When Everyday is Saturday

This was a rather interesting week. I go to visit my mother everyday after work at her assisted living, and each day this week, she asked me if it was Saturday. She even called me at work on Tuesday to ask me if I was still planning to take her out for lunch since it was Saturday. Only it wasn’t. We all lose track of days when we’re on an extended vacation or retired, but my mother’s behavior was not normal. It was due to Dementia.

I did take my mom out to eat yesterday when Saturday had indeed arrived, and we had a lovely lunch at Cracker Barrel, but going out now requires the use of a portable oxygen concentrator, and she’s worn out by the time I get her back to her assisted living facility. She’s at the point where she’s too tired or forgetful to take part in activities they have, but she wants me there as much as possible…even though she dozes off quite a bit.

My mom is on Hospice, and I don’t know how much time she has left. It’s the oddest feeling…not knowing how long you’ll be in such a state of uncertainty…not knowing if there will be a sudden end to the uncertainty, or if things will gradually become worse. I’m a type A person, a planner, who likes to have everything scheduled and organized, but that’s not how life works. So I’m learning to take things day by day. I don’t like it, but I have no choice. I just pray that God gives me the strength to get through each day no matter what it brings.

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Man’s Search for Meaning

I finally read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl this week. I had seen it mentioned in other books and my senior pastor has referred to it before. From what I had read and heard, this was a book that I needed to read. It has been printed more than 12 million times which makes sense because there are so many gems of wisdom contained in it. This is a book that I am sure to read again in the future.

In the beginning of his book, Frankl recounts his time in various World War II concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau, but unlike other Holocaust memoirs I’ve read, he does not greatly detail the horrors of the camps. He does describe them somewhat, but as a psychiatrist, he chooses to primarily examine the toll of the camps on people’s psyche. He recounts the various feelings prisoners, including himself, felt during various stages of their captivity. The realm of psychology he had been pursuing and writing about before his deportation was Logotherapy (therapy in which a mental health expert helps a patient find meaning in his or her life in order to improve the patient’s mental state), and he was able to use this therapy successfully with some of those who had lost hope since they felt their life seemed to have no meaning anymore. He also believed that concentration camps were hard psychologically for prisoners because they had no idea when their sentence would be over whereas those in regular prisons typically know how long their sentence is and can look forward to the day when they will be released.

Part two of the book contains Frankl’s insights from the camps which we can apply to our own lives. For instance, he asserts that prisoners still had the freedom to make certain choices in how they would react to their circumstances even though this was the only freedom they had. Some of them reacted in terrible ways while some were heroic is looking after others. He also points out that constantly dwelling on the past and what has been lost can make people miss opportunities to grow spiritually in the present. One thing that helped him to survive was visualizing the future, picturing himself in a lecture hall giving a speech on “psychology in concentration camps” which gave him a purpose to go on and a dream that he hoped he could someday realize.

Recently I read the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman in which the author talked about the connection between the mind and body and how those who are pessimists tend to have poorer health and shorter life spans. Viktor Frankl saw this first-hand in the camps. When people lost hope, they usually did not live long after that. This is also iterated in Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night when he states that in the camps, “If you cried, you died”.

So what is the meaning of life? For Frankl, it depended on the person and their individual circumstances. In one of many powerful analogies he uses, Frankl states that asking for the meaning of life is like asking a chess master for the best chess move. There can be no right answer because there are too many different factors depending on the players and the situation. Each person must find his or her own meaning or purpose in life. He states, “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment”.

You’ll have to read the book if you would like to find out the various ways one may find meaning. There is far more knowledge in this book than I can hope to fit into a blog post, and my summary pales in comparison to his astute observations, descriptions, and explanations.

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 unsplash-logoJohn Westrock

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Unafraid

Lately, I’ve been dealing with some pretty major anxiety. If you’ve read my recent blog entries you’d know why. My main problem is worrying about the future. I keep telling myself (and God) that I just REALLY need to know what’s going to happen in the next few months and years, but I finished a new book by Adam Hamilton that has changed this desire.

In his book, Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times, Hamilton begins by explaining how we’re hard-wired to feel fear because fear keeps us alive by prompting us not taking stupid risks like jumping out in front of a car. Unfortunately, as he points out with statistics and studies, we go overboard, especially because of the news and social media. We fear everything from certain people to personal crises and to apocalyptic events.

He eloquently points out through scripture, quotes, and real life examples that even though there are no guarantees in life, and we’re all going to die, we can take faith in the fact that God has promised never to abandon us, and even when something bad does happen (and he gives plenty of examples of people he’s known who have faced catastrophes such as job loss and terminal illness), good can come from these situations. I love the examples he provides such as a woman living in a nursing home who prays for and encourages others living in her nursing home and the man with cancer whose leg was removed but who volunteered to help others despite being told he was terminal. These people took bleak situations and used them for good.

Adam Hamilton also shares his own fears of failure and how he felt when he faced discouraging or fearful situations. He admits, too, that he and his wife still have fears that they each have to deal with at times, but they are much more realistic and hopeful now. He ends the book with an appendix of scripture readings for those experiencing fear.

This book had a profound effect on me, and I will probably end up re-reading it if I feel overwhelmed by fear again. As soon as I finished reading it, I went to see my mom at her assisted living facility as I do each afternoon, and it seemed so appropriate that Eye of the Storm was playing, so I’m embedding it below.

Whatever kind of fears you might be experiencing, just remember that, “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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Prosperity

I just finished the book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler who is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. She was a firm believer in the “prosperity gospel” or the belief that God will ensure our health and financial well-being if we make enough donations and show great faith. Bowler, who tried for years with her husband to have a child and then had a miscarriage, finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy only to find out soon after that she had stage 4 colon cancer which she is still battling at the time of this writing. In her book, Bowler grapples with difficult questions. She doesn’t try to sugarcoat any of her experiences, her anger, or her pain. When I heard Kate Bowler’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, I knew I had to read her book.

Like Bowler, I too have been asking, “Why is this happening?”. A few months ago breast cancer necessitated a bilateral mastectomy for me which was a horrible ordeal, both physically and emotionally. My Dermatomyositis continues to cause me muscle aches, and my joints are inflamed. My husband still doesn’t have a paying job and hasn’t for over two years. The vet told us a week ago that the lump on our Sheltie’s nose is probably cancer, and, as of two and a half weeks ago, my mom is on hospice. Her blood oxygen level dips into the low 70’s when she takes off her oxygen (which she keeps taking off for some reason), leading to a great deal of fatigue and confusion.

But, believe it or not, I think that God is actually answering my “Why is this happening?” prayer. Yesterday, after asking this question of God yet again, I suddenly remembered that for a long time (up until my cancer diagnosis) I had been asking God each day to help me be the person he wanted me to become. Then today, on my way to church, I turned to 90.9 and heard a pastor on the radio say that we are to die to ourselves, and then in church, our pastor referenced Luke 9:23 in which Jesus said, ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. When I looked what “dying to oneself” means, as I felt compelled to do, I found similar passages about sacrifice like Galatians 5:24 which reads, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” and Mark 8:25 states, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” The most hard-hitting passage is perhaps from Matthew 10:38: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

I could make my life much easier by not tithing, giving to charity, supporting my husband, or spending almost all of my free time with my mom, but I would not be denying myself and taking up my cross. And while things seem rather bleak and stressful right now, I feel confident, that in all this, God is helping me become the person he wants me to become.

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Bagley, Matt. “God Creates Tough Warriors.” Sailing Onward, 4 June 2017, http://www.sailingonward.com/God-creates-tough-warriors/.

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Anxious for Nothing

This has been a difficult school year what with the cancer diagnosis, hubby still not getting a paycheck, as well as my mom’s Dementia, her recent pneumonia scare, and now her worsening kidneys. My job has also gotten harder. I guess it’s no wonder I’ve been struggling with anxiety, but I’m working to change that…

Lately, I’ve been studying mindfulness, doing some yoga, listening to sound tracks of waves hitting the beach, going for walks, and most of all, praying. I think back to simpler times and hope that things will improve. At times, I feel overwhelmed and want to run away, but I know, as Seneca pointed out two thousand years ago, the problems would just follow me.

Fortunately, while looking for a new book of devotions on Amazon, I came across the book Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado. Within this slim volume are questions for reflection, stories, analogies, and scriptures for the anxious.

The scripture that forms the framework for the book is this…

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:4-8

Subsequently, he believes we can find CALM if we do the following:

Celebrate God’s goodness

Ask God for help

Leave your concerns with Him

Meditate on good things

I don’t want to give away anymore of the book which I highly recommend you read. I just want to say that I found it very helpful. We know from studies that feeling or expressing gratitude can help people feel happy, so it makes sense to celebrate God’s goodness, not just to feel happy but because he loves us and really does want what is ultimately best for us. We also know that he welcomes our petitions and prayers. We are told to cast our burdens upon him as well. What I have the most difficulty with is meditating on good things. I’ve been a regular Eeyore lately, moaning about my problems and not reflecting and being thankful for the blessings and miracles all around me, so I’m going to work harder on this.

Another scripture that is helping me get through this difficult time is this one…

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

It sure is hard to “glory in our sufferings”, but when you accept that this suffering is building your character and helping you develop hope, it can help in accepting one’s plight. That’s not to say you won’t sometimes chew off your fingernails, binge on junk food, or get serious butterflies in your stomach when you’re doing something you’ve been dreading like conducting professional development for fellow educators, but it can help you to take things a day at a time and just do your best. If people have a problem with your doing the best you can under stressful circumstances, they will just have to deal with that, for “If God is with us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

 

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The Oncology Appointment

Sitting in the lobby

awaiting lab work

as others look at magazines

or stare at cell phones

or each other

or at nothing in particular.

Two old men begin to converse;

they break into laughter,

dispelling the silence.

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Goodbye 2017

Well, I can honestly say that this was one of the worst years of my life. Don’t close this page or hit the back button! I promise this post gets better, so stick around. My year started with my mom recovering in my home from a heart attack and six months later, after a diagnosis of vascular dementia, moving into an assisted living facility. It also started and ended with my husband being out of work, and in the middle of it all, I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I’m glad to report that I had my reconstruction surgery on December 19th, and I’m faring pretty well. After all this, I can honestly say that I am truly blessed!

How can I feel blessed after all that? For one, I’m considered cancer-free which means no chemo for me. That is a huge deal! Secondly, even though my mom has dementia, she seems happy in her assisted living facility, playing bingo and attending other daily activities. Third, I realized I had a wheat allergy, and I haven’t had all the chronic itching, pain, sore throats, nausea, low blood pressure, and chest pain I had since I virtually cut wheat from my diet. Fourth, my husband loves me, and we share a nice paid-off lake house with two especially sweet dogs. Even though it’s below freezing outside, it’s nice and warm inside, and we have food to eat and clothing to wear. We’re doing far better than most people in the world. Yes, I am counting my blessings, and I have many of them to be thankful for, so I will sing God’s praises and give him the glory.

That being said, I’m expecting 2018 to be a much better year than this one. Lately, as I’ve been reading devotions, there’s a recurring theme of being patient and having faith. This is so hard for me at times. For instance, I keep thinking, when is the phone going to ring with a job offer for my husband? Some people in the bible, however, had to wait years (and years and years in some cases) for things to happen. Just because we seem to be stuck in a holding pattern doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening to our prayers. Romans 8:28 assures us that, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is listening to our prayers and never deserts us. Even when I was crying myself to sleep after my cancer diagnosis and asking God over and over again, “Why?” I knew he was there with me. Was I angry and confused? Yes! But I never stopped talking to God. I’m still not sure why God let me go through the bad things I experienced this year, but I know that good will come from it. I will be stronger or I will be more compassionate or I will be able to witness better or all of the above. Only God knows right now. I think that at some point, though, I will be able to look back and say to God, “Oh, I get it. I see what you did there. I now know why you allowed me to go through all that Lord.” At some point, I suspect that all this will make sense.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a clip from The Empire Strikes Back. Why? For one, it’s the best of all the Star Wars movies, and secondly, although it’s completely fictional, I think Yoda’s faith in the force is comparable to the faith that God wishes us to have in Him while Luke demonstrates what happens when we have very little faith.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” and Jesus told his apostles in Matthew 17:20 “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” I have faith that God is always with us through the good and the bad and that he will never leave us. I hope that you feel the same, and I wish you a very happy and blessed new year!

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