Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

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

 

 

Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

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

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

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

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

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

 

 

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Why have I never heard about this tradition? With all the Christmas decorations I’ve made throughout the years, only this year did I discover 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 then 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.

With the Great Purge of 2016 fresh in my mind, I refused to make a white stocking and add one more thing to my box of decorations.

But I wanted to journal and blog about the idea, to reflect on what I could possibly give the King of kings this Christmas season.

It would be easy in this space to type 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 the new year.

So 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 all these years of life, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys.

What does the Divine One want from me?

As I reflected on 2016, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe shade of ugliness.

I have spent a great deal of this year trying to figure out how to set boundaries around my life and somehow make it easier – less stressful – more joyful.

I didn’t think life would be so hard during this season of life. I expected to ease off a bit, relax more and enjoy some well-deserved fun.

Instead, I have worked harder with longer hours – still enjoying my work – yet somehow resenting those who have nothing to do but read their AARP magazine and count their retirement money.

Setting healthy boundaries is always a good idea, but I have also expressed my frustration to more than one person and I have written volumes of emotional dither within my journals.

Although I needed to vent and God is a good listener, I think I may have overdone it.

Because 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.

Although I cannot retire, I CAN still work and enjoy all my jobs – the writing, the coaching and the nonprofit where I help women find empowerment and reach their goals.

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 try to rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels of them – and perch on top of my car while I change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN still 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 still pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved and we still enjoy hot showers.

Many people in the world cannot count a hot shower or clean water as a simple blessing.

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

So I think my mental white stocking this year 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 will hold out this gift to him because he deserves it.

And with my gift comes a repentance of wasted words shadowed by resentful thoughts.

This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, loving 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?

More Thankful Words.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy and a contributor to “Abba’s Promise

Hope Asks Why

“Why, God, why?”why-god-allows

We ask the why question, because we need to find some type of order in life. When situations don’t make sense and we can’t logically figure them out, we ask why.

“Why did both my parents have to struggle through dementia and Alzheimer’s – especially when they were both so healthy? I don’t understand, God. Why?”

“Why did my friend have to lose her husband after the loss of both parents in the same year? Doesn’t that seems a bit unfair? Why?”

“Why do single moms and their children have to suffer the consequences when the dad makes unhealthy choices? Injustice screams, ‘Why?’”

Years ago, when I attended a legalistic church, a young man in our community was killed in a train accident. It was brutal and a terrible shock to all of us. Our youth group met to discuss it. Those were the days before counselors were available.

One of the church leaders gathered us together and said, “This young man died because he must have sinned. So be careful how you live. God is watching.”

Even as a teenager, something about that theory seemed wrong to me so I started my own search. I looked through my dad’s Bible, because it was the King James version and we had been taught it was the only version that espoused truth. However, good old King Jimmy provided no answers for my teenaged heart.

Years later I found more of the answer in a different version of the Bible. Poor old Job who suffered so terribly provided a plausible variation to the Why question: “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness – He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

For Correction

Sometimes God allows terrible things to happen because we need to be shocked into reality and reminded he is sovereign. Perhaps in those moments of horrific happenings, we will reset our course and start over.

How has this played out in history? How have other historical figures looked at correction? Did Adam and Eve raise Seth differently because of what they learned through their parenting of Cain and Abel? Probably, although I don’t think we can blame parents for the choices their children make.

God reminded the Israelites to stay away from foreign altars by allowing snake bites to kill

caduceus medical symbol chrome

and maim. A drastic resolution, to be sure, but it does explain some of God’s dealings with the Israelites. And today, we have the medical symbol to remind us of this historic event.

Hasn’t history taught us to be careful of the Hitlers of this world because of the Holocaust?

When terrible things happen to us, I think one response should be “What can I learn from this situation?” Rather than the “Why” question, perhaps we should rephrase it with “What?”

As gracious and loving as God is, he sometimes allows terrible things to happen. Why? So we can learn from our experiences and grow up.

But I do not believe we should live in the fear of making a mistake because God might cause a train to run over us. Sheesh!

For His World

We live in a world defined by depravity. Just try to find a television show you wouldn’t mind watching with Jesus plopped beside you on the sofa.

We are deceived into thinking we can fill our minds with pornography and not face any consequences.

We believe we can speed and drive drunk and nothing will happen because we are somehow immortal.

We eat what is not good for us, buy guns and forget to hide the bullets from children, look at someone’s skin color and judge him.

Our world is not a safe place to live, so obviously – bad things are going to happen. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes – all of these factor into the orb we inhabit. None of us can avoid some sort of tragedy during our lifetimes. It is part of the definition of living.

Why does God allow the world to sometimes turn against us?

To remind us we are human and a better place does exist. Tornadoes will not touch heaven, nor will the sin of someone else force thorny consequences on families.

Heaven and an eternal existence with God is something we long for, live for and hope for. This world will someday disappear.

God wants to remind us he has planned for something better.

For Lovingkindness

This seems the most difficult of the Job answers. Sometimes God allows certain tragedies to happen because he is a loving God.

That seems backward, an opposite world treatise. I do not believe we can ever second guess Almighty God.

But I do wonder… did God allow the groom to be killed the night before his wedding because he would someday betray his bride and destroy his family?

Does God invite little children into his heavenly arms instead of allowing them to live full lives because he knows their homes and their families will be bombed into oblivion and it is kinder to take them out of the horror?

Will God prevent disaster by allowing a change in course?

I do not pretend to know what God determines about anyone else’s life, but I do know he has sometimes worked backward lovingkindness into my destiny.

Hindsight is always wiser than the present experience. God allowed me to be downsized out of a good job. Then he pointed me toward something better.

Unemployment was hard, but the next job was so much better for me and fit my giftings. My “Why?” question became God’s answer, “Just wait and see what I have for you.”

During that year of unemployment, I began writing a book that resulted in a trilogy and taught me how much fun fiction-writing could be.

How does Job 37:13 fit in with the journey of Alzheimer’s? Part of the answer has to include the world we live in.

The stresses, the electromagnetic fields around us that affect our brains, the ways we have destroyed our food chains and how we have polluted our water source, the chemicals we pour into our bodies that taste good  but end up affecting the brain.

All these worldly systems we have invented may contain a clue.

I hope God isn’t correcting me or any of my family members by allowing us to watch Mom suffer.

But I am willing to ask God to teach me through the process, to grow patience in me and hopefully – by sharing these words with you – to transfer hope within this blog.

As Reverend G so aptly says, “The question is ‘Why?’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

God is in control of everything, and when we cannot understand why – the best thing we can do – is run into his loving arms.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy

 

Hope Finds Its Color

cyclamenMy cyclamen is blooming, a lovely pink color – sort of fuchsia. But I bought it with the understanding that it would bloom into the dark purple I love.

What a surprise as the blossoms opened and produced a deep pink instead of the color I expected.

But then, as I waited a few days, the blooms started changing. With time, the cyclamen blooms sported the purple I wanted. I just had to wait for the desired result while the plant morphed through its photosynthetic process.

The correct color was there all along, hidden behind the curtains of time. Only the passage of days would bring out the true richness and verdure I longed to see.

Isn’t that so like life?

We start a project, write a story or journal about a dream. Then the project becomes a tree house. The story evolves into a novel. The dream wraps around a destiny.

We share coffee with a friend which eventually grows a relationship that adds color and joy to our lives.

We say, “Yes” to Jesus and end up living a life abundant with more grace giftings than we ever thought possible.

One circumstance morphs into another, delighting us with the spontaneity of change and surprising us with the richness of the final result.

Living within the surprises of life adds more fun than carefully structured days that grow old and boring in their regularity.

Perhaps we could also give permission for change to others – the opportunity to morph into a richer version of themselves.

Wouldn’t that attitude change how we relate to our children who may seem stuck in the teen years? We want to scream, “Grow up!” But that is exactly what they are doing.

What if we give permission for change to those in authority over us – to the systems of our society that seem stuck in historical and traditional morays.

It takes time for people and systems to change and as we morph into the America we hope to be, we will need to give daily grace.

What if we live in the joy of the surprise and truly learn that expectations do not always bring the best results.

We learn how to apply patience as we gradually grow into our faith, move into the next season of life and accept the things we cannot change.

If we could practice patience and apply grace for ourselves and for others, with our world and our destinies intact – perhaps we could live better lives and embrace the hidden hope of each day.

I am hoping for this type of grace as we approach the November elections. The blatant ugliness recorded on social media proves nothing except that we all need to grow up.

Our freedom to express opinions is a gift. Why use that freedom to destroy another soul?

How can we become our true color and exhibit the creative beauty God gave us if we don’t give each other the necessary time to morph into our best selves?

My hope is that no matter how much unraveling we experience, we will possess the integrity and the wisdom to grow internally and change into who we should really be.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy