Finding Hope While Grieving During the Holidays

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

But what if you are smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of your joy is colored by sadness?

Over a million families will be missing someone this Christmas, due to how COVID decimated our lives. Numerous other families had to bury Mom or Dad, sister or brother, a best friend, or a spouse.

How do we find hope when the holidays offer a raw stab of grief? Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

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

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 Christmases past. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of Christmas alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event does not happen anymore. Even after five years of grief, I feel 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 eggnog.

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 have the kids
  • 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
  • A first responder who is too exhausted to cook a meal
  • Anyone you know who might be alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Soothe some of your raw grief with a book about hope. Hope Shines is available on Amazon in print, Kindle, and Large Print.

Hope Keeps It Simple

Because 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, my mechanic, 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 and his bride, for the family members in our gift exchange. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2022 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Embraces Gratitude

We know the health benefits of gratitude, and we focus on giving thanks—particularly during this week of the year. But every year, it’s a good spiritual practice to redefine and choose again those special things we are grateful for. This is my current list:

Hot Water. As I have watched the horrors of the war in Ukraine, I feel a special affinity for the brave women. Every night, I revel in my hot shower or bath. Hot water soothes my bones. Reminds me that winter will pass. Helps me sleep.

I cannot imagine how awful it is to have a baby when there is no hot water. To try and keep your children clean when the infrastructure has been destroyed. To soothe yourself with a cup of hot tea or coffee. To let the water warm your bones and help you forget about what Russia is doing to your country.

Each night, I thank God for hot water and try to do my part to conserve this precious resource. Each night, my prayers are for the brave hearts of Ukraine and a return to some type of normalcy.

Answered Dreams. What does it take to run down a dream? Several lifetimes of perseverance, some luck, and a whole lot of Godwinks. After my best year of book sales and after watching my coaching clients succeed, I am grateful for the answered dream of becoming a writer.

What does it take to run down a dream?

  • 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.
  • 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. Math? Not so much.
  • Notebooks and diaries filled with the detailed debris of my life.
  • Multiple rejections that strengthened my soul muscles and forced me to try again.
  • Seeing my books on a library shelf.

Spices. The sense of taste allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and of course—pumpkin pie spice.

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. That smell evokes care, holiday fun, and love—all at the same time.

Add to those culinary smells, the herbs I grow and throw in recipes: basil, rosemary, and my goodness…Are you hungry yet?

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I share with gratitude my Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipe as a special gift for 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. Add ¼ tsp of ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With spatula, carefully pour the pie mixture into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust. For extra spice, crush up some ginger snaps with melted butter to make your own pie crust.

On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving by remembering single moms. Order a book and gift it. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in a Jar

The caller ID showed a familiar number, so I answered it. “Can you come to the church office? We have something for you.”

Something for me? Did I forget my Bible at church? No. My journal? Nay, nay.

As I entered the office, the administrative assistant handed me a box. “It’s really heavy. Can you carry it to your car? The people who gave it to you wanted to remain anonymous.”

I managed to carry it down the stairs and out to the parking lot, then peeked inside. A jar full of change. Some kind person’s planned generosity. They must have saved all year to fill this one jar for me. What an amazing gift!

As a single mom at Christmas time, I had wondered how to give my precious son a special holiday. For Thanksgiving, a family from church invited us to share their meal, but now we were on the other side of turkey day.

But once again, someone showed up to help us. It felt like an early Christmas, and I could not even thank whoever gave us this amazing jar.

When I cashed it in at the bank, the total of all those quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies equaled $258.00. Plenty of money for our Christmas meal, goodies for my son’s stocking, and plenty of brightly wrapped gifts.

On December 24th, I looked around the living room and thanked God for the change jar. “Please bless those people, God, and help them know how grateful we are.”

Neither my son nor I have ever forgotten that holiday season and the hope given us through a jar of change. I share this post early in the season, hoping that some of my followers will think about single moms and their children this year.

Do you have a jar of change you’ve been saving? Could you give it away? Do you have extra room around your table? Do you have space in your heart to offer hope?

It doesn’t take much to help another soul, but sometimes it DOES require that we rethink what generosity looks like. The cost includes a new mindset, an opening of our hearts, an inclusive attitude laced with compassion.

How many of my followers will give a jar of change? How many single moms and their children will look around their house this year with gratitude?

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you know a single mom, consider giving her Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. It might share hope each day of the coming year.

Hope Beyond the Stereotypes

Perhaps it is the coming of winter that causes moments of reflection. Or the new journal I use to record my thoughts. Or the writer in me who MUST write in order to process life. Whatever the origin, my reflection turns to a time-honored quote.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us how the Jews honored the name of God. They would not purposely step on a piece of paper, in case it contained the name Yahweh. He suggests we should apply this practice to how we treat others.

“Trample not on anyone. There may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on. It may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it. Therefore, despise it not.”

This not trampling on anyone sounds like an easy goal. A worthy purpose. Yet when I see the blatant evil perpetrated by some, it seems impossible.

How can I love every soul, no matter what they choose to do? How can I honor the second commandment of Jesus, to love others as I love myself?

  • Even the evil ruler who is bombing the life out of the citizens of Ukraine, for no other reason than to garner for himself the trophy of another country?
  • Even the knife-wielding radical who stole the eye from a courageous author who dared to confront the inequities of his religion?
  • Even the abuser who torments a puppy, then kicks it out onto the street?
  • Even the man who threatens his wife and children, using his second amendment rights to weaponize their home?
  • Even the religious leader who uses his bully pulpit as a tool for control?
  • Even the woman who allowed her boyfriend to kill their child in one of our Kansas City neighborhoods?
  • Even the murderers of 14 year-old Emmett Till?
  • Even me and the self-righteousness legalism fostered in me?

When I cannot do anything about these horrors, how do I respond? How can I pray? And how do I live in these perilous times to make sure my home is safe yet offer grace to others?

I flip the page on my journal, still not satisfied with how the processing of this question is going. For such a quandary, there surely is no easy answer. For all sin is the practice of ignoring God, and all of us have been guilty.

Some of us just hide it better than others.

Were it not for grace, any of us could be included in the above bullet list. The giving of grace seems so easy for Almighty God who loves unconditionally. Yet it did cost the life of his Son. No easy road there.

And I admit I am still learning how to receive and gift this same costly grace.

What will it cost me to release my stereotypes of these people who choose evil? Will it be to remember that trauma often begets trauma, that evil can multiply through the generations? That people who are raised without knowing the love of God will therefore act like satan?

When did it become my responsibility to judge another? Never. Not even when it became personal to my family, to my soul.

For if Christ died for me, he also died for these others who choose to ignore his grace. And his infinite patience is somehow allowing them the time to make another choice, to open their souls to his healing grace.

It is in the patience of the timing that I am stuck. When, God, when?

So although I find no answers, I will choose to live each day trusting the One who knows not only the answers but all the relatable questions.

And I will embrace the backward living suggested by Father Richard Rohr. That instead of trying to think my way into a new way of living, I should instead live myself into a new way of thinking.

Have mercy on us, oh God.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Uploading Faith addresses such reflective questions, especially for those who seek answers.

The Intensity of Hope

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

“Your book is so intense.”

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

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

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

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

Abigail — living with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We do not know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps.

The editor sent me revisions as I prepared for the booksigning. Invited women I knew who were being abused. Told they were ‘stupid.’ ‘Too emotional.’ Or ‘hormonal,’ just because they wanted to be treated with respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Enjoying a Nugget of Hope

He did not know me, and I had never met him. But we shared the usual exchange.

“Cash, please. Twenties and tens.”

“Date of birth?”

The guy at the bank window hurried away to check my account and cash my check. I waited in the drive through, listened to “Hymn of Heaven” on Love-88.

Then the tray returned, and I looked up to thank this smiling guy I did not know. Evidently, in checking my account and my date of birth, he realized it was indeed my actual birthday.

The envelope returned my cash with a note: “Happy Birthday! I hope you have a good day and eat some good food!”

I smiled as he waved, cleared the lump in my throat, and drove toward my next errand. But I wondered, what are the seemingly small things we can do to share a nugget of hope each day?

  • Make eye contact with the busy retail workers and ask how they’re doing. Compliment them on a job well-done.
  • Give an extra tip when we eat out. Servers are struggling with inflation, too.
  • Follow my son’s example. He writes a special ‘Thank you for your excellent service’ on the back of receipts. Ends the sentence with a smiley face.
  • Send a greeting card to an elderly person. It only costs a little time and one stamp, but the encouragement on the reception is priceless.
  • Refuse to engage in hateful social media posts. Instead, share something beautiful and positive.
  • Give a thank you note to the pharmacy tech at the drive-through window. My daughter-in-love has experienced numerous hate-filled speeches from people picking up their meds, upset with the cost, or wondering why their insurance has not responded. It is NOT her fault. Surely, we can do better. Be better.
  • Show kindness to the marginalized. Be creative here. Remember that Jesus only labeled the self-righteous religious leaders (vipers and snakes). He never excluded the marginalized, the people who were cast out of synagogues because they were the wrong gender or they suffered with leprosy. Can we not follow the example of Jesus in our everyday lives?
  • Document and compliment any kindness shown to you. I plan to send a thank-you email to the manager of my bank. To let her know how thoughtful her employees have been. To encourage her as she trains new hires.

It only took a small Post-it note from a stranger on the other side of the window to lift my spirits.

Surely each of us can share a nugget of hope with someone each day. And hope multiplied might just make a difference in our world.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share some hope with a senior friend. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope Beyond the Tarnish

“Get some Brasso,” the handyman said.

I had never heard of the stuff but found it at the hardware store. Guaranteed to take the tarnish and other gunk off brass and restore the original shine. Less than five bucks to keep the vintage look of my kitchen cabinet hardware.

It wasn’t tarnished too badly, but in the years since the house was built (1976) and multiple owners — the hardware had turned black.

Plus the human touch, the oils and dirt accumulated and added to the grime. In fact, the hardware was so tarnished, I did not even know it was brass underneath.

With just a small amount of Brasso and the bristles of an old toothbrush, the process began. Soon, the shiny antique brass hardware sported its best-dressed look, and my kitchen was transformed.

The spiritual connection was obvious. We may think we’re doing okay, shining as we can for Jesus. But the dirt of the world and our own inner tarnish can make a difference in how we appear. Dull us a bit. Take away from the best of our vintage source.

Others may not even know we are Jesus followers, because we no longer look or act like our origin.

Add the tarnish of the touch of other humans who wound us, the oils and dirt we so easily accumulate, the lies we believe, and our refusal to change. Hope disappears, because we have lost our ability to fully shine. We’re only okay. No longer fabulous.

But with a bit of the Holy Spirit at work and the addition of God’s word, we can start to become who we were created to be. We have to let the Spirit do his polishing act, remove from us the toxins that corrode us. Transform us by the renewing of our minds.

That important word: Let.

We may not even be aware that the Spirit is working. Most of his best processes happen in sacred silence. No fanfare that might point to human endeavor. Just a bit of divine power, of spit and polish, rub and erase.

We may even hear the divine whisper, “You’re okay, beloved child. But there is more you can reach for. More of the taste of heavenly delight. More of the love that draws others upward. More purpose to satisfy your lonely heart.

“And when the polishing process is completed, you will look better. Feel more alive. Be more useful, because nothing will hold you back. You will make the world a safer and more loving place to inhabit, because you are more connected to Me.

“Oh, yes child, you’re okay now. But just wait, honey. Soon — you will shine.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out the story of Abigail in No Visible Scars. Her scars were not visible yet she learned to set important boundaries and shine.

Hope Deferred

Petting zoos are not just for children. They can be a peaceful haven for adults like me who grew up on a farm and still nurture a country heart.

So I was excited to find a petting zoo at one of the local fall festivals. I was eager for the sensory experience of touching and smelling animals, conversing with these splendid creatures of God’s design.

Until I stepped inside.

About ten sheep needed shearing. They wore their wool like heavy armor while children dug fingers into the nap. Ducks and geese stood in a small pen, so crowded they could barely move. No water source so they could drink and play.

One pygmy goat, obviously used to feeding from children’s pudgy hands. He nuzzled a few pellets. Refused to eat more. Again, no water source.

Then I saw her. An older goat lying in the shade, far away from the others. I knelt beside her. Petted the blonde and white stripe on her forehead. No response. No movement except a slight flutter of her long lashes. I checked for the movement of her breath and was relieved to see the rhythms of inhalation.

“I’m sorry, old girl. You don’t feel good, do you? And no one is taking care of you today.”

How long had she lain there with no water and no desire to eat? Was she weary of being taken to a common pen each day for the entertainment of humans? Did anyone care about her physical and emotional health? Who was responsible?

We are encouraged to care for God’s creation which includes the animals (Proverbs 27:23). To honor our shared life that originated when God spoke, “Let there be….” To provide for the weak and care about the suffering, no matter the species or the nationality.

I wonder if I should report that petting zoo to the ASPCA. Would my actions save the life of that sweet goat or would the operators merely move it to another location and find other unwanted creatures to exploit? 

The patriarch Job shared a message regarding the importance of God’s creatures, “For ask now the animals, and they will teach you [that God does not deal with His creatures according to their character]; ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you.

“Or speak to the earth [with its other forms of life], and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare [this truth] to you.

“ Who [is so blind as] not to recognize in all these [that good and evil are promiscuously scattered throughout nature and human life] that it is God’s hand which does it [and God’s way]?

“ In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7-10 AMPC).

Hope should color our actions so that we appreciate and care for all of creation. So that we fight to preserve the precious green spaces that give back oxygen. So that we honor the Creator by protecting his work. So that we touch the sacred places around us with intention to leave them better.

So that we share hope with broken people and even, forgotten goats.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the beauty and poignant prose in The Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz. I am halfway through and loving every nugget of truth.

Hope in Going Deep

A character in the novel I’m reading told his wife, “I love you deep.”

What does it mean to love deep and want to love even deeper? Rather than focusing on this fictional human relationship, I decided to reflect on spiritual love.

How can we love God deeper and grow into a more intimate relationship with the Divine Three? Surely, this important relationship involves reflection and decision.

What are some of the layers of personal choice we can move aside to grow into deeper communion? Or are we just satisfied with salvation and the assurance of eternity. One and done. Period.

Like any relationship, it takes time to develop a deeper understanding with each other. Certainly, it takes quality time to learn how to relate with God. Time to pray. Meditate. Journal through our questions. Or journal our prayers. Use music as a connection point. Get outside and watch how God reveals himself in nature.

It takes the gift of offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. By saying, “No” to another activity so we can grow deeper with our God.

Time is the one commodity we often claim to lack. I hear this complaint often from writers, “I don’t have time.”

Yet everyone is given the same 168 hours each week. It’s not so much a matter of time, but of choices. How will we choose to use those 168 hours this week? Sure, we have to work, do the laundry, make the meals and clean up the mess.

But how much of our consumerism gets in the way of using our time for deeper reflection? We like to have multiple choices for the things we want and the things we do. We often buy what we don’t truly need. We also do what we don’t truly like to do.

We can’t completely clean up our spiritual messes without time with the One who can heal us and help us mop up the mess.

Every week, my church sends out a list of activities. Ways we can “connect” with each other. To make sure we all feel like we belong somewhere. To help us use our gifts and keep our families together by staying busy. Is that an oxymoron?

How can we spend quality family time doing activities with everybody else? How can we learn to be the family of God if we have no time to go deep with our families? And no time to go deep with the One who started life in the first place?

What if our churches sent out a memo to stay home? To love on each other. To pray together and have a communion service around the kitchen table.

The pandemic did force us to slow down and stay away for a while from all the consumerism of stuff and activities. Maybe we need to rekindle a bit of that solitude.

To find our way to a deeper path with each other and especially with the One we will spend eternity with.

Hope is a concept that requires the willingness to go deep. But it takes an intentional choice to make time. To move aside the layers that keep us from that deeper place of hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Take some time this week and discover some deeper truths in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope in Three Values

One of the best fiction series, in my opinion, is Jan Karon’s Mitford books. Karon does such a good job of crafting this fictional town, it feels like an actual place where I want to live.

The main character, Father Tim Kavanagh, presents his wisdom in spades. As the local Episcopal priest, he oversees most of the spiritual events in Mitford. But he is also a practical fellow who grows roses, struggles with diabetes, and walks daily with his faithful dog, Barnabas.

Recently, I re-read the latest book in the series, To Be Where You Are. In this story, Karon offers a special life-values formula via Father Tim.

What are the three things everyone needs in their life?

Someone to Love. We all need an object of our affection, whether human or a pet. And I would suggest we also need to know and truly believe we are loved by someone.

During COVID lockdown, one of my friends had to put down her beloved dog. But she knew living alone without something or someone to love would be emotionally painful and isolating.

So she bought a puppy. Between potty training, adapting her new buddy to the environment of her house, and the usual vet visits — she had no time to feel isolated or worry about COVID. She had someone to love. And the regular licks of her face proved she was loved in return.

Something to Do. We all need to feel as if we have a purpose, that our lives matter for something. Activity of some kind keeps our brains nimble, our muscles hydrated. If we can see we are making a difference, leaving an impact for someone else, that sense of significance soothes our souls.

During the pandemic, I was so grateful I could continue to work. Although some people tired of Zoom meetings, I was grateful for this technology that allowed me to coach my clients and help them publish their books.

In fact, during COVID, multiple books were published — especially digitally. With more time at home, more people were reading. All the authors in the world cheered.

Multiple words were produced, words that will impact readers forever because of writers such as my clients who continued to write.

And they increased my hope as I had work to do, helping them to make an impact with their wordsmithing.

Something to Look Forward to. Whether it is holding a newly published book in your hand, planning for a wedding, or cleaning the clutter to downsize and move to a smaller place — we need some reason to anticipate the future.

As we circle a date on the calendar and make a list of tasks to complete, we focus on something positive happening soon. From that future event rises a feeling of hope, a surge of joy for something good on the horizon.

In 2020, I often thanked God in advance for the day I would no longer have to wear a mask. Looking forward to that time helped me deal with the reflection of myself in the mirror, masked and praying I would not get COVID.

Although masks helped us stay a bit healthier, they also represented fear. So the anticipation of no longer needing to wear one felt like freedom in advance. Answered prayer with God’s detailed timing.

Many of us in the last act of life are anticipating that day when our bodies no longer constrain us. When our spirits get to lift out of flesh and become totally free. When we get to relax in the arms of God.

That anticipation becomes a life-giving hope that carries us through health scares, changes in family dynamics, even the higher prices at the grocery store. And it helps to remind us that the problems we daily face are really nothing compared to the amazing life ahead.

Someone to love. Something to do. Something to look forward to.

Wise words and a reason to reflect on these blessings in our lives. Then thank God for the hope they offer.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

One of the books I wrote after COVID lockdown is titled: Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom. Check it out on Amazon and Kindle.  

Hope Within Conflicting Beliefs

While sharing coffee with a friend, our conversation turned to current events and political differences. Though raised in similar backgrounds, we are worlds apart in our worldviews. Yet we remain good friends.

Later that day, I pondered how we people of faith can believe in the same basic values yet support conflicting causes, certain of our beliefs. We may even attend the same church, yet we vote for different sides of the aisle. Donate to differing organizations.

What does that say about our culture standards and about the freedoms we have to choose?

This is nothing new. Even during the time of Christ, various groups constantly confronted each other. The Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees all worshipped the same Jewish God. Yet their value systems differed, and they often clashed.

Our beliefs come from experience, how we were raised, what values were grandfathered into us, the culture we live in, how we think and make decisions.

For example: in my birth culture within the legalism of the church, I was taught to always obey authority, particularly the leadership of our denomination. So I did not question the ruling hammered into us: “Going to movies is a sin.”

The pastors were ordained, seminary trained, encouraged by the elders with years of ministry experience. They must, therefore, be right.

But my dad asked me to accompany him to a Billy Graham training for an evangelistic movie. Would I like to become one of the counselors for this city-wide event?

I said, “Yes,” hoping God would not strike me dead, yet inwardly believing this was a good thing. After all, my dad was supporting it.

The training was intensive and cohesive, pointers I have carried throughout life in various ministries. The movie created a community revival with hundreds of people deciding to follow Jesus. I had the privilege of leading a teenager to her salvation experience.

Yet kids in my youth group branded me as a heretic and sinner. “If Jesus comes when you’re in the theater, you’ll go to hell.”

My dad’s love and protection kept me from being blackballed, and his gentle reputation soothed the elders’ fears for our radical actions.

That experience began a questioning in me. What if the leaders of the church were wrong? What if their definition of sin was merely based on tradition, a conservative culture, and their need for control. Throughout the years as I experienced more spiritual abuse, I realized authority figures are fallible, prone to sin like everyone else, and not always to be believed.

The freedom in making my own choices via my faith, my own study of God’s word, and the counsel of those I trust has changed me spiritually, emotionally, and at the ballot box.

So what do we do in these troubling times, when so many questions swirl around us? How do we handle the anger within our churches?

Do we blindly follow what we are told by our favorite news channel or by the authority figures behind pulpits? Do we vote based on culture, tradition, and rules or by careful thought and reflective prayer about all the surrounding issues?

How does what Jesus said affect our everyday beliefs? Love God, love yourself, and love others. Period.

As we approach the mid-term elections, perhaps we can be more careful how we post on social media. How we proclaim what we believe to be true. How we take at face value what we are told.

Maybe we can take to heart Ephesians 4:29 and live it out, “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (AMPC).

Perhaps we can spend more time searching for the truth and find it within the heart of the Truth teller and Truth liver — Jesus himself.

And above all, perhaps we can strive more intentionally to love even those with whom we disagree.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for the truth and nothing but the truth, check out Uploading Faith.

Hope Within the Silence

In different seasons of life, our spirituality fluctuates. No right or wrong involved. Just the normal ebb and flow that reminds us we are mortal. We may feel condemned as those old legalistic tapes scream, “Where is your joy?”

But the truth is that feelings do not determine what or how we believe. Sometimes when God seems most silent, he is actually hard at work on our behalf.

Thus, the truth of Psalm 57:2, “I will cry to God Most High, who performs on my behalf and rewards me [who brings to pass his purposes for me and surely completes them]” (AMPC).

This silent time is not the dark night of the soul — that cavernous and sorrowful pit where we feel alone and lost. Yet even then — for those who have experienced it — the result may be a cleansing, purifying, detox that results in an even greater measure of faith.

No, this is the sound of silence. When prayers go unanswered, no matter how intensely we voice our pleas. When no inner voice whispers solace. When God is still present, yet mysteriously quiet.

We may feel abandoned, yet we must remember that every relationship has its silent sounds.

A couple may travel miles without speaking a word. Simply enjoying the journey of being together. How many times do we eat a meal with a long-time friend, each chewing thoughtfully? No words spoken.

The same comradeship can happen in our faith journeys. That comfortable knowing when neither God nor we speak. Yet our hearts still bind together. When God is silent, and we have no prayer language. When no actions result from the desires of our hearts.

Do we give up? Nay, nay. This is the time for the deepest faith striving, the strongest beliefs. This is the living example that faith means being certain of what we cannot see. Solid on what we cannot hear. (Hebrews 11:1).

We can know that no matter how silent are the Divine Three, they still have our best in mind. They still live inside us and around us. They still gather our tears in bottles. They still believe in us and cheer for us.  

Therefore, we also believe and rest in Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Sometimes we can deal with the silence as we read a brief meditation. Check out these daily devotions in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom

Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. A segue exists somewhere, but I CANNOT find it.

I know it will come…“Somewhere over the rainbow.” But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing. A massive piece of comfort chocolate. A gap of time to contemplate the words for this day.

Life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding my newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grab his diploma. After another gap, the same boy/man waiting at the end of the aisle for his bride.

Quickly passing gaps. Overwhelming emotions at both ends.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still currently stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. Two dates: birth and death.

The gap between those two dates determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap, that tell-tale hyphen? How many people did s/he impact? Who will mourn the absence of the owner of that gap?

Think of the people whose gap moments affected our lives: parents, siblings, even ancestors who prayed for those to come, teachers, youth group leaders, the bully at school, the hero who spoke up for me and defied said bully.

We know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery. The telling gaps.

The writers who influenced my life—oh definitely! Madeleine L’ Engle, Carolyn Custis James, Julia Cameron, Richard Rohr. And many others.

Strong gap-livers include my son, the brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July Fourth as the day he came out of surgery. We pretend the fireworks are for him.

Those who live with chronic pain yet complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure. To persevere. To grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we do not always pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that space is where hope exists. Where it is nurtured and grows. Where it expands to affect another’s gap.

Perhaps we need to do more celebrating of each other while we live. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee. Toast each other and determine to pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties. For cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with everyday workers who persevere and heroically make it through another twenty-four hours?

And there it is—the segue I needed, hidden within the paragraphs of my journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap. This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2022nd year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, the Divine Three cheer. They understand the joy I feel in moving forward with words.

And when they review this life with me, we will each realize how important it was to find that segue. To uncover the step that gave color and texture to the story of my life.

Their “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Year of my Redemption has a few resolved gaps. Check it out for a quick summer read.

Hope for Aging Bloomers

The peach-colored gladiola greeted me each morning. Its bloom a reminder of summer days and the impressive creations of the Master Gardener.

But within a week, the lower buds began to shrivel, then drop off. While the top of the stalk retained moisture and health, the bottom continued to degenerate.

Yet even the dead blossoms held sections of their original beauty. Miniscule veins of color. Delicate membranes leftover from full flowering. The furling of a final blossom mirrored as the bulb it once was.

Such a lovely plant and a reminder of the fragile value of every life form. So like the final act many of my friends and I are journeying through.

We have seen our dreams and goals bud and flower. Children raised. Grandkids birthed with the promise new generations always offer.

Our careers established, thriving or enduring until we reached that magic retirement age. We look back with fondness at the memories of colleagues we knew, accomplishments valued, goals reached. Perhaps even souls we have impacted with our words or our books.

A life lived with purpose and the hope that our work mattered. We mattered.

Now, we are seeing more wrinkles. The surge of life feels slower. Every year requires more intentional ways to stay healthy. To keep away from chronic illnesses or acute dangers.

Our skin pales and membranes feel more fragile. We drop out of the 8-5 traffic loop that scurries over highway threads each Monday through Friday. We are grateful, but also miss the adrenaline rush of getting to work and completing our day.

As we move farther from the blossom of youth, we realize how quickly our lives budded. How swiftly purpose changed. And we wonder — did I make a difference? Did it matter, the work I did and the life I lived?

The answer is Yes. Abundantly confirmed. Even though the physical appearance has faded and shriveled, the soul’s significance remains intact.

Wisdom has germinated and is eagerly offered to the youngers who inquire. The lessons we have learned can still be shared through memoir, blog posts and books.

Impacts still to be accomplished. Souls still to be inspired.

And within our last act, we look upward toward the prize that calls us home. To be even more like our Creator. To offer whatever we have left. To move forward — with hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a daily meditation in the last act, check out Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

How Writing Remembers

Last week, I settled into my table at the library. My table—and woe to anyone else who takes my spot! Another week day romp through my latest novel. This one — a coming-of-age story of a young girl in the 1950s in Oklahoma.

Although my main character is NOT myself, she does experience many of the situations I grew up with — also in the 1950s in Oklahoma. Write what you know, but be willing to research what you don’t know.

But this day was not for sketching my main character and the obstacles she faces. It was more of a reminder of the joy of country living.

My main character is working on a farm during harvest, helping the mother of the family with chores and the always necessary food and snacks. She is hot, because it is June and in the 1950s, central air did not exist on most farms.

There is no dishwasher or dryer. So all the dishes, including multiple pots and pans, are hand-washed and hand-dried. Then the laundry is hung out on the clothesline, keeping watch for sudden thunderstorms. The kitchen smells like bacon, a leftover sensory joy from breakfast. Potatoes are soaking, waiting to be peeled for lunch and dinner. Bread is rising on the gas stove. Its yeasty smell permeates everything.

Even writing about that bread makes me salivate. As a gluten free consumer for many years, I still miss the smell and taste of homemade bread.

I paused in my first draft and flexed the muscles of my right hand. Then closed my eyes and remembered again, the joy of living on a farm. The freedom it represented as I walked through the pasture to bring the cows home, picked fresh produce from the garden, swatted at the wasps who tried to invade our peach orchard, fed scraps to the dog, and watched the sunset stretch across the entire horizon.

How I miss those days with Mom and my sister in the kitchen, Dad and my brother in the field. The putt-putt of the tractor as it headed home. The roar of the combine as the guys readied it for another day harvesting our red winter wheat. The calls of “Come, bossy” before milking and “Here, kitty, kitty” after milking.

The people and the place merged into a giant memory of time, distance, emotions, and loss. After a couple of hours creating my book’s storyline, I headed to the grocery store. Found some pears on sale and HAD to buy one.

Again, the memories flooded in. The line of pear trees on our other farm in the far reaches of the county. How we brought food to the field, then picked the fresh pears that had fallen during the night. Carried them back to the kitchen for easy snacks, pear jam, and a fiber-rich side dish.

Between the pears and the writing, it was easy to disappear into the past. This happens to us writers. We transport ourselves to other worlds. Sci fi and fantasy becomes a future. Historical fiction and memoirs detail us backward into both good and bad scenarios.

But always, always — it is the power of the words that transports wordsmiths, then hopefully, our readers as they travel with us through the story. We find again the beauty of creativity, the power it holds over us, and the possibilities it opens for our readers.

Hope remembers the past with fond details of country life. Hope also moves forward to create, invent, and enjoy a make-believe world.

People often wonder what is the writer’s process? It simply begins with pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Then as the soul adds the creative elements, the process gives life to characters, to time and place. And the process fills the words with hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find time to write, check out Finding Your Writing Plan.  

Hope Repurposes a Life

It’s fun to find a discarded item and repurpose it. A piece of furniture from the neighborhood dumpster. A pot made from an old bowl. A scarf that morphs into a wall hanging.

My repurposing gifts stem from growing up on a farm and making do with whatever we had. DIY projects began on the family farm.

Need to make a straight row for the garden? Use sticks and baling twine. No need to buy something fancy from the gardening store.

Create a toy out of a piece of cardboard or leftover wood. Use Grandma’s old dresser and repaint it for whichever grandchild needs it next.

Our fashions consisted of hand-me-downs from dozens of cousins. The rule on the farm was: “If you don’t have what you need, make it with whatever materials you already have.”

Creativity thrived, but we did not think of our projects as art. More like survival. Repurposing became our way of life.

My repurposing projects have expanded well beyond furniture, wall hangings, or garden projects. I took the pieces of a former life and with God’s guidance, remade it into something new.

The ministry of counseling and coaching, helping people find a new direction in life, morphed into the ministry of words.

The solitude of sentences. Helping writers birth their words. Edits and publishing resources. Watching their books and mine expand on the dream shelf.

Any type of life transition becomes a repurposing project. How to stop being who we were to become the best “self” for a new season of life.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The task is to persevere within the solitude.”

It is not a struggle to write, edit, and create in the quiet of my home. This is the creative side that has always existed—which God planned before the creation of the world.

It is just different. A new normal as I had to discover my function within a changing role.

When repurposing an object, we sit awhile and look at it from all angles. How can it be painted or redesigned? How can it be used most effectively?

Think Tom Hanks in Castaway as he sat on the beach staring at a piece of tin until he imagined it as a sail. His life-saving mode of escape.

To repurpose a life requires even more reflection. How can we use our gifts to bless others when the audience lives in cyberspace? Is this moment best used writing a blog post, editing a book, taking a creative walk, or reading a novel? All choices are important.

But which choice strengthens us for the new role? Allows us to end the day with a sense of purpose? Can we be content to just BE?

Learning to just BE has been hard for me—the natural doer, the planner, the initiator. But as I have learned the principle of quiet reflection, I now find a stronger creativity emerges. Unusual and unexpected projects completed. New ideas nurtured.

The beauty of a personal repurposing project is the assurance that God loves us no matter what we DO. He saved us to BE—to transition into different people.

Hope thrives when we can be our authentic selves. When we embrace life and move forward with joy. What if we find a new purpose and learn to be more authentic than ever before?

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Learning to BE is a day-by-day process. Check out some hope in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for the divine whisper.

It is often in the early mornings when the meditations of my heart remind me that I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in their sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well with my soul.

Such a moment recently occurred as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

A female voice. Perhaps the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Maybe a sweet relative who passed to glory and was told to visit me.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew the voice was from no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, a voice from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved—completely and forever adored by the Divine Three.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling. Surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen? When eternity interrupts life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence. Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Immanuel with us?

Or does God long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy. But what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain—a sheer veil between the physical and the spiritual?

What if God is always reaching out to us? To give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead, but we’re too focused on the now to realize divinity is here.

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet, though he knew better. Brain damage. Intensive care with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Mike had crossed over. The confirming phone call was no surprise. Tears, yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Two days later, Mike stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face. He wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in the New Mexico area where he lived. A coral stone set in silver. The black leather strap around his neck.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. A token from eternity that he was all right. Would always and forever be okay.

Then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next! It cannot be measured by our finite minds. But its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we seem to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine. A great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.

And standing with them is the Savior of our souls—this One who dares to love us despite who we are or what we have done.

So, I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to hope. Maybe I will hear that same voice and feel that comforting touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For daily inspiration and hope, check out: Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Nurtures Gratitude

During this turbulent year of so many worldwide problems, I still do my usual thank you’s:

  • Thank you, God, for the food in my belly. So many people are hungry today.
  • Thank you for the roof over my head. Many are homeless or displaced.
  • Thank you for my son and daughter-in-love … always.

Yet now, I long to dig deeper and find gratitude within the sacred corners of my soul. Those places I hide from others. To be more vulnerable and embrace the gratitude that is more than words. The heart condition worthy of reflection.

This week, I am thankful for my new awareness of the fragility of life. Every day, the reports of shootings and killings in the Kansas City metro. School shootings that destroy another generation. The community saying good-bye to a beloved policeman.

One night, a bullet screamed through my bedroom, tore through my headboard and out the opposite wall. One inch closer, and I would be writing from heaven instead of Kansas. A wake-up call and a frantic 9-1-1.

My gratitude extends statewide this week as we exercise our civic duty to vote. The freedom our votes represent. The choices we make as we consider who will serve us best and in what capacity.

I pray for the Ukrainians who have no such freedom. No decision to make as to whether to accept Putin’s despotism or unearth their nation from the ashes. Just trying to survive one day to the next.

Back from a writer’s conference, I am awed, humbled, and cheered by the talents displayed by novelists, poets, bloggers. Any and all who take up the pen. Move their fingers across the keyboard. Create imaginary characters and a variety of world views. Share the message of hope.

I am so grateful for words and for the freedom to make them dance across the page as I wish.

Some days I fail to thank God often enough for grace. All those years ago when my childish heart opened to the Savior of Nazareth and I ran—yes, ran down the aisle toward salvation. May I never forget the wonder of that moment. Expressly thank God for the healing of my soul.

A brief foray into my journals finds entries where I asked God questions. Sometimes railed against the answers. I am grateful God allows and invites honesty. He knows I am mortal and “Why?” is often on my tongue.

When God reveals verses which provide answers and confirm hope, I am forever aware that I am gracefully loved.

May we never take for granted how God continues to save us every day.

Although I rejoice that Mom is finished with her Alzheimer’s journey, that ending means my mother is dead. After nine months, I am still trying to process that fact. The orphan I have become feels alone.

Yet surviving the grief of loss is itself a gift.

Because God has enabled me to survive, my faith has grown. Perseverance has deepened. With these experiences in my mental backpack, I write about realistic topics and coach others in the birthing of their grateful words.

My core value of life-long learning grasps toward more lessons the Spirit and life teach me. Together we work out the kinks in my spiritual armor. Find the sacred place God has purified. Just because he is good.

Then my reasons for gratitude engulf the empty spaces. I listen hard for the sacred whisper and respond with the words the Divine Three long to hear.

“Thank you.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon in print, e-book, and large print.

Hope Streams Through Promises

In our crazy world of broken promises, it is soothing to know we can depend on one source of truth. God has never broken any of his covenant promises.

Some of his hope-filled words are recorded within the general principles of the Bible. “I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be your Comforter. I will show you the path to take. I will be your guide.”

Although the timing for these promises varies, and even the seasons of life sometimes interrupt their forward movement—when God says something and underscores it with a repeat—it will eventually happen.

But the promises that mean the most to me are the certainties that create the a-ha moments of spiritual awakening. They are not recorded in the holy scriptures.

Instead, they are the divine whispers during discouraging nights and dry spiritual deserts. The words that keep me living in hope even when tentacles of fear tighten.

When I walked through the pain of divorce, God spoke his personal promise for my son and me, “There will be hard times ahead, but I will meet every need.”

Even through extended months of unemployment, the scary moves away from comfort zones, the horror of watching my son suffer with cancer—through it all—the reminder of God’s whisper kept me breathing.

“I will meet every need.”

In miraculously beautiful moments recorded in my journals and kept ensconced in my heart, God’s sacred promises proved true.

Every. Single. Need. Was. Met.

Jobs suddenly appeared from unusual sources. Cars were given through the generosity of good people. The healing of my son—thank you, Jesus! My own emotional, spiritual, and physical healings. Money that somehow appeared. God’s math proving different from mine as he made money poof into existence from a negative balance.

Friendships were spawned in the cusp of brokenness. Housing was provided—one of my constant prayers, “Please God, don’t let us be homeless.” A beautiful townhome where we healed for four years. Gardens where God and I created beautiful color and bountiful food—together.

Much, much more. Every. Single. Need. Always and Forever. Met.

But as sweet as the confirmation of God’s words streamed the credibility of the One who made the promise. His whisper foreshadowed holiness because it originated from the source of love. Our covenant made stronger because of the strength of the Speaker.

During a recent spiritual desert as I awaited the resolution of another promise, I listened again for the One who has seared my heart with his grace.

“I will meet every need.” No quantity of time assigned to his statement. Just an eternal assurance that the One who spoke the words would never violate his covenant.

He would meet current needs as he has in the past, because he cannot and will not change. His promise is forever sealed within the identity of Who he is.

And in the identity of this divine three-in-One lies the source of hope. Meeting my needs—and yours— for another stream of hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Look for those promises in Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Digs Deeper

While meeting with my spiritual director, she suggested I consider the questions, “What if?” In one of the workshops I teach, the “What if?” question is presented as a fear tactic artists sometimes use to procrastinate.

But in this instance, I was to think about the “What if?” as a possible direction, even a vision-making steppingstone. So I drove home, pulled out my journal and started listing the possibilities of “What if?” questions and answers.

  • What if my current novel makes the New York Times bestseller list? What difference would that award make in my life? Could I handle the extra book tours, publicity requirements and the pressure to write another bestseller? Would I use it for good?

  • What if I could visit Santa Fe at least once each year? What if I could own a vacation home there so I would always have a place to stay for a personal retreat?

  • What if I could learn to live in the present every day so that everyone I meet feels the love and light of the Divine Three in me? What if I could become a better listener?

If I thought long enough on the subject, I could easily entangle myself in all the possibilities the “What if?” question might involve.

When we dig deep, some of our visions and dreams carry their own baggage. Change is not easy, and the transitions of life require us to change along with them.

Another point my spiritual director made was that I should “Listen to my heart.”

I just finished reading Julia Cameron’s latest book, The Listening Path. She describes how we can learn to listen to our hearts, but also to the sounds around us—even to the silence within us.

To dig deep requires that we listen carefully and consider what our souls are saying. One reason why I journal is to process my way through life, to tap into my inner conflicts for clues about how to clearly understand divine guidance.

Digging deep means we listen for that still, small voice that ushers us into the divine space. When we tiptoe into that soul sanctuary, we learn more about ourselves and become more teachable.

What does my heart tell me?

It reminds me of the many ideas I have for more books, so many stories swirling in my soul. The artist in me yearns to bring them to life.

Even for my writing clients, my heart breaks for the unwritten books, the stories waiting to connect with their characters and the voices longing to be heard. That urgency to write while we can, to share the wisdom and experiences God has gifted us with through the many years.

My soul beats with a restless tone, eager to authenticate itself and complete the mission God birthed in me before the foundation of the world.

As I dig deeper, another question surfaces. I stop breathing as I consider the implications of what its answers might entail. Almost afraid to add it to my journal page, I force the pen to scratch the question across the page: What am I avoiding?

We may avoid doing something that requires a major change, because we’re afraid of what that transition might ask of us. A move, a new job, the addressing of a spiritual weakness, the uprooting of our comfort zones.

Yet in the avoidance, we remain in the zone of discomfort. We stress our souls to the point of losing our true core. We avoid what our hearts long for, because we are so blasted practical and cannot imagine any other type of experience.

My journal now contains several pages of personal reflection around these three questions. And I offer them to you as a spiritual writing prompt:

  • What if?
  • What is your heart telling you?
  • What are you avoiding?

I look forward to the time when these questions find their connecting answers in my life. What about you? Are you ready to dig deeper?

Hope shines when we find the courage to ask the hard questions.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Digging deeper is a daily exercise as we find strength Day by Day.

Hope Craves Balance

Like a delicate scale tipping toward the stress side, balance remains a challenge. Work takes the main role. Responsibilities scream, “Do me first. No time for play.”

But without play, creativity is a leftover.

It fights against the stress and becomes its own version of writer’s block. Not that the words cease, but the sentences are no longer filtered through the divine whisper.

Instead, they sound like clichés as the craft becomes lifeless to the writer.

Without play, stress wins. Because more tasks always appear, more places to go, more projects to complete, more responsibilities to wear us down.

Play pouts in the corner, unable to garner attention yet plaguing us with its silent screams.

In a corner of my office sits my tote bag filled with colorful pens, crayons and the latest Mandala. But work calls through the filter of stress, so I ignore the bag even while wishing for a just a few moments of playful joy.

In her book about recovering balance, Finding the Deep River Within, Abby Seixas writes, “We must break the cultural habit of sacrificing our inner lives for our outer lives, of giving up depth in deference to speed.”

Stress and its deceptive sister, Speed, require that we work hard to complete more tasks. Finish everything before the end of the day. We do our work quickly so we can accomplish more, then check our to-do lists for the satisfaction of completion.

Yet with speed, we sacrifice the beauty of rest that ultimately feeds our souls. We give up our need to go deep and find our most intimate selves.

We lose our place, sitting in God’s lap where he whispers, “Be still and know me.”

The delicate scale balances precariously toward burnout. But the solution is not that difficult. We all have 168 hours each week to figure it out. Yes, work is important. But so is play.

It takes merely a smidgeon of self-discipline to stop multi-tasking, to cut away at the distractions, to invite soul time.

To breath deeply, close the eyes against the computer glare, and embrace solitude. And in that embrace, we learn to love again — our own souls as well as the Divine One who made us in the first place.

To make the decision for more balance brings hope to that inner place where the child still waits for the adult. Where memories of laughter, colors, and sand castles still thrive.

I commit to that decision, embrace hope, and gather my toys. Because hope shines when we commit to play.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Be still and know with a devotional book for seniors. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Reveals Timing

Since God is timeless, it is always a sweet surprise when I discover him working—right on time.

A year ago, I bought a lovely journal to add to my stash. Never enough journals for a writer, you know. This particular journal caught my eye because the cover was a quiet country scene with wildflowers and the verse from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In one version, the imperative of “Be still” is to “Cease striving.” Still another version underscores the words, “Let be and be still.”

But my favorite is the Amplified version of a parallel verse in Psalm 37:7, “Be still and quietly rest in the Lord, wait for him and patiently lean yourself upon him.”

As my vacation began in the mountains of New Mexico, God pointed me toward this verse. So I started to meditate on its meaning.

Be Still. I sat on the condo’s porch in the early morning, sipping my tea and listening to the birds. Practiced being still. I allowed the sounds and textures of my favorite place (Santa Fe) to speak to me and bring solace to my soul.

No audible prayers were necessary. I just sat there and enjoyed God’s presence, highlighted by his creation.

Rest Quietly. In our electronically designed world, we have lost the ability to truly rest. Not nap time or early bedtime, but the peaceful resting in God’s presence. A place of total trust.

During my time in the mountains, I forced myself to rediscover rest. Seems like an oxymoron, but it worked. My laptop remained at home, and I refused to deal with social media. No Facebook posts, tweets or unnecessary Google searches.

I survived, even thrived in the solitude. The absence of my usual bustling world became a gift.

The monastics called this type of rest, “The Grand Silence.” Every evening, they disciplined themselves to cease speaking and curtailed activity so they might clearly discern the divine whisper.

Saint Benedict, the father of the monastic way wrote, “Therefore, because of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be seldom given to perfect disciples even for good and holy and edifying discourse.”

Wait for God. As I rested quietly and waited for God to share whatever secrets he wanted, the discipline of patience asserted itself.

We so often want God to be on our timeline. But as we wait, our souls anticipate the time when God WILL speak, WILL instruct us, and WILL show us the way that is best. As the Alpha and the Omega, he determines the end from the beginning, then fills in everything in between.

After a week of being still, resting quietly and waiting patiently, God DID show up. My journal entries included some of his yearnings for me. I received his words and am committed to patiently lean on God for next steps.

Back home, I pulled my journal out of the suitcase and glanced once again at the cover. The country scene with wildflowers in the foreground. A quiet setting, serenely focused on the surrounding land, far from the noise of the city and its fast-paced intensity.

And the verse, engraved boldly on the grey background, “Be still and know that I am God.”

God showed up with his hope—right on time.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Spend some quiet time resting in God’s love for you. Check out Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Finding Hope in the Nest

On my daily walk, I discovered this nest lying beside the sidewalk. Empty of eggs. Not even an errant feather left behind. Had it blown out of the tree or was Mama bird simply done with it?

I gingerly picked it up and placed it back in a crook of the tree. Hoping it might be used again or at least appreciated as a piece of nature. Then continued my walk, thinking more about nests and the art of nesting.

Back in the 80s, a dear soul approached me at church and said, “I heard you were pregnant, but didn’t know for sure until I saw you wearing a nesting jacket.”

The nesting jacket used to be the maternity symbol as women wrapped their torso in clothing. Like a material womb protecting the life within. In today’s world, women more openly convey the gift of pregnancy. They take pictures wearing tight knits which show the shape and even the protruding belly button. Some images even show the bare skin, stretched to grow the life of the baby.

My dear friend from the 80s would roll over in her grave if she saw a naked pregnant belly.

But nesting involves more than preparing for a new life. It is also a symbol of how we live in our space. How we preserve areas for reading, contemplation, writing, journaling, solitude.

London-based designer Caz Knight puts together design packages, particular for winter nesting. To help people feel more comfortable during the cold months. She writes, “A hub nest is a place where you do not feel anxious, and where everything is fit for purpose.”

Many women particularly love nesting. World-wide travel and the hubbub of business outside the home makes them feel anxious. They would rather stay home, be in their nest where they feel safe. They revel in the memories of how they raised children in their particular nest. Special meals and celebrations. Colors, textures and tastes.

Since I work from home, my office needs to feel like a nest. I often remind clients to nurture the space where they write. Use décor that never distracts. Pay attention to clutter and get rid of it. Surround themselves with the coziness of productivity in a relaxed setting. Hang pictures, cards and mementoes that celebrate wordsmithing.

Other than my office and the clients who meet me there, my nest is rather empty these days. The TV is on because it offers noise. Or the radio with its praise music and the reminder I am not alone. The Divine Three are with me as well as the witnesses from Hebrews 12.

But the rowdier nesting of soccer games, band practice and teenaged boys raiding my pantry no longer exists. Those were the long days and short years of young ones in my nest.

Still, hope circles around my nest because it represents an optimistic look into the future. Visits from friends. My children occasionally around the table. Future groups who want to learn more about writing or study a book.

The value of nesting is to know we belong somewhere. And the place where we continue to nurture the gifts within and the outreach without. By reflective thought, journaling, then sharing with others through books or blog posts.

Nesting offers hope when everything fits for a purpose. To generate the spiritual and creative life. To nurture the spirit. To nest with joy.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out a meditation about nesting in heaven. Page 11 of Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Survives with Good People

In the southern plains, including my home state of Oklahoma, some folks are labeled “good people.” Even while speaking in the singular, we say, “He’s good people.” This type of person is always focused on helping others, always available to serve — even in ordinary ways.

My cousin and his wife are good people. During Mom’s funeral, they kept watch over our coats. Kept them ready for the moment we would need them, for our trip to the cemetery.

Good people.

Another couple takes me out for lunch once / month. They keep track of what I’m writing, encourage my work and pray for me. They have followed my son’s journey as well and always check up on him. When he changed jobs, they visited the business to make sure he was okay.

Good people.

My sister is another one. She writes a family missive each week, updating all of us on all of us. Then she ends with an encouraging note we can carry into the next week. She helps a recent widow by taking her out for a meals and/or ice cream at the local Braums. Just to get her out of the house and find some hope. As a cat-whisperer, my sister also pays for the neutering and spaying of numerous cats.

Good people.

Another semi-retired couple opens their home for groups and retreats of various genres. A few healthy boundaries set. A welcome place to learn, to grow, to create. At no charge. They welcome photos of each group and create a growing wall of frames, dedicated to the service they have provided.

Good people.

None of these folks know I label them as good people. In fact, one quality of good people is a high sense of humility. They act anonymously. Simply climb out of bed each day and hope they can help someone.

Good people interact with others in hospitals, schools and nonprofits. At Target and in the parking lots around any town. Good people can be homeless or unbelievably wealthy. They stay up all night to check on the needs in their community and to offer their services willingly. Or slip an extra twenty to the waitress who pours their coffee at the local diner.

Good people regularly pay it forward simply because they want to.

In this world of death and destruction, good people live everywhere. They stand out. We need only to keep our souls open to see them and find them.

Hope multiplies when each of us locks in with the intention to become good people. To see God around us and within the folks we meet. To start each day with a prayer for divine appointments. To be good people wherever we go.

Hope blossoms when we look for good people. But it thrives when we ourselves become good people and share the love.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Be good people and share Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom with someone who needs daily hope.

Hope in the Dance

One of the books I’ve been reading this summer is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr. It’s one of those “I borrowed this from the library, but I need to just buy one for myself so I can keep chewing on it.”

With his usual writing style of poetic rhythm merged with contemplative reflection, Rohr captured me early. This book needs to be journaled through, highlighted and set on my bookshelf as a favorite.

For our times, with all the chaos happening around us and to us, one section bears repeating. I’ve copied it in my planner and read through it daily.

And as we face another election soon, the last phrase is especially poignant. So I share it with you.

“Seek the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere. See His hand in every happening. See and adore the presence of Jesus — everywhere and especially in those who are rejected by society. See the divine image even where you’d rather not.”

Last week, I noticed a man walking along the street. He was as dirty as the gutter, disheveled, in need of a haircut and probably in need of hope. Instantly, I thought of the above quote.

To see the face of God in everyone. To imagine this man as the incarnate Christ, come to visit earth again and check on us. To wonder how I might help this fellow and others like him, those I’d rather not.

That week, I also watched the PBS version of Les Miserables with Alfie Boe in the lead role. Such amazing music and the story of redemption. Acceptance and forgiveness where only despair showed its face.

The last line of Jean Val Jean’s life spoke this truth and morphed into the Rohr quote. “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if each of us looked for God in the ordinary. Imagined the divine image and essence in each person we see. To love as we are loved by God. To treat others the way we want to be treated.

In this world of so much death and destruction, can’t we do better? Can we share hope by showing love, even when we don’t want to. Even when it costs us some ego, time or money.

I hope we can move toward that inner space where we see God in everything, everyone, everywhere. Then share the hope of God’s love in ways that can change our world.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book of devotions. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Finds the Garden

Working in the garden always seems to trigger a sense of spirituality. An idea for a devotion, a poem, a story or as in this case — a blog post.

Perhaps it is my connection with nature as a form of worshipping God. Or maybe it is the opportunity to reflect when doing nothing more than pulling weeds.

The first idea came as I prepped for some gardening time: the mud-packed shoes, the protective gloves, the spade — all packed into my gardening tote.

Then I noticed on the kitchen table how many dried petals had fallen from my garden roses. Dried, wrinkled, seemingly useless petals no longer clinging to their source.

At first, fresh from releasing my newest devotions for senior adults, I thought of how we often describe ourselves in the final act of life. No longer useful. No longer vital. Dried up and wrinkled.

Yet even when the petals have fallen, they still maintain a presence. Retain their color and end up splayed across my table in a natural design.

Never worthless or useless. All of nature, even in the driest periods, displays the creative energy of its Source, the beauty of eternal life infused within cells and texture.

I breathed deeply, grateful God can still use me in this final act, no matter where or how I might land.

So out I plodded to the garden to discover an error in my planting plan. One entire plot needed to be emptied, its contents pulled to create life for its main purpose.

A year ago, I transplanted a vinca vine into my cemetery plot — the area where beloved cats are buried. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. A rim of tulips and hyacinths that signal spring, then a planting of the vinca as a ground cover to provide a protective cap over the graves.

In early spring, the vinca presented a lovely lavender flower. Contrasted with its dark green leafage, it seemed the perfect backdrop for my garden cemetery.

But soon, the rains of spring and the hope-filled sunshine nurtured the vinca toward massive growth. Its invasive nature spread it over the entire plot, choking out the tulips, the hyacinths and the lone Hosta.

It took over an hour of multiple sore muscles for me to pull out that stubborn vine. And I will have to continue watching it or it will invade again.

How like so many tempters we face! The fancy house we would love to own until we open the mortgage summary. The giant dessert that looks so good, yet with too much encouragement, can become an artery-clogging sweet. The porn picture that is really a trafficked child made to look older soon wraps its addictive evil through the brain, choking the soul.

How many pretties can easily turn invasive if we ignore them or remain deceived by their initial beauty? Then it takes a lifetime of jerking them out and away, freeing the more subtle beauties that we were originally made to be. In the places God has planted us.

Ah-h — the lessons of the garden. And the ways those lessons point us toward a more hope-filled existence.

May we all keep our eyes and our desires on the One Source who offers life. And may we know God has gifted us with the power to love, to be disciplined and to nurture a sound mind.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For daily meditations focused on the needs of senior adults, check out Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Finding Hope Day by Day

It happens quickly. We’re marching along in life, then one day we wake up as a ‘senior.’ No one has called us a senior since high school. Somehow, the label does not fit.

This senior status is different from the excitement of high school. It feels more like an ending, the foreshadowing of goodbye.

Suddenly, we feel much older and a bit rejected. We did not plan to be so old.

Snail mail and the electronic inbox now contain introductions to AARP and Medicare. We receive brightly colored promos about the latest greatest hearing aid.

Discounts for cataract surgery. Vitamins and supplements to alleviate joint pain.

We are faced with several questions:

  • Will I run out of money before I run out of time?
  • How can I organize all these medical appointments suddenly filling my schedule?
  • Why am I such an at-risk person now? Should I expect to suffer from COVID?
  • How much did my grocery budget just increase? Seriously?
  • What am I going to do? Do I really have to go back to work?

If we have defined our life by a faith walk, then we continue to do what has always worked before. We fasten our hope to the One and only unchangeable force that has kept us going all these decades.

We continue to trust in our loving God, and we learn a new set of skills to persevere during our senior years. We might even memorize Psalm 68:18, “Blessed be the Lord who bears our burdens and carries us day by day” (AMPC).

As I began to face some of the issues labeled “senior,” I decided to focus on how to find additional hope. A continued intention to journal my thoughts and keep writing new words helped me stay on task.

To find a purpose for these years. To continue to pay it forward, say it forward and write it forward.

My daily meditations soon became small stories which fit easily into the devotional format. Other writers and friends encouraged me to post about finding hope in the senior years. “Wisdom” became a major theme.

So I wrote about physical issues, emotional mountains and valleys, spiritual searchings and mental health within the demographic of seniors.

Soon, the words became clearer and formed the usual format for a book. I sent the manuscript to my theological advisor and his wife, the couple who have interceded for me throughout the years and encouraged my writing goals. An email sent to my patrons brought more encouragement and the setting of accountability goals.

Within a few months, the book was ready for publication. So here is the shameless promotion, with the valid hope that these words will help seniors find extra encouragement for their days.

Different titles include:

  • Trusting IN God versus Trusting God
  • The Power of ‘Let’
  • Making Wise Decisions
  • New Mercies Every Morning
  • Taking Root
  • Living in the Yet
  • When Heaven is Home
  • The Why Question

And many more. So check it out. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom is available on Amazon as a print book or an e-book. Share it with your friends in senior living or your care group at church.

And place your hope in the only One who knows every demographic we journey through yet never leaves us to do it alone.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

God carries us day by day by another day. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Hope Says It Forward

Several times in the past months, I have shared with friends and clients one of my key principles for life. I discovered it years ago while reading The Hallelujah Factor by Jack R. Taylor.

To describe it simply, this practice centers around the focus of gratitude. It changed my life by flipping my mindset.

Many followers of Ann Voskamp learned about her practice of gratitude journaling through her book 1000 Gifts. Ann dealt with her depression by listing what she was thankful for each day.

Journals became more popular with an almost cult following. Multiple followers found solace in listing their daily gratitudes. It was a practical way to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Anne Lamott also gave credence to the gratitude practice in her book, Help, Thanks, WOW: Three Essential Prayers. As Anne wrote, ““Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”

But my discipline is different and sometimes more difficult to pinpoint.

My gratitude practice flips the motivation and becomes what I call, “Say it forward.” Before God answers a prayer, before I see the results, before the end happens — I speak my thank you’s.

In the darkness and gloom of winter, I said, “Thank you, God, that spring and sunshine will come soon.”

While dealing with a hip injury, I prayed, “Thank you, God, that you’ve already healed me and promised that recovery will happen.”

Even now, when the world feels chaotic and so out-of-balance, I repeat, “Thank you, God. You are the One who can change everything. Someday, this earthly mess will be over, and we will live in peace with You.”

By focusing on the “future” gratitude and saying it forward, my mental image changes from negative to positive. Light illumines the darkness. Belief in God’s miraculous self reminds me I do not have to figure it all out.

Do bad things happen? Of course. So I say it forward — far into the future. “Thank you, God, that even though my young cousin died, I will see her again. She is safe and happy with You.”

“Thank you, God, that even though my niece cannot find formula for her baby, You can keep the little one healthy and make a miracle happen.”

“Thank you, God, that You give strength each day to the Ukrainian people. And even if they lose everything, You can restore it.”

The practice of Saying it Forward merges a please and thank you. It gives the problem to the only One who can truly solve it.

And even if the problem continues for a while, I can thank God for the strength to live with it.

So give it a try. Say it forward. Believe and receive the joy of finding hope in the Hope-giver.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a devotional thought about Saying it Forward, check out Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom, page 83.

Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own. My joy button needs to be reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

Just knowing there will be a beginning brings hope and the confirmation that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder, uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. Flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a Creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Hope for the Long Way

It would be so much easier to travel the shorter journey. But what if God calls us to the long way?

In Exodus 13, God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Freedom! And God encouraged the people with a cloud each day and a pillar of fire each night. Signals that he was indeed with them.

But in verse 17, God specifically states that he will not lead these people on a shorter route. He will take them to the Promised Land the longer way.

They will be learning more about trust and how to endure day by day.

Many people are facing their own ‘long way.’ One of my friends has a beloved daughter who is suffering through a cancer journey. We wanted it to be a fast surgery, one and done. We hoped and prayed for a quick healing. But she is enduring years of chemo, multiple surgeries, life-changing health issues.

Another friend inspires me with her motherly courage. She fostered and adopted some children. Prayed for them. Did all the right things. The short way would be deliverance from childhood trauma, acceptance into peer groups, wholesome attitudes.

Instead, it is a daily struggle dealing with attachment disorder and behavioral struggles at school. The long journey has affected the health of the entire family. Endurance is a daily need.

Didn’t we all want to see an end to the atrocities in Ukraine — sooner rather than later? Yet the war continues. More people suffer and die. The images continue to urge us to pray for those trapped in bunkers, for the pastors and missionaries trying to help their people day after bomb-shelled day.

Beginning writers want to finish their first book and watch it become a bestseller. More experienced authors know the writing journey is a marathon of work and marketing. It requires a long road to find our voice.

Caregivers face years of learning patience, searching for answers, becoming advocates for the Alzheimer’s patient. What is the purpose? Why does death wait to take those who can no longer function? The road is long.

So how do we find hope and live with a more encouraging attitude when our way is long? What can we learn from this Exodus story?

God took the Israelites the long way so they would not change their minds and want to return to the bondage of Egypt. The short way often seems more comfortable. But the long way tests our trust, our grit, our determination to keep believing. We can learn to accept the long road as a faith-building journey.

Although God chose the long way for his children, he did not leave them to face it alone. He was there every day and throughout each night. We can look for God’s presence even as we face another long day.

Athletes know it takes weeks and months to build muscle and stamina. Although their training may be painful, the dedicated athlete continues and learns to thank the coach and trainer.

The long road offers more hope when we face it with gratitude. God is designing something good within our souls. The end result will be a stronger spirit, more faith muscles for the next road.

The story in Exodus involves an entire nation of people. We find strength in being connected. Finding like souls who will lift us up gives us the stamina needed for another day, another week, possibly — another year of the journey.

God had already proven himself to the Israelites — through multiple miracles and a life-saving Passover tradition. We can look to the past and remember how God brought us through something even worse, a longer road, a deeper suffering. He did it before. He will help us again.

Ultimately, our journey contains signposts that offer strength for each day. The practice of journaling, the recitation of helpful verses and quotes, the songs we may have to force ourselves to sing — all these practices can boost our spirits for another day.

And some days, it just helps to take a nap. Zone out for a few minutes and rest.

Whatever road you’re on today, I pray it will be one that leads to the Promised Land. So I share with you one of my spiritual vitamins. This verse has carried me through many of my longer roads and offered hope:

“Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 TNIV). 

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Send Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms to a woman who needs hope for her long road.

Hope Returns

My hometown recently hosted an author festival. Thirty authors set up their tables, complete with vertical displays, dishes of candy and an assortment of books.

After I set up my table, I roamed through the library and visited with the other authors. This library was the modern version of the old Carnegie library where I grew up. Mom drove us to town each week so we could check out a stack of books.

Who would have guessed that little girl who loved to read would some day return as a published author? Only the God of returned hope.

But this day included more of a helping attitude. Although I sold some books, I was also able to share with other readers how my books came to be — the life issues that impacted me.

One reader wanted to write, but she was stuck. She wanted so desperately to finish her book, but she felt blocked and unable to continue. So we talked about the issues that often stop our creativity. As I listed them, she grabbed my hands and said, “That’s it! Perfectionism. I keep going back to make everything perfect.”

“Ah-h. So remind yourself that a good editor will fix any mistakes. Keep writing, because you can always revise later.”

She seemed relieved and wanted to know more about my coaching services.

Another reader picked up my book Sometimes They Forget. She read the back blurb, and tears formed as she said, “This is about Alzheimer’s?”

“Yes. My mother had Alzheimer’s, but this book is for the caregivers.”

“I need this. We’re trying to take care of my mother, but it’s so hard. How many years was it for you?”

When I told her it was ten years and Mom passed last December, she closed her eyes. “That long,” she said. She seemed tired.

“You have to take care of yourself. It’s okay to leave for a while and get away. Don’t give in to false guilt.”

She nodded, hugged my book to her chest and moved on. I watched her as she took time to look at other books, bought a few, filled her bag with more hope.

A young couple stopped at my table and looked at all the books. Ate some candy. Then she picked up Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

“That’s the book my son and I wrote,” I said. “He’s a millennial, so we wanted to write a book together to explain some of the topics of faith. And we wanted to do it in easy-to-understand language.”

“We’re millennials,” she said. “I think we need this.”

It was fun to share the proceeds of that book with my son and tell him about this couple. I hope the book will help them.

Several women were intrigued by The Invisible Women of Genesis. A couple of them bought the book. When I explained the background, they nodded. “The Bible is full of amazing stories, but many of the women are invisible. Their names aren’t mentioned or any of their back story. I decided to write about the invisible women just in the book of Genesis.”

As I signed copies, I wrote, “You are never invisible to God. He sees you.”

A pastor and his wife were both writers. His books are published. Hers have yet to be finished. “Time,” she said. “There’s never enough time, and people keep dying at inconvenient times.”

I remembered Mom saying something similar at the funeral of one of our relatives. “Death is never convenient.” So true.

One of the more interesting authors I met was an Episcopal priest. He writes murder mysteries. We discussed ways to kill off the bishop. He’s a bit worried about the NSA checking his online research as he looks for the best ways to get blood stains out of the carpet.

So many genres. So many interesting authors.

But this day of returning hope manifested on so many levels:

  • Returns on my books as offerings of hope
  • Returns on my years of experience as an author and coach
  • Returns on relationships as I visited with family and friends

But mostly a return of the soul of a reader who became a writer — back to the place where my love of words began.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved Check out the list of my books on my Amazon Author page. Find the hope in every title.

Hope Defeats the Toxic

When it happens, it feels like a gift, a treasure to be guarded. Sometimes, I can read faces.

This gifting started during a time when I worked for a nonprofit which helped women who had been abused. All sorts of abuse at different times in their lives. Their faces mirrored the pain, horror and sadness. Or the relief when they found freedom.

Then I started to read other faces: the checker at Target, the harried doctor, the librarian trying to help multiple children at the same time.

Some of the faces reflected frustration while others showed a splash of joy. All of them taught me to be more aware of the hidden waves of emotion we all experience.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a different type of reading in the faces of those who suffer. It became apparent when one of my dear clients suffered through a double mastectomy, months of radiation and brutal chemo. She beat the cancer but lost all her hair and much of her muscle tone.

But her face. Oh, my — her face. No hair of any kind, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It was completely clean of any type of subterfuge yet carried the sheen of a soul that had been detoxified. The suffering rubbed her raw so that her faith could then heal the wounds.

A glorified face forged from patience and the need for daily trust.

I saw that same type of face a few weeks ago. Another client suffering through cancer and the painful injections that are supposed to cure it. Weeks and months and days of discouragement and struggle, yet placing her trust in whatever God has for her.

A constant goal — to not waste the suffering.

We took a picture together, and I noticed the difference. Her face glorified and peaceful. Mine darker and not so serene.

I do not envy her suffering, but I covet the strength of her faith.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada once said that the truly disabled are those who do not suffer, those who have a smaller God because they do not need him as much.

When every moment is painful, those who suffer must ask for God’s strength throughout the day. He is bigger to them and dearer, because they need him more.

Hope teaches us that the circumstances of life may not be what we hoped for. Our dreams may have died through our own mistakes or what others have done to us. Disease and death are byproducts of our world.

Yet if we keep our hope centered on the One true God, we can find a purpose in the pain. And we can grow to glorify this God who loves us enough to let us suffer.

Then our lives and even our faces can become mirrors of reflection for all to see. As the toxicity of sin fades and the sheen of God’s love takes over.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays on hope, check out Hope Shines. Available in regular and large print.

Easter Hope

The celebration of Easter this year felt bittersweet. Although I enjoyed the holiday — who doesn’t love bunnies, colored eggs and the excited squeals of children when they wake up to find an Easter basket?

Easter falls smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful seasons in Kansas.

When life bursts from the ground in purple crocus, early yellow tulips and wild hyacinths all over my scraggly lawn.

Even my feral cats represent life as one of them lumbers with kittens in her womb — the other birthing three babies under my deck.

Still, this Easter flipped onto the calendar only four months after we buried Mom. And three of my friends in early 2022. And hundreds of Ukrainian citizens slaughtered by Russian troops. Some of those citizens probably distant cousins.

Death reminds us of our fragile existence. We are mortal, after all. We will all return to the dust that formed us.

Sobering truths are still true, no matter how we seek to avoid them.

But the converse is also true. Despite the death and destruction, life exists in that other realm. Behind that invisible veil that separates us from the spirit world.

Our loved ones wait for us there. God watches over us from that ethereal place we can barely imagine. Where life stretches without end. No more separation. No more death and destruction.

Only the beautiful burst of living color and light where we know as we are known.

Someday, I will be with my parents again. With the friends I lost this year. Someday, God will vindicate those Ukrainian souls and judge those who murdered them.

Someday, eternity will continue to burst with renewed vigor and the beauty of life. No decay. No chaos. No disruption from the beauties of creation.

In the meantime, I will focus my hope on resurrected life and continue to believe in the eternal every day of the year.

And when chaos tries to disrupt that living hope, I’ll play this song and believe all over again.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share living hope with a single mom. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms

Hope in a Family Vacation

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

We finally arrived in Orlando. Why? Because my great niece and her band were marching at Disney World. The family traveled to encourage and support her.

And she did a great job. I am sure I heard her trumpet above the rest of the band, trilling sweet and true. No bias here.

But with its traffic and over-priced everything, Orlando would not be my favorite vacation spot.

So how could I look for hope?

By learning something. The little orange toy is everywhere in Orlando. A fuzzy reminder at the check out. A friendly face on a tee shirt. A billboard announcement.

I finally asked a local, “Is that little orange because Florida is the sunshine state?”

“Sort of,” he said. “But it has a broader reach. You see, Disney World was built on an orange grove. So to compensate for taking the land, they created this marketing orange which brings revenue back into the area.”

Hmm. So I bought some fresh oranges to bring back to Kansas. Delicious. And a reminder that this fruit has a history — at least in Orlando.

Another fact I learned was to stay away from any ponds that might be inhabited by reptiles. We weren’t in Kansas anymore.

During a tornado warning, I also realized Florida homes do not have basements. Obviously, they rarely experience a real twister.

By finding kindness. I spent much of the time at the Disney properties waiting. While my siblings and my great niece waited in long lines for a ride, I sat on a bench and waited for them.

My back does not allow me to enjoy the twists and turns of roller coasters or even some of the milder rides.

Except for the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World. The music still replays in my brain.

So I waited. Observed. Wondered why so many people will wait in a two-hour line for a 30-second ride. Something about that ROE (return on energy) intrigues me.

But others waited as well. Some of the older folks or the more obviously pregnant women. We struck up casual conversations. “Where ya’ from? How long will ya’ be here?”

Almost everyone at the Disney parks is from another state or country. Thousands of them. All present at the same time. Multiple people crowding around my obviously introverted self.

Still, kindness prevails.

By living in a rental home. Instead of a hotel, we rented a home. Cozy. Saved us money as we made our own breakfast and packed a lunch.

Settled in our own rooms, tastefully decorated with pictures of seascapes. Came together in the family room to watch the Big 12 Tournament.

Even on vacation, watching basketball wins.

We learned how many of the short-term rental homes are never seen by the owners. They buy a property, rent it out with an agency and pocket the profits.

The writer in me wondered, What kind of people buy a home they never see? Is there a story here?

Even though the home was comfortable and perfect for our needs, it was still great to begin our drive back home.

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

Would I do it again? To support my niece — probably. But next time, I’ll just watch the band then go back to the home and read a book.

Hope survives. Even in Orlando.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a quick read for your vacation? Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope for Ukraine

She was just a little girl when her parents told her, “We have to leave. The tzar is forcing us to leave our home. We will travel to America.”

Little Anna Barkman did not understand all the politics of the time. How the Mennonites were summoned by Catherine the Great to farm the land and produce wheat crops. How they grew so successful the next ruler shunned them.

Forced them to become refugees.

Anna only knew that the life she had led in the colony of Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) was ending. So she helped her parents pack up what little they could carry.

But before she set out to a new life, she wanted to preserve something of the old.

She sewed wheat kernels into the hem of her dress. The same variety of wheat her family and the other Mennonites had so successfully planted and harvested throughout the years.

Then little Anna Barkman followed her parents to the new land in America, to the Midwest, where the Mennonites would once again thrive.

Where freedom of religion was a promised right.

Once settled, Anna cut open the seams of her hem and handed those precious kernels to her father. He and the other Mennonites set about planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops.

The Mennonite settlements grew in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Today, every variety of wheat that is planted and harvested in the Midwest still has its hybrid roots in that Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat from what is now known as Ukraine.

The war is personal to me, because my ancestors are buried in the Ukraine. Their bones and personal dust still attest to the truth of who they were. Putin cannot steal their identities nor the legacy of their work.

They lived and propagated the doctrine of peace. They crafted quilts and made homemade jams. Buried their arms in yeasty dough and created smells and tastes that are still replicated by their great great grandchildren.

Some of their recipes are sold at the annual relief sale where all the proceeds go to missions.

I imagine this year much of the profits will go for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

In these years of pandemic crises, I had not thought much about my ancestors or the cemetery where they are buried. Until Putin’s bombs highlighted their plight.

A stark reminder that we all come from refugee stock.

Last week, the Russian army occupied the very region where my ancestors lay. I have not heard if the staff of the Mennonite Center survived. If they did, I know they will continue the work of peace and love, reaching out to those in need.

No matter what happens, the legacy of my ancestors will survive. Every time I eat a piece of toast, I will think of little Anna and her foresight to bring the wheat kernels to America.

And I will hope that peace once again returns to Ukraine.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Mennonites are people of faith, basing their belief systems on the words of Jesus. Some of their strengths include an emphasis on missions and music. Before the pandemic, the 300 Mennonite Men’s Chorus presented regular concerts.

Hope Given

She always fought for the underdog. The sports team nobody else liked. The almost-invisible missionary. The poorest people living on the other side of our small town. The nurse accused of stealing, as she gave her deposition to the lawyer.

“Anyone can make a mistake,” she said.

Her compassion came from her own background of poverty and bullying. How the other kids treated her when she wore the same dress to school day after day. How she and her family lived on the poor side of town, in a home that once housed a chicken-packing business.

She wore a cross necklace under her nursing uniform, because nurses were not allowed to wear any jewelry except their professional pins. “When the job is hard,” she said, “I touch my cross. It reminds me Who I belong to and why I’m cleaning up people’s vomit.”

Quietly, she supported underdog ministries. Gave freely of her monthly tithe. Always lived frugally so that she would never be poor again yet could continue to give.

Even in death, my mother gave.

Last week, I wrote out a check for a ministry I support. To help some of the underdogs in life. The check was part of a tithe from the inheritance my mother left me. A chance to honor her legacy again.

When I entered the building housing the work of The Single Mom KC, the noise of joyful life seemed everywhere. Mothers met together while their children played. The boutique that offers beautiful clothing buzzed with shoppers. Free for single moms and their kids.

I met a wonderful baby named Jeremiah. His big brown eyes sparkled with life as I tickled his tiny socks. Chubby baby fat rolls around his thighs. Maybe he’ll become another prophet like his namesake, especially now that his mama has a better chance in life.

Because of the work this nonprofit does. Because of my mother and her gift.

I dropped off the check and told the Communications Director a bit about my mom. Tickled Jeremiah’s feet again. Touched his soft brown cheek. Then hurried to my car.

Tears of grief mingled with respect for the woman whose life gifted me with the opportunity to give again. “You’re blessing single moms today, Mom. You did good. Jeremiah will have a boost up the ladder of acceptance now. His mama will have some security.

“And I will continue to give as I can — like you taught me. Thanks, Mom.”

Hope is a gift. And as we give, the blessing of the giving returns to us. The knowing that we have done something to help the underdogs of life.

The assurance that our lives are not lived in vain. Because others have given to us, and we return the favor.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

March is Women’s History Month. Check out these Invisible Women of Genesis.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

When Acceptance and Hope Collide

During the Creatives Conference in Santa Fe (circa 2018), I was struck with the beauty and acceptance of New Mexico’s racial diversity.

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

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. Nobody confronted others about being wrong or right. We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of these 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 they read 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 comfort zones, wooden pews and cushy sanctuary chairs. To be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk — or no faith at all.

The scriptures remind us 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 as we love ourselves. Jesus drew people in by first listening to them and then meeting their needs.

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.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A book that explains faith in a direct and simple way, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. Written in collaboration with my gifted son and available on Amazon.

Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

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

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

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

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

I will not – cannot do it. No one can bully me into a roller coaster ride or coax me to look over the side of the Grand Canyon. What kind of masochist designs bridges with slots between the boards or glass walkways between tall buildings?

These are not my friends.

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

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

Then I had to drive down that slope while my heart hammered its kuh-thump kuh-thump as I tried not to look at the steep sides around me.

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

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

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

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

Finally, the last hill was accomplished, and I rolled into level ground. I pulled over and closed my eyes. Survival tasted sweet.

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

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

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

Hope streams in as we discover another layer of perseverance we did not know we owned. And survival becomes the end result of a battle fought and won.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

March Madness Scores Hope

The following post reappears in March, a favorite post of my followers.

Every year, as I struggle to survive February, I look forward to March Madness. Then for several weeks, I indulge in TV watching, cheering for my teams and yelling at double the volume.

March Madness provides the perfect emotional release, adrenalin rush and just downright fun. As I settle in for a game, I announce to the cat, “There will be yelling.”

By tipoff, the cat has left the room.

Yelling does not include curse words — at least not the usual ones. I was, after all, raised to act like a lady — except during March Madness.

So my yelling might call out the refs. “Didn’t you see that? The kid’s head is bleeding. Don’t you think that means a foul? FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!”

“A charge? SERIOUSLY? The defense was not set.”

“Give him a T. FLAGRANT FOUL! COME ON!”

I do not yell without credible knowledge. My dad was a triathlete, including basketball top scorer at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. Our family was intensely interested in all the sports seasons.

And I played basketball in grade school and high school — until the unfortunate knee incident.

I went up for a rebound, and a MONSTER from the other team broadsided me. My body went north, but my knee went east. Those were the days before knee surgeries unless you were a top athlete headed to the NBA.

I was not. So I wore an ugly brace for several weeks which did nothing for my social life.

When I taught middle school, the principal “volunteered” me to be a ref for a few games. It is not an easy job. Especially with a whistle in your mouth while you’re breathing hard and running up and down the court.

However, with my experience I do know the difference between a charge and a foul. DEAR GUSSY, REF. GET IT RIGHT!

Usually I yell at the refs or the coaches, “Call time out. NOW!”

But I also yell at the players when they miss free throws. My dad used to say, “There is no excuse for missing a free throw.”

He was right. No one is guarding you, so you have a clean shot. It’s only fifteen feet. NOT AN NBA THREE-POINTER!

So when they miss, I yell, “FREE THROW, FOR PETE’S SAKE!” Sometimes I stand directly in front of the TV — as if they could hear me.

If I was a coach, any player who missed free throws would be shooting them for an hour after the game. Yeah, I know — it’s a lot of pressure to make a basket all alone on the free throw line. HEIFER BISCUITS!

The best way to beat the pressure is to make the STUPID FREE THROW! Games are won or lost because of free throws.

When my son was a teen, we competed with our brackets. The winner got a pizza. Now he’s grown and married, busy with his life, so I compete with myself. I fill out the bracket after each game. That way, I always win.

After March Madness, I always feel better. No matter who wins. Well, I will admit to being a sore loser when my team loses. I’m still not over the Chiefs loss in the AFC Championship game.

But the release valve of yelling works. I highly recommend it.

As we enter March this year, I have hope for my teams. Cheering for the Big XII against other schools. Always supporting the Jayhawks, proteges of James Naismith who invented basketball.

And reminding the players to make their free throws. FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

There WILL be yelling.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page. No yelling in any of them.

Hope Conquers the Chaos

As a writer, observation is one of my most important tools. Awareness of this tool causes me to listen for dialects when people speak and watch how their actions synch with emotions. This practice helps me develop realistic novels as I incorporate those rhythms into the characters who people my books.

Observation notes interesting quirks such as the depth of a dimple, a spontaneous laugh or fingers drumming on a barn wood plank. The benefits of observation add color and texture to my words without plagiarizing the reality of lives around me.

Sometimes an image or a word surprises with its potential. I observe it, reflect on it and journal through it.

Soon it becomes a theme, a sentence that stretches into a paragraph or as in this case — a quote that morphs into a blog post.

Every great change is preceded by chaos.” Deepak Chopra

This statement pummeled into my soul like a snare drum in the early morning fog.

How appropriate when thinking of the last two years of our history. The chaos COVID created as it marched around the globe. The way it changed how we lived, isolated, shopped, ate out, and sadly — how we treated one another.

This chaos has forced us to consider the depths of our value systems, what is truly important versus the urgency of the moment. With stunning accuracy, chaos created change.

Yet chaos in our journey does not have to define us. We can process the changes and land on our knees — an appropriate stance for any soul-seeker living in chaos.

Gradually, as the murky concrete of change became our new normal, we learned to replace the chaos with a peace that passes all understanding. We could still find hope and joy in the living of a different reality.

Life is still a beautiful place to be. Still surrounded by love, joy, peace and hope.

We may dread the next chaos yet be determined to address the coming changes as better people. To approach our modifications not as we once were, but better versions of ourselves.

I believe it is important to monitor how we have changed, how we reacted to the chaos. We cannot learn if we do not reflect and analyze. When there is a disturbance in the force, the chaos of change may creep ever closer.

We do not have to let chaos destroy us.

Even the Divine Three warn that everything will eventually change. Foundations will shake (Psalm 82:5). Earthquakes in various places. Wars and rumors of wars. Peril and danger on every street. The love people once had for God and others growing cold.

We have seen past chaos turn into positive change:

  • Civil rights legislation making us more aware of how skin color divides us
  • Revivals around the world that pointed societies back to the God who loves us
  • A national conversation about the abuses of children, i.e. the MeToo movement

Experience teaches us that some change will never happen unless we embrace the chaos. Acknowledge how it happened. Fix its source. Make the important changes.

Sometimes I hate the observation that pushes me toward reflective melancholy. Growth hurts. Too much stretching becomes a stress.

Yet by changing what is negative and moving toward what is better, we become stronger. More able to face the next chaos with realistic expectations underscored by hope.

As chaos fades, peace can replace it. New normals can surface. Empower us to love God and love others in deeper ways.

And eventually, if we let it — the chaos will fade and leave a halo of shining Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book of the month is Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Help a single mom reach through her chaos to find hope.

Hope Sets Healthy Creative Boundaries

Isn’t it interesting how we can tell others what to do but not apply that same wisdom to ourselves?

With my writing clients, I often ask, “What are you doing for an artist date?” The artist date comes from Julia Cameron and her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way. An artist date is an intentional setting of healthy boundaries, getting outside the writing space to discover something creative.

My clients tell me about roaming through bookstores, writing morning pages at a quirky coffee shop or choosing a new journal. Many of my clients take day trips to discover more about the area where they live.

Terrific successes for my coaching clients. Not such a good job by their coach. I find it difficult to schedule artist dates or find time for fun in my busy schedule.

Am I too busy? How can I remedy that? We all need time away to reboot the soul and refresh the creative spirit within.

So in 2022, I plan to take more artist dates, consider what is relaxing and creatively important for me. Play a new piece on the piano, banging out chords that help release pressures from a stress-filled day. Walk through crunchy leaves. Stroll through colorful chrysanthemums at a garden store.

Other possibilities might include:

  • Leaving the office for an afternoon movie matinee
  • Finding a quiet moment on the deck for my garden coloring book
  • Looking for a new color of nail polish
  • Stopping everything to watch the sun complete its dusky setting
  • Finding a new journal or reading through the old one with an attitude of praise

These ideas bring me joy, yet I can also work harder to relax. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Forced relaxation?

After an artist date, I feel more energized to connect sentences into paragraphs, outline chapters and introduce new characters to the world.

Recently, two other writers and I attended the funeral of our friend. It was a sad, beautiful service yet an honor to attend. To remember what a wonderful person she was and offer comfort to her family through our presence.

But after the service and a bountiful Mexican meal, we browsed through the town of Yates Center, KS. There we discovered an old Carnegie library. What a treasure to see the built-in bookcases from 1928, the unique hardware on the tall windows that invited beams of light, the children’s library with its colorful computer keyboard and painted murals. Each of us snapped pictures and snatched a free book to take home.

This day trip involved several hours where we chatted in the car, discovered a new town and fed our creative souls with a vintage library.

The next day, I found renewed vigor for my writing projects. Realized I need more day trips around the area, more opportunities to discover different places and feed my soul. To be more proactive about breaking away, setting boundaries around my creative self.

To discipline myself to do what I ask of my clients — find that special place of inner rest, plan an artist date, discover some place new.

Hope asks accountability of others, but also demands spiritual nourishment of the self. To define that fence around our hearts and find our true selves in the enjoyment of each day. To set healthy boundaries away from the work where we can engage more freely with our physical and emotional world.

When we protect that creative core by moving beyond the usual, we find hope in the processing of a fresh breath.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book I’m marketing during February will encourage your single mom friends. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Finding Hope in Multiple Loss

As I’ve watched The Chosen TV series and thought more about the early disciples, I’ve wondered how they dealt with multiple griefs. During those early years of so many martyrs, persecutions, people being snatched out of their homes — how in the world did they emotionally survive?

The same question haunts me when I watch documentaries or read books about the Holocaust. With so much death, so much pain — how did they deal with it?

Then last week hit.

Just 10 weeks after my mother’s death, I experienced multiple losses. On Monday, a writer friend I have known for years died from COVID.

Connie and I met when I was teaching a workshop on prayer. She sat in the back row and wept throughout my presentation. At the break, I took a Kleenex box back to her. We talked for a while.

“I think God wants me to begin a prayer ministry,” she explained. We discussed what that calling might look like. Her tears were from acknowledgement that she had been called to do a special work and a willingness to relinquish her time.

Several times throughout the years, Connie and I met at writers conferences. Once during the Baldwin City Maple Leaf Festival. Always cheerful, yet she could be moved to tears so easily. Such a tender heart.

That was Monday. Connie’s tears are now wiped away.

On Tuesday, one of my clients died from COVID. Leann and I had worked for several years as she grew closer to gaining an agent and a publisher for her book about therapy dogs. As a woman dealing with chronic illnesses, Leann knew all about therapy dogs. Her beloved Zoey was well-known at many writers conferences.

In spite of constant pain, Leann somehow managed to smile every time we met. She lived day by day — literally, trusting God for her daily bread as well as the breath to keep living. Such a brave and beautiful soul.

When she died on Tuesday, I felt like a light had gone out in the universe. But Leann is now free of pain.

On Wednesday, one of my long-time friends died from a blood clot after surgery. Elsie and I played piano duets, and her sons were two of my students. She helped me learn the best methods for nursing my son after his birth, and she was also a gifted seamstress. Her quilts won awards all over the country.

Elsie so loved her boys and all children. She was a caring grandmother and so compassionate to everyone in her circle of friends and family. I imagine her now playing with the children in heaven.

By Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up and face another day. Would there be another death?

The early martyrs and the Holocaust victims — even the over 800,000 deaths from COVID — are far greater losses. But because I knew each of these women well, I felt gobsmacked. My heart hurt for their families.

So how could I deal with these multiple losses? How could I begin to understand others who have lost so many at the same time?

Honor the Grief. It does not help to just keep going in life and ignore how we feel. We need to work through the emotions and acknowledge how much it hurts to lose loved ones.

Wail. Lament. Cry. All are healthy ways to admit we loved and lost. Journaling helps me as well. Taking a long walk and talking through my feelings with only God and my angels listening.

Share the Loss. I texted my sister and several friends. Told them what had happened and asked them to pray for the families.

“I’m so sorry,” they said as they validated my grief.

A burden shared feels somewhat lighter, at least for that moment. It helps us begin to process what has happened.

Focus on Life After Death. Each of these women are now walking in heaven, free of stress and pain. No worries. No bills to pay. No more threat of COVID or any other illness.

So I imagine them there, hanging out with Jesus and their loved ones. I know they are happy, so I am happy for them.

Pray. Still, the loss lingers, especially for the families. So my prayers focus now on those left behind. Such a lonely time. So many decisions to make at a time when emotions are fragile.

Yet prayer reminds us again that we are not alone in our losses. Jesus himself understands grief. He was described as a man of sorrows. And he will eternally take care of my friends.

So I feel as if I know a bit more of how those early disciples might have felt. The courage it took to live each day, knowing they might lose another friend, another sibling, another child.

And I stay in hope, so that living becomes more of my focus rather than loss.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Help a single mom make it through February, with all its Valentine messages. Send her Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in What Works

At the beginning of each year, I send my clients a form to reflect and complete. One of the questions on the form is, “What worked for your writing craft in the previous year?”

Because if something works, then don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, either get rid of it or set healthy boundaries around it.

This simple question helps us move forward as wordsmiths and not waste time beating a dead horse.

The same exercise can work for our spiritual lives. What practice or discipline worked for you in 2021? What positive activity became more of a habit that worked well? What do you plan to continue in this new year, because it worked last year?

For me, Zoom meetings worked. I know many people are tired of Zoom, but this technology kept me connected to my clients, to family and friends. It was a valuable tool, so I continued my account and I’m still using it — almost every day.

Another activity that worked for me was to be more intentional to go to the library. I’m a regular anyway, to check out books and participate in the book sales. But in 2021, I loaded up my notes, my research and my outline and worked on my novel. The library closest to me has a wall fireplace, so I parked my chair near the warmth and wrote for a couple of hours. I plan to continue this practice.

But what worked for the tragedies and struggles of 2021? How was it possible to find hope in a year described by illness, political unrest, economic decline and the threat of wars? Even now, my home town holds the record for most COVID infections. Literally, half the population is sick.

What worked before that I can hold on to now?

Caution about what I Watch, Read and Focus on. What we inhale becomes what we exhale. And what we watch or read often determines what we believe. If I want to focus on hope and stay somewhat positive in a crazy world, then I need to be careful about what I ingest.

My news comes from a variety of sources. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle we vote for, if we listen only to one side — we can be programmed. So I intentionally check a variety of sources, flip channels and listen with two questions in mind: Does this position honor God? Does this position show love for people?

Like a host of other consumers, I watched The Chosen TV series. It was uplifting to imagine how Jesus lived a real life and how the disciples followed him. I knew they were nomads, but watching them pitch tents, go hungry for several days and question their Rabbi helped bring the Bible to a more realistic level. Caution about what I ingest worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Writing on the Topic of Hope. During this last year, it was difficult to sit down and write about hope. Some days, I struggled to find it. Had to leave the office and take a walk. Prayed a while. Cried. Then returned to the work.

So many times I asked God, “Shouldn’t I be writing about something else? More coaching posts? Blog another book?”

Always he answered. “Hope. Write about hope.”

Sometimes people will comment that a post brought them encouragement. I draw those comments into my soul like a thirsty traveler in the wilderness.

But like most writers, I often post and receive nothing in return. That’s when the wonder of hope keeps me going. Somewhere, someday — those words will impact someone’s life.

Writing about Hope worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Studying the Bible. Because one of my core values is life-long learning, it is easy for me to study, read and learn. During 2021, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend worked our way through Genesis. The Wednesday night group studied James. My personal studies included Psalms and Isaiah.

Whenever the gloomies hit, God provided direction to the perfect verse or passage. One day, it was Isaiah 40:28-31, “The Lord will not grow tired or weary…he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (TNIV).

I memorized more verses during 2021 and reviewed them before bedtime. That practice helped me sleep better. When I woke, I was ready to look for God’s mercies that are new every morning.

In 2021, study, reading, memorizing, learning, praying helped. I plan to continue.

Soothing Music. The joy of music has been with me for a lifetime. Various genres and mediums. But especially my piano.

Half Price Books provided me with a couple of new classical albums I worked through. My old hymnbooks contained sweet memories of the harmonies we used to sing. And often I just asked God what he wanted to hear. Then I played it.

The above verses in Isaiah 40 are beautifully rendered in my CD of the Messiah. As I drove to Oklahoma for my mother’s funeral, I played Selah music. Each morning as I dress, I turn on the radio and start my day with several worship songs.

Music always works for me. I plan to continue.

Jesus Himself. It is important to think often about this man/God who asked us to remember him. Those of us raised in certain churches grow used to the principles of faith. We can sometimes rehearse them like a habit, sort of like brushing our teeth without thinking.

But in 2021, I studied more about the New Covenant and what Jesus actually did for us on that bloody cross. How he forgave our sins past, present AND future. How grateful I should be for how he flipped the old practices of legalism and self-righteous religiosity.

Several books made an impact. Jesus Changes Everything by Bob George and Torn by Mike Manuel. A personal study of Hebrews cemented the truths, and my personal communion time brought me into a closer relationship with my brother, husband and maker — Jesus.

Not only did these studies help me stay in hope, they impacted how I view everything from my daily reflections to the church I attend to how I live out the kingdom of God right now on earth. And it made me sad for the false teaching that has plagued so many souls.

So I plan to continue these positive disciplines in 2022, always being open-minded to learn more about hope and the Author of it. To continue writing about hope in various ways and living my days — 24 hours at a time — with a focus on the positive and an open palm for how I can share it.

Let’s all make 2022 a year of hope. Let’s make our new normal a concession that we need spiritual and emotional health so we can offer it to others.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing about Hope in 2022 resulted in my book, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Check it out on Amazon.

Hope Finds Reality in a Verse

Many of my friends choose a special word for the year. It helps them focus on annual goals and gives them the motivation they need every day.

For some reason, the word of the year has not worked for me. Instead, I hang on to a verse for the year.

During the last weeks of December, I begin to proactively pray about my verse for the next year. Always, God answers. When we seek him, we find.

This year, I looked back through my Bible and journal to discover the amazing verses of the past and how they played out.

2016: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…to bind up the brokenhearted…to proclaim freedom for the captives… (Isaiah 61:1 TNIV).

During 2016, I served as a life coach in a nonprofit that helped women. Several of my clients were working through the trauma of spiritual abuse, physical and emotional abuse. Some of them had been abused by their husbands, then betrayed by the church and so-called Christians who were supposed to support them.

It was a time of helping my clients acknowledge the deep darkness, then work toward a place of light and freedom. So much pain, yet God was there to offer hope. Not only to my clients, but also to me.

2017: “God is my helper and ally. The Lord upholds me” (Psalm 54:4 AMP).

When I first read this verse, my heart lurched. What would happen in 2017 that would cause me to be upheld, to be helped by God himself?

It soon became apparent in the month of March when I resigned from my position and began therapy for ministry exhaustion. I needed God to help me financially, emotionally and spiritually as I rested. He was indeed my helper and ally.

Then he upheld me when a terrible loss defined my days. The unexpected death of my best friend, Deb, sent me into the darkness of grief. Without God holding me and literally being with me each day, I do not know how I would have survived the loss with any semblance of hope. Psalm 54:4 became my reality.

2018: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed, happy, fortunate are those who trust in him” (Psalm 34:8 AMP).

My healing came gradually, and God grew my writing clients. Finances increased, so some of the anxiety eased. My therapist released me, and friends surrounded me. While the grief continued, it lost some of its severity.

Then God made it possible for me to spend a week in Santa Fe. I attended the Creatives Conference where I met Julia Cameron in person and several other artists who continue as friends today. As I strolled through the plaza, ate wonderful dishes topped with green chiles and shopped the stores filled with southwest designs, hope began to return.

I caught myself smiling, even on the return trip back to Kansas. To this day, 2018 is colored with that beautiful experience and the goodness of the God who made it happen.

2019: “Feast on the abundance of God’s house and drink from the river of his delights” (Psalm 36:8 AMP).  

During 2019, my client base increased. I taught workshops at writers conferences and published three books. Words poured out of me, healing those taut places, releasing like salve out of a wound.

My CPA surprised me when he finished my taxes. “You’re still doing ministry, Rebecca. You’re helping others with their words.”

It felt like I had purpose again, and I could breathe. Thankfully. Because 2020 was about to spring itself on us.

2020: “God marked out appointed times in history and the boundaries of lands…so that they [the nations] would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 TNIV).

As we know, 2020 was the year COVID invaded and changed so much of our lives. People died by the hundreds. Family dynamics changed. Political turmoil and arguments about vaccines. Chaos everywhere.

Yet these verses kept me anchored as I prayed every day for the nations — for this global pandemic to blow itself out. My hope centered around the desire of God to have people reach out for him and find him, to realize he was not far away.

2021: The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11 AMP).

As the effects of COVID tromped all over my life, I hung on to the directive God gave me along with this verse, “Keep writing.”

Even as the workshops and conferences disappeared. Even as some of my clients needed to take a break. Even as I isolated myself during lockdown and set up a Zoom account, I kept writing. Even as so much of life changed, the words continued.

In August, I helped my son and his bride write their wedding vows. A sweet time. In December, I wrote my mother’s obituary. A bittersweet task.

So what is my verse for this year, for this 2022 when COVID continues to hover and life feels so fragile?

God sent me back to the prophet Isaiah, for a tiny phrase in 48:2, “Depend on God. The Lord Almighty is his name.”

El Shaddai is the Hebrew for the Lord Almighty. It means he is the God who satisfies our every need. He is the God of sufficiency and great power. He is the one who loves us so deeply, he works all the puzzle pieces together.

This God, this Almighty Abba, is the one I am depending on as 2022 begins. I have no clue what will happen this year. I hope I can report good news on December 31st.

But whatever occurs in the next months, I will find my hope in the verses God has given me and the ways he has been faithful throughout my life.

So happy new year to all my followers. I hope it’s a good one.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some ideas for setting your goals this year, check out Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals. Even if you’re not a writer, you can benefit from these principles.

Hope in the Mourning

During Mom’s last day on earth, the Hospice nurse gave us a card with a list of “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Published by the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, CO. You can buy your own card at their site.

If you are grieving during these early days of 2022, my prayer is that you will find hope in the following.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Loss by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt.

“The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Another great place to take your grief is through a support group titled “Grief Share.” Various churches offer these groups, and I participated in one after the death of my friend, Deb.

These groups remind us we are not alone in our grief. Others suffer as well. Sometimes, we are reminded that our grief is not as intense as another’s grief, yet it is valid.

My grief is not your grief, therefore I have the right to grieve in my own way. Another person’s Bible verse is not my verse. Another opinion about how long or how I should grieve is not credible.

Some people are emotional grievers. They cry and wail, sometimes stay in bed for weeks. I do not judge them, because I grieve in a different way.

I am an industrial griever. It helps me to do projects that bring a glad remembrance of my loved one. When Deb died, I completed four grief projects — most of them around the house or the yard. Then I gave a donation to the local animal shelter, because Deb loved animals.

For my recent grief, I created a memory shelf in my home. For several days, I was busy putting it together, painting, sanding, measuring the perfect place in my guest room. When I felt the need to cry, I stopped and mourned for the loss of now both my parents. Acknowledged the feeling of being orphaned.

Now, when I pass by, I smile at their memory. Sometimes I cry. Usually, I just think about my next project.

My faith has not been weakened by the need to grieve. In fact, I believe more strongly than ever in the power of hope and the certainty of eternal life. My parents are with Jesus. Someday, we will meet again.

So if you are grieving, whether it’s the loss of a person, a job, a home, a marital status, a former identity — stay in hope. Do what you have to do to grieve in a healthy way.

And know that your mourning means you deeply loved.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in the Last Gift

My family draws names each Christmas. We hail from a frugal background of farmers. No extra fuss for the holidays. Everyone buys just one gift. So it’s always fun to see who has our names and what they have chosen for us.

For our 2021 Christmas get-together, we decided to open gifts when everyone was present — after the funeral and burial of our matriarch, my mom.

The younger kids passed out the presents and when they handed mine to me, I peeked at the gift tag.

Who had my name this year? Swallowed fresh tears. Mom had my name. This would be my last gift from her.

Our mothers do so much for us, we often take them for granted. Until we become parents and realize the sacrifices. Or until they are gone.

Mom gifted me with several things, but two of them stood out as I helped my siblings prepare Mom’s service. As we all reflected on a life well-lived.

Music: Mom grew up in poverty. Self-esteem destroying poverty. The kind that moves beyond just being hungry. Only one dress to wear every day to school. Hearing the taunts of the richer kids. Knowing she could never be one of the “in” crowd.

So as a parent, Mom worked hard to make sure all of her children had multiple choices of clothing. And she used part of her nursing salary to give her children a resource she never had. Piano lessons.

Every week, she drove me to my piano teacher’s house where I played my pieces, learned more about the scope of music, progressed through the various methodologies. Mom never had to remind me to practice. Music flowed from my soul to my fingers and into the sound board of our piano.

Mom was present at my recitals, the concerts and competitions that came later as I grew in skill. She even took a few lessons herself, so she would know what her children were learning. So she could confront the whispers of her past with the truth. No longer an outcast.

I didn’t make it into the Julliard School of Music  — one of my goals. But I took lessons for 13 years and later became a piano teacher myself. Mom was proud. Her gift was not taken for granted.

Words: In her high school yearbook, Mom was voted as the one most likely to become a writer. It was her secret passion, but one which never materialized. Life intervened. World War II happened. The government paid for women to become Army nurses, so her destiny was decided for her.

But she instilled in all of us a love for words, a longing to read as many books as possible. She demanded we use correct grammar. Bought me my first diary — the kind with the tiny key and a lock. Drove us to the library each week where all of us checked out a stack of books. Mom included.

After chores each night, then homework and piano practice, we curled up in various places and read. Often discussed our books at the supper table. The television stayed off until the weekend.

In 1985, when I became a professional writer and sold my first article, it was Mom who cheered for me. She supported me in various writer’s conferences, paid my tuition, read my words, cherished my books.

Until the memory thief stole the meaning of words from her.

When we cleaned out Mom’s room at the nursing home, reducing her life to a few boxes, we found several books she was reading. Her Bible, a mystery, a Guideposts collection. Even when her cognitive skills declined, she continued to read.

Her gift of words continues today as all of us read on family vacations, watch the sales for book deals, share with each other the latest novel we cannot put down.

So when I opened that last gift from Mom, I wondered what it would be. Granted, my sister picked it out. Mom was trapped in the shadows of dementia, living in the nursing home. But Kris chose something Mom would have definitely liked. Another thing Mom and I shared.

It was a cross, made from the aspens of New Mexico. Purchased in one of the stores in Red River, the little mountain town our family has vacationed in for 20+ years.

The perfect last gift.

For Mom regularly shared her faith. In her quiet unassuming way. She wore a cross necklace under her nurse’s uniform where she could touch it on hard days. To remind herself Who she belonged to. Her Savior always present.

It was Mom I told first when I decided to believe. She was the one who had driven me to the children’s story-time where I gave my heart to Jesus. Mom filled our home with children’s Bibles, regularly quizzed us on our weekly Bible verses, made sure we were clean and ready for church every Sunday.

Wearing a dress she sewed herself. Making sure her children were never rejected because of how they looked.

During her memorial service, we played her favorite song, “It Took a Miracle.” A reminder that this 93-year-old woman had lived her entire life enjoying music, words and hanging on to faith.

Every. Single. Day.

Until December 7th, when she graduated to heaven and saw in person the reason she believed.

Mom’s final gift hangs in my living room as homage to her life and to the faith we shared. Her lifetime of gifting to her family and to others will live on.

But it is her last gift I will cherish the most.

And what was the last gift I gave her? I wrote Mom’s obituary.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved