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

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Hope Reaffirms

When I drove by the church building, I was certain this was the place for me. With a Southwestern façade and landscaping of wildflowers and hummingbird feeders in a setting of quiet woods – this was surely the place I could worship and feel a sense of belonging.

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on Saint Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle was a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert.

I wanted to rush home, grab my journal and find a cozy place near the church’s spring robins – to record my thoughts next to this lovely building.

Instead, I clicked onto their website for meeting times and drove back to the beautiful location the next Sunday.

It was the friendliest church I have ever attended in my entire life. Everyone welcomed me, asked my name and grasped my outstretched hand.

One elderly saint took me on a tour where a I fell in love with the inner décor – the sanctuary painted in a coral background, chairs placed in a welcoming semi-circle, three separate libraries – count ‘em – three! I imagined holding reign over a diverse book club and talking about the Reverend G trilogy.

Hallways with archways reminiscent of Santa Fe’s culture, stenciling at the top of the arches, an eclectic blend of flute, bongos and guitar for the worship segment.

Surely I belonged in this aesthetic setting where no one condemned my single mom status or wondered why I worshiped alone. I noticed several mothers without spouses, hugging their children close as they swayed to the sound of mellow chord progressions.

I wanted to sign up immediately and become a member in this love-infested organism.


Except for one major flaw: Jesus was missing.


No mention of Jesus in their bulletin, no singing about his love in any of the worship songs. Not once was his sweet name spoken during the sermon or the prayers. The homily seemed more like a delicate social treatise on the topic of acceptance.

I liked the idea of acceptance but missed underscoring the Lord who accepted me.

Social justice seemed to be their Savior rather than the man on the cross. And while I applauded their openness and willingness to love everyone, I wondered how that could be accomplished without the Son of Love.

As I left that day and walked sadly down the moss-covered stone steps, I grieved for my journey and another disappointment.

I would not – could not return nor could I accept the open arms of this sweet congregation when the foundation of my faith was so obviously missing.

Hope reaffirms my core value that without Jesus I am lost. And where he is not welcome, I cannot go.

So I drove home, processed the experience in my journal, then played some hymns on the piano that reaffirmed the meaning of the cross.

Although I fought the sadness for several days, I felt grateful that God would surely direct me to the place I need to be.

Even a “no” answer is an arrow that points away from error and toward the truth.

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

How Do Writers Research?

One year ago, my friend and I drove to Santa Fe, NM. We planned it as a research / vacation trip in the wonderful Southwest, with side trips to Taos and Red River.santa fe

Why Santa Fe? Because I knew that my main character, Reverend G, loved the Southwest and particularly Santa Fe. I also knew that I wanted to include something about that region in the third Reverend G book – which is still in its first draft stage.

So we drove to Santa Fe, enjoying the mountain scenery and the warmer weather. After a hard Kansas winter, we needed to soak up the sun as well as to soak in the culture.

Writers can, of course, do research on the internet. In fact, that’s where I started – looking up the main sites of Santa Fe. But the internet can only provide facts and stats for a region.

If you want to write credibly and make your stories real – you have to actually experience a region.

The writer needs to know how people communicate in a particular area, how characters dress and talk, what it feels like to stand in line at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and then spend several hours drinking in the colors and textures of her paintings.

The writer needs to discover new artists who craft incredible sculptures out of metal, pictures of women on horses that seem to fly through the studio, textiles that flap their colors in the wind.

The writer keeps a journal of the trip and gathers brochures, maps, postcards, photos wherever she goes. But the writer also records the emotions she feels, touring a particular city.

I wrote about our tour of the Plaza: “Native Americans spread out their creativity: jewelry on black mats, shining silver and bountiful turquoise, coral, copper bracelets, earrings, necklaces – nothing that Reverend G would buy but all of it – she would enjoy. The pottery – some with colors of the earth, some with the brightness of primary colors.”

We talked with tourists, but also with the locals – interesting blends of Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American and some Asians. Reverend G and I both loved the diversity of the Southwest.

These friendly people, women in broomstick skirts of various colors. Men with tanned and wrinkled faces. They seem to live an idyllic life where they have the freedom to leave workplaces and spend time with a writer from Kansas, to tell her how long they’ve lived in Santa Fe and why they moved out of corporate America to operate a coffee shop in New Mexico.

We ate at a little café with different colors painted on each wall – purple blended into orange, yellow beside red. Small salads with walnuts, salmon and bleu cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. Iced chai tea in tall glasses – spicy yet sweet and so refreshing.

So many variations of wildflowers, splayed in gardens along with buckets of pansies and Indian blanket daisies. A momentary wrong turn and we were lost, but then found in a rose garden at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bathing our hot faces in the fountain that promised health. Snapping my promo picture while surrounded by lavender roses.

Statues of Mary everywhere and the creativity of God surrounding us. Worship all around us and in us as my friend played a Native American flute, and I wrote in my journal and savored the day.

The Loretto Chapel, famous for its spiral staircase. You can’t imagine what happens to Reverend G in the chapel, but you’ll have to wait for the third book to find out.

Although we smelled smoke from mountain wildfires, the resulting atmospheric change brought us colorful sunsets – a sacred end to a busy day.

We left a few sites for the next trip – whenever that will be. But I found enough material and soaked in enough of the Southwest to add to my book and make it credible.

How do writers research? They live in the area for a while. They let every one of their senses open fully to the people and the places where they exist. They look for the inner soul and the textures and colors around them. They listen for dialects and observe relationships. They take time to literally smell roses and meld new friendships. Then they come home, organize their notes and write about it.

And a year later – they wish they could return.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”

Chunky Monkey Research

An effective writer always completes his or her research. It makes the words more credible and lends a sense of accuracy to the entire work. Some of my research this year took place in Santa Fe, but another piece of it came from my local grocery – the ice cream section.

I couldn’t help it. My main character, Reverend G, loves Chunky Monkey ice cream, a particularly delicious version of the Ben & Jerry’s line. With a mellow cream base that tastes like ripe bananas, the walnut bits and chunks of frozen fudge blend together for a spoonful of yumminess.

Usually, I try to avoid sugar – especially any type of artificial sweeteners or gummed up chemicals. But Ben & Jerry’s is known for its natural ingredients that merge together into a luscious delight for the palate and the tummy. Nothing fake here and no waste of calories.

So I completed my research on a summer afternoon. The Kansas heat formed waves of humidity that rose off my deck, but my body felt cool all the way from the spoonful of Chunky Monkey on my tongue, to the icy nuts crunched onto my teeth, to the plop of banana cream in my stomach. The slabs of chocolate added a final polish.

A fine afternoon of research and a worthy bit of delight. Next project – Reverend G’s favorite dessert: cheesecake with blueberries.

I really do love research.

Santa Fe Symphony

During my first day in Santa Fe, I noticed the symphony. Not the famous Opera House in Santa Fe, although that is incredible. I’m talking about the symphony that God conducted every day, using the birds he created and placed in New Mexico.

As smooth as a cello, as comforting as a viola and as sweet as the trill of a flute – these Santa Fe birds enthralled me whenever I stepped outside. I am used to the raucous calls of the Kansas blue jays and the warbling of mourning doves. A pair of faithful cardinals often call to me from my deck, so I love listening to the birds that I feed.

But there was something different about these birds in the Land of Enchantment. They actually sang together with melodies that seemed to worship the God who created them. It sounded as if they played a piece of sonata music together – in perfect harmony. And perhaps they did. Maybe each day, God composed another piece, transplanted it into their intuitive voice boxes and lifted his baton.

Wherever I walked, whether close to a tree or crossing a street, the songs of the birds followed me. They seemed to welcome me to their city, as if proud to show it off and sing a tune to accompany my visit.

I expected to hear the chirrups of hummingbirds although it was a bit early in the season for these tiny creatures. But I never expected to hear such joyful songs from birds of the other species. I wish I could have recorded these symphonies – to replay them when the Kansas skies turn gray and winter wipes away thoughts of spring.

For now, I’ll just praise God and thank him for providing such a rich memory. And I’ll look forward to the next time I visit Santa Fe and hope I can once again hear that rich symphonic sound.

Enchanting indeed!

Divine Appointments in New Mexico

During a recent vacation, my traveling companion and I toured the towns of Santa Fe, Taos and Red River. New Mexico – the land of enchantment – contains plenty of enchanted places and wonderful people just in these three cities.

Although the vacation had a dual purpose – to rest and reflect, but also to do research for another book in my Reverend G series – a higher purpose soon surfaced. Each morning, we asked God to point us toward someone who might need encouragement, hope or a sense of His presence.

Without fail, each day revealed a divine appointment. A beautiful couple traveling through the area without a schedule: we discussed various places we had seen and encouraged each other to visit the Loretto Chapel and the Taos galleries. A young woman in need of surgery: I prayed God’s healing for her. A young man who was stressed out in his job needed a smile and a “I think you’re doing great!” comment. An incredible young woman on her way to a law degree blessed us with her strength even as we prayed God would work out His plan for her life.

Each day, someone crossed our path and at the end of each day, I recorded the divine appointments in my journal. But when I returned home, I thought Why should the divine appointments only happen in New Mexico? Can’t they also happen in the summer heat of Kansas?

So I am trying to be more proactive – to look for those people who might need a word of encouragement, a measure of hope or a simple prayer. All of us know how it feels to be blessed by a smile, a kind word or a pat on the back. I want to be on the alert for ways that I can bless others and find those divine appointments every day.

If I do that, then the blessing of the vacation continues and the hope of God travels from one heart to the next. Just imagine if all of God’s children kept their divine appointments.