Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope and the Feral Cats

It was a gift — an unexpected pleasure on a discouraging day.

I had just pulled up my Amazon book sales report. Not enough sales for the month, not even close to my goal.

Then I looked outside and laughed in delight.black and white kitten

My neighborhood is blessed with several feral cats. One big guy — all black — I call Onyx. A smaller black and white female I have dubbed Mama.

Several of us feed them. During the winter they shelter under porches, pad across the snow-covered cul-de-sac to the next bowl of food.

But this spring, I noticed Mama growing fatter with pregnancy. She lumbered around the neighborhood, searching for more and more goodies. Then suddenly, she appeared thin and tired. Obviously, she had given birth. Onyx strutted as if proud of his accomplishment.

I did not know where Mama nested, how many babies she had or even if any of them lived. Feral cats don’t always have successful births.

Then, on the exact day I needed a boost, I looked out my front window and laughed. Four kittens crawled out from under the neighbor’s porch. Black and white, some more spotted, a couple more solid black with white booties.

They were at the stage of perfect fluff and fun, jumping on each other and practicing their cat-skills of pounce and conquer. Mama stood to the side, looking exasperated but also maternal.

The neighbor — a big tough guy who hides his soft heart, sneaked bowls onto the porch, then hid behind a bush. The kittens cavorted toward the bowls, joined by Mama as the entire brood ate lustily.

I stayed by my front window for a while, refused to answer a text message or to return to my computer. Knowing I needed the joy of those kittens fed hope and insulated me from further discouragement.

Just a few moments to watch joy in action, the frolicking movements of kittens and the satisfied face-washing after a bowl of milk.

Sometimes all we need is a nugget of hope to remind us life is good, that the creatures God has blessed us with bring a freedom from stress and worry. To be grateful for small blessings and leave the uncertainties for another day.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For some extra nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

Hope Lets Go

In the never-ending task of downsizing, I constantly ask the questions: Do I need this item anymore? Does this object still give me joy or can I share that joy with another person?

rockerA survey of my guest room focused on the tiny antique rocker. Purchased all those years ago, it intrigued us because it also expanded into a wooden high chair. Perfect for baby Caleb.

But the years had grown my son and weathered the wood. Initially, I saved the rocker / high chair for a future grandbaby. But now, I wondered if that was even feasible.

I would not feed a child in such an old device. Its wooden pegs were beginning to rot. The structure was no longer safe. And who knew how many bacteria still hid within the crevasses of walnut? Not even a bleach bath could reach every tiny surface.

Repaint it? Sand and varnish it? No. My days of restoring furniture and exposing myself to chemicals are long gone.

Use it for something else? Maybe. A plant stand? It no longer fits my décor and the whole purpose is to get rid of stuff.

Did my son want it? “No,” he said with a grimace. No one in the family could find a place for it.

So I decided to give it away. I don’t mess with E-Bay or Craigslist. It’s easier to donate my treasures and claim a deduction. I loaded up the rocker along with sacks of other stuff and left everything with the attendant at the Goodwill store.

But as I drove away, the tears fell. Another piece of life had transitioned away. Another reminder of the aging process and the losses that inevitably shadow our days.

Still, the memories were sweet. I swiped at the tears and thanked God for my little boy, for the years of rocking him to sleep, watching him chase Cheerios across the surface of his high chair.

Then I prayed a blessing over whomever would purchase the rocker. Hope returned with the process of sharing my goods with another, of giving away what once owned my heart.

Life passes so quickly, and our stuff becomes transient. Yet we find hope and joy in living the days well and sharing what we no longer need.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

When Hope Needs Help

The visual was perfect. For each grief experienced, the group leader added another Lego to the crystal bowl.legos

Griefs piled up as various women listed them: miscarriage, deaths, loss of a dream, divorce, infertility, unemployment, sexual assault, moving, rejection, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, the aging process, a husband’s infidelity, the illness of a child, et cetera.

Finally the mountain of Legos representing grief fell over. A mess on the floor. A mess in life. The perfect representation of what happens when we let griefs pile up.

The group leader explained, “It’s important to recognize each loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Discover what kind of griever you are and work through it. Ask for help. Piles of grief can become dangerous, causing stress and even illness.”

I knew she was right, but at that moment—I did not recognize how deceptive grief could be.

What looked like a mere transition in life had become a loss of identity.

What seemed like ministry had merged into codependency.

What felt like strength—a sucking-it-up method of living, masqueraded as denial and eventual pain.

Joy stolen. Loneliness expanded.

A memory of another saint who pronounced denial on me as I grieved the loss of my first child, “Oh, this is nothing for you,” she said with a beatific smile. “You’re a strong woman with a strong faith. You can deal with this.”

Ministers are not always allowed the opportunity and the vulnerability to grieve. They are supposed to help everyone else. Never ask help for themselves.

When we cannot see the truth in ourselves, it is vital to listen as others come alongside. “Praying for you,” says a friend. “I can tell something is wrong.”

“How can I help?” asks another. So refreshing, this offer of coffee and a friendly hug.

“You need to see a counselor,” says the trusted spiritual director.

Hard truth is still truth.

Hope threads through the losses in search of restoration.

Sometimes we must ask for help from those who see more objectively, those who are trained to find the germ before it grows into a virus.

And sometimes—instead of helping others—we need to take a break and seek help for ourselves.

This writer now seeks help, moves toward a professional who can sort out the hump I am hiding behind—the reason I cannot move past Deb’s death.

Mental trash cans filled with unresolved griefs I was not allowed to share.

My soul already feels some healing although pulling off the Bandaid hurts. I rest in the salve of faith and put my hope in that future day when tears wash away pain instead of adding to it.

Hope requires that I use the resources available to me, keep looking up to the One who grieves with me and remember—he never ever lets me go.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All rights reserved.

When you are grieving and need to look toward hope, check out Hope Shines. Now also available in Large Print.

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

Hope Sings

Woman-celebratingMy deck umbrella waves in the slight August wind as I sit in its shade. God has granted a beautiful summer morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within.

Still struggling with an illness and wondering why healing waits. Disgusted with myself that I cannot find joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

Count it all joy,” James demands.

I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak.

Let endurance, steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work.” Waiting is so hard for me.

Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Rest. Not the rest that revives during a vacation to the mountains of New Mexico, but the emotional and lovely rest of a contented soul.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the midst of the struggle. They live with gratitude and accomplish what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own.


My joy button needs to be re-set, and I cannot find the mechanism.


Although I DO know joy resides within me, somehow I cannot feel it on this beauteous August morning. I attempt joyful activities, because I know I should and must. I journal through the struggle, work on my Southwest puzzle, bang on the piano.

But the feeling of joy – that inner light sparkling in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, laughter bubblings from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces – somehow that brand of joy eludes me.

Can I only be joyful when every circumstance feels perfect and in sync? How shallow is my faith!

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68 as the divine calls me to find the page. “God is beginning to rise….”

Somehow just knowing there will indeed be a beginning brings hope and the knowing that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me onward to nuggets of hope:

  • Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad. Have I somehow compromised my joy?
  • Let them be in high spirits. I cannot remember the last time I was in high spirits.
  • Let them glory before God, to rejoice in him.

How can this “letting” happen? How can I manufacture this feeling of joy once again?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4:

  • Sing to God.
  • Sing praises to his name.
  • His name is the Lord. Jehovah, my eternal Husband and Maker, Friend, Lover of my soul.
  • Be in high spirits and glory before him.

So I obey, moving to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. I lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody yet different words.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder – uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. I sing the words of Psalm 68:4 and forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit of the words.

I ignore the enemy’s taunts, the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Instead, I lift my praises to the only one who truly knows the condition of my soul.

And glory – there it comes – a bubble of joy resurfacing and lighting my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to cheer me, to flap his lacey wings in response to the beat of creative worship. He flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

God is beginning to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and glorify him for the rising of his presence once again.

Hope sings and joy responds.

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

How to Hope for God’s Will

Where shall I go, God? Where do you want me to live, work, be? How can I find your plan for me?

These types of questions often plague us, because we focus so strongly on what we should do – how productive we should be – rather than what God truly desires for us.Discover the vulnerable

During my college years, the quest to find God’s will for my life was right up there with “Which guy should I marry?” and “What should I choose for my major?”

Legalism 101 taught me that finding God’s will for my life was the number one focus for believers. It also taught me how to fear God because if I messed up and made the wrong choice, God would make sure I turned out like the bad guy in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” who chose poorly.

Tiny Steps

But what I have discovered throughout my life is that God’s will is more of a series of tiny steps rather than a giant quest.

And when we look back on the years, we can indeed see the direction we were to take as the steps moved forward, stopped, backtracked, changed direction, then moved forward again.

Now as I ponder and journal my way through daily decisions, I begin to catch a different idea coming from the heart of God.

It’s not so much finding the answer to the question, “What is God’s will for me?” but more of a whispered “What does God long for me?”

Longings of the Heart

What are the desires of his heart and how can I see him at work in me, loving me, guiding me, scootching me a bit closer to my ultimate destination?

When I ask what God longs for me, it seems a bit softer – more filled with love rather than divine directive that I’d better figure it out or else.

Becoming a mother and raising my son has taught me so much about the heart of God and how he parents us.

When I consider what I long for in Caleb’s life, it helps me understand a different focus God might have for me.

Certainly I want my son to be healthy in body, soul and spirit. I want him to have a wife who adores him, children who respect him and love to spend time with him, a job that pays the bills, saves for retirement and occasionally takes his mother to the Cheesecake Factory.

But what do I long for him? The question digs deeper.

I so desperately long for him to find that place of wholeness where he becomes the man God created him to be.

I long for him to use his gifts and talents in ways that bring joy to him forever and ever, Amen.

I beseechingly long that he will never make choices leading to life-long addictions.

My mother heart longs that he will forgive me for parenting mistakes I made and understand I did the best I could at the time with the information I had been given.

I long for him to someday look back on his life and say, “Well, that was a good ride. I have more joys than regrets.”

I long for him to attain his dreams, reach his goals and grow strong in the journey. Nothing hurts a soul so much as shattered dreams. Please, God, do not let that happen to my son.

Soul Travels

So when I soul-travel to this deeper place of finding God’s longing for me, I find he is just as eager as I am to reach the beauty of a life given to the process.

It is not so much the goal or the answer to the question that satisfies us. It is rather to discover the vulnerable places of honesty within us so we can identify the desires of the heart.

I believe God wants us to pray, “Please. I want this. May I have it, Father God?”

“Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause” (Psalm 43 NIV). He IS the vindicator of the broken heart and pleads our cause as a just and compassionate God.

He understands our longings because he planted them in us and he sees the celebration at the finish line.

The next time I am tempted to pray, “What is your will in this situation?” – I will instead plead, “What is your longing for me at this moment, God?”

And in seeking the depths of his giant heart for us, we then find hope to continue the journey with joy.

So….what do you think God is longing for you?

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