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

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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

 

 

How to Find Hope in a Published Book

With the release of “Final Grace for Reverend G,” the trilogy is complete. The gutsy little minister has challenged us to find hope even within the plaque-infested world of Alzheimer’s Disease.Rev G 3 Cover

On the eve of the release, I sat in my office and looked at the three books on my dream shelf. “The Unraveling of Reverend G,” acquired by Pamela Sonnenmoser for CrossRiver Media, not long before she graduated to heaven. The book that surprised even me, because I didn’t think I could write fiction.

Intermission for Reverend G” followed with its characterization of Alzheimer’s and a culmination of a romance between Reverend G and her soulmate, Chris. Another surprise for me because I don’t read romance. I still have no idea how that plot line happened and what made it so successful with my readers. Maybe because the characters were older and the idea of a romance with an Alzheimer’s patient was just flukey enough to be wonderful.

Final Grace for Reverend G” ended the trilogy and hopefully – it will become a best-seller with my readers, reminding us all that hope is eternal and God has a good plan for our lives – even when we face a serious disease.

As I looked at the books and realized the release date had arrived, I wondered – why am I not more excited? I didn’t even feel like celebrating with a bowl of Chunky Monkey ice cream or a slice of cheesecake with blueberries on top.


Was it because I missed Reverend G and the end of the series meant I had to finally let her go?


The publishing of a book is still a big deal to me. Even though I’ve been published before, these were my first novels. This story was real, because it mirrored what my family is going through with Mom. But it’s not the final release that is exciting, or the marketing and promotional activities.

It’s something else.

The achievement of writing and finding a publisher for three books is also a big deal. It marks another goal in my writing career, the answer to many prayers and the culmination of a dream. Seeing my books on library shelves and signing my name on the title page of each book during speaking events or booksignings – I still get chills up and down my arms.

But that doesn’t bring the most excitement.

What really does it for me is when I hear from readers, “Your books gave me ideas for how to deal with my dad. He has dementia, and we just didn’t know what to do.”

Or the CNA who shared the books with her colleagues, hoping they could all learn some new techniques for dealing with patients in assisted living.

The reader in Kansas who buys my books for her friend in Indiana, so she’ll have something encouraging to read as she watches her husband fade away in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.

Or the readers who emailed me, “I didn’t know we could pray so honestly to God. Reverend G taught us that it’s okay to cry out, ‘I can’t stand this.’”

When my readers learn something from the story, when they feel encouraged in their difficult journeys, when they find some hope, when they hear from God through the words he breathed through me – that’s exciting.

The end result of all the hours of writing, editing, revising, and doing it all over again to make it the best it can be is when all that perseverance pays off.

The excitement generates when people read my books and then buy them for someone else – to help another family dealing with the disease.

That’s when I know it was all worth it. And that’s when I’m encouraged to write another book, another blog post or another article so that this writer can somehow make a difference.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

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

The Encouragement of the Geese

Several years ago, during a time of great struggle, God sent the geese.

I was driving to work and fighting discouragement, when a flock of geese flew right over my truck. They were so beautiful, so fluid in their movement and so determined in their purpose – I felt encouraged.

geese flyingI knew that the same Creator who gave the geese the instinct to fly in a V, would also direct my life. Since then, every time I see geese, I praise God for his provisions and his direction.

And the geese keep appearing. On my way to an interview, geese waddle all over the lawn near the building where I meet the interviewer.

Driving all over Kansas City for speaking events, flocks of geese fly over me. Every time I drive to Oklahoma to see Mom in assisted living, geese pepper the sky. They remind me that God knows where I’m headed and He knows how to help me through it.

God keeps sending the geese.

One morning, I met a woman for a networking meeting. She gave me some ideas, but no definite answers. Later, as I drove to a luncheon appointment, I thought about the networking lead.  I wondered what God had in mind and if I should research more about the idea.

I turned into an access road and right in the middle of the road were four geese, leisurely waddling along the asphalt. They seemed in no hurry, but completely comfortable to let me wait for them. I laughed out loud.

“Thank you, God. Here are the geese once again – not at all frustrated because life is stressful. Just doing what they do best – waiting for a signal from you to fly.”

When life unravels with Alzheimers, illness or stress, ask God for encouragement and a sign that he has it all under control.

Maybe he’ll send you some geese.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G”http://amzn.to/11QATC1