Hope and the Autumn Dance

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It’s now 3:24 on this date I created. Disengage.”

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

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch how the autumn leaves fall. Some of them let loose to plummet quickly — 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 still-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 continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

 

I want to be most like the meandering leaves — to 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, golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin. He reminds us all are beautiful — different yes, but glorious in our uniqueness.

Then just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of our lives.

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

Gratefully, in his arms we will segue from dance to eternity. From hanging on to hope.

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post has been a fan favorite, so I include it each year. For more of my writings, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope’s Introduction

This blog began as therapy for the Alzheimer’s journey in our family. Then it slowly morphed into more posts about hope.

But how did it all begin? What was the impetus for sharing my words in cyberspace?

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 would 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 intently.

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,” the doctors said. “Keep him at home as long as you can, but be prepared for a difficult journey.”

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, when 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 can’t live independently anymore. Alzheimer’s and an inoperable 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 and now has graduated to the Alzheimer’s wing. Confusion deepens. 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. Not 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.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

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.”

nvs-coverSeveral 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.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo. During the month of October, to increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, the Kindle version of No Visible Scars is available for 99 cents.

 

Hope in a Month

My son and I joke about October being the best month for sports with multiple choices.wood bench - lake - autumn

  • College football begins with all the usual rivalries. Depending on the day and the teams, we wear the appropriate T-shirts.
  • Baseball winds down with the World Series. Sadly, we are not cheering for the Royals this year.
  • The NFL is in full force. Chiefs-wear is always in the laundry basket.
  • College basketball begins. We missed Late Night at the Phog this year, but we’ll be cheering for the Jayhawks.

But October wears another side of her beauty. I love the colors and textures of the 10th month, and it’s my birthday month.

On most October days, I walk through my neighborhood or find a nearby trail. Always on the lookout for interesting bits of nature, I gather acorns, colorful leaves or unusual rocks.

Then I arrange my treasures on the kitchen windowsill where I can see them through the long winter and remember the beautiful days of autumn.

When the leaves let go of their parent limbs and dance to the ground, I gather bouquets to brighten the house. Earth colors are my favorites so gold, orange, red, purple and green spice up my home.

And speaking of spices — this is the month when I begin making soups. My favorite is a mixture of roasted vegetables: acorn squash, colorful peppers, garlic, onion and cauliflower. Then I add homemade chicken broth and use my emulsifying blender to make it smooth. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves add the wonder of spice, and sometimes a dash of curry.

October is also an important month for some of my coaching clients. Blindness Awareness Month is the time they focus on helping others learn about this disability and show compassion to those who live with vision loss.

Two of my clients suffer from the same disease: retinitis pigmentosa. Both of them are gifted writers and women who inspire me every time we meet.

For inspirational books that provide humor and hope, check out the website of Amy Bovaird. Her stories of courage and travel with vision loss humble me while reminding all of us writers to share our creative gifts with others.

Another writer is Jena Fellers. She just completed a book, “Mishaps to Mission” where she describes unusual miracles on an ordinary bus trip. Jena also writes informative blog posts about family and ministry.

Although October is such a beautiful month, it is also a reminder of the ugliness some women live with. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or stand in line at Wal-Mart behind you.

They don’t always present with black eyes or bruises, because abuse takes many forms. Some of their scars are invisible yet negatively affect their lives and steal hope.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I wrote a novel, No Visible Scars, detailing the story of Abigail who learns how to set healthy boundaries and almost loses everything in the process. But in the end, she emerges with new-found strength and a growing sense of her authenticity.

So as you march through October, give thanks for your vision or your healthy relationships. Take a walk and revel in the textures of this show-off month.

Then root for your favorite sports team and hope for the best.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Wins

Oh, God! I was so afraid!

During the sixth month of pregnancy, thirty plus years ago, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months — hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby.

With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart, the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the backyard’s sunshine and stretched out on the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly.

Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might startle and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, the three of us — butterfly, unborn child and scared Mama — baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

Encouraged, I returned to the house and journaled about my experience. Renewed and ready to face whatever was destined to happen during the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind us he is indeed greater than our problems.

Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms — he can certainly deal with our everyday stresses.

How many scenarios does he manage, helping us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him?

How many traffic accidents are stopped, cancer cells deleted or guns silenced because God showed up?

Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see the divine image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the butterfly’s appearance, God is with us, longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I planted and nurtured a butterfly bush in my back yard. Red clover now grows around the perimeter while a giant sedum waits in one corner for October offerings of sweet nectar.

These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 33 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more Godwinks about hope, check out Hope Shines, available in print, e-book and large print.

 

 

Hope Wears a Tattoo

He was a large, muscular man and when he sat down on the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I read. My writer brain started to invent a character sketch:

He’s a construction worker by day, a bartender by night and his feet hurt. It feels really good to sit down for the long ride home.

Or . . . he’s a pastor on his way to the inner city church he serves. The dirty T-shirt is a cover-up and helps him relate to the young people in his congregation.

Or . . . he’s an undercover spy and just wants me to think he’s a normal guy. Underneath that T-shirt is a 357 Magnum, holstered but loaded.

Then he crossed one leg, and I discovered he was far from normal. Tattooed on his right leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above a likeness of her sweet face, “Kelsey Jane, beloved daughter.”

What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his massive leg? Was she one of those tragic little ones that cancer took away?

Or is she a kidnapping victim and he wears her image to help people look for her?

The creative writer at work again.

He caught me staring at the tattoo. Before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my questions with vulnerable honesty, “I’m divorced, and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I always carry her with me.”

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I said, “That’s the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen.”

He tipped his Royals baseball cap toward me, then turned away. I returned to my book — both of us retreating into our own worlds as people do on mass transit.

I almost wanted to find the nearest tattoo establishment and ask for a picture of my son emblazoned near my heart.

Almost.

But I could not forget the image and the question it posed, What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his leg?

Then I remembered another guy who does the same thing — not on his leg, but on his hand — on the tender palm area where he sees it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God exclaims, “See, I have tattooed your name on my palm. . .” (Isaiah 49:16).

God Himself cares so much about each of us he has tattooed us on the palms of his powerful hands.

In the original Talmud, the meaning of this tattooed engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never forget her child.

The Hebrew word for tattoo also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

As God’s kids, we can depend on that mother love, that unbreakable bond, that caring and loving provision.

Always. Every. Single. Day. Forever.

I often think about that guy on the bus and hope he’s enjoying quality time with his daughter. Usually, I remember him when I’m going through a rough patch and need some encouragement.

The tattoo of Kelsey Jane still makes me smile.

And the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my books on my Amazon Author Page. Several possibilities are listed where you can read and share hope.

Hope Finds Its Space

When the transitions of life change our circumstances, it may become more difficult to discover hope.

Recently, Mom transferred from assisted living to the Alzheimer’s unit. A necessary change, given her cognitive impairment. Still, for the family she no longer recognizes, it was a clear reminder of the devastation of this disease.

Grateful for the beautiful and efficient multi-level facility where Mom lives, I still wanted to save her — to save all of us — from this fate.

Once again, Mom’s space has disappeared.

A much smaller room, although she still has her familiar furniture: the dark mahogany dresser, the comfy glider/rocker, the end table my sister embellished with decorative tacks, the corner etagere that displays family pictures.

A decreased closet size. No more walk-in with plenty of room for various wardrobes. Mom makes simpler choices these days: easy-to-pull on slacks, polyester tops, socks and shoes. Most of them in her favorite pastel colors. No jewelry. No accessories.

My own wardrobe contrasts with multiple colors and textures, plenty of bling, a few funky hats. Plenty of choices.

But grief threatens for the future. What if my space disappears? What if I can no longer enjoy putting outfits together, find the best bargains, check my reflection in the mirror?

That loss would affect my enjoyment of life.

Mom’s brain no longer calculates the spatial changes. She sleeps, eats and does the activities they tell her to do. Totally compliant, this once fiercely independent woman.

I want to scream at the injustice of life.

One big change in Mom’s new “home” is the bed. No longer able to relax in the daybed my siblings moved from her house, she will now sleep in a hospital bed.

If her nursing mind was capable, she would recognize this change as decline.  More dependent on others to make sure she doesn’t roll out of bed, doesn’t wander during the night.

The change of beds signals the regression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The next bed will be a confinement unto death. The beds in the nursing home wing are for patients who can no longer walk. They lie supine, hoping to be spared bed sores as each sunset leads them toward a final resting place — the silk-lined coffin.

Mom used to love the wide spaces of the farm. She hung sheets to flap on the clothesline, held the pins in her mouth and gloried in the cerulean skies of Oklahoma. Her hubby tilled another rotation in the field as she watched. Her children either finished chores or prepped homework for another school day.

It was a good life — spacious in its beauty.

But now, the transition has stolen more freedom and set in motion another arrow toward the final target.

So how do we find hope in such a sad prognosis? By looking at the space to come.

When Mom is finished with her final transition on earth, she will fly to a timeless world with no margins or imitations.

She’ll be free to visit with Dad and her parents or chat with a biblical character she once read about. Maybe she’ll meet one of the authors whose books she read.

Perhaps she’ll step into another dimension, travel to Mars or float above her children and silently cheer us toward the same goal.

Space and time will do its disappearing act rather than the facility where Mom currently lives.

And in the end, hope will take its space in all our hearts when this disease says its final good-bye.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about the Alzheimers journey, check out Sometimes They Forget.