Growing Hope in the Pain

What is the difference between the pain of growing and the pain of suffering?Pain proves alive

Neither type of pain is comfortable and most of us try to avoid any type of pain. We want life to be struggle-free even if we have to ask the doctor for a prescription to ease our sufferings.

But is there a value to pain? How do we tell the difference between suffering pain and growing pain?

Suffering Pain

Suffering pain is often physical and/or emotional: a sudden illness, the grief of watching a loved one struggle through Alzheimer’s, a broken relationship.

We deal with suffering pain by learning how to persevere, praying for extra grace each day, contacting professionals and trusting God to help us survive one day after the other.

Suffering pain often manifests in our bodies. We see the woman bent over with osteoporosis and we empathize even as we cringe at the deterioration of her spine.

We watch the tears river down a friend’s face and we hear screams of terror when bombs explode. We feel their sufferings and wish we could alleviate them.

Suffering pain is a side effect of living in this world, of aging and being exposed to various strains of germs.

Yet we endure. We persevere. We treat the symptoms and hope for a cure. We try to find hope in the midst of our sufferings.

Growing Pain

Growing pain presses more deeply into our spiritual and emotional selves. We ask the inner questions of faith and rebel when we hear pat answers from those who obviously have not addressed a similar pain or refused to acknowledge it.

Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for their simplistic answers based on rules and tradition. He invited questions and never ran away from vulnerability.

Legalism looks at growing pain and condemns it. Jesus invites it because within the questions and the searchings, we discover more about God.

We listen for the divine whisper even as the pain sears our souls and we feel the emptiness of the despairing pit.

Einstein wrote, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

In my year-long search for a church, I experienced both types of pain. The emotional digs of condemnation and hurts inflicted by people I thought knew better. But also the deep questions of my soul in asking what I really wanted to find in a church and how I could become a better member of my new church family.

Growing. Stretching. Grieving. Within the parameters of pain, we discover how important our faith is and how much we truly care about our soul health.


If we don’t care, then we don’t suffer. Pain proves we are alive and something important has been taken from us.


The grief accompanying pain teaches us about the intensity of love.

Where Hope Dwells

But if we shy away from the pain of growing, then we never come to the place where hope dwells.

In her book, “Rising Strong,” Brene Brown writes, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. But curiosity can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting – choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability and knowing over learning. But shutting down comes with a price.”

So what is the difference between the pain of growing and the pain of suffering? Not much, really, because they feel the same.

The difference lies in how we react to them and which choices we make for dealing with any type of struggle.

We can run from it, refuse to acknowledge it, try to find something to mask it, drown it with a gallon of raspberry fudge ice cream.

But the pain returns because it is often more persistent than we are. Some pain we can never escape.

Ultimately, all pain can cause growth if we open our hearts to the possibilities. We can choose to learn patience through the Long Goodbye or years of rehabilitation that stretch muscles atrophied by disease.

We become stronger by embracing the pain of growing, by asking those deep questions which lead us to learn more about ourselves and God.

The saints who grow through pain are the ones who reflect wisdom and hope into old age. Even when their bodies betray them, they hang on to the hope that pain will eventually ease and the heavenly result will be a crown of gold.

Am I still in growing pain? Somewhat. Not all my questions have been answered and that’s okay. I will continue to ask, to seek, to find.

But now I refuse to listen to legalistic quotes that once soothed me.

I would rather insert question marks into my life than live under the concrete umbrella of condemnation and easy acceptance.

Pain is inevitable on this earth, but an attitude seasoned with grace will offer us the hope we need to keep going, to continue questioning and to march toward the Light.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

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Hope in Finding the Story

saleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work – some objects that would bring encouragement to the women I coach: maybe a pot of flowers, some beautiful cards, a trinket I could give away.

What I didn’t expect to find was a story.

I joined the crowd of people poking through bedrooms, closets and kitchen – each of us searching for treasures at a reduced price.

Empathy set in as I realized this was a family who had just buried their matriarch. Now they had sold her house and were sorting through what she left behind, offering pieces of her life to strangers.

What sort of life did she live? The question hounded me even as I began to discover clues to her story.

In the garage, colorful pots for planting the cuttings of a new flower or plant. The texture of the pots described a women who was attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

A stack of books pulled me like a magnet into the intrigue of a life past. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic treatises. A mathematical mind, detailed, and carefully constructed to pay attention to pi, cosign and greater than.

A pile of books about alternative health. Was she sickened by a disease no one could treat, so she tried to find help beyond the traditional medical community? Did any of the vitamins, acupuncture or colloidal treatments give her a few more years of quality life?

Sadly – no books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books – unless her family already sequestered those to keep alive the memories of mom and grandmother.

The basement, filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I combed through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol-building substances, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan I needed, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular pan before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story did my life tell and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and and a woman who loves color and texture?

If a stranger looked under my deck, would they determine how I garden with old yet favorite tools, that the farmer gene in me has never exited, even after years in the city?

Would my costume jewelry, my terracotta pottery and my wooden rocking chair whisper that I am a simple country girl who finds solace in the beauty of handmade afghans, multiple stacks of books and the comforting jangle of a flowery mobile from New Mexico?

I came away from that estate sale hugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan I needed to replace its long-ago-broken twin and a sense of story that emanated from the treasures I held.

We are each living the story of our lives. How much of our stuff reflects our authenticity and moves others to consider hope?

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

An Ethical Alzheimer’s Question

The question came up again last week when a caregiver faced the ultimate decision. “Should we put our mother through a surgery, knowing that it may save her life, but at the age of 88, it will only prolong her journey into Alzheimer’s. What should we do?”

The decision, of course, will ultimately rest with that family and the medical professionals, but it is a quandary that many of us face as our parents age without the ability to express what they want for their own bodies.

Doctors are trained to preserve life, to “do no harm.” And they are skilled in the various ways to test for disease, treat the symptoms and perform surgeries that prolong life.

But at some point, don’t we have to ask the hard questions? Is Alzheimer’s any type of quality life? Would our loved ones want to go through the pain of surgery, the rehab after surgery and still face an even longer period of time living within the shadows of Alzheimer’s?

My family faced this decision a year ago with Mom’s pacemaker surgery. Yes, her heart needed stimulation because she was passing out, bumping her head and experiencingAlz awareness all sorts of physical problems. Doctors determined she needed a pacemaker, and the decision was made quickly by those who care daily for Mom.

It was supposed to be an easy surgery, in and out in a couple of days. But complications set in, Mom’s mental status quickly deteriorated from confusion to dementia, and the end result was four days in the hospital with a transfer to nursing home care.

Would it not have caused less harm to let Mom’s brave heart just wear itself out and wing her to eternity where there is no pain, no surgeries and no Alzheimer’s?

As I stayed night with Mom in the hospital, she experienced a rare moment of lucid thought and communication. She asked, “What did they do to me?”

I explained about the pacemaker and the complications of a collapsed lung, the possibility of pneumonia. “Your heart needed to be fixed, Mom,” I said, glad for this moment between us but wishing we could be talking about something besides her difficult prognosis.

She raised up in bed, setting off monitors that blinked and brought nurses running. “If they would have asked me,” Mom declared, “I would have said ‘No.’”

When I arrived back in Kansas, the first thing I did was to instruct my son that absolutely no life-saving measures should be performed on me. “If I get Alzheimer’s like Grandma, and if I’m not able to take care of myself, the best way you can love me is to let me go.”

Then I wrote it down in my last wishes’ papers and finalized everything. Do no harm. Let me go.

In the third book of the Life at Cove Creek Series, Reverend G, Jacob and Chris will also face this decision. Writing about this serious topic in a fictional story was easy because I had lived through it with my mom. I knew what Reverend G would choose because I knew my own choice and what I felt was the sanest and kindest way to go.

When it comes to that decision, a life of further Alzheimer’s versus stepping into eternity – for me there is no debate. But each family has to make that choice.

What do you think? I’d be interested to know where you stand on this subject.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo                                                            Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Does God Care About Characters?

We sat around the table at the house where my critique group met. Each of us took our turn, reading our precious words and waiting for responses from the other writers.

Intermission 3D Cover-1I knew my group liked my main character – Reverend G, that feisty little minister who struggles to find her purpose within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. But what about the writing itself? What about the content, the plots and the dialogue? Did I do it well enough to intrigue my readers?

I truly wanted to know how to make the book the best it could be. Caregivers needed it to be credible and practical yet also entertaining. The readers who followed the story during Book One deserved a Book Two that would interest them, draw out humor and pathos — a belief in the story.

I wanted my readers to believe that a fictional tale might be real.

So I waited for the critique of my words with anticipation. The man of the house, who is also a writer, suddenly appeared from another room and started to climb the stairs. As if he echoed instruction from the divine source, he said, “Make the Alzheimer’s a character.”

It was one of those moments in life when you know God has sent a prophetic message through another traveler. When you not only appreciate the message but you know that message must be obeyed.

When you feel that jolt of supernatural electricity that helps you believe God is present.

And so I rewrote the book. And as I recrafted each paragraph, I saw how right it was to make the Alzheimer’s a character. I experienced with my dear Reverend G how real this disease is and how it torments the mind.

My mother lives with this disease and daily fights the fear of losing her hold on memories and people. I imagine my mother, just like Reverend G, talks back to the Alzheimer’s and fights it with every mental muscle she can summon.

How right it was to add the Alzheimer’s as an antagonist who attacks beloved Reverend G and forces her to mentally and emotionally battle with an invisible yet imperative force.

Does God care about our characters? As surely as he designs the written word and breathes its creative nuances through writers. He wants this story to be an encouragement to caregivers and to remind us all that even when memory fails, God still abides within us.

So I thank that writer for being the voice of an idea, and I thank my critique group for helping me polish the manuscript.

I also thank the Holy Spirit who birthed this series in the first place and continues to pave the way for the story of Reverend G.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1