Hope Misreads a Word

As I drove home after meeting with a coaching client, I noticed a white van ahead of me. The logo of its business was printed across the back doors.

Faith Panting.dog panting

What?

As I adjusted my progressive lenses, I realized the name was actually “Faith Painting.”

Somehow the tiny “i” had disappeared in my first glance.

I have no idea what Faith Painting means or how the company chose their name, but I’m sure they are a reputable company.

And as weird as it sounds, I totally understand what it means to experience “Faith Panting.”

Dogs pant when they are tired. After they run around the yard or chase a rabbit, their tongues hang out and they pant, heaving and sometimes dripping saliva.

When we are tired from the struggles of life, weary from one trial after another and discouraged by the darkness of our days — we pant.

We try to catch our breath and figure out what has happened to us.

When we pant from fatigue, we need to take a break, to rest and let our physical and mental resources build up again.

A cup of water from an encouraging friend helps. A greeting card with just the right words helps dry our tears.

The reminder that God will never leave us or forsake us gives us the strength to breathe steady again.

Cats may pant when they are in pain or distress. It’s a signal for help.

Because cats are so independent, they rarely indicate their needs. But cat lovers can tell when their fur babies hurt.

When we are in pain, we pant with the need to let the hurt escape.

We may try to self-medicate or even numb ourselves to the trauma. We may look to an addiction to replace the hole inside.

But faith encourages us to let someone help us.

When loneliness threatens, call a friend and set up a coffee date.

When family relationships fall apart, schedule a counseling appointment with a trusted wisdom-giver.

When a child suffers, talk to another parent who has been through the same issue.

We often prefer to hide within our independence. We think self-sufficiency will solve the problem and decrease the pain.

But we fool ourselves when we continue to pant and look only to ourselves for a solution.

No matter how isolated our world becomes, we will always need each other.

Healthy relationships help bandage our faith hurts.

Another reason dogs pant is to cool off. The process of panting is the same as when our bodies sweat.

Cooling off to a reasonable temperature helps temper inflammation and heart distress.

We need to cool off when anger consumes us.

But let’s be clear: anger is an honest emotion and often prompts us to take an important action.

Anger that consumes us needs to be addressed before it causes real damage. Anger that is internalized can easily become a numbing depression.

And it can sneak up on us before we realize it.

So how do we successfully pant the angers away?

Acknowledge the Anger.

Speak it with truth, even if you have to confront someone in person, “I am so angry with you.”

As we admit to the anger, we know what we’re dealing with. We can move forward to address it.

Admit that You Need Help.

To cool off, a dog needs water and shade.

To pant our way to health, we need help. A trusted counselor, antidepressants, a plan for returning to a healthy emotional temperature.

Take Action.

A brisk walk increases endorphins and helps anger fade. A listing of gratitudes chases the gloomies away.

Watch a funny video and laugh out loud. Visit someone worse off then you. Ever been to a nursing home for an extended stay?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have times when faith seems like a weary pant.

That’s when we need to reach for hope.

Nurture ourselves with rest during those discouraging pants.

Ask for help to relieve the pain. Acknowledge how human we are and in need of grace from each other.

We may continue to pant, but at least we’ll move in a direction toward hope-filled faith.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in Large Print.

Hope Celebrates an Anniversary

Happy Anniversary to my creative self. One year ago, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to participate in a writers conference called “The Creative Reboot.” Sage Inn

Several aspects of this conference drew me to register. The amazing location, the opportunity to meet Julia Cameron and the focus on creativity.

Location:

Santa Fe is one of my favorite places to visit. It carries the atmosphere of spirituality coupled with history and art.

A great resource that describes the foundations of Santa Fe is the novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather.

The presence of multiple diversities gives Santa Fe its beauty. I met people from all over the world and developed a special relationship with a woman from the Pueblo tribe.

The merchants of Santa Fe take time to visit with customers, sit down for a cup of coffee and truly listen to the needs of lonely hearts.

One waitress in my favorite eatery, the Santa Fe Bite, described the stories behind her multiple bracelets. As a bling woman, I showed her my rings, and we immediately connected.

The architecture of Santa Fe is definitely Southwestern design — no vintage cottages or brick Tudors. But I love the adobe walls, the curved corners and the terracotta color everywhere.

Julia Cameron:

The main presenter at the conference was Julia Cameron. Several years ago, I read “The Artist’s Way” which opened my heart to the joy of being a creative. Julia Cameron - RJT

Whether writing, decorating my seasonal mantel or choosing what to wear each day, my joy of being a creative comes directly from Julia and her books.

I was surprised to find her such a petite lady. Don’t we always think of our she-roes as bigger than life, tall and broad? A powerful visual.

Yet I eclipsed her in height. She graciously accepted my request for a photo and answered several of my questions.

I discovered that she — like me — writes her first drafts in long hand, letting the words flow slowly as the creativity forms a boundary around her words.

Julia challenged me to return to the morning pages and to be more intentional about my artist dates. Her workshops were more than two hours long but felt like 20 minutes. She was humble, intelligent and humorous.

Meeting her in person was one of the towering moments in my creative history.

The Creativity Focus:

Everything I did that week focused on nurturing my creativity, and I added two extra days to my vacation week so I could take advantage of each moment.

  • Leisurely walks in a multitude of art galleries and boutiques
  • The taste of new foods, always spiced with green chiles
  • Interesting conversations with other writers and the people I met throughout Santa Fe
  • A walking tour that opened my eyes to more of the history of the region
  • The novel I began that week and how the main character popped into my head in my quiet motel room
  • Afternoons listening to Hispanic bands in the Plaza gazebo
  • Celebrating with a wedding party who marched out of the Saint Frances Cathedral and around the Plaza. I didn’t know any of the people but applauded and cheered for their excitement.
  • Choosing a special ring — yes, another ring — that included the gems of turquoise, coral and spiny oyster
  • The memories of a research trip to Santa Fe in 2010 with my best friend, Deb Mosher

Embracing my creativity underscores that I belong to the Creator who gifted me with the ability to think outside the box, create solutions to problems and enjoy the textures and colors around me.

All of us are creative. But sometimes we squelch those creative juices with self-doubt, self-sabotage and comparisonitis.

The Creative Reboot Conference was a highlight of my entire 2018. It added to my writing resume and my creative spirit.

I’m so glad I took the risk, stepped into that adventure and added a few extra days to nurture myself in Santa Fe.

Hope sometimes chases us with lovely circumstances and experiences. We just have to be aware of its presence and open our hearts to receive it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page. Then stay tuned for that novel I began in Santa Fe, “The Year of My Redemption,” scheduled for release in 2020.

Hope Delights in Dandelions

They raise their chartreuse heads above the frosted grass. At first, I am cheered by the bright yellow dots in my yard.dandelion on hand

It will soon be time for the garden,” I tell the cat. Her tawny eyes reflect with understanding.

But by the time dandelions lose their sunshiny tops and begin to climb higher, then sprout white seeds that blow all over tarnation, I am no longer thrilled by their presence in my yard.

However, I am amazed how they persevere through every winter and reappear all over the place. Even though I dig them out each spring, they ride the wings of the wind and once again mess up my plans for a weed-less garden.

Weeds are plants out of place. Dandelions are out of place among my peas, green beans and clematis.

But these same weeds cause me to reflect on the spiritual lessons God sends through nature.

Perseverance: No matter how many times I dig them out and throw away their roots, dandelions reappear.

They have conquered my garden spaces in spite of toxic chemicals, sharp mower blades and a shovel full of rocks. No amount of mulch deters their upward journey as they poke through the cypress sticks.

Howdy!” they scream. “Here we are again!

That same character trait — that infernal perseverance — is a core value I covet. No matter how someone’s words hurt me or what weapon is used against me, may I continue to persevere.

No matter what life throws at me or how many times my words are rejected by editors, I want to persevere.

May my daily journey always seek the Light, no matter how difficult the journey or how long I have to travel the same path.

Location: Dandelions sprout anywhere and everywhere — between sidewalk cracks, in the middle of rocky landscapes, even cuddled next to strawberry blossoms.

My hope is to be an encouragement no matter where I am — seated on the church pew, waiting in the long line for meds in Wal-Mart, while sweating out stress in the workplace.

Dandelions teach us location is not as important as vocation. A consistent life of character is the goal, no matter where we sprout.

The job may move us to another state, or even a different country with a foreign culture.

Circumstances of life may change our status from “married” to “alone.”

Yet with each new venture, we learn to sprout — to live again — to acclimate within a new version of ourselves.

Effectiveness: Although we kill dandelions in Kansas, some cultures nurture them for the greens and the tea. When these weeds live in the right place, they prove to be useful plants.

Every day, my breath wraps around the goal of effectiveness, to serve God and others. My work — forming words and coaching writers who make their own words — is to help someone else.

The stories I complete, the communication gifts God has given me, my very existence is focused on how to point others toward hope.

I want to be effective and make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

In the graceful writings of Colossians 3:23-24, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all he owns. He is the one you are really working for” (The Living Bible).

In spite of the spiritual lessons, dandelions are still not welcome in my garden. But as I dig them out and rid the landscape of their threat, they continue to remind me of a higher goal.

Even a weed praises the Creator who does all things so well.

So hope shines as we persevere through each day’s weeds.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in Large Print.

Hope Survives at Home

Something about houses attracts the hope within.

Tudors with their brick facades, happy bungalows — especially the ones equipped with porch swings, cottages framed by specialty gardens.

The memoir I am writing is focused around the theme of various houses in which I have lived.  Maybe I should have become a realtor.

The house Mom bought, then had to leave behind, is a typical Oklahoma ranch. When dementia first began to squeeze its nasty tentacles around Dad’s personality, Mom felt as if she needed to move him off the farm. Into the safety of town and one-level housing.

Neither of them could continue to fully operate within the realities of farm life.

Dementia stole Dad’s vocation from him, and Mom could no longer handle the hard work required in the country life she loved.

They settled into the brick ranch and lived securely as Mom nursed Dad. My sister joined them and helped Mom for 10 shadowy years. Then on a gentle spring morning in May, angels carried Dad away.

Mom stayed in the ranch, unwilling and unable to move anywhere else. In fact, she underscored her idea of the future when she announced, “My next move will be to the cemetery.”

If only it had been that simple.

The ranch soon became the forecaster of Mom’s next move as she began a downward spiral. She forgot the location of her pots and pans, threw away important bills and documents, counted her medications numerous times before swallowing.

It was in the ranch house where Mom passed out, her brave heart needing the extra pulsing of a pacemaker, her head bleeding from where she banged it when she fell.

When she had to leave, a series of ambulance rides transported her from the hospital to the nursing home rehab and later to her studio apartment in assisted living.

Meanwhile, the sturdy ranch house remained. Mom never had a chance to tell it good-bye.

The yard is its best feature, a surrounding halo of my sister’s plantings: zinnias, pansies and the four o’clocks that actually open at four o’clock twice each day.

I like the house, usually finding a slice of serenity inside when I visit the Oklahoma family. Although it is a bit weird to sleep in the bed in which I was conceived, I gaze at pictures on the walls and remember when we gave them to Mom and Dad.

In the closet, I hang my clothes and touch hangers that held Mom’s winter coat, a suit she no longer wears, a knit shirt with embroidered daisies — some of the threads barely hanging on to their frayed outlines.

Mom’s brush and comb still wait on the dresser, flanked by doilies her mother crocheted, their white loops now fading into the yellows of the past.

The massive mahogany furniture which none of us will want — a pronunciation of Mom’s signature style.

Mom never seems to miss the ranch house. She only remembers the farm as her home where she raised three children, cooked harvest meals and hung clothes to flap on the line — fabric silhouettes of each person in her family.

The personality of the ranch house follows me whenever I drive away. I am left with a sense of gratitude that my sister is safe within its walls and I know — in that particular house, our family made an imprint on the earth.

Homes become the measurements of years as each place serves a purpose. Within our respective homes, we wait for that final call to a home that contains no walls, needs no paint and provides the freedom where our spirits forever roam.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read more about the places and people of hope in Hope Shines, also available in Large Print.

 

Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck with the functional differences between the Kansas City metro and Enid, Oklahoma.

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter, Christmas and even Thanksgiving to allow families time together.

The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story and the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” columns each year.

Presumably, many of their consumers actually read them.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of these faith seasons and are not shy about declaring their beliefs.

In small towns, time moves slowly. Folks mosey across intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who has forgotten how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will probably run into relatives or the child of a co-worker or someone from your church.

If you make a new friend at the local Braums, while eating your double-dip of cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt, your conversation will likely sound like this:

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you had better have a good reason for the abandonment. If you’re a decent person, you WILL move back and make your family happy.

Hope grows in small towns, because everyone hopes you will move back, help with Mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown, I pick up the Okie accent that has never completely left my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because — why hurry?

No one will give me the finger unless he is a farmer who lost several digits during harvest and now waves funny.

It is safer to stop on yellow and finish my cappuccino chocolate chunk frozen yogurt while observing everyone around me. I might see an old chum moseying across the intersection.

The Western Sizzlin’ restaurant recently closed. The entire community grieved and wondered what is this world coming to? We ate at Western Sizzlin’ not only to enjoy the amazing buffet of salads, breads and desserts but also to connect with the community.

We waved at strangers and talked about the wheat crop with friends. We enjoyed the commonalities of improving the economy of the region, tasting the fresh-from-the-oven rolls and remembering simpler times.

Although the world continues to change rapidly and who knows what tomorrow will bring, folks in small towns still trust each other. They know how to mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I have not met. Their lives are simpler, purer — steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although my work lies here in the metro where “Everything is up to date in Kansas City,” a weekend visit transports me back to the security of my foundations and the people who keep hope alive.

Hope shines within the treasure of a simpler life and its precious people.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book Hope Shines, which details more of the places we can find hope.

 

Hope’s Perspective

During a recent trip to the New Mexican mountains, we searched for deer. Every time someone in the family saw a deer, we cheered. We called to them, hoping to pet them or maybe feed them some leftover crackers.

Deer are a special fixture in the mountains — a cherished part of the wildlife.

But on my drive home, I passed a deer that had been killed on the highway.

Although it made me sad, I realized that’s what happens near the big city.

Wildlife becomes road kill.

A different place. A different perspective.

When a friend of mine was going through divorce, she received a card from her childhood Sunday School teacher. A beautiful woman who was blessed with a happy marriage for 53 years.

She had no clue what my friend had endured for 18 years.

The teacher wrote, “I can’t believe you’re doing this sinful thing. Why couldn’t you work it out? Don’t you know a marriage requires commitment, 100% from both partners?”

My friend felt condemned yet she knew she had tried to make it work. The Sunday School teacher had no idea how to deal with an abusive marriage and how my friend had tried to protect herself and her children.

She was clueless about the courage it takes to leave.

Different lives. Different perspectives.

During a sermon in a fundamental church, I heard a pastor say, “We should never eat out on Sundays. We are forcing others to work on the Sabbath.”

He did not know about the single mom who is grateful for the Sunday crowd at her restaurant. With the bigger tips, she feeds her children for another week.

This pastor could not imagine how it feels to pray for your daily bread, how this single mom works three jobs and every extra penny is a blessing.

Her Sabbath begins with a prayer of thanksgiving for the jobs she maintains. She hopes to be promoted to manager soon and asks God for the endurance to raise her children well.

Different faith walks. Different perspectives.

Anger and condemnation toward others do nothing to improve lives or change situations.

One blip of a circumstantial change and we live from a different perspective.

I have often wished I could go back and do more for single moms, for families struggling with mental illness, for the mother who has to visit with her child through a phone line at the prison.

At the time, I had only the perspective I lived with and my naïve experiences.

Our country is suffering from a lack of qualified perspective.

How many of us would know what to do if our neighborhoods were ravaged by gangs, our children in danger?

Would we leave everything and try to find a safe place?

Wouldn’t we be grateful for a piece of bread, a clean pillow, a helping hand?

The perspective of the refugee is different from that of the weary border guard yet each person is precious in the heart of God.

Hope does not condemn, neither does it refuse to consider a different perspective. Instead, hope listens and considers a better way — a more peaceful path.

I pray every day for our leaders and for the decisions they must make.

But mostly I pray they will look beyond their own perspectives, their political policies and open their minds to possible solutions.

Maybe we need to follow the example of Ruben Martinez and his El Paso Challenge, to do 22 good deeds for our fellow man — in memory of those 22 people who were slaughtered in his town.

Maybe it will be the young people who will ignore the politics and help us find a way to change our perspectives.

Maybe hope comes with a future generation while the rest of us struggle to catch up.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

Humming Hope

As I worked in my home office, a sound forced me to stop and look around. It was a melody I had not heard for quite a while.musical notes

Humming — a bass voice humming.

My son, who has a lovely voice, was marching up the stairs while humming.

I smiled with a prayer of thanks. After a season of illness, personal questions about his destiny, six months of training — he was finally beginning to move forward.

Applications submitted. Hope for a new beginning.

The hum of restored joy.

Scientists tell us humming and singing create the following health benefits:

  • Reduces stress
  • Creates a meditative state
  • Releases nitrous oxide which unclogs the sinuses
  • Oxygenates the blood
  • Releases endorphins which make us happier
  • Initiates a workout for the body
  • Activates the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Improves breathing
  • Lowers the heart rate
  • Increases the glandular and intestinal activity

I know these facts to be true. When I feel the shadows of discouragement, I often force myself to sing something or at least to begin humming.

Sometimes an old hymn.

One day, it was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

Or a rousing chorus of the Kansas state song, Home on the Range.

I sometimes surprise myself, standing at the stove scrambling a couple of eggs. A sudden hum. A phrase from a song.

It feels good.

Hope hides in the notes of a familiar song. And the energy used to expand the lungs and force a voicing of joy moves me in a more positive direction.

So the next time you’re looking for hope, try to prime your pump with a song.

You might surprise yourself with a bubble of sudden joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page for books and resources that include some flavor of hope.