Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness.

Each year, I plant and nurture a variety of chrysanthemums. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom.

When late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds, then fuller blossoms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow mums fill my garden with spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance.

Mums were the plants loving friends brought when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them dying before birth. Each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb morphing into a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer.

It is within the silence of our griefs that faith best grows.

Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who could give no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life.

The hope of this mother that another season might bring another child – a living babe to hold, kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb.

Just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it.

Some unresolved grief so desperate I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. I honor my children by planting these mums as my personal cemetery token.

In the spring, I cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope.

Somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

In the waiting – in the hoping – comes a resolve. To honor each day in the land of the living even while looking forward to the land of promise.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

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Hope Finds a Miracle

flower in cementThey swooped into the ICU, a gaggle of church women – loud, excited, demanding. Their leader shouted, “I believe in a God of miracles.”

So do I. Shut up!

They swarmed into a circle, grabbed hands and entreated God to do something NOW – to bring back to wholeness my precious friend.

Certain that raw emotion and lack of sleep caused my abrasive attitude, I nevertheless watched them with rising irritation.

The doctors had agreed. No treatments were working. We were preparing our hearts for the inevitable tragedy as each breath brought Deb’s life closer to its end.

Of course, God could have blinked his eye and restored the paralysis from a massive stroke. He could have balanced her red blood cells that fell way below normalcy.

But Deb’s timeline was determined before she was born. As much as we hated to accept it, she was reaching its end.

When we face the unexpected tragedy, we pray for a miracle. We want life to return to what it was before. We long to delete the past weeks that brought nothing but bad news.

Yet when we demand that God restore life OUR way and in OUR timing, we fail to see the miracles already occurring. We are blinded by our own self-righteousness.

Within that ICU, family and friends became one. At the beginning of the journey, we dared to hope – planned how Deb’s next weeks would include healthy meals and constant attention to her needs.

Then as the crash happened and reality changed, we clung to each other, physically and emotionally. The drama we shared in that room brought unity and love that even now brings me to a tearful awe. With all the demographics and ages present, all the differences in beliefs – a miracle of togetherness drew us close.

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

After the gaggle left, still demanding their version of God’s will, I moved beside the bed and held Deb’s hand. The miracle of our friendship seemed a sweeter gift than ever before. The way her family embraced me and included me in Deb’s last days helped salve my broken heart. Another miracle of acceptance and compassion.

Ultimately, the greatest miracle DID occur. Certainly not the one we wanted, longed for. At the end of that terrible day, Deb’s body failed and she left us.

But the ultimate miracle happened as her invisible soul traveled into eternity – a forever of peace and joy.

We can always pray for the miracle we want and hope for the best. But if we demand the miraculous to look like our earthly description, we will be disappointed. Even Lazarus had to die again.

My friend will never have to struggle through another winter or face another tax season. She has been released from her worries and fears.

But hope still lives in the legacy she left behind and the miracle of how her life impacted so many.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines in School Supplies

How wonderful that in the middle of August’s dog days we find a spark of fun! School supplies are on sale.crayons - pens

I remember shopping at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year she would buy the box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back?

Alas – it never happened in elementary school. Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the coveted 64.

Every year, shopping for school supplies represented a new take on hope.

It was akin to the cleaning of the chalkboard – the chance to start over, to learn more facts, read more books.

The energy of a new year felt as fresh as the package of #2 yellow pencils. Would my teacher like me? Would I be chosen to pass out the Weekly Readers on Fridays?

Even into high school and college, the hunt for the perfect pens, the best paper and the sturdiest notebooks required research of the ads. We clipped coupons and drove all over town for the best bargains.

As a single mom, it was difficult to save the money required for school supplies. The year Caleb needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of a new year and the possibility of meeting new goals. We shopped at K-Mart, then celebrated with pizza and Pepsi.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth new journals, gel pens and legal pads for first drafts such as this blog post.

I wait until late in August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures.

All year, school supplies bring excitement – waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen.

And every time I open a new package of gel pens, I revisit the years when school supplies meant a new start.

Hope implies a beginning again, fresh grace – the forgetting of what has been and the reaching toward new growth.

Whether it’s in a classroom or the quiet office of an introverted writer, we all need the promise of hope.

Here’s to those pens and papers that invite us to believe again.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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When Hope Lives in Third Person

The inevitable happened. I just wasn’t ready for it – yet.

This summer of 2017 seems rampant with the unexpected.piano keys

A visit with my mother in assisted living and BAM – another unavoidable side effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She no longer knew me.

“Hi, kiddo,” her greeting for everyone who enters her room.

As we started talking, I knew the connection had failed. I was being addressed in third person.

“My oldest daughter lives in Saint Louis,” she said. “She works there. I forget what she does.”

“I’m a writer, Mom. And it’s Kansas City – not Saint Louis.”

No response. No affirmation. Just a tilt of her head and a puzzled look. “Who are you married to now?”

Now? As if I’ve been married several times with a revolving door for relationships. Who am I in her plaque-infested brain? Okay. I can play this game. Mom will forget this conversation five seconds after I leave.

“Who are you married to now?”

“Colin Firth.” Might as well make it good.

“Oh. Does he treat you right?”

“Yes. He’s the best.”

“Does he know how to use the litter box?” Somehow Mom switched from Colin to cats.

“Uhm – yes. He’s British and they’re trained to properly use the litter box.”

Before we could continue this ridiculous conversation, Mom was called to the dining room for supper. I decided to sit at her table, even if she didn’t know me.

She introduced me to the rest of the residents, “This is my company.”

Company – a safe term. No connection. No relationship.

A sweet lady on my left asked, “Do you play piano? Could you play my favorite song?”

I wondered if she asked everyone that question or did she somehow assume that I knew how to play. She adjusted her walker and I followed her to the piano. “Please play ‘There’s Something About That Name’,” she said with a slight catch in her throat.

Give this lady some joy and play her favorite song. Maybe it will help erase the fact that my mother is unaware of who I am, carefully spooning into her chili and cornbread mixture.

So I started playing the song, then joined in a decent duet, singing with my new friend. We segued into “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace.”

From the other side of the room, I watched Mom rest her chin on her hands, her face a beatific spread of happiness – enjoying the music. Did she suddenly remember all the years of piano lessons, as she sacrificed time and money so I could learn what she had always longed to do?

I wanted to memorize her face, to never forget the contentment reflected there – not certain I would ever see it again.

Thank you, Mom, for making piano lessons possible for me. I’m giving joy to this unknown woman beside me, but I’m playing for you, Mom – the daughter you no longer know.

The mini-concert ended and I returned to Mom’s table. Another woman asked her, “Is this your daughter?”

Mom just shrugged.

We walked back to her room, and I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Okay,” she said, already punching the TV remote, oblivious as to what “soon” means. It will be months before I make the trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City.

Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.

And when I return, will a blip of memory reappear? Or is the knowledge of who I am gone forever?

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach

Sometimes They Forget

 

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Hope Encounters Loss

For regular followers of my blog and those who have read my books, you might think the title of this post means my mother has passed. No. She is still living in the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her brave heart still beats.

This loss was a complete surprise – a younger woman in good health – whose body suddenly betrayed her. Within 10 days of feeling so exhausted she drove to the ER, my friend Deb was gone.DM at country store

We did life together. Drank gallons of chai tea, determined the best place to eat by the quality of the guacamole, cried together at sad movies and celebrated birthdays with ice cream.

I will forever miss hearing her voice on the phone, “How ya’ doin’?”

How can a writer deal with such loss and continue to be a wordsmith? What kind of takeaway can I find – some way to honor Deb and the relationship we shared?

Learn from the Experience. I now know all I ever want to know about hemolytic anemia – how the red blood cells become so depleted and how even a transfusion can attack the good cells. If I ever develop a character with this disease, I will know she must be so totally exhausted she cannot even comb her hair. Because that is what Deb experienced. I will also know that even the best medical minds can find no effective long-term treatment.

Value the Journaling Practice. During Deb’s time in ICU when the outcome became clear, I returned home each night to my journal. I wrote out Bible verses that brought me comfort, especially the ones Deb loved. I also screamed the unfairness of it all through words – you know, upper case screaming with a red gel pen and underlining every other word. Writing out my frustrations helped trigger the beginnings of working through my grief.

Understand the Grieving Process. Some of the grieving began as I held Deb’s hand in the ICU and reminded her we had planned another trip to Santa Fe. Although she could not respond, I hoped she heard me. The roller coaster of the grieving process continued throughout those 10 days and then the weeks that followed. Again I learned writers must take care of themselves even as they grieve. This was not the time for me to begin working on a new novel.

Remember the Good Times. As a writer, I crafted the speech I shared at Deb’s memorial service. To recall our trips together, our shared loved of the country and cats, the excitement we had for anything the children and grandchildren did. It was my honor to speak about her and through my words to recall the way she invested in relationships.

Appreciate Each Day. Memes on Facebook and boards on Pinterest often remind us to live each day with purpose, to never take our lives for granted. But when we’re faced with the fragility of life and how quickly someone can be taken from us – the experience underscores how important it is that we appreciate each day. I am hugging my son more often. I am stopping work to pet the cat, taking time for sunsets and worrying less about the calories in dark chocolate.

I plan to spend each day writing my words with purpose and motivation – to make a difference while I am on this earth.

Deb taught me to enjoy ordinary moments while planning for the extraordinary. I am determined to take another trip to Santa Fe and remember how she played her Native American flute, coaxing echoes from the mountains around us.

I will finish the novel Deb encouraged me to write because she knew it deals with the important topic of domestic abuse. In the acknowledgements, I will include her name because she prodded me to find an agent and send the book into the marketplace.

How do we find hope when we encounter loss? One tiny piece at a time.

We must allow ourselves the grace to grieve, to let time salve the wound and allow God’s comfort to work its way into our souls.

Then hope itself becomes a comfort as we treasure our relationships and live each day seeking more ways to appreciate the people we love.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author and Certified Writing Coach

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Hope Asks Questions

why imageHe was young and bright – this college student who wanted to pursue creative writing. We met at a local coffee shop, two creatives sharing a gift – though decades apart in age.

The hazelnut blend he drank mellowed the atmosphere while I played with the tail end of my English Breakfast tea bag.

He took copious notes of statements I have made hundreds of times with coaching clients:

  • Writing breeds more writing skill, so write every day.
  • Submit a manuscript to a magazine each week.
  • Frontload the week – plan your more creative work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Be consistent with marketing. Whatever platform you use – consistency is the key.
  • Get involved with writers groups. Be in a critique group or have a writing partner.

And of course my pitch, “Hire a writing coach to help you be accountable. I currently have openings.”

I had asked him to bring some of his work and he pulled out a well-worn journal. I knew by the way he touched it, dared to hand it to me – these were words dear to his heart. He was trusting me with his very soul.

He seemed surprised when I praised him for the way he used conflict, the turn of a phrase that did not include a cliché, a-ha moments unique to his voice.

Like all of us, he needed encouragement and a slight push forward to realize the beginning of his writing dreams.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he said with a polite nod, “but I know my writing asks lots of questions. I know you’re a Christian. I hope that’s okay…you know…that I ask the hard questions.”

For a moment, I wavered between needing to cry and wanting to scream. What have we done to these talented millenials? How did they get the idea that we know all the answers – that it is wrong to ask questions about faith and life?

“I ask questions, too,” I said and watched him visibly relax. “I used to be a black and white Christian where I thought I knew all the answers, because I had been force-fed what I SHOULD believe. Then life happened and those answers weren’t enough.”

I described some of the difficulties I have lived through and how God has been patient as I worked through them – how God hasn’t been afraid to listen to me. I reminded him that some of the greatest saints who ever lived asked hard questions. King David. Moses.

Even Jesus while he was being tortured asked the “Why?” question.

How sad it is that Christendom has thrust itself past these seeking and questioning young adults!

They see us with placards on the evening news, going way beyond the freedom of speech and into the bully pulpit of the streets. They read about how we label and exclude their friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They grieve as we condemn their single moms.

They cannot hear the truth about God because we are so busy screaming at them to perform righteously. We expect them to live by our rules before they ever meet the One who loves them in spite of the rules.

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

No wonder they can’t find the God of love when we, His beloved children push them away. Our self-righteousness denies their questions, the very source of how they seek for truth.

In “The Listening Life,” author Adam McHugh writes, “My calling is not the answers but the questions I bring to the world.”

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.”

To live the answers of life, we must first ask the hard questions. And to accept others with the love of Christ, we must allow them to ask those same difficult questions.

When we stop asking questions, we putrify in the sewage of our own belief systems. Then we program others to believe the same so that we will feel safe within our acceptable righteousness.

We find hope only when we step out of the comfortable morays and seek deeper meanings for our faith. That is when we discover how broad and wide and deep and high is the grace and love of God.

This young man – God love him – is seeking a place for his creative mind to grow. He is also seeking to be accepted as he is – not programmed into a hard wooden pew where his soul will stagnate.

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” the Reverend G Trilogy and “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.”

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Sometimes They Forget

 

 

 

Hope Flows Through Nature

How is it that an ethereal quality can somehow find its energy through a concrete object?

Either the process has emerged through my own visual creativity or it exists within the spiritual realm I cannot see.

For whatever reason it begins, hope is empowered within the realm of nature.Martha Washington geranium

When I cannot stand to watch one more news show or read one more Twitter rant, my deck becomes a haven.

When the question of my heart, “How long oh Lord?” is answered only with silence, I retreat to the outdoor sanctuary.

A cardinal cheers me as he calls for his mate from a nearby tree. The squirrel who thinks my deck is his dining room scampers to retrieve another sunflower seed. Sunset brushes turquoise and coral strokes across the evening canvas.

And my flowers – the Martha Washington geranium I found dying at a nursery in late June now thrives. A reminder that what may appear to be faltering can be revived.  

That deep burgundy petal bordered by a creamy outline urges me to cry out in gratitude. God will indeed revive. He will restore.

This bloom, this geranium teaches that hope is not lost even if appearance underscores it to be so. At the core of despair, we can still find life and once nurtured, once tended, life can thrive again.

A lesson for all who are recovering from too much caring of others and not enough nurture of self.

Coral and TurquoiseAnother flagon of hope waits on my front porch – a treasure found at the end of the plant sales. A turquoise pot filled with coral buds and peachy blooms – the colors of the Southwest I so love.

Each time I turn into my driveway and see this hope-filled pot, I remember the promise I made to myself. “Find a way to visit Santa Fe and Taos.”

To revel in the colors of a land replete with artisans of the earth’s clay. To enjoy the diversity of a demographic where every skin color is not only accepted – but also celebrated.

Hope flows through my plantings and the sounds of nature. No need for prayer when surrounded by God’s art. The Artist himself is here.

And as Abba frames his creative genius with another cinematic sunset, no words describe his color choice, his texture and contrast.

Forget the rest of the world. Let me revel in the hope that flows from the natural world of divine design.

©2017 RJ Thesman

If you’re a writer or you know a writer, “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals” can help you move to the next level. Order your copy here.

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