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

 

 

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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

Hope Exists in Layers

Layers of HopeWith all the natural disasters we’ve seen in 2017, I’m re-thinking the topic of hope.

Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how it presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The everyday expression of hope.

We use the word “hope” glibly even as we bless each other with its presence.

“Hope you have a good day.”

“Hope your hamburger is well done.”

“Hope you enjoy this fall season.”

Layer One of Hope is important because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say, even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The hope shared during crises.

This is the layer so evident in 2017’s chaotic year of disasters. With every hurricane, fire and earthquake – people somehow summon a measure of hope.

“We will rebuild!” they promise as their fortitude spreads across the world.

People volunteer to help them clean up the sludge left from perpetual rains. Organizations ask for donations, and those with giving hearts willingly comply. The nightly news includes a section for inspiring America where we weep with those who weep yet rejoice with those who smile through their tears.

This layer requires a sinew of courage we all hope to possess and exhibit when it’s our turn to suffer.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the greater good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover in Layer Two what is truly important.

Layer Three: The darkest, longest road to recovery.

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of hope transcends the others because it has to duplicate itself every day. Somehow, this hope digs past the detritus of chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 458 meals in Houston, then serve with a smile.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the workers, sometimes using their hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone because they believe a child might still be alive and the slightest mistake will delete all hope.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three and from them – we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet hope keeps their hearts beating. They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down and communications cut off. They continue to believe and trust in hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with a sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways – depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

I’m striving for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come to my community. But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere – then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in the Changes

Nothing is the same. Not even the joy of retail therapy. Too much has changed, coloring my world from a different viewpoint – leaving confusion in the “What do I do now?” question.christmas shopping cart

This week, I tried to go shopping – but failed. It is not the same. Without Deb and our usual routine, I could not muster the energy or even the purpose in a once-fun activity.

These were the months – the last of October and first of November – when we gathered our resources to find the perfect gifts for children and grandchildren.

The day always started with a hot chai, then a plan discussed. Coupons clipped and sorted – we headed for the usual stores and sought the most unique finds.

Our children artistic, creative, best of the best – we looked for the unusual at 10,000 Villages, the Yellow Barn and interesting flea markets. A cry of joy when we found that special item – a foreshadowing of Christmas morning and the fun of watching gifts unwrapped.

Then lunch – always Mexican with a heaping bowl of guacamole. Iced tea for me. A Coke for Deb. Lots of chips – always refilled. More coupon sorting. Reliving the morning’s treasures.

Online shopping has conquered much of the brick and mortar traffic. But clicking a mouse cannot compare with the experience of shopping with a friend, dickering over prices, feeling the texture of a cashmere sweater or the nub of corduroy slacks. Exclaiming together in the search-and-find excitement of a trinket, a silver necklace, shoes and ornaments.

Deb and I milked every bit of joy from our shopping excursions. The afternoon slump revived with a double scoop of ice cream or a large Root Beer float.

The loading of trunks with bags of various colors, a grateful hug at the end of the day, a cheerful “See ya’ next time” as we waved goodbye.

When the changes in life force us to recalculate, we realize what we had before. Something as simple and beautiful as the shopping experience now feels empty. I am failing at doing it alone.

But I can seek for seasonal joy in the memories, flip another page on the calendar and know grief will someday scar over. The remembrance still brings a smile, even as Christmas music promises comfort.

Within this gigantic change, joy stirs as “See ya’ next time” now means an eternal reunion. And the shine of a treasured trinket we bought together reminds me hope still lives.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page here.

Hope Discovers Wailing

He was a beautiful young man – Native American, tall and proud of his heritage. An athlete, a musician, a college student – gifted in so many areas.

Then someone murdered him and dumped his beautiful body into the Kansas River. A hate crime? Certainly. Justice was never served. The perpetrator was never caught.weeping woman sculpture

We attended the funeral – colorful yet tragic. His closed coffin draped with the blanket of his tribe. His warrior shield propped beside it.

Throughout the service – a blend of Christian tradition and tribal ritual – we remembered his accomplishments and tried to find comfort in his journey to heaven. Still, the loss – so senseless, cut deep.

Then a special moment, scheduled on the program as “The Maternal Response.” Women from his tribe, aunties, matriarchs, cousins gathered around the perimeter of the sanctuary. On cue, they began wailing – their mourning in various tones and levels of voice reached a crescendo, then fell to pianissimo whispers of grief.

At the loudest point of volume, tears rivered down my face. These women had given us a gift – permission to grieve openly, to add our wailing to theirs, to express our sorrow at the loss and the injustice. Five – ten minutes – of shared grief. Moments that became one of the most spiritually freeing experiences of my life.

As the last whimpers sounded, my toddler son wiped my tears away and said, “Mommy crying.” Somewhere in my soul, a piece of the grief was salved with a patch of comfort.

Now, years later, I remember those wailing moments. As I continue to grieve the loss of Deb, I occasionally face days when wailing is my only recourse. Somehow, it helps. Alone in the house or standing outside near the Colorado river rock I bought to memorialize her – I unleash the sound of my grief.

It touches a different place in my soul – gives me permission to let go, to underscore how much this loss hurts.

Wailing reminds me I am not alone in the grieving. Like the women in that church, my tribe includes Deb’s children and grandchildren, her brother and sister-in-law, the extended family and all who knew her.

The waves of our shared grief reach out to the One who hears the wailing of fractured hearts. He understands because he, too, felt the pain of loss.

Then somewhere in my soul, he salves over the raw place with another patch of comfort. He wipes my tears and whispers the promise of future hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Finds Community

On a cool fall day – as the leaves began changing their seasonal clothes, I joined a friend for Sunday service in a country church.country church

The white clapboard exterior adorned with an iron bell, calling the community to gather. An open door – both figuratively and in reality. All welcome. All embraced.

Picture the TV show, “Little House on the Prairie” and the serene little church where families sat together and knew everyone – where all were accepted and worshipped together.

Wooden pews, missing from contemporary church buildings, enabled us to sit close, to feel connected as the organ invited us into the prelude.

Bead board on the ceiling, a treasure for this “Fixer Upper” fan, and a real wooden pulpit fashioned by a craftsman.

We stood together to speak words of commitment, our common belief in the God of the ages. With syncopated action, we pulled hymnbooks from their ledges and turned to the song that echoed with the remembered faith of our fathers.

I did not need to see the words, knowing every note and the lyrics of all three verses. My favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” echoed with the harmonies around me. Oh glory! Four-part harmony once again – its absence unknown to my soul suddenly awakened.

Then a message of hope from the book of Ephesians, delivered by the passionate pastor – the shepherd of this country flock. The female pastor – yes – a woman embraced and accepted for her leadership qualities, obviously called to this community and loved by all.

My grieving heart at peace. The raw emotions somehow salved in the peace of this place. A step back to where I once grew up, so like the country church of my past.

We have lost something precious with our darkened sanctuaries, our theatrical great rooms with cappuccino-smelling lobbies and stackable chairs. With our mega churches and multiple services, we no longer recognize the friendly faces of those who share our faith.

Yes – faith remains intact no matter what the setting. But the simple purity of a country church service emanated hope by its very presence into the sacred.

We stood, sang together the Doxology, then received the benediction. Grace covered us, and we exited in peace.

Once again, I was filled with hope, embraced by this community and the God who placed them there. And within the safety of that place, my soul found momentary rest.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my latest works on my Amazon author page.

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

This post first appeared a year ago – a favorite of my readers. I post it again, hoping you will receive twice the enjoyment.

A year ago, I happened to be on the deck as a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It’s 3:24 on the date I created. Disengage.”leaves-falling-autumn

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings and the tree stood naked in the autumn wind.

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch the autumn leaves fall.

Some of them let loose to fall quickly and suddenly – as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf. Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

Other leaves are more graceful in their descent, twisting and turning as they spiral downward, then find a spot of yet-green grass to slide to a landing.

But my favorites are the leaves that dance as if floating toward a purpose, the mulching of the ground, the photosynthesis of time.

These are the leaves that catch a final wisp of Kansas wind and turn upward for a moment, then pirouette in different directions, exposing their golden undersides to the rhythms of autumn.

These are the leaves that take my breath away as they meander across space and take their time letting gravity win.

The analogy of the autumn dance signals that even when nature introduces another winter – the rhythms of life continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves and take my time enjoying the process of aging, the transitions of life that come to all of us.

Somehow, I want to find the cadence of trust that allows my soul to float without worry, to sing in harmony with a greater purpose.

Maybe I can best mimic these graceful leaves by paying more attention to the way nature forms them – like veined boats that gather morning dew and shadow us during summer’s heat.

The reds and golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin to remind us all are beautiful – different yes – but glorious in our uniqueness.

And just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of my life.

He knows that exact moment when I will let go and dance toward a greater purpose – when the questions will be answered and the direction clear.

Gratefully, in his arms – I will segue from dance to eternity.

But unlike the leaves, I will fall upward.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Reflects

A few weeks ago, I finished reading “Loud and Clear” – a compilation of columns by Anna Quindlen. She was my favorite journalist for many years – a writer who could force us to think yet remain approachable.

With each column, I reminded myself – I should have been a journalist like Anna. I should have majored in a field that was steeped in words.heart and book string

But my “shoulds” after high school were always underscored with the need to prove myself, with rules to obey, with dying to self to the point of killing the soul.

Back then, I did not realize how the forming of sentences could serve, help others, minister comfort.

I wish now for a do-over of life, but know I can only move into the foreshadowing of my destiny.

So on this day – may the words of my mouth and of my pen and computer keyboard be acceptable to God and meaningful to my readers.

I find direction in the Amplified version of Psalm 37:5 – laced with my own interpretation:

  • As a writer, I commit my way – the very path of my words to you, God
  • I roll and repose every care on You
  • May my thoughts be infused with clarity and creativity
  • To You I give my emotional load and the sorrow that still wraps me in painful tentacles
  • I determine to trust You for my comfort – in spite of the siren call of chocolate and ice cream cartons that scream, “Eat me! You’ll feel better.
  • Leaning hard on the divine, I declare You are my eternal Husband and Maker – worthy of my life-long trust
  • I am confident Your role in my life is good and You will determine the factors of my future life
  • I sincerely and genuinely believe You will bring to pass Your perfect plan and somehow – I will be safe within that blueprint.

But how do all these bullet points actually happen? How do we step from the germ of faith into the staircase of upward-moving activity?

By paying attention to Psalm 37:7 – the same Amplified and RJT version:

  • By being still – listening to the quiet pulsings of my heart
  • By resting in the divine – letting Him do His thing in me and through me although rest is sometimes the scariest activity for this Type A writer
  • By waiting on God – for His best timing to work everything out for my good
  • By believing the divine does indeed have a good plan – in spite of the not-so-good stuff going on around me
  • By patiently leaning on Him – letting the Eternal One do His work without my interference, without my plunging ahead to make something happen because it’s easier to trust me than this entity I cannot see
  • By not worrying about what tomorrow brings
  • By not comparing myself, my work or my life to any other homo sapien who is probably struggling just as much as I
  • By not trying to sort out the “why’s” of life because reasons lie in eternal vaults of understanding
  • By just being myself – in simple trust – and knowing that is enough
  • By grabbing on to Hope and clinging to its Author with all my might

So what about you? How do you find your Hope each day?

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Defers to Time

It just takes time,” the experts say. “Time heals all wounds.”clock - Victorian

I’m sure those statements reflect truth. The passage of time DOES ease some of the sharpness of grief.

Time allows us to ponder what has happened and leads us to a new perspective about life:

  • How important it is to love those around us
  • The value of helping others
  • How one solitary life impacts so many
  • Our own mortality within the fragility of each day
  • The vital importance of living with purpose

Time mellows us even as aging teaches what is important and what no longer matters. The “stuff” of life eventually deteriorates or ends up in a garage sale.

The really important “stuff” endures: love, memories, family.

Time can become an ethereal quality – something we ignore until it smacks us awake.

How is it we are so quickly marching toward the holiday season when only a few days ago, we were unpacking sandals and swim suits, planning vacations and using extra sunscreen?

How has time so quickly deceived us?

Sometimes time betrays as it folds back the years with alarming side effects. The brown spots I once caressed on my mother’s hand now dot mine. The immune system once taken for granted weakens in spite of healthcare, nutritional information and supplements.

Then one day, we realize we are the seniors of our demographic. We have become what seemed so far away. We notice little children and wish we could backtrack, do life all over again.

In one of the Superman movies, time was reversed so Lois Lane could live. The landslide did not happen. She continued as Clark Kent’s co-laborer and secret love at the Daily Planet.

In this life-changing 2017, I have wished I had the same power – to delete what happened in July – to rewind, pause and do over.

But alas – time continues and the farther we march across calendar pages, the more we realize how vital each day is within itself.

Anna Quindlen wrote, “Grief is the continuous presence of an absence.”

While time may indeed lessen the sharp edges of grief, it is also a reminder of a life lived, a presence that meant something to so many, and the knowledge that even with change – each day continues to beg for hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness.

Each year, I plant and nurture a variety of chrysanthemums. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom.

When late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds, then fuller blossoms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow mums fill my garden with spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance.

Mums were the plants loving friends brought when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them dying before birth. Each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb morphing into a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer.

It is within the silence of our griefs that faith best grows.

Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who could give no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life.

The hope of this mother that another season might bring another child – a living babe to hold, kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb.

Just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it.

Some unresolved grief so desperate I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. I honor my children by planting these mums as my personal cemetery token.

In the spring, I cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope.

Somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

In the waiting – in the hoping – comes a resolve. To honor each day in the land of the living even while looking forward to the land of promise.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Hope Writes

writing - notebook and penWords pour out of me – a torrent of expression and emotion. Stories, articles, journal rantings, blog posts. Revisions three or four times then a sending of the results to editors, publishers, agents.

This is how I process grief, how I find my way through the valley and back to life. Future joy is hidden somewhere within paragraphs waiting to be uncovered.

Bullet journaling helps validate my limitations:

  • A surprise trigger in the middle of Wal-Mart
  • Escape to the pets aisle, hang over the cat litter and weep
  • A burnished copper mum on sale at Lowe’s. Buy it now. I need it.
  • Drive through Sonic for cheese tots because grief does not care if I eat healthy
  • The salt of tears, the salt of cheese tots – both necessary
  • A gust of wind driving Deb’s wind machine brings a sudden blip of happiness
  • Gratitudes written at the end of each day, forcing myself to find hope
  • On my knees in prayer, begging for Paraclete comfort
  • Feeling closer to Deb because we shared the same God

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It was through story that I was able to make some small sense of the confusions and complications of life.

That is my purpose in the pouring out of words – to find some sense in the loss, some purpose for the taking away.

A new connection on LinkedIn told me, “Write the best book possible, then share it with the world – to encourage others.”

So I reach for that goal, begin a new journal, open another pack of gel pens.

Grateful for the outpouring of words, stories, and blog posts that underscore where I am in this search for a new normal.

Or perhaps a new abnormal, because grief always changes us – scrapes us raw, then makes us see the beauty of what we had before, the gratitudes we might have taken for granted.

Knowing that others are searching, too – longing to find their direction, to process their sufferings in healthy ways.

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19 NASB).

How sweet that the best way to console comes through the communications gift God gave me. This creative urge sustains and upholds, dissects yet discerns.

I am grateful for the process and the journey. Although hating the reason for this valley, perhaps the ultimate meaning brings a better crafting, more outreach of the sentences that define my gifting.

Even in the darkness, words continue to pulse. And writing confirms that the Creator at work in me is also the Giver of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Finds a Miracle

flower in cementThey swooped into the ICU, a gaggle of church women – loud, excited, demanding. Their leader shouted, “I believe in a God of miracles.”

So do I. Shut up!

They swarmed into a circle, grabbed hands and entreated God to do something NOW – to bring back to wholeness my precious friend.

Certain that raw emotion and lack of sleep caused my abrasive attitude, I nevertheless watched them with rising irritation.

The doctors had agreed. No treatments were working. We were preparing our hearts for the inevitable tragedy as each breath brought Deb’s life closer to its end.

Of course, God could have blinked his eye and restored the paralysis from a massive stroke. He could have balanced her red blood cells that fell way below normalcy.

But Deb’s timeline was determined before she was born. As much as we hated to accept it, she was reaching its end.

When we face the unexpected tragedy, we pray for a miracle. We want life to return to what it was before. We long to delete the past weeks that brought nothing but bad news.

Yet when we demand that God restore life OUR way and in OUR timing, we fail to see the miracles already occurring. We are blinded by our own self-righteousness.

Within that ICU, family and friends became one. At the beginning of the journey, we dared to hope – planned how Deb’s next weeks would include healthy meals and constant attention to her needs.

Then as the crash happened and reality changed, we clung to each other, physically and emotionally. The drama we shared in that room brought unity and love that even now brings me to a tearful awe. With all the demographics and ages present, all the differences in beliefs – a miracle of togetherness drew us close.

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

After the gaggle left, still demanding their version of God’s will, I moved beside the bed and held Deb’s hand. The miracle of our friendship seemed a sweeter gift than ever before. The way her family embraced me and included me in Deb’s last days helped salve my broken heart. Another miracle of acceptance and compassion.

Ultimately, the greatest miracle DID occur. Certainly not the one we wanted, longed for. At the end of that terrible day, Deb’s body failed and she left us.

But the ultimate miracle happened as her invisible soul traveled into eternity – a forever of peace and joy.

We can always pray for the miracle we want and hope for the best. But if we demand the miraculous to look like our earthly description, we will be disappointed. Even Lazarus had to die again.

My friend will never have to struggle through another winter or face another tax season. She has been released from her worries and fears.

But hope still lives in the legacy she left behind and the miracle of how her life impacted so many.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines in School Supplies

How wonderful that in the middle of August’s dog days we find a spark of fun! School supplies are on sale.crayons - pens

I remember shopping at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year she would buy the box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back?

Alas – it never happened in elementary school. Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the coveted 64.

Every year, shopping for school supplies represented a new take on hope.

It was akin to the cleaning of the chalkboard – the chance to start over, to learn more facts, read more books.

The energy of a new year felt as fresh as the package of #2 yellow pencils. Would my teacher like me? Would I be chosen to pass out the Weekly Readers on Fridays?

Even into high school and college, the hunt for the perfect pens, the best paper and the sturdiest notebooks required research of the ads. We clipped coupons and drove all over town for the best bargains.

As a single mom, it was difficult to save the money required for school supplies. The year Caleb needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of a new year and the possibility of meeting new goals. We shopped at K-Mart, then celebrated with pizza and Pepsi.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth new journals, gel pens and legal pads for first drafts such as this blog post.

I wait until late in August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures.

All year, school supplies bring excitement – waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen.

And every time I open a new package of gel pens, I revisit the years when school supplies meant a new start.

Hope implies a beginning again, fresh grace – the forgetting of what has been and the reaching toward new growth.

Whether it’s in a classroom or the quiet office of an introverted writer, we all need the promise of hope.

Here’s to those pens and papers that invite us to believe again.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Goals Print CoverAre you reaching the goals you’ve set as a writer? Check out “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.” Order it here

 

When Hope Lives in Third Person

The inevitable happened. I just wasn’t ready for it – yet.

This summer of 2017 seems rampant with the unexpected.piano keys

A visit with my mother in assisted living and BAM – another unavoidable side effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She no longer knew me.

“Hi, kiddo,” her greeting for everyone who enters her room.

As we started talking, I knew the connection had failed. I was being addressed in third person.

“My oldest daughter lives in Saint Louis,” she said. “She works there. I forget what she does.”

“I’m a writer, Mom. And it’s Kansas City – not Saint Louis.”

No response. No affirmation. Just a tilt of her head and a puzzled look. “Who are you married to now?”

Now? As if I’ve been married several times with a revolving door for relationships. Who am I in her plaque-infested brain? Okay. I can play this game. Mom will forget this conversation five seconds after I leave.

“Who are you married to now?”

“Colin Firth.” Might as well make it good.

“Oh. Does he treat you right?”

“Yes. He’s the best.”

“Does he know how to use the litter box?” Somehow Mom switched from Colin to cats.

“Uhm – yes. He’s British and they’re trained to properly use the litter box.”

Before we could continue this ridiculous conversation, Mom was called to the dining room for supper. I decided to sit at her table, even if she didn’t know me.

She introduced me to the rest of the residents, “This is my company.”

Company – a safe term. No connection. No relationship.

A sweet lady on my left asked, “Do you play piano? Could you play my favorite song?”

I wondered if she asked everyone that question or did she somehow assume that I knew how to play. She adjusted her walker and I followed her to the piano. “Please play ‘There’s Something About That Name’,” she said with a slight catch in her throat.

Give this lady some joy and play her favorite song. Maybe it will help erase the fact that my mother is unaware of who I am, carefully spooning into her chili and cornbread mixture.

So I started playing the song, then joined in a decent duet, singing with my new friend. We segued into “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace.”

From the other side of the room, I watched Mom rest her chin on her hands, her face a beatific spread of happiness – enjoying the music. Did she suddenly remember all the years of piano lessons, as she sacrificed time and money so I could learn what she had always longed to do?

I wanted to memorize her face, to never forget the contentment reflected there – not certain I would ever see it again.

Thank you, Mom, for making piano lessons possible for me. I’m giving joy to this unknown woman beside me, but I’m playing for you, Mom – the daughter you no longer know.

The mini-concert ended and I returned to Mom’s table. Another woman asked her, “Is this your daughter?”

Mom just shrugged.

We walked back to her room, and I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Okay,” she said, already punching the TV remote, oblivious as to what “soon” means. It will be months before I make the trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City.

Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.

And when I return, will a blip of memory reappear? Or is the knowledge of who I am gone forever?

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach

Sometimes They Forget

 

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Hope Encounters Loss

For regular followers of my blog and those who have read my books, you might think the title of this post means my mother has passed. No. She is still living in the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her brave heart still beats.

This loss was a complete surprise – a younger woman in good health – whose body suddenly betrayed her. Within 10 days of feeling so exhausted she drove to the ER, my friend Deb was gone.DM at country store

We did life together. Drank gallons of chai tea, determined the best place to eat by the quality of the guacamole, cried together at sad movies and celebrated birthdays with ice cream.

I will forever miss hearing her voice on the phone, “How ya’ doin’?”

How can a writer deal with such loss and continue to be a wordsmith? What kind of takeaway can I find – some way to honor Deb and the relationship we shared?

Learn from the Experience. I now know all I ever want to know about hemolytic anemia – how the red blood cells become so depleted and how even a transfusion can attack the good cells. If I ever develop a character with this disease, I will know she must be so totally exhausted she cannot even comb her hair. Because that is what Deb experienced. I will also know that even the best medical minds can find no effective long-term treatment.

Value the Journaling Practice. During Deb’s time in ICU when the outcome became clear, I returned home each night to my journal. I wrote out Bible verses that brought me comfort, especially the ones Deb loved. I also screamed the unfairness of it all through words – you know, upper case screaming with a red gel pen and underlining every other word. Writing out my frustrations helped trigger the beginnings of working through my grief.

Understand the Grieving Process. Some of the grieving began as I held Deb’s hand in the ICU and reminded her we had planned another trip to Santa Fe. Although she could not respond, I hoped she heard me. The roller coaster of the grieving process continued throughout those 10 days and then the weeks that followed. Again I learned writers must take care of themselves even as they grieve. This was not the time for me to begin working on a new novel.

Remember the Good Times. As a writer, I crafted the speech I shared at Deb’s memorial service. To recall our trips together, our shared loved of the country and cats, the excitement we had for anything the children and grandchildren did. It was my honor to speak about her and through my words to recall the way she invested in relationships.

Appreciate Each Day. Memes on Facebook and boards on Pinterest often remind us to live each day with purpose, to never take our lives for granted. But when we’re faced with the fragility of life and how quickly someone can be taken from us – the experience underscores how important it is that we appreciate each day. I am hugging my son more often. I am stopping work to pet the cat, taking time for sunsets and worrying less about the calories in dark chocolate.

I plan to spend each day writing my words with purpose and motivation – to make a difference while I am on this earth.

Deb taught me to enjoy ordinary moments while planning for the extraordinary. I am determined to take another trip to Santa Fe and remember how she played her Native American flute, coaxing echoes from the mountains around us.

I will finish the novel Deb encouraged me to write because she knew it deals with the important topic of domestic abuse. In the acknowledgements, I will include her name because she prodded me to find an agent and send the book into the marketplace.

How do we find hope when we encounter loss? One tiny piece at a time.

We must allow ourselves the grace to grieve, to let time salve the wound and allow God’s comfort to work its way into our souls.

Then hope itself becomes a comfort as we treasure our relationships and live each day seeking more ways to appreciate the people we love.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author and Certified Writing Coach

Goals Print Cover     Before writers can reach their goals, they must effectively set realistic and achievable targets. For a strategic guidebook on “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals,” order your copy here. 

Hope Asks Questions

why imageHe was young and bright – this college student who wanted to pursue creative writing. We met at a local coffee shop, two creatives sharing a gift – though decades apart in age.

The hazelnut blend he drank mellowed the atmosphere while I played with the tail end of my English Breakfast tea bag.

He took copious notes of statements I have made hundreds of times with coaching clients:

  • Writing breeds more writing skill, so write every day.
  • Submit a manuscript to a magazine each week.
  • Frontload the week – plan your more creative work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Be consistent with marketing. Whatever platform you use – consistency is the key.
  • Get involved with writers groups. Be in a critique group or have a writing partner.

And of course my pitch, “Hire a writing coach to help you be accountable. I currently have openings.”

I had asked him to bring some of his work and he pulled out a well-worn journal. I knew by the way he touched it, dared to hand it to me – these were words dear to his heart. He was trusting me with his very soul.

He seemed surprised when I praised him for the way he used conflict, the turn of a phrase that did not include a cliché, a-ha moments unique to his voice.

Like all of us, he needed encouragement and a slight push forward to realize the beginning of his writing dreams.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he said with a polite nod, “but I know my writing asks lots of questions. I know you’re a Christian. I hope that’s okay…you know…that I ask the hard questions.”

For a moment, I wavered between needing to cry and wanting to scream. What have we done to these talented millenials? How did they get the idea that we know all the answers – that it is wrong to ask questions about faith and life?

“I ask questions, too,” I said and watched him visibly relax. “I used to be a black and white Christian where I thought I knew all the answers, because I had been force-fed what I SHOULD believe. Then life happened and those answers weren’t enough.”

I described some of the difficulties I have lived through and how God has been patient as I worked through them – how God hasn’t been afraid to listen to me. I reminded him that some of the greatest saints who ever lived asked hard questions. King David. Moses.

Even Jesus while he was being tortured asked the “Why?” question.

How sad it is that Christendom has thrust itself past these seeking and questioning young adults!

They see us with placards on the evening news, going way beyond the freedom of speech and into the bully pulpit of the streets. They read about how we label and exclude their friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They grieve as we condemn their single moms.

They cannot hear the truth about God because we are so busy screaming at them to perform righteously. We expect them to live by our rules before they ever meet the One who loves them in spite of the rules.

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

No wonder they can’t find the God of love when we, His beloved children push them away. Our self-righteousness denies their questions, the very source of how they seek for truth.

In “The Listening Life,” author Adam McHugh writes, “My calling is not the answers but the questions I bring to the world.”

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.”

To live the answers of life, we must first ask the hard questions. And to accept others with the love of Christ, we must allow them to ask those same difficult questions.

When we stop asking questions, we putrify in the sewage of our own belief systems. Then we program others to believe the same so that we will feel safe within our acceptable righteousness.

We find hope only when we step out of the comfortable morays and seek deeper meanings for our faith. That is when we discover how broad and wide and deep and high is the grace and love of God.

This young man – God love him – is seeking a place for his creative mind to grow. He is also seeking to be accepted as he is – not programmed into a hard wooden pew where his soul will stagnate.

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” the Reverend G Trilogy and “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.”

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Sometimes They Forget

 

 

 

Hope Flows Through Nature

How is it that an ethereal quality can somehow find its energy through a concrete object?

Either the process has emerged through my own visual creativity or it exists within the spiritual realm I cannot see.

For whatever reason it begins, hope is empowered within the realm of nature.Martha Washington geranium

When I cannot stand to watch one more news show or read one more Twitter rant, my deck becomes a haven.

When the question of my heart, “How long oh Lord?” is answered only with silence, I retreat to the outdoor sanctuary.

A cardinal cheers me as he calls for his mate from a nearby tree. The squirrel who thinks my deck is his dining room scampers to retrieve another sunflower seed. Sunset brushes turquoise and coral strokes across the evening canvas.

And my flowers – the Martha Washington geranium I found dying at a nursery in late June now thrives. A reminder that what may appear to be faltering can be revived.  

That deep burgundy petal bordered by a creamy outline urges me to cry out in gratitude. God will indeed revive. He will restore.

This bloom, this geranium teaches that hope is not lost even if appearance underscores it to be so. At the core of despair, we can still find life and once nurtured, once tended, life can thrive again.

A lesson for all who are recovering from too much caring of others and not enough nurture of self.

Coral and TurquoiseAnother flagon of hope waits on my front porch – a treasure found at the end of the plant sales. A turquoise pot filled with coral buds and peachy blooms – the colors of the Southwest I so love.

Each time I turn into my driveway and see this hope-filled pot, I remember the promise I made to myself. “Find a way to visit Santa Fe and Taos.”

To revel in the colors of a land replete with artisans of the earth’s clay. To enjoy the diversity of a demographic where every skin color is not only accepted – but also celebrated.

Hope flows through my plantings and the sounds of nature. No need for prayer when surrounded by God’s art. The Artist himself is here.

And as Abba frames his creative genius with another cinematic sunset, no words describe his color choice, his texture and contrast.

Forget the rest of the world. Let me revel in the hope that flows from the natural world of divine design.

©2017 RJ Thesman

If you’re a writer or you know a writer, “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals” can help you move to the next level. Order your copy here.

Goals Print Cover

Hope Risks a Picture

Five years ago, my first author pictures were taken by a good friend and wonderful nature photographer, Ken Ratzlaff. It was time for an update.

An author photo plays many roles. It has to suggest my brand, exude professionalism yet introduce a friendly style. At the same time, it has to look good on social media, the back covers of books and every online vehicle for sales.Rjt - favorite 7

Taking a photo is difficult for me because it triggers some hurtful experiences from my childhood. The things we say to children really do follow them throughout life. We all need to be careful about the words that spill out of our mouths.

But through the years, God has reminded me those past words were spoken by hurting people who had their own problems. And I didn’t have to believe their lies.

So whenever I am faced with any type of personal pictures, I visualize Jesus standing beside the photographer – loving me. I’ve been told the soul of our emotions can be seen in the eyes. I hope that is true for me.

A photographer in my area was available for a photo shoot so I connected with her and we emailed back and forth: availability, the look I wanted to convey, possible sites for the shoot.

She was professional and creative, skilled and patient as we took several poses with a variety of motivations. Check out her website here.

When the photos came, I chose my favorites but I knew it would be wise to ask for a second opinion – or third – or fourth.

So I asked my son and my critique group to help me decide. All of them liked the colors and the various settings. The final decision would be based on my smile, the tilt of my head, the look on my face.

Was I relaxed enough? Did I look friendly yet professional? Was it a picture that would invite new followers?

The results astounded me. No one chose the photos that were MY favorites.

We cannot objectively judge ourselves, either outwardly or inside the sanctum of our souls. We bring too many experiences to the judgment hall – either those hurtful moments from the past or massive pride in the present.

We never see ourselves as others do – either with a positive spin or a negative connotation.

Yet being our authentic selves helps us walk through life with dignity and hope. We feel joy with a new haircut or a fresh mani/pedi. Losing a few unwanted pounds fills us with the expectation that we somehow look younger, appear more attractive.

But the transparency of peace is the one factor we cannot trick our faces into showing. Nor can we substitute true inner peace with any man-made behavior.

Our souls are made up of emotions, the power of self-will and the acceptance of who we are. Taking the risk to show our true selves through a photograph will either enhance our self-value or remind us we have much more to work on.

I am grateful for a new photo to send into cyberspace and paste into the proper place on book covers and social media.

I am also grateful because I know God has healed those raw places that were once afraid of taking a picture.

Have you learned anything about yourself from a recent photo? I’d be interested to know what you think.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope and the BLESS System

During the summer of 2017, my church is utilizing a system to BLESS our neighborhoods. The acrostic works like this:

  • Begin with Prayer
  • Listen and Engage
  • Eat (because we all connect better while we’re eating)
  • Serve Others
  • Story (be willing to share your faith story)

Although I like this concept, I am purposely NOT engaging in this system. Not that I disagree with any of it – I’m just pulling back from any kind of service while I recover from ministry exhaustion.

The ironic beauty of this BLESS system is that God Himself is helping me engage with him. He is blessing me.woman - worship

It’s almost a replay of how God took care of Elijah when he was discouraged and depressed after a massive battle. (If you want to read that story, check out First Kings 19.)

Now, I don’t believe I am anywhere close to being a powerful servant such as Elijah.

I just know God loves me and he’s taking care of me.

Here’s how it works:

Begin with Prayer: At times, I’ve been so depleted, the only prayer words I could speak were “God oh God” or “Jesus, help!” But the sweet truth is that God still heard me. We don’t have to pray a certain way or follow a formula for Abba Father to hear the cries of our hearts.

[Read more about Redefining Prayer]

Listen and Engage: In the quiet of the night when all I hear is the cat’s snores – I sense God near. He is listening to me and for me, and I for him. Sometimes he speaks a verse I’ll look up and journal through. Sometimes it’s just the inner warmth of knowing he’s engaging and connecting with me. I love that. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs of guidance and truth.

Being listened to = being loved.

Eat: This piece of the acrostic is a bit more eclectic because I’m not talking about real food. Although a healthy recovery does include nutritious eating as in blueberries, dark chocolate, lots of water, repeat.

Emotional and spiritual eating means filling my mind with the words of God and helpful books – fiction and nonfiction. I am inhaling without exhaling, filling up my emotional bucket that has been scraped raw. This type of eating never adds empty calories, but spiritual nutrition flows into every tissue and emotional gap.

Serve Others: It seems impossible to turn off the button of ministering to others. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, “No! You cannot organize and promote a new ministry, no matter how much it is needed. Stop it!

I am letting go of all expectations and reveling in how God is serving me.

Now, I know some of you out there in cyberspace are thinking, How selfish! Who does she think she is? What would Jesus do?

I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. He would climb right up in Abba’s lap and tell the Holy Spirit to come and comfort him.

When he walked on this earth, Jesus rowed across the lake and took some down time. He had weekend getaways at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He strolled through a garden and prayed, inhaling the presence of God so he would have strength later to heal and save.

So don’t judge me. I’m telling you Abba is such a personal God he knows when to send me an encouraging word.

He calls me to the deck at just the right time so I can watch a rabbit nurse her bunnies. He commands a flock of geese to fly over me with joyful honks. He whispers to a baby in Wal-Mart who turns around and gives me a single-toothed grin. He plants a book in my hands that helps me understand how ministers become codependent. He tells someone to send me a check so I can pay that climbing electric bill. He heals my son so I don’t have to live in worry.

God knows exactly what I need and when I need to be reminded how much he loves me.

Story: I’ve just shared part of my story with you. It continues to grow and the plot lines interweave. More will be coming in the weeks ahead.

Keep checking in with me to see how God wraps hope around every gift, how he is himself the author of hope.

The guideline God is helping me learn is this: it’s okay to take care of yourself. That means telling others “No” when they ask you to do something. It means setting healthy boundaries. It might even mean getting away from the mess.

So that’s where my story is so far. I’m sticking to it. Be blessed and let God bless you.

©2017 RJ Thesman

Sometimes They Forget       Goals E-book Cover      Rev_G_Cover

 

 

Hope When We Fall

It happened so quickly, I blacked out. Even now, I have no idea how I turned my foot on that last deck step. I have descended those steps hundreds of times. Somehow, this time was different.God lets us fall

As I woke up twisted in the grass, I was certain something weird had happened to my right foot.

Gingerly I sat up – tested my equilibrium – waited for the dizziness that never came. I scooted across the grass, hoping and praying my hips weren’t broken.

A sudden despair as I looked back at my house which has four levels – not a good scenario if I ended up on crutches.

Then trying to stand on the left foot, praying the right foot was not broken. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

Funny how we always cry out to God when we’re in pain. Sad how we forget to acknowledge him when everything’s just fine and dandy.

A testing of the throbbing foot. Could I stand on it? Yes. Could I take a few steps? Ouch, but yes. No nausea. Probably not broken. Hopefully not broken. The right foot, of course. The driving foot.

Immediately, the planner in me began mentally listing my writing clients. Could we do Skype if I couldn’t drive? How would I deal with the groceries? Would my son have the time to help me?

A sudden pulsing of lonely despair. The worst time to be single is when you are in pain.

Soon the swelling began, so I elevated my leg and plopped an ice bag on it. My son then drove me to Urgent Care for an X-ray and a meeting with the medical team.

Hobbling from room to room, I felt old. Hoped I wouldn’t need a cane, but looking for one when I felt out of balance.

No fracture, thank God. Just a severe sprain. Now I know how the Jayhawks feel when they land crooked after an awesome rebound. Feet were never created to twist.

A week of elevating the foot, more ice, anti-inflammatory meds and every five seconds or so a gratitude pause that nothing was broken.

Then the exercises – making the alphabet with my foot. This practice uses all the muscles, tendons and tissues. I love the alphabet. It is my writing tool from which all the words are birthed.

Then hope rebounded as I carefully walked around my cul-de-sac, hung on to the cart in Target without pain. I was healing.

God sometimes lets us fall, although I believe he is near to catch us in his powerful arms.

As we fall – either physically or spiritually – we are reminded how fragile we are. How we need God and each other!

Sometimes we fall because the world is a shaky place. It isn’t easy to keep our equilibrium or to stay the course when every foundation seems unstable.

And I think God lets us fall to protect us from further harm. Perhaps we’re heading in a dangerous direction, so God puts a temporary stop sign in front of us.

Or we’re in such a hurry, we need an occasional fall to remind us to slow down, to rest, to enjoy the best life has to offer.

Ultimately, as we take care of ourselves and return to normalcy – we begin to heal. Hopefully, we also keep that place of gratitude for how God catches us, how the fall could have been much worse.

Hope keeps us steady in our shaky world. Hope also keeps us moving in healthy directions so that when we DO fall, it won’t be so tragic.

Keep steady, dear readers. Keep moving forward. Stay in hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

Hope Celebrates Freedom

Amer flagJuly Fourth is such a fun holiday. Whether it’s family picnics, iced tea with lemon, a favorite swimming hole or watching fireworks – everything about July Fourth seems fun.

But a serious side of the topic also presents itself. In our family, this date is a reminder of how fragile life can become. My son, diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, hooked up to tubes in the hospital bed. The fireworks exploding on the TV screen, trying to entertain us in the middle of a crisis.

Nothing colorful, exciting or fun about that time. But later – after a miraculous recovery – we did celebrate. And every year since, the Fourth of July represents extra hugs, a big meal and two scoops of ice cream – just because.

As a writer, freedom is precious because I type out my thoughts, my emotions and my opinions without fear of retribution or arrest. Our freedom of speech is such a precious commodity, never to be taken for granted. May we never lose it.

In the last few years, I have also watched another type of freedom manifested. Women I worked with who finally realized their abusers were not going to respect healthy boundaries. Brave women who said, “Enough!” and found the courage to pack up and leave. The freedom these women now experience is like coming up for air after drowning for years.

The freedom I now feel to explore my writing gift and to schedule my writing clients. No longer chained to the 8 to 8 job or the “available 24-7” mantra. This type of freedom allows me to read a book, take a nap or stir up some brownie batter when I feel like it.

Freedom also comes with a price. Saying “no” to compulsive buying because freelance work means balancing a precarious budget. Facing condemnation when the freedom to leave becomes a reason for judgment in the church pew. Making sure our constitutional laws are followed no matter how far up the ladder one has climbed.

Freedom costs, but it’s worth it.

The ultimate freedom for me is to know who I am and to embrace my authenticity by setting boundaries around anything that might try to take my freedoms from me.

On this Fourth of July – I will speak a prayer of gratitude for all the freedoms I enjoy. I will hug my son again and have another scoop of ice cream. And I will embrace the joy of living in this land of the free, begging God to keep us so.

How do hope and freedom coincide? Easy. Without freedom, we have no hope for a happy future. Without hope, we feel trapped within emotional prisons.

I am grateful for the hope freedom brings and the freedom hope clings to.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author ofSometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. Somewhere a segue exists but currently – I can’t find it.

I know it will come – somewhere over the rainbow. But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing and a massive piece of comfort chocolate.

AsMind the gap I reflect on life in general and writing in particular, I realize life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding a newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grasp his diploma. A quickly-passing gap. Overwhelming emotion at both ends of said gap.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life – imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. A birth date.  A death date.

But it is the gap between those two dates that determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap? How many people did she influence? How many friends did he make? Who will mourn the presence of the owner of that gap?

I bring out my journal to analyze my thoughts. Think of the people whose gap moments affected my life: parents, siblings, perhaps even ancestors who prayed for me – folks I have never met. I know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery.

Teachers. Writers – oh yes – the numbers of writers who have influenced my life and also my calling to write. Innumerable.

Pilgrims within and beyond my family. My  students through the years. My clients now – how much I learn about writing from the actual process of coaching writers!

My son. The brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July 4th and believe the fireworks are for him.

The people I know who live with chronic pain and complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure, to persevere, to grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we don’t pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that gap is where hope exists, where it is nurtured and grows, where it expands to affect other gappers.

Perhaps we need to do more of this – to celebrate each other while we have life. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee, to toast each other and determine we will pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties, for cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with writers, artists and every day workers who persevere and heroically make it through another day?

And there it is – suddenly the segue I wanted, hiding within the paragraphs of journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap.

This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2017th year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, I believe the divine One will cheer for me. He will understand the joy I feel in moving forward with my words.

And when he reviews this life with me, he will remind me how important it was to find that segue. His whisper of “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of  Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

Hope Seeks a Vision

Several years ago, I started a vision journal. Some writers use a vision board to piece together plots for a novel or goals for the year. I prefer a journal.marketing vision

In my journal, I write about my visions for the future:

  • A healthy and happy life for my son
  • The country cottage I have always wanted – with a western view so I can watch the sun set and surrounded by gardens of various flowers
  • My desire to make the New York Times bestseller list

Some visions are much deeper and more intense – those desires for peace and contentment no matter what issues are grinding through my life.

Without vision, the scripture says, we perish.

This statement is true, because visions require a fistful of hope – the belief that our hearts’ desires will indeed come to pass.

As I scanned through my journal, I was surprised how many visions had already come to pass:

  • The desire to be a full-time writer
  • A car to replace my former broken down buggy
  • My son in love with his sweetheart

Answered visions are confirmations that God does indeed care about the desires of our hearts. In fact – he is the one who plants them in us in the first place.

Does this mean all my prayer requests and visions are answered with a resounding “Yes?”

Negative. I cannot see the entire timeline of eternity or the answers that lie within each segment. Only God knows what is the best direction for me and which visions will push me toward the finish line.

But confirmed visions do prove that hope is alive. Hope then becomes a force to move our deepest longings into place.

I have added some new visions to my journal and dated them. It may take a lifetime or at least a small timeline to see them become reality. But the process of stating a vision underscores faith and the belief that life CAN indeed turn out okay.

Without vision, the people perish.

Without hope, a vision cannot live.

I vote for owning both.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Honors Loss

For several years, I have wanted to do this one special thing. Finally this year, I accomplished it.

This feat was not a joyous bucket list fulfillment but rather a moment to honor loss.

On Memorial Day, I clipped a couple of hydrangea blossoms from my container garden, wrapped their stems in a wet paper towel and drove to the cemetery.flat stones - cemetery

No one I know is buried in this particular cemetery, but I am grateful this place exists. For some reason, during this time of recovery, I needed a concrete place to grieve.

It is a Catholic cemetery and bless their hearts – these Catholic sisters and brothers who have provided a special place for grievers like me.

Although I am 36 and 34 years from the losses, somehow the harsh reality never leaves me. Probably because I was not offered the solace of a cemetery plot or the finality of physical closure.

But this cemetery has a special section in their Babyland for mothers like me. One area with flat stones set apart from the other tiny plots of infant and young child deaths.

This area of Babyland – the goal of my mission – lists only one date on a stone and sometimes only the name, “Baby.”

These are the stones that indicate a miscarriage or an abortion – a child not fully formed and never held.

On this Memorial Day, toys were scattered across the stones, flowers, an occasional scribbled note, “We miss you.”

How I wish I would have had the opportunity for a physical closure like this – all those years ago. My stones would have read:

Ryan Michael, November 3, 1981, Born and Died

Rachel Elizabeth, January 6, 1983, Born and Died

I do not know where the remains of my babies lie. The D&C surgery that took what was left of them never indicated what happened to their tiny bodies. I probably do not want to know exactly what the medical community does to a miscarried baby.

A wall of remembrance lists children by their death years. I run my fingers through the engravings of 1981 and 1983, then sit on a nearby bench – listen to a cardinal’s song, let the sunshine dry my tears.

I ask God to hold my babies close. To tell them how much I still miss them. To remind them they have a younger brother and what a wonderful man Caleb is.

Still holding my flowers, I wonder where to place them. I wish for some music, a plaintive hymn sung by a quartet or even the solemnity of “Taps.”

My flowers somehow do not belong on any of the already designated stones. I would not impose on the memories of another grieving mother.

Then I see it. The iron and brass cross stands as a sentinel in this sacred place. So I cemetery crossinsert my flowers, believing the Savior on the Cross is also brother and protector of my children.

The hope that echoes through a cemetery sings with the assurance that death is NOT the end. Someday it will have no sting. Life eternal will exist as a cherished reality.

For those of us who never held our babies, hope cries out the beauty of that someday when we will meet our little ones face to face.

Somehow – for now – that is enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Celebrates the Younger

One of the joys of coaching writers happens when I watch clients succeed.

We brainstorm a title idea together and the a-ha lights our faces. The perfect cover dresses the front of the book while a teasing blurb fills the back.

But oh the best – is the content that soars from an initial idea while a synopsis in black and white merges into sentences, paragraphs and chapters.

We talk about it as a birthing – a coming to life of a project. And truly it feels like the stretching of flesh, the contractions of laboring for that perfect word, the expulsion of life on the page.

A recent birth occurred as Sara Brunsvold launched her book, “Uncage My Brave.”Uncage my brave

It is a relatively small tome with only 51 pages. No “War and Peace” masterpiece needed. Yet within Sara’s work lies her experience with courage, her exhortations to find her source of bravery and uncage the dreams God placed in her heart.

What I like about Sara’s writing is how it has expanded. Not with longer sentences or flowery distractions. Rather, Sara’s gift has deepened. Her communication now draws from a divine well.

I sense in her the role of prophet although I don’t believe she would label herself such. Yet a prophet speaks truth and often expounds with a poetic rhythm that catches the breath and cries for more.

A highlight phrase from Sara: “Carry me, Abba. Hold me still in Your strength. Press my ear to your heart.”

Words such as these cannot emerge from a fanciful wish to communicate. They are conceived in the valleys of grief and the plateaus of doubt. They are wrung out by stepping forward to believe in what cannot be seen, to taste what is not plausible.

When I hold my copy of “Uncage My Brave,” I rejoice that I have had the honor to watch Sara’s dream become reality.

The joy of writers helping writers underscores our purpose in Psalm 45:17, “I will perpetuate your memory through all generations.”

This writer, this Sara Brunsvold, is a younger wordsmith who now surpasses my generation. I rejoice in her accomplishment.

Check out Sara’s blog and order “Uncage My Brave.”

You will no doubt discover hope in her pages and celebration in the unfolding of Sara’s dream.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Finds Hidden Life

hope ovalWhile watching the DVD of “Eat Pray Love and minding my own business – the divine whisper spoke. “Womb.”

Womb? What could that mean – for me – now?

Only later, while journaling through my day did the interpretation penetrate the fog of my questioning.

While in this recovery mode, I am floating in God’s womb. He is Himself – taking care of me.

Isaiah 41:14, “Do not be afraid…for I myself will help you.”

So what is happening in this divine womb – this time of exceptional care?

Safety. Within this recovery period, I am safe in the pre-designed purpose of God. He is close and protective of me, guiding me – moving through each day with me.

Since it is his womb, I am moving as he moves, breathing his spirit and surrounded by his presence.

“The Spirit of God is arousing me from within…like a pregnant creation” (Romans 8:22 The Message Bible).

Nurture. The warmth of his presence and his nearness is a nurturing reminder of his love. This particular nurture involves the ultimate of his care.

As a result of his nurturing womb I am embraced by a cycle of growth and hope for the future.

Hope. Within his womb and the life being nurtured is a promise of the future. At some point, contractions will begin and life will burst forth.

Will it be the life of a new novel, the restoration of a gifting, a new location for retreat and study or perhaps a new version of the old me?

As long as I stay within the womb, hope will continue to grow.

Provision. Within the protective sac of the womb, provision grows the new life, allows it to flourish and find health.

My provisions center around financial needs as well as emotional healing – morsels God feeds me each day.

When I meet with him and ask for help, I am humbled by the bounty of his provision. He knows how much I need and exactly when to provide it.

As Joyce Meyer says, “Ask God for what you want. Trust him for what you need.”

Surprise. Even with our modern technologies, the contents of a womb can still offer surprises.

As a planner, I am not a fan of surprises – except when I write fiction and the characters delight me with something unusual.

But with God – I know his surprises are safe and acceptable. I can trust he will surprise me with something good.

I never expected to be in this place during this season of life. But God surprised me with definite guidance for this direction.

And because he knows exactly how to ease me into surprises, he once again underscores infinite love.

Love. Ultimately, the womb is a place of pure love. Like a cradle completely enclosed in warmth and safety, the womb guards what is to be born.

Within that protective boundary, nothing and no one can touch the fragile life being nurtured and prepared.

Although I don’t fully understand the depth of God’s nurturing for me, I do know his nearness signals a great heart filled with love.

And I look forward to whatever surprises he has for me – knowing they will bring a new life wrapped in hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

 

 

Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

 

 

Hope Repurposes a Life

I love to find something that has been discarded and repurpose it. Sometimes it’s a piece of furniture from a dumpster find, a pot made from an old bowl or a scarf that becomes a wall hanging.vintage door

My repurposing gift probably stems from growing up on a farm and “making do” with whatever we had. DIY projects began on the family farm.

Need to make a straight row for the garden? Use sticks and baling twine. Create a toy out of a piece of cardboard and/or leftover wood from another project.

The farm rules stated, “If you don’t have it, make it with whatever you already have.”

Creativity thrived but we didn’t think of our projects as displayed creativity. More like survival. Repurposing became our way of life.

The process of repurposing has now expanded beyond furniture, wall hangings or garden projects.

I find myself taking the pieces of a former life and remaking them into something new.

After a lifetime of ministry with people, I am now focused on the ministry of words – a solitude of sentences and intentional rest.

Still in transition, I wonder how to stop being who I was? How can I best become the “me” for this season of life?

Henri Nouwen writes, “The task is to persevere within the solitude.”

It is not a struggle to write, edit and create in the quiet of my home. This is the creative side of me that has always existed.

It is just different, a new normal and I have to discover the best way to function within my changing role.

When I repurpose an object, I sit awhile and look at it from all angles. How shall I paint it or redesign it? How can it be used most effectively?

Think Tom Hanks in “Castaway as he sat on the beach staring at a piece of metal until he imagined it as a sail.

To repurpose a life requires even more thinking. How can I use my gifts to bless others when my audience lives in cyberspace? Is this moment best used writing a blog post, editing a book, taking a creative walk or reading a novel?

Which choice will strengthen me in this new role and allow me to end the day with a sense of productivity?

Can I be content to just “be?”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “We need to take time away from busy-ness, time to be. Taking ‘being’ time is something we all need for our spiritual health.”

To repurpose my life, I often just sit and “be.” This is hard for me – the natural “doer,” the “planner,” the “initiator.”

But as I am learning the principle of quiet reflection, I find a stronger creativity emerges when I return to the words.

Projects are completed. New ideas nurtured.

The beauty of this personal repurposing project is the assurance that God loves me no matter what I do. He saved me to “be.”

Perhaps this transition will change me into a different person. That’s okay, too.

Because hope thrives when we can be ourselves, embrace life and move forward with joy.

Who knows? I may find a new purpose for myself and be more authentic than ever before.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Misses Mom

This is the first year I will not call her on Mother’s Day.Mom

What’s the use?

She cannot hear what I say. She will not remember it is Mother’s Day. She does not care about the passage of time.

Each day is the same as the day before. She waits in the world of Alzheimer’s where time moves backward. Clarity only occurs in the distant past.

She will remember me as a child, finishing my chores, then perched in my tree with another library book or my five-year diary.

But thankfully – although we are hundreds of miles apart, I still remember her. I have already sent the frilly card. On Sunday, I will also send my thoughts and prayers through the universe.

God, oh God, you will whisper “I love you” to her – won’t you?

This Alzheimer’s journey is such an ironic place of memory versus reality.

I could use this space to laud her for years of mothering, for practical lessons taught and for the courage she always displayed.

Appropriate adjectives for her life would include: strong, resolute, determined.

These traits still show up when she occasionally complains that someone has stolen her teeth or broken into her home.

More of the hysteria of dementia.

Since the present is so unpleasant, we have only past memories to connect us.

My sister will read my card to her. Mom may wonder at my signature. She will not fathom that who I miss is not the present mother but the one who became confidante, friend and encourager.

I am grateful her brave heart still beats. The connection still exists.

To lose a mother is to cease hearing the heartbeat that nurtured us in the womb.

To lose the one person who is eternal cheerleader, even when we both age beyond the boundaries that held us close.

So I will pray for her on Mother’s Day, knowing the eternal Abba will hold each of us close.

And I will look at her picture, miss the woman she was, even as I hope for Alzheimer’s end.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Silent Saturdays Disrupt Hope

We have recently celebrated Holy Week with its tragic Friday event and the victorious Resurrection Sunday.

saturdayBut the day in the middle – the silent Saturday – lives on in many of our lives.

It must have been the darkest day for those early believers. Their Savior was dead and the resurrection was only a prophecy they weren’t sure would become reality.

Discouragement. Frustration. Doubt.

In hindsight, we know the end of the story. But silent Saturdays continue to haunt many present day believers.

We have come to faith, considered the meaning behind the crucifixion and based our lives on its Gospel message. We know Christ lives and will return again. The Holy Spirit gifts us and guides us. All that is good.

Yet many of us still dwell within our personal silences:

  • The woman who has prayed for her abusive husband, now going on 28 years. She believes yet the answer waits behind the veil of Saturday’s silence. He continues to abuse her. She continues to stay because she believes God has asked her to.
  • The man who needs a job to support his family. He is trained, highly educated with stellar references, yet his silent Saturday continues. His hope dries like brittle resumé
  • The family that has journeyed through cancer with a beloved child. Every remission brings hope. Then another tumor interrupts hope. Their silent Saturdays revolve around chemo, radiation treatments and the fear that constantly threatens.
  • The spouse who sits beside his beloved – a woman who no longer recognizes him. Alzheimer’s has stolen his resurrection joy because her afflicted brain is wrapped in the tentacles of a silent Saturday.
  • The writers who persevere , waiting for that first book contract
  • The hostages who pray for release
  • The marginalized who fight for equality and wonder how many years and how many court dates exist between Friday and Sunday

At some point in life, we all struggle to endure another day – to somehow crawl past our silent Saturdays into victorious Sunday.

But the waiting continues and requires courage to keep breathing, keep struggling, keep hoping.

Answers hide within the loving heart of God as our “Why” questions echo off canyon walls of aloneness.

Yet the only hope we truly have is to repeat the glorious cries of those early believers. “He is not here.” Resurrection dawns.

Someday time will morph into eternity. Silent Saturdays will no longer exist and we will understand why we needed to wait so long.

All we can do now is cling to the hope that Sunday will return. Then we will forever be finished with the silence.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

Hope Finds 3 Options

Number 3When security officials train employees for active shooter situations, they present three options:

  • Run – get out of the building and run away – fast
  • Hide – blockade the door to your room and hide inside
  • Fight – if you cannot run or hide, be prepared to disarm, injure or kill the shooter

Unfortunately in our scary world, we need to be prepared to use these options.

But we can also exercise these three options when life unravels and we need to find hope. What are some examples from history and also from the present?

Run:

  • When boundaries are not respected and a workplace grows unhealthy, we leave.
  • When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, the only way he could respect his employer and obey God was to run.
  • If a woman is living in a destructive relationship, she calls 9-1-1 and hurries to her safe place.

Sometimes the most courageous choice is to run.

Hide:

  • When Elijah was exhausted and afraid, he hid in a cave. God empathized and sent ravens to feed him.
  • When exhausted ministers need a break, they take Sabbaticals. They hide from the many needs so they can recover and return refreshed.
  • When a young mother is overwhelmed with the diapers and the late night feedings, she calls a friend and takes a break. She hides away for a while.
  • When the 36 hour-day overwhelms a caregiver, he calls a friend to sit with his loved one and hides inside the theatre to watch a movie.

Sometimes the healthiest option is to hide for a while and let healing happen.

Fight:

  • When the enemy of our souls attacks with fear, we fight with the sword of the Spirit. We repeat our trust verses – outloud – because the enemy needs to hear our courage and he is a slow learner.
  • When we are charged unfairly for a medical bill, we call customer service. We don’t stop until our questions are answered and the situation resolved.
  • When we see someone being abused – whether it’s a woman, a person of a different color or a child – we report it to the proper authorities. We speak up against injustice. Think Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Carolyn Custis James.
  • When Jesus experienced injustice, he often took action and fought back. Sometimes he spoke up, “Get behind me, Satan.” Sometimes he pitched tables across the church foyer.

Confrontation feels uncomfortable yet sometimes it is the only way to make our point and speak our truth.

Three options move us toward hope because in each scenario, the situation deserves some type of action. Run, Hide or Fight. Then we wake up the next morning feeling safer and glad we chose wisely.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

When Connections Alter Hope

She seems more content now with her life in assisted living, but the contentment itself tears her farther away from family.

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

Several weeks ago, I drove 250 miles to be with family – a precious time with siblings, extended family at a reunion and quality time with Mom.

But my plans did not fit in with the plaque-infested changes in her brain. My plans included several hours in her room catching up, a walk around the lake to watch the ducks and geese placidly float, maybe a stroll through the facility – greeting her friends.

Instead, she dismissed me. “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

So instead of parking my car and walking arm in arm into the facility, I watched as she opened the door – all by herself – and walked inside.

A few months ago, she stood at the door and waved goodbye. Not this time. Once inside the comfort of her routine, she marched toward her room.

Away from the door. Away from me.

On one hand, I am grateful she has acclimated to her studio apartment. She feels comfortable with the activities planned for each day and the white-haired friends who sit beside her in the dining room.

These people now represent her world and the building has become her home. I am only an occasional visitor – a person from her past who sits next to her until she grows tired of me. Then the inevitable dismissal, “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

Alzheimer’s Disease not only steals the memories and names of loved one, it also alters familiar patterns. The relationships that once defined our lives become blurred in the needs of the present.

The shopping trips we shared, the laughter around a game of Scrabble, cheering together for our favorite team – all these familiar activities now relegated to a life once lived.

And the people who colored those events are now just human beings who happen to be visiting. The familial connections fade. The absence of recognition will soon follow.

Time with others is precious, especially while we know how to communicate and relate to each other. Once that connection disappears, we have only the memories to treasure.

Enjoy your time with family while everyone still understands what family means.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

 

 

Hope Observes

coffee and bagelMost of my reflecting time is spent in the solitude of my home study. But occasionally, I venture into the world of people for a cuppa Joe. I often bring a journal, a book to read, paper and pen to write ideas or work on a blog post – such as this one.

As I reflected in a local Panera, I wished I owned stock in the company. Throughout the years, I have ingested gallons of their teas and lately – experienced the scrumptious delight of their gluten free chocolate cookies. Better than a brownie, I promise!

Whenever I join the human race in a public place, I observe the people. Some of them may become characters in a future novel. Yes – writers do insert real people in their books. Live your life with caution.

An older couple sits quietly at a round table, slowly chewing croissants without talking or even looking at one another. Years of marriage enrich the silence of the moment. What is there to talk about after so many years together? Maybe these fluffy croissants are their one treat for the week or the month – until the next Social Security check revives their bank balance.

A woman after my own heart reads alone, occasionally sipping her coffee. Obviously engrossed in her book, she seems lost in the words. Is she learning something new, researching for a college class or trying to escape some chaos in her present life by entering into the fictional world of the book’s protagonist?

Two women chat near me, slathering butter on their bagels. One talks with a shrill timber. The other is the listener. If I eavesdrop carefully, I learn about the toddler’s attempts at potty training, how the hubby works hard but does not care about the fatigue of this young mommy.

Do they suspect I intrude on their privacy? Do they care? Probably not, as their goal is to share their hearts with each other, to find another soul who empathizes.

Another table filled with businessmen, their Mac books opened to spread sheets and planners – terse statements about sales and marketing.

And the workers who assemble salads, soups and steel cut oats to fulfill requests. Working hard yet often rendered invisible because each customer is captured by his own story with his own reason for spending the morning at Panera.

I am grateful for this place and for the freedom to sit and observe. I am also aware of the God who cares for each person’s story – the Divine One who designed destinies before the foundation of the world and wants desperately for each person in this place to know how much he loves each soul.

Then the writer in me kicks in and I play the What If game:

  • What if the older gentleman is hiding a fortune in stolen coins?
  • What if his wife is really his pastor and has no idea about his hidden sin?
  • What if the pastor is hiding the fortune in stolen coins?

And away I go into the world of creative thought, fashioning a new story for each character I observe.

Don’t you think God the Creator had fun designing our lives before we were born?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Remembers Jewel

We met as volunteers at a pregnancy crisis center – she with a desire to publish her books, I with the time and expertise to help her.praying woman silhouette

As writers, we both understood the calling and the passion of words – of using written tools to communicate God’s love.

We shared a room at a writers conference. I helped her publish another book.

Then our paths separated as I moved away. Yet somehow the connection endured, mainly because of her persistence in prayer.

She handwrote long letters, wanting to know what I was writing, where I was submitting my work.

And I knew, as surely as I knew her name – Jewel was persisting in prayer for my words.

Every consecutive letter – always snail mail as computers were not her love language – ended with “How are your writings? I am praying.”

And for every new book I published, I sent her a copy inscribed with “Thank you for praying these words into being.”

The years passed and I read of her progressive health issues, the struggle of car problems so frustrating for this dedicated widow, how to pay the rising taxes so she could stay in her home. The tales of grandchildren and the support of her family added color to her missives.

She asked about my son and always – always ended with, “How are your writings? I am praying.”

Then came that horrible day when the Easter card I had sent her was returned. A note from her beloved children, “Mom passed away – peacefully.”

No more letters from my Jewel. No more questions about my writing. Our connection now separated by the boundary of eternity.

This week, as I readied my office to become a true writer’s study, I thought about Jewel. Now that I am transitioning into the place I’ve always wanted to be, I knew she would find pleasure in the journey.

Is Jewel asking God about my writings? Is she reminding him of all the packets of prayer stored up on behalf of my passion?

Since God treasures all our tears and keeps them in a heavenly flask, does he also store prayers in a special file labeled for our destinies?

Do the prayers of a lifetime, from a faithful warrior, still affect the present?

I believe they do.

I live in the hope that our prayers for our children will continue to storm the throne of God – even when we are gone.

And God will listen because he cares. He will act, because we care.

Even now, I believe my writings are covered with Jewel’s prayers. The words will make an eternal difference, because one woman cared. And one woman prayed.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Rests

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, the transition from full-time ministry into semi-retirement spins. The slowing down requires intentional rest.sleeping woman

To be intentionally still – listening for God or just sitting in the sunshine causes a need for reboot.

How can the transition be handled in a way that is healthy – for the body, soul and spirit? How does one move from excessive productivity to recovery?

I have been in this position before, but never at this level of intensity. I find myself sinking into the unknown while grasping for the best Source of wisdom I know. My usual methods of resting – a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restoring sleep helps and then daily naps. Nutrition that builds up the tissues, although my body screams only for chocolate. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target. No, no – I cannot yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well – to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision – mistakes admitted, grace given.

To find a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish and I feel alone in the attempt.

I pull out my colors and find comfort in the texture of markings on paper. Turn on the TV to watch basketball and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction books as I pump on the exercise bike. These words require no emotional deposits.

Sit and stare at the blooming redbud tree, dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the April breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. Red and black on the background of the greening elm. God’s creation in living color. To spend more time outside is my goal … if Kansas ever warms up this year.

I spend more time on my knees, bringing my fatigue and questions to the Wise One – begging for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with their curative rhythms: fret not, be still and know, God alone is surely my refuge.

Several years ago I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel and was surrounded in the brightest whites – a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels – tucking me in, stroking my brow, murmuring love. Being cared for. Receiving compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

That I so vividly remember the dream underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress just takes time – a day, a week, another day. No guidelines here.

A friend told me she slept for months after retirement. A client has pursued rest and direction for three years.

And I – in my self-sufficient planning mode – thought I would be rested after just one week. That would be a “No.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. I will eventually find soul energy again. The words will pour forth and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving – the voice of praise.” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and rest, trusting in the One who reminds me where hope originates. He places his words in my mouth and covers me with his gentle hand.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for soul whispers.when-god-reaches-out

It is often in the early morning when the meditations of my heart remind me I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well.

Such a moment happened in a recent morning as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

It was a female voice, so perhaps its source was the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Perhaps a sweet relative who has passed to glory.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew it was no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, the voice traveled from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved – completely and forever adored by the divine One.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling of being surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen – when eternity interrupts our life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence?

Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Emanuel with us?

Does he long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy, but what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain between the physical and spiritual worlds?

What if God is always reaching out to us, to give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead and we’re just too focused on the now to realize he is there?

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. Brain damage. The intensive care unit with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Rich had crossed over. The phone call was no surprise. Tears yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Then two days later, suddenly Rich stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face, he wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in New Mexico – a coral stone set in silver, the black leather strap.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. And it was a token from eternity that Rich was all right, would always and forever be okay.

And then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next? It cannot be measured by our finite minds, but for me – its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we have seemed to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And right there, standing with them, is the Savior of our souls – this One who dares to love us in spite of who we are or what we have done.

So I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to the hope that maybe I’ll hear the same voice and feel the touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When the Dream Dies

country-cabinEvery year since – forever – seed catalogs have arrived in my mailbox during the last of the winter weeks. They are a harbinger of hope because nothing spells faith like planting seeds and believing perennials, green beans and marigolds will indeed sprout and come to life.

But this year, I am throwing the catalogs into the recycling bin. I cannot even bear to look at pictures of purple lobelia or happy-faced pansies.

This year, I have finally realized I can no longer maintain my gardens.

Reality began to set in during last year’s season when I tried to dig weeds and spread mulch. Within minutes, grass allergies kicked in, and I ran to the house for my meds. Even so, the next day – dark circles rimmed my eyes and the fatigue of immune system warfare affected my energy levels.

I ignored the symptoms because gardening has been so important to me. Just the therapy of digging in fresh soil, following my farming ancestors’ passion to coax the sprouting of life has brought me annual joy.

Gardening has nurtured my dream – to own a cottage in the country surrounded by flowers and produce where bees drink nectar and butterflies land for a respite during their annual migration.

But reality clarifies the cost of mulch and new plants, plus the hours required to make such gardens appear. Reality also underscores that my body and its accompanying allergens now betray me.

I can no longer hang on to a dream I cannot produce.

My dilemma reminds me of my mother’s situation – the woman who worked hard to pay off her house only to be forced to leave it. The realities of Alzheimer’s care betrayed her. Staying in her home mirrors my dream of a garden home.

Now both of us must delete what we wished for.

This year, I will woefully allow the native grasses to engulf my garden spaces. I may move the blueberries and golden raspberries to pots that require little care. I may plant a small row of green beans, enough for a skillet full of nutritious flavor.

But I will no longer drool over the pictures in seed catalogs or plan new plots for hybrid clematis.

This year I will step back and let nature rule. Perhaps my garden dream will morph into an eternal garden where the price my physical body pays no longer affects me.

Instead of  working on my dream, I will stroll through local nurseries to touch leaves, stroke petals and remember the gardens I once nurtured.

To reach toward hope, I will remind myself that the giving up of the dream still yields results albeit a different type of fruit:

  • Saving money
  • Giving away tools to someone who needs them
  • Finding more time to write and read
  • Preserving my health

And when the twinges of grief remind me what is lost, I can always counter with the truth of what will someday be.

Reality forces us to change, but hope answers that the changes may point toward something better.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know, including myself, are stuck – waiting for an answer to prayer – the answer that will help us move forward.

We have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet – nothing.waiting

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. He may be silent yet is still at work – behind the scenes, moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for a reveal.

So what do we do when the answers don’t come, when we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing seems to flip us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer – in his time
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one
  • Understand that every season – even seasons of waiting – will eventually end
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms.
  • Post this verse where we can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified).

Hope continues to believe – especially when we cannot see how our faith works. We believe in what we cannot see, still knowing a facet of eternal value exists though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues – one whispered prayer at a time – believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/2kG29Ur

Hope Finishes a Book

The idea began two years ago when I read “How to Blog a Book” by Nina Amir. Since that time, I have recommended Amir’s book to many of my writing clients.

The jist of her book is the process of using blog content – already written, edited and published online – to create a hard copy print book.

When I finished Amir’s book, I looked up and said, “Well, duh!

After blogging for five years, I had enough content for several books, but I wanted to focus on only one theme, one category and one idea.

The decision was easy. “Sometimes They Forget” – the collection of essays I have written about the caregiving journey through Alzheimer’s Disease.bookcoverimage-stf

This book, unlike the Reverend G trilogy, tugged at my desire for authenticity as the long-distance caregiver and forced me to dig deep – then deeper still – to reach those painful places in my soul.

I needed to record how the awful reality feels when Alzheimer’s invades a family.

From the cemetery wanderings when I visited my ancestors’ graves to the honesty of admitting how we must sometimes lie to Mom. The inclusion of holiday tips for caregivers, the seven stages of Alzheimer’s and caregiving tips I share when I speak at events – all these posts present some practical ideas for families dealing with this brutal disease.

I am hoping families just entering Stage One will feel encouraged to know others have gone before them and survived.

As I re-read my essay asking the why question, it caused me to review my faith values and underscore the truth that even if I cannot understand why God allowed this disease to enter my mother’s life, I will still trust his heart.

My goal was to finish the book before Christmas 2016, but then the Great Virus invaded. Illness interrupted my timeline.

The deadline changed with a new target date which I am pleased to announce – I WILL meet.

February 3rd is my mother’s birthday – 88 years. “Sometimes They Forget” will be released on that day and soon after – on Kindle. The book is an acknowledgement of her courage and a small way to honor her.

You, my blog followers, have encouraged me with your comments and with your appreciation of my words. I hope you will also consider this new book as a memorial to my mother and as a way to make it through your own Alzheimer’s journey – or share it with someone else.

The sub-title of “Sometimes They Forget” is “Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.” My prayer is that hope will multiply and the ripple effect will bring some measure of peace to those families who live with the Long Good-bye.

Thank you for your support and for your prayers as this book is released on February 3rd.

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

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Word

Many of my friends are choosing their words for the year. Although I don’t usually follow suit, one word has surfaced. This word and its meaning once stymied me because I could not find a practical way to utilize it.

But as I have searched for a workable definition, the practice and discipline of using this word has moved front and center.ballet-dancers

I believe this word is important to me – especially in 2017 – because of what happened in 2016. As a Christian, I was appalled at the vitriol I read on social media and how followers of Christ used their freedom of speech as a weapon.

Certainly, we should stand up for what we believe, but to attack other human beings – creations of God – just because they believe differently? Sheesh!

They will know we are Christians by our love.

So my word for the year addresses my traumatized soul and also gives me a higher bar to attain. The word is GRACE.

I know the Sunday School definition for grace: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. But I have searched for the practical version, a way to actually BE a Christian rather than just writing and/or posting my beliefs – hoping to stay away from the ugliness and cruelty witnessed last year.

The definition I have settled on is, “Grace is the disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.”

To live with a focus on kindness, to show grace to the checker at Target who has been on her feet for eight hours and the guy in front of me is yelling at her because his coupon expired.

To see the tears threatening to spill over and when it is my turn, to briefly touch her hand and say, “I’m sorry about what just happened. I think you’re doing a great job.”

To park in the lot at Wal-Mart and instead of rushing inside to get my stuff, to show grace-filled courtesy to the elderly woman, lift her trunk and help her empty the cart – then offer to take her cart inside so she doesn’t have to walk all that way on a gimpy leg.

To realize none of us act as we should every single day and give grace when someone barks an insult or uses only one finger to wave at me in traffic.

To be grateful for my freedoms yet allow with grace for the differences among us as we exercise those freedoms.

And how does grace look if I turn it inward? What are the practical ways I can give myself grace in this new year?

To realize I am an achiever, yet my projects are not more important than my health. To rest even if I’m not sleepy.

To allow myself breaks to take a long walk, to sit on the deck and marvel at the colors of the blue jay at my feeder.

To realize I gain five pounds every winter as I hibernate from the cold and give myself grace because I always lose those same pounds in the spring.

To admit the truth about the aging process – it DOES happen so I need to give myself grace and not hate the changes morphing me into a visual of my ancestors. After all, each year brings me closer to heaven where age will not matter.

To realize my garden cannot look like the magazine covers, no matter how hard I work. To give myself grace and let some of the plots grow over with natural grasses and even weeds. This graceful strategy will give me more time to write, reflect and pray.

To believe that grace also leads to gracefulness – a beautiful visual of a ballerina floating across the stage. Can I float through 2017 with a new version of gracefulness, slowing down and just being myself?

In her book, “Walking on Water,” Madeleine L’Engle writes exactly what I want to embrace. “…To take time away from busyness, time to BE. To take BEING time – something we all need for our spiritual health. Slow me down, Lord. When I am constantly running, there is no time for being. When there is no time for being, there is no time for listening.”

So as I float through 2017, my goal is to show kindness, to offer courtesy and to fight for clemency – to allow for the differences among us and love in spite of them.

Hope calls me to be more grace-filled and graceful in the next twelve months. Will you join me?

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