When Hope Grieves

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.

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

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you unwind and arrange the lights, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they 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.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. 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 our favorite 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 her with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than the empty chair beside 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 cannot fly hundreds of miles to be home for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with the other family
  • A homeless person who longs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand how grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone

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

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

Revel in those precious reminders 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. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh — 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.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Keeps It Simple

christmas-pine conesBecause life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday celebrations.

What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money and energy on Christmas cards. Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will NOT be spread with powdered sugar treats fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

Throughout the years, my house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me great joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my holiday habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it. The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2018 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, joy follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always acceptable.

Hope Keeps It Simple

Because this year has taught me more about a simplified life, I have decided to merge this premise into my holidays celebrations. What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:white-stocking

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler celebration important?

So, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I hereby simplify the process.

If you are a reader who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list. A few people may receive a card, but even those will be rare. This year, I am saving time, money and energy.

If you really need a greeting, here it is: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats aka People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I usually eat half of them. I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. Not even the traditional peppernut recipe tempts me.

I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

My house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful—a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share with someone else the beauty of my past. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. When it fails, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2017 has been the joy all this simplifying brings. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, joy follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always appreciated.

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

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