Hope in the Redbud

Every spring, my redbud tree reminds me to stay in hope.Redbud

The usual allegory applies: dead winter becomes a fruitful spring. Trust God in the hard times. Almost a cliché these days.

But a more hidden meaning speaks to me this year, after an interminable winter and the hanging-on-of-grief. After another 12 months of ugliness and insecurity from our nation’s capitol, from both sides who should know better.

In spite of nature’s circumstances and the unknowns of life, here stands my redbud tree.

A neighbor has threatened to cut it down because its gnarled trunk and uneven branches seem out of sync with the rest of the symmetrical neighborhood.

Yet every time I drive home and see that rough bark, I marvel how such lovely pink blossoms manage to push their way to the surface.

And I cannot cut it down — will not allow it to be destroyed just because its trunk is ugly, its presence a misfit.

Even within its lack of beauty, I find hope.

The redbud tree reminds me how important every speck of God’s creation is — even those who do not fit into the traditional boxes.

  • Those creatives who splash weird colors onto canvas while everyone stares and tries to figure them out.
  • Children who don’t fit into the learning structures of schools yet are created for a beautiful purpose.
  • Autistic and Down’s Syndrome loved ones who see life more realistically than those of us with high IQ’s.
  • Every woman who survived high school although she was called “fat and ugly” by the popular kids.
  • The 67% of single moms who leave the church because they no longer fit into the religious culture.
  • And thousands of other categories of people, precious creations of God who find themselves unloved, unaccepted, unappreciated.

It strikes me that Jesus himself was a bit gnarled. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “There was no attractiveness in him, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him. . .turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by” (Isaiah 53:2-3 TLB).

So they cut him down.

Yet the truth of resurrection each spring reminds us that although we cannot see the inner beauty of creation, reality does not negate the truth.

Within the rough bark and spikey branches, life beats. Cells reproduce and spring bursts forth with a lovely fuchsia color.

Autistic children become great composers. Kids with ADHD learn how to operate computers and troubleshoot through cyberspace. Single moms raise the next generation of amazing beings. People with Down’s Syndrome teach us all how to love. Immigrants become solid citizens. Creatives remind us that art is subjective.

So I remind my neighbor, “Don’t judge my redbud tree.”

And I remind myself to never look at the outer layers of life. Beauty lies in the next flip of the calendar page.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you enjoy reading essays about hope, check out Hope Shines, also available in large print.

The Intensity of Hope

“Your book is so intense.”

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

“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 plot lines 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 — trying to survive 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 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 to them but refused to learn how to honor their wives
  • Male pastors who dismissed women as “emotional” and “reactive,” who would not hear their truth and told them 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.”

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail in No Visible Scars, available in print, on Kindle, Goodreads and Kobo.

Hope and the Feline Allegory

Peppernut 3

Hello, Peppernut !

Her plaintive cry echoed through the car. A five-hour drive — interminable for a cat who could not understand I was transporting her to a new home. One of my sister’s rescues, Peppernut would become my latest cat, an adopted member of our family.

“It’ll be okay, honey,” I answered her concerned meows. “You’re going to like being the only cat in the house. Life will be good.”

She could not understand. Her native language — feline.

Eventually she settled in as we traveled the remainder of the miles through the Flint Hills and into northeastern Kansas.

Finally, we arrived. Her room was ready. A fresh litter box, food and water, cat treats and some new toys. Plenty of soft places to rest and nap — the usual 16-hour sleep of cats.

She climbed out of the carrier, purred and let me rub her belly. Ready to love and be loved in her new home.

The allegory was not lost on me as so many of us face transitions.

We cannot understand God’s direction for our lives, even the possible moves he asks us to make. Our native language is self-sufficiency.

But when we approach those scary moments — when we don’t know where we’re going or what will happen to us, God whispers encouragement.

“It will be okay, my beloved. You’re going to like this change. This will be good.”

It is only later, when we arrive on the other side of the transition that we realize God was with us all along. He readied the place, providing everything we needed. Even some enjoyable moments — the toys of life.

We are ready then to love him and be loved more deeply by him than we could ever imagine.

If you are facing a change, stay in hope. Even if it seems scary. God is able to make it good.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more allegories on faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. 

Hope Lets Go

In the never-ending task of downsizing, I constantly ask the questions: Do I need this item anymore? Does this object still give me joy or can I share that joy with another person?

rockerA survey of my guest room focused on the tiny antique rocker. Purchased all those years ago, it intrigued us because it also expanded into a wooden high chair. Perfect for baby Caleb.

But the years had grown my son and weathered the wood. Initially, I saved the rocker / high chair for a future grandbaby. But now, I wondered if that was even feasible.

I would not feed a child in such an old device. Its wooden pegs were beginning to rot. The structure was no longer safe. And who knew how many bacteria still hid within the crevasses of walnut? Not even a bleach bath could reach every tiny surface.

Repaint it? Sand and varnish it? No. My days of restoring furniture and exposing myself to chemicals are long gone.

Use it for something else? Maybe. A plant stand? It no longer fits my décor and the whole purpose is to get rid of stuff.

Did my son want it? “No,” he said with a grimace. No one in the family could find a place for it.

So I decided to give it away. I don’t mess with E-Bay or Craigslist. It’s easier to donate my treasures and claim a deduction. I loaded up the rocker along with sacks of other stuff and left everything with the attendant at the Goodwill store.

But as I drove away, the tears fell. Another piece of life had transitioned away. Another reminder of the aging process and the losses that inevitably shadow our days.

Still, the memories were sweet. I swiped at the tears and thanked God for my little boy, for the years of rocking him to sleep, watching him chase Cheerios across the surface of his high chair.

Then I prayed a blessing over whomever would purchase the rocker. Hope returned with the process of sharing my goods with another, of giving away what once owned my heart.

Life passes so quickly, and our stuff becomes transient. Yet we find hope and joy in living the days well and sharing what we no longer need.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope Defeats Fear

monarchDuring the sixth month of my pregnancy, I waddled outside. The June sunshine brightened my colorful zinnias, so I parked my lawn chair beside the garden and carefully arranged myself within its plastic womb.

Six months. Three more to go. We had made it past the danger zone — those first 12 weeks when this baby’s siblings slithered out of my body and died.

This child seemed stronger, a prototype of health according to sonograms and medical opinions. Yet a niggle of fear colored my days. Things could go wrong so quickly. Hadn’t the past pregnancies taught me that truth?

I dozed, then woke to the sight of a colorful monarch resting on my belly. His wings pulsated, his russet eyes steady on my face. I tried to breathe silently, barely moving lest he leave and break the spell.

The baby kicked, but the monarch rode the wave. Extra flutters of his wings yet a determination to hold on.

A verse I had read that morning filtered through my mind, “Though a thousand fall at my side, though ten thousand are dying around me, the evil will not touch me” (Psalm 91:7 TLB).

Thousands of women lost babies every day. I had been one of them, but not this time. The monarch seemed to tell me, “Hold on. You’re almost there. It’s safe to believe.”

That amazing insect stayed on my belly for the entire afternoon. Precious hours as the two of us communed. A concrete reminder that life would be gifted for my baby and me.

When my son was born in November of that year, the summer sun was long gone. But not the truth of that amazing experience.

Even now, 33 years later, when I see a monarch — I smile and whisper a thank you for the hope that butterfly brought me.

Then I find my son for a quick hug.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

That same son edited our newest book, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope Lives

woman worshipThe pastor pounded his opinion into our souls. “Death for the believer is a beautiful thing.”

He was wrong. Sure — the aftermath of death — that entrance into heaven is a beautiful result of the life of faith. We can only imagine how it will feel to be free of pain and stress.

But the process of death is not beautiful, not even remotely lovely.

Growing up on a farm, my siblings and I often saw the effects of death. Whether it was a beloved pet smashed under the wheels of a speedy vehicle or a steer slaughtered for the meat, death was shocking and ugly.

And death for humans was no less horrid. Even while performing CPR on my precious grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to bring her back to us — I noted the smells and sights of death. Not a pleasant experience.

Throughout my years in ministry, sitting with families in the ICU, hearing the beeping of machines, smelling the sterile rooms — the approach of death changed the human body until it was almost unrecognizable. Even today when I visit hospitals, I go home and shower off the smell of death.

No wonder mortuaries employ the services of makeup and hair stylists so that our last view of loved ones is more pleasing.

During this holy week, we focus on the crucifixion. But we don’t always realistically picture how awful the death of Jesus was. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson presented a more realistic view of the broken body, the torture, the results of sepsis and blood poisoning.

So I wonder what actually happened when Jesus came back to life? We know his scars were not miraculously healed. He later showed his wounds to Thomas and the other disciples.

Did he wake up with unshed tears crusted on his eyelids? Did it take him a while to stretch out his arms and legs, to work out the stiffness from lying on a rocky sepulcher? Were his shoulders sore from being stretched on that cross, the results of dislocation and trying to hold up his body for six hours?

Or did God rejuvenate every cell so that Jesus instantly felt more alive than ever before?

What follows then is speculation on our loved ones and their metamorphosis from the ugliness of death to the power of new life. We know the physical becomes spirit. Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, to walk through walls. We know the curtain between the physical and the spiritual is thin, like a lacey veil.

How amazing it must be to pass through the portal of death and experience forever life!

Someone once wrote the following truth: “Since our loved ones are with God and God is with us, then they can’t be very far away.”

I find hope in thinking of the nearness of Deb, of Betsy, of my grandmother and of Jesus. While death in all its ugliness is inevitable, eternal life is also a certainty. And that will be a good thing.

The trick is to put aside the horror and focus on what will someday be truly beautiful.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of my precious friend, Deb Mosher, who passed from death to life. She lived with shining hope.

Hope and the Triage Moment

triageMany of us learned the meaning of the word “triage” because we watched M*A*S*H. Every week, the doctors and nurses on our favorite TV show worked through the triage episode. Some patients could wait a while. Others were taken immediately to surgery while several unfortunates received last rites from Father Mulcahy.

The working definition of “triage” means “to assign the degree of urgency to a wounded or ill patient.” Even in today’s healthcare environment, triage nurses and doctors determine the priority of working with a patient, especially during crises.

Recently, I heard a phrase which caused me to stop and ponder its impact: Triage your worry bucket.

Most of us deal with one situation or another. Many of my friends are caring for an elderly parent or two while supporting a kid or two in college. Scores of people I know struggle with medical issues while others are trying to pay off debt and/or college loans.

All it takes is five minutes watching the news on any channel to know we are in serious trouble.

But what can we do about it? Triage the worry bucket.

Decide which issue is most urgent and deal with it first. Put everything else in the waiting room until you’re ready to bring it front and center. By that time, those secondary issues may have dissipated or won’t seem that important.

Most of the national and international issues are out of my control. I cannot do anything about them other than to educate myself so I’ll know how to vote in 2020.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s journey does not warrant any fresh worry. It is what it is. I’ve already worked through most of the grief. Only time will determine how it ends.

My son is an adult, and he makes his own choices. I’ve done my best to raise him, but I cannot control anything he does. So far, he’s being wise. No worries.

Health issues or crisis events can be troubling, depending on what happens. But I cannot worry today about what may or may not become a struggle during the next decade. I’ll triage that worry bucket when the time comes.

So what is on the priority list for my triage bucket? Recently, digestive issues. So I’m working with a doctor, taking my meds and trying to set boundaries around my food choices. Unfortunately, chocolate is NOT on the list.

A possible car purchase is on the horizon. No emergency, thankfully. Just trying to be conscious of the best deal and find something that will last for a while.

The problem escalates when our worry buckets overflow. We cannot make effective decisions when we’re overwhelmed.

But if we purposefully triage the worries and only allow the most urgent struggles to rise to the top, we can deal with whatever life hands us.

I often tell my Coaching clients to take “One microstep at a time.” The same holds true for the crises that pepper our lives.

So triage your worry bucket and live in the hope that one day, all your worries will cease.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A life of faith helps defeat the overwhelming worry bucket. Check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.