It is one of those things that happen in life – the effect of which can be pleasantly confining to excruciatingly challenging – “Shelf life” – those times when your focus must radically narrow to one goal, and it seems that all else in life is just passing you by. It may be a time with a new baby – or raising toddlers – an injury, surgery or extended illness – caretaking of a family member.
Like many women, I have known the times of babies and toddlers – endless diapers, packing half a car load for a weekend trip, pages of instructions and phone numbers for a babysitter, and an ear newly attuned to every cry. Suddenly “we two” had become “three” – and for about six weeks or so, we were “three” on very little sleep! The house wasn’t clean, thank you notes were delayed, the fresh flowers from the hospital drooped with fatigue – kind of like my eyelids; it was the “new mother” shelf.
In the last five years, I’ve known the “caretaker shelf.” With a husband declining with rheumatoid arthritis and its many complications, my shelf grew exponentially. It squeezed out travel, which we both loved, lots of grandparenting and even our social life. It was a vice-like lesson in patience and love.
I have learned a lot on this journey about HOW to handle these times with grace and faith. The following are a few of those lessons:
1. Relax and accept it. For so long, I kept grasping onto all the “normal” activities I had been used to, and all that did was make me more miserable. There was finally such great relief in just acceptance of “how things are” and the releasing of my agenda to the Lord.
2. Work as unto the Lord. With acceptance came a laser focus on doing the very best I could with this job. By nature, I am a terrible nurse – but I became the best. I turned our home into the most comfortable, accessible, pleasant place possible as my husband finally became homebound. And we mastered his care, allowing him to stay home almost to the very end.
3. Ask the Lord for discernment as to HIS perfect plan for this time. His plan for me was twofold:
a) Spend much time with my husband; our days were numbered, and this became a top priority. b) Use the experience as a teaching tool with my 12th grade students at school. I often shared with them about my husband, modeling commitment and compassion, sharing my husband’s courage in the journey. I tried to help them see the “other end” of weddings and white dresses and honeymoons – which is about as far as many of them can envision – to that time when one spouse “goes down” and the other must come alongside and walk “through the valley” with them.
4. Stay connected to others and learn to receive. We, as believers, have the incredible blessing of being part of the body of Christ; not only will the Lord never “leave nor forsake you”, but you are not alone in the body as you experience hard times. Resist the temptation to gut it out by yourself. This last spring, the parents of my students brought us dinner every Friday night. Although I seldom enjoy feeling needy, this became a lovely highlight of the week for us. And they were blessed, also, in the giving.
5. Make use of the slower pace for spiritual growth. Read your Bible consistently. Locate some books or Bible studies you can do at home. Journal your experiences and your prayers. Cultivate thankfulness. I tried to journal 8 things I was thankful for every day; it is impossible to stay discouraged when you are focusing on God’s continuous benefits and bounty.
6. Remember that there is another side to the journey. Babies finally sleep all night. You generally get well after surgery. Bones heal. And, yes, caretaking ends. Three weeks ago, early on a soft Sunday morning, my husband went home to be with Jesus. Now he can walk and dance and raise his arms and hands in praise. I am so relieved for him. His funeral was on our 44th wedding anniversary.
And now, I must step off of that shelf and re-engage in parts of life I had relinquished. I am penning this article from my son’s home, where I was up late last night, curled up in a big bed, telling bedtime stories to Austin and Mason – Bible stories and family stories. (And yes, mom and dad thought that the “children were nestled all snug in their beds.”) For me, this particular shelf life has ended, but the lessons and, I hope the maturity, remain; this is part of our walk, part of the process of conforming to His image. Embrace the journey wherever you are in life, and keep your focus on the Lord, trusting that you are not alone and that He will see you through.
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Today, we have the pleasure of introducing a special guest blogger, Marilyn Garrett. My first introduction to Marilyn wasn’t even to her, in person, but to her classroom at Trinity Christian School where she teaches senior English. My Lifegroup met in her classroom on Sunday mornings. It is the type of room where one can cozy up and feel comfortable, and I believe it says a lot about Marilyn. You can tell that she cares about her students, who they are as individuals, and that she is passionate about passing along a love for literature. You can also see that her students love her from the many class gifts on display in her room from years gone by. When I had the chance to speak over the phone with her over a month ago about writing for Prize31, my assumptions of her were confirmed. I’m honored and grateful that she would take the time to share with us today. ~ Anne Zachary, Prize31 editor