Finding Hope in Intentional Rest

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, we transition into a new season.

The slowing down requires intentional rest. To keep spinning will send us into confusion, our axis tilted at a weird angle. Soul weary. Falling apart.

To be purposely still, we listen for God or sit in the sunshine for an emotional and physical reboot.

How can transitions be handled in ways that are healthy for body, soul and spirit? How do we move from excessive productivity to intentional recovery? How do we find our way through the maze?

I have traveled through transitional journeys before, but never at this level of intensity. Now sinking into an unknown while grasping for the best source of wisdom.

The usual methods of resting represent a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restorative sleep helps, then daily naps. Nutritious meals build up the tissues, although my body screams for comfort food. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target.

Nay, nay. I will not yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well — to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision of change. Mistakes admitted. Grace given.

Finding a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish. In the attempt, I stare at the space around me. Acknowledge the loneliness yet feel assured I am not alone.

Maybe a creative project. Resurrect my bag of crayons and find comfort in the texture of markings. Turn on the TV to watch football and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction as I pump on the exercise bike.

No emotional deposits required.

Outside in the canvas God painted. The trees dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. A tabby cat licks his lips but does not pounce.

God’s creation in living color.

I spend quality time on my knees, bringing my questions to the Wise One. Beg for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with curative rhythms: fret not, be still, know. God alone is my refuge.

Several years ago, I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel. Surrounded by the brightest of whites —a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels tucked me in. Stroked my brow. Murmured love. My weary self was cared for and received compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

The dream resurfaces and underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress takes time. A day. A week. Another day. No guidelines provided.

Yet rest is more than time in bed. It is ultimately a layer of trust on top of the trauma, the covering of peace over chaos. The belief that life will again find its rhythm.

And the pillow of time. The Divine whispers his assurance, “More time required. Be still. Cease striving. Do not try to figure it out.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. Eventually, I will find soul energy again. Words will pour forth, and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving — the voice of praise” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and trust, learn more about the calm beauty of rest. Trust in the One who reminds me how hope originates. He places his words on the page and covers me with his gentle hand.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

In The Year of my Redemption, Pastor Tanner needs to intentionally find rest. In the process of a sabbatical and therapy, he discovers a new way to love.

Finding Hope While Letting Go

To move forward with a mindset of hope, we may have to let something go.

As Ann Landers once wrote, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

So what are circumstances where we may need to let go?

Dreams. Most of us hang on to dreams, because they represent something we dearly desire.

  • That amazing job or career
  • A certain kind of house in a special place
  • The destination wedding with all the trimmings
  • A particular way of doing life, preferably without too much struggle
  • For writers, making the bestseller status

Yet dreams sometimes manifest only as journal entries or the deepest desires of the heart. At some point, usually much later in life, we realize a particular dream is rimmed by fantasy.

We have learned how reality superimposes its will on our dreams. And we know the healthiest response is to embrace that reality and let the dream go.

Expectations. Closely related to dreams are the expectations we embrace. We figure a college degree will result in a great job. A marriage with the church’s blessing will last a lifetime. The new car we bought won’t break down in the first week.

But expectations can be shattered by unforeseen circumstances. Even with a college degree, teachers make less money than plumbers. Cars prove to be merely machines that break down, no matter what the warranty says. And marriages are defined as the union of two fallible people.

The struggle with letting go of expectations is that we often have to dig deep to find the core of the problem. Find out how the expectation went wrong. Forgive the unforgiveable.

False Beliefs. How many of us believe exactly as we did when we were children? More study into faith and revelations about legalism or hypocritical teachings have taught us to be wary. We determine to be more assured of what we believe and why.

Our beliefs are more personal now. Our faith is based on experiences and more time with God. We are stronger than before, more solid in wisdom’s language.

So we let go of rote learnings and legalism. We embrace a new truth.

Another letting go is the one that may surprise us with its side effect of grief. It involves our children. The first letting go is when we must leave our little one at the daycare, the preschool, the first grade. We know something precious has shifted, and the letting go feels like a wound.

Letting go of our children includes their foray into multiple experiences:

  • The solo drive with a new license
  • A study abroad
  • The college experience with a dorm or an apartment — far away from our control
  • When he walks down the aisle to pledge his love to that special girl

It is vital as we let go of children that we also protect our own hearts. We cheer their independence even while wiping our tears of loss. We learn how the letting go requires more strength than the hanging on.

This mental truth is oxymoronic with the emotion of severing. To watch them fly, we must be willing to push them out of the nest.

Yet by definition, transitions of life suggest movement.

One person letting go results in another’s freedom. Even for the mama left behind, the child’s leaving can morph into a greater experience of growth and faith.

Hope transcends our moments of letting go, because it remains a fluid concept. Then after we grieve, after some time to recover, we may discover the power of a new life. (Isaiah 58:8 Amplified).

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read how Pastor Tanner had to let go, even though it almost cost him his ministry. The Year of my Redemption.

Searching for Hope in the Great Divide

My church just finished a series of messages focused on marriage. I did not attend.

Throughout my decades of work in churches, I have heard multiple sermons about marriage. Tips for how to love your spouse. Using the five love languages. Submission, submission, submission.

Gag!

While there was a time in my life when those sermons were a bit helpful, for the last twenty years I’ve wondered about the great divide.

You know, that nice little label that many of us don’t fit anymore: Mommy, Daddy and 2.5 kids. 

Where are the messages that focus on the beauty and strength of being single? Are we still so enamored with the idea that to be a true believer, we have to find that perfect mate, set up house in the right neighborhood and raise our kids to do the same?

Churches often satisfy the inclusion of singles by setting up a Singles Group. In my experience, said group often becomes a place to search for that perfect mate — the one who already goes to church so s/he must be safe.

I can line up hundreds of women who found out that principle does not work.

So who are the people who might appreciate a sermon about the significance of being single?

  • Those who never married yet continue to attend church and volunteer weekly. One of the ladies in my Bible class fits this category. She helps on the communion team, preps the elements we take together once/month. She is also a praying woman who stays updated with the needs of people and reports answers to prayer. I respect her and appreciate her service.
  • The widows and widowers. These are the folks who once fit the nice little label. Now they are alone and searching for how to find their significance. They still have multiple gifts to be used. Many of them continue to serve in the background, but a sermon series affirming their contributions might bring them hope.
  • Single moms are the group that most keenly feel rejection. In fact, 67% of single moms leave the church and never return. They no longer fit anywhere, and they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising kids alone. Sunday becomes the loneliest day of the week.

In all the years I have been associated with churches, only once did I hear a sermon about the value of being single. It was presented by a woman minister, a single woman, who underscored the work singles did in her church and community.

I sent her a thank you card.

We have no record of the dating life of Jesus. In spite of the plotline of The Da Vinci Code, we assume he stayed single so that he could focus on his goal of winning for us salvation. What would he think about the emphasis on marriage at the exclusion of singles?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to consider singleness as a positive. “God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried. So I say to those who aren’t married, better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 TLB).

Has anybody out there ever heard a sermon preached on this passage? Or is Paul considered an aberration because he stayed single to complete his mission?

Perhaps my ramblings in this post are because 2020 did an isolation number on me. To my surprise, I missed church. I was so glad when we opened again.

Then, just as I was feeling like part of the “family,” here came the sermon series on marriage. So I drove to Target and tried to comfort myself with something frivolous I did not need.

You know: chocolate, another tank top, the newest flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, another journal, gluten free blueberry muffins, more chocolate.

I guess some of us singles need to know if the institution of the church is ever going to get a clue about what being single means.

About how we know specifically that our Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4-5) totally accepts us even if the rest of his kids don’t.

About how we find our fulfillment focused on loving God and loving others, not seeking a mate.

About how we search for hope each day and find it in the solitude of being alone.

About how we love the church but can’t stand how it treats us.

Maybe the search for hope finds it own fulfillment within the search itself. Trusting that God appreciates us even if our ring finger is bare.

Believing that in our singleness — even without the affirmation of the church — we know we are loved.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner is single and dealing with a tragedy in his church. He takes a sabbatical to straighten out his head and finds hope in his heart. The Year of my Redemption.

When Hope Meets Up with Q4

We are moving toward the Christmas market and ready to leave the year behind. We have reached our annual goals or transferred them to the next year’s editorial calendar.

Image by Mariana Anatoneag

It’s easy to sit back, take stock of the year and start planning for Auld Lang Syne.

But 2020 has presented a special challenge — the need for daily monitoring and hope searching. We cannot truly relax because this horrid pandemic is still with us, taking lives and disrupting our culture.

It’s time to take a lesson from football.

Although every moment of a football game can be filled with excitement or the dread of rising penalties, it is the fourth quarter — the Q4 — that holds the most promise. Yet those last 15 minutes are when legs start to throb, arms ache and the multiple tackles begin to take their toll.

It takes more grit and strength, more energy and chugs of Gatorade to score in the fourth quarter, to come from behind and win.

This Q4 of 2020 will require even more courage as we begin the winter months. We’ll be cooped up with each other while snow whitens the landscape, washing our masks and wishing 2020 was a distant memory.

COVID-19 was supposed to be under control by now. The perfect vaccine a reality. The economy responding to opened businesses. Yeah, right.

Yet the news is often bleak, the numbers of dead rising and the need for extra strength more important than other quarters of this year.

How can we face this Q4 and make it to December 31?

Stock up on Resources. Not just TP, but also books and movies that enrich thoughts and build warm fuzzies. Find winter-based projects the entire family can enjoy together:

  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a new recipe
  • Write a poem
  • Do something creative
  • Watch the old sitcoms and laugh

Dig Deep. Find that courageous reserve that asks for extra grit to churn out the final seconds of Q4 2020. Fill your fridge magnets with positive quotes and affirmations. Memorize a hope-filled quote or scripture.

One of my favorites is Isaiah 43:2, “You will pass through deep waters, but God will be with you.”

Move Away from Yourself. Find a way to bless someone else: a greeting card, a bouquet of chocolate chip cookies, flowers left on the porch, a phone call, more chocolate.

How about this quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”

Even if we feel the opponent has won, Q4 isn’t over yet. We CAN finish well.

We can build up our hope by encouraging each other and cheering for one another until the final buzzer sounds. In the midst of this Q4, we can go for the win.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Many of the women in the Bible were invisible. Check out these 8 stories from The Invisible Women of Genesis.

Hope Wears a Tattoo

He was a large, muscular man and when he sat down on the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I read. My writer brain started to invent a character sketch:

He’s a construction worker by day, a bartender by night and his feet hurt. It feels really good to sit down for the long ride home.

Or . . . he’s a pastor on his way to the inner city church he serves. The dirty T-shirt is a cover-up and helps him relate to the young people in his congregation.

Or . . . he’s an undercover spy and just wants me to think he’s a normal guy. Underneath that T-shirt is a 357 Magnum, holstered but loaded.

Then he crossed one leg, and I discovered he was far from normal. Tattooed on his right leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above a likeness of her sweet face, “Kelsey Jane, beloved daughter.”

What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his massive leg? Was she one of those tragic little ones that cancer took away?

Or is she a kidnapping victim and he wears her image to help people look for her?

The creative writer at work again.

He caught me staring at the tattoo. Before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my questions with vulnerable honesty, “I’m divorced, and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I always carry her with me.”

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I said, “That’s the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen.”

He tipped his Royals baseball cap toward me, then turned away. I returned to my book — both of us retreating into our own worlds as people do on mass transit.

I almost wanted to find the nearest tattoo establishment and ask for a picture of my son emblazoned near my heart.

Almost.

But I could not forget the image and the question it posed, What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his leg?

Then I remembered another guy who does the same thing — not on his leg, but on his hand — on the tender palm area where he sees it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God exclaims, “See, I have tattooed your name on my palm. . .” (Isaiah 49:16).

God Himself cares so much about each of us he has tattooed us on the palms of his powerful hands.

In the original Talmud, the meaning of this tattooed engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never forget her child.

The Hebrew word for tattoo also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

As God’s kids, we can depend on that mother love, that unbreakable bond, that caring and loving provision.

Always. Every. Single. Day. Forever.

I often think about that guy on the bus and hope he’s enjoying quality time with his daughter. Usually, I remember him when I’m going through a rough patch and need some encouragement.

The tattoo of Kelsey Jane still makes me smile.

And the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my books on my Amazon Author Page. Several possibilities are listed where you can read and share hope.

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.

Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.