Hope Ages

In a few weeks, the calendar will flip over and I will celebrate another birthday. How quickly those calendar pages become obsolete.birthday-cake

In the proverbial quote, if I had known I would reach this age, I would have taken better care of myself. But then – maybe I wouldn’t.

We make choices day by day without thinking of the long-term consequences. We grow busy with life, do the best we can with the passing of time and hope everything will work out.

Occasionally we get lucky. Our arteries don’t grow plaque. Our blood runs clear. Our brains continue to remember.

Or not.

Even with the most preventive measures and the best intentions, life sometimes knocks us down. Alzheimer’s, cancer, the tragedies we never expected.

How do we stay in hope even while our bodies unravel? How can we stay focused on today when each twenty-four hour period passes so quickly?

For Christians, our focus is on living with joy and following the example of Jesus.

But Jesus did not age. We do not have a role model for the Medicare years.

We are left to figure out how much gray we will allow to color our roots. We play the game of connect the dots with the brown spots on our arms. We wonder how to remain in joy when joints ache and we can no longer run the bases like our younger selves.

We have to plan for days of fun, because they don’t spontaneously happen anymore. This is why we stare at little children and listen to them giggle. We’re trying to figure out how we once did that and why it disappeared.

Too much analysis leaves us cynical and afraid.

My bucket list is longer now than it was in my twenties, because the time clock is ticking. I want to do more of the things on my list – immediately – or sooner.

So I have decided to stick with the principles that have governed my life thus far:

  • Love others as much as possible
  • Practice the presence of God and breathe in his vitality
  • Love myself as well
  • Do at least one productive thing every day
  • Stay away from negative people
  • Don’t worry about the next twenty-four hours
  • Look forward to eternity

And I plead with the Psalmist, “Oh, God, now that I am old and gray, don’t forsake me. Give me time to tell this new generation and their children about all your mighty miracles” (Psalm 71:18 TLB).

Ultimately, even as age chases me, I know the end of each day brings me closer to the beginning of my eternity.

So I live with the lyrics of Les Miserables, one more day, one day more – one birthday passing and another on the way. One more opportunity to love and live well.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy

New Mexico Calls with Hope

What is it about New Mexico that calls to me?  flag-of-new-mexico-l

Surely it is more than the memories of 22 family vacations in the historic mining town of Red River.

Could it be the combination of sights and sounds that provide a sensory experience each day?

  • The pine scent of tall trees, dressed in breath-taking greens
  • A chipmunk daring me to hold out another handful of peanuts so he can stuff his cheeks
  • Hummingbirds dive bombing for a bit of sweet nectar
  • Aspens clapping their leaves in fluttering applause
  • The babbling river that cleanses both the stream and the sediment of my soul

Although my family vacations in Red River, Santa Fe and Taos are my favorite Southwest cities with their terracotta textures, the diversity of their people and the history of fine art.

It is no wonder Georgia O’Keefe chose this land to live in, to find solace in painting its various colors and tones.

Yet this year, I needed the mountains in a new way. Before we climbed into the van for the eight-hour trip, God instructed me that the object of my vacation was to follow the words of Psalm 46:10.

“Be still. Rest quietly. Wait patiently for God.” 

As we drove over the last summit and looked below at the town’s quiet repose, I knew it would be a special vacation – a gifting of rest.

Although seven of our family members bunked together in a condo, I purposely made time for solitude. Every morning, I carried my mug of hot tea and feasted for precious minutes with the divine One.

In the wonder of worship, I sat beside the river and entreated God to replace the murkiness of my soul with clarity and fresh intimacy with him. red-river-stream

I looked upward at the mountain crest – my mountain – at the crevasse carved there, as if God had dipped his hand in it during the second day of creation.

His signature of intense power. A reminder for generations of pilgrims that only God could create such grandeur yet dare to be personally involved in our lives.

God rarely spoke during these morning vistas as we quietly sat together and enjoyed the cool air. As we communed in silence, I embraced the beauty of solitude and the intimacy of being in his presence without speech.

Once again, I breathed deeply of the spiritual fervor of New Mexico, forgot the trials and burdens I left behind and gratefully received the solace God offered.

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment, but for me – it is the healing irony of mountains and desert, Native Americans and Hispanics, turquoise and coral – somehow blended into a symphony of texture and diversity that rises in a spiritual explosion of praise.

How sweet to experience how it also became a quiet haven for individual retreat where I once again learned to be still and acknowledged that He is God.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G trilogy 

This post first appeared on “Travel Light,” by SuZan Klaasen.

Hope Mourns the Sparrow

One of the joys of my life arrives every morning when I feed the birds.

I am praying my new place will include a small back yard where I can pour out the seed, call to the birds and watch these amazing creatures float toward me.Jesus Calling - Sept 1

But last week, we had a surprise visitor. A huge hawk swooped down, rapidly chose his prey and killed one of my sparrows. With sharp talons, he easily lifted his breakfast from my deck, then disappeared in the early morning fog.

Most of the time, we don’t pay attention to sparrows. We are attracted to the flashy cardinals, the sweet chickadees and even the raucous blue jays with their blue and silver details.

Sparrows are just the extra birds that fly near us, their plain brown feathers almost an invisible blend on weathered decks. Perhaps an afterthought in the creator’s mind, the bird with which to compare all the others.

Sparrows don’t seem to matter much. Unless you’re one of them.

During this transition time, I empathize with the sparrow. I feel as if the flashy authors of the world have passed me by, and I am trying to catch up.

Other ministers and writers have spent years honing their careers while I stayed in the background, worked in administrative roles, quietly pointed the mouse and clicked on Excel charts.

Others developed speaking ministries, world-wide podcasts and reams of manuscripts while I worked three jobs to raise my son and try to survive.

“Bless me, too, my Father,” is often the cry of my heart.

Now…during this time of the unknowns, I feel even more sparrow-ish than before. My own drab browning pales in comparison with those who seem to have it so easy.

Yes, I know this sounds like whining. But I struggle between authenticity, the brutal honesty of the heart and a complaining spirit. I wish I knew the difference.

I want to see my own dreams come to pass even as I know the desires of my heart may not necessarily sync with the whispers of the divine.

Predators of discouragement and fear stalk me. So quickly, they sharpen their talons and wait for my most vulnerable moments to swoop in and destroy hope.

Yet some days – praise God – more days than not – I remember how God cares for even the sparrow.

Not one of us falls without his knowledge and empathic tears. Each of us, though feeling drab, are still painted with his art – each feather delicate in his design.

I replay a favorite hymn, grateful for the internet and the YouTube software that makes it easily accessible.

His eye indeed on this sparrow. My heart secure in the knowing that he cares for me.

Sparrows of the past are still mourned. Each one a creation missed, a relationship betrayed, an opportunity denied.

Yet the One who created them in the first place still exists and promises an even better life to come.

Here’s to all of us sparrows in the world. We occupy important spaces in the universe, each of us here for a purpose – for a time.

May we embrace our lives for what they represent, a glorious praise for the presence of each day and a supreme hope for a better tomorrow.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Dodges a Bullet

We know life can be fragile, but most of us just continue living through one day after the other. We believe we have plenty of time left … until something happens to change our perspective.target - bullet

A few weeks ago, as I was getting ready to hop into bed – I heard a gunshot. The cat jumped straight up, turned horizontal in midair and ran into the next room.

I stood there a moment, thinking … no glass shattered so nothing came through the window. Was it a drive-by shooting? What should I do?

Then the doorbell rang. I hurried downstairs and peeked outside before I opened the door to my neighbors – the folks who live on the other side of my duplex wall.

He was standing on my steps with a towel wrapped around his bleeding hand. She seemed worried as she asked over and over, “Are you all right? Are you all right?”

“Yes. What happened?”

“He was reaching into his strong box to check his weapon and it went off. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “but you have young children. Are they okay? And what about your hand?”

“The bullet went through my hand,” he said. “We’re on our way to the ER, but then we saw the bullet went through our adjoining wall. That’s why we wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Well,” I said, “my son and I just prayed for protection tonight. I guess God was with us.”

They drove to the hospital while I waited for the police. I knew whenever a weapon is discharged, officers will come to check it out. Within the hour, the doorbell rang again and this time, as I peeked through the window, I saw the shiny badge.

Throughout our investigation that night, the officer and I figured out what had happened.

The bullet came through the wall at an angle, then through my headboard, grazing my pillows. It continued through the opposite wall and outside the house. So I had two bullet holes in my interior walls, one in the outside of the house, one through my headboard, two adjacent holes through my pillow cases and none through me.

However, if I had been in the bed or even bending over to fluff my pillows, the bullet would have struck me.

The officer shook his head and said, “Ma’am, the good Lord was with you tonight.”

“Yes, as he is always. I guess it wasn’t my time.”

Throughout the next days, my neighbors apologized frequently. They fixed all the damage and even brought me some beautiful flowers.

The experience gave me the opportunity to speak of my faith to my neighbors and to remind my son once again that I love him.

Because life is short. Because none of us knows how much time we have. Because we live in a scary world.

The experience also reminded me to make every day count, to love and laugh and live abundantly.

Then to hang on to the hope that assures me … someday the end will come and I will graduate to heaven.

Hope hangs on to the smallest threads of life and still believes every day has a purpose. Even if we can’t find our purpose through a particular season of life, God knows how everything fits together.

He knows how to make even a stray bullet count for something good.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

Hope Falters

She was a lovely woman and an expert in her field – the stager sent by the realtor to prepare my house for sale. At the outset, she warned me, “I’m not here to offend anyone. I just want you to get the most money for your house.”

I was prepared for her to move things around and give me some decorating ideas, but I was emotionally blindsided by the number of my treasures she declared, “This has to go.” Basically, she dismantled my house and my personal stuff.Debris of move

She left piles of things in every room to get rid of in order to most effectively sell the house. She was very good at her job, and I learned so many things about spacing, color, lighting, even the size of pictures as they become a statement beside a bed or on a wall.

Buyers will be looking for the feeling of space and for a neutral territory where they can set up their home. Anything personal of mine will interrupt that neutral feeling, so it cannot be in sight.

The stager showed me how to hide certain things, such as the litter box, so buyers are unaware the house once was ruled by a cat. Betsey, aka Gabriel, would disagree, but she will find her box and discreetly do her business – a bit perturbed that her abode has been disturbed.

I learned how important my stuff is to me. Most of my things are the early attic variety, garage sale finds or something I have restored that another person threw away. Nothing has great intrinsic value – except in my soul.

While I know we are not defined by our stuff, in a way – yes, we are.

Quilts, a cradle, an antique telephone – all carry sentimental value for me. The quilt my grandmother and her sisters made for my wedding – a creamy yellow, with butterflies made from the scraps of their lives, babies’ bonnets, a favorite shirt.

The cradle, fashioned by my dad, held my newborn son as we rocked him to sleep that first Christmas. The fire blazed and kept my baby warm. Dad woke up every thirty minutes to check on the heat emanating off the logs. A sweet memory, a grief rekindled.

The old telephone my parents pieced together by visiting scores of flea markets and antique shops, then proudly gave to me one Christmas – long before Alzheimers invaded our lives and stole that precious memory.

Yet none of these treasures made the cut. “Get rid of them or find a place to store them – out of the way,” the stager instructed.

How can I shove my lifetime out of the way?

As she finished her work, the stager and I learned a bit more about each other. Both of us write. Both of us have journeyed through divorce and experienced pre-judgement by the established church. Both of us love cats.

When she left, we hugged and I was glad for a new friend, for her many suggestions which I know on some level are right and will help me sell the house.

But somehow, I also felt violated and discouraged, certain my life was going to change, wondering how I could decide what to let go.

The piles of my life’s debris reminded me how mortal we are and how fleeting is life – a mere breath – a candle that should be given away to bring another person joy, a sofa table so out of date no one would want it even if it was free.

My son was shocked and upset by the suggestions made for how we needed to purge more and more and more. As we talked through our emotions, he finally said, “Change is hard for me, Mom. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s bad.” 

A wise young man. I admire his honesty.

Although the purging pains my soul, my journal entries speak the truth. This duplex has never been home for me; it was only a place to settle while I worked in this town.

Now that all my pictures have been stripped off the walls, my mantel decoration has been condemned and the detritus of my life lies in piles on the floor – it feels even less like the place where I can freely write, create stories and be my authentic self.

So my son and I are trusting God to provide something wonderful for us again, just as he has done through every step of the post-divorce journey. If we have to stay in this duplex, then we’ll be grateful for a roof over our heads. And it will be cleaner, sans the stuff we no longer need.

In “Jesus Calling” Sarah Young writes, “Anticipate coming face-to-face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle…When you see armies of problems marching toward you, cry out to God! Allow him to fight for you. Watch him working on your behalf.”

So that’s where I am this day – purging, mourning the loss of stuff, and waiting for next steps – clinging to God and trying to find hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Nudges Forward

When we wait on God for answers, it sometimes feels as if he is testing our patience. How long will she wait until she breaks – until she steps out and tries to make something happen on her own?Southwest Puzzle

Throughout my life, I have learned the hard way to wait on God. When I step forward too soon and try to force something to happen – it ends either in tragedy, lost revenue or additional stress.

Then later, I am filled with regret and play the “I should have” game.

So during this limbo period, I have tried to wait patiently and seek God’s direction every step of the way. When I feel anxious, I deal with it by posting on my blog.

You’ve probably noticed.

After approximately two years of limbo land where I sensed major changes on the horizon, I have learned more about patience – about waiting on God – about living in joy even during the uncertainty.

My journals are full of the lessons God has taught me, and this blog has been populated with posts I shared with you.

Beginning to Move Forward

Within the last two weeks, God has nudged me forward. He is asking me to make some major decisions and to step out in faith, then watch him fill in the gaps.

Simultaneously, I finished my Southwest puzzle, framed it and hung it on the wall. It has been a reminder that something in the eternal puzzle is completed and now comes the next step.

When faced with major decisions, I often ask five questions:

  • What do I sense God is telling me about this decision?
  • What does scripture remind me or instruct me about this decision?
  • What do other godly people say and how do they advise me?
  • What do the circumstances tell me?
  • Do I have peace?

When the majority of these questions point in the same direction, then I know I am probably on the right track. I say “probably” because life is still an adventure and we can be deceived or influenced by our own desires rather than by eternal destinies.

But lately, I feel more at peace – knowing God is on my side, He has a good plan for me and ultimately whatever happens – he will bring it about for good.

Embracing the Promise

On a quiet Friday morning as warm August rain pittered down, I rejoiced that God once again watered my gardens. Then he called me to spend some intimate time with him. He had something important to share with me.

Throughout the next moments, he reminded me of several promises:

  • He will guide me and lead me in the best possible direction (Isaiah 49:10)
  • He will enlarge the place and the way I minister while strengthening me for the journey (Isaiah 54:2)
  • He has anointed and qualified me for this work (Isaiah 61:1)
  • He will plant me where I need to be (Isaiah 61:3)
  • He knows the acceptable and opportune time (Psalm 69:13)

Then he capped it off when an incredible promise, “Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your rightness, your justice and your right relationship with God shall go before you conducting you to peace and prosperity and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 Amplified).


I sat on my bed, journal and Bible spread open before me, and wept at the beauty of this promise. God will heal and restore my weary soul. He will provide power for whatever new life I am walking into, but I won’t travel the journey alone. He will go before me and behind me. The result will be peace as he takes care of me.


So the first step of my obedience with him is that I am listing my duplex. I believe God wants me to sell it and get out of debt. Then he will show me where to go. I also believe he has indicated in which area I need to look for a rental house. He will provide that place for me.

God has always kept a roof over my head. He has provided beautiful and safe places for my son and me, homes where we could rest from work and just be ourselves.

God will not fail us now.

Are there still some unknowns? Of course. The faith journey always occurs in steps – never in one giant leap.

But for now, the puzzle is finished and hanging on the wall. God, too, has completed this section of puzzle pieces for me. Where he places me and what my role will be is his design. He will tell me what each step entails.Southwest Puzzle

I’m excited to be nudging forward.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Reveals Timing

Since God is timeless, it is always a sweet surprise when I discover him working – right on time.

A year ago, I bought a lovely journal to add to my stash. Never enough journals for a writer, you know

This particular journal caught my eye because the cover was a quiet country scene with wildflowers and the verse from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In one version, the imperative is to “Cease striving.” Still another version underscores the words, “Let be and be still.”

But my favorite is the Amplified version of a parallel verse in Psalm 37:7, “Be still and quietly rest in the Lord, wait for him and patiently lean yourself upon him.

Just before my vacation in the mountains of New Mexico, God pointed me toward this verse. So I started meditating on its meaning.

Be still.

As I sat beside the clear mountain stream and listened to its melodious splashing over smooth rocks, I practiced being still.Red River stream

I allowed the sounds and textures of New Mexico to speak to me and bring solace to my over-stressed soul. I didn’t even pray. I just sat there and enjoyed God’s presence highlighted by his creation.

Rest quietly.

We have lost the ability to rest quietly in our electronically-designed world. During my time in the mountains, I forced myself to rest quietly. This year, I did not take my tablet and since my phone does not carry a data roaming plan – no Facebook posts, tweets or emails reached me.

Not only did I survive, but I also thrived within the solitude and absence of our usual bustling world.

The monastics called it “The Grand Silence.” Every evening they disciplined themselves to cease speaking and curtail activity so they might clearly discern the Divine Whisper.

Saint Benedict, the father of the monastic way wrote, “Therefore, because of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be seldom given to perfect disciples even for good and holy and edifying discourse.”

Wait for him.

As I rested quietly and waited for God to share whatever secrets he wanted, the discipline of patience asserted itself.

God’s timing is, of course, perfect and when we step out of his boundaries – we often find ourselves stressed, burdened and puzzled as our peace is disturbed.

But as we wait, our souls anticipate the time when God WILL speak, WILL instruct us and WILL show us the way that is best for us.

As the Alpha and the Omega, he determines the end from the beginning, then fills in everything in between.

After a week of being still, resting quietly and waiting patiently, God DID show up.

On the last evening of my vacation, I walked past the river and around the man-made lake where other vacationers fished and fed the ducks.

In the movement of walking, I thanked God for the week of quiet time and opened my soul’s heart to hear his response.

The result was several paragraphs of his instructions for me, things I needed to plan for when I returned to civilization, the job and the bills.

I received his words, then hurried back to the cabin to record them. I knew I would need to obey the final phrase of Psalm 37:37 – to patiently lean on God for future plans and next steps.

As I pulled out my journal to write and process God’s promises to me, I glanced once again at the cover.

The country scene with wildflowers in the foreground. A quiet setting, serenely focused on the surrounding land, far from the noise of the city and its fast-paced intensity.

And the verse, engraved boldly on a grey background, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Yes indeed – God showed up – right on time.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh