Northwoods Journal: July 11, 2022

My senior assisted living community has gone down by two – a whole 50%. I still have the husband and Mom to help but my uncle and aunt, both in their 90’s, have gone south to live near my uncle’s children.

Me and Mom. Glad I still get to help her. She’s fun.

They lived near a town, about 25 minutes away, out in the country where we had trouble getting cell service. They had neighbors, but I was always worried about them being able to contact someone if they needed help. My aunt was disabled with Parkinson’s, and nearly blind. My uncle was the main caregiver for her and he was getting tired. On top of that there was the difficulty of keeping warm and plowed out during our severe winters. Something had to change, and it did.

My aunt had a crisis on Friday, July 1st, and after a week in the hospital recovering it was obvious that she needed nursing home placement. I was surprised to find out that there were no available beds for her level of care anywhere in our small community. None. But there was a place for her in a care center in the town where my uncle’s daughter lived, and they were willing to accept her. I am in awe of the social workers who helped get this done so quickly that it about took my breath away. I also think it was God’s plan to give my uncle some good time with his daughters after many years of just seeing them for occasional visits.

Caregiving… my aunt and uncle didn’t require my time on any regular basis, but more as a problem solver and go between with their doctors. I helped a little with their legal and financial affairs and often with their tech problems. Cell phones and computers drove my uncle to frustration. So, you would think I would feel free and have lots of extra time now that I don’t have those responsibilities. I guess that’s partly true – but I’m mostly aware of how quickly it all happened and how I miss them. Strange.

And that is one of the strange things about caregiving. It’s often hard, restricting, physically tiring, stressful, and has distasteful elements but it is also rewarding and more meaningful than a lot of other things I might be doing. Although I’ve been a paid caregiver and felt the weight of responsibility for my clients and the importance of being faithful and dependable, being a family caregiver is that and so much more. There are no 8 or 12 hour shifts, seldom a vacation, no weekends off, no differential for nights and no overtime. There are times when it feels like I’m handing over my life to someone else.

But, it is my life, and I know I made intentional choices that determined my present circumstances. Like many other aspects of life, the challenge is in taking what comes to me and making something of it. I must make plans but I must also expect the unexpected and figure out how to respond. I want to respond to situations in ways that won’t make me disappointed in myself at some later date.

In case you haven’t noticed, preaching to myself is one of the ways I’m meeting those challenges. It helps me to remember that God has given me specific skills to use for the good of others, and that he will strengthen me and keep me in the game until I’m no longer needed. Knowing that I am in the right place, at the right time, for a good purpose makes me satisfied and gives joy. What more could I ask?

A to Z Challenge: Letter J for Joy

Deep, esoteric reading material leaves me feeling dumb and vocabulary challenged as a rule, but there is something that I took away from a recent read that resonates with me. It was about joy. (And I may have gotten it wrong, but forgive me C. S. Lewis.)

He uses lots of big words…

I agree with C.S. Lewis that real joy has a sadness, and a longing behind it that makes it what it is. I have found that to be true about caretaking. Every time I’m doing something for someone, I’m wishing they were well and able to do it for themselves. I’m thinking about what I have that they don’t, what I can do that they can’t, and I’m grateful that I can help them. There is joy in adding to their life something they cannot have on their own.

There is also the joy of coming together, collaborating and accomplishing a task, that is different from anything I can do on my own. I believe we are meant to be in community with others and find our greatest satisfaction in sharing our skills, our words, thoughts, and our time – and that is often what caretaking is about. Almost always, the people I am caring for have something that they give back and share with me. There is joy in that.

I am sad when caretaking seems like a one way street with no feedback, no acknowledgment, no life giving return. But even then, I feel that I am honoring God by caring for a life that he values until he says that care is no longer needed. Caretaking teaches me things about myself that I couldn’t learn any other way. Persistence, integrity, compassion, acceptance, courage are all attributes that get challenged and honed… courses in Caretaking University.

That’s it. JOY. Caretaking is hard work, at times frustrating, exhausting, discouraging and other “bad things”, but joy is there to be found. I have named it and realize that it makes me able to continue taking care of others.

A Vow to Soften

I did not write this. It came to me from a friend and was written by Rachel Macy Stafford.  I found words in it to make my own.  I think there is something here for everyone to take to heart.  Read and see if I’m right.


My Vow to Soften

I’ve had enough of my hard edges.

I’m tired of straining my voice.

I’d like to loosen up and laugh a little more,

Be a positive rather than a negative.


I’d like to feel the upward curve of my lips.

I’d like to surrender control of things in which I have no control.

I’d like to let things unfold in their own time, in their own way.

I’d like to participate joyfully in this fleeting life.


I’d like to be softer

Towards him,

Towards her,

Towards me.


And this is my vow:

I vow to listen to opinions – I don’t always have to be right.

I don’t always have to agree or have the last word.


I vow to hand over the hairbrush, the pile of laundry, the school project,

The task before us. “How would you do it?” I will ask.

I vow to step aside and respect a new approach.

Success might be difficult to see at first; I vow to keep looking.

I vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms.

I vow to be more accepting of tastes and styles unlike my own.


I vow to remember he is in the process of becoming; she is in the process of finding her way.

And they are more apt to do it if I stop telling them how.


I vow to regard “weaknesses” as hidden strengths.

Inner gifts can be nurtured when I stop plotting ways to alter, change, and “improve”.


I vow to greet my family and myself with a loving smile, no matter what happened yesterday.

Grudge holding only hurts us all.

I vow to pause before correcting.

I shall take a moment to consider if the mistake even needs to be mentioned at all.

I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds.

I vow to demand less and inquire more.


I vow to listen


And expand my thinking.


I vow to be a voice of encouragement in a demeaning world.

I vow to be a silver lining spotter in my family’s little world.

I vow to be softer today than I was yesterday – a softer voice, a softer posture, a softer touch, a softer thought, a softer timetable.



I vow to be softer towards the imperfect human being inside me and beside me.


By being softer, I can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more.

At last I will fully see.

I will see his colors.

I will see her colors.

I will see my colors.

Perhaps for the very first time.


The colors might take my breath away,

Bring me to tears

And offer long-awaited peace.


I shall soften in order to illuminate the colors of the soul.

I shall soften so the human being within me and beside me can shine.


©Rachel Macy Stafford 2016





A Dark and Rainy Day

It’s one of those days when even though nothing specific is terribly wrong, everything in general seems terribly wrong and overwhelming.  Had one like that? It doesn’t help that our house, which has poor lighting and is usually dark inside, is even darker today with the cloud cover and rain outside.

Even as I try to get in touch with the joy I know is somewhere inside me, I can’t stop looking at the disorder, mess, and accumulation of things in my house that put me into a near catatonic state. Who would think that remodeling one small space in the house could affect the whole?  I wander from room to room looking for something that I can make a decision about.  Do I need it?  Can I part with it? Where will I put it if I keep it?  How do I get ride of it? Should I sell it or just put it out by the road to be picked up? How can an innocent jar of paper clips that I don’t need immobilize me? (Paper clips are good and these are the cute colored ones! I was given a donation of office items and I know someone needs them, but who?)

Please, please forgive me for cutting you down just when you had gotten beautiful.
Please, please forgive me for cutting you down just when you had gotten beautiful.

I went outside this morning thinking it would clear my mind and give me a better perspective.  I ended up pruning a beautiful bush that had finally gotten full size and was bearing beautiful yellow flowers.  Unfortunately it is planted right next to our AC unit and is a constant frustration to the men who service it.  A beautiful plant in the wrong place, along with countless others in the overgrown acre I call home.  That didn’t help my perspective much.

And even as the husband and I prayed over our day, I let him do most of the talking.  Today I am just not in touch with the part of my brain that houses joy.  It keeps me from being relational with God and with others.  I kind of shut down. I’m not proud of it.  I’m just tired and ruined and feeling my humanness, if that’s a word. My own superficial problems, the problems of those I love, the disease and fighting in the world, the homeless children, the anger, the injustice – I can’t keep up with it all.

Time is moving fast, and it really is a gift from God that things change.  I know I will feel different if I wait long enough, especially if I ask God for help in understanding where I fit in.  There is a reason, a purpose for my being here in this place, at this time.  Even as uncomfortable as it is to be revealing my gloomy self in a post, there is probably something behind the urge I felt to write this way. Even in this state of mind I know these things.

There is a God, there is a Jesus and nothing anyone says or thinks adequately explains them away.

There is real evidence that what I need to know about him is given to me in scripture.

Scripture tells me and my experience bears it out, that he is good and powerful and loves me.

I am safer with him, no matter what circumstances look like, than anywhere else.

And for now, on this dark, rainy day, I will keep those things in mind as I search for some meaningful activity to dispel the gloom.  My precious daughter in Seattle turns to housecleaning when she feels oppressed, so I will too and there’s no shortage of things to clean around here… just sayin’.

Thank You for the Reminder

Since leaving Seattle I have been bereft (nice word) of a much treasured pair of earrings.  Not to make this another “lost jewelry” story I am skipping right to the part this morning where I found them in a pocket as I was preparing clothes to go into the washer.  (And it’s another string of stories were I to tell of all the things I’ve washed before I started checking pockets consistently.)  As I was feeling a rush of gratitude and relief inwardly, a song that I had not sung for fifty years came to my mind and out of my mouth.  Not only the complicated melody with the harmonies in my head, but also all the words!

I was probably 15 or 16 and in the upper stages of 4-H in my rural community.  Every summer the state fair in Milwaukee hosted the state 4-H chorus and orchestra and had them perform in midway programs.  My friend and I decided to be brave and audition.  I don’t think either one of us had ever tried out for anything but we both took piano lessons and were in the high school chorus so it was worth a try.

I remember the audition.  We had to travel to a nearby town and wait our turn to go into the room with the chorus director.  He talked with me a bit and then had me read some music and match some pitches with my voice.  I don’t remember if I actually sang anything, but probably.  Then the long wait until a letter in the mail informed me that I’d been accepted into the alto section of the chorus.  I was stoked.

The time came a month or so later to make the trip to Milwaukee, a good six hours away, for the four day experience at the state fair.  The chorus was a large group, close to 100 I’m guessing, and they were all strangers to me – coming from all parts of the state of Wisconsin.  We were housed in a dorm of some kind, but my memory is dim on that aspect probably because we didn’t spend much time doing anything but singing.

The first two days were non-stop practice.  All the songs were unfamiliar, ambitious choral pieces.  We sang until we were worried we would have no voice left.  The words and melodies were burned into our minds until no printed music was needed and all our attention was on the director.  I fell in love with the power of being part of a responsive group and having such amazing music pulled out of us by a skilled leader.  I fell in love with the music itself and have since found those pieces and used them again.

As often happens, something small, and relatively insignificant triggered this memory and  brought the words to one of the songs back to me this morning.

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me, uphold me with thy free Spiriit, thy free Spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy way, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

The words are from Psalm 51:12, 13.  Several songs from our program were from scripture references and there was nothing politically incorrect about doing that in those days.  I don’t know how it would go today.  We performed on two different days and enjoyed the state fair in between our times on stage.  It was an experience of great value for me.

I am not saying that the joy of finding lost jewelry compares to the joy of God’s eternal salvation.  But I think that anytime God allows us a joy of any proportion he likes it to remind us of what He has done, and is doing, and will do.  Just sayin’, I am reminded and grateful today.

These rascals were hiding again...
These rascals were hiding again…