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 Finds a January Purpose

Although I did not send the usual number of Christmas cards this year, I did receive several beautiful greetings from many of you. Thank you!

So … what to do with Christmas cards after the eggnog has soured and the poinsettia is dead? Just pitch the cards while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One example hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes.

One particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is, after all, a deep red color.

For several years, I used the front cover of Christmas cards as gift tags for the next year. Using a plain brown wrapping with a colorful card was fun and lovely.

But for the last few years, I have enacted a special routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on the kitchen table, next to my Bible and a candle. This is my sacred place for meditation, reading and prayer each morning.

Every day when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Sometimes that includes letters from friends, family and clients. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and her/his family during the coming new year — to fill them with hope and joy — to draw them closer to the loving heart of Abba.

If I know of a particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe, especially this year with COVID-19 still raging, racial injustice still prevalent and political turmoil underscored. Provide for them what they need — a warm and safe home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy.

This year, I know of many people who are grieving: Oh, sweet Spirit — send them a special touch of comfort. A flash of crimson cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.

Praying through my cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones who took the time to send me a holiday message.

I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected — through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared, through the beauty and power of words, through the bloodline of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards or going back to work.  

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by praying over my Christmas cards.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? The Invisible Women of Genesis is available on Amazon.  

Hope in One-Word Prayers

Hope sometimes hides in simple places, often in one-word prayers.

The prayer life can be taught by spiritual advisors and multiple resources, but I think God most appreciates our prayers when they come from the desperate places of our hearts.

One-word prayers exist in that place where self-sufficiency ends. The gut punch past emotion and any reasoning ability.

My one-word prayers come when I have nothing left — when I’ve exhausted all my personal resources and my attempts to fix the problem.

When all I have left is a plea to Abba Father.

Please. After my first two babies died on their birthdates, getting pregnant again seemed daunting and simply frightening. I could not emotionally lose another child.

So when the pregnancy test read positive, I had only one word for God: “Please.”

As I lay in bed for six months, hoping to keep my child, I repeatedly begged God, “Please.” That baby, my Caleb, was born healthy and screaming a voluminous God-type answer.

But in his 21st year, a massive brain tumor almost took him away. Again, all I could manage on my knees in the ICU was another, “Please.”

God does not always answer these prayers in the affirmative, but this time — he said, “Yes.” My son is now cancer free, 14 years later.

Why. This one-word prayer is rarely answered. God does not have to justify his actions or what he allows. His job description as supreme authority is clear.

But we still ask the question. Most of us have asked “Why?” during 2020. Why this pandemic, this horrific loss of life, jobs, businesses, conferences, travel? No answer.

As my mother lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I have asked, “Why?” In 2020, she fell and broke the same hip twice. She tested positive for COVID. Three times, I pulled out my little black dress and emotionally prepared to drive to her funeral.

But Mom survived to continue in the shadows, oblivious of any family or friends. Why? When she wants to be in heaven. What is the purpose?

I do not know, cannot comprehend the Why. But this one-word prayer often returns.

When. God is transcendent. He exists outside time and space. He does not wear a watch or schedule his day on a cell phone. Eternity and its Maker are timeless.

Yet we exist within the boundaries of twenty-four hours and a yearly calendar. We want to know when God’s promises to us will happen. We need to make plans, be prepared and look the part.

We need something to look forward to.

My vision journal is filled with promises God made to me. My Bible has years marked beside verses God underscored. Yet many of these promises have not occurred. When, God? When?

No answer … yet.

Although one-word prayers come from a deep place of need, they do have a positive spin.

We may feel frustrated by incomplete answers, but these desperate prayers prove our faith. They remind us we have somewhere to go with our Please, Why and When.

They prove we believe in God’s existence even when we cannot explain his ways.

A final one-word prayer is the one I cry when I cannot even imagine another word. It is the place I have gone multiple times throughout life.

And I imagine life will throw other scenarios in my direction where this one-word encapsulates the cry of my heart.

It ignores the Why, because at the point when my tears cannot release, my voice is raw and my mind will not wrap itself around the grief — I don’t care why.

It forgets about When, because that moment represents my exact need. There is no thought of another time.

Yet this word holds a Please with every breath.

This one-word prayer includes every plea ever spoken and reverberates through my universe. It is the word that holds my heart and keeps my life somewhat steady — even in the chaos.

Jesus. The name above all names. The answer to every heart’s cry.

The one-word prayer that echoes with hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about the faith walk and prayer, check out Uploading Faith. My Caleb and I wrote it together.

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 Creates

When I first read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, an a-ha flashed. Through its pages I learned creativity is a gift, a blessing from the Creator to each of his beloved children.

The more I recognized my own gift of creativity, the more I began to nurture it. Artist dates, inspired by Julia, became a regular part of my week.

And I began to open my heart to the possibility of more creative endeavors.

This adventure enabled me to taste the freedom of inner discovery, to create new words and new worlds within a novel, to experiment with colors in my life, even within my home.

Allowing myself to open up to creative gifts also enriched my spiritual life. After all, the Creator started all this interest with his initial task, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So when 2020 began to sap my energy, I knew it was time to fight this ravenous beast with another project.

But which one?

During an artist’s date, I browsed through Savers (a nonprofit that supports Big Brothers Big Sisters). Even within a pandemic, people drop off their junk which becomes someone’s treasure.

I found a perfect board, my color of turquoise, naked with possibilities. Reflection occupied a few weeks while Julia’s words cooked, “If we do have to deal with a force beyond ourselves that involves itself in our lives, then we may have to move into action.”

Action to defeat what 2020 was threatening to steal from me — my hope.

Since my platform reflects Hope, I wondered if I could find some interesting letters to post and make the word. A search through Hobby Lobby ended in the crimped barn tin that reminded me of our homestead on the farm.

The letters fit perfectly.

By this time, the project had pushed COVID and its treachery to the background. Now I was on a mission to find the rest of this creative puzzle.

Another coach who focuses on creativity, reminded me not to give too much power to COVID. “It’s only a circumstance in our world right now,” Jill wisely opined.

Another trip to Savers resulted in an unusual pin with feathers, yarn and bling. A perfect match.

Then I remembered a box of odds and ends I keep when jewelry falls apart, the boggles and beads that add texture to creative projects. They filled in the missing pieces for my HOPE design.

Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

The eye of my soul saw the initial blank canvas of a board, then imagined it as another reminder to push away from the COVID gloomies and stay in hope.

Now this completed creation holds a special place on my office wall. A bold statement filtered through the lens of some of my favorite things.

A piece of optimism in a discouraging time. A reminder that the Creator still creates within us and smiles at our attempts to search for joy.

What about you? Any creative projects just yearning to break free?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Another creative project imagined the lives of women in scripture — those incredible ladies who were often ignored, unnamed and considered invisible. Yet God knew their stories. Check out The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope on a Mission

Typically, my blog posts cover the topics of hope, caregiving or the writing craft. But 2020 has forced me into a more reflective and almost urgent mood.

For all of us, this year has been difficult. For those who have lost loved ones to COVID — tragic. The grief and certain PTSD will continue into the next years. Who knows what long-term effects we will suffer.

But even on the darkest days, hope has continued to sing. Good people have done good things. Creativity has thrived as new ventures, unusual business openings and neighborly deeds have encouraged us.

Image by Daniel Reche of Pixabay

Positive memes on Facebook. The gift of beauty encapsulated in music and the arts. So many people trying hard to create something good out of this chaos.

Imagine then what life would be like if all the good — every shred of it — was gone. No caring healthcare workers. No sweet lullabies at night. No kindness of any kind.

This horrific description foreshadows hell. The place of eternal torment will not have a speck of decency, no light or goodness in any form. Only the darkest, most tormenting creatures in a place completely devoid of anything or anyone good.

And no way of escape. Forever.

This tragic place does exist and will become the final destination for people who ignore God’s plea. But it doesn’t have to end that way.

“Let me love you,” God cries. “Let me save you.”

Eventually, we will all die. We will face the consequences of our choices and step into eternity. We will meet God.

For those who have ignored him throughout life, the problems of 2020 will seem mild compared to a forever without any of God’s beauty, goodness or love.

Those who have embraced and accepted God’s offer of love will be invited into the most glorious place — far away from hell or any of its evil. No COVID. No sickness of any kind. No despair. No loneliness.

Only light and love and goodness. Forever.

We cannot always choose what happens to us. But we CAN choose the final direction we will go.

God has not abandoned us during this pandemic. He is still calling out, wanting to save us. He does not want anyone to suffer the horrid effects of hell.

He wants to pour hope into our hearts and give us something to look forward to.

God gave us the formula long ago. One word. Believe.

To open our minds and heart to the possibility that something better exists. But God’s better world is filled only with holiness — a sacred place of perfection.

God knew none of us would be perfect yet his home — his heaven — is populated only with goodness and perfection.

How in the world can we get there?

God sent the best representative possible — his son. Jesus lived a perfect life, so God allowed him to become our substitute. He paid the penalty for all the wrong things we have done and all the ways we have ignored God.

Jesus already did the hard work. That’s why he said, “It is finished.” He gives us the ticket for entrance into heaven.

Now all we have to do is believe it. If we accept this truth and believe it, then Jesus begins a personal relationship with us. We become children of God. And as family members — we will spend our eternity with God in heaven.

It’s so easy. All you have to do is say something like, “I believe you love me, God. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay my ticket into heaven. I’m sorry I’ve ignored you in the past, but now I want to be in your family.”

If you really mean it, then it is finished. You will not have to worry about a hell worse than 2020. You will have something much better to look forward to.

Please think about it. Time is short. I hope you’ll be with me in heaven.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out Uploading Faith. A Millennial and a Baby Boomer wrote it together — my son and me.