Hope in the Upgrades

As I was paying bills, it happened again. Another online company wanted me to upgrade my account. Translation: pay more money for a few more services.

Nay, nay.

Ah, upgrading. The DIY shows focus on upgrading the home, particularly the kitchen. Fun to watch and imagine how I might do the same. Some day.

As a writing coach, I constantly research new ways to help my clients with their projects.

The latest publishing tools, best practices for a book launch, effective marketing solutions.

Help them upgrade and update their quarterly goals.

But what are some of the deeper ways we can upgrade and find more hope?

Be willing to change. An upgrade in remodeling requires change. So does the upgrade in life.

We learn, grow and stretch in ways that force us to embrace more hope.

Especially when life is hard.

Stretching those faith muscles and believing for better days helps us feel more empowered. Faith feeds and nourishes hope. But sometimes, we first need to change.

Changes are often uncomfortable. For example: Jorge Soler recently changed from being a Kansas City Royal to playing for the Atlanta Braves. A move for his family. A change in different policies within club houses. New faces to learn.

But now he wears a World Series ring and he became the MVP with that amazing three-run homer in the sixth game.

Changes can sometimes produce lovely results.

Be open to other opinions. When we stay within our comfort zone of being with the same people and doing the same activities, we can begin to rust. It’s easy to hang around friends and family that never challenge us.

No upgrading happens when we stay in the same mental and emotional space.

But when we force ourselves out of that comfort zone, we learn to truly listen to others’ opinions. We consider how honest debate can teach us.

Stretch us toward a more hope-filled upgrade. Hold fast to our beliefs yet consider how they might broaden and expand to include greater values.

Being quick to listen, but slow to speak — controlling our anger (James 2:19).

Become a student again. Life-long learning keeps our brains active. We read a book that encourages us to research more about a topic. Watch a documentary about another part of the world and learn to be grateful for what we have.

Cross reference a Bible verse. Check it in different versions. Google it in the original Hebrew or Greek.

Sometimes our faith needs to be upgraded into a broader interpretation. Sometimes we need to seriously examine some of the false teachings we were once taught. Then let them go.

Upgrades can be a good thing. They can make life easier and add beauty to our lives. With caution, of course.

The physical upgrades need financial boundaries. Waiting to upgrade the kitchen until the bank account has sufficient funds.

The emotional, mental and spiritual upgrades also need healthy boundaries. Time to reflect on possible changes. An inward search of our raw places and why they need a re-do.

Confession. Forgiveness. Repentance.

But an upgrade in our souls to a more compassionate and helpful place is always a good practice. And when it strengthens our hope, then all of us can live in a better place.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The latest upgrade to my writing craft is a book of encouragement, practical tips and devotions for single moms. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Finding Hope One Day at a Time

Working on long-range plans is a beneficial business model. And as a coach, I often encourage my clients to reflect on annual planning.

But we live one day at a time. And depending on the circumstances, we may not be able to generate a long-range plan. We may have only one day.

The Old Testament gives us the perfect story. In Exodus 16, God provided manna for the wandering Israelites. Just enough food for one day. If they tried to keep leftovers for the next day, it turned putrid and was filled with maggots.

They were learning to trust for just enough provision — one day at a time.

When we go through those “wilderness” journeys in life, we often don’t have the energy or the brain power to think ahead. We only have enough juice for today.

And as we ask God to help us through each day, to give us those daily mercies that are fresh each 24-hour segment — he does exactly what he did for the Israelites. He gives us what we need for one day, sometimes for one moment.

Perhaps you are dealing with one or more of these issues:

  • A cancer journey that requires painful injections. Trusting God for endurance that day.
  • A loved one with COVID-19 in the ICU. Believing for breath for one more day.
  • A grieving mom trying to get used to the empty nest. A whispered prayer each morning.
  • A pastor trying to figure out how to weave her congregation through post-pandemic stress. Wisdom for one more day.
  • A writer struggling to finish the manuscript God breathed in her. Another paragraph today.
  • A parent waiting for a breakthrough from that prodigal child. Begging for today’s grace.
  • The bride of Christ looking heavenward for his return. Hoping it might be today.

When I started writing Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms, I remembered those days when I only had a few minutes for morning reflection. How I wanted to spend hours on my knees with my Lord, but my son needed to be at school and I had to be at work. All I had were a few moments — for just that day.

So I wanted to write this book for my target audience — to give value to single moms who needed some hope for just one day. No long studies that are wonderful but require hours of work. No opportunity for a long list of prayer requests.

Just a brief verse or a practical tip to hang on to all day — for just one day.

We continue to learn about trust throughout life, with each bump in the road and each answered prayer. We know how to pray and who to believe in. God has given us manna in the past. We know he will do it again.

But all we have is today. Right now. This moment. And just for today, we inhale hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’re a single mom or you know a single mom, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms offers brief nuggets of hope — one day at a time.  

Hope Magnified

One Sunday while I was getting ready for church, I clicked onto the worship service of Elevation Church. Pastor Steven Furtick often preaches with a focus on the practical and how our emotions (or baggage) affect our faith walk.

On this Sunday, he carried around a magnifying glass. Pastor Furtick reminded his audience, “What we magnify is what we live with.”

I took a deep breath, then wrote down the quote. It was perfect for my current transition and other reflections in my journal.

It is true that what we constantly think about affects our emotions, our goals — even our relationships. So if we magnify how someone has hurt us in the past, then we continue to live within that pain.

If we focus on a past trauma and let it seed itself into our psyche, then we continue to live in the past and within that horrible experience.

If we talk about a circumstance, ask people to “pray” about it over and over, “share” how we’re feeling with the purpose of justification or vindication — then we continue to live inside that baggage.

Magnifying the problem, whatever it is, forces us to live inside the victim camp.

One of the topics I have noticed on social media is the constant reminder that we are living in “evil days.” Of course we are. Read the books of Daniel and Revelation for a-ha moments.

But if we continue to magnify the evil, then we won’t see the amount of good that is still happening.

People are caring for others, sometimes to the point of sacrifice. Nonprofits still do good work. Hospitals and medical workers thrive on keeping folks alive. Schools teach kids, and not all government workers are zombies. Some politicians are called to serve God within our systems.

Yes, terrible things sometimes happen. But wonderful things also happen. Why can’t we magnify those?

One of my rituals is to watch the CBS Sunday Morning program, especially any reports by Steve Hartman.

The focus is always on the positive as Steve and the other reporters find those out-of-the-way places where people are doing something good for each other. Each segment is unique, interesting and I often learn something new I can share with others.

No grumblings about how terrible the world is. Even within the tragedies of earthquakes, hurricanes or warfare — this crew finds the light surrounded by darkness.

I wish we could do the same with our ordinary lives.

So I am trying to be more intentional about what I magnify. To focus on the positive. To look for the hope that is apparent when I forget myself and try to help others. To stop thinking and talking about the negatives and instead — look for those nuggets of positivity.

Scripture reminds us how to think and thus, how to act: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB).

So let’s look for the hope that is growing around us. Let’s magnify the good stuff and stop living in the gloomies.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines with essays about positive attitudes. Check it out on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

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.