When people read my story, when they learn about my 9-year journey as a caregiver with all its challenges, there’s a question that inevitably follows.
How do you do it?
First let me say, there is nothing spectacular about me. I am not naturally kind, patient or longsuffering. I was born with a sin nature, just like everyone else. But something happened along the way that changed me. And if you want to know what it is, read on.
When you look back over your life, there are people who make such an indelible impression on you that you couldn’t forget them even if you tried. Elma Noble was one of those people for me. The summer after my sophomore year in college, Elma and her family hosted me in their home while I did a summer missionary stent in Hawaii. She was a nurse and her husband served in the army. I spent a lot of time with her the first couple of weeks since her husband, son and daughter were waiting to be transported from a military base in Japan to the island of Oahu. She had a calm and caring demeanor and was genuinely interested in my life.
One day she said something I’d never heard before. There was a troubling situation that she was so burdened about, she decided to take time off work to pray about it.
At this point in my life, I’d been in church every time the doors were open. My parents had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, so I learned at a young age that God loved me, but my sin created a chasm between us. I accepted Jesus’s death on the cross as payment for my sin so I could be a child of God. I learned how to pray ever since I learned how to talk, so talking to God was not foreign to me.
But Elma was different. God was not a hobby, a family tradition or a lifestyle. He was a Being she knew intimately. I wasn’t sure what to think about this. God was to be revered and honored because He was perfect and holy. He knew everything about me, but to know God intimately felt well, weird.
Not long after this conversation, I was invited to a small prayer group in a University of Hawaii dorm room one evening. As we took turns praying, one of the other summer missionaries prayed in a way I’d never really experienced before. She prayed with passion, like she knew God in a way that I didn’t. It’s like she had a hotline to heaven and she could see God in a way I couldn’t. We read the same Bible, prayed to the same God. But something was different. She knew Him intimately.
And as strange as that seemed to me, I wanted what she had. I wanted to hear God speak to me, not just to tell me right from wrong. What I wanted but couldn’t quite articulate, was for God to show me His heart. I didn’t want to follow God because it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to go to church because I should. I wanted my life to naturally flow out of my love for God. I wanted to love Him from the deepest place inside me.
I told God this but didn’t know how to make it happen. And that was part of the problem. I had a mindset of what I could do for God. My focus had selfishly been on me. But He didn’t want me to do anything. He just wanted me to be…with Him. This made me feel vulnerable. He created me, knew everything about me, but now I was looking at Him looking at me for who I was ~ flawed. This is the place where love deepens ~ when someone sees you for who you are and loves you anyway.
I began to tell God everything. Even though He knew my thoughts before I did, I still told Him everything. Because you can’t have intimacy with someone unless you share your heart. Then I set aside time to just listen to Him, even if chunks of time went by and I heard nothing. I was learning to quiet all the thoughts in my head, like restless children clamoring for attention, so I could hear Him. And I wrote down whatever He said to me so I could remind myself and be encouraged.
My journey led me to worship in churches and meet people where intimacy with God was the goal. I learned that if I gave God my heart wounds and confessed any bitterness I had against people who’d caused those wounds, He would heal my heart. And a healed heart has more capacity to love than a wounded heart. Memories that were painful for decades are now reminders of how God healed me and removed all my sorrow.
I learned that to have intimacy with God, I must surrender. Everything. If God loves me perfectly and has the very best for me, then I am a fool to try and do things my own way, which only leads to wasted time and missed blessings. God is not some mean ogre that subjects His children to a life of turmoil and slavery. He is a God who has freedom and good things in store for us – things His children want, things His children never imagined they could have. If I’d had my way, I would have married my college boyfriend and become an attorney. And been miserable. Instead, I get to do what excites me the most ~ weave words together to encourage people.
Intimacy with God is how I do what I do. And no matter how close I am to God, I can always grow closer. When things get hard as a caregiver – really, really hard, I take some time to sit with God and let Him love on me. I listen to worship music that speaks to my soul and I soak in the truth until it’s louder in me than the stress I feel. I sing to Him. I ask Him questions and I tell Him that I love Him. I ask Him to speak to me and I keep asking until I hear from Him. Sometimes a random verse will come to my head and when I look it up, I’m amazed at how it speaks to my situation. That is His word to me. I write it down and try to marinate in it. Because it’s always what I need.
And that is how I do what I do.