Hope Remembers Jewel

We met as volunteers at a pregnancy crisis center – she with a desire to publish her books, I with the time and expertise to help her.praying woman silhouette

As writers, we both understood the calling and the passion of words – of using written tools to communicate God’s love.

We shared a room at a writers conference. I helped her publish another book.

Then our paths separated as I moved away. Yet somehow the connection endured, mainly because of her persistence in prayer.

She handwrote long letters, wanting to know what I was writing, where I was submitting my work.

And I knew, as surely as I knew her name – Jewel was persisting in prayer for my words.

Every consecutive letter – always snail mail as computers were not her love language – ended with “How are your writings? I am praying.”

And for every new book I published, I sent her a copy inscribed with “Thank you for praying these words into being.”

The years passed and I read of her progressive health issues, the struggle of car problems so frustrating for this dedicated widow, how to pay the rising taxes so she could stay in her home. The tales of grandchildren and the support of her family added color to her missives.

She asked about my son and always – always ended with, “How are your writings? I am praying.”

Then came that horrible day when the Easter card I had sent her was returned. A note from her beloved children, “Mom passed away – peacefully.”

No more letters from my Jewel. No more questions about my writing. Our connection now separated by the boundary of eternity.

This week, as I readied my office to become a true writer’s study, I thought about Jewel. Now that I am transitioning into the place I’ve always wanted to be, I knew she would find pleasure in the journey.

Is Jewel asking God about my writings? Is she reminding him of all the packets of prayer stored up on behalf of my passion?

Since God treasures all our tears and keeps them in a heavenly flask, does he also store prayers in a special file labeled for our destinies?

Do the prayers of a lifetime, from a faithful warrior, still affect the present?

I believe they do.

I live in the hope that our prayers for our children will continue to storm the throne of God – even when we are gone.

And God will listen because he cares. He will act, because we care.

Even now, I believe my writings are covered with Jewel’s prayers. The words will make an eternal difference, because one woman cared. And one woman prayed.

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

 

 

Hope Rests

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, the transition from full-time ministry into semi-retirement spins. The slowing down requires intentional rest.sleeping woman

To be intentionally still – listening for God or just sitting in the sunshine causes a need for reboot.

How can the transition be handled in a way that is healthy – for the body, soul and spirit? How does one move from excessive productivity to recovery?

I have been in this position before, but never at this level of intensity. I find myself sinking into the unknown while grasping for the best Source of wisdom I know. My usual methods of resting – a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restoring sleep helps and then daily naps. Nutrition that builds up the tissues, although my body screams only for chocolate. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target. No, no – I cannot yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well – to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision – mistakes admitted, grace given.

To find a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish and I feel alone in the attempt.

I pull out my colors and find comfort in the texture of markings on paper. Turn on the TV to watch basketball and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction books as I pump on the exercise bike. These words require no emotional deposits.

Sit and stare at the blooming redbud tree, dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the April breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. Red and black on the background of the greening elm. God’s creation in living color. To spend more time outside is my goal … if Kansas ever warms up this year.

I spend more time on my knees, bringing my fatigue and questions to the Wise One – begging for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with their curative rhythms: fret not, be still and know, God alone is surely my refuge.

Several years ago I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel and was surrounded in the brightest whites – a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels – tucking me in, stroking my brow, murmuring love. Being cared for. Receiving compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

That I so vividly remember the dream underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress just takes time – a day, a week, another day. No guidelines here.

A friend told me she slept for months after retirement. A client has pursued rest and direction for three years.

And I – in my self-sufficient planning mode – thought I would be rested after just one week. That would be a “No.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. I will eventually find soul energy again. The words will pour forth and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving – the voice of praise.” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and rest, trusting in the One who reminds me where hope originates. He places his words in my mouth and covers me with his gentle hand.

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

 

Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

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

 

 

Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for soul whispers.when-god-reaches-out

It is often in the early morning when the meditations of my heart remind me I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well.

Such a moment happened in a recent morning as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

It was a female voice, so perhaps its source was the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Perhaps a sweet relative who has passed to glory.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew it was no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, the voice traveled from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved – completely and forever adored by the divine One.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling of being surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen – when eternity interrupts our life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence?

Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Emanuel with us?

Does he long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy, but what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain between the physical and spiritual worlds?

What if God is always reaching out to us, to give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead and we’re just too focused on the now to realize he is there?

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. Brain damage. The intensive care unit with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Rich had crossed over. The phone call was no surprise. Tears yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Then two days later, suddenly Rich stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face, he wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in New Mexico – a coral stone set in silver, the black leather strap.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. And it was a token from eternity that Rich was all right, would always and forever be okay.

And then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next? It cannot be measured by our finite minds, but for me – its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we have seemed to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And right there, standing with them, is the Savior of our souls – this One who dares to love us in spite of who we are or what we have done.

So I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to the hope that maybe I’ll hear the same voice and feel the touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

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

 

 

Finding Hope When the Dream Dies

country-cabinEvery year since – forever – seed catalogs have arrived in my mailbox during the last of the winter weeks. They are a harbinger of hope because nothing spells faith like planting seeds and believing perennials, green beans and marigolds will indeed sprout and come to life.

But this year, I am throwing the catalogs into the recycling bin. I cannot even bear to look at pictures of purple lobelia or happy-faced pansies.

This year, I have finally realized I can no longer maintain my gardens.

Reality began to set in during last year’s season when I tried to dig weeds and spread mulch. Within minutes, grass allergies kicked in, and I ran to the house for my meds. Even so, the next day – dark circles rimmed my eyes and the fatigue of immune system warfare affected my energy levels.

I ignored the symptoms because gardening has been so important to me. Just the therapy of digging in fresh soil, following my farming ancestors’ passion to coax the sprouting of life has brought me annual joy.

Gardening has nurtured my dream – to own a cottage in the country surrounded by flowers and produce where bees drink nectar and butterflies land for a respite during their annual migration.

But reality clarifies the cost of mulch and new plants, plus the hours required to make such gardens appear. Reality also underscores that my body and its accompanying allergens now betray me.

I can no longer hang on to a dream I cannot produce.

My dilemma reminds me of my mother’s situation – the woman who worked hard to pay off her house only to be forced to leave it. The realities of Alzheimer’s care betrayed her. Staying in her home mirrors my dream of a garden home.

Now both of us must delete what we wished for.

This year, I will woefully allow the native grasses to engulf my garden spaces. I may move the blueberries and golden raspberries to pots that require little care. I may plant a small row of green beans, enough for a skillet full of nutritious flavor.

But I will no longer drool over the pictures in seed catalogs or plan new plots for hybrid clematis.

This year I will step back and let nature rule. Perhaps my garden dream will morph into an eternal garden where the price my physical body pays no longer affects me.

Instead of  working on my dream, I will stroll through local nurseries to touch leaves, stroke petals and remember the gardens I once nurtured.

To reach toward hope, I will remind myself that the giving up of the dream still yields results albeit a different type of fruit:

  • Saving money
  • Giving away tools to someone who needs them
  • Finding more time to write and read
  • Preserving my health

And when the twinges of grief remind me what is lost, I can always counter with the truth of what will someday be.

Reality forces us to change, but hope answers that the changes may point toward something better.

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