Hope Fills in the Gaps

Stuck. Between the third and fourth chapter of the gazillionth revision of my novel. A segue exists somewhere, but I CANNOT find it.

I know it will come…“Somewhere over the rainbow.” But the frustration of the moment calls for a break from writing. A massive piece of comfort chocolate. A gap of time to contemplate the words for this day.

Life is filled with gaps. Those years between holding my newborn and watching him walk across the stage to grab his diploma. After another gap, the same boy/man waiting at the end of the aisle for his bride.

Quickly passing gaps. Overwhelming emotions at both ends.

The gap between the germ of an idea and holding the published book in hand. Multiple revisions and gnashing of teeth. Still currently stuck between chapters three and four.

But the most telling gap underscores the fragility of life imaged perfectly in cemeteries. A name engraved on the headstone. Two dates: birth and death.

The gap between those two dates determines the legacy of that life. What occurred to that person and because of that person during that gap, that tell-tale hyphen? How many people did s/he impact? Who will mourn the absence of the owner of that gap?

Think of the people whose gap moments affected our lives: parents, siblings, even ancestors who prayed for those to come, teachers, youth group leaders, the bully at school, the hero who spoke up for me and defied said bully.

We know them only through faded black and white photos and those headstones in the cemetery. The telling gaps.

The writers who influenced my life—oh definitely! Madeleine L’ Engle, Carolyn Custis James, Julia Cameron, Richard Rohr. And many others.

Strong gap-livers include my son, the brave one who beat cancer. We celebrate every July Fourth as the day he came out of surgery. We pretend the fireworks are for him.

Those who live with chronic pain yet complain far less than I about their daily struggles. These warriors encourage my own gap-living and remind me to endure. To persevere. To grit my teeth and keep trying.

Although we celebrate births and mourn deaths, we do not always pay as much attention to the gap in between. Yet that space is where hope exists. Where it is nurtured and grows. Where it expands to affect another’s gap.

Perhaps we need to do more celebrating of each other while we live. To invite another gap-traveler for coffee. Toast each other and determine to pray for each other. Maybe we need to underscore reasons for more parties. For cake and ice cream just because we love the taste of life.

Should we not celebrate with everyday workers who persevere and heroically make it through another twenty-four hours?

And there it is—the segue I needed, hidden within the paragraphs of my journaling. A nugget of hope within my own gap. This moment will not be engraved on my tombstone, “On this day in the 2022nd year of our Lord, RJ Thesman figured out a way to move from chapter three to chapter four.”

But in the totality of my gap life, the Divine Three cheer. They understand the joy I feel in moving forward with words.

And when they review this life with me, we will each realize how important it was to find that segue. To uncover the step that gave color and texture to the story of my life.

Their “Well done” will be my trophy.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Year of my Redemption has a few resolved gaps. Check it out for a quick summer read.

Hope Digs Deeper

While meeting with my spiritual director, she suggested I consider the questions, “What if?” In one of the workshops I teach, the “What if?” question is presented as a fear tactic artists sometimes use to procrastinate.

But in this instance, I was to think about the “What if?” as a possible direction, even a vision-making steppingstone. So I drove home, pulled out my journal and started listing the possibilities of “What if?” questions and answers.

  • What if my current novel makes the New York Times bestseller list? What difference would that award make in my life? Could I handle the extra book tours, publicity requirements and the pressure to write another bestseller? Would I use it for good?

  • What if I could visit Santa Fe at least once each year? What if I could own a vacation home there so I would always have a place to stay for a personal retreat?

  • What if I could learn to live in the present every day so that everyone I meet feels the love and light of the Divine Three in me? What if I could become a better listener?

If I thought long enough on the subject, I could easily entangle myself in all the possibilities the “What if?” question might involve.

When we dig deep, some of our visions and dreams carry their own baggage. Change is not easy, and the transitions of life require us to change along with them.

Another point my spiritual director made was that I should “Listen to my heart.”

I just finished reading Julia Cameron’s latest book, The Listening Path. She describes how we can learn to listen to our hearts, but also to the sounds around us—even to the silence within us.

To dig deep requires that we listen carefully and consider what our souls are saying. One reason why I journal is to process my way through life, to tap into my inner conflicts for clues about how to clearly understand divine guidance.

Digging deep means we listen for that still, small voice that ushers us into the divine space. When we tiptoe into that soul sanctuary, we learn more about ourselves and become more teachable.

What does my heart tell me?

It reminds me of the many ideas I have for more books, so many stories swirling in my soul. The artist in me yearns to bring them to life.

Even for my writing clients, my heart breaks for the unwritten books, the stories waiting to connect with their characters and the voices longing to be heard. That urgency to write while we can, to share the wisdom and experiences God has gifted us with through the many years.

My soul beats with a restless tone, eager to authenticate itself and complete the mission God birthed in me before the foundation of the world.

As I dig deeper, another question surfaces. I stop breathing as I consider the implications of what its answers might entail. Almost afraid to add it to my journal page, I force the pen to scratch the question across the page: What am I avoiding?

We may avoid doing something that requires a major change, because we’re afraid of what that transition might ask of us. A move, a new job, the addressing of a spiritual weakness, the uprooting of our comfort zones.

Yet in the avoidance, we remain in the zone of discomfort. We stress our souls to the point of losing our true core. We avoid what our hearts long for, because we are so blasted practical and cannot imagine any other type of experience.

My journal now contains several pages of personal reflection around these three questions. And I offer them to you as a spiritual writing prompt:

  • What if?
  • What is your heart telling you?
  • What are you avoiding?

I look forward to the time when these questions find their connecting answers in my life. What about you? Are you ready to dig deeper?

Hope shines when we find the courage to ask the hard questions.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Digging deeper is a daily exercise as we find strength Day by Day.

Hope Sets Healthy Creative Boundaries

Isn’t it interesting how we can tell others what to do but not apply that same wisdom to ourselves?

With my writing clients, I often ask, “What are you doing for an artist date?” The artist date comes from Julia Cameron and her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way. An artist date is an intentional setting of healthy boundaries, getting outside the writing space to discover something creative.

My clients tell me about roaming through bookstores, writing morning pages at a quirky coffee shop or choosing a new journal. Many of my clients take day trips to discover more about the area where they live.

Terrific successes for my coaching clients. Not such a good job by their coach. I find it difficult to schedule artist dates or find time for fun in my busy schedule.

Am I too busy? How can I remedy that? We all need time away to reboot the soul and refresh the creative spirit within.

So in 2022, I plan to take more artist dates, consider what is relaxing and creatively important for me. Play a new piece on the piano, banging out chords that help release pressures from a stress-filled day. Walk through crunchy leaves. Stroll through colorful chrysanthemums at a garden store.

Other possibilities might include:

  • Leaving the office for an afternoon movie matinee
  • Finding a quiet moment on the deck for my garden coloring book
  • Looking for a new color of nail polish
  • Stopping everything to watch the sun complete its dusky setting
  • Finding a new journal or reading through the old one with an attitude of praise

These ideas bring me joy, yet I can also work harder to relax. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Forced relaxation?

After an artist date, I feel more energized to connect sentences into paragraphs, outline chapters and introduce new characters to the world.

Recently, two other writers and I attended the funeral of our friend. It was a sad, beautiful service yet an honor to attend. To remember what a wonderful person she was and offer comfort to her family through our presence.

But after the service and a bountiful Mexican meal, we browsed through the town of Yates Center, KS. There we discovered an old Carnegie library. What a treasure to see the built-in bookcases from 1928, the unique hardware on the tall windows that invited beams of light, the children’s library with its colorful computer keyboard and painted murals. Each of us snapped pictures and snatched a free book to take home.

This day trip involved several hours where we chatted in the car, discovered a new town and fed our creative souls with a vintage library.

The next day, I found renewed vigor for my writing projects. Realized I need more day trips around the area, more opportunities to discover different places and feed my soul. To be more proactive about breaking away, setting boundaries around my creative self.

To discipline myself to do what I ask of my clients — find that special place of inner rest, plan an artist date, discover some place new.

Hope asks accountability of others, but also demands spiritual nourishment of the self. To define that fence around our hearts and find our true selves in the enjoyment of each day. To set healthy boundaries away from the work where we can engage more freely with our physical and emotional world.

When we protect that creative core by moving beyond the usual, we find hope in the processing of a fresh breath.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The book I’m marketing during February will encourage your single mom friends. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope Finds Reality in a Verse

Many of my friends choose a special word for the year. It helps them focus on annual goals and gives them the motivation they need every day.

For some reason, the word of the year has not worked for me. Instead, I hang on to a verse for the year.

During the last weeks of December, I begin to proactively pray about my verse for the next year. Always, God answers. When we seek him, we find.

This year, I looked back through my Bible and journal to discover the amazing verses of the past and how they played out.

2016: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…to bind up the brokenhearted…to proclaim freedom for the captives… (Isaiah 61:1 TNIV).

During 2016, I served as a life coach in a nonprofit that helped women. Several of my clients were working through the trauma of spiritual abuse, physical and emotional abuse. Some of them had been abused by their husbands, then betrayed by the church and so-called Christians who were supposed to support them.

It was a time of helping my clients acknowledge the deep darkness, then work toward a place of light and freedom. So much pain, yet God was there to offer hope. Not only to my clients, but also to me.

2017: “God is my helper and ally. The Lord upholds me” (Psalm 54:4 AMP).

When I first read this verse, my heart lurched. What would happen in 2017 that would cause me to be upheld, to be helped by God himself?

It soon became apparent in the month of March when I resigned from my position and began therapy for ministry exhaustion. I needed God to help me financially, emotionally and spiritually as I rested. He was indeed my helper and ally.

Then he upheld me when a terrible loss defined my days. The unexpected death of my best friend, Deb, sent me into the darkness of grief. Without God holding me and literally being with me each day, I do not know how I would have survived the loss with any semblance of hope. Psalm 54:4 became my reality.

2018: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed, happy, fortunate are those who trust in him” (Psalm 34:8 AMP).

My healing came gradually, and God grew my writing clients. Finances increased, so some of the anxiety eased. My therapist released me, and friends surrounded me. While the grief continued, it lost some of its severity.

Then God made it possible for me to spend a week in Santa Fe. I attended the Creatives Conference where I met Julia Cameron in person and several other artists who continue as friends today. As I strolled through the plaza, ate wonderful dishes topped with green chiles and shopped the stores filled with southwest designs, hope began to return.

I caught myself smiling, even on the return trip back to Kansas. To this day, 2018 is colored with that beautiful experience and the goodness of the God who made it happen.

2019: “Feast on the abundance of God’s house and drink from the river of his delights” (Psalm 36:8 AMP).  

During 2019, my client base increased. I taught workshops at writers conferences and published three books. Words poured out of me, healing those taut places, releasing like salve out of a wound.

My CPA surprised me when he finished my taxes. “You’re still doing ministry, Rebecca. You’re helping others with their words.”

It felt like I had purpose again, and I could breathe. Thankfully. Because 2020 was about to spring itself on us.

2020: “God marked out appointed times in history and the boundaries of lands…so that they [the nations] would seek him and reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 TNIV).

As we know, 2020 was the year COVID invaded and changed so much of our lives. People died by the hundreds. Family dynamics changed. Political turmoil and arguments about vaccines. Chaos everywhere.

Yet these verses kept me anchored as I prayed every day for the nations — for this global pandemic to blow itself out. My hope centered around the desire of God to have people reach out for him and find him, to realize he was not far away.

2021: The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host” (Psalm 68:11 AMP).

As the effects of COVID tromped all over my life, I hung on to the directive God gave me along with this verse, “Keep writing.”

Even as the workshops and conferences disappeared. Even as some of my clients needed to take a break. Even as I isolated myself during lockdown and set up a Zoom account, I kept writing. Even as so much of life changed, the words continued.

In August, I helped my son and his bride write their wedding vows. A sweet time. In December, I wrote my mother’s obituary. A bittersweet task.

So what is my verse for this year, for this 2022 when COVID continues to hover and life feels so fragile?

God sent me back to the prophet Isaiah, for a tiny phrase in 48:2, “Depend on God. The Lord Almighty is his name.”

El Shaddai is the Hebrew for the Lord Almighty. It means he is the God who satisfies our every need. He is the God of sufficiency and great power. He is the one who loves us so deeply, he works all the puzzle pieces together.

This God, this Almighty Abba, is the one I am depending on as 2022 begins. I have no clue what will happen this year. I hope I can report good news on December 31st.

But whatever occurs in the next months, I will find my hope in the verses God has given me and the ways he has been faithful throughout my life.

So happy new year to all my followers. I hope it’s a good one.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you need some ideas for setting your goals this year, check out Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals. Even if you’re not a writer, you can benefit from these principles.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with food supplies. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico? He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”

“No,” I said, “but I’d like to be. It’s on my bucket list to go there at least twice each year.”

He told me how he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the New Mexican mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with his Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe.” 

“You’ll get there,” he said with a confident nod. “People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Throughout the long COVID winter, I thought often of this man and his kind prophecy. Was he an angel in disguise, sent to encourage me on a gloomy day? Or was he merely a nice person, taking care of his parents and trying to share hope with a fellow pilgrim?

Memories of my last two trips to Santa Fe brought tears. The 2012 research trip for my third novel, “Final Grace for Reverend G.”

My bestie, Deb, and I, strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime, I thought. Deb’s lifetime. She passed in 2017 and was not able to return to the Land of Enchantment with me.

My next trip was September, 2018. I attended the Creatives Conference with Julia Cameron as the keynoter. Another trip of a lifetime. But this time, I was alone. Still, it was a beautiful experience.

My quiet time to work through the grief of losing Deb. Although I missed her presence yet felt her spirit, I discovered being by myself was indeed a great way to fashion a writing retreat.

And so much more:

  • Multiple people became new friends as Santa Fe has a tendency to pull people together.
  • A touristy walk provided new insights about the history of this town I love.
  • The discovery of a free trade store where I bought some jewelry — of course — and met other travelers.
  • A kind sales rep in another jewelry store who revealed his lifetime of FBI service in Albuquerque and why he changed careers mid-life.
  • My favorite waitress at the Santa Fe Bite who jangled her bracelets as we shared our love for bling.
  • A surprise wedding as the happy couple and their mariachi band circled around the Plaza.
  • More delicious recipes with roasted green chiles.
  • Soaking my feet in the hotel’s pool after a day of walking.
  • Watching the shadows peek around the Sangre de Cristo mountains, then merge into fabulous sunsets.

Creativity seems to spurt from every pore of Santa Fe. In the evenings, I wrote pages of a new novel. The Year of my Redemption was birthed at the Sage Hotel in Santa Fe. It will always be one of my favorites.

My plan was to return to Santa Fe in 2020 with a new traveling partner. But alas — COVID. Then I hoped 2021 might be the year. Another alas — physical obstacles and chronic pain.

Have I experienced my last trip to Santa Fe? Please, God, no. Can I not hope for another week or two in the Land of Enchantment?

A Pueblo Indian blessing foreshadowed the loss of Deb, now even richer with meaning:

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

My enchanting hope is to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live where the everydayness of what we must do thrives with a positive outlook and gratitude for life itself.

Hope breathes through the improbabilities of reaching the desire of the heart, somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass.

Even now, mid 2021, the hope survives. A quote from Georgia O’Keefe, resident artist of Santa Fe, ties my hope in a package of possibility, “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

I am itching to return.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Watch for the novel that was birthed in Santa Fe. The Year of my Redemption will soon be available on Amazon.

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.

How to Find Hope in February

The month of February has always been difficult for me. Usually, the cold and flu bugs continue their romp so the air is filled with germy spores. This year, we are still in the grip of the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.

February’s weather is too cold for leisurely walks, and the ground too frozen for gardens. In spite of the lovely blend of red, pink and white on store shelves signaling the return of Valentine’s Day — February feels bland.

It’s the shortest month yet somehow feels longest.

So how can we find hope in this second month of the year?

Count the Days. How many days until spring? Or how many days until March which feels like spring even as it roars in like a lion. Somehow, just keeping a tab of the days helps us realize we are making progress toward a brighter month.

Do Something Wonderful. February is a great month to plan a getaway somewhere warm or even a visit to family you missed seeing at Christmas. Investigate a local museum, but check first to find out if they’re open in this time of COVID.

Schedule a day of joy in your area. Take an artist’s date as outlined in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Looking forward to an event helps pass the time.

Help Another Soul. As we do something nice for someone else, we focus less on ourselves. Stretch your creative muscles and think of ways to meet the needs of another person.

Make a beef stew for someone who is sick. Take flowers to a widow or a single mom. Make your own valentines and send them to someone who is discouraged or needs to know they are loved.

Get outside yourself and share hope with someone else.

Find New Ways to Share Love. February 14th is the day for expressing our feelings to loved ones. But what if we think outside the box?

Take the whole family and serve soup to the homeless. Make valentines to share with the lonely folks at a nursing home. Give a generous tip to the person behind the counter who serves you. Volunteer at a nonprofit.

Love Yourself. Most of us are willing to help others when we know the need. But sometimes we forget to love ourselves.

Make February your month to begin a new novel — either reading a bestseller or writing one or both. Schedule a mani/pedi to clean the sludge off winter feet.

Reserve one day/week for play and rest. Let a massage therapist work all the January kinks out of you. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself.

Embrace the Special Days of February. Do a search for the National Days in February. On those days, follow the prompts for fun activities. Enjoy the variety of each day and the emphasis it brings to your life.

Make Plans for Spring. Forget the rest of the world and enjoy being with yourself. Order from a seed catalog and plan your garden. Think about a new paint color for your office or bedroom. Tape the paint chip to the wall and live with it for a while.

Join an online group and meet new people. Order a brochure for summer vacation and post it near your calendar. Enjoy thinking about what you will do when COVID is over.

Change One Thing. Most of us cannot make a major life change during February, nor do we want to. But changing just ONE thing can lift us above the February blahs.

For example: the curtains in my bedroom were 12 years old and beginning to fade. I found new ones on sale and replaced them. Just that one change brightened my bedroom and boosted my spirits.

What ONE thing can you change to make a difference in your February outlook?

As we initiate some of these ideas, we can live through February with a lighter spirit and a greater sense of hope. Then the winter won’t seem so long. We can look forward to those warmer breezes and sunlit days to come.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author Page for some February reading ideas.