by Evangelist Amy Neal
Caregiving is indeed a form of ministry that often gets overlooked. The audience is not a typical church congregation commonly associated with the ministry. We are ministering to our parents, loved ones, doctors, nurses, health aides, and others on the journey with us. I am blessed to share how caring for my mother truly became a ministry that resulted in healing for both of us.
Caring for a strong-willed parent
My caregiving assignment was unique and very challenging. I functioned as an only child while caring for my strong-willed mother after my brother’s death in March 2006. In addition to being the primary support for my mother, I assisted my mom in rearing her only grandson from afar after his dad’s death.
Proactively after her 75th birthday celebration, I relocated my mom from Baltimore, Maryland, to Cleveland, Ohio, to be closer to me so we could spend quality time together. In addition, it allowed me to monitor health issues that she had procrastinated in addressing. My mom was a licensed practical nurse. Her professional and spiritual calling as a caregiver made it difficult for me to exceed her expectations and preserve her dignity and independence. Often I employed the services and assistance of my best friend, who has 30+ years of experience in geriatric and psychiatry care. However, mom still struggled with losing control and receiving help of any kind. She was fiercely independent and feisty from an early age. This tenacity in her remained as I continued to care for her. She often said, “I am an independent woman. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it.” Seldom did she ask for assistance from me because she didn’t want to expose her vulnerabilities. She would instead ask for assistance for others and insist that she was alright.
Although I was an assertive advocate for my mom, navigating different healthcare providers and facilities tested my patience and endurance. She was sporadically compliant and cooperative, didn’t like not being in control, and hated suggestions regarding better choices. I said, “mom, you’ve given so much over the years. It’s your time to receive.” She wasn’t buying this approach. While the journey was difficult, I employed some mindset shifts that helped immensely.
Navigating stress and exhaustion
In full transparency, it was physically draining and emotionally exhausting to care for someone as strong-willed and adamant as my mom. As a licensed evangelist, I often prayed for shut-mouth grace but failed to keep silent to maintain the peace. The peace from stress and frustration that I prayed for others seemed to escape me.
Still, I learned the importance of physical and emotional boundaries. Leaving the room and taking a break during a tense interaction is okay as long as they are safe. Correcting them in a loving manner is okay when they say harsh words. You can respect your loved one while establishing boundaries.
The Importance of Family Therapy
Therapy for ourselves is important, but it is also important to involve the whole family, including the person receiving the care. My mom initially suggested that we needed family therapy. The short-term admissions in rehab facilities, incompetent home health care aides, and hospitalizations took their toll on our emotions. My goal was to improve our communication with each other.
Although my mom was very receptive to family therapy, she held a different point of view. It was challenging for me because my mom believed the therapist would tell me that I was doing things all wrong and let her have her way. However, it was good for both of us to vent our perspectives to a third party, and it ended up being instrumental in our understanding of each other. These are reasons why I strongly encourage family therapy to be a part of your caregiving experience.
Authenticity is key
I learned the importance of checking in and being authentic with your feelings. We aren’t always feeling blessed and highly favored while navigating the challenging journey of caregiving. We spend many days frustrated and wanting to give up. I can admit many times that I was genuinely mad and feeling completely overwhelmed by my circumstances. Lean into these feelings and express them to people that you trust. If someone asks how your day was, be honest. If someone asks how they can help, don’t simply say, “no, I’m fine.” Instead, say, “yes, can you stay an hour with my mom while I take a break?” Or “yes, can you bring dinner tonight?” You don’t have to keep it all together, and offers to help are often genuine. Take advantage of the help that God is sending your way.
Embracing God’s Plan
God had a plan, and this was preparation for a nonverbal sermon where I could be a living epistle to my 84-year-old saved mom. We often doubted the veracity of both our Holy Ghost infilling. One day I said, “mom, the way you act sometimes, I wonder if you have the Holy Ghost. I didn’t hear you speak (in tongues). She said, ” I’ve never heard you speak either.” It was our running inside joke. There were moments of laughter, tears, and frustration, but it truly worked for our good. I gained strength from watching her during this season.
She once said, “I asked God what I did to deserve a daughter like you.” It was the greatest compliment she could have ever given me. Many times, I felt like her actions did not reflect the gratitude expressed in this statement. However, her words helped me understand that she did appreciate all that I was doing.
My mother’s compliment provided food for thought for me to remember the positive when her actions didn’t always line up. Philippians 4:8-9 reminds us, “Summing it all up as, “friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (The Message Bible).
My lessons learned
During this season of caregiving, I learned the greatest ministry lessons: unconditional love, authenticity, and sacrifice. At her passing, I had no regrets and no unfinished business. Caregiving is the greatest platform we are privileged to mount. There’s more to ministry than a microphone and oratorical articulation. Actions speak louder than words and leave eternal lasting impressions. The effectiveness of the message is in the life we live and the service we give.
Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/caregivers-corner/