When Hope Welcomes Diversity

As I sat on my front porch, I watched the kids play in the cul-de-sac. One black kid, two whites and three Latinos — two girls, four boys. They squealed with laughter, ran in circles, kidded each other like typical children enjoying a summer night.children - diff races

Far away from the murders of young black men and women. Focused only on the fun of being together without barriers.

When I watched George Floyd die on the national news, I cried and forced myself to watch it several times so I would never forget. Then came the reminders of earlier murders, of the taking of life merely because of skin color.

Such a sad scenario for a country that is supposed to stand for equality — all of us created equal by the God who gifted us with different skin tones.

Yet I’ve struggled to find a way, as a writer, to respond. What kind of voice can I add to the discussion as a white woman living in a comfortable cul-de-sac?

My history did not prepare me for the headlines of 2020. No black farmers tended their crops in our community. I didn’t go to school or church with black kids until my college days. Not because I avoided them, but because our community was segregated. Everyone on both sides seemed to accept it as the status quo.

At least, that was the excuse given to us.

The 1960’s opened my eyes to more of the struggles and inequities that needed to be fixed. I succinctly remember standing in a worship circle at a college weekend retreat, grasping the hand next to me and looking to see our white and black fingers intertwined.

“Cool,” I said to nobody in particular.

But that day, my soul opened to more possibilities. Until I experienced racism myself.

As a missionary in Honduras, I was a very white woman in a Latino world. We were not allowed to go downtown alone and never traveled outside our post at night. The culture shock was deep and real. It was a lonely identity thrust on me by location, gender and race.

But when I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas, I learned to appreciate and revel in the beatific richness of diverse cultures. Each week I met with Chinese post-docs, Kenyans, Muslims from the Middle East, Indians from New Delhi, Koreans, Japanese, Nepalese, Germans and other European students.

Although I was the leader of the group, I too learned from my students: about amazing foods, cultural differences, the rhythm of multiple languages and the colorful textures of customized dress.

None of us talked about racial differences. We all gathered together for one purpose — to learn to speak English better and share our lives with each other.

Only the U.S. was behind the curve ball where we couldn’t reconcile just two races as equal partners.

So I wonder what I can do now to help move my country of origin to a better place?

Admit that I don’t truly understand how it feels to be black in America. Until we open the conversation, truly listen to each other, ask the open-ended difficult questions and desire to learn from each other — we’ll be tethered by our history.

Change and social justice only happen as we dare to believe in the need for change and actually work hard to make it happen.

Educate myself. One of my black clients and I are reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Soon, we’ll meet online and discuss it. Hopefully, we’ll both grow and appreciate more fully the challenges our nation faces.

I’m also committed to reading more books written by authors of color, and I want to support the Black Writers Guild.

Recently, I attended a writers conference where I learned tips about writing diverse characters. The workshop was focused on various races and reminded me once again how most of us write from the viewpoint of our comfort zones.

Speak up. Silence is indeed a form of consensus. My voice will be heard at the ballot box as I discover each candidate’s plan for civil rights and racial equality. Which candidates are committed to social justice, mercy and decent human rights for all?

Leadership matters, and change can’t happen when the same people work from the same office with the same mindset while refusing to listen.

God promises that someday people from every tribe and language will stand before his throne (Revelation 7:9, 10). Heaven will be a place where diversity is celebrated and fully accepted.

If we’re going to live eternally with our brothers and sisters from all over the world, we’d better learn how to peacefully live together now.

We have so much work to do and so many prayers to offer. I pray to God with steadfast hope we’ll get it right this time.

Maybe the children will have to show us the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How does faith factor into daily life? Check out Uploading Faith.

When Hope Connects to Our Children

He was a drummer from the womb — usually around midnight. The kicking began with a steady rhythm and quickly accelerated. Boom! Bam! Boom Boom!

I knew he would have some sort of musical talent, and he would be a night person.

So it was no surprise when I handed my toddler son his first drum set – my best pots and pans with a wooden spoon. He took off with his own version of heavy metal percussion.

During the parent-teacher conference in first grade, his teacher gave me that look every parent dreads. “He uses his pencils and sometimes his fingers to beat on his desk.” She sighed heavily.

“Uh-huh. And the problem is?” We started looking for a drum instructor.

After a few lessons, he progressed through all the books, wore out several pairs of drumsticks and one or two instructors. “Definitely a musical prodigy. Definitely has amazing rhythm,” they said.

“Uh-huh.” For his next birthday, we bought him a genuine drum set.

Middle school enrollment meant organizing his schedule around band. Forget biology and algebra. The only reason my son went to school was to be with his friends and be in band.

During a concert highlight, he played a solo that brought a standing ovation. One of the premiere piano teachers in our community told me later, “His rhythm is impeccable. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Uh-huh. Thank you.”

During high school, marching band provided the perfect scenario for discipline, music and the opportunity to excel. He won a speed drumming contest, and his band won championships weekend after weekend.

I stood in the stands cheering and pointed out the drumline to everyone who would listen. “That’s my son – on the snare.”

He was asked to play with a small heavy metal band, so they had several gigs all over town and performed at The Battle of the Bands. They practiced out in the country, at the lead guitarist’s home.

Our neighbors were probably grateful, although no one ever complained about the constant beats coming from our house.

He probably could have applied for a music scholarship to college, but he chose to go a different direction. And that was fine — until the brain tumor diagnosis.

When the doctor said he would lose his hearing, everybody started praying. Have you ever prayed your guts out? Uh-huh.

And God was gracious. The first question I asked him in the ICU was, “Can you hear me?” It was a wondrous miracle when he motioned, “Yes.”

Life has continued for my precious son — sometimes filled with joys and other times with challenges. But his drums have always been his sense of identity, his place of belonging.

Until his best friend died. My Caleb joined the drumline to play at Ryan’s funeral. went through a severe bout of survivor guilt and grieved deeply. Then he stopped playing his drums.

For several years now, I have prayed Caleb would return to his music. I knew he missed his drums even though he never said so.

But music does that for us. It solidifies the rhythm of the soul so that when it is gone — we feel empty.

A couple of weeks ago, Caleb and his sweetheart became engaged. Maybe he felt it was time to leave the past behind. Or maybe he just felt like his world was suddenly right.

He ordered an electronic drum set and had fun setting them up, testing for the best sounds, hooking wires to the amplifier and re-arranging his bedroom.

He’s been playing every night. Great therapy after a day’s work, but also a workout. Good for his heart — physically and emotionally.

When I hear the beats, I smile and thank God. I know my son is happy, so that makes me happy.

When we’re happy, when we’re hanging on to hope — that makes our Father God smile. He enjoys the pleasures of his children, just as we humans do.

So during these days of so many challenges, it’s important to find that one thing that brings pleasure.

Whether it’s arranging flowers from the garden, revising an old recipe, playing a musical instrument, connecting hope to your children or writing a blog post — do something that brings you joy.

Then try to imagine God’s smile.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to write another blog post, maybe you need a plan. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

Hope Acknowledges the Tears

crying manIn one week’s time, I heard two men apologize for their tears.

“I’m sorry,” they both said. “Give me a minute.” Then they hung their heads, as if afraid to let the rest of us see their breaking moment.

They were both on podcasts and couldn’t hear me yelling, “Don’t apologize for your tears. It’s okay to cry.”

In fact, health experts tell us tears and crying are essential to healthy bodies and souls. Allowing yourself to cry can:

  • Help you sleep better
  • Relieve any number of stresses
  • Release hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins
  • Fight bacteria
  • Lower blood pressure

Check out some of these benefits of crying.

But crying can also underscore our humanity. It proves we have been created part liquid, and we can be touched by multiple factors in life.

Having a good cry develops authenticity. It proves we are vulnerable to the circumstances around us and being vulnerable is okay. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real.

Letting the tears flow debunks the theory “real men don’t cry.” If they can’t cry, then how real are the rest of their emotions? Perhaps holding back those tears may lead to blocking off other feelings such as love, compassion and mercy.

In the current novel I’m writing, the main character is a man who has a crying scene. I interviewed several women and men on the reality of letting a man cry in print. One woman was glad her husband could cry in front of her. She felt it increased their sense of intimacy.

One of my male friends admitted he rarely cries, but when he allows himself to get away and let the tears flow — he eventually feels better.

Tears give off signals that we need support, that it’s okay to ask for help. Friendships are built on emotional support. Relationships cannot exist without it.

Finally, being able to cry proves we care. How many of us cried out, if only internally, with George Floyd when he called for his mother? How many healthcare workers cried with the dying in the ICU and shuddered as the numbers of dead climbed each day?

Or have we become so callused to the crises around us, we have numbed down our tears?

Apathy is a dangerous disease which eventually silences the heart’s compassionate center. Without tears, our souls become hardened. Without feeling, we grow into stone versions of ourselves. If we cease to cry, we prove we no longer care enough to release heart-felt compassion.

Babies cry to make their needs known, but also to strengthen their lungs and the quality of their breathing. Perhaps some of us need to become as a little child again, to find the strength in letting go.

If crying is something to be ashamed of, then why are tears so important to God? “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle. You have recorded every one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 TLB).

Since God responds to the cry of the heart, then it must be okay to let the tears fall — and refuse to apologize for such a natural act.

Perhaps the men I observed will someday realize the beauty and health involved in their tears. I hope they learn how to be authentic, to wail and weep if they need to, to be vulnerable about their feelings.

Maybe our world would be a better place if we all cried out.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Some of the essays in Sometimes They Forget speak about the tears of our family when the shadows of Alzheimer’s came to live with us.

Communion in the Time of Covid-19

Although many of us miss the corporate meetings of church, one part of the routine is more comfortable for me at home — Communion.Communion

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is special. I don’t like observing it every Sunday as some churches do. It seems then to become as ritualistic as the parking space I head for each Sunday.

I want communion, especially during the time of Covid-19, to be unique — a longer time of reflection, more than just politely passing the plate to my neighbor in the pew, bowing for prayer, a quick snack and go home.

With more time and choices within my kitchen quarantine, I can spend the time I believe this sacrament deserves.

“Remember me,” Jesus said, as he led his best friends in this final act of intimate fellowship before his death.

To best remember this God-man, this Jesus, I like to devote time and thought to the act of contemplative worship.

So when my church announces we will observe the Lord’s Supper during our pandemic-required-live-stream, I prepare my kitchen table to become an altar of remembrance:

  • A candle for the observance of holy light
  • A china plate to hold my gluten-free cracker
  • My special cup filled with elderberry juice
  • Soft music playing in the background

One of my friends gave me the china plate, bone china from England, glazed with some of my favorite colors. It’s delicate, beautiful and reminds me of this sanctified moment between my Savior and me. As the potter took extra time to fashion such a plate and its matching cup, so I take extra time with my Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4).

Another friend gave me the amazing crystal cup. It sings a sweet vibrato when I tap it — as authentic as the love of the God-man I celebrate. Engraved with flowery swirls, it’s a reminder that the Spirit is both feminine and masculine, both strong and sweet.

Once my personal altar is prepared, I am ready to begin the moments of remembrance. But first, I want to approach this human temple fully cleansed.

So I spend a few moments in confession, for sins I have committed when I have deliberately rebelled, hurt my Lord and my fellow humans, refused to obey God just because.

For sins of omission when I have failed to do good to others, to love them as I love myself, to ignore my own fears and reach out to anyone who needs my help.

For sins of ignorance which I did not realize hurt someone else and may have damaged the name of Christ. Any action, word or thought which brings pain to another needs to be acknowledged and forgiven.

Once I have confessed, I receive grace as a gift in this relationship between divine and human. Because I am family, I believe and receive the forgiveness my Beloved offers so freely.

The phrase “Remember me” wraps the next moments in memories of a young man in his early thirties who knew he was dying. If we had more of the written scenario, more space for dialogue, Jesus might have said, “Remember how I made tables in my carpentry shop, turned the wood and planed the corners to make them fit just right.

“Remember me and how my nieces and nephews made me laugh, how we played in Mother’s small house, thought about Joseph and how much we missed him.

“Remember me and our fishing trips — before you knew I could multiply your harvest and cause your nets to break with the increase.

“Remember our meals together, the sacred holidays we celebrated, my favorite foods and the way I sang the Yeshiva songs.

“Remember me as your Savior, but also as your friend. Remember how I will die, but also how I lived fully and with abundance the time that was given me.

“Remember me.”

During my sacrament time, I commune with Jesus in gratitude — a remembrance of how his tortured body hung on that cross, sepsis beginning its fatal trek through his tissues, the splinters that entered his wounds as he pushed himself upward, struggling to breathe.

I take my gluten-free cracker and let it slowly dissolve on my tongue, the taste a bitter reminder of his forty-day fast, his last meal, the hunger I feel for a closer walk with him.

The elderberry juice purples my special cup, and I relieve the dryness of that cracker. I remember how the blood must have dripped into his eyes, the cruel thorns that drew the red stream he could not wipe away.

I remember Old Testament stories of blood-drawn sacrifices, the altars smeared with gore, a foreshadowing of the final death that would free us all.

After my sacrament session ends, I sing a song of praise. Another Sunday flipped on the calendar, another day closer to the end of this Covid-19 pandemic, another month close to the time we return to corporately take communion in the building we call church.

Although gathering together will be nice, I will miss my time of solitude, reflective moments with no need to finish at a certain time, my own contemplative ritual that celebrates the life and death of this Jesus.

And I will ponder how to make communion special again. With a bittersweet prayer, I will whisper, “I remember.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how faith relates to daily life, check out the book my son and I wrote together. Uploading Faith, available on Amazon.

What Not to Do During Lockdown

lockdown-5130295_640Credit for this blog post’s idea goes to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. During Lockdown, I discovered his church site and started watching some of his sermons.

Most of us have seen blog posts or participated in Zoom meetings about what to do during this Covid-19 crisis.

Multiple bulleted lists suggest new recipes, guidelines for teaching children at home or the proper way to make masks while we’re in Lockdown.

But what are some things we should NOT do? Here’s my list:

Don’t Overwatch the News. Sure, we need to stay informed about the Lockdown and reopening facts. But no matter which channels we watch, an overdose of the bad news brings with it gray shadows of discouragement.

Save your time and energy for something more positive. Stay away from the negative newsies.

Don’t Try to Figure It Out. With time and the writing of history books, blame will be placed on various entities and government administrations. We waste time and energy trying to figure out where this virus came from and how we can deal with it.

Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot always plan for the long-term. It’s only one day at a time, one whispered prayer at a time.

Don’t Let the Fear Win. We feel the insecurity and the unknowns of this invisible attack. But if we let the anxiety rule, we become emotionally sick.

Watch humorous videos, escape into a good book or visit online with family and friends. If the fear seems to be winning, call a pastor or a professional counselor.

As Pastor Furtick says, “Fear can ride in the car, but not drive.”

Don’t Do Something Impulsive. Crises take time to work through just as a virus must wear itself out or lose its ability to populate.

Give yourself time before initiating any impulsive decisions such as: moving to another country where the stats aren’t as deadly, eating or drinking compulsively, making any life-changing decisions.

Follow the advice of King David, “Rest in God and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a Amplified).

Be patient. Be safe. Be wise.

Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself. Even as the crisis wanes, personal hygiene will remain vital. Protecting ourselves from abuses of any kind and the stresses of over-work is still a major step toward good health.

Proper nutrition, keeping healthy routines, restorative sleep, a variety of positive activities, daily exercise — all these continue to be ways we can avoid our own personal crisis.

Don’t Stop Caring About Others. Lockdown and quarantine can become so self-absorbing, we can forget to love others as we love ourselves. Think about ways you can bless others in your neighborhood.

Take a meal to an elderly neighbor and leave it safely on the porch. Package up your favorite books to bless another reader. Write cards and letters to family members, even if they live in the same town. Phone a friend. Try one of the online recipes for thick, yummy brownies and share them with your neighbors.

Move relationally out of your own world and help your community. It will warm your heart and encourage others.

Don’t Try to Be God. Some people are already trying to interpret this virus as a spiritual message. Sure, God can use anything in life to teach us important lessons, but that doesn’t mean everything in life is our chance to preach to the masses.

Conspiracy theories based on random scriptures are already surging through the internet. As we grow closer to the 2020 elections, we’ll probably see more of these from both sides of the aisle, blaming various politicians for this pandemic’s tragic results.

Constrain your urge to interpret history through the lens of your denomination. Instead, follow the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love people. Period.

Don’t Lose Hope. Keep believing in positive outcomes and keep praying for those who are trying to help us — the leaders of local, state and national government, the scientists working on a vaccine, the frontline workers at every level.

Remember every sunset is followed by a new day, and God’s mercies refresh with each beginning.

Keep working on your creative endeavors, your job search, your personal relationships. Keep believing in a brighter future.

Covid-19 is called the invisible enemy. God is also invisible, but he’s still more powerful than this nasty virus.

When we stay in hope, we eventually defeat the enemies of our souls and ultimately — we win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My newest book is now in print and on Kindle. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

 

Hope Nuggets During Lockdown

Like most writers, I have found the Covid-19 pandemic to be a challenge. The stressors of constant change, the I-can’t-breathe-under-this-mask struggle, the discouraging news cycles — all added to a shortage of creative ideas.

Yet I also wanted to do my part with my words to encourage others, to share how we might make it through this time together.hope endures

So I started posting Hope Nuggets on all my social media sites. Each day, I chose just one thing to be grateful for, found a corresponding picture and wrote a small paragraph.

It helped me think about something besides the pandemic, something other than the constant worry of how life was now defined. And it reminded me of that lovely song from The Sound of Music.

I decided to quit after 40 Hope Nuggets, but extended it to finish out the week before Lockdown was lifted. Forty because of its significance as a number — the whole 40 years in the wilderness idea.

Sometimes those 40 days DID seem like years.

As I looked back at the nuggets and received comments from followers, I noticed a pattern. Almost a listicle of the gratitudes that define my life, those objects and subjects that interest me and keep me breathing in hope.

Flowers were my primary focus. If I could afford the time, sweat equity and cost, I would make my entire yard a mass of flowers.

In fact, my idea of heaven is not a mansion in the sky but rather a country cottage surrounded by flowers peeking through the white picket fence.

Maybe part of my focus on plants and flowers was because the pandemic’s limitations hit us during the beginnings of spring. Every year, I look forward to March and April, to browsing through nurseries and selecting new annuals, to foraging under last year’s mulch for perennials.

My garden includes a variety of eatables and beautifuls. The curb appeal for my home includes pots of flowers and a hanging basket on the redbud tree.

I bring in cuttings through each season to add to the color and health of my inside home. Twice a week, I make the rounds through each room, watering and talking to my plants and flowers.

In the time of Covid-19 with so much death and suffering, it was soothing to my soul to think about these living things, these beautifuls God has created.

So, of course, they offered hope:

  • My newest hibiscus planting, a sweet yellow tropical
  • Vines with new growth swirling around ceramic pots
  • The purple violet that graces my bedroom with its gentle blooms
  • The budding trees that color neighborhoods all over the Midwest
  • My deep fuchsia clematis I had to cover to protect from a late frost
  • The seeds that promise a harvest from my herb garden. This year I ordered them online from Renee’s Garden.
  • My hyacinth and tulip bulbs — planted in the chill of autumn that results in a spring surprise
  • The various pansies and violas that grin with sweet faces

Other hope nuggets included the interests of my life and some of the more subtle offerings for gratitude. Anything connected with books and writing, of course, including the books themselves that graced us with a reason to escape the horrors reported on the news.

Notebooks, pens, margins on the page and calendars that color my office with a different landscape each month. Libraries — please open the library soon!

The more reflective nuggets that included my faith life, the way walking releases positive endorphins, the mercies of God I beg for each morning, the podcasts that feed my core value of life-long learning.

All these and more created a tiny buzz of gratitude each day. Each nugget I shared with the hope that it might encourage another pilgrim dealing with the locked door of a nursing home or the last breaths of a loved one.

During these uncertain times, it felt necessary — almost urgent — to find something, anything to move our focus in a more positive direction.

If my tiny hope nuggets could do that for even one heart, then they were worth the effort to dig deep into my soul and find them waiting for me.

I considered putting them all into a book, but then decided I would like to just forget about 2020, to let it fade into the background of our history.

Better to leave the hope nuggets in the mist of my legacy rather than explain them to future readers. So this blog post will suffice, unless I change my mind and need another distraction in the coming months.

What about you? Any gratitudes you can now share with the rest of us?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing during a pandemic can be a challenge. Maybe you need a writing plan. Check out my newest book, Finding Your Writing Plan.

A Recipe Fail During Lockdown

Because personal freedom is one of my core values, the Lockdown of 2020 hit me hard. So I responded like many other prisoners-in-their-own-homes. I craved comfort food.

Chips, candy or sweets of any kind are usually not part of my daily diet. I don’t buy the stuff so I’m not tempted. Except for dark chocolate which I figure is healthy in moderation.

chocolate chip cookiesBut one day I woke with a dire craving for chocolate chip cookies — the chewy yummy warm kind fresh from the oven.

I had printed out a recipe that looked promising from an online source but had no chocolate.

None. Nada. Impossible but true.

It seemed a waste of time and possible Covid-19 germs to risk a Target run with only one item on my list, so I improvised.

I found some leftover Valentine candy in the fridge and chopped up enough of the milk chocolate hearts to add to the dough. Then I used the only type of gluten free flour in my pantry – cassava.

The dough had the perfect consistency. The kitchen smelled heavenly. My need-for-comfort taste buds salivated.

But when the timer dinged and I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven, I noticed a problem.

My improvised cookies had not spread out and slightly flattened like chocolate chip cookies are supposed to do. They were the same size as the original dough balls I placed on the parchment paper.

Oh well — who cares how they look? They’ll taste good.

Nay. Nay.

One grainy bite proved nasty enough to resist another. The cassava flour did not blend with the butter. The cookies were hard and not even close to what I craved.

And I remembered why I always buy bittersweet or semisweet dark chocolate. Because I don’t really like milk chocolate.

The recipe was a total fail. Another reason to reject 2020 as the year of disappointments.

My son didn’t like the cookies either, so they sat on the counter unappreciated and rejected.

Lesson learned: only use the ingredients you know and trust and truly love.

The next time I drove to the store, masked and careful to keep my distance, I bought a bag of the Ghirardelli chocolate I like, dark and semi-sweet. Then I bought a different kind of gluten flour, one that bakes better yet keeps my gut happy.

But then I no longer had the craving for warm yummy chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I was growing accustomed to Lockdown and no longer needed the comfort of a treat.

Nah — probably not.

As for the failed cookies, they did serve a useful purpose. I decided to use them as cobblestones in my garden.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If 2020 has been a disappointment for you, too, check out more positive stories in Hope Shines.