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.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 2

touch grass - sunsetDuring this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for sensory perceptions.

Writers are encouraged to include the five senses in our manuscripts, and most of us do a good job with sight and hearing.

But it’s a little harder to add touch, taste and smell without sounding contrived. Even so, this year I am most grateful for the sense of touch.

We can think on a meditative level about how we are touched by the presence of a close friend, a poignant story we read or a movie we watch.

But the sense of touch I want to focus on is the actual practice of feeling the world around me.

Several years ago, I struggled through a clinical depression. Every day felt gray with absolutely no feelings. I was completely numb, walking through life like an emotional zombie.

Nothing. Even pain would have been more welcome than the drab nothingness of living without any shred of hope.

During that time, I completely lost the sense of touch.

Months later, after an amazing moment of healing deliverance, I began to feel again. I drove to Hancock’s Fabric Store. For hours I strolled through the store, stroking the nubby rows of corduroy, the shiny ribbons of satin, the rich texture of tapestries.

I bought nothing but left the store richer and more content. And I still love to feel my way through fabric stores.

Even now, I relish the sense of touch. As I walk outside, I will often pick up a stick and rub my fingers over the fractured wood. Or I’ll grab some leaves and count the distended veins with my fingers.

My jewelry is chosen for its color but also for its feel. Next to my skin, I fine joy in the spherical turn of beads, the chunkiness of stones and the svelte whisper of pearls. I often play with my earrings because the feel of them reminds me of being alive.

When I hug my son, I stroke his stubbly beard. As I pet the cat, I play with her fluffy tail and sing with the vibrations of her purr. The blanket on my bed is velvety soft. As I arrange the covers, I smile and pat the blanket in place.

Even the pens I write with must have a rubber grip, a smooth cartridge and a careful mark on the page.

The joy of touch is a blessing we can easily take for granted. This Thanksgiving season, let’s be even more aware of how objects, clothing, dishes, furniture and life itself feels.

Even as we touch our way through each day, let’s be more cognizant of new textures not previously experienced. Then let hope expand in the treasure of all the senses God has given.

What about you? Which sense are you most grateful for?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Depression and its loss of touch can affect the lives of caregivers. Check out Sometimes They Forget for essays from the viewpoint of a family dealing with Alzheimers.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 1

During the month of November, I want to focus on special gratitudes. Makes sense, right? During Thanksgiving month we should be grateful.November country

But this year, I want to dig a bit deeper than the usual, “Thank you for health, for food, for the roof over my head.

This year, the focus is a series of gratitudes on my current life or the people in my life.

Post One underscores gratitude for the beautiful life my mother lives.

Mom is currently in Stage Six of the Alzheimer’s journey. She can still dress herself, although I’ve noticed her hairdo needs a bit of tweaking. She can still feed herself and she eats well — gaining weight this year.

But confusion still reigns, and we never know which day may be more lucid than the other. She no longer knows her family members as the connections of relationships remain a puzzle. She often exists in the past, waiting for her parents or her husband to come pick her up and take her to town.

Last year, Mom recognized me by the connection with my son. If I said, “Caleb is working at Amazon,” she would nod and call me by name.

But that has changed. She remembers she has a grandson named Caleb, and she has a daughter who lives in the Kansas City area. But connecting us together and recognizing either of us is now gone.

We are in the stage of Alzheimers where it is comfortable and easy for the patient yet harder for the family and caregivers.

Mom is basically happier now that ever before. The Type A personality, busy all the time, is gone. She sits contentedly in her chair and reads her Bible or the same mystery novel over and over.

She sleeps, then rises for breakfast. She eats all her meals when they call her to the dining room. She attends activities, rides the shuttle to see the Christmas lights and plays Bingo several times / week.

No bills to pay. All that was settled long ago when papers were signed with the facility.

No chores to do. Even her laundry is washed, dried and sorted by others.

No stresses from life or job. She has no idea of current events. Rarely watches the news. Reads the paper but who cares about what’s happening when you have no desire to do anything about it?

Her life is filled with adjectives such as peaceful, safe, content.

Sometimes I envy her.

But mostly, I am grateful Mom has these days of quiet rest with nothing to look forward to but the next meal, the Bingo gathering or lights out.

And the only thing that’s better will be her next move – to heaven.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Proposes One Change

Sometimes it takes only one change to find hope.hope endures

One of my friends made one change in her diet. She stopped drinking soda and lost ten pounds. One change gave her a healthier body.

For writers, if we change one thing in the narrative, we can affect the entire story. For example, if the Wizard of Oz took place in New Orleans instead of Kansas, L. Frank Baum would have written about a hurricane instead of a tornado.

Hope sometimes hides under one possibility of change. And that one change may alter everything else.

Ann Voskamp lived with chronic depression. When an older woman challenged her to make a list of gratitudes, Ann balked. “Change can’t be that easy,” she said.

But it was. As she began to list her gratitudes—even noting something as simple as the translucent rainbow in her dishwater—the clouds of gloom lifted. Ann continued looking for gratitudes and finally, her depression left.

Last spring, my kitchen was driving me nuts. I knew I couldn’t tear down walls or rearrange the main floor, so I made the one change that was possible. I ripped off the old outdated border and painted the walls a healthy green.

Just that one change seemed to lift my spirits. Working in my updated kitchen offered new hope.

So what about you? What one change can you make in your own narrative that might change everything?

Sometimes hope is one tiny step away.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

To read more about hope and how it can change our lives, check out Hope Shines – now available in Large Print.

 

 

Hope Versus Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.christmas candle

But what if we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

While I raked dead leaves, three hope-filled possibilities floated through my brain.

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Make it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed and reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive and special.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was. Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone – start with a chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast Deb with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair at the table. It’s a reminder of loss – a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who is homesick and cannot fly hundreds of miles for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who needs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand that grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone during the holidays

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES go forward. We don’t have to be stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We may even still have some of the gifts s/he gave us – precious reminders. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Remember and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again – the way he tilted his head when he talked, her unique laughter.

When Deb enjoyed a specially tasty meal, she always said “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh than before – keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved