Burnout with Care-taking

Following the death of my father in November 2007, we brought Mom home to stay with us for awhile. Here’s a journal entry from that time 10 years ago.Grave Stone Mom 1

January 8, 2008. The Christmas holidays have done me in, and I’m trying to recover from burnout. It’s not a pleasant place to be when others are depending on you. But I must practice what I preach and take care of myself before I can successfully care for others.

In my self-righteousness, I criticize others for allowing themselves to get into this position, but now I find myself wallowing in the same mire.

Interesting that I just recently attended a seminar on being a caretaker for the elderly. The first thing that was emphasized was to take breaks and take care of yourself. And I failed to do that. I failed in the first rule of thumb, and now I’m paying for it.

Can I give myself permission to recuperate without feeling guilty? Without accepting the accusing fingers that I’m not giving others the time they need? How does a counselor maintain distance? Once you become the counselee’s only lifeline, you get accused of abandoning, neglecting, ignoring, being selfish, and blamed if their needs aren’t being met by you.

Where does my responsibility to myself, my family, my friends and my counselees begin and end? Balance and priority. It’s easy enough to tell someone else what to do and how to do it. Harder to practice what you preach.

The key? Listen to Jesus and listen to yourself. Obey God no matter what. And then find out what it is that you’re feeling, what’s driving you to this point. I failed to do that during the seven weeks Mom came to live with us. And so, belatedly, I’m going to try to work through this.

First, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between child-care and elder-care.

  1. You can tell/train a toddler. You must give dignity and respect to the elder.
  2. A child may not understand. An elder can (if she has all her faculties).
  3. Both are driven by emotion.
  4. A child needs more supervision. My mom needed more diversion.

And that, I think, is where I felt the push-pull. I became Mom’s sole source of diversion. Mom is an out-loud thinker and therefore, by default, I became her primary target. Because I’m an inside thinker for the most part, I can’t function too well with the distractions of chatter that expect a response. I have a hard time focusing and thinking about my task at hand. I spent much of my time reading to her, playing games together (Scrabble and Rook), or doing crossword puzzles.

Mom could not enjoy the TV or movies because of her macular degeneration. She missed her independence at home with her CCTV (a device that enlarges print). And so I became very attentive to her need to be listened to. Her one and only diversion was to listen to books on tape—her default if I was preoccupied.

I love my mother, and I’d do anything for her. I felt sorry for her loss of her husband, her home in California, her forced move to Florida. I felt bad leaving her alone or not including her in all the family activities, and so I isolated myself with her sometimes while the family watched TV.

Where did this feeling of responsibility or obligation come from? Because she is a guest in my home? Because she’s the weakest link right now in our family? Because I feel sorry for her that she’s trapped in an old person’s body with poor eyesight, in someone else’s home? Funny. . . Mom never complained or criticized me. So what was driving my behavior and emotions?

Visual:  I’m carrying Mom on my back. I get tired and have to put her down to rest. I keep carrying her past the point of my exhaustion. And I shouldn’t have because then, if I fall, we both get hurt.

Today I lay my burden down—not a burden in a negative sense, but as in a load. From off my shoulders, I set down my mother, my children, my husband, cooking and house cleaning, friends, counselees, and my entire to-do list. Today I give myself permission to rest.

January 9. I feel 100% better after resting yesterday. I have my energy and drive back. Sometimes mental rest is as important as the physical.

Word for the Year 2017

Years ago, one of our pastors encouraged the congregation to select and focus on a Word for the Year. This little discipline has been life-changing for me. Each December, I begin by asking the Lord for a word and then brainstorming ways I can apply this goal throughout the year. For example, the year I chose the word “Word” I read through the Bible in a year and wrote 365 birthday cards or encouragement letters by hand. Some of my other words over the years have included Prayer, Food, Hike, Adventure, and Unplugged. This past year, I chose Neighborhood.

We have lived in this house in this subdivision for 17 years—the longest I have ever lived in one place, yet I could not have told you the names of the people who lived on my own street. Sure, people are busy, mothers work outside the home, I don’t have my kids to make instant connections for me anymore, and I had my hands full already with ministry opportunities, travel, and church responsibilities. But I knew it was time to set aside my excuses and get to know my neighbors.

The first thing I did was to create a map of the 30 houses on our street (plus one cul-de-sac); then I went door-to-door introducing myself and exchanging names and contact information. I worked hard at memorizing names as I prayed daily for each home. Out of this endeavor, we gained four new ladies for a Bible study I’m in. I received a note “You made my day” when I randomly distributed chocolate chip cookies and cards to the ladies on Mother’s Day. I passed out homemade cinnamon rolls in the fall and Christmas candy to a few who were at home when I rang their doorbell. We invited several couples over for dinner. I took a home-cooked meal to a new mom, and exchanged ethnic food all year long with a Kurdish family. I brought goodies and greetings to two new arrivals on the block and said good-bye to another just after getting to know them. Because of my interest in a widow, I was the first person she told when she was diagnosed with cancer. And the most fun of all was inviting all the ladies to a spring and fall tea, hosted by Renate, who, I discovered, has the most spectacular gift of hospitality.IMG_1513

Focusing on one word a year helps to establish a habit. I may not put this much effort into staying in touch with my neighbors in 2018, but I have built a foundation for future connections. It’s a ministry, it’s a blessing, and I know that the more I give, the more I receive.

What word would you choose for 2018 and why? Next year I’ll tell you mine.

The Christmas Thorn Bush

Journal 2007. Celebrating an American-style Christmas in Nigeria had its challenges. Because the pagan nationals worshiped the rocks and trees, we shied away from erecting a Christmas tree in our home. But one year we persuaded our parents to cut down a thorn bush on which we hung our popcorn strings and homemade ornaments.acacia_2568527

This week I find myself in a situation where I may potentially run into someone who pricks me every time I get near her.

Jesus says, “Put an ornament of blessing on the projecting thorn!”

Thanks, Lord. I can do that.

Gifts to Men

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8)

When Jesus returned to heaven, He gave gifts to men. I’m not sure exactly what gifts the Apostle Paul was referring to, but it got me to thinking. When He chooses one person to have a good voice and another to excel at math, it’s a gift. As children, we wanted equal gifts, and we wanted what our peers had. As adults, we want what our family, friends, or neighbors have. We want life to be equal and fair. I suppose everybody struggles with this on some level.


Imagine it’s Christmas morning and Jesus is handing out gifts. Are you jealous of what your brother or sister got? Why? Perhaps theirs is the thing you wanted and didn’t get or you didn’t like what you got.

But I look down at my gift and discover it’s tailored just for me. It’s exactly what I needed. It’s perfect for what I wanted. I’m delighted with His choice—because He knows me and He knows my heart. He created me, and He knows what will give me pleasure. But even more than that, He knows that I’ll use the gift that He’s given me to minister to others in order to bring Him glory. And in this way, my brothers and sisters can benefit from it. And then they share their gifts with me, and I benefit.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

Gary Chapman has made popular The Five Love Languages, one of which is “gift-giving.” Giving is not my first love language, so I would do well to observe how the Father does it. God is an extravagant gift-giver. I cannot give Him anything in return that would equal His gifts. Therefore, it is never an exchange of gifts (like we tend to do at Christmastime). I am the child handing Him a dandelion, when He has given me a botanical flower garden. He even made the wildflower that I’m offering to Him.

But . . . just as I delighted in receiving a dandelion from my [then] two-year-old Grandson Ben, offered in love and innocence, God delights in me when I offer to Him my gifts—not just in gratitude—but out of love. I choose to give Him my heart, and His heart melts, just as mine does when Ben or Jack give me something of themselves, like a picture for my bulletin board.

Ben 2017

Nativity by Ben Wallace, age 5

What Is Joy?

Relax Woman looking sea on the beach

Contentment for the body = pleasure.
Contentment for the soul = happiness.
Contentment for the spirit = joy. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

I asked my daughter Katie if she would rather have peace or would she rather have joy? Both are fruits of the spirit. Katie said she would opt for joy, while I gravitate toward peace, but I think they’re related somehow.

I know I need to put more joy into my life. I’m way too serious. (Scott says his job in life is to keep life interesting for me). But what is joy exactly? Elation? Exuberance? People try to differentiate between joy and happiness saying happiness is dependent on circumstances while joy is not. That joy is not an emotion. Yet I experience a lot of emotion when I feel joy.

Joy is running, skipping, dancing, doing cartwheels in wild abandonment. Joy is swinging from a vine and feeling your stomach drop. Sadness and sorrow are on a lower, earthly plane. Joy is above the earth, on a supernatural plane that sees heaven, an absence of pain, a future and at hope. It’s flying above the clouds. It’s mental; it’s emotional; it’s physical. And it’s spiritual when it includes God. He invites me to enjoy Him!

I have told you these things [about abiding in Him] that my joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be full measure and complete and overflowing (John 15:11).

I see Joy as a little girl laughing and dancing in the wind just before the onset of a storm, leaves swirling at her feet, the air heavy with  impending rain. As I watch, the scene decelerates to slow motion, and Joy is alone in the universe. The surroundings fade away and she hears singing; she’s suspended in midair, caught in light by a force that is greater than herself, cocooned, as it were, in softness and delight, comfort and safety, rocked gently back and forth as a baby on a bed of angel wings. Total calm; perfect peace. Joy.

Joy is defined as “Someone is glad to be with me.”
Joy is high energy; shalom is quiet and low-energy.
Joy is relational; shalom is a cozy sense that everything is right.
(Joy Starts Here, by Jim Wilder, et. al.)

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come.

To Give or Not to Give?

Do right till the stars fall—just do right. (Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.)

stars-sky-background_23-2147493609.jpgSome people love it; I find it a chore. Coming up with gift ideas for Christmas each year for the family just sends me into a tizzy. One year I finally got smart and relegated that task to husband Scott and daughter Sharon whose love languages include gift-giving. Now everyone is happy!

I realized something about myself, though, and I don’t like what I see. I have a stingy streak in me—born, I’m sure, out of forced frugality—but when it continues even if there are resources, it speaks ill of my character. I made a decision some time ago not to give a gift when I should or could have. Now that I’m convicted about it, it feels very awkward to go back and give it. What to do? Pride wants to save face. Honesty hurts. I feel bad—ashamed—and don’t know how to rectify it.

Jesus says, “It’s never too late to do right.”

First Fruits

God evaluates my generosity by what I keep, not by what I give away. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

Back in fresh-organic-fruits-basket_1426-486.jpg2007, our church was beginning a capital stewardship campaign. After much prayer and asking God to unify Scott’s and my hearts, we each came up with the same amount to give. It felt very ambitious for us, but we trusted that God was able to help us fulfill our commitment. Next we had to decide how much to give in that morning’s offering. Scott suggested 10% of our pledge—the first fruits of our promise. Gulp. There went the money we’d been setting aside for our daughter’s wedding reception. But, in faith, we obeyed.

Journal 2007. I’d like to suggest to God how He can replace those funds for us, but I think He’ll figure out how to care for our needs without my help! And, so dear Father, in faith I write our check this morning with open hand and heart and trust You to bless it and multiply it and use it for Your kingdom.

I recall years ago when God asked Scott and me to give Him our roof-repair funds that we’d been saving up. It wasn’t until after we obeyed God’s prompting that Scott’s aunt offered to pay for a new roof for us. That experience was a faith-builder.

On the way to church this morning, I laughed out loud as I tuned into Irwin Lutzer’s sermon that began with, “Today I’d like to talk to you about giving a sacrifice to God that seems extraordinary.” It felt like God’s handprint of blessing on our decision. God’s timing is delightful.

Fast forward three months. I know God was smiling as He gifted us with in-laws who asked for the privilege of providing a reception for Cindy’s wedding.

It really is a waste of time to wrestle with God. When He says, DO or GIVE or GO, it’s much more productive to simply obey and move on and leave the results to Him. It’s like storing up treasure in heaven. I want as much in that heavenly bank as I can put into it for my retirement from this earth.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

The Day My Hero Died – On Releasing Grief

Ten years ago, on November 17, 2007, at 8:30 a.m. I got word that my dad was unconscious and at death’s door. By 11:10 a.m. I was on an airplane headed for Sebring, Florida, arriving at the nursing home at 6:30 p.m. Dad was unresponsive but alive. God gave me a special gift that night. I was 53 years old and had never before witnessed the dying process. Kay Breid, an MK friend from boarding school in Africa, was one of my dad’s caretakers and had been sitting by his bedside all afternoon. Kay coached me on what to expect. At 10:30 p.m. my precious daddy slipped quietly, peacefully into Jesus’ arms. I could almost feel the brush of angel wings. A holy moment.

Wednesday, November 21. I’ve shed no tears in the last three days. I don’t know why. Too much activity, too many decisions, visitors, family. Or is it that the suspense and waiting are finally over? I remember talking to a friend one time shortly after her husband died, and she called this initial season of grief “the blessed numbness before the pain.” Or is it God’s peace that’s carrying me?

We buried Dad on the day before Thanksgiving. I made sure there was a hanky in his outer pocket and a toothpick in his inner one (two things Dad always had in his possession). My mother was distraught. My own tears began to flow at last, but my sorrow for Dad was pain-free because of the hope we have of seeing him alive in his heavenly body. He was at peace and so was I.

The next day we flew Mom home to Tennessee with us for a while to rest and recover from the trauma. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese food in the Orlando airport.

That first week, I couldn’t seem to get back into a routine. It was like I was deep in the ocean with choppy seas above me.

November 26. As long as I stay well below the surface of the ocean, things are calm, peaceful, serene, and beautiful. But isn’t that escapism? How would it feel to rise to the top? Overwhelming. Bumpy. Desperate. How long may I stay down here? Emotionally, it feels too hard to surface. I’ll have to struggle and kick and survive and gulp seawater and flounder. Down below I can breathe and enjoy the fish and the coral in the pristine water.

What am I afraid of, Lord? I am willing to go to the top.

Quickly the scene changes. I find myself in shallow water. I can stand up, walk or wade toward shore. The sea is no longer threatening. There’s beauty in the sky and on the beach. I’m on solid ground.

Reality is not so scary after all.

November 28. I’m memorizing my mother’s face. How long does she have on this earth? One year? Ten? How precious this time is with her. Can I sear it into my brain? Is it only a week ago that we buried my father? [Mom died 14 months later.]

November 29. A priceless gift—or is it a gift from a Price?! Jim and Jean (Price) Cail sent Mom and me a breath-taking gift—a framed photo of my dad and mom taken a week and a half before he died. Mom and I cried together.

IMG_2470 (2)

“You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved – Lionel

November 30. I took a walk in my neighborhood, trying to release more grief. My Daddy was gone. I was excited for him; not so much for myself. And in my grief, a curtain parted slightly so I could catch a glimpse into “heaven.” There stood Jesus and my daddy (in his vigorous youth) in bright white light. I wanted to run to his big strong frame, to my earthly hero, and throw my arms around him and tell him how much I missed him.

But he looked at me and said, “I’m not your daddy anymore.”

Startled, I turned to Jesus and asked, “Is that true?!”

“Yes,” He responded. “In heaven there is no marriage and giving in marriage. Relationships are not the same up here.”

“But I need my daddy!” I cried.

And my earthly father turned and pointed to Jesus. “He’s your father now. I was given to you only for a short while—your stay on earth.”

“But what about your daily prayers for me?” I protested. “I NEELionel SegerD them.”

“It’s okay,” responded Jesus. “They’re all safely stored up here in boxes. I know where each one is, carefully logged and categorized. And now it’s time for you to become the next generation of prayer warriors.”

Quickly, I deposited prayers of my own into each of my own boxes: for my children and their spouses and their children and my great-grandchildren to come. My prayer for each of them is III John 4 that my daddy used to pray for me: that his children would walk in truth.

On Dec. 9 Mom celebrated their 60th anniversary with a special cake. I think Dad would have liked that. It made me smile.

On Sabbath Rest

Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’ (Exodus 31:13).

When I was a child, my parents had strict rules about what we were permitted to do on Sunday: No work, no traveling, no board games, no knitting, no lawn-mowing, no shopping, etc. etc. We were told that we were keeping the Sabbath day holy or “set apart” as a day of worship. But when I discovered that the fourth commandment actually referred to Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, I became quite confused.

And then I read this verse in Exodus that says the Sabbaths (plural) were intended for a sign between God and the Jews. Does this mean that, as a Gentile, I need to keep the Ten Commandments, minus one?

To confuse the matter even more, we’re told in Colossians 2:16 (NIV): Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

In 1989 when we moved into our house on 8th Street in Holland, Michigan, I noticed a drain in the center of the attached garage. One benefit of garage drains, we were told, was for Dutchmen to be able to wash their cars on Sunday without being seen by their neighbors. Apparently judgment was alive and well!

One day as I was pondering this subject, I came across this quote: “Rest is not something one does; it is Someone one knows” (Yashanet.com). Jesus is my Sabbath rest! That means that I can be in a perpetual state of rest. I don’t have to wait for Day #7 for a forced time of inactivity or cessation from work. My soul can be at rest 24-7 if I live by faith, obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, place my cares in God’s hands, and stay connected to Him. This removes the guilt of trying to figure out what is or what isn’t classified as work.

Is there a physical law of nature that says we benefit from a day of rest? Yes, of course. My body belongs to God, and I’m to take care of it in a healthy way, not abuse it or overwork it perpetually by choice or by drive or by emotion. Working for the kingdom can be stressful but peaceful. Resting can be hard work too. A forced rest due to a broken leg or a hospital stay can be less than peaceful. It’s the heart attitude that determines how well we rest.church-in-the-middle-of-the-field_1088-86

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art.
I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.


The Responsibility Backpack

Responsibility (n): a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of; a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation

Responsibility is a backpack. It’s light if nothing is in it. But if another person inserts a nature-climbing-backpack-mountain-cloud_1320-154load of rocks, it feels like there’s nothing I can do, except carry it. I may release resentment, but I’m still carrying the load because the person is unable to do so right now. Tired. Tiring. Willing—because I have no choice, but hard nonetheless.

Oh, I could take the backpack off and lay it down, but that’s not really an option. Remember: “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” But that thought doesn’t help. The rocks are still heavy on my back. “Let Jesus carry it” doesn’t cut it either. I believe He’s the One who put them there in the first place! It’s my responsibility.

Why do I feel like I need to bow my soul in sympathy when a hurting person bares her heart to me? When a natural disaster occurs? When someone is dying or sick or depressed? I don’t want to be blasé about it, but I also can’t carry the weight and the pain for another person.

But it’s when I feel something that I spring into action. If I don’t feel, does that mean I don’t care? If I don’t care, will I spring into action? Is it a trigger or a prompting of the Holy Spirit?

What am I believing? That I need to curb my emotions and inner joy when I’m working with depressed and wounded people? It would be like joking at a funeral parlor—disrespectful of the mourners. But in the process, I weigh down my own soul.

The Scriptures say, Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) AND Each one should carry their own load (Gal. 6:5). So which is it: carry my own or carry another’s? When I’m praying with someone, I’ve agreed to take their load for a bit, but it can get heavy after a while.

So . . . when a person I’m ministering to hands me her burden, it’s okay if it’s only a backpack or a lunch basket. But when she hands me a boulder that I’m unable to lift, I can’t just walk away and say, “Sorry, that’s your problem.” Instead, I can stop, ask the person what she wants to do with her boulder, and then pray for God to lift it for her.

Or . . . if a person hands me her backpack, after a while I can hand it back to her and say, “I can’t carry it for you anymore. You carry it, because when it’s in your hands, you can then make the choice to hand it to Jesus instead.”

As soon as I come to the end of the trail, I can put this backpack down. But then I must pick up another and start down another trail. There’s no break; no rest in between. And not many rest stops along the trail.

Jesus says, “I can carry you as well as your backpack.”

And so, dear Lord, I ask today that You carry me. I am weary, tired, worn out, weak. I need a blessing today, a miracle, some cool clear water to refresh me.

Jesus says, “I am your Sabbath rest.” And that is enough.

(From my 2007 Journal)