Thistles: Pulling Out the “Pricklies” in Our Lives

Thistles: Pulling Out the Prickly Sins in Our Lives

By Shelly Beach

© 2017 Shelly Beach

Recently I’ve come to enjoy pulling weeds. I’d like to think that this is an indication of growth in character, rather than old age. Luckily, our half-acre yard gives me lots of opportunities to weed, but usually the sun, heat, and humidity discourage me from spending more than a few minutes outside in the summer, due to my health.

On good days I work on one small area near the rose bushes, the garden bench I bought in memory of my mom, or in the back yard flower bed (more weeds than flowers, unfortunately). I enjoy pulling out weeds that come easily, room and all, with one quick tug the most. I don’t mind digging or yanking a bit. I expect a bit of a challenge, but I hate pain, and I certainly don’t choose it for a leisure activity.

I hate thistles the most.

They are prickly, ugly, and grow into monstrosities that are almost impossible to grip without being pierced—even if you’re wearing gloves. For this reason, thistles have been the last weeds in our yard I’ve attacked.

 

Tending the Garden

Many of us have a regular devotional life. We pray, read the Bible, pray, and even do so on a regular basis. It can be easy to focus on sins that have more shallow roots–the ones that don’t ask us to truly change or look deeply at our motives.

For instance, may drop five dollars in the offering plate but not want to honestly consider sacrificial giving to God.

We may say we forgive a friend but be unwilling to lay down the bitterness in our heart.

Or perhaps we fence off areas of our lives and justify behavior we know contradicts the Word of God, because we want to do what we want. These areas are usually deeply rooted in attitudes and motives that say

Thistles grow in all of our lives,
prickly, ugly sins we don’t want God or anyone to touch. 

Weeding Thistles

Weeding thistles takes more work and commitment than pulling out the weeds that have weaker root systems and  no protective thorns. The job requires special weed killer, thicker gloves, running the risk of drawing a little blood, and/or the effort of digging down to the roots of the weed.

Pulling out the thistles in my spiritual life has meant committing to honest self-examination and prayer, shifting my focus from other people to myself, focusing on God, and asking Him to change me. It’s meant constantly evaluating my motives and attitudes, and listening to God’s Word and Spirit for direction and correction.

Are negative attitudes, preoccupations, resentments, bitterness, anger, or ungodly behaviors choking your spiritual growth? Ask God to show you where the thistles have taken root in your life. Then pray and seek godly counsel about how best to uproot them.

 

 

Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Tips for Easing the Life of Someone with Alzheimer’s

By Shelly Beach, Author and Caregiving Expert

 

Most people recognize that Alzheimer’s disease causes memory loss. However, it may be more difficult to understand that Alzheimer’s also deeply influences one’s emotions, mental processing, and physical capabilities. As our loved one progresses through the disease, we and other family members and caregivers must begin to focus on helping our loved one live in the moment, because they lose the capability to reason and live beyond the immediate.

Alzheimer’s experts offer a number of recommendations for how to ease the life of someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. These tips are intended to lower agitation, enhance focus and communication, and give your loved one a greater sense of peace and safety. Alzheimer’s can be a terrifying disease; patients live without an awareness of where they are, why they are in a strange place, and who the people around them are.

  • Keep people with Alzheimer’s active and engaged.   

Cognitive and sensory stimulation is important for them. Check to see if your community offers adult day care for
those with dementia programming. Involve them in simple family chores. Create a small indoor garden for them to
tend or set up a paint studio.

  • Focus on process and not results.   If your parent does something incorrectly, don’t correct them. If your father begins eating with his fingers, let him. People with dementia need to feel that they are accepted and loved without judgment and are part of a group. If Mom folded the laundry wrong, thank her and do it over later when she can’t see you. If Dad cleaned the bathroom poorly, thank him with a smile and sincere tone and finish the job later, when he’s not around.

  • Let your loved one feel useful.

    Depression often occurs in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Experts estimate that up to 40% of those with Alzheimer’s struggle with depression. Your loved one is aware of their illness and feels as if they are no longer useful. Allow them to contribute—cooking, simple home repair jobs, helping with shopping or laundry, emptying the dishwasher, etc.

  • Never argue. Always agree and meet them where they are.

    Join them in the moment, in their reality, when you talk to them, especially when answering questions. For instance, “I haven’t seen Uncle George (who has been deceased for 7 years), but why don’t we get a snack and sit here and watch TV while we watch for him?” Rather than being a lie, this kind of answer diverts and redirects. It does not engage you and your loved one in an argument or you repeatedly answering that Uncle George is dead.  Adults with Alzheimer’s have lost adult reasoning and live in a hazy world, stripped of the ability to recognize and understand reality. Telling them the “truth” is often cruel and serves no purpose.

  • Give simple instructions.

    Offer no more than three options, and be sure than all of the options are appropriate. If you have a preferred option, list it last because the last option is the most likely to be chosen.

  • Never ask, “Do you remember?”   

    Always tell your loved one who you are and what your name is. If you reminisce with them, allow them to contribute information, but don’t ask them questions they may not have answers to. Asking questions only provides an opportunity for frustration. If you want to know what they’d like to have for lunch for instance, offer two or three options at a time.

  • Avoid things that could be upsetting.

    For many dementia patients, this means loud crowds, like basketball games, parties, or receptions. For my mother it also meant being in crowded waiting rooms. Many dementia patients also deal with Sundowning Syndrome, which means that agitation worsens in the late afternoon. My mom’s behavior quickly degraded after 4:00 in the afternoon, and she often became combative. When I took her to the doctor, we were taken directly to the exam room to wait (simple solution). And I scheduled appointments and activities for her before noon to minimize her frustration.

  • Learn what soothes.

    This might be music (hymns, vintage music, boogie, etc.), looking at pictures (children’s faces are often favorites), rocking or snuggling a life-like doll, old TV shows like I Love Lucy, or gardening. Sensory activities that calm your loved one should be a regular part of their routine. Learn what they enjoy: massage, foot rub, soft fabrics and blankets, a doll or stuffed animal, or something else.

It’s also helpful to learn about any events from your loved one’s past: Were they abused? Attacked by a pet or animal? Confined or incarcerated? Did they suffer prolonged illness? Lose a parent or sibling in childhood? Experience a near drowning? These events could become triggers for fear as their illness progresses.

Our goal as caregivers is to soothe the suffering of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This means doing all we can reasonably do to safeguard our loved ones’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being and to love them as we would want to be loved ourselves.

Partnering in Suffering

  Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

I hung up the phone and cried. I wasn’t guilty of my friend’s accusations, and my heart was broken.

At one time or another, we’ve all been unjustly accused, betrayed, abandoned, blamed, rejected, or used. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable. The world seems unjust. Our suffering seems pointless. and we often feel alone.

At times the world seems unjust

and our suffering seems pointless.

We can’t understand others’ anger because we know our words and actions were motivated by love but somehow met by misinterpretation. The result is agonizing. “What’s the point?” we may think.

God’s word promises a purpose in our suffering: to partner in Jesus’ sufferings. In other words, when we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.  “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13 ESV

When we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.

Think of it like running a marathon at the side of a friend as an encourager and co-participant. This is one of the greatest purposes of our suffering–standing with Jesus in His suffering. What a privilege!

Jesus experienced pain beyond comprehension and gave His life for me. My perspective as co-sufferer with Jesus changes my attitude when I understand I suffer out of love for and in partnership with Him.

What about you?

No More Tug-of-War: How to Get Dementia Sufferers to Cooperate

 

It was difficult to watch my mom progress through the various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes she was quiet and sedate, and at others she was combative and uncooperative. It didn’t take me long to discover that certain actions, environments, and responses triggered Mom’s agitation. For instance, keeping my voice calm and my expression smiling, even when I felt tense, helped prevent Mom’s anxiety from escalating.

Dementia patients can seem stubborn, obstinate, or lazy. They may appear mean and ornery or like they don’t want to participate in life. But those actions require choice—choices those with dementia struggle to make.

Behavioral changes occur in those with dementia
because the disease process causes brain damage.

People with dementia can’t process information (seeing, hearing, speaking) quickly or the same way they did when they were younger and healthy. They have a desire to express themselves and be engaged, as all humans do. They retain the desire to be productive and relate meaningfully far longer than they have the ability.

It’s important to keep people with dementia engaged and active. There are many reasons to keep loved ones with dementia participating in activities:

  • It gives caregivers a break
  • It can decrease agitation and fear
  • It can decrease wandering, rummaging, and asking repetitive questions
  • It helps those with dementia feel productive

The brain damage from dementia can make it difficult for people

  • to initiate activity.
  • to understand directions.
  • to make choices.

This is because it can take people with dementia up to 60 seconds to process information. This fact is important to remember when gauging simple speech with a loved one living with dementia.

While we can’t changed out loved one’s diagnosis, we can alter the way we relate to them.

Changing how we approach an elder with
dementia can improve their quality of life.

Consider some of the following steps to help make your loved one’s life easier:

  1. Think of the easiest way to explain directions or a process. Break it down into individual steps.
  2. If someone is being uncooperative, try to think from their perspective about what the problem might be.
  3. When possible, modify activities to be easier.
  4. Don’t ask when you can tell. For instance, don’t say, “Do you remember who I am, Dad?” Instead, say, “Hi, Dad. It’s me, Sharon.”
  5. Be sensitive to your tone and facial expression. It’s more important HOW you say something than what you are saying.
  6. If a word upsets them, don’t use it. My mother hated the shower, so I would say, “Come with me, Mom, I need some help,” which I needed. I needed her cooperation.
  7. If someone is frightened, don’t tell them not to be, which doesn’t help. Acknowledge their fear and tell them you will keep them safe and protect them.
  8. DON’T argue and defer to logic. Acknowledge what concerns them (“I know you miss your mother.”) and try to redirect them Let’s wait for her over here. Can you help me fold towels while we wait?”).
  9. People with dementia often respond to the question “Can you help me?”.
  10. Find or create tasks that your elder can help with: sorting laundry, folding towels, vacuuming, dusting, straightening the pantry, setting the table, etc.When possible, have your loved one do tasks with If you’re cooking, as them to chop the eggs (maybe not with a knife) mix the salad ingredients, or snap the green beans.
  11. Give instructions only one step or two at a time.
  12. Set out any items that are needed for a task.
  13. If you are asking your elder to do something, do it with them to demonstrate.
  14. Get them games, puzzles, cards, books, etc. with enlarged and simplified print and visuals. People with dementia seem to be particularly fascinated with children—books with children’s faces, TV shows featuring children, etc.

Recommended activities:

  • sorting silverware
  • dusting
  • looking through photographs
  • coloring
  • walking
  • petting a dog or cat
  • listening to music yard
  • work sorting coins or nuts and bolts
  • washing windows
  • gardening

What have you found helpful? Share it with us here.

 

 

Seven Signs Bitterness Has Become Boss

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The people I admire most don’t return anger with anger.

I recently watched a friend come under horrific false accusations. They calmly and respectfully laid down healthy boundaries, but they refused to retaliate in anger. The attacks continued for a long period of time and even increased in vitriol. Remarkably, my friend persisted in prayer for his attacker, refused to speak negatively about them, and successfully defeated bitterness.

The Bible is clear about how Christians are to handle bitterness. We’re to refuse to let it have power in our lives. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to know when it has a stranglehold on our hearts.

 

  1. We talk negatively about the other person. We may try to hide our attitude with a false agenda, but people can see bitterness, even when we’re blind to it. We get annoyed just thinking something positive about the other person. We like it when other people make snide or critical remarks about people we hold bitterness toward. Take the time to be honest with yourself. You’re not hiding anything from God.
  2. We constantly compare ourselves to the other person and get jealous. We see what other people have or how other people are treated and we think, “Hey, I deserve that!”
  3. We avoid “them.” You know what I’m talking about. Moving to the other side of the church. Dodging down another aisle at the store. Not talking to that relative any more. Not going to that group any more. We find ourselves enjoying people less and less.
  4. We’re annoyed when something good happens to “them.” Something inside us wants them to suffer because we think they’ve gotten something we deserve.
  5. We take things personally that aren’t about us. We make assumptions about things without facts. People are against us. People are talking about us. Things aren’t fair. Someone is trying to irritate us.
  6. We complain a LOT about the same things and overgeneralize perceived or actual negative experiences. We develop “tunnel vision” about a person and can only see them from our single, bitter perspective. We hold on to negative perceptions because we’ve rationalized away the positives.
  7. We think the person (or the world) owes us. We feel like we’ve been wronged, we’re owed an apology, and life is unfair.

 

So what’s the answer to bitterness?

Hopefully, we will have the honesty and integrity to see when we’ve given in to sin, repent, and take action to change our heart. Sometimes we may need prompting from the Word or from a loving, brave friend. But left ignored, bitterness will destroy us from the inside out.

Jesus gives the simple (NOT easy) solution for bitterness.

1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus didn’t see himself responsible for responding to abuse and attacks. The word revile is a strong word that literally means to “lambaste” in the manner of attacking and abusing someone. Jesus chose to trust God to make things right. He remained silent.

In the face of abuse, Jesus chose to react with peace, verbally and physically, while trusting God to judge.

Easy? Absolutely not.

Possible? Absolutely, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious choice to lay down what we falsely believe are our so-called “rights.”

He left vengeance in God’s hands. He did not become bitter. He prayed for his enemies’ repentance and best interests (Luke 23:34).

 

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

MS Awareness: What You Need to Know about MS Symptoms

Many of you know that I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2016. However, I’d struggled with demylenating brain lesions since 1999–nearly 15 years.

One of the greatest frustrations with MS is how hard it can be to diagnose it correctly. It often mimics other diseases, and people can become frustrated with a series of well-intended but wrong diagnoses (lupus, stroke, inner ear problems, other neurological diseases, Lyme disease, etc.).

The following videos are helpful in identifying common and lesser known symptoms of MS.

What to Do If You Think You or Someone You Love May Have MS

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of MS, see a doctor who can assess your symptoms and recommend a neurologist if he or she believes you need further evaluation. If symptoms persist, bring it to the doctor’s attention again.

It’s important to understand that it may take time and numerous tests to get a clear diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Doctors often use a tem called clinically isolated syndrome when someone has an experience or doctors discover a finding that indicates multiple sclerosis but does not yet meet diagnostic criteria. Doctors may also use the term possible multiple sclerosis.

Track any symptoms you may be having. Be sure to include dates. Keep a journal of the onset of any new symptoms that may have a neurological cause. With MS, everyone is different, but early MS symptoms included dizziness, vomiting, hearing problems, vision problems, a facial droop, and difficulty walking. I also had neuropathic pain in my legs and feet. The first doctors who saw me thought I had inner ear problems and Bell’s palsy or had had a slight stroke. Also, keep a record of test results.

Take someone with you to important appointments for support. Important appointments may be different for you than for me. Any appointment when I thought my doctor might confirm a diagnosis was an important appointment for me. I couldn’t trust myself to absorb information clearly and objectively. People respond to crucial information differently. It’s helpful to have someone else listening if we need a moment to absorb the idea of medication or injections or a change in diet or lifestyle.

Share your MS story with us. We love to hear from you.

For more information and support, visit the National MS Society.

 

What Is MS: Multiple Sclerosis Awareness

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

Many of you know that I was recently diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). My diagnosis came after a life-threatening appearance of a demylenating lesion in my brain stem (specifically the pons region of my brain stem) in 1999. This was followed by more than ten years where I experienced a number of bizarre, seemingly unrelated symptoms.

Although I visited a number of neurologists and other physicians, all but one seemed to find my symptoms unrelated. Several times I was told unequivocally by neurologists that I did NOT have MS. Over those years, my husband and I moved several times, and I couldn’t any establish continuity with any doctor long enough to make sense of my history of dizziness, falling down, headaches, choking, foot cramps, finger tremors, hearing loss, nausea, and a changing gait.

Then in late 2014, I developed additional neurological symptoms and was ordered to undergo a brain biopsy of a new large lesion that had appeared in and around the area of my brain stem. The neurosurgeon was confident it was a glioma, considered to be an early form of cancer. The biopsy required a crainiotomy and resection (p. 8) , which was an additional challenge to my neurological system.

Why MS is Often Misdiagnosed
My situation is not unique. Many disorders share symptoms with MS, making diagnosis difficult. Those disorders include

Lupus: can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks, and headaches
Lyme disease: fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches
Stroke: loss of vision; loss of feeling in the limbs, usually on one side of the body; difficulty walking; and difficulty speaking
Migraine: intense pain; throbbing; sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; and lightheadedness and fainting
Fibromyalgia: headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue
Conversion and psychogenic disorders: conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found
Sjogren’s disorder: dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue, and musculoskeletal pain
Vasculitis: joint pain, blurred vision, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs
Myasthenia gravis: drooping eyelids, double vision, difficulty with walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing
Sarcoidosis: including fatigue and decreased vision
Vitamin B-12 deficiency: fatigue, mental confusion, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM): fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, and difficulty walking
The National MS Society has created the following short video. It gives a simple explanation of what happens in a person’s body when they live with MS and helps us understand why the disease can be so difficult to diagnose, since MS influences every function of the brain, and therefore, the body.

The video helped me understand that because one of my largest lesions damaged the pons area of my brain, it makes sense that my breathing, swallowing, taste, sleeping, vision, hearing, balance, and walking have changed.

WHAT IS MS?