.

The lobby emptied out, so I went upstairs to help Pedro. As we neared the bottom of the stairs, a voice called out, “Pedro! It’s good to see you!”

Pedro and I both looked up and saw one of our friends rushing across the lobby to greet us. As he neared, I saw the shock and horror. I braced myself for the usual near lie. I had worked so hard to give Pedro the gift of a morning at church without having to hear the hated sentence.

Instead, our friend blurted out, “Man, you look awful!” He clapped his hand over his mouth and froze, stunned by what he had said.

Pedro burst out laughing—but considering his weakened vocal chords and his frozen face, our friend couldn’t read Pedro’s reaction.

When Pedro finally caught his breath, he held out his hand, “Thanks! I needed to hear that today. The truth.”

How to Avoid Near Lies

Give the gift of truth this Christmas. If someone looks haggard and worn out, don’t lie and say they look great. Go deeper and ask them how they are doing. Invite them out for a cup of coffee. If they say they can’t get out because they can’t get away, offer to bring the coffee to them. Caregivers don’t have a lot of spare time, but they always appreciate help!

Those who struggle with illness, whether physical or mental, don’t feel better when we, the healthy, tell them near truths (lies). They would prefer the truth. Or, if you fear offending, an honest offer of help.

To say that someone looks great when they obviously don’t, diminishes their struggle. #mentalhealth #Christmas #caregivers Click To Tweet

In this busiest of seasons, make a vow to spend less time on decorations and fleeting gifts of things, and more time looking for friends in need. To this day, Pedro has fond memories of our friend’s blurted truth—the perfect gift in a season of darkness.

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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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CNA or a Fairy Godmother to a Caregiver and Patient?

When hospital workers go above and beyond, it means the world to patient and caregiver alike!

When hospital workers go above and beyond, it means the world to patient and caregiver alike!

Laura entered Andrew’s room, carefully sanitizing her hands and greeting Andrew with her big friendly smile.  She was a favorite, because each time she entered, she always carried on a cheerful conversation, whether Andrew was well enough to respond or not.  She bustled around wiping sinks and counters, picking up whatever needed picking up and making Andrew’s bed with swift efficiency.  Andrew, on this morning, was glum and unhappy, not his usual talkative self.

“Laura,” I ventured, “are you going to be here for a little bit?  Andrew and I are really sick of The Lion King and he wants to watch Bambi.  Maybe I could run look for it?”

“Oh sure!” Laura responded with a grin, “I’ll be here for a little bit, you run along, grab some coffee or something while you’re out!”

I hurried along the sterile hallway rejoicing that my boy was comfortable and with someone who cared.  I searched the video cabinet, set aside for the cancer ward, and there was no Bambi.  I went down the hall to the outpatient clinic, then ran downstairs to another clinic.  At last I returned to Andrew’s room, defeated.  No Bambi.  Andrew’s dull eyes didn’t change much, but he grumbled just a little bit.

Laura mopped the floor while we discussed other options besides Bambi.  No other options appealed to the sick little man and he declared, “There’s NOTHIN’ to do…” and slid his body deeper under the covers.

“Well,” Laura chirped, “let me see what I can do.”

As Laura left the room I whispered to her, “Don’t worry about it.  Andrew can just figure out how to be happy in spite of not having his movie.”

Laura looked at me with kind, understanding eyes, “Mrs. Bovee, these kids have so little control over their lives, it’s just not fair.  Let me see what I can do, it’s a simple enough thing and Andrew is really very good natured and doesn’t ask for much.”

Laura came in and out of Andrew’s room for the next several hours, taking temperatures, checking blood pressures and bringing water and the requisite burrito.  No Bambi appeared and honestly, I was tired and didn’t care.  Andrew was having a really grumpy day and I was straining to find ways to occupy his mind, while letting his body rest.

Mid-afternoon Laura came skipping around the corner of Andrew’s door, waving a Bambi triumphantly over her head, eyes sparkling and grin wider than ever!  “Sorry it took so long,” she panted, “my mom missed the first bus option and so it took an hour longer than we planned.”

“What?” I asked in surprise, “this movie came by bus?”

“Yes,” Laura was still catching her breath, her eyes still sparkling, “I called my mom this morning to see if we still had Bambi at our house.  So she caught the bus, but just missed the one that comes directly here, so she had to catch the bus…..”

And Laura described several hours of travel that I wouldn’t want to deal with ever, let alone for a movie.  Her mom (who had never met Andrew) had traveled for 2 ½ hours across the city of Portland to bring a grumpy little cancer patient and his caregiver mom the movie Bambi.

Some people are more than medical professionals, they should be called fairy godmothers.

Some medical people should be called fairy godmothers, working magic above and beyond the medical #write31days #caregiver via @caregivermom Click To Tweet

For more in the series of 31 Days of Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving.

Giving to a Tired Caregiver – Inspire Me Monday

Creative and thoughtful gifts can make a world of difference to a tired caregiver.

Creative and thoughtful gifts can make a world of difference to a tired caregiver.

I awoke with a start, staring wildly at the profusion of trees to my left.  My gaze swung right.  More trees.  I sat partway upright and saw trees in front, but then my gaze hit the rearview mirror.  My four-year-old’s head glowed in the sunlight shining through the back window.  The few stray hairs glinted, even though they were the same color as his pale bald head.  His sunken, gray-rimmed eyes twinkled at me in the mirror.

“Good job Mommy.  The stories are over, we can drive on now!”  He giggled.

Suddenly I realized what had awakened me.  The silence.  Earlier we had stopped at the top of the mountain pass to put the CD into the car stereo and I had run around the car twice in the fresh mountain air in order to wake myself up for the drive home.  It was 2:00 pm and I had already put in a 12 hour day, getting up early to get Andrew ready to drive to chemo, waiting during the spinal tap, yawning my way through the 9 hour chemo drip and blood transfusion, listening to Dora the Explorer and the Lion King for the 378th time that week (we were in the ‘intense’ phase of treatment, which pretty much meant no sleep for this tired caregiver).  My tiredness was understandable, but not permissible.  Life doesn’t quit just because your son has leukemia!  I had jumped back into the car and started down the mountain, listening to Pastor Carl’s voice as he read stories to Andrew via the CD he had recorded for Andrew’s road trips.  Several twists and turns that normally kept me awake and slightly anxious went by as we wended down the mountain and as I blinked my way through a sharp curve, I knew I couldn’t keep going safely.

I had pulled off onto a wide spot and leaned my seat back, knowing full well that any time I did that while driving I was guaranteed to wake up and could keep driving.  I had smiled to myself because it was the first story and I knew when it changed to the second story on the CD there was some gray noise that would let me know it was time to drive again.

But silence had awakened me.  Andrew’s declaration that the stories were done disturbed me.  “What?”  I asked.  “What story is next?”

More giggles from the pale face in the carseat.  “Mommy.  You’re so funny.  The CD is done so you can keep driving!”  I had been out for over a half hour.  Sleeping on the side of the road while logging trucks and cars whizzed past.  What kind of danger had I put my son in?  I looked around noting I had at least locked the doors and traffic on this road was minimal (which could be good or could be bad, depending on what was needed).  Andrew sat happily in the back, thinking I had stopped to share a few moments of listening pleasure with him and he did not understand at all that actually mommy had been oblivious to the world, dropped in pure exhaustion.

I sat up and shook my head fuzzily.  I glanced around nervously but nothing seemed to be amiss.  I reached over on the seat beside me and grabbed another CD from my pile.  Ah, the one a previous student had sent me when she heard about Andrew’s cancer.  A CD of songs that had brought her comfort last year during HER battle with cancer.

I smiled as the song, “Trust His Heart” blasted through the speakers and Andrew’s squeaky-from-chemo-voice pitched in to warble along.  Together we sang our way through songs like “One Day at a Time” and “Praise Him in the Storm” and I drove carefully through the curves down out of the mountain pass.

How blessed I am to have friends that gave gifts from the heart, gifts of time and creativity that helped pass hours and give comfort.

Creative, throughtful gifts can bring all kinds of comfort to a tired caregiver! #write31days #inspirememonday via @caregivermom Click To Tweet

See more in the 31 Days of Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving.

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 found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

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

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Family: the Biggest Blessing to Caregivers

Family, in times of crisis, extends well beyond those related by blood. Our family was blessed by so many!

Family, in times of crisis, extends well beyond those related by blood. Our family was blessed by so many!

This has to be the easiest Five-Minute Friday prompt we’ve ever had AND it ties into my #write31days theme of unexpected blessings during caregiving.  I’m supposed to only write for five minutes, but I’ve had so many years of stocking up precious moments. Ready?  Set?  Go!

Family: the Biggest Blessing to Caregivers

Family has to be one of the biggest blessings one can count when it comes time to tally the number of blessings God has bestowed in the midst of the crisis of a catastrophic situation.

Family who visited or sent gifts, who donated blood in my child’s honor, who read books and watched stupid movies with a four-year-old needing entertainment.  Family who cleaned my house or did my laundry, who took care of the kids NOT being treated for leukemia or fed the dog when we were gone too long.

Family who sent money from over-time checks and who cooked meals designed to entice a nauseous boy.  Family who prayed unceasingly and asked about not only the sick one’s health, but about the health of the rest of us as well.

Family who covered a day of work, bought a gas gift card or took us out to eat in the hospital cafeteria. Family who kicked us out of the hospital room for a shopping trip while they settled in to play games with the patient or who sat quietly by, drinking hospital coffee and passing the time during a 9 hours chemo treatment.

Family who called every Friday, without fail, to see how I was handling things and family who went on walks and listened to my fears and took pictures when I was afraid to immortalize those scary medical moments.

Family who cared, comforted, loved, laughed and lived with us through the whole entire process of caregiving and family who STILL ask us how things are going and who STILL lift us up in prayer and who even read our blog posts to see how life is going.

You’ve guessed it.  Our family isn’t all blood related, but those kin and friend ties that are cemented during a time of crisis (especially a long term medical fight) are FAMILY!

And FAMILY is the biggest, best-est, amazing-est blessing to a scared, tired and stressed out caregiver!

Family are those that support caregivers! #fiveminutefriday #write31days @caregivermom Click To Tweet

What Happens When You Believe in Teamwork

A cord of three strandsThis week I’m writing on my friend Holley Gerth’s prompt: Who in your life lives these words: “I don’t have it all together. But I believe we’re better together.”
The weekly prompts for Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart link up celebrate the publication of her newest book You’re Loved No Matter What: Freeing Your Heart From the Need to be Perfect.

Take two second-born children who value independence and self-sufficiency, add a little stubbornness and a lot of strong opinion and mix it with adversity and what do you have? For most people, a recipe for disaster. But with God as the Master Chef, the result has been Team Ojeda.

Twenty-six and a half years ago, Pedro and I said, “I do,” to the pastor’s question about pledging our lives to each other in sickness and health, in poverty or in wealth—and let me tell you, it seems like there’s been more sickness and poverty than health and wealth.

I’ve learned over the years that I married a man who fiercely believes in the power of teamwork. He doesn’t claim to have it all together (that’s usually my façade), but he always draws me back and reminds me that together we can face each crisis—especially if we ask God to be the captain of our team.

When our daughters came along, we developed a system of tag teaming responsibilities—especially on weekends—so that we could both have free time. Other people (we lived in a community where mens’ and womens’ roles were very traditional) looked askance at our division of labor—but our decision laid the foundation for a strong relationship between Pedro and our daughters.

When our girls were two and four, we made the decision to move to a different state so that Pedro could go back to school at night and pursue his dream to become a teacher. The decision meant that he would be the stay-at-home dad and I would work. Once again, he willingly stepped outside of the ‘normal’ role in order to do what would be long-term best for the team.

We learned in those early years that we each had strengths and weaknesses—but that we could help each other out and work together rather than work at odds with each other. He was the more consistent parent by nature—and he helped me see the value of learning to be consistent.

More than once, I felt misunderstood and maligned (looking back now—I never had a really good reason to feel that way) and secretly entertained thoughts of getting out. Thoughts of “I do all the work anyway, so I might as well do it alone” and “We’ll never work this issue out.” I never actually voiced these thoughts out loud, but Pedro always seemed to sense them and he would quietly remind me that we didn’t get married to get divorced. We got married for forever.

From Pedro, I have learned that team members step in for each other in times of weakness and crisis—but that they also need to step back and allow the other team member back in the game once the crisis has passed. In order to have a healthy team, we have to know that we need each other—God gave us to each other to nurture and build each other up so that together we could do more for him.

God gave us to each other to nurture and build each other up so that together we could do more for him. Click To Tweet

All too often, I charge in and try to be the hero on the field because I think I have it all together—the ball hog jock, you could say. Pedro gently reminds me that if we work together, we won’t feel frustrated by our lack of progress or angry at the results of our efforts.

If we work together, we won’t feel frustrated by our lack of progress or angry at the results of our efforts. Click To Tweet

Some days (weeks, months, years), Pedro has been the key player because I’m not operating at full capacity. This week, it’s my turn to step it up and carry more weight whilst Pedro recovers from a mountain bike crash. The doctors predict that he’ll feel much better after a minor surgery to put a plate on his clavicle to hold together all the broken pieces. If you’re a praying person, we’d appreciate your prayers for a simple and successful surgery today!

How about you?  Do you know someone who believes that teamwork can change attitude and produce amazing results?

How to Tell If You’re Being Encouraged or Manipulated

Encouragement vs. manipulationWhen the doctors diagnosed Pedro with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in April of 2002, word spread like wildfire through our small community. People who had never spoken a word to me in our first eight months suddenly started dropping by to help and encourage us.

It didn’t take long for me to notice a pattern in my reactions to the helpers and encouragers. The ones who suggested carrot juice enemas and chewing raw garlic as a treatment plan for cancer, well, I quickly assigned them to the well-meaning-but-quack-advice category. I learned to nod and smile and send them on their way as soon as possible.

The ones who encouraged by trying to decide what Pedro’s treatment plan should be (despite the fact that they had no medical training)—well, I resented those people. They usually started their encouragement with phrases like, “You should…” or “You need to…”

The ones who brought by CDs of music that they thought would create a positive climate for Pedro and help heal his cancer—I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. On the one hand, I appreciated their effort and their sincerity. On the other hand, these sweet saints had no idea what kind of music Pedro enjoyed or what would be uplifting to him (ironically enough, his theme song for cancer had nothing to do with uplifting worship music—he just loved the words to chorus of song he would otherwise not listen to).

The ones who insisted on doing my laundry (even though it meant a great deal of extra work for me) just made me mad.

The ones who called up and said, “Your girls can stay with us as long as you need them to,” those were the ones who earned my undying gratitude. In fact, Laura was diagnosed with mononucleosis the same day that the doctors discovered a tumor in Pedro’s neck. The radiologist and his wife (friends from church and parents of our students) offered to take the girls for as long as we needed. We took them up on their offer and the girls had a lovely time—despite the trauma in our lives.

The ones who didn’t really know us but sent encouraging cards anyway—I appreciated their kind gesture, their words of encouragement and their promises to pray.

The ones who started a fund to help pay for travel expenses for our daughters and my parents when it looked like Pedro wouldn’t make it—I loved them for their generosity even though I have no idea who they were.

The ones who asked Pedro what kind of music he liked to listen to and what kind of games he liked to play and then purchased him an X-box and some albums—those were the true encouragers.

And the ones who offered to just sit with him—no conversation required, I’ll never forget their service.

I discovered that there are encouragers and there are manipulators. Encouragers come alongside you, get to know you better and pray for you. They ask you what kind of help you want and freely give it. They understand that you need them for now, but they don’t attach strings to their services, their presence or their prayers.

Manipulators, on the other hand, have an agenda. Manipulators have a way of making you feel badly if you don’t take their advice. Click To Tweet That’s not help or encouragement. That’s manipulation.

Everyone goes through a crisis our two throughout their life, and it’s good to have a plan in place for how to deal with those who want to help.  Genuine help and encouragement looks far different from subtle manipulation. Click To Tweet If you know the difference, you’ll be able to politely thank the manipulators (without feeling guilty about NOT doing what they recommend) and feel greatly encouraged from those who offer the real deal.

Encouragement vs. ManipulationI recently read Romans 14 in The Message and I realized that all too often my ‘encouragement’ and ‘help’ could be classified as manipulative. I have never deliberately tried to manipulate someone, but my good intentions often carry a subtle agenda.

I hope that as I grow closer to the One who saved me, and I understand his agenda for my life, I’ll become a better encourager.

The Power of the Mighty Do-Over

Sarah, Pedro and Laura that wonderful weekend that almost wasn't wonderful.

Sarah, Pedro and Laura that wonderful weekend that almost wasn’t wonderful.

“Mom, I’m hungry. When can we eat?” Sarah tugged on my sleeve.

I grunted a non-reply and tried to make up my mind. Eat something expensive in the airport or find a place to eat once we checked out the rental car and headed towards my brother-in-law’s home.

I looked at the menu posted in a restaurant window and sighed. The prices taunted my pocketbook like the aroma of the warm food teased my nostrils. With three of us to feed, hospital bills piling higher than my knees and unexpected expenses for this trip, there was no way I could spend the money for us to eat at an airport restaurant.

“Mom, I’m hungry, too,” Laura joined in.

“We can’t eat here. It’s too expensive,” I snapped. “We’ll just have to eat at Taco Bell once we get on the road.”

“Do you know where it is?” Sarah wanted to know.

“No, but I’ll find one.” The hard, unkind voice I heard startled me. Then it made me mad. I jerked my suitcase handle and demanded, “Grab your suitcases and let’s get a move on.” I practically sprinted down the terminal towards the rental car area, scarcely looking behind to make sure Laura and Sarah followed me.

And then I felt even worse. What kind of parent marches off and almost leaves their eight and nine-year-old kids behind? And that made me madder. I slowed my pace until they caught up and then admonished them for falling behind.

Cancer made me mad. Traveling on an empty stomach made me mad. Worrying about Pedro’s health and how to pay for everything made me mad. I glanced back to see if the girls still followed me. They did. Tearfully.

Not my brightest moment. This was supposed to be a joyous occasion—they hadn’t seen their daddy for a month. He’d been circling the drain but God had stepped in with a mighty miracle and he was on the mend.

For the first time in my life, I wished I could have a do-over as a parent. And then I realized that I could—after all, I WAS the parent.

“I’m sorry, girls,” I said. “I’m hungry and grumpy and not being very nice. Can we start over?”

They both nodded, shocked, I’m sure (this was the first time I can ever remember asking for a do-over). “All right!” I enthused (I sounded fake to my own ears, but hoped it would work). “We’ve made it to San Francisco and in less than two hours you’ll get to see Daddy!”

They smiled at me quizzically. I kept on, determined to do this horrible scene over.

“Who’s hungry?”

All three of us raised our hands. “Ok, if we can all just hang in there for another half an hour, we should be able to find a Taco Bell.”

“Will it have a talking trash can?” Sarah wondered (the talking trash can is what made Taco Bell Sarah’s favorite restaurant).

Pedro instructs Laura in proper football-throwing techniques.

Pedro instructs Laura in proper football-throwing techniques.

“I don’t know, we can only hope. Right now we need to get our rental car and then we’ll be on our way.”

We finally found a restaurant, although I can’t remember if it was a Taco Bell, and we finally made it to my brother-in-law’s, where Pedro was staying between chemo treatments.

And our weekend? Priceless. I had discovered the mighty power of the do-over (it would come in handy many more times as the girls grew up 😉 ).

Five Minute Friday

No Sex at Taco Bell

Carol BoveeI snuggled in closer and tucked my head under Randy’s chin. Oh, it was so nice! His arms, sturdy and strong, helped me feel that I could relax for the first time in over a week. Resting for a moment, content to just be together again, we each waited for the other to speak. It felt so normal and right to be held again, however briefly.

Normal was not something we got to experience very often. Since Andrew’s diagnosis, our family had been ripped apart. First with both parents and son at the hospital and the girls with grandparents, then later with Randy and I taking hospital/home turns so one of us was always with the kids in their separate places.

We rarely got to eat together, and when we did it felt either chaotic as everyone prepared to rush off to the next thing, or awkward as we watched the pallid little guy who used to devour everything in sight sit and pick at his food, then throw it up. The kids used to play together outside, climbing trees, finding frogs, getting messy. Now Andrew couldn’t go outside and sanitized cleanliness was very important in our household.

Normal used to include things like family worship time, Mommy always tucking the kids into bed, Daddy playing games with the kids in the front yard, piling on the couch to read stories together and singing loudly around the house. My favorite normal was that Randy and I always had the evening time to debrief, put things in perspective and just be together.

Finally, now, we had a few moments together, after several weeks of swapping places and living on the run. Randy and I had eaten together, for the first time in who-knows-how-long and were getting ready to go our separate ways again.

While I rested against Randy, I felt him kiss my hair gently and his voice rumbled over the top of my head. He told me of the last week’s highlights; lightly skimmed troubles at work, worries he’d had, projects he tackled, goals he set. Then he moved on to the girls; how their music practices had gone, projects they’d had at school, worries they’d had while mommy was gone.

Leaning back to look at him while we talked I was so grateful for these moments we could spend together, re-establishing our friendship and hanging onto our intimacy.

I told Randy of my worries, of the difficult procedures Andrew had handled like a champ and of my desperate need to get out of those four walls of the hospital room.

He bent his head and kissed me, and just for that moment, all was right with the world. Right up until the carload of teenagers pulled up to the drive-through, whistling at the middle-aged couple kissing in the parking lot.

We laughed as we pulled apart, swapping the keys in our hands as we stepped back. “If you don’t hurry, you won’t make it home before the girls are out of school,” Randy reminded.

“Yes, I know,” I sighed, “Andrew was asleep when I left, and if you hurry, you should make it to Doernbecker’s before he wakes up…I hate for him to be alone there…”

“Only three days, then we can do this again, it’s a good spot—halfway in between home and hospital.” Randy determinedly remained cheerful. “I have to be back for the board meeting…”

“I know,” I repeated as I edged toward the car.

“I checked the oil and everything so the car should be good to go, drive carefully and I’ll see you here in three days!” Neither of us wanted to lose this moment of togetherness and we were reluctantly backing towards our cars.

“OK, well, I love you!” Randy said as he eased into the driver’s seat, “I’m glad we had these few moments together—I’ve missed you!”

“Me too, you,” I laughed out my car window, “Let’s make out at Taco Bell in three days!”

“Yep,” he responded as he started the motor, “it’s all we’ve got!”

Find SOME way to connect with your spouse. Pressure can pull you apart. Make the choice to keep together, even if it’s only a quick stop while trading cars.

I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant for more Not So (Small) Stories. This week we’re working on the hook and our writing prompt is ‘drive.’ Join us!