Hope Lives

woman worshipThe pastor pounded his opinion into our souls. “Death for the believer is a beautiful thing.”

He was wrong. Sure — the aftermath of death — that entrance into heaven is a beautiful result of the life of faith. We can only imagine how it will feel to be free of pain and stress.

But the process of death is not beautiful, not even remotely lovely.

Growing up on a farm, my siblings and I often saw the effects of death. Whether it was a beloved pet smashed under the wheels of a speedy vehicle or a steer slaughtered for the meat, death was shocking and ugly.

And death for humans was no less horrid. Even while performing CPR on my precious grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to bring her back to us — I noted the smells and sights of death. Not a pleasant experience.

Throughout my years in ministry, sitting with families in the ICU, hearing the beeping of machines, smelling the sterile rooms — the approach of death changed the human body until it was almost unrecognizable. Even today when I visit hospitals, I go home and shower off the smell of death.

No wonder mortuaries employ the services of makeup and hair stylists so that our last view of loved ones is more pleasing.

During this holy week, we focus on the crucifixion. But we don’t always realistically picture how awful the death of Jesus was. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson presented a more realistic view of the broken body, the torture, the results of sepsis and blood poisoning.

So I wonder what actually happened when Jesus came back to life? We know his scars were not miraculously healed. He later showed his wounds to Thomas and the other disciples.

Did he wake up with unshed tears crusted on his eyelids? Did it take him a while to stretch out his arms and legs, to work out the stiffness from lying on a rocky sepulcher? Were his shoulders sore from being stretched on that cross, the results of dislocation and trying to hold up his body for six hours?

Or did God rejuvenate every cell so that Jesus instantly felt more alive than ever before?

What follows then is speculation on our loved ones and their metamorphosis from the ugliness of death to the power of new life. We know the physical becomes spirit. Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, to walk through walls. We know the curtain between the physical and the spiritual is thin, like a lacey veil.

How amazing it must be to pass through the portal of death and experience forever life!

Someone once wrote the following truth: “Since our loved ones are with God and God is with us, then they can’t be very far away.”

I find hope in thinking of the nearness of Deb, of Betsy, of my grandmother and of Jesus. While death in all its ugliness is inevitable, eternal life is also a certainty. And that will be a good thing.

The trick is to put aside the horror and focus on what will someday be truly beautiful.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of my precious friend, Deb Mosher, who passed from death to life. She lived with shining hope.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Finds 3 Stories

My mother wanted to be a writer, but the circumstances of life did not allow that dream to come true. She would have been a great wordsmith.

foggy road - treesNow that she lives in the confusing fog of Alzheimer’s, her creative juices no longer peek behind the boundaries of reality. She creates amazing stories that alternately amuse and frighten us.

During this past Easter weekend, I walked with Mom down the hallways of assisted living. Each door we passed led to the final home of a resident. It would have been a morbid trip except for the decorations outside each door – colorful symbols of something special to that resident.

One door displayed a basket full of wooden apples, painted so realistically I could almost taste the juice. However, Mom’s appetite focused more on the story she imagined.

“Those apples remind me of one day when I knocked on that guy’s door.”

Did she really do that? Probably not, but her story depended on the plausibility that she did indeed knock on that door.

“So this guy opened the door and offered me an apple, but I didn’t take one because I knew he was probably pedaling liquor in his room and maybe put some in one of the apples. I didn’t want to take that chance. It’s against the law to have liquor in your room.”

A pretty good story, filled with conflict and imagination. I tried not to laugh as we walked back to her room where Mom had another story waiting.

She told me someone had stolen her scarf. I knew this wasn’t true, because her scarf was hanging out of her coat pocket. I had helped her find it that morning before we left for church.

I could have pointed to the scarf and reminded her it was hanging in full view, but she was already half a sentence into her story.

“So this guy stole my scarf, and I ran after him and chased him outside. Then I took ice picks out of my pockets and started toward him. I stabbed him all over with my picks until he hollered. I almost stabbed his eye out but then he gave me the scarf.”

Some of the macabre stories Mom tells probably evolve from years of reading mysteries and watching “The Twilight Zone.”

The final story of the weekend was one Mom knows well and even within the shadows of confusion, she was able to share in it last Sunday.

It’s the true story of a man who was willing to give his life so that we could live abundantly – the God-man who came to earth, loved us unconditionally, then died on a wooden cross.

That man – that Jesus – did not stay dead. He came back to life where over 500 people saw him alive and became credible witnesses of the greatest miracle ever performed.

Mom knows that story well and shared in the joy of Easter Sunday. Holding her Bible, even though she can no longer find passages, she nodded her head as the pastor spoke and helped us sing, “Low in the Grave He Lay…Up from the Grave He Arose.”

Her faith and her eternal future are based on the veracity of the Easter story. Someday she will experience new life in heaven, forever free of Alzheimer’s and its horrific side effects.

We’re hanging on to that story of hope and look forward to its final resolution – the eternal resurrection for all of us.

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

What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 5

Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I will be diagnosed with the disease.Alz awareness

Although the gene often travels through the mother’s line, Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I or either of my siblings will suffer from it. Researchers are working all the time to find a cure and to find out the source of the disease.

I intend to work hard to make sure that Alzheimer’s does not happen to me.

What are some of the ways I try to protect myself from the disease? What clues have I discovered from my research and interviews with scientists and experts?

  • Watch out for Stress

The busyness of life, the worries of our society’s dangers, the struggles of our culture – these can all lead to undo stress.

I can feel when stress begins to overwhelm me. That’s when I take a walk, say “No” to any extra activities and find a quiet place to meditate, journal or color.

  • Eat Organic

As much as possible and as my budget allows, I try to eat organic foods. Fast food, junk food, preservatives, additives – I try to stay away from these. I shop at Sprout’s and Trader Joe’s, at the Health Department in Hy-Vee and sometimes at Aldi’s. As much as possible, I try to eat foods that are as close to God’s creation as possible.

My mantra is: If God made it, okay. Eat it with joy. If man made it, don’t waste your money on it.

  • Take Supplements

Turmeric and Rosemary are two of the supplements I use every day. These are both good for the brain. A nutritional doctor once said, “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Another healthy food source is folic acid, so quinoa is my grain of choice. It is high in folic acid and healthy proteins and it is NOT modified or coated with chemicals. I throw quinoa in my oatmeal, my soups and my stir fries. Sometimes, I also scramble it in my eggs.

  • Delete Sugar

Some researchers are now calling Alzheimer’s, “Type 3 Diabetes.” The American diet is filled with sugar, and we are so addicted, we don’t even realize how damaging it can be. From high fructose corn syrup to the additives in our favorite lattes to those easy drive-through treats – sugar is our staple.

But even a two-week fast from sugar can clear the brain, create a glow to the skin and increase energy.

Still not convinced? Consider how our flu and cold season corresponds with sugar season. From Halloween through Easter, we are encouraged to buy candy, all the sweets that go along with the holidays, chocolate for our sweethearts and bags of candy Easter eggs.

We are encouraged to get flu shots and buy cough syrup that is often laced with corn syrup, yet from October – March, our immune systems take a major hit. Then we spread the germs to each other, coat them with more sugar and somebody makes a fortune off our illnesses.

That brings me to the next point.

  • Beware of Massive, General Suggestions for Health

As research for the Reverend G books, I started noticing how often the 50+ generation is urged to get flu shots, Shingles shots and pneumonia vaccines. Yet the numbers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s continues to rise – at last count, 5.4 million Americans.

Mercury and Aluminum are two of the metals that can contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Many of our vaccinations are made with a base of mercury. Some of us wear metal fillings in our teeth, laced with mercury. And some of the so-called protein drinks given to the elderly are made with a base of aluminum. So are most of our deodorants.

So rather than bare my arm for all these vaccinations and use some of the products mass-produced as healthy – I increase my intake of garlic, onion and the rest of the root vegetables.

During the “sugar” season, I make my own chicken stock and my own vegetable soups, avoid extra sugars and add more garlic to my diet. I even take a garlic and parsley supplement. Ashwagandha is another supplement that improves the immune system so I throw it into my smoothies and soups.

As much as I love dark chocolate, I limit myself to one piece / week. Chocolate can block the amino acids we need. Without amino acids, we are more susceptible to cold sores and the virus that leads to Shingles. So I also take the supplement Lysine, which builds amino acids and prevents cold sores.

These are some of my health practices which I hope will prevent Alzheimer’s from invading my genes. And since I started these practices, I rarely have a cold and the flu hasn’t plagued me for at least five years.

Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I will be its victim, and I’ll do everything possible to fight against it.

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

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck again with the functional differences between the KC Metro and Enid, Oklahoma.enid

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter to allow families time together. The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story in the King James Version.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of the season and aren’t shy about declaring their belief in God.

On Good Friday, our family moseys over to the Western Sizzlin’ for a huge salad buffet, well-done steaks and the ice cream machine.

Mosey is a word we don’t use in KC because nobody moseys in the city. Yet in small towns, folks mosey across the intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who doesn’t know how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will likely run into relatives, a colleague or someone from your church. And even if you make a new acquaintance at the ice cream machine, it will be a friendly conversation.

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you’d better have a good reason and if you’re a really decent person, you’ll move back and make your family happy.

That’s why hope grows in small towns. Because everyone hopes you will move back, help with mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown and mosey into the stores, I pick up the Okie accent that never really leaves my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because I’m not in a hurry.

At Braums – where everybody goes for an ice cream fix in the afternoon – I wave at strangers and talk about the wheat crop.

Although the world is rapidly changing, folks in small towns still trust each other and somehow mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I don’t know, because their lives are simpler, purer and steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although I know my work is here in the KC Metro, a weekend visit is all it takes to transport me back to the security of my foundation and the people who keep hope alive.

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

Cemetery Wanderings

20140418_153338In one of the scenes in the 3rd Reverend G book, she wanders around a cemetery. Recently, I found myself doing the same thing.

Isn’t it odd how often life imitates art?

Since I was in my hometown for a book signing, I stopped at the cemetery to “visit” with Dad and all the other relatives. Yes, I know Dad isn’t really there, but this is the place that represents closure for me.

I don’t believe in talking to the dead, but I often ask God to talk to Dad and others for me. I imagine the group of saints sitting in chairs like the scene in “Our Town,” that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews watching me as I roam among their graves.

I stopped in front of the gravestone that represents the woman who led me to Christ. “God, oh God – tell Matilda how much I appreciate her. She told me about Jesus and helped me understand how to become a Christian. What a wonderful woman she was!”

“And God, here’s Lydia’s shell. She taught Sunday School when I was little. Tell her thank you, please. She was a sweet reminder of your love.”

The tune of “Thank you for Giving to the Lord” by Ray Boltz filtered through my soul.

“And God – here are Dan and Alma – neighbors who flew to heaven just eight weeks apart. They loved each other and they loved you.”

My father-in-law, Jake. “Tell him, God, how much I loved him. I miss him.”

The grandparents and great grandparents I never knew. “Do they know about me, God? Are they proud of me? Are you?”

So many babies’ graves. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, so many little ones lived only one or two days. Was it SIDS or a childhood illness, something simple like the croup that we can cure so easily now with antibiotics?

I imagined God watching over his heavenly nursery and loving each baby.

Then I knelt before Dad’s stone and brushed some of winter’s dust from his name. A few tears, a soul hurt. “The family will be together soon, Dad – at the farm. I loved being a country girl. Mom is in assisted living now. She has Alzheimer’s, and she still misses you. We all do.20140418_152813_1

“Do you know, Dad, that I’m a published author now? Has God told you about my books? Some of your life and your journey is in those books. Those years of dementia, as you struggled to communicate with us and then just stopped talking – I used those experiences in my plots. I wanted caregivers to be encouraged, to know they are doing holy work, caring for their loved ones. Ah, Dad – I miss you so much.”

A wind blows through the trees, rippling the cedars that border this Mennonite cemetery. All alone in this place of legacy and influential lives, I sing that old Easter hymn, “Lo in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior. Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord…He arose. He arose. Hallelujah Christ arose.”

As I leave the cemetery, I add my own hallelujahs, anticipating the day when those graves will open, the bodies of those saints will join their souls in heaven – and I, thank you Jesus, I will be close behind them.

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

Missing Dad

Most of my recent blog posts have centered around Mom and her Alzheimer’s journey, but years before Mom’s diagnosis – we faced a similar struggle with Dad and his dementia. Mom - DadCheck out the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s here: http://bit.ly/AFg8SC

On a cold November day, Dad decided to build a fire in the fireplace but for some reason, the fire just wouldn’t draw. Maybe the wood was wet or maybe it was still green. We don’t know. Dad decided to help it along.

What does every good farmer know about fires? If you want a bigger fire, you add more fuel.

So he threw a little kerosene onto the embers and suddenly was engulfed in flames. He bravely fought the inferno that quickly spread from the fireplace to the carpet to his favorite chair. He beat it out with his bare hands and his arms, saving our home. Then he hurried outside to gulp some fresh air.

Just minutes before, Mom, who worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office, felt the divine nudge to “Hurry home.”

When she drove up the driveway and parked her car, Dad stood outside. She noticed that his shirt was burned. Scraps of fabric hung from his arms. Puffs of smoke rose from his singed hair.

But when she hurried across the yard to help him, she realized those weren’t scraps of fabric hanging down – they were pieces of Dad’s skin.

First, second and third degree burns across his chest, arms and hands. His eyebrows singed and his soul aggrieved as he blamed himself and asked God to forgive him for being so foolish.

An apology that resulted from legalism and spiritual abuse – blaming himself for an accident and for the failure to be perfect.

Four months in the hospital, horrific debreeding procedures, surgeries to graft skin from his legs to his arms, pain medicine – and Dad forgot every bit of it.

The doctors diagnosed him with “Trauma-induced Dementia” but the symptoms were very similar to what we’re seeing in Mom.

An urgency to look for something, to have one of us drive him to the university where he played basketball. We searched for something, but Dad couldn’t find it nor could he name it.

Then he gradually forgot how to speak. He was never a big talker anyway, but when he talked and when he prayed – people always listened. Everyone knew Henry Ediger was a man of great wisdom.

Then Sundowner’s Syndrome where he paced at night – back and forth, back and forth across the carpet. He made funny sounds, similar to something a toddler uses, then finally settled in his grey wingchair – isolated within himself.

Mom and my sister cared for him in the home for ten years – ten long years of gradual regression, of trying to figure out what he needed and what he wanted, of patting his hand at night and kissing him in the mornings.

Those were the years I visited and sang to him. I wrote about that experience in my blog post: https://rjthesman.net/2012/03/30/the-power-of-the-music/

The spark of joy from my music lit up his eyes until Easter of 2004 when there was no response. I knew then that he was headed home. I was losing my dad.

In May of that year, during a spring month when everything should have been coming to life, Dad suddenly stopped breathing.

As quietly and gently as he lived, that is how he died.

We buried his physical shell in the Mennonite cemetery, and I still have one of the lavender wildflowers that covered his casket.

So on this Father’s Day weekend, I will ask God to say hello to my dad and remind him how much I love him – how much I still miss him.

And I will be grateful every single day of my life for his godly example – even when the flames engulfed him.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”   http://amzn.to/176xIdt