Hope Asks Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

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

With over 70 million caregivers in the US alone, someone you know needs encouragement. “Sometimes They Forget” helps caregivers find hope in the Alzheimer’s journey and reminds them they are not alone. Order it Here.

Sometimes They Forget

 

 

 

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Hope Rests

It takes a while to stop spinning.

Like a tire with loosened lug nuts, the wheel spinning around its axis, the transition from full-time ministry into semi-retirement spins. The slowing down requires intentional rest.sleeping woman

To be intentionally still – listening for God or just sitting in the sunshine causes a need for reboot.

How can the transition be handled in a way that is healthy – for the body, soul and spirit? How does one move from excessive productivity to recovery?

I have been in this position before, but never at this level of intensity. I find myself sinking into the unknown while grasping for the best Source of wisdom I know. My usual methods of resting – a meager force. Giant question marks shadow my new direction.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Restoring sleep helps and then daily naps. Nutrition that builds up the tissues, although my body screams only for chocolate. The temptation to load my freezer with scrumptious blackberry chocolate chip gelato from Target. No, no – I cannot yield.

Restorative care involves clearing the mind as well – to refuse the rewind of what led to the final decision – mistakes admitted, grace given.

To find a way to pour that same grace over and around myself feels almost selfish and I feel alone in the attempt.

I pull out my colors and find comfort in the texture of markings on paper. Turn on the TV to watch basketball and yell at the refs. Read empty-minded fiction books as I pump on the exercise bike. These words require no emotional deposits.

Sit and stare at the blooming redbud tree, dotted with black and white chickadees hopping in the April breeze. Glory in the fractional moment as a red-headed woodpecker perches beside the male cardinal on my deck. Red and black on the background of the greening elm. God’s creation in living color. To spend more time outside is my goal … if Kansas ever warms up this year.

I spend more time on my knees, bringing my fatigue and questions to the Wise One – begging for the balm of divine healing.

The incredible voice of the Shepherd King and his Psalms wash over me with their curative rhythms: fret not, be still and know, God alone is surely my refuge.

Several years ago I dreamed of a heavenly bedroom. I had been carried there by my guardian angel and was surrounded in the brightest whites – a soft coverlet, giant pillows and the clearest air.

Around me, more angels – tucking me in, stroking my brow, murmuring love. Being cared for. Receiving compassion straight from Abba’s heart.

That I so vividly remember the dream underscores how deeply I need my Beloved Divine to show up.

Ultimately, restorative care and the rest required to eliminate stress just takes time – a day, a week, another day. No guidelines here.

A friend told me she slept for months after retirement. A client has pursued rest and direction for three years.

And I – in my self-sufficient planning mode – thought I would be rested after just one week. That would be a “No.”

I listen hard for the gentle voice that assures me I am not alone. I will eventually find soul energy again. The words will pour forth and the direction will be made clear.

Isaiah speaks from his prophetic viewpoint, “God will comfort all my waste places. He will make my wilderness like Eden, my desert like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found in me and thanksgiving – the voice of praise.” (Isaiah 51:3).

So I wait and rest, trusting in the One who reminds me where hope originates. He places his words in my mouth and covers me with his gentle hand.

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

 

Hope Finds Its Sanctuary

Praying_HandsDuring the winter months, I often journal and pray in the bathroom. My bathroom is tiny, so it’s the warmest room in the house. I sit on the heater vent, put a pillow behind my back and proceed to write my thoughts and communicate with God.

I figure God knows all about our physical bodies anyway and he doesn’t care where we meet – as long as we continue the relationship.

In the movie, “Oh God,” John Denver was embarrassed when God showed up while he was taking a shower.

“What?” God said, a la George Burns. “You think I don’t know what your body looks like? I made you.”

So I figure God doesn’t care that his daughter needs to stay warm and chooses the bathroom to keep from freezing even while her heart forms words of praise.

It seems a strange place to set up sanctuary, but then again – I’m close to the Kleenex if I cry and the cat also likes spending time with me in private places.

One of my friends, however, chooses a different way to worship – on the broad plains of Kansas or tucked into a booth at a unique coffee shop. Jane Tucker writes on her blog about wonderful Midwest locations as she revels in the expanse her camera sees, the grasses of the Flint Hills and the sun-colored flatlands of her homeland Iowa. Her blog’s tag line “Postcards from the Heartland” aptly describes the homey feel of her verbiage and the joy of finding the divine within natural wonders.

Her worship is just as genuine as mine, although hers is a wide and colorful expanse while mine is in a tiny room.


I have a feeling God loves spending time with his children and he doesn’t really care how we worship. Whether we dance with colorful scarves, sing off-key in the shower or sway to the harmonies of an old hymn – the important point is that we take time to meet with our maker.


The poet King David described places of worship, “From the ends of the earth” or “Within the sanctuary” or “With all that is within me.”

Places and people vary yet the creativity of methods to thank God for his many blessings helps us treasure relationship with him.

So wherever we are and however we choose, let’s find our sanctuary and plant hope by spending time with God.

Among my followers, I’m wondering where and how you worship? Do any of you find joy in a tiny room? Or is your worship best expressed within the confines of the traditional church building? Does a particular location stir you to praise the God who created you?

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

Stage 4 of Alzheimer’s – Diagnosis

As told by Reverend G …

So Doc Sanders tells me I have dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. The prognosis includes a gradual regression into childhood and someday, somebody will have to take care of my basic needs because I won’t be able to.Psalm 43-5

Well, God … this is not a happy thought. I’m just being honest and telling you that I can’t stand this.

How in the world can I continue to serve you and be your light that shines in dark places, that helps people see the love of God – if I can’t even take care of myself.

This is really a terrible situation. I can’t stand it.

My son doesn’t understand and he’s angry about it. I have to resign from my pastorate, sell all my earthly goods and go live in assisted living.

Again … I don’t understand why this has happened. None of my ancestors suffered from Alzheimer’s – at least I can’t remember if they did. Oh, I made a joke. Ha!

I can still remember my mother’s face and the little house where I grew up, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch today or yesterday or the day before.

That is common, Doc says. I will forget today and remember far into yesterday – for a while. Someday I will forget even the most basic of survival skills such as: how to eat, how to swallow, how to tie my shoes.


Somewhere in all of this, God, there must be a lesson. Somewhere in all of your plan, I know there is a spectrum of light, a chrysalis that will someday burst into goodness.


I cannot see it, but you can. Oh, God, my God, help me.

Another of your servants, King David, felt discouraged as well. He fashioned a formula for himself and the rest of us when he wrote, “Hope in God for I will yet praise him” (Psalm 43:5).

The Yet Factor. I will yet find something to praise you about in all of this mess. I will yet find a way to seek hope and reach for the light when I don’t understand. I will live in the yet because that is where faith resides.

And even though this diagnosis is not what I wanted to hear, it is no surprise to you, God. You are faithful. You will be with me throughout this journey, and I will yet praise you.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – http://bit.ly/1RH27AT

Hope Answers Why

why imageWhen life unravels and we struggle through it, our first response is often, “Why? Why God, did this have to happen?”

“Why did my precious tender-hearted Dad have to disappear into the shadows of dementia?”

“Why does my mother have to continue through this Alzheimer’s journey when she spent half her life taking care of Dad and praying against this disease? I don’t understand, God. Why?”

King David, asked “Why?” And even the son of God, Jesus himself, pleaded for an answer, “Why God have you forsaken me? Why?”

Usually, heaven is silent and we don’t receive an answer to this question. I suppose God wants us to exercise faith and learn how to dig deep within, to trust him when the “Why” question isn’t answered.

And maybe our finite minds can’t understand even if God does tell us what’s going on.

But in one version of the story of Job sits a verse that might help us understand. I’ve only found it in the New American Standard version, but I’ve hung on to it during those times when life unravels.

It is amazing to me that the answer appears in the book of Job – wrapped within the story of this patriarch who suffered so long and so intensely – this good man who lost everything, including his health. Not even his best friends could help him understand.

Yet this verse shouts the answer to our “Why” questions: “Whether for correction or for His world or for lovingkindness, he causes it to happen” (Job 37:13 NASB).

Correction: Sometimes things happen to us so that we will learn important lessons – spiritual or practical lessons.

Our blood pressure spikes. Perhaps the lesson is to balance out life, learn to say, “No” and get the rest our bodies need.

When life unravels, instead of asking “Why?” maybe we should look upward and ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me here?”

His world: Sometimes the things that happen to us are a direct result of the world we live in.

A drive-by shooting takes away a precious child because some irresponsible person fired his gun out the window or reacted to some inner anger and didn’t care about anyone else. We live in a scary world.

Last week, the news was filled with the tragedy of a train derailment. One of the rules of physics is that if you take a curve at 100 miles per hour in a metal car attached to metal rails, some of those train cars may detach and go flying. As a result, people will be hurt and some of them killed because that’s how physics works. It’s incredibly tragic, but our world is filled with tragedies.

Lovingkindness: This is the really hard one. How can it be loving or kind when terrible things happen? Why does a good God allow terrible things to occur?

Maybe it’s because he looks at the situation through timeless eyes and a heart that is bigger than this world.

A teenager is arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to several years of imprisonment and/or probation. His parents are devastated. He misses his graduation. He loses his college scholarship. But isn’t that kinder than if he continues to drink, becomes an alcoholic and ends up killing someone with his car?

Death is not always the worst scenario. A surprise heart attack is tragic, but easier to deal with than a lifetime of slow death with Alzheimer’s.

Is it better to perish in a tornado or to slowly starve to death in a prison camp? Which would you choose? Which death is kinder?

Ultimately, even with this verse in Job, we don’t have control over the unravelings of life. We never know what the next twenty-four hours will hold.

That’s why it’s so important to enjoy each day, to love God and each other with full hearts. That’s why hope is so vital.

Because even when we can’t figure it out, when the “Why’s” of life don’t make sense and heaven is silent – hope keeps us moving toward the next sunrise.

Hope is that eternal optimism that at some point, all our unravelings will make sense and pain will disappear.

And as one pundit has written, “When we get to heaven, we’ll take one look at the replay of our lives and understand what God was doing. Then we’ll understand and we’ll say, ‘Of course.’”

What do you think about Job 37:13?

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

When Life Unravels

frayed_ropeSince life is so unpredictable, it often unravels. All my carefully constructed plans can fall apart within minutes after the doctor presents his diagnosis, I open an email intended for someone else, or the consultant decides my job is expendable.

What do we do when life unravels? How do we react so that the very essence of our souls doesn’t become undone?

In a recent issue of The Christian Leader, I wrote an article which included these practical tips from Psalm 43, principles I try to follow when life unravels.

Action Point 1: Focus on God instead of the problem.

Psalm 43:1-2, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For Thou art the God of my strength; why hast Thou rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

God delivers me from oppression, such as the new level of rejection I face from Mom’s Alzheimer’s. When her memories of me fade, I need someone stronger than I to plead my case and vindicate me.

As I focus on God and his strength, I think more positively and take baby steps toward accepting the next phase of Mom’s illness.

Action Point 2: Focus on the lesson instead of the pain.

Psalm 43:3, “O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Thy holy hill and to Thy dwelling place.”

God’s light and truth lead me through the unraveling yarns of health issues. Even within pain, he brings me to that place of utter peace, that inner holy of holies where I rest in his strength.

As I stay alert for his light and truth, he whispers the phrase of a song or directs me to a passage of scripture. When I focus on the lesson rather than the pain, God teaches me more of what I need to know in my faith journey. His beacon of truth points me to some of the richer treasures of faith and trust.

As I focus on the lesson God wants to teach me, my pain becomes the secondary focus and a bit easier to bear.

Action Point 3: Focus on the future instead of the present.

Psalm 43:5, “Why are you in depair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him, the help of my countenance, and my God.”

King David reminds me to stay in hope. I think of this important principle as, “Living in the Yet.”

To live in the yet, I focus on the future – when this present circumstance wears down, when I work through the grief, when I learn the lesson.

All the unravelings of life, these temporary afflictions, eventually end. Some last longer than others and test my perseverance. Some need extra amounts of God’s power-filled grace. Some are blessedly brief. But all trials eventually end.

As I live in the yet, I praise God that the end will indeed occur and then hopefully, my faith muscles will be stronger, my trust in him deeper.

No matter what unravels next, I’m grateful for Psalm 43 and determined to live in the yet.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

 

When Life Unravels

Whether it’s unemployment, Alzheimer’s or a personal tragedy – all of us face moments when life unravels. When our carefully controlled spheres no longer make sense and nothing we do can change the circumstances.

UnraveledHow do we deal with life when it unravels?

Psalm 43 gives us three action points.

Focus on God; not the problem.

Psalm 43:1-2 reminds us that God defends us and delivers us. He is the vindicator and the one in whom we take refuge. As we focus on God, we think more positively and we’re better able to deal with the problem.

As Reverend G explains it during her own unraveling, “The question may be ‘Why’ but the answer is ‘Who.’”

Focus on the lesson; not the pain.

Psalm 43:3 promises that God’s light and his truth will lead us. He will bring us to his holy hill and to his dwelling – to that place of utter peace whether we’re in heaven or on earth.

When we focus on the lesson, we ask God to teach us what we need to know about our own faith journey. We  learn how to purge some of the worldly attitudes that seem to control us. We  learn more about God’s power and his love for us. And certainly, we  learn more about trust.

As we focus on the lesson God wants to teach us, the pain becomes the secondary focus and a bit easier to bear.

Focus on the future; not the present.

In Psalm 43:5, King David reminds us to keep our hope in God because he is our salvation. He teaches us an important principle that I like to call, “Living in the Yet.”

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

As we focus on the future, we think about living in the yet – when this present circumstance has worn itself down, when we have worked through the grief, when we have learned the lesson.

Ultimately, the things we go through on earth will be just a tiny speck of memory. Someday, none of these unravelings will ever affect us again.

Focus on the future, not on the present circumstance. Live in the yet and stay in hope.

©2013 RJ Thesman