Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway. ~ Emily Austin

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Splendor of Autumn

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. ~James 5:7 (NIV)

Autumn is here—a season of peace, a time of rest and patiently waiting for good things like family gatherings at Thanksgiving.

This is my chance, as a caregiver, to see God's glory laid out right before me. A moment of rest on a stage blooming in glorious colors and wonderful fragrances. It’s when God’s brush strokes create masterpieces exploding with crisp golden glitters, radiant reds, and luxurious shades of browns—a burst of colors blending perfectly together. It’s splenderific.

I'm going to take long deep breaths and savor each sip of hot chocolate, each generous bite of piepear-apple tart, perhaps, swimming on a caramel-pecan pie crust. And if I had a front porch with white wooden floors and hand-crafted railings, I would grab a comfy sweater and plant myself there … for a sweet moment or two. For now, I'll sit in front of the fireplace.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. ~Matthew 11:28-30

Okay fellow caregivers, how about we bring a little bit of this restful season inside? It's free therapy. Start slowly, take your time, it doesn’t have to be done in a day. And for dementia patients, like my father, make sure you don’t overdo it. An explosion of colors can really mess with their minds.

I try to involve Dad with the decorating tasks ... the simple ones. He did drag the furniture around for me when we rearranged his living room. A little unsteady on his legs but he held on pretty good. He’s very proud of the new look. A sense of accomplishment is important for both the caregiver and the care receiver.  

Let's light up a pumpkin spice candle (Mom and Dad's favorite), or apple cinnamon; fragrances that can calm the soul and soothe the spirit. Purchase a few pumpkins, assortment of sizes and different colors. Involve family and friends. Maybe friends and family would donate pumpkins or a bale of hay—not too expensive at Walmart. 

Dad's coffee table is now a small and simple display of fall colors. His model motorcycle remains, of course.

Side Note: Start asking family and friends to send Christmas cards addressed to, in my case, Mom and Dad.

Wonderful aromas do wonders for a tired mind. If the home is filled with apple blossoms, pumpkin spice, and brown sugar cinnamon, everyone is sure to experience the splendor of autumn.

How do you enjoy this season?

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Dear Lord, help me to enjoy the season. I am grateful for pauses in my life. Teach me to bring your peace into my tired life, like a sweet autumn morning. It is your breath in our lungs so let me breathe in your presence. Thank you for painting the world in brilliant colors. Cover us with your calmness and blanket us with pure joy. Remind me to keep my eyes on you.

Beloved Caregiver

 Arise with me
Before the dawn
Beneath an autumn sky

Enjoy with me
A morning crisp
And watch the sparrow fly

A season births
The earth with gold,
A breeze of red
And orange bold

Arise with me
When blossoms fall
Beneath an autumn sky

(Copyright, 2018 by Deborah L. Alten)

WORSHIP: "Great are You Lord" by One Sonic Society

Friday, October 5, 2018

When You Need Just One Miracle

And Jesus looking upon them said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” ~Mark 10:27 

What happens when it seems we have done everything we can? We’ve had our good days, we’ve learned a lot, and sometimes we even receive offers of help. But then, no matter the good days, those bad days still come. As caregivers we burn out fast—body, mind, soul, spirit … there’s just nothing left.

Finances are in shambles, emotions are on edge, and communication with God become one-word prayers. God still honors those, by the way.

We think we’ve done pretty well lately; the Bible has been an opened book, morning prayers have happened, yet, things are not falling in place. You need just one miracle.

2 Kings 4
Well, once upon an evil time there lived a wise widow with her two young sons. The creditor was coming (as her husband had left a mighty debt) to take her sons away and force them into slavery.

Most likely this creditor would have repossessed her home too, but that’s just my thought. She had one alternative—a miracle. So she ran to a man of God, Elisha, who said unto her, “What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house?” 

And she said, “Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.”

Don’t you see? That’s all God needed: Her faith and a jar of oil. He began his divine work and from that one jar flowed an endless stream of oil. Her sons dashed through the neighborhood asking for empty vessels. She filled enough vessels with oil to sell in the market place and paid off her debts. Yes, she kept her house. She kept her sons. She kept her sanity, and no doubt, doubled the size of her faith.
As caregivers we are tired, financially strapped, we have worries, anxieties, and shackled with burdens we think we can’t bear anymore? It’s worth repeating, isn’t it? We are in need of rest, peace, joy, grace, mercy, and … just one miracle.
What miracle do you need today? The widow knew only God had the ability to come through for her, so she ran to His humble servant, the warrior prophet, Elisha.
“I have nothing but this jar of oil,” she told him.
It wasn’t enough to live on or solve her problems. Nonetheless, in God’s hand it was all she needed. She paid off her debt with that one jar of oil.
Need a miracle? Who are you running to? Tell me what have you in the house? What’s your Jar of Oil? Have faith like a mustard seed and give it to God, trust that He can, and will, perform a miracle.

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Dear Lord, here I am, humbled, feeling alone, overwhelmed and tired. I have only my faith in you to get me through another day. I need a miracle. And I know that miracle is you.

Beloved Caregiver

Bring to me unending tears
Release to me unspoken fears
The answer is not here to find
The answer’s not of earthly kind

Just come to me, your first true love
You are my treasure, my greatest pleasure
A miracle is mine to give
A mended life is yours to live

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

When Old Memories Bring New Life

Memories are like antiques, the older they are the more valuable they became. ~Marinela Reka

“Dad, what would you like to do for fun today?”

“Fun?” he asked. “Nothing … nothing is fun.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“What did you used to do for fun? New Guinea was fun, right?

“Oh yeah, that was fun.”

Dad’s face lifted as he began to tell stories of days gone by. He and Mom built a house on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. To get home from work they had to travel via the beach. They went hiking, picked coconuts, and Dad rode his BMW motorcycle through uncharted jungles. He could picture in his mind where his friends and family lived. And tell you in detail how he built his home.

But when the story ended, he became sad. And it seemed his mind went blank again. “I need to sleep,” he said.

Dementia steals so much, but even though he was tired, bored, and depressed I wouldn’t allow him to close his eyes. I decided a little renovating was in order … redecorating, if you will, and invited him to join me. I took down the paintings on his living room wall—the living room which has become his whole world—and asked him what I should put on the wall. He didn’t know.

A bright and happy photograph of my mom with her sister and my cousin Saskia was rescued from behind the China cabinet. It was taken in Australia a few years back. He smiled. “Oh, that’s nice,” he said as he sprung back to life. That was my queue.

The inspiring (albeit dull according to Dad) painting of a lighthouse amidst a storm was replaced with a landscape of Indonesia.

“Oh,” he said. “My heart feels lighter.”

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
~Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

Dad repeated that his heart felt lighter as he began to unravel his past, recalling the names of his friends in New Guinea. He mapped out where they lived, where his family members lived. It took a while but the stories came back and reminiscing was finally recognized as “having fun.” I found a replica model of his BMW motorcycle and he burst into tears. He studied it till he got dizzy. He couldn’t wait to see what was next.

The redecorating is a work in progress as we attempt to bring a little bit of Indonesia, Holland, and Australia into the living room.

Furthermore, I’m putting together a Memory Book. Page 3 is titled, “All the Places I’ve Lived.” I found a picture of our old home in Australia and when I showed him the page he literally bellowed, “That’s my house, the house I built.” He wept so loud I think he scared himself. But he laughed too … a laugh that came from the depths of his belly.

Oh those old memories, those precious memories still stored in his beautiful mind returning a little bit of life … and fun.

Precious Memories

Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger, ever nearer
And the sacred past unfold

Precious father, loving mother
Fly across the lonely years
And old home scenes of my childhood
In fond memory appears

In the stillness, of the midnight
Echoes from the past I hear;
Old time singing, gladness bringing
From that lovely land somewhere.

As I travel on life’s pathway,
Know not what the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope grows fonder
Precious memories flood my soul

Precious memories
How they linger
How they ever flood my soul;
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious sacred scenes unfold.
(Lyrics by Johnny Wright, 1925)

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the smiles and the precious memories that bring life to tired bones. Give me wisdom; grant me patience, and understanding to know all the good things you still promise even for frail minds. Thank you for being mindful of us and that you delight in our ministry of giving care. We love only because you first loved us. It is an honor to take care of those you’ve entrusted to us.

Beloved Caregiver

His tired soul
A broken mind
What once was old
Can treasure find

You are his treasure
Worth more than gold
You are the hope
I have restored

Don’t overthink
The simple things
Give him the past
His soul, his wings

(Copyright Deborah L. Alten, 2018)

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Wonderful, Peculiar, Work in Progress

Sometimes early morning devotions is digging into the soil of a garden, while pulling weeds and talking to God.

 “Well, Lord, I meant to get into that prayer closet but here I am pulling weeds and trimming trees.”

God: “I appreciate you coming to me anytime and anywhere. I love gardening. You know how I love to prune.”

Me: “Ouch.”

I put on a pair of gardening gloves and go to battle, with a few straggling bees, and pick up rotten peaches, sun-burnt apples, and browned persimmons. The bees look drunk after inhaling so much peach nectar. They hardly move, or buzz. These peaches have seen better days but are now hard as rocks, housing gnats and flies. My beautiful garden smells overripe, overgrown, and hauntingly shady. Time to trim the trees in our wilderness.

I decide to leave the pomegranate tree to its own devices since the fruit, almost caressing the ground, has only now begun to redden.

As I work I talk to Jesus about the weather and the work that has to be done. “I’m rebelling, you know. Ugh, praying, reading my Bible, writing in my prayer journal … it’s getting a little ho hum stale.

God: “Yeah, I understand. But just 5, maybe 10 minutes, of your day. I would love that.”

 Me: Sigh. “I know. Sometimes I fall into that pit of depression—single mom, two adult children not going to church … for now; Mom had a stroke; Dad had a stroke; I’m turning 60 soon. What is the matter with me? How did I get here?

God: “You let the weeds grow.”

Me: Sigh. “I know. I need to get back into your Word. I always say it’s the best weed killer.”

God: “I like that.”

Some weeds are less stubborn—easy to uproot. “Like the weeds of politics. O, what a cesspool! I’ll keep my eyes on you, Lord.”

I get to the stubborn weeds. The ones choking all the good plants. No matter how hard I pull, these are deeply rooted and not coming out. But I need to get to that root or it grows again.

“It’s like that secret sin lodged in my flesh. In my defense, Lord, it’s a giant thorn in my side and I’ve tried pulling it out. Pulling the root out would hurt too much. Not much of a defense, I know.”

God: “At least you know. Now work a little harder and pull!”

“Oh, forget it. The backyard is a mess—leaves on the ground, a leaky hose, rotten fruit, branches too high for me to prune, fermenting grapes, and weeds, weeds, weeds. I wonder, God, how do you see me?”

God: “You’re my favorite work-in-progress. My unfinished masterpiece, a priceless work of art. And I can already see the oasis. Maybe you can add a fountain  … with clean living water.”

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. ~Galatians 6:9

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Life-Saving Meal Hacks For the Tired Caregiver

Providing Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Is It a Battle We Can Win?

A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. ~C.S. Lewis

It was time for a CS Lewis quote, one of my favorite authors. I think that man had a quote for every occasion for which I am grateful. And he’s right. My parents need nourishing meals even though food for them is nothing more than survival—Dad especially, since he doesn’t remember or understand why he needs to eat.

Today’s blog post has a few ulterior motives which we’ll uncover as we go. But most important, I wanted to share a few easy ways to have dinner on the table without hassle, or have it be time-consuming, and frustration-free for the caregiver. This is the difficult task most caregivers face as we ponder on how to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with healthy snacks in between. The kitchen doesn’t have to be a war zone, and the dinner table can be prepped for successful peace talks.

My cousin, Peter, who takes care of both his mom and dad, loves to have gourmet meals served three times a day. I don’t know how he does it, but he does make an art of it. I, on the other hand, need quick, simple, healthy, and yummy at the same time.

Let me arm you with a few life-saving hacks to overcome our food dilemma. Shop online with Walmart (or the store of your choice). Put those car keys away and fire up that cell phone or laptop. Walmart does not pay me to say nice things, but who knows, maybe they will in the near future. I'm working on it. 

I like Walmart since there's no nasty shipping and handling fee on orders over $35. Make sure, however, as some items are not shipped by Walmart.

Our pantry is usually stocked with canned soups, our favorite is Progresso’s Chicken and Orzo with lemon, canned potatoes, cereal, oatmeal, crackers, and power drinks—all ordered online. Walmart also has personal shoppers to handle your groceries, but for pick-up only—still a good deal.

My dad is easy to please so oatmeal for breakfast or cereal will suffice. Mom eats like a bird, but that’s a whole other story. Lunch is a bowl of soup and half a sandwich, or a simple salad. Have these things on hand and you’ll never have to wreck those brain molecules trying to think what will we eat today? Maybe use a daily calendar with a schedule of meals. 

For me, surviving the front lines, means having a go-to meal like spaghetti. It’s pantry food ready in minutes. Now-a-days they have veggie noodles, or gluten free noodles, even quinoa noodles, and healthy sauce options. We go with gluten free and spice up the sauce with sweet Italian sausage, sprinkle with cheese, and decorate with basil leaves. A salad on the side and we have a quick victory. 

Basil the Herb
Tip 1: grow your own herbs.
Tip 2: grow your own veggies
Tip 3fill up pantry with canned goods (also good for earthquake preparedness)
 Tip 4shop online

That brings me to wonderful life-saving-dinner hack number two. Take the stress out of cooking by joining online food deliverers like HelloFresh. And yes, I do earn a nice $30 check for everyone who orders HelloFresh through me. And for a limited time you'll receive $40 by signing up. I love to give.

Do they deliver great meals? So far they have—we’ve been with HelloFresh for little over a year now. The ingredients are fresh and you won’t have to measure anything, it’s all the right proportions. Food is absolutely marvelous and oh so tasty. No one needs to be a top chef, and it takes about 30 minutes to prep and cook the whole meal. Mom and Dad are still wondering how and when I became such a gourmet chef. It happened overnight, I tell them. I’m as surprised as they are.

The meals are delivered and kept comfortably fresh between ice packs. But more than anything, one order (we have the family plan) feeds our household of 5, twice with a few leftovers. My daughter can cook these meals, and my son has helped. Even mom likes to cut up the vegetables—excluding onions and garlic.

It’s another way to have dinner on the table quick and easy, and hassle free. Even when I’ve come home tired I can still have the meals ready to serve within the hour. Another nice thing is you can skip a week or two if you want.
Orzo with Chicken Sausage and Zucchini

I guess it’s all about preparation. We need battle plans. 

Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them. ~Ezekiel 38:7

Tip 4: For fresh groceries there is a service called InstaCart. Yes, you can order online from any store and a personal shopper goes shopping for you … and delivers. My son is doing this as a side job, which makes him a super hard working foot soldier since his other job is full-time at Amazon. Tip 5: Remember to tip your shopper.

Tip 6: Keep it simple. Being prepared will help with care-giving. This coming from someone who lacks organizational skills and pretty much excels at procrastination. It’s not as if you need the Lord to multiply five fishes and two loaves of bread … well, maybe you do. Be not dismayed he'll provide that way, you have but to ask. Nonetheless, with these days of convenience, you hardly ever have to leave home to get the things you need, though I highly recommend that you do once in a while. Get some fresh air, find time with friends, sit on the front porch and read a book, or relax in the garden with one of those gourmet meals you’re about to  create.

Tip 7: The day runs smoother when you start it out with prayer
Tip 8: Don't forget to join HelloFresh with me. I'm just saying.

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for simplifying my life. Help me to stay the course and keep it simple. You desire for us to come before you early in the morning so that you can take care of our days. I know I need to “seek first your kingdom and all these things shall be added unto me.” Give me wisdom, give me strength, and fill my home with joy so we can share a nourishing meal. Come dine with us.

Beloved Caregiver

 Come to my table
Prepared for you
Eat from my vineyard
Drink from my well
You’ll never be hungry
Or thirsty again

Come rest in fields of herbs and spices
Sit under the peach tree, the apple, and figs
Draw from the river that runs through my garden
Wait for the joy that waters it

I will dine with you
I will share this meal
There is nothing to bring
But a heart that can sing

(copyright 2018 by Deborah L. Alten)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Joys of Youth: The Olive Effect

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. ~Psalm 71:17 –18

This is Olive. She's my mom and dad's great-grandchild. Olive is three years old and seems to get a second wind every half hour or so. She has another weapon ... pure joy!
This weapon, Dad says, is not fair. It makes him laugh even when he doesn't want to. 
We’ve had a rough week. Our dear doctor decided, after a year and 3 months, to take out Dad’s catheter. I know, TMI, right? 

It's another new beginning, and yet another frustrating lesson for Dad to learn. More research for me, of course, and praying for an extra dose of patience, love, and understanding. Yet, for those moments when he gets it ... well, it’s a little bit like when your toddler finally makes it to the bathroom by herself. O, the joy! Nonetheless, our joy meter seemed depleted, our happy tank on empty, until little Olive came to visit. 
Entertainment by a 3-year-old with energy someone, someday, will learn how to bottle, makes an old man forget his bouts with mild depression and boredom. Yes, Olive managed to make great-grandpa and great-grandma laugh—even, or especially, when she got another second wind and sprinted up and down the hallway with Mira, our 6-year-old husky, yelling, "Come get me!" Olive is the chaos that brings joy. It's good to laugh, Caregiver. It's also great to hear laughter from the one you're taking care of.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. ~Psalm 126:2

Request nicely from family members, and friends, to come visit. We realize it's difficult when they live far away, but request anyhow. It's a chance to catch up and perhaps a few hours of rest for you, the caregiver. Take any opportunity to rest. And more importantly, hanging out with younger adults and children really does restore energy, and bring happiness to an aging grandfather who's suffering from dementia. 

Like actor, Michael J. Fox once said, "Family is not an important thing. It’s everything."

A Caregiver's Prayer

Dear Lord, restore unto me your joy. I want to laugh again. Show me that with you, life is never boring, it's a great adventure. Make each morning new, filled with your blessings and wonder. May I greet each day with a song and rise above those things that would anchor me down. This is the day that you have made, let me be glad in it.

My Beloved Caregiver

I long to fill your days with joy
To fill your days with laughter
To hear sweet giggles fill the air
With happy ever afters

With summer breezes dance, my friend
With fall enjoy the harvest
With winter snow be blessed anew
With spring sing out My praises

I will fill your nights with peace
With rest, 
Spirit reborn
New life at dawn 

I will fill your days with hope
With love
And every good thing from above
(Copyright 2018, by Deborah L. Alten)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dementia: A Thief in the Memory Factory

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength:~Isaiah 26:3

Dad once joked about the brain being the Memory Factory. But now, in his factory, the conveyor belt is in place, the cogs are ready to turn, the wheels are polished, but we can’t seem to find the light switch of his memory factory. It’s dark in there, Dad's factory is shutting down and no one seems to know where the on button is.

It’s extremely tough and frustrating to figure out what might be the one thing a dementia sufferer could still have interest in. Is there something they can do instead of sitting on their favorite chair, sleeping, and wondering what is happening to them? What’s going on in their minds? Dementia is wicked, it’s cruel, and a thief—a thief of memories, dreams, and even motor skills. It kills.

And yet God, in His still small voice, whispers, “Do not be dismayed. Don’t give up hope. I am with you, and with the one who’s slipping into darkness.”

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. ~1 John 1:5

Dad still remembers scripture. Some of it he can recite word for word, like Psalm 23, Psalm 118, and 1 John 1:5. We just have to get him started. 

God will show up, do not be dismayed. Dementia is not spiritual darkness.

Dad and Me
When the memory-clinic doctor finally—and officially—declared Dad suffered from dementia I realized that no one had actually said it. We all knew it but we just didn’t mouth it. Dad has dementia.

What? Not my dad. Not possible. The strong man who took care of me in the jungle? Not to mention that this was the man who studied the brain, the heart, the whole human body. But here he is, an abandoned factory … or is he?

Today at the breakfast table we stumbled upon something that seemed to turn on the lights—a conversation about what he does remember.

“Dad do you remember your life in New Guinea?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied. “I remember a lot of things.”

“Do you remember where you lived?”

“Yes, I can draw you a map.”

A map? He can’t draw stick people, he doesn’t know what to do with his toothbrush but he can draw a map? 

Look at the detail. I put this map on Facebook and his younger brother left a comment saying that Dad even penned in the place where he had worked, and Mom’s office on the docks is there, too. 

This is what we’ll work with, then, I thought. It’s a wonderful little miracle. It seems we have found something that will hold his interest for a few hours. Who knows, by the end of the month we might have a map of the whole country. Now that is something to look forward to.

This is truly an amazing discovery. Part of the factory is still functional. We found the secret door. Dad could tell us stories about his young adult years, recalling the names of friends and what they did together. He even recalled the routes he took with his friend, Harrie Van Gen, through the jungle on their motorcycles, and the death of his motorcycle when it met the front end of a truck.

Yes, he had a good laugh about that, and remembered the detail of the accident. His little open section of the memory factory was hard at work. It was wonderful to see his tears of joy. For the rest of the day Dad was quite content. 

Today I asked him to draw another map. He did. It looked like the other side of the island. As I sat on the staircase, trying to jar his memory, I realized that this journey of discovery is for the caregiver and care-receiver to take together. I'm not his supervisor on duty, I'm his companion. And along this journey together we hope to find the map that will lead us to the one door—the entrance to the Memory Factory that's still functional.

Dad and His Bike

A Caregiver’s Prayer

 Thank you, Lord, for the blessings, the miracles, and for the maps that lead us to the answers you’ve graciously revealed to us. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us on this journey, help us to keep our faith and our trust in you. Show me how to be a friend, a companion. You are our hope, and the door that holds the key to this journey. Give us a heart to serve others, as we put our own lives in your hands.

 Beloved Caregiver

In darkness of mind
Still light you will find
Surrender your fears, your anger, your tears
I am Yahweh, the one who hears

I am Truth, the light, the only way
Ever present in your everyday
A broken soul will be reborn
The Spirit’s song never forlorn
(Copyright, by Deborah L. Alten 2018)