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A Word of Encouragement for Caregivers

As I’m sitting down to write, I’m thinking of several of my friends. They are strong, godly, amazing women who are currently filling the role of caregiver to a parent, a child, a husband, a sibling or friend. They are living the other side of the sickness coin. Despite any issues or pain they have in their lives, they are responsible to care for the needs of someone that they love who is suffering and in need of help.

They are caregivers.

Whenever I talk to them or hear their stories, they always touch a special place in my heart because for many years that was my role in calling in life: to care for my Mom and Jamie.

I’ve mentioned before how eternally grateful I will be that my Mom was there to serve as my mentor and teacher during the hardest times in my life. She taught me, inspired me, and challenged me. The years of time and the sacrifice she put into Jamie and I and even our ministry showed a faith that was beyond what anyone could expect or imagine at the time. She was my friend, my support system, and my mentor all wrapped into one.

Still, as time went on, our relationship changed as we went from just her helping me and giving to me. When environmental allergies became a major issue in her life, I was then given the opportunity to be a blessing to her and offer her the support---physical and emotional---that she needed.

It was around the time of Jamie’s graduation that she had her first major allergic episode. We’d purchased a used car and were driving home when her throat and tongue started to swell. We had to rush her to the doctor as she had an allergic reaction to the cleaning products they used to recondition the car. The smell was so strong and the allergy so aggressive that we eventually had to take the car back to the dealer and get a refund.

Meanwhile, Mom went to the doctor to see what was happening. Even though they ran tests and tried different cures, in the end, it was determined that she had environmental allergies and there only cure would be lifestyle adjustments. Day by day her allergies and the constant pain she lived with in her mouth and tongue became more and more of a controlling factor in her life.

Her life had to change as the list of things she was allergic to continued to grow.

Before long, she was allergic to any time of chemical smell---including most cleaning products. We very quickly became experts in natural cleaning solutions like baking soda and vinegar so that she would be safe in her own home. Even then, she couldn’t really touch these products, so I took over cleaning the house.

When we couldn’t find a natural solution, we had to be very careful to always stick to the same laundry detergents, dish washing liquid, and even body soap. Any alteration or even using too much of one of these products would cause swelling and potentially shut down her lungs.

She was allergic to perfume, hairspray, facial cleansers. Eventually, she had to stop dying her hair or using any product on them. She even had to stop wearing lipstick.

Another big allergen was ink---she couldn’t be around a freshly printed newspaper or magazine.

We had to be careful where we went. She couldn’t be in any building that was heated with gas or kerosene. Even driving in the car was dangerous if we got stuck in traffic and had to breathe gas fumes. She couldn’t go into a mall for fear of being trapped with a smell. If we were in a building that was remodeling in any way, we had to get out fast. I can’t tell you how many times we had to run out of a store to keep Mom’s lungs from shutting down until we could get her to a doctor.

Even going to a doctor’s office was difficult because there are a lot of strong odors in those offices. Eventually, we learned that if she carried an onion with her everywhere she went, she could hold it up to her face to mask a bad smell until she could get to safety. From then on, she never left without an onion, and there were sachets filled with coffee all over our house and car for emergencies.

It wasn’t just smells. Mom was also allergic to any processed food, so made everything at home from scratch. Believe it or not, medicine was also a huge risk as her body refused to tolerate any change. All she could really take was one or two Tylenol for pain in emergencies. Anything else and she’d have a reaction. She was even allergic to Benadryl.

More and more, these allergies became an invisible disability that took over her life.

We basically had to learn to make adjustments. During this time, my life and my responsibilities consisted mostly of taking care of our home, helping Mom and Jamie, and being alert for any allergens that might be potentially dangerous. I was a full time caregiver.

Looking back, it’s still hard to remember how much my Mom suffered. She basically lived in pain every day of her life.

Yet, she had a really good attitude. Through each obstacle, she kept doing what she could do. When it came to the restrictions in her life, she tried to see God at work in them. Even though all of these physical issues changed our lives drastically, she always had hope that God had a plan and a purpose to use all of these things to work for His good and His kingdom.

Looking back, I feel like it was really an honor to be able to serve such an amazing lady. She was a fighter. Nothing was going to stop her. Physical issues might alter her life, but they weren’t going to keep her from following God’s will. When something really needed to be done, she found a way.

The truth is that even though these days were hard (because I’m not going to lie, it is incredibly hard to watch someone you love suffer and to take care of them as they do), quite honestly, they were some of the best days of my life.

You see, even though these days had a much slower pace and were much quieter than my current life, they were extremely rich. They were filled with deep conversations, laughter and private jokes, finding ways to overcome obstacles together, and just being together.

Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine whose daughter is having some major physical issues. As we talked about the worry, the fear, and the stress that goes with being a caregiver, we also agreed that there’s also a tremendous joy in the relationship that can only be discovered when life pauses.

The days on the sofa watching a movie….the discussions late at night when sleep eludes….the moments that would have passed in a blur if life weren’t interrupted. These are treasures that are given during these times of need.

Of course the other side of the coin is that there is a lot of stress and fear.

You wish you could do more to help, but there’s nothing you can do.

You hope and pray that things get better, yet every day you fight the fear that they won’t or that you’ll even lose the person you love so much.

Being completely open, there are days when you’re just exhausted and it’s simply hard. Though you want to be there for the person you love, you’re struggling with your own body.

The fact is that I absolutely have no regrets for my years spent taking care of my family and I’m grateful for every moment we had together and the extremely close bond it formed, I also know that this is a challenging role.

Anyone in this position will agree. This article is meant to encourage all of the men and women who are currently in this role.

Reality is that yes, it is challenging. There are days that it is hard and you wonder if you’re up for the job. Yet, it’s also so worth it. What you’re doing is so valuable. In fact, it’s a high calling to serve another person.

God sees everything that you’re doing and He’s so pleased.

With His help, you can fulfill this purpose He’s given you.

To help you out along the way, here are some things I’ve learned on my journey:

What We Learned:

It is an honor to serve

Jesus said:

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Whenever we serve other people, we are really serving Jesus. Now obviously, we don’t consider the people we love to be the “least of these”. In our lives, they are probably the most important people. Yet, the principle is the same. When we minister to the practical needs of others, we are ministering to Jesus.

Serving is a Divine call that God honors and rewards.

Jesus set the example as a Servant

In John 13, we see Jesus set the example of serving others when He humbly washed the disciples feet. As we give our lives to help others, we are following His example and walking in His footsteps.

I say all of this because one of the biggest lies that comes against someone who is serving as a caregiver is the lie that what you’re doing isn’t important.

What’s the big deal about doing dishes? Laundry? Cleaning up? Taking some to the doctors?

These are all pretty mundane normal things.

Yet, when they are done out of a heart of love and service to Jesus and the person you are serving, they are powerful things in the kingdom of God. You’re doing more than just chores, you are ministering to the felt needs of others.

The God who sees all thinks you’re awesome!

Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you will be a servant.”

Jesus Can Give You All the Strength You Need

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ Who give me strength.”

Often we read this verse and think of the monumental things we can do, but the real emphasis in this passage is on how we do whatever God has called us to do: through Christ.

What I’ve learned through my years of helping others is that you can only continue to give and serve when you are connected to Christ.

You see, most people will tell caregivers that they need to remember to take care of themselves, too. This is good advice.

It’s important that we eat right, rest, exercise and take care of ourselves so that we can help others. It’s like that rule about putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help the person next to you. You’re no good to others if you aren’t healthy yourself.

Well, often being a caregiver feels like you’re juggling a dozen oxygen masks at the same time. There’s a lot going on and you have a lot of responsibility.

But it’s very important that while we’re careful to take care of our own physical bodies, we don’t neglect our spiritual man.

Even as with all of your responsibilities, you need to make sure to spend time with Jesus in prayer. You need to stay in the Word of God so that you’re getting spiritual nourishment. It’s so important that you keep your relationship with Jesus on course.

Because ultimately, you can’t give from an empty container.

You need to make sure that you’re staying connected to Jesus so that He can give you all of the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the grace that you need to do what He’s called you to do. Even if it feels like you don’t have the time---make the time.

As you make the time to be refilled, Jesus will give you strength beyond what you can imagine to serve others.

Facing the Fear

One of the biggest thing that I struggled with as a caregiver was the fear of loss.

Let’s be honest: sickness is scary.

I remember so many nights after my Mom would have an allergic attack and she’d fall asleep, that’s when my mind would go crazy as I remembered the events of the day and how really dangerous her allergies could be.

Talking to other friends who are caregivers, I’ve come to believe that people who are suffering in pain are given a special grace to endure that we, who love them are not given. Instead, each of us has to daily make the choice to take our fears, our concerns, our stress, and our what-if’s back to God and turn them over to Him. We need to pour out our hearts to Him and give Him our emotions.

Then ultimately, we need to leave the situation in His control.

Honestly, that is so hard for me. Like most caregivers, I want to fix the situation. Yet, over and over again I’ve had to learn that I’m not in control---God is. I have to trust Him to do what’s best.

In the end, I’m just helping keep someone comfortable and meeting their needs. It’s God’s job to heal and keep them alive. No human being can do that.

At the end of the day after we’ve done all we can do, we have to let our loved one in God’s hands and trust that He orders their days and our days and nothing will happen that He does not allow.

Then stop worrying and try to get some sleep.

Learn to Enjoy the Moment

I’ve never been very good at enjoying the moment or being content where God placed me in life. I’ve always wanted to be a few steps ahead. Yet, during this time in life, I made a decision I will never regret.

I decided to be at peace and enjoy my life.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened or how it happened, but I know there came a day when I really came to peace with God and said, “If this is how you want me to serve You for the rest of my life---by serving my family---I’m ok with that. I love You and I love them, and I’m good.”

I really was content.

Honestly, I completely enjoyed it.

I loved spending time with my Mom and Jamie. Together, the three of us had a blast!

I enjoyed taking care of our home, being domestic and learning new skills. Maybe I enjoyed it more because I was doing so many of these things with my Mom and I loved spending time with her. We cooked, gardened, took care of the house, went on short excursions in the car, listened to music, watched movies, talked and laughed and many times cried together.

The truth is that now when I look back on those days I have to force myself to remember the allergies or the injuries. What I remember was the love---the closeness---the memories that we made.

One of the things my Mom loved to do was laugh. I remember during this time I’d write these crazy sarcastic stories about the things that happened in our lives to relieve the stress. Many of these stories were later published under the Crazy Ladies Corner, but my fondest memories were watching my Mom doubled over in laughter at her crazy daughter.

The truth is that the best advice I can give anyone who is serving as a caregiver is the same advice that many women give to Moms with young children.

Honestly, what you’re doing is hard. It’s exhausting and strenuous and there are days when you think you’re going to absolutely lose your sanity.

Yet, it is the most rewarding experience you’ll ever have in your life.

Don’t waste it wishing you were somewhere else. Instead, embrace it. Because this time like all times in life, passes way too quickly.

Years from now, you won’t look back on today and remember the laundry or really even the fear. You’ll remember the time you spent investing into someone else’s life. Honestly, you’ll be amazed at how rewarding the experience ultimately was for you.

Keep Up the Good Work

I don’t know where you’re reading this today. Perhaps you’re sitting in a hospital, in another person’s home or waiting for yet another doctor’s appointment.

Whether you’re caring for a parent, a child, a spouse, or anyone you love, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work.

You are making life-changing difference in another person’s life, literally being the hands and feet of Jesus to them.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, you can do this. No matter how hard it gets, He is there to help you help others. You never have to do it on your own or rely on your own reserve of strength. He is there to help. You are not alone.

He has your life and the life of your loved one in His hands. He has everything under control and He will work even this extremely difficult time out for good.

In the meantime, keep up the good work.

Keep persevering, keep loving, keep fulfilling the call God has for your life.

You can do it! Today and every day you can look Suffering in the eye and say, “We will overcome!”

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