Hope in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.


Why Hope is So Important

cropped-hope_ornament-1120.jpgWhat is it about hope that keeps over 1900 followers checking out this blog? Why is hope so important that after almost two years, I am still writing about it?

At its core, we cannot live without hope. It is the heartbeat of every future plan, the soul of every small business owner, the reason we return every four years to the ballot box.

Hope is a gift that never shames us. Instead, it connects with love and emblazons our hearts with purpose. (check out Romans 5:5)

If we take it apart as an acrostic, HOPE looks like this:

H – Health. Without hope, our health is affected yet with an abundance of hope—we feel those positive endorphins moving us toward a better tomorrow.

If we suffer from a sense of hopelessness, we can easily dip into discouragement and even full-blown depression. Hope eases that pain and gives us a reason to live.

Recently, I read a story from one of the Holocaust survivors. Anna woke up every morning and imagined herself dressing in something beautiful—a colorful scarf, a blouse made of the finest silk. Although in reality, she knew tattered and lice-infested rags covered her body—the thought of dressing in something clean, soft and lovely gave her hope. She survived Auschwitz and eventually was restored to complete health.

O – Optimism. Feeling optimistic about the next day breeds more hope. Even the tiniest steps toward a short-term goal fill us with optimism that we will indeed achieve victory.

Posting affirmations around the home, encouraging others and ourselves, even planning a day of joy will keep us in an optimistic mood. Positive thoughts result in hope and conversely, hope underscores a positive attitude.

When my son was in high school, his best buddy suffered with a terminal disease. Ryan’s family posted affirmations around the house such as:

“You can do it.”

“Hang in there.”

“You’re the best!”

Although Ryan passed before high school graduation, he lived much longer than any of the doctors expected this amazing preemie to live. And everyone who called Ryan friend was affected by his positive outlook. His optimism fostered hope in an entire school of teenagers.

P – Perseverance. But what happens when we can’t muster enough hope to make it through the day? When life hands us difficult circumstances or we live with shattered hearts in the graveyard of grief? How can we then find hope?

Through the practice of perseverance. By gritting our teeth and swallowing enough determination to make it through one more day. We stay in hope through sheer guts.

Three of my friends deal with chronic illnesses: muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia and muscular sclerosis. These women are my she-roes. Every day, they climb out of bed and try to do just one thing. Or if they need to, they stay in bed and pray for others. They persevere through the good, the bad and the ugly.

They stay in hope because they know the future—in heaven—will be illness-free. They persevere through difficulty and share hope with everyone they meet.

E – Experience. Hope tends to grow when we remember past experiences. This is one reason why I keep a journal. All my entries are dated, so I go back and relive what happened, how my son and I made it through that circumstance.

Many of my journal entries include Bible verses which help me stay in hope. Some of them are prayers while other entries include poetry or quotes from favorite authors. Sometimes my journal includes rantings at God. He’s big enough to understand my anger and let me work through it.

But always—always—God brings me back to hope. He reminds me of a past experience and how I don’t need to be afraid of the present or the future. He is the same yesterday, today and forever so that means hope will continue.

If you made an acrostic of hope, which words would you include? I’d be interested to hear why hope is so important to you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope in this month of February, check out my latest book. Hope Shines will give you a boost, a nugget of encouragement for each day.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with his own food supply. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico?” He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”flag-of-new-mexico-l

“No,” I said, “but it’s on my bucket list. I would like to go there at least twice each year.”

He then told me he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe and Taos.”

“You’ll get there. People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Memories of my last trip to Santa Fe — back in 2012 — brought tears. The research trip for my third novel, Final Grace for Reverend G.” Deb and I strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime. But did it have to be my last one? Could I not hope for another visit to the Land of Enchantment?

Last week as I shredded old files, I discovered the 2012 papers. A Pueblo Indian blessing scribbled on the back of our hotel bill — words Deb and I both loved — now richer with meaning and almost a foreshadow to losing Deb.

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

 My hope for 2018 includes the wish to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live in hope involves more than just the every-day-ness of what we must do albeit with a positive outlook and gratitude for what each day adds to life.

Hope also breathes through the impossibilities of reaching the desire of the heart — somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass while staying enchanting in the waiting.

A quote from Georgia O’Keefe — resident artist of Santa Fe — ties my hope in a package of possibility. “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Whether it’s a visit to New Mexico or some other hope that wraps around your soul, “Hope Shines” revives the possibilities of the heart. Check it out here.

Hope Was Enough

I was enough rockDuring three seasons of life, I have struggled with the topic of “Not Enough.”

Because I was raised in a perfectionist legalistic culture, it seemed I was never enough for God. Markers of spiritual maturity included how many people we could convince to become Christians and how efficiently we used our spiritual gifts.

This focus led to evangelism by guilt and service by exhaustion.

While in college, I met a group of students who shared love and joy with me. As I learned about God’s unconditional love, the old lies began to fade. Soon, I realized I could not earn my way into God’s heart, rather I had been gifted with a first class ticket.

Jesus was enough. Therefore, I did not have to DO. Rather, I could just BE.

The second “Not Enough” season came in the post-divorce years. Like most women whose marriages end, I tried to rationalize why it happened.

Was I not pretty enough? Skinny enough? Smart enough? Did I not pray enough for him and for our marriage? Did I not submit enough? (another leftover from legalism).

After several years in therapy, the “Not Enough” voices rode off into the sunset. A failed marriage is not one person’s fault and multiple factors can lead to its finality. Therefore, if I did not cause those circumstances, then I could not be responsible to fix them.

“Not Enough” became “Start Over and Embrace Life.”

In this current season of grieving, I again face the demons of Not Enough. As the grief process edges away from the shards of pain and into the emptiness of loss, I wonder if I was enough. Although I know false guilt is one of the side effects of grief, still – the questions persist.

Did Deb know I loved her? Did I say it enough – show it enough? Was our friendship so deep because I needed her? Did I give back enough of what she needed? Did I do enough for her at the end? Did she know I was there, praying she would wake up and start laughing? Was I enough?

Several weeks ago, I attended a spiritual retreat in the country. Being in God’s front yard is always life-giving for me – walking in rhythm with a floating monarch, crunching autumn grass under my feet, petting horses and dogs, stroking a plant. I always feel “enough” within the worship of God’s creation.

Our spiritual exercise was to choose a rock and write an affirmation on it – to remind ourselves to delete the negatives and nurture the positives.

I like rocks. They remind me something in this life is sturdy – dependable – unchanging. Within seconds, I knew what my affirmation would be.

The rock now sits on my windowsill, but I may move it to the memorial I built for Deb – Colorado river rocks at the base of her metal wind machine. I may plant the rock in a sturdy base to remind me of truth – to chase away forever the “Not Enough” lie.

A simple statement. A visual reminder of the following truths:

*In my spiritual journey, God is enough. Leave the legalistic expectations behind.

*With past failures, learn from them and underscore that I gave enough. I did what I could. Let it go.

*In grief, respect the process and nurture the memories. Receive the truth that none of us is perfect. But as we persevere to love others, the attempt is what matters.

I stroke the rock and wipe a tear.

I was enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Exists in Layers

Layers of HopeWith all the natural disasters we’ve seen in 2017, I’m re-thinking the topic of hope.

Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how it presents itself and how we react to it.

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

Layer One: The everyday expression of hope.

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

“Hope you have a good day.”

“Hope your hamburger is well done.”

“Hope you enjoy this fall season.”

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 is the layer so evident in 2017’s chaotic year of disasters. With every hurricane, fire and earthquake – people somehow summon a measure of hope.

“We will rebuild!” they promise as their fortitude spreads across the world.

People volunteer to help them clean up the sludge left from perpetual rains. Organizations ask for donations, and those with giving hearts willingly comply. The nightly news includes a section for inspiring America where we weep with those who weep yet rejoice with those who smile through their tears.

This layer requires a sinew of courage we all hope to possess and exhibit when it’s our turn to suffer.

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

We discover in Layer Two 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 digs past the detritus of 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 458 meals in Houston, then serve with a smile.

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 workers, sometimes using their hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone because they believe a child might still be alive and the slightest mistake will delete all hope.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three and 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 and communications cut off. 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 a sweet voice.

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

I’m striving for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come to my community. But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere – then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Reflects

A few weeks ago, I finished reading “Loud and Clear” – a compilation of columns by Anna Quindlen. She was my favorite journalist for many years – a writer who could force us to think yet remain approachable.

With each column, I reminded myself – I should have been a journalist like Anna. I should have majored in a field that was steeped in words.heart and book string

But my “shoulds” after high school were always underscored with the need to prove myself, with rules to obey, with dying to self to the point of killing the soul.

Back then, I did not realize how the forming of sentences could serve, help others, minister comfort.

I wish now for a do-over of life, but know I can only move into the foreshadowing of my destiny.

So on this day – may the words of my mouth and of my pen and computer keyboard be acceptable to God and meaningful to my readers.

I find direction in the Amplified version of Psalm 37:5 – laced with my own interpretation:

  • As a writer, I commit my way – the very path of my words to you, God
  • I roll and repose every care on You
  • May my thoughts be infused with clarity and creativity
  • To You I give my emotional load and the sorrow that still wraps me in painful tentacles
  • I determine to trust You for my comfort – in spite of the siren call of chocolate and ice cream cartons that scream, “Eat me! You’ll feel better.
  • Leaning hard on the divine, I declare You are my eternal Husband and Maker – worthy of my life-long trust
  • I am confident Your role in my life is good and You will determine the factors of my future life
  • I sincerely and genuinely believe You will bring to pass Your perfect plan and somehow – I will be safe within that blueprint.

But how do all these bullet points actually happen? How do we step from the germ of faith into the staircase of upward-moving activity?

By paying attention to Psalm 37:7 – the same Amplified and RJT version:

  • By being still – listening to the quiet pulsings of my heart
  • By resting in the divine – letting Him do His thing in me and through me although rest is sometimes the scariest activity for this Type A writer
  • By waiting on God – for His best timing to work everything out for my good
  • By believing the divine does indeed have a good plan – in spite of the not-so-good stuff going on around me
  • By patiently leaning on Him – letting the Eternal One do His work without my interference, without my plunging ahead to make something happen because it’s easier to trust me than this entity I cannot see
  • By not worrying about what tomorrow brings
  • By not comparing myself, my work or my life to any other homo sapien who is probably struggling just as much as I
  • By not trying to sort out the “why’s” of life because reasons lie in eternal vaults of understanding
  • By just being myself – in simple trust – and knowing that is enough
  • By grabbing on to Hope and clinging to its Author with all my might

So what about you? How do you find your Hope each day?

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Writes

writing - notebook and penWords pour out of me – a torrent of expression and emotion. Stories, articles, journal rantings, blog posts. Revisions three or four times then a sending of the results to editors, publishers, agents.

This is how I process grief, how I find my way through the valley and back to life. Future joy is hidden somewhere within paragraphs waiting to be uncovered.

Bullet journaling helps validate my limitations:

  • A surprise trigger in the middle of Wal-Mart
  • Escape to the pets aisle, hang over the cat litter and weep
  • A burnished copper mum on sale at Lowe’s. Buy it now. I need it.
  • Drive through Sonic for cheese tots because grief does not care if I eat healthy
  • The salt of tears, the salt of cheese tots – both necessary
  • A gust of wind driving Deb’s wind machine brings a sudden blip of happiness
  • Gratitudes written at the end of each day, forcing myself to find hope
  • On my knees in prayer, begging for Paraclete comfort
  • Feeling closer to Deb because we shared the same God

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It was through story that I was able to make some small sense of the confusions and complications of life.

That is my purpose in the pouring out of words – to find some sense in the loss, some purpose for the taking away.

A new connection on LinkedIn told me, “Write the best book possible, then share it with the world – to encourage others.”

So I reach for that goal, begin a new journal, open another pack of gel pens.

Grateful for the outpouring of words, stories, and blog posts that underscore where I am in this search for a new normal.

Or perhaps a new abnormal, because grief always changes us – scrapes us raw, then makes us see the beauty of what we had before, the gratitudes we might have taken for granted.

Knowing that others are searching, too – longing to find their direction, to process their sufferings in healthy ways.

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19 NASB).

How sweet that the best way to console comes through the communications gift God gave me. This creative urge sustains and upholds, dissects yet discerns.

I am grateful for the process and the journey. Although hating the reason for this valley, perhaps the ultimate meaning brings a better crafting, more outreach of the sentences that define my gifting.

Even in the darkness, words continue to pulse. And writing confirms that the Creator at work in me is also the Giver of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Goals Print Cover

If you process life through the gift of writing, then setting and reaching your writing goals will move you toward health and joy. For a guidebook and some accountability tips, order your copy here.