Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own. My joy button needs to be reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

Just knowing there will be a beginning brings hope and the confirmation that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder, uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. Flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a Creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Hope for the Long Way

It would be so much easier to travel the shorter journey. But what if God calls us to the long way?

In Exodus 13, God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Freedom! And God encouraged the people with a cloud each day and a pillar of fire each night. Signals that he was indeed with them.

But in verse 17, God specifically states that he will not lead these people on a shorter route. He will take them to the Promised Land the longer way.

They will be learning more about trust and how to endure day by day.

Many people are facing their own ‘long way.’ One of my friends has a beloved daughter who is suffering through a cancer journey. We wanted it to be a fast surgery, one and done. We hoped and prayed for a quick healing. But she is enduring years of chemo, multiple surgeries, life-changing health issues.

Another friend inspires me with her motherly courage. She fostered and adopted some children. Prayed for them. Did all the right things. The short way would be deliverance from childhood trauma, acceptance into peer groups, wholesome attitudes.

Instead, it is a daily struggle dealing with attachment disorder and behavioral struggles at school. The long journey has affected the health of the entire family. Endurance is a daily need.

Didn’t we all want to see an end to the atrocities in Ukraine — sooner rather than later? Yet the war continues. More people suffer and die. The images continue to urge us to pray for those trapped in bunkers, for the pastors and missionaries trying to help their people day after bomb-shelled day.

Beginning writers want to finish their first book and watch it become a bestseller. More experienced authors know the writing journey is a marathon of work and marketing. It requires a long road to find our voice.

Caregivers face years of learning patience, searching for answers, becoming advocates for the Alzheimer’s patient. What is the purpose? Why does death wait to take those who can no longer function? The road is long.

So how do we find hope and live with a more encouraging attitude when our way is long? What can we learn from this Exodus story?

God took the Israelites the long way so they would not change their minds and want to return to the bondage of Egypt. The short way often seems more comfortable. But the long way tests our trust, our grit, our determination to keep believing. We can learn to accept the long road as a faith-building journey.

Although God chose the long way for his children, he did not leave them to face it alone. He was there every day and throughout each night. We can look for God’s presence even as we face another long day.

Athletes know it takes weeks and months to build muscle and stamina. Although their training may be painful, the dedicated athlete continues and learns to thank the coach and trainer.

The long road offers more hope when we face it with gratitude. God is designing something good within our souls. The end result will be a stronger spirit, more faith muscles for the next road.

The story in Exodus involves an entire nation of people. We find strength in being connected. Finding like souls who will lift us up gives us the stamina needed for another day, another week, possibly — another year of the journey.

God had already proven himself to the Israelites — through multiple miracles and a life-saving Passover tradition. We can look to the past and remember how God brought us through something even worse, a longer road, a deeper suffering. He did it before. He will help us again.

Ultimately, our journey contains signposts that offer strength for each day. The practice of journaling, the recitation of helpful verses and quotes, the songs we may have to force ourselves to sing — all these practices can boost our spirits for another day.

And some days, it just helps to take a nap. Zone out for a few minutes and rest.

Whatever road you’re on today, I pray it will be one that leads to the Promised Land. So I share with you one of my spiritual vitamins. This verse has carried me through many of my longer roads and offered hope:

“Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 TNIV). 

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Send Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms to a woman who needs hope for her long road.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

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

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope in What Works

At the beginning of each year, I send my clients a form to reflect and complete. One of the questions on the form is, “What worked for your writing craft in the previous year?”

Because if something works, then don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, either get rid of it or set healthy boundaries around it.

This simple question helps us move forward as wordsmiths and not waste time beating a dead horse.

The same exercise can work for our spiritual lives. What practice or discipline worked for you in 2021? What positive activity became more of a habit that worked well? What do you plan to continue in this new year, because it worked last year?

For me, Zoom meetings worked. I know many people are tired of Zoom, but this technology kept me connected to my clients, to family and friends. It was a valuable tool, so I continued my account and I’m still using it — almost every day.

Another activity that worked for me was to be more intentional to go to the library. I’m a regular anyway, to check out books and participate in the book sales. But in 2021, I loaded up my notes, my research and my outline and worked on my novel. The library closest to me has a wall fireplace, so I parked my chair near the warmth and wrote for a couple of hours. I plan to continue this practice.

But what worked for the tragedies and struggles of 2021? How was it possible to find hope in a year described by illness, political unrest, economic decline and the threat of wars? Even now, my home town holds the record for most COVID infections. Literally, half the population is sick.

What worked before that I can hold on to now?

Caution about what I Watch, Read and Focus on. What we inhale becomes what we exhale. And what we watch or read often determines what we believe. If I want to focus on hope and stay somewhat positive in a crazy world, then I need to be careful about what I ingest.

My news comes from a variety of sources. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle we vote for, if we listen only to one side — we can be programmed. So I intentionally check a variety of sources, flip channels and listen with two questions in mind: Does this position honor God? Does this position show love for people?

Like a host of other consumers, I watched The Chosen TV series. It was uplifting to imagine how Jesus lived a real life and how the disciples followed him. I knew they were nomads, but watching them pitch tents, go hungry for several days and question their Rabbi helped bring the Bible to a more realistic level. Caution about what I ingest worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Writing on the Topic of Hope. During this last year, it was difficult to sit down and write about hope. Some days, I struggled to find it. Had to leave the office and take a walk. Prayed a while. Cried. Then returned to the work.

So many times I asked God, “Shouldn’t I be writing about something else? More coaching posts? Blog another book?”

Always he answered. “Hope. Write about hope.”

Sometimes people will comment that a post brought them encouragement. I draw those comments into my soul like a thirsty traveler in the wilderness.

But like most writers, I often post and receive nothing in return. That’s when the wonder of hope keeps me going. Somewhere, someday — those words will impact someone’s life.

Writing about Hope worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Studying the Bible. Because one of my core values is life-long learning, it is easy for me to study, read and learn. During 2021, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend worked our way through Genesis. The Wednesday night group studied James. My personal studies included Psalms and Isaiah.

Whenever the gloomies hit, God provided direction to the perfect verse or passage. One day, it was Isaiah 40:28-31, “The Lord will not grow tired or weary…he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (TNIV).

I memorized more verses during 2021 and reviewed them before bedtime. That practice helped me sleep better. When I woke, I was ready to look for God’s mercies that are new every morning.

In 2021, study, reading, memorizing, learning, praying helped. I plan to continue.

Soothing Music. The joy of music has been with me for a lifetime. Various genres and mediums. But especially my piano.

Half Price Books provided me with a couple of new classical albums I worked through. My old hymnbooks contained sweet memories of the harmonies we used to sing. And often I just asked God what he wanted to hear. Then I played it.

The above verses in Isaiah 40 are beautifully rendered in my CD of the Messiah. As I drove to Oklahoma for my mother’s funeral, I played Selah music. Each morning as I dress, I turn on the radio and start my day with several worship songs.

Music always works for me. I plan to continue.

Jesus Himself. It is important to think often about this man/God who asked us to remember him. Those of us raised in certain churches grow used to the principles of faith. We can sometimes rehearse them like a habit, sort of like brushing our teeth without thinking.

But in 2021, I studied more about the New Covenant and what Jesus actually did for us on that bloody cross. How he forgave our sins past, present AND future. How grateful I should be for how he flipped the old practices of legalism and self-righteous religiosity.

Several books made an impact. Jesus Changes Everything by Bob George and Torn by Mike Manuel. A personal study of Hebrews cemented the truths, and my personal communion time brought me into a closer relationship with my brother, husband and maker — Jesus.

Not only did these studies help me stay in hope, they impacted how I view everything from my daily reflections to the church I attend to how I live out the kingdom of God right now on earth. And it made me sad for the false teaching that has plagued so many souls.

So I plan to continue these positive disciplines in 2022, always being open-minded to learn more about hope and the Author of it. To continue writing about hope in various ways and living my days — 24 hours at a time — with a focus on the positive and an open palm for how I can share it.

Let’s all make 2022 a year of hope. Let’s make our new normal a concession that we need spiritual and emotional health so we can offer it to others.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing about Hope in 2022 resulted in my book, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Check it out on Amazon.

Hope Finds Reality in a Verse

Many of my friends choose a special word for the year. It helps them focus on annual goals and gives them the motivation they need every day.

For some reason, the word of the year has not worked for me. Instead, I hang on to a verse for the year.

During the last weeks of December, I begin to proactively pray about my verse for the next year. Always, God answers. When we seek him, we find.

This year, I looked back through my Bible and journal to discover the amazing verses of the past and how they played out.

2016: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…to bind up the brokenhearted…to proclaim freedom for the captives… (Isaiah 61:1 TNIV).

During 2016, I served as a life coach in a nonprofit that helped women. Several of my clients were working through the trauma of spiritual abuse, physical and emotional abuse. Some of them had been abused by their husbands, then betrayed by the church and so-called Christians who were supposed to support them.

It was a time of helping my clients acknowledge the deep darkness, then work toward a place of light and freedom. So much pain, yet God was there to offer hope. Not only to my clients, but also to me.

2017: “God is my helper and ally. The Lord upholds me” (Psalm 54:4 AMP).

When I first read this verse, my heart lurched. What would happen in 2017 that would cause me to be upheld, to be helped by God himself?

It soon became apparent in the month of March when I resigned from my position and began therapy for ministry exhaustion. I needed God to help me financially, emotionally and spiritually as I rested. He was indeed my helper and ally.

Then he upheld me when a terrible loss defined my days. The unexpected death of my best friend, Deb, sent me into the darkness of grief. Without God holding me and literally being with me each day, I do not know how I would have survived the loss with any semblance of hope. Psalm 54:4 became my reality.

2018: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed, happy, fortunate are those who trust in him” (Psalm 34:8 AMP).

My healing came gradually, and God grew my writing clients. Finances increased, so some of the anxiety eased. My therapist released me, and friends surrounded me. While the grief continued, it lost some of its severity.

Then God made it possible for me to spend a week in Santa Fe. I attended the Creatives Conference where I met Julia Cameron in person and several other artists who continue as friends today. As I strolled through the plaza, ate wonderful dishes topped with green chiles and shopped the stores filled with southwest designs, hope began to return.

I caught myself smiling, even on the return trip back to Kansas. To this day, 2018 is colored with that beautiful experience and the goodness of the God who made it happen.

2019: “Feast on the abundance of God’s house and drink from the river of his delights” (Psalm 36:8 AMP).  

During 2019, my client base increased. I taught workshops at writers conferences and published three books. Words poured out of me, healing those taut places, releasing like salve out of a wound.

My CPA surprised me when he finished my taxes. “You’re still doing ministry, Rebecca. You’re helping others with their words.”

It felt like I had purpose again, and I could breathe. Thankfully. Because 2020 was about to spring itself on us.

2020: “God marked out appointed times in history and the boundaries of lands…so that they [the nations] would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 TNIV).

As we know, 2020 was the year COVID invaded and changed so much of our lives. People died by the hundreds. Family dynamics changed. Political turmoil and arguments about vaccines. Chaos everywhere.

Yet these verses kept me anchored as I prayed every day for the nations — for this global pandemic to blow itself out. My hope centered around the desire of God to have people reach out for him and find him, to realize he was not far away.

2021: The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11 AMP).

As the effects of COVID tromped all over my life, I hung on to the directive God gave me along with this verse, “Keep writing.”

Even as the workshops and conferences disappeared. Even as some of my clients needed to take a break. Even as I isolated myself during lockdown and set up a Zoom account, I kept writing. Even as so much of life changed, the words continued.

In August, I helped my son and his bride write their wedding vows. A sweet time. In December, I wrote my mother’s obituary. A bittersweet task.

So what is my verse for this year, for this 2022 when COVID continues to hover and life feels so fragile?

God sent me back to the prophet Isaiah, for a tiny phrase in 48:2, “Depend on God. The Lord Almighty is his name.”

El Shaddai is the Hebrew for the Lord Almighty. It means he is the God who satisfies our every need. He is the God of sufficiency and great power. He is the one who loves us so deeply, he works all the puzzle pieces together.

This God, this Almighty Abba, is the one I am depending on as 2022 begins. I have no clue what will happen this year. I hope I can report good news on December 31st.

But whatever occurs in the next months, I will find my hope in the verses God has given me and the ways he has been faithful throughout my life.

So happy new year to all my followers. I hope it’s a good one.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some ideas for setting your goals this year, check out Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals. Even if you’re not a writer, you can benefit from these principles.

Hope Thrives with Gratitude

It makes sense to post about gratitude during this Thanksgiving week. Each year’s Thanksgiving week brings a variety of experiences to draw on.

More wisdom learned (hopefully). More intuition about possible gratitudes.

Several years ago, I learned more about the power of gratitude when I followed the blog of Ann Voskamp. Her book, One Thousand Gifts, fostered a cult following and ushered Ann into the world of best-selling author. I applaud her fine work and still promote her book(s).

For a while, I followed Ann’s prescribed plan of writing several gratitudes each day in my journal – different ones for each day. It was a great practice and a way to remind myself daily of all the blessings around me.

Then I decided it was okay to develop my own plan. And it WAS okay to repeat the same gratitudes each day, whether in my journal or out loud.

So I present to you, my followers, my 2021 list. At least for today. It may change tomorrow. And I encourage you to share your list in the comments below. As the saying goes, we can always – always – find something to be grateful for.

  • Hot water. This is a daily “Thank you, God” while I’m standing in the shower, doing dishes or folding laundry.

There are people in the world who have never experienced the bone-warming joy of hot water. So I am grateful for this blessing. Every. Single. Day.

  • The roof over my head. Although I’m thinking about downsizing, wanting something smaller and easier to manage, I am grateful for my duplex. Although I would like to accomplish some DIY projects and change my place a bit, at least I am out of the cold and sheltered — with hot water.
  • Food in the fridge. I like to cook, and I find particular pleasure in making unusually creative meals out of leftover scraps. Rice bowls are my current favorites with a variety of colors, textures and nutrients.

Every day, I pray for those places in the world that struggle with famine. As a farmer’s daughter, I am keenly aware of the blessing of the harvest and the need for food. We are truly blessed not to live every day with hunger.

  • Jesus. What more can be said? I am grateful for this Savior, God-man, of the Divine Three. Always. Every. Single. Day.
  • Color. The variety of greens outside my window. The leftovers of autumn’s show. The choices I make to wear each day — the brighter the better.

How colors make me feel. How they add warmth and beauty to everything. How they have deeper meanings I can add to my books. How color changes the world of gray gloom to a warmer and more inviting visual.

  • Texture. The ability to feel different textures is a blessing that signifies feeling alive. Several years ago, a clinical depression stole this joy from me.

After my healing (thank you, Jesus!) I spent hours in a fabric store, just feeling the rough corduroy, the slick satin, the smooth cottons. Tears streamed as the numbness of the depression was replaced by the joy of touch.

It is with gratitude these days that I caress the texture of rocks, yarns, rough bark on trees, the smooth cheek of a child, the fuzz of my cat’s fur, even the slick peel of a carrot.

  • Words. These are the tools of my craft, the way I communicate with God and others, even with the cat in the previous bullet.

Words have the power to make me gasp with delight or surprise, to frown or to shed a tear. They make me laugh at jokes and sigh with the reading of a Psalm.

And each time I begin any type of writing, I start with the prayer of Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord.”

One of my clients uses Facebook as a type of journal in listing her gratitudes. Many of them hail back to her country life. All are examples of the beautiful world around us and the need to see it more clearly — with a full heart. Check out the beautiful blog posts of Elece Hollis.

So let’s all be more cognizant of the gratitudes of life. Each and every day.

Let’s strive for hope as we use our words to speak a Thanksgiving message.

And let us never forget there is always something to be grateful for.

©2021 RJ Thesman

In Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms, each day’s journaling practice contains the question: “What are you grateful for today?”

Hope in the Upgrades

As I was paying bills, it happened again. Another online company wanted me to upgrade my account. Translation: pay more money for a few more services.

Nay, nay.

Ah, upgrading. The DIY shows focus on upgrading the home, particularly the kitchen. Fun to watch and imagine how I might do the same. Some day.

As a writing coach, I constantly research new ways to help my clients with their projects.

The latest publishing tools, best practices for a book launch, effective marketing solutions.

Help them upgrade and update their quarterly goals.

But what are some of the deeper ways we can upgrade and find more hope?

Be willing to change. An upgrade in remodeling requires change. So does the upgrade in life.

We learn, grow and stretch in ways that force us to embrace more hope.

Especially when life is hard.

Stretching those faith muscles and believing for better days helps us feel more empowered. Faith feeds and nourishes hope. But sometimes, we first need to change.

Changes are often uncomfortable. For example: Jorge Soler recently changed from being a Kansas City Royal to playing for the Atlanta Braves. A move for his family. A change in different policies within club houses. New faces to learn.

But now he wears a World Series ring and he became the MVP with that amazing three-run homer in the sixth game.

Changes can sometimes produce lovely results.

Be open to other opinions. When we stay within our comfort zone of being with the same people and doing the same activities, we can begin to rust. It’s easy to hang around friends and family that never challenge us.

No upgrading happens when we stay in the same mental and emotional space.

But when we force ourselves out of that comfort zone, we learn to truly listen to others’ opinions. We consider how honest debate can teach us.

Stretch us toward a more hope-filled upgrade. Hold fast to our beliefs yet consider how they might broaden and expand to include greater values.

Being quick to listen, but slow to speak — controlling our anger (James 2:19).

Become a student again. Life-long learning keeps our brains active. We read a book that encourages us to research more about a topic. Watch a documentary about another part of the world and learn to be grateful for what we have.

Cross reference a Bible verse. Check it in different versions. Google it in the original Hebrew or Greek.

Sometimes our faith needs to be upgraded into a broader interpretation. Sometimes we need to seriously examine some of the false teachings we were once taught. Then let them go.

Upgrades can be a good thing. They can make life easier and add beauty to our lives. With caution, of course.

The physical upgrades need financial boundaries. Waiting to upgrade the kitchen until the bank account has sufficient funds.

The emotional, mental and spiritual upgrades also need healthy boundaries. Time to reflect on possible changes. An inward search of our raw places and why they need a re-do.

Confession. Forgiveness. Repentance.

But an upgrade in our souls to a more compassionate and helpful place is always a good practice. And when it strengthens our hope, then all of us can live in a better place.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The latest upgrade to my writing craft is a book of encouragement, practical tips and devotions for single moms. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.