Friday, January 29, 2016

Watching the Elephants and Events in Life

I remember some elements in life’s path better than others. I am sure that is the case with most of us, though for some each moment is catalogued and remembered like it was yesterday. Some stages and events in my life are remembered as though looking through a fog; not quite as sharp as other memories might be. Our family, as a number of of you who have been following my ramblings over the past years will know, were churched people. I can remember my Grandfather sitting in Church along with some of the other deacons and those long services at special seasons of the year. There were those “other” services when missionaries came to visit and they brought items of interest including costumes, carvings and sometimes instruments from the lands they had visited. I loved the carvings and the instruments. But my favourites were the elephants. Most were small but I could see the mighty strength and the majesty of the creatures so finely replicated, in the local wood of the country from which they came.

Years later, standing on the edge of the woods in North Eastern India, I got to watch in person many times those majestic animals, that could be both gentle and kind, but also wild and dangerous. Just before a visit one year, a person had been killed by a rogue elephant in a rice paddy near where I was visiting. I learned that life could be harsh when even the most majestic of beasts could show how unpredictable and changeable their mood could become when afraid or cornered in a threatening fashion.

On each trip to India I purchased things to bring home to family. The girls wanted rings and clothing and for the boys I brought elephant carvings. My daughter Christy wanted an Indian Sari which I got for her and she has worn it with joy. My son Benjamin wanted a larger elephant than the one I had given him, so I allowed him to trade up to a larger wedding elephant that I had at home. It was a joy to see them pleased and yet I always wondered if they saw the uniqueness of the gifts as important as well, through the cultural significance of the items themselves.

In my collection I have three special elephants that communicate so much meaning for me about events in life in general. My first purchase was a group of standard elephants. They ranged in size from miniature to a medium size being perhaps 4 inches tall. They epitomized the mindset we might have of that majestic beast, so often seen in pictures or on TV. The next trip I purchased others that were quite special in a cultural sense. I had been invited to a traditional Indian wedding and saw pictures of a wedding elephant. It was beautiful and the young couple riding on it were so filled with joy and hope. Like most young married couples, regardless of what culture they are in, they were prepared to meet whatever they must face with the strength and courage of combined effort, reinforced by mutual love and support. But time changes many things and the struggle for even the simple rural couples of the Indian sub-continent, can become a trial bringing hardship and pain.

My third trip I saw something very special as I shopped in a local emporium in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). It was an elephant in the wild. These creatures are much different than domesticated elephants used in industry for logging and carriage pruposes. These elephants battle everyday against the heat, drought and the possible attack by lions and large cats of prey. This particular carving portrays the struggle with a pride of lions; one lion is on the elephants back and another is under the great creature’s foot, being crushed to death. This carving shows a real life or death struggle, and we do not know the outcome; we are only party to the conflict, the horrid truth of life at its worst. I could have left that particular carving there, and I almost did. I kept coming back to it sitting there on the display shelf and I could not let it go from my mind. Today is sits together with two or three others. One is a happy carving that my daughter brought back from Cuba to add to my elephant collection, but it typifies what we see in the images we want to think of when we consider elephants in general. Two others are wedding elephants that remind me that though there are uncertainties in life, we begin with hope and faith, coupled with joy and celebration. That
struggling elephant reminds me daily that life, though cruel, is still life and I like to think, as I look at him in that battle to survive, that he will overcome and that some other elephant comes along and helps in the battle toward victory.

I am glad that I have those carvings where I can see them every day, several times a day in fact. I often stop and pick them up; I want to feel the wood and consider the implications of their representation to everyday life. I want to remember my travels among a people, who though foreign to me culturally, were brothers and sisters in the Lord. I was a mere fringe benefit, someone who came to share the hope of Christ and train others to present the Gospel in depth and meaning, that may elude those who could not afford formal training outside their villages, or whose training was limited to that of rudimentary seminary training at best. I was not a miracle worker or a healer, just an instrument of God’s love come to serve in whatever capacity I could, in what little time I was able to stay in their country with them.

We often, perhaps too often, may feel like that elephant under attack. It does not have to be from some physically present enemy, it may be from within. There doesn’t always have to be someone who has hurt us or let us down; it can also manifests itself in low self-esteem or even in some cases a type of self-abasement for things we have done, or lived through in the past. No matter the cause, life can be hard to face on a daily basis. It is then, as the lions attack at our very soul, that we have to remember that it is Satan’s way of depleting our energy and sapping our joy. God’s word tells us in 1st Peter 5:8 that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. No matter our past or present situation, we must remember that at the core of our pain it is Satan and his ploys, conceived to destroy or to maim at the very least, that becomes our enemy.

I believe that God gives us certain blessings that we can focus on each day and be reminded that He is still in control. My favourites are as many as they are varied, but I try to be reminded to stop and take in the joy of those moments and elements of blessing when they are needed. It is not easy! I struggle daily with diminishing health, mobility and life’s unfortunate twists and turns like most other people. I have not been given a free pass that says, “Advance to go and collect $2oo like the old Monopoly game said. Life can be hard and then it can get worse, but only if we let it. Fighting back in strength beyond our normal capabilities is the key. I see that in this battle found with my elephant. His determination is built in, his battle is real and so are the possibilities that he may not win, but he fights to win nevertheless… always!

I thank God every day for the promise of His word in Deuteronomy 31:6 that says, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, He it is that goes with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you”. It could be understood that God fights all our battles for us, but that is not the case. Consider the case of David and Goliath. David went forth in faith and though he was laughed at by his family and their army and finally by this giant of a man, the enemy of God and his people; he slung a small stone and killed that giant, not by might, but by courage, in faith believing in what God could accomplish in him. We must trust that God is there in that same way for us today, as we walk amidst our own personal pride of lions or even a mighty giant looking Satan, ready to consume our joy and our lives. God gives both the courage and the victory to overcome in Him, if we are open to His peace and grace. Knowing the enemy is part of the battle, but knowing the King of Kings is more important.

Some will question the validity of belief when evidence shows that many or perhaps even most of our battles are still lost. The world cries out, “it is fate, it realism, it is just a stage and we are merely the characters on it for the sake of some reality being played out as some cruel joke by the gods”! Yet in defining the presence of gods there is an element of question that remains.  Who are these gods and what is important about that being a valid answer? Paul pointed out in Acts 17:16-34 that there were statues to some unknown god and he made it plain that this unknown god was in fact the one whom they were searching for all along… the God of Creation… the Father of all mankind and the Father of the Christ, who he came to serve and proclaim; to those who would have ears to hear and hearts to respond.

Life is all about the ups and downs. Not everyone is always down. God provides those moments of joy and we are riding the wedding elephant or sounding the trumpet of the wild and free elephant. Take some time today, if you are feeling down and exercise your right to some joy. Go to your window and look out. Look through the blandness of a winter day and see the simple truth of what is before you. Life is out there. There may be snowflakes perhaps; there are some here on days of late where I live, but they have a certain beauty to them as they float down. It may be a tree, a bird, a cloud formation in the sky or even a sound that can remind us that there is life being lived and we need to be a part of it, because God had created it for our pleasure and us for His. I am sure he is more pleased when we feel joy than when we feel stress and unrest.

Walk to the edge of yourself today. Consider the world from a new perspective. It might take a real struggle that gets you there, but believe me I can tell you from my own experience that the view from there can change your life for a moment… or a lifetime. May God richly bless your day and in doing so may you know that He cares about you… May you always know I care about you as well. Blessings my dear readers, in Christ our LORD!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My "Granny Pad Rant" or Growing Old with Respect

As people grow older, and their personal needs, along with a desire to stay in their own home increases, there is a dynamic of a two-fold stress that arises. As we look from the outside in, (as those who are mere spectators) we often conclude that the best results that could be attained would be to dislodge our seniors from their homes and move them to a more acceptable situation, where both social and medical help would be more available. This may include more suitable surroundings, where consideration can be given to special needs with health and safety concerns as a basis of justification.

This stress can surface in at least two areas. We often disregard these two factors that arise in the aging process; It is the issues of convenience versus familiarity. There had been in the not so distant past, a tendency for both family and the care-giving sectors, to opt for convenience, as seniors were rushed into nursing homes and extended care facilities. This has changed somewhat, as governments have surveyed the cost of corporate care of elders, finding the growing economic limits of this type of housing to be prohibitively expensive, and so moves were made to aid in  keeping seniors in their homes longer. Now with the limitation on public resources once again being of concern, there seems to be a move now-a-days to promote alternate avenues of care for our aging population, among the private sector; that being the promotion of “Granny Pads” and “tiny home” provision for our seniors. This first area of stress is out of concern for the seniors themselves. Convenience is important to some extent, but as we consider convenience there must be the consideration of respect for the wishes of those who are our aged, what is measured as convenient for our senior family members themselves.

A certain or sure dynamic of stress arises when the only consideration is that of uni-directional convenience. As we evaluate both the environment and personal health of our aging seniors, there are two facets of care that must be considered. In this day and age, as family members are sometimes shipped off to a distant nursing home that may be of some distance away from their family. That sounds harsh… and it is. With the aging populations of North American society there are constant stresses placed on both health and geriatric care facilities. The Canadian dynamic is a bit different in some respects, as there are two levels of care available. The first line and most important to our citizens, is the state operated nursing and extended care facilities which have been our privilege for many decades. The alternate for some, are private facilities which may be a choice for those who can afford this style of exclusive care with extended options for socialization and exercise along with personal health care as a first line supplemental base. How is convenience measured then? Is it the convenience of those facing the decision process for others, or for the convenience of those being processed? What is most important is the convenience for our seniors, not the convenience of the family, or perhaps convenience for the care giving professionals and this fact causes much stress for all concerned. How does one evaluate fairly based upon all the factors involved and then make a decision based on both practicality and prudence?

I remember years ago my parents wishing to have us boys place them in a nursing home when the time came. They clearly, at that time, did not want to become a burden to us. We were both professional men and our lives were busy and complicated in many respects. There was no clear definition of timing or circumstance around which this decision process was to begin. As the years passed, a change took place as their view to the future was totally opposite to their original wishes. My parents now wanted to stay in their own home. My Dad had been instrumental in the providing of senior’s accommodations in our area, and had accomplished having two 2 bedroom apartments placed in the extended care housing facility, that was built during his years as Chair of the Housing Authority. His plan had been that he and Mom would live there, as their need for extended care increased. This was not to happen, as it was not coordinated with my mother’s plan.

My parents finally decided one day that they wanted to stay in their own home. This second dynamic of stress for both them and for us, as their children, was that we realized that there arose this problem of familiarity. How can familiarity be a problem one could ask? Human nature gets used to a certain flow throughout a lifetime. This is both more finely developed and accentuated as we age. Daily processes become a harbour of safety and routine, a fence to help keeping on track those mundane considerations of health and happiness, for seniors it is a familiar environment that lends itself to comfort. There is routine to make sure medications are taken, meals are prepared on time and the regimen of the day, through repetition, is comforting, as well as therapeutic, in most cases. While care must be taken to watch for signs of degeneration of mental capacity, we should not be too quick to identify a bit of momentary confusion with total senility. Consider how many times we have reached for something during the day and wondered what it was that we wanted, even in our young adulthood. There are signs of more deeply seated confusion that can be noted, to help us better evaluate, and it is our responsibility to help those we love by due diligence and research, as we assist and watch. without undue stress for either ourselves or our loved ones.

We often hear people say, “There is no place like home!” and yet a normal reaction for those on the outside quite frequently is to come to the conclusion that something else, in the way of surroundings and environment, would far better serve their loved ones, in their later years. This is not a total misjudgment, if the circumstances warrant it. There does come a time, if personal care is of great concern and the availability of caregivers, to meet the personal needs of our loved ones, is lacking. I will not argue that. I would suggest, and perhaps I may be seen as naive here, that first and foremost we need to continue to do evaluations based on the desire of our aging seniors. I have seen in the past too many evaluations done by professionals, who with well-meant consideration for their clients, made their decision to report a need for relocation based solely on a 45 minute practical and verbal tests, focused on physical response times and acuity of understanding. While these tests or benchmark forms of evaluation have their purpose, there is the problem of false positives or false negative factors that must be considered. To have a stranger come into your home asking questions, and often being perceived as “demanding” responses, to both oral inquiry along with physical capability, can be daunting for seniors. Seniors do not always react well to external stresses created around such evaluations. There may be formulas in the process that allow for client’s (this is the term used by the health care-givers) state of mind, but far too often, it seems like results are calculated only using standard forms, reflecting basically the actual responses given and abilities shown, as time needed for such evaluations is an element of concern within the process itself.

I have been there and I have noted those stressed seniors personally over a 40 year period, working with not only family members but community members, as they faced this overwhelming process. I helped care for both of my parents, hands on, and I know that there are easier ways to both try to help and assure our seniors, who are our family members… yet sometimes alternate methods and foreign environments, are not the best way to go. I realize that not everyone is capable of caring for aging family members. Not everyone is in a situation that allows them to perhaps stop their own lives, to assist an aging parent, or parents, through their final days. But out of respect for our seniors, I pray that this hands-on course of care will not become a “last considered” option, as our society seemingly devalues our seniors in many respects.

 I am writing today in response to an ad found on social media for the proposing and promotion of “Granny Pods” or housing for our family members in the backyards of our homes. In this scenario they are near, but out from under foot. Seniors in this scenario are given the opportunity for personal space and privacy, but are also near enough to be cared for when care is needed. That “when needed” has always bothered me. My sick mother looked after parents and her aging in-laws until their deaths. No one knew how many times she cleaned up the messes made when their body functions failed them, the meals shared, clothes laundered and a hand was held when losses meant tears being shed and company was needed. That was “hands on”, and it was not just a chore to be grudgingly completed, it was a privilege. Years later, there were moments of exhaustion for my brother and I, as we experienced what our parents years before, had taken on as responsibility for their own parent’s care. There were times when embarrassment had to take second place, as the needs of our parents overshadowed any preconceived idea of how things would work themselves out, when the latter years of our parent’s lives came to confront us, and their care was now of prime concern, now to be a privilege and not just a necessity.

This is not meant to be a chastising of those who have made other choices for their own family members or parents. I helped my aunt get a bed in a nursing home because that is what “she” wanted at that point in her life. It was not a matter of outside evaluation and decision process… it was her decision and I was merely the convener within that process. How we perceive our seniors, and how we deal with their needs, should be made solely on their desire first wherever possible, and where that is not possible, great care in acknowledgement of their presence and importance in our lives should be taken, so that perceived alienation does not become a factor of daily life later on, for those we love.

Granny pods…. Well, if that is a consideration on the part of the senior themselves… OK! But, let’s not rush to tuck away our seniors and parents in our backyards too soon… their homes are their castles and as we evaluate the dynamic of familiarity over convenience, we must not leave out that dimension of human need that states that what is familiar to us brings comfort beyond most external supplemental care in life. If I choose to move… and I may very well do so at some point in my later years, then I pray that it may be near some family member who will choose to help care for me, not from guilt, pressure or perhaps only out of a fear for my safety. I pray that it might be with a heart of love that remembers that as a parent, I helped nurture them, as best I could through life, and that they would now do so for me, until I depart in death. That may include at some point, a decision to place me in extended care somewhere, when I am no longer manageable and their personal care for me is no longer tenable… That could be a reality, but one faced with God’s Grace.

That is what living near the edge sometimes comes to. It is not always about exploring new ground or meeting challenges that are all about our skill sets in life; one day it will be our ability to face the unwanted changes that are normal for advancing years, but foreign to us in your youth. We must prepare ourselves to walk near that edge as well. Is there a need to rush things? Perhaps not. But, like anything in life, the more homework we finish on time, and with due diligence, the more prepared we are for the test when it comes. As we walk near the edge in this respect... take time to answer some of the gnawing questions about what you want, versus what may be expected. No need to walk there alone! Walk with God at whatever level you might be in your understanding of His guidance and direction for your life. But remember this... we will all face that reality at some point ... ready or not! Personally, I do not fear what the future holds as I am too busy just celebrating the present, but I do keep in mind and practice the reality of my place before God.

May you be blessed, as you consider some of my odd rant today. Now don't go getting all depressed... I will be taken care of I am sure, even if I don't deserve it! That can be your smile for today!