Sunday, 30 August 2015

The small miracle of seeing.

I need to apologise.

To God.

There are many days--most days if I'm being honest--when I whizz past the beauty and the incredible wonders of his creation, and don't look up. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I saw that yesterday. And every day last week. Yeah, that tree is beautiful. Whatever." I race out the door to work, and my mind is already there. My eyes glaze over and I see nothing. I trudge home, too tired to look up. If I do, and I happen to notice a flower opening on my hibiscus, I smile and start dinner. I seldom stop, even for a minute, to examine the beauty God puts in my path every day.

I've just returned from an incredible week on Manitoulin Island, a piece of heaven in Georgian Bay, northern Ontario. Life is slower there, and I did stop and look. It was like the viewfinder came into focus and my blurry eyes were startled awake by the beauty. As I was fishing, I took in the scene above, and I couldn't get enough of it. The rugged sandstone and shale cliffs, the evergreens growing out of the rocks (how do they do that?) and the water. Some days, it sparkled and the waves on the shore beat a memorising rhythm. Often, it was choppy and wild, and the ride back to shore was all about spray in my face, bouncing mercilessly and whitecaps everywhere.

I took the dog for walks in the woods and marvelled at the cycles of nature. Last year's leaves and needles provided a cushion for my feet. Trees shed dead branches, and new ones grew. Dead trees fell and rotted and toadstools and mosses grew. Life was everywhere. Beauty. This time I saw it.

In the picture below, I took my morning coffee out to the picnic bench outside our cabin and began to read my Bible. This is my favourite setting for time alone with God.  As I read and talked to Him, I felt His presence, and was thankful. Then, the neighbour in the next cabin came over to chat. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I am a polite Canadian, so we talked about the excellent fishing this week, other fishing trips he'd been on and how to cook our catch.

I was annoyed, although I disguised it with a polite and friendly mask. I came out here to be alone with God...

It hit me like the cold spray in the boat. "Ann, you've been seeing My creations this week. Do you see now?" Here was one of His creations, His ultimate creation, and I just wanted him to go away.

I am home now, and in a few days, the rush will begin again. Will I see what God has put in front of me? His extravagant creation? The people He puts in my path?

Lord, let me live every day with eyes wide open.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Care Partner Wednesday-- The Care Partner's Alphabet--Y

Y is for yesterday. Be careful not to deify it.

What are your best memories?

 I remember a time in the early years of our marriage. We were on our hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I can't remember why, but things were tense, when suddenly the picture we made struck us both funny and we began to giggle, then laugh uncontrollably until our sides hurt. That was almost forty years ago, but the memory is vivid. I also see us driving into Pioneer Camp for a week of family camp, and someone stopping us before the car was parked to ask, "Do you have a song this year?" Bill was a talented guitarist, but one of his little-known talents (except among that group) was his ability to take a popular tune and write words about someone at camp that had everyone hysterical with laughter. One year it was the camp director and his red shirts. Another, it was a couple who got lost in the woods. I still have those songs in a binder, and they are precious to me.

Memories are a gift. Bill has been gone almost eight years now, and I have moved on, but those memories remain as a warm reminder of the good times. The problem comes when the memories become deified.

When what I remember--yesterday--becomes bigger than today. When that happens, today gets lost.

I often see it at work. Perhaps Mom had an exciting career, raised three children and looked after the house. Now she doesn't say much, or remember those children. When they come to visit, it hurts to see her as she is. They remember her vibrancy, her fabulous meals, her jokes, her love. They look at her and feel they have lost her.

In some senses, they have. The person they knew is gone, and will never return. Yesterday is gone. Remember it, mourn it's loss, but move on. If you don't, you will miss today.

What does today look like? What can Mom do? She may not know your name, but she knows you are important to her when you visit, and her smile lights the room. She may not be able to bake cookies any more, but she still enjoys eating one with you. Especially the homemade chocolate chip ones you make from her recipe. She can't remember the names of the flowers she used to have in her garden, but she loves you to push her in her wheelchair through the neighbourhood, so you can admire the gardens together.

Resist the temptation to deify yesterday. Celebrate each today.

Tomorrow is never for sure.

photo Y-

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Care Partner Wednesday--The Care Partner's Alphabet--X

X is for eXpert. (Okay, I cheated a bit. X is hard.)

When you become a care partner, it's often a new, unfamiliar world. The role sometimes is thrust upon you with little notice, and you look to all kinds of sources for help. Doctors speak a different language which is difficult to understand, especially when they talk about different drugs. You may discover there are more kinds of specialists than you ever knew possible. Then there is equipment--hearing aides, walkers, wheelchairs, glasses, electric beds, electric chairs. Each one requires a level of expertise.

What about learning about dementia? There is a world of knowledge to be gained, and a multitude of websites, books and articles. Experts everywhere. When you are looking for answers to your situation, you often find conflicting views. How do you know if you are doing or saying the right thing?

If you've been reading my blog and the care partner's alphabet for a while, maybe you are thinking of me as an expert. Believe me, I'm not. I have experience and suggestions, but I am no expert.

There is an expert that you need to listen to, though. Someone who knows more about your loved one than anyone else, and who can make decisions based on knowledge, history and love.

That expert is you.

You know your loved one. You know their personality, how they like their coffee, and if the pillows should be soft and the windows open.  You may be unsure about their disease and how they are acting now, but you know who they were, which has a significant influence on who they are now.

Here are a few eXpert tips:

1. Share your knowledge with others who care for your loved one. They need to know what was important to them in the past in order to relate to them in the present.

2. Listen to the experts who are caring for your loved one. They have valuable knowledge and input. Some of what they know could make your family member's life better and easier, and yours as well. But don't be pressured or belittled. They may be the experts in their field, but at the end of the day, you are the expert in the person you care for.

3. Realise that people change. They grow and make different choices. Don't say, "This isn't the father I knew," but rather get to know new things about him. Twenty years ago, I loved geese. I had a goose border on my wall, geese dishes, a sweater with geese knitted in the pattern on the front. There were geese everywhere in my house. Today, there isn't one. I grew out of the geese phase. Be open to your loved one making a different choice from the one you might have expected.  Become the expert on who they are today.

You may not always make the right decisions or choose the right product or read the right book. But you are an eXpert in the person you have chosen to care for.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The small miracle of introverts

One of my favourite characters, Kermit the frog, sings the pensive song, "It's not Easy Being Green." He laments how green blends in with everything and is kind of boring. He thinks perhaps orange or red would be more fun, but finally concludes that green, the colour of spring and trees and other wonderful things, is an okay thing to be.

I'm with you, Kermit, except I have a slightly different twist on it. I think it's not easy being seen.

I always thought of myself as shy, before I knew the word "introvert." Shy was a bad thing, and I tried to overcome it. With it came "socially awkward" "verbally inept" and not too bright. These were my perceptions of myself as a child, teenager and into adulthood. I struggled (and still do) with situations that others find easy, and it mades me mad.

Why do I cross the street or avert my eyes rather than talk to an acquaintance? Why do I hate telephones? Why do I cringe when I have to make small talk, and fladgulate myself emotionally because I am so pathetic at it?

On the other hand, how can I easily speak to a group of five hundred people? No butterflies, only passions to share my heart with them. How does that work?

Only recently have I learned that I am an introvert, and that's okay. I have something to offer. I can stop kicking myself.

I read an article, entitled, "15 Things an Introvert Would Never Tell You."1  Not all of them are true of me, but I found it insightful. I do care about birthdays, both mine and yours. I was brought up to believe the day you were born is special, and to be celebrated. I'm a good listener (it means I don't have to talk while I am listening...) and I'd be glad for you to tell me about your weekend.

But I do hate crowds, especially crowds where I am expected to make small talk. I went to church without my husband today, and although I was glad I went, it was hard work. My husband is the extrovert of all extroverts, and talks to everyone. When I am with him, the pressure is off me to interact. I can smile and be sociable, but without the pressure. Because the burden is lifted, I often have more meaningful conversations when he is with me. Small talk makes me curl up inside.

I love alone time, but not too much. I do get lonely, and long for company, but not too much company. Time with my husband or one or two good friends fills my cup. Large social events drain me.

At work, I try to bring my best self. I am friendly to everyone, smiling in greeting and attempting to make each person I encounter feel they are special. I listen. I ask questions. I go outside my comfort zone to be a blessing. At the end of the day, I am wasted, alonging for strong arms around me and that gravelly voice asking. "How was your day?"

The first time I met my husband's friends (in a large, party setting where I was quiet and withdrawn) they took him aside.They asked him how he ended up with someone like me. (I'm sure they didn't mean it to sound quite that insulting.) Then they questioned how it would work. A valid question, I suppose. The answer is--amazingly.

His boisterous, loud, jolly personality is a balance to my quiet, introspective one. He makes me laugh and come out of seclusion to experience adventures. When I suggest a thought or idea, he listens and considers it. We respect and validate each other.

I'm with you, Kermit. Being green, blending in, is not easy.
But it's who God made me, and He said it is good.