Hope-filled Arms

Several people I know, friends and family, are struggling with their arms. Because of chronic illnesses, they can no longer lift more than 10 pounds or even help themselves out of a chair. I grieve for their losses even as I admire their determination to stay in hope.arms - art

Arms are something I take for granted. But as I reflected on this blog post, I thought of several memories where arms left an impression.

My dad’s arms radiated his strength. With those arms, thick and muscular, he pulled calves out of their struggling mothers. He hefted hay bales and tossed them onto moving wagons. He swung at baseballs and sent them over the farthest fences.

When his strength diminished, his arms shook as he tried to feed himself. The skin began to sag as muscles atrophied and finally — all movement ceased except the shallow breaths that kept him alive, until even that capability was gone.

Arms of Strength.

The chubby arms of my toddler son reached toward me for hugs or night-time kisses. The first time I saw his face, I held him in my arms and marveled at the finished miracle of a nine-month creation.

Arms of Love.

My son’s arms grew from toddler stage to teenager. As he practiced and excelled at drums, the tendons in his arms rippled, then held trophies he won for his musical prowess.

Arms of Talent.

But my arms have also felt sadness. Last winter, I held my cat, Betsy, for our final goodbye. She trusted my arms, leaned in for what — I believe — she knew was coming. And when the final injection did its work, her dead weight relaxed with the pressure of finality.

Arms of Sorrow.

Scripture reminds us of another pair of arms, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27 TLB).

And an old hymn repeats the theme. Check it out. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

We dream of the day in eternity when we will run into the arms of our loved ones, when our guardian angels remind us their arms were always near.

Arms of Security.

I am grateful for the strength in my arms — to pull weeds from stubborn perennial beds, to carry a pot of soup to the table, to guide my hands toward the computer keyboard, to move across the piano keys.

A day will likely come, if God grants me more years, when I may lose my arm strength, when I’ll have to depend on others for movement and the basics of living.

So for now — for this day — I whisper a prayer of gratitude and determine to stay in hope, no matter what happens to my arms.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My arms have been busy on the keyboard. Check out my newest book: Write and Share Your Story

Is Hope Really Possible?

An encouragement often shared on my blog is the phrase, “Stay in hope.” No matter how life unravels, stay in hope.

What does that statement really mean? Is hope possible in today’s messy world? What does it look like, feel like? Or is it something so ethereal, we cannot find it — fail to grasp hold of it.

To stay in hope requires a conscience effort to move beyond whatever reality presses on us and instead — find a way to focus on a future of gladness.

Staying in hope means we begin with an action which follows with a joyful emotional reaction. So what are some practical action points we can take to find hope?

Focus on the Positive. When life unravels, it is easier to focus on what has gone wrong. The tornado touched down on top of the house. The person we loved is no longer here. The identity thief wiped us out.

None of us can avoid the uncomfortable circumstances of life. But if we constantly think about the struggles, we miss the pathway to hope.

As we focus on the positives of life, those negative tapes begin to fade. If we concentrate on what is good, renewed hope seems possible.

In spite of natural disasters, we are still alive. The grief process can leave us wiser and more centered. When our security is threatened, we can rebuild, restore, redo what we did before — even better this time.

List all the blessings, even those small ones you take for granted: hot water in the shower, a fridge with food in it, a hug from a child.

Stay in that hopeful place of warm and fuzzy vibes.

Surround Yourself with Hopeful People. Our network of people affects everything we do and how we react to life. Being around encouraging people helps us grow hope muscles. When we spend time with people who are positive, we feel better about life.

We may even learn how to fully love ourselves and become an encourager to someone else.

When our friendships revolve around the people who encourage us, we feel more hope surrounding our souls. We look forward to each day and enjoy being with these people. They help us smile and feel positive. They keep us from wallowing in the muck of daily living.

They give us the impetus to stay in hope.

Collect Affirmations. Positive sayings, posters and memes with hope-filled quotes may show up on social media or in home décor departments. My writing study is decorated with several positive affirmations.

Print out and post these messages. A plaque, a swirly design on a piece of barn wood or industrial metal, even a Post-it note with a positive statement — anything to remind you to stay in hope.

On my bathroom mirror, I have three notes I see every day:

  • Let my heart revive and live.
  • May the God of truth and faithfulness to his promises, bless me.
  • “After the grief fades, after the suffering dwindles away, God Himself will complete me, establish and ground me securely, strengthen and settle me” (First Peter 5:10).

To stay in hope, we need to work at it. As we focus on the positive, surround ourselves with healthy people and remind ourselves of affirmations — we can maintain and grow a more positive attitude.

Then hope becomes more of a reality as we acknowledge its existence and proactively seek to own it.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Ever heard of “booking a blog?” That’s what I’m doing with this post. Check out the entire book, Hope Shines.

Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope and the Feral Cats

It was a gift — an unexpected pleasure on a discouraging day.

I had just pulled up my Amazon book sales report. Not enough sales for the month, not even close to my goal.

Then I looked outside and laughed in delight.black and white kitten

My neighborhood is blessed with several feral cats. One big guy — all black — I call Onyx. A smaller black and white female I have dubbed Mama.

Several of us feed them. During the winter they shelter under porches, pad across the snow-covered cul-de-sac to the next bowl of food.

But this spring, I noticed Mama growing fatter with pregnancy. She lumbered around the neighborhood, searching for more and more goodies. Then suddenly, she appeared thin and tired. Obviously, she had given birth. Onyx strutted as if proud of his accomplishment.

I did not know where Mama nested, how many babies she had or even if any of them lived. Feral cats don’t always have successful births.

Then, on the exact day I needed a boost, I looked out my front window and laughed. Four kittens crawled out from under the neighbor’s porch. Black and white, some more spotted, a couple more solid black with white booties.

They were at the stage of perfect fluff and fun, jumping on each other and practicing their cat-skills of pounce and conquer. Mama stood to the side, looking exasperated but also maternal.

The neighbor — a big tough guy who hides his soft heart, sneaked bowls onto the porch, then hid behind a bush. The kittens cavorted toward the bowls, joined by Mama as the entire brood ate lustily.

I stayed by my front window for a while, refused to answer a text message or to return to my computer. Knowing I needed the joy of those kittens fed hope and insulated me from further discouragement.

Just a few moments to watch joy in action, the frolicking movements of kittens and the satisfied face-washing after a bowl of milk.

Sometimes all we need is a nugget of hope to remind us life is good, that the creatures God has blessed us with bring a freedom from stress and worry. To be grateful for small blessings and leave the uncertainties for another day.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For some extra nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope in the Redbud

Every spring, my redbud tree reminds me to stay in hope.Redbud

The usual allegory applies: dead winter becomes a fruitful spring. Trust God in the hard times. Almost a cliché these days.

But a more hidden meaning speaks to me this year, after an interminable winter and the hanging-on-of-grief. After another 12 months of ugliness and insecurity from our nation’s capitol, from both sides who should know better.

In spite of nature’s circumstances and the unknowns of life, here stands my redbud tree.

A neighbor has threatened to cut it down because its gnarled trunk and uneven branches seem out of sync with the rest of the symmetrical neighborhood.

Yet every time I drive home and see that rough bark, I marvel how such lovely pink blossoms manage to push their way to the surface.

And I cannot cut it down — will not allow it to be destroyed just because its trunk is ugly, its presence a misfit.

Even within its lack of beauty, I find hope.

The redbud tree reminds me how important every speck of God’s creation is — even those who do not fit into the traditional boxes.

  • Those creatives who splash weird colors onto canvas while everyone stares and tries to figure them out.
  • Children who don’t fit into the learning structures of schools yet are created for a beautiful purpose.
  • Autistic and Down’s Syndrome loved ones who see life more realistically than those of us with high IQ’s.
  • Every woman who survived high school although she was called “fat and ugly” by the popular kids.
  • The 67% of single moms who leave the church because they no longer fit into the religious culture.
  • And thousands of other categories of people, precious creations of God who find themselves unloved, unaccepted, unappreciated.

It strikes me that Jesus himself was a bit gnarled. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “There was no attractiveness in him, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him. . .turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by” (Isaiah 53:2-3 TLB).

So they cut him down.

Yet the truth of resurrection each spring reminds us that although we cannot see the inner beauty of creation, reality does not negate the truth.

Within the rough bark and spikey branches, life beats. Cells reproduce and spring bursts forth with a lovely fuchsia color.

Autistic children become great composers. Kids with ADHD learn how to operate computers and troubleshoot through cyberspace. Single moms raise the next generation of amazing beings. People with Down’s Syndrome teach us all how to love. Immigrants become solid citizens. Creatives remind us that art is subjective.

So I remind my neighbor, “Don’t judge my redbud tree.”

And I remind myself to never look at the outer layers of life. Beauty lies in the next flip of the calendar page.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you enjoy reading essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

Hope and the Feline Allegory

Peppernut 3

Hello, Peppernut !

Her plaintive cry echoed through the car. A five-hour drive — interminable for a cat who could not understand I was transporting her to a new home. One of my sister’s rescues, Peppernut would become my latest cat, an adopted member of our family.

“It’ll be okay, honey,” I answered her concerned meows. “You’re going to like being the only cat in the house. Life will be good.”

She could not understand. Her native language — feline.

Eventually she settled in as we traveled the remainder of the miles through the Flint Hills and into northeastern Kansas.

Finally, we arrived. Her room was ready. A fresh litter box, food and water, cat treats and some new toys. Plenty of soft places to rest and nap — the usual 16-hour sleep of cats.

She climbed out of the carrier, purred and let me rub her belly. Ready to love and be loved in her new home.

The allegory was not lost on me as so many of us face transitions.

We cannot understand God’s direction for our lives, even the possible moves he asks us to make. Our native language is self-sufficiency.

But when we approach those scary moments — when we don’t know where we’re going or what will happen to us, God whispers encouragement.

“It will be okay, my beloved. You’re going to like this change. This will be good.”

It is only later, when we arrive on the other side of the transition that we realize God was with us all along. He readied the place, providing everything we needed. Even some enjoyable moments — the toys of life.

We are ready then to love him and be loved more deeply by him than we could ever imagine.

If you are facing a change, stay in hope. Even if it seems scary. God is able to make it good.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more allegories on faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. 

Hope Lets Go

In the never-ending task of downsizing, I constantly ask the questions: Do I need this item anymore? Does this object still give me joy or can I share that joy with another person?

rockerA survey of my guest room focused on the tiny antique rocker. Purchased all those years ago, it intrigued us because it also expanded into a wooden high chair. Perfect for baby Caleb.

But the years had grown my son and weathered the wood. Initially, I saved the rocker / high chair for a future grandbaby. But now, I wondered if that was even feasible.

I would not feed a child in such an old device. Its wooden pegs were beginning to rot. The structure was no longer safe. And who knew how many bacteria still hid within the crevasses of walnut? Not even a bleach bath could reach every tiny surface.

Repaint it? Sand and varnish it? No. My days of restoring furniture and exposing myself to chemicals are long gone.

Use it for something else? Maybe. A plant stand? It no longer fits my décor and the whole purpose is to get rid of stuff.

Did my son want it? “No,” he said with a grimace. No one in the family could find a place for it.

So I decided to give it away. I don’t mess with E-Bay or Craigslist. It’s easier to donate my treasures and claim a deduction. I loaded up the rocker along with sacks of other stuff and left everything with the attendant at the Goodwill store.

But as I drove away, the tears fell. Another piece of life had transitioned away. Another reminder of the aging process and the losses that inevitably shadow our days.

Still, the memories were sweet. I swiped at the tears and thanked God for my little boy, for the years of rocking him to sleep, watching him chase Cheerios across the surface of his high chair.

Then I prayed a blessing over whomever would purchase the rocker. Hope returned with the process of sharing my goods with another, of giving away what once owned my heart.

Life passes so quickly, and our stuff becomes transient. Yet we find hope and joy in living the days well and sharing what we no longer need.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.