Hope Rests in the Memory of Music

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

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

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

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

A musical connection. A memory cherished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the music continues.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Advertisements

No Regrets in Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ache for them now being fatherless.

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

I have No Regrets in Hope.

©2018 Laney Wind – All Rights Reserved

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

Finding Hope When Expectations Changs

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

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

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

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

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

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

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

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

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

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

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

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

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

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

I AM.

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are not my friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

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

Survival tasted sweet.

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Completes the Journey

Dear Deb,

The book is finished.

You would be so glad. If you were here, we would celebrate at a Mexican restaurant with fabulous guacamole. Plenty of chips. Constant refills.DM at country store

You would give me hugs and “I knew you could do it” words.

Throughout our meal, I would be thanking you for pushing me, for encouraging me to keep going.

Twelve years, my friend. During a dozen teeth-gnashing years, this book has been through multiple drafts, revisions, even a couple of genre changes.

But finally, it is the book I was supposed to write—the book you knew I COULD write.

It was important because of the women we both knew, those incredibly brave women who faced their hardest truths and stepped into an unknown world.

These women we taught, led in groups, cried with reminded us of the women we once were. How we needed our cadre of women warriors to help us fight our way to freedom.

This book underscores our experiences and the life journeys of these like-minded women.

I am sad you never saw the completed manuscript, never had the chance to hold the book in your hands. I know you would be proud. “Love it,” you would say.

Before you left us, you heard about the title my son created: “No Visible Scars.

“I love it,” you said. “It’s perfect,” you added.

You would have adored the cover your Sarah designed.

I am asking God to let you peek through the heavenlies and see it. I know it will bring you extra joy.

Thank you, precious friend, for being my cheerleader for this project.

Thank you for boosting me over the mountain of self-doubt, for reminding me to keep going, to finish the course, to see it through.

It is finished.

I miss you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Domestic abuse happens even in the best of homes. Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Underscores the Symptoms of Domestic Abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is such a putrid lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

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

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

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

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope in the Waiting

So many people seem to be waiting.clock - Victorian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the waiting, we are proven.

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

I only know what works for me:

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

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

I find hope as I live in the “yet.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Steps Beyond the Ordinary

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

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

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

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

And so grateful for those who respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need each other. Our prayers matter.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Detours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah. Too contemporary for my taste.”

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

Hope arrived and provided a detour from the present crisis.

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

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

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

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

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

Yet the answer is “Who.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay in hope, dear one.

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Recycled – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I’m worried about an excessive appraisal?

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

Time to start another answered prayers notebook.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Recycled

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

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

“God is bigger than cancer,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My precious son’s face wrinkled in pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Hope recycles as we choose to not forget.

 

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Finds 10 Year-Old Boys

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

Sampled one. Scrumptious! Now what?

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

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

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

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

“Mmm – best ever!”

“Lots of yummy chocolate.”

“Are there any more?”

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

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

These boys are not my target audience.

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Stays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

He cried and apologized, and so I stayed.

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

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

I felt ashamed and trapped, and so I stayed.

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

I was pregnant, and so I stayed.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Finds Her Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Why Hope is So Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can do it.”

“Hang in there.”

“You’re the best!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

How to Find Hope in February

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

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

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

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

Count the Days.

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

Do Something Wonderful.

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

Help Another Soul.

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

Find New Ways to Share Love.

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

Love Yourself.

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

Embrace the Special Days of February.

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

Make Plans for Spring.

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

Change One Thing.

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Enchanting Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Makes a Change

Dear Sugar,

I am breaking up with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Sugar. I am breaking up with you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Forces a Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples might be:

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Finds a January Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

2018 ? Seriously ?

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

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

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

Thanks for joining me here.

2018 image

Hope Versus Holiday Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Fills the White Stocking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Jesus.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimers Caregivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should you buy the Alzheimer’s patient?

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

Hope Embraces Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Keeps It Simple

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

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

So, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

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

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

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

Holiday Treats

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

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

I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Answers the Question

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

Three possibilities answer :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Was Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stroke the rock and wipe a tear.

I was enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Exists in Layers

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

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

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

Layer One: The everyday expression of hope.

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

“Hope you have a good day.”

“Hope your hamburger is well done.”

“Hope you enjoy this fall season.”

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

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The hope shared during crises.

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

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

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

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

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

We discover in Layer Two what is truly important.

Layer Three: The darkest, longest road to recovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in the Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page here.

Hope Discovers Wailing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Finds Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my latest works on my Amazon author page.

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But unlike the leaves, I will fall upward.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Reflects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Defers to Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has time so quickly deceived us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in Autumn Blooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? No answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Hope Writes

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

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

Bullet journaling helps validate my limitations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Goals Print Cover

If you process life through the gift of writing, then setting and reaching your writing goals will move you toward health and joy. For a guidebook and some accountability tips, order your copy here.

Hope Finds a Miracle

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

So do I. Shut up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines in School Supplies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

When Hope Lives in Third Person

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

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

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

She no longer knew me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are you married to now?”

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

“Oh. Does he treat you right?”

“Yes. He’s the best.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom just shrugged.

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

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

Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.

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

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach

Sometimes They Forget

 

How does a family deal with caregiving 24/7? What does the Long Good-bye involve and what are some practical tips for dealing with it? “Sometimes They Forget” helps us find hope as caregivers in the Alzheimer’s Journey. Order your copy here. 

 

Hope Encounters Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author and Certified Writing Coach

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

Hope Asks Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

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

With over 70 million caregivers in the US alone, someone you know needs encouragement. “Sometimes They Forget” helps caregivers find hope in the Alzheimer’s journey and reminds them they are not alone. Order it Here.

Sometimes They Forget

 

 

 

Hope Flows Through Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 RJ Thesman

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

Goals Print Cover