Hope’s Gift of Observation

Most of my reflection time is spent in the solitude of my home study. But occasionally, I venture into the world of people for a cuppa’ Joe. Accompanied by my journal, paper and pen to write ideas or work on another blog post.

I am grateful we can meet in public again, sit in outdoor cafes or lounge among other pilgrims inside a coffee shop.

Observation is a necessary gift for writers.

We learn how to build characters by watching the people around us. We listen to dialogue and underscore accents. We detect smells and touch by the fabrics people wear.

An older couple sits quietly at a round table, slowly chewing croissants without talking or even looking at one another.

Years of marriage enrich the silence of the moment. What is there to talk about after so many meals together?

Maybe these fluffy croissants are their one treat for the week or the month — until the next Social Security check revives their bank balance.

A woman after my own heart reads alone, occasionally sipping her coffee. Obviously engrossed in her book, she seems lost in the words. An occasional grin spreads one side of her mouth. Or a mental struggle as the little “eleven” becomes a crease between her eyebrows.

Is she learning something new, researching for a college class or trying to escape some chaos in her life by entering into a fictional world?

Two women chat near me, slathering cream cheese on their bagels. One talks with a shrill timber. The other is the listener.

If I eavesdrop carefully, I learn about the toddler’s attempts at potty training, how the hubby works hard but does not care about the fatigue of this young mommy, how the oven needs cleaning but who really cares.

Do they suspect I intrude on their privacy? Do they see I am taking notes for my next character sketch? Probably not. Their goal is to share their hearts with each other, to find another soul who empathizes.

Another table fills with businessmen, their Mac books opened to spread sheets and planners — terse statements about sales and marketing. They remind me of Nate, the antagonist in No Visible Scars and how he traded his marriage for his ambition.

The employees of this restaurant assemble salads, soups and steel cut oats to fulfill requests. Working hard yet often rendered invisible. Each customer is captured only by his own story, with his own reason for spending the morning at Panera.

I feel gratitude for this place and for the freedom to sit and observe. Yet I am also aware of the God who cares for each person’s story — the Divine One who designed destinies before the foundation of the world. He who wants desperately for each person in this place to know how much he loves them.

Then the writer in me kicks in, and I play the “What if” game.

What if the older gentleman is hiding a fortune in stolen coins? What if his wife is really his pastor and has no idea about his hidden sin? What if the two women are planning a getaway, another Thelma and Louise adventure?

Away I travel into the world of creative thought, fashioning a new storyline for each character. The gift of observation teaches us how to weave story ideas together. It also brings us to a place of wonder at the uniqueness of each individual — the design for each life.

Before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 2 reminds us, God structured these plans. Yet he gave us the freedom to choose Plan B or C. Graciously, he comes alongside us to protect or comfort when we face the consequences of those choices.

My creative gift mingles with the God-breathed creations around me. Another day of writing. Another moment in time.

Then hope warms my soul as I gather my observations and drive home.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Have you read it yet – my release for this month? The Year of my Redemption is on Amazon, Kindle and Goodreads.

Hope Embraces a Stranger

She was introduced to me as a stranger, this woman who shared the drive to a writers conference. But within five miles we connected, as women often do when they share about their broken hearts, lifelong dreams and always always — their beloved children.

We discovered our common links: college football, country living, the love of animals, months of painful therapy, the ethic of hard work, unsweetened iced tea and browsing through thrift stores.

But we also shared the lifelong dream of writing. So after we finished baring our souls, we stopped for a refill of iced tea and talked shop.

She dreamed of a children’s book, maybe a series. Her desire for the writers conference was to learn more about publishing and marketing. She listened carefully to my experiences and ideas for a possible blog.

Both of us had earned degrees in education, so we knew the value of learning — for others but also for ourselves. One of the fun issues with writing is that learning always continues. A life-long course.

Another connecting point was that both of us were mothers of sons. Proud of the men they had become. Blessed because we made it through those adolescent years when the larvae of manhood simultaneously made us grit our teeth and laugh into our pillows.

She was blessed with several acres where she planted gardens, decorated with bird houses and roamed with her loyal dogs.

My life was stuck in limbo land, living in the city yet craving for sunsets without buildings and the solace of quiet labor.

Yet with all our emotional connections, one fiber spanned any differences and wound itself through our eternal destinies.

We loved the same God.

Neither of us quite understood why our loving God allowed us to be members of the gray divorce club. Yet both of us were certain we would trust this same God with the rest of our lives.

Hope grows when we meet other pilgrims along the road of life and discover common connections. When our heart stirrings become reasons to pray for each other, to spend time and energy getting to know one another.

Then as we embrace our eternal bond, we no longer call each other strangers. Instead, we lock hearts as family.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the beautiful children’s series written by Rogene McPherson.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

One of the qualities of a good life coach is helping clients when they feel stuck. Whether it’s a transition in life or waiting for an answer to prayer, we need to feel we are moving forward.

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

Do some of the micro habits need to be tweaked such as when a writer actually sits down and places fingers on the keyboard?

Or are negative habits contributing to the block such as a pattern of compliance that sometimes keeps women from reaching for their dreams?

Sometimes, it’s just plain old FEAR.

The dark night of the soul can apply to more than religious choices, when God seems to be hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

Especially in these stuck times, we can reach deep and look for hope. God has not disappeared. He may be silent, yet still at work behind the scenes, moving puzzles pieces together.

And our inner creativity may just need a boost of encouragement, an extra chunk of time to rest or a good talking-to. Then the dam breaks, the ideas come pouring out and life moves forward again.

So how do we find that extra dose of hope when we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips to the next page?

  • Keep believing that God WILL answer — in his timing. That’s the tough part. The waiting.
  • Understand that every season, even the season of waiting, will eventually end.
  • Believe that even in the stuck place, there is a purpose.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail until we use hindsight. For planners, this is tough.
  • Believe in the positive ending, not a happily-ever-after fable, but the greater good for the greater number of people.
  • Take a chunk of time to get away. Walk. Rest. Reboot. Your answer might be waiting at the end of a nap.
  • Talk to the more mature people you trust. We often know the answer to our problems, but we have to talk it out with a good listener.
  • Journal about the issue. The energy of writing down your thoughts will often enlighten you.
  • Don’t give up. A stuck place is not the end. It’s just a respite before the next season.
  • Keep praying because God honors perseverance.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we build more faith muscles. Next time, the waiting won’t be so hard.

Stay in hope. Keep believing the answer will come. Start planning now for how you will celebrate.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner wasn’t sure if he would survive the tragedy, but then came a surprise answer. Check out his story in The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Finds the Right Person

Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Wasted hours of precious time. A plea to God, “Help me fix this.”

It was a snafu with my supplemental insurance. When I switched in February, someone did not complete the job. I was getting letters from the old insurance which I had cancelled months ago.

So I called my insurance broker, and spoke to two people who both said, “You need to call Medicare.” They gave me the number to contact the right person.

The representative at Medicare told me I had called the wrong department. They would connect me to another area. Instead, they hung up.

So I went online and filled out the chat box. Wrote numerous explanations to a person who chatted back, “We can’t help you. Call your former supplemental insurance.”

At that point, I was using a few of the cleaner swear words.

After a lunch with some fortifying protein, a bite of chocolate and a quickie prayer, I once again called my supplemental insurance. This time, I reached just the right person — a woman who knew exactly what to do.

“I’m fixing this right now, ma’am. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Relief was instantaneous. All I had to do was find the right person.

It is the searches in life that often bring discouragement. The rabbit trails. The run arounds. The hang ups.

But Hope survives when we find:

  • The right person willing to invest time and build a friendship
  • The traveling buddy who drives us to unusual thrift stores for treasure hunts
  • The mechanic who knows how to fix the current problem without inventing new ones
  • The Savior who graces us with peace [Hint: His name is Jesus and his contact number is John 3:16].

Finding the right person solves a host of problems we cannot resolve on our own. But the search requires patience and an abundant helping of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner finds the right person for his shattered heart. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Arrives in a Book

When creativity nudges a book idea, strange things can happen.

Writers usually begin with the germ of an idea, maybe a “What if” question such as: “What if a young girl from Kansas ends up in the land of Oz?”

Sometimes these creative nudges become a puff of wind. They fly away, and the writer forgets about them.

But as we learn to nurture our creativity and pay closer attention to ideas, the nudging sprouts and begins to take root. Then we water it with more ideas, nurture it with the fertilizer of brainstorming and honor it with structure.

After some time of thinking, planning, or wondering through various tunnels of ideas — we begin to actually write.

All this setup can take from days to years, sometimes even decades.

My novel No Visible Scars was 15 years in the making. A long time before I held that book in my hand.

My latest book began as an idea in 2017. I knew a novel was begging to be born, but I had only the scarcest of ideas.

Then I remembered the maxim so many of us follow, “Write what you know.” So I made a list of what I knew at that time:

  • Loss
  • Ministry
  • Kansas, specifically Johnson County
  • Church politics
  • Old houses and DIY projects
  • Gardening
  • Eating gluten free

Then I found my “What if” question. What if a woman who lives in an old house loses a child and seeks help from a minister? What if the minister in Johnson County has also suffered a loss?

From that point, my idea thread wound all over the place and ended up in several knots. Brainstorming sessions with my critique group helped eliminate the unnecessary and solidify the important. And I took long walks where I talked myself through the kinks.

So when I took my creative writing retreat in Santa Fe, circa September, 2018 — I had my skeleton of ideas and a basic structure. I knew the names of my characters and was ready to begin.

I also had a Bible verse that haunted me. “The year of my redemption has come” (Isaiah 63:4). That verse would become my title.

But when I flipped open my new writing pad to begin the first chapter, something entirely different happened. A quirky change. Instead of telling the story from the female protagonist’s viewpoint, the minister jumped out and said, “Let me tell it.”

I have learned not to argue with my characters — or with the God who inspires them.

Pastor Tanner told his story about a tragic loss that led him to his year of redemption. In the process, he learned to care about the woman in my notes who had also suffered a loss. Together these two hurting characters lived out the story and became the book that is now published.

So that is how The Year of my Redemption happened. One of the fun things about books is when we find a surprise waiting in the words.

When writers are also surprised, it germinates hope that the next project will be just as much fun.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out The Year of My Redemption, available on Amazon. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and YouTube.

Hope in Holy Moments

After I read several books by Matthew Kelly, I decided to be more intentional about holy moments. To seek out ways to share love and thus spread the holiness of God into my community.

  • A “thank you” to the person at Target who cleans the grimy carts
  • A “God bless you. It will get better” to the tired mommy fighting three kids while grocery shopping
  • An “I appreciate your service” to the cop at Chipotle who wore a weary face.

But my resolve was challenged at one particular store. I only shop there once or twice each year when they have seasonal sales.

They were touting 30% off on all garden décor. Since the squirrels had massacred my deck cushions, I needed new ones. And I found the perfect pair marked down from $14 to $9. But at the register, they popped up with the original price.

“The sale sign is posted on them,” I argued. The clerk confirmed my observation and started to give me the discount.

“Let me check with the manager, to be sure,” she said as she paged him. “We usually honor the sales price if it still has the sign attached to the shelf.”

But before I saw him, I sensed the anger in his gruff voice.

“The sale was over yesterday,” he growled. “Didn’t you see the date?”

He ripped off the sign and pointed to a microscopic date at the bottom of the paper.

“No, I did not see that because it’s so tiny. What I saw was the giant 30% off which should still be honored.”

“Well, it’s not!” He crumpled the paper and tried to stare me down. “Next time, read the date.” Then he huffed away.

The sales clerk apologized and asked, “Do you still want the cushions?”

“No, I don’t.”

The customer behind me applauded and said, “Good for you.”

As I walked to my car, I said, “Well, God — that was NOT a holy moment.”

Yet maybe it was. Could I show grace now by praying for this obviously harried manager? Maybe he was dealing with a health issue or a loved one in trouble or trying to bring his profits up after COVID year.

And wasn’t it a holy moment to stand my ground, keep to my budget and set healthy boundaries on how I should be treated?

I can live without the cushions, but my soul cannot thrive without nurturing the holiness within me.

Hope still survives and believes that the next holy moment will be more positive.

Still, I’m not going back to that store, no matter what sales they advertise. The manager has lost a customer.

But if he comes to mind, I will hope he finds peace in his soul and a sense of God’s holiness still at work in our world.

Hope shines when we search for a brighter perspective. And holy moments DO happen, even in the unexpected chaos of life.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out books by Matthew Kelly. They’ll make you think about how you’re living your life.

Hope Exists in Layers

With all the natural disasters, political upheavals and the scourge of COVID, I’m re-thinking the topic of Hope. Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how Hope presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe that Hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The Everyday Expression of Hope

We may glibly use the word “Hope”, even as we bless each other with its presence.

              “Hope you have a good day.”

              “Hope that hamburger is well done.”

              “Hope you enjoy the baseball game.”

Layer One of Hope is important, because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say. Even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The Hope Shared During Crises

This layer was so evident during 2020’s year of disasters and the leftovers in 2021. With every hurricane, fire, earthquake, pestilence, shooting and angry outburst — people somehow summoned a measure of hope.

“We’re in this together” became a rallying cry. A promise that fortitude could spread. A Hope that community would survive.

People volunteered to clean up the emotional and physical sludge. Organizations asked for donations, and those with giving hearts complied.

The nightly news included a section about inspiring America. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who smiled through their tears.

Layer Two requires a sinew of courage we all strive to possess. It underscores that even when we suffer, we are not alone.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the great good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover again what is truly important.

Layer Three: The Darkest, Longest Road to Recovery

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of Hope transcends the others, because it has to duplicate itself every day.

Somehow, this Hope must dig past the detritus of personal chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 1600 meals for the homeless in their community.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the nurses with plastic marks creased into their faces from 12-hour shifts in the ICU.

These are the workers, sometimes using bare hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone, because they believe a child might still be alive. The slightest mistake might delete all Hope.

The brave souls who deal with chronic pain day after day after day.

The caregivers who continue to serve because they cannot imagine giving up.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three. From them, we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to Hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet Hope keeps their hearts beating.

They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down. They continue to believe and trust in Hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store, because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with the same sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways — depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

This is the writer who continues to pen the words s/he believes in, even when the hate mail continues to come.

I am striving to be courageous enough for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come.

But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere — then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My Layer One Hope is that my newest book will reach the sales goals. Check out The Year of my Redemption.