Hope When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we went, we heard it.

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and WalMart – even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound – one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

I called it The Great Cough of 2016.pharmaceutical-symbol

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Christmas bug.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

So Christmas plans changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma. This was the first year since I served as a missionary that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

But we could  not force ourselves into the car for a five hour trip. And why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday – bless the hearts of that staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs – thank you to the hard-working pharmacy staff ! We stayed in bed and slept late – when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

Then Christmas happened in spite of illness. My son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun – playing table games with hygienic gloves on, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed into our recliners again – still coughing. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change. And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God with us.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Shares a Vision

For several years, this vision has been floating from my heart to my head and back again. I have tried to ignore it and push it back from whence it came, because acting on it seemed superfluous.

country-manorBut recently, the vision has resurfaced because I have met more women in need.

Here’s the problem: Numerous single women who are active in ministry struggle to find affordable housing. They manage nonprofits, meet the needs of the underprivileged and fill the gaps the churches cannot or will not attempt.

These brave women use their giftings to impact the world yet struggle to make a living. They are at the mercy of landlords who keep upping the rent or they own houses they can no longer maintain or sell without losing more money.

Currently, I know three of these women personally who are living in temporary housing, struggling to find a safe place they can afford and continue doing the ministry God has called them to do.

Here’s the vision: Remodel an old school or an old motel into beautiful apartments for these women. Each woman would have her own space yet she would be sharing in a community of others who could encourage her and become a sort of family.

Like a convent – only nondenominational.

This vision needs an investor who is willing to embrace the need and is interested more in caring for these women than making a bundle of money. Each woman’s rent would be based on her income and a percentage of what the utilities might cost.

Someone would have to manage the property and requirements for acceptance would have to be decided. But the administrative piece is the easy part. Finding the investor and the property is the tough part.

I can imagine several places around the Kansas City Metro that might fulfill the vision. Perhaps a place in the country where women could walk, garden or find solace from ministry demands.

This vision is not insurmountable. A group of women in the UK have seen it happen.

So I’m posting this idea on my blog, hoping someone will see it who can help with the plight of these women. Since I keep thinking and praying about this wondrous idea, I believe it is possible.

Hope continues in this new year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this vision find its reality in 2017?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Believes at Christmas

With a mug of steaming hot chocolate, I sit in my recliner and turn on the television. A Christmas movie allows two hours of escape from reality – a momentary dream of how Christmas hope might appear.victorian-scene

The Christmas movies are one reason why I continue to budget for cable TV – holiday movies plus Jayhawk ballgames.

Somehow my holiday season needs the extra joy of watching these movies and looking forward to them each year.

Sure, I know they’re fantasy and often end with sappy plot lines and poor writing. In fact, I prefer the Lifetime movies to the Hallmark channel, because the Lifetime versions seem more like the truth.

Plot lines include more single moms or widows who face real life issues when everything doesn’t always work out happily ever after in just two hours.

Still, my favorites are the movies that take me back to another era, to Victorian homes with handmade stairs, cornice boards, lace curtains and gingerbread cookies baking in the oven.

I remember days such as those and exact houses like the ones where actors flow from parlor to bedroom to the sunroom. For a while, I return to the beauty and simple days of Christmas past.

I choose to forget they had no indoor plumbing and parlors were often shut off to conserve heat. Somehow in the movies, the scenario of running outside to the outhouse in subzero temps rarely happens.

Instead, I want to believe in the happily ever after endings of lifetime loves, merry families and warm homes. I long to escape from a Christmas that includes the refugees of Aleppo, the stress of counting pennies and the questions about what our nation may face in 2017.

For two hours, I forget my reality and slip into the possibility of finding hope within memories. I wish my son could have known one house that always represented home, and I still long for that country lane lined with snow-tipped trees and the jingly bells of a carriage arriving at my large manor filled with the smells and sounds of the season. My pretend place where family and friends gather to sing carols, touch the Nativity scene with wonder and tip their glasses of eggnog toward the star at the top of a sparkly Christmas tree.

Christmases past still lie cached in my soul as the sappy movies stir emotions, sounds and textures that momentarily bring comfort. For a few extra dollars each year, I return to those memories and revel in the coziness of how they make me feel.

And somewhere in the land of hope, I find restored belief that Christmas joy will return for another year.

It’s only 365 days away.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy  and a contributor to Abba’s Promise 

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Why have I never heard about this tradition? With all the Christmas decorations I’ve made throughout the years, only this year did I discover the legend of the White Stocking.white-stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She then wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus – then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

With the Great Purge of 2016 fresh in my mind, I refused to make a white stocking and add one more thing to my box of decorations.

But I wanted to journal and blog about the idea, to reflect on what I could possibly give the King of kings this Christmas season.

It would be easy in this space to type the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship.

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout the new year.

So to be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through all these years of life, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys.

What does the Divine One want from me?

As I reflected on 2016, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe shade of ugliness.

I have spent a great deal of this year trying to figure out how to set boundaries around my life and somehow make it easier – less stressful – more joyful.

I didn’t think life would be so hard during this season of life. I expected to ease off a bit, relax more and enjoy some well-deserved fun.

Instead, I have worked harder with longer hours – still enjoying my work – yet somehow resenting those who have nothing to do but read their AARP magazine and count their retirement money.

Setting healthy boundaries is always a good idea, but I have also expressed my frustration to more than one person and I have written volumes of emotional dither within my journals.

Although I needed to vent and God is a good listener, I think I may have overdone it.

Because when I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

Although I cannot retire, I CAN still work and enjoy all my jobs – the writing, the coaching and the nonprofit where I help women find empowerment and reach their goals.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and try to rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels of them – and perch on top of my car while I change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN still stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN still pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved and we still enjoy hot showers.

Many people in the world cannot count a hot shower or clean water as a simple blessing.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the prize of the high calling of God is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

So I think my mental white stocking this year will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I will hold out this gift to him because he deserves it.

And with my gift comes a repentance of wasted words shadowed by resentful thoughts.

This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, loving me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

More Thankful Words.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy and a contributor to “Abba’s Promise

Hope Keeps It Simple

xmas-mantel-2016Because this year has taught me so many valuable aspects of a simplified life, I have decided to merge the Great Purge of 2016 into my Christmas celebration.

What once was a month filled with activities and the traditional set-up to the holidays, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify Christmas?
  • What gives me the most joy about Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler Christmas important?

To simplify Christmas, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love sending cards for various reasons throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I am simplifying the process.

If you are one of my readers who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list.

This year, I am saving time, money and energy. If you really need a greeting, here it is: Merry Christmas!

Christmas Treats

In the past, I have baked, stirred and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, co-workers and anyone else in my life who did not receive a special store-bought gift.

I no longer need to make treats nor do I need to be tempted by the cookie dough in my large bowl or the smell of rising breads. My kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats we called People Puppy Chow.

I am relieved, because I usually eat at least half of them. This year I am protecting my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar.

Not even the traditional peppernut recipe will tempt me this year. I am setting a culinary boundary.

If you visit me and expect a Christmas treat, you may be served a rice cake with tuna fish salad on top. Try it! I promise it’s good.

Christmas Decorations

As a Martha Stuart wannabe, my house often sported decorations in every room. When I lived in an old fixer-upper filled with antiques, my house became the neighborhood gathering place for the holidays: the smell of cranberry cider, red and white gingham bows tied to the kitchen cabinet hardware, various trees throughout the house and a gift bag for every visitor.

I still love walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year, but I don’t buy the stuff anymore.

Since the stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel looks sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creationxmas-mantel-2016 accented with little pearl lights.

Many of my decorations I sacked up to give away, and it felt good to share with others the beauty of my past.

My little tree still works with its tiny pre-lit globes. Once it begins to fail, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I will plan gifts for my son, my nephew and my nieces. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The Christmas surprise of 2016 is the joy all this simplifying has brought me. More room in my storage shelves because there’s less stuff to store. More space in each room because each room contains less stuff. More things to give away and hopefully share joy with someone else.

The essential leftovers give me pleasure because I have made the choice to surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy. Everything else can be given away or thrown away.

And in the decision to simplify my Christmas, I believe joy will follow me into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of Christmas and let me know in the comments how you’re celebrating.

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

7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alz awarenessHow should we deal with our Alzheimer’s loved one during the holidays?

The calendar reminds us that we are deep into the holiday season. Our waistlines are expanding and the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

So here are seven tips to remember as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.

But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her french silk pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will want her annual piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a premade pecan pie and through the years, I have found the best ones in the frozen section at Target.

When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for.

I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.

Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.

Do an activity together, such as looking through the Christmas cards.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic still considers it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you took the time to do this.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

Driving through some beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the level of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.

Mom feels uncomfortable outside of assisted living in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is usually not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Fight against the false guilt that says you can’t leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and drive away to be with your family.

What should you buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient who is living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.

A stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross was a nice adornment on her wall.

This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss, knowing that next Christmas may be completely different. This year – she still knows who I am, and I am grateful.

Next year – maybe not.

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

 

 

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

A year ago, I happened to be on the deck as a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It’s 3:24 on November 2. Disengage.leaves-falling-autumn

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings and the tree stood naked in the autumn wind.

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch the leaves fall.

Some of them let loose to fall quickly and suddenly – as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf. Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

Other leaves are more graceful in their descent, twisting and turning as they spiral downward, then find a spot of yet-green grass to slide to a landing.

But my favorites are the leaves that dance as if floating toward a purpose, the mulching of the ground, the photosynthesis of time.

These are the leaves that catch a final wisp of Kansas wind and turn upward for a moment, then pirouette in different directions, exposing their golden undersides to the rhythms of autumn.

These are the leaves that take my breath away as they meander across space and take their time letting gravity win.

The analogy of the autumn dance signals that even when nature introduces another winter – the rhythms of life will continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Winter will follow autumn but also promise spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves and take my time enjoying the process of aging, the transitions of life that come to all of us.

Somehow, I want to find the cadence of trust that allows my soul to float without worry, to sing in harmony with a greater purpose.

Maybe I can best mimic these graceful leaves by paying more attention to the way nature forms them – like veined boats that gather morning dew and shadow us during summer’s heat.

The reds and golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin to remind us all are beautiful – different yes – but glorious in our uniqueness.

And just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of my life.

He knows that exact moment when I will let go and dance toward a greater purpose – when the questions will be answered and the direction clear.

Gratefully, in his arms – I will segue from dance to eternity. But unlike the leaves, I will fall upward.

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