“Love suffers long, having patience with imperfect people.”*
When I was a young mom, I wanted to have the perfect family. As you can imagine, this put a lot of pressure on my husband and children to try and live up to my expectations. Mind you, I had it on good authority from all the books I read (before there were blogs), the tapes I listened to (before there were iPods), and the conventions I attended (before there were online conferences), what that perfect family looked like. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my family measure up. Instead, we sort of looked like the Banks family in the movie Mary Poppins.
Remember when Mary Poppins pulls out her magical measuring tape and sums up the Banks’ young breed? Michael is found to be extremely stubborn and suspicious, and Jane is rather inclined to giggle and doesn’t put things away. The children are embarrassed by her frank observations. And then, Mary Poppins measures herself. Why, she’s practically perfect in every way! I’m not surprised, are you?
In those days, I exhibited many of Mary Poppin’s perfectionistic traits (but my family knew I was far from perfect). I’m sure they thought it unfair that I was the one doing the measuring! But then the Lord began to use them to show me just how “imperfect” I was. Suddenly, I became a student in the school of forgiveness and an expert at making apologies.
How misguided I was to think I could be the Holy Spirit, hoping to push my family up the slippery slope of sainthood. I did have a great role to play in their growth, but apparently I was a little slow in scaling the ascent myself. I wasn’t nearly as patient with my family as the Lord was being with me. I had a lot to learn about love.
“Love suffers long, having patience with imperfect people.”
The Greek word for long suffering is makrothumia (mak-roth-oo-mee’-ah) which means to be long spirited, forbearing (indulgence towards those who injure us; delay of resentment or punishment). The definition of resentment is: The excitement of passion which proceeds from a sense of wrong offered to ourselves, or to those who are connected with us; anger. This word usually expresses less excitement than anger, though it is often synonymous with it. In this use, resentment is not the sense or perception of injury, but the excitement which is the effect of it. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary asks, “Can heavenly minds such high resentment show?”
Look out children, Mary Poppins is not happy!
More than not, impatience, resentment and anger were my first reactions to bad attitudes and family squabbles. I (Mary Poppins) did not handle conflict well! An inner voice kept telling me, They’re not measuring up! They’re not measuring up! Well the truth is, I was the one who wasn’t measuring up, and it took me many years to realize that I needed to change.
And this is what I really want us to meditate on, ladies. If you’ve ever heard that judgmental voice in your head or struggled with a critical perfectionistic spirit, there are some important questions I would like you to ask yourself. How do you handle your family’s imperfections? Are you patient and long-suffering toward them or do their flaws bring out the worst in you? Scripture says, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2 (NASB) I would rather err on the side of God’s grace and mercy, wouldn’t you?
Personally, I need all the grace and mercy I can get. But more than what I need, my children need me to parent them the way the Lord does. He doesn’t embarrass or humiliate. He’s gentle, loving and kind.
Just think: Where would we be without the Lord’s unconditional love? He’s not surprised by our mishaps, mess-ups, and miserable attempts at living a godly life. He’s knows that sanctification is a process. And the funny thing is, the very imperfections and failures we cringe at are His greatest catalysts for perfecting and making us whole in Him. We need to see our family’s imperfections in the same light and pray for God’s wisdom in handling them. After all, it is the Lord’s kindness that leads us to repentance. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 (NASB)
The good news is: the ground is level at the foot of the cross! We can choose to love fully in the face of imperfection, just as we are fully loved. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8 (NASB)
God isn’t interested in any of us looking perfect, but He does say to be perfect as He is perfect. There’s a difference. To have Christ formed in us more and more, to be maturing in the Lord, to be complete and whole in Him, – this is the perfection the Bible speaks of and this is the perfection I want for my husband, my children, and myself. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NASB)
Now, that’s the perfection worth striving for!
On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst thing that could ever happen to you, this is basically a big fat zero, zip, zilch! But, nonetheless, it’s aggravating, and something every caregiver of an elderly family member will experience sooner or later. The mealtime scenario goes something like this:
I prepare a homemade turkey burger patty for Grandpa. I fry it up in a pan, smother it with mushrooms sautéed in butter, and place it on a piece of whole wheat bread slathered with Hellman’s mayonnaise. I sprinkle grated cheddar and Italian cheeses on top of it and melt it in the microwave.
I purposely give Grandpa only one piece of bread so he doesn’t become overwhelmed by the sight of a “full plate.” He rarely finishes his evening meals anymore, so I’ve scaled back on portion size so the visual food cue doesn’t knock him for a loop!
As I place the plate in front of him, I tell him it’s a mushroom burger with melted cheese (sometimes he doesn’t know whether he’s eating chicken, pork or beef, so it helps to tell him ahead of time before he asks, “What is this?”).
“It’s a mushroom burger, Grandpa,” I say.
“I love mushrooms!” he exclaims.
Grandpa digs in, which in laymen terms means he uses his spoon instead of his fork to consume the bite-sized pieces I’ve cut his food into so that he doesn’t choke.
I continue cooking up the burgers for the rest of the family.
“Do you have any sides,” he asks?
Really? I think to myself. Sides?
I look over at his plate. Sure enough, he’s divided his food in half–again!
“You really have everything you need,” I say, thinking about the protein, fruits and vegetables I have served him throughout the day. The truth is, I know he’s probably not going to finish the food I’ve set before him, so why add to it!
I look at his half consumed burger. Serving a smaller portion backfires tonight. He cuts the half serving in half again.
Feeling guilty about the lack of variety, namely something colorful and green, I ask, “Do you want a salad, Grandpa?”
“No.” he acquiesces. But I can tell by the way he said “no” that he doesn’t mean it. Although Grandpa is not big on vegetables, he does like salad.
So I go to the refrigerator and pull out a variety pack of spring lettuces. I place a handful in a serving bowl, and with a pair of kitchen scissors I snip them into smaller bite-sized pieces. I slice each cherry tomato in quarters, and halves again. I add them to the lettuce mix and then I spoon a large dollop of blue cheese salad dressing over the top and stir it all around.
I place the colorful, flavorful, denture-friendly salad next to his plate.
“Here’s your salad, Grandpa. Enjoy!”
I turn around to clean off the counter and put everything away in the refrigerator when I hear the dreaded mealtime proclamation: “I’m full!”
Half of his burger is left . . . the salad goes untouched. Surely I knew that was going to happen? Even though I vow to never be a short order cook, I’m obviously mistaken for one tonight!
Food, glorious food! It’s an obsession with older folks. They can’t live with it, and they can’t live without it, but somehow they manage to dissect it into oblivion or push half of it aside as if they are “breatharians,” living solely on air.
It makes me wonder how much food is tossed into the garbage at assisted care facilities and nursing homes. Actually Grandpa lived in both types of facilities at one time, and I know for a fact that unconsumed food is a huge waste–every day.
At least here at home, I can pull that half-eaten burger out of the fridge and serve it at lunchtime. But as far as the salad goes, it’s wasted–wasted food, wasted time, but I hope not wasted effort.
I try to please, and I guess that’s all that counts.
Maybe next time Grandpa says no, I’ll take him at his word, or maybe not. Sometimes that can prove to be dangerous, like today. But in the grand scheme of things–on a scale of one to ten–it just doesn’t matter. I tend to lean in that direction.
One thing is for sure! In this house, what goes around comes around–leftovers and all. In my experience, feeding Grandpa isn’t really much different than feeding a toddler, except I thought I was done with that stage . . .
I guess the joke’s on me!
So you all know how cute Grandpa is, right? Well, most of the female healthcare professionals he meets think he’s real cute, too. And it doesn’t take them long to find out that Grandpa’s a hopeless romantic.
You see, given the opportunity, Grandpa would marry the first woman who gave him the time of day. Unfortunately, I have to remind him, “You’ve already out-lived two wives Grandpa, don’t be greedy. Besides, I’m not taking care of you and a wife too!”
Still, Grandpa takes full advantage of medical emergencies to flirt (yes, I said flirt) with all the pretty nurses! Never mind that he’s almost triple the age of some of the young women who take his blood pressure and listen to lungs. Grandpa could care less.
The other day, I witnessed first-hand the shameless display of affection he showered upon a certain nurse named Shannon. Since his hospital room is small and there is nowhere else to go, I was sitting in the recliner right next to Grandpa’s bed (a front row seat), so I couldn’t help but overhear the way he schmoozed his way into Shannon’s heart. Boy, was he layin’ it on thick, and boy, was she was eatin’ it up. After all, Grandpa is perfectly adorable and harmless, and the ladies know it! But what they love most about Grandpa is how he romances a woman the way men used to do in the days of the Silver Screen.
Quite the crooner, Grandpa begins serenading Shannon with: “Only make believe I love you, only make believe that you love me!”
“She’s married dad and has two kids,” I remind him.
He ignores me.
I laugh out loud, interrupting Grandpa’s love making scene.
He looks incredulous. “Well, I can dream, can’t I?” he asks testily.
Grandpa figures why should age stand in the way of true love?
True love, humph! True love is “me” taking care of “you” Grandpa (for the last five years), and not holding it against you!
Continuing his romantic tête-à-tête, I hear him whisper, “I’m smitten.”
Shannon says, “Aww!” and gives him a big hug.
I just roll my eyes.
But when I go to Walgreen’s to buy Thicken-Up for Grandpa’s swallowing disorder, I buy a box of chocolates for Grandpa to give to Shannon and the other nurses on duty.
I can’t believe it! I’m an accomplish Grandpa’s romantic notions! I’ve fallen for his schmoozing too!
I stayed late tonight to comfort Grandpa, and to finish writing this little memoir about his love conquests – one of the highlights of our hospital stay.
The night nurse Zornitza from Bulgaria tells Grandpa, “You remind me of my Grandfather. I only see him about every two years.”
She tells him how Bulgaria is next to Czechoslovakia. Grandpa is part Czechoslovakian. A sense of duty rises up in his heart. “I’ll give you a hug if you need one,” he tells her.
“Oh, he just made my night,” Zornitza exclaims. Last night was really rough. Three of her patients (including Grandpa) tore their I.V.’s out.
“He was the best behaved, though,” she says reassuringly. “But tomorrow is a full moon! I’m not looking forward to tomorrow night! I wouldn’t believe the moon could make the elderly act up unless I had experienced it!”
Come to think of it, there’s a song along those lines: “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love on my own . . .”
Well, one thing I’ll tell you, I want Grandpa to keep dreaming, full moon or not, Grandpa is “smitten” a lot these days because he’s a hopeless romantic. And at the age of 93, that’s okay with me.
Grandpa needs prayer again friends. He may have a bacterial infection that is difficult to treat or it may just be a contaminated sample. The Doctor was a little vague, but we have to stay another day (it possibly could be more if this doesn’t get resolved) as the infectious disease specialist reviews his case and tells us what antibiotic treatment is best.
I am at peace, but Grandpa is a little restless. He REALLY wants to go home. So today I plan to get him in a wheel chair and wheel him around the hallways a bit, help get him up and walking with the physical therapists, and help him eat lunch and dinner. He did have great improvement with his swallowing, so THANK YOU for praying for him.
Grandpa’s health is in the Lord’s hands. The Father knows what he needs and His mercies are new every morning. I’m thankful I can be here with Grandpa to make this hospital stay bearable, comfortable, and maybe even enjoyable (he has very pretty nurses and that really gives him something to live for).
God hears the prayers of the afflicted and needy, a club which both Grandpa and I are premiere members.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
Do you carry a burden for your loved one? Does your heart ache for the heavy load you bear? It doesn’t matter if they are old or young. Somewhere, lying deep beneath the surface there is a treasure in the trial. Every day, Robert and I are faced with a variety of scenarios. What will the new day hold?
We jokingly say, “How’s the patient in 1A?” In other words, will it be a good day for Grandpa? Will he actually have enough energy to stay awake at breakfast, or will it be a down day when he can barely drink his water and put in his teeth? Will he be able to stand up to get his diaper changed or will he have a F.B.S. (floppy baby syndrome as my husband calls it) and barely be able to sit up on the edge of the bed?
I find myself feeling very old, my thoughts totally revolving around his inconsistent behavior, his sometimes blatant ungratefulness, and the bodily functions of a 93-year-old or lack thereof.
This is a crazy way to live, wrapped up in another person’s psychological and physical state, so much so that you feel like you have a constant burden upon your shoulders, a weight that you just can’t shake. Yet, the Bible tells us, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.
“Carry each other’s burdens and so live out the law of Christ. If a man thinks he is “somebody,” he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves that he is nobody. Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without dependence on the approval of others. For every man must “shoulder his own pack.” (Phillips)
Trust me, my husband and I are bearing a huge burden as Grandpa is increasingly unable to shoulder his own anymore due to his physical and mental frailty.
I wish we could say along with the songwriter, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” but he is heavy, physically and emotionally, and he is ours – all ours!
So this is our miserable, depressing state of existence . . . or is it? Are the struggles we experience in taking care of an elderly parent all there is to life? Are we locked in a downward spiral of hopelessness? Are we hidden victims? The answer is n0.
I find that writing about our experiences as caregivers helps me to cope. As I commit this journey to paper or this blog, I can sort through my emotions and have a good laugh or a good cry.
Lately, though, I have been all bottled up inside and having a hard time finding the humor in our situation, and consequently unable to write. That is a scary place to be! Long-term stress can rob you of your joy and your sense of humor.
Keep laughing, I remind myself!
Do you carry a burden for your loved one? Does your heart ache for the heavy load you bear? It doesn’t matter if they are old or young. Somewhere, lying deep beneath the surface there is a treasure in the trial.
Remember, he gently leads those who are with children . . . and the elderly, too!