Hope Reversed

An idea filtered through my soul one Sabbath afternoon as I was journaling thoughts from the morning’s service.blue arrows reversed

Someone had mentioned the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are produced in our lives as we let the Spirit flow through us and as we learn more about what it means to live as a Christian.

But often, I fail in one or a number of these areas. I still have so much to learn about being who God created me to be.

So my hope is restored as I consider how God exhibits these beautiful qualities in my life and within our chaotic world.

Love. No human being has ever unconditionally loved me. A few have accepted my faults and my quirks, but still hoped I might improve. Graded me on a curve of not being “enough.”

But God has never treated me as if I am “less than.” He has shown his love in the orangey-yellow sunsets of the Midwest, in the purr of a cat, in the shelter of a friend’s arms. His love has always been a practical reminder that he alone knows how to look beyond my faults and see my possibilities.

Joy. As a melancholy introvert writer, I must admit joy is sometimes illusive. I cannot manufacture it, so I must find it within the presence of God.

He reminds me to laugh, to play, to give and receive hugs. His joy shines through the eyes of children, through the taste of a new recipe, through the spark of a writing idea.

I imagine heaven will be a place of so much laughter, so much joy — our spirits will be light and free to receive it and share it eternally.

Peace. When the world underscores its chaotic frenzy, God brings peace. The promise Jesus spoke to his anxious disciples stands true today, “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27 TLB).

God often shares his peace at night, when I finally lie down and surrender the day to him. Since he knows my past but does not condemn me for it, since he accompanies me through every day of the present and creates every second of the future — his peace is a forever gift.

Patience. As an over-achiever (read first-born), patience is difficult for me to even fathom. Yet God shows patience to me every day as I struggle to understand more about him.

He waits for me. Never a hurried tone to his voice. His timing shows an ordered plan for the best outcome.

And when I tend to rush ahead with a project or an idea, his divine whisper to “Wait” reminds me how all-encompassing his patience is.

Kindness.  A working definition of kindness would include compassion and benevolence. Since God formed every cell in my body and he’s walked with me throughout life, he knows exactly how I tick.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt discouraged as a writer. Even with all the marketing and all the self-discipline, the book sales weren’t enough to buy a bag of groceries. Without even a prayer for help, God knew I needed some of his special kindness.

In quick succession, three different encouragements. A writer mentioned a workshop I taught years ago and how it helped her. A card handed to me — “You are a blessing,” it said. Four sales of my newest book, Write and Share Your Story.

God’s kind heart knew I needed his special benevolence. He worked it out behind the scenes and gave me a positive boost.

Several times throughout scripture, God’s lovingkindness is mentioned. I like combining “love” and “kindness” as neither are quite as impactful without the other.

Goodness. We glibly state, “God is good” — usually when something wonderful happens. But even when disaster hits, God is still good.

Although life on this earth is filled with trauma and fear, God is still good. He proves it every time a baby is born — the goodness of God creating life again. When a nonprofit forms to meet a social need, God’s goodness filters through that organization to help the homeless, the hopeless and the abused.

When a social media post spouts hate, God’s goodness seeps through other people who know how to temper their tongues, speak truth and share love. When racism, murder and negative policies rule the nightly news, God whispers his mission, “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 TNIV).

In short, be good and be alert for his goodness.

Faithfulness. It is one thing to abandon a person. It is quite another to be abandoned.

Our world is filled with people who suffer from attachment disorder. They have been abandoned by a parent, a spouse, a community. So they struggle to find any type of stable relationships and often end up abandoning others.

But not God. He cannot, will not abandon his children. In spite of our failures and the many times we choose an idol over loving him, he sticks with us. In fact, his faithfulness is so definite he starts over every morning — loving us all over again.

My favorite hymn says it better than I.

Gentleness. He is the all-powerful God yet he chooses to be gentle with us. He can dip his hand into a mountain and form a valley yet he sings over us when we are born.

He can whip the ocean into a frothy mess yet he lifts a baby dolphin out of the hurricane’s path. He can stop my heart from beating in a milli-second yet he plants a feral cat in my neighborhood so I can watch her kittens grow.

He is the God of intense ironies, completely mysterious and impossible to understand. Yet children with Down’s Syndrome and elders with Alzheimer’s hear him whisper, “You are special, and I love you.”

Self-Control. We often joke about this piece of the fruit of the Spirit pie. “Oh, if only I had more self-control I’d be 40 pounds lighter.” “I can do all the fruit, but not the self-control part.” “What does God expect? I have an addiction.”

Yet how does God show us the example of self-control? He can wipe us all out in a nano-second. He did it before with a giant flood. Yet he reigns in himself and waits patiently because of all his other attributes — those big ones about love, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

He designed how the planets revolve and rotate. He gave us specific instructions on how to take care of the earth. In spite of the fact that we have failed, he uses self-control and gives us more time to correct our mistakes.

In a world of missed cues and deliberate wrong-doings, he controls the ticking of the Armageddon clock. It will eventually happen, but only with his say-so. And still surrounded by the compassion of his giant heart.

If we are to live in the image of God, then we must observe how he shows us the perfect example. Living a spiritually fruity life feels more doable when I look at how God does it.

Then hope circles around my feeble attempts and whispers, “This is possible.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author Page for my books and resources.

 

 

Is Hope Really Possible?

An encouragement often shared on my blog is the phrase, “Stay in hope.” No matter how life unravels, stay in hope.

What does that statement really mean? Is hope possible in today’s messy world? What does it look like, feel like? Or is it something so ethereal, we cannot find it — fail to grasp hold of it.

To stay in hope requires a conscience effort to move beyond whatever reality presses on us and instead — find a way to focus on a future of gladness.

Staying in hope means we begin with an action which follows with a joyful emotional reaction. So what are some practical action points we can take to find hope?

Focus on the Positive. When life unravels, it is easier to focus on what has gone wrong. The tornado touched down on top of the house. The person we loved is no longer here. The identity thief wiped us out.

None of us can avoid the uncomfortable circumstances of life. But if we constantly think about the struggles, we miss the pathway to hope.

As we focus on the positives of life, those negative tapes begin to fade. If we concentrate on what is good, renewed hope seems possible.

In spite of natural disasters, we are still alive. The grief process can leave us wiser and more centered. When our security is threatened, we can rebuild, restore, redo what we did before — even better this time.

List all the blessings, even those small ones you take for granted: hot water in the shower, a fridge with food in it, a hug from a child.

Stay in that hopeful place of warm and fuzzy vibes.

Surround Yourself with Hopeful People. Our network of people affects everything we do and how we react to life. Being around encouraging people helps us grow hope muscles. When we spend time with people who are positive, we feel better about life.

We may even learn how to fully love ourselves and become an encourager to someone else.

When our friendships revolve around the people who encourage us, we feel more hope surrounding our souls. We look forward to each day and enjoy being with these people. They help us smile and feel positive. They keep us from wallowing in the muck of daily living.

They give us the impetus to stay in hope.

Collect Affirmations. Positive sayings, posters and memes with hope-filled quotes may show up on social media or in home décor departments. My writing study is decorated with several positive affirmations.

Print out and post these messages. A plaque, a swirly design on a piece of barn wood or industrial metal, even a Post-it note with a positive statement — anything to remind you to stay in hope.

On my bathroom mirror, I have three notes I see every day:

  • Let my heart revive and live.
  • May the God of truth and faithfulness to his promises, bless me.
  • “After the grief fades, after the suffering dwindles away, God Himself will complete me, establish and ground me securely, strengthen and settle me” (First Peter 5:10).

To stay in hope, we need to work at it. As we focus on the positive, surround ourselves with healthy people and remind ourselves of affirmations — we can maintain and grow a more positive attitude.

Then hope becomes more of a reality as we acknowledge its existence and proactively seek to own it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Ever heard of “booking a blog?” That’s what I’m doing with this post. Check out the entire book, Hope Shines.

Finding Hope in our Stuff

order - chaosMany of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff.

At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assessing how to best dispose of it.

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

  • My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with. And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave.

However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway.com when I need it?

  • Some of the jewelry Deb’s children gave me help me feel closer to her. I often wear the cross bracelet on Sundays and remember one of our favorite stores, her delightful squeal when she discovered it was 25% discounted.

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. Oddly enough, it now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

  • I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:
    • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
    • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
    • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

These books remind me of Caleb’s downy hair against my chest, the sounds I invented as we read together, those intimate and precious days so long ago. Hopefully these books will also find a home in the nursery for his children.

So how do we decide what to de-clutter and what to hold tightly to? I’ve learned a few tricks.

  • If it gives you joy, keep it. Adulting is hard, and we all need joy.

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. Relinquish my piano or the older scores of music I still play? Never!

The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet. The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise.

A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

  • If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it. However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. Then I realized I had given it away. Shucks !

 

  • If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me. The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

 

  • Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a safe place of peace.

 

  • Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money? Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

 

Our lives are not primarily made up of stuff yet our stuff does define us. So let’s guard our hope with the stuff that’s really important and get rid of anything that drags us down.

A simpler life consists of what’s really important: hope, joy and the love we share with everyone.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. If you’re culling your books, consider my Kindle list of books.

 

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