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.

Hope Seeks Wonder

dandelions - womanIn her best-selling book, Moving On, Sarah Ban Breathnach lists the seven senses. The usual five we know: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. But then she adds knowledge and wonder.

A working definition of “wonder” is “Surprise mingled with admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected or inexplicable.”

As we age, I think we can lose our sense of wonder. Children can spend hours just looking at a dandelion, caught in the wonder of such a cheery yellow flower.

Many of us cherish the memory of a little boy’s grubby hands, bringing his mommy a stone he dug from the riverbank, a bunch of early spring flowers or a wriggling worm – his wonder of something surprising shared with his precious mom.

In the hubbub of life, we can lose that admiration for the things we cannot explain. Instead, we tend to just move on – to stay busy and do our thing, oblivious of life’s pulsing around us. Avoiding the presence of God in the ordinary.

To restore some hope, I’ve decided to list some of the things that feed my sense of wonder. To force myself to stop and listen, to revel in the world around me and rediscover my intuitive soul.

In my gratitude journal, I’ll include these items that fill me with a surprising beauty, a restored wonder:

  • The sudden silence of my universe as a midnight snow begins to blanket the ground
  • The tiny fingernails of newborns, a reminder of how fragile is the miracle of life
  • The detailed featherings of blue jays – gray, white, black and royal blue – no two the same
  • The consistent hammering of the red-headed woodpecker in my elm tree. How does he not have a migraine after all that pounding on the bark?
  • The way memory blips make life disappear or bring to mind a special moment from decades ago
  • The careful pulsing of my heart, steady and regular – a miracle in itself
  • The moment a soul steps out of its earthly body and transfers to eternity
  • A crackling fire that exudes warmth, aesthetic pleasure and security all at the same time
  • When the souls of two people connect and blossom into love
  • The way God whispers answers to prayer before we utter the request
  • How pets know the exact time we are coming home and run to the door before we turn into the drive
  • The vastness of space and the amazing synchronicity of God’s creation
  • How Patrick Mahomes can turn his body northeast and throw southwest
  • How ideas spark from deep creativity and give writers a place to begin
  • How children give love so easily, not yet marred by the ugliness of self-sufficiency

I need to spend more time experiencing wonder – to nurture this sense and appreciate all the things in my world that are admirable and beautiful.

A focus on wonder helps reboot the hope muscle and reminds me that life is better than it sometimes appears.

As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a book that expresses the wonder of hope, check out Hope Shines.

Hope for a Book

Uploading FaithIn the middle of supper, my son turned toward me and asked, “What do you think of my generation?” An honest question, laced with hope that my answer might satisfy or invite open debate.

What do I think of his millennial generation, these precious ones born to Baby Boomers during the years of 1981-1996?

“I think your generation includes the smartest, most talented group I have ever known. Yours is the first generation whose native language is computer.”

He seemed pleased. A tiny grin settled in his right dimple.

Then I continued, “But I also think millennials feel sad.”

He nodded, and I saw in his eyes a hint of his own emotional angst. We talked about the traumatic issues that have affected his generation:

  • The heart-stopping moment of 9-11 which defines the millennial generation
  • The numbers of his friends who have overdosed or chosen suicide as a way out of their struggles
  • The side effects of wars, how security seems unattainable
  • The massive college debts and the impossibility of owning a home — financial despair
  • The hypocrisy of those they trusted, leaving them floundering for faith, love and peace

Yet as sad as these bullets, a pathway back to hope is possible.

Barely a year ago, my son and I began a project — a book to present to millennials and those who love them. Our goal was to write an easy-to-understand manual about faith.

We included the basics: Who is God? How can we understand the Trinity? Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Yeah, not easy stuff. But these are some of the questions millennials ask and should ask as they seek honest answers.

I wrote each chapter, then my resident millennial son edited. He took out my Baby Boomer language and prodded me to consider the why of each topic.

Millennials want to know why. They demand authenticity. They will not, cannot accept a fact just because someone says so.

Each chapter was fact-checked for theological accuracy from a trusted pastor. Each word poured over, revised, prayed for.

Even the cover was chosen by my millennial — an abstract photo, the darker colors, block lettering.

This book is our attempt to reach out to those whose hearts are sad. We hope readers will feel less isolated, less confused about this divine One who loves them.

So UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe is now complete and available for sale. It may be the most important work I have done, certainly a project my son and I accomplished together.

That alone makes it precious.

If you know a millennial, if you are a millennial, consider reading this book. We wrote it because we care about you.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

UPLOADING FAITH: What It Means to Believe is available on Amazon and Kindle.

 

Hope in the Favorite

book with heartWe barely knew each other, the guy in the adjoining cubicle and I. As a mere temp worker, I did what I was told, edited the website, made few friends. Tried to survive as a single mom in the corporate jungle.

Doug was a full-time guy with plenty of responsibilities, a loving wife and four children. His cubicle plastered with photos of his happy life.

An occasional “good morning” greeting. A nod at the coffee bar. The extent of our communication as quick as the creamer melting in my coffee mug.

Yet Doug was going to change my perspective and boost my self-confidence.

This particular company made a big deal about birthdays: balloons, cakes, cards from everyone on staff and a whopping Starbucks gift from management.

I participated in plenty of birthdays for the others, signed my name on their cards. Still, I was surprised when they included me — the temp. On my birthday, purple balloons surrounded my cubicle. Someone remembered my favorite color. A giant cake in the break room, gluten free lemon – another fave.

Someone remembered, cared. As the last echoes of the Happy Birthday song faded, I began to open my cards. A small mountain of beautiful sentiments.

But it was Doug’s card that made me gasp. Tears quickly released. His scrawling signature with a simple phrase, “You are my favorite.”

I grew up in a time period where families made no secret of the favorite child. One of my great grandmothers often labeled a son as her favorite. Another grandchild was “Grandpa’s girl.”

The favorite child was rarely punished. It was always someone else’s fault. The favorite opened the most gifts at Christmas. The last will and testament clearly stated the favorite would receive the major portion of the inheritance.

Maybe the favoritism came from the Bible Belt mentality. David was a man after God’s heart. John the Apostle was the disciple Jesus loved.

But as I grew up, I remember feeling the emotional gap. Clearly, I was nobody’s favorite. Firstborns rarely held that position. We were too bossy, such over-achievers.

I didn’t know how deeply that rejection scar dug, how it was still embedded in my soul. Until I opened Doug’s card.

“You are my favorite.”

He had no idea how that simple phrase encouraged me, how I stood a little taller that day and couldn’t stop smiling. I whispered a “Thank you” but it didn’t seem enough.

What I have learned since then is that I am and always have been — a favorite. God Himself smiled when I was born, rejoiced over me with singing. In the years past, he has caressed my hair at night when I cried, provided for my needs, healed my son.

Because he is so present in every way, every place — God is able to spread his expansive love to every human being on earth. Without holding back from any of us. Open arms to match his open heart.

So if you find yourself needing a smidgen of hope, remember this tiny yet truthful phrase. Wrap your heart around it. Let it make you stand tall and feel loved.

“You are God’s favorite.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out Hope Shines on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

Hope for Happy Children

Caleb - RJT (2)He’s in a sweet spot – finally – this child of mine who has conquered so many battles: a malignant brain tumor, chemo, radiation, a disastrous hernia surgery, the death of his best friend and other challenging losses.

But now – thank you, God – he is happy. The IT training he’s enrolled in is a perfect fit. He’s already an expert in mobile technology. Now he’s moving toward a systems administrator certification. For the first time in his life, he’s excited about going to class.

He has a part-time job with perfect hours. A convenience store where he helps people pump gas and keeps the coffee brewing. Only a six-minute drive from home. Easy peasey.

He and his girlfriend are cute together. Both love dogs and Mexican food. They’re active in a small group at church. They have friends and family who support their relationship.

Sure, he still has challenges: the ever-present medical bills, car issues, icy roads. But he’s happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.

And this cheerfulness makes his mama happy as well. A boulder-sized burden has lifted from my heart.

So if I, as a human mother, feel such joy over the happiness of my child – doesn’t God feel the same when his children experience abundance?

For too long, we have been taught about a judgmental, condemning God. A divine One who delights only in the suffering of his creation. The falsity that we can only grow and thrive when we struggle.

Yes, challenges do force us to take a deep breath and pray for strength. We learn about hope and God’s faithfulness when our journey includes rocks and valleys. We discover our own power when we are forced to live from our guts.

But when things go well, we can also learn about the joy of abundance, the peace of prosperity – also topics in scripture. God blessed the last part of Job’s life.

Surely our loving Father feels a sense of relief for us when life is good. His child is following his heart. His beloved is finding her niche. I believe God finds delight in our victories and joys, just as we do when our children live in emotional prosperity.

Our hope is multiplied with God’s smile.

For now, my son and I enjoy this plateau of happiness. I am proud of my boy for staying the course, for reaching this pinnacle. I am also proud of the way he humbly lives each day, rejoicing in goodness.

Although I will continue to trust God when life unravels, now I choose to celebrate and hope these good times will be extended.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Soon I will participate in an Author Fest in my home town. My Hope Shines book will be featured. Have you read it yet?