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.

Hope Finds Hidden Life

hope ovalWhile watching the DVD of “Eat Pray Love and minding my own business – the divine whisper spoke. “Womb.”

Womb? What could that mean – for me – now?

Only later, while journaling through my day did the interpretation penetrate the fog of my questioning.

While in this recovery mode, I am floating in God’s womb. He is Himself – taking care of me.

Isaiah 41:14, “Do not be afraid…for I myself will help you.”

So what is happening in this divine womb – this time of exceptional care?

Safety. Within this recovery period, I am safe in the pre-designed purpose of God. He is close and protective of me, guiding me – moving through each day with me.

Since it is his womb, I am moving as he moves, breathing his spirit and surrounded by his presence.

“The Spirit of God is arousing me from within…like a pregnant creation” (Romans 8:22 The Message Bible).

Nurture. The warmth of his presence and his nearness is a nurturing reminder of his love. This particular nurture involves the ultimate of his care.

As a result of his nurturing womb I am embraced by a cycle of growth and hope for the future.

Hope. Within his womb and the life being nurtured is a promise of the future. At some point, contractions will begin and life will burst forth.

Will it be the life of a new novel, the restoration of a gifting, a new location for retreat and study or perhaps a new version of the old me?

As long as I stay within the womb, hope will continue to grow.

Provision. Within the protective sac of the womb, provision grows the new life, allows it to flourish and find health.

My provisions center around financial needs as well as emotional healing – morsels God feeds me each day.

When I meet with him and ask for help, I am humbled by the bounty of his provision. He knows how much I need and exactly when to provide it.

As Joyce Meyer says, “Ask God for what you want. Trust him for what you need.”

Surprise. Even with our modern technologies, the contents of a womb can still offer surprises.

As a planner, I am not a fan of surprises – except when I write fiction and the characters delight me with something unusual.

But with God – I know his surprises are safe and acceptable. I can trust he will surprise me with something good.

I never expected to be in this place during this season of life. But God surprised me with definite guidance for this direction.

And because he knows exactly how to ease me into surprises, he once again underscores infinite love.

Love. Ultimately, the womb is a place of pure love. Like a cradle completely enclosed in warmth and safety, the womb guards what is to be born.

Within that protective boundary, nothing and no one can touch the fragile life being nurtured and prepared.

Although I don’t fully understand the depth of God’s nurturing for me, I do know his nearness signals a great heart filled with love.

And I look forward to whatever surprises he has for me – knowing they will bring a new life wrapped in hope.

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

 

 

 

 

Hope Rests

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, the transition from full-time ministry into semi-retirement spins. The slowing down requires intentional rest.sleeping woman

To be intentionally still – listening for God or just sitting in the sunshine causes a need for reboot.

How can the transition be handled in a way that is healthy – for the body, soul and spirit? How does one move from excessive productivity to recovery?

I have been in this position before, but never at this level of intensity. I find myself sinking into the unknown while grasping for the best Source of wisdom I know. My usual methods of resting – 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).

Restoring sleep helps and then daily naps. Nutrition that builds up the tissues, although my body screams only for chocolate. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target. No, no – I cannot yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well – to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision – mistakes admitted, grace given.

To find a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish and I feel alone in the attempt.

I pull out my colors and find comfort in the texture of markings on paper. Turn on the TV to watch basketball and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction books as I pump on the exercise bike. These words require no emotional deposits.

Sit and stare at the blooming redbud tree, dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the April breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. Red and black on the background of the greening elm. God’s creation in living color. To spend more time outside is my goal … if Kansas ever warms up this year.

I spend more time on my knees, bringing my fatigue and questions to the Wise One – begging for the balm of divine healing.

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

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

Around me, more angels – tucking me in, stroking my brow, murmuring love. Being cared for. Receiving compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

That I so vividly remember the dream underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress just takes time – a day, a week, another day. No guidelines here.

A friend told me she slept for months after retirement. A client has pursued rest and direction for three years.

And I – in my self-sufficient planning mode – thought I would be rested after just one week. That would be a “No.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. I will eventually find soul energy again. The 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 rest, trusting in the One who reminds me where hope originates. He places his words in my mouth and covers me with his gentle hand.

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

 

Hope Nudges Forward

When we wait on God for answers, it sometimes feels as if he is testing our patience. How long will she wait until she breaks – until she steps out and tries to make something happen on her own?Southwest Puzzle

Throughout my life, I have learned the hard way to wait on God. When I step forward too soon and try to force something to happen – it ends either in tragedy, lost revenue or additional stress.

Then later, I am filled with regret and play the “I should have” game.

So during this limbo period, I have tried to wait patiently and seek God’s direction every step of the way. When I feel anxious, I deal with it by posting on my blog.

You’ve probably noticed.

After approximately two years of limbo land where I sensed major changes on the horizon, I have learned more about patience – about waiting on God – about living in joy even during the uncertainty.

My journals are full of the lessons God has taught me, and this blog has been populated with posts I shared with you.

Beginning to Move Forward

Within the last two weeks, God has nudged me forward. He is asking me to make some major decisions and to step out in faith, then watch him fill in the gaps.

Simultaneously, I finished my Southwest puzzle, framed it and hung it on the wall. It has been a reminder that something in the eternal puzzle is completed and now comes the next step.

When faced with major decisions, I often ask five questions:

  • What do I sense God is telling me about this decision?
  • What does scripture remind me or instruct me about this decision?
  • What do other godly people say and how do they advise me?
  • What do the circumstances tell me?
  • Do I have peace?

When the majority of these questions point in the same direction, then I know I am probably on the right track. I say “probably” because life is still an adventure and we can be deceived or influenced by our own desires rather than by eternal destinies.

But lately, I feel more at peace – knowing God is on my side, He has a good plan for me and ultimately whatever happens – he will bring it about for good.

Embracing the Promise

On a quiet Friday morning as warm August rain pittered down, I rejoiced that God once again watered my gardens. Then he called me to spend some intimate time with him. He had something important to share with me.

Throughout the next moments, he reminded me of several promises:

  • He will guide me and lead me in the best possible direction (Isaiah 49:10)
  • He will enlarge the place and the way I minister while strengthening me for the journey (Isaiah 54:2)
  • He has anointed and qualified me for this work (Isaiah 61:1)
  • He will plant me where I need to be (Isaiah 61:3)
  • He knows the acceptable and opportune time (Psalm 69:13)

Then he capped it off when an incredible promise, “Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your rightness, your justice and your right relationship with God shall go before you conducting you to peace and prosperity and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 Amplified).


I sat on my bed, journal and Bible spread open before me, and wept at the beauty of this promise. God will heal and restore my weary soul. He will provide power for whatever new life I am walking into, but I won’t travel the journey alone. He will go before me and behind me. The result will be peace as he takes care of me.


So the first step of my obedience with him is that I am listing my duplex. I believe God wants me to sell it and get out of debt. Then he will show me where to go. I also believe he has indicated in which area I need to look for a rental house. He will provide that place for me.

God has always kept a roof over my head. He has provided beautiful and safe places for my son and me, homes where we could rest from work and just be ourselves.

God will not fail us now.

Are there still some unknowns? Of course. The faith journey always occurs in steps – never in one giant leap.

But for now, the puzzle is finished and hanging on the wall. God, too, has completed this section of puzzle pieces for me. Where he places me and what my role will be is his design. He will tell me what each step entails.Southwest Puzzle

I’m excited to be nudging forward.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Wears a Tattoo

hands - palms outstretchedHe was a large, muscular man and when he sat down in the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I was reading as my writer brain started inventing 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 a change. 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.

But then he crossed one leg and I discovered he was far from a normal guy. Tattooed on one leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above 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? Her image on his leg was a memorial to her short life?

He saw me staring and before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my question with vulnerability, “I’m divorced and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I’m always carrying her with me.”

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

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

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

But I couldn’t 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 can see it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God is the one who says, “See, I have tattooed your name upon 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 tattoo or engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never ever forget her child. The Hebrew word also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

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

I often think about the guy on the bus and hope he’s having some 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 makes me smile, while the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh