When Acceptance and Hope Collide

During the Creatives Conference in Santa Fe (circa 2018), I was struck with the beauty and acceptance of New Mexico’s racial diversity.

But a different type of diversity also encouraged me, humbled me and taught me to be more open to those around me.

During my week in Santa Fe, I met writers who were Jews, Buddhists, atheists, Shamans, Christians and a mixture of faiths including one presenter who labeled herself a Bu-Jew.

We laughed together, learned together and connected over bowls of green chile stew, creamy guacamole and quinoa power bowls.

Nobody pulled out a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws, tips from the Torah or quotations from Buddha. Nobody confronted others about being wrong or right. We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of these new friends have followed me on Facebook, added their email addies to my newsletter and committed to my blog. I feel honored to have such a rich diversity of new friends.

After one stimulating lunch where several of us shared our love of everything Santa Fe, I walked back to my hotel room. My experience told me the same lunch with a group of Baptists, Methodists and/or free-spirited anointed Charismatics would no doubt have resulted in arguments, confrontations and insistence on what the Apostle Paul meant in his numerous argumentative writings.

Yet that type of spiritual blasting did not happen with this diverse group. We simply began relationships built on our love of words.

Of course, I hoped the eternal Word was reflected in my speech, in my manner, in my acceptance of these dear creatives. And I believe that my future writings they read will make an impact, if for no other reason than curiosity to be explored.

But I understood more clearly than ever before the need to push away from our comfort zones, wooden pews and cushy sanctuary chairs. To be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk — or no faith at all.

The scriptures remind us Christians to be salt and light. But too much salt gathered in one place makes for a bitter pot of soup. Too much light blinds us to the realities of the needs around us. To those who believe differently yet are still vitally important to the God who reaches out to them.

I am more determined than ever before to use my words to embrace and engage rather than to confront. Although I love Jesus more than life itself, his example was to love as we love ourselves. Jesus drew people in by first listening to them and then meeting their needs.

How can we share hope with the world around us? By letting our hearts invite friendly debate. By refusing to consider ourselves as experts on every question. By building relationships just because we care for our fellow humans.

How can we best reflect the hope that drives us? By remembering the old campfire song and living it out: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A book that explains faith in a direct and simple way, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. Written in collaboration with my gifted son and available on Amazon.

Hope Conquers the Chaos

As a writer, observation is one of my most important tools. Awareness of this tool causes me to listen for dialects when people speak and watch how their actions synch with emotions. This practice helps me develop realistic novels as I incorporate those rhythms into the characters who people my books.

Observation notes interesting quirks such as the depth of a dimple, a spontaneous laugh or fingers drumming on a barn wood plank. The benefits of observation add color and texture to my words without plagiarizing the reality of lives around me.

Sometimes an image or a word surprises with its potential. I observe it, reflect on it and journal through it.

Soon it becomes a theme, a sentence that stretches into a paragraph or as in this case — a quote that morphs into a blog post.

Every great change is preceded by chaos.” Deepak Chopra

This statement pummeled into my soul like a snare drum in the early morning fog.

How appropriate when thinking of the last two years of our history. The chaos COVID created as it marched around the globe. The way it changed how we lived, isolated, shopped, ate out, and sadly — how we treated one another.

This chaos has forced us to consider the depths of our value systems, what is truly important versus the urgency of the moment. With stunning accuracy, chaos created change.

Yet chaos in our journey does not have to define us. We can process the changes and land on our knees — an appropriate stance for any soul-seeker living in chaos.

Gradually, as the murky concrete of change became our new normal, we learned to replace the chaos with a peace that passes all understanding. We could still find hope and joy in the living of a different reality.

Life is still a beautiful place to be. Still surrounded by love, joy, peace and hope.

We may dread the next chaos yet be determined to address the coming changes as better people. To approach our modifications not as we once were, but better versions of ourselves.

I believe it is important to monitor how we have changed, how we reacted to the chaos. We cannot learn if we do not reflect and analyze. When there is a disturbance in the force, the chaos of change may creep ever closer.

We do not have to let chaos destroy us.

Even the Divine Three warn that everything will eventually change. Foundations will shake (Psalm 82:5). Earthquakes in various places. Wars and rumors of wars. Peril and danger on every street. The love people once had for God and others growing cold.

We have seen past chaos turn into positive change:

  • Civil rights legislation making us more aware of how skin color divides us
  • Revivals around the world that pointed societies back to the God who loves us
  • A national conversation about the abuses of children, i.e. the MeToo movement

Experience teaches us that some change will never happen unless we embrace the chaos. Acknowledge how it happened. Fix its source. Make the important changes.

Sometimes I hate the observation that pushes me toward reflective melancholy. Growth hurts. Too much stretching becomes a stress.

Yet by changing what is negative and moving toward what is better, we become stronger. More able to face the next chaos with realistic expectations underscored by hope.

As chaos fades, peace can replace it. New normals can surface. Empower us to love God and love others in deeper ways.

And eventually, if we let it — the chaos will fade and leave a halo of shining Hope.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book of the month is Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Help a single mom reach through her chaos to find hope.

Hope Sets Healthy Creative Boundaries

Isn’t it interesting how we can tell others what to do but not apply that same wisdom to ourselves?

With my writing clients, I often ask, “What are you doing for an artist date?” The artist date comes from Julia Cameron and her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way. An artist date is an intentional setting of healthy boundaries, getting outside the writing space to discover something creative.

My clients tell me about roaming through bookstores, writing morning pages at a quirky coffee shop or choosing a new journal. Many of my clients take day trips to discover more about the area where they live.

Terrific successes for my coaching clients. Not such a good job by their coach. I find it difficult to schedule artist dates or find time for fun in my busy schedule.

Am I too busy? How can I remedy that? We all need time away to reboot the soul and refresh the creative spirit within.

So in 2022, I plan to take more artist dates, consider what is relaxing and creatively important for me. Play a new piece on the piano, banging out chords that help release pressures from a stress-filled day. Walk through crunchy leaves. Stroll through colorful chrysanthemums at a garden store.

Other possibilities might include:

  • Leaving the office for an afternoon movie matinee
  • Finding a quiet moment on the deck for my garden coloring book
  • Looking for a new color of nail polish
  • Stopping everything to watch the sun complete its dusky setting
  • Finding a new journal or reading through the old one with an attitude of praise

These ideas bring me joy, yet I can also work harder to relax. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Forced relaxation?

After an artist date, I feel more energized to connect sentences into paragraphs, outline chapters and introduce new characters to the world.

Recently, two other writers and I attended the funeral of our friend. It was a sad, beautiful service yet an honor to attend. To remember what a wonderful person she was and offer comfort to her family through our presence.

But after the service and a bountiful Mexican meal, we browsed through the town of Yates Center, KS. There we discovered an old Carnegie library. What a treasure to see the built-in bookcases from 1928, the unique hardware on the tall windows that invited beams of light, the children’s library with its colorful computer keyboard and painted murals. Each of us snapped pictures and snatched a free book to take home.

This day trip involved several hours where we chatted in the car, discovered a new town and fed our creative souls with a vintage library.

The next day, I found renewed vigor for my writing projects. Realized I need more day trips around the area, more opportunities to discover different places and feed my soul. To be more proactive about breaking away, setting boundaries around my creative self.

To discipline myself to do what I ask of my clients — find that special place of inner rest, plan an artist date, discover some place new.

Hope asks accountability of others, but also demands spiritual nourishment of the self. To define that fence around our hearts and find our true selves in the enjoyment of each day. To set healthy boundaries away from the work where we can engage more freely with our physical and emotional world.

When we protect that creative core by moving beyond the usual, we find hope in the processing of a fresh breath.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book I’m marketing during February will encourage your single mom friends. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Finding Hope in Multiple Loss

As I’ve watched The Chosen TV series and thought more about the early disciples, I’ve wondered how they dealt with multiple griefs. During those early years of so many martyrs, persecutions, people being snatched out of their homes — how in the world did they emotionally survive?

The same question haunts me when I watch documentaries or read books about the Holocaust. With so much death, so much pain — how did they deal with it?

Then last week hit.

Just 10 weeks after my mother’s death, I experienced multiple losses. On Monday, a writer friend I have known for years died from COVID.

Connie and I met when I was teaching a workshop on prayer. She sat in the back row and wept throughout my presentation. At the break, I took a Kleenex box back to her. We talked for a while.

“I think God wants me to begin a prayer ministry,” she explained. We discussed what that calling might look like. Her tears were from acknowledgement that she had been called to do a special work and a willingness to relinquish her time.

Several times throughout the years, Connie and I met at writers conferences. Once during the Baldwin City Maple Leaf Festival. Always cheerful, yet she could be moved to tears so easily. Such a tender heart.

That was Monday. Connie’s tears are now wiped away.

On Tuesday, one of my clients died from COVID. Leann and I had worked for several years as she grew closer to gaining an agent and a publisher for her book about therapy dogs. As a woman dealing with chronic illnesses, Leann knew all about therapy dogs. Her beloved Zoey was well-known at many writers conferences.

In spite of constant pain, Leann somehow managed to smile every time we met. She lived day by day — literally, trusting God for her daily bread as well as the breath to keep living. Such a brave and beautiful soul.

When she died on Tuesday, I felt like a light had gone out in the universe. But Leann is now free of pain.

On Wednesday, one of my long-time friends died from a blood clot after surgery. Elsie and I played piano duets, and her sons were two of my students. She helped me learn the best methods for nursing my son after his birth, and she was also a gifted seamstress. Her quilts won awards all over the country.

Elsie so loved her boys and all children. She was a caring grandmother and so compassionate to everyone in her circle of friends and family. I imagine her now playing with the children in heaven.

By Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up and face another day. Would there be another death?

The early martyrs and the Holocaust victims — even the over 800,000 deaths from COVID — are far greater losses. But because I knew each of these women well, I felt gobsmacked. My heart hurt for their families.

So how could I deal with these multiple losses? How could I begin to understand others who have lost so many at the same time?

Honor the Grief. It does not help to just keep going in life and ignore how we feel. We need to work through the emotions and acknowledge how much it hurts to lose loved ones.

Wail. Lament. Cry. All are healthy ways to admit we loved and lost. Journaling helps me as well. Taking a long walk and talking through my feelings with only God and my angels listening.

Share the Loss. I texted my sister and several friends. Told them what had happened and asked them to pray for the families.

“I’m so sorry,” they said as they validated my grief.

A burden shared feels somewhat lighter, at least for that moment. It helps us begin to process what has happened.

Focus on Life After Death. Each of these women are now walking in heaven, free of stress and pain. No worries. No bills to pay. No more threat of COVID or any other illness.

So I imagine them there, hanging out with Jesus and their loved ones. I know they are happy, so I am happy for them.

Pray. Still, the loss lingers, especially for the families. So my prayers focus now on those left behind. Such a lonely time. So many decisions to make at a time when emotions are fragile.

Yet prayer reminds us again that we are not alone in our losses. Jesus himself understands grief. He was described as a man of sorrows. And he will eternally take care of my friends.

So I feel as if I know a bit more of how those early disciples might have felt. The courage it took to live each day, knowing they might lose another friend, another sibling, another child.

And I stay in hope, so that living becomes more of my focus rather than loss.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Help a single mom make it through February, with all its Valentine messages. Send her Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope in What Works

At the beginning of each year, I send my clients a form to reflect and complete. One of the questions on the form is, “What worked for your writing craft in the previous year?”

Because if something works, then don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, either get rid of it or set healthy boundaries around it.

This simple question helps us move forward as wordsmiths and not waste time beating a dead horse.

The same exercise can work for our spiritual lives. What practice or discipline worked for you in 2021? What positive activity became more of a habit that worked well? What do you plan to continue in this new year, because it worked last year?

For me, Zoom meetings worked. I know many people are tired of Zoom, but this technology kept me connected to my clients, to family and friends. It was a valuable tool, so I continued my account and I’m still using it — almost every day.

Another activity that worked for me was to be more intentional to go to the library. I’m a regular anyway, to check out books and participate in the book sales. But in 2021, I loaded up my notes, my research and my outline and worked on my novel. The library closest to me has a wall fireplace, so I parked my chair near the warmth and wrote for a couple of hours. I plan to continue this practice.

But what worked for the tragedies and struggles of 2021? How was it possible to find hope in a year described by illness, political unrest, economic decline and the threat of wars? Even now, my home town holds the record for most COVID infections. Literally, half the population is sick.

What worked before that I can hold on to now?

Caution about what I Watch, Read and Focus on. What we inhale becomes what we exhale. And what we watch or read often determines what we believe. If I want to focus on hope and stay somewhat positive in a crazy world, then I need to be careful about what I ingest.

My news comes from a variety of sources. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle we vote for, if we listen only to one side — we can be programmed. So I intentionally check a variety of sources, flip channels and listen with two questions in mind: Does this position honor God? Does this position show love for people?

Like a host of other consumers, I watched The Chosen TV series. It was uplifting to imagine how Jesus lived a real life and how the disciples followed him. I knew they were nomads, but watching them pitch tents, go hungry for several days and question their Rabbi helped bring the Bible to a more realistic level. Caution about what I ingest worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Writing on the Topic of Hope. During this last year, it was difficult to sit down and write about hope. Some days, I struggled to find it. Had to leave the office and take a walk. Prayed a while. Cried. Then returned to the work.

So many times I asked God, “Shouldn’t I be writing about something else? More coaching posts? Blog another book?”

Always he answered. “Hope. Write about hope.”

Sometimes people will comment that a post brought them encouragement. I draw those comments into my soul like a thirsty traveler in the wilderness.

But like most writers, I often post and receive nothing in return. That’s when the wonder of hope keeps me going. Somewhere, someday — those words will impact someone’s life.

Writing about Hope worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Studying the Bible. Because one of my core values is life-long learning, it is easy for me to study, read and learn. During 2021, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend worked our way through Genesis. The Wednesday night group studied James. My personal studies included Psalms and Isaiah.

Whenever the gloomies hit, God provided direction to the perfect verse or passage. One day, it was Isaiah 40:28-31, “The Lord will not grow tired or weary…he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (TNIV).

I memorized more verses during 2021 and reviewed them before bedtime. That practice helped me sleep better. When I woke, I was ready to look for God’s mercies that are new every morning.

In 2021, study, reading, memorizing, learning, praying helped. I plan to continue.

Soothing Music. The joy of music has been with me for a lifetime. Various genres and mediums. But especially my piano.

Half Price Books provided me with a couple of new classical albums I worked through. My old hymnbooks contained sweet memories of the harmonies we used to sing. And often I just asked God what he wanted to hear. Then I played it.

The above verses in Isaiah 40 are beautifully rendered in my CD of the Messiah. As I drove to Oklahoma for my mother’s funeral, I played Selah music. Each morning as I dress, I turn on the radio and start my day with several worship songs.

Music always works for me. I plan to continue.

Jesus Himself. It is important to think often about this man/God who asked us to remember him. Those of us raised in certain churches grow used to the principles of faith. We can sometimes rehearse them like a habit, sort of like brushing our teeth without thinking.

But in 2021, I studied more about the New Covenant and what Jesus actually did for us on that bloody cross. How he forgave our sins past, present AND future. How grateful I should be for how he flipped the old practices of legalism and self-righteous religiosity.

Several books made an impact. Jesus Changes Everything by Bob George and Torn by Mike Manuel. A personal study of Hebrews cemented the truths, and my personal communion time brought me into a closer relationship with my brother, husband and maker — Jesus.

Not only did these studies help me stay in hope, they impacted how I view everything from my daily reflections to the church I attend to how I live out the kingdom of God right now on earth. And it made me sad for the false teaching that has plagued so many souls.

So I plan to continue these positive disciplines in 2022, always being open-minded to learn more about hope and the Author of it. To continue writing about hope in various ways and living my days — 24 hours at a time — with a focus on the positive and an open palm for how I can share it.

Let’s all make 2022 a year of hope. Let’s make our new normal a concession that we need spiritual and emotional health so we can offer it to others.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing about Hope in 2022 resulted in my book, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Check it out on Amazon.

Hope Finds Reality in a Verse

Many of my friends choose a special word for the year. It helps them focus on annual goals and gives them the motivation they need every day.

For some reason, the word of the year has not worked for me. Instead, I hang on to a verse for the year.

During the last weeks of December, I begin to proactively pray about my verse for the next year. Always, God answers. When we seek him, we find.

This year, I looked back through my Bible and journal to discover the amazing verses of the past and how they played out.

2016: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…to bind up the brokenhearted…to proclaim freedom for the captives… (Isaiah 61:1 TNIV).

During 2016, I served as a life coach in a nonprofit that helped women. Several of my clients were working through the trauma of spiritual abuse, physical and emotional abuse. Some of them had been abused by their husbands, then betrayed by the church and so-called Christians who were supposed to support them.

It was a time of helping my clients acknowledge the deep darkness, then work toward a place of light and freedom. So much pain, yet God was there to offer hope. Not only to my clients, but also to me.

2017: “God is my helper and ally. The Lord upholds me” (Psalm 54:4 AMP).

When I first read this verse, my heart lurched. What would happen in 2017 that would cause me to be upheld, to be helped by God himself?

It soon became apparent in the month of March when I resigned from my position and began therapy for ministry exhaustion. I needed God to help me financially, emotionally and spiritually as I rested. He was indeed my helper and ally.

Then he upheld me when a terrible loss defined my days. The unexpected death of my best friend, Deb, sent me into the darkness of grief. Without God holding me and literally being with me each day, I do not know how I would have survived the loss with any semblance of hope. Psalm 54:4 became my reality.

2018: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed, happy, fortunate are those who trust in him” (Psalm 34:8 AMP).

My healing came gradually, and God grew my writing clients. Finances increased, so some of the anxiety eased. My therapist released me, and friends surrounded me. While the grief continued, it lost some of its severity.

Then God made it possible for me to spend a week in Santa Fe. I attended the Creatives Conference where I met Julia Cameron in person and several other artists who continue as friends today. As I strolled through the plaza, ate wonderful dishes topped with green chiles and shopped the stores filled with southwest designs, hope began to return.

I caught myself smiling, even on the return trip back to Kansas. To this day, 2018 is colored with that beautiful experience and the goodness of the God who made it happen.

2019: “Feast on the abundance of God’s house and drink from the river of his delights” (Psalm 36:8 AMP).  

During 2019, my client base increased. I taught workshops at writers conferences and published three books. Words poured out of me, healing those taut places, releasing like salve out of a wound.

My CPA surprised me when he finished my taxes. “You’re still doing ministry, Rebecca. You’re helping others with their words.”

It felt like I had purpose again, and I could breathe. Thankfully. Because 2020 was about to spring itself on us.

2020: “God marked out appointed times in history and the boundaries of lands…so that they [the nations] would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 TNIV).

As we know, 2020 was the year COVID invaded and changed so much of our lives. People died by the hundreds. Family dynamics changed. Political turmoil and arguments about vaccines. Chaos everywhere.

Yet these verses kept me anchored as I prayed every day for the nations — for this global pandemic to blow itself out. My hope centered around the desire of God to have people reach out for him and find him, to realize he was not far away.

2021: The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11 AMP).

As the effects of COVID tromped all over my life, I hung on to the directive God gave me along with this verse, “Keep writing.”

Even as the workshops and conferences disappeared. Even as some of my clients needed to take a break. Even as I isolated myself during lockdown and set up a Zoom account, I kept writing. Even as so much of life changed, the words continued.

In August, I helped my son and his bride write their wedding vows. A sweet time. In December, I wrote my mother’s obituary. A bittersweet task.

So what is my verse for this year, for this 2022 when COVID continues to hover and life feels so fragile?

God sent me back to the prophet Isaiah, for a tiny phrase in 48:2, “Depend on God. The Lord Almighty is his name.”

El Shaddai is the Hebrew for the Lord Almighty. It means he is the God who satisfies our every need. He is the God of sufficiency and great power. He is the one who loves us so deeply, he works all the puzzle pieces together.

This God, this Almighty Abba, is the one I am depending on as 2022 begins. I have no clue what will happen this year. I hope I can report good news on December 31st.

But whatever occurs in the next months, I will find my hope in the verses God has given me and the ways he has been faithful throughout my life.

So happy new year to all my followers. I hope it’s a good one.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some ideas for setting your goals this year, check out Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals. Even if you’re not a writer, you can benefit from these principles.

Hope in the Mourning

During Mom’s last day on earth, the Hospice nurse gave us a card with a list of “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Published by the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, CO. You can buy your own card at their site.

If you are grieving during these early days of 2022, my prayer is that you will find hope in the following.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Loss by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt.

“The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Another great place to take your grief is through a support group titled “Grief Share.” Various churches offer these groups, and I participated in one after the death of my friend, Deb.

These groups remind us we are not alone in our grief. Others suffer as well. Sometimes, we are reminded that our grief is not as intense as another’s grief, yet it is valid.

My grief is not your grief, therefore I have the right to grieve in my own way. Another person’s Bible verse is not my verse. Another opinion about how long or how I should grieve is not credible.

Some people are emotional grievers. They cry and wail, sometimes stay in bed for weeks. I do not judge them, because I grieve in a different way.

I am an industrial griever. It helps me to do projects that bring a glad remembrance of my loved one. When Deb died, I completed four grief projects — most of them around the house or the yard. Then I gave a donation to the local animal shelter, because Deb loved animals.

For my recent grief, I created a memory shelf in my home. For several days, I was busy putting it together, painting, sanding, measuring the perfect place in my guest room. When I felt the need to cry, I stopped and mourned for the loss of now both my parents. Acknowledged the feeling of being orphaned.

Now, when I pass by, I smile at their memory. Sometimes I cry. Usually, I just think about my next project.

My faith has not been weakened by the need to grieve. In fact, I believe more strongly than ever in the power of hope and the certainty of eternal life. My parents are with Jesus. Someday, we will meet again.

So if you are grieving, whether it’s the loss of a person, a job, a home, a marital status, a former identity — stay in hope. Do what you have to do to grieve in a healthy way.

And know that your mourning means you deeply loved.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved