March Madness Scores Hope

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.

In 2020, the basketball authorities cancelled March Madness to protect everyone from COVID-19. This year, I was ready.

Like the Uber Eats commercial, “I didn’t get my madness last year, so I needed double the madness.”

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.”

The cat leaves 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.

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 Tee. COME ON!”

I do not yell without credible knowledge. My dad was a triathlete, including top scorer at Phillips University. Our family was definitely into 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. 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 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, Coach. 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.

You have a clean shot. No one is guarding you. It’s only fifteen feet. NOT AN NBA THREE!

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.

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

When my son was a teen, we competed with our brackets. The winner got a pizza. Now he’s grown and 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. The release valve of yelling works. I highly recommend it.

This has not been a good year for my teams. The Chiefs bombed out in the Super Bowl. The Jayhawks, proteges of James Naismith himself, could not manage to get the ball in the peach basket. FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

But there is hope. Let’s go, Royals! 

There will be yelling.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in the Hidden Treasures

Once a week, I click onto HGTV and watch a couple of favorite DIY shows. One is Home Town with Ben and Erin Napier. They are transforming their home down of Laurel, Mississippi, by renovating old homes. It’s a fun show with lots of creative ideas.

My other current fave is Good Bones, another redesign of a town — Indianapolis — with a mother and daughter team. Mina is the driving force behind each project while Karen, the mother, is a creative artiste a la retired lawyer.

One of the reasons I like Good Bones is because one of the stars is in my demographic. It’s encouraging that a mature woman is able to power through a wall with a sledgehammer or kick through slats to open a space.

The other reason I like Karen is because she is always finding hidden treasures.

When each segment begins, Karen and Mina tour a nasty old house, dreaming of ways to redesign it and sell it for a profit. Some of these houses have become shelters for hoarders or for squatters. Some are incredibly nasty. I can almost smell the horror of those bathrooms filled with — well, you can imagine.

But Karen searches through the junk and often finds an old window, a piece of furniture, a tapestry, an antique bottle, even a musical instrument. She takes them home, in spite of Mina’s insistence to throw them away, and restores them to their original luster. Then she returns the treasure to the house as a gift to the new homeowner.

I love the idea of restoring what was considered trash. In fact, I’ve done the same myself. Dumpster diving in a college town often produced treasures my son and I could use after we cleaned them, fixed broken screws or painted something a new color.

But hope joins the restoration process when we seek to find the hidden treasures all around us. Even daring to look for treasures within our own souls.

  • What is a treasure we can find from the traumas of 2020?
    • more time with family
    • working from home
    • safety in our own four walls
    • a commitment to do life differently when everything opens.
  • How can we look for treasure in each other?
    • accept differences of opinion
    • embrace diversity
    • guard the hearts of those who are disrespected.
  • What are the concrete treasures we can find around us and restore them to dignity?
    • an autumn leaf to frame
    • stones that become art – like a cat made out of rocks
    • native grasses to bring inside and feature in a pottery vase
  • How does God remind us we are his treasures?
    • By giving us a verse for a particular moment
    • by sharing his presence through music or nature
    • by keeping us in a constant state of readiness for heaven
    • by strengthening us through one struggle so we can meet the next one

Someone at a writers conference once told me I was a treasure. It took me a while to journal through that compliment and fully accept it.

But it IS true. Each of us is a treasure to God and to the people in our personal world. Each human being is a treasure no matter what the gender, the skin color or the choice of political platform.

As we look for the treasures around us, let’s be more cognizant of how we can share hope with each other.

Let’s strive for restoration rather than trashing another. Let’s build on how people and things were originally created and work to make them even better.

Let’s find hope in the hidden treasures.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these invisible women who were NOT treasured. Then find ways to treasure others. The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Survives with the Women of Passion Week

She is often condemned as the woman who worked too hard to create a hospitable atmosphere. Martha, the sister who kept everything together to serve Jesus and his disciples.

Legend tells us Martha was a wealthy widow, the homeowner of her Bethany villa. She provided housing for her siblings and a place of retreat for her guests.

Martha had a special relationship with the Master, so the events of Passion Week would have greatly impacted her. How would she have reacted to the news coming from Jerusalem?

When the messenger rushed into my villa, I could not at first believe his words. “Jesus is dead. Crucified by the religious leaders and the mob.”

Dead. This gentle Teacher who changed our lives when he brought Lazarus back to life.

How I remembered the depths of our grief as Mary and I buried our little brother. The virus that killed Lazarus was so severe and quick, none of the doctors knew how to treat it. Yet we were certain Jesus could save him.

But the Master hesitated, waited four days while we prepared our brother’s body and walked behind his bier to the family tomb.

When Jesus finally appeared, I dared to confront him, accused him of not caring enough. “I know you could have saved him. Where were you?”

To this day, I remember the iconic mixture of emotion in his voice, his own grief at the tragedy of death. Yet in his eyes, a spark of joyous surprise I would not understand until later. When he called out, “Lazarus, come forth” and welcomed our brother back to the land of the living.

Now Jesus Himself had experienced that darkness, the cessation of life and the journey to the netherworld. His breath stilled. His skillful hands emptied of life’s pulse.

Why did not the Father rescue him from the cross? Was this merely another hesitation by a God who knew more about life and death, how a seed must die in order to produce amazing fruit?

I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders. The chill of early spring greeted me as I trudged toward the hill. Crocus sprouted among the rocks. The promise of life after the death of winter.

As I scrambled up the rocky hillside toward our tomb, I cried out with gratitude. “Thank you, God. My brother no longer lies here, rotting in the dust. My sister thrives, and I am healthy. We are blessed with the gift of life.”

Yet our Savior was dead. Who would care for his body, wrap him in linen and anoint the wounds that killed him? Would he have a place to lie under the stars where his followers could visit him? Should I travel to the holy city and offer my services?

Then a whisper, a remembered phrase the Master comforted me with just before he raised Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes will also live.”

And suddenly, I knew. The raising of Lazarus was more than an act of life, a rescuing of Mary and me from the ravages of grief, a chance to start over for our beloved brother.

It was a foreshadowing of what would happen later — not only for the Master but also for all of us who believed. Death was not the end, but only a stepping-stone into the next world. A place of infinite blessing and good, a realm where death and sickness, crucifixion or martyrdom could never win.

I ran back to the house, suddenly filled with a desire to prepare the best foods, clean the villa and straighten up the guest rooms. Perhaps the Master would visit Bethany again, show us another example of renewal and revival. Whatever the schedule he might keep, I had no doubt we would see him again.

Three days later, another messenger ran up our hill and rapped on the door. I met him there, saw his flushed face and grasped his shoulders.

“Tell me. What has happened?”

He gasped for breath, then spouted the words, “His disciples . . . they have seen him. The Master . . . is alive.”

Of course he is. I believe.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about the Women of Passion Week, check out my book available on Amazon.

Hope Lives in the Music

As I walked out of Target, violin music reverberated its lovely sound. Plaintive yet smooth. Obviously a professional recording.

Or was it?

I walked toward my car and looked around the parking lot. Were those melodic notes coming from a car’s stereo? If so, where?

The music sounded too fresh, too lovely to be a tinny recording. Nothing I recognized. No classical memory from years of music training. A new song, perhaps written by an unknown artist.

Then I saw him. Farther east in the parking lot, a young man standing in the spring sunshine. His right arm moving up and down with the bow. His left hand forming the vibrato. Obviously a trained musician.

I drove toward him, drawn by more than curiosity. After the grey February where I struggled to find hope, this offering of loveliness felt like a divine gift.

A note beside him read, “Struggling student. Hard times. Can you help?”

The writer in me wondered at his story. Had he been evicted from his apartment or lost his “other” job like so many artists during the time of COVID?

Was he caring for an elderly parent and needed money for the necessities of healthcare? Were they hungry? Homeless?

Did the music of his soul need encouragement, new strings for his favorite violin? Tuition paid for theory classes?

A baritone voice in my soul, “Help him.”

“How much, Abba?”

“You have a ten in your billfold.”

I am not always a generous giver. Often I am more clearly defined as a saver, a keeper of what I have — just in case life sours.

Yet for this young talent, life was already sour — something not working well. He was giving the only thing possible — his music. For what? His next meal? A reason to stay in hope?

Oh, I know all the arguments the financially secure use: “He’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze. It’s a racket. Don’t fall for it.”

Yet the sadness in his brown eyes would not leave me alone. The song of his heart spoke directly to mine.

It was not my responsibility to monitor his spending habits. It was only my duty to obey and respond. This child of God needed help. I had a little I could spare.

His melancholy notes continued as I rolled down my window and handed him my ten.

“Thank you,” he said with genuine gratitude.

“God bless you.”

As I drove away, I prayed the violinist would be okay, eat well that night, pay whatever bills were outstanding.

Then clearing the tears out of my throat, I thanked God for the beauty of music, for a stranger who parked near Target and shared the melody of his heart.

Hope floated through the afternoon air and landed joyfully in my soul.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you don’t have a violinist in your Target parking lot, maybe this e-book will help. Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Hope in the Darkness

It is difficult to stay in hope while we are living within darkness.

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

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

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near the cross and watching him die. Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart — to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously — almost unbelievably alive.

Then he gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers how she had seen him. He spoke to her, called her by name. Gave her a job to do.

While it was still dark.

When we dwell in dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. Another twenty-four hours required of us: giving care to a loved one, enduring chronic pain, watching our personal world crumble.

We feel only the raw depth of the struggle.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of growing bitterness. We inwardly scream questions:

“Why did this happen?”

“When will it end?”

“Where is the answer to my prayer?”

Yet the answer is silence.

At the end of the darkness stands the only One who conquered it. The One who laughed at the eternal outcome of death. The One who understood that sometimes life is much harder than death.

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

Maybe you live in the depths of a grief that never seems to ease. Every day is a reminder of the emptiness, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you struggle with illness. Every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you trudge through emotional pain, the reminder of what others did to you. Those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb, ready to embrace you and give you a reason to live. An abundance of a better life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to empower you with his hope-filled strength.

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

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding Hope When Life Unravels is an e-book with action points for stepping out of the darkness.

Finding a Hope-filled Friendship

They are older than I by a decade. White hair, wisdom lines on their faces. Walking a bit slower these days.

Yet whenever we meet, I suddenly feel a shared surge of their energy. Not physical, but spiritual. Hope-filled protons of life.

We usually meet once a month for a special meal at Cracker Barrel. Even during COVID-19. Especially during COVID-19.

We stay away from topics of politics or anything ugly confrontive. Yet we can be honest with each other. Disagree. Add another viewpoint to the conversation.

We update each other on the cares and needs of family. Our children always top of the list. Their grandchildren added to the ladder of conversation.

We eat good food, and we laugh a lot. Even during COVID-19. Especially needed during a pandemic that changed how we do life.

Sometimes we talk about the past — how we met in 2006. Memories of work shared, of prayers answered.

Lean in to their hugs. Especially during a pandemic with a shortage of touch.

When I have theological questions, I ask them first. Anything in my writings that might need clarified. They give honest answers. Ask why I am writing on a certain topic. Wonder when the latest book will be published. Their names have appeared numerous times on my Acknowledgements pages.

Through the years, they have attended most of my book-signings. Bought books for their family and friends. Or for someone who needs the words God has given me.

I know with a certainty they pray for me. I feel it, especially when writing is hard. When the words need to be pulled from my soul by a Wordsmith greater than I.

After we meet, I always feel better. Re-energized to work on that elusive novel or organize another writing craft book. Meet with my clients and offer them accountability. Hope for their words. Believe once again that God is faithful.

The last time we met, I hurried home to pray. To thank God for their hope-filled friendship through the years. And to ponder the question, What is it about this lovely couple that fills me with hope and energizes me to live abundantly?

They encourage freely. Never a word of condemnation. None of the spiritual and verbal abuse so common on social media from people who should know better. No negativity of any kind.

They search for the positives. A difficult time gives opportunity to find the silver lining. A doctor’s appointment brings the comment, “Everything will work out fine.” The struggles of 2020 germinate into reasons to “Rejoice always. And again, I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

They fully trust a higher power. When I express my struggles, they remind me how God is already ahead of me. The loving twinkle in her blue eyes. The ready smile on his face. The statement, “God already knows the answer” a balm to my troubled soul.

They meet my needs. Although I am not starving, a good meal tastes wonderful. Taking home a box of leftovers will remind me to stay in hope the next day and the next. Filling my belly for a complimentary lunch nurtures the aloneness in me. Reminds me someone cares.

They mentor me. When I look back after each meeting, I see how they have taught me something more. How their belief rubs off on me. How they have shared another spiritual nugget so that I can learn. Be better. Live better.

Someday our special lunches will end. One or all of us will leave this earth for a better place. Those who are left will grieve yet rejoice, feel joy for the beauty of what the missing one knows.

But for now, these friends fill a place of emptiness for me. I am grateful for the hope they share, for the joy of being together now and then.

And I hope to someday fill such a place for a younger human I will meet. To be that living hope we all need. To share in holy moments of encouragement.

To teach by example and live by loving another.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Feeling the need for a nugget of hope? Check out Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

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

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

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

Wisdom is still a daily prayer as life presents the need for quirky decisions: whether to downsize and sell, where to move or if, how to protect our home from COVID-19.

But in spite of the Serenity Prayer, change happens with or without courage. The seasons of life determine new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance — now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had. But if we needed something, we figured out a way to make it with the tools and materials we already owned. Created something from the bits and pieces around us.

Or changed a situation to make it better.

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

Even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. If I cannot make a situation better, at least I can work to make it tolerable.

Revise manuscripts until they feel right. Add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging muscles. Delete from my diet harmful chemicals.

Make the necessary changes.

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

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

How can we find the hope needed while doing nothing about a situation?

The loss of a best friend, a relative, a job, a business. So many losses in 2020 and the beginnings of 2021. Recently, the loss of power for so many during the coldest week in decades.

Half a million families changed forever by the loss of someone to COVID. When life changes so dramatically, we are never the same. How can we move toward that deep type of acceptance?

My mother has somehow accepted her life in the nursing home. She is content living day by day in her safe environment. No stresses. No bills to worry about. No car that needs an oil change.

The late stages of Alzheimer’s presents a type of acceptance for those affected with the disease. Just get up every morning and eat when they tell you to eat. Play Bingo when it’s time.

Done. Accepted.

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

We will learn a type of soul contentment.

So let’s change what we can, but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these steps for moving toward hope, especially when life turns chaotic. Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking about changing expectations. By now, we both expected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for — free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • 2.5 grandchildren
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on — the whole happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money safely tucked away in trusts and investments
  • Trips planned and enjoyed at least twice / year
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee, tea, some sort of chocolate treat (obviously BC – before COVID)
  • The certainty that our lives had impacted people / that we had made a difference in somebody’s world
  • The blessings of the abundant life
  • Looking forward to the next family gathering / maybe a vacation in the mountains or near the beach

Instead, we were both experiencing the following:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betrayed us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of facing life alone
  • Close friends and multiple family members now lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • The over-used word “unprecedented” now a descriptive of daily life
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize or hunker down for whatever comes after COVID
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • A gray sense of despair
  • Watching blessings happen to others / not so much to us

These were supposed to be the Golden Years. Not so golden. Not even gold-plated.

Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through? When what we were promised has not happened?

Simple, yet tough.

Stop looking at the outcomes. Results don’t always describe the journey’s intention.

We are living in the hyphen years, that space on gravestones between birth date and death. We cannot know the impact of the hyphen until eternity.

When we meet those we never knew. Perhaps a reader who found a particular blog post or book we wrote impactful. Maybe another person in despair who saw our smile and decided to live another day.

Perhaps that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who watched us live and learn, grow and fail. They cheered us on. Their whispers merely a nudge in our souls.

Since we cannot know our true impact, we can only trust Abba God for the results. Even when the outcomes look so different from what we expected.

When the answers are not what we want to hear. When life does not match up with our expectations. When we tend to focus on what did NOT happen. When we live in the gloom of unanswered prayers.

That is when we must trust hard. To focus instead on the Who rather than the What.

The Who that says:

  • I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.
  • I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening right now.
  • I AM helping you through this mess, one day, one moment at a time.
  • I AM going to meet every need. Just wait for me.
  • I AM still loving you. Nothing will ever stop my loving you.
  • I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.
  • I AM.

So when the days seem longer than 24 hours, when the expectations fizzle, keep holding on to hope. Check out this video for a dash of strength. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-HIKxnSZSA

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a few moments of hope, check out my newest e-book Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Embraces Self-care

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

It has taken me so many years to believe and write this truth. But one purpose of a blog is to be forthright and honest, even vulnerable. So here goes my truth:

Self-Care is a valid spiritual discipline.

Many of us have been taught — dare I say “programmed” — to believe that any type of self-care is selfish, prideful, a sin. Taking care of ourselves feels somehow “less than.”

We believe if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual and worthy of heavenly treasures. If we are utterly exhausted, we have completed our earthly journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we have learned how to love and care for ourselves.

And we cannot truly love ourselves until we search under the detritus of other-care to find our lonely souls.

But we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. So we live like the walking wounded, zombie-like versions of who God created us to be. We do for others all the time, sign up to volunteer at various places b/c they have needs and we think we must meet those needs.

Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But Abba God has never asked us to kill ourselves, even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist once complimented me on some choices I made. To replace some old towels with new ones in the lovely colors I enjoy. To schedule a mani/pedi for myself on Valentine’s Day. Just because.

“Both of those decisions are self-care,” she said.

I did not even realize I was taking care of myself. But when I stepped back and saw the basis of these choices as self-care, they felt good. No condemnation. No drama and no guilt.

The beginnings of self-care happen by setting healthy boundaries, by daring to take care of ourselves and saying, “No” to anything that tries to break through those boundaries.

The first boundary is skin. Protecting our physical bodies is the first line of defense. Anything or anyone who violates that boundary is unsafe.

The second boundary is time. This area is where so many of us who have ministered to others fail. We make ourselves available 24/7, refuse to take breaks or even the PTO the job offers so that we can help meet the needs of hurting others.

We don’t see how we are actually harming ourselves.

The third boundary is more subtle, the area we bury until one day we wake up and realize we have lost our true destiny. This boundary is the soul. We ignore soul-care, letting time and other needs dominate.

But the soul is the basis of who we are. We cannot grow without its strengthening. We cannot truly be ourselves without listening to its needs.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way underscores the importance of artist dates. To go somewhere by yourself and for yourself. Not to do anything for anyone else or meet some sort of deadline. But just to be and enjoy the beauty of art around you.

A walk through the arboretum – not during this cold snap of course – but later in the calendar. Browsing through fuzzy yarns and fun crafts at Hobby Lobby. Maybe a late-night or early-morning ice cream run. I can vouch for the Queen of Hearts flavor at Sylas & Maddy’s.

One of my clients introduced me to the coffee shop and serenity of Family Tree Nursery. During Christmas, their trees were so lovely. I plan to go back for some writing time. Or maybe to dream about my spring garden plans. Or maybe just to sip a chai and take care of my soul-self.

I am putting together a list of things I want for myself in these late-in-life days, how I can spend my time just enjoying the moments and being myself, where I can rediscover the root of my dreams.

If that sounds selfish, well — I don’t care. Don’t judge me. I have spent a lifetime in ministry helping others. It is okay to now help myself.

The definition of grace deletes the need for excess works to please God. Grace means accepting his love for me, then recycling that love into a deeper understanding of who I am. Once I am free from the legalism of having to do, I can then truly love others where they are and for who they are.

It is time to learn more about loving myself and find hope in the process. Perhaps you can comment on how you are doing the same.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest e-book: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope-filled Skies

What is it about winter that creates such amazing sun events?

A recent sunrise awed and humbled me as I watched at my kitchen window. What began as a few orange feathers soon turned into a mosaic of turquoise and terra cotta.

Then the sky danced. Ripples of wavy color expanded across the early Saturday palette. Like the fingers of God caressing his canvas with each change of color and texture.

Tears rivered down my cheeks as I imagined the Great Artist fashioning each moment just for me. Oh sure — other people around the world also observed this particular sunrise.

But it felt as if God and I communed on a new level. He showed off, and I gladly received his shameless promotion.

Then it was done as the sky became its usual wintry blue with only a hint of what had been so bold before.

But I was changed — ready to begin the day with words, to coach clients and edit books, to fashion my own plots with more intentional urgency. To write while there is time.

Nothing however compares to the sunset I experienced in Santa Fe.

A new friend and I walked in her subdivision, flanked by the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountain ranges. A comfortable September evening wrapped its early autumn calm around us as we chatted.

Then the sunset began — ribbons of color that felt familiar yet unique. An immediate underscoring of why Santa Fe is known for its sunsets.

We paused for a while and watched it expand across the desert landscape, cacti thorny arms reaching upward.

Then twilight began with its dark blue and twinkles of stars to come. We turned around, satisfied with the evening show and ready to finish the day.

But as we circled toward my friend’s house, another sunset formed. It interrupted the night sky with even more vibrant colors of intense light. Cerulean blues surrounded by beams of yellow trimmed in shimmering white.

A double sunset in one evening. Definitely a Santa Fe artistic moment.

I think of that sunset often, especially when I feel homesick for Santa Fe. The surprise and delight coupled with our worshipful “Ah-h-hs” as we expressed our praise of God’s handiwork.

Someday in eternity, I want Abba Father to show me how he makes such beauty. Each morning and evening a new mercy of his artful faithfulness.

I want him to teach me how to paint such brilliance in the sky, then sit back and whisper, “It is good.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For winter reading, check out my Amazon Author Page.

How to Find Hope in February

The month of February has always been difficult for me. Usually, the cold and flu bugs continue their romp so the air is filled with germy spores. This year, we are still in the grip of the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.

February’s weather is too cold for leisurely walks, and the ground too frozen for gardens. In spite of the lovely blend of red, pink and white on store shelves signaling the return of Valentine’s Day — February feels bland.

It’s the shortest month yet somehow feels longest.

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

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

Do Something Wonderful. February is a great month to plan a getaway somewhere warm or even a visit to family you missed seeing at Christmas. Investigate a local museum, but check first to find out if they’re open in this time of COVID.

Schedule a day of joy in your area. Take an artist’s date as outlined in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Looking forward to an event helps pass the time.

Help Another Soul. As we do something nice for someone else, we focus less on ourselves. Stretch your creative muscles and think of ways to meet the needs of another person.

Make a beef stew for someone who is sick. Take flowers to a widow or a single mom. Make your own valentines and send them to someone who is discouraged or needs to know they are loved.

Get outside yourself and share hope with someone else.

Find New Ways to Share Love. February 14th is the day for expressing our feelings to loved ones. But what if we think outside the box?

Take the whole family and serve soup to the homeless. Make valentines to share with the lonely folks at a nursing home. Give a generous tip to the person behind the counter who serves you. Volunteer at a nonprofit.

Love Yourself. Most of us are willing to help others when we know the need. But sometimes we forget to love ourselves.

Make February your month to begin a new novel — either reading a bestseller or writing one or both. Schedule a mani/pedi to clean the sludge off winter feet.

Reserve one day/week for play and rest. Let a massage therapist work all the January kinks out of you. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself.

Embrace the Special Days of February. Do a search for the National Days in February. On those days, follow the prompts for fun activities. Enjoy the variety of each day and the emphasis it brings to your life.

Make Plans for Spring. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself. Order from a seed catalog and plan your garden. Think about a new paint color for your office or bedroom. Tape the paint chip to the wall and live with it for a while.

Join an online group and meet new people. Order a brochure for summer vacation and post it near your calendar. Enjoy thinking about what you will do when COVID is over.

Change One Thing. Most of us cannot make a major life change during February, nor do we want to. But changing just ONE thing can lift us above the February blahs.

For example: the curtains in my bedroom were 12 years old and beginning to fade. I found new ones on sale and replaced them. Just that one change brightened my bedroom and boosted my spirits.

What ONE thing can you change to make a difference in your February outlook?

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

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author Page for some February reading ideas.  

Hope Finds a January Purpose

Although I did not send the usual number of Christmas cards this year, I did receive several beautiful greetings from many of you. Thank you!

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

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

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes.

One particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is, after all, a deep red color.

For several years, I used the front cover of Christmas cards as gift tags for the next year. Using a plain brown wrapping with a colorful card was fun and lovely.

But for the last few years, I have enacted a special routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on the kitchen table, next to my Bible and a candle. This is my sacred place for meditation, reading and prayer each morning.

Every day when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Sometimes that includes letters from friends, family and clients. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

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

If I know of a particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe, especially this year with COVID-19 still raging, racial injustice still prevalent and political turmoil underscored. Provide for them what they need — a warm and safe home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy.

This year, I know of many people who are grieving: Oh, sweet Spirit — send them a special touch of comfort. A flash of crimson cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.

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

I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected — through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared, through the beauty and power of words, through the bloodline of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

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

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

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? The Invisible Women of Genesis is available on Amazon.  

Hope in One Simple Thing

As a life coach in a nonprofit for women, I often suggested an action step to help my clients move toward hope.

The same idea can work for anyone — any time.

When life unravels, whether through a personal tragedy or an unexpected circumstance — just do one simple thing.

Do you find joy in the purchase of a new book? Then browse through a bookstore or online. Find a book that interests you and buy it. Or check out your local library and save some bucks.

Do this one simple thing.

Does nature help you cultivate peace? Get outside. Bundle up and take a walk. Drive to a park or jog on one of the local trails. Open your door and step outside for a brief moment of fresh air. Inhale deeply.

Do this one simple thing.

Do animals remind you of God’s creativity? Go to a shelter and adopt a pet. Or feed the feral cats in your neighborhood.

The ferals in my cul-de-sac are fat and happy, because many of us have added food bowls to our porch décor.

If you can’t have an animal, volunteer at a shelter or buy a puppy calendar. Watch The Incredible Dr. Pol for an evening of fun TV.

Do this one simple thing.

What about a creative project? One of my clients painted her bathroom a new color and found some wall décor at Savers.

Maybe it’s time to begin a painting project or a needle craft with fuzzy yarn or write that memoir you’ve been wanting to start.

Do this one simple thing.

Rearrange the furniture. Replace that yucky carpet you hate. Sit down and watch a movie. Some of my favorites for escape include Serendipity, Follow the Stars Home and The Martian Child.

Declutter your office. Clean out your closets and give away barely used clothes. Do something nice for another soul.

Whatever you choose to do, get away from your problems and concentrate on the positive.

Just do one simple thing and move toward hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How can you begin a new year by setting and reaching goals. Check out this resource.

Hope in One-Word Prayers

Hope sometimes hides in simple places, often in one-word prayers.

The prayer life can be taught by spiritual advisors and multiple resources, but I think God most appreciates our prayers when they come from the desperate places of our hearts.

One-word prayers exist in that place where self-sufficiency ends. The gut punch past emotion and any reasoning ability.

My one-word prayers come when I have nothing left — when I’ve exhausted all my personal resources and my attempts to fix the problem.

When all I have left is a plea to Abba Father.

Please. After my first two babies died on their birthdates, getting pregnant again seemed daunting and simply frightening. I could not emotionally lose another child.

So when the pregnancy test read positive, I had only one word for God: “Please.”

As I lay in bed for six months, hoping to keep my child, I repeatedly begged God, “Please.” That baby, my Caleb, was born healthy and screaming a voluminous God-type answer.

But in his 21st year, a massive brain tumor almost took him away. Again, all I could manage on my knees in the ICU was another, “Please.”

God does not always answer these prayers in the affirmative, but this time — he said, “Yes.” My son is now cancer free, 14 years later.

Why. This one-word prayer is rarely answered. God does not have to justify his actions or what he allows. His job description as supreme authority is clear.

But we still ask the question. Most of us have asked “Why?” during 2020. Why this pandemic, this horrific loss of life, jobs, businesses, conferences, travel? No answer.

As my mother lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I have asked, “Why?” In 2020, she fell and broke the same hip twice. She tested positive for COVID. Three times, I pulled out my little black dress and emotionally prepared to drive to her funeral.

But Mom survived to continue in the shadows, oblivious of any family or friends. Why? When she wants to be in heaven. What is the purpose?

I do not know, cannot comprehend the Why. But this one-word prayer often returns.

When. God is transcendent. He exists outside time and space. He does not wear a watch or schedule his day on a cell phone. Eternity and its Maker are timeless.

Yet we exist within the boundaries of twenty-four hours and a yearly calendar. We want to know when God’s promises to us will happen. We need to make plans, be prepared and look the part.

We need something to look forward to.

My vision journal is filled with promises God made to me. My Bible has years marked beside verses God underscored. Yet many of these promises have not occurred. When, God? When?

No answer … yet.

Although one-word prayers come from a deep place of need, they do have a positive spin.

We may feel frustrated by incomplete answers, but these desperate prayers prove our faith. They remind us we have somewhere to go with our Please, Why and When.

They prove we believe in God’s existence even when we cannot explain his ways.

A final one-word prayer is the one I cry when I cannot even imagine another word. It is the place I have gone multiple times throughout life.

And I imagine life will throw other scenarios in my direction where this one-word encapsulates the cry of my heart.

It ignores the Why, because at the point when my tears cannot release, my voice is raw and my mind will not wrap itself around the grief — I don’t care why.

It forgets about When, because that moment represents my exact need. There is no thought of another time.

Yet this word holds a Please with every breath.

This one-word prayer includes every plea ever spoken and reverberates through my universe. It is the word that holds my heart and keeps my life somewhat steady — even in the chaos.

Jesus. The name above all names. The answer to every heart’s cry.

The one-word prayer that echoes with hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about the faith walk and prayer, check out Uploading Faith. My Caleb and I wrote it together.

Hope in New Calendars

New calendars represent the epitome of hope. With their blank pages and colorful textures, they invite us to dare — to risk planning something good.

For me, calendar shopping is a rite of passage. The old year has ended. Forget mistakes made and any self-condemnation fostered by regret. New calendars signal it is now time to start over.

Instant grace.

Since I am a paper person, my calendars must satisfy my need for color and texture. The main planner I use provides a yearly refill, available only at Office Max.

Sure, I could order it online but it’s more fun to walk through the store, dream about the desk I want, pick up my calendar refill and sometimes — find a bargain on the Clearance aisle.

The leather binder provides a sturdy reminder as I fill it with the new pages. Be strong and courageous in this new year. Plan good things. Provide encouragement and accountability for my clients. Stay in hope.

This main calendar planner contains my life. Birthdays and anniversaries noted. Holidays circled. Shopping lists and doctors’ appointments scheduled a year in advance.

During one move across the state, I thought I had lost my planner. I nearly perished from anxiety. Fortunately, a friend found it. My heart beat again.

The largest calendar is always a LANG version. I love these calendars, because they are art on the wall. Each month is a lovely surprise of heart and home, country décor and lots of flowers.

Like Monet, I believe “We must always have flowers.”

My giant LANG calendar wears clean pages as I do not write on it. The art on my wall cheers me without notations of what I must do. Rather, it is a reminder to stop for a moment, breathe and enjoy the show.

Last year, I noticed a door chart used by a Zoom presenter. What a great idea — something on the blank door to remind me of deadlines.

So I found one on Amazon, only 10 bucks, complete with the markers and erasers. When each quarter is over, I simply erase the marks and move on to the next quarter.

My final calendar sits on my desk near the mouse pad. It contains my list for each day. When I turn on my office lights and settle in, this calendar reminds me what to do.

At the end of each week, I look at the items without checkmarks and move them to the next week. Such a great way to avoid the self-sabotage of procrastination.

This calendar is also colorful with positive affirmations and famous quotes. I find it each year at Half Price Books — another great place for writers to browse.

You can tell I am a list maker, and I thrive on scheduled routines. While my calendars remind me of work to do and projects to complete, they also cheer me with their colors and quirky sayings.

And when I make those checkmarks beside each entry, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Then I turn off the office lights, go take a walk and look forward to the next day’s hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Why not start out the new year with essays about hope? Check out Hope Shines, available in print, e-book and large print.

Hope and the Passing of Time

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google — that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year.  https://gretchenrubin.com/

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

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

But reality proves it to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness does not cost you anything, but it is priceless to those who receive it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s approach 2021 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.  http://amzn.to/2j2fneR

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 the joy is colored by sadness?

Over a quarter of a million families will be missing someone this Christmas, due to how COVID has 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 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 alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house, but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about 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 three 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 egg nog.

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

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

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

©2020 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 Christmas Simple

Because life is easier when 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 do not be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

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

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

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. So 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. And with COVID on everyone’s mind, I’m staying out of many stores.

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. And I hang a simplified number of ornaments that keep the pine cone theme yet add a bit of sparkle.

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 fiancé. The rest of the family already has their gifts — shipped early to avoid the rush.

The holiday surprise of 2020 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 marches 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.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.

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

The Great Cough of 2016.

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

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

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma. We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully – they didn’t want us within breathing distance. Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During 2020, we are again faced with changes at Christmas. Instead of the cough, we have the ever-present and more lethal threat of COVID-19. Yet in spite of masks, social distancing and hygienic wipes — we can still celebrate this beautiful season.

Because the truth of Christmas isn’t about plates filled with ham and scalloped potatoes, opened presents with wrappings all over the floor or even the presence of warm bodies in the room.

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

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

© 2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

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

Hope Creates

When I first read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, an a-ha flashed. Through its pages I learned creativity is a gift, a blessing from the Creator to each of his beloved children.

The more I recognized my own gift of creativity, the more I began to nurture it. Artist dates, inspired by Julia, became a regular part of my week.

And I began to open my heart to the possibility of more creative endeavors.

This adventure enabled me to taste the freedom of inner discovery, to create new words and new worlds within a novel, to experiment with colors in my life, even within my home.

Allowing myself to open up to creative gifts also enriched my spiritual life. After all, the Creator started all this interest with his initial task, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So when 2020 began to sap my energy, I knew it was time to fight this ravenous beast with another project.

But which one?

During an artist’s date, I browsed through Savers (a nonprofit that supports Big Brothers Big Sisters). Even within a pandemic, people drop off their junk which becomes someone’s treasure.

I found a perfect board, my color of turquoise, naked with possibilities. Reflection occupied a few weeks while Julia’s words cooked, “If we do have to deal with a force beyond ourselves that involves itself in our lives, then we may have to move into action.”

Action to defeat what 2020 was threatening to steal from me — my hope.

Since my platform reflects Hope, I wondered if I could find some interesting letters to post and make the word. A search through Hobby Lobby ended in the crimped barn tin that reminded me of our homestead on the farm.

The letters fit perfectly.

By this time, the project had pushed COVID and its treachery to the background. Now I was on a mission to find the rest of this creative puzzle.

Another coach who focuses on creativity, reminded me not to give too much power to COVID. “It’s only a circumstance in our world right now,” Jill wisely opined.

Another trip to Savers resulted in an unusual pin with feathers, yarn and bling. A perfect match.

Then I remembered a box of odds and ends I keep when jewelry falls apart, the boggles and beads that add texture to creative projects. They filled in the missing pieces for my HOPE design.

Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

The eye of my soul saw the initial blank canvas of a board, then imagined it as another reminder to push away from the COVID gloomies and stay in hope.

Now this completed creation holds a special place on my office wall. A bold statement filtered through the lens of some of my favorite things.

A piece of optimism in a discouraging time. A reminder that the Creator still creates within us and smiles at our attempts to search for joy.

What about you? Any creative projects just yearning to break free?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Another creative project imagined the lives of women in scripture — those incredible ladies who were often ignored, unnamed and considered invisible. Yet God knew their stories. Check out The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope in the Treasures

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

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for. We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

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

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

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

Some of the treasures I listed were:

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

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

Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season. And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2021, I have two openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

Hope on a Mission

Typically, my blog posts cover the topics of hope, caregiving or the writing craft. But 2020 has forced me into a more reflective and almost urgent mood.

For all of us, this year has been difficult. For those who have lost loved ones to COVID — tragic. The grief and certain PTSD will continue into the next years. Who knows what long-term effects we will suffer.

But even on the darkest days, hope has continued to sing. Good people have done good things. Creativity has thrived as new ventures, unusual business openings and neighborly deeds have encouraged us.

Image by Daniel Reche of Pixabay

Positive memes on Facebook. The gift of beauty encapsulated in music and the arts. So many people trying hard to create something good out of this chaos.

Imagine then what life would be like if all the good — every shred of it — was gone. No caring healthcare workers. No sweet lullabies at night. No kindness of any kind.

This horrific description foreshadows hell. The place of eternal torment will not have a speck of decency, no light or goodness in any form. Only the darkest, most tormenting creatures in a place completely devoid of anything or anyone good.

And no way of escape. Forever.

This tragic place does exist and will become the final destination for people who ignore God’s plea. But it doesn’t have to end that way.

“Let me love you,” God cries. “Let me save you.”

Eventually, we will all die. We will face the consequences of our choices and step into eternity. We will meet God.

For those who have ignored him throughout life, the problems of 2020 will seem mild compared to a forever without any of God’s beauty, goodness or love.

Those who have embraced and accepted God’s offer of love will be invited into the most glorious place — far away from hell or any of its evil. No COVID. No sickness of any kind. No despair. No loneliness.

Only light and love and goodness. Forever.

We cannot always choose what happens to us. But we CAN choose the final direction we will go.

God has not abandoned us during this pandemic. He is still calling out, wanting to save us. He does not want anyone to suffer the horrid effects of hell.

He wants to pour hope into our hearts and give us something to look forward to.

God gave us the formula long ago. One word. Believe.

To open our minds and heart to the possibility that something better exists. But God’s better world is filled only with holiness — a sacred place of perfection.

God knew none of us would be perfect yet his home — his heaven — is populated only with goodness and perfection.

How in the world can we get there?

God sent the best representative possible — his son. Jesus lived a perfect life, so God allowed him to become our substitute. He paid the penalty for all the wrong things we have done and all the ways we have ignored God.

Jesus already did the hard work. That’s why he said, “It is finished.” He gives us the ticket for entrance into heaven.

Now all we have to do is believe it. If we accept this truth and believe it, then Jesus begins a personal relationship with us. We become children of God. And as family members — we will spend our eternity with God in heaven.

It’s so easy. All you have to do is say something like, “I believe you love me, God. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay my ticket into heaven. I’m sorry I’ve ignored you in the past, but now I want to be in your family.”

If you really mean it, then it is finished. You will not have to worry about a hell worse than 2020. You will have something much better to look forward to.

Please think about it. Time is short. I hope you’ll be with me in heaven.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out Uploading Faith. A Millennial and a Baby Boomer wrote it together — my son and me.

7 Holiday Tips for Caregivers

DISCLAIMER: Because COVID-19 has changed the scenario in many assisted living facilities, some of these tips will need to be modified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel is NOT for Everyone. Although we all want to be together during the holidays, travel out of the comfort zones is difficult for the Alzheimer’s patient: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

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

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

Take a break and be with your family.

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

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

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

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

Do it while you can.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Hope Meets the Children

During this year of COVID, it may seem odd to cheer for a pregnancy. In fact, when I heard about the youngers in my family planning for babies, I wondered Really? Now?

Who would plan for a pregnancy, for a hospital stay with possible complications, for a new babe during a time with multiple COVID exposures?

Image by Prawny of Pixbay

Who would do such a thing? People staying in hope, that’s who.

During late 2019 and mid-2020, our family has added two new babies to the growing great-grandchildren pod. We now have two boys and two girls.

Even though the matriarch of the family has no recollection of these youngers, the rest of us do.

With the girl grands, we follow their ballgames and cheer for their teams. Support them in science and math contests. Give them creative gifts for Christmas.

Both girls carry so much promise, approaching puberty and beginning to plan out their adult lives.

I pray for them every night — safety from COVID, the fulfillment of their dreams, protection from any kind of abuse, self-confidence and enough gutsy strength to stay focused on their goals — to ignore the whine of peer groups.

The baby boys — one five months, one almost a year — are a delight to watch as they discover their toys, learn how to use a spoon, reach for the cat with chubby baby fingers.

The online Family Album has given us front row seats to their progress and growth.

In their sweet faces, I see the possibility of early verbal skills, of an extrovert who screams with excitement when air planes pass over the house, of creative gifts sometimes hidden within my legacy yet emerging in this new generation.

And their very presence, their little lives, stir up the juices of hope.

These children and others may help us solve the climate change emergency. They may create a new pathway for a vaccine that halts the next pandemic. They may become bankers or teachers or musicians and impact the world.

They have already impacted me by their very existence.

So I am grateful to these young couples who dared to start a family in 2020. They saw the bloom of hope and marched forward to plant seeds of tomorrow-living.

I am grateful for the babies of this next generation and for the positive expectations they elicit — just by being here.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out more stories about hope in Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.

When Guilt Interrupts Hope

As difficult as it is to admit, the Alzheimer’s journey often involves a measure of guilt. Friends might try to soothe with platitudes, reminders that false guilt is not real. Nonetheless, the inner critic continues to scream, “You should have done more!”

During the years when Mom was in assisted living, it was easy to drive the 250 miles to her town and sit with her for a while.

At first, we took walks around the lake or up and down the halls. We sometimes shared a cup of coffee, talked about the grandkids or focused on happier memories.

Sometimes I watched the clock, waiting anxiously for the time I could escape — leave the facility and meet up with family for a nice dinner or browse through the mall and try to forget my mother sat alone in her room. Comforted myself with an empty purchase.

On some level, I knew those years and those visiting opportunities would someday end. But I never could have predicted the trauma of 2020, and what COVID-19 has stolen from us.

Visits in person are no longer possible. In fact, Mom has recently weathered a positive test for the virus. No symptoms. Her isolation now in the past.

This time.

But even window visits are few, only allowed when the authorities can set them up. And my travel for 250 miles is no longer easy or even possible as I’m dealing with my own health issues. A sprained hamstring that prevents travel for longer than an hour.

Now I remember back to those days that seemed so cavalier, sitting in the room with my mother, answering her repeated questions, giving her a hug and a quick “I love you” when I escaped.

I, blessed with the freedom to leave.

COVID has stolen the opportunity to keep the relationship alive even though Mom no longer knows who I am. I still know her, so I feel the guilt of leaving to continue my easy life — while she remained behind.

I have no idea when or if I will see my mother again. I can only hope that on some level she knows her family still cares for her.

So I pray for grace and transfer my need for hope to this woman who sits alone, unaware of COVID-19 or of another year that will soon end.

Then I remind myself not to give a pandemic too much power and instead — try to let go of the guilt.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If your family is dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers.

When Hope Meets Up with Q4

We are moving toward the Christmas market and ready to leave the year behind. We have reached our annual goals or transferred them to the next year’s editorial calendar.

Image by Mariana Anatoneag

It’s easy to sit back, take stock of the year and start planning for Auld Lang Syne.

But 2020 has presented a special challenge — the need for daily monitoring and hope searching. We cannot truly relax because this horrid pandemic is still with us, taking lives and disrupting our culture.

It’s time to take a lesson from football.

Although every moment of a football game can be filled with excitement or the dread of rising penalties, it is the fourth quarter — the Q4 — that holds the most promise. Yet those last 15 minutes are when legs start to throb, arms ache and the multiple tackles begin to take their toll.

It takes more grit and strength, more energy and chugs of Gatorade to score in the fourth quarter, to come from behind and win.

This Q4 of 2020 will require even more courage as we begin the winter months. We’ll be cooped up with each other while snow whitens the landscape, washing our masks and wishing 2020 was a distant memory.

COVID-19 was supposed to be under control by now. The perfect vaccine a reality. The economy responding to opened businesses. Yeah, right.

Yet the news is often bleak, the numbers of dead rising and the need for extra strength more important than other quarters of this year.

How can we face this Q4 and make it to December 31?

Stock up on Resources. Not just TP, but also books and movies that enrich thoughts and build warm fuzzies. Find winter-based projects the entire family can enjoy together:

  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a new recipe
  • Write a poem
  • Do something creative
  • Watch the old sitcoms and laugh

Dig Deep. Find that courageous reserve that asks for extra grit to churn out the final seconds of Q4 2020. Fill your fridge magnets with positive quotes and affirmations. Memorize a hope-filled quote or scripture.

One of my favorites is Isaiah 43:2, “You will pass through deep waters, but God will be with you.”

Move Away from Yourself. Find a way to bless someone else: a greeting card, a bouquet of chocolate chip cookies, flowers left on the porch, a phone call, more chocolate.

How about this quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”

Even if we feel the opponent has won, Q4 isn’t over yet. We CAN finish well.

We can build up our hope by encouraging each other and cheering for one another until the final buzzer sounds. In the midst of this Q4, we can go for the win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Many of the women in the Bible were invisible. Check out these 8 stories from The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It is now 3:24 on this date I created before the foundation of the world. Disengage.”

Photo by Hans Braxmeier – Pixabay

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

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

Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

When Hope Finds Its True Color

My cyclamen bloomed a lovely fuchsia pink. But I bought it with the understanding that it would produce the dark eggplant purple color I love. What a disappointing surprise as the blossoms opened and showed off a deep pink.

Photo by Peter Kok – Pixabay

But a few days later, the blooms started changing. With time, the cyclamen blooms sported the purple I wanted. I just had to wait for the desired result while the plant morphed through its photosynthetic process.

The correct color was there all along, hidden behind the curtains of time. Only the passage of days would bring out the true richness I longed to see.

Isn’t that so like life?

We start a project, write a story or journal about a dream. Then the project becomes a tree house. The story evolves into a novel. The dream wraps around a destiny.

We share coffee with a friend which eventually grows a relationship that adds color and joy to our lives.

We say, “Yes” to Jesus and end up living a life abundant with more grace giftings than we ever thought possible.

One circumstance morphs into another, delighting us with the spontaneity of change and surprising us with the richness of the final result. Living within the surprises of life adds more fun than carefully structured days that grow old and boring in their regularity.

Perhaps we could also give permission for change to others — the opportunity to morph into a richer version of themselves — in time.

Wouldn’t that attitude change how we relate to our children when they seem stuck in the teen years? “Grow up!” we want to scream. But that is exactly what they are doing.

What if we give permission for change to those in authority over us — to the systems of our society stuck in transitional puzzles. It takes time for people and systems to learn how to change. As we morph into the people we long to be, we need to give daily grace.

What if we live in the joy of the surprise and truly learn that expectations do not always bring the best results.

As we gradually grow into hope and faith, we learn how to apply patience. We move into the next seasons of life and accept the things we cannot change.

If we could practice patience and apply grace to ourselves and others, within our world and its destinies — perhaps we could live better lives and embrace the hidden hope of each day.

The blatant ugliness recorded on social media proves nothing except that we all need to grow up. Our freedom to express opinions is a gift.

But why use that freedom to destroy another soul?

How can we grow to become our true color and exhibit the creative beauty God gave us if we don’t give each other the necessary time to morph into our best selves?

No matter how much unraveling we experience, no matter how COVID-19 changes us, we do possess the integrity and the wisdom to grow internally. We can grow our inner texture and let it brighten our souls.

We CAN change into who we should really be.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. Their stories underscore the need for hope, change and grace.

When Hope Encounters a Rollercoaster

Memories of fun in the past included rollercoaster rides. Those giant metal or wooden edifices roared as the track connected with the train.

Hands held high. An unplanned scream. Stomach muscles clenched in a clash between fear and excitement.

But today’s rollercoaster comes not from a machine or long lines of customers anticipating the ride of their lives.

No, we are all on a rollercoaster together — the emotional ride of 2020.

Just as we begin to feel a bit more secure, another jerk takes us to a scary elevation of fear or a sudden downturn of despair.

Back and forth. Up and down. The spiral cycles and the stomach clenches once again.

What does this rollercoaster look like in the waning months of 2020?

The Ever-Present Track of Covid-19. Our family had escaped Covid. Everyone was healthy. Then the phone call. The one person most susceptible – the elderly matriarch.

Mom is 92 and confused within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. She does not understand why she has been taken out of her room and placed in isolation. She does not recognize the staff people who now wear full PPE garb and speak to her behind shields.

The cruel rollercoaster of 2020.

Unexpected Circumstances. A simple step down into the garden, expecting to water flowers. Then joy at the colorful blooms became pain as my hamstring pulled, leg and hip out of whack. Doctor visits, chiropractic treatments, a cane to maneuver through my uneven yard. Three months out, and it still hurts to sit or stand.

The uncertain rollercoaster of 2020.

Cancelled Plans. A special birthday trip to my beloved Santa Fe and the wonders of the Southwest. Planned with a friend for months. Excitement flushes out as reality slides around the next turn. Travel is impossible with a hip injury. Wait another year. Forget this anticipation and push back the joy.

The disappointing rollercoaster of 2020.

The Search for Truth. One news channel reports their facts, complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Another channel reports their facts, also complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Yet they totally disagree.

The confusing rollercoaster of 2020.

Science versus Reality. Government agencies we should be able to trust release statements about vaccines, treatments, forecasted dates. Then the next day, they reverse their information. What?! Science changes overnight? How much is politics affecting information — on both sides of the aisle?

The puzzling rollercoaster of 2020.

Relationships Suffering. Families and friends who once worked together, worshipped the same God and rejoiced in spending time together. Now they are jerked apart by opposing views — both sides claiming divine inspiration. Both sides able to quote Bible verses and pound pulpits with their opinions.

The polarizing rollercoaster of 2020.

How can we find hope when our emotions are jerked up and down, around and around, spiraling out of control?

A carnival ride expert once said to focus on what is not moving, something that will not change no matter which direction the rollercoaster heads.

So we can focus on one thing — hang on to the thread of faith, that whisper of constancy that assures us, “For I, the Lord, do not change. Therefore, you are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Eventually, we will step off and away from the rollercoaster of 2020. It will take a while to regain our equilibrium, and we will most certainly face a changed world.

But even as we focus on what steadies us, we can be certain hope will survive. It looks beyond the present tense, reaches toward the future perfect.

To be settled and steady. To feel secure. To know we have survived this year and hope for what promises to be better.

That is the goal of hope, an emotional place that may be shaken but still endures.

In spite of the rollercoaster of 2020, we can end our days with this Kenyan prayer: “From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth — Good Lord, deliver us.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, just released during this crazy year of 2020. The Invisible Women of Genesis uncovers some of the hidden stories from the women who were present, yet invisible, at the beginning.

 

Hope Travels to a Cemetery

She knelt beside the gravestone, surrounded by other markers unknown to us. Yet even with the multiple spirits in attendance and angels on guard, she was alone.

A young woman seeking closure from the death of her beloved nanny. Decades after the event, yet the pain still as fresh as the day she breathed her last.

When I step onto a cemetery’s soil, I always think of the show Our Town. That scene when major characters sit in their places beside their gravestones and observe family and friends in grief.

No expression on the faces of the dead characters – just an acknowledgement of life lived to its fullest, a few regrets and the somber reality of how quickly our timelines are fulfilled.

For this young woman who lost a lifetime friend, it was a sacred moment. The death of her nanny interrupted her middle-school years and created a searing hole of loss.

We don’t always pay attention to the grief of children: the loss of a pet, a grandparent or even an unexpected move.

As adults, we do what we have to do: arrange the cremation, pack up the belongings, schedule a garage sale to get rid of the detritus of another’s life.

So when children’s needs are passed over, it creates a gap in their growth, a scar that keeps bleeding at the reminders of every holiday, each birthday approached or a surprise smell that brings the loss back into clear focus.

For this woman, even the location of the grave was hidden – a great unknown affecting multiple families who knew this nanny.

Yet the cemetery held the secret, ready to reveal it at the proper time, eager to speed healing and salve a soul.

With the help of an internet site, findagrave.com, we found the general direction of where the grave might be. In the heat of early September we traipsed from row to row.

Thoughts of my own beloveds buried in cemeteries of the Midwest. Grateful for the belief we shared that we would meet again in an eternal state. No deaths there. No Covid-19. No sickness of any kind.

The writer in me paused to reflect on the myriad of stories reflected by dates: a grandfather who passed in 1889, a soldier from WWII, an eight year-old child. I could imagine the sobs of parents and wondered if the cause was the flu epidemic, a dreadful accident, maybe the scourge of smallpox?

Cemeteries provide a sense of history, a reminder of our mortality and a concrete symbol of the toll loss takes. Yet within the provision of closure, these sacred spaces also reflect Bible verses, pictures surrounded by stone, carefully manicured grass that protects vases of artificial or real blooms.

And cemeteries remind us to live life as fully as we can – while we can. Before our chairs are set beside the grave and we observe those who come to mourn.

Finally . . . a cry from my son. He used the background of an online photo to locate the grave. I watched the young woman slowly approach, knew she was glad to find it yet dreading the sight of that precious name and the death date inscribed below.

I carried the crimson mums we found at Wal-Mart, handed them to her, then stepped back to allow her space and time.

The day before our cemetery trip, my son and I prayed for this young woman. We wanted to support her quest and longed to see peace reflected on her lovely face.

After she spent several moments in reflection, she left a letter fastened with a blue posy. Then my son watered the mums and we left, slowly walking toward the car and away from those who could not follow.

Why was this moment so encased with emotion yet filled with hope? Because that young woman will soon become my daughter-in-love. She needed that healing day, and we needed to support her in it.

Hope finds its way into unusual places, but often peeks from an extraordinary moment. Then it reminds us how hope can heal – even decades later – and offers a promise of future joy.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

When Hope Needs a Greater Miracle

the-thinker-489753_1280Writers are thinkers.

We spend a great deal of time reflecting on plots, characterizations and the best topics for an online post.

So last week, I spent some time thinking about miracles.

We’ve all heard about miracles of healing — maybe even personally experienced one or two. And various publications focus on miraculous stories.

These stories encourage us, especially when life is hard — like it is now — during Covid-19 and its dastardly side effects.

But even as I pray for a global miracle, I reflect on the possibility of leveled miracles.

Some supernatural happenings always occur: the beauty of birth for any species, that phone call about a new job, a card that arrives at just the right time.

Daily miracles that turn the ordinary into something inexplicably extraordinary.

The Israelites watched God perform several miracles that underscored he was on their side (Exodus 7-12).

  • The Nile River turned to blood
  • Swarms of gnats, flies and grasshoppers
  • The deaths of the firstborns

But as amazing as these events were, the hapless and sometimes unbelieving Israelites needed a greater miracle.

Just as they escaped from Egypt, they faced the Red Sea. Behind them galloped the Egyptian army, ready to capture them and force them back into slavery.

So God showed up with a greater miracle.

He sent a strong east wind that divided the water and turned the pathway into dry land. Think Charleston Heston, Cecille B. DeMille and the Ten Commandments 1956 movie.

Can you imagine how frightening it must have been to step between those walls of water? Did they see fish swimming and bumping their snouts against an invisible wall? Did they wonder, what happens if the water suddenly gives way?

But they crossed safely on the other side while Pharaoh and his army perished as God released the torrent.

Today, we need a greater miracle. We’ve faced epidemics before, and scientists have created miraculous vaccines.

But we need more than the right dosage of the correct DNA that destroys Covid-19. We need:

  • Jobs created and/or restored for the thousands of unemployed
  • Comfort for those who have lost loved ones, now approaching 200,000 families
  • Justice for those who died because their skin wasn’t paisley white
  • Strong leadership and courage to do the right thing, no matter which aisle they sit on
  • Women and children rescued and cared for as domestic violence has exponentially increased in 2020

We need solutions to so many problems, no one person can solve them. And this is definitely NOT a political post.

We need a greater miracle.

In times of crisis, our leaders have called for a national fasting and prayer day. Our current time period begs for a mindset of humility, for all of us to cry out, fall to our knees and ask God to perform a greater miracle.

Without divine intervention and global change of heart, we may be facing a social Armageddon with lasting consequences. How many of us are willing to walk through those waters?

God, please, heal our land. Move back the waters once more and let us travel peacefully to the Promised Land.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Uploading Faith.

What Cats Teach Us About Hope

As an observer of the animal kingdom, my neighborhood provides plenty of reflective stimulation. Dogs, cat, hawks — even the occasional fox or skunk.

tabby catBut it is the feral cats along with my house cat that expand my thoughts about hope.

What is it that cats do so well that underscores hope in the time of Covid?

Cats work. No apathy allowed in the world of feral cats. They stay busy hunting for their next meal. Maybe a small bird or a scampering mouse, a grasshopper or a baby bunny (sadly, I have seen this happen).

Survival depends on a reliable food supply. The feral mother teaches her babies how to sneak up on their prey and how to fight their siblings for the next bite.

We all need a sense of purpose. That’s why the unemployment so many are suffering during this pandemic is dangerous.

Besides the obvious lack of finances, despair can grow when we have nothing purposeful to do.

We must find some sort of work or busyness in order to emotionally and physically survive.

Cats play. They are such fun to watch, especially the kittens who have energy to spare. Jumping on a toy, batting a ball around a plastic cylinder or chasing an errant piece of yarn.Pep with ball

Cats play to keep their reflexes sharp and their muscles toned. And cats rarely struggle with stress, unless they are ill.

Play is vital during this time of Covid.

Whether it’s table games with the family or a backyard game of soccer, play forces us to focus on enjoyable activities.

It helps us escape from the harsh realities of our world.

So play often. Read a book, watch a funny movie, pack up a picnic for your local park.

At our house, we often watch YouTube videos of funny animals. Our laughter beats back the gloom carried by the news channels.

Cats rest. A house cat will sleep sixteen or more hours each day. My cat keeps a regular schedule of morning, afternoon and evening naps as well as at least eight hours after we both climb into my bed.

Rest for humans means we turn off any mental noise, breathe deeply and let the world continue without us.

Rest equals peace — that sense of wholeness that avoids confronting the fears which knock at our mind’s door.

Rest is also a spiritual discipline that requires trust and the assurance that no matter what happens, God will take care of us.

Cats require nurture. Even the feral cats come up to me, sniff cautiously, then rub against my leg. They know I can be trusted for a morning snack. And if they let me, I know the right spot to rub on their ears. Their purr confirms it.

Peppernut under chairMy housecat is a needy shorthair. Peppernut requires several lap sessions each day and a vigorous belly rub before bedtime. If I ignore her, she will tap on my hand until I respond. She has trained me well.

During the time of Covid, I have often told my son, “I need a hug.” My signal for nurturing.

He’s a great bear-hugger. For a few moments, we hold each other close. A reminder that someone cares during this crazy time.

The warmth of another body. A physical symbol that echoes the phrase, “I love you.”

It’s also important to nurture ourselves:

  • A mani/pedi, while wearing a mask, of course
  • A long soak in the bath while reading a spell-binding novel
  • A fresh trim to get rid of the Covid split hair
  • Vitamins and healthy nutrition, but also an occasional treat

So during these waning months of 2020, when all we hear is bad news — take a cue from cats. Follow some of the feline regimen.

I promise — you’ll be purring in no time.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a sampling of bath reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

When Dread Attacks Hope

dreadOur world is being attacked by a vicious virus. But we are also facing a mental virus that threatens to destroy hope.

That virus is dread.

Multiple scientists and pundits are predicting the fall and winter of 2020 will be the worst season ever.

We will see an uptick of Covid cases coupled with the usual flu outbreaks. They warn that we may experience a worldwide tragedy — an apocalyptic pandemic.

A prophecy of dread.

The definition of dread is “to anticipate with great apprehension.”

It is a level stronger than fear, because it feeds on the imagination. It fills in the gaps with the worst possible scenario which grows with each new dread-filled prediction.

Dread not only believes the negative outcome, it escalates the emotion of fear and makes it feel more personal.

Every year, I dread winter because I don’t like to be cold, I hate driving on icy streets and the entire landscape is as gray as my mood.

Winter is a personal attack called Seasonal Affective Disorder. So I have to prepare myself with comfort and strategies to avoid excessive gloom:

  • A daily dose of St John’s Wort to lighten my mood
  • New soup recipes to warm up the kitchen
  • An abundance of great reading material
  • Projects that excite me and bring color into my world
  • A focus on the end of winter as I mark off each day
  • The enjoyment of the holiday season which creates a break in the calendar and adds fun time with family

Each year, I try to invent new ways to make it through the November – February imprisonment. This year will require even more intentional methods to escape illness and tragedy.

To fight the dread of the anticipated 2020 winter season, we will need to be even more diligent to look for hope. To constantly remind ourselves to steer clear of that apprehension fed by the reality of Covid-19.

As a lifelong list-maker, I’ve come up with some strategies to help me approach this fall and winter with a more positive attitude:

  • Continue self-care and other-care. Read “wear a mask, social distance and pay attention to hygiene.”
  • Lockdown was working, so I plan to continue my stay-at-home discipline except for essentials. I will try to talk myself out of fudging on what “essential” means.
  • Fill my home and office with fun projects such as decluttering (again), some DIY wall art, maybe finally painting my office.
  • Stay even more connected to family and friends
  • Start a new coaching process for teaching others how to Write a Legacy
  • Stay informed but only watch the news at certain times of the day and only in small intervals
  • Pray my guts out for the end of Covid-19
  • Help my son and his beloved plan their wedding
  • Focus my journaling on more gratitudes and less grumblings
  • Sing more often and with greater volume
  • Surround myself with color — none of those drab wintry grays
  • Plan for how I can buy my next car

Will you join me with your own practical strategies? I’d love to hear how you’re planning to face the dreaded fall and winter of 2020.

Let’s fight against the spirit of dread by letting hope carry us through. Let’s look forward to 2021, to a clean environment, a fresh start and freedom from viruses of any kind.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Start your stack of winter reading by checking out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Shows Up in School Supplies

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

As a child, I shopped at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year Mom would buy me the coveted box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back? Alas! It never happened during elementary school.

Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the box of 64, still replete with the sharpener on the back. Even as an adult, it was a wonderful gift.

Every year, shopping for school supplies represented a new take on hope. It was akin to the cleaning of the chalkboard — the chance to start over, to learn more facts and read more books.

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

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

Then as a single mom, it was more difficult to save the money required for my son’s list. The year he needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of the new year and the possibility of setting fresh goals, making new friends, celebrating successes.

We made a day of it: shopping at K-Mart (the modern version of TG&Y), opened boxes of hand-me-down clothes from the cousin just a bit older, played with the new compass and protractor, bought a pizza and a liter of Pepsi for supper.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth colorful paper goods, my favorite Pentel gel pens, journals with moleskin covers designed by George Stanley and legal pads for first drafts.

I wait until late August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures. Write down the cost in my list of office deductions.

Throughout the year, these supplies bring excitement — waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen for a booksigning, some colorful 3×5 cards to help structure my novel.  And every time I open a new package, I revisit the years when school supplies meant a new start.

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

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

Here’s to those pens and papers that invite us to believe again. Hope shines when we dare to embrace a fresh start.

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post is an excerpt from Hope Shines, a book of essays about fresh starts. Check it out on Amazon, then leave a review. Thanks !

Hope Measured by Steps

During a recent journey from Wichita to Kansas City, my check engine light came on.

At the same time, I was nursing a painful hip from a displaced sacroiliac.

Normally, I enjoy driving the open road. I slide in the CD of my favorite soundtrack, munch on a snack and sip some water, sing along with the CD or make notes about another writing project.

But faced with two challenges at the same time, this would not be a joy ride. So I planned several stops where I could check my car and walk around to alleviate the pain.

Towanda: one of my favorite rest stops because of the gift shop. Lots of Southwestern-styled handbags which I dream about every time — turquoise and camel being my favorite — but not the price tags.

Knowing I would be faced with some kind of car cost, I didn’t even consider a purchase other than a small breakfast sandwich and hot tea for plenty of caffeine.

Back in the car, my hip felt better — thank you, Motrin. The check engine light was still yellow and not flashing. On to the next stop, only 33 miles away.

Matfield Green: At one end of the Flint Hills, you can see the Kansas prairie for miles. Grasses, cattle herds, a buckskin horse, places to pull off and snap pictures.

In the women’s restroom, I met another masked woman who, like me, struggled to get soap out of the dispenser.

“Really?” she said.

“In our world today?” I replied. “No soap?”

So we both spent extra time running water. Then I limped back to my car and doused my hands with sanitizer.

The next stop was Emporia. Time to pay my turnpike ticket and usually — a stop at Braums for an ice cream treat. Cappuccino chocolate chunk, thank you.

But not this time.

My hip needed TLC, and I wanted to be as close as possible to home in case the car died. The next stretch of road would be the longest — 90 some miles.

So I whispered several prayers, pulled the CD out and clicked onto a Christian radio station for encouragement.

But 50 miles later, my body screamed for relief. Luckily, I knew about the giant Love station off the ramp near Ottawa. So I pulled in and groaned as I exited my car.

After a stop in the ladies’ room — plenty of soap, thank you — I was delighted to discover a DIY soda fountain.

It is rare in these days of Covid-19 to be able to fill my own cup with plenty of crushed ice and unsweetened iced tea. I have learned to be grateful for the smallest of miracles.

Also at Love’s, I discovered my key chain had worn out. They had a display of amazing Southwestern designs, feathers and leather with a strong clip for keys. In my favorite dark purple with a friendly price.

I figured I deserved it.

So in spite of all the challenges, I felt uplifted as I began the last leg of the trip. Only 38 miles to home.

When I finally pulled into my driveway, I was sore, tired and spouting, “Hallelujah! I made it.” After a refreshing shower, unpacking and a generous lunch, I thought about how my trip home coincided with the challenges of 2020.

How can we make it to the next step — to that place with no daily death counts and a blissfully mask-free world?

It won’t happen immediately, unless God chooses to snap his fingers and create a global miracle.

In the meantime, we’ll do it one day at a time, one painful journey to the next rest stop, one whispered prayer at the next mile marker — until we make it to the final destination.

Hope isn’t always one gulp of optimism. It’s often a tiny morsel of sunshine on a cloudy day or a cautious step toward a goal.

It’s one step at a time in the right direction — with an occasional treat along the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out another journey, Sometimes They Forget — the one my siblings and I are on as Mom continues the Alzheimer’s challenge.

Hope for Future Shopping Trips

Woman ShoppingI miss shopping.

Not the online click-and-buy all of us are subject to during this time of Covid-19.

What I miss is the entire experience of shopping.

Oh, I know — most places are open. But I don’t want to mask up, risk the germs, avoid people and stand six feet away from other shoppers.

I want the fun and richness of what shopping used to be: discovering a new boutique, bumping into other women who want the same bargain, smiling customer service reps when we could actually see someone smile.

I miss it.

Deb and I always started with a steaming cup of chai. Then a review of the places we wanted to go and the items we needed to buy.

On some level, we knew our shopping would include surprise bargains or maybe an impulse buy, but that was part of the experience — part of the surprise adventure.

Always lunch at our favorite Mexican place or trying out a new business that smelled of green chiles and salty cheese. Always, plenty of guac and chips.

Usually an ice cream treat in the afternoon: something with pecans for Deb. Always something chocolate for me.

What I miss about the shopping experience is the joy of browsing — to finger through hangers of clothes, to slide my hands over the creamy satin or the corduroy threads, to revel in the colors.

Then the fitting room with giant mirrors. Trying on items, checking out the fit, a 360⁰ turn, asking Deb or another woman, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Imagining wearing the new outfit for work, church or a special event. All the events that are gone now, too.

One day, Deb and I were invited by an “older” bride to choose between two dresses for her big day. “Go for comfort and beauty,” I said.

“Choose something you can wear again,” Deb added.

We congratulated the woman on her final choice and wished her well. The look on her face was priceless: the glow of a heart trying again for love, her imagination already jumping to how she would look on her wedding day, how her groom would stare at her and remember the outfit the next time she wore it.

Hope reminds us that we will someday return to the fun of shopping trips.

Some of the experience will be different. Deb is gone now, so I’ll have to find another buddy willing to share a chai or coffee, to spend a day in eclectic stores and honestly answer my questions, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Prices will no doubt elevate as businesses try to recoup what they lost in 2020. So the day may be shorter, the packages fewer in number.

But the joy of actually choosing a new outfit, trying it on, reveling in the imagination may seem even sweeter because of what this year has done to us.

For now, I will continue my click-and-buy way of shopping or wear out my old stuff, at least until more of the Covid numbers go down and it feels safe to have fun again.

And I will remember the days when it was easier, before we could even imagine what might happen in a pandemic.

Hope still wins. It’s just taking longer than we thought.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Spend some time shopping online for a good book. Here’s one you might like: No Visible Scars.

 

Hope Begins in the Mind

mindWe are a combination of body, mind, soul and spirit. As such, we are intertwined into a complex mixture with one aspect affecting the others.

It’s easy to focus on our bodies, especially when something goes wrong and we’re in pain. Or we sense one of the symptoms of Covid-19 and cry, “Please God! No!”

The soul — personality, will, emotions and the spirit side of us — that invisible fog that exists already in an eternal state don’t seem to bother us much. We can almost forget they exist until something goes haywire and forces us to confront that deep inner well.

But the mind — now that is another matter. It’s a constant badgering of negativity, a discourse in fear, a reminder that our connectivity to body, soul and spirit begins and ends with how we think.

And I can prove it. I can be totally not hungry, but a commercial comes on or I read a recipe and suddenly I want chocolate chip cookies.

Or I can be completely content with my daily life until I’m reminded by a stack of mail that I am indeed aging and in need of a hearing aid, more health insurance or end-of-life decisions, i.e. “Buy your cremation package now.”

Add to that the fact that I’m in the demographic most likely to die from Covid-19 and my mind plays out scary scenarios. Suddenly, I’m limping through life.

So how do we defeat the beast of the mind? How do we keep from losing hope when our brain tells us circumstances are indeed hopeless?

Watch What You Read. A friend I respect is several years older than I. On one of my gloomier days I asked him, “How do you stay encouraged as you age?”

“Pay attention to what you read,” he said. In other words, be careful what you feed your mind.

A delicate balance sways between staying informed and being brain-washed by what we read. We can tip either way — too afraid to embrace others’ opinions and respect them in spite of differences or too tepid to make up our own minds.

What we read on the internet is not always accurate. I’m not blasting the “fake news” mantra that has been used to perpetuate its own fake deceptions. I just know as a writer I’ve found inaccuracies in fact-checking. Not everything out there is true, no matter which website you read.

Some sites are meant for sarcasm, not truth. Some quotes are taken out of context. Even some Bible verses have been misinterpreted and used to vilify evil practices.

We need a combination of resources so that we can mentally debate what IS right versus what SOUNDS right. And we need to keep focused not on how our minds twist the truth but rather on how the truth actually plays out in our lives.

Watch What You Hear. In the cacophony of our world, few truly know how to listen well.

I have been trained as a coach in how to listen for the hidden undertones, to look for the motivation behind the action. That practice has served me well.

How many of us have misspoken or wished we could revisit a conversation with a new perspective?

Analytical thoughts often visit me at night:

  • I wish I had said . . . .
  • Why did I add my particular opinion to this empty conversation?
  • God, they misunderstood me. I need to make that right.

If we don’t hear correctly, we cannot respond with truth. Sometimes I think we all need spiritual hearing aids.

Watch What You Believe.

My son and I had a conversation about the Nazi’s and how the German society believed they were following the right course with Adolf Hitler.

After the United States liberated Europe and freed the Jews in concentration camps, some Germans admitted to sensing something was wrong. But they were hypnotized by Hitler’s charisma. He told lies often enough, they believed him to be telling the truth.

Deception works because it’s so tricky. It tells just enough truth to lead us astray and soon — our minds are trapped within its ugly claws. Satan used it against Adam and Eve.

It still works today.

During this season of political intrigue, Covid-19 illness and the unrest of a nation that needs to wake up — I pray every day for truth to win.

Truth is a core value that can clear the mind from the fog of “what if” to reach toward the horizon of “this way.”

Finding hope within truth first begins with a cleansing of the eyes, being careful of what we read. Then follows a clarity of what we hear, truly learning to listen well. And finally, a pure heart that knows its beliefs are centered in truth.

What we read, what we hear and what we believe must draw us steadily to what is true. Otherwise, hope itself will be deceived.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

As we strive to find the truth, Hope Shines.

Hope Searches for a Symbol of Healing

As Covid-19 marches on, how can we stay in hope?

Somehow the platitude of “We’re all in this together” sounds hollow. I need something more.

pharmacy symbolThis week, I focused on an Old Testament story where the community faced a plague of serpents.

The children of Israel grumbled, because they were impatient and tired of the journey through the wilderness.

God is good, but he’s not fond of hearing whining complaints in spite of all he’s done.

So he sent a bunch of snakes to bite the people. The poisonous venom caused multiple deaths, probably similar to the traumatic Covid numbers ticking higher every day.

Then the people realized their mistake and asked Moses to intervene on their behalf. Good old Moses complied.

So God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and fasten it to a pole. Whenever people were bitten, they had only to look at the symbol of the snake on the pole. Everyone who looked at the symbol lived.

Today we see that same visual as the symbol for pharmaceutical companies – an appropriate logo. Buy the right medicine or combination of drugs, get the right vaccine and live.

Thankfully, we DO have a multitude of meds which help us through our various maladies. And scientists are working hard to find the right combination for a Covid vaccine.

Since this symbol of the serpent on the pole worked so well for the wandering Israelites, is there a symbol we can focus on today? Something that will bring relief from the ravages of Covid-19?

The Sunday School answer, of course, would be the symbol of the cross. Yet even this beloved visual has been misused and misunderstood:

  • The Nazi cross
  • The KKK burning crosses into yards, fence posts or houses
  • The cavalier way we sometimes wear our crosses and decorate our homes, forgetting the cross is really a symbol of torture

Perhaps the time for symbols has expired. Instead, we need to do as the children of Israel and come face to face with our sin:

  • How we grumble against God and ignore the good he has done for us
  • The times when life doesn’t feel 100% balanced so we blame it on God
  • The impatience that fuels our busyness and keeps us from contemplative moments of building relationship with the Divine
  • The myriads of injustices we perpetrate on demographics other than ourselves
  • Our apathy as we fail to seek justice, love mercy or walk humbly with our God

Symbols are temporary, something concrete we can focus on instead of facing our desperate need for inner healing and soul relief.

Instead of a snake on a pole or a crossbar of beams – maybe we are in dire need of a deeper reflection, a change from pride to humility, an admittance we cannot solve this Covid-19 problem no matter how “together” we are.

Maybe this is the time for four simple yet difficult demands:

  • To humble ourselves
  • To spend time in concentrated prayer
  • To turn away from any and all wicked ways
  • To desperately seek God

Then he promises to move beyond symbolism to a direct answer, “I will hear from heaven and will heal your land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a reminder of the basics of faith? Check out Uploading FaithWhat It Means to Believe.

Beating Back the Covid War

During a rerun of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye was having nightmares and walking in his sleep.

Radar and Colonel Potter discussed the problem, calling in Sidney, the psychiatrist, to check over their beloved Hawkeye.

Radar said, “Gee whiz! I thought he was beating back the war.”

“What do you mean?” asked the colonel.

“Well, you know, sir — we all have our way of beating back the war. Hawkeye makes fun of it, you ride your horse and paint. And I have my animals. That’s how we’re beating it back.”

Good old Radar, the homespun philosopher.

Moving from the Korean War to 2020, how are we beating back the war of Covid-19? Can we learn from a TV sitcom how to focus on something besides the bad news and the horrific loss of life?

How can we force ourselves to look for hope?

One of my Saturday Sisters has the gift of encouragement. Our prayer group calls her our CEO — Chief Encouragement Officer. Although her life is far from easy — MS has confined her to a wheelchair — she calls each of us every week, just to check on us.

Her voice always has an upbeat lilt to it, and she often tells a funny story. At the same time, she listens to my complaints and empathizes.

But she uses her gift to share hope and help me believe this pandemic is only temporary. “Until we meet again,” she often signs off.

Many Americans planted gardens this year: veggies, flowers, natural grasses. Although my veggies are starting to look heat-afflicted, it has brought joy to clip flowers for a pretty vase, munch on my blueberries and plan for next year’s bounty.

Music settles both my son and me. Read the post about how Caleb returned to his drums. Whether it’s his electronic drum set, my piano or the streaming version of Hamilton, the joy of melodies and lyrics help us forget about illness and global chaos.

Every writer knows the escape valve of reading. My royalties have jumped up during these days of Covid-19. Being on Lockdown with time to spare has brought a resurgence of Kindle and print books. I suppose when all this mess is over, Amazon and online bookstores will have weathered it well.

Since I write about hope, I try to focus on the future. The joy we will feel when the evening news reports no new cases of Covid. The fun we will have meeting together again and creating our new normal. The multiple stories and memoirs of how we helped one another through this crisis.

And we have good precedent in finding such hope: World War I had its Armistice Day. The 1918 flu pandemic was followed by The Roaring Twenties. The wilderness travels of the Israelites ended in the Promised Land.

Faith also helps me beat back the war. I believe this mess is indeed temporary, one of the contractions of end times. At some point, God will say, “Enough!” and the enemy’s power will be deleted. I pray for that moment every day.

If we focus on our individual ways for beating back this war, we can find a sliver of hope to carry us through.

Whether it’s encouragements from others, gardens, music, reading, an intentional focus on a better future or faith — we can do this well. We can overcome the emotional and mental stress of this crisis.

So how are you dealing with it? How are you beating back this war?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a book of essays about hope, check out Hope Shines – available on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

When Hope Welcomes Diversity

As I sat on my front porch, I watched the kids play in the cul-de-sac. One black kid, two whites and three Latinos — two girls, four boys. They squealed with laughter, ran in circles, kidded each other like typical children enjoying a summer night.children - diff races

Far away from the murders of young black men and women. Focused only on the fun of being together without barriers.

When I watched George Floyd die on the national news, I cried and forced myself to watch it several times so I would never forget. Then came the reminders of earlier murders, of the taking of life merely because of skin color.

Such a sad scenario for a country that is supposed to stand for equality — all of us created equal by the God who gifted us with different skin tones.

Yet I’ve struggled to find a way, as a writer, to respond. What kind of voice can I add to the discussion as a white woman living in a comfortable cul-de-sac?

My history did not prepare me for the headlines of 2020. No black farmers tended their crops in our community. I didn’t go to school or church with black kids until my college days. Not because I avoided them, but because our community was segregated. Everyone on both sides seemed to accept it as the status quo.

At least, that was the excuse given to us.

The 1960’s opened my eyes to more of the struggles and inequities that needed to be fixed. I succinctly remember standing in a worship circle at a college weekend retreat, grasping the hand next to me and looking to see our white and black fingers intertwined.

“Cool,” I said to nobody in particular.

But that day, my soul opened to more possibilities. Until I experienced racism myself.

As a missionary in Honduras, I was a very white woman in a Latino world. We were not allowed to go downtown alone and never traveled outside our post at night. The culture shock was deep and real. It was a lonely identity thrust on me by location, gender and race.

But when I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas, I learned to appreciate and revel in the beatific richness of diverse cultures. Each week I met with Chinese post-docs, Kenyans, Muslims from the Middle East, Indians from New Delhi, Koreans, Japanese, Nepalese, Germans and other European students.

Although I was the leader of the group, I too learned from my students: about amazing foods, cultural differences, the rhythm of multiple languages and the colorful textures of customized dress.

None of us talked about racial differences. We all gathered together for one purpose — to learn to speak English better and share our lives with each other.

Only the U.S. was behind the curve ball where we couldn’t reconcile just two races as equal partners.

So I wonder what I can do now to help move my country of origin to a better place?

Admit that I don’t truly understand how it feels to be black in America. Until we open the conversation, truly listen to each other, ask the open-ended difficult questions and desire to learn from each other — we’ll be tethered by our history.

Change and social justice only happen as we dare to believe in the need for change and actually work hard to make it happen.

Educate myself. One of my black clients and I are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Soon, we’ll meet online and discuss it. Hopefully, we’ll both grow and appreciate more fully the challenges our nation faces.

I’m also committed to reading more books written by authors of color, and I want to support the Black Writers Guild.

Recently, I attended a writers conference where I learned tips about writing diverse characters. The workshop was focused on various races and reminded me once again how most of us write from the viewpoint of our comfort zones.

Speak up. Silence is indeed a form of consensus. My voice will be heard at the ballot box as I discover each candidate’s plan for civil rights and racial equality. Which candidates are committed to social justice, mercy and decent human rights for all?

Leadership matters, and change can’t happen when the same people work from the same office with the same mindset while refusing to listen.

God promises that someday people from every tribe and language will stand before his throne (Revelation 7:9, 10). Heaven will be a place where diversity is celebrated and fully accepted.

If we’re going to live eternally with our brothers and sisters from all over the world, we’d better learn how to peacefully live together now.

We have so much work to do and so many prayers to offer. I pray to God with steadfast hope we’ll get it right this time.

Maybe the children will have to show us the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How does faith factor into daily life? Check out Uploading Faith.

When Hope Connects to Our Children

He was a drummer from the womb — usually around midnight. The kicking began with a steady rhythm and quickly accelerated. Boom! Bam! Boom Boom!

I knew he would have some sort of musical talent, and he would be a night person.

So it was no surprise when I handed my toddler son his first drum set – my best pots and pans with a wooden spoon. He took off with his own version of heavy metal percussion.

During the parent-teacher conference in first grade, his teacher gave me that look every parent dreads. “He uses his pencils and sometimes his fingers to beat on his desk.” She sighed heavily.

“Uh-huh. And the problem is?” We started looking for a drum instructor.

After a few lessons, he progressed through all the books, wore out several pairs of drumsticks and one or two instructors. “Definitely a musical prodigy. Definitely has amazing rhythm,” they said.

“Uh-huh.” For his next birthday, we bought him a genuine drum set.

Middle school enrollment meant organizing his schedule around band. Forget biology and algebra. The only reason my son went to school was to be with his friends and be in band.

During a concert highlight, he played a solo that brought a standing ovation. One of the premiere piano teachers in our community told me later, “His rhythm is impeccable. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Uh-huh. Thank you.”

During high school, marching band provided the perfect scenario for discipline, music and the opportunity to excel. He won a speed drumming contest, and his band won championships weekend after weekend.

I stood in the stands cheering and pointed out the drumline to everyone who would listen. “That’s my son – on the snare.”

He was asked to play with a small heavy metal band, so they had several gigs all over town and performed at The Battle of the Bands. They practiced out in the country, at the lead guitarist’s home.

Our neighbors were probably grateful, although no one ever complained about the constant beats coming from our house.

He probably could have applied for a music scholarship to college, but he chose to go a different direction. And that was fine — until the brain tumor diagnosis.

When the doctor said he would lose his hearing, everybody started praying. Have you ever prayed your guts out? Uh-huh.

And God was gracious. The first question I asked him in the ICU was, “Can you hear me?” It was a wondrous miracle when he motioned, “Yes.”

Life has continued for my precious son — sometimes filled with joys and other times with challenges. But his drums have always been his sense of identity, his place of belonging.

Until his best friend died. My Caleb joined the drumline to play at Ryan’s funeral. went through a severe bout of survivor guilt and grieved deeply. Then he stopped playing his drums.

For several years now, I have prayed Caleb would return to his music. I knew he missed his drums even though he never said so.

But music does that for us. It solidifies the rhythm of the soul so that when it is gone — we feel empty.

A couple of weeks ago, Caleb and his sweetheart became engaged. Maybe he felt it was time to leave the past behind. Or maybe he just felt like his world was suddenly right.

He ordered an electronic drum set and had fun setting them up, testing for the best sounds, hooking wires to the amplifier and re-arranging his bedroom.

He’s been playing every night. Great therapy after a day’s work, but also a workout. Good for his heart — physically and emotionally.

When I hear the beats, I smile and thank God. I know my son is happy, so that makes me happy.

When we’re happy, when we’re hanging on to hope — that makes our Father God smile. He enjoys the pleasures of his children, just as we humans do.

So during these days of so many challenges, it’s important to find that one thing that brings pleasure.

Whether it’s arranging flowers from the garden, revising an old recipe, playing a musical instrument, connecting hope to your children or writing a blog post — do something that brings you joy.

Then try to imagine God’s smile.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to write another blog post, maybe you need a plan. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

Finding Hope When Prayer Lags

prayer -woman-sunsetSometimes prayer comes easy and feels like a special connection with the Divine. The words flow with a spiritual electricity. We believe God has indeed heard us, and something miraculous will happen soon.

But other times we struggle to know what to say. The words stick in our throats, and God feels far away. We can’t even fully imagine how anything good can come out of this frustrating conundrum.

That’s where I am now. I don’t know how to pray for my mom.

She’s no longer in assisted living, not even in the Alzheimer’s unit. Now she lives in a bed in the nursing home wing, shares a small room with another woman we don’t know.

This situation is specifically what I prayed would never happen.

Mom is living, but not really. The pain from her twice-broken hip and a broken shoulder. Her right arm affected — her dominant side.

She cannot feed herself and doesn’t want to eat anyway. She fights those who try to get near, because every time they move her, the pain increases.

Add to this horrific scene the fact that none of us can be with her. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, her nursing home is still in Lockdown. The already isolated elderly are now imprisoned within solitary confinement.

Mom does not understand what’s happening in her world. She just feels the pain of loneliness and physical hurt.

Does she think we have abandoned her?

What kind of life is this? How should I pray?

So far, God has not chosen to free her from the pain. He has not come to her room, touched her broken limbs and made them whole again.

I often pray that he will be close to her, hold her near his gracious heart and whisper consolations only she can understand.

But I don’t know if he’s doing that, if he’s answering my prayers.

If I pray for her final healing, for complete release, I am asking God to stop her heart and take her to heaven — to end her suffering forever.

Yes, I have prayed those words. Then felt immediate guilt.

I don’t want to be an orphan. I don’t like this season of life. I hate that my mother is going through this — alone.

So how do I pray? How can I stay in hope when my prayer lags?

What is best for this woman who always wanted the best for me?

Scripture tells us that Jesus has a job in heaven. He, too, is working from his home. He’s praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

So I swallow my tears and ask him to pray for Mom.

And when I cannot even utter those words, I revise the last verse of “Away in a Manger” and hope God understands the cry of my heart.

Be near her, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay

Close by her forever and love her, I pray.

Bless now my dear mother in nursing home care

And take her to heaven to live with you there.”

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Acknowledges the Tears

crying manIn one week’s time, I heard two men apologize for their tears.

“I’m sorry,” they both said. “Give me a minute.” Then they hung their heads, as if afraid to let the rest of us see their breaking moment.

They were both on podcasts and couldn’t hear me yelling, “Don’t apologize for your tears. It’s okay to cry.”

In fact, health experts tell us tears and crying are essential to healthy bodies and souls. Allowing yourself to cry can:

  • Help you sleep better
  • Relieve any number of stresses
  • Release hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins
  • Fight bacteria
  • Lower blood pressure

Check out some of these benefits of crying.

But crying can also underscore our humanity. It proves we have been created part liquid, and we can be touched by multiple factors in life.

Having a good cry develops authenticity. It proves we are vulnerable to the circumstances around us and being vulnerable is okay. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real.

Letting the tears flow debunks the theory “real men don’t cry.” If they can’t cry, then how real are the rest of their emotions? Perhaps holding back those tears may lead to blocking off other feelings such as love, compassion and mercy.

In the current novel I’m writing, the main character is a man who has a crying scene. I interviewed several women and men on the reality of letting a man cry in print. One woman was glad her husband could cry in front of her. She felt it increased their sense of intimacy.

One of my male friends admitted he rarely cries, but when he allows himself to get away and let the tears flow — he eventually feels better.

Tears give off signals that we need support, that it’s okay to ask for help. Friendships are built on emotional support. Relationships cannot exist without it.

Finally, being able to cry proves we care. How many of us cried out, if only internally, with George Floyd when he called for his mother? How many healthcare workers cried with the dying in the ICU and shuddered as the numbers of dead climbed each day?

Or have we become so callused to the crises around us, we have numbed down our tears?

Apathy is a dangerous disease which eventually silences the heart’s compassionate center. Without tears, our souls become hardened. Without feeling, we grow into stone versions of ourselves. If we cease to cry, we prove we no longer care enough to release heart-felt compassion.

Babies cry to make their needs known, but also to strengthen their lungs and the quality of their breathing. Perhaps some of us need to become as a little child again, to find the strength in letting go.

If crying is something to be ashamed of, then why are tears so important to God? “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 TLB).

Since God responds to the cry of the heart, then it must be okay to let the tears fall — and refuse to apologize for such a natural act.

Perhaps the men I observed will someday realize the beauty and health involved in their tears. I hope they learn how to be authentic, to wail and weep if they need to, to be vulnerable about their feelings.

Maybe our world would be a better place if we all cried out.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Some of the essays in Sometimes They Forget speak about the tears of our family when the shadows of Alzheimer’s came to live with us.

Communion in the Time of Covid-19

Although many of us miss the corporate meetings of church, one part of the routine is more comfortable for me at home — Communion.Communion

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is special. I don’t like observing it every Sunday as some churches do. It seems then to become as ritualistic as the parking space I head for each Sunday.

I want communion, especially during the time of Covid-19, to be unique — a longer time of reflection, more than just politely passing the plate to my neighbor in the pew, bowing for prayer, a quick snack and go home.

With more time and choices within my kitchen quarantine, I can spend the time I believe this sacrament deserves.

“Remember me,” Jesus said, as he led his best friends in this final act of intimate fellowship before his death.

To best remember this God-man, this Jesus, I like to devote time and thought to the act of contemplative worship.

So when my church announces we will observe the Lord’s Supper during our pandemic-required-live-stream, I prepare my kitchen table to become an altar of remembrance:

  • A candle for the observance of holy light
  • A china plate to hold my gluten-free cracker
  • My special cup filled with elderberry juice
  • Soft music playing in the background

One of my friends gave me the china plate, bone china from England, glazed with some of my favorite colors. It’s delicate, beautiful and reminds me of this sanctified moment between my Savior and me. As the potter took extra time to fashion such a plate and its matching cup, so I take extra time with my Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4).

Another friend gave me the amazing crystal cup. It sings a sweet vibrato when I tap it — as authentic as the love of the God-man I celebrate. Engraved with flowery swirls, it’s a reminder that the Spirit is both feminine and masculine, both strong and sweet.

Once my personal altar is prepared, I am ready to begin the moments of remembrance. But first, I want to approach this human temple fully cleansed.

So I spend a few moments in confession, for sins I have committed when I have deliberately rebelled, hurt my Lord and my fellow humans, refused to obey God just because.

For sins of omission when I have failed to do good to others, to love them as I love myself, to ignore my own fears and reach out to anyone who needs my help.

For sins of ignorance which I did not realize hurt someone else and may have damaged the name of Christ. Any action, word or thought which brings pain to another needs to be acknowledged and forgiven.

Once I have confessed, I receive grace as a gift in this relationship between divine and human. Because I am family, I believe and receive the forgiveness my Beloved offers so freely.

The phrase “Remember me” wraps the next moments in memories of a young man in his early thirties who knew he was dying. If we had more of the written scenario, more space for dialogue, Jesus might have said, “Remember how I made tables in my carpentry shop, turned the wood and planed the corners to make them fit just right.

“Remember me and how my nieces and nephews made me laugh, how we played in Mother’s small house, thought about Joseph and how much we missed him.

“Remember me and our fishing trips — before you knew I could multiply your harvest and cause your nets to break with the increase.

“Remember our meals together, the sacred holidays we celebrated, my favorite foods and the way I sang the Yeshiva songs.

“Remember me as your Savior, but also as your friend. Remember how I will die, but also how I lived fully and with abundance the time that was given me.

“Remember me.”

During my sacrament time, I commune with Jesus in gratitude — a remembrance of how his tortured body hung on that cross, sepsis beginning its fatal trek through his tissues, the splinters that entered his wounds as he pushed himself upward, struggling to breathe.

I take my gluten-free cracker and let it slowly dissolve on my tongue, the taste a bitter reminder of his forty-day fast, his last meal, the hunger I feel for a closer walk with him.

The elderberry juice purples my special cup, and I relieve the dryness of that cracker. I remember how the blood must have dripped into his eyes, the cruel thorns that drew the red stream he could not wipe away.

I remember Old Testament stories of blood-drawn sacrifices, the altars smeared with gore, a foreshadowing of the final death that would free us all.

After my sacrament session ends, I sing a song of praise. Another Sunday flipped on the calendar, another day closer to the end of this Covid-19 pandemic, another month close to the time we return to corporately take communion in the building we call church.

Although gathering together will be nice, I will miss my time of solitude, reflective moments with no need to finish at a certain time, my own contemplative ritual that celebrates the life and death of this Jesus.

And I will ponder how to make communion special again. With a bittersweet prayer, I will whisper, “I remember.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how faith relates to daily life, check out the book my son and I wrote together. Uploading Faith, available on Amazon.

What Not to Do During Lockdown

lockdown-5130295_640Credit for this blog post’s idea goes to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. During Lockdown, I discovered his church site and started watching some of his sermons.

Most of us have seen blog posts or participated in Zoom meetings about what to do during this Covid-19 crisis.

Multiple bulleted lists suggest new recipes, guidelines for teaching children at home or the proper way to make masks while we’re in Lockdown.

But what are some things we should NOT do? Here’s my list:

Don’t Overwatch the News. Sure, we need to stay informed about the Lockdown and reopening facts. But no matter which channels we watch, an overdose of the bad news brings with it gray shadows of discouragement.

Save your time and energy for something more positive. Stay away from the negative newsies.

Don’t Try to Figure It Out. With time and the writing of history books, blame will be placed on various entities and government administrations. We waste time and energy trying to figure out where this virus came from and how we can deal with it.

Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot always plan for the long-term. It’s only one day at a time, one whispered prayer at a time.

Don’t Let the Fear Win. We feel the insecurity and the unknowns of this invisible attack. But if we let the anxiety rule, we become emotionally sick.

Watch humorous videos, escape into a good book or visit online with family and friends. If the fear seems to be winning, call a pastor or a professional counselor.

As Pastor Furtick says, “Fear can ride in the car, but not drive.”

Don’t Do Something Impulsive. Crises take time to work through just as a virus must wear itself out or lose its ability to populate.

Give yourself time before initiating any impulsive decisions such as: moving to another country where the stats aren’t as deadly, eating or drinking compulsively, making any life-changing decisions.

Follow the advice of King David, “Rest in God and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a Amplified).

Be patient. Be safe. Be wise.

Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself. Even as the crisis wanes, personal hygiene will remain vital. Protecting ourselves from abuses of any kind and the stresses of over-work is still a major step toward good health.

Proper nutrition, keeping healthy routines, restorative sleep, a variety of positive activities, daily exercise — all these continue to be ways we can avoid our own personal crisis.

Don’t Stop Caring About Others. Lockdown and quarantine can become so self-absorbing, we can forget to love others as we love ourselves. Think about ways you can bless others in your neighborhood.

Take a meal to an elderly neighbor and leave it safely on the porch. Package up your favorite books to bless another reader. Write cards and letters to family members, even if they live in the same town. Phone a friend. Try one of the online recipes for thick, yummy brownies and share them with your neighbors.

Move relationally out of your own world and help your community. It will warm your heart and encourage others.

Don’t Try to Be God. Some people are already trying to interpret this virus as a spiritual message. Sure, God can use anything in life to teach us important lessons, but that doesn’t mean everything in life is our chance to preach to the masses.

Conspiracy theories based on random scriptures are already surging through the internet. As we grow closer to the 2020 elections, we’ll probably see more of these from both sides of the aisle, blaming various politicians for this pandemic’s tragic results.

Constrain your urge to interpret history through the lens of your denomination. Instead, follow the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love people. Period.

Don’t Lose Hope. Keep believing in positive outcomes and keep praying for those who are trying to help us — the leaders of local, state and national government, the scientists working on a vaccine, the frontline workers at every level.

Remember every sunset is followed by a new day, and God’s mercies refresh with each beginning.

Keep working on your creative endeavors, your job search, your personal relationships. Keep believing in a brighter future.

Covid-19 is called the invisible enemy. God is also invisible, but he’s still more powerful than this nasty virus.

When we stay in hope, we eventually defeat the enemies of our souls and ultimately — we win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My newest book is now in print and on Kindle. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

 

Hope Nuggets During Lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes those 40 days DID seem like years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, of course, they offered hope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

A Recipe Fail During Lockdown

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

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

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

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

None. Nada. Impossible but true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nay. Nay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah — probably not.

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

 

Hope-filled Observations During a Pandemic

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

Covid-19 by Alexandra Koch

Illustration by Alexandra Koch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Pens a Letter for Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You labored and prayed, then feasted on my accomplishments.

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

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

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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