Hope Believes in Service

Continuing with this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of my Saturday Sisters.

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together. Today I focus on the Servant Sister, Susan.serving - Jesus love

Her demeanor is that of the humble Servant as she believes strongly yet expresses herself softly. She is a constant reminder to me of the way we should love others by being Love.

Susan is an amazing cook, a faithful wife, mother and grandmother.  Each time we meet, she brings a bowl of guacamole – to honor Deb. And she is the sister who provides the main dish, a quiche filled with goodness sans the gluten. Two of us are gluten free.

In the various experiences of my life, Susan has been there to serve. She is a talented garage sale shopper and finds the best bargains that are beautiful and functional.

During the dark beginnings of my post-divorce days, Susan brought me gifts that accessorized my new décor. She helped me imagine how life would again someday be worthwhile.

Sometimes, I would hear the doorbell ring and hurry to open it. But no one stood there, only a bag of groceries, a pile of coupons or an envelope of cash. I have no proof, but I imagined these gifts were probably from Susan.

When I moved to Olathe, it was Susan and her husband, Steve, who stayed the longest to help me arrange everything. When they left, I almost called Susan and said, “Come back. I need another hug.” She gives great hugs that infuse me with the best of grace-filled love.

She is a faith heroine, a supporter of the Navigators and a woman who cares deeply about the lost and hurting. She prays with a fervency that teaches me how to focus on the heart of God rather than on my own needs.

Always, always Susan serves with little thought for herself.

Yet, she is strong enough to defend herself and those she loves. In spite of cultural changes, she stands for truth and continues to learn more about serving God. She uses her spare time to help others, to give of herself and to share whatever she has.

Nowhere have I found a more gracious Servant than Susan.

We share a birthday month, just two days apart, so we often send cards and sometimes a little gift. I always feel closer to her in October.

Susan adds to our Sister meetings with a soft voice, sharing her latest news with a positive spin. She knows how to stay in Hope and how to praise God for the blessings of life. She reminds me to do the same, especially when I veer off into negativity.

Although she never boasts about her gifts or pushes herself into first place, I know she has a tender heart.

I saw her grief-stricken face at Deb’s funeral, and I wanted to help her feel better. But I couldn’t. She has always been the one to help others.

When we get to heaven, Susan will have a special place – probably near the heart of God. Her life and her Servant ways have earned her a “Well done,” and I love who she is with a passion I cannot express.

This Sister shows us what it means to love every day, in ways we cannot fathom. Somehow, she finds a way to do her Serving with grace and for that – I honor her.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my book on my Amazon Author page.

 

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Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Depends on Divine Accompaniment

For many years, I accompanied soloists and choral groups with piano, organ or keyboard. It was a fun time and a growing experience in my musical journey.piano keys

The art of accompaniment includes several techniques:

  • The accompanist follows rather than leads.
  • A good accompanist adds to the performance and does not overshadow the soloist.
  • To accompany means to help, but it can also include a few embellishments, chord segues or arpeggios that add richness to the performance.
  • Good accompanists are a treasure. Soloists and choir directors seek out only the best.

In her best-selling book, “The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of Enough” Julia Cameron introduces the concept of divine accompaniment where God is so close, He goes with us on each journey and throughout our daily tasks.

I love this idea, because I spend so much time in the necessary aloneness of creativity. Sometimes I forget my Husband and Maker is right beside me.

But how does that divine accompaniment work, especially when the “star” of the show is not me but rather – the Divine One?

I like to think of God as walking beside me hand in hand. Together we combine our forces and gifts, the desires of the heart completely intertwined so that it is impossible to tell one from the other.

God adds a score, a lovely embellishment that completes the thought or action I have taken. I use the gifts he has given me to add richness and texture to our journey together.

Although the composition may sometimes feel or sound discordant — in the end, it resolves into a lovely sound that resembles a final Amen.

The Divine One accompanies my writing projects, the relationships I build with clients and friends, the very texture of my life.

And always the reminder within the music of each day: I am never alone. I am accompanied by the Creator of beauty who reverberates his sound within me.

The Divine Accompanist underscores hope and completes his theme with graceful beauty.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Divine Accompanist shows up in my book Hope Shines – now available in regular and large print.

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 interrupted my busy life.Self-Care

It has taken me so many years to write this truth and believe it: Self-Care is a spiritual discipline.

Somehow we think if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual. If we are exhausted, we have completed our journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet we cannot truly love others until we learn how to love ourselves. Check out this amazing article about the walking wounded.

Taking care of ourselves feels selfish, somehow “less than.” Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But God never asks us to kill ourselves — even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist recently complimented me on a couple of choices I made. “Both of those are self-care,” she said.

I didn’t even realize I was taking care of myself. I just made some choices that seemed necessary to avoid overwhelming stress.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way” underscores the importance of artist dates. These dates with ourselves aren’t necessarily doing something artsy.

They can be a visit to an arboretum, a late-night ice cream run or a stroll through the farmer’s market. Cameron also encourages the five-minute time out — just a few moments to stop the busyness and breathe.

After a couple of years of extreme stress, I’ve decided to do something entirely for self-care. The Creative Reboot is a writers conference in Santa Fe that focuses on refreshing the creative juices. Most of the presenters are new to me, except for Julia Cameron. I am beyond excited to meet her in person.

But I’m also taking a couple of extra days to walk the streets of Santa Fe, breathe the mountain air, remember five years ago when my friend Deb and I were there, feel the texture of turquoise jewelry and eat lots of meals that feature green chilies.

I hope to gain creative ideas and maybe the structure for my next novel. Mostly, I’ll refresh the perspective that taking care of myself is part of the entire health package.

And when I return, the week of self-care will result in a larger package of hope I can carry with me into the next months.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Need a gift for someone who likes to read Large Print? Hope Shines is now available in Large Print.

When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking recently about changing expectations. By now, we hope - scrabble lettersexpected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for – free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on – the happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money
  • Trips planned
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee / tea / chocolate
  • A certainty that our lives have impacted people / that we’ve made a difference in this world
  • Blessings of the abundant life

Instead of reveling in the resolution of these expectations, we are instead experiencing:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betray us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of living alone
  • Friends lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize and move or hunker down where we are
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • The abundant life kind of fizzling out

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through?

Simple, yet hard. Stop looking at the outcomes. Instead, trust God Himself.

When the answers aren’t what we want to hear and don’t match up with our expectations, no one can figure out why. But it doesn’t help our attitudes if we focus on what did not happen. Gloom is not pretty.

Focus instead on what it means to believe in the great I AM.

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

I AM helping you through this mess, one day at a time.

I AM going to meet every need if you’ll just wait for me.

I AM still loving you, loving your children, even loving all the weird people who have hurt you.

I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.

I AM.

And when the days seem longer than 24 hours, play this video and keep holding on to hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope, check out Hope Shines” – encouraging nuggets for each day.

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.