When Hope Encounters a Rollercoaster

Memories of fun in the past included rollercoaster rides. Those giant metal or wooden edifices roared as the track connected with the train.

Hands held high. An unplanned scream. Stomach muscles clenched in a clash between fear and excitement.

But today’s rollercoaster comes not from a machine or long lines of customers anticipating the ride of their lives.

No, we are all on a rollercoaster together — the emotional ride of 2020.

Just as we begin to feel a bit more secure, another jerk takes us to a scary elevation of fear or a sudden downturn of despair.

Back and forth. Up and down. The spiral cycles and the stomach clenches once again.

What does this rollercoaster look like in the waning months of 2020?

The Ever-Present Track of Covid-19. Our family had escaped Covid. Everyone was healthy. Then the phone call. The one person most susceptible – the elderly matriarch.

Mom is 92 and confused within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. She does not understand why she has been taken out of her room and placed in isolation. She does not recognize the staff people who now wear full PPE garb and speak to her behind shields.

The cruel rollercoaster of 2020.

Unexpected Circumstances. A simple step down into the garden, expecting to water flowers. Then joy at the colorful blooms became pain as my hamstring pulled, leg and hip out of whack. Doctor visits, chiropractic treatments, a cane to maneuver through my uneven yard. Three months out, and it still hurts to sit or stand.

The uncertain rollercoaster of 2020.

Cancelled Plans. A special birthday trip to my beloved Santa Fe and the wonders of the Southwest. Planned with a friend for months. Excitement flushes out as reality slides around the next turn. Travel is impossible with a hip injury. Wait another year. Forget this anticipation and push back the joy.

The disappointing rollercoaster of 2020.

The Search for Truth. One news channel reports their facts, complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Another channel reports their facts, also complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Yet they totally disagree.

The confusing rollercoaster of 2020.

Science versus Reality. Government agencies we should be able to trust release statements about vaccines, treatments, forecasted dates. Then the next day, they reverse their information. What?! Science changes overnight? How much is politics affecting information — on both sides of the aisle?

The puzzling rollercoaster of 2020.

Relationships Suffering. Families and friends who once worked together, worshipped the same God and rejoiced in spending time together. Now they are jerked apart by opposing views — both sides claiming divine inspiration. Both sides able to quote Bible verses and pound pulpits with their opinions.

The polarizing rollercoaster of 2020.

How can we find hope when our emotions are jerked up and down, around and around, spiraling out of control?

A carnival ride expert once said to focus on what is not moving, something that will not change no matter which direction the rollercoaster heads.

So we can focus on one thing — hang on to the thread of faith, that whisper of constancy that assures us, “For I, the Lord, do not change. Therefore, you are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Eventually, we will step off and away from the rollercoaster of 2020. It will take a while to regain our equilibrium, and we will most certainly face a changed world.

But even as we focus on what steadies us, we can be certain hope will survive. It looks beyond the present tense, reaches toward the future perfect.

To be settled and steady. To feel secure. To know we have survived this year and hope for what promises to be better.

That is the goal of hope, an emotional place that may be shaken but still endures.

In spite of the rollercoaster of 2020, we can end our days with this Kenyan prayer: “From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth — Good Lord, deliver us.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, just released during this crazy year of 2020. The Invisible Women of Genesis uncovers some of the hidden stories from the women who were present, yet invisible, at the beginning.

 

Hope Travels to a Cemetery

She knelt beside the gravestone, surrounded by other markers unknown to us. Yet even with the multiple spirits in attendance and angels on guard, she was alone.

A young woman seeking closure from the death of her beloved nanny. Decades after the event, yet the pain still as fresh as the day she breathed her last.

When I step onto a cemetery’s soil, I always think of the show Our Town. That scene when major characters sit in their places beside their gravestones and observe family and friends in grief.

No expression on the faces of the dead characters – just an acknowledgement of life lived to its fullest, a few regrets and the somber reality of how quickly our timelines are fulfilled.

For this young woman who lost a lifetime friend, it was a sacred moment. The death of her nanny interrupted her middle-school years and created a searing hole of loss.

We don’t always pay attention to the grief of children: the loss of a pet, a grandparent or even an unexpected move.

As adults, we do what we have to do: arrange the cremation, pack up the belongings, schedule a garage sale to get rid of the detritus of another’s life.

So when children’s needs are passed over, it creates a gap in their growth, a scar that keeps bleeding at the reminders of every holiday, each birthday approached or a surprise smell that brings the loss back into clear focus.

For this woman, even the location of the grave was hidden – a great unknown affecting multiple families who knew this nanny.

Yet the cemetery held the secret, ready to reveal it at the proper time, eager to speed healing and salve a soul.

With the help of an internet site, findagrave.com, we found the general direction of where the grave might be. In the heat of early September we traipsed from row to row.

Thoughts of my own beloveds buried in cemeteries of the Midwest. Grateful for the belief we shared that we would meet again in an eternal state. No deaths there. No Covid-19. No sickness of any kind.

The writer in me paused to reflect on the myriad of stories reflected by dates: a grandfather who passed in 1889, a soldier from WWII, an eight year-old child. I could imagine the sobs of parents and wondered if the cause was the flu epidemic, a dreadful accident, maybe the scourge of smallpox?

Cemeteries provide a sense of history, a reminder of our mortality and a concrete symbol of the toll loss takes. Yet within the provision of closure, these sacred spaces also reflect Bible verses, pictures surrounded by stone, carefully manicured grass that protects vases of artificial or real blooms.

And cemeteries remind us to live life as fully as we can – while we can. Before our chairs are set beside the grave and we observe those who come to mourn.

Finally . . . a cry from my son. He used the background of an online photo to locate the grave. I watched the young woman slowly approach, knew she was glad to find it yet dreading the sight of that precious name and the death date inscribed below.

I carried the crimson mums we found at Wal-Mart, handed them to her, then stepped back to allow her space and time.

The day before our cemetery trip, my son and I prayed for this young woman. We wanted to support her quest and longed to see peace reflected on her lovely face.

After she spent several moments in reflection, she left a letter fastened with a blue posy. Then my son watered the mums and we left, slowly walking toward the car and away from those who could not follow.

Why was this moment so encased with emotion yet filled with hope? Because that young woman will soon become my daughter-in-love. She needed that healing day, and we needed to support her in it.

Hope finds its way into unusual places, but often peeks from an extraordinary moment. Then it reminds us how hope can heal – even decades later – and offers a promise of future joy.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about hope, check out Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.

 

 

When Hope Needs a Greater Miracle

the-thinker-489753_1280Writers are thinkers.

We spend a great deal of time reflecting on plots, characterizations and the best topics for an online post.

So last week, I spent some time thinking about miracles.

We’ve all heard about miracles of healing — maybe even personally experienced one or two. And various publications focus on miraculous stories.

These stories encourage us, especially when life is hard — like it is now — during Covid-19 and its dastardly side effects.

But even as I pray for a global miracle, I reflect on the possibility of leveled miracles.

Some supernatural happenings always occur: the beauty of birth for any species, that phone call about a new job, a card that arrives at just the right time.

Daily miracles that turn the ordinary into something inexplicably extraordinary.

The Israelites watched God perform several miracles that underscored he was on their side (Exodus 7-12).

  • The Nile River turned to blood
  • Swarms of gnats, flies and grasshoppers
  • The deaths of the firstborns

But as amazing as these events were, the hapless and sometimes unbelieving Israelites needed a greater miracle.

Just as they escaped from Egypt, they faced the Red Sea. Behind them galloped the Egyptian army, ready to capture them and force them back into slavery.

So God showed up with a greater miracle.

He sent a strong east wind that divided the water and turned the pathway into dry land. Think Charleston Heston, Cecille B. DeMille and the Ten Commandments 1956 movie.

Can you imagine how frightening it must have been to step between those walls of water? Did they see fish swimming and bumping their snouts against an invisible wall? Did they wonder, what happens if the water suddenly gives way?

But they crossed safely on the other side while Pharaoh and his army perished as God released the torrent.

Today, we need a greater miracle. We’ve faced epidemics before, and scientists have created miraculous vaccines.

But we need more than the right dosage of the correct DNA that destroys Covid-19. We need:

  • Jobs created and/or restored for the thousands of unemployed
  • Comfort for those who have lost loved ones, now approaching 200,000 families
  • Justice for those who died because their skin wasn’t paisley white
  • Strong leadership and courage to do the right thing, no matter which aisle they sit on
  • Women and children rescued and cared for as domestic violence has exponentially increased in 2020

We need solutions to so many problems, no one person can solve them. And this is definitely NOT a political post.

We need a greater miracle.

In times of crisis, our leaders have called for a national fasting and prayer day. Our current time period begs for a mindset of humility, for all of us to cry out, fall to our knees and ask God to perform a greater miracle.

Without divine intervention and global change of heart, we may be facing a social Armageddon with lasting consequences. How many of us are willing to walk through those waters?

God, please, heal our land. Move back the waters once more and let us travel peacefully to the Promised Land.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Uploading Faith.

What Cats Teach Us About Hope

As an observer of the animal kingdom, my neighborhood provides plenty of reflective stimulation. Dogs, cat, hawks — even the occasional fox or skunk.

tabby catBut it is the feral cats along with my house cat that expand my thoughts about hope.

What is it that cats do so well that underscores hope in the time of Covid?

Cats work. No apathy allowed in the world of feral cats. They stay busy hunting for their next meal. Maybe a small bird or a scampering mouse, a grasshopper or a baby bunny (sadly, I have seen this happen).

Survival depends on a reliable food supply. The feral mother teaches her babies how to sneak up on their prey and how to fight their siblings for the next bite.

We all need a sense of purpose. That’s why the unemployment so many are suffering during this pandemic is dangerous.

Besides the obvious lack of finances, despair can grow when we have nothing purposeful to do.

We must find some sort of work or busyness in order to emotionally and physically survive.

Cats play. They are such fun to watch, especially the kittens who have energy to spare. Jumping on a toy, batting a ball around a plastic cylinder or chasing an errant piece of yarn.Pep with ball

Cats play to keep their reflexes sharp and their muscles toned. And cats rarely struggle with stress, unless they are ill.

Play is vital during this time of Covid.

Whether it’s table games with the family or a backyard game of soccer, play forces us to focus on enjoyable activities.

It helps us escape from the harsh realities of our world.

So play often. Read a book, watch a funny movie, pack up a picnic for your local park.

At our house, we often watch YouTube videos of funny animals. Our laughter beats back the gloom carried by the news channels.

Cats rest. A house cat will sleep sixteen or more hours each day. My cat keeps a regular schedule of morning, afternoon and evening naps as well as at least eight hours after we both climb into my bed.

Rest for humans means we turn off any mental noise, breathe deeply and let the world continue without us.

Rest equals peace — that sense of wholeness that avoids confronting the fears which knock at our mind’s door.

Rest is also a spiritual discipline that requires trust and the assurance that no matter what happens, God will take care of us.

Cats require nurture. Even the feral cats come up to me, sniff cautiously, then rub against my leg. They know I can be trusted for a morning snack. And if they let me, I know the right spot to rub on their ears. Their purr confirms it.

Peppernut under chairMy housecat is a needy shorthair. Peppernut requires several lap sessions each day and a vigorous belly rub before bedtime. If I ignore her, she will tap on my hand until I respond. She has trained me well.

During the time of Covid, I have often told my son, “I need a hug.” My signal for nurturing.

He’s a great bear-hugger. For a few moments, we hold each other close. A reminder that someone cares during this crazy time.

The warmth of another body. A physical symbol that echoes the phrase, “I love you.”

It’s also important to nurture ourselves:

  • A mani/pedi, while wearing a mask, of course
  • A long soak in the bath while reading a spell-binding novel
  • A fresh trim to get rid of the Covid split hair
  • Vitamins and healthy nutrition, but also an occasional treat

So during these waning months of 2020, when all we hear is bad news — take a cue from cats. Follow some of the feline regimen.

I promise — you’ll be purring in no time.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a sampling of bath reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

When Dread Attacks Hope

dreadOur world is being attacked by a vicious virus. But we are also facing a mental virus that threatens to destroy hope.

That virus is dread.

Multiple scientists and pundits are predicting the fall and winter of 2020 will be the worst season ever.

We will see an uptick of Covid cases coupled with the usual flu outbreaks. They warn that we may experience a worldwide tragedy — an apocalyptic pandemic.

A prophecy of dread.

The definition of dread is “to anticipate with great apprehension.”

It is a level stronger than fear, because it feeds on the imagination. It fills in the gaps with the worst possible scenario which grows with each new dread-filled prediction.

Dread not only believes the negative outcome, it escalates the emotion of fear and makes it feel more personal.

Every year, I dread winter because I don’t like to be cold, I hate driving on icy streets and the entire landscape is as gray as my mood.

Winter is a personal attack called Seasonal Affective Disorder. So I have to prepare myself with comfort and strategies to avoid excessive gloom:

  • A daily dose of St John’s Wort to lighten my mood
  • New soup recipes to warm up the kitchen
  • An abundance of great reading material
  • Projects that excite me and bring color into my world
  • A focus on the end of winter as I mark off each day
  • The enjoyment of the holiday season which creates a break in the calendar and adds fun time with family

Each year, I try to invent new ways to make it through the November – February imprisonment. This year will require even more intentional methods to escape illness and tragedy.

To fight the dread of the anticipated 2020 winter season, we will need to be even more diligent to look for hope. To constantly remind ourselves to steer clear of that apprehension fed by the reality of Covid-19.

As a lifelong list-maker, I’ve come up with some strategies to help me approach this fall and winter with a more positive attitude:

  • Continue self-care and other-care. Read “wear a mask, social distance and pay attention to hygiene.”
  • Lockdown was working, so I plan to continue my stay-at-home discipline except for essentials. I will try to talk myself out of fudging on what “essential” means.
  • Fill my home and office with fun projects such as decluttering (again), some DIY wall art, maybe finally painting my office.
  • Stay even more connected to family and friends
  • Start a new coaching process for teaching others how to Write a Legacy
  • Stay informed but only watch the news at certain times of the day and only in small intervals
  • Pray my guts out for the end of Covid-19
  • Help my son and his beloved plan their wedding
  • Focus my journaling on more gratitudes and less grumblings
  • Sing more often and with greater volume
  • Surround myself with color — none of those drab wintry grays
  • Plan for how I can buy my next car

Will you join me with your own practical strategies? I’d love to hear how you’re planning to face the dreaded fall and winter of 2020.

Let’s fight against the spirit of dread by letting hope carry us through. Let’s look forward to 2021, to a clean environment, a fresh start and freedom from viruses of any kind.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Start your stack of winter reading by checking out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Shows Up in School Supplies

How wonderful that in the middle of August’s dog days we find a spark of fun! School supplies are on sale.

As a child, I shopped at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year Mom would buy me the coveted box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back? Alas! It never happened during elementary school.

Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the box of 64, still replete with the sharpener on the back. Even as an adult, it was a wonderful gift.

Every year, shopping for school supplies represented a new take on hope. It was akin to the cleaning of the chalkboard — the chance to start over, to learn more facts and read more books.

The energy of a new year felt as fresh as the package of #2 yellow pencils. Would my teacher like me? Would I be chosen to pass out the “Weekly Readerson Fridays?

Even into high school and college years, the hunt for the perfect pens, the best paper and the sturdiest notebooks required research. We clipped coupons and drove all over town for the best bargains.

Then as a single mom, it was more difficult to save the money required for my son’s list. The year he needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of the new year and the possibility of setting fresh goals, making new friends, celebrating successes.

We made a day of it: shopping at K-Mart (the modern version of TG&Y), opened boxes of hand-me-down clothes from the cousin just a bit older, played with the new compass and protractor, bought a pizza and a liter of Pepsi for supper.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth colorful paper goods, my favorite Pentel gel pens, journals with moleskin covers designed by George Stanley and legal pads for first drafts.

I wait until late August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures. Write down the cost in my list of office deductions.

Throughout the year, these supplies bring excitement — waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen for a booksigning, some colorful 3×5 cards to help structure my novel.  And every time I open a new package, I revisit the years when school supplies meant a new start.

Hope implies a beginning again, fresh grace, the forgetting of what has been and the reaching toward new growth.

Whether it’s in a physical classroom, virtual online Zoom lectures or the quiet office of an introverted writer, we all need the promise of hope.

Here’s to those pens and papers that invite us to believe again. Hope shines when we dare to embrace a fresh start.

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post is an excerpt from Hope Shines, a book of essays about fresh starts. Check it out on Amazon, then leave a review. Thanks !

Hope Measured by Steps

During a recent journey from Wichita to Kansas City, my check engine light came on.

At the same time, I was nursing a painful hip from a displaced sacroiliac.

Normally, I enjoy driving the open road. I slide in the CD of my favorite soundtrack, munch on a snack and sip some water, sing along with the CD or make notes about another writing project.

But faced with two challenges at the same time, this would not be a joy ride. So I planned several stops where I could check my car and walk around to alleviate the pain.

Towanda: one of my favorite rest stops because of the gift shop. Lots of Southwestern-styled handbags which I dream about every time — turquoise and camel being my favorite — but not the price tags.

Knowing I would be faced with some kind of car cost, I didn’t even consider a purchase other than a small breakfast sandwich and hot tea for plenty of caffeine.

Back in the car, my hip felt better — thank you, Motrin. The check engine light was still yellow and not flashing. On to the next stop, only 33 miles away.

Matfield Green: At one end of the Flint Hills, you can see the Kansas prairie for miles. Grasses, cattle herds, a buckskin horse, places to pull off and snap pictures.

In the women’s restroom, I met another masked woman who, like me, struggled to get soap out of the dispenser.

“Really?” she said.

“In our world today?” I replied. “No soap?”

So we both spent extra time running water. Then I limped back to my car and doused my hands with sanitizer.

The next stop was Emporia. Time to pay my turnpike ticket and usually — a stop at Braums for an ice cream treat. Cappuccino chocolate chunk, thank you.

But not this time.

My hip needed TLC, and I wanted to be as close as possible to home in case the car died. The next stretch of road would be the longest — 90 some miles.

So I whispered several prayers, pulled the CD out and clicked onto a Christian radio station for encouragement.

But 50 miles later, my body screamed for relief. Luckily, I knew about the giant Love station off the ramp near Ottawa. So I pulled in and groaned as I exited my car.

After a stop in the ladies’ room — plenty of soap, thank you — I was delighted to discover a DIY soda fountain.

It is rare in these days of Covid-19 to be able to fill my own cup with plenty of crushed ice and unsweetened iced tea. I have learned to be grateful for the smallest of miracles.

Also at Love’s, I discovered my key chain had worn out. They had a display of amazing Southwestern designs, feathers and leather with a strong clip for keys. In my favorite dark purple with a friendly price.

I figured I deserved it.

So in spite of all the challenges, I felt uplifted as I began the last leg of the trip. Only 38 miles to home.

When I finally pulled into my driveway, I was sore, tired and spouting, “Hallelujah! I made it.” After a refreshing shower, unpacking and a generous lunch, I thought about how my trip home coincided with the challenges of 2020.

How can we make it to the next step — to that place with no daily death counts and a blissfully mask-free world?

It won’t happen immediately, unless God chooses to snap his fingers and create a global miracle.

In the meantime, we’ll do it one day at a time, one painful journey to the next rest stop, one whispered prayer at the next mile marker — until we make it to the final destination.

Hope isn’t always one gulp of optimism. It’s often a tiny morsel of sunshine on a cloudy day or a cautious step toward a goal.

It’s one step at a time in the right direction — with an occasional treat along the way.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out another journey, Sometimes They Forget — the one my siblings and I are on as Mom continues the Alzheimer’s challenge.