When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

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Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

acceptanceA copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

But change happened with or without courage. The seasons of life determined new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance—now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had but if we needed something, we actually made it. Created it from the bits and pieces around us. We changed the situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my life. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished, even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. I am always ready to do what is necessary to make a situation better or to at least make it tolerable.

I revise manuscripts until they feel completely right. I add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging knees and a threatening muffin-top waist. I delete from my diet the chemicals that are harmful. Make the necessary changes.

Even as a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we can work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows me to do something—anything—to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

I am frustrated and trying to learn how to work through this whole acceptance thing. How can I find the hope needed in doing nothing?

With the help of a gifted therapist and friends who care, I am inching toward the acceptance of Deb’s death. My life has changed and will never be exactly the same. She is gone.

Somehow, I must make peace with how her absence has affected my calendar days and the future we planned together.

As we age, some things must clearly become an accepted piece of life. In her book, “Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist writes, “It’s okay to be medium.”

She’s referring to the size of clothing she now wears. After years of being petite, she now must wear the medium sizes.

My mother has accepted her life in assisted living. She is content living day by day in her safe and beautiful environment. No stresses. No bills to pay. No worrying about the car and the next oil change. Just get up every morning, eat when they tell you to eat and play Bingo.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to sometimes let go of the need to change. We have to accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance—we will be okay.

So change what you can but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy in each day.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to read about a woman who was able to change her life, check out “No Visible Scars.

Hope Rests in the Memory of Music

A tiny blip of memory – gone – then back. No reason why, but there it is again. The sweetness of a moment shared with my father-in-law all those years ago.

For some reason, Jake and I always finished getting ready for church before the rest of the family. So we had 10-15 minutes to just sit and wait – together.musical notes

Each of us seated in the comfy club chairs in the living room. He stood and walked to the stereo, pulled one of the vinyl records from his vast collection, set it to spinning. A quartet, four part harmony, Gospel music floating around us on a quiet Sunday morning.

We didn’t speak, but sat there communicating in the silence. Each of us listening, being present in the moment, sharing worship as the harmonies filled our souls.

A musical connection. A memory cherished.

With my own father, a more active memory. Dad and I making music together – his guitar, my piano. Sharing the notes, the very faith of our fathers with residents of nursing homes. Our Sunday afternoon ritual.

A routine of service. We never missed a beat. Never cancelled until life interfered, and I was off to college. Then dementia stilled his strumming fingers, his baritone voice.

Both fathers gone now. Both no doubt sharing in the worship songs of heaven. Jake and Henry. Neither of them demonstrative with affection, yet each sharing of their hearts through the power of music.

Do they sing together in the same celestial choir? Or are they individually standing before the throne, lifting their farmers’ arms upward with joy? Do either of them remember me?

Perhaps the memories come now because we are so near to celebrating Father’s Day, and I have no one to send a card, no father figure to phone an “I love you.”

Maybe I am thinking of these fathers because my heart feels emptier without their presence. Perhaps memories will fill the gap, embrace the emptiness with past love.

So I rest in the thoughts, enjoy them for as long as they fill my mind. Treasure the core of what they represent – that being present with the music drew us closer, helped us cope with the stresses of life.

And in that resting lies the hope that somewhere in the vastness of the heavenlies, a chord stirs and finds its way to them then back to me. A remembrance of time shared. A semblance of “I miss you” floating through the air.

And as I play my piano alone, I strike my own chord of gratitude for two men who impacted my life differently yet with the same medium.

And the music continues.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more memories of Hope, check out Hope Shines – Nuggets of Encouragement for Weary Souls.

No Regrets in Hope

The following is a guest post by Laney Wind. I am honored to invite Laney as a guest – a woman who embraced her courage and escaped from domestic violence. Her memoir, “Escaping the Knight in Dirty Blue Jeans is now available on Amazon. WR - book image

As I stand in my kitchen, the faces on the fridge stare back at me. Photos of those dear to my heart, those I fought to survive for: my daughters, my grandson, my aunts.

Even my sweet cuddlebug dog. I made the hard choice to re-home him and uproot my daughter. Sacrifices for a better life.

A few older images, one when the girls were younger and another hanging out with cousins, still hold a place on the white enamel fridge.

Pure happiness caught in those moments. No one can steal it away. No hurt connected with those faces.

Other photos collected over the past five years. Newer. Fresh. Symbolic of starting over. Snapshots of our new lives.

I recognize transformation in my daughters. Slow. Baby steps. Heads tilted back with giggles.

They were beginning to find themselves and find each other. They were healing. And it was beautiful.

No turning back. Not now. Did I have any regrets?

Doubts that I had done the wrong thing by divorcing their father after an almost nineteen-year relationship? That somehow if I had done more of this or more of that the Domestic Violence we lived with would have ended?

I only had to stand oh so still and listen. Listen and soak in the peace, calm, and stillness that came with the sound of Freedom.

Did I stay too long or leave too soon? Regrets that I damaged my children by remaining damaged myself? Regrets because my daughters didn’t know the true meaning of a father?

I ache for them now being fatherless.

Then the sound engulfs me. As I release the Regrets that are no longer mine to bear, I hear the sound. Healing tears, laughter, squeals of sisters.

I have No Regrets in Hope.

©2018 Laney Wind – All Rights Reserved

Laney Wind is an Autism Paraprofessional with college credits in Interpreter Training Program – Sign Language for the Deaf. She has three daughters and the joy of a four year-old grandson. During the past five years, Laney has embraced and developed her heart for music, writing and art. Beauty has come from ashes as each day matters.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking recently about changing expectations. By now, we hope - scrabble lettersexpected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for – free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on – the happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money
  • Trips planned
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee / tea / chocolate
  • A certainty that our lives have impacted people / that we’ve made a difference in this world
  • Blessings of the abundant life

Instead of reveling in the resolution of these expectations, we are instead experiencing:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betray us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of living alone
  • Friends lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize and move or hunker down where we are
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • The abundant life kind of fizzling out

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through?

Simple, yet hard. Stop looking at the outcomes. Instead, trust God Himself.

When the answers aren’t what we want to hear and don’t match up with our expectations, no one can figure out why. But it doesn’t help our attitudes if we focus on what did not happen. Gloom is not pretty.

Focus instead on what it means to believe in the great I AM.

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

I AM helping you through this mess, one day at a time.

I AM going to meet every need if you’ll just wait for me.

I AM still loving you, loving your children, even loving all the weird people who have hurt you.

I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.

I AM.

And when the days seem longer than 24 hours, play this video and keep holding on to hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope, check out Hope Shines” – encouraging nuggets for each day.

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.

Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

We planned it as a wonderful family weekend in Branson, and I looked forward to a leisurely drive through eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

What I did not realize—until it was too late—was the massive fear-mongering I would face at the end of the journey.scary hills

Although I grew up a tree climber, I have developed a fear of heights. I cannot and will not attempt stair-climbing past two floors.

Forget the Eiffel Tower challenge or the Washington Monument steps or any of those glass elevators meant to remind me I am no longer on the ground floor.

I will not—cannot do it. No one can bully me into a roller coaster ride or coax me to look over the side of the Grand Canyon.

What kind of masochist designs bridges with slots between the boards or glass walkways between tall buildings?

These are not my friends.

So I cheerfully drove to Branson, blissfully ignorant of what I would soon face. Before I hit the main drag, I suddenly faced massive hills—heart-stopping obstacles.

The worst part was the ascent without being able to see what was on the other side. I knew the downside of the hill must present itself, but I could not see it until my car topped the ridge.

Then I had to drive down that slope while my heart hammered its kuh-thump, kuh-thump. I refused to look at the steep sides around me.

“Focus on the center line,” I told myself out loud, aware of how my voice shook.

Seven—count ‘em —seven dangerously steep hills. The only thing that kept me going was the promised treat of meeting my family—if I survived the drive.

I recited every Bible verse I knew about fear, called on angels to surround me, screamed my prayers out loud.

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

Finally, the last hill was conquered, and I rolled into level ground. I pulled over and closed my eyes.

Survival tasted sweet.

The only cloud on a weekend of family fun was the certainty I would have to face those hills on the return trip. Or stay in Branson for the rest of my life.

Whether it’s the facing of a fear, pushing through an emotional obstacle or just trying to survive another day —we all meet our mountains of challenge.

And we’ll never know if we can conquer them until we actually go through the process.  Finish the journey—no matter what it costs us.

Hope streams in as we discover another layer of perseverance we didn’t know we owned.

And survival becomes the end result of a battle fought and won.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Discover the battle Abigail faced in “No Visible Scars and how she learned to accept her pathway to freedom.