Hope Nuggets During Lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes those 40 days DID seem like years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, of course, they offered hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

A Recipe Fail During Lockdown

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

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

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

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

None. Nada. Impossible but true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nay. Nay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah — probably not.

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

Hope-filled Observations During a Pandemic

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

Covid-19 by Alexandra Koch

Illustration by Alexandra Koch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Takes a Walk during the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Recognizing Domestic Abuse – a Personal Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope for Abused Women during Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do about this horrid situation?

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

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

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

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

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

Why are these women trapped?

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

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

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

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

Report any abuse that you observe.

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

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

Finding a Song During Lockdown

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

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

The health benefits of singing are well documented:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurray for YouTube during this lockdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

Hope Recognizes Easter Sunday

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

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

And we were always prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Finding Hope When Life Unravels

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

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

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

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can do the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Fighting the Virus with Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we are quarantined, at least we can wipe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’m choosing to focus on the positives:

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

Hope Finds an Unusual Holy Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope for the Why Question

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

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

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

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

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

But life doesn’t work that way.

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

We can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God has planned for something better.

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

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

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

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

We cannot second guess Almighty God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

Finding Hope as We Sit Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ministry of presence.

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about Hope, check out Hope Shines.

 

Hope Finds Story in an Estate Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basement was filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I sorted through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular dish before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story would my life tell, and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and a woman who loves the colorful textures of the Southwest?

I came away from that estate sale lugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan and a story that emanated from the treasures of one life.

Hope shines through the stories we live, and our stuff reflects who we are.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Hope Extended – How the Chiefs Came Back

The analogy was too obvious to ignore, so I felt compelled to write about it.

On January 12, 2020 — the Kansas City Chiefs accomplished one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. After the first quarter, the lopsided score of 24-0 gave the Houston Texans an insurmountable edge and a well-deserved pat on the back.

But the Chiefs created a game plan based on several success principles. We can all learn the same strategies from what happened on that exciting wintry day.

One Play at a Time. As the Texans took advantage of all the Chiefs’ early mistakes, fans groaned, turned off their TV’s or left the stadium.

But Mahomes rallied his team with pep talks and the reminder to just do “One play at a time.” It didn’t take long until those individual plays became touchdowns, and the lopsided score began to tilt back the other way.

In life, we are given only one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. We can plan long term and should be proactive for the future. But ultimately, we only have the current moment to make a difference.

So make it count. Love others each day. Do something kind each day. Add something to your gratitude list each day.

Those individual pockets of encouragement will result in total yardage toward hope.

Never Give Up. The outcome of the game looked bleak with such a massive score so early against the Chiefs. Even the Kansas City Wolf mascot banged his head against a wall.

But the team with their intrepid coach, Andy Reid, never gave up. They kept playing, put together some amazing strategies and pushed their way toward the goalposts.

When the momentum changed, the Chiefs took advantage of every fundamental mistake the Texans made. The team that once held the lead fell behind as the Chiefs thundered forward.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to keep working in a not-so-satisfying job, to keep trying when life’s circumstances come against us, to stay in hope during one more radiation treatment.

But if we give up, we’ll never taste victory, never show how we can persevere and win.

Keep Doing What Works. Although the Chiefs’ receivers dropped multiple passes during the first quarter, Mahomes gave them another chance. He kept throwing that ball — sometimes with his signature sidearm — kept believing his guys would find a way to hang on to the pigskin. And they did.

Then an occasional rout through the middle of the line. When that didn’t work and the Texans filled in the gaps in their defense, Mahomes carried the ball himself for first down yardage.

The Chiefs offense continued to use the tools that had worked all year.

We are sometimes tempted to make an impulsive change that will move us another direction or redirect our goals. Sometimes a change IS good. But more often, being a steady employee, a productive writer or a great parent involves using the tools that work.

Endurance supports a determined work ethic. We save money by saying “No” to impulse buys and putting away cash Every. Single. Month. Relationships endure as people stay the course without veering off into someone who looks better.

Doing what works actually works.

A steady flow of successful plays resulted in the Chiefs 51-31 win. A steady flow of doing what works keeps us moving in the right direction with an ultimate win.

At this writing, we don’t know if the Chiefs will win the AFC and travel to the Super Bowl. But the fan base will never forget the amazing comeback win that propelled the Chiefs to the next step.

We can all learn from the events of January 12. Let’s take it to heart, stay in hope and never give up.

Go Chiefs !

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines  for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But hope also shines in my book of essays. Check it out on Amazon. Available also in Large Print.

When Hope is Sidelined

Although I have become known as the platform writer of hope, life sometimes interferes with the process. When circumstances force me to the sideline, I have to work harder to find hope and encourage myself again.

The last weeks of 2019 were harrowing. Beginning with December 5, the side effects of a medicine gradually sapped my strength and shackled me to the bathroom. What I didn’t know was that my electrolytes were being screwed as my body lurched into dehydration.

Then the flu hit and what was left of my immunities were destroyed. I woke up December 26 with no strength, blacked out and conked my head on the bathroom tile. When I came to, I was sweating and my heart racing. That’s when I called 9-1-1 and crawled downstairs to unlock the door.

As the siren screamed ever closer, I thought how ironic. Whenever I hear sirens, I pray for the first responders and the people involved. Was anyone praying for me?

The paramedics found me on the floor, semiconscious and breathing fast. They immediately started intravenous fluids and helped me to the gurney. Their strength and professional demeanor encouraged me. At least I would not die alone.

The emergency room was another experience, but my son soon arrived and took control. I have no recollection of signing forms, speaking to nurses or agreeing to treatments, but my son was fully conscious and did everything necessary for my care. It was only later that I realized I still wore my colorful Christmas jammies.

Dehydration was the main culprit and an ugly form of the flu, followed by a urinary tract infection. It took several weeks to recuperate with multiple meds and more trips to Urgent Care. I lost twelve pounds, and Gatorade became my new friend.

But the experience taught me how fragile is hope, how we have to work hard to emotionally receive it after we’re sidelined.

Independence Narrows with Age.

Of course, I know about the narrowing of independence from watching my mother fade into Alzheimer’s. She moved from independence in her own home to a hospital visit to assisted living.

But we rarely imagine the same for ourselves.

The truth is that none of us is immune to losing our independence. As we age, illness can take a greater toll. No matter how determined I was to eat nutritious food and take my supplements, one month of severe side effects and a common virus derailed everything.

I was grateful my final decisions for death and burial were already determined and the paperwork complete, because I was not sure I would return home. I have never felt so powerless. It reminded me of Catherine Marshall who was bound to her bed when tuberculosis stole her life. She wrote many of her books with her arms propped up by pillows.

A Support System is Crucial.

Although I raised my son to deal with the unexpected, I was surprised how quickly and efficiently he took control. His wisdom and decision-making brought me comfort. It was easy to return home and let him do everything. The ease of the role shift enabled me to relax, stay in bed and heal.

I was grateful for Caleb’s presence but also for his boss who let him leave work and said, “Family is more important.”

So protect your support system, complete all that important paperwork and make sure your special person is on speed dial.

Living Alone is Becoming Less of a Possibility.

It is scary to go through a health crisis alone.

Although my son currently lives with me, he was at work that day. And the future may change our comfortable living situation.

The beauty of being independent means I can have my own space, set my own hours and live where I want. But reality presents a different scenario. Living alone for the rest of my days no longer seems possible or even smart.

In 2017, my plan for living with someone and taking care of each other died when Deb walked into eternity. It seemed so easy and the best possible solution for the two of us to become the Golden Girls. Sadly, that did not happen.

For years, I have wished for a big house or some sort of solution for all the single women I know — a safe place where we could have community together and help each other. That answer has not appeared.

Most of us cannot afford the senior living townhomes or the luxury apartments shown on TV. Sure, who wouldn’t want those beautiful spaces to live out life, find a community, yet guard your own identity?

But beauty and safety come with a price tag. Hope fades with the reality of finding affordable housing as we age.

The 9-1-1 operator comforted me with his words, “I’ll stay on the line until they get there. I’ll stay with you.” And he did, bless him! His words were my main recollection of that scary day. This stranger on the phone with the soft voice would NOT abandon me.

Now that I am recovering, once again I am going through the house, giving things away. As I feel independence narrowing, I know I must choose what I will need for an even smaller space. And those choices make me sad.

Finding Hope Requires More Intentionality.

To be brutally honest, this illness has challenged this Hope writer. I find myself having to search for the positive outlook and remind myself daily that God has promised to never forsake me.

Each day becomes a more intentional desire to give it everything I can.

  • To write the words that must be released to the world — while I can.
  • To express my gratitude for colorful sunsets, faithful friends and anything good that happens — while I still recognize them.
  • To hug my son, often and wholeheartedly — while I have the strength.
  • To make each 24-hour period matter for the good — while I can still hang on to hope.

And to enjoy the independence I still have.

Hope may change, but if I intentionally look for it and seek to grasp it — it will be revealed. At least, I’m believing that today.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books I wrote in 2019, listed on my Amazon Author Page.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay 

Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to check out my words, have a look-see at my Amazon Author Page.

Hope for the New Year

A brand new calendar forces reflection on the passing of time yet also moves us toward new opportunities.

During my “senior” season, I am finished setting resolutions. No more of the usual “less sugar, lose some weight and save more money” focus.

This year, I want to dig deeper. Maybe it is the aging factor that forces me beyond the mere physical and into the extraordinary. Or maybe I have learned how empty some resolutions feel.

I seek something with more impact. So I have decided to focus in two directions:

To Look for the Presence of God Each Day.

I know the Divine Three live inside me, but I also believe God moves mysteriously around me.

During this new year, I want to be more aware of that Divine presence:

  • In the energy of a crackling fire
  • In the dancing eyes of children
  • In the musical tones of nature’s breezes
  • In the faces of strangers at coffee shops, the mall and the lines at Wal-Mart
  • In the perseverance of the disabled who refuse to be victims
  • In the hugs of my son
  • In the colors and textures of my world

When I intentionally seek the presence of God, I hope to discover spiritual truths in new ways. Being more aware of God’s personal steps in my world reminds me he is my constant companion.

To Listen for the Divine Whisper Each Day.

God wants to communicate with us. He is the Word, and he is consistent in his desire for relationship.

But our world is so noisy, we often cannot hear what he longs to share with us.

I am fortunate to work in a job that involves silence. I write with no background music or white noise. Yet I can still miss the soft baritone of my Savior.

This year I want to be more aware of his voice, to hear with an extraordinary sonic volume:

  • When God gives direction or guidance
  • When he reminds me to backtrack or fix something wronged
  • When his creative whisper births an idea for a new book
  • When he asks me to be still and know
  • When he just wants to say, “I love you.”

My goal for this year is to spend time each evening with a few moments of evaluation: How was the presence of God real that day? How did I hear God speak that day?

Maybe by next December, I will have developed a keener sense of the Trinity in every day life.

That goal gives me hope.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

With a new year comes the opportunity to revise our goals. Check out Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals.

Finding Hope in Our Stuff

Many of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff. At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assess how to best dispose of it.garage sale chair

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with.

And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave. However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway?  

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

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

I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:

  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
  • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

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

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

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

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. I refuse to relinquish my piano or the older pieces of music I still play. The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet.

The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise. A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it.

However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. I had given it away. Shucks !

If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me.

The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

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

Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money?

Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

 

 

Grieving During the Holidays

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

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

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you know someone who is grieving during the holidays, share this post. Perhaps it will bring some hope.

Hope Keeps It Simple

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

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

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

Christmas Cards

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

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

Holiday Treats

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

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

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

Holiday Decorations

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

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

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

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

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

The holiday surprise of 2019 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope When Christmas Changes

pharmacy symbolThroughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.

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

The Great Cough of 2016.

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

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners.

The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup.

Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully – they didn’t want us within breathing distance.

Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

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

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS.

Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

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

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief.

The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

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

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it.

The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year.

The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives.

No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Holiday Tips for Caregivers

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

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

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

Trim the Food Responsibilities.

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

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

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

Plan Ahead for Shopping.

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

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

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

Include Favorite Foods.

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

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

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

Plan an Activity Together.

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

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

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

Be Careful About Timing.

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

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

Travel is NOT for Everyone.

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

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

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

Take a break and be with your family.

Gift-giving.

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

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

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

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

Do it while you can.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in a Puzzle

My puzzle reflects the colors and design of the Southwest United States — a region I love. Turquoise moccasins, Native American pottery and a sunset of desert textures.Southwest Puzzle

Yet beyond the stress-relieving act of fitting my puzzle pieces together, God teaches me precious lessons of faith.

Think about the Big Picture. Once I found the borders of the puzzle, everything should have begun to snugly fit together.

But something didn’t look right.

My son found the answer. He’s a consider-the-forest guy while I look at the trees. “This piece doesn’t fit,” he said, picking up a copper squiggle. “It skews the big picture.”

He was right. When I found the correct piece and snapped it into place, the big picture made more sense.

Sometimes we think a certain direction is best for our lives. But something about the final decision doesn’t seem right.

Something doesn’t fit.

Red flags stop us or circumstances change. We can’t see the big picture.

But God can. He exists beyond the past, present and future. He knows how to work out our lives and fit each day into the next so our destinies become clear.

Don’t Try to Force an Answer. A puzzle piece may look right and seem to fit, but one side snags or won’t quite align. Forcing the piece into that particular hole can bend it or even break it.

Then the puzzle is flawed.

If we try to force something to work or move forward on our own, we can damage ourselves or someone else in our sphere of influence.

If the circumstances aren’t working out and our pathway seems skewed, trying to force a decision, a relationship or a direction messes with our destiny.

How many of us have forged ahead and forced something to happen, then later regretted our actions?

When God manages the puzzles of our lives, all the pieces end up fitting together perfectly — without adverse circumstances.

Give It Time. A 300-piece puzzle cannot be completed in one hour. My puzzle lay on the table for several weeks where I worked on it a few minutes at a time.

As we face decisions or transitions in life, they take time to percolate and work out all the details. Patience is learned through the long passage of time.

Hurry is the antagonist of patience.

The best relationships involve the excitement of gradually learning about each other. Starting a new job includes a learning curve and perseverance.

Writing a book requires late nights, early mornings or weekend discipline. One word, one sentence, one character sketch at a time until the final period is typed. Sometimes the process takes years.

The best answers are revealed as a result of a waiting period. The strongest faith is birthed through years of experience, long periods of waiting and the courage to ask questions that may even increase the struggle.

We often don’t see a purpose in the details until patience has completed its perfect work.

The Apostle James underscored this truth, “When the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:3-4 The Living Bible).

God rarely answers our “Why?”  questions. Instead, he urges us to trust — even when we’re so weary we can only continue the journey with an extra measure of God’s grace.

My puzzle gives me joy, because I love the colors and the promise of the final result.

Surely God also feels joy when he moves the pieces of our lives together. The final result reflects his love.

We just need to stay in hope, let him move the pieces around and patiently wait.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Have you checked out my Reverend G books and Sometimes They Forget?

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.rose in treasure box

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for.

We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his girlfriend, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • My flowers
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

While writing this blog post, I watched the first snow of the season offer its tiny flakes to the landscape. Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season.

And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms placed its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or re-gifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2020, I have some openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

Hope and the Autumn Dance

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It’s now 3:24 on this date I created. Disengage.”

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

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch how the autumn leaves fall. Some of them let loose to plummet quickly — as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf.

Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope’s Introduction

This blog began as therapy for the Alzheimer’s journey in our family. Then it slowly morphed into more posts about hope.

But how did it all begin? What was the impetus for sharing my words in cyberspace?

The thief first appeared as a slight blip on the memory screen. A word forgotten, a key chain misplaced. We laughed — at first.

Then more and more items were misplaced, numerous words forgotten until finally our parents’ identities disappeared.

We no longer laughed. Instead, we sought out doctors and resources — someone who would tell us why Mom acted so strangely, why Dad could no longer drive.

Then the dreaded diagnosis: dementia for Dad, Alzheimer’s for Mom. The Long Good-bye.

The memory thief smirked. He had completed his work and left us bereft.

Sometimes our precious ones forget. Eventually, they no longer remember those they have birthed and raised.

Dad was a gentle man, a Mennonite farmer who lifted hay bales all day and threw them into a truck, then spent the evening softly strumming his guitar.

Henry, often called Hank, was soft-spoken and so introverted that when he prayed or gave advice — everyone listened intently.

How I wish I would have written down more of his wisdom before he became forever silent.

He was a man of faith, with a history of athleticism. A triathlete who was scouted by the Yankees and became a basketball legend at Phillips University in his hometown: Enid, Oklahoma.

Yet not even his faith nor years of exercise and outdoor living could save him from the memory thief.

Like a good farmer, he took care of the land and his home. One November day, a fire threatened to destroy the farmhouse.

He beat out the flames until he was sure everything was safe, then stumbled outside to gulp fresh air.

That’s where Mom found him, with his shirt hanging off his chest, deadly burns all over his body.

After four months in the hospital, several surgeries, daily debreeding sessions, graftings, sleepless nights, scars that roiled our stomachs, the acrid stench of putrified flesh — Dad was finally released.

He returned home, unable to remember how the tractor made ruts in the plowed field or how to create chords on his guitar, why the cows didn’t come home without the gentle farmer calling them in.

Trauma-induced dementia,” the doctors said. “Keep him at home as long as you can, but be prepared for a difficult journey.”

Mom, the nurse, retired from her job. They moved from the farm to town, into a house that could accommodate a wheelchair, if needed.

“I’ll never put him in a nursing home,” Mom said. She became his caregiver, daily, monthly, for ten long years.

My sister moved home to help. Together they fed him, bathed him, rolled him over when he graduated to the hospital bed.

The silencing of his wise advice cut deeply into our lives, and my heart ached when I visited.

We connected through music, so I sang to him. A spark would kindle in his eyes, especially for his favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

Then one April, when the spring tulips erupted into bright yellow and purple blooms, when the promise of life budded everywhere — the spark disappeared.

I knew it would not be long.

In May, he graduated to heaven. A release for all of us, especially for Dad.

      Sometimes death is a relief.

 

With her mate of 54 years buried, Mom devoted herself to volunteer work. She served meals to the hungry and counted Bingo cards at the nursing home.

One Thanksgiving, she said, “I’m so glad I’m not in a nursing home — yet.”

I wondered later if she had a premonition.

She began to misplace the pots and pans. She safety-pinned her house keys to the waistband of her pants, just in case she forgot how to get back into the house. She parked her car in the same spot at the grocery store so she could find it when she came out.

She coped so well, it took us a while to figure out something was drastically wrong.

Then fainting spells, hard falls, congestive heart failure and a pacemaker. The doctor said, “She can’t live independently anymore. Alzheimer’s and an inoperable benign brain tumor.”

We had already contracted with a beautiful assisted living facility. But she fought us. “Why are you putting me here? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

We lied and hated it. “It’s only for a little while, Mom. Rehab after your pacemaker surgery. The doctor ordered it.”

A partial truth is still a lie.

She lived in assisted living for eight years and now has graduated to the Alzheimer’s wing. Confusion deepens. No more fun trips to the mall with her best friend. No more biscuits and gravy at Braum’s. No more crocheted projects.

She sits quietly in her chair, often in the dark, pretending to read. Not comprehending the words.

Sometimes they forget and sometimes life forces them to forget.

No matter what the situation or the health issue, caregivers are left to figure out a new normal — to search for hope and continue to love while dealing with this brutal disease.

We can find hope in the Long Goodbye. We learn patience and strive for joy. We treasure each moment we can still hold a hand, sing a hymn or stroke a forehead.

Sometimes they forget, but as long as we remember — their legacies continue.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above excerpt is from my book Sometimes They Forget, available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope’s Intensity

To increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, this is a re-post about the intensity of writing a novel on the topic of domestic abuse. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or at work. Some of them are in your family. It is important to know how to help.

“Your book is so intense.”

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

“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 plotlines 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 — living 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 contemporary 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 but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who refused to hear the truth and told these women 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. During the month of October, to increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, the Kindle version of No Visible Scars is available for 99 cents.

 

Hope in a Month

My son and I joke about October being the best month for sports with multiple choices.wood bench - lake - autumn

  • College football begins with all the usual rivalries. Depending on the day and the teams, we wear the appropriate T-shirts.
  • Baseball winds down with the World Series. Sadly, we are not cheering for the Royals this year.
  • The NFL is in full force. Chiefs-wear is always in the laundry basket.
  • College basketball begins. We missed Late Night at the Phog this year, but we’ll be cheering for the Jayhawks.

But October wears another side of her beauty. I love the colors and textures of the 10th month, and it’s my birthday month.

On most October days, I walk through my neighborhood or find a nearby trail. Always on the lookout for interesting bits of nature, I gather acorns, colorful leaves or unusual rocks.

Then I arrange my treasures on the kitchen windowsill where I can see them through the long winter and remember the beautiful days of autumn.

When the leaves let go of their parent limbs and dance to the ground, I gather bouquets to brighten the house. Earth colors are my favorites so gold, orange, red, purple and green spice up my home.

And speaking of spices — this is the month when I begin making soups. My favorite is a mixture of roasted vegetables: acorn squash, colorful peppers, garlic, onion and cauliflower. Then I add homemade chicken broth and use my emulsifying blender to make it smooth. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves add the wonder of spice, and sometimes a dash of curry.

October is also an important month for some of my coaching clients. Blindness Awareness Month is the time they focus on helping others learn about this disability and show compassion to those who live with vision loss.

Two of my clients suffer from the same disease: retinitis pigmentosa. Both of them are gifted writers and women who inspire me every time we meet.

For inspirational books that provide humor and hope, check out the website of Amy Bovaird. Her stories of courage and travel with vision loss humble me while reminding all of us writers to share our creative gifts with others.

Another writer is Jena Fellers. She just completed a book, “Mishaps to Mission” where she describes unusual miracles on an ordinary bus trip. Jena also writes informative blog posts about family and ministry.

Although October is such a beautiful month, it is also a reminder of the ugliness some women live with. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or stand in line at Wal-Mart behind you.

They don’t always present with black eyes or bruises, because abuse takes many forms. Some of their scars are invisible yet negatively affect their lives and steal hope.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I wrote a novel, No Visible Scars, detailing the story of Abigail who learns how to set healthy boundaries and almost loses everything in the process. But in the end, she emerges with new-found strength and a growing sense of her authenticity.

So as you march through October, give thanks for your vision or your healthy relationships. Take a walk and revel in the textures of this show-off month.

Then root for your favorite sports team and hope for the best.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Wins

Oh, God! I was so afraid!

During the sixth month of pregnancy, thirty plus years ago, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months — hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby.

With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart, the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the backyard’s sunshine and stretched out on the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly.

Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might startle and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, the three of us — butterfly, unborn child and scared Mama — baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

Encouraged, I returned to the house and journaled about my experience. Renewed and ready to face whatever was destined to happen during the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind us he is indeed greater than our problems.

Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms — he can certainly deal with our everyday stresses.

How many scenarios does he manage, helping us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him?

How many traffic accidents are stopped, cancer cells deleted or guns silenced because God showed up?

Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see the divine image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the butterfly’s appearance, God is with us, longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I planted and nurtured a butterfly bush in my back yard. Red clover now grows around the perimeter while a giant sedum waits in one corner for October offerings of sweet nectar.

These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 33 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more Godwinks about hope, check out Hope Shines, available in print, e-book and large print.

 

 

Hope Wears a Tattoo

He was a large, muscular man and when he sat down on the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I read. My writer brain started to invent a character sketch:

He’s a construction worker by day, a bartender by night and his feet hurt. It feels really good to sit down for the long ride home.

Or . . . he’s a pastor on his way to the inner city church he serves. The dirty T-shirt is a cover-up and helps him relate to the young people in his congregation.

Or . . . he’s an undercover spy and just wants me to think he’s a normal guy. Underneath that T-shirt is a 357 Magnum, holstered but loaded.

Then he crossed one leg, and I discovered he was far from normal. Tattooed on his right leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above a likeness of her sweet face, “Kelsey Jane, beloved daughter.”

What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his massive leg? Was she one of those tragic little ones that cancer took away?

Or is she a kidnapping victim and he wears her image to help people look for her?

The creative writer at work again.

He caught me staring at the tattoo. Before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my questions with vulnerable honesty, “I’m divorced, and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I always carry her with me.”

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I said, “That’s the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen.”

He tipped his Royals baseball cap toward me, then turned away. I returned to my book — both of us retreating into our own worlds as people do on mass transit.

I almost wanted to find the nearest tattoo establishment and ask for a picture of my son emblazoned near my heart.

Almost.

But I could not forget the image and the question it posed, What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his leg?

Then I remembered another guy who does the same thing — not on his leg, but on his hand — on the tender palm area where he sees it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God exclaims, “See, I have tattooed your name on my palm. . .” (Isaiah 49:16).

God Himself cares so much about each of us he has tattooed us on the palms of his powerful hands.

In the original Talmud, the meaning of this tattooed engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never forget her child.

The Hebrew word for tattoo also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

As God’s kids, we can depend on that mother love, that unbreakable bond, that caring and loving provision.

Always. Every. Single. Day. Forever.

I often think about that guy on the bus and hope he’s enjoying quality time with his daughter. Usually, I remember him when I’m going through a rough patch and need some encouragement.

The tattoo of Kelsey Jane still makes me smile.

And the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my books on my Amazon Author Page. Several possibilities are listed where you can read and share hope.

Hope Finds Its Space

When the transitions of life change our circumstances, it may become more difficult to discover hope.

Recently, Mom transferred from assisted living to the Alzheimer’s unit. A necessary change, given her cognitive impairment. Still, for the family she no longer recognizes, it was a clear reminder of the devastation of this disease.

Grateful for the beautiful and efficient multi-level facility where Mom lives, I still wanted to save her — to save all of us — from this fate.

Once again, Mom’s space has disappeared.

A much smaller room, although she still has her familiar furniture: the dark mahogany dresser, the comfy glider/rocker, the end table my sister embellished with decorative tacks, the corner etagere that displays family pictures.

A decreased closet size. No more walk-in with plenty of room for various wardrobes. Mom makes simpler choices these days: easy-to-pull on slacks, polyester tops, socks and shoes. Most of them in her favorite pastel colors. No jewelry. No accessories.

My own wardrobe contrasts with multiple colors and textures, plenty of bling, a few funky hats. Plenty of choices.

But grief threatens for the future. What if my space disappears? What if I can no longer enjoy putting outfits together, find the best bargains, check my reflection in the mirror?

That loss would affect my enjoyment of life.

Mom’s brain no longer calculates the spatial changes. She sleeps, eats and does the activities they tell her to do. Totally compliant, this once fiercely independent woman.

I want to scream at the injustice of life.

One big change in Mom’s new “home” is the bed. No longer able to relax in the daybed my siblings moved from her house, she will now sleep in a hospital bed.

If her nursing mind was capable, she would recognize this change as decline.  More dependent on others to make sure she doesn’t roll out of bed, doesn’t wander during the night.

The change of beds signals the regression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The next bed will be a confinement unto death. The beds in the nursing home wing are for patients who can no longer walk. They lie supine, hoping to be spared bed sores as each sunset leads them toward a final resting place — the silk-lined coffin.

Mom used to love the wide spaces of the farm. She hung sheets to flap on the clothesline, held the pins in her mouth and gloried in the cerulean skies of Oklahoma. Her hubby tilled another rotation in the field as she watched. Her children either finished chores or prepped homework for another school day.

It was a good life — spacious in its beauty.

But now, the transition has stolen more freedom and set in motion another arrow toward the final target.

So how do we find hope in such a sad prognosis? By looking at the space to come.

When Mom is finished with her final transition on earth, she will fly to a timeless world with no margins or imitations.

She’ll be free to visit with Dad and her parents or chat with a biblical character she once read about. Maybe she’ll meet one of the authors whose books she read.

Perhaps she’ll step into another dimension, travel to Mars or float above her children and silently cheer us toward the same goal.

Space and time will do its disappearing act rather than the facility where Mom currently lives.

And in the end, hope will take its space in all our hearts when this disease says its final good-bye.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Misreads a Word

As I drove home after meeting with a coaching client, I noticed a white van ahead of me. The logo of its business was printed across the back doors.

Faith Panting.dog panting

What?

As I adjusted my progressive lenses, I realized the name was actually “Faith Painting.”

Somehow the tiny “i” had disappeared in my first glance.

I have no idea what Faith Painting means or how the company chose their name, but I’m sure they are a reputable company.

And as weird as it sounds, I totally understand what it means to experience “Faith Panting.”

Dogs pant when they are tired. After they run around the yard or chase a rabbit, their tongues hang out and they pant, heaving and sometimes dripping saliva.

When we are tired from the struggles of life, weary from one trial after another and discouraged by the darkness of our days — we pant.

We try to catch our breath and figure out what has happened to us.

When we pant from fatigue, we need to take a break, to rest and let our physical and mental resources build up again.

A cup of water from an encouraging friend helps. A greeting card with just the right words helps dry our tears.

The reminder that God will never leave us or forsake us gives us the strength to breathe steady again.

Cats may pant when they are in pain or distress. It’s a signal for help.

Because cats are so independent, they rarely indicate their needs. But cat lovers can tell when their fur babies hurt.

When we are in pain, we pant with the need to let the hurt escape.

We may try to self-medicate or even numb ourselves to the trauma. We may look to an addiction to replace the hole inside.

But faith encourages us to let someone help us.

When loneliness threatens, call a friend and set up a coffee date.

When family relationships fall apart, schedule a counseling appointment with a trusted wisdom-giver.

When a child suffers, talk to another parent who has been through the same issue.

We often prefer to hide within our independence. We think self-sufficiency will solve the problem and decrease the pain.

But we fool ourselves when we continue to pant and look only to ourselves for a solution.

No matter how isolated our world becomes, we will always need each other.

Healthy relationships help bandage our faith hurts.

Another reason dogs pant is to cool off. The process of panting is the same as when our bodies sweat.

Cooling off to a reasonable temperature helps temper inflammation and heart distress.

We need to cool off when anger consumes us.

But let’s be clear: anger is an honest emotion and often prompts us to take an important action.

Anger that consumes us needs to be addressed before it causes real damage. Anger that is internalized can easily become a numbing depression.

And it can sneak up on us before we realize it.

So how do we successfully pant the angers away?

Acknowledge the Anger.

Speak it with truth, even if you have to confront someone in person, “I am so angry with you.”

As we admit to the anger, we know what we’re dealing with. We can move forward to address it.

Admit that You Need Help.

To cool off, a dog needs water and shade.

To pant our way to health, we need help. A trusted counselor, antidepressants, a plan for returning to a healthy emotional temperature.

Take Action.

A brisk walk increases endorphins and helps anger fade. A listing of gratitudes chases the gloomies away.

Watch a funny video and laugh out loud. Visit someone worse off then you. Ever been to a nursing home for an extended stay?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have times when faith seems like a weary pant.

That’s when we need to reach for hope.

Nurture ourselves with rest during those discouraging pants.

Ask for help to relieve the pain. Acknowledge how human we are and in need of grace from each other.

We may continue to pant, but at least we’ll move in a direction toward hope-filled faith.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

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

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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.