Finding Hope through Singing

My deck umbrella waves in the slight spring wind as I sit under its shade. God has granted a beautiful morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within. Still struggling with grief and questions about ‘tomorrow.’ Disgusted with myself that I cannot find even a drop of joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

“Count it all joy,” the Apostle James demands (James 1:2).

I have never quite understood or agreed with that verse, especially when I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak. In this current stage, I cannot find endurance, cannot let patience do its thorough work.

Waiting is too hard.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the harsh reality of the struggle — the everydayness of suffering. They do 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 reset, and I cannot find the mechanism.

What would I tell counseling clients? Attempt joyful activities, journal through the struggle, work on a puzzle, bang on the piano.

I try these and fail.

The feeling of joy — that inner light that sparkles in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, the laughter that bubbles from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces — that brand of joy eludes me. My faith is out of sync.

How do I unplug my soul and reboot?

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68. The Divine Three call me to believe the promise, “God is beginning to rise….”

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

The Psalm urges me toward nuggets of hope:

  • “Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad.”
  • “Let them be in high spirits.”
  • “Let them glory before God and rejoice in him.”

How does this ‘letting’ happen? How can I manufacture joy?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4. Sing to God. Sing praises to his name. Be in high spirits and glory before him with song. SING!

So I move to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. Lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody that I give different lyrics.

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. Singing the words of the Psalm, I forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit that is shared, the content so vital.

Ignore the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Accept and honor the grief as a signal of love. Forget to worry about the future. Fret not.

Instead, lift praises to the only One who truly knows the condition of my soul. Then a bubble of joy resurfaces and lights my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to dance with me. He flaps his lacey wings in response to the beat of my creative worship. 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.

The Spirit within me begins to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and worship once again. The glory of song pushes me past the darkness.

Hope shines when we sing and feel the joy respond. Singing and dancing release positive endorphins. The very act of worship reminds our souls that hope still resides within.  

The song empowers us to ‘count it all joy.’ Even in a chaotic world. Even when circumstances threaten. Just sing.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The blog post above is an excerpt from Hope Shines — practical essays that search for hope.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

Hope in the Upgrades

As I was paying bills, it happened again. Another online company wanted me to upgrade my account. Translation: pay more money for a few more services.

Nay, nay.

Ah, upgrading. The DIY shows focus on upgrading the home, particularly the kitchen. Fun to watch and imagine how I might do the same. Some day.

As a writing coach, I constantly research new ways to help my clients with their projects.

The latest publishing tools, best practices for a book launch, effective marketing solutions.

Help them upgrade and update their quarterly goals.

But what are some of the deeper ways we can upgrade and find more hope?

Be willing to change. An upgrade in remodeling requires change. So does the upgrade in life.

We learn, grow and stretch in ways that force us to embrace more hope.

Especially when life is hard.

Stretching those faith muscles and believing for better days helps us feel more empowered. Faith feeds and nourishes hope. But sometimes, we first need to change.

Changes are often uncomfortable. For example: Jorge Soler recently changed from being a Kansas City Royal to playing for the Atlanta Braves. A move for his family. A change in different policies within club houses. New faces to learn.

But now he wears a World Series ring and he became the MVP with that amazing three-run homer in the sixth game.

Changes can sometimes produce lovely results.

Be open to other opinions. When we stay within our comfort zone of being with the same people and doing the same activities, we can begin to rust. It’s easy to hang around friends and family that never challenge us.

No upgrading happens when we stay in the same mental and emotional space.

But when we force ourselves out of that comfort zone, we learn to truly listen to others’ opinions. We consider how honest debate can teach us.

Stretch us toward a more hope-filled upgrade. Hold fast to our beliefs yet consider how they might broaden and expand to include greater values.

Being quick to listen, but slow to speak — controlling our anger (James 2:19).

Become a student again. Life-long learning keeps our brains active. We read a book that encourages us to research more about a topic. Watch a documentary about another part of the world and learn to be grateful for what we have.

Cross reference a Bible verse. Check it in different versions. Google it in the original Hebrew or Greek.

Sometimes our faith needs to be upgraded into a broader interpretation. Sometimes we need to seriously examine some of the false teachings we were once taught. Then let them go.

Upgrades can be a good thing. They can make life easier and add beauty to our lives. With caution, of course.

The physical upgrades need financial boundaries. Waiting to upgrade the kitchen until the bank account has sufficient funds.

The emotional, mental and spiritual upgrades also need healthy boundaries. Time to reflect on possible changes. An inward search of our raw places and why they need a re-do.

Confession. Forgiveness. Repentance.

But an upgrade in our souls to a more compassionate and helpful place is always a good practice. And when it strengthens our hope, then all of us can live in a better place.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The latest upgrade to my writing craft is a book of encouragement, practical tips and devotions for single moms. Check out Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Finding Hope in a TV Series

Television and movie versions of Bible stories usually repel me. I avoid them as either brutally graphic with too much blood and gore or too Hollywood, i.e. using gelatin to depict the parting of the Red Sea.

But several months ago, my sister and I watched an episode of The Chosen. I decided to give this TV version of the Gospels a chance.

Halfway through Season 2, and I am hooked. This depiction feels more realistic and worthy of the story. So I’m following this series for 3 reasons:

The Realism of Jesus as a Man. The writers and producers have shown the son of God as also the son of man — a craftsman from the unexceptional town of Nazareth.

The actor, Jonathan Roumie is attractive, but not the drop-dead gorgeous of so many others who have played the role.

I like how he’s not 6’5” and not pale white. His strength comes from within rather from abs grown in a gym. He laughs readily and shows a mouthful of uncapped teeth. He grimaces, winks, sometimes frowns.

In one episode where he spent the day healing multitudes of suffering people, this Jesus admitted, “I am so tired.” Barely able to stand. Ministry exhaustion. Reality.

And when he does heal someone, he looks them in the eye and connects with the soul. He seems genuinely delighted to have met the need. Often kisses them on the cheek or holds them close.

I can relate to this version of my Savior and long for his physical touch.

The Role of Women in the Series. Not merely add-ons or occasional mentions, this series reveals the truth that women also followed Jesus.

We see three characters who travel with the usual band of male disciples. But these women are also included as students when Jesus teaches. They play an important role, sometimes besting the guys and proving they, too, are worthy to follow the Rabbi.

They don’t just prepare food and serve the fellas. In fact, in one episode, the women are studying scripture while Thomas and Matthew cut up the cucumbers for dinner.

In another episode, it is an Ethiopian woman who commandeers her friends to lower a paralytic through the roof. Jesus heals the man and acknowledges this woman’s role.

Cudos to Dallas Jenkins, the director, and his staff for breaking the patriarchal chains of most Jesus movies.

The Reality of Being a Disciple. My favorite reason for following this series is to observe what happens to the various disciples.

Matthew, characterized with Aspergers, yet chosen especially by Jesus to record the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. His logic and obsessive personality adds to the reality of the show, but is also treasured by this Jesus.

Andrew, often known only as Simon’s brother. Here he is shown as a dedicated follower who converted from John the Baptist to Jesus. The same back story describes Philip who plays his role with a quirky humor yet passionate strength.

James and John — constantly disruptive as the sons of thunder who need to be taught the value of humility. And Simon Peter, always impulsive and a slow learner yet gradually catching up to his leadership gifts.

What I like about the scripts involving all the disciples is that they are not super saints.

Somehow we think that once they answered the call to “Follow Me,” they became mature in their faith and immediate writers of the New Testament.

But no. They doubt, struggle, fail and question this amazing Jesus. Their faith is messy. Half the time, they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. His metaphorical stories remain clueless.

Just like us. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts unfamiliar to our mental scuffles.

These disciples — like us — argue with each other and judge each other. They want to learn and grow, but that means they will have to abandon what they’ve been taught before.

They must move from religious comfort to the scary and messy building of a relationship with Deity.

Just like us.

To be one of The Chosen today is both a blessing and a difficult task. But if we can be known as those who love because of His love — even when it’s messy — then perhaps more people will choose to join the real Jesus and his plan to change hearts and lives.

Hope is shared in this TV series. Check out The Chosen and let me know your opinion.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner knows how challenging it can be to follow Jesus. Check out his story in The Year of my Redemption.

Searching for Hope in the Great Divide

My church just finished a series of messages focused on marriage. I did not attend.

Throughout my decades of work in churches, I have heard multiple sermons about marriage. Tips for how to love your spouse. Using the five love languages. Submission, submission, submission.

Gag!

While there was a time in my life when those sermons were a bit helpful, for the last twenty years I’ve wondered about the great divide.

You know, that nice little label that many of us don’t fit anymore: Mommy, Daddy and 2.5 kids. 

Where are the messages that focus on the beauty and strength of being single? Are we still so enamored with the idea that to be a true believer, we have to find that perfect mate, set up house in the right neighborhood and raise our kids to do the same?

Churches often satisfy the inclusion of singles by setting up a Singles Group. In my experience, said group often becomes a place to search for that perfect mate — the one who already goes to church so s/he must be safe.

I can line up hundreds of women who found out that principle does not work.

So who are the people who might appreciate a sermon about the significance of being single?

  • Those who never married yet continue to attend church and volunteer weekly. One of the ladies in my Bible class fits this category. She helps on the communion team, preps the elements we take together once/month. She is also a praying woman who stays updated with the needs of people and reports answers to prayer. I respect her and appreciate her service.
  • The widows and widowers. These are the folks who once fit the nice little label. Now they are alone and searching for how to find their significance. They still have multiple gifts to be used. Many of them continue to serve in the background, but a sermon series affirming their contributions might bring them hope.
  • Single moms are the group that most keenly feel rejection. In fact, 67% of single moms leave the church and never return. They no longer fit anywhere, and they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising kids alone. Sunday becomes the loneliest day of the week.

In all the years I have been associated with churches, only once did I hear a sermon about the value of being single. It was presented by a woman minister, a single woman, who underscored the work singles did in her church and community.

I sent her a thank you card.

We have no record of the dating life of Jesus. In spite of the plotline of The Da Vinci Code, we assume he stayed single so that he could focus on his goal of winning for us salvation. What would he think about the emphasis on marriage at the exclusion of singles?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to consider singleness as a positive. “God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried. So I say to those who aren’t married, better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 TLB).

Has anybody out there ever heard a sermon preached on this passage? Or is Paul considered an aberration because he stayed single to complete his mission?

Perhaps my ramblings in this post are because 2020 did an isolation number on me. To my surprise, I missed church. I was so glad when we opened again.

Then, just as I was feeling like part of the “family,” here came the sermon series on marriage. So I drove to Target and tried to comfort myself with something frivolous I did not need.

You know: chocolate, another tank top, the newest flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, another journal, gluten free blueberry muffins, more chocolate.

I guess some of us singles need to know if the institution of the church is ever going to get a clue about what being single means.

About how we know specifically that our Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4-5) totally accepts us even if the rest of his kids don’t.

About how we find our fulfillment focused on loving God and loving others, not seeking a mate.

About how we search for hope each day and find it in the solitude of being alone.

About how we love the church but can’t stand how it treats us.

Maybe the search for hope finds it own fulfillment within the search itself. Trusting that God appreciates us even if our ring finger is bare.

Believing that in our singleness — even without the affirmation of the church — we know we are loved.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner is single and dealing with a tragedy in his church. He takes a sabbatical to straighten out his head and finds hope in his heart. The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Wonders When

Patience is NOT one of my virtues. Yet it seems as I grow older, God requires more instruction involving patience. Once again, I sit in his school of waiting.

When we wait, our first question is “When?” When will the answers come? How much longer do I need to wait?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting itself — a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together, something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a strength? We can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we love our commonalities. But when?

The 36-hour day team-tags for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will release come?

The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as s/he is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When?

In their workbook, Living into the Answers, authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.

New areas we have not previously considered or possibly — new spiritual havens where we learn to reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

What did it feel like in the 600-year silence between the Old and New Testaments? For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on. Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God — even in the silence.

Mothers tucked their children into beds and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet their tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

When Jesus DID come, he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected, they did not recognize the wait was finally over. Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. They refused the truth.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder … has it come and gone, passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer? If so, how do I retrieve it?

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life, then waits for us to locate him.

Perhaps our questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We cannot truly find the resolve because God is not controlled by time.

Yet as we wait, he graciously holds us in the palm of his mighty and patient hands.

Instead of yearning for a change, maybe we need to just accept today. To find joy in whatever positives surround us.

Then as we cry out for a deeper intimacy with the divine one, he will produce the answers within.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out this excerpt from Hope Shines, available on Amazon and also in Large Print.  

Hope Wonders When

I will readily admit – patience is not one of my virtues. Yet it seems God often requires me to learn more about patience in his school of waiting.as-we-wait

After two years living in limbo land, I am still waiting and wondering…when will the answers come?

How much longer do I need to wait? What is the deciding factor that is keeping me in this place of limbo?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting – a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together – something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a good thing – that we can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we do our commonalities? When?

A Facebook friend has watched her little boy endure countless surgeries. He’s lived in the hospital longer than he’s lived at home. When will their endless waiting end? When?

The 36-hour day team-tags caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will endurance result in release? The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as she is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When will the answer come?

In their workbook, “Living Into the Answers,” authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.”

New areas we have not previously considered…or possibly…God will lead us into a spiritual haven where we can reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

When, God, when?

I wonder what it must have felt like in the 400-year silence between the Old and New Testaments. For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on.

Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God. Mothers tucked their children into bed and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet the tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

Then – when he did come – he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected – they didn’t recognize the wait was finally over.

Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. Now, 2000 years later, they still wait because they haven’t recognized what happened.

As we seek the end of limbo land, maybe we are looking in the wrong location. Maybe the happy ending already happened in a manger in Bethlehem, a hillside sermon, an empty tomb outside the city of Jerusalem.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder…has it come and gone and passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer and if so, how do I retrieve it?

Perhaps our When questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We can’t truly find the resolve because God’s When is not controlled by time.

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life and then waits for us to locate him.

Yet as we wait, God sustains and holds us in the palm of his mighty hand.

Instead of waiting and longing and yearning for a change, perhaps we need to just accept today and find the joy in whatever positives surround us.

All the answers will someday be given by the One who is wisdom itself.

Maybe the restlessness of my spirit is merely my heart’s cry for a deeper intimacy with the One who provides the answer in Himself.

At least with Him beside me, I can imagine Hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G trilogy