Hope Struggles with a Birthday

Exfoliates quoteAll day I thought about her, my mother who lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Celebrating her 88th birthday without me and without any knowledge that she had survived another year.

By mid-afternoon, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I called assisted living and asked if they could bring Mom to the desk for a phone call.

“It will be just a minute,” the nurse said. “She had such a good day.”

“Really? You helped her celebrate?”

“We partied for all the February birthdays, and your mother had such a good time with our Hawaiian theme. She wore a grass skirt.”

“What?” My mother, the dignified woman with perfect posture, who always carried herself with self-respect. Dressed in a grass skirt?

The nurse continued, “Our activities director decided on the theme. Everyone wore a lei and we had a pretend luau with island music. It was such a great idea.”

I know about activities directors and the impact of their work. Roxie, in the Reverend G books, helps each resident find some type of interest that will increase their sense of significance.

These directors walk a fine line. How do you approach these seasoned seniors who deserve honor even while they have mentally become children? How do you celebrate birthdays for the generation that survived World War 2 and the depression, then rebuilt America and sent their kids to college for the education they always wanted but couldn’t afford?

Now they fidget away their days, shuffling with a variety of walkers, forgetting their names and the children they birthed, aware only of the dinner bell when they file obediently into the dining room and eat silently, then retire to their rooms to turn up the volume on the TV and hope sleep will come soon.

“We had pineapple upside down cake,” the nurse said.

“My mother likes pecan pie. I’ve never seen her eating pineapple anything.” I could not erase the vision of my mother in a grass skirt – this woman who raised me with a no-nonsense approach and a duty-bound responsibility to always do my best and use my gifts to the utmost for God’s glory.

“Oh, here she is!” cried the nurse.

“Hello?” answered a shaky voice.

Too fragile. Not the strong tone I remembered from my visit at Christmas. “Hi, Mom. It’s me, and Caleb is here, too.” I was certain the name of her grandson would trigger a memory.

“Hello?”

“Happy birthday, Mom.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

I ground my teeth and prayed for wisdom. “Did you have a party today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

She was probably refusing to remember being dressed up like a perky five year-old and forced to wear a stupid grass skirt. I could do nothing to help her. I wanted to scream, but tried a different thought. “Did you have a piece of cake?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

My mother, who used to call me with hour-long conversations, asking about my writing and my work, interested in everything her grandson accomplished – now responding only in mono-syllabic words, phrases she somehow chose from the fog of a plaque-infested brain.

Surely, she would talk to her grandson. “Here’s Caleb.” I handed him the phone.

“Hi, Grandma. Happy birthday.”

“Thank you. Hello?”

“Grandma, it’s me, Caleb. How are you?”

“Hello? What?”

He looked at me, helpless. “Talk louder,” I whispered. “Maybe she can’t hear you.”

“Grandma, we love you.”

“Hello?”

Finally, I took the phone again. “Mom, we’ll see you soon. We just wanted to tell you happy birthday and we love you.”

“Thank you. Hello.” I wondered if all the hello’s really meant good-bye.

Then she was gone, and I imagined her shuffling back to her room, not caring that she is now 88, unaware of 2016, a presidential election coming soon and spring flowers eager to burst through the crust of winter soil.

For a minute, I felt the guilt of being the long-distance caregiver assuaged. We tried to help her celebrate the day, tried to let her know we love her and miss her, wished we could be there.

But it wasn’t enough. The echoes of her voice followed me up the stairs as I hurried to my bedroom to cry.

I hate Alzheimer’s.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyhwedding - rj, ct, mom

Hope Confesses

1 peter 2-23It felt ugly and sent me into several days of discouragement. A verbal attack – probably not intentional – but to be my authentic self, I must admit it hurt.

The words questioned my blogging skills, criticized word count and focus, suggested that another direction would be more effective, violated several of the blogging rules I espouse.

Constructive criticism? Possibly. But spoken without any encouragement or positive phrases. The confrontive words “you need to” at the beginning of each sentence.

Worse – the attack was not written where I could ponder each word and form my response. But verbal and quick so I had no time to recover and respond, not even a chance to defend myself.

I wanted to run away, to find some solace in people who love me and believe in my words. But that seemed the coward’s path, and I had responsibilities to fulfill.

Instead, I texted my son, “Pray for me. I need a hug.”

His reply almost immediate, “Certainly.”

We ate at Cracker Barrel that evening because I needed some fried apples and a hashbrown casserole for comfort. I reviewed what had happened that day. Sometimes just verbalizing an experience helps us work through it – to find some point of learning in the criticism, some intent in the phrasing.

And some sense of what to do about the situation.

Then I spent an hour with my journal, writing it out, because that is how I process the experiences of my life – in the written word – the same format that brought about the attack.

Two more days passed as I processed what had been said, thought more about it, prayed for wisdom in how to respond, how to learn from it. Nothing I could do would change the fact that it happened.

But how should I react, as a Christian writer who hopes my words and phrases inspire and encourage? What direction should I take?

With more journaling and more inward scrutiny, I discovered an ugly seed hiding within the heart of my passionate words. Pride whispered, “You’ve been blogging for years. You’ve taught other writers how to blog, and you know all the tools and techniques. You teach at writers conferences and you have over 1300 followers on your blog, for cryin’ out loud! How dare this person attack you when you have such credibility?”

Owie!

In the posture of the repentant, I knelt by my bed and honestly confronted the source. “I don’t like this hurt, God, but I admit the pride that has been wounded. I confess that sour germ to you and ask that you help me not to let is fester or cause bitterness. I do not want to be ugly back to this person. I want to learn to be a better writer, to continue to inspire and encourage as well as inform. I admit the pain, but I want to learn from it.”


Confession does not automatically heal the wound, but it sets us in the right direction for purity of heart and growth of the soul.


“The pure in heart shall see God.” My ultimate bucket list contains this goal.

So as I write and obey this new directive, I will focus on the hope that pours from my passion. I vow to not run from the truth but from the pride that deceives and confuses.

Hopefully, the words that erupt will then be more acceptable – in the marketplace and in my soul.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Hides in the Pages of a New Book

Something special happens when I begin to birth a book. I’m not sure if I am unique in this. Perhaps other writers will comment and let me know if I’m weird or somewhat normal.writing pencil

Because one of my core values is life-long learning, I love to initiate research. So with the new idea, I start to look for credits that may prove my point if it’s a nonfiction book.

For novels, I start to pay attention to settings, cultures, recipes, clothing – anything that will make my characters believable.

Then I go nuts with ideas and start free writing. For nonfiction, I play with an outline.

For novels, I write letters to the characters and let them write me back (I know – weird!).

This is the most exciting part for me – similar to when the doctor said, “Guess what? You’re pregnant!”

I begin to imagine all kinds of scenarios. What will the cover of this book look like? What if this book becomes a best-seller? What if the words I write impact somebody’s life?


The beginning germ of my idea mushrooms and ripples into a story line. Even in nonfiction, it’s important to tell the story.


 

So I feel excited, fulfilled, working away at this idea and waiting to see how it will manifest itself in chapter headings, quotes, character quirks and the resolution of conflict.

As I work on the idea, I imagine my readers – feet propped up in front of a cozy fire, turning the pages inscribed with my words, wiping a tear or tilting back their heads in laughter.

Then I take the idea and play with it from the marketing standpoint. After I find my focus, how many articles can I write from this one idea? Will it be only a novel or can I also write a nonfiction book, using my research as a starting point?

That’s what I’m doing now with all my research about Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Reverend G trilogy is finished, so now I’m putting together a nonfiction book of essays and meditations to help caregivers.

For me, the best part of writing is letting my creativity loose without any roadblocks or fears stopping me. I envision the massive impact this idea will have and the huge numbers of people who will either learn from my topic or change their lives because of it.

Ultimately, I thank God for the idea because he is the one who creates life – in the womb and in my writing soul.

Then I ask him to bless the project and hope again – that it will be very good.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Thrives with the Little Ones

smiley-kids-stand-up_23-2147490130She reached out to touch my hand, her pudgy little toddler fingers soft and warm. Dark brown Hispanic eyes twinkled with joy as we played peek-a-boo around her mother’s shoulder.

I would have given her mother $20 to let me hold her precious daughter, but then maybe the spell would have broken.

We waited in line at Arby’s, still teasing each other for at least ten minutes. The baby grinned at me, two tiny bottom teeth standing like white sentinels in her perky mouth.

Then customer service took over. The child and her mother moved away from me, and I ordered my own meal.

Unlike most of my friends, I do not have grandchildren – yet – and I rarely get to see my great-nieces. So when I’m in contact with a little one, it is a special moment for me.

A time of revived hope as I see the future in a tiny life, untouched by the cares of the world. That little girl has no idea yet of the stresses she will someday encounter nor of the need to pay a gas bill and keep a roof over her head.

She is years away from deciding on a career and thankfully, her choices will be much more varied than mine ever were.

Her grin is free from any emotional baggage – yet even as I played peek-a-boo with her, I begged God to protect her. Statistics prove that one out of three little girls will be sexually assaulted.

Oh God, oh God – may that statistic burn in hell.

As I reflected later that day and remembered the beautiful child, I marveled at how she had increased my hope:

  • Her youth – so much potential ahead of her
  • Her innocence – may life allow her to remain pure
  • Her freedom – in a country that offers so much promise
  • Her gender – with more opportunities for women than ever before
  • Her beauty – who could resist those brown eyes and black hair surrounding clear baby skin?

No wonder God tells us to become like a little child.

No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little ones come unto me.” Perhaps the little ones of his culture also gave him hope.

No wonder our hearts burst with joy when we are accepted and loved by a little child.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Image attribution: www.Freepik.com

Hope in the Preservation

canned-tomatoes-1172877After watching the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, I decided to spend some time with my journal. It’s always been a good practice for me to evaluate the past year and think about what I want to do with my life in the next 12 months.

Along with my journal, I grabbed my Bible and flipped to a Psalm I’ve been studying. Within that sacred text, I found a verse to meditate on – which also gave me some ideas for 2016.

Psalm 31:23 “Oh love the Lord, all you His saints! The Lord preserves the faithful….”

When I focused on the word “preserves” I thought about sand plum jelly we made on the farm and the hours we spent canning tomatoes and green beans. Those wonderful Mason jars provided us with fresh food throughout the winter months and also preserved memories of cooking with Mom in the farm kitchen.

But some of the ideas for my new year came directly from the word “preserve.” How might God preserve me in 2016? What does it mean to be “preserved?”

  • Fresh. Being fresh and refreshed so that I can feel energized for the writing and ministries I do. As preserved foods always taste fresh, I need to make sure I rest well, take care of myself holistically and exercise to preserve my strength.
  • Useable. One reason we canned vegetables was so we could eat them during the months when the garden was frozen. I want to be useable during this new year, available to serve God and help others, writing my best words ever, speaking and coaching and being.
  • Available at any time. All it took was a trip to the cellar to bring up the Mason jars. When God speaks to me or when people need me to help them, when words well up within my spirit and need to be written down – right then – I want to be available. No questions. No doubts. No hesitation.
  • Safe. Our foods were preserved so well, we never suffered from botulism, e coli or any type of toxins. I want the people I serve to feel safe around me. I want my readers to know that when they pick up my books, they won’t have to wonder what type of topics I’ll write about. Even if I have to stretch some comfort zones, I want readers to know that I strive for truth – which creates a type of safety.
  • No Expiration Date. Our sand plum jellies lasted for years and were always edible. All we had to do was skim off the wax on top, then spread that golden orange lusciousness on top of warm bread, fresh from the oven. Although I reached one of those “special” age limits this year, I haven’t reached my expiration yet. I’m still working, serving and praying. I’m still writing and hope to continue – with no retirement in sight and no expiration date warning me to slow down.

So I’m grateful God promises to preserve me, because I want to remain faithful to his calling for me. And I want 2016 to be my best year ever, writing the words he speaks to me – then sharing them with you.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Image Attribution: SXC – Freepik.com

Seeking Hope After Christmas

Because I love Christmas, it is always a bittersweet challenge to pack up everything, tape the boxes closed and carry Christmas to the basement.mantel after Xmas

I simply cannot endure the thought of an entire year before I pull out the twinkle lights, caress my angel collection and replay memories associated with the ornaments.

This Christmas was especially difficult as my son had to work through the holidays. I missed being with him as I remembered Christmases past and the excitement of a little boy discovering his first drum set, a giant box of Legos and a package of plastic army men.

This Christmas also brought more confusion for my mother. Her Alzheimer’s side effects seem to peak during the holidays, when I long for her to remember the daughter she sewed for, the special box of books she placed under the tree with my name on the tag, my excitement when I opened that box and knew I would soon be transported into the mysterious world of Nancy Drew.

This year, Mom didn’t even remember that Dad now lives in heaven. Our quality time was nonexistent, and when I drove her back to assisted living – she argued about living there. She couldn’t even remember why someone had given her presents.

So to preserve some joy of the season, I rearranged my pearl lights on the mantel and merged winter accessories with pine cone candles. Just a touch of Christmas to lessen the loss.

But I needed more. I have learned the best way to preserve the joy of Christmas is to proactively use my Christmas cards. I keep them in a pile beside my Bible, then each morning throughout January and February, I choose one card and pray for that person or the family that sent the card.

I remember special friends and family members, clients and colleagues by reminding God of their importance in my life, lifting up their needs to the only one who can fulfill them.


It helps me tolerate the cold fingers of winter as I focus on the warm love of the God who transcends every season and time.


So as we move into 2016, let’s all try to find more tangible ways to seek hope.

Then next year during Christmas, we can celebrate with extra joy.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Hanging On To Hope

As the Kansas winter blustered through my yard, I noticed a unique snapshot of the season.leaf - hanging on

Although all the other leaves had already let loose and dropped to the ground, one leaf still hung on.

In spite of the wind, the calendar day and its length of life – a lone leaf clung tightly to the branch that had given it life.

It didn’t take long to wrap my heart around the analogy and honor thousands of saints who continue to cling tightly to their true source of life.

They persevere in spite of the calendar days that scream, “You should have given up already.”

They hang on in spite of the circumstances of life or the opinions of others or even of well-meaning friends who speak cruelty.

These are people who inspire me to persevere as well:

  • The single mom who drives her children to church even though she has been shunned because she’s divorced
  • The writer who revises the same manuscript seven times until every word is as good as it can possibly be – then ignores another rejection to revise it again
  • The cancer patient who refuses to be a victim but spends her time during brutal radiation treatments, praying through her list of friends and family
  • The nonprofit organizations who operate on a financial shoestring and trust God to provide resources each and every day
  • The missionaries who continue to serve even when their prayers don’t merge with the answers they long to see

Persevering folks who keep hanging on to hope even when everything in life attacks them.


Brave and vulnerable caregivers who keep serving even when the days are 36 hours long.

Mothers who keep praying for their prodigals. Fathers who work jobs they hate so their children won’t go hungry. Christians who refuse to deny Christ even though faced with the wrath of a radical Muslim sect.

The power of those who persevere is modeled at the end of Hebrews 11 – saints who refused to be released from torturous prisons, faced rejection and persecution, were destitute and mistreated. They did not receive what they were promised but they hung on anyway. They persevered and “the world was not worthy of them.”

What is required to continue in hope when everyone else has let loose and fallen around us?

Courage and the grace to keep hanging on to the One who empowers us with resurrection life.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh