Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Grace for the Sandwich Generation

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says when God gives you perspective, you can see purpose in suffering.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Sorrows and suffering seem so heavy now, but when you compare them with the glory that God has prepared for us, all those sorrows and sufferings are going to seem as nothing.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, July 10.

This week, Nancy’s been talking with Rebecca Lutzer, Kim Wagner, and Holly Elliff. Let’s get back to that conversation. Our series is called, “Flourishing in the Empty Nest.” Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: We’ve been talking about some of the blessings of getting older, of middle age, of a different season of life. Let me say that every season of life has its blessings and its challenges. The temptation, I think, is to focus on the blessings of a different season of life and to be obsessed with the challenges of your season of life as if nobody else has challenges.

We’re sitting here as women in our fifties and older. We don’t want to forget that women who are teenagers and in their twenties or in their thirties or starting marriage or having young children, every season has its challenges. And with those challenges come the grace of God, whatever the challenge is.

But also we don’t want to pretend that there aren’t challenges. I’m finding that as I get older, the challenges, some of them are the same and some of them are different. So I just want us to engage in this conversation with my friends, Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff and Rebecca Lutzer about some of the things that we have to deal with or we get to deal with in this season of life, and how we can get God’s grace for those.

In the last session, Holly, I think you mentioned that you were caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s. This is, for those of us in our fifties, sixties a season where there is a lot of caregiving going on. Sometimes you’re caring for an older parent, and you maybe still have teenagers or not yet married children. Then even grandparents are now caring for their grandchildren, raising their grandchildren because of family issues.

So let’s talk some about not just out of your own lives but some of the women you’re ministering to. What are some of the challenges involved for women who are in these care giving roles? How can God’s grace and help be available for that season? Holly, start with this. You’ve got an older mother; she’s got Alzheimer’s. You cared for her through the sickness and death of your dad so that was a season. 

Holly Elliff: Mother has been there in Little Rock with us for about seven-and-a-half years now. When she came I had a nine-year-old, an eleven-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old. My kids were still young. We also cared for Billy’s mom when she had Alzheimer’s. At that point I was in my late thirties, and I was expecting my fourth child. So care giving is something that we have done in the course of our life.

Nancy: Not to speak of the fact that you’re care giver for your children.

Holly: Yes, and we’re unusual because we do have eight kids. There are just a lot of people connected to my life. I’m grateful for that, but it’s just bizarre sometimes. So caring for my mom has been very. We have kind of moved from stage to stage. I’m sure some of you in this room know exactly what I’m talking about where Alzheimer’s is not static. It changes.

So she lived with us for a while, and then she lived down the street with a care giver. Then when we couldn’t keep her from wandering off she was in assisted living. Then when she couldn’t walk without falling anymore and had blood clots in her legs we had to move her to a nursing home type facility.

I think probably the most difficult thing for me about this season of life has been that there are lots of times when I have to go to the Lord and say, “Okay, whose stuff does not get done today?” Usually it’s mine because there is always the pressure of your husband’s needs, your children’s needs, and caring someone who can’t express their own needs. So you know if you don’t do it, their needs are not going to be met.

Even if they’re in a place where they’re receiving good care, those of you who have been through this know that you have to be there to know that they’re getting good care. They can’t tell you if they’re not. So you really have to be aware of what’s happening, and you have to be knowledgeable.

The interesting thing about Alzheimer’s is that it or any type of dementia, is that it is so different. My mother-in-law’s dementia was very, very rapid. She had hallucinations; she had paranoia. It was just crazy, bizarre but very fast. Within four or five years she was with the Lord. My mom has had Alzheimer’s now for probably thirteen years, and hers is very slow. It’s very progressive but very slow paced. She’s otherwise healthy other than the Alzheimer’s. So I don’t know ,she may outlive me.

But it is a season that is excruciatingly demanding. I will say it that way. It is probably one of the things that has taught me more than anything else how to instantly go to the Lord and say, “I really can’t do this apart from Your grace.” I’m grateful for the fact that He really does provide what we need when we need it. And He is so faithful to do that.

Kim Wagner: Yes. I’m so relating to this because my dad, the last four years of his cancer after it went to his brain was much in the condition of what Holly is describing of her mom. We took care of him as long as we could. In my mom’s living room we set up a hospital bed. Many times I would call Holly, and I would say, “Okay, just say something sane to me and pray for me.” Because I knew she had walked where I was walking.

It helps so much when you’re in those times to go to God, ask God for help, but also to have those friends that come along side you at critical points to say, “Okay, help me think through this clearly.”

In the last hours of my dad’s life, I was on the phone with Holly. I just needed someone who I knew knew the Word, knew me and loved me well to help us walk through and process some of the hard decisions we were having to make. This is a part of life—walking through the death of a loved one and doing it in a way that glorifies God and allows others to benefit from that.

Nancy: Is there ever a temptation to, I know for a lot there would be, a temptation for self-pity, for resentment—especially if there are other siblings maybe who aren’t as involved and the care ends up on you? When you think, Where is everybody else who’s supposed to be pitching in? How do you guard your heart in that season against resentment? Maybe it’s because you’re exhausted and feel like, I just can’t; I don’t have any more to give. How do you keep pressing in and keep a heart free from bitterness or resentment.  

Holly: Oh, that’s just poison. That will kill you.

Kim: I mean, you just can’t go there.

Holly: But the thing is, it’s already a heavy load. So if you allow that to remain in your life, it is crushing. It’s crushing. I guess when Mother had been with us about maybe two, two-and-a-half years, I really was angry at the Lord that He allowed that at that point in my life. It was just really, really hard. I can remember one day . . . I’m an outside person. When I really need to hear from the Lord, that’s where I go. I’m outside somewhere walking or hiking.

This particular day I ended up by the Arkansas River. I was sitting on a picnic table just kind of complaining, pouring out my lament before the Lord. A little motor boat just putted by in front of me on the river. And just, not an audible voice, I don’t hear audible voices, so far. But just as clear as a bell the Lord in my spirit just said to me, “You know, if you had been on the Sea of Galilee that day when I took the disciples into the storm, you would’ve jumped ship or said ‘no.’” And I said, “You’re exactly right.” Because at that moment I wanted to jump ship.

But the Lord used that moment really in a very profound way to say to me, “This is not accidental. It is in your life, but it’s not by accident. If it’s in your life and I’m in your life, then there is provision for what you need.” Those of you who have cared for a loved one or have in the middle of that struggle and you know exactly what I’m saying. There are just moments when you are so weary or so in need of wisdom, and it’s exhausting.

What I’ve discovered though is that when I opened my hands to that circumstance which was already in my life anyway, so it was kind of foolish to say I don’t want to be here because I was there. But when I opened my hands to that it shifted the focus from my needs to what God was trying to do in the midst of it.

So what it did was throw me onto the provision of God so that I didn’t have to ever sort of work that up or supply it or be strong enough to do it. I just had to throw myself onto the grace of God and say, “Okay, Lord, I don’t think I can go get the dirty laundry one more time," or "I don’t think I can go try to figure out how to solve the next problem here.” The thing is, God is not absent in the middle of that. He is not absent.

I was thinking about Billy [Elliff]. Sunday he used this verse in Psalm16:11. And it says: “You will make known to me the path of life.” Whether that is as a single mom trying to raise your kids or being a care giver for someone or helping your children walk through a divorce. “You will make known to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” I mean, that goes from now all the way into Nancy’s eighty-five years and into heaven. That will not stop.

The Lord is always in the process of teaching us to have His perspective. I say to women all the time, “If you could stand on the threshold of heaven and look back at this moment, you would see it very differently.” But God does not remove Himself from this moment. He is in this moment. “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” So the only way I have joy in those tough moments is if I am seeking God’s presence.

A couple of days ago, Nancy, you know your favorite CD Hidden in My Heart? The night I took my mom to the emergency room with blood clots in her legs, we were in the hospital eight days with me standing over her bed holding her in her bed. When you have Alzheimer’s, you don’t know what’s going on, so you don’t want to be there. But that CD had come in the mail from Nancy that day.

On the way to the hospital I put that CD in there and carried it into the hospital room with us. We listened to that a lot during those eight days. Even two days ago, when there’s not anything on TV that my mom would enjoy, she likes Bonanza and things like that, but when there’s nothing like that on, I just turn the volume down, left the pictures on the screen, and I put that CD in.

It is amazing to me. My mom is a believer. But there is a difference in her spirit when she’s being ministered to by the Words of God even through that music. So there is always a way to seek the Lord’s presence in any circumstance, and it’s critical. It’s critical when you’re walking through those deep places.

Rebecca Lutzer: I think there’s so much mystery. God is mysterious to me in different ways. The way He plans things like when He calls people home at a young age like your father and various people. God gave me this verse when I would just puzzle over these things and ask "Why?" over the difficulties of life, and why just so many difficulties seem to come at the same time to that have to be taken care of. God has used this verse of 1 Peter 5:10 so many times. It is so rich. You mentioned the word grace, Holly.  

“But the God of all grace . . .” You just stop and think about what that one little line must mean. “. . . who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered awhile . . .” I used to think that God just took pleasure in making people suffer and having a hard time. But here’s what it says. “. . . after you have suffered a while . . . make you perfect, established, strengthened, and settled.”

It just helped me see that God does these things in us and through us when we’re suffering and when we’re having to deal with so many things at one time. Are you going to fall apart and not make it? No, because God is there. He’s strengthening you. He’s establishing you. He’s perfecting you to be more like Him. That’s the purpose. That gives me such strength.

Nancy: Rebecca, that’s a verse I’ve been to many times myself. We probably all have, along with a couple others that one brings to mind. I think in whatever season of life, whatever the pressure points are, to have God’s perspective from eternity’s vantage point as to what this is all about is so helpful because we’re just living in this momentary slice of life.

 We can’t see what God sees. We don’t know what He knows. If we did, we would be God. So we have to trust that He is wise, that He good, that He is sovereign, that He is at work, that He hasn’t gone to sleep on the job. But also that there’s purpose for those sufferings for that pressure.

I think of two verses, one in the book of Romans chapter 8. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time . . .” and list them, whatever they are—hip surgeries, empty nest, children going through divorce, health issues. Rebecca, I know you’ve had a lot of back and pain issues. That’s part of the sufferings of this present time. Fill in the blank. Financial. We have so many friends in our season of life dealing with financial issues whether it’s single moms or bread winners who can’t retire because their retirement is gone. How are they going to be supported?

People are now living so much longer, but what are they going to live on? In so many cases there’s that fear. Whatever’s on that list, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

So there’s something present that is hard. There’s something present that is not what God intended when He created this world. But it’s a fallen world; it’s a broken world. There is pain. There is heartache. There is brokenness. There is dysfunction. We’re not getting stronger and healthier. Our strength is deteriorating at some point. But the future . . . there’s a glory. That’s something better. That’s something good. That’s something great. That’s something worth looking forward to.

You have that balance here. One is the sufferings of this present time that feel so heavy at the moment. And then there’s this future glory that God has prepared for us that He’s preparing us for. He’s saying, “If you put these on a scale, the present glory is so much heavier and greater and weightier and more rich and more wonderful than the sorrows and the sufferings are heavy and difficult. It’s this, the sorrows and sufferings seem so heavy now, but when you compare them with the glory that God has prepared for us, all those sorrows and sufferings are going to seem as nothing when we have the advantage of seeing things on the other side of glory.

Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 4. He says, “So we don’t lose heart, though our outer nature is wasting away,” and that’s our physical bodies. They’re not getting better. They’re not getting stronger. "Our outer nature is wasting away, yet our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” It’s getting stronger. It’s becoming more like Jesus. So he puts this whole thing of suffering in perspective.

“For this light, momentary affliction . . .” Now hold on. Affliction? Light and momentary? Okay, well you’ve got a mosquito bite. That’s light and momentary. But so much of what we’re talking about: caring for a mom with Alzheimer’s for years, caring for a dad with brain cancer for years, walking your children through these things, when it rains it pours. But Paul calls this light and momentary.

“This light and momentary affliction.” How can it be momentary? You have to see it in light of eternity. And he says “Here’s why it’s light and momentary. It’s preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (see 2 Cor. 4:16–18)

So we have to say, “God, You are using this affliction to change me, to sanctify me, to purify me, to bring us into this big and great and glorious and beautiful place where there is no pain, no tears, no headaches, no marriage difficulties, no wayward children, no crime, no all the things that are part of this fallen world. No Alzheimer’s. No cancer.” Praise the Lord. This is what we have, those of us who are in Christ, to anticipate.

That’s why Paul says, “Therefore, we don’t lose heart.” Even though we’re tempted to, even though we want to throw in the towel, even though we want to be discouraged or to question God. I think we can be honest with God about what we don’t understand, but then it comes back to, “Lord, even though I don’t understand, even though this it total mystery to me, I embrace it because You are good and You know what you’re doing. You don’t make mistakes. You are using these circumstances to shape me, to mold me.” And not just you, but others in your family.

I’ve watched godly, elderly people in their nineties, suffering through long periods of pain or dementia. And sometimes you just say, “Lord, why don’t You just take them. They’ve served You. They’ve honored You. Why would You have them just hang here? It’s hard for the family. It’s hard for them. It’s hard financially.” I don’t know the reason, but I know that God has a reason.

I know He is working all of those things to accomplish His perfect eternal amazing purposes in us, through us. That’s where we have to bow the knee, bow the heart, and say, “Lord, if it pleases You, it pleases me.”

Holly: And too, I think critical to be transparent with each other because there are moments that are so hard and are so difficult. There are moments when you need someone else to say to you, “You don’t have to lose heart.” And to remind you of the realities of God’s presence, of His enabling, of His grace even in those really tough times. Be transparent enough to let someone know where you are because somebody else may need to help you put on your armor that day and remind you of the truth of God’s Word.

Leslie: That’s Holly Elliff. She’s been giving us perspective for any difficult situation. Whatever you find yourself facing today, she’s pointing you to seek the Lord for that need. Holly’s specific need involves serving both her children and her aging parents. That’s one of the many topics covered in our current series, “Flourishing in the Empty Nest.” Along with Holly Elliff we also heard from Kim Wagner, Rebecca Lutzer and of course the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Here in the month of July we’re focusing on practical life issues like marriage, parenting, and the empty nest years. If you appreciate the way Revive Our Hearts helps you apply God’s Word to the practical decisions of life, would you consider supporting this ministry? Donations are usually lower in the summer than they are the rest of the year. So your support is important to us and will make a big difference.

When you support the ministry with a gift of any size, we’ll send you our current radio series on CD. Ask for “Flourishing in the Empty Nest” when you call with your donation of any amount. Our number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now tomorrow, Nancy Leigh DeMoss will ask, “What would happen if thousands of empty nest women fully embraced all God has for them?” It could lead to revival. I hope you can join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.  

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