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Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

A block print by Irene Weeks, the mother of Ann Romick who also suffered from Alzheimer's

Last year, a week or so before Christmas, I flipped through our church magazine stopping at an article titled, “Be The Answer To Someone’s Prayer.”  Captivated by the thought I read the article through.

As a woman of faith and active in my church I have always striven to do those requests asked of me, but never have I through of my acts as being an answer to someone’s prayer.  I believe in prayer, that prayers are answered, and yes, I believe “angels” help many people.  My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but “me” as an answer to a prayer – it’s never even been a consideration.  So my answer would have to be – I’m not sure.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe I am, for the most part, a charitable person donating to many worthy causes, dropping money into the Salvation Army’s kettle, helping others, and I loved all of the old TV angel programs often to the point of shedding a few tears at the happy endings.  I have also been known to hand money to a guy carrying a gas can who asks for help in getting his car filled and the family back home.  “It’s a scam, Mom,” I was repeatedly told by any one of my adult sons.  “That’s all right,” I have answered.  “If it is a scam, then he has a problem, but I did the right thing in helping.”  Is that an answer to someone’s prayer – again I’m not sure – or am I a sucker for a scam?

I also received an email about a hospice physician living in Colorado who was forced out of a rainy evening’s traffic into a gas station because his car kept stalling. (I’m not sure if the writer was a man or woman as it was written in first person, and it really doesn’t matter.  However, for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to the person as male.)

Somewhat exasperated he looked around only to find himself stalled near a very troubled woman who appeared to have fallen down next to a gas pump.  Asking if she needed help, the tearful, haggard woman said she didn’t want her children to see her cry.  Our Good Samaritan noticed the older car filled with stuff and three kids in the back – one in a car seat.  Summing up the situation he took his credit card and sliced it through the machine nearest her gas pump saying, “I’m the answer to your prayer.”  She looked at him with surprise, and he followed with, “You were praying, weren’t you?”

As the car filled he went next door to a McDonald’s coming back with two large bags of food for the kids and a cup of coffee for her.  The kids tore into the burgers and fries like young wolves.  The woman shared her story of being abandoned by a worthless boy friend, and was now hoping to make a new start by returning home to her parents with whom she had been estranged for more than five years. They were looking forward to her and the children with open arms, and offered to help until she got back on her feet.

Feeling much better, she thanked her benefactor, and then asked, “What are you – some kind of angel?”  “No,” he chuckled.  “This time of year the angels have a lot to do, so sometimes God has to use regular people.”

He was the answer to her prayers.  And by the way, when he tried to start his car the motor turned over immediately and purred like a kitten.

Christmas: the time of year when we begin to think about being kinder, more charitable, more aware of mankind and their problems, and thoughtfully wonder, “How can I help others?”  And then we get busy writing cards, shopping, wrapping, getting presents ready for mailing so loved ones will receive their packages on time.  In a whirlwind of doing good, we often find excuses for not taking the time to think of doing “more good.”  Such was the case one blustery evening a week before Christmas last year.

It was near dusk, but light enough outside to see the wind blowing the never-ending rain of leaves from our trees when the door bell rang.  Before me stood a man in his 30s holding a rake; he spoke with an accent, but his English was good.  “May I remove the leaves from your lawn for a donation?” he asked.  My thoughts were not kind. Ken was in a bad mood, and I was busy trying to prepare dinner, needing to get back into the kitchen before something burned.  “Oh bother” I thought, “I just raked them yesterday, and I’m busy, and my husband has Alzheimer’s, and I need to see if he’s getting into something, and you’re here to rake leaves?  Why now?”

I all but said, “No thank you,” just to have him gone, and then I remembered the magazine article and the email tale of the physician and the down-trodden woman – whether it was fact or fiction – it didn’t matter — it was a beautiful story.  Before I could speak my uncaring thoughts, sending him away with his rake, a kinder, gentler thought raced into my mind.  “Perhaps you can be an answer to his prayer.”

“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. There’s a recycle can next to the house.  Put the leaves in that.”  Suddenly, I felt better, less harried – less annoyed – a little more in tune with the season.

From my purse I took two matching bills placing each in a front pocket of my jeans.  If he did a sloppy job I would give him one, I decided.  For a good job he’d get both.  Returning to the kitchen it wasn’t long before the bell rang once again.  It was darker now, but still with enough light to see the lawn was perfectly clear except for the still-fluttering leaves falling to the ground.  With both hands I reached into my pockets and handed him the two bills.  “Good job,” I added.  “Thank you,” he said with a broad smile, “and have a Merry Christmas.”

In the realm of Sister Teresa’s life it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but maybe he didn’t need a big deal.  Perhaps he needed just a few more dollars – for whatever.  Was I an answer to his prayer?  I don’t know, but I felt good.

This year of 2010 has not been my favorite year.  There has been illness and death among our friends and family.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s has continued to plateau downward making his care increasing difficult, and the automobile accident in February which nearly took my life are not experiences I would like to repeat  Yet from the ashes of sadness and disaster I have found blessings.  And yes, I must acknowledge the abundant answers to my prayers through – not only God’s angels – but through the human angels He has sent to answer not only my prayers, but the prayers of those near and dear to me.

What better example is there about being the answer to the prayers of others than words from the Lord Himself as he reminds his disciples in the Bible (King James) —  Matthew 25:35-40 when he says, “For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”

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A few months ago while still healing from major injuries, I browsed through a stack of magazines, mostly untouched. However, as I shuffled through the pile, I noticed my church magazine, the pages already dog-eared, was opened to an article intended to be the next read. Interesting, I thought picking it up and noting the eye-catching title, “GRATITUDE,” then asking, “Was this a message for me?” Certainly, I felt gratitude. After all I was alive and recovering, and yet I was nudged at times with, “Poor me.  Angry me.  Why me?”  Perhaps I needed to ponder about gratitude a bit more deeply.

Written by a practicing psychologist who had researched the use of gratitude interventions in promoting well-being, he found that by interceding at appropriate times during counseling, thoughts of gratitude were helpful in treating depression and other problems. The doctor also advised that acknowledging thankfulness would be helpful to everyone’s mental health no matter how grave their situation. As a result of being grateful, we could all lead richer, fuller lives.

He also defined gratitude: a positive experience when we recognize gifts or blessings and feel thankful.  It sounded so overly simplistic, yet I continued reading.  Soon I began to reflect on this later portion of my life concentrating on the positive rather than the negative.

In my own defense I counceled me that I have always been prayerful.  As a child, my teachers of faith described prayer as like a sandwich:  a top and bottom piece of bread, or better known in addressing Diety as a beginning and an ending.  Inside of the prayer sandwich we were to express our thankfulness first.   “Before we ask our Heavenly Father for anything,” he explained, “we must always remember to thank Him for what He has given us.”  That could be the peanut butter portion of the sandwich.  The teacher followed giving thanks with permission to ask — the jam or jelly.   As an adult I have wondered if this pattern for prayer was a bit irreverent, but it is such a good pattern, one which I have followed all of my life, and long ago I put aside any thoughts of peanut butter and jelly when making supplication.  Perhaps now, I needed to be more outreaching in my gratitude. 

I recalled from the past that Oprah devoted the better part of a year’s programming to gratitude and journal writing. At the time, I too was caught up in the thought process of making myself more aware of blessings, but never kept a specific journal. Recently, in her magazine, Oprah admitted that through the years she had become so consumed with work there was no time left to write about the good happenings of each day. Reading from an old journal she recognized those great years from before, and commented on how happy she had been.

 The author of the “GRATITUDE” article encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal as well, with the purpose of recording several remembrances each week, but not just in list form. He suggested describing the experience, recording thoughts and emotions for the purpose of savoring and reliving what you had experienced.

In reviewing the past six years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, battling the war which is never won, I remember my friend, Madalyn, who had also battled the same war, until her husband, Darwin, died three years ago. “It wasn’t all bad,” she would tell me, and we often laughed about some of the funny things Alzheimer’s victims do and say. She reminisced about trips they had taken, visits with family which brought joy to her and momentary pleasantries to him. Her happier times with Darwin were similar to mine with Ken. These were all positive experiences: gifts and blessings recognized and thankfulness felt: gratitude.

When I came to the paragraph titled “Express Prayers of Gratitude,” I decided that would be my new beginning. As I continued my recovery in the quietness of my daughter’s home I reflected on being grateful for little things:   One at a time I could lift each foot, place it on the opposite knee and tie my own shoes, I could shower alone and I was beginning to feel confident once more. I wasn’t searching for big, dramatic epiphanies.   Deliberately, I looked for small things to appreciate because there are so many, and small blessings are often overlooked.  Every morning before I struggled out of bed I would look up at the ceiling — still wearing my neck brace and unable to kneel in formal address to Diety — close my eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude without pleading for any favors. (The favors could be requested in later prayers.) My morning prayers would be only of gratitude. I was amazed by the multitude of gifts taken for granted  for which I had to be grateful.

I have been home now for more than two months and my gratitude list grows each day. Ken’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, but because of his caregiver, Ben, I have a sense of freedom. If I write for a few hours during the day, I know Ken is all right. Ben is with him, and I can nap undisturbed because Ben is here. I am grateful for Ben and for his relief, David. I am grateful for each new day, and my growing ability to actually help Ben with Ken. I am eternally grateful for family and friends. I won’t say I’m grateful for Ken’s illness, because I am not.  I detest this dehumanizing disease and how it has robbed us of so many good years. However, I am grateful for my coping mechanism, my compassion and awareness of others who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other devastating illnesses. I am grateful that through my writing I may help someone else; letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. I am grateful for Ken and the wonderful years we have spent together. Every so often, I see a spark in his eye and a smile. For a moment he is the man I married. Feeling gratitude and offering thanks each morning for all of this and more gives me strength.  Each day I can and will go forward into our daily battle, beginning with a prayer of gratitude.

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Just after I finished my previous Blog, “Through The Storm,” I received a lovely email from my cousin, Penny, in Oregon.  I could see by the enormous block of addresses that she had, indeed, sent it to all of her friends and family.  It was one of those emails worth forwarding titled “I Pray For You Enough…..”  After reading it my thoughts were, “How nice.”  I had received a similar one a while back titled “I Wish You Enough……”  The contents were the same, the story line the same but a little different in that the prayer one involved a mother and her daughter, while the wish email was about a father and daughter.  I wondered if an original story had been written by the talented writer anonymous, and during the little email’s travels over the waves of the internet, the various recipients tweaked it just a bit to suit their own fancy, with change happening in small increments.  In any event I’ll briefly relate the story as if she were telling it:

“At the airport I was waiting for my flight when I noticed two women standing nearby.  So close, in fact, that I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.  As the daughter said goodbye before rushing to her flight she said, ‘I pray for you enough……’  The mother returned the phrase, ‘and I pray for you enough……’ Tearfully, the daughter scurried off to catch her plane as the forlorn mother watched.  I could tell she was near tears, but I didn’t want to intrude.  However, she caught my eye, knowing that I must have heard their conversation and asked, ‘Have you ever said goodbye for the last time?’  I answered that I had, many times.  Tears began to flow as she sat down next to me, her sad words revealing that she had a fatal health condition and her daughter’s next visit would be for her funeral.

“While her explanation allowed me to know she was dying, I wondered about the phrase used by both women.  Timidly, I asked, ‘What did you mean when you both said I pray for you enough?’  She went on to tell me of a family tradition which had been passed along for generations, praying that their loved ones would have enough to meet their needs and to bring  joy to their lives.  Then, as if memorized she said,

     ‘I pray for you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.

     ‘I pray for you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.

     ‘I pray for you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.

     ‘I pray for you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.

     ‘I pray for you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

     ‘I pray for you enough loss to appreciate all you possess.

     ‘I pray for you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbyes.'”

Seven simple prayers covering just about anything one would need, except when life changes dramatically as it does with illness.  The mother was ill.  What would she need in the way of, “I pray for you enough……” for her condition?  And I thought of AD and Ken, and myself as a caregiver.  Not only us and our needs, but the needs of caregivers all over the world who have accepted this awesome responsibility of caring for the dying no matter what the cause.   (Please note I am not including prayer for healing because I’m only considering terminal illness where there is no hope.)  So for the patient, these six are a beginning:

I pray for you enough peace of mind to get you through the day without — or at least with only a minimum — of anger, agitation and mood swings.

I pray for you enough memory so you can take care of your personal needs: a shave and a shower without help.

I pray for you enough friends and family so you can talk, even if it’s only ramblings.

I pray for you enough strength so you can walk a short distance with your caregiver, and get from one room to another without help.

I pray for you enough respect and love from others, that they remember who you were and not what you have become.

I pray for you enough medication to keep you free from pain, to calm your nerves and allow you to relax and sleep.

As a caregiver, the most often-asked question I hear is, “What can I do for you?”  I have “Ken sitters” a phone call away.  I have friends who drop by with a meal for two, cake, a plate of cookies, a book to read, Monday night dinner at Jayne’s house, phone calls so I can sit and chat, friends who invite us to social events even if Ken acts strange, notes in the mail telling me they are thinking of us.   How blessed I am, but even with such awesome support we caregivers need all the help we can get — including prayers.  I have listed a few for starters:

 I pray for you enough sleep and rest.

I pray for you enough knowledge, skills, support and help in handling stress.

I pray for you enough friends and family with soft shoulders to cry on.

I pray for you enough patience to get through the day.

I pray for you enough memories of the good times in life and enough erasers to dim some of the worst AD has to offer.

I pray for you enough love and devotion from all those who know you, and enough knowledge to know you are cherished.

I pray for you enough faith to remind you (thanks Lynne) that there is life after Alzheimer’s and all of those other disease horrors.

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 When Ken and I first married, television was brand new with a lot of wrestling and a small handful of almost good variety shows.   That was about it for TV, with radio still being the major source of home entertainment for most people.  Gravitating to the living room after dinner, I recall our family members easing into his or her own comfortable spot, settling in and relaxing while tuning in our favorite programs.  With great fondness I remember my father’s chair next to the radio so he could push the buttons of the big Philco console.  My mother always had some sort of hand work to do (such as darning my father’s socks) while we all listened to an array of wonderful shows:  Lux Radio Theater, I love A Mystery, Bob Hope, Jack Benny or Fibber McGee and Molly.   Who needed to see a screen to follow the plot when our brains created the scenery, did the makeup, the costumes and even the set, placing the entire production on the never-ending stage of our individual minds. 

Moving into our first apartment where Ken spent most of the evenings studying formulas and math for his engineering classes, there were a few radio programs we both enjoyed, thereby allowing him to pull away from his books for a half hour or so.   One of our favorites was about problem solving.  Not the cute family drama-sit coms of today, but stories of life struggles; accounts of ordinary people.  The component used for their problem solving was their own personal discovery of the power of prayer.  Try though I may, the program’s name is long forgotten, but not their sign-off line which I have remembered all of these years:  “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams.”  I believe that with all my heart.

At times, I have noticed while watching Oprah a guest will say something like, “And then I prayed.”  Oprah will counter the statement with, “Why was your prayer answered and the prayers of others who are equally deserving not answered?”  Good question.  Garth Brooks had a song out several years back titled, “Sometimes I Thank God For Unanswered Prayers.”  So what does that mean?  For me it means that prayers are answered, but often we don’t like the answer we get, at least not at the time, as illustrated in Garth’s song.   It’s later that we understand the Father’s wisdom.  And sometimes our Father just says, “No,” and how often He answers in the negative because the die is already cast.  Our ways are not His ways, nor is our understanding His understanding.

I am a person of faith, but if I tallied up my life time of prayers I would be remiss in constant prayer.  Perhaps I would be kinder to myself if I said I was remiss in constant formal prayer.   I doubt I have ever gone through the day without some small needy prayer, quick thank you prayers and  hurried blessings on the food.  When life is bright and sunny it becomes so easy to take everything for granted, forgetting from where all blessings come; and then like others, I find myself turning back to The Father when that same life gets dark and dreary. 

It was a turbulent time when my adolescents passed through their teen years and how often Ken and I angst over their choices which we knew would bring them unmeasured sorrow.   One day, while driving to work, feeling particularly melancholy, an incoming storm poured down rain from the sky as if the Heavens were weeping with me.   I adjusted the wipers so I could better see the road and in so doing, the storm seemed to ease.  “Not really,” I told myself, “the storm is not gone, the windshield wipers are helping you see the way more clearly.”   The thought, “Just like prayer,” popped into my mind.  “Prayer and windshield wipers?”  I pondered aloud.  It seemed almost insulting to Diety to compare communication with Him to a part from an automobile, and yet the two shared that commonality.  Our family was going through one of life’s storms and prayer, like the auto part, while not removing the problem, guided us step by painful step through that particular storm until it had cleared.

When Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I spent a lot of alone time weeping and praying.  Never did I ask my Heavenly Father to perform some miracle and take away Ken’s AD.  Obviously, this was another of life’s storms we had to bear.   Instead I prayed for courage and strength to see us through this awful thing.   There were, and are, hectic days which pass in a blur with nothing accomplished except caring for him: getting him shaved, showered, dressed and fed.  Days when I walk on egg shells to avoid his outbursts, or giving in to my own anger and frustration, spewing out hurtful remarks and despicable words, which prior to AD would have never crossed my lips; afterward glancing toward Heaven and whispering, “I’m sorry, Father, forgive me.” 

And then there are days when the first line and title of a favorite hymn runs through my mind giving me councel, “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning, Did You Think To Pray?”  So I strive to rekindle the habit and, truly, it helps.  Does it remove the storm?  Of course not.  But on those days when I pray with real intent, having faith in Christ, I am calmer, more patient, more appreciative of those rare moments when he is Ken and he knows me and loves me.  And I pray for him, that he might have some peace in his tortured mind, and I am reminded of the last line of the hymn, “So when life gets dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”

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