Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

We planned it as a wonderful family weekend in Branson, and I looked forward to a leisurely drive through eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

What I did not realize—until it was too late—was the massive fear-mongering I would face at the end of the journey.scary hills

Although I grew up a tree climber, I have developed a fear of heights. I cannot and will not attempt stair-climbing past two floors.

Forget the Eiffel Tower challenge or the Washington Monument steps or any of those glass elevators meant to remind me I am no longer on the ground floor.

I will not—cannot do it. No one can bully me into a roller coaster ride or coax me to look over the side of the Grand Canyon.

What kind of masochist designs bridges with slots between the boards or glass walkways between tall buildings?

These are not my friends.

So I cheerfully drove to Branson, blissfully ignorant of what I would soon face. Before I hit the main drag, I suddenly faced massive hills—heart-stopping obstacles.

The worst part was the ascent without being able to see what was on the other side. I knew the downside of the hill must present itself, but I could not see it until my car topped the ridge.

Then I had to drive down that slope while my heart hammered its kuh-thump, kuh-thump. I refused to look at the steep sides around me.

“Focus on the center line,” I told myself out loud, aware of how my voice shook.

Seven—count ‘em —seven dangerously steep hills. The only thing that kept me going was the promised treat of meeting my family—if I survived the drive.

I recited every Bible verse I knew about fear, called on angels to surround me, screamed my prayers out loud.

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

Finally, the last hill was conquered, and I rolled into level ground. I pulled over and closed my eyes.

Survival tasted sweet.

The only cloud on a weekend of family fun was the certainty I would have to face those hills on the return trip. Or stay in Branson for the rest of my life.

Whether it’s the facing of a fear, pushing through an emotional obstacle or just trying to survive another day —we all meet our mountains of challenge.

And we’ll never know if we can conquer them until we actually go through the process.  Finish the journey—no matter what it costs us.

Hope streams in as we discover another layer of perseverance we didn’t know we owned.

And survival becomes the end result of a battle fought and won.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Discover the battle Abigail faced in “No Visible Scars and how she learned to accept her pathway to freedom.

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Hope Completes the Journey

Dear Deb,

The book is finished.

You would be so glad. If you were here, we would celebrate at a Mexican restaurant with fabulous guacamole. Plenty of chips. Constant refills.DM at country store

You would give me hugs and “I knew you could do it” words.

Throughout our meal, I would be thanking you for pushing me, for encouraging me to keep going.

Twelve years, my friend. During a dozen teeth-gnashing years, this book has been through multiple drafts, revisions, even a couple of genre changes.

But finally, it is the book I was supposed to write—the book you knew I COULD write.

It was important because of the women we both knew, those incredibly brave women who faced their hardest truths and stepped into an unknown world.

These women we taught, led in groups, cried with reminded us of the women we once were. How we needed our cadre of women warriors to help us fight our way to freedom.

This book underscores our experiences and the life journeys of these like-minded women.

I am sad you never saw the completed manuscript, never had the chance to hold the book in your hands. I know you would be proud. “Love it,” you would say.

Before you left us, you heard about the title my son created: “No Visible Scars.

“I love it,” you said. “It’s perfect,” you added.

You would have adored the cover your Sarah designed.

I am asking God to let you peek through the heavenlies and see it. I know it will bring you extra joy.

Thank you, precious friend, for being my cheerleader for this project.

Thank you for boosting me over the mountain of self-doubt, for reminding me to keep going, to finish the course, to see it through.

It is finished.

I miss you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Domestic abuse happens even in the best of homes. Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Steps Beyond the Ordinary

How sad when our faith becomes glib—as ordinary as a slice of wheat toast.

Then something happens that jerks us back into life and reminds us how much we need each other.

weeping woman sculptureSometimes when people ask for prayer on social media, I scroll quickly through the problem. Busy with my own challenges. Figuring others will step up and say a quickie prayer.

But when it’s me and more importantly—when it’s my son standin’ in the need of prayer, I am quick to plead for help.

And so grateful for those who respond.

Our latest challenge has jerked me back to reality and to the importance of stepping out of the ordinary request into the place of true caring.

With my son hooked up to hospital tubes and filled with pain-killing drugs, I cried out for prayers. Loving those who responded, for those who kept asking, “How’s Caleb?”

Reminders that others cared. Saints who pounded the doors of heaven on behalf of my boy.

And for those who also prayed for me, when I didn’t even ask. Mothers who knew I suffered with my son, failed to sleep, cried when I saw him in that sterile bed.

Folks who turned their prayers into action and brought us food. Took the time to visit. Hands-on prayers. Love in action.

My faith challenged and convicted to no longer scroll quickly through social media prayer requests. To remember on the other end of that post is a suffering person, a crying Mama, a struggling child.

My gratitude to those who prayed for us. Please continue. Healing is a process.

Hope underscores the need for honest petitions in the heavenlies and for warriors who embrace the battle.

We need each other. Our prayers matter.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope within your own challenges, check out Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Recycled – Part 2

The surprise arrived in a letter from the city. Appraisals jumped. In my case, from 117,000 to 135,000. Seriously?

I began to calculate the increase in taxes and insurance which equaled an increased monthly payment.

How fast can I write more books and sign more writing clients? Must I forfeit buying flowers this year?Layers of Hope

I sent in my appeal, in spite of no guarantee they’ll accept it. Should I try to sell this house? But then where do we live and how do we survive?

To delete the appraisal from my mind, I worked on old files. In the never-ending quest to clean out and de-clutter, I discovered a notebook filled with answered prayers.

During the post-divorce months as finances were so scary, my daily prayers began with, “Oh God oh God oh God! Don’t let us be homeless and don’t let my son be hungry.”

And every month, God showed up, often in amazing ways:

  • A sack of groceries on the porch – no clue to who brought them
  • Somebody’s change jar filled to the brim – a total of $64.36
  • Coupons and gift cards in the mail for groceries, pizza and Sonic BOGO night
  • Meals delivered – fresh food and generous helpings for leftovers
  • Friends paid for my dues so I could sing in the Lawrence Civic Choir. “Because you’re special to us,” they said. Did they realize how I hugged that statement to my heart?
  • Cards with sweet thoughts – cash tucked in the fold
  • Someone paying school fees for my son
  • An anonymous someone buying me an Amplified Bible

As I read through the pages of my notebook, I remembered the reason why I kept it. So I would never forget how God took care of us.

We never lacked housing. In fact, God provided through generous and kind hearts a beautiful townhome where we healed. My son was never hungry, and neither was I.

Tears of remembered gratitude rivered down my cheeks. God showed up back then, disguised as friends and family. Often anonymously. Always right on time.

And now I’m worried about an excessive appraisal?

Hope reminds me that God does not change. He has provided for us these 18 years. He will continue to take care of us.

Time to start another answered prayers notebook.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how hope works on a daily basis, check out Hope Shines. Encouraging nuggets for weary souls.

Hope Recycled

He was only 21 when a massive seizure revealed a Stage 3 brain tumor. Surgery, chemo and radiation followed. Then every six months, another MRI to determine the location of a possible re-occurrence.hope - scrabble letters

Throughout the next five years, every six months…another visit to the oncologist. His surprised response every time , “I don’t understand it. This type of tumor always returns.”

“God is bigger than cancer,” I said.

My response to the doctor did not come from a strong faith or a determination to refuse the negative course. I was one scared Mama.

But even before they wheeled my precious son into the neurology wing at Saint Lukes, God had whispered to me a promise from Psalm 41:3.

“The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him on his bed of illness.”

Throughout the next months, hope revived as the cancer did NOT return, as friends and family helped with medical bills, as the Carnival for Caleb was organized, as people prayed.

And God was faithful to his promise. Now, eleven years later, my son wears the label, “Cancer Survivor.”

Sometimes when we have a lull between the horrors of life, we forget what God has done, what he continues to do each day as he regulates our heart beats and counts the hairs on our heads.

Isaiah 63 reminds us how the Israelites forgot. They tuned out God’s loving voice and lived in rebellion, forgetting the God who opened the Red Sea with his breath.

But God loves his kids, so he helped those rebellious Israelites again and again. A reminder that he was still their God, no matter what their attitudes and actions said.

Eleven years since cancer tried to steal away my son, then suddenly – a simple hernia procedure turned into a major complication.

Days in the hospital colored by red jello. Beeping machines. Multiple shifts of the health care team.

My precious son’s face wrinkled in pain.

Again – a scared Mama. But God’s grace reached down to remind me of that Psalm 41:3 promise. The same today as it was eleven yesterdays.

A presence in the sterile room. An angel standing guard near his bed.

Hope recycled into another practical reminder that God cares for his kids – for my kid.

And no matter what the outcome, even if we drown in our Red Seas, God’s breath is still powerful, still able to rescue, still the ultimate victory.

We soldier on. We still believe and we underscore the certainty of what the Almighty has done.

Hope recycles as we choose to not forget.

 

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re needing some hope during the crossing of your Red Sea, check out Hope Shines. Encouraging nuggets for each day.

Hope in Being

Wasn’t it a wonderful experience to watch the documentaries and funeral service of Billy Graham? What an amazing spiritual leader!

Several memes, posts and commentators spoke the words from Scripture, “Well done. Good and faithful servant.”

Although I agree with that sentiment, especially for Billy, I struggle with the root of what that subject means.heart and book string

“You’ve done well. You’ve worked hard in ministry and you’ve impacted others. You have completed your tasks.”

Again, all positive statements – until we get out of balance.

In the early years of my ministry life, I was big into the “doings” of service. My motivation came from a legalistic background. Work hard to keep God happy.

In the doing of my faith, I soon lost myself in the needs of others. While the work was good and the results bore fruit, a cry from my barren soul remained untended.

Although helping others was a daily goal, somewhere along the line I needed people to love me for WHO I was rather than for WHAT I could give them.

Years later as I learned more about setting boundaries and intimacy with God, my good works were motivated out of love for God. This passion morphed into a love for people and the desire to watch them grow in their maturity.

Still, I longed to hear “Well done,” believing somehow that God’s acceptance and the approval of people would somehow fill that empty and exhausted place within me.

Now that I have resigned from the ministry, the doing has become secondary to the being. My hope rests in the truth of respecting who God created me to be and realizing that’s okay.

I can still live from the principle of the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.

But now I embrace the truth that one of those “others” is me.

The ministerial tasks that once consumed my life are now deleted from task charts. I continue to help others, but through the more subjective tools of writing and coaching writers.

Because I have learned to let go of the works mentality, I believe the impact of what I do is greater. Now it comes authentically from the heart, not from the ethic of works.

No more “doing” for the sake of approval or acceptance. Lots more “being” and finding joy in the every day.

Waiting to hear “Well done” is not as important as it once was. And I have learned that saying “No” can be just as blessed as a half-hearted “Yes.”

When I get to heaven, I don’t care if crowns are presented to me or accolades for what I have done.

Instead, I just want an eternity-long hug from God and his voice in my ear, “I. Love. You.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

During spring break, check out Hope Shines.” Nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.