Hope in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

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Hope Finds 10 Year-Old Boys

After my final attempt at the perfect recipe, I wondered what to do with the plate full of brownies.brownies and sunflowers

Sampled one. Scrumptious! Now what?

Leaving brownies on my kitchen counter would result in constant temptation.

The next day was Sunday, so I decided to take my chocolate offering to the coffee bar at church. I imagined a few folks would sample them, and I wanted to know their reactions to the secret ingredient I added.

At church, I fixed my usual cup of hot tea and placed the brownies in a convenient place next to the coffee. But then…a surprise.

The ten year-old boys were released from their class and converged on the coffee bar. Within ten seconds, every brownie was consumed with comments:

“Mmm – best ever!”

“Lots of yummy chocolate.”

“Are there any more?”

Years after I raised my own boy, I had forgotten how much fun these fellows could be. Chocolate crumbs around their lips. Smacking fingers. Chuckles and shoving each other out of the way.

My brownies were a success with this test crew. It’s unlikely – in fact – nearly impossible any of these boys will read my novel which features a brownie recipe with a secret ingredient.

These boys are not my target audience.

But for a few moments on a Sunday morning, I remembered the joy of adolescent boys and the promise of the men they might become.

Hope thrives in unexpected places. If we watch for it, keep our senses alert for the slightest tremor of hope, we discover delightful surprises.

Here’s to ten year-old boys – the larvae of manhood. Here’s to their excitement for the simplest of joys – something to eat.

And here’s to the encouragement they passed on to this writer.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When my novel, “No Visible Scars” is published, the recipe for Abigail’s brownies will be included in the final pages of the book. Make a note to purchase “No Visible Scars” so you can share this chocolate wonder with your own boys.

Hope Stays

As I heard the blog post read on national television, I wept. For the author and for countless other women I know who have believed the same lies.woman in mirror

We stay in abusive situations because we are designed with the capacity for hope.

We believe things will change for the better. We have to believe it because the options feel too scary and totally unacceptable.

We feel powerless and we have been pummeled so long, our thinking is skewed. We no longer believe in ourselves, because the lies have become our truth.

Ah – women. We endure the pain of childbirth because the outcome is so glorious. We  also endure emotional and verbal abuse, because we are certain – if we pray hard enough and long enough – everything will be better.

Then one day, we wake up. We are done. “Enough,” says the battered soul.

Jenny Willoughby’s post has gone viral, because she spoke her truth. She awakened and now she understands why she stayed.

I repeat her words here, because we cannot forget her story and the stories of thousands of women whose hope became reality.

 

“When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed.

He could be kind and sensitive, and so I stayed.

He cried and apologized, and so I stayed.

He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups, and so I stayed.

He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence, and so I stayed.

I felt ashamed and trapped, and so I stayed.

Friends and clergy did not believe me, and so I stayed.

I was pregnant, and so I stayed.

I lost the pregnancy and became depressed, and so I stayed.”

 

From my experiences as a biblical counselor and a life coach, I would add three more statements so many women have whispered in my office:

 

            “I did not want my children to grow up in a broken home, and so I stayed.”

             “I had no money and felt powerless. Because I had no options, I stayed.”

              “The church told me I had to submit, and so I stayed.”

 

The truth sets us free. Admitting the truth and stepping into a new life deletes the lies. Then hope becomes our passion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My novel, to be released March, 2018, shows what happens when a woman stays. Look for “No Visible Scars” – available soon.

Hope Finds Her Words

The communications rep from the White House began her statement with, “When we saw the pictures….”

abused woman - hidingShe referred to the black eye suffered by Rob Porter’s ex-wife. Displayed across news channels and social media sites, we all saw the extent of the domestic violence against Jenny.

Yet for those of us who work with women, we know physical violence is often the final humiliation.

The benchmarks of abuse occur much earlier, often with no indication that the end result will be a black eye.

  • Subtle put-downs about her weight or her hair-do.
  • The demand to “Submit!”
  • The control of finances, so she has to beg to buy a decent pair of underwear.
  • The dig in her ribs if she expresses her opinion about anything.
  • Calling her “My woman,” as if she is a piece of property he has purchased.

All these red flags represent emotional abuse and often are so subtle, the wife wonders if she misunderstood. Is she crazy? Or is he so skilled at manipulation, he can make her feel it is all her fault?

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. A particularly insidious type of abuse is called “gas-lighting.” Check out Leslie Vernick’s site for more information.

After all the stories I have heard and the women I have held as they cried, my emotions have become a bit jaded. Jenny’s black eye did not surprise me.

Often the men who abuse are outstanding citizens, hard workers, faithful church members. They seem to be such “good men.”

What disturbed me most was that Jenny’s truth was not believed until pictures were shown. Her voice was not heard until there was viable proof. Why not?

Surely the #MeToo movement is teaching us we must listen to children who tell us something is wrong at school, in the gym, in the youth group—no matter how hard it is to believe.

We must also expand our response to women such as Jenny. She was the second ex-wife abused by this man. Reports had been filed by both women. Those in authority knew the truth yet refused to act on it—until they saw the pictures—until ALL of us saw the pictures and demanded accountability.

Hope begins to flicker for the Jenny’s of the world as we listen to their voices and give them permission to share their truth. Surely we can learn how to believe them and help them find a safe haven where they can heal and start over.

Even before we see the incriminating pictures, we must err on the side of caution. Because women are made in the image of God. Because our daughters live in relationships and we want them to be heard. Because all of us have a voice that needs to be respected.

Hope has spoken her truth. So has Jenny. Who is listening?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In March, 2018, “No Visible Scars” will be released. This is my 10th book, a novel about domestic abuse within a Christian home. Share my blog posts with your friends and be the first to read “No Visible Scars.”

Why Hope is So Important

cropped-hope_ornament-1120.jpgWhat is it about hope that keeps over 1900 followers checking out this blog? Why is hope so important that after almost two years, I am still writing about it?

At its core, we cannot live without hope. It is the heartbeat of every future plan, the soul of every small business owner, the reason we return every four years to the ballot box.

Hope is a gift that never shames us. Instead, it connects with love and emblazons our hearts with purpose. (check out Romans 5:5)

If we take it apart as an acrostic, HOPE looks like this:

H – Health. Without hope, our health is affected yet with an abundance of hope—we feel those positive endorphins moving us toward a better tomorrow.

If we suffer from a sense of hopelessness, we can easily dip into discouragement and even full-blown depression. Hope eases that pain and gives us a reason to live.

Recently, I read a story from one of the Holocaust survivors. Anna woke up every morning and imagined herself dressing in something beautiful—a colorful scarf, a blouse made of the finest silk. Although in reality, she knew tattered and lice-infested rags covered her body—the thought of dressing in something clean, soft and lovely gave her hope. She survived Auschwitz and eventually was restored to complete health.

O – Optimism. Feeling optimistic about the next day breeds more hope. Even the tiniest steps toward a short-term goal fill us with optimism that we will indeed achieve victory.

Posting affirmations around the home, encouraging others and ourselves, even planning a day of joy will keep us in an optimistic mood. Positive thoughts result in hope and conversely, hope underscores a positive attitude.

When my son was in high school, his best buddy suffered with a terminal disease. Ryan’s family posted affirmations around the house such as:

“You can do it.”

“Hang in there.”

“You’re the best!”

Although Ryan passed before high school graduation, he lived much longer than any of the doctors expected this amazing preemie to live. And everyone who called Ryan friend was affected by his positive outlook. His optimism fostered hope in an entire school of teenagers.

P – Perseverance. But what happens when we can’t muster enough hope to make it through the day? When life hands us difficult circumstances or we live with shattered hearts in the graveyard of grief? How can we then find hope?

Through the practice of perseverance. By gritting our teeth and swallowing enough determination to make it through one more day. We stay in hope through sheer guts.

Three of my friends deal with chronic illnesses: muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia and muscular sclerosis. These women are my she-roes. Every day, they climb out of bed and try to do just one thing. Or if they need to, they stay in bed and pray for others. They persevere through the good, the bad and the ugly.

They stay in hope because they know the future—in heaven—will be illness-free. They persevere through difficulty and share hope with everyone they meet.

E – Experience. Hope tends to grow when we remember past experiences. This is one reason why I keep a journal. All my entries are dated, so I go back and relive what happened, how my son and I made it through that circumstance.

Many of my journal entries include Bible verses which help me stay in hope. Some of them are prayers while other entries include poetry or quotes from favorite authors. Sometimes my journal includes rantings at God. He’s big enough to understand my anger and let me work through it.

But always—always—God brings me back to hope. He reminds me of a past experience and how I don’t need to be afraid of the present or the future. He is the same yesterday, today and forever so that means hope will continue.

If you made an acrostic of hope, which words would you include? I’d be interested to hear why hope is so important to you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope in this month of February, check out my latest book. Hope Shines will give you a boost, a nugget of encouragement for each day.

How to Find Hope in February

wooden heartThe month of February has always been difficult for me. Usually, the cold and flu bugs continue their romp so the air is filled with germy spores.

The weather is too cold for walks and the ground too frozen for gardens. In spite of the growth of chocolate on store shelves and the lovely blend of red, pink and white – February feels bland.

It’s the shortest month yet somehow it feels longest.

How can we find hope in this second month of the year?

Count the Days.

How many days until spring? Or how many days until March which feels like spring even as it roars in like a lion. Keeping a tab of the days helps us realize we are making progress toward a brighter month.

Do Something Wonderful.

February is a great month to plan a getaway somewhere warm or even a visit to family you missed seeing at Christmas. Investigate a local museum once / week or schedule a day of joy outside your area. Looking forward to an event helps pass the time.

Help Another Soul.

As we do something nice for someone else, we focus less on ourselves. Stretch your creative muscles and think of ways to meet the needs of another person. Make beef stew for your sick neighbor. Take a widow to a movie. Make valentines and send them to single moms. Get outside yourself and share hope with someone else.

Find New Ways to Share Love.

February 14th is the day for expressing our feelings to loved ones, but what if we thought outside the box? Take the whole family and serve soup to the homeless. Spend some time with the lonely folks at a nursing home. Give a generous tip to a person behind the counter who serves you. Hold a baby in the preemie department of the hospital. Volunteer at a nonprofit.

Love Yourself.

Most of us are willing to help others and/or we spend a good deal of time taking care of others. But don’t forget to love yourself. Make February your month to begin a new novel – either reading a bestseller or writing one or both. My suggestion? “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. Schedule a mani/pedi – bright red or casual pink, of course. Reserve one day / week for play and rest. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself. Let a massage therapist work all the January kinks out of you.

Embrace the Special Days of February.

Do a search for the National Days of Celebration in February. On those days, follow the prompt. Enjoy the variety of each day and the emphasis it brings to your life. Check out the link here.

Make Plans for Spring.

Order from a seed catalog and plan your garden. Think about a new paint color in your office or bedroom. Tape the paint chip to the wall and live with it for a while. Join a new group and meet new people. Order a brochure for summer vacation and post it near your calendar.

Change One Thing.

Most of us cannot make a major life change during February, nor do we want to. But changing just ONE thing can lift us above the February blahs. For example: the curtains in my bedroom were 12 years old and beginning to fade. I found new curtains on sale and replaced them. That one change brightened my bedroom and boosted my spirits. What one thing can you change to make a difference in your outlook?

As we initiate some of these ideas, we can live through February with a lighter spirit and a greater sense of hope. Then the winter won’t seem so long and we can look forward to those warmer breezes and sunlit days.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you need a good book to read during February, consider Hope Shines. It will give you a nugget of encouragement each day.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with his own food supply. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico?” He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”flag-of-new-mexico-l

“No,” I said, “but it’s on my bucket list. I would like to go there at least twice each year.”

He then told me he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe and Taos.”

“You’ll get there. People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Memories of my last trip to Santa Fe — back in 2012 — brought tears. The research trip for my third novel, Final Grace for Reverend G.” Deb and I strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime. But did it have to be my last one? Could I not hope for another visit to the Land of Enchantment?

Last week as I shredded old files, I discovered the 2012 papers. A Pueblo Indian blessing scribbled on the back of our hotel bill — words Deb and I both loved — now richer with meaning and almost a foreshadow to losing Deb.

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

 My hope for 2018 includes the wish to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live in hope involves more than just the every-day-ness of what we must do albeit with a positive outlook and gratitude for what each day adds to life.

Hope also breathes through the impossibilities of reaching the desire of the heart — somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass while staying enchanting in the waiting.

A quote from Georgia O’Keefe — resident artist of Santa Fe — ties my hope in a package of possibility. “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Whether it’s a visit to New Mexico or some other hope that wraps around your soul, “Hope Shines” revives the possibilities of the heart. Check it out here.