Hope and the Saturday Sisters

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

We have watched our children grow up, shared the joys of weddings and the sorrow of funerals. Phone calls, emails and texts help us stay connected, but it is our monthly meetings that feed my soul.

As I have considered my next book, I wondered if it was time to write about the Saturday Sisters. Somehow, that book isn’t coming together – yet – so I asked each of these precious ones if I could describe them in a blog post.

With their permission, I decided to go deep and talk about how each of these Sisters has added to my life.

During the aging process, we begin to think about legacies and what we will leave behind. We de-clutter the stuff, knowing it is no longer  important. But it is the people we cannot forget, cannot shove into the Goodwill bin. These are the treasured ones who have added to our living and shown us how to be.

This blog post begins my thank you to the Saturday Sisters for how they have enriched my life.

Janet: The Encourager. She has a special way of turning a dark day into a beam of light. With her witty humor and her pithy statements, she has often given me hope when everything seemed desperate.

She calls once / week to check up on me from her sunroom office where her title is inscribed near her chair: CEO – Chief Encouragement Officer.

Her voice holds warmth and often – a suppressed giggle – reminding me how joy lies just below the surface. We just have to shove away the despair to find it.

Janet encourages me in my writing and in my living. She and her husband, Steve, have supported my various ministries and they are patrons for my writing life.

She is also a prolific reader. She finds the most amazing books I have never heard of. Then she shares them with the group and often sends each of us a copy.

One of those books provides morning and evening meditations for me. “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillee has challenged me while reminding me once again how Janet encourages me to grow.

It is Janet’s lovely house where we meet, because it is totally accessible for her wheelchair. This Encourager lives with MS and its side effects, facing her own dark days yet somehow never letting them destroy her faith.

I am consistently amazed by Janet’s courage, and I love her intensely for who she is.

Janet’s husband, Steve, is our associate member. He helps Janet get the house ready, picks treasures from his garden to share with us and gives amazingly strong, beautiful hugs. Steve is one of those rare men who is trustworthy, kind and smart.

He and Janet have merged their personalities into a grace-filled pairing of what marriage should be.

It is Janet who organizes our monthly meetings, who leads us in our discussions and keeps us on track. She is the energizing force behind the Saturday Sisters, and I truly don’t know how she does it so well.

Except that she is gifted as an Encourager.

She knows who she is and how to set healthy boundaries. As a former lawyer, a devoted wife, mother and grandmother – Janet is the Sister who keeps me steadfastly searching for Hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more information about my books, check out my Amazon Author Page.

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Hope Completes the Journey

Dear Deb,

The book is finished.

You would be so glad. If you were here, we would celebrate at a Mexican restaurant with fabulous guacamole. Plenty of chips. Constant refills.DM at country store

You would give me hugs and “I knew you could do it” words.

Throughout our meal, I would be thanking you for pushing me, for encouraging me to keep going.

Twelve years, my friend. During a dozen teeth-gnashing years, this book has been through multiple drafts, revisions, even a couple of genre changes.

But finally, it is the book I was supposed to write—the book you knew I COULD write.

It was important because of the women we both knew, those incredibly brave women who faced their hardest truths and stepped into an unknown world.

These women we taught, led in groups, cried with reminded us of the women we once were. How we needed our cadre of women warriors to help us fight our way to freedom.

This book underscores our experiences and the life journeys of these like-minded women.

I am sad you never saw the completed manuscript, never had the chance to hold the book in your hands. I know you would be proud. “Love it,” you would say.

Before you left us, you heard about the title my son created: “No Visible Scars.

“I love it,” you said. “It’s perfect,” you added.

You would have adored the cover your Sarah designed.

I am asking God to let you peek through the heavenlies and see it. I know it will bring you extra joy.

Thank you, precious friend, for being my cheerleader for this project.

Thank you for boosting me over the mountain of self-doubt, for reminding me to keep going, to finish the course, to see it through.

It is finished.

I miss you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Domestic abuse happens even in the best of homes. Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.”

Hope in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Wins

Oh, God – I’m so afraid.monarch butterfly

During the sixth month of pregnancy, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months – hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby. With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart – the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the back yard’s sunshine and stretched out in the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly. Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might be disturbed and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, we baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship moments.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

When I returned to the house and journaled about my experience, I felt encouraged, renewed and ready to face whatever happened in the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind me that he is indeed greater than my problem. Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms – then he can certainly deal with my everyday stresses.

I wonder how many scenarios he manages and shows up to help us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him. Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see his image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the monarch’s appearance, he is with us – longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I nurture my butterfly bush and let the red clover grow around the perimeter of my yard. These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 30 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.Caleb and Mom at reception

Hope wins. We just have to keep watching for the finish line.

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

Hope Wears a Tattoo

hands - palms outstretchedHe was a large, muscular man and when he sat down in the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I was reading as my writer brain started inventing a character sketch.

He’s a construction worker by day, a bartender by night and his feet hurt. It feels really good to sit down for a change. Or … he’s a pastor on his way to the inner city church he serves. The dirty T-shirt is a cover up and helps him relate to the young people in his congregation. Or … he’s an undercover spy and just wants me to think he’s a normal guy.

But then he crossed one leg and I discovered he was far from a normal guy. Tattooed on one leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above her sweet face, “Kelsey Jane, beloved daughter.”

What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his massive leg? Was she one of those tragic little ones that cancer took away? Her image on his leg was a memorial to her short life?

He saw me staring and before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my question with vulnerability, “I’m divorced and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I’m always carrying her with me.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and said, “That’s the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen.”

He tipped his Royals baseball cap to me, then turned away. I returned to my book – both of us in our own worlds as people do on mass transit.

I almost wanted to find the nearest tattoo parlor and ask for a picture of my son emblazoned near my heart. Almost.

But I couldn’t forget the image and the question it posed, What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his leg?

Then I remembered another guy who does the same thing – not on his leg, but on his hand – on the tender palm area where he can see it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God is the one who says, “See, I have tattooed your name upon my palm…” (Isaiah 49:16).

God Himself cares so much about each of us he has tattooed us on the palms of his powerful hands.

In the original Talmud, the meaning of this tattoo or engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never ever forget her child. The Hebrew word also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

As God’s children, we can depend on that mother love, that unbreakable bond, that caring and loving provision. Always.

I often think about the guy on the bus and hope he’s having some quality time with his daughter. Usually, I remember him when I’m going through a rough patch and need some encouragement.

The tattoo of Kelsey Jane makes me smile, while the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

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

Hope Finds Resolution

church doorsThroughout my search for a church, I have gleaned important lessons. Because life-long learning is one of my core values, it gives me joy to learn something new or to confirm principles I’ve known for decades.

So what have I learned?

The Community of Believers Thrives

Throughout this year, I have met so many wonderful believers. Pastors have rearranged their schedules to talk with me. Gracious and vulnerable, they let me pray for them and asked how they could serve me. I have been humbled, awed and thankful for these men and women who love the same Lord I love.

Within these communities, I have snacked on a variety of goodies, experienced a women’s Christmas tea and tried numerous versions of the same coffee brand. Eleos seems to be the favorite. However, I believe my choice of a church is solid even if they have no snacks and no coffee bar.

The variety of music has provided a soothing balm for my pilgrim soul. Although I love the old hymns and enjoy a rousing classical version of the “Hallelujah Chorus” – I have found so many wonderful worship teams, praising God with joy. Do they know how important they are, lifting the spirits of saints who need the comfort of lyrics and chord progressions?

We Share Common Struggles

Churches are living organisms, peopled by fallible human beings. The world we live in makes it easy to ignore God and focus on ourselves. Yet so many believers are trying mightily to be the persons God created them to be.

And in every church where I have talked with the leaders, they’re not quite sure what to do with me. My particular demographic is a puzzle. Most churches aren’t set up to serve single moms or know how to deal with the growing numbers of divorced people and their children. This is one reason why 67 percent of single moms leave the church and never return.

But I am encouraged that leaders are willing to at least open the conversation. They’re hoping to try new programs, discuss new resources and consider how to be vulnerable even within traditional guidelines.

Sunday is the loneliest day of the week, and in my visits I have seen many women who worship alone – sitting by themselves, their heads bowed even as I peek at their solitude. I imagine they pray the same words I pray, “Will someone, anyone, Lord, talk to me or come and sit with me or invite me to lunch or even acknowledge I am here?” Can we do better? I believe so.

Church is Important to Me

Although I took a sabbatical from church to soothe some of the hurts, I always knew I would return. I just didn’t know where. It is important to belong within a body of believers, to find how my little digit somehow fits into the kingdom work of a particular group where my gifts are respected and utilized.

In searching for church, I have been encouraged by my own faith and by the principles my soul believes so strongly that I will hunt for them week by week. I stepped forward, fell back and began again.

Because belonging to a church body is part of who I am. Because church sanctifies my core beliefs and helps me grow. Because the people in my church become family. Because I am a believer, and church is what we do.

God Cares About Where I Go

Throughout this journey, I have prayed every Saturday night, “Show me, please, Abba Father. Make it clear. I want to be where you lead me.”

And God came through. When I visited the church where Jesus was absent, the Spirit in me cried out in melancholy loss. When I attended a church with my son and his girlfriend, God told me it would be only “for a while.” The following would result in leaving.

And when I came to a crossroads which almost exhausted my list of possibilities, it was within that scary moment the divine whisper directed me to the final answer.

As God so often does with me, he confirmed it in a unique way – this time in a dream. I was at an amusement park, already buckled into the metal car of the roller coaster. Just as it was about to begin its cranking ascent, the divine voice urged, “Get off the roller coaster.” So I unbuckled and left the amusement park.

When I woke up and journaled through the dream, I saw the confirmation. My search had led me to highs and lows, to spiritual discovery through the valley of grief, to stops and starts. The roller coaster search needed to come to an end, and I had to make the decision to unbuckle and walk confidently in a new direction.

So I learned a great deal, and I am grateful for the learning which involved more than a year of prayer, visits, leavings and yearnings.

I am finally off the roller coaster, stepping carefully because belonging precipitates the possibility of another hurt and my heart does not want to risk it. But for now, I have found a home and I believe God is smiling as together, we walk through the door.

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

 

 

Hope Thrives With a List

Because I process best while writing, I decided to make a list of what I’m looking for in a church.checklist

A perfect church does not exist – anywhere – because it is an organism teeming with fallible human beings. The minute I walk in, the dynamics of that church will change because I am not perfect.

So I know my list is only a series of guidelines, parameters I am looking for in a church body. But it helps me set my limits, to know exactly what I’m looking for and to eliminate any groups that don’t have at least 50 percent of what I need.

My list includes:

  • Jesus. He must be front and center. I want Jesus to be the focus, always. The church is, after all, the bride of Christ – the body that started with his disciples, men and women devoted to following the Son of God. This is one parameter where I will not waver. If you doubt my sincerity, re-read my post “Hope Reaffirms” about how I left the church that had no Jesus.
  • I need a church that looks at Scripture as an entire document and God-breathed inspiration. I will not attend a church that takes just one verse and makes a doctrine out of it. Legalism is dangerous. Been there. Done that. Finished with that forever and ever, Amen.
  • Humble leaders are paramount in the church of my dreams. To minister means to serve. I don’t want my pastors to preach from their strongholds or to demand special treatment just because they happen to be ordained. The pulpit should be a place from which to share truth, not to pontificate.
  • I do not want to hear politics from the pulpit. If I want to consider a political opinion, I will stay home and watch CNN.
  • One reason I am having a difficult time finding a church is because I believe in egalitarian theology. Jesus was the only religious leader in history who truly respected women and gifted them to serve in his kingdom. Scripture says, “In the last days sons AND daughters will prophesy.” Many churches say they respect women and their gifts, but will only let women practice certain gifts. They don’t practice what they preach (pun intended).
  • I want a church that is willing to learn and grow – not remain stagnant with what they’ve always done. Jesus broke the mold on traditionalism. Life-long learning is one of my core values, and I believe we can always learn more about God, about his love and about how to grow in relationship with him. My soul tires of the same old messages. I want to grow in my faith and in how to effectively be a disciple in my world.
  • God blesses churches that care about missions, but many churches are caught in the romanticism of travel. I believe mission also exists right on our doorsteps. I want my church to be active in the community; not just across the globe. I want us to help the people in the pews and in the apartment complexes and those who are sleeping on park benches.
  • Because I am a single mom, it is important to me that my church cares about the orphan and the widow, in every definition of the word. Fifty per cent of us have experienced the shattering of our marriages, and if the church doesn’t want that number to escalate – then they need to “be” the church and reach out to those children and their lonely mamas. I have attended churches where the leadership regularly quoted negative statistics about single moms and other churches that had vital programs to help single-parent families. I believe Jesus cares about every demographic.
  • I am looking for a church with diversity, a body that welcomes every age group and every race. Since heaven will be a mixture of every tribe, language and nation, we might as well start getting used to it.
  • One of the churches I visited filled almost all of my parameters, but they had no need for any of my giftings. I believe it is important to serve within the church. However, I need to be using my authentic gifts and not placed in a traditional gift box. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I should be relegated to holding babies in the nursery or organizing a pot luck. I can’t help it God made me a leader, a writer and a teacher. I’m a first born, for Pete’s sake. I want my church to accept who I am and believe God sent me their way so that I could fulfill a definite function.

In my visits to various churches, I have been encouraged by the numbers of lovely Christians, the various programs and the ways churches function effectively.


When we attend one church for many years, we may believe ours is the only place, the only way.


But many believers are striving to learn more about God, serving in their communities and the world, giving of themselves week after week as they worship together. It has been encouraging to me to find these bodies everywhere and to know we are all part of the family of God, brothers and sisters with one focus – to share God’s love to a lonely world.

One of the pastors I met said, “Don’t shop around for a church. Let the Holy Spirit draw you into community.”

I like that thought, and I am praying in hope for that direction. I believe someday, somewhere, I will find the place where I belong.

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