June 2018 – “Thirty-two years ago I married a woman who had a broken body,” Peter Rosenberger told AFA Journal. When Gracie was 17, she was in a car wreck that severely damaged her lower body. But when they met a few years later, Peter knew this woman would be his wife. Neither knew the trials and struggles to come.
After the birth of their first child, Gracie’s doctors amputated her right leg. They amputated her left leg after the birth of their second child.
“The pregnancies didn’t cause the amputations, but they did accelerate the problems leading to them,” Peter said.
In the midst of celebration and loss, the duo founded Standing with Hope, a ministry to send recycled artificial limbs to amputees in Ghana.
Some years after establishing Standing with Hope, the board of directors approached Peter about beginning a new ministry for caregivers.
“My board said my experience in being Gracie’s caregiver for so many years had given me a skill set many people were in need of. The result was Caregivers with Hope.”
Not all caregivers marry into the situation. More often, they enter the blessed trial through aging parents or special needs children.
“In 1995, my mother died very suddenly,” author Valeri Miller told AFAJ. “She was taking care of my grandmother while also working as my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I was thrust into the role of caregiver. After that, my father moved into the downstairs of my house, and later my mother-in-law moved into my upstairs.”
Miller spent more than 17 years in caregiving.
While the circumstances are certainly different, both Rosenberger and Miller expressed needs universal to all caregivers.
Vocabulary of help
“How do you help somebody who helps somebody? What does that even look like?” Rosenberger questioned. “Most of the time, caregivers don’t think about themselves and therefore do not have the ability to articulate their own needs.”
To illustrate, Rosenberger said most caregivers lose the ability to speak in first person singular. Many are comfortable speaking in the third person, “He is doing fine,” or, “She is having a good day.” But they evade speaking of themselves.
“Caregiving becomes your life,” Miller said. “It is a very narrow focus and a very small circle of everyday life.”
One of Rosenberger’s biggest emphases in his ministry is to “equip caregivers with a vocabulary of what help looks like to them.” Part of that system is using the word “I.”
“I am tired.”
“I need a break.”
But it isn’t just having the words to use; caregivers must also have the courage to use them and the people with whom to use them.
Discovery of help
“One of the most important keys for caregiving is a healthy support system,” Miller said. They must be individuals willing to offer help and people the caregiver is willing to accept help from.”
But the needs of each caregiver are different. The needs of an adult child caring for an aged parent will be vastly different than those of a parent caring for a special needs child.
The simplest need of every caregiver is encouragement. Taking a loved one from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, while carrying a full-time job and having all the other stresses of normal life can easily become overwhelming.
“I used to call my brother to talk,” Miller said. “All he would say is, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ That is all I needed to hear.”
“We Christians tend to be tuna noodle helpers,” Rosenberger said. “When we hear of a problem in someone’s life, we offer prayer and a meal, then consider the job done. But there is much more we can do.”
He told of a young lady who was the primary caregiver to her son. Her car broke down and, after relaying that information to a friend, she was offered prayer and tuna noodle casserole.
“Let’s hear the heart cry,” Rosenberger said. “Meals are great and prayers are effective. But what she needed was a mechanic. Rather than having our tried-and-true methods of helping, let’s find out what caregivers actually need and see how we can sustainably meet those needs.”
Rosenberger calls this the path to safety. Countless caregivers feel as though they are drowning. They are experiencing what he calls the fog of caregiving. Helping means being involved to the point you can observe their needs and meet them.
Method of help
Offering a caregiver a meal can be a wonderful blessing. “But eventually somebody is going to have to cook,” Rosenberger said.
Being involved in ministering to caregivers for the last several years has given him countless stories. One such story is that of a Sunday school class wanting to adopt a family whose father had suffered a debilitating injury. The class decided to clean the family’s house once a week.
“How long ago was he injured?” Rosenberger asked. It was five years ago.
“Are you prepared to clean that house for the next five years?” he responded.
His recommendations focus on developing a sustainable infrastructure that can be measured, evaluated, and revised if necessary. For example, in addition to bringing a meal, teach caregivers how to stock a pantry for quick, nutritious meals.
In addition to making one donation, teach a caregiver how to budget and plan for medical expenses. In addition to doing a big clean to help a caregiver get things in order, offer to hire a professional service to clean once a week for six months.
Miller would love to see entire churches, including children and youth, get involved in the process.
Many times, caregivers, and those to whom care is given, feel as though they have no purpose outside doctor visits. Miller has a vision of helping churches, when applicable, give purpose back to them.
“I love to see churches take teens and children to the homes of senior adults, shut-ins, or caregivers and say, ‘These teens want to learn to cook, to clean a house, to iron, etc. Would you be willing to take a Saturday afternoon and teach them in your home?’ This helps the caregiver, fights loneliness of shut-ins, builds a bridge between generations, and helps young church members learn and grow.”
Whatever language is used, whatever method of help is provided, one thing is clear: helping those who help is one of the largest, least-discussed ministry opportunities for the American church today.
Who in your church or community could be blessed by you listening and doing today?
▶ Who Cares? God’s Path for the Caregiver
▶ Hope for the Caregiver
▶ 7 Caregiver Landmines…and How You Can Avoid Them