Hope Finds Community

On a cool fall day – as the leaves began changing their seasonal clothes, I joined a friend for Sunday service in a country church.country church

The white clapboard exterior adorned with an iron bell, calling the community to gather. An open door – both figuratively and in reality. All welcome. All embraced.

Picture the TV show, “Little House on the Prairie” and the serene little church where families sat together and knew everyone – where all were accepted and worshipped together.

Wooden pews, missing from contemporary church buildings, enabled us to sit close, to feel connected as the organ invited us into the prelude.

Bead board on the ceiling, a treasure for this “Fixer Upper” fan, and a real wooden pulpit fashioned by a craftsman.

We stood together to speak words of commitment, our common belief in the God of the ages. With syncopated action, we pulled hymnbooks from their ledges and turned to the song that echoed with the remembered faith of our fathers.

I did not need to see the words, knowing every note and the lyrics of all three verses. My favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” echoed with the harmonies around me. Oh glory! Four-part harmony once again – its absence unknown to my soul suddenly awakened.

Then a message of hope from the book of Ephesians, delivered by the passionate pastor – the shepherd of this country flock. The female pastor – yes – a woman embraced and accepted for her leadership qualities, obviously called to this community and loved by all.

My grieving heart at peace. The raw emotions somehow salved in the peace of this place. A step back to where I once grew up, so like the country church of my past.

We have lost something precious with our darkened sanctuaries, our theatrical great rooms with cappuccino-smelling lobbies and stackable chairs. With our mega churches and multiple services, we no longer recognize the friendly faces of those who share our faith.

Yes – faith remains intact no matter what the setting. But the simple purity of a country church service emanated hope by its very presence into the sacred.

We stood, sang together the Doxology, then received the benediction. Grace covered us, and we exited in peace.

Once again, I was filled with hope, embraced by this community and the God who placed them there. And within the safety of that place, my soul found momentary rest.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

This post first appeared a year ago – a favorite of my readers. I post it again, hoping you will receive twice the enjoyment.

A year ago, I happened to be on the deck as a tree unloaded its entire leaf burden. It was as if God said, “It’s 3:24 on the date I created. Disengage.”leaves-falling-autumn

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings and the tree stood naked in the autumn wind.

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch the autumn leaves fall.

Some of them let loose to fall quickly and suddenly – as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf. Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

Other leaves are more graceful in their descent, twisting and turning as they spiral downward, then find a spot of yet-green grass to slide to a landing.

But my favorites are the leaves that dance as if floating toward a purpose, the mulching of the ground, the photosynthesis of time.

These are the leaves that catch a final wisp of Kansas wind and turn upward for a moment, then pirouette in different directions, exposing their golden undersides to the rhythms of autumn.

These are the leaves that take my breath away as they meander across space and take their time letting gravity win.

The analogy of the autumn dance signals that even when nature introduces another winter – the rhythms of life continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves and take my time enjoying the process of aging, the transitions of life that come to all of us.

Somehow, I want to find the cadence of trust that allows my soul to float without worry, to sing in harmony with a greater purpose.

Maybe I can best mimic these graceful leaves by paying more attention to the way nature forms them – like veined boats that gather morning dew and shadow us during summer’s heat.

The reds and golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin to remind us all are beautiful – different yes – but glorious in our uniqueness.

And just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of my life.

He knows that exact moment when I will let go and dance toward a greater purpose – when the questions will be answered and the direction clear.

Gratefully, in his arms – I will segue from dance to eternity.

But unlike the leaves, I will fall upward.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Reflects

A few weeks ago, I finished reading “Loud and Clear” – a compilation of columns by Anna Quindlen. She was my favorite journalist for many years – a writer who could force us to think yet remain approachable.

With each column, I reminded myself – I should have been a journalist like Anna. I should have majored in a field that was steeped in words.heart and book string

But my “shoulds” after high school were always underscored with the need to prove myself, with rules to obey, with dying to self to the point of killing the soul.

Back then, I did not realize how the forming of sentences could serve, help others, minister comfort.

I wish now for a do-over of life, but know I can only move into the foreshadowing of my destiny.

So on this day – may the words of my mouth and of my pen and computer keyboard be acceptable to God and meaningful to my readers.

I find direction in the Amplified version of Psalm 37:5 – laced with my own interpretation:

  • As a writer, I commit my way – the very path of my words to you, God
  • I roll and repose every care on You
  • May my thoughts be infused with clarity and creativity
  • To You I give my emotional load and the sorrow that still wraps me in painful tentacles
  • I determine to trust You for my comfort – in spite of the siren call of chocolate and ice cream cartons that scream, “Eat me! You’ll feel better.
  • Leaning hard on the divine, I declare You are my eternal Husband and Maker – worthy of my life-long trust
  • I am confident Your role in my life is good and You will determine the factors of my future life
  • I sincerely and genuinely believe You will bring to pass Your perfect plan and somehow – I will be safe within that blueprint.

But how do all these bullet points actually happen? How do we step from the germ of faith into the staircase of upward-moving activity?

By paying attention to Psalm 37:7 – the same Amplified and RJT version:

  • By being still – listening to the quiet pulsings of my heart
  • By resting in the divine – letting Him do His thing in me and through me although rest is sometimes the scariest activity for this Type A writer
  • By waiting on God – for His best timing to work everything out for my good
  • By believing the divine does indeed have a good plan – in spite of the not-so-good stuff going on around me
  • By patiently leaning on Him – letting the Eternal One do His work without my interference, without my plunging ahead to make something happen because it’s easier to trust me than this entity I cannot see
  • By not worrying about what tomorrow brings
  • By not comparing myself, my work or my life to any other homo sapien who is probably struggling just as much as I
  • By not trying to sort out the “why’s” of life because reasons lie in eternal vaults of understanding
  • By just being myself – in simple trust – and knowing that is enough
  • By grabbing on to Hope and clinging to its Author with all my might

So what about you? How do you find your Hope each day?

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness.

Each year, I plant and nurture a variety of chrysanthemums. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom.

When late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds, then fuller blossoms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow mums fill my garden with spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance.

Mums were the plants loving friends brought when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them dying before birth. Each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb morphing into a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer.

It is within the silence of our griefs that faith best grows.

Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who could give no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life.

The hope of this mother that another season might bring another child – a living babe to hold, kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb.

Just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it.

Some unresolved grief so desperate I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. I honor my children by planting these mums as my personal cemetery token.

In the spring, I cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope.

Somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

In the waiting – in the hoping – comes a resolve. To honor each day in the land of the living even while looking forward to the land of promise.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Hope Writes

writing - notebook and penWords pour out of me – a torrent of expression and emotion. Stories, articles, journal rantings, blog posts. Revisions three or four times then a sending of the results to editors, publishers, agents.

This is how I process grief, how I find my way through the valley and back to life. Future joy is hidden somewhere within paragraphs waiting to be uncovered.

Bullet journaling helps validate my limitations:

  • A surprise trigger in the middle of Wal-Mart
  • Escape to the pets aisle, hang over the cat litter and weep
  • A burnished copper mum on sale at Lowe’s. Buy it now. I need it.
  • Drive through Sonic for cheese tots because grief does not care if I eat healthy
  • The salt of tears, the salt of cheese tots – both necessary
  • A gust of wind driving Deb’s wind machine brings a sudden blip of happiness
  • Gratitudes written at the end of each day, forcing myself to find hope
  • On my knees in prayer, begging for Paraclete comfort
  • Feeling closer to Deb because we shared the same God

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It was through story that I was able to make some small sense of the confusions and complications of life.

That is my purpose in the pouring out of words – to find some sense in the loss, some purpose for the taking away.

A new connection on LinkedIn told me, “Write the best book possible, then share it with the world – to encourage others.”

So I reach for that goal, begin a new journal, open another pack of gel pens.

Grateful for the outpouring of words, stories, and blog posts that underscore where I am in this search for a new normal.

Or perhaps a new abnormal, because grief always changes us – scrapes us raw, then makes us see the beauty of what we had before, the gratitudes we might have taken for granted.

Knowing that others are searching, too – longing to find their direction, to process their sufferings in healthy ways.

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19 NASB).

How sweet that the best way to console comes through the communications gift God gave me. This creative urge sustains and upholds, dissects yet discerns.

I am grateful for the process and the journey. Although hating the reason for this valley, perhaps the ultimate meaning brings a better crafting, more outreach of the sentences that define my gifting.

Even in the darkness, words continue to pulse. And writing confirms that the Creator at work in me is also the Giver of hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Goals Print Cover

If you process life through the gift of writing, then setting and reaching your writing goals will move you toward health and joy. For a guidebook and some accountability tips, order your copy here.

Hope Finds a Miracle

flower in cementThey swooped into the ICU, a gaggle of church women – loud, excited, demanding. Their leader shouted, “I believe in a God of miracles.”

So do I. Shut up!

They swarmed into a circle, grabbed hands and entreated God to do something NOW – to bring back to wholeness my precious friend.

Certain that raw emotion and lack of sleep caused my abrasive attitude, I nevertheless watched them with rising irritation.

The doctors had agreed. No treatments were working. We were preparing our hearts for the inevitable tragedy as each breath brought Deb’s life closer to its end.

Of course, God could have blinked his eye and restored the paralysis from a massive stroke. He could have balanced her red blood cells that fell way below normalcy.

But Deb’s timeline was determined before she was born. As much as we hated to accept it, she was reaching its end.

When we face the unexpected tragedy, we pray for a miracle. We want life to return to what it was before. We long to delete the past weeks that brought nothing but bad news.

Yet when we demand that God restore life OUR way and in OUR timing, we fail to see the miracles already occurring. We are blinded by our own self-righteousness.

Within that ICU, family and friends became one. At the beginning of the journey, we dared to hope – planned how Deb’s next weeks would include healthy meals and constant attention to her needs.

Then as the crash happened and reality changed, we clung to each other, physically and emotionally. The drama we shared in that room brought unity and love that even now brings me to a tearful awe. With all the demographics and ages present, all the differences in beliefs – a miracle of togetherness drew us close.

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

After the gaggle left, still demanding their version of God’s will, I moved beside the bed and held Deb’s hand. The miracle of our friendship seemed a sweeter gift than ever before. The way her family embraced me and included me in Deb’s last days helped salve my broken heart. Another miracle of acceptance and compassion.

Ultimately, the greatest miracle DID occur. Certainly not the one we wanted, longed for. At the end of that terrible day, Deb’s body failed and she left us.

But the ultimate miracle happened as her invisible soul traveled into eternity – a forever of peace and joy.

We can always pray for the miracle we want and hope for the best. But if we demand the miraculous to look like our earthly description, we will be disappointed. Even Lazarus had to die again.

My friend will never have to struggle through another winter or face another tax season. She has been released from her worries and fears.

But hope still lives in the legacy she left behind and the miracle of how her life impacted so many.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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.