Hope Finds a Relationship

This series about the Saturday Sisters cannot end without a post that features Deb. Although I have written about her numerous times since that horrible day she died – she is still included when the Saturday Sisters meet.Debby

Susan makes the guacamole Deb loved. Janet often dresses the table with the quilt Deb made for her.

Although we have reassigned seats, the place where Deb sat still holds her presence. We still consider her one of the Sisters, mainly because of her gift to us – relationship.

Judging from the number of people who attended her funeral, Deb’s gift for relationship flowed beyond our circle.

Simply put, she knew how to relate to others. It wasn’t always an easy relationship, but even then – Deb knew how to work through the differences.

None of us were ready for her death. None of us ever imagined it might happen and that she would be taken from us so quickly. We all experienced those first days / weeks / months of blessed shock that protected us for a while from intense pain.

And on the one year anniversary of her death, we met again to toast her life and remember what she meant to us.

My therapist tells me the end of relationships is the reason so many elderly people are depressed. Because when they lose someone they have loved for a lifetime, they know time will not allow them to ever replace that friendship. They simply don’t have enough years left.

As if Deb could ever be replaced. Not happening.

Deb and I often took trips together – to test the relationship, to see if we could at some point live together and share expenses.

We had our moments. I am a morning person. Deb was awake long after I was in bed. I am a scheduler, a planner. Deb was spontaneous.

We added flavor to each other even as we learned to compensate for our differences.

The strangest confrontation we ever had was during our trip to New Mexico. We were in Red River, that lovely mountain town where Deb played her Native American flute from our balcony. People gathered to ooh and ah at the sound as it echoed off the mountains.

In the grocery store that night, we each bought snacks. Then Deb said, “Put them in the same sack. We’ll save a bit of plastic to protect the environment.”

For some reason, it bothered me not to have my own sack. I have been independent for years, so to have someone else tell me what to do with my stuff – well – that just wouldn’t fly.

I know. It sounds so stupid now.

But we left the store with only one sack between us. Deb immediately sensed something wrong, and we worked through it. We talked it out of our systems. I admitted to being foolish and selfish. She confessed to assuming I would agree with her.

The main issue was to keep our relationship trustworthy and intact. Which we did.

She always found a way to reach my soft spot, buried beneath the scars of years without trust.

And that’s what I miss the most. The action of relationship. Her voice on the phone. Her face at my door. Her cats on my lap and her smile when she knew we were on the same telepathic wavelength.

Someone I could trust with my inner self.

The Saturday Sisters have added so much richness to my life, I cannot fathom being without them. Could never imagine the group without Deb.

But life does not flow within the barriers we desire. It surprises us with illness and death, but also with treasured friendships that build with each meeting.

It has been said that we meet people for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime.

Twenty plus years with this amazing group of women is a small lifetime and each of us has brought a gift to the group.

Whether it’s Encouragement, Wisdom, Service, Perseverance or Relationship, I feel truly blessed to be part of the Saturday Sisters of Lawrence, Kansas.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Believes in Service

Continuing with this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of my Saturday Sisters.

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together. Today I focus on the Servant Sister, Susan.serving - Jesus love

Her demeanor is that of the humble Servant as she believes strongly yet expresses herself softly. She is a constant reminder to me of the way we should love others by being Love.

Susan is an amazing cook, a faithful wife, mother and grandmother.  Each time we meet, she brings a bowl of guacamole – to honor Deb. And she is the sister who provides the main dish, a quiche filled with goodness sans the gluten. Two of us are gluten free.

In the various experiences of my life, Susan has been there to serve. She is a talented garage sale shopper and finds the best bargains that are beautiful and functional.

During the dark beginnings of my post-divorce days, Susan brought me gifts that accessorized my new décor. She helped me imagine how life would again someday be worthwhile.

Sometimes, I would hear the doorbell ring and hurry to open it. But no one stood there, only a bag of groceries, a pile of coupons or an envelope of cash. I have no proof, but I imagined these gifts were probably from Susan.

When I moved to Olathe, it was Susan and her husband, Steve, who stayed the longest to help me arrange everything. When they left, I almost called Susan and said, “Come back. I need another hug.” She gives great hugs that infuse me with the best of grace-filled love.

She is a faith heroine, a supporter of the Navigators and a woman who cares deeply about the lost and hurting. She prays with a fervency that teaches me how to focus on the heart of God rather than on my own needs.

Always, always Susan serves with little thought for herself.

Yet, she is strong enough to defend herself and those she loves. In spite of cultural changes, she stands for truth and continues to learn more about serving God. She uses her spare time to help others, to give of herself and to share whatever she has.

Nowhere have I found a more gracious Servant than Susan.

We share a birthday month, just two days apart, so we often send cards and sometimes a little gift. I always feel closer to her in October.

Susan adds to our Sister meetings with a soft voice, sharing her latest news with a positive spin. She knows how to stay in Hope and how to praise God for the blessings of life. She reminds me to do the same, especially when I veer off into negativity.

Although she never boasts about her gifts or pushes herself into first place, I know she has a tender heart.

I saw her grief-stricken face at Deb’s funeral, and I wanted to help her feel better. But I couldn’t. She has always been the one to help others.

When we get to heaven, Susan will have a special place – probably near the heart of God. Her life and her Servant ways have earned her a “Well done,” and I love who she is with a passion I cannot express.

This Sister shows us what it means to love every day, in ways we cannot fathom. Somehow, she finds a way to do her Serving with grace and for that – I honor her.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Completes the Journey

Dear Deb,

The book is finished.

You would be so glad. If you were here, we would celebrate at a Mexican restaurant with fabulous guacamole. Plenty of chips. Constant refills.DM at country store

You would give me hugs and “I knew you could do it” words.

Throughout our meal, I would be thanking you for pushing me, for encouraging me to keep going.

Twelve years, my friend. During a dozen teeth-gnashing years, this book has been through multiple drafts, revisions, even a couple of genre changes.

But finally, it is the book I was supposed to write—the book you knew I COULD write.

It was important because of the women we both knew, those incredibly brave women who faced their hardest truths and stepped into an unknown world.

These women we taught, led in groups, cried with reminded us of the women we once were. How we needed our cadre of women warriors to help us fight our way to freedom.

This book underscores our experiences and the life journeys of these like-minded women.

I am sad you never saw the completed manuscript, never had the chance to hold the book in your hands. I know you would be proud. “Love it,” you would say.

Before you left us, you heard about the title my son created: “No Visible Scars.

“I love it,” you said. “It’s perfect,” you added.

You would have adored the cover your Sarah designed.

I am asking God to let you peek through the heavenlies and see it. I know it will bring you extra joy.

Thank you, precious friend, for being my cheerleader for this project.

Thank you for boosting me over the mountain of self-doubt, for reminding me to keep going, to finish the course, to see it through.

It is finished.

I miss you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Domestic abuse happens even in the best of homes. Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Versus Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.christmas candle

But what if we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

While I raked dead leaves, three hope-filled possibilities floated through my brain.

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Make it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed and reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive and special.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was. Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone – start with a chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast Deb with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair at the table. It’s a reminder of loss – a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who is homesick and cannot fly hundreds of miles for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who needs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand that grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone during the holidays

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES go forward. We don’t have to be stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We may even still have some of the gifts s/he gave us – precious reminders. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Remember and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again – the way he tilted his head when he talked, her unique laughter.

When Deb enjoyed a specially tasty meal, she always said “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh than before – keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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