Hope Within a Stalled Memory

Our family has suffered a tragedy, and we are all trying to process it.

Last week, a favorite cousin suddenly had a cardiac arrest. No warning. Nothing wrong with her heart.

Madeleine (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) was only 54 and in good health. She was bright, beautiful, a wonderful person with everything to live for.

The paramedics worked tirelessly for 40 minutes and shocked her heart multiple times. Finally, Madeleine began to breath again. But the damage to her brain was extensive. She was basically gone.

As the news traveled via text throughout family around the nation, we prayed. Grieved. Believed for a miracle. Tried to make sense of it.

The double tragedy was that Madeleine’s mother, Clare (also a pseudonym) is a favorite auntie. Across the miles, we all felt the emotional slam.

Madeleine and Clare were a team: business partners, besties, always there for each other. We connected them together. “Clare and Madeleine will be at the wedding.”

“Clare and Madeleine made it to the top honors of their corporation – again. They continue to be Number One in all categories.”

“Clare and Madeleine have started a side business. They are so much fun.”

And they were. Both believers in staying positive and sharing a laugh each day. Both settled in the arid Southwest to avoid the humidity and colder temps of the Midwest. Both tall and graceful, expansive huggers and accepting of all our flaws.

Always together.

Yet now … Clare was left to wait in the ICU as her daughter struggled to breathe. Organ donors waited in line. Doctors shook their heads.

The “Why” question bobbed near the surface.

How could we pray? “God, save her life. But not as a vegetable. She wouldn’t want that. Oh, God oh God oh God.”

How could we let Madeleine go and how could Clare survive without her?

Across the miles and without the benefit of a cell phone or any direct communication, my mother sat in the nursing home. Her brain cells not connecting at the age of 93, muddled by the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

Yet when my sister visited her during this tragic week, Mom held a greeting card from Clare. Spoke no words. Just held it.

Did she sense her sister and niece were tangled in a traumatic battle? Did the Alzheimer’s plaque somehow lift so the emotions of Mom’s heart clearly sailed through?

Was my mother on some higher plane, breathing her own prayers for some sort of miracle?

And the miracle did come. Not the one we wanted, but the miracle of a soul released from the confines of this earth to find its forever home.

At the age of 54, Madeleine stopped breathing and joined her dad, her grandparents, my dad in that glorious place where spiritual hearts beat together. Where love reigns. Where death never enters.

And we are left with a bittersweet answer to our prayers. Grateful Madeleine is free yet shattered for the grief Clare suffers.

The veil between earth and heaven, between earthly life and forever life, is thin. We sometimes glimpse a taste of it as faith and hope merge.

Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

Yet hope continues somehow in the stalled memory of my mother’s brain. She holds a greeting card. She cherishes her family somewhere in her deprived days. She whispers prayers only God can hear.

And we all look forward to the day when Alzheimer’s will be defeated, death will be conquered and good-bye will no longer be spoken.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Finds Its Space

When the transitions of life change our circumstances, it may become more difficult to discover hope.

Recently, Mom transferred from assisted living to the Alzheimer’s unit. A necessary change, given her cognitive impairment. Still, for the family she no longer recognizes, it was a clear reminder of the devastation of this disease.

Grateful for the beautiful and efficient multi-level facility where Mom lives, I still wanted to save her — to save all of us — from this fate.

Once again, Mom’s space has disappeared.

A much smaller room, although she still has her familiar furniture: the dark mahogany dresser, the comfy glider/rocker, the end table my sister embellished with decorative tacks, the corner etagere that displays family pictures.

A decreased closet size. No more walk-in with plenty of room for various wardrobes. Mom makes simpler choices these days: easy-to-pull on slacks, polyester tops, socks and shoes. Most of them in her favorite pastel colors. No jewelry. No accessories.

My own wardrobe contrasts with multiple colors and textures, plenty of bling, a few funky hats. Plenty of choices.

But grief threatens for the future. What if my space disappears? What if I can no longer enjoy putting outfits together, find the best bargains, check my reflection in the mirror?

That loss would affect my enjoyment of life.

Mom’s brain no longer calculates the spatial changes. She sleeps, eats and does the activities they tell her to do. Totally compliant, this once fiercely independent woman.

I want to scream at the injustice of life.

One big change in Mom’s new “home” is the bed. No longer able to relax in the daybed my siblings moved from her house, she will now sleep in a hospital bed.

If her nursing mind was capable, she would recognize this change as decline.  More dependent on others to make sure she doesn’t roll out of bed, doesn’t wander during the night.

The change of beds signals the regression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The next bed will be a confinement unto death. The beds in the nursing home wing are for patients who can no longer walk. They lie supine, hoping to be spared bed sores as each sunset leads them toward a final resting place — the silk-lined coffin.

Mom used to love the wide spaces of the farm. She hung sheets to flap on the clothesline, held the pins in her mouth and gloried in the cerulean skies of Oklahoma. Her hubby tilled another rotation in the field as she watched. Her children either finished chores or prepped homework for another school day.

It was a good life — spacious in its beauty.

But now, the transition has stolen more freedom and set in motion another arrow toward the final target.

So how do we find hope in such a sad prognosis? By looking at the space to come.

When Mom is finished with her final transition on earth, she will fly to a timeless world with no margins or imitations.

She’ll be free to visit with Dad and her parents or chat with a biblical character she once read about. Maybe she’ll meet one of the authors whose books she read.

Perhaps she’ll step into another dimension, travel to Mars or float above her children and silently cheer us toward the same goal.

Space and time will do its disappearing act rather than the facility where Mom currently lives.

And in the end, hope will take its space in all our hearts when this disease says its final good-bye.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about the Alzheimers journey, check out Sometimes They Forget.

Hope Lives in Photos

photo albumsSo many photo albums. Boxes and boxes of memories from the beginnings of a life to the present. Photos of my son – even his birth certificate – preserved in plastic sleeves with descriptive tags to indicate his growth: 8 pounds, 3.5 ounces, 19.5 inches long.

Preschool. Kindergarten graduation with a mortar board and tassel. Through the years of puberty – his larvae of manhood – into the present grown man. And a handsome fellow to boot!

Report cards, certificates of attendance and Awana awards. How quickly they grow, then leave.

Other memories: children sitting in multiple classrooms listening to my words, vacations to Europe, Florida, Chicago and my beloved New Mexico.

Photos of family members now gone, a reminder of their younger, more vital days before old age sapped strength and the ICU machines beeped a goodbye.

Some family members still living and working although crowned with greying hair, wisdom wrinkles and those chronic illnesses we try to avoid or hide.

Lives lived and recorded on yellowing film and clipped into binders. But who wants to store these heavy boxes? None of us, especially when we can scan, digitalize and save to that obsequious cloud.

After several people looked through the albums and chose pictures they wanted to keep, it was my task to make the final choices.

I took out the plastic sleeves, stored them for my son and his future home, then threw away those albums. Most of them now faded, their backs broken, cardboard flayed by multiple moves.

A life lived. The memories sealed forever in our hearts, each of us filtering hope from our own perceptions, our viewpoints selective yet valuable.

When we finally ascend to eternity’s arms, will the pictures of our lives be stored by the good we did, the love we shared, the other pilgrims we helped?

I like to think so.

No need for albums then. We’ll have living memorials of the hope we encapsulated within one short life.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines and Sometimes They Forget memorialize lives within the genre of essays. Check them out.

 

 

The Intensity of Hope

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.nvs-cover

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plot lines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — trying to survive with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We don’t know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting to them but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who would not hear their truth and told them to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps. Her husband was a deacon. Her pastor told her to lose weight so he would like her better.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Even in the church.

And the book was published, sold and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo.

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 in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

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