Hope is Present

When I worked for a national organization of chaplains, we often talked about the ministry of presence. As people struggle with grief and face challenges, they need someone to show up and be with them. To be present.hugs at beach

Henri Nouwen eloquently explained this ministry of presence, “I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”   

Somehow we think we must always come up with a perfect quote or a special Bible verse to help another person over the hump.

But my quote is not your quote. Your Bible verse may not help me at all.

So feeling the need to impart great wisdom rarely shares hope, especially for those who are suffering.

During this year of grief, my son’s illness and unanswered questions, hope has shown itself in the ministry of presence.

I have been blessed by special friends who were determined to just be present: An invite for morning coffee or a spontaneous offer of iced tea which then morphed into supper at Red Robin. Hugs. A plate of gluten free treats. A listening ear. An “I’m thinking about you” card or an “I’m praying for you” text.

No wise quotes. No Bible verses. No “You should do this” statements.

These “present” friends granted me space and allowed me the time to heal in my own way. No expectations. No judgment.

Plenty of hope.

Now I am determined to pay it forward – to just be present when I meet another struggling pilgrim.

When others are suffering, to offer that cup of coffee or the iced tea that sweats all over the table or the meal at Red Robin with bottomless fries which I don’t need but sometimes taste really good.

To be the one who shares hope without words of wisdom, sans my ideas of what might help. To just be there as a person who cares.

Hopefully, I can do for others what others have done for me.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – now available in regular or large print.

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Hope Reaches The Date

Today is the day I have been dreading, yet looking forward to its arrival. July 16. One year since my friend Deb stepped into eternity.

Deb - RJT under book arch

Deb and I in Santa Fe, under the book arch 

I have dreaded this date because of the following:

  • Memories will unavoidably reoccur—scenes from the ICU, holding her hand even as it grew colder, wishing and praying she could wake up, family loving her as she journeyed Home
  • A repeat of what her loss has meant and how deeply this awful emptiness has changed my life
  • Empathy grief for her children and family—how they must be feeling on this day

But how could I possibly anticipate July 16 and actually be grateful it has arrived?

The one year mark of the grieving process carries with it a certain relief. I have lived through this year and reached its pinnacle. Now perhaps an extra acceptance will somehow lessen the grief, help me move into the next year with a bit of hope.

In every circumstance of life, I have sought to learn something from the experience. Can’t help it. Life-long learning is one of my core values.

So what have I learned from this horrible event and the past year of ultimate sadness?

  • The grieving process is impossible to describe—even for a writer.
  • My grief is not your grief, so I must be true to my heart’s feelings and its necessary outpouring.
  • One day may be totally different than the next with no clue as to what may trigger a grief attack.
  • The importance of women friends who seem to know exactly what I need before I can express it.
  • The need for gifted counselors who listen and express sympathy without letting me wallow in my pain.
  • The vitality of my faith. Without the absolute knowing I will see Deb again, I would be totally devastated.
  • The blanket covering of prayers. They carry us through each day, even when we’re not aware of their presence.
  • The importance of treasured friendships and how to focus on my current relationships.
  • The need for staying in hope—for looking forward instead of remaining trapped in the loss.

For months, I have thought about my plans for this day. I could isolate myself and disappear into a gallon of comforting ice cream. Lots of chocolate. Extra chocolate.

But instead, I forced myself to ask the question: How can I honor Deb most on this day?

After multiple ideas, I have decided on the following plan:

A visit to the cemetery, some flowers on her grave, a few words of closure, “I miss you. I’m glad you’re safe with Jesus.”

Lunch with the remaining Saturday sisters, this group of women who miss Deb as much as I.

Then a pilgrimage to the Humane Society where I’ll leave a donation to help care for abandoned cats. In honor of Deb and her Sweet Pea and Jasper. Force myself not to look in the cages, not even to consider adopting another cat.

Then return home and go to sleep, eager for the next day—for moving forward past this year of grieving and into a more positive 12 months ahead.

I still miss her—dreadfully—but I can now think of her residing in that place of peaceful joy. I can be more grateful now for the friendship we had and the eternity we will share.

Hope steps forward, certain that grief may visit again, but without the sharp rawness of total loss.

At least—that’s what I’m hanging on to.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope Applauds a Strong Woman

Throughout the years, she has been pictured as the “not enough” woman. Not enough faith, not enough like her sister, not enough commitment to stop everything and listen to Jesus.

Yet, I like her. Martha.  real - not perfect

Legend says she was a wealthy widow, and it was her home in Bethany where she cared for her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

It was her home where Jesus felt comfortable enough to take a break from ministry — to just “be” for a while. Martha’s home was his retreat center.

Why do I like Martha?

Martha was a do-er.

As the owner of the home and the matriarch of the family, Martha was the one who organized the household. She got things done.

Whether planning how to feed her Savior and his group of rowdy disciples or accomplishing the daily tasks of linen weaving, grape and olive picking, laundry, management of people — Martha got ‘er done.

Sure, she occasionally slipped out of balance. Who doesn’t? We know of only one incident where she was carried way with the prep of a meal and forgot what was more important.

But how many of us would do the same? If I knew Jesus was physically coming to my house tonight, you can bet I would pull out my favorite recipe and make sure the bathroom was clean. I’m not sure I would take extra time for an hour of prayer and devotion.

Obviously, Martha was the Type A personality. Without the Martha’s of the world, churches could not operate, non-profits would fold and half the governments of the world would be defunct.

Martha was bold.  

She lived through a terrible tragedy, but she knew who to contact for help. She sent word to Jesus that her brother was sick. She trusted her God to come and heal this precious loved one.

But Jesus did not arrive in time.

Finally, after Lazarus died, Jesus came. Martha marched up to him and dared to confront him. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha was angry and felt Jesus had betrayed her and the family friendship. He didn’t show up in time. He let her beloved brother die.

How many of us have the courage to state the truth of how we feel when our prayers go unanswered and the worst happens?

We may not have the guts to speak our truth, but we feel wounded by the God we love.

Martha was honest and bold enough to state the root of her grief. She knew Jesus loved her enough that he would allow her to be angry with him. And he would love her even more with his response.

Martha was chosen.  

Jesus wasn’t upset with Martha’s bold statement. In fact, he had already planned how he was going to bless her.

He had a greater miracle in mind.

He told her to just believe, and then he instructed the people nearby to remove the stone from the grave.

Here we see bold, practical Martha again. “You’re kidding, Jesus, right? My brother has been dead four days. He’s already stinky.”

Again Jesus reminds her to believe, then he calls Lazarus out of that grave.

Imagine how exciting that moment must have been for this amazing woman. Her prayers answered in a way she could not have imagined. Her brother was alive again. Her faith in Jesus restored.

No condemnation for her boldness. Jesus understood Martha’s authenticity and chose her to be the recipient of a greater miracle.

Hope restored.

God Himself gifted, loved and chose this woman. Let’s give her a break for being human.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the story of another amazing woman — Abigail. No Visible Scars.

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 in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Why Hope is So Important

cropped-hope_ornament-1120.jpgWhat is it about hope that keeps over 1900 followers checking out this blog? Why is hope so important that after almost two years, I am still writing about it?

At its core, we cannot live without hope. It is the heartbeat of every future plan, the soul of every small business owner, the reason we return every four years to the ballot box.

Hope is a gift that never shames us. Instead, it connects with love and emblazons our hearts with purpose. (check out Romans 5:5)

If we take it apart as an acrostic, HOPE looks like this:

H – Health. Without hope, our health is affected yet with an abundance of hope—we feel those positive endorphins moving us toward a better tomorrow.

If we suffer from a sense of hopelessness, we can easily dip into discouragement and even full-blown depression. Hope eases that pain and gives us a reason to live.

Recently, I read a story from one of the Holocaust survivors. Anna woke up every morning and imagined herself dressing in something beautiful—a colorful scarf, a blouse made of the finest silk. Although in reality, she knew tattered and lice-infested rags covered her body—the thought of dressing in something clean, soft and lovely gave her hope. She survived Auschwitz and eventually was restored to complete health.

O – Optimism. Feeling optimistic about the next day breeds more hope. Even the tiniest steps toward a short-term goal fill us with optimism that we will indeed achieve victory.

Posting affirmations around the home, encouraging others and ourselves, even planning a day of joy will keep us in an optimistic mood. Positive thoughts result in hope and conversely, hope underscores a positive attitude.

When my son was in high school, his best buddy suffered with a terminal disease. Ryan’s family posted affirmations around the house such as:

“You can do it.”

“Hang in there.”

“You’re the best!”

Although Ryan passed before high school graduation, he lived much longer than any of the doctors expected this amazing preemie to live. And everyone who called Ryan friend was affected by his positive outlook. His optimism fostered hope in an entire school of teenagers.

P – Perseverance. But what happens when we can’t muster enough hope to make it through the day? When life hands us difficult circumstances or we live with shattered hearts in the graveyard of grief? How can we then find hope?

Through the practice of perseverance. By gritting our teeth and swallowing enough determination to make it through one more day. We stay in hope through sheer guts.

Three of my friends deal with chronic illnesses: muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia and muscular sclerosis. These women are my she-roes. Every day, they climb out of bed and try to do just one thing. Or if they need to, they stay in bed and pray for others. They persevere through the good, the bad and the ugly.

They stay in hope because they know the future—in heaven—will be illness-free. They persevere through difficulty and share hope with everyone they meet.

E – Experience. Hope tends to grow when we remember past experiences. This is one reason why I keep a journal. All my entries are dated, so I go back and relive what happened, how my son and I made it through that circumstance.

Many of my journal entries include Bible verses which help me stay in hope. Some of them are prayers while other entries include poetry or quotes from favorite authors. Sometimes my journal includes rantings at God. He’s big enough to understand my anger and let me work through it.

But always—always—God brings me back to hope. He reminds me of a past experience and how I don’t need to be afraid of the present or the future. He is the same yesterday, today and forever so that means hope will continue.

If you made an acrostic of hope, which words would you include? I’d be interested to hear why hope is so important to you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope in this month of February, check out my latest book. Hope Shines will give you a boost, a nugget of encouragement for each day.

Hope in the Changes

Nothing is the same. Not even the joy of retail therapy. Too much has changed, coloring my world from a different viewpoint – leaving confusion in the “What do I do now?” question.christmas shopping cart

This week, I tried to go shopping – but failed. It is not the same. Without Deb and our usual routine, I could not muster the energy or even the purpose in a once-fun activity.

These were the months – the last of October and first of November – when we gathered our resources to find the perfect gifts for children and grandchildren.

The day always started with a hot chai, then a plan discussed. Coupons clipped and sorted – we headed for the usual stores and sought the most unique finds.

Our children artistic, creative, best of the best – we looked for the unusual at 10,000 Villages, the Yellow Barn and interesting flea markets. A cry of joy when we found that special item – a foreshadowing of Christmas morning and the fun of watching gifts unwrapped.

Then lunch – always Mexican with a heaping bowl of guacamole. Iced tea for me. A Coke for Deb. Lots of chips – always refilled. More coupon sorting. Reliving the morning’s treasures.

Online shopping has conquered much of the brick and mortar traffic. But clicking a mouse cannot compare with the experience of shopping with a friend, dickering over prices, feeling the texture of a cashmere sweater or the nub of corduroy slacks. Exclaiming together in the search-and-find excitement of a trinket, a silver necklace, shoes and ornaments.

Deb and I milked every bit of joy from our shopping excursions. The afternoon slump revived with a double scoop of ice cream or a large Root Beer float.

The loading of trunks with bags of various colors, a grateful hug at the end of the day, a cheerful “See ya’ next time” as we waved goodbye.

When the changes in life force us to recalculate, we realize what we had before. Something as simple and beautiful as the shopping experience now feels empty. I am failing at doing it alone.

But I can seek for seasonal joy in the memories, flip another page on the calendar and know grief will someday scar over. The remembrance still brings a smile, even as Christmas music promises comfort.

Within this gigantic change, joy stirs as “See ya’ next time” now means an eternal reunion. And the shine of a treasured trinket we bought together reminds me hope still lives.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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