Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

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

 

 

 

 

Hope Repurposes a Life

I love to find something that has been discarded and repurpose it. Sometimes it’s a piece of furniture from a dumpster find, a pot made from an old bowl or a scarf that becomes a wall hanging.vintage door

My repurposing gift probably stems 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. Create a toy out of a piece of cardboard and/or leftover wood from another project.

The farm rules stated, “If you don’t have it, make it with whatever you already have.”

Creativity thrived but we didn’t think of our projects as displayed creativity. More like survival. Repurposing became our way of life.

The process of repurposing has now expanded beyond furniture, wall hangings or garden projects.

I find myself taking the pieces of a former life and remaking them into something new.

After a lifetime of ministry with people, I am now focused on the ministry of words – a solitude of sentences and intentional rest.

Still in transition, I wonder how to stop being who I was? How can I best become the “me” for this season of life?

Henri Nouwen writes, “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 of me that has always existed.

It is just different, a new normal and I have to discover the best way to function within my changing role.

When I repurpose an object, I sit awhile and look at it from all angles. How shall I paint it or redesign it? How can it be used most effectively?

Think Tom Hanks in “Castaway as he sat on the beach staring at a piece of metal until he imagined it as a sail.

To repurpose a life requires even more thinking. How can I use my gifts to bless others when my audience lives in cyberspace? Is this moment best used writing a blog post, editing a book, taking a creative walk or reading a novel?

Which choice will strengthen me in this new role and allow me to end the day with a sense of productivity?

Can I be content to just “be?”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “We need to take time away from busy-ness, time to be. Taking ‘being’ time is something we all need for our spiritual health.”

To repurpose my life, I often just sit and “be.” This is hard for me – the natural “doer,” the “planner,” the “initiator.”

But as I am learning the principle of quiet reflection, I find a stronger creativity emerges when I return to the words.

Projects are completed. New ideas nurtured.

The beauty of this personal repurposing project is the assurance that God loves me no matter what I do. He saved me to “be.”

Perhaps this transition will change me into a different person. That’s okay, too.

Because hope thrives when we can be ourselves, embrace life and move forward with joy.

Who knows? I may find a new purpose for myself and be more authentic than ever before.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Misses Mom

This is the first year I will not call her on Mother’s Day.Mom

What’s the use?

She cannot hear what I say. She will not remember it is Mother’s Day. She does not care about the passage of time.

Each day is the same as the day before. She waits in the world of Alzheimer’s where time moves backward. Clarity only occurs in the distant past.

She will remember me as a child, finishing my chores, then perched in my tree with another library book or my five-year diary.

But thankfully – although we are hundreds of miles apart, I still remember her. I have already sent the frilly card. On Sunday, I will also send my thoughts and prayers through the universe.

God, oh God, you will whisper “I love you” to her – won’t you?

This Alzheimer’s journey is such an ironic place of memory versus reality.

I could use this space to laud her for years of mothering, for practical lessons taught and for the courage she always displayed.

Appropriate adjectives for her life would include: strong, resolute, determined.

These traits still show up when she occasionally complains that someone has stolen her teeth or broken into her home.

More of the hysteria of dementia.

Since the present is so unpleasant, we have only past memories to connect us.

My sister will read my card to her. Mom may wonder at my signature. She will not fathom that who I miss is not the present mother but the one who became confidante, friend and encourager.

I am grateful her brave heart still beats. The connection still exists.

To lose a mother is to cease hearing the heartbeat that nurtured us in the womb.

To lose the one person who is eternal cheerleader, even when we both age beyond the boundaries that held us close.

So I will pray for her on Mother’s Day, knowing the eternal Abba will hold each of us close.

And I will look at her picture, miss the woman she was, even as I hope for Alzheimer’s end.

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

 

 

Silent Saturdays Disrupt Hope

We have recently celebrated Holy Week with its tragic Friday event and the victorious Resurrection Sunday.

saturdayBut the day in the middle – the silent Saturday – lives on in many of our lives.

It must have been the darkest day for those early believers. Their Savior was dead and the resurrection was only a prophecy they weren’t sure would become reality.

Discouragement. Frustration. Doubt.

In hindsight, we know the end of the story. But silent Saturdays continue to haunt many present day believers.

We have come to faith, considered the meaning behind the crucifixion and based our lives on its Gospel message. We know Christ lives and will return again. The Holy Spirit gifts us and guides us. All that is good.

Yet many of us still dwell within our personal silences:

  • The woman who has prayed for her abusive husband, now going on 28 years. She believes yet the answer waits behind the veil of Saturday’s silence. He continues to abuse her. She continues to stay because she believes God has asked her to.
  • The man who needs a job to support his family. He is trained, highly educated with stellar references, yet his silent Saturday continues. His hope dries like brittle resumé
  • The family that has journeyed through cancer with a beloved child. Every remission brings hope. Then another tumor interrupts hope. Their silent Saturdays revolve around chemo, radiation treatments and the fear that constantly threatens.
  • The spouse who sits beside his beloved – a woman who no longer recognizes him. Alzheimer’s has stolen his resurrection joy because her afflicted brain is wrapped in the tentacles of a silent Saturday.
  • The writers who persevere , waiting for that first book contract
  • The hostages who pray for release
  • The marginalized who fight for equality and wonder how many years and how many court dates exist between Friday and Sunday

At some point in life, we all struggle to endure another day – to somehow crawl past our silent Saturdays into victorious Sunday.

But the waiting continues and requires courage to keep breathing, keep struggling, keep hoping.

Answers hide within the loving heart of God as our “Why” questions echo off canyon walls of aloneness.

Yet the only hope we truly have is to repeat the glorious cries of those early believers. “He is not here.” Resurrection dawns.

Someday time will morph into eternity. Silent Saturdays will no longer exist and we will understand why we needed to wait so long.

All we can do now is cling to the hope that Sunday will return. Then we will forever be finished with the silence.

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

 

 

 

Hope Finds 3 Options

Number 3When security officials train employees for active shooter situations, they present three options:

  • Run – get out of the building and run away – fast
  • Hide – blockade the door to your room and hide inside
  • Fight – if you cannot run or hide, be prepared to disarm, injure or kill the shooter

Unfortunately in our scary world, we need to be prepared to use these options.

But we can also exercise these three options when life unravels and we need to find hope. What are some examples from history and also from the present?

Run:

  • When boundaries are not respected and a workplace grows unhealthy, we leave.
  • When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, the only way he could respect his employer and obey God was to run.
  • If a woman is living in a destructive relationship, she calls 9-1-1 and hurries to her safe place.

Sometimes the most courageous choice is to run.

Hide:

  • When Elijah was exhausted and afraid, he hid in a cave. God empathized and sent ravens to feed him.
  • When exhausted ministers need a break, they take Sabbaticals. They hide from the many needs so they can recover and return refreshed.
  • When a young mother is overwhelmed with the diapers and the late night feedings, she calls a friend and takes a break. She hides away for a while.
  • When the 36 hour-day overwhelms a caregiver, he calls a friend to sit with his loved one and hides inside the theatre to watch a movie.

Sometimes the healthiest option is to hide for a while and let healing happen.

Fight:

  • When the enemy of our souls attacks with fear, we fight with the sword of the Spirit. We repeat our trust verses – outloud – because the enemy needs to hear our courage and he is a slow learner.
  • When we are charged unfairly for a medical bill, we call customer service. We don’t stop until our questions are answered and the situation resolved.
  • When we see someone being abused – whether it’s a woman, a person of a different color or a child – we report it to the proper authorities. We speak up against injustice. Think Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Carolyn Custis James.
  • When Jesus experienced injustice, he often took action and fought back. Sometimes he spoke up, “Get behind me, Satan.” Sometimes he pitched tables across the church foyer.

Confrontation feels uncomfortable yet sometimes it is the only way to make our point and speak our truth.

Three options move us toward hope because in each scenario, the situation deserves some type of action. Run, Hide or Fight. Then we wake up the next morning feeling safer and glad we chose wisely.

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

 

 

When Connections Alter Hope

She seems more content now with her life in assisted living, but the contentment itself tears her farther away from family.

Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?

Several weeks ago, I drove 250 miles to be with family – a precious time with siblings, extended family at a reunion and quality time with Mom.

But my plans did not fit in with the plaque-infested changes in her brain. My plans included several hours in her room catching up, a walk around the lake to watch the ducks and geese placidly float, maybe a stroll through the facility – greeting her friends.

Instead, she dismissed me. “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

So instead of parking my car and walking arm in arm into the facility, I watched as she opened the door – all by herself – and walked inside.

A few months ago, she stood at the door and waved goodbye. Not this time. Once inside the comfort of her routine, she marched toward her room.

Away from the door. Away from me.

On one hand, I am grateful she has acclimated to her studio apartment. She feels comfortable with the activities planned for each day and the white-haired friends who sit beside her in the dining room.

These people now represent her world and the building has become her home. I am only an occasional visitor – a person from her past who sits next to her until she grows tired of me. Then the inevitable dismissal, “Thanks for coming. ‘Bye.”

Alzheimer’s Disease not only steals the memories and names of loved one, it also alters familiar patterns. The relationships that once defined our lives become blurred in the needs of the present.

The shopping trips we shared, the laughter around a game of Scrabble, cheering together for our favorite team – all these familiar activities now relegated to a life once lived.

And the people who colored those events are now just human beings who happen to be visiting. The familial connections fade. The absence of recognition will soon follow.

Time with others is precious, especially while we know how to communicate and relate to each other. Once that connection disappears, we have only the memories to treasure.

Enjoy your time with family while everyone still understands what family means.

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

 

 

 

 

Hope Observes

coffee and bagelMost of my reflecting time is spent in the solitude of my home study. But occasionally, I venture into the world of people for a cuppa Joe. I often bring a journal, a book to read, paper and pen to write ideas or work on a blog post – such as this one.

As I reflected in a local Panera, I wished I owned stock in the company. Throughout the years, I have ingested gallons of their teas and lately – experienced the scrumptious delight of their gluten free chocolate cookies. Better than a brownie, I promise!

Whenever I join the human race in a public place, I observe the people. Some of them may become characters in a future novel. Yes – writers do insert real people in their books. Live your life with caution.

An older couple sits quietly at a round table, slowly chewing croissants without talking or even looking at one another. Years of marriage enrich the silence of the moment. What is there to talk about after so many years together? Maybe these fluffy croissants are their one treat for the week or the month – until the next Social Security check revives their bank balance.

A woman after my own heart reads alone, occasionally sipping her coffee. Obviously engrossed in her book, she seems lost in the words. Is she learning something new, researching for a college class or trying to escape some chaos in her present life by entering into the fictional world of the book’s protagonist?

Two women chat near me, slathering butter on their bagels. One talks with a shrill timber. The other is the listener. If I eavesdrop carefully, I learn about the toddler’s attempts at potty training, how the hubby works hard but does not care about the fatigue of this young mommy.

Do they suspect I intrude on their privacy? Do they care? Probably not, as their goal is to share their hearts with each other, to find another soul who empathizes.

Another table filled with businessmen, their Mac books opened to spread sheets and planners – terse statements about sales and marketing.

And the workers who assemble salads, soups and steel cut oats to fulfill requests. Working hard yet often rendered invisible because each customer is captured by his own story with his own reason for spending the morning at Panera.

I am grateful for this place and for the freedom to sit and observe. I am also aware of the God who cares for each person’s story – the Divine One who designed destinies before the foundation of the world and wants desperately for each person in this place to know how much he loves each soul.

Then the writer in me kicks in and I play the What If game:

  • What if the older gentleman is hiding a fortune in stolen coins?
  • What if his wife is really his pastor and has no idea about his hidden sin?
  • What if the pastor is hiding the fortune in stolen coins?

And away I go into the world of creative thought, fashioning a new story for each character I observe.

Don’t you think God the Creator had fun designing our lives before we were born?

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