When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

In our world of virus warnings and political mayhem, it’s nice when life offers a surprise.

A few months ago, my creative brain noodled with an idea. What about writing another Christmas book, but not one related to Alzheimers or caregiving?

Why not consider the women of Christmas and the roles they played in the greatest story of all time?

So I sat at the keyboard and within one week composed a small book titled “The Women of Christmas.” Using fiction techniques, I told the story from each woman’s viewpoint, including the usual characters we know about: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.

Then I inserted other women who have been invisible for ages: the innkeeper’s wife, Mary’s mother and Rahab from the Old Testament.

The final chapter kept the book contemporary and personal as it invited readers to find themselves in the Christmas story.

That sweet little book sold so well, I decided to follow it up with a sequel for the next religious holiday. Thus “The Women of Passion Week” was composed and released.

It follows the same format with some of the women who were present in biblical accounts, but also includes the invisible women who helped Jesus and supported his ministry.

These women of great courage became leaders in the early church. In fact, the news of the resurrection came first through women. The reason why could be another book.

Neither of these books were planned in my goals list, yet they have each provided a pleasant surprise — a reminder that the Great Creator writes with me.

How can a writer know when an idea comes from God?

Ultimately, all creativity spring from the Creator. He designed our hearts and the passion to create art.

We shouldn’t be surprised when something completely unusual springs to mind. After all, God made butterflies and dodo birds, osprey and copperheads, little children who play in mud and puffy clouds that scamper across the sky.

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

When an idea is obviously from God, I don’t have to think about it. The thought just comes, then springs into action with my fingers on the keyboard. Often, I type his words faster than my own because I’m not thinking. I’m just doing it.

Crafting the paragraphs and chapters becomes an easy flow, from his heart to my energy and eventually to the printed page.

Creative ideas from God feel like fun. No grinding out a structure to merge plotlines into character sketches. No research at the library or clicks on the internet. No questions for my critique group.

It just happens. As it develops, I know it’s like all God’s other creations — very good.

Results aren’t pre-determined. Although both my “Women Of …” books were financially successful, that is not the aim of God’s creative surprises.

Other books from his creative genius have not fared so well. The goal is not to make money. It is only to listen to his heart, respond and make my fingers move. And as I do the typing and the editing, I feel the joy of completing a project God himself designed.

So far, I’ve experienced these creative surprises five times. The three books of the Reverend G trilogy worked the same way. Just listen to God, sit down and let him write through me. And now I can add these two “Women Of … “ books.

I have numerous ideas for other books, goals to meet this year and in the coming years — a five-year plan. Maybe those ideas are directly from God or maybe just from the creative juices he has poured into me.

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out “The Women of Passion Week.

 

 

 

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Words of Hope

Are you beginning this new year the usual way – reviewing the past and considering your direction for the future?

acceptanceFor my 2019, I have set goals to complete three nonfiction books, begin a Coaching group and continue working on another novel.

Each goal includes its own set of action steps and deadlines for accomplishment.

But without too much of a focus on tomorrow, I am trying to learn how to live in the present. Grateful for the past and faith-filled for the future, it is nevertheless in the present that I live each day.

So what is it about words that helps us live well today?

The Power to Communicate. Whether expressing needs or chatting with a friend, communication is the core of how we relate.

If you’ve ever visited another country where you were not fluent in the language, you know how desperate it feels to not be able to communicate.

In my opinion, one of our greatest gifts is the freedom of speech – to communicate what we believe, using any medium, without fear of condemnation.

The Expression of Creativity. Every serious writer recognizes that moment when the a-ha Spirit invents a new word or crafts the perfect sentence.

That feeling of creating art gives significance to our craft and helps us realize we are co-creators with God Himself.

Each day, I am hoping to learn more about the gift of creativity and the quiet beauty God uses to infuse spiritual truths into my particular world.

Words as Tools. As a wordsmith, each construction becomes a building block for sentences, paragraphs and stories.

Without words, I am silent. Without words, I feel bereft.

I empathize with Reverend G who lost her words due to expressive aphasia. I cannot imagine such a terrible fate. Check out her story and the rest of the trilogy.

Words I loved in 2018 and want to use better in 2019 include:

  • Synchronicity – a meaningful coincidence. It brings me comfort to imagine a loving God who sends me a terracotta sunset just as I am longing for New Mexico. Or meeting a new friend who just happens to like chunky jewelry and lots of it.
  • Parameters – physical properties that determine characteristics or behaviors. This type of structure sets the boundaries for my character sketches.
  • Expectations – We all have them, good and bad. Often misconstrued, the proper expectations help me keep a positive outlook.
  • Fantabulous – I just like the way this word sounds.

I feel blessed to begin a new year thinking about words and their power to add or subtract from the quality of life.

The blessing of words comes inherently from how they are used – to destroy or to build up. I choose the latter.

How different would our world look if we used our words to communicate hope, express creativity and construct a truly caring community?

Wouldn’t that be fantabulous!

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my words at Author Central on Amazon.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope Writes

writing - notebook and penWords pour out of me – a torrent of expression and emotion. Stories, articles, journal rantings, blog posts. Revisions three or four times then a sending of the results to editors, publishers, agents.

This is how I process grief, how I find my way through the valley and back to life. Future joy is hidden somewhere within paragraphs waiting to be uncovered.

Bullet journaling helps validate my limitations:

  • A surprise trigger in the middle of Wal-Mart
  • Escape to the pets aisle, hang over the cat litter and weep
  • A burnished copper mum on sale at Lowe’s. Buy it now. I need it.
  • Drive through Sonic for cheese tots because grief does not care if I eat healthy
  • The salt of tears, the salt of cheese tots – both necessary
  • A gust of wind driving Deb’s wind machine brings a sudden blip of happiness
  • Gratitudes written at the end of each day, forcing myself to find hope
  • On my knees in prayer, begging for Paraclete comfort
  • Feeling closer to Deb because we shared the same God

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It was through story that I was able to make some small sense of the confusions and complications of life.

That is my purpose in the pouring out of words – to find some sense in the loss, some purpose for the taking away.

A new connection on LinkedIn told me, “Write the best book possible, then share it with the world – to encourage others.”

So I reach for that goal, begin a new journal, open another pack of gel pens.

Grateful for the outpouring of words, stories, and blog posts that underscore where I am in this search for a new normal.

Or perhaps a new abnormal, because grief always changes us – scrapes us raw, then makes us see the beauty of what we had before, the gratitudes we might have taken for granted.

Knowing that others are searching, too – longing to find their direction, to process their sufferings in healthy ways.

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19 NASB).

How sweet that the best way to console comes through the communications gift God gave me. This creative urge sustains and upholds, dissects yet discerns.

I am grateful for the process and the journey. Although hating the reason for this valley, perhaps the ultimate meaning brings a better crafting, more outreach of the sentences that define my gifting.

Even in the darkness, words continue to pulse. And writing confirms that the Creator at work in me is also the Giver of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Goals Print Cover

If you process life through the gift of writing, then setting and reaching your writing goals will move you toward health and joy. For a guidebook and some accountability tips, order your copy here.

Hope Celebrates the Younger

One of the joys of coaching writers happens when I watch clients succeed.

We brainstorm a title idea together and the a-ha lights our faces. The perfect cover dresses the front of the book while a teasing blurb fills the back.

But oh the best – is the content that soars from an initial idea while a synopsis in black and white merges into sentences, paragraphs and chapters.

We talk about it as a birthing – a coming to life of a project. And truly it feels like the stretching of flesh, the contractions of laboring for that perfect word, the expulsion of life on the page.

A recent birth occurred as Sara Brunsvold launched her book, “Uncage My Brave.”Uncage my brave

It is a relatively small tome with only 51 pages. No “War and Peace” masterpiece needed. Yet within Sara’s work lies her experience with courage, her exhortations to find her source of bravery and uncage the dreams God placed in her heart.

What I like about Sara’s writing is how it has expanded. Not with longer sentences or flowery distractions. Rather, Sara’s gift has deepened. Her communication now draws from a divine well.

I sense in her the role of prophet although I don’t believe she would label herself such. Yet a prophet speaks truth and often expounds with a poetic rhythm that catches the breath and cries for more.

A highlight phrase from Sara: “Carry me, Abba. Hold me still in Your strength. Press my ear to your heart.”

Words such as these cannot emerge from a fanciful wish to communicate. They are conceived in the valleys of grief and the plateaus of doubt. They are wrung out by stepping forward to believe in what cannot be seen, to taste what is not plausible.

When I hold my copy of “Uncage My Brave,” I rejoice that I have had the honor to watch Sara’s dream become reality.

The joy of writers helping writers underscores our purpose in Psalm 45:17, “I will perpetuate your memory through all generations.”

This writer, this Sara Brunsvold, is a younger wordsmith who now surpasses my generation. I rejoice in her accomplishment.

Check out Sara’s blog and order “Uncage My Brave.”

You will no doubt discover hope in her pages and celebration in the unfolding of Sara’s dream.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Observes

coffee and bagelMost of my reflecting time is spent in the solitude of my home study. But occasionally, I venture into the world of people for a cuppa Joe. I often bring a journal, a book to read, paper and pen to write ideas or work on a blog post – such as this one.

As I reflected in a local Panera, I wished I owned stock in the company. Throughout the years, I have ingested gallons of their teas and lately – experienced the scrumptious delight of their gluten free chocolate cookies. Better than a brownie, I promise!

Whenever I join the human race in a public place, I observe the people. Some of them may become characters in a future novel. Yes – writers do insert real people in their books. Live your life with caution.

An older couple sits quietly at a round table, slowly chewing croissants without talking or even looking at one another. Years of marriage enrich the silence of the moment. What is there to talk about after so many years together? Maybe these fluffy croissants are their one treat for the week or the month – until the next Social Security check revives their bank balance.

A woman after my own heart reads alone, occasionally sipping her coffee. Obviously engrossed in her book, she seems lost in the words. Is she learning something new, researching for a college class or trying to escape some chaos in her present life by entering into the fictional world of the book’s protagonist?

Two women chat near me, slathering butter on their bagels. One talks with a shrill timber. The other is the listener. If I eavesdrop carefully, I learn about the toddler’s attempts at potty training, how the hubby works hard but does not care about the fatigue of this young mommy.

Do they suspect I intrude on their privacy? Do they care? Probably not, as their goal is to share their hearts with each other, to find another soul who empathizes.

Another table filled with businessmen, their Mac books opened to spread sheets and planners – terse statements about sales and marketing.

And the workers who assemble salads, soups and steel cut oats to fulfill requests. Working hard yet often rendered invisible because each customer is captured by his own story with his own reason for spending the morning at Panera.

I am grateful for this place and for the freedom to sit and observe. I am also aware of the God who cares for each person’s story – the Divine One who designed destinies before the foundation of the world and wants desperately for each person in this place to know how much he loves each soul.

Then the writer in me kicks in and I play the What If game:

  • What if the older gentleman is hiding a fortune in stolen coins?
  • What if his wife is really his pastor and has no idea about his hidden sin?
  • What if the pastor is hiding the fortune in stolen coins?

And away I go into the world of creative thought, fashioning a new story for each character I observe.

Don’t you think God the Creator had fun designing our lives before we were born?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy