Life is made up of changes. Whether your transition is exciting or difficult, chosen or forced upon you, change brings stress.
I’m in the middle of an ongoing transition that I didn’t choose, would never choose, and had no choice but to accept. I am a caregiver.
To cope with all the adjustments called for in caregiving, I rehearse what I’ve learned from past transitions. My circumstances change, but God remains the same. He still gives me everything I need to make it.
Twelve years ago, my husband and I moved my parents to our town to be nearer as they aged. At first that meant assisting my mom with my dad’s care after his stroke. His condition deteriorated; my assistance increased.
When both my parents were diagnosed with dementia, my priorities clarified. I switched from a full-time job to part-time. Moreover, I’d already swapped my large world-traveler life for a small one, now confined to my sleepy town.
Caregiving became my main calling. Dad’s diagnosis came three weeks after my debut novel was published (which was during the pandemic lockdown—already not the best time to have a book come out). I failed as a book marketer, compounding my stress.
Dementia prolongs the grief. Grieving small losses started long before my father’s recent death. I’ve witnessed both parents’ fear and confusion. Struggling to do things they always knew how to do. Not knowing where they are or what year it is.
Forgetting my name. Forgetting who I am to them.
My schedule has eased up since we put my mother in a home. I get fewer emergency calls now. But the emotional toll, hours spent in caregiving, and reluctance to leave town continues. The transition presses on.
Many days I’m not sure how I can continue. I am exhausted. I wonder when this will end. Immediately, I feel guilty because I know what the end means: another death.
How can I keep going? Will I get lost in all this? Will my husband and our relationship fade into the background?
This current transition was thrust upon me, but I remember a series of major transitions I once chose. In recalling what helped me in the past, I draw strength for the present.
Many years ago, I transitioned from expat adventurer to out-of-place American struggling to fit in. After a decade as a single missionary in Eastern Europe right after the fall of Communism—a stressful enough transition in its own right, but one I’d geared up to meet—I returned “home” to a place that no longer felt like home.
I found that home wasn’t the same as it had been when I left. Moreover, my values had changed. I was not the same person anymore.
How could I remain unchanged after all I had seen God do? I had known Jesus as my all when I was overseas. He was my husband who held me close to his heart when I felt lonely, provided everything I needed, defended me from unjust criticism, protected me from a stalker and robbers, gave me courage and strength to keep going. My biggest fear was that Jesus would not be the same to me in the States, that I’d have too many distractions or feel too self-sufficient to need him like I had before.
When I first arrived in Romania and learned the statistics—water only one hour a day and five rats to every one person—I knew there was absolutely nothing in me that could do what I was called to do. I fell to my knees because I had no strength to stand. From that place of dependence, I told the Lord I needed him like I never had before. I asked him to give me all the strength and grace I would need for each new day.
He answered my prayer. I not only survived living there but I grew to love it so much that when the time came, returning home became the hardest thing I’d had to do up to that point in my life.
Returning to the States felt like being in a snow globe that had been shaken, hard. The snow swirled all around me, the waves thrashed, and I thought it would never stop. I felt dizzy and disoriented much of the time. I re-entered a world foreign to me.
Eastern Europe had become my home, and life there felt right to me. Yet I realized I would not completely fit in anywhere, ever again. As much as I loved living in Europe, I was always a foreigner. And I knew I would never again be a normal American. My true home is nowhere on earth but in heaven.
Returning home felt like I was a blind person stumbling along unfamiliar paths. I clung to God’s promise in Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them”(New International Version).
Like the cartoon characters who burrow through the center of the earth and come up on the opposite side of the planet, everything in my life felt upside down.
I was homesick for Europe. I wanted to lean into the sadness and not stunt my experience of loss. I missed the old-world grace, the ancientness and beauty, the warmth of the people, the adventure, and even the adrenaline rush. I missed my friends. Leaving had ripped my heart out of my chest, and now I felt numb, afraid I’d never feel again.
But when I lived in Europe, I remembered missing America. I was conflicted. I loved both places and feared I would never feel complete, always longing for the other place.
A Slower Pace
To cope with the loss and change, I had to slow down my pace. I needed unhurried time alone, time to reflect and pray, time for my inner world to adjust to this strange outer world. I grew to savor silence to be able to think.
Often, a brisk walk outside and a good night’s sleep did wonders.
Talking with friends, both long-distance and in-person, helped me process. Just to know someone cared and tried to understand, even if they couldn’t fully relate, made me feel I wasn’t alone.
Whenever I could, I’d drive to the ocean near my new home in Florida, sit and gaze out at the vast beauty. There my soul would feel soothed. One day, I sat on the warm sand and poured out all my confusion to God. The rhythmic waves mesmerized me, coming and going, in and out. I felt calmed. I remembered sitting on the beach in Europe, just a matter of weeks earlier. It was the same ocean, just the other side of it.
Deep within my spirit, God reminded me that he is also the same. He created this magnificent ocean, and he created me. He understood my churning emotions, even though I could not. His power and beauty and consistency, expressions of his care, spoke to me, assuring me that he’ll take the same good care of me in this new home as he always has.
In time, the blizzard of snow in my globe began to slow down. Then it was shaken again. God brought an old friend back into my life. Our courtship was quick and long-distance. Within eight months, we were married and I had moved from Florida to California.
In my first year back in the States, I moved twice, made two career changes, got married, became a “stepmother” to two young adults, and had all new people in my life.
Before this, change invigorated me. I overdid it that year. Everything in my life was different. Even my name changed. I felt as if I’d joined the Witness Protection Plan. I had been given a new name, a new identity, and been concealed deep undercover to make it as difficult as possible for people from my past to find me.
Just for kicks, I charted my major life changes that year on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale. A point value is assigned to each change, with death of a spouse and divorce as the top two. If your score is more than 300 you have an 80% chance of a significant illness or accident because of the negative impact of stress.
My score during that 12-month period was 429. I think my score should have been even higher. In this test, a move across town counts the same number of points as the kind of relocations I made: from one country to another, and then one side of the States to the other. Surely, I earned extra bonus points for my moves.
The snow in my globe continued swirling. Many days, I doubted it would ever be still.
Seeing the Same God
I had been afraid that Jesus wouldn’t be the same for me in the States, that I wouldn’t need him as I had overseas. But I found I still needed him. I drew even closer to him through the difficulty and loneliness of my transition.
Corrie ten Boom writes of feeling scared as a child when her train went through a dark tunnel. Even though she couldn’t see what was ahead, she learned to trust that the engineer could. Like Corrie, I had to trust that God could see the road ahead. He knew what he was doing and where I was going.
Today, I remind myself that I don’t need to know the future. I just need to trust that God does. I don’t know when this time of transition will end or if my life will ever return to “normal.” And that’s okay.
God guided me on unfamiliar paths to Eastern Europe and back again. He still guides me today through the uncertain valley of caregiving, even on the days when I wonder if I’ll make it. Each day, one day at a time, I have what I need—the strength and the grace—to get through.
Someday, I trust my snow globe will settle.