Finding Hope When Life Unravels

As I entered one of the big box stores, I knew time was fleeting. The local government officials had just closed all the restaurants. All major events canceled. How much longer would it be possible to buy food and necessary items?

The Coronavirus jack-knifed us into what felt like a pre-apocalyptic world. Empty shelves. Shoppers avoiding each other, keeping their social distance. Hygienic wipes in my pocket to kill the germs on my cart, my hands, the number pad.

What in the world happened to our comfortable norm? The virus and its effects showed us how fragile life can be.

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

Focus on God instead of the Problem. During other emotional apocalypses in my life, problems have seemed insurmountable.

A period of 14 months with no job and no unemployment insurance. Cancer scares for my son and me. The medical tests alone were enough to saturate our emotions with fear. A father dying slowly from dementia, a mother locked in the shadows of Alzheimer’s. Miscarriages. A toxic job environment. Multiple abuses over a lifetime.

When I was training to become a Stephen Minister, we were assigned the task of writing about the losses in our lives. I filled my 3×5 card front and back.

Another minister saw it and said, “You win.”

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

During each of those problems, every time I felt overwhelmed, I tried to focus on God rather than the situation. I filled my journal with all the attributes of God that I had personally experienced. My Bible was colored with highlighted verses about God’s love and care.

Sometimes I spoke out loud to the problem itself. “Go away. Leave me alone. I will trust in God.”

So that’s what I’m doing now, during this Covid-19 outbreak. I’m filling my journal with all the ways God is protecting us. My Bible reflects the colors of new highlighters and more verses talking about God’s loving care.

And sometimes I shout, “Go away, you filthy virus. Leave me alone fear. I am determined to trust in God.”

Focus on the Lesson rather than the Pain. It is so easy to complain about self-quarantine, to frown about the fact that I am in the “risky” demographic, to worry about the numbers of people dying.

But what can we learn from this situation? How can we turn it into a lesson?

We can pull out the old recipes Grandma used during the Great Depression. The creativity of those depression-era cooks came from a deep survival mode. When food was rationed and winter threatened, they learned how to add more water to the soup, how to make beans the main protein source.

We can do the same.

We are learning how to stay at home and be families once again. The kids are out of school. Teach them how to cook, how to clean a bathroom properly, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to change a flat tire.

Gather around the dinner table and learn more about each other. Sing a song. Dust off the board games and play together. Find out how beautiful family bonding can be.

I believe we will also learn how much we took for granted — before the Coronavirus shouted from every internet site.

How easy was it to just pull into a restaurant and order a meal? How many of us fell to the impulse of buying because the shelves were full of wondrous things?

Perhaps now we will be more grateful for the little we DO have. We will learn how it feels to truly be thankful.

Focus on the Future instead of the Present. Hope looks beyond the current problem toward an optimistic tomorrow.

One day, hopefully soon, this virus will wear itself out. We will dig out from our isolation bunkers and find freedom again.

We grieve the loss of so many dear souls today, but in the future — babies will be born, another generation will arise. Healthcare services will normalize, and we won’t be afraid to join groups.

Keep focused on what the new tomorrow will bring. Perhaps our “normal” will be completely changed for the better. Re-energized. More of a dominance on mercy, justice and how to walk humbly with our God.

When all this is over, we may save more for the next crisis and treat small business owners with more respect. Our leaders will keep in place the disaster plans other administrations toiled over. Nobody will hoard toilet paper, because it will no longer be the domineering purchase.

We will be glad to see each other, hug more, appreciate church leaders and healthcare workers who continued to meet the needs.

And the news cycles will underscore baseball games, fashions of the new season and the pride we take in our people. He-roes and She-roes will emerge from this crisis, and we will make more commitments to keep family together, to help one another each day.

One of the verses in my Bible is highlighted, then colored over with another hue, then framed in black ink. I have returned to it multiple times. It has become my mantra when life unravels.

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Lenten Season is a time to focus on the Future – on the promise of Resurrection. Who were the women during that period of history? Check out The Women of Passion Week and discover new stories of courage.

When Writing Becomes a Hope-filled Surprise

In our world of virus warnings and political mayhem, it’s nice when life offers a surprise.

A few months ago, my creative brain noodled with an idea. What about writing another Christmas book, but not one related to Alzheimers or caregiving?

Why not consider the women of Christmas and the roles they played in the greatest story of all time?

So I sat at the keyboard and within one week composed a small book titled “The Women of Christmas.” Using fiction techniques, I told the story from each woman’s viewpoint, including the usual characters we know about: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.

Then I inserted other women who have been invisible for ages: the innkeeper’s wife, Mary’s mother and Rahab from the Old Testament.

The final chapter kept the book contemporary and personal as it invited readers to find themselves in the Christmas story.

That sweet little book sold so well, I decided to follow it up with a sequel for the next religious holiday. Thus “The Women of Passion Week” was composed and released.

It follows the same format with some of the women who were present in biblical accounts, but also includes the invisible women who helped Jesus and supported his ministry.

These women of great courage became leaders in the early church. In fact, the news of the resurrection came first through women. The reason why could be another book.

Neither of these books were planned in my goals list, yet they have each provided a pleasant surprise — a reminder that the Great Creator writes with me.

How can a writer know when an idea comes from God?

Ultimately, all creativity spring from the Creator. He designed our hearts and the passion to create art.

We shouldn’t be surprised when something completely unusual springs to mind. After all, God made butterflies and dodo birds, osprey and copperheads, little children who play in mud and puffy clouds that scamper across the sky.

He is not the God of the ordinary idea.

When an idea is obviously from God, I don’t have to think about it. The thought just comes, then springs into action with my fingers on the keyboard. Often, I type his words faster than my own because I’m not thinking. I’m just doing it.

Crafting the paragraphs and chapters becomes an easy flow, from his heart to my energy and eventually to the printed page.

Creative ideas from God feel like fun. No grinding out a structure to merge plotlines into character sketches. No research at the library or clicks on the internet. No questions for my critique group.

It just happens. As it develops, I know it’s like all God’s other creations — very good.

Results aren’t pre-determined. Although both my “Women Of …” books were financially successful, that is not the aim of God’s creative surprises.

Other books from his creative genius have not fared so well. The goal is not to make money. It is only to listen to his heart, respond and make my fingers move. And as I do the typing and the editing, I feel the joy of completing a project God himself designed.

So far, I’ve experienced these creative surprises five times. The three books of the Reverend G trilogy worked the same way. Just listen to God, sit down and let him write through me. And now I can add these two “Women Of … “ books.

I have numerous ideas for other books, goals to meet this year and in the coming years — a five-year plan. Maybe those ideas are directly from God or maybe just from the creative juices he has poured into me.

I’ll know when I sit down to write.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In case you haven’t read it yet, check out “The Women of Passion Week.

 

 

 

Hope Finds a Treasure

At various events during one week’s time, three people told me, “You are a treasure.”

I knew this was a compliment, and I truly appreciated the sentiment. At the same time, I was a bit nonplussed to be described as such.

When I think of treasure, my first impression is an antiquity. The movie National Treasure comes to mind as Nicholas Gage tries to find the lost treasure his Masonic ancestors hid. Gage, of course, succeeds and manages to fall in love at the same time, which spawns the second movie in the series.

What does a treasure represent in my practical life? How might I practice more gratitude for those treasures I hold dear?

My treasures do not represent stuff, because I know eventually most of my stuff will end up at Goodwill. In fact, I continue to declutter each week and give away things that no longer give me joy.

The true treasures of my life involve people and memories — those happenings and experiences with flesh and blood folks that cannot be replaced.

My relationship with my son is a treasure. Something especially sweet happens when our children mature. We move into an easy friendship instead of strictly a parent and child rapport. I no longer need to train him. Instead, we have great discussions about life, politics, sports and how to set up the wifi. We express our opinions about world systems and how we fit into them, our goals and how we can move toward our dreams.

I so desperately want my son’s dreams to become reality. Now that would be a treasure!

Another treasure involves my growing up on the farm. Although my world now exists in the city, nothing can take from me the memory of climbing my tree, perching in its generous limbs and scribbling my first stories.

Watching the massive Oklahoma sunsets change colors, celebrating the waving wheat “that smells so sweet” and digging my hands into fresh garden earth. Planting seeds that would later produce our supper. These treasures make me long for those hard-working blessed days without the stress of internet surfing and spammed emails.

The people I have known is one of my collective treasures. Students who traveled from various countries and learned English in my classes. Women who enriched my life through their nurturing hearts. Clients who shared their words with me and trusted me to edit their work. Ministers of both genders who spoke into my life. The myriads of writers who blessed me with their thought-provoking words.

People are a treasure, walking and talking receptacles of divine cells God has pronounced, “Very good.” My life has been enriched by meeting these folks, spending time with them, developing relationships, disagreeing with them and praying together.

So I gladly accept the moniker of “treasure,” as I hope to somehow speak into the lives of others. May the hope of making a difference keep me breathing and living in joy, making an impact every day in the life of another treasure.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, perfect for your Lenten season. The Women of Passion Week

Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Hope Finds an Unusual Holy Place

During a trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend Deb and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, while the missional atmosphere of the shop impressed us.

woman prayingBookshelves were filled with classics and some religious fiction. I added my Reverend G books to their collection and promised to bring my next book after its release.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning. So we punched it into our phone calendars and showed up along with 30 other folks of all ages and demographics.

It seemed a great way to attract people to spirituality within an unusual holy place.

I was disappointed when we were handed bulletins — not so outside the religious box. Churchy habits are hard to break.

We watched a video sermon taken from the book of Romans. Seriously? Romans? Why use one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned Jesus followers find difficult to understand?

We discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will, heady topics for a coffee shop.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the shop. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door, Tuscan colors and rough textures. The combination of beautiful weather, the Sabbath atmosphere and the companionship of a friend reminded me God is everywhere.

Deb and I took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door as the main focus? Is this another unusual holy place? The Creator God showed up again with the gift of creativity inside me.

Hope often places us in surprising places. We may root ourselves in comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our spirituality.

But when we move outside the normalcy of walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family of God.

The joy of finding pockets of believers in various places, those who worship in unique ways and spread the love of God without the confines of traditional walls. The textures and colors of different congregants, a quality setting for the stories written within our spiritual selves.

The ever-present God at home in a coffee shop and in the rich surface of a wooden door. Surely God is thrilled by creative venues. He relishes new plans even as his divine attributes remain the same.

By reaching out to others in unusual holy places, we instill more joy into our world and ultimately within Abba Father’s heart.

Hope shines when we yearn for spiritual experiences outside the norm.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines — available in print, Kindle and Large Print.

Hope for the Why Question

whyEver since the patriarch Job lived his troubled life, we have been asking, “Why?”

Actually, the question “Why?” was probably asked since the beginning of time. Perhaps Adam halted in his naming of the animals to ask, “Why, God? Why spend so much time on the colorful details of the bluejay, then throw together this ridiculous version of the dodo bird?”

The first mother, Eve, no doubt asked, “Why did Cain have to take Abel’s life? Why even allow me to birth these boys if you’re just going to take one of them away? Why God? Why?”

Every infertile woman, every family standing beside a coffin, every couple whose marriage ends in divorce will ask, “Why?”

We seek answers because we try to make sense of whatever horrible thing has happened. If we can underscore the event with a logical answer, we can put together a plan for dealing with the loss.

But life doesn’t work that way.

We cannot control the surprise ending nor can we surround the trauma with some sort of reasoning. No earthly logic can explain why my mother lives within the shadows of the Long Goodbye. Why? What is the key to this disease? How can my family deal with it from the viewpoint of a logical answer?

We can’t.

Like faith, we have to accept some things as they are and believe a higher power will absorb the shock. Especially when we don’t understand.

But good old Job provides a possible solution, even when our fists are clenched in angry denial. The answer hides within a verse that whispers to me every time I ask a new, “Why?”

Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness — He allows it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For correction. Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into the reality that we are not gods. Only the real God knows the reason behind everything. We cannot figure it all out.

But perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

Our response might be, “What can I learn from this situation?” Instead of “Why?” rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up. So we will reach out for him and learn more about trust.

For his world. We live in a depraved world. We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds, our bodies and our souls with junk and not face the consequences. We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously — bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, violence, trauma, illness, death. All are part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to turn against us? To remind us that we are human and a better place DOES exist. Tornadoes, violence and Alzheimers will not touch us in heaven.

God has planned for something better.

For lovingkindness. For me, this is the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God, a backward opposite world sort of treatise.

Did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms because he knows their homes will be bombed and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent a student from finishing a degree because he knows that particular pathway is the wrong direction?

We cannot second guess Almighty God.

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life. But he has sometimes worked his backward lovingkindness for me. Hindsight is wiser than the present experience.

God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job to force me to rest. Then he pointed me toward something better.

I wonder if God took Deb home to prevent her from living a blind life from the effects of macular degeneration. I am glad for her, but sad for me.

Is God protecting Mom by allowing her to move into the world of Alzheimers? She is unaware of racial tensions, ISIS terrorists and a democracy teetering on the edge. She does not care who will become the next president. She just wakes up every morning and shuffles to breakfast, then back to her room to turn up the television and wait for lunch. No worries. No stress.

Life will always present us with quandaries, with questions we cannot answer. We can only move toward hope by embracing the direction of forward, one day, one moment at a time.

My fictional character, Reverend G, often said “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

When something happens we cannot understand, the best thing we can do, is stay in hope that something good will replace it. Then run into the loving arms of the God who knows the answers.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above essay is an excerpt from Sometimes They Forget — Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

 

When Hope is Sidelined

Although I have become known as the platform writer of hope, life sometimes interferes with the process. When circumstances force me to the sideline, I have to work harder to find hope and encourage myself again.

The last weeks of 2019 were harrowing. Beginning with December 5, the side effects of a medicine gradually sapped my strength and shackled me to the bathroom. What I didn’t know was that my electrolytes were being screwed as my body lurched into dehydration.

Then the flu hit and what was left of my immunities were destroyed. I woke up December 26 with no strength, blacked out and conked my head on the bathroom tile. When I came to, I was sweating and my heart racing. That’s when I called 9-1-1 and crawled downstairs to unlock the door.

As the siren screamed ever closer, I thought how ironic. Whenever I hear sirens, I pray for the first responders and the people involved. Was anyone praying for me?

The paramedics found me on the floor, semiconscious and breathing fast. They immediately started intravenous fluids and helped me to the gurney. Their strength and professional demeanor encouraged me. At least I would not die alone.

The emergency room was another experience, but my son soon arrived and took control. I have no recollection of signing forms, speaking to nurses or agreeing to treatments, but my son was fully conscious and did everything necessary for my care. It was only later that I realized I still wore my colorful Christmas jammies.

Dehydration was the main culprit and an ugly form of the flu, followed by a urinary tract infection. It took several weeks to recuperate with multiple meds and more trips to Urgent Care. I lost twelve pounds, and Gatorade became my new friend.

But the experience taught me how fragile is hope, how we have to work hard to emotionally receive it after we’re sidelined.

Independence Narrows with Age.

Of course, I know about the narrowing of independence from watching my mother fade into Alzheimer’s. She moved from independence in her own home to a hospital visit to assisted living.

But we rarely imagine the same for ourselves.

The truth is that none of us is immune to losing our independence. As we age, illness can take a greater toll. No matter how determined I was to eat nutritious food and take my supplements, one month of severe side effects and a common virus derailed everything.

I was grateful my final decisions for death and burial were already determined and the paperwork complete, because I was not sure I would return home. I have never felt so powerless. It reminded me of Catherine Marshall who was bound to her bed when tuberculosis stole her life. She wrote many of her books with her arms propped up by pillows.

A Support System is Crucial.

Although I raised my son to deal with the unexpected, I was surprised how quickly and efficiently he took control. His wisdom and decision-making brought me comfort. It was easy to return home and let him do everything. The ease of the role shift enabled me to relax, stay in bed and heal.

I was grateful for Caleb’s presence but also for his boss who let him leave work and said, “Family is more important.”

So protect your support system, complete all that important paperwork and make sure your special person is on speed dial.

Living Alone is Becoming Less of a Possibility.

It is scary to go through a health crisis alone.

Although my son currently lives with me, he was at work that day. And the future may change our comfortable living situation.

The beauty of being independent means I can have my own space, set my own hours and live where I want. But reality presents a different scenario. Living alone for the rest of my days no longer seems possible or even smart.

In 2017, my plan for living with someone and taking care of each other died when Deb walked into eternity. It seemed so easy and the best possible solution for the two of us to become the Golden Girls. Sadly, that did not happen.

For years, I have wished for a big house or some sort of solution for all the single women I know — a safe place where we could have community together and help each other. That answer has not appeared.

Most of us cannot afford the senior living townhomes or the luxury apartments shown on TV. Sure, who wouldn’t want those beautiful spaces to live out life, find a community, yet guard your own identity?

But beauty and safety come with a price tag. Hope fades with the reality of finding affordable housing as we age.

The 9-1-1 operator comforted me with his words, “I’ll stay on the line until they get there. I’ll stay with you.” And he did, bless him! His words were my main recollection of that scary day. This stranger on the phone with the soft voice would NOT abandon me.

Now that I am recovering, once again I am going through the house, giving things away. As I feel independence narrowing, I know I must choose what I will need for an even smaller space. And those choices make me sad.

Finding Hope Requires More Intentionality.

To be brutally honest, this illness has challenged this Hope writer. I find myself having to search for the positive outlook and remind myself daily that God has promised to never forsake me.

Each day becomes a more intentional desire to give it everything I can.

  • To write the words that must be released to the world — while I can.
  • To express my gratitude for colorful sunsets, faithful friends and anything good that happens — while I still recognize them.
  • To hug my son, often and wholeheartedly — while I have the strength.
  • To make each 24-hour period matter for the good — while I can still hang on to hope.

And to enjoy the independence I still have.

Hope may change, but if I intentionally look for it and seek to grasp it — it will be revealed. At least, I’m believing that today.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the books I wrote in 2019, listed on my Amazon Author Page.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay