Hope for Future Shopping Trips

Woman ShoppingI miss shopping.

Not the online click-and-buy all of us are subject to during this time of Covid-19.

What I miss is the entire experience of shopping.

Oh, I know — most places are open. But I don’t want to mask up, risk the germs, avoid people and stand six feet away from other shoppers.

I want the fun and richness of what shopping used to be: discovering a new boutique, bumping into other women who want the same bargain, smiling customer service reps when we could actually see someone smile.

I miss it.

Deb and I always started with a steaming cup of chai. Then a review of the places we wanted to go and the items we needed to buy.

On some level, we knew our shopping would include surprise bargains or maybe an impulse buy, but that was part of the experience — part of the surprise adventure.

Always lunch at our favorite Mexican place or trying out a new business that smelled of green chiles and salty cheese. Always, plenty of guac and chips.

Usually an ice cream treat in the afternoon: something with pecans for Deb. Always something chocolate for me.

What I miss about the shopping experience is the joy of browsing — to finger through hangers of clothes, to slide my hands over the creamy satin or the corduroy threads, to revel in the colors.

Then the fitting room with giant mirrors. Trying on items, checking out the fit, a 360⁰ turn, asking Deb or another woman, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Imagining wearing the new outfit for work, church or a special event. All the events that are gone now, too.

One day, Deb and I were invited by an “older” bride to choose between two dresses for her big day. “Go for comfort and beauty,” I said.

“Choose something you can wear again,” Deb added.

We congratulated the woman on her final choice and wished her well. The look on her face was priceless: the glow of a heart trying again for love, her imagination already jumping to how she would look on her wedding day, how her groom would stare at her and remember the outfit the next time she wore it.

Hope reminds us that we will someday return to the fun of shopping trips.

Some of the experience will be different. Deb is gone now, so I’ll have to find another buddy willing to share a chai or coffee, to spend a day in eclectic stores and honestly answer my questions, “Does this make me look fat? What do you think about this color?”

Prices will no doubt elevate as businesses try to recoup what they lost in 2020. So the day may be shorter, the packages fewer in number.

But the joy of actually choosing a new outfit, trying it on, reveling in the imagination may seem even sweeter because of what this year has done to us.

For now, I will continue my click-and-buy way of shopping or wear out my old stuff, at least until more of the Covid numbers go down and it feels safe to have fun again.

And I will remember the days when it was easier, before we could even imagine what might happen in a pandemic.

Hope still wins. It’s just taking longer than we thought.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Spend some time shopping online for a good book. Here’s one you might like: No Visible Scars.

 

Hope Begins in the Mind

mindWe are a combination of body, mind, soul and spirit. As such, we are intertwined into a complex mixture with one aspect affecting the others.

It’s easy to focus on our bodies, especially when something goes wrong and we’re in pain. Or we sense one of the symptoms of Covid-19 and cry, “Please God! No!”

The soul — personality, will, emotions and the spirit side of us — that invisible fog that exists already in an eternal state don’t seem to bother us much. We can almost forget they exist until something goes haywire and forces us to confront that deep inner well.

But the mind — now that is another matter. It’s a constant badgering of negativity, a discourse in fear, a reminder that our connectivity to body, soul and spirit begins and ends with how we think.

And I can prove it. I can be totally not hungry, but a commercial comes on or I read a recipe and suddenly I want chocolate chip cookies.

Or I can be completely content with my daily life until I’m reminded by a stack of mail that I am indeed aging and in need of a hearing aid, more health insurance or end-of-life decisions, i.e. “Buy your cremation package now.”

Add to that the fact that I’m in the demographic most likely to die from Covid-19 and my mind plays out scary scenarios. Suddenly, I’m limping through life.

So how do we defeat the beast of the mind? How do we keep from losing hope when our brain tells us circumstances are indeed hopeless?

Watch What You Read. A friend I respect is several years older than I. On one of my gloomier days I asked him, “How do you stay encouraged as you age?”

“Pay attention to what you read,” he said. In other words, be careful what you feed your mind.

A delicate balance sways between staying informed and being brain-washed by what we read. We can tip either way — too afraid to embrace others’ opinions and respect them in spite of differences or too tepid to make up our own minds.

What we read on the internet is not always accurate. I’m not blasting the “fake news” mantra that has been used to perpetuate its own fake deceptions. I just know as a writer I’ve found inaccuracies in fact-checking. Not everything out there is true, no matter which website you read.

Some sites are meant for sarcasm, not truth. Some quotes are taken out of context. Even some Bible verses have been misinterpreted and used to vilify evil practices.

We need a combination of resources so that we can mentally debate what IS right versus what SOUNDS right. And we need to keep focused not on how our minds twist the truth but rather on how the truth actually plays out in our lives.

Watch What You Hear. In the cacophony of our world, few truly know how to listen well.

I have been trained as a coach in how to listen for the hidden undertones, to look for the motivation behind the action. That practice has served me well.

How many of us have misspoken or wished we could revisit a conversation with a new perspective?

Analytical thoughts often visit me at night:

  • I wish I had said . . . .
  • Why did I add my particular opinion to this empty conversation?
  • God, they misunderstood me. I need to make that right.

If we don’t hear correctly, we cannot respond with truth. Sometimes I think we all need spiritual hearing aids.

Watch What You Believe.

My son and I had a conversation about the Nazi’s and how the German society believed they were following the right course with Adolf Hitler.

After the United States liberated Europe and freed the Jews in concentration camps, some Germans admitted to sensing something was wrong. But they were hypnotized by Hitler’s charisma. He told lies often enough, they believed him to be telling the truth.

Deception works because it’s so tricky. It tells just enough truth to lead us astray and soon — our minds are trapped within its ugly claws. Satan used it against Adam and Eve.

It still works today.

During this season of political intrigue, Covid-19 illness and the unrest of a nation that needs to wake up — I pray every day for truth to win.

Truth is a core value that can clear the mind from the fog of “what if” to reach toward the horizon of “this way.”

Finding hope within truth first begins with a cleansing of the eyes, being careful of what we read. Then follows a clarity of what we hear, truly learning to listen well. And finally, a pure heart that knows its beliefs are centered in truth.

What we read, what we hear and what we believe must draw us steadily to what is true. Otherwise, hope itself will be deceived.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

As we strive to find the truth, Hope Shines.

Hope Searches for a Symbol of Healing

As Covid-19 marches on, how can we stay in hope?

Somehow the platitude of “We’re all in this together” sounds hollow. I need something more.

pharmacy symbolThis week, I focused on an Old Testament story where the community faced a plague of serpents.

The children of Israel grumbled, because they were impatient and tired of the journey through the wilderness.

God is good, but he’s not fond of hearing whining complaints in spite of all he’s done.

So he sent a bunch of snakes to bite the people. The poisonous venom caused multiple deaths, probably similar to the traumatic Covid numbers ticking higher every day.

Then the people realized their mistake and asked Moses to intervene on their behalf. Good old Moses complied.

So God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and fasten it to a pole. Whenever people were bitten, they had only to look at the symbol of the snake on the pole. Everyone who looked at the symbol lived.

Today we see that same visual as the symbol for pharmaceutical companies – an appropriate logo. Buy the right medicine or combination of drugs, get the right vaccine and live.

Thankfully, we DO have a multitude of meds which help us through our various maladies. And scientists are working hard to find the right combination for a Covid vaccine.

Since this symbol of the serpent on the pole worked so well for the wandering Israelites, is there a symbol we can focus on today? Something that will bring relief from the ravages of Covid-19?

The Sunday School answer, of course, would be the symbol of the cross. Yet even this beloved visual has been misused and misunderstood:

  • The Nazi cross
  • The KKK burning crosses into yards, fence posts or houses
  • The cavalier way we sometimes wear our crosses and decorate our homes, forgetting the cross is really a symbol of torture

Perhaps the time for symbols has expired. Instead, we need to do as the children of Israel and come face to face with our sin:

  • How we grumble against God and ignore the good he has done for us
  • The times when life doesn’t feel 100% balanced so we blame it on God
  • The impatience that fuels our busyness and keeps us from contemplative moments of building relationship with the Divine
  • The myriads of injustices we perpetrate on demographics other than ourselves
  • Our apathy as we fail to seek justice, love mercy or walk humbly with our God

Symbols are temporary, something concrete we can focus on instead of facing our desperate need for inner healing and soul relief.

Instead of a snake on a pole or a crossbar of beams – maybe we are in dire need of a deeper reflection, a change from pride to humility, an admittance we cannot solve this Covid-19 problem no matter how “together” we are.

Maybe this is the time for four simple yet difficult demands:

  • To humble ourselves
  • To spend time in concentrated prayer
  • To turn away from any and all wicked ways
  • To desperately seek God

Then he promises to move beyond symbolism to a direct answer, “I will hear from heaven and will heal your land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a reminder of the basics of faith? Check out Uploading FaithWhat It Means to Believe.

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.