Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own. My joy button needs to be reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

Just knowing there will be a beginning brings hope and the confirmation that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder, uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. Flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a Creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Hope for the Long Way

It would be so much easier to travel the shorter journey. But what if God calls us to the long way?

In Exodus 13, God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Freedom! And God encouraged the people with a cloud each day and a pillar of fire each night. Signals that he was indeed with them.

But in verse 17, God specifically states that he will not lead these people on a shorter route. He will take them to the Promised Land the longer way.

They will be learning more about trust and how to endure day by day.

Many people are facing their own ‘long way.’ One of my friends has a beloved daughter who is suffering through a cancer journey. We wanted it to be a fast surgery, one and done. We hoped and prayed for a quick healing. But she is enduring years of chemo, multiple surgeries, life-changing health issues.

Another friend inspires me with her motherly courage. She fostered and adopted some children. Prayed for them. Did all the right things. The short way would be deliverance from childhood trauma, acceptance into peer groups, wholesome attitudes.

Instead, it is a daily struggle dealing with attachment disorder and behavioral struggles at school. The long journey has affected the health of the entire family. Endurance is a daily need.

Didn’t we all want to see an end to the atrocities in Ukraine — sooner rather than later? Yet the war continues. More people suffer and die. The images continue to urge us to pray for those trapped in bunkers, for the pastors and missionaries trying to help their people day after bomb-shelled day.

Beginning writers want to finish their first book and watch it become a bestseller. More experienced authors know the writing journey is a marathon of work and marketing. It requires a long road to find our voice.

Caregivers face years of learning patience, searching for answers, becoming advocates for the Alzheimer’s patient. What is the purpose? Why does death wait to take those who can no longer function? The road is long.

So how do we find hope and live with a more encouraging attitude when our way is long? What can we learn from this Exodus story?

God took the Israelites the long way so they would not change their minds and want to return to the bondage of Egypt. The short way often seems more comfortable. But the long way tests our trust, our grit, our determination to keep believing. We can learn to accept the long road as a faith-building journey.

Although God chose the long way for his children, he did not leave them to face it alone. He was there every day and throughout each night. We can look for God’s presence even as we face another long day.

Athletes know it takes weeks and months to build muscle and stamina. Although their training may be painful, the dedicated athlete continues and learns to thank the coach and trainer.

The long road offers more hope when we face it with gratitude. God is designing something good within our souls. The end result will be a stronger spirit, more faith muscles for the next road.

The story in Exodus involves an entire nation of people. We find strength in being connected. Finding like souls who will lift us up gives us the stamina needed for another day, another week, possibly — another year of the journey.

God had already proven himself to the Israelites — through multiple miracles and a life-saving Passover tradition. We can look to the past and remember how God brought us through something even worse, a longer road, a deeper suffering. He did it before. He will help us again.

Ultimately, our journey contains signposts that offer strength for each day. The practice of journaling, the recitation of helpful verses and quotes, the songs we may have to force ourselves to sing — all these practices can boost our spirits for another day.

And some days, it just helps to take a nap. Zone out for a few minutes and rest.

Whatever road you’re on today, I pray it will be one that leads to the Promised Land. So I share with you one of my spiritual vitamins. This verse has carried me through many of my longer roads and offered hope:

“Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 TNIV). 

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Send Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms to a woman who needs hope for her long road.

Hope Defeats the Toxic

When it happens, it feels like a gift, a treasure to be guarded. Sometimes, I can read faces.

This gifting started during a time when I worked for a nonprofit which helped women who had been abused. All sorts of abuse at different times in their lives. Their faces mirrored the pain, horror and sadness. Or the relief when they found freedom.

Then I started to read other faces: the checker at Target, the harried doctor, the librarian trying to help multiple children at the same time.

Some of the faces reflected frustration while others showed a splash of joy. All of them taught me to be more aware of the hidden waves of emotion we all experience.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a different type of reading in the faces of those who suffer. It became apparent when one of my dear clients suffered through a double mastectomy, months of radiation and brutal chemo. She beat the cancer but lost all her hair and much of her muscle tone.

But her face. Oh, my — her face. No hair of any kind, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It was completely clean of any type of subterfuge yet carried the sheen of a soul that had been detoxified. The suffering rubbed her raw so that her faith could then heal the wounds.

A glorified face forged from patience and the need for daily trust.

I saw that same type of face a few weeks ago. Another client suffering through cancer and the painful injections that are supposed to cure it. Weeks and months and days of discouragement and struggle, yet placing her trust in whatever God has for her.

A constant goal — to not waste the suffering.

We took a picture together, and I noticed the difference. Her face glorified and peaceful. Mine darker and not so serene.

I do not envy her suffering, but I covet the strength of her faith.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada once said that the truly disabled are those who do not suffer, those who have a smaller God because they do not need him as much.

When every moment is painful, those who suffer must ask for God’s strength throughout the day. He is bigger to them and dearer, because they need him more.

Hope teaches us that the circumstances of life may not be what we hoped for. Our dreams may have died through our own mistakes or what others have done to us. Disease and death are byproducts of our world.

Yet if we keep our hope centered on the One true God, we can find a purpose in the pain. And we can grow to glorify this God who loves us enough to let us suffer.

Then our lives and even our faces can become mirrors of reflection for all to see. As the toxicity of sin fades and the sheen of God’s love takes over.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays on hope, check out Hope Shines. Available in regular and large print.

Easter Hope

The celebration of Easter this year felt bittersweet. Although I enjoyed the holiday — who doesn’t love bunnies, colored eggs and the excited squeals of children when they wake up to find an Easter basket?

Easter falls smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful seasons in Kansas.

When life bursts from the ground in purple crocus, early yellow tulips and wild hyacinths all over my scraggly lawn.

Even my feral cats represent life as one of them lumbers with kittens in her womb — the other birthing three babies under my deck.

Still, this Easter flipped onto the calendar only four months after we buried Mom. And three of my friends in early 2022. And hundreds of Ukrainian citizens slaughtered by Russian troops. Some of those citizens probably distant cousins.

Death reminds us of our fragile existence. We are mortal, after all. We will all return to the dust that formed us.

Sobering truths are still true, no matter how we seek to avoid them.

But the converse is also true. Despite the death and destruction, life exists in that other realm. Behind that invisible veil that separates us from the spirit world.

Our loved ones wait for us there. God watches over us from that ethereal place we can barely imagine. Where life stretches without end. No more separation. No more death and destruction.

Only the beautiful burst of living color and light where we know as we are known.

Someday, I will be with my parents again. With the friends I lost this year. Someday, God will vindicate those Ukrainian souls and judge those who murdered them.

Someday, eternity will continue to burst with renewed vigor and the beauty of life. No decay. No chaos. No disruption from the beauties of creation.

In the meantime, I will focus my hope on resurrected life and continue to believe in the eternal every day of the year.

And when chaos tries to disrupt that living hope, I’ll play this song and believe all over again.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share living hope with a single mom. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms

Hope in a Family Vacation

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

We finally arrived in Orlando. Why? Because my great niece and her band were marching at Disney World. The family traveled to encourage and support her.

And she did a great job. I am sure I heard her trumpet above the rest of the band, trilling sweet and true. No bias here.

But with its traffic and over-priced everything, Orlando would not be my favorite vacation spot.

So how could I look for hope?

By learning something. The little orange toy is everywhere in Orlando. A fuzzy reminder at the check out. A friendly face on a tee shirt. A billboard announcement.

I finally asked a local, “Is that little orange because Florida is the sunshine state?”

“Sort of,” he said. “But it has a broader reach. You see, Disney World was built on an orange grove. So to compensate for taking the land, they created this marketing orange which brings revenue back into the area.”

Hmm. So I bought some fresh oranges to bring back to Kansas. Delicious. And a reminder that this fruit has a history — at least in Orlando.

Another fact I learned was to stay away from any ponds that might be inhabited by reptiles. We weren’t in Kansas anymore.

During a tornado warning, I also realized Florida homes do not have basements. Obviously, they rarely experience a real twister.

By finding kindness. I spent much of the time at the Disney properties waiting. While my siblings and my great niece waited in long lines for a ride, I sat on a bench and waited for them.

My back does not allow me to enjoy the twists and turns of roller coasters or even some of the milder rides.

Except for the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World. The music still replays in my brain.

So I waited. Observed. Wondered why so many people will wait in a two-hour line for a 30-second ride. Something about that ROE (return on energy) intrigues me.

But others waited as well. Some of the older folks or the more obviously pregnant women. We struck up casual conversations. “Where ya’ from? How long will ya’ be here?”

Almost everyone at the Disney parks is from another state or country. Thousands of them. All present at the same time. Multiple people crowding around my obviously introverted self.

Still, kindness prevails.

By living in a rental home. Instead of a hotel, we rented a home. Cozy. Saved us money as we made our own breakfast and packed a lunch.

Settled in our own rooms, tastefully decorated with pictures of seascapes. Came together in the family room to watch the Big 12 Tournament.

Even on vacation, watching basketball wins.

We learned how many of the short-term rental homes are never seen by the owners. They buy a property, rent it out with an agency and pocket the profits.

The writer in me wondered, What kind of people buy a home they never see? Is there a story here?

Even though the home was comfortable and perfect for our needs, it was still great to begin our drive back home.

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

Would I do it again? To support my niece — probably. But next time, I’ll just watch the band then go back to the home and read a book.

Hope survives. Even in Orlando.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a quick read for your vacation? Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope for Ukraine

She was just a little girl when her parents told her, “We have to leave. The tzar is forcing us to leave our home. We will travel to America.”

Little Anna Barkman did not understand all the politics of the time. How the Mennonites were summoned by Catherine the Great to farm the land and produce wheat crops. How they grew so successful the next ruler shunned them.

Forced them to become refugees.

Anna only knew that the life she had led in the colony of Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) was ending. So she helped her parents pack up what little they could carry.

But before she set out to a new life, she wanted to preserve something of the old.

She sewed wheat kernels into the hem of her dress. The same variety of wheat her family and the other Mennonites had so successfully planted and harvested throughout the years.

Then little Anna Barkman followed her parents to the new land in America, to the Midwest, where the Mennonites would once again thrive.

Where freedom of religion was a promised right.

Once settled, Anna cut open the seams of her hem and handed those precious kernels to her father. He and the other Mennonites set about planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops.

The Mennonite settlements grew in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Today, every variety of wheat that is planted and harvested in the Midwest still has its hybrid roots in that Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat from what is now known as Ukraine.

The war is personal to me, because my ancestors are buried in the Ukraine. Their bones and personal dust still attest to the truth of who they were. Putin cannot steal their identities nor the legacy of their work.

They lived and propagated the doctrine of peace. They crafted quilts and made homemade jams. Buried their arms in yeasty dough and created smells and tastes that are still replicated by their great great grandchildren.

Some of their recipes are sold at the annual relief sale where all the proceeds go to missions.

I imagine this year much of the profits will go for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

In these years of pandemic crises, I had not thought much about my ancestors or the cemetery where they are buried. Until Putin’s bombs highlighted their plight.

A stark reminder that we all come from refugee stock.

Last week, the Russian army occupied the very region where my ancestors lay. I have not heard if the staff of the Mennonite Center survived. If they did, I know they will continue the work of peace and love, reaching out to those in need.

No matter what happens, the legacy of my ancestors will survive. Every time I eat a piece of toast, I will think of little Anna and her foresight to bring the wheat kernels to America.

And I will hope that peace once again returns to Ukraine.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Mennonites are people of faith, basing their belief systems on the words of Jesus. Some of their strengths include an emphasis on missions and music. Before the pandemic, the 300 Mennonite Men’s Chorus presented regular concerts.

Hope Given

She always fought for the underdog. The sports team nobody else liked. The almost-invisible missionary. The poorest people living on the other side of our small town. The nurse accused of stealing, as she gave her deposition to the lawyer.

“Anyone can make a mistake,” she said.

Her compassion came from her own background of poverty and bullying. How the other kids treated her when she wore the same dress to school day after day. How she and her family lived on the poor side of town, in a home that once housed a chicken-packing business.

She wore a cross necklace under her nursing uniform, because nurses were not allowed to wear any jewelry except their professional pins. “When the job is hard,” she said, “I touch my cross. It reminds me Who I belong to and why I’m cleaning up people’s vomit.”

Quietly, she supported underdog ministries. Gave freely of her monthly tithe. Always lived frugally so that she would never be poor again yet could continue to give.

Even in death, my mother gave.

Last week, I wrote out a check for a ministry I support. To help some of the underdogs in life. The check was part of a tithe from the inheritance my mother left me. A chance to honor her legacy again.

When I entered the building housing the work of The Single Mom KC, the noise of joyful life seemed everywhere. Mothers met together while their children played. The boutique that offers beautiful clothing buzzed with shoppers. Free for single moms and their kids.

I met a wonderful baby named Jeremiah. His big brown eyes sparkled with life as I tickled his tiny socks. Chubby baby fat rolls around his thighs. Maybe he’ll become another prophet like his namesake, especially now that his mama has a better chance in life.

Because of the work this nonprofit does. Because of my mother and her gift.

I dropped off the check and told the Communications Director a bit about my mom. Tickled Jeremiah’s feet again. Touched his soft brown cheek. Then hurried to my car.

Tears of grief mingled with respect for the woman whose life gifted me with the opportunity to give again. “You’re blessing single moms today, Mom. You did good. Jeremiah will have a boost up the ladder of acceptance now. His mama will have some security.

“And I will continue to give as I can — like you taught me. Thanks, Mom.”

Hope is a gift. And as we give, the blessing of the giving returns to us. The knowing that we have done something to help the underdogs of life.

The assurance that our lives are not lived in vain. Because others have given to us, and we return the favor.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

March is Women’s History Month. Check out these Invisible Women of Genesis.