The Sacrificial Service of Caregiving
About the Guest
Caregiving is difficult and messy work. It’s also a valuable teacher. Shelly Beach, author of the book Ambushed by Grace, explains how caregiving gave her back her spiritual life by slowing her down and causing her to focus on the things that really mattered.
Shelly BeachShelly Beach is a freelance writer, public speaker, and author of Ambushed By Grace; Precious Lord, Take My Hand; and the 2008 Christy Award-winning novel, Hallie's Heart. She is the founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers' Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Shelly and her husband, Dan, have two children and live in Sparta, Michigan.
Caregiving is difficult and messy work.
The Sacrificial Service of Caregiving
Bob: As she was caring for her elderly parents, Shelly Beach says she found that some of the dross of her life was exposed. Even in the sacrificial gift of caregiving, she found her service was tainted.
Shelly: Very much of what I was doing in life was all for myself. It was all about me. I had turned so much of life into the Shelly show, but I hid that from other people. I did that even with caregiving: “I’m Mother Teresa. Here I am taking care of my father-in-law with Parkinson’s, and my mother with Alzheimer’s.” It was a way to satisfy something deep within me that was really very sinful.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Shelly Beach joins us today, talking about how she learned a lot about herself by caring for her needy parents.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know it was a number of years ago when we had the opportunity to talk to a husband, who was at that time right in the midst of being a caregiver for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dennis: Dr. Robertson McQuilkin.
Bob: Many of our listeners have heard those interviews and will remember what was a remarkable story. We’re talking this week about caregiving, and particularly about caring for older parents. I remember within that interview with Dr. McQuilkin, you had asked him about some of the lessons he was learning and that God was teaching him as he was caring for his wife. I thought it would be good just for us to hear that again as we continue looking at caregiving and the responsibilities of being a caregiver.
Because even with those responsibilities, God’s at work doing something in our own hearts. Here’s Dr. McQuilkin:
Robertson McQuilkin (excerpt of audio recording):
“Back in the early days, before I resigned, He taught me about love from a different end. It was how much Muriel wanted to be with me; how much she depended on me; how she expressed all day long her affection for me and her gratitude for every little thing.
Dennis: Actually she would go in search of you, right?
Robertson: During that stage, she would. We were a half-mile away from the office to the home, and she would walk (she’s a speed-walker). Sometimes she would walk up to ten times a day round-trip – that would be ten miles.
Dennis: In search of you?
Robertson: Coming to my office to find me. I might be inaccessible, but she would come. One time I was helping her with her shoes, taking off her shoes at night, and her feet were bloody from all that walking. I thought to myself, “God, is that how I love you? I must be with you, no matter what it costs? To constantly express my love and my appreciation and my thanksgiving and my trust.”
I’m secure in Him. I asked Him to help me love Him the way she loved me.
But now, of course, that’s all gone. I think she may be a little more content when I’m around, but she doesn’t really know anything much. What’s subterranean, we don’t know.
Dennis: She doesn’t speak to you?
Robertson: Not for about seven years, or six years. The focus of that has changed over the last two years as I’ve contemplated how she doesn’t love me back. I’m thinking here God is here pouring out care for me all day, every day; His love for me all day, every day, and all He gets out of me is a grunt if I don’t like what He’s doing to me, or a morning brief salute, a smile.
How sad – for God. He’s taught me a lot about love for Him by my relationship with Muriel.
Dennis: You mentioned earlier that she hasn’t spoken to you in seven years. There was a moment, however, on a Valentine’s Day – and the reason that Valentine’s Day is so important is that it goes all the way back to when you proposed to her back in 1947.
Robertson: Right. That’s right, yes. Actually, if you had a few hours, I’d tell you about some of those Valentine’s Days, because some of them were really extraordinary.
But she had come to the place where she couldn’t say a sentence and even words were just occasional, and they didn’t always make good sense. Sometimes “yes” when she meant to say “no,” and so forth. This particular Valentine’s eve, I was contemplating an article I had just read which said that “in Alzheimer’s care, it’s the caregiver that’s the victim.”
I thought, “Hmmm. That’s strange. I don’t feel like the victim; I never did feel like the victim. I wonder why? She doesn’t feel like a victim. We sort of missed that.”
And then I began rehearsing all these Valentine’s stories. The next morning, I was on my exercycle, and when she woke up there as she often did during those days, as soon as she saw me she would break into this big smile. Of course, that made my day.
Actually, when she smiles, I hang a flag out front so that my friends and neighbors can tell that’s a “smile day.” So, it was a smile day – that was a smile. And while she was looking at me and smiling, she paused and just as clear as a crystal chime she said, “Love, love, love!”
I hopped off and came over and hugged her. I said, “Oh, honey, you really do love me, don’t you?” She couldn’t do words like she wanted to, of course. She was looking for an affirmation, and she said, “I’m nice.” Those were almost the last words she ever said.
(End audio excerpt)
Bob: Again, that’s Dr. Robertson McQuilkin reflecting on caring for his wife who had Alzheimer’s, and eventually died from Alzheimer’s. Dennis, the reason I thought it would be good for us to hear that clip again is because our guest this week shares a lot of that same spiritual understanding that comes from the sacrificial service of caring for another person.
Dennis: Yes. Shelly Beach joins us again. Shelly is a writer, a speaker, and the author of Ambushed by Grace. Shelly, welcome back to the broadcast.
Shelly: Thank you so much.
Dennis: I have to ask you. You wrote about this in your book – you actually say that caregiving brought spiritual life to you. . .
Shelly: It did.
Dennis: . . . in a profound way.
Shelly: It did.
Dennis: How did you view life before you became this caregiver, and then how did you change?
Shelly: Well I saw caregiving itself as tasks to be performed – things that I was doing for people; things that I would do for my mother, for Norman. I think I viewed my spiritual life in that way as well. You know, we do things for one another; we do things for God, and we kind of move through life with a spiritual checklist. I check things off and I’ve got my day-planner, and I can show you I’m doing great things for God if I show you what I’ve got going on there. But God slowed me down and stopped me dead in my tracks. He showed me that this was not what it’s about. It’s about much deeper things in relationship.
Dennis: You actually wrote in your book, “I became content with smallness and wasn’t sure that God could be trusted. I learned to serve my family, friends, and church from the parched recesses of my own need.” It took caregiving to rescue you from that smallness?
Dennis: How so?
Shelly: I began to see some of my own motives and agendas. I turned caregiving for a number of years into my Mother Teresa act. When I speak about this, I talk about taking on a role. I’m a Harley biker chick, and I put on my Harley biker jacket. . .
Bob: Hold on. Still today you’re a Harley biker chick?
Shelly: Oh, yeah.
Shelly: Actually, I recommend it to people for therapy because when my husband and I needed to get out of the house to talk somewhere (our house was not a place where we could be alone – it’s where I did hard work), I found that I could listen to God and He began to speak to me and show me motives and agendas and that very much of what I was doing in life was all for myself. It was all about me.
I turned so much of life into the “Shelly show,” but I hid that from other people. I did that even with caregiving: “I’m Mother Teresa. Here I am taking care of my father-in-law with Parkinson’s, and my mother with Alzheimer’s.” It was a way to satisfy something deep within me that was really very sinful in some ways.
God said, “I need you to sit down and know who I am. Be still and know that I am God. . . to learn to love out of the overflow of your love for Me.” That’s not what the source had been. The source had not been loving out of the overflow of my love for God. It had been serving out of a need, as a matter of fact.
Bob: I think we just kind of need to pause here and consider what you’re saying, because you were faithful, diligent, responsible, disciplined. You were doing everything you were supposed to be doing.
Shelly: I was.
Bob: And it’s hard for people to hear that and think, “Where’s the sin in what you were doing?”
Shelly: There was so much of it that was self-serving. I was doing it for self-serving motives. You can do a lot of really great things in life for really lousy motives.
Shelly: That was all tied up in a little knot. Of course I wanted to love my mother; of course I wanted to love Norman; of course I wanted to take good care of them. But intertwined in that, there was a lot of me. There was a lot of service for me going on, and I needed to look at that.
Bob: Service for you in what way? Is this when people would pat you on the back?
Shelly: I wanted affirmation from people. I wanted approval.
Bob: And there was a little martyr complex going on, too?
Shelly: Oh, absolutely. Oh my goodness, I had a finely honed martyr act going on.
When we made the decision to do caregiving – another thing I would really recommend that was very valuable to us was that we went into counseling. I wanted to make sure that we kind of were getting good feeding for ourselves. God used those experiences in the counseling environment to peel back layers and show me a lot of things about my martyrdom, my self-serving agenda – things about my own heart.
Dennis: Here’s what I’m hearing you say, and it’s an interesting “A ha!” God came in through the back door, through the back door of you loving another human being (which you’re supposed to do anyway). But in the process of being confronted with why you were loving another human being, you realized that you didn’t have the capacity spiritually that you should have had. . .
Dennis: . . . that should come from first loving God. That’s what you really teach in your book. You call it “The Double Love Command?”
Dennis: Explain what you mean by that.
Shelly: Well, the most important command according to what Jesus said – we find it in the Old Testament and then Jesus repeats it in the New Testament – is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
I talk about an artesian well story in my book about driving the pipe deeply into the character of God and being rooted in Who He is, and trusting Him - trusting His character, knowing Him. Not knowing about Him – I knew a lot about Him, but I didn’t know Him as intimately as I needed to.
That refreshment, that knowledge of Who He is springing up from that galvanized pipe restoring my soul, refreshing me, and giving me the resources I need to love other people well – to love Norman well, to love my mother well, to love my father well. To give me what I needed every day. That’s what God brought to me through caregiving.
Dennis: We’re talking about care-giving for our elderly parents, but I’m thinking here as you talk about that, there are a lot of our listeners right now who are being asked to love someone. . .
Shelly: Oh, yes!
Dennis: . . .who is very difficult. . .
Dennis: . . . and who need to drive that pipe down into the character of God and love Him first.
Dennis: So, I hope they’re not reaching over to the dial saying, “This doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
Oh, yes, it may.
Bob: It could be a spouse who’s difficult to love . . .
Dennis: No doubt.
Bob: It could be a teenager who’s difficult to love . . .
Dennis: Oh, yea, that works.
Bob: There could be all kinds of people. The principle applies no matter who the difficult person is, right?
Shelly: Absolutely, and you know if you ask anybody the question, “Who is it you find most difficult to forgive?,” everybody’s going to have an answer.
“Is there somebody in your life that’s difficult to love? Is there somebody in your life that’s difficult to forgive? Who are you struggling with?”
You’ll find an answer to those questions. One or two people will immediately pop to mind. That’s another thing that caregiving gives you an opportunity to do – it gives you an opportunity to reconcile relationships.
Dennis: Yes, let’s talk about that for a moment because – and you write about this in your book – you know of circumstances and situations where a daughter has been expected to bring the elderly father back into her home to care for him and he had sexually abused her as a little girl growing up.
Dennis: What’s with that? How is that supposed to be handled by this adult daughter looking at a potentially evil situation again?
Shelly: That circumstance actually unfolded with a friend of mine. In her case, she felt God calling her to bring her father into her home and to love him well. He was expecting to be treated harshly. He was expecting this to be a time – because he was incapacitated.
Dennis: . . .payback.
Shelly: Yes, “This is a little time for payback.”
What actually happened was that she drove that pipe deeply into the character of God. She loved him well. She found a way to forgive him and to pour out love into his life. He saw Jesus in her.
I don’t know that this is a route that everyone can take, or that everyone should take necessarily – I’m not recommending it – but I’m telling people that it is possible and Jesus may call some of us to do that. He may call some of us to do that. I know that in my experience as a sexual abuse victim, I have not had the opportunity to come face-to-face with the person who attacked me. But if the opportunity arose, I would like to take advantage of that opportunity to speak with them and express my forgiveness personally.
Some people might not make that same choice. It’s one I would like to make face-to-face. Some people might want to do it through a letter. We all can walk out that grace in the way that God calls us to.
Bob: And that may be the unusual circumstance, where there’s somebody who feels compelled by the Lord to bring home somebody who has really violated them. But, you know, I’m thinking of your parents – your mom and dad were good, godly mom and dad – yet you bring them into the home and they’re older, and life is hard, and there’s lots of opportunity for our flesh to get revealed.
Bob: For what is a loving relationship as long as we can keep our distance, to all of a sudden become a very challenging relationship because we’re with each other each day and we say things we shouldn’t say and we do things we shouldn’t do, and we offend one another.
Shelly: It’s always complicated because caregiving in a situation where you bring a parent into our home involves role reversal.
Shelly: There is the issue of boundary setting. You know, my husband is the head of my home and he and I make the decisions, so when we bring a parent into the home sometimes those boundary issues become difficult to navigate.
You have to learn how to negotiate; sometimes you need to set down boundaries; and sometimes boundaries have not been set down, or people have not navigated well into an adult relationship with a parent. You have to learn how to do that. It’s another reason why I suggest counseling for people. You might want to go into counseling to learn how to do that gracefully.
That’s one thing you want to still remember: I don’t care how rough or ragged my relationship was with my parent, I’m responsible to respect and honor them. I’m not responsible necessarily to have them in my home; I’m not responsible necessarily to live a boundary-less life, but I’m responsible to honor them, respect them, and love them.
So, I do have to learn how to do that sometimes with a tool kit. I have to learn sometimes how to put certain tools in my tool kit. I know that was important for me, for my husband and me to be in counseling, for me to learn how to navigate some rough spots; to know how to lay down boundaries.
Dennis: We’ll talk more about boundaries a little more later, but I want to talk about a tool in the tool kit that we’ve created here at FamilyLife that could be very, very useful for someone who is facing, perhaps, the reality of caregiving of their elderly parents. It’s writing a tribute. I wrote a book a number of years ago that actually moves people to the fifth commandment (“honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you”). It talks about honoring them regardless of how mean they were or whatever, because in the process of moving to honor, you have to understand where they came from; you have to have compassion on them; and, ultimately, in order to get to honor, you’re going to have to forgive them.
I can see how someone who’s listening to our broadcast today might be listening and thinking, “I could never even entertain the thought of inviting my parent into my home because of the feelings that are instantly stirred within my soul.” It could be that in going through the process of writing a formal, printed, framed tribute that you read to them face-to-face, eye-to-eye, your heart could be open to giving them a return gift of honor in the way of caring for them in your home.
Shelly: Absolutely, absolutely. I did something similar to that with one of my family members, and it was very important. I think it cracked the ice in the relationship actually. In word and in a permanent form, acknowledge “these are the positive things you’ve built into my life. I’ve taken the time to think through this and to acknowledge this in a way that I want you to remember.”
Shelly: It really changed the dynamic of the relationship.
Dennis: This can take a serious step of faith, but as you’ve mentioned it takes faith to be able to invite the parents into your home as well.
Speaking of the health of the marriage, there was a point in your relationship with your husband Dan where you were being tempted to resent him because of a corner he put you in with his father?
Shelly: Yes. It was Dan’s dad and Dan’s decision and Dan who created the problems. I had to get over that. I had to learn that I was telling myself lies.
We had made the decision together, actually. Just because things had gotten tough and difficult, I did not have the right to start shifting blame to my husband and start accusing him. I had to look at how we could negotiate duties, responsibilities, and the weight of this equally. We needed to up the communication. We needed to find better ways to communicate and a lot of that responsibility fell equally to both of us.
Dennis: What we’re really calling all of us to here as adult children, in relating to our parents, is to be obedient to the fifth commandment, “honor your mother and your father.” It could be that you give them care in your home; it could be that you supply that caregiving through another solution; but in all ways, you forgive them, you honor them, you value them as human beings made in the image of God.
Bob: Yes – how you care for them is not spelled out in Scripture, but the requirement to honor them is. So I think all of have to think through, “How can I fulfill that assignment? How can I do what God would have me do in this situation and do it in a way that does honor my father and my mother?”
I think reading a book like the one Shelly has written can help you in that process. We’ve got copies of Shelly’s book. It’s called Ambushed by Grace. You can go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy. Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com and the book is called Ambushed by Grace.
Or call us toll free at 1-800-FL-TODAY - 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” Ask how you can get a copy of Shelly Beach’s book Ambushed by Grace. When you contact us, we’ll make arrangements to get a copy sent to you.
I think most of you are aware that our radio program, like most of the programs you hear on this station, is supported by listeners like you. If it weren’t for listeners like you contacting us from time to time to make an online donation or to make a donation over the phone, we couldn’t continue this outreach here on this local radio station. So we appreciate those of you who get in touch with us and help support this ministry. I just want to say here, if there’s another program you hear here on this station and God is using that program in your life, then you ought to get in touch with them and find out how you can support their ministry as well.
This month, if you help support FamilyLife Today with a donation, we’d like to send you (as a thank you gift) a copy of John Yates’ helpful book How a Man Prays for His Family. Along with the book, we’ll send an audio CD of a conversation we had with John about that subject and a couple of laminated prayer cards for dads to keep with them so they can pray more effectively for their children.
Again, these resources are sent to you as a way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry. If you’d like to receive the resources when you make your online donation, type the word “PRAY” in the key code box that you find on the online donation form. Again, you do that at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. Make a donation over the phone and just ask for the resources on praying for your family and we’ll send those out to you.
Again, we appreciate your support of this ministry.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when Shelly Beach is going to join us and we’re going to continue our conversation about being a caregiver to elderly parents. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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