Hope Celebrates an Anniversary

Happy Anniversary to my creative self. One year ago, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to participate in a writers conference called “The Creative Reboot.” Sage Inn

Several aspects of this conference drew me to register. The amazing location, the opportunity to meet Julia Cameron and the focus on creativity.

Location:

Santa Fe is one of my favorite places to visit. It carries the atmosphere of spirituality coupled with history and art.

A great resource that describes the foundations of Santa Fe is the novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather.

The presence of multiple diversities gives Santa Fe its beauty. I met people from all over the world and developed a special relationship with a woman from the Pueblo tribe.

The merchants of Santa Fe take time to visit with customers, sit down for a cup of coffee and truly listen to the needs of lonely hearts.

One waitress in my favorite eatery, the Santa Fe Bite, described the stories behind her multiple bracelets. As a bling woman, I showed her my rings, and we immediately connected.

The architecture of Santa Fe is definitely Southwestern design — no vintage cottages or brick Tudors. But I love the adobe walls, the curved corners and the terracotta color everywhere.

Julia Cameron:

The main presenter at the conference was Julia Cameron. Several years ago, I read “The Artist’s Way” which opened my heart to the joy of being a creative. Julia Cameron - RJT

Whether writing, decorating my seasonal mantel or choosing what to wear each day, my joy of being a creative comes directly from Julia and her books.

I was surprised to find her such a petite lady. Don’t we always think of our she-roes as bigger than life, tall and broad? A powerful visual.

Yet I eclipsed her in height. She graciously accepted my request for a photo and answered several of my questions.

I discovered that she — like me — writes her first drafts in long hand, letting the words flow slowly as the creativity forms a boundary around her words.

Julia challenged me to return to the morning pages and to be more intentional about my artist dates. Her workshops were more than two hours long but felt like 20 minutes. She was humble, intelligent and humorous.

Meeting her in person was one of the towering moments in my creative history.

The Creativity Focus:

Everything I did that week focused on nurturing my creativity, and I added two extra days to my vacation week so I could take advantage of each moment.

  • Leisurely walks in a multitude of art galleries and boutiques
  • The taste of new foods, always spiced with green chiles
  • Interesting conversations with other writers and the people I met throughout Santa Fe
  • A walking tour that opened my eyes to more of the history of the region
  • The novel I began that week and how the main character popped into my head in my quiet motel room
  • Afternoons listening to Hispanic bands in the Plaza gazebo
  • Celebrating with a wedding party who marched out of the Saint Frances Cathedral and around the Plaza. I didn’t know any of the people but applauded and cheered for their excitement.
  • Choosing a special ring — yes, another ring — that included the gems of turquoise, coral and spiny oyster
  • The memories of a research trip to Santa Fe in 2010 with my best friend, Deb Mosher

Embracing my creativity underscores that I belong to the Creator who gifted me with the ability to think outside the box, create solutions to problems and enjoy the textures and colors around me.

All of us are creative. But sometimes we squelch those creative juices with self-doubt, self-sabotage and comparisonitis.

The Creative Reboot Conference was a highlight of my entire 2018. It added to my writing resume and my creative spirit.

I’m so glad I took the risk, stepped into that adventure and added a few extra days to nurture myself in Santa Fe.

Hope sometimes chases us with lovely circumstances and experiences. We just have to be aware of its presence and open our hearts to receive it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page. Then stay tuned for that novel I began in Santa Fe, “The Year of My Redemption,” scheduled for release in 2020.

Hope Delights in Dandelions

They raise their chartreuse heads above the frosted grass. At first, I am cheered by the bright yellow dots in my yard.dandelion on hand

It will soon be time for the garden,” I tell the cat. Her tawny eyes reflect with understanding.

But by the time dandelions lose their sunshiny tops and begin to climb higher, then sprout white seeds that blow all over tarnation, I am no longer thrilled by their presence in my yard.

However, I am amazed how they persevere through every winter and reappear all over the place. Even though I dig them out each spring, they ride the wings of the wind and once again mess up my plans for a weed-less garden.

Weeds are plants out of place. Dandelions are out of place among my peas, green beans and clematis.

But these same weeds cause me to reflect on the spiritual lessons God sends through nature.

Perseverance: No matter how many times I dig them out and throw away their roots, dandelions reappear.

They have conquered my garden spaces in spite of toxic chemicals, sharp mower blades and a shovel full of rocks. No amount of mulch deters their upward journey as they poke through the cypress sticks.

Howdy!” they scream. “Here we are again!

That same character trait — that infernal perseverance — is a core value I covet. No matter how someone’s words hurt me or what weapon is used against me, may I continue to persevere.

No matter what life throws at me or how many times my words are rejected by editors, I want to persevere.

May my daily journey always seek the Light, no matter how difficult the journey or how long I have to travel the same path.

Location: Dandelions sprout anywhere and everywhere — between sidewalk cracks, in the middle of rocky landscapes, even cuddled next to strawberry blossoms.

My hope is to be an encouragement no matter where I am — seated on the church pew, waiting in the long line for meds in Wal-Mart, while sweating out stress in the workplace.

Dandelions teach us location is not as important as vocation. A consistent life of character is the goal, no matter where we sprout.

The job may move us to another state, or even a different country with a foreign culture.

Circumstances of life may change our status from “married” to “alone.”

Yet with each new venture, we learn to sprout — to live again — to acclimate within a new version of ourselves.

Effectiveness: Although we kill dandelions in Kansas, some cultures nurture them for the greens and the tea. When these weeds live in the right place, they prove to be useful plants.

Every day, my breath wraps around the goal of effectiveness, to serve God and others. My work — forming words and coaching writers who make their own words — is to help someone else.

The stories I complete, the communication gifts God has given me, my very existence is focused on how to point others toward hope.

I want to be effective and make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

In the graceful writings of Colossians 3:23-24, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all he owns. He is the one you are really working for” (The Living Bible).

In spite of the spiritual lessons, dandelions are still not welcome in my garden. But as I dig them out and rid the landscape of their threat, they continue to remind me of a higher goal.

Even a weed praises the Creator who does all things so well.

So hope shines as we persevere through each day’s weeds.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in Large Print.

Hope Survives at Home

Something about houses attracts the hope within.

Tudors with their brick facades, happy bungalows — especially the ones equipped with porch swings, cottages framed by specialty gardens.

The memoir I am writing is focused around the theme of various houses in which I have lived.  Maybe I should have become a realtor.

The house Mom bought, then had to leave behind, is a typical Oklahoma ranch. When dementia first began to squeeze its nasty tentacles around Dad’s personality, Mom felt as if she needed to move him off the farm. Into the safety of town and one-level housing.

Neither of them could continue to fully operate within the realities of farm life.

Dementia stole Dad’s vocation from him, and Mom could no longer handle the hard work required in the country life she loved.

They settled into the brick ranch and lived securely as Mom nursed Dad. My sister joined them and helped Mom for 10 shadowy years. Then on a gentle spring morning in May, angels carried Dad away.

Mom stayed in the ranch, unwilling and unable to move anywhere else. In fact, she underscored her idea of the future when she announced, “My next move will be to the cemetery.”

If only it had been that simple.

The ranch soon became the forecaster of Mom’s next move as she began a downward spiral. She forgot the location of her pots and pans, threw away important bills and documents, counted her medications numerous times before swallowing.

It was in the ranch house where Mom passed out, her brave heart needing the extra pulsing of a pacemaker, her head bleeding from where she banged it when she fell.

When she had to leave, a series of ambulance rides transported her from the hospital to the nursing home rehab and later to her studio apartment in assisted living.

Meanwhile, the sturdy ranch house remained. Mom never had a chance to tell it good-bye.

The yard is its best feature, a surrounding halo of my sister’s plantings: zinnias, pansies and the four o’clocks that actually open at four o’clock twice each day.

I like the house, usually finding a slice of serenity inside when I visit the Oklahoma family. Although it is a bit weird to sleep in the bed in which I was conceived, I gaze at pictures on the walls and remember when we gave them to Mom and Dad.

In the closet, I hang my clothes and touch hangers that held Mom’s winter coat, a suit she no longer wears, a knit shirt with embroidered daisies — some of the threads barely hanging on to their frayed outlines.

Mom’s brush and comb still wait on the dresser, flanked by doilies her mother crocheted, their white loops now fading into the yellows of the past.

The massive mahogany furniture which none of us will want — a pronunciation of Mom’s signature style.

Mom never seems to miss the ranch house. She only remembers the farm as her home where she raised three children, cooked harvest meals and hung clothes to flap on the line — fabric silhouettes of each person in her family.

The personality of the ranch house follows me whenever I drive away. I am left with a sense of gratitude that my sister is safe within its walls and I know — in that particular house, our family made an imprint on the earth.

Homes become the measurements of years as each place serves a purpose. Within our respective homes, we wait for that final call to a home that contains no walls, needs no paint and provides the freedom where our spirits forever roam.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read more about the places and people of hope in Hope Shines, also available in Large Print.

 

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck with the functional differences between the Kansas City metro and Enid, Oklahoma.

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter, Christmas and even Thanksgiving to allow families time together.

The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story and the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” columns each year.

Presumably, many of their consumers actually read them.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of these faith seasons and are not shy about declaring their beliefs.

In small towns, time moves slowly. Folks mosey across intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who has forgotten how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will probably run into relatives or the child of a co-worker or someone from your church.

If you make a new friend at the local Braums, while eating your double-dip of cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt, your conversation will likely sound like this:

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you had better have a good reason for the abandonment. If you’re a decent person, you WILL move back and make your family happy.

Hope grows in small towns, because everyone hopes you will move back, help with Mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown, I pick up the Okie accent that has never completely left my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because — why hurry?

No one will give me the finger unless he is a farmer who lost several digits during harvest and now waves funny.

It is safer to stop on yellow and finish my cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt while observing everyone around me. I might see an old chum moseying across the intersection.

The Western Sizzlin’ restaurant recently closed. The entire community grieved and wondered what is this world coming to? We ate at Western Sizzlin’ not only to enjoy the amazing buffet of salads, breads and desserts but also to connect with the community.

We waved at strangers and talked about the wheat crop with friends. We enjoyed the commonalities of improving the economy of the region, tasting the fresh-from-the-oven rolls and remembering simpler times.

Although the world continues to change rapidly and who knows what tomorrow will bring, folks in small towns still trust each other. They know how to mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I have not met. Their lives are simpler, purer — steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although my work lies here in the metro where “Everything is up to date in Kansas City,” a weekend visit transports me back to the security of my foundations and the people who keep hope alive.

Hope shines within the treasure of a simpler life and its precious people.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book Hope Shines, which details more of the places we can find hope.

 

Hope’s Perspective

During a recent trip to the New Mexican mountains, we searched for deer. Every time someone in the family saw a deer, we cheered. We called to them, hoping to pet them or maybe feed them some leftover crackers.

Deer are a special fixture in the mountains — a cherished part of the wildlife.

But on my drive home, I passed a deer that had been killed on the highway.

Although it made me sad, I realized that’s what happens near the big city.

Wildlife becomes road kill.

A different place. A different perspective.

When a friend of mine was going through divorce, she received a card from her childhood Sunday School teacher. A beautiful woman who was blessed with a happy marriage for 53 years.

She had no clue what my friend had endured for 18 years.

The teacher wrote, “I can’t believe you’re doing this sinful thing. Why couldn’t you work it out? Don’t you know a marriage requires commitment, 100% from both partners?”

My friend felt condemned yet she knew she had tried to make it work. The Sunday School teacher had no idea how to deal with an abusive marriage and how my friend had tried to protect herself and her children.

She was clueless about the courage it takes to leave.

Different lives. Different perspectives.

During a sermon in a fundamental church, I heard a pastor say, “We should never eat out on Sundays. We are forcing others to work on the Sabbath.”

He did not know about the single mom who is grateful for the Sunday crowd at her restaurant. With the bigger tips, she feeds her children for another week.

This pastor could not imagine how it feels to pray for your daily bread, how this single mom works three jobs and every extra penny is a blessing.

Her Sabbath begins with a prayer of thanksgiving for the jobs she maintains. She hopes to be promoted to manager soon and asks God for the endurance to raise her children well.

Different faith walks. Different perspectives.

Anger and condemnation toward others do nothing to improve lives or change situations.

One blip of a circumstantial change and we live from a different perspective.

I have often wished I could go back and do more for single moms, for families struggling with mental illness, for the mother who has to visit with her child through a phone line at the prison.

At the time, I had only the perspective I lived with and my naïve experiences.

Our country is suffering from a lack of qualified perspective.

How many of us would know what to do if our neighborhoods were ravaged by gangs, our children in danger?

Would we leave everything and try to find a safe place?

Wouldn’t we be grateful for a piece of bread, a clean pillow, a helping hand?

The perspective of the refugee is different from that of the weary border guard yet each person is precious in the heart of God.

Hope does not condemn, neither does it refuse to consider a different perspective. Instead, hope listens and considers a better way — a more peaceful path.

I pray every day for our leaders and for the decisions they must make.

But mostly I pray they will look beyond their own perspectives, their political policies and open their minds to possible solutions.

Maybe we need to follow the example of Ruben Martinez and his El Paso Challenge, to do 22 good deeds for our fellow man — in memory of those 22 people who were slaughtered in his town.

Maybe it will be the young people who will ignore the politics and help us find a way to change our perspectives.

Maybe hope comes with a future generation while the rest of us struggle to catch up.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

Humming Hope

As I worked in my home office, a sound forced me to stop and look around. It was a melody I had not heard for quite a while.musical notes

Humming — a bass voice humming.

My son, who has a lovely voice, was marching up the stairs while humming.

I smiled with a prayer of thanks. After a season of illness, personal questions about his destiny, six months of training — he was finally beginning to move forward.

Applications submitted. Hope for a new beginning.

The hum of restored joy.

Scientists tell us humming and singing create the following health benefits:

  • Reduces stress
  • Creates a meditative state
  • Releases nitrous oxide which unclogs the sinuses
  • Oxygenates the blood
  • Releases endorphins which make us happier
  • Initiates a workout for the body
  • Activates the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Improves breathing
  • Lowers the heart rate
  • Increases the glandular and intestinal activity

I know these facts to be true. When I feel the shadows of discouragement, I often force myself to sing something or at least to begin humming.

Sometimes an old hymn.

One day, it was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

Or a rousing chorus of the Kansas state song, Home on the Range.

I sometimes surprise myself, standing at the stove scrambling a couple of eggs. A sudden hum. A phrase from a song.

It feels good.

Hope hides in the notes of a familiar song. And the energy used to expand the lungs and force a voicing of joy moves me in a more positive direction.

So the next time you’re looking for hope, try to prime your pump with a song.

You might surprise yourself with a bubble of sudden joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page for books and resources that include some flavor of hope.

 

Hope Thrives with the Littles

She reached out to touch my hand, her pudgy toddler fingers soft and warm. Dark brown Hispanic eyes twinkled with joy as we played peek-a-boo around her mother’s shoulder.

We waited in line at Arby’s, teasing each other for at least ten minutes. The baby grinned at me, two tiny bottom teeth standing like white pillars in her perky mouth.

I would have given her mother twenty dollars to let me hold her precious daughter, but then maybe the spell would have broken. Surely this gregarious child had been trained to show caution around strangers.

Then customer service interrupted. The child and her mother moved away from me, and I ordered a drink — suddenly bereft, no longer hungry.

future for childrenYet hope revived as I imagined the future for this tiny life, untouched by the cares of this world. That precious little has no idea of the stresses she will someday encounter — the need to pay a gas bill or keep a roof over her head.

She is years away from deciding on a career and thankfully, her choices will be much more varied than mine ever were.

Her grin was completely free from any emotional baggage, yet even as I played peek-a-boo with her, I begged God to protect her.

Statistics prove one out of four little girls will be sexually assaulted, one out of six little boys.

Oh God – may that statistic burn in hell !

Later, as I reflected on my day and remembered the beautiful child, I marveled how she had increased my hope:

  • Her youth — so much potential ahead of her
  • Her innocence — may life allow her to remain pure
  • Her freedom — in a country that offers so much promise and may it continue to do so
  • Her gender — with more opportunities for women than ever before
  • Her beauty — who could resist those brown eyes and black hair surrounding clear baby skin?

No wonder God tells us to become like a little child.

No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).

No wonder our hearts burst with joy when we are accepted and loved by a little child.

Hope shines in the presence of littles. Hug the little ones in your life today.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books and resources on my Amazon Author Page. 

 

Hope Reversed

An idea filtered through my soul one Sabbath afternoon as I was journaling thoughts from the morning’s service.blue arrows reversed

Someone had mentioned the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are produced in our lives as we let the Spirit flow through us and as we learn more about what it means to live as a Christian.

But often, I fail in one or a number of these areas. I still have so much to learn about being who God created me to be.

So my hope is restored as I consider how God exhibits these beautiful qualities in my life and within our chaotic world.

Love. No human being has ever unconditionally loved me. A few have accepted my faults and my quirks, but still hoped I might improve. Graded me on a curve of not being “enough.”

But God has never treated me as if I am “less than.” He has shown his love in the orangey-yellow sunsets of the Midwest, in the purr of a cat, in the shelter of a friend’s arms. His love has always been a practical reminder that he alone knows how to look beyond my faults and see my possibilities.

Joy. As a melancholy introvert writer, I must admit joy is sometimes illusive. I cannot manufacture it, so I must find it within the presence of God.

He reminds me to laugh, to play, to give and receive hugs. His joy shines through the eyes of children, through the taste of a new recipe, through the spark of a writing idea.

I imagine heaven will be a place of so much laughter, so much joy — our spirits will be light and free to receive it and share it eternally.

Peace. When the world underscores its chaotic frenzy, God brings peace. The promise Jesus spoke to his anxious disciples stands true today, “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27 TLB).

God often shares his peace at night, when I finally lie down and surrender the day to him. Since he knows my past but does not condemn me for it, since he accompanies me through every day of the present and creates every second of the future — his peace is a forever gift.

Patience. As an over-achiever (read first-born), patience is difficult for me to even fathom. Yet God shows patience to me every day as I struggle to understand more about him.

He waits for me. Never a hurried tone to his voice. His timing shows an ordered plan for the best outcome.

And when I tend to rush ahead with a project or an idea, his divine whisper to “Wait” reminds me how all-encompassing his patience is.

Kindness.  A working definition of kindness would include compassion and benevolence. Since God formed every cell in my body and he’s walked with me throughout life, he knows exactly how I tick.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt discouraged as a writer. Even with all the marketing and all the self-discipline, the book sales weren’t enough to buy a bag of groceries. Without even a prayer for help, God knew I needed some of his special kindness.

In quick succession, three different encouragements. A writer mentioned a workshop I taught years ago and how it helped her. A card handed to me — “You are a blessing,” it said. Four sales of my newest book, Write and Share Your Story.

God’s kind heart knew I needed his special benevolence. He worked it out behind the scenes and gave me a positive boost.

Several times throughout scripture, God’s lovingkindness is mentioned. I like combining “love” and “kindness” as neither are quite as impactful without the other.

Goodness. We glibly state, “God is good” — usually when something wonderful happens. But even when disaster hits, God is still good.

Although life on this earth is filled with trauma and fear, God is still good. He proves it every time a baby is born — the goodness of God creating life again. When a nonprofit forms to meet a social need, God’s goodness filters through that organization to help the homeless, the hopeless and the abused.

When a social media post spouts hate, God’s goodness seeps through other people who know how to temper their tongues, speak truth and share love. When racism, murder and negative policies rule the nightly news, God whispers his mission, “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 TNIV).

In short, be good and be alert for his goodness.

Faithfulness. It is one thing to abandon a person. It is quite another to be abandoned.

Our world is filled with people who suffer from attachment disorder. They have been abandoned by a parent, a spouse, a community. So they struggle to find any type of stable relationships and often end up abandoning others.

But not God. He cannot, will not abandon his children. In spite of our failures and the many times we choose an idol over loving him, he sticks with us. In fact, his faithfulness is so definite he starts over every morning — loving us all over again.

My favorite hymn says it better than I.

Gentleness. He is the all-powerful God yet he chooses to be gentle with us. He can dip his hand into a mountain and form a valley yet he sings over us when we are born.

He can whip the ocean into a frothy mess yet he lifts a baby dolphin out of the hurricane’s path. He can stop my heart from beating in a milli-second yet he plants a feral cat in my neighborhood so I can watch her kittens grow.

He is the God of intense ironies, completely mysterious and impossible to understand. Yet children with Down’s Syndrome and elders with Alzheimer’s hear him whisper, “You are special, and I love you.”

Self-Control. We often joke about this piece of the fruit of the Spirit pie. “Oh, if only I had more self-control I’d be 40 pounds lighter.” “I can do all the fruit, but not the self-control part.” “What does God expect? I have an addiction.”

Yet how does God show us the example of self-control? He can wipe us all out in a nano-second. He did it before with a giant flood. Yet he reigns in himself and waits patiently because of all his other attributes — those big ones about love, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

He designed how the planets revolve and rotate. He gave us specific instructions on how to take care of the earth. In spite of the fact that we have failed, he uses self-control and gives us more time to correct our mistakes.

In a world of missed cues and deliberate wrong-doings, he controls the ticking of the Armageddon clock. It will eventually happen, but only with his say-so. And still surrounded by the compassion of his giant heart.

If we are to live in the image of God, then we must observe how he shows us the perfect example. Living a spiritually fruity life feels more doable when I look at how God does it.

Then hope circles around my feeble attempts and whispers, “This is possible.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author Page for my books and resources.

 

 

Hope in Preservation

When I focus on the word “preserves” I think about the sand plum jelly we made on the farm, and the hours we spent canning tomatoes and green beans.mason jar candles

Those wonderful Mason jars provided us with fresh food throughout the winter months and also preserved memories of cooking with Mom in the farm kitchen.

But a deeper type of preservation intrigues me now. What does it mean to be emotionally preserved? Can I invent a personal thesaurus around the topic of preservation?

Staying Fresh

Preserved foods always taste fresh, even after years in storage. No matter how we serve them up, if they have been preserved properly — they are a treat.

Psalm 31:23 reminds me, “The Lord preserves the faithful….”

So how can I remain emotionally fresh and alert for each new day? How can the topic of hope keep me fresh in a world of rot?

Self-care comes to mind. Rest and taking care of myself holistically. Exercise to preserve my strength. Throwing away the junk foods, although an occasional treat is allowed. A ten-minute restorative nap. Reading a good book to reboot my brain.

The Availability of Preservation

One reason we canned vegetables was so we could eat them during the months when the garden was frozen. A quick trip to the cellar to bring up the jars. No cost. No trouble.

To be available to others, I need to set healthy boundaries. I cannot help every single person who wants me to edit a book, become a coach or write online content.

Through the years, I have learned my limitations. Saying “No” has become even more important as the years add up. Then I can preserve my availability for what matters.

Some of my boundaries include:

  • no more than ten speaking gigs / year
  • only attending writers conferences where I coach or teach
  • a total of 20 coaching clients / month
  • one month allowed for each book I edit

To be available to the creative urges within, my spirit needs to be rested and alert. Then as an idea flirts with me, I write it down immediately. No self-doubt allowed. No hesitation.

Staying Safe

Because our foods were preserved well, we never suffered from botulism, e coli or any type of toxic side effects. The pressure cooker was sterilized. The jars proactively boiled. No germs allowed.

Because security is one of my core values, I want people to feel safe around me. As readers pick up my books, the topics must be clear. No fear to approach questions that need to be asked.

Even if I stretch some comfort zones, I strive for truth which creates safety in the ask. Ingesting positive words brings the a-ha moment and builds on hope. Confidentiality within the coaching relationships preserves safety.

No Expiration Date.

Our sand plum jellies lasted for years and were always edible. We skimmed off the top layer of wax, then spread the golden lusciousness on top of warm homemade bread.

No need for a QR code on the side of our jars.

When we reach one of those special age limits, when the AARP mailings begin and advertisements for a final resting place, we have not yet reached our expiration date.

Only God knows the beginning and ending of our timelines. Alpha and Omega at work.

So until that date arrives, I want to keep on task. Develop my writing gifts and coaching processes. Continue in hope, no matter what the circumstances. Accept no dread about that final expiration date.

Share hope with others and keep some of the lusciousness of life for myself. Preserve what is good and share what is best.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For writers who want to continue with their craft, check out Write and Share Your Story: Creating Your Personal Experience Article.

Hope-filled Arms

Several people I know, friends and family, are struggling with their arms. Because of chronic illnesses, they can no longer lift more than 10 pounds or even help themselves out of a chair. I grieve for their losses even as I admire their determination to stay in hope.arms - art

Arms are something I take for granted. But as I reflected on this blog post, I thought of several memories where arms left an impression.

My dad’s arms radiated his strength. With those arms, thick and muscular, he pulled calves out of their struggling mothers. He hefted hay bales and tossed them onto moving wagons. He swung at baseballs and sent them over the farthest fences.

When his strength diminished, his arms shook as he tried to feed himself. The skin began to sag as muscles atrophied and finally — all movement ceased except the shallow breaths that kept him alive, until even that capability was gone.

Arms of Strength.

The chubby arms of my toddler son reached toward me for hugs or night-time kisses. The first time I saw his face, I held him in my arms and marveled at the finished miracle of a nine-month creation.

Arms of Love.

My son’s arms grew from toddler stage to teenager. As he practiced and excelled at drums, the tendons in his arms rippled, then held trophies he won for his musical prowess.

Arms of Talent.

But my arms have also felt sadness. Last winter, I held my cat, Betsy, for our final goodbye. She trusted my arms, leaned in for what — I believe — she knew was coming. And when the final injection did its work, her dead weight relaxed with the pressure of finality.

Arms of Sorrow.

Scripture reminds us of another pair of arms, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27 TLB).

And an old hymn repeats the theme. Check it out. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

We dream of the day in eternity when we will run into the arms of our loved ones, when our guardian angels remind us their arms were always near.

Arms of Security.

I am grateful for the strength in my arms — to pull weeds from stubborn perennial beds, to carry a pot of soup to the table, to guide my hands toward the computer keyboard, to move across the piano keys.

A day will likely come, if God grants me more years, when I may lose my arm strength, when I’ll have to depend on others for movement and the basics of living.

So for now — for this day — I whisper a prayer of gratitude and determine to stay in hope, no matter what happens to my arms.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My arms have been busy on the keyboard. Check out my newest book: Write and Share Your Story

Is Hope Really Possible?

An encouragement often shared on my blog is the phrase, “Stay in hope.” No matter how life unravels, stay in hope.

What does that statement really mean? Is hope possible in today’s messy world? What does it look like, feel like? Or is it something so ethereal, we cannot find it — fail to grasp hold of it.

To stay in hope requires a conscience effort to move beyond whatever reality presses on us and instead — find a way to focus on a future of gladness.

Staying in hope means we begin with an action which follows with a joyful emotional reaction. So what are some practical action points we can take to find hope?

Focus on the Positive. When life unravels, it is easier to focus on what has gone wrong. The tornado touched down on top of the house. The person we loved is no longer here. The identity thief wiped us out.

None of us can avoid the uncomfortable circumstances of life. But if we constantly think about the struggles, we miss the pathway to hope.

As we focus on the positives of life, those negative tapes begin to fade. If we concentrate on what is good, renewed hope seems possible.

In spite of natural disasters, we are still alive. The grief process can leave us wiser and more centered. When our security is threatened, we can rebuild, restore, redo what we did before — even better this time.

List all the blessings, even those small ones you take for granted: hot water in the shower, a fridge with food in it, a hug from a child.

Stay in that hopeful place of warm and fuzzy vibes.

Surround Yourself with Hopeful People. Our network of people affects everything we do and how we react to life. Being around encouraging people helps us grow hope muscles. When we spend time with people who are positive, we feel better about life.

We may even learn how to fully love ourselves and become an encourager to someone else.

When our friendships revolve around the people who encourage us, we feel more hope surrounding our souls. We look forward to each day and enjoy being with these people. They help us smile and feel positive. They keep us from wallowing in the muck of daily living.

They give us the impetus to stay in hope.

Collect Affirmations. Positive sayings, posters and memes with hope-filled quotes may show up on social media or in home décor departments. My writing study is decorated with several positive affirmations.

Print out and post these messages. A plaque, a swirly design on a piece of barn wood or industrial metal, even a Post-it note with a positive statement — anything to remind you to stay in hope.

On my bathroom mirror, I have three notes I see every day:

  • Let my heart revive and live.
  • May the God of truth and faithfulness to his promises, bless me.
  • “After the grief fades, after the suffering dwindles away, God Himself will complete me, establish and ground me securely, strengthen and settle me” (First Peter 5:10).

To stay in hope, we need to work at it. As we focus on the positive, surround ourselves with healthy people and remind ourselves of affirmations — we can maintain and grow a more positive attitude.

Then hope becomes more of a reality as we acknowledge its existence and proactively seek to own it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Ever heard of “booking a blog?” That’s what I’m doing with this post. Check out the entire book, Hope Shines.

Hope in the Painting

It was a nondescript garage sale with a yard full of items. “We’re blending houses,” the owner said, “so we have to choose only what we’ll need together.”

“Me, too,” I said. “My friend and I are blending. We’re gonna’ be like the Golden Girls.”

I didn’t need any of the items in his yard but noticed the painting — mountain aspens with a turquoise background.

Deb would like that, and her birthday’s coming. But does she want another piece of art?

I talked myself out of it and started to drive home. But the Divine Whisper wouldn’t leave me alone. “Go back. You need that painting.”

“It’s probably too expensive,” I argued. But it’s hard to argue against the Divine One. “Okay. At least I can ask about it.” So I turned around and drove back.

The tag on the back noted the original price — $140. But the owner didn’t want it, so we settled on the price — five bucks.

Deb was delighted as we hung it on her wall. It seemed to give off a special aura, a reminder of our mountain travels and the Rockies she loved.

“I hope you got one of your special bargains for this,” she said. “It’s lovely.”

“Yep, I did.” But I never told her how little I paid.

A birthday hug and our usual celebration meal — Mexican with extra guac and chips.

We didn’t know the blended house would never happen, that this was the last time we would party on her special day. A couple of weeks later, she was suddenly struck with hemolytic anemia.

Our goodbye happened in the ICU. “See ya’ later, friend,” I whispered to her closed eyes. “I love you.” An hour later and she was gone.

Then the funeral with the many friends and family who came to honor her life. All of us in shock. Too young. Not fair. The tentacles of grief grabbing our hearts.

Her children graciously gifted me with the painting. I hung it, amazed by how it accented my creamy yellow wall.

A remembered whisper, “You need that painting.”

True. I needed to give it to Deb for her last birthday, if only for a few weeks’ enjoyment. I need it now to remember her with a smile and treasure our times together.

We all need the reminder to underscore how quickly life can change and how we need to celebrate each other — often and with joy.

Happy birthday, Deb, in heaven.

The painting cost five bucks, but you were worth much more — so much more.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of Debby Mosher, who lived her life with shining hope.

 

Hope Goes to School

As a life-long learner, nothing is more exciting to me than a couple of how-to books. Combine those books with the topics I like to pursue, and I am ready for school.

A recent visit to Half-Price Books resulted in some pay-back monies for books read and de-cluttered. Then I used my earnings on two books I “needed” to further my education as a writing coach.

The first book, “Co-Active Coaching” contains a Table of Contents with numerous topics I want to review. As I help my clients move toward their publishing dreams, I also want to keep learning and growing, to help more clients, to see more of my books in print.

Heads up for those of my clients who read this blog. I’ll be learning more about these topics:

  • Listening
  • Intuition
  • Curiosity
  • Self-Management
  • Balance
  • How-to Define Professional Coaching
  • Putting It All Together

The other book seemed like a stretch – at first. But as I scanned through it, I saw the possibilities. “Words That Sell” contains info about writing:

  • Teasers
  • Headers
  • Slogans
  • Authentic Descriptions
  • Clinchers
  • How to Persuade Your Audience
  • Selling Your Ideas

It is focused on tips for copywriting which is another form of writing I may pursue. Creating the back blurbs of my books has taught me the value of a credible pitch and how to convince readers to buy my words.

But the other direction for this book is to help my clients improve their marketing skills. If I can teach them how to devise paragraphs, blog posts and promotional information — they can be more successful selling their own words.

So part of my summer days will be spent in the library, going to school. I’ll spread out these how-to books with my highlighters and notepads, then immerse myself in a personal education project. The goal is to bring positive results for my clients and eventually also — to me.

Now that’s what I call a hope-filled summer.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Learning how to write and share your personal experience article is a valuable tool. For practical tips on how to move toward your publishing dreams, check out my newest writing craft book: Write and Share Your Story: Creating Your Personal Experience Article.

Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope in the Handwriting

It was time to choose a new journal — to begin a new treasure trove of writings and daily reflections.

I sorted through my stash and chose the one that spoke to me — sparkly with pink flower blossoms on both front and back covers. Then opened it to begin a new entry.

A gasp. A memory. Fresh tears.

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

photo attribution to Flickr

Written in her unique handwriting was the message my precious friend Deb shared when she gave me that journal. “Your faith can move mountains.”

Underneath the sentence, a mustard seed scotch-taped to the page.

I had forgotten that particular journal was a gift from Deb, a reminder of the verse in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The irony of the verse lies in the size of a mustard seed — only slightly larger than a pin-head.

Yet if we have even that tiny amount of pure faith, total belief in the One who can answer insurmountable prayer requests, we can see metaphorical mountains begin to move.

Deb believed this truth and passed it on to me. She had no idea how short her life would be, how I would treasure her memory and the friendship we shared.

She would have laughed at how I caressed that mustard seed and kissed the writing that came from her hand. She would have been surprised when I cut that cover off and framed it as a constant reminder of who she was and who we were together.

Handwriting is a sacred gift — a special scribbling that identifies us and preserves the energy of its author. It leaves a legacy, a historical mark that we lived. We made an impression on this earth, simply because we existed.

Although Deb is gone, her handwriting proves how she lived and the influence she left on those of us who knew her and loved her. And this reminder of our shared faith has become an art form I now preserve.

I think we all need to write and send more cards, letters that tell about our days, messages that share hope. To slow down and share words that will bless the receiver and prove the significance of our words. Computer keys cannot store the treasure of a friendship like a handwritten note.

Thanks, Deb, for this incredible gift. And for reminding me once again, to find hope in faith.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For an easy-to-understand booklet about faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

 

Hope and the Feral Cats

It was a gift — an unexpected pleasure on a discouraging day.

I had just pulled up my Amazon book sales report. Not enough sales for the month, not even close to my goal.

Then I looked outside and laughed in delight.black and white kitten

My neighborhood is blessed with several feral cats. One big guy — all black — I call Onyx. A smaller black and white female I have dubbed Mama.

Several of us feed them. During the winter they shelter under porches, pad across the snow-covered cul-de-sac to the next bowl of food.

But this spring, I noticed Mama growing fatter with pregnancy. She lumbered around the neighborhood, searching for more and more goodies. Then suddenly, she appeared thin and tired. Obviously, she had given birth. Onyx strutted as if proud of his accomplishment.

I did not know where Mama nested, how many babies she had or even if any of them lived. Feral cats don’t always have successful births.

Then, on the exact day I needed a boost, I looked out my front window and laughed. Four kittens crawled out from under the neighbor’s porch. Black and white, some more spotted, a couple more solid black with white booties.

They were at the stage of perfect fluff and fun, jumping on each other and practicing their cat-skills of pounce and conquer. Mama stood to the side, looking exasperated but also maternal.

The neighbor — a big tough guy who hides his soft heart, sneaked bowls onto the porch, then hid behind a bush. The kittens cavorted toward the bowls, joined by Mama as the entire brood ate lustily.

I stayed by my front window for a while, refused to answer a text message or to return to my computer. Knowing I needed the joy of those kittens fed hope and insulated me from further discouragement.

Just a few moments to watch joy in action, the frolicking movements of kittens and the satisfied face-washing after a bowl of milk.

Sometimes all we need is a nugget of hope to remind us life is good, that the creatures God has blessed us with bring a freedom from stress and worry. To be grateful for small blessings and leave the uncertainties for another day.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For some extra nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope Lives in Photos

photo albumsSo many photo albums. Boxes and boxes of memories from the beginnings of a life to the present. Photos of my son – even his birth certificate – preserved in plastic sleeves with descriptive tags to indicate his growth: 8 pounds, 3.5 ounces, 19.5 inches long.

Preschool. Kindergarten graduation with a mortar board and tassel. Through the years of puberty – his larvae of manhood – into the present grown man. And a handsome fellow to boot!

Report cards, certificates of attendance and Awana awards. How quickly they grow, then leave.

Other memories: children sitting in multiple classrooms listening to my words, vacations to Europe, Florida, Chicago and my beloved New Mexico.

Photos of family members now gone, a reminder of their younger, more vital days before old age sapped strength and the ICU machines beeped a goodbye.

Some family members still living and working although crowned with greying hair, wisdom wrinkles and those chronic illnesses we try to avoid or hide.

Lives lived and recorded on yellowing film and clipped into binders. But who wants to store these heavy boxes? None of us, especially when we can scan, digitalize and save to that obsequious cloud.

After several people looked through the albums and chose pictures they wanted to keep, it was my task to make the final choices.

I took out the plastic sleeves, stored them for my son and his future home, then threw away those albums. Most of them now faded, their backs broken, cardboard flayed by multiple moves.

A life lived. The memories sealed forever in our hearts, each of us filtering hope from our own perceptions, our viewpoints selective yet valuable.

When we finally ascend to eternity’s arms, will the pictures of our lives be stored by the good we did, the love we shared, the other pilgrims we helped?

I like to think so.

No need for albums then. We’ll have living memorials of the hope we encapsulated within one short life.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines and Sometimes They Forget memorialize lives within the genre of essays. Check them out.

 

 

Hope in the Redbud

Every spring, my redbud tree reminds me to stay in hope.Redbud

The usual allegory applies: dead winter becomes a fruitful spring. Trust God in the hard times. Almost a cliché these days.

But a more hidden meaning speaks to me this year, after an interminable winter and the hanging-on-of-grief. After another 12 months of ugliness and insecurity from our nation’s capitol, from both sides who should know better.

In spite of nature’s circumstances and the unknowns of life, here stands my redbud tree.

A neighbor has threatened to cut it down because its gnarled trunk and uneven branches seem out of sync with the rest of the symmetrical neighborhood.

Yet every time I drive home and see that rough bark, I marvel how such lovely pink blossoms manage to push their way to the surface.

And I cannot cut it down — will not allow it to be destroyed just because its trunk is ugly, its presence a misfit.

Even within its lack of beauty, I find hope.

The redbud tree reminds me how important every speck of God’s creation is — even those who do not fit into the traditional boxes.

  • Those creatives who splash weird colors onto canvas while everyone stares and tries to figure them out.
  • Children who don’t fit into the learning structures of schools yet are created for a beautiful purpose.
  • Autistic and Down’s Syndrome loved ones who see life more realistically than those of us with high IQ’s.
  • Every woman who survived high school although she was called “fat and ugly” by the popular kids.
  • The 67% of single moms who leave the church because they no longer fit into the religious culture.
  • And thousands of other categories of people, precious creations of God who find themselves unloved, unaccepted, unappreciated.

It strikes me that Jesus himself was a bit gnarled. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “There was no attractiveness in him, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him. . .turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by” (Isaiah 53:2-3 TLB).

So they cut him down.

Yet the truth of resurrection each spring reminds us that although we cannot see the inner beauty of creation, reality does not negate the truth.

Within the rough bark and spikey branches, life beats. Cells reproduce and spring bursts forth with a lovely fuchsia color.

Autistic children become great composers. Kids with ADHD learn how to operate computers and troubleshoot through cyberspace. Single moms raise the next generation of amazing beings. People with Down’s Syndrome teach us all how to love. Immigrants become solid citizens. Creatives remind us that art is subjective.

So I remind my neighbor, “Don’t judge my redbud tree.”

And I remind myself to never look at the outer layers of life. Beauty lies in the next flip of the calendar page.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you enjoy reading essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

The Intensity of Hope

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.nvs-cover

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plot lines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — trying to survive with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We don’t know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting to them but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who would not hear their truth and told them to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps. Her husband was a deacon. Her pastor told her to lose weight so he would like her better.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Even in the church.

And the book was published, sold and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo.

Hope and the Feline Allegory

Peppernut 3

Hello, Peppernut !

Her plaintive cry echoed through the car. A five-hour drive — interminable for a cat who could not understand I was transporting her to a new home. One of my sister’s rescues, Peppernut would become my latest cat, an adopted member of our family.

“It’ll be okay, honey,” I answered her concerned meows. “You’re going to like being the only cat in the house. Life will be good.”

She could not understand. Her native language — feline.

Eventually she settled in as we traveled the remainder of the miles through the Flint Hills and into northeastern Kansas.

Finally, we arrived. Her room was ready. A fresh litter box, food and water, cat treats and some new toys. Plenty of soft places to rest and nap — the usual 16-hour sleep of cats.

She climbed out of the carrier, purred and let me rub her belly. Ready to love and be loved in her new home.

The allegory was not lost on me as so many of us face transitions.

We cannot understand God’s direction for our lives, even the possible moves he asks us to make. Our native language is self-sufficiency.

But when we approach those scary moments — when we don’t know where we’re going or what will happen to us, God whispers encouragement.

“It will be okay, my beloved. You’re going to like this change. This will be good.”

It is only later, when we arrive on the other side of the transition that we realize God was with us all along. He readied the place, providing everything we needed. Even some enjoyable moments — the toys of life.

We are ready then to love him and be loved more deeply by him than we could ever imagine.

If you are facing a change, stay in hope. Even if it seems scary. God is able to make it good.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more allegories on faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. 

Hope Lets Go

In the never-ending task of downsizing, I constantly ask the questions: Do I need this item anymore? Does this object still give me joy or can I share that joy with another person?

rockerA survey of my guest room focused on the tiny antique rocker. Purchased all those years ago, it intrigued us because it also expanded into a wooden high chair. Perfect for baby Caleb.

But the years had grown my son and weathered the wood. Initially, I saved the rocker / high chair for a future grandbaby. But now, I wondered if that was even feasible.

I would not feed a child in such an old device. Its wooden pegs were beginning to rot. The structure was no longer safe. And who knew how many bacteria still hid within the crevasses of walnut? Not even a bleach bath could reach every tiny surface.

Repaint it? Sand and varnish it? No. My days of restoring furniture and exposing myself to chemicals are long gone.

Use it for something else? Maybe. A plant stand? It no longer fits my décor and the whole purpose is to get rid of stuff.

Did my son want it? “No,” he said with a grimace. No one in the family could find a place for it.

So I decided to give it away. I don’t mess with E-Bay or Craigslist. It’s easier to donate my treasures and claim a deduction. I loaded up the rocker along with sacks of other stuff and left everything with the attendant at the Goodwill store.

But as I drove away, the tears fell. Another piece of life had transitioned away. Another reminder of the aging process and the losses that inevitably shadow our days.

Still, the memories were sweet. I swiped at the tears and thanked God for my little boy, for the years of rocking him to sleep, watching him chase Cheerios across the surface of his high chair.

Then I prayed a blessing over whomever would purchase the rocker. Hope returned with the process of sharing my goods with another, of giving away what once owned my heart.

Life passes so quickly, and our stuff becomes transient. Yet we find hope and joy in living the days well and sharing what we no longer need.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope Defeats Fear

monarchDuring the sixth month of my pregnancy, I waddled outside. The June sunshine brightened my colorful zinnias, so I parked my lawn chair beside the garden and carefully arranged myself within its plastic womb.

Six months. Three more to go. We had made it past the danger zone — those first 12 weeks when this baby’s siblings slithered out of my body and died.

This child seemed stronger, a prototype of health according to sonograms and medical opinions. Yet a niggle of fear colored my days. Things could go wrong so quickly. Hadn’t the past pregnancies taught me that truth?

I dozed, then woke to the sight of a colorful monarch resting on my belly. His wings pulsated, his russet eyes steady on my face. I tried to breathe silently, barely moving lest he leave and break the spell.

The baby kicked, but the monarch rode the wave. Extra flutters of his wings yet a determination to hold on.

A verse I had read that morning filtered through my mind, “Though a thousand fall at my side, though ten thousand are dying around me, the evil will not touch me” (Psalm 91:7 TLB).

Thousands of women lost babies every day. I had been one of them, but not this time. The monarch seemed to tell me, “Hold on. You’re almost there. It’s safe to believe.”

That amazing insect stayed on my belly for the entire afternoon. Precious hours as the two of us communed. A concrete reminder that life would be gifted for my baby and me.

When my son was born in November of that year, the summer sun was long gone. But not the truth of that amazing experience.

Even now, 33 years later, when I see a monarch — I smile and whisper a thank you for the hope that butterfly brought me.

Then I find my son for a quick hug.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

That same son edited our newest book, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope Lives

woman worshipThe pastor pounded his opinion into our souls. “Death for the believer is a beautiful thing.”

He was wrong. Sure — the aftermath of death — that entrance into heaven is a beautiful result of the life of faith. We can only imagine how it will feel to be free of pain and stress.

But the process of death is not beautiful, not even remotely lovely.

Growing up on a farm, my siblings and I often saw the effects of death. Whether it was a beloved pet smashed under the wheels of a speedy vehicle or a steer slaughtered for the meat, death was shocking and ugly.

And death for humans was no less horrid. Even while performing CPR on my precious grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to bring her back to us — I noted the smells and sights of death. Not a pleasant experience.

Throughout my years in ministry, sitting with families in the ICU, hearing the beeping of machines, smelling the sterile rooms — the approach of death changed the human body until it was almost unrecognizable. Even today when I visit hospitals, I go home and shower off the smell of death.

No wonder mortuaries employ the services of makeup and hair stylists so that our last view of loved ones is more pleasing.

During this holy week, we focus on the crucifixion. But we don’t always realistically picture how awful the death of Jesus was. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson presented a more realistic view of the broken body, the torture, the results of sepsis and blood poisoning.

So I wonder what actually happened when Jesus came back to life? We know his scars were not miraculously healed. He later showed his wounds to Thomas and the other disciples.

Did he wake up with unshed tears crusted on his eyelids? Did it take him a while to stretch out his arms and legs, to work out the stiffness from lying on a rocky sepulcher? Were his shoulders sore from being stretched on that cross, the results of dislocation and trying to hold up his body for six hours?

Or did God rejuvenate every cell so that Jesus instantly felt more alive than ever before?

What follows then is speculation on our loved ones and their metamorphosis from the ugliness of death to the power of new life. We know the physical becomes spirit. Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, to walk through walls. We know the curtain between the physical and the spiritual is thin, like a lacey veil.

How amazing it must be to pass through the portal of death and experience forever life!

Someone once wrote the following truth: “Since our loved ones are with God and God is with us, then they can’t be very far away.”

I find hope in thinking of the nearness of Deb, of Betsy, of my grandmother and of Jesus. While death in all its ugliness is inevitable, eternal life is also a certainty. And that will be a good thing.

The trick is to put aside the horror and focus on what will someday be truly beautiful.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of my precious friend, Deb Mosher, who passed from death to life. She lived with shining hope.

Hope and the Triage Moment

triageMany of us learned the meaning of the word “triage” because we watched M*A*S*H. Every week, the doctors and nurses on our favorite TV show worked through the triage episode. Some patients could wait a while. Others were taken immediately to surgery while several unfortunates received last rites from Father Mulcahy.

The working definition of “triage” means “to assign the degree of urgency to a wounded or ill patient.” Even in today’s healthcare environment, triage nurses and doctors determine the priority of working with a patient, especially during crises.

Recently, I heard a phrase which caused me to stop and ponder its impact: Triage your worry bucket.

Most of us deal with one situation or another. Many of my friends are caring for an elderly parent or two while supporting a kid or two in college. Scores of people I know struggle with medical issues while others are trying to pay off debt and/or college loans.

All it takes is five minutes watching the news on any channel to know we are in serious trouble.

But what can we do about it? Triage the worry bucket.

Decide which issue is most urgent and deal with it first. Put everything else in the waiting room until you’re ready to bring it front and center. By that time, those secondary issues may have dissipated or won’t seem that important.

Most of the national and international issues are out of my control. I cannot do anything about them other than to educate myself so I’ll know how to vote in 2020.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s journey does not warrant any fresh worry. It is what it is. I’ve already worked through most of the grief. Only time will determine how it ends.

My son is an adult, and he makes his own choices. I’ve done my best to raise him, but I cannot control anything he does. So far, he’s being wise. No worries.

Health issues or crisis events can be troubling, depending on what happens. But I cannot worry today about what may or may not become a struggle during the next decade. I’ll triage that worry bucket when the time comes.

So what is on the priority list for my triage bucket? Recently, digestive issues. So I’m working with a doctor, taking my meds and trying to set boundaries around my food choices. Unfortunately, chocolate is NOT on the list.

A possible car purchase is on the horizon. No emergency, thankfully. Just trying to be conscious of the best deal and find something that will last for a while.

The problem escalates when our worry buckets overflow. We cannot make effective decisions when we’re overwhelmed.

But if we purposefully triage the worries and only allow the most urgent struggles to rise to the top, we can deal with whatever life hands us.

I often tell my Coaching clients to take “One microstep at a time.” The same holds true for the crises that pepper our lives.

So triage your worry bucket and live in the hope that one day, all your worries will cease.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A life of faith helps defeat the overwhelming worry bucket. Check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope Empowers

zippered heartOne of the guarantees in life is that people WILL hurt us. Whether it’s a misunderstanding or a response from a toxic personality, someone will ding us.

And – whether we want to admit it or not – we will hurt others.

So what do we do when those fringes of communication break down? How do we move toward reconciliation and repair?

Make a Healthy Choice. We can become bitter about the situation or better. Bitterness does nothing to remedy relationships but makes our souls hard, unable to truly love others. The only way to avoid bitterness and become a better person is to walk through . . . .

Forgiveness. The process of forgiveness is not easy and rarely happens immediately. It may sometimes require years of determination and hours of therapy. Forgiveness involves replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations, a concentrated effort to do the hard work.

I will admit that I’m still working through the forgiveness process in some situations from my past. But I have learned to even forgive myself for the time it takes me to slough off the pain and move forward.

Set Healthy Boundaries. Even after we work through forgiveness and choose to become better, we may have to set boundaries. Toxic people exist and may continue to abuse or emotionally sear us. Nobody should live with the fear of emotional, verbal or mental assault. For a great resource, check out Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.

Meet with a Third Party. A therapist or a trusted pastor can help you and the other party negotiate toward a more objective view. But to get to this step, both parties must admit to the need for outside help. If the other person refuses to move toward reconciliation, that tells you it is time to . . . .

Let It Go. Again, a somewhat trite phrase but an important step in the healing process. Bitterness often manifests as a lifelong grudge which harms the person carrying the burden more than the one who chooses to move on.

Years ago, I knew of a family — a group of sisters who carried a grudge against their brother. They could not resolve the issue until they stared at him in his coffin. What a waste of time and energy when they could have enjoyed a sibling relationship. But in spite of his attempts toward healing, they simply could not let it go.

Obviously, we will continue to encounter people who will hurt us. And we may struggle not to hurt others. We are all flawed humans.

But we can work to restore healthy relationships and discover how hope is empowered by reconciliation. Then all of us benefit from the ripple effects of emotional healing.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Find more essays about hope in my book Hope Shines, also available in large print.

Hope Searches for Rest

Several people in my world have recently mentioned their need for rest. They admit they are trying to find an oxymoronic balance – to intentionally work at resting.tea -book-rose

My usual response is to seek the true meaning of a word, to discover the hidden secret and find motivation. And to be honest, I admit to my own search for rest:

  • When I cannot cease running from the grief that seems constantly present
  • When the change of identity summons personal soul fatigue
  • When a break in the routine feels like a betrayal of goals
  • When the carefully monitored diet results in its own health issues
  • When I watch a news cycle and wonder how we can ever return to kindness

Anxiety overshadows rest and keeps us from inner calm.

While it may provide relief to leave the daily routines and take a break on a beach, without true inner rest – the stress of life’s anxieties meekly follow.

So how do we determine what is genuine rest? Perhaps each of us must find our own definition, then rearrange life to discover its benefits.

For me, rest is more than a nap, more encompassing than a vacation or a spring break. For my soul to experience true rest, I must learn contentment:

  • No comparing myself to others who count several best-sellers in their resumes
  • No wishful thinking about an easier way to shelter, a smaller place to clean, a discount from the barrage of bills and the huge yard
  • No dwelling in the griefs of what is lost but embracing more thank-yous of what once was
  • No focus on the past or longing for the future but more of a carpe diem to seize each day

And when I fail and the gloomies threaten, to begin again, take a deep breath and believe rest can be achieved.

Hope beckons to weary souls, to those who have cried out for years in repetitive unanswered prayers. But as we accept what we have been given and learn contentment, the deeper searching responds.

Then that elusive place of rest becomes a haven of peace where hope and joy entwine.

As the Serenity Prayer reminds us: “God, grant me serenity (rest) to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Much of my rest happens within the pages of books. Check out my Author Page for some choices.

Hope Seeks Wonder

dandelions - womanIn her best-selling book, Moving On, Sarah Ban Breathnach lists the seven senses. The usual five we know: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. But then she adds knowledge and wonder.

A working definition of “wonder” is “Surprise mingled with admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected or inexplicable.”

As we age, I think we can lose our sense of wonder. Children can spend hours just looking at a dandelion, caught in the wonder of such a cheery yellow flower.

Many of us cherish the memory of a little boy’s grubby hands, bringing his mommy a stone he dug from the riverbank, a bunch of early spring flowers or a wriggling worm – his wonder of something surprising shared with his precious mom.

In the hubbub of life, we can lose that admiration for the things we cannot explain. Instead, we tend to just move on – to stay busy and do our thing, oblivious of life’s pulsing around us. Avoiding the presence of God in the ordinary.

To restore some hope, I’ve decided to list some of the things that feed my sense of wonder. To force myself to stop and listen, to revel in the world around me and rediscover my intuitive soul.

In my gratitude journal, I’ll include these items that fill me with a surprising beauty, a restored wonder:

  • The sudden silence of my universe as a midnight snow begins to blanket the ground
  • The tiny fingernails of newborns, a reminder of how fragile is the miracle of life
  • The detailed featherings of blue jays – gray, white, black and royal blue – no two the same
  • The consistent hammering of the red-headed woodpecker in my elm tree. How does he not have a migraine after all that pounding on the bark?
  • The way memory blips make life disappear or bring to mind a special moment from decades ago
  • The careful pulsing of my heart, steady and regular – a miracle in itself
  • The moment a soul steps out of its earthly body and transfers to eternity
  • A crackling fire that exudes warmth, aesthetic pleasure and security all at the same time
  • When the souls of two people connect and blossom into love
  • The way God whispers answers to prayer before we utter the request
  • How pets know the exact time we are coming home and run to the door before we turn into the drive
  • The vastness of space and the amazing synchronicity of God’s creation
  • How Patrick Mahomes can turn his body northeast and throw southwest
  • How ideas spark from deep creativity and give writers a place to begin
  • How children give love so easily, not yet marred by the ugliness of self-sufficiency

I need to spend more time experiencing wonder – to nurture this sense and appreciate all the things in my world that are admirable and beautiful.

A focus on wonder helps reboot the hope muscle and reminds me that life is better than it sometimes appears.

As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a book that expresses the wonder of hope, check out Hope Shines.

Hope Comes Full Circle

My mother taught me to love reading. After the farm chores were completed, the supper dishes washed and the homework finished — everyone in our family sat down to read. This discipline meant we drove to the library every week and checked out stacks of books.

Then an important milestone changed my reading habits.library

When I was twelve, Mom gathered my siblings and I for our weekly library run. I searched through each of the young adult books, but couldn’t find one I hadn’t already read or one that truly interested me. And I was NOT going to check out the children’s section. That was for little kids like my brother and sister.

So I wandered into the adult section and found a couple of books I wanted to read. But when I took them to the librarian for her dated stamp, she peered at me over her glasses and said, “These are adult books, young lady.”

“I know, ma’am. But I’ve read all the young adult books. I want to read these.”

“You are not allowed to read any of the books in the adult section. Take them back.”

Five minutes later, Mom found me in the adult section, cradling the books I could not read and crying over my bad luck. I wasn’t old enough yet.

“What’s the matter with you?” Mom demanded. She never wasted time with emotions. Not a nurturer, but a great defender.

When I told her what had happened, she grabbed my hand and those two books. Together, we marched toward the librarian’s towering desk.

Mom’s voice was harsh. “I understand you won’t let my daughter check out these books.”

“That’s right, ma’am. These books are from the adult section and….”

“I know where they’re from. May I remind you this library exists because taxpayers like me pay for it?”

“But ma’am…sh-h-h…we have a policy….”

The volume of Mom’s voice rose. “And may I also remind you that I pay your salary and the electric bill for this place.”

“But ma’am, an adolescent such as your daughter can’t possibly understand these books.”

“My daughter — in fact, all my children read well above their grade levels. If she has any questions about the words, she can ask me. Now…we ARE checking out these books for my daughter. Today.”

During the stare-down of these two powerful women, I felt the electricity of the emotional standoff. But I knew who would win.

Nobody ever beat down my mother, especially when it came to defending her children.

That day, I walked out of the library with The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and The Grapes of Wrath. I read both books and never had to ask Mom for help with the words.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in that same library’s Author Fest. It was a coming full circle from the adolescent to the adult author.

Unfortunately, the weather from this winter-that-won’t-quit stopped me from attending. I simply could not travel through six inches of snow to that cherished Oklahoma library.

But they promised to keep me on the list for next year. And one of my books is now shelved in the library that wouldn’t allow a young girl to read an adult book.

Life comes full circle and hope travels with it. What we learn as children overshadows how we act as adults. That’s why childhood is so important.

And that’s why words give me hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book now shelved in that library is titled Hope Shines. Check it out.

When Hope Disappoints

social media wordsSuch a disappointment! As I scrolled through my Facebook posts, I saw the vitriol. Several people I respect had posted ugly words against the congresswomen dressed in white for the State of the Union address. Giant black X’s on their faces.

Those women were dressed in white to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. It was an important anniversary and a simple way to honor that vital addition to our constitution.

I am SO grateful for the years of protests, the marches and the hard work of these women. I honor Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and the scores of volunteers who were persecuted, harassed and even killed so that I can vote.

Yet because the majority of those women seated in the chamber were from a certain political party, these Facebook posters decided to attack them. No consideration for what they represented with their white outfits. Only personal assault.

Words have the power to bind up — but also to tear down.

Perhaps these people have forgotten that we will all give an account to God for every word spoken, including the words shared through cyberspace (Matthew 12:36).

Most of these Facebook “friends” fight for pro-life policies. And let me clarify before I receive any more hate mail — I, too, am pro-life. But I believe life includes the point of conception and expands until the moment of death.

People outside the womb are as important as babies inside. No one deserves to be X’d out.

How can someone claim to be pro-life yet try to destroy the living of someone else? Isn’t that the epitome of hypocrisy?

This is one reason why millennials are scared away from Christianity. They read the ugliness, the constant name-calling and cannot reconcile negative actions with positive beliefs.

Should we fight for our beliefs? Absolutely! But standing up for our values should not counteract how we speak. Voting for the policies we value does not have to include lambasting those who choose a different belief system. If we slander others, Romans 1:30 calls us to judgment.

I am already dreading the 2020 campaign season with its forecasted ugliness.

Because I am a published author, I need to be active on social media sites. The various places such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog are where I connect with my readers and introduce my new books. I cannot just delete everything and leave.

But I am increasingly disgusted by what I read, posted by normally good people. Maybe it’s because cyberspace makes us feel invisible. We think we are somehow anonymous.

Venom always has a poisonous source. Verbal ugliness stems from prideful anger enveloped in a selfish heart.

I hope these people who have “liked” me will reconsider future posts — ask themselves if their words honor their Savior before they click “Share.”

So far, I see no change. And that causes hope to fade.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe. 

Hope for a Book

Uploading FaithIn the middle of supper, my son turned toward me and asked, “What do you think of my generation?” An honest question, laced with hope that my answer might satisfy or invite open debate.

What do I think of his millennial generation, these precious ones born to Baby Boomers during the years of 1981-1996?

“I think your generation includes the smartest, most talented group I have ever known. Yours is the first generation whose native language is computer.”

He seemed pleased. A tiny grin settled in his right dimple.

Then I continued, “But I also think millennials feel sad.”

He nodded, and I saw in his eyes a hint of his own emotional angst. We talked about the traumatic issues that have affected his generation:

  • The heart-stopping moment of 9-11 which defines the millennial generation
  • The numbers of his friends who have overdosed or chosen suicide as a way out of their struggles
  • The side effects of wars, how security seems unattainable
  • The massive college debts and the impossibility of owning a home — financial despair
  • The hypocrisy of those they trusted, leaving them floundering for faith, love and peace

Yet as sad as these bullets, a pathway back to hope is possible.

Barely a year ago, my son and I began a project — a book to present to millennials and those who love them. Our goal was to write an easy-to-understand manual about faith.

We included the basics: Who is God? How can we understand the Trinity? Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Yeah, not easy stuff. But these are some of the questions millennials ask and should ask as they seek honest answers.

I wrote each chapter, then my resident millennial son edited. He took out my Baby Boomer language and prodded me to consider the why of each topic.

Millennials want to know why. They demand authenticity. They will not, cannot accept a fact just because someone says so.

Each chapter was fact-checked for theological accuracy from a trusted pastor. Each word poured over, revised, prayed for.

Even the cover was chosen by my millennial — an abstract photo, the darker colors, block lettering.

This book is our attempt to reach out to those whose hearts are sad. We hope readers will feel less isolated, less confused about this divine One who loves them.

So UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe is now complete and available for sale. It may be the most important work I have done, certainly a project my son and I accomplished together.

That alone makes it precious.

If you know a millennial, if you are a millennial, consider reading this book. We wrote it because we care about you.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe is available on Amazon and Kindle.

 

Hope in the Favorite

book with heartWe barely knew each other, the guy in the adjoining cubicle and I. As a mere temp worker, I did what I was told, edited the website, made few friends. Tried to survive as a single mom in the corporate jungle.

Doug was a full-time guy with plenty of responsibilities, a loving wife and four children. His cubicle plastered with photos of his happy life.

An occasional “good morning” greeting. A nod at the coffee bar. The extent of our communication as quick as the creamer melting in my coffee mug.

Yet Doug was going to change my perspective and boost my self-confidence.

This particular company made a big deal about birthdays: balloons, cakes, cards from everyone on staff and a whopping Starbucks gift from management.

I participated in plenty of birthdays for the others, signed my name on their cards. Still, I was surprised when they included me — the temp. On my birthday, purple balloons surrounded my cubicle. Someone remembered my favorite color. A giant cake in the break room, gluten free lemon – another fave.

Someone remembered, cared. As the last echoes of the Happy Birthday song faded, I began to open my cards. A small mountain of beautiful sentiments.

But it was Doug’s card that made me gasp. Tears quickly released. His scrawling signature with a simple phrase, “You are my favorite.”

I grew up in a time period where families made no secret of the favorite child. One of my great grandmothers often labeled a son as her favorite. Another grandchild was “Grandpa’s girl.”

The favorite child was rarely punished. It was always someone else’s fault. The favorite opened the most gifts at Christmas. The last will and testament clearly stated the favorite would receive the major portion of the inheritance.

Maybe the favoritism came from the Bible Belt mentality. David was a man after God’s heart. John the Apostle was the disciple Jesus loved.

But as I grew up, I remember feeling the emotional gap. Clearly, I was nobody’s favorite. Firstborns rarely held that position. We were too bossy, such over-achievers.

I didn’t know how deeply that rejection scar dug, how it was still embedded in my soul. Until I opened Doug’s card.

“You are my favorite.”

He had no idea how that simple phrase encouraged me, how I stood a little taller that day and couldn’t stop smiling. I whispered a “Thank you” but it didn’t seem enough.

What I have learned since then is that I am and always have been — a favorite. God Himself smiled when I was born, rejoiced over me with singing. In the years past, he has caressed my hair at night when I cried, provided for my needs, healed my son.

Because he is so present in every way, every place — God is able to spread his expansive love to every human being on earth. Without holding back from any of us. Open arms to match his open heart.

So if you find yourself needing a smidgen of hope, remember this tiny yet truthful phrase. Wrap your heart around it. Let it make you stand tall and feel loved.

“You are God’s favorite.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out Hope Shines on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

Hope for Happy Children

Caleb - RJT (2)He’s in a sweet spot – finally – this child of mine who has conquered so many battles: a malignant brain tumor, chemo, radiation, a disastrous hernia surgery, the death of his best friend and other challenging losses.

But now – thank you, God – he is happy. The IT training he’s enrolled in is a perfect fit. He’s already an expert in mobile technology. Now he’s moving toward a systems administrator certification. For the first time in his life, he’s excited about going to class.

He has a part-time job with perfect hours. A convenience store where he helps people pump gas and keeps the coffee brewing. Only a six-minute drive from home. Easy peasey.

He and his girlfriend are cute together. Both love dogs and Mexican food. They’re active in a small group at church. They have friends and family who support their relationship.

Sure, he still has challenges: the ever-present medical bills, car issues, icy roads. But he’s happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.

And this cheerfulness makes his mama happy as well. A boulder-sized burden has lifted from my heart.

So if I, as a human mother, feel such joy over the happiness of my child – doesn’t God feel the same when his children experience abundance?

For too long, we have been taught about a judgmental, condemning God. A divine One who delights only in the suffering of his creation. The falsity that we can only grow and thrive when we struggle.

Yes, challenges do force us to take a deep breath and pray for strength. We learn about hope and God’s faithfulness when our journey includes rocks and valleys. We discover our own power when we are forced to live from our guts.

But when things go well, we can also learn about the joy of abundance, the peace of prosperity – also topics in scripture. God blessed the last part of Job’s life.

Surely our loving Father feels a sense of relief for us when life is good. His child is following his heart. His beloved is finding her niche. I believe God finds delight in our victories and joys, just as we do when our children live in emotional prosperity.

Our hope is multiplied with God’s smile.

For now, my son and I enjoy this plateau of happiness. I am proud of my boy for staying the course, for reaching this pinnacle. I am also proud of the way he humbly lives each day, rejoicing in goodness.

Although I will continue to trust God when life unravels, now I choose to celebrate and hope these good times will be extended.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Soon I will participate in an Author Fest in my home town. My Hope Shines book will be featured. Have you read it yet?

Hope in the SAD

I come alive in March.

In fact, I count off the weeks during January and February, looking forward to the day I can flip the calendar to March.

Why March? Because it signals the beginning of spring. The days are longer. The sunshine is brighter.

sad emojiFor years, I didn’t know how to define my problem with the first two months of the year. Then I read an article about Seasonal Affective Disorder and recognized my symptoms:

  • Feeling sad – duh!
  • Losing interest in normal activities
  • Low energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Wanting to escape, move, go somewhere warm – I added this one.

Check, check and double check.

Every January and February I wish I could become a snowbird – flee to Arizona and bask in the warmth. But instead, the cold gray days of the Midwest seem to multiply as 31 days in January plus 28 in February equal 500 million.

But hope lies in the knowledge that seasons DO change. March DOES come in like a lion, and I will once again roar.

So I focus on hope and do what works for me:

  • As much light as possible
  • When the sun DOES shine, I stand in it
  • Extra portions of the supplement Saint John’s Wort
  • Extra exercise, especially walking which releases endorphins. On cold days, you can find me walking around the perimeter of Target or Wal-Mart.
  • Plenty of self-care, homemade soups and comfort food like blueberry muffins
  • Coffee chats with friends
  • Reminding myself creative energy WILL return – in March
  • Staying in gratitude. Every day, finding some reason to say, “Thank you, God.”

And if the SAD gloomies persist, curl up with a good book and a heavy blanket.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you also suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, curl up with Hope Shines until March.    

When Hope Doesn’t Work Out

My New Year’s Day began with a cup of hot cocoa and a few hours watching the Rose Parade. But the day quickly turned sour with a painful cry upstairs.betsy reading rev g

Betsy, my tortoiseshell cat of 18 years, was in distress. I knew her days were numbered. Multiply 18 times 7. How many animals live to be 126?

Kidney disease had plagued her for a year. She was on special foods prescribed by the vet and she drank incessantly, usually trying to sneak a few laps from my son’s favorite cup.

But this was different. She stopped eating and nothing I tried worked.

Two days earlier, we had rushed to the vet who attempted a blood draw. Betsy’s veins were collapsing. Kidneys were failing as well as the liver. Maybe extra fluids would help.

We tried, but her time was up.

So I spent the rest of New Year’s Day following Betsy around the house as she tried to get comfortable. She searched out dark corners. Animals will often search for a place to die – alone.

I told her what a good kitty she had been, how she became the model for Gabriel in my Reverend G trilogy, how she was famous on Facebook. I petted her, held her, kept my tears blocked. Expected her to die that night yet was grateful she didn’t.

I hoped and prayed, fervently, that Creator God would take her so I wouldn’t have to make that final decision.

But hope doesn’t always work out with a beautiful ending. Death is a consequence of life.

Although I grew up on a farm and have owned a plethora of pets, I never needed to put an animal to sleep. But Betsy’s cries were laced with pain.

Love does not allow suffering.

January 2, 9:18am. The vet and the staff at the pet hospital were compassionate and kind. My son and I had several moments to say goodbye. Then a couple of simple injections and she was gone, asleep in my arms. My tears finally released.

It has now been almost a month, and I still listen for her meow when I come home, wait for her to cuddle with me at night, cherish her satisfied purr.

Then I remember how hope deferred this request and left me bereft. Although I treasure the years of Betsy’s companionship, I am sick of death and loss.

The unconditional love of our pets reminds us how needy we are, how important is that sweet connection, how we can comfort each other by just being present.

Ah, Betsy – I will miss you forever. Thanks for letting me love you.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

What HOPE Means

hope ovalDuring the end of 2018, I reflected on the Hope series of this blog. For several years, I’ve used practical anecdotes and surrounded them with the umbrella of Hope. I’ve also written a book, using this blog series. Check out Hope Shines.

But what does it really mean to have Hope? After several weeks of thought and plenty of dark chocolate fortitude, I came up with my own definition. Using the acrostic form, I believe HOPE includes an Honest Optimism with Positive Expectations.

It’s impossible for me to think about Hope unless I can approach it with Honesty. I cannot visualize an attitude of optimism unless I have honestly looked at a situation.

Those of us who have lived through a debilitating depression know we cannot imagine ourselves out of the gloom. We must honestly approach our despair and seek help.

Reality often slams us into hopeless thoughts. It takes a bit of self-will to move past those gloomies. So my Hope must be laced with an honest appraisal of the situation.

Some people are genuinely Optimistic – you know, those cup-half-full folks. But without Hope, it is impossible to conjure up a hooray scenario and manipulate that cup to be what it’s not. Therefore, optimism is a definitive piece of the Hope puzzle.

Again, we have to lace that optimism with honesty. Sometimes we just have to live through the dark times, believing and hoping we will feel optimistic in the next season.

To stay positive, especially during these chaotic days, I keep healthy affirmations on my tongue. I sing, play piano and repeat the more positive Bible verses that have carried me through past struggles.

One of my favorites is the entire Psalm 34. In fact, many of the Psalms carry Hope as a major theme.

Again, honesty rules. I find nothing positive for my friends who have not been paid while doing their government jobs. Yet I Hope the powers in Washington, DC will find a compromise that will remedy this ridiculous situation.

Finally, expectations. Those of us who are Chiefs fans expect our team to go the whole way. Patriots and Saints fans have different expectations.

The fun and the challenge of expectations is that we cannot really know the outcome until after the final seconds tick off the clock. The same is true of our Hope in 2019.

So as we continue into this new year, let’s find our Hope by honestly approaching each day, laced with an optimistic attitude and moving forward with positive expectations.

What about you? How do you define Hope?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page for some winter reading. All of my books have an underlying theme of Hope.

Words of Hope

Are you beginning this new year the usual way – reviewing the past and considering your direction for the future?

acceptanceFor my 2019, I have set goals to complete three nonfiction books, begin a Coaching group and continue working on another novel.

Each goal includes its own set of action steps and deadlines for accomplishment.

But without too much of a focus on tomorrow, I am trying to learn how to live in the present. Grateful for the past and faith-filled for the future, it is nevertheless in the present that I live each day.

So what is it about words that helps us live well today?

The Power to Communicate. Whether expressing needs or chatting with a friend, communication is the core of how we relate.

If you’ve ever visited another country where you were not fluent in the language, you know how desperate it feels to not be able to communicate.

In my opinion, one of our greatest gifts is the freedom of speech – to communicate what we believe, using any medium, without fear of condemnation.

The Expression of Creativity. Every serious writer recognizes that moment when the a-ha Spirit invents a new word or crafts the perfect sentence.

That feeling of creating art gives significance to our craft and helps us realize we are co-creators with God Himself.

Each day, I am hoping to learn more about the gift of creativity and the quiet beauty God uses to infuse spiritual truths into my particular world.

Words as Tools. As a wordsmith, each construction becomes a building block for sentences, paragraphs and stories.

Without words, I am silent. Without words, I feel bereft.

I empathize with Reverend G who lost her words due to expressive aphasia. I cannot imagine such a terrible fate. Check out her story and the rest of the trilogy.

Words I loved in 2018 and want to use better in 2019 include:

  • Synchronicity – a meaningful coincidence. It brings me comfort to imagine a loving God who sends me a terracotta sunset just as I am longing for New Mexico. Or meeting a new friend who just happens to like chunky jewelry and lots of it.
  • Parameters – physical properties that determine characteristics or behaviors. This type of structure sets the boundaries for my character sketches.
  • Expectations – We all have them, good and bad. Often misconstrued, the proper expectations help me keep a positive outlook.
  • Fantabulous – I just like the way this word sounds.

I feel blessed to begin a new year thinking about words and their power to add or subtract from the quality of life.

The blessing of words comes inherently from how they are used – to destroy or to build up. I choose the latter.

How different would our world look if we used our words to communicate hope, express creativity and construct a truly caring community?

Wouldn’t that be fantabulous!

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my words at Author Central on Amazon.

Hope as Time Passes

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google – that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year. 2019 image

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin this new year, how can we determine to make each long day within this brief year matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something – at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2019 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope – we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.

Finding Hope in our Stuff

order - chaosMany of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff.

At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assessing how to best dispose of it.

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

  • My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with. And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave.

However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway.com when I need it?

  • Some of the jewelry Deb’s children gave me help me feel closer to her. I often wear the cross bracelet on Sundays and remember one of our favorite stores, her delightful squeal when she discovered it was 25% discounted.

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. Oddly enough, it now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

  • I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:
    • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
    • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
    • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

These books remind me of Caleb’s downy hair against my chest, the sounds I invented as we read together, those intimate and precious days so long ago. Hopefully these books will also find a home in the nursery for his children.

So how do we decide what to de-clutter and what to hold tightly to? I’ve learned a few tricks.

  • If it gives you joy, keep it. Adulting is hard, and we all need joy.

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. Relinquish my piano or the older scores of music I still play? Never!

The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet. The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise.

A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

  • If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it. However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. Then I realized I had given it away. Shucks !

 

  • If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me. The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

 

  • Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a safe place of peace.

 

  • Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money? Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

 

Our lives are not primarily made up of stuff yet our stuff does define us. So let’s guard our hope with the stuff that’s really important and get rid of anything that drags us down.

A simpler life consists of what’s really important: hope, joy and the love we share with everyone.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. If you’re culling your books, consider my Kindle list of books.

 

When Hope Grieves

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.

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

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you unwind and arrange the lights, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

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

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

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

7 Holiday Tips for Caregivers

The calendar reminds us how deep we are into the holiday season. Our waistlines expand while the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful — we also need to remember how stressful this time can be for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.Cover - Holiday Tips

How can we best help our loved ones survive the holidays? How can caregivers find some joy during this stressful time?

Trim the Food Responsibilities.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe. She wanted to feel part of the festivities but even finding pots and pans proved to be difficult.

As we watched her struggle, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad — hundreds of times — we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if your loved one has a favorite recipe, relieve her of the stress of making it. Give her a simple task and make it together.

Plan Ahead for Shopping.

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

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

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

Include Favorite Foods.

Even though her appetite has changed, Mom still wants pecan pie. One of my holiday duties includes buying a pecan pie for Mom. I recommend the frozen variety. No fuss.

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

Every year, Mom replies, “I DO love pecan pie.” Someday even this sentiment will disappear. Enjoy blessing your loved ones with their favorite foods.

Plan an Activity Together.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those forgotten traditions, my mother’s demographic still considers it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

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

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. This is part of the Alzheimer’s process. Someday you’ll be glad you took the time to do this simple task.

Be Careful About Timing.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, check back in before dark. As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowners Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so time your meals and activities accordingly.

Travel is NOT for Everyone.

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

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

Avoid the false guilt that says you cannot leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving.

Take a break and be with your family.

Gift-giving.

None of us needs more junk, least of all — the Alzheimer’s patient. Keep the gift-giving simple.

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

Be aware that some gifts may disappear. Mom constantly loses things. Last year, I bought her new sheets for her bed. Then I put them on for her. No chance to lose them.

One gift that always works is spending time with your loved one, a hug and a kiss, a “Merry Christmas. I love you.”

Do it while you can.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a more substantive list of helpful tips, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers, available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope Keeps It Simple

christmas-pine conesBecause life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday celebrations.

What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money and energy on Christmas cards. Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will NOT be spread with powdered sugar treats fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

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

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

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

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it. The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2018 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.Xmas pkg - hot choc

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and Wal-Mart — even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound — one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

The Great Cough of 2016.

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Great Cough of 2016.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully — they didn’t want us within breathing distance. Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the children, my elderly mother and all the other relatives?

This was the first year since I served as a missionary in Honduras that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS! Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

But Christmas happened in spite of illness. A few days later, my son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun. We played table games, wearing hygienic gloves, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we again collapsed in our recliners. Still coughing, but finding some joy in TV shows. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how he lived a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God is still with us.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

For a holiday gift you can give to a hard-working caregiver, consider Holiday Tips for Caregivers. Available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 4

What does it take to run down a dream? The answer to that question becomes post number four of my gratitude series.

The dream of a young girl, perched inside the barky womb of her favorite elm tree. Adolescent limbs swinging from an upper branch. Book opened. Devouring words and dreaming of becoming an author.Books on shelf - SW

The dream nurtured by:

  • Parents who turned off the TV and encouraged more reading.
  • A high school counselor who confirmed, “You’re certainly good at English. Writing is easy for you.”
  • Straight A’s in every language arts class in college. Math? Not so much.
  • An achievement test that declared I should become a novelist.
  • Notebooks and diaries filled with the detailed debris of my life.

The dream faded as the responsibilities of life interfered. Still, I chased the dream in early morning paragraphs or late-night stories, submissions every week to magazines (the old-fashioned way of sending documents by mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope), multiple rejections, then more rejections.

Why writers fear rejections is a mystery to me. I have always felt they were part of the process, like the chef who bakes multiple cakes until he discovers the perfect recipe.

So I accepted those rejections, learned from them and immediately sent out a corrected version to another magazine.

Then a writers conference, meeting full-time creatives, the dream’s fire stoked and flaming brighter.

More submissions and publications that finally confirmed the dream was shared by others. Those in the know actually saw my work, believed in my mission, appreciated my words and glory be – paid me!

Now as 2018 winds down, 11 books bear my byline. My days are filled with book launches, speaking events, posting on this blog, coaching other writers who share the dream and always – always finding more words for the book projects I still long to write.

The world of a writer is not always an easy journey. This post has glibly shortened over 40 years of learning the craft and persevering toward the dream.

But I still begin and end each day with words, either a project I’m working on, edits for another writer or the raw sentences that fill my journals.

I am so grateful for the opportunity of free speech, to pen my thoughts and send them into the world, to scribble the phrases that confirm my purpose in this world.

What does it take to run down a dream?

A marathon of hope and approximately 40 years.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my novel, No Visible Scars, which required only 12 years to write.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 3

Spices. I am grateful for spices and the sense of taste that allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and of course – pumpkin pie spice.pumpkin pies - cartoon

Part of the joy of spices is how they smell up the entire house while they’re cooking. My mind easily roams back to the farm kitchen as Mom baked peppernuts. Double the spices for our family’s recipe. That smell evokes care, holiday fun and love – all at the same time.

In my own kitchen, spices include the warmer tones of cumin, curry and sriracha. I really don’t know how to cook without spices.

Add to those smells, the herbs I grow for extra punch to my recipes: basil, rosemary, cilantro and my goodness…. Are you hungry yet?

The importance of spices in grateful cooking is underscored by how and where they are purchased. I have learned the jumbo bottles will age before they can be used. Better to purchase spices in small portions and always – always in a glass bottle. Plastic and cardboard let in too much air, thus weakening the aroma and taste over time.

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I wanted to post my famous pumpkin pie recipe. Famous because my family loves it. My recipe because I have tested and added to it over the years.

You have my permission to make it and share it, as long as you give it the correct name: Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie. I could not include an image of the finished product, because I am scheduling this post weeks ahead. I don’t make this pie until the day before Thanksgiving, because it mysteriously disappears once it takes up space in the fridge.

So here you go – my Thanksgiving gift to you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

One day previous to Turkey day, mix ½ cup whole milk with 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix. Whisk together and let the pudding set overnight in the fridge.

The next morning: Mix the set pudding with 1 TB pumpkin pie spice, 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup slivered almonds and 1 cup mini-chocolate chips. I also add ¼ tsp of the following: ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon just because I like the extra spices.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With a spatula, carefully pour into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust.

The pie will look like a mountain inside the crust, but the bigger – the better. On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 2

touch grass - sunsetDuring this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for sensory perceptions.

Writers are encouraged to include the five senses in our manuscripts, and most of us do a good job with sight and hearing.

But it’s a little harder to add touch, taste and smell without sounding contrived. Even so, this year I am most grateful for the sense of touch.

We can think on a meditative level about how we are touched by the presence of a close friend, a poignant story we read or a movie we watch.

But the sense of touch I want to focus on is the actual practice of feeling the world around me.

Several years ago, I struggled through a clinical depression. Every day felt gray with absolutely no feelings. I was completely numb, walking through life like an emotional zombie.

Nothing. Even pain would have been more welcome than the drab nothingness of living without any shred of hope.

During that time, I completely lost the sense of touch.

Months later, after an amazing moment of healing deliverance, I began to feel again. I drove to Hancock’s Fabric Store. For hours I strolled through the store, stroking the nubby rows of corduroy, the shiny ribbons of satin, the rich texture of tapestries.

I bought nothing but left the store richer and more content. And I still love to feel my way through fabric stores.

Even now, I relish the sense of touch. As I walk outside, I will often pick up a stick and rub my fingers over the fractured wood. Or I’ll grab some leaves and count the distended veins with my fingers.

My jewelry is chosen for its color but also for its feel. Next to my skin, I fine joy in the spherical turn of beads, the chunkiness of stones and the svelte whisper of pearls. I often play with my earrings because the feel of them reminds me of being alive.

When I hug my son, I stroke his stubbly beard. As I pet the cat, I play with her fluffy tail and sing with the vibrations of her purr. The blanket on my bed is velvety soft. As I arrange the covers, I smile and pat the blanket in place.

Even the pens I write with must have a rubber grip, a smooth cartridge and a careful mark on the page.

The joy of touch is a blessing we can easily take for granted. This Thanksgiving season, let’s be even more aware of how objects, clothing, dishes, furniture and life itself feels.

Even as we touch our way through each day, let’s be more cognizant of new textures not previously experienced. Then let hope expand in the treasure of all the senses God has given.

What about you? Which sense are you most grateful for?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Depression and its loss of touch can affect the lives of caregivers. Check out Sometimes They Forget for essays from the viewpoint of a family dealing with Alzheimers.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 1

During the month of November, I want to focus on special gratitudes. Makes sense, right? During Thanksgiving month we should be grateful.November country

But this year, I want to dig a bit deeper than the usual, “Thank you for health, for food, for the roof over my head.

This year, the focus is a series of gratitudes on my current life or the people in my life.

Post One underscores gratitude for the beautiful life my mother lives.

Mom is currently in Stage Six of the Alzheimer’s journey. She can still dress herself, although I’ve noticed her hairdo needs a bit of tweaking. She can still feed herself and she eats well — gaining weight this year.

But confusion still reigns, and we never know which day may be more lucid than the other. She no longer knows her family members as the connections of relationships remain a puzzle. She often exists in the past, waiting for her parents or her husband to come pick her up and take her to town.

Last year, Mom recognized me by the connection with my son. If I said, “Caleb is working at Amazon,” she would nod and call me by name.

But that has changed. She remembers she has a grandson named Caleb, and she has a daughter who lives in the Kansas City area. But connecting us together and recognizing either of us is now gone.

We are in the stage of Alzheimers where it is comfortable and easy for the patient yet harder for the family and caregivers.

Mom is basically happier now that ever before. The Type A personality, busy all the time, is gone. She sits contentedly in her chair and reads her Bible or the same mystery novel over and over.

She sleeps, then rises for breakfast. She eats all her meals when they call her to the dining room. She attends activities, rides the shuttle to see the Christmas lights and plays Bingo several times / week.

No bills to pay. All that was settled long ago when papers were signed with the facility.

No chores to do. Even her laundry is washed, dried and sorted by others.

No stresses from life or job. She has no idea of current events. Rarely watches the news. Reads the paper but who cares about what’s happening when you have no desire to do anything about it?

Her life is filled with adjectives such as peaceful, safe, content.

Sometimes I envy her.

But mostly, I am grateful Mom has these days of quiet rest with nothing to look forward to but the next meal, the Bingo gathering or lights out.

And the only thing that’s better will be her next move – to heaven.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about the Alzheimers journey, check out Sometimes They Forget.

Hope Encounters the Truth

DA picAs I started my research for No Visible Scars, I had plenty of material to draw from. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. This includes women whose husbands are corporate executives, church leaders and elected officials.

Abused women live within every possible demographic.

Yet we don’t always connect abuse with violence.

Everyone will admit it is wrong to hit a woman. We recoil from the bruises and the broken jaws depicted on television. We may weep when a gurney silently leaves a house, the sheet covering a dead body.

But we forget how violence often begins with a subtle type of abuse:

  • Shame / blame
  • Making fun of her beliefs
  • Calling her names
  • Put downs about her appearance, her clothing, her cooking, her politics, her hobbies
  • Controlling her finances
  • Demanding submission
  • Forceful sexual advances
  • Withholding affection
  • Snooping in her mail or purse

These were some of the early symptoms Abigail experienced in No Visible Scars. Yet she didn’t realize and didn’t want to admit she was living in a destructive relationship.

She finally learned the truth when a group of women gathered around her and helped her learn about setting healthy boundaries. Even then, she had to continue to find her courage and boldly step into a new life.

Here’s how Abigail describes it: “I was afraid of him, but I was more afraid of the unknown, of what I would do without him, of who I could become. Afraid to be without the security of his money. Afraid because I didn’t know how my life might change.”

Fear is one of the big factors why women don’t leave. And their abusers know how to feed that fear with manipulation, threats, even guilty gifts to convince her to stay.

Check out this video to learn more.

Sometimes we don’t pay that much attention to the needs of these victims. We become desensitized by all the violence and pain we see on television. Or we think it will never happen to anyone we know.

But these women are sitting next to us at church and working in the next cubicle. They are standing in line at the grocery store, gritting their teeth because he only gave them a small amount of cash for food and they know their children will be hungry.

They are women in our families although we may not want to admit it. And if we continue to ignore the problem, they will become the next generation of victims – our daughters and granddaughters.

How can we share hope with victims of domestic abuse? Believe them. Support them. Help them find a way of escape. Stop denying the problem or keeping the dirty secret.

And we can teach our sons to respect women, vote for leaders who stand up for women, train our daughters how to set healthy boundaries.

October is the month for Domestic Violence Awareness. How are you going to share hope with a woman you know is being abused?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

No Visible Scars is now discounted on Amazon and Kindle. Order it today, then share a copy with a woman you know who is living in danger.

When Acceptance and Hope Meet

In a previous post, I wrote about the racial diversity of Santa Fe.

But a different type of diversity encouraged me, humbled me and taught me to be more open to those around me.

Sculpture - Santa Fe children

A Sculpture of Reading Children             in Santa Fe, NM

During my week in Santa Fe, I met writers who were Jews, Buddhists, atheists, Shamans, Christians and a mixture of faiths including one presenter who labeled herself a Bu-Jew.

We laughed together, learned together and connected over bowls of green chile stew, creamy guacamole and quinoa power bowls.

Nobody pulled out a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws, tips from the Torah or quotations from Buddha.

We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of my new friends have followed me on Facebook, added their email addies to my newsletter and committed to my blog. I feel honored to have such a rich diversity of new friends.

After one stimulating lunch where several of us shared our love of everything Santa Fe, I walked back to my hotel room. My experience told me the same lunch with a group of Baptists, Methodists and/or free-spirited anointed charismatics would no doubt have resulted in arguments, confrontations and insistence on what the Apostle Paul meant in his numerous argumentative writings.

Yet that type of spiritual blasting did not happen with this diverse group. We simply began relationships built on our love of words.

Of course, I hoped the eternal Word was reflected in my speech, in my manner, in my acceptance of these dear creatives. And I believe that my future writings will make an impact, if for no other reason than curiosity to be explored.

But I understood more clearly than ever before the need to push away from our comfortable zones and wooden pews, to be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk – or no faith at all.

The scriptures call Christians to be salt and light. But too much salt gathered in one place makes for a bitter pot of soup.

Too much light blinds us to the realities of the needs around us – to those who believe differently yet are still vitally important to the God who reaches out to them.

I am more determined than ever before to use my words to embrace and engage rather than to confront. Although I love Jesus more than life itself, his example was to love all and remind the religious leaders how hypocrisy destroys.

How can we share hope with the world around us? By letting our hearts invite friendly debate, by refusing to consider ourselves as experts on every question, by building relationships just because we care for our fellow humans.

How can we best reflect the hope that drives us? By remembering the old campfire song and living it out: “They will know we are Christians by our love.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you are a caregiver already dreading the holidays, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers – a practical guide for self-care during the stressful season.