Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hospice


My mother's dementia has been rapidly progressing since the day she was diagnosed about four years ago. We've been in Texas for three of those and have watched her go from being slightly forgetful to no longer having any idea who we are or who she is. Because she's only sixty-seven and her condition is considered early-onset Alzheimer's, it's moving more quickly than it does in older people. This is a curse and a blessing. The curse is obviously that our hearts ache for the many years we feel we're losing as she slips away, and a blessing in that, Lord willing, she won't have to suffer for years to come. Tuesday we started hospice care for Mom. They offer full-time physical and emotional care for the terminally ill and their families and are usually called in when a doctor deems that a person may have less than six months to live. 

Though the nursing home and the hospice nurses have been very kind and loving with Mom and with us, our hearts are heavy. We pray for peace, especially for Mom, but also for those who love her. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers. I am compiling a tribute to her life in pictures, so please send me anything you may have that you would like to share. I hope to post it here as soon as I have it completed.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mom's Surgery


Wednesday, the director of the nursing home called and said Mom had a swollen knee and was complaining of leg pain. Her doctor wanted her to go to the emergency room. Mom no longer recognizes me and is sometimes belligerent, which can be upsetting, especially to my youngest son. With that in mind, I requested a transport to the hospital, and we met her there. Nobody is sure how or when it happened, but she had a broken hip. Because she had fallen recently, we assume she fell again and forgot what happened.

Her legs had been elevated during transport, and her knee wasn't swollen when the ER doctor saw her. It may have just been a fluid pocket that got enough attention to get her to the hospital. She was complaining of pain but unable to locate it accurately. We discussed options with her doctor, one being to let it heal naturally because of the trauma involved in surgery and recovery for a person who has dementia. In the end, however, we settled on a hip replacement because, even though she doesn't have the capacity to participate in rehabilitation services, we will be sure the bone is properly set and healing, eliminating unnecessary pain in the long run.

She had the surgery and is already back at the nursing home in recovery. They have increased staff to make sure she is taken care of, and she will be in bed on pain management for the next few days. There is a walker next to her bed in hopes that she'll use it, but there's no guarantee that she will walk again.

While my brother and I were at the hospital, one of the nurses commented on how nice it was that we were there for our mom. She said most dementia patients aren't visited by family. It made me ask myself why I was there. The nursing home and hospital have the paperwork they need to do whatever is necessary to take care of her physical needs. Mom doesn't know who I am and even sometimes yells at me and cusses in front of my children. I cry every time I leave her side and sometimes while I'm there. I've determined that it's not so much me visiting her as God's Spirit in me. That's the kind of thing He does--visit a person who offers absolutely nothing in return. I wouldn't do that. I would look for a return on my investment, even if it was just a good feeling. Galatians 2:20 says, "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Recognizing that helps me to understand and accept why other family and friends have abandoned my mom--I might do the same thing--and reminds me to pray for them.

I am so thankful for my mother's decision to give her life to God five years ago, and I honestly don't know how I would handle sitting by her side without the assurance that I will one day see her again made whole in her new body. In the meantime, I am thankful for my husband and my brother who are walking this difficult road with me and experiencing their own grief, with the help of Christ. I work daily at keeping my eyes fixed on Him and allowing His Spirit to work through me, because I am in no shape to handle this on my own.

"For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands." 2 Corinthians 5:1

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jonah's Baptism

I found out I was pregnant for the first time ever during a trip to Vienna, Austria thirteen years ago. John and I had been married and Christians for five years, and we were visiting the family that hosted me as an exchange student when I was just sixteen. I was overjoyed and very nauseous, which made for an interesting trip. John took the lead in praying daily for the baby to "have a heart for Jesus" and continued until he was born. Sometimes we overlooked praying for health or prosperity, but we always prayed that he would love God.

Something told me I was carrying a boy, though we never officially found out. At that point, neither of us could read a sonogram any more than we could read Chinese, so we stayed blissfully ignorant and kept praying for him--or her--to love God. The majority of my pregnancy was spent in training for the mission field in Abilene, Texas where we were enrolled in church planting and Portuguese classes. I spent a great deal of that time asleep in the library while John and the rest of the team faithfully prepared. We watched the infamous destruction of the World Trade Center on the classroom television just one month before my due date, and I wondered what kind of world we were bringing our child into. During the eighth month we had an accident which totalled our car but left us unscathed. Tests showed a healthy baby.

Finally, the due date for the first grandchild on my side of the family was just around the corner. I was induced a bit early for edema--and hugeness in general. The labor was relatively long and unfruitful for the majority of the day and there were positions which caused the baby to lose oxygen, so they elevated my feet and kept me in one position. It was the closest thing to torture I have ever experienced, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I spent Jonah's first couple of weeks of life in a bout of postpartum depression. Jonah cried and cried and cried. I cried and cried and cried. I loved him and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. God's creation is funny like that.

We moved to Brazil when Jonah was eight months old and he continued expressing his dissatisfaction on a daily basis. We weren't sure how much of it was normal baby stuff and kept trying to figure out what we were doing wrong, with little success. Eventually one of the girls on our mission team, who happened to be a speech pathologist, recommended that we have him evaluated during an upcoming furlough. We did and ended up staying in the States for the next three years, in and out of treatment and therapy. We never got an official diagnosis, (although there was a lot of talk about autism) but we watched God effectively heal our son. He began to really talk at about five and even read quite well shortly after that. He became very affectionate and funny. He was a pleasure to be around. I didn't love him any more than before, and I realized how amazing God is to make it possible to love a child deeply, regardless of behavior.

It's been a long and difficult journey with equally larger amounts of pain and reward than anything else I've ever put my heart into. Jonah turned twelve last October and has grown and matured in ways that have far surpassed our expectations, one of which is his ability to understand spiritual concepts. He tends to discern the precepts behind Bible stories that many adults I know cannot find. We take that to be our answer to those many prayers we prayed while God was still forming him in the womb.

Last week, during a trip to visit our church family in Tennessee, Jonah decided to be baptized into Christ. It wasn't the first time he asked to be, but it was the first time we felt he was ready. He and Andy used to play "baptism" in the bathtub together, and we wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn't still a game for him. I trust the Holy Spirit to begin to reveal to him things we can't teach him on our own. I'm not sure I have ever felt prouder of anyone or anything, and again I marvel at God's grace.

Congratulations, My Beautiful Boy! I am so hopeful for your future and look forward to an eternity with you. Dad and I have only helped you reach the starting line. We are especially thankful to these wonderful families who have been an integral part of your life, witnessed your baptism in Nashville, and have pledged to help you finish the race strong.

Thanks, also, to those of you who have been there along the way in one of the ten--if I haven't lost count--places he has lived. We're planning a local celebration to honor this very special milestone in our family's journey. It's been an action-packed twelve years and we want to pause in thanks to God and ask for many more.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"I Found Christ Here!"

The last you heard from me was in November, which is shameful, not because I think you have nothing better to do than read my blog, but because God has been working in ways that really should be shared. As you know, John became the director at The Gem, a family fitness center, in November. He has worked tirelessly to organize and streamline a confusingly multi-faceted business. The facets seemed more like tentacles at times, and we've been wrapped up in them more than we've liked. That being said, all the hard work and sacrifice has been worth it, because the place has changed a great deal for the better. There is a new mission statement identifying Jesus Christ as the center, a new staff who seem more like a family to each other and to us, and a renovated building, as well as completely reorganized programming. Everything feels new and alive and purposeful, and our membership has quadrupled! We're still recovering from sizable financial issues which almost closed the place down last year, so we're not yet in the clear but hope to be very soon.

All of that is well and good, and we envision The Gem becoming a booming business and a household name to the surrounding communities. But those of you who know us know that's not exactly what feeds our souls. We want to see people come to know Jesus Christ, either for the first time or more fully. That's why, of all the exciting stories I could tell you about these past few months, I want to share this one first:

Of all the mountains John faced when he stepped into the leadership role at The Gem, there was an undeniable spirit of dissension among some of the group class instructors and members. It was a web of gossip and backbiting that had gone unchecked between the time the previous administration left and John stepped in. We prayed that God would clear out the negativity, then John confronted it head on. There was a tangible reaction, and a few instructors quit while some of the members even cancelled their contracts. God is faithful and soon enough there was a new peace that settled over the place. John and I began to pray about what would fill the hole that was created by the percentage of withdrawal we experienced in the aftermath.

Before long, as quickly as some had gone, others who left because of the dissension came back--instructors and members alike. LaRae was a favorite Zumba instructor who quit The Gem last fall to manage a restaurant. When she heard about the changes taking place at The Gem, she came to check it out for herself and asked for her job back. John informed her of the new mission and our vision to make it a more family friendly environment. She was inspired on her own accord to put together a playlist of Christian music to incorporate into her dance routines and presented the songs to John. She took a pay cut but said it was worth it to do what she loved and to be in a good family environment.

During a recent staff meeting, John asked the question, "How are we going to convince people who came and left before November to give us another try? What is different about this place now?" LaRae was quick to answer that it was very different and much better. He pressed for details that might be shared with a skeptic. She searched for words and finally and articulately exclaimed, "I found Christ here!" We visited her family's local church weeks later to see her baptized.
That was just last month and we've already seen the Holy Spirit work in her to make her more into the image of Christ. LaRae has even been moved to share her faith with others at The Gem by doing devotionals with her students.

We're excited to work alongside LaRae and to get to know her better. We also want her to know you, her new Christian family, better so please feel free to comment and let her see a glimpse of the faithful support she has worldwide.




Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Brother!


I grew up the middle of five kids, but I haven't enjoyed that status for a very long time. My oldest brother, Steve, has been in a mental hospital since I was eleven, and my older sister has been impossibly angry as long as I can remember. Then there was me. The brother born after me, Andy, drowned when he was three, and Michael is the youngest. This story is about him.

He was born when I was seven, just thirteen months after Andy, and just before our dad went to prison, robbing Michael of even one decent father-son memory. His childhood, like mine, can be summed up in tragedy and loss and, though he was too young to remember most of it, I know it greatly shaped his life. The year following Andy's death, as my mom began to surface from her grieving, she asked my sister and me who in the world had been taking care of Michael. Though my sister deserves a lot of credit for standing in the gap, the answer was that Mom had been. So, though she was taking care of his physical needs, Michael was without the emotional presence of our mother for quite some time. It was a hard time for all of us.

Michael adapted and he and I became good friends--except when he played in my makeup and wrote on the mirror with my Bonne Bell lip gloss. He and I would look through my yearbooks as he told me which of the girls from my class were foxes and which were hounds. I put him in ridiculous poses and used Mom's Polaroid to snap pictures--some of which I'm now finding in Mom's old attic boxes. He was a good kid, very sweet and smart as a whip. Mom enrolled him in a Montessori school and he passed all the other kids up, which challenged the teachers to keep him occupied. He and I always got along but I moved away for a foreign exchange program in high school, and we started to grow apart after that.

Our whole family went their separate ways to some extent. Mom remarried (which ended in divorce) while Michael was the last one living at home. Later, Mom met the love of her life and tried to make a long distance relationship work. Michael was coming of age and was doing the types of things any young man left alone to rule the roost on weekends would do. As a result, my Christian lifestyle wasn't appealing to him in the least and, though he graciously listened to the simple presentation of the gospel John and I gave him during our first year as Christians, he clearly had a lot more fun to attend to than we could offer. I didn't see much of him but prayed for him often.

Since we moved to Texas, the stress of my mother's situation and the thread of dysfunction already running through our family have taxed my relationship with Michael. We hadn't seen each other for almost a year when he called John earlier this month for a meeting where he expressed his desire to be reunited with our family. He said he and his new wife had been going to church for the past six months, and he wanted John to baptize him. Monday night we went to the pool at the rec center where John works, and God gave my brother back to me. He said he was sorry for losing a year, and so am I, but I prefer to look at what I gained--a brother, a sister-in-law, and two and a half cousins. (They are expecting their third child.)

I've used words to convey this story to you, but words cannot express the joy in my heart, knowing my brother and I will spend an eternity together in the presence of God. I love you, Michael. Happy birthday for turning thirty-five today, and happy birthday for being born again last week.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mom's Best Decision Ever

October 2012
April 2013
November 2013

Life in Texas has finally become something more than just taking care of my mother with Alzheimer's, but her needs are still a primary focus and, ultimately, the reason we are here. I don't blog about her much, but people do often ask how she's doing. It's not a pleasant question to ask or answer, which is why I greatly appreciate anyone who goes out on that limb. The harsh reality is that my mother is dying and will never again be well in this life. What I've come to realize is that the best way to answer inquiries about my mom is with how my family is doing. That seems to be what most people are really asking anyway.

I realize this is a difficult discussion not many people enjoy. It's also quite painful for me, though I deal with it on some level every day, whether it be paying her bills, communicating with her doctor, making sure she has comfortable clothes as her weight fluctuates, or painstakingly sifting through every piece of paper and all of her personal belongings that remain in boxes. Then there's the grim task of funeral arrangements and other necessary evils that make life less than palatable. That's not to mention the visits which become more and more difficult as we debrief the kids on "what's happening to Grandma." They have witnessed more than their share of tears and don't enjoy the visits like they used to when Grandma would play or dance with them. Last week was the first time she didn't recognize me right away and had difficulty getting up from her chair. She had already forgotten the children, as Alzheimer's tends to erase the most recent memories first. I asked Mom last week what my name is and she answered with a smile, "Elizabeth Jane Rayson" (her maiden name).

During this sad time, I try to dwell on pleasant memories--and there are many--like her famous spaghetti sauce, the slumber parties she hosted for my birthday each year, her dependable goodnight kiss and hug, and the fact that she made it a point to visit me everywhere I have ever lived--and that's a lot of places. She was also one of the nicest, most forgiving people I have ever known. She was very adventurous and had a wonderful sense of humor. I'm also learning to appreciate her patience in parenting five kids more and more as my three grow, as well as the fact that her financial prudence now makes it possible for me to take care of her affairs without going into debt. She was a great mom and a wonderful friend. I say "was" because my beautiful mother is gone and there is only a shell of a person in her place. That's one thing that makes these last years, months, or weeks (as the case may be) so very difficult.

Another is that, though I'm living in my hometown, I have little to no contact with any of my family members. I'll spare you the details, as I'm sure you understand dysfunction. That has been one of the most painful aspects of this chapter of my life. Lest you think I lament, I have not given up hope in God's ability to change people, and there is a silver lining here. You see, my husband recently had an epiphany. He said the pain and suffering that this chapter has caused me--losing my mother and finally letting my family go--has greatly changed who I am for the better. He feels I have transformed as a wife and mother and, the way he looks at it, God is using our current situation to bring about those changes. John has always had a great relationship with my mom, but has a new-found appreciation for the way God has chosen to use her life to bless his. He baptized her about four years ago because, as she put it, "I've been listening to you and watching what you do all these years, and I want to be a Christian." Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and we didn't have much time to grow with her in Christ, but John feels the transformation in my life is God's gift to him. Right now, I feel more beat up than transformed, but I am deeply moved by his perspective and once again awed by God's ability to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Recent developments had us thinking we would be handling Mom's affairs long distance, but God has graciously given us a local ministry for the time being and I hope to be here for her last day on this earth. The rest of my family has not made the decision to follow Christ that my mom made. They've chosen different paths, but I'm not going to beat them up. I get it. I was there when my dad went to prison, when my younger brother drowned, and when my oldest brother was admitted into the mental institution. I've seen what drugs, alcohol, and anger can do. I know pain and I know it's impossible to handle well without God, and I choose not to live that way any more. I also know what it's like to turn it all over to Him and gain a new family--one that will be together forever--and I choose that. Knowing my mother made that decision also and is part of my eternal family has made this, otherwise unbearable part of the journey, endurable.