When Nature Invites Hope

She was such a tiny thing — this feral mama cat who suddenly moved to my deck. Black, with a couple of white spots on her face. A tail that reminded me of a possum. Hard cartilage. Not inviting to touch.

She didn’t even look pregnant. Just hungry. Desperate. Why else would she dare to climb the steps and stare at me?

I know the drill. Never feed a feral cat. They’ll keep coming back and bring the entire clan. They’ll never be domesticated. Take them to the shelter. Pay for the spaying. Decrease the local litters.

Yet somehow, this unwanted and unlovely creature touched my heart. I could not trap her. She was too fast. I could not hurt her. She needed me.

We began with a tiny bit of food which she greedily accepted. Her reflexes tuned to mine. One tiny move on my part, and she was gone.

Over the weeks, she gradually let me inch closer. But not too close. If I reached out my hand, she disappeared. Came back two days later. Starving.

One morning, the summer wind turned cool. I decided to have my morning quiet time on the deck. Journal, Bible, pen. And the feral cat in a corner.

I watched her circle around the deck, then a bit closer on the next round. A couple of figure eights around one of the potted flowers. Another trip around. Closer. Ever closer.

As I tried to ignore her, yet watch her, she eyed me. Took another dance around the deck. I returned to my study.

Then I felt a soft brush against my leg, a tiny whisper of acceptance. Without looking, I reached down. She brushed against my arm. Allowed me to pet her. Once. Twice.

She disappeared for several days, then returned a bit thinner. We continued our sometimes-on-sometimes off dance. A few days of petting. Another day of skittering away.

But I knew she had finally accepted me when she brought her three babies. She dared to trust me with her family.

Beautiful kittens. Two black and whites. One fully black. The black one immediately let me pet him. The other two repeated their mother’s elusive dance.

They grew up and eventually left. But Mama cat stayed. Greeted me every morning. Begged for food.

One day I reached to pet her, and she shied away. As if we had never been friends. As if we were starting over again.

After all this time and all this food, you still don’t trust me?

I felt the rejection. Huffed inside and shut the door. Then shook my head as the allegory formed its meaning.

How many times has God answered my prayers, gifted me with a miracle, sent an encouragement? Multiple times during my life’s journey.

How many times has he drawn near as I danced closer, waited until I trusted him with the next transition in life, the next question of “What do I do?” Thousands of times.

How many times have I brought my child to the Divine and asked for blessings? Received the same. Gushed my gratitude.

Yet when another hard place threatens, when the latest questions shadow me with doubt, when I wonder again Does this deity really love me — I shy away. Cry awhile and disappear from what he longs to give me.

He returns each day. Offers me the bread of life. Lays an occasional treat in my bowl of need. And once again proves he is trustworthy.

My doubt disappoints me and hurts his gigantic heart. My faith takes a hit.

Yet the next day, there he is again. Reaching out for me. Asking me to trust him for another day, another transition. Being his hope-filled self.

Scripture reminds us that nature is a constant mirror of God’s grace. We see him in the changing of the leaves from verdant green to bronze. We sense him in the blessed rain shower after a season of drought. We honor him when animals gift us with unconditional love.

And even when we struggle to accept what is right before us, he continues to reach out. To provide. To be with us — his feral children.

Some days, hope seems to hide. Yet if we listen carefully, tune our souls to the intensity of nature, we can hear his whisper, “Yes, I still love you.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories of hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon and in Large Print.

Finding Hope in the Queue

While printing off documents, my printer suddenly decided to morph into la-la land. Electronic devices are wonderful — until they don’t work.

Frustrated, I tried to print the last document, not realizing what was happening on the other end of cyberspace. After rebooting, unplugging and still not printing, I turned everything off and quit for the day.

The next morning, the printer decided to resuscitate itself. It spewed out page after page of documents hidden in the queue. Eventually, it stopped — but not before adding several inches to my pile of recyclable scrap paper.

Sometimes, the electronic world imitates life.

How many times do we pray for something, wait and wait longer while heaven lives in introverted silence? Nothing happens for weeks, months, even years.

Our prayers are stuck in the queue of God’s waiting room.

Then suddenly — an avalanche of answered prayers, all bunched up at the same time. We gasp at the range of unexpected blessings, certain once again that God does indeed love us.

What can we learn from our moments stuck in the queue?

Persistence is a worthwhile virtue.

The best writing, the purest answers to prayer, the most productive days evolve as a result of self-discipline. When we give it our best and keep at it — over and over — we eventually see the results.

We may not currently see the finish line, but it WILL appear. Persistence produces results — one of the key principles of life.

Nothing worthwhile happens easily. When we have to work for it, we fully appreciate the results. We are then energized to persist with more fervor.

Effective Results Require Patience.

Patience and persistence are twins. They sometimes look alike and often require the same disciplines to feed them.

But the persistence twin is a process while the patience twin reveals a quality of life.

Patience reminds us to wait, then wait more. And when we can no longer stand the wait, we dig deep. We learn how much strength authentic waiting requires.

Patience is the months-or-years-long battle, waiting for the chemo to take effect and save a life.

Patience allows the preschooler to tie his own shoes even while the school bus honks.

Patience sits beside the Alzheimer’s resident and responds to the same question again and again.

Patience learns the passage of time, because the process cannot be rushed. If we want the best results, we must not deny the waiting.

Patience turns off the printer, instead of continuing the process of frustration, adding more documents to the queue which then wastes paper. Lesson learned.

Sometimes the Best Action is No Action. For planners like me, it feels better to do something — anything — to help the process along.

But sometimes, the cyberspace universe has to arrange its pixels and find its missing megabytes. I don’t even understand its language. How then, can I make it do something?

When we’ve prayed and prayed, waited and persisted, yet nothing happens, we can use the prayer of relinquishment. I don’t always understand God’s language. I cannot make him do something, so I relinquish the problem to him.

“Oh God, I can’t stand this. I have absolutely no clue what to do. Please take over and do whatever is needed to mend this problem. I give up.”

This prayer seems counterintuitive to what we have been taught about productivity, but the Psalmist declared the same advice, “Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for him and patiently lean yourself on him” (Psalm 37:7 AMP).

Be still. Unplug. Stop trying to figure it out. Don’t worry. Let go and let God salve your weary soul.

If we won’t learn how to be still, then we end up with a heap of nothing: wasted words, frustrated prayers and sometimes — piles of worthless paper.

But if we let go and let God figure it out, then we return to the task refreshed, ready for whatever he will give us and grateful for lessons learned.

Waiting in the queue is rarely easy. We may tire of the time required before something happens.

But God knows what he is doing. Maybe he’s waiting for us to trust him so he can finish the job.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner struggles with what to do. He can’t make himself well, even by praying about it. And his cat thinks he’s a bit weird. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Searching for Hope in the Great Divide

My church just finished a series of messages focused on marriage. I did not attend.

Throughout my decades of work in churches, I have heard multiple sermons about marriage. Tips for how to love your spouse. Using the five love languages. Submission, submission, submission.

Gag!

While there was a time in my life when those sermons were a bit helpful, for the last twenty years I’ve wondered about the great divide.

You know, that nice little label that many of us don’t fit anymore: Mommy, Daddy and 2.5 kids. 

Where are the messages that focus on the beauty and strength of being single? Are we still so enamored with the idea that to be a true believer, we have to find that perfect mate, set up house in the right neighborhood and raise our kids to do the same?

Churches often satisfy the inclusion of singles by setting up a Singles Group. In my experience, said group often becomes a place to search for that perfect mate — the one who already goes to church so s/he must be safe.

I can line up hundreds of women who found out that principle does not work.

So who are the people who might appreciate a sermon about the significance of being single?

  • Those who never married yet continue to attend church and volunteer weekly. One of the ladies in my Bible class fits this category. She helps on the communion team, preps the elements we take together once/month. She is also a praying woman who stays updated with the needs of people and reports answers to prayer. I respect her and appreciate her service.
  • The widows and widowers. These are the folks who once fit the nice little label. Now they are alone and searching for how to find their significance. They still have multiple gifts to be used. Many of them continue to serve in the background, but a sermon series affirming their contributions might bring them hope.
  • Single moms are the group that most keenly feel rejection. In fact, 67% of single moms leave the church and never return. They no longer fit anywhere, and they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising kids alone. Sunday becomes the loneliest day of the week.

In all the years I have been associated with churches, only once did I hear a sermon about the value of being single. It was presented by a woman minister, a single woman, who underscored the work singles did in her church and community.

I sent her a thank you card.

We have no record of the dating life of Jesus. In spite of the plotline of The Da Vinci Code, we assume he stayed single so that he could focus on his goal of winning for us salvation. What would he think about the emphasis on marriage at the exclusion of singles?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to consider singleness as a positive. “God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried. So I say to those who aren’t married, better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 TLB).

Has anybody out there ever heard a sermon preached on this passage? Or is Paul considered an aberration because he stayed single to complete his mission?

Perhaps my ramblings in this post are because 2020 did an isolation number on me. To my surprise, I missed church. I was so glad when we opened again.

Then, just as I was feeling like part of the “family,” here came the sermon series on marriage. So I drove to Target and tried to comfort myself with something frivolous I did not need.

You know: chocolate, another tank top, the newest flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, another journal, gluten free blueberry muffins, more chocolate.

I guess some of us singles need to know if the institution of the church is ever going to get a clue about what being single means.

About how we know specifically that our Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4-5) totally accepts us even if the rest of his kids don’t.

About how we find our fulfillment focused on loving God and loving others, not seeking a mate.

About how we search for hope each day and find it in the solitude of being alone.

About how we love the church but can’t stand how it treats us.

Maybe the search for hope finds it own fulfillment within the search itself. Trusting that God appreciates us even if our ring finger is bare.

Believing that in our singleness — even without the affirmation of the church — we know we are loved.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner is single and dealing with a tragedy in his church. He takes a sabbatical to straighten out his head and finds hope in his heart. The Year of my Redemption.

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.