Hope Asks Why

“Why, God, why?”why-god-allows

We ask the why question, because we need to find some type of order in life. When situations don’t make sense and we can’t logically figure them out, we ask why.

“Why did both my parents have to struggle through dementia and Alzheimer’s – especially when they were both so healthy? I don’t understand, God. Why?”

“Why did my friend have to lose her husband after the loss of both parents in the same year? Doesn’t that seems a bit unfair? Why?”

“Why do single moms and their children have to suffer the consequences when the dad makes unhealthy choices? Injustice screams, ‘Why?’”

Years ago, when I attended a legalistic church, a young man in our community was killed in a train accident. It was brutal and a terrible shock to all of us. Our youth group met to discuss it. Those were the days before counselors were available.

One of the church leaders gathered us together and said, “This young man died because he must have sinned. So be careful how you live. God is watching.”

Even as a teenager, something about that theory seemed wrong to me so I started my own search. I looked through my dad’s Bible, because it was the King James version and we had been taught it was the only version that espoused truth. However, good old King Jimmy provided no answers for my teenaged heart.

Years later I found more of the answer in a different version of the Bible. Poor old Job who suffered so terribly provided a plausible variation to the Why question: “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness – He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For Correction

Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into reality and reminded he is sovereign. Perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

How has this played out in history? How have other historical figures looked at correction? Did Adam and Eve raise Seth differently because of what they learned through their parenting of Cain and Abel? Probably, although I don’t think we can blame parents for the choices their children make.

God reminded the Israelites to stay away from foreign altars by allowing snake bites to kill

caduceus medical symbol chrome

and maim. A drastic resolution, to be sure, but it does explain some of God’s dealings with the Israelites. And today, we have the medical symbol to remind us of this historic event.

Hasn’t history taught us to be careful of the Hitlers of this world because of the Holocaust?

When terrible things happen to us, I think one response should be “What can I learn from this situation?” Rather than the “Why” question, perhaps we should rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up.

But I do not believe we should live in the fear of making a mistake because God might cause a train to run over us. Sheesh!

For His World

We live in a world defined by depravity. Just try to find a television show you wouldn’t mind watching with Jesus plopped beside you on the sofa.

We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds with pornography and not face any consequences.

We believe we can speed and drive drunk and nothing will happen because we are somehow immortal.

We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously – bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes – all of these factor into the orb we inhabit. None of us can avoid some sort of tragedy during our lifetimes. It is part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to sometimes turn against us?

To remind us we are human and a better place does exist. Tornadoes will not touch heaven, nor will the sin of someone else force thorny consequences on families.

Heaven and an eternal existence with God is something we long for, live for and hope for. This world will someday disappear.

God wants to remind us he has planned for something better.

For Lovingkindness

This seems the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God.

That seems backward, an opposite world treatise. I do not believe we can ever second guess Almighty God.

But I do wonder… did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms instead of allowing them to live full lives because he knows their homes and their families will be bombed into oblivion and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent disaster by allowing a change in course?

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life, but I do know he has sometimes worked backward lovingkindness into my destiny.

Hindsight is always wiser than the present experience. God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job. Then he pointed me toward something better.

Unemployment was hard, but the next job was so much better for me and fit my giftings. My “Why?” question became God’s answer, “Just wait and see what I have for you.”

During that year of unemployment, I began writing a book that resulted in a trilogy and taught me how much fun fiction-writing could be.

How does Job 37:13 fit in with the journey of Alzheimer’s? Part of the answer has to include the world we live in.

The stresses, the electromagnetic fields around us that affect our brains, the ways we have destroyed our food chains and how we have polluted our water source, the chemicals we pour into our bodies that taste good  but end up affecting the brain.

All these worldly systems we have invented may contain a clue.

I hope God isn’t correcting me or any of my family members by allowing us to watch Mom suffer.

But I am willing to ask God to teach me through the process, to grow patience in me and hopefully – by sharing these words with you – to transfer hope within this blog.

As Reverend G so aptly says, “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

God is in control of everything, and when we cannot understand why – the best thing we can do – is run into his loving arms.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy

 

How to Celebrate a Character’s Life

Because characters are so essential to novels, writers spend hours developing character sketches, running personality assessments on pretend people and recording the information in a workbook or on a vision board.

Since 2010, I have developed the character of Reverend G. I have lived with the voice of this gutsy little minister inside my head and written from her viewpoint what it feels like to experience dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. Now that the final book is scheduled for release on August 21, I feel a sense of loss. Rev G 3 Cover

Reverend G fought Alzheimer’s with faith and hope, but she no longer wakes me up at four o’clock in the morning or reminds me that she wants to wear her long white braid draped over her left shoulder. She no longer scolds me when I am too tired to write down a piece of dialogue on the notepad beside my bed. She no longer challenges me to find just the right word that will describe how Zim – her word for Alzheimer’s – is stealing her away piece by piece.

Reverend G’s voice has gone silent.

So to acknowledge the loss and help me move on, my Saturday Sisters decided to initiate a memorial service.

Sat sisters - mem serviceThese sisters and I have done life together for over 20 years. We have prayed together, shared parenting tips and cheered for our Jayhawks. Except for me, they all live in Lawrence, Kansas.

A few weeks ago, I drove to meet them at our usual gathering place, to celebrate together the life and legacy of Reverend G. We began with an introduction and the Lord’s Prayer because this prayer provided an important plot twist at the beginning of Reverend G’s dementia symptoms.

Then I gave a summary of the character sketch, recalling how Reverend G has grown and changed since the first book and how readers told me they appreciated her strength, her faith and the way she honestly cries out to God with, “I can’t stand it!”

Each of the Saturday Sisters shared their favorite stories from the two previous books, then we read Reverend G’s favorite verses: Psalm 46:10, Psalm 43:5 and Psalm 91:1-2.

A sweet warmth permeated the room as we sang two of Reverend G’s favorite songs: “Let It Be” by the Beatles and the wonderful old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” To round out the musical selections, we harmonized through a few verses of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Then we prayed for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as the caregivers who patiently listen to the same stories repeated over and over and watch their loved ones regress into childhood.

We prayed for my mom and for the other moms represented around the table, sad that we can no longer “just call Mom” when we have a problem, grateful for the years we shared yet grieving for the fading away of relationships as our mothers now sometimes forget us.

After our prayer, it was time for the luncheon. Don’t we always follow the sorrow of memorial services with the sustenance and fellowship of food?

The menu included tuna balls (in honor of Gabriel, Reverend G’s cat), cowboy caviar, gluten free blueberry muffins, Reverend G’s blueberry salad, the choice of raspberry or plain lemonade and for dessert – of course – Chunky Monkey ice cream.rev g memorial lunch

My precious Saturday Sisters spent a day encouraging me, believing that the character God and I created had made an impact on the lives of my readers.

When we hugged goodbye – it was with joy and hope that someday Alzheimer’s will be defeated and no one will ever forget their loved ones again.

Although Alzheimer’s still destroys pieces of my mother’s brain and my family still walks through this journey of forgetting – I can now – as a writer – move on.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Stage 6 of Alzheimer’s – Back to Childhood

As told by Reverend G …

My mother came to visit me last night, and we made sugar cookies together. Then this morning, she was gone and Chris told me it was a dream.

I think he is wrong. It was too real to be a dream.

Psalm 56-3-4When I was a child, I thought like a child. Now that I am an adult with Alzheimer’s, I still think like a child. I would give anything to start my life over and be a child again – a real child – not this fake, pretend sometimes-adult-sometimes-child personhood.

Chris brushes my hair and tries to braid it, because I have forgotten how to weave the strands in and out, up and under.

My mother does the best job with my hair and tonight, I will ask her to fix it for me.

When I was a child, just yesterday I think, I wanted to stand in front of people and tell them about God. I’m not sure if I ever did that, but that boy, my son – he said I used to preach.

I hope I did it well as I cannot remember any subjects I might have preached about.

The only thing I do remember is what I am reading now in my Bible. It is from a book with a funny name, Psalms. The numbers are 56:3 and 4, “When I am afraid, I will put my confidence in you. Yes, I will trust the promises of God. And since I am trusting him, what can mere man do to me?”

The nurses do funny things to me as they bathe me and try to coax me to eat. I don’t like those little brown cookies with vanilla pudding on top. Too mushy. I like little blue rocks…some kind of berries…on top of Chunky Monkey ice cream.

But no matter what they feed me, somewhere inside me is the God I trust. And since the Bible says I don’t have to be afraid … then that’s what I will hang on to.

Even when I cannot brush my own hair, I will keep my confidence in the God I can trust. He will not let me down.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – http://bit.ly/1RH27AT

Stage 4 of Alzheimer’s – Diagnosis

As told by Reverend G …

So Doc Sanders tells me I have dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. The prognosis includes a gradual regression into childhood and someday, somebody will have to take care of my basic needs because I won’t be able to.Psalm 43-5

Well, God … this is not a happy thought. I’m just being honest and telling you that I can’t stand this.

How in the world can I continue to serve you and be your light that shines in dark places, that helps people see the love of God – if I can’t even take care of myself.

This is really a terrible situation. I can’t stand it.

My son doesn’t understand and he’s angry about it. I have to resign from my pastorate, sell all my earthly goods and go live in assisted living.

Again … I don’t understand why this has happened. None of my ancestors suffered from Alzheimer’s – at least I can’t remember if they did. Oh, I made a joke. Ha!

I can still remember my mother’s face and the little house where I grew up, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch today or yesterday or the day before.

That is common, Doc says. I will forget today and remember far into yesterday – for a while. Someday I will forget even the most basic of survival skills such as: how to eat, how to swallow, how to tie my shoes.


Somewhere in all of this, God, there must be a lesson. Somewhere in all of your plan, I know there is a spectrum of light, a chrysalis that will someday burst into goodness.


I cannot see it, but you can. Oh, God, my God, help me.

Another of your servants, King David, felt discouraged as well. He fashioned a formula for himself and the rest of us when he wrote, “Hope in God for I will yet praise him” (Psalm 43:5).

The Yet Factor. I will yet find something to praise you about in all of this mess. I will yet find a way to seek hope and reach for the light when I don’t understand. I will live in the yet because that is where faith resides.

And even though this diagnosis is not what I wanted to hear, it is no surprise to you, God. You are faithful. You will be with me throughout this journey, and I will yet praise you.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – http://bit.ly/1RH27AT

7 Stages of Alzheimer’s

In a recent Facebook post, I mentioned that my mother is slipping into Stage 5 of Alzheimer’s. Some of my followers  asked me, “What are the stages and how do they manifest in our loved ones?”

7 Stages of AlzSo I’ve decided to answer that question with a series of blog posts about the 7 Stages. Each week, we’ll look at the next consecutive stage – but not totally from a scientific point of view.

My journey into the world of Alzheimer’s has included my mother’s disease but also the viewpoint of a special lady – Reverend G.

These posts will include Reverend G’s personal experiences and her thoughts through each consecutive stage.

Also, each post will end with a Bible verse that Reverend G hangs on to during that stage. She is, after all, an ordained minister and her faith is important to her – no matter what is happening to her brain.

As we move closer to the book launch for the third book in the series, “Final Grace for Reverend G,” I’ll also include some videos to help my followers understand each stage of the journey.

So to introduce the series, here are the 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s – as Reverend G experiences them – with a bit of scientific information from my research. I hope you’ll join me on this series of posts and share them with your friends.

Stage 1: Preparation. No cognitive decline is present, but a sense that Reverend G doesn’t feel exactly well and wonders what is going to happen. She believes God is preparing her for something in the near future. Isaiah 43: 2-3.

Stage 2: Questions. A small amount of forgetfulness is present, but nothing that impairs life. One example is when Reverend G forgets a line from “The Lord’s Prayer.” This is the stage where “The Unraveling of Reverend G” begins. Isaiah 48:2.

Stage 3: Fear. Something is definitely wrong and life is beginning to seem more difficult. Early confusion sets in. Reverend G loses an entire carton of Chunky Monkey ice cream. Fear is a constant companion. Psalm 34:4.

Stage 4: Diagnosis. Reality confirms the diagnosis as more and more confusion affects Reverend G. Handling finances becomes more difficult and while short-term memory begins to fog, long-term memory is still coherent.

This is the stage where most families begin to consider assisted living arrangements. Reverend G begins to accept what is happening to her. Psalm 43:5.

Stage 5: Early Dementia. Reverend G no longer cares about time or the days of the week. She has difficulty counting backwards although she still knows the names of her loved ones. She still enjoys eating cheesecake with blueberries but she may have some trouble tying her shoelaces or making decisions about what to wear.

She may have dreams that seem real, although they just confuse her further. Her comment appears often, “Oh God, oh God – I can’t stand it.” Reverend G lives through Stages 4 and 5 in “Intermission for Reverend G.” Hebrews 13:5b.

Stage 6: Back to Childhood. Severe cognitive decline as Reverend G is now entirely dependent for her survival. She experiences expressive aphasia as speech become more difficult.

Her beloved Chris is with her and her family remains a source of comfort, but she has forgotten major events and the seasons of the year mean nothing to her. Time has virtually disappeared.

She does know her own name, but others will have to help her with daily living. At this point, she is relying on God to keep her faith strong, because she has no cognitive ability to comprehend what the Bible says, even though she may be able to recite some passages or find comfort in music.

“Final Grace for Reverend G” begins at the end of Stage 5 and continues through Stage 7. Psalm 56:3-4.

Stage 7: The Race is Won. In this final stage, Alzheimer’s patients are virtually infants. All speech is gone. Feeding and toileting need assistance. They lose the ability to walk and are bedridden.

Reverend G is visited by family and friends, but it is God’s faithfulness that continues to sustain her.

As the author, I wrote Reverend G with some ability to comprehend thoughts although she can no longer voice them. The deep viewpoint was the tool I used because I wanted to show what we cannot know – how the Alzheimer’s patient can still feel love and experience faith.

This is where final grace becomes most important. John 14:3.

So these are the stages of Alzheimer’s, told from the viewpoint of our beloved Reverend G.

In the end, with final grace, even a fictional character can help us understand that once we belong to God – he will never, ever let us go.

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

When Obedience Spawns Hope

Have you ever told God, “No!”

How did that work out for ya’?

Why-Who quoteTen years ago, God nudged me to write a book about the Biblical character, Abigail. He especially wanted me to focus on the fact that Abigail lived in an abusive marriage yet was strong enough to do what was necessary to save her household.

So I began writing the book, grateful for such a directed assignment. Then the divine whispered, “It’s a novel.”

I reminded God, “I don’t do fiction. For 30 years, I’ve written nonfiction.”

So after I researched all the material, I wrote a nonfiction book about women in abusive marriages with Abigail as the focus and completed the book in record time.

But I couldn’t sell it. No publisher wanted it, even though I knew it was a timely subject. The book’s pages sat unread in a box in my office. It must have been practice, I told myself.

Several years later, I woke up with a story in my head that I could not ignore because the core of it involved Alzheimer’s – the horrid disease that tormented my mother and was stealing her from us.

Within six months, the book was finished and a publisher wanted it. “The Unraveling of Reverend G” led to the second book, “Intermission for Reverend G.” The third and final book in the series will be released this year, and I’m still amazed that three novels are now in my credits.

Perhaps God birthed those words in me to teach me that I could indeed write fiction when he equipped me to do it.

Psalm 51:10 ends with the plea to “Renew a right spirit within me.” That right spirit includes being willing to follow God’s call, no matter what it involves.

For a writer, the willing spirit sometimes means stepping outside my comfortable routine and inviting a new genre or even a different focus than what I originally planned.

Writing the Reverend G books taught me that God knows more about my creativity than I do. He knows where the words originate within because he is the Word. And he knows how to pry them out of me, even when I’m not willing to let him weave it his way.

It’s a good reminder that our gracious God knows the end of the book and also how to make sure it happens. Even the willing spirit necessary for the author is a gift from his generous heart.

I’m glad for God’s patience with me and for his grace to give me another chance. When I’m afraid to say, “Yes” to those divine nudges, he grabs my hand and carefully guides me in the right direction.

Oh – and the Abigail book? I’m now revising it – as a novel.

I think I’ve learned an important lesson.

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

 

Promoting Our Words

As a published author, one of my duties includes marketing and promoting my book. I do this through social media, through speaking events and through this blog. I also work hard to find new outlets for my book and use every tool imaginable to market the words I write.3D Rev G cover

Sometimes it seems as if I’m trying to push myself on other people, just for the purpose of sales. I hate that. But the truth is…I worked hard to write my book, and I feel the words have meaning and purpose. I want the message about faith while dealing with Alzheimer’s to spread across the globe.

The main reason Christian authors work so hard is to promote the truth of the Gospel. Yes, of course, we want our books to sell as we continue to publish our words. Yes, of course, we want readers to ask for more. We long for agents, publishers and distributors to beg us for another book.

But the main purpose is the message. Always. We want more sales, because that means more and more people read about Jesus.

In our nonfiction, they find encouragement in their faith journey. In our fiction, they place themselves into the story and root for the hero or heroine, while waiting to see how faith impacts the outcome of the book.

In articles, poems, scripts – all sorts of genres, Christian writers become messengers of the Light as we hope and pray that somewhere in that vast configuration called the internet – someone reads the truth and finds peace.

As authors, we know that sometimes you tire of reading our promotional material. You skip over our Facebook posts because you’ve seen them before. We understand.

But we also hope that someone new sees the post for the first time. Maybe that person will buy our books, turn to a page that counsels her about God’s love and find the answer to her questions.

Whether our readers find us through books, blog posts or tweets, we thank God when we market His message and send it into the world.

Someday I hope to meet a soul in heaven who read my book and found it encouraging, helping him or her through the dark ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Someday I hope a reader sends me an email and says, “You helped me find my way back to God.” Someday I want to meet that great crowd of witnesses who cheered me on as I sat for hours in my cold office and typed out the words that burned in my heart.

This is why Christian writers promote our work. It’s because at the core of it all, we’re marketing Jesus Christ and his message of love.

We do it for Him, and we do it for you.

©2013 RJ Thesman