Thursday, January 18, 2018

My only comfort in life, in death, and in the face of dementia

For the last several years, my daughter and I have been spending Christmas with family. I'm thankful for these times because it's always a joy to be with the people you love. However, there is a practical aspect as well. My parents are aging, so this is an opportunity for their children to reassess their current situation and consider any help they might need in the days ahead. These discussions aren't easy, though, because any increased care will take away some of their remaining independence. It's also a difficult adjustment as the role of caregiver has shifted from parents to children.

My mom has dementia, and although she is functioning to some degree, she isn't able to do what she used to do including simple tasks most people would take for granted. She also doesn't think she needs any help. But the progression of her disease is inevitable barring a medical breakthrough or divine intervention. My dad has gotten more frail this past year, and the weight of helping my mom has taken its toll when he is already dealing with his own health issues. I wish he had an outlet to express what he is feeling deep down because I am sure he is grieving. But given his age and background, opening up is probably not the easiest to do. He is only willing to say but so much before it becomes overwhelming. These changes seem more pronounced compared to the last time I saw them. This was also the first time I said goodbye to my parents wondering how many more times I would be able to see them in this life., and it hit me hard.

As we were driving home, I grieved for my parents. Dementia is so cruel because it robs a person from the inside out, and it inflicts such loss, not just on the sufferer but on the surrounding family too. But as I was praying, I asked myself - is this life and its eventual deterioration all my parents have to look forward to? And as I asked the Lord to comfort us, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism came to mind:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
As providence would have it, a few Sundays after returning home, my pastor preached a sermon on this very catechism question and answer. While this is not Scripture, it encapsulates so many scriptural truths and the blessings and security they bring. It speaks of the unmerited love of God that would save sinners at the cost of the blood of Jesus. It speaks of full forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. It speaks of a loving Father who will not let a single one of his children fall through the cracks and that all things work together for our salvation. So whether in life or death or in the face of dementia, we are not left to fend for ourselves, but we belong to a faithful Savior. And in the end, we will be with him forever, fully healed from every effect of the fall.

Since that sermon, I've returned to these words again and again as I pray for my family. I can't think of any source of lasting comfort unless we find it in God and the hope of our salvation.  Your situation may be different than mine, but I hope you will draw comfort from these words as well.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

They are our children, after all

In a perfect world, Christian parents would teach their children the gospel, and it would be embraced quickly, and without incident. Children would go seamlessly from childhood to godly adulthood without a blip on the screen.

As we know, we don't live in a perfect world. And the reality is that good Christian parents raise children who give them some sleepless nights and break their hearts. I know what that is like. If you have children who never gave you a moment's trouble, praise God for it! But for those of us who have had children who stray or struggle in their faith, it can be extremely painful. We feel shame and guilt. We may feel anger. But we must not despair. For those who may be in the midst of that kind of season, here are some thoughts.

Don't Take All the Blame

If you blame yourself for their sins, does that mean you take the glory when they don't sin? Think about that. If you failed to preach the gospel to your children or made mistakes, repent of them. Ask God for forgiveness. If necessary, ask your children to forgive you. But remember that our children make their own decisions. It is part of their spiritual growth to take ownership of their faith.

Don't Compare Them to Others

It's tempting when our kids are struggling spiritually to look longingly at the families who seem perfect. Don't give in to that. It can lead to bitterness toward our own children and it prevents us from feeling gratitude for what God has given us. Would you want your husband comparing you to another woman?

Don't Ask "What Will People Think?"

That is a bad question. And especially don't verbalize that to your child. Our concern is not what people will think of us. What is important to us is our child's relationship with God. Worrying about what others think makes the matter about us, and it's not about us. It can create an adversarial situation between us and our children if we worry about them making us look bad.

Be Discreet

Be careful when you share details of your child's struggle; the fewer details the better. Respect your child's privacy. Find one or two people you trust and who can keep a confidence. Ask people to pray without giving details. We don't always need to know the details. I think it goes without saying that social media is not a place to hash out your struggle with your child.

Focus On Your Own Walk With Christ

While we will always be their mother, there comes a point when we have to step back and focus on other areas of service. Dwelling only on the issues with our children robs us of opportunities to serve and ultimately can stunt our own growth. We're not abandoning them, but really, there is only so much we can do. "Delight yourself in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desire of your heart" (Ps 37:4-5).

Trust God With the Burden

Pray. Trust God. Don't despair. Some days it is harder than others, but is really is the best response. It will remind us of who is really in control. Aren't you glad that God is control and we aren't? I am. Keep looking to Christ. "Cast your burdens upon the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (Ps 55:22).

And above all, love your children. Love them when you don't understand why they are doing what they're doing. Love them when you're frustrated, angry, and hurt. Think of tangible ways to show love. These children are ours, after all, given to us, not someone else. Remember that God is in control and more than able to bear the burden.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God makes a home for the lonely


As I write this, it is a cold and rainy December day not unlike a day nearly 10 years ago. I was going through one of the hardest seasons of my life. My husband had left our marriage, and my daughter and I felt very lost in the world. We had been out of church fellowship for a number of years. My family lived several states away, so even though we had a few Christian friends, we were essentially alone.  Scared and alone.

At the advice of a friend, I began reading some guy named Charles Spurgeon who I had heard of back in college. I was reading as much of the Bible as I could because it was my only source of hope. However, his writings awakened a hunger for sound teaching that I never had before. I read everything I could find online by this dead Baptist preacher, but I knew that wasn't enough. We needed to find a church, so we began visiting places in the area.

Some churches were too large. Some didn't use the Bible much at all. I was beginning to get desperate and resigned myself to attending a church our friends had returned to. Out of that desperation, I did an Internet search on "Reformed Baptist" churches in the area because Spurgeon was a Reformed Baptist, even though I didn't really know what that meant at the time. But if it was good enough for Spurgeon, it was good enough for me. I was surprised to have one entry show up in Google that was very close to our home.

So on the last Sunday of 2007, I drove the short distance to a little gray church I had driven by so many times. My daughter was away on visitation, so I braved going on my own. There were only about 20 people that dreary day, but they were so kind and welcoming. I didn't feel the awkwardness that would sometimes come over me when I visited other places solo. The interim pastor gave a simple message straight from the Word, and I heard exegesis for perhaps the first time in my life. I told my daughter we needed to go back the following Sunday, and she loved it as much as I did. Even though I was in all respects a stranger, it was like coming home because these brothers and sisters were family in Christ, and here we are 10 years later.

Some things have changed over the past decade. The Lord has led people out and brought more people in including lots and lots of children! The interim pastor who preached the first real sermon I ever heard and baptized my daughter is now in heaven with several dear saints who have gone ahead of us. The visiting preacher who filled the pulpit that baptism Sunday was called to be our pastor a few months later, and he is still faithfully shepherding us today. We're a group of ordinary people who need the ordinary means of grace as we journey, often stumbling on the pilgrim road. But our bond in Christ has kept us as we pray, weep, rejoice, and continue to grow together.

One verse I clung to during that tough time was "A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation," (Ps. 68:5) but the Psalm doesn't stop there. It continues with "God makes a home for the lonely." He has done that through this small local church for which I thank Him.

Photo credit:By LudwigSebastianMicheler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Countless Gifts of Love


. . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father (Ephesians 5:20 ESV)

We should, of course, be thankful every day for the many blessings we receive from God. His good gifts come in a never-ending stream, so thanksgiving to him should be a constant in our lives.

But today, Thanksgiving day, is set aside to focus on God's gifts to us and be thankful for them. On Thanksgiving last year we invited you all to participate with us in thanking God and many of you did. Your contributions were a true blessing to us, and one more thing to be thankful for.

We are hoping you'll join us in thanking God this year, too. First, we'll each tell you one or more things we are thankful for. Then you can add your thanksgiving thoughts in the comments of this post or in the comments on our Facebook page. As I (Rebecca) have time, I'll update this post to include what you've written.

Kim:

This probably won't be a surprise to those who know me, but I am so very thankful for being in seminary. I am especially enjoying my Greek class, and even though it often makes me feel like I'm a dullard, I love the class. I'm thankful for having a husband who is very supportive and friends who think learning Greek is exciting. I'm thankful for the leadership of the school, the men and women who have a vision for Christian education and who desire to make an impact on the community. I'm thankful that God had me wait for just this exact time in my life to go back to school.

Persis:

The line “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided” has been going through my head since Sunday. I am thankful for God’s provision that runs the gamut from the little practical things to the big things. It’s been 10 years since my current job fell into my lap when I desperately needed to find work. It will also be 10 years next month since I first stepped through the doors and into the welcoming arms of my church community. I am thankful for God’s keeping then and now, His care over my family, and for His saving and persevering grace. God is good.SaveSaveSaveSave

Rebecca:

The last four months have been difficult ones for me, but in the trials I have seen God's hand. He has provided for me and protected me and eased me through it all. I can think of several times when he sent people (sometimes strangers) at just the right time to help me out of a difficult circumstance. I am very thankful for his mercy to me in the past and thankful that I can trust him to help me navigate future difficulties, too.

At this moment, I am thankful for my warm home. I am thankful for the many windows looking out on the snowy world. I am thankful for my children and my grandchildren, who bring me much joy.

Deb:

This year, I have been so thankful for a busy season of life. The Lord has provided the means for me to continue my education while still working full-time and continuing to serve in the body of Christ. More importantly, I am thankful for my wonderfully supportive church and the Godly elders and pastors who love and serve our congregation faithfully. Finally, I'm truly grateful for deeper bonds that have developed over the past few years with my family members. I continue to pray for each of them, but especially those who remain unsaved to come to know Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: Refresh

Shona Murray is inviting us to step back and look at our lives. In her book Refresh, co-written with her husband, David Murray, she encourages us to live a grace-paced life. In conjunction with her husband's book, for men, Reset, Shona has chimed in with this excellent word for women. It's an invitation we as women should accept. She opens the book with words that many women can relate to:
Overwhelmed. Exhausted. Depressed. Panicky. Stressed. Burned out. Broken. Paralyzed. Drowning. Empty. Recognize yourself in any of these words? Maybe in all of them? 
You're not alone. These are the most common words I've heard Christian women useing to describe themselves and their lives. 
Whatever happened to the words peaceful, calm, joyful, content, quiet, rested, refreshed, and fulfilled? Wouldn't you like to exchange the second set of words for the first?
Shona shares extensively from her personal experience with the consequences of her own hectic pace of life. Ultimately, it led to a struggle with depression. Her openness regarding her illness is among the most appealing things about Refresh. Women who struggle with mental illness often feel isolated and alone. To hear how someone else has found healing is always encouraging. In an effort to build a foundation which guards against burnout, the focus of the book lays out principles to establish a grace-paced life.

Shona uses the image of the gym: just as physical health requires a training regimen, so does spiritual health. Each chapter along the way, is a "station" in a training program. We start with a Reality Check, and then move through the remaining stations: Replay, Rest, Re-Create, Relax, Rethink, Reduce, Refuel, Relate, Resurrection.

One of the most compelling parts of the book for me was the initial step of evaluating who we are. In the chapter "Reality Check," she calls upon the reader to examine her life closely for signs and symptoms of burnout. We need to be realistic about ourselves. What may feel like standing on top of the world could actually be standing on the edge of a dangerous precipice.

In my own struggle with anxiety, recognizing my limitations as a human being was difficult, but necessary, and Shona addresses that:
Once I began to see the practical implications of being a limited, complex, and fallen creature, I began to see God differently, I saw myself differently, and I saw life differently.
We don't like the idea of being limited. We are told that we should defy limits or that to refuse to live without limits is living an inferior existence. The truth is that we are limited, and I was grateful for Shona emphasizing that truth. It is often a failure to realize our limits that sends us crashing down.

In addition to promoting proper sleep, rest, and exercise, Shona also encourages us to examine who we are in Christ rather than living under false identities:
The Bible uses many different words and metaphors to describe the Christian: forgiven, redeemed, accepted, justified, adopted, heir, blessed, seated in heavenly places, sealed with the Spirit in Christ, and so on (see Ephesians 1). If I expand "Christian" by adding these grace-driven descriptions to my list, this part of my identity will have much more influence on my self-image. A grace-filled identity will produce a grace-paced life.
We are often more consumed with our identity as wife or mother or are more preoccupied with our work outside the home. Our most important identity in found in Christ. We can be actively serving in the Church and still not be focused on our identity in Christ. Our identity in Christ is the most crucial one, and finding the right balance between that identity and the others may mean making changes.

Refresh is a book borne out of Shona Murray's experience. But it is not a unique experience. Her story is the story of many other women. This book is one woman's encouraging word to those who find themselves burned out and stressed out and looking for some help. Even more than that, Refresh would also help young women seeking to establish healthy habits that will be useful for a long time to come.