Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A lesson-filled journey

6:15 p.m. Today's project was to prepare a home style dinner for our oldest son Sean. I call it "home style" because it's pretty much what I made the kids and Steve for dinner at least twice a month-- spaghetti and meatballs. In lean times there would be a bit of crumbled sausage or a couple of slices of pepperoni, or no meat at all. The key is to saute the fresh veggies, pressed garlic and meat in virgin olive oil, add plenty of herbs and seasonings, and a good tot of dark red Burgundy to a large pot of sauce. The tomato portion was 1 small can Contadina tomato paste, 1 16 oz can tomato halves, and two large cans Del Monte tomato sauce. I just love the different textures of paste, large chunks of tomato, and smooth sauce! I could eat a whole can of tomato paste, so sweet and delicious. My pasta had to be Buitoni or Creamettes. The sauce cooked for the better part of two days. If I felt particularly into it, I'd finish it off in the oven for an additional few hours.

All this before the Food Network! The Joy of Cooking was and is my encyclopedia.I had lessons from an excellent Italian home cook, and worked at a huge Italian restaurant, La Barbera's in Santa Monica, when I was in college. The flavors just became ingrained in me.

It struck me as so funny when one of my sons told me that he never really liked spaghetti, so I replied "that's what families of 7 eat!!" But no one ever turned down my garlic bread that went with it! (Like getting the kids to eat a hearty soup by making it the price of admission to get the cornbread, rolls, or biscuits)!

The births of each of my children had different and dramatic effects on my life, but birthing my firstborn was a game-changer. Up to that point, I'd lived a pretty indulged life: raised in beautiful Redlands; three years in a sorority at UCLA, as well as being a member of honor societies and clubs; worked various part-time jobs for extra spending money; and then about 3 years before Sean was born,  moved to Colorado for the country hippie lifestyle. Married by now, I became a new mom at 24.

This was 1975. No sonograms were given unless the doctor suspected a problem; and I don't know whether ultrasounds had even been invented. Of course, home births and midwives were all the rage in our cabin and tee pee crowd, but were very much frowned upon by the establishment. (I opted for regular doctor visits and natural childbirth in the noisy, bare bones, green-everywhere Delta County hospital.  Let's not get too crazy)! I did make it all the way to the end, when I finally accepted a Demerol shot. With your first labor, you don't know how bad it may get before it's over! No painkillers with any of the others, though. Why chance endangering the baby?

One thing I learned that followed me with every subsequent birth, was that I was Rh negative, so I had to get a nasty rhogam shot after Sean was born, for protection, they said, for the next pregnancy. Is that theory still in practice today? At 60, I'm out of the loop!

Now I was responsible for another person, physically responsible, not just at a job, or tutoring struggling peers. But the magical, God-thing about carrying a baby for 9 months is that you love that little one already before you ever see them! You have nurtured their every moment with your own food consumption, and cleaned up all of your bad habits so he will be healthy. And when you feed your firstborn from your own breast--it's hard to believe it's happening. The bond is so intense, unlike anything else on this earth! It's a bond God created and recognizes as totally unique. The Lord shows how infinitely He remembers, knows and loves His children by comparing His love to a mother's love. That is a signal honor, in my eyes!  In response to Zion's claim that God has forsaken and forgotten them, He answers in Isaiah 49:15-16a,

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands."

From Sean's tiny blood-tipped ear I spotted when I first held him, to his ever-growing walk with the Lord throughout childhood, the teen years, as a young adult and now as a father himself, I know God has a special work for him to do in His name! And that work is already conceived, planned out and prepared and at work even now. For me, the ultimate lesson, the reward of a prayerful mother's journey is found, for each child, in I Corinthians 2:9:

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of
The things which God has
  prepared for those who love


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dead to the world, alive in Chirst

10:28 p.m. Today's project was to prepare a devotional for the Heart to Home "Origami Ornament" class tonight at Calvary Moreno Valley. The Lord has placed on my heart that before each class, we need to have a word from scripture, because this is a ministry of the church. While the classes are open to all women, the focus must remain on the Lord. Saints and seekers welcome!

Normally, I will scroll through recent blogposts for appropriate messages, because they are just the right length for a 2 minute devotional. At times, I've written my post with that evening's class in mind. After a few forays into the Internet this morning, I realized that the At&T network was dead; thus, no visiting  the blog. Time to do it the old fashioned way--type it up fresh on Microsoft Word and print it! (Actually, that's not even old fashioned! For my verse-by-verse Bible studies each summer, I make my notes on a legal pad, and then teach from longhand writing in a wireless notebook).

We had finished devotions and breakfast, and since I'd scheduled Steve's caregiver to stay most of the day so I could get more done, both for ministry and business, they went out to walk the dog. I wrote the title, "Where is your hope placed?" quoting Psalm 39:7:

And now, LORD, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.

I went on to draw a contrast between the Alzheimer's Association and their hope for a cure for the incurable and belief in science as the answer; vs. Operation Christmas Child, where the entire origin, focus and purpose is lead children and families to Jesus Christ, to give hope in the One who never fails, who is the ultimate Healer, the only Answer for sin, sickness and sorrow in this world.

Human beings are certainly gifted to study, apply intellect and inventiveness to improve living conditions. And we all are commanded to help the poor in any way we can with the means God grants us. But we must remember, that our hope is in Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith!

He may well reward  the researchers' efforts with a cure for Alzheimer's for the next generation. Our family, however, is not waiting until that point to love and obey Christ, and serve Him by ministering to others. We are doing what God designed us to do: living!

Answer this question, if you will:

Are you truly alive in Christ, or just marking off days on this earth?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Boxing day

9:44 p.m. Today's project was to travel to Irvine in Orange County with my friend Gretchen Williams. Since she is a year-round volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, she was able to secure a date for us to participate in sorting and packing shoe boxes for impoverished children around the world. The shoe boxes contain toys, candy, clothing, shoes, games, scripture materials, Bible stories, small books, puzzles, school supplies, anything you can imagine coming from a loving family here Stateside, to the child God has already selected to receive the box. Many boxes contain pictures of the sending family and darling, Christ-filled letters from one or more of their kids. Today's boxes are headed for Indonesia.

I remember when Operation Christmas Child began. Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham), president of Samaritan's Purse, an international helps ministry, came to Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside to dedicate the hundreds of piled-up, colorful boxes on the stage of the huge sanctuary. At least one of our now-grown and mostly-married children wasn't even born yet. But as soon as they were able to make their own selections as preschoolers on our annual trip to the nearby Kmart, they wanted to pack their own boxes. My parents always filled up a box or two, and my dad still makes up a box some years, or just comes to our house with the small shipping donation and his selections for the age of child he wants to send to. As our children have grown up, they and their significant others packed boxes too. Despite all of the special food, gifts, ministry, business and public Christmas celebrations we take for granted here even in difficult times, we don't forget children in war-torn countries whose only gift ever will be their shoebox.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 says,

Cast your bread upon the
For you will find it after many
Give a serving to seven, and also
  to eight,
For you do not know what evil
  will be on the earth.

And these children have seen their share of the evil of this world! 

When the two of us arrived, we stopped to unload some packed boxes from the Moreno Valley Chik-Fil-A, a Christian fast-food restaurant that has come alongside OCC nationwide. Then we checked in at the front desk and watched an instruction video on the sorting and packing process.we both determined to be inspectors, if the Lord would have it that so, because neither of us can lift much or do well at the twisting and pulling inherent with taking the strong packing tape and winding it around the filled boxes. and then packing 14 to 16 packed boxes into a huge one would just be too much lifting and stooping. As for God's decision on our jobs, Psalm 103:14 says, "He  knows our frame; He knows that we are dust." Just substitute Dana and Gretchen in that verse, and you'll know why God mercifully gave us both inspector jobs!

I just loved checking the boxes' contents, dropping into the "inappropriate" pail chocolate candy that would melt, lotions, gels and any other liquids that could come open and ruin several boxes. We all regretted the necessity of removing bottles of bubble soap, because kids all around the world love blowing bubbles. But OCC's discards will be donated to local needy families. There is to be no waste in God's economy!

Every hour a pastor or ministry director would stop all activity in the huge warehouse to call us all to prayer. We were working this Boxing Day (unlike our English friends' holiday), and working hard for six hours, but it was an honor to play a tiny role in this undertaking, and time just flew by.

Corporate prayer at our work stations put everything we did in perspective: Operation Christmas Child is truly GOD'S work!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

REALLY fresh air

8:01 p.m. Today's project was to visit our favorite Christmas Tree Farm, Sandhaven Pines, and do some preliminary perusing of the trees in our newly-lowered size range.

Steve and I had enjoyed a wonderful church service this morning, where our pastor invited the congregation to receive a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, giving us power to witness, as Jesus commanded the disciples when He appeared to them after His resurrection, Acts 1:4,5,8:

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

We were challenged to tell someone about Jesus today. I love to mention the Lord to people I meet, and testify of Him when I spend enough time for a conversation. Why would I keep the Secret to a victorious, overcoming life of peace from someone who needs to know Him so badly? (And that's every unsaved person)!  I did manage to thank the Lord for untangling some confusion as to my pump number at our gas station stop when talking to the clerk, and she got a big smile on her face. But since I now pump the gasoline for the Jeep even if Steve's there, I had to get back to my car. I also didn't want Steve to have to sit out in the car very long--it got very sunny today!

After lunch and changing clothes--always an issue of great confusion now--we drove off in the brilliant sunshine to the tree farm, 7 miles away. Because I was planning to give the checkout lady  a hand cream sample and the flyer about our Mary Kay "Adopt a Grandparent" Christmas fundraiser, business mileage needed to be documented.

I noticed a large sign reminding everyone to breathe the trees in as we walk through the hilly pine "forests," because trees do take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Respiration, I believe? Made me want to teach a classroom of children a bit of earth science like I used to!

Up on the top of the hill at the end of our climb to the "Reservation" area from the lower "Choose & Cut" section, we reveled in the cool breeze and the panoramic view of  Mead Valley, Woodcrest and some of the Orangecrest area of Riverside. Then very slowly, with me helping Steve over the uneven ground on the road up and even more awkwardly, between the trees and over the watering tubes that didn't always lie flat on the ground, we inspected the sizes and prices. Lowering the height of our next tree will lower our bill by $10 at least!  We'll have Heidi and Pavel to help us next Sunday afternoon, so I decided we'd just head for the choose and cut, get lots of opinions--in other words, like in years past with all of the kids along--and buy the chosen tree on the spot. The more opinions we get each year on our tree selection, the less complaints later about its shape and appearance! Thank you, Lord, for our enjoyment and safety walking up- and downhill, and for a wise plan for our Christmas tree cutting!

Later, at Home Fellowship, we spoke about the qualifications of an elder in the church, (Titus 2:1-2). The Holy Spirit's presence was evident "where two or three are gathered" (Matthew 18:20). Steve was alert and even trying to follow along! We were reminded of the three stages of Christian life:

  1. Justification--salvation in Christ, "just as if I'd never sinned."
  2. Sanctification--working out in this life what Christ has worked in.
  3. Glorification--when we go to be with the Lord at death, or in the Rapture.
Not one of these stages in a believer's life can take place without the fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit! He leads us to conviction and repentance to get saved; guides us with wisdom through the ups and downs and uneven places in this life; and He trains and prepares us for heaven.

Steve and I enjoyed our hilltop experience today, but so much more awaits us as we look towards heaven! The disciples saw Jesus go back up into heaven from Mount Olivet, Acts 1:9-11:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."

Therein lies our blessed hope. Now that's a breath of fresh air!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Very anticipated transition

4:01 p.m. Today's project was to move from fall/Thanksgiving mode to Christmas season in my mind and in my home decorating. It might take my heart another day or so to catch up, since Thanksgiving seemed to come early this year. An outing to the Hillhaven Pines tree farm tomorrow after church ought to do the trick!

As I put away my pumpkins, wooden leaves, turkeys and fall door hangings, and found my Advent calendar on the top shelf of the "holiday linen closet," I thought about our kids fighting over whose turn it was to open a door and reveal the tiny ornament behind it. Looking at our oldest Nativity set, I thought about my preschoolers snatching the Baby Jesus out of the manger to put in bed with them at night. Sweet, sweet memories!  I took out a few seasonal pillows, my hand-carved wooden Merry Christmas letters for the coffee table, and put a red rug and decorated wastebasket in the guest bathroom, stopping just shy of putting up the unbelievably bright shower curtain. It is a little early!

Steve spent the afternoon sweeping and raking leaves, after a few false starts, such as bringing the wrong dumpster for the job, then taking it back to get the green waste receptacle, and then returning with the one he started out with. It's getting harder and harder to get him to listen and follow even the simplest directions. But after a few moments he got on track, raked, and put the leaves in the green waste dumpster. That enabled me to have some time to pull tote bins out of the hall closet and get started. A job he thoroughly enjoyed last year and took pride in now causes him to hang his head and look depressed. The strain on his mind is just so great, it seems, for him to do anything but sit down and eat his meals.

Am I ready to give up all expectations that Steve can perform any helpful activities?   As it is, the morning caregiver is the one who actually walks our dog, and just allows Steve to hold the leash for a minute or two. I or his caregiver help him dress each day. (Not easy for a smaller person to dress a much larger one; could use prayer for my back). Steve now is utterly confused when scooping food out of the barrel for Jada, and then goes to the back patio door where she sits waiting at 5 p.m., in full view because the blinds aren't closed all the way, and sets it down on the floor in front of her without opening the slider. Good thing Jada is a patient soul! She just looks to me to tell Steve to open the slider and feed her.  Come to think of it, she's been a lot more affectionate with me lately, seeking a pat on the head every time I go by her, whereas when Steve was actively engaging with her and Bailey, they barely acknowledged me--they only looked to him. And now Jada looks to me,  "As the eyes of a maid [look] to the hand of her mistress," Psalm 123:2a puts it. Guess I am the pack leader at home now!

Tonight, I asked Steve to go to the garage and get the dog's food, but when I looked around the corner, he was sitting on the stairs with his head in his hands. So, I asked him again, explaining that my reason was that it is good for us both to help out at home. I led him out to the garage, and pointed to the barrel on the opposite end. He walked over there, and I knew I had time to take a quick break, pardon  me. Upon my return, I saw that he had taken the lid off the barrel, so far so good, but the upturned lid is where he'd put the first scoop of dog food.  I helped him get three scoops into the dish, walked him to the patio door, and directed him to open it and put the food down on the patio.

Things are definitely different this year. Last year was difficult enough for me when I aroused Steve's anger by asking for assistance with boxes in the downstairs hall closet. He apologized and we went on to decorate our home nicely. We had some uproar when Heidi and I tried to help Steve put the lights on the tree. But we got the project completed, not as meticulously as Steve normally placed the lights for 29 years previously, but our 13 footer was gorgeous. (Then it started to lean, but that was covered in Today's Project's post "Pine-scented koinonia" on December 3, 2010! )

Post-Christmas there was a shocking incident, when Steve started sawing branches off the tree while it was still standing in our living room. We don't have saws on the premises any longer, needless to say. And the 2011 tree won't be over 7 feet high, so I can maneuver it with minimal help from Steve. Our son-in-law Pavel said he'd be happy to help when we go to pick it up, like our Kriss did in 2009, and our friend Bob did with the "leaning tree" last year. So I may not have to do much.

Steve is quieter now, generally, but does get into fits occasionally, like today, tossing over the green dumpster when he couldn't remember where it went. Praise the Lord that it just landed on the lawn instead of sailing over the front hedge and into the path of one of the hundreds of cars that stop at our corner! Looks like I'll need more assistance here at home, because no one person can handle erratic and unpredictable actions of their loved one. Steve could have run into the street, worst case scenario, even though I was standing right there. I pray the day won't come when I'll have to press my alert button, but I will certainly do it if necessary, and accede to whichever authorities arrive. I checked Steve's remaining insurance benefits in a letter that came today, and it shows that I've been very sparing in using our long term care policy, thinking I'm being what the Bible calls a "wise steward" (Luke 12:42).I've been trying to be careful with our funds, but that may actually be unwise in this case.

While being careful is prudent, excessive caution is lack of trust in what God has so generously provided! Philippians 4:6 (KJV) tells me and you not to be anxious:

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

I think I'll do that!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pumpkin crunch

2:41 p.m. Today's project was to preside over my online "Pink Friday" sale, instead of driving in madhouse traffic and fighting the crowds to shop the bargains as my daughters and I have done in years past. I could have done both, since I had our morning caregiver here, but I'll look into it next year, or maybe go online tonight to see what's left!

When Steve's breakfast was finished, the caregiver took him and Jada for a walk. I made my elaborate soft-scrambled eggs with Velveeta cheese, salsa, spinach, ham, green peppers and onion from my garden, and 6 eggs. That's how I'm able to enjoy hot breakfasts for about four days, just cutting off and microwaving each day's portion. Normally I use grated block cheese, like Jack or cheddar, but Velveeta was quick for today. So tasty, especially accompanied by this season's Coffee Mate peppermint mocha creamer in my coffee, while listening to a top Mary Kay sales director's motivational message on speakerphone. Proverbs, like chapter 10:4, "The hand of the diligent maketh rich," are always on my mind. They keep me motivated to continue learning and be challenged to grow my business!

But something was calling to me, hmmm, what could it be? Oh yes, a couple of large servings of Pumpkin Crunch that are in a 9 x 13" glass pan in the fridge! I ate so many desserts yesterday--Rice Krispy treats with cranberries and white chocolate, fab pumpkin dip with apple slices and whole wheat pretzels, apple pie, and organic pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and candied yams with dinner--that it was like "the hair of the dog" kind of thing at breakfast!

So I chunked off some good servings and just relieved the fun day yesterday, the family and fellowship, and of course, the food!! The kids came back from the movies ravenous again, and nearly picked my turkey clean, and then were about to eat all the desserts, but I sagely and silently put the Pumpkin Crunch away while I cleaned up the last touches in the kitchen. Then...

Sorry, I'm back from my break to taste and see if the Crunch is still okay...

As you might guess, my normal low-carb lifestyle is on vacation for another day or two, while we polish off the leftovers at dinner: stuffing, my  daughter-in-law's fresh green bean casserole, yummy dark meat, gravy, mashed potatoes and whole wheat rolls. Cranberry jelly will top things off.

I certainly could not indulge myself like this at any other time of the year, or I'd gain some serious pounds. Probably would experience some headaches and digestive upsets, too. God has "given us richly all things to enjoy," (I Timothy 6:17), but not all at once nor in excess quantities that might compromise our health.

With that in mind, may you and yours enjoy a Pumpkin Crunch today, or next month, or next Thanksgiving!!
Pumpkin Crunch

I 16 oz. can solid pack pumpkin
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar 
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of 13 x 9 x 2" pan. Combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in large bowl and pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture. Top with pecans. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake 350 degrees 50-55 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on rack. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Refrigerate leftovers.

Thankful today

10:50 p.m. Today's project was to welcome my family members to our Thanksgiving dinner.Some came early and came back later, my dad came over by 10:30 a.m., and enjoyed a pretty full afternoon, even as he left by 3:30; we met our youngest son Steven's girlfriend Kathy, who drove down from Bakersfield; and Steve stayed relatively level, even though he needed a lot of help with dressing.

The morning started oddly, because my cell phone was on silent mode, so when it went off at 6 a.m., I never heard it. But the Lord opened my eyes at 6:41, because He knew I needed the rest. When I checked in on Steve, he was just awakening, so we got his supplements into him, and then he went back to bed while I showered and put on a t-shirt from a Wales mission trip and my Heather's old dance practice sweat pants from King High School.

The day was on!

I helped Steve dress, got his devotions started, and then took the turkey out of the refrigerator, rinsed and patted it dry. Then I sat down to my devotions, with sporadic interruptions from Steve, but we prayed together prior to his eating various portions of his breakfast.Meanwhile, our bodybuilder son Steven made his huge breakfast, helped me put the stuffed turkey into the Reynolds cooking bag, and went to the gym with a friend.

The things I had feared--not cooking the turkey long enough, dinner too late for my dad to return home in the daylight, Kathy not making it on time--were totally allayed by the Lord. Not one part of our meal was out of place, and everyone arrived safely. We had a great dinner!

Later, Heidi and Pavel came over and shared in the plenteous desserts, along with Nick and Heather and his sister Amy. Then the kids all went to see the new "Muppet Movie" while Steve rested from the noise that had him burying his head in his hands, and I cleaned up, hand washing the crystal and china. This was our annual tradition with one exception: Steve is no longer able to help, but God has given me "power, love, and a sound mind"  (2 Timothy 1:7) and plenty of energy at age 60.

We did have some different touches this year--no gold plated tableware, because Steve and Heidi are the ones who always knew how to return the items to their correct slots, not to mention their help with the extra hand washing. Now he can't do it, and she wasn't home. With a small group, I had enough regular daily silverware to cover, thank you, Lord. I used an old, delicate tablecloth with the matching napkins, instead of the large ones that take a lot of folding. And I planned for Steve to sit between my dad and me for help as needed.

The fact that God is with me in these small details of one annual holiday, as well as with the huge trials I experience, I realize that even with the tragedy of losing my husband to Alzheimer's, I have much to be thankful for: healthy children and grandsons; everyone employed; a new grand baby on the way; the ability to buy the drugs Steve's needs for now; a home to live in; care for Steve when I can't do it; ministry; and my business.

Only the Lord could put all of these life-portions together, and only God can make my life work in ways that glorify Him!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Double good

7:57 p.m. Today's project was to spend time with both of my married daughters, Heidi Ilie and Heather Love. They both very smoothly managed to knock seven letters off their last name by marrying!! And as their mother, I'll quote Proverbs 18:22 to my sons-in-law, that "he who finds a wife finds a good thing." And my good girls became good women, before I knew it!

I cannot deny that this Thanksgiving will be difficult for me, now that my older daughter Heidi, my right-hand helper since girlhood, has married and moved about 20 minutes away to Redlands. She actuallly made a complete Thanksgiving dinner by herself with Mom standing by a few years back. When I cook, she could be counted on to help set the table, peel or mash potatoes and make at least one pie. Tomorrow, she and husband Pavel will be at his family's big family get together--like we usually have here. My Heather has been eating dinner with her in-laws early, and she and Nick pop over for dessert and nibbles of our dinner that we're still enjoying. My dad is always present, and some years my sister's family comes from San Diego. Happily, my son and his wife from Long Beach will be here, and our son from Fresno is on the way as I write this. His girlfriend is coming from Bakersfield for dinner. So what's the problem?

The problem is fear! The fear this year is having no help with lifting the stuffed turkey, and missing the general hands-on help that Steve always provided. The lawns would be immaculate, the high chandeliers sparkling. So I've needed to make do. This week, I had the house cleaned, Nick hung a picture for me, Pavel put the extra leaf in the dining room table and helped Steve with the dog and other tasks while Heidi and I shopped for her apple pie. Adult daycare made it possible for me to complete several financial errands and do some business as well earlier in the day.

Why do I feel a bit down? We've had years when only immediate family was at the table--but that was eight people, with Daddy. And my mom was there every year before she passed in 2006.

It's fear!

The fear for next year is that Steve may either be at home bedridden and basically absent from the family mentally, and I will be a virtual widow. I am already trying to get the girls to think of how to handle the holidays in 2012. As I talked it over with Heather (who kindly brought us Subway, keeping our Night-Before-Thanksgiving tradition), she is confident that the Lord will show us all what we need to do, now that everyone but Steven has in-laws whom they--and we--love very much.

Speaking of our youngest, he has been home for an hour now, and just as lively, Spirit-filled and joyful as ever. Steve had already gone to bed, so Heather, Steven and I enjoyed a good conversation about health foods, Alzheimer supplements. Honestly, I have always been blessed by the health and vigor of these two youngest kids, the ones whose gestation was enhanced by Shaklee Vitalea, a pure food alfalfa multivitamin supplement that I took instead of prenatal vitamins.  So when Steven showed me an alfalfa supplement from Lassens, the organic market he works for, I happily made plans to start taking it. And the Lord is so good--I ran out of Vitalea just this week for lack of finances! The energy and staying power I have been known for I can credit to God introducing me to organic gardening, these vitamins and consuming natural foods if at all possible. And how uplifting to share His gifts with my son who is in the health and fitness business. Ministry leadership issues and scripture were woven throughout Heather's, Steven's and my wide-ranging conversation as well.

Now with an entirely different outlook, I can face tomorrow's questions and non-issues with a happy frame of mind, and enjoy the Thanksgiving God has ordained for me in 2011!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Get-a-Grip Tuesday

3:55 p.m. Today's project was to stay home for the day and work within the realization that we are two days away from Thanksgiving. For us cooks, bakers, hostesses and homemakers, our countdown has already begun! Time to "get a grip!"

My normal day includes facial appointments and parties, but this week has been quite exceptional. My clientele, for the most part, are grocery shopping or preparing to shop at the last minute for the meal they'll be cooking, or they are getting ready to travel to a family's house for their Thanksgiving meal and getting a side dish or dessert planned. It's not easy to book appointments when women are so distracted, even though I do have facials on my books for next week. Seemed like an ideal day to stay home and bake whole wheat-pecan dinner rolls, and freeze them for Thanksgiving.

I did conduct some business, however, sending out a massive email for the Pink Friday sale I'm having. I know that my customers will be shopping, so they might as well do some of their shopping with me!

This morning, I was particularly tired, especially with Steve getting up just as I was about to get in the shower, and needing some care before he returned to bed. So after I got Steve's breakfast and online devotional ready, I told the caregiver that I'd be lying down in the next room while he handled the morning routine. By the time I came downstairs at 8:15, the guys were returning from a short walk with Jada, Steve was in good spirits, and he'd even held Jada's leash a few times. To think that Steve handled both strong-willed, vigorous labs singlehandedly on 2.5 miles of fast walking every day until a few months ago! I just have to call upon the Lord for the "peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7), whenever I'm tempted to dwell too long on Steve's former healthy condition.

After my devotions were finished, we both began our tasks, edging the back patio for Steve, and roll making for me. I'm always leery of expecting success on my first batch of Thanksgiving yeast rolls, because I'm so out of practice that I end up having to make more than one. Last year I concocted 4 batches, if you can imagine. Even with help from one of my grandsons, only one batch turned out well enough to serve the large extended family group, and others were frozen for Steve, who loves any kind of bread. Now I can only imagine having enough time to bake without constantly checking on Steve's safety and frame of mind. But the Lord was abundantly gracious to me today. In between breaks for snacks, lunch and changing of Steve's tasks, I was able to do each step of my baking! And in the middle of refining and adding to my customer email list, and the rolls going into the oven, we sat down together and watched a modern version of The Velveteen Rabbit until he fell asleep, which happens several times a day. So I slipped back over to the computer to complete my business.

The rolls came out crunchy and tasty, so I cooled and froze them. Maybe tomorrow I'll make another kind, or a quick bread, or just buy some Brown 'n Serve for those who want softer rolls. Our group will be small, since both daughters are having Thanksgiving with their in-laws, who are local and we love very much. They'll come over for dessert and movies. Next year, I have a feeling I'll be needing much more support to get through the holidays. This looks to be the last Thanksgiving Steve will be able to sit at a dinner table and handle his eating utensils. I think I'll place him between youngest son Steven and myself for quiet assistance.

Similar arrangements have been made for this evening, when Steve's friend Bob will be picking him up for the Men's Bible study potluck and keeping him under his wing for the evening. I cannot be everywhere, and that's the way it should be. God wants to use and bless others in Steve's life, and our church friends are more than eager to help. But even their help is God-ordained!

Psalm 46:1 says, and I need to rest on this beloved verse, no matter what happens today, no matter what is going to happen tomorrow:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leadership, like life, is hard

2:11 p.m. Today's project was to quickly get my major Thanksgiving dinner ingredients from Vons, before meeting with my team member Chelsey to find new leads for our Mary Kay businesses. It's pretty daunting for even the most outgoing of people --like me-- to walk up to strangers and engage them in a fun, positive conversation, in order to offer them a free facial and makeover. But whether we are chatting with women in a grocery store line and offering product samples or asking for help with an opinion survey or scavenger hunt, it's a necessary part of any sales business to meet people.

Eventually, business owners will have enlisted all of their family and friends, so a professional knows it's time to branch out! Think of the big, successful businesses you know.  I'll guarantee, as a former insurance agent who sold group and life policies to small corporations, that they had to knock on doors, sell items from their trucks or ideas from the living rooms of the friends they just met. But they persisted, and are reaping rewards today. Again and again, the Bible speaks of diligence in our work.

The master in Jesus' story of the coins given to three servants, amply rewards the one who invested, took risks, and acquired the greatest return. In Matthew 25:21, Jesus quotes the master's commendation to his most accomplished servant:

"Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."

Leadership isn't just over other people at work. A mother is a leader to her children, a husband leads the entire household. And we need to take leadership and mastery over our selfishness, fear and resentment and self-pity through prayer and the help of God the  Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we don't even know what the problem is or how to pray about it!

I heard a message this morning about leadership being a process. The speaker pictured three points of a triangle: your potential, your process, and eventually, your promise fulfilled. (I would word it that the third step is the achievement of a big goal). Her example was Moses. His 3 stages each lasted 40 years: from the palace of Pharaoh, to his life in Midian, tending his father-in-law's flocks; to leading God's people through many bitter trials to the Promised Land. She pointed out that for believers, each person's plan and process is God-ordained and individually designed by Him!

It is so encouraging to realize how much God loves me, that He has no intention of taking me through the same trials as everyone else in a similar position. And what I may be experiencing as a hard trial now is not just for my benefit, but for the good of others I don't even know are aware of me. So, while no one goes through trials perfectly without some whining and discouragement, we do want to make progress in our attitude and fortitude as we go through. Remember, Jesus is at the beginning, alongside as we progress, and ahead of us as we prayerfully come out of our trials as stronger, more beautifully seasoned believers than we entered in! Job 23:10 says,

When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

So I had to face my fears and walk up to a couple of young gals at Starbucks as an example to my consultant; there really was no getting out of it! Not if I want to be a leader others will follow. Amazingly, they agred to having facials next Wednesday! After we walked in separate directions, my consultant also picked up a couple of leads, so we agreed that she had gotten past "terrified" to "still terrified, but pleased with her results."

Hopefully, we'll try it again, and I believe she'll be training another consultant before we know it!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Sunday

9:40 p.m. Today's project was to enjoy a nice long morning before leaving early for church. It's amazing how calm and orderly our mornings are now with help for Steve arriving each day at 6:30 a.m. This was the first Sunday we've had our caregiver come, so I got up an hour earlier than usual to make it to 2nd service, but I can get used to it!

While Steve ate the scrambled eggs I prepared for hi, the caregiver volunteered to take Jada for a walk, because it was too cold for Steve to go out, and there was a window of time he wasn't needed. It was a little brisk, but Steve gets very chilled like my late mother would in her late 70's after her stroke. I wonder if a brain malfunction makes bodily temperature regulation go awry? Mommy would wear a windbreaker in August! So I readily assented, and Jada was certainly glad for the exercise and attention!

Steve and I arrived at church early as planned, and I left him in the parked Jeep while I took a product to my friend Karen, who, amazingly, I found as she was heading into the education building to prepare for her Sunday school class---I didn't even have to have Steve out of my sight! But as I rummaged in my bag, I realized that the concealer must have slipped out in the car, so I fetched Steve and we went upstairs to the 5th & 6th grade  classroom she shares with my Mrs Heidi Ilie and her husband Pavel who teach 3rd service.

Our guest speaker was just amazing, a young pastor from Calvary Chapel of Signal Hill, an area of Long Beach. Steve stayed very alert and Pastor James Kaddish spoke so urgently of the blessings of being a believer, and conversely, the dire condemnation of the unbeliever. I loved this statement he made:

"The closest a Christian will ever get to hell is life on this earth. The closest an unbeliever will ever get to heaven is life on this earth."

Profound, isn't it? For me, the trials and travesties, disappointments and illnesses are serious, but overall, this earth reflects God's handiwork, and there is much beauty and pleasure to be found in loving relationships, constructive work, fellowship at church, ministry, the Bible, creativity, and many more gifts to man from our Creator, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17).

We left the service very encouraged and uplifted. and then we enjoyed a few minutes with our above-mentioned daughter and her husband planning a play date for their Sammy and Jazzlyn's visit with our Jada. (There's a serious lack of children here, this grandma thinks)!

As we visited with Heidi and Pavel, a friend of Steve's from Mens' Study came over and invited him to the annual potluck Tuesday night. He hasn't been able to attend because of his Alzheimer's--he needs a constant attendant to help him stay awake and doesn't focus or comprehend what is being read or said. Nights get difficult. But a whole evening of food and fellowship will hit the spot and make him feel a part of things. So in case I have an appointment that evening, I called his friend Bob and he readily agreed to pick Steve up and keep him under wing for the evening. What a great Body we have at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley!

Further along our way to the car, we talked a bit with a couple of young women, both of whom are making preparations to move to Foley, Alabama to help in children's ministry there at our offspring Calvary Chapel. Not through yet with fellowship, I delivered a product to a customer who mans the bookstore between 2nd and 3rd service, and she just raved about the sample product she has been using. She also wants to book her very own Mary Kay party for December (which we later discussed on the phone).

Home for an afternoon of relaxation interspersed with booking calls, I noticed Steve's spasms were returning quite vehemently. So we set off in the rain to our neighborhood CVS pharmacy for 14 pills of Clonezapam. The technician running the drive-through at that moment was--voila--a gal who had been talking to me about becoming a consultant, asking me about foundation types, and booking an appointment for December also!! Thank you, Lord, for Shaneca, and thank you, Lord, that with just one pill, my husband's spasms subsided!

Capping off our happy Sunday was a 50th birthday party for our Home Fellowship leader, Pastor Brent Sharick, in whose honor we all came dressed in black! 50? Huh! A mere child to this 60 year old! His two children were there, along with one of their spouses and a granddaughter. We had extended worship and then enjoyed the wonderful food and desserts various ladies brought to share, along with the lovely birthday cake.

While he cannot participate in conversations, Steve is not shunted aside. Every one of the group, particularly the men, stopped by his seat to say hello and speak briefly to him. He is loved by one and all, just a regular member of the Home Fellowship. Another praise: I sold and signed a copy of my book, Galatians: An Exploration of Faith & Freedom, to a sister there who enjoys doing Bible studies on the train into LA.  Another member of the group saw it and wants to buy one next week. 

Must be the week of the book, because a longtime  Christian political friend saw a single last copy of Galatians at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Bookstore and is coming over Tuesday to buy a copy from me. left.Our evening wrapped up with a quick phone conversation with my Long Beach son Kriss

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Which depression is it?

7:36 p.m. Today's project was to realize what's happening to people in our community. God has used the caregivers who serve Steve and me, taking care of every need and prepared for emergencies at our house to graphically show me. I mean heart knowledge, not just head knowledge.

We have had middle-aged retirees who had taken up a second career, and people with long careers as certified nurse assistants, perhaps providing a second income for their family. But lately our caregivers are struggling young people, many with children of their own but living with their parents and grandparents still. Several have just arrived in Riverside, Rubidoux or Moreno Valley from less prosperous area of Southern California.

Last night I returned from a small boutique with my packed-up Mary Kay display about an hour before the care giver's assigned shift was to end. I hate to send them home early, because they count on the hours. Many of them, I discovered, would quietly say goodbye and wait out front for a ride home without saying anything. And I wouldn't have even known that unless I'd  walked out front to take out garbage or get the mail, because they generally park in various spots on the street, not on the driveway. (If I see them, they are invited to come back in if they choose to). But in attending to Steve, I might not get out front for hours!

So I offered her a free facial in the dining room. Steve was dozing off in between watchingscenes of  "The 5th Quarter" on the Gospel Music Channel, so it was a go. My facial setup was all in one place (the car) so I put everything together speedily.  I mentioned to this bright young lady, an age between Heather and Steven, how the business opportunity could replace one of her jobs that entails a long commute for minimum wage. As for the recession-proof nature of the cosmetics business, I remarked, "Even during the Great Depression, women bought lipstick!"

She took me by surprise by emphatically stating, "THIS is the Great Depression!" She went on, "Everybody has to have two jobs, one just to put gas in your car! We all have two jobs!" And from what she describes of the second one, it's not even a good job. At least anything in the medical/ caregiving/hospice field has potential for growth. Most of our CNA caregivers are in nursing school. One has graduated and taken his boards. One has aspirations of being a doctor and has had her interview for her first hospital job. I believe this ambitious mother of young ones is in school now as well as working, or saving up to attend in the near future.

Hard work, and diligent work, is the ethic I have observed from these young people. They come from loving families, but lack the advantages that my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and now I have been able to give our children. But as Proverbs 18:16 says, "A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before great men." And willingness to work hard as you work your way up is a truly great gift!

One common denominator I've noticed is the lack of cars, or reliable cars; the same thing with cell phones. Yet our care givers manage to find rides to all of their jobs, and to get back home again somehow. (I remember how bereft I felt when my Jeep was in the shop for body work for a week and a half earlier this year).  For transportation to the nursing schools at Riverside Community College's local campuses, they can take advantage of free City bus rides for students, a benefit for our three universities' collegiates as well.

The caregiver who helps Steve each morning needed a ride home, so we drove him out to the far end of Moreno Valley once I took a few moments at home after my drive in from Corona. He attempted to pay me, but the Lord told me not to accept it. I told him, "You've done really well, so no." He wouldn't get out of the car without handing me some money, but I'll find a way to get it back to him!

The last couple of years have had a brutal effect on all segments of society, with prices up ($3.77/gal. for gas, $2.89 for a simple loaf of bread?) and wages down (or nonexistent). Our only hope is in the Lord at this point much more noticeably than ever, so witnessing to our caregivers is an imperative the Lord has given me. In Mark 16:15 the resurrected Jesus said,

Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 

God's sending the world to my door!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drum therapy?

8:52 p.m. Today's project was to take Steve with me to the Caregivers' Retreat sponsored by the Riverside County Office of Aging. They provided lunch for both caregivers and their loved ones, as well as the respite care so many family caregivers need. I had left my Mary Kay boutique display in the very capable hands of my team member Candace; and Steve's early lunch and nicer outfit under the supervision of our caregiver. So we were able to take off south shortly after I got home.

The object of the afternoon was to help caregivers learn relaxation techniques that could mean the difference between illness and wellness for those facing this huge responsibility. 58% of caregivers die before their Alzheimer's victim does, a scary statistic, but utterly understandable with the chronic stress inherent in the role. Before any techniques were discussed or taught, we each put our name on a folded piece of paper for a drawing for a 20 minute massage. Two massage therapists demonstrated a simple method for helping relax your loved one. They then pulled out several names from their basket and assigned the 20 minute slots. I won one, yippee! Then specific relaxation methods were taught, such as playing music that has a very specific meaning to you. I naturally thought of the praise song "Let Faith Arise" that was going through my head:

"I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, You are my strength.
As I pour out my heart these thing I remember--
You are my faithful God forever!
Let faith arise!"

We were told that a few minutes of meditation or prayer have actually been shown to have as much physical benefit as taking an hour's nap. The Psalms are full of examples of and exhortations to meditate on God, His word, His will, His works and His wisdom. Selah is an oft-repeated word, meaning, "Consider." Psalm 32:7 says,

You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from
You shall surround me with
   songs of deliverance.    Selah

Other techniques included painting with watercolors, stretching movement, aromatherapy and one I considered odd until I tried it, "group recreational drumming." ( ! ) And wouldn't you know it? Just as the drumming session was about to start, it was my appointed time to have a massage, of which I am a huge fan. I get them whenever I have the finances available, and like to have a massage therapist at my Mary Kay spa parties. So I kicked off my shoes and lay on the table, closed my eyes and was still, hoping to ignore what I assumed would be a noisy racket.

The two massage tables were at one side of the multipurpose room, so the larger group was getting their instructions as my precious 20 minutes began. And I have to admit that it wasn't wild and loud, but carefully directed. The attendees used soft mallets and Remo practice pads. The teacher started them off with a basic two beat style that imitates the mother's heart rhythm that a baby hears for 9 months, then on to a simple walking beat, then skipping. By the time I returned to my seat in a very relaxed state, individuals were offering their beats for us all to join in with.

There is something satisfying about percussion instruments. I loved playing the piano for several months about ten years ago, and found even my elementary practice and gradual improvement very soothing and challenging at the same time. The reason I stopped was that cancer surgery and the removal of lymph nodes kept my right arm sore and swollen for a long time, so pounding of any kind was out of the question. It even hurt to play my violin! I keep promising myself that I'll get into it again, even re-start lessons. The Lord has healed my arm, and my arthritis has even subsided this year, so my excuses are beyond thin!! And I am encouraged by the mention of  one percussion instrument, the cymbal, in 2 Chronicles 5:13, used to celebrate the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant to Solomon's temple.

The watercolor painting was fun, very freestyle, done while listening to popular songs that mentioned the colors of the rainbow. I decided to leave before the aromatherapy, however, because I didn't want to contract a splitting headache. Strong scents and I do not mix!

The instructor had shown us how to make a soft mallet from a sock and a dowel, so I got those two items from the back, said quiet goodbyes to our facilitators Mary and Darlene, and went to pick up Steve from down the hall. He was contentedly working on a puzzle with the group, and almost seemed reluctant to leave, praise the Lord! (He hadn't gone into the room very happily hours before).

On the way home, I chuckled to myself because we have a drum we can use with my new mallet--an authentic Indian handmade one of skin and wood from Santa Fe, New Mexico that has just been quietly sitting on my living room window sill. I moved it into better reach when I got home!!

Early in

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Get to work!

3:15 p.m. Today's project was to earn the money for a full tank of gas (or thereabouts) and a holiday hairdresser visit. Since my gas tank was almost on empty this morning, and I had no appointments, it was time to get on the phone as soon as it was decent to do so.

The Lord allowed me to wake up at 5 a.m. this morning, so I prayed and waited to fall asleep until my 6 a.m. cell alarm was set to go off, but it wasn't happening. And worry was beginning to creep into the quiet time. Better to go downstairs, turn on the heater for Steve, start the coffee, empty the dishwasher and take my shower. Then I was able to start my devotions. I read the day's devotional passage, posted my verse for today on Facebook, checked in on a sick friend, and then it was time to read my Bible portion and write in my Mary Kay and personal journals. I was so encouraged by King David's victories, even crying out a fist-pumping "Yes!" as he wiped out the giant Philistines in I Chronicles 20. My reading prepared me for a day of effort, persistence, and success.

Since Steve was home with me today after his morning care giver left, I needed to make sure he was situated, started on a task--sweeping the back patio and cleaning the yard--and start just a limited 3 hours to make calls. Sounds like a lot of time, but with interruptions for Steve's personal needs and to direct him to his next task, I had to be very focused. My first call was to a lady who works at the Riverside County Office of Aging where I attended a caregivers' support group yesterday. She had selected a specific lipstick color out of the catalog I left with her at the front desk. I had it in stock, so I made arrangements with her to deliver it pronto. Nice cash sale, and furthermore, she and I really hit it off and she's looking forward to a facial next week. Steve and I promptly stopped at the gas station where I get 10 cents off per gallon with Ralphs rewards, so my $10.00 went much further! And I'd earned the remaining $9.00 needed for my hairdresser tomorrow. PTL!

I love this business, because I am responsible for earning what I need for each day. And I have discovered, as I told my retired business owner dad last week, that the harder and more consistently I work, the more ladies God puts in my path who want the products I offer!! Nothing new here for any sales professional, but when I see it happening  for me, I'm just amazed! The customers were pre-ordained by God, but if I don't start conversations wherever I go, or if I don't call my contacts and leads, I'll never know who they are. And if I don't offer excellent service, I won't get second appointments that will bless those women who may even want to start their own businesses. Life's funny that way, and very exhilarating! Proverbs has several verses about good business practices, so I'll quote a few favorites.

Proverbs  10:4: He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Proverbs 27b: Diligence is man's precious possession.
Proverbs 21:5: The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty.
Proverbs 22:29: Se a man diligent in his work? That man shall stand before kings.

Connecting with customers I know and have spent time with is one thing; cold calling leads from boutiques and community events is far more daunting! One has only a few seconds to make a friendly, honest impression. So it helps if you are friendly and honest, of course! On my calls from evnts where ladies signed up to book free facials, I am just  myself, a person with the joy of the Lord and trust in Him. I end up leaving a lot of messages, naturally, and people generally don't call back. So I note the date and time and move to the next one. (I'll call again at a different time of day). It's exciting to actually talk to a person, after leaving lots of voicemail, and generally they'll set an appointment with me. If not, it's either a bad time of they aren't interested. That's okay--I'm not interested in everything I'm offered either. And I know that I'll gain more leads at two upcoming boutiques I've been invited to participate in.

At tomorrow's boutique where several ladies from church will be attending,  my consultant Candy is going to fill in for me while Steve and I go to a Care Givers' retreat in Sun City, to enjoy programs that will be held for both of us. So I will give any leads she gets by giving mini-facials and selling products to her to contact. My prayer is that she will get plenty of business from those contacts! Her success is a priority for me, too.

On December 9, I'll take party in a Christmas boutique in Mission Viejo, a very upscale event. How did I get invited? Apparently, the the Lord gave me great favor with the cousin of the hostess from the day we spent together at the Hootieville boutique a week ago last Saturday. The Lord didn't need me to make a good impression, but setting up a beautiful display table, posting special prices, and smilingly giving scores of mini-facials on the shoppers' hands were my part to do--my due diligence as a professional Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant (Star Team Builder, soon to be a Team Leader).

I did book appointments today, even with a lady I'd never met, and made plans to see customers I already have. At bedtime, when I write my praises to the Lord Jesus for all of the things He has accomplished and the obstacles He has removed in my behalf, I like to close my eyes, thank Him once again, and just say to myself, "I worked hard today!"

Just as He challenges His people to do!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So many are for me!

7:24 p.m. Today's project was to stay home as I do on Wednesdays, to pore through journal entries from the past several years in preparation for writing a book about our Steve's and my experience with Alzheimer's. Today was going to be different, however, because the Caregivers' class that was responsible for a sea-change in my care for Steve was holding our monthly meeting. And since God ordained the help for me and the witnessing opportunity with group members, I decided to attend, taking about 2 hours out of the middle of the day.

This morning, our early morning caregiver helped me get Steve going and to board the bus for Care Connexxus adult daycare. The Bright Star agency employee who does the weekly cleaning arrived and got her directions, enabling me to start my note-taking. (I'd also made arrangements with pharmacies for lowering Steve's drug costs, and needed to stop at Rite- Aid on my way back --or forth).

At the support group, we shared a potluck meal, learned techniques for providing a calming atmosphere for our loved one, and then shared our lives. I never realize how Steve's affliction is affecting me until I am asked directly about our life at this point.  These fellow care giving gals are incredibly empathetic, because some are at the same stage with their parent or husband. I didn't get teary until I recounted what Steve weepingly said to our pastor last week: "Everyone else is working." We all agreed that work is a man's main life identity, especially men like Steve who had such a long and brilliant career. So when we go out and about in public, he naturally sees everyone else moving about with purpose, driving, hurrying to the next obligation. He told me "I feel like a plant," even though he has tasks and activities daily. But I know what he means: that to him, he isn't serving any purpose, and has to be led around by others. Yet he has a strong testimony and his life is accomplishing much for others, as I told him this morning! (See "The Witness of Steve's Life'" yesterday's post).

The others suggested asking his doctor about help for depression, because it now seems  that Steve realizes that he's never going back to work, and feels that nothing will get better for him in this life. He had his frustrations before, but did his best to make the most of his days, joking and smiling along with others even if he couldn't follow the conversation. So I will have a conversation about that with his doctor, because no one should live hopelessly, especially a believer in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:31 says,

If God is for us, who can be against us?

But for a person whose mind is not functioning correctly, it's a world of "can't anymore": can't walk steadily, talk normally, use a phone, write, type, drive, go about independently, earn a living, care for personal needs. I do not presume to comprehend what that feels like, and neither can you, probably.
It must be sheer torment...
But God is so actively  "for us"  in Steve's and my lives! Weekly, more and more friends are coming over and getting involved, from surprise meals, taking Steve for a guys' night out, landscaping and plumbing help, to walking and bathing the dog and beginning the garden prep that was just about to go by the wayside. It's as if the Body of Christ has been waiting with bated breath for us to need their help, just as I did for years, waiting for calls from church to see who might need a meal or a visit. Members of Christ's body eagerly serve one another in as many ways as God gives them talents.

Our situation reminds me of Elisha and his servant, surrounded by the great army, horses and chariots of the King of Syria in II Kings 6:14-17. Starting in verse 15:

     And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?"
     So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." And Elisha prayed, and said, "LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Steve and I have a strong enemy that is afflicting his mind and body, the disease of Alzheimer's. But God is sending a Spirit-filled army of believers to aid us in this difficult walk. On a larger scale, all Christians have one enemy, the enemy of our souls, the devil. His goal is to destroy our physical lives that we might forsake our allegiance to our King, Jesus Christ.  In a more universal version of the Elisha's chariots of fire, I John 4:4 gives all born again believers this assurance:

Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The witness of Steve's life Part I

8:30 p.m. Today's project was to lead my group of ladies at Bible study. This was the last session of Anne Graham Lotz' Magnificent Obsession, so I prayed for alertness after less sleep than I could have used. The ladies deserve a focused leader to facilitate discussion. The Holy Spirit came upon us for powerful discussion!

I've been getting up early the last week, in order to be prepared for the care giver's arrival to help Steve get started with his day. The Lord gave me some discoveries along the way, like turning up the heat before Steve awakes; and that I may not always be the best-equipped person to help my disabled husband when he is staggering off balance. Our caregiver provides extra security for both of us!

The Lord had a gift for our caregiver, too. He and his family went to a non-denominational Christian church on Sunday, and he just could not stop talking about the way everyone brought their Bible, how he could follow what the pastor was saying so much better than in the church he'd been taken to as a child, where huge Bibles are just laid on an altar in the front! He was also amazed by the congregation's singing, actually enjoying praising God. He hadn't brought a Bible, and didn't know the words to the songs, but I assured him that the lyrics are generally easy to catch onto. He said the people were so friendly, and they all treated each other like they'd been together their whole lives. He can't wait to go back!!  That church sounds like the church described in Ephesians 4:18b-19: filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Thank you, God, for using Steve's situation, and the tough tasks we have to perform at this juncture, to start conversations about hope in the Lord and the Word, that we have been able to be witnesses for You!

Last night on our Legacy Unit conference call, our Sales Director Laurie launched a new program goal for us: to provide 80 Mint Bliss foot creams for the daycare participants at Riverside's Care Connexxus where Steve goes once a week, and 70 more for the Alzheimer's residents at Somerford in Redlands. She asked me to describe for the other consultants the center where Steve goes, and their annual Christmas party. As we sell the foot creams to customers, their payment will buy that product for an elderly or disabled person. Our effort is called "Adopt a Grandparent 2011."

How gracious of the Lord to use what we call tragic to bring joy to others! We may never know how our testimony for the Lord Jesus will reverberate through the centuries and across the globe. Psalm 4:6-7a says,

There are many who say,
"Who will show us any good?"

The Psalmist gives the answer to doubters and naysayers:

LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart.

Yes, He has!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

In all the little days and ways

3:06 p.m. Today's project was to get a haircut for Steve, buy the biggest turkey for the least price per pound, and figure out what to do about his prescriptions, now that we've found ourselves in the dreaded Medicare Part D "doughnut hole." That situation has been hanging over my head for a few weeks now, and I've even been praying about  following the neurosurgeon's advice to just take him off of the most expensive one, Aricept. That's a scary thought--just like shelling out $225 is--but then, life has lots to be scared of, unless we take our problems to the throne of grace! Hebrews 4:16, a treasured verse to me, says, that since Jesus, our sinless High Priest, is now interceding for us to the Father in heaven:

Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We started out at Ralphs grocery store, heading back to the frozen turkey section, with me holding Steve's hand for pacing. There was a 21.90 pound turkey for 47 cents a pound, if you bought $25 worth of groceries too. Since our pantry was somewhat bare, that was certainly no problem! Then I had coupons to make the purchases even cheaper. So thank you, Lord! In past years with every one of the kids and significant others, plus my sister and her kids here, nothing less than 26 lbs would do. But this year, we can go down a bit in turkey weight, now that both of the girls are married and need to share the day with their in-laws, perfectly correct. We'll see them all for dessert and games later!

Fresh from that wonderful victory, we returned to the same shopping center after putting away the turkey and other items, to sign in at Fantastic Sam's salon. The wait was short, and we both went over to the chairs. When the stylist asked Steve how he'd like his hair, he just shrugged. So I described the basically same haircut, only short. He definitely had trouble getting in and out of the chair, and was confused about getting his hair washed, but I gently guided him over to the bowls.

The girl asked, "Is this your brother?" I was chuckling inside as I told her he's my husband. We've been described in many ways as a couple over the last 30 years, but never yet been told we look alike! I guess there's a first time for everything.

Haircut finished, we got gas and dropped off some disposable mascara wands at my team member Chelsey's house, then home for yard cleaning and then lunch. Steve was shaky and almost stumbling this morning, like he's been off and on for the last few months, whether on high doses of Aricept, or back on the original dose. Much as we want to think there's a way to use medication for better results, this is a heavily degenerate incurable disease.  All we can do, with the Lord's guidance and wisdom, is attempt to ameliorate the symptoms.  It's so hard to see my husband's hands shake and move in the opposite direction when he needs to grasp something or put on socks, or even eat. He struggled with vacuuming, and some yard clean-up; but was good at holding coupons during my peripatetic trek through the supermarket, and emptied our kitchen compost container, and followed up with stirring the large bin with a hoe, to mix up the contents, with no trouble.

We had some excellent good news from CVS pharmacy this afternoon regarding Steve's Aricept. They put together a generic version, 90 days' supply for $15! You can bet we raced over to pick them up, because Steve had just run out today! He swallowed it on the way home. The Lord is Jehovah Jireh, "The God who provides!"

Yet, this afternoon, we had a strange incident. I started the Oreck  for Steve and he vacuumed  the downstairs with no problem, very thoroughly. But when I came around the corner from the kitchen to the living room, Steve was lying halfway on the tile and on the carpet! There had been no sound of a fall, and with the noisiness of the tile, I would have heard it. He wasn't asleep or unconscious, so he helped himself up using the banister. Apparently, he'd been crouching down to wrap up the cord, leaned a bit too far and toppled over. But like other falls he's had over the last two months, he wasn't dizzy! Between the loss of depth perception in the mid-to-late stage, and overall unsteadiness, it happened.  What a good relief it was to see our caregiver at the door, after I spent time consoling Steve in his tears, praying and listening to praise music on our Directv Channel 826, "The Spirit". We were beginning to be uplifted once again. And Andrew's arrival provided a change of pace and personality that can do any of us good!

He is now frying up Steve's favorite meal, hamburgers!!

A friend from our Home Fellowship is coming over in a few minutes to get our upstairs bathroom functional again. Praise God, as Hebrews 4:16, for His granting us "strength to help in time of need!"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Today, not tomorrow

2:02 p.m. Today's project was to go to church. I won't list all of the difficult elements involved in getting Steve and me into the Jeep by 9:12 a.m., but we made it! We had hopes our invited guest, one of Steve's caregivers, would attend 2nd service, so we took the time to pray for him, as well as for our pastor who is on a ministry trip to South America. I love the saying we use in our Mary Kay sales unit, "Today, Not Tomorrow," or TNT. That applies to prayer, I think, more than any other action a Christian can take.

As I snatched a few moments to read My Utmost for His Highest, I kept reflecting on today's date, November 13th. What on earth was happening today? Do you ever get like that, just sure that there's a happening coming on a certain date, but having no idea what it is?! Maddening! So I read the selection from my favorite devotional writer Oswald Chambers, beautifully stern as always about our Christian walk.  Quite honestly, I stood convicted of unbelief on so many fronts, whether large, medium, small, or miniscule!

   We can never experience Jesus Christ, nor ever hold Him within the compass of our own hearts, but our faith must be built in strong emphatic confidence in Him.
    It is along this line that we see the rugged impatience of the Holy Ghost against unbelief. All our fears are wicked, and we fear because we will not nourish ourselves in our faith. How can anyone who is identified with Jesus Christ suffer from doubt or fear! It ought to be an absolute paean of perfectly irrepressible, triumphant belief. 

Just a few minutes ago, I was panicked about finding a stamp to mail a check for DMV registration, praying we'd have the funds in a few days, when in response to prayer, God showed me where a stamp was! Better yet, when I checked the bank account, expectantly dreading a bad answer from the computer voice, there was more than enough to cover that and other major needs. I was definitely the ye in "O ye of little faith" (Luke 12:28)!

Back to the date, November 13, it finally dawned on me that K.P. Yohannon, president and founder of Gospel for Asia, would be speaking at our church today. The ministry had already given us all free copies of No Longer a Slumdog to read before his visit.  I read it with agony for the children in the slums of India, especially, doomed by the caste system to live, play and die in the sewers, whose bodies are scooped up each morning by workers in large cities like Bombay. Their life expectancy is so short, if it were not for the intervention of Jesus Christ, who loves them as much as He loves our beloved and cared-for children. Gospel for Asia has sent out 15,000 missionaries and workers into 13 Asian countries, starting schools and leading these lost children, many parentless, to Jesus Christ. Brother Yohannon's scripture was Jesus' warning in Matthew 18:10:

Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

K.P. Yohannon said, "That means that these children's angels give a report to God the Father regarding these little ones." Our challenge was to pray for the children, their parents, and the churches that are springing up in multitudes of villages with native teachers and pastors; furthermore, we should each consider sponsoring a child for $28 a month, even as many children as the natural ones we've brought into the world. With five kids and two grandsons, soon to be three, to my're talking real money now!

What kind of faith will I exercise in a child's behalf, that they might come to know Jesus, be fed, clothed, and educated? Our own personal trial at home is devastating, but not so much financially, thanks to the Lord's leading to make preparation a decade ago. When permanent disability strikes a family breadwinner, there is great loss, undeniably. But God has brought us through every step of the way! I like what Oswald Chambers says today:

How can we talk of making a sacrifice for the Son of God! Our salvation is from hell and perdition, and then we talk about making a sacrifice!

I'll leave it at that.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Warming up the day

6:08 p.m. Today's project was to join  future director Cara, in hosting a Mary Kay skincare class at our training center in Redlands, slated for 9 a.m. I was delighted to be invited to add my guests. I quickly booked two guests, and hoped for a third who was stopping by to pick up a moisturizer she'd purchased at a boutique last week. Cara had six girls from the University of Redlands. We both had met just one of today's guests at a carnival, and they invited others. That's one of the beautiful advantages of the Mary Kay business--every woman has a face!

Twelve hours ago I wasn't feeling very advantaged, because I had gotten up and started getting ready, and was starting my devotions when time came to wake Steve up. His helper was to arrive at 7 a.m. It was critical that Steve get his meds taken on time as usual. He woke up shaking horribly, and getting him to just sit up was strenuous. The other time he shook like that was last Saturday morning when I also had a major event coming up.  I managed to help him into his sweatpants and slippers, helped him downstairs, and got him seated at the kitchen table. Just as I was turning up the heat from 70 to 72 degrees, the doorbell rang and the caregiver came in.

I covered Steve with a heavy afghan in addition to his t-shirt and sweats, and then the two of us tried to get his shaking to stop long enough to take his medication. He finally managed it, and while the caregiver got his banana peeled, I brought his coffee. That helped with warming, and meanwhile, the heater had kicked on. Steve then moved over to his online devotional reading. I went back to my devotions  after giving the caregiver his directions for the morning. Steve began to come around to normal, and by the time I went upstairs to get dressed and made up, he was eating his hot buttered rolls.

Saturday mornings seem to be difficult for Steve the last two weeks, even scary. It's certainly no fault of his--even if I told him just before bedtime that I had an event in the morning, he would have no knowledge of it at all within 1 minute. It would be the same case if even if I had mentioned it this morning. Last week, the helper and I let Steve go to back to sleep on the couch, but today he preferred to stay up.

Perhaps we need to have the heater come on a little earlier, but during the week he doesn't shake in the mornings, and we get up even earlier. Quite a puzzlement! Just now returned from a readjusting of the heater's program--we'll see what happens, courtesy of Mrs. Non-handy!

Even if there's a logical, practical or mechanical solution to Steve's Saturday shakes, the enemy does use our miscalculations and lack of foresight to rattle belivers, to distract and discourage us from what we are called to do. The devil is a thief, (John 10: 10) not only of life and property, but of peace, purpose. confidence and initiative. Above all, he's a liar! Jesus said  of the devil in in John 8:44,

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

So the lies, "You aren't supposed to go out today--look at Steve! It's raining, you can't go anywhere today! You're low on gas and your tires aren't too good, you need to stay home!" were familiar ones, getting a bit rusty, actually, by now. On and on the negative, gloomy harassment  went, until I kissed Steve goodbye (now doing just fine) and went on to my skincare class.

Two cash sales quickly solved my gasoline problem and put money in the bank; and I found a potential team member, too! Meanwhile, Cara and I conducted the class with our beauty coats on, a first for me. I definitely enjoy the Christian fellowship and the ideas I glean from watching another consultant's presentation. We had all the facial supplies we needed between the two of us. Since there's no competition between Mary Kay consultants, we can have our founder's "go-give" spirit in our businesses, helping others be successful!

So much for this morning's cold start--today's good news keeps getting better, thank you Lord! Two Facebook friends are expressing interest in joining my team, after seeing a picture I posted of the $75 starter kit contents. These are young moms who need extra income, as many do today. If the Lord can use me to lend a hand with training, sisterly fellowship, and encouragement, it will be a privilege. 

Steve and I continued on with a relaxed, cozy afternoon and evening, warmed by a crockpot full of creamy beef, cheddar, potato and chopped vegetable soup. He's sleeping peacefully now, and we are looking forward to our day at church tomorrow. We are praying our caregiver will make it to 2nd service  which we attend. In the Lord there is healing and hope; the indwelling Spirit gives power to cope.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Catching up with family

4:46 p.m. Today's project was to welcome Steve's sisters, cousin, brother-in-law and sister-in-law to the house for lunch together and a long overdue visit. They hadn't seen Steve since Heidi's wedding in June, and his Alzheimer's has taken a major turn for the worse in the meantime.

Steve's sibs' surprised us with lunch from In-'n-Out Burger, Steve's favorite. Their hospitality even extended to bringing me a lettuce-wrapped burger, for my gluten-free lifestyle. After Sharon, the oldest of the remaining three Kruckenberg offspring, prayed, we dug in to a delicious feast, a real treat. Steve ate with only a couple of incidents, but his burger got put back together by his brother Larry's widow Michaele, and warmed up, too, for this special occasion of food and fellowship. As Steve's cousin Stephanie remarked, "We just don't eat out." I concurred. She continued, "There are too many other more urgent things to do with our money!" And as Jesus described in Luke 12:42, we need to be good stewards of our household income. As servants of our Master Jesus, we can identify with His challenge!

And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes."

We covered several topics, and had lots of laughs, but when Steve sister Linda's husband Mike took a nodding Steve out for a short walk, I brought up one particular use for money, prescriptions! I laid on the table the online coupons I printed for 16% off of Aricept, and "up to" 75% off of Namenda.  We have descended into Medicare's "Doughnut Hole," a place of darkness where Medicare Part D won't cover our prescriptions again until January of 2012. I'm looking for ways to save on buying Steve's most expensive brand name drugs. Aricept is $225/30, and Namenda is $89/30 market price! They used to cost $29, making them substantially more costly than his other drugs, which have a $5 co-pay.  Better hustle up and sell more Mary Kay!! (Or, along with building my business, keep searching out patient prescription assistance programs).

Right now, as my husband's neurosurgeon sees it from the images of his brain, Aricept isn't having any effect on him at mid-to-late stage Alzheimer's. I can anecdotally state that the disease process, as judged by his coping and basic functioning skills, is precipitously going downhill. Namenda, however, does seem to improve his sharpness and alertness. Steve has no memory of any event, whether it's on days we've accidentally skipped an Aricept pill, he's taken the max level of 23 milligrams or whether he's taken 10 milligrams. Whether to keep giving him this drug is a matter of prayer and God's leading--"Where he guides, He provides," Pastor Chuck Smith always says.

Everyone had a medical incident to report, a dog story, and endless chuckles about our kids and grand kids. We are almost all grandparents now. The family is looking forward to our nephew's wedding next summer, and our Kriss' son Clark Alexander birth next March. In between, there will come a prayerful  and delicious Thanksgiving, for which I'm hoping youngest son Steven will be here from Fresno; festive and faith-filled, but frugal, Christmas, and a fresh new year. My dad isn't getting any younger, and my husband isn't getting any healthier.  We have much to celebrate together, and precious little time to do it in.

Our time here on earth is so short, and that time is the Lord's to parcel out. We all hope to live long lives with full abilities to the end, and some of us will. As for other people like my Steve, their decline will be devastating to them and to their families in every way. Knowing this, I'll close with Psalm 31:14-15a:

But as for me, I trust in You,
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hand.