Finding Hope as We Sit Together

older handsBecause we have busy schedules, we rarely see each other. This boy child who has become a man in such a short time — my only living child, my Caleb.

Yet each time we are together, the emotional umbilical cord feels as strong as if it had never experienced a physical separation.

We sit in the living room, watch the news or a rerun of Pit Bulls and Parolees. We switch to ESPN and cheer for our teams. One day, the Chiefs. Another day, the Jayhawks. During the summer season, the Royals.

Across those few feet in my living room, the cord stretches. We are content to merely sit and be.

A certain joy exists when the child becomes an adult, and the two of us share the same space without hormonal teenage conflict versus menopausal Mama.

This peace is indeed a blessing. The sitting merges into a sharing of hearts, even without the pleasure of words. We respect each other’s space and accept our obvious differences. Although only two of us, we connect as family.

A mirror image happens back in my home town. When I visit my mother in Memory Care, we share the same bond. Though the roles are reversed and I am the child — we find a peaceful co-existence in the moment.

We watch television or not. We read or not. We sit silently without conflict, knowing that being together is precious.

Until I sat with my adult child, I did not realize the pure value of sitting with a loved one. No need for conversation. No stress to finish a chore. No desire to fix a meal or hurry anywhere. Just the quiet assurance that we are together.

The ministry of presence.

Each of us is aware a time will come when we cannot share such a physical space. A sacred communion. An extraordinary gift.

On either side of this juncture, I cherish the bond. Knowing my Caleb will one day leave, certain my mother will one day graduate to heaven.

And I will be left, to savor this fragile breath we have shared and find hope that in the future — we will again sit together.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about Hope, check out Hope Shines.

 

Hope Finds Story in an Estate Sale

SaleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work — something that might bring encouragement to the women I coached: a pot of flowers, beautiful cards, a trinket to give away.

What I didn’t expect to find was a story.

I joined the crowd of people who poked through bedrooms, closets and the kitchen — each of us searching for treasures at a reduced price.

Empathy set in as I realized this was a family who had just buried their matriarch. Now they were selling her house and sorting through what she left behind, offering pieces of her life to strangers.

What sort of life did she live? The question hounded me even as I began to discover clues to her story.

In the garage, colorful pots for the cuttings of flowers or plants. The texture of the pots described a woman attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

A stack of books pulled me like a magnet into the intrigue of her life. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic reports. A mathematical mind, detailed, and carefully constructed to pay attention to pi, cosign and greater than.

A pile of books about alternative health. Was she sickened by a disease no one could treat, so she tried to find help beyond the traditional medical community? Did any of the vitamins, acupuncture or colloidal treatments give her a few more years of quality life?

No books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books, unless her family had already sequestered those to keep alive memories of Mom and Grandmother.

The basement was filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I sorted through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular dish before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story would my life tell, and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and a woman who loves the colorful textures of the Southwest?

I came away from that estate sale lugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan and a story that emanated from the treasures of one life.

Hope shines through the stories we live, and our stuff reflects who we are.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Hope Extended – How the Chiefs Came Back

The analogy was too obvious to ignore, so I felt compelled to write about it.

On January 12, 2020 — the Kansas City Chiefs accomplished one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. After the first quarter, the lopsided score of 24-0 gave the Houston Texans an insurmountable edge and a well-deserved pat on the back.

But the Chiefs created a game plan based on several success principles. We can all learn the same strategies from what happened on that exciting wintry day.

One Play at a Time. As the Texans took advantage of all the Chiefs’ early mistakes, fans groaned, turned off their TV’s or left the stadium.

But Mahomes rallied his team with pep talks and the reminder to just do “One play at a time.” It didn’t take long until those individual plays became touchdowns, and the lopsided score began to tilt back the other way.

In life, we are given only one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. We can plan long term and should be proactive for the future. But ultimately, we only have the current moment to make a difference.

So make it count. Love others each day. Do something kind each day. Add something to your gratitude list each day.

Those individual pockets of encouragement will result in total yardage toward hope.

Never Give Up. The outcome of the game looked bleak with such a massive score so early against the Chiefs. Even the Kansas City Wolf mascot banged his head against a wall.

But the team with their intrepid coach, Andy Reid, never gave up. They kept playing, put together some amazing strategies and pushed their way toward the goalposts.

When the momentum changed, the Chiefs took advantage of every fundamental mistake the Texans made. The team that once held the lead fell behind as the Chiefs thundered forward.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to keep working in a not-so-satisfying job, to keep trying when life’s circumstances come against us, to stay in hope during one more radiation treatment.

But if we give up, we’ll never taste victory, never show how we can persevere and win.

Keep Doing What Works. Although the Chiefs’ receivers dropped multiple passes during the first quarter, Mahomes gave them another chance. He kept throwing that ball — sometimes with his signature sidearm — kept believing his guys would find a way to hang on to the pigskin. And they did.

Then an occasional rout through the middle of the line. When that didn’t work and the Texans filled in the gaps in their defense, Mahomes carried the ball himself for first down yardage.

The Chiefs offense continued to use the tools that had worked all year.

We are sometimes tempted to make an impulsive change that will move us another direction or redirect our goals. Sometimes a change IS good. But more often, being a steady employee, a productive writer or a great parent involves using the tools that work.

Endurance supports a determined work ethic. We save money by saying “No” to impulse buys and putting away cash Every. Single. Month. Relationships endure as people stay the course without veering off into someone who looks better.

Doing what works actually works.

A steady flow of successful plays resulted in the Chiefs 51-31 win. A steady flow of doing what works keeps us moving in the right direction with an ultimate win.

At this writing, we don’t know if the Chiefs will win the AFC and travel to the Super Bowl. But the fan base will never forget the amazing comeback win that propelled the Chiefs to the next step.

We can all learn from the events of January 12. Let’s take it to heart, stay in hope and never give up.

Go Chiefs !

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines  for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But hope also shines in my book of essays. Check it out on Amazon. Available also in Large Print.

When Hope is Sidelined

Although I have become known as the platform writer of hope, life sometimes interferes with the process. When circumstances force me to the sideline, I have to work harder to find hope and encourage myself again.

The last weeks of 2019 were harrowing. Beginning with December 5, the side effects of a medicine gradually sapped my strength and shackled me to the bathroom. What I didn’t know was that my electrolytes were being screwed as my body lurched into dehydration.

Then the flu hit and what was left of my immunities were destroyed. I woke up December 26 with no strength, blacked out and conked my head on the bathroom tile. When I came to, I was sweating and my heart racing. That’s when I called 9-1-1 and crawled downstairs to unlock the door.

As the siren screamed ever closer, I thought how ironic. Whenever I hear sirens, I pray for the first responders and the people involved. Was anyone praying for me?

The paramedics found me on the floor, semiconscious and breathing fast. They immediately started intravenous fluids and helped me to the gurney. Their strength and professional demeanor encouraged me. At least I would not die alone.

The emergency room was another experience, but my son soon arrived and took control. I have no recollection of signing forms, speaking to nurses or agreeing to treatments, but my son was fully conscious and did everything necessary for my care. It was only later that I realized I still wore my colorful Christmas jammies.

Dehydration was the main culprit and an ugly form of the flu, followed by a urinary tract infection. It took several weeks to recuperate with multiple meds and more trips to Urgent Care. I lost twelve pounds, and Gatorade became my new friend.

But the experience taught me how fragile is hope, how we have to work hard to emotionally receive it after we’re sidelined.

Independence Narrows with Age.

Of course, I know about the narrowing of independence from watching my mother fade into Alzheimer’s. She moved from independence in her own home to a hospital visit to assisted living.

But we rarely imagine the same for ourselves.

The truth is that none of us is immune to losing our independence. As we age, illness can take a greater toll. No matter how determined I was to eat nutritious food and take my supplements, one month of severe side effects and a common virus derailed everything.

I was grateful my final decisions for death and burial were already determined and the paperwork complete, because I was not sure I would return home. I have never felt so powerless. It reminded me of Catherine Marshall who was bound to her bed when tuberculosis stole her life. She wrote many of her books with her arms propped up by pillows.

A Support System is Crucial.

Although I raised my son to deal with the unexpected, I was surprised how quickly and efficiently he took control. His wisdom and decision-making brought me comfort. It was easy to return home and let him do everything. The ease of the role shift enabled me to relax, stay in bed and heal.

I was grateful for Caleb’s presence but also for his boss who let him leave work and said, “Family is more important.”

So protect your support system, complete all that important paperwork and make sure your special person is on speed dial.

Living Alone is Becoming Less of a Possibility.

It is scary to go through a health crisis alone.

Although my son currently lives with me, he was at work that day. And the future may change our comfortable living situation.

The beauty of being independent means I can have my own space, set my own hours and live where I want. But reality presents a different scenario. Living alone for the rest of my days no longer seems possible or even smart.

In 2017, my plan for living with someone and taking care of each other died when Deb walked into eternity. It seemed so easy and the best possible solution for the two of us to become the Golden Girls. Sadly, that did not happen.

For years, I have wished for a big house or some sort of solution for all the single women I know — a safe place where we could have community together and help each other. That answer has not appeared.

Most of us cannot afford the senior living townhomes or the luxury apartments shown on TV. Sure, who wouldn’t want those beautiful spaces to live out life, find a community, yet guard your own identity?

But beauty and safety come with a price tag. Hope fades with the reality of finding affordable housing as we age.

The 9-1-1 operator comforted me with his words, “I’ll stay on the line until they get there. I’ll stay with you.” And he did, bless him! His words were my main recollection of that scary day. This stranger on the phone with the soft voice would NOT abandon me.

Now that I am recovering, once again I am going through the house, giving things away. As I feel independence narrowing, I know I must choose what I will need for an even smaller space. And those choices make me sad.

Finding Hope Requires More Intentionality.

To be brutally honest, this illness has challenged this Hope writer. I find myself having to search for the positive outlook and remind myself daily that God has promised to never forsake me.

Each day becomes a more intentional desire to give it everything I can.

  • To write the words that must be released to the world — while I can.
  • To express my gratitude for colorful sunsets, faithful friends and anything good that happens — while I still recognize them.
  • To hug my son, often and wholeheartedly — while I have the strength.
  • To make each 24-hour period matter for the good — while I can still hang on to hope.

And to enjoy the independence I still have.

Hope may change, but if I intentionally look for it and seek to grasp it — it will be revealed. At least, I’m believing that today.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books I wrote in 2019, listed on my Amazon Author Page.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay 

Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to check out my words, have a look-see at my Amazon Author Page.

Hope for the New Year

A brand new calendar forces reflection on the passing of time yet also moves us toward new opportunities.

During my “senior” season, I am finished setting resolutions. No more of the usual “less sugar, lose some weight and save more money” focus.

This year, I want to dig deeper. Maybe it is the aging factor that forces me beyond the mere physical and into the extraordinary. Or maybe I have learned how empty some resolutions feel.

I seek something with more impact. So I have decided to focus in two directions:

To Look for the Presence of God Each Day.

I know the Divine Three live inside me, but I also believe God moves mysteriously around me.

During this new year, I want to be more aware of that Divine presence:

  • In the energy of a crackling fire
  • In the dancing eyes of children
  • In the musical tones of nature’s breezes
  • In the faces of strangers at coffee shops, the mall and the lines at Wal-Mart
  • In the perseverance of the disabled who refuse to be victims
  • In the hugs of my son
  • In the colors and textures of my world

When I intentionally seek the presence of God, I hope to discover spiritual truths in new ways. Being more aware of God’s personal steps in my world reminds me he is my constant companion.

To Listen for the Divine Whisper Each Day.

God wants to communicate with us. He is the Word, and he is consistent in his desire for relationship.

But our world is so noisy, we often cannot hear what he longs to share with us.

I am fortunate to work in a job that involves silence. I write with no background music or white noise. Yet I can still miss the soft baritone of my Savior.

This year I want to be more aware of his voice, to hear with an extraordinary sonic volume:

  • When God gives direction or guidance
  • When he reminds me to backtrack or fix something wronged
  • When his creative whisper births an idea for a new book
  • When he asks me to be still and know
  • When he just wants to say, “I love you.”

My goal for this year is to spend time each evening with a few moments of evaluation: How was the presence of God real that day? How did I hear God speak that day?

Maybe by next December, I will have developed a keener sense of the Trinity in every day life.

That goal gives me hope.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

With a new year comes the opportunity to revise our goals. Check out Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals.

Finding Hope in Our Stuff

Many 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 assess how to best dispose of it.garage sale chair

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?  

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. 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 declutter 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. I refuse to relinquish my piano or the older pieces of music I still play. 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. 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 book list on Kindle.