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

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Time Passes With Hope

Have you noticed we’re almost halfway through 2016?clock

Molly Totoro, a writer who loves the sights, smells and joy of the holidays, recently posted, “Only seven months until Christmas.”

Time indeed passes quickly, especially as we age, but really – don’t the months seem to flip through the calendar faster than ever before?

I’ve pondered the passage of time recently and the possibility of something unique happening.

A verse in Matthew 24:22 reminds us how difficult the last days will be. “Unless those days are shortened, all mankind will perish. But they will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen people” (TLB).

Bible scholars usually preach these verses as God’s way of protecting his people during the tribulation, his way of shortening the time of suffering.

But I wonder if this unique method of protection is already occurring. Maybe we’re seeing the increased crescendo of time on earth that eventually shortens our days.

Sally Jadlow, author of the Late Sooner series, calls it, “God tweaking time.”

Is Time-Tweaking a Possibility?

Certainly the Creator God can determine how time will flip through our online calendars. This incredible God carefully plans each day of our lives. Can he not also decide how long each day will be?

This beyond-the-scope-of-science God hung Jupiter in its particular orbit and designed rings around Saturn. If he can work in the vastness of space, he can also tweak the hours of our work days.

This loving God touches a baby’s cheek in the womb and imprints a dimple. This artistic God paints the tail of a blue jay with onyx black, azure blue and pale gray contrasts, then changes his divine palette to include the crimson and taupe of cardinals.

Surely this amazing God can tweak the revolutions of the earth so that time speeds up.

But why would God project a new way to manage time?

For the sake of his children. To protect those he loves. To help us endure when we don’t think we can stand one more day in this evil world.


To offer us hope.


Admittedly, I am homesick for heaven. I miss my dad and other saints who have finished their timelines and flown home.

Often I am discouraged by the sadness of so many lives and the suffering of countless people. The nightly news can pierce my heart. I keep a Kleenex box beside the television.

But I try to be patient because I know God has a plan and he waits for those who currently ignore him. He wants them to share in heaven, too.

Occasionally I hear the whisper of angels’ wings or the hum of a worship song unique to the heavenlies and I wonder – how close are we?

Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe in the blink of an eye – now!

And maybe God really is tweaking time because he’s anxious to hold us in his arms and cry, “Oh my sweet child – welcome home!”

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

Hope Bleeds at Sundown

sunsetWe first noticed this phenomenon with Dad. During the final stages of his dementia, dusk triggered an inward call. He rose from his chair and began pacing up and down the living room, going nowhere yet constantly moving.

His eyes shone with an almost maniacal light, as if he obeyed a substance or a creature we could not see. By that time, he no longer spoke, so we couldn’t ask him what he was looking for or where he wanted to go. It became his nightly ritual until he could no longer walk.

I fully expected him to pass away during the dusky hours, when the Oklahoma sun begins its descent into the horizon. But no, he graduated to heaven in the middle of a spring day – simply by ceasing to breathe and walking away with Jesus.

Years ago, when my mother worked as a nurse in the hospital, she told me how important it was to work the night shift and watch out for her patients. “If they’re going to die,” she said, “they’ll die at night.”

Something about the night conjures up the dark fear of death – all those spooky movies with a full moon shadowing gargantuan monsters. I find that strange, because I love sunsets and when I finally lay me down to sleep, I say, “Ah! Yes!”


But then, the scenario is different when Alzheimer’s and/or dementia capture the brain.


 

We have noticed the sundown change in Mom as well. She eats supper early, around 4:30 at the assisted living facility. Perhaps they schedule it early for a purpose, because they know what is coming for many of their residents. Shortly after supper, Mom moves into her most confused state of the day.

We know better than to visit her in the evening, because she will be concerned about the farm and what is happening there, even though she hasn’t lived in the country for many years. In the evenings, she will forget Dad has passed. She will talk about him as if he is coming into the room and she must prepare his clothes for the next day.

At dusk, Mom will argue about nonsensical things – what day it is, what year it is, whether we have already celebrated Christmas and whose name she drew and what present she bought. It doesn’t matter what we say or how we try to explain, the shutters of understanding have closed for the day. She is lost within the sunset hours.

An old hymn reminds me of the timelessness of heaven and how we will someday no longer fear any type of sundowner symptoms.

“Beyond the sunset, oh blissful morning

When with our savior, heaven is begun.

Earth’s toiling ended, oh glorious dawning

Beyond the sunset, when day is done.”

 

You can listen to the entire hymn here: Beyond the Sunset

I guess there’s a good reason hope bleeds at sundown. Maybe that’s the time believers are most restless for heaven, searching for the Savior and for their loved ones who graduated before them.

Next time I see Mom at dusk, I’ll take her hand to calm her down and say, “It’s okay, Mom. Only a few more sunsets until your journey is over. Be still. The best is yet to be.”

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

Seeking Hope After Christmas

Because I love Christmas, it is always a bittersweet challenge to pack up everything, tape the boxes closed and carry Christmas to the basement.mantel after Xmas

I simply cannot endure the thought of an entire year before I pull out the twinkle lights, caress my angel collection and replay memories associated with the ornaments.

This Christmas was especially difficult as my son had to work through the holidays. I missed being with him as I remembered Christmases past and the excitement of a little boy discovering his first drum set, a giant box of Legos and a package of plastic army men.

This Christmas also brought more confusion for my mother. Her Alzheimer’s side effects seem to peak during the holidays, when I long for her to remember the daughter she sewed for, the special box of books she placed under the tree with my name on the tag, my excitement when I opened that box and knew I would soon be transported into the mysterious world of Nancy Drew.

This year, Mom didn’t even remember that Dad now lives in heaven. Our quality time was nonexistent, and when I drove her back to assisted living – she argued about living there. She couldn’t even remember why someone had given her presents.

So to preserve some joy of the season, I rearranged my pearl lights on the mantel and merged winter accessories with pine cone candles. Just a touch of Christmas to lessen the loss.

But I needed more. I have learned the best way to preserve the joy of Christmas is to proactively use my Christmas cards. I keep them in a pile beside my Bible, then each morning throughout January and February, I choose one card and pray for that person or the family that sent the card.

I remember special friends and family members, clients and colleagues by reminding God of their importance in my life, lifting up their needs to the only one who can fulfill them.


It helps me tolerate the cold fingers of winter as I focus on the warm love of the God who transcends every season and time.


So as we move into 2016, let’s all try to find more tangible ways to seek hope.

Then next year during Christmas, we can celebrate with extra joy.

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

 

Finding Hope at Christmas

Especially at Christmas, caregivers and families feel the sting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hang ornaments and remember past Decembers when our loved ones decorated the tree, sang Christmas carols and laughed while opening presents.christmas_baubles_and_candles

Smells from the kitchen spike memories of Christmas cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg, that special family recipe for peppernuts.

Yet now – everything has changed. Our loved one sits quietly in a chair, unaware of smells and colorful lights, breathing in and out, communicating with no one.

It is the passage of time and the ache of what this disease can do.

Somehow, we must look for joy by searching for its source.

Think back on Christmases past and be grateful for the memories and the legacy preserved within family.

Treasure the presence of your loved one, even though he or she seems mentally far away.

Remember that Christmas is about a baby in a manger who became the Savior on the cross. Someday, in eternity, all Alzheimer’s genes will be nonexistent. No disease there. No memory loss. No sadness.

Be grateful for these moments together, because you, too, are creating a legacy for the generations to come.

Sing a Christmas carol together. Music connections are the last part of the brain to die. You can still communicate with your loved one through music.

With all the excitement and chaos of opening presents, be alert for anxiety in your loved one. He or she may need to return to assisted living long before all the Christmas activities are finished.

Find your own joy in being with family. Each day is a gift. Each time we get together, we make memories. Even if the day is difficult for you, treasure it.

Several years ago, my sister Kris – who is a talented poet – wrote these words:


            “While striding on life’s pathway, fill up your days with cheer

Just laugh at rainbows, small or great, to banish every fear.

Hold tight to what life offers, content with all you do

For all adventures help create the treasure that is you.”


Remember that seasons end, and the season of Alzheimer’s will also end with the death of your loved one. So try to enjoy your time together and know that somewhere deep inside, Mom or Dad, Sister or Brother dearly loves you and wishes you a Merry Christmas.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

Hope in Finding the Story

saleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work – some objects that would bring encouragement to the women I coach: maybe a pot of flowers, some beautiful cards, a trinket I could give away.

What I didn’t expect to find was a story.

I joined the crowd of people poking through bedrooms, closets and kitchen – each of us searching for treasures at a reduced price.

Empathy set in as I realized this was a family who had just buried their matriarch. Now they had sold her house and were sorting through what she left behind, offering pieces of her life to strangers.

What sort of life did she live? The question hounded me even as I began to discover clues to her story.

In the garage, colorful pots for planting the cuttings of a new flower or plant. The texture of the pots described a women who was attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

A stack of books pulled me like a magnet into the intrigue of a life past. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic treatises. A mathematical mind, detailed, and carefully constructed to pay attention to pi, cosign and greater than.

A pile of books about alternative health. Was she sickened by a disease no one could treat, so she tried to find help beyond the traditional medical community? Did any of the vitamins, acupuncture or colloidal treatments give her a few more years of quality life?

Sadly – no books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books – unless her family already sequestered those to keep alive the memories of mom and grandmother.

The basement, filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I combed through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol-building substances, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan I needed, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular pan before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story did my life tell and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and and a woman who loves color and texture?

If a stranger looked under my deck, would they determine how I garden with old yet favorite tools, that the farmer gene in me has never exited, even after years in the city?

Would my costume jewelry, my terracotta pottery and my wooden rocking chair whisper that I am a simple country girl who finds solace in the beauty of handmade afghans, multiple stacks of books and the comforting jangle of a flowery mobile from New Mexico?

I came away from that estate sale hugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan I needed to replace its long-ago-broken twin and a sense of story that emanated from the treasures I held.

We are each living the story of our lives. How much of our stuff reflects our authenticity and moves others to consider hope?

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Goes Undercover

Except for sports and the news, I watch little TV. But one show intrigues me, and I am beginning to become a fan.

Undercover Boss” creates a situation where the boss disguises himself or herself and goes undercover to discover how the business really works.

undercover bossUsually the boss realizes that working in the factory or in customer service is much more difficult than it looks. And in the process, the boss discovers who the best workers are, who has true passion for the work and which employees need some coaching to improve.

As the boss and the employees relate, personal stories are revealed which usually include some tragedies or hard luck experiences.

My favorite part of the show happens when the boss reveals herself and then rewards the employees with whatever they need – usually something life-changing: a mortgage paid off, a new car or a college education.

The employee cries, and so do I.

This show empathizes with those who work hard yet receive little incentive until the boss magically shows up and gifts them.

So many times in life, we do things that go unnoticed. We silently forgive someone who has wounded us without talking about the offense. We show up early for work and stay late, do someone else’s work and let them take the credit. We toil behind the scenes while someone else steals the show and the applause.

Many of us agonize in prayer, then rejoice when the answer comes while no one knows how long we persevered on our knees.

Yet there is a heavenly Boss who sees everything we do and knows the motivation behind our behavior. He knows about the man who works hard to provide for his family or the single mom who struggles to save pennies so her children will have a Christmas.

The heavenly Boss sees the perseverance, the weary warrior who continues to pray, the employee who remains honest even while others steal from the company.

Our holy God sees every tear, hears every prayer, feels every rejection and understands every heartache. He sometimes rewards us on earth when we get to see prayers answered and miracles performed.

But most of the rewards will surprise us in heaven when the curtain is pulled on our earthly lives and the Divine will bless us eternally with his resources.

It is that hope that keeps us working and persevering even when it’s hard and we seem to go unnoticed.

If we can just keep our focus on what is to come, we can live each day with the assurance that someday the Boss will reveal Himself and smile at our efforts.

I’m looking forward to that day. How about you?

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh