Hope Lives

woman worshipThe pastor pounded his opinion into our souls. “Death for the believer is a beautiful thing.”

He was wrong. Sure — the aftermath of death — that entrance into heaven is a beautiful result of the life of faith. We can only imagine how it will feel to be free of pain and stress.

But the process of death is not beautiful, not even remotely lovely.

Growing up on a farm, my siblings and I often saw the effects of death. Whether it was a beloved pet smashed under the wheels of a speedy vehicle or a steer slaughtered for the meat, death was shocking and ugly.

And death for humans was no less horrid. Even while performing CPR on my precious grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to bring her back to us — I noted the smells and sights of death. Not a pleasant experience.

Throughout my years in ministry, sitting with families in the ICU, hearing the beeping of machines, smelling the sterile rooms — the approach of death changed the human body until it was almost unrecognizable. Even today when I visit hospitals, I go home and shower off the smell of death.

No wonder mortuaries employ the services of makeup and hair stylists so that our last view of loved ones is more pleasing.

During this holy week, we focus on the crucifixion. But we don’t always realistically picture how awful the death of Jesus was. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson presented a more realistic view of the broken body, the torture, the results of sepsis and blood poisoning.

So I wonder what actually happened when Jesus came back to life? We know his scars were not miraculously healed. He later showed his wounds to Thomas and the other disciples.

Did he wake up with unshed tears crusted on his eyelids? Did it take him a while to stretch out his arms and legs, to work out the stiffness from lying on a rocky sepulcher? Were his shoulders sore from being stretched on that cross, the results of dislocation and trying to hold up his body for six hours?

Or did God rejuvenate every cell so that Jesus instantly felt more alive than ever before?

What follows then is speculation on our loved ones and their metamorphosis from the ugliness of death to the power of new life. We know the physical becomes spirit. Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, to walk through walls. We know the curtain between the physical and the spiritual is thin, like a lacey veil.

How amazing it must be to pass through the portal of death and experience forever life!

Someone once wrote the following truth: “Since our loved ones are with God and God is with us, then they can’t be very far away.”

I find hope in thinking of the nearness of Deb, of Betsy, of my grandmother and of Jesus. While death in all its ugliness is inevitable, eternal life is also a certainty. And that will be a good thing.

The trick is to put aside the horror and focus on what will someday be truly beautiful.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of my precious friend, Deb Mosher, who passed from death to life. She lived with shining hope.

Hope and the Triage Moment

triageMany of us learned the meaning of the word “triage” because we watched M*A*S*H. Every week, the doctors and nurses on our favorite TV show worked through the triage episode. Some patients could wait a while. Others were taken immediately to surgery while several unfortunates received last rites from Father Mulcahy.

The working definition of “triage” means “to assign the degree of urgency to a wounded or ill patient.” Even in today’s healthcare environment, triage nurses and doctors determine the priority of working with a patient, especially during crises.

Recently, I heard a phrase which caused me to stop and ponder its impact: Triage your worry bucket.

Most of us deal with one situation or another. Many of my friends are caring for an elderly parent or two while supporting a kid or two in college. Scores of people I know struggle with medical issues while others are trying to pay off debt and/or college loans.

All it takes is five minutes watching the news on any channel to know we are in serious trouble.

But what can we do about it? Triage the worry bucket.

Decide which issue is most urgent and deal with it first. Put everything else in the waiting room until you’re ready to bring it front and center. By that time, those secondary issues may have dissipated or won’t seem that important.

Most of the national and international issues are out of my control. I cannot do anything about them other than to educate myself so I’ll know how to vote in 2020.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s journey does not warrant any fresh worry. It is what it is. I’ve already worked through most of the grief. Only time will determine how it ends.

My son is an adult, and he makes his own choices. I’ve done my best to raise him, but I cannot control anything he does. So far, he’s being wise. No worries.

Health issues or crisis events can be troubling, depending on what happens. But I cannot worry today about what may or may not become a struggle during the next decade. I’ll triage that worry bucket when the time comes.

So what is on the priority list for my triage bucket? Recently, digestive issues. So I’m working with a doctor, taking my meds and trying to set boundaries around my food choices. Unfortunately, chocolate is NOT on the list.

A possible car purchase is on the horizon. No emergency, thankfully. Just trying to be conscious of the best deal and find something that will last for a while.

The problem escalates when our worry buckets overflow. We cannot make effective decisions when we’re overwhelmed.

But if we purposefully triage the worries and only allow the most urgent struggles to rise to the top, we can deal with whatever life hands us.

I often tell my Coaching clients to take “One microstep at a time.” The same holds true for the crises that pepper our lives.

So triage your worry bucket and live in the hope that one day, all your worries will cease.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A life of faith helps defeat the overwhelming worry bucket. Check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope Empowers

zippered heartOne of the guarantees in life is that people WILL hurt us. Whether it’s a misunderstanding or a response from a toxic personality, someone will ding us.

And – whether we want to admit it or not – we will hurt others.

So what do we do when those fringes of communication break down? How do we move toward reconciliation and repair?

Make a Healthy Choice. We can become bitter about the situation or better. Bitterness does nothing to remedy relationships but makes our souls hard, unable to truly love others. The only way to avoid bitterness and become a better person is to walk through . . . .

Forgiveness. The process of forgiveness is not easy and rarely happens immediately. It may sometimes require years of determination and hours of therapy. Forgiveness involves replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations, a concentrated effort to do the hard work.

I will admit that I’m still working through the forgiveness process in some situations from my past. But I have learned to even forgive myself for the time it takes me to slough off the pain and move forward.

Set Healthy Boundaries. Even after we work through forgiveness and choose to become better, we may have to set boundaries. Toxic people exist and may continue to abuse or emotionally sear us. Nobody should live with the fear of emotional, verbal or mental assault. For a great resource, check out Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.

Meet with a Third Party. A therapist or a trusted pastor can help you and the other party negotiate toward a more objective view. But to get to this step, both parties must admit to the need for outside help. If the other person refuses to move toward reconciliation, that tells you it is time to . . . .

Let It Go. Again, a somewhat trite phrase but an important step in the healing process. Bitterness often manifests as a lifelong grudge which harms the person carrying the burden more than the one who chooses to move on.

Years ago, I knew of a family — a group of sisters who carried a grudge against their brother. They could not resolve the issue until they stared at him in his coffin. What a waste of time and energy when they could have enjoyed a sibling relationship. But in spite of his attempts toward healing, they simply could not let it go.

Obviously, we will continue to encounter people who will hurt us. And we may struggle not to hurt others. We are all flawed humans.

But we can work to restore healthy relationships and discover how hope is empowered by reconciliation. Then all of us benefit from the ripple effects of emotional healing.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Find more essays about hope in my book Hope Shines, also available in large print.

Hope Searches for Rest

Several people in my world have recently mentioned their need for rest. They admit they are trying to find an oxymoronic balance – to intentionally work at resting.tea -book-rose

My usual response is to seek the true meaning of a word, to discover the hidden secret and find motivation. And to be honest, I admit to my own search for rest:

  • When I cannot cease running from the grief that seems constantly present
  • When the change of identity summons personal soul fatigue
  • When a break in the routine feels like a betrayal of goals
  • When the carefully monitored diet results in its own health issues
  • When I watch a news cycle and wonder how we can ever return to kindness

Anxiety overshadows rest and keeps us from inner calm.

While it may provide relief to leave the daily routines and take a break on a beach, without true inner rest – the stress of life’s anxieties meekly follow.

So how do we determine what is genuine rest? Perhaps each of us must find our own definition, then rearrange life to discover its benefits.

For me, rest is more than a nap, more encompassing than a vacation or a spring break. For my soul to experience true rest, I must learn contentment:

  • No comparing myself to others who count several best-sellers in their resumes
  • No wishful thinking about an easier way to shelter, a smaller place to clean, a discount from the barrage of bills and the huge yard
  • No dwelling in the griefs of what is lost but embracing more thank-yous of what once was
  • No focus on the past or longing for the future but more of a carpe diem to seize each day

And when I fail and the gloomies threaten, to begin again, take a deep breath and believe rest can be achieved.

Hope beckons to weary souls, to those who have cried out for years in repetitive unanswered prayers. But as we accept what we have been given and learn contentment, the deeper searching responds.

Then that elusive place of rest becomes a haven of peace where hope and joy entwine.

As the Serenity Prayer reminds us: “God, grant me serenity (rest) to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Much of my rest happens within the pages of books. Check out my Author Page for some choices.

Hope Seeks Wonder

dandelions - womanIn her best-selling book, Moving On, Sarah Ban Breathnach lists the seven senses. The usual five we know: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. But then she adds knowledge and wonder.

A working definition of “wonder” is “Surprise mingled with admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected or inexplicable.”

As we age, I think we can lose our sense of wonder. Children can spend hours just looking at a dandelion, caught in the wonder of such a cheery yellow flower.

Many of us cherish the memory of a little boy’s grubby hands, bringing his mommy a stone he dug from the riverbank, a bunch of early spring flowers or a wriggling worm – his wonder of something surprising shared with his precious mom.

In the hubbub of life, we can lose that admiration for the things we cannot explain. Instead, we tend to just move on – to stay busy and do our thing, oblivious of life’s pulsing around us. Avoiding the presence of God in the ordinary.

To restore some hope, I’ve decided to list some of the things that feed my sense of wonder. To force myself to stop and listen, to revel in the world around me and rediscover my intuitive soul.

In my gratitude journal, I’ll include these items that fill me with a surprising beauty, a restored wonder:

  • The sudden silence of my universe as a midnight snow begins to blanket the ground
  • The tiny fingernails of newborns, a reminder of how fragile is the miracle of life
  • The detailed featherings of blue jays – gray, white, black and royal blue – no two the same
  • The consistent hammering of the red-headed woodpecker in my elm tree. How does he not have a migraine after all that pounding on the bark?
  • The way memory blips make life disappear or bring to mind a special moment from decades ago
  • The careful pulsing of my heart, steady and regular – a miracle in itself
  • The moment a soul steps out of its earthly body and transfers to eternity
  • A crackling fire that exudes warmth, aesthetic pleasure and security all at the same time
  • When the souls of two people connect and blossom into love
  • The way God whispers answers to prayer before we utter the request
  • How pets know the exact time we are coming home and run to the door before we turn into the drive
  • The vastness of space and the amazing synchronicity of God’s creation
  • How Patrick Mahomes can turn his body northeast and throw southwest
  • How ideas spark from deep creativity and give writers a place to begin
  • How children give love so easily, not yet marred by the ugliness of self-sufficiency

I need to spend more time experiencing wonder – to nurture this sense and appreciate all the things in my world that are admirable and beautiful.

A focus on wonder helps reboot the hope muscle and reminds me that life is better than it sometimes appears.

As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a book that expresses the wonder of hope, check out Hope Shines.

Hope Comes Full Circle

My mother taught me to love reading. After the farm chores were completed, the supper dishes washed and the homework finished — everyone in our family sat down to read. This discipline meant we drove to the library every week and checked out stacks of books.

Then an important milestone changed my reading habits.library

When I was twelve, Mom gathered my siblings and I for our weekly library run. I searched through each of the young adult books, but couldn’t find one I hadn’t already read or one that truly interested me. And I was NOT going to check out the children’s section. That was for little kids like my brother and sister.

So I wandered into the adult section and found a couple of books I wanted to read. But when I took them to the librarian for her dated stamp, she peered at me over her glasses and said, “These are adult books, young lady.”

“I know, ma’am. But I’ve read all the young adult books. I want to read these.”

“You are not allowed to read any of the books in the adult section. Take them back.”

Five minutes later, Mom found me in the adult section, cradling the books I could not read and crying over my bad luck. I wasn’t old enough yet.

“What’s the matter with you?” Mom demanded. She never wasted time with emotions. Not a nurturer, but a great defender.

When I told her what had happened, she grabbed my hand and those two books. Together, we marched toward the librarian’s towering desk.

Mom’s voice was harsh. “I understand you won’t let my daughter check out these books.”

“That’s right, ma’am. These books are from the adult section and….”

“I know where they’re from. May I remind you this library exists because taxpayers like me pay for it?”

“But ma’am…sh-h-h…we have a policy….”

The volume of Mom’s voice rose. “And may I also remind you that I pay your salary and the electric bill for this place.”

“But ma’am, an adolescent such as your daughter can’t possibly understand these books.”

“My daughter — in fact, all my children read well above their grade levels. If she has any questions about the words, she can ask me. Now…we ARE checking out these books for my daughter. Today.”

During the stare-down of these two powerful women, I felt the electricity of the emotional standoff. But I knew who would win.

Nobody ever beat down my mother, especially when it came to defending her children.

That day, I walked out of the library with The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and The Grapes of Wrath. I read both books and never had to ask Mom for help with the words.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in that same library’s Author Fest. It was a coming full circle from the adolescent to the adult author.

Unfortunately, the weather from this winter-that-won’t-quit stopped me from attending. I simply could not travel through six inches of snow to that cherished Oklahoma library.

But they promised to keep me on the list for next year. And one of my books is now shelved in the library that wouldn’t allow a young girl to read an adult book.

Life comes full circle and hope travels with it. What we learn as children overshadows how we act as adults. That’s why childhood is so important.

And that’s why words give me hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book now shelved in that library is titled Hope Shines. Check it out.

When Hope Disappoints

social media wordsSuch a disappointment! As I scrolled through my Facebook posts, I saw the vitriol. Several people I respect had posted ugly words against the congresswomen dressed in white for the State of the Union address. Giant black X’s on their faces.

Those women were dressed in white to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. It was an important anniversary and a simple way to honor that vital addition to our constitution.

I am SO grateful for the years of protests, the marches and the hard work of these women. I honor Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and the scores of volunteers who were persecuted, harassed and even killed so that I can vote.

Yet because the majority of those women seated in the chamber were from a certain political party, these Facebook posters decided to attack them. No consideration for what they represented with their white outfits. Only personal assault.

Words have the power to bind up — but also to tear down.

Perhaps these people have forgotten that we will all give an account to God for every word spoken, including the words shared through cyberspace (Matthew 12:36).

Most of these Facebook “friends” fight for pro-life policies. And let me clarify before I receive any more hate mail — I, too, am pro-life. But I believe life includes the point of conception and expands until the moment of death.

People outside the womb are as important as babies inside. No one deserves to be X’d out.

How can someone claim to be pro-life yet try to destroy the living of someone else? Isn’t that the epitome of hypocrisy?

This is one reason why millennials are scared away from Christianity. They read the ugliness, the constant name-calling and cannot reconcile negative actions with positive beliefs.

Should we fight for our beliefs? Absolutely! But standing up for our values should not counteract how we speak. Voting for the policies we value does not have to include lambasting those who choose a different belief system. If we slander others, Romans 1:30 calls us to judgment.

I am already dreading the 2020 campaign season with its forecasted ugliness.

Because I am a published author, I need to be active on social media sites. The various places such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog are where I connect with my readers and introduce my new books. I cannot just delete everything and leave.

But I am increasingly disgusted by what I read, posted by normally good people. Maybe it’s because cyberspace makes us feel invisible. We think we are somehow anonymous.

Venom always has a poisonous source. Verbal ugliness stems from prideful anger enveloped in a selfish heart.

I hope these people who have “liked” me will reconsider future posts — ask themselves if their words honor their Savior before they click “Share.”

So far, I see no change. And that causes hope to fade.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe.