Tap Your Caregiver Strengths

I am a full-time caregiving mom for an adult daughter with severe-profound developmental disabilities and complex health issues. Family caregivers like me understand that self-care can feel daunting, even impossible much of the time. A nap is rare for most. A pedicure, while offering a sweet pampering pick-me-up, doesn’t have far-reaching impact.

I get up every day with more than an aching back and sore forearms. I start each day like every other parent caring for a loved one who has disabilities or mental health concerns. Those caring for an aging parent our spouse understand too. We all have desperate needs to keep up our energy, feel competent, provide safe and efficient care, remain loving and compassionate, fight fears, feel a sense of control over our circumstances, get satisfying socialization, balance attention to each loved one in our lives, do adequate self-care and generally stay encouraged.

Caregivers don’t need to live at the end of their rope! There is a way to stay energized and effective.

REFUEL

Caregivers must explore with great intention how we get energized right down to our soul. Many popular self-care tips are little more than “Band-Aids” with relatively short-term effect on a person’s capacity to serve sacrificially, let alone for the long haul. Caregivers with sustained, long-term energy pay attention to nourishing themselves in body, mind and spirit. Psalm 139 is a wonderful reminder that each of us is complex and unique, beautifully woven by the hand and heart of Almighty God. Christian temperament therapy has been one of the most valuable and transformative tools God has used to help my own family understand and appreciate God’s imprint on us. Caregivers can learn to fuel their souls in very personal, targeted and efficient ways. The process of fueling up helps us optimize our strengths, recognize areas of weakness and vulnerability, identify ways to cooperate with others and ultimately lean into the power of Jesus.

REASSESS

Caregivers are spurred on by having a vision. Do you have a sense of why God has called you to such a situation? God’s Word is rich with truth about His sovereign goodness in disability and reasons for asking us to take care of each other. We benefit from understanding our role on a team that includes God and others. We also need a well-fitting “yoke” and we need to wear it right alongside our Supreme Apprentice — Jesus. A prayerful look at Matthew 11:28-29 gives clues about how to walk in our strengths as caregivers:

Am I really carrying the “burdens” that are meant for me?

Am I carrying these responsibilities in the way that God means for me to carry them?

REPENT

Sin creates a sense of burden and fatigue. No caregiver needs any extra weight! I love the promise of Acts 3:19-20 that offers me a refreshing when I repent of my sin. Every caregiver has his/her own habits and hang-ups that hinder our connection with God and the fruitful potential of our life. I’ll be the first to admit that my caregiver stress can make me vulnerable to sinning. I am not my best self when I don’t pay attention to fueling my soul in godly ways. Psalm 139:23-24 reminds me to take an honest assessment of myself. Second Corinthians 12:9 reassures me that God’s strength is perfect, enough for me and fully accessible to me.

REORIENT

A strong and fruitful caregiver organizes time and priorities around God’s values, their own sweet spots (gifts, talents, experience and temperament strengths) and God’s calling (His unique design and purpose for each of us). Verses like Exodus 14:14, John 15, Acts 17:25 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 assure us that God wants to take care of caregivers. We must keep circling our wagons (or wheelchairs, walkers and adapted bikes) around Jesus Christ.

Learning to find our strengths as caregivers is a process. Learning to stay in a sustained groove of energy, effectiveness and sense of purpose is a life-long commitment. We are works-in-progress, after all. The opportunity in that process is to develop a precious intimacy with God and others. God is patient with us and delights in the adventure of our “growing up” with Him. We need to have compassion and patience with ourselves. We must also develop compassion and patience with others around us who are trying to learn their own sweet spots on the team.

Here are some ways to tap your strengths if you are someone who gets energy from doing tasks and thinking about ways to be efficient…

Check out several other practical tips for caregivers who want to optimize their role and stay energized on the caregiving team. (Click the download button below.) Use this downloadable file as a springboard for discussion with your family about how to keep each other energized and satisfied.

If you are a strained caregiver, let me assure you that there is hope. There are opportunities and great purposes in what you do. You will be imperfect but God redeems sins and weakness while empowering us with His Holy Spirit. He is able to create much out of nothing. He will remain trustworthy in our atypical lives even when we are doubting. Your mustard seed of faith is enough for Him. God wants you to experience peace — body, mind and spirit — and He will meet you with power right now and forever.

Psalm 73:25-26
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
He is mine forever.


Walk Right In Ministries can help you or someone you care about to tap their caregiving potential.

  • Learn about God’s imprint on you, your needs and your purpose with a temperament therapist who is certified through the National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA) or the Sarasota Academy of Christian Counseling (SACC). WRIM’s own Lisa Jamieson is certified with SACC and a licensed pastoral counsellor.
  • Work with a licensed pastoral counselor to help your family understand areas of unique strength, weakness and vulnerability. We can help you identify causes of things like anxiety, anger, exhaustion, depression, fear and resentment through scripture, prayer and tools that help explain God’s unique role and purpose for you.
  • Get involved in our peer support group for family caregivers.
  • Explore practical strategies (e.g., ways to build your “tribe” of support, growing as God’s disciple). Reach out for WRIM’s caregiver consulting services.

Write us at info@walkrightin.org or fill out our online Interest Form.


LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.

I Considered a Life Reset and Got the Reboot I Never Expected

In the late spring of 2020 when it started becoming clear that Covid quarantining wasn’t going to end soon, I started realizing a lifestyle reset was in order. It took several months and an untimely accident to shake me to my core and get my soul powered up for the long winter at home parenting an adult child who doesn’t understand why her world has so dramatically changed.

You know how it is when you restart your computer. The process is designed to clear errors and bring the system to normal condition in a controlled manner. My phone reminds me on a weekly basis to restart all of my devices. I’m told that a reset puts less stress on the hardware than power cycling because the power isn’t removed. How interesting!

I would really like my life to be cleared of errors and to feel like it’s working in an orderly manner. And, as this computer metaphor suggests, I would benefit from staying connected to my Power Source in the midst of transitions.

Life sure does benefit from a ‘restart’ now and again. Many of us try to reset our priorities on New Year’s Eve. A new schoolyear and birthdays are seen like fresh starts for many. Spiritually speaking, repentance gives us a chance to begin anew too.

Acts 3:19-20 
Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah.

2 Corinthians 5:17 
Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

I’ve been desperate for refreshing lately while asking God to protect some old stuff I actually did NOT want gone!

My 22-year-old daughter Carly has Angelman Syndrome and lives at home. Her anxiety and difficult behaviors have ebbed and flowed through degrees of troublesome to exhausting throughout the pandemic. She’s confused. She’s lonely. She’s bored. She needs more physical touch — lots more. Like you and me, she’s sick of it all. But she doesn’t have effective coping skills or communication abilities to give voice to her many feelings and needs. She’s destroying clothing (chewing collars and sleeves, literally ripping pajamas off at night and risking damage to her teeth on zippers). She’s having trouble going to sleep at night and staying asleep throughout. She gets agitated during the day without our creatively offering as many choices as possible on laminated photo cards. I fear the poor girls feels like she has no control over her world anymore. Last week she bit me twice — hard. This from the girl who hasn’t bit me more than two or three times in her whole life until now.

In the midst of navigating Carly’s needs, the usual household chores and several pressing work deadlines, my husband and I sat down to finish recording a presentation we were doing for the Wonderfully Made Conference. We wrapped up just before lunch one day back in September and I decided to eat a sandwich on our deck while catching up on a few emails. After that I was going to record another of my personal presentations.

It was in that moment of sunshine when our already sideways world turned completely upside down.

I spilled a full glass of orange juice on my laptop. Let’s just say that the past four weeks since that day have been deeply disappointing, stretching and eye-opening. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. The conference presentation I was going to record after lunch that day was titled, “RESET: A Seasonal Necessity for Special Needs Families.”

My original inspiration for the subject was the pandemic. Now I was living a metaphor that had me squirming deeply. It took me to my knees day after day while we waited for the data recovery specialist to bring news that my badly damaged hard drive was restored. A couple of weeks went by and the conference organizers were graciously waiting on me. But their window of flexibility was quickly narrowing. Other concerns and timelines were looming too.

One morning, I had a caregiver staffed with Carly for the day so I could get back to regrouping and trying to record my presentation from memory — without my notes or PowerPoint slides. I was tempted to throw down breakfast and head straight into the battle before me. I longed to take a cup of tea and my Bible to our deck as the warm fall days will soon be past. But that felt indulgent on a day when opportunity to “take the hill” was in front of me and I had help with Carly for a limited time.

Reluctantly taking a lesson from myself and many past talks I’ve given to countless others, I leaned into Jesus’ prompting to carry His lighter burden and go to the deck anyway. Against all my task-oriented leanings and self-reliant ways, I tried to yield to that still small voice that wooed me, “be still, Lisa.” One of the original verses I had planned to reference in the RESET talk was ringing in my ears, “Come to me…find rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

I sat down wondering where to open my Bible but got distracted. My mind wandered to Joshua 3 and 4. Those are favorite passages that inspired the naming of Walk Right In Ministries back in 2008. And they continue to be reminder and inspiration to me about walking in faith, one step at a time, and trusting God to show each next step as I trust Him and obey Him.

For a moment I got curious. What, specifically, happened right after the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River to the Promised Land? I could specifically recall. I knew that their lives of slavery and then wandering in the desert were followed by a period of many victories in battles that seemed insurmountable. But I couldn’t remember whether the Bible gave any specifics about the transition period between marking the Gilgal spot with a pile of rocks and then heading into that first battle.

Immediately, I had a sense that there could be clues in Joshua 5 or a powerful example of a God-style, God-sized, power-packed reset. What I found there was, in fact, a gold mine. Within about 15 minutes time, I had a roadmap and encouragement to step back into my life with peace and a renewed sense of empowerment. My fear was gone and my frustration was released. The sense of pressure I felt to dig into my projects no longer had a grip on me or my blood pressure. I felt like the soldiers walking quietly and patiently around Jericho simply waiting for the final blast of the horn. I wondered what walls God was planning to throw down when I had the chance to shout praise for His perfect timing and process on the road to my Promised Land.

That was a holy moment in my life. Reading Joshua 5 and 6 with a deep personal need and new perspective was just what I needed. I was no longer stuck and my process for a course correction was clear.

As a bonus, I had a brand new (and much better) outline for my presentation. What would have taken me a couple of days to rebuild, had been reestablished with fresh perspective and new fire (passion) in just minutes. Once again, the Divine irony.

Here is the Joshua reset model God showed me.

REAFFIRM IDENTITY Joshua 5:2-7

Remembering WHO and WHOSE they were was essential to claiming the promises and hope ahead. The only reason that circumcision mattered was because there was a promise on the other side.

We tend to let disability start to define us as individuals and a family. We can tend to give disability too much power over our grief, logistics, attitudes towards caregiving, etc.When one of our daughters once exclaimed in frustration many years ago, “We’re so high maintenance!” I knew we needed to review how we thought about disability in our family.

Romans 2:29 
True circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit.

REST Joshua 5:8

Before heading straight into battle, the Israelites spent time recovering and regrouping from everything behind them.

Getting adequate self-care feels impossible for many caregivers. We need to have compassion for ourselves in weakness and trust God while we fight for refreshment in mind, body and spirit. I fight as hard for sleep, respite, vacations, staycations and deep connections with loved ones as I ever did for Carly’s IEPs, quality medical care, therapies and healing.

CELEBRATE Joshua 5:9-10

God told them to roll away the shame of their slavery in Egypt. He knew that the Passover Feast (a celebration of God’s faithfulness) would restore their confidence in Him, boost their morale and bond them as an army of warriors for the battle ahead.

Our investment in celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and family reunions — despite how difficult that can be to make happen — is a way to cultivate appreciation and grace for each other while developing relational bonds. Those bonds will be valuable to us and our children’s future in ways we probably can’t fully understand now.

FUEL UP Joshua 5:11-12

The Israelites stopped eating the manna of the past and starting nourishing on the crops of Canaan (the Promised Land).

Ecclesiastes 7:10 
Don’t long for the “good old days,” for you don’t know whether they were any better than today.

We have to keep saturating our minds with God’s promises, our future hope. There is too much temptation to dwell on life’s ease before disability or fantasies about what the future would look like without it. Fueling up on gratitude and God’s promises helps me keep my goals and priorities in perspective. Effective soul care keeps me energized too. Our family has used Christian temperament therapy for almost 25 years to understand how God uniquely created each one of us. And that helps us learn to optimize our strengths, recognize our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and teaches us how to tap our full potential by leaning into the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

WALK IN ATTENTIVENESS TO GOD Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:21

The Israelites needed to pay attention to God every step of the way. As he walked toward his battlefield, Joshua asked God, “What do you want your servant to do? (Joshua 5:14-15) As God’s army of chosen people asked for His leadership, trusted His strategy, obeyed methodically and responded thoroughly, God made them strong.

Seeking God for guidance and help as a lifestyle impacts how we put supports in place and build teams (respite staff, volunteer helpers, medical providers, supports planners, church, IEPs, guardianship and wills, etc.). God is ready to help us handle crisis (illness/hospitalization, pandemic) and approach transitions (education, caregiving team, jobs) too.

Joshua and the Israelite army did not rush but walked methodically in faith and obedience (Joshua 6:3-5) trusting for the promise (Joshua 6:2). They had to be thorough in their obedient follow-through by destroying everything and not taking anything with them. All of the plunder was to be an offering to the Lord. (Joshua 6:17-21).

This day and this situation is not just about WHAT and WHOSE battles we fight but HOW we fight them.

Matthew 11:28-29  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach youand you will find rest for your souls. 

I’m still unpacking the full meaning of Joshua’s reset model for my own march toward the promises of God. And I’m excited. I’m no longer stuck in regrets about the past or lamenting what is lacking yet today. I’ve captured the vision of my Israelite ancestors and I’m walking in freedom, anticipating the surprises of God’s love.

What can this look like for YOU?
What are your next steps toward the promises God has for you and your family?
What is on the other side of COVID, our marriage storm or disability?
What is on the other side of anything that is disabling you or your family?

Like Joshua, let’s stop right now and pray, “What do you want me to do?” and then worship God. Joshua worshipped by taking off his sandals and recognizing the holiness of that moment on the edge of promise (Joshua 5:15).

Recognize YOUR Holy Moment!
Walk closely with your God and let Him pave your way to His love.

Watch Reset: A Seasonal Necessity for Special Needs Families.


LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.

Vision that Energizes Caregivers

Life’s challenges seem to cry out as problems to be fixed. Those cries never seems louder than when we ourselves or a loved one is facing limitations, obstacles or hurts. God is our Supreme Fixer. But His approach to “fixing” things is always more creative and economical than our own.

Consider the maple tree. Sap flowing in the spring could seem bad — almost as if the tree is bleeding or under some great pressure. If we didn’t know how to tap the sweetness of the syrup, we might naively run to plug up the leaks! But the flow of that sap is actually good for the tree. And it’s great on my waffles!

I’m not “making lemons out of lemonade” when I say that challenges in life are full of opportunities that bring good to us and to others too.

Caregiving for our daughter Carly is intensely hard for me in some ways. I “leak” tears. Sometimes it’s so hard that I might as well be bleeding. Under the emotional overwhelm of certain pain and death, Jesus actually sweat blood (Luke 22:44). I have argued with God suggesting “I was not made for this!” I try to wiggle out of some responsibilities or just put them off. On many an occasion, I delay taking Carly to the restroom because snuggling with her on the couch is all the energy I can muster. But then the price is paid when a toileting accident creates an extra load of laundry.

There is a way to optimize our strengths in the caregiving role and get an adequate dose of rest. I know this because I’ve seen personal and family progress in over the two-plus decades with Carly. I’ve discovered some keys behind that progress by observing what works well in my family and others I serve in ministry —and what does not. I’m learning it is possible to find a caregiving groove.

Finding our groove starts with being intentional about our strategies as well as fully aware that God has designed each of us carefully, lovingly and purposefully. God is in the process of empowering me, Carly, my family and our circumstances for something valuable in His Kingdom. This is true for you too.

We need to be strategic and fully aware that God’s design for each individual person and circumstance is generously loving, creative, powerful and purposeful.

Each person on the caregiving team is unique. For example, some need a lot of interaction with people while others want fewer relationships but desire to connect more deeply in those relationships. Some caregivers draw energy from accomplishing the tasks and household chores at hand while others need time for deep thinking. Some are very good decision makers. Some are very independent and need space to serve alone. Others prefer to serve alongside others and work collaboratively. Some work well under pressure. Others are exhausted just thinking about deadlines. Some are leaders, some are followers. When it comes to caregiving, you might say, “It takes all kinds.”

There are no “good” or “bad” types of people in terms of how our souls are wired to thrive and contribute. Every one of us has different talents, passions and temperaments. Each of us is abundantly unique and wonderfully made. God calls us His masterpieces (Ephesians 3:10). In fact, by the creative hand of God, each of us has purpose and beauty.

We will spend a lifetime learning to understand and appreciate how the handiwork of God is woven into us. Being a caregiver puts us on a fast track, urgently needing to learn these things. Living and loving well involves discovering our strengths and how to lean harder into Jesus in areas of weakness. To be sure, every single one of us faces sin, weakness and times of hopelessness. There will be times when we are at our wits end. When the Apostle Paul faced that scenario, he said it was “so that he would learn to rely on God rather than himself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8-9
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

Surely one of the reasons God allows us to see and feel our own limits — to come desperately to the end of our ropes — is to teach us how to experience Him more deeply. Another of His reasons is to put His perfection on display through interventions (I’ll call them miracles) in ways the are obviously His doing, not our own. I am rarely more encouraged by God or reassured of His power than when I’m at the end of my own rope and then see something Divine happen. God nearness is tangible to me when something unfolds well and unexpectedly despite my feeling helpless and powerless.

Every parent caring for a child with disabilities knows what it feels like to have complicated and insurmountable demands on our natural strengths and capacities. Every family caregiving team has felt stretched beyond themselves at times. There isn’t always an escape from the circumstances — a way to take a break or get help around the corner.

It is possible to find your caregiving groove.

In order to thrive in life and relationships, we must ask God to demonstrate His power in our weakness and teach us how to optimize our strengths. The prayer of serenity helps me put this in helpful perspective: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We won’t always have the benefit of serving only in ways that come naturally or most easily for us. There will always be times when sacrificial cooperation is needed. There will always be times when God’s revelation of strength will be very obvious.

These can be some helpful focusing questions:

  • How did God design me for this?
    Read Psalm 139 slowly out loud asking God to show you what you have to offer.
  • Are the responsibilities I am carrying, really the ones I am called to carry?
    Read John 15:1-4 slowly out loud asking Him to give you discernment about priorities, obligations and opportunities in your particular situation and current season.  
  • What does God’s sovereignty look like in your current situation?
    Read the following verses slowly out loud: Colossians 1:16-17, Philippians 3:20-21 and Hebrews 12:12-13. Ask God to reassure you of opportunities for blessings in your situation.

Learning to be attentive is a process. We need to have compassion for ourselves and trust God to hold us securely in His love and grace. As we patiently persevere in finding our best role on the caregiving team, we can also release and empower others into theirs. No one person is the savior or rescuer of the person with disabilities. Only God can do that.

God Works Through Community

God does some of His most beautiful and transformative work in community. He may even use dire circumstances to show others around us that there is a great need to rally troops. When family caregivers keep their weariness private, they may be obstructing a work God is wanting the community to do. The needs and opportunities must be visible and known. That means caregiving families may need to be more transparent and vulnerable before God releases power in the form of help from others.

When my own church, family or friends have not responded to my family’s need for help, it has either been because we failed to make our needs known or because they have failed to step up to God’s call. Very often, it is a combination of both.

“It takes all kinds.”

It serves families well to explore the division of labor from time to time. The implication is that responsibilities are meant to be shared. No one person can or should pull the load alone. The weight feels lighter when it’s carried from a place of strength and partnership. Cooperation and delegation are essential to the resilience of each caregiver. Sometimes the partnership comes from within the family but it often includes many from outside the household too. In any case, everyone wins by learning to optimize their own special role on the caregiving team, cooperate with others and remain attentive to the Holy Spirit. We can trust God to keep shaping and molding us — individually and as a team — in responding to the needs around us.

Caregivers don’t need to live at the end of their rope. The way we stay energized and effective requires a lifestyle of attentiveness to God. Jesus is our Source for purpose, confidence, reassurance and hope. When we keep going to Jesus to fuel our soul and align our lives with His design, the Holy Spirit equips and empowers us to live generously in love and service beyond ourselves.

Lisa’s article Tapping Caregiver Strengths is coming later this week with more energy-building, life-giving ideas about how to optimize roles on the caregiving team.


LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.

BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 3): Seven Ways to Energize & Refresh Your Special Needs Family

This is the final installment in a three-part BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES for special needs families. I hope you’ll have a chance to go back and readPart 1 and Part 2.

I also discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.

You can read all kinds of books and blog articles about boosting morale. You could invest a lot of time in trial-and-error mode, testing ideas but feeling a mounting pressure or disappointment when some things don’t work as well as you hoped.

I want to help you skip past as much of that exertion and discouragement as possible. As I’ve said several times in this series, responding to the real root of what is undermining morale will give your family the most positive traction much more quickly and effectively.

So, as you prayerfully ponder these seven ways to energize and refresh your special needs family, I want to ask you to keep the unique and individualized needs of your family at the front of your mind. Home in on an area below that most closely addresses the roots of anxiety or discouragement. Here are some examples:

If someone is struggling with all the things out of their control, it should help to review the scriptures and tips under “Anchor Your Worth and Competence in Christ.”

If someone is struggling mentally, their mood is quite likely to begin shifting when they “Saturate Your Mind with Truth.”

If someone is feeling isolation fatigue, they will benefit from a strategic look at “Connect in Community.”

For those who tend to be more emotionally oriented, look closely at “Change Your Scenery.”

If things just don’t feel fair, read the noted scriptures carefully under “Remember that God is Just.”

If you’re feeling stuck or trapped, there is potential for great refreshment within the whole family when you “Take a Step of Faith” together!

If you’re simply exhausted, you’ll find a creative and collaborative effort to “Rest” pays off generously.

Now let’s really dig in to where the rubber hits the road!

Saturate Your Mind with Truth

PROVERBS 23:7 | 2 CORINTHIANS 10:5 | PHILLIPIANS 4:8

This is critical area of opportunity for people who spend a lot of time thinking or who tend to be deep thinkers. Renewing your mind with truth is a powerful mood shifter when you are vulnerable to things like fear, doubt, confusion, shame, guilt, discouragement and burnout. The scriptures (especially those listed above) will help keep your mind focused on God’s Kingdom meaning and purpose in things like suffering and waiting. When thoughts are spiraling, God’s Word is a calming anchor.

Connect in Community

HEBREWS 10:25 | 2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-5 | ROMANS 3:10,23 | JAMES 5:16

This one is BIG! No matter who we are, we all need relationships. But we don’t all need them to the same degree. Be careful about lumping people into categories like “introverts” and “extroverts.” Those labels can mislead. It is usually more helpful to think specifically about the kinds of connections different people need. Do you enjoy casual connections, want mostly deeper relationships — or both? (I’ll elaborate on these below.) It’s also important to factor in what is needed compared to what is actually expressed. For example, some people actually have a great need for relationships but don’t really show it. They may rarely initiate connections. And since they don’t express their need, people get confused or pull away.

There are very generally two kinds of connections and we don’t all need both.

  • Casual Connections — If someone in your household is missing being out and about during quarantine or needs to feel connected in the broader community, they could be the best person to do the grocery shopping. Encourage them to turn on LIVE radio and TV shows. Invite them to sit with a group around a socially distanced bonfire or play virtual games. It has helped our daughter Carly to be part of Zoom dance parties. And she’s been learning to throw dice while playing Zoom Farkle with her friend and cousins.
  • Deep Relationships — Some people need relationships where they can connect on a more intimate or emotional level. These are the kinds of relationships where there is an exchange of love, affection and appreciation. Whether it involves several or just a few people, these are the people in your household who look to close friends, family members, their church fellowship and a counsellor for a warm sense of belonging. When something like caregiving or the quarantine limits these deeper connections, it’s absolutely essential to find ways of adapting and accommodating the need. People with higher needs in this area may find it helpful to snuggle with a pet, cuddle with loved one, get creative about how to have a date, go for a walk holding hands with your partner, watch shows about relationships or read character-driven stories. They will want to play the kinds of games that rely on conversation. It should not be surprising that this person will run from a game of Chess but (all irony intended) thoroughly enjoy the game Pandemic! This type of person may even enjoy hanging out with a friend on Zoom while they both do a puzzle or craft and sip a cold beverage. You may want to give these family members permission to sit out on the driveway for social distancing conversations or spend more time on the phone.  

Change Your Scenery

HEBREWS 11:8 | ACTS 22:7 | PSALM 40:2

This is a helpful tip for shifting anyone’s mood but especially people who tend to be more creative or connected to their emotions. Those who “feel everything” or who feel things more intensely will benefit greatly from moving their body or moving the furniture! Back in April, we rearranged our family room and we love it. A couple weeks later, we we changed around our deck furniture and added new plants. All of that was so simple and has been like a breath of fresh air that keeps paying daily dividends.

When you need to boost mom’s morale, let her go take a shower. Some dads love and teenagers love to mow the lawn to get some alone time or listen to their music. It could be the change of atmosphere that is lifting their spirits. Try using paper plates, eating outside or sitting at a different table. You can invite your most creative child to build a fancy table setting. The point is to switch up the routine. Light a candle, read a different kind of book (choose a different genre), change your clothes, cut your hair, buy new sheets for your bed or bring some flowers in from outside.

Anchor Your Worth & Competence In Christ

ISAIAH 54:10 | PHILLIPIANS 4:13 | 2 CORINTHIANS 3:5

It is not at all unusual for caregivers and parents to struggle with feeling like they are doing enough for their loved one with special needs. They lament not having bandwidth to balance the needs of multiple children. Children perceive pressure to measure up too. We’re all tempted to measure our own worth in this world by what we contribute or some privately created standard of “quality.” Ultimately, our confidence can only grow from having our identity firmly rooted in Christ not in what role we play in our family, church, workplace or community. Our value to God isn’t based in our efforts. We’re saved by our faith alone. If you struggle with feeling like you don’t measure up or worry about what others think of you, remember that perceptions can be far from reality.

Remember God is Just

ACTS 17:31 | 1 JOHN 1:9 | PSALM 58:10-11

God’s word speaks loudly about His promise of justice. Ask God to reassure you by showing you meaning and purpose in your challenges as well as your future hope. If someone is really struggling in this area, a good devotional on biblical justice or the sovereignty of God is likely to be very encouraging.

Take A Step in Faith

PROVERBS 3:5-6 | 1 CORINTHIANS 2:5 | 2 CORINTHIANS 5:7 | EPHESIANS 2:10

Do you want to see your encouragement to grow, enthusiasm about life to be restored in your family or faith to blossom in someone you love? Start with one simple response to a sense of godly prompting.

Pray together asking God to show you one way He wants you to take action, then walk it out as a family. Few things create as much excitement as seeing God reveal his presence, power and goodness in response to our faith and obedience. Our circumstances are complicated and when we look too far ahead, we get overwhelmed.

Our special needs families will find encouragement in taking one step at a time while holding plans loosely and anticipating the surprises of God’s love.

Rest

EXODUS 14:14 | EPHESIANS 3:20-21

Oh, how often morale in our family wanes because we are plain bone tired and simply don’t listen to our body. I think special needs families can run on fumes so often they start to forget how exhausted they are. Overwhelm starts to feel normal.

We underestimate the transformative effects of a power nap or a shower. Or we resist resting because we’re afraid that once we stop, we’ll never be able to go again. We see complex needs and circumstances in front of us and assume full responsibility for fixing problems, finding cures, optimizing developmental potential and finding comfort for pain while also doing all the same things the neighbors do like maintaining the house and cars.

May I suggest, quit trying harder and just draw nearer to God. Give yourself a “time out” with Jesus. It sounds simplistic and super spiritual. But what if God really does love your family even more than you do? What if he really is sovereign and trustworthy? What if “taking a Sabbath rest” was really an option? Maybe it won’t be a whole day or look like the kind of rest your neighbor gets, but your family needs to cooperate with each other to get some breaks.

Take some deep breaths. It could literally help to go blow bubbles with the kids. Assign some things to a routine (e.g., Taco Tuesday, Friday Pizza night, Saturday take-out). Set a schedule so rest can be anticipated. Burdens are eased by knowing when a break is coming, even if it’s a short one or a couple of weeks away. Collaborate about decisions as much as possible.

You’ll probably have to ask for help more often. Open up your “closed system.” It is quite possible that step of faith God is whispering to you is, “ask for help, My child.” You don’t need to feel guilty about teaching siblings ways of helping either. Teamwork is not just about disability but about being part of a family. Don’t abuse anyone but learn to cooperate and complement each other. Don’t rob God of opportunity to create blessing through your community.

Do you hear in all of this an invitation to experience freedom?
I sure hope so!

The process of learning about each other and how to love each other better is the grand adventure of life, after all. Be patient with yourselves and enjoy the freedom you have to make new discoveries. No one needs to make comparisons or shame themselves for not being “that parent” who does all the fanciest, funnest things either. When it comes to building morale, a little goes a long way — and it goes a long way fast — when we hit the root needs in a targeted way.

These are powerful tools you can give your children, friends. As parents cooperate in marriage and learn to lead their dynamic family in ways that celebrate individuality, they model healthy and godly relationships. This is the essence of self-care that simultaneously complements how we care for others. Our children will thrive in future life and relationships when they learn this kind of self-care and servant-hearted relationship with others.


LISA JAMIESON is a licensed pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 1): Five Ways to Keep the Light On

Families affected by special needs are well acquainted with the ebb and flow of discouragement, conflict and fatigue. Quarantine and current events are adding further stress to our family dynamics, including mental and emotional health. Just like our immune systems needs a boost of vitamin C when illness threatens, we need both proactive and responsive help for threats to our family’s morale.

In this series, we’re exploring targeted ways to bring a speedy delivery of fun, energy and hope to your doorstep! Our hope is to show the way to experience an extra strength, extended-release dose of spiritual and practical encouragement.

First off, I just want to acknowledge that families impacted by disability and other special needs can find life intense and rather complicated. Thankfully, there is a richness to life and relationships that comes through the way God has uniquely woven us into our families as well. Still, we encounter many days and situations that feel very heavy. We never know when a crisis may arise and plans are regularly thwarted. Each person in the family has times when their mood darkens. And when they do, one person’s mood can ripple through the entire household.

What are the things that seem to trigger heaviness in your heart or home?

Perhaps you’ll relate to some of these examples:
The repetitive and tedious nature of daily cares (e.g., bowel regimen, housekeeping issues created by disability such as laundry)
Seeing our child self harm
Medical crisis
Comparison to others
Feelings of isolation or being invisible
Reminders of lost dreams
Battles for a better IEP or other rights (e.g., health insurance)
Seeing areas where our child is falling behind
Feeling inadequate as a caregiver or parent
Feeling trapped, stuck or hopeless
Disappointment from a sibling who can’t play or demands attention
Resentment of a spouse who gets to go to work and escape
Guilt within a spouse who needs to work and isn’t able to help more at home
Disconnection from spouse, community or others
Pressure to make decisions
Grieving (a diagnosis or lack of diagnosis)

People use various words to describe the dark moods or conflict that creep in on the heels of such triggers.

anger, hurt feelings, defensiveness or hyper-sensitivity, discouragement/hopelessness, anxiety, grief, depression, exhaustion, lack of motivation, loneliness

Families who tend to be resilient within the ups and downs of the household atmosphere are those who are proactive in caring for each other and also responsive to clues that stress is mounting. They learn to be attentive to each other, communicate often and recognize areas of vulnerability to shifting moods. They make an effort to understand each other’s most typical triggers and cooperate with each other in making sure root needs get met — before the valley of the shadow looms large.

It’s a process and no family is going to handle the ebbs and flows perfectly. But we can learn to find a balanced family system that softens the shadows and reduces their frequency.

Proverbs 27:12
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

5 Ways to Keep the Light On

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

What can help keep the Light on within your special needs family?

  1. Pay Attention to Where Your Identity Rests
    If you are someone who loves and follows Jesus, you are a child of God (John 1:12-13). That is who you are first and that is where your identity is anchored. Disability doesn’t define you. The beginning and end of your calling and your empowerment comes from your Creator. You are part of a special needs family but that is secondary to being part of God’s family.

    Children who grow up with solid reassurance about where they stand in that broader spiritual family will have their most powerful tool for thriving through their teens and early adulthood. As each person matures, wrestles and lives through ages and seasons of self-discovery, there is delightful freedom in knowing that their core place of “home” rests safely with God. Within that anchoring identity, each person has God’s permission and encouragement to explore their roles, opportunities and contributions in the big wide world. Resist giving disability, complex medical needs or mental health difficulties all the power over the tone of the household or mindset of the family system. You are more — individually and together — than any diagnosis.
  2. Maintain Safe, Open & Positive Communication
    Make your home and family a safe space for ongoing and proactive conversations about what is creating dissatisfaction, restlessness or grief. Resist the spirit of criticism (1 Corinthians 13:1 and Philippians 4:8). Most special needs families also benefit by seeking counseling.

  3. Give & Receive Forgiveness
    Do some regular self-examination. Not a single one of us is perfect (Romans 3:10 & Romans 3:23). Confess weakness, repent of sins and become more aware of God’s unique imprint on your soul. God will help you see yourself realistically and as His masterpiece (Psalm 139:23-24) and he promises to bring a refreshing into your life when you humble yourself and repent (Acts 3:19-20, James 5:16).

  4. Appreciate that Each and Every Individual is God’s Work of Art
    God masterfully designed every person in your family with unique needs, ways of thinking, ways of feeling, ways of relating to others, passions, talents and spiritual gifts (Ephesians 2:10). Prayerfully study your family members to develop understanding, appreciation, compassion and respect for their precious value. Aim to identify ways you can live together that are complementary and show a balanced, servant-hearted regard for each person in the family.

  5. Rest On the One Constant in Your Chaos—God
    God’s character and promises never to change. He remainsthe same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His nearness, faithfulness, sufficiency and perspective are completely dependable for us.

In Part 2 we’ll be exploring ways to cooperate with each other to meet mutual needs in a balanced and complementary way. We each have our own strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Learning how to be attentive to each person’s needs and honor each other’s uniqueness builds morale in our homes. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 2): Developing a Complementary System.

Then in Part 3, we will look at seven practical and biblical ways to get energized and refreshed. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 3): Seven Ways to Energize & Refresh Your Special Needs Family.

I discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.


LISA JAMIESON is a licensed pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

Sometimes I Beg, “Make It Stop!”

How bad is the morale at your house these days? If people are going a little nutty behind your front door, then they are much like the folks here at my house. We’re restless from quarantine. We’re overwhelmed by news and social media. Like most of you, we’re trying to learn new things and make the best of circumstances. But it sure can be exhausting.

My own heart cries out for relief. But this season has been especially hard on our daughter Carly. She is 22 years old with Angelman Syndrome. The last few months have brought her great confusion, boredom, loneliness and frustration. Bless her heart, she is learning to adapt. But she continues to have episodes of negative behavior and her sleep has been more irregular than usual. That means mom, dad and respite staff are tired too and frequently finding ourselves at the end of a rope.

Trying to manage Carly’s anxiety and keep her caregivers content can feel like another full-time job for me. I’ll admit to great impatience in this area because I’m a mom who needs a lot of independence and solitude. I believe I may even be inclined to take on more projects than I should sometimes because they feel like justifiable excuses to escape the weight of certain responsibilities. I confess to sometimes avoiding my role as caregiver and consistently pulling my weight in managing morale at my house. Because I have a servant-hearted husband, I can inadvertently take advantage.

Of course, each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. So it’s always a good idea to shape roles and tag-team responsibilities according to what best fits each person’s strengths. Still, we have to pay close attention to honoring each other’s needs and energy levels with partnership and grace. Larry and I work at being a complement to each other. But when tensions start to rise, we have to go back to the basics — understanding and cooperating with the unique needs that each person has in this caregiving family.

The road to relief and carrying lighter burdens starts with having a clear and accurate diagnosis of our own unique needs. Each of us needs to recognize, “What is the root of my longing?”

It’s tempting to blame the quarantine for everything. No doubt, we all want it to be over! Yet, in truth, it’s not necessarily that we’re longing so much for the end of quarantine but that we have deep inner hungers for things like:

  • More freedom, control or space
  • More “real” connections to people
  • More interesting things to do
  • Times for quiet and times rich with activity

With or without a quarantine, Carly needs these kinds of things in varying degrees. We all do. Now, the isolation and limitations have heightened our existing sensitivities. This season can actually be an opportunity to become more self aware — as well as more aware of the core needs of others.

Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

At our house, we are regularly seeking ways to help each other tend to their soul’s longings. It requires more creativity but we are discovering that it is often possible to find reasonably satisfying ways of feeding our soul cravings despite the limitations.

Moms and dads can help kids develop awareness of their true longings too. What a powerful life skill we give them when we do this! These two things lie at the heart of effective self care:

  • Learn to take the longings of your soul to Jesus and experience His presence, power and goodness.
  • Identify healthy ways to meet your deepest needs so you don’t start seeking harmful/sinful ways of “medicating” those longings.

My husband and I keep learning how helpful it is to study our family and learn what uniquely energizes each of us. Here are some examples that God has opened our eyes to see:

  • Carly calms considerably when she can crawl into her dad’s lap and listen to a specific music playlist he created for her.
  • Carly likes to be busy with frequently changing activities so we’re finding ways to keep her schedule satisfying and we’ve updated her visual calendar to show new images we didn’t feature on her calendar prior to quarantine (Zoom meetings, Farkle games, Dance parties, car wash, etc.)
  • Larry feels more valued and confident when we speak words of appreciation and affection into him.
  • I recharge when I have permission and opportunity to retreat by myself to read a book, take a bath or watch tv for about 90 minutes.
  • Our sense of isolation or tendencies to feel invisible are best fought through serving others, connecting with friends and family on Zoom or FaceTime, playing games together (even virtually with friends), going for a walk or weeding the garden while on the phone with a friend, worshipping via livestream with our church family.
  • Friction between Larry and I is often defused by creating adequate opportunities for intimacy.

Friends, our families are well led when mom and dad are well fed. When we work together in creating an environment that adequately complements each person’s deepest needs, we all thrive.

Be encouraged. It’s a process. My family is not perfect but we’re making progress. More and more often, I feel like the wind is at my back spurring us forward rather than blowing hard on my face and chest. Instead of feeling heartsick from leaning into the pressures of quarantine, heavy news and caregiving, I’m becoming a more intentional and creative caregiver. Honestly, this season is finally making me more reliant on Jesus than on myself.

This season is giving me a more realistic view of my limitations, boundaries, needs and dreams while growing me into the person I’ve always wanted to be — someone who is more trusting of Jesus’ power and concern for us.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”