Hope Lives in the Music

As I walked out of Target, violin music reverberated its lovely sound. Plaintive yet smooth. Obviously a professional recording.

Or was it?

I walked toward my car and looked around the parking lot. Were those melodic notes coming from a car’s stereo? If so, where?

The music sounded too fresh, too lovely to be a tinny recording. Nothing I recognized. No classical memory from years of music training. A new song, perhaps written by an unknown artist.

Then I saw him. Farther east in the parking lot, a young man standing in the spring sunshine. His right arm moving up and down with the bow. His left hand forming the vibrato. Obviously a trained musician.

I drove toward him, drawn by more than curiosity. After the grey February where I struggled to find hope, this offering of loveliness felt like a divine gift.

A note beside him read, “Struggling student. Hard times. Can you help?”

The writer in me wondered at his story. Had he been evicted from his apartment or lost his “other” job like so many artists during the time of COVID?

Was he caring for an elderly parent and needed money for the necessities of healthcare? Were they hungry? Homeless?

Did the music of his soul need encouragement, new strings for his favorite violin? Tuition paid for theory classes?

A baritone voice in my soul, “Help him.”

“How much, Abba?”

“You have a ten in your billfold.”

I am not always a generous giver. Often I am more clearly defined as a saver, a keeper of what I have — just in case life sours.

Yet for this young talent, life was already sour — something not working well. He was giving the only thing possible — his music. For what? His next meal? A reason to stay in hope?

Oh, I know all the arguments the financially secure use: “He’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze. It’s a racket. Don’t fall for it.”

Yet the sadness in his brown eyes would not leave me alone. The song of his heart spoke directly to mine.

It was not my responsibility to monitor his spending habits. It was only my duty to obey and respond. This child of God needed help. I had a little I could spare.

His melancholy notes continued as I rolled down my window and handed him my ten.

“Thank you,” he said with genuine gratitude.

“God bless you.”

As I drove away, I prayed the violinist would be okay, eat well that night, pay whatever bills were outstanding.

Then clearing the tears out of my throat, I thanked God for the beauty of music, for a stranger who parked near Target and shared the melody of his heart.

Hope floated through the afternoon air and landed joyfully in my soul.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you don’t have a violinist in your Target parking lot, maybe this e-book will help. Finding Hope When Life Unravels

Hope in the Darkness

It is difficult to stay in hope while we are living within darkness.

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us, “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near the cross and watching him die. Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart — to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously — almost unbelievably alive.

Then he gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers how she had seen him. He spoke to her, called her by name. Gave her a job to do.

While it was still dark.

When we dwell in dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. Another twenty-four hours required of us: giving care to a loved one, enduring chronic pain, watching our personal world crumble.

We feel only the raw depth of the struggle.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of growing bitterness. We inwardly scream questions:

“Why did this happen?”

“When will it end?”

“Where is the answer to my prayer?”

Yet the answer is silence.

At the end of the darkness stands the only One who conquered it. The One who laughed at the eternal outcome of death. The One who understood that sometimes life is much harder than death.

And he conquered the gloom while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you live in the depths of a grief that never seems to ease. Every day is a reminder of the emptiness, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you struggle with illness. Every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you trudge through emotional pain, the reminder of what others did to you. Those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb, ready to embrace you and give you a reason to live. An abundance of a better life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to empower you with his hope-filled strength.

Stay in hope. The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding Hope When Life Unravels is an e-book with action points for stepping out of the darkness.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking about changing expectations. By now, we both expected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for — free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • 2.5 grandchildren
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on — the whole happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money safely tucked away in trusts and investments
  • Trips planned and enjoyed at least twice / year
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee, tea, some sort of chocolate treat (obviously BC – before COVID)
  • The certainty that our lives had impacted people / that we had made a difference in somebody’s world
  • The blessings of the abundant life
  • Looking forward to the next family gathering / maybe a vacation in the mountains or near the beach

Instead, we were both experiencing the following:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betrayed us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of facing life alone
  • Close friends and multiple family members now lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • The over-used word “unprecedented” now a descriptive of daily life
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize or hunker down for whatever comes after COVID
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • A gray sense of despair
  • Watching blessings happen to others / not so much to us

These were supposed to be the Golden Years. Not so golden. Not even gold-plated.

Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through? When what we were promised has not happened?

Simple, yet tough.

Stop looking at the outcomes. Results don’t always describe the journey’s intention.

We are living in the hyphen years, that space on gravestones between birth date and death. We cannot know the impact of the hyphen until eternity.

When we meet those we never knew. Perhaps a reader who found a particular blog post or book we wrote impactful. Maybe another person in despair who saw our smile and decided to live another day.

Perhaps that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who watched us live and learn, grow and fail. They cheered us on. Their whispers merely a nudge in our souls.

Since we cannot know our true impact, we can only trust Abba God for the results. Even when the outcomes look so different from what we expected.

When the answers are not what we want to hear. When life does not match up with our expectations. When we tend to focus on what did NOT happen. When we live in the gloom of unanswered prayers.

That is when we must trust hard. To focus instead on the Who rather than the What.

The Who that says:

  • I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.
  • I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening right now.
  • I AM helping you through this mess, one day, one moment at a time.
  • I AM going to meet every need. Just wait for me.
  • I AM still loving you. Nothing will ever stop my loving you.
  • I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.
  • I AM.

So when the days seem longer than 24 hours, when the expectations fizzle, keep holding on to hope. Check out this video for a dash of strength. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-HIKxnSZSA

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a few moments of hope, check out my newest e-book Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Embraces Self-care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care affected my thought processes.

It has taken me so many years to believe and write this truth. But one purpose of a blog is to be forthright and honest, even vulnerable. So here goes my truth:

Self-Care is a valid spiritual discipline.

Many of us have been taught — dare I say “programmed” — to believe that any type of self-care is selfish, prideful, a sin. Taking care of ourselves feels somehow “less than.”

We believe if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual and worthy of heavenly treasures. If we are utterly exhausted, we have completed our earthly journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we have learned how to love and care for ourselves.

And we cannot truly love ourselves until we search under the detritus of other-care to find our lonely souls.

But we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. So we live like the walking wounded, zombie-like versions of who God created us to be. We do for others all the time, sign up to volunteer at various places b/c they have needs and we think we must meet those needs.

Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But Abba God has never asked us to kill ourselves, even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist once complimented me on some choices I made. To replace some old towels with new ones in the lovely colors I enjoy. To schedule a mani/pedi for myself on Valentine’s Day. Just because.

“Both of those decisions are self-care,” she said.

I did not even realize I was taking care of myself. But when I stepped back and saw the basis of these choices as self-care, they felt good. No condemnation. No drama and no guilt.

The beginnings of self-care happen by setting healthy boundaries, by daring to take care of ourselves and saying, “No” to anything that tries to break through those boundaries.

The first boundary is skin. Protecting our physical bodies is the first line of defense. Anything or anyone who violates that boundary is unsafe.

The second boundary is time. This area is where so many of us who have ministered to others fail. We make ourselves available 24/7, refuse to take breaks or even the PTO the job offers so that we can help meet the needs of hurting others.

We don’t see how we are actually harming ourselves.

The third boundary is more subtle, the area we bury until one day we wake up and realize we have lost our true destiny. This boundary is the soul. We ignore soul-care, letting time and other needs dominate.

But the soul is the basis of who we are. We cannot grow without its strengthening. We cannot truly be ourselves without listening to its needs.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way underscores the importance of artist dates. To go somewhere by yourself and for yourself. Not to do anything for anyone else or meet some sort of deadline. But just to be and enjoy the beauty of art around you.

A walk through the arboretum – not during this cold snap of course – but later in the calendar. Browsing through fuzzy yarns and fun crafts at Hobby Lobby. Maybe a late-night or early-morning ice cream run. I can vouch for the Queen of Hearts flavor at Sylas & Maddy’s.

One of my clients introduced me to the coffee shop and serenity of Family Tree Nursery. During Christmas, their trees were so lovely. I plan to go back for some writing time. Or maybe to dream about my spring garden plans. Or maybe just to sip a chai and take care of my soul-self.

I am putting together a list of things I want for myself in these late-in-life days, how I can spend my time just enjoying the moments and being myself, where I can rediscover the root of my dreams.

If that sounds selfish, well — I don’t care. Don’t judge me. I have spent a lifetime in ministry helping others. It is okay to now help myself.

The definition of grace deletes the need for excess works to please God. Grace means accepting his love for me, then recycling that love into a deeper understanding of who I am. Once I am free from the legalism of having to do, I can then truly love others where they are and for who they are.

It is time to learn more about loving myself and find hope in the process. Perhaps you can comment on how you are doing the same.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest e-book: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope and the Passing of Time

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google — that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year.  https://gretchenrubin.com/

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, this harried year, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin a new year, how can we determine to make each long day matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Kindness does not cost you anything, but it is priceless to those who receive it.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something — at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2021 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.  http://amzn.to/2j2fneR

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for. We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his fiancé, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom  

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season. And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms places its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or regifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2021, I have two openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

Hope Travels to a Cemetery

She knelt beside the gravestone, surrounded by other markers unknown to us. Yet even with the multiple spirits in attendance and angels on guard, she was alone.

A young woman seeking closure from the death of her beloved nanny. Decades after the event, yet the pain still as fresh as the day she breathed her last.

When I step onto a cemetery’s soil, I always think of the show Our Town. That scene when major characters sit in their places beside their gravestones and observe family and friends in grief.

No expression on the faces of the dead characters – just an acknowledgement of life lived to its fullest, a few regrets and the somber reality of how quickly our timelines are fulfilled.

For this young woman who lost a lifetime friend, it was a sacred moment. The death of her nanny interrupted her middle-school years and created a searing hole of loss.

We don’t always pay attention to the grief of children: the loss of a pet, a grandparent or even an unexpected move.

As adults, we do what we have to do: arrange the cremation, pack up the belongings, schedule a garage sale to get rid of the detritus of another’s life.

So when children’s needs are passed over, it creates a gap in their growth, a scar that keeps bleeding at the reminders of every holiday, each birthday approached or a surprise smell that brings the loss back into clear focus.

For this woman, even the location of the grave was hidden – a great unknown affecting multiple families who knew this nanny.

Yet the cemetery held the secret, ready to reveal it at the proper time, eager to speed healing and salve a soul.

With the help of an internet site, findagrave.com, we found the general direction of where the grave might be. In the heat of early September we traipsed from row to row.

Thoughts of my own beloveds buried in cemeteries of the Midwest. Grateful for the belief we shared that we would meet again in an eternal state. No deaths there. No Covid-19. No sickness of any kind.

The writer in me paused to reflect on the myriad of stories reflected by dates: a grandfather who passed in 1889, a soldier from WWII, an eight year-old child. I could imagine the sobs of parents and wondered if the cause was the flu epidemic, a dreadful accident, maybe the scourge of smallpox?

Cemeteries provide a sense of history, a reminder of our mortality and a concrete symbol of the toll loss takes. Yet within the provision of closure, these sacred spaces also reflect Bible verses, pictures surrounded by stone, carefully manicured grass that protects vases of artificial or real blooms.

And cemeteries remind us to live life as fully as we can – while we can. Before our chairs are set beside the grave and we observe those who come to mourn.

Finally . . . a cry from my son. He used the background of an online photo to locate the grave. I watched the young woman slowly approach, knew she was glad to find it yet dreading the sight of that precious name and the death date inscribed below.

I carried the crimson mums we found at Wal-Mart, handed them to her, then stepped back to allow her space and time.

The day before our cemetery trip, my son and I prayed for this young woman. We wanted to support her quest and longed to see peace reflected on her lovely face.

After she spent several moments in reflection, she left a letter fastened with a blue posy. Then my son watered the mums and we left, slowly walking toward the car and away from those who could not follow.

Why was this moment so encased with emotion yet filled with hope? Because that young woman will soon become my daughter-in-love. She needed that healing day, and we needed to support her in it.

Hope finds its way into unusual places, but often peeks from an extraordinary moment. Then it reminds us how hope can heal – even decades later – and offers a promise of future joy.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about hope, check out Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.