Hope Defeats Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I find my son for a quick hug.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope and the Triage Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Empowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Searches for Rest

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

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

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

Anxiety overshadows rest and keeps us from inner calm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Seeks Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Comes Full Circle

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

Then an important milestone changed my reading habits.library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But ma’am…sh-h-h…we have a policy….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s why words give me hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Hope Disappoints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope for a Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That alone makes it precious.

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

Hope in the Favorite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are my favorite.”

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

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

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

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

“You are God’s favorite.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope for Happy Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our hope is multiplied with God’s smile.

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in the SAD

I come alive in March.

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

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

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

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

Check, check and double check.

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Hope Doesn’t Work Out

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

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

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

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

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

We tried, but her time was up.

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

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

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

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

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

Love does not allow suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

What HOPE Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about you? How do you define Hope?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Words of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t that be fantabulous!

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my words at Author Central on Amazon.

Hope as Time Passes

The days are long but the years are short.”

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

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

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

But reality proves it to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you join me?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Finding Hope in our Stuff

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

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

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

When Hope Grieves

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

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

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

7 Holiday Tips for Caregivers

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

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

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

Trim the Food Responsibilities.

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

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

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

Plan Ahead for Shopping.

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

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

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

Include Favorite Foods.

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

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

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

Plan an Activity Together.

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

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

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

Be Careful About Timing.

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

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

Travel is NOT for Everyone.

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

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

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

Take a break and be with your family.

Gift-giving.

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

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

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

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

Do it while you can.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Keeps It Simple

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

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

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

Christmas Cards

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

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

Holiday Treats

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

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

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

Holiday Decorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Christmas Changes

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

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

The Great Cough of 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

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

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 4

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

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

The dream nurtured by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it take to run down a dream?

A marathon of hope and approximately 40 years.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here you go – my Thanksgiving gift to you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I envy her.

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Encounters the Truth

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

Abused women live within every possible demographic.

Yet we don’t always connect abuse with violence.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how Abigail describes it: “I was afraid of him, but I was more afraid of the unknown, of what I would do without him, of who I could become. Afraid to be without the security of his money. Afraid because I didn’t know how my life might change.”

Fear is one of the big factors why women don’t leave. And their abusers know how to feed that fear with manipulation, threats, even guilty gifts to convince her to stay.

Check out this video to learn more.

Sometimes we don’t pay that much attention to the needs of these victims. We become desensitized by all the violence and pain we see on television. Or we think it will never happen to anyone we know.

But these women are sitting next to us at church and working in the next cubicle. They are standing in line at the grocery store, gritting their teeth because he only gave them a small amount of cash for food and they know their children will be hungry.

They are women in our families although we may not want to admit it. And if we continue to ignore the problem, they will become the next generation of victims – our daughters and granddaughters.

How can we share hope with victims of domestic abuse? Believe them. Support them. Help them find a way of escape. Stop denying the problem or keeping the dirty secret.

And we can teach our sons to respect women, vote for leaders who stand up for women, train our daughters how to set healthy boundaries.

October is the month for Domestic Violence Awareness. How are you going to share hope with a woman you know is being abused?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

No Visible Scars is now discounted on Amazon and Kindle. Order it today, then share a copy with a woman you know who is living in danger.

When Acceptance and Hope Meet

In a previous post, I wrote about the racial diversity of Santa Fe.

But a different type of diversity encouraged me, humbled me and taught me to be more open to those around me.

Sculpture - Santa Fe children

A Sculpture of Reading Children             in Santa Fe, NM

During my week in Santa Fe, I met writers who were Jews, Buddhists, atheists, Shamans, Christians and a mixture of faiths including one presenter who labeled herself a Bu-Jew.

We laughed together, learned together and connected over bowls of green chile stew, creamy guacamole and quinoa power bowls.

Nobody pulled out a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws, tips from the Torah or quotations from Buddha.

We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of my new friends have followed me on Facebook, added their email addies to my newsletter and committed to my blog. I feel honored to have such a rich diversity of new friends.

After one stimulating lunch where several of us shared our love of everything Santa Fe, I walked back to my hotel room. My experience told me the same lunch with a group of Baptists, Methodists and/or free-spirited anointed charismatics would no doubt have resulted in arguments, confrontations and insistence on what the Apostle Paul meant in his numerous argumentative writings.

Yet that type of spiritual blasting did not happen with this diverse group. We simply began relationships built on our love of words.

Of course, I hoped the eternal Word was reflected in my speech, in my manner, in my acceptance of these dear creatives. And I believe that my future writings will make an impact, if for no other reason than curiosity to be explored.

But I understood more clearly than ever before the need to push away from our comfortable zones and wooden pews, to be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk – or no faith at all.

The scriptures call Christians to be salt and light. But too much salt gathered in one place makes for a bitter pot of soup.

Too much light blinds us to the realities of the needs around us – to those who believe differently yet are still vitally important to the God who reaches out to them.

I am more determined than ever before to use my words to embrace and engage rather than to confront. Although I love Jesus more than life itself, his example was to love all and remind the religious leaders how hypocrisy destroys.

How can we share hope with the world around us? By letting our hearts invite friendly debate, by refusing to consider ourselves as experts on every question, by building relationships just because we care for our fellow humans.

How can we best reflect the hope that drives us? By remembering the old campfire song and living it out: “They will know we are Christians by our love.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you are a caregiver already dreading the holidays, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers – a practical guide for self-care during the stressful season.

Hope Unplugs in Santa Fe

For one glorious week, I lived the unplugged life in Santa Fe, NM. No social media. Even turned off my phone. Wrote long hand on a legal pad. Sage Inn

My purpose for going to Santa Fe was to attend the Creative Reboot Conference – an amazing weekend of workshops for the sole purpose of tapping into our creativity as writers.

The highlight was two workshops with Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and many other books.

Fresh from several of life’s messes, including my son’s five-month illness, I desperately needed some down time.

But this week also offered growth in my craft and immersion in one of the most creative places on earth.

So I tacked an extra two days onto the weekend – time for just me – for that self-care my therapist says I need.

Words fail to express how glorious that week became and what a milestone it was both personally and professionally. I have so many great ideas to share with my coaching clients. I also have several great ideas for blog posts and even for a future creativity retreat. And I am rejuvenated, refreshed, rebooted.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some writing tips I learned at the conference. You can follow these tips on my newsletter.

What is it about Santa Fe that evokes such a strong sense of belonging?

The Environment. At 7200+ feet, Santa Fe rests between the Sandia and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It lies at a higher elevation than Denver, the mile-high city, yet doesn’t feel like you have to climb enormous hills to get there. Some people do suffer from altitude sickness.

I only suffered regret when I had to leave. The city is nestled like a bird resting in God’s hands, so you feel safe within those mountains, secure within its borders.

The Climate. With little or no humidity, a bad hair day does not exist in Santa Fe. Compare that to Kansas where I might as well throw away my curling iron and forget the entire process. The week I spent in Santa Fe, daytime temps were in the 80’s and nighttime in the 50’s.

Layered clothing required. My definition of perfect.  

The Diversity. Tourists from all over the US and the world visit Santa Fe. I met people from France, California, Minnesota, Germany, Chicago, Australia, Japan, Columbia (the country, not Missouri) and Colorado. Those who choose to live in Santa Fe may be Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians or Anglos – an amazing mix of God’s creatives.

We easily mingled, shared tips about the best historical tours or joked with each other on the shuttles.

Doorway - Santa FeThe Architecture. Those curved, soft walls – no angles anywhere with the terracotta covering the adobe. The colorful doorways and window frames, usually a turquoise blue.

From the St. Francis cathedral to the Loretto Chapel to the Georgia O’Keefe museum, Santa Fe knows how to display its unique beauty.

The Atmosphere. The people of Santa Fe relish in the joy of relaxation and play. A wedding party marched around the town plaza, complete with Mariachi band, dancing bridesmaids and the newlyweds with happy glows on their faces.

People stroll through the streets. No hurry to make appointments. Waiters and waitresses take time to stop and talk to their customers. Business owners do not pressure for sales. Everyone seems eager to meet you and take the time to learn more about you.

The History. Each year, I read through my copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Though written in novel form, it details much of the history of the region. The faith walk of Saint Francis and Father Lamy, how the famous cathedral was built and how the sisters of Loretto served the people of the community.

I participated in one of the historical walking tours with an amazing guide who was born in Germany, raised in Chicago, then made Santa Fe her home. During that hour, I learned more about the region than previous years and reveled in the rich faith that built the city.

Loretto StaircaseThe Arts. From Canyon Road to the winding Loretto staircase to the handmade jewelry of the Native Americans – the arts thrive in Santa Fe. In fact, people come from all over the world to attend the Festival of the Arts or buy season tickets to the famous Opera House.

For a creative like me, it is like being drenched in the fiery juices of God’s artistic design. The colors and textures, the fine craftsmanship, the pride of each artist as s/he describes their process. Heaven on earth.

Six years ago, my precious friend Deb and I made a research trip to Santa Fe. I was working on the last book of the Reverend G trilogy and needed to know first hand the feel of Santa Fe. I already loved the area. That trip cemented my craving for New Mexico’s finest.

This time, without Deb, I determined to make my own memories although I still grieved her absence. But I felt her there with me, in the coral sunsets and the mournful tone of a wooden flute.

Most of all, I felt a sense of homecoming – as if Santa Fe had chosen me for a week of rest and a reminder that life was about to turn around. That my son would indeed be well. That my words would impact readers and my soul would find its refuge.

Hope strolls through the quiet lanes of Santa Fe and promises to call me back again. I plan to someday answer.

George O’Keefe was right when she said, “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Learn about Reverend G and her trip to Santa Fe in the trilogy: The Unraveling of Reverend G, Intermission for Reverend G, Final Grace for Reverend G. 

 

Hope Searches for Rest

Someone recently asked me, “What do you do to find rest?”

My oxymoron reply, “I have to intentionally work to find rest.” Except for the times when life throws me in bed with an illness or unresolved grief, I have to plan for rest.tea cup - flower - journal

My strong work ethic was forged on the family farm where every day’s chores began at sunrise. The frenetic pace of milking cows, putting up hay and bringing in the harvest continued throughout each season.

Although I still have calluses and sun-ripened freckles to prove how many hours we toiled, I wouldn’t give anything for those years.

The joy of being outside and the lessons I learned about hard work were  priceless.

Still, rest is something I know is important. So I am determined to learn how to proactively invite rest into my life.

On Sundays, I take a break from the digital, refusing to click online to check emails or tweet a response. Sundays are usually the days I lie down for a nap – another leftover routine from my childhood. An unconscious stopping of work to intentionally rest.

But what are ways to embrace rest while awake? Doesn’t the proactive invite for rest also include an invitation for peace?

A break in the routine underscores rest which is part of the reason for Julia Cameron’s suggestion to take an artist date once / week. A date without the goal of productivity but simply the enjoyment of art, to browse through a bookstore or re-discover the magical smell of crayons.

Even a break from the carefully designed life. Perhaps a day for a chocolate treat, a ceasing of counting calories for the enjoyment of flavors and textures. No worries about carbs or fat grams.

One of the least used yet most beneficial ways to rest is to merely sit and do nothing. To enjoy the fading light of a colorful sunset, listen to a classical aria, meditate on a Psalm or pet a cat, revel in the warmth of a contented purr.

The tagline of Choosing Rest by Sally Breedlove reads “Cultivating a Sunday heart in a Monday world.”

Breedlove writes, “Finding rest requires quiet undeviating focus where we give ourselves time for holy spaces of contemplation.”

As I search for more opportunities to find rest, I want to reboot my creative and spiritual self.

Rest births a chance for finding ourselves without the definition of productive effectiveness. Within moments of rest, we discover our true selves as God created us to be – trusting, content and whole.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Find out more about the topic of Hope in Hope Shines – now available also in Large Print.

Hope Shines in School Supplies

Although we are several weeks past the beginning of the new school year, fresh school supplies still tempt me. crayons - pens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wait until later in August or even September, after the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures.

All year, school supplies bring excitement – waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen or a whiff of ink from a new marker.

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

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

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

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

Hope Fights Against Nature

Most of the time, I love nature. Flowers – certainly. The vibrant colors of autumn, the birds who gather on my deck, begging for another helping of seed.

But this summer, my son and I encountered the villains of nature – vicious beasts who brought stress and despair as we battled against them.woman warrior - cartoon

Wasps. The ugly brown ones that chase you when you dare to invade their space, which is actually my space – proven by the mortgage bill that comes every month.

We first noticed a nest or two, sprayed them, knocked them down, figured the beasties would get the idea and go bother another neighborhood.

Not so! Perseverant rascals. They set up camp under my deck, built condominiums for their queen who obviously kept fertilizing eggs to produce more of her species.

The soldiers guarded well, swarming around me when I tried to water the flowers on my deck. Stinging when I grew too close to their nest which was under my feet and impossible to see through the slats.

So we took down a couple of boards and discovered the condo, brown warriors guarding it, always in attack mode.

I spent a small fortune in traps and sprays, then wasted hours on the internet searching for ways to finally eradicate these ugly squatters.

Nothing worked. I refused to try the most ridiculous suggestion: “Paint your deck blue. The wasps will think it’s the sky and get confused.” Seriously?

Finally, I gave up trying to fix the problem myself. Another Google search revealed that few pest control services deal with wasps. Smart people! They don’t like them either.

But we found a company who sent a brave guy to spray all the nests – a total of 8 – knock them down and treat the deck against future intruders.

So far – no wasps. At least for a month, we are free. The cooler weather will send them to another climate.

I’m not sure why God created wasps or what purpose they may serve in the order of nature. But I don’t want them on my property. I want to enjoy my deck, my flowers and my sanctuary until winter chases me inside.

Hope fights and wins.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How does an abused woman learn to fight against her manipulative husband? Check out her story in No Visible Scars.  

Hope Finds a Relationship

This series about the Saturday Sisters cannot end without a post that features Deb. Although I have written about her numerous times since that horrible day she died – she is still included when the Saturday Sisters meet.Debby

Susan makes the guacamole Deb loved. Janet often dresses the table with the quilt Deb made for her.

Although we have reassigned seats, the place where Deb sat still holds her presence. We still consider her one of the Sisters, mainly because of her gift to us – relationship.

Judging from the number of people who attended her funeral, Deb’s gift for relationship flowed beyond our circle.

Simply put, she knew how to relate to others. It wasn’t always an easy relationship, but even then – Deb knew how to work through the differences.

None of us were ready for her death. None of us ever imagined it might happen and that she would be taken from us so quickly. We all experienced those first days / weeks / months of blessed shock that protected us for a while from intense pain.

And on the one year anniversary of her death, we met again to toast her life and remember what she meant to us.

My therapist tells me the end of relationships is the reason so many elderly people are depressed. Because when they lose someone they have loved for a lifetime, they know time will not allow them to ever replace that friendship. They simply don’t have enough years left.

As if Deb could ever be replaced. Not happening.

Deb and I often took trips together – to test the relationship, to see if we could at some point live together and share expenses.

We had our moments. I am a morning person. Deb was awake long after I was in bed. I am a scheduler, a planner. Deb was spontaneous.

We added flavor to each other even as we learned to compensate for our differences.

The strangest confrontation we ever had was during our trip to New Mexico. We were in Red River, that lovely mountain town where Deb played her Native American flute from our balcony. People gathered to ooh and ah at the sound as it echoed off the mountains.

In the grocery store that night, we each bought snacks. Then Deb said, “Put them in the same sack. We’ll save a bit of plastic to protect the environment.”

For some reason, it bothered me not to have my own sack. I have been independent for years, so to have someone else tell me what to do with my stuff – well – that just wouldn’t fly.

I know. It sounds so stupid now.

But we left the store with only one sack between us. Deb immediately sensed something wrong, and we worked through it. We talked it out of our systems. I admitted to being foolish and selfish. She confessed to assuming I would agree with her.

The main issue was to keep our relationship trustworthy and intact. Which we did.

She always found a way to reach my soft spot, buried beneath the scars of years without trust.

And that’s what I miss the most. The action of relationship. Her voice on the phone. Her face at my door. Her cats on my lap and her smile when she knew we were on the same telepathic wavelength.

Someone I could trust with my inner self.

The Saturday Sisters have added so much richness to my life, I cannot fathom being without them. Could never imagine the group without Deb.

But life does not flow within the barriers we desire. It surprises us with illness and death, but also with treasured friendships that build with each meeting.

It has been said that we meet people for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime.

Twenty plus years with this amazing group of women is a small lifetime and each of us has brought a gift to the group.

Whether it’s Encouragement, Wisdom, Service, Perseverance or Relationship, I feel truly blessed to be part of the Saturday Sisters of Lawrence, Kansas.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page.

 

Hope Stands With Perseverance

As we continue to discover the qualities of each Saturday Sister, Hope shows itself in the persevering life of Sharon.flower cactus

For over twenty years, my Saturday Sisters have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Sister Sharon and I have shared fun times together. We were both moms of band students, so we traveled to every band competition, ballgame and even band practice we could manage. In fact, one year we met at the grassy field where the band practiced and prayed for their season.

Football fans may not realize how hard the band works. With two-a-day practices that begin with the earliest crow of the rooster, the band is on the practice field. Sharon and I know because we vicariously lived it with our children.

It was Sharon who realized I would someday move from the cozy town of Lawrence to the Kansas City Metro. She was the sister who encouraged me to attempt the 435 loop and the Grandview Triangle, which felt like a near-death experience. She directed me through neighborhoods and helped me imagine that life could indeed be okay in the big city.

We both love flowers, so Sharon and I have found joy in visiting numerous lawn and nurseries. We revel in the colors and textures of God’s creations, even the birds we feed each day and the animals each of us have loved.

But the main reason I love Sharon is because of her perseverance. For many years, she has lived with the debilitating disease of muscular dystrophy. She endures the pain, the stares of rude people and even cruel comments that come her way.

Each moment of each day brings the need to persevere, to make it through another hour and try to find some joy in it.

She manages to persevere, because her faith is stronger than her pain.

She plans her days around how many steps it takes to launder the clothes, how long she can manage to move around her kitchen to fix a meal and how to stay awake when pain kept her from sleep the night before. Even her diet is now affected as so many things upset her delicate system.

The living of life itself is a challenge. Yet this sister has prayed me through various difficulties. She has shown me how to endure when life throws a stink ball and she has enabled me to persevere because of her example.

Sharon has no idea how beautiful she is, but the rest of us consistently see God’s beauty in her.

When I think of Sharon and her gift of perseverance, a quote from the best-selling “The Art of Racing in the Rain” underscores what I want to say: “The physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak. A true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”  

Sharon is a true champion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope Believes in Service

Continuing with this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of my Saturday Sisters.

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together. Today I focus on the Servant Sister, Susan.serving - Jesus love

Her demeanor is that of the humble Servant as she believes strongly yet expresses herself softly. She is a constant reminder to me of the way we should love others by being Love.

Susan is an amazing cook, a faithful wife, mother and grandmother.  Each time we meet, she brings a bowl of guacamole – to honor Deb. And she is the sister who provides the main dish, a quiche filled with goodness sans the gluten. Two of us are gluten free.

In the various experiences of my life, Susan has been there to serve. She is a talented garage sale shopper and finds the best bargains that are beautiful and functional.

During the dark beginnings of my post-divorce days, Susan brought me gifts that accessorized my new décor. She helped me imagine how life would again someday be worthwhile.

Sometimes, I would hear the doorbell ring and hurry to open it. But no one stood there, only a bag of groceries, a pile of coupons or an envelope of cash. I have no proof, but I imagined these gifts were probably from Susan.

When I moved to Olathe, it was Susan and her husband, Steve, who stayed the longest to help me arrange everything. When they left, I almost called Susan and said, “Come back. I need another hug.” She gives great hugs that infuse me with the best of grace-filled love.

She is a faith heroine, a supporter of the Navigators and a woman who cares deeply about the lost and hurting. She prays with a fervency that teaches me how to focus on the heart of God rather than on my own needs.

Always, always Susan serves with little thought for herself.

Yet, she is strong enough to defend herself and those she loves. In spite of cultural changes, she stands for truth and continues to learn more about serving God. She uses her spare time to help others, to give of herself and to share whatever she has.

Nowhere have I found a more gracious Servant than Susan.

We share a birthday month, just two days apart, so we often send cards and sometimes a little gift. I always feel closer to her in October.

Susan adds to our Sister meetings with a soft voice, sharing her latest news with a positive spin. She knows how to stay in Hope and how to praise God for the blessings of life. She reminds me to do the same, especially when I veer off into negativity.

Although she never boasts about her gifts or pushes herself into first place, I know she has a tender heart.

I saw her grief-stricken face at Deb’s funeral, and I wanted to help her feel better. But I couldn’t. She has always been the one to help others.

When we get to heaven, Susan will have a special place – probably near the heart of God. Her life and her Servant ways have earned her a “Well done,” and I love who she is with a passion I cannot express.

This Sister shows us what it means to love every day, in ways we cannot fathom. Somehow, she finds a way to do her Serving with grace and for that – I honor her.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book on my Amazon Author page.

 

Hope Thrives in Wisdom

If you are just now joining me, let me introduce this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of the Saturday Sisters.poster from Ginger

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Today I focus on the tallest Sister, Ginger.

None of us call her Virginia, because the moniker of Ginger sounds more friendly. She once served as a gifted lawyer, but now revels in the roles of wife, grandmother, friend and sister.

Her gift to me is Wisdom.

From the time we first met, in the welcome line for new members at First Christian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, Ginger has impressed me as the most authentic woman I have ever known.

In spite of chronic illness, Ginger wears her authenticity with the wisdom of years. She and I share a common background. As recovering Mennonites we both love music, missions and carbohydrates.

I covet her white hair because my gray is not attractive. But I really loved how she once added a streak of dark purple, an impulsive move that delighted us and underscored her creativity.

Ginger and her husband, Ken, have supported me in various ministries through the years, but it was her kind generosity and wisdom that helped me through the dark beginnings of divorce. She was practical yet soft, wise yet gentle. I will always love her for being there when the need was so great.

Her Wisdom also manifests in story as Ginger is one of the best story-tellers I know. She served on my team as an international minister, telling the stories of the Bible to children and their mothers from all over the world. She brought Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve alive to beginners in faith and seasoned saints.

I am quite certain some young adults in China or the Ukraine now believe in the amazing Yahweh God, because they saw him live through Ginger.

When we meet as Saturday Sisters, it is Ginger’s stories that enthrall us, that lead to laughter or a general sigh of agreement. While we grieve for the illnesses she bears, for the pain that often keeps her away from our meetings – we treasure our times together.

I love how Ginger speaks her truth and how she often shares on my blog comments. It makes me feel closer to her through the miles, to send a hug through cyberspace and thank her for taking the time to read and respond.

Although we are not far apart in age, Ginger seems so much stronger than I, wiser for her years of experience, grace-filled in spite of sorrows. She reminds me to persevere, to find the stories in the every dayness of living and to keep on writing, even through rejection.

A creative poster Ginger designed hangs in my office and is represented in the image above. With her usual flair for color and texture, it is the wisdom of Ginger’s words that I appreciate most: “I have always known that I would take this path, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

The Wisdom of my Sister Ginger challenges me to seek my own wisdom in the things that count, in the words I write and in the Hope I strive for.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope and the Saturday Sisters

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.SAMSUNG

We have watched our children grow up, shared the joys of weddings and the sorrow of funerals. Phone calls, emails and texts help us stay connected, but it is our monthly meetings that feed my soul.

As I have considered my next book, I wondered if it was time to write about the Saturday Sisters. Somehow, that book isn’t coming together – yet – so I asked each of these precious ones if I could describe them in a blog post.

With their permission, I decided to go deep and talk about how each of these Sisters has added to my life.

During the aging process, we begin to think about legacies and what we will leave behind. We de-clutter the stuff, knowing it is no longer  important. But it is the people we cannot forget, cannot shove into the Goodwill bin. These are the treasured ones who have added to our living and shown us how to be.

This blog post begins my thank you to the Saturday Sisters for how they have enriched my life.

Janet: The Encourager. She has a special way of turning a dark day into a beam of light. With her witty humor and her pithy statements, she has often given me hope when everything seemed desperate.

She calls once / week to check up on me from her sunroom office where her title is inscribed near her chair: CEO – Chief Encouragement Officer.

Her voice holds warmth and often – a suppressed giggle – reminding me how joy lies just below the surface. We just have to shove away the despair to find it.

Janet encourages me in my writing and in my living. She and her husband, Steve, have supported my various ministries and they are patrons for my writing life.

She is also a prolific reader. She finds the most amazing books I have never heard of. Then she shares them with the group and often sends each of us a copy.

One of those books provides morning and evening meditations for me. “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillee has challenged me while reminding me once again how Janet encourages me to grow.

It is Janet’s lovely house where we meet, because it is totally accessible for her wheelchair. This Encourager lives with MS and its side effects, facing her own dark days yet somehow never letting them destroy her faith.

I am consistently amazed by Janet’s courage, and I love her intensely for who she is.

Janet’s husband, Steve, is our associate member. He helps Janet get the house ready, picks treasures from his garden to share with us and gives amazingly strong, beautiful hugs. Steve is one of those rare men who is trustworthy, kind and smart.

He and Janet have merged their personalities into a grace-filled pairing of what marriage should be.

It is Janet who organizes our monthly meetings, who leads us in our discussions and keeps us on track. She is the energizing force behind the Saturday Sisters, and I truly don’t know how she does it so well.

Except that she is gifted as an Encourager.

She knows who she is and how to set healthy boundaries. As a former lawyer, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother – Janet is the Sister who keeps me steadfastly searching for Hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more information about my books, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Depends on Divine Accompaniment

For many years, I accompanied soloists and choral groups with piano, organ or keyboard. It was a fun time and a growing experience in my musical journey.piano keys

The art of accompaniment includes several techniques:

  • The accompanist follows rather than leads.
  • A good accompanist adds to the performance and does not overshadow the soloist.
  • To accompany means to help, but it can also include a few embellishments, chord segues or arpeggios that add richness to the performance.
  • Good accompanists are a treasure. Soloists and choir directors seek out only the best.

In her best-selling book, “The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of Enough” Julia Cameron introduces the concept of divine accompaniment where God is so close, He goes with us on each journey and throughout our daily tasks.

I love this idea, because I spend so much time in the necessary aloneness of creativity. Sometimes I forget my Husband and Maker is right beside me.

But how does that divine accompaniment work, especially when the “star” of the show is not me but rather – the Divine One?

I like to think of God as walking beside me hand in hand. Together we combine our forces and gifts, the desires of the heart completely intertwined so that it is impossible to tell one from the other.

God adds a score, a lovely embellishment that completes the thought or action I have taken. I use the gifts he has given me to add richness and texture to our journey together.

Although the composition may sometimes feel or sound discordant — in the end, it resolves into a lovely sound that resembles a final Amen.

The Divine One accompanies my writing projects, the relationships I build with clients and friends, the very texture of my life.

And always the reminder within the music of each day: I am never alone. I am accompanied by the Creator of beauty who reverberates his sound within me.

The Divine Accompanist underscores hope and completes his theme with graceful beauty.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Divine Accompanist shows up in my book Hope Shines – now available in regular and large print.

Hope is Present

When I worked for a national organization of chaplains, we often talked about the ministry of presence. As people struggle with grief and face challenges, they need someone to show up and be with them. To be present.hugs at beach

Henri Nouwen eloquently explained this ministry of presence, “I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”   

Somehow we think we must always come up with a perfect quote or a special Bible verse to help another person over the hump.

But my quote is not your quote. Your Bible verse may not help me at all.

So feeling the need to impart great wisdom rarely shares hope, especially for those who are suffering.

During this year of grief, my son’s illness and unanswered questions, hope has shown itself in the ministry of presence.

I have been blessed by special friends who were determined to just be present: An invite for morning coffee or a spontaneous offer of iced tea which then morphed into supper at Red Robin. Hugs. A plate of gluten free treats. A listening ear. An “I’m thinking about you” card or an “I’m praying for you” text.

No wise quotes. No Bible verses. No “You should do this” statements.

These “present” friends granted me space and allowed me the time to heal in my own way. No expectations. No judgment.

Plenty of hope.

Now I am determined to pay it forward – to just be present when I meet another struggling pilgrim.

When others are suffering, to offer that cup of coffee or the iced tea that sweats all over the table or the meal at Red Robin with bottomless fries which I don’t need but sometimes taste really good.

To be the one who shares hope without words of wisdom, sans my ideas of what might help. To just be there as a person who cares.

Hopefully, I can do for others what others have done for me.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – now available in regular or large print.

Hope Embraces Self-Care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care interrupted my busy life.Self-Care

It has taken me so many years to write this truth and believe it: Self-Care is a spiritual discipline.

Somehow we think if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual. If we are exhausted, we have completed our journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet we cannot truly love others until we learn how to love ourselves. Check out this amazing article about the walking wounded.

Taking care of ourselves feels selfish, somehow “less than.” Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But God never asks us to kill ourselves — even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist recently complimented me on a couple of choices I made. “Both of those are self-care,” she said.

I didn’t even realize I was taking care of myself. I just made some choices that seemed necessary to avoid overwhelming stress.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way” underscores the importance of artist dates. These dates with ourselves aren’t necessarily doing something artsy.

They can be a visit to an arboretum, a late-night ice cream run or a stroll through the farmer’s market. Cameron also encourages the five-minute time out — just a few moments to stop the busyness and breathe.

After a couple of years of extreme stress, I’ve decided to do something entirely for self-care. The Creative Reboot is a writers conference in Santa Fe that focuses on refreshing the creative juices. Most of the presenters are new to me, except for Julia Cameron. I am beyond excited to meet her in person.

But I’m also taking a couple of extra days to walk the streets of Santa Fe, breathe the mountain air, remember five years ago when my friend Deb and I were there, feel the texture of turquoise jewelry and eat lots of meals that feature green chilies.

I hope to gain creative ideas and maybe the structure for my next novel. Mostly, I’ll refresh the perspective that taking care of myself is part of the entire health package.

And when I return, the week of self-care will result in a larger package of hope I can carry with me into the next months.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a gift for someone who likes to read Large Print? Hope Shines is now available in Large Print.

Hope Reaches The Date

Today is the day I have been dreading, yet looking forward to its arrival. July 16. One year since my friend Deb stepped into eternity.

Deb - RJT under book arch

Deb and I in Santa Fe, under the book arch 

I have dreaded this date because of the following:

  • Memories will unavoidably reoccur—scenes from the ICU, holding her hand even as it grew colder, wishing and praying she could wake up, family loving her as she journeyed Home
  • A repeat of what her loss has meant and how deeply this awful emptiness has changed my life
  • Empathy grief for her children and family—how they must be feeling on this day

But how could I possibly anticipate July 16 and actually be grateful it has arrived?

The one year mark of the grieving process carries with it a certain relief. I have lived through this year and reached its pinnacle. Now perhaps an extra acceptance will somehow lessen the grief, help me move into the next year with a bit of hope.

In every circumstance of life, I have sought to learn something from the experience. Can’t help it. Life-long learning is one of my core values.

So what have I learned from this horrible event and the past year of ultimate sadness?

  • The grieving process is impossible to describe—even for a writer.
  • My grief is not your grief, so I must be true to my heart’s feelings and its necessary outpouring.
  • One day may be totally different than the next with no clue as to what may trigger a grief attack.
  • The importance of women friends who seem to know exactly what I need before I can express it.
  • The need for gifted counselors who listen and express sympathy without letting me wallow in my pain.
  • The vitality of my faith. Without the absolute knowing I will see Deb again, I would be totally devastated.
  • The blanket covering of prayers. They carry us through each day, even when we’re not aware of their presence.
  • The importance of treasured friendships and how to focus on my current relationships.
  • The need for staying in hope—for looking forward instead of remaining trapped in the loss.

For months, I have thought about my plans for this day. I could isolate myself and disappear into a gallon of comforting ice cream. Lots of chocolate. Extra chocolate.

But instead, I forced myself to ask the question: How can I honor Deb most on this day?

After multiple ideas, I have decided on the following plan:

A visit to the cemetery, some flowers on her grave, a few words of closure, “I miss you. I’m glad you’re safe with Jesus.”

Lunch with the remaining Saturday sisters, this group of women who miss Deb as much as I.

Then a pilgrimage to the Humane Society where I’ll leave a donation to help care for abandoned cats. In honor of Deb and her Sweet Pea and Jasper. Force myself not to look in the cages, not even to consider adopting another cat.

Then return home and go to sleep, eager for the next day—for moving forward past this year of grieving and into a more positive 12 months ahead.

I still miss her—dreadfully—but I can now think of her residing in that place of peaceful joy. I can be more grateful now for the friendship we had and the eternity we will share.

Hope steps forward, certain that grief may visit again, but without the sharp rawness of total loss.

At least—that’s what I’m hanging on to.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope Proposes One Change

Sometimes it takes only one change to find hope.hope endures

One of my friends made one change in her diet. She stopped drinking soda and lost ten pounds. One change gave her a healthier body.

For writers, if we change one thing in the narrative, we can affect the entire story. For example, if the Wizard of Oz took place in New Orleans instead of Kansas, L. Frank Baum would have written about a hurricane instead of a tornado.

Hope sometimes hides under one possibility of change. And that one change may alter everything else.

Ann Voskamp lived with chronic depression. When an older woman challenged her to make a list of gratitudes, Ann balked. “Change can’t be that easy,” she said.

But it was. As she began to list her gratitudes—even noting something as simple as the translucent rainbow in her dishwater—the clouds of gloom lifted. Ann continued looking for gratitudes and finally, her depression left.

Last spring, my kitchen was driving me nuts. I knew I couldn’t tear down walls or rearrange the main floor, so I made the one change that was possible. I ripped off the old outdated border and painted the walls a healthy green.

Just that one change seemed to lift my spirits. Working in my updated kitchen offered new hope.

So what about you? What one change can you make in your own narrative that might change everything?

Sometimes hope is one tiny step away.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

To read more about hope and how it can change our lives, check out Hope Shines – now available in Large Print.

 

 

Hope Applauds a Strong Woman

Throughout the years, she has been pictured as the “not enough” woman. Not enough faith, not enough like her sister, not enough commitment to stop everything and listen to Jesus.

Yet, I like her. Martha.  real - not perfect

Legend says she was a wealthy widow, and it was her home in Bethany where she cared for her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

It was her home where Jesus felt comfortable enough to take a break from ministry — to just “be” for a while. Martha’s home was his retreat center.

Why do I like Martha?

Martha was a do-er.

As the owner of the home and the matriarch of the family, Martha was the one who organized the household. She got things done.

Whether planning how to feed her Savior and his group of rowdy disciples or accomplishing the daily tasks of linen weaving, grape and olive picking, laundry, management of people — Martha got ‘er done.

Sure, she occasionally slipped out of balance. Who doesn’t? We know of only one incident where she was carried way with the prep of a meal and forgot what was more important.

But how many of us would do the same? If I knew Jesus was physically coming to my house tonight, you can bet I would pull out my favorite recipe and make sure the bathroom was clean. I’m not sure I would take extra time for an hour of prayer and devotion.

Obviously, Martha was the Type A personality. Without the Martha’s of the world, churches could not operate, non-profits would fold and half the governments of the world would be defunct.

Martha was bold.  

She lived through a terrible tragedy, but she knew who to contact for help. She sent word to Jesus that her brother was sick. She trusted her God to come and heal this precious loved one.

But Jesus did not arrive in time.

Finally, after Lazarus died, Jesus came. Martha marched up to him and dared to confront him. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha was angry and felt Jesus had betrayed her and the family friendship. He didn’t show up in time. He let her beloved brother die.

How many of us have the courage to state the truth of how we feel when our prayers go unanswered and the worst happens?

We may not have the guts to speak our truth, but we feel wounded by the God we love.

Martha was honest and bold enough to state the root of her grief. She knew Jesus loved her enough that he would allow her to be angry with him. And he would love her even more with his response.

Martha was chosen.  

Jesus wasn’t upset with Martha’s bold statement. In fact, he had already planned how he was going to bless her.

He had a greater miracle in mind.

He told her to just believe, and then he instructed the people nearby to remove the stone from the grave.

Here we see bold, practical Martha again. “You’re kidding, Jesus, right? My brother has been dead four days. He’s already stinky.”

Again Jesus reminds her to believe, then he calls Lazarus out of that grave.

Imagine how exciting that moment must have been for this amazing woman. Her prayers answered in a way she could not have imagined. Her brother was alive again. Her faith in Jesus restored.

No condemnation for her boldness. Jesus understood Martha’s authenticity and chose her to be the recipient of a greater miracle.

Hope restored.

God Himself gifted, loved and chose this woman. Let’s give her a break for being human.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the story of another amazing woman — Abigail. No Visible Scars.

When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

acceptanceA copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

But change happened with or without courage. The seasons of life determined new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance—now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had but if we needed something, we actually made it. Created it from the bits and pieces around us. We changed the situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my life. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished, even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. I am always ready to do what is necessary to make a situation better or to at least make it tolerable.

I revise manuscripts until they feel completely right. I add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging knees and a threatening muffin-top waist. I delete from my diet the chemicals that are harmful. Make the necessary changes.

Even as a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we can work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows me to do something—anything—to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

I am frustrated and trying to learn how to work through this whole acceptance thing. How can I find the hope needed in doing nothing?

With the help of a gifted therapist and friends who care, I am inching toward the acceptance of Deb’s death. My life has changed and will never be exactly the same. She is gone.

Somehow, I must make peace with how her absence has affected my calendar days and the future we planned together.

As we age, some things must clearly become an accepted piece of life. In her book, “Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist writes, “It’s okay to be medium.”

She’s referring to the size of clothing she now wears. After years of being petite, she now must wear the medium sizes.

My mother has accepted her life in assisted living. She is content living day by day in her safe and beautiful environment. No stresses. No bills to pay. No worrying about the car and the next oil change. Just get up every morning, eat when they tell you to eat and play Bingo.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to sometimes let go of the need to change. We have to accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance—we will be okay.

So change what you can but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy in each day.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to read about a woman who was able to change her life, check out “No Visible Scars.

Hope Rests in the Memory of Music

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

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

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

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

A musical connection. A memory cherished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the music continues.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

No Regrets in Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ache for them now being fatherless.

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

I have No Regrets in Hope.

©2018 Laney Wind – All Rights Reserved

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

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

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

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

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

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

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

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

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

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

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

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

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

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

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

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

I AM.

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

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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