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.

 

Hope in the Redbud

Every spring, my redbud tree reminds me to stay in hope.Redbud

The usual allegory applies: dead winter becomes a fruitful spring. Trust God in the hard times. Almost a cliché these days.

But a more hidden meaning speaks to me this year, after an interminable winter and the hanging-on-of-grief. After another 12 months of ugliness and insecurity from our nation’s capitol, from both sides who should know better.

In spite of nature’s circumstances and the unknowns of life, here stands my redbud tree.

A neighbor has threatened to cut it down because its gnarled trunk and uneven branches seem out of sync with the rest of the symmetrical neighborhood.

Yet every time I drive home and see that rough bark, I marvel how such lovely pink blossoms manage to push their way to the surface.

And I cannot cut it down — will not allow it to be destroyed just because its trunk is ugly, its presence a misfit.

Even within its lack of beauty, I find hope.

The redbud tree reminds me how important every speck of God’s creation is — even those who do not fit into the traditional boxes.

  • Those creatives who splash weird colors onto canvas while everyone stares and tries to figure them out.
  • Children who don’t fit into the learning structures of schools yet are created for a beautiful purpose.
  • Autistic and Down’s Syndrome loved ones who see life more realistically than those of us with high IQ’s.
  • Every woman who survived high school although she was called “fat and ugly” by the popular kids.
  • The 67% of single moms who leave the church because they no longer fit into the religious culture.
  • And thousands of other categories of people, precious creations of God who find themselves unloved, unaccepted, unappreciated.

It strikes me that Jesus himself was a bit gnarled. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “There was no attractiveness in him, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him. . .turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by” (Isaiah 53:2-3 TLB).

So they cut him down.

Yet the truth of resurrection each spring reminds us that although we cannot see the inner beauty of creation, reality does not negate the truth.

Within the rough bark and spikey branches, life beats. Cells reproduce and spring bursts forth with a lovely fuchsia color.

Autistic children become great composers. Kids with ADHD learn how to operate computers and troubleshoot through cyberspace. Single moms raise the next generation of amazing beings. People with Down’s Syndrome teach us all how to love. Immigrants become solid citizens. Creatives remind us that art is subjective.

So I remind my neighbor, “Don’t judge my redbud tree.”

And I remind myself to never look at the outer layers of life. Beauty lies in the next flip of the calendar page.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you enjoy reading essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

The Intensity of Hope

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.nvs-cover

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plot lines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — trying to survive with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We don’t know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting to them but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who would not hear their truth and told them to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps. Her husband was a deacon. Her pastor told her to lose weight so he would like her better.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Even in the church.

And the book was published, sold and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo.

Hope Defeats Fear

monarchDuring the sixth month of my pregnancy, I waddled outside. The June sunshine brightened my colorful zinnias, so I parked my lawn chair beside the garden and carefully arranged myself within its plastic womb.

Six months. Three more to go. We had made it past the danger zone — those first 12 weeks when this baby’s siblings slithered out of my body and died.

This child seemed stronger, a prototype of health according to sonograms and medical opinions. Yet a niggle of fear colored my days. Things could go wrong so quickly. Hadn’t the past pregnancies taught me that truth?

I dozed, then woke to the sight of a colorful monarch resting on my belly. His wings pulsated, his russet eyes steady on my face. I tried to breathe silently, barely moving lest he leave and break the spell.

The baby kicked, but the monarch rode the wave. Extra flutters of his wings yet a determination to hold on.

A verse I had read that morning filtered through my mind, “Though a thousand fall at my side, though ten thousand are dying around me, the evil will not touch me” (Psalm 91:7 TLB).

Thousands of women lost babies every day. I had been one of them, but not this time. The monarch seemed to tell me, “Hold on. You’re almost there. It’s safe to believe.”

That amazing insect stayed on my belly for the entire afternoon. Precious hours as the two of us communed. A concrete reminder that life would be gifted for my baby and me.

When my son was born in November of that year, the summer sun was long gone. But not the truth of that amazing experience.

Even now, 33 years later, when I see a monarch — I smile and whisper a thank you for the hope that butterfly brought me.

Then I find my son for a quick hug.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

That same son edited our newest book, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.