Hope Finds a Relationship

This series about the Saturday Sisters cannot end without a post that features Deb. Although I have written about her numerous times since that horrible day she died – she is still included when the Saturday Sisters meet.Debby

Susan makes the guacamole Deb loved. Janet often dresses the table with the quilt Deb made for her.

Although we have reassigned seats, the place where Deb sat still holds her presence. We still consider her one of the Sisters, mainly because of her gift to us – relationship.

Judging from the number of people who attended her funeral, Deb’s gift for relationship flowed beyond our circle.

Simply put, she knew how to relate to others. It wasn’t always an easy relationship, but even then – Deb knew how to work through the differences.

None of us were ready for her death. None of us ever imagined it might happen and that she would be taken from us so quickly. We all experienced those first days / weeks / months of blessed shock that protected us for a while from intense pain.

And on the one year anniversary of her death, we met again to toast her life and remember what she meant to us.

My therapist tells me the end of relationships is the reason so many elderly people are depressed. Because when they lose someone they have loved for a lifetime, they know time will not allow them to ever replace that friendship. They simply don’t have enough years left.

As if Deb could ever be replaced. Not happening.

Deb and I often took trips together – to test the relationship, to see if we could at some point live together and share expenses.

We had our moments. I am a morning person. Deb was awake long after I was in bed. I am a scheduler, a planner. Deb was spontaneous.

We added flavor to each other even as we learned to compensate for our differences.

The strangest confrontation we ever had was during our trip to New Mexico. We were in Red River, that lovely mountain town where Deb played her Native American flute from our balcony. People gathered to ooh and ah at the sound as it echoed off the mountains.

In the grocery store that night, we each bought snacks. Then Deb said, “Put them in the same sack. We’ll save a bit of plastic to protect the environment.”

For some reason, it bothered me not to have my own sack. I have been independent for years, so to have someone else tell me what to do with my stuff – well – that just wouldn’t fly.

I know. It sounds so stupid now.

But we left the store with only one sack between us. Deb immediately sensed something wrong, and we worked through it. We talked it out of our systems. I admitted to being foolish and selfish. She confessed to assuming I would agree with her.

The main issue was to keep our relationship trustworthy and intact. Which we did.

She always found a way to reach my soft spot, buried beneath the scars of years without trust.

And that’s what I miss the most. The action of relationship. Her voice on the phone. Her face at my door. Her cats on my lap and her smile when she knew we were on the same telepathic wavelength.

Someone I could trust with my inner self.

The Saturday Sisters have added so much richness to my life, I cannot fathom being without them. Could never imagine the group without Deb.

But life does not flow within the barriers we desire. It surprises us with illness and death, but also with treasured friendships that build with each meeting.

It has been said that we meet people for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime.

Twenty plus years with this amazing group of women is a small lifetime and each of us has brought a gift to the group.

Whether it’s Encouragement, Wisdom, Service, Perseverance or Relationship, I feel truly blessed to be part of the Saturday Sisters of Lawrence, Kansas.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Stands With Perseverance

As we continue to discover the qualities of each Saturday Sister, Hope shows itself in the persevering life of Sharon.flower cactus

For over twenty years, my Saturday Sisters have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Sister Sharon and I have shared fun times together. We were both moms of band students, so we traveled to every band competition, ballgame and even band practice we could manage. In fact, one year we met at the grassy field where the band practiced and prayed for their season.

Football fans may not realize how hard the band works. With two-a-day practices that begin with the earliest crow of the rooster, the band is on the practice field. Sharon and I know because we vicariously lived it with our children.

It was Sharon who realized I would someday move from the cozy town of Lawrence to the Kansas City Metro. She was the sister who encouraged me to attempt the 435 loop and the Grandview Triangle, which felt like a near-death experience. She directed me through neighborhoods and helped me imagine that life could indeed be okay in the big city.

We both love flowers, so Sharon and I have found joy in visiting numerous lawn and nurseries. We revel in the colors and textures of God’s creations, even the birds we feed each day and the animals each of us have loved.

But the main reason I love Sharon is because of her perseverance. For many years, she has lived with the debilitating disease of muscular dystrophy. She endures the pain, the stares of rude people and even cruel comments that come her way.

Each moment of each day brings the need to persevere, to make it through another hour and try to find some joy in it.

She manages to persevere, because her faith is stronger than her pain.

She plans her days around how many steps it takes to launder the clothes, how long she can manage to move around her kitchen to fix a meal and how to stay awake when pain kept her from sleep the night before. Even her diet is now affected as so many things upset her delicate system.

The living of life itself is a challenge. Yet this sister has prayed me through various difficulties. She has shown me how to endure when life throws a stink ball and she has enabled me to persevere because of her example.

Sharon has no idea how beautiful she is, but the rest of us consistently see God’s beauty in her.

When I think of Sharon and her gift of perseverance, a quote from the best-selling “The Art of Racing in the Rain” underscores what I want to say: “The physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak. A true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”  

Sharon is a true champion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope Believes in Service

Continuing with this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of my Saturday Sisters.

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together. Today I focus on the Servant Sister, Susan.serving - Jesus love

Her demeanor is that of the humble Servant as she believes strongly yet expresses herself softly. She is a constant reminder to me of the way we should love others by being Love.

Susan is an amazing cook, a faithful wife, mother and grandmother.  Each time we meet, she brings a bowl of guacamole – to honor Deb. And she is the sister who provides the main dish, a quiche filled with goodness sans the gluten. Two of us are gluten free.

In the various experiences of my life, Susan has been there to serve. She is a talented garage sale shopper and finds the best bargains that are beautiful and functional.

During the dark beginnings of my post-divorce days, Susan brought me gifts that accessorized my new décor. She helped me imagine how life would again someday be worthwhile.

Sometimes, I would hear the doorbell ring and hurry to open it. But no one stood there, only a bag of groceries, a pile of coupons or an envelope of cash. I have no proof, but I imagined these gifts were probably from Susan.

When I moved to Olathe, it was Susan and her husband, Steve, who stayed the longest to help me arrange everything. When they left, I almost called Susan and said, “Come back. I need another hug.” She gives great hugs that infuse me with the best of grace-filled love.

She is a faith heroine, a supporter of the Navigators and a woman who cares deeply about the lost and hurting. She prays with a fervency that teaches me how to focus on the heart of God rather than on my own needs.

Always, always Susan serves with little thought for herself.

Yet, she is strong enough to defend herself and those she loves. In spite of cultural changes, she stands for truth and continues to learn more about serving God. She uses her spare time to help others, to give of herself and to share whatever she has.

Nowhere have I found a more gracious Servant than Susan.

We share a birthday month, just two days apart, so we often send cards and sometimes a little gift. I always feel closer to her in October.

Susan adds to our Sister meetings with a soft voice, sharing her latest news with a positive spin. She knows how to stay in Hope and how to praise God for the blessings of life. She reminds me to do the same, especially when I veer off into negativity.

Although she never boasts about her gifts or pushes herself into first place, I know she has a tender heart.

I saw her grief-stricken face at Deb’s funeral, and I wanted to help her feel better. But I couldn’t. She has always been the one to help others.

When we get to heaven, Susan will have a special place – probably near the heart of God. Her life and her Servant ways have earned her a “Well done,” and I love who she is with a passion I cannot express.

This Sister shows us what it means to love every day, in ways we cannot fathom. Somehow, she finds a way to do her Serving with grace and for that – I honor her.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book on my Amazon Author page.

 

Hope Thrives in Wisdom

If you are just now joining me, let me introduce this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of the Saturday Sisters.poster from Ginger

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Today I focus on the tallest Sister, Ginger.

None of us call her Virginia, because the moniker of Ginger sounds more friendly. She once served as a gifted lawyer, but now revels in the roles of wife, grandmother, friend and sister.

Her gift to me is Wisdom.

From the time we first met, in the welcome line for new members at First Christian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, Ginger has impressed me as the most authentic woman I have ever known.

In spite of chronic illness, Ginger wears her authenticity with the wisdom of years. She and I share a common background. As recovering Mennonites we both love music, missions and carbohydrates.

I covet her white hair because my gray is not attractive. But I really loved how she once added a streak of dark purple, an impulsive move that delighted us and underscored her creativity.

Ginger and her husband, Ken, have supported me in various ministries through the years, but it was her kind generosity and wisdom that helped me through the dark beginnings of divorce. She was practical yet soft, wise yet gentle. I will always love her for being there when the need was so great.

Her Wisdom also manifests in story as Ginger is one of the best story-tellers I know. She served on my team as an international minister, telling the stories of the Bible to children and their mothers from all over the world. She brought Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve alive to beginners in faith and seasoned saints.

I am quite certain some young adults in China or the Ukraine now believe in the amazing Yahweh God, because they saw him live through Ginger.

When we meet as Saturday Sisters, it is Ginger’s stories that enthrall us, that lead to laughter or a general sigh of agreement. While we grieve for the illnesses she bears, for the pain that often keeps her away from our meetings – we treasure our times together.

I love how Ginger speaks her truth and how she often shares on my blog comments. It makes me feel closer to her through the miles, to send a hug through cyberspace and thank her for taking the time to read and respond.

Although we are not far apart in age, Ginger seems so much stronger than I, wiser for her years of experience, grace-filled in spite of sorrows. She reminds me to persevere, to find the stories in the every dayness of living and to keep on writing, even through rejection.

A creative poster Ginger designed hangs in my office and is represented in the image above. With her usual flair for color and texture, it is the wisdom of Ginger’s words that I appreciate most: “I have always known that I would take this path, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

The Wisdom of my Sister Ginger challenges me to seek my own wisdom in the things that count, in the words I write and in the Hope I strive for.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope and the Saturday Sisters

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.SAMSUNG

We have watched our children grow up, shared the joys of weddings and the sorrow of funerals. Phone calls, emails and texts help us stay connected, but it is our monthly meetings that feed my soul.

As I have considered my next book, I wondered if it was time to write about the Saturday Sisters. Somehow, that book isn’t coming together – yet – so I asked each of these precious ones if I could describe them in a blog post.

With their permission, I decided to go deep and talk about how each of these Sisters has added to my life.

During the aging process, we begin to think about legacies and what we will leave behind. We de-clutter the stuff, knowing it is no longer  important. But it is the people we cannot forget, cannot shove into the Goodwill bin. These are the treasured ones who have added to our living and shown us how to be.

This blog post begins my thank you to the Saturday Sisters for how they have enriched my life.

Janet: The Encourager. She has a special way of turning a dark day into a beam of light. With her witty humor and her pithy statements, she has often given me hope when everything seemed desperate.

She calls once / week to check up on me from her sunroom office where her title is inscribed near her chair: CEO – Chief Encouragement Officer.

Her voice holds warmth and often – a suppressed giggle – reminding me how joy lies just below the surface. We just have to shove away the despair to find it.

Janet encourages me in my writing and in my living. She and her husband, Steve, have supported my various ministries and they are patrons for my writing life.

She is also a prolific reader. She finds the most amazing books I have never heard of. Then she shares them with the group and often sends each of us a copy.

One of those books provides morning and evening meditations for me. “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillee has challenged me while reminding me once again how Janet encourages me to grow.

It is Janet’s lovely house where we meet, because it is totally accessible for her wheelchair. This Encourager lives with MS and its side effects, facing her own dark days yet somehow never letting them destroy her faith.

I am consistently amazed by Janet’s courage, and I love her intensely for who she is.

Janet’s husband, Steve, is our associate member. He helps Janet get the house ready, picks treasures from his garden to share with us and gives amazingly strong, beautiful hugs. Steve is one of those rare men who is trustworthy, kind and smart.

He and Janet have merged their personalities into a grace-filled pairing of what marriage should be.

It is Janet who organizes our monthly meetings, who leads us in our discussions and keeps us on track. She is the energizing force behind the Saturday Sisters, and I truly don’t know how she does it so well.

Except that she is gifted as an Encourager.

She knows who she is and how to set healthy boundaries. As a former lawyer, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother – Janet is the Sister who keeps me steadfastly searching for Hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more information about my books, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Depends on Divine Accompaniment

For many years, I accompanied soloists and choral groups with piano, organ or keyboard. It was a fun time and a growing experience in my musical journey.piano keys

The art of accompaniment includes several techniques:

  • The accompanist follows rather than leads.
  • A good accompanist adds to the performance and does not overshadow the soloist.
  • To accompany means to help, but it can also include a few embellishments, chord segues or arpeggios that add richness to the performance.
  • Good accompanists are a treasure. Soloists and choir directors seek out only the best.

In her best-selling book, “The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of Enough” Julia Cameron introduces the concept of divine accompaniment where God is so close, He goes with us on each journey and throughout our daily tasks.

I love this idea, because I spend so much time in the necessary aloneness of creativity. Sometimes I forget my Husband and Maker is right beside me.

But how does that divine accompaniment work, especially when the “star” of the show is not me but rather – the Divine One?

I like to think of God as walking beside me hand in hand. Together we combine our forces and gifts, the desires of the heart completely intertwined so that it is impossible to tell one from the other.

God adds a score, a lovely embellishment that completes the thought or action I have taken. I use the gifts he has given me to add richness and texture to our journey together.

Although the composition may sometimes feel or sound discordant — in the end, it resolves into a lovely sound that resembles a final Amen.

The Divine One accompanies my writing projects, the relationships I build with clients and friends, the very texture of my life.

And always the reminder within the music of each day: I am never alone. I am accompanied by the Creator of beauty who reverberates his sound within me.

The Divine Accompanist underscores hope and completes his theme with graceful beauty.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Divine Accompanist shows up in my book Hope Shines – now available in regular and large print.

Hope is Present

When I worked for a national organization of chaplains, we often talked about the ministry of presence. As people struggle with grief and face challenges, they need someone to show up and be with them. To be present.hugs at beach

Henri Nouwen eloquently explained this ministry of presence, “I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”   

Somehow we think we must always come up with a perfect quote or a special Bible verse to help another person over the hump.

But my quote is not your quote. Your Bible verse may not help me at all.

So feeling the need to impart great wisdom rarely shares hope, especially for those who are suffering.

During this year of grief, my son’s illness and unanswered questions, hope has shown itself in the ministry of presence.

I have been blessed by special friends who were determined to just be present: An invite for morning coffee or a spontaneous offer of iced tea which then morphed into supper at Red Robin. Hugs. A plate of gluten free treats. A listening ear. An “I’m thinking about you” card or an “I’m praying for you” text.

No wise quotes. No Bible verses. No “You should do this” statements.

These “present” friends granted me space and allowed me the time to heal in my own way. No expectations. No judgment.

Plenty of hope.

Now I am determined to pay it forward – to just be present when I meet another struggling pilgrim.

When others are suffering, to offer that cup of coffee or the iced tea that sweats all over the table or the meal at Red Robin with bottomless fries which I don’t need but sometimes taste really good.

To be the one who shares hope without words of wisdom, sans my ideas of what might help. To just be there as a person who cares.

Hopefully, I can do for others what others have done for me.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – now available in regular or large print.

Hope Embraces Self-Care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care interrupted my busy life.Self-Care

It has taken me so many years to write this truth and believe it: Self-Care is a spiritual discipline.

Somehow we think if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual. If we are exhausted, we have completed our journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet we cannot truly love others until we learn how to love ourselves. Check out this amazing article about the walking wounded.

Taking care of ourselves feels selfish, somehow “less than.” Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But God never asks us to kill ourselves — even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist recently complimented me on a couple of choices I made. “Both of those are self-care,” she said.

I didn’t even realize I was taking care of myself. I just made some choices that seemed necessary to avoid overwhelming stress.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way” underscores the importance of artist dates. These dates with ourselves aren’t necessarily doing something artsy.

They can be a visit to an arboretum, a late-night ice cream run or a stroll through the farmer’s market. Cameron also encourages the five-minute time out — just a few moments to stop the busyness and breathe.

After a couple of years of extreme stress, I’ve decided to do something entirely for self-care. The Creative Reboot is a writers conference in Santa Fe that focuses on refreshing the creative juices. Most of the presenters are new to me, except for Julia Cameron. I am beyond excited to meet her in person.

But I’m also taking a couple of extra days to walk the streets of Santa Fe, breathe the mountain air, remember five years ago when my friend Deb and I were there, feel the texture of turquoise jewelry and eat lots of meals that feature green chilies.

I hope to gain creative ideas and maybe the structure for my next novel. Mostly, I’ll refresh the perspective that taking care of myself is part of the entire health package.

And when I return, the week of self-care will result in a larger package of hope I can carry with me into the next months.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a gift for someone who likes to read Large Print? Hope Shines is now available in Large Print.

Hope Reaches The Date

Today is the day I have been dreading, yet looking forward to its arrival. July 16. One year since my friend Deb stepped into eternity.

Deb - RJT under book arch

Deb and I in Santa Fe, under the book arch 

I have dreaded this date because of the following:

  • Memories will unavoidably reoccur—scenes from the ICU, holding her hand even as it grew colder, wishing and praying she could wake up, family loving her as she journeyed Home
  • A repeat of what her loss has meant and how deeply this awful emptiness has changed my life
  • Empathy grief for her children and family—how they must be feeling on this day

But how could I possibly anticipate July 16 and actually be grateful it has arrived?

The one year mark of the grieving process carries with it a certain relief. I have lived through this year and reached its pinnacle. Now perhaps an extra acceptance will somehow lessen the grief, help me move into the next year with a bit of hope.

In every circumstance of life, I have sought to learn something from the experience. Can’t help it. Life-long learning is one of my core values.

So what have I learned from this horrible event and the past year of ultimate sadness?

  • The grieving process is impossible to describe—even for a writer.
  • My grief is not your grief, so I must be true to my heart’s feelings and its necessary outpouring.
  • One day may be totally different than the next with no clue as to what may trigger a grief attack.
  • The importance of women friends who seem to know exactly what I need before I can express it.
  • The need for gifted counselors who listen and express sympathy without letting me wallow in my pain.
  • The vitality of my faith. Without the absolute knowing I will see Deb again, I would be totally devastated.
  • The blanket covering of prayers. They carry us through each day, even when we’re not aware of their presence.
  • The importance of treasured friendships and how to focus on my current relationships.
  • The need for staying in hope—for looking forward instead of remaining trapped in the loss.

For months, I have thought about my plans for this day. I could isolate myself and disappear into a gallon of comforting ice cream. Lots of chocolate. Extra chocolate.

But instead, I forced myself to ask the question: How can I honor Deb most on this day?

After multiple ideas, I have decided on the following plan:

A visit to the cemetery, some flowers on her grave, a few words of closure, “I miss you. I’m glad you’re safe with Jesus.”

Lunch with the remaining Saturday sisters, this group of women who miss Deb as much as I.

Then a pilgrimage to the Humane Society where I’ll leave a donation to help care for abandoned cats. In honor of Deb and her Sweet Pea and Jasper. Force myself not to look in the cages, not even to consider adopting another cat.

Then return home and go to sleep, eager for the next day—for moving forward past this year of grieving and into a more positive 12 months ahead.

I still miss her—dreadfully—but I can now think of her residing in that place of peaceful joy. I can be more grateful now for the friendship we had and the eternity we will share.

Hope steps forward, certain that grief may visit again, but without the sharp rawness of total loss.

At least—that’s what I’m hanging on to.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope Proposes One Change

Sometimes it takes only one change to find hope.hope endures

One of my friends made one change in her diet. She stopped drinking soda and lost ten pounds. One change gave her a healthier body.

For writers, if we change one thing in the narrative, we can affect the entire story. For example, if the Wizard of Oz took place in New Orleans instead of Kansas, L. Frank Baum would have written about a hurricane instead of a tornado.

Hope sometimes hides under one possibility of change. And that one change may alter everything else.

Ann Voskamp lived with chronic depression. When an older woman challenged her to make a list of gratitudes, Ann balked. “Change can’t be that easy,” she said.

But it was. As she began to list her gratitudes—even noting something as simple as the translucent rainbow in her dishwater—the clouds of gloom lifted. Ann continued looking for gratitudes and finally, her depression left.

Last spring, my kitchen was driving me nuts. I knew I couldn’t tear down walls or rearrange the main floor, so I made the one change that was possible. I ripped off the old outdated border and painted the walls a healthy green.

Just that one change seemed to lift my spirits. Working in my updated kitchen offered new hope.

So what about you? What one change can you make in your own narrative that might change everything?

Sometimes hope is one tiny step away.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

To read more about hope and how it can change our lives, check out Hope Shines – now available in Large Print.

 

 

Hope Applauds a Strong Woman

Throughout the years, she has been pictured as the “not enough” woman. Not enough faith, not enough like her sister, not enough commitment to stop everything and listen to Jesus.

Yet, I like her. Martha.  real - not perfect

Legend says she was a wealthy widow, and it was her home in Bethany where she cared for her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

It was her home where Jesus felt comfortable enough to take a break from ministry — to just “be” for a while. Martha’s home was his retreat center.

Why do I like Martha?

Martha was a do-er.

As the owner of the home and the matriarch of the family, Martha was the one who organized the household. She got things done.

Whether planning how to feed her Savior and his group of rowdy disciples or accomplishing the daily tasks of linen weaving, grape and olive picking, laundry, management of people — Martha got ‘er done.

Sure, she occasionally slipped out of balance. Who doesn’t? We know of only one incident where she was carried way with the prep of a meal and forgot what was more important.

But how many of us would do the same? If I knew Jesus was physically coming to my house tonight, you can bet I would pull out my favorite recipe and make sure the bathroom was clean. I’m not sure I would take extra time for an hour of prayer and devotion.

Obviously, Martha was the Type A personality. Without the Martha’s of the world, churches could not operate, non-profits would fold and half the governments of the world would be defunct.

Martha was bold.  

She lived through a terrible tragedy, but she knew who to contact for help. She sent word to Jesus that her brother was sick. She trusted her God to come and heal this precious loved one.

But Jesus did not arrive in time.

Finally, after Lazarus died, Jesus came. Martha marched up to him and dared to confront him. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha was angry and felt Jesus had betrayed her and the family friendship. He didn’t show up in time. He let her beloved brother die.

How many of us have the courage to state the truth of how we feel when our prayers go unanswered and the worst happens?

We may not have the guts to speak our truth, but we feel wounded by the God we love.

Martha was honest and bold enough to state the root of her grief. She knew Jesus loved her enough that he would allow her to be angry with him. And he would love her even more with his response.

Martha was chosen.  

Jesus wasn’t upset with Martha’s bold statement. In fact, he had already planned how he was going to bless her.

He had a greater miracle in mind.

He told her to just believe, and then he instructed the people nearby to remove the stone from the grave.

Here we see bold, practical Martha again. “You’re kidding, Jesus, right? My brother has been dead four days. He’s already stinky.”

Again Jesus reminds her to believe, then he calls Lazarus out of that grave.

Imagine how exciting that moment must have been for this amazing woman. Her prayers answered in a way she could not have imagined. Her brother was alive again. Her faith in Jesus restored.

No condemnation for her boldness. Jesus understood Martha’s authenticity and chose her to be the recipient of a greater miracle.

Hope restored.

God Himself gifted, loved and chose this woman. Let’s give her a break for being human.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the story of another amazing woman — Abigail. No Visible Scars.

When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

acceptanceA copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

But change happened with or without courage. The seasons of life determined new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance—now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had but if we needed something, we actually made it. Created it from the bits and pieces around us. We changed the situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my life. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished, even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. I am always ready to do what is necessary to make a situation better or to at least make it tolerable.

I revise manuscripts until they feel completely right. I add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging knees and a threatening muffin-top waist. I delete from my diet the chemicals that are harmful. Make the necessary changes.

Even as a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we can work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows me to do something—anything—to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

I am frustrated and trying to learn how to work through this whole acceptance thing. How can I find the hope needed in doing nothing?

With the help of a gifted therapist and friends who care, I am inching toward the acceptance of Deb’s death. My life has changed and will never be exactly the same. She is gone.

Somehow, I must make peace with how her absence has affected my calendar days and the future we planned together.

As we age, some things must clearly become an accepted piece of life. In her book, “Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist writes, “It’s okay to be medium.”

She’s referring to the size of clothing she now wears. After years of being petite, she now must wear the medium sizes.

My mother has accepted her life in assisted living. She is content living day by day in her safe and beautiful environment. No stresses. No bills to pay. No worrying about the car and the next oil change. Just get up every morning, eat when they tell you to eat and play Bingo.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to sometimes let go of the need to change. We have to accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance—we will be okay.

So change what you can but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy in each day.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to read about a woman who was able to change her life, check out “No Visible Scars.

Hope Rests in the Memory of Music

A tiny blip of memory – gone – then back. No reason why, but there it is again. The sweetness of a moment shared with my father-in-law all those years ago.

For some reason, Jake and I always finished getting ready for church before the rest of the family. So we had 10-15 minutes to just sit and wait – together.musical notes

Each of us seated in the comfy club chairs in the living room. He stood and walked to the stereo, pulled one of the vinyl records from his vast collection, set it to spinning. A quartet, four part harmony, Gospel music floating around us on a quiet Sunday morning.

We didn’t speak, but sat there communicating in the silence. Each of us listening, being present in the moment, sharing worship as the harmonies filled our souls.

A musical connection. A memory cherished.

With my own father, a more active memory. Dad and I making music together – his guitar, my piano. Sharing the notes, the very faith of our fathers with residents of nursing homes. Our Sunday afternoon ritual.

A routine of service. We never missed a beat. Never cancelled until life interfered, and I was off to college. Then dementia stilled his strumming fingers, his baritone voice.

Both fathers gone now. Both no doubt sharing in the worship songs of heaven. Jake and Henry. Neither of them demonstrative with affection, yet each sharing of their hearts through the power of music.

Do they sing together in the same celestial choir? Or are they individually standing before the throne, lifting their farmers’ arms upward with joy? Do either of them remember me?

Perhaps the memories come now because we are so near to celebrating Father’s Day, and I have no one to send a card, no father figure to phone an “I love you.”

Maybe I am thinking of these fathers because my heart feels emptier without their presence. Perhaps memories will fill the gap, embrace the emptiness with past love.

So I rest in the thoughts, enjoy them for as long as they fill my mind. Treasure the core of what they represent – that being present with the music drew us closer, helped us cope with the stresses of life.

And in that resting lies the hope that somewhere in the vastness of the heavenlies, a chord stirs and finds its way to them then back to me. A remembrance of time shared. A semblance of “I miss you” floating through the air.

And as I play my piano alone, I strike my own chord of gratitude for two men who impacted my life differently yet with the same medium.

And the music continues.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more memories of Hope, check out Hope Shines – Nuggets of Encouragement for Weary Souls.

No Regrets in Hope

The following is a guest post by Laney Wind. I am honored to invite Laney as a guest – a woman who embraced her courage and escaped from domestic violence. Her memoir, “Escaping the Knight in Dirty Blue Jeans is now available on Amazon. WR - book image

As I stand in my kitchen, the faces on the fridge stare back at me. Photos of those dear to my heart, those I fought to survive for: my daughters, my grandson, my aunts.

Even my sweet cuddlebug dog. I made the hard choice to re-home him and uproot my daughter. Sacrifices for a better life.

A few older images, one when the girls were younger and another hanging out with cousins, still hold a place on the white enamel fridge.

Pure happiness caught in those moments. No one can steal it away. No hurt connected with those faces.

Other photos collected over the past five years. Newer. Fresh. Symbolic of starting over. Snapshots of our new lives.

I recognize transformation in my daughters. Slow. Baby steps. Heads tilted back with giggles.

They were beginning to find themselves and find each other. They were healing. And it was beautiful.

No turning back. Not now. Did I have any regrets?

Doubts that I had done the wrong thing by divorcing their father after an almost nineteen-year relationship? That somehow if I had done more of this or more of that the Domestic Violence we lived with would have ended?

I only had to stand oh so still and listen. Listen and soak in the peace, calm, and stillness that came with the sound of Freedom.

Did I stay too long or leave too soon? Regrets that I damaged my children by remaining damaged myself? Regrets because my daughters didn’t know the true meaning of a father?

I ache for them now being fatherless.

Then the sound engulfs me. As I release the Regrets that are no longer mine to bear, I hear the sound. Healing tears, laughter, squeals of sisters.

I have No Regrets in Hope.

©2018 Laney Wind – All Rights Reserved

Laney Wind is an Autism Paraprofessional with college credits in Interpreter Training Program – Sign Language for the Deaf. She has three daughters and the joy of a four year-old grandson. During the past five years, Laney has embraced and developed her heart for music, writing and art. Beauty has come from ashes as each day matters.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking recently about changing expectations. By now, we hope - scrabble lettersexpected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for – free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on – the happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money
  • Trips planned
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee / tea / chocolate
  • A certainty that our lives have impacted people / that we’ve made a difference in this world
  • Blessings of the abundant life

Instead of reveling in the resolution of these expectations, we are instead experiencing:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betray us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of living alone
  • Friends lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize and move or hunker down where we are
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • The abundant life kind of fizzling out

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through?

Simple, yet hard. Stop looking at the outcomes. Instead, trust God Himself.

When the answers aren’t what we want to hear and don’t match up with our expectations, no one can figure out why. But it doesn’t help our attitudes if we focus on what did not happen. Gloom is not pretty.

Focus instead on what it means to believe in the great I AM.

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

I AM helping you through this mess, one day at a time.

I AM going to meet every need if you’ll just wait for me.

I AM still loving you, loving your children, even loving all the weird people who have hurt you.

I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.

I AM.

And when the days seem longer than 24 hours, play this video and keep holding on to hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope, check out Hope Shines” – encouraging nuggets for each day.

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.

Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

We planned it as a wonderful family weekend in Branson, and I looked forward to a leisurely drive through eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

What I did not realize—until it was too late—was the massive fear-mongering I would face at the end of the journey.scary hills

Although I grew up a tree climber, I have developed a fear of heights. I cannot and will not attempt stair-climbing past two floors.

Forget the Eiffel Tower challenge or the Washington Monument steps or any of those glass elevators meant to remind me I am no longer on the ground floor.

I will not—cannot do it. No one can bully me into a roller coaster ride or coax me to look over the side of the Grand Canyon.

What kind of masochist designs bridges with slots between the boards or glass walkways between tall buildings?

These are not my friends.

So I cheerfully drove to Branson, blissfully ignorant of what I would soon face. Before I hit the main drag, I suddenly faced massive hills—heart-stopping obstacles.

The worst part was the ascent without being able to see what was on the other side. I knew the downside of the hill must present itself, but I could not see it until my car topped the ridge.

Then I had to drive down that slope while my heart hammered its kuh-thump, kuh-thump. I refused to look at the steep sides around me.

“Focus on the center line,” I told myself out loud, aware of how my voice shook.

Seven—count ‘em —seven dangerously steep hills. The only thing that kept me going was the promised treat of meeting my family—if I survived the drive.

I recited every Bible verse I knew about fear, called on angels to surround me, screamed my prayers out loud.

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

Finally, the last hill was conquered, and I rolled into level ground. I pulled over and closed my eyes.

Survival tasted sweet.

The only cloud on a weekend of family fun was the certainty I would have to face those hills on the return trip. Or stay in Branson for the rest of my life.

Whether it’s the facing of a fear, pushing through an emotional obstacle or just trying to survive another day —we all meet our mountains of challenge.

And we’ll never know if we can conquer them until we actually go through the process.  Finish the journey—no matter what it costs us.

Hope streams in as we discover another layer of perseverance we didn’t know we owned.

And survival becomes the end result of a battle fought and won.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Discover the battle Abigail faced in “No Visible Scars and how she learned to accept her pathway to freedom.

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 Underscores the Symptoms of Domestic Abuse

“Surely that isn’t possible,” she said, this woman who loved and was loved by an amazing man for thirty-three years.

“Oh, but it is possible. Not only possible, but it happens more often than you might think.” I countered with the mental images of countless women whose stories underscore the truth.

abused woman - hidingDomestic abuse DOES happen in some Christian homes. In fact, one out of three women live in destructive relationships.

We never hear about it from the pulpit or recognize this tragedy until a marriage ends or a woman is carried out of her home, strapped to a gurney.

Everyone understands domestic violence. We all know the origin of blackened eyes, purple bruises or broken fingers.

But domestic abuse hides behind mental prisons, within emotional scars. We cannot see this type of ugliness, and we don’t want to admit it happens—especially within the sanctity of the church.

Yet it will continue if we keep its dirty secret. Too many hurting victims afraid to confess their truth. Too many abusers comfortable with their shame.

And we cannot find hope until we unveil the ugly truth.

On the back pages of my novel, “No Visible Scars, I have listed some of the symptoms of domestic abuse. These come from years of working with women, resources from safe places where women seek shelter, and trusted professionals such as Leslie Vernick.

These are some of the scars my heroine, Abigail, suffers. The same scars women suffered during biblical times and still suffer today.

Read and consider. Are you hiding behind some of these symptoms? Do you know a woman who might be struggling to find hope? Do you know a man who brags about treating “his woman” this way?

  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women
  • Degrading her in front of the children and/or in public
  • Playing good guy / bad guy. She never knows who will be walking in the door.
  • Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Forceful sexual advances and/or rape
  • Giving her the silent treatment

These are only a few of the symptoms listed and shown through the story of Abigail. But the saddest aspect of domestic abuse is that many women have been taught they must put up with it—that God demands they must submit and learn how to be quiet, gentle women.

This is such a putrid lie.

We can go to the same Bible often used as a weapon to find the truth. Consider how Jesus treated women, how he respected them, valued them, defended them, allowed them to join his tribe and listen to his teachings.

Consider what God Himself did to Abigail’s abusive husband, Nabal. “The Lord smote Nabal and he died” (1 Samuel 25:38).

In essence, God was saying, “Don’t mess with my daughters.”

The same God loves and defends his daughters today. How can we do less? How can we offer hope to the women in our churches, our families, our communities?

We start by telling the truth, by admitting that it happens and calling it out. Then we support and encourage these women when they come for help. And we teach our children well—our sons how to treat their sisters, our daughters to embrace empowerment.

Domestic abuse will not go away until we underscore its ugliness and uncover its hiding places.

Shouldn’t those of us who sit in church pews be the first to make a difference? Shouldn’t we follow our precious worship songs with the cry “Enough!”

Can’t we examine our teachings and some of the false assumptions we have transmitted through the years?

We are made in the image of God, male and female. And as the divine image bearers, we need to be more proactive to respect each other, to defend women and their children and to make sure our men are living examples of godly behavior.

Let’s share the hope where it is needed most.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope in the Waiting

So many people seem to be waiting.clock - Victorian

  • A good friend is waiting in ICU with her seriously ill husband
  • My son is waiting for complete healing and a blood clot to dissolve
  • Another friend’s son is waiting anxiously for a job opening
  • My nephew is waiting for the day his bride walks down the aisle – 46 days
  • I am waiting for the final author proof of my newest book

Waiting for answers. Waiting for circumstances to change. Waiting for life to move forward.

The word that comes to mind is “frenemy.” One of those complex thoughts where writers like me often dwell.

A frenemy is a person we invite into our inner circle as a friend, yet we may dislike many of their qualities. Frenemies seem to be on our side, then they turn on us.

Bringing the concept of waiting into personification makes it a frenemy.

In hindsight, we know waiting helps our faith grow. Yet enduring the days and weeks of tested patience seems to play on the negative side of this oxymoron.

Living in limbo, waiting for the outcome, for the answered prayer.

In the waiting, we are proven.

How do we stay in hope while the frenemy of waiting besieges us, steals time and forces us to dig deeper into endurance?

I only know what works for me:

  • Admit I am impatient.
  • Call the frenemy of waiting what it is.
  • Re-read my journals about past times of waiting: 10 years for a healthy child, 3 years to sell a house, another 10 years to complete and publish a book.
  • Remember God is timeless. He defines “soon” with eternal measurements.
  • Try to learn the lesson of patience—again.

And when I scrape the bottom of my endurance barrel, I repeat Psalm 43:5, “Hope in God for I will yet praise Him.”

I find hope as I live in the “yet.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re in a waiting period and scraping the bottom of your endurance barrel, consider a read-through of Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Steps Beyond the Ordinary

How sad when our faith becomes glib—as ordinary as a slice of wheat toast.

Then something happens that jerks us back into life and reminds us how much we need each other.

weeping woman sculptureSometimes when people ask for prayer on social media, I scroll quickly through the problem. Busy with my own challenges. Figuring others will step up and say a quickie prayer.

But when it’s me and more importantly—when it’s my son standin’ in the need of prayer, I am quick to plead for help.

And so grateful for those who respond.

Our latest challenge has jerked me back to reality and to the importance of stepping out of the ordinary request into the place of true caring.

With my son hooked up to hospital tubes and filled with pain-killing drugs, I cried out for prayers. Loving those who responded, for those who kept asking, “How’s Caleb?”

Reminders that others cared. Saints who pounded the doors of heaven on behalf of my boy.

And for those who also prayed for me, when I didn’t even ask. Mothers who knew I suffered with my son, failed to sleep, cried when I saw him in that sterile bed.

Folks who turned their prayers into action and brought us food. Took the time to visit. Hands-on prayers. Love in action.

My faith challenged and convicted to no longer scroll quickly through social media prayer requests. To remember on the other end of that post is a suffering person, a crying Mama, a struggling child.

My gratitude to those who prayed for us. Please continue. Healing is a process.

Hope underscores the need for honest petitions in the heavenlies and for warriors who embrace the battle.

We need each other. Our prayers matter.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope within your own challenges, check out Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Detours

detour aheadWhile my son was in surgery, I planned to write several blog posts, work on a newspaper column, maybe read a bit. My bag was filled with pens, paper, books.

Any activity to forget my precious son was lying on a sterile table in a brightly-lit operating room.

But the waiting room was so loud my introvert wrath fueled its frustration. Other occupants in this Family Waiting Area played with their children, worked on crochet projects, laughed and snacked on Starbucks pastries.

Didn’t these people understand I was trying to concentrate on my work? Didn’t they know I was trying to avoid thinking about my son’s body being sliced with a scalpel?

Of course not, I reminded myself. They, too, were trying to forget their loved ones lying on sterile tables behind steel doors.

I gave up on writing projects, certain my creativity left the moment I entered the hospital. Pulled out a book to read.

Read the first page twenty times. Gave up on reading. Watched the clock on the wall. One hour gone. He was supposed to be out of surgery already. Another half hour.

Why wasn’t he out of surgery? Wasn’t this the point when the doctor was supposed to come in and tell me everything would be okay?

The volunteer at the front desk came over and sat beside me. “You look worried.”

“It’s taking much longer than they said.”

She explained how they sometimes started later than anticipated. If something was amiss, they would call her desk and she would let me talk to them.

Then she changed the subject, described how far she drives every day to volunteer, how she loves helping people.

We watched “Fixer Upper” reruns on the waiting room TV. “I don’t like that style, do you?”

“Nah. Too contemporary for my taste.”

The importance of conversation. The comfort given in simple statements. The warmth of another human being. A stranger who becomes an instant friend.

Hope arrived and provided a detour from the present crisis.

Then the phone call. “He’s okay,” she said. “The doctor will be here soon.”

I don’t even know her name, but God does. Maybe he’ll give her an extra star in her crown.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When you’re facing a crisis, hope may hand you a detour. Check out Hope Shines for daily encouragement.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Recycled – Part 2

The surprise arrived in a letter from the city. Appraisals jumped. In my case, from 117,000 to 135,000. Seriously?

I began to calculate the increase in taxes and insurance which equaled an increased monthly payment.

How fast can I write more books and sign more writing clients? Must I forfeit buying flowers this year?Layers of Hope

I sent in my appeal, in spite of no guarantee they’ll accept it. Should I try to sell this house? But then where do we live and how do we survive?

To delete the appraisal from my mind, I worked on old files. In the never-ending quest to clean out and de-clutter, I discovered a notebook filled with answered prayers.

During the post-divorce months as finances were so scary, my daily prayers began with, “Oh God oh God oh God! Don’t let us be homeless and don’t let my son be hungry.”

And every month, God showed up, often in amazing ways:

  • A sack of groceries on the porch – no clue to who brought them
  • Somebody’s change jar filled to the brim – a total of $64.36
  • Coupons and gift cards in the mail for groceries, pizza and Sonic BOGO night
  • Meals delivered – fresh food and generous helpings for leftovers
  • Friends paid for my dues so I could sing in the Lawrence Civic Choir. “Because you’re special to us,” they said. Did they realize how I hugged that statement to my heart?
  • Cards with sweet thoughts – cash tucked in the fold
  • Someone paying school fees for my son
  • An anonymous someone buying me an Amplified Bible

As I read through the pages of my notebook, I remembered the reason why I kept it. So I would never forget how God took care of us.

We never lacked housing. In fact, God provided through generous and kind hearts a beautiful townhome where we healed. My son was never hungry, and neither was I.

Tears of remembered gratitude rivered down my cheeks. God showed up back then, disguised as friends and family. Often anonymously. Always right on time.

And now I’m worried about an excessive appraisal?

Hope reminds me that God does not change. He has provided for us these 18 years. He will continue to take care of us.

Time to start another answered prayers notebook.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how hope works on a daily basis, check out Hope Shines. Encouraging nuggets for weary souls.

Hope Recycled

He was only 21 when a massive seizure revealed a Stage 3 brain tumor. Surgery, chemo and radiation followed. Then every six months, another MRI to determine the location of a possible re-occurrence.hope - scrabble letters

Throughout the next five years, every six months…another visit to the oncologist. His surprised response every time , “I don’t understand it. This type of tumor always returns.”

“God is bigger than cancer,” I said.

My response to the doctor did not come from a strong faith or a determination to refuse the negative course. I was one scared Mama.

But even before they wheeled my precious son into the neurology wing at Saint Lukes, God had whispered to me a promise from Psalm 41:3.

“The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him on his bed of illness.”

Throughout the next months, hope revived as the cancer did NOT return, as friends and family helped with medical bills, as the Carnival for Caleb was organized, as people prayed.

And God was faithful to his promise. Now, eleven years later, my son wears the label, “Cancer Survivor.”

Sometimes when we have a lull between the horrors of life, we forget what God has done, what he continues to do each day as he regulates our heart beats and counts the hairs on our heads.

Isaiah 63 reminds us how the Israelites forgot. They tuned out God’s loving voice and lived in rebellion, forgetting the God who opened the Red Sea with his breath.

But God loves his kids, so he helped those rebellious Israelites again and again. A reminder that he was still their God, no matter what their attitudes and actions said.

Eleven years since cancer tried to steal away my son, then suddenly – a simple hernia procedure turned into a major complication.

Days in the hospital colored by red jello. Beeping machines. Multiple shifts of the health care team.

My precious son’s face wrinkled in pain.

Again – a scared Mama. But God’s grace reached down to remind me of that Psalm 41:3 promise. The same today as it was eleven yesterdays.

A presence in the sterile room. An angel standing guard near his bed.

Hope recycled into another practical reminder that God cares for his kids – for my kid.

And no matter what the outcome, even if we drown in our Red Seas, God’s breath is still powerful, still able to rescue, still the ultimate victory.

We soldier on. We still believe and we underscore the certainty of what the Almighty has done.

Hope recycles as we choose to not forget.

 

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re needing some hope during the crossing of your Red Sea, check out Hope Shines. Encouraging nuggets for each day.

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 10 Year-Old Boys

After my final attempt at the perfect recipe, I wondered what to do with the plate full of brownies.brownies and sunflowers

Sampled one. Scrumptious! Now what?

Leaving brownies on my kitchen counter would result in constant temptation.

The next day was Sunday, so I decided to take my chocolate offering to the coffee bar at church. I imagined a few folks would sample them, and I wanted to know their reactions to the secret ingredient I added.

At church, I fixed my usual cup of hot tea and placed the brownies in a convenient place next to the coffee. But then…a surprise.

The ten year-old boys were released from their class and converged on the coffee bar. Within ten seconds, every brownie was consumed with comments:

“Mmm – best ever!”

“Lots of yummy chocolate.”

“Are there any more?”

Years after I raised my own boy, I had forgotten how much fun these fellows could be. Chocolate crumbs around their lips. Smacking fingers. Chuckles and shoving each other out of the way.

My brownies were a success with this test crew. It’s unlikely – in fact – nearly impossible any of these boys will read my novel which features a brownie recipe with a secret ingredient.

These boys are not my target audience.

But for a few moments on a Sunday morning, I remembered the joy of adolescent boys and the promise of the men they might become.

Hope thrives in unexpected places. If we watch for it, keep our senses alert for the slightest tremor of hope, we discover delightful surprises.

Here’s to ten year-old boys – the larvae of manhood. Here’s to their excitement for the simplest of joys – something to eat.

And here’s to the encouragement they passed on to this writer.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When my novel, “No Visible Scars” is published, the recipe for Abigail’s brownies will be included in the final pages of the book. Make a note to purchase “No Visible Scars” so you can share this chocolate wonder with your own boys.

Hope Stays

As I heard the blog post read on national television, I wept. For the author and for countless other women I know who have believed the same lies.woman in mirror

We stay in abusive situations because we are designed with the capacity for hope.

We believe things will change for the better. We have to believe it because the options feel too scary and totally unacceptable.

We feel powerless and we have been pummeled so long, our thinking is skewed. We no longer believe in ourselves, because the lies have become our truth.

Ah – women. We endure the pain of childbirth because the outcome is so glorious. We  also endure emotional and verbal abuse, because we are certain – if we pray hard enough and long enough – everything will be better.

Then one day, we wake up. We are done. “Enough,” says the battered soul.

Jenny Willoughby’s post has gone viral, because she spoke her truth. She awakened and now she understands why she stayed.

I repeat her words here, because we cannot forget her story and the stories of thousands of women whose hope became reality.

 

“When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed.

He could be kind and sensitive, and so I stayed.

He cried and apologized, and so I stayed.

He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups, and so I stayed.

He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence, and so I stayed.

I felt ashamed and trapped, and so I stayed.

Friends and clergy did not believe me, and so I stayed.

I was pregnant, and so I stayed.

I lost the pregnancy and became depressed, and so I stayed.”

 

From my experiences as a biblical counselor and a life coach, I would add three more statements so many women have whispered in my office:

 

            “I did not want my children to grow up in a broken home, and so I stayed.”

             “I had no money and felt powerless. Because I had no options, I stayed.”

              “The church told me I had to submit, and so I stayed.”

 

The truth sets us free. Admitting the truth and stepping into a new life deletes the lies. Then hope becomes our passion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My novel, to be released March, 2018, shows what happens when a woman stays. Look for “No Visible Scars” – available soon.

Hope Finds Her Words

The communications rep from the White House began her statement with, “When we saw the pictures….”

abused woman - hidingShe referred to the black eye suffered by Rob Porter’s ex-wife. Displayed across news channels and social media sites, we all saw the extent of the domestic violence against Jenny.

Yet for those of us who work with women, we know physical violence is often the final humiliation.

The benchmarks of abuse occur much earlier, often with no indication that the end result will be a black eye.

  • Subtle put-downs about her weight or her hair-do.
  • The demand to “Submit!”
  • The control of finances, so she has to beg to buy a decent pair of underwear.
  • The dig in her ribs if she expresses her opinion about anything.
  • Calling her “My woman,” as if she is a piece of property he has purchased.

All these red flags represent emotional abuse and often are so subtle, the wife wonders if she misunderstood. Is she crazy? Or is he so skilled at manipulation, he can make her feel it is all her fault?

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. A particularly insidious type of abuse is called “gas-lighting.” Check out Leslie Vernick’s site for more information.

After all the stories I have heard and the women I have held as they cried, my emotions have become a bit jaded. Jenny’s black eye did not surprise me.

Often the men who abuse are outstanding citizens, hard workers, faithful church members. They seem to be such “good men.”

What disturbed me most was that Jenny’s truth was not believed until pictures were shown. Her voice was not heard until there was viable proof. Why not?

Surely the #MeToo movement is teaching us we must listen to children who tell us something is wrong at school, in the gym, in the youth group—no matter how hard it is to believe.

We must also expand our response to women such as Jenny. She was the second ex-wife abused by this man. Reports had been filed by both women. Those in authority knew the truth yet refused to act on it—until they saw the pictures—until ALL of us saw the pictures and demanded accountability.

Hope begins to flicker for the Jenny’s of the world as we listen to their voices and give them permission to share their truth. Surely we can learn how to believe them and help them find a safe haven where they can heal and start over.

Even before we see the incriminating pictures, we must err on the side of caution. Because women are made in the image of God. Because our daughters live in relationships and we want them to be heard. Because all of us have a voice that needs to be respected.

Hope has spoken her truth. So has Jenny. Who is listening?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In March, 2018, “No Visible Scars” will be released. This is my 10th book, a novel about domestic abuse within a Christian home. Share my blog posts with your friends and be the first to read “No Visible Scars.”

Why Hope is So Important

cropped-hope_ornament-1120.jpgWhat is it about hope that keeps over 1900 followers checking out this blog? Why is hope so important that after almost two years, I am still writing about it?

At its core, we cannot live without hope. It is the heartbeat of every future plan, the soul of every small business owner, the reason we return every four years to the ballot box.

Hope is a gift that never shames us. Instead, it connects with love and emblazons our hearts with purpose. (check out Romans 5:5)

If we take it apart as an acrostic, HOPE looks like this:

H – Health. Without hope, our health is affected yet with an abundance of hope—we feel those positive endorphins moving us toward a better tomorrow.

If we suffer from a sense of hopelessness, we can easily dip into discouragement and even full-blown depression. Hope eases that pain and gives us a reason to live.

Recently, I read a story from one of the Holocaust survivors. Anna woke up every morning and imagined herself dressing in something beautiful—a colorful scarf, a blouse made of the finest silk. Although in reality, she knew tattered and lice-infested rags covered her body—the thought of dressing in something clean, soft and lovely gave her hope. She survived Auschwitz and eventually was restored to complete health.

O – Optimism. Feeling optimistic about the next day breeds more hope. Even the tiniest steps toward a short-term goal fill us with optimism that we will indeed achieve victory.

Posting affirmations around the home, encouraging others and ourselves, even planning a day of joy will keep us in an optimistic mood. Positive thoughts result in hope and conversely, hope underscores a positive attitude.

When my son was in high school, his best buddy suffered with a terminal disease. Ryan’s family posted affirmations around the house such as:

“You can do it.”

“Hang in there.”

“You’re the best!”

Although Ryan passed before high school graduation, he lived much longer than any of the doctors expected this amazing preemie to live. And everyone who called Ryan friend was affected by his positive outlook. His optimism fostered hope in an entire school of teenagers.

P – Perseverance. But what happens when we can’t muster enough hope to make it through the day? When life hands us difficult circumstances or we live with shattered hearts in the graveyard of grief? How can we then find hope?

Through the practice of perseverance. By gritting our teeth and swallowing enough determination to make it through one more day. We stay in hope through sheer guts.

Three of my friends deal with chronic illnesses: muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia and muscular sclerosis. These women are my she-roes. Every day, they climb out of bed and try to do just one thing. Or if they need to, they stay in bed and pray for others. They persevere through the good, the bad and the ugly.

They stay in hope because they know the future—in heaven—will be illness-free. They persevere through difficulty and share hope with everyone they meet.

E – Experience. Hope tends to grow when we remember past experiences. This is one reason why I keep a journal. All my entries are dated, so I go back and relive what happened, how my son and I made it through that circumstance.

Many of my journal entries include Bible verses which help me stay in hope. Some of them are prayers while other entries include poetry or quotes from favorite authors. Sometimes my journal includes rantings at God. He’s big enough to understand my anger and let me work through it.

But always—always—God brings me back to hope. He reminds me of a past experience and how I don’t need to be afraid of the present or the future. He is the same yesterday, today and forever so that means hope will continue.

If you made an acrostic of hope, which words would you include? I’d be interested to hear why hope is so important to you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope in this month of February, check out my latest book. Hope Shines will give you a boost, a nugget of encouragement for each day.

How to Find Hope in February

wooden heartThe month of February has always been difficult for me. Usually, the cold and flu bugs continue their romp so the air is filled with germy spores.

The weather is too cold for walks and the ground too frozen for gardens. In spite of the growth of chocolate on store shelves and the lovely blend of red, pink and white – February feels bland.

It’s the shortest month yet somehow it feels longest.

How can we find hope in this second month of the year?

Count the Days.

How many days until spring? Or how many days until March which feels like spring even as it roars in like a lion. Keeping a tab of the days helps us realize we are making progress toward a brighter month.

Do Something Wonderful.

February is a great month to plan a getaway somewhere warm or even a visit to family you missed seeing at Christmas. Investigate a local museum once / week or schedule a day of joy outside your area. Looking forward to an event helps pass the time.

Help Another Soul.

As we do something nice for someone else, we focus less on ourselves. Stretch your creative muscles and think of ways to meet the needs of another person. Make beef stew for your sick neighbor. Take a widow to a movie. Make valentines and send them to single moms. Get outside yourself and share hope with someone else.

Find New Ways to Share Love.

February 14th is the day for expressing our feelings to loved ones, but what if we thought outside the box? Take the whole family and serve soup to the homeless. Spend some time with the lonely folks at a nursing home. Give a generous tip to a person behind the counter who serves you. Hold a baby in the preemie department of the hospital. Volunteer at a nonprofit.

Love Yourself.

Most of us are willing to help others and/or we spend a good deal of time taking care of others. But don’t forget to love yourself. Make February your month to begin a new novel – either reading a bestseller or writing one or both. My suggestion? “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. Schedule a mani/pedi – bright red or casual pink, of course. Reserve one day / week for play and rest. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself. Let a massage therapist work all the January kinks out of you.

Embrace the Special Days of February.

Do a search for the National Days of Celebration in February. On those days, follow the prompt. Enjoy the variety of each day and the emphasis it brings to your life. Check out the link here.

Make Plans for Spring.

Order from a seed catalog and plan your garden. Think about a new paint color in your office or bedroom. Tape the paint chip to the wall and live with it for a while. Join a new group and meet new people. Order a brochure for summer vacation and post it near your calendar.

Change One Thing.

Most of us cannot make a major life change during February, nor do we want to. But changing just ONE thing can lift us above the February blahs. For example: the curtains in my bedroom were 12 years old and beginning to fade. I found new curtains on sale and replaced them. That one change brightened my bedroom and boosted my spirits. What one thing can you change to make a difference in your outlook?

As we initiate some of these ideas, we can live through February with a lighter spirit and a greater sense of hope. Then the winter won’t seem so long and we can look forward to those warmer breezes and sunlit days.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you need a good book to read during February, consider Hope Shines. It will give you a nugget of encouragement each day.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with his own food supply. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico?” He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”flag-of-new-mexico-l

“No,” I said, “but it’s on my bucket list. I would like to go there at least twice each year.”

He then told me he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe and Taos.”

“You’ll get there. People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Memories of my last trip to Santa Fe — back in 2012 — brought tears. The research trip for my third novel, Final Grace for Reverend G.” Deb and I strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime. But did it have to be my last one? Could I not hope for another visit to the Land of Enchantment?

Last week as I shredded old files, I discovered the 2012 papers. A Pueblo Indian blessing scribbled on the back of our hotel bill — words Deb and I both loved — now richer with meaning and almost a foreshadow to losing Deb.

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

 My hope for 2018 includes the wish to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live in hope involves more than just the every-day-ness of what we must do albeit with a positive outlook and gratitude for what each day adds to life.

Hope also breathes through the impossibilities of reaching the desire of the heart — somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass while staying enchanting in the waiting.

A quote from Georgia O’Keefe — resident artist of Santa Fe — ties my hope in a package of possibility. “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Whether it’s a visit to New Mexico or some other hope that wraps around your soul, “Hope Shines” revives the possibilities of the heart. Check it out here.

Hope Makes a Change

Dear Sugar,

I am breaking up with you.

For years, I have tried moderation which sometimes worked. But with the aging factor, my body no longer tolerates any type of processed sugar.cake pops

This means, Sugar – no more ice cream, brownies or sweetened chocolate. I can tolerate the 85% cacao, but no milk chocolate and definitely no corn syrup.

I am already gluten free, soy free and working on dairy free. I might as well be free indeed. Free of you, Sugar.

My decision stems from the fact that I have been sick throughout November and December. The latest diagnosis is acute bronchitis with muscle sprain from excessive coughing. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Some of my sugar escapades this year evolved from grief comfort eating. For some reason, I – the person who never eats candy – craved M&M’s. When I found a bag of the dark chocolate variety, I was a goner.

But my body was not deceived. It accepted that sugar and formulated a pathway to screw up my immune system.

Besides a breakdown of immunities, processed sugar feeds cancer cells. Just in case my body is thinking about revisiting the big C – I do not want to make it an easy choice.

It is also a growing fact of research that sugar consumption can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. No ice cream can ever be as good as a healthy brain. And I never want to expose my son to the world of Alzheimer’s care-giving.

Several years ago, Dr. Tim LaHaye taught a prophecy seminar in our town. Yes, that Tim LaHaye – author of the Left Behind series. Because I was church pianist, I was invited to attend the thank-you dinner.

I sat directly across from Tim. When the dessert was served – an amazing chocolate velvet cake – Tim declined. He said, “I cannot tolerate sugar, so I never let myself eat it.”

The hostess gasped, afraid she might have offended him. But he smiled and complimented her on the rest of the meal.

I was impressed with his humility – to be able to admit he had a weakness – and with his self-discipline. Never eat sugar? At that point in my limited knowledge of nutrition, I could not imagine such a scenario.

But now I understand and am more determined than ever to detoxify my body from any of the side effects of too much sugar. I have important work to do – incredible clients to coach and my own words to polish and publish. I cannot spend any more time in the doctor’s office or any more money on meds.

So I am making a 2018 commitment – not a resolution – but a lifestyle change. Hope for a healthier me begins with a determined effort to do my part and cooperate with my body for long-term health.

Sure, I will miss you, Sugar. But I will NOT miss the medicines and the hacking cough that keeps me awake at night.

Change begins with a defined goal and hope thrives with healthy choices.

Goodbye, Sugar. I am breaking up with you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope and how we can thrive through a hope-filled year, check out my newest book, “Hope Shines.”

Hope Forces a Rest

During November, 2017, I spent some time in Oklahoma. My sister’s left knee was replaced with a titanium joint, so she needed some company during recovery. We watched ballgames together, fed and petted the cats and spent a week doing what sisters do.

bench in winterSome days, I worked on my laptop – especially during the hours when Kris needed to rest.

A surgery – or any type of trauma – often pleads for extra resting time. We may be surprised by the lack of energy we feel during recovery, after an illness or even as a side effect of grief.

It’s important to listen to our bodies and take the extra time to rest. As we stop all busy-ness, curl up for a nap or just sit and listen to music – we invite healing.

Likewise, during our spiritual journeys. When we’ve been cut by the comments of unkind people, when we’ve been downsized out of a job, when a search for belonging ended in emptiness – we need rest.

When the soul takes a hit and emotional trauma threatens, we need to pay attention and rest. It’s vital to find those places of retreat where we can hear God whisper, spend time getting to know ourselves better and invite healing.

Examples might be:

  • Listening to a peaceful concerto
  • Coloring a new page with unusual swirls and designs
  • Journaling about whatever has forced the need to rest
  • Savoring a cup of hot chocolate while watching the first snowflakes fall
  • Just sitting and intentionally doing nothing

When we give our souls time to heal, we find our way back to wholeness. Rest fosters hope and reminds us how much the inner life is connected to the outer persona.

Let’s make 2018 a hope-filled year and determine to find more time for healing rest.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to start the new year with a good book, check out “Hope Shines.

Hope Finds a January Purpose

snow in mtsAlthough I didn’t send the usual number of Christmas cards, I did receive beautiful cards from many of you. Thank you !

Maybe next year, I will rethink the tradition of sending Christmas cards – especially since I just found some lovely ones at half price.

So…what to do with Christmas cards after the eggnog has soured and the chocolate is all gone? Just pitch them while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One example hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes. A particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to take it down and pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is after all – a deep red color.

Each year, I have enacted a routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on my kitchen table, next to my Bible.

Every morning when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and his/her family during the coming new year – to fill them with hope and joy – to draw them closer to His loving heart.

If I know of some particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe. Provide for them what they need – a warm home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy. This year, I know many people who are grieving.

“Oh, sweet Jesus – send them a special touch of comfort for the new year. A flashy cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss – still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.”

Praying through the cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones who took the time to send me a holiday message. I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected – through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared or through the blood line of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards and going back to work.

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by praying over my Christmas cards.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? “Hope Shines” is available on Amazon.

2018 ? Seriously ?

Time has once again flipped through another calendar. Welcome to 2018 !

Since this is January 2, and I’m sure you have many things to do – I’ll keep this post brief.

Welcome to a new year. On January 9, we’ll resume our regular posts and find Hope for the next calendar pages.

Thanks for joining me here.

2018 image

Hope Versus Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.christmas candle

But what if we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

While I raked dead leaves, three hope-filled possibilities floated through my brain.

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Make it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed and reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive and special.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was. Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone – start with a chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast Deb with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair at the table. It’s a reminder of loss – a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who is homesick and cannot fly hundreds of miles for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who needs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand that grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone during the holidays

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES go forward. We don’t have to be stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We may even still have some of the gifts s/he gave us – precious reminders. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Remember and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again – the way he tilted his head when he talked, her unique laughter.

When Deb enjoyed a specially tasty meal, she always said “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh than before – keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Have you heard the legend of the White Stocking?white stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus. Then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

What can I give the King of kings this Christmas season?

It would be easy to list the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout 2018.

To be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through this difficult year, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys. What does he want from me?

As I reflected on 2017, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe ugliness: I have spent a great deal of this year wishing life could be different. Like a wimp, I have whined in my journals and on this blog.

When I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

I enjoy my work – writing and coaching writers – watching my clients reach their goals and celebrating with them.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels – and climb on top of my car to change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the heavenly prize is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

This year my white stocking will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I hold out this gift to him because he deserves it. This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, love me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

“Thank you, Jesus.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimers Caregivers

How can we help the Alzheimer’s loved one survive the holidays? Alz awareness

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

These seven tips can help as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.

But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her pecan pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to move in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will crave a piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a pre-made pecan pie. I recommend the pies in the frozen section at Target.

When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for. “I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.

Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.

Plan an activity together, such as looking through Christmas cards.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic considered it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you did this activity together.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

Driving through beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the stage of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.

Mom feels uncomfortable in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety. They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zones is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Avoid the false guilt that says you cannot leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and spend time with your family.

What should you buy the Alzheimer’s patient?

None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.

Try these suggestions: a stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a photo of family members with their childhood pictures inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico, and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross is a nice adornment on her wall.

This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss – if she lets me. She no longer knows who I am. Receiving affection from a “stranger” can feel scary for an Alzheimer’s patient. So I may just hold her hand and say, “Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some extra help with caregiving during the holidays, check out my book, “Sometimes They Forget.”

 

 

Hope Embraces Gratitude

Two thoughts swirl through my brain this November of 2017: the rapid ending of another year and the Thanksgiving season.Thanksgiving

How can I find hope and share it as the calendar ends?

In retrospect, 2017 was not a favorite year. Too many life-changing moments. Emotional whiplash.

Yet gratitude simmers in three areas, ironically each beginning with the letter “F”:

Family – We meet with families during the holiday season – for better or for worse. Some families struggle through dysfunctions while others deal with the stress through avoidance. Yet having a family can be a definite blessing.

My concept of family expanded this year. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a family to support that child – even as she ages.

My blood relatives visited in October, a rare and delightful event. My son continues to provide support, manly hugs and a companion when cheering for the Jayhawks. He is also my resident IT guy who keeps me from gnashing my teeth when the internet rebels.

Deb’s relatives became family as we bonded during those traumatic days in the ICU. I watched her children rally together and care for their mother – such a touching tableau of love. They included me in final days and in honoring their mother at her memorial service. We became family in the tragedy and grow closer as we share our grieving process.

My extended family of writers, clients, friends – all of them vital for building my hope. Without these connections, I would not grow as a person, could not feel empowered for living.

Followers  – You are often strangers, yet by your support of this blog, we become familiar. You help me grow a brand and encourage me with your comments.

When a new follower joins my tribe, the message of hope expands to another corner of cyberspace. Hopefully, these words also expand to warm your hearts and invite you to a place of joyful camaraderie.

As a blogger, I am grateful for each follower and take seriously the commitment to post each week – to invite you to find hope with me.

Faith – To be honest, the events of this year have rocked my world. Resigning from full-time ministry, then losing Deb has shaken my spiritual moorings. This emotional tsunami is a common side effect of grief. At some point, we all cry out, “Why God? Why?”

Yet my fictional character, Reverend G, reminds us the question may be “Why?” but the answer is “Who.”

Even when I cannot pray the divine One prays for me. Even when I feel shaky, it is not MY belief that is important but rather the truth that God Himself will not let me go.

At the beginning of 2017, God promised to uphold me. In those frosty January days, I had no idea what that promise would mean nor how tightly I would cling to it. But now I know. This year is measured not so much by what has happened as by Who upheld me through those happenings.

So as I close out November of 2017, I am grateful for these three entities: Family, Followers and Faith. Each has increased my capacity for hope. All have added value to my days.

May your Thanksgiving season also expand into grateful expressions of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Would you like to bless an author for Christmas? Check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Keeps It Simple

Because this year has taught me more about a simplified life, I have decided to merge this premise into my holidays celebrations. What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:white-stocking

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler celebration important?

So, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I hereby simplify the process.

If you are a reader who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list. A few people may receive a card, but even those will be rare. This year, I am saving time, money and energy.

If you really need a greeting, here it is: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats aka People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I usually eat half of them. I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. Not even the traditional peppernut recipe tempts me.

I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

My house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful—a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share with someone else the beauty of my past. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. When it fails, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2017 has been the joy all this simplifying brings. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, joy follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always appreciated.

Hope Answers the Question

Several people have recently asked, “Why do women wait so long to accuse men of sexual assault?”

Three possibilities answer :

Answer # 1: When a young girl is sexually assaulted, she will often dissociate. She will mentally and emotionally leave her body, and the memory of that trauma will hide in her subconscious.

Shock and denial are powerful protectors. She may not remember the event until decades have passed and something triggers the memory – something like the “Me Too” movement.

Answer # 2: Abusers will often whisper, “Don’t tell” or “This is our secret.” If his victim has been raised in a culture of male authority, she will obey the whispered lie rather than speak the truth about what has happened to her.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to confront that lie. The reason we have seen more women speaking out is because strength resides in numbers. Women feel more empowered when they are not alone in their pain.

Answer # 3: Many abusers are particularly skilled at manipulation – sometimes called “Gaslighting.” A gaslighter will convince the victim that she is at fault. So if she tells anyone, she will be punished and condemned. If she speaks her truth, she may lose her job, the respect of her family — even her ministry.

Gaslighters use words such as “She really wanted it” or “She was dressed so provocatively I couldn’t help myself.” When these abusers blame their victims, they don’t have to admit they are criminals. For more information about “gaslighting” check out Leslie Vernick. 

Do women sometimes lie about being assaulted? Certainly. But statistics show the majority of the lies come from the abusers.

Why is a blog about HOPE dealing with the subject of sexual assault? Because so hope - scrabble lettersmany of us who can answer “Me, too” need to find hope. Some of us suffer from PTSD, from low self-esteem, from the strangle-holds of fear. And we can pinpoint the beginnings of that pain from the moment we were devalued, victimized, assaulted.

The only way to march forward and embrace HOPE is to tell the truth. The sexual assault was NOT our fault, and the numbers of encounters now being reported prove just how depraved mankind is.

This is why we humans so desperately need a Savior. For those of us who have experienced assault and reached out to Jesus – we know he is the one male figure we can totally trust. And in relationship with him, we find ultimate HOPE.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Was Enough

I was enough rockDuring three seasons of life, I have struggled with the topic of “Not Enough.”

Because I was raised in a perfectionist legalistic culture, it seemed I was never enough for God. Markers of spiritual maturity included how many people we could convince to become Christians and how efficiently we used our spiritual gifts.

This focus led to evangelism by guilt and service by exhaustion.

While in college, I met a group of students who shared love and joy with me. As I learned about God’s unconditional love, the old lies began to fade. Soon, I realized I could not earn my way into God’s heart, rather I had been gifted with a first class ticket.

Jesus was enough. Therefore, I did not have to DO. Rather, I could just BE.

The second “Not Enough” season came in the post-divorce years. Like most women whose marriages end, I tried to rationalize why it happened.

Was I not pretty enough? Skinny enough? Smart enough? Did I not pray enough for him and for our marriage? Did I not submit enough? (another leftover from legalism).

After several years in therapy, the “Not Enough” voices rode off into the sunset. A failed marriage is not one person’s fault and multiple factors can lead to its finality. Therefore, if I did not cause those circumstances, then I could not be responsible to fix them.

“Not Enough” became “Start Over and Embrace Life.”

In this current season of grieving, I again face the demons of Not Enough. As the grief process edges away from the shards of pain and into the emptiness of loss, I wonder if I was enough. Although I know false guilt is one of the side effects of grief, still – the questions persist.

Did Deb know I loved her? Did I say it enough – show it enough? Was our friendship so deep because I needed her? Did I give back enough of what she needed? Did I do enough for her at the end? Did she know I was there, praying she would wake up and start laughing? Was I enough?

Several weeks ago, I attended a spiritual retreat in the country. Being in God’s front yard is always life-giving for me – walking in rhythm with a floating monarch, crunching autumn grass under my feet, petting horses and dogs, stroking a plant. I always feel “enough” within the worship of God’s creation.

Our spiritual exercise was to choose a rock and write an affirmation on it – to remind ourselves to delete the negatives and nurture the positives.

I like rocks. They remind me something in this life is sturdy – dependable – unchanging. Within seconds, I knew what my affirmation would be.

The rock now sits on my windowsill, but I may move it to the memorial I built for Deb – Colorado river rocks at the base of her metal wind machine. I may plant the rock in a sturdy base to remind me of truth – to chase away forever the “Not Enough” lie.

A simple statement. A visual reminder of the following truths:

*In my spiritual journey, God is enough. Leave the legalistic expectations behind.

*With past failures, learn from them and underscore that I gave enough. I did what I could. Let it go.

*In grief, respect the process and nurture the memories. Receive the truth that none of us is perfect. But as we persevere to love others, the attempt is what matters.

I stroke the rock and wipe a tear.

I was enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved