We had just weathered seven years of storms. We lost Joe’s dad to cancer and Cindi’s brother to suicide. Then Cindi’s mother died suddenly, followed by her dad’s death just five days later (after a long and slow six-year decline). Through all this we dealt with the challenges of a son with special needs and the everyday issues faced by our daughters in college and high school.

We weathered these storms like everyone does—while continuing to work, minister, invest in family and friends, and try to find the good in each day. We hadn’t had a chance to catch our breath when Joe’s mother moved in after a two-month hospitalization and nursing home rehabilitation. And as she settled in with her few and simple belongs, we sadly began to realize that her vascular dementia/Alzheimer’s was causing her decline at a more rapid pace than we had previously realized.

The helpful woman we had known now needed help showering, finding her glasses, shuffling down simple steps, knowing which medications to take, and figuring out how to use the phone that she mistook as the TV remote control.

She wasn’t the only one who had changed. We all changed in response. We had to adjust to less sleep and more responsibilities. Different noises from Mom’s room would be our call to check on her for fear she might wander toward steps or other unfamiliar areas in our home.

We had to change our schedules, our outside commitments, our daily expectations, and even our attitudes. Sometimes the children had to rearrange school activities or time with friends. We all did our share of canceling things we really wanted to do because we felt the need to stay with Mom. When therapists came, we would have to arrange our day to be home to talk with them and learn what we had to do to help Mom.

There were also the changes we made regarding out emotions and our attitudes. We occasionally had to lovingly confront Mom’s self-centeredness (a part of the disease, not what she was like previously). She had become so selfish and negative, that even conversation with her had become very challenging.

We initiated an activity each night at the dinner table in which we could all participate. Truly, we all needed it! Each of us shared the “blessing of the day” and “how we were able to help or be kind to someone else.”  This activity helped us to see the positive in each day, and how God was helping us through this time.

We noticed that our personal character development was as ongoing and constant as our care for Mom. Just as Mom and our son needed help with daily living skills, we recognized we needed help, too. We needed help to focus outside of our world of care-giving and reach out to others wherever God asked us to serve. We had to accept criticism from others who thought things should be handled differently, causing us to take inventory of our own flaws and deficiencies when these criticisms came to us.

These challenges continued to redirect us each day as we relied on the Holy Spirit to control and empower us. When we were frustrated, we asked the Lord for help through these challenging times. He taught us through His Word, to do what we knew to be right, not just what was comfortable, easy or fun. He helped us show the same unconditional love to Mom as He has shown to us. Because He gave us these challenges, we learned to be more loving in relationships, more purposeful in ministry, more creative with our use of time, and more reliant upon Him. We continued to focus on who we are in Christ as we proceeded through the process of becoming more like Him.

Along the road of our unexpected journey, a few years have passed, and Mom Ferrini is now with the Lord. One of our children is married, and Joe is semi-retired. We sense a new freedom in being able to differently consider the use of our time, talents, and treasures for our family and His work.  We also sense that while we are experiencing some freedom right now, there will be a time, probably not too far around the corner, when life will challenge us and we will once again be called to make some choices. We know these choices will cause us to make changes in our lives, attitudes, and emotions.

We know we become “new and improved” as we go through the process of change, but in our humanness and selfish ways, we sometimes wish for a quick fix to life’s challenges. We want to put in our order, and like a fast food meal, get what we asked for. But just like time-tested products that do their jobs effectively and efficiently, God is teaching and molding us to better serve Him by serving others, even when the serving is very difficult.

Yes, we recognize that the challenges we had and choices we made have caused us to grow in our walk with Christ.  And, it continues to be true that we don’t seem to learn as much through the good and easy times, like we do—when life gets tough(er)!

© 2009 by Joe and Cindi Ferrini. Joe and Cindi are authors of Unexpected Journey, which tells their story of caring for their son and parents in their special needs.