November 24, 2015

Choosing to Be Happy Today

It is a somber day here in Phoenix. I am feeling spent, worn, and used up. I did sleep well last night, and I woke up feeling fine (physically), which is such a change for me. I know it is because today is Day 2 of my fall break. I am so blessed to have this week off. I needed the rest, and I needed to focus on my last "to-do's" before my semester at Regent ends. I am in the middle of a major Theology paper, and I have some small tasks for my History of Communication class (as a TA). Overall, I feel solid about my finish. I feel confident that I will get an A in this class. My professor is a hard man to please, but he is genuine and caring, and I know that he will fairly evaluate my scholarly effort. My prayer, of course, is to finish this class well. I want to finish strong. My good friend and colleague, Amanda Jo, posted this reminder to our Blackboard course yesterday:

"All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” -William Bradford

I love this quote. It reminds me that nothing worthy of our effort will be easy. The best things are always worth the wait, as the saying goes, and I think this holds true for achievement as well. When you overcome obstacles, difficulties, and even tragedies, you become stronger than you thought possible. In short, you see what you are made of, and you realize just how "tough" you really are inside. Knowing what you are made of, the tough stuff on the inside, is important. When you know that you can withstand trial, hold off temptation, and overcome most any tragedy, well then you really know what you can and cannot do in this life. So in truth, the things we value most, hold dearest to us, and work hardest for, often are the things that cause us to grow, to develop, and to change. I know this is true in my life...let me explain...

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I actually accomplished a lot. I worked very hard on my major paper, completing the entire history section, and I felt good (overall) about my progress. My paper is due tomorrow, so today's task is to complete the critical analysis and the theory section so that I can be ready to conclude, proof, and edit tomorrow. I am confident that I can do this, and I am feeling good about the shape and style of my paper (thus far). I am trusting this paper to the Lord since it is difficult for me to write. It is on Peter Abelard, a 12th-century philosopher, and I am struggling some with cohesiveness and a solid thesis. I know better than to write a paper without a thesis, so my prayer is that I can get everything written that is needed AND THEN revise my working thesis to be more on point. I am praying the Lord works this out for me since this paper is worth 60% of my class grade. I know He has me well-covered, and I know He knows me well. Selah!

Despite my good progress, my day didn't go as well as it could have due to a argument early in the day. I hate arguments. I hate to raise my voice. In fact, I will do most anything to avoid contention, but yesterday, well the odds were stacked against me, and I blew my cork. Yes, I let my tongue loose, and frankly, I said things I should not have said. I rarely do this, and I mean that sincerely. I simply felt defensive, and whenever you feel you have to defend yourself, well, that is when you tend to say things that would be better off left unsaid.

My morning started well, and in fact, I spent the early hours alone at home. My son was at school, and my parents were off at doctor's appointments. The house was quiet, just the way I like it, and I was working on the computer most of the morning. My parents arrived home around 11, and I made the mistake of mentioning a phone call I had received earlier that *suggested* my Mom had made other plans for the morning. Note: This is happening more frequently due to my Mom's dementia. She doesn't remember that she agrees to volunteer to help or to meet someone or to do something. My Dad tries to keep her calendar up to date, but Mom doesn't always tell him when she makes these plans. It is not a big deal normally because whatever she chooses to do typically is not important, per se. I just mean it is something for her to do, to help out, and not a doctor's appointment or critical appointment that she cannot miss. I handled the mishap with the person who called, explaining the mixup and that Mom wouldn't be able to attend due to her doctors appointments in the day. The caller was kind and understanding, so we left the conversation well in hand. 

The problem, I think, stemmed from my Dad's unwillingness to accept that he wasn't in control of the situation. I really think this is what the root cause was of the conflagration.  [An aside: I will discuss this more in detail further on, but for now, know that this new "revelation" has come to me overnight. Yesterday, unfortunately, I was clueless as to the the cause.] The situation started rather innocently, but in short order, erupted into a violent volcanic explosion in no time at all. The problem centered on my futile attempt to share my earlier phone call conversation with my parents so that my Mom would know what had happened, just in case she wanted to call the ladies from Church who were involved in the event to explain why she was absent. The issue turned sideways very quickly because my Mom couldn't remember what I was talking about until midway through my explanation. As I explained the call, she remembered the event and said, "Oh, I remember. I had volunteered to help the ladies stuff stocking today!" 

It was right in the middle of this somewhat non-offensive conversation, simply the relaying of factual information, that my Dad started to attack me. I can only explain it as such because it couldn't have been anything else. He refused to listen to what I was saying, calling me, in essence "a liar" because what I was saying didn't match with his understanding. I did try to calmly address the issue, calmly explain what I was saying, but it just didn't help. He refused to listen to me, and when I asked twice if I could finish, I was told to be silent. I didn't get it. I didn't understand what was happening to me, and why my Dad, who can be prickly on even the best of days, would behave so strangely. It was as if something was motivating him to attack me, to egg me on.

My fault, of course, was in the fact that I didn't walk away. I should have walked away. I should have said to my Mom, "Why don't you call Miss Z back?" and just leave it at that. Furthermore, I could have just left the message on the answering machine, rather than interrupting the caller. I only did it because she was coming to the house to pick up my Mother, and I didn't want her to make a special trip over here and then find that my Mom was not home. I figured I could either answer the phone and tell her the story or I could wait until she showed up at the door. It was one of those "either/or" scenarios, and I chose to keep this dear woman from making an unnecessary trip.

Psalm 39:1b - I said to myself, "I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me."

I regret my actions, my tone of voice, and the words I allowed to flow from my mouth. I regret that I behaved so badly. But...

I couldn't understand why I was being so vehemently attacked. Why this stupid conversation sparked a controversy is beyond me, and honestly, it is only today, after reflecting and thinking deeply about it, that I believe I was spiritually attacked. Furthermore, I believe that it was my Dad's perceived lack of control that sparked his willingness to "participate" in this argument. The combination, in my view, provided the fuel for the fire, so to speak, and now I am better able to see how everything worked together to great this "perfect storm."

In hindsight, I see that my Dad's behavior, while not out of character completely, was for all intents and purposes, a reflection of his perceived inability to control my mother's deteriorating health and her subsequent slide further into dementia. The fact that I was the target is unfortunate, but in truth, it seems that this is "par for the course" these days. The trigger incident was insignificant, and unfortunately, happens far to often in our home now that Mom has mild-moderate Alzheimers. It is just part of our normal daily life, and typically, we just go with the flow. My Mom is not able to remember details or events, and often struggles to recall instructions within minutes of the conversation. It is a fact of life for us, and we are all doing our best to deal with her condition.

So rather than being the sympathetic daughter I am normally, yesterday, I lost my cool, and I rebuked my Dad. I've been thinking about my behavior since it occurred, and I am sorry that I allowed the enemy to hurt me, to press me, and I, in turn, allowed myself to explode and retaliate at my father. 

Coming to Terms with this Illness

As I think about the days ahead, I know that there will be more and more of these "incidents" simply because of the nature of this awful illness. My Mother is losing ground daily, and while she is still able to handle some every day living (cleaning, laundry, etc.) she spends almost all of her day reading or watching TV. She doesn't cook, isn't able to cook anymore, and she can no longer drive. She talks on the phone with friends, and she keeps herself busy around the house. She is a shadow of her former person, a lively, engaging, and compassionate person. When I look at her, I see her frailty, and I see how far she has slipped away. She still laughs, and she still is "there," but I see the rapid change in her health, and sadly, I see the end coming soon.

Furthermore, when I look at her, I see how sickly she appears. Her bout with breast cancer has left her struggling. She has recovered from the disease, so say the doctors, but she has to have repeated trips to the surgeon to remove excess fluid from her incision area. This is the fifth visit, and each time she returns home, she looks so unwell. The procedure is painful, and she is uncomfortable for days on end. It seems that just as soon as she starts to feel a little better, the fluid returns, and then the discomfort, and finally, the repeat process to the doctor starts.

All of this is taking a huge toll on her life. And, while she is not bedridden at this time, she seems so pained, and this coupled with her memory loss, just zaps her strength. Her Leukemia is in check, which is a good thing, but to see her slumped in the recliner sound asleep most of the day, well, it is difficult to take. I try my best to keep the house running, but with my heavy teaching schedule and my doctoral course load, sometimes the pressure is too much for me. I lose my cool simply because I am tired, and I am overloaded. The last thing I need is to be accused or attacked for no reason.

With all this in mind, I am still faced with my response to my Dad, and my understanding of the situation at hand. What do I do about it? How do I handle this type of "thing" going forward? My good friend gave me some wise counsel last night, and I appreciate his response to the situation. He said to me that the only way to solve the problem was for me to look at what I could do rather than to focus on what others needed to do. Let me explain...

My problem is two-fold, really. One, I am dealing with spiritual attack; and two, I am dealing with the ramifications of my Mom's declining health, my father's attempts at caring for her, and my living arrangement (temporarily) in their home. I cannot expect my Dad to change his behavior or attitude at this late day. He is, after all, 82, and while he is prickly and stubborn, there are times when he is genuinely caring and compassionate. He is a difficult person to live with, for sure, and I say this all the time, I honestly do not know how my Mom put up with his antics for nearly 57 years (suffice it to say, she has). Still, I need to address these problems, the underlying problem that exists between me and my father, because putting my Mom's condition aside, and accepting the spiritual warfare that is ongoing, there still exists tension in this home, and that tension exists between me and my Dad.

I have to address both problems, spiritual and personal, and come up with a way to deal with the situation for as long as the Lord allows me to remain here and in this home.

1. Addressing the Problem (Spiritual)

Psalm 37:7 - Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.

I wish I could be still and patiently wait for the Lord. I need to be still. I need to be patient. Yet, like most human beings, I am impatient, and I am more apt to run ahead of the Lord, than to wait for Him to move. I know His timing is perfect, and I know that His way, His plan for my life, well, it is very good. I sometimes wonder why all this is happening now, and why I am struggling so with everything. I mean, when is "enough enough?"

My good friend said to me yesterday that perhaps the reason this is happening to me is to test my strength, to see what I am made of, and I think he is correct. I do believe that the spiritual attack yesterday was part-and-parcel with my proclamation of the Lord's will for my life. I spoke the words, I gave witness publicly, and in doing so, I incurred the enemy's attack. You see, whenever you speak your calling, you speak God's will in and through your life, and I don't mean to just say "I know the Lord's got a good plan," but rather, when you speak the actual plan, when you speak the words the Lord has given to you that pronounce that plan, articulate it, and give it "life," well that is when the enemy hits you the hardest. This is what I believe happened to me. This is what I think is really going on. I gave testimony to what I believed was or is the Lord's precise will for my life, and as soon as I did it, I was hard pressed on all sides. I was punched hard, and that punch hurt me deeply. I recovered, praise be to God, but I am still reeling from it. I think to myself, "Is this what I have to look forward to, Lord?" I mean, I know that in this world we will have suffering because our Lord told us so. Jesus said, 

Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33 NIV).

And Paul writes these words to Timothy to remind the believers of the coming persecution.

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:17 NLT).

As a Believer in Christ Jesus, this is what I must accept -- that in this life -- there will be troubles, trials, and tribulations. I will suffer persecution, and this persecution is going to come at me from all sides, and even at times, from people who are friends or family members. I must remember to be strong, to be still, and to patiently wait for the Lord. I must rely on His Word, to seek His counsel, and to abide in His Holy Spirit so that I can learn how to keep my tongue, to keep from going on the defense every time I am accused or attacked. The Word says it this way in Ephesians 6:10-17 NASB,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

My response is not to return the volley, but rather to stand fully clothed in the armor of God. I pray that this is my response from now on, and that as I stand firm, as Paul writes in this section from his letter to the Ephesians, I will overcome the attack of the enemy.

2. Addressing the Problem (Personal)

The second part of the problem is more difficult in my view because it is personal. Even though Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against people, but against spirits, it seems that people can cause a lot of pain and suffering for us. Our relationships, in particular, are a major source of pain. Yes, I know...sin is the cause, the root of evil behavior, but still, human beings are the ones who cause the majority of problems in this world. How then do we defend ourselves against the flesh? The Word is clear that we are to defend ourselves against the spirits with the Word of God, but what works with the people in our lives who are prickly, difficult, and at times, abusive or violent toward us?

As I was getting dressed this morning, I prayed to the Lord to ask for His help in dealing with this problem for me. You see, I am not able to simply up and move right now. I am close to finishing my PhD, and for now, that means that I don't make enough money to live on my own. I need to remain where I am until the Lord chooses to move me, so I must learn to live with this difficulty and in learning to live with it, I must learn how to communicate better so as to avoid conflict whenever possible (Romans 12:18).

As a communications scholar, I understand how difficult it is to handle conflict. I also know the steps advised to handle conflict. Furthermore, I know that conflict is not avoidable. I just mean that it is impossible to not have conflict in our relationships, so we must learn how to deal with conflict in appropriate ways. Conflict management is the "process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict" (Wikipedia). According to Scott Williams of Wright State University, there are numerous strategies for dealing with conflict. We tend to use the strategy that seems most comfortable to us, but sometimes the strategy we choose is not the best for the given situation. The most common strategies for conflict management include:
  • Forcing - using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with.
  • Accommodating - allowing the other party to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own.
  • Avoiding - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it.
  • Compromising - attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but completely satisfactory to neither.
  • Collaborating - cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win).
I can tell you that in my own personal experience, I have used accommodating, avoiding and compromising most frequently. I have found that neither has been a successful strategy, and that most of the time, the problem wasn't resolved satisfactorily.

Thus, the best strategy is the one most people prefer not to choose and that is to collaborate and create a positive solution. I believe the reason why people do this is because it is easier to accommodate, avoid, or compromise than it is to actively work toward a solution. Collaboration is the preferred strategy by most corporate managers, yet it is the most avoided choice in interpersonal relationships. The reason for this is simple, collaboration takes time. Williams states, "There are many advantages to using a collaborating strategy to handle interpersonal conflict situations.  Collaborating with the other party promotes creative problem solving, and it's a way of fostering mutual respect and rapport.  However, collaborating takes time, and many conflict situations are either very urgent or too trivial to justify the time it takes to collaborate" (para. 5).

Williams suggests that the above strategies work dependent upon the situation. It is vital, therefore to assess the situation to determine which strategy will work best. Evaluating the "importance" of the issue is key to determining how to react. For example, categorizing the issue as follows can help determine next steps:
  • Issue importance - the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict.
  • Relationship importance - how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party.
  • Relative power - how much power you have compared to how much power other party has.
In my case, clearly the issue of how to care for my Mom and how to remain neutral in a shared home is of vital importance. It is in no one's best interest to keep the tension riding high nor is it possible to avoid conflict long-term. Thus, collaborating is a good choice because it lays the table bare, and it allows for both parties to express their opinions on the matter in a non-confrontational way. Then, it also allows for the two parties to come to a workable solution that is in the best interest of all parties involved.

As I consider this approach, I realize that while I may be able to get my Dad to agree to some things, this approach is not going to work for us. Even though, I consider our relationship of utmost importance, it is also an issue of power, and I think that the problem stems more from a lack of power or a perceived lack of power that causes animosity between us. You see, my Dad has always been in a power position in our home. Growing up, my Dad was the one to "lay down the law," and we all knew it. In business, my Dad was a Director, and later a Sr. Director, of his company. He was used to getting his way. As an adult child, my Dad always tried to overstep his boundaries in my life, especially when he thought I didn't know what I was doing or he felt my decision-making process was faulty. Thus, I have grown up feeling as though my decisions were critically analyzed and found wanting by my Dad. I avoided conflict with him, and I accommodated him to avoid clashes. Now, that I am living with my parents (temporarily), I am seeing this power structure in play. My Dad is trying to remain in control like he once did when I was young. He is losing control with my Mom as her condition deteriorates, and he is attempting to regain control over me and my son to reset the power structure in the family. The problem is that the power structure has shifted, and that means that I am in control of my family (my son). My parents are autonomous, and they are living in this home as their own family unit. In many ways, we cohabitate, but we are not a family, per se. We are related to one another, but in authority, I am authority over myself and my son. My Dad has authority over my Mom. This is Biblical, really, and I have no issues with the arrangement. I think the problem occurs when my Dad attempts to reclaim authority over me because he feels that I am acting irrational or I am making decisions that he doesn't agree with and he wants changed.

Therefore, I have decided that in my present situation, the best solution is to compromise. I am not willing to give my authority to my Dad, and I do not want to take his authority away from him and my Mom. I need to establish some stronger boundary lines, and that means that I have to be more present in what goes on in the home that affects me. I spend a great deal of time in my room, partly to focus on my studies. I am going to start taking a more active role to ensure that my son and I are not unfairly treated. Furthermore, I am setting boundaries on my expenses and what I am willing to contribute above and beyond our agreed upon monthly limits. I have been spending more money than necessary to ensure my Mom has the little things she likes. In doing so, I have enabled my Dad to get away with doing less for her. I am going to stop doing this because this places me in a subordinate position to my Dad who assumes I will do what he wants. It is not that I want to see my Mom suffer, but my stepping in has caused this power rift, and I need to step back out and distance myself somewhat from my parents daily routine and life. They must figure out how to live with this disease, the ramifications and outcomes of it, and in doing so, they must come to understand their own limits. I cannot protect them nor can I provide for them. I must let my Dad be the one in charge of my Mom, and in doing so, he will feel more in control. 

The key then becomes one of balancing the needs of the family with the provision the Lord provides to me. I have never been called to provide for my parents financially. I have never been asked by the Lord to provide for them physically, either. I care for them, I offer support to them, but I am not their caregiver. I must be careful not to assume a role that the Lord has not given to me. I am not called to be a full-time caregiver, and this I have known for a long while. This doesn't mean I don't care or that I don't help out as I am able. I do. It just means that I am not to become a full-time nurse for my parents or "live-in" help, which is what I am becoming, thanks to my Dad. No, I must not do this. I am here for a time only, while I finish my PhD. My parents have come to rely on me, and they believe that I am to care for them through the end of their lives. This is not the Lord's will for me, and while I do care for my parents, I am not to take on this responsibility and forget my calling, the expressed plans the Lord has for me. He is calling me to do great things, to go places, and to do work that is specific. Therefore, I must stand firm, even in this case, because in some ways, the enemy uses my attachment to my parents, my love for them, to keep me from following after the Lord. I must go where He sends me, and that may mean, leaving my parents behind to be cared for by others. I know that sounds so harsh, so cruel, but really it isn't cruel, mean or harsh at all. It is life. It is my life.

As a single woman, I am not in the position of caring for my elderly parents the way a married daughter could. You see, if I had a husband who made good money, to the point where I could stay at home, well that would be very different. I have to work. I have to do work, and I will have to do work until age 70 (at least). This means that I cannot stop what I am doing to be a full-time caregiver to my parents. I can be supportive secondary care, for sure, but not "on call" or "live in" care. I understand this now, more so than before, and I realize that the enemy seeks to play with my emotions and my feelings of responsibility. In doing so, he seeks to pull me from what I believe the Lord is calling me to do -- and that is to serve Him and others in a global context. Yes, I will serve others as I am able in my home, in my community, in my school, etc. We are all called to do this -- but some are called specifically in helper roles, as caregivers, while others are called differently. I must do what the Lord is calling me to do. I must do it.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,
without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-34 NIV

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