Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness.

Each year, I plant and nurture a variety of chrysanthemums. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom.

When late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds, then fuller blossoms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow mums fill my garden with spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance.

Mums were the plants loving friends brought when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them dying before birth. Each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb morphing into a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer.

It is within the silence of our griefs that faith best grows.

Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who could give no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life.

The hope of this mother that another season might bring another child – a living babe to hold, kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb.

Just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it.

Some unresolved grief so desperate I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. I honor my children by planting these mums as my personal cemetery token.

In the spring, I cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope.

Somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

In the waiting – in the hoping – comes a resolve. To honor each day in the land of the living even while looking forward to the land of promise.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

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Hope Finds a Miracle

flower in cementThey swooped into the ICU, a gaggle of church women – loud, excited, demanding. Their leader shouted, “I believe in a God of miracles.”

So do I. Shut up!

They swarmed into a circle, grabbed hands and entreated God to do something NOW – to bring back to wholeness my precious friend.

Certain that raw emotion and lack of sleep caused my abrasive attitude, I nevertheless watched them with rising irritation.

The doctors had agreed. No treatments were working. We were preparing our hearts for the inevitable tragedy as each breath brought Deb’s life closer to its end.

Of course, God could have blinked his eye and restored the paralysis from a massive stroke. He could have balanced her red blood cells that fell way below normalcy.

But Deb’s timeline was determined before she was born. As much as we hated to accept it, she was reaching its end.

When we face the unexpected tragedy, we pray for a miracle. We want life to return to what it was before. We long to delete the past weeks that brought nothing but bad news.

Yet when we demand that God restore life OUR way and in OUR timing, we fail to see the miracles already occurring. We are blinded by our own self-righteousness.

Within that ICU, family and friends became one. At the beginning of the journey, we dared to hope – planned how Deb’s next weeks would include healthy meals and constant attention to her needs.

Then as the crash happened and reality changed, we clung to each other, physically and emotionally. The drama we shared in that room brought unity and love that even now brings me to a tearful awe. With all the demographics and ages present, all the differences in beliefs – a miracle of togetherness drew us close.

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

After the gaggle left, still demanding their version of God’s will, I moved beside the bed and held Deb’s hand. The miracle of our friendship seemed a sweeter gift than ever before. The way her family embraced me and included me in Deb’s last days helped salve my broken heart. Another miracle of acceptance and compassion.

Ultimately, the greatest miracle DID occur. Certainly not the one we wanted, longed for. At the end of that terrible day, Deb’s body failed and she left us.

But the ultimate miracle happened as her invisible soul traveled into eternity – a forever of peace and joy.

We can always pray for the miracle we want and hope for the best. But if we demand the miraculous to look like our earthly description, we will be disappointed. Even Lazarus had to die again.

My friend will never have to struggle through another winter or face another tax season. She has been released from her worries and fears.

But hope still lives in the legacy she left behind and the miracle of how her life impacted so many.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Encounters Loss

For regular followers of my blog and those who have read my books, you might think the title of this post means my mother has passed. No. She is still living in the shadows of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her brave heart still beats.

This loss was a complete surprise – a younger woman in good health – whose body suddenly betrayed her. Within 10 days of feeling so exhausted she drove to the ER, my friend Deb was gone.DM at country store

We did life together. Drank gallons of chai tea, determined the best place to eat by the quality of the guacamole, cried together at sad movies and celebrated birthdays with ice cream.

I will forever miss hearing her voice on the phone, “How ya’ doin’?”

How can a writer deal with such loss and continue to be a wordsmith? What kind of takeaway can I find – some way to honor Deb and the relationship we shared?

Learn from the Experience. I now know all I ever want to know about hemolytic anemia – how the red blood cells become so depleted and how even a transfusion can attack the good cells. If I ever develop a character with this disease, I will know she must be so totally exhausted she cannot even comb her hair. Because that is what Deb experienced. I will also know that even the best medical minds can find no effective long-term treatment.

Value the Journaling Practice. During Deb’s time in ICU when the outcome became clear, I returned home each night to my journal. I wrote out Bible verses that brought me comfort, especially the ones Deb loved. I also screamed the unfairness of it all through words – you know, upper case screaming with a red gel pen and underlining every other word. Writing out my frustrations helped trigger the beginnings of working through my grief.

Understand the Grieving Process. Some of the grieving began as I held Deb’s hand in the ICU and reminded her we had planned another trip to Santa Fe. Although she could not respond, I hoped she heard me. The roller coaster of the grieving process continued throughout those 10 days and then the weeks that followed. Again I learned writers must take care of themselves even as they grieve. This was not the time for me to begin working on a new novel.

Remember the Good Times. As a writer, I crafted the speech I shared at Deb’s memorial service. To recall our trips together, our shared loved of the country and cats, the excitement we had for anything the children and grandchildren did. It was my honor to speak about her and through my words to recall the way she invested in relationships.

Appreciate Each Day. Memes on Facebook and boards on Pinterest often remind us to live each day with purpose, to never take our lives for granted. But when we’re faced with the fragility of life and how quickly someone can be taken from us – the experience underscores how important it is that we appreciate each day. I am hugging my son more often. I am stopping work to pet the cat, taking time for sunsets and worrying less about the calories in dark chocolate.

I plan to spend each day writing my words with purpose and motivation – to make a difference while I am on this earth.

Deb taught me to enjoy ordinary moments while planning for the extraordinary. I am determined to take another trip to Santa Fe and remember how she played her Native American flute, coaxing echoes from the mountains around us.

I will finish the novel Deb encouraged me to write because she knew it deals with the important topic of domestic abuse. In the acknowledgements, I will include her name because she prodded me to find an agent and send the book into the marketplace.

How do we find hope when we encounter loss? One tiny piece at a time.

We must allow ourselves the grace to grieve, to let time salve the wound and allow God’s comfort to work its way into our souls.

Then hope itself becomes a comfort as we treasure our relationships and live each day seeking more ways to appreciate the people we love.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author and Certified Writing Coach

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Hope Asks Questions

why imageHe was young and bright – this college student who wanted to pursue creative writing. We met at a local coffee shop, two creatives sharing a gift – though decades apart in age.

The hazelnut blend he drank mellowed the atmosphere while I played with the tail end of my English Breakfast tea bag.

He took copious notes of statements I have made hundreds of times with coaching clients:

  • Writing breeds more writing skill, so write every day.
  • Submit a manuscript to a magazine each week.
  • Frontload the week – plan your more creative work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Be consistent with marketing. Whatever platform you use – consistency is the key.
  • Get involved with writers groups. Be in a critique group or have a writing partner.

And of course my pitch, “Hire a writing coach to help you be accountable. I currently have openings.”

I had asked him to bring some of his work and he pulled out a well-worn journal. I knew by the way he touched it, dared to hand it to me – these were words dear to his heart. He was trusting me with his very soul.

He seemed surprised when I praised him for the way he used conflict, the turn of a phrase that did not include a cliché, a-ha moments unique to his voice.

Like all of us, he needed encouragement and a slight push forward to realize the beginning of his writing dreams.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he said with a polite nod, “but I know my writing asks lots of questions. I know you’re a Christian. I hope that’s okay…you know…that I ask the hard questions.”

For a moment, I wavered between needing to cry and wanting to scream. What have we done to these talented millenials? How did they get the idea that we know all the answers – that it is wrong to ask questions about faith and life?

“I ask questions, too,” I said and watched him visibly relax. “I used to be a black and white Christian where I thought I knew all the answers, because I had been force-fed what I SHOULD believe. Then life happened and those answers weren’t enough.”

I described some of the difficulties I have lived through and how God has been patient as I worked through them – how God hasn’t been afraid to listen to me. I reminded him that some of the greatest saints who ever lived asked hard questions. King David. Moses.

Even Jesus while he was being tortured asked the “Why?” question.

How sad it is that Christendom has thrust itself past these seeking and questioning young adults!

They see us with placards on the evening news, going way beyond the freedom of speech and into the bully pulpit of the streets. They read about how we label and exclude their friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They grieve as we condemn their single moms.

They cannot hear the truth about God because we are so busy screaming at them to perform righteously. We expect them to live by our rules before they ever meet the One who loves them in spite of the rules.

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

No wonder they can’t find the God of love when we, His beloved children push them away. Our self-righteousness denies their questions, the very source of how they seek for truth.

In “The Listening Life,” author Adam McHugh writes, “My calling is not the answers but the questions I bring to the world.”

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.”

To live the answers of life, we must first ask the hard questions. And to accept others with the love of Christ, we must allow them to ask those same difficult questions.

When we stop asking questions, we putrify in the sewage of our own belief systems. Then we program others to believe the same so that we will feel safe within our acceptable righteousness.

We find hope only when we step out of the comfortable morays and seek deeper meanings for our faith. That is when we discover how broad and wide and deep and high is the grace and love of God.

This young man – God love him – is seeking a place for his creative mind to grow. He is also seeking to be accepted as he is – not programmed into a hard wooden pew where his soul will stagnate.

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” the Reverend G Trilogy and “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.”

With over 70 million caregivers in the US alone, someone you know needs encouragement. “Sometimes They Forget” helps caregivers find hope in the Alzheimer’s journey and reminds them they are not alone. Order it Here.

Sometimes They Forget

 

 

 

Hope Flows Through Nature

How is it that an ethereal quality can somehow find its energy through a concrete object?

Either the process has emerged through my own visual creativity or it exists within the spiritual realm I cannot see.

For whatever reason it begins, hope is empowered within the realm of nature.Martha Washington geranium

When I cannot stand to watch one more news show or read one more Twitter rant, my deck becomes a haven.

When the question of my heart, “How long oh Lord?” is answered only with silence, I retreat to the outdoor sanctuary.

A cardinal cheers me as he calls for his mate from a nearby tree. The squirrel who thinks my deck is his dining room scampers to retrieve another sunflower seed. Sunset brushes turquoise and coral strokes across the evening canvas.

And my flowers – the Martha Washington geranium I found dying at a nursery in late June now thrives. A reminder that what may appear to be faltering can be revived.  

That deep burgundy petal bordered by a creamy outline urges me to cry out in gratitude. God will indeed revive. He will restore.

This bloom, this geranium teaches that hope is not lost even if appearance underscores it to be so. At the core of despair, we can still find life and once nurtured, once tended, life can thrive again.

A lesson for all who are recovering from too much caring of others and not enough nurture of self.

Coral and TurquoiseAnother flagon of hope waits on my front porch – a treasure found at the end of the plant sales. A turquoise pot filled with coral buds and peachy blooms – the colors of the Southwest I so love.

Each time I turn into my driveway and see this hope-filled pot, I remember the promise I made to myself. “Find a way to visit Santa Fe and Taos.”

To revel in the colors of a land replete with artisans of the earth’s clay. To enjoy the diversity of a demographic where every skin color is not only accepted – but also celebrated.

Hope flows through my plantings and the sounds of nature. No need for prayer when surrounded by God’s art. The Artist himself is here.

And as Abba frames his creative genius with another cinematic sunset, no words describe his color choice, his texture and contrast.

Forget the rest of the world. Let me revel in the hope that flows from the natural world of divine design.

©2017 RJ Thesman

If you’re a writer or you know a writer, “Setting and Reaching Your Writing Goals” can help you move to the next level. Order your copy here.

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Hope and the BLESS System

During the summer of 2017, my church is utilizing a system to BLESS our neighborhoods. The acrostic works like this:

  • Begin with Prayer
  • Listen and Engage
  • Eat (because we all connect better while we’re eating)
  • Serve Others
  • Story (be willing to share your faith story)

Although I like this concept, I am purposely NOT engaging in this system. Not that I disagree with any of it – I’m just pulling back from any kind of service while I recover from ministry exhaustion.

The ironic beauty of this BLESS system is that God Himself is helping me engage with him. He is blessing me.woman - worship

It’s almost a replay of how God took care of Elijah when he was discouraged and depressed after a massive battle. (If you want to read that story, check out First Kings 19.)

Now, I don’t believe I am anywhere close to being a powerful servant such as Elijah.

I just know God loves me and he’s taking care of me.

Here’s how it works:

Begin with Prayer: At times, I’ve been so depleted, the only prayer words I could speak were “God oh God” or “Jesus, help!” But the sweet truth is that God still heard me. We don’t have to pray a certain way or follow a formula for Abba Father to hear the cries of our hearts.

[Read more about Redefining Prayer]

Listen and Engage: In the quiet of the night when all I hear is the cat’s snores – I sense God near. He is listening to me and for me, and I for him. Sometimes he speaks a verse I’ll look up and journal through. Sometimes it’s just the inner warmth of knowing he’s engaging and connecting with me. I love that. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs of guidance and truth.

Being listened to = being loved.

Eat: This piece of the acrostic is a bit more eclectic because I’m not talking about real food. Although a healthy recovery does include nutritious eating as in blueberries, dark chocolate, lots of water, repeat.

Emotional and spiritual eating means filling my mind with the words of God and helpful books – fiction and nonfiction. I am inhaling without exhaling, filling up my emotional bucket that has been scraped raw. This type of eating never adds empty calories, but spiritual nutrition flows into every tissue and emotional gap.

Serve Others: It seems impossible to turn off the button of ministering to others. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, “No! You cannot organize and promote a new ministry, no matter how much it is needed. Stop it!

I am letting go of all expectations and reveling in how God is serving me.

Now, I know some of you out there in cyberspace are thinking, How selfish! Who does she think she is? What would Jesus do?

I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. He would climb right up in Abba’s lap and tell the Holy Spirit to come and comfort him.

When he walked on this earth, Jesus rowed across the lake and took some down time. He had weekend getaways at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He strolled through a garden and prayed, inhaling the presence of God so he would have strength later to heal and save.

So don’t judge me. I’m telling you Abba is such a personal God he knows when to send me an encouraging word.

He calls me to the deck at just the right time so I can watch a rabbit nurse her bunnies. He commands a flock of geese to fly over me with joyful honks. He whispers to a baby in Wal-Mart who turns around and gives me a single-toothed grin. He plants a book in my hands that helps me understand how ministers become codependent. He tells someone to send me a check so I can pay that climbing electric bill. He heals my son so I don’t have to live in worry.

God knows exactly what I need and when I need to be reminded how much he loves me.

Story: I’ve just shared part of my story with you. It continues to grow and the plot lines interweave. More will be coming in the weeks ahead.

Keep checking in with me to see how God wraps hope around every gift, how he is himself the author of hope.

The guideline God is helping me learn is this: it’s okay to take care of yourself. That means telling others “No” when they ask you to do something. It means setting healthy boundaries. It might even mean getting away from the mess.

So that’s where my story is so far. I’m sticking to it. Be blessed and let God bless you.

©2017 RJ Thesman

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Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. Somewhere a segue exists but currently – I can’t find it.

I know it will come – somewhere over the rainbow. But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing and a massive piece of comfort chocolate.

AsMind the gap I reflect on life in general and writing in particular, I realize life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding a newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grasp his diploma. A quickly-passing gap. Overwhelming emotion at both ends of said gap.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life – imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. A birth date.  A death date.

But it is the gap between those two dates that determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap? How many people did she influence? How many friends did he make? Who will mourn the presence of the owner of that gap?

I bring out my journal to analyze my thoughts. Think of the people whose gap moments affected my life: parents, siblings, perhaps even ancestors who prayed for me – folks I have never met. I know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery.

Teachers. Writers – oh yes – the numbers of writers who have influenced my life and also my calling to write. Innumerable.

Pilgrims within and beyond my family. My  students through the years. My clients now – how much I learn about writing from the actual process of coaching writers!

My son. The brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July 4th and believe the fireworks are for him.

The people I know who live with chronic pain and complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure, to persevere, to grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we don’t pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that gap is where hope exists, where it is nurtured and grows, where it expands to affect other gappers.

Perhaps we need to do more of this – to celebrate each other while we have life. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee, to toast each other and determine we will pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties, for cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with writers, artists and every day workers who persevere and heroically make it through another day?

And there it is – suddenly the segue I wanted, hiding within the paragraphs of journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap.

This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2017th year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, I believe the divine One will cheer for me. He will understand the joy I feel in moving forward with my words.

And when he reviews this life with me, he will remind me how important it was to find that segue. His whisper of “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of  Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy