When Alzheimer’s Affects Hope

She is not the same person I once knew. My mother — the strong, outspoken, active woman who raised three children. Often harsh in her strict disciplinary practices, she was just as hard on herself.

But it was resilience that moved her from childhood poverty to a successful nursing career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life.

Until the Long Goodbye struck and Alzheimer’s changed her personality.

I do not remember many smiles on my mother’s face. But now, she sits in a wheelchair with a constant grin, revealing the gaps where teeth once anchored.

She knows no one, so every greeting is new. She bears no burdens, because she prepared well. Others handle all the stresses of life. A Bible rests on her lap, but she cannot locate her favorite verses.

She is deaf, so communication is handled with a white board. But she cannot respond. No longer writes even the simplest of sentences. She answers “Yes” or “No” to written questions.

Yet her smile remains. Her visage content. One day just like the next.

In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren admits that some seasons in life might include a variety of afflictions — Alzheimer’s being one of them.

Warren notes that Jesus cared about those who bore chronic pain and constant affliction. He healed some. Left others to return to the leper colony, the sick bed, the beggar’s spot near busy markets.

Warren surmises that God Himself “Suffers with the alcoholic, the homeless kid, the Alzheimer’s patient, the bipolar client in a manic spell.”

God sits with us in our pain, understands our need for companionship and offers His hand of comfort as we struggle.

Perhaps my mother smiles within her shadows because she feels One beside her. Maybe she even sees her Savior on a spiritual level the afflicted ones know so well.

Perhaps her contentment comes from knowing He counts down her days and will never leave her. Maybe the personality change is more of a deeper level of partnership — of two souls acquainted with grief and the sorrows of life yet looking forward to a better place.

Within that possibility, I find hope as I stare at the pictures of this unknown woman — this version of the mother I once knew.

Perhaps in a strange way, this is her best season, her days of intimate knowing and divine purpose. Her night that will lead to a brighter day.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For essays about caregiving, check out Sometimes They Forget: Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

Hope Sees the Women

The idea came in the middle of a Sunday School class — BC — before COVID. We were reading through Genesis 11 when I suddenly stopped.

Here was the tale about a young boy, Lot, who was taken from his mother and transported to another location.

For reasons we are not told, Terah (father of Abram) decided to move from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan. Perhaps he wanted to escape the idolatry of his community or maybe he felt restless and needed a change. His son, Haran, had died. Maybe Terah needed to leave the land that represented so much grief. Yet he chose to take only Abram and his wife, Sarai, plus his grandson, Lot.

But what of Lot’s mother, Haran’s wife? Nowhere is she mentioned. Her absence with this small band of travelers feels stark. What would convince this mother to let her son traipse off into a foreign land with his grandfather, uncle and aunt?

The answer lies in the story of another invisible woman, Lot’s mother, who we will call Rhondu (Excerpt from The Invisible Women of Genesis).

The untold story of this woman haunted me, so I began research. But nothing was told about Rhondu, no reasons behind her abandonment.

Then I began to find other women who were behind the scenes. Women who played important roles in the story yet were not honored — often not even named.

The patriarchal structure of scripture and the cultural significance of males buried these women under layers of historical fact.

Yet I know for certain that God loved these women and planted them in particular places and times to move His story forward.

And I know for certain that women are an equally important part of sharing God’s love with the world today.

Yet many are still invisible.

So I wrote a book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. But I wanted even more justice and wondered how to begin the conversation to make sure women are seen. I came up with a few ideas:

> Be more alert and aware of the role of women in today’s world. Male pastors get the attention standing behind the pulpit, but it was probably a female assistant who typed his sermon in readable form. How many other jobs within the church institution are performed by unseen women?

> When I address letters, I no longer use Mr & Mrs with only his name. I use both names: John & Mary Smith. Sometimes I feel radical enough to write her name first: Mary & John Smith.

> Listen to the stories of the invisible women around us: the she-ro who stays up late to launder clothes and prepare tomorrow’s meals, the she-ro who prays for the prodigal child who ignores her, the she-ro who never found the perfect mate and is left out of multiple gatherings, the she-ro who is denied human rights and education, the single mom she-ro, and countless others.

To all the invisible women, God says, “I see you. I have tattooed your name on the palm of my hand. I will never forget you. Someday I will clothe you with a royal robe, place a crown on your head and usher you into my kingdom. You are never invisible to me. You are my bride, my beloved, my beauty.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about invisible women, check out The Invisible Women of Genesis – available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in the Scars

My son and I often bond over the National Geographic channel, particularly the veterinarian shows. One of our favorites is Heartland Docs, a husband and wife team of vets in northeast Nebraska.

During a recent show, Doctors Erin and Ben answered an emergency call from a horse breeder. One of his prize quarter horses, Lucky, cut his foreleg in a freak accident. The tendons were cut in two places. Lucky could barely stand and bowed his head, as if anticipating his fate.

The prognosis was critical. The options were few:

>Surgery at a renowned clinic with months of rehab, but the level of infection might kill Lucky before they could begin.

>Saying good-bye and putting Lucky down.

The horse breeder said, “I just can’t give up on him. Could we try to treat it here and see if he can heal?

The docs were skeptical but they, too, hated to end Lucky’s life. So they swabbed the wound, gave Lucky massive antibiotics and wrapped the leg in a cast.

Six weeks later, Erin and Ben returned to check on Lucky’s progress. They had little hope for a positive outcome.

But when they sawed off the cast, they saw how the tendons were healing. No infection. Still a guarded prognosis. They wrapped the leg again without a cast so Lucky would be forced to put more weight on it.

Four weeks later, they unwrapped the injured leg. Hair and scar tissue had grown over the wound. Lucky stood strong and solid. He would never return to the race track, but the owner’s daughter could ride and show him at the local 4-H fair.

Dr. Erin concluded the episode. “We couldn’t give up. Although it was a delicate situation, scars are often stronger than the initial tendons.”

Isn’t that the truth? Although we struggle through multiple precarious and traumatic situations, we can decide to never give up.

If we do what is necessary for healing, we may be surprised by the results.

But the scars we wear often become stronger than the initial area that was wounded. We can grow emotional tissue around our pain that helps it heal.

We can accept the bandages others offer us. We can work hard to train ourselves to run with grace again.

And we can let the scars be a witness to our strength-building.

In the end, we may run a different race, live a different life. But we can be strong, even more useful and a treasure to those around us.

Therein lies our hope: to never give up, to accept the pain, to build on our scars.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A group of women were strengthened by their scars, but no one knew. They were The Invisible Women of Genesis.

March Madness Scores Hope

Every year, as I struggle to survive February, I look forward to March Madness. Then for several weeks, I indulge in TV watching, cheering for my teams and yelling at double the volume.

In 2020, the basketball authorities cancelled March Madness to protect everyone from COVID-19. This year, I was ready.

Like the Uber Eats commercial, “I didn’t get my madness last year, so I needed double the madness.”

March Madness provides the perfect emotional release, adrenalin rush and just downright fun. As I settle in for a game, I announce to the cat, “There will be yelling.”

The cat leaves the room.

Yelling does not include curse words — at least not the usual ones. I was, after all, raised to act like a lady — except during March Madness.

My yelling might call out the refs. “Didn’t you see that? The kid’s head is bleeding. Don’t you think that means a foul? FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!”

“A charge? SERIOUSLY? The defense was not set.”

“Give him a Tee. COME ON!”

I do not yell without credible knowledge. My dad was a triathlete, including top scorer at Phillips University. Our family was definitely into all the sports seasons. And I played basketball in grade school and high school — until the unfortunate knee incident.

I went up for a rebound, and a monster from the other team broadsided me. My body went north, but my knee went east. Those were the days before knee surgeries unless you were a top athlete headed to the NBA.

I was not. I wore an ugly brace for several weeks which did nothing for my social life.

When I taught middle school, the principal “volunteered” me to be a ref for a few games. It is not an easy job. Especially with a whistle in your mouth while breathing hard and running up and down the court.

However, with my experience I do know the difference between a charge and a foul. DEAR GUSSY, REF. GET IT RIGHT!

Usually I yell at the refs or the coaches, “Call time out, Coach. NOW!”

But I also yell at the players when they miss free throws. My dad used to say, “There is no excuse for missing a free throw.” He was right.

You have a clean shot. No one is guarding you. It’s only fifteen feet. NOT AN NBA THREE!

When they miss, I yell, “FREE THROW, FOR PETE’S SAKE!” Sometimes I stand directly in front of the TV — as if they could hear me.

Games are won or lost because of free throws. The best way to beat the pressure is to make the STUPID FREE THROW!

When my son was a teen, we competed with our brackets. The winner got a pizza. Now he’s grown and busy with his life, so I compete with myself. I fill out the bracket after each game. That way, I always win.

After March Madness, I always feel better. No matter who wins. The release valve of yelling works. I highly recommend it.

This has not been a good year for my teams. The Chiefs bombed out in the Super Bowl. The Jayhawks, proteges of James Naismith himself, could not manage to get the ball in the peach basket. FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

But there is hope. Let’s go, Royals! 

There will be yelling.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books on my Amazon Author Page. No yelling in any of them.

Hope in the Hidden Treasures

Once a week, I click onto HGTV and watch a couple of favorite DIY shows. One is Home Town with Ben and Erin Napier. They are transforming their home down of Laurel, Mississippi, by renovating old homes. It’s a fun show with lots of creative ideas.

My other current fave is Good Bones, another redesign of a town — Indianapolis — with a mother and daughter team. Mina is the driving force behind each project while Karen, the mother, is a creative artiste a la retired lawyer.

One of the reasons I like Good Bones is because one of the stars is in my demographic. It’s encouraging that a mature woman is able to power through a wall with a sledgehammer or kick through slats to open a space.

The other reason I like Karen is because she is always finding hidden treasures.

When each segment begins, Karen and Mina tour a nasty old house, dreaming of ways to redesign it and sell it for a profit. Some of these houses have become shelters for hoarders or for squatters. Some are incredibly nasty. I can almost smell the horror of those bathrooms filled with — well, you can imagine.

But Karen searches through the junk and often finds an old window, a piece of furniture, a tapestry, an antique bottle, even a musical instrument. She takes them home, in spite of Mina’s insistence to throw them away, and restores them to their original luster. Then she returns the treasure to the house as a gift to the new homeowner.

I love the idea of restoring what was considered trash. In fact, I’ve done the same myself. Dumpster diving in a college town often produced treasures my son and I could use after we cleaned them, fixed broken screws or painted something a new color.

But hope joins the restoration process when we seek to find the hidden treasures all around us. Even daring to look for treasures within our own souls.

  • What is a treasure we can find from the traumas of 2020?
    • more time with family
    • working from home
    • safety in our own four walls
    • a commitment to do life differently when everything opens.
  • How can we look for treasure in each other?
    • accept differences of opinion
    • embrace diversity
    • guard the hearts of those who are disrespected.
  • What are the concrete treasures we can find around us and restore them to dignity?
    • an autumn leaf to frame
    • stones that become art – like a cat made out of rocks
    • native grasses to bring inside and feature in a pottery vase
  • How does God remind us we are his treasures?
    • By giving us a verse for a particular moment
    • by sharing his presence through music or nature
    • by keeping us in a constant state of readiness for heaven
    • by strengthening us through one struggle so we can meet the next one

Someone at a writers conference once told me I was a treasure. It took me a while to journal through that compliment and fully accept it.

But it IS true. Each of us is a treasure to God and to the people in our personal world. Each human being is a treasure no matter what the gender, the skin color or the choice of political platform.

As we look for the treasures around us, let’s be more cognizant of how we can share hope with each other.

Let’s strive for restoration rather than trashing another. Let’s build on how people and things were originally created and work to make them even better.

Let’s find hope in the hidden treasures.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these invisible women who were NOT treasured. Then find ways to treasure others. The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Survives with the Women of Passion Week

She is often condemned as the woman who worked too hard to create a hospitable atmosphere. Martha, the sister who kept everything together to serve Jesus and his disciples.

Legend tells us Martha was a wealthy widow, the homeowner of her Bethany villa. She provided housing for her siblings and a place of retreat for her guests.

Martha had a special relationship with the Master, so the events of Passion Week would have greatly impacted her. How would she have reacted to the news coming from Jerusalem?

When the messenger rushed into my villa, I could not at first believe his words. “Jesus is dead. Crucified by the religious leaders and the mob.”

Dead. This gentle Teacher who changed our lives when he brought Lazarus back to life.

How I remembered the depths of our grief as Mary and I buried our little brother. The virus that killed Lazarus was so severe and quick, none of the doctors knew how to treat it. Yet we were certain Jesus could save him.

But the Master hesitated, waited four days while we prepared our brother’s body and walked behind his bier to the family tomb.

When Jesus finally appeared, I dared to confront him, accused him of not caring enough. “I know you could have saved him. Where were you?”

To this day, I remember the iconic mixture of emotion in his voice, his own grief at the tragedy of death. Yet in his eyes, a spark of joyous surprise I would not understand until later. When he called out, “Lazarus, come forth” and welcomed our brother back to the land of the living.

Now Jesus Himself had experienced that darkness, the cessation of life and the journey to the netherworld. His breath stilled. His skillful hands emptied of life’s pulse.

Why did not the Father rescue him from the cross? Was this merely another hesitation by a God who knew more about life and death, how a seed must die in order to produce amazing fruit?

I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders. The chill of early spring greeted me as I trudged toward the hill. Crocus sprouted among the rocks. The promise of life after the death of winter.

As I scrambled up the rocky hillside toward our tomb, I cried out with gratitude. “Thank you, God. My brother no longer lies here, rotting in the dust. My sister thrives, and I am healthy. We are blessed with the gift of life.”

Yet our Savior was dead. Who would care for his body, wrap him in linen and anoint the wounds that killed him? Would he have a place to lie under the stars where his followers could visit him? Should I travel to the holy city and offer my services?

Then a whisper, a remembered phrase the Master comforted me with just before he raised Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes will also live.”

And suddenly, I knew. The raising of Lazarus was more than an act of life, a rescuing of Mary and me from the ravages of grief, a chance to start over for our beloved brother.

It was a foreshadowing of what would happen later — not only for the Master but also for all of us who believed. Death was not the end, but only a stepping-stone into the next world. A place of infinite blessing and good, a realm where death and sickness, crucifixion or martyrdom could never win.

I ran back to the house, suddenly filled with a desire to prepare the best foods, clean the villa and straighten up the guest rooms. Perhaps the Master would visit Bethany again, show us another example of renewal and revival. Whatever the schedule he might keep, I had no doubt we would see him again.

Three days later, another messenger ran up our hill and rapped on the door. I met him there, saw his flushed face and grasped his shoulders.

“Tell me. What has happened?”

He gasped for breath, then spouted the words, “His disciples . . . they have seen him. The Master . . . is alive.”

Of course he is. I believe.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about the Women of Passion Week, check out my book available on Amazon.

Hope Lives in the Music

As I walked out of Target, violin music reverberated its lovely sound. Plaintive yet smooth. Obviously a professional recording.

Or was it?

I walked toward my car and looked around the parking lot. Were those melodic notes coming from a car’s stereo? If so, where?

The music sounded too fresh, too lovely to be a tinny recording. Nothing I recognized. No classical memory from years of music training. A new song, perhaps written by an unknown artist.

Then I saw him. Farther east in the parking lot, a young man standing in the spring sunshine. His right arm moving up and down with the bow. His left hand forming the vibrato. Obviously a trained musician.

I drove toward him, drawn by more than curiosity. After the grey February where I struggled to find hope, this offering of loveliness felt like a divine gift.

A note beside him read, “Struggling student. Hard times. Can you help?”

The writer in me wondered at his story. Had he been evicted from his apartment or lost his “other” job like so many artists during the time of COVID?

Was he caring for an elderly parent and needed money for the necessities of healthcare? Were they hungry? Homeless?

Did the music of his soul need encouragement, new strings for his favorite violin? Tuition paid for theory classes?

A baritone voice in my soul, “Help him.”

“How much, Abba?”

“You have a ten in your billfold.”

I am not always a generous giver. Often I am more clearly defined as a saver, a keeper of what I have — just in case life sours.

Yet for this young talent, life was already sour — something not working well. He was giving the only thing possible — his music. For what? His next meal? A reason to stay in hope?

Oh, I know all the arguments the financially secure use: “He’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze. It’s a racket. Don’t fall for it.”

Yet the sadness in his brown eyes would not leave me alone. The song of his heart spoke directly to mine.

It was not my responsibility to monitor his spending habits. It was only my duty to obey and respond. This child of God needed help. I had a little I could spare.

His melancholy notes continued as I rolled down my window and handed him my ten.

“Thank you,” he said with genuine gratitude.

“God bless you.”

As I drove away, I prayed the violinist would be okay, eat well that night, pay whatever bills were outstanding.

Then clearing the tears out of my throat, I thanked God for the beauty of music, for a stranger who parked near Target and shared the melody of his heart.

Hope floated through the afternoon air and landed joyfully in my soul.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you don’t have a violinist in your Target parking lot, maybe this e-book will help. Finding Hope When Life Unravels