Monday, December 8, 2008

Taking Care of You

We live a “me” society. It is evident everywhere we turn. Ever been to an after Christmas sale? Have you ever driven in rush hour traffic? Ever asked for volunteers to help with a worthwhile project? It’s amazing how very selfish people can be.

Anytime you read about care giving, one of the major topics will be “Taking Care of You”. If you’re a Christian woman, you may be tempted to pass over those pages and go on to the next chapter, “Being the Best Caregiver You Can Be”. Well, I’m thinking that maybe someone should combine those two chapters! Learning to “take care of you” may very well lead to “being the best caregiver you can be”.

Now, while I must admit, despite some searching, I could not find any scriptures that read, Take care of you. But, I do know that the scriptures teach that we are to care for our own….our home, our family, our loved ones, and that we are to love others as we love ourselves. Here is a short list of scriptures that repeat that theme.

Leviticus 19:18 and 34
Matthew 19:19; 22:39
Luke 10:27
Romans 13:9
Galatians 5:14
James 2:8

Now, I’m not going to argue scriptures but I do know this, we must first care and love ourselves before we can care for and love others. People can and often do take things to extremes, including caring for self. This is not what I am talking about. I’m talking about caring for our own, personal needs, very real needs that each of us were given by God Himself.

Try seeing it through this word picture. Suppose you had a car that you used everyday. This vehicle was the one you used to do all your errands….grocery shopping, doctor visits, trips to the Post Office, getting to and from work and church. Now, what would happen if you failed to add gasoline, or if you failed to change the oil? You would very soon find yourself in big trouble. You would be stranded on the side of the road, out of gas and unable to accomplish everything on your “To Do” list. You wouldn’t be able to care for your home, your children, your husband. Don’t change the oil and even I, an auto novice, know that you will destroy your engine and will find yourself on the road to a major repair. We’re talking big bucks.

If we understand the importance of maintaining a vehicle, why can we not see the importance of maintaining ourselves? I mean, seriously, do you think that we can neglect our own needs and not find ourselves staring at a huge repair bill?

As caregivers, we neglect to care for our very basic needs. We feel it nobler to “wear out than to rust out”. We think if we take a moment to do something for ourselves, the world will self destruct. Doctors appointments, hair cuts, clothing shopping, these errands aren’t just fun, they are necessary. Taking time for peace and quiet, time for reflection and devotion, prayer and thanksgiving. We even need time for good, pure enjoyment.

For me, there were two obstacles to caring for myself. First, I found it extremely difficult to ask someone else to stay at home with my husband while I left the house. It’s difficult to ask for and to receive help. If my older children stayed at home with their dad, I felt as though I was shunning my responsibility to be there for my husband and at the same time robbing my children of doing the things that they wanted to do. Invariably, our schedules would collide and someone had to give. It was just easier for me to say, “Its ok, I can always do it next week.” I hated to ask friends because I felt that it wasn’t their responsibility, and I wasn’t going to pay someone! I mean, really. That’s just too much.

Secondly, if I am honest, I really didn’t care to be around people. Once you’ve shut yourself up from the world, it is difficult to emerge from your safe cocoon. I just “didn’t want to bother with it”.

That was a sure sign to me that I had a real problem. It was a sign that I had neglected myself for so long that I no longer wanted to be around the human race. Honestly, I felt like an outsider every where I went. I felt very alone.

If you have children, surely you remember the days when you just felt overwhelmed by the diapers, the meals, the laundry and the constant “why mama”? Remember those days of feeling like you just needed a break? Remember longing for nap time, so that you could have a few minutes to yourself?

I talked to girlfriends with small children and we all agreed, we needed a time out. We would call our mothers, our friends or if we had to, hired a babysitter. No one thought we were selfish, no one accused us of being wimps because we couldn’t handle life with a couple of kids. You know why? Because everyone has been there. Anyone with a child or two knows how vital it is to get away and renew.

I remember leaving my children with my mom. I knew she would care for them. I knew that though they cried and “missed me”, it wouldn’t kill them. Many times my husband and I left them with Grandma and just got away from it all, and spent some time alone. It was like a breath of fresh air. And, the return? Actually, we couldn’t wait to see the kids again. We loved them and yeah, we even missed them. I was a better mother to my children after those breaks.

Why do we think that things would be any different when it comes to caring for our loved ones? It can be overwhelming. Too much to do and not enough time or energy to do them well. We get worn out and need time to rejuvenate. Just as people with jobs have days off and vacations, we too, need to find some time off. A time when we can safely leave those we care for, even if just for short periods. A few hours here and there, and maybe even a trip alone.

I have begun to see that I need one day a week off. One day where I don’t have to account for every little thing I do. Some weeks, it might only get a half day, but I need it. I may get my hair cut, have a pedicure, stop by a bookstore, visit a quilt shop, even a trip to the Farmer’s Market….the only rule? No stressing. No worrying about making it here or there on time. No schedule. Just enjoy being me and doing the things I love.

There are things from your former life that you enjoyed. You know, your life BC….Before Caregiving. You loved reading, writing, quilting, painting, exercising, volunteering, camping, hiking, concerts, going to Bible studies. Try to remember….are there still some things that you say, “I wish I could…..”. Well, why can’t you? Find one thing and make a commitment to yourself that you are going to devote 2 hours a week to it. Find a way to work it into your schedule. Then MAKE IT WORK. Call someone, a friend, a relative, or if you have to, hire someone to sit with your loved one while you take the time to do something you love. You’ll be shocked at how refreshing, how rejuvenating it is.

Take an hour each week to spend alone, reading your Bible in a quiet place, write in a journal, pray, just reflect. When I talked with my counselor, she said it like this. We have external noise and internal noise. When your life is busy with caring for someone, when you live with people, when you have responsibility, that is external noise. The responsibility, the outside pressure to get things done. Internal noise comes from the stories that we play over and over in our mind. The story that I’m not doing a good job. That I’m not qualified. I can’t do it. It’s too hard. We need time to shut out the noise. We need time to read the scriptures and let them minister to our hearts, the Great Physician’s Salve. Medicine to an aching heart.

The place I chose as my place of quiet was a nearby park. Near water, under trees. As I sat and opened my Bible for the first time there all alone, I couldn’t even read. I cried. My heart was flooded with emotion. The park was not a particularly beautiful park, but just being outside under God’s creation was amazing. The trees, the birds, the sound of the water flooded my heart and I began to open up to the Lord in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I was only gone for one hour, but the medicine had begun its work. Each time I left the house, I felt a burden lift. As I arrived at the park, I knew that the Lord was going to meet me there and speak to me. The notes I took might not make a really great sermon, but the Lord was faithful to meet my needs. I had some revelations, some words from the Lord that only He and I will ever know.

I have also taken time alone, and spent a few days away. One time, I went to a Christian Encampment and rented a small apartment. I took my own food, my quilts, handwork, Bible, journal and enjoyed some time away. I spent three days and two nights. I slept as late as I wanted (which ended up being not as late as I thought I would sleep). I took walks, I read, and quilted. I just was……Some thought it was terrible. Maybe that was because they aren’t where I am. But, I need time to be by myself. I have become my own best companion. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine that much time in Solitary Confinement; I wanted to be with people. But now I relish any time I spend alone. If you aren’t a loner, try taking three or four girlfriends and renting a house in a pretty area and have a two day slumber party. Movies, nails, handwork, whatever you and your best friends enjoy. The point is, find what sounds fun to you and do it.

If all this sounds like too much, start with 30 minutes on the back porch, uninterrupted. Take a walk around the block. Go out and pull a few weeds and pour your heart out to your Father in heaven. Start with reaching out with all that is within you to the Great Physician and ask Him, no….beg, that He do a work in your heart. Oh Father, be near me, one moment at a time.

2 comments: TN said...

Paula, lovely post. I went to the library today to get the book "Boundries." It was checked out but she will call me when it comes back in. I think what I miss more than anything is going to my daughters and staying a few days. (by myself) I am going to have to learn all over again how to "take care of me." It won't be easy!

Megan said...

This is so very true!! I saw it happen with my Mamma, I could see her in desperate need of some away time and it was hard to work out for various reasons (she sometimes felt guilty about it, schedule conflicts etc) but we tried to make it happen for her. I imagine the road is much more difficult for those whose families' don't recognize the need for the caregiver to have a break. Sometimes we had to force Mamma. :-)