Hope Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for soul whispers.when-god-reaches-out

It is often in the early morning when the meditations of my heart remind me I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well.

Such a moment happened in a recent morning as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

It was a female voice, so perhaps its source was the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Perhaps a sweet relative who has passed to glory.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew it was no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, the voice traveled from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved – completely and forever adored by the divine One.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling of being surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen – when eternity interrupts our life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence?

Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Emanuel with us?

Does he long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy, but what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain between the physical and spiritual worlds?

What if God is always reaching out to us, to give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead and we’re just too focused on the now to realize he is there?

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. Brain damage. The intensive care unit with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Rich had crossed over. The phone call was no surprise. Tears yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Then two days later, suddenly Rich stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face, he wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in New Mexico – a coral stone set in silver, the black leather strap.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. And it was a token from eternity that Rich was all right, would always and forever be okay.

And then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next? It cannot be measured by our finite minds, but for me – its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we have seemed to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And right there, standing with them, is the Savior of our souls – this One who dares to love us in spite of who we are or what we have done.

So I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to the hope that maybe I’ll hear the same voice and feel the touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Builds on the Truth

toe ringTen minutes into my home Bible study, Judith gasped.

I stopped reading Romans 12 and asked, “Any questions or concerns?”

To her credit, Judith must have decided not to confront me in front of the entire group. “No,” she said. “Nothing right now.”

After I finished teaching, Judith hung back so I said goodnight to the rest of the group and sat down with Judith.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You seemed concerned about something.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said, “I don’t understand…but…you’re teaching this Bible study and you’re wearing a toe ring.”

I peeked down at my right foot where the second toe did indeed sport a silver toe ring. “Yep,” I said. “I really like my toe ring. I bought it at that eclectic boutique downtown.”

“But a toe ring…isn’t that…sinful? My church says women should only wear wedding rings and nothing else. Our beauty is supposed to come from a pure heart – not from a bunch of jewelry – an outward show…especially something as liberal as a toe ring. It’s almost like something hippies wear.”

I knew Judith attended a church where Legalism 101 was the consistent textbook, but I didn’t realize how deeply spiritual abuse had affected her life.

She shared with me how afraid she was that someone would discover she colored her hair. Her entire spiritual focus was based on how “good” she had to be and how many rules she had to obey.


I reminded her of Jeremiah 31:3. “God says he loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t mention any rules we have to obey to earn his love. It’s just there, available for us because of who he is.


“God loves you, Judith, no matter what you do and no matter what you wear. He wants you to love him back – not live in fear that you might make a terrible mistake someday and ruin everything. His love for you is eternal – forever and ever.”

Over the next few weeks, I helped Judith find Bible verses about the love of God. The Bible became more of a romance anthology rather than a judgmental tome. We looked at the life of Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple of Jesus. Nowhere did scripture condemn her or even mention anything she wore.

Even though she had been a prostitute, Mary was the one who first saw the living Christ after his resurrection. She was given the task of telling the rest of the disciples that Jesus was alive. And she didn’t have to dress a certain way to spread the good news.

Throughout the next months, Judith and I met often to talk about God’s love. She began to smile more freely and even giggled a few times. The burden of carrying all that legalism in her heart lifted, and she shared her freedom with the other ladies in the group.

Then one night, she came to Bible study with a radiant grin. “Guess what I did,” she said.

She held out her right foot, and I started laughing. Shining on the middle digit was a gold toe ring. We danced together in a happy hug.

Two years later, I received the news that Judith’s son had committed suicide. When I called her, she was, of course, heartbroken. But in between sobs she said, “I still believe God loves me and somehow – he’ll help me make it through this grief.”

I was so grateful Judith had made it past the obstacles of spiritual abuse via legalism. Without her new freedom, she would have blamed herself for her son’s death and lived with the lie that God had punished her for something she had done wrong.

Judith and her husband moved away, but we occasionally called or wrote letters. When I saw her again – years later – she wore the prominent wrinkles of a woman who has been through the worst grief yet the glow of freedom was still obvious. She had survived to find acceptance and joy on the other side of the pain.

“I’m okay,” she said, as I stroked her cheek. “It’s been hard, but I’m okay.”

Then she lifted her leg so I could see her foot. The gold toe ring still shone from the middle digit, a visual reminder that hope conquers even the most stubborn of lies.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope in Finding the Story

saleAs I drove up to the multi-storied house, the “Estate Sale” sign reminded me of my mission. Look for something I could use at work – some objects that would bring encouragement to the women I coach: maybe a pot of flowers, some beautiful cards, a trinket I could give away.

What I didn’t expect to find was a story.

I joined the crowd of people poking through bedrooms, closets and kitchen – each of us searching for treasures at a reduced price.

Empathy set in as I realized this was a family who had just buried their matriarch. Now they had sold her house and were sorting through what she left behind, offering pieces of her life to strangers.

What sort of life did she live? The question hounded me even as I began to discover clues to her story.

In the garage, colorful pots for planting the cuttings of a new flower or plant. The texture of the pots described a women who was attracted to pottery rather than spray-painted plastic. A woman who appreciated the genuine.

A stack of books pulled me like a magnet into the intrigue of a life past. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic treatises. A mathematical mind, detailed, and carefully constructed to pay attention to pi, cosign and greater than.

A pile of books about alternative health. Was she sickened by a disease no one could treat, so she tried to find help beyond the traditional medical community? Did any of the vitamins, acupuncture or colloidal treatments give her a few more years of quality life?

Sadly – no books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books – unless her family already sequestered those to keep alive the memories of mom and grandmother.

The basement, filled with Christmas decorations. Obviously a woman who loved the holidays and filled her lavish home with pine wreaths, Scandinavian villages that lit up and over-sized ornaments, sparkling in the dim basement light.

The story of her life became even more clear as I combed through bedding, crept into closets and fingered vintage textures. This woman knew her own style and didn’t care for polyester cutouts that looked like everyone else.

In the kitchen, more health-conscious books about nutrition, cooking without cholesterol-building substances, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan I needed, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular pan before she finally succumbed to the frailty of her last days.

Before payment at the front parlor check-out, I walked through the house once more, prayed for the grieving family, found a few more treasures and considered how story follows us throughout life.

What kind of story did my life tell and how was it accented by my stuff? If someone looked through my bookshelves, could they determine I am a student of theology, a creative writer and and a woman who loves color and texture?

If a stranger looked under my deck, would they determine how I garden with old yet favorite tools, that the farmer gene in me has never exited, even after years in the city?

Would my costume jewelry, my terracotta pottery and my wooden rocking chair whisper that I am a simple country girl who finds solace in the beauty of handmade afghans, multiple stacks of books and the comforting jangle of a flowery mobile from New Mexico?

I came away from that estate sale hugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan I needed to replace its long-ago-broken twin and a sense of story that emanated from the treasures I held.

We are each living the story of our lives. How much of our stuff reflects our authenticity and moves others to consider hope?

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Recovers from Fear

My son is sick, and I am afraid.Caleb and Mom at Rachel's wedding

Because he is a cancer survivor (eight years, bless God!), when something happens that interrupts that heart relief of his healing – my soul fears.

Last week, he was disoriented. He couldn’t drive, couldn’t write his name, had trouble putting words together to make a sentence.

The honest prayer of Reverend G poured from me, “Oh God oh God oh God. I can’t stand it.”

We scheduled an appointment with the neurologist who ordered the usual lab work and then an MRI.

The night before the imaging test, I woke up every two and a half hours to check on Caleb – to tiptoe into his bedroom, touch his forehead, check his breathing.


Every two and a half hours – the same amount of time that he woke me up for feedings when he was a baby. Now, 29 years later, my mommy heart somehow answered an internal alarm to check on my grown child.


Every time I returned to bed, I fell to my knees to beg God, “Please! Will you take my last living child? You already have my first two babies. Please, please, save my son!”

My prayers became whimpers of pleading along with the recitations of verses to remind God of his promises:

“No weapon used against us will prosper. No weapon, God. Please.”

“God delivers us from all our fears. Deliver us, oh God.”

“Peace I leave with you. Peace I give unto you. Your beloved peace, I beg of you.”

Then the morning sky, the day of the MRI, that metal machine surrounding my son’s body, imprinting its pictures on the radiologic screen – answers that will bring relief or sorrow.

Oh God oh God oh God. I can’t stand it.

Then the waiting. They read the results. Fax them to the doctor. Contact my son. He texts me.

No tumor. No reoccurrence.

Oh God oh God oh God. I thank you.

But then a reminder of other mothers who will receive bad news this day. Some will not thank God but fall to their knees in grief, stand before a coffin and place flowers on a grave.

Oh God – deliver us from the ravages of death. Come, Lord Jesus.

We still have no answers for this attack on Caleb’s body. More doctors. More tests.

But in the process, hope revives. We will deal with whatever it is and thrust our fear-filled hearts toward the only One who knows the answers.

Hope still survives.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness that I plant and nurture each year. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom. Because I know that when late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds and then full blooms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow – I love to fill my garden with these spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance. Mums were the plants that loving friends brought to me 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 – each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb becoming 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 in 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 provided 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 autumn might bring another child – a living babe I could hold and 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 deep I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. Miscarried babies receive no funeral, no cemetery plot where mothers go to grieve. So I honor my children by planting mums as my personal cemetery token.

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

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Discovering the Saints in Assisted Living

When I visited my mother-in-law at her assisted living, we talked about the passing of seasons. Besides the obvious winter season of November and Thanksgiving, we discussed the particular seasons of life.old woman

Her season now includes living in the beautiful and secure setting of assisted living where she is surrounded by those who help her remember when lunch is served and when it is time to visit the hair salon.

Her nails have grown long and are carefully manicured because her daughters make sure she receives that treat. I remember her as the hard-working housewife during a previous season, puttering around her kitchen with brittle fingernails thrust into dishwater several times a day.

But life is different now. She has no dishes to wash and no floors to scrub, so she grows her nails long and chooses any color she likes for the nail tech who paints them. I am glad for her this tiny yet significant joy.

I accompany her to lunch and as we visit, I see the faces of my past. The father of one of my high school friends holds himself erect even as he slowly makes his way to the lunch buffet. I remember the quiet dignity of this aging saint, the way he encouraged us to sing and pray and trust. His hair, once a flaming red, now reflects over 80 years of pigment change while wrinkles line the face that once smiled at us from a left side pew, half-way down in the sanctuary.

Another gentleman recognizes me and I him. He once worked the land even as my father did. I remember one harvest when my family had to leave the fields to attend the funeral of my uncle.

While we were gone, this farmer gathered his family together, left his own fields untended and cut our family’s wheat. A necessary kindness that farmers often presented to their neighbors – a way to pay it forward. They knew we would reciprocate if they ever needed the same kindness.

This man stands before me and explains that his Thanksgiving this year was sad. A second son has preceded him to heaven – the backwards motion of life that tragically surprises, reminding us there are no guarantees no matter what our age. Each day is precious and can never be retrieved.

I understand the grief behind his eyes, yet he still smiles – a reminder that our shared faith reaches much farther than the cemetery.

Another saint eats in the dining room, and I recognize the gracious woman who once served in various hospitality ministries. She is now confined to a wheelchair and the daughter who tends her wears the same smile, bearing resemblance not only to the physical family traits but also to the holy inhabitant within.

My mother-in-law finishes her lunch, and I manage to snag a piece of pecan pie for her, remembering her own pecan pies during past seasons. I could never replicate her pecan pie, even when I explicitly followed the recipe.

The seasons of the past flow around me in the aging faces of faith – these elders who passed on to a young girl the importance of church attendance and scripture memory, the joy of interceding for each other as we responded in worship together.

I feel gratitude for the examples of these saints, these living images of the Hebrews 11 heroes who whispered advice through the ages. These are the folks who now wait out their timelines in assisted living while I continue in the ministry of my current season.

One season blends into another and each season is affected by the weather of the previous, just as the faith behaviors of these aged saints once affected me.

I can only hope that my life is also a favorable influence on the generations younger than I who may someday visit me in the winter season of my life.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

3 Inevitable Emotions of Caregiving

It happens every time.

 

As soon as I turn away from my mother’s door in assisted living and walk down the hallway – away from her, the emotions hit me. You’d think I would be used to them by now. For ten years my family struggled with Dad’s dementia and all the accompanying emotions. Now that Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I should expect the same feelings.

 

But still – the emotions grip my soul and I cry all the way to the car – then sit in the driver’s seat until my vision is no longer blurry.

 

When we become caregivers, certain emotions come to live with us. One of these emotions is sadness. The long goodbye, aka Alzheimer’s, triggers a sadness unlike any other grief I have suffered. It is not the unexpected grief of a sudden loss – a miscarriage, unemployment or illness – but rather the day-by-day grief steps caused by the regressive nature of the disease.

 

Even though Mom remembers me today, she will someday forget how to introduce me to her friends in assisted living. Sad, but true.

 

Another sadness lies ahead. If Mom does not graduate to heaven within the next few years, we will have to relocate her to the nursing home section of the facility.

 

“Never put me in a nursing home.” I can still hear the echo of her plea.

 

Sadness reinforces the truth that at the end of this particular journey, my siblings and I will be orphans.  Grief will multiply.

 

3 emotions caregivingAnother emotion, rejection, surfaces every time Mom forgets a memory that is important to me. “Remember when?” is no longer a game we play. And when Mom does hesitate with my name, rejection swallows logic.

 

I know she doesn’t mean to reject me. Somewhere, cached in her soul is my baby face, her firstborn. But I miss our shopping trips and the way we used to talk about the books we were reading. I no longer hear her laughter, because she can’t comprehend jokes anymore. When I send her cards and she shows them to me, clearly imprinted with my signature, then tells me they are from someone else – I feel rejected.

 

Although sadness and rejection bring pain, guilt is the emotion that tortures me.

 

No, Mom, we never wanted to put you into assisted living, but you couldn’t live alone anymore, and all of us work long hours. No one else can take care of you. I’m sorry and I hate it. I feel guilty.

 

When I hug her goodbye and tell her I have to go back to Kansas, she can’t understand why I’m leaving. Reality screams that my work is a state away, and my life cannot make room for my mother. I am the long-distance caregiver in the family, demoted by miles and the work I cannot do anywhere else. Guilty again.

 

Even while writing this post, I feel guilty that my emotions are front and center when Mom deals bravely with her own fear, rejection and sadness.

 

It helps to journal about these caregiving emotions, include them in my next book, or vent with a friend. The emotions of caregiving are now my reality, and I know they affect me deeply because they are foreshadowed by love. If I didn’t love my mother so much, I wouldn’t care.

 

And because I love her, I’m sad that she can’t be who she used to be.

 

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1