Friday, November 10, 2017

Caregiver Chronicles: True Success: Living Like Sam

Sam Wiley's memorial will begin a few hours from now. We'll talk about his life, the impact he made, the sweetness of his spirit, the faith that deepened as he approached death, and the joy he found.  

I imagine we'll talk about Sam's future, too. 

Paul wrote that our imperishable bodies are raised, in glory, to an imperishable, spiritual body. Sam's new body works great. There's no confusion in his brain, no problem with his memory, no dizziness, no stumbling, falling, or trouble chewing and swallowing. 

A while back, Sam and I talked about what he wanted to see first in heaven. He didn't care about streets of gold, pearly gates, or the trees with healing leaves. He only wanted to see God, "because He's what it's all about." 

Indeed, He is.

Sam loved his life. He loved taking care of animals, breaking horses, going out to eat with friends, playing with children, riding the tractor, fishing, gardening. He loved the simple routines of a farmer. He was a man of his word, and if he gave it, he kept it.

He was a simple man, and that's all he ever wanted to be. Just plain Sam. 

He never wore a tuxedo, had a big bank account, took a vacation, attended a major concert, saw a Broadway play, rode a train, or owned a house or land. He never graduated from high school or attended college. He never bought a new car and never owned a cell phone. He never used a computer and never understood those who did. 

By modern standards, he wasn't a successful man. 

By eternal standards, though, he was one of the most successful men I know. He was respected, appreciated, and loved. His impact literally stretched around the world. Sam made us all want to live and love more simply, more completely.

With Sam gone to heaven, the world is a poorer place, unless someone rises up to take his place. 

We, too, could live simply, love deeply, forgive quickly, give generously, if we would. It's a better life, so why don't we choose it?

Today, let's honor Sam's memory by examining his life and our own. Which gives greater joy? Which honors God the most? Which is filled with peace?

Do we need to make some changes? Today, let's make a choice to be the simplest, most God-like version of ourselves that we can be. If we do, one day, we'll look back on a life free of regret and full of joy. 

"But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" 1 Corinthians 15:54 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Life After Sam

Visitation for Sam Wiley is Friday, November 10th 12:30 to 2 pm with memorial service to follow in the choir room at Hope Church, Tupelo. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to "Sam Wiley Memorial Fund" by mailing your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put "Sam's Fund #5136" in the "for" line.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Caregiver Chronicles: Life After Sam

Someone asked me recently how Sam and I became connected. I hesitated. Finally, I said, "I don't want you to think bad of me, but I got Sam in a real estate transaction, but it's not as awful as it sounds." A moment of silence followed that revelation. 

In 1989, I bought a 120-acre farm in Union County. Sam had worked there for nearly thirty years and it was home to him. Neither he nor the owners wanted him to leave the land or the caretaker cottage in which he lived. Many people had looked at the farm, but no one wanted to make a long-term commitment to Sam, who was nearly 60 years old. 

I, on the other hand, had no idea how to take care of the farm. I needed Sam, so I agreed to let him stay. With that simple agreement, Sam became my responsibility for the rest of his life.

Sam did the work I couldn't do. He bush hogged, trimmed azaleas, shoed the horses, neutered calves, cleaned the fish we caught, built fences and repaired them. He did any job that needed doing, especially those jobs I didn't want to do, didn't know how to do, or wasn't strong enough to do.

And now. . . I still have the farm with bush hogging and trimming and cleaning and heavy work, but I don't have Sam. 

I've learned a lot over the years, of course. I learned to take the garbage out of the compactor, drive the tractor, build a fence, and use the tiller when Sam had the subdural and was in the hospital. I learned to clip the goats and trim their hooves when he broke his hip. I learned to trim the azaleas and garden for myself when he was sick with pneumonia. 

Yesterday, I needed to move something heavy and, for a split second, I thought about calling Sam. . . but he's with Jesus now. 

I sat down and cried. "Lord, how am I going to take care of myself without a Sam?" I prayed. 

That still, small voice spoke loud and clear. "I will help you." In that instant, I remembered all the answered prayers, all the times God had sent help at just the right moment, all the ways He's given me wisdom when I didn't know what to do. 

I'm in a new, Sam-less season, and I miss him, but God will provide, just like he always does. 

Last night, I finished cleaning the floor in the dining room that served as Sam's bedroom for the last few months. "Lord, I need to move my dining table back and it's too heavy for me. How am I going to get that done?" 

This morning, I found a message from a friend. "Do you need any help moving furniture back in place?" I laughed out loud. Yes, I do need help moving furniture! God has continued the work of providing for every need, just as He's always done.

This morning, I've found great encouragement in these words: "I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear. I will help you.'" Isaiah 41:13 And He will.

No matter what we face, we have a Heavenly Father who cares about every problem, ever need. If we face hard times and jobs that are too big for us, there's no need for despair. Instead, turn to the One who holds the universe in His hands, and holds us, too. Turn to the One who will never leave us or forsake us. Turn to our Father and let Him help you, just as He's promised. That's what I plan to do.

"I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear. I will help you.'" Isaiah 41:13 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: When Sam Couldn't Stay and I Had to Say Goodbye

Visitation for Sam Wiley is Friday, November 10th 12:30 to 2 pm with memorial service to follow in the choir room at Hope Church, Tupelo. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to "Sam Wiley Memorial Fund" by mailing your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put "Sam's Fund #5136" in the "for" line. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Caregiver Chronicles: When Sam Couldn't Stay and I Had to Say Goodbye

A lot can change in three weeks, and it did. Sam could stand with assistance, take a few steps with his walker over to his recliner, enjoy Wheel of Fortune, and go to church when I left. He could still dress himself with a little help, and boss me around like an expert. He could eat three meals a day and enjoy a morning cup of coffee.

The day I left him at Sanctuary Hospice House for respite, we rolled him to his room. He was too tired to sit up, he told us, and wanted to lie down. In that moment, I knew I'd never take him home. 

"You better eat while I'm gone. If you don't, you're gonna be too weak to go home," I told him. "I'm gonna be upset with you if you go on a hunger strike." 

Sam gave me a tired smile. "I'll do the best I can," he promised.

The hospice personnel kept me informed with updates that steadily broke my heart. He wasn't eating. He was losing weight. Less responsive. Not swallowing water.

The hardest thing I ever did was stay in place 6,000 miles away while Sam drifted toward eternity. I sure hope the three week long sacrifice was worth it. 

Ryan, my son, loved Sam with all his heart. He drove from Atlanta and spent several days with him, hoping to help him hang on. Sam rallied remarkably, and they had one good day out of the four he was here. Ryan dressed him, drank coffee with him, and spent time with him. 

It was the last time Ryan would ever see Sam alive. I'm so grateful for the few "awake" hours they had together. 

My friends and church family visited Sam often, and tried to prepare me. "Sam looks terrible," they told me. "He's at death's door." 

When I arrived, the nurses tried to prepare me, too. "He hasn't eaten more than a bite or two since Ryan left. He won't drink at all. He looks bad."

I've seen a lot of sick people in my almost thirty-year career as a physician, but I couldn't have anticipated the reality of seeing someone I love so very near death. Mere hours after my return home, I stood at his bedside, choked back tears, and turned to the nurses. "I'm not gonna be able to take him home, am I?" I asked. They shook their heads and I saw tears glisten in their eyes, too.

A part of me thought I could will Sam to come back from the valley of the shadow of death, but it was a false hope born of desperation. Over the weekend, I read most of the New Testament, Isaiah, and the Psalms to Sam. I sang hymns. I prayed. I begged. 

Sam's relentless trek toward heaven would not be slowed. In the depths of my heart, I didn't want him to be delayed, but I didn't want to let go, either. By Sunday afternoon, I reeled from lack of sleep, and finally went home to rest for a while. I needed those few hours to make it through the next two days.

Yesterday afternoon, I had just returned to his room when his breathing changed. I sat at his bedside, my two dogs curled up at his feet, and thanked him for all the good he'd done. For loving my son, being willing to try all the crazy schemes I cooked up, for protecting me, teaching me so much about gardening, livestock, and the land. For teaching me to shoot a gun, set a trot line, and how to catch two fish with a single cast. . .

His periods of apnea steadily increased until his breathing finally stopped. At 4:55 pm, Sam stepped from this world into the wonder and beauty of eternity. He shed the frail body that had encased his soul for eighty-seven years as he did. He has a new body now, and white robes, and crowns he's probably already left at the feet of Jesus. He's seen our Lord, which was what he most wanted, and his baby daughter that died, and his beloved Jamie. 

I'm sure gonna miss him, but I'm comforted with the assurance that I'll see him again, as well as by the Bible passage Sam loved best:

"Let not your heart be troubled. . . In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you until myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:1-3, 6 kjv
Visitation is Friday, November 10th 12:30 to 2 pm with memorial service to follow in the choir room at Hope Church, Tupelo.

Sam always thought cut flowers were a waste of money, so we arranged for a special "Sam's Fund" at Global Outreach at his request. Marla Nunnelee (daughter of his long-time friend and coffee-drinking buddy, David Coleman) will administer it and use the funds where most needed. We thought about giving it a fancy name, but Sam always wanted to be "just plain Sam," so that's how we named his fund. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to "Sam Wiley Memorial Fund" by mailing your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put "Sam's Fund #5136" in the "for" line. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Whose Sin is Worse?

In general, my sin doesn't seem as bad to me as your sin does. Sad, but true. 

If the truth is told, we probably all feel this way, especially if we compare ourselves to the world. It's a common Christian delusion, but it's not an accurate assessment. Our standard of measure isn't the world. It's Jesus. Compared to Him, we're all pitiful failures.

1 Corinthians 10 upends my self-satisfied misconceptions. Paul wrote about the importance of learning from the mistakes of our forefathers. They had a variety of sins, he reminded us, but all suffered severe discipline from God. "These  things happened as examples for us," Paul wrote. (1 Cor. 10:6)

He used four short verses to lump idolatry, immorality, trying the Lord, and grumbling in the same pot. Yeah. Right. He stirred cheating on your spouse and grumbling about your circumstances together and came up with one pile of sin. No differentiation at all.

What? My grumbling is as bad as your idolatry? Your trying the Lord? Your immorality? 

A stab of remorse shot through me as I read those four verses. Paul was right. We've all sinned and, as a result, we've all fallen short of the mark God set for us. (Romans 6:23)

Archers have many arrows in their quiver with which they shoot at their target. It doesn't matter which arrow they use. If they miss the mark, the result is still the same. 

I haven't always given a lot of grace to people whose sin is different from mine, and I'm truly sorry for that failure. 

It may not make it out of my head and into words or actions as often as it used to, but that doesn't mean I don't indulge in sin. These days, I'm trying to see my sin the way God does, and the required repentance keeps me plenty busy. 

I have too much sin of my own to worry about yours. I'm reasonably sure we all do. 

Does our critical, judgmental spirit seem like less sin than our neighbor's? Today, let's examine our own hearts. We'll likely find more than enough sin to keep us busy repenting. Let's quit comparing ourselves to the world and start comparing ourselves to Jesus. When we see our need, let's ask Him to wash us white as snow. 

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 nasb
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Love That's More Than Words

Monday, November 6, 2017

Caregiver Chronicles: Love That's More Than Words

I sat at Sam's bedside yesterday and worried about my failure to have an emotional surge of feeling that brought tears to my eyes. I fretted that I didn't love.

This morning, I read through 1 Corinthians 13, and realized an amazing truth today. There's nothing about emotion in that description of love. Nothing. Love isn't a feeling. Love is action we choose because of a commitment we've made.

When God demonstrated His love for us, He didn't do it with words. He did it with the sacrifice of a bloody cross and an empty tomb. 

Love isn't tears or gushing feelings or pounding heartbeats. 

Love is patient, kind, and it never fails. It doesn't act unbecomingly, seek its own good, keep count of wrongs suffered, or rejoice in unrighteousness. Love  doesn't brag and isn't arrogant or easily provoked. 

Love rejoices with truth, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. 

Love sees what needs to be done. Love comes from God, because He is love, and it directs our actions in ways that demonstrate His love to a loveless world.

Love may be accompanied by deep emotion, but love persists when there are no sweet feelings. Love continues, even when we don't "feel like it." 

Yesterday, I wanted to sit on the patio with my dogs in my lap, have a cup of tea, and enjoy being home. Instead, I chose to sit at the bedside of a dying man, read Scripture to him, sing hymns, and assure him of my love. It had nothing to do with emotion. It had everything to do with a commitment that would not fail.

Proclamations of love that are not accompanied by action don't mean much. There's an ouch to that, but it's no less true. Love isn't words alone. Actions alone aren't love, either. We can give everything we own to help the poor, but that's not necessarily love. 

Love is tangible evidence of an intangible relationship with the One who is love. 

Over the last few weeks, love has been demonstrated by an outpouring of financial help in covering Sam's time at the Hospice house, countless visits to Sam in my absence, keeping my dogs while I've been gone, feeding my horses and bunnies, mowing my lawn, bush-hogging my pastures. 

Love left a meal in my empty refrigerator just before I returned home, and a bag of snacks and groceries in Sam's room when I didn't have time to go to the grocery store for myself. 

Love has acted, and it's been too beautiful to overlook. It's been accompanied by words, but love hasn't been words alone. It never is. 

Love is a choice, an attitude, an action. 

Today, let's take a close look at the love we say we have. Does our "love" result in words alone or in tangible demonstrations of our relationship with God? Can those around us see the love of God in the way we interact? In the way we serve? If not, what needs to change?

"I'm giving you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." John 13:34 niv
In case you missed the most recent post, here's the link: When We're Too Busy to Be Still but Rest Isn't Optional