Hope Delights in Dandelions

They raise their chartreuse heads above the frosted grass. At first, I am cheered by the bright yellow dots in my yard.dandelion on hand

It will soon be time for the garden,” I tell the cat. Her tawny eyes reflect with understanding.

But by the time dandelions lose their sunshiny tops and begin to climb higher, then sprout white seeds that blow all over tarnation, I am no longer thrilled by their presence in my yard.

However, I am amazed how they persevere through every winter and reappear all over the place. Even though I dig them out each spring, they ride the wings of the wind and once again mess up my plans for a weed-less garden.

Weeds are plants out of place. Dandelions are out of place among my peas, green beans and clematis.

But these same weeds cause me to reflect on the spiritual lessons God sends through nature.

Perseverance: No matter how many times I dig them out and throw away their roots, dandelions reappear.

They have conquered my garden spaces in spite of toxic chemicals, sharp mower blades and a shovel full of rocks. No amount of mulch deters their upward journey as they poke through the cypress sticks.

Howdy!” they scream. “Here we are again!

That same character trait — that infernal perseverance — is a core value I covet. No matter how someone’s words hurt me or what weapon is used against me, may I continue to persevere.

No matter what life throws at me or how many times my words are rejected by editors, I want to persevere.

May my daily journey always seek the Light, no matter how difficult the journey or how long I have to travel the same path.

Location: Dandelions sprout anywhere and everywhere — between sidewalk cracks, in the middle of rocky landscapes, even cuddled next to strawberry blossoms.

My hope is to be an encouragement no matter where I am — seated on the church pew, waiting in the long line for meds in Wal-Mart, while sweating out stress in the workplace.

Dandelions teach us location is not as important as vocation. A consistent life of character is the goal, no matter where we sprout.

The job may move us to another state, or even a different country with a foreign culture.

Circumstances of life may change our status from “married” to “alone.”

Yet with each new venture, we learn to sprout — to live again — to acclimate within a new version of ourselves.

Effectiveness: Although we kill dandelions in Kansas, some cultures nurture them for the greens and the tea. When these weeds live in the right place, they prove to be useful plants.

Every day, my breath wraps around the goal of effectiveness, to serve God and others. My work — forming words and coaching writers who make their own words — is to help someone else.

The stories I complete, the communication gifts God has given me, my very existence is focused on how to point others toward hope.

I want to be effective and make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

In the graceful writings of Colossians 3:23-24, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all he owns. He is the one you are really working for” (The Living Bible).

In spite of the spiritual lessons, dandelions are still not welcome in my garden. But as I dig them out and rid the landscape of their threat, they continue to remind me of a higher goal.

Even a weed praises the Creator who does all things so well.

So hope shines as we persevere through each day’s weeds.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Thrives with the Littles

She reached out to touch my hand, her pudgy toddler fingers soft and warm. Dark brown Hispanic eyes twinkled with joy as we played peek-a-boo around her mother’s shoulder.

We waited in line at Arby’s, teasing each other for at least ten minutes. The baby grinned at me, two tiny bottom teeth standing like white pillars in her perky mouth.

I would have given her mother twenty dollars to let me hold her precious daughter, but then maybe the spell would have broken. Surely this gregarious child had been trained to show caution around strangers.

Then customer service interrupted. The child and her mother moved away from me, and I ordered a drink — suddenly bereft, no longer hungry.

future for childrenYet hope revived as I imagined the future for this tiny life, untouched by the cares of this world. That precious little has no idea of the stresses she will someday encounter — the need to pay a gas bill or keep a roof over her head.

She is years away from deciding on a career and thankfully, her choices will be much more varied than mine ever were.

Her grin was completely free from any emotional baggage, yet even as I played peek-a-boo with her, I begged God to protect her.

Statistics prove one out of four little girls will be sexually assaulted, one out of six little boys.

Oh God – may that statistic burn in hell !

Later, as I reflected on my day and remembered the beautiful child, I marveled how she had increased my hope:

  • Her youth — so much potential ahead of her
  • Her innocence — may life allow her to remain pure
  • Her freedom — in a country that offers so much promise and may it continue to do so
  • Her gender — with more opportunities for women than ever before
  • Her beauty — who could resist those brown eyes and black hair surrounding clear baby skin?

No wonder God tells us to become like a little child.

No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).

No wonder our hearts burst with joy when we are accepted and loved by a little child.

Hope shines in the presence of littles. Hug the little ones in your life today.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books and resources on my Amazon Author Page. 

 

Hope Reversed

An idea filtered through my soul one Sabbath afternoon as I was journaling thoughts from the morning’s service.blue arrows reversed

Someone had mentioned the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are produced in our lives as we let the Spirit flow through us and as we learn more about what it means to live as a Christian.

But often, I fail in one or a number of these areas. I still have so much to learn about being who God created me to be.

So my hope is restored as I consider how God exhibits these beautiful qualities in my life and within our chaotic world.

Love. No human being has ever unconditionally loved me. A few have accepted my faults and my quirks, but still hoped I might improve. Graded me on a curve of not being “enough.”

But God has never treated me as if I am “less than.” He has shown his love in the orangey-yellow sunsets of the Midwest, in the purr of a cat, in the shelter of a friend’s arms. His love has always been a practical reminder that he alone knows how to look beyond my faults and see my possibilities.

Joy. As a melancholy introvert writer, I must admit joy is sometimes illusive. I cannot manufacture it, so I must find it within the presence of God.

He reminds me to laugh, to play, to give and receive hugs. His joy shines through the eyes of children, through the taste of a new recipe, through the spark of a writing idea.

I imagine heaven will be a place of so much laughter, so much joy — our spirits will be light and free to receive it and share it eternally.

Peace. When the world underscores its chaotic frenzy, God brings peace. The promise Jesus spoke to his anxious disciples stands true today, “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27 TLB).

God often shares his peace at night, when I finally lie down and surrender the day to him. Since he knows my past but does not condemn me for it, since he accompanies me through every day of the present and creates every second of the future — his peace is a forever gift.

Patience. As an over-achiever (read first-born), patience is difficult for me to even fathom. Yet God shows patience to me every day as I struggle to understand more about him.

He waits for me. Never a hurried tone to his voice. His timing shows an ordered plan for the best outcome.

And when I tend to rush ahead with a project or an idea, his divine whisper to “Wait” reminds me how all-encompassing his patience is.

Kindness.  A working definition of kindness would include compassion and benevolence. Since God formed every cell in my body and he’s walked with me throughout life, he knows exactly how I tick.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt discouraged as a writer. Even with all the marketing and all the self-discipline, the book sales weren’t enough to buy a bag of groceries. Without even a prayer for help, God knew I needed some of his special kindness.

In quick succession, three different encouragements. A writer mentioned a workshop I taught years ago and how it helped her. A card handed to me — “You are a blessing,” it said. Four sales of my newest book, Write and Share Your Story.

God’s kind heart knew I needed his special benevolence. He worked it out behind the scenes and gave me a positive boost.

Several times throughout scripture, God’s lovingkindness is mentioned. I like combining “love” and “kindness” as neither are quite as impactful without the other.

Goodness. We glibly state, “God is good” — usually when something wonderful happens. But even when disaster hits, God is still good.

Although life on this earth is filled with trauma and fear, God is still good. He proves it every time a baby is born — the goodness of God creating life again. When a nonprofit forms to meet a social need, God’s goodness filters through that organization to help the homeless, the hopeless and the abused.

When a social media post spouts hate, God’s goodness seeps through other people who know how to temper their tongues, speak truth and share love. When racism, murder and negative policies rule the nightly news, God whispers his mission, “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 TNIV).

In short, be good and be alert for his goodness.

Faithfulness. It is one thing to abandon a person. It is quite another to be abandoned.

Our world is filled with people who suffer from attachment disorder. They have been abandoned by a parent, a spouse, a community. So they struggle to find any type of stable relationships and often end up abandoning others.

But not God. He cannot, will not abandon his children. In spite of our failures and the many times we choose an idol over loving him, he sticks with us. In fact, his faithfulness is so definite he starts over every morning — loving us all over again.

My favorite hymn says it better than I.

Gentleness. He is the all-powerful God yet he chooses to be gentle with us. He can dip his hand into a mountain and form a valley yet he sings over us when we are born.

He can whip the ocean into a frothy mess yet he lifts a baby dolphin out of the hurricane’s path. He can stop my heart from beating in a milli-second yet he plants a feral cat in my neighborhood so I can watch her kittens grow.

He is the God of intense ironies, completely mysterious and impossible to understand. Yet children with Down’s Syndrome and elders with Alzheimer’s hear him whisper, “You are special, and I love you.”

Self-Control. We often joke about this piece of the fruit of the Spirit pie. “Oh, if only I had more self-control I’d be 40 pounds lighter.” “I can do all the fruit, but not the self-control part.” “What does God expect? I have an addiction.”

Yet how does God show us the example of self-control? He can wipe us all out in a nano-second. He did it before with a giant flood. Yet he reigns in himself and waits patiently because of all his other attributes — those big ones about love, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

He designed how the planets revolve and rotate. He gave us specific instructions on how to take care of the earth. In spite of the fact that we have failed, he uses self-control and gives us more time to correct our mistakes.

In a world of missed cues and deliberate wrong-doings, he controls the ticking of the Armageddon clock. It will eventually happen, but only with his say-so. And still surrounded by the compassion of his giant heart.

If we are to live in the image of God, then we must observe how he shows us the perfect example. Living a spiritually fruity life feels more doable when I look at how God does it.

Then hope circles around my feeble attempts and whispers, “This is possible.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author Page for my books and resources.

 

 

Hope-filled Arms

Several people I know, friends and family, are struggling with their arms. Because of chronic illnesses, they can no longer lift more than 10 pounds or even help themselves out of a chair. I grieve for their losses even as I admire their determination to stay in hope.arms - art

Arms are something I take for granted. But as I reflected on this blog post, I thought of several memories where arms left an impression.

My dad’s arms radiated his strength. With those arms, thick and muscular, he pulled calves out of their struggling mothers. He hefted hay bales and tossed them onto moving wagons. He swung at baseballs and sent them over the farthest fences.

When his strength diminished, his arms shook as he tried to feed himself. The skin began to sag as muscles atrophied and finally — all movement ceased except the shallow breaths that kept him alive, until even that capability was gone.

Arms of Strength.

The chubby arms of my toddler son reached toward me for hugs or night-time kisses. The first time I saw his face, I held him in my arms and marveled at the finished miracle of a nine-month creation.

Arms of Love.

My son’s arms grew from toddler stage to teenager. As he practiced and excelled at drums, the tendons in his arms rippled, then held trophies he won for his musical prowess.

Arms of Talent.

But my arms have also felt sadness. Last winter, I held my cat, Betsy, for our final goodbye. She trusted my arms, leaned in for what — I believe — she knew was coming. And when the final injection did its work, her dead weight relaxed with the pressure of finality.

Arms of Sorrow.

Scripture reminds us of another pair of arms, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27 TLB).

And an old hymn repeats the theme. Check it out. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

We dream of the day in eternity when we will run into the arms of our loved ones, when our guardian angels remind us their arms were always near.

Arms of Security.

I am grateful for the strength in my arms — to pull weeds from stubborn perennial beds, to carry a pot of soup to the table, to guide my hands toward the computer keyboard, to move across the piano keys.

A day will likely come, if God grants me more years, when I may lose my arm strength, when I’ll have to depend on others for movement and the basics of living.

So for now — for this day — I whisper a prayer of gratitude and determine to stay in hope, no matter what happens to my arms.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My arms have been busy on the keyboard. Check out my newest book: Write and Share Your Story

Is Hope Really Possible?

An encouragement often shared on my blog is the phrase, “Stay in hope.” No matter how life unravels, stay in hope.

What does that statement really mean? Is hope possible in today’s messy world? What does it look like, feel like? Or is it something so ethereal, we cannot find it — fail to grasp hold of it.

To stay in hope requires a conscience effort to move beyond whatever reality presses on us and instead — find a way to focus on a future of gladness.

Staying in hope means we begin with an action which follows with a joyful emotional reaction. So what are some practical action points we can take to find hope?

Focus on the Positive. When life unravels, it is easier to focus on what has gone wrong. The tornado touched down on top of the house. The person we loved is no longer here. The identity thief wiped us out.

None of us can avoid the uncomfortable circumstances of life. But if we constantly think about the struggles, we miss the pathway to hope.

As we focus on the positives of life, those negative tapes begin to fade. If we concentrate on what is good, renewed hope seems possible.

In spite of natural disasters, we are still alive. The grief process can leave us wiser and more centered. When our security is threatened, we can rebuild, restore, redo what we did before — even better this time.

List all the blessings, even those small ones you take for granted: hot water in the shower, a fridge with food in it, a hug from a child.

Stay in that hopeful place of warm and fuzzy vibes.

Surround Yourself with Hopeful People. Our network of people affects everything we do and how we react to life. Being around encouraging people helps us grow hope muscles. When we spend time with people who are positive, we feel better about life.

We may even learn how to fully love ourselves and become an encourager to someone else.

When our friendships revolve around the people who encourage us, we feel more hope surrounding our souls. We look forward to each day and enjoy being with these people. They help us smile and feel positive. They keep us from wallowing in the muck of daily living.

They give us the impetus to stay in hope.

Collect Affirmations. Positive sayings, posters and memes with hope-filled quotes may show up on social media or in home décor departments. My writing study is decorated with several positive affirmations.

Print out and post these messages. A plaque, a swirly design on a piece of barn wood or industrial metal, even a Post-it note with a positive statement — anything to remind you to stay in hope.

On my bathroom mirror, I have three notes I see every day:

  • Let my heart revive and live.
  • May the God of truth and faithfulness to his promises, bless me.
  • “After the grief fades, after the suffering dwindles away, God Himself will complete me, establish and ground me securely, strengthen and settle me” (First Peter 5:10).

To stay in hope, we need to work at it. As we focus on the positive, surround ourselves with healthy people and remind ourselves of affirmations — we can maintain and grow a more positive attitude.

Then hope becomes more of a reality as we acknowledge its existence and proactively seek to own it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Ever heard of “booking a blog?” That’s what I’m doing with this post. Check out the entire book, Hope Shines.

Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope in the Handwriting

It was time to choose a new journal — to begin a new treasure trove of writings and daily reflections.

I sorted through my stash and chose the one that spoke to me — sparkly with pink flower blossoms on both front and back covers. Then opened it to begin a new entry.

A gasp. A memory. Fresh tears.

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

photo attribution to Flickr

Written in her unique handwriting was the message my precious friend Deb shared when she gave me that journal. “Your faith can move mountains.”

Underneath the sentence, a mustard seed scotch-taped to the page.

I had forgotten that particular journal was a gift from Deb, a reminder of the verse in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The irony of the verse lies in the size of a mustard seed — only slightly larger than a pin-head.

Yet if we have even that tiny amount of pure faith, total belief in the One who can answer insurmountable prayer requests, we can see metaphorical mountains begin to move.

Deb believed this truth and passed it on to me. She had no idea how short her life would be, how I would treasure her memory and the friendship we shared.

She would have laughed at how I caressed that mustard seed and kissed the writing that came from her hand. She would have been surprised when I cut that cover off and framed it as a constant reminder of who she was and who we were together.

Handwriting is a sacred gift — a special scribbling that identifies us and preserves the energy of its author. It leaves a legacy, a historical mark that we lived. We made an impression on this earth, simply because we existed.

Although Deb is gone, her handwriting proves how she lived and the influence she left on those of us who knew her and loved her. And this reminder of our shared faith has become an art form I now preserve.

I think we all need to write and send more cards, letters that tell about our days, messages that share hope. To slow down and share words that will bless the receiver and prove the significance of our words. Computer keys cannot store the treasure of a friendship like a handwritten note.

Thanks, Deb, for this incredible gift. And for reminding me once again, to find hope in faith.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For an easy-to-understand booklet about faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.