Vol 12, Num 21 :: 2013.11.15 — 2013.11.28
At any given moment, our usually happy, two-year-old grandson, Ty, can be heard yelling, “Nooo.” Funny thing is, sometimes at the same he’s saying “no,” he’s using sign language to say “yes.” Two little words, all mixed up.
I have a hunch that toddlers aren’t the only ones who are conflicted about “yes” and “no.”
“Just say no” sounds so simple. It’s like saying, “Just sign here,” or, “Just click there.” Easy, enough. But what does that signature stand for? What are the implications of one easy click? Can one “just say no” alter a life?
The past two years have been a series of “yeses” and “no’s” for me — times when I struggled to know when to “just say no.” It all began with my mom’s cancer diagnosis coupled with multiple surgeries and recoveries, chemotherapy treatments, miserable side effects, complications and strokes. Ups and downs. Dad took wonderful care of Mom. As the only daughter who lives close by, I visited or called every day, ran errands and joined others in supplying meals. I also spent many hours sitting by Mom’s bedside. I wanted to be sure to thank her for all the special (and ordinary) things she did for me and tell her how much I loved her. She asked me to help her plan her memorial service and even choose what clothes to wear for her viewing. “Don’t you think this will be pretty?”
I miss her.
I went over to see my dad every day after that. He came to our house some nights for dinner. Our conversations drifted toward Mom, often accompanied by tears. And then, two months after Mom passed away, I drove Dad to the ER. Who would have thought he’d undergo triple bypass surgery? I did the same for him as I did for Mom. This time alone — until my sweet sister came to spend a few weeks. With his health crisis resolving, overwhelming grief seems more consuming than ever for Dad. When Sis returns home soon, eleven hours away, I will grapple with those two little words once more. Yes. No.
I’m not alone. My friend, Susan, has spent many months caring for her mother. I chatted with her after she and her mom spent a day in the ER. Now she’s driving back and forth to and from the hospital and searching for the right nursing facility. Becky finds herself elbow-deep in science projects, English papers, soccer games and cross-country meets. At 70-something, she’s made a commitment to help her son raise his boys well. Darlene spends much of each morning visiting and caring for her stepmom in a local nursing home before heading to work an eight-hour shift. Allison faces the daily challenges of a special needs child. These friends are doing a wonderful job. Day after day they sacrifice their agenda (no) for the good of another (yes). They quietly persevere by demonstrating a dependable love and loyal commitment. I admire their choices. They inspire mine.
I’m grateful to be able to care for my parents. I wouldn’t want it any other way. They’ve held me up for over 50 years. But I also feel conflicted. Saying “yes” to caregiving has brought about a domino effect of “no’s.” I’ve said “no” to joining a community group at church and to hosting a ladies’ Bible study in my home. I’ve missed family dinners, hang-out time with our daughters and social events with friends. Sometimes I miss church. My husband and I finally squeezed in a day of spring cleaning the last week of October. I don’t resent saying “no,” yet it hasn’t always been easy.
Sometimes I felt guilty when I was with my parents and guilty when I wasn’t. Even now, no matter what I do or where I find myself, my efforts seem to fall short. I’m learning that, although I’ve made caregiving a priority, I need to accept the fact that no one can do it all. Other priorities have their places, too. I think that together, networking and helping follow the model set forth in the New Testament. Perhaps there’s a small relief in recognizing our limitations and inviting others to lend a hand.
In the seeming tug of war of “yes” and “no,” a few special people have blessed and encouraged me, people who have a knack for looking out for the good Samaritans, the caregivers. They’ve made all the difference for me — a note, a text, a call. Prayers. One day on my way to the car to visit Dad, I discovered a small white bag left by our back door. Unwrapping it carefully, I found a handwritten note scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper and a simple container of soup. In the chill of that morning, I finally shed some tears. I will always remember this unassuming thoughtfulness. I walked into that day filled with new courage.
Just like little Ty, people all around us find themselves saying “yes” and “no” at the same time — “yes” to generosity and kindness and perhaps duty, and “no” to familiar routines and personal goals.
In Keep a Quiet Heart Elisabeth Elliot writes,
I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned…. Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are canceled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter…. A quiet heart is content with what God gives. (emphasis added)
“Just say no” — a never-ending challenge. But not beyond the grace of God: grace revealed in a myriad of ways, perhaps even in a quiet crock of soup left by the back door at the dawn of another busy day.