Hope in the Painting

It was a nondescript garage sale with a yard full of items. “We’re blending houses,” the owner said, “so we have to choose only what we’ll need together.”

“Me, too,” I said. “My friend and I are blending. We’re gonna’ be like the Golden Girls.”

I didn’t need any of the items in his yard but noticed the painting — mountain aspens with a turquoise background.

Deb would like that, and her birthday’s coming. But does she want another piece of art?

I talked myself out of it and started to drive home. But the Divine Whisper wouldn’t leave me alone. “Go back. You need that painting.”

“It’s probably too expensive,” I argued. But it’s hard to argue against the Divine One. “Okay. At least I can ask about it.” So I turned around and drove back.

The tag on the back noted the original price — $140. But the owner didn’t want it, so we settled on the price — five bucks.

Deb was delighted as we hung it on her wall. It seemed to give off a special aura, a reminder of our mountain travels and the Rockies she loved.

“I hope you got one of your special bargains for this,” she said. “It’s lovely.”

“Yep, I did.” But I never told her how little I paid.

A birthday hug and our usual celebration meal — Mexican with extra guac and chips.

We didn’t know the blended house would never happen, that this was the last time we would party on her special day. A couple of weeks later, she was suddenly struck with hemolytic anemia.

Our goodbye happened in the ICU. “See ya’ later, friend,” I whispered to her closed eyes. “I love you.” An hour later and she was gone.

Then the funeral with the many friends and family who came to honor her life. All of us in shock. Too young. Not fair. The tentacles of grief grabbing our hearts.

Her children graciously gifted me with the painting. I hung it, amazed by how it accented my creamy yellow wall.

A remembered whisper, “You need that painting.”

True. I needed to give it to Deb for her last birthday, if only for a few weeks’ enjoyment. I need it now to remember her with a smile and treasure our times together.

We all need the reminder to underscore how quickly life can change and how we need to celebrate each other — often and with joy.

Happy birthday, Deb, in heaven.

The painting cost five bucks, but you were worth much more — so much more.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines is dedicated to the memory of Debby Mosher, who lived her life with shining hope.

 

Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope in the Handwriting

It was time to choose a new journal — to begin a new treasure trove of writings and daily reflections.

I sorted through my stash and chose the one that spoke to me — sparkly with pink flower blossoms on both front and back covers. Then opened it to begin a new entry.

A gasp. A memory. Fresh tears.

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

photo attribution to Flickr

Written in her unique handwriting was the message my precious friend Deb shared when she gave me that journal. “Your faith can move mountains.”

Underneath the sentence, a mustard seed scotch-taped to the page.

I had forgotten that particular journal was a gift from Deb, a reminder of the verse in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The irony of the verse lies in the size of a mustard seed — only slightly larger than a pin-head.

Yet if we have even that tiny amount of pure faith, total belief in the One who can answer insurmountable prayer requests, we can see metaphorical mountains begin to move.

Deb believed this truth and passed it on to me. She had no idea how short her life would be, how I would treasure her memory and the friendship we shared.

She would have laughed at how I caressed that mustard seed and kissed the writing that came from her hand. She would have been surprised when I cut that cover off and framed it as a constant reminder of who she was and who we were together.

Handwriting is a sacred gift — a special scribbling that identifies us and preserves the energy of its author. It leaves a legacy, a historical mark that we lived. We made an impression on this earth, simply because we existed.

Although Deb is gone, her handwriting proves how she lived and the influence she left on those of us who knew her and loved her. And this reminder of our shared faith has become an art form I now preserve.

I think we all need to write and send more cards, letters that tell about our days, messages that share hope. To slow down and share words that will bless the receiver and prove the significance of our words. Computer keys cannot store the treasure of a friendship like a handwritten note.

Thanks, Deb, for this incredible gift. And for reminding me once again, to find hope in faith.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For an easy-to-understand booklet about faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

 

Hope and the Feral Cats

It was a gift — an unexpected pleasure on a discouraging day.

I had just pulled up my Amazon book sales report. Not enough sales for the month, not even close to my goal.

Then I looked outside and laughed in delight.black and white kitten

My neighborhood is blessed with several feral cats. One big guy — all black — I call Onyx. A smaller black and white female I have dubbed Mama.

Several of us feed them. During the winter they shelter under porches, pad across the snow-covered cul-de-sac to the next bowl of food.

But this spring, I noticed Mama growing fatter with pregnancy. She lumbered around the neighborhood, searching for more and more goodies. Then suddenly, she appeared thin and tired. Obviously, she had given birth. Onyx strutted as if proud of his accomplishment.

I did not know where Mama nested, how many babies she had or even if any of them lived. Feral cats don’t always have successful births.

Then, on the exact day I needed a boost, I looked out my front window and laughed. Four kittens crawled out from under the neighbor’s porch. Black and white, some more spotted, a couple more solid black with white booties.

They were at the stage of perfect fluff and fun, jumping on each other and practicing their cat-skills of pounce and conquer. Mama stood to the side, looking exasperated but also maternal.

The neighbor — a big tough guy who hides his soft heart, sneaked bowls onto the porch, then hid behind a bush. The kittens cavorted toward the bowls, joined by Mama as the entire brood ate lustily.

I stayed by my front window for a while, refused to answer a text message or to return to my computer. Knowing I needed the joy of those kittens fed hope and insulated me from further discouragement.

Just a few moments to watch joy in action, the frolicking movements of kittens and the satisfied face-washing after a bowl of milk.

Sometimes all we need is a nugget of hope to remind us life is good, that the creatures God has blessed us with bring a freedom from stress and worry. To be grateful for small blessings and leave the uncertainties for another day.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For some extra nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

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.