When Hope Connects to Our Children

He was a drummer from the womb — usually around midnight. The kicking began with a steady rhythm and quickly accelerated. Boom! Bam! Boom Boom!

I knew he would have some sort of musical talent, and he would be a night person.

So it was no surprise when I handed my toddler son his first drum set – my best pots and pans with a wooden spoon. He took off with his own version of heavy metal percussion.

During the parent-teacher conference in first grade, his teacher gave me that look every parent dreads. “He uses his pencils and sometimes his fingers to beat on his desk.” She sighed heavily.

“Uh-huh. And the problem is?” We started looking for a drum instructor.

After a few lessons, he progressed through all the books, wore out several pairs of drumsticks and one or two instructors. “Definitely a musical prodigy. Definitely has amazing rhythm,” they said.

“Uh-huh.” For his next birthday, we bought him a genuine drum set.

Middle school enrollment meant organizing his schedule around band. Forget biology and algebra. The only reason my son went to school was to be with his friends and be in band.

During a concert highlight, he played a solo that brought a standing ovation. One of the premiere piano teachers in our community told me later, “His rhythm is impeccable. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Uh-huh. Thank you.”

During high school, marching band provided the perfect scenario for discipline, music and the opportunity to excel. He won a speed drumming contest, and his band won championships weekend after weekend.

I stood in the stands cheering and pointed out the drumline to everyone who would listen. “That’s my son – on the snare.”

He was asked to play with a small heavy metal band, so they had several gigs all over town and performed at The Battle of the Bands. They practiced out in the country, at the lead guitarist’s home.

Our neighbors were probably grateful, although no one ever complained about the constant beats coming from our house.

He probably could have applied for a music scholarship to college, but he chose to go a different direction. And that was fine — until the brain tumor diagnosis.

When the doctor said he would lose his hearing, everybody started praying. Have you ever prayed your guts out? Uh-huh.

And God was gracious. The first question I asked him in the ICU was, “Can you hear me?” It was a wondrous miracle when he motioned, “Yes.”

Life has continued for my precious son — sometimes filled with joys and other times with challenges. But his drums have always been his sense of identity, his place of belonging.

Until his best friend died. My Caleb joined the drumline to play at Ryan’s funeral. went through a severe bout of survivor guilt and grieved deeply. Then he stopped playing his drums.

For several years now, I have prayed Caleb would return to his music. I knew he missed his drums even though he never said so.

But music does that for us. It solidifies the rhythm of the soul so that when it is gone — we feel empty.

A couple of weeks ago, Caleb and his sweetheart became engaged. Maybe he felt it was time to leave the past behind. Or maybe he just felt like his world was suddenly right.

He ordered an electronic drum set and had fun setting them up, testing for the best sounds, hooking wires to the amplifier and re-arranging his bedroom.

He’s been playing every night. Great therapy after a day’s work, but also a workout. Good for his heart — physically and emotionally.

When I hear the beats, I smile and thank God. I know my son is happy, so that makes me happy.

When we’re happy, when we’re hanging on to hope — that makes our Father God smile. He enjoys the pleasures of his children, just as we humans do.

So during these days of so many challenges, it’s important to find that one thing that brings pleasure.

Whether it’s arranging flowers from the garden, revising an old recipe, playing a musical instrument, connecting hope to your children or writing a blog post — do something that brings you joy.

Then try to imagine God’s smile.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to write another blog post, maybe you need a plan. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

Finding Hope When Prayer Lags

prayer -woman-sunsetSometimes prayer comes easy and feels like a special connection with the Divine. The words flow with a spiritual electricity. We believe God has indeed heard us, and something miraculous will happen soon.

But other times we struggle to know what to say. The words stick in our throats, and God feels far away. We can’t even fully imagine how anything good can come out of this frustrating conundrum.

That’s where I am now. I don’t know how to pray for my mom.

She’s no longer in assisted living, not even in the Alzheimer’s unit. Now she lives in a bed in the nursing home wing, shares a small room with another woman we don’t know.

This situation is specifically what I prayed would never happen.

Mom is living, but not really. The pain from her twice-broken hip and a broken shoulder. Her right arm affected — her dominant side.

She cannot feed herself and doesn’t want to eat anyway. She fights those who try to get near, because every time they move her, the pain increases.

Add to this horrific scene the fact that none of us can be with her. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, her nursing home is still in Lockdown. The already isolated elderly are now imprisoned within solitary confinement.

Mom does not understand what’s happening in her world. She just feels the pain of loneliness and physical hurt.

Does she think we have abandoned her?

What kind of life is this? How should I pray?

So far, God has not chosen to free her from the pain. He has not come to her room, touched her broken limbs and made them whole again.

I often pray that he will be close to her, hold her near his gracious heart and whisper consolations only she can understand.

But I don’t know if he’s doing that, if he’s answering my prayers.

If I pray for her final healing, for complete release, I am asking God to stop her heart and take her to heaven — to end her suffering forever.

Yes, I have prayed those words. Then felt immediate guilt.

I don’t want to be an orphan. I don’t like this season of life. I hate that my mother is going through this — alone.

So how do I pray? How can I stay in hope when my prayer lags?

What is best for this woman who always wanted the best for me?

Scripture tells us that Jesus has a job in heaven. He, too, is working from his home. He’s praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

So I swallow my tears and ask him to pray for Mom.

And when I cannot even utter those words, I revise the last verse of “Away in a Manger” and hope God understands the cry of my heart.

Be near her, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay

Close by her forever and love her, I pray.

Bless now my dear mother in nursing home care

And take her to heaven to live with you there.”

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Acknowledges the Tears

crying manIn one week’s time, I heard two men apologize for their tears.

“I’m sorry,” they both said. “Give me a minute.” Then they hung their heads, as if afraid to let the rest of us see their breaking moment.

They were both on podcasts and couldn’t hear me yelling, “Don’t apologize for your tears. It’s okay to cry.”

In fact, health experts tell us tears and crying are essential to healthy bodies and souls. Allowing yourself to cry can:

  • Help you sleep better
  • Relieve any number of stresses
  • Release hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins
  • Fight bacteria
  • Lower blood pressure

Check out some of these benefits of crying.

But crying can also underscore our humanity. It proves we have been created part liquid, and we can be touched by multiple factors in life.

Having a good cry develops authenticity. It proves we are vulnerable to the circumstances around us and being vulnerable is okay. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real.

Letting the tears flow debunks the theory “real men don’t cry.” If they can’t cry, then how real are the rest of their emotions? Perhaps holding back those tears may lead to blocking off other feelings such as love, compassion and mercy.

In the current novel I’m writing, the main character is a man who has a crying scene. I interviewed several women and men on the reality of letting a man cry in print. One woman was glad her husband could cry in front of her. She felt it increased their sense of intimacy.

One of my male friends admitted he rarely cries, but when he allows himself to get away and let the tears flow — he eventually feels better.

Tears give off signals that we need support, that it’s okay to ask for help. Friendships are built on emotional support. Relationships cannot exist without it.

Finally, being able to cry proves we care. How many of us cried out, if only internally, with George Floyd when he called for his mother? How many healthcare workers cried with the dying in the ICU and shuddered as the numbers of dead climbed each day?

Or have we become so callused to the crises around us, we have numbed down our tears?

Apathy is a dangerous disease which eventually silences the heart’s compassionate center. Without tears, our souls become hardened. Without feeling, we grow into stone versions of ourselves. If we cease to cry, we prove we no longer care enough to release heart-felt compassion.

Babies cry to make their needs known, but also to strengthen their lungs and the quality of their breathing. Perhaps some of us need to become as a little child again, to find the strength in letting go.

If crying is something to be ashamed of, then why are tears so important to God? “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 TLB).

Since God responds to the cry of the heart, then it must be okay to let the tears fall — and refuse to apologize for such a natural act.

Perhaps the men I observed will someday realize the beauty and health involved in their tears. I hope they learn how to be authentic, to wail and weep if they need to, to be vulnerable about their feelings.

Maybe our world would be a better place if we all cried out.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Some of the essays in Sometimes They Forget speak about the tears of our family when the shadows of Alzheimer’s came to live with us.

What Not to Do During Lockdown

lockdown-5130295_640Credit for this blog post’s idea goes to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. During Lockdown, I discovered his church site and started watching some of his sermons.

Most of us have seen blog posts or participated in Zoom meetings about what to do during this Covid-19 crisis.

Multiple bulleted lists suggest new recipes, guidelines for teaching children at home or the proper way to make masks while we’re in Lockdown.

But what are some things we should NOT do? Here’s my list:

Don’t Overwatch the News. Sure, we need to stay informed about the Lockdown and reopening facts. But no matter which channels we watch, an overdose of the bad news brings with it gray shadows of discouragement.

Save your time and energy for something more positive. Stay away from the negative newsies.

Don’t Try to Figure It Out. With time and the writing of history books, blame will be placed on various entities and government administrations. We waste time and energy trying to figure out where this virus came from and how we can deal with it.

Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot always plan for the long-term. It’s only one day at a time, one whispered prayer at a time.

Don’t Let the Fear Win. We feel the insecurity and the unknowns of this invisible attack. But if we let the anxiety rule, we become emotionally sick.

Watch humorous videos, escape into a good book or visit online with family and friends. If the fear seems to be winning, call a pastor or a professional counselor.

As Pastor Furtick says, “Fear can ride in the car, but not drive.”

Don’t Do Something Impulsive. Crises take time to work through just as a virus must wear itself out or lose its ability to populate.

Give yourself time before initiating any impulsive decisions such as: moving to another country where the stats aren’t as deadly, eating or drinking compulsively, making any life-changing decisions.

Follow the advice of King David, “Rest in God and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a Amplified).

Be patient. Be safe. Be wise.

Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself. Even as the crisis wanes, personal hygiene will remain vital. Protecting ourselves from abuses of any kind and the stresses of over-work is still a major step toward good health.

Proper nutrition, keeping healthy routines, restorative sleep, a variety of positive activities, daily exercise — all these continue to be ways we can avoid our own personal crisis.

Don’t Stop Caring About Others. Lockdown and quarantine can become so self-absorbing, we can forget to love others as we love ourselves. Think about ways you can bless others in your neighborhood.

Take a meal to an elderly neighbor and leave it safely on the porch. Package up your favorite books to bless another reader. Write cards and letters to family members, even if they live in the same town. Phone a friend. Try one of the online recipes for thick, yummy brownies and share them with your neighbors.

Move relationally out of your own world and help your community. It will warm your heart and encourage others.

Don’t Try to Be God. Some people are already trying to interpret this virus as a spiritual message. Sure, God can use anything in life to teach us important lessons, but that doesn’t mean everything in life is our chance to preach to the masses.

Conspiracy theories based on random scriptures are already surging through the internet. As we grow closer to the 2020 elections, we’ll probably see more of these from both sides of the aisle, blaming various politicians for this pandemic’s tragic results.

Constrain your urge to interpret history through the lens of your denomination. Instead, follow the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love people. Period.

Don’t Lose Hope. Keep believing in positive outcomes and keep praying for those who are trying to help us — the leaders of local, state and national government, the scientists working on a vaccine, the frontline workers at every level.

Remember every sunset is followed by a new day, and God’s mercies refresh with each beginning.

Keep working on your creative endeavors, your job search, your personal relationships. Keep believing in a brighter future.

Covid-19 is called the invisible enemy. God is also invisible, but he’s still more powerful than this nasty virus.

When we stay in hope, we eventually defeat the enemies of our souls and ultimately — we win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My newest book is now in print and on Kindle. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

 

Hope-filled Observations During a Pandemic

One of my practices is to consider what I can learn from every circumstance. Since life-long learning is one of my core values, I look for the lessons in life.

Covid-19 by Alexandra Koch

Illustration by Alexandra Koch

The Covid-19 Pandemic provides a perfect scenario for observation. What can we learn during this time of global tragedy?

We Need Touch. Multiple studies have been completed about the need for touch. Babies cannot thrive without it. Relationships cannot be healthy without it.

Although I am not a touchy feely type of person, I have desperately missed hugs from friends, handshakes from new acquaintances, a friendly pat on the back.

It has been said that we need at least seven hugs/day to be healthy. I believe that statistic and crave its importance. As soon as we receive the all clear, I plan to touch others in appropriate ways and boldly ask for more hugs.

Buying in Bulk Saves Money. Many consumers saw what was coming before the final notice of Lockdown. Costco and Sam’s Clubs swarmed with shoppers. Toilet paper supplies dwindled.

As a raised-on-the-farm daughter, I learned this principle early. We stocked up for winter, because Oklahoma blizzards and closed roads were often a reality. Canned goods, frozen fruit, even the large packages of paper towels and toilet paper are on my usual shopping list.

But living in the city has made me a bit lazy. It was too easy to just hop in the car and go to the store. Never again!

Not only does bulk shopping keep us prepped for what might happen in the future, it does save money on gas, impulse buying or stopping for a treat since I’m out anyway.

I am now making my list for the next bulk shopping trip and plan for monthly trips rather than as-needed forays into the world.

Personal Freedom is Vital. My personal freedom is a core value which I treasure. Making my own plans with some sense of control helps me deal with life.

But with the lockdown came the cessation of choice. At first, I rebelled. You can’t tell me what to do. This isn’t Nazi Germany.

Then I realized by staying in lockdown for as long as possible, I was helping my country and my community stay healthy. The spread of germs could be eradicated if we all complied.

I could love my neighbor more fully by staying away from said neighbor.

Grateful I could work from home, I have stayed in and away from any places where large numbers of people shop. Occasionally, I drive to a fast food establishment [read Schlotsky’s] for a drive-thru salad I cannot make at home.

But how I have missed going to the library and browsing the shelves, checking out Half Price Books for the latest clearance items, sitting down at a nice restaurant and chatting with the waitress, joining with other worshippers at my church.

These will be the best of times once the lockdown is lifted.

When it is again safe to venture out, I will be racing to the library to stock up on more reading material and I will go out to eat with anyone who asks me.

We are Stronger Than We Think. Although I appreciate the sentiments of Tom Brokaw’s best-selling The Greatest Generation, this pandemic has revealed the greatness in every generation.

Heroes and She-roes are everywhere, and they have shown themselves to possess the strength necessary to meet this challenge.

  • The truckers who push past sleep-deprivation to make sure we have something on our shelves
  • The millennial IT workers who keep our internet connected. How could we have dealt with the isolation without cyberspace?
  • The healthcare workers on every level: in the ICU, those who make sure they have supplies, the often ignored cleaning staff, administrators who work the payroll and multiple clinic staff who continue to meet the needs of sick patients
  • The teachers who learned how to do online instruction within a weekend, then created new ways for their students to handle curriculum
  • The Boomer grandparents who filled in as baby-sitters when Mom and Dad sickened with the virus
  • The media who keep us informed about the latest trend in vaccines and suggestions from the top health experts
  • The 13 year-old boy who played taps outside the VA Hospital, in honor of soldiers who lost their final battle
  • The companies and individuals who donate RV’s so families can stay as close as possible
  • The celebrities who offer free concerts to keep the music flowing in our hearts

Books will no doubt be written about others who contributed to help us through this pandemic. But I am encouraged by the strength I have observed in people around the world.

Greatness is not defined by age or demographic but by virtue and the willingness to serve others.

A Positive Attitude is the Best Medicine. Hope is based on positive energy. Without it, we become melancholy miserables.

All over the internet, people leave positive messages. Humor is a common theme with memes making fun of our fetish for toilet paper. Videos of happier times. Scripture passages with swirly graphics. Multiple reminders that puppies, kittens and babies make us smile.

Sometimes, especially when I see the latest death toll, I have to grasp for that positive vibe and search for something to make me feel hopeful.

But it comes. Every. Single. Time. Somebody posts something good. We all help each other stay positive.

So in spite of the horrific losses, the families now plunged into the grief process, the small businesses that will have to rebuild, the governments that will have to answer hard questions of accountability — in spite of everything, hope has survived.

By the grace of God, we are getting through this and life will continue.

Hopefully, the next crisis will not find us unprepared but ready to be strong again and better equipped to help each other survive.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for more reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

mothers-day-1301851_1280This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I sent you a card. Hopefully, you will understand the words and remember who I am from my signature.

I wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t — please know I love you and celebrate this day with you.

I needed to write this letter as a tribute, because I am grieving at the slow disintegration of the woman you used to be.

Your Alzheimer’s journey has taught me to value each day, love fully those who are in my life and never forget to make that love known.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I understood how much of yourself you poured into us. More than just the meals, the activities and making chicken soup when we were sick.

I’m talking about the soul-giving that mothers extend to their children.

Everyone knows about the labor you endured during my birth, but you also labored with soul contractions throughout my growing up years.

You defended me when other kids or even adults said unkind things. You taught me how to make the perfect zwieback with just the right dimple on top where melted butter could pool inside. You showed me how to sew a perfect hem so no one except the two of us could see the stitches.

When you were bone tired from working at the hospital, you came home to make supper and still made it to my activities on time. Not once did you complain.

Thank you, Mom, for the late nights when I know you were on your knees for me. You poured out your soul to Almighty God and asked him to keep me safe. But at the same time, you were willing to let me go and let God do his work in my life.

You came to the hospital when I lost my baby — your first grandchild. Even now, I remember coming out of that anesthesia-induced haze. It was your hand that gripped mine, your tears mingling salty with mine.

These days, I grip your hand and try not to cry when you repeat the same questions over and over.

Experts have written about the unique bond between mothers and daughters. We depend on each other, fill a particular emotional need no one else can touch.

You taught me to love books, drove me to the library every week so I could check them out and devour them when I finished my chores. Then you provided the perfect example as you sat under the floor lamp and read your own stack of novels, mysteries and biographies.

Although you no longer comprehend the words, you still love to read — pouring over the same book hour after hour. Another of the sad effects of this demon Alzheimer’s.

You wanted to be a writer. I’m sorry that dream did not happen for you. Instead, you nourished it in me. You always insisted I use proper grammar and that I spend extra time revising school essays.

By assigning me chores, you taught self-discipline and a strong work ethic. I use that same self-discipline to complete books and continue posting each week on this blog.

You taught me how to save money by ignoring the impulses of peer pressure. You showed me how my value lies in who I am rather than in what I own.

Ahead of your time, you taught me women should think ahead and pursue a career, manage their own money and be prepared for whatever life hands us. You said it was okay to vote differently from my friends and even worship in a style different from the norm.

You taught me to think independently, to shush the fear and step into the world with self-confidence and courage.

Oh, you weren’t perfect, Mom. None of us are. But even then, you taught me perfection is not the goal and failure is not the end.

Rather, the goal is in the attempt and in the perseverance to try again. Then if we fail, we give ourselves grace, grieve a bit and go forward once again.

So, Mom — on this weekend of remembrance when people buy flowers and send cards, I want you to know you did a good job.

You brought me into the world and gave me the freedom to discover my purpose. You encouraged me to use my gifts and showed me it was okay to be radically independent.

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

Even though life has handed you this lousy disease, you’re still trying every day to put one foot before the other and learn contentment within your small room.

Above all, Mom, I thank you for being so brave and I love you for showing me how.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is taken from Sometimes They Forget – Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Finding Hope When Life Unravels

As I entered one of the big box stores, I knew time was fleeting. The local government officials had just closed all the restaurants. All major events canceled. How much longer would it be possible to buy food and necessary items?

The Coronavirus jack-knifed us into what felt like a pre-apocalyptic world. Empty shelves. Shoppers avoiding each other, keeping their social distance. Hygienic wipes in my pocket to kill the germs on my cart, my hands, the number pad.

What in the world happened to our comfortable norm? The virus and its effects showed us how fragile life can be.

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

Focus on God instead of the Problem. During other emotional apocalypses in my life, problems have seemed insurmountable.

A period of 14 months with no job and no unemployment insurance. Cancer scares for my son and me. The medical tests alone were enough to saturate our emotions with fear. A father dying slowly from dementia, a mother locked in the shadows of Alzheimer’s. Miscarriages. A toxic job environment. Multiple abuses over a lifetime.

When I was training to become a Stephen Minister, we were assigned the task of writing about the losses in our lives. I filled my 3×5 card front and back.

Another minister saw it and said, “You win.”

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

During each of those problems, every time I felt overwhelmed, I tried to focus on God rather than the situation. I filled my journal with all the attributes of God that I had personally experienced. My Bible was colored with highlighted verses about God’s love and care.

Sometimes I spoke out loud to the problem itself. “Go away. Leave me alone. I will trust in God.”

So that’s what I’m doing now, during this Covid-19 outbreak. I’m filling my journal with all the ways God is protecting us. My Bible reflects the colors of new highlighters and more verses talking about God’s loving care.

And sometimes I shout, “Go away, you filthy virus. Leave me alone fear. I am determined to trust in God.”

Focus on the Lesson rather than the Pain. It is so easy to complain about self-quarantine, to frown about the fact that I am in the “risky” demographic, to worry about the numbers of people dying.

But what can we learn from this situation? How can we turn it into a lesson?

We can pull out the old recipes Grandma used during the Great Depression. The creativity of those depression-era cooks came from a deep survival mode. When food was rationed and winter threatened, they learned how to add more water to the soup, how to make beans the main protein source.

We can do the same.

We are learning how to stay at home and be families once again. The kids are out of school. Teach them how to cook, how to clean a bathroom properly, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to change a flat tire.

Gather around the dinner table and learn more about each other. Sing a song. Dust off the board games and play together. Find out how beautiful family bonding can be.

I believe we will also learn how much we took for granted — before the Coronavirus shouted from every internet site.

How easy was it to just pull into a restaurant and order a meal? How many of us fell to the impulse of buying because the shelves were full of wondrous things?

Perhaps now we will be more grateful for the little we DO have. We will learn how it feels to truly be thankful.

Focus on the Future instead of the Present. Hope looks beyond the current problem toward an optimistic tomorrow.

One day, hopefully soon, this virus will wear itself out. We will dig out from our isolation bunkers and find freedom again.

We grieve the loss of so many dear souls today, but in the future — babies will be born, another generation will arise. Healthcare services will normalize, and we won’t be afraid to join groups.

Keep focused on what the new tomorrow will bring. Perhaps our “normal” will be completely changed for the better. Re-energized. More of a dominance on mercy, justice and how to walk humbly with our God.

When all this is over, we may save more for the next crisis and treat small business owners with more respect. Our leaders will keep in place the disaster plans other administrations toiled over. Nobody will hoard toilet paper, because it will no longer be the domineering purchase.

We will be glad to see each other, hug more, appreciate church leaders and healthcare workers who continued to meet the needs.

And the news cycles will underscore baseball games, fashions of the new season and the pride we take in our people. He-roes and She-roes will emerge from this crisis, and we will make more commitments to keep family together, to help one another each day.

One of the verses in my Bible is highlighted, then colored over with another hue, then framed in black ink. I have returned to it multiple times. It has become my mantra when life unravels.

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Lenten Season is a time to focus on the Future – on the promise of Resurrection. Who were the women during that period of history? Check out The Women of Passion Week and discover new stories of courage.