When Hope Encounters a Rollercoaster

Memories of fun in the past included rollercoaster rides. Those giant metal or wooden edifices roared as the track connected with the train.

Hands held high. An unplanned scream. Stomach muscles clenched in a clash between fear and excitement.

But today’s rollercoaster comes not from a machine or long lines of customers anticipating the ride of their lives.

No, we are all on a rollercoaster together — the emotional ride of 2020.

Just as we begin to feel a bit more secure, another jerk takes us to a scary elevation of fear or a sudden downturn of despair.

Back and forth. Up and down. The spiral cycles and the stomach clenches once again.

What does this rollercoaster look like in the waning months of 2020?

The Ever-Present Track of Covid-19. Our family had escaped Covid. Everyone was healthy. Then the phone call. The one person most susceptible – the elderly matriarch.

Mom is 92 and confused within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. She does not understand why she has been taken out of her room and placed in isolation. She does not recognize the staff people who now wear full PPE garb and speak to her behind shields.

The cruel rollercoaster of 2020.

Unexpected Circumstances. A simple step down into the garden, expecting to water flowers. Then joy at the colorful blooms became pain as my hamstring pulled, leg and hip out of whack. Doctor visits, chiropractic treatments, a cane to maneuver through my uneven yard. Three months out, and it still hurts to sit or stand.

The uncertain rollercoaster of 2020.

Cancelled Plans. A special birthday trip to my beloved Santa Fe and the wonders of the Southwest. Planned with a friend for months. Excitement flushes out as reality slides around the next turn. Travel is impossible with a hip injury. Wait another year. Forget this anticipation and push back the joy.

The disappointing rollercoaster of 2020.

The Search for Truth. One news channel reports their facts, complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Another channel reports their facts, also complete with videos, fact-checking and credible sources. Yet they totally disagree.

The confusing rollercoaster of 2020.

Science versus Reality. Government agencies we should be able to trust release statements about vaccines, treatments, forecasted dates. Then the next day, they reverse their information. What?! Science changes overnight? How much is politics affecting information — on both sides of the aisle?

The puzzling rollercoaster of 2020.

Relationships Suffering. Families and friends who once worked together, worshipped the same God and rejoiced in spending time together. Now they are jerked apart by opposing views — both sides claiming divine inspiration. Both sides able to quote Bible verses and pound pulpits with their opinions.

The polarizing rollercoaster of 2020.

How can we find hope when our emotions are jerked up and down, around and around, spiraling out of control?

A carnival ride expert once said to focus on what is not moving, something that will not change no matter which direction the rollercoaster heads.

So we can focus on one thing — hang on to the thread of faith, that whisper of constancy that assures us, “For I, the Lord, do not change. Therefore, you are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Eventually, we will step off and away from the rollercoaster of 2020. It will take a while to regain our equilibrium, and we will most certainly face a changed world.

But even as we focus on what steadies us, we can be certain hope will survive. It looks beyond the present tense, reaches toward the future perfect.

To be settled and steady. To feel secure. To know we have survived this year and hope for what promises to be better.

That is the goal of hope, an emotional place that may be shaken but still endures.

In spite of the rollercoaster of 2020, we can end our days with this Kenyan prayer: “From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth — Good Lord, deliver us.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book, just released during this crazy year of 2020. The Invisible Women of Genesis uncovers some of the hidden stories from the women who were present, yet invisible, at the beginning.

 

Finding Hope When Prayer Lags

prayer -woman-sunsetSometimes prayer comes easy and feels like a special connection with the Divine. The words flow with a spiritual electricity. We believe God has indeed heard us, and something miraculous will happen soon.

But other times we struggle to know what to say. The words stick in our throats, and God feels far away. We can’t even fully imagine how anything good can come out of this frustrating conundrum.

That’s where I am now. I don’t know how to pray for my mom.

She’s no longer in assisted living, not even in the Alzheimer’s unit. Now she lives in a bed in the nursing home wing, shares a small room with another woman we don’t know.

This situation is specifically what I prayed would never happen.

Mom is living, but not really. The pain from her twice-broken hip and a broken shoulder. Her right arm affected — her dominant side.

She cannot feed herself and doesn’t want to eat anyway. She fights those who try to get near, because every time they move her, the pain increases.

Add to this horrific scene the fact that none of us can be with her. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, her nursing home is still in Lockdown. The already isolated elderly are now imprisoned within solitary confinement.

Mom does not understand what’s happening in her world. She just feels the pain of loneliness and physical hurt.

Does she think we have abandoned her?

What kind of life is this? How should I pray?

So far, God has not chosen to free her from the pain. He has not come to her room, touched her broken limbs and made them whole again.

I often pray that he will be close to her, hold her near his gracious heart and whisper consolations only she can understand.

But I don’t know if he’s doing that, if he’s answering my prayers.

If I pray for her final healing, for complete release, I am asking God to stop her heart and take her to heaven — to end her suffering forever.

Yes, I have prayed those words. Then felt immediate guilt.

I don’t want to be an orphan. I don’t like this season of life. I hate that my mother is going through this — alone.

So how do I pray? How can I stay in hope when my prayer lags?

What is best for this woman who always wanted the best for me?

Scripture tells us that Jesus has a job in heaven. He, too, is working from his home. He’s praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

So I swallow my tears and ask him to pray for Mom.

And when I cannot even utter those words, I revise the last verse of “Away in a Manger” and hope God understands the cry of my heart.

Be near her, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay

Close by her forever and love her, I pray.

Bless now my dear mother in nursing home care

And take her to heaven to live with you there.”

 

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Conquers the Unseen Hills

We planned it as a wonderful family weekend in Branson, and I looked forward to a leisurely drive through eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

What I did not realize—until it was too late—was the massive fear-mongering I would face at the end of the journey.scary hills

Although I grew up a tree climber, I have developed a fear of heights. I cannot and will not attempt stair-climbing past two floors.

Forget the Eiffel Tower challenge or the Washington Monument steps or any of those glass elevators meant to remind me I am no longer on the ground floor.

I will not—cannot do it. No one can bully me into a roller coaster ride or coax me to look over the side of the Grand Canyon.

What kind of masochist designs bridges with slots between the boards or glass walkways between tall buildings?

These are not my friends.

So I cheerfully drove to Branson, blissfully ignorant of what I would soon face. Before I hit the main drag, I suddenly faced massive hills—heart-stopping obstacles.

The worst part was the ascent without being able to see what was on the other side. I knew the downside of the hill must present itself, but I could not see it until my car topped the ridge.

Then I had to drive down that slope while my heart hammered its kuh-thump, kuh-thump. I refused to look at the steep sides around me.

“Focus on the center line,” I told myself out loud, aware of how my voice shook.

Seven—count ‘em —seven dangerously steep hills. The only thing that kept me going was the promised treat of meeting my family—if I survived the drive.

I recited every Bible verse I knew about fear, called on angels to surround me, screamed my prayers out loud.

Sweaty palms. Thumping chest. Quick breaths.

Finally, the last hill was conquered, and I rolled into level ground. I pulled over and closed my eyes.

Survival tasted sweet.

The only cloud on a weekend of family fun was the certainty I would have to face those hills on the return trip. Or stay in Branson for the rest of my life.

Whether it’s the facing of a fear, pushing through an emotional obstacle or just trying to survive another day —we all meet our mountains of challenge.

And we’ll never know if we can conquer them until we actually go through the process.  Finish the journey—no matter what it costs us.

Hope streams in as we discover another layer of perseverance we didn’t know we owned.

And survival becomes the end result of a battle fought and won.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Discover the battle Abigail faced in “No Visible Scars and how she learned to accept her pathway to freedom.

Hope Finds a January Purpose

snow in mtsAlthough I didn’t send the usual number of Christmas cards, I did receive beautiful cards from many of you. Thank you !

Maybe next year, I will rethink the tradition of sending Christmas cards – especially since I just found some lovely ones at half price.

So…what to do with Christmas cards after the eggnog has soured and the chocolate is all gone? Just pitch them while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One example hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes. A particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to take it down and pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is after all – a deep red color.

Each year, I have enacted a routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on my kitchen table, next to my Bible.

Every morning when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and his/her family during the coming new year – to fill them with hope and joy – to draw them closer to His loving heart.

If I know of some particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe. Provide for them what they need – a warm home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy. This year, I know many people who are grieving.

“Oh, sweet Jesus – send them a special touch of comfort for the new year. A flashy cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss – still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.”

Praying through the cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones who took the time to send me a holiday message. I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected – through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared or through the blood line of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards and going back to work.

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by praying over my Christmas cards.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? “Hope Shines” is available on Amazon.

Hope and the BLESS System

During the summer of 2017, my church is utilizing a system to BLESS our neighborhoods. The acrostic works like this:

  • Begin with Prayer
  • Listen and Engage
  • Eat (because we all connect better while we’re eating)
  • Serve Others
  • Story (be willing to share your faith story)

Although I like this concept, I am purposely NOT engaging in this system. Not that I disagree with any of it – I’m just pulling back from any kind of service while I recover from ministry exhaustion.

The ironic beauty of this BLESS system is that God Himself is helping me engage with him. He is blessing me.woman - worship

It’s almost a replay of how God took care of Elijah when he was discouraged and depressed after a massive battle. (If you want to read that story, check out First Kings 19.)

Now, I don’t believe I am anywhere close to being a powerful servant such as Elijah.

I just know God loves me and he’s taking care of me.

Here’s how it works:

Begin with Prayer: At times, I’ve been so depleted, the only prayer words I could speak were “God oh God” or “Jesus, help!” But the sweet truth is that God still heard me. We don’t have to pray a certain way or follow a formula for Abba Father to hear the cries of our hearts.

[Read more about Redefining Prayer]

Listen and Engage: In the quiet of the night when all I hear is the cat’s snores – I sense God near. He is listening to me and for me, and I for him. Sometimes he speaks a verse I’ll look up and journal through. Sometimes it’s just the inner warmth of knowing he’s engaging and connecting with me. I love that. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs of guidance and truth.

Being listened to = being loved.

Eat: This piece of the acrostic is a bit more eclectic because I’m not talking about real food. Although a healthy recovery does include nutritious eating as in blueberries, dark chocolate, lots of water, repeat.

Emotional and spiritual eating means filling my mind with the words of God and helpful books – fiction and nonfiction. I am inhaling without exhaling, filling up my emotional bucket that has been scraped raw. This type of eating never adds empty calories, but spiritual nutrition flows into every tissue and emotional gap.

Serve Others: It seems impossible to turn off the button of ministering to others. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, “No! You cannot organize and promote a new ministry, no matter how much it is needed. Stop it!

I am letting go of all expectations and reveling in how God is serving me.

Now, I know some of you out there in cyberspace are thinking, How selfish! Who does she think she is? What would Jesus do?

I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. He would climb right up in Abba’s lap and tell the Holy Spirit to come and comfort him.

When he walked on this earth, Jesus rowed across the lake and took some down time. He had weekend getaways at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He strolled through a garden and prayed, inhaling the presence of God so he would have strength later to heal and save.

So don’t judge me. I’m telling you Abba is such a personal God he knows when to send me an encouraging word.

He calls me to the deck at just the right time so I can watch a rabbit nurse her bunnies. He commands a flock of geese to fly over me with joyful honks. He whispers to a baby in Wal-Mart who turns around and gives me a single-toothed grin. He plants a book in my hands that helps me understand how ministers become codependent. He tells someone to send me a check so I can pay that climbing electric bill. He heals my son so I don’t have to live in worry.

God knows exactly what I need and when I need to be reminded how much he loves me.

Story: I’ve just shared part of my story with you. It continues to grow and the plot lines interweave. More will be coming in the weeks ahead.

Keep checking in with me to see how God wraps hope around every gift, how he is himself the author of hope.

The guideline God is helping me learn is this: it’s okay to take care of yourself. That means telling others “No” when they ask you to do something. It means setting healthy boundaries. It might even mean getting away from the mess.

So that’s where my story is so far. I’m sticking to it. Be blessed and let God bless you.

©2017 RJ Thesman

Sometimes They Forget       Goals E-book Cover      Rev_G_Cover

 

 

Hope Seeks a Vision

Several years ago, I started a vision journal. Some writers use a vision board to piece together plots for a novel or goals for the year. I prefer a journal.marketing vision

In my journal, I write about my visions for the future:

  • A healthy and happy life for my son
  • The country cottage I have always wanted – with a western view so I can watch the sun set and surrounded by gardens of various flowers
  • My desire to make the New York Times bestseller list

Some visions are much deeper and more intense – those desires for peace and contentment no matter what issues are grinding through my life.

Without vision, the scripture says, we perish.

This statement is true, because visions require a fistful of hope – the belief that our hearts’ desires will indeed come to pass.

As I scanned through my journal, I was surprised how many visions had already come to pass:

  • The desire to be a full-time writer
  • A car to replace my former broken down buggy
  • My son in love with his sweetheart

Answered visions are confirmations that God does indeed care about the desires of our hearts. In fact – he is the one who plants them in us in the first place.

Does this mean all my prayer requests and visions are answered with a resounding “Yes?”

Negative. I cannot see the entire timeline of eternity or the answers that lie within each segment. Only God knows what is the best direction for me and which visions will push me toward the finish line.

But confirmed visions do prove that hope is alive. Hope then becomes a force to move our deepest longings into place.

I have added some new visions to my journal and dated them. It may take a lifetime or at least a small timeline to see them become reality. But the process of stating a vision underscores faith and the belief that life CAN indeed turn out okay.

Without vision, the people perish.

Without hope, a vision cannot live.

I vote for owning both.

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

 

 

Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

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