Hope in the Retelling

Recently, another writer asked, “Are you working on your memoir? It seems you’ve lived an interesting life.”

journal writingIn fact, I have been writing my memoir for several years. Only one  piece remains, but I have to wait for life to hand me the answer for the final chapter.

It’s common for people in my demographic, especially writers, to look back and review our lives. But a good memoir is more than just an autobiography or a review of life’s circumstances.

The most effective memoir carries an ongoing theme which cements the pieces of life together. My cement becomes apparent with each telling of the facts.

Dad and I worked together as a ministry team for much of my childhood. Whether it was a downtown mission for homeless men or Sunday afternoon at the nursing home, we served together. Dad played his guitar and led the singing of hymns while I played piano and occasionally sang a solo.

Then I came home, opened my diary and wrote about the day. My Red Chief tablet became the medium for stories which I sent to Reader’s Digest. I tore up the rejections when they landed in the farm mailbox, but even that scathing critique could not stop the flow of my words.

After college, I traveled to Honduras where I taught at a school for missionary kids. I kept a journal during that time and later wrote The Plain Path, my first book. It is now out of print, but I gave it to several youth groups who were prepping for mission work.

Ministry continued as I served in my church with music and childhood education. Then followed several years in nonprofits such as a parolee recidivism program and a pregnancy crisis center with an adoption service. I worked as a communications director, a biblical counselor and an administrative assistant. During the evenings, I wrote articles and fillers, stories and books — still unpublished.

A group of supporters sent me to my first writers conference where I learned the basics of what editors want. By that time, I was a wife and mother, still serving in nonprofits and the church — writing more words while my son slept.

It was an article about miscarriage that catapulted me into the publishing world and became the impetus for more spin-offs. Then stories for children where I found ready markets about parenting and marriage. I still attempted books but couldn’t find an agent who wanted my work.

Then followed several years as an international minister at the University of Kansas. I loved meeting people from all over the world and helping them adjust to the US. During those years, I wrote curriculum for teaching English, devotions to send via email around the world and articles about cultural differences.

The hard years began with divorce, job loss, financial struggles and the responsibility of raising my son while working several jobs. But I continued helping a nonprofit that served uninsured people, then moved to a new position as administrative assistant for chaplains.

By this time, my articles sold regularly which padded the income and kept us fed. An accidental meeting with an acquisitions editor morphed into a contract for my first novel, then the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I saw my books on library shelves.

At another ministry assignment, I was offered the opportunity to become a certified life coach. That decision merged into multiple articles, but also the joy of helping women find their direction in life, especially when starting over single.

Coaching writers became a natural progression from life coaching, and my books started multiplying. I added editing as another stream of income and studied the pros and cons of Indie Publishing.

Through the years, I often envied people who worked in one job for 30+ years and retired with a substantial pension. But that was not the way my life worked out. I have filled numerous journals and to date completed 14 books. And I have met fascinating people who all have their own stories.

But always, my goal has been to help others with their journeys and move them toward some semblance of hope. When I look back, my memoir cement includes various ministries while always surrounded by some sort of writing.

At the heart of my life is the power of communication, especially with the written word. Writing has always been a dream, but essentially — my destiny. Through coaching writers, editing and continuing to write my own projects, the dream has become my vocation and now — my final act.

The memoir is not complete, but I will finish it. When it is ready to be published, hopefully it will bring my readers closer to another step of hope. Then I will know for certain — my life had meaning.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to check out my words, have a look-see at my Amazon Author Page.

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 we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?dead petals in water

Three possibilities float to the surface:

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

Did he 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 her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event did not happen this year, and I felt 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
  • 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.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you know someone who is grieving during the holidays, share this post. Perhaps it will bring some hope.

Hope Keeps It Simple

christmas-pine conesBecause life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday celebrations.

What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money and energy on Christmas cards. Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will NOT be spread with powdered sugar treats fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

Throughout the years, my house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me great joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my holiday habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it. The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2019 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, hope follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always acceptable.

Hope When Christmas Changes

pharmacy symbolThroughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and Wal-Mart – even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound – one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

The Great Cough of 2016.

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Great Cough aka the Christmas bug.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners.

The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup.

Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully – they didn’t want us within breathing distance.

Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

This was the first year since I served as a missionary in Honduras that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS.

Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

But Christmas happened in spite of illness. A few days later, my son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun. We played table games, wearing hygienic gloves, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief.

The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed in our recliners again. Still coughing, but finding some joy in Christmas shows. The Grinch again tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it.

The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year.

The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives.

No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise. Immanuel – God is still with us.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a holiday gift you can give to a hard-working caregiver, consider Holiday Tips for Caregivers. Available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in a Puzzle

My puzzle reflects the colors and design of the Southwest United States — a region I love. Turquoise moccasins, Native American pottery and a sunset of desert textures.Southwest Puzzle

Yet beyond the stress-relieving act of fitting my puzzle pieces together, God teaches me precious lessons of faith.

Think about the Big Picture. Once I found the borders of the puzzle, everything should have begun to snugly fit together.

But something didn’t look right.

My son found the answer. He’s a consider-the-forest guy while I look at the trees. “This piece doesn’t fit,” he said, picking up a copper squiggle. “It skews the big picture.”

He was right. When I found the correct piece and snapped it into place, the big picture made more sense.

Sometimes we think a certain direction is best for our lives. But something about the final decision doesn’t seem right.

Something doesn’t fit.

Red flags stop us or circumstances change. We can’t see the big picture.

But God can. He exists beyond the past, present and future. He knows how to work out our lives and fit each day into the next so our destinies become clear.

Don’t Try to Force an Answer. A puzzle piece may look right and seem to fit, but one side snags or won’t quite align. Forcing the piece into that particular hole can bend it or even break it.

Then the puzzle is flawed.

If we try to force something to work or move forward on our own, we can damage ourselves or someone else in our sphere of influence.

If the circumstances aren’t working out and our pathway seems skewed, trying to force a decision, a relationship or a direction messes with our destiny.

How many of us have forged ahead and forced something to happen, then later regretted our actions?

When God manages the puzzles of our lives, all the pieces end up fitting together perfectly — without adverse circumstances.

Give It Time. A 300-piece puzzle cannot be completed in one hour. My puzzle lay on the table for several weeks where I worked on it a few minutes at a time.

As we face decisions or transitions in life, they take time to percolate and work out all the details. Patience is learned through the long passage of time.

Hurry is the antagonist of patience.

The best relationships involve the excitement of gradually learning about each other. Starting a new job includes a learning curve and perseverance.

Writing a book requires late nights, early mornings or weekend discipline. One word, one sentence, one character sketch at a time until the final period is typed. Sometimes the process takes years.

The best answers are revealed as a result of a waiting period. The strongest faith is birthed through years of experience, long periods of waiting and the courage to ask questions that may even increase the struggle.

We often don’t see a purpose in the details until patience has completed its perfect work.

The Apostle James underscored this truth, “When the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:3-4 The Living Bible).

God rarely answers our “Why?”  questions. Instead, he urges us to trust — even when we’re so weary we can only continue the journey with an extra measure of God’s grace.

My puzzle gives me joy, because I love the colors and the promise of the final result.

Surely God also feels joy when he moves the pieces of our lives together. The final result reflects his love.

We just need to stay in hope, let him move the pieces around and patiently wait.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Have you checked out my Reverend G books and Sometimes They Forget?

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.rose in treasure box

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for.

We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his girlfriend, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • My flowers
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

While writing this blog post, I watched the first snow of the season offer its tiny flakes to the landscape. Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season.

And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms placed its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or re-gifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2020, I have some openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

Hope and the Autumn Dance

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

Within seconds, every leaf had let loose from its moorings. 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. 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.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The above post has been a fan favorite, so I include it each year. For more of my writings, check out my Amazon Author Page.