Hope Stands With Perseverance

As we continue to discover the qualities of each Saturday Sister, Hope shows itself in the persevering life of Sharon.flower cactus

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

Sister Sharon and I have shared fun times together. We were both moms of band students, so we traveled to every band competition, ballgame and even band practice we could manage. In fact, one year we met at the grassy field where the band practiced and prayed for their season.

Football fans may not realize how hard the band works. With two-a-day practices that begin with the earliest crow of the rooster, the band is on the practice field. Sharon and I know because we vicariously lived it with our children.

It was Sharon who realized I would someday move from the cozy town of Lawrence to the Kansas City Metro. She was the sister who encouraged me to attempt the 435 loop and the Grandview Triangle, which felt like a near-death experience. She directed me through neighborhoods and helped me imagine that life could indeed be okay in the big city.

We both love flowers, so Sharon and I have found joy in visiting numerous lawn and nurseries. We revel in the colors and textures of God’s creations, even the birds we feed each day and the animals each of us have loved.

But the main reason I love Sharon is because of her perseverance. For many years, she has lived with the debilitating disease of muscular dystrophy. She endures the pain, the stares of rude people and even cruel comments that come her way.

Each moment of each day brings the need to persevere, to make it through another hour and try to find some joy in it.

She manages to persevere, because her faith is stronger than her pain.

She plans her days around how many steps it takes to launder the clothes, how long she can manage to move around her kitchen to fix a meal and how to stay awake when pain kept her from sleep the night before. Even her diet is now affected as so many things upset her delicate system.

The living of life itself is a challenge. Yet this sister has prayed me through various difficulties. She has shown me how to endure when life throws a stink ball and she has enabled me to persevere because of her example.

Sharon has no idea how beautiful she is, but the rest of us consistently see God’s beauty in her.

When I think of Sharon and her gift of perseverance, a quote from the best-selling “The Art of Racing in the Rain” underscores what I want to say: “The physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak. A true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”  

Sharon is a true champion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

acceptanceA copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

But change happened with or without courage. The seasons of life determined new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance—now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had but if we needed something, we actually made it. Created it from the bits and pieces around us. We changed the situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my life. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished, even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. I am always ready to do what is necessary to make a situation better or to at least make it tolerable.

I revise manuscripts until they feel completely right. I add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging knees and a threatening muffin-top waist. I delete from my diet the chemicals that are harmful. Make the necessary changes.

Even as a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we can work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows me to do something—anything—to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

I am frustrated and trying to learn how to work through this whole acceptance thing. How can I find the hope needed in doing nothing?

With the help of a gifted therapist and friends who care, I am inching toward the acceptance of Deb’s death. My life has changed and will never be exactly the same. She is gone.

Somehow, I must make peace with how her absence has affected my calendar days and the future we planned together.

As we age, some things must clearly become an accepted piece of life. In her book, “Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist writes, “It’s okay to be medium.”

She’s referring to the size of clothing she now wears. After years of being petite, she now must wear the medium sizes.

My mother has accepted her life in assisted living. She is content living day by day in her safe and beautiful environment. No stresses. No bills to pay. No worrying about the car and the next oil change. Just get up every morning, eat when they tell you to eat and play Bingo.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to sometimes let go of the need to change. We have to accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance—we will be okay.

So change what you can but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy in each day.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to read about a woman who was able to change her life, check out “No Visible Scars.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Embraces Gratitude

Two thoughts swirl through my brain this November of 2017: the rapid ending of another year and the Thanksgiving season.Thanksgiving

How can I find hope and share it as the calendar ends?

In retrospect, 2017 was not a favorite year. Too many life-changing moments. Emotional whiplash.

Yet gratitude simmers in three areas, ironically each beginning with the letter “F”:

Family – We meet with families during the holiday season – for better or for worse. Some families struggle through dysfunctions while others deal with the stress through avoidance. Yet having a family can be a definite blessing.

My concept of family expanded this year. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a family to support that child – even as she ages.

My blood relatives visited in October, a rare and delightful event. My son continues to provide support, manly hugs and a companion when cheering for the Jayhawks. He is also my resident IT guy who keeps me from gnashing my teeth when the internet rebels.

Deb’s relatives became family as we bonded during those traumatic days in the ICU. I watched her children rally together and care for their mother – such a touching tableau of love. They included me in final days and in honoring their mother at her memorial service. We became family in the tragedy and grow closer as we share our grieving process.

My extended family of writers, clients, friends – all of them vital for building my hope. Without these connections, I would not grow as a person, could not feel empowered for living.

Followers  – You are often strangers, yet by your support of this blog, we become familiar. You help me grow a brand and encourage me with your comments.

When a new follower joins my tribe, the message of hope expands to another corner of cyberspace. Hopefully, these words also expand to warm your hearts and invite you to a place of joyful camaraderie.

As a blogger, I am grateful for each follower and take seriously the commitment to post each week – to invite you to find hope with me.

Faith – To be honest, the events of this year have rocked my world. Resigning from full-time ministry, then losing Deb has shaken my spiritual moorings. This emotional tsunami is a common side effect of grief. At some point, we all cry out, “Why God? Why?”

Yet my fictional character, Reverend G, reminds us the question may be “Why?” but the answer is “Who.”

Even when I cannot pray the divine One prays for me. Even when I feel shaky, it is not MY belief that is important but rather the truth that God Himself will not let me go.

At the beginning of 2017, God promised to uphold me. In those frosty January days, I had no idea what that promise would mean nor how tightly I would cling to it. But now I know. This year is measured not so much by what has happened as by Who upheld me through those happenings.

So as I close out November of 2017, I am grateful for these three entities: Family, Followers and Faith. Each has increased my capacity for hope. All have added value to my days.

May your Thanksgiving season also expand into grateful expressions of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Would you like to bless an author for Christmas? Check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Defers to Time

It just takes time,” the experts say. “Time heals all wounds.”clock - Victorian

I’m sure those statements reflect truth. The passage of time DOES ease some of the sharpness of grief.

Time allows us to ponder what has happened and leads us to a new perspective about life:

  • How important it is to love those around us
  • The value of helping others
  • How one solitary life impacts so many
  • Our own mortality within the fragility of each day
  • The vital importance of living with purpose

Time mellows us even as aging teaches what is important and what no longer matters. The “stuff” of life eventually deteriorates or ends up in a garage sale.

The really important “stuff” endures: love, memories, family.

Time can become an ethereal quality – something we ignore until it smacks us awake.

How is it we are so quickly marching toward the holiday season when only a few days ago, we were unpacking sandals and swim suits, planning vacations and using extra sunscreen?

How has time so quickly deceived us?

Sometimes time betrays as it folds back the years with alarming side effects. The brown spots I once caressed on my mother’s hand now dot mine. The immune system once taken for granted weakens in spite of healthcare, nutritional information and supplements.

Then one day, we realize we are the seniors of our demographic. We have become what seemed so far away. We notice little children and wish we could backtrack, do life all over again.

In one of the Superman movies, time was reversed so Lois Lane could live. The landslide did not happen. She continued as Clark Kent’s co-laborer and secret love at the Daily Planet.

In this life-changing 2017, I have wished I had the same power – to delete what happened in July – to rewind, pause and do over.

But alas – time continues and the farther we march across calendar pages, the more we realize how vital each day is within itself.

Anna Quindlen wrote, “Grief is the continuous presence of an absence.”

While time may indeed lessen the sharp edges of grief, it is also a reminder of a life lived, a presence that meant something to so many, and the knowledge that even with change – each day continues to beg for hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness.

Each year, I plant and nurture a variety of chrysanthemums. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom.

When late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds, then fuller blossoms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow mums fill my garden with spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance.

Mums were the plants loving friends brought when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them dying before birth. Each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb morphing into a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer.

It is within the silence of our griefs that faith best grows.

Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who could give no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life.

The hope of this mother that another season might bring another child – a living babe to hold, kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb.

Just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it.

Some unresolved grief so desperate I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. I honor my children by planting these mums as my personal cemetery token.

In the spring, I cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope.

Somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

In the waiting – in the hoping – comes a resolve. To honor each day in the land of the living even while looking forward to the land of promise.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved