That First, Next Step

This girl is a technology and social media junkie. I love seeing vacays, family time, delicious meals, pets, baby bumps, date nights and such. Staying connected in this way provides opportunities to pray for friends who are going through rough times and learn ways we can help one another IRL. The drama, nasty comments and occasional bashing I can live without. My social media circle is small. Sometimes the ugly still sneaks in, but these days it’s less often and in much smaller doses.  
But summer! Summer is prime-time, short-term mission season and that’s a great reason for me to check Facebook and Instagram more frequently!
Many of my friends and acquaintances are either preparing to leave, are currently on the ground, or have just returned from the mission field. Social media allows them to share, in an instant, glimpses of what God is doing wherever they are.  Is that not amazing!?  This summer some of God’s people have scattered about the globe like dandelions in a stiff breeze …. serving in places like Japan, Romania, Spain, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colorado, Connecticut.  
This time of year my own TimeHop brings back images and memories of our first international mission trip to Jacmel, Haiti, and of our second trip closer to home to support the LifeSong church plant in Manchester, Connecticut. These trips compared side by side were different in nearly every way except for one, and that was to support ministry efforts to connect people to their local church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I really had no idea what to expect on a mission trip before we went. We had heard the stories. The challenges, the travel restrictions, the language barriers, the heat, the reason we have the Candice rule, the God-moments, the beautiful people and the projects. But those were stories told by my “experienced” missionary friends. People who (in my mind) had skills and training and relationships already established in the community.  
They were qualified, we were not. We were newbies to this mission thing, green as grass. Just making that initial decision to actually GO was difficult for me. Honestly, I thought I had nothing to offer and they would all be much better off if we just donated my trip fees directly to the ministry.   
Eventually we put our yes on the table. We prepared spiritually, physically and financially. And we went.
I’ve met people who have gone on a mission trip, checked it off the list, and simply resumed life where they left off. I’ve met people who God has called to make the move to full time ministry in foreign countries. Then there’s people like me …. who return home with new eyes and heart, forever changed.
Mark and I have talked about this many times. One of the most important aspects of our first mission trip was that 6-8 week period of time before the trip to get ready. Not just go through the motions counting time and attending team meetings, but honest and deep spiritual preparation. I think going away on mission is much like prayer, in the sense that often times the greatest take-away is the change experienced IN us, not necessarily any changes effected BY us.  
If you were to ask what God did on that first mission trip in July 2012, I’d tell you straight up that He used that trip to change me. Change how I see money and possessions and people and pain and joy and worship and grace.  Change how I see Him.  Clear up any confusion between needs and wants and blessings.  Change me for the right here, right now, everyday life on mission.   
Where will YOU go, and what will God do with it? The only way you’ll know is to take that first, next step and GO.

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Joshua 13:14, 33 – If We Paid Our Pastors Today in Food, Would They Starve?

Dear Reader, allow me to share this with you. Not my words, but those of my husband who is Passionate (with a capital P) about living out biblical financial principles and teaching others about honoring God with your finances.

I confess that we didn’t always live this way, trusting God and honoring Him with the first fruits of His blessings. But choosing to do things Gods way, first in our relationship and then with our money, has led us places I can’t describe.

If you’re a giver, awesome! If you’re a tither, fist bump! If you’re not, I encourage you to Google what God says about money, giving and the tithe and pray about how to start becoming generous.

Blessings to you!

A Work In Progress

Joshua 13:14, 33

An Allotment for the Tribe of Levi

What if we paid our preachers today in food as were the priestly clan, the Levites, were paid in ancient Israel? Would they starve to death? In ancient Israel, the Levites subsisted through the remains of the offerings brought to the altar of the tabernacle and later, the Temple. The Levites would receive the tithes (10% offerings) required of the Israelites, be they oil, wine, grain, or anything else. [Numbers 18:11-18] The parts of the sacrificial offerings not burnt up were also for the Levites– the choice meats and grains. While the Levites would have no inheritance in the land, they had something better promised: “The priests, who are Levites–indeed the whole tribe of Levi–are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the offerings made to the LORD by fire, for that is their inheritance…

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I’ve been deceived, or rather I allowed myself to be fooled, wanting to believe that something was true when it sounded good, plausible and true.
Ready? I thought cooking with coconut oil was healthy and good for you. Natural, organic and better than the other stuff on the market. Many popular recipes call for it, so there had to be truth to it, right? So a couple of years ago I switched to coconut oil for everything, in place of butter and olive oil. I made a big mistake.
Recently I read an article that explained the saturated fat content in coconut oil compared to olive oil. This time, I went to my cabinet and pulled them both out, compared the labels and I was stunned.  
How could I have made such a serious error? How could I have so easily been deceived?

Lies are all around us. Little ones like cooking oils, and bigger ones that have the potential for greater impact on our souls. If we aren’t careful and diligent in seeking truth, it’s easy to be tricked.
Think of your spiritual life, your understanding of who God is and your relationship with Him. Are you being swayed by ideas that sound good and plausible but don’t match up to His Word?  
The only way to avoid deception is to know God, His character and nature, His truth,  purpose, promises and plan which is revealed in scripture.  
Only by due diligence, checking it out for yourself, can one guard against false teaching and sweet sounding half-truths. The more we are grounded in Gods word and in prayer, the better we can detect deception before it becomes a snare.

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Mountain Memories 

I took the scenic route up to Dad’s new place in Brevard yesterday.  Not intentionally, but Siri decided we needed to go a different way and I didn’t argue.

It is a breathtaking drive along Hey 11, also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway.  I wanted so badly to stop every time something spectacular caught my eye, which was about every 2 miles the whole way.  But the 11:30 appointment at his facility prevented any detours.

It’s late spring going into summer here in the south.  Gods creation is in full majesty and splendor.  I can’t believe how beautiful it is here.

From here, if you go up Hwy 11 towards Brevard and Asheville you’ll pass signs that lead to places like the Greenville YMCA Camp, home of Symmes Chapel aka Pretty Place.  It’s right at the Eastern Continental  Divide.  Then there’s Table Rock and Cesar’s Head, two more can’t miss places to explore.  Transylvania County, Dad’s new location for now, boasts I don’t know how many amazing waterfalls.  And Brevard itself is a quaint, college  mountain town, with a lively arts community and bustling downtown area full of neat shops, hangouts and restaurants.  Surrounded by amazing mountain beauty.

In a different time Dad and Mom would have loved poking around a town like this.  They did, back in the day.  Lenior, Boone, Blowing Rock were places we visited frequently as a family.  Those were simple sweet times, going to spend time with the Lepperts, my Tia Lulu, uncle Billy and cousins.  Mumi was still alive then, a lovely southern lady.

Yesterday was hard, but the beauty of this place and the memories of good times past made it …. joyful.  I am reminded to treasure every moment and take time to thank God for all good things He has given us.

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The Best Thing

This time of transition is coming to a turning point, for dad and our family. I am awaiting a call from the discharge planner at GMH advising of the time,  so I can meet him at his new place sometime today. The new place will be in Brevard.
Friends ask for updates and I give the straightforward answer, not revealing the turmoil within my heart. Their responses are positive and meant to encourage but don’t grasp the difficulty of logistics. It’s  ok though, I am so thankful and blessed by their concern and prayers.
Brevard is about 2 hours from mom and my brothers in NC.  For mom, an 85 year old who is blind, in poor health and completely dependent on others, the distance alone complicates her ability to visit her husband.
For my brothers, no longer can they swing by after work to check on dad.  For me, I now have two aging parents in different and opposite locations, each about an hour and a half away. I’m at the bottom point of a large V shape on the map.
For dad though, I’m told this the best thing for him, given his increasing level of care needs and recent decline.
The best thing usually isn’t the easy thing.
We all know this is true. When it’s past time to make the decision to put your beloved pet down. When you have faced chemo, major surgery and then are told you need radiation. When the grandchildren you helped raise are ripped away from your daily care to start a new life far away from your love and godly influence. When your doctor says he’s done all he can and the next step is amputation.

Whatever hard things we face today, my friend, remember that our strength, comfort and peace is found in Christ. Our help comes from the Lord.  He alone is our best thing in all things.

Verse images found on Youversion,

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬
Patterns of life are emerging that I’ve never seen before. It’s uncharted territory, this season where the adult child assists aging parents. My life experience so far hasn’t included how to care for the elderly, or equipped me with how to respond to certain situations when they arise.   

Like parenting skills gained in my 20’s and 30’s, much of what I’m learning now is on the job. These days there are all kinds of great resources for expectant moms, full of tips and tricks during pregnancy, labor and delivery, the infant stages and beyond. There are probably lots of resources out there on elder care too. I just didn’t know I needed them until I did.
While I’m acting as support, POA, representative payee and caregiver from afar, this time is not about me. It’s about them. Their health, safety, comfort and dignity. Those of us blessed to live in the US have access to great healthcare, and seniors seemingly have an abundance of options available …. everything from in-home health care with sitters and CNA’s, independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care.
Our family had a setback recently. Daddy is in transition, having been discharged from his long term care facility on the 18th for what they call “behaviors”.  A little over a month ago his altered mental state was attributed to nasty side effects of a new medicine. This time a UTI was the culprit for his combative behavior and the administration at daddy’s facility discharged him, stating that they could no longer provide the level of care my dad now requires. 
The UTI has been treated and he is now medically ready for discharge from the hospital, but finding the right, next new place for my dad has been challenging. The healthcare professionals have it in writing that he needs long term care, with skilled nursing, in a memory care unit. Suitable facilities that meet this criteria are few, and the waiting lists for those are staggering. The case managers and social workers at the hospital have been great. While they search, I search …. doubling their efforts hour after hour, day after day, calling one place after another with the same result.  
A time for everything. Even agonizingly lengthy and discouraging transitions it seems.
For now though, we take turns visiting him in the hospital. We humor Dad, reassuring him over and over that it’s ok if he doesn’t remember something. Tomorrow I’ll take some of his favorite chocolates to help sweeten his mood and family pictures to help stir his memory. The ravages of dementia have robbed him of so much. His current reality is in flux, bending, swirling and disappearing like wisps of smoke. In an instant he is a young man in Cuba re-living a fishing trip, then in a blink he’s back in residency at Polk County Hospital. Daddy knows how old he is one moment, then doesn’t remember his office in Belmont the next. Sometimes he knows where he is, other times he asks where and why. Every time I see him though, he’s consistent in asking me how Mark is doing and amazingly he still remembers us all.
It is heartbreaking to see the progression of the disease. I hate the indignity of dementia, this slow fading away of Dad who isn’t Dad happening right before my eyes. I know my mom and brothers are having an equally hard time. Considering my faith, I confess there are times I wonder where God is, why He hasn’t answered my prayers and the prayers of my friends. I have to look hard but He is in it. This time we’ve been given is a gift, a treasure in a different sort of wrapper. As hard as it is we each need this time to offer comfort and build up, to heal, to laugh and embrace and mend and love. For ourselves as well as for him.

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My daddy was larger than life back in the day.  Husband, Doctor, provider, philanthropist.  When I was little he was the only Doctor in town that made house calls.  I still remember tagging along one late summer afternoon when he went to the nursing home after a long work day to go check on his elderly patients.  My dad chose to serve the people of a small textile town in the Bible Belt in the 60’s over the lure of big city potential for great prosperity and the salt life promise of Florida.  Dad truly cared about people.  He was my Hero with a capital H and a servant of the common man.  While Dad loved his practice and his patients, he also loved his down time. Dad’s happy place was anywhere water met land, with a fishing rod, a straw hat and an ice cold cerveza. He taught me to shoot and fish, two things he loved when he was a young man.  He and I were fearless foodies, eating mysterious savory meats prepared by street vendors in foreign countries with great gusto, while my mom and older brother would turn white and then green.  He loved to travel, eat and experience new things.  After having fled Cuba and starting over in the US with nothing, I’d venture to say that the idea of change didn’t scare him the slightest bit.

But change does come.  Living 92 years has taken a hard toll on his body, and the curse of dementia has robbed him of much of his memory.  It’s heartbreaking.  He has adapted well to skilled nursing though, content to travel about the facility and visit with staff and other residents in the hallways.  He has a reputation for being sweet, courteous, friendly and generally easy-going.  They still call him Doctor out of respect and kindness .  He’s always happy to have visits from family (he remembers who we are for now, although the details of past and present are a puzzle with giant missing pieces).  But the progression of his disease has affected the short term memory, and 5 minutes after one of us leaves he forgets we were ever there.   His favorite things now are books and chocolates do we load him up on both.  Thankfully he’s not aware of his true condition, or where he is.  That is a gift from God.

Now the roles have changed, and the child has become her parents’ advocate and protector.  It’s a role I take seriously, but it is tough seeing this larger than life hero reduced to a shadow of who he once was.  Why are things the way they are, why does he linger and suffer?  Why must we watch him fade away like this?  I can see no purpose in it, but my faith says there is something God is up to even if I can’t see it.   I do trust God’s purpose and timing, His ways are not my ways, but it is SO HARD.  More than anything, my mom, brothers and I desire the best possible care for him, with dignity and compassion.  So far we couldn’t be more pleased with this facility.

So, I now own all the details of his life outside the nursing home.  His social security, bills, Medicare and Medicaid, supplemental insurance, taxes.  In an emergency, the usual 1-1/2 hour drive time to Gaston Memorial can be trimmed to well under an hour.  As his daughter, representative payee and power of attorney, I am included in scheduled care reviews.  That’s a meeting with staff and family, at which his overall condition is re-evaluated and changes are made to his treatment plan.  I can’t tell you how important it is to be well informed and involved in this process.

And here’s a small assurance, how I know my God is present in this situation ….. had I not been present and aware at the last meeting in late February, I would not have known about all the medicine he was taking, or the new one they added.   The one with the ugly, rare side effects not disclosed on TV.  Side effects like aggression, sexually inappropriate behavior, depression, confusion and an altered mental state.  Rare, but unfortunately my dad fell into that small category.

The side effects from the new medicine kept building and finally escalated to the point of  physical altercation between dad and another patient about 10 days ago, but at that point we really had no idea what had caused this change in dad’s behavior.  When it did happen, the social worker said they had no choice but to make an immediate judgement discharge.  They were looking for a faculty with Alzheimer’s unit that would take him.  Immediately. Daddy had become a danger to himself and others and they were not equipped to handle it.  He had to go.  Dad wasn’t dad.  My heart was breaking.  This new place could be anywhere inside a 90 mile radius and we would have no say.

Thank God for the relationships he has blessed me with.  Reeling from the news about Dad, I flew over to a friends house for coffee and encouragement.  During our conversation I remembered the change in medication and Googled info about the drug.  BAM!   Within minutes I was back on the phone with his social worker, begging them to hold the med until his doctor could be reached to officially discontinue.   I knew in my heart that this was the root of the problem and started pleading daddy’s case.

All you can do a a time like this, really, is hit your knees.  I was not in control.  Pray and request prayer.  Beg God’s mercy and trust His sovereignty.  Pray for favor with the people responsible for dad’s care.  

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.  Psalm 116:1

Not only did his social worker put an immediate hold on this medicine at my request, she also followed up with the drug rep and dad’s PCP.  Both agreed that this medicine could be the cause for Dad’s change in personality and behavior.  Favor with the social worker.  Check.

The next prayer for mercy was answered yesterday, when I got the call that daddy had bounced back to his old self AND the administrator had decided to let him stay!  I am praising God from the depths of my soul.  

Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. Psalm 116:2

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