Hope in the Upgrades

As I was paying bills, it happened again. Another online company wanted me to upgrade my account. Translation: pay more money for a few more services.

Nay, nay.

Ah, upgrading. The DIY shows focus on upgrading the home, particularly the kitchen. Fun to watch and imagine how I might do the same. Some day.

As a writing coach, I constantly research new ways to help my clients with their projects.

The latest publishing tools, best practices for a book launch, effective marketing solutions.

Help them upgrade and update their quarterly goals.

But what are some of the deeper ways we can upgrade and find more hope?

Be willing to change. An upgrade in remodeling requires change. So does the upgrade in life.

We learn, grow and stretch in ways that force us to embrace more hope.

Especially when life is hard.

Stretching those faith muscles and believing for better days helps us feel more empowered. Faith feeds and nourishes hope. But sometimes, we first need to change.

Changes are often uncomfortable. For example: Jorge Soler recently changed from being a Kansas City Royal to playing for the Atlanta Braves. A move for his family. A change in different policies within club houses. New faces to learn.

But now he wears a World Series ring and he became the MVP with that amazing three-run homer in the sixth game.

Changes can sometimes produce lovely results.

Be open to other opinions. When we stay within our comfort zone of being with the same people and doing the same activities, we can begin to rust. It’s easy to hang around friends and family that never challenge us.

No upgrading happens when we stay in the same mental and emotional space.

But when we force ourselves out of that comfort zone, we learn to truly listen to others’ opinions. We consider how honest debate can teach us.

Stretch us toward a more hope-filled upgrade. Hold fast to our beliefs yet consider how they might broaden and expand to include greater values.

Being quick to listen, but slow to speak — controlling our anger (James 2:19).

Become a student again. Life-long learning keeps our brains active. We read a book that encourages us to research more about a topic. Watch a documentary about another part of the world and learn to be grateful for what we have.

Cross reference a Bible verse. Check it in different versions. Google it in the original Hebrew or Greek.

Sometimes our faith needs to be upgraded into a broader interpretation. Sometimes we need to seriously examine some of the false teachings we were once taught. Then let them go.

Upgrades can be a good thing. They can make life easier and add beauty to our lives. With caution, of course.

The physical upgrades need financial boundaries. Waiting to upgrade the kitchen until the bank account has sufficient funds.

The emotional, mental and spiritual upgrades also need healthy boundaries. Time to reflect on possible changes. An inward search of our raw places and why they need a re-do.

Confession. Forgiveness. Repentance.

But an upgrade in our souls to a more compassionate and helpful place is always a good practice. And when it strengthens our hope, then all of us can live in a better place.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The latest upgrade to my writing craft is a book of encouragement, practical tips and devotions for single moms. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope’s Intensity

To increase awareness of Domestic Violence Month, this is a re-post about the intensity of writing a novel on the topic of domestic abuse. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. Some of them sit next to you at church or at work. Some of them are in your family. It is important to know how to help.

“Your book is so intense.”

Several readers have used this statement to describe my novel No Visible Scars.

“Yes,” I answer. “This book IS intense. It’s supposed to be because of the topic.”

Without the intensity, I would not be true to my characters or to the major plotlines of the story.

The main character jumps right off the pages of First Samuel in the Old Testament. She lived a life of intensity.

Abigail — living with her abusive husband during a time period and a culture where she had no other options. We don’t know if the abuse was physical, emotional or mental.

But we can guess. Probably all of the above, judging how women were treated during the time she lived and in her corner of the world.

I first wrote Abigail’s contemporary story as a nonfiction treatise, a reason for women to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. It was a plea for them to seek help and find hope.

But several medical professionals and counselors were writing on the same topic. The competition squeezed me out. I could not sell my book.

So I returned to the original call from the Great Creator, to write Abigail’s story and show how she prevailed, how she became a major figure in King David’s kingdom.

At the same time, I was coaching more and more women who shared their experiences:

  • Husbands who turned vicious and took out their frustrations on their women
  • Men who were smart enough not to hit, but still manipulative enough to create fear
  • Boyfriends who attended church and pretended to be good guys so they could find a “nice” woman
  • Husbands who knew all the Bible verses about women submitting but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who refused to hear the truth and told these women to just pray about it

And the statistics grew. One out of four women living in destructive relationships. Children learning about skewed marriages where one partner is the victim while the other controls and shames.

Intense? You bet it is.

So I wrote the book while thinking of a pastor’s wife I knew who was belittled in front of their guests. I typed away the long hours while remembering a woman who was locked in her basement and fed scraps. Her husband was a deacon. Her pastor told her to lose weight so he would like her better.

The rough draft pounded out the anguish of all the biblical and contemporary women who suffer because men are more physically powerful and more culturally honored.

Even in the church.

And the book was published, sold and continues to sell because it speaks the truth about a horrific issue.

It shows the importance of knowing how to set boundaries, of moving outside the box to live a life of freedom, of believing that self-care must precede other care.

When I get to heaven, I want to talk to the real Abigail. To thank her for her courage in defying her abuser and standing up for her King.

I want to honor Abigail for the life she led and for those 39 verses where her life appears in the biblical account.

On that day, I will give her a hug of gratitude for the hope she offered all women.

Then I will whisper in her ear, “I told your story. It was intense.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo. 

Finding Hope in a Hopeless Situation

We’ve seen her story in current events. Gabby Petito, dead at 22. Obviously involved in an abusive relationship.

No matter who hit whom or who started the argument, Gabby did not deserve to be murdered.

Yet this is sometimes the result of an abusive relationship. It does not end well. Even in such relationships that do not end in a homicide, the victim’s soul is killed.

She learns how to step back, how to be quiet, how to never press charges, how to stay and somehow endure. Until it’s too late.

And the saddest part is that the signs are evident. Symptoms of domestic abuse include:

  • Controlling behaviors
  • Threats
  • Ridicule
  • Teasing and Name-Calling
  • Hostile anger
  • Ignoring / the Silent Treatment
  • Destroying Objects
  • Emotional detachment
  • Jokes about her / Degrading her in public
  • Threatening to Leave
  • Guilty gift-giving
  • Demanding submission
  • Playing mind games / gaslighting
  • Making her ask for money
  • Constantly checking on her
  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women

These behaviors happen in all sorts of homes, even with couples who seem happy and devoted to each other. People who know better.

But victims are caught in the cycle. They deny it or refuse to see the truth, because the consequences are too risky. Fear controls the emotions.

Then a victim’s face shows up on the nightly news — like Gabby telling the officers what happened, but still covering up for her abuser.

Then a body covered by a white sheet is rolled on a guerney — on its way to the morgue. And another abusive killer gets away.

One out of four women live in some type of destructive relationship. That is the truth.

So what can we do about this travesty?

  • Teach your daughters about the symptoms of abuse.
  • Teach your sons how to treat their sisters, their mother — all women.
  • Be alert for the danger of abusive symptoms.
  • Speak up and refuse to deny what is happening.
  • Do not protect abusers.
  • Check out Leslie Vernick, her books and her website: https://leslievernick.com/

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Abuse might be happening in your family, your neighborhood, your church.

It needs to stop.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Should Abigail commit a crime? Nothing terrible. Just enough to get her locked up. Far away from her destructive marriage. Check out her story in No Visible Scars.

Hope Looks Forward

In the middle of the overcast sadness one winter, I discovered some fun at the local Bed, Bath and Beyond. The $5 coupon was also a draw.

Walking through this store, it was fun to dream about new fluffy towels or dishware in my favorite colors.

But the section that always draws me in is the bedding.

Beautiful beds made up into cozy vignettes with coordinating ruffles. Gorgeous comforters. Matching throws and a headboard bookended with stuffed-to-the-edges pillows. Browsing through the area invites me to stop, choose a bed and nap.

Nay, nay. Not allowed.

In the middle of the display, I spied the perfect choice: a cream-colored comforter embroidered in a lacy pattern. Anticipating what I thought might be an imminent move, I began saving any extra dollars for this luxurious fabric.

Throughout the years, I always celebrate a move. It’s a fresh start — a chance to declutter and live with only what brings me joy. To share other décor I no longer need and give joy to someone else.

It’s a rite of passage to make my bed in the new place with brand-spanking new bedding. Somehow it signals home.

So I looked forward to the day I could move again and use this gorgeous bedding I had saved for. And glory be … when I purchased the comforter, the matching bed ruffle was on sale.

I had already decided on my new colors. Half the fun of new bedding is starting out with a color change. This time I would substitute the old cream, sage green and mauve rose with my new choices: cream, eggplant purple and turquoise. My therapist thought it was a great step forward.

In another store, I found pillow shams and fluffy pillows in my exact colors. It was a day of joy when I drove home with my trunk filled with hope. Carefully, I stored everything in the back of my closet, certain I would be using it in a few months.

But life interfered and blocked my plans. A recession. An upside-down mortgage. An increase in interest rates. The need to hunker down with two jobs instead of one and be grateful for the roof over my head.

A decade has now passed with no move and no clue when I will use that new bedding. It still waits in the back of my closet.

Several times, I have almost caved — pulled it out to use anyway and painted my bedroom to match.

But that still small voice whispers, “Don’t give up.”

I need to wait. To let that bedding be a visual of what might be coming soon. To have an object that signifies hope and keeps me dreaming of that day when I dress my mattress in a new place.

Like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Saving the last unopened FedEx box to deliver when he was rescued.

So I’m still waiting, occasionally peeking at those pillows and comforter, dreaming of my new place. And always believing in the power of hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

COMING SOON! Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms – daily meditations to spark hope in the hearts of single moms.

Hope Watches the Autumn Dance

The following blog post is an annual favorite. I repost it this year with gratitude for my readers.

As I stood on my deck, a tree unloaded its entire leafy burden. It was as if God said, “It’s now 3:24 on this date I created before the foundation of the world. Disengage.”

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings. Gold, copper and leftover greens tangoed to the ground. The tree stood naked in the autumn wind.

Since then, I have made more of an effort to watch how the autumn leaves fall. Some of them let loose to plummet quickly — as if they have given up on ever becoming anything more than a falling leaf.

Done. Hit the ground. Boom.

Other leaves are more graceful in their descent, twisting and turning as they spiral downward, then find a spot of still-green grass to slide to a landing.

But my favorites are the leaves that dance as if floating toward a purpose: the mulching of the ground, the photosynthesis of time.

These are the leaves that catch a final wisp of Kansas wind and turn upward for a moment, then pirouette in different directions, exposing their golden undersides to the rhythms of autumn.

These are the leaves that take my breath away as they meander across space and take their time letting gravity win.

The analogy of the autumn dance signals that even when nature introduces another winter, the rhythms of life continue.

Day and night. Seasons of life. Turn. Turn. Turn. Winter follows autumn but also promises spring.

I want to be most like the meandering leaves — to take my time enjoying the process of aging, the transitions of life that come to all of us.

Somehow I want to find the cadence of trust that allows my soul to float without worry, to sing in harmony with a greater purpose.

Maybe I can best mimic these graceful leaves by paying more attention to the way nature forms them — like veined boats that gather morning dew and shadow us during summer’s heat.

The reds, golds and oranges of the autumn dance remind me how God colors our world with various shades of skin. He reminds us all are beautiful — different yes, but glorious in our uniqueness.

Then just as God programs each tree in its autumn leaving, he also engages within the seasons of our lives.

He knows that exact moment when we will let go and dance toward a greater purpose, when the questions will be answered and the direction clear.

Gratefully, in his arms we will segue from dance to eternity. From hanging on to hope.

But unlike the leaves, we will fall upward.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 For more of my words, check out my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Magnified

One Sunday while I was getting ready for church, I clicked onto the worship service of Elevation Church. Pastor Steven Furtick often preaches with a focus on the practical and how our emotions (or baggage) affect our faith walk.

On this Sunday, he carried around a magnifying glass. Pastor Furtick reminded his audience, “What we magnify is what we live with.”

I took a deep breath, then wrote down the quote. It was perfect for my current transition and other reflections in my journal.

It is true that what we constantly think about affects our emotions, our goals — even our relationships. So if we magnify how someone has hurt us in the past, then we continue to live within that pain.

If we focus on a past trauma and let it seed itself into our psyche, then we continue to live in the past and within that horrible experience.

If we talk about a circumstance, ask people to “pray” about it over and over, “share” how we’re feeling with the purpose of justification or vindication — then we continue to live inside that baggage.

Magnifying the problem, whatever it is, forces us to live inside the victim camp.

One of the topics I have noticed on social media is the constant reminder that we are living in “evil days.” Of course we are. Read the books of Daniel and Revelation for a-ha moments.

But if we continue to magnify the evil, then we won’t see the amount of good that is still happening.

People are caring for others, sometimes to the point of sacrifice. Nonprofits still do good work. Hospitals and medical workers thrive on keeping folks alive. Schools teach kids, and not all government workers are zombies. Some politicians are called to serve God within our systems.

Yes, terrible things sometimes happen. But wonderful things also happen. Why can’t we magnify those?

One of my rituals is to watch the CBS Sunday Morning program, especially any reports by Steve Hartman.

The focus is always on the positive as Steve and the other reporters find those out-of-the-way places where people are doing something good for each other. Each segment is unique, interesting and I often learn something new I can share with others.

No grumblings about how terrible the world is. Even within the tragedies of earthquakes, hurricanes or warfare — this crew finds the light surrounded by darkness.

I wish we could do the same with our ordinary lives.

So I am trying to be more intentional about what I magnify. To focus on the positive. To look for the hope that is apparent when I forget myself and try to help others. To stop thinking and talking about the negatives and instead — look for those nuggets of positivity.

Scripture reminds us how to think and thus, how to act: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB).

So let’s look for the hope that is growing around us. Let’s magnify the good stuff and stop living in the gloomies.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines with essays about positive attitudes. Check it out on Amazon, Kindle and in Large Print.

Finding Hope in Intentional Rest

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, we transition into a new season.

The slowing down requires intentional rest. To keep spinning will send us into confusion, our axis tilted at a weird angle. Soul weary. Falling apart.

To be purposely still, we listen for God or sit in the sunshine for an emotional and physical reboot.

How can transitions be handled in ways that are healthy for body, soul and spirit? How do we move from excessive productivity to intentional recovery? How do we find our way through the maze?

I have traveled through transitional journeys before, but never at this level of intensity. Now sinking into an unknown while grasping for the best source of wisdom.

The usual methods of resting represent a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restorative sleep helps, then daily naps. Nutritious meals build up the tissues, although my body screams for comfort food. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target.

Nay, nay. I will not yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well — to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision of change. Mistakes admitted. Grace given.

Finding a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish. In the attempt, I stare at the space around me. Acknowledge the loneliness yet feel assured I am not alone.

Maybe a creative project. Resurrect my bag of crayons and find comfort in the texture of markings. Turn on the TV to watch football and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction as I pump on the exercise bike.

No emotional deposits required.

Outside in the canvas God painted. The trees dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. A tabby cat licks his lips but does not pounce.

God’s creation in living color.

I spend quality time on my knees, bringing my questions to the Wise One. Beg for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with curative rhythms: fret not, be still, know. God alone is my refuge.

Several years ago, I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel. Surrounded by the brightest of whites —a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels tucked me in. Stroked my brow. Murmured love. My weary self was cared for and received compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

The dream resurfaces and underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress takes time. A day. A week. Another day. No guidelines provided.

Yet rest is more than time in bed. It is ultimately a layer of trust on top of the trauma, the covering of peace over chaos. The belief that life will again find its rhythm.

And the pillow of time. The Divine whispers his assurance, “More time required. Be still. Cease striving. Do not try to figure it out.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. Eventually, I will find soul energy again. Words will pour forth, and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving — the voice of praise” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and trust, learn more about the calm beauty of rest. Trust in the One who reminds me how hope originates. He places his words on the page and covers me with his gentle hand.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

In The Year of my Redemption, Pastor Tanner needs to intentionally find rest. In the process of a sabbatical and therapy, he discovers a new way to love.