Hope Encounters Loss

For regular followers of my blog and those who have read my books, you might think the title of this post means my mother has passed. No. She is still living in the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her brave heart still beats.

This loss was a complete surprise – a younger woman in good health – whose body suddenly betrayed her. Within 10 days of feeling so exhausted she drove to the ER, my friend Deb was gone.DM at country store

We did life together. Drank gallons of chai tea, determined the best place to eat by the quality of the guacamole, cried together at sad movies and celebrated birthdays with ice cream.

I will forever miss hearing her voice on the phone, “How ya’ doin’?”

How can a writer deal with such loss and continue to be a wordsmith? What kind of takeaway can I find – some way to honor Deb and the relationship we shared?

Learn from the Experience. I now know all I ever want to know about hemolytic anemia – how the red blood cells become so depleted and how even a transfusion can attack the good cells. If I ever develop a character with this disease, I will know she must be so totally exhausted she cannot even comb her hair. Because that is what Deb experienced. I will also know that even the best medical minds can find no effective long-term treatment.

Value the Journaling Practice. During Deb’s time in ICU when the outcome became clear, I returned home each night to my journal. I wrote out Bible verses that brought me comfort, especially the ones Deb loved. I also screamed the unfairness of it all through words – you know, upper case screaming with a red gel pen and underlining every other word. Writing out my frustrations helped trigger the beginnings of working through my grief.

Understand the Grieving Process. Some of the grieving began as I held Deb’s hand in the ICU and reminded her we had planned another trip to Santa Fe. Although she could not respond, I hoped she heard me. The roller coaster of the grieving process continued throughout those 10 days and then the weeks that followed. Again I learned writers must take care of themselves even as they grieve. This was not the time for me to begin working on a new novel.

Remember the Good Times. As a writer, I crafted the speech I shared at Deb’s memorial service. To recall our trips together, our shared loved of the country and cats, the excitement we had for anything the children and grandchildren did. It was my honor to speak about her and through my words to recall the way she invested in relationships.

Appreciate Each Day. Memes on Facebook and boards on Pinterest often remind us to live each day with purpose, to never take our lives for granted. But when we’re faced with the fragility of life and how quickly someone can be taken from us – the experience underscores how important it is that we appreciate each day. I am hugging my son more often. I am stopping work to pet the cat, taking time for sunsets and worrying less about the calories in dark chocolate.

I plan to spend each day writing my words with purpose and motivation – to make a difference while I am on this earth.

Deb taught me to enjoy ordinary moments while planning for the extraordinary. I am determined to take another trip to Santa Fe and remember how she played her Native American flute, coaxing echoes from the mountains around us.

I will finish the novel Deb encouraged me to write because she knew it deals with the important topic of domestic abuse. In the acknowledgements, I will include her name because she prodded me to find an agent and send the book into the marketplace.

How do we find hope when we encounter loss? One tiny piece at a time.

We must allow ourselves the grace to grieve, to let time salve the wound and allow God’s comfort to work its way into our souls.

Then hope itself becomes a comfort as we treasure our relationships and live each day seeking more ways to appreciate the people we love.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author and Certified Writing Coach

Goals Print Cover     Before writers can reach their goals, they must effectively set realistic and achievable targets. For a strategic guidebook on “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals,” order your copy here. 

Hope Flows Through Nature

How is it that an ethereal quality can somehow find its energy through a concrete object?

Either the process has emerged through my own visual creativity or it exists within the spiritual realm I cannot see.

For whatever reason it begins, hope is empowered within the realm of nature.Martha Washington geranium

When I cannot stand to watch one more news show or read one more Twitter rant, my deck becomes a haven.

When the question of my heart, “How long oh Lord?” is answered only with silence, I retreat to the outdoor sanctuary.

A cardinal cheers me as he calls for his mate from a nearby tree. The squirrel who thinks my deck is his dining room scampers to retrieve another sunflower seed. Sunset brushes turquoise and coral strokes across the evening canvas.

And my flowers – the Martha Washington geranium I found dying at a nursery in late June now thrives. A reminder that what may appear to be faltering can be revived.  

That deep burgundy petal bordered by a creamy outline urges me to cry out in gratitude. God will indeed revive. He will restore.

This bloom, this geranium teaches that hope is not lost even if appearance underscores it to be so. At the core of despair, we can still find life and once nurtured, once tended, life can thrive again.

A lesson for all who are recovering from too much caring of others and not enough nurture of self.

Coral and TurquoiseAnother flagon of hope waits on my front porch – a treasure found at the end of the plant sales. A turquoise pot filled with coral buds and peachy blooms – the colors of the Southwest I so love.

Each time I turn into my driveway and see this hope-filled pot, I remember the promise I made to myself. “Find a way to visit Santa Fe and Taos.”

To revel in the colors of a land replete with artisans of the earth’s clay. To enjoy the diversity of a demographic where every skin color is not only accepted – but also celebrated.

Hope flows through my plantings and the sounds of nature. No need for prayer when surrounded by God’s art. The Artist himself is here.

And as Abba frames his creative genius with another cinematic sunset, no words describe his color choice, his texture and contrast.

Forget the rest of the world. Let me revel in the hope that flows from the natural world of divine design.

©2017 RJ Thesman

If you’re a writer or you know a writer, “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals” can help you move to the next level. Order your copy here.

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Hope and the BLESS System

During the summer of 2017, my church is utilizing a system to BLESS our neighborhoods. The acrostic works like this:

  • Begin with Prayer
  • Listen and Engage
  • Eat (because we all connect better while we’re eating)
  • Serve Others
  • Story (be willing to share your faith story)

Although I like this concept, I am purposely NOT engaging in this system. Not that I disagree with any of it – I’m just pulling back from any kind of service while I recover from ministry exhaustion.

The ironic beauty of this BLESS system is that God Himself is helping me engage with him. He is blessing me.woman - worship

It’s almost a replay of how God took care of Elijah when he was discouraged and depressed after a massive battle. (If you want to read that story, check out First Kings 19.)

Now, I don’t believe I am anywhere close to being a powerful servant such as Elijah.

I just know God loves me and he’s taking care of me.

Here’s how it works:

Begin with Prayer: At times, I’ve been so depleted, the only prayer words I could speak were “God oh God” or “Jesus, help!” But the sweet truth is that God still heard me. We don’t have to pray a certain way or follow a formula for Abba Father to hear the cries of our hearts.

[Read more about Redefining Prayer]

Listen and Engage: In the quiet of the night when all I hear is the cat’s snores – I sense God near. He is listening to me and for me, and I for him. Sometimes he speaks a verse I’ll look up and journal through. Sometimes it’s just the inner warmth of knowing he’s engaging and connecting with me. I love that. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs of guidance and truth.

Being listened to = being loved.

Eat: This piece of the acrostic is a bit more eclectic because I’m not talking about real food. Although a healthy recovery does include nutritious eating as in blueberries, dark chocolate, lots of water, repeat.

Emotional and spiritual eating means filling my mind with the words of God and helpful books – fiction and nonfiction. I am inhaling without exhaling, filling up my emotional bucket that has been scraped raw. This type of eating never adds empty calories, but spiritual nutrition flows into every tissue and emotional gap.

Serve Others: It seems impossible to turn off the button of ministering to others. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, “No! You cannot organize and promote a new ministry, no matter how much it is needed. Stop it!

I am letting go of all expectations and reveling in how God is serving me.

Now, I know some of you out there in cyberspace are thinking, How selfish! Who does she think she is? What would Jesus do?

I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. He would climb right up in Abba’s lap and tell the Holy Spirit to come and comfort him.

When he walked on this earth, Jesus rowed across the lake and took some down time. He had weekend getaways at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He strolled through a garden and prayed, inhaling the presence of God so he would have strength later to heal and save.

So don’t judge me. I’m telling you Abba is such a personal God he knows when to send me an encouraging word.

He calls me to the deck at just the right time so I can watch a rabbit nurse her bunnies. He commands a flock of geese to fly over me with joyful honks. He whispers to a baby in Wal-Mart who turns around and gives me a single-toothed grin. He plants a book in my hands that helps me understand how ministers become codependent. He tells someone to send me a check so I can pay that climbing electric bill. He heals my son so I don’t have to live in worry.

God knows exactly what I need and when I need to be reminded how much he loves me.

Story: I’ve just shared part of my story with you. It continues to grow and the plot lines interweave. More will be coming in the weeks ahead.

Keep checking in with me to see how God wraps hope around every gift, how he is himself the author of hope.

The guideline God is helping me learn is this: it’s okay to take care of yourself. That means telling others “No” when they ask you to do something. It means setting healthy boundaries. It might even mean getting away from the mess.

So that’s where my story is so far. I’m sticking to it. Be blessed and let God bless you.

©2017 RJ Thesman

Sometimes They Forget       Goals E-book Cover      Rev_G_Cover

 

 

Hope When We Fall

It happened so quickly, I blacked out. Even now, I have no idea how I turned my foot on that last deck step. I have descended those steps hundreds of times. Somehow, this time was different.God lets us fall

As I woke up twisted in the grass, I was certain something weird had happened to my right foot.

Gingerly I sat up – tested my equilibrium – waited for the dizziness that never came. I scooted across the grass, hoping and praying my hips weren’t broken.

A sudden despair as I looked back at my house which has four levels – not a good scenario if I ended up on crutches.

Then trying to stand on the left foot, praying the right foot was not broken. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

Funny how we always cry out to God when we’re in pain. Sad how we forget to acknowledge him when everything’s just fine and dandy.

A testing of the throbbing foot. Could I stand on it? Yes. Could I take a few steps? Ouch, but yes. No nausea. Probably not broken. Hopefully not broken. The right foot, of course. The driving foot.

Immediately, the planner in me began mentally listing my writing clients. Could we do Skype if I couldn’t drive? How would I deal with the groceries? Would my son have the time to help me?

A sudden pulsing of lonely despair. The worst time to be single is when you are in pain.

Soon the swelling began, so I elevated my leg and plopped an ice bag on it. My son then drove me to Urgent Care for an X-ray and a meeting with the medical team.

Hobbling from room to room, I felt old. Hoped I wouldn’t need a cane, but looking for one when I felt out of balance.

No fracture, thank God. Just a severe sprain. Now I know how the Jayhawks feel when they land crooked after an awesome rebound. Feet were never created to twist.

A week of elevating the foot, more ice, anti-inflammatory meds and every five seconds or so a gratitude pause that nothing was broken.

Then the exercises – making the alphabet with my foot. This practice uses all the muscles, tendons and tissues. I love the alphabet. It is my writing tool from which all the words are birthed.

Then hope rebounded as I carefully walked around my cul-de-sac, hung on to the cart in Target without pain. I was healing.

God sometimes lets us fall, although I believe he is near to catch us in his powerful arms.

As we fall – either physically or spiritually – we are reminded how fragile we are. How we need God and each other!

Sometimes we fall because the world is a shaky place. It isn’t easy to keep our equilibrium or to stay the course when every foundation seems unstable.

And I think God lets us fall to protect us from further harm. Perhaps we’re heading in a dangerous direction, so God puts a temporary stop sign in front of us.

Or we’re in such a hurry, we need an occasional fall to remind us to slow down, to rest, to enjoy the best life has to offer.

Ultimately, as we take care of ourselves and return to normalcy – we begin to heal. Hopefully, we also keep that place of gratitude for how God catches us, how the fall could have been much worse.

Hope keeps us steady in our shaky world. Hope also keeps us moving in healthy directions so that when we DO fall, it won’t be so tragic.

Keep steady, dear readers. Keep moving forward. Stay in hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. Somewhere a segue exists but currently – I can’t find it.

I know it will come – somewhere over the rainbow. But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing and a massive piece of comfort chocolate.

AsMind the gap I reflect on life in general and writing in particular, I realize life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding a newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grasp his diploma. A quickly-passing gap. Overwhelming emotion at both ends of said gap.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life – imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. A birth date.  A death date.

But it is the gap between those two dates that determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap? How many people did she influence? How many friends did he make? Who will mourn the presence of the owner of that gap?

I bring out my journal to analyze my thoughts. Think of the people whose gap moments affected my life: parents, siblings, perhaps even ancestors who prayed for me – folks I have never met. I know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery.

Teachers. Writers – oh yes – the numbers of writers who have influenced my life and also my calling to write. Innumerable.

Pilgrims within and beyond my family. My  students through the years. My clients now – how much I learn about writing from the actual process of coaching writers!

My son. The brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July 4th and believe the fireworks are for him.

The people I know who live with chronic pain and complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure, to persevere, to grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we don’t pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that gap is where hope exists, where it is nurtured and grows, where it expands to affect other gappers.

Perhaps we need to do more of this – to celebrate each other while we have life. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee, to toast each other and determine we will pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties, for cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with writers, artists and every day workers who persevere and heroically make it through another day?

And there it is – suddenly the segue I wanted, hiding within the paragraphs of journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap.

This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2017th year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, I believe the divine One will cheer for me. He will understand the joy I feel in moving forward with my words.

And when he reviews this life with me, he will remind me how important it was to find that segue. His whisper of “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of  Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy

Hope Seeks a Vision

Several years ago, I started a vision journal. Some writers use a vision board to piece together plots for a novel or goals for the year. I prefer a journal.marketing vision

In my journal, I write about my visions for the future:

  • A healthy and happy life for my son
  • The country cottage I have always wanted – with a western view so I can watch the sun set and surrounded by gardens of various flowers
  • My desire to make the New York Times bestseller list

Some visions are much deeper and more intense – those desires for peace and contentment no matter what issues are grinding through my life.

Without vision, the scripture says, we perish.

This statement is true, because visions require a fistful of hope – the belief that our hearts’ desires will indeed come to pass.

As I scanned through my journal, I was surprised how many visions had already come to pass:

  • The desire to be a full-time writer
  • A car to replace my former broken down buggy
  • My son in love with his sweetheart

Answered visions are confirmations that God does indeed care about the desires of our hearts. In fact – he is the one who plants them in us in the first place.

Does this mean all my prayer requests and visions are answered with a resounding “Yes?”

Negative. I cannot see the entire timeline of eternity or the answers that lie within each segment. Only God knows what is the best direction for me and which visions will push me toward the finish line.

But confirmed visions do prove that hope is alive. Hope then becomes a force to move our deepest longings into place.

I have added some new visions to my journal and dated them. It may take a lifetime or at least a small timeline to see them become reality. But the process of stating a vision underscores faith and the belief that life CAN indeed turn out okay.

Without vision, the people perish.

Without hope, a vision cannot live.

I vote for owning both.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

Hope Honors Loss

For several years, I have wanted to do this one special thing. Finally this year, I accomplished it.

This feat was not a joyous bucket list fulfillment but rather a moment to honor loss.

On Memorial Day, I clipped a couple of hydrangea blossoms from my container garden, wrapped their stems in a wet paper towel and drove to the cemetery.flat stones - cemetery

No one I know is buried in this particular cemetery, but I am grateful this place exists. For some reason, during this time of recovery, I needed a concrete place to grieve.

It is a Catholic cemetery and bless their hearts – these Catholic sisters and brothers who have provided a special place for grievers like me.

Although I am 36 and 34 years from the losses, somehow the harsh reality never leaves me. Probably because I was not offered the solace of a cemetery plot or the finality of physical closure.

But this cemetery has a special section in their Babyland for mothers like me. One area with flat stones set apart from the other tiny plots of infant and young child deaths.

This area of Babyland – the goal of my mission – lists only one date on a stone and sometimes only the name, “Baby.”

These are the stones that indicate a miscarriage or an abortion – a child not fully formed and never held.

On this Memorial Day, toys were scattered across the stones, flowers, an occasional scribbled note, “We miss you.”

How I wish I would have had the opportunity for a physical closure like this – all those years ago. My stones would have read:

Ryan Michael, November 3, 1981, Born and Died

Rachel Elizabeth, January 6, 1983, Born and Died

I do not know where the remains of my babies lie. The D&C surgery that took what was left of them never indicated what happened to their tiny bodies. I probably do not want to know exactly what the medical community does to a miscarried baby.

A wall of remembrance lists children by their death years. I run my fingers through the engravings of 1981 and 1983, then sit on a nearby bench – listen to a cardinal’s song, let the sunshine dry my tears.

I ask God to hold my babies close. To tell them how much I still miss them. To remind them they have a younger brother and what a wonderful man Caleb is.

Still holding my flowers, I wonder where to place them. I wish for some music, a plaintive hymn sung by a quartet or even the solemnity of “Taps.”

My flowers somehow do not belong on any of the already designated stones. I would not impose on the memories of another grieving mother.

Then I see it. The iron and brass cross stands as a sentinel in this sacred place. So I cemetery crossinsert my flowers, believing the Savior on the Cross is also brother and protector of my children.

The hope that echoes through a cemetery sings with the assurance that death is NOT the end. Someday it will have no sting. Life eternal will exist as a cherished reality.

For those of us who never held our babies, hope cries out the beauty of that someday when we will meet our little ones face to face.

Somehow – for now – that is enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy