Hope Confesses

1 peter 2-23It felt ugly and sent me into several days of discouragement. A verbal attack – probably not intentional – but to be my authentic self, I must admit it hurt.

The words questioned my blogging skills, criticized word count and focus, suggested that another direction would be more effective, violated several of the blogging rules I espouse.

Constructive criticism? Possibly. But spoken without any encouragement or positive phrases. The confrontive words “you need to” at the beginning of each sentence.

Worse – the attack was not written where I could ponder each word and form my response. But verbal and quick so I had no time to recover and respond, not even a chance to defend myself.

I wanted to run away, to find some solace in people who love me and believe in my words. But that seemed the coward’s path, and I had responsibilities to fulfill.

Instead, I texted my son, “Pray for me. I need a hug.”

His reply almost immediate, “Certainly.”

We ate at Cracker Barrel that evening because I needed some fried apples and a hashbrown casserole for comfort. I reviewed what had happened that day. Sometimes just verbalizing an experience helps us work through it – to find some point of learning in the criticism, some intent in the phrasing.

And some sense of what to do about the situation.

Then I spent an hour with my journal, writing it out, because that is how I process the experiences of my life – in the written word – the same format that brought about the attack.

Two more days passed as I processed what had been said, thought more about it, prayed for wisdom in how to respond, how to learn from it. Nothing I could do would change the fact that it happened.

But how should I react, as a Christian writer who hopes my words and phrases inspire and encourage? What direction should I take?

With more journaling and more inward scrutiny, I discovered an ugly seed hiding within the heart of my passionate words. Pride whispered, “You’ve been blogging for years. You’ve taught other writers how to blog, and you know all the tools and techniques. You teach at writers conferences and you have over 1300 followers on your blog, for cryin’ out loud! How dare this person attack you when you have such credibility?”

Owie!

In the posture of the repentant, I knelt by my bed and honestly confronted the source. “I don’t like this hurt, God, but I admit the pride that has been wounded. I confess that sour germ to you and ask that you help me not to let is fester or cause bitterness. I do not want to be ugly back to this person. I want to learn to be a better writer, to continue to inspire and encourage as well as inform. I admit the pain, but I want to learn from it.”


Confession does not automatically heal the wound, but it sets us in the right direction for purity of heart and growth of the soul.


“The pure in heart shall see God.” My ultimate bucket list contains this goal.

So as I write and obey this new directive, I will focus on the hope that pours from my passion. I vow to not run from the truth but from the pride that deceives and confuses.

Hopefully, the words that erupt will then be more acceptable – in the marketplace and in my soul.

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

Hope in Finding the Story

saleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work – some objects that would bring encouragement to the women I coach: maybe a pot of flowers, some beautiful cards, a trinket I could give away.

What I didn’t expect to find was a story.

I joined the crowd of people poking through bedrooms, closets and kitchen – each of us searching for treasures at a reduced price.

Empathy set in as I realized this was a family who had just buried their matriarch. Now they had sold her house and were sorting through what she left behind, offering pieces of her life to strangers.

What sort of life did she live? The question hounded me even as I began to discover clues to her story.

In the garage, colorful pots for planting the cuttings of a new flower or plant. The texture of the pots described a women who was attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

A stack of books pulled me like a magnet into the intrigue of a life past. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic treatises. A mathematical mind, detailed, and carefully constructed to pay attention to pi, cosign and greater than.

A pile of books about alternative health. Was she sickened by a disease no one could treat, so she tried to find help beyond the traditional medical community? Did any of the vitamins, acupuncture or colloidal treatments give her a few more years of quality life?

Sadly – no books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books – unless her family already sequestered those to keep alive the memories of mom and grandmother.

The basement, filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I combed through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol-building substances, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan I needed, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular pan before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story did my life tell and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and and a woman who loves color and texture?

If a stranger looked under my deck, would they determine how I garden with old yet favorite tools, that the farmer gene in me has never exited, even after years in the city?

Would my costume jewelry, my terracotta pottery and my wooden rocking chair whisper that I am a simple country girl who finds solace in the beauty of handmade afghans, multiple stacks of books and the comforting jangle of a flowery mobile from New Mexico?

I came away from that estate sale hugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan I needed to replace its long-ago-broken twin and a sense of story that emanated from the treasures I held.

We are each living the story of our lives. How much of our stuff reflects our authenticity and moves others to consider hope?

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

Hope Thrives Through the Aunties’ Prayers

woman prayingAs I closed my prayer journal, I thought once again about my nieces and nephews. These dear ones were the focus of my Sabbath prayers – the next generation that will love justice, show mercy and live as Kingdom-bearers in our world.

Years ago, I determined to pray them through school decisions, career changes and life-long relationships. Now I wonder how my prayers protected them or spurred them to consider a different path, a more focused decision. No matter. I will love them and root for them forever.

And what about the intercessions of my aunties? Judging from the fruit of their lives, I would bet they also kept prayer lists and on those lists, somewhere – my name appears.


It is because of their influence that I write and serve and minister. The glorious result of their example helped frame me as they modeled how to become strong and authentic women.


Most of them now live in eternal glory, yet the memories I carry of them are as distinct as my own reflection in the bedroom mirror.

Mary: the auntie who loved me even when I could not love myself. She never saw the zits, the perm-fried hair or the thunder thighs that mortified me throughout adolescence and high school. Mary just loved me and every time she saw me, I knew she was genuinely glad to see me. How I would love to feel her arms around me again!

Lynda: the teacher auntie who expressed interest in every one of my projects, supported my ministries and showed up, smiling, whenever I sang a solo or gave a speech. I felt important in her presence and knew she cared for me. I would bet, even now, she is checking with God about my activities.

Alma Dee: a busy mother of five, who still found time to spend hours with me, listening to my recitations of Bible verses and encouraging me to study the truth of God’s word. She helped me build a foundation that I later shared with my Bible students and then morphed into the personality of Reverend G.

Ethel: the gracious and kindly auntie who surpassed Martha Stewart in hospitality and the making of home. Her beautiful house was immaculate, her décor creative while her face always carried the shine of God’s love. Even now, this still-living auntie, reflects the presence of God and wears a forever smile, probably knowing she will see Him in person someday soon.

Adina: the widowed auntie who raised her children alone and achieved a master’s degree when it was unusual for women to pursue the higher levels of education. She challenged me to pursue my dreams. Because she persevered, I could, too.

Lucille: the glamourous auntie whose red lipstick shocked and amazed me. I wanted to try that shade – just once. It was at her memorial service that I learned about the depth of her faith and wondered if she, too, had prayed for me.

These aunties are just some of the relatives whom I respected and loved. They taught me the values I still espouse and shared their faith as generously as they gave kisses on the cheek.

Without these aunties and their prayers, I might have chosen another path. I have lived the results of my aunties’ prayers. So I now pass on that treasure for the younger ones who follow me.

Who prayed for you? What difference did those prayers make in your life?

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

Hope Eliminates Shame

A memory from my past whispers, “Shame on you,” and suddenly I am four years old again. I have spilled melted ice cream on the floor. An accident. A lack of mature motor skills. I know that now, but my four year-old self only heard the phrase, “Shame on you.” authenticity - shame

Last week, I finished the book “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown and once again, I wondered about shame. How many times was shame placed irreverently and inadvertently on my infant soul?

How many times did I believe it, and invite that verdict inward so that as an adult, I am still reeling from the impact?

Shame began in the Garden of Eden when Adam said, “This woman you gave me….” He blamed Eve for the sin of eating the fruit, and he blamed God for giving him a woman who was not perfect. The serpent, aka Satan, used that seed of shame and since then has perpetrated this disease on all of Eve’s daughters.

Men also struggle with shame. When someone reminds them they are less than perfect – not a stud on the football field, not enough as a husband and father, not as handsome as Colin Firth (but of course – no one can compare to Colin Firth).

And on and on the shame goes, through the generations. We shame our children and each other. Why can’t you be like your brother?  Why are you bringing home a “C” when you should have earned an “A”?

Shouldn’t you lose a little bit of weight? Wear a different shade of makeup? Be more like the family in the pew ahead of you? Isn’t it past time for you to have a best seller?

And before we know it, we are again wallowing in puddles of muddy shame.

In our hearts, we know God does not place blame and shame on us. Yet, our brains play the same old tapes.

What Brené Brown writes about with such audacity is that becoming our vulnerable selves faces off against the shame and helps us be who God created us to be.

The joy of finding our authentic selves and living out of that reality is that no one can ever shame us again. 

I pray to God that I never shame my son or anyone else. To my knowledge, I have never used those words, “Shame on you,” and I hope I never imply them by rolled eyes, a sideways glance or a snickering sarcasm.

My hope is built on the fact that I am accepted by grace – with no qualifiers, and I want to extend that same grace to others. Because who we are is much more important than what we do or even what we never accomplish.

And even if the world and our culture doesn’t understand the difference, at least my soul knows the Divine one will never ever shame me.

Let’s challenge each other to be our authentic selves, to lay down our whispered past and find hope in the coming eternity. Let’s live out our lives in joyful abandon, always and forever — without shame.

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

Hope Offered by Anne Lamott

As an author, I always hope my words will impact readers, but sometimes this goal reverses. Sometimes I find myself changed by another writer’s work.

love God love peopleOne of those writers for me is Anne Lamott.

This week, I was thrilled to attend a presentation by Anne Lamott right here in Kansas City. Anne was, as I expected, witty as well as inspirational. As tired as she was from a busy book tour, she once again reminded me of how she has impacted my faith walk.

Since I became a Christian as a young child, my faith has evolved and grown through several transformations. During those early years of belief, I’m not sure I truly comprehended the power of God’s love nor did I understand exactly what Jesus had saved me from.

How many sins can a four-year old confess? I simply fell in love with Jesus.

But it was legalism that scarred my faith. During my challenging adolescent and teenage years, I was taught how I needed to perform and submit in order to keep God’s love. Legalism 101.

Any mistakes brought an immediate need for confession, hoping the faith teachers and other saints would somehow forget my errors and God would forgive. The shame pit rapidly grew deep as I could never quite dig myself out and be holy enough.

Then Anne Lamott entered my life through her books. Here was a Christian who was authentic, yet not afraid to confront God with her doubts. She showed me how creative God is – how he uses every possible avenue to draw people to his Son.

It was okay for Anne to eat M&M’s for dinner, to occasionally use raw language and to write with a graphic honesty. She showed me that being real meant being true to myself, others and God – how to stop carrying that burden of perfectionism.

Her books underscored the truth that learning faith is a lifelong journey and no one really knows my heart except God. Beyond that, I am not responsible to make everyone else accept me.

As I studied more about faith, searched the interpretation of scriptures as a whole and opened my wounded mind, I saw how so much faith-learning was based in fear. If leaders could determine for themselves what was right and wrong through tradition or prejudice, then they could control others and prevent any radicalism. Legalism 201.

What they forgot to teach was that Jesus was one of the most radical and authentic people who has ever lived. He ate with sinners, associated with people whom society and religion called untouchable. He respected women and had the gall to say, “Hey, everybody. Just two important rules. Love God and love each other.”

What freedom I found in his authentic life and Anne’s words, in her mantra of the three most important prayers, “Help. Thanks. Wow!”

I reveled in her salvation story – how God pursued her when she wasn’t interested. She never worried about being good enough because she didn’t care about pleasing God or comparing herself with others. Yet God cared about her and loved her into belief.

For me – this was a new definition of grace.

I look forward to reading her newest book, “Small Victories – Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” I’m reserving special quiet time to ruminate over her words. I know already that I will love the book and probably learn more about being authentic.

So I am grateful for the hope offered by Anne Lamott. I pray that someday my words will so impact my readers that they will grow in faith and learn the joy of freedom in Christ.

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

 

 

Cheering for the Young

VF01Last weekend, I attended graduation receptions for two young women. I have followed these girls through the lives and prayers of their mothers – two of my friends. And when I see these girls on Facebook or at my church, I smile – even though I know they probably don’t realize who I am or that I have an interest in their lives.

But now they are embarking into the future, armed with one of the greatest treasures we all hope to possess: passion.

Each of these young women are passionate about who they are and what they want to accomplish. Each of them is unique with giftings that show how incredibly smart they are and how much potential they possess.

On one hand, I want to protect them from what is out there. I know they will experience losses and resulting griefs. That is just life. They will also be tempted to abandon their passions for lesser goals. I hope and pray that does not happen.

Generations of women have abandoned their passions for lesser goals. That is a travesty. Many women have even forgotten what it felt like to have a dream and feel energized to make that dream happen. So many women believe they are not enough and try to find artificial ways to make themselves measure up.

And so…within this blog platform…I wish to give you female graduates some advice. As an older woman, I’ve earned the right to do that and as a woman who has prayed for you, I believe it is my duty to share insights learned from long years on my knees and long hours trying to find the restorative keys to my own passion.

Dear Ones, please listen and heed this advice:

Always keep your passion alive. Whether you long to become an editor of an international publication or you yearn to join the Philharmonic Orchestra or you hope to run the Boston Marathon and beat the guys – keep your passion secure and alive. Without your passion, your soul will become stale and you will lose the energy and zest for life that is so necessary to not only survive, but also to thrive.

Never settle for what is merely good – whether in jobs, possessions or love. Instead, wait for and strive for what is best. Fifty years from now, you will look back and be glad that you waited for the best because that gives your life significance without regret. God created you as unique, and he wants the best for you. So never settle for only the good.

Be authentic. If you don’t want to join the crowd, if you don’t want to be part of the sorority, if you hate broccoli – just be yourself and stay authentic. Wearing a mask is more tiring than being yourself. And trust me on this – you are already incredible. You are beautiful and you are a treasure. You are already enough.

When life gets hard, remember that your parents raised you to embrace your passion. They have sacrificed much so that you could run toward your goals and every day, they think of you and pray for you.

Then also know this…if you listen very carefully, somewhere in the atmosphere you will hear the rest of us women who have gone before you. We are cheering for you and hoping that you will be the ones to break the barriers of gender abuse, so that all women everywhere will be embraced as the incredible creatures we are.

I love you both. I continue to pray for you. I believe in you.

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

Saturday Sisters

SAMSUNGWe’ve done life together, these five women and I. Once part of the same church fellowship, we became a team. They interceded for me and supported me when I served as  international minister at KU. They continue to intercede and support me in my ministries as writer and life coach.

We’ve laughed together and cried together as women do so well. All it takes is a phone call or an email to bring us together either physically or in prayer.

They are warriors, each and every one, ready to fight for each other, provide intervention when needed and encouragement when we don’t even know that’s what we need.

With this group of women, I can be real. I talk about my fears and my troubles without having to wrap them around Bible verses or a mask of faith.

My Saturday sisters understand. We share some of the same aches and pains yet we explore hope together, knowing we are headed for a better life in eternity.

Once a month we meet, on a Saturday. We put together a spontaneous pot luck, reconnect, hug and record prayer requests. We nurture each other as we check up on our needs and our joys. We bring special recipes and understand when one or more of us just can’t think of a single thing to cook. We keep each other accountable in faith and in the realities of life.

These Saturday sisters live out authenticity and know how to be real.

Two of us struggled through mid life divorce while the other four have lived many years with the same husband. We’ve prayed each other through those situations, too – through perseverance and heartache, joy and frustration.

Three of us know the pain of dealing with a parent who has Alzheimer’s. They tell me their stories so I can learn and include new passages in my books. We hope and pray that we won’t have to face the same battle ourselves.

We have prayed for each others’ children and grandchildren for they, too, have been underlined on our prayer lists. It feels as if we have raised six families together and indeed, we have needed each others’ village.

Some day I may write a book about my Saturday sisters and honor each of them in chapters that speak of their gifts and our bond of friendship.

I love them each, and I love them all together. Every time we meet, I consider it a blessing to peer into their pure hearts. And I respect how they love me back, just for who I am.

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