Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

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

 

 

 

 

Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

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

 

 

Hope Fills the White Stocking

Why have I never heard about this tradition? With all the Christmas decorations I’ve made throughout the years, only this year did I discover the legend of the White Stocking.white-stocking

This tradition was begun by a mother who realized her family was so consumed by the trappings and gifts of Christmas, they had forgotten the true meaning of the celebration. She then wrote a poem, outlining her plans for Christmas morning.

The white stocking hung throughout the season, empty, yet in a special place on the mantel. Then on Christmas morning, everyone in the family received a piece of paper.

On the paper, they wrote a gift they wanted to give Jesus – then they placed their papers in the stocking. It was a practical and visual way to remember the meaning of the season.

With the Great Purge of 2016 fresh in my mind, I refused to make a white stocking and add one more thing to my box of decorations.

But I wanted to journal and blog about the idea, to reflect on what I could possibly give the King of kings this Christmas season.

It would be easy in this space to type the usual Sunday School answers:

  • I’ll give him my heart
  • my ten per cent tithe
  • make him the Lord of my life
  • give him all my worship.

While these answers may come from a pure heart, they lose their credibility in the repetition. I want to be more specific – to make myself accountable to this idea and perhaps check myself throughout the new year.

So to be entirely credible, I decided to ask the Lord what he wanted from me. He has everything he needs, and he knows me better than anyone else – this One who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, then held me in his arms after I slithered from her body.

This One who has held me through all these years of life, over mountains of joy and within deepest pits of emotional valleys.

What does the Divine One want from me?

As I reflected on 2016, one common attitude presented itself in a taupe shade of ugliness.

I have spent a great deal of this year trying to figure out how to set boundaries around my life and somehow make it easier – less stressful – more joyful.

I didn’t think life would be so hard during this season of life. I expected to ease off a bit, relax more and enjoy some well-deserved fun.

Instead, I have worked harder with longer hours – still enjoying my work – yet somehow resenting those who have nothing to do but read their AARP magazine and count their retirement money.

Setting healthy boundaries is always a good idea, but I have also expressed my frustration to more than one person and I have written volumes of emotional dither within my journals.

Although I needed to vent and God is a good listener, I think I may have overdone it.

Because when I asked Jesus what he wanted for Christmas, he nudged me toward my complaints and gently reminded me of all the things I should be grateful for.

Although I cannot retire, I CAN still work and enjoy all my jobs – the writing, the coaching and the nonprofit where I help women find empowerment and reach their goals.

Although I am tired of maintaining a house and the gardens have nearly done me in this year, I CAN still work in the gardens, planting and harvesting – eating from the produce God blesses.

In my house, I CAN still bend over carpet stains and try to rub them into oblivion, climb steps up and down – four levels of them – and perch on top of my car while I change the bulb in the garage light.

Although I no longer play competitive softball or run up and down a basketball court, I CAN still stretch in yoga poses and pump away calories on my exercise bike.

Although I tire of counting pennies and searching for coupons, trying to find the best deals – I CAN still pay the bills. So far, my son and I have not starved and we still enjoy hot showers.

Many people in the world cannot count a hot shower or clean water as a simple blessing.

We cannot expect life to be easy here on earth. The only way we reach the goal of the prize of the high calling of God is to go through the hard stuff, to endure and persevere.

So I think my mental white stocking this year will hold only three words – a gift I am going to be more intentional to give the baby in the manger who became the savior on the cross.

I will hold out this gift to him because he deserves it.

And with my gift comes a repentance of wasted words shadowed by resentful thoughts.

This gift also represents my hope that he will receive it with joy, understanding I am still flawed but trying, loving me for my attempts to please him and to live my life with honor.

What gift will I give Jesus this Christmas? What shall I place in the white stocking?

More Thankful Words.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy and a contributor to “Abba’s Promise

Hope Nudges Forward

When we wait on God for answers, it sometimes feels as if he is testing our patience. How long will she wait until she breaks – until she steps out and tries to make something happen on her own?Southwest Puzzle

Throughout my life, I have learned the hard way to wait on God. When I step forward too soon and try to force something to happen – it ends either in tragedy, lost revenue or additional stress.

Then later, I am filled with regret and play the “I should have” game.

So during this limbo period, I have tried to wait patiently and seek God’s direction every step of the way. When I feel anxious, I deal with it by posting on my blog.

You’ve probably noticed.

After approximately two years of limbo land where I sensed major changes on the horizon, I have learned more about patience – about waiting on God – about living in joy even during the uncertainty.

My journals are full of the lessons God has taught me, and this blog has been populated with posts I shared with you.

Beginning to Move Forward

Within the last two weeks, God has nudged me forward. He is asking me to make some major decisions and to step out in faith, then watch him fill in the gaps.

Simultaneously, I finished my Southwest puzzle, framed it and hung it on the wall. It has been a reminder that something in the eternal puzzle is completed and now comes the next step.

When faced with major decisions, I often ask five questions:

  • What do I sense God is telling me about this decision?
  • What does scripture remind me or instruct me about this decision?
  • What do other godly people say and how do they advise me?
  • What do the circumstances tell me?
  • Do I have peace?

When the majority of these questions point in the same direction, then I know I am probably on the right track. I say “probably” because life is still an adventure and we can be deceived or influenced by our own desires rather than by eternal destinies.

But lately, I feel more at peace – knowing God is on my side, He has a good plan for me and ultimately whatever happens – he will bring it about for good.

Embracing the Promise

On a quiet Friday morning as warm August rain pittered down, I rejoiced that God once again watered my gardens. Then he called me to spend some intimate time with him. He had something important to share with me.

Throughout the next moments, he reminded me of several promises:

  • He will guide me and lead me in the best possible direction (Isaiah 49:10)
  • He will enlarge the place and the way I minister while strengthening me for the journey (Isaiah 54:2)
  • He has anointed and qualified me for this work (Isaiah 61:1)
  • He will plant me where I need to be (Isaiah 61:3)
  • He knows the acceptable and opportune time (Psalm 69:13)

Then he capped it off when an incredible promise, “Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your rightness, your justice and your right relationship with God shall go before you conducting you to peace and prosperity and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 Amplified).


I sat on my bed, journal and Bible spread open before me, and wept at the beauty of this promise. God will heal and restore my weary soul. He will provide power for whatever new life I am walking into, but I won’t travel the journey alone. He will go before me and behind me. The result will be peace as he takes care of me.


So the first step of my obedience with him is that I am listing my duplex. I believe God wants me to sell it and get out of debt. Then he will show me where to go. I also believe he has indicated in which area I need to look for a rental house. He will provide that place for me.

God has always kept a roof over my head. He has provided beautiful and safe places for my son and me, homes where we could rest from work and just be ourselves.

God will not fail us now.

Are there still some unknowns? Of course. The faith journey always occurs in steps – never in one giant leap.

But for now, the puzzle is finished and hanging on the wall. God, too, has completed this section of puzzle pieces for me. Where he places me and what my role will be is his design. He will tell me what each step entails.Southwest Puzzle

I’m excited to be nudging forward.

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

 

 

What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 5

Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I will be diagnosed with the disease.Alz awareness

Although the gene often travels through the mother’s line, Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I or either of my siblings will suffer from it. Researchers are working all the time to find a cure and to find out the source of the disease.

I intend to work hard to make sure that Alzheimer’s does not happen to me.

What are some of the ways I try to protect myself from the disease? What clues have I discovered from my research and interviews with scientists and experts?

  • Watch out for Stress

The busyness of life, the worries of our society’s dangers, the struggles of our culture – these can all lead to undo stress.

I can feel when stress begins to overwhelm me. That’s when I take a walk, say “No” to any extra activities and find a quiet place to meditate, journal or color.

  • Eat Organic

As much as possible and as my budget allows, I try to eat organic foods. Fast food, junk food, preservatives, additives – I try to stay away from these. I shop at Sprout’s and Trader Joe’s, at the Health Department in Hy-Vee and sometimes at Aldi’s. As much as possible, I try to eat foods that are as close to God’s creation as possible.

My mantra is: If God made it, okay. Eat it with joy. If man made it, don’t waste your money on it.

  • Take Supplements

Turmeric and Rosemary are two of the supplements I use every day. These are both good for the brain. A nutritional doctor once said, “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Another healthy food source is folic acid, so quinoa is my grain of choice. It is high in folic acid and healthy proteins and it is NOT modified or coated with chemicals. I throw quinoa in my oatmeal, my soups and my stir fries. Sometimes, I also scramble it in my eggs.

  • Delete Sugar

Some researchers are now calling Alzheimer’s, “Type 3 Diabetes.” The American diet is filled with sugar, and we are so addicted, we don’t even realize how damaging it can be. From high fructose corn syrup to the additives in our favorite lattes to those easy drive-through treats – sugar is our staple.

But even a two-week fast from sugar can clear the brain, create a glow to the skin and increase energy.

Still not convinced? Consider how our flu and cold season corresponds with sugar season. From Halloween through Easter, we are encouraged to buy candy, all the sweets that go along with the holidays, chocolate for our sweethearts and bags of candy Easter eggs.

We are encouraged to get flu shots and buy cough syrup that is often laced with corn syrup, yet from October – March, our immune systems take a major hit. Then we spread the germs to each other, coat them with more sugar and somebody makes a fortune off our illnesses.

That brings me to the next point.

  • Beware of Massive, General Suggestions for Health

As research for the Reverend G books, I started noticing how often the 50+ generation is urged to get flu shots, Shingles shots and pneumonia vaccines. Yet the numbers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s continues to rise – at last count, 5.4 million Americans.

Mercury and Aluminum are two of the metals that can contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Many of our vaccinations are made with a base of mercury. Some of us wear metal fillings in our teeth, laced with mercury. And some of the so-called protein drinks given to the elderly are made with a base of aluminum. So are most of our deodorants.

So rather than bare my arm for all these vaccinations and use some of the products mass-produced as healthy – I increase my intake of garlic, onion and the rest of the root vegetables.

During the “sugar” season, I make my own chicken stock and my own vegetable soups, avoid extra sugars and add more garlic to my diet. I even take a garlic and parsley supplement. Ashwagandha is another supplement that improves the immune system so I throw it into my smoothies and soups.

As much as I love dark chocolate, I limit myself to one piece / week. Chocolate can block the amino acids we need. Without amino acids, we are more susceptible to cold sores and the virus that leads to Shingles. So I also take the supplement Lysine, which builds amino acids and prevents cold sores.

These are some of my health practices which I hope will prevent Alzheimer’s from invading my genes. And since I started these practices, I rarely have a cold and the flu hasn’t plagued me for at least five years.

Alzheimer’s cannot guarantee that I will be its victim, and I’ll do everything possible to fight against it.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Why Hope Needs Balance

Like a delicate scale that tips toward the stress side, balance remains a challenge. Work, work and more work – no time for play.scale

Without play, creativity is left to fight against the stress and becomes its own version of writers block.

Not that the words cease to come – thankfully, but the words no longer filter through the divine whisper. Instead, they sound like clichés and the craft becomes lifeless to the writer.

Without play, stress wins because there are always more things to do, more places to go and more tasks to complete.

Play pouts in the corner – unable to garner my attention yet plaguing me with silent screams.

In a corner of my office sits my tote bag, filled with colorful pens, crayons and the latest Mandela. But work calls through the filter of stress, so I ignore the bag even while wishing for just a few moments of playful joy.

In her book about recovering balance, “Finding the Deep River Within” http://amzn.to/1dkf32m Abby Seixas writes, “We must break the cultural habit of sacrificing our inner lives for our outer lives, of giving up depth in deference to speed.”

Stress and its deceptive sister, speed, require that we work hard to complete more tasks. We do them quickly so that we can accomplish more and then check our to-do lists for the momentary satisfaction of achievement.

Yet in that speed, we sacrifice the beauty of rest that ultimately feeds our souls. We give up our need to go deep and find our most intimate selves. We lose our place, sitting in God’s lap where he says, “Be still and know me.”

The delicate scale balances precariously toward burnout.

But the solution is not that difficult. We all have 168 hours each week to figure it out. Yes, work is important. Certainly, work is necessary but then so is play.


It merely takes a smidgeon of self-discipline to stop multi-tasking, to cut away at the distractions and to invite soul time. To breathe deeply, close the eyes against the computer screen glare and embrace solitude.


And in that embrace, we learn to honor our own souls as well as the Divine One who made us in the first place.

To make the decision for more balance brings hope to that inner place where the child still waits for the adult and where memories of laughter, colors and sand castles still thrive.

I commit to that decision. I embrace that hope and if you will excuse me – I must gather my toys and go play.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Image by Flaticon

Finding Hope in Pink Slippers

Amy Bovaird suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive vision disorder. Yet she is the primary caregiver for her aging mother. Below is an example of how Amy finds hope in her daily adventures – even in a pair of pink slippers.

“Make sure you don’t drop my hearing aids,” my mother warned, as she did every morning. I’ve never once dropped them.

As a capable vision-impaired person, I rolled my eyes and feigned a pleasant tone. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

Mom seemed impatient, maybe because her wrist hurt. After a fall down the stairs, she was scheduled for more X-rays.

I fumbled in the dim kitchen and tried to make hot tea to suit Mom. She insisted I pour exactly one cup of water into the kettle. Because it wasn’t a whistling tea kettle, my mother made it a competition between us as to who could see the steam rise first.

If she noticed it, she urgently alerted me. “The tea water’s boiling away! Hurry up, turn it off.” This time, thankfully, I saw the steam first.

Later, we moved to the bedroom so I could help Mom dress. After I snagged Mom’s cast in the sleeve of her robe, I tried to wrestle it free without hurting her.

When I lifted her long underwear shirt off, her head got stuck in the neck opening. “Hey! That’s my head, you know.”   

“Sorry, I couldn’t see. If you’re going to be mean, I’m not going to help you.”

“You’re the mean one.”

“I didn’t ask for this job, but this is what I have to do,” I mumbled, proceeding to help her dress.

Pink Slippers - Amy BLater that day, I said, “Here Mom, let’s take your shoes off and change into your slippers.” I bent over to remove her slippers.

She pointed to her left foot. “Look! You put one on backwards.”

“Are you kidding me?”

She laughed. “See for yourself!”

I noticed the dainty pink bow in the back of the slipper and laughed, too. How could I have missed that pretty pink bow? It reminded me of the finishing touch on a gift.

That’s when it hit me: with my poor vision and the stress of caregiving, I’d missed out on seeing Mom as a gift.

Too many times, we develop frustration toward the challenges God allows in our lives without realizing these are like speed bumps to slow us down and appreciate what He’s given us.

I needed to turn that slipper around in order to see the bow. Just like I needed to turn my feelings around in order to see that my beautiful mother was one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me. 

Amy Bovaird

Amy L. Bovaird guest posts on my blog today. She is a specialist in second language acquisition. Amy’s career has taken her to Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East. Because she suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive vision disorder, Amy’s stories highlight her determination to see the world, even though for her, it may be just a little out of focus. You can read more of Amy’s adventures at www.amyboaird.com.