Every now and then you meet someone who can teach you a lesson.
As I grappled with writing a blog post that had meaning and depth, I happened upon a conversation with a long-time, dear and trusted friend. She told me about someone she worked with whose spouse developed early Alzheimer’s some years ago. After hearing a brief account of his family’s horrific crisis and their struggles in dealing with it, it seemed natural to invite him to share his hard-earned insights.
Because crises are inescapable in life, his informative post below is shared with you so that you might gain inspiration and enlightenment.
For more information, go to www.CarlenMaddux.com.
The following is posted with his permission.
How Can My Crisis Be Turned Into A Spiritual Journey Filled With Meaning?
by Carlen Maddux
Only days after turning fifty, my wife Martha was blindsided with news that she has Alzheimer’s disease. We felt as though we were shoved out of a plane 10,000 feet up, without parachutes. Until then Martha had been a spirited mother and a civic activist in St. Petersburg, FL. I published a regional business magazine. Our lives would never be the same.
At the time, in 1997, less than one percent of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were under age sixty- five. Why was Martha? That was just the first of a blizzard of questions that weighed heavily on Martha and me. What causes Alzheimer’s was not known then. It still isn’t. And modern medicine still has no cure.
Our story is one of shock, grief, and pain over what doctors say is a degenerative, irreversible disease. And of our anguish over an uncertain future – for Martha as victim, for me as caregiver, and for our three young children.
But our story, I came to realize, is not about a grim disease and its insidious movement. Nor in its darkest moments is our story about hopelessness.
Our story is about a path that emerged in the darkest of hours, a path that for us was neither planned nor foreseen. It’s the story about the inner struggles and insights that emerged when I was compelled to lead Martha and our children through this life-altering quandary.
At the suggestion of a Protestant minister and friend, our search began when Martha and I visited a Catholic nun and a monk in the hills and back roads of Kentucky. In my scramble for answers, I devoured scores of medical and spiritual books; flew halfway around the world to Sydney and back; spent dozens of weekends at a nearby monastery; and landed all alone one week in Thomas Merton’s cabin.
My name is Carlen Maddux, and I am by training, career, and instinct a journalist and editor. The only way I know to share this most intimate journey is to bring a journalist’s eye and style to a story that’s filled with spiritual breakthroughs, fears, failures, heart-warming encounters, and thought- provoking revelations. Many years later, this path continues to unfold.
I’m not sure why you’re reading this unless you’re grappling with some type of crisis. Or maybe it’s grappling you. I know that feeling. In my forthcoming book A Path Revealed, I share how my wife, children, and I emerged from the fallout of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1997, when Martha was diagnosed at the too early age of 50, our busy and comfortable middle-class world suddenly collapsed.
During our long journey, I encountered scores of people who were facing—or had faced—their own serious crises. Many somehow not only survived but grew. Others seemingly caved in. Before our crisis, I gave little thought to so-called “spiritual journeys.” That was something saints, monks, and nuns did. Nonetheless, a path did appear before Martha and me. I didn’t recognize it, though, for a long while.
So if you’re coping with a crisis and wondering how it might be transformed into something meaningful, maybe we can help each other. My family’s crisis is not yours, that’s a given. But our crises may have common elements from which we both can learn. As I look back on our experiences and at those of others, a number of patterns keep recurring.
May I share some of these that could be of help as you move through your own crisis? I’ve drawn out nine such examples. Along with my brief description of each, you’ll notice space for you to respond. That’s for your own use. But if you’d like to share with me or others in your circle of confidence, that’s for you to decide
1. Odds are that underneath every crisis is a serious dose of fear and anxiety. Recognize that, and learn to let it go. Psst . . . that’s harder to do than we might think.
Your turn: What scares you most about your crisis? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________
2. Go all in. Let the spiritual journey engage all that you are—heart, mind, soul, and body.Otherwise, forget it. I share further reflections on this topic here: “A Spiritual Journey Doesn’tRequire Much. Either You Go All In, Or You Stay Out — That’s It.”
Your turn: Are you ready to let your crisis draw you on to a spiritual path, to let it lead wherever it will go? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If not, what’s holding you back? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If you are, where’s a good place to start? _____________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. You’ll probably be forced outside your comfort zones if you embrace your spiritual journey.I was.
Your turn: Are you afraid—as I still am at times—of being pushed outside your comfort zones— emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4. One of the toughest lessons I’m still learning is to establish the practice daily of focusing on God, not on my angst-ridden problems. As I do this, I have to keep reminding myself: success comes by embracing the process, not the destination.
Your turn: Are you willing to try focusing on God as a way of helping you shift your thoughts and feelings away from your problems? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
5. We’re all busy. But no matter how busy I got at work and home, I had to learn to set aside moments of intentional silence—daily. Otherwise, my mind was filled with anxious distractions of all kinds—worries about Martha, our children, my work, finances, medical bills, you name it.
I share further reflections on this topic here: “Am I too Busy and Important to Be Quiet?”
Your turn: Have you figured out how to unplug from the noise around you and in your mind? If not, do you want to try? _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. Find trusted guides with experience, wisdom, and spiritual discernment. They can help you save time and effort in figuring out what to do and where to go. Throughout my journey guides seemed to keep arising at the right times, helping point the way for me.
Your turn: Have you found someone that you’re comfortable sharing with? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If not, do you want to? __________________________________________________________________
Do you know where to look? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
7. Stop, look, and listen. Intuition and flashes of insight are good. Stay alert—they probably will occur in the most unexpected times and places. If you’re not so sure about their meaning, that’s what a good spiritual guide is for.
Your turn: How do you recognize and capture these moments? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Do you carry a notebook or journal to write them down and reflect on later? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
8. Our paths can be a lonely place at times, out of necessity. But not always. So invite your good friends to travel along. And particularly invite those affected by your crisis, like your spouse and children.
Your turn: Who have you invited into your journey? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In what way? Talking with them? Writing them? Sharing journal entries? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
9. Finally, this may be the most important lesson I had to learn over this long winding path, and it’s one I’m still learning: No matter how hurt, damaged, or alone I feel, my family and I are loved. We are loved by that being we call God. Even though we are pretty small players in this huge, expanding universe, we still are deeply, richly, and fully loved by our creator. I don’t sense this all the time, but I’ve felt it in my bones enough to know it’s true.
Your turn: It’s easy to say that God loves me. After all, that’s what the Bible says. And so do the sacred writings of most major faiths. But have you felt God’s love flow into the depths and darkness of your crisis? _________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If not, would you like to? _____________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I’m delighted that you’ve decided to join me on this ride. This kind of journey isn’t trouble-free, but I’ve discovered that it does not lead to ever more depressing states of mind. If it’s authentic, it makes the load lighter. What did Jesus say? “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” That’s the guide I want to follow. And that’s the type of trail I want to stay on as I move forward into the rest of my life.
If your path is similar to mine there are few, if any, black-and-white answers along the way, yet there are many points where hope, love, and joy seem to converge at just the right time.
Which of the above takeaways resonate most with you? In what way? E-mail me if you’d like to discuss—Carlen@CarlenMaddux.com. Or join me on Facebook and Twitter.
P.S. If you haven’t realized by now, please do take note: I am not a licensed psychologist or a psychiatrist. Nor am I an ordained minister or rabbi. I’m a fellow traveler with almost two decades of experience wrestling with the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease on our family. Each person’s odyssey is unique. As you travel your own path and you encounter serious obstacles—whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual—I encourage you to talk with a trusted counselor, guide, pastor, or doctor.