Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Discovers Eternity Present

In those foggy moments before the alarm rings and consciousness reminds me of the day ahead, I listen hard for soul whispers.when-god-reaches-out

It is often in the early morning when the meditations of my heart remind me I am not alone. The treasure of Psalm 127:2 becomes reality, “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep.”

A gift. A divine murmur to remind me all is well.

Such a moment happened in a recent morning as I heard a voice call my name, “Rebecca.”

It was a female voice, so perhaps its source was the nurturing comfort of the trinity’s feminine side. Or maybe an angel assigned to take care of me. Perhaps a sweet relative who has passed to glory.

Although I could not identify its owner, I knew it was no one in the realm of earth’s present. Rather, the voice traveled from eternity.

Then a touch, a stroke of my hair and the assurance of being loved – completely and forever adored by the divine One.

The rest of my day filtered through that comforting feeling of being surrounded by God’s love.

How can this happen – when eternity interrupts our life on earth and makes itself so very known we cannot ignore or deny its presence?

Is it those moments when God knows we need more than just a Bible verse to underscore Emanuel with us?

Does he long to remind us that eternity’s reality is not so far away?

We think of heaven as an ethereal universe far beyond our own galaxy, but what if it is all around us? What if we are separated only by a thin curtain between the physical and spiritual worlds?

What if God is always reaching out to us, to give a hug or stroke a fevered forehead and we’re just too focused on the now to realize he is there?

This was not the first time eternity chose to visit. A few years ago, I received word that a good friend was involved in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. Brain damage. The intensive care unit with beeping machines.

I prayed throughout the night, then somehow knew Rich had crossed over. The phone call was no surprise. Tears yet joy for the assurance that death’s sting was swallowed in victory.

Then two days later, suddenly Rich stood in my hallway. A gentle smile on his face, he wore the cowboy lariat necklace so popular in New Mexico – a coral stone set in silver, the black leather strap.

No words exchanged, but I knew he was thanking me for my prayers. And it was a token from eternity that Rich was all right, would always and forever be okay.

And then he was gone. Again.

How thin is that veil between this world and the next? It cannot be measured by our finite minds, but for me – its very transparency brings comfort.

Those we have seemed to have lost are not lost at all. They are closer than we imagine – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And right there, standing with them, is the Savior of our souls – this One who dares to love us in spite of who we are or what we have done.

So I listen hard for those divine whispers and hang on to the hope that maybe I’ll hear the same voice and feel the touch again.

God is, after all, just a whisper away.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When the Dream Dies

country-cabinEvery year since – forever – seed catalogs have arrived in my mailbox during the last of the winter weeks. They are a harbinger of hope because nothing spells faith like planting seeds and believing perennials, green beans and marigolds will indeed sprout and come to life.

But this year, I am throwing the catalogs into the recycling bin. I cannot even bear to look at pictures of purple lobelia or happy-faced pansies.

This year, I have finally realized I can no longer maintain my gardens.

Reality began to set in during last year’s season when I tried to dig weeds and spread mulch. Within minutes, grass allergies kicked in, and I ran to the house for my meds. Even so, the next day – dark circles rimmed my eyes and the fatigue of immune system warfare affected my energy levels.

I ignored the symptoms because gardening has been so important to me. Just the therapy of digging in fresh soil, following my farming ancestors’ passion to coax the sprouting of life has brought me annual joy.

Gardening has nurtured my dream – to own a cottage in the country surrounded by flowers and produce where bees drink nectar and butterflies land for a respite during their annual migration.

But reality clarifies the cost of mulch and new plants, plus the hours required to make such gardens appear. Reality also underscores that my body and its accompanying allergens now betray me.

I can no longer hang on to a dream I cannot produce.

My dilemma reminds me of my mother’s situation – the woman who worked hard to pay off her house only to be forced to leave it. The realities of Alzheimer’s care betrayed her. Staying in her home mirrors my dream of a garden home.

Now both of us must delete what we wished for.

This year, I will woefully allow the native grasses to engulf my garden spaces. I may move the blueberries and golden raspberries to pots that require little care. I may plant a small row of green beans, enough for a skillet full of nutritious flavor.

But I will no longer drool over the pictures in seed catalogs or plan new plots for hybrid clematis.

This year I will step back and let nature rule. Perhaps my garden dream will morph into an eternal garden where the price my physical body pays no longer affects me.

Instead of  working on my dream, I will stroll through local nurseries to touch leaves, stroke petals and remember the gardens I once nurtured.

To reach toward hope, I will remind myself that the giving up of the dream still yields results albeit a different type of fruit:

  • Saving money
  • Giving away tools to someone who needs them
  • Finding more time to write and read
  • Preserving my health

And when the twinges of grief remind me what is lost, I can always counter with the truth of what will someday be.

Reality forces us to change, but hope answers that the changes may point toward something better.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know, including myself, are stuck – waiting for an answer to prayer – the answer that will help us move forward.

We have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet – nothing.waiting

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. He may be silent yet is still at work – behind the scenes, moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for a reveal.

So what do we do when the answers don’t come, when we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing seems to flip us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer – in his time
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one
  • Understand that every season – even seasons of waiting – will eventually end
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms.
  • Post this verse where we can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified).

Hope continues to believe – especially when we cannot see how our faith works. We believe in what we cannot see, still knowing a facet of eternal value exists though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues – one whispered prayer at a time – believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2017 RJ Thesman – Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/2kG29Ur