March Madness Scores Hope

Every year, as I struggle to survive February, I look forward to March Madness. Then for several weeks, I indulge in TV watching, cheering for my teams and yelling at double the volume.

In 2020, the basketball authorities cancelled March Madness to protect everyone from COVID-19. This year, I was ready.

Like the Uber Eats commercial, “I didn’t get my madness last year, so I needed double the madness.”

March Madness provides the perfect emotional release, adrenalin rush and just downright fun. As I settle in for a game, I announce to the cat, “There will be yelling.”

The cat leaves the room.

Yelling does not include curse words — at least not the usual ones. I was, after all, raised to act like a lady — except during March Madness.

My yelling might call out the refs. “Didn’t you see that? The kid’s head is bleeding. Don’t you think that means a foul? FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!”

“A charge? SERIOUSLY? The defense was not set.”

“Give him a Tee. COME ON!”

I do not yell without credible knowledge. My dad was a triathlete, including top scorer at Phillips University. Our family was definitely into all the sports seasons. And I played basketball in grade school and high school — until the unfortunate knee incident.

I went up for a rebound, and a monster from the other team broadsided me. My body went north, but my knee went east. Those were the days before knee surgeries unless you were a top athlete headed to the NBA.

I was not. I wore an ugly brace for several weeks which did nothing for my social life.

When I taught middle school, the principal “volunteered” me to be a ref for a few games. It is not an easy job. Especially with a whistle in your mouth while breathing hard and running up and down the court.

However, with my experience I do know the difference between a charge and a foul. DEAR GUSSY, REF. GET IT RIGHT!

Usually I yell at the refs or the coaches, “Call time out, Coach. NOW!”

But I also yell at the players when they miss free throws. My dad used to say, “There is no excuse for missing a free throw.” He was right.

You have a clean shot. No one is guarding you. It’s only fifteen feet. NOT AN NBA THREE!

When they miss, I yell, “FREE THROW, FOR PETE’S SAKE!” Sometimes I stand directly in front of the TV — as if they could hear me.

Games are won or lost because of free throws. The best way to beat the pressure is to make the STUPID FREE THROW!

When my son was a teen, we competed with our brackets. The winner got a pizza. Now he’s grown and busy with his life, so I compete with myself. I fill out the bracket after each game. That way, I always win.

After March Madness, I always feel better. No matter who wins. The release valve of yelling works. I highly recommend it.

This has not been a good year for my teams. The Chiefs bombed out in the Super Bowl. The Jayhawks, proteges of James Naismith himself, could not manage to get the ball in the peach basket. FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

But there is hope. Let’s go, Royals! 

There will be yelling.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books on my Amazon Author Page. No yelling in any of them.

Hope in the Hidden Treasures

Once a week, I click onto HGTV and watch a couple of favorite DIY shows. One is Home Town with Ben and Erin Napier. They are transforming their home down of Laurel, Mississippi, by renovating old homes. It’s a fun show with lots of creative ideas.

My other current fave is Good Bones, another redesign of a town — Indianapolis — with a mother and daughter team. Mina is the driving force behind each project while Karen, the mother, is a creative artiste a la retired lawyer.

One of the reasons I like Good Bones is because one of the stars is in my demographic. It’s encouraging that a mature woman is able to power through a wall with a sledgehammer or kick through slats to open a space.

The other reason I like Karen is because she is always finding hidden treasures.

When each segment begins, Karen and Mina tour a nasty old house, dreaming of ways to redesign it and sell it for a profit. Some of these houses have become shelters for hoarders or for squatters. Some are incredibly nasty. I can almost smell the horror of those bathrooms filled with — well, you can imagine.

But Karen searches through the junk and often finds an old window, a piece of furniture, a tapestry, an antique bottle, even a musical instrument. She takes them home, in spite of Mina’s insistence to throw them away, and restores them to their original luster. Then she returns the treasure to the house as a gift to the new homeowner.

I love the idea of restoring what was considered trash. In fact, I’ve done the same myself. Dumpster diving in a college town often produced treasures my son and I could use after we cleaned them, fixed broken screws or painted something a new color.

But hope joins the restoration process when we seek to find the hidden treasures all around us. Even daring to look for treasures within our own souls.

  • What is a treasure we can find from the traumas of 2020?
    • more time with family
    • working from home
    • safety in our own four walls
    • a commitment to do life differently when everything opens.
  • How can we look for treasure in each other?
    • accept differences of opinion
    • embrace diversity
    • guard the hearts of those who are disrespected.
  • What are the concrete treasures we can find around us and restore them to dignity?
    • an autumn leaf to frame
    • stones that become art – like a cat made out of rocks
    • native grasses to bring inside and feature in a pottery vase
  • How does God remind us we are his treasures?
    • By giving us a verse for a particular moment
    • by sharing his presence through music or nature
    • by keeping us in a constant state of readiness for heaven
    • by strengthening us through one struggle so we can meet the next one

Someone at a writers conference once told me I was a treasure. It took me a while to journal through that compliment and fully accept it.

But it IS true. Each of us is a treasure to God and to the people in our personal world. Each human being is a treasure no matter what the gender, the skin color or the choice of political platform.

As we look for the treasures around us, let’s be more cognizant of how we can share hope with each other.

Let’s strive for restoration rather than trashing another. Let’s build on how people and things were originally created and work to make them even better.

Let’s find hope in the hidden treasures.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these invisible women who were NOT treasured. Then find ways to treasure others. The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Survives with the Women of Passion Week

She is often condemned as the woman who worked too hard to create a hospitable atmosphere. Martha, the sister who kept everything together to serve Jesus and his disciples.

Legend tells us Martha was a wealthy widow, the homeowner of her Bethany villa. She provided housing for her siblings and a place of retreat for her guests.

Martha had a special relationship with the Master, so the events of Passion Week would have greatly impacted her. How would she have reacted to the news coming from Jerusalem?

When the messenger rushed into my villa, I could not at first believe his words. “Jesus is dead. Crucified by the religious leaders and the mob.”

Dead. This gentle Teacher who changed our lives when he brought Lazarus back to life.

How I remembered the depths of our grief as Mary and I buried our little brother. The virus that killed Lazarus was so severe and quick, none of the doctors knew how to treat it. Yet we were certain Jesus could save him.

But the Master hesitated, waited four days while we prepared our brother’s body and walked behind his bier to the family tomb.

When Jesus finally appeared, I dared to confront him, accused him of not caring enough. “I know you could have saved him. Where were you?”

To this day, I remember the iconic mixture of emotion in his voice, his own grief at the tragedy of death. Yet in his eyes, a spark of joyous surprise I would not understand until later. When he called out, “Lazarus, come forth” and welcomed our brother back to the land of the living.

Now Jesus Himself had experienced that darkness, the cessation of life and the journey to the netherworld. His breath stilled. His skillful hands emptied of life’s pulse.

Why did not the Father rescue him from the cross? Was this merely another hesitation by a God who knew more about life and death, how a seed must die in order to produce amazing fruit?

I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders. The chill of early spring greeted me as I trudged toward the hill. Crocus sprouted among the rocks. The promise of life after the death of winter.

As I scrambled up the rocky hillside toward our tomb, I cried out with gratitude. “Thank you, God. My brother no longer lies here, rotting in the dust. My sister thrives, and I am healthy. We are blessed with the gift of life.”

Yet our Savior was dead. Who would care for his body, wrap him in linen and anoint the wounds that killed him? Would he have a place to lie under the stars where his followers could visit him? Should I travel to the holy city and offer my services?

Then a whisper, a remembered phrase the Master comforted me with just before he raised Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes will also live.”

And suddenly, I knew. The raising of Lazarus was more than an act of life, a rescuing of Mary and me from the ravages of grief, a chance to start over for our beloved brother.

It was a foreshadowing of what would happen later — not only for the Master but also for all of us who believed. Death was not the end, but only a stepping-stone into the next world. A place of infinite blessing and good, a realm where death and sickness, crucifixion or martyrdom could never win.

I ran back to the house, suddenly filled with a desire to prepare the best foods, clean the villa and straighten up the guest rooms. Perhaps the Master would visit Bethany again, show us another example of renewal and revival. Whatever the schedule he might keep, I had no doubt we would see him again.

Three days later, another messenger ran up our hill and rapped on the door. I met him there, saw his flushed face and grasped his shoulders.

“Tell me. What has happened?”

He gasped for breath, then spouted the words, “His disciples . . . they have seen him. The Master . . . is alive.”

Of course he is. I believe.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about the Women of Passion Week, check out my book available on Amazon.

Hope Lives in the Music

As I walked out of Target, violin music reverberated its lovely sound. Plaintive yet smooth. Obviously a professional recording.

Or was it?

I walked toward my car and looked around the parking lot. Were those melodic notes coming from a car’s stereo? If so, where?

The music sounded too fresh, too lovely to be a tinny recording. Nothing I recognized. No classical memory from years of music training. A new song, perhaps written by an unknown artist.

Then I saw him. Farther east in the parking lot, a young man standing in the spring sunshine. His right arm moving up and down with the bow. His left hand forming the vibrato. Obviously a trained musician.

I drove toward him, drawn by more than curiosity. After the grey February where I struggled to find hope, this offering of loveliness felt like a divine gift.

A note beside him read, “Struggling student. Hard times. Can you help?”

The writer in me wondered at his story. Had he been evicted from his apartment or lost his “other” job like so many artists during the time of COVID?

Was he caring for an elderly parent and needed money for the necessities of healthcare? Were they hungry? Homeless?

Did the music of his soul need encouragement, new strings for his favorite violin? Tuition paid for theory classes?

A baritone voice in my soul, “Help him.”

“How much, Abba?”

“You have a ten in your billfold.”

I am not always a generous giver. Often I am more clearly defined as a saver, a keeper of what I have — just in case life sours.

Yet for this young talent, life was already sour — something not working well. He was giving the only thing possible — his music. For what? His next meal? A reason to stay in hope?

Oh, I know all the arguments the financially secure use: “He’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze. It’s a racket. Don’t fall for it.”

Yet the sadness in his brown eyes would not leave me alone. The song of his heart spoke directly to mine.

It was not my responsibility to monitor his spending habits. It was only my duty to obey and respond. This child of God needed help. I had a little I could spare.

His melancholy notes continued as I rolled down my window and handed him my ten.

“Thank you,” he said with genuine gratitude.

“God bless you.”

As I drove away, I prayed the violinist would be okay, eat well that night, pay whatever bills were outstanding.

Then clearing the tears out of my throat, I thanked God for the beauty of music, for a stranger who parked near Target and shared the melody of his heart.

Hope floated through the afternoon air and landed joyfully in my soul.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you don’t have a violinist in your Target parking lot, maybe this e-book will help. Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Hope in the Darkness

It is difficult to stay in hope while we are living within darkness.

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us, “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near the cross and watching him die. Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart — to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously — almost unbelievably alive.

Then he gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers how she had seen him. He spoke to her, called her by name. Gave her a job to do.

While it was still dark.

When we dwell in dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. Another twenty-four hours required of us: giving care to a loved one, enduring chronic pain, watching our personal world crumble.

We feel only the raw depth of the struggle.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of growing bitterness. We inwardly scream questions:

“Why did this happen?”

“When will it end?”

“Where is the answer to my prayer?”

Yet the answer is silence.

At the end of the darkness stands the only One who conquered it. The One who laughed at the eternal outcome of death. The One who understood that sometimes life is much harder than death.

And he conquered the gloom while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you live in the depths of a grief that never seems to ease. Every day is a reminder of the emptiness, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you struggle with illness. Every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you trudge through emotional pain, the reminder of what others did to you. Those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb, ready to embrace you and give you a reason to live. An abundance of a better life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to empower you with his hope-filled strength.

Stay in hope. The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding Hope When Life Unravels is an e-book with action points for stepping out of the darkness.

Finding a Hope-filled Friendship

They are older than I by a decade. White hair, wisdom lines on their faces. Walking a bit slower these days.

Yet whenever we meet, I suddenly feel a shared surge of their energy. Not physical, but spiritual. Hope-filled protons of life.

We usually meet once a month for a special meal at Cracker Barrel. Even during COVID-19. Especially during COVID-19.

We stay away from topics of politics or anything ugly confrontive. Yet we can be honest with each other. Disagree. Add another viewpoint to the conversation.

We update each other on the cares and needs of family. Our children always top of the list. Their grandchildren added to the ladder of conversation.

We eat good food, and we laugh a lot. Even during COVID-19. Especially needed during a pandemic that changed how we do life.

Sometimes we talk about the past — how we met in 2006. Memories of work shared, of prayers answered.

Lean in to their hugs. Especially during a pandemic with a shortage of touch.

When I have theological questions, I ask them first. Anything in my writings that might need clarified. They give honest answers. Ask why I am writing on a certain topic. Wonder when the latest book will be published. Their names have appeared numerous times on my Acknowledgements pages.

Through the years, they have attended most of my book-signings. Bought books for their family and friends. Or for someone who needs the words God has given me.

I know with a certainty they pray for me. I feel it, especially when writing is hard. When the words need to be pulled from my soul by a Wordsmith greater than I.

After we meet, I always feel better. Re-energized to work on that elusive novel or organize another writing craft book. Meet with my clients and offer them accountability. Hope for their words. Believe once again that God is faithful.

The last time we met, I hurried home to pray. To thank God for their hope-filled friendship through the years. And to ponder the question, What is it about this lovely couple that fills me with hope and energizes me to live abundantly?

They encourage freely. Never a word of condemnation. None of the spiritual and verbal abuse so common on social media from people who should know better. No negativity of any kind.

They search for the positives. A difficult time gives opportunity to find the silver lining. A doctor’s appointment brings the comment, “Everything will work out fine.” The struggles of 2020 germinate into reasons to “Rejoice always. And again, I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

They fully trust a higher power. When I express my struggles, they remind me how God is already ahead of me. The loving twinkle in her blue eyes. The ready smile on his face. The statement, “God already knows the answer” a balm to my troubled soul.

They meet my needs. Although I am not starving, a good meal tastes wonderful. Taking home a box of leftovers will remind me to stay in hope the next day and the next. Filling my belly for a complimentary lunch nurtures the aloneness in me. Reminds me someone cares.

They mentor me. When I look back after each meeting, I see how they have taught me something more. How their belief rubs off on me. How they have shared another spiritual nugget so that I can learn. Be better. Live better.

Someday our special lunches will end. One or all of us will leave this earth for a better place. Those who are left will grieve yet rejoice, feel joy for the beauty of what the missing one knows.

But for now, these friends fill a place of emptiness for me. I am grateful for the hope they share, for the joy of being together now and then.

And I hope to someday fill such a place for a younger human I will meet. To be that living hope we all need. To share in holy moments of encouragement.

To teach by example and live by loving another.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Feeling the need for a nugget of hope? Check out Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

A copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

Wisdom is still a daily prayer as life presents the need for quirky decisions: whether to downsize and sell, where to move or if, how to protect our home from COVID-19.

But in spite of the Serenity Prayer, change happens with or without courage. The seasons of life determine new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance — now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had. But if we needed something, we figured out a way to make it with the tools and materials we already owned. Created something from the bits and pieces around us.

Or changed a situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my days. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished.

Even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. If I cannot make a situation better, at least I can work to make it tolerable.

Revise manuscripts until they feel right. Add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging muscles. Delete from my diet harmful chemicals.

Make the necessary changes.

As a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we’ll work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows us to DO something — anything — to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

How can we find the hope needed while doing nothing about a situation?

The loss of a best friend, a relative, a job, a business. So many losses in 2020 and the beginnings of 2021. Recently, the loss of power for so many during the coldest week in decades.

Half a million families changed forever by the loss of someone to COVID. When life changes so dramatically, we are never the same. How can we move toward that deep type of acceptance?

My mother has somehow accepted her life in the nursing home. She is content living day by day in her safe environment. No stresses. No bills to worry about. No car that needs an oil change.

The late stages of Alzheimer’s presents a type of acceptance for those affected with the disease. Just get up every morning and eat when they tell you to eat. Play Bingo when it’s time.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to let go of the need to change. To accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance — we will be okay.

We will learn a type of soul contentment.

So let’s change what we can, but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out these steps for moving toward hope, especially when life turns chaotic. Finding Hope When Life Unravels.