New Mexico Calls with Hope

What is it about New Mexico that calls to me?  flag-of-new-mexico-l

Surely it is more than the memories of 22 family vacations in the historic mining town of Red River.

Could it be the combination of sights and sounds that provide a sensory experience each day?

  • The pine scent of tall trees, dressed in breath-taking greens
  • A chipmunk daring me to hold out another handful of peanuts so he can stuff his cheeks
  • Hummingbirds dive bombing for a bit of sweet nectar
  • Aspens clapping their leaves in fluttering applause
  • The babbling river that cleanses both the stream and the sediment of my soul

Although my family vacations in Red River, Santa Fe and Taos are my favorite Southwest cities with their terracotta textures, the diversity of their people and the history of fine art.

It is no wonder Georgia O’Keefe chose this land to live in, to find solace in painting its various colors and tones.

Yet this year, I needed the mountains in a new way. Before we climbed into the van for the eight-hour trip, God instructed me that the object of my vacation was to follow the words of Psalm 46:10.

“Be still. Rest quietly. Wait patiently for God.” 

As we drove over the last summit and looked below at the town’s quiet repose, I knew it would be a special vacation – a gifting of rest.

Although seven of our family members bunked together in a condo, I purposely made time for solitude. Every morning, I carried my mug of hot tea and feasted for precious minutes with the divine One.

In the wonder of worship, I sat beside the river and entreated God to replace the murkiness of my soul with clarity and fresh intimacy with him. red-river-stream

I looked upward at the mountain crest – my mountain – at the crevasse carved there, as if God had dipped his hand in it during the second day of creation.

His signature of intense power. A reminder for generations of pilgrims that only God could create such grandeur yet dare to be personally involved in our lives.

God rarely spoke during these morning vistas as we quietly sat together and enjoyed the cool air. As we communed in silence, I embraced the beauty of solitude and the intimacy of being in his presence without speech.

Once again, I breathed deeply of the spiritual fervor of New Mexico, forgot the trials and burdens I left behind and gratefully received the solace God offered.

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment, but for me – it is the healing irony of mountains and desert, Native Americans and Hispanics, turquoise and coral – somehow blended into a symphony of texture and diversity that rises in a spiritual explosion of praise.

How sweet to experience how it also became a quiet haven for individual retreat where I once again learned to be still and acknowledged that He is God.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G trilogy 

This post first appeared on “Travel Light,” by SuZan Klaasen.

Hope Digs Deeper

shovel and stonesWhile meeting with my spiritual director, she suggested I consider the question, “What if?”

In January, I taught a writers workshop and included the question “What if?” as a fear tactic artists sometimes use to procrastinate.

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

What if my newest novel makes the New York Times bestseller list? What difference will that make in my life and will I be able to handle the extra book tours, publicity requirements and the pressure to write another bestseller and then another?

What if I could sell my house for a profit? What kind of home do I want to replace it? Where?

What if I could become a full-time writer and writing coach? How would that change my life?

If I think long enough on the subject, I can entangle myself in all the possibilities and questions my “What Ifs” might involve.


When we dig deep, some of our visions and dreams may 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.”

We are often so busy and so overwhelmed by the stresses of life, we don’t stop to listen within – to dig deep and consider what our souls are saying to us.

This is one reason why I journal almost every day. I need to process what I am thinking about and tap into my inner conflict for clues about how to address life.

I also need to listen for that still, small voice that ushers me into the divine space. When I tiptoe into that soul sanctuary, I learn more about myself but also become more teachable for eternal guidance. God wants me to make wise choices and since he is my husband and maker, then I need to listen to what he is telling me.

What does my heart tell me?

My heart longs to return to the Southwest – to find a writers retreat in the Santa Fe or Taos area where I can spend long hours inventing sentences and paragraphs. So many ideas for new books swirl in my soul. The artist in me yearns to bring them to life.

My heart breaks for the unwritten books, the stories waiting to connect with their characters and the voices longing to be heard. I feel an urgency to write while I can, to share the wisdom and experience God has gifted me with through the years.

What if that could happen? What if I could find that place to write until the well is dry and everything has been completed? Is that possible?

My heart also whispers warnings of the aging process and urges me to do what I can while I can – that life is fragile and someone is waiting in the great meandering cyberspace to read the words God wants me to scribe.

My heart 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 often avoid doing something that might require change, because we’re afraid of what that transition might ask of us. We may avoid a major decision, because it includes a move, a new job, the uprooting of our comfort zones.

Yet in the avoidance, we are living in the “discomfort” zone. We are stressing our souls to the point of losing ourselves.

We are avoiding what our hearts may truly long for, because we are so blasted practical and cannot imagine any other type of experience.

My journal now has several pages of personal reflection around these three questions:

  • What if?
  • What is my heart telling me?
  • What am I avoiding?

And I do not believe I am finished yet.

As I continue to dig deeper, to search for the root of my hope, I look forward to the time when these questions will find their connecting answers.

I hang on to the promise in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord and He answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.”

Still searching. Still waiting. Still digging.

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

Hope Returns with a Bossy Mom

Several weeks ago, I drove to Oklahoma and spent an afternoon with Mom. For the first time in months, she was fairly lucid, bossing me, like her old self.heart - sunset

We took a walk around the perimeter of the assisted living facility, discussed the geese who sometimes fly onto the pond for a drink or goose fellowship – whatever geese do.

Mom remarked how nice the facility is and how glad she is to live there – a reversal of the attitude she sometimes displays when she demands, “Why am I here? Why did you kids do this to me?”

Heartache piled upon guilt.

But on this day, she seemed grateful, and I saw in her the personality I grew up with – the bossy Mom who made sure her kids read at least seven books each week, practiced their musical instruments and worked hard to complete their chores and finish their homework.

Suddenly, we were transported decades back as Mom became herself:

“You need to hem up those pants you’re wearing. They’re dragging on the ground.”

“I did hem them, Mom.”

“Well, you need to do it again – another inch at least.”

“Okay, Mom. When I get home.”

Then we walked to the dining room. Mom instructed me where to sit. “Grab that chair over there. Someone else will sit beside me.”

As the meal was served, Mom worried that I wasn’t eating. “How come you don’t have a plate? Do you want me to order one for you?”

“No. I stopped at Braum’s two hours ago. I’m not hungry.”

“Well, you’ll be hungry by morning. Do you want a cookie? I’ll get you a cookie.”

“No, thanks. I eat gluten free.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m allergic to wheat.”

“Well, that can’t be right. You grew up on a wheat farm and we had bread for every meal.”

“Exactly. That’s why I have an allergy to wheat.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

The nurturing of children continues into old age, even when the brain is infected with Alzheimer’s plaque. A mother longs to feed her children, to make sure they are never hungry, even if they’re just visiting, even if they’ve just eaten.

After the meal, we walked back to Mom’s room. “Do you want to watch the idiot box?” (Mom’s description for the TV).

“No. I’ll just sit here with you or read a book.”

“Yeah. There’s nothing on but junk anyway.” We sat in silence for a while, then suddenly – Mom looked at me, her glasses slightly askew. “Are you dating?”

“No. I’m pretty busy.”

“Well, you should be dating someone. I don’t understand why some wonderful man hasn’t snatched you up.”

It was the nicest compliment she has paid me in years. My throat began to fill with the tears of missing my mom, of not being able to call her and discuss my latest book, of no longer sharing a shopping trip or the latest crochet pattern or the encouragement of a Psalm.

“Thanks, Mom. That’s nice.”

“Well, I’m just askin’.”

For a few hours on a hot July afternoon, Mom and I connected on a level long past. She was again the bossy Mom, demanding answers and commanding me in directions she wanted me to take.

Once again, I was the daughter and our roles were clear, not reversed or confused in the dynamics of what Alzheimer’s does to families.

And for a few hours, we sat together in peace, two women – still joined by an emotional umbilical cord.

It was sweet. I know that may never happen again.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

When Hope Requires Faith

My crisis may have been a byproduct of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – this blasted gloominess that begins in the sky, then wraps itself around my soul.Hope word

It definitely resulted from an unexpected car repair which set me back almost $700.

And it probably came as a result that today is my mother’s birthday and she won’t remember it until someone reminds her.

Like a pile of jagged circumstances, everything piled up and I suddenly found myself weeping – searching for hope without finding it.

I wailed about the unexpected and uncalled-for circumstances that invaded my life without provocation. Unfair. Not the abundant life I hoped for.

And yes, I knew all the things I needed to do: praise God, read a Psalm, play a hymn on the piano, sing, exercise.

These are the same things I share with women all the time in the ministry where I work. I know what to do when despair comes knocking.

But the usual formulas don’t always work to lift us out of melancholy.

Sometimes we are so accosted by the darkness and the unfairness of life that we struggle to breathe and hope to stay somehow connected to what is right and true – to whatever it is that brings light to our distressed souls.

This time I had to force myself to persevere – to make myself drive to church and answer the same question we all hear every Sunday and so glibly answer – sometimes falsely.

“How are you?”

“Fine. Thanks.”

Then the teacher of our class made a statement that gave me a direction where I could pursue hope. I copied the sentence and spent the rest of the hour doodling around it, grateful for its truth.

“Faith is trusting in the character of God.”

Ah – yes. The character of God is good. He is love. His faithfulness is wrapped in a new batch of mercy every morning. He is the same today as he was a year ago and will be decades from now.

Although I could not, dared not try to find my way out of my hole all by myself, I knew that the character of God would somehow rescue me.

Because that is his job description. The Great Rescuer of Mankind. The one and only one I can solely depend on – even when I can’t feel him.

And that is the crux of it. Hope is not always easy to feel. It is that ethereal cloud beyond the present and tomorrow that helps us believe life will somehow get better.

And the only reason we can hang on to belief is because our faith is built on nothing else than the Savior who came to earth and showed us God Himself in flesh and bone.

It still took several days for me to claw my way back to hope but at least I finally had a rope to cling to. That statement about faith helped me look beyond my mother’s Alzheimer’s, beyond the car problems and beyond the grey skies to find the light encircling my Savior’s heart.

I am grateful.

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

 

 

 

Reverend G Strikes Again

With the release of “Intermission for Reverend G” and the signed contract for the third book in the series, I thought the petite minister with Alzheimer’s might slip out of my subconscious. I’m already ten chapters into another novel, a completely different type of book where nobody struggles with Alzheimer’s – yet.

Intermission 3D Cover-1You never know what a character might do.

So the other night, I was minding my own business and just finished reading a Psalm before I laid down. I fluffed my pillows, petted the cat and checked to make sure the alarm clock was set.

Then I started my prayers, but there she was – interrupting my prayers no less. This sweet little woman minister as clear as a bell in my head, visited me again and demanded to be heard.

So I listened. Reverend G stood somewhere in that place in the brain where characters live – her long white braid slung over her shoulder and Gabriel in her arms. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I wondered what she could possibly tell me.

Maybe another phrase I could use in the rewrite of the third book in the series? Maybe a clue about one of the other characters – somebody she wanted to converse with? Or maybe she had some wonderful spiritual nugget she wanted to share, something that might help a reader and also might add value to my soul.

I listened carefully to my beloved main character and could hardly believe what happened. Maybe it was the Alzheimer’s pulling a trick on both of us. I don’t know.

But as clear as a bell, Reverend G sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run….”

The rest of Kenny Rogers’ hit song faded in the background as Reverend G turned around and carried Gabriel to – wherever characters go to wait until they visit the subconscious of the writer again.

Really. You just never know what a character is going to do.

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

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

 

Finding Hope in the Grey

What is it about February? The shortest month seems to stretch into a cavernous calendar of grey days.winter scene

Grey isn’t my color. I don’t live well in February.

Occasional spits of snowy ice combine with frigid temperatures. We huddle tighter inside our coats, wishing for a warm blast from the Gulf rather than the icy breath of another polar vortex.

Winter is my least favorite season and it seems that February stretches my barely active tolerance for winter to the limits. Every year, I struggle through it, trying to find joy and praise even while I flex my cold fingers and fight depressing thoughts.

Seasonal Affective Disorder distracts me, especially during February, and I find myself sad emotionally as well as physically. Add to that a family history of several funerals during February that left emotional scars within my memory bank. I can still hear the scraping of frozen earth as cemetery maintenance tried to dig a hole for my great uncle’s casket.

So what do I do to somehow find hope during February?

I count off the weeks, reminding myself that somehow in March, even if we have a late snow storm – somehow the abundant life will return and the sun will shine. Grey skies will morph into blue once again.

I sit in my rocker and watch the sun set, reminding myself that it’s only three more weeks, then two, then one, then a few days until the dreaded month is over once again.

Every year I ask God to somehow provide me with enough money so that I can be one of those snow bird people and escape to Arizona to stay with my cousin during February. He and his wife would put me up in their spare bedroom. I know they would. If only I could get there.

What helps me the most is reciting Psalm 43:5 over and over. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.”

The “yet” will come with the next turn of the calendar. February will become March. Seed catalogs will arrive and gardening supplies will replace mittens and coats. The promise of spring will once more erupt with purple crocuses and yellow daffodils. Birds will sing and I will journal in the sunshine on my deck.

In the “yet.”

It is also in the “yet” that we wait for that eternal hope, when we leave the grey of this sinful earth and live in the warmth of God’s love for eternity. Surely there is no snow or ice in heaven – at least not in my corner of heaven.

For me, heaven will be completely devoid of death and cold, of grey blank skies that promise only icy storms. It will be a place of eternal spring, of joy and hope, of warmth and love, of life that continues forever and ever.

And I will never be cold again.

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