Finding Hope When Life Unravels

As I entered one of the big box stores, I knew time was fleeting. The local government officials had just closed all the restaurants. All major events canceled. How much longer would it be possible to buy food and necessary items?

The Coronavirus jack-knifed us into what felt like a pre-apocalyptic world. Empty shelves. Shoppers avoiding each other, keeping their social distance. Hygienic wipes in my pocket to kill the germs on my cart, my hands, the number pad.

What in the world happened to our comfortable norm? The virus and its effects showed us how fragile life can be.

So how do we find hope when life unravels?

Focus on God instead of the Problem. During other emotional apocalypses in my life, problems have seemed insurmountable.

A period of 14 months with no job and no unemployment insurance. Cancer scares for my son and me. The medical tests alone were enough to saturate our emotions with fear. A father dying slowly from dementia, a mother locked in the shadows of Alzheimer’s. Miscarriages. A toxic job environment. Multiple abuses over a lifetime.

When I was training to become a Stephen Minister, we were assigned the task of writing about the losses in our lives. I filled my 3×5 card front and back.

Another minister saw it and said, “You win.”

“I don’t think so,” I responded.

During each of those problems, every time I felt overwhelmed, I tried to focus on God rather than the situation. I filled my journal with all the attributes of God that I had personally experienced. My Bible was colored with highlighted verses about God’s love and care.

Sometimes I spoke out loud to the problem itself. “Go away. Leave me alone. I will trust in God.”

So that’s what I’m doing now, during this Covid-19 outbreak. I’m filling my journal with all the ways God is protecting us. My Bible reflects the colors of new highlighters and more verses talking about God’s loving care.

And sometimes I shout, “Go away, you filthy virus. Leave me alone fear. I am determined to trust in God.”

Focus on the Lesson rather than the Pain. It is so easy to complain about self-quarantine, to frown about the fact that I am in the “risky” demographic, to worry about the numbers of people dying.

But what can we learn from this situation? How can we turn it into a lesson?

We can pull out the old recipes Grandma used during the Great Depression. The creativity of those depression-era cooks came from a deep survival mode. When food was rationed and winter threatened, they learned how to add more water to the soup, how to make beans the main protein source.

We can do the same.

We are learning how to stay at home and be families once again. The kids are out of school. Teach them how to cook, how to clean a bathroom properly, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to change a flat tire.

Gather around the dinner table and learn more about each other. Sing a song. Dust off the board games and play together. Find out how beautiful family bonding can be.

I believe we will also learn how much we took for granted — before the Coronavirus shouted from every internet site.

How easy was it to just pull into a restaurant and order a meal? How many of us fell to the impulse of buying because the shelves were full of wondrous things?

Perhaps now we will be more grateful for the little we DO have. We will learn how it feels to truly be thankful.

Focus on the Future instead of the Present. Hope looks beyond the current problem toward an optimistic tomorrow.

One day, hopefully soon, this virus will wear itself out. We will dig out from our isolation bunkers and find freedom again.

We grieve the loss of so many dear souls today, but in the future — babies will be born, another generation will arise. Healthcare services will normalize, and we won’t be afraid to join groups.

Keep focused on what the new tomorrow will bring. Perhaps our “normal” will be completely changed for the better. Re-energized. More of a dominance on mercy, justice and how to walk humbly with our God.

When all this is over, we may save more for the next crisis and treat small business owners with more respect. Our leaders will keep in place the disaster plans other administrations toiled over. Nobody will hoard toilet paper, because it will no longer be the domineering purchase.

We will be glad to see each other, hug more, appreciate church leaders and healthcare workers who continued to meet the needs.

And the news cycles will underscore baseball games, fashions of the new season and the pride we take in our people. He-roes and She-roes will emerge from this crisis, and we will make more commitments to keep family together, to help one another each day.

One of the verses in my Bible is highlighted, then colored over with another hue, then framed in black ink. I have returned to it multiple times. It has become my mantra when life unravels.

“Hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Stay in hope. Live in the yet.

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Lenten Season is a time to focus on the Future – on the promise of Resurrection. Who were the women during that period of history? Check out The Women of Passion Week and discover new stories of courage.

Hope in the Treasures

A recent exercise in our Saturday Sisters group resulted in an a-ha moment. We were given a sheet of paper and asked to list our treasures.rose in treasure box

This exercise was a different thought process than just listing what we’re grateful for.

We all know how to answer several ways to say, “Thank you.”

But this was a deeper, more intimate grinding of thoughts. It forced us to that place within where the desires of our hearts somehow meet the destiny God has for each of us.

A treasure can exist within monetary value as in the movie National Treasure. But this type of treasure exists beyond the superficial counting of gold coins.

These are the treasures we cherish and hold close to our hearts — their value incalculable.

Some of the treasures I listed were:

  • My son, Caleb and his girlfriend, Sarah
  • Creativity and the ability to create with words
  • Nature and being outdoors
  • Trips to Santa Fe and Taos
  • Music and how it takes me out of the ordinary world
  • The Five Senses and how they enrich my life
  • Pets and animals of all kind – except snakes and spiders
  • My flowers
  • Watching Sports either on TV or in person
  • Lifelong friendships where people accept me for who I am
  • My fleece blanket
  • Family both near and far
  • The heritage of faith that has underscored much of my belief system
  • Reading books of all genres
  • Freedom

My list of treasures could have continued for several pages. Perhaps I will begin a new journal that lists a different treasure each week.

While writing this blog post, I watched the first snow of the season offer its tiny flakes to the landscape. Winter is not my favorite season, but the first snow each year becomes a treasure of beauty — a reminder that life has begun a new season.

And gratitude that I have a roof over my head and a warm fleece blanket.

A verse in Psalms placed its parentheses around my treasure list. “Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants” (Psalm 37:4 NIVr).

Everything my heart REALLY wants. So much of our wants are fleeting. We end up buying stuff, then selling it later or donating it to Goodwill. Half the packages under the Christmas tree will be returned or re-gifted to someone else.

But the time together as family, the process of giving and receiving, fellowship around the Christmas table, lights reflecting on the faces of our loved ones — those are treasures.

The things our hearts truly long for become the treasures that enrich our lives and end up giving us the most joy.

Perhaps a Thanksgiving exercise might be to list your treasures. To dig deep into what your heart truly delights in, what you would protect with your life, what you would grieve if it was taken away.

Then study your list of treasures to find hope on gloomy winter days. Like me, you’ll probably realize you possess many treasures that result in a full heart of gratitude.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For 2020, I have some openings for Coaching clients. If you want to learn more about the craft of writing or you have a book just burning to get out of your soul, check out my website for Coaching Services.

Hope in Preservation

When I focus on the word “preserves” I think about the sand plum jelly we made on the farm, and the hours we spent canning tomatoes and green beans.mason jar candles

Those wonderful Mason jars provided us with fresh food throughout the winter months and also preserved memories of cooking with Mom in the farm kitchen.

But a deeper type of preservation intrigues me now. What does it mean to be emotionally preserved? Can I invent a personal thesaurus around the topic of preservation?

Staying Fresh

Preserved foods always taste fresh, even after years in storage. No matter how we serve them up, if they have been preserved properly — they are a treat.

Psalm 31:23 reminds me, “The Lord preserves the faithful….”

So how can I remain emotionally fresh and alert for each new day? How can the topic of hope keep me fresh in a world of rot?

Self-care comes to mind. Rest and taking care of myself holistically. Exercise to preserve my strength. Throwing away the junk foods, although an occasional treat is allowed. A ten-minute restorative nap. Reading a good book to reboot my brain.

The Availability of Preservation

One reason we canned vegetables was so we could eat them during the months when the garden was frozen. A quick trip to the cellar to bring up the jars. No cost. No trouble.

To be available to others, I need to set healthy boundaries. I cannot help every single person who wants me to edit a book, become a coach or write online content.

Through the years, I have learned my limitations. Saying “No” has become even more important as the years add up. Then I can preserve my availability for what matters.

Some of my boundaries include:

  • no more than ten speaking gigs / year
  • only attending writers conferences where I coach or teach
  • a total of 20 coaching clients / month
  • one month allowed for each book I edit

To be available to the creative urges within, my spirit needs to be rested and alert. Then as an idea flirts with me, I write it down immediately. No self-doubt allowed. No hesitation.

Staying Safe

Because our foods were preserved well, we never suffered from botulism, e coli or any type of toxic side effects. The pressure cooker was sterilized. The jars proactively boiled. No germs allowed.

Because security is one of my core values, I want people to feel safe around me. As readers pick up my books, the topics must be clear. No fear to approach questions that need to be asked.

Even if I stretch some comfort zones, I strive for truth which creates safety in the ask. Ingesting positive words brings the a-ha moment and builds on hope. Confidentiality within the coaching relationships preserves safety.

No Expiration Date.

Our sand plum jellies lasted for years and were always edible. We skimmed off the top layer of wax, then spread the golden lusciousness on top of warm homemade bread.

No need for a QR code on the side of our jars.

When we reach one of those special age limits, when the AARP mailings begin and advertisements for a final resting place, we have not yet reached our expiration date.

Only God knows the beginning and ending of our timelines. Alpha and Omega at work.

So until that date arrives, I want to keep on task. Develop my writing gifts and coaching processes. Continue in hope, no matter what the circumstances. Accept no dread about that final expiration date.

Share hope with others and keep some of the lusciousness of life for myself. Preserve what is good and share what is best.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For writers who want to continue with their craft, check out Write and Share Your Story: Creating Your Personal Experience Article.

Hope Defeats Fear

monarchDuring the sixth month of my pregnancy, I waddled outside. The June sunshine brightened my colorful zinnias, so I parked my lawn chair beside the garden and carefully arranged myself within its plastic womb.

Six months. Three more to go. We had made it past the danger zone — those first 12 weeks when this baby’s siblings slithered out of my body and died.

This child seemed stronger, a prototype of health according to sonograms and medical opinions. Yet a niggle of fear colored my days. Things could go wrong so quickly. Hadn’t the past pregnancies taught me that truth?

I dozed, then woke to the sight of a colorful monarch resting on my belly. His wings pulsated, his russet eyes steady on my face. I tried to breathe silently, barely moving lest he leave and break the spell.

The baby kicked, but the monarch rode the wave. Extra flutters of his wings yet a determination to hold on.

A verse I had read that morning filtered through my mind, “Though a thousand fall at my side, though ten thousand are dying around me, the evil will not touch me” (Psalm 91:7 TLB).

Thousands of women lost babies every day. I had been one of them, but not this time. The monarch seemed to tell me, “Hold on. You’re almost there. It’s safe to believe.”

That amazing insect stayed on my belly for the entire afternoon. Precious hours as the two of us communed. A concrete reminder that life would be gifted for my baby and me.

When my son was born in November of that year, the summer sun was long gone. But not the truth of that amazing experience.

Even now, 33 years later, when I see a monarch — I smile and whisper a thank you for the hope that butterfly brought me.

Then I find my son for a quick hug.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

That same son edited our newest book, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

What HOPE Means

hope ovalDuring the end of 2018, I reflected on the Hope series of this blog. For several years, I’ve used practical anecdotes and surrounded them with the umbrella of Hope. I’ve also written a book, using this blog series. Check out Hope Shines.

But what does it really mean to have Hope? After several weeks of thought and plenty of dark chocolate fortitude, I came up with my own definition. Using the acrostic form, I believe HOPE includes an Honest Optimism with Positive Expectations.

It’s impossible for me to think about Hope unless I can approach it with Honesty. I cannot visualize an attitude of optimism unless I have honestly looked at a situation.

Those of us who have lived through a debilitating depression know we cannot imagine ourselves out of the gloom. We must honestly approach our despair and seek help.

Reality often slams us into hopeless thoughts. It takes a bit of self-will to move past those gloomies. So my Hope must be laced with an honest appraisal of the situation.

Some people are genuinely Optimistic – you know, those cup-half-full folks. But without Hope, it is impossible to conjure up a hooray scenario and manipulate that cup to be what it’s not. Therefore, optimism is a definitive piece of the Hope puzzle.

Again, we have to lace that optimism with honesty. Sometimes we just have to live through the dark times, believing and hoping we will feel optimistic in the next season.

To stay positive, especially during these chaotic days, I keep healthy affirmations on my tongue. I sing, play piano and repeat the more positive Bible verses that have carried me through past struggles.

One of my favorites is the entire Psalm 34. In fact, many of the Psalms carry Hope as a major theme.

Again, honesty rules. I find nothing positive for my friends who have not been paid while doing their government jobs. Yet I Hope the powers in Washington, DC will find a compromise that will remedy this ridiculous situation.

Finally, expectations. Those of us who are Chiefs fans expect our team to go the whole way. Patriots and Saints fans have different expectations.

The fun and the challenge of expectations is that we cannot really know the outcome until after the final seconds tick off the clock. The same is true of our Hope in 2019.

So as we continue into this new year, let’s find our Hope by honestly approaching each day, laced with an optimistic attitude and moving forward with positive expectations.

What about you? How do you define Hope?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my Amazon Author page for some winter reading. All of my books have an underlying theme of Hope.

Hope as Time Passes

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google – that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year. 2019 image

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin this new year, how can we determine to make each long day within this brief year matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something – at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2019 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope – we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.

Hope Struggles to Find Patience

Clearly, I am not a patient person. I quickly tire of struggles. The length of this particular trial seems longer to me than others I have managed to muddle through. I want it to end, to be resolved.

God…can we be finished with this? Can my son experience healing and return to work? Can we be done with all these doctor visits and the resulting time lost, with bills to be paid?

Hope believes at some point, the mess will end.flower in cement

Be merciful and gracious to us, oh God. Let it be finished.

Psalm 57:1 creates a buffer. “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”

Being confident in the source of our help is not the same thing as being patient. Perhaps I need to be more confident in the timeline of this particular journey.

Verse two of the same Psalm underscores that God has a purpose and performs on our behalf. What is the divine purpose in this mess?

  • To teach me patience?
  • To work out God’s plan for my son’s life?
  • Something else in the universe I don’t know about?

God promises to be working for our good. Hmm…the problem with this promise is that we don’t usually see the good until years later — maybe not until eternity.

How then can we react in the now? How can we believe in God’s goodness when everything seems to be on the negative side?

In the “Diary of Private Prayer,” Brother John Baillie writes, “Let me go out into the world with a brave and trusting heart.”

A brave and trusting heart. Is it bravery that causes me to clench my jaw as doctor after doctor speaks, “Well, we’re just eliminating things and finding out what it isn’t.”

This bravery my son exhibits as he is poked and prodded, tested and manipulated, filling out reams of forms for medical files that travel through cyberspace from one facility to the next.

And the trusting heart? Obviously, I fail in this regard as I type my questions into this post. What is the root of the problem? When will we know? Why can’t any of the experts figure it out?

How long oh Lord how long?

Yet with each test, with every prolonged appointment, we learn more about the incredible machine God has designed as the human body.

How portions of the ear canal determine why our necks ascertain gravity and don’t flop around. How blood pressure is affected by anxiety. How the parasympathetic system goes whacky after a long surgery. One organ affects the activity of another.

I watch my son’s flickering eyes on the computer screen as his body reacts to yet another audio test. Those long eyelashes that gave me angel kisses when he was a toddler. The way God has grown his body into a man. And the gift that we know this illness is not another cancer.

The questioning heart gives way to a bit more of trust as patience tries to squirm its way in. My soul tries to accept another lesson of the time required for this particular trial.

Hope still lives although she is weary. She looks toward the end of this mess as a time for gratitude. Yet she struggles to patiently wait.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines even in the waiting periods of life. Check out these hope-filled essays in regular or large print.