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.