Life, sustained: Part 2

November 24th, 2017

She leaned across the table toward me in the little neighborhood pizza joint where we sat with five of my boys.  We had met only half an hour before, at the thrift store across the street.  She was a simple, comfortable sort of older woman who loved the Lord.  We had struck up a friendly conversation after she commented on the number of children with me.  She was visibly touched when she heard more about our family and asked if she could buy lunch for the boys and me.  As we made the arrangements, I noticed that she seemed to be distracted, vague, slightly confused, pausing often to search for words. She couldn’t tell me which highway she had taken to the thrift store.  She didn’t have a worrisome, Alzheimer’s sort of way about her at all.  In fact, her manner seemed oddly familiar to me, as if I was watching a video of myself.

Her eyes were serious as she told me of her husband’s disabling stroke years before.  She cared for him for seven years before he passed away.  For the first several years, she cared for him entirely by herself, as was her preference.

One evening, unbeknownst to her, she made a phone call and spoke irrationally with the person who answered.  But she doesn’t remember any of that.  What she remembers is waking up in the hospital, unaware of how much time had passed.

She also remembers the enforced weeks of complete bed rest.  “I could feel the pieces of my mind coming back together,” she said.

She realized that she could no longer stubbornly insist on handling all her husband’s care without help.

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Realistically, I could be a caregiver for the next thirty or forty years. We aren’t looking at a care-giving season of weeks or months. It is imperative that Joe and I craft careful strategies to address and balance everyone’s needs as the specific logistics of our family shift over time.

Even though God designed us and commanded us to work for six days and rest one day each week, in the past I disregarded that and tried to manage a grueling caregiver lifestyle without resting. I am never doing that again. It is not sustainable.  I have learned my limits. I no longer attempt to do everything or be everything that I or others might expect of me.

Yes, I am organized and hard-working, and I realize that I come across to others as being on top of all my responsibilities all the time, but I’m not made out of something different than others. I’m a normal human being with my own normal human limitations that must be observed and my own normal human needs that must be met in order to remain a healthy person while living an unusually demanding lifestyle.

I can remember living normal life in years past, before Verity was born. This is not like that. This is like living through the daunting type of season you might ask your close friends to pray you through…but then it never stops.  This kind of life cannot be handled accidentally. We must stay aware and purposeful to address the essential needs of everyone in our household, and that includes the mom.  I can’t go on indefinitely with all the oxygen sucked out of my life.

We Christians have too often unhelpfully spiritualized this side of a ministry life.  “Food?  Rest?  Very kind of you, I’m sure, but those won’t be necessary.  All I need is whiffs of the Spirit!” spoken in saccharine tones.

That’s absurdity, and it comes uncomfortably close to Manichean heresy.  And if it begins to sound plausible, let alone laudable, could we please step outside for a moment and take a deep breath of fresh air to clear our befuddled heads?  We must approach this with common sense based on the truth of how God designed human beings to function best, physically, mentally, and emotionally, as well as spiritually.

I thought of a simple idea this past spring that was helpful for me; maybe you would like to try it. I’d been thinking through the things we’ve discovered to be necessary for my overall well-being, either by being restorative or energizing, that I struggle to implement.  I made a list of the ten top items, rated each one on how well I was doing in that area on a scale of one to ten, then added up the ten sums to find the total.

The ten essentials for me, without which I suffer, are the following (in alphabetical order):

Adequate food and water
Authentic connection with people I love and trust
Brisk walking outdoors
Creating meaningful beauty, especially singing, homemaking, writing, and drawing
Drinking in beauty, especially music, nature, and art
Reading that stretches me and makes me think
Silence and solitude
Sleep and rest
Sufficient time with God
Teaching history to my children

My total this past spring (before Laura began working, I began rising at five each school morning, and we went from zero to ten regular monthly appointments) was 55 out of a possible 100. Right now, it’s at 34.  When Tommy was in our family, my total would have been under 10.  That’s insanity.  This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, friends!  I’m not helping anyone around me if I splatter myself into the wall.  The goal must be a healthy and sustainable balance, making this life actually livable for the long run.

Notice I didn’t include helping others, tidying, planning, or organizing, although they are certainly essential to the life God’s called me to live.  I left them off my list because they’re my natural default and are demanded of me nearly all my waking hours.  They’re so very demanding that if we didn’t take deliberate steps, they would swallow all of life, yea, even the eating and drinking.

I’m doing badly in the Brisk Walking Outdoors area; in fact, it’s essentially been a big, fat zero for a long time.  I can see at age forty-five that I will have to address this lack at some point, so it’s coming, just not here yet.  I hate “artificial” types of exercise and I love walking, so I know that to be sustainable, exercise for me will have to be walking outdoors.

This list will vary somewhat from person to person, of course, and some items on the list outweigh others.  For a good number of my caregiver mom friends, exercise is their restorative agent of choice.  For some, it’s gardening.

I’m an intensely relational person. And I’m intensely attuned to beauty.  Those two things haven’t changed just because God called us to live our life on the far side of crazy!  But how can this possibly work amidst the demands of my life?  Despite the difficulties and the necessary sacrifices, Joe and I reject the idea that I’m a helpless martyr to my circumstances, and we are committed to making opportunities in each season to address my needs.

Back in the spring, Joe and I attended a Sunday evening concert of the Lancaster Chorale, in which they sang Vivaldi’s Gloria and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in their entirety, among other pieces.  Aching tears for the utter truth and beauty were wrung from my soul, and the passionate desire to sing again awoke within me.  I had sung such pieces beginning in my early teen years, but singing had lain forgotten inside me for over twenty years.  Thanks to the support of a few family members, my desire became a reality this fall as I rehearsed and sang the fall concert with the Chorale.  My voice isn’t great, but I can read music and sing on key, and there are no auditions required.  Joe was able to come and sing when he was free and willingly stayed home to care for the children when the others weren’t available.  It’s perfect.  Someone else organizes logistics; we just show up willing to learn how to sing the music.  I love spending time with older women and hearing their stories.  At the same time, it allows me to be comfortably lost in a large group and enjoy a complete break from the negative feedback and other stressful interactions that are part of my daily life.  I sing all throughout the day anyway, this just gives direction to my singing.  We get to dress up for the concert, which just adds to the fun for this stay-at-home mom.  And singing of this caliber allows me to fully be the intensely passionate, hard-working and purist person God created me to be without scaring or annoying any innocent bystanders.  Singing beautiful music has gone down into the cracked and dried places in my soul and filled them to overflowing.  See what a good gift this has been!  And it wouldn’t happen without commitment and teamwork within our family.  I was so touched that after coming to the concert, all the older kids expressed that I should sing again in the spring.  And Joe and I plan to dig out our Handel’s Messiah scores and make a date night out of a community singalong next month.


I think I was practicing a chorale number here, slightly altered to distract Josie from her stretching…”Lift your leg (I mean LIGHT), lift it high, high in the darkness…”

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How about connecting with the people I love and trust?  So many delightful people enrich my life with their friendship!  Five times a year, my wonderful adoptive moms’ group meets at a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon at 2 pm usually until about 9 pm or so.  This group has been meeting for five years now and is such a source of mutual encouragement, it’s like a mini retreat!  I have a weekly night off while Joe reads to the children; typically that is set aside to write, but I sometimes have a friend here for tea or meet a friend elsewhere.  About once a month during the school year, Hero Dad takes seven boys on a field trip for an entire day!  In the past, I’ve used this time to catch up on sizable organizational tasks, but more recently, I invited a friend for tea.  This may sound like a lot of socializing; out of the forty-seven weeks so far this year, I’ve had a friend for tea four times and met one elsewhere six times, if you count the one on the calendar for next week!  None would have happened without creativity, flexibility, and persistence.  Then of course, there’s texting!  Texting must have been designed for caregiver moms.  Within a few minutes’ time, one more real connection can strengthen the loving bond between a friend and me.

So much more could be said; some thoughts will wait for a future post!

But for now, here it is in a nutshell, folks, the reason we are thriving in spite of that unusually demanding lifestyle…

 

The more impossible it is to get rest and restoration, the more important it is to prioritize rest and restoration.

 

Some of you may remember that I was able to be part of the first planning retreat for the new initiative, A Mother’s Rest, back in the spring.  I long to see support spring up around every overburdened, overstretched, overwhelmed primary caregiver for those with extra needs, as long and as often as needed to bring them to a sustainably healthy place, just as we in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania see the Amish community surround every member of its own community who’s facing tough times.  Not one Amish person is left to struggle alone.  Until we get there, I am so grateful for the vision, know-how, energy, and commitment my friend Andrea Roberts is bringing to her new endeavor, A Mother’s Rest!  Andrea knows the need from personal experience, as the mom of Reece, her teenage son with the dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, and she’s also connected with hundreds of families who have adopted children with extra needs through Reece’s Rainbow.

Are you a full time family caregiver?  Please join the official A Mother’s Rest facebook group!  Consider saving and planning to be able to attend one of these respite weekends!  It will be worth it!  If a respite weekend needs to be a longer-term plan, please ask yourself what changes you can make now toward a more balanced and healthy life.

Do you know a full time family caregiver?  Please consider how you could help lighten their load, from checking in with encouragement to taking them a meal to offering to take a few kids for the day.  Look through the A Mother’s Rest website to see what they’re all about and hope to become, and watch the video at the link below.  Please feel free to share these links through social media.

Are you unsure why this is so needed?  Watch the brand new video on the link below and consider becoming part of a new vision of caring for the caregivers among us.  I’m especially pleased at the possibility of a respite inn owned by A Mother’s Rest to be used year-round as needed by caregivers who may find it difficult to coordinate their schedules with group respite events.  The ones who need respite most by definition will find it most difficult to obtain respite. You can help in many ways, from naming A Mother’s Rest as your Amazon Smile charity to purchasing a respite weekend for a caregiver parent or couple you know to donating funds directly to A Mother’s Rest.

Click on the following link to watch the new A Mother’s Rest video:

A Mother’s Rest Charitable Respite Foundation Crowdrise Campaign

 

Coming up next, Life on the far side of crazy…hahahahaha...

 

 

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3 Responses to “Life, sustained: Part 2”

  1. Man. So much of what you’ve said here overlaps the same self-discovery I’ve walked through over the past several years. It’s so tempting to berate ourselves into living like an ascetic because fighting for those essentials often feels like a luxury that’s not worth the effort. But it is! We cannot fill others when we are running on empty.

  2. Rachel says:

    I love you! Finding my way to a sustainable rate along with you. We don’t have any caregivers who can step into our shoes with our boys, so finding ways to stay healthy while unable to go other places is a definite hurdle! Thank you for sharing, sister. I appreciate the wisdom shared from a few years ahead of me. <3

  3. Missy says:

    Sounds like God sent an angel to you to speak truth quietly and lovingly. I am so glad you have the chorale and have a place to let beauty flow through you.

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