When Hope Morphs into Reality

The thief first appeared as a slight blip on the memory screen. A word forgotten, a key chain misplaced. We laughed — at first.

Then more and more items were misplaced. Numerous words forgotten until finally our parents’ identities disappeared.

We no longer laughed. Instead, we sought out doctors and resources. Someone who could tell us why Mom acted so strangely, why Dad could no longer drive.

Then the dreaded diagnosis: dementia for Dad, Alzheimer’s for Mom. The Long Good-bye.

The memory thief smirked. He had completed his work and left us bereft.

Sometimes our precious ones forget. Eventually, they no longer remember those they have birthed and raised.

Dad was a gentle man, a Mennonite farmer who lifted hay bales all day and threw them into a truck, then spent the evening softly strumming his guitar.

Henry, often called Hank, was soft-spoken and so introverted that when he prayed or gave advice — everyone listened.

How I wish I would have written down more of his wisdom before he became forever silent.

He was a man of faith, with a history of athleticism. A triathlete who was scouted by the Yankees and became a basketball legend at Phillips University in his hometown: Enid, Oklahoma.

Yet not even his faith nor years of exercise and outdoor living could save him from the memory thief.

Like a good farmer, he took care of the land and his home. One November day, a fire threatened to destroy the farmhouse.

He beat out the flames until he was sure everything was safe, then stumbled outside to gulp fresh air.

That’s where Mom found him, with his shirt hanging off his chest. Deadly burns all over his body.

After four months in the hospital, several surgeries, daily debreeding sessions, graftings, sleepless nights, scars that roiled our stomachs, the acrid stench of putrified flesh — Dad was finally released.

He returned home, unable to remember how the tractor made ruts in the plowed field or how to create chords on his guitar. Why the cows didn’t come home without the gentle farmer calling them in.

“Trauma-induced dementia,” said the doctor.

Mom, the nurse, retired from her job. They moved from the farm to town, into a house that could accommodate a wheelchair, if needed.

“I’ll never put him in a nursing home,” Mom said. She became his caregiver, daily, monthly, for ten long years.

My sister moved home to help. Together they fed him, bathed him, rolled him over when he graduated to the hospital bed.

The silencing of his wise advice cut deeply into our lives, and my heart ached when I visited.

We connected through music, so I sang to him. A spark would kindle in his eyes, especially for his favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

Then one April, when the spring tulips erupted into bright yellow and purple blooms, as the promise of life budded everywhere — the spark disappeared.

I knew it would not be long.

In May, he graduated to heaven. A release for all of us, especially for Dad.

Sometimes death is a relief.

With her mate of 54 years buried, Mom devoted herself to volunteer work. She served meals to the hungry and counted Bingo cards at the nursing home.

One Thanksgiving, she said, “I’m so glad I’m not in a nursing home — yet.”

I wondered later if she had a premonition.

She began to misplace the pots and pans. She safety-pinned her house keys to the waistband of her pants, just in case she forgot how to get back into the house. She parked her car in the same spot at the grocery store so she could find it when she came out.

She coped so well, it took us a while to figure out something was drastically wrong.

Then fainting spells, hard falls, congestive heart failure and a pacemaker. The doctor said, “She cannot live independently anymore. Alzheimer’s and a benign brain tumor.”

We had already contracted with a beautiful assisted living facility. But she fought us. “Why are you putting me here? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

We lied and hated it. “It’s only for a little while, Mom. Rehab after your pacemaker surgery. The doctor ordered it.”

A partial truth is still a lie.

She lived in assisted living for eight years, then graduated to the Alzheimer’s wing. Confusion deepened. No more fun trips to the mall with her best friend. No more biscuits and gravy at Braum’s. No more crocheted projects.

She sits quietly in her chair, often in the dark, pretending to read. No longer comprehending the words.

Sometimes they forget and sometimes life forces them to forget.

No matter what the situation or the health issue, caregivers are left to figure out a new normal — to search for hope and continue to love while dealing with this brutal disease.

We can find hope in the Long Goodbye. We learn patience and strive for joy. We treasure each moment we can still hold a hand, sing a hymn or stroke a forehead.

Sometimes they forget, but as long as we remember — their legacies continue.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is from Sometimes They Forget, available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope Thrives with Gratitude

It makes sense to post about gratitude during this Thanksgiving week. Each year’s Thanksgiving week brings a variety of experiences to draw on.

More wisdom learned (hopefully). More intuition about possible gratitudes.

Several years ago, I learned more about the power of gratitude when I followed the blog of Ann Voskamp. Her book, One Thousand Gifts, fostered a cult following and ushered Ann into the world of best-selling author. I applaud her fine work and still promote her book(s).

For a while, I followed Ann’s prescribed plan of writing several gratitudes each day in my journal – different ones for each day. It was a great practice and a way to remind myself daily of all the blessings around me.

Then I decided it was okay to develop my own plan. And it WAS okay to repeat the same gratitudes each day, whether in my journal or out loud.

So I present to you, my followers, my 2021 list. At least for today. It may change tomorrow. And I encourage you to share your list in the comments below. As the saying goes, we can always – always – find something to be grateful for.

  • Hot water. This is a daily “Thank you, God” while I’m standing in the shower, doing dishes or folding laundry.

There are people in the world who have never experienced the bone-warming joy of hot water. So I am grateful for this blessing. Every. Single. Day.

  • The roof over my head. Although I’m thinking about downsizing, wanting something smaller and easier to manage, I am grateful for my duplex. Although I would like to accomplish some DIY projects and change my place a bit, at least I am out of the cold and sheltered — with hot water.
  • Food in the fridge. I like to cook, and I find particular pleasure in making unusually creative meals out of leftover scraps. Rice bowls are my current favorites with a variety of colors, textures and nutrients.

Every day, I pray for those places in the world that struggle with famine. As a farmer’s daughter, I am keenly aware of the blessing of the harvest and the need for food. We are truly blessed not to live every day with hunger.

  • Jesus. What more can be said? I am grateful for this Savior, God-man, of the Divine Three. Always. Every. Single. Day.
  • Color. The variety of greens outside my window. The leftovers of autumn’s show. The choices I make to wear each day — the brighter the better.

How colors make me feel. How they add warmth and beauty to everything. How they have deeper meanings I can add to my books. How color changes the world of gray gloom to a warmer and more inviting visual.

  • Texture. The ability to feel different textures is a blessing that signifies feeling alive. Several years ago, a clinical depression stole this joy from me.

After my healing (thank you, Jesus!) I spent hours in a fabric store, just feeling the rough corduroy, the slick satin, the smooth cottons. Tears streamed as the numbness of the depression was replaced by the joy of touch.

It is with gratitude these days that I caress the texture of rocks, yarns, rough bark on trees, the smooth cheek of a child, the fuzz of my cat’s fur, even the slick peel of a carrot.

  • Words. These are the tools of my craft, the way I communicate with God and others, even with the cat in the previous bullet.

Words have the power to make me gasp with delight or surprise, to frown or to shed a tear. They make me laugh at jokes and sigh with the reading of a Psalm.

And each time I begin any type of writing, I start with the prayer of Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord.”

One of my clients uses Facebook as a type of journal in listing her gratitudes. Many of them hail back to her country life. All are examples of the beautiful world around us and the need to see it more clearly — with a full heart. Check out the beautiful blog posts of Elece Hollis.

So let’s all be more cognizant of the gratitudes of life. Each and every day.

Let’s strive for hope as we use our words to speak a Thanksgiving message.

And let us never forget there is always something to be grateful for.

©2021 RJ Thesman

In Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms, each day’s journaling practice contains the question: “What are you grateful for today?”

Hope in the Upgrades

As I was paying bills, it happened again. Another online company wanted me to upgrade my account. Translation: pay more money for a few more services.

Nay, nay.

Ah, upgrading. The DIY shows focus on upgrading the home, particularly the kitchen. Fun to watch and imagine how I might do the same. Some day.

As a writing coach, I constantly research new ways to help my clients with their projects.

The latest publishing tools, best practices for a book launch, effective marketing solutions.

Help them upgrade and update their quarterly goals.

But what are some of the deeper ways we can upgrade and find more hope?

Be willing to change. An upgrade in remodeling requires change. So does the upgrade in life.

We learn, grow and stretch in ways that force us to embrace more hope.

Especially when life is hard.

Stretching those faith muscles and believing for better days helps us feel more empowered. Faith feeds and nourishes hope. But sometimes, we first need to change.

Changes are often uncomfortable. For example: Jorge Soler recently changed from being a Kansas City Royal to playing for the Atlanta Braves. A move for his family. A change in different policies within club houses. New faces to learn.

But now he wears a World Series ring and he became the MVP with that amazing three-run homer in the sixth game.

Changes can sometimes produce lovely results.

Be open to other opinions. When we stay within our comfort zone of being with the same people and doing the same activities, we can begin to rust. It’s easy to hang around friends and family that never challenge us.

No upgrading happens when we stay in the same mental and emotional space.

But when we force ourselves out of that comfort zone, we learn to truly listen to others’ opinions. We consider how honest debate can teach us.

Stretch us toward a more hope-filled upgrade. Hold fast to our beliefs yet consider how they might broaden and expand to include greater values.

Being quick to listen, but slow to speak — controlling our anger (James 2:19).

Become a student again. Life-long learning keeps our brains active. We read a book that encourages us to research more about a topic. Watch a documentary about another part of the world and learn to be grateful for what we have.

Cross reference a Bible verse. Check it in different versions. Google it in the original Hebrew or Greek.

Sometimes our faith needs to be upgraded into a broader interpretation. Sometimes we need to seriously examine some of the false teachings we were once taught. Then let them go.

Upgrades can be a good thing. They can make life easier and add beauty to our lives. With caution, of course.

The physical upgrades need financial boundaries. Waiting to upgrade the kitchen until the bank account has sufficient funds.

The emotional, mental and spiritual upgrades also need healthy boundaries. Time to reflect on possible changes. An inward search of our raw places and why they need a re-do.

Confession. Forgiveness. Repentance.

But an upgrade in our souls to a more compassionate and helpful place is always a good practice. And when it strengthens our hope, then all of us can live in a better place.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The latest upgrade to my writing craft is a book of encouragement, practical tips and devotions for single moms. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in Who We Are

The following post is an excerpt from the book Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. I do believe, however, that it is appropriate for all my followers — no matter what your marital status.

God shows how much he cares for us when he declares himself as being both Creator and Husband.

The One who put every cell of our bodies together loves us perfectly. He promises to be a faithful husband, to never abandon us and to continue to meet every need.

Furthermore, God also promises to take away our shame. Any critical comments that have been spoken against us. The times we have felt invisible. The ways we may have been labeled throughout life.

All these shameful attitudes and behaviors are deleted by our divine Husband.

God promises to gather us into his arms with great compassion.

He empathizes for what we have been going through.

He feels it, because he, too, was abandoned and rejected by those who were supposed to love him.

God’s kindness is as constant as the mountains that reach their peaks to the sky. His promise of peace will never be broken.

In fact, God treats us like a precious gem — a sapphire, a shining agate.

He wipes every tear from our eyes and creates a soothing balm that covers the soul.

He takes our grief and turns it into compassion for others who suffer, so we learn how to recognize hurts and respond with practical help.

This Creator and Husband will love us forever.

So how can we find hope in knowing these truths? Look for how God shows up every day.

In the glowing eyes of your children as they anticipate Christmas. In the hugs you receive from others who have suffered as you have. In the beauty of autumn colors and the sunsets that signal the end of another long day.

God’s compassion for you never ceases. His mercies never end.

Find something to be grateful for. As we develop a heart filled with gratitude, we focus more on the positives of life. Gratitude gives us a reason to keep on breathing, to wonder which gratitudes we might add to our list tomorrow.

For a fuzzy feel-good read, check out my friend Bea and her BeasAttitudes: http://beasattitudes.net/beasattitudesfb/

Just for today, read Isaiah 54:4. Look in the mirror and declare, “I am loved by my eternal Husband.”

Then believe it and reach for hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a hope nugget each day, check out, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Finding Hope One Day at a Time

Working on long-range plans is a beneficial business model. And as a coach, I often encourage my clients to reflect on annual planning.

But we live one day at a time. And depending on the circumstances, we may not be able to generate a long-range plan. We may have only one day.

The Old Testament gives us the perfect story. In Exodus 16, God provided manna for the wandering Israelites. Just enough food for one day. If they tried to keep leftovers for the next day, it turned putrid and was filled with maggots.

They were learning to trust for just enough provision — one day at a time.

When we go through those “wilderness” journeys in life, we often don’t have the energy or the brain power to think ahead. We only have enough juice for today.

And as we ask God to help us through each day, to give us those daily mercies that are fresh each 24-hour segment — he does exactly what he did for the Israelites. He gives us what we need for one day, sometimes for one moment.

Perhaps you are dealing with one or more of these issues:

  • A cancer journey that requires painful injections. Trusting God for endurance that day.
  • A loved one with COVID-19 in the ICU. Believing for breath for one more day.
  • A grieving mom trying to get used to the empty nest. A whispered prayer each morning.
  • A pastor trying to figure out how to weave her congregation through post-pandemic stress. Wisdom for one more day.
  • A writer struggling to finish the manuscript God breathed in her. Another paragraph today.
  • A parent waiting for a breakthrough from that prodigal child. Begging for today’s grace.
  • The bride of Christ looking heavenward for his return. Hoping it might be today.

When I started writing Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms, I remembered those days when I only had a few minutes for morning reflection. How I wanted to spend hours on my knees with my Lord, but my son needed to be at school and I had to be at work. All I had were a few moments — for just that day.

So I wanted to write this book for my target audience — to give value to single moms who needed some hope for just one day. No long studies that are wonderful but require hours of work. No opportunity for a long list of prayer requests.

Just a brief verse or a practical tip to hang on to all day — for just one day.

We continue to learn about trust throughout life, with each bump in the road and each answered prayer. We know how to pray and who to believe in. God has given us manna in the past. We know he will do it again.

But all we have is today. Right now. This moment. And just for today, we inhale hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’re a single mom or you know a single mom, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms offers brief nuggets of hope — one day at a time.  

Hope’s Intensity

To increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, this is a re-post about the intensity of writing a novel on the topic of domestic abuse. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or at work. Some of them are in your family. It is important to know how to help.

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plotlines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — living with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We don’t know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s contemporary story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who refused to hear the truth and told these women to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps. Her husband was a deacon. Her pastor told her to lose weight so he would like her better.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Even in the church.

And the book was published, sold and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo. 

Finding Hope in a Hopeless Situation

We’ve seen her story in current events. Gabby Petito, dead at 22. Obviously involved in an abusive relationship.

No matter who hit whom or who started the argument, Gabby did not deserve to be murdered.

Yet this is sometimes the result of an abusive relationship. It does not end well. Even in such relationships that do not end in a homicide, the victim’s soul is killed.

She learns how to step back, how to be quiet, how to never press charges, how to stay and somehow endure. Until it’s too late.

And the saddest part is that the signs are evident. Symptoms of domestic abuse include:

  • Controlling behaviors
  • Threats
  • Ridicule
  • Teasing and Name-Calling
  • Hostile anger
  • Ignoring / the Silent Treatment
  • Destroying Objects
  • Emotional detachment
  • Jokes about her / Degrading her in public
  • Threatening to Leave
  • Guilty gift-giving
  • Demanding submission
  • Playing mind games / gaslighting
  • Making her ask for money
  • Constantly checking on her
  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women

These behaviors happen in all sorts of homes, even with couples who seem happy and devoted to each other. People who know better.

But victims are caught in the cycle. They deny it or refuse to see the truth, because the consequences are too risky. Fear controls the emotions.

Then a victim’s face shows up on the nightly news — like Gabby telling the officers what happened, but still covering up for her abuser.

Then a body covered by a white sheet is rolled on a guerney — on its way to the morgue. And another abusive killer gets away.

One out of four women live in some type of destructive relationship. That is the truth.

So what can we do about this travesty?

  • Teach your daughters about the symptoms of abuse.
  • Teach your sons how to treat their sisters, their mother — all women.
  • Be alert for the danger of abusive symptoms.
  • Speak up and refuse to deny what is happening.
  • Do not protect abusers.
  • Check out Leslie Vernick, her books and her website: https://leslievernick.com/

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Abuse might be happening in your family, your neighborhood, your church.

It needs to stop.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Should Abigail commit a crime? Nothing terrible. Just enough to get her locked up. Far away from her destructive marriage. Check out her story in No Visible Scars.