Hope Exists in Layers

With all the natural disasters, political upheavals and the scourge of COVID, I’m re-thinking the topic of Hope. Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how Hope presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe that Hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The Everyday Expression of Hope

We may glibly use the word “Hope”, even as we bless each other with its presence.

              “Hope you have a good day.”

              “Hope that hamburger is well done.”

              “Hope you enjoy the baseball game.”

Layer One of Hope is important, because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say. Even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The Hope Shared During Crises

This layer was so evident during 2020’s year of disasters and the leftovers in 2021. With every hurricane, fire, earthquake, pestilence, shooting and angry outburst — people somehow summoned a measure of hope.

“We’re in this together” became a rallying cry. A promise that fortitude could spread. A Hope that community would survive.

People volunteered to clean up the emotional and physical sludge. Organizations asked for donations, and those with giving hearts complied.

The nightly news included a section about inspiring America. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who smiled through their tears.

Layer Two requires a sinew of courage we all strive to possess. It underscores that even when we suffer, we are not alone.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the great good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover again what is truly important.

Layer Three: The Darkest, Longest Road to Recovery

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of Hope transcends the others, because it has to duplicate itself every day.

Somehow, this Hope must dig past the detritus of personal chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 1600 meals for the homeless in their community.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the nurses with plastic marks creased into their faces from 12-hour shifts in the ICU.

These are the workers, sometimes using bare hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone, because they believe a child might still be alive. The slightest mistake might delete all Hope.

The brave souls who deal with chronic pain day after day after day.

The caregivers who continue to serve because they cannot imagine giving up.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three. From them, we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to Hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet Hope keeps their hearts beating.

They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down. They continue to believe and trust in Hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store, because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with the same sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways — depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

This is the writer who continues to pen the words s/he believes in, even when the hate mail continues to come.

I am striving to be courageous enough for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come.

But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere — then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My Layer One Hope is that my newest book will reach the sales goals. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope in the Surprise

The following guest post is written by Jena Fellers.

Do you love surprises? Me, too. But I always hope for good surprises.

Recently, my husband asked me to join him delivering for Door Dash. He had decided to try Door Dash to earn extra income and wanted to see how feasible it was. From the sign-in until the ending is called a Dash.

On our first Dash, I felt surrounded by positive anticipation. Eager to learn and see how things worked made me look forward to every detail — as if it was a fun surprise.

  • How quick will the first order come?
  • How much will it pay?
  • How long will it take the restaurant to prepare the order?
  • How far will the delivery be? Will it take extra time to get another order?

Nothing happened as planned, filling me with more questions and anticipation. Every order was a surprise in some way or another. It could be:

*A new restaurant we had never heard of

*Restaurants with different names inside other large restaurant chains

*Deliveries to employees at a business

*Delivering to someone in a parking lot, a parked semi, or even a private airplane

More of the elderly population ordered than the techie, younger population. The nicest surprise was unexpected tips, with good reviews coming in second.

As with anything, the surprise could also be negative:

*A messed-up order

*Food tumbling over inside the bag

*The restaurant out of an ordered item

*The GPS deciding to freeze or take us the wrong way

*Learning about a stacked order and how to complete it

*Looking for houses without visible house numbers

*The amount of miles or price changing after we accepted the order

*Getting few orders, even though the app said it was busy

A Door Dash driver is certain to experience good and bad surprises. Another guarantee is that orders come in so quickly, it is impossible to dwell on the emotions generated by the surprise.

By the end of the Dash, all problems were resolved. Whether starting with few orders, many orders, high pay, or low — the money averaged out.

This experience opened my eyes to how we should view life itself. Every day is a gift full of surprises.

We can wake up hoping for a surprise, especially when we ask God to guide our day. Life can be an adventure and fun when God is with us.

Possible surprises for today:

*Who should I pray for?

*Will there be someone to help today?

*Can I teach a life lesson to my family?

*Will God give blessings today? For what purpose?

*Will my words make a difference?

*How many smiles can I give?

*Who can I encourage with a phone call or a card?

Our Hope in the surprise can help us get through anything. Good and bad are guaranteed to come, but we place our Hope in the surprise God gives or allows. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks of being content in every situation. This seems possible when we have Hope in His surprise.

This kind of divine surprise gives us something to look forward to. It keeps our focus where we can be content. Like Dashing, we know it will all balance out, regardless of whether the surprises we face are good or bad.

Let’s view the surprise as a treasure given to us. Let’s live in anticipation of what God will do for us, through us, and with us each day.

No need to worry or fret. Another surprise is on its way, so enjoy life to its fullest. Look with Hope for the surprise God has planned today.

©2021 Jena Fellers (guest post) – All Rights Reserved

Jena Fellers is an author, inspirational speaker, and co-pastor. She and her husband pastor Trinity Worship Center in Baxter Springs, Kansas, where their three children and four grandchildren reside. Jena loves to encourage and educate others to follow Christ a little closer. Check out her blog at www.changingfocus.life to find out more about Jena and her books.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with food supplies. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico? He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”

“No,” I said, “but I’d like to be. It’s on my bucket list to go there at least twice each year.”

He told me how he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the New Mexican mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with his Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe.” 

“You’ll get there,” he said with a confident nod. “People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Throughout the long COVID winter, I thought often of this man and his kind prophecy. Was he an angel in disguise, sent to encourage me on a gloomy day? Or was he merely a nice person, taking care of his parents and trying to share hope with a fellow pilgrim?

Memories of my last two trips to Santa Fe brought tears. The 2012 research trip for my third novel, “Final Grace for Reverend G.”

My bestie, Deb, and I, strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime, I thought. Deb’s lifetime. She passed in 2017 and was not able to return to the Land of Enchantment with me.

My next trip was September, 2018. I attended the Creatives Conference with Julia Cameron as the keynoter. Another trip of a lifetime. But this time, I was alone. Still, it was a beautiful experience.

My quiet time to work through the grief of losing Deb. Although I missed her presence yet felt her spirit, I discovered being by myself was indeed a great way to fashion a writing retreat.

And so much more:

  • Multiple people became new friends as Santa Fe has a tendency to pull people together.
  • A touristy walk provided new insights about the history of this town I love.
  • The discovery of a free trade store where I bought some jewelry — of course — and met other travelers.
  • A kind sales rep in another jewelry store who revealed his lifetime of FBI service in Albuquerque and why he changed careers mid-life.
  • My favorite waitress at the Santa Fe Bite who jangled her bracelets as we shared our love for bling.
  • A surprise wedding as the happy couple and their mariachi band circled around the Plaza.
  • More delicious recipes with roasted green chiles.
  • Soaking my feet in the hotel’s pool after a day of walking.
  • Watching the shadows peek around the Sangre de Cristo mountains, then merge into fabulous sunsets.

Creativity seems to spurt from every pore of Santa Fe. In the evenings, I wrote pages of a new novel. The Year of my Redemption was birthed at the Sage Hotel in Santa Fe. It will always be one of my favorites.

My plan was to return to Santa Fe in 2020 with a new traveling partner. But alas — COVID. Then I hoped 2021 might be the year. Another alas — physical obstacles and chronic pain.

Have I experienced my last trip to Santa Fe? Please, God, no. Can I not hope for another week or two in the Land of Enchantment?

A Pueblo Indian blessing foreshadowed the loss of Deb, now even richer with meaning:

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

My enchanting hope is to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live where the everydayness of what we must do thrives with a positive outlook and gratitude for life itself.

Hope breathes through the improbabilities of reaching the desire of the heart, somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass.

Even now, mid 2021, the hope survives. A quote from Georgia O’Keefe, resident artist of Santa Fe, ties my hope in a package of possibility, “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

I am itching to return.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Watch for the novel that was birthed in Santa Fe. The Year of my Redemption will soon be available on Amazon.

Hope Wonders When

Patience is NOT one of my virtues. Yet it seems as I grow older, God requires more instruction involving patience. Once again, I sit in his school of waiting.

When we wait, our first question is “When?” When will the answers come? How much longer do I need to wait?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting itself — a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together, something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a strength? We can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we love our commonalities. But when?

The 36-hour day team-tags for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will release come?

The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as s/he is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When?

In their workbook, Living into the Answers, authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.

New areas we have not previously considered or possibly — new spiritual havens where we learn to reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

What did it feel like in the 600-year silence between the Old and New Testaments? For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on. Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God — even in the silence.

Mothers tucked their children into beds and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet their tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

When Jesus DID come, he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected, they did not recognize the wait was finally over. Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. They refused the truth.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder … has it come and gone, passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer? If so, how do I retrieve it?

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life, then waits for us to locate him.

Perhaps our questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We cannot truly find the resolve because God is not controlled by time.

Yet as we wait, he graciously holds us in the palm of his mighty and patient hands.

Instead of yearning for a change, maybe we need to just accept today. To find joy in whatever positives surround us.

Then as we cry out for a deeper intimacy with the divine one, he will produce the answers within.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out this excerpt from Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.  

Finding Hope in an Old Story

She is often overlooked as a mere secondary character in Genesis. Yet Hagar’s story contains one of the most insightful verses of all time.

Hagar may have been fairly young as the maid servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was not able to conceive, she convinced Abram to take Hagar as his concubine. Hagar was soon pregnant with Ishmael.

Then the real trouble began. A conflict between Hagar and Sarai — jealousy, competition, and the end result. Hagar ran away.

But God found Hagar and encouraged her. Hagar’s a-ha moment was so impactful, she named the place: Beer-lahai-roi: “God Sees Me.”

So in spite of Hagar’s struggles:

  • Becoming a servant to Sarai
  • Forced to have sex with this old man
  • Feeling sick from the pregnancy
  • A cruel mistress
  • So rejected, she ran away
  • Totally alone and sad

In spite of it all, God saw her and met with her. In person. Such an encouraging story of Hope.

Whatever you are struggling with today, know this — God sees you.

  • In the middle of a cancer diagnosis
  • With the side effects of COVID
  • Financial worries
  • Children or grandchildren in trouble
  • Unemployment
  • Mental illness
  • Transitions in life
  • Loss of Hope
  • ________ Fill in your blank

Whatever is happening to you today — God sees you. He is not blind. He is not deaf to your cries.

In fact, the name Ishmael means “God hears.”

So Abba Himself loves you. He sees you. He hears you. He is with you.

Rest in his gift of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a continued story about Hagar and Ishmael, check out page 25 in The Invisible Women of Genesis.

When Chronic Pain Finds Hope

Some of my she-roes are women who live with chronic pain. Day after day, decade after decade. Their endurance puts me to shame.

During 2020 – 2021, I experienced just a taste of what they deal with all the time. My chronic pain began with a single step. Most accidents around the home do not occur because of reckless behavior. They just happen.

But they may change our lives.

In July of 2020 — yep — on top of COVID year — I stepped into my garden and felt something pop. “Oh God, oh God! I’ve broken my blessed hip.”

What do you do when you cannot move without pain, but to get help, you need to maneuver toward the phone? You do it anyway. You limp forward . . . slowly.

After my frantic call, a friend drove me to Urgent Care where the X-ray showed no fracture. Thank you, Jesus!

“Probably a hamstring pull,” said the nurse. “Do these exercises.”

Hamstring — oh. Like football players sometimes experience. After a few weeks, they return to the game, fully recovered and able to play again.

I’ll be fine. Uh-huh!

After several weeks of the prescribed exercises and multiple helpings of Advil, I Googled my own info. No fast recovery for me. I contacted my PCP who ordered a CT scan. Then an orthopedic assessment. Multiple chiropractic visits. Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No major issues on the scans. Nothing definite showing, but I was still in pain. And complaining to whomever would listen. Unlike my she-roes, I do not have a high threshold of pain — any kind of pain.

To continue working, I developed a kind of dance: sit at my desk until the pain screamed, stand at the elevated desk until spasms began, walk until the throbbing subsided, then sit on the heating pad.

Repeat.

Every professional told me, “Hamstrings just take a while to heal.” No one could tell me how long “a while” is.

DEAR GUSSY!

Sammy Watkins with his hamstring pull missed only three weeks of Chiefs’ games until he was back in action. I was already into three months and considered asking the Chiefs if they could assign me a trainer.

Those who suffer with chronic pain deserve a medal, at the very least — a crown of glory. Pain wears on the body, but also on the soul. It tears down hope and reminds us how mortal we are. No matter what good things are happening, the pain grinds an edge on life itself.

After ten more months trying various medications, exercises, and medical expertise, I was back with the PCP for another exam. But this time resulted in a new idea. More probing — ouch — but a clue.

Piriformis Syndrome. Evidently the piriformis nerve and muscle in the right cheek can affect the hamstring, smash down on the sciatica and cause all kinds of nasty problems.

This new diagnosis jump started my hope. Finally, something that made more sense than just “taking a while to heal.” Maybe this was the culprit all along. I did not know I had a piriformis in my back end. I ignore my rear cheeks until I look in the mirror to make sure they’re not getting fatter.

With a heartbeat of fresh hope, I started physical therapy and already feel a slight improvement. I’m committed to doing the new exercises and anything else they suggest, just to get my life back and feel better.

But the professionals also reminded me, “Once you hurt your back, you may always have issues.”

I will need to be careful. No more heavy lifting. No more excessive bending over in the garden. No more thinking I am invincible and “Sure, I can do that.” Shorter sitting times. I continue my rhythmic dance, and the heating pad is my best friend.

Our mortal lives can change in an instant. And I am fully aware my pain is incredibly small in the world of rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, brain damage and other maladies. But it is, after all, my pain. I am working on being more like my she-roes with fewer bouts of whining.

In the end, total healing and recovery occurs as we enter the Promised Land of eternal Hope. Stepping into heaven will solve everything — every painful trauma, physical problem and emotional hurt.

For now, on this side of forever bliss, I can only pray for those who suffer daily, do my exercises and hope for the best.

Time to stand up and continue my dance.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re living in chronic pain, perhaps this e-book might help: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

When Alzheimer’s Affects Hope

She is not the same person I once knew. My mother — the strong, outspoken, active woman who raised three children. Often harsh in her strict disciplinary practices, she was just as hard on herself.

But it was resilience that moved her from childhood poverty to a successful nursing career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life.

Until the Long Goodbye struck and Alzheimer’s changed her personality.

I do not remember many smiles on my mother’s face. But now, she sits in a wheelchair with a constant grin, revealing the gaps where teeth once anchored.

She knows no one, so every greeting is new. She bears no burdens, because she prepared well. Others handle all the stresses of life. A Bible rests on her lap, but she cannot locate her favorite verses.

She is deaf, so communication is handled with a white board. But she cannot respond. No longer writes even the simplest of sentences. She answers “Yes” or “No” to written questions.

Yet her smile remains. Her visage content. One day just like the next.

In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren admits that some seasons in life might include a variety of afflictions — Alzheimer’s being one of them.

Warren notes that Jesus cared about those who bore chronic pain and constant affliction. He healed some. Left others to return to the leper colony, the sick bed, the beggar’s spot near busy markets.

Warren surmises that God Himself “Suffers with the alcoholic, the homeless kid, the Alzheimer’s patient, the bipolar client in a manic spell.”

God sits with us in our pain, understands our need for companionship and offers His hand of comfort as we struggle.

Perhaps my mother smiles within her shadows because she feels One beside her. Maybe she even sees her Savior on a spiritual level the afflicted ones know so well.

Perhaps her contentment comes from knowing He counts down her days and will never leave her. Maybe the personality change is more of a deeper level of partnership — of two souls acquainted with grief and the sorrows of life yet looking forward to a better place.

Within that possibility, I find hope as I stare at the pictures of this unknown woman — this version of the mother I once knew.

Perhaps in a strange way, this is her best season, her days of intimate knowing and divine purpose. Her night that will lead to a brighter day.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For essays about caregiving, check out Sometimes They Forget: Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.