Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lessons from Connections

1:14 p.m. Today's project is to spend most of my time with Steve. I had spent a busy day here at Raincross yesterday, with lots of visitors. Steve's cousin Stephanie, John & Kathleen (my son-in-law's parents); daughter Heidi and her husband; and last but not least, my oldest son Sean, his wife and our two teenage grandsons Adrian and Xavier. Pastors have stopped by to pray as well. The hundreds of blessings, prayers and expressions of love from my personal friends on Facebook have just been so uplifting and tenderhearted, as have texts, emails and calls. Such love we have the privilege of giving and receiving as believers! I often quote Psalm 133:1, but it blesses me every time I read it, to know how God has designed the best way for His people to live.

Behold, how good and how
  pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in

This morning I attended second service at Harvest because it's not very far from Steve's location. Our long-time friend Pastor Jeff Lasseigne gave a fine expository teaching on Ephesians 5:15-21 that was apropos for the imminent new year, entitled, "The best way to live." In pondering these verses, I want to key in on what the Lord has shown me in the last week as Steve lies dying across the room from me, vv. 15-17 (NKJV):

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

I've always enjoyed the many ways you can characterize "walking circumspectly," (other than the actual definition of  looking around, then walking carefully, exactly and precisely). My absolute favorite is Chuck Swindoll's description of the way you walk through a cow pasture--or how I walk through my backyard with the pooper scooper!

As believers, we just don't go wherever, whenever, with whomever, or in any way whatsoever. We're not to be fools! We pray, listen to the Lord, find his will for us in the Bible, and then proceed. Interestingly, I saw a good example of the concept of  "walking circumspectly" earlier today.

I was sitting with Steve when I saw these tiny black shoes inching, inching past the open door. They belonged to the feet of a wheelchair driver who had yet to appear. They had to have belonged to a lady, by the style of them. I was fascinated. The owner of the shoes was going so carefully, so daintily, so cautiously that I couldn't wait to see the legs appear, which they finally did, then I saw the arms rolling the wheels, the body, and finally the dear face of Jackie, one of the more lucid residents of the  memory care Connections Village. She peeked in, and said, as she often does, "Hello, Dana. Have you had lunch yet?" I assured her I had. She crept on, smiling with satisfaction that all was well and in place.

How simple a matter it was to give assurance and comfort to this dear lady! But think how we complicate things, how we can lack faith that God is in control, and doubt that He will guide us through these evil days referred to in Ephesians 5:16. He cannot guide us, however, if we do  not use our time wisely, seeking Him. We are to be steadfast in reading the Bible and prayer, that through the power of the Holy Spirit we might discern His will.

Father, may we not only walk wisely and discern Your will, but redeem this time in which we live, as we anticipate Your soon return!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The last days

5:01 p.m. Today's project was to spend time with Steve as he rests in his room at Raincross assisted living senior center. He returned last night on a Hospice transport from Magnolia Rehab skilled nursing facility, after failing his third swallowing test yesterday morning. The children and I had agreed that he should undergo a second five-day round of IV antibiotics to defeat his severe pneumonia, along with IV nutrient. Then if he failed to be able to swallow, we would carry out  their dad's wishes, a Do Not Resuscitate order and permitting no extreme measures, like a ventilator or  feeding tube, to be used. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a (NLT) reminds us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.

We love births, but it's the other end of life that troubles us, doesn't it? As an unsaved young (and not-so-young) girl, I would wonder, "Why do people die? Isn't that what doctors and hospitals are for? I just couldn't see the point. But an awesome 1980 encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ changed my heart and mind! Simply put, the blinders came off. So instead of automatically thinking, "What a waste!" I see the the dying process as opportunity to learn how believers go in peace to be with the Lord.

God also stirs hearts toward service to others.

Our family has received an astounding number of expressions of love, whether face-to-face, by phone, text message, email or Facebook. A precious young mom took a few minutes out of her busy, hectic day to text,

"Hi Dana, I just wanted to tell you that I am praying for you. If you need anything at all, (she and her husband) are here for you! Please don't hesitate to ask! I love you, Dana!"

After a very lovely and loving visit with Steve's siblings, the Charter Hospice medi-van came to move Steve back  "home" to his room. As an example of all of the support we've had, my son-in-law and his dad had removed the queen-sized bed from Steve's room before the hospital bed and oxygen equipment were brought in earlier in the day. The process was so speedy, comfortable, and efficient, that Steve was not disrupted at all.

The hospice aides and Raincross caregivers made sure all was in order, so I left to have a meeting at home with a representative of the mortuary I've chosen on recommendation of Pastor Jeff, who will be officiating at Steve's memorial service. my older daughter was there to give input on the services we will and won't need.In the meantime, two nephews and a niece from Orange County came to see their Uncle Steve. Steve is never alone, because Jesus is with him on his passage  into eternity; but he has the human companionship that God created to uplift, warm, and cheer us.

As this evening's watch closes for me, I'll leave my love for the night in the capable hands of caregivers who know and love him, but above all, in the tender, yet all-powerful arms of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Something WAS prepared

9:37 p.m. Today's project is to express to God my utmost gratitude for working in my family's lives during this time. All of my kids and their spouses, and my dad, were together here for Christmas Day; and three of them had Christmas Eve supper with me after church and visiting in-laws. We shared two dinners and a breakfast, as well as substantial supplies of homemade goodies and snacks. (I'm still happily cleaning up the last details as I write this)!With Steve's condition worsening and requiring daily hospital and rehab center visits,  I did not make Christmas dinner, nor did I bake 7 or 8 kinds of cookies as usual. My daughter-in-law Marisela headed up the crew for the enchilada and posole Mexican feast, and my other daughter-in-law Pam made 2 deep dishes of heavenly enchiladas.  I was treated as the Jews were commanded to celebrate Purim with each other in Esther 9:22-23: The month Adar was to contain this commemoration: the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor. 

I also want to note Nehemiah 8:10, long a favorite verse, an exhortation from Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the scribe to the returned Jewish exiles after the reading of the Law and the weeping  of the people:

"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

I fretted most of the month because I had nothing prepared, and no time to prepare it, with large chunks of each day spent traveling to visit Steve and with the visits themselves.Priorities change instantly when a spouse becomes gravely ill! So I did strive to make some dishes and prep for others. What little I made and baked were acceptable, but nowhere near enough to meet the appetites of nine adults.

In my own striving, I can become one "for whom nothing is prepared," not trusting Jesus to do exceedingly abundantly above my best efforts. It's like canned tuna for casseroles vs. spectacular Ahi tuna in an upscale restaurant. There's just no comparison.

There is one preparation that I don't want you to miss, upon which hangs our entire eternal destiny, Hebrews 10:5-7:

Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
Sacrifice and offering You did not
But a body You have prepared for
In burnt offerings and sacrifices
  for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, 'Behold, I have 
In the volume of the book it is
  written of Me---
To do Your will, O God.

By His arms, on the cross, Jesus hung, in the virgin-born body God had prepared for Him specifically to die for the sin of mankind. The Bible asserts: no man can save himself from eternal damnation (Psalm 49:7-9). And as unprepared as we were the day we got saved, God prepared our hearing of the Gospel and our becoming saved, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:26).

And there is more preparation for His children. In John 14:2, Jesus Himself says to His disciples then and now:

In  My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  

And my Steve is getting gets closer entering his mansion hour by hour!

Please prepare your heart for Jesus tonight!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I think I'd rather stay

8:16 a.m. Today's project is to visit with Steve this morning, and pray over him, as he slips away from us. Magnolia Rehab is doing a very fine job helping his body to fight pneumonia, and keeping him nourished through an IV drip. But despite the busyness of Christmas, with plans to see all of our children, their spouses, and our youngest  grandson, the end of 2012 comes to this: my husband is dying. Steve doesn't have the ability or awareness to say goodbye, as a person dying in their right mind would be doing.

Yesterday I decided to forego a family gathering out of town, because I need to stay here in town in case there's an urgent situation with Steve. It felt a little lonely at first, but God had a marvelous day planned for me!  I Corinthians 3:3 says,

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 tribulation...

After church, I received a text from Kathleen, my daughter Heather's mother-in-law, asking if she and Nick's dad could stop by. We had a lovely visit, and I'm already using the fresh potted herbs they brought me.  After spending some time in Christmas preparations here at home, and visiting with our youngest son,  I went to see Steve, and after a few minutes, in walked a friend, Chaplain Dave Sparks! He anointed Steve with oil, prayed over him and read him scriptures of comfort. Steve did open his eyes and acknowledge Dave's presence and voice. I know Steve's spirit is being fed by the Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Later in the evening, son Steven and I welcomed Kathy, his girlfriend, and her family, the Barretos, here before they headed up home to Bakersfield. We enjoyed coffee, conversation, and concern for Steve.

This morning, my son Kriss texted me to share an old MXPX song that brought him to tears, on account of his dad, that he'd posted to his Facebook page. The singer sounds so much like Kriss did with his old band First Time Falling. The line that struck me was "I think I'd rather stay," which probably most of us would say on our deathbed, even if we know the Lord and are ready to enter eternal life in His presence. We don't want to leave our loved ones, although what Christ has for us is far better.

If you want to hear the song, it's on Youtube, called "Begin to Start," the 5th track on the 1998 MXPX album "Let it Happen."

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Two days in review

8:10 p.m. Today's project was to turn off the inside and outside Christmas lights, bring in the lighted moving angel, fill and turn on the dishwasher, finish wrapping a fraction of the gifts I have hidden away, and get the coffee pot ready for 5.5 hours later. Yes, at 12:07 this morning, I looked up at the clock on the microwave and went, "Uh-oh!" At some point later, I actually got into bed. Not too smart, especially since Psalm 127:2 says,

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Yesterday, December 20, had been a long day, but much had been accomplished. The house was clean because I had guests coming for facials at 11:00. I'd had my devotions; let out, cleaned up after and fed our dog; checked on Steve's status at Magnolia Rehab; and even had the dumpsters moved to the front yard. I got dressed up Mary Kay style, and enjoyed a relaxed and rewarding two hours with new friends. All of these activities took place while  enjoying Christmas music on my tv and the beautiful decorations on the tree, mantel, hutch and tables that Steve and I collected over 31 years of marriage.

At 1:00, with a packed lunch, laptop and charger,w-ifi portable device and charger, and cords for all of this hardware, I went into Magnolia Rehab. They had called earlier to report Steve's inability to even take the swallowing eval, let alone pass it. So after receiving phone and in-person status updates from  nurses and case managers, I asked my daughter to text all the sibs for a family meeting. I have always been a huge fan of the verse,

Where there is no counsel, the
  people fall,
but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

Nick and Heather ran over to his parents' home to get food for us while we awaited the others.Three of the kids, plus spouses, went to the empty dining room with me, and we had a very focused discussion.There's now a plan for the next week, culminating in the test that will determine whether he can swallow food, even pureed food, which they do serve for others at Raincross. How wonderful if Steve could return to the residence to his own room, great food, skilled and attentive caregivers and friends.

But I know Steve is in God's hands. And God has called me to turn this experience into a testimony. Several times a day, to everyone who enters his room to help out, I witness of Steve's salvation, and his decades of commitment to Christ. Those decades of commitment and personal relationship with Jesus, are the very preparation his spirit is making for his entrance into heaven.

Are you prepared, not for the hyped-up Mayan doomsday, but for the day of your death, to make your entrance into heaven?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rest in Peace

8:37 p.m. Today's project was to attend the Christmas meeting of a very exclusive but rapidly growing group--caregivers of dementia and Alzheimer's victims. We exchanged tasty party snacks, white elephant gifts and personal stories of struggles with loved ones. Best of all were the recounted victories over the medical establishment in the quest for earned, promised, and legally deserved care for our loved ones. Thanks to the vision of Mary and Darlene of the Riverside County Office of Aging, knowledge gained in the 12 week course won the day when shared pointedly, placidly, politely and patiently!

My next stop was the dentist, the third leg behind the chiropractor and the physician, of my pursuit of an answer to the pain that  runs sporadically down the left side of my head and into my jaw. Sweetener from the Lord: since the staff discovered that I was due for my free cleaning any way, I emerged from the "nothing's wrong" exam with sparkling clean teeth for Christmas!!  God is so good to His kids, isn't He? Psalm 34:10 says,

The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

I received no suggestions other than my doctor's prescription for the steroid Nasonex to combat the ill withdrawal effects of an addictive over-the-counter decongestant. Haven't gotten on board with that, but do want to find and begin use of a natural approach or supplement before I've completely ruined my liver with ibuprofen!

Another matter had been bothering me all morning. A Facebook message I'd gotten in response to wishing a friend Happy Birthday about 7:30  had me puzzled. This private message from another good friend said that Pamela had died over a month ago! Pam was one amazing woman. A lifelong loner, she had let a lump in her breast grow to grapefruit size before seeking help, at our Bible study women's insistence.  Stage Four, it was declared, and a whirlwind of treatments began. Pam had retired and had an unreliable vehicle. So a list to which I contributed the names of my summer Bible study ladies, was formed for Jan in the church office, the names and numbers of women able to drive Pam to all of her dr. appts, chemo,and radiation treatments. I had just retired, so I joined in on my available days, and Steve even went one time. Pam and I always had excellent talks, at her apartment or when eating out together. Her good experience with Tate, a Christian publisher, in writing her poetic book Naming Horses, gave me the impetus to submit my Galatians Bible study, and it too became a book. After intense revisons and corrections, Galatians: An Exploration of Faith & Freedom came into being.

Through the ministations of ladies, including seating Pam with their families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Pamela became the outspoken, humourous person she had kept deep inside her imposing frame. As I was telling a nursing assistant  in Steve's hospital room, Pamela's cancer opened the door to many lifelong friendships.She was suddenly enjoying birthday lunches and outings to Rogers Garden Nursery at Fashion Island.  Pamela loved flowers! She loved her God, first and foremost. His gift to the last years of her life was that of koinonia, friendship centered in Christ. I had prayed for her recently because I knew she'd moved to a rehab center from her apartment, but hadn't caught up with her at church..

This evening, after a day when I'd left at 9:15 and returned about 6 p.m., and got the true facts, Pamela  had died, and her memorial service was on December 1st. How had I missed this? I see the small group of friends who helped Pam when I conduct Heart to Home classes, or just around at church on Sunday.. Thought I'd call Barb , and so she told me of the ceremony they'd had today in honor of Pamela's birthday.  On my rdge is a photo of a birthday party we'd thrown for Pam a few years ago,Barbara was totally shocked I didn't know! Everyone must have assumed I did. Steve was beginning to get unruly, and more time consuming in arrangement for his care. When I didn't make to the memorial, they probably assumed I had a difficulty and couldn't leave him.

Pamela's death is not about me! I love what Barbara said about Pam being in heaven now: "She's up there tending the roses." Any occupation in heaven will be pure delight! To be in the presence of Jesus will be joy indescribable ( See II Corinthians 12:1-6, Paul's time in heaven)). David had it right in Psalm 84:10,

For a day in Your courts is better
  than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper
  in the house of my God... 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Too many shepherds

4:06 p.m. Today's project was to get out early, after exercising and devotions, and find our daughter's German shepherd puppy Jazzlyn, missing overnight. Last night, she and our Labrador Retriever didn't come when I called them in for their half hour of indoor visiting, which includes their much-anticipated Milk Bone. I went out in the backyard and heard distant barking. They'll generally come back when I call them in, unless they can't get back in the way they went out. I then spotted the torn- off fence slat in the fence adjoining the backyard of the neighbor next door.

So I put on my jacket, grabbed a leash and flashlight, and made my first stop on the driveway next door. Sure enough, there was Jada, sitting at the wrought iron side gate where I've picked them up before. I did call for Jazzlyn, but wasted no time returning home and crating Jada in our garage. I set out again, calling the puppy at the gate, but with no luck.

Dogs certainly aren't people, but they are family members. And scriptures such as Psalm 36:6,

O LORD, You preserve man and beast. and Psalm 50:22, Every beast of the forest is Mine, demonstrate that God cares about animals. And Jesus said in Matthew 10:29b of sparrows, not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.

Scripture tells us to care for our lowly companions and laborers in Proverbs 12:10: A righteous man regards the life of his beast. so I needed to keep looking around the neighborhood last night. Two men down the street said they'd seen two big dogs on Canyon Crest Drive, so I circled around the tract, and as I came back, by the median, and it was deja vu--there was a dead German Shepherd!. (Our other lab, Bailey, was struck and killed last year in the same spot).

I pulled over, put on my emergency flashers, and examined the dead dog. It was a female, but had no collar, and had a large old scar. She had more fuzzy tan fur than Jazzlyn and shorter legs. But it was dark, and the flashlight was not very bright. So, unconvinced either way, I drove around the local streets once more and came home.

This morning, in the almost-light, I put Jada on her tie out and fed her. I heard barking, so went out again and there was a shepherd poking her head through the slat!! "Jazzlyn! Come on, come over here!!! C'mon, girl, come get some breakfast!" But she backed away, angry and fearful. Gee, that was odd, like seeing her one ear folded over. I texted my daughter the news. When I went back out, I realized it was the rear neighbor's shepherd puppy, texted him and he fetched her home. In response to my disappointed text to my daughter, she wrote, "the dead one must be Jazzlyn." I wouldn't give up, and just sought to either receive closure if she's dead; or hope if it was a different dog.

So in the bright light I drove over to look at that dead dog again.  NOT our Jazzlyn. Maybe someone picked her up and will call my daughter and son-in-law whose number is on her tag. Or they'll hear from Animal Control for some hefty fines as I well know! Or, despicably, someone just stole her.

With all that Steve is suffering now, and the very real possibility that his end is near, perhaps looking for a lost dog seems trivial, and having our other son-in-law Nick repair the fence, while I went to Target to return a gift do not seem to be urgent. But getting out and taking care of business is the way God made me, and having household matters taken care of, facilitated my visit with Steve today.

Serious paperwork was signed here at the house--my authorization for Hospice to transport Steve for continued IV medications, breathing treatments and a swallowing eval at a skilled nursing facility near Cal Baptist University for 5 days. Then he will return to live at Raincross with a hospice attendant in addition to the many caregivers there. Hospice also will not resuscitate him should he die, which was his wish. If  Steve dramatically improves, with his swallowing, especially, the hospice order can be rescinded by me at any time.

And blessedly, after hearing my daughter teach a message at the Young Adult Christmas Outreach at 6 p.m., I'll open my door to Jeff and Monica Tomchek, 34-year friends who also are lay counselors at Harvest Christian Fellowship. Monica will be wrapping Christmas gifts for me too!

Lord, be my guide, leader, friend and comforter tonight!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jesus with skin on

9:31 p.m. Today's project was to check on my husband Steve's condition before going to church, and then to visit him afterwards.

Last night in the ER was fairly scary, because Steve was trying to breathe through his mouth, despite oxygen going directly into his nose. He was choking and gasping on the thick greenish-grey gunk that was in his lungs, but could not cough it up. The nurse told me, "You and I would understand what it means to cough up and spit out our phlegm, but he just coughs and it stays in his throat." The attending doctor added a second, stronger antibiotic than what was prescribed by the urgent care doctor on Wednesday night. That worked fine for a couple of days, but by yesterday morning, the heavy phlegm was back.

As a very long day wore on, my daughter Heather and her husband Nick (our Loves) came over to the hospital, and fetched me some fried zucchini and ranch dressing from Carl's Jr. along with their dinner. Heather took over for me in rubbing her dad's shoulder and calming him down, so he'd stop the jerky attempts to sit up every few minutes. For an expectant mother she was showing quite a bit of stamina!

The reason the three of us were tired, and on our second wind, actually, was that I had been up since 3 a.m, and they by 4, to get hundreds of household items organized and laid out for our house garage sale. They arrived here at the house a little after 5, and their friend from Small Group and his older two boys joined us in the bone-chilling cold about an hour later. (below, that's Nick inside the garage and Heather completing a sale). Proverbs 27:10 (KJV) says,

Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far off.


Of course, the best of both worlds is to have family nearby! Nick has spent weeks clearing out rooms, and even the incredibly packed garage, and then sorting and arranging saleable items. I've provided some resistance, because certain items from the kids' baby, little tyke and even teen stages all reminded me of precious times in raising them. So I did "rescue" (to use Nick's term) some items.
The Loves were doing a great job, so I was able to display my Mary Kay holiday fragrance line at a boutique in an upscale consignment store in our neighborhood for a few hours, from 11-1 p.m. It was a very enjoyable time with co-vendors showing jewelry. The call from Raincross where Steve lives came about 12:00 p.m., as I was wrapping up my boutique. The gunk had made it hard for Steve to eat his breakfast, and was choking him, so their on-site doctor called for transportation to the ER. I headed down there after I returned home, unpacked inventory from my Jeep, and ate a filling lunch, preparing against a late night when I'd need plenty of energy and focus! The leftover items from the sale were to be picked up by a charity at 5 p.m.
I felt somewhat guilty for not only completing my business commitment, but going home to put all in order before heading to the hospital.  Steve was in good hands, and would not be served well emotionally by my running down there distraught, with thousands of dollars' worth of inventory and open packaged gifts in the Jeep, no plan for wrapping up the garage sale, and shaking from sleepiness and hunger!  The great book of Proverbs again guided my choice to proceed prudently, Chapter 24:3-4:
Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is
By knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant
Then verse 27 just popped out at me:
Prepare your outside work,
Make it fit for yourself in the
And afterward build your house.
Thank you, Lord, for both wisdom and the ability to apply it! 
The night ended with Steve being admitted, and distressing comments from the admitting doctor that my husband was going to be choking and unable to eat from now on, that he'd aspirate any food into his lungs, and needed to be placed on hospice--that Steve is at the end. He prescribed hospice as Steve was moved into his room and a meeting was set for today at 3 p.m.
I came home, to discover the Loves were back, the dogs were crated and covered up, and the two were making gingerbread (Nick) and resting while watching a classic movie (Heather). They truly had been "Jesus with skin on" to me!
The night was spent pondering final arrangements for Steve--was this truly the end?? Apparently not, because God was answering the prayers of scores of friends! This morning when I called, his nurse told me that Steve had slept the night, and was receiving his breathing treatments and they had been suctioning out his phlegm. He was settled nicely in his bed.
At church, out in the foyer during the sermon, God had another of His servants meet my needs. Richard, a long-time usher and close friend of Steve's, spoke life giving scripture to me. He also shared about the times he had been able to encourage Steve despite his fear of contracting Alzheimer's; prayed with him; and the times they spent good, close time together at Men's Retreats and Men's Bible study. The Holy Spirit was truly speaking to me through Richard. He'll be working in the area of the hospital tomorrow morning and plans to go visit Steve.
At my after-church visit, Steve's temperature went down one degree just from the nurse's application of cool washcloths and ice packs place in his armpits. It seemed his coughing was less gurgly. I spent quite a while speaking with Charter Hospice, and they can work very comfortably at Raincross like they do with about 10 other residents. I do appreciate their wide repertoire of services offered. But the doctor who now attends Steve says it's too soon for Hospice. And after an evaluation of his swallowing ability is performed tomorrow, Steve could very well be going back to his residence, where an hospital bed is being ordered for him. I am so praying for Steve to make it through this valley, and return to physical normalcy!!  God may choose to heal him completely--and I have all faith that God does and is able to heal today!!
He may allow medical means to solve the complicated issues of Steve's mind, or He may heal by the agency of the Holy Spirit, but either way, Jesus is able!! Whether He chooses to heal Steve or take Him home, I will praise God with Isaiah, Chapter 25:1:
O LORD, You are my God.
I will exalt You,
I will praise Your name,
For You have done wonderful
Your counsels of old are
 faithfulness and truth.

Friday, December 14, 2012

You're walking with me

3:34 p.m. Today's project began at 5:45 this morning, when I opened my morning devotional by C.H. Spurgeon.  I'd had a discouraging evening during which, out of nowhere, on a miserably rainy night, I was personally slandered, accused and disparaged. No point in writing details, but the accusations were outlandish. I'm perhaps not the most sensitive person you can name, but I doubt that I, or any other Christ follower, would be attacking a woman whose husband is rapidly slipping away.

It was a restless night, marked by the strange pain on the left side of my head and neck which my chiropractor's adjustment failed to snap away.  I got up at 4 a.m. to take some Tylenol, and was up less than two hours later in preparation for a doctor's appointment.  The devotional Morning & Evening has uplifted me amazingly this last year, because each selection is based on scripture, and more often than not, speaks peace to my heart when most needed. Today's verse was Psalm 84:7:

They go from strength to strength.

Spurgeon asserts that this progress is actually the opposite of our experience in the natural world, where we tire as we go along--we don't get stronger. He writes of this contrast,

But the Christian pilgrim having obtained fresh supplies of grace, is as vigorous after years of toilsome travel and struggle as when he first set out. He may not be quite so elate and buoyant, nor perhaps so hot and hasty in his zeal as he once was, but he is much stronger in all that constitutes real power, and travels, if more slowly, more surely.

I certainly agree with that statement after 33 years of walking with Jesus. While I feel no personal qualities of exceptional strength in our family's trial with late-stage dementia, there is no doubt that God's Holy Spirit gives uncanny wisdom, answers in confrontation, and, by the blood of the Lord Jesus, deliverance in the fiery trials of this life and eternal joy in the one to come! Spurgeon adds,

Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up with it sufficient grace.

Once downstairs, I poured my coffee and sat down for my scripture portion, Daniel 3. Only our loving God would give me another dose of powerful, promise-filled encouragement. This is the chapter where Jewish provincial governors Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to fall down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue. The three men declared, v. 17-18,

...our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.

The king became so enraged that he had the fiery furnace heated seven times hotter, killing the "mighty men of valor" who threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bound into the midst of the burning furnace. (v. 19-23) Let's take up the thrilling end of this story, v. 24-25:

The King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?"

They answered and said to the king, "True, O king."

"Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."

Verse 27 tells us that the king and his leaders

...saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed, nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.

Jesus was walking through the fire with them!

There is a contemporary song on Christian radio that contains the line, "You were walking with me all of this time." God is the strength of each day of my life, and will continue to be. Truly, having Jesus walking with me in even the severest of trials is better than comfortably strolling through life without Him!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not a widow yet

9:41 p.m. Today's project is to openly mention something that's been seriously hurting me this Christmas season 2012.

In the last week, I've received 5 Christmas cards. One was addressed to "Mr. & Mrs. Steve Kruckenberg" (the proper greeting); one was addressed to "The Kruckenberg Family, " also correct.  The other three were addressed to "Ms Dana Kruckenberg," (unacceptable to this married woman!);  "Mrs. Dana Kruckenberg," (somewhat better); and "Dana Kruckenberg," (sounds like a single woman, also unacceptable, but probably in keeping with the informality of this generation).

I sign my return cards, "Steve and Dana Kruckenberg."

In God's eyes, and in mine, Steve and I will be married until one of us goes to be with the Lord, and is there any guarantee he'll die first? I'm four years older than he is. And not one of us is given a guarantee of  another day.

Think of it this way: a husband is in a hospital or a rehab facility for an extended period of time. He doesn't live at home, and may never return there. Does anyone act as if the spouse still at home is a widow? Of course not. And even though one person is left to make all of the decisions, like I am, people would still address her in person or in writing as "Mrs."

Why is it that some are rushing my husband's life to its finality in their minds? His body is strong and healthy, and despite one setback this week, he's eating and sleeping well. Steve is not dead yet!

I'm just asking for some consideration in this dificult time of transition from an active marriage relationship to a marriage where we can no longer spend the day together or have conversations.

But we are still married!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Softly surrounded

10:12 p.m. Today's project was to meet with my girlfriends from church at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Riverside. Kay's plan was to have them caravan from Moreno Valley and meet me at the restaurant at 5:30. So I planned my afternoon venture with careful timing. (Even at $3.59 a gallon, gas is still way too expensive to make extra trips).

I began at the Canyon Crest Towne Center, at the Cellar Door book store--where they carry my book--to pick up a Christmas gift that I hope will be both amusing and thought-provoking for the recipients. Then a quick walk around the corner to Rite Aid for colored pricing dots for our family garage sale on Saturday. On the way back to my car, I passed the Rotations consignment shop, where I'll be selling Mary Kay gifts on Saturday afternoon. The owner is very excited about being able to have my gifts for sale, "cash 'n carry," at her shop.[ Not nearly as excited as I am]. God is so good, arranging all things for me today! God gives favor to His children with those we come into contact with. He did so for the Israelites as they left Egypt  in Exodus 11:2-3, when He had His people solicit articles of silver and gold from their neighbors as they left, that they might take the wealth of that nation with them. Verse 3 continues:

And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.

The early Christians of Acts 2:46-47 are described this way:

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising  God and having favor with all the people.

The result?  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

The Lord gives us favor with those we affiliate with for one reason: to show a Christian witness, which thereby allows us an opportunity to share Jesus with them that they might be saved.

My miniature Christmas village is a far cry from anywhere in Riverside in recent history. But it does illustrate my experience today, of being surrounded softly and with favor by friends, new acquaintances, shopkeepers, church members, the housekeeper, youth at play, workmen and the mailman.  Literally, I spoke and interacted with people in these very life roles today. And there were several more, like my chiropractor; and the receptionist, director, residents, family members and caregivers at my husband's care facility. The couple ice skating  arm-in-arm reminds me of tender times with Steve, whom I also spent time with today.
I have much to be blessed by in the form of people in my life, and I need them now more than ever before. My need for pure fellowship was met tonight at dinner. Genuine concern for Steve's condition and sacrificing the time to find out how he really is doing, mean the world to me right now. And what's better entertainment than sharing funny anecdotes about our pets? Bless God, I just soaked in the opportunities we took to learn more about one another as we relaxed into deeper conversation. Thank you, Kay, for putting together this outing! Psalm 133:1:
Behold, how good and how
  pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in

Sunday, December 9, 2012

No changes here!

8:59 p.m. Today's project was to visit Steve as I usually do right after our church's second service,  arriving at Raincross about  11:45. After a very late night/early morning spent cleaning up my dishes, glasses and tableware from our lovely Ladies' Christmas dinner Friday, and a busy business day later on Saturday making connections for my book and my Mary Kay gift line, I was tired! So I stopped in the cafe at the facility for a cup of black coffee with Splenda before walking back to visit with Steve.

On the way down the hall, I chatted a bit with activities director Carla about the importance of faith in the lives of the residents, as she was setting up chairs for a two-part showing of  the classic movie  "The Ten Commandments" after lunch. It's one of her favorite movies, and she shows it at Christmas and Easter. We agreed that it's particularly important for the septua-, octo-, and nonagenarians in her charge to be strong in their faith. I am so glad that Steve is in a privately owned residence where faith can be freely spoken of, and where so many Christians are employed!

There is a reason why I spend precious little time teary or dreary, whether privately or publicly despite Steve's deteriorating condition: the Lord's comforting strength, pure and simple! Psalm 18:1-2, NLT says,

I love You, LORD;
  you are my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and
    my savior;
  my God is my rock, in whom I find
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
  and my place of safety. 

Daily I see changes in my husband physically and emotionally, as well as the changes that result from his illness in every facet of both of our lives. The changes are profound and life altering. Stressors such as financial loss, time swallowed up by disability and medicare paper work, home responsibilities meant for two people now devolving upon one person, hospital emergency runs for a person who never experienced even one sick day a year...those are major changes for any spouse to deal with.  And one day in church when Steve was still attending, I was worshipping with arms raised, and smiling with joy, when the devil accused me, saying, "How can you be happy right now, when your husband is dying?" For a split second, I felt disturbed and condemned in my spirit, but then the Holy Spirit reminded me,


I knew it was a word from the Lord, and in agreement continued to worship with a freedom and fervency I hadn't felt in a few months. I'd gained the assurance that Jesus would be with me in everything the near and distant future would bring.

Believer, if Jesus is everything to you, you will take comfort in these words from Malachi 3:6, KJV:

                                                      I am the LORD, I change not.

Friday, December 7, 2012

This glitter is gold

7:06 Today's project is to put the finishing touches on my table for the Ladies Christmas Dinner at our church. many of us hostesses started setting our tables yesterday, and by 5:00 tonight, 40 tables will sparkle, shine and glitter with the lovely settings and the work of loving hands. We like to make it an outreach for the gospel, because, like our Heart to Home ministry, ladies who would not attend a church service will attend a special women's event.

Jesus told His disciples before He ascended,

Go into all the world and preach the gospel.

Last night, my daughters, a son-in-law and I sat with Steve at a gorgeous and very spiritual Christmas Show (really, a concert, with the staff , resident, and family talent displayed) at Raincross where Steve now resides in the memory care "Connections" section.  We were treated to traditional Christmas carols, some arranged in contemporary style; classical flute and piano piece by Hayden; an operatic solo; Christmas carols from the forties on piano; a solo of "O Holy Night," and a family ensemble, the great grand kids of a Connections resident couple, singing and playing a Contemporary Christian song. Refreshments were served, and those who cared to, had family pictures taken with Santa.

Steve was agitated and restless the whole time, but stayed in his seat as long as I kept quietly encouraging him and patting him arm to keep him still. He seemed to think he was in a wheelchair, because he kept trying to use his arms to push forward. Much as I inwardly grumble about my early morning workouts, my strong neck, arm and back muscles prevent a lot of soreness that could result from trying to keep Steve seated during daily visits! He enjoyed clapping with everyone, and even mouthed a line from "Silent Night" with everybody.

God is so gracious to give these precious moments to our family! 

The evening ended very pleasantly, as I ran into two old friends considering placement for their loved one at Raincross, which I highly recommend.

The kids pushed their dad back to the activity room, we said goodbye to Steve, and left. I am so glad to know that in this Senior Care complex, the gospel is openly preached in many ways, especially in the caring we family members receive. Many of the administrators and staff are Christians, and testify openly.

I believe St. Augustine said, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

God is with us

2:54 p.m. Today's project is to pause in my daily home duties, joys, business, fellowship, family interactions and hobbies to ponder whom we serve, His mighty power, and because of that power, what we believers are to be about.

Last night's (December 3rd) devotional by C.H. Spurgeon  in Morning & Evening, was headlined by Psalm 24:8, specifically this phrase:

The Lord mighty in battle. 

"What battle?" some of us might ask, as we let our focus drift onto all of the human activities we have allotted to us, including our service at church and prayerful support of those who go out on the mission field or serve the poor of our own cities. At this point, American Christians can generally witness, mention the Lord Jesus, and offer prayer quite openly and freely as the Lord gives opportunity.  Yet, our enemy the devil is not coasting along--he's laying traps of all kinds for us, the greatest of which, I believe, is the way he stays under the radar screen, as if he's no longer an enemy whose schemes are to be withstood, confronted, denounced and prayed against in the name of Jesus!
But the Lord is mighty in battle! Think of the sin and rebellion He already has conquered in us! "I wasn't that bad," we like to think about our pre-conversion life. "After all, I never murdered anyone or robbed a bank!" But to God, the "I'll do it MY way!" attitude is sin and rebellion, because when we thought and lived that way, we committed the ultimate sin, not believing in or acknowledging God's existence, or at the very least, figuring He was unnecessary for our lives. In my case, I'd attended church, believed in God and Jesus, but since I was "going places," a little church mixed in with a self-directed life should be good enough, right? As long as I kept up my grades at UCLA and attended an occasional church service in Westwood on Sunday, it was no problem attending drunken parties with my sorority sisters at the frat houses on Saturday night! I had my bases covered, and, with my GPA and excellent study skills, I was indeed "going places." As for those Jesus movement "born agains" who walked up to us popular girls on campus back in the 70's--what on earth were they talking about? No time for that, I knew where I was headed, to fame and fortune! I was going places all right--straight to hell. Psalm 41:1 says it pretty succinctly:
The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." 
Hallelujah, Jesus came into my heart after a decade of sin, sorrow and tragedy! I finally confessed my need for a Savior, and made Him Lord of my life in January 1980. Your testimony may be similar or wildly different, but at some point, if you are a believer, you had to humble yourself, repent of your sin, and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to come into your heart. Spurgeon writes,
The saved may well adore their Lord for His conquests in them, since the arrows of their natural hatred  are snapped, and the weapons of their rebellion broken. What victories has grace won in our evil hearts! How glorious is Jesus when the will is subdued, and sin dethroned!...He has won our love, and He shall wear it. Even thus securely may we look for victories by us. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. We shall cast down the powers of darkness which are in the world, by our faith, and zeal, and holiness; we shall win sinners to Jesus, we shall overturn false systems, we shall convert nations, for God is with us, and none shall stand before us. This evening let the Christian warrior chant the war song, and prepare for tomorrow's fight. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. [I John 4:4]
Go forward tomorrow in confidence, brothers and sisters, for Romans 8:31 says,
If God be for us, who can be against us?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tradition's new look

9:27 p.m. Today's project was to pick up the Christmas tree I'd selected with my daughter Heidi and her husband Pavel. We'd be headed to Sandhaven Pines tree farm after they finished with their 3rd service children's church class. That gave me plenty of time to visit with Steve and head home to continue shredding, chopping, seasoning and stirring the ingredients for the taco salad I was bringing to Home Fellowship. 

The tree farm was really busy, because they were hosting a family day with lots of food and activities.  Kids were everywhere while the workers cut down trees for their parents. When we arrived, I was directed to a table in the reserved section, they looked me up, and a young man was sent to go cut down the tree. Heidi and Pavel caught up with me so they could see the the tree as it was still in the ground. Selecting the tree alone on a quiet weekday was not too sad, but it would have felt lonely as a single wanderere in such a family atmosphere as was there today. Wasn't the Lord good to clear schedules to provide family companionship? Jesus said to us in Matthew 6:8,

Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

At the house the three of us, or rather Pavel and Heidi, set about cutting a small wedge off of the tree's trunk with his flip-close saw. The dogs enjoyed watching.

We were soon joined by expectant parents Nick and Heather, who then added their thoughts and comments about the tree:

Into the house the slim but well-shaped tree went, and we stopped for a picture when it seemed to be straight, with its best face forward. Nothing like the exacting opinions about the tree's position--"is it tilting?" "No, push it away from the wall," "How do you want the lights on?" to let you know that the family is into this tradition!
Heather, however, had a much larger vision in mind, to decorate the banister with fake pine boughs, lights and poinsettias. So she did, plus putting the stocking holders on the fireplace mantle.     

Pavel played with the dogs for a while, and the rest of us looked for buried treasure in the newly clean garage. We also put ornaments on the dining room table for placement. Nick re-routed the long extension cord to make it more convenient to plug in my outside Christmas Lights. They are now shining brightly! I love to think of the Bethlehem Star that announced Jeus' birth when I see Christmas lights!
But this gathering had its flaws: With more notice, I would have had the old movie "It's a Wonderful Life" playing, hot cider ready, or hot chocolate (which I did make for Pavel and me). Preparations for the Home Fellowship meal  continued, and I began asking for help to load the crock pot full of taco meat, cheese, chips, onions, lettuce and chopped tomato (dicing courtesy Heather) into the Jeep. I ran upstairs to change and left at the same time as Heidi and Pavel, who also had a Home Fellowship to attend.
My day had been so wonderful! My kids, now grown with busy careers and ministries of their own, took time out to keep me from struggling alone in brightening my home for Christmas. In doing that, they could relive their childhood through the ornaments they made for me when their hands were little. In giving me a gift of their time, they were inspired by the Lord, James 1:17:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is is from above,  and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  
Praise the Lord!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A study in contrasts

5:28 p.m. Today's project was to organize and load up my car for a Christmas Tea and Boutique at Raincross Senior Living, the memory care part of which Steve now calls home. I was glad to be asked to set up a Mary Kay table of wrapped gifts and goodies for the residents, whom I've come to love and enjoy. Since God has called me to spend time cheering up and engaging the elderly and sick while visiting Steve, I'll heed Romans 12:6-8:

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

I had gone about my normal early morning routine, of reading my Spurgeon devotional upstairs, shutting off the alarm, then cleaning up after the dogs in the backyard and refilling their water bowls before letting them out for breakfast. After washing up, I sat down with my coffee and Bible, for the nicest part of my day, which also includes journalling and posting scripture on Facebook.

When I glanced over to my phone, it showed a missed call from Raincross for 6:34 a.m. My assumption was that it was the "Connections" [memory care] director wanting the details of Steve's doctor visit yesterday, some of which I had left on voicemail last night. LaChrystala did ask about that after telling me that an ambulance had taken Steve away again for another bump to the head. He had gotten out of bed before the usual time the caregivers awaken him. Then they heard a scream as he banged up against the hallway wall!  The hospital called me later to say he was unhurt, and he was sent back about 9 a.m. to have breakfast as usual and start his day. I was already planning to be there at 10. When I got there, I went straight to Steve's room before arranging my table. There he was with his morning caregivers, seated calmly, freshly shaved, and pleasantly having his face and hair cleaned up. In fact, when I said "hi" to him, he barely looked over. It was as if he hadn't been in an ambulance or hospital at all!

What a contrast to yesterday, when I came to take Steve to the doctor. He was seated at a table in a wheelchair for safety, which has been the norm for the last week of agitation. He was holding his head down onto his chest, expressionless, ignoring me (and everyone else there) completely. I smiled and announced, "Steve! We're going in the Jeep. We're going to see Dr. Sirisuk and Muriel at the front desk! We're going for a ride." Gone was the ready smile, the acknowledgement of a loved one's caring presence. His head never lifted up. It was scary!

I moved my car to a side exit, so that two caregivers and the director could load him into the passenger side of the Jeep. LaChrystala encouraged me that his doctor needed to see him in this condition when I wanted to give it up until some other day. Wise counsel! At the Riverside Medical Clinic, a very strong male nurse's aide lifted a limp, bent-over Steve into a wheelchair and up the elevator we went. With all this moving, Steve never reacted, not even to any pulls or pushes needed to get him situated!

The doctor and nurse were as kind, thorough and professional as usual, but you could tell they were heartbroken seeing Steve's condition since his last appointment in August. His dementia has rapidly progressed in the last year, when he first lost his ability to feed or care for himself. On the plus side, his vital signs were very good, even though Nurse Ada had to take his blood pressure on his wrist because he couldn't be made to slide his jacket sleeve up. They really ministered to Steve and to me, and soon it was time to leave, and the reverse procedure was used by where Ada and the aide to place Steve into the Jeep.

The entire way to our son Sean's home to give him his birthday gifts, Steve never lifted his head to look around. As Sean and I talked on the driveway, I explained why he might not want to go peek at Steve--it was just so shocking and sad to see him just--inert.

I stopped at home to get us some snacks about 2:30. Try as I might, I could not get Steve to pick up his head and look around, or see Jada barking at the gate. He lifted his head barely as I fed him some sugar free pudding, some cheese, and as much water as I could get him to drink with his head down. [There would be a hot lunch awaiting him back at Raincross].He showed no reaction to being at our home of 24 years. I made the choice not to be melancholy or dramatic, but to keep smiling and chatting as we made our way back to Raincross. This was not easy, but is anything we do to serve others and God easy?

Only God knows what is happening in Steve's brain. And only God knows how this tragic turn of events will fit into His eternal plan. From a week of agitation and accidents, to a day of lethargy and back to agitation today, is indeed a study in contrasts. But the puzzle named Steve is not puzzling to Jesus at all! He loves Steve and understands him thoroughly, comforts and keeps him safe and unhurt every day. Jesus eases my hurt and pain also, for which I thank Him, along with His provision of income, support and courage--it's all Him! And though it's hard at times, believer, when you are in an ongoing trial, we must look to eternity. Listen to Hebrews 13:14-16, NLT:

For this world is not our permanent home; we are loooking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name.  And don't forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. 

No matter what we face, or where we are called to walk in this life, let us determine that we will please God!