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The Beautiful Burden of Caregiving

By |2024-01-21T14:50:48+00:00February 1, 2024|Blog, Caregiving|

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR While in my early thirties, my mom was diagnosed with a debilitating brain disease. I was told by the doctor that she would lose every ability “from her head to her toes.” Within months of the diagnosis, mom lost the ability to form words. Shouts, groans, and tears became her agonizing way of communicating. Not long after, she lost the use of her legs and hands. My father passed away years before mom’s diagnosis, and since I was the only sibling who lived in the same town, I quit my job and assumed the role as primary caretaker. She lived for two years after the diagnosis, so between caring for my young children and keeping up with life’s ongoing demands, caring for mom often felt burdensome. As I’ve watched friends face the inevitable challenges that accompany aging or ill parents, it’s become clear that my sentiment was not unique. But what I discovered amid the challenging journey, by the grace of God, is that the burdensome call of caregiving is also one that is profoundly and incomparably beautiful. The Burdensome Exhortation Scripture makes abundantly clear that we are to honor our parents (Deut. 5:16; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2). Though short, these verses are layered with meaning, and it is easy to apply them in the way we see fit. It’s important, however, to take care to not interpret these words from God based on our own feelings or agendas. The Pharisees did this, and Jesus rebuked them (Matt. 15:3-6). For us to obey this command, trust in God’s perfect Word is required. There are times when honoring parents is confusing, challenging, and difficult. And while honoring may look different from one situation to the next, there are no caveats given with these verses, though we sometimes wish there were. One of the many ways we honor our parents is by caring for them in their time of need, and not because of what they have or have not done for us, but because sacrificial love has been demonstrated for us in the gospel...

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Caregiving with Compassion and Respect: Learning from Jesus

By |2023-08-15T13:35:11+00:00May 4, 2023|Blog, Caregiving|

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR When my dad’s cancer spread to his bones, and he became at risk for falls, my brother and I acted quickly. Out of concern for his safety, we helped him move from the home where he had lived alone for the past twenty years into a comfortable assisted living facility. My dad often half-jokingly referred to the assisted living facility as “Shawshank,” after the prison in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” To an introvert who had lived alone since his divorce forty-five years before, being suddenly surrounded by so many people probably did feel like imprisonment. Caring with Compassion and Respect Our story with my dad reveals a common caregiver struggle. As caregivers, we seek the safety of our loved one, and in so doing, we sometimes ignore or minimize their desires. In our commitment to safety, we can also make the mistake of treating adults as if they were children, unable to make wise decisions for themselves. Even when dementia or disease prevents our loved ones from thinking clearly, we still must care for them with compassion and respect. To learn how to navigate this challenging terrain, we must remain centered in Christ’s compassion. Learning from Christ’s Compassion As he cared for people, Christ showed compassion by looking at and for people, by asking good questions and listening to the answers, and by gently pointing people to the hope they had in him...

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Whining vs. Biblical Complaint in Caregiving

By |2023-08-15T13:44:52+00:00March 2, 2023|Blog, Caregiving|

MARISSA BONDURANT|GUEST When my kids wake up in the morning and complain about getting dressed for school, and the breakfast options I’ve offered, and the color of their lunch box, and the way their sister looked at them… I tell them to “stop whining.” When my own heart is dissatisfied with how my pants fit or my husband’s work schedule, or the fact that I wasn’t invited to something… I tell myself to “stop having a pity party.” But when our hearts are broken, sad, overwhelmed, and discouraged at the suffering of our loved one and the life changes required to care for them, should we still say “stop whining” to our tender hearts? Or is there another way to think about the brokenness we are experiencing? I believe there is a real difference between whining and biblically complaining. Whining is what we do when our preferences aren’t being met. Biblical complaint is when we acknowledge the disconnect between the pain of our lived-in reality, and what we know is true of God’s character and his plan for redeeming our world...

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Caregiving as a Calling and Ministry

By |2023-03-24T17:44:33+00:00January 16, 2023|Blog, Caregiving|

MARISSA BONDURANT|GUEST If Jesus visited your church this week, which ministry team would he sign up for? This is a hypothetical scenario, but I think Jesus would sign up for the ministry of caregiving. When you hear the word “caregiver” you might think of a trained professional like a home health worker or a nurse. However, the dictionary definition is much broader. A caregiver is described as anyone who regularly looks after or cares for a child, an elderly, or a disabled person. National surveys estimate that 40% of adults in the United States are caring for an adult and/or a child with unique health needs1,2. For this article, I skimmed the book of Mark and counted thirteen stories of Jesus healing individuals, and three separate accounts of Jesus healing entire crowds. If we know God has a heart for caregiving, and we know that 40% of our church members are caregivers, the question to ask is: are we treating caregiving as a ministry? As caregivers, do we see ourselves as having been called into this role? And as churches, are we training, equipping, and supporting one another in this mission field? In this caregiving series, Elizabeth Turnage and I want to help start some of these conversations. We will do that by shining a light on some of the lesser discussed aspects of caregiving. Things like anticipatory grief, giving dignity to a sick or dying loved one, and the difference between whining and biblically complaining...

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How Do We Pray When Prayer is Hard

By |2024-06-23T18:49:09+00:00July 8, 2024|Blog, Prayer|

ELIZABETH TURNAGE | CONTRIBUTOR “Father, please send your angels to protect my mom.” I spoke this prayer on night ten of my mom’s fierce battle with Covid. Five hours later, she was dead. Have you ever received a resounding “no” to heartfelt prayers? Have you prayed prayers for days, months, and years and seen no evidence of change at all? Prayers for the return of a wayward child, prayers for freedom from deeply rooted sin patterns, prayers for relief from chronic pain? Perhaps with David, you have cried day and night but heard no answer and found no rest (See Psalm 22:2). In such seasons, bitterness or cynicism threatens to mute our tongues. How do we pray when prayer is hard? Three Crucial Practices Three crucial practices help us to pray when prayer is hard: learning the language of lament, which deepens faith; leaning into community, which grows hope; and listening for God’s declaration of his unfailing love, which expands love for God and for others. Learning the Language of Lament When prayer is hard, learning the language of lament can help us to emerge with a stronger faith. As Pastor Mark Vroegop explains, “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.”[i] Lament not only expresses our faith in the goodness of God, it also strengthens our faith in its expression. Prayers of lament often process through four categories: turning to God, naming the grief, asking persistently and boldly for help, and expressing restored confidence. Lamentations, Jeremiah’s lament over the fall of Jerusalem, illustrates each of these categories. Rather than turning away from God when relief from suffering doesn’t come, lamenters turn toward God. Jeremiah addresses his complaints to God in raw words few of us would dare to utter aloud: “You have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through” (Lam. 3:44 ESV). Lamenters name their grief, refusing to minimize their suffering: “I am the one who has seen the affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven me and brought me into darkness without any light” (Lam. 3:1). Arguing that their current experience doesn’t seem to match their understanding of God’s goodness and mercy, lamenters ask persistently and boldly for help. Jeremiah keeps crying for help, “Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” (Lam. 5:1). In doing so, he expresses his firm conviction that “no one is abandoned by the Lord forever” (Lam. 3:31). Not always, but often, lamenters turn from complaint, expressing restored confidence that the Lord will redeem and restore again. Jeremiah’s turn comes in the familiar assurance: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-22). As Vroegop asserts, lament “stands in the gap between pain and promise.”[ii]  Learning to lament helps when prayer is hard...

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The Body of Christ Makes All the Difference

By |2024-03-19T13:29:44+00:00April 4, 2024|Blog, Discipleship|

SHARON ROCKWELL | CONTRIBUTOR My friend was not handling life very well. Emotions overwhelmed her as she felt the disappointment and pain of an adult child who was making bad choices, grief for a parent in hospice, and the sting of anger when relatives inappropriately demanded a share of the inheritance. She was already battling cancer, exhausted from chemotherapy and frustrated that she could not deal with all that was on her plate. Darkness invaded her world more than was visible to the eye. She had Christian friends at church who were praying for her. She had good-intentioned family members always ready with words of advice. And she had plenty of books and podcast lectures on dealing with her specific issues. But it was a wise, older Christian woman who encouraged her and imparted truth without judgement that changed everything. This woman met with my friend twice a week for months. She told me the main premise of their discussions was that the only thing you can control is yourself. My friend kept a diary of their Bible searches for God’s truth about her life versus her own self-deception. Here are a few of the key take-aways that she recounted put her back on a healthy path. She learned to guard her heart. Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Guarding your heart means choosing godly thoughts (Col. 3:2; Phil. 4:8) as well as seeking wisdom and guidance from God. My friend had spent months in anger, self-pity, and dwelling on how life is unfair. She had raised her children with Christian values, only to watch a prodigal flaunt an ungodly lifestyle in her face. Why? She had always taken care of her body—good food and exercise—only to face a cancer diagnosis. Why? Betrayal had fractured her family over money issues. Why? It was a while before my friend would admit that her heart was bitter. Only she could control her thoughts, choosing godly thoughts over the evil that plagued her to the point of giving up on life. But once this realization became clear, it was a turning point...

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The Resurrection of Christ: The Hope of Glory and Hope for the Body

By |2024-04-01T20:51:42+00:00March 28, 2024|Blog, Resurrection|

ELIZABETH TURNAGE | CONTRIBUTOR A 2017 study revealed that 25 percent of British people who identify as Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.[i] And yet, as pastor and theologian Stephen Um explains, even atheist scholars find weighty evidence for the resurrection. Um quotes atheist philosopher Anthony Flew: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion.”[ii] The resurrection is central to the gospel: if the resurrection didn’t happen, Paul tells the doubting Corinthians, our hope in Christ is pitiable (1 Cor. 15:19). On the first Good Friday long ago, Jesus spent his last breath. To confirm his death, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear. Joseph of Arimathea, with the permission of Pilate, took Christ’s body from the cross, wrapped it in a linen shroud, and buried it in his tomb (Mark 15:42–46). Christ’s followers were downcast and depressed the next day—the One they had thought would save them had died. How could it be? The disciples had never fully understood what Christ meant when he said, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matt. 17:22–23). And then he appeared in a new body, a resurrected body. Many saw him: the women who went to the tomb to finish preparing the body for burial (Mark 16:1). Mary Magdalene, who mistook Jesus for the gardener (John 20:15). Thomas, who at Jesus’s command, touched Jesus’s nail-scarred hands (John 20:24–27). the disciples, who trembled together in a locked room when Jesus suddenly stood among them, greeting them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19)...

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Living and Dying in Hope of Heaven: Preparing for Glory

By |2024-01-28T01:30:46+00:00February 8, 2024|Aging, Blog|

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR When I tell people I’ve written a book about preparing for glory, about living and dying in the hope of heaven, I get mixed reactions. Some people wonder why we would need to “prepare” for glory. Others wonder, frankly, if I’m being morbid. Good questions. I’ll just say that I don’t think I’m morbid. If anything, I’m realistic, given that, besides Enoch and Elijah, every person who has ever lived has also died.  I’m also optimistic, someone who believes that despite the harsh reality of death, something far far better awaits those who trust in Jesus. Finally, I’m practical, because I’ve seen that a kind, thoughtful, and clear preparation for incapacity and death is one of the most profound gifts we can leave our grieving loved ones. To decide if we really need to prepare for glory, let’s begin by considering what we mean by glory in this context. Glory is a wide and weighty word. It is used throughout Scripture to refer to the glory of the triune God. But throughout Christian history, it has been used as a shorthand for “eternal glory.” I propose this summary of eternal glory: Eternal glory is a place and an age and a state of glory where glory is given to the glorious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  by glorified saints and where the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is enjoyed by glorified saints for all eternity.  The apostle Peter sheds more light on eternal glory: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). According to Peter, eternal glory is that to which we have been called, by “the God of all grace,” “in Christ.” Eternal glory is the future glory “to be revealed in us” after “the sufferings of this present time” (Rom. 8:18). Eternal glory is that for which we and all of creation “groan inwardly” as we “wait eagerly” (Rom. 8:23). Eternal glory is the glory for which the sufferings of this world prepare us. Eternal glory is so weighty that it will one day prove our sufferings to have been as light as a feather (2 Cor. 4:17–18)...

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When Downslide is a Downside for People with Down Syndrome

By |2023-08-15T13:42:03+00:00March 20, 2023|Blog, Caregiving|

STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR Upon picking my son Tim up from work one night, enclosed with his paycheck was a paper reminding employees of the company dress code at the grocery store where he works. (In his role there, we affectionately refer to him as “Cart Man.”) As I perused it, Tim asked me what it said. Reading it out loud, I quoted, “Hair of male employees shall be neatly trimmed and groomed.” To which Tim blurted out, in his jovial way, “What am I? A PET??” This type of wry humor has been characteristic of Tim for most of his teen and adult life. But not all of it. Have you ever seen the film Where Hope Grows, or do you watch Born This Way, or do you remember the TV series Life Goes On? If so, you likely have a positive picture of people with Down syndrome and their quality of life in the world. I am really thankful for that. I am deeply grateful for advocates in the generations before and during my son’s lifetime who have invested to create a more open society, a better public education system, and improved living conditions for people with Down syndrome (DS). A lot of social progress has been made for people with DS in the last several decades. If you are blessed enough to know someone with DS personally, you likely also have been embraced by a person who is frequently open-hearted to others, forgives easily, laughs heartily, worships joyfully, and dances freely. The ways in which many people with Down syndrome excel in life as image-bearers of the Living God can take my breath away at times. Many of them reflect God’s character into the world in stunning ways. My 31-year-old son Tim, who has Down syndrome, can be like that. But if we only characterize people by the successes we have made as a society on their behalf, or the ways in which their functioning is admirable, we miss the fuller picture of who they—and we—are as human beings. The Functional and Social Dimensions of Disability Disability can be characterized as having both a functional aspect and a social aspect. The functional aspect is the part of the body that doesn’t work the way we expect it to. In DS, this involves possessing an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome. (Hence the medical name for Down syndrome: Trisomy 21.) This extra bit of chromosomal material creates a vast array of complications in learning, in communication, in the immune system, in heart health, and in digestive health—to name a few. The functional aspects of disability cry out for merciful engagement  from others. I like to rely on the definition of mercy that was posited by St. Gregory of Nyssa—that “mercy is a voluntary sorrow which enjoins itself with the suffering of another.” While most people with DS would not describe their lives as being characterized by suffering, in my personal experience, most people I know with Down syndrome would acknowledge that their extra chromosome does present genuine challenges in their daily functioning in the world...

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How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief as a Caregiver

By |2023-08-15T13:46:46+00:00February 20, 2023|Aging, Caregiving|

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR As Marissa Bondurant mentioned in our last article in this series, caregiving, while a burden, is also a calling. Today I want to explore one of the common challenges of this calling: anticipatory grief. Anticipatory Grief Three years ago, Lara’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As his primary caregiver, Lara is struggling. She finds herself crying frequently, losing her temper daily, and feeling anxious constantly. Like many caregivers of people with progressive or terminal disease, Lara is experiencing anticipatory grief. According to bereavement counselor Marty Tousley, “Grief occurs in anticipation of and following a loss. Extended illness, disability, severe accidental injury, a terminal diagnosis, or the aging and decline of an elderly family member can produce anticipatory grief.”[i] Symptoms of anticipatory grief may include anger, anxiety, depression, denial, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. The caregiver may also experience a sense of hope as she imagines the coming relief from her caregiving burden. Following that sense of hope, she may feel guilt. While many psychologists call this grief “anticipatory,” others note that “anticipatory” may not be the most accurate term, because the caregiver is experiencing grief over current loss—the loss of the ability to enjoy life with her loved one as she did in the past, the losses her loved one now experiences due to limitations, and the loss of the caregiver’s “normal” life. The first thing caregivers need to know is that both anticipatory grief about the future and present grief about the loss of past joys is to be expected. In addition, the caregiver can take comfort from and learn from Jesus as she navigates anticipatory grief...

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