Hope Answers Why

why imageWhen life unravels and we struggle through it, our first response is often, “Why? Why God, did this have to happen?”

“Why did my precious tender-hearted Dad have to disappear into the shadows of dementia?”

“Why does my mother have to continue through this Alzheimer’s journey when she spent half her life taking care of Dad and praying against this disease? I don’t understand, God. Why?”

King David, asked “Why?” And even the son of God, Jesus himself, pleaded for an answer, “Why God have you forsaken me? Why?”

Usually, heaven is silent and we don’t receive an answer to this question. I suppose God wants us to exercise faith and learn how to dig deep within, to trust him when the “Why” question isn’t answered.

And maybe our finite minds can’t understand even if God does tell us what’s going on.

But in one version of the story of Job sits a verse that might help us understand. I’ve only found it in the New American Standard version, but I’ve hung on to it during those times when life unravels.

It is amazing to me that the answer appears in the book of Job – wrapped within the story of this patriarch who suffered so long and so intensely – this good man who lost everything, including his health. Not even his best friends could help him understand.

Yet this verse shouts the answer to our “Why” questions: “Whether for correction or for His world or for lovingkindness, he causes it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

Correction: Sometimes things happen to us so that we will learn important lessons – spiritual or practical lessons.

Our blood pressure spikes. Perhaps the lesson is to balance out life, learn to say, “No” and get the rest our bodies need.

When life unravels, instead of asking “Why?” maybe we should look upward and ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me here?”

His world: Sometimes the things that happen to us are a direct result of the world we live in.

A drive-by shooting takes away a precious child because some irresponsible person fired his gun out the window or reacted to some inner anger and didn’t care about anyone else. We live in a scary world.

Last week, the news was filled with the tragedy of a train derailment. One of the rules of physics is that if you take a curve at 100 miles per hour in a metal car attached to metal rails, some of those train cars may detach and go flying. As a result, people will be hurt and some of them killed because that’s how physics works. It’s incredibly tragic, but our world is filled with tragedies.

Lovingkindness: This is the really hard one. How can it be loving or kind when terrible things happen? Why does a good God allow terrible things to occur?

Maybe it’s because he looks at the situation through timeless eyes and a heart that is bigger than this world.

A teenager is arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to several years of imprisonment and/or probation. His parents are devastated. He misses his graduation. He loses his college scholarship. But isn’t that kinder than if he continues to drink, becomes an alcoholic and ends up killing someone with his car?

Death is not always the worst scenario. A surprise heart attack is tragic, but easier to deal with than a lifetime of slow death with Alzheimer’s.

Is it better to perish in a tornado or to slowly starve to death in a prison camp? Which would you choose? Which death is kinder?

Ultimately, even with this verse in Job, we don’t have control over the unravelings of life. We never know what the next twenty-four hours will hold.

That’s why it’s so important to enjoy each day, to love God and each other with full hearts. That’s why hope is so vital.

Because even when we can’t figure it out, when the “Why’s” of life don’t make sense and heaven is silent – hope keeps us moving toward the next sunrise.

Hope is that eternal optimism that at some point, all our unravelings will make sense and pain will disappear.

And as one pundit has written, “When we get to heaven, we’ll take one look at the replay of our lives and understand what God was doing. Then we’ll understand and we’ll say, ‘Of course.’”

What do you think about Job 37:13?

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

Hope Within Relationship

Sitcoms and movies often vilify the role of the mother-in-law as in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Monster-In-Law.”

LeoraBut in my situation, that stereotype never materialized. I was not at odds with my mother-in-law. Although we disagreed on politics and how to raise children; we found common ground in our respect for small towns, the Oklahoma Sooners football program and the joy of music.

We shared a love for flowers and jewelry. She was the one who taught me how to care for mums, how to prune them in the spring, then rejoice with the harvest of autumn blooms.

We both enjoyed bling and the challenge of finding perfect accessories for every outfit. I own several pieces of jewelry she gave me and wear them often with her in mind.

She was also the one who tried to show me how to make the perfect pecan pie. But no matter how many times I tried – with her exact recipe – I could never master it. Instead, I saved my calories for the annual Thanksgiving feast and relished every bite of her buttery, rich version.

I sent her cards on her birthday and holidays. She did the same for me, always writing in tiny script at the bottom, “I still love you.” I saved all those cards.

A few months ago, while visiting my own mother, I felt that inner nudge to go see my mother-in-law. I have learned to obey that divine whisper, knowing that God sees the future and asks us to respond in the present.

So I spent several hours with her, saddened by her increasing fragility and the slight aphasia that often interrupted her speech.

Yet we were content to merely sit together, to just be as two women who shared the same last name and the faith that bound us in eternal relationship.

She ate lunch, and I helped cut her meat, arranging the various bowls on her tray to make it easier for her to reach them. She told me she wanted dessert, so I searched for a piece of – you guessed it – pecan pie. I joyed in watching her devour it.

She told me she wanted to live to be 90. “Why 90?” I asked?

“It’s a good number,” she said.

When I left, I kissed her goodbye and said, “I love you.”

She responded, “I love you, too.”

God knew the expanse of her timeline and at 87 years, this past week, she stepped out of her shell and scurried into eternity.

I felt grateful during her memorial service, knowing she would have loved the flowers that surrounded her casket and the way her jewelry accessorized her beautiful red dress.

Even though my heart already missed her, my soul rejoiced that she no longer needed a walker or a cane, no longer wanted for anything.

In spite of the sitcoms and the movies, I know I was lucky to have such a relationship with my mother-in-law. I cherish the memories of strolls through her garden, preparing meals together in her kitchen and one last goodbye.

I love you, Leora. See you on the other side.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Grieving in Small Steps

Recently, I met a woman whose son died in a tragic car accident. One minute he was alive with plans for a wonderful future. The next minute, he was lying in a coffin. A terrible event with intense grief.

For families with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s, the grief comes in small steps. We know the end of the story and while we don’t have any idea what day our loved one will graduate to heaven – we do know the end will come.

But the grief may not be as intense, all at one time, as it was for the mother I met.

Alzheimer’s grief comes and goes with each regression into the disease. This is one reason why it is called, “The Long Good-bye.”

With my mom, the most intense grief happened at the initial diagnosis. Because our family lived through Dad’s dementia, we had an idea of what we faced with Mom. Once that MRI came back with its definitive image, we faced the truth about Mom’s future.

My first grief reaction was actually anger. How unfair that my mother should have to be sentenced to this horrible disease. Then came the sadness, a piece at a time: when she could no longer find her pots and pans in the kitchen, when she forgot to eat, when we had to make the decision to put her into assisted living.

I know what some of the next steps of grief will be: when Mom forgets who I am, when she crosses that line of communication where she no longer speaks, when we have to move her into the nursing home area of the building.

As horrible as it sounds, for caregivers that final grief is actually a release. When our loved one finally graduates to heaven and we know their minds are suddenly clear, we’re happy for them. Our day-to-day sadness turns to joy because we know the sounds of the long good-bye have finally been silenced.

Grief is difficult, no matter how it happens – whether in an intense moment or in bit and pieces. None of us grieves in the same way and no one can tell us how to do it well. We have to find our way through that tunnel alone.

But one thing we do know – all of us at one time or another will grieve. We will feel the emotions of loss whether it’s from death, unemployment or the end of a dream.

The trick is to somehow find hope in the midst of that unraveling of emotions and be grateful for the life our loved ones have lived.

Grief means we have experienced love and whether it comes all at once or in small steps – abiding in love  restores hope.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Grave Wanderings

My personal tradition calls for a visit to the cemetery during Easter weekend. Somehow, the credibility of the resurrection needs to meet with the mortality of my ancestors.cemetery

It is a Mennonite cemetery, on the same acre of land as the old hand-built church, crafted by men who wore beards and black hats. Many of those same carpenters and farmers now lie below the soil, that rich dirt that grows hard red winter wheat just an acre away.

My father’s shell lies under that soil. Yes, I know he is not really there. He lives in heaven, now joined by seven brothers and sisters, his parents and two of my children.

But it is his shell that I miss. The strum of his fingers on guitar strings, his baritone voice singing “Blessed Assurance,” even his bow-legged stroll through the pasture on frosty mornings.

This year, I kneel beside his grave and marvel at the passing of time. Has it really been nine years since we laid a bouquet of wheat and wildflowers on his coffin?

I caress his name and his dates, carved into the stone. May 11, 2004 – his death date and the ending that marked a heavenly beginning.

“Ah, Dad, I miss you so much. I need you to help me past this lonely place in my soul. I long to hear you pray for me once again and watch you find a verse for me in the leather Bible you held. I miss having my daddy in my life.”

Too many tears shed over this grave. I stand and walk through the cemetery. So much history in this resting place of my ancestors. So many untold stories which only the Alpha and the Omega know.

Names of Sunday School teachers and pastors, of twins who lived only one day – a tiny sheep engraved next to their names. Vets from the World Wars and Korea lying beside veterans of the faith.

A solitary grave near the wheat field. Another baby – this one died in 1930. But fresh flowers point heavenward against the aging stone. Who has been here to remember this child?

The creative writer in me longs to stay here and write make-believe stories about each grave, but I am due at the assisted living facility. It is time to visit my mother who still lives within the shadows of Alzheimers. Her ending and beginning dates not yet carved into the stone she will share with my father.

Spend time with the living while I can.

And rejoice that even in a visit to a cemetery, I hear a sermon. For each soul who lies in this consecrated plot of land now resides somewhere eternal.

Although I feel a palpable grief at the reading of each name, I know this is not the end. On this Easter weekend and every one to come, resurrection claims the final victory.