When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

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Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking recently about changing expectations. By now, we hope - scrabble lettersexpected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for – free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on – the happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money
  • Trips planned
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee / tea / chocolate
  • A certainty that our lives have impacted people / that we’ve made a difference in this world
  • Blessings of the abundant life

Instead of reveling in the resolution of these expectations, we are instead experiencing:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betray us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of living alone
  • Friends lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize and move or hunker down where we are
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • The abundant life kind of fizzling out

Not such golden years. Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through?

Simple, yet hard. Stop looking at the outcomes. Instead, trust God Himself.

When the answers aren’t what we want to hear and don’t match up with our expectations, no one can figure out why. But it doesn’t help our attitudes if we focus on what did not happen. Gloom is not pretty.

Focus instead on what it means to believe in the great I AM.

I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.

I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening.

I AM helping you through this mess, one day at a time.

I AM going to meet every need if you’ll just wait for me.

I AM still loving you, loving your children, even loving all the weird people who have hurt you.

I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.

I AM.

And when the days seem longer than 24 hours, play this video and keep holding on to hope.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope, check out Hope Shines” – encouraging nuggets for each day.

Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.

Hope Completes the Journey

Dear Deb,

The book is finished.

You would be so glad. If you were here, we would celebrate at a Mexican restaurant with fabulous guacamole. Plenty of chips. Constant refills.DM at country store

You would give me hugs and “I knew you could do it” words.

Throughout our meal, I would be thanking you for pushing me, for encouraging me to keep going.

Twelve years, my friend. During a dozen teeth-gnashing years, this book has been through multiple drafts, revisions, even a couple of genre changes.

But finally, it is the book I was supposed to write—the book you knew I COULD write.

It was important because of the women we both knew, those incredibly brave women who faced their hardest truths and stepped into an unknown world.

These women we taught, led in groups, cried with reminded us of the women we once were. How we needed our cadre of women warriors to help us fight our way to freedom.

This book underscores our experiences and the life journeys of these like-minded women.

I am sad you never saw the completed manuscript, never had the chance to hold the book in your hands. I know you would be proud. “Love it,” you would say.

Before you left us, you heard about the title my son created: “No Visible Scars.

“I love it,” you said. “It’s perfect,” you added.

You would have adored the cover your Sarah designed.

I am asking God to let you peek through the heavenlies and see it. I know it will bring you extra joy.

Thank you, precious friend, for being my cheerleader for this project.

Thank you for boosting me over the mountain of self-doubt, for reminding me to keep going, to finish the course, to see it through.

It is finished.

I miss you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Domestic abuse happens even in the best of homes. Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Underscores the Symptoms of Domestic Abuse

“Surely that isn’t possible,” she said, this woman who loved and was loved by an amazing man for thirty-three years.

“Oh, but it is possible. Not only possible, but it happens more often than you might think.” I countered with the mental images of countless women whose stories underscore the truth.

abused woman - hidingDomestic abuse DOES happen in some Christian homes. In fact, one out of three women live in destructive relationships.

We never hear about it from the pulpit or recognize this tragedy until a marriage ends or a woman is carried out of her home, strapped to a gurney.

Everyone understands domestic violence. We all know the origin of blackened eyes, purple bruises or broken fingers.

But domestic abuse hides behind mental prisons, within emotional scars. We cannot see this type of ugliness, and we don’t want to admit it happens—especially within the sanctity of the church.

Yet it will continue if we keep its dirty secret. Too many hurting victims afraid to confess their truth. Too many abusers comfortable with their shame.

And we cannot find hope until we unveil the ugly truth.

On the back pages of my novel, “No Visible Scars, I have listed some of the symptoms of domestic abuse. These come from years of working with women, resources from safe places where women seek shelter, and trusted professionals such as Leslie Vernick.

These are some of the scars my heroine, Abigail, suffers. The same scars women suffered during biblical times and still suffer today.

Read and consider. Are you hiding behind some of these symptoms? Do you know a woman who might be struggling to find hope? Do you know a man who brags about treating “his woman” this way?

  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women
  • Degrading her in front of the children and/or in public
  • Playing good guy / bad guy. She never knows who will be walking in the door.
  • Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Forceful sexual advances and/or rape
  • Giving her the silent treatment

These are only a few of the symptoms listed and shown through the story of Abigail. But the saddest aspect of domestic abuse is that many women have been taught they must put up with it—that God demands they must submit and learn how to be quiet, gentle women.

This is such a putrid lie.

We can go to the same Bible often used as a weapon to find the truth. Consider how Jesus treated women, how he respected them, valued them, defended them, allowed them to join his tribe and listen to his teachings.

Consider what God Himself did to Abigail’s abusive husband, Nabal. “The Lord smote Nabal and he died” (1 Samuel 25:38).

In essence, God was saying, “Don’t mess with my daughters.”

The same God loves and defends his daughters today. How can we do less? How can we offer hope to the women in our churches, our families, our communities?

We start by telling the truth, by admitting that it happens and calling it out. Then we support and encourage these women when they come for help. And we teach our children well—our sons how to treat their sisters, our daughters to embrace empowerment.

Domestic abuse will not go away until we underscore its ugliness and uncover its hiding places.

Shouldn’t those of us who sit in church pews be the first to make a difference? Shouldn’t we follow our precious worship songs with the cry “Enough!”

Can’t we examine our teachings and some of the false assumptions we have transmitted through the years?

We are made in the image of God, male and female. And as the divine image bearers, we need to be more proactive to respect each other, to defend women and their children and to make sure our men are living examples of godly behavior.

Let’s share the hope where it is needed most.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope in the Waiting

So many people seem to be waiting.clock - Victorian

  • A good friend is waiting in ICU with her seriously ill husband
  • My son is waiting for complete healing and a blood clot to dissolve
  • Another friend’s son is waiting anxiously for a job opening
  • My nephew is waiting for the day his bride walks down the aisle – 46 days
  • I am waiting for the final author proof of my newest book

Waiting for answers. Waiting for circumstances to change. Waiting for life to move forward.

The word that comes to mind is “frenemy.” One of those complex thoughts where writers like me often dwell.

A frenemy is a person we invite into our inner circle as a friend, yet we may dislike many of their qualities. Frenemies seem to be on our side, then they turn on us.

Bringing the concept of waiting into personification makes it a frenemy.

In hindsight, we know waiting helps our faith grow. Yet enduring the days and weeks of tested patience seems to play on the negative side of this oxymoron.

Living in limbo, waiting for the outcome, for the answered prayer.

In the waiting, we are proven.

How do we stay in hope while the frenemy of waiting besieges us, steals time and forces us to dig deeper into endurance?

I only know what works for me:

  • Admit I am impatient.
  • Call the frenemy of waiting what it is.
  • Re-read my journals about past times of waiting: 10 years for a healthy child, 3 years to sell a house, another 10 years to complete and publish a book.
  • Remember God is timeless. He defines “soon” with eternal measurements.
  • Try to learn the lesson of patience—again.

And when I scrape the bottom of my endurance barrel, I repeat Psalm 43:5, “Hope in God for I will yet praise Him.”

I find hope as I live in the “yet.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re in a waiting period and scraping the bottom of your endurance barrel, consider a read-through of Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.