Hope Nurtures Gratitude

During this turbulent year of so many worldwide problems, I still do my usual thank you’s:

  • Thank you, God, for the food in my belly. So many people are hungry today.
  • Thank you for the roof over my head. Many are homeless or displaced.
  • Thank you for my son and daughter-in-love … always.

Yet now, I long to dig deeper and find gratitude within the sacred corners of my soul. Those places I hide from others. To be more vulnerable and embrace the gratitude that is more than words. The heart condition worthy of reflection.

This week, I am thankful for my new awareness of the fragility of life. Every day, the reports of shootings and killings in the Kansas City metro. School shootings that destroy another generation. The community saying good-bye to a beloved policeman.

One night, a bullet screamed through my bedroom, tore through my headboard and out the opposite wall. One inch closer, and I would be writing from heaven instead of Kansas. A wake-up call and a frantic 9-1-1.

My gratitude extends statewide this week as we exercise our civic duty to vote. The freedom our votes represent. The choices we make as we consider who will serve us best and in what capacity.

I pray for the Ukrainians who have no such freedom. No decision to make as to whether to accept Putin’s despotism or unearth their nation from the ashes. Just trying to survive one day to the next.

Back from a writer’s conference, I am awed, humbled, and cheered by the talents displayed by novelists, poets, bloggers. Any and all who take up the pen. Move their fingers across the keyboard. Create imaginary characters and a variety of world views. Share the message of hope.

I am so grateful for words and for the freedom to make them dance across the page as I wish.

Some days I fail to thank God often enough for grace. All those years ago when my childish heart opened to the Savior of Nazareth and I ran—yes, ran down the aisle toward salvation. May I never forget the wonder of that moment. Expressly thank God for the healing of my soul.

A brief foray into my journals finds entries where I asked God questions. Sometimes railed against the answers. I am grateful God allows and invites honesty. He knows I am mortal and “Why?” is often on my tongue.

When God reveals verses which provide answers and confirm hope, I am forever aware that I am gracefully loved.

May we never take for granted how God continues to save us every day.

Although I rejoice that Mom is finished with her Alzheimer’s journey, that ending means my mother is dead. After nine months, I am still trying to process that fact. The orphan I have become feels alone.

Yet surviving the grief of loss is itself a gift.

Because God has enabled me to survive, my faith has grown. Perseverance has deepened. With these experiences in my mental backpack, I write about realistic topics and coach others in the birthing of their grateful words.

My core value of life-long learning grasps toward more lessons the Spirit and life teach me. Together we work out the kinks in my spiritual armor. Find the sacred place God has purified. Just because he is good.

Then my reasons for gratitude engulf the empty spaces. I listen hard for the sacred whisper and respond with the words the Divine Three long to hear.

“Thank you.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon in print, e-book, and large print.

Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own. My joy button needs to be reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

Just knowing there will be a beginning brings hope and the confirmation that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder, uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. Flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a Creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Hope Defeats the Toxic

When it happens, it feels like a gift, a treasure to be guarded. Sometimes, I can read faces.

This gifting started during a time when I worked for a nonprofit which helped women who had been abused. All sorts of abuse at different times in their lives. Their faces mirrored the pain, horror and sadness. Or the relief when they found freedom.

Then I started to read other faces: the checker at Target, the harried doctor, the librarian trying to help multiple children at the same time.

Some of the faces reflected frustration while others showed a splash of joy. All of them taught me to be more aware of the hidden waves of emotion we all experience.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a different type of reading in the faces of those who suffer. It became apparent when one of my dear clients suffered through a double mastectomy, months of radiation and brutal chemo. She beat the cancer but lost all her hair and much of her muscle tone.

But her face. Oh, my — her face. No hair of any kind, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It was completely clean of any type of subterfuge yet carried the sheen of a soul that had been detoxified. The suffering rubbed her raw so that her faith could then heal the wounds.

A glorified face forged from patience and the need for daily trust.

I saw that same type of face a few weeks ago. Another client suffering through cancer and the painful injections that are supposed to cure it. Weeks and months and days of discouragement and struggle, yet placing her trust in whatever God has for her.

A constant goal — to not waste the suffering.

We took a picture together, and I noticed the difference. Her face glorified and peaceful. Mine darker and not so serene.

I do not envy her suffering, but I covet the strength of her faith.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada once said that the truly disabled are those who do not suffer, those who have a smaller God because they do not need him as much.

When every moment is painful, those who suffer must ask for God’s strength throughout the day. He is bigger to them and dearer, because they need him more.

Hope teaches us that the circumstances of life may not be what we hoped for. Our dreams may have died through our own mistakes or what others have done to us. Disease and death are byproducts of our world.

Yet if we keep our hope centered on the One true God, we can find a purpose in the pain. And we can grow to glorify this God who loves us enough to let us suffer.

Then our lives and even our faces can become mirrors of reflection for all to see. As the toxicity of sin fades and the sheen of God’s love takes over.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays on hope, check out Hope Shines. Available in regular and large print.

When Hope Meets Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.

But what if you are smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness?

Over 750,000 families will be missing someone this Christmas, due to how COVID has decimated our lives. Numerous families had to bury Mom or Dad, sister or brother, a best friend or a spouse.

Losses other than COVID-related happened in my family and probably in yours.

How do we find hope when the holidays offer a raw stab of grief? Three possibilities float to the surface.

Keep the Traditions. Did Mom make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Bake it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did Dad string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house, but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold?

Meet where you can and talk about Christmases past. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of Christmas alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event does not happen anymore. Even after four years of grief, I feel the loss.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some eggnog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair beside the table. It’s a reminder of loss — a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who cannot fly hundreds of miles to be home for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who longs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand how grace means second chances
  • A frontline worker who is too exhausted to cook a meal
  • Anyone who might be alone this year

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES move forward. We don’t have to remain stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We still have some of the gift s/he gave us. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Revel in those precious reminders and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace them.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again.

When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh — keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Soothe some of your raw grief with a book about hope. Hope Shines is available on Amazon in print, Kindle and Large Print.

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.

Hope Wonders When

Patience is NOT one of my virtues. Yet it seems as I grow older, God requires more instruction involving patience. Once again, I sit in his school of waiting.

When we wait, our first question is “When?” When will the answers come? How much longer do I need to wait?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting itself — a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together, something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a strength? We can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we love our commonalities. But when?

The 36-hour day team-tags for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will release come?

The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as s/he is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When?

In their workbook, Living into the Answers, authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.

New areas we have not previously considered or possibly — new spiritual havens where we learn to reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

What did it feel like in the 600-year silence between the Old and New Testaments? For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on. Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God — even in the silence.

Mothers tucked their children into beds and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet their tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

When Jesus DID come, he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected, they did not recognize the wait was finally over. Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. They refused the truth.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder … has it come and gone, passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer? If so, how do I retrieve it?

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life, then waits for us to locate him.

Perhaps our questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We cannot truly find the resolve because God is not controlled by time.

Yet as we wait, he graciously holds us in the palm of his mighty and patient hands.

Instead of yearning for a change, maybe we need to just accept today. To find joy in whatever positives surround us.

Then as we cry out for a deeper intimacy with the divine one, he will produce the answers within.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out this excerpt from Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.  

Hope and the Passing of Time

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google — that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year.  https://gretchenrubin.com/

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, this harried year, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin a new year, how can we determine to make each long day matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Kindness does not cost you anything, but it is priceless to those who receive it.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something — at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2021 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.  http://amzn.to/2j2fneR