Hope Finds an Unusual Holy Place

During a trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend Deb and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, while the missional atmosphere of the shop impressed us.

woman prayingBookshelves were filled with classics and some religious fiction. I added my Reverend G books to their collection and promised to bring my next book after its release.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning. So we punched it into our phone calendars and showed up along with 30 other folks of all ages and demographics.

It seemed a great way to attract people to spirituality within an unusual holy place.

I was disappointed when we were handed bulletins — not so outside the religious box. Churchy habits are hard to break.

We watched a video sermon taken from the book of Romans. Seriously? Romans? Why use one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned Jesus followers find difficult to understand?

We discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will, heady topics for a coffee shop.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the shop. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door, Tuscan colors and rough textures. The combination of beautiful weather, the Sabbath atmosphere and the companionship of a friend reminded me God is everywhere.

Deb and I took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door as the main focus? Is this another unusual holy place? The Creator God showed up again with the gift of creativity inside me.

Hope often places us in surprising places. We may root ourselves in comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our spirituality.

But when we move outside the normalcy of walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family of God.

The joy of finding pockets of believers in various places, those who worship in unique ways and spread the love of God without the confines of traditional walls. The textures and colors of different congregants, a quality setting for the stories written within our spiritual selves.

The ever-present God at home in a coffee shop and in the rich surface of a wooden door. Surely God is thrilled by creative venues. He relishes new plans even as his divine attributes remain the same.

By reaching out to others in unusual holy places, we instill more joy into our world and ultimately within Abba Father’s heart.

Hope shines when we yearn for spiritual experiences outside the norm.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines — available in print, Kindle and Large Print.

Hope for the Why Question

whyEver since the patriarch Job lived his troubled life, we have been asking, “Why?”

Actually, the question “Why?” was probably asked since the beginning of time. Perhaps Adam halted in his naming of the animals to ask, “Why, God? Why spend so much time on the colorful details of the bluejay, then throw together this ridiculous version of the dodo bird?”

The first mother, Eve, no doubt asked, “Why did Cain have to take Abel’s life? Why even allow me to birth these boys if you’re just going to take one of them away? Why God? Why?”

Every infertile woman, every family standing beside a coffin, every couple whose marriage ends in divorce will ask, “Why?”

We seek answers because we try to make sense of whatever horrible thing has happened. If we can underscore the event with a logical answer, we can put together a plan for dealing with the loss.

But life doesn’t work that way.

We cannot control the surprise ending nor can we surround the trauma with some sort of reasoning. No earthly logic can explain why my mother lives within the shadows of the Long Goodbye. Why? What is the key to this disease? How can my family deal with it from the viewpoint of a logical answer?

We can’t.

Like faith, we have to accept some things as they are and believe a higher power will absorb the shock. Especially when we don’t understand.

But good old Job provides a possible solution, even when our fists are clenched in angry denial. The answer hides within a verse that whispers to me every time I ask a new, “Why?”

Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness — He allows it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For correction. Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into the reality that we are not gods. Only the real God knows the reason behind everything. We cannot figure it all out.

But perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

Our response might be, “What can I learn from this situation?” Instead of “Why?” rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up. So we will reach out for him and learn more about trust.

For his world. We live in a depraved world. We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds, our bodies and our souls with junk and not face the consequences. We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously — bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, violence, trauma, illness, death. All are part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to turn against us? To remind us that we are human and a better place DOES exist. Tornadoes, violence and Alzheimers will not touch us in heaven.

God has planned for something better.

For lovingkindness. For me, this is the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God, a backward opposite world sort of treatise.

Did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms because he knows their homes will be bombed and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent a student from finishing a degree because he knows that particular pathway is the wrong direction?

We cannot second guess Almighty God.

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life. But he has sometimes worked his backward lovingkindness for me. Hindsight is wiser than the present experience.

God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job to force me to rest. Then he pointed me toward something better.

I wonder if God took Deb home to prevent her from living a blind life from the effects of macular degeneration. I am glad for her, but sad for me.

Is God protecting Mom by allowing her to move into the world of Alzheimers? She is unaware of racial tensions, ISIS terrorists and a democracy teetering on the edge. She does not care who will become the next president. She just wakes up every morning and shuffles to breakfast, then back to her room to turn up the television and wait for lunch. No worries. No stress.

Life will always present us with quandaries, with questions we cannot answer. We can only move toward hope by embracing the direction of forward, one day, one moment at a time.

My fictional character, Reverend G, often said “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

When something happens we cannot understand, the best thing we can do, is stay in hope that something good will replace it. Then run into the loving arms of the God who knows the answers.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above essay is an excerpt from Sometimes They Forget — Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

 

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.rose in treasure box

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for.

We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his girlfriend, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • My flowers
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

While writing this blog post, I watched the first snow of the season offer its tiny flakes to the landscape. Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season.

And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms placed its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or re-gifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2020, I have some openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

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