Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Care-Taking, Part 1

The perennial question “What do you do?” always stumps me.

I’ll be a few minutes into a nice conversation with someone I haven’t met before, when it pops up like an annoying jack-in-the-box. Or I might run into someone I haven’t seen in decades. “What are you up to these days?” they inquire, expecting a nice concise answer.

Hmmmm. How to condense.

Lately I’ve just been saying this:

“I take care of people.”

That is what I “do.”

Growing up, it never once dawned on me that “care-taker” would be my future avocation and appellation. At various phases of childhood and adolescence, I fantasized about becoming a dancer, a movie star, a lawyer, a writer, a politician, a professor. Somebody famous. I imagined myself one day being able to answer the ubiquitous inquiry with a sassy reply like, “I teach Russian Lit at XYZ University. Just published my third book on Tolstoy. What do you do?” (Told you I was a major Walter Mitty.)

Oh, the egocentric selfishness of youth!

Instead, I have a vivid memory of being at a party with old college friends and acquaintances. Some of us hadn’t seen each other since the early-to-mid-70’s. Sounds and smells from that era wafted through the air of the Big Chill-y gathering. The Question was particularly intimidating that night. The answers that were floating around with the smoke ranged from stuff like, “I’m head of NASA’s medical team,” to “I’m head of the Psychology Department at Emory Med,” to “I’m head of research at the CDC’s Department of Blah-Blah,” to “I head up the Litigation team at…” to “I’ve invented a medical device…”

I was the only person at the party without a graduate degree.

But I digress.  I have long-since come to terms with the fact that what I ended up ‘becoming when I grew up’ was a stay-at-home-mom who did some long-term substitute teaching at her daughters’ school.

I loved it. I poured my life and creativity and passion into my family. Personally, I think parenting is the hardest and most important job in the world. I was able to take my teaching to a different level because I didn’t have to do it all the time… just when I wanted to. It was special and joyful. I am most humbly grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity not to have to work, as most moms do these days. I don’t take it for granted.

Still, That Question retains just a tiny bit of residual ability to intimidate.

Hi. My name is Kim.

I’m a care-taker.

It may be by default, but this is my job. My calling. In some ways, my identity now.  I am learning to accept it… even embrace it. To celebrate the gifts intrinsic to the calling.

And I’m desperately trying to improve my job skills.

I was a spoiled little girl. I have been a spoiled woman. I’ve often been self-absorbed and forgetful of the needs of others outside my immediate circle. In many ways, I’m a novice at care-taking.

Some of it comes naturally, of course. Little girls grow up taking care of their dolls and stuffed animals and pets. Mothering was instinctual.

But this is a stretch beyond what comes naturally for me. I'm trying to take care of people from sea to shining sea. Pacific to (almost) Atlantic. I realize there’s been a huge gap in my education. I think Care-taking 101 should be a freshman requirement. Actually, they should start teaching it in preschool.

Because, ultimately, it will be everyone’s calling.

Unless you live on a desert island by yourself. Unless you have no human relationships at all. (Never mind. You might become your pet’s care-taker.) Let’s say “if you have no relationships of any kind with any living creature.”)

If you engage in the act of love, you will most likely need to become a care-taker at some point.

We Boomers are getting a heavy dose of it these days.

We may be trying to take care of our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, and our parents all at the same time. The fact that people are living longer means that we are becoming multi-generational care-takers. We could be changing diapers and Depends on the same day. And we try to take care of our friends when they can’t take care of themselves. (As they do for us when we’re in that position.) Then there are always strangers that need help.

The older you get, the more people there are in your life who desperately need some kind of care. This builds up to a crescendo until you are the last one being cared for.

Man, this is starting to sound depressing. I don’t mean for it to be.

Because care-taking can be a joy and a delight.

It is not always easy or fun or pretty.

But it changes you. Expands you. Enlightens you.

Teaches you to live outside yourself. Beyond yourself.  

It enables you to lose yourself in order to find yourself.

care (etymology)

Middle English, from Old English caru ("sorrow, anxiety, grief"); akin to Old High German kara  (“lament.”) Cognate with Old Saxon cara, kara (“concern, action”), Middle High German kar (“sorrow, lamentation”), Icelandic kör (“sickbed”), Gothic kara, (“concern, care”).
Sense of "charge, oversight, protection" is c.1400.

I like the Old Saxon slant the best: concern that leads to action.

Just as God has acted on our behalf.  “For God so loved the world that he gave… came… rescued… healed…

When we take care of each other, we are joining the Shepherd in tending his flock...

connecting with the Creator in the act of caring for his creation… his creatures.

His critters.

His kids.

And in the joining, we are being transformed into the image of his Son.

… for it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born…


Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” (Matt. 10:29)

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34)


Does anyone else struggle with the role of care-taker?

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I know this is bad, even for me.

To the three people who still check on this blog:

I’m sorry I haven’t been around lately.

I’ve been taking care of some things.

(There’s a theme developing around that.)

Please pray that I’ll be able to write about it when the time is right.

I thank you, stalwart souls, for your patience and forbearance.

I pray for you all,* even when I don’t show up here.

(*Us all.)


Friday, January 13, 2012

Holding Hands

A friend’s life is falling down around her ears.

It hits me hard, this dismantling.

I feel helpless as I watch the wrecking ball crash into buckling walls.

Beautiful rooms dissolve into dust.

I'm inadequate in the face of such pain and fear.

Words only wound

by their imperfection and insufficiency.

So I take her hand, and we pray.

And pray.

Begging God to be in this mess.

I glance down at our skinny hands, clasped together like a knot.

And I realize that, in the end, that is what friends do.

We hold hands in hospital waiting rooms.

We hold hands when divorce papers are served.

We hold hands when the diagnosis is given.

We hold hands when parents die, when children are sick, when scandal

When hearts break.

Sometimes it’s the only thing to do.

The best thing we can do.

In our media-obsessed world, contact between human beings becomes ever more impersonal. We are afraid to touch each other. To get too close.

Maybe we’re just afraid of germs.

We might catch something from another person.

We could catch their fear or their pain or their heartbreak.

But human beings need flesh on flesh and skin on skin.

When I touch you, I connect with you.

I feel the pulse in your cold hand. I feel the life.

And I mingle it with mine, in our clasp of hands.


The ancient Celts had a custom called hand-fasting. In wedding ceremonies, the couple’s hands were tied together with an endless knot.

It dawns:

the Bride of Christ, his body, is knotted together in love.

And we hold each other’s hands

when words fail.

I will hold your hand in the dark, my friend.


“For 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)


After writing most of the above, I had to dash off to an appointment before I could publish. Afterwards, I stopped by the gym to stretch out my aching back. I put Pandora on my iphone, and this was the chorus of the first song that came on:

“But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand.”

(p.s. Did anyone notice that I made a Freudian slip in the previous post?

In the champagne incident, I wrote ‘deviance against the Forces of Evil’ instead of defiance.

But I think I like deviance better anyway. (For we know his wiles…)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Twelfth Day

On the twelfth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me

a multitude of answered prayers.

I am alone on this gorgeous Epiphany morning. The house is still at last. I made the final airport run yesterday, taking my grandson and youngest daughter to pick up Katherine and Jay at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, and then dropping everyone off at Hartsfield International.

The house has been a hotel with a revolving door ever since I returned to Georgia after Thanksgiving with James. A boisterous kettle of activity. Although we were never all together at the same time, this is the first day in over a month when someone hasn’t been here.

There’s a lot to do to now. More decorations to stuff back into too-tight spaces. Calls to return, appointments to be made, plans to be rearranged. Messes to be straightened out. But before entering the rat race of the new year, I take time to pause and reflect back on the holidays.

I’m hoping to have a little epiphany of my own this morning.

Looking back over the past month, I acknowledge that it wasn’t a totally easy-breezy kind of Christmas. (Is there such a thing?) But it was a good one.

A very, very good one.

In years past, some bad stuff’s gone down at Christmastime. I won’t go into details. Insert your own family’s Bad Stuff.

But this holiday season was blissfully uneventful. No trauma, no drama. No hospital visits. No tears. Well, almost none.

Conjuring ghosts of Bad Christmases of the past, I flip though my battered Bible. The Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are particularly littered with smeared ink. Some verses have been underlined so violently that the parchment is torn right through. Exclamation points decorate the margins. Arrows connect phrases on opposite sides of the pages.

Most revealing, however, are the dates. Even before our daughter Katherine’s brain explosion, there were some really rough years. Years where too much was happening too fast, and everything seemed to be falling apart. Years when we were tested in every way. Years when I began to question everything I’d believed about God.

But, somehow, with walls falling down around my ears, I clung to a stubborn, fragile faith (“I believe; help thou my unbelief…”) that God would not ultimately abandon me or my family.

And I would underline and date the promises that were made.

Evidently, 2005-2007 were very trying years.

So much has happened since then. Different urgencies have replaced the original reasons for those cries for help, signed and dated.

Reading them today, I feel a warm chill in my chest. A cool flame.

Some of you know what I mean by that, don’t you?

And I get my epiphany.

Instead of laying my gifts at His feet, He lays more out at mine.

Too many to hold.

I look and wonder.

I see

healing, restoration, renewal,




I see fresh starts and new beginnings.

So many answered prayers.

I see every single promise kept.

Not in my time, not in my way,


The gift of all gifts is a promise.

I marvel at the riches of His love,

the tenacity of His faithfulness.


When things were at a low point about 5 or 6 years ago, something possessed me to invest in a nice bottle of champagne. It was an act of deviance against the Forces of Evil. It was a tangible statement that although at the time, “the fig trees were withering” and all hell was breaking loose, I was choosing to believe that there would once again come a day of celebration.

We popped it open on New Year’s Eve this year.


Just a suggestion: If you resolve anything this year, resolve to spend more time studying the words of God.

When things are particularly awful, search for His promises, pray them, and date them. In ink.

And wait.


“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
but you will restore me to life again
and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again.”
(Psalm 71:20-21)

“For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.”
(Isaiah 49:25)

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home! 

Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.

Your eyes will shine,

and your heart will thrill with joy…”
(Isaiah 60:4-5)