Growing a Strong Faith

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Fitness is essential in every part of your life. Betsy and I exercise every day to build our physical strength. Please don’t get me wrong …we’re not trying to win any bodybuilder competitions! But we both know that by keeping ourselves in shape, we can continue to do the things we need to for our family and our business. Biking, walking, practicing yoga, and strength training are just a few ways to build stronger muscles and better endurance to maintain and expand our physical ability.

Occasionally my schedule forces me to miss or lighten my workout regimen for a few days or a couple of weeks. I feel the difference when I return to a more strenuous circuit. It’s incredible how muscles that aren’t kept in condition will weaken over time. That’s why it’s crucial as we age to keep on moving and doing things to keep our muscles conditioned to do the things we enjoy as we grow older.

Your faith is kind of like your muscles; without exercise, our muscles grow weaker over time. The same goes for our faith. But how do you exercise your faith? While it’s not as simple as picking up hand weights or walking in your neighborhood, there are several great ways to use your faith. We build up our faith through prayer, Bible study, devotional readings, corporate and individual worship, and fellowship with other believers. We also strengthen our faith by listening to worship music, engaging in mission work through personal involvement and financial support, and evangelism. Our faith grows when we look for ways to practice our spiritual gifts to advance God’s Kingdom. If you don’t know your spiritual gifts, click here for one example of a free spiritual gifts test

As you engage in these activities, you might feel like your faith is being tested. If this happens, seek God’s guidance through prayer, Scripture study, and sharing your situation with other believers. As you continue to seek His face, God will reveal Himself to you in surprising ways that will profoundly strengthen your faith.

Strong faith is part of what enables you to be a great family caregiver. It strengthens you to do things you never thought possible! It is an essential part of your caregiver’s survival kit, so don’t neglect this vital component of who you are.

How do you exercise your faith? Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you work at building up your faith.

Balancing Church with Caregiving

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have greatly missed corporate worship and Bible study with my church family. The opportunity to come together for fellowship, worship, Bible study, and sharing is one that I’m afraid I took too much for granted until nobody could gather together because of the virus. Sunday after Sunday, Chris and I “attended” streaming services over the internet. We sang the hymns, prayed when the worship leader led in prayer and opened our Bibles when someone read Scripture, but it wasn’t the same as physically sitting next to others on the same pew.

This inability to participate in corporate worship or group Bible study is an everyday reality for many family caregivers whose aging family members cannot be left alone or leave home to attend services. If neither of you can go, then you both must stay at home. There is a void that grows a little every day we go without some level of connectedness to our church family. Newsletters, emails, and phone calls may have to suffice for now to protect you and those you care for from being exposed to the virus, but even before this risk emerged, you were probably struggling with the need for a spiritual recharge.

As Christians, we have a scriptural mandate to worship God with other believers. In Psalm 122 we find David extolling the virtues of coming into God’s House when he writes, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’” Going to church is more than attending a meeting; it is supposed to be a family gathering where we find encouragement, support, and accountability as we worship, sing, pray, study God’s Word, and share together.

Your church family can be a precious resource for family caregivers, but you have to humble yourself and be vulnerable to share your needs. So many family caregivers pretend to be the Lone Ranger and try to handle everything by themselves. You shouldn’t hide your struggles as a caregiver; share your prayer requests, and ask for help. God already knows your struggles, and He wants you to come into His house with rejoicing.

Of course, to attend weekly services, your church needs to have returned to safely meeting in person. If they are not doing so at this time, you could reach out to the pastor, your Sunday School teacher or small group leader, share your needs and ask for help. If you can safely attend church, can someone take turns with you weekly to enable you to attend worship services, or could you hire a home care service to give you that opportunity? The investment you make here could be life-changing in terms of reconnecting with your source of encouragement, hope, and endurance. Don’t shortchange your spiritual wellspring during your season of caring for an aging family member. God is always there for you, and He desires to help you through His power and your fellowship with other believers. If you find the time and make a way, He will provide exactly the right resources to meet your needs.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding ways to balance church with caregiving.

Walking a TightWire Between Career and Caregiving

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Were you working a full-time job when you became a family caregiver? Even if you were only working part-time, you added a lot of additional responsibility when you took on this role. Managing a job or career while being a family caregiver is much harder than it sounds. Simply putting in the same number of hours at work along with caring for an aging loved one is nearly impossible without a tremendous amount of preparation and planning.

Most family caregivers don’t have the luxury of easing into their new or expanded role. Usually they are thrust unexpectedly into a situation that demands their full availability and focus, with little time to make arrangements for reduced hours or extended leave from work. A gradual decline in your dad’s ability to live independently can be overlooked until suddenly the realization dawns on you or other family members that someone must step up and take charge. This situation can be tricky on several levels. Betsy and I have seen many families struggle with the tensions that arise when their aging loved one resists help and the family cannot come to agreement about how to address the needs while also keeping the peace.

Another frequent story we hear involves a sudden illness requiring hospitalization or rehab, or an accident that creates immediate and severe limitations on the older family member’s ability to manage independently. Care might be needed for a short time or for an extended period. Whether your situation crept up on you or happened quickly, the result is the same for the family caregiver. Decisions must be made quickly to free up time, address needs, and perhaps even learn new skills so the proper care is given.

If you think you will be a family caregiver to an aging family member in the future, you can take steps now that will help tremendously if and when events occur that require you to step into this responsibility.

First, you should talk with your mom, dad, or other older family members about how they would like to see this situation managed should they need care at some point in the future. If you don’t feel you have the relationship to approach this conversation, perhaps you can begin to build bridges that will make it easier in the future. If you are in a professional career, it would be a good idea to begin a conversation with your employer now and strategize how things might look if you needed to be away for several weeks or months. Find out if your workplace has any employee benefits that would cover hiring someone to provide care so you could continue with your work, or recommendations for home care agencies in the area. Learn about aging care options, costs, and payment strategies. Also, explore possibilities with friends and family who are local to your loved ones to ask if they might be able to help out in a pinch if you live at a distance.

The bottom line is that you need to think about how this might play out before something happens. And if you are already in the thick of it, I hope you are willing to share what has worked and what hasn’t worked for you during this season of your life.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding balance between your career and caregiving.

Managing Parenting and Caregiving

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Family caregivers who still have children living at home have to work hard to balance caring for aging loved ones while also parenting effectively. Children require a lot of time and attention to grow into healthy, productive adults. As they get older, like high school or even college-aged, they need a different kind of time and attention than they did when they were little. If you still have minors living at home in addition to caring for aging parents or other family members you know how much of your time is already spoken for. You don’t want to miss special school or church programs and you want to be there for those precious moments when your child needs you to be present and available. You also know you need to be with your aging mom or dad for doctor’s appointments, senior luncheons, and community events.

Parenting in and of itself is a full-time job, and so is family caregiving. So how can you be successful at both jobs? It is possible, but as with anything else, it requires planning and practice, and a really great support system! You also need to be realistic. You won’t be able to attend every school function, sporting event, concert, or field trip with your child. You also probably won’t be able to go to every doctor’s appointment or be at every luncheon or award program with your mom or dad. Use a calendar and update it frequently with new information.

Consider which events take priority. Can your spouse can go to the play and video it so you can watch later with your daughter? Perhaps your sibling can take your mom to the doctor so you can chaperone your son’s field trip. Talk with everyone involved and strategize how you can best support your child or parent and also be supported by others. Honest conversations may lead to finding new solutions to scheduling conflicts.

Choose wisely and find a happy balance between supporting your children and your aging family members. Manage this well and everyone will feel supported and loved. Miss this opportunity and you might set yourself up for hurt feelings, resentment, and guilt. Both caregiving and parenting are already largely thankless jobs, but with balance and communication you can be a champion at both in the future.

Chris and I hope you are staying well during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how to balance caregiving with parenting.

 

Making Marriage Work while Caregiving

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When you become a family caregiver, you don’t usually have the opportunity to stop doing everything else. You probably have to manage a lot of other priorities in addition to providing care for an aging parent or loved one. If multitasking is one of your gifts, then more power to you, but if it’s not, you might feel like you are drowning most days.

Between caregiving, keeping house, paying bills, fixing meals, and organizing medication schedules and doctor’s visits, you hardly have time to breathe. Add to that managing a job and raising children, and there’s probably no more energy with which to nurture your marriage.

Betsy and I will celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary this week. Our marriage is built on faith, friendship, respect, and love. While no marriage is without its challenges, we have been truly blessed. Betsy and I are partners in every way we can be, so when she was caring for her mother in Georgia during that last year of Sarah’s life, it was hard on us both. She was stretched to the breaking point, trying to make her mother’s final weeks comfortable while also managing work responsibilities remotely and keeping our family informed and supported. She was far from home and very lonely during that time, and I struggled to find ways to encourage and support her, so she felt my love.

One of the things Betsy did to nurture our marriage during that time was to call me when her mother was taking a nap, and she had a little time to herself. We would spend a few minutes catching up on the details of our day; that call allowed us to draw strength from our connection. She also took care of herself by eating a healthy diet and keeping up with her exercise schedule. She tried to get regular sleep and didn’t stress out too much about the housekeeping. She would also send me an encouraging text or email at other times if she knew I was dealing with something stressful or worrisome. It humbled me to realize that I was on her mind, even a little, during those difficult days in her life.

If you feel like you have no energy to put into your marriage while caring for aging loved ones, have an honest conversation with your spouse. Choose a comfortable place and a generous block of time. Don’t try to talk when you are both stressed, exhausted, or in a hurry. Discuss how you can find time to be together regularly to strengthen your marital bonds. Share a meal; take a walk, and hold hands. Plan a regular date night. Schedule everything. Embrace the reality that one of the things you may have to let go of is spontaneity, at least for this season of life. Once you put a plan together, tweak it as needed to figure out what works best.

Most of all, never assume that a great marriage will stay great without putting any effort into it. That’s like starting an exercise program, then quitting after two or three years. All that fantastic progress you made in becoming physically fit will quickly diminish if you stop working out. The same thing can happen to a marriage when one spouse becomes wholly focused on caring for aging family members. But with intentionality, a marriage can grow and thrive during this time. Both partners may find your love and devotion strengthened as you learn new aspects of your relationship.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to maintain your marriage as a caregiver.

Let Freedom Ring!

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Birthdays are big deals, at least in my book! My brother’s birthday happened over the weekend. I asked him if he did anything special, and he told me he won the senior division of a golf tournament. It’s not how I would choose to celebrate my special day, but I was happy for him.

This weekend we will observe the birthday of our country. When those brave men signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago, little did they know how their vision would shape the land we live in today! America has been known as the great experiment, the land of opportunity, and the free world. People came here from all over Europe to start a new life. Those first settlers weren’t trying to create a new country. As the new communities grew, however, they began to see themselves apart from their countries of origin. Independence emerged as a concept that grew roots and became a reality. Now that’s worthy of some fireworks!

Older generations fought wars to preserve our independence when it was threatened in the early 20th century. Younger generations were touched by the events of 9/11 in 2001 when terrorists attacked civilians on our very soil and took so many lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. Every American citizen has something to be thankful for on Independence Day.

This week try to find ways to put a little sparkle into each day to bring more meaning to the holiday for you and those you care for. Purchase a bright patriotic bouquet of flowers for the table, or hang streamers from your mailbox or front porch. Perhaps you can watch fireworks in person or on TV. Make a layered dessert with sliced strawberries, blueberries, angel food cake, and whipped cream. If you assemble it in a clear bowl, it looks stunning, and it’s healthy as well!

Ask how the holiday was celebrated long ago and compare how things have changed in modern times. You might gain new insights as you hear stories you can share later with other family members.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about celebrating the birth of our nation.

 

Rainy Days and Summer Blues

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We have certainly had the rain over the past few weeks! I don’t know about you, but rainy days make me sleepy, sluggish, and sometimes even a little sad. That’s a pretty normal response, actually. After all, The Carpenters had a hit song in the 70s that said “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” We all know that we need the rain to water the crops and flowers, but lately, at least here in the Virginia Mountains,  it feels like someone forgot to turn off the faucet! A rainy day or two here and there during the summer brings welcome relief to the heat, but day after day of heavy downpours, or even just steady drizzle and fog can make anyone feel unmotivated. Here are some things you can try to beat those rainy-day blues for both you and your loved one.

Good old fashioned board games are a great way to pass the time. Checkers and Chess, or classics like Monopoly or Scrabble are lots of fun, and they all engage your brain as well as passing the time. You can also share stories about playing in the rain when you were a child or ask your loved one what they did as a child when it rained.

Cooking is both relaxing and therapeutic. Many favorites can be made with the standard ingredients most kitchens have, but you might also want to plan ahead and keep items on hand for something a little more special. Preparing and sharing favorite foods are also great opportunities to share memories.

You can break out the popcorn and settle in to watch a movie together. You could pick an old classic movie (“Singing in the Rain” would certainly be appropriate) or take the opportunity to watch something new. Again, if you plan ahead for days like this, you can even pick up some paper popcorn boxes so you can make the living room feel more like the cinema.

Try one of these or let one of these suggestions remind you of something else that will work. Regardless, finding fun things to do on dreary days can turn them into opportunities to let your heart shine even when the sun doesn’t.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join the conversation below and let us know your thoughts on ways to beat those rainy-day blues.

Who’s Your Daddy?

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Family caregivers fill a critical role as our parents age. We go from being the ones who need to be cared for to the ones who care for others. If we are lucky, there are many decades between these two stages of life. Still, even when the transition period is abbreviated, we find ways to get things done we never dreamed possible!
When the person you care for is your parent, you have a different responsibility. This is the person who gave you love and nurture and helped you become the caring person you are today. Not only do you have to balance your own life responsibilities, but you also have to consider others’ needs and desires. Your siblings may not be able to share in the care but still want to be involved in your aging parent’s life. Only superior time management and outstanding organizational skills will keep you sane while you continue to find ways to bring light, love, and laughter to your aging loved ones.
Sunday is Father’s Day, a time set aside to honor and appreciate our living fathers and to remember those who are no longer with us. You are blessed if your relationship with your father is rich and rewarding. If you are his caregiver, you are doubly blessed! Cherish the time you can spend together. There are many ways you can show love and appreciation during this particular season. Share memories of things he taught you when you were young. Reminisce about trips you took together or favorite TV shows you enjoyed years back. Make a list of the aspects of his character that you most admire and share them with him. And don’t forget to thank your Heavenly Father for letting you care for your earthly father.
Relationships are essential, especially if you are a family caregiver. After all, you are related to the person or people you care for, right? It’s what makes a family! Keep these bonds healthy by inviting other family members to share their best memories. Maybe set up a story-swapping event. COVID-19 is still impacting all of our communities, making it risky to enjoy large family gatherings. Zoom offers an excellent platform for your dad to visit with everyone, and for all of them to catch up with him! Take turns sharing funny memories, and everyone will come away laughing and looking forward to the next time.
Chris and I hope we have given you a few new ideas for how to celebrate Father’s Day safely. We hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about honoring your father.

New Ways to Travel

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Summer has traditionally been a time for family vacations. Families plan for many months in advance for this particular time to get away and visit exotic destinations, or go and visit with relatives who live far away. In recent years tourism has seen significant growth during our warmer months as multigenerational families flock to the mountains and the beaches for time away. Family caregivers often find themselves balancing the care of aging loved ones with the obligations of nurturing a marriage and children, or even grandkids and adult offspring. Your summer plans are sure to look very different this year.

The Coronavirus has largely rewritten life as we all have known it. Travel of any kind has been especially impacted. People who used to think nothing of getting on a plane or train to travel now opt to drive themselves or not even go. Zoom, Skype, and similar video communication applications have redefined how we get together today. It is common for people to gather virtually to avoid possible exposure to the virus. But how can you experience new cultures if your only option is through a camera lens?

Be assured that physical travel isn’t the only way you can see the world. Many vacation destinations have posted videos and even suggested activities you can do from home, even as you dream of going to exotic places in the future. Smithsonian Journeys will let you visit Egypt, ThrillistGlobeTreks, and others offer lots of options to see the world from your living room. Your only limitation is your imagination. The COVID-19 virus might try and stop you from packing a bag this summer, but if you are determined to pack that bag, here are things to consider from the Centers for Disease Control.

Whatever your circumstances, don’t let the current pandemic stop you from dreaming. Start planning your getaway for 2021 by exploring through television travelogues, websites, movies set in far-away places, or travel books and magazines. The more you allow yourself to explore options to expand your horizons, the better you will feel for having something to look forward to next summer!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about future travels.

Laughter is Healing

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I don’t typically seek out comedies when I’m looking for something to watch on TV. I’m more into mysteries; a good detective story with twists and turns will usually hold me fast. When my office closed 11 weeks ago, and everybody moved to work from home, the learning curve we all experienced was exponential and exhausting! Add to that the emotional toll of continually changing information, empty grocery store shelves, business closures, and rising death tolls, and my brain didn’t want to solve anything it didn’t have to. I find that I need brainless entertainment and laughter to combat the heaviness of the times we’re living through.

Laughter is good for all of us. According to an article in Forbes from 2017, it releases serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, that elevates your mood much like antidepressants or a brisk walk around the block. It alleviates stress, promotes deeper breathing, and gives you better clarity of thought. Different kinds of laughter activate different areas of the brain, and hearing laughter actually makes your brain work to define whether the laugh is joyous, tickle-motivated, or taunting.

Laughter is also contagious. It connects us socially in ways physical presence and even verbal communication cannot achieve. Simply put, laughing just makes us feel better overall, but many family caregivers don’t find much to laugh about in their situation.

Caregiving brings about significant stress under normal circumstances, and these times are anything but normal for most of us. If you are feeling like you can’t live this way anymore, maybe laughter is exactly what you need! Watch a silly sitcom on TV or read something light and humorous. Lewis Grizzard was an author and humorist from Georgia that wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among his many published works was one of my favorites: “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny…You Know Them Taters Got Eyes!” Your librarian can also probably point you in the right direction for books or audiobooks you could listen to while going about your daily tasks.

Recently Chris and I hung a couple of birdfeeders in our backyard to watch the birds. I have greatly enjoyed the chickadees, cardinals, doves, and nuthatches that have become daily visitors, but the squirrels have given me unexpected opportunities to laugh! They perform amazing acrobatic feats as they attempt to win the day over their winged rivals. (Please note, the link to the squirrel obstacle course is NOT our backyard!) The birds remind me of God’s promise in Matthew 6:26 to supply my daily needs just as he feeds the birds, but the squirrels are the comic relief I find myself needing every day. Just a few minutes of real belly laughs can do wonders for your ability to continue onward. When you find reasons to laugh often you might see an improvement in your overall health, and those you care for will also benefit from your levity.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how laughter lightens your day.