Hope Finds a January Purpose

Although I did not send the usual number of Christmas cards this year, I did receive several beautiful greetings from many of you. Thank you!

So … what to do with Christmas cards after the eggnog has soured and the poinsettia is dead? Just pitch the cards while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One example hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes.

One particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is, after all, a deep red color.

For several years, I used the front cover of Christmas cards as gift tags for the next year. Using a plain brown wrapping with a colorful card was fun and lovely.

But for the last few years, I have enacted a special routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on the kitchen table, next to my Bible and a candle. This is my sacred place for meditation, reading and prayer each morning.

Every day when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Sometimes that includes letters from friends, family and clients. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and her/his family during the coming new year — to fill them with hope and joy — to draw them closer to the loving heart of Abba.

If I know of a particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe, especially this year with COVID-19 still raging, racial injustice still prevalent and political turmoil underscored. Provide for them what they need — a warm and safe home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy.

This year, I know of many people who are grieving: Oh, sweet Spirit — send them a special touch of comfort. A flash of crimson cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.

Praying through my cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones who took the time to send me a holiday message.

I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected — through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared, through the beauty and power of words, through the bloodline of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards or going back to work.  

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by praying over my Christmas cards.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? The Invisible Women of Genesis is available on Amazon.  

Hope in One-Word Prayers

Hope sometimes hides in simple places, often in one-word prayers.

The prayer life can be taught by spiritual advisors and multiple resources, but I think God most appreciates our prayers when they come from the desperate places of our hearts.

One-word prayers exist in that place where self-sufficiency ends. The gut punch past emotion and any reasoning ability.

My one-word prayers come when I have nothing left — when I’ve exhausted all my personal resources and my attempts to fix the problem.

When all I have left is a plea to Abba Father.

Please. After my first two babies died on their birthdates, getting pregnant again seemed daunting and simply frightening. I could not emotionally lose another child.

So when the pregnancy test read positive, I had only one word for God: “Please.”

As I lay in bed for six months, hoping to keep my child, I repeatedly begged God, “Please.” That baby, my Caleb, was born healthy and screaming a voluminous God-type answer.

But in his 21st year, a massive brain tumor almost took him away. Again, all I could manage on my knees in the ICU was another, “Please.”

God does not always answer these prayers in the affirmative, but this time — he said, “Yes.” My son is now cancer free, 14 years later.

Why. This one-word prayer is rarely answered. God does not have to justify his actions or what he allows. His job description as supreme authority is clear.

But we still ask the question. Most of us have asked “Why?” during 2020. Why this pandemic, this horrific loss of life, jobs, businesses, conferences, travel? No answer.

As my mother lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I have asked, “Why?” In 2020, she fell and broke the same hip twice. She tested positive for COVID. Three times, I pulled out my little black dress and emotionally prepared to drive to her funeral.

But Mom survived to continue in the shadows, oblivious of any family or friends. Why? When she wants to be in heaven. What is the purpose?

I do not know, cannot comprehend the Why. But this one-word prayer often returns.

When. God is transcendent. He exists outside time and space. He does not wear a watch or schedule his day on a cell phone. Eternity and its Maker are timeless.

Yet we exist within the boundaries of twenty-four hours and a yearly calendar. We want to know when God’s promises to us will happen. We need to make plans, be prepared and look the part.

We need something to look forward to.

My vision journal is filled with promises God made to me. My Bible has years marked beside verses God underscored. Yet many of these promises have not occurred. When, God? When?

No answer … yet.

Although one-word prayers come from a deep place of need, they do have a positive spin.

We may feel frustrated by incomplete answers, but these desperate prayers prove our faith. They remind us we have somewhere to go with our Please, Why and When.

They prove we believe in God’s existence even when we cannot explain his ways.

A final one-word prayer is the one I cry when I cannot even imagine another word. It is the place I have gone multiple times throughout life.

And I imagine life will throw other scenarios in my direction where this one-word encapsulates the cry of my heart.

It ignores the Why, because at the point when my tears cannot release, my voice is raw and my mind will not wrap itself around the grief — I don’t care why.

It forgets about When, because that moment represents my exact need. There is no thought of another time.

Yet this word holds a Please with every breath.

This one-word prayer includes every plea ever spoken and reverberates through my universe. It is the word that holds my heart and keeps my life somewhat steady — even in the chaos.

Jesus. The name above all names. The answer to every heart’s cry.

The one-word prayer that echoes with hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about the faith walk and prayer, check out Uploading Faith. My Caleb and I wrote it together.

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

Sometimes They Forget       Goals E-book Cover      Rev_G_Cover

 

 

Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

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