Hope Finds Gratitude

gratefulDuring this season, it is expected that we give thanks. Most of the time, I do the required thank you’s:

  • Food – especially the whole berry cranberry sauce
  • A roof over my head – even if it feels weird from all the decluttering I’ve done. 
  • My son and my family – of course, always

Yet this year, I want to dig deeper and find my place of gratitude within the corners of my soul – those places I hide from others.

This year, I want to be more vulnerable with my blog followers and maybe in turn – remind all of us that gratitude is more than words.

Perhaps we should consider gratitude a heart condition and thus worthy of even more reflection.

This year, I am thankful because the fragility of life on this earth became graphically personal. One night, a bullet screamed through my bedroom. One inch closer and I would be writing this from heaven instead of Kansas.

Throughout the decluttering exercise and the staging of the house, I have grown more grateful for baring the walls and clearing the floors. Some of my stuff was comfort junk, bought to fill the hole left over from a damaging relationship.

Now I am more determined to surround myself with the essentials, yet achieve balance. My writing office still needs some creative, funky stuff and I am still determined to keep my piano.

As a believer of many years, sometimes I fail to thank God for redemption. All those years ago, my childhood heart opened to the Savior of Nazareth as I ran – yes, ran – down the aisle toward salvation.

May I never forget the wonder of that moment and expressly thank God for the healing of my soul.

Even as I wait for the agent’s response, I am grateful for the opportunity to fly to Denver, stay in a beautiful hotel and pitch the book I hope will be published soon. Thank you, God, for the creativity you have gifted me with and the words that morph from heart to fingers to computer screen to the printed page.

A brief foray into my journals finds entries where I asked God questions and sometimes railed against the answers. I am grateful God lets me be honest with him and I love it when he gives me verses of scripture which may not provide the answer I want but confirms I am forever and gracefully loved.

More than ever before, I am grateful for how God has brought me through the struggles:

  • The loss of two babies
  • Abuse and assault
  • Divorce and all its protracted consequences
  • Watching my son suffer from cancer
  • Dad’s dementia and Mom’s Alzheimer’s journey

While I am not grateful FOR these particular obstacles, I am so thankful that during the struggles and in the aftermath, God has been present. Because he helped me survive, my faith has grown and perseverance has deepened.

And with these experiences in my mental backpack, I have written about realistic topics and helped coach women past the crises.

May we never take for granted how God continues to save us every day.

Because I am a life-long learner, I am still trying to grasp more of the lessons which life and God are teaching me. Thank you, blog followers, for giving me this forum to work out the kinks in my spiritual armor and find the sacred place God longs to purify.

So as we sit around the tables this Thanksgiving and dip into that whole berry cranberry sauce, let’s go deep into the reasons for gratitude.

Forever and always, let us listen hard for the divine One who longs to hear us say, “Thank you, dear Father.”

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

Hope Wins

Oh, God – I’m so afraid.monarch butterfly

During the sixth month of pregnancy, I finally ventured out of the bed where I spent the first five months – hoping, begging God to let me keep my baby. With years of infertility and two miscarriages in my medical chart – the chances for a normal birth were slim.

In June of that year, I waddled out to the back yard’s sunshine and stretched out in the chaise lounge. With my hand over my extended belly, I prayed again for the child within.

Protect him, please. Keep him healthy. I want to hold him. I need you to encourage me, God. Help me. I’m afraid.

When I opened my eyes, a large monarch butterfly floated out of the clouds and landed on my belly. Hardly daring to breathe, I watched as his wings opened and closed in a foreshadow of blessing.

As the baby moved, I wondered if the monarch might be disturbed and fly away. But he rode the wave, stayed in position and kept his gaze on my face.

For over an hour, we baked in the sun, ingested the natural vitamin D and shared in worship moments.

Then the monarch carefully lifted off, floated around me a couple of times, drank deeply from my colorful zinnia garden and disappeared into the clouds.

When I returned to the house and journaled about my experience, I felt encouraged, renewed and ready to face whatever happened in the next few months.

God often uses his creation to encourage, uplift and remind me that he is indeed greater than my problem. Since he is the one who manipulates cellular metabolism, hangs the stars in his front yard and whispers, “Peace be still” in the middle of storms – then he can certainly deal with my everyday stresses.

I wonder how many scenarios he manages and shows up to help us when we aren’t alert enough to look for him. Perhaps in heaven, we’ll watch a giant video screen and see his image beside our sick child, walking down the aisle with us as we graduate or smiling as we choose our first car.

Like the monarch’s appearance, he is with us – longing to soothe our fears and direct us toward the best path for our lives.

Because of my experience with the monarch, I nurture my butterfly bush and let the red clover grow around the perimeter of my yard. These plants attract monarchs every year and continue to remind me God is near.

And what of the precious child I carried that summer day? He is now 30 years old, a healthy and sensitive man who makes me proud every day to be called his mom.Caleb and Mom at reception

Hope wins. We just have to keep watching for the finish line.

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

Hope in Autumn Blooms

mumsIt is the season of mums – that glorious coloring of perennial happiness that I plant and nurture each year. These are the plants I prune in the spring when everything else yearns to bloom. Because I know that when late September and early October creep onto my calendar, these will be the plants that greet me with tiny buds and then full blooms.

Rust, purple, red, yellow – I love to fill my garden with these spots of color. Yet even within the enjoyment, I feel a chill of remembrance. Mums were the plants that loving friends brought to me when my babies died – Ryan in 1981 and Rachel in 1983.

Such promise those pregnancies brought. After years of infertility, sharing the joys of friends and family who so easily bore children while I waited with empty arms. It was finally my turn.

Waiting, hoping, praying for the lives of my little ones. Yet both of them – each life ending at 12 weeks.

How does a mother reconcile the image of her own womb becoming a coffin? She cannot. I could not.

Numb, then raw, then screaming out my grief to the God who watched my babies die and did nothing to save them. Was he not supposed to be a Savior?

Why? No answer. It is in the silence of our griefs that faith best grows. Faith – the evidence of things not seen. The babies never held yet somehow carried to heaven where I believed with certainty they were safe and loved.

Friends who provided no answers brought mums to plant, to nurture, to prune back and wait until autumn brought them to life. The hope of this mother that another autumn might bring another child – a living babe I could hold and kiss and sing to.

Again with divine silence came only the belief that somehow God knew a time and way to bring life to my womb just as mums somehow know when it is their time to bloom.

My Caleb – third born yet my only living child – delivered in 1985. Did ever the screams of a newborn sound so sweet?

Still, each year in late September and early October, I seek out another mum plant and gingerly plant it. Some unresolved grief so deep I can no longer weep cries out for a tangible reminder of the babes that were taken. Miscarried babies receive no funeral, no cemetery plot where mothers go to grieve. So I honor my children by planting mums as my personal cemetery token.

I wait for spring to cut them back, then marvel at the first blooms of autumn. And in those orbs of color, I see hope that somewhere in heaven wait two children who want to meet me, throw their arms around me and whisper love words we have longed to share all these years.

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

Christmas with the Red Booties

“Why do you have those red shoes on your tree?” a little friend asked me. She pointed to the felt shoes that hang at the front of my tree.

“Ah…that is a wonderful story,” I said, “and it began many years ago. Would you like to hear it?”

Her dark brown eyes twinkled as she squealed. “Tell it! Tell it, please!”

red bootiesSo I sat down with her and began to explain why the little red booties hang on my tree. “Many years ago, a young lady and a man were married. They worked hard and saved their money and then wanted to start a family. But even though they tried and tried and tried, no baby came to live in their house.

“One year, at Christmas time, the lady thought she was going to have a baby. So she planned how she would tell her parents at Christmas with a pretty package and a note inside. She could barely contain her excitement.

“But then the doctor said she would not have a baby, so her Christmas that year was very sad.”

“Years and years passed by with no baby and many sad Christmases. But six years later, the lady was finally pregnant and was so excited. All the friends and family of the couple were excited to celebrate this coming child, but the baby died before it could grow to full size inside the lady. Everybody cried for a long time.

“Two years later, the lady again was pregnant and the same people celebrated with the lady and her husband. But again, the baby died before it could grow. Again, everybody cried – especially the lady. She decided she would probably never hold her own baby but she would teach everybody’s else’s children how to play the piano and try to be happy for all the people who had the blessing of babies.

“Then two years later, a miracle happened. The lady and the man welcomed their baby, a fully-developed and beautiful boy who was born on the coldest day of that November during a sleet storm. The tiny baby was such a wonderful present for Christmas that the lady bought special red booties for him to wear to church.”

“I like that story,” my little friend said, “and you were the lady in the story, weren’t you?”

“Yes, and the baby is my son, Caleb.”

My little friend pondered a while and then asked, “So you put the little booties on the tree every year, to remind you of that baby — your Caleb?”

“Yes, and those booties also remind me of another baby. He probably didn’t have any booties to wear, but his mother and father dearly loved him. He arrived as a special miracle, too, and that’s the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Baby Jesus came to remind us that God loves us and wants to give us eternal life.

“So that’s the story of the red booties, but the real story goes on. For each person who believes in baby Jesus and accepts the love of God, new stories begin. Stories of love and purpose as people realize Christmas is all about the wonderful gift of life and the miracles that God does inside our hearts.”

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Why Mums?

The doctor’s eyes filled with empathy tears as he handed me the Kleenex box. “You know,” he said, “no one – not even the medical community – knows how to explain miscarriage. No one truly understands what happens to the woman or how she feels.

“For whatever reason, God chooses to take these babies early.”

After my second baby died, they decided to run tests. The results also provided no answers, no reasons why those little babes slithered out of my womb.

Each of them lived only 60 days. 12 weeks – enough time for me to fall in love with them and desperately long to hold them.

Ryan was born and died on November 3, 1981. He was the promised child, after six years of infertility – the baby who would finally fill the nursery with his whimpers and his tiny smile. I have wondered many times what kind of man he would be now, at the age of 32.

Only God knows, and God chooses to keep that secret from me – for now.

My daughter, Rachel, was born and died on January 6, 1983. She was the child who was expected to survive and grow to someday be my friend. She was the daughter of tea parties and coloring outside the lines and making chocolate chip cookies and shopping for just the right shoes. I wanted to help her fasten her wedding gown.

Someday, I will see her in a heavenly gown – both of us in our robes of white.

Every year in October, I celebrate the brief lives of my first two babies. I remember them this month because the chrysanthemums bloom.

Someone gave me a beautiful mum when Ryan died – red mums with orange centers and yellow tips. Someone else gave me a mum when Rachel died – deep, dark purple.

Both of those plants died, just like my children. Living and vibrant one moment. Cold and gone the next.

So every year, I find a beautiful mum and plant it in my yard. In the spring, when the first green leaves appear, I cut it back to protect it during the summer heat and encourage more growth. Then in October, it begins to bloom.mums

As I water my mums, I think about my children and thank God they are safe in heaven. I will never have to worry about their health or wonder if they are okay. I picture them happy and free – waiting for me to get there so we can finally meet in person.

The season of the mums helps me to find hope within these unraveling memories. It reminds me that no matter what happens to our children, mother love continues.

Even when our children leave us – through death or distance – our hearts are forever connected.

And somehow, whether it’s a journal entry, a faded sonogram photo or a beautiful mum – we keep the memories of our children alive.

We honor them and bow to the omniscience of Almighty God who knows best. He keeps the timelines for each of us and of course – he is the one who offers final hope.

So on this first day of October, I celebrate you, Ryan and Rachel. Your momma misses you, but I know you’re okay.

Someday we’ll meet and wow – won’t that be fine!

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

5 Ways to Approach Mother’s Day – Part 2

The Woman who has Lost a Child

After those six infertile years, I suddenly found myself gloriously, miraculously pregnant. I bought tiny baby clothes at garage sales and fixed up the nursery. My husband wallpapered some Disney characters on a yellow background. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs danced around the border of the room. We bought a crib and my brother repaired it to make sure the individual slats were close enough to prevent injury. An antique walnut rocker waited in the middle of the nursery, ready to rock my precious child.

Every night I prayed for my baby. So it seemed the utmost cruelty after three months when that tiny life slithered out of my womb. The spirit of my baby boy, Ryan, floated immediately to heaven. My empty arms ached. The crib stood empty. My heart broke into a million pieces.

Two years later, another pregnancy surprised everyone. I fought the morning sickness but also welcomed it. This child represented God’s makeup plan for the first loss. Again I prayed and thanked God every day. Then my little girl, Rachel, joined her brother in heaven. Again, empty arms reminded me that Mother’s Day represented a cruel joke.

How should we approach this holiday with mothers who have lost a child? Whether through miscarriage, SIDS or some other tragedy – mothers’ hearts bleed each time a child’s voice is silenced.

  • Think before you speak. The mother who has lost a child is going through the grief process. She wants to hear about your growing family, but not yet. Do not, under any circumstances, repeat a Bible verse you think this woman needs to hear. Let sympathy be your first response and silence be your watchword.
  • Wrap this woman in your arms and weep with her. A comforting hug is a thousand times better than empty words.
  • Send a sympathy card on the due date or the birthday of that child. Even now, decades later, I remember the dates when my babies traveled to heaven.
  • Send flowers. Especially with a miscarriage, no funeral and no cemetery plot offers closure. After we lost Ryan, someone gave me potted mums and again, another mum plant after Rachel died. I planted those flowers in the yard. Every year when the mums bloomed, I thought about my children. Even now, whenever I move to a new house, I buy mums and plant them as a living memorial. Whenever I prune them back or cut blooms to take inside, I ask God to take special care of my babies until I join them in heaven.
  • Bake a nice casserole and wrap it with prayer. Especially with a miscarriage, nobody offers a funeral dinner. That mother still needs to eat, and no woman wants to cook while she grieves.

After you’ve done all or any of the above, go home and hug your children.