Hope Exists in Layers

Layers of HopeWith all the natural disasters we’ve seen in 2017, I’m re-thinking the topic of hope.

Not that I have abandoned its importance, but rather thinking how it presents itself and how we react to it.

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

Layer One: The everyday expression of hope.

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

“Hope you have a good day.”

“Hope your hamburger is well done.”

“Hope you enjoy this fall season.”

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 is the layer so evident in 2017’s chaotic year of disasters. With every hurricane, fire and earthquake – people somehow summon a measure of hope.

“We will rebuild!” they promise as their fortitude spreads across the world.

People volunteer to help them clean up the sludge left from perpetual rains. Organizations ask for donations, and those with giving hearts willingly comply. The nightly news includes a section for inspiring America where we weep with those who weep yet rejoice with those who smile through their tears.

This layer requires a sinew of courage we all hope to possess and exhibit when it’s our turn to suffer.

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

We discover in Layer Two 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 digs past the detritus of 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 458 meals in Houston, then serve with a smile.

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 workers, sometimes using their hands, who remove piles of rubble. They carefully place stone upon stone because they believe a child might still be alive and the slightest mistake will delete all hope.

Only the bravest survive in Layer Three and 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 and communications cut off. 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 a sweet voice.

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

I’m striving for Layer Three even as I pray the need for it will not come to my community. But if it does, may we all be strong enough to persevere – then emerge victorious on the other side.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope in the Changes

Nothing is the same. Not even the joy of retail therapy. Too much has changed, coloring my world from a different viewpoint – leaving confusion in the “What do I do now?” question.christmas shopping cart

This week, I tried to go shopping – but failed. It is not the same. Without Deb and our usual routine, I could not muster the energy or even the purpose in a once-fun activity.

These were the months – the last of October and first of November – when we gathered our resources to find the perfect gifts for children and grandchildren.

The day always started with a hot chai, then a plan discussed. Coupons clipped and sorted – we headed for the usual stores and sought the most unique finds.

Our children artistic, creative, best of the best – we looked for the unusual at 10,000 Villages, the Yellow Barn and interesting flea markets. A cry of joy when we found that special item – a foreshadowing of Christmas morning and the fun of watching gifts unwrapped.

Then lunch – always Mexican with a heaping bowl of guacamole. Iced tea for me. A Coke for Deb. Lots of chips – always refilled. More coupon sorting. Reliving the morning’s treasures.

Online shopping has conquered much of the brick and mortar traffic. But clicking a mouse cannot compare with the experience of shopping with a friend, dickering over prices, feeling the texture of a cashmere sweater or the nub of corduroy slacks. Exclaiming together in the search-and-find excitement of a trinket, a silver necklace, shoes and ornaments.

Deb and I milked every bit of joy from our shopping excursions. The afternoon slump revived with a double scoop of ice cream or a large Root Beer float.

The loading of trunks with bags of various colors, a grateful hug at the end of the day, a cheerful “See ya’ next time” as we waved goodbye.

When the changes in life force us to recalculate, we realize what we had before. Something as simple and beautiful as the shopping experience now feels empty. I am failing at doing it alone.

But I can seek for seasonal joy in the memories, flip another page on the calendar and know grief will someday scar over. The remembrance still brings a smile, even as Christmas music promises comfort.

Within this gigantic change, joy stirs as “See ya’ next time” now means an eternal reunion. And the shine of a treasured trinket we bought together reminds me hope still lives.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Discovers Wailing

He was a beautiful young man – Native American, tall and proud of his heritage. An athlete, a musician, a college student – gifted in so many areas.

Then someone murdered him and dumped his beautiful body into the Kansas River. A hate crime? Certainly. Justice was never served. The perpetrator was never caught.weeping woman sculpture

We attended the funeral – colorful yet tragic. His closed coffin draped with the blanket of his tribe. His warrior shield propped beside it.

Throughout the service – a blend of Christian tradition and tribal ritual – we remembered his accomplishments and tried to find comfort in his journey to heaven. Still, the loss – so senseless, cut deep.

Then a special moment, scheduled on the program as “The Maternal Response.” Women from his tribe, aunties, matriarchs, cousins gathered around the perimeter of the sanctuary. On cue, they began wailing – their mourning in various tones and levels of voice reached a crescendo, then fell to pianissimo whispers of grief.

At the loudest point of volume, tears rivered down my face. These women had given us a gift – permission to grieve openly, to add our wailing to theirs, to express our sorrow at the loss and the injustice. Five – ten minutes – of shared grief. Moments that became one of the most spiritually freeing experiences of my life.

As the last whimpers sounded, my toddler son wiped my tears away and said, “Mommy crying.” Somewhere in my soul, a piece of the grief was salved with a patch of comfort.

Now, years later, I remember those wailing moments. As I continue to grieve the loss of Deb, I occasionally face days when wailing is my only recourse. Somehow, it helps. Alone in the house or standing outside near the Colorado river rock I bought to memorialize her – I unleash the sound of my grief.

It touches a different place in my soul – gives me permission to let go, to underscore how much this loss hurts.

Wailing reminds me I am not alone in the grieving. Like the women in that church, my tribe includes Deb’s children and grandchildren, her brother and sister-in-law, the extended family and all who knew her.

The waves of our shared grief reach out to the One who hears the wailing of fractured hearts. He understands because he, too, felt the pain of loss.

Then somewhere in my soul, he salves over the raw place with another patch of comfort. He wipes my tears and whispers the promise of future hope.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Hope Finds Community

On a cool fall day – as the leaves began changing their seasonal clothes, I joined a friend for Sunday service in a country church.country church

The white clapboard exterior adorned with an iron bell, calling the community to gather. An open door – both figuratively and in reality. All welcome. All embraced.

Picture the TV show, “Little House on the Prairie” and the serene little church where families sat together and knew everyone – where all were accepted and worshipped together.

Wooden pews, missing from contemporary church buildings, enabled us to sit close, to feel connected as the organ invited us into the prelude.

Bead board on the ceiling, a treasure for this “Fixer Upper” fan, and a real wooden pulpit fashioned by a craftsman.

We stood together to speak words of commitment, our common belief in the God of the ages. With syncopated action, we pulled hymnbooks from their ledges and turned to the song that echoed with the remembered faith of our fathers.

I did not need to see the words, knowing every note and the lyrics of all three verses. My favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” echoed with the harmonies around me. Oh glory! Four-part harmony once again – its absence unknown to my soul suddenly awakened.

Then a message of hope from the book of Ephesians, delivered by the passionate pastor – the shepherd of this country flock. The female pastor – yes – a woman embraced and accepted for her leadership qualities, obviously called to this community and loved by all.

My grieving heart at peace. The raw emotions somehow salved in the peace of this place. A step back to where I once grew up, so like the country church of my past.

We have lost something precious with our darkened sanctuaries, our theatrical great rooms with cappuccino-smelling lobbies and stackable chairs. With our mega churches and multiple services, we no longer recognize the friendly faces of those who share our faith.

Yes – faith remains intact no matter what the setting. But the simple purity of a country church service emanated hope by its very presence into the sacred.

We stood, sang together the Doxology, then received the benediction. Grace covered us, and we exited in peace.

Once again, I was filled with hope, embraced by this community and the God who placed them there. And within the safety of that place, my soul found momentary rest.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Finds a Miracle

flower in cementThey swooped into the ICU, a gaggle of church women – loud, excited, demanding. Their leader shouted, “I believe in a God of miracles.”

So do I. Shut up!

They swarmed into a circle, grabbed hands and entreated God to do something NOW – to bring back to wholeness my precious friend.

Certain that raw emotion and lack of sleep caused my abrasive attitude, I nevertheless watched them with rising irritation.

The doctors had agreed. No treatments were working. We were preparing our hearts for the inevitable tragedy as each breath brought Deb’s life closer to its end.

Of course, God could have blinked his eye and restored the paralysis from a massive stroke. He could have balanced her red blood cells that fell way below normalcy.

But Deb’s timeline was determined before she was born. As much as we hated to accept it, she was reaching its end.

When we face the unexpected tragedy, we pray for a miracle. We want life to return to what it was before. We long to delete the past weeks that brought nothing but bad news.

Yet when we demand that God restore life OUR way and in OUR timing, we fail to see the miracles already occurring. We are blinded by our own self-righteousness.

Within that ICU, family and friends became one. At the beginning of the journey, we dared to hope – planned how Deb’s next weeks would include healthy meals and constant attention to her needs.

Then as the crash happened and reality changed, we clung to each other, physically and emotionally. The drama we shared in that room brought unity and love that even now brings me to a tearful awe. With all the demographics and ages present, all the differences in beliefs – a miracle of togetherness drew us close.

Shared sorrow expanded hearts.

After the gaggle left, still demanding their version of God’s will, I moved beside the bed and held Deb’s hand. The miracle of our friendship seemed a sweeter gift than ever before. The way her family embraced me and included me in Deb’s last days helped salve my broken heart. Another miracle of acceptance and compassion.

Ultimately, the greatest miracle DID occur. Certainly not the one we wanted, longed for. At the end of that terrible day, Deb’s body failed and she left us.

But the ultimate miracle happened as her invisible soul traveled into eternity – a forever of peace and joy.

We can always pray for the miracle we want and hope for the best. But if we demand the miraculous to look like our earthly description, we will be disappointed. Even Lazarus had to die again.

My friend will never have to struggle through another winter or face another tax season. She has been released from her worries and fears.

But hope still lives in the legacy she left behind and the miracle of how her life impacted so many.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Shines in School Supplies

How wonderful that in the middle of August’s dog days we find a spark of fun! School supplies are on sale.crayons - pens

I remember shopping at TG&Y with Mom, imagining what the new school year might bring. Would this be the year she would buy the box of 64 crayons with the sharpener on the back?

Alas – it never happened in elementary school. Many years later, one of my friends treated me to the coveted 64.

Every year, shopping for school supplies represented a new take on hope.

It was akin to the cleaning of the chalkboard – the chance to start over, to learn more facts, read more books.

The energy of a new year felt as fresh as the package of #2 yellow pencils. Would my teacher like me? Would I be chosen to pass out the Weekly Readers on Fridays?

Even into high school and college, the hunt for the perfect pens, the best paper and the sturdiest notebooks required research of the ads. We clipped coupons and drove all over town for the best bargains.

As a single mom, it was difficult to save the money required for school supplies. The year Caleb needed an electronic calculator completely tanked my budget.

But even then, we shared the excitement of a new year and the possibility of meeting new goals. We shopped at K-Mart, then celebrated with pizza and Pepsi.

Now as a writer, school supplies birth new journals, gel pens and legal pads for first drafts such as this blog post.

I wait until late in August when the kids have already chosen their supplies. Then I dig through the discarded piles to find my treasures.

All year, school supplies bring excitement – waiting in my stash for the day I need a new journal, a fresh pen.

And every time I open a new package of gel pens, I revisit the years when school supplies meant a new start.

Hope implies a beginning again, fresh grace – the forgetting of what has been and the reaching toward new growth.

Whether it’s in a classroom or the quiet office of an introverted writer, we all need the promise of hope.

Here’s to those pens and papers that invite us to believe again.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Asks Questions

why imageHe was young and bright – this college student who wanted to pursue creative writing. We met at a local coffee shop, two creatives sharing a gift – though decades apart in age.

The hazelnut blend he drank mellowed the atmosphere while I played with the tail end of my English Breakfast tea bag.

He took copious notes of statements I have made hundreds of times with coaching clients:

  • Writing breeds more writing skill, so write every day.
  • Submit a manuscript to a magazine each week.
  • Frontload the week – plan your more creative work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Be consistent with marketing. Whatever platform you use – consistency is the key.
  • Get involved with writers groups. Be in a critique group or have a writing partner.

And of course my pitch, “Hire a writing coach to help you be accountable. I currently have openings.”

I had asked him to bring some of his work and he pulled out a well-worn journal. I knew by the way he touched it, dared to hand it to me – these were words dear to his heart. He was trusting me with his very soul.

He seemed surprised when I praised him for the way he used conflict, the turn of a phrase that did not include a cliché, a-ha moments unique to his voice.

Like all of us, he needed encouragement and a slight push forward to realize the beginning of his writing dreams.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he said with a polite nod, “but I know my writing asks lots of questions. I know you’re a Christian. I hope that’s okay…you know…that I ask the hard questions.”

For a moment, I wavered between needing to cry and wanting to scream. What have we done to these talented millenials? How did they get the idea that we know all the answers – that it is wrong to ask questions about faith and life?

“I ask questions, too,” I said and watched him visibly relax. “I used to be a black and white Christian where I thought I knew all the answers, because I had been force-fed what I SHOULD believe. Then life happened and those answers weren’t enough.”

I described some of the difficulties I have lived through and how God has been patient as I worked through them – how God hasn’t been afraid to listen to me. I reminded him that some of the greatest saints who ever lived asked hard questions. King David. Moses.

Even Jesus while he was being tortured asked the “Why?” question.

How sad it is that Christendom has thrust itself past these seeking and questioning young adults!

They see us with placards on the evening news, going way beyond the freedom of speech and into the bully pulpit of the streets. They read about how we label and exclude their friends who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They grieve as we condemn their single moms.

They cannot hear the truth about God because we are so busy screaming at them to perform righteously. We expect them to live by our rules before they ever meet the One who loves them in spite of the rules.

Legalism was never the brand of Jesus.

No wonder they can’t find the God of love when we, His beloved children push them away. Our self-righteousness denies their questions, the very source of how they seek for truth.

In “The Listening Life,” author Adam McHugh writes, “My calling is not the answers but the questions I bring to the world.”

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.”

To live the answers of life, we must first ask the hard questions. And to accept others with the love of Christ, we must allow them to ask those same difficult questions.

When we stop asking questions, we putrify in the sewage of our own belief systems. Then we program others to believe the same so that we will feel safe within our acceptable righteousness.

We find hope only when we step out of the comfortable morays and seek deeper meanings for our faith. That is when we discover how broad and wide and deep and high is the grace and love of God.

This young man – God love him – is seeking a place for his creative mind to grow. He is also seeking to be accepted as he is – not programmed into a hard wooden pew where his soul will stagnate.

I so hope he finds his way to the truth.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” the Reverend G Trilogy and “Setting & Reaching Your Writing Goals.”

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Sometimes They Forget