Grounded Podcast

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Dealing with Dementia, with Holly Elliff

If you have dementia or you’re a caregiver for someone with this disease, you know the challenges it brings. When facing what feels like a hopeless situation, how can we honor Christ in the midst? Holly Elliff understands the complexities, having cared for two parents with dementia. She offers hope-filled encouragement and shares how the Lord used that experience to grow her faith. Robyn McKelvy joins this episode with insight from her own family’s story and practical ways to serve your loved ones suffering with dementia.

Episode Notes:

“When a Parent Needs Your Care” episode with Holly Elliff

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by Dr. John Dunlop

“Aging with Grace” Grounded episode

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Dannah Gresh: They're among the most feared words in the word world, their words none of us want to hear. But 10 million people around the world will hear these words this year, “You have dementia.” I'm Dannah Gresh. This is Grounded.

Erin Davis: I'm Erin Davis along with our co-host, Portia Collins. Grounded is a production of Revive Our Hearts. We record this live every Monday morning. And we have one mission: to give you hope and perspective. And today's topic certainly needs a hope infusion.

Because right this very moment 50 million people are suffering with dementia around the world. And that number is on the rise. When I say on the rise, I mean going by 2050 which is really not that far away. Health experts are saying that that number is going to be a staggering 152 million people diagnosed with dementia. 

Dannah: Wow you know Erin, the numbers are so big that it can be a little mind numbing for me, so let's get past them for just a second. Let me share this. I have two friends, my assistant and dear friend Eileen, who just lost her dear, dear, dear daddy with whom she was so close to. Last week I sat with my friend Susie who is preparing to go see her mom, who forgot Susie's name during the pandemic lockdown when she couldn't have visitors. I have cried with these friends. I mean, this is personal to me. 

I'm wondering, how is it personal for you? Have you been diagnosed with dementia? Are you a caregiver? Would you go ahead and tell us right there in the chat: I have dementia, or I'm a caregiver. 

Erin: Dannah, while they're engaging with us during, go ahead and go first. Because this is personal for me to, and I mean, really personal. My own sweet mama was diagnosed just a few years ago with early onset Alzheimer's while she was still in her fifties.

All of us love our moms. As Mother's Day approaches, we remember how special our moms are to us. But my mama is extra special. She’s a gifted watercolor artist and attentive mother, and grandmother. As this disease has taken away more and more of those parts of her personality, it's been a really challenging road that I never expected to be on, and she never expected to be on. It's really, really tough.

Dannah: I know, Erin, I've cried tears for you. I've prayed prayers for you. Your mama is special. I haven't seen her since she's been diagnosed. All I can remember is the best and brightest smile you're ever going to meet on the planet and a sparkle in her eyes.

Erin: Yeah.

Dannah: I mean, she just makes you feel seen and loved. Every time she shows up and the sweetest little voice, I just . . .

Erin: She really is a treasure. She’s like a treasure to our little town where we grew up and where we live. I'm always encountering people. I never know where it's going to happen. I might be at a basketball game or a grocery store and someone will come up to me and just bawl at the loss of what's happening to her. As you know, we're all watching it. I can feel a little bit like, “Hey, this is my mom,” as if you I could relate to how much it hurts. But yeah, it's really tough to watch her change. 

Dannah: We like to say that we're here to give some hope. And Erin, I'm hoping that today, you get a big dose of it. 

Erin: Yeah, I could stand one. Because dementia, it can feel like an incredibly hopeless disease, even to those of us who know we have hope in Christ. My mom knows that. I know that. But the disease itself is so devastating. We don't fully know what causes it. My mom's neurologist told us that everything we know about Alzheimer's we've learned in the last eight years. So that means we don't know a lot about it. There's no known cure. There's some things that we can do, but none of them are really going to cure it. The part that's probably the most devastating for me, it causes the loss of things that feel so foundational to who we are.

I mean, our memories. You don't think about how central that is to your identity until they're gone. It changes our relationships. Sometimes my mom thinks I'm her mom. And even though that can sound kind of sweet, it's actually very jarring, when your own mom doesn't remember who you are to her. Sometimes, like you mentioned your friend, Susie's mom, we can forget our own name or the names of people that we love. That can all feel so hard. So as God's people, we're not immune to dementia. 

In fact, it's like I got a new pair of glasses, and suddenly can see how many people in church are dealing with this issue. It's a lot. So as God's people, how do we face the challenges of living with dementia? Or caregiving for somebody who has dementia in ways that honor Christ? 

Dannah: Yeah. We're gonna explore that this morning. Holly Elliff is with us today. She and her husband have had not one but two parents with dementia. She's just a wellspring of wisdom about treating those who suffer with dementia in a God-honoring way with God-honoring dignity. 

Erin: Holly's always a wise voice here and Grounded. Many of you are telling us in the comments right now that you are caregivers, and listen, I'm a caregiver. I'm so glad you're here on Grounded. I hope that you walk away with hope and perspective. 

Robyn McKelvy is here with us again this morning. She has a segment we do often here on Grounded called Grounded in Service. She's going to help us consider how we serve our loved ones, even as we watch them change. Listen, we're not going to romanticize it. Because caregiving for someone with dementia is really, really tough. So I'm looking forward to learning from and hearing from Robyn. 

Dannah: Yeah, it's such a tender topic, and it's just really a needed one. I wonder if you'd help us spread the word hit the share button. If you know someone who's caring for a loved one with dementia tag on them. Anyone who needs encouragement for caring for someone? It could be an elderly family member that doesn't have dementia, but they’re just becoming very demanding, or even a chronically ill child, or someone working in a home with individuals who require special TLC. 

We promise that at the end of this little short time together that you will be strengthened. But first, it's time for some good news. And just like our topic this morning, the headlines have been really sobering lately. But if you look past the bad news, you can see that God is at work. This morning, Portia is going to join me because we've got some Good News Correspondents also joining us, Maria and Tracy Nelson. First of all, I should say, “Good morning, Portia, how are you friend?” 

Portia Collins: Good morning, Dannah Banana. How are you?

Dannah: I love it when you call me by your love name for me. Well, also joining us today is Maria and Tracy Nelson. They're not biological sisters. They just happen to have the same last name, but they are sisters in Christ. They're unified by a desire to see God move in their city. And it's a city that the name of this one should ring some bells. You'll find it on a lot of news sites this week, Minneapolis. 

Welcome Maria and Tracy. 

Maria Nelson: Thanks. Thanks for having us. 

Tracy Nelson: Thank you. 

Dannah: We're so grateful to have you today. You've been a part of a prayer movement, something we hold very dear, for your city. We know that you've been having Saturday morning prayer walks, and have been hosting virtual and in-person prayer gatherings. Tell us a little bit about that. Why are you doing it?

Tracy: Well, Maria and I are part of a group that has been meeting monthly for a long time with other prayer leaders around the city. And when I say prayer leaders, I mean, some people are on staff in their churches. And some are just like Maria and I, we just love prayer. And we just love to see God move that way. And you know, we got asked to be on a prayer call.

We didn't realize it would be the day of the verdict of Derek Chauvin for the trial. And so

I don't know, we just, we've had a really good time praying together for a year. And, Maria, do you want to comment at all? 

Dannah: Well, let me not let's not skip past that. Because I think that's really important to me. I just heard you say God is at work, because you just said, You got invited to be on a prayer call that just happened, and just happened to be on the day that the verdict was brought the whole globe was watching. That gives me chills.

Portia: Same, same, same. I want to ask, I want to kind of jump in here, what are or what has been some specific burdens that you've been carrying and crying out to the Lord for?

Maria: Well, I can just speak for myself, just praying peace for our city, healing for our city, healing for people, for churches for unity. I guess a big cry and passion in my heart is praying for revival for myself for my church, for the church across the land. And then I'm praying for a third great awakening for America.

Portia: Amen. Yes, amen. You know, Dannah, I'm like sitting here, like floored right now. Because if you listen to these ladies, they were just praying and crying out . . . just to have a burden. 

At the beginning, I can't remember which one of you said this, but it struck me. You said some people came and they were on staff. But y'all just came because this is what you have a burden for. Just look at those ordinary means, ordinary people who care, and how God is working through you. So I'm just sitting here floored at God's sovereignty and how He knows how to work all these things together.

I’ve got another question. What do you see God doing in your city? How is God showing His everlasting faithfulness in Minneapolis?

Maria: Well, I think first of all, we're enjoying peace right now. We know there are many reasons for that. But ultimately, it is because of Jesus Christ and God taking over. I was just so encouraged that that prayer call happened to be on the night of the verdict and all glory to God for that.

And I think too, I don't know how to say his name, I just have gotten connected with him. Dr. Charles, who's been very busy working, just praying for a Bible here, and crossing the land with Sean, who has been leading worship services. Sean came to Brooklyn Center on Thursday and led an incredible worship service where we got to pray for revival and healing. I'm out in the suburbs, but those are just some of the things I'm seeing. And we know that God is always at work. 

Dannah: You know, I actually have chills because you said you're enjoying peace right now. I think many of us thought that when the verdict was passed down, in regards to George Floyd's horrible, tragic death, that no matter which way it went, that your city would be marked by unrest. I think many of us were praying. And so, what an answer to prayer it is that you can celebrate. And thank God for peace. I just wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that you two and others were gathered and praying for what was happening in the heavenly places that we can't really see. 

But right now, I think in the news, it's easy to see that there's obviously some battle going on. It can be hard to keep praying when the darkness in our world just seems to be getting darker and darker. So, challenge us one last time, give us some good news this morning. Why is it that you are continuing to pray with hope? Why can we pray with hope?

Tracy: Well, I think God's desire for us is to overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. You get to a place where you feel like, “Okay, the world just seems like it's getting darker and darker.” It's easy, I think, for even Christians to kind of operate in survival mode and just feel like, I'll just hang on until I'm with the Lord. But I think God wants so much more for that. 

I just love Jesus’ definition of the church. It's a house of prayer for all nations. And I think about the early church, how it was born in a prayer room, and they were all one. They were all together and the world changed. 

Dannah: Yeah.

Tracy: I think He wants to do that again. I think He is doing it. In spite of all the bad news. I see Him bringing believers together, crowded to Him. 

Dannah: Yeah, wow. That's a dose of hope. I'll tell you the early church was born in a prayer room. I wonder what God could bring to be birthed through our prayers if we would gather as you have in the city of Minneapolis?

Thank you, Tracy, and Maria, for being with us this morning. 

Tracy: Thank you. 

Maria: God bless you. 

Tracy: God bless you. 

Dannah: People are praying. God is at work in many in Minneapolis, where there was so much turmoil, but now there's peace. And that is good news. 

Portia: Amen. 

Erin: That is good news, man. What sweet spirits those women have. Well, it's time to get Grounded with God's people. Holly Elliff is with us this morning. Go ahead and join us, Holly. If you follow Revive Our Hearts at all, you probably already know Holly, and probably already feel like she's your best friend. That's what it's like to be with Holly. 

She supported her husband Billy in founding a church called The Summit in Little Rock. We were just talking before we started going live about how long they've been there . . . five decades in leadership there. They have eight adult children and get this, 22 grandchildren on the ground and two on the way, so by the fall 24 grandchildren 14 and under. So, Holly knows a thing or two about caregiving, but also, she has walked the road of dementia with her mom and her husband's mom. So welcome, Holly.

Holly Elliff: Thanks, Erin. 

Erin: Well, Holly, this morning I've been really looking forward to this episode. I'm just going to pretend that we're not in a Zoom room and there are no cameras and no one else is watching, because I am currently walking a road that you've walked. I just want to have a conversation one woman to another about this path. 

I would love to hear about how dementia has touched your life personally, and you should know Holly, women are very busy in the comment thread talking about their own lives. There are many, many women watching who are caregivers for people with dementia. But what's your story as it relates to dementia? 

Holly: Well, I started when I was in my 30s and we became caregivers for Billy's mom, who had Alzheimer's. She was a precious, precious lady. She was with us for five years.

And then my mom, the day of my second daughter's wedding, my mom had come to town with my niece. My dad went in the intensive care in Nashville. I got a call from my sister saying, “Mom can't come home because nobody will be there.” So mother moved in with us the day of the wedding, and we moved all the remaining seven kids around that were still at home, and we made room for Nana. Mother was with us for nine-and-a-half years. And it you know, it's an adventure. 

Erin: It is. That's one way to say it. It's an adventure. This issue of dementia and Alzheimer's, it's a pro-life issue that nobody marches for. I didn't know that until it happened in my own family. People have dignity, even as the things that we might think give them value, their ability to work or their ability to be good mothers or grandmothers or even their ability to sing in church as those things kind of fade away. They still have dignity. 

So, I wonder as you were walking that path with your mom and with Billy's mom, what truths from Scripture did you draw from to remind you how God sees that person with dementia? 

Holly: Well, I can tell you that I spent a lot of time in Psalms. I had to escape every once in a while, and just step out on my back porch, just to get some sanity in my life at that moment, because it's hard. I already knew from the rest of my life that I could not do this battle by myself, and that I had to be dependent on the Lord. Things like Psalm 27, where the Scripture says,

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek”(vv. 7–8). 

The end of that psalm says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path” (v. 11).

And that was something that became so important to me. Because I mean, I still had a house full of kids, and I was still a pastor's wife. And you cannot do this life of caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia without being able to run into the presence of the Lord. The end of the psalm says, ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (v. 14) and urges something that you know you need if you're a caregiver. 

Erin: Yeah, that's absolutely true. I want to know if this has been true for you, it's certainly been true for me. One of the things that is surprising me about this journey is my own flesh. I can get very, very angry with my mom, even though on an intellectual level. I know this is a disease. This is outside of her control. I can get very frustrated, very short with her. It didn't take me long to learn that I can't do this on my own, but I can just feel depleted daily. Did you have that wrestle with your flesh? Did the Lord use it to expose things in your own heart? What was that part of the journey like for you? 

Holly: Yes, and yes, because it is constant.

At one point, my mom lived a couple of houses away with a caregiver when she was early dementia, and she would walk to my house day and night every seven minutes. I don't know how she knew it had been seven minutes. But literally, some nights, we just never locked our front door. Some nights in the middle of the night—3 a.m., 5 a.m.—I would wake up with my mom's face about three inches from me. 

Erin: I could chuckle because these are the kinds of things that happen, and you have to chuckle, but they're also pretty intense at the time. 

Holly: Oh, yeah, she'd say, “Are you asleep?”

Erin: Yeah, mom.

Holly: “Well not anymore.” But I do want to share with those who are going through this. Now, five years after my mom died, the things I remember are the things that made me laugh. There were so many fun, crazy things, and my mom wouldn't even understand exactly what was happening. But when I got tickled, she would get tickled. And now what I remember is not so much the heart-wrenching things . . . There were moments when I had to just for me, I have to be outside to hear from the Lord a lot of times. I have a spot right by the river where I would go park my car in sight of the Lord, “Okay, don't think I can do this one more day.”

And the Lord would grant me His presence and His peace. I'm so grateful for that. But now looking back, instead of being in the middle of it, what I've realized is that the Lord has taken away a lot of those painful memories, and left me with things that make me laugh. I'm so grateful for that. 

Erin: That is hope-filled for me, Holly, because I have a lot of those in the car moments where I say, “I can't do this one more minute.” I'm at the end of myself and worry about having all the good years of memories, 40 years of good years of memories, erased by these intense years. So, I appreciate that hope in that.

Hey, I want to talk mom to mom for a minute. I wasn't aware that your children are in the home and you're caring for your moms. That is important to me, because my children are in the home. They're 2–13. It doesn't typically happen that you're caring for aging parents at the same time you're caring for your children in the home. And there's a reason for that. It's really intense. 

But I do worry. It's very confusing to them. I can say to them all day long, “That's her disease, that's not her.” But it's very confusing to their little hearts and minds. So how can I help my children see this situation in ways that are helpful and hopeful?

Holly: I think as your kids see you running to the Lord, they begin to realize, “Okay, well, mom can't do this apart from Jesus.” And you can say to your kids, “You know what? Nana’s in a really tough place right now. But God's not gonna leave us here.”

The early years were really hard when mom was in her house. And it was tough, it was probably hard. Eventually, we had to have a caregiver. We bought a house two doors down. And that's where my mom was, like I said, she was here often. But she wasn't at that point right in the house all the time, and made it a little easier.

I can say there are a lot of moments when you're just on the verge of tears and know that you can't do anything apart from God's stepping in. And honestly, that's not a bad place to be. You know, whether it's Alzheimers, or this year, our 10-year-old grandson lost his life to a brain tumor, and is with the Lord. And so, you just learn there are lots of moments when we recognize that we cannot do life apart from Him. And someday we'll see Him face to face. And those moments will no longer happen. But for now, I'm so grateful that He's here. 

Erin: Me too.

Holly: He gives us what we need. 

Erin: Yeah, He really does. I can testify to that even. I may be in the hottest part of the fire. I'm not sure; I guess it could get hotter. But He's right here with us. And there are many days in the middle of the day, I think we're not going to make it, and then at the end of the day, we do make it. There is grace for it. 

Well, talk to us as a pastor's wife for a minute. I said earlier, I had no idea how many families in my church, in the church, were dealing with this issue until it was my family. Now, suddenly, I'm like, “Oh, they're a caregiver. That wife is watching her husband fade. That husband is watching his wife. Their grandmother is in a nursing home.” Suddenly, I see it everywhere. What are some ways we can serve the people in our church who are caregivers for a patient with dementia?

Holly: I think just knowing they exist is really important. We have a list of people that we pray for that are caregivers in one form or another—whether it's your grandson or your son with a brain tumor, or your parents with dementia there’s so many needs right now. 

I think just being very aware of the people around you at Summit. We have an ongoing online prayer list. You can jump on there, put in a request, and know that people are praying for you. And they can read your comments and that type thing. So, I think especially during COVID, this has been a dark season for so many people. Because Alzheimers, dementia, whether you are the person that has it or the caregiver, it isolates you a lot. 

Erin: Yeah. It does. 

Holly: In so many circumstances, that's really tough. The people that could not see their parents have broken my heart. 

Erin: Yeah.

Holly: I had a friend the other day who was standing outside her mom's room at the assisted living where she was chatting with her on the phone, when the people inside would remember to put her on the phone. It's just heart wrenching seeing her outside that window. And knowing how long it had been since she had been able to hug her. It's tough. 

Erin: Yeah, it's so tough. Early on I didn't ask for prayer, because the dignity piece is so important for me. I wanted to honor my mom and wanted to preserve her dignity. But we just got to a breaking point where if would people say “How are you?” 

I’d say, “Actually, I need you to pray about this.” And it has been such a tremendous lifeline. I don't have to tell all the weird things my mom might have done in the past week. I still need to honor her and preserve her dignity. But she needs prayer. I need prayer. And we need to pray for each other and the church. The saints deserve so much credit for my family, walking through this path with grace because people are praying for us. 

So, Holly, I'd love it. If you would just pray. We've got lots of women telling us they’re caregivers, would you just pray for them right now?

Holly: Father, thank You for the grace in which we stand. And I thank You for these women that are listening. Thank You for Erin, bringing up this topic today. And Lord, thank You that you are present with us. And so, if we are standing in Your grace, we are standing in Your presence. And so, that is the way that we survive. That is the way we keep loving when it's heart wrenching. And that's the way that we realize we cannot do this in our own strength. 

And so, Lord, we just want to tell You, we're grateful today. I pray for all these women that are listening, Lord, because You can be present with any of us the moment that we stop and say, “Help.” Lord, You are there. And we want to tell You that we are so grateful for that. 

I pray that You would bring blessing and hope to these women who are in these circumstances because it's hard. And we pray, Lord, that You would be live and real and present in every moment. And that we're not in control, But You are. And we thank You for that in Jesus’ name, amen. 

Erin: Amen. Thank you, Holly. You know, if you would love some more encouragement from Holl,y and we all would, we want to drop a link to a full conversation that Holly had with Dannah on Revive Our Hearts. She's going to offer some practical encouragement for any of you caring with someone in dimension. Remember that number we said at the top of the broadcast—so many cases of dementia and expected to rise. So if this doesn't touch your life now, it will in the future, so put this in your backpocket this broadcast. As always, we'll drop the link.

Dannah: Wow, Erin and Holly, Thank you. I'm sitting over here seeing the grace of God on both of you as you talk. So it was such calmness. I'm over here crying and had to grab my glasses case as my tissue because I couldn't find a tissue. I was losing it.

What grace is in both of you, friends, open your Bibles. Let's get grounded in God's Word because this is a big one. Open your Bibles to the book of Luke. Jesus got tired. He did when He was here on this broken earth. He got tired just like me, just like you. And the New Testament is clear enough that Jesus had a human body.

According to John 4:6, He got tired, and there are even verses that tell us He became physically weak. For example, consider the fact that He could not finish the work, physically, carrying that heavy cross beam up to Calvary. He needed help.

Have you ever considered just how tired the Savior of the world may have been after a day of caretaking? I mean, think about it. These were crowds of people, maybe lines of people. What was it like to help person after person heal?

They didn't have all of our modern conveniences. Like, for example, to be indelicate, a bag of Depends. These were broken, messy, bloody, urine-drenched, oil-laden bodies that probably didn't smell too good.

Did He ever just need to stop seeing it, stop smelling it, stop touching it? And here's something to think about. The book of Luke and Mark tell us that when a woman nearly touched His garment in hopes of being healed? Well, Jesus felt the power go out of Him. We can read about that. And Mark 5:30 what was that like to feel the power go out of Him? What would it have felt like to heal long lines of people all day long? Was that power going out of Him all day long, did it exhaust Him? 

I remember once when I was in the role of caretaker, and during the stress and just a couple of nights without sleep. Well, I got so bone tired in that 72 hours that my bones literally throbbed with pain. I didn't know you could get that tired.

Midway through the third day, I just had to go off, get in literally the fetal position in a bed and lay in the dark, and beg God to help me so that I could keep helping the ones God had assigned to me.

Did Jesus ever get that tired? Maybe? Or maybe not? Perhaps He wisely avoided it. All we know is what's recorded in Luke 5:16, which says this, let me read it to you 5:15 and 16.

“But now even more the report about him went abroad, [He had just healed a leper] and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities [great crowds needed His caretaking]. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Jesus withdrew. He withdrew from the teaching. He withdrew from the healing the people who needed Him, God in the flesh, they just had to wait. And those places while the places He went, when He withdrew, they were called desolate. That means they weren't just void of people. But there was a bleakness to them and emptiness about them.

I wondered as I listened to Holly and Erin share, did He just get there sometimes and the human side of Him had to cry out, I can't do it. Father.

There's something here to suggest in this word “desolate,” that maybe He just kind of laid down and cried out “help.” Friend, if the God of the universe needed to withdraw from caring for people? How much more do you need to do that?

Today, I'm prescribing some withdraw time for you. And actually, it's not just for you. It's for the one you care for. Because you know what, as a caretaker, who's a little type A, I realize that you might not listen to this wise advice modeled by Jesus, unless you see that it's good for the person, you're caring for too. 

So listen to this little tidbit I found over the weekend. I read this in a news article about caring for those with dementia. It says, “More elderly people enter nursing homes because of caregiver burnout than because of an added exacerbation of their own condition.” What?

Don't burn out, don't burn out. Withdraw. Withdrawing is not an act of weakness. It's a work of wisdom. I mean, let's think about what Jesus did in those quiet places. Did you notice that he prayed. He prayed. You need that my friend; you need to pray. You need to let someone else care for the one who's taking the power out of you. Not that your human power is anything comparable to that of Jesus Christ. 

But when you get drained of your strength, you need time to pray. There are a lot of reasons but I'll give you two. One of them is going to come from our reader who just wrote a comment, Jenny. Lots of the readers have been commenting on how essential it is to laugh through these hard things and these crazy behaviors. Jenny wrote, “Laughing instead of crying. I cry enough before the Lord.” You hear that? Even those tears are intercession. “I cry enough before the Lord and then she writes, “As a result of that, I feel a lightness from Him, that gives me unusual joy.” Oh, how, we need that.

You know why I need to withdraw when I'm the caretaker? Here's the reason I withdraw, because prayer allows me to resist temptation. Erin just said, this is a battleground for temptation. And in Matthew 26:41, Jesus warned his disciples to watch and pray. Why? So they would not enter into temptation. The gates to temptation seem a little wider when I'm drained and exhausted. It's like there's this great big neon sign on them with my name. And it has a personal invitation for me to be selfish, short-tempered, to grumble, to say things I will sincerely regret.

Before you give in to any of those things, let me invite you to withdraw and pray. Withdraw and pray, withdraw and pray. 

Living a life without prayer leaves us weak and exposed, giving an opportunity for the enemy to gain ground and potentially lure us into sand. But if you could just withdraw a bit today and pray and maybe soak in a hot tub, or sip on some steaming tea, or commiserate with a friend who's been there, or as Holly said, just go to the porch for a few minutes and be alone. 

Well, the Lord will strengthen you for another hour, another morning, another day to be 

His hands and feet. And just maybe like our friend Jenny, you'll come out with joy that helps you laugh.

Speaking of the hands and feet of Jesus today, Robyn McKelvy is here with us. She drops by once a month for a segment we call Grounded in Service, and how she encourages me when she comes. She has so many practical winsome ideas to serve like Jesus did. And today, she'll share practical ways, ways that she cared for her mom, who passed away after battling Alzheimer's for 15 years. Welcome, Robyn. 

Robyn McKelvy: Thanks for having me again, guys. Excuse me, I'm battling the cold that's probably going around households, because it's called spring allergies. I always thought it was a cold in the spring, but I have allergies.

Boy, as I got a chance to reflect on what I'm about to share with you, I just want you to know that there is hope in everything that God has you going through. And so, this is the reason I love Grounded so much, you get that hope. You get perspective even on things that the enemy would want you to think God's not with you. He's always with you. 

And for our family, we were arriving for Thanksgiving dinner. That's the day that most of my bio family would come together. My mom would cook the majority of the meal. She'd cook turkey, she cooked the best dressing in the world, the best mac in the world. We do collard greens. And so, she would have all of that and that wasn't counting the homemade potato rolls, and the desserts that she would cook. Now, when we were all grown out with our own families, we usually bring a side something to add. But this was when my mom would like to shine because she loved cooking for her family.

So, it was almost time for dinner. And my sister went to check the turkey now and the turkey had been in this big roasting pan with the lid on since we had all arrived. So, when she went to check the turkey to see how much more time it needed, she noticed that mom forgot to turn on the oven. So the turkey was in the oven undone.

And that's when we knew that Alzheimer’s was here to stay, and that life as we knew it with my mom had been changed forever.

Sometime later, we began to notice many changes. Mom didn't know the names of the siblings when we'd come in from out of the city. She wouldn't remember us. And when we understood what out of sight out of mind truly meant.

Other things that I noticed was my mom's hair. She started not caring for herself. My mom was a beautician. Every time she went out, her hair was laid, as we used to say: fried, dyed, and laid to the side. She kept her head together. And then we noticed that it was as if she didn’t even how she looked. It began looking like she didn't care for herself. Alzheimer’s took its toll, and there were times when mom was present in the room, but absent in the same room.

She was present the room but absent as she never moved from the seat that she was placed in. She was almost like a live painting just there. There's no interaction, she was present in the room but unable to acknowledge my own father.

As he would care for her, there would even be times when she was telling my dad, “I'm gonna show my husband on you.” And that's the laughter time when we would have to laugh. Because she didn't even realize my dad was her husband. She was always present in the room, but always absent from every conversation. 

And my five-foot-one feisty mom, who used to multitask and can organize everything, became a quiet, empty-eyed shell of the mom that we'd always knew. 

And so as I look in Scripture and I see in the ten commandments that God tells us and Luke 20, to “honor your father and your mother so that your days may live, that you may live long on the land the Lord that God that God is giving to you.” How do you continue to honor your parents when diminished when dementia and Alzheimer's is at its worse? There are many ways to honor your parents as they slip deeper into the grips of dementia and Alzheimer's, continue to keep them present with you as long as you possibly can. That's the first thing that you need to do. 

It's easy to find a caregiver early on because your parents are afraid, you're afraid you don't know what to do, but continue to keep them present with you. Because this illness is not just on them. It's not just for them. It's for you. And so that's one of the things that we did, we fought to keep my mom present with us.

There's another way that we honored my mom. And the first way was I always knew that my mom wanted to be a writer. But being the mom of 10 kids too, and a pastor's wife, that book goal was never accomplished. But I had an opportunity pass in front of me to be able to write in a book that was called A Mother's Legacy by Barbara Rainey and Ashley Escue. And my mom and I was able to contribute chapters to this book. 

I remember sitting with her and keep referring her back to the message going over every word. But we were able to accomplish that chapter. And my dad was able to see my mom's name in print and grieve and weep over something that she was able to accomplish. Even though dementia had its grips on her. 

Another way we were able to honor my mom was my nieces. And I love this that this isn't just for you, your kids are watching. So live and honor the home so that those coming behind you can see what my niece has put together a living legacy brunch for my mom. It was really neat; they were really able to see them. The picture that you’re seeing now, is my mom in there. 

There were times when we had to hold her head up to even get her in the camera. These are my sisters and sisters-in-law and some are missing. But we were able to honor mom. And we get to look back fondly on this picture. And just be so excited because she's the mom that left this legacy for us. There's our legacy cake that we all that we also made. And then the kids, the granddaughters and not all of them were able to be there. But the granddaughters and the great and their children were able to be there. 

So when their kids see the picture, they’re, “Like mom, who’s this on your lap?” And they can say that's you. We were honoring Grammy. And that was my mom's grandma name, Grammy. We're honoring Grammy for the life that she lived. 

Do remember, dementia and Alzheimer's will take life from your parents or your grandparents that as you have known them, but it gives you an opportunity to know and see the goodness of our heavenly Father all the more. You see His faithfulness displayed, as your parents may not be aware of all this going on around them, but it allows you and your family to be an advocate for them. 

To care for them as they cared for you when you were a young child. You learn to pray differently. For your family, you pray for wisdom to be exactly what you need them to be. 

Now a friend of mine, she's a very good friend of mine. She went through a stroke many years ago, and her husband has been her caretaker all these years. And last week the doctor diagnosed him with dementia. And so, life is getting ready to change for them. And one of the parts I never realized was the fear that my mom probably had when the doctor told her in her 50s that you have early onset Alzheimer's but this lady was allowing me to see that there's fear coming. 

And so, as you serve your parents, remember to serve them well, to serve them, pray for them, because they're going through things that’s pure fearful for them. They know God’s got them. But it is so fearful that you know who they used to be is going to be no more. So, serve all your family that you're loving on. Serve them well, and let God be glorified. Amen.

Erin: Amen. I always learn so much from you, Robyn, thank you so much.

Portia: Same. Same. Same. You know, and I gotta press pause here before we go into recommending our good stuff, our tools to stay grounded. I just got to say that I am so full from everything that I've heard. I know that there's probably somebody who's watching, and they may not be affected by dementia. You may not be a caregiver or anything like that. But everything that we heard is that timeless truth that we need to hear over and over from God's Word. 

It's not just for the caregivers, for the people struggling with dementia. It is for any person who is struggling with hardships, whatever it is that you may be facing. I think that's what's like just sinking in for me right now. Is that God's Word and the truth of who He is and how He cares for us and how He helps us to navigate through hard things like dementia or whatever it is. You know, we all need to hear those same truths. 

Erin: For sure. There's a prayer. I've prayed a lot this past few years in dealing with my mom that I never prayed before. And it's this, “Jesus, I need you. And, I know it now. I know it now.”

Portia: Yeah. 

Erin: You may be watching this. Maybe it's not dementia for you, but I think Portia, what's hitting your heart is, Jesus, I need you. 

Portia: Yes.

Erin: And, I know it now. I know it now. And there's such grace in that because then we can turn to Him, right? 

Portia: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and let's give them some tools, because I can sit here and cry with you all day long.

Erin: I’ll pass a Kleenex through the . . .

Portia: Please, because Dannah talked about her glasses case earlier, and I've got my blanket over here. Like, I’m a mess. 

Erin: I love your tears. 

Portia: Thank you, friend. It's time for us to give you guys the good stuff. Our recommendations to help you dig deeper into God's Word on today's topic. 

Erin: Yeah, we always are just scratching the surface, we're just starting the conversation here on Grounded, and we know there's much more you can read and discover and learn from. And this morning, I want to enthusiastically recommend that you take a screenshot, write down the title of this book, Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia

A friend recommended it to me years ago, this is probably my fourth or fifth copy of this book. Because I read it, and then I gave it away, and then I give it away, and then I give it away. But I don't want to be without it. So, I read it again. It's just been super, super helpful resource to me as I've navigated dementia. It's written by a Christian geriatrician who has cared for dementia patients for a long time. 

He has such biblical evidence for the fact that that person has dignity and deserves to be treated as an image bearer of God who is precious to Jesus. That is what we need in order to love each other well and to approach this topic. 

Well, I could talk endlessly about this book, so I'm gonna quit.

Portia: I’ve heard you before. You guys, I have not read it yet, but based on the way that Erin often talks about this book, I'm gonna add it to my collection of many books that I’ve got to read.

Erin: I'm a writer, so I don't typically like fangirl out to writers, but I tracked this doctor down and wrote to him about the impact he's had on me and on my family through this book, so 100 stars, I highly recommend.

Portia: Good deal. This whole conversation really reminds me of the episode that we had here on Grounded a couple of weeks back, it's Aging with Grace with two of my three favorite people: Sharon Betters, Susan Hunt, and Wendy Shultz. Do you remember that episode? I'm sure you do. 

Erin: Oh, I'll never forget it. 

Dannah: Yeah. Those women were a wellspring of just helping us embrace aging and seeing the beauty of it. I loved it. And you know, it's not just with dementia, I feel like we do not value people who are older.

Erin: Right.

Dannah: I think Erin said earlier, dementia, caring for people with dementia is a pro-life issue that nobody marches for. We could easily just say, loving and respecting people who are aging is a pro-life issue that nobody marches for. 

Erin: It’s true.

Portia: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Erin: We marched a little bit this morning, didn't we? 

Portia: We did. We did.

Erin: I mean we celebrated life.

Portia: We did, and you know, I think about that episode, that's what I want. I want to age with grace, whether it's in the face of dementia, or whatever hardships that may come, because we know that the hardships are gonna keep coming. 

Erin: Sure.

Portia: Whatever it is, any illness, chronic illness, I'd like to be able to handle whatever God allows, with grace.

Erin: I want that too.

Portia: We will drop a link to that episode in the chat in the show notes. 

Erin: It's a must watch. I really feel like it is a must watch. Well, in that book that I raved about and could rave about again, but I won't. But Part One of the things in that book that has just stuck with me is that the author tells the story of a church that every year calls their caregivers forward to the front of the sanctuary. They lay hands on those caregivers and commission them back into the work of caregiving. How powerful is dementia in our minds this morning?

Dannah: I love that. Erin, this is like a soapbox for me. Just a few weeks ago in my discipleship group at church, I said why don't we rethink commissioning? I mean, we bring people to the front of the church to pray for them if they're going on a short-term missions trip, or if they're entering what we call, I think fallaciously, full-time Christian service, because we're all supposed to be in full-time Christian service. 

But what about the banker at the front line of sharing the gospel in a secular business setting? Or the reporter who asked to advocate for truth where there seemingly is not. 

Erin: There’s the mama.

Dannah: Yep, The mamas, the caretakers behind the scenes, doing that heart-wrenching, pro-life work. I want to see us commission them. So tell me, Erin, I want to know, since this means so much to me. How did it feel to have your work as a caregiver affirmed by this idea of being commissioned when you read that in that book? 

Erin: Well, it is validating for one thing, that, “Oh, yes, that's right. This is ministry.” It's not drudgery. It's not just a hardship. It's actually ministry. And the thought of my Christian brothers and sisters, even though I haven't actually experienced it. My church doesn't do this. It just read about another church that does it. But just that picture of caregivers being called forward and then commissioned out. It really has gotten me through some hard days, because it's actually Jesus who commissioned me for this work. And being reminded of that is so helpful. 

Dannah: Well, Erin, I got an idea. 

Erin: Okay. You always have good ideas.

Dannah: Yeah. Well, how about if we commission you today? How about if we be the sisters who gather around you and everybody else out there who's been filling up the comments, that they're tired, they're weary, they're overwhelmed being Jesus in skin to someone who needs caretaking. Let's have a commissioning service right now. 

Erin: Well, you know, as you were teaching Danna, I was praying to have appropriate emotion. You as a caregiver, we just muscle through it. 

Dannah: Yeah. 

Erin: You all were sharing these beautiful things about something so important to me. And I couldn't get a tear to come up to my eyeballs. But as you said that about commissioning me, there it is, right there. 

Dannah: Praise God.

Erin: I’ll take it. I'll take it. 

Dannah: Praise the Lord. Well friends, Erin's going to be the stand in for all of you, but we want to commission all of you. Our words are not nearly as strong as God. So, we're going to just read a few Scriptures over Erin and over you. In fact, I like to touch people when I pray for them. I wish I could. I'm just going to reach my hands out towards you. If you could just imagine the touch of my hand caring for you, as we send out these commissioning Scriptures, as you care for those who cannot care for themselves. Isaiah 54:10

“‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you,” Erin Davis, on you. 

Portia: Amen. Numbers 6, verses 24–26 this is one of my most favorite passage, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

And Philippians 2:3–4, I pray Erin, that you would do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, count your mother more significant than you are. May you look not to your own interests, but to her interests. 

Erin: Amen. Thank you for that. And I would add a verse that has taken on new significance to me in this journey, John 15:5.

Jesus talking, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So, caregiver, I say to you, if today you feel like I can't do this. You're right. You're right. You can't. So your job is to abide. And we commission you out this morning for the Christian service of caring for others. 

Dannah: Amen. Amen. 

Portia: Amen. Amen. Well, we want to see you back here with us next Monday. Tears in all; this is just one big happy family. Next week, we will consider the power of one woman. So, let's wake up with hope together next week on Grounded.

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About the Guests

Holly Elliff

Holly Elliff

Holly Elliff is the wife of Dr. Bill Elliff, pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Married for over 35 years, she has eight children and (almost) four grandchildren. Holly speaks at women's retreats and seminars, and is a frequent guest on Revive Our Hearts radio program.

Robyn McKelvy

Robyn McKelvy

Robyn McKelvy has devoted her life to the care and building up of others—in her home, in the church her husband pastors, and through years of speaking for FamilyLife and at countless women’s events. Robyn has written SOS: Sick of Sex and a devotional book, Say It Loud!: Becoming Your Husband’s Personal Cheerleader. Robyn and her husband Ray are parents of seventeen children: seven in heaven and ten amazing souls here on earth.

About the Hosts

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many …

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Portia Collins

Portia Collins

Portia Collins is a Christian Bible teacher and writer/blogger who enjoys studying and teaching Scripture.  Portia is the founder of "She Shall Be Called" (SSBC), a women’s ministry centered on …

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Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries …

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