Hope Lives in Small Towns

After a recent trip to my hometown, I was struck again with the functional differences between the KC Metro and Enid, Oklahoma.enid

In my hometown, most businesses close for Easter to allow families time together. The majority of signs and billboards carry the graphic of either a cross or an empty tomb while the local newspaper prints the Easter story in the King James Version.

Folks in my hometown understand the symbolism of the season and aren’t shy about declaring their belief in God.

On Good Friday, our family moseys over to the Western Sizzlin’ for a huge salad buffet, well-done steaks and the ice cream machine.

Mosey is a word we don’t use in KC because nobody moseys in the city. Yet in small towns, folks mosey across the intersections, mosey into the stores and lollygag at anyone who doesn’t know how to mosey.

In my hometown, you will likely run into relatives, a colleague or someone from your church. And even if you make a new acquaintance at the ice cream machine, it will be a friendly conversation.

“Weather treatin’ ya’ okay?”

“Yep. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“You from here or just visitin’?”

Someone who knows my family will inevitably challenge me with the question, “When you movin’ back here to help take care of your mama?”

Folks in small towns grow loyal families to populate the town, support the schools and run the businesses. If you leave, you’d better have a good reason and if you’re a really decent person, you’ll move back and make your family happy.

That’s why hope grows in small towns. Because everyone hopes you will move back, help with mama and increase the population by at least one.

When I visit my hometown and mosey into the stores, I pick up the Okie accent that never really leaves my tongue. I drive more slowly and don’t take chances at the yellow lights because I’m not in a hurry.

At Braums – where everybody goes for an ice cream fix in the afternoon – I wave at strangers and talk about the wheat crop.

Although the world is rapidly changing, folks in small towns still trust each other and somehow mosey their way into each other’s hearts.

Obviously, I miss small towns and the heritage they provide. I miss the folks I know and those I don’t know, because their lives are simpler, purer and steeped in the values of country traditions.

These precious folks live somewhat sheltered lives, safe within their bungalows and the farm lanes they drive in their pickup trucks. They treasure family and work ethics while hanging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Although I know my work is here in the KC Metro, a weekend visit is all it takes to transport me back to the security of my foundation and the people who keep hope alive.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

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Cemetery Wanderings

20140418_153338In one of the scenes in the 3rd Reverend G book, she wanders around a cemetery. Recently, I found myself doing the same thing.

Isn’t it odd how often life imitates art?

Since I was in my hometown for a book signing, I stopped at the cemetery to “visit” with Dad and all the other relatives. Yes, I know Dad isn’t really there, but this is the place that represents closure for me.

I don’t believe in talking to the dead, but I often ask God to talk to Dad and others for me. I imagine the group of saints sitting in chairs like the scene in “Our Town,” that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews watching me as I roam among their graves.

I stopped in front of the gravestone that represents the woman who led me to Christ. “God, oh God – tell Matilda how much I appreciate her. She told me about Jesus and helped me understand how to become a Christian. What a wonderful woman she was!”

“And God, here’s Lydia’s shell. She taught Sunday School when I was little. Tell her thank you, please. She was a sweet reminder of your love.”

The tune of “Thank you for Giving to the Lord” by Ray Boltz filtered through my soul.

“And God – here are Dan and Alma – neighbors who flew to heaven just eight weeks apart. They loved each other and they loved you.”

My father-in-law, Jake. “Tell him, God, how much I loved him. I miss him.”

The grandparents and great grandparents I never knew. “Do they know about me, God? Are they proud of me? Are you?”

So many babies’ graves. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, so many little ones lived only one or two days. Was it SIDS or a childhood illness, something simple like the croup that we can cure so easily now with antibiotics?

I imagined God watching over his heavenly nursery and loving each baby.

Then I knelt before Dad’s stone and brushed some of winter’s dust from his name. A few tears, a soul hurt. “The family will be together soon, Dad – at the farm. I loved being a country girl. Mom is in assisted living now. She has Alzheimer’s, and she still misses you. We all do.20140418_152813_1

“Do you know, Dad, that I’m a published author now? Has God told you about my books? Some of your life and your journey is in those books. Those years of dementia, as you struggled to communicate with us and then just stopped talking – I used those experiences in my plots. I wanted caregivers to be encouraged, to know they are doing holy work, caring for their loved ones. Ah, Dad – I miss you so much.”

A wind blows through the trees, rippling the cedars that border this Mennonite cemetery. All alone in this place of legacy and influential lives, I sing that old Easter hymn, “Lo in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior. Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord…He arose. He arose. Hallelujah Christ arose.”

As I leave the cemetery, I add my own hallelujahs, anticipating the day when those graves will open, the bodies of those saints will join their souls in heaven – and I, thank you Jesus, I will be close behind them.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Being with Sabbatical Friends

Within the respite of our sabbatical visit, we eat well, laugh and tell stories. My friends and I, on this girlfriend weekend in Yoder, Kansas – we catch up on twenty years of lifetimes with each other and without.

Once we lived in the same town, worshipped together, hurt each other unintentionally and built a relationship that still lives today. We have grown older, forgiven each other and ourselves, learned to be women of God.

2 Carols and meI wonder if my friends realize all they mean to me. Have I told them so? Do these friends of sabbatical know how much I need their hugs and laughter, their friendship and joy as we walk among the Amish shops and eat in quaint restaurants – the harvest of natural products and the joy of companionship?

We browse through a hardware store that is equipped with Radio Flyer wagons, butter crocks and filaments for kerosene lanterns – all the things an Amish family might need. A man stands at the counter, his long white beard and black hat pegging him as unique to the world and special to God. An Amish farmer. He leaves the store and walks toward his tractor.

This particular brand of Amish drive tractors, but not cars. They ride in buggies behind horses. Their women wear no makeup yet I would love to have their fresh, clear skin. Their children dress alike in the colors of nature: blue, pale green and brown. No accessories. Their quiet life and the peace on their faces the only accessory needed.

I envy their lives in this tiny village. No one here seems to struggle with Alzheimer’s, yet I have not seen an older person. Perhaps back home, in the white farmhouses that hide behind cedar brush, a woman like my mother struggles to remember her children. Maybe even here, families grieve through 36-hour days as they care for loved ones who sometimes forget.

A horse and buggy parks downtown next to a tractor, driven by a bearded father. The mother and children bundle into the cubby van, a small horse trailer in back. A traffic caution sign is pasted in full view, warning those of us who are the “English” and drive fast cars.

Slow down. Breathe. Take time to enjoy the living.

Sheep and cows stand like furry dots against the growing green of wheat fields. Fresh butter and hormone-free milk leads us in a discussion with a local businessman about the importance of what we eat – what we force into our bodies.

Is our food from a plant created by God? This is good. Eat it with joy. Is it manufactured in a processing plant? Danger. Avoid it.

Fresh applesauce and fruity preserves. A young mother with three little girls – all dressed alike in grey coats, blue dresses and white scarves. Worry-free faces – all of them – no worldly masks. Surely they also bear pure hearts.

And I wonder – what have we missed in the busy city with all its traffic and noisy consumption? If the city is so wonderful, then why does my soul long for another sabbatical even as I finish this one?

Surely there is purpose in both lives and both places of living.

In the city with its opportunities to serve God by helping others – so many nonprofits and churches reaching out to the teeming thousands and their hungry hearts.

In the country with its beauty and sincerity, preserving a way of life so many of us have forgotten, harvesting from the land to share its goodness with others.

Somewhere in the middle of both lives, a balance cries out and refuses to be ignored.

Learn to be still and know that He is God. Learn to serve and reach out to the harried and hurting.

But most of all, learn the difference and when the pendulum swings to the extreme, gently nudge it back toward the center.

For only when we are centered in Christ are we most effective and most content.

Only when we are “being” with Him can we share and maintain hope.