Finding Hope in our Stuff

order - chaosMany of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff.

At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assessing how to best dispose of it.

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

  • My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with. And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave.

However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway.com when I need it?

  • Some of the jewelry Deb’s children gave me help me feel closer to her. I often wear the cross bracelet on Sundays and remember one of our favorite stores, her delightful squeal when she discovered it was 25% discounted.

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. Oddly enough, it now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

  • I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:
    • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
    • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
    • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

These books remind me of Caleb’s downy hair against my chest, the sounds I invented as we read together, those intimate and precious days so long ago. Hopefully these books will also find a home in the nursery for his children.

So how do we decide what to de-clutter and what to hold tightly to? I’ve learned a few tricks.

  • If it gives you joy, keep it. Adulting is hard, and we all need joy.

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. Relinquish my piano or the older scores of music I still play? Never!

The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet. The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise.

A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

  • If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it. However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. Then I realized I had given it away. Shucks !

 

  • If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me. The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

 

  • Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a safe place of peace.

 

  • Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money? Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

 

Our lives are not primarily made up of stuff yet our stuff does define us. So let’s guard our hope with the stuff that’s really important and get rid of anything that drags us down.

A simpler life consists of what’s really important: hope, joy and the love we share with everyone.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. If you’re culling your books, consider my Kindle list of books.

 

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Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 3

Spices. I am grateful for spices and the sense of taste that allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and of course – pumpkin pie spice.pumpkin pies - cartoon

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. Double the spices for our family’s recipe. That smell evokes care, holiday fun and love – all at the same time.

In my own kitchen, spices include the warmer tones of cumin, curry and sriracha. I really don’t know how to cook without spices.

Add to those smells, the herbs I grow for extra punch to my recipes: basil, rosemary, cilantro and my goodness…. Are you hungry yet?

The importance of spices in grateful cooking is underscored by how and where they are purchased. I have learned the jumbo bottles will age before they can be used. Better to purchase spices in small portions and always – always in a glass bottle. Plastic and cardboard let in too much air, thus weakening the aroma and taste over time.

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I wanted to post my famous pumpkin pie recipe. Famous because my family loves it. My recipe because I have tested and added to it over the years.

You have my permission to make it and share it, as long as you give it the correct name: Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie. I could not include an image of the finished product, because I am scheduling this post weeks ahead. I don’t make this pie until the day before Thanksgiving, because it mysteriously disappears once it takes up space in the fridge.

So here you go – my Thanksgiving gift to 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. I also add ¼ tsp of the following: ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon just because I like the extra spices.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With a spatula, carefully pour into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust.

The pie will look like a mountain inside the crust, but the bigger – the better. On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Detours

detour aheadWhile my son was in surgery, I planned to write several blog posts, work on a newspaper column, maybe read a bit. My bag was filled with pens, paper, books.

Any activity to forget my precious son was lying on a sterile table in a brightly-lit operating room.

But the waiting room was so loud my introvert wrath fueled its frustration. Other occupants in this Family Waiting Area played with their children, worked on crochet projects, laughed and snacked on Starbucks pastries.

Didn’t these people understand I was trying to concentrate on my work? Didn’t they know I was trying to avoid thinking about my son’s body being sliced with a scalpel?

Of course not, I reminded myself. They, too, were trying to forget their loved ones lying on sterile tables behind steel doors.

I gave up on writing projects, certain my creativity left the moment I entered the hospital. Pulled out a book to read.

Read the first page twenty times. Gave up on reading. Watched the clock on the wall. One hour gone. He was supposed to be out of surgery already. Another half hour.

Why wasn’t he out of surgery? Wasn’t this the point when the doctor was supposed to come in and tell me everything would be okay?

The volunteer at the front desk came over and sat beside me. “You look worried.”

“It’s taking much longer than they said.”

She explained how they sometimes started later than anticipated. If something was amiss, they would call her desk and she would let me talk to them.

Then she changed the subject, described how far she drives every day to volunteer, how she loves helping people.

We watched “Fixer Upper” reruns on the waiting room TV. “I don’t like that style, do you?”

“Nah. Too contemporary for my taste.”

The importance of conversation. The comfort given in simple statements. The warmth of another human being. A stranger who becomes an instant friend.

Hope arrived and provided a detour from the present crisis.

Then the phone call. “He’s okay,” she said. “The doctor will be here soon.”

I don’t even know her name, but God does. Maybe he’ll give her an extra star in her crown.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When you’re facing a crisis, hope may hand you a detour. Check out Hope Shines for daily encouragement.

Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Shares a Vision

For several years, this vision has been floating from my heart to my head and back again. I have tried to ignore it and push it back from whence it came, because acting on it seemed superfluous.

country-manorBut recently, the vision has resurfaced because I have met more women in need.

Here’s the problem: Numerous single women who are active in ministry struggle to find affordable housing. They manage nonprofits, meet the needs of the underprivileged and fill the gaps the churches cannot or will not attempt.

These brave women use their giftings to impact the world yet struggle to make a living. They are at the mercy of landlords who keep upping the rent or they own houses they can no longer maintain or sell without losing more money.

Currently, I know three of these women personally who are living in temporary housing, struggling to find a safe place they can afford and continue doing the ministry God has called them to do.

Here’s the vision: Remodel an old school or an old motel into beautiful apartments for these women. Each woman would have her own space yet she would be sharing in a community of others who could encourage her and become a sort of family.

Like a convent – only nondenominational.

This vision needs an investor who is willing to embrace the need and is interested more in caring for these women than making a bundle of money. Each woman’s rent would be based on her income and a percentage of what the utilities might cost.

Someone would have to manage the property and requirements for acceptance would have to be decided. But the administrative piece is the easy part. Finding the investor and the property is the tough part.

I can imagine several places around the Kansas City Metro that might fulfill the vision. Perhaps a place in the country where women could walk, garden or find solace from ministry demands.

This vision is not insurmountable. A group of women in the UK have seen it happen.

So I’m posting this idea on my blog, hoping someone will see it who can help with the plight of these women. Since I keep thinking and praying about this wondrous idea, I believe it is possible.

Hope continues in this new year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this vision find its reality in 2017?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Falters

She was a lovely woman and an expert in her field – the stager sent by the realtor to prepare my house for sale. At the outset, she warned me, “I’m not here to offend anyone. I just want you to get the most money for your house.”

I was prepared for her to move things around and give me some decorating ideas, but I was emotionally blindsided by the number of my treasures she declared, “This has to go.” Basically, she dismantled my house and my personal stuff.Debris of move

She left piles of things in every room to get rid of in order to most effectively sell the house. She was very good at her job, and I learned so many things about spacing, color, lighting, even the size of pictures as they become a statement beside a bed or on a wall.

Buyers will be looking for the feeling of space and for a neutral territory where they can set up their home. Anything personal of mine will interrupt that neutral feeling, so it cannot be in sight.

The stager showed me how to hide certain things, such as the litter box, so buyers are unaware the house once was ruled by a cat. Betsey, aka Gabriel, would disagree, but she will find her box and discreetly do her business – a bit perturbed that her abode has been disturbed.

I learned how important my stuff is to me. Most of my things are the early attic variety, garage sale finds or something I have restored that another person threw away. Nothing has great intrinsic value – except in my soul.

While I know we are not defined by our stuff, in a way – yes, we are.

Quilts, a cradle, an antique telephone – all carry sentimental value for me. The quilt my grandmother and her sisters made for my wedding – a creamy yellow, with butterflies made from the scraps of their lives, babies’ bonnets, a favorite shirt.

The cradle, fashioned by my dad, held my newborn son as we rocked him to sleep that first Christmas. The fire blazed and kept my baby warm. Dad woke up every thirty minutes to check on the heat emanating off the logs. A sweet memory, a grief rekindled.

The old telephone my parents pieced together by visiting scores of flea markets and antique shops, then proudly gave to me one Christmas – long before Alzheimers invaded our lives and stole that precious memory.

Yet none of these treasures made the cut. “Get rid of them or find a place to store them – out of the way,” the stager instructed.

How can I shove my lifetime out of the way?

As she finished her work, the stager and I learned a bit more about each other. Both of us write. Both of us have journeyed through divorce and experienced pre-judgement by the established church. Both of us love cats.

When she left, we hugged and I was glad for a new friend, for her many suggestions which I know on some level are right and will help me sell the house.

But somehow, I also felt violated and discouraged, certain my life was going to change, wondering how I could decide what to let go.

The piles of my life’s debris reminded me how mortal we are and how fleeting is life – a mere breath – a candle that should be given away to bring another person joy, a sofa table so out of date no one would want it even if it was free.

My son was shocked and upset by the suggestions made for how we needed to purge more and more and more. As we talked through our emotions, he finally said, “Change is hard for me, Mom. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s bad.” 

A wise young man. I admire his honesty.

Although the purging pains my soul, my journal entries speak the truth. This duplex has never been home for me; it was only a place to settle while I worked in this town.

Now that all my pictures have been stripped off the walls, my mantel decoration has been condemned and the detritus of my life lies in piles on the floor – it feels even less like the place where I can freely write, create stories and be my authentic self.

So my son and I are trusting God to provide something wonderful for us again, just as he has done through every step of the post-divorce journey. If we have to stay in this duplex, then we’ll be grateful for a roof over our heads. And it will be cleaner, sans the stuff we no longer need.

In “Jesus Calling” Sarah Young writes, “Anticipate coming face-to-face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle…When you see armies of problems marching toward you, cry out to God! Allow him to fight for you. Watch him working on your behalf.”

So that’s where I am this day – purging, mourning the loss of stuff, and waiting for next steps – clinging to God and trying to find hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh