Hope Builds on the Truth

toe ringTen minutes into my home Bible study, Judith gasped.

I stopped reading Romans 12 and asked, “Any questions or concerns?”

To her credit, Judith must have decided not to confront me in front of the entire group. “No,” she said. “Nothing right now.”

After I finished teaching, Judith hung back so I said goodnight to the rest of the group and sat down with Judith.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You seemed concerned about something.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said, “I don’t understand…but…you’re teaching this Bible study and you’re wearing a toe ring.”

I peeked down at my right foot where the second toe did indeed sport a silver toe ring. “Yep,” I said. “I really like my toe ring. I bought it at that eclectic boutique downtown.”

“But a toe ring…isn’t that…sinful? My church says women should only wear wedding rings and nothing else. Our beauty is supposed to come from a pure heart – not from a bunch of jewelry – an outward show…especially something as liberal as a toe ring. It’s almost like something hippies wear.”

I knew Judith attended a church where Legalism 101 was the consistent textbook, but I didn’t realize how deeply spiritual abuse had affected her life.

She shared with me how afraid she was that someone would discover she colored her hair. Her entire spiritual focus was based on how “good” she had to be and how many rules she had to obey.


I reminded her of Jeremiah 31:3. “God says he loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t mention any rules we have to obey to earn his love. It’s just there, available for us because of who he is.


“God loves you, Judith, no matter what you do and no matter what you wear. He wants you to love him back – not live in fear that you might make a terrible mistake someday and ruin everything. His love for you is eternal – forever and ever.”

Over the next few weeks, I helped Judith find Bible verses about the love of God. The Bible became more of a romance anthology rather than a judgmental tome. We looked at the life of Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple of Jesus. Nowhere did scripture condemn her or even mention anything she wore.

Even though she had been a prostitute, Mary was the one who first saw the living Christ after his resurrection. She was given the task of telling the rest of the disciples that Jesus was alive. And she didn’t have to dress a certain way to spread the good news.

Throughout the next months, Judith and I met often to talk about God’s love. She began to smile more freely and even giggled a few times. The burden of carrying all that legalism in her heart lifted, and she shared her freedom with the other ladies in the group.

Then one night, she came to Bible study with a radiant grin. “Guess what I did,” she said.

She held out her right foot, and I started laughing. Shining on the middle digit was a gold toe ring. We danced together in a happy hug.

Two years later, I received the news that Judith’s son had committed suicide. When I called her, she was, of course, heartbroken. But in between sobs she said, “I still believe God loves me and somehow – he’ll help me make it through this grief.”

I was so grateful Judith had made it past the obstacles of spiritual abuse via legalism. Without her new freedom, she would have blamed herself for her son’s death and lived with the lie that God had punished her for something she had done wrong.

Judith and her husband moved away, but we occasionally called or wrote letters. When I saw her again – years later – she wore the prominent wrinkles of a woman who has been through the worst grief yet the glow of freedom was still obvious. She had survived to find acceptance and joy on the other side of the pain.

“I’m okay,” she said, as I stroked her cheek. “It’s been hard, but I’m okay.”

Then she lifted her leg so I could see her foot. The gold toe ring still shone from the middle digit, a visual reminder that hope conquers even the most stubborn of lies.

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

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Hope Within Relationship

Sitcoms and movies often vilify the role of the mother-in-law as in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Monster-In-Law.”

LeoraBut in my situation, that stereotype never materialized. I was not at odds with my mother-in-law. Although we disagreed on politics and how to raise children; we found common ground in our respect for small towns, the Oklahoma Sooners football program and the joy of music.

We shared a love for flowers and jewelry. She was the one who taught me how to care for mums, how to prune them in the spring, then rejoice with the harvest of autumn blooms.

We both enjoyed bling and the challenge of finding perfect accessories for every outfit. I own several pieces of jewelry she gave me and wear them often with her in mind.

She was also the one who tried to show me how to make the perfect pecan pie. But no matter how many times I tried – with her exact recipe – I could never master it. Instead, I saved my calories for the annual Thanksgiving feast and relished every bite of her buttery, rich version.

I sent her cards on her birthday and holidays. She did the same for me, always writing in tiny script at the bottom, “I still love you.” I saved all those cards.

A few months ago, while visiting my own mother, I felt that inner nudge to go see my mother-in-law. I have learned to obey that divine whisper, knowing that God sees the future and asks us to respond in the present.

So I spent several hours with her, saddened by her increasing fragility and the slight aphasia that often interrupted her speech.

Yet we were content to merely sit together, to just be as two women who shared the same last name and the faith that bound us in eternal relationship.

She ate lunch, and I helped cut her meat, arranging the various bowls on her tray to make it easier for her to reach them. She told me she wanted dessert, so I searched for a piece of – you guessed it – pecan pie. I joyed in watching her devour it.

She told me she wanted to live to be 90. “Why 90?” I asked?

“It’s a good number,” she said.

When I left, I kissed her goodbye and said, “I love you.”

She responded, “I love you, too.”

God knew the expanse of her timeline and at 87 years, this past week, she stepped out of her shell and scurried into eternity.

I felt grateful during her memorial service, knowing she would have loved the flowers that surrounded her casket and the way her jewelry accessorized her beautiful red dress.

Even though my heart already missed her, my soul rejoiced that she no longer needed a walker or a cane, no longer wanted for anything.

In spite of the sitcoms and the movies, I know I was lucky to have such a relationship with my mother-in-law. I cherish the memories of strolls through her garden, preparing meals together in her kitchen and one last goodbye.

I love you, Leora. See you on the other side.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

The Alzheimer’s Slush File

Is there a file somewhere that holds all the things Alzheimer’s patients lose? Sometimes those items are imagined, but even so – the person struggling with Alzheimer’s is convinced the object exists yet has simply disappeared. Where did it go?Alz Slush File

My mother has lost a seersucker pantsuit. As far as I know, she never bought a seersucker pantsuit although she always wanted one. However, this suit is so real to her, it must exist somewhere in the universe, if not hanging in her closet. Perhaps she did buy one, at some point in life, but now – it has disappeared. Where did it go? Does it wait in an imaginary file that is hidden from the world of realism?

We no longer take jewelry to the assisted living facility where my mother lives, because it will disappear. Then Mom will accuse someone of stealing it. And truthfully, when Mom loses something, it cannot be found.

Jewelry has disappeared as well as the infamous seersucker pantsuit. How do you lose a pantsuit? Seersucker or any other variety? This puzzles me.

We dare not take Mom’s hearing aids to her room, because lost hearing aids cost a bundle to replace. So my sister has become the Guardian of the Hearing Aids, producing them only when Mom goes to church or joins us for a family outing. The rest of the time, Mom just doesn’t hear well. She turns up the volume on her TV and when someone talks to her, she asks, “How’s that?” “What?” “Huh?”

Mom has lost socks – but then, who hasn’t lost a sock. They are constantly running away from home or disappearing into dryer vents or someplace where nobody can find them.

Mom has also lost other clothing and important documents. We know better than to leave any legal papers with Mom. Her collection of greeting cards that people send her sit in a basket, waiting for her to reread them. So far, she has not lost the basket.

Because Mom is always giving things away, she sometimes thinks she has lost something when she actually gave it away. She often wins at Bingo, so then she has Snickers candy bars and doesn’t eat them. She gives them to grandkids, then doesn’t remember giving them away – so they are then lost and hiding in the Alzheimer’s Slush File.

It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, if Mom loses some things – as long as they aren’t major items like hearing aids. The problem is that the disappearance of items causes Mom additional stress and we don’t need that.

The other problem is that I’ve wondered lately what has happened to one of my favorite rings. I have no recollection of taking it off and putting it somewhere other than where it belongs. I have looked in every suitcase, every jewelry container and every dresser drawer. My ring has disappeared. It only cost me five dollars, but I liked it because it sparkled and matched lots of different outfits.

I have, of course, prayed, “Oh God, oh God, I have lost my ring. Please, please, please don’t let me have Alzheimer’s. Please let me find my ring.”

He has not answered. I think my ring might be hiding with the seersucker pantsuit.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo                                                         Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Alzheimers at the Wedding

Throughout the pre-wedding activities, Mom functioned well. She attended bridal showers, listened to all the exciting plans and smiled for the photographer.

But we knew our 85 year-old mother might create a few problems on the actual wedding day. It was my job to get Mom dressed, drive her to the church and make sure she made it down the aisle.

I was surprised that from the time I saw her in May until the wedding date in July, Mom regressed further into Alzheimer’s. Her facial expressions resembled those of a child, that naughty rolling-the-eyes look. When we discussed what she would wear to the wedding, we had to go through the scenario several times.

“We talked about this skirt, Mom. It’s a nice skirt.”

“No, I want to wear the red one.”

“Not a good choice of color, Mom. It’s too dark for a summer wedding and besides, it has a spot on the front. Did you tell them to launder it?”

“Yes.” A debatable answer, because Mom’s short-term memory grows shorter every week.

Finally, the chosen skirt was on and I convinced her to wear a beautiful white blouse with a lacy collar. As I fluffed up her hair, I asked, “Don’t you have some pretty pearl earrings? They would look nice.”

“No. All my jewelry has been stolen.” Paranoia is strong these days. Mom is convinced that people, usually family members she loves, have stolen her things.

It does no good to argue, so when she was finally dressed – I drove us both to the church. But pictures were scheduled for noon, and the wedding for two o’clock. Two hours is a long time for someone whose concept of time has disappeared.

First, we ate lunch – slowly. I tried to convince Mom to eat more meat and drink more water, but she refused. However, she sat quietly and waited while I finished eating. My brother came to get her for some of the outdoor pictures, then brought her back to me.

Mom and I strolled through the church and looked at the beautiful decorations. Lanterns along the sides of the pews. Purple and green petals strewn up and down the aisle. Beautiful cascades of dark purple gladiola at the front of the sanctuary. Everything ready for that moment when our Rachel would walk down the aisle to meet her beau, Grant.

“How about the library, Mom? Would you like to see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

So we toured the library, picked out a few to look at and discussed others. “They have a good selection here,” I said.

“Yes,” Mom said. “I like books.”

I remembered when she helped organize and catalog one of our first church libraries. I also remembered when a prayer group met in the library, and my mother was one of the members  ̶  a praying woman who cared about overseas missions. Mom not only prayed for missionaries, but she also gave a portion of her nursing salary to help meet those same missionaries’ needs.

That was a long time ago – before Alzheimer’s stole Mom’s ability to help in a church library or participate in a prayer group.

In a few minutes, Mom tired of the library so we walked through the church again. We watched the photographer shoot pictures of Rachel and Grant. Then Mom grew restless.

“Hey, Mom. Would you like to go see the church library?”

“Oh, yes. I like books.”

Three times we toured the library, each time about twenty minutes apart. Then we sat in the fellowship hall and watched people begin to file into the sanctuary. The wedding planner found us and fastened a flowered bracelet on Mom wrist.

“Why do I have to wear this?” she asked me. “You don’t have one.”

“It’s because you’re special. You’re the only grandparent on both sides of the families. You get to have a special flower.”

“Well, okay,” she said. Then about two minutes later, “Why do I have to wear this thing?”

My nephew Ethan, Mom’s grandson, was scheduled to escort her down the aisle at the appropriate time. But Mom balked. “I don’t want to do that. Everybody will be looking at me.”

“No, Mom. They’ll be waiting for Rachel. They want to see the bride. You just walk in quietly with Ethan.”

“But if it’s just Ethan and me, then they’ll be looking at me and I look fat in this skirt. I shouldn’t have worn this skirt. I should wear a nicer outfit.”

 “Now, Mom. This is Rachel’s special day. Ethan will take care of you, so you just walk down the aisle with him and then sit by me at the front. Remember, this is for Rachel.”

Mom rolled her eyes. I fully expected her to stick out her tongue, but after another grimace, she took Ethan’s arm. I joined my son, my sister, my aunt and her daughter in the second row and watched as Ethan and Mom came down the aisle.Mom and Ethan

Even within the horror of Alzheimer’s disease, my mother is a trooper. Uncomfortable with any kind of public display, there she was – standing tall and doing her part for her granddaughter’s special day.

Mom paraded down the aisle with Ethan and smiled while doing it. I was proud of her and also relieved. We made it through our two hours of waiting and our few minutes in the spotlight. Rachel married Grant and Mom got to be part of that special day.

wedding pic - famEven in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, we somehow find joy.  

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1