Hope When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we went, we heard it.

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and WalMart – even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound – one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

I called it The Great Cough of 2016.pharmaceutical-symbol

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Christmas bug.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

So Christmas plans changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma. This was the first year since I served as a missionary that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

But we could  not force ourselves into the car for a five hour trip. And why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday – bless the hearts of that staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs – thank you to the hard-working pharmacy staff ! We stayed in bed and slept late – when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

Then Christmas happened in spite of illness. My son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun – playing table games with hygienic gloves on, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed into our recliners again – still coughing. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change. And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God with us.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

How to Find a Legacy Within Alzheimer’s

Because October is my birthday month, my thoughts often center around the woman who birthed and raised me. Although Dad was a prominent faith figure in my growing up years, it was Mom who pushed me out of the birth canal and then pushed me to become who I am.Arlene Renken - nurse

She was a fighter and an extrovert, unlike the rest of us who liked to disappear within our private worlds to write, listen to music or find our energy in the beautiful solitude of the Oklahoma landscape.

Odd that I speak of Mom in the past tense, even though her brave heart still beats as she stares at the wall opposite her chair. That’s what Alzheimer’s does to a family. We say goodbye, one stage at a time, one regression after another so that when death finally releases our loved one – much of the grieving has already been done. “The Long Goodbye” is aptly titled.

Mom grew up poor, walked to high school (yes, miles away, even in the snow and rain) and wore the same two dresses until her Sunday dress became too worn for church. It was then relegated for school wear as her mother sewed a better one for the Sabbath or one of the cousins passed down a Sunday outfit that wasn’t yet worn out.

As part of her legacy, Mom was determined none of her children would ever be ashamed of their clothes or feel embarrassed because they didn’t fit in. So she learned how to sew, spread out the material on the farmhouse floor, cut, pinned and put together whatever clothes we needed to look like we had some cash in the bank.

Then she made certain that each of us understood the importance of a quality education so that we would never feel the sting of poverty. We grew up with a solid work ethic, attended college, saved our pennies and never bought anything we didn’t really need.


It was a simpler time – a beautiful segment of history, without traffic snarls, school shootings or adultery in every family tree. I miss it every day.


Mom was willing to live in an old farmhouse and fix it up gradually, learning how to wallpaper and restore old pieces of furniture. Much of our house looked like the early-attic variety, but none of us minded. It was a safe place to grow up although cold in the winter and hot in the summer. But who minded when the kitchen smelled like fresh-baked bread, the fields sprouted a golden harvest that supported us all year and the animals taught us about life and death.

As a registered nurse, Mom followed the habits of “old school” nursing. Always dressed in white, her uniform and hat starched and gleaming, her white shoes and hose the perfect accessory. In those days, no jewelry was allowed except a simple wedding band.

But Mom, always a bit of a radical, wore a cross necklace under her slip. “To remind me I’m working as a Christian,” she said. “To keep me focused on what matters when I have to clean someone’s bottom or tell a family their child just died.”

Strength of character. Rock solid faith. Those qualities are hard to imagine in the woman who now rocks back and forth and accuses strangers of stealing her digital clock.

Yet it was those very qualities that taught me how to work well even when no one is watching, how to pray my guts out, how to deal with life when it hurts by working hard and moving forward, how to fight against traditions that are based only on men’s interpretations rather than the powerful voice of God.

Even now, as I have journeyed through a faith crisis and wondered how to find a church that will accept my calling – I know Mom would understand. If I could just communicate with her, she would get that steely gleam in her eye and tell me to “Stop whining. Just get busy and do it.”

She was probably one of the first parents who envisioned the concept of giving your children roots and wings. She taught us well, then let us go and cheered us whether we succeeded or learned hard life lessons through failure.

Never demonstrative with her love, if anyone attacked her kids – they would face the wrath of a woman who knew how to struggle through the worst of life’s catastrophes and conquer them through sheer determination and grit.

No one dare beat up her kids, either emotionally or physically. She would stand tall in her 5’8” frame and declare, “One more word, and I’ll jerk a knot in you.”

So I am proud of the legacy Mom has shared with me, a strength of character that dares to question the establishment yet humbly accepts God’s will.

Even in the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I see Mom’s resolve to finish her course well, to find contentment in the every dayness of Bingo, planned meals and assigned seats during movie night.

The strong woman who raised me still exists somewhere deep within, even though the outer shell gains fragility, age spots and graying hairs.

The legacy continues. Thanks, Mom.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Hope Returns with a Bossy Mom

Several weeks ago, I drove to Oklahoma and spent an afternoon with Mom. For the first time in months, she was fairly lucid, bossing me, like her old self.heart - sunset

We took a walk around the perimeter of the assisted living facility, discussed the geese who sometimes fly onto the pond for a drink or goose fellowship – whatever geese do.

Mom remarked how nice the facility is and how glad she is to live there – a reversal of the attitude she sometimes displays when she demands, “Why am I here? Why did you kids do this to me?”

Heartache piled upon guilt.

But on this day, she seemed grateful, and I saw in her the personality I grew up with – the bossy Mom who made sure her kids read at least seven books each week, practiced their musical instruments and worked hard to complete their chores and finish their homework.

Suddenly, we were transported decades back as Mom became herself:

“You need to hem up those pants you’re wearing. They’re dragging on the ground.”

“I did hem them, Mom.”

“Well, you need to do it again – another inch at least.”

“Okay, Mom. When I get home.”

Then we walked to the dining room. Mom instructed me where to sit. “Grab that chair over there. Someone else will sit beside me.”

As the meal was served, Mom worried that I wasn’t eating. “How come you don’t have a plate? Do you want me to order one for you?”

“No. I stopped at Braum’s two hours ago. I’m not hungry.”

“Well, you’ll be hungry by morning. Do you want a cookie? I’ll get you a cookie.”

“No, thanks. I eat gluten free.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m allergic to wheat.”

“Well, that can’t be right. You grew up on a wheat farm and we had bread for every meal.”

“Exactly. That’s why I have an allergy to wheat.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

The nurturing of children continues into old age, even when the brain is infected with Alzheimer’s plaque. A mother longs to feed her children, to make sure they are never hungry, even if they’re just visiting, even if they’ve just eaten.

After the meal, we walked back to Mom’s room. “Do you want to watch the idiot box?” (Mom’s description for the TV).

“No. I’ll just sit here with you or read a book.”

“Yeah. There’s nothing on but junk anyway.” We sat in silence for a while, then suddenly – Mom looked at me, her glasses slightly askew. “Are you dating?”

“No. I’m pretty busy.”

“Well, you should be dating someone. I don’t understand why some wonderful man hasn’t snatched you up.”

It was the nicest compliment she has paid me in years. My throat began to fill with the tears of missing my mom, of not being able to call her and discuss my latest book, of no longer sharing a shopping trip or the latest crochet pattern or the encouragement of a Psalm.

“Thanks, Mom. That’s nice.”

“Well, I’m just askin’.”

For a few hours on a hot July afternoon, Mom and I connected on a level long past. She was again the bossy Mom, demanding answers and commanding me in directions she wanted me to take.

Once again, I was the daughter and our roles were clear, not reversed or confused in the dynamics of what Alzheimer’s does to families.

And for a few hours, we sat together in peace, two women – still joined by an emotional umbilical cord.

It was sweet. I know that may never happen again.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Hope Thrives at 88

When I first met Donna, stepmother of my friend, I thought she might be in her 70’s. She invited us to spend several days in her lovely apartment in Denver.Denver

During that time, Donna cooked healthy and colorful meals, she instructed us in the best ways to avoid traffic snarls and she led us in lively discussions about baseball – particularly her beloved Colorado Rockies.

Our time with her included hours of experiencing her hospitality and nurturing gifts. When we left, her hugs were genuine and warm.

So I was amazed to discover that she is 88 years old, just one year older than my mother yet in activity and stimulating conversations – decades younger.

Spending time with this wonderful woman reminded me of what no longer exists when I visit Mom.

When Mom lived independently, my visits were always a source of joy. She served my favorite foods, asked me about my work, rejoiced in my latest books or articles. She drove me to Braums – the Oklahoma version of the best-ever ice cream, hamburgers and fries.

Mom and I worshipped together, discussed politics and the importance of women staying strong and setting boundaries.

When the end of the weekend inevitably came, Mom pressed a twenty dollar bill into my hand and said, “It costs money for gas. This should help.”

Those were times of nurturing, of refreshing sleep and practical love. I always left renewed and encouraged.

Since the memory thief called Alzheimers invaded our family, Mom has not been able to nurture, to provide care or to express love as she did before.

Perhaps it is a selfish desire, but I miss those weekends with Mom and the reminder that I am still a daughter, still respected for my individual gifts yet bonded within our family’s traditions.

Alzheimer’s has ripped that nurturing experience into shreds and left me with only faded memories of shopping trips, phone calls and the desire: “I need to discuss this with Mom.”

So when Donna reintroduced that motherly hospitality into my life on one weekend in Denver, it was a bittersweet reminder of what once was possible with my mother.


If the gift of hospitality and the joy of practical love can still thrive at the age of 88, then hope continues into my own advancing years. I am encouraged that Alzheimer’s does not steal from every family.


If the kindness of a nurturing heart can extend toward a friend of a step-daughter and produce gratitude in the fresh mountain air, then the threat of old age and memory loss need not expand into fear.

Once again, I am filled with the hope that maybe when I reach my 80’s – I can still nurture my son and his family, still use my gifts of teaching, writing and service, still find joy in the beginning of every day.

Thank you, Donna, for grafting that hope back into my soul and giving me fresh impetus to march into my tomorrows with a giving mentality.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of “Final Grace for Reverend G” – http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Hope Finds a Treasure

During the last two weeks, three people at separate times have told me, “You are a treasure.”

I know this is a compliment and I truly appreciate the sentiment. At the same time, I am a bit nonplussed to be described as such.

National+TreasureWhen I think of treasure, my first impression is an antiquity. The movie “National Treasure” comes to mind as Nicholas Gage spends 90 minutes trying to find the lost treasures his Masonic ancestors hid in various places.

Gage, of course, succeeds and manages to fall in love at the same time, which spawns the second movie in the series and pleas from his fans for a third.

Although my joints sometimes cry a different melody, I don’t feel like an antiquity. I have, however, traveled around the block a few times and know a few things about life.

So I have thought about what I treasure and how I might practice more gratitude within my soul for those treasures I hold dear.

My treasures do not represent stuff, because I am antiquated enough to know that eventually – most of our stuff ends up at Goodwill and if I had all the money back that I have spent on stuff throughout the years – I could buy a car.

No, the true treasures for me involve people and memories – those happenings and experiences involving flesh and blood folks that cannot be replaced.

My relationship with my son is a treasure. There’s something especially sweet when our children mature and we move into an easy friendship instead of strictly a parent / child relationship.

We have great discussions about life, politics and important things like which laptop to buy and how to set up the wi-fi.

We express our opinions about  world systems and how we fit into them, the goals each of us hold for 2015 and how we are moving toward our dreams. I so desperately want my son to see his dreams become reality.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I treasure sitting with my child – https://rjthesman.net/2015/03/10/hope-sits-with-my-child/

Another treasure involves growing up on the farm. Although my world now exists in the city, nothing can take from me the joy of climbing a tree, perching in its generous limbs and scribbling my first stories in my Red Chief Tablet.

Watching the massive Oklahoma sunsets change colors, celebrating the waving wheat (“that smells so sweet”) and digging my hands into fresh garden earth to plant seeds that would later produce our supper – these are treasures that make me long for those hard-working blessed days without the stress of internet surfing and bungled emails.

Even writing about the country fills my heart with longing for my dream – a log home tucked safely between old trees that hold their own secrets – one room of that home surrounded by windows with my writing desk perched smack in the middle of all that light and creativity.

Because I am a writer, I observe people so one of my favorite treasures involves the many human beings I have known.

Students from various countries around the world, women who have enriched my life and saved it many times with their nurturing hearts, ministers of both genders and every race who have spoken into my life and the myriads of writers who bless me just by being their weird and wonderful selves.

People are a treasure, walking and talking receptacles of divine cells that God has pronounced, “Very good.”

My life has been enriched by meeting these folks, spending time with them, developing relationships with them, disagreeing with them and praying with them.

So I gladly accept the moniker of “treasure,” because I hope I have somehow spoken into the lives of others the encouragement that keeps me going, the perseverance that keeps me writing and the joy that keeps me breathing.

I would be interested to know what you consider a treasure. How about sharing with all of us your thoughts on the subject?

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

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck again with the functional differences between the KC Metro and Enid, Oklahoma.enid

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter to allow families time together. The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story in the King James Version.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of the season and aren’t shy about declaring their belief in God.

On Good Friday, our family moseys over to the Western Sizzlin’ for a huge salad buffet, well-done steaks and the ice cream machine.

Mosey is a word we don’t use in KC because nobody moseys in the city. Yet in small towns, folks mosey across the intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who doesn’t know how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will likely run into relatives, a colleague or someone from your church. And even if you make a new acquaintance at the ice cream machine, it will be a friendly conversation.

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you’d better have a good reason and if you’re a really decent person, you’ll move back and make your family happy.

That’s why hope grows in small towns. Because everyone hopes you will move back, help with mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown and mosey into the stores, I pick up the Okie accent that never really leaves my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because I’m not in a hurry.

At Braums – where everybody goes for an ice cream fix in the afternoon – I wave at strangers and talk about the wheat crop.

Although the world is rapidly changing, folks in small towns still trust each other and somehow mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I don’t know, because their lives are simpler, purer and steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although I know my work is here in the KC Metro, a weekend visit is all it takes to transport me back to the security of my foundation and the people who keep hope alive.

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

Hope Lives in Forgiveness

Thanks to the insights of some prayer warriors, I was recently confronted with an ugliness in my soul. A spirit of unforgiveness had settled within and kept me from living in joyful peace.

After a time of confession and intense prayer, by God’s grace, I was able to release the pain that led to the unforgiveness. Peace came as a blessed byproduct.forgiveness clouds pic

The experience reminded me once again of the importance of forgiveness, and of how difficult it is to actually step through that door.

In order to forgive, we first have to be willing to feel our pain and grieve it in a healthy way. We also have to realize that the problem isn’t just about our suffering but it’s also how we perceive what has been done to us – and who did it.

Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we even have to forgive God for allowing such pain into our lives.

But as long as we live in the bitterness of refusing to forgive, hope stalls and with it, the energy to move forward. We become stuck in whatever action caused the pain. We relive it and each time we pick up that grudge, we carry a heavier burden.

We become victims rather than victors and the ugliness inside will eventually seep into our souls and even our bodies. We can, literally, kill ourselves with bitterness and hate.

The news reports lately have reminded us how far we still have to go to find true acceptance of each other. America suffers from the grief of lost lives, damaged reputations and questions about injustice.

It is a blight on our land and an attack against the very soul of a country that was founded on colorful demographics. Although I don’t understand all the nuances of what has happened, I do feel the grief of families who have lost children, store owners who have watched their businesses burn and stereotypes profiled unfairly on both sides.

I know how easy it is to allow our pain to gnaw through the goodness God has granted us and to refuse to show grace to each other. One side of my family tree is decorated with Cherokees who were forced to march from North Carolina to Oklahoma. Thousands of men, women and children died along the Trail of Tears. The tragedy was so intense, even the soldiers who were ordered to carry out this debauchery wept.

Yet the Native Americans still thrive as a people, proud of their heritage, artistic in their pursuits and determined to seek a better livelihood for their children. It has taken several generations of honest confrontation, better laws and yes – even some national apologies to make peace happen.

I personally know some of these beautiful people from the Sooner State who learned how to forgive the past and moved into a place of mutual respect with those who stole their land.

We all make mistakes. We stumble and fail. We disappoint God and ourselves and yes – sometimes we make life-changing errors. But somewhere in the road back to sanity, we have to find a way to learn from the experience and not do it again.

I believe one of the stepping stones in that road is labeled forgiveness. I wish we would give it a try.

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