Rest for the Caretaker

I’ve spent the last three days at a retreat in New York State for Latin enthusiasts. Let me make a disclaimer: I am not a Latin enthusiast. I am a Latin teacher. I can even say that I enjoy teaching and studying Latin, but it would not be my life-long dream to attend a conference for Latin enthusiasts!

So why did I go? One word: Rest. 

As a caregiver, I need regular bouts of rest. Teaching Latin is restful for me. I teach in a supportive, Christian environment surrounded by competent co-workers who inspire me both academically and spiritually. Most days I leave my job refreshed and energized to do my real job which is to take care of my family.

But there is a deeper reason why teaching and attending a Latin retreat is restful to me. By engaging with language, I am immersed in truth, goodness, and beauty. Latin is a beautiful language. It is the beauty of language which causes me to marvel at both Shakespeare and the Broadway musical, Hamilton. It is my love of language which compels me to read classics like A Tale of Two Cities and also appreciate a good story like Harry Potter. Interacting with language through writing inspires me to observe the world more closely – to look for evidence of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in my everyday world and through my daily, tenuous circumstances. And ultimately, it is my love of truth that compels me to study and write about God’s word. Seeing the themes of God’s redemption woven through the pages of Scripture is good and beautiful!

Truth, goodness, and beauty.

It is easy to notice goodness when surrounded by Latin enthusiasts chattering about their love for Latin grammar.


It is easy to enjoy beauty when surrounded by lush, green gardens on a clear summer day.

It is easy to appreciate truth when given uninterrupted time to study God’s word. But how easy is it to find truth, goodness, and beauty within the confines of the relentless monotony of caregiving – or any other difficult circumstance? (Hint: It’s not very easy.)

Allowing space to recharge and re-notice God’s truth, goodness, and beauty heightens my awareness of God’s constant presence when thrown back into the fast-paced noise of everyday life… For example, when I’m exhausted from caregiving, there is nothing beautiful about playing Candyland with Anne. But if I’m patient and have the energy to stop complaining, God reveals the deeper beauty of a child’s unhindered joy. On the surface, there is not much good in having to regularly help Anne to the bathroom. But undergirding this mundane task is the goodness that Anne trusts me implicitly. And if I’m rested, it’s easier to believe the truth that there is a hope beyond this world.

So I encourage you to go where it’s easy to see God’s truth, goodness, and beauty! Whether that’s a day at the beach or a conference for Latin enthusiasts, find time for rest.

Matthew 11:29 (ESV)
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

One of those days

Why? Out of all days to come home early from work…why did my husband decide to come home early today!?

It’s been one of those days. The kind where I started a dozen different projects and didn’t have time to finish any of them – and the evidence of my incompetence is strewn all over the house…homeschool books, toys, groceries that haven’t been put away (at least I made it to the store, right?).

The House. Is. A. Disaster. And just when I think I might have enough time to clean up the mess before my sweet hubby gets home, I hear the garage door open. My hair is in a ponytail and I’m sporting my favorite 20-year-old sweatshirt. Oh well. It’s just been one of those days.

In the midst of this chaos I keep myself from freaking out by remembering my purpose.

My purpose comes from this passage of Scripture:

And they came to Capernaum. And when [Jesus] was in the house he asked [the disciples], “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).

My purpose is based on the rules of God’s Kingdom rather than the principles of this world. Jesus teaches in this passage that the Kingdom is paradoxical – what seems meaningless in this world has great value in His eyes. And then he holds a child…an insignificant child, and makes the most extraordinary claim that if you care for those with little status in this world – you will receive fellowship with God Himself! Whoa.

The house may be a mess. My to-do list may be half-done, but I cared for my children today. I can go to bed satisfied with my work…and I will tackle the rest tomorrow :)

 

Kate’s grief

Kate. She was only three when the accident happened. And she’s had tearful moments, but tonight – I think she faced the truth.

The truth that her sister will always be different, and the truth that her life changed dramatically on that sunny day in April. She misses her sister.

As she was crying – deep, guttural, painful sobs – I knew her pain. The sadness is so heavy you feel like you can’t breathe. My sweet Kate.

And then there’s Canon – who bravely walked through grief at the ripe, old age of seven. I listened as he quoted Scripture to Kate…

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7).

And then he explained, “Kate, God gives us hard things in life because he loves us and he wants us to be more like Him. It’s just like a spanking – it hurts, but it makes us better people.”

Sweet AnneAnd Kate cried and held the old picture of Anne. The one where she’s smiling with her whole mouth and her eyes are bright and full. And Kate cried and cried. And she went up to lay next to Anne and Kate cried and cried some more. And then I took Kate and put her in her bed. The bed next to Anne’s. And I laid down with her – and heard her sobs turn to whimpers and slowly her breathing calmed – and she was asleep. Sweet sleep. Sweet Kate. Heavy grief.

Anne Kate high quality

Anne & Kate then (ages 5&3)

Anne & Kate now (ages 8 & 6)

Anne & Kate now (ages 8 & 6)

Sister love

Sister love

A new perspective

My last post was a little depressing… Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility… But a few days later, I was reading through Mark in preparation for bible:365 (my daily bible blog).

God hit me between the eyes.

It was a familiar scripture… one I’ve even taught before. But this time, God had something He wanted me to hear…

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:35-37).

The part about the child intrigued me, so I turned to my study bible to read the commentary. Listen to this:

The attitude of heart Jesus is teaching does not even overlook a lowly child (at times marginalized in ancient societies) but receives, and thereby cares for, such a little one in Christ’s name. In contrast to the status-seeking of the disciples (v. 34), Jesus is showing them they should willingly take on lowly, often unnoticed tasks and care for those who have little status in the world …Humbly caring for people of lowly status out of obedience to Christ (“in my name”) will be rewarded by rich personal fellowship with both the Son and the Father. (ESV Study Bible, Crossway)

Wow. The very circumstance that I was complaining about (caring for Anne) is the very circumstance that can lead to “rich personal fellowship” with God. After I read this, I just sat and cried.

I cried because I was convicted. I was complaining about God’s good gift.

I cried because God considers my work with Anne valuable – and He’s the one who gave me the work.

I cried because He loves me, and I don’t deserve it.

I’m sure I’ll occasionally fall back into grumbling. But, now I have this piece of Scripture that reminds me of the privilege I have been given – to care for the lowly in status  – because in essence, it’s like I am caring for Jesus, himself. It’s amazing what a new perspective can do for your peace of mind – especially when the perspective is God’s :)

All things new

Eric was reading to Anne from the “The Jesus Storybook Bible” again. Tonight’s story was from Revelation and it described heaven…

Anne got real excited and said, “When I go to heaven I want to be a doctor because if anybody that’s sick goes to heaven, when they get there, I’ll make them well again. I will take their temperature and tell them that they’re okay and that will make them soooooo happy.”

And then she changed her mind… “No, I want to be a teacher in heaven.”

But then she said something profound… “But Daddy, what I really want to be when I get to heaven is… ‘me.’ I want to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven. Daddy, will I get to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven?”

Wow. What would you say? This is an interesting question. One that I’ve thought about often. Yes, Anne will have a new body in heaven, but her spirit – or soul – will have the effects of having to live with a disability on this earth. Her character will be refined and strengthened from the hardship of having a brain injury. She will be beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

But I wasn’t with Anne when she asked this question… Eric was. And I think his answer was perfect. Eric said,

No, you won’t be the “old Anne” in heaven. God makes all things new. You will be made new!

I like that. Don’t you?

What God has prepared…

Today, as Kate and I picked up Anne from school, Kate listened to Anne’s teacher give a good report on Anne’s day. Kate said,
Great job, Anne!!! …even with your brain injury!” Kate was sincerely proud of Anne – but Anne responded as she always does – truthfully with no filters…

I hate that brain injury… That stupid brain injury. I just want it to go away!
-Anne

Anne has not lost her sass! Her spunk made me laugh :) I feel the same way as Anne. And you know what… I think God agrees and can’t wait for us to see Anne made whole in heaven!

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Life in the desert

I’ve been struggling lately.

Writing takes effort to connect with what God is doing in our lives. Sometimes, I don’t see His hand, and that is discouraging to me.

In an effort to find God, I started reading the book, A Praying Life, by Paul E. Miller. It’s been a while since a book has so deeply impacted me. This is mainly because Paul uses vignettes from his own family to illustrate his points, and he has a special needs daughter.

He’s put words to my longings. I now know I’m living in the desert. According to Miller, the desert is a place where there is a great divide between hope and reality. In my case, there is a great divide between my hope for Anne’s healing and the reality of Anne’s disability. And to add to the suffering, you have no idea how long you will be in the desert.

I’ve also learned that God can be close and intimate in the desert. I have experienced this. But typically, God remains on the edge, distant and elusive…  Paul Miller says God stays on the edge in order to increase your faith. I get that. God has definitely been on the edge of my life lately, and it has been difficult to persevere in pursuing God. In other words, my faith needs a lot of increasing ;-)

When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the over-whelming temptation is to leave the story – to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God (Miller, pg 192).

When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself. But if he showed himself fully and immediately, if he answered all the questions, we’d never grow… No one works like Him. He is such a lover of souls (Miller, pg 193-194).

I am tempted to leave the story every day. Because frankly, Jesus’ demands on my life are painful. So I am left with a choice, the same choice that Jesus gave his disciples in John 6…

…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).

Everyday, when I am tempted to live life apart from God, I echo the words of Peter… Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life, and I have believed, and I know that you are the Holy One of God.

But it doesn’t make the journey any easier…

Moment by moment

I have friends who have had to leave their homes due to the fires in Colorado. This picture was taken over Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. God’s promises endure …even in the fire.  What a poignant picture of life outside the garden.

From Jesus Calling, June 27

Rest with me awhile. You have journeyed up a steep, rugged path in recent days. The way ahead is shrouded with uncertainty. Look neither behind you nor before you. Instead, focus your attention on Me, your constant Companion. Trust that I will equip you fully for whatever awaits you on your journey.

What I’ve learned during Therasuit therapy…

Five things…

1. Anne CAN put forth effort. I’ve seen her grit her teeth and wrinkle her forehead as she strains to move her left arm. Seeing that effort has to be one of the most encouraging aspects of these last three weeks.

2. Anne has a fierce temper. Anne is soooo stubborn and gets angry when she feels unstable – which is most of the time. Today, while she was doing squats, she got especially mad and started to yell something ugly (which she knows she is not allowed to say). The therapist asked her to do 10 squats. Each time she would say the “forbidden” phrase, we would have to start back at 1. She got to 5 – and then she yelled it: “I’ll bite your butt!” So we started over. She got to 2 – and yelled again: “I’ll bite your bu-!” She thought if she left off the ending “t,” it wouldn’t count. But we started over. We got to 3 and Anne started to yell, and then thought better and said, “I’m MAD!” Victory. Anne exhibited reason and self control. Amen and Amen.

3. Anne has many obstacles to overcome. The greatest of which is fear. Anne has the physical ability to walk with the least amount of assistance. But she can’t overcome her feelings of  fear each time she feels the slightest bit off-balance. If Anne walks independently one day, it will come after years of “persevering -never-giving-up-hard-work.”

Which leads me to the fourth thing I’ve learned…

4. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but… I wouldn’t trade Anne’s broken body for her former healthy self – simply because of the character she will develop in overcoming her disabilities. Special needs children have amazingly strong spirits because of the amazingly large obstacles they have to overcome. Anne has put forth an inspiring effort over the last three weeks!

I confess that I’ve spent way too much time focusing on my “seen” circumstances instead of the “unseen” promises in God’s word. I’ve been overwhelmed thinking of how much work it will be for Anne and our family to continue her recovery. But just as I take pleasure in seeing Anne’s effort and perseverance so does God take pleasure in me – even in my weakest efforts. The key is leaning on Him for strength for the moment – and not worrying about where the strength for tomorrow will come from.

So the fifth thing I’ve learned…

5. Living in my own strength leads to exhaustion and burn-out. God has given me circumstances that force me to lean on Him. Even though I hate it, and get so angry… and stubborn…  and I feel like yelling, “I’ll bite your butt!” – I’m thankful that God would care enough for me to give me such an honorable task as to care for a special needs child. And for this, I am grateful :-)

An unfair exchange

We’re all called to something. Something odious. At least it’s odious for me. Sacrifice. Let me make one thing clear at the beginning. At my core, I despise sacrifice. I try to avoid it at all costs. Who really wants to sacrifice their wants, desires and pleasures? Even for a good cause… Seriously, even if we do “sacrifice” our time for a good cause, at the heart of it… Isn’t it just something we do to make us feel better about ourselves? True Sacrifice – gut wrenching, painful sacrifice is impossible – at least it is for me.

Yet, Jesus demands it. If you study the gospel of Mark, you might notice an event in the 8th chapter that sort of splits Mark’s gospel into two sections. The first section is Jesus showing his disciples and followers that He, indeed, is the long-awaited for Messiah. He heals and teaches and heals, and performs miracles and heals and teaches some more. The crowds are amazed.

At the end of Mark 8, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them who the crowds say that He is. And after they answer, Jesus says, “Yes, but who do YOU say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” And this is a turning point in Mark’s gospel.

It’s a subtle split, but Jesus turns his focus more on training the twelve in that dreaded topic: sacrifice. Check it out…

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Mark 8:35-36 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 9:35 If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.

Mark 10:43-44 But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Mark even illustrates this principle of sacrifice in story form… Remember the rich, young ruler? He wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus asks him to sacrifice the one thing he loves most – his possessions. The man can’t and leaves broken-hearted. His disciples are incredulous. “Who can be saved?” they ask. Jesus gives the good news. “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

I cannot muster the ability to sacrifice from within myself.

I have dreams you know… And they aren’t selfish desires – they are good desires, but for now, I can’t pursue them because of the time it requires to care for Anne. I have it easy actually. God has given me an easy choice.

  1. Pursue your own desires and let someone else care for Anne. OR
  2. Sacrifice and care for Anne.

Like I’m going to choose not to care for my own daughter.

But here’s where the mystery is revealed. Here is the paradox that I could have never uncovered on my own. You know what you find when you sacrifice your own desires and wants and dreams? And I don’t mean the “sacrifices” that make us feel better about ourselves. No, I mean the gut wrenching, I HATE THIS kind of sacrifice. Because that’s how I feel most of the time. I HATE THIS.

You know what I’ve found. Do you know what’s at the bottom of the deep well of sacrifice? What’s waiting when you really let Jesus be the King and surrender to that horrible thing he’s asked you to do – the thing you could never do by yourself? Do you know what’s waiting for you? Satisfaction.

As gut wrenching as the sacrifice is, the satisfaction on the other side is… well, it’s other-worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sacrifice because He wants to make our lives miserable. He does it because He knows that it is the only way to find true, soul-filling satisfaction in this world. He asks us to sacrifice because He loves us.

And Jesus, looking at [the rich young ruler], loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And the rich, young ruler couldn’t. And neither can I. Yet, somehow in the letting go and asking for help, Jesus does the impossible and sacrifices through me – and I get to experience that joy that surpasses all understanding. It’s not fair actually. I definitely don’t deserve it. But I’ll take it :-)