Hope Arrives in a Book

When creativity nudges a book idea, strange things can happen.

Writers usually begin with the germ of an idea, maybe a “What if” question such as: “What if a young girl from Kansas ends up in the land of Oz?”

Sometimes these creative nudges become a puff of wind. They fly away, and the writer forgets about them.

But as we learn to nurture our creativity and pay closer attention to ideas, the nudging sprouts and begins to take root. Then we water it with more ideas, nurture it with the fertilizer of brainstorming and honor it with structure.

After some time of thinking, planning, or wondering through various tunnels of ideas — we begin to actually write.

All this setup can take from days to years, sometimes even decades.

My novel No Visible Scars was 15 years in the making. A long time before I held that book in my hand.

My latest book began as an idea in 2017. I knew a novel was begging to be born, but I had only the scarcest of ideas.

Then I remembered the maxim so many of us follow, “Write what you know.” So I made a list of what I knew at that time:

  • Loss
  • Ministry
  • Kansas, specifically Johnson County
  • Church politics
  • Old houses and DIY projects
  • Gardening
  • Eating gluten free

Then I found my “What if” question. What if a woman who lives in an old house loses a child and seeks help from a minister? What if the minister in Johnson County has also suffered a loss?

From that point, my idea thread wound all over the place and ended up in several knots. Brainstorming sessions with my critique group helped eliminate the unnecessary and solidify the important. And I took long walks where I talked myself through the kinks.

So when I took my creative writing retreat in Santa Fe, circa September, 2018 — I had my skeleton of ideas and a basic structure. I knew the names of my characters and was ready to begin.

I also had a Bible verse that haunted me. “The year of my redemption has come” (Isaiah 63:4). That verse would become my title.

But when I flipped open my new writing pad to begin the first chapter, something entirely different happened. A quirky change. Instead of telling the story from the female protagonist’s viewpoint, the minister jumped out and said, “Let me tell it.”

I have learned not to argue with my characters — or with the God who inspires them.

Pastor Tanner told his story about a tragic loss that led him to his year of redemption. In the process, he learned to care about the woman in my notes who had also suffered a loss. Together these two hurting characters lived out the story and became the book that is now published.

So that is how The Year of my Redemption happened. One of the fun things about books is when we find a surprise waiting in the words.

When writers are also surprised, it germinates hope that the next project will be just as much fun.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out The Year of My Redemption, available on Amazon. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and YouTube.

Hope Exists in Layers

With all the natural disasters, political upheavals and the scourge of COVID, I’m re-thinking the topic of Hope. Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how Hope presents itself and how we react to it.

All this reflection has led me to believe that Hope exists in layers.

Layer One: The Everyday Expression of Hope

We may glibly use the word “Hope”, even as we bless each other with its presence.

              “Hope you have a good day.”

              “Hope that hamburger is well done.”

              “Hope you enjoy the baseball game.”

Layer One of Hope is important, because it places a positive spin on our lives. The word is easy to say. Even easier to share as we convey a genuine forward-looking attitude.

None of us can live without some sliver of hope.

Layer Two: The Hope Shared During Crises

This layer was so evident during 2020’s year of disasters and the leftovers in 2021. With every hurricane, fire, earthquake, pestilence, shooting and angry outburst — people somehow summoned a measure of hope.

“We’re in this together” became a rallying cry. A promise that fortitude could spread. A Hope that community would survive.

People volunteered to clean up the emotional and physical sludge. Organizations asked for donations, and those with giving hearts complied.

The nightly news included a section about inspiring America. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who smiled through their tears.

Layer Two requires a sinew of courage we all strive to possess. It underscores that even when we suffer, we are not alone.

In the sharing of Layer Two, we relish the pride of coming together, of connecting for the great good, of forgetting for a moment our petty differences.

We discover again what is truly important.

Layer Three: The Darkest, Longest Road to Recovery

When we reach this layer, we discover our inner core. This type of Hope transcends the others, because it has to duplicate itself every day.

Somehow, this Hope must dig past the detritus of personal chaos.

The journey to Layer Three screams at the unfairness of death yet pushes past the grief because life is too precious to abandon.

These are the volunteers who ignore soul-weary fatigue as they prepare another 1600 meals for the homeless in their community.

These are the firefighters, grimy from hours in sooty ash, who find the gumption to return to the flames and fight again.

These are the nurses with plastic marks creased into their faces from 12-hour shifts in the ICU.

These are the workers, sometimes using bare hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone, because they believe a child might still be alive. The slightest mistake might delete all Hope.

The brave souls who deal with chronic pain day after day after day.

The caregivers who continue to serve because they cannot imagine giving up.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three. From them, we never hear the monotone of complaint.

They continue to Hope although they have no water, no shelter and no clothing. Their lives have been destroyed, yet Hope keeps their hearts beating.

They long to hear from a loved one when all the cell towers are down. They continue to believe and trust in Hope.

These Layer Three folks are the families who take in strangers, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the businessman who opens his store, because he has mattresses available for bone-weary National Guardsmen and homeless wanderers.

This is the Red Cross receptionist who answers thousands of calls with the same sweet voice.

Hope is alive but presents itself in various ways — depending on the layer we live through and our reaction to it.

This is the writer who continues to pen the words s/he believes in, even when the hate mail continues to come.

I am striving to be courageous enough for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come.

But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere — then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My Layer One Hope is that my newest book will reach the sales goals. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Enchanting Hope

As I walked out of Hen House with my groceries, he was loading his trunk with food supplies. He smiled, then asked, “Are you from New Mexico? He pointed toward the tag on my car: “New Mexico — Land of Enchantment.”

“No,” I said, “but I’d like to be. It’s on my bucket list to go there at least twice each year.”

He told me how he grew up in Ruidoso, moving to Kansas to help his elderly parents. But he missed the rich verdure of the New Mexican mountains, the vast expanses of desert and the spiritual history of a land with his Native American roots.

“I long to go for an extended stay,” I said, “maybe a writing retreat in Santa Fe.” 

“You’ll get there,” he said with a confident nod. “People who love New Mexico end up living their dreams.”

As I opened my car door, he tipped his hat and said, “Stay enchanting.”

Throughout the long COVID winter, I thought often of this man and his kind prophecy. Was he an angel in disguise, sent to encourage me on a gloomy day? Or was he merely a nice person, taking care of his parents and trying to share hope with a fellow pilgrim?

Memories of my last two trips to Santa Fe brought tears. The 2012 research trip for my third novel, “Final Grace for Reverend G.”

My bestie, Deb, and I, strolling through art galleries, eating multiple recipes dunked in roasted green chiles, each of us finding handcrafted jewelry and colorful broom skirts.

The trip of a lifetime, I thought. Deb’s lifetime. She passed in 2017 and was not able to return to the Land of Enchantment with me.

My next trip was September, 2018. I attended the Creatives Conference with Julia Cameron as the keynoter. Another trip of a lifetime. But this time, I was alone. Still, it was a beautiful experience.

My quiet time to work through the grief of losing Deb. Although I missed her presence yet felt her spirit, I discovered being by myself was indeed a great way to fashion a writing retreat.

And so much more:

  • Multiple people became new friends as Santa Fe has a tendency to pull people together.
  • A touristy walk provided new insights about the history of this town I love.
  • The discovery of a free trade store where I bought some jewelry — of course — and met other travelers.
  • A kind sales rep in another jewelry store who revealed his lifetime of FBI service in Albuquerque and why he changed careers mid-life.
  • My favorite waitress at the Santa Fe Bite who jangled her bracelets as we shared our love for bling.
  • A surprise wedding as the happy couple and their mariachi band circled around the Plaza.
  • More delicious recipes with roasted green chiles.
  • Soaking my feet in the hotel’s pool after a day of walking.
  • Watching the shadows peek around the Sangre de Cristo mountains, then merge into fabulous sunsets.

Creativity seems to spurt from every pore of Santa Fe. In the evenings, I wrote pages of a new novel. The Year of my Redemption was birthed at the Sage Hotel in Santa Fe. It will always be one of my favorites.

My plan was to return to Santa Fe in 2020 with a new traveling partner. But alas — COVID. Then I hoped 2021 might be the year. Another alas — physical obstacles and chronic pain.

Have I experienced my last trip to Santa Fe? Please, God, no. Can I not hope for another week or two in the Land of Enchantment?

A Pueblo Indian blessing foreshadowed the loss of Deb, now even richer with meaning:

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands alone.

Hold on to what you must do even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to life even when it’s easier letting go.

Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

My enchanting hope is to return to the land of clay and pottery, brilliant sunsets and artisans camped around every corner. To live where the everydayness of what we must do thrives with a positive outlook and gratitude for life itself.

Hope breathes through the improbabilities of reaching the desire of the heart, somehow managing to make it happen. A prayer — a wish — a dream all wrapped in the hope of seeing it come to pass.

Even now, mid 2021, the hope survives. A quote from Georgia O’Keefe, resident artist of Santa Fe, ties my hope in a package of possibility, “Once you’ve been to New Mexico, the itch never leaves you.”

I am itching to return.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Watch for the novel that was birthed in Santa Fe. The Year of my Redemption will soon be available on Amazon.

An Incredible Woman of Words

She has been one of my favorite authors – forever – and I think I have read everything she ever wrote. For years, I listened to her “GateWay to Joy” devotions on the radio, mesmerized by her mellow voice and inspired by her story.Elisabeth Elliott

Elisabeth Elliott was one of the wives of the missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in 1956. I remember sitting in church when the news came in. Even then, I prayed for Elisabeth and her infant daughter.

But what really inspired me was how Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador and continued to minister to the Indians. She even allowed one of her husband’s killers to baptize her daughter, Valerie. The killer, of course, was by then a genuine Christian – but what level of forgiveness is that? How in the world can a mother trust her child to a former murderer? Elisabeth’s story was one of complete redemption and restoration.

When Elisabeth returned to the United States, she filled her days with writing and speaking. That was how I began to know her – through her words, through the wisdom contained in the pages of her books.

Oh, how I wanted to be like her. How I wanted to be that type of writer and that brave a woman.

Now, Elisabeth lives with dementia. She is several years into the disease and can barely speak legibly anymore. Her husband, Lars, cares for her and tries to communicate for her. I cannot imagine how painful it must be that her words have been taken from her, but the one foundation Elisabeth has based her life on – is still strong.

She believes in the sovereignty of God and for whatever reason, the Almighty has allowed her to walk through this dementia challenge. True to form, the courage to trust God buoys Elisabeth’s spirit even now. Her words may have been silenced, but her brave heart continues to beat with love for her Savior.

While I hate the disease that has removed Elisabeth’s words from her, I am still inspired by her life and by how she deals with daily challenges. She is a woman of strong faith and incomparable courage.

As a writer who wanted to emulate her, I salute my sister of faith, Elisabeth Elliott. And I ask God to be the Word within her and continue to let her former words remain in print.

You can read more about Elisabeth’s life and work at: http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html

2014 RJ Thesman