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.

Hope Thrives in Wisdom

If you are just now joining me, let me introduce this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of the Saturday Sisters.poster from Ginger

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Today I focus on the tallest Sister, Ginger.

None of us call her Virginia, because the moniker of Ginger sounds more friendly. She once served as a gifted lawyer, but now revels in the roles of wife, grandmother, friend and sister.

Her gift to me is Wisdom.

From the time we first met, in the welcome line for new members at First Christian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, Ginger has impressed me as the most authentic woman I have ever known.

In spite of chronic illness, Ginger wears her authenticity with the wisdom of years. She and I share a common background. As recovering Mennonites we both love music, missions and carbohydrates.

I covet her white hair because my gray is not attractive. But I really loved how she once added a streak of dark purple, an impulsive move that delighted us and underscored her creativity.

Ginger and her husband, Ken, have supported me in various ministries through the years, but it was her kind generosity and wisdom that helped me through the dark beginnings of divorce. She was practical yet soft, wise yet gentle. I will always love her for being there when the need was so great.

Her Wisdom also manifests in story as Ginger is one of the best story-tellers I know. She served on my team as an international minister, telling the stories of the Bible to children and their mothers from all over the world. She brought Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve alive to beginners in faith and seasoned saints.

I am quite certain some young adults in China or the Ukraine now believe in the amazing Yahweh God, because they saw him live through Ginger.

When we meet as Saturday Sisters, it is Ginger’s stories that enthrall us, that lead to laughter or a general sigh of agreement. While we grieve for the illnesses she bears, for the pain that often keeps her away from our meetings – we treasure our times together.

I love how Ginger speaks her truth and how she often shares on my blog comments. It makes me feel closer to her through the miles, to send a hug through cyberspace and thank her for taking the time to read and respond.

Although we are not far apart in age, Ginger seems so much stronger than I, wiser for her years of experience, grace-filled in spite of sorrows. She reminds me to persevere, to find the stories in the every dayness of living and to keep on writing, even through rejection.

A creative poster Ginger designed hangs in my office and is represented in the image above. With her usual flair for color and texture, it is the wisdom of Ginger’s words that I appreciate most: “I have always known that I would take this path, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

The Wisdom of my Sister Ginger challenges me to seek my own wisdom in the things that count, in the words I write and in the Hope I strive for.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.