Monday, September 16, 2019

Written in Our Hearts


You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. . . Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. II Corinthians 3:3-6 and 17

God is God, and we are not. Our Pastor repeated this several times during our Bible study today. Like the good teacher he is he explained the phrase, told it as part of a story, and repeated it later in another context. 

That message should be clear; God is God, and we are not. 

Yet, we also learned we are one in Christ. 

These two statements represent an interesting set of competing ideas. On the one hand, we must stop seeing ourselves as God. We must recognize that we cannot be children of the law because Christ is the only one who has kept the law. We have not.

On the other hand, because we are baptized in Christ, we are one with Him. We wear His righteousness as if it is ours – even though we do not earn it, it fits none-the-less. We are one with Christ.

We must remember that any victory, power, or wisdom is of God. We cannot claim this for ourselves because, in comparison to God, we are nothing. We must let go of the need to control, of the need to do, of the need to count victory. These things do not belong to us because we are not God.

Yet, we are of the Spirit, meaning the power at work in us is not our own. God sends His Spirit to accomplish His work in us and through us. With the Spirit, we are everything. This truth should -- ought -- must give us the confidence to do the work set before us. It is not confidence in ourselves. It is confidence in the Spirit written in our hearts. The Spirit gives us life – a life that allows us to be, to do, to count victory – but to know that victory is God’s.

We know the law is written on our hearts, but this passage tells us that ink has been erased and replaced by the Spirit. The law is no longer there as a contract but as a response to the freedom granted by Salvation. We are children of grace. We are God’s, and in Him, we are everything He wants and needs us to be.

Our ministry is God’s ministry. Our work is God’s work. There are no rules or written direction, but there is the ever-abiding work of the Spirit. The burden of the law has been replaced by the Spirit’s freedom to serve. 

Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey  
by Kim Marxhausen


and Amazon

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Problem with Honor



This quote is usually attributed to Tia Walker, co-author of The Inspired Caregiver. It is a lovely quote, one to which we can all agree when taken at face value. It has become a meme passed along on social media. Shared both by people who are caregivers and by those who care about them.

Let me be frank; it’s not enough to care for someone by simply sharing a meme to show you care. It is, in fact, barely more than an empty gesture.

It is not my intent to criticize those who post this quote. I am all in favor of recognizing the challenges of a friend. I certainly want to see more awareness about caregiving. I am just urging you to stop liking these posts and then moving on to more interesting political banter or photos of new babies, cute animal video clips while forgetting what is behind the honor of caregiving.

You see, most of the time we honor someone when their work is finished. We honor the heroic acts of soldiers and first responders, the life’s work of scientists, doctors, and artists, or the dedication of public servants. It is well and good to honor these people because they make our life better and safer.

The honor of caregiving is not for past work; it is for present grief. Caregivers grieve over what their loved one has lost, whether that is mobility, memory, or freedom. Caregivers grieve over what they have gained, whether that is a new responsibility, new stress, or new decisions. This all happens out of sight and out of mind. 

Given the opportunity, we would all stand and watch in awe as a firefighter rescued an occupant from a burning house. We share video clips of people applauding soldiers at airports. We even honor elected officials who have worked hard for our community with our votes. But few people want to watch caregiving.

Who wants to see someone being helped to the toilet? Who wants to applaud the cleaning of an apartment that reeks of rotting food and urine? Who wants to videotape a caregiver wandering with a loved one, lost in dementia, around the purposely endless halls of a memory care center?

These are not the heroic feats we seek to document, but they are heroic none-the-less.

Right now, there are adult children caring for parents, parents caring for adult children, spouses caring for each other, neighbors caring for neighbors. There are also parents caring for disabled children and children caring for disabled parents, sometimes disabled by mental illness. These heroic acts happen everywhere and are completed by people who would love to have a “care”-free life as long as it still involved the loved one they care for.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. — Isaiah 41:10

God sees these acts of honor. He sees caregivers sacrificing to provide health and safety to another person. He notes their stress, their weariness, and He provides them with the strength they need when they think they cannot handle one more act of heroism.

But this truth does not let us off the hook. For those of us who are not living the day-to-day life of a caregiver, we have work to do, also. We can find useful ways to honor those who care for others.

We can serve God by providing respite. Can you stay with a loved one allowing the caregiver to practice self-care?

We can serve God by offering the work of our hands. Can you mow a lawn, do some laundry, take care of grocery shopping, or drive to a doctor’s appointment?

We can serve God by providing support. Can you be an accountability partner for a caregiver and commit to regular contact for emotional check-ups?

We can serve God by speaking up. Are there social, or even political situations where you can speak up and inform people about the needs of caregivers?

We can serve God by praying for those who honor a loved one in their care. When you lift someone up in daily prayer, you not only intercede for the subject of your prayer, but you ask God to keep this person in mind so you can see and meet occasional needs. In this way we move them from our phone into our hearts.

Together we can do more than “like” a meme. We can remind caregivers of the hope promised in scripture; the hope that is the certain truth that God loves them enough to send Jesus as their Savior and to send the help they need, now.

                     Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Psalm 33:22



Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey  
by Kim Marxhausen


and Amazon

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Rest for the Weary



In the past few weeks, I have had several conversations, both in-person and via social media, about a dementia diagnosis. Some of these conversations are about relatives, some about friends, all of them sobering. Because of my life experience, I think not only about the one diagnosed, but also about the loved ones who are looking at a long journey of care.


It is not just a memory challenge diagnosis that creates caregivers. It could be an illness where the result will not be known until after months of treatment or a diagnosis where the outcome will not change, but the uncertainty is found in what skills will be lost and when these losses will happen. It doesn’t matter if the diagnosis is handed to a spouse, a child, a parent, or a dear friend; in that instant, both a care receiver and a care giver have taken each other’s hand and begun a journey neither of them requested.
 
Recently, I was involved in an engaging social media discussion regarding speculation on Jesus’ voting preferences. Those participating chose wisely to avoid this issue and instead comments veered off in a different direction. I was struck by one person’s response where he asserted all of his votes spoke to a single issue. I found this a good place to drop out of the online discussion. But the idea of “single-issue” did provide much to think about on my morning walk.
 
Is Jesus a single-issue Savior?
 
In the politics of His time, the Pharisees were indeed single-issue people. Their mission was control, and this was reflected in everything they did from counting steps on the Sabbath to their questions attempting to trick Jesus.
 
Jesus was undoubtedly single-issue in terms of his mission. He came to seek and save the lost. However, His ministry was not limited to a single issue. He did not return illness to the woman healed by touching the corner of His robe, telling her that her Salvation was all she needed. He did not forgive the lame man and then walk away from the man's paralysis. Nor did He do no more than reassure the widow that her dead son was in a better place. Jesus was concerned with issues of this life as well as the outcome of the next life.


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28



Consider the promises of this verse. When we leave the burden of our sin to Jesus, He replaces it not only with forgiveness, but rest. He does not say, “Your sins are forgiven; I leave you to live the rest of your poor miserable lives." 
He gives rest.
We may choose to ignore rest, preferring to cling to our guilt and shame, but Jesus cares how we feel when we are forgiven. He cares about our current life.
Caregivers and their loved ones live with an everyday, realistic, nitty-gritty view of both this world and the next. A devastating diagnosis draws your attention to the next life. The comfort of Salvation won for you by Jesus Christ takes on a more striking meaning when conversations with doctors include the reality of death. However, while such a diagnosis makes heaven a real topic, it also involves so much that will happen here in this life. The caregiver needs rest as much from the labors of the world as from the burden of sin. 

Jesus gives us rest.

Jesus is not a single-issue Savior. He loves us, now, in our sin and in our failures. His Work and Word address both our sins and our weaknesses. His love for us forgives our sins, relieves our burdens, and offers us a rest that brings joy out of weariness.

If you are a caregiver, I pray God’s blessings on your ministry. May He give you strength and rest along with the blessed assurance of Salvation.




Friday, March 22, 2019

Bitterness


As soon as I opened the file, I could feel the bitterness rising in me. Maybe it was the impersonal greeting [INSERT FACULTY MEMBER’S NAME]. Perhaps it was the realization that the title of adjunct is discouraging enough without the new adjective of “unranked.” Possibly it was the two pages of provisions and requirements connected with a contract where the university wants both my commitment and their right to offer no guarantee.

It’s probably not so much about this letter as it is about experience with a long list of universities.


  • Low pay that can be cut in half if the university fails to recruit enough students, or can be canceled without any notification.


  • Expectations of work without a contract because of the wait for enrollment to increase, no gas allowance for out-of-town locations, no desk copy of the textbook, no help to pay for teaching materials, and good luck finding your way around technology.


  • Letters that have long lists of what is expected of me, of what I am not eligible for because I am not legitimate faculty, and references to mysteriously absent handbooks.


  • My slow but sure realization that excellence in teaching is not appreciated and in one case got me in trouble because my evaluation numbers were higher than the numbers of the person who hired me.


Yeah, I’m a bit bitter.

It is not so much about being mistreated as it is about being stuck. I am a fairly pragmatic person who when faced with a problem immediately looks for what I can do to make it better. But this situation can’t get better. Universities need to squeeze out as much revenue from graduate programs as possible, and contract instructors are a dime a dozen. If I were going to make this work, I would have to become satisfied with doing a sloppy job so I could improve the work to pay ratio. I would have to learn to play the game.

But instead, I feel bitter. And I must confess that sometimes bitterness feels good. Bitterness comes when I think I am purely a victim with no accountability for my actions. Bitterness feels justified when I think I have tried everything I can to remedy the situation and still it persists. Bitterness tells me that it’s all about me and my pain, and my perceived injustices. Bitterness can be as addictive as anger, or hate, or self-pity.

When I turn to scripture to seek a remedy for bitterness God’s word is both clear and condemning. These verses from Ephesians show me there is no justified bitterness.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-30 ESV

It looks like the bitterness option is off the table; likewise anger, slander, and even clamor. If I can’t spew anger, call people names, and cry out for sympathy then there isn’t any point. Or so it would seem from what the world tells me.

My bitterness grieves God. Jesus died for my redemption, and my bitterness says that amazing gift is not enough. It tells God I would prefer to model the behaviors I see on social media than live in the grace of God’s love for me. God is not telling me I cannot be sad. He gave us emotions to help us learn, to help us understand each other and to help us understand ourselves. But,when I turn that sadness, or frustration into bitterness, I am no longer looking to God for help. Not only that, but bitterness is one step away from contempt and contempt destroys relationships. Bitterness is as unhealthy as it is ungodly.

Instead, God asks me to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. The world tells me this is not a healthy response. I should stand up for myself, seek confrontation, and believe in myself. If I don’t look out for me, no one will.

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34: 16 NIV

Here the scriptures tell me that God’s way is not the way of the world. My bitterness can lead to no good. My reliance on God, my realization of His love and protection, and my trust in His righteousness will lead to all the good I need.

I have been reading The Screwtape Letters with a group of friends, and one idea I found in this book that was new for me was that sometimes our misery is part of our service. It is not that God wants us to be miserable. It is not even that we deserve to be miserable (which we do.) It is learning how to trust God to shepherd His flock with justice -- even when we are miserable.

Bitterness is not mine any more than vengeance is mine. My work is to eat the grass, stay close to my flock, and listen for the Shepherd’s voice.

Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of Your anointed! For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a door keeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in You! Psalm 84: 9-12 ESV