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

Grieving During the Holidays

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

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 three years of grief, I feel the loss so deeply.

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. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

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 you know who might be alone

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 her or him.

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.

©2020 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 Hope Meets the Children

During this year of COVID, it may seem odd to cheer for a pregnancy. In fact, when I heard about the youngers in my family planning for babies, I wondered Really? Now?

Who would plan for a pregnancy, for a hospital stay with possible complications, for a new babe during a time with multiple COVID exposures?

Image by Prawny of Pixbay

Who would do such a thing? People staying in hope, that’s who.

During late 2019 and mid-2020, our family has added two new babies to the growing great-grandchildren pod. We now have two boys and two girls.

Even though the matriarch of the family has no recollection of these youngers, the rest of us do.

With the girl grands, we follow their ballgames and cheer for their teams. Support them in science and math contests. Give them creative gifts for Christmas.

Both girls carry so much promise, approaching puberty and beginning to plan out their adult lives.

I pray for them every night — safety from COVID, the fulfillment of their dreams, protection from any kind of abuse, self-confidence and enough gutsy strength to stay focused on their goals — to ignore the whine of peer groups.

The baby boys — one five months, one almost a year — are a delight to watch as they discover their toys, learn how to use a spoon, reach for the cat with chubby baby fingers.

The online Family Album has given us front row seats to their progress and growth.

In their sweet faces, I see the possibility of early verbal skills, of an extrovert who screams with excitement when air planes pass over the house, of creative gifts sometimes hidden within my legacy yet emerging in this new generation.

And their very presence, their little lives, stir up the juices of hope.

These children and others may help us solve the climate change emergency. They may create a new pathway for a vaccine that halts the next pandemic. They may become bankers or teachers or musicians and impact the world.

They have already impacted me by their very existence.

So I am grateful to these young couples who dared to start a family in 2020. They saw the bloom of hope and marched forward to plant seeds of tomorrow-living.

I am grateful for the babies of this next generation and for the positive expectations they elicit — just by being here.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out more stories about hope in Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.

Hope Finds Story in an Estate Sale

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 — something that might bring encouragement to the women I coached: a pot of flowers, beautiful cards, a trinket to give away.

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

I joined the crowd of people who poked through bedrooms, closets and the 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 were selling her house and 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 the cuttings of flowers or plants. The texture of the pots described a woman 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 her life. Most of us can tell our stories by the choices of books we keep on our shelves.

This woman read financial summaries and economic reports. 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?

No books on religion. No Bibles. No creative poetry or coffee table books, unless her family had already sequestered those to keep alive memories of Mom and Grandmother.

The basement was 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 sorted 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, how to incorporate chicken instead of beef into favorite recipes.

Suddenly a wave of grief as I chose a casserole pan, wondering how many chicken meals she fixed in that particular dish 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 would 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 a woman who loves the colorful textures of the Southwest?

I came away from that estate sale lugging a garden birdhouse with its trailing ivy, a package of Christmas bulbs in my favorite dark purple, the casserole pan and a story that emanated from the treasures of one life.

Hope shines through the stories we live, and our stuff reflects who we are.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, on Amazon and also available in Large Print.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Hope Wins

Oh, God! I was so afraid!

During the sixth month of pregnancy, thirty plus years ago, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months — hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby.

With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart, the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the backyard’s sunshine and stretched out on the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly.

Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might startle and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, the three of us — butterfly, unborn child and scared Mama — baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

Encouraged, I returned to the house and journaled about my experience. Renewed and ready to face whatever was destined to happen during the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind us he is indeed greater than our problems.

Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms — he can certainly deal with our everyday stresses.

How many scenarios does he manage, helping us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him?

How many traffic accidents are stopped, cancer cells deleted or guns silenced because God showed up?

Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see the divine image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the butterfly’s appearance, God is with us, longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I planted and nurtured a butterfly bush in my back yard. Red clover now grows around the perimeter while a giant sedum waits in one corner for October offerings of sweet nectar.

These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 33 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more Godwinks about hope, check out Hope Shines, available in print, e-book and large print.