February 25, 2014

It has been about three months since my return to Chicagoland. The time has been filled with many blessings as I continue to serve faithfully as your Mission and Ministry Coordinator and as part of a personal journey on end-of-life issues with two dear friends.

One passed into the arms of Jesus the week before Thanksgiving and the other the week before Christmas—both after long battles with cancer. It was a blessing to experience their strong witness of faith and the firm foundation that faith lays for calming doubts and freeing us from the fear of death. We know we have the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ—and that is indeed good news!

In mid-November, my 96-year-old mom was hospitalized with severe pneumonia and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Many prayers poured out. The Lord has decided it is not time to take her home and so she and we as a family journey together through the caregiving and receiving process, navigating the myriad of hospital and nursing center rules and paperwork, setting a plan for her care needs, and finding her a new home.

What a journey of both blessing and grief: Blessing in the closeness and comfort of our Savior as the Great Physician; grief in the loss of independence in her daily tasks we so take for granted in our youth and in losing the comfort of home when home is no longer a safe place to live.

It has been a journey walking through hospital demands for DNRs, and waiting for hours for information that is only to be released to those with a Power of Attorney. How impersonal it has all seemed at many times, almost like those giving care no longer hear the calls for help and comfort and would rather just medicate the person away to a quick release from this life. How challenging it can be for caregivers when they are working full time and are called upon to care for a loved one full time. Any distance that separates us makes the loved one seem as if a million miles away.

The journey has been a blessing in asking and receiving help from others. We as Lutheran Christians are often reluctant to do so. We are great helpers, but not so great at times in receiving help when we need it. How beautiful it is when we can surrender and accept the help of our pastor or church family when offered a meal, a visit, a phone call, or helpful information on caregiver support groups or long-term care options. It has also been a personal eye-opener for me into the lonely and lost lives in our hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes—so many people alone and disconnected from family, church, and, it can seem at times, Jesus. It brings to mind 2 Corinthians 1-3:4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

What a blessing when we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to our loved ones and those who walk through similar circumstances. What an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus in places often filled with darkness, sadness, and loss. What an opportunity to serve as ambassadors for Christ and to help encourage others through the journey. For me, this has been a time to become well-acquainted with advance directives and resources for obtaining care and to share this information with others. I did this recently in a Hot Topics series that addressed end-of-life issues and hospice. I also had the opportunity to speak at an elder care conference designed to give pastors, lay leaders, and family, both spiritual truths in living with dying, and practical resources to take with on the journey.

The Lord never wastes our sorrows. In each trial as a caregiver, I am called to give away a little more of myself, following Jesus’ example, and to be a blessing to others. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us to, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

If you walk this journey, know you are not alone. LFL has many wonderful resources to help—and here are a few more:

Advance Directives and Power of Attorney for Health Care: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Health Care Decisions by Rita L. Marker – www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/euthanasia-assisted-suicide-health-care-decisions-toc; www.christianliferesources.com/index.php/medical_directives

Hospice: lssliving.org/in-home-services/hospice-care; www.caring.com/local/hospices; www.caringinfo.org (providing people with information and support when they are planning ahead, caring for a loved one, living with an illness or grieving a loss)