Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know, including myself, are stuck – waiting for an answer to prayer – the answer that will help us move forward.

We have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet – nothing.waiting

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

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

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

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

But hope determines God has not disappeared. He may be silent yet is still at work – behind the scenes, moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for a reveal.

So what do we do when the answers don’t come, when we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing seems to flip us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer – in his time
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one
  • Understand that every season – even seasons of waiting – will eventually end
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms.
  • Post this verse where we can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified).

Hope continues to believe – especially when we cannot see how our faith works. We believe in what we cannot see, still knowing a facet of eternal value exists though none of the waiting makes sense.

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

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/2kG29Ur

Hope Finishes a Book

The idea began two years ago when I read “How to Blog a Book” by Nina Amir. Since that time, I have recommended Amir’s book to many of my writing clients.

The jist of her book is the process of using blog content – already written, edited and published online – to create a hard copy print book.

When I finished Amir’s book, I looked up and said, “Well, duh!

After blogging for five years, I had enough content for several books, but I wanted to focus on only one theme, one category and one idea.

The decision was easy. “Sometimes They Forget” – the collection of essays I have written about the caregiving journey through Alzheimer’s Disease.bookcoverimage-stf

This book, unlike the Reverend G trilogy, tugged at my desire for authenticity as the long-distance caregiver and forced me to dig deep – then deeper still – to reach those painful places in my soul.

I needed to record how the awful reality feels when Alzheimer’s invades a family.

From the cemetery wanderings when I visited my ancestors’ graves to the honesty of admitting how we must sometimes lie to Mom. The inclusion of holiday tips for caregivers, the seven stages of Alzheimer’s and caregiving tips I share when I speak at events – all these posts present some practical ideas for families dealing with this brutal disease.

I am hoping families just entering Stage One will feel encouraged to know others have gone before them and survived.

As I re-read my essay asking the why question, it caused me to review my faith values and underscore the truth that even if I cannot understand why God allowed this disease to enter my mother’s life, I will still trust his heart.

My goal was to finish the book before Christmas 2016, but then the Great Virus invaded. Illness interrupted my timeline.

The deadline changed with a new target date which I am pleased to announce – I WILL meet.

February 3rd is my mother’s birthday – 88 years. “Sometimes They Forget” will be released on that day and soon after – on Kindle. The book is an acknowledgement of her courage and a small way to honor her.

You, my blog followers, have encouraged me with your comments and with your appreciation of my words. I hope you will also consider this new book as a memorial to my mother and as a way to make it through your own Alzheimer’s journey – or share it with someone else.

The sub-title of “Sometimes They Forget” is “Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.” My prayer is that hope will multiply and the ripple effect will bring some measure of peace to those families who live with the Long Good-bye.

Thank you for your support and for your prayers as this book is released on February 3rd.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Word

Many of my friends are choosing their words for the year. Although I don’t usually follow suit, one word has surfaced. This word and its meaning once stymied me because I could not find a practical way to utilize it.

But as I have searched for a workable definition, the practice and discipline of using this word has moved front and center.ballet-dancers

I believe this word is important to me – especially in 2017 – because of what happened in 2016. As a Christian, I was appalled at the vitriol I read on social media and how followers of Christ used their freedom of speech as a weapon.

Certainly, we should stand up for what we believe, but to attack other human beings – creations of God – just because they believe differently? Sheesh!

They will know we are Christians by our love.

So my word for the year addresses my traumatized soul and also gives me a higher bar to attain. The word is GRACE.

I know the Sunday School definition for grace: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. But I have searched for the practical version, a way to actually BE a Christian rather than just writing and/or posting my beliefs – hoping to stay away from the ugliness and cruelty witnessed last year.

The definition I have settled on is, “Grace is the disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.”

To live with a focus on kindness, to show grace to the checker at Target who has been on her feet for eight hours and the guy in front of me is yelling at her because his coupon expired.

To see the tears threatening to spill over and when it is my turn, to briefly touch her hand and say, “I’m sorry about what just happened. I think you’re doing a great job.”

To park in the lot at Wal-Mart and instead of rushing inside to get my stuff, to show grace-filled courtesy to the elderly woman, lift her trunk and help her empty the cart – then offer to take her cart inside so she doesn’t have to walk all that way on a gimpy leg.

To realize none of us act as we should every single day and give grace when someone barks an insult or uses only one finger to wave at me in traffic.

To be grateful for my freedoms yet allow with grace for the differences among us as we exercise those freedoms.

And how does grace look if I turn it inward? What are the practical ways I can give myself grace in this new year?

To realize I am an achiever, yet my projects are not more important than my health. To rest even if I’m not sleepy.

To allow myself breaks to take a long walk, to sit on the deck and marvel at the colors of the blue jay at my feeder.

To realize I gain five pounds every winter as I hibernate from the cold and give myself grace because I always lose those same pounds in the spring.

To admit the truth about the aging process – it DOES happen so I need to give myself grace and not hate the changes morphing me into a visual of my ancestors. After all, each year brings me closer to heaven where age will not matter.

To realize my garden cannot look like the magazine covers, no matter how hard I work. To give myself grace and let some of the plots grow over with natural grasses and even weeds. This graceful strategy will give me more time to write, reflect and pray.

To believe that grace also leads to gracefulness – a beautiful visual of a ballerina floating across the stage. Can I float through 2017 with a new version of gracefulness, slowing down and just being myself?

In her book, “Walking on Water,” Madeleine L’Engle writes exactly what I want to embrace. “…To take time away from busyness, time to BE. To take BEING time – something we all need for our spiritual health. Slow me down, Lord. When I am constantly running, there is no time for being. When there is no time for being, there is no time for listening.”

So as I float through 2017, my goal is to show kindness, to offer courtesy and to fight for clemency – to allow for the differences among us and love in spite of them.

Hope calls me to be more grace-filled and graceful in the next twelve months. Will you join me?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Uses Her Voice

One of the best tools to build relationships is the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

When we know our love language and the love languages of our friends and family, we can feed care into each others’ souls.voices-invisible

Recently, I discussed love languages with my son and reminded him about my primary language. “Acts of service,” I said. “I feel most loved when someone does something for me.”

Conversely, I often show love to others by helping them and doing kind things for them.

After a long month of illness, my love tank was pointed to empty. So I decided to tell my son exactly what I needed.

If we do not use our voices, we become invisible and our needs are not heard.

“Son, my love tank is empty.”

“Huh?”

“You know, acts of service and all that love language discussion we had. I need my love tank filled.”

“What does that even mean, Mom?”

“It means…after being sick for so long and eating nothing but chicken soup, grapefruit and cough drops, I think my body needs some iron. That means I need a really good hamburger – not the cheap drive-through kind of burger. My body needs a buffalo burger with parmesan garlic sauce and potato wedges on the side. Lots of wedges.”

“So…you need me to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get you a burger?”

“Now you’re catching on. Don’t forget the extra wedges.”

An hour later, completely satisfied after a whopping burger and salty wedges, I realized how good food affects our moods. Not only did my body respond to the burger with additional energy, I felt as if I might be moving toward healing. Hope returned.

But to make that leap, I needed to use my voice.

If I had continued to fill the house with my pitiful moaning, slurping leftover chicken soup and begging God to take me to heaven – nothing would have improved. My iron content would have plummeted and my love tank remained empty.

But because I spoke my need and used my voice, my son had the opportunity to do a kind deed. He knew exactly what I needed.

Isn’t life easier when we know what people need? Yet we often sulk in our self-sufficiency, thus depriving ourselves and others of finding the resolution to our problems.

Hope responds to authenticity and when we speak our truth – we all benefit.

Let’s make 2017 a better year by exercising authenticity, using our voices and speaking our truth. Then we can help each other move toward more compassion, kindness and hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Hope When Christmas Changes

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

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

I called it The Great Cough of 2016.pharmaceutical-symbol

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

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

But we could  not force ourselves into the car for a five hour trip. And why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday – bless the hearts of that staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs – thank you to the hard-working pharmacy staff ! We stayed in bed and slept late – when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

Then Christmas happened in spite of illness. My son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun – playing table games with hygienic gloves on, 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 into our recliners again – still coughing. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

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

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

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change. And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God with us.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh