Hope Searches for a Symbol of Healing

As Covid-19 marches on, how can we stay in hope?

Somehow the platitude of “We’re all in this together” sounds hollow. I need something more.

pharmacy symbolThis week, I focused on an Old Testament story where the community faced a plague of serpents.

The children of Israel grumbled, because they were impatient and tired of the journey through the wilderness.

God is good, but he’s not fond of hearing whining complaints in spite of all he’s done.

So he sent a bunch of snakes to bite the people. The poisonous venom caused multiple deaths, probably similar to the traumatic Covid numbers ticking higher every day.

Then the people realized their mistake and asked Moses to intervene on their behalf. Good old Moses complied.

So God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and fasten it to a pole. Whenever people were bitten, they had only to look at the symbol of the snake on the pole. Everyone who looked at the symbol lived.

Today we see that same visual as the symbol for pharmaceutical companies – an appropriate logo. Buy the right medicine or combination of drugs, get the right vaccine and live.

Thankfully, we DO have a multitude of meds which help us through our various maladies. And scientists are working hard to find the right combination for a Covid vaccine.

Since this symbol of the serpent on the pole worked so well for the wandering Israelites, is there a symbol we can focus on today? Something that will bring relief from the ravages of Covid-19?

The Sunday School answer, of course, would be the symbol of the cross. Yet even this beloved visual has been misused and misunderstood:

  • The Nazi cross
  • The KKK burning crosses into yards, fence posts or houses
  • The cavalier way we sometimes wear our crosses and decorate our homes, forgetting the cross is really a symbol of torture

Perhaps the time for symbols has expired. Instead, we need to do as the children of Israel and come face to face with our sin:

  • How we grumble against God and ignore the good he has done for us
  • The times when life doesn’t feel 100% balanced so we blame it on God
  • The impatience that fuels our busyness and keeps us from contemplative moments of building relationship with the Divine
  • The myriads of injustices we perpetrate on demographics other than ourselves
  • Our apathy as we fail to seek justice, love mercy or walk humbly with our God

Symbols are temporary, something concrete we can focus on instead of facing our desperate need for inner healing and soul relief.

Instead of a snake on a pole or a crossbar of beams – maybe we are in dire need of a deeper reflection, a change from pride to humility, an admittance we cannot solve this Covid-19 problem no matter how “together” we are.

Maybe this is the time for four simple yet difficult demands:

  • To humble ourselves
  • To spend time in concentrated prayer
  • To turn away from any and all wicked ways
  • To desperately seek God

Then he promises to move beyond symbolism to a direct answer, “I will hear from heaven and will heal your land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a reminder of the basics of faith? Check out Uploading FaithWhat It Means to Believe.

Communion in the Time of Covid-19

Although many of us miss the corporate meetings of church, one part of the routine is more comfortable for me at home — Communion.Communion

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is special. I don’t like observing it every Sunday as some churches do. It seems then to become as ritualistic as the parking space I head for each Sunday.

I want communion, especially during the time of Covid-19, to be unique — a longer time of reflection, more than just politely passing the plate to my neighbor in the pew, bowing for prayer, a quick snack and go home.

With more time and choices within my kitchen quarantine, I can spend the time I believe this sacrament deserves.

“Remember me,” Jesus said, as he led his best friends in this final act of intimate fellowship before his death.

To best remember this God-man, this Jesus, I like to devote time and thought to the act of contemplative worship.

So when my church announces we will observe the Lord’s Supper during our pandemic-required-live-stream, I prepare my kitchen table to become an altar of remembrance:

  • A candle for the observance of holy light
  • A china plate to hold my gluten-free cracker
  • My special cup filled with elderberry juice
  • Soft music playing in the background

One of my friends gave me the china plate, bone china from England, glazed with some of my favorite colors. It’s delicate, beautiful and reminds me of this sanctified moment between my Savior and me. As the potter took extra time to fashion such a plate and its matching cup, so I take extra time with my Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4).

Another friend gave me the amazing crystal cup. It sings a sweet vibrato when I tap it — as authentic as the love of the God-man I celebrate. Engraved with flowery swirls, it’s a reminder that the Spirit is both feminine and masculine, both strong and sweet.

Once my personal altar is prepared, I am ready to begin the moments of remembrance. But first, I want to approach this human temple fully cleansed.

So I spend a few moments in confession, for sins I have committed when I have deliberately rebelled, hurt my Lord and my fellow humans, refused to obey God just because.

For sins of omission when I have failed to do good to others, to love them as I love myself, to ignore my own fears and reach out to anyone who needs my help.

For sins of ignorance which I did not realize hurt someone else and may have damaged the name of Christ. Any action, word or thought which brings pain to another needs to be acknowledged and forgiven.

Once I have confessed, I receive grace as a gift in this relationship between divine and human. Because I am family, I believe and receive the forgiveness my Beloved offers so freely.

The phrase “Remember me” wraps the next moments in memories of a young man in his early thirties who knew he was dying. If we had more of the written scenario, more space for dialogue, Jesus might have said, “Remember how I made tables in my carpentry shop, turned the wood and planed the corners to make them fit just right.

“Remember me and how my nieces and nephews made me laugh, how we played in Mother’s small house, thought about Joseph and how much we missed him.

“Remember me and our fishing trips — before you knew I could multiply your harvest and cause your nets to break with the increase.

“Remember our meals together, the sacred holidays we celebrated, my favorite foods and the way I sang the Yeshiva songs.

“Remember me as your Savior, but also as your friend. Remember how I will die, but also how I lived fully and with abundance the time that was given me.

“Remember me.”

During my sacrament time, I commune with Jesus in gratitude — a remembrance of how his tortured body hung on that cross, sepsis beginning its fatal trek through his tissues, the splinters that entered his wounds as he pushed himself upward, struggling to breathe.

I take my gluten-free cracker and let it slowly dissolve on my tongue, the taste a bitter reminder of his forty-day fast, his last meal, the hunger I feel for a closer walk with him.

The elderberry juice purples my special cup, and I relieve the dryness of that cracker. I remember how the blood must have dripped into his eyes, the cruel thorns that drew the red stream he could not wipe away.

I remember Old Testament stories of blood-drawn sacrifices, the altars smeared with gore, a foreshadowing of the final death that would free us all.

After my sacrament session ends, I sing a song of praise. Another Sunday flipped on the calendar, another day closer to the end of this Covid-19 pandemic, another month close to the time we return to corporately take communion in the building we call church.

Although gathering together will be nice, I will miss my time of solitude, reflective moments with no need to finish at a certain time, my own contemplative ritual that celebrates the life and death of this Jesus.

And I will ponder how to make communion special again. With a bittersweet prayer, I will whisper, “I remember.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how faith relates to daily life, check out the book my son and I wrote together. Uploading Faith, available on Amazon.

What Not to Do During Lockdown

lockdown-5130295_640Credit for this blog post’s idea goes to Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. During Lockdown, I discovered his church site and started watching some of his sermons.

Most of us have seen blog posts or participated in Zoom meetings about what to do during this Covid-19 crisis.

Multiple bulleted lists suggest new recipes, guidelines for teaching children at home or the proper way to make masks while we’re in Lockdown.

But what are some things we should NOT do? Here’s my list:

Don’t Overwatch the News. Sure, we need to stay informed about the Lockdown and reopening facts. But no matter which channels we watch, an overdose of the bad news brings with it gray shadows of discouragement.

Save your time and energy for something more positive. Stay away from the negative newsies.

Don’t Try to Figure It Out. With time and the writing of history books, blame will be placed on various entities and government administrations. We waste time and energy trying to figure out where this virus came from and how we can deal with it.

Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot always plan for the long-term. It’s only one day at a time, one whispered prayer at a time.

Don’t Let the Fear Win. We feel the insecurity and the unknowns of this invisible attack. But if we let the anxiety rule, we become emotionally sick.

Watch humorous videos, escape into a good book or visit online with family and friends. If the fear seems to be winning, call a pastor or a professional counselor.

As Pastor Furtick says, “Fear can ride in the car, but not drive.”

Don’t Do Something Impulsive. Crises take time to work through just as a virus must wear itself out or lose its ability to populate.

Give yourself time before initiating any impulsive decisions such as: moving to another country where the stats aren’t as deadly, eating or drinking compulsively, making any life-changing decisions.

Follow the advice of King David, “Rest in God and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a Amplified).

Be patient. Be safe. Be wise.

Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself. Even as the crisis wanes, personal hygiene will remain vital. Protecting ourselves from abuses of any kind and the stresses of over-work is still a major step toward good health.

Proper nutrition, keeping healthy routines, restorative sleep, a variety of positive activities, daily exercise — all these continue to be ways we can avoid our own personal crisis.

Don’t Stop Caring About Others. Lockdown and quarantine can become so self-absorbing, we can forget to love others as we love ourselves. Think about ways you can bless others in your neighborhood.

Take a meal to an elderly neighbor and leave it safely on the porch. Package up your favorite books to bless another reader. Write cards and letters to family members, even if they live in the same town. Phone a friend. Try one of the online recipes for thick, yummy brownies and share them with your neighbors.

Move relationally out of your own world and help your community. It will warm your heart and encourage others.

Don’t Try to Be God. Some people are already trying to interpret this virus as a spiritual message. Sure, God can use anything in life to teach us important lessons, but that doesn’t mean everything in life is our chance to preach to the masses.

Conspiracy theories based on random scriptures are already surging through the internet. As we grow closer to the 2020 elections, we’ll probably see more of these from both sides of the aisle, blaming various politicians for this pandemic’s tragic results.

Constrain your urge to interpret history through the lens of your denomination. Instead, follow the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love people. Period.

Don’t Lose Hope. Keep believing in positive outcomes and keep praying for those who are trying to help us — the leaders of local, state and national government, the scientists working on a vaccine, the frontline workers at every level.

Remember every sunset is followed by a new day, and God’s mercies refresh with each beginning.

Keep working on your creative endeavors, your job search, your personal relationships. Keep believing in a brighter future.

Covid-19 is called the invisible enemy. God is also invisible, but he’s still more powerful than this nasty virus.

When we stay in hope, we eventually defeat the enemies of our souls and ultimately — we win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My newest book is now in print and on Kindle. Check out Finding Your Writing Plan.

 

Hope Nuggets During Lockdown

Like most writers, I have found the Covid-19 pandemic to be a challenge. The stressors of constant change, the I-can’t-breathe-under-this-mask struggle, the discouraging news cycles — all added to a shortage of creative ideas.

Yet I also wanted to do my part with my words to encourage others, to share how we might make it through this time together.hope endures

So I started posting Hope Nuggets on all my social media sites. Each day, I chose just one thing to be grateful for, found a corresponding picture and wrote a small paragraph.

It helped me think about something besides the pandemic, something other than the constant worry of how life was now defined. And it reminded me of that lovely song from The Sound of Music.

I decided to quit after 40 Hope Nuggets, but extended it to finish out the week before Lockdown was lifted. Forty because of its significance as a number — the whole 40 years in the wilderness idea.

Sometimes those 40 days DID seem like years.

As I looked back at the nuggets and received comments from followers, I noticed a pattern. Almost a listicle of the gratitudes that define my life, those objects and subjects that interest me and keep me breathing in hope.

Flowers were my primary focus. If I could afford the time, sweat equity and cost, I would make my entire yard a mass of flowers.

In fact, my idea of heaven is not a mansion in the sky but rather a country cottage surrounded by flowers peeking through the white picket fence.

Maybe part of my focus on plants and flowers was because the pandemic’s limitations hit us during the beginnings of spring. Every year, I look forward to March and April, to browsing through nurseries and selecting new annuals, to foraging under last year’s mulch for perennials.

My garden includes a variety of eatables and beautifuls. The curb appeal for my home includes pots of flowers and a hanging basket on the redbud tree.

I bring in cuttings through each season to add to the color and health of my inside home. Twice a week, I make the rounds through each room, watering and talking to my plants and flowers.

In the time of Covid-19 with so much death and suffering, it was soothing to my soul to think about these living things, these beautifuls God has created.

So, of course, they offered hope:

  • My newest hibiscus planting, a sweet yellow tropical
  • Vines with new growth swirling around ceramic pots
  • The purple violet that graces my bedroom with its gentle blooms
  • The budding trees that color neighborhoods all over the Midwest
  • My deep fuchsia clematis I had to cover to protect from a late frost
  • The seeds that promise a harvest from my herb garden. This year I ordered them online from Renee’s Garden.
  • My hyacinth and tulip bulbs — planted in the chill of autumn that results in a spring surprise
  • The various pansies and violas that grin with sweet faces

Other hope nuggets included the interests of my life and some of the more subtle offerings for gratitude. Anything connected with books and writing, of course, including the books themselves that graced us with a reason to escape the horrors reported on the news.

Notebooks, pens, margins on the page and calendars that color my office with a different landscape each month. Libraries — please open the library soon!

The more reflective nuggets that included my faith life, the way walking releases positive endorphins, the mercies of God I beg for each morning, the podcasts that feed my core value of life-long learning.

All these and more created a tiny buzz of gratitude each day. Each nugget I shared with the hope that it might encourage another pilgrim dealing with the locked door of a nursing home or the last breaths of a loved one.

During these uncertain times, it felt necessary — almost urgent — to find something, anything to move our focus in a more positive direction.

If my tiny hope nuggets could do that for even one heart, then they were worth the effort to dig deep into my soul and find them waiting for me.

I considered putting them all into a book, but then decided I would like to just forget about 2020, to let it fade into the background of our history.

Better to leave the hope nuggets in the mist of my legacy rather than explain them to future readers. So this blog post will suffice, unless I change my mind and need another distraction in the coming months.

What about you? Any gratitudes you can now share with the rest of us?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing during a pandemic can be a challenge. Maybe you need a writing plan. Check out my newest book, Finding Your Writing Plan.

A Recipe Fail During Lockdown

Because personal freedom is one of my core values, the Lockdown of 2020 hit me hard. So I responded like many other prisoners-in-their-own-homes. I craved comfort food.

Chips, candy or sweets of any kind are usually not part of my daily diet. I don’t buy the stuff so I’m not tempted. Except for dark chocolate which I figure is healthy in moderation.

chocolate chip cookiesBut one day I woke with a dire craving for chocolate chip cookies — the chewy yummy warm kind fresh from the oven.

I had printed out a recipe that looked promising from an online source but had no chocolate.

None. Nada. Impossible but true.

It seemed a waste of time and possible Covid-19 germs to risk a Target run with only one item on my list, so I improvised.

I found some leftover Valentine candy in the fridge and chopped up enough of the milk chocolate hearts to add to the dough. Then I used the only type of gluten free flour in my pantry – cassava.

The dough had the perfect consistency. The kitchen smelled heavenly. My need-for-comfort taste buds salivated.

But when the timer dinged and I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven, I noticed a problem.

My improvised cookies had not spread out and slightly flattened like chocolate chip cookies are supposed to do. They were the same size as the original dough balls I placed on the parchment paper.

Oh well — who cares how they look? They’ll taste good.

Nay. Nay.

One grainy bite proved nasty enough to resist another. The cassava flour did not blend with the butter. The cookies were hard and not even close to what I craved.

And I remembered why I always buy bittersweet or semisweet dark chocolate. Because I don’t really like milk chocolate.

The recipe was a total fail. Another reason to reject 2020 as the year of disappointments.

My son didn’t like the cookies either, so they sat on the counter unappreciated and rejected.

Lesson learned: only use the ingredients you know and trust and truly love.

The next time I drove to the store, masked and careful to keep my distance, I bought a bag of the Ghirardelli chocolate I like, dark and semi-sweet. Then I bought a different kind of gluten flour, one that bakes better yet keeps my gut happy.

But then I no longer had the craving for warm yummy chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I was growing accustomed to Lockdown and no longer needed the comfort of a treat.

Nah — probably not.

As for the failed cookies, they did serve a useful purpose. I decided to use them as cobblestones in my garden.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If 2020 has been a disappointment for you, too, check out more positive stories in Hope Shines.

 

Hope-filled Observations During a Pandemic

One of my practices is to consider what I can learn from every circumstance. Since life-long learning is one of my core values, I look for the lessons in life.

Covid-19 by Alexandra Koch

Illustration by Alexandra Koch

The Covid-19 Pandemic provides a perfect scenario for observation. What can we learn during this time of global tragedy?

We Need Touch. Multiple studies have been completed about the need for touch. Babies cannot thrive without it. Relationships cannot be healthy without it.

Although I am not a touchy feely type of person, I have desperately missed hugs from friends, handshakes from new acquaintances, a friendly pat on the back.

It has been said that we need at least seven hugs/day to be healthy. I believe that statistic and crave its importance. As soon as we receive the all clear, I plan to touch others in appropriate ways and boldly ask for more hugs.

Buying in Bulk Saves Money. Many consumers saw what was coming before the final notice of Lockdown. Costco and Sam’s Clubs swarmed with shoppers. Toilet paper supplies dwindled.

As a raised-on-the-farm daughter, I learned this principle early. We stocked up for winter, because Oklahoma blizzards and closed roads were often a reality. Canned goods, frozen fruit, even the large packages of paper towels and toilet paper are on my usual shopping list.

But living in the city has made me a bit lazy. It was too easy to just hop in the car and go to the store. Never again!

Not only does bulk shopping keep us prepped for what might happen in the future, it does save money on gas, impulse buying or stopping for a treat since I’m out anyway.

I am now making my list for the next bulk shopping trip and plan for monthly trips rather than as-needed forays into the world.

Personal Freedom is Vital. My personal freedom is a core value which I treasure. Making my own plans with some sense of control helps me deal with life.

But with the lockdown came the cessation of choice. At first, I rebelled. You can’t tell me what to do. This isn’t Nazi Germany.

Then I realized by staying in lockdown for as long as possible, I was helping my country and my community stay healthy. The spread of germs could be eradicated if we all complied.

I could love my neighbor more fully by staying away from said neighbor.

Grateful I could work from home, I have stayed in and away from any places where large numbers of people shop. Occasionally, I drive to a fast food establishment [read Schlotsky’s] for a drive-thru salad I cannot make at home.

But how I have missed going to the library and browsing the shelves, checking out Half Price Books for the latest clearance items, sitting down at a nice restaurant and chatting with the waitress, joining with other worshippers at my church.

These will be the best of times once the lockdown is lifted.

When it is again safe to venture out, I will be racing to the library to stock up on more reading material and I will go out to eat with anyone who asks me.

We are Stronger Than We Think. Although I appreciate the sentiments of Tom Brokaw’s best-selling The Greatest Generation, this pandemic has revealed the greatness in every generation.

Heroes and She-roes are everywhere, and they have shown themselves to possess the strength necessary to meet this challenge.

  • The truckers who push past sleep-deprivation to make sure we have something on our shelves
  • The millennial IT workers who keep our internet connected. How could we have dealt with the isolation without cyberspace?
  • The healthcare workers on every level: in the ICU, those who make sure they have supplies, the often ignored cleaning staff, administrators who work the payroll and multiple clinic staff who continue to meet the needs of sick patients
  • The teachers who learned how to do online instruction within a weekend, then created new ways for their students to handle curriculum
  • The Boomer grandparents who filled in as baby-sitters when Mom and Dad sickened with the virus
  • The media who keep us informed about the latest trend in vaccines and suggestions from the top health experts
  • The 13 year-old boy who played taps outside the VA Hospital, in honor of soldiers who lost their final battle
  • The companies and individuals who donate RV’s so families can stay as close as possible
  • The celebrities who offer free concerts to keep the music flowing in our hearts

Books will no doubt be written about others who contributed to help us through this pandemic. But I am encouraged by the strength I have observed in people around the world.

Greatness is not defined by age or demographic but by virtue and the willingness to serve others.

A Positive Attitude is the Best Medicine. Hope is based on positive energy. Without it, we become melancholy miserables.

All over the internet, people leave positive messages. Humor is a common theme with memes making fun of our fetish for toilet paper. Videos of happier times. Scripture passages with swirly graphics. Multiple reminders that puppies, kittens and babies make us smile.

Sometimes, especially when I see the latest death toll, I have to grasp for that positive vibe and search for something to make me feel hopeful.

But it comes. Every. Single. Time. Somebody posts something good. We all help each other stay positive.

So in spite of the horrific losses, the families now plunged into the grief process, the small businesses that will have to rebuild, the governments that will have to answer hard questions of accountability — in spite of everything, hope has survived.

By the grace of God, we are getting through this and life will continue.

Hopefully, the next crisis will not find us unprepared but ready to be strong again and better equipped to help each other survive.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for more reading material, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Takes a Walk during the Pandemic

Eleven days into lockdown. The silence was becoming oppressive, even for an ambivert such as I. Even the characters in my novel no longer spoke to me.

path-1577192_640So I took a break from my at-home work, dared to drive my car to the local Dairy Queen for a Mini-Blizzard.

Then away from the no-longer-heavily-trafficked highway to a quiet park in the suburb.

It was an exceptionally beautiful day without the usual Kansas wind. A robin sang his spring song, probably jubilant because he wasn’t worried about Covid-19.

Somewhere down another street, a child laughed in his back yard, safe and away from germs.

I finished the Blizzard — triple chocolate brownie, in case you wondered — threw away the cup and locked my car. Then headed into the park for a walk.

Exercise is nothing new to me. As a former athlete, I walk almost every day. But this walk was in a different location than the usual stroll in my neighborhood. It felt fresh, unencumbered by any reminders of the pandemic that was changing our lives.

First I walked around the baseball diamond, remembered my years as a shortstop, pacing between bases. What fun it was all those years ago, especially the spring day when I hit a grand slam home run.

How quickly life passes — a mere breath, scripture reminds us.

As I took another lap, a group of young men pulled into the kiddie area. They looked to be in their twenties, maybe thirties — obviously taking a break from work at home or recently unemployed.

Unconcerned about social distancing, they played on the equipment. Swung from the monkey bars, slid down the slide, joked with each other as carefree spirits.

I smiled at their antics, glad they could be out in the fresh air, that none of us were confined in an ICU, struggling to breathe.

After a while, I left the park to return to my work with words. The guys remained at the playground.

I promised myself to return more often to that park, to renew my hope as I marched around the ball diamond. Maybe even to slide or swing in the kiddie area.

Hope uncovers itself in the simplest places and reminds us not only of a sweet past, but a foreshadowing for our tomorrows.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more writings about hope, check out my Amazon Author Page. All my books have some sort of theme regarding hope.