Hope Within a Stalled Memory

Our family has suffered a tragedy, and we are all trying to process it.

Last week, a favorite cousin suddenly had a cardiac arrest. No warning. Nothing wrong with her heart.

Madeleine (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) was only 54 and in good health. She was bright, beautiful, a wonderful person with everything to live for.

The paramedics worked tirelessly for 40 minutes and shocked her heart multiple times. Finally, Madeleine began to breath again. But the damage to her brain was extensive. She was basically gone.

As the news traveled via text throughout family around the nation, we prayed. Grieved. Believed for a miracle. Tried to make sense of it.

The double tragedy was that Madeleine’s mother, Clare (also a pseudonym) is a favorite auntie. Across the miles, we all felt the emotional slam.

Madeleine and Clare were a team: business partners, besties, always there for each other. We connected them together. “Clare and Madeleine will be at the wedding.”

“Clare and Madeleine made it to the top honors of their corporation – again. They continue to be Number One in all categories.”

“Clare and Madeleine have started a side business. They are so much fun.”

And they were. Both believers in staying positive and sharing a laugh each day. Both settled in the arid Southwest to avoid the humidity and colder temps of the Midwest. Both tall and graceful, expansive huggers and accepting of all our flaws.

Always together.

Yet now … Clare was left to wait in the ICU as her daughter struggled to breathe. Organ donors waited in line. Doctors shook their heads.

The “Why” question bobbed near the surface.

How could we pray? “God, save her life. But not as a vegetable. She wouldn’t want that. Oh, God oh God oh God.”

How could we let Madeleine go and how could Clare survive without her?

Across the miles and without the benefit of a cell phone or any direct communication, my mother sat in the nursing home. Her brain cells not connecting at the age of 93, muddled by the plaque of Alzheimer’s.

Yet when my sister visited her during this tragic week, Mom held a greeting card from Clare. Spoke no words. Just held it.

Did she sense her sister and niece were tangled in a traumatic battle? Did the Alzheimer’s plaque somehow lift so the emotions of Mom’s heart clearly sailed through?

Was my mother on some higher plane, breathing her own prayers for some sort of miracle?

And the miracle did come. Not the one we wanted, but the miracle of a soul released from the confines of this earth to find its forever home.

At the age of 54, Madeleine stopped breathing and joined her dad, her grandparents, my dad in that glorious place where spiritual hearts beat together. Where love reigns. Where death never enters.

And we are left with a bittersweet answer to our prayers. Grateful Madeleine is free yet shattered for the grief Clare suffers.

The veil between earth and heaven, between earthly life and forever life, is thin. We sometimes glimpse a taste of it as faith and hope merge.

Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

Yet hope continues somehow in the stalled memory of my mother’s brain. She holds a greeting card. She cherishes her family somewhere in her deprived days. She whispers prayers only God can hear.

And we all look forward to the day when Alzheimer’s will be defeated, death will be conquered and good-bye will no longer be spoken.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope’s Gift of Observation

Most of my reflection time is spent in the solitude of my home study. But occasionally, I venture into the world of people for a cuppa’ Joe. Accompanied by my journal, paper and pen to write ideas or work on another blog post.

I am grateful we can meet in public again, sit in outdoor cafes or lounge among other pilgrims inside a coffee shop.

Observation is a necessary gift for writers.

We learn how to build characters by watching the people around us. We listen to dialogue and underscore accents. We detect smells and touch by the fabrics people wear.

An older couple sits quietly at a round table, slowly chewing croissants without talking or even looking at one another.

Years of marriage enrich the silence of the moment. What is there to talk about after so many meals together?

Maybe these fluffy croissants are their one treat for the week or the month — until the next Social Security check revives their bank balance.

A woman after my own heart reads alone, occasionally sipping her coffee. Obviously engrossed in her book, she seems lost in the words. An occasional grin spreads one side of her mouth. Or a mental struggle as the little “eleven” becomes a crease between her eyebrows.

Is she learning something new, researching for a college class or trying to escape some chaos in her life by entering into a fictional world?

Two women chat near me, slathering cream cheese on their bagels. One talks with a shrill timber. The other is the listener.

If I eavesdrop carefully, I learn about the toddler’s attempts at potty training, how the hubby works hard but does not care about the fatigue of this young mommy, how the oven needs cleaning but who really cares.

Do they suspect I intrude on their privacy? Do they see I am taking notes for my next character sketch? Probably not. Their goal is to share their hearts with each other, to find another soul who empathizes.

Another table fills with businessmen, their Mac books opened to spread sheets and planners — terse statements about sales and marketing. They remind me of Nate, the antagonist in No Visible Scars and how he traded his marriage for his ambition.

The employees of this restaurant assemble salads, soups and steel cut oats to fulfill requests. Working hard yet often rendered invisible. Each customer is captured only by his own story, with his own reason for spending the morning at Panera.

I feel gratitude for this place and for the freedom to sit and observe. Yet I am also aware of the God who cares for each person’s story — the Divine One who designed destinies before the foundation of the world. He who wants desperately for each person in this place to know how much he loves them.

Then the writer in me kicks in, and I play the “What if” game.

What if the older gentleman is hiding a fortune in stolen coins? What if his wife is really his pastor and has no idea about his hidden sin? What if the two women are planning a getaway, another Thelma and Louise adventure?

Away I travel into the world of creative thought, fashioning a new storyline for each character. The gift of observation teaches us how to weave story ideas together. It also brings us to a place of wonder at the uniqueness of each individual — the design for each life.

Before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 2 reminds us, God structured these plans. Yet he gave us the freedom to choose Plan B or C. Graciously, he comes alongside us to protect or comfort when we face the consequences of those choices.

My creative gift mingles with the God-breathed creations around me. Another day of writing. Another moment in time.

Then hope warms my soul as I gather my observations and drive home.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Have you read it yet – my release for this month? The Year of my Redemption is on Amazon, Kindle and Goodreads.

Hope Embraces a Stranger

She was introduced to me as a stranger, this woman who shared the drive to a writers conference. But within five miles we connected, as women often do when they share about their broken hearts, lifelong dreams and always always — their beloved children.

We discovered our common links: college football, country living, the love of animals, months of painful therapy, the ethic of hard work, unsweetened iced tea and browsing through thrift stores.

But we also shared the lifelong dream of writing. So after we finished baring our souls, we stopped for a refill of iced tea and talked shop.

She dreamed of a children’s book, maybe a series. Her desire for the writers conference was to learn more about publishing and marketing. She listened carefully to my experiences and ideas for a possible blog.

Both of us had earned degrees in education, so we knew the value of learning — for others but also for ourselves. One of the fun issues with writing is that learning always continues. A life-long course.

Another connecting point was that both of us were mothers of sons. Proud of the men they had become. Blessed because we made it through those adolescent years when the larvae of manhood simultaneously made us grit our teeth and laugh into our pillows.

She was blessed with several acres where she planted gardens, decorated with bird houses and roamed with her loyal dogs.

My life was stuck in limbo land, living in the city yet craving for sunsets without buildings and the solace of quiet labor.

Yet with all our emotional connections, one fiber spanned any differences and wound itself through our eternal destinies.

We loved the same God.

Neither of us quite understood why our loving God allowed us to be members of the gray divorce club. Yet both of us were certain we would trust this same God with the rest of our lives.

Hope grows when we meet other pilgrims along the road of life and discover common connections. When our heart stirrings become reasons to pray for each other, to spend time and energy getting to know one another.

Then as we embrace our eternal bond, we no longer call each other strangers. Instead, we lock hearts as family.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the beautiful children’s series written by Rogene McPherson.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

One of the qualities of a good life coach is helping clients when they feel stuck. Whether it’s a transition in life or waiting for an answer to prayer, we need to feel we are moving forward.

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

Do some of the micro habits need to be tweaked such as when a writer actually sits down and places fingers on the keyboard?

Or are negative habits contributing to the block such as a pattern of compliance that sometimes keeps women from reaching for their dreams?

Sometimes, it’s just plain old FEAR.

The dark night of the soul can apply to more than religious choices, when God seems to be hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

Especially in these stuck times, we can reach deep and look for hope. God has not disappeared. He may be silent, yet still at work behind the scenes, moving puzzles pieces together.

And our inner creativity may just need a boost of encouragement, an extra chunk of time to rest or a good talking-to. Then the dam breaks, the ideas come pouring out and life moves forward again.

So how do we find that extra dose of hope when we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips to the next page?

  • Keep believing that God WILL answer — in his timing. That’s the tough part. The waiting.
  • Understand that every season, even the season of waiting, will eventually end.
  • Believe that even in the stuck place, there is a purpose.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail until we use hindsight. For planners, this is tough.
  • Believe in the positive ending, not a happily-ever-after fable, but the greater good for the greater number of people.
  • Take a chunk of time to get away. Walk. Rest. Reboot. Your answer might be waiting at the end of a nap.
  • Talk to the more mature people you trust. We often know the answer to our problems, but we have to talk it out with a good listener.
  • Journal about the issue. The energy of writing down your thoughts will often enlighten you.
  • Don’t give up. A stuck place is not the end. It’s just a respite before the next season.
  • Keep praying because God honors perseverance.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we build more faith muscles. Next time, the waiting won’t be so hard.

Stay in hope. Keep believing the answer will come. Start planning now for how you will celebrate.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner wasn’t sure if he would survive the tragedy, but then came a surprise answer. Check out his story in The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Arrives in a Book

When creativity nudges a book idea, strange things can happen.

Writers usually begin with the germ of an idea, maybe a “What if” question such as: “What if a young girl from Kansas ends up in the land of Oz?”

Sometimes these creative nudges become a puff of wind. They fly away, and the writer forgets about them.

But as we learn to nurture our creativity and pay closer attention to ideas, the nudging sprouts and begins to take root. Then we water it with more ideas, nurture it with the fertilizer of brainstorming and honor it with structure.

After some time of thinking, planning, or wondering through various tunnels of ideas — we begin to actually write.

All this setup can take from days to years, sometimes even decades.

My novel No Visible Scars was 15 years in the making. A long time before I held that book in my hand.

My latest book began as an idea in 2017. I knew a novel was begging to be born, but I had only the scarcest of ideas.

Then I remembered the maxim so many of us follow, “Write what you know.” So I made a list of what I knew at that time:

  • Loss
  • Ministry
  • Kansas, specifically Johnson County
  • Church politics
  • Old houses and DIY projects
  • Gardening
  • Eating gluten free

Then I found my “What if” question. What if a woman who lives in an old house loses a child and seeks help from a minister? What if the minister in Johnson County has also suffered a loss?

From that point, my idea thread wound all over the place and ended up in several knots. Brainstorming sessions with my critique group helped eliminate the unnecessary and solidify the important. And I took long walks where I talked myself through the kinks.

So when I took my creative writing retreat in Santa Fe, circa September, 2018 — I had my skeleton of ideas and a basic structure. I knew the names of my characters and was ready to begin.

I also had a Bible verse that haunted me. “The year of my redemption has come” (Isaiah 63:4). That verse would become my title.

But when I flipped open my new writing pad to begin the first chapter, something entirely different happened. A quirky change. Instead of telling the story from the female protagonist’s viewpoint, the minister jumped out and said, “Let me tell it.”

I have learned not to argue with my characters — or with the God who inspires them.

Pastor Tanner told his story about a tragic loss that led him to his year of redemption. In the process, he learned to care about the woman in my notes who had also suffered a loss. Together these two hurting characters lived out the story and became the book that is now published.

So that is how The Year of my Redemption happened. One of the fun things about books is when we find a surprise waiting in the words.

When writers are also surprised, it germinates hope that the next project will be just as much fun.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out The Year of My Redemption, available on Amazon. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and YouTube.

Hope in Holy Moments

After I read several books by Matthew Kelly, I decided to be more intentional about holy moments. To seek out ways to share love and thus spread the holiness of God into my community.

  • A “thank you” to the person at Target who cleans the grimy carts
  • A “God bless you. It will get better” to the tired mommy fighting three kids while grocery shopping
  • An “I appreciate your service” to the cop at Chipotle who wore a weary face.

But my resolve was challenged at one particular store. I only shop there once or twice each year when they have seasonal sales.

They were touting 30% off on all garden décor. Since the squirrels had massacred my deck cushions, I needed new ones. And I found the perfect pair marked down from $14 to $9. But at the register, they popped up with the original price.

“The sale sign is posted on them,” I argued. The clerk confirmed my observation and started to give me the discount.

“Let me check with the manager, to be sure,” she said as she paged him. “We usually honor the sales price if it still has the sign attached to the shelf.”

But before I saw him, I sensed the anger in his gruff voice.

“The sale was over yesterday,” he growled. “Didn’t you see the date?”

He ripped off the sign and pointed to a microscopic date at the bottom of the paper.

“No, I did not see that because it’s so tiny. What I saw was the giant 30% off which should still be honored.”

“Well, it’s not!” He crumpled the paper and tried to stare me down. “Next time, read the date.” Then he huffed away.

The sales clerk apologized and asked, “Do you still want the cushions?”

“No, I don’t.”

The customer behind me applauded and said, “Good for you.”

As I walked to my car, I said, “Well, God — that was NOT a holy moment.”

Yet maybe it was. Could I show grace now by praying for this obviously harried manager? Maybe he was dealing with a health issue or a loved one in trouble or trying to bring his profits up after COVID year.

And wasn’t it a holy moment to stand my ground, keep to my budget and set healthy boundaries on how I should be treated?

I can live without the cushions, but my soul cannot thrive without nurturing the holiness within me.

Hope still survives and believes that the next holy moment will be more positive.

Still, I’m not going back to that store, no matter what sales they advertise. The manager has lost a customer.

But if he comes to mind, I will hope he finds peace in his soul and a sense of God’s holiness still at work in our world.

Hope shines when we search for a brighter perspective. And holy moments DO happen, even in the unexpected chaos of life.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out books by Matthew Kelly. They’ll make you think about how you’re living your life.

Hope in the Surprise

The following guest post is written by Jena Fellers.

Do you love surprises? Me, too. But I always hope for good surprises.

Recently, my husband asked me to join him delivering for Door Dash. He had decided to try Door Dash to earn extra income and wanted to see how feasible it was. From the sign-in until the ending is called a Dash.

On our first Dash, I felt surrounded by positive anticipation. Eager to learn and see how things worked made me look forward to every detail — as if it was a fun surprise.

  • How quick will the first order come?
  • How much will it pay?
  • How long will it take the restaurant to prepare the order?
  • How far will the delivery be? Will it take extra time to get another order?

Nothing happened as planned, filling me with more questions and anticipation. Every order was a surprise in some way or another. It could be:

*A new restaurant we had never heard of

*Restaurants with different names inside other large restaurant chains

*Deliveries to employees at a business

*Delivering to someone in a parking lot, a parked semi, or even a private airplane

More of the elderly population ordered than the techie, younger population. The nicest surprise was unexpected tips, with good reviews coming in second.

As with anything, the surprise could also be negative:

*A messed-up order

*Food tumbling over inside the bag

*The restaurant out of an ordered item

*The GPS deciding to freeze or take us the wrong way

*Learning about a stacked order and how to complete it

*Looking for houses without visible house numbers

*The amount of miles or price changing after we accepted the order

*Getting few orders, even though the app said it was busy

A Door Dash driver is certain to experience good and bad surprises. Another guarantee is that orders come in so quickly, it is impossible to dwell on the emotions generated by the surprise.

By the end of the Dash, all problems were resolved. Whether starting with few orders, many orders, high pay, or low — the money averaged out.

This experience opened my eyes to how we should view life itself. Every day is a gift full of surprises.

We can wake up hoping for a surprise, especially when we ask God to guide our day. Life can be an adventure and fun when God is with us.

Possible surprises for today:

*Who should I pray for?

*Will there be someone to help today?

*Can I teach a life lesson to my family?

*Will God give blessings today? For what purpose?

*Will my words make a difference?

*How many smiles can I give?

*Who can I encourage with a phone call or a card?

Our Hope in the surprise can help us get through anything. Good and bad are guaranteed to come, but we place our Hope in the surprise God gives or allows. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks of being content in every situation. This seems possible when we have Hope in His surprise.

This kind of divine surprise gives us something to look forward to. It keeps our focus where we can be content. Like Dashing, we know it will all balance out, regardless of whether the surprises we face are good or bad.

Let’s view the surprise as a treasure given to us. Let’s live in anticipation of what God will do for us, through us, and with us each day.

No need to worry or fret. Another surprise is on its way, so enjoy life to its fullest. Look with Hope for the surprise God has planned today.

©2021 Jena Fellers (guest post) – All Rights Reserved

Jena Fellers is an author, inspirational speaker, and co-pastor. She and her husband pastor Trinity Worship Center in Baxter Springs, Kansas, where their three children and four grandchildren reside. Jena loves to encourage and educate others to follow Christ a little closer. Check out her blog at www.changingfocus.life to find out more about Jena and her books.