Hope Keeps It Simple

Because life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday celebrations. What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money, and energy on Christmas cards.

Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped, and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, my mechanic, people at work, and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will NOT be spread with powdered sugar treats fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain, and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

Throughout the years, my house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores, or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me great joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my holiday habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful — a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it. The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son and his bride, for the family members in our gift exchange. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2022 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, hope follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always acceptable. 

Hope Embraces Gratitude

We know the health benefits of gratitude, and we focus on giving thanks—particularly during this week of the year. But every year, it’s a good spiritual practice to redefine and choose again those special things we are grateful for. This is my current list:

Hot Water. As I have watched the horrors of the war in Ukraine, I feel a special affinity for the brave women. Every night, I revel in my hot shower or bath. Hot water soothes my bones. Reminds me that winter will pass. Helps me sleep.

I cannot imagine how awful it is to have a baby when there is no hot water. To try and keep your children clean when the infrastructure has been destroyed. To soothe yourself with a cup of hot tea or coffee. To let the water warm your bones and help you forget about what Russia is doing to your country.

Each night, I thank God for hot water and try to do my part to conserve this precious resource. Each night, my prayers are for the brave hearts of Ukraine and a return to some type of normalcy.

Answered Dreams. What does it take to run down a dream? Several lifetimes of perseverance, some luck, and a whole lot of Godwinks. After my best year of book sales and after watching my coaching clients succeed, I am grateful for the answered dream of becoming a writer.

What does it take to run down a dream?

  • A young girl perched inside the barky womb of her favorite elm tree. Adolescent limbs swinging from an upper branch. Book opened. Devouring words and dreaming of becoming an author.
  • Parents who turned off the TV and encouraged more reading.
  • A high school counselor who confirmed, “You’re certainly good at English. Writing is easy for you.”
  • Straight A’s in every language arts class. Math? Not so much.
  • Notebooks and diaries filled with the detailed debris of my life.
  • Multiple rejections that strengthened my soul muscles and forced me to try again.
  • Seeing my books on a library shelf.

Spices. The sense of taste allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and of course—pumpkin pie spice.

Part of the joy of spices is how they smell up the entire house while they’re cooking. My mind easily roams back to the farm kitchen as Mom baked peppernuts. That smell evokes care, holiday fun, and love—all at the same time.

Add to those culinary smells, the herbs I grow and throw in recipes: basil, rosemary, and my goodness…Are you hungry yet?

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I share with gratitude my Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipe as a special gift for you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie 

One day previous to Turkey day, mix ½ cup whole milk with 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix. Whisk together and let the pudding set overnight in the fridge.

The next morning: Mix the set pudding with 1 TB pumpkin pie spice, 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup slivered almonds, and 1 cup mini-chocolate chips. Add ¼ tsp of ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With spatula, carefully pour the pie mixture into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust. For extra spice, crush up some ginger snaps with melted butter to make your own pie crust.

On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving by remembering single moms. Order a book and gift it. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in a Jar

The caller ID showed a familiar number, so I answered it. “Can you come to the church office? We have something for you.”

Something for me? Did I forget my Bible at church? No. My journal? Nay, nay.

As I entered the office, the administrative assistant handed me a box. “It’s really heavy. Can you carry it to your car? The people who gave it to you wanted to remain anonymous.”

I managed to carry it down the stairs and out to the parking lot, then peeked inside. A jar full of change. Some kind person’s planned generosity. They must have saved all year to fill this one jar for me. What an amazing gift!

As a single mom at Christmas time, I had wondered how to give my precious son a special holiday. For Thanksgiving, a family from church invited us to share their meal, but now we were on the other side of turkey day.

But once again, someone showed up to help us. It felt like an early Christmas, and I could not even thank whoever gave us this amazing jar.

When I cashed it in at the bank, the total of all those quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies equaled $258.00. Plenty of money for our Christmas meal, goodies for my son’s stocking, and plenty of brightly wrapped gifts.

On December 24th, I looked around the living room and thanked God for the change jar. “Please bless those people, God, and help them know how grateful we are.”

Neither my son nor I have ever forgotten that holiday season and the hope given us through a jar of change. I share this post early in the season, hoping that some of my followers will think about single moms and their children this year.

Do you have a jar of change you’ve been saving? Could you give it away? Do you have extra room around your table? Do you have space in your heart to offer hope?

It doesn’t take much to help another soul, but sometimes it DOES require that we rethink what generosity looks like. The cost includes a new mindset, an opening of our hearts, an inclusive attitude laced with compassion.

How many of my followers will give a jar of change? How many single moms and their children will look around their house this year with gratitude?

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you know a single mom, consider giving her Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. It might share hope each day of the coming year.

Hope Beyond the Stereotypes

Perhaps it is the coming of winter that causes moments of reflection. Or the new journal I use to record my thoughts. Or the writer in me who MUST write in order to process life. Whatever the origin, my reflection turns to a time-honored quote.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us how the Jews honored the name of God. They would not purposely step on a piece of paper, in case it contained the name Yahweh. He suggests we should apply this practice to how we treat others.

“Trample not on anyone. There may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on. It may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it. Therefore, despise it not.”

This not trampling on anyone sounds like an easy goal. A worthy purpose. Yet when I see the blatant evil perpetrated by some, it seems impossible.

How can I love every soul, no matter what they choose to do? How can I honor the second commandment of Jesus, to love others as I love myself?

  • Even the evil ruler who is bombing the life out of the citizens of Ukraine, for no other reason than to garner for himself the trophy of another country?
  • Even the knife-wielding radical who stole the eye from a courageous author who dared to confront the inequities of his religion?
  • Even the abuser who torments a puppy, then kicks it out onto the street?
  • Even the man who threatens his wife and children, using his second amendment rights to weaponize their home?
  • Even the religious leader who uses his bully pulpit as a tool for control?
  • Even the woman who allowed her boyfriend to kill their child in one of our Kansas City neighborhoods?
  • Even the murderers of 14 year-old Emmett Till?
  • Even me and the self-righteousness legalism fostered in me?

When I cannot do anything about these horrors, how do I respond? How can I pray? And how do I live in these perilous times to make sure my home is safe yet offer grace to others?

I flip the page on my journal, still not satisfied with how the processing of this question is going. For such a quandary, there surely is no easy answer. For all sin is the practice of ignoring God, and all of us have been guilty.

Some of us just hide it better than others.

Were it not for grace, any of us could be included in the above bullet list. The giving of grace seems so easy for Almighty God who loves unconditionally. Yet it did cost the life of his Son. No easy road there.

And I admit I am still learning how to receive and gift this same costly grace.

What will it cost me to release my stereotypes of these people who choose evil? Will it be to remember that trauma often begets trauma, that evil can multiply through the generations? That people who are raised without knowing the love of God will therefore act like satan?

When did it become my responsibility to judge another? Never. Not even when it became personal to my family, to my soul.

For if Christ died for me, he also died for these others who choose to ignore his grace. And his infinite patience is somehow allowing them the time to make another choice, to open their souls to his healing grace.

It is in the patience of the timing that I am stuck. When, God, when?

So although I find no answers, I will choose to live each day trusting the One who knows not only the answers but all the relatable questions.

And I will embrace the backward living suggested by Father Richard Rohr. That instead of trying to think my way into a new way of living, I should instead live myself into a new way of thinking.

Have mercy on us, oh God.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Uploading Faith addresses such reflective questions, especially for those who seek answers.

The Intensity of Hope

To increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, this is a re-post about the intensity of writing a novel on the topic of domestic abuse. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or at work. Some of them are in your family. It is important to know how to help.

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be, because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plotlines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — living with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We do not know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s contemporary story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who refused to hear the truth and told these women to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps.

The editor sent me revisions as I prepared for the booksigning. Invited women I knew who were being abused. Told they were ‘stupid.’ ‘Too emotional.’ Or ‘hormonal,’ just because they wanted to be treated with respect.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Then the book was published, sold, and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo. 

Enjoying a Nugget of Hope

He did not know me, and I had never met him. But we shared the usual exchange.

“Cash, please. Twenties and tens.”

“Date of birth?”

The guy at the bank window hurried away to check my account and cash my check. I waited in the drive through, listened to “Hymn of Heaven” on Love-88.

Then the tray returned, and I looked up to thank this smiling guy I did not know. Evidently, in checking my account and my date of birth, he realized it was indeed my actual birthday.

The envelope returned my cash with a note: “Happy Birthday! I hope you have a good day and eat some good food!”

I smiled as he waved, cleared the lump in my throat, and drove toward my next errand. But I wondered, what are the seemingly small things we can do to share a nugget of hope each day?

  • Make eye contact with the busy retail workers and ask how they’re doing. Compliment them on a job well-done.
  • Give an extra tip when we eat out. Servers are struggling with inflation, too.
  • Follow my son’s example. He writes a special ‘Thank you for your excellent service’ on the back of receipts. Ends the sentence with a smiley face.
  • Send a greeting card to an elderly person. It only costs a little time and one stamp, but the encouragement on the reception is priceless.
  • Refuse to engage in hateful social media posts. Instead, share something beautiful and positive.
  • Give a thank you note to the pharmacy tech at the drive-through window. My daughter-in-love has experienced numerous hate-filled speeches from people picking up their meds, upset with the cost, or wondering why their insurance has not responded. It is NOT her fault. Surely, we can do better. Be better.
  • Show kindness to the marginalized. Be creative here. Remember that Jesus only labeled the self-righteous religious leaders (vipers and snakes). He never excluded the marginalized, the people who were cast out of synagogues because they were the wrong gender or they suffered with leprosy. Can we not follow the example of Jesus in our everyday lives?
  • Document and compliment any kindness shown to you. I plan to send a thank-you email to the manager of my bank. To let her know how thoughtful her employees have been. To encourage her as she trains new hires.

It only took a small Post-it note from a stranger on the other side of the window to lift my spirits.

Surely each of us can share a nugget of hope with someone each day. And hope multiplied might just make a difference in our world.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share some hope with a senior friend. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope Beyond the Tarnish

“Get some Brasso,” the handyman said.

I had never heard of the stuff but found it at the hardware store. Guaranteed to take the tarnish and other gunk off brass and restore the original shine. Less than five bucks to keep the vintage look of my kitchen cabinet hardware.

It wasn’t tarnished too badly, but in the years since the house was built (1976) and multiple owners — the hardware had turned black.

Plus the human touch, the oils and dirt accumulated and added to the grime. In fact, the hardware was so tarnished, I did not even know it was brass underneath.

With just a small amount of Brasso and the bristles of an old toothbrush, the process began. Soon, the shiny antique brass hardware sported its best-dressed look, and my kitchen was transformed.

The spiritual connection was obvious. We may think we’re doing okay, shining as we can for Jesus. But the dirt of the world and our own inner tarnish can make a difference in how we appear. Dull us a bit. Take away from the best of our vintage source.

Others may not even know we are Jesus followers, because we no longer look or act like our origin.

Add the tarnish of the touch of other humans who wound us, the oils and dirt we so easily accumulate, the lies we believe, and our refusal to change. Hope disappears, because we have lost our ability to fully shine. We’re only okay. No longer fabulous.

But with a bit of the Holy Spirit at work and the addition of God’s word, we can start to become who we were created to be. We have to let the Spirit do his polishing act, remove from us the toxins that corrode us. Transform us by the renewing of our minds.

That important word: Let.

We may not even be aware that the Spirit is working. Most of his best processes happen in sacred silence. No fanfare that might point to human endeavor. Just a bit of divine power, of spit and polish, rub and erase.

We may even hear the divine whisper, “You’re okay, beloved child. But there is more you can reach for. More of the taste of heavenly delight. More of the love that draws others upward. More purpose to satisfy your lonely heart.

“And when the polishing process is completed, you will look better. Feel more alive. Be more useful, because nothing will hold you back. You will make the world a safer and more loving place to inhabit, because you are more connected to Me.

“Oh, yes child, you’re okay now. But just wait, honey. Soon — you will shine.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out the story of Abigail in No Visible Scars. Her scars were not visible yet she learned to set important boundaries and shine.