Hope Takes a Walk during the Pandemic

Eleven days into lockdown. The silence was becoming oppressive, even for an ambivert such as I. Even the characters in my novel no longer spoke to me.

path-1577192_640So I took a break from my at-home work, dared to drive my car to the local Dairy Queen for a Mini-Blizzard.

Then away from the no-longer-heavily-trafficked highway to a quiet park in the suburb.

It was an exceptionally beautiful day without the usual Kansas wind. A robin sang his spring song, probably jubilant because he wasn’t worried about Covid-19.

Somewhere down another street, a child laughed in his back yard, safe and away from germs.

I finished the Blizzard — triple chocolate brownie, in case you wondered — threw away the cup and locked my car. Then headed into the park for a walk.

Exercise is nothing new to me. As a former athlete, I walk almost every day. But this walk was in a different location than the usual stroll in my neighborhood. It felt fresh, unencumbered by any reminders of the pandemic that was changing our lives.

First I walked around the baseball diamond, remembered my years as a shortstop, pacing between bases. What fun it was all those years ago, especially the spring day when I hit a grand slam home run.

How quickly life passes — a mere breath, scripture reminds us.

As I took another lap, a group of young men pulled into the kiddie area. They looked to be in their twenties, maybe thirties — obviously taking a break from work at home or recently unemployed.

Unconcerned about social distancing, they played on the equipment. Swung from the monkey bars, slid down the slide, joked with each other as carefree spirits.

I smiled at their antics, glad they could be out in the fresh air, that none of us were confined in an ICU, struggling to breathe.

After a while, I left the park to return to my work with words. The guys remained at the playground.

I promised myself to return more often to that park, to renew my hope as I marched around the ball diamond. Maybe even to slide or swing in the kiddie area.

Hope uncovers itself in the simplest places and reminds us not only of a sweet past, but a foreshadowing for our tomorrows.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more writings about hope, check out my Amazon Author Page. All my books have some sort of theme regarding hope.

Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

mothers-day-1301851_1280This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I sent you a card. Hopefully, you will understand the words and remember who I am from my signature.

I wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t — please know I love you and celebrate this day with you.

I needed to write this letter as a tribute, because I am grieving at the slow disintegration of the woman you used to be.

Your Alzheimer’s journey has taught me to value each day, love fully those who are in my life and never forget to make that love known.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I understood how much of yourself you poured into us. More than just the meals, the activities and making chicken soup when we were sick.

I’m talking about the soul-giving that mothers extend to their children.

Everyone knows about the labor you endured during my birth, but you also labored with soul contractions throughout my growing up years.

You defended me when other kids or even adults said unkind things. You taught me how to make the perfect zwieback with just the right dimple on top where melted butter could pool inside. You showed me how to sew a perfect hem so no one except the two of us could see the stitches.

When you were bone tired from working at the hospital, you came home to make supper and still made it to my activities on time. Not once did you complain.

Thank you, Mom, for the late nights when I know you were on your knees for me. You poured out your soul to Almighty God and asked him to keep me safe. But at the same time, you were willing to let me go and let God do his work in my life.

You came to the hospital when I lost my baby — your first grandchild. Even now, I remember coming out of that anesthesia-induced haze. It was your hand that gripped mine, your tears mingling salty with mine.

These days, I grip your hand and try not to cry when you repeat the same questions over and over.

Experts have written about the unique bond between mothers and daughters. We depend on each other, fill a particular emotional need no one else can touch.

You taught me to love books, drove me to the library every week so I could check them out and devour them when I finished my chores. Then you provided the perfect example as you sat under the floor lamp and read your own stack of novels, mysteries and biographies.

Although you no longer comprehend the words, you still love to read — pouring over the same book hour after hour. Another of the sad effects of this demon Alzheimer’s.

You wanted to be a writer. I’m sorry that dream did not happen for you. Instead, you nourished it in me. You always insisted I use proper grammar and that I spend extra time revising school essays.

By assigning me chores, you taught self-discipline and a strong work ethic. I use that same self-discipline to complete books and continue posting each week on this blog.

You taught me how to save money by ignoring the impulses of peer pressure. You showed me how my value lies in who I am rather than in what I own.

Ahead of your time, you taught me women should think ahead and pursue a career, manage their own money and be prepared for whatever life hands us. You said it was okay to vote differently from my friends and even worship in a style different from the norm.

You taught me to think independently, to shush the fear and step into the world with self-confidence and courage.

Oh, you weren’t perfect, Mom. None of us are. But even then, you taught me perfection is not the goal and failure is not the end.

Rather, the goal is in the attempt and in the perseverance to try again. Then if we fail, we give ourselves grace, grieve a bit and go forward once again.

So, Mom — on this weekend of remembrance when people buy flowers and send cards, I want you to know you did a good job.

You brought me into the world and gave me the freedom to discover my purpose. You encouraged me to use my gifts and showed me it was okay to be radically independent.

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

Even though life has handed you this lousy disease, you’re still trying every day to put one foot before the other and learn contentment within your small room.

Above all, Mom, I thank you for being so brave and I love you for showing me how.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is taken from Sometimes They Forget – Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Recognizing Domestic Abuse – a Personal Story

nvs-coverAbigail’s counselor gave her some pamphlets about safe places for women and a phone number she could call. “Just in case you need help,” the counselor said.

On her way home, Abigail stopped at Sonic, suddenly hungry for cheese tots and a cherry limeade. She browsed through the pamphlets that described some of the symptoms of domestic abuse: threats, controlling behaviors, demanding submissiveness.

If she had a pen, she could have checked off at least ten of the symptoms as adjectives to describe her life.

She could ask Cassie to keep the pamphlets in a safe place, but it was too late now to drive to Cassie’s house and then back home. Nate would wonder why she was walking in the door so much later than usual.

She couldn’t risk it. She drove past the trash bin at Sonic and tossed in the pamphlets. Even though she wanted to read more of the information, she felt proud of herself for making some decisions on her own.

She had set up this session with a counselor and spoken her truth. She had decided not to keep the pamphlets. In a way, she was protecting herself from Nate’s anger and that felt good.

Married yet according to that list, she was abused. Controlled yet trying to set healthy boundaries. Her thumb played with the back of her wedding ring. Shackled to an abuser forever and feeling every bit like Nate’s victim.

 

The above excerpt is from the novel No Visible Scars. While the book is fiction, it is based on the lives of numerous women who live in abusive situations and don’t even realize it.

 

Should Abigail commit a crime? Nothing terrible. Just enough to get her locked up. Far away from her destructive marriage.

She doesn’t want to admit it’s domestic abuse, but all the signs indicate she’s a victim. Because her scars are invisible, no one can see the damage inside. And no one will believe her.

Nine years of marriage to a church leader and a successful businessman. A good man. Then why is she so afraid?

Abigail and her friend, Cassie, attend a class that teaches women how to guard their hearts. With the encouragement of these women, Abigail moves closer to becoming the woman God created her to be. She dares to make choices for herself and finds empowerment in the gift of a beautiful dress.

But Nate fights back. As Abigail grows into more of her authentic self, she wonders if the marriage will last. What will the church people say if she separates from her husband? How will she live? He’s always controlled the finances, and she has few options.

Can she find the courage to confront Nate and if she does, what will happen to her future? Must she step into a new life alone or will Nate meet her halfway?

As life unravels into a battle between what is right versus what feels acceptable, Abigail struggles to make a decision. But will her new life guarantee the security she needs?

 

One out of four women are living in destructive relationships. You probably know a woman who is being abused right now.

Perhaps this book will help her. Certainly, your caring for her will be an encouragement. Listen to her heart and to your own. Help is available.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

No Visible Scars  is available on Amazon and Kindle. Order it today. It may save your life or the life of your friend.   

Hope for Abused Women during Covid-19

DA picMental health experts remind us that a crisis brings out the worst in abusers.

In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently tweeted, “There has been an uptick in domestic violence incidents. We want you to know — if you are in a dangerous situation, New York will help you find a safe shelter. You are not trapped just because of Coronavirus.”

Why does domestic violence increase during a crisis? Because abusers are afraid of their lack of control.

This Covid-19 pandemic has stolen control of their stock portfolios, the security of their jobs and possibly — their physical health.

So they strike out at the nearest person(s) — those they are quarantined with — the wife and kids.

April is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is not a comfortable blog subject for many people. Certainly, it isn’t comfortable for the women who are experiencing it.

But cudos to Governor Cuomo for even mentioning it when he is so busy dealing with the virus in his state.

All of us need to be aware that domestic violence is happening all around us, to families we would never imagine having such a problem.

Women and children live in fear daily and in the insecurity of not knowing which person will walk in the door — the man who appears in public as a nice guy or the monster hidden within.

To be clear, domestic violence begins as some sort of abusive control. Some women aren’t even aware their daily challenge is actually abuse. It may look like the following:

  • Ridicule / Negative comparisons to other women
  • Accusations
  • Teasing and name-calling / Jokes at her expense
  • The Silent treatment
  • Destroying objects
  • Withholding approval or affection
  • Emotional detachment
  • Forceful sexual advances / Rape
  • Making her ask or beg for money / Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women

The above bullets are just some of the ways abuse may manifest. If left unchecked, it can quickly escalate and become more of a violent behavior. Any type of physical assault can be abusive, even excessive tickling or pinching.

One of the most insidious behaviors is The Gaslight scenario. He blames the woman when anything goes wrong. Anger escalates, then he acts like the victim. In his warped mind, it is NEVER his fault. This is typical behavior for narcissists.

After weeks and months of such behavior, she begins to feel as if she is the crazy one. She constantly second guesses herself, and the children grow up without any sense of emotional security.

So what can we do about this horrid situation?

Recognize that at least one out of every four women is being abused — right now. This includes women from every demographic, every financial situation and in every house of worship.

We cannot ignore the problem and we cannot abandon these women and their children to such a destructive life.

One of the best online resources is the website: leslievernick.com. Leslie is a licensed clinical social worker and a relationship coach. One of her books, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship is packed with advice and encouragement to help women recognize the abuse they’re living with.

Throughout the years, I have worked with multiple women in all levels of abusive relationships. These women feel alone and often abandoned by those who could help.

But even more insidious are the women who have been “taught” that abuse is okay, their role to play in a relationship.

Why are these women trapped?

  • They are waiting for God to release them.
  • They know the church will ostracize and isolate them because they have observed what happens to single moms in the church.
  • They have been indoctrinated into the “submit above all else” and the “a quiet woman will win her husband” themes.
  • They are afraid to hurt their children, not realizing how their children are already hurting. The children will often recognize the abuse before their mother does.
  • Single moms are the #1 poverty level in every country of the world. Women support their husbands by either working in the home and/or outside the home. Everything has gone into the joint checking account. If they leave, they will have no financial security and no options.

So what can we do to help the abused women around us?

Stop ignoring the problem. It’s in your family, in your workplace and in your church.

Support the organizations that help women escape. In the Kansas City area, we have Safe HomeNew House and The Single Mom KC.

Report any abuse that you observe.

Listen carefully and respond immediately to any woman who comes to you for help.

Help women know they are not invisible. They do not have to live in this type of entrapment.

And especially now — during this pandemic — be alert for the other pandemic happening around you: the tragedy of domestic abuse.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

No Visible Scars tells the story of a woman caught in abuse and her struggle to find the boundaries that will save her.

Finding a Song During Lockdown

musical scoreDuring this lockdown, I have surprised myself by singing and humming more often.

Perhaps a gift from the Divine Three. Maybe just a self-affirmation for something positive.

The health benefits of singing are well documented:

  • It releases feel-good endorphins
  • It improves brain function – a plus for those of us with Alzheimer’s in the family line
  • It is good exercise when done right – use your diaphragm, darlin’
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It tones facial muscles – a positive since Botox injections are not essential surgeries
  • It boosts immunity – definitely a given to help us avoid the Coronavirus

Songs seem to erupt from my vocal cords at the oddest times. One morning, I was fixing my hair and suddenly the Beatles “Let It Be” burst forth.

Another day, it was a little ditty my dad composed and taught me, “I fell in love with Jesus.”

“You are my sunshine” is another favorite, sung to no one in particular. Sometimes the cat. She is not impressed.

I have made a commitment to sit down at the piano more often and bang through a Beethoven sonata or play through a version of “Silent Night” my piano teacher once assigned me.

Traveling up and down the keyboard loosens muscles tight from the constriction of lockdown and forces my brain to focus on several tasks at a time.

One of the old hymns that currently cheers me is in the public domain. Sung by the Antrim Mennonite Choir, this version of “God Will Take Care of You” brings instant encouragement. Although written and sung in old English, the harmonies are so beautiful — I play it often.

Hurray for YouTube during this lockdown.

For those with little ones at home, singing together can be a fun family activity. In fact, many of us grew up with family singalongs — either in the car during travels or around the old upright in the living room.

Every year at Christmas, we had to perform before presents were offered. Sometimes it was an instrument we were learning to play. Often, it was singing something for the extended family.

And sometimes we were blessed to hear “Gott ist die liebe” sung by aunts and uncles.

Music is all around us: the trill as cardinals call their mates, a wind chime responding to the Kansas breeze, the cooing of a baby, background notes on a TV commercial, the hum of the refrigerator.

When we truly listen, we can hear different notes and volumes all around us.

But when the silence of lockdown stifles our hope, we can open our own vocal cords and find the song in our souls.

Keep singing, folks. Fight the virus with your songs.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Faith is built on a foundation of hope. Check out Uploading Faith for topics that encourage and build the attributes of hope.

 

 

Hope Recognizes Easter Sunday

In spite of the Coronavirus lockdown, the calendar continues to mark off this challenging year. This Sunday, April 12, 2020 will be Easter Sunday.Easter lily - butterfly

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Easter Sunday was a special day. It marked the beginning of spring, no matter what day or month the calendar posted.

And we were always prepared.

For weeks, Mom had planned, designed and sewed our Easter outfits. The females in the family would be outfitted in the latest fashions which included white gloves and hats.

The guys had it easy. A lightweight suit and white shirt. Tie not optional.

Even if it snowed on Easter, we wore our new outfits snugly engulfed by winter coats which we shed once we entered the church building.

Everybody in town went to church on Easter Sunday, so the entire populace was outfitted in pastel colors, gloves, hats – and ties for the fellas.

As I grew up, styles changed. More casual. No hats or gloves. But we still kept the tradition of a new outfit on Easter Sunday.

Somewhere through the years, Mom stopped sewing for me. So I made my own Easter outfit. When I stopped sewing, I shopped in town.

The Saturday before Easter offered abundant sales. Stores filled with females of every demographic. Dressing rooms with lines of excited women. Clothes draped over arms. Shoes in hand, because if you’re going to buy a new outfit — you’d better have new shoes as well.

This tradition is one I have not been able to shake. Every year I watch for spring sales and look for something special to wear on Easter Sunday. It’s no longer the entire outfit. New shoes not necessary. Just something to celebrate this special day.

In February of this crazy 2020, before we knew the virus would re-invent our lives, I used a gift card at one of my favorite stores — Versona. I wasn’t expecting to find anything for Easter — not that early in the spring season.

But it found me — the perfect skirt that matched a top I already owned and a bargain with my gift card.

Alas! This Easter Sunday our churches will be empty, still on lockdown to protect us from the ravages of this pandemic.

But Sunday will still take its place on the calendar, still remind me of its special significance and of the years Mom made my clothes.

Years ago, my aunt Mary (may she rest in peace) told me about a time when she was discouraged. No job and finances were tight.

She decided to fight her heaviness with a practical attitude. She climbed out of bed as if she was going to her job. Fixed her hair and dressed up. Ate a healthy breakfast and told herself she would have a good day.

“It’s important to take care of yourself,” she said. “Even if you have to pretend.”

So I’m pretending this Easter Sunday is a normal day, as if I’m dressing for church and wearing my new skirt to welcome spring. I’ll fix my hair, pat on some makeup and livestream my church.

I want to enjoy the day by dressing in the hope that next Easter I will be in the actual church building.

Will you join me? Dress in your Easter best and post it on Facebook or the social media of your choice.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with hope that next Easter will be better.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some reading material during lockdown, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Finding Hope When Life Unravels

As I entered one of the big box stores, I knew time was fleeting. The local government officials had just closed all the restaurants. All major events canceled. How much longer would it be possible to buy food and necessary items?

The Coronavirus jack-knifed us into what felt like a pre-apocalyptic world. Empty shelves. Shoppers avoiding each other, keeping their social distance. Hygienic wipes in my pocket to kill the germs on my cart, my hands, the number pad.

What in the world happened to our comfortable norm? The virus and its effects showed us how fragile life can be.

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

Focus on God instead of the Problem. During other emotional apocalypses in my life, problems have seemed insurmountable.

A period of 14 months with no job and no unemployment insurance. Cancer scares for my son and me. The medical tests alone were enough to saturate our emotions with fear. A father dying slowly from dementia, a mother locked in the shadows of Alzheimer’s. Miscarriages. A toxic job environment. Multiple abuses over a lifetime.

When I was training to become a Stephen Minister, we were assigned the task of writing about the losses in our lives. I filled my 3×5 card front and back.

Another minister saw it and said, “You win.”

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

During each of those problems, every time I felt overwhelmed, I tried to focus on God rather than the situation. I filled my journal with all the attributes of God that I had personally experienced. My Bible was colored with highlighted verses about God’s love and care.

Sometimes I spoke out loud to the problem itself. “Go away. Leave me alone. I will trust in God.”

So that’s what I’m doing now, during this Covid-19 outbreak. I’m filling my journal with all the ways God is protecting us. My Bible reflects the colors of new highlighters and more verses talking about God’s loving care.

And sometimes I shout, “Go away, you filthy virus. Leave me alone fear. I am determined to trust in God.”

Focus on the Lesson rather than the Pain. It is so easy to complain about self-quarantine, to frown about the fact that I am in the “risky” demographic, to worry about the numbers of people dying.

But what can we learn from this situation? How can we turn it into a lesson?

We can pull out the old recipes Grandma used during the Great Depression. The creativity of those depression-era cooks came from a deep survival mode. When food was rationed and winter threatened, they learned how to add more water to the soup, how to make beans the main protein source.

We can do the same.

We are learning how to stay at home and be families once again. The kids are out of school. Teach them how to cook, how to clean a bathroom properly, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to change a flat tire.

Gather around the dinner table and learn more about each other. Sing a song. Dust off the board games and play together. Find out how beautiful family bonding can be.

I believe we will also learn how much we took for granted — before the Coronavirus shouted from every internet site.

How easy was it to just pull into a restaurant and order a meal? How many of us fell to the impulse of buying because the shelves were full of wondrous things?

Perhaps now we will be more grateful for the little we DO have. We will learn how it feels to truly be thankful.

Focus on the Future instead of the Present. Hope looks beyond the current problem toward an optimistic tomorrow.

One day, hopefully soon, this virus will wear itself out. We will dig out from our isolation bunkers and find freedom again.

We grieve the loss of so many dear souls today, but in the future — babies will be born, another generation will arise. Healthcare services will normalize, and we won’t be afraid to join groups.

Keep focused on what the new tomorrow will bring. Perhaps our “normal” will be completely changed for the better. Re-energized. More of a dominance on mercy, justice and how to walk humbly with our God.

When all this is over, we may save more for the next crisis and treat small business owners with more respect. Our leaders will keep in place the disaster plans other administrations toiled over. Nobody will hoard toilet paper, because it will no longer be the domineering purchase.

We will be glad to see each other, hug more, appreciate church leaders and healthcare workers who continued to meet the needs.

And the news cycles will underscore baseball games, fashions of the new season and the pride we take in our people. He-roes and She-roes will emerge from this crisis, and we will make more commitments to keep family together, to help one another each day.

One of the verses in my Bible is highlighted, then colored over with another hue, then framed in black ink. I have returned to it multiple times. It has become my mantra when life unravels.

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Lenten Season is a time to focus on the Future – on the promise of Resurrection. Who were the women during that period of history? Check out The Women of Passion Week and discover new stories of courage.