Hope Fills the White Stocking

Have you heard the legend of the White Stocking?white stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus. Then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

What can I give the King of kings this Christmas season?

It would be easy to list the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout 2018.

To be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through this difficult year, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys. What does he want from me?

As I reflected on 2017, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe ugliness: I have spent a great deal of this year wishing life could be different. Like a wimp, I have whined in my journals and on this blog.

When I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

I enjoy my work – writing and coaching writers – watching my clients reach their goals and celebrating with them.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels – and climb on top of my car to change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the heavenly prize is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

This year my white stocking will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I hold out this gift to him because he deserves it. This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, love me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

“Thank you, Jesus.”

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

 

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Hope Answers the Question

Several people have recently asked, “Why do women wait so long to accuse men of sexual assault?”

Three possibilities answer :

Answer # 1: When a young girl is sexually assaulted, she will often dissociate. She will mentally and emotionally leave her body, and the memory of that trauma will hide in her subconscious.

Shock and denial are powerful protectors. She may not remember the event until decades have passed and something triggers the memory – something like the “Me Too” movement.

Answer # 2: Abusers will often whisper, “Don’t tell” or “This is our secret.” If his victim has been raised in a culture of male authority, she will obey the whispered lie rather than speak the truth about what has happened to her.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to confront that lie. The reason we have seen more women speaking out is because strength resides in numbers. Women feel more empowered when they are not alone in their pain.

Answer # 3: Many abusers are particularly skilled at manipulation – sometimes called “Gaslighting.” A gaslighter will convince the victim that she is at fault. So if she tells anyone, she will be punished and condemned. If she speaks her truth, she may lose her job, the respect of her family — even her ministry.

Gaslighters use words such as “She really wanted it” or “She was dressed so provocatively I couldn’t help myself.” When these abusers blame their victims, they don’t have to admit they are criminals. For more information about “gaslighting” check out Leslie Vernick. 

Do women sometimes lie about being assaulted? Certainly. But statistics show the majority of the lies come from the abusers.

Why is a blog about HOPE dealing with the subject of sexual assault? Because so hope - scrabble lettersmany of us who can answer “Me, too” need to find hope. Some of us suffer from PTSD, from low self-esteem, from the strangle-holds of fear. And we can pinpoint the beginnings of that pain from the moment we were devalued, victimized, assaulted.

The only way to march forward and embrace HOPE is to tell the truth. The sexual assault was NOT our fault, and the numbers of encounters now being reported prove just how depraved mankind is.

This is why we humans so desperately need a Savior. For those of us who have experienced assault and reached out to Jesus – we know he is the one male figure we can totally trust. And in relationship with him, we find ultimate HOPE.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Was Enough

I was enough rockDuring three seasons of life, I have struggled with the topic of “Not Enough.”

Because I was raised in a perfectionist legalistic culture, it seemed I was never enough for God. Markers of spiritual maturity included how many people we could convince to become Christians and how efficiently we used our spiritual gifts.

This focus led to evangelism by guilt and service by exhaustion.

While in college, I met a group of students who shared love and joy with me. As I learned about God’s unconditional love, the old lies began to fade. Soon, I realized I could not earn my way into God’s heart, rather I had been gifted with a first class ticket.

Jesus was enough. Therefore, I did not have to DO. Rather, I could just BE.

The second “Not Enough” season came in the post-divorce years. Like most women whose marriages end, I tried to rationalize why it happened.

Was I not pretty enough? Skinny enough? Smart enough? Did I not pray enough for him and for our marriage? Did I not submit enough? (another leftover from legalism).

After several years in therapy, the “Not Enough” voices rode off into the sunset. A failed marriage is not one person’s fault and multiple factors can lead to its finality. Therefore, if I did not cause those circumstances, then I could not be responsible to fix them.

“Not Enough” became “Start Over and Embrace Life.”

In this current season of grieving, I again face the demons of Not Enough. As the grief process edges away from the shards of pain and into the emptiness of loss, I wonder if I was enough. Although I know false guilt is one of the side effects of grief, still – the questions persist.

Did Deb know I loved her? Did I say it enough – show it enough? Was our friendship so deep because I needed her? Did I give back enough of what she needed? Did I do enough for her at the end? Did she know I was there, praying she would wake up and start laughing? Was I enough?

Several weeks ago, I attended a spiritual retreat in the country. Being in God’s front yard is always life-giving for me – walking in rhythm with a floating monarch, crunching autumn grass under my feet, petting horses and dogs, stroking a plant. I always feel “enough” within the worship of God’s creation.

Our spiritual exercise was to choose a rock and write an affirmation on it – to remind ourselves to delete the negatives and nurture the positives.

I like rocks. They remind me something in this life is sturdy – dependable – unchanging. Within seconds, I knew what my affirmation would be.

The rock now sits on my windowsill, but I may move it to the memorial I built for Deb – Colorado river rocks at the base of her metal wind machine. I may plant the rock in a sturdy base to remind me of truth – to chase away forever the “Not Enough” lie.

A simple statement. A visual reminder of the following truths:

*In my spiritual journey, God is enough. Leave the legalistic expectations behind.

*With past failures, learn from them and underscore that I gave enough. I did what I could. Let it go.

*In grief, respect the process and nurture the memories. Receive the truth that none of us is perfect. But as we persevere to love others, the attempt is what matters.

I stroke the rock and wipe a tear.

I was enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Asks Questions

why imageHe was young and bright – this college student who wanted to pursue creative writing. We met at a local coffee shop, two creatives sharing a gift – though decades apart in age.

The hazelnut blend he drank mellowed the atmosphere while I played with the tail end of my English Breakfast tea bag.

He took copious notes of statements I have made hundreds of times with coaching clients:

  • Writing breeds more writing skill, so write every day.
  • Submit a manuscript to a magazine each week.
  • Frontload the week – plan your more creative work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Be consistent with marketing. Whatever platform you use – consistency is the key.
  • Get involved with writers groups. Be in a critique group or have a writing partner.

And of course my pitch, “Hire a writing coach to help you be accountable. I currently have openings.”

I had asked him to bring some of his work and he pulled out a well-worn journal. I knew by the way he touched it, dared to hand it to me – these were words dear to his heart. He was trusting me with his very soul.

He seemed surprised when I praised him for the way he used conflict, the turn of a phrase that did not include a cliché, a-ha moments unique to his voice.

Like all of us, he needed encouragement and a slight push forward to realize the beginning of his writing dreams.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he said with a polite nod, “but I know my writing asks lots of questions. I know you’re a Christian. I hope that’s okay…you know…that I ask the hard questions.”

For a moment, I wavered between needing to cry and wanting to scream. What have we done to these talented millenials? How did they get the idea that we know all the answers – that it is wrong to ask questions about faith and life?

“I ask questions, too,” I said and watched him visibly relax. “I used to be a black and white Christian where I thought I knew all the answers, because I had been force-fed what I SHOULD believe. Then life happened and those answers weren’t enough.”

I described some of the difficulties I have lived through and how God has been patient as I worked through them – how God hasn’t been afraid to listen to me. I reminded him that some of the greatest saints who ever lived asked hard questions. King David. Moses.

Even Jesus while he was being tortured asked the “Why?” question.

How sad it is that Christendom has thrust itself past these seeking and questioning young adults!

They see us with placards on the evening news, going way beyond the freedom of speech and into the bully pulpit of the streets. They read about how we label and exclude their friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They grieve as we condemn their single moms.

They cannot hear the truth about God because we are so busy screaming at them to perform righteously. We expect them to live by our rules before they ever meet the One who loves them in spite of the rules.

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

No wonder they can’t find the God of love when we, His beloved children push them away. Our self-righteousness denies their questions, the very source of how they seek for truth.

In “The Listening Life,” author Adam McHugh writes, “My calling is not the answers but the questions I bring to the world.”

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.”

To live the answers of life, we must first ask the hard questions. And to accept others with the love of Christ, we must allow them to ask those same difficult questions.

When we stop asking questions, we putrify in the sewage of our own belief systems. Then we program others to believe the same so that we will feel safe within our acceptable righteousness.

We find hope only when we step out of the comfortable morays and seek deeper meanings for our faith. That is when we discover how broad and wide and deep and high is the grace and love of God.

This young man – God love him – is seeking a place for his creative mind to grow. He is also seeking to be accepted as he is – not programmed into a hard wooden pew where his soul will stagnate.

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” the Reverend G Trilogy and “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.”

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Hope Risks a Picture

Five years ago, my first author pictures were taken by a good friend and wonderful nature photographer, Ken Ratzlaff. It was time for an update.

An author photo plays many roles. It has to suggest my brand, exude professionalism yet introduce a friendly style. At the same time, it has to look good on social media, the back covers of books and every online vehicle for sales.Rjt - favorite 7

Taking a photo is difficult for me because it triggers some hurtful experiences from my childhood. The things we say to children really do follow them throughout life. We all need to be careful about the words that spill out of our mouths.

But through the years, God has reminded me those past words were spoken by hurting people who had their own problems. And I didn’t have to believe their lies.

So whenever I am faced with any type of personal pictures, I visualize Jesus standing beside the photographer – loving me. I’ve been told the soul of our emotions can be seen in the eyes. I hope that is true for me.

A photographer in my area was available for a photo shoot so I connected with her and we emailed back and forth: availability, the look I wanted to convey, possible sites for the shoot.

She was professional and creative, skilled and patient as we took several poses with a variety of motivations. Check out her website here.

When the photos came, I chose my favorites but I knew it would be wise to ask for a second opinion – or third – or fourth.

So I asked my son and my critique group to help me decide. All of them liked the colors and the various settings. The final decision would be based on my smile, the tilt of my head, the look on my face.

Was I relaxed enough? Did I look friendly yet professional? Was it a picture that would invite new followers?

The results astounded me. No one chose the photos that were MY favorites.

We cannot objectively judge ourselves, either outwardly or inside the sanctum of our souls. We bring too many experiences to the judgment hall – either those hurtful moments from the past or massive pride in the present.

We never see ourselves as others do – either with a positive spin or a negative connotation.

Yet being our authentic selves helps us walk through life with dignity and hope. We feel joy with a new haircut or a fresh mani/pedi. Losing a few unwanted pounds fills us with the expectation that we somehow look younger, appear more attractive.

But the transparency of peace is the one factor we cannot trick our faces into showing. Nor can we substitute true inner peace with any man-made behavior.

Our souls are made up of emotions, the power of self-will and the acceptance of who we are. Taking the risk to show our true selves through a photograph will either enhance our self-value or remind us we have much more to work on.

I am grateful for a new photo to send into cyberspace and paste into the proper place on book covers and social media.

I am also grateful because I know God has healed those raw places that were once afraid of taking a picture.

Have you learned anything about yourself from a recent photo? I’d be interested to know what you think.

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

 

 

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

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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