When Alzheimer’s Affects Hope

She is not the same person I once knew. My mother — the strong, outspoken, active woman who raised three children. Often harsh in her strict disciplinary practices, she was just as hard on herself.

But it was resilience that moved her from childhood poverty to a successful nursing career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life.

Until the Long Goodbye struck and Alzheimer’s changed her personality.

I do not remember many smiles on my mother’s face. But now, she sits in a wheelchair with a constant grin, revealing the gaps where teeth once anchored.

She knows no one, so every greeting is new. She bears no burdens, because she prepared well. Others handle all the stresses of life. A Bible rests on her lap, but she cannot locate her favorite verses.

She is deaf, so communication is handled with a white board. But she cannot respond. No longer writes even the simplest of sentences. She answers “Yes” or “No” to written questions.

Yet her smile remains. Her visage content. One day just like the next.

In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren admits that some seasons in life might include a variety of afflictions — Alzheimer’s being one of them.

Warren notes that Jesus cared about those who bore chronic pain and constant affliction. He healed some. Left others to return to the leper colony, the sick bed, the beggar’s spot near busy markets.

Warren surmises that God Himself “Suffers with the alcoholic, the homeless kid, the Alzheimer’s patient, the bipolar client in a manic spell.”

God sits with us in our pain, understands our need for companionship and offers His hand of comfort as we struggle.

Perhaps my mother smiles within her shadows because she feels One beside her. Maybe she even sees her Savior on a spiritual level the afflicted ones know so well.

Perhaps her contentment comes from knowing He counts down her days and will never leave her. Maybe the personality change is more of a deeper level of partnership — of two souls acquainted with grief and the sorrows of life yet looking forward to a better place.

Within that possibility, I find hope as I stare at the pictures of this unknown woman — this version of the mother I once knew.

Perhaps in a strange way, this is her best season, her days of intimate knowing and divine purpose. Her night that will lead to a brighter day.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For essays about caregiving, check out Sometimes They Forget: Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

Hope Sees the Women

The idea came in the middle of a Sunday School class — BC — before COVID. We were reading through Genesis 11 when I suddenly stopped.

Here was the tale about a young boy, Lot, who was taken from his mother and transported to another location.

For reasons we are not told, Terah (father of Abram) decided to move from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan. Perhaps he wanted to escape the idolatry of his community or maybe he felt restless and needed a change. His son, Haran, had died. Maybe Terah needed to leave the land that represented so much grief. Yet he chose to take only Abram and his wife, Sarai, plus his grandson, Lot.

But what of Lot’s mother, Haran’s wife? Nowhere is she mentioned. Her absence with this small band of travelers feels stark. What would convince this mother to let her son traipse off into a foreign land with his grandfather, uncle and aunt?

The answer lies in the story of another invisible woman, Lot’s mother, who we will call Rhondu (Excerpt from The Invisible Women of Genesis).

The untold story of this woman haunted me, so I began research. But nothing was told about Rhondu, no reasons behind her abandonment.

Then I began to find other women who were behind the scenes. Women who played important roles in the story yet were not honored — often not even named.

The patriarchal structure of scripture and the cultural significance of males buried these women under layers of historical fact.

Yet I know for certain that God loved these women and planted them in particular places and times to move His story forward.

And I know for certain that women are an equally important part of sharing God’s love with the world today.

Yet many are still invisible.

So I wrote a book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. But I wanted even more justice and wondered how to begin the conversation to make sure women are seen. I came up with a few ideas:

> Be more alert and aware of the role of women in today’s world. Male pastors get the attention standing behind the pulpit, but it was probably a female assistant who typed his sermon in readable form. How many other jobs within the church institution are performed by unseen women?

> When I address letters, I no longer use Mr & Mrs with only his name. I use both names: John & Mary Smith. Sometimes I feel radical enough to write her name first: Mary & John Smith.

> Listen to the stories of the invisible women around us: the she-ro who stays up late to launder clothes and prepare tomorrow’s meals, the she-ro who prays for the prodigal child who ignores her, the she-ro who never found the perfect mate and is left out of multiple gatherings, the she-ro who is denied human rights and education, the single mom she-ro, and countless others.

To all the invisible women, God says, “I see you. I have tattooed your name on the palm of my hand. I will never forget you. Someday I will clothe you with a royal robe, place a crown on your head and usher you into my kingdom. You are never invisible to me. You are my bride, my beloved, my beauty.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about invisible women, check out The Invisible Women of Genesis – available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in the Hidden Treasures

Once a week, I click onto HGTV and watch a couple of favorite DIY shows. One is Home Town with Ben and Erin Napier. They are transforming their home down of Laurel, Mississippi, by renovating old homes. It’s a fun show with lots of creative ideas.

My other current fave is Good Bones, another redesign of a town — Indianapolis — with a mother and daughter team. Mina is the driving force behind each project while Karen, the mother, is a creative artiste a la retired lawyer.

One of the reasons I like Good Bones is because one of the stars is in my demographic. It’s encouraging that a mature woman is able to power through a wall with a sledgehammer or kick through slats to open a space.

The other reason I like Karen is because she is always finding hidden treasures.

When each segment begins, Karen and Mina tour a nasty old house, dreaming of ways to redesign it and sell it for a profit. Some of these houses have become shelters for hoarders or for squatters. Some are incredibly nasty. I can almost smell the horror of those bathrooms filled with — well, you can imagine.

But Karen searches through the junk and often finds an old window, a piece of furniture, a tapestry, an antique bottle, even a musical instrument. She takes them home, in spite of Mina’s insistence to throw them away, and restores them to their original luster. Then she returns the treasure to the house as a gift to the new homeowner.

I love the idea of restoring what was considered trash. In fact, I’ve done the same myself. Dumpster diving in a college town often produced treasures my son and I could use after we cleaned them, fixed broken screws or painted something a new color.

But hope joins the restoration process when we seek to find the hidden treasures all around us. Even daring to look for treasures within our own souls.

  • What is a treasure we can find from the traumas of 2020?
    • more time with family
    • working from home
    • safety in our own four walls
    • a commitment to do life differently when everything opens.
  • How can we look for treasure in each other?
    • accept differences of opinion
    • embrace diversity
    • guard the hearts of those who are disrespected.
  • What are the concrete treasures we can find around us and restore them to dignity?
    • an autumn leaf to frame
    • stones that become art – like a cat made out of rocks
    • native grasses to bring inside and feature in a pottery vase
  • How does God remind us we are his treasures?
    • By giving us a verse for a particular moment
    • by sharing his presence through music or nature
    • by keeping us in a constant state of readiness for heaven
    • by strengthening us through one struggle so we can meet the next one

Someone at a writers conference once told me I was a treasure. It took me a while to journal through that compliment and fully accept it.

But it IS true. Each of us is a treasure to God and to the people in our personal world. Each human being is a treasure no matter what the gender, the skin color or the choice of political platform.

As we look for the treasures around us, let’s be more cognizant of how we can share hope with each other.

Let’s strive for restoration rather than trashing another. Let’s build on how people and things were originally created and work to make them even better.

Let’s find hope in the hidden treasures.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these invisible women who were NOT treasured. Then find ways to treasure others. The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Survives with the Women of Passion Week

She is often condemned as the woman who worked too hard to create a hospitable atmosphere. Martha, the sister who kept everything together to serve Jesus and his disciples.

Legend tells us Martha was a wealthy widow, the homeowner of her Bethany villa. She provided housing for her siblings and a place of retreat for her guests.

Martha had a special relationship with the Master, so the events of Passion Week would have greatly impacted her. How would she have reacted to the news coming from Jerusalem?

When the messenger rushed into my villa, I could not at first believe his words. “Jesus is dead. Crucified by the religious leaders and the mob.”

Dead. This gentle Teacher who changed our lives when he brought Lazarus back to life.

How I remembered the depths of our grief as Mary and I buried our little brother. The virus that killed Lazarus was so severe and quick, none of the doctors knew how to treat it. Yet we were certain Jesus could save him.

But the Master hesitated, waited four days while we prepared our brother’s body and walked behind his bier to the family tomb.

When Jesus finally appeared, I dared to confront him, accused him of not caring enough. “I know you could have saved him. Where were you?”

To this day, I remember the iconic mixture of emotion in his voice, his own grief at the tragedy of death. Yet in his eyes, a spark of joyous surprise I would not understand until later. When he called out, “Lazarus, come forth” and welcomed our brother back to the land of the living.

Now Jesus Himself had experienced that darkness, the cessation of life and the journey to the netherworld. His breath stilled. His skillful hands emptied of life’s pulse.

Why did not the Father rescue him from the cross? Was this merely another hesitation by a God who knew more about life and death, how a seed must die in order to produce amazing fruit?

I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders. The chill of early spring greeted me as I trudged toward the hill. Crocus sprouted among the rocks. The promise of life after the death of winter.

As I scrambled up the rocky hillside toward our tomb, I cried out with gratitude. “Thank you, God. My brother no longer lies here, rotting in the dust. My sister thrives, and I am healthy. We are blessed with the gift of life.”

Yet our Savior was dead. Who would care for his body, wrap him in linen and anoint the wounds that killed him? Would he have a place to lie under the stars where his followers could visit him? Should I travel to the holy city and offer my services?

Then a whisper, a remembered phrase the Master comforted me with just before he raised Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes will also live.”

And suddenly, I knew. The raising of Lazarus was more than an act of life, a rescuing of Mary and me from the ravages of grief, a chance to start over for our beloved brother.

It was a foreshadowing of what would happen later — not only for the Master but also for all of us who believed. Death was not the end, but only a stepping-stone into the next world. A place of infinite blessing and good, a realm where death and sickness, crucifixion or martyrdom could never win.

I ran back to the house, suddenly filled with a desire to prepare the best foods, clean the villa and straighten up the guest rooms. Perhaps the Master would visit Bethany again, show us another example of renewal and revival. Whatever the schedule he might keep, I had no doubt we would see him again.

Three days later, another messenger ran up our hill and rapped on the door. I met him there, saw his flushed face and grasped his shoulders.

“Tell me. What has happened?”

He gasped for breath, then spouted the words, “His disciples . . . they have seen him. The Master . . . is alive.”

Of course he is. I believe.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about the Women of Passion Week, check out my book available on Amazon.

Finding a Hope-filled Friendship

They are older than I by a decade. White hair, wisdom lines on their faces. Walking a bit slower these days.

Yet whenever we meet, I suddenly feel a shared surge of their energy. Not physical, but spiritual. Hope-filled protons of life.

We usually meet once a month for a special meal at Cracker Barrel. Even during COVID-19. Especially during COVID-19.

We stay away from topics of politics or anything ugly confrontive. Yet we can be honest with each other. Disagree. Add another viewpoint to the conversation.

We update each other on the cares and needs of family. Our children always top of the list. Their grandchildren added to the ladder of conversation.

We eat good food, and we laugh a lot. Even during COVID-19. Especially needed during a pandemic that changed how we do life.

Sometimes we talk about the past — how we met in 2006. Memories of work shared, of prayers answered.

Lean in to their hugs. Especially during a pandemic with a shortage of touch.

When I have theological questions, I ask them first. Anything in my writings that might need clarified. They give honest answers. Ask why I am writing on a certain topic. Wonder when the latest book will be published. Their names have appeared numerous times on my Acknowledgements pages.

Through the years, they have attended most of my book-signings. Bought books for their family and friends. Or for someone who needs the words God has given me.

I know with a certainty they pray for me. I feel it, especially when writing is hard. When the words need to be pulled from my soul by a Wordsmith greater than I.

After we meet, I always feel better. Re-energized to work on that elusive novel or organize another writing craft book. Meet with my clients and offer them accountability. Hope for their words. Believe once again that God is faithful.

The last time we met, I hurried home to pray. To thank God for their hope-filled friendship through the years. And to ponder the question, What is it about this lovely couple that fills me with hope and energizes me to live abundantly?

They encourage freely. Never a word of condemnation. None of the spiritual and verbal abuse so common on social media from people who should know better. No negativity of any kind.

They search for the positives. A difficult time gives opportunity to find the silver lining. A doctor’s appointment brings the comment, “Everything will work out fine.” The struggles of 2020 germinate into reasons to “Rejoice always. And again, I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

They fully trust a higher power. When I express my struggles, they remind me how God is already ahead of me. The loving twinkle in her blue eyes. The ready smile on his face. The statement, “God already knows the answer” a balm to my troubled soul.

They meet my needs. Although I am not starving, a good meal tastes wonderful. Taking home a box of leftovers will remind me to stay in hope the next day and the next. Filling my belly for a complimentary lunch nurtures the aloneness in me. Reminds me someone cares.

They mentor me. When I look back after each meeting, I see how they have taught me something more. How their belief rubs off on me. How they have shared another spiritual nugget so that I can learn. Be better. Live better.

Someday our special lunches will end. One or all of us will leave this earth for a better place. Those who are left will grieve yet rejoice, feel joy for the beauty of what the missing one knows.

But for now, these friends fill a place of emptiness for me. I am grateful for the hope they share, for the joy of being together now and then.

And I hope to someday fill such a place for a younger human I will meet. To be that living hope we all need. To share in holy moments of encouragement.

To teach by example and live by loving another.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Feeling the need for a nugget of hope? Check out Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking about changing expectations. By now, we both expected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for — free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • 2.5 grandchildren
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on — the whole happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money safely tucked away in trusts and investments
  • Trips planned and enjoyed at least twice / year
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee, tea, some sort of chocolate treat (obviously BC – before COVID)
  • The certainty that our lives had impacted people / that we had made a difference in somebody’s world
  • The blessings of the abundant life
  • Looking forward to the next family gathering / maybe a vacation in the mountains or near the beach

Instead, we were both experiencing the following:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betrayed us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of facing life alone
  • Close friends and multiple family members now lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • The over-used word “unprecedented” now a descriptive of daily life
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize or hunker down for whatever comes after COVID
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • A gray sense of despair
  • Watching blessings happen to others / not so much to us

These were supposed to be the Golden Years. Not so golden. Not even gold-plated.

Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through? When what we were promised has not happened?

Simple, yet tough.

Stop looking at the outcomes. Results don’t always describe the journey’s intention.

We are living in the hyphen years, that space on gravestones between birth date and death. We cannot know the impact of the hyphen until eternity.

When we meet those we never knew. Perhaps a reader who found a particular blog post or book we wrote impactful. Maybe another person in despair who saw our smile and decided to live another day.

Perhaps that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who watched us live and learn, grow and fail. They cheered us on. Their whispers merely a nudge in our souls.

Since we cannot know our true impact, we can only trust Abba God for the results. Even when the outcomes look so different from what we expected.

When the answers are not what we want to hear. When life does not match up with our expectations. When we tend to focus on what did NOT happen. When we live in the gloom of unanswered prayers.

That is when we must trust hard. To focus instead on the Who rather than the What.

The Who that says:

  • I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.
  • I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening right now.
  • I AM helping you through this mess, one day, one moment at a time.
  • I AM going to meet every need. Just wait for me.
  • I AM still loving you. Nothing will ever stop my loving you.
  • I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.
  • I AM.

So when the days seem longer than 24 hours, when the expectations fizzle, keep holding on to hope. Check out this video for a dash of strength. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-HIKxnSZSA

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a few moments of hope, check out my newest e-book Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Embraces Self-care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care affected my thought processes.

It has taken me so many years to believe and write this truth. But one purpose of a blog is to be forthright and honest, even vulnerable. So here goes my truth:

Self-Care is a valid spiritual discipline.

Many of us have been taught — dare I say “programmed” — to believe that any type of self-care is selfish, prideful, a sin. Taking care of ourselves feels somehow “less than.”

We believe if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual and worthy of heavenly treasures. If we are utterly exhausted, we have completed our earthly journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we have learned how to love and care for ourselves.

And we cannot truly love ourselves until we search under the detritus of other-care to find our lonely souls.

But we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. So we live like the walking wounded, zombie-like versions of who God created us to be. We do for others all the time, sign up to volunteer at various places b/c they have needs and we think we must meet those needs.

Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But Abba God has never asked us to kill ourselves, even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist once complimented me on some choices I made. To replace some old towels with new ones in the lovely colors I enjoy. To schedule a mani/pedi for myself on Valentine’s Day. Just because.

“Both of those decisions are self-care,” she said.

I did not even realize I was taking care of myself. But when I stepped back and saw the basis of these choices as self-care, they felt good. No condemnation. No drama and no guilt.

The beginnings of self-care happen by setting healthy boundaries, by daring to take care of ourselves and saying, “No” to anything that tries to break through those boundaries.

The first boundary is skin. Protecting our physical bodies is the first line of defense. Anything or anyone who violates that boundary is unsafe.

The second boundary is time. This area is where so many of us who have ministered to others fail. We make ourselves available 24/7, refuse to take breaks or even the PTO the job offers so that we can help meet the needs of hurting others.

We don’t see how we are actually harming ourselves.

The third boundary is more subtle, the area we bury until one day we wake up and realize we have lost our true destiny. This boundary is the soul. We ignore soul-care, letting time and other needs dominate.

But the soul is the basis of who we are. We cannot grow without its strengthening. We cannot truly be ourselves without listening to its needs.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way underscores the importance of artist dates. To go somewhere by yourself and for yourself. Not to do anything for anyone else or meet some sort of deadline. But just to be and enjoy the beauty of art around you.

A walk through the arboretum – not during this cold snap of course – but later in the calendar. Browsing through fuzzy yarns and fun crafts at Hobby Lobby. Maybe a late-night or early-morning ice cream run. I can vouch for the Queen of Hearts flavor at Sylas & Maddy’s.

One of my clients introduced me to the coffee shop and serenity of Family Tree Nursery. During Christmas, their trees were so lovely. I plan to go back for some writing time. Or maybe to dream about my spring garden plans. Or maybe just to sip a chai and take care of my soul-self.

I am putting together a list of things I want for myself in these late-in-life days, how I can spend my time just enjoying the moments and being myself, where I can rediscover the root of my dreams.

If that sounds selfish, well — I don’t care. Don’t judge me. I have spent a lifetime in ministry helping others. It is okay to now help myself.

The definition of grace deletes the need for excess works to please God. Grace means accepting his love for me, then recycling that love into a deeper understanding of who I am. Once I am free from the legalism of having to do, I can then truly love others where they are and for who they are.

It is time to learn more about loving myself and find hope in the process. Perhaps you can comment on how you are doing the same.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest e-book: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.