Hope Exists in Layers

With all the natural disasters, political upheavals and the scourge of COVID, I’m re-thinking the topic of Hope. Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how Hope presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe that Hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The Everyday Expression of Hope

We may glibly use the word “Hope”, even as we bless each other with its presence.

              “Hope you have a good day.”

              “Hope that hamburger is well done.”

              “Hope you enjoy the baseball game.”

Layer One of Hope is important, because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say. Even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The Hope Shared During Crises

This layer was so evident during 2020’s year of disasters and the leftovers in 2021. With every hurricane, fire, earthquake, pestilence, shooting and angry outburst — people somehow summoned a measure of hope.

“We’re in this together” became a rallying cry. A promise that fortitude could spread. A Hope that community would survive.

People volunteered to clean up the emotional and physical sludge. Organizations asked for donations, and those with giving hearts complied.

The nightly news included a section about inspiring America. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who smiled through their tears.

Layer Two requires a sinew of courage we all strive to possess. It underscores that even when we suffer, we are not alone.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the great good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover again what is truly important.

Layer Three: The Darkest, Longest Road to Recovery

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of Hope transcends the others, because it has to duplicate itself every day.

Somehow, this Hope must dig past the detritus of personal chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 1600 meals for the homeless in their community.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the nurses with plastic marks creased into their faces from 12-hour shifts in the ICU.

These are the workers, sometimes using bare hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone, because they believe a child might still be alive. The slightest mistake might delete all Hope.

The brave souls who deal with chronic pain day after day after day.

The caregivers who continue to serve because they cannot imagine giving up.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three. From them, we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to Hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet Hope keeps their hearts beating.

They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down. They continue to believe and trust in Hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store, because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with the same sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways — depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

This is the writer who continues to pen the words s/he believes in, even when the hate mail continues to come.

I am striving to be courageous enough for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come.

But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere — then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My Layer One Hope is that my newest book will reach the sales goals. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope in the Surprise

The following guest post is written by Jena Fellers.

Do you love surprises? Me, too. But I always hope for good surprises.

Recently, my husband asked me to join him delivering for Door Dash. He had decided to try Door Dash to earn extra income and wanted to see how feasible it was. From the sign-in until the ending is called a Dash.

On our first Dash, I felt surrounded by positive anticipation. Eager to learn and see how things worked made me look forward to every detail — as if it was a fun surprise.

  • How quick will the first order come?
  • How much will it pay?
  • How long will it take the restaurant to prepare the order?
  • How far will the delivery be? Will it take extra time to get another order?

Nothing happened as planned, filling me with more questions and anticipation. Every order was a surprise in some way or another. It could be:

*A new restaurant we had never heard of

*Restaurants with different names inside other large restaurant chains

*Deliveries to employees at a business

*Delivering to someone in a parking lot, a parked semi, or even a private airplane

More of the elderly population ordered than the techie, younger population. The nicest surprise was unexpected tips, with good reviews coming in second.

As with anything, the surprise could also be negative:

*A messed-up order

*Food tumbling over inside the bag

*The restaurant out of an ordered item

*The GPS deciding to freeze or take us the wrong way

*Learning about a stacked order and how to complete it

*Looking for houses without visible house numbers

*The amount of miles or price changing after we accepted the order

*Getting few orders, even though the app said it was busy

A Door Dash driver is certain to experience good and bad surprises. Another guarantee is that orders come in so quickly, it is impossible to dwell on the emotions generated by the surprise.

By the end of the Dash, all problems were resolved. Whether starting with few orders, many orders, high pay, or low — the money averaged out.

This experience opened my eyes to how we should view life itself. Every day is a gift full of surprises.

We can wake up hoping for a surprise, especially when we ask God to guide our day. Life can be an adventure and fun when God is with us.

Possible surprises for today:

*Who should I pray for?

*Will there be someone to help today?

*Can I teach a life lesson to my family?

*Will God give blessings today? For what purpose?

*Will my words make a difference?

*How many smiles can I give?

*Who can I encourage with a phone call or a card?

Our Hope in the surprise can help us get through anything. Good and bad are guaranteed to come, but we place our Hope in the surprise God gives or allows. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks of being content in every situation. This seems possible when we have Hope in His surprise.

This kind of divine surprise gives us something to look forward to. It keeps our focus where we can be content. Like Dashing, we know it will all balance out, regardless of whether the surprises we face are good or bad.

Let’s view the surprise as a treasure given to us. Let’s live in anticipation of what God will do for us, through us, and with us each day.

No need to worry or fret. Another surprise is on its way, so enjoy life to its fullest. Look with Hope for the surprise God has planned today.

©2021 Jena Fellers (guest post) – All Rights Reserved

Jena Fellers is an author, inspirational speaker, and co-pastor. She and her husband pastor Trinity Worship Center in Baxter Springs, Kansas, where their three children and four grandchildren reside. Jena loves to encourage and educate others to follow Christ a little closer. Check out her blog at www.changingfocus.life to find out more about Jena and her books.

Finding Hope in an Old Story

She is often overlooked as a mere secondary character in Genesis. Yet Hagar’s story contains one of the most insightful verses of all time.

Hagar may have been fairly young as the maid servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was not able to conceive, she convinced Abram to take Hagar as his concubine. Hagar was soon pregnant with Ishmael.

Then the real trouble began. A conflict between Hagar and Sarai — jealousy, competition, and the end result. Hagar ran away.

But God found Hagar and encouraged her. Hagar’s a-ha moment was so impactful, she named the place: Beer-lahai-roi: “God Sees Me.”

So in spite of Hagar’s struggles:

  • Becoming a servant to Sarai
  • Forced to have sex with this old man
  • Feeling sick from the pregnancy
  • A cruel mistress
  • So rejected, she ran away
  • Totally alone and sad

In spite of it all, God saw her and met with her. In person. Such an encouraging story of Hope.

Whatever you are struggling with today, know this — God sees you.

  • In the middle of a cancer diagnosis
  • With the side effects of COVID
  • Financial worries
  • Children or grandchildren in trouble
  • Unemployment
  • Mental illness
  • Transitions in life
  • Loss of Hope
  • ________ Fill in your blank

Whatever is happening to you today — God sees you. He is not blind. He is not deaf to your cries.

In fact, the name Ishmael means “God hears.”

So Abba Himself loves you. He sees you. He hears you. He is with you.

Rest in his gift of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a continued story about Hagar and Ishmael, check out page 25 in The Invisible Women of Genesis.

When Chronic Pain Finds Hope

Some of my she-roes are women who live with chronic pain. Day after day, decade after decade. Their endurance puts me to shame.

During 2020 – 2021, I experienced just a taste of what they deal with all the time. My chronic pain began with a single step. Most accidents around the home do not occur because of reckless behavior. They just happen.

But they may change our lives.

In July of 2020 — yep — on top of COVID year — I stepped into my garden and felt something pop. “Oh God, oh God! I’ve broken my blessed hip.”

What do you do when you cannot move without pain, but to get help, you need to maneuver toward the phone? You do it anyway. You limp forward . . . slowly.

After my frantic call, a friend drove me to Urgent Care where the X-ray showed no fracture. Thank you, Jesus!

“Probably a hamstring pull,” said the nurse. “Do these exercises.”

Hamstring — oh. Like football players sometimes experience. After a few weeks, they return to the game, fully recovered and able to play again.

I’ll be fine. Uh-huh!

After several weeks of the prescribed exercises and multiple helpings of Advil, I Googled my own info. No fast recovery for me. I contacted my PCP who ordered a CT scan. Then an orthopedic assessment. Multiple chiropractic visits. Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No major issues on the scans. Nothing definite showing, but I was still in pain. And complaining to whomever would listen. Unlike my she-roes, I do not have a high threshold of pain — any kind of pain.

To continue working, I developed a kind of dance: sit at my desk until the pain screamed, stand at the elevated desk until spasms began, walk until the throbbing subsided, then sit on the heating pad.

Repeat.

Every professional told me, “Hamstrings just take a while to heal.” No one could tell me how long “a while” is.

DEAR GUSSY!

Sammy Watkins with his hamstring pull missed only three weeks of Chiefs’ games until he was back in action. I was already into three months and considered asking the Chiefs if they could assign me a trainer.

Those who suffer with chronic pain deserve a medal, at the very least — a crown of glory. Pain wears on the body, but also on the soul. It tears down hope and reminds us how mortal we are. No matter what good things are happening, the pain grinds an edge on life itself.

After ten more months trying various medications, exercises, and medical expertise, I was back with the PCP for another exam. But this time resulted in a new idea. More probing — ouch — but a clue.

Piriformis Syndrome. Evidently the piriformis nerve and muscle in the right cheek can affect the hamstring, smash down on the sciatica and cause all kinds of nasty problems.

This new diagnosis jump started my hope. Finally, something that made more sense than just “taking a while to heal.” Maybe this was the culprit all along. I did not know I had a piriformis in my back end. I ignore my rear cheeks until I look in the mirror to make sure they’re not getting fatter.

With a heartbeat of fresh hope, I started physical therapy and already feel a slight improvement. I’m committed to doing the new exercises and anything else they suggest, just to get my life back and feel better.

But the professionals also reminded me, “Once you hurt your back, you may always have issues.”

I will need to be careful. No more heavy lifting. No more excessive bending over in the garden. No more thinking I am invincible and “Sure, I can do that.” Shorter sitting times. I continue my rhythmic dance, and the heating pad is my best friend.

Our mortal lives can change in an instant. And I am fully aware my pain is incredibly small in the world of rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, brain damage and other maladies. But it is, after all, my pain. I am working on being more like my she-roes with fewer bouts of whining.

In the end, total healing and recovery occurs as we enter the Promised Land of eternal Hope. Stepping into heaven will solve everything — every painful trauma, physical problem and emotional hurt.

For now, on this side of forever bliss, I can only pray for those who suffer daily, do my exercises and hope for the best.

Time to stand up and continue my dance.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re living in chronic pain, perhaps this e-book might help: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

When Alzheimer’s Affects Hope

She is not the same person I once knew. My mother — the strong, outspoken, active woman who raised three children. Often harsh in her strict disciplinary practices, she was just as hard on herself.

But it was resilience that moved her from childhood poverty to a successful nursing career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life.

Until the Long Goodbye struck and Alzheimer’s changed her personality.

I do not remember many smiles on my mother’s face. But now, she sits in a wheelchair with a constant grin, revealing the gaps where teeth once anchored.

She knows no one, so every greeting is new. She bears no burdens, because she prepared well. Others handle all the stresses of life. A Bible rests on her lap, but she cannot locate her favorite verses.

She is deaf, so communication is handled with a white board. But she cannot respond. No longer writes even the simplest of sentences. She answers “Yes” or “No” to written questions.

Yet her smile remains. Her visage content. One day just like the next.

In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren admits that some seasons in life might include a variety of afflictions — Alzheimer’s being one of them.

Warren notes that Jesus cared about those who bore chronic pain and constant affliction. He healed some. Left others to return to the leper colony, the sick bed, the beggar’s spot near busy markets.

Warren surmises that God Himself “Suffers with the alcoholic, the homeless kid, the Alzheimer’s patient, the bipolar client in a manic spell.”

God sits with us in our pain, understands our need for companionship and offers His hand of comfort as we struggle.

Perhaps my mother smiles within her shadows because she feels One beside her. Maybe she even sees her Savior on a spiritual level the afflicted ones know so well.

Perhaps her contentment comes from knowing He counts down her days and will never leave her. Maybe the personality change is more of a deeper level of partnership — of two souls acquainted with grief and the sorrows of life yet looking forward to a better place.

Within that possibility, I find hope as I stare at the pictures of this unknown woman — this version of the mother I once knew.

Perhaps in a strange way, this is her best season, her days of intimate knowing and divine purpose. Her night that will lead to a brighter day.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For essays about caregiving, check out Sometimes They Forget: Finding Hope in the Alzheimer’s Journey.

Hope Sees the Women

The idea came in the middle of a Sunday School class — BC — before COVID. We were reading through Genesis 11 when I suddenly stopped.

Here was the tale about a young boy, Lot, who was taken from his mother and transported to another location.

For reasons we are not told, Terah (father of Abram) decided to move from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan. Perhaps he wanted to escape the idolatry of his community or maybe he felt restless and needed a change. His son, Haran, had died. Maybe Terah needed to leave the land that represented so much grief. Yet he chose to take only Abram and his wife, Sarai, plus his grandson, Lot.

But what of Lot’s mother, Haran’s wife? Nowhere is she mentioned. Her absence with this small band of travelers feels stark. What would convince this mother to let her son traipse off into a foreign land with his grandfather, uncle and aunt?

The answer lies in the story of another invisible woman, Lot’s mother, who we will call Rhondu (Excerpt from The Invisible Women of Genesis).

The untold story of this woman haunted me, so I began research. But nothing was told about Rhondu, no reasons behind her abandonment.

Then I began to find other women who were behind the scenes. Women who played important roles in the story yet were not honored — often not even named.

The patriarchal structure of scripture and the cultural significance of males buried these women under layers of historical fact.

Yet I know for certain that God loved these women and planted them in particular places and times to move His story forward.

And I know for certain that women are an equally important part of sharing God’s love with the world today.

Yet many are still invisible.

So I wrote a book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. But I wanted even more justice and wondered how to begin the conversation to make sure women are seen. I came up with a few ideas:

> Be more alert and aware of the role of women in today’s world. Male pastors get the attention standing behind the pulpit, but it was probably a female assistant who typed his sermon in readable form. How many other jobs within the church institution are performed by unseen women?

> When I address letters, I no longer use Mr & Mrs with only his name. I use both names: John & Mary Smith. Sometimes I feel radical enough to write her name first: Mary & John Smith.

> Listen to the stories of the invisible women around us: the she-ro who stays up late to launder clothes and prepare tomorrow’s meals, the she-ro who prays for the prodigal child who ignores her, the she-ro who never found the perfect mate and is left out of multiple gatherings, the she-ro who is denied human rights and education, the single mom she-ro, and countless others.

To all the invisible women, God says, “I see you. I have tattooed your name on the palm of my hand. I will never forget you. Someday I will clothe you with a royal robe, place a crown on your head and usher you into my kingdom. You are never invisible to me. You are my bride, my beloved, my beauty.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about invisible women, check out The Invisible Women of Genesis – available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in the Scars

My son and I often bond over the National Geographic channel, particularly the veterinarian shows. One of our favorites is Heartland Docs, a husband and wife team of vets in northeast Nebraska.

During a recent show, Doctors Erin and Ben answered an emergency call from a horse breeder. One of his prize quarter horses, Lucky, cut his foreleg in a freak accident. The tendons were cut in two places. Lucky could barely stand and bowed his head, as if anticipating his fate.

The prognosis was critical. The options were few:

>Surgery at a renowned clinic with months of rehab, but the level of infection might kill Lucky before they could begin.

>Saying good-bye and putting Lucky down.

The horse breeder said, “I just can’t give up on him. Could we try to treat it here and see if he can heal?

The docs were skeptical but they, too, hated to end Lucky’s life. So they swabbed the wound, gave Lucky massive antibiotics and wrapped the leg in a cast.

Six weeks later, Erin and Ben returned to check on Lucky’s progress. They had little hope for a positive outcome.

But when they sawed off the cast, they saw how the tendons were healing. No infection. Still a guarded prognosis. They wrapped the leg again without a cast so Lucky would be forced to put more weight on it.

Four weeks later, they unwrapped the injured leg. Hair and scar tissue had grown over the wound. Lucky stood strong and solid. He would never return to the race track, but the owner’s daughter could ride and show him at the local 4-H fair.

Dr. Erin concluded the episode. “We couldn’t give up. Although it was a delicate situation, scars are often stronger than the initial tendons.”

Isn’t that the truth? Although we struggle through multiple precarious and traumatic situations, we can decide to never give up.

If we do what is necessary for healing, we may be surprised by the results.

But the scars we wear often become stronger than the initial area that was wounded. We can grow emotional tissue around our pain that helps it heal.

We can accept the bandages others offer us. We can work hard to train ourselves to run with grace again.

And we can let the scars be a witness to our strength-building.

In the end, we may run a different race, live a different life. But we can be strong, even more useful and a treasure to those around us.

Therein lies our hope: to never give up, to accept the pain, to build on our scars.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A group of women were strengthened by their scars, but no one knew. They were The Invisible Women of Genesis.