When Hope Meets Up with Q4

We are moving toward the Christmas market and ready to leave the year behind. We have reached our annual goals or transferred them to the next year’s editorial calendar.

Image by Mariana Anatoneag

It’s easy to sit back, take stock of the year and start planning for Auld Lang Syne.

But 2020 has presented a special challenge — the need for daily monitoring and hope searching. We cannot truly relax because this horrid pandemic is still with us, taking lives and disrupting our culture.

It’s time to take a lesson from football.

Although every moment of a football game can be filled with excitement or the dread of rising penalties, it is the fourth quarter — the Q4 — that holds the most promise. Yet those last 15 minutes are when legs start to throb, arms ache and the multiple tackles begin to take their toll.

It takes more grit and strength, more energy and chugs of Gatorade to score in the fourth quarter, to come from behind and win.

This Q4 of 2020 will require even more courage as we begin the winter months. We’ll be cooped up with each other while snow whitens the landscape, washing our masks and wishing 2020 was a distant memory.

COVID-19 was supposed to be under control by now. The perfect vaccine a reality. The economy responding to opened businesses. Yeah, right.

Yet the news is often bleak, the numbers of dead rising and the need for extra strength more important than other quarters of this year.

How can we face this Q4 and make it to December 31?

Stock up on Resources. Not just TP, but also books and movies that enrich thoughts and build warm fuzzies. Find winter-based projects the entire family can enjoy together:

  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a new recipe
  • Write a poem
  • Do something creative
  • Watch the old sitcoms and laugh

Dig Deep. Find that courageous reserve that asks for extra grit to churn out the final seconds of Q4 2020. Fill your fridge magnets with positive quotes and affirmations. Memorize a hope-filled quote or scripture.

One of my favorites is Isaiah 43:2, “You will pass through deep waters, but God will be with you.”

Move Away from Yourself. Find a way to bless someone else: a greeting card, a bouquet of chocolate chip cookies, flowers left on the porch, a phone call, more chocolate.

How about this quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”

Even if we feel the opponent has won, Q4 isn’t over yet. We CAN finish well.

We can build up our hope by encouraging each other and cheering for one another until the final buzzer sounds. In the midst of this Q4, we can go for the win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Many of the women in the Bible were invisible. Check out these 8 stories from The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It is now 3:24 on this date I created before the foundation of the world. Disengage.”

Photo by Hans Braxmeier – Pixabay

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

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch how the autumn leaves fall. Some of them let loose to plummet quickly — 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 still-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. Turn. Turn. Turn. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves — to 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, golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin. He reminds us all are beautiful — different yes, but glorious in our uniqueness.

Then just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of our lives.

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

Gratefully, in his arms we will segue from dance to eternity. From hanging on to hope.

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post has been a fan favorite, so I include it each year. For more of my writing and books, check out my Amazon Author page.

When Hope Finds Its True Color

My cyclamen bloomed a lovely fuchsia pink. But I bought it with the understanding that it would produce the dark eggplant purple color I love. What a disappointing surprise as the blossoms opened and showed off a deep pink.

Photo by Peter Kok – Pixabay

But a few days later, the blooms started changing. With time, the cyclamen blooms sported the purple I wanted. I just had to wait for the desired result while the plant morphed through its photosynthetic process.

The correct color was there all along, hidden behind the curtains of time. Only the passage of days would bring out the true richness I longed to see.

Isn’t that so like life?

We start a project, write a story or journal about a dream. Then the project becomes a tree house. The story evolves into a novel. The dream wraps around a destiny.

We share coffee with a friend which eventually grows a relationship that adds color and joy to our lives.

We say, “Yes” to Jesus and end up living a life abundant with more grace giftings than we ever thought possible.

One circumstance morphs into another, delighting us with the spontaneity of change and surprising us with the richness of the final result. Living within the surprises of life adds more fun than carefully structured days that grow old and boring in their regularity.

Perhaps we could also give permission for change to others — the opportunity to morph into a richer version of themselves — in time.

Wouldn’t that attitude change how we relate to our children when they seem stuck in the teen years? “Grow up!” we want to scream. But that is exactly what they are doing.

What if we give permission for change to those in authority over us — to the systems of our society stuck in transitional puzzles. It takes time for people and systems to learn how to change. As we morph into the people we long to be, we need to give daily grace.

What if we live in the joy of the surprise and truly learn that expectations do not always bring the best results.

As we gradually grow into hope and faith, we learn how to apply patience. We move into the next seasons of life and accept the things we cannot change.

If we could practice patience and apply grace to ourselves and others, within our world and its destinies — perhaps we could live better lives and embrace the hidden hope of each day.

The blatant ugliness recorded on social media proves nothing except that we all need to grow up. Our freedom to express opinions is a gift.

But why use that freedom to destroy another soul?

How can we grow to become our true color and exhibit the creative beauty God gave us if we don’t give each other the necessary time to morph into our best selves?

No matter how much unraveling we experience, no matter how COVID-19 changes us, we do possess the integrity and the wisdom to grow internally. We can grow our inner texture and let it brighten our souls.

We CAN change into who we should really be.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. Their stories underscore the need for hope, change and grace.

When Hope Encounters a Rollercoaster

Memories of fun in the past included rollercoaster rides. Those giant metal or wooden edifices roared as the track connected with the train.

Hands held high. An unplanned scream. Stomach muscles clenched in a clash between fear and excitement.

But today’s rollercoaster comes not from a machine or long lines of customers anticipating the ride of their lives.

No, we are all on a rollercoaster together — the emotional ride of 2020.

Just as we begin to feel a bit more secure, another jerk takes us to a scary elevation of fear or a sudden downturn of despair.

Back and forth. Up and down. The spiral cycles and the stomach clenches once again.

What does this rollercoaster look like in the waning months of 2020?

The Ever-Present Track of Covid-19. Our family had escaped Covid. Everyone was healthy. Then the phone call. The one person most susceptible – the elderly matriarch.

Mom is 92 and confused within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. She does not understand why she has been taken out of her room and placed in isolation. She does not recognize the staff people who now wear full PPE garb and speak to her behind shields.

The cruel rollercoaster of 2020.

Unexpected Circumstances. A simple step down into the garden, expecting to water flowers. Then joy at the colorful blooms became pain as my hamstring pulled, leg and hip out of whack. Doctor visits, chiropractic treatments, a cane to maneuver through my uneven yard. Three months out, and it still hurts to sit or stand.

The uncertain rollercoaster of 2020.

Cancelled Plans. A special birthday trip to my beloved Santa Fe and the wonders of the Southwest. Planned with a friend for months. Excitement flushes out as reality slides around the next turn. Travel is impossible with a hip injury. Wait another year. Forget this anticipation and push back the joy.

The disappointing rollercoaster of 2020.

The Search for Truth. One news channel reports their facts, complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Another channel reports their facts, also complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Yet they totally disagree.

The confusing rollercoaster of 2020.

Science versus Reality. Government agencies we should be able to trust release statements about vaccines, treatments, forecasted dates. Then the next day, they reverse their information. What?! Science changes overnight? How much is politics affecting information — on both sides of the aisle?

The puzzling rollercoaster of 2020.

Relationships Suffering. Families and friends who once worked together, worshipped the same God and rejoiced in spending time together. Now they are jerked apart by opposing views — both sides claiming divine inspiration. Both sides able to quote Bible verses and pound pulpits with their opinions.

The polarizing rollercoaster of 2020.

How can we find hope when our emotions are jerked up and down, around and around, spiraling out of control?

A carnival ride expert once said to focus on what is not moving, something that will not change no matter which direction the rollercoaster heads.

So we can focus on one thing — hang on to the thread of faith, that whisper of constancy that assures us, “For I, the Lord, do not change. Therefore, you are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Eventually, we will step off and away from the rollercoaster of 2020. It will take a while to regain our equilibrium, and we will most certainly face a changed world.

But even as we focus on what steadies us, we can be certain hope will survive. It looks beyond the present tense, reaches toward the future perfect.

To be settled and steady. To feel secure. To know we have survived this year and hope for what promises to be better.

That is the goal of hope, an emotional place that may be shaken but still endures.

In spite of the rollercoaster of 2020, we can end our days with this Kenyan prayer: “From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth — Good Lord, deliver us.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, just released during this crazy year of 2020. The Invisible Women of Genesis uncovers some of the hidden stories from the women who were present, yet invisible, at the beginning.

 

Hope Travels to a Cemetery

She knelt beside the gravestone, surrounded by other markers unknown to us. Yet even with the multiple spirits in attendance and angels on guard, she was alone.

A young woman seeking closure from the death of her beloved nanny. Decades after the event, yet the pain still as fresh as the day she breathed her last.

When I step onto a cemetery’s soil, I always think of the show Our Town. That scene when major characters sit in their places beside their gravestones and observe family and friends in grief.

No expression on the faces of the dead characters – just an acknowledgement of life lived to its fullest, a few regrets and the somber reality of how quickly our timelines are fulfilled.

For this young woman who lost a lifetime friend, it was a sacred moment. The death of her nanny interrupted her middle-school years and created a searing hole of loss.

We don’t always pay attention to the grief of children: the loss of a pet, a grandparent or even an unexpected move.

As adults, we do what we have to do: arrange the cremation, pack up the belongings, schedule a garage sale to get rid of the detritus of another’s life.

So when children’s needs are passed over, it creates a gap in their growth, a scar that keeps bleeding at the reminders of every holiday, each birthday approached or a surprise smell that brings the loss back into clear focus.

For this woman, even the location of the grave was hidden – a great unknown affecting multiple families who knew this nanny.

Yet the cemetery held the secret, ready to reveal it at the proper time, eager to speed healing and salve a soul.

With the help of an internet site, findagrave.com, we found the general direction of where the grave might be. In the heat of early September we traipsed from row to row.

Thoughts of my own beloveds buried in cemeteries of the Midwest. Grateful for the belief we shared that we would meet again in an eternal state. No deaths there. No Covid-19. No sickness of any kind.

The writer in me paused to reflect on the myriad of stories reflected by dates: a grandfather who passed in 1889, a soldier from WWII, an eight year-old child. I could imagine the sobs of parents and wondered if the cause was the flu epidemic, a dreadful accident, maybe the scourge of smallpox?

Cemeteries provide a sense of history, a reminder of our mortality and a concrete symbol of the toll loss takes. Yet within the provision of closure, these sacred spaces also reflect Bible verses, pictures surrounded by stone, carefully manicured grass that protects vases of artificial or real blooms.

And cemeteries remind us to live life as fully as we can – while we can. Before our chairs are set beside the grave and we observe those who come to mourn.

Finally . . . a cry from my son. He used the background of an online photo to locate the grave. I watched the young woman slowly approach, knew she was glad to find it yet dreading the sight of that precious name and the death date inscribed below.

I carried the crimson mums we found at Wal-Mart, handed them to her, then stepped back to allow her space and time.

The day before our cemetery trip, my son and I prayed for this young woman. We wanted to support her quest and longed to see peace reflected on her lovely face.

After she spent several moments in reflection, she left a letter fastened with a blue posy. Then my son watered the mums and we left, slowly walking toward the car and away from those who could not follow.

Why was this moment so encased with emotion yet filled with hope? Because that young woman will soon become my daughter-in-love. She needed that healing day, and we needed to support her in it.

Hope finds its way into unusual places, but often peeks from an extraordinary moment. Then it reminds us how hope can heal – even decades later – and offers a promise of future joy.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about hope, check out Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.

 

 

When Hope Needs a Greater Miracle

the-thinker-489753_1280Writers are thinkers.

We spend a great deal of time reflecting on plots, characterizations and the best topics for an online post.

So last week, I spent some time thinking about miracles.

We’ve all heard about miracles of healing — maybe even personally experienced one or two. And various publications focus on miraculous stories.

These stories encourage us, especially when life is hard — like it is now — during Covid-19 and its dastardly side effects.

But even as I pray for a global miracle, I reflect on the possibility of leveled miracles.

Some supernatural happenings always occur: the beauty of birth for any species, that phone call about a new job, a card that arrives at just the right time.

Daily miracles that turn the ordinary into something inexplicably extraordinary.

The Israelites watched God perform several miracles that underscored he was on their side (Exodus 7-12).

  • The Nile River turned to blood
  • Swarms of gnats, flies and grasshoppers
  • The deaths of the firstborns

But as amazing as these events were, the hapless and sometimes unbelieving Israelites needed a greater miracle.

Just as they escaped from Egypt, they faced the Red Sea. Behind them galloped the Egyptian army, ready to capture them and force them back into slavery.

So God showed up with a greater miracle.

He sent a strong east wind that divided the water and turned the pathway into dry land. Think Charleston Heston, Cecille B. DeMille and the Ten Commandments 1956 movie.

Can you imagine how frightening it must have been to step between those walls of water? Did they see fish swimming and bumping their snouts against an invisible wall? Did they wonder, what happens if the water suddenly gives way?

But they crossed safely on the other side while Pharaoh and his army perished as God released the torrent.

Today, we need a greater miracle. We’ve faced epidemics before, and scientists have created miraculous vaccines.

But we need more than the right dosage of the correct DNA that destroys Covid-19. We need:

  • Jobs created and/or restored for the thousands of unemployed
  • Comfort for those who have lost loved ones, now approaching 200,000 families
  • Justice for those who died because their skin wasn’t paisley white
  • Strong leadership and courage to do the right thing, no matter which aisle they sit on
  • Women and children rescued and cared for as domestic violence has exponentially increased in 2020

We need solutions to so many problems, no one person can solve them. And this is definitely NOT a political post.

We need a greater miracle.

In times of crisis, our leaders have called for a national fasting and prayer day. Our current time period begs for a mindset of humility, for all of us to cry out, fall to our knees and ask God to perform a greater miracle.

Without divine intervention and global change of heart, we may be facing a social Armageddon with lasting consequences. How many of us are willing to walk through those waters?

God, please, heal our land. Move back the waters once more and let us travel peacefully to the Promised Land.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Uploading Faith.

What Cats Teach Us About Hope

As an observer of the animal kingdom, my neighborhood provides plenty of reflective stimulation. Dogs, cat, hawks — even the occasional fox or skunk.

tabby catBut it is the feral cats along with my house cat that expand my thoughts about hope.

What is it that cats do so well that underscores hope in the time of Covid?

Cats work. No apathy allowed in the world of feral cats. They stay busy hunting for their next meal. Maybe a small bird or a scampering mouse, a grasshopper or a baby bunny (sadly, I have seen this happen).

Survival depends on a reliable food supply. The feral mother teaches her babies how to sneak up on their prey and how to fight their siblings for the next bite.

We all need a sense of purpose. That’s why the unemployment so many are suffering during this pandemic is dangerous.

Besides the obvious lack of finances, despair can grow when we have nothing purposeful to do.

We must find some sort of work or busyness in order to emotionally and physically survive.

Cats play. They are such fun to watch, especially the kittens who have energy to spare. Jumping on a toy, batting a ball around a plastic cylinder or chasing an errant piece of yarn.Pep with ball

Cats play to keep their reflexes sharp and their muscles toned. And cats rarely struggle with stress, unless they are ill.

Play is vital during this time of Covid.

Whether it’s table games with the family or a backyard game of soccer, play forces us to focus on enjoyable activities.

It helps us escape from the harsh realities of our world.

So play often. Read a book, watch a funny movie, pack up a picnic for your local park.

At our house, we often watch YouTube videos of funny animals. Our laughter beats back the gloom carried by the news channels.

Cats rest. A house cat will sleep sixteen or more hours each day. My cat keeps a regular schedule of morning, afternoon and evening naps as well as at least eight hours after we both climb into my bed.

Rest for humans means we turn off any mental noise, breathe deeply and let the world continue without us.

Rest equals peace — that sense of wholeness that avoids confronting the fears which knock at our mind’s door.

Rest is also a spiritual discipline that requires trust and the assurance that no matter what happens, God will take care of us.

Cats require nurture. Even the feral cats come up to me, sniff cautiously, then rub against my leg. They know I can be trusted for a morning snack. And if they let me, I know the right spot to rub on their ears. Their purr confirms it.

Peppernut under chairMy housecat is a needy shorthair. Peppernut requires several lap sessions each day and a vigorous belly rub before bedtime. If I ignore her, she will tap on my hand until I respond. She has trained me well.

During the time of Covid, I have often told my son, “I need a hug.” My signal for nurturing.

He’s a great bear-hugger. For a few moments, we hold each other close. A reminder that someone cares during this crazy time.

The warmth of another body. A physical symbol that echoes the phrase, “I love you.”

It’s also important to nurture ourselves:

  • A mani/pedi, while wearing a mask, of course
  • A long soak in the bath while reading a spell-binding novel
  • A fresh trim to get rid of the Covid split hair
  • Vitamins and healthy nutrition, but also an occasional treat

So during these waning months of 2020, when all we hear is bad news — take a cue from cats. Follow some of the feline regimen.

I promise — you’ll be purring in no time.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a sampling of bath reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

When Dread Attacks Hope

dreadOur world is being attacked by a vicious virus. But we are also facing a mental virus that threatens to destroy hope.

That virus is dread.

Multiple scientists and pundits are predicting the fall and winter of 2020 will be the worst season ever.

We will see an uptick of Covid cases coupled with the usual flu outbreaks. They warn that we may experience a worldwide tragedy — an apocalyptic pandemic.

A prophecy of dread.

The definition of dread is “to anticipate with great apprehension.”

It is a level stronger than fear, because it feeds on the imagination. It fills in the gaps with the worst possible scenario which grows with each new dread-filled prediction.

Dread not only believes the negative outcome, it escalates the emotion of fear and makes it feel more personal.

Every year, I dread winter because I don’t like to be cold, I hate driving on icy streets and the entire landscape is as gray as my mood.

Winter is a personal attack called Seasonal Affective Disorder. So I have to prepare myself with comfort and strategies to avoid excessive gloom:

  • A daily dose of St John’s Wort to lighten my mood
  • New soup recipes to warm up the kitchen
  • An abundance of great reading material
  • Projects that excite me and bring color into my world
  • A focus on the end of winter as I mark off each day
  • The enjoyment of the holiday season which creates a break in the calendar and adds fun time with family

Each year, I try to invent new ways to make it through the November – February imprisonment. This year will require even more intentional methods to escape illness and tragedy.

To fight the dread of the anticipated 2020 winter season, we will need to be even more diligent to look for hope. To constantly remind ourselves to steer clear of that apprehension fed by the reality of Covid-19.

As a lifelong list-maker, I’ve come up with some strategies to help me approach this fall and winter with a more positive attitude:

  • Continue self-care and other-care. Read “wear a mask, social distance and pay attention to hygiene.”
  • Lockdown was working, so I plan to continue my stay-at-home discipline except for essentials. I will try to talk myself out of fudging on what “essential” means.
  • Fill my home and office with fun projects such as decluttering (again), some DIY wall art, maybe finally painting my office.
  • Stay even more connected to family and friends
  • Start a new coaching process for teaching others how to Write a Legacy
  • Stay informed but only watch the news at certain times of the day and only in small intervals
  • Pray my guts out for the end of Covid-19
  • Help my son and his beloved plan their wedding
  • Focus my journaling on more gratitudes and less grumblings
  • Sing more often and with greater volume
  • Surround myself with color — none of those drab wintry grays
  • Plan for how I can buy my next car

Will you join me with your own practical strategies? I’d love to hear how you’re planning to face the dreaded fall and winter of 2020.

Let’s fight against the spirit of dread by letting hope carry us through. Let’s look forward to 2021, to a clean environment, a fresh start and freedom from viruses of any kind.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Start your stack of winter reading by checking out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Shows Up 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.

As a child, I shopped at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year Mom would buy me the coveted box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back? Alas! It never happened during elementary school.

Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the box of 64, still replete with the sharpener on the back. Even as an adult, it was a wonderful gift.

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 and 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 Readerson Fridays?

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

Then as a single mom, it was more difficult to save the money required for my son’s list. The year he needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of the new year and the possibility of setting fresh goals, making new friends, celebrating successes.

We made a day of it: shopping at K-Mart (the modern version of TG&Y), opened boxes of hand-me-down clothes from the cousin just a bit older, played with the new compass and protractor, bought a pizza and a liter of Pepsi for supper.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth colorful paper goods, my favorite Pentel gel pens, journals with moleskin covers designed by George Stanley and legal pads for first drafts.

I wait until late August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures. Write down the cost in my list of office deductions.

Throughout the year, these supplies bring excitement — waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen for a booksigning, some colorful 3×5 cards to help structure my novel.  And every time I open a new package, 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 physical classroom, virtual online Zoom lectures 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. Hope shines when we dare to embrace a fresh start.

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post is an excerpt from Hope Shines, a book of essays about fresh starts. Check it out on Amazon, then leave a review. Thanks !

Hope Measured by Steps

During a recent journey from Wichita to Kansas City, my check engine light came on.

At the same time, I was nursing a painful hip from a displaced sacroiliac.

Normally, I enjoy driving the open road. I slide in the CD of my favorite soundtrack, munch on a snack and sip some water, sing along with the CD or make notes about another writing project.

But faced with two challenges at the same time, this would not be a joy ride. So I planned several stops where I could check my car and walk around to alleviate the pain.

Towanda: one of my favorite rest stops because of the gift shop. Lots of Southwestern-styled handbags which I dream about every time — turquoise and camel being my favorite — but not the price tags.

Knowing I would be faced with some kind of car cost, I didn’t even consider a purchase other than a small breakfast sandwich and hot tea for plenty of caffeine.

Back in the car, my hip felt better — thank you, Motrin. The check engine light was still yellow and not flashing. On to the next stop, only 33 miles away.

Matfield Green: At one end of the Flint Hills, you can see the Kansas prairie for miles. Grasses, cattle herds, a buckskin horse, places to pull off and snap pictures.

In the women’s restroom, I met another masked woman who, like me, struggled to get soap out of the dispenser.

“Really?” she said.

“In our world today?” I replied. “No soap?”

So we both spent extra time running water. Then I limped back to my car and doused my hands with sanitizer.

The next stop was Emporia. Time to pay my turnpike ticket and usually — a stop at Braums for an ice cream treat. Cappuccino chocolate chunk, thank you.

But not this time.

My hip needed TLC, and I wanted to be as close as possible to home in case the car died. The next stretch of road would be the longest — 90 some miles.

So I whispered several prayers, pulled the CD out and clicked onto a Christian radio station for encouragement.

But 50 miles later, my body screamed for relief. Luckily, I knew about the giant Love station off the ramp near Ottawa. So I pulled in and groaned as I exited my car.

After a stop in the ladies’ room — plenty of soap, thank you — I was delighted to discover a DIY soda fountain.

It is rare in these days of Covid-19 to be able to fill my own cup with plenty of crushed ice and unsweetened iced tea. I have learned to be grateful for the smallest of miracles.

Also at Love’s, I discovered my key chain had worn out. They had a display of amazing Southwestern designs, feathers and leather with a strong clip for keys. In my favorite dark purple with a friendly price.

I figured I deserved it.

So in spite of all the challenges, I felt uplifted as I began the last leg of the trip. Only 38 miles to home.

When I finally pulled into my driveway, I was sore, tired and spouting, “Hallelujah! I made it.” After a refreshing shower, unpacking and a generous lunch, I thought about how my trip home coincided with the challenges of 2020.

How can we make it to the next step — to that place with no daily death counts and a blissfully mask-free world?

It won’t happen immediately, unless God chooses to snap his fingers and create a global miracle.

In the meantime, we’ll do it one day at a time, one painful journey to the next rest stop, one whispered prayer at the next mile marker — until we make it to the final destination.

Hope isn’t always one gulp of optimism. It’s often a tiny morsel of sunshine on a cloudy day or a cautious step toward a goal.

It’s one step at a time in the right direction — with an occasional treat along the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out another journey, Sometimes They Forget — the one my siblings and I are on as Mom continues the Alzheimer’s challenge.

Hope for Future Shopping Trips

Woman ShoppingI miss shopping.

Not the online click-and-buy all of us are subject to during this time of Covid-19.

What I miss is the entire experience of shopping.

Oh, I know — most places are open. But I don’t want to mask up, risk the germs, avoid people and stand six feet away from other shoppers.

I want the fun and richness of what shopping used to be: discovering a new boutique, bumping into other women who want the same bargain, smiling customer service reps when we could actually see someone smile.

I miss it.

Deb and I always started with a steaming cup of chai. Then a review of the places we wanted to go and the items we needed to buy.

On some level, we knew our shopping would include surprise bargains or maybe an impulse buy, but that was part of the experience — part of the surprise adventure.

Always lunch at our favorite Mexican place or trying out a new business that smelled of green chiles and salty cheese. Always, plenty of guac and chips.

Usually an ice cream treat in the afternoon: something with pecans for Deb. Always something chocolate for me.

What I miss about the shopping experience is the joy of browsing — to finger through hangers of clothes, to slide my hands over the creamy satin or the corduroy threads, to revel in the colors.

Then the fitting room with giant mirrors. Trying on items, checking out the fit, a 360⁰ turn, asking Deb or another woman, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Imagining wearing the new outfit for work, church or a special event. All the events that are gone now, too.

One day, Deb and I were invited by an “older” bride to choose between two dresses for her big day. “Go for comfort and beauty,” I said.

“Choose something you can wear again,” Deb added.

We congratulated the woman on her final choice and wished her well. The look on her face was priceless: the glow of a heart trying again for love, her imagination already jumping to how she would look on her wedding day, how her groom would stare at her and remember the outfit the next time she wore it.

Hope reminds us that we will someday return to the fun of shopping trips.

Some of the experience will be different. Deb is gone now, so I’ll have to find another buddy willing to share a chai or coffee, to spend a day in eclectic stores and honestly answer my questions, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Prices will no doubt elevate as businesses try to recoup what they lost in 2020. So the day may be shorter, the packages fewer in number.

But the joy of actually choosing a new outfit, trying it on, reveling in the imagination may seem even sweeter because of what this year has done to us.

For now, I will continue my click-and-buy way of shopping or wear out my old stuff, at least until more of the Covid numbers go down and it feels safe to have fun again.

And I will remember the days when it was easier, before we could even imagine what might happen in a pandemic.

Hope still wins. It’s just taking longer than we thought.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Spend some time shopping online for a good book. Here’s one you might like: No Visible Scars.

 

Hope Begins in the Mind

mindWe are a combination of body, mind, soul and spirit. As such, we are intertwined into a complex mixture with one aspect affecting the others.

It’s easy to focus on our bodies, especially when something goes wrong and we’re in pain. Or we sense one of the symptoms of Covid-19 and cry, “Please God! No!”

The soul — personality, will, emotions and the spirit side of us — that invisible fog that exists already in an eternal state don’t seem to bother us much. We can almost forget they exist until something goes haywire and forces us to confront that deep inner well.

But the mind — now that is another matter. It’s a constant badgering of negativity, a discourse in fear, a reminder that our connectivity to body, soul and spirit begins and ends with how we think.

And I can prove it. I can be totally not hungry, but a commercial comes on or I read a recipe and suddenly I want chocolate chip cookies.

Or I can be completely content with my daily life until I’m reminded by a stack of mail that I am indeed aging and in need of a hearing aid, more health insurance or end-of-life decisions, i.e. “Buy your cremation package now.”

Add to that the fact that I’m in the demographic most likely to die from Covid-19 and my mind plays out scary scenarios. Suddenly, I’m limping through life.

So how do we defeat the beast of the mind? How do we keep from losing hope when our brain tells us circumstances are indeed hopeless?

Watch What You Read. A friend I respect is several years older than I. On one of my gloomier days I asked him, “How do you stay encouraged as you age?”

“Pay attention to what you read,” he said. In other words, be careful what you feed your mind.

A delicate balance sways between staying informed and being brain-washed by what we read. We can tip either way — too afraid to embrace others’ opinions and respect them in spite of differences or too tepid to make up our own minds.

What we read on the internet is not always accurate. I’m not blasting the “fake news” mantra that has been used to perpetuate its own fake deceptions. I just know as a writer I’ve found inaccuracies in fact-checking. Not everything out there is true, no matter which website you read.

Some sites are meant for sarcasm, not truth. Some quotes are taken out of context. Even some Bible verses have been misinterpreted and used to vilify evil practices.

We need a combination of resources so that we can mentally debate what IS right versus what SOUNDS right. And we need to keep focused not on how our minds twist the truth but rather on how the truth actually plays out in our lives.

Watch What You Hear. In the cacophony of our world, few truly know how to listen well.

I have been trained as a coach in how to listen for the hidden undertones, to look for the motivation behind the action. That practice has served me well.

How many of us have misspoken or wished we could revisit a conversation with a new perspective?

Analytical thoughts often visit me at night:

  • I wish I had said . . . .
  • Why did I add my particular opinion to this empty conversation?
  • God, they misunderstood me. I need to make that right.

If we don’t hear correctly, we cannot respond with truth. Sometimes I think we all need spiritual hearing aids.

Watch What You Believe.

My son and I had a conversation about the Nazi’s and how the German society believed they were following the right course with Adolf Hitler.

After the United States liberated Europe and freed the Jews in concentration camps, some Germans admitted to sensing something was wrong. But they were hypnotized by Hitler’s charisma. He told lies often enough, they believed him to be telling the truth.

Deception works because it’s so tricky. It tells just enough truth to lead us astray and soon — our minds are trapped within its ugly claws. Satan used it against Adam and Eve.

It still works today.

During this season of political intrigue, Covid-19 illness and the unrest of a nation that needs to wake up — I pray every day for truth to win.

Truth is a core value that can clear the mind from the fog of “what if” to reach toward the horizon of “this way.”

Finding hope within truth first begins with a cleansing of the eyes, being careful of what we read. Then follows a clarity of what we hear, truly learning to listen well. And finally, a pure heart that knows its beliefs are centered in truth.

What we read, what we hear and what we believe must draw us steadily to what is true. Otherwise, hope itself will be deceived.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

As we strive to find the truth, Hope Shines.

Hope Searches for a Symbol of Healing

As Covid-19 marches on, how can we stay in hope?

Somehow the platitude of “We’re all in this together” sounds hollow. I need something more.

pharmacy symbolThis week, I focused on an Old Testament story where the community faced a plague of serpents.

The children of Israel grumbled, because they were impatient and tired of the journey through the wilderness.

God is good, but he’s not fond of hearing whining complaints in spite of all he’s done.

So he sent a bunch of snakes to bite the people. The poisonous venom caused multiple deaths, probably similar to the traumatic Covid numbers ticking higher every day.

Then the people realized their mistake and asked Moses to intervene on their behalf. Good old Moses complied.

So God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and fasten it to a pole. Whenever people were bitten, they had only to look at the symbol of the snake on the pole. Everyone who looked at the symbol lived.

Today we see that same visual as the symbol for pharmaceutical companies – an appropriate logo. Buy the right medicine or combination of drugs, get the right vaccine and live.

Thankfully, we DO have a multitude of meds which help us through our various maladies. And scientists are working hard to find the right combination for a Covid vaccine.

Since this symbol of the serpent on the pole worked so well for the wandering Israelites, is there a symbol we can focus on today? Something that will bring relief from the ravages of Covid-19?

The Sunday School answer, of course, would be the symbol of the cross. Yet even this beloved visual has been misused and misunderstood:

  • The Nazi cross
  • The KKK burning crosses into yards, fence posts or houses
  • The cavalier way we sometimes wear our crosses and decorate our homes, forgetting the cross is really a symbol of torture

Perhaps the time for symbols has expired. Instead, we need to do as the children of Israel and come face to face with our sin:

  • How we grumble against God and ignore the good he has done for us
  • The times when life doesn’t feel 100% balanced so we blame it on God
  • The impatience that fuels our busyness and keeps us from contemplative moments of building relationship with the Divine
  • The myriads of injustices we perpetrate on demographics other than ourselves
  • Our apathy as we fail to seek justice, love mercy or walk humbly with our God

Symbols are temporary, something concrete we can focus on instead of facing our desperate need for inner healing and soul relief.

Instead of a snake on a pole or a crossbar of beams – maybe we are in dire need of a deeper reflection, a change from pride to humility, an admittance we cannot solve this Covid-19 problem no matter how “together” we are.

Maybe this is the time for four simple yet difficult demands:

  • To humble ourselves
  • To spend time in concentrated prayer
  • To turn away from any and all wicked ways
  • To desperately seek God

Then he promises to move beyond symbolism to a direct answer, “I will hear from heaven and will heal your land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a reminder of the basics of faith? Check out Uploading FaithWhat It Means to Believe.

Beating Back the Covid War

During a rerun of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye was having nightmares and walking in his sleep.

Radar and Colonel Potter discussed the problem, calling in Sidney, the psychiatrist, to check over their beloved Hawkeye.

Radar said, “Gee whiz! I thought he was beating back the war.”

“What do you mean?” asked the colonel.

“Well, you know, sir — we all have our way of beating back the war. Hawkeye makes fun of it, you ride your horse and paint. And I have my animals. That’s how we’re beating it back.”

Good old Radar, the homespun philosopher.

Moving from the Korean War to 2020, how are we beating back the war of Covid-19? Can we learn from a TV sitcom how to focus on something besides the bad news and the horrific loss of life?

How can we force ourselves to look for hope?

One of my Saturday Sisters has the gift of encouragement. Our prayer group calls her our CEO — Chief Encouragement Officer. Although her life is far from easy — MS has confined her to a wheelchair — she calls each of us every week, just to check on us.

Her voice always has an upbeat lilt to it, and she often tells a funny story. At the same time, she listens to my complaints and empathizes.

But she uses her gift to share hope and help me believe this pandemic is only temporary. “Until we meet again,” she often signs off.

Many Americans planted gardens this year: veggies, flowers, natural grasses. Although my veggies are starting to look heat-afflicted, it has brought joy to clip flowers for a pretty vase, munch on my blueberries and plan for next year’s bounty.

Music settles both my son and me. Read the post about how Caleb returned to his drums. Whether it’s his electronic drum set, my piano or the streaming version of Hamilton, the joy of melodies and lyrics help us forget about illness and global chaos.

Every writer knows the escape valve of reading. My royalties have jumped up during these days of Covid-19. Being on Lockdown with time to spare has brought a resurgence of Kindle and print books. I suppose when all this mess is over, Amazon and online bookstores will have weathered it well.

Since I write about hope, I try to focus on the future. The joy we will feel when the evening news reports no new cases of Covid. The fun we will have meeting together again and creating our new normal. The multiple stories and memoirs of how we helped one another through this crisis.

And we have good precedent in finding such hope: World War I had its Armistice Day. The 1918 flu pandemic was followed by The Roaring Twenties. The wilderness travels of the Israelites ended in the Promised Land.

Faith also helps me beat back the war. I believe this mess is indeed temporary, one of the contractions of end times. At some point, God will say, “Enough!” and the enemy’s power will be deleted. I pray for that moment every day.

If we focus on our individual ways for beating back this war, we can find a sliver of hope to carry us through.

Whether it’s encouragements from others, gardens, music, reading, an intentional focus on a better future or faith — we can do this well. We can overcome the emotional and mental stress of this crisis.

So how are you dealing with it? How are you beating back this war?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a book of essays about hope, check out Hope Shines – available on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

When Hope Welcomes Diversity

As I sat on my front porch, I watched the kids play in the cul-de-sac. One black kid, two whites and three Latinos — two girls, four boys. They squealed with laughter, ran in circles, kidded each other like typical children enjoying a summer night.children - diff races

Far away from the murders of young black men and women. Focused only on the fun of being together without barriers.

When I watched George Floyd die on the national news, I cried and forced myself to watch it several times so I would never forget. Then came the reminders of earlier murders, of the taking of life merely because of skin color.

Such a sad scenario for a country that is supposed to stand for equality — all of us created equal by the God who gifted us with different skin tones.

Yet I’ve struggled to find a way, as a writer, to respond. What kind of voice can I add to the discussion as a white woman living in a comfortable cul-de-sac?

My history did not prepare me for the headlines of 2020. No black farmers tended their crops in our community. I didn’t go to school or church with black kids until my college days. Not because I avoided them, but because our community was segregated. Everyone on both sides seemed to accept it as the status quo.

At least, that was the excuse given to us.

The 1960’s opened my eyes to more of the struggles and inequities that needed to be fixed. I succinctly remember standing in a worship circle at a college weekend retreat, grasping the hand next to me and looking to see our white and black fingers intertwined.

“Cool,” I said to nobody in particular.

But that day, my soul opened to more possibilities. Until I experienced racism myself.

As a missionary in Honduras, I was a very white woman in a Latino world. We were not allowed to go downtown alone and never traveled outside our post at night. The culture shock was deep and real. It was a lonely identity thrust on me by location, gender and race.

But when I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas, I learned to appreciate and revel in the beatific richness of diverse cultures. Each week I met with Chinese post-docs, Kenyans, Muslims from the Middle East, Indians from New Delhi, Koreans, Japanese, Nepalese, Germans and other European students.

Although I was the leader of the group, I too learned from my students: about amazing foods, cultural differences, the rhythm of multiple languages and the colorful textures of customized dress.

None of us talked about racial differences. We all gathered together for one purpose — to learn to speak English better and share our lives with each other.

Only the U.S. was behind the curve ball where we couldn’t reconcile just two races as equal partners.

So I wonder what I can do now to help move my country of origin to a better place?

Admit that I don’t truly understand how it feels to be black in America. Until we open the conversation, truly listen to each other, ask the open-ended difficult questions and desire to learn from each other — we’ll be tethered by our history.

Change and social justice only happen as we dare to believe in the need for change and actually work hard to make it happen.

Educate myself. One of my black clients and I are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Soon, we’ll meet online and discuss it. Hopefully, we’ll both grow and appreciate more fully the challenges our nation faces.

I’m also committed to reading more books written by authors of color, and I want to support the Black Writers Guild.

Recently, I attended a writers conference where I learned tips about writing diverse characters. The workshop was focused on various races and reminded me once again how most of us write from the viewpoint of our comfort zones.

Speak up. Silence is indeed a form of consensus. My voice will be heard at the ballot box as I discover each candidate’s plan for civil rights and racial equality. Which candidates are committed to social justice, mercy and decent human rights for all?

Leadership matters, and change can’t happen when the same people work from the same office with the same mindset while refusing to listen.

God promises that someday people from every tribe and language will stand before his throne (Revelation 7:9, 10). Heaven will be a place where diversity is celebrated and fully accepted.

If we’re going to live eternally with our brothers and sisters from all over the world, we’d better learn how to peacefully live together now.

We have so much work to do and so many prayers to offer. I pray to God with steadfast hope we’ll get it right this time.

Maybe the children will have to show us the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How does faith factor into daily life? Check out Uploading Faith.

When Hope Connects to Our Children

He was a drummer from the womb — usually around midnight. The kicking began with a steady rhythm and quickly accelerated. Boom! Bam! Boom Boom!

I knew he would have some sort of musical talent, and he would be a night person.

So it was no surprise when I handed my toddler son his first drum set – my best pots and pans with a wooden spoon. He took off with his own version of heavy metal percussion.

During the parent-teacher conference in first grade, his teacher gave me that look every parent dreads. “He uses his pencils and sometimes his fingers to beat on his desk.” She sighed heavily.

“Uh-huh. And the problem is?” We started looking for a drum instructor.

After a few lessons, he progressed through all the books, wore out several pairs of drumsticks and one or two instructors. “Definitely a musical prodigy. Definitely has amazing rhythm,” they said.

“Uh-huh.” For his next birthday, we bought him a genuine drum set.

Middle school enrollment meant organizing his schedule around band. Forget biology and algebra. The only reason my son went to school was to be with his friends and be in band.

During a concert highlight, he played a solo that brought a standing ovation. One of the premiere piano teachers in our community told me later, “His rhythm is impeccable. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Uh-huh. Thank you.”

During high school, marching band provided the perfect scenario for discipline, music and the opportunity to excel. He won a speed drumming contest, and his band won championships weekend after weekend.

I stood in the stands cheering and pointed out the drumline to everyone who would listen. “That’s my son – on the snare.”

He was asked to play with a small heavy metal band, so they had several gigs all over town and performed at The Battle of the Bands. They practiced out in the country, at the lead guitarist’s home.

Our neighbors were probably grateful, although no one ever complained about the constant beats coming from our house.

He probably could have applied for a music scholarship to college, but he chose to go a different direction. And that was fine — until the brain tumor diagnosis.

When the doctor said he would lose his hearing, everybody started praying. Have you ever prayed your guts out? Uh-huh.

And God was gracious. The first question I asked him in the ICU was, “Can you hear me?” It was a wondrous miracle when he motioned, “Yes.”

Life has continued for my precious son — sometimes filled with joys and other times with challenges. But his drums have always been his sense of identity, his place of belonging.

Until his best friend died. My Caleb joined the drumline to play at Ryan’s funeral. went through a severe bout of survivor guilt and grieved deeply. Then he stopped playing his drums.

For several years now, I have prayed Caleb would return to his music. I knew he missed his drums even though he never said so.

But music does that for us. It solidifies the rhythm of the soul so that when it is gone — we feel empty.

A couple of weeks ago, Caleb and his sweetheart became engaged. Maybe he felt it was time to leave the past behind. Or maybe he just felt like his world was suddenly right.

He ordered an electronic drum set and had fun setting them up, testing for the best sounds, hooking wires to the amplifier and re-arranging his bedroom.

He’s been playing every night. Great therapy after a day’s work, but also a workout. Good for his heart — physically and emotionally.

When I hear the beats, I smile and thank God. I know my son is happy, so that makes me happy.

When we’re happy, when we’re hanging on to hope — that makes our Father God smile. He enjoys the pleasures of his children, just as we humans do.

So during these days of so many challenges, it’s important to find that one thing that brings pleasure.

Whether it’s arranging flowers from the garden, revising an old recipe, playing a musical instrument, connecting hope to your children or writing a blog post — do something that brings you joy.

Then try to imagine God’s smile.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to write another blog post, maybe you need a plan. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

Finding Hope When Prayer Lags

prayer -woman-sunsetSometimes prayer comes easy and feels like a special connection with the Divine. The words flow with a spiritual electricity. We believe God has indeed heard us, and something miraculous will happen soon.

But other times we struggle to know what to say. The words stick in our throats, and God feels far away. We can’t even fully imagine how anything good can come out of this frustrating conundrum.

That’s where I am now. I don’t know how to pray for my mom.

She’s no longer in assisted living, not even in the Alzheimer’s unit. Now she lives in a bed in the nursing home wing, shares a small room with another woman we don’t know.

This situation is specifically what I prayed would never happen.

Mom is living, but not really. The pain from her twice-broken hip and a broken shoulder. Her right arm affected — her dominant side.

She cannot feed herself and doesn’t want to eat anyway. She fights those who try to get near, because every time they move her, the pain increases.

Add to this horrific scene the fact that none of us can be with her. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, her nursing home is still in Lockdown. The already isolated elderly are now imprisoned within solitary confinement.

Mom does not understand what’s happening in her world. She just feels the pain of loneliness and physical hurt.

Does she think we have abandoned her?

What kind of life is this? How should I pray?

So far, God has not chosen to free her from the pain. He has not come to her room, touched her broken limbs and made them whole again.

I often pray that he will be close to her, hold her near his gracious heart and whisper consolations only she can understand.

But I don’t know if he’s doing that, if he’s answering my prayers.

If I pray for her final healing, for complete release, I am asking God to stop her heart and take her to heaven — to end her suffering forever.

Yes, I have prayed those words. Then felt immediate guilt.

I don’t want to be an orphan. I don’t like this season of life. I hate that my mother is going through this — alone.

So how do I pray? How can I stay in hope when my prayer lags?

What is best for this woman who always wanted the best for me?

Scripture tells us that Jesus has a job in heaven. He, too, is working from his home. He’s praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

So I swallow my tears and ask him to pray for Mom.

And when I cannot even utter those words, I revise the last verse of “Away in a Manger” and hope God understands the cry of my heart.

Be near her, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay

Close by her forever and love her, I pray.

Bless now my dear mother in nursing home care

And take her to heaven to live with you there.”

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Acknowledges the Tears

crying manIn one week’s time, I heard two men apologize for their tears.

“I’m sorry,” they both said. “Give me a minute.” Then they hung their heads, as if afraid to let the rest of us see their breaking moment.

They were both on podcasts and couldn’t hear me yelling, “Don’t apologize for your tears. It’s okay to cry.”

In fact, health experts tell us tears and crying are essential to healthy bodies and souls. Allowing yourself to cry can:

  • Help you sleep better
  • Relieve any number of stresses
  • Release hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins
  • Fight bacteria
  • Lower blood pressure

Check out some of these benefits of crying.

But crying can also underscore our humanity. It proves we have been created part liquid, and we can be touched by multiple factors in life.

Having a good cry develops authenticity. It proves we are vulnerable to the circumstances around us and being vulnerable is okay. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real.

Letting the tears flow debunks the theory “real men don’t cry.” If they can’t cry, then how real are the rest of their emotions? Perhaps holding back those tears may lead to blocking off other feelings such as love, compassion and mercy.

In the current novel I’m writing, the main character is a man who has a crying scene. I interviewed several women and men on the reality of letting a man cry in print. One woman was glad her husband could cry in front of her. She felt it increased their sense of intimacy.

One of my male friends admitted he rarely cries, but when he allows himself to get away and let the tears flow — he eventually feels better.

Tears give off signals that we need support, that it’s okay to ask for help. Friendships are built on emotional support. Relationships cannot exist without it.

Finally, being able to cry proves we care. How many of us cried out, if only internally, with George Floyd when he called for his mother? How many healthcare workers cried with the dying in the ICU and shuddered as the numbers of dead climbed each day?

Or have we become so callused to the crises around us, we have numbed down our tears?

Apathy is a dangerous disease which eventually silences the heart’s compassionate center. Without tears, our souls become hardened. Without feeling, we grow into stone versions of ourselves. If we cease to cry, we prove we no longer care enough to release heart-felt compassion.

Babies cry to make their needs known, but also to strengthen their lungs and the quality of their breathing. Perhaps some of us need to become as a little child again, to find the strength in letting go.

If crying is something to be ashamed of, then why are tears so important to God? “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 TLB).

Since God responds to the cry of the heart, then it must be okay to let the tears fall — and refuse to apologize for such a natural act.

Perhaps the men I observed will someday realize the beauty and health involved in their tears. I hope they learn how to be authentic, to wail and weep if they need to, to be vulnerable about their feelings.

Maybe our world would be a better place if we all cried out.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Some of the essays in Sometimes They Forget speak about the tears of our family when the shadows of Alzheimer’s came to live with us.

Communion in the Time of Covid-19

Although many of us miss the corporate meetings of church, one part of the routine is more comfortable for me at home — Communion.Communion

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is special. I don’t like observing it every Sunday as some churches do. It seems then to become as ritualistic as the parking space I head for each Sunday.

I want communion, especially during the time of Covid-19, to be unique — a longer time of reflection, more than just politely passing the plate to my neighbor in the pew, bowing for prayer, a quick snack and go home.

With more time and choices within my kitchen quarantine, I can spend the time I believe this sacrament deserves.

“Remember me,” Jesus said, as he led his best friends in this final act of intimate fellowship before his death.

To best remember this God-man, this Jesus, I like to devote time and thought to the act of contemplative worship.

So when my church announces we will observe the Lord’s Supper during our pandemic-required-live-stream, I prepare my kitchen table to become an altar of remembrance:

  • A candle for the observance of holy light
  • A china plate to hold my gluten-free cracker
  • My special cup filled with elderberry juice
  • Soft music playing in the background

One of my friends gave me the china plate, bone china from England, glazed with some of my favorite colors. It’s delicate, beautiful and reminds me of this sanctified moment between my Savior and me. As the potter took extra time to fashion such a plate and its matching cup, so I take extra time with my Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4).

Another friend gave me the amazing crystal cup. It sings a sweet vibrato when I tap it — as authentic as the love of the God-man I celebrate. Engraved with flowery swirls, it’s a reminder that the Spirit is both feminine and masculine, both strong and sweet.

Once my personal altar is prepared, I am ready to begin the moments of remembrance. But first, I want to approach this human temple fully cleansed.

So I spend a few moments in confession, for sins I have committed when I have deliberately rebelled, hurt my Lord and my fellow humans, refused to obey God just because.

For sins of omission when I have failed to do good to others, to love them as I love myself, to ignore my own fears and reach out to anyone who needs my help.

For sins of ignorance which I did not realize hurt someone else and may have damaged the name of Christ. Any action, word or thought which brings pain to another needs to be acknowledged and forgiven.

Once I have confessed, I receive grace as a gift in this relationship between divine and human. Because I am family, I believe and receive the forgiveness my Beloved offers so freely.

The phrase “Remember me” wraps the next moments in memories of a young man in his early thirties who knew he was dying. If we had more of the written scenario, more space for dialogue, Jesus might have said, “Remember how I made tables in my carpentry shop, turned the wood and planed the corners to make them fit just right.

“Remember me and how my nieces and nephews made me laugh, how we played in Mother’s small house, thought about Joseph and how much we missed him.

“Remember me and our fishing trips — before you knew I could multiply your harvest and cause your nets to break with the increase.

“Remember our meals together, the sacred holidays we celebrated, my favorite foods and the way I sang the Yeshiva songs.

“Remember me as your Savior, but also as your friend. Remember how I will die, but also how I lived fully and with abundance the time that was given me.

“Remember me.”

During my sacrament time, I commune with Jesus in gratitude — a remembrance of how his tortured body hung on that cross, sepsis beginning its fatal trek through his tissues, the splinters that entered his wounds as he pushed himself upward, struggling to breathe.

I take my gluten-free cracker and let it slowly dissolve on my tongue, the taste a bitter reminder of his forty-day fast, his last meal, the hunger I feel for a closer walk with him.

The elderberry juice purples my special cup, and I relieve the dryness of that cracker. I remember how the blood must have dripped into his eyes, the cruel thorns that drew the red stream he could not wipe away.

I remember Old Testament stories of blood-drawn sacrifices, the altars smeared with gore, a foreshadowing of the final death that would free us all.

After my sacrament session ends, I sing a song of praise. Another Sunday flipped on the calendar, another day closer to the end of this Covid-19 pandemic, another month close to the time we return to corporately take communion in the building we call church.

Although gathering together will be nice, I will miss my time of solitude, reflective moments with no need to finish at a certain time, my own contemplative ritual that celebrates the life and death of this Jesus.

And I will ponder how to make communion special again. With a bittersweet prayer, I will whisper, “I remember.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how faith relates to daily life, check out the book my son and I wrote together. Uploading Faith, available on Amazon.

What Not to Do During Lockdown

lockdown-5130295_640Credit for this blog post’s idea goes to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. During Lockdown, I discovered his church site and started watching some of his sermons.

Most of us have seen blog posts or participated in Zoom meetings about what to do during this Covid-19 crisis.

Multiple bulleted lists suggest new recipes, guidelines for teaching children at home or the proper way to make masks while we’re in Lockdown.

But what are some things we should NOT do? Here’s my list:

Don’t Overwatch the News. Sure, we need to stay informed about the Lockdown and reopening facts. But no matter which channels we watch, an overdose of the bad news brings with it gray shadows of discouragement.

Save your time and energy for something more positive. Stay away from the negative newsies.

Don’t Try to Figure It Out. With time and the writing of history books, blame will be placed on various entities and government administrations. We waste time and energy trying to figure out where this virus came from and how we can deal with it.

Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot always plan for the long-term. It’s only one day at a time, one whispered prayer at a time.

Don’t Let the Fear Win. We feel the insecurity and the unknowns of this invisible attack. But if we let the anxiety rule, we become emotionally sick.

Watch humorous videos, escape into a good book or visit online with family and friends. If the fear seems to be winning, call a pastor or a professional counselor.

As Pastor Furtick says, “Fear can ride in the car, but not drive.”

Don’t Do Something Impulsive. Crises take time to work through just as a virus must wear itself out or lose its ability to populate.

Give yourself time before initiating any impulsive decisions such as: moving to another country where the stats aren’t as deadly, eating or drinking compulsively, making any life-changing decisions.

Follow the advice of King David, “Rest in God and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a Amplified).

Be patient. Be safe. Be wise.

Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself. Even as the crisis wanes, personal hygiene will remain vital. Protecting ourselves from abuses of any kind and the stresses of over-work is still a major step toward good health.

Proper nutrition, keeping healthy routines, restorative sleep, a variety of positive activities, daily exercise — all these continue to be ways we can avoid our own personal crisis.

Don’t Stop Caring About Others. Lockdown and quarantine can become so self-absorbing, we can forget to love others as we love ourselves. Think about ways you can bless others in your neighborhood.

Take a meal to an elderly neighbor and leave it safely on the porch. Package up your favorite books to bless another reader. Write cards and letters to family members, even if they live in the same town. Phone a friend. Try one of the online recipes for thick, yummy brownies and share them with your neighbors.

Move relationally out of your own world and help your community. It will warm your heart and encourage others.

Don’t Try to Be God. Some people are already trying to interpret this virus as a spiritual message. Sure, God can use anything in life to teach us important lessons, but that doesn’t mean everything in life is our chance to preach to the masses.

Conspiracy theories based on random scriptures are already surging through the internet. As we grow closer to the 2020 elections, we’ll probably see more of these from both sides of the aisle, blaming various politicians for this pandemic’s tragic results.

Constrain your urge to interpret history through the lens of your denomination. Instead, follow the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love people. Period.

Don’t Lose Hope. Keep believing in positive outcomes and keep praying for those who are trying to help us — the leaders of local, state and national government, the scientists working on a vaccine, the frontline workers at every level.

Remember every sunset is followed by a new day, and God’s mercies refresh with each beginning.

Keep working on your creative endeavors, your job search, your personal relationships. Keep believing in a brighter future.

Covid-19 is called the invisible enemy. God is also invisible, but he’s still more powerful than this nasty virus.

When we stay in hope, we eventually defeat the enemies of our souls and ultimately — we win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My newest book is now in print and on Kindle. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

 

Hope Nuggets During Lockdown

Like most writers, I have found the Covid-19 pandemic to be a challenge. The stressors of constant change, the I-can’t-breathe-under-this-mask struggle, the discouraging news cycles — all added to a shortage of creative ideas.

Yet I also wanted to do my part with my words to encourage others, to share how we might make it through this time together.hope endures

So I started posting Hope Nuggets on all my social media sites. Each day, I chose just one thing to be grateful for, found a corresponding picture and wrote a small paragraph.

It helped me think about something besides the pandemic, something other than the constant worry of how life was now defined. And it reminded me of that lovely song from The Sound of Music.

I decided to quit after 40 Hope Nuggets, but extended it to finish out the week before Lockdown was lifted. Forty because of its significance as a number — the whole 40 years in the wilderness idea.

Sometimes those 40 days DID seem like years.

As I looked back at the nuggets and received comments from followers, I noticed a pattern. Almost a listicle of the gratitudes that define my life, those objects and subjects that interest me and keep me breathing in hope.

Flowers were my primary focus. If I could afford the time, sweat equity and cost, I would make my entire yard a mass of flowers.

In fact, my idea of heaven is not a mansion in the sky but rather a country cottage surrounded by flowers peeking through the white picket fence.

Maybe part of my focus on plants and flowers was because the pandemic’s limitations hit us during the beginnings of spring. Every year, I look forward to March and April, to browsing through nurseries and selecting new annuals, to foraging under last year’s mulch for perennials.

My garden includes a variety of eatables and beautifuls. The curb appeal for my home includes pots of flowers and a hanging basket on the redbud tree.

I bring in cuttings through each season to add to the color and health of my inside home. Twice a week, I make the rounds through each room, watering and talking to my plants and flowers.

In the time of Covid-19 with so much death and suffering, it was soothing to my soul to think about these living things, these beautifuls God has created.

So, of course, they offered hope:

  • My newest hibiscus planting, a sweet yellow tropical
  • Vines with new growth swirling around ceramic pots
  • The purple violet that graces my bedroom with its gentle blooms
  • The budding trees that color neighborhoods all over the Midwest
  • My deep fuchsia clematis I had to cover to protect from a late frost
  • The seeds that promise a harvest from my herb garden. This year I ordered them online from Renee’s Garden.
  • My hyacinth and tulip bulbs — planted in the chill of autumn that results in a spring surprise
  • The various pansies and violas that grin with sweet faces

Other hope nuggets included the interests of my life and some of the more subtle offerings for gratitude. Anything connected with books and writing, of course, including the books themselves that graced us with a reason to escape the horrors reported on the news.

Notebooks, pens, margins on the page and calendars that color my office with a different landscape each month. Libraries — please open the library soon!

The more reflective nuggets that included my faith life, the way walking releases positive endorphins, the mercies of God I beg for each morning, the podcasts that feed my core value of life-long learning.

All these and more created a tiny buzz of gratitude each day. Each nugget I shared with the hope that it might encourage another pilgrim dealing with the locked door of a nursing home or the last breaths of a loved one.

During these uncertain times, it felt necessary — almost urgent — to find something, anything to move our focus in a more positive direction.

If my tiny hope nuggets could do that for even one heart, then they were worth the effort to dig deep into my soul and find them waiting for me.

I considered putting them all into a book, but then decided I would like to just forget about 2020, to let it fade into the background of our history.

Better to leave the hope nuggets in the mist of my legacy rather than explain them to future readers. So this blog post will suffice, unless I change my mind and need another distraction in the coming months.

What about you? Any gratitudes you can now share with the rest of us?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing during a pandemic can be a challenge. Maybe you need a writing plan. Check out my newest book, Finding Your Writing Plan.

A Recipe Fail During Lockdown

Because personal freedom is one of my core values, the Lockdown of 2020 hit me hard. So I responded like many other prisoners-in-their-own-homes. I craved comfort food.

Chips, candy or sweets of any kind are usually not part of my daily diet. I don’t buy the stuff so I’m not tempted. Except for dark chocolate which I figure is healthy in moderation.

chocolate chip cookiesBut one day I woke with a dire craving for chocolate chip cookies — the chewy yummy warm kind fresh from the oven.

I had printed out a recipe that looked promising from an online source but had no chocolate.

None. Nada. Impossible but true.

It seemed a waste of time and possible Covid-19 germs to risk a Target run with only one item on my list, so I improvised.

I found some leftover Valentine candy in the fridge and chopped up enough of the milk chocolate hearts to add to the dough. Then I used the only type of gluten free flour in my pantry – cassava.

The dough had the perfect consistency. The kitchen smelled heavenly. My need-for-comfort taste buds salivated.

But when the timer dinged and I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven, I noticed a problem.

My improvised cookies had not spread out and slightly flattened like chocolate chip cookies are supposed to do. They were the same size as the original dough balls I placed on the parchment paper.

Oh well — who cares how they look? They’ll taste good.

Nay. Nay.

One grainy bite proved nasty enough to resist another. The cassava flour did not blend with the butter. The cookies were hard and not even close to what I craved.

And I remembered why I always buy bittersweet or semisweet dark chocolate. Because I don’t really like milk chocolate.

The recipe was a total fail. Another reason to reject 2020 as the year of disappointments.

My son didn’t like the cookies either, so they sat on the counter unappreciated and rejected.

Lesson learned: only use the ingredients you know and trust and truly love.

The next time I drove to the store, masked and careful to keep my distance, I bought a bag of the Ghirardelli chocolate I like, dark and semi-sweet. Then I bought a different kind of gluten flour, one that bakes better yet keeps my gut happy.

But then I no longer had the craving for warm yummy chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I was growing accustomed to Lockdown and no longer needed the comfort of a treat.

Nah — probably not.

As for the failed cookies, they did serve a useful purpose. I decided to use them as cobblestones in my garden.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If 2020 has been a disappointment for you, too, check out more positive stories in Hope Shines.

 

Hope-filled Observations During a Pandemic

One of my practices is to consider what I can learn from every circumstance. Since life-long learning is one of my core values, I look for the lessons in life.

Covid-19 by Alexandra Koch

Illustration by Alexandra Koch

The Covid-19 Pandemic provides a perfect scenario for observation. What can we learn during this time of global tragedy?

We Need Touch. Multiple studies have been completed about the need for touch. Babies cannot thrive without it. Relationships cannot be healthy without it.

Although I am not a touchy feely type of person, I have desperately missed hugs from friends, handshakes from new acquaintances, a friendly pat on the back.

It has been said that we need at least seven hugs/day to be healthy. I believe that statistic and crave its importance. As soon as we receive the all clear, I plan to touch others in appropriate ways and boldly ask for more hugs.

Buying in Bulk Saves Money. Many consumers saw what was coming before the final notice of Lockdown. Costco and Sam’s Clubs swarmed with shoppers. Toilet paper supplies dwindled.

As a raised-on-the-farm daughter, I learned this principle early. We stocked up for winter, because Oklahoma blizzards and closed roads were often a reality. Canned goods, frozen fruit, even the large packages of paper towels and toilet paper are on my usual shopping list.

But living in the city has made me a bit lazy. It was too easy to just hop in the car and go to the store. Never again!

Not only does bulk shopping keep us prepped for what might happen in the future, it does save money on gas, impulse buying or stopping for a treat since I’m out anyway.

I am now making my list for the next bulk shopping trip and plan for monthly trips rather than as-needed forays into the world.

Personal Freedom is Vital. My personal freedom is a core value which I treasure. Making my own plans with some sense of control helps me deal with life.

But with the lockdown came the cessation of choice. At first, I rebelled. You can’t tell me what to do. This isn’t Nazi Germany.

Then I realized by staying in lockdown for as long as possible, I was helping my country and my community stay healthy. The spread of germs could be eradicated if we all complied.

I could love my neighbor more fully by staying away from said neighbor.

Grateful I could work from home, I have stayed in and away from any places where large numbers of people shop. Occasionally, I drive to a fast food establishment [read Schlotsky’s] for a drive-thru salad I cannot make at home.

But how I have missed going to the library and browsing the shelves, checking out Half Price Books for the latest clearance items, sitting down at a nice restaurant and chatting with the waitress, joining with other worshippers at my church.

These will be the best of times once the lockdown is lifted.

When it is again safe to venture out, I will be racing to the library to stock up on more reading material and I will go out to eat with anyone who asks me.

We are Stronger Than We Think. Although I appreciate the sentiments of Tom Brokaw’s best-selling The Greatest Generation, this pandemic has revealed the greatness in every generation.

Heroes and She-roes are everywhere, and they have shown themselves to possess the strength necessary to meet this challenge.

  • The truckers who push past sleep-deprivation to make sure we have something on our shelves
  • The millennial IT workers who keep our internet connected. How could we have dealt with the isolation without cyberspace?
  • The healthcare workers on every level: in the ICU, those who make sure they have supplies, the often ignored cleaning staff, administrators who work the payroll and multiple clinic staff who continue to meet the needs of sick patients
  • The teachers who learned how to do online instruction within a weekend, then created new ways for their students to handle curriculum
  • The Boomer grandparents who filled in as baby-sitters when Mom and Dad sickened with the virus
  • The media who keep us informed about the latest trend in vaccines and suggestions from the top health experts
  • The 13 year-old boy who played taps outside the VA Hospital, in honor of soldiers who lost their final battle
  • The companies and individuals who donate RV’s so families can stay as close as possible
  • The celebrities who offer free concerts to keep the music flowing in our hearts

Books will no doubt be written about others who contributed to help us through this pandemic. But I am encouraged by the strength I have observed in people around the world.

Greatness is not defined by age or demographic but by virtue and the willingness to serve others.

A Positive Attitude is the Best Medicine. Hope is based on positive energy. Without it, we become melancholy miserables.

All over the internet, people leave positive messages. Humor is a common theme with memes making fun of our fetish for toilet paper. Videos of happier times. Scripture passages with swirly graphics. Multiple reminders that puppies, kittens and babies make us smile.

Sometimes, especially when I see the latest death toll, I have to grasp for that positive vibe and search for something to make me feel hopeful.

But it comes. Every. Single. Time. Somebody posts something good. We all help each other stay positive.

So in spite of the horrific losses, the families now plunged into the grief process, the small businesses that will have to rebuild, the governments that will have to answer hard questions of accountability — in spite of everything, hope has survived.

By the grace of God, we are getting through this and life will continue.

Hopefully, the next crisis will not find us unprepared but ready to be strong again and better equipped to help each other survive.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for more reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Takes a Walk during the Pandemic

Eleven days into lockdown. The silence was becoming oppressive, even for an ambivert such as I. Even the characters in my novel no longer spoke to me.

path-1577192_640So I took a break from my at-home work, dared to drive my car to the local Dairy Queen for a Mini-Blizzard.

Then away from the no-longer-heavily-trafficked highway to a quiet park in the suburb.

It was an exceptionally beautiful day without the usual Kansas wind. A robin sang his spring song, probably jubilant because he wasn’t worried about Covid-19.

Somewhere down another street, a child laughed in his back yard, safe and away from germs.

I finished the Blizzard — triple chocolate brownie, in case you wondered — threw away the cup and locked my car. Then headed into the park for a walk.

Exercise is nothing new to me. As a former athlete, I walk almost every day. But this walk was in a different location than the usual stroll in my neighborhood. It felt fresh, unencumbered by any reminders of the pandemic that was changing our lives.

First I walked around the baseball diamond, remembered my years as a shortstop, pacing between bases. What fun it was all those years ago, especially the spring day when I hit a grand slam home run.

How quickly life passes — a mere breath, scripture reminds us.

As I took another lap, a group of young men pulled into the kiddie area. They looked to be in their twenties, maybe thirties — obviously taking a break from work at home or recently unemployed.

Unconcerned about social distancing, they played on the equipment. Swung from the monkey bars, slid down the slide, joked with each other as carefree spirits.

I smiled at their antics, glad they could be out in the fresh air, that none of us were confined in an ICU, struggling to breathe.

After a while, I left the park to return to my work with words. The guys remained at the playground.

I promised myself to return more often to that park, to renew my hope as I marched around the ball diamond. Maybe even to slide or swing in the kiddie area.

Hope uncovers itself in the simplest places and reminds us not only of a sweet past, but a foreshadowing for our tomorrows.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more writings about hope, check out my Amazon Author Page. All my books have some sort of theme regarding hope.

Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

mothers-day-1301851_1280This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I sent you a card. Hopefully, you will understand the words and remember who I am from my signature.

I wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t — please know I love you and celebrate this day with you.

I needed to write this letter as a tribute, because I am grieving at the slow disintegration of the woman you used to be.

Your Alzheimer’s journey has taught me to value each day, love fully those who are in my life and never forget to make that love known.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I understood how much of yourself you poured into us. More than just the meals, the activities and making chicken soup when we were sick.

I’m talking about the soul-giving that mothers extend to their children.

Everyone knows about the labor you endured during my birth, but you also labored with soul contractions throughout my growing up years.

You defended me when other kids or even adults said unkind things. You taught me how to make the perfect zwieback with just the right dimple on top where melted butter could pool inside. You showed me how to sew a perfect hem so no one except the two of us could see the stitches.

When you were bone tired from working at the hospital, you came home to make supper and still made it to my activities on time. Not once did you complain.

Thank you, Mom, for the late nights when I know you were on your knees for me. You poured out your soul to Almighty God and asked him to keep me safe. But at the same time, you were willing to let me go and let God do his work in my life.

You came to the hospital when I lost my baby — your first grandchild. Even now, I remember coming out of that anesthesia-induced haze. It was your hand that gripped mine, your tears mingling salty with mine.

These days, I grip your hand and try not to cry when you repeat the same questions over and over.

Experts have written about the unique bond between mothers and daughters. We depend on each other, fill a particular emotional need no one else can touch.

You taught me to love books, drove me to the library every week so I could check them out and devour them when I finished my chores. Then you provided the perfect example as you sat under the floor lamp and read your own stack of novels, mysteries and biographies.

Although you no longer comprehend the words, you still love to read — pouring over the same book hour after hour. Another of the sad effects of this demon Alzheimer’s.

You wanted to be a writer. I’m sorry that dream did not happen for you. Instead, you nourished it in me. You always insisted I use proper grammar and that I spend extra time revising school essays.

By assigning me chores, you taught self-discipline and a strong work ethic. I use that same self-discipline to complete books and continue posting each week on this blog.

You taught me how to save money by ignoring the impulses of peer pressure. You showed me how my value lies in who I am rather than in what I own.

Ahead of your time, you taught me women should think ahead and pursue a career, manage their own money and be prepared for whatever life hands us. You said it was okay to vote differently from my friends and even worship in a style different from the norm.

You taught me to think independently, to shush the fear and step into the world with self-confidence and courage.

Oh, you weren’t perfect, Mom. None of us are. But even then, you taught me perfection is not the goal and failure is not the end.

Rather, the goal is in the attempt and in the perseverance to try again. Then if we fail, we give ourselves grace, grieve a bit and go forward once again.

So, Mom — on this weekend of remembrance when people buy flowers and send cards, I want you to know you did a good job.

You brought me into the world and gave me the freedom to discover my purpose. You encouraged me to use my gifts and showed me it was okay to be radically independent.

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

Even though life has handed you this lousy disease, you’re still trying every day to put one foot before the other and learn contentment within your small room.

Above all, Mom, I thank you for being so brave and I love you for showing me how.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is taken from Sometimes They Forget – Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Recognizing Domestic Abuse – a Personal Story

nvs-coverAbigail’s counselor gave her some pamphlets about safe places for women and a phone number she could call. “Just in case you need help,” the counselor said.

On her way home, Abigail stopped at Sonic, suddenly hungry for cheese tots and a cherry limeade. She browsed through the pamphlets that described some of the symptoms of domestic abuse: threats, controlling behaviors, demanding submissiveness.

If she had a pen, she could have checked off at least ten of the symptoms as adjectives to describe her life.

She could ask Cassie to keep the pamphlets in a safe place, but it was too late now to drive to Cassie’s house and then back home. Nate would wonder why she was walking in the door so much later than usual.

She couldn’t risk it. She drove past the trash bin at Sonic and tossed in the pamphlets. Even though she wanted to read more of the information, she felt proud of herself for making some decisions on her own.

She had set up this session with a counselor and spoken her truth. She had decided not to keep the pamphlets. In a way, she was protecting herself from Nate’s anger and that felt good.

Married yet according to that list, she was abused. Controlled yet trying to set healthy boundaries. Her thumb played with the back of her wedding ring. Shackled to an abuser forever and feeling every bit like Nate’s victim.

 

The above excerpt is from the novel No Visible Scars. While the book is fiction, it is based on the lives of numerous women who live in abusive situations and don’t even realize it.

 

Should Abigail commit a crime? Nothing terrible. Just enough to get her locked up. Far away from her destructive marriage.

She doesn’t want to admit it’s domestic abuse, but all the signs indicate she’s a victim. Because her scars are invisible, no one can see the damage inside. And no one will believe her.

Nine years of marriage to a church leader and a successful businessman. A good man. Then why is she so afraid?

Abigail and her friend, Cassie, attend a class that teaches women how to guard their hearts. With the encouragement of these women, Abigail moves closer to becoming the woman God created her to be. She dares to make choices for herself and finds empowerment in the gift of a beautiful dress.

But Nate fights back. As Abigail grows into more of her authentic self, she wonders if the marriage will last. What will the church people say if she separates from her husband? How will she live? He’s always controlled the finances, and she has few options.

Can she find the courage to confront Nate and if she does, what will happen to her future? Must she step into a new life alone or will Nate meet her halfway?

As life unravels into a battle between what is right versus what feels acceptable, Abigail struggles to make a decision. But will her new life guarantee the security she needs?

 

One out of four women are living in destructive relationships. You probably know a woman who is being abused right now.

Perhaps this book will help her. Certainly, your caring for her will be an encouragement. Listen to her heart and to your own. Help is available.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

No Visible Scars  is available on Amazon and Kindle. Order it today. It may save your life or the life of your friend.   

Hope for Abused Women during Covid-19

DA picMental health experts remind us that a crisis brings out the worst in abusers.

In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently tweeted, “There has been an uptick in domestic violence incidents. We want you to know — if you are in a dangerous situation, New York will help you find a safe shelter. You are not trapped just because of Coronavirus.”

Why does domestic violence increase during a crisis? Because abusers are afraid of their lack of control.

This Covid-19 pandemic has stolen control of their stock portfolios, the security of their jobs and possibly — their physical health.

So they strike out at the nearest person(s) — those they are quarantined with — the wife and kids.

April is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is not a comfortable blog subject for many people. Certainly, it isn’t comfortable for the women who are experiencing it.

But cudos to Governor Cuomo for even mentioning it when he is so busy dealing with the virus in his state.

All of us need to be aware that domestic violence is happening all around us, to families we would never imagine having such a problem.

Women and children live in fear daily and in the insecurity of not knowing which person will walk in the door — the man who appears in public as a nice guy or the monster hidden within.

To be clear, domestic violence begins as some sort of abusive control. Some women aren’t even aware their daily challenge is actually abuse. It may look like the following:

  • Ridicule / Negative comparisons to other women
  • Accusations
  • Teasing and name-calling / Jokes at her expense
  • The Silent treatment
  • Destroying objects
  • Withholding approval or affection
  • Emotional detachment
  • Forceful sexual advances / Rape
  • Making her ask or beg for money / Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women

The above bullets are just some of the ways abuse may manifest. If left unchecked, it can quickly escalate and become more of a violent behavior. Any type of physical assault can be abusive, even excessive tickling or pinching.

One of the most insidious behaviors is The Gaslight scenario. He blames the woman when anything goes wrong. Anger escalates, then he acts like the victim. In his warped mind, it is NEVER his fault. This is typical behavior for narcissists.

After weeks and months of such behavior, she begins to feel as if she is the crazy one. She constantly second guesses herself, and the children grow up without any sense of emotional security.

So what can we do about this horrid situation?

Recognize that at least one out of every four women is being abused — right now. This includes women from every demographic, every financial situation and in every house of worship.

We cannot ignore the problem and we cannot abandon these women and their children to such a destructive life.

One of the best online resources is the website: leslievernick.com. Leslie is a licensed clinical social worker and a relationship coach. One of her books, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship is packed with advice and encouragement to help women recognize the abuse they’re living with.

Throughout the years, I have worked with multiple women in all levels of abusive relationships. These women feel alone and often abandoned by those who could help.

But even more insidious are the women who have been “taught” that abuse is okay, their role to play in a relationship.

Why are these women trapped?

  • They are waiting for God to release them.
  • They know the church will ostracize and isolate them because they have observed what happens to single moms in the church.
  • They have been indoctrinated into the “submit above all else” and the “a quiet woman will win her husband” themes.
  • They are afraid to hurt their children, not realizing how their children are already hurting. The children will often recognize the abuse before their mother does.
  • Single moms are the #1 poverty level in every country of the world. Women support their husbands by either working in the home and/or outside the home. Everything has gone into the joint checking account. If they leave, they will have no financial security and no options.

So what can we do to help the abused women around us?

Stop ignoring the problem. It’s in your family, in your workplace and in your church.

Support the organizations that help women escape. In the Kansas City area, we have Safe HomeNew House and The Single Mom KC.

Report any abuse that you observe.

Listen carefully and respond immediately to any woman who comes to you for help.

Help women know they are not invisible. They do not have to live in this type of entrapment.

And especially now — during this pandemic — be alert for the other pandemic happening around you: the tragedy of domestic abuse.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

No Visible Scars tells the story of a woman caught in abuse and her struggle to find the boundaries that will save her.

Finding a Song During Lockdown

musical scoreDuring this lockdown, I have surprised myself by singing and humming more often.

Perhaps a gift from the Divine Three. Maybe just a self-affirmation for something positive.

The health benefits of singing are well documented:

  • It releases feel-good endorphins
  • It improves brain function – a plus for those of us with Alzheimer’s in the family line
  • It is good exercise when done right – use your diaphragm, darlin’
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It tones facial muscles – a positive since Botox injections are not essential surgeries
  • It boosts immunity – definitely a given to help us avoid the Coronavirus

Songs seem to erupt from my vocal cords at the oddest times. One morning, I was fixing my hair and suddenly the Beatles “Let It Be” burst forth.

Another day, it was a little ditty my dad composed and taught me, “I fell in love with Jesus.”

“You are my sunshine” is another favorite, sung to no one in particular. Sometimes the cat. She is not impressed.

I have made a commitment to sit down at the piano more often and bang through a Beethoven sonata or play through a version of “Silent Night” my piano teacher once assigned me.

Traveling up and down the keyboard loosens muscles tight from the constriction of lockdown and forces my brain to focus on several tasks at a time.

One of the old hymns that currently cheers me is in the public domain. Sung by the Antrim Mennonite Choir, this version of “God Will Take Care of You” brings instant encouragement. Although written and sung in old English, the harmonies are so beautiful — I play it often.

Hurray for YouTube during this lockdown.

For those with little ones at home, singing together can be a fun family activity. In fact, many of us grew up with family singalongs — either in the car during travels or around the old upright in the living room.

Every year at Christmas, we had to perform before presents were offered. Sometimes it was an instrument we were learning to play. Often, it was singing something for the extended family.

And sometimes we were blessed to hear “Gott ist die liebe” sung by aunts and uncles.

Music is all around us: the trill as cardinals call their mates, a wind chime responding to the Kansas breeze, the cooing of a baby, background notes on a TV commercial, the hum of the refrigerator.

When we truly listen, we can hear different notes and volumes all around us.

But when the silence of lockdown stifles our hope, we can open our own vocal cords and find the song in our souls.

Keep singing, folks. Fight the virus with your songs.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Faith is built on a foundation of hope. Check out Uploading Faith for topics that encourage and build the attributes of hope.

 

 

Hope Recognizes Easter Sunday

In spite of the Coronavirus lockdown, the calendar continues to mark off this challenging year. This Sunday, April 12, 2020 will be Easter Sunday.Easter lily - butterfly

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Easter Sunday was a special day. It marked the beginning of spring, no matter what day or month the calendar posted.

And we were always prepared.

For weeks, Mom had planned, designed and sewed our Easter outfits. The females in the family would be outfitted in the latest fashions which included white gloves and hats.

The guys had it easy. A lightweight suit and white shirt. Tie not optional.

Even if it snowed on Easter, we wore our new outfits snugly engulfed by winter coats which we shed once we entered the church building.

Everybody in town went to church on Easter Sunday, so the entire populace was outfitted in pastel colors, gloves, hats – and ties for the fellas.

As I grew up, styles changed. More casual. No hats or gloves. But we still kept the tradition of a new outfit on Easter Sunday.

Somewhere through the years, Mom stopped sewing for me. So I made my own Easter outfit. When I stopped sewing, I shopped in town.

The Saturday before Easter offered abundant sales. Stores filled with females of every demographic. Dressing rooms with lines of excited women. Clothes draped over arms. Shoes in hand, because if you’re going to buy a new outfit — you’d better have new shoes as well.

This tradition is one I have not been able to shake. Every year I watch for spring sales and look for something special to wear on Easter Sunday. It’s no longer the entire outfit. New shoes not necessary. Just something to celebrate this special day.

In February of this crazy 2020, before we knew the virus would re-invent our lives, I used a gift card at one of my favorite stores — Versona. I wasn’t expecting to find anything for Easter — not that early in the spring season.

But it found me — the perfect skirt that matched a top I already owned and a bargain with my gift card.

Alas! This Easter Sunday our churches will be empty, still on lockdown to protect us from the ravages of this pandemic.

But Sunday will still take its place on the calendar, still remind me of its special significance and of the years Mom made my clothes.

Years ago, my aunt Mary (may she rest in peace) told me about a time when she was discouraged. No job and finances were tight.

She decided to fight her heaviness with a practical attitude. She climbed out of bed as if she was going to her job. Fixed her hair and dressed up. Ate a healthy breakfast and told herself she would have a good day.

“It’s important to take care of yourself,” she said. “Even if you have to pretend.”

So I’m pretending this Easter Sunday is a normal day, as if I’m dressing for church and wearing my new skirt to welcome spring. I’ll fix my hair, pat on some makeup and livestream my church.

I want to enjoy the day by dressing in the hope that next Easter I will be in the actual church building.

Will you join me? Dress in your Easter best and post it on Facebook or the social media of your choice.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with hope that next Easter will be better.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some reading material during lockdown, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Finding Hope When Life Unravels

As I entered one of the big box stores, I knew time was fleeting. The local government officials had just closed all the restaurants. All major events canceled. How much longer would it be possible to buy food and necessary items?

The Coronavirus jack-knifed us into what felt like a pre-apocalyptic world. Empty shelves. Shoppers avoiding each other, keeping their social distance. Hygienic wipes in my pocket to kill the germs on my cart, my hands, the number pad.

What in the world happened to our comfortable norm? The virus and its effects showed us how fragile life can be.

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

Focus on God instead of the Problem. During other emotional apocalypses in my life, problems have seemed insurmountable.

A period of 14 months with no job and no unemployment insurance. Cancer scares for my son and me. The medical tests alone were enough to saturate our emotions with fear. A father dying slowly from dementia, a mother locked in the shadows of Alzheimer’s. Miscarriages. A toxic job environment. Multiple abuses over a lifetime.

When I was training to become a Stephen Minister, we were assigned the task of writing about the losses in our lives. I filled my 3×5 card front and back.

Another minister saw it and said, “You win.”

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

During each of those problems, every time I felt overwhelmed, I tried to focus on God rather than the situation. I filled my journal with all the attributes of God that I had personally experienced. My Bible was colored with highlighted verses about God’s love and care.

Sometimes I spoke out loud to the problem itself. “Go away. Leave me alone. I will trust in God.”

So that’s what I’m doing now, during this Covid-19 outbreak. I’m filling my journal with all the ways God is protecting us. My Bible reflects the colors of new highlighters and more verses talking about God’s loving care.

And sometimes I shout, “Go away, you filthy virus. Leave me alone fear. I am determined to trust in God.”

Focus on the Lesson rather than the Pain. It is so easy to complain about self-quarantine, to frown about the fact that I am in the “risky” demographic, to worry about the numbers of people dying.

But what can we learn from this situation? How can we turn it into a lesson?

We can pull out the old recipes Grandma used during the Great Depression. The creativity of those depression-era cooks came from a deep survival mode. When food was rationed and winter threatened, they learned how to add more water to the soup, how to make beans the main protein source.

We can do the same.

We are learning how to stay at home and be families once again. The kids are out of school. Teach them how to cook, how to clean a bathroom properly, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to change a flat tire.

Gather around the dinner table and learn more about each other. Sing a song. Dust off the board games and play together. Find out how beautiful family bonding can be.

I believe we will also learn how much we took for granted — before the Coronavirus shouted from every internet site.

How easy was it to just pull into a restaurant and order a meal? How many of us fell to the impulse of buying because the shelves were full of wondrous things?

Perhaps now we will be more grateful for the little we DO have. We will learn how it feels to truly be thankful.

Focus on the Future instead of the Present. Hope looks beyond the current problem toward an optimistic tomorrow.

One day, hopefully soon, this virus will wear itself out. We will dig out from our isolation bunkers and find freedom again.

We grieve the loss of so many dear souls today, but in the future — babies will be born, another generation will arise. Healthcare services will normalize, and we won’t be afraid to join groups.

Keep focused on what the new tomorrow will bring. Perhaps our “normal” will be completely changed for the better. Re-energized. More of a dominance on mercy, justice and how to walk humbly with our God.

When all this is over, we may save more for the next crisis and treat small business owners with more respect. Our leaders will keep in place the disaster plans other administrations toiled over. Nobody will hoard toilet paper, because it will no longer be the domineering purchase.

We will be glad to see each other, hug more, appreciate church leaders and healthcare workers who continued to meet the needs.

And the news cycles will underscore baseball games, fashions of the new season and the pride we take in our people. He-roes and She-roes will emerge from this crisis, and we will make more commitments to keep family together, to help one another each day.

One of the verses in my Bible is highlighted, then colored over with another hue, then framed in black ink. I have returned to it multiple times. It has become my mantra when life unravels.

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Lenten Season is a time to focus on the Future – on the promise of Resurrection. Who were the women during that period of history? Check out The Women of Passion Week and discover new stories of courage.

Fighting the Virus with Hope

The volume of her voice increased as the intercom crackled, “Shoppers, we have great news. A new pallet of toilet paper is available on Aisle 10.”

The lady ahead of me wheeled a 180 with her cart and hurried toward Aisle 10. Other shoppers joined her in line. Thankfully, everyone grabbed only one package and no one turned violent.

In spite of my determination to not give in to the panic, I thought What the heck? We can always use more TP. It’s never going to rot.

So I joined the other shoppers and bought one more package of this daily necessity, then stored it in our basement for just-in-case.

Growing up on the farm, we always stocked extra supplies. We spent summer days canning veggies and fruits, wiping sweat off our faces in the not-air-conditioned kitchen, watching Mom mentor the pressure cooker.

The freezer was filled with meat before winter, and the pantry stocked with extra cereals and canned goods. An Oklahoma blizzard or an electrical outage could always surprise us, so we were prepared.

Plus, my parents lived through the Great Depression and the rationings of World War Two. They wanted to make sure their children were never hungry.

So I grew up with the mentality of saving, preserving and preparing for a possible crisis. But I never imagined long lines desperate for toilet paper.

On the other hand, what options do we have if we run out of the stuff? Kleenex or paper towels would clog up sewer systems. Sears catalogues no longer exist, and we don’t use outdoor facilities anymore. Not enough greenery in the yard for an organic option.

Maybe we need to stock up on TP because it represents something tangible we can do to fight our fears. It’s a visual reminder of the one thing we CAN control.

If we are quarantined, at least we can wipe.

I will admit some anxiety about this Coronavirus, probably because I’m in the demographic of greatest risk. And my mother lives in a facility similar to the one in Washington state that counted so many of the initial deaths.

But fear leads us to impulsive actions. It keeps us from a focus on hope and destroys the peaceful sleep we all need.

I believe the current panic is a crowd response, but also a result of miscommunication and lack of credible information. Once again — as in September of 2001 — we were not prepared.

The good news is that the virus has proven to have a shelf life. China no longer needs its specialty hospitals built to house Coronavirus patients.

We’re all doing what we can to increase personal hygiene and stay away from crowds. Some of those social distancing rules have been decided for us.

Although unfortunately, more people WILL die, this nasty thing will eventually leave us — hopefully a bit wiser and more prepared for the next crisis.

So I’m choosing to focus on the positives:

  • School closings mean more family time
  • Neighbors helping each other, staying alert for those who need assistance and building community
  • Basic human kindness is underscored as our motivation
  • A peaceful response by even one person can cancel some of the panic
  • Government agencies will learn more of what to do next time
  • All of us should spend more time in the sun and open windows for fresh air

At the very least — we’re all prepared with plenty of TP for the rest of 2020.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need to find some extra hope? Hope Shines is available on Amazon. You can have it delivered and avoid contact with crowds.

When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

In our world of virus warnings and political mayhem, it’s nice when life offers a surprise.

A few months ago, my creative brain noodled with an idea. What about writing another Christmas book, but not one related to Alzheimers or caregiving?

Why not consider the women of Christmas and the roles they played in the greatest story of all time?

So I sat at the keyboard and within one week composed a small book titled “The Women of Christmas.” Using fiction techniques, I told the story from each woman’s viewpoint, including the usual characters we know about: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.

Then I inserted other women who have been invisible for ages: the innkeeper’s wife, Mary’s mother and Rahab from the Old Testament.

The final chapter kept the book contemporary and personal as it invited readers to find themselves in the Christmas story.

That sweet little book sold so well, I decided to follow it up with a sequel for the next religious holiday. Thus “The Women of Passion Week” was composed and released.

It follows the same format with some of the women who were present in biblical accounts, but also includes the invisible women who helped Jesus and supported his ministry.

These women of great courage became leaders in the early church. In fact, the news of the resurrection came first through women. The reason why could be another book.

Neither of these books were planned in my goals list, yet they have each provided a pleasant surprise — a reminder that the Great Creator writes with me.

How can a writer know when an idea comes from God?

Ultimately, all creativity spring from the Creator. He designed our hearts and the passion to create art.

We shouldn’t be surprised when something completely unusual springs to mind. After all, God made butterflies and dodo birds, osprey and copperheads, little children who play in mud and puffy clouds that scamper across the sky.

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

When an idea is obviously from God, I don’t have to think about it. The thought just comes, then springs into action with my fingers on the keyboard. Often, I type his words faster than my own because I’m not thinking. I’m just doing it.

Crafting the paragraphs and chapters becomes an easy flow, from his heart to my energy and eventually to the printed page.

Creative ideas from God feel like fun. No grinding out a structure to merge plotlines into character sketches. No research at the library or clicks on the internet. No questions for my critique group.

It just happens. As it develops, I know it’s like all God’s other creations — very good.

Results aren’t pre-determined. Although both my “Women Of …” books were financially successful, that is not the aim of God’s creative surprises.

Other books from his creative genius have not fared so well. The goal is not to make money. It is only to listen to his heart, respond and make my fingers move. And as I do the typing and the editing, I feel the joy of completing a project God himself designed.

So far, I’ve experienced these creative surprises five times. The three books of the Reverend G trilogy worked the same way. Just listen to God, sit down and let him write through me. And now I can add these two “Women Of … “ books.

I have numerous ideas for other books, goals to meet this year and in the coming years — a five-year plan. Maybe those ideas are directly from God or maybe just from the creative juices he has poured into me.

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out “The Women of Passion Week.

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Treasure

At various events during one week’s time, three people told me, “You are a treasure.”

I knew this was a compliment, and I truly appreciated the sentiment. At the same time, I was a bit nonplussed to be described as such.

When I think of treasure, my first impression is an antiquity. The movie National Treasure comes to mind as Nicholas Gage tries to find the lost treasure his Masonic ancestors hid. Gage, of course, succeeds and manages to fall in love at the same time, which spawns the second movie in the series.

What does a treasure represent in my practical life? How might I practice more gratitude for those treasures I hold dear?

My treasures do not represent stuff, because I know eventually most of my stuff will end up at Goodwill. In fact, I continue to declutter each week and give away things that no longer give me joy.

The true treasures of my life involve people and memories — those happenings and experiences with flesh and blood folks that cannot be replaced.

My relationship with my son is a treasure. Something especially sweet happens when our children mature. We move into an easy friendship instead of strictly a parent and child rapport. I no longer need to train him. Instead, we have great discussions about life, politics, sports and how to set up the wifi. We express our opinions about world systems and how we fit into them, our goals and how we can move toward our dreams.

I so desperately want my son’s dreams to become reality. Now that would be a treasure!

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

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

The people I have known is one of my collective treasures. Students who traveled from various countries and learned English in my classes. Women who enriched my life through their nurturing hearts. Clients who shared their words with me and trusted me to edit their work. Ministers of both genders who spoke into my life. The myriads of writers who blessed me with their thought-provoking words.

People are a treasure, walking and talking receptacles of divine cells God has pronounced, “Very good.” My life has been enriched by meeting these folks, spending time with them, developing relationships, disagreeing with them and praying together.

So I gladly accept the moniker of “treasure,” as I hope to somehow speak into the lives of others. May the hope of making a difference keep me breathing and living in joy, making an impact every day in the life of another treasure.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, perfect for your Lenten season. The Women of Passion Week

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Hope Finds an Unusual Holy Place

During a trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend Deb and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, while the missional atmosphere of the shop impressed us.

woman prayingBookshelves were filled with classics and some religious fiction. I added my Reverend G books to their collection and promised to bring my next book after its release.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning. So we punched it into our phone calendars and showed up along with 30 other folks of all ages and demographics.

It seemed a great way to attract people to spirituality within an unusual holy place.

I was disappointed when we were handed bulletins — not so outside the religious box. Churchy habits are hard to break.

We watched a video sermon taken from the book of Romans. Seriously? Romans? Why use one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned Jesus followers find difficult to understand?

We discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will, heady topics for a coffee shop.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the shop. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door, Tuscan colors and rough textures. The combination of beautiful weather, the Sabbath atmosphere and the companionship of a friend reminded me God is everywhere.

Deb and I took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door as the main focus? Is this another unusual holy place? The Creator God showed up again with the gift of creativity inside me.

Hope often places us in surprising places. We may root ourselves in comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our spirituality.

But when we move outside the normalcy of walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family of God.

The joy of finding pockets of believers in various places, those who worship in unique ways and spread the love of God without the confines of traditional walls. The textures and colors of different congregants, a quality setting for the stories written within our spiritual selves.

The ever-present God at home in a coffee shop and in the rich surface of a wooden door. Surely God is thrilled by creative venues. He relishes new plans even as his divine attributes remain the same.

By reaching out to others in unusual holy places, we instill more joy into our world and ultimately within Abba Father’s heart.

Hope shines when we yearn for spiritual experiences outside the norm.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines — available in print, Kindle and Large Print.

Hope for the Why Question

whyEver since the patriarch Job lived his troubled life, we have been asking, “Why?”

Actually, the question “Why?” was probably asked since the beginning of time. Perhaps Adam halted in his naming of the animals to ask, “Why, God? Why spend so much time on the colorful details of the bluejay, then throw together this ridiculous version of the dodo bird?”

The first mother, Eve, no doubt asked, “Why did Cain have to take Abel’s life? Why even allow me to birth these boys if you’re just going to take one of them away? Why God? Why?”

Every infertile woman, every family standing beside a coffin, every couple whose marriage ends in divorce will ask, “Why?”

We seek answers because we try to make sense of whatever horrible thing has happened. If we can underscore the event with a logical answer, we can put together a plan for dealing with the loss.

But life doesn’t work that way.

We cannot control the surprise ending nor can we surround the trauma with some sort of reasoning. No earthly logic can explain why my mother lives within the shadows of the Long Goodbye. Why? What is the key to this disease? How can my family deal with it from the viewpoint of a logical answer?

We can’t.

Like faith, we have to accept some things as they are and believe a higher power will absorb the shock. Especially when we don’t understand.

But good old Job provides a possible solution, even when our fists are clenched in angry denial. The answer hides within a verse that whispers to me every time I ask a new, “Why?”

Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness — He allows it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For correction. Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into the reality that we are not gods. Only the real God knows the reason behind everything. We cannot figure it all out.

But perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

Our response might be, “What can I learn from this situation?” Instead of “Why?” rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up. So we will reach out for him and learn more about trust.

For his world. We live in a depraved world. We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds, our bodies and our souls with junk and not face the consequences. We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously — bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, violence, trauma, illness, death. All are part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to turn against us? To remind us that we are human and a better place DOES exist. Tornadoes, violence and Alzheimers will not touch us in heaven.

God has planned for something better.

For lovingkindness. For me, this is the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God, a backward opposite world sort of treatise.

Did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms because he knows their homes will be bombed and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent a student from finishing a degree because he knows that particular pathway is the wrong direction?

We cannot second guess Almighty God.

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life. But he has sometimes worked his backward lovingkindness for me. Hindsight is wiser than the present experience.

God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job to force me to rest. Then he pointed me toward something better.

I wonder if God took Deb home to prevent her from living a blind life from the effects of macular degeneration. I am glad for her, but sad for me.

Is God protecting Mom by allowing her to move into the world of Alzheimers? She is unaware of racial tensions, ISIS terrorists and a democracy teetering on the edge. She does not care who will become the next president. She just wakes up every morning and shuffles to breakfast, then back to her room to turn up the television and wait for lunch. No worries. No stress.

Life will always present us with quandaries, with questions we cannot answer. We can only move toward hope by embracing the direction of forward, one day, one moment at a time.

My fictional character, Reverend G, often said “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

When something happens we cannot understand, the best thing we can do, is stay in hope that something good will replace it. Then run into the loving arms of the God who knows the answers.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above essay is an excerpt from Sometimes They Forget — Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

 

Finding Hope as We Sit Together

older handsBecause we have busy schedules, we rarely see each other. This boy child who has become a man in such a short time — my only living child, my Caleb.

Yet each time we are together, the emotional umbilical cord feels as strong as if it had never experienced a physical separation.

We sit in the living room, watch the news or a rerun of Pit Bulls and Parolees. We switch to ESPN and cheer for our teams. One day, the Chiefs. Another day, the Jayhawks. During the summer season, the Royals.

Across those few feet in my living room, the cord stretches. We are content to merely sit and be.

A certain joy exists when the child becomes an adult, and the two of us share the same space without hormonal teenage conflict versus menopausal Mama.

This peace is indeed a blessing. The sitting merges into a sharing of hearts, even without the pleasure of words. We respect each other’s space and accept our obvious differences. Although only two of us, we connect as family.

A mirror image happens back in my home town. When I visit my mother in Memory Care, we share the same bond. Though the roles are reversed and I am the child — we find a peaceful co-existence in the moment.

We watch television or not. We read or not. We sit silently without conflict, knowing that being together is precious.

Until I sat with my adult child, I did not realize the pure value of sitting with a loved one. No need for conversation. No stress to finish a chore. No desire to fix a meal or hurry anywhere. Just the quiet assurance that we are together.

The ministry of presence.

Each of us is aware a time will come when we cannot share such a physical space. A sacred communion. An extraordinary gift.

On either side of this juncture, I cherish the bond. Knowing my Caleb will one day leave, certain my mother will one day graduate to heaven.

And I will be left, to savor this fragile breath we have shared and find hope that in the future — we will again sit together.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about Hope, check out Hope Shines.

 

Hope Finds Story in an Estate Sale

SaleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work — something that might bring encouragement to the women I coached: a pot of flowers, beautiful cards, a trinket to give away.

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

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

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

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

In the garage, colorful pots for the cuttings of flowers or plants. The texture of the pots described a woman attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

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

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

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

No books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books, unless her family had already sequestered those to keep alive memories of Mom and Grandmother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I came away from that estate sale lugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan and a story that emanated from the treasures of one life.

Hope shines through the stories we live, and our stuff reflects who we are.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, on Amazon and also available in Large Print.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Hope Extended – How the Chiefs Came Back

The analogy was too obvious to ignore, so I felt compelled to write about it.

On January 12, 2020 — the Kansas City Chiefs accomplished one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. After the first quarter, the lopsided score of 24-0 gave the Houston Texans an insurmountable edge and a well-deserved pat on the back.

But the Chiefs created a game plan based on several success principles. We can all learn the same strategies from what happened on that exciting wintry day.

One Play at a Time. As the Texans took advantage of all the Chiefs’ early mistakes, fans groaned, turned off their TV’s or left the stadium.

But Mahomes rallied his team with pep talks and the reminder to just do “One play at a time.” It didn’t take long until those individual plays became touchdowns, and the lopsided score began to tilt back the other way.

In life, we are given only one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. We can plan long term and should be proactive for the future. But ultimately, we only have the current moment to make a difference.

So make it count. Love others each day. Do something kind each day. Add something to your gratitude list each day.

Those individual pockets of encouragement will result in total yardage toward hope.

Never Give Up. The outcome of the game looked bleak with such a massive score so early against the Chiefs. Even the Kansas City Wolf mascot banged his head against a wall.

But the team with their intrepid coach, Andy Reid, never gave up. They kept playing, put together some amazing strategies and pushed their way toward the goalposts.

When the momentum changed, the Chiefs took advantage of every fundamental mistake the Texans made. The team that once held the lead fell behind as the Chiefs thundered forward.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to keep working in a not-so-satisfying job, to keep trying when life’s circumstances come against us, to stay in hope during one more radiation treatment.

But if we give up, we’ll never taste victory, never show how we can persevere and win.

Keep Doing What Works. Although the Chiefs’ receivers dropped multiple passes during the first quarter, Mahomes gave them another chance. He kept throwing that ball — sometimes with his signature sidearm — kept believing his guys would find a way to hang on to the pigskin. And they did.

Then an occasional rout through the middle of the line. When that didn’t work and the Texans filled in the gaps in their defense, Mahomes carried the ball himself for first down yardage.

The Chiefs offense continued to use the tools that had worked all year.

We are sometimes tempted to make an impulsive change that will move us another direction or redirect our goals. Sometimes a change IS good. But more often, being a steady employee, a productive writer or a great parent involves using the tools that work.

Endurance supports a determined work ethic. We save money by saying “No” to impulse buys and putting away cash Every. Single. Month. Relationships endure as people stay the course without veering off into someone who looks better.

Doing what works actually works.

A steady flow of successful plays resulted in the Chiefs 51-31 win. A steady flow of doing what works keeps us moving in the right direction with an ultimate win.

At this writing, we don’t know if the Chiefs will win the AFC and travel to the Super Bowl. But the fan base will never forget the amazing comeback win that propelled the Chiefs to the next step.

We can all learn from the events of January 12. Let’s take it to heart, stay in hope and never give up.

Go Chiefs !

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines  for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But hope also shines in my book of essays. Check it out on Amazon. Available also in Large Print.

When Hope is Sidelined

Although I have become known as the platform writer of hope, life sometimes interferes with the process. When circumstances force me to the sideline, I have to work harder to find hope and encourage myself again.

The last weeks of 2019 were harrowing. Beginning with December 5, the side effects of a medicine gradually sapped my strength and shackled me to the bathroom. What I didn’t know was that my electrolytes were being screwed as my body lurched into dehydration.

Then the flu hit and what was left of my immunities were destroyed. I woke up December 26 with no strength, blacked out and conked my head on the bathroom tile. When I came to, I was sweating and my heart racing. That’s when I called 9-1-1 and crawled downstairs to unlock the door.

As the siren screamed ever closer, I thought how ironic. Whenever I hear sirens, I pray for the first responders and the people involved. Was anyone praying for me?

The paramedics found me on the floor, semiconscious and breathing fast. They immediately started intravenous fluids and helped me to the gurney. Their strength and professional demeanor encouraged me. At least I would not die alone.

The emergency room was another experience, but my son soon arrived and took control. I have no recollection of signing forms, speaking to nurses or agreeing to treatments, but my son was fully conscious and did everything necessary for my care. It was only later that I realized I still wore my colorful Christmas jammies.

Dehydration was the main culprit and an ugly form of the flu, followed by a urinary tract infection. It took several weeks to recuperate with multiple meds and more trips to Urgent Care. I lost twelve pounds, and Gatorade became my new friend.

But the experience taught me how fragile is hope, how we have to work hard to emotionally receive it after we’re sidelined.

Independence Narrows with Age.

Of course, I know about the narrowing of independence from watching my mother fade into Alzheimer’s. She moved from independence in her own home to a hospital visit to assisted living.

But we rarely imagine the same for ourselves.

The truth is that none of us is immune to losing our independence. As we age, illness can take a greater toll. No matter how determined I was to eat nutritious food and take my supplements, one month of severe side effects and a common virus derailed everything.

I was grateful my final decisions for death and burial were already determined and the paperwork complete, because I was not sure I would return home. I have never felt so powerless. It reminded me of Catherine Marshall who was bound to her bed when tuberculosis stole her life. She wrote many of her books with her arms propped up by pillows.

A Support System is Crucial.

Although I raised my son to deal with the unexpected, I was surprised how quickly and efficiently he took control. His wisdom and decision-making brought me comfort. It was easy to return home and let him do everything. The ease of the role shift enabled me to relax, stay in bed and heal.

I was grateful for Caleb’s presence but also for his boss who let him leave work and said, “Family is more important.”

So protect your support system, complete all that important paperwork and make sure your special person is on speed dial.

Living Alone is Becoming Less of a Possibility.

It is scary to go through a health crisis alone.

Although my son currently lives with me, he was at work that day. And the future may change our comfortable living situation.

The beauty of being independent means I can have my own space, set my own hours and live where I want. But reality presents a different scenario. Living alone for the rest of my days no longer seems possible or even smart.

In 2017, my plan for living with someone and taking care of each other died when Deb walked into eternity. It seemed so easy and the best possible solution for the two of us to become the Golden Girls. Sadly, that did not happen.

For years, I have wished for a big house or some sort of solution for all the single women I know — a safe place where we could have community together and help each other. That answer has not appeared.

Most of us cannot afford the senior living townhomes or the luxury apartments shown on TV. Sure, who wouldn’t want those beautiful spaces to live out life, find a community, yet guard your own identity?

But beauty and safety come with a price tag. Hope fades with the reality of finding affordable housing as we age.

The 9-1-1 operator comforted me with his words, “I’ll stay on the line until they get there. I’ll stay with you.” And he did, bless him! His words were my main recollection of that scary day. This stranger on the phone with the soft voice would NOT abandon me.

Now that I am recovering, once again I am going through the house, giving things away. As I feel independence narrowing, I know I must choose what I will need for an even smaller space. And those choices make me sad.

Finding Hope Requires More Intentionality.

To be brutally honest, this illness has challenged this Hope writer. I find myself having to search for the positive outlook and remind myself daily that God has promised to never forsake me.

Each day becomes a more intentional desire to give it everything I can.

  • To write the words that must be released to the world — while I can.
  • To express my gratitude for colorful sunsets, faithful friends and anything good that happens — while I still recognize them.
  • To hug my son, often and wholeheartedly — while I have the strength.
  • To make each 24-hour period matter for the good — while I can still hang on to hope.

And to enjoy the independence I still have.

Hope may change, but if I intentionally look for it and seek to grasp it — it will be revealed. At least, I’m believing that today.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books I wrote in 2019, listed on my Amazon Author Page.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay 

Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to check out my words, have a look-see at my Amazon Author Page.

Hope for the New Year

A brand new calendar forces reflection on the passing of time yet also moves us toward new opportunities.

During my “senior” season, I am finished setting resolutions. No more of the usual “less sugar, lose some weight and save more money” focus.

This year, I want to dig deeper. Maybe it is the aging factor that forces me beyond the mere physical and into the extraordinary. Or maybe I have learned how empty some resolutions feel.

I seek something with more impact. So I have decided to focus in two directions:

To Look for the Presence of God Each Day.

I know the Divine Three live inside me, but I also believe God moves mysteriously around me.

During this new year, I want to be more aware of that Divine presence:

  • In the energy of a crackling fire
  • In the dancing eyes of children
  • In the musical tones of nature’s breezes
  • In the faces of strangers at coffee shops, the mall and the lines at Wal-Mart
  • In the perseverance of the disabled who refuse to be victims
  • In the hugs of my son
  • In the colors and textures of my world

When I intentionally seek the presence of God, I hope to discover spiritual truths in new ways. Being more aware of God’s personal steps in my world reminds me he is my constant companion.

To Listen for the Divine Whisper Each Day.

God wants to communicate with us. He is the Word, and he is consistent in his desire for relationship.

But our world is so noisy, we often cannot hear what he longs to share with us.

I am fortunate to work in a job that involves silence. I write with no background music or white noise. Yet I can still miss the soft baritone of my Savior.

This year I want to be more aware of his voice, to hear with an extraordinary sonic volume:

  • When God gives direction or guidance
  • When he reminds me to backtrack or fix something wronged
  • When his creative whisper births an idea for a new book
  • When he asks me to be still and know
  • When he just wants to say, “I love you.”

My goal for this year is to spend time each evening with a few moments of evaluation: How was the presence of God real that day? How did I hear God speak that day?

Maybe by next December, I will have developed a keener sense of the Trinity in every day life.

That goal gives me hope.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

With a new year comes the opportunity to revise our goals. Check out Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals.

Finding Hope in Our Stuff

Many of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff. At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assess how to best dispose of it.garage sale chair

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with.

And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave. However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway?  

Some of the jewelry Deb’s children gave me help me feel closer to her. I often wear the cross bracelet on Sundays and remember one of our favorite stores, her delightful squeal when she discovered it was 25% discounted.

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. It now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:

  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
  • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

These books remind me of Caleb’s downy hair against my chest, the sounds I invented as we read together, those intimate and precious days so long ago. Hopefully these books will also find a home in the nursery for his children.

So how do we decide what to declutter and what to hold tightly to? I’ve learned a few tricks.

If it gives you joy, keep it. Adulting is hard, and we all need joy.

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. I refuse to relinquish my piano or the older pieces of music I still play. The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet.

The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise. A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it.

However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. I had given it away. Shucks !

If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me.

The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a safe place of peace.

Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money?

Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

Our lives are not primarily made up of stuff yet our stuff does define us. So let’s guard our hope with the stuff that’s really important and get rid of anything that drags us down.

A simpler life consists of what’s really important: hope, joy and the love we share with everyone.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. If you’re culling your books, consider my book list on Kindle.

 

 

 

 

Grieving During the Holidays

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

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

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

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

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

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

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you know someone who is grieving during the holidays, share this post. Perhaps it will bring some hope.

Hope Keeps It Simple

christmas-pine conesBecause life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday 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:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money and energy on Christmas cards. Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

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 fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

Throughout the years, 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 great joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my holiday 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 the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

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 2019 is the joy of simplification. 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, hope 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.

©2019 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 acceptable.

Hope When Christmas Changes

pharmacy symbolThroughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.

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

The Great Cough of 2016.

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

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners.

The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup.

Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully – they didn’t want us within breathing distance.

Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

This was the first year since I served as a missionary in Honduras that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS.

Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

But Christmas happened in spite of illness. A few days later, my son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun. We played table games, wearing hygienic gloves, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief.

The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed in our recliners again. Still coughing, but finding some joy in Christmas shows. The Grinch again tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it.

The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year.

The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives.

No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise. Immanuel – God is still with us.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a holiday gift you can give to a hard-working caregiver, consider Holiday Tips for Caregivers. Available on Amazon and Kindle.

Holiday Tips for Caregivers

cover-holiday-tipsThe calendar reminds us how deep we are into the holiday season. Our waistlines expand while the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

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

How can we best help our loved ones survive the holidays? How can caregivers find some joy during this stressful time?

Trim the Food Responsibilities.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe. She wanted to feel part of the festivities but even finding pots and pans proved to be difficult.

As we watched her struggle, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad — hundreds of times — we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if your loved one has a favorite recipe, relieve her of the stress of making it. Give her a simple task and make it together.

Plan Ahead for Shopping.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get 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 many 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 Favorite Foods.

Even though her appetite has changed, Mom still wants pecan pie. One of my holiday duties includes buying a pecan pie for Mom. I recommend the frozen variety. No fuss.

When we 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 whipped topping.

Every year, Mom replies, “I DO love pecan pie.” Someday even this sentiment will disappear. Enjoy blessing your loved ones with their favorite foods.

Plan an Activity Together.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those forgotten traditions, my mother’s demographic still considers 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. This repetition is part of the Alzheimer’s process. Someday you’ll be glad you took the time to do this simple task.

Be Careful About Timing.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, check back in before dark. 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 time your meals and activities accordingly.

Travel is NOT for Everyone.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, travel out of the comfort zones is difficult for the Alzheimer’s patient: 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.

Take a break and be with your family.

Gift-giving.

None of us needs more junk, least of all — the Alzheimer’s patient. Keep the gift-giving simple.

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

Be aware that some gifts may disappear. Mom constantly loses things. Last year, I bought her new sheets for her bed. Then I put them on for her. No chance to lose them.

One gift that always works is spending time with your loved one, a hug and a kiss, a “Merry Christmas. I love you.”

Do it while you can.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a more substantive list of helpful tips, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers, available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in a Puzzle

My puzzle reflects the colors and design of the Southwest United States — a region I love. Turquoise moccasins, Native American pottery and a sunset of desert textures.Southwest Puzzle

Yet beyond the stress-relieving act of fitting my puzzle pieces together, God teaches me precious lessons of faith.

Think about the Big Picture. Once I found the borders of the puzzle, everything should have begun to snugly fit together.

But something didn’t look right.

My son found the answer. He’s a consider-the-forest guy while I look at the trees. “This piece doesn’t fit,” he said, picking up a copper squiggle. “It skews the big picture.”

He was right. When I found the correct piece and snapped it into place, the big picture made more sense.

Sometimes we think a certain direction is best for our lives. But something about the final decision doesn’t seem right.

Something doesn’t fit.

Red flags stop us or circumstances change. We can’t see the big picture.

But God can. He exists beyond the past, present and future. He knows how to work out our lives and fit each day into the next so our destinies become clear.

Don’t Try to Force an Answer. A puzzle piece may look right and seem to fit, but one side snags or won’t quite align. Forcing the piece into that particular hole can bend it or even break it.

Then the puzzle is flawed.

If we try to force something to work or move forward on our own, we can damage ourselves or someone else in our sphere of influence.

If the circumstances aren’t working out and our pathway seems skewed, trying to force a decision, a relationship or a direction messes with our destiny.

How many of us have forged ahead and forced something to happen, then later regretted our actions?

When God manages the puzzles of our lives, all the pieces end up fitting together perfectly — without adverse circumstances.

Give It Time. A 300-piece puzzle cannot be completed in one hour. My puzzle lay on the table for several weeks where I worked on it a few minutes at a time.

As we face decisions or transitions in life, they take time to percolate and work out all the details. Patience is learned through the long passage of time.

Hurry is the antagonist of patience.

The best relationships involve the excitement of gradually learning about each other. Starting a new job includes a learning curve and perseverance.

Writing a book requires late nights, early mornings or weekend discipline. One word, one sentence, one character sketch at a time until the final period is typed. Sometimes the process takes years.

The best answers are revealed as a result of a waiting period. The strongest faith is birthed through years of experience, long periods of waiting and the courage to ask questions that may even increase the struggle.

We often don’t see a purpose in the details until patience has completed its perfect work.

The Apostle James underscored this truth, “When the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:3-4 The Living Bible).

God rarely answers our “Why?”  questions. Instead, he urges us to trust — even when we’re so weary we can only continue the journey with an extra measure of God’s grace.

My puzzle gives me joy, because I love the colors and the promise of the final result.

Surely God also feels joy when he moves the pieces of our lives together. The final result reflects his love.

We just need to stay in hope, let him move the pieces around and patiently wait.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Have you checked out my Reverend G books and Sometimes They Forget?

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.rose in treasure box

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for.

We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his girlfriend, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • My flowers
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

While writing this blog post, I watched the first snow of the season offer its tiny flakes to the landscape. Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season.

And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms placed its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or re-gifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2020, I have some openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.