Learning to Love
About the Guest
Caregiving demands that we love as Christ loved. Shelly Beach, a caregiver to her parents and father-in-law for many years, talks with Dennis Rainey about the realities of caregiving--both the stress and the joys.
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 demands that we love as Christ loved.
Learning to Love
Shelly: I expected the caregiving to be about taking care of people and doing things. God snuck up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “This is going to be heart work and my relationship with you.” It was about learning to love and trust God’s character more and out of that, just an overflow of things that came into my relationships with family members and other people. That all sprung from the abundance of the goodness of God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, Shelly Beach shares with us some of the spiritual lessons she learned as a caregiver.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I think, it was 1976, wasn’t it? When you got the call that your father had died?
Dennis: Right, right. The year we started FamilyLife.
Bob: Your mom at that time was how old?
Dennis: She was sixty-four.
Bob: Sixty-four. She was still able to take care of herself. There weren’t any questions. Did you and Barbara even talk about whether she should move to Little Rock? Whether you should try to move to be near her?
Dennis: No. You’d have to have known my mom. She was so independent and self-sufficient as a woman. She had her household together. Although it was a huge shock to her to lose her life partner of almost forty-five years, she was very competent to be able to run her own household.
Bob: I remember as she aged you started making more frequent trips back home. Get in the truck and make a—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: —three and half/four hour drive back up to where you grew up—
Bob: —and spend time with her.
Dennis: That’s right. Every trip was kind of like peeling an onion as I got to know my mom in a different light. She became increasingly more dependent the older she became. Of course, it wasn’t instant. I was able to set some things up to help her after my dad died. Then, I began to help her with other things around the house. Would put together an address list for her to be able to call. Just tried to do everything I could to make life as easy and as acceptable to her and painless as it could possibly be.
Bob: Did you feel guilty being this far away—
Dennis: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Bob: —and feel like you should go up there every weekend?
Dennis: Never, you could never go enough and stay long enough. Then, you stay too long.
Dennis: Then, you feel guilty for staying too long. There’s all that.
We have a guest with us who has been talking with us all this week about giving care to our parents as they grow older. Shelly Beach joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Shelly, welcome back.
Shelly: Good to be with you.
Dennis: Shelly has written a book called Ambushed by Grace. I’d have to say, Shelly’s life was ambushed early around this whole subject of giving care to grandparents, then your parents, and your husband’s parents. Shelly, I’m just going to warn you I’ve never done this before (eighteen years).
Shelly: Oh, my. Oh, my.
Shelly: I’m getting scared.
Dennis: I want to ask you to do something at the end of this broadcast that I usually don’t give a guest the warning that I’m going to do. In your case, because I read your book and I know a little of the story behind this, I’m going to ask you to give a verbal tribute to your father at the end of this broadcast because he is still alive, right?
Shelly: He is.
Dennis: He’s ninety/ninety-one now?
Shelly: He’s ninety. He’s ninety.
Dennis: Ninety. Ninety years of age. I just want him to sit back in his rocking chair, easy boy recliner, or whatever it is he kind of relaxes in and hear your words of honor to him. Will you do that?
Shelly: I would love to that. That would be wonderful.
Dennis: We’re talking, though, about the subject of caring for parents who are growing older. I didn’t tell you this, Shelly; but in doing the homework for your interviews, I called a friend who was the past chairman and CEO of Capital Senior Living. His name is Jim Strout. He is in Dallas, TX. Since 1990, he’s given leadership to really providing healthcare, assisted living for senior adults. In fact, he is the fifth person to be inducted into the Healthcare Hall of Fame.
Dennis: So, he knows what he is talking about. When I asked Jim to kind of summarize what’s happening in families around this issue of caregiving, one word just kept on being repeated by Jim. It was the word stress.
Dennis: He said, “It is a huge stress on the adult children who provide the primary care for their adult parents.” He said, “Twenty-five to thirty percent of the expenses of the elderly parents are handled out of pocket by the caregivers.”
Shelly: That’s true.
Dennis: That’s a huge stress. He talked about just how our parents grow older and how if they lose their job in their fifties and sixties because of the economic climate today; most likely they’re not going to be able to get a job—
Dennis: —like they’ve had. So, they’re chances of experiences poverty or economic need are increasing as we’re all growing older. I heard you say, “There are ten thousand seniors turning sixty-five every day now.”
Shelly: Yes. They’re calling it the silver tsunami. It is totally changing the demographic of the nation in terms of the amount of caregivers to carereceivers. What’s happening economically in the nation as far as care, health care and elder care, is concerned.
Bob: Back a generation ago, Mom and Dad were up there in years in their eighties or their nineties and they needed help, they were probably in the same town because—
Bob: —we kind of stayed in the same town. Today, it’s as likely that Mom and Dad have moved to Florida or that you’re living across the country from where they live. Like Dennis’s situation where his mom is in a different town—
Bob: —you have a desire to be a caregiver or to do something to care for your parents; and yet, you’re apart. How can you effectively engage or help an aging parent if you don’t live in the same community?
Shelly: Well, there are professionals who can help you do that now that you can engage to help: go in and check on your loved ones, perform tasks for them, take them shopping; but that all comes at a price. As far as I’m concerned, I think, this is really becoming more and more the job of the church and the people of God to create circles of support, means of support, and to engage in this process and knowing how to do this.
Really, there are resources that are out there. That’s one thing about my book that I thought was going to be very important. When we started doing this with Norman, we didn’t know where to start. So, I built appendices in the back: all kinds of websites, phone numbers, and resources that people can access to know where you can go to get that kind of assistance.
If you have the dollars, if there are other family resources, family members who can help you, the best place to start is the Area Agency on Aging. Everybody has that in their community. Have them come and do assessment to tell you what you qualify for. That would be paid for through your tax dollars. Then, what services need to be put into place for your loved one whether they’re in your community or whether they’re living in a community across the country that can be done.
Bob: I’m glad, though, that you pulled us back to the local church. We’ve talked about the son and daughter’s responsibility to honor and to care for a parent; but when you look at who God’s heart is turned toward in the Scriptures, widows and orphans keep coming up—
Bob: —as the two people who are powerless in a culture, who need help, who need support. The people of God have requirements to care for them.
Dennis: Yes. In fact, I think it’s close to the heart of God—
Dennis: —to be able to care for these who can’t care for themselves. You’ve found out you said as you begin to care for, first your husband’s father, then, your parents, that you were a generational bigot?
Shelly: Oh, yes. I was a generational bigot.
Dennis: What do you mean by that?
Shelly: Well, there were certain things about those who were older than I am that I didn’t understand, that I found myself to be prejudice and biased about: attitudes and things like that. There were certain things that I found to be quite unlovely about myself, attitudes that I carried.
There’s actually a book that Mary Piper has written called Another Country. It talks about the generational attitudes that do separate us; the fact that we think differently as younger generations and older generations. We simply communicate according to different value systems sometimes.
Dennis: I think that is why God wants us to go near the orphan and the widow because as we get close to them we find out some things about ourselves—
Dennis: —that we would not have confronted otherwise.
Shelly: Having to do with compassion and the fact that we are all the same. At the very core of our being, we all want to be loved, we want to be accepted, we want to be known.
So, I had a father in law in my home who acted for all intensive purposes like he never wanted to be known. The man barely spoke. He was very, very closed in his emotions. He also was a man who had been wounded and hurt very young in life. He did want to be known; and most of all, he needed to be loved.
I needed to find an effective way and means of doing that to the best of my ability. I needed the church to help equip me to do that. Fortunately, right now, I’m in a church that does help equip me to do that. We do things that help caregivers all the time. We have an entire portion of our church in our health ministry that is devoted to helping those who are caregivers.
Bob: What kind of help? What kinds of things can a church do to help, not only the elderly, but help those who are caregivers?
Shelly: Well, we have a faith community nurse in our church who helps keep tabs on physical things as far as some of those needs are concerned. If you’re in the hospital, she’s there to support you. We have counselors on staff at our church that are available. We also have people who are becoming more and more knowledgeable about what resources are available in the community and can point you in the direction of community resources.
We also put on regular training seminars for people like me to come in and speak and help you know what resources are available to you, where you can access them. I don’t know what’s available in Arkansas, for instance, but I can provide you with a good foundation of information that will help point you in the right direction. So, we put on conferences and seminars. We have a respite program that we’re putting together. This is so needed.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Shelly: —and so necessary. It can be as simple as this. Do you have five children? I have a mother with Alzheimer’s. Could you please come to my house an hour or two a week just bring your kids over and let them play? Let my mother watch your children play. I can go down the hallway, lie down, take a nap for an hour.
My mother was mesmerized by small children and babies. She loved to watch children play. If you could just do that once a week, bring your kids to my house; and I could go down the hallway, know that my mom was safe, and I could lie down and take a nap. That was heaven to me. That was a simple system I worked out with a good friend who now has moved actually here to Arkansas. She brought her children over to my house to play; so, I could nap.
Respite can be that simple. It can be more complicated. If you had a hot tub, baby, I was coming over. I’d ask for your hot tub.
I needed to get out of my home. My home was not a place of solitude and rest. So, if you had a hot tub, I was coming over.
Dennis: You know, Shelly, I’m listening to you. It just sounds relentless.
Dennis: It would seem—back to Bob’s question of me that he asked earlier, “Did I ever feel guilty for not going to see my mom?” Well, it was constant.
Dennis: There was a period of time that I was going almost every weekend.
Dennis: Sometimes, to drive four hours, to spend four hours with her, to turn around and come back for commitment or an obligation that my own family had. The issue of boundaries, guilt, all that has to be dealt with—
Shelly: It does.
Dennis: —with a caregiver, right?
Shelly: It does. That’s why when I wrote this book I had to deal with some of those issues specifically. There’s a chapter on guilt. There’s a chapter that deals with boundaries. Guilt, in particular, true guilt and false guilt.
We are supposed to deal with true guilt in this world. If I have offended you, if I am responsible for a sin, I need to set that straight. I need to get that right with God. That has to do with sin and commission or omission, doing certain things that are a violation of Scripture.
False guilt is an expectation that I have of myself or an expectation that somebody places upon me. It really doesn’t have anything to do with right or wrong or morality or immorality. It’s simply sometimes there’s not enough of me. There never will be. We have to understand that those false guilt feelings are things that we’re going to deal with. Recognize them as part of the landscape. It is not the same as the real guilt, the true, biblical guilt that comes as a different part of the package.
Bob: There is guilt that comes from the accuser of the brethren where he brings condemnation and tries to take you out of the game by just making you feel guilty. Then, there’s conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit when we realize, “I’ve offended God’s law, His holiness, His standards.” That produces in us repentance that leads to life. Guilt just kind of takes you completely off the playing field, and that’s exactly what the enemy would have happen to you.
I’m curious, back to this whole issue of boundaries. You tell a story, and I don’t remember if this was you and one of your parents or if it was somebody else you knew; a mom or a dad who had moved into the house and started complaining about the church that they were being taken to. Was that one of your parents?
Shelly: We set a standard when we had family members in our home that you couldn’t complain about the church that we took you to that was just our church. The church is the body of Christ. This is the church that we’re attending, and we expect you to express an attitude of honor and respect for our church.
Bob: It took a few weeks for your dad to learn that boundary in your home, right?
Dennis: I’m chuckling here, Shelly—
Dennis: —because it’s what kind of like what goes around comes around. There was time when you were a little girl—
Dennis: —and perhaps, he took you to church, right?
Bob: Said, “You’re not going complain about it.”
Dennis: And said, “You’re not going to complain about. This is where we’re going to go.”
Shelly: Well, my dad’s very conservative in his taste of music as a lot of people of an older generation are. That’s his taste and standard in music. Our church expresses a wide diversity. You might hear Opera one Sunday, you might hear Southern Gospel, you might hear something that’s much more contemporary. It reflects the gifts of the body of Christ. We sat down the boundary that this is a standard in our home, we do not complain.
Bob: It feels odd as an adult child putting boundaries around your parents because it was always the other way around. They were putting the boundaries around you.
Shelly: Right. There is a standard in our home that had to be stated. There has to be communication about what’s to be expected, or chaos will ensue; and there will be a lot of resentment that will flow from that. So, actually, what we needed to do was—there’s some basic principles about boundary setting that I wanted to establish. They would go for whether or not my children were there, whether or not I had another family member there.
One of them had to do with autonomy. I wanted to protect my family member’s autonomy as much as possible: to respect them and for them to respect the autonomy of our marriage, that my husband and I are a family unit. He is the head of the home and to respect that. Also, try to respect my parents’ autonomy as much as possible and respect their choices and decisions.
Then, negotiation. There are going to be times when we have to negotiate and put things on the table. We’re going to have to come to some point of agreement. If you have to negotiate, I would suggest first that you prepare and you pray. Get information, get facts, find out what kinds of things need to be talked about. If you are going to have to come to a compromise, you need information.
Then, you need to affirm one another. What are the strengths that each person brings to this decision, what are the positives that are there?
Then, the importance of understanding one another in the negotiation process and really understanding that we’re not all alike, we’re not all going to agree on this; but I really am working to have a clear understanding of your point of view on this; and then searching for solutions that you’re all going to engage in that process together.
That as much as possible, try to search for clear solutions and evaluate the options. You have to look at the options. What’s the pro and the con and the give and the take that is going to take place in those options? Respect, listening, honesty.
Whenever you go into any kind of situation with boundaries, there have to be expectations and consequences. Sometimes, there were certain expectations that I had to lay down and certain consequences that I had to lay down when it came to that boundary setting as well.
Bob: It’s not easy when it’s your mom and dad that you’re setting boundaries for—dishing out consequences if they don’t live up to them.
Shelly: That’s true. That’s true.
Bob: I’ve been curious about the title of your book because you don’t expect a book titled Ambushed by Grace to be a book about caregiving.
Bob: Yet, you felt strongly that this is the central theme that you wanted to communicate. In this six plus years that you had a parent in your home—
Bob: —that was a time when you grew in your relationship with God exponentially.
Shelly: Absolutely. It actually turned out to be more like eight or ten years, but I expected the caregiving to be about taking care of people and doing things.
God snuck up on me from behind, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “This is about you and your heart. I’m going to change you. This is going to be about heart work and my relationship with you.”
It was about reconciliation. It was about learning to love. It was about learning to love and trust God’s character more. Out of that, just an overflow of things that came into my relationships with family members and other people. That all sprung from the abundance of goodness of God.
Dennis: It is interesting that you were ambushed as a little girl as you helped take care of your ninety year old grandmother.
Dennis: It’s kind of a theme of your life that God wanted to use, older parents in your life to bring you back to Him and to grow you spiritually.
Bob: I think all of us have got to grapple with what is our responsibility and how are we going to respond as our parents grow older and as they need us more. It’s not that everybody is going to respond with the same conclusion that you responded with, but we’re all going to have to decide how do we serve our parents and how do we ultimately serve God in this reality. That’s where I think your book can really help us as we think through what our response is going to be.
We’ve got Shelly’s book, which is called Ambushed by Grace, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Call toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, ask about the book, Ambushed by Grace, from Shelly Beach. The toll-free number 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800 F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word TODAY. Or order online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis, I know you have a final assignment for Shelly before we’re done today; but before we get to that, let me say a quick word of thanks to those listeners who from time to time will get in touch with us either online or by phone to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today financially.
We appreciate your generosity and your willingness to partner with us in this radio program. We’re listener supported. More than sixty-five percent of the budget for the ministry of FamilyLife Today is met by people who make those occasional donations to keep us on the air, to keep our website up, to keep our resources coming. We’re grateful for your participation with us in this ministry.
If you’re able to make a donation this month to help support FamilyLife Today, we’d like to invite you to request a book by our friend Dr. John Yates, a book called How a Man Prays for His Family.
Along with the book, we’ll send you an audio CD that includes a conversation we had with John on this subject; and a couple of prayer cards that are laminated that a dad can keep with him at work, in his car, or tuck it away in your Bible to prompt you to pray for your children and to offer some specific suggestions on how you can be praying for your children.
Again, we’ll send these resources out when you contact us to make a donation this month. If you make that donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com and you’d like to receive the resources I’ve just mentioned, type the word “PRAY” in the key code box on the online donation form. We’ll send that out to you.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make a donation over the phone, and just ask for the resources for men on prayer. Again, we’re happy to send those out to you. We so much appreciate your support of this ministry and we’re grateful to hear from you. Dennis.
Dennis: Well, we’ve had the privilege all this week of listening to Shelly Beach talk about how to be an effective caregiver of our parents as they grow older. Shelly, you’ve done a wonderful job with your book, Ambushed by Grace. I appreciate your being with us. I asked you to give a tribute to your ninety year old father. He lived with you how long as an older parent?
Shelly: Three years.
Dennis: Three years.
Dennis: Undoubtedly, he is going to be listening.
Shelly: He’s asked several times already when this is going to air.
Dennis: What is his name?
Shelly: His name is Paul Burke.
Dennis: Well, Mr. Burke, we’re going to step out of the studio and Shelly is just going to speak with you personally.
Shelly: Well, Dad, you gave me great gifts growing up. One the most precious would be a love for the Word of God. That has carried me in my faith all of my life. I think a second gift that you gave to me, Dad, is that you taught me how to love well. You could have stepped away from Mom’s side when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Over and over and over again, when things were hard and difficult, you could have chosen to move to another facility, to move to a different place where it would have been easier for her; but to the very, very end, to the moment that Mom passed, you served her selflessly. You loved her every day. You cared for her every need. You were the face of Jesus to her. I can never thank you enough for that, Dad.
I thank you for continually pouring into the lives of your children and grandchildren. You’re love language has been consistent. I just want to tell you today how much I love you and thank God for you.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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