Hope Creates Traditions

Most of us try to create traditions within our families. Reverend G and her son, Jacob, guarded the tradition of family dinner after church on Sunday. (I know this because she told me; i.e. fictional characters talking to the writer again  http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh).

For my son and me, one of our favorite traditions has revolved around May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco-de-Mayonshttp://www.mexonline.com/cinco-de-mayo.htm

We have no Hispanic heritage, but we both love Mexican food – so any chance to indulge seems like a good idea.

When my son was younger, I always made enchilada casserole for supper on May 5th. It lasted for several meals and grew spicier with each leftover warm-up. Through the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe so that it is now in the final stage of perfection – at least, we think so. I’m sharing the recipe with you below. Let me know what you think.

I wonder how many of our traditions revolve around food. In our family, food traditions include Christmas peppernuts from the Mennonites, Easter ham and Watergate salad, Thanksgiving zwiebach and pecan pie and the summer harvest monster cookies.

But the special part of our Cinco de Mayo celebration is that it’s usually just my son and me – no other family – no other friends. It’s nicer that way. More chips and salsa for each of us.

Rebecca’s Enchilada Casserole

In a large and deep casserole pan, spray a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. This prevents the tortillas from sticking and helps you pretend you’re eating something healthy.

Tear up 9 corn tortillas (the small ones) and spread them across the bottom of the pan.

In a skillet, cook 1 pound of ground beef with ½ cup of onions. Sprinkle with red peppers (depending on how hot you like your Mexican food).

Drain off the grease and give it to the dog. He will drink lots of water b/c of the red peppers.

Add 2 small cans of green chiles, 1 can of cream of chicken soup, ½ jar of chunky salsa (the hotter, the better), 1 can of black beans (drained) and ¼ cup of milk. Cook on medium heat until bubbly, then turn off the heat.

Pour half of this mixture on top of the tortillas in the pan.

Cut up ½ of a Mexican Velveeta Cheese bar into small pieces and spread them on top of the soup mixture. You cannot substitute any other type of cheese or it will not taste like my casserole and I will not be responsible for the consequences.

Repeat with another layer of 9 torn up corn tortillas. Pour the rest of the soup mixture on top of these tortillas, then top with the rest of the Mexican Velveeta Cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350° oven for 45 minutes.

Serve with chips and more salsa or guacamole. Sometimes I also make a side dish of Mexican rice which for me is just brown rice, the rest of the salsa and more green chiles.

And to make everyone really happy, serve ice cream for dessert. Reverend G likes Chunky Monkey. Enjoy!

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

Hope’s Foundation

Most of my followers believe there is one true God, and they follow the Christian faith. If you fall into that category, then this blog post is nothing new. You can forward it to a friend or a neighbor.

However, the internet is a vast mission field and long after I am gone – I hope my words will remain, traveling through cyberspace and making a difference to readers.

Hope wordSo I want to post here why I write about hope and how you, too, can find the foundation of hope – to live within the warmth of God’s love.

It’s fairly simple, but through the centuries – some folks have made it difficult as they wrapped the rules of religion around this simple process. That’s called legalism, and it is one of the most damaging and confusing forms of abuse.

So here’s the truth:

Point Number One: God loves us – completely and forever – as far as the Atlantic is from the Pacific and beyond the farthest stars in infinite galaxies. Nothing can ever separate us from the love God wants to share with us.

Point Number Two: We’re not perfect, but God is. Therefore, we have a problem developing a relationship with such a holy God. Nothing we can do will ever make us as perfect as God, so don’t even try. That will drive you crazy.

Point Number Three: Because God loves us with such a vast affection, he wants to invite us into his family. But since we’re not perfect, he decided to create a way we could join his family – like an adoption.

Point Number Four: He sent his perfect son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for all the mistakes we’ve made. Jesus paid the debt when he died, sort of the ultimate price ever paid for an adoption. It’s been taken care of – forever.

Point Number Five: But that paid debt won’t do us any good if we keep ignoring God and what Jesus did for us. We need to believe it’s true and ask God to seal the deal. Tell him you want to begin this relationship with him.

Done! That was the simple part. Now comes the challenge.

Find a decent group of people who are Christians and spend time with them. Learn about the Bible and read it. God wrote the Bible and put lots of information in it that will help you learn more about him. Talk to God and start listening to him. That will strengthen your relationship with him.

And here’s the really great part! When you die, the relationship continues. Your soul goes to live with God in heaven where there’s no sickness, no evil and no problems.

Welcome to the family! All of us spiritually adopted kids are glad you’ve joined us.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed. By believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” John 3:16 The Message Bible

©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

Finding How to Love Mom

During a recent visit to Mom’s assisted living facility, I thought again about the five love languages. greeting card

In his book, Gary Chapman explains the love languages as: touch, gifts, quality time, acts of service and affirming words. When we know the love languages of those around us, we can better relate to them.

As I grew up, I never considered the love languages of my parents. But now that Mom is walking through the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I am looking for various ways to communicate with her.

    Finding her love language is one of my attempts to somehow make a connection with this woman I call Mom.

Gifts are definitely not Mom’s love language. When someone gives her something, she loses it and then accuses someone of stealing it. And even when she wins a Snickers bar at Bingo, she immediately gives it away. Her life no longer exists in possessions, so gifts are not Mom’s love language.

Touch has never been an important part of our family life. Although Mom will receive my hugs, she never initiates them. Touch does not work as a love language for my mother.

Affirming words might be slightly closer for Mom’s love language, but not for long. If I say anything nice to her, “Your hair looks really nice today, Mom.” Or “That color of lavender looks so good against your white hair,” she says thank you and then changes the subject. Or she gives me one of those looks that means, “You’re kidding, right?”

Acts of service. My family has always stressed a strong work ethic. We work hard, and we work for others as much as for ourselves. But performing an act of service for my mom would be empty and wasted energy. She would turn it around and want to do something in return for me.

Besides, what act of service could I do for her? Her laundry is taken care of at the facility. Someone else cooks her meals and serves them to her on beautiful plates. She walks to the salon to have her hair fixed. Her needs are all met.

The only love language that remains is quality time. This is the one way I can show her love, spending time with her whenever I can. Quality time means sitting in her apartment and answering the same questions over and over without becoming grumpy about it.

It means looking through the cards she has received and talking about the senders of those cards – old friends and new friends, relatives and church members.

It means walking around the pond with her and stopping frequently so that she can catch her breath. It means carving some time into a weekend and sitting with Mom even if neither of us has anything to say.

Loving Mom now means just spending time with her. And I’m glad to do it – while I can – before our time together finally ends.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Beautiful Yet Terrible

What could possibly be beautiful and terrible at the same time?

During our recent family vacation in New Mexico, we noticed how many crosses were sold. It seemed that every store, every boutique sold some version of a cross.

The ones that surprised us most were fashioned out of plain old sticks, often tied together with barbed wire – simple, yet effective. And they sold for $15.99.

We dragged my brother into one store and asked, “What do you think of these crosses?”

A puzzled look replaced his usual grin as he said, “Those are just sticks.” Yes, indeed.

So for the rest of our vacation, my sister, my sister-in-law and I gathered sticks, bark, twigs, assorted rocks and other natural wonders to make our own versions of the cross. Some will become gifts. Some will seem too precious to give away, so we will keep them ourselves.

cross - barkMy version consists of two pieces of bark that I found on one of our hikes, hot-glued together and decorated with a young pinecone in the center. It reminds me of our family time, of the joys of New Mexico and of the young man who died on a cross – for me.

My favorite singing group, Selah performs a song titled “That Beautiful, Terrible Cross.”  Listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsam4AJiPaA

Terrible because of the extreme torture its victims endured. Beautiful because it represents a lasting sacrifice that wiped out our sins.

My homemade cross now hangs in my guest bedroom, on the wall with other Southwest memorabilia and reminds me daily of that beautiful, terrible moment when Jesus paid the utmost so that I could be part of God’s family.

It’s worth much more than $15.99.

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

Alzheimers at the Wedding

Throughout the pre-wedding activities, Mom functioned well. She attended bridal showers, listened to all the exciting plans and smiled for the photographer.

But we knew our 85 year-old mother might create a few problems on the actual wedding day. It was my job to get Mom dressed, drive her to the church and make sure she made it down the aisle.

I was surprised that from the time I saw her in May until the wedding date in July, Mom regressed further into Alzheimer’s. Her facial expressions resembled those of a child, that naughty rolling-the-eyes look. When we discussed what she would wear to the wedding, we had to go through the scenario several times.

“We talked about this skirt, Mom. It’s a nice skirt.”

“No, I want to wear the red one.”

“Not a good choice of color, Mom. It’s too dark for a summer wedding and besides, it has a spot on the front. Did you tell them to launder it?”

“Yes.” A debatable answer, because Mom’s short-term memory grows shorter every week.

Finally, the chosen skirt was on and I convinced her to wear a beautiful white blouse with a lacy collar. As I fluffed up her hair, I asked, “Don’t you have some pretty pearl earrings? They would look nice.”

“No. All my jewelry has been stolen.” Paranoia is strong these days. Mom is convinced that people, usually family members she loves, have stolen her things.

It does no good to argue, so when she was finally dressed – I drove us both to the church. But pictures were scheduled for noon, and the wedding for two o’clock. Two hours is a long time for someone whose concept of time has disappeared.

First, we ate lunch – slowly. I tried to convince Mom to eat more meat and drink more water, but she refused. However, she sat quietly and waited while I finished eating. My brother came to get her for some of the outdoor pictures, then brought her back to me.

Mom and I strolled through the church and looked at the beautiful decorations. Lanterns along the sides of the pews. Purple and green petals strewn up and down the aisle. Beautiful cascades of dark purple gladiola at the front of the sanctuary. Everything ready for that moment when our Rachel would walk down the aisle to meet her beau, Grant.

“How about the library, Mom? Would you like to see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

So we toured the library, picked out a few to look at and discussed others. “They have a good selection here,” I said.

“Yes,” Mom said. “I like books.”

I remembered when she helped organize and catalog one of our first church libraries. I also remembered when a prayer group met in the library, and my mother was one of the members  ̶  a praying woman who cared about overseas missions. Mom not only prayed for missionaries, but she also gave a portion of her nursing salary to help meet those same missionaries’ needs.

That was a long time ago – before Alzheimer’s stole Mom’s ability to help in a church library or participate in a prayer group.

In a few minutes, Mom tired of the library so we walked through the church again. We watched the photographer shoot pictures of Rachel and Grant. Then Mom grew restless.

“Hey, Mom. Would you like to go see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

Three times we toured the library, each time about twenty minutes apart. Then we sat in the fellowship hall and watched people begin to file into the sanctuary. The wedding planner found us and fastened a flowered bracelet on Mom wrist.

“Why do I have to wear this?” she asked me. “You don’t have one.”

“It’s because you’re special. You’re the only grandparent on both sides of the families. You get to have a special flower.”

“Well, okay,” she said. Then about two minutes later, “Why do I have to wear this thing?”

My nephew Ethan, Mom’s grandson, was scheduled to escort her down the aisle at the appropriate time. But Mom balked. “I don’t want to do that. Everybody will be looking at me.”

“No, Mom. They’ll be waiting for Rachel. They want to see the bride. You just walk in quietly with Ethan.”

“But if it’s just Ethan and me, then they’ll be looking at me and I look fat in this skirt. I shouldn’t have worn this skirt. I should wear a nicer outfit.”

 “Now, Mom. This is Rachel’s special day. Ethan will take care of you, so you just walk down the aisle with him and then sit by me at the front. Remember, this is for Rachel.”

Mom rolled her eyes. I fully expected her to stick out her tongue, but after another grimace, she took Ethan’s arm. I joined my son, my sister, my aunt and her daughter in the second row and watched as Ethan and Mom came down the aisle.Mom and Ethan

Even within the horror of Alzheimer’s disease, my mother is a trooper. Uncomfortable with any kind of public display, there she was – standing tall and doing her part for her granddaughter’s special day.

Mom paraded down the aisle with Ethan and smiled while doing it. I was proud of her and also relieved. We made it through our two hours of waiting and our few minutes in the spotlight. Rachel married Grant and Mom got to be part of that special day.

wedding pic - famEven in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, we somehow find joy.  

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

Long Distance Caregiving – Regular Contact

As our loved ones journey through Alzheimers and/or dementia, it’s important that we keep in regular contact with the rest of the family.

hands heartEven though we live hundreds of miles away, we still have a significant role to play.

I call my sister each week and my brother about every other week. My sister is primary caregiver, and my brother lives in the same town—so both of them are available to check on Mom and spend quality time with her.

By contacting each of them, I receive a regular update about Mom’s journey through Alzheimers and the care she receives.

We talk about different things: sports, the weather and how it will affect this year’s wheat crop, the nieces and nephews and their activities. I give reports on my son and his school, his work.

Then we talk about Mom. “How’s she doing this week? Does she seem more content with her new living situation? Any changes? Any problems?”

Asking questions and hearing the answers helps me feel a bit more connected to what is happening in this process. Plus, it gives me ideas for how to pray—not only for Mom but also for my siblings.

Sometimes I hear the frustration in their voices. Sometimes I catch a bit of the anger and the grief that we all feel because our mom has Alzheimers. Sometimes I just want to hug my siblings through the cell phone towers and let them know how much I care for them, how much I miss them.

Another way I stay in contact is to send Mom a card each week. She keeps all her cards. She likes the ones with little animals or funny pictures.

So I go to the Dollar Store and pick out several of the colorful cards for children. Inside I write what has happened to me and my son that week, and I always sign it “Love you.”

Although Mom doesn’t say those words in return and she no longer writes her own newsy letters to me, I want her to know that this long distance caregiver loves her and wishes I could be near.

Ultimately, the LDC in me has to depend on God and his promise in Psalm 54:4, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”

He sustains my siblings who are right in the middle of the situation. He sustains my mom throughout each 36-hour day, and he sustains me—the long distance caregiver.

What about you? How has God sustained you in this long distance caregiving journey?