Fighting the Virus with Hope

The volume of her voice increased as the intercom crackled, “Shoppers, we have great news. A new pallet of toilet paper is available on Aisle 10.”

The lady ahead of me wheeled a 180 with her cart and hurried toward Aisle 10. Other shoppers joined her in line. Thankfully, everyone grabbed only one package and no one turned violent.

In spite of my determination to not give in to the panic, I thought What the heck? We can always use more TP. It’s never going to rot.

So I joined the other shoppers and bought one more package of this daily necessity, then stored it in our basement for just-in-case.

Growing up on the farm, we always stocked extra supplies. We spent summer days canning veggies and fruits, wiping sweat off our faces in the not-air-conditioned kitchen, watching Mom mentor the pressure cooker.

The freezer was filled with meat before winter, and the pantry stocked with extra cereals and canned goods. An Oklahoma blizzard or an electrical outage could always surprise us, so we were prepared.

Plus, my parents lived through the Great Depression and the rationings of World War Two. They wanted to make sure their children were never hungry.

So I grew up with the mentality of saving, preserving and preparing for a possible crisis. But I never imagined long lines desperate for toilet paper.

On the other hand, what options do we have if we run out of the stuff? Kleenex or paper towels would clog up sewer systems. Sears catalogues no longer exist, and we don’t use outdoor facilities anymore. Not enough greenery in the yard for an organic option.

Maybe we need to stock up on TP because it represents something tangible we can do to fight our fears. It’s a visual reminder of the one thing we CAN control.

If we are quarantined, at least we can wipe.

I will admit some anxiety about this Coronavirus, probably because I’m in the demographic of greatest risk. And my mother lives in a facility similar to the one in Washington state that counted so many of the initial deaths.

But fear leads us to impulsive actions. It keeps us from a focus on hope and destroys the peaceful sleep we all need.

I believe the current panic is a crowd response, but also a result of miscommunication and lack of credible information. Once again — as in September of 2001 — we were not prepared.

The good news is that the virus has proven to have a shelf life. China no longer needs its specialty hospitals built to house Coronavirus patients.

We’re all doing what we can to increase personal hygiene and stay away from crowds. Some of those social distancing rules have been decided for us.

Although unfortunately, more people WILL die, this nasty thing will eventually leave us — hopefully a bit wiser and more prepared for the next crisis.

So I’m choosing to focus on the positives:

  • School closings mean more family time
  • Neighbors helping each other, staying alert for those who need assistance and building community
  • Basic human kindness is underscored as our motivation
  • A peaceful response by even one person can cancel some of the panic
  • Government agencies will learn more of what to do next time
  • All of us should spend more time in the sun and open windows for fresh air

At the very least — we’re all prepared with plenty of TP for the rest of 2020.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need to find some extra hope? Hope Shines is available on Amazon. You can have it delivered and avoid contact with crowds.

When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

In our world of virus warnings and political mayhem, it’s nice when life offers a surprise.

A few months ago, my creative brain noodled with an idea. What about writing another Christmas book, but not one related to Alzheimers or caregiving?

Why not consider the women of Christmas and the roles they played in the greatest story of all time?

So I sat at the keyboard and within one week composed a small book titled “The Women of Christmas.” Using fiction techniques, I told the story from each woman’s viewpoint, including the usual characters we know about: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.

Then I inserted other women who have been invisible for ages: the innkeeper’s wife, Mary’s mother and Rahab from the Old Testament.

The final chapter kept the book contemporary and personal as it invited readers to find themselves in the Christmas story.

That sweet little book sold so well, I decided to follow it up with a sequel for the next religious holiday. Thus “The Women of Passion Week” was composed and released.

It follows the same format with some of the women who were present in biblical accounts, but also includes the invisible women who helped Jesus and supported his ministry.

These women of great courage became leaders in the early church. In fact, the news of the resurrection came first through women. The reason why could be another book.

Neither of these books were planned in my goals list, yet they have each provided a pleasant surprise — a reminder that the Great Creator writes with me.

How can a writer know when an idea comes from God?

Ultimately, all creativity spring from the Creator. He designed our hearts and the passion to create art.

We shouldn’t be surprised when something completely unusual springs to mind. After all, God made butterflies and dodo birds, osprey and copperheads, little children who play in mud and puffy clouds that scamper across the sky.

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

When an idea is obviously from God, I don’t have to think about it. The thought just comes, then springs into action with my fingers on the keyboard. Often, I type his words faster than my own because I’m not thinking. I’m just doing it.

Crafting the paragraphs and chapters becomes an easy flow, from his heart to my energy and eventually to the printed page.

Creative ideas from God feel like fun. No grinding out a structure to merge plotlines into character sketches. No research at the library or clicks on the internet. No questions for my critique group.

It just happens. As it develops, I know it’s like all God’s other creations — very good.

Results aren’t pre-determined. Although both my “Women Of …” books were financially successful, that is not the aim of God’s creative surprises.

Other books from his creative genius have not fared so well. The goal is not to make money. It is only to listen to his heart, respond and make my fingers move. And as I do the typing and the editing, I feel the joy of completing a project God himself designed.

So far, I’ve experienced these creative surprises five times. The three books of the Reverend G trilogy worked the same way. Just listen to God, sit down and let him write through me. And now I can add these two “Women Of … “ books.

I have numerous ideas for other books, goals to meet this year and in the coming years — a five-year plan. Maybe those ideas are directly from God or maybe just from the creative juices he has poured into me.

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out “The Women of Passion Week.

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Treasure

At various events during one week’s time, three people told me, “You are a treasure.”

I knew this was a compliment, and I truly appreciated the sentiment. At the same time, I was a bit nonplussed to be described as such.

When I think of treasure, my first impression is an antiquity. The movie National Treasure comes to mind as Nicholas Gage tries to find the lost treasure his Masonic ancestors hid. Gage, of course, succeeds and manages to fall in love at the same time, which spawns the second movie in the series.

What does a treasure represent in my practical life? How might I practice more gratitude for those treasures I hold dear?

My treasures do not represent stuff, because I know eventually most of my stuff will end up at Goodwill. In fact, I continue to declutter each week and give away things that no longer give me joy.

The true treasures of my life involve people and memories — those happenings and experiences with flesh and blood folks that cannot be replaced.

My relationship with my son is a treasure. Something especially sweet happens when our children mature. We move into an easy friendship instead of strictly a parent and child rapport. I no longer need to train him. Instead, we have great discussions about life, politics, sports and how to set up the wifi. We express our opinions about world systems and how we fit into them, our goals and how we can move toward our dreams.

I so desperately want my son’s dreams to become reality. Now that would be a treasure!

Another treasure involves my growing up on the farm. Although my world now exists in the city, nothing can take from me the memory of climbing my tree, perching in its generous limbs and scribbling my first stories.

Watching the massive Oklahoma sunsets change colors, celebrating the waving wheat “that smells so sweet” and digging my hands into fresh garden earth. Planting seeds that would later produce our supper. These treasures make me long for those hard-working blessed days without the stress of internet surfing and spammed emails.

The people I have known is one of my collective treasures. Students who traveled from various countries and learned English in my classes. Women who enriched my life through their nurturing hearts. Clients who shared their words with me and trusted me to edit their work. Ministers of both genders who spoke into my life. The myriads of writers who blessed me with their thought-provoking words.

People are a treasure, walking and talking receptacles of divine cells God has pronounced, “Very good.” My life has been enriched by meeting these folks, spending time with them, developing relationships, disagreeing with them and praying together.

So I gladly accept the moniker of “treasure,” as I hope to somehow speak into the lives of others. May the hope of making a difference keep me breathing and living in joy, making an impact every day in the life of another treasure.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, perfect for your Lenten season. The Women of Passion Week

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Hope Finds an Unusual Holy Place

During a trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend Deb and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, while the missional atmosphere of the shop impressed us.

woman prayingBookshelves were filled with classics and some religious fiction. I added my Reverend G books to their collection and promised to bring my next book after its release.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning. So we punched it into our phone calendars and showed up along with 30 other folks of all ages and demographics.

It seemed a great way to attract people to spirituality within an unusual holy place.

I was disappointed when we were handed bulletins — not so outside the religious box. Churchy habits are hard to break.

We watched a video sermon taken from the book of Romans. Seriously? Romans? Why use one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned Jesus followers find difficult to understand?

We discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will, heady topics for a coffee shop.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the shop. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door, Tuscan colors and rough textures. The combination of beautiful weather, the Sabbath atmosphere and the companionship of a friend reminded me God is everywhere.

Deb and I took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door as the main focus? Is this another unusual holy place? The Creator God showed up again with the gift of creativity inside me.

Hope often places us in surprising places. We may root ourselves in comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our spirituality.

But when we move outside the normalcy of walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family of God.

The joy of finding pockets of believers in various places, those who worship in unique ways and spread the love of God without the confines of traditional walls. The textures and colors of different congregants, a quality setting for the stories written within our spiritual selves.

The ever-present God at home in a coffee shop and in the rich surface of a wooden door. Surely God is thrilled by creative venues. He relishes new plans even as his divine attributes remain the same.

By reaching out to others in unusual holy places, we instill more joy into our world and ultimately within Abba Father’s heart.

Hope shines when we yearn for spiritual experiences outside the norm.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines — available in print, Kindle and Large Print.

Hope for the Why Question

whyEver since the patriarch Job lived his troubled life, we have been asking, “Why?”

Actually, the question “Why?” was probably asked since the beginning of time. Perhaps Adam halted in his naming of the animals to ask, “Why, God? Why spend so much time on the colorful details of the bluejay, then throw together this ridiculous version of the dodo bird?”

The first mother, Eve, no doubt asked, “Why did Cain have to take Abel’s life? Why even allow me to birth these boys if you’re just going to take one of them away? Why God? Why?”

Every infertile woman, every family standing beside a coffin, every couple whose marriage ends in divorce will ask, “Why?”

We seek answers because we try to make sense of whatever horrible thing has happened. If we can underscore the event with a logical answer, we can put together a plan for dealing with the loss.

But life doesn’t work that way.

We cannot control the surprise ending nor can we surround the trauma with some sort of reasoning. No earthly logic can explain why my mother lives within the shadows of the Long Goodbye. Why? What is the key to this disease? How can my family deal with it from the viewpoint of a logical answer?

We can’t.

Like faith, we have to accept some things as they are and believe a higher power will absorb the shock. Especially when we don’t understand.

But good old Job provides a possible solution, even when our fists are clenched in angry denial. The answer hides within a verse that whispers to me every time I ask a new, “Why?”

Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness — He allows it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For correction. Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into the reality that we are not gods. Only the real God knows the reason behind everything. We cannot figure it all out.

But perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

Our response might be, “What can I learn from this situation?” Instead of “Why?” rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up. So we will reach out for him and learn more about trust.

For his world. We live in a depraved world. We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds, our bodies and our souls with junk and not face the consequences. We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously — bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, violence, trauma, illness, death. All are part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to turn against us? To remind us that we are human and a better place DOES exist. Tornadoes, violence and Alzheimers will not touch us in heaven.

God has planned for something better.

For lovingkindness. For me, this is the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God, a backward opposite world sort of treatise.

Did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms because he knows their homes will be bombed and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent a student from finishing a degree because he knows that particular pathway is the wrong direction?

We cannot second guess Almighty God.

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life. But he has sometimes worked his backward lovingkindness for me. Hindsight is wiser than the present experience.

God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job to force me to rest. Then he pointed me toward something better.

I wonder if God took Deb home to prevent her from living a blind life from the effects of macular degeneration. I am glad for her, but sad for me.

Is God protecting Mom by allowing her to move into the world of Alzheimers? She is unaware of racial tensions, ISIS terrorists and a democracy teetering on the edge. She does not care who will become the next president. She just wakes up every morning and shuffles to breakfast, then back to her room to turn up the television and wait for lunch. No worries. No stress.

Life will always present us with quandaries, with questions we cannot answer. We can only move toward hope by embracing the direction of forward, one day, one moment at a time.

My fictional character, Reverend G, often said “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

When something happens we cannot understand, the best thing we can do, is stay in hope that something good will replace it. Then run into the loving arms of the God who knows the answers.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above essay is an excerpt from Sometimes They Forget — Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

 

Finding Hope as We Sit Together

older handsBecause we have busy schedules, we rarely see each other. This boy child who has become a man in such a short time — my only living child, my Caleb.

Yet each time we are together, the emotional umbilical cord feels as strong as if it had never experienced a physical separation.

We sit in the living room, watch the news or a rerun of Pit Bulls and Parolees. We switch to ESPN and cheer for our teams. One day, the Chiefs. Another day, the Jayhawks. During the summer season, the Royals.

Across those few feet in my living room, the cord stretches. We are content to merely sit and be.

A certain joy exists when the child becomes an adult, and the two of us share the same space without hormonal teenage conflict versus menopausal Mama.

This peace is indeed a blessing. The sitting merges into a sharing of hearts, even without the pleasure of words. We respect each other’s space and accept our obvious differences. Although only two of us, we connect as family.

A mirror image happens back in my home town. When I visit my mother in Memory Care, we share the same bond. Though the roles are reversed and I am the child — we find a peaceful co-existence in the moment.

We watch television or not. We read or not. We sit silently without conflict, knowing that being together is precious.

Until I sat with my adult child, I did not realize the pure value of sitting with a loved one. No need for conversation. No stress to finish a chore. No desire to fix a meal or hurry anywhere. Just the quiet assurance that we are together.

The ministry of presence.

Each of us is aware a time will come when we cannot share such a physical space. A sacred communion. An extraordinary gift.

On either side of this juncture, I cherish the bond. Knowing my Caleb will one day leave, certain my mother will one day graduate to heaven.

And I will be left, to savor this fragile breath we have shared and find hope that in the future — we will again sit together.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about Hope, check out Hope Shines.