Hope Within Conflicting Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Within the Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, we also believe and rest in Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Fills in the Gaps

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

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

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

Quickly passing gaps. Overwhelming emotions at both ends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope for Aging Bloomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

How Writing Remembers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Repurposes a Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Discovers Eternity Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he was gone. Again.

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

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

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

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

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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