When Nature Invites Hope

She was such a tiny thing — this feral mama cat who suddenly moved to my deck. Black, with a couple of white spots on her face. A tail that reminded me of a possum. Hard cartilage. Not inviting to touch.

She didn’t even look pregnant. Just hungry. Desperate. Why else would she dare to climb the steps and stare at me?

I know the drill. Never feed a feral cat. They’ll keep coming back and bring the entire clan. They’ll never be domesticated. Take them to the shelter. Pay for the spaying. Decrease the local litters.

Yet somehow, this unwanted and unlovely creature touched my heart. I could not trap her. She was too fast. I could not hurt her. She needed me.

We began with a tiny bit of food which she greedily accepted. Her reflexes tuned to mine. One tiny move on my part, and she was gone.

Over the weeks, she gradually let me inch closer. But not too close. If I reached out my hand, she disappeared. Came back two days later. Starving.

One morning, the summer wind turned cool. I decided to have my morning quiet time on the deck. Journal, Bible, pen. And the feral cat in a corner.

I watched her circle around the deck, then a bit closer on the next round. A couple of figure eights around one of the potted flowers. Another trip around. Closer. Ever closer.

As I tried to ignore her, yet watch her, she eyed me. Took another dance around the deck. I returned to my study.

Then I felt a soft brush against my leg, a tiny whisper of acceptance. Without looking, I reached down. She brushed against my arm. Allowed me to pet her. Once. Twice.

She disappeared for several days, then returned a bit thinner. We continued our sometimes-on-sometimes off dance. A few days of petting. Another day of skittering away.

But I knew she had finally accepted me when she brought her three babies. She dared to trust me with her family.

Beautiful kittens. Two black and whites. One fully black. The black one immediately let me pet him. The other two repeated their mother’s elusive dance.

They grew up and eventually left. But Mama cat stayed. Greeted me every morning. Begged for food.

One day I reached to pet her, and she shied away. As if we had never been friends. As if we were starting over again.

After all this time and all this food, you still don’t trust me?

I felt the rejection. Huffed inside and shut the door. Then shook my head as the allegory formed its meaning.

How many times has God answered my prayers, gifted me with a miracle, sent an encouragement? Multiple times during my life’s journey.

How many times has he drawn near as I danced closer, waited until I trusted him with the next transition in life, the next question of “What do I do?” Thousands of times.

How many times have I brought my child to the Divine and asked for blessings? Received the same. Gushed my gratitude.

Yet when another hard place threatens, when the latest questions shadow me with doubt, when I wonder again Does this deity really love me — I shy away. Cry awhile and disappear from what he longs to give me.

He returns each day. Offers me the bread of life. Lays an occasional treat in my bowl of need. And once again proves he is trustworthy.

My doubt disappoints me and hurts his gigantic heart. My faith takes a hit.

Yet the next day, there he is again. Reaching out for me. Asking me to trust him for another day, another transition. Being his hope-filled self.

Scripture reminds us that nature is a constant mirror of God’s grace. We see him in the changing of the leaves from verdant green to bronze. We sense him in the blessed rain shower after a season of drought. We honor him when animals gift us with unconditional love.

And even when we struggle to accept what is right before us, he continues to reach out. To provide. To be with us — his feral children.

Some days, hope seems to hide. Yet if we listen carefully, tune our souls to the intensity of nature, we can hear his whisper, “Yes, I still love you.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories of hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon and in Large Print.

Hope Finds the Right Person

Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Wasted hours of precious time. A plea to God, “Help me fix this.”

It was a snafu with my supplemental insurance. When I switched in February, someone did not complete the job. I was getting letters from the old insurance which I had cancelled months ago.

So I called my insurance broker, and spoke to two people who both said, “You need to call Medicare.” They gave me the number to contact the right person.

The representative at Medicare told me I had called the wrong department. They would connect me to another area. Instead, they hung up.

So I went online and filled out the chat box. Wrote numerous explanations to a person who chatted back, “We can’t help you. Call your former supplemental insurance.”

At that point, I was using a few of the cleaner swear words.

After a lunch with some fortifying protein, a bite of chocolate and a quickie prayer, I once again called my supplemental insurance. This time, I reached just the right person — a woman who knew exactly what to do.

“I’m fixing this right now, ma’am. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Relief was instantaneous. All I had to do was find the right person.

It is the searches in life that often bring discouragement. The rabbit trails. The run arounds. The hang ups.

But Hope survives when we find:

  • The right person willing to invest time and build a friendship
  • The traveling buddy who drives us to unusual thrift stores for treasure hunts
  • The mechanic who knows how to fix the current problem without inventing new ones
  • The Savior who graces us with peace [Hint: His name is Jesus and his contact number is John 3:16].

Finding the right person solves a host of problems we cannot resolve on our own. But the search requires patience and an abundant helping of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner finds the right person for his shattered heart. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope in Holy Moments

After I read several books by Matthew Kelly, I decided to be more intentional about holy moments. To seek out ways to share love and thus spread the holiness of God into my community.

  • A “thank you” to the person at Target who cleans the grimy carts
  • A “God bless you. It will get better” to the tired mommy fighting three kids while grocery shopping
  • An “I appreciate your service” to the cop at Chipotle who wore a weary face.

But my resolve was challenged at one particular store. I only shop there once or twice each year when they have seasonal sales.

They were touting 30% off on all garden décor. Since the squirrels had massacred my deck cushions, I needed new ones. And I found the perfect pair marked down from $14 to $9. But at the register, they popped up with the original price.

“The sale sign is posted on them,” I argued. The clerk confirmed my observation and started to give me the discount.

“Let me check with the manager, to be sure,” she said as she paged him. “We usually honor the sales price if it still has the sign attached to the shelf.”

But before I saw him, I sensed the anger in his gruff voice.

“The sale was over yesterday,” he growled. “Didn’t you see the date?”

He ripped off the sign and pointed to a microscopic date at the bottom of the paper.

“No, I did not see that because it’s so tiny. What I saw was the giant 30% off which should still be honored.”

“Well, it’s not!” He crumpled the paper and tried to stare me down. “Next time, read the date.” Then he huffed away.

The sales clerk apologized and asked, “Do you still want the cushions?”

“No, I don’t.”

The customer behind me applauded and said, “Good for you.”

As I walked to my car, I said, “Well, God — that was NOT a holy moment.”

Yet maybe it was. Could I show grace now by praying for this obviously harried manager? Maybe he was dealing with a health issue or a loved one in trouble or trying to bring his profits up after COVID year.

And wasn’t it a holy moment to stand my ground, keep to my budget and set healthy boundaries on how I should be treated?

I can live without the cushions, but my soul cannot thrive without nurturing the holiness within me.

Hope still survives and believes that the next holy moment will be more positive.

Still, I’m not going back to that store, no matter what sales they advertise. The manager has lost a customer.

But if he comes to mind, I will hope he finds peace in his soul and a sense of God’s holiness still at work in our world.

Hope shines when we search for a brighter perspective. And holy moments DO happen, even in the unexpected chaos of life.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out books by Matthew Kelly. They’ll make you think about how you’re living your life.

Hope Exists in Layers

With all the natural disasters, political upheavals and the scourge of COVID, I’m re-thinking the topic of Hope. Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how Hope presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe that Hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The Everyday Expression of Hope

We may glibly use the word “Hope”, even as we bless each other with its presence.

              “Hope you have a good day.”

              “Hope that hamburger is well done.”

              “Hope you enjoy the baseball game.”

Layer One of Hope is important, because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say. Even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The Hope Shared During Crises

This layer was so evident during 2020’s year of disasters and the leftovers in 2021. With every hurricane, fire, earthquake, pestilence, shooting and angry outburst — people somehow summoned a measure of hope.

“We’re in this together” became a rallying cry. A promise that fortitude could spread. A Hope that community would survive.

People volunteered to clean up the emotional and physical sludge. Organizations asked for donations, and those with giving hearts complied.

The nightly news included a section about inspiring America. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who smiled through their tears.

Layer Two requires a sinew of courage we all strive to possess. It underscores that even when we suffer, we are not alone.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the great good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover again what is truly important.

Layer Three: The Darkest, Longest Road to Recovery

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of Hope transcends the others, because it has to duplicate itself every day.

Somehow, this Hope must dig past the detritus of personal chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 1600 meals for the homeless in their community.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the nurses with plastic marks creased into their faces from 12-hour shifts in the ICU.

These are the workers, sometimes using bare hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone, because they believe a child might still be alive. The slightest mistake might delete all Hope.

The brave souls who deal with chronic pain day after day after day.

The caregivers who continue to serve because they cannot imagine giving up.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three. From them, we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to Hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet Hope keeps their hearts beating.

They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down. They continue to believe and trust in Hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store, because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with the same sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways — depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

This is the writer who continues to pen the words s/he believes in, even when the hate mail continues to come.

I am striving to be courageous enough for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come.

But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere — then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My Layer One Hope is that my newest book will reach the sales goals. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope in the Surprise

The following guest post is written by Jena Fellers.

Do you love surprises? Me, too. But I always hope for good surprises.

Recently, my husband asked me to join him delivering for Door Dash. He had decided to try Door Dash to earn extra income and wanted to see how feasible it was. From the sign-in until the ending is called a Dash.

On our first Dash, I felt surrounded by positive anticipation. Eager to learn and see how things worked made me look forward to every detail — as if it was a fun surprise.

  • How quick will the first order come?
  • How much will it pay?
  • How long will it take the restaurant to prepare the order?
  • How far will the delivery be? Will it take extra time to get another order?

Nothing happened as planned, filling me with more questions and anticipation. Every order was a surprise in some way or another. It could be:

*A new restaurant we had never heard of

*Restaurants with different names inside other large restaurant chains

*Deliveries to employees at a business

*Delivering to someone in a parking lot, a parked semi, or even a private airplane

More of the elderly population ordered than the techie, younger population. The nicest surprise was unexpected tips, with good reviews coming in second.

As with anything, the surprise could also be negative:

*A messed-up order

*Food tumbling over inside the bag

*The restaurant out of an ordered item

*The GPS deciding to freeze or take us the wrong way

*Learning about a stacked order and how to complete it

*Looking for houses without visible house numbers

*The amount of miles or price changing after we accepted the order

*Getting few orders, even though the app said it was busy

A Door Dash driver is certain to experience good and bad surprises. Another guarantee is that orders come in so quickly, it is impossible to dwell on the emotions generated by the surprise.

By the end of the Dash, all problems were resolved. Whether starting with few orders, many orders, high pay, or low — the money averaged out.

This experience opened my eyes to how we should view life itself. Every day is a gift full of surprises.

We can wake up hoping for a surprise, especially when we ask God to guide our day. Life can be an adventure and fun when God is with us.

Possible surprises for today:

*Who should I pray for?

*Will there be someone to help today?

*Can I teach a life lesson to my family?

*Will God give blessings today? For what purpose?

*Will my words make a difference?

*How many smiles can I give?

*Who can I encourage with a phone call or a card?

Our Hope in the surprise can help us get through anything. Good and bad are guaranteed to come, but we place our Hope in the surprise God gives or allows. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks of being content in every situation. This seems possible when we have Hope in His surprise.

This kind of divine surprise gives us something to look forward to. It keeps our focus where we can be content. Like Dashing, we know it will all balance out, regardless of whether the surprises we face are good or bad.

Let’s view the surprise as a treasure given to us. Let’s live in anticipation of what God will do for us, through us, and with us each day.

No need to worry or fret. Another surprise is on its way, so enjoy life to its fullest. Look with Hope for the surprise God has planned today.

©2021 Jena Fellers (guest post) – All Rights Reserved

Jena Fellers is an author, inspirational speaker, and co-pastor. She and her husband pastor Trinity Worship Center in Baxter Springs, Kansas, where their three children and four grandchildren reside. Jena loves to encourage and educate others to follow Christ a little closer. Check out her blog at www.changingfocus.life to find out more about Jena and her books.

Hope Wonders When

Patience is NOT one of my virtues. Yet it seems as I grow older, God requires more instruction involving patience. Once again, I sit in his school of waiting.

When we wait, our first question is “When?” When will the answers come? How much longer do I need to wait?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting itself — a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together, something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a strength? We can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we love our commonalities. But when?

The 36-hour day team-tags for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will release come?

The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as s/he is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When?

In their workbook, Living into the Answers, authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.

New areas we have not previously considered or possibly — new spiritual havens where we learn to reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

What did it feel like in the 600-year silence between the Old and New Testaments? For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on. Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God — even in the silence.

Mothers tucked their children into beds and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet their tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

When Jesus DID come, he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected, they did not recognize the wait was finally over. Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. They refused the truth.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder … has it come and gone, passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer? If so, how do I retrieve it?

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life, then waits for us to locate him.

Perhaps our questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We cannot truly find the resolve because God is not controlled by time.

Yet as we wait, he graciously holds us in the palm of his mighty and patient hands.

Instead of yearning for a change, maybe we need to just accept today. To find joy in whatever positives surround us.

Then as we cry out for a deeper intimacy with the divine one, he will produce the answers within.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out this excerpt from Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.  

Finding Hope in an Old Story

She is often overlooked as a mere secondary character in Genesis. Yet Hagar’s story contains one of the most insightful verses of all time.

Hagar may have been fairly young as the maid servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was not able to conceive, she convinced Abram to take Hagar as his concubine. Hagar was soon pregnant with Ishmael.

Then the real trouble began. A conflict between Hagar and Sarai — jealousy, competition, and the end result. Hagar ran away.

But God found Hagar and encouraged her. Hagar’s a-ha moment was so impactful, she named the place: Beer-lahai-roi: “God Sees Me.”

So in spite of Hagar’s struggles:

  • Becoming a servant to Sarai
  • Forced to have sex with this old man
  • Feeling sick from the pregnancy
  • A cruel mistress
  • So rejected, she ran away
  • Totally alone and sad

In spite of it all, God saw her and met with her. In person. Such an encouraging story of Hope.

Whatever you are struggling with today, know this — God sees you.

  • In the middle of a cancer diagnosis
  • With the side effects of COVID
  • Financial worries
  • Children or grandchildren in trouble
  • Unemployment
  • Mental illness
  • Transitions in life
  • Loss of Hope
  • ________ Fill in your blank

Whatever is happening to you today — God sees you. He is not blind. He is not deaf to your cries.

In fact, the name Ishmael means “God hears.”

So Abba Himself loves you. He sees you. He hears you. He is with you.

Rest in his gift of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a continued story about Hagar and Ishmael, check out page 25 in The Invisible Women of Genesis.