Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for soul whispers.when-god-reaches-out

It is often in the early morning when the meditations of my heart remind me I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well.

Such a moment happened in a recent morning as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

It was a female voice, so perhaps its source was the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Perhaps a sweet relative who has passed to glory.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew it was no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, the voice traveled from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved – completely and forever adored by the divine One.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling of being surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen – when eternity interrupts our life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence?

Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Emanuel with us?

Does he long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy, but what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain between the physical and spiritual worlds?

What if God is always reaching out to us, to give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead and we’re just too focused on the now to realize he is there?

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. Brain damage. The intensive care unit with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Rich had crossed over. The phone call was no surprise. Tears yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Then two days later, suddenly Rich stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face, he wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in New Mexico – a coral stone set in silver, the black leather strap.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. And it was a token from eternity that Rich was all right, would always and forever be okay.

And then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next? It cannot be measured by our finite minds, but for me – its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we have seemed to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And right there, standing with them, is the Savior of our souls – this One who dares to love us in spite of who we are or what we have done.

So I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to the hope that maybe I’ll hear the same voice and feel the touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When the Dream Dies

country-cabinEvery year since – forever – seed catalogs have arrived in my mailbox during the last of the winter weeks. They are a harbinger of hope because nothing spells faith like planting seeds and believing perennials, green beans and marigolds will indeed sprout and come to life.

But this year, I am throwing the catalogs into the recycling bin. I cannot even bear to look at pictures of purple lobelia or happy-faced pansies.

This year, I have finally realized I can no longer maintain my gardens.

Reality began to set in during last year’s season when I tried to dig weeds and spread mulch. Within minutes, grass allergies kicked in, and I ran to the house for my meds. Even so, the next day – dark circles rimmed my eyes and the fatigue of immune system warfare affected my energy levels.

I ignored the symptoms because gardening has been so important to me. Just the therapy of digging in fresh soil, following my farming ancestors’ passion to coax the sprouting of life has brought me annual joy.

Gardening has nurtured my dream – to own a cottage in the country surrounded by flowers and produce where bees drink nectar and butterflies land for a respite during their annual migration.

But reality clarifies the cost of mulch and new plants, plus the hours required to make such gardens appear. Reality also underscores that my body and its accompanying allergens now betray me.

I can no longer hang on to a dream I cannot produce.

My dilemma reminds me of my mother’s situation – the woman who worked hard to pay off her house only to be forced to leave it. The realities of Alzheimer’s care betrayed her. Staying in her home mirrors my dream of a garden home.

Now both of us must delete what we wished for.

This year, I will woefully allow the native grasses to engulf my garden spaces. I may move the blueberries and golden raspberries to pots that require little care. I may plant a small row of green beans, enough for a skillet full of nutritious flavor.

But I will no longer drool over the pictures in seed catalogs or plan new plots for hybrid clematis.

This year I will step back and let nature rule. Perhaps my garden dream will morph into an eternal garden where the price my physical body pays no longer affects me.

Instead of  working on my dream, I will stroll through local nurseries to touch leaves, stroke petals and remember the gardens I once nurtured.

To reach toward hope, I will remind myself that the giving up of the dream still yields results albeit a different type of fruit:

  • Saving money
  • Giving away tools to someone who needs them
  • Finding more time to write and read
  • Preserving my health

And when the twinges of grief remind me what is lost, I can always counter with the truth of what will someday be.

Reality forces us to change, but hope answers that the changes may point toward something better.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Uses Her Voice

One of the best tools to build relationships is the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

When we know our love language and the love languages of our friends and family, we can feed care into each others’ souls.voices-invisible

Recently, I discussed love languages with my son and reminded him about my primary language. “Acts of service,” I said. “I feel most loved when someone does something for me.”

Conversely, I often show love to others by helping them and doing kind things for them.

After a long month of illness, my love tank was pointed to empty. So I decided to tell my son exactly what I needed.

If we do not use our voices, we become invisible and our needs are not heard.

“Son, my love tank is empty.”

“Huh?”

“You know, acts of service and all that love language discussion we had. I need my love tank filled.”

“What does that even mean, Mom?”

“It means…after being sick for so long and eating nothing but chicken soup, grapefruit and cough drops, I think my body needs some iron. That means I need a really good hamburger – not the cheap drive-through kind of burger. My body needs a buffalo burger with parmesan garlic sauce and potato wedges on the side. Lots of wedges.”

“So…you need me to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get you a burger?”

“Now you’re catching on. Don’t forget the extra wedges.”

An hour later, completely satisfied after a whopping burger and salty wedges, I realized how good food affects our moods. Not only did my body respond to the burger with additional energy, I felt as if I might be moving toward healing. Hope returned.

But to make that leap, I needed to use my voice.

If I had continued to fill the house with my pitiful moaning, slurping leftover chicken soup and begging God to take me to heaven – nothing would have improved. My iron content would have plummeted and my love tank remained empty.

But because I spoke my need and used my voice, my son had the opportunity to do a kind deed. He knew exactly what I needed.

Isn’t life easier when we know what people need? Yet we often sulk in our self-sufficiency, thus depriving ourselves and others of finding the resolution to our problems.

Hope responds to authenticity and when we speak our truth – we all benefit.

Let’s make 2017 a better year by exercising authenticity, using our voices and speaking our truth. Then we can help each other move toward more compassion, kindness and hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Why have I never heard about this tradition? With all the Christmas decorations I’ve made throughout the years, only this year did I discover the legend of the White Stocking.white-stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She then wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus – then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

With the Great Purge of 2016 fresh in my mind, I refused to make a white stocking and add one more thing to my box of decorations.

But I wanted to journal and blog about the idea, to reflect on what I could possibly give the King of kings this Christmas season.

It would be easy in this space to type the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship.

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout the new year.

So to be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through all these years of life, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys.

What does the Divine One want from me?

As I reflected on 2016, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe shade of ugliness.

I have spent a great deal of this year trying to figure out how to set boundaries around my life and somehow make it easier – less stressful – more joyful.

I didn’t think life would be so hard during this season of life. I expected to ease off a bit, relax more and enjoy some well-deserved fun.

Instead, I have worked harder with longer hours – still enjoying my work – yet somehow resenting those who have nothing to do but read their AARP magazine and count their retirement money.

Setting healthy boundaries is always a good idea, but I have also expressed my frustration to more than one person and I have written volumes of emotional dither within my journals.

Although I needed to vent and God is a good listener, I think I may have overdone it.

Because when I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

Although I cannot retire, I CAN still work and enjoy all my jobs – the writing, the coaching and the nonprofit where I help women find empowerment and reach their goals.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and try to rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels of them – and perch on top of my car while I change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN still stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN still pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved and we still enjoy hot showers.

Many people in the world cannot count a hot shower or clean water as a simple blessing.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the prize of the high calling of God is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

So I think my mental white stocking this year will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I will hold out this gift to him because he deserves it.

And with my gift comes a repentance of wasted words shadowed by resentful thoughts.

This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, loving me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

More Thankful Words.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy and a contributor to “Abba’s Promise