Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own. My joy button needs to be reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

Just knowing there will be a beginning brings hope and the confirmation that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder, uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. Flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a Creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Hope for the Long Way

It would be so much easier to travel the shorter journey. But what if God calls us to the long way?

In Exodus 13, God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Freedom! And God encouraged the people with a cloud each day and a pillar of fire each night. Signals that he was indeed with them.

But in verse 17, God specifically states that he will not lead these people on a shorter route. He will take them to the Promised Land the longer way.

They will be learning more about trust and how to endure day by day.

Many people are facing their own ‘long way.’ One of my friends has a beloved daughter who is suffering through a cancer journey. We wanted it to be a fast surgery, one and done. We hoped and prayed for a quick healing. But she is enduring years of chemo, multiple surgeries, life-changing health issues.

Another friend inspires me with her motherly courage. She fostered and adopted some children. Prayed for them. Did all the right things. The short way would be deliverance from childhood trauma, acceptance into peer groups, wholesome attitudes.

Instead, it is a daily struggle dealing with attachment disorder and behavioral struggles at school. The long journey has affected the health of the entire family. Endurance is a daily need.

Didn’t we all want to see an end to the atrocities in Ukraine — sooner rather than later? Yet the war continues. More people suffer and die. The images continue to urge us to pray for those trapped in bunkers, for the pastors and missionaries trying to help their people day after bomb-shelled day.

Beginning writers want to finish their first book and watch it become a bestseller. More experienced authors know the writing journey is a marathon of work and marketing. It requires a long road to find our voice.

Caregivers face years of learning patience, searching for answers, becoming advocates for the Alzheimer’s patient. What is the purpose? Why does death wait to take those who can no longer function? The road is long.

So how do we find hope and live with a more encouraging attitude when our way is long? What can we learn from this Exodus story?

God took the Israelites the long way so they would not change their minds and want to return to the bondage of Egypt. The short way often seems more comfortable. But the long way tests our trust, our grit, our determination to keep believing. We can learn to accept the long road as a faith-building journey.

Although God chose the long way for his children, he did not leave them to face it alone. He was there every day and throughout each night. We can look for God’s presence even as we face another long day.

Athletes know it takes weeks and months to build muscle and stamina. Although their training may be painful, the dedicated athlete continues and learns to thank the coach and trainer.

The long road offers more hope when we face it with gratitude. God is designing something good within our souls. The end result will be a stronger spirit, more faith muscles for the next road.

The story in Exodus involves an entire nation of people. We find strength in being connected. Finding like souls who will lift us up gives us the stamina needed for another day, another week, possibly — another year of the journey.

God had already proven himself to the Israelites — through multiple miracles and a life-saving Passover tradition. We can look to the past and remember how God brought us through something even worse, a longer road, a deeper suffering. He did it before. He will help us again.

Ultimately, our journey contains signposts that offer strength for each day. The practice of journaling, the recitation of helpful verses and quotes, the songs we may have to force ourselves to sing — all these practices can boost our spirits for another day.

And some days, it just helps to take a nap. Zone out for a few minutes and rest.

Whatever road you’re on today, I pray it will be one that leads to the Promised Land. So I share with you one of my spiritual vitamins. This verse has carried me through many of my longer roads and offered hope:

“Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 TNIV). 

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Send Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms to a woman who needs hope for her long road.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope Conquers the Chaos

As a writer, observation is one of my most important tools. Awareness of this tool causes me to listen for dialects when people speak and watch how their actions synch with emotions. This practice helps me develop realistic novels as I incorporate those rhythms into the characters who people my books.

Observation notes interesting quirks such as the depth of a dimple, a spontaneous laugh or fingers drumming on a barn wood plank. The benefits of observation add color and texture to my words without plagiarizing the reality of lives around me.

Sometimes an image or a word surprises with its potential. I observe it, reflect on it and journal through it.

Soon it becomes a theme, a sentence that stretches into a paragraph or as in this case — a quote that morphs into a blog post.

Every great change is preceded by chaos.” Deepak Chopra

This statement pummeled into my soul like a snare drum in the early morning fog.

How appropriate when thinking of the last two years of our history. The chaos COVID created as it marched around the globe. The way it changed how we lived, isolated, shopped, ate out, and sadly — how we treated one another.

This chaos has forced us to consider the depths of our value systems, what is truly important versus the urgency of the moment. With stunning accuracy, chaos created change.

Yet chaos in our journey does not have to define us. We can process the changes and land on our knees — an appropriate stance for any soul-seeker living in chaos.

Gradually, as the murky concrete of change became our new normal, we learned to replace the chaos with a peace that passes all understanding. We could still find hope and joy in the living of a different reality.

Life is still a beautiful place to be. Still surrounded by love, joy, peace and hope.

We may dread the next chaos yet be determined to address the coming changes as better people. To approach our modifications not as we once were, but better versions of ourselves.

I believe it is important to monitor how we have changed, how we reacted to the chaos. We cannot learn if we do not reflect and analyze. When there is a disturbance in the force, the chaos of change may creep ever closer.

We do not have to let chaos destroy us.

Even the Divine Three warn that everything will eventually change. Foundations will shake (Psalm 82:5). Earthquakes in various places. Wars and rumors of wars. Peril and danger on every street. The love people once had for God and others growing cold.

We have seen past chaos turn into positive change:

  • Civil rights legislation making us more aware of how skin color divides us
  • Revivals around the world that pointed societies back to the God who loves us
  • A national conversation about the abuses of children, i.e. the MeToo movement

Experience teaches us that some change will never happen unless we embrace the chaos. Acknowledge how it happened. Fix its source. Make the important changes.

Sometimes I hate the observation that pushes me toward reflective melancholy. Growth hurts. Too much stretching becomes a stress.

Yet by changing what is negative and moving toward what is better, we become stronger. More able to face the next chaos with realistic expectations underscored by hope.

As chaos fades, peace can replace it. New normals can surface. Empower us to love God and love others in deeper ways.

And eventually, if we let it — the chaos will fade and leave a halo of shining Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book of the month is Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Help a single mom reach through her chaos to find hope.

Finding Hope in Multiple Loss

As I’ve watched The Chosen TV series and thought more about the early disciples, I’ve wondered how they dealt with multiple griefs. During those early years of so many martyrs, persecutions, people being snatched out of their homes — how in the world did they emotionally survive?

The same question haunts me when I watch documentaries or read books about the Holocaust. With so much death, so much pain — how did they deal with it?

Then last week hit.

Just 10 weeks after my mother’s death, I experienced multiple losses. On Monday, a writer friend I have known for years died from COVID.

Connie and I met when I was teaching a workshop on prayer. She sat in the back row and wept throughout my presentation. At the break, I took a Kleenex box back to her. We talked for a while.

“I think God wants me to begin a prayer ministry,” she explained. We discussed what that calling might look like. Her tears were from acknowledgement that she had been called to do a special work and a willingness to relinquish her time.

Several times throughout the years, Connie and I met at writers conferences. Once during the Baldwin City Maple Leaf Festival. Always cheerful, yet she could be moved to tears so easily. Such a tender heart.

That was Monday. Connie’s tears are now wiped away.

On Tuesday, one of my clients died from COVID. Leann and I had worked for several years as she grew closer to gaining an agent and a publisher for her book about therapy dogs. As a woman dealing with chronic illnesses, Leann knew all about therapy dogs. Her beloved Zoey was well-known at many writers conferences.

In spite of constant pain, Leann somehow managed to smile every time we met. She lived day by day — literally, trusting God for her daily bread as well as the breath to keep living. Such a brave and beautiful soul.

When she died on Tuesday, I felt like a light had gone out in the universe. But Leann is now free of pain.

On Wednesday, one of my long-time friends died from a blood clot after surgery. Elsie and I played piano duets, and her sons were two of my students. She helped me learn the best methods for nursing my son after his birth, and she was also a gifted seamstress. Her quilts won awards all over the country.

Elsie so loved her boys and all children. She was a caring grandmother and so compassionate to everyone in her circle of friends and family. I imagine her now playing with the children in heaven.

By Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up and face another day. Would there be another death?

The early martyrs and the Holocaust victims — even the over 800,000 deaths from COVID — are far greater losses. But because I knew each of these women well, I felt gobsmacked. My heart hurt for their families.

So how could I deal with these multiple losses? How could I begin to understand others who have lost so many at the same time?

Honor the Grief. It does not help to just keep going in life and ignore how we feel. We need to work through the emotions and acknowledge how much it hurts to lose loved ones.

Wail. Lament. Cry. All are healthy ways to admit we loved and lost. Journaling helps me as well. Taking a long walk and talking through my feelings with only God and my angels listening.

Share the Loss. I texted my sister and several friends. Told them what had happened and asked them to pray for the families.

“I’m so sorry,” they said as they validated my grief.

A burden shared feels somewhat lighter, at least for that moment. It helps us begin to process what has happened.

Focus on Life After Death. Each of these women are now walking in heaven, free of stress and pain. No worries. No bills to pay. No more threat of COVID or any other illness.

So I imagine them there, hanging out with Jesus and their loved ones. I know they are happy, so I am happy for them.

Pray. Still, the loss lingers, especially for the families. So my prayers focus now on those left behind. Such a lonely time. So many decisions to make at a time when emotions are fragile.

Yet prayer reminds us again that we are not alone in our losses. Jesus himself understands grief. He was described as a man of sorrows. And he will eternally take care of my friends.

So I feel as if I know a bit more of how those early disciples might have felt. The courage it took to live each day, knowing they might lose another friend, another sibling, another child.

And I stay in hope, so that living becomes more of my focus rather than loss.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Help a single mom make it through February, with all its Valentine messages. Send her Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in What Works

At the beginning of each year, I send my clients a form to reflect and complete. One of the questions on the form is, “What worked for your writing craft in the previous year?”

Because if something works, then don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, either get rid of it or set healthy boundaries around it.

This simple question helps us move forward as wordsmiths and not waste time beating a dead horse.

The same exercise can work for our spiritual lives. What practice or discipline worked for you in 2021? What positive activity became more of a habit that worked well? What do you plan to continue in this new year, because it worked last year?

For me, Zoom meetings worked. I know many people are tired of Zoom, but this technology kept me connected to my clients, to family and friends. It was a valuable tool, so I continued my account and I’m still using it — almost every day.

Another activity that worked for me was to be more intentional to go to the library. I’m a regular anyway, to check out books and participate in the book sales. But in 2021, I loaded up my notes, my research and my outline and worked on my novel. The library closest to me has a wall fireplace, so I parked my chair near the warmth and wrote for a couple of hours. I plan to continue this practice.

But what worked for the tragedies and struggles of 2021? How was it possible to find hope in a year described by illness, political unrest, economic decline and the threat of wars? Even now, my home town holds the record for most COVID infections. Literally, half the population is sick.

What worked before that I can hold on to now?

Caution about what I Watch, Read and Focus on. What we inhale becomes what we exhale. And what we watch or read often determines what we believe. If I want to focus on hope and stay somewhat positive in a crazy world, then I need to be careful about what I ingest.

My news comes from a variety of sources. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle we vote for, if we listen only to one side — we can be programmed. So I intentionally check a variety of sources, flip channels and listen with two questions in mind: Does this position honor God? Does this position show love for people?

Like a host of other consumers, I watched The Chosen TV series. It was uplifting to imagine how Jesus lived a real life and how the disciples followed him. I knew they were nomads, but watching them pitch tents, go hungry for several days and question their Rabbi helped bring the Bible to a more realistic level. Caution about what I ingest worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Writing on the Topic of Hope. During this last year, it was difficult to sit down and write about hope. Some days, I struggled to find it. Had to leave the office and take a walk. Prayed a while. Cried. Then returned to the work.

So many times I asked God, “Shouldn’t I be writing about something else? More coaching posts? Blog another book?”

Always he answered. “Hope. Write about hope.”

Sometimes people will comment that a post brought them encouragement. I draw those comments into my soul like a thirsty traveler in the wilderness.

But like most writers, I often post and receive nothing in return. That’s when the wonder of hope keeps me going. Somewhere, someday — those words will impact someone’s life.

Writing about Hope worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Studying the Bible. Because one of my core values is life-long learning, it is easy for me to study, read and learn. During 2021, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend worked our way through Genesis. The Wednesday night group studied James. My personal studies included Psalms and Isaiah.

Whenever the gloomies hit, God provided direction to the perfect verse or passage. One day, it was Isaiah 40:28-31, “The Lord will not grow tired or weary…he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (TNIV).

I memorized more verses during 2021 and reviewed them before bedtime. That practice helped me sleep better. When I woke, I was ready to look for God’s mercies that are new every morning.

In 2021, study, reading, memorizing, learning, praying helped. I plan to continue.

Soothing Music. The joy of music has been with me for a lifetime. Various genres and mediums. But especially my piano.

Half Price Books provided me with a couple of new classical albums I worked through. My old hymnbooks contained sweet memories of the harmonies we used to sing. And often I just asked God what he wanted to hear. Then I played it.

The above verses in Isaiah 40 are beautifully rendered in my CD of the Messiah. As I drove to Oklahoma for my mother’s funeral, I played Selah music. Each morning as I dress, I turn on the radio and start my day with several worship songs.

Music always works for me. I plan to continue.

Jesus Himself. It is important to think often about this man/God who asked us to remember him. Those of us raised in certain churches grow used to the principles of faith. We can sometimes rehearse them like a habit, sort of like brushing our teeth without thinking.

But in 2021, I studied more about the New Covenant and what Jesus actually did for us on that bloody cross. How he forgave our sins past, present AND future. How grateful I should be for how he flipped the old practices of legalism and self-righteous religiosity.

Several books made an impact. Jesus Changes Everything by Bob George and Torn by Mike Manuel. A personal study of Hebrews cemented the truths, and my personal communion time brought me into a closer relationship with my brother, husband and maker — Jesus.

Not only did these studies help me stay in hope, they impacted how I view everything from my daily reflections to the church I attend to how I live out the kingdom of God right now on earth. And it made me sad for the false teaching that has plagued so many souls.

So I plan to continue these positive disciplines in 2022, always being open-minded to learn more about hope and the Author of it. To continue writing about hope in various ways and living my days — 24 hours at a time — with a focus on the positive and an open palm for how I can share it.

Let’s all make 2022 a year of hope. Let’s make our new normal a concession that we need spiritual and emotional health so we can offer it to others.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing about Hope in 2022 resulted in my book, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Check it out on Amazon.

Hope in the Mourning

During Mom’s last day on earth, the Hospice nurse gave us a card with a list of “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Published by the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, CO. You can buy your own card at their site.

If you are grieving during these early days of 2022, my prayer is that you will find hope in the following.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Loss by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt.

“The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Another great place to take your grief is through a support group titled “Grief Share.” Various churches offer these groups, and I participated in one after the death of my friend, Deb.

These groups remind us we are not alone in our grief. Others suffer as well. Sometimes, we are reminded that our grief is not as intense as another’s grief, yet it is valid.

My grief is not your grief, therefore I have the right to grieve in my own way. Another person’s Bible verse is not my verse. Another opinion about how long or how I should grieve is not credible.

Some people are emotional grievers. They cry and wail, sometimes stay in bed for weeks. I do not judge them, because I grieve in a different way.

I am an industrial griever. It helps me to do projects that bring a glad remembrance of my loved one. When Deb died, I completed four grief projects — most of them around the house or the yard. Then I gave a donation to the local animal shelter, because Deb loved animals.

For my recent grief, I created a memory shelf in my home. For several days, I was busy putting it together, painting, sanding, measuring the perfect place in my guest room. When I felt the need to cry, I stopped and mourned for the loss of now both my parents. Acknowledged the feeling of being orphaned.

Now, when I pass by, I smile at their memory. Sometimes I cry. Usually, I just think about my next project.

My faith has not been weakened by the need to grieve. In fact, I believe more strongly than ever in the power of hope and the certainty of eternal life. My parents are with Jesus. Someday, we will meet again.

So if you are grieving, whether it’s the loss of a person, a job, a home, a marital status, a former identity — stay in hope. Do what you have to do to grieve in a healthy way.

And know that your mourning means you deeply loved.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved