Hope Embraces Self-care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care affected my thought processes.

It has taken me so many years to believe and write this truth. But one purpose of a blog is to be forthright and honest, even vulnerable. So here goes my truth:

Self-Care is a valid spiritual discipline.

Many of us have been taught — dare I say “programmed” — to believe that any type of self-care is selfish, prideful, a sin. Taking care of ourselves feels somehow “less than.”

We believe if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual and worthy of heavenly treasures. If we are utterly exhausted, we have completed our earthly journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we have learned how to love and care for ourselves.

And we cannot truly love ourselves until we search under the detritus of other-care to find our lonely souls.

But we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. So we live like the walking wounded, zombie-like versions of who God created us to be. We do for others all the time, sign up to volunteer at various places b/c they have needs and we think we must meet those needs.

Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But Abba God has never asked us to kill ourselves, even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist once complimented me on some choices I made. To replace some old towels with new ones in the lovely colors I enjoy. To schedule a mani/pedi for myself on Valentine’s Day. Just because.

“Both of those decisions are self-care,” she said.

I did not even realize I was taking care of myself. But when I stepped back and saw the basis of these choices as self-care, they felt good. No condemnation. No drama and no guilt.

The beginnings of self-care happen by setting healthy boundaries, by daring to take care of ourselves and saying, “No” to anything that tries to break through those boundaries.

The first boundary is skin. Protecting our physical bodies is the first line of defense. Anything or anyone who violates that boundary is unsafe.

The second boundary is time. This area is where so many of us who have ministered to others fail. We make ourselves available 24/7, refuse to take breaks or even the PTO the job offers so that we can help meet the needs of hurting others.

We don’t see how we are actually harming ourselves.

The third boundary is more subtle, the area we bury until one day we wake up and realize we have lost our true destiny. This boundary is the soul. We ignore soul-care, letting time and other needs dominate.

But the soul is the basis of who we are. We cannot grow without its strengthening. We cannot truly be ourselves without listening to its needs.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way underscores the importance of artist dates. To go somewhere by yourself and for yourself. Not to do anything for anyone else or meet some sort of deadline. But just to be and enjoy the beauty of art around you.

A walk through the arboretum – not during this cold snap of course – but later in the calendar. Browsing through fuzzy yarns and fun crafts at Hobby Lobby. Maybe a late-night or early-morning ice cream run. I can vouch for the Queen of Hearts flavor at Sylas & Maddy’s.

One of my clients introduced me to the coffee shop and serenity of Family Tree Nursery. During Christmas, their trees were so lovely. I plan to go back for some writing time. Or maybe to dream about my spring garden plans. Or maybe just to sip a chai and take care of my soul-self.

I am putting together a list of things I want for myself in these late-in-life days, how I can spend my time just enjoying the moments and being myself, where I can rediscover the root of my dreams.

If that sounds selfish, well — I don’t care. Don’t judge me. I have spent a lifetime in ministry helping others. It is okay to now help myself.

The definition of grace deletes the need for excess works to please God. Grace means accepting his love for me, then recycling that love into a deeper understanding of who I am. Once I am free from the legalism of having to do, I can then truly love others where they are and for who they are.

It is time to learn more about loving myself and find hope in the process. Perhaps you can comment on how you are doing the same.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest e-book: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Finds a January Purpose

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

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

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

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel a bit more loved.

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

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

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

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope in One-Word Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need something to look forward to.

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

No answer … yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet this word holds a Please with every breath.

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

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

The one-word prayer that echoes with hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope on a Mission

Typically, my blog posts cover the topics of hope, caregiving or the writing craft. But 2020 has forced me into a more reflective and almost urgent mood.

For all of us, this year has been difficult. For those who have lost loved ones to COVID — tragic. The grief and certain PTSD will continue into the next years. Who knows what long-term effects we will suffer.

But even on the darkest days, hope has continued to sing. Good people have done good things. Creativity has thrived as new ventures, unusual business openings and neighborly deeds have encouraged us.

Image by Daniel Reche of Pixabay

Positive memes on Facebook. The gift of beauty encapsulated in music and the arts. So many people trying hard to create something good out of this chaos.

Imagine then what life would be like if all the good — every shred of it — was gone. No caring healthcare workers. No sweet lullabies at night. No kindness of any kind.

This horrific description foreshadows hell. The place of eternal torment will not have a speck of decency, no light or goodness in any form. Only the darkest, most tormenting creatures in a place completely devoid of anything or anyone good.

And no way of escape. Forever.

This tragic place does exist and will become the final destination for people who ignore God’s plea. But it doesn’t have to end that way.

“Let me love you,” God cries. “Let me save you.”

Eventually, we will all die. We will face the consequences of our choices and step into eternity. We will meet God.

For those who have ignored him throughout life, the problems of 2020 will seem mild compared to a forever without any of God’s beauty, goodness or love.

Those who have embraced and accepted God’s offer of love will be invited into the most glorious place — far away from hell or any of its evil. No COVID. No sickness of any kind. No despair. No loneliness.

Only light and love and goodness. Forever.

We cannot always choose what happens to us. But we CAN choose the final direction we will go.

God has not abandoned us during this pandemic. He is still calling out, wanting to save us. He does not want anyone to suffer the horrid effects of hell.

He wants to pour hope into our hearts and give us something to look forward to.

God gave us the formula long ago. One word. Believe.

To open our minds and heart to the possibility that something better exists. But God’s better world is filled only with holiness — a sacred place of perfection.

God knew none of us would be perfect yet his home — his heaven — is populated only with goodness and perfection.

How in the world can we get there?

God sent the best representative possible — his son. Jesus lived a perfect life, so God allowed him to become our substitute. He paid the penalty for all the wrong things we have done and all the ways we have ignored God.

Jesus already did the hard work. That’s why he said, “It is finished.” He gives us the ticket for entrance into heaven.

Now all we have to do is believe it. If we accept this truth and believe it, then Jesus begins a personal relationship with us. We become children of God. And as family members — we will spend our eternity with God in heaven.

It’s so easy. All you have to do is say something like, “I believe you love me, God. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay my ticket into heaven. I’m sorry I’ve ignored you in the past, but now I want to be in your family.”

If you really mean it, then it is finished. You will not have to worry about a hell worse than 2020. You will have something much better to look forward to.

Please think about it. Time is short. I hope you’ll be with me in heaven.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out Uploading Faith. A Millennial and a Baby Boomer wrote it together — my son and me.

When Hope Finds Its True Color

My cyclamen bloomed a lovely fuchsia pink. But I bought it with the understanding that it would produce the dark eggplant purple color I love. What a disappointing surprise as the blossoms opened and showed off a deep pink.

Photo by Peter Kok – Pixabay

But a few days later, 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 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 — in time.

Wouldn’t that attitude change how we relate to our children when they seem stuck in the teen years? “Grow up!” we want to scream. 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 stuck in transitional puzzles. It takes time for people and systems to learn how to change. As we morph into the people we long to be, we 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.

As we gradually grow into hope and faith, we learn how to apply patience. We move into the next seasons of life and accept the things we cannot change.

If we could practice patience and apply grace to ourselves and others, within our world and its destinies — perhaps we could live better lives and embrace the hidden hope of each day.

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.

But why use that freedom to destroy another soul?

How can we grow to 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?

No matter how much unraveling we experience, no matter how COVID-19 changes us, we do possess the integrity and the wisdom to grow internally. We can grow our inner texture and let it brighten our souls.

We CAN change into who we should really be.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. Their stories underscore the need for hope, change and grace.

Finding Hope When Prayer Lags

prayer -woman-sunsetSometimes prayer comes easy and feels like a special connection with the Divine. The words flow with a spiritual electricity. We believe God has indeed heard us, and something miraculous will happen soon.

But other times we struggle to know what to say. The words stick in our throats, and God feels far away. We can’t even fully imagine how anything good can come out of this frustrating conundrum.

That’s where I am now. I don’t know how to pray for my mom.

She’s no longer in assisted living, not even in the Alzheimer’s unit. Now she lives in a bed in the nursing home wing, shares a small room with another woman we don’t know.

This situation is specifically what I prayed would never happen.

Mom is living, but not really. The pain from her twice-broken hip and a broken shoulder. Her right arm affected — her dominant side.

She cannot feed herself and doesn’t want to eat anyway. She fights those who try to get near, because every time they move her, the pain increases.

Add to this horrific scene the fact that none of us can be with her. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, her nursing home is still in Lockdown. The already isolated elderly are now imprisoned within solitary confinement.

Mom does not understand what’s happening in her world. She just feels the pain of loneliness and physical hurt.

Does she think we have abandoned her?

What kind of life is this? How should I pray?

So far, God has not chosen to free her from the pain. He has not come to her room, touched her broken limbs and made them whole again.

I often pray that he will be close to her, hold her near his gracious heart and whisper consolations only she can understand.

But I don’t know if he’s doing that, if he’s answering my prayers.

If I pray for her final healing, for complete release, I am asking God to stop her heart and take her to heaven — to end her suffering forever.

Yes, I have prayed those words. Then felt immediate guilt.

I don’t want to be an orphan. I don’t like this season of life. I hate that my mother is going through this — alone.

So how do I pray? How can I stay in hope when my prayer lags?

What is best for this woman who always wanted the best for me?

Scripture tells us that Jesus has a job in heaven. He, too, is working from his home. He’s praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

So I swallow my tears and ask him to pray for Mom.

And when I cannot even utter those words, I revise the last verse of “Away in a Manger” and hope God understands the cry of my heart.

Be near her, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay

Close by her forever and love her, I pray.

Bless now my dear mother in nursing home care

And take her to heaven to live with you there.”

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Recognizes Easter Sunday

In spite of the Coronavirus lockdown, the calendar continues to mark off this challenging year. This Sunday, April 12, 2020 will be Easter Sunday.Easter lily - butterfly

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Easter Sunday was a special day. It marked the beginning of spring, no matter what day or month the calendar posted.

And we were always prepared.

For weeks, Mom had planned, designed and sewed our Easter outfits. The females in the family would be outfitted in the latest fashions which included white gloves and hats.

The guys had it easy. A lightweight suit and white shirt. Tie not optional.

Even if it snowed on Easter, we wore our new outfits snugly engulfed by winter coats which we shed once we entered the church building.

Everybody in town went to church on Easter Sunday, so the entire populace was outfitted in pastel colors, gloves, hats – and ties for the fellas.

As I grew up, styles changed. More casual. No hats or gloves. But we still kept the tradition of a new outfit on Easter Sunday.

Somewhere through the years, Mom stopped sewing for me. So I made my own Easter outfit. When I stopped sewing, I shopped in town.

The Saturday before Easter offered abundant sales. Stores filled with females of every demographic. Dressing rooms with lines of excited women. Clothes draped over arms. Shoes in hand, because if you’re going to buy a new outfit — you’d better have new shoes as well.

This tradition is one I have not been able to shake. Every year I watch for spring sales and look for something special to wear on Easter Sunday. It’s no longer the entire outfit. New shoes not necessary. Just something to celebrate this special day.

In February of this crazy 2020, before we knew the virus would re-invent our lives, I used a gift card at one of my favorite stores — Versona. I wasn’t expecting to find anything for Easter — not that early in the spring season.

But it found me — the perfect skirt that matched a top I already owned and a bargain with my gift card.

Alas! This Easter Sunday our churches will be empty, still on lockdown to protect us from the ravages of this pandemic.

But Sunday will still take its place on the calendar, still remind me of its special significance and of the years Mom made my clothes.

Years ago, my aunt Mary (may she rest in peace) told me about a time when she was discouraged. No job and finances were tight.

She decided to fight her heaviness with a practical attitude. She climbed out of bed as if she was going to her job. Fixed her hair and dressed up. Ate a healthy breakfast and told herself she would have a good day.

“It’s important to take care of yourself,” she said. “Even if you have to pretend.”

So I’m pretending this Easter Sunday is a normal day, as if I’m dressing for church and wearing my new skirt to welcome spring. I’ll fix my hair, pat on some makeup and livestream my church.

I want to enjoy the day by dressing in the hope that next Easter I will be in the actual church building.

Will you join me? Dress in your Easter best and post it on Facebook or the social media of your choice.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with hope that next Easter will be better.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some reading material during lockdown, check out my Amazon Author Page.