Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

The following blog post is an annual favorite. I repost it this year with gratitude for my readers.

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leafy burden. It was as if God said, “It’s now 3:24 on this date I created before the foundation of the world. Disengage.”

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings. Gold, copper and leftover greens tangoed to the ground. The tree stood naked in the autumn wind.

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch how the autumn leaves fall. Some of them let loose to plummet quickly — as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf.

Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

Other leaves are more graceful in their descent, twisting and turning as they spiral downward, then find a spot of still-green grass to slide to a landing.

But my favorites are the leaves that dance as if floating toward a purpose: the mulching of the ground, the photosynthesis of time.

These are the leaves that catch a final wisp of Kansas wind and turn upward for a moment, then pirouette in different directions, exposing their golden undersides to the rhythms of autumn.

These are the leaves that take my breath away as they meander across space and take their time letting gravity win.

The analogy of the autumn dance signals that even when nature introduces another winter, the rhythms of life continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Turn. Turn. Turn. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves — to take my time enjoying the process of aging, the transitions of life that come to all of us.

Somehow I want to find the cadence of trust that allows my soul to float without worry, to sing in harmony with a greater purpose.

Maybe I can best mimic these graceful leaves by paying more attention to the way nature forms them — like veined boats that gather morning dew and shadow us during summer’s heat.

The reds, golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin. He reminds us all are beautiful — different yes, but glorious in our uniqueness.

Then just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of our lives.

He knows that exact moment when we will let go and dance toward a greater purpose, when the questions will be answered and the direction clear.

Gratefully, in his arms we will segue from dance to eternity. From hanging on to hope.

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Magnified

One Sunday while I was getting ready for church, I clicked onto the worship service of Elevation Church. Pastor Steven Furtick often preaches with a focus on the practical and how our emotions (or baggage) affect our faith walk.

On this Sunday, he carried around a magnifying glass. Pastor Furtick reminded his audience, “What we magnify is what we live with.”

I took a deep breath, then wrote down the quote. It was perfect for my current transition and other reflections in my journal.

It is true that what we constantly think about affects our emotions, our goals — even our relationships. So if we magnify how someone has hurt us in the past, then we continue to live within that pain.

If we focus on a past trauma and let it seed itself into our psyche, then we continue to live in the past and within that horrible experience.

If we talk about a circumstance, ask people to “pray” about it over and over, “share” how we’re feeling with the purpose of justification or vindication — then we continue to live inside that baggage.

Magnifying the problem, whatever it is, forces us to live inside the victim camp.

One of the topics I have noticed on social media is the constant reminder that we are living in “evil days.” Of course we are. Read the books of Daniel and Revelation for a-ha moments.

But if we continue to magnify the evil, then we won’t see the amount of good that is still happening.

People are caring for others, sometimes to the point of sacrifice. Nonprofits still do good work. Hospitals and medical workers thrive on keeping folks alive. Schools teach kids, and not all government workers are zombies. Some politicians are called to serve God within our systems.

Yes, terrible things sometimes happen. But wonderful things also happen. Why can’t we magnify those?

One of my rituals is to watch the CBS Sunday Morning program, especially any reports by Steve Hartman.

The focus is always on the positive as Steve and the other reporters find those out-of-the-way places where people are doing something good for each other. Each segment is unique, interesting and I often learn something new I can share with others.

No grumblings about how terrible the world is. Even within the tragedies of earthquakes, hurricanes or warfare — this crew finds the light surrounded by darkness.

I wish we could do the same with our ordinary lives.

So I am trying to be more intentional about what I magnify. To focus on the positive. To look for the hope that is apparent when I forget myself and try to help others. To stop thinking and talking about the negatives and instead — look for those nuggets of positivity.

Scripture reminds us how to think and thus, how to act: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB).

So let’s look for the hope that is growing around us. Let’s magnify the good stuff and stop living in the gloomies.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines with essays about positive attitudes. Check it out on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

Finding Hope in Intentional Rest

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, we transition into a new season.

The slowing down requires intentional rest. To keep spinning will send us into confusion, our axis tilted at a weird angle. Soul weary. Falling apart.

To be purposely still, we listen for God or sit in the sunshine for an emotional and physical reboot.

How can transitions be handled in ways that are healthy for body, soul and spirit? How do we move from excessive productivity to intentional recovery? How do we find our way through the maze?

I have traveled through transitional journeys before, but never at this level of intensity. Now sinking into an unknown while grasping for the best source of wisdom.

The usual methods of resting represent a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restorative sleep helps, then daily naps. Nutritious meals build up the tissues, although my body screams for comfort food. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target.

Nay, nay. I will not yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well — to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision of change. Mistakes admitted. Grace given.

Finding a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish. In the attempt, I stare at the space around me. Acknowledge the loneliness yet feel assured I am not alone.

Maybe a creative project. Resurrect my bag of crayons and find comfort in the texture of markings. Turn on the TV to watch football and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction as I pump on the exercise bike.

No emotional deposits required.

Outside in the canvas God painted. The trees dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. A tabby cat licks his lips but does not pounce.

God’s creation in living color.

I spend quality time on my knees, bringing my questions to the Wise One. Beg for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with curative rhythms: fret not, be still, know. God alone is my refuge.

Several years ago, I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel. Surrounded by the brightest of whites —a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels tucked me in. Stroked my brow. Murmured love. My weary self was cared for and received compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

The dream resurfaces and underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress takes time. A day. A week. Another day. No guidelines provided.

Yet rest is more than time in bed. It is ultimately a layer of trust on top of the trauma, the covering of peace over chaos. The belief that life will again find its rhythm.

And the pillow of time. The Divine whispers his assurance, “More time required. Be still. Cease striving. Do not try to figure it out.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. Eventually, I will find soul energy again. Words will pour forth, and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving — the voice of praise” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and trust, learn more about the calm beauty of rest. Trust in the One who reminds me how hope originates. He places his words on the page and covers me with his gentle hand.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

In The Year of my Redemption, Pastor Tanner needs to intentionally find rest. In the process of a sabbatical and therapy, he discovers a new way to love.

Finding Hope in a TV Series

Television and movie versions of Bible stories usually repel me. I avoid them as either brutally graphic with too much blood and gore or too Hollywood, i.e. using gelatin to depict the parting of the Red Sea.

But several months ago, my sister and I watched an episode of The Chosen. I decided to give this TV version of the Gospels a chance.

Halfway through Season 2, and I am hooked. This depiction feels more realistic and worthy of the story. So I’m following this series for 3 reasons:

The Realism of Jesus as a Man. The writers and producers have shown the son of God as also the son of man — a craftsman from the unexceptional town of Nazareth.

The actor, Jonathan Roumie is attractive, but not the drop-dead gorgeous of so many others who have played the role.

I like how he’s not 6’5” and not pale white. His strength comes from within rather from abs grown in a gym. He laughs readily and shows a mouthful of uncapped teeth. He grimaces, winks, sometimes frowns.

In one episode where he spent the day healing multitudes of suffering people, this Jesus admitted, “I am so tired.” Barely able to stand. Ministry exhaustion. Reality.

And when he does heal someone, he looks them in the eye and connects with the soul. He seems genuinely delighted to have met the need. Often kisses them on the cheek or holds them close.

I can relate to this version of my Savior and long for his physical touch.

The Role of Women in the Series. Not merely add-ons or occasional mentions, this series reveals the truth that women also followed Jesus.

We see three characters who travel with the usual band of male disciples. But these women are also included as students when Jesus teaches. They play an important role, sometimes besting the guys and proving they, too, are worthy to follow the Rabbi.

They don’t just prepare food and serve the fellas. In fact, in one episode, the women are studying scripture while Thomas and Matthew cut up the cucumbers for dinner.

In another episode, it is an Ethiopian woman who commandeers her friends to lower a paralytic through the roof. Jesus heals the man and acknowledges this woman’s role.

Cudos to Dallas Jenkins, the director, and his staff for breaking the patriarchal chains of most Jesus movies.

The Reality of Being a Disciple. My favorite reason for following this series is to observe what happens to the various disciples.

Matthew, characterized with Aspergers, yet chosen especially by Jesus to record the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. His logic and obsessive personality adds to the reality of the show, but is also treasured by this Jesus.

Andrew, often known only as Simon’s brother. Here he is shown as a dedicated follower who converted from John the Baptist to Jesus. The same back story describes Philip who plays his role with a quirky humor yet passionate strength.

James and John — constantly disruptive as the sons of thunder who need to be taught the value of humility. And Simon Peter, always impulsive and a slow learner yet gradually catching up to his leadership gifts.

What I like about the scripts involving all the disciples is that they are not super saints.

Somehow we think that once they answered the call to “Follow Me,” they became mature in their faith and immediate writers of the New Testament.

But no. They doubt, struggle, fail and question this amazing Jesus. Their faith is messy. Half the time, they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. His metaphorical stories remain clueless.

Just like us. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts unfamiliar to our mental scuffles.

These disciples — like us — argue with each other and judge each other. They want to learn and grow, but that means they will have to abandon what they’ve been taught before.

They must move from religious comfort to the scary and messy building of a relationship with Deity.

Just like us.

To be one of The Chosen today is both a blessing and a difficult task. But if we can be known as those who love because of His love — even when it’s messy — then perhaps more people will choose to join the real Jesus and his plan to change hearts and lives.

Hope is shared in this TV series. Check out The Chosen and let me know your opinion.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner knows how challenging it can be to follow Jesus. Check out his story in The Year of my Redemption.

Finding Hope While Letting Go

To move forward with a mindset of hope, we may have to let something go.

As Ann Landers once wrote, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

So what are circumstances where we may need to let go?

Dreams. Most of us hang on to dreams, because they represent something we dearly desire.

  • That amazing job or career
  • A certain kind of house in a special place
  • The destination wedding with all the trimmings
  • A particular way of doing life, preferably without too much struggle
  • For writers, making the bestseller status

Yet dreams sometimes manifest only as journal entries or the deepest desires of the heart. At some point, usually much later in life, we realize a particular dream is rimmed by fantasy.

We have learned how reality superimposes its will on our dreams. And we know the healthiest response is to embrace that reality and let the dream go.

Expectations. Closely related to dreams are the expectations we embrace. We figure a college degree will result in a great job. A marriage with the church’s blessing will last a lifetime. The new car we bought won’t break down in the first week.

But expectations can be shattered by unforeseen circumstances. Even with a college degree, teachers make less money than plumbers. Cars prove to be merely machines that break down, no matter what the warranty says. And marriages are defined as the union of two fallible people.

The struggle with letting go of expectations is that we often have to dig deep to find the core of the problem. Find out how the expectation went wrong. Forgive the unforgiveable.

False Beliefs. How many of us believe exactly as we did when we were children? More study into faith and revelations about legalism or hypocritical teachings have taught us to be wary. We determine to be more assured of what we believe and why.

Our beliefs are more personal now. Our faith is based on experiences and more time with God. We are stronger than before, more solid in wisdom’s language.

So we let go of rote learnings and legalism. We embrace a new truth.

Another letting go is the one that may surprise us with its side effect of grief. It involves our children. The first letting go is when we must leave our little one at the daycare, the preschool, the first grade. We know something precious has shifted, and the letting go feels like a wound.

Letting go of our children includes their foray into multiple experiences:

  • The solo drive with a new license
  • A study abroad
  • The college experience with a dorm or an apartment — far away from our control
  • When he walks down the aisle to pledge his love to that special girl

It is vital as we let go of children that we also protect our own hearts. We cheer their independence even while wiping our tears of loss. We learn how the letting go requires more strength than the hanging on.

This mental truth is oxymoronic with the emotion of severing. To watch them fly, we must be willing to push them out of the nest.

Yet by definition, transitions of life suggest movement.

One person letting go results in another’s freedom. Even for the mama left behind, the child’s leaving can morph into a greater experience of growth and faith.

Hope transcends our moments of letting go, because it remains a fluid concept. Then after we grieve, after some time to recover, we may discover the power of a new life. (Isaiah 58:8 Amplified).

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read how Pastor Tanner had to let go, even though it almost cost him his ministry. The Year of my Redemption.

When Nature Invites Hope

She was such a tiny thing — this feral mama cat who suddenly moved to my deck. Black, with a couple of white spots on her face. A tail that reminded me of a possum. Hard cartilage. Not inviting to touch.

She didn’t even look pregnant. Just hungry. Desperate. Why else would she dare to climb the steps and stare at me?

I know the drill. Never feed a feral cat. They’ll keep coming back and bring the entire clan. They’ll never be domesticated. Take them to the shelter. Pay for the spaying. Decrease the local litters.

Yet somehow, this unwanted and unlovely creature touched my heart. I could not trap her. She was too fast. I could not hurt her. She needed me.

We began with a tiny bit of food which she greedily accepted. Her reflexes tuned to mine. One tiny move on my part, and she was gone.

Over the weeks, she gradually let me inch closer. But not too close. If I reached out my hand, she disappeared. Came back two days later. Starving.

One morning, the summer wind turned cool. I decided to have my morning quiet time on the deck. Journal, Bible, pen. And the feral cat in a corner.

I watched her circle around the deck, then a bit closer on the next round. A couple of figure eights around one of the potted flowers. Another trip around. Closer. Ever closer.

As I tried to ignore her, yet watch her, she eyed me. Took another dance around the deck. I returned to my study.

Then I felt a soft brush against my leg, a tiny whisper of acceptance. Without looking, I reached down. She brushed against my arm. Allowed me to pet her. Once. Twice.

She disappeared for several days, then returned a bit thinner. We continued our sometimes-on-sometimes off dance. A few days of petting. Another day of skittering away.

But I knew she had finally accepted me when she brought her three babies. She dared to trust me with her family.

Beautiful kittens. Two black and whites. One fully black. The black one immediately let me pet him. The other two repeated their mother’s elusive dance.

They grew up and eventually left. But Mama cat stayed. Greeted me every morning. Begged for food.

One day I reached to pet her, and she shied away. As if we had never been friends. As if we were starting over again.

After all this time and all this food, you still don’t trust me?

I felt the rejection. Huffed inside and shut the door. Then shook my head as the allegory formed its meaning.

How many times has God answered my prayers, gifted me with a miracle, sent an encouragement? Multiple times during my life’s journey.

How many times has he drawn near as I danced closer, waited until I trusted him with the next transition in life, the next question of “What do I do?” Thousands of times.

How many times have I brought my child to the Divine and asked for blessings? Received the same. Gushed my gratitude.

Yet when another hard place threatens, when the latest questions shadow me with doubt, when I wonder again Does this deity really love me — I shy away. Cry awhile and disappear from what he longs to give me.

He returns each day. Offers me the bread of life. Lays an occasional treat in my bowl of need. And once again proves he is trustworthy.

My doubt disappoints me and hurts his gigantic heart. My faith takes a hit.

Yet the next day, there he is again. Reaching out for me. Asking me to trust him for another day, another transition. Being his hope-filled self.

Scripture reminds us that nature is a constant mirror of God’s grace. We see him in the changing of the leaves from verdant green to bronze. We sense him in the blessed rain shower after a season of drought. We honor him when animals gift us with unconditional love.

And even when we struggle to accept what is right before us, he continues to reach out. To provide. To be with us — his feral children.

Some days, hope seems to hide. Yet if we listen carefully, tune our souls to the intensity of nature, we can hear his whisper, “Yes, I still love you.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories of hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon and in Large Print.

Finding Hope in the Queue

While printing off documents, my printer suddenly decided to morph into la-la land. Electronic devices are wonderful — until they don’t work.

Frustrated, I tried to print the last document, not realizing what was happening on the other end of cyberspace. After rebooting, unplugging and still not printing, I turned everything off and quit for the day.

The next morning, the printer decided to resuscitate itself. It spewed out page after page of documents hidden in the queue. Eventually, it stopped — but not before adding several inches to my pile of recyclable scrap paper.

Sometimes, the electronic world imitates life.

How many times do we pray for something, wait and wait longer while heaven lives in introverted silence? Nothing happens for weeks, months, even years.

Our prayers are stuck in the queue of God’s waiting room.

Then suddenly — an avalanche of answered prayers, all bunched up at the same time. We gasp at the range of unexpected blessings, certain once again that God does indeed love us.

What can we learn from our moments stuck in the queue?

Persistence is a worthwhile virtue.

The best writing, the purest answers to prayer, the most productive days evolve as a result of self-discipline. When we give it our best and keep at it — over and over — we eventually see the results.

We may not currently see the finish line, but it WILL appear. Persistence produces results — one of the key principles of life.

Nothing worthwhile happens easily. When we have to work for it, we fully appreciate the results. We are then energized to persist with more fervor.

Effective Results Require Patience.

Patience and persistence are twins. They sometimes look alike and often require the same disciplines to feed them.

But the persistence twin is a process while the patience twin reveals a quality of life.

Patience reminds us to wait, then wait more. And when we can no longer stand the wait, we dig deep. We learn how much strength authentic waiting requires.

Patience is the months-or-years-long battle, waiting for the chemo to take effect and save a life.

Patience allows the preschooler to tie his own shoes even while the school bus honks.

Patience sits beside the Alzheimer’s resident and responds to the same question again and again.

Patience learns the passage of time, because the process cannot be rushed. If we want the best results, we must not deny the waiting.

Patience turns off the printer, instead of continuing the process of frustration, adding more documents to the queue which then wastes paper. Lesson learned.

Sometimes the Best Action is No Action. For planners like me, it feels better to do something — anything — to help the process along.

But sometimes, the cyberspace universe has to arrange its pixels and find its missing megabytes. I don’t even understand its language. How then, can I make it do something?

When we’ve prayed and prayed, waited and persisted, yet nothing happens, we can use the prayer of relinquishment. I don’t always understand God’s language. I cannot make him do something, so I relinquish the problem to him.

“Oh God, I can’t stand this. I have absolutely no clue what to do. Please take over and do whatever is needed to mend this problem. I give up.”

This prayer seems counterintuitive to what we have been taught about productivity, but the Psalmist declared the same advice, “Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for him and patiently lean yourself on him” (Psalm 37:7 AMP).

Be still. Unplug. Stop trying to figure it out. Don’t worry. Let go and let God salve your weary soul.

If we won’t learn how to be still, then we end up with a heap of nothing: wasted words, frustrated prayers and sometimes — piles of worthless paper.

But if we let go and let God figure it out, then we return to the task refreshed, ready for whatever he will give us and grateful for lessons learned.

Waiting in the queue is rarely easy. We may tire of the time required before something happens.

But God knows what he is doing. Maybe he’s waiting for us to trust him so he can finish the job.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner struggles with what to do. He can’t make himself well, even by praying about it. And his cat thinks he’s a bit weird. Check out The Year of my Redemption.