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Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 11)

16 Sep

Five Areas to Better Serve

Caring for others, whether it be small children, the sick, elderly… whoever is in need, is challenging and often all consuming.

It was our desire and choice to care for Great Aunt. It was a natural fit,  in that I was already home everyday caring for our own children, we both had some experience in the area, and had purchased a house that suited the situation.  Never-the-less, sometimes the task was overwhelming.  At times I found it affecting every other area of my life.

It was during a low ebb,  drained both physically and emotionally, that I pinpointed 5 areas to redirect my focus to better serve both Great Aunt and my family.


1. Remember who I am serving

I was serving Great Aunt, but ultimately, I was serving God.  I could never do things well enough for Great Aunt and as a result, felt I was always striving, but never pleasing.  I learned to change my focus, no longer on her but beyond her.

2. Be a duck and let it roll

When accusations came, like in the stolen lipstick and undergarments experience, my first response was to defend myself.  Sometimes defense isn’t necessary, better to let the comments roll – like water droplets rolling off the back of a duck.

3. Speak with grace

Whether responding to Great Aunt or speaking about her to someone else, I determined to speak with grace. Not wanting my own words to resonate in my mind like sharp thistles , I considered how I would feel in her place.

4. Serve secretly

In the midst of Great Aunts complaints, I found myself attempting to “win points” by informing her of things I had done for her. As foolish as that sounds – even as I write now – it is pattern that I still can find myself in if not careful.  My goal was (and still needs to be) to serve quietly, humbly.

5. Serve joyfully

Attitudes from within my heart had a way of creeping out.  If I was discontented,  it was difficult to serve with joy. This point circles back to the first.  When I placed the focus on whom I was ultimately serving (taking it off of myself), the joy would return.


Reading through my journals and finding these principles, again,

I was struck at how applicable they are to me today.

This is how I want to live.

This is how I want to serve.


Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 10)

31 Jul

Struggling with Grace

Taking care of Great Aunt brought an increased awareness to my own personal lack of grace. If I thought I had gained strides through being a wife and mother; this period of my life took the ongoing refining of my character to a whole new level.  The daily struggle to patiently love and selflessly serve, tested me far beyond where I been.  This was 24 hour, 7 day a week care.

…it was a somewhat typical busy day for our young large family.  I had a very new baby, the children had chicken  pox, Mark’s back was out and he was limited to bed rest. The day was cut out for me;  meals needed to be made, sick children tended, laundry done, baby fed and changed…  Great Aunt had eaten her breakfast and was appearing to enjoy the sunny sitting area in her room.

She beckoned me to bring her a glass of cold water. In between the continuous needs and questions of the children, I came back with a glass of cold water. Her response was less than happy. I had failed to put ice in the glass. Walking back to the kitchen meant being available to the children; their questions and needs quickly resumed. I was distracted. One had itchy pox, another’s fever was on the rise, baby was crying… when suddenly I remembered, Great Aunt wanted ice water!

Quickly I filled her glass with many chunks of ice and attempted again to cheerfully serve her.   With a sharp angry voice she replied, “Well, what took you so long?” I tried to defend myself, “Please be patient with me. Mark’s back is out, the kids are all sick, and I just had a baby and need to move slowly.” The response I received literally did me in. “Humph!” she crossly stated, “It’s not my fault you had a baby!” In a knee jerk reaction, I threw the ice water all over Great Aunt.

I quickly went outside and sat on the front step. What had I done!? I was ashamed and in tears.

Humbly I called my mother-in-law (Great Aunt’s niece) and confessed.

The unexpected grace I experienced that day, is one I will never forget.

“Becky, Great Aunt is living and breathing.  You have given her years of life she would not have had.  She hangs laundry, she plays with the children.  She has relationships with all of you. That is what relationships are – laughing, loving, and even getting angry, and making up.”

I regained my composure and faced Great Aunt again, with a fresh glass of ice water. Carefully, I handed it to her, apologizing for my behavior.  If she even remembered the incident, she never let on, but her disposition remained much sweeter for the rest of that day.

I want to treat others – I want to treat my family with the grace I received from my mother-in-law that day.

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 9)

27 Jun

  Motivating with a Stethoscope

When a virus invades the house of a big family such as ours, it usually sticks around for a while.  Seldom do we all get sick at once. Typically one of the younger children would have the first symptoms. Within a few days another one or two might become sick, from then on, it’s like watching dominoes fall – only in slow motion.  The process can take a month or two.  My goal is to quickly rebuild the first child’s immune system, in hopes of avoiding the whole process from repeating all over again.

Great Aunt was right in the mix of all the other dominoes.  Inevitably  she too would become ill.  The problem was, she no longer had the drive to get back up again.  Once in bed,  that is where she wanted to stay! In our earlier years together, I could reason with her – to a degree.  She saw the importance of good hygiene, nutrition,  exercise, and fresh air.

Eventually, at least for a time, I had lost all authority in her care.  She no longer knew who I was and chose to deliberately disregard anything I said.   Her line became, “The doctor told me I was to stay in bed.” To try to speak truth, that the doctor had not been there, was to challenge her word (not a good call).  Her ability to think clearly was continuing to diminish.  Although she appeared to be unaware of the trouble most of the time, I remember one particularly lucid moment, as she attempted  to describe the jumbled up mess she was experiencing in her mind.  My heart ached for her.

Never-the-less, I was still faced with a dilemma.  She needed care, yet was unwilling to receive it from  me.  I no longer had her respect…  until the day I was given a brilliant piece of advice…  If Great Aunt had respect for the doctor, why not become “the nurse”?  I thought it was worth a try, after all, I had been a nursing assistant in a nursing home years ago.

Borrowing a friend’s stethoscope and wearing a white smock, I marched into Great Aunt’s room with complete confidence.  After taking her pulse, I informed her of a concern about her lungs and the dangers of pneumonia.  I stated  instructions for her to get out of bed and take a short walk out side.  Her response was incredible!  She simply got up, no questions asked.  I helped her dress and assisted her outside.  She walked and walked enjoying the gardens, watching the children play, and breathing in the fresh air.

In the mean time, I took the opportunity to  make up her bed, open the windows and flood the room with sun light.  She returned to the house with a renewed enjoyment for another day of life.

With stethoscope and white jacket in hand, I had gained the authority I needed to carry out my job without confrontation.  Great Aunt gained the motivation to continue to embrace each new day.

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 8)

22 Jun

I procrastinated a little too long…

As with all of life, each day with Great Aunt brought new challenges.  At first, the walk from her living area to the bathroom seemed to be a good thing. It required her to get up, stretch her legs, and move regularly throughout the day.  In addition, it brought her into the main area of the house where all of the action was, providing some stimulating conversation with a multitude of young children.

Over time, as her health declined, it became evident that some changes needed to occur.  The bathroom was just too far away.  We searched for the best and most economical solution.  Installing a bathroom in an area of the house that had no plumbing would cost a fortune.  The next best option was a commode.  If you are not familiar with the term, a commode is a portable chair/toilet.  It was relatively inexpensive, had a reasonably sized removable container,  and looked easy to clean.  The Commode became part of our household.

It turned out to be a great success, equally helpful to both Great Aunt and myself.  For a time, it saved me much work.

I tried to get the routine down:  empty, disinfect, replace…  Sounds easy doesn’t it.  It truly was easy.  But… the babies needed to be fed, diapers had to be changed, laundry needs were continuous, beds must be made, hungry tummy’s required frequent cooking, gardens were maintained, homeschooling was in progress… and then I would remember – The Commode.  Quickly making a mental note,  I would remind myself to empty soon!  The telephone would ring, the toddler would fall and need bandaging, Great Aunt would like tea, lots of it  “nice and hot, with two teaspoons of sugar” …  Oh, yes! I was reminded… The Commode! On went the cycle, until at last – it happened.

In the kitchen, tending to the needs of the moment, I heard a strange, unusual noise.  Quickly running to check on Great Aunt, I suddenly knew I had procrastinated a little too long!  That “reasonably sized removable container” of The Commode, only holds so much weight and no more.  I allowed the limits to be tested too far.  Oh, how I wished we had linoleum floors rather then thick plush carpet! I felt so stupid, so embarrassed.  There was no one to blame but myself.  Not only did I have to clean up the mess,  while I cleaned, I carried the shame of my lack of care for her in this area.

Was I lazy? No, those days were never lazy, but I did put off something that was essential that needed regular attention.  We all do it.

So, today I am asking myself and asking you.  What is most essential in our lives?  What is more important than anything else?  Is it being tended?

Don’t let less important things crowd it out.  Be deliberate!

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 7)

14 Jun

 Polyester Pant Suits

 It had been some time since Great Aunt had lived in her own home. She moved to an apartment with assisted living, then to the nursing home, and finally in with our family of, at the time, 8 children.  Her once lively lifestyle had become more and more confined with each move.  Even so, a variety of remnants from her past remained, and we desired to provide as much life and vitality as we were able.

 In previous years, Great Aunt had enjoyed  hosting card parties with her lady friends.  Wanting to encourage those friendships, we had decided to help her host a party in her new place.  She was no longer able to see a cooking project all the way through, but she did enjoy getting her hands into the mix of things.   It was our hope that by having her friends come,  Great Aunt might gain a sense of belonging. This was her home.

One of the remnants of Great Aunt’s past was her wardrobe.  She loved bright vibrant colors and bold gaudy jewelry.  With this in mind, you can imagine the process of getting dressed for a party!  Her favorite selections included various  pant suits that were in shades of lime green, bright orange, and brilliant purples .  The fabric of choice was consistently, the ever-wearing, polyester.  It truly  never did wear out!   She no longer was confined to the typical rules of a matching an outfit. She had found complete freedom to mix and match.  The brighter the colors, the better she liked it! Hair done, lipstick on, she was good to go.

I think I was more excited about this event than Great Aunt.  I enjoyed planning ways to make it special for her and generating her participation.  She genuinely liked the ideas and was ready to greet the ladies as they arrived.  Tea and dessert were served.  Cards were played.  The visit was a success.  Having heard Great Aunt speak of these special people, I was thankful to have met them. They were faithful friends showing both their love and concern.

Pictures played an important role during this period of time.  With every event, we captured memories in print.  As time progressed, it often became her only memory of us.  The past became increasingly present in her mind, and recognition of who we were faded in and out. We used her photo album as a tool to try to keep her remembering the recent past. Today, I am thankful we did, as they now have become precious memories for our family.

As I helped Great Aunt get ready for bed, I cheerfully tried to engage her in recounting the happenings of the day.  It was gone.  All memory of her friends and the visit had faded away.  To try to persuade her otherwise was an insult to her intellect.

Was it a waste, I wondered?  Had I gone to all that work in vain? No… I knew the answer had to be no.  Great Aunt lived that day.  Embracing her friends, she loved  and served them.  Equally importantly, those ladies embraced their friend one last time.  Yes, it had been worth it all.

Lessons in Grace with “Great Aunt” (part 6)

23 May

life;  so precious…  so fragile…  so rich

It had started off as a typical Friday evening. As a family, we were enjoying a movie and popcorn while counting down hours until our ninth baby was officially due.  Great Aunt had settled into her own area and the house was relatively quiet.  Yet, in the stillness of the cold winter night, Mark’s breathing became labored.  I had become accustomed to his asthma and tended to him in all of the ways I had learned. Nothing worked.

The ambulance arrived and took Mark away as the children looked on.

Within minutes I gave the children instructions, made arrangements, and left.  Arriving at the emergency room, I soon learned that Mark had stopped breathing altogether in the ambulance.  Able to revive him, they were attempting to stabilize his breathing.  They gave me little hope.

I cried out to God.

Mark’s parents came. They prayed. They supported. They were a blessing to me.

Over time, … I was allowed in to see Mark.  With help, much help, he was not only breathing, but being cared for by one of my most trusted medical friends.  He had her full attention.  I was so thankful for her calm presence and her encouragement for me to stay close to Mark.  She visibly saw his breathing improve with my physical touch.

The nurses began to notice me and my tummy, although baby had hunkered down, I still was rather round.  They worried and fretted, but God gave me strength and sustained me.

The next day, Mark was moved to a regular room to be monitored.  On the third day, Sunday, he was able to come home.  Great Aunt and the children watched as we drove up.

Life; so precious, so fragile, so rich.

After 3 days of rest, contractions began again, our son was born.  He came in the quietness of the night, before the midwife arrived.  No hospitals or doctors. No medications or bright lights.  Within a couple hours, Mark had the pleasure of delivering our healthy baby boy.

God answered our prayers.

Through our ups and downs, our joys and our sorrows, Great Aunt lived.

Lessons in Grace with “Great Aunt” (part 5)

16 May

Wise Enough to Know When to Simply Move On

Seeing the children in the yard with their new jump ropes was enough enticement for Great Aunt to step outside and enjoy the fun.   Smugly, she got a kick out of the fact that the little ones were struggling to coordinate the jump and the swing well enough to actually – jump rope.  She smiled a little and said, “Give me that rope, I’ll show you how it’s done. It’s easy!”

Well… age has a way of creeping up on all of us when were not looking.  Great Aunt felt good.  She was eating well, getting fresh air and sunshine, enjoying small walks around the yard, and surrounded by young energetic children.  She was healthier now than when she had first moved in with us.  It’s no wonder she wanted to show off to the kiddos!

We all watched in anticipation as Great Aunt took the rope in hand, while passing off her crutch.  Slowly positioning the rope just so, she began the swing over her head attempting to move into the jump. Without question, the desire was there.  The brain was telling those feet to come off the ground in an upward burst, but they didn’t budge! “Disgusted”, the look on her face said it all.  What had happened to her jump? Determined to make it work, she tried again and again.  She was willing, but her body just would not cooperate.

Even though Great Aunt’s jump roping lesson didn’t go as well as planned, she had given it her best shot.  I want to be like Great Aunt: Brave enough to try and fail,  determined enough to get back up and try again, and wise enough to know when to simply move on!