Over Thanksgiving, I was down and out with COVID. Even though I’ve been careful, social distanced and worn a mask, I still managed to get it. And though it was a relatively mild case, I wouldn’t choose to do that again. Even more than 20 days after I was diagnosed, I’m still fatigued and have tightness in my chest. But while the weather is still mild (due to change this weekend) I have started taking short walks to build up my stamina again. I’m thankful for both the break in the weather, and the ability to once again go for a walk.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I know for most (during normal times), it’s a time of family, football, and food. But I like having a time of gratitude. I like reflecting on all I have to be thankful for. This year, I couldn’t make it off the couch. But I still have much to be grateful for.
There is an old hymn, Count Your Blessings. The chorus goes “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”
I encourage you to take some time to practice gratitude. It may surprise you.
The project has been completed. Hallelujah! My original estimate for it was between three to six months but it took almost two years. There were moments I wondered if I'd ever complete it and to be truthful, I'd really like to start it over. It's not up to my former standards and I want to make it 'perfect'.
But perfection kills and I need to learn to let things go. Not just in art, but in life. I could bring myself to a nervous breakdown trying to do things perfectly for Mom and Dad. It just can't be done. When I was caring for my own mother, I had to accept that I could not make her situation perfect. I just had to do my best and keep moving forward.
Years ago, I read a book by Larry Crabb. I don't remember the title, nor do I remember anything about the book, but I do remember one thing. A quote that has stayed with me. It was a question, actually. In relating to our spiritual lives the question is, “Do you want to be a mystic or a manager?” You could try to have a nice, orderly, managed spiritual walk with everything in its proper place, striving for perfection. Or you could have a wild, reckless roller-coaster ride with Jesus through life - not knowing what is coming next.
There is a small part of me that would love to have an organized, 'perfect' life. The bigger part of my heart wants to run hard after God, find the mystery He has for us to explore, and the power He has to change me into something extraordinary.
I let go of perfection. The project has come to an end. We'll see where the ride takes me next.
There are times I am amazed at the wonderful man I have for a husband. It’s not that I didn’t date good men when I was young and single, but because I didn’t have a good self-image, I would sabotage those relationships and end up obsessing over men who, frankly, were trouble.
But I did a wise thing in my youth. I prayed a very fervent and sincere prayer. Seeing many of my friends doing foolish and destructive things for ‘love’, I knew that on my own I would make the very same mistakes. So, I cried out to God not to let me settle for second best. In spite of my foolishness and willfulness, He honored that prayer; but I did not make it easy for Him.
Nonetheless, I ended up with a man who is kind and supportive beyond measure. He has been a studio assistant, a copy editor, a compassionate caregiver, a lifter and mover of heavy things and whatever else I’ve needed along the way. He cares for me, encourages me, he’s helped me care for my mother as she descended into Alzheimer’s and now he’s caring for his parents. Just this week, he took care of me as I went through some medical procedures, he cared for his dad as he had to relinquish his driver’s license, and in the middle of the night he cared for his mother’s geriatric cat who is diabetic and was in serious stress of an unknown infection – going to pick up the cat and his parents, taking them to the animal hospital, and caring for his mother as she had to leave her beloved pet for the night. Now he is making sure the cat lives another day by going over twice each day to get antibiotics down her throat, ointment into her eyes, and give her shots of insulin.
His sacrifices for love are monumental. I am truly blessed. I will leave you with this....
Sonnet by William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his
height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy
lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
But Jonah got up and fled from the Lord…. (Jonah 1:3a International Standard Version)
Jonah is not the poster child of what we should aim for in our relationship with God, but I have to admit ... I relate to him. I currently find myself in a position that I would like to flee.
A couple weeks ago, my mother-in-law was reaching for something that was j u s t out of reach. She tried to extend her arm a bit more and something went ‘pop’. Long story short, she tore a bicep. Due to the medications she’s on, it started bleeding and her entire arm was swollen and the color of an eggplant. Eventually, she landed in the hospital.
After being there for almost a week, she has been transferred to a rehab unit. Through all of this, I’ve been there, being an advocate, being sure things are being communicated effectively, making sure the doctors have the correct information on meds and conditions, and dealing with my father-in-law who has beginning to mid-stages of dementia. Being out of her normal routine makes mom a little fuzzy, too, so it’s important for me to stay on top of everything.
It’s the same in rehab. Dad is confused and convinced we’ve placed mom someplace to die and breaks into sobs. I’m trying to comfort him, make sure the staff knows to keep mom’s arm elevated every time they re-position her after therapy to make sure she has her balance and strengthens her legs. In the meantime, mom is plotting how to get out of there and not have to do therapy anymore. “It’s dumb,” she tells me. She wants to go home and have the in-house physical therapy work with her. I know from past experience that if we do that, she’ll cancel it and just sit on the couch.
I’m the mean enforcer. All of this takes me back to the time I was caring for my mother as she was losing to Alzheimer’s. It was one long battle, day after day, to keep her safe and cared for. She didn’t want to be cared for. I was the mean enforcer then, too. All kinds of emotions are being stirred up these last two weeks, and none of them good.
Lying in bed one morning, I was thinking, “Just shoot me now.” My life was once again shrinking down to nothing but caregiving. No art. No writing. No time for friends. I’ve quit working out due to time and energy. Just get up, pick up Dad, go to rehab, oversee Mom’s care, talk with staff, notify the family on the latest developments, and then take Dad home. Repeat. Next week I have to add work into the mix. I’ve been through this before, and while I love my in-laws more than I can say, I want to jump on a boat and go the other way.
It was in this frame of mind, while in prayer, God directed me to I Samuel 15 and 16. This is the passage that relates what happened when David’s son tried to take over the kingdom. David fled with his entire household – most likely to avoid a siege and the destruction of the city – and encountered some who wanted to help and others who wanted to curse him. One man was throwing rocks and dirt on him screaming invectives and gloating that God was paying David back for perceived evil. One of David’s warriors got fed up and offered to kill the man. Here is the part that spoke to me that day – David told him that God was in control. Perhaps the Lord was telling this man to curse, or the Lord would hear these curses and restore him to his kingship. Either way, he was going to trust God knew what He was doing, and was doing it.
While I’m about the same age David was when he went through that trial, I am not in a position where I am responsible for hundreds of people on the run with me. I am merely caring for two elderly people. God is in control and has something for me in this. He also has something for my husband and his parents in this as well. When He is ready, He will either restore me to a life of art, or He will take it away. In either scenario, He is in charge and He is good. I have a history that proves it.
It’s been ten years ago today that we moved my mother from her house in the Detroit metro area to Grand Rapids. It was an event that radically changed both our lives. While she knew her memory was failing and that she needed help, she also realized she was losing her home, her friends and everything familiar to her, and she was grieving that.
I knew I was putting my entire life aside to help the woman who gave me birth, but didn't raise me. And though I had already stepped into her life after not hearing from her in over a decade and done the hard work of forgiveness, now started the day to day grind of walking it out.
Throughout that journey, my life kept shrinking. I quit painting, I quit volunteering, and I quit working…bit by bit I had to let things go until all I did was look after my mother, who was increasingly resentful of me. Frankly, I was resentful of her as well.
We all long to have a destiny. I think that’s why Rick Warren’s book Purpose Filled Life was such a big seller. People long to have a deeper purpose than just getting up every day and going through the motions of living. As my life shrank more and more and I became invisible to everyone around me, I grieved that I no longer had a future. I had no idea how long this season would last, but I knew the world wasn't waiting for me when it was over. Life was moving steadily on, friends and acquaintances were moving ahead in their careers and lives while I shepherded mom through the last years of her life.
A rather startling experience occurred a couple years into caregiving. I was at a conference when a young woman I’d never met came up to me and said that God had revealed to her that I was an artist of some kind and that God wanted me to pick it up again and use it for Him. It took my breath away, and gave me great hope. But back at home, the day to day grind would continue and a couple years later I’d wondered if I’d missed the boat. God sent another stranger to say the same thing.
It’s exciting to have a destiny, and to have had the supernatural experience of people coming up out of the blue to confirm it. But I think we may forget that a purposeful life is filled with insignificant things. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, computer crashes, power outages, paying bills and other nagging, boring details make up our lives leading up to other times of great satisfaction. The graduation of a child, becoming teacher of the year, publishing a book, giving a presentation, receiving a contract for a gallery show, or any number of wonderful things are made up of really insignificant times. Changing diapers, making lesson plans, writing and re-writing, practicing in front of a mirror, working on fundamental skills over and over. All this and more takes place before the big things come to pass.
As a result, our thoughts can wander into dark places. “I’m a failure. This is useless. I have nothing to contribute.” These thoughts are poisonous. It is good to remember when Jesus was baptized and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, in Whom I am well pleased,” that Jesus hadn't done one miracle, hadn't called one disciple, but had just put in His time growing up, learning a trade and developing a relationship with His Father. Could it be that the insignificant things that feel like wasted time actually matter to God?
It is good to ponder on this as I’m transitioning back into art and writing. I’m back to working on fundamental skills. Every day is a reminder on how far behind the curve I am.
I’m right on track.
Note: The observation about Jesus' life comes from a CD series by Francis Frangipane called Holiness, Truth and the Presence of God. Here is a link to purchase that set. It also comes as an MP3 format. Used by permission.
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.