Hope Finds Reality in a Verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020: “God marked out appointed times in history and the boundaries of lands…so that they [the nations] would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 TNIV).

As we know, 2020 was the year COVID invaded and changed so much of our lives. People died by the hundreds. Family dynamics changed. Political turmoil and arguments about vaccines. Chaos everywhere.

Yet these verses kept me anchored as I prayed every day for the nations — for this global pandemic to blow itself out. My hope centered around the desire of God to have people reach out for him and find him, to realize he was not far away.

2021: The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11 AMP).

As the effects of COVID tromped all over my life, I hung on to the directive God gave me along with this verse, “Keep writing.”

Even as the workshops and conferences disappeared. Even as some of my clients needed to take a break. Even as I isolated myself during lockdown and set up a Zoom account, I kept writing. Even as so much of life changed, the words continued.

In August, I helped my son and his bride write their wedding vows. A sweet time. In December, I wrote my mother’s obituary. A bittersweet task.

So what is my verse for this year, for this 2022 when COVID continues to hover and life feels so fragile?

God sent me back to the prophet Isaiah, for a tiny phrase in 48:2, “Depend on God. The Lord Almighty is his name.”

El Shaddai is the Hebrew for the Lord Almighty. It means he is the God who satisfies our every need. He is the God of sufficiency and great power. He is the one who loves us so deeply, he works all the puzzle pieces together.

This God, this Almighty Abba, is the one I am depending on as 2022 begins. I have no clue what will happen this year. I hope I can report good news on December 31st.

But whatever occurs in the next months, I will find my hope in the verses God has given me and the ways he has been faithful throughout my life.

So happy new year to all my followers. I hope it’s a good one.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some ideas for setting your goals this year, check out Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals. Even if you’re not a writer, you can benefit from these principles.

Hope in the Mourning

During Mom’s last day on earth, the Hospice nurse gave us a card with a list of “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Published by the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, CO. You can buy your own card at their site.

If you are grieving during these early days of 2022, my prayer is that you will find hope in the following.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Loss by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt.

“The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Another great place to take your grief is through a support group titled “Grief Share.” Various churches offer these groups, and I participated in one after the death of my friend, Deb.

These groups remind us we are not alone in our grief. Others suffer as well. Sometimes, we are reminded that our grief is not as intense as another’s grief, yet it is valid.

My grief is not your grief, therefore I have the right to grieve in my own way. Another person’s Bible verse is not my verse. Another opinion about how long or how I should grieve is not credible.

Some people are emotional grievers. They cry and wail, sometimes stay in bed for weeks. I do not judge them, because I grieve in a different way.

I am an industrial griever. It helps me to do projects that bring a glad remembrance of my loved one. When Deb died, I completed four grief projects — most of them around the house or the yard. Then I gave a donation to the local animal shelter, because Deb loved animals.

For my recent grief, I created a memory shelf in my home. For several days, I was busy putting it together, painting, sanding, measuring the perfect place in my guest room. When I felt the need to cry, I stopped and mourned for the loss of now both my parents. Acknowledged the feeling of being orphaned.

Now, when I pass by, I smile at their memory. Sometimes I cry. Usually, I just think about my next project.

My faith has not been weakened by the need to grieve. In fact, I believe more strongly than ever in the power of hope and the certainty of eternal life. My parents are with Jesus. Someday, we will meet again.

So if you are grieving, whether it’s the loss of a person, a job, a home, a marital status, a former identity — stay in hope. Do what you have to do to grieve in a healthy way.

And know that your mourning means you deeply loved.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in the Last Gift

My family draws names each Christmas. We hail from a frugal background of farmers. No extra fuss for the holidays. Everyone buys just one gift. So it’s always fun to see who has our names and what they have chosen for us.

For our 2021 Christmas get-together, we decided to open gifts when everyone was present — after the funeral and burial of our matriarch, my mom.

The younger kids passed out the presents and when they handed mine to me, I peeked at the gift tag.

Who had my name this year? Swallowed fresh tears. Mom had my name. This would be my last gift from her.

Our mothers do so much for us, we often take them for granted. Until we become parents and realize the sacrifices. Or until they are gone.

Mom gifted me with several things, but two of them stood out as I helped my siblings prepare Mom’s service. As we all reflected on a life well-lived.

Music: Mom grew up in poverty. Self-esteem destroying poverty. The kind that moves beyond just being hungry. Only one dress to wear every day to school. Hearing the taunts of the richer kids. Knowing she could never be one of the “in” crowd.

So as a parent, Mom worked hard to make sure all of her children had multiple choices of clothing. And she used part of her nursing salary to give her children a resource she never had. Piano lessons.

Every week, she drove me to my piano teacher’s house where I played my pieces, learned more about the scope of music, progressed through the various methodologies. Mom never had to remind me to practice. Music flowed from my soul to my fingers and into the sound board of our piano.

Mom was present at my recitals, the concerts and competitions that came later as I grew in skill. She even took a few lessons herself, so she would know what her children were learning. So she could confront the whispers of her past with the truth. No longer an outcast.

I didn’t make it into the Julliard School of Music  — one of my goals. But I took lessons for 13 years and later became a piano teacher myself. Mom was proud. Her gift was not taken for granted.

Words: In her high school yearbook, Mom was voted as the one most likely to become a writer. It was her secret passion, but one which never materialized. Life intervened. World War II happened. The government paid for women to become Army nurses, so her destiny was decided for her.

But she instilled in all of us a love for words, a longing to read as many books as possible. She demanded we use correct grammar. Bought me my first diary — the kind with the tiny key and a lock. Drove us to the library each week where all of us checked out a stack of books. Mom included.

After chores each night, then homework and piano practice, we curled up in various places and read. Often discussed our books at the supper table. The television stayed off until the weekend.

In 1985, when I became a professional writer and sold my first article, it was Mom who cheered for me. She supported me in various writer’s conferences, paid my tuition, read my words, cherished my books.

Until the memory thief stole the meaning of words from her.

When we cleaned out Mom’s room at the nursing home, reducing her life to a few boxes, we found several books she was reading. Her Bible, a mystery, a Guideposts collection. Even when her cognitive skills declined, she continued to read.

Her gift of words continues today as all of us read on family vacations, watch the sales for book deals, share with each other the latest novel we cannot put down.

So when I opened that last gift from Mom, I wondered what it would be. Granted, my sister picked it out. Mom was trapped in the shadows of dementia, living in the nursing home. But Kris chose something Mom would have definitely liked. Another thing Mom and I shared.

It was a cross, made from the aspens of New Mexico. Purchased in one of the stores in Red River, the little mountain town our family has vacationed in for 20+ years.

The perfect last gift.

For Mom regularly shared her faith. In her quiet unassuming way. She wore a cross necklace under her nurse’s uniform where she could touch it on hard days. To remind herself Who she belonged to. Her Savior always present.

It was Mom I told first when I decided to believe. She was the one who had driven me to the children’s story-time where I gave my heart to Jesus. Mom filled our home with children’s Bibles, regularly quizzed us on our weekly Bible verses, made sure we were clean and ready for church every Sunday.

Wearing a dress she sewed herself. Making sure her children were never rejected because of how they looked.

During her memorial service, we played her favorite song, “It Took a Miracle.” A reminder that this 93-year-old woman had lived her entire life enjoying music, words and hanging on to faith.

Every. Single. Day.

Until December 7th, when she graduated to heaven and saw in person the reason she believed.

Mom’s final gift hangs in my living room as homage to her life and to the faith we shared. Her lifetime of gifting to her family and to others will live on.

But it is her last gift I will cherish the most.

And what was the last gift I gave her? I wrote Mom’s obituary.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding Hope in the Routines

For list makers and Type A’s like me, having a routine represents a type of security. My planner is my constant companion. It tells me what to do and when. Where to be and how.

Through the years, I’ve learned to be more spontaneous. Still, I cannot deny who I am. My scheduled routine helps me deal with life.

So the last two years became an internal challenge. I could not depend on the routines, because they flip-flopped. Life changed so quickly, I felt the emotional whiplash.

And I know I am not alone.

But in spite of what happened to the world in the last couple of years, one aspect of life remained stable.

The hope wrapped in faith that God would not change who he is.

Even God keeps a schedule. He knows exactly when to answer our prayers. Sometimes that means we have to trust his timeline, but he is never too late.

God knows exactly when to schedule the struggles and challenges we face. He knows how he will teach us more about trust.

He is certain of the outcome, and no matter what happens — even if we make stupid choices — God will continue to love us.

The birth of Jesus happened at just the right time in history. All the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly for God’s plan to save mankind.

The last two years in our history were no surprise to God. He knew how December 31, 2021 would wrap up. And he already knows every experience 2022 will offer.

Our problem is … how will we schedule what we do not know? How will our routines change in 2022? Must we go through another year of so many question marks?

The answer is … maybe. We cannot know the end from the beginning of each day.

But God can.

The New Living Translation says it best, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”

Every detail. Every step. Every challenge is already covered by the One who knows us best. And even when we cannot trust the routines, we can revise our expectations.

We can learn to rely on the God whose schedule represents hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting the new year with some goal-setting actions? Even if we can’t schedule everything, we can set some realistic goals.

Finding Hope in Our Stuff

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

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

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

However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway.com or the Blue Letter Bible

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

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our 2016 trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. Oddly enough, it now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it. However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. I had given it away. Shucks !
  • If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me. The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.
  • Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a haven of peace.

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

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

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. One way to bless this writer is to request her books from the library. Here’s my Amazon list.

Hope Lives in a Sequel

For writers of a series, the sequel provides interest, marketing profitability and the opportunity to learn more about our characters.

In life, we often experience sequels — those de ja vu moments that make us pause and wonder. Sort of like the Israelites taking another lap around Mount Sinai.

Sometimes we need several laps before we learn a lesson. Sometimes life surprises us with extra grace to try again.

In one of my newsletters for writers, I created a sequel of my favorite holiday movie: It’s a Wonderful Life. Every year when I watch it, I wonder What happened to these characters after the movie?

So I created my own sequel and share my imaginary thoughts with you.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Part 2: After the debacle that almost destroyed the business, George Bailey gently convinces Uncle Billy to resign. It takes three weeks to clean out Uncle Billy’s office. George realizes how his uncle has regressed into a form of dementia.

Uncle Billy resigns, then volunteers at an animal shelter for the next five years. He quietly dies in his sleep, surrounded by his pets.

Mr. Potter is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies a few months later. No one in town mourns him and no one shows up for his expensive funeral. His loyal servant — who has no name in the original movie — tells George what happened to that missing $8000.

Reginald (the servant’s name) relates how Uncle Billy actually handed it to Mr. Potter who then kept it and charged George with extortion. For his honesty, George gives Reginald a job at the Bailey Building and Loan, filling Uncle Billy’s position.

Harry Bailey becomes a U.S. Senator and visits his hometown often to hear about the concerns of its citizens. He remains a favorite citizen of Bedford Falls. They rename the high school Harry Bailey High.

George and Harry’s mother is hit by a runaway bus and dies instantly. The boys sell her house for a song to Violet Biggs who opens a home for unwed mothers.

George follows in his father’s footsteps and suffers a devastating stroke. He dies within the week and is mourned by the entire town. His funeral is attended by thousands from Bedford Falls and beyond.

George never forgot the lesson he learned and was always grateful for his wonderful life.

Mary stays in the old house as the children grow up and leave. But Janie (the oldest daughter who is playing piano in the final scenes of the movie) returns after she earns her MBA at the Harvard School of business. She takes over at the Building and Loan and turns it into a major credit union with investors world-wide.

Clarence earns his wings and becomes the chief guardian angel for George and Mary’s grandchildren.

Mary celebrates the births of nine grandchildren before she dies of tuberculosis at 96. As she fades away, she whispers the words, “George Bailey, I’ll love you ‘till the day I die.”

The town of Bedford Falls continues to thrive but always retains its small town charm. Bailey Park grows into a beautiful subdivision of homes that were designed and built by George Bailey who always wanted to do great things.

But George never fully realized he was accomplishing his greatest purpose by helping his fellow citizens keep a decent roof over their heads.

*****

How many of us may be doing the great thing we were created for — but we don’t realize it. We think it should look different, feel more honorable or give us the acclaim and money we would like.

Like George Bailey, the greatest work of a lifetime is to make a difference in someone else’s life. To use our talents in creative designs and help others.

To love as God loves us — without judgment. Without assumptions. Without labels.

As we grow older, we begin to live the sequels of life. Let’s make it our goal to end well. Like George Bailey, to be rich with friendships based on respect. To build hope into our lives and into the lives of others.

Have a blessed Christmas.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved