Hope Finds Gratitude

gratefulDuring this season, it is expected that we give thanks. Most of the time, I do the required thank you’s:

  • Food – especially the whole berry cranberry sauce
  • A roof over my head – even if it feels weird from all the decluttering I’ve done. 
  • My son and my family – of course, always

Yet this year, I want to dig deeper and find my place of gratitude within the corners of my soul – those places I hide from others.

This year, I want to be more vulnerable with my blog followers and maybe in turn – remind all of us that gratitude is more than words.

Perhaps we should consider gratitude a heart condition and thus worthy of even more reflection.

This year, I am thankful because the fragility of life on this earth became graphically personal. One night, a bullet screamed through my bedroom. One inch closer and I would be writing this from heaven instead of Kansas.

Throughout the decluttering exercise and the staging of the house, I have grown more grateful for baring the walls and clearing the floors. Some of my stuff was comfort junk, bought to fill the hole left over from a damaging relationship.

Now I am more determined to surround myself with the essentials, yet achieve balance. My writing office still needs some creative, funky stuff and I am still determined to keep my piano.

As a believer of many years, sometimes I fail to thank God for redemption. All those years ago, my childhood heart opened to the Savior of Nazareth as I ran – yes, ran – down the aisle toward salvation.

May I never forget the wonder of that moment and expressly thank God for the healing of my soul.

Even as I wait for the agent’s response, I am grateful for the opportunity to fly to Denver, stay in a beautiful hotel and pitch the book I hope will be published soon. Thank you, God, for the creativity you have gifted me with and the words that morph from heart to fingers to computer screen to the printed page.

A brief foray into my journals finds entries where I asked God questions and sometimes railed against the answers. I am grateful God lets me be honest with him and I love it when he gives me verses of scripture which may not provide the answer I want but confirms I am forever and gracefully loved.

More than ever before, I am grateful for how God has brought me through the struggles:

  • The loss of two babies
  • Abuse and assault
  • Divorce and all its protracted consequences
  • Watching my son suffer from cancer
  • Dad’s dementia and Mom’s Alzheimer’s journey

While I am not grateful FOR these particular obstacles, I am so thankful that during the struggles and in the aftermath, God has been present. Because he helped me survive, my faith has grown and perseverance has deepened.

And with these experiences in my mental backpack, I have written about realistic topics and helped coach women past the crises.

May we never take for granted how God continues to save us every day.

Because I am a life-long learner, I am still trying to grasp more of the lessons which life and God are teaching me. Thank you, blog followers, for giving me this forum to work out the kinks in my spiritual armor and find the sacred place God longs to purify.

So as we sit around the tables this Thanksgiving and dip into that whole berry cranberry sauce, let’s go deep into the reasons for gratitude.

Forever and always, let us listen hard for the divine One who longs to hear us say, “Thank you, dear Father.”

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

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The House of Sickness Waiting

Something about houses attracts me. I notice Tudors with their brick facings, happy bungalows – especially the ones with porch swings – cottages framed by specialty gardens.ranch house

And I am writing my memoir focused around the theme of various houses in which I have lived. Maybe I should have become a realtor.

The house Mom bought, then had to leave behind, is a typical Oklahoma ranch style. When dementia first began to squeeze its nasty tentacles around Dad, Mom felt as if she needed to get Dad off the farm and into the safety of town. Neither of them could fully operate the farm anymore and when dementia stole Dad’s vocation from him, Mom made the final decision.

They settled into the brick ranch and lived there as Mom nursed him and my sister Kris helped her for 10 shadowy years. Then on a gentle spring day in May, the angel of death took Dad away.

Mom stayed, unwilling to move anywhere else. In fact, she announced one day, “My next move will be to the cemetery.”

Ah – if only it had been that simple.

The ranch home evolved into a pain-enshrouded house as my sister’s beloved cat, Champ, sickened and Kris had to put him down. What an oxymoron of love and pain when we have to call the vet and schedule a death – yet in the doing of it – we exhibit the release of love for our furry babes.

The ranch then became the forecaster of Mom’s next move as she began forgetting the location of pots and pans, the important bills she threw away, the pills she counted numerous times before swallowing.

It was in the ranch house where Mom passed out, her brave heart needing the extra pulsing of a pacemaker, her head bleeding from where she banged it when she fell.

When she had to leave – a series of ambulance rides transported her from the hospital to the nursing home rehab and later to her studio apartment in assisted living.


Meanwhile, the house of sickness waiting remained. Mom never had a chance to tell it good-bye.


The yard is its best feature, a surrounding halo of plantings – zinnias, pansies and the four o’clocks that actually open at four o’clock each day.

I like the house, usually finding a slice of serenity inside when I visit family. Although it is a bit weird to sleep in the bed in which I was conceived, I gaze at pictures on the walls and remember when we gave them to Mom and Dad. I hang my clothes in the closet and touch hangers that hold Mom’s winter coat, a suit she no longer wears, a knit shirt with embroidered daisies – some of the threads barely hanging on to their frayed outlines.

Mom’s brush and comb still wait for her on the dresser, flanked by doilies her mother crocheted, their white loops now fading into the yellows of the past. Mom’s massive mahogany furniture which none of us will want –  a sturdy pronunciation of her style.

But Mom never seems to miss the ranch house. She only remembers the farm as her home where she raised three children, cooked harvest meals and hung clothes to flap on the line like fabric silhouettes of each family member.

This place – this emotional shelter, safe within its strength yet even now scented with illness and Mom’s shadowed existence foreboding.

My sister is now the keeper of the ranch house. It serves its purpose of shelter for her, of last memories where our parents aged out in its rooms. Yet it also continues to play out its description as the house of sickness waiting.

Kris struggles with arthritic pain and several types of joint diseases which emit a pain I cannot imagine. She limps through the house, taking care of her cats and the neighbor’s pets, then ambles outside to feed the birds and pull  weeds from the gardens her green thumb has created.

The flag she painted on barn tin bears the symbol and colors of the University of Oklahoma. Inside the house, the walls record screams of pleasure whenever the Sooners do their thing and score multiple touchdowns per game.

The personality of this house follows me whenever I drive away. I am left with a sense of gratitude that my sister is safe within its walls – at least for now – until as she says, “The body gives out.”

Then we will know that somehow – in that house – our family made an imprint on the earth.

Houses become the measurements of years as each place serves a purpose. And within each place, we wait for that final call home that contains no walls, needs no paint and provides the freedom where our spirits roam.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Time Passes With Hope

Have you noticed we’re almost halfway through 2016?clock

Molly Totoro, a writer who loves the sights, smells and joy of the holidays, recently posted, “Only seven months until Christmas.”

Time indeed passes quickly, especially as we age, but really – don’t the months seem to flip through the calendar faster than ever before?

I’ve pondered the passage of time recently and the possibility of something unique happening.

A verse in Matthew 24:22 reminds us how difficult the last days will be. “Unless those days are shortened, all mankind will perish. But they will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen people” (TLB).

Bible scholars usually preach these verses as God’s way of protecting his people during the tribulation, his way of shortening the time of suffering.

But I wonder if this unique method of protection is already occurring. Maybe we’re seeing the increased crescendo of time on earth that eventually shortens our days.

Sally Jadlow, author of the Late Sooner series, calls it, “God tweaking time.”

Is Time-Tweaking a Possibility?

Certainly the Creator God can determine how time will flip through our online calendars. This incredible God carefully plans each day of our lives. Can he not also decide how long each day will be?

This beyond-the-scope-of-science God hung Jupiter in its particular orbit and designed rings around Saturn. If he can work in the vastness of space, he can also tweak the hours of our work days.

This loving God touches a baby’s cheek in the womb and imprints a dimple. This artistic God paints the tail of a blue jay with onyx black, azure blue and pale gray contrasts, then changes his divine palette to include the crimson and taupe of cardinals.

Surely this amazing God can tweak the revolutions of the earth so that time speeds up.

But why would God project a new way to manage time?

For the sake of his children. To protect those he loves. To help us endure when we don’t think we can stand one more day in this evil world.


To offer us hope.


Admittedly, I am homesick for heaven. I miss my dad and other saints who have finished their timelines and flown home.

Often I am discouraged by the sadness of so many lives and the suffering of countless people. The nightly news can pierce my heart. I keep a Kleenex box beside the television.

But I try to be patient because I know God has a plan and he waits for those who currently ignore him. He wants them to share in heaven, too.

Occasionally I hear the whisper of angels’ wings or the hum of a worship song unique to the heavenlies and I wonder – how close are we?

Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe in the blink of an eye – now!

And maybe God really is tweaking time because he’s anxious to hold us in his arms and cry, “Oh my sweet child – welcome home!”

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Wins

Oh, God – I’m so afraid.monarch butterfly

During the sixth month of pregnancy, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months – hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby. With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart – the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the back yard’s sunshine and stretched out in the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly. Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might be disturbed and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, we baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship moments.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

When I returned to the house and journaled about my experience, I felt encouraged, renewed and ready to face whatever happened in the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind me that he is indeed greater than my problem. Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms – then he can certainly deal with my everyday stresses.

I wonder how many scenarios he manages and shows up to help us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him. Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see his image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the monarch’s appearance, he is with us – longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I nurture my butterfly bush and let the red clover grow around the perimeter of my yard. These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 30 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.Caleb and Mom at reception

Hope wins. We just have to keep watching for the finish line.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Waits

Hope WaitsWaiting is not easy for me, but I seem to often reside in God’s waiting room. Throughout the years, my spiritual muscles have been stretched and strengthened by the exercise of waiting. So I try to be grateful for the experience.

Still, it’s no fun.

In this season, I am trying to be patient as I wait for several prayers to be answered. I am waiting to hear about a book decision. When writers spend months and sometimes years emptying their souls onto  computer screens, then revising and deleting, adding and groaning about more words – they want their work to be acknowledged.

I know the drill. It takes a while to hear back from editors and publishers because they are busy people just like me. Still – this section of the waiting room is surrounded by uncertainty. Fear screams, “What if they don’t want my book? What do I do then?”


Although I have a Plan B, I’m impatient enough to want Plan A to happen right now, thank you very much.


 

For several months, I have been searching for Sunday. I borrowed that phrase from the book title by Rachel Held Evans. Hers was the book I opened, read the Introduction and immediately burst into tears. When you cry at the beginning pages, you know the book was meant for you.

During this season of life and in my particular demographic of older single woman, I find it hard to find a place to belong. With my ministry background and years of serving with wonderful saints, I struggle to find a fellowship that will honor my giftings and accept me for who I am yet continue to nurture and teach me. It would be easier to stay in my jammies on Sunday mornings, click on the remote and forget my aloneness within the plots of various Hallmark movies.

But I believe in the corporate body, the fellowship of the saints and the role we each play. I like to sing with other people, sway to the music, pass the offering plate and share the communion dish, hug others and rehearse my prayer requests. Plus, some of those Hallmark movies are so easy to figure out, they bore me.

I visit churches, discover other saints also searching for Sunday and ask God to remove me from this waiting room and plop me into the pew where I belong.

Another area of waiting involves Mom’s Alzheimer’s journey. I wait for the phone call, “You’d better get down here in a hurry.” I wonder how many more years she has to endure this infernal Long Goodbye. When will she get to graduate to heaven? What is God waiting on for her release?

I don’t want her to die, sort of, but I also don’t want her to live in la-la land, unaware of those who love her and of the way she now responds like a child. Where is the abundant life we are promised that accompanies our faith? When is the release?

As I struggle in prayer for Mom, I also pray for the rest of us. I am so tired of bad news, of hearing about people who chose to use their freedom to bear arms by taking the lives of others. I am sick of the condemnation and stereotyping of people of color, single moms and all the inequities we carry around and somehow call justice. Politicians who can’t work together. Rape and the molestation of little girls. Celebrities who get away with sin just because of who they are and the amount of money represented in their checking accounts.

I am homesick for heaven, and I am tired of waiting. I want Jesus to come back right now so that we can live in the purity of his home and never have to watch another stupid Viagra commercial.

So what can we do when hope waits and frustration mounts day after day?

We can stay busy helping others. I’ll keep writing and working and praying and hoping. When I’m busy, I focus on the task at hand. It’s only when I sit quietly that I grind my teeth and wonder how much longer, Lord? Hurry up and get us out of here before everything really falls apart.

We can keep our focus on God. I know he is being patient with us, and he understands how frustrating it is to wait. He also grieves at the state of our world, at fresh coffins planted in the soil, hungry and homeless people lying on sidewalks just outside affluent businesses, bombs that blow children to bits.

Somehow in the waiting, we have to recognize his sovereignty – his eternal knowledge of the whole picture. Sure, he wants us to do our best to remedy some of these problems, but he also knows what is coming and why he waits. Someday, perhaps he will share that answer with us.

We can learn patience within each season. The stretching of spiritual muscles is never enjoyable, but afterwards – isn’t it always afterwards – the effort yields a better result. We gain strength, we learn endurance and we find extra measures of grace.

This morning, I watched this video and found new strength to wait a bit longer. http://www.maryloucaskey.com/when-your-answer-seems-so-far-away.html

So in my current waiting rooms, I am determined to sooth my restlessness with the truth of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Be still. Know who he is. Know he is sovereign God. Know his timing is always important and know that someday, the waiting will end.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Bleeds at Sundown

sunsetWe first noticed this phenomenon with Dad. During the final stages of his dementia, dusk triggered an inward call. He rose from his chair and began pacing up and down the living room, going nowhere yet constantly moving.

His eyes shone with an almost maniacal light, as if he obeyed a substance or a creature we could not see. By that time, he no longer spoke, so we couldn’t ask him what he was looking for or where he wanted to go. It became his nightly ritual until he could no longer walk.

I fully expected him to pass away during the dusky hours, when the Oklahoma sun begins its descent into the horizon. But no, he graduated to heaven in the middle of a spring day – simply by ceasing to breathe and walking away with Jesus.

Years ago, when my mother worked as a nurse in the hospital, she told me how important it was to work the night shift and watch out for her patients. “If they’re going to die,” she said, “they’ll die at night.”

Something about the night conjures up the dark fear of death – all those spooky movies with a full moon shadowing gargantuan monsters. I find that strange, because I love sunsets and when I finally lay me down to sleep, I say, “Ah! Yes!”


But then, the scenario is different when Alzheimer’s and/or dementia capture the brain.


 

We have noticed the sundown change in Mom as well. She eats supper early, around 4:30 at the assisted living facility. Perhaps they schedule it early for a purpose, because they know what is coming for many of their residents. Shortly after supper, Mom moves into her most confused state of the day.

We know better than to visit her in the evening, because she will be concerned about the farm and what is happening there, even though she hasn’t lived in the country for many years. In the evenings, she will forget Dad has passed. She will talk about him as if he is coming into the room and she must prepare his clothes for the next day.

At dusk, Mom will argue about nonsensical things – what day it is, what year it is, whether we have already celebrated Christmas and whose name she drew and what present she bought. It doesn’t matter what we say or how we try to explain, the shutters of understanding have closed for the day. She is lost within the sunset hours.

An old hymn reminds me of the timelessness of heaven and how we will someday no longer fear any type of sundowner symptoms.

“Beyond the sunset, oh blissful morning

When with our savior, heaven is begun.

Earth’s toiling ended, oh glorious dawning

Beyond the sunset, when day is done.”

 

You can listen to the entire hymn here: Beyond the Sunset

I guess there’s a good reason hope bleeds at sundown. Maybe that’s the time believers are most restless for heaven, searching for the Savior and for their loved ones who graduated before them.

Next time I see Mom at dusk, I’ll take her hand to calm her down and say, “It’s okay, Mom. Only a few more sunsets until your journey is over. Be still. The best is yet to be.”

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Finding Hope at Christmas

Especially at Christmas, caregivers and families feel the sting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hang ornaments and remember past Decembers when our loved ones decorated the tree, sang Christmas carols and laughed while opening presents.christmas_baubles_and_candles

Smells from the kitchen spike memories of Christmas cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg, that special family recipe for peppernuts.

Yet now – everything has changed. Our loved one sits quietly in a chair, unaware of smells and colorful lights, breathing in and out, communicating with no one.

It is the passage of time and the ache of what this disease can do.

Somehow, we must look for joy by searching for its source.

Think back on Christmases past and be grateful for the memories and the legacy preserved within family.

Treasure the presence of your loved one, even though he or she seems mentally far away.

Remember that Christmas is about a baby in a manger who became the Savior on the cross. Someday, in eternity, all Alzheimer’s genes will be nonexistent. No disease there. No memory loss. No sadness.

Be grateful for these moments together, because you, too, are creating a legacy for the generations to come.

Sing a Christmas carol together. Music connections are the last part of the brain to die. You can still communicate with your loved one through music.

With all the excitement and chaos of opening presents, be alert for anxiety in your loved one. He or she may need to return to assisted living long before all the Christmas activities are finished.

Find your own joy in being with family. Each day is a gift. Each time we get together, we make memories. Even if the day is difficult for you, treasure it.

Several years ago, my sister Kris – who is a talented poet – wrote these words:


            “While striding on life’s pathway, fill up your days with cheer

Just laugh at rainbows, small or great, to banish every fear.

Hold tight to what life offers, content with all you do

For all adventures help create the treasure that is you.”


Remember that seasons end, and the season of Alzheimer’s will also end with the death of your loved one. So try to enjoy your time together and know that somewhere deep inside, Mom or Dad, Sister or Brother dearly loves you and wishes you a Merry Christmas.

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