Hope Returns

My hometown recently hosted an author festival. Thirty authors set up their tables, complete with vertical displays, dishes of candy and an assortment of books.

After I set up my table, I roamed through the library and visited with the other authors. This library was the modern version of the old Carnegie library where I grew up. Mom drove us to town each week so we could check out a stack of books.

Who would have guessed that little girl who loved to read would some day return as a published author? Only the God of returned hope.

But this day included more of a helping attitude. Although I sold some books, I was also able to share with other readers how my books came to be — the life issues that impacted me.

One reader wanted to write, but she was stuck. She wanted so desperately to finish her book, but she felt blocked and unable to continue. So we talked about the issues that often stop our creativity. As I listed them, she grabbed my hands and said, “That’s it! Perfectionism. I keep going back to make everything perfect.”

“Ah-h. So remind yourself that a good editor will fix any mistakes. Keep writing, because you can always revise later.”

She seemed relieved and wanted to know more about my coaching services.

Another reader picked up my book Sometimes They Forget. She read the back blurb, and tears formed as she said, “This is about Alzheimer’s?”

“Yes. My mother had Alzheimer’s, but this book is for the caregivers.”

“I need this. We’re trying to take care of my mother, but it’s so hard. How many years was it for you?”

When I told her it was ten years and Mom passed last December, she closed her eyes. “That long,” she said. She seemed tired.

“You have to take care of yourself. It’s okay to leave for a while and get away. Don’t give in to false guilt.”

She nodded, hugged my book to her chest and moved on. I watched her as she took time to look at other books, bought a few, filled her bag with more hope.

A young couple stopped at my table and looked at all the books. Ate some candy. Then she picked up Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

“That’s the book my son and I wrote,” I said. “He’s a millennial, so we wanted to write a book together to explain some of the topics of faith. And we wanted to do it in easy-to-understand language.”

“We’re millennials,” she said. “I think we need this.”

It was fun to share the proceeds of that book with my son and tell him about this couple. I hope the book will help them.

Several women were intrigued by The Invisible Women of Genesis. A couple of them bought the book. When I explained the background, they nodded. “The Bible is full of amazing stories, but many of the women are invisible. Their names aren’t mentioned or any of their back story. I decided to write about the invisible women just in the book of Genesis.”

As I signed copies, I wrote, “You are never invisible to God. He sees you.”

A pastor and his wife were both writers. His books are published. Hers have yet to be finished. “Time,” she said. “There’s never enough time, and people keep dying at inconvenient times.”

I remembered Mom saying something similar at the funeral of one of our relatives. “Death is never convenient.” So true.

One of the more interesting authors I met was an Episcopal priest. He writes murder mysteries. We discussed ways to kill off the bishop. He’s a bit worried about the NSA checking his online research as he looks for the best ways to get blood stains out of the carpet.

So many genres. So many interesting authors.

But this day of returning hope manifested on so many levels:

  • Returns on my books as offerings of hope
  • Returns on my years of experience as an author and coach
  • Returns on relationships as I visited with family and friends

But mostly a return of the soul of a reader who became a writer — back to the place where my love of words began.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved Check out the list of my books on my Amazon Author page. Find the hope in every title.

Hope Defeats the Toxic

When it happens, it feels like a gift, a treasure to be guarded. Sometimes, I can read faces.

This gifting started during a time when I worked for a nonprofit which helped women who had been abused. All sorts of abuse at different times in their lives. Their faces mirrored the pain, horror and sadness. Or the relief when they found freedom.

Then I started to read other faces: the checker at Target, the harried doctor, the librarian trying to help multiple children at the same time.

Some of the faces reflected frustration while others showed a splash of joy. All of them taught me to be more aware of the hidden waves of emotion we all experience.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a different type of reading in the faces of those who suffer. It became apparent when one of my dear clients suffered through a double mastectomy, months of radiation and brutal chemo. She beat the cancer but lost all her hair and much of her muscle tone.

But her face. Oh, my — her face. No hair of any kind, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It was completely clean of any type of subterfuge yet carried the sheen of a soul that had been detoxified. The suffering rubbed her raw so that her faith could then heal the wounds.

A glorified face forged from patience and the need for daily trust.

I saw that same type of face a few weeks ago. Another client suffering through cancer and the painful injections that are supposed to cure it. Weeks and months and days of discouragement and struggle, yet placing her trust in whatever God has for her.

A constant goal — to not waste the suffering.

We took a picture together, and I noticed the difference. Her face glorified and peaceful. Mine darker and not so serene.

I do not envy her suffering, but I covet the strength of her faith.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada once said that the truly disabled are those who do not suffer, those who have a smaller God because they do not need him as much.

When every moment is painful, those who suffer must ask for God’s strength throughout the day. He is bigger to them and dearer, because they need him more.

Hope teaches us that the circumstances of life may not be what we hoped for. Our dreams may have died through our own mistakes or what others have done to us. Disease and death are byproducts of our world.

Yet if we keep our hope centered on the One true God, we can find a purpose in the pain. And we can grow to glorify this God who loves us enough to let us suffer.

Then our lives and even our faces can become mirrors of reflection for all to see. As the toxicity of sin fades and the sheen of God’s love takes over.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays on hope, check out Hope Shines. Available in regular and large print.

Easter Hope

The celebration of Easter this year felt bittersweet. Although I enjoyed the holiday — who doesn’t love bunnies, colored eggs and the excited squeals of children when they wake up to find an Easter basket?

Easter falls smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful seasons in Kansas.

When life bursts from the ground in purple crocus, early yellow tulips and wild hyacinths all over my scraggly lawn.

Even my feral cats represent life as one of them lumbers with kittens in her womb — the other birthing three babies under my deck.

Still, this Easter flipped onto the calendar only four months after we buried Mom. And three of my friends in early 2022. And hundreds of Ukrainian citizens slaughtered by Russian troops. Some of those citizens probably distant cousins.

Death reminds us of our fragile existence. We are mortal, after all. We will all return to the dust that formed us.

Sobering truths are still true, no matter how we seek to avoid them.

But the converse is also true. Despite the death and destruction, life exists in that other realm. Behind that invisible veil that separates us from the spirit world.

Our loved ones wait for us there. God watches over us from that ethereal place we can barely imagine. Where life stretches without end. No more separation. No more death and destruction.

Only the beautiful burst of living color and light where we know as we are known.

Someday, I will be with my parents again. With the friends I lost this year. Someday, God will vindicate those Ukrainian souls and judge those who murdered them.

Someday, eternity will continue to burst with renewed vigor and the beauty of life. No decay. No chaos. No disruption from the beauties of creation.

In the meantime, I will focus my hope on resurrected life and continue to believe in the eternal every day of the year.

And when chaos tries to disrupt that living hope, I’ll play this song and believe all over again.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share living hope with a single mom. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms

Hope in a Family Vacation

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

We finally arrived in Orlando. Why? Because my great niece and her band were marching at Disney World. The family traveled to encourage and support her.

And she did a great job. I am sure I heard her trumpet above the rest of the band, trilling sweet and true. No bias here.

But with its traffic and over-priced everything, Orlando would not be my favorite vacation spot.

So how could I look for hope?

By learning something. The little orange toy is everywhere in Orlando. A fuzzy reminder at the check out. A friendly face on a tee shirt. A billboard announcement.

I finally asked a local, “Is that little orange because Florida is the sunshine state?”

“Sort of,” he said. “But it has a broader reach. You see, Disney World was built on an orange grove. So to compensate for taking the land, they created this marketing orange which brings revenue back into the area.”

Hmm. So I bought some fresh oranges to bring back to Kansas. Delicious. And a reminder that this fruit has a history — at least in Orlando.

Another fact I learned was to stay away from any ponds that might be inhabited by reptiles. We weren’t in Kansas anymore.

During a tornado warning, I also realized Florida homes do not have basements. Obviously, they rarely experience a real twister.

By finding kindness. I spent much of the time at the Disney properties waiting. While my siblings and my great niece waited in long lines for a ride, I sat on a bench and waited for them.

My back does not allow me to enjoy the twists and turns of roller coasters or even some of the milder rides.

Except for the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World. The music still replays in my brain.

So I waited. Observed. Wondered why so many people will wait in a two-hour line for a 30-second ride. Something about that ROE (return on energy) intrigues me.

But others waited as well. Some of the older folks or the more obviously pregnant women. We struck up casual conversations. “Where ya’ from? How long will ya’ be here?”

Almost everyone at the Disney parks is from another state or country. Thousands of them. All present at the same time. Multiple people crowding around my obviously introverted self.

Still, kindness prevails.

By living in a rental home. Instead of a hotel, we rented a home. Cozy. Saved us money as we made our own breakfast and packed a lunch.

Settled in our own rooms, tastefully decorated with pictures of seascapes. Came together in the family room to watch the Big 12 Tournament.

Even on vacation, watching basketball wins.

We learned how many of the short-term rental homes are never seen by the owners. They buy a property, rent it out with an agency and pocket the profits.

The writer in me wondered, What kind of people buy a home they never see? Is there a story here?

Even though the home was comfortable and perfect for our needs, it was still great to begin our drive back home.

Two days. 23 hours in a van. Stiff joints and screaming muscles.

Would I do it again? To support my niece — probably. But next time, I’ll just watch the band then go back to the home and read a book.

Hope survives. Even in Orlando.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a quick read for your vacation? Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope for Ukraine

She was just a little girl when her parents told her, “We have to leave. The tzar is forcing us to leave our home. We will travel to America.”

Little Anna Barkman did not understand all the politics of the time. How the Mennonites were summoned by Catherine the Great to farm the land and produce wheat crops. How they grew so successful the next ruler shunned them.

Forced them to become refugees.

Anna only knew that the life she had led in the colony of Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) was ending. So she helped her parents pack up what little they could carry.

But before she set out to a new life, she wanted to preserve something of the old.

She sewed wheat kernels into the hem of her dress. The same variety of wheat her family and the other Mennonites had so successfully planted and harvested throughout the years.

Then little Anna Barkman followed her parents to the new land in America, to the Midwest, where the Mennonites would once again thrive.

Where freedom of religion was a promised right.

Once settled, Anna cut open the seams of her hem and handed those precious kernels to her father. He and the other Mennonites set about planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops.

The Mennonite settlements grew in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Today, every variety of wheat that is planted and harvested in the Midwest still has its hybrid roots in that Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat from what is now known as Ukraine.

The war is personal to me, because my ancestors are buried in the Ukraine. Their bones and personal dust still attest to the truth of who they were. Putin cannot steal their identities nor the legacy of their work.

They lived and propagated the doctrine of peace. They crafted quilts and made homemade jams. Buried their arms in yeasty dough and created smells and tastes that are still replicated by their great great grandchildren.

Some of their recipes are sold at the annual relief sale where all the proceeds go to missions.

I imagine this year much of the profits will go for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

In these years of pandemic crises, I had not thought much about my ancestors or the cemetery where they are buried. Until Putin’s bombs highlighted their plight.

A stark reminder that we all come from refugee stock.

Last week, the Russian army occupied the very region where my ancestors lay. I have not heard if the staff of the Mennonite Center survived. If they did, I know they will continue the work of peace and love, reaching out to those in need.

No matter what happens, the legacy of my ancestors will survive. Every time I eat a piece of toast, I will think of little Anna and her foresight to bring the wheat kernels to America.

And I will hope that peace once again returns to Ukraine.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Mennonites are people of faith, basing their belief systems on the words of Jesus. Some of their strengths include an emphasis on missions and music. Before the pandemic, the 300 Mennonite Men’s Chorus presented regular concerts.

Hope Given

She always fought for the underdog. The sports team nobody else liked. The almost-invisible missionary. The poorest people living on the other side of our small town. The nurse accused of stealing, as she gave her deposition to the lawyer.

“Anyone can make a mistake,” she said.

Her compassion came from her own background of poverty and bullying. How the other kids treated her when she wore the same dress to school day after day. How she and her family lived on the poor side of town, in a home that once housed a chicken-packing business.

She wore a cross necklace under her nursing uniform, because nurses were not allowed to wear any jewelry except their professional pins. “When the job is hard,” she said, “I touch my cross. It reminds me Who I belong to and why I’m cleaning up people’s vomit.”

Quietly, she supported underdog ministries. Gave freely of her monthly tithe. Always lived frugally so that she would never be poor again yet could continue to give.

Even in death, my mother gave.

Last week, I wrote out a check for a ministry I support. To help some of the underdogs in life. The check was part of a tithe from the inheritance my mother left me. A chance to honor her legacy again.

When I entered the building housing the work of The Single Mom KC, the noise of joyful life seemed everywhere. Mothers met together while their children played. The boutique that offers beautiful clothing buzzed with shoppers. Free for single moms and their kids.

I met a wonderful baby named Jeremiah. His big brown eyes sparkled with life as I tickled his tiny socks. Chubby baby fat rolls around his thighs. Maybe he’ll become another prophet like his namesake, especially now that his mama has a better chance in life.

Because of the work this nonprofit does. Because of my mother and her gift.

I dropped off the check and told the Communications Director a bit about my mom. Tickled Jeremiah’s feet again. Touched his soft brown cheek. Then hurried to my car.

Tears of grief mingled with respect for the woman whose life gifted me with the opportunity to give again. “You’re blessing single moms today, Mom. You did good. Jeremiah will have a boost up the ladder of acceptance now. His mama will have some security.

“And I will continue to give as I can — like you taught me. Thanks, Mom.”

Hope is a gift. And as we give, the blessing of the giving returns to us. The knowing that we have done something to help the underdogs of life.

The assurance that our lives are not lived in vain. Because others have given to us, and we return the favor.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

March is Women’s History Month. Check out these Invisible Women of Genesis.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.