Searching for Hope in the Great Divide

My church just finished a series of messages focused on marriage. I did not attend.

Throughout my decades of work in churches, I have heard multiple sermons about marriage. Tips for how to love your spouse. Using the five love languages. Submission, submission, submission.

Gag!

While there was a time in my life when those sermons were a bit helpful, for the last twenty years I’ve wondered about the great divide.

You know, that nice little label that many of us don’t fit anymore: Mommy, Daddy and 2.5 kids. 

Where are the messages that focus on the beauty and strength of being single? Are we still so enamored with the idea that to be a true believer, we have to find that perfect mate, set up house in the right neighborhood and raise our kids to do the same?

Churches often satisfy the inclusion of singles by setting up a Singles Group. In my experience, said group often becomes a place to search for that perfect mate — the one who already goes to church so s/he must be safe.

I can line up hundreds of women who found out that principle does not work.

So who are the people who might appreciate a sermon about the significance of being single?

  • Those who never married yet continue to attend church and volunteer weekly. One of the ladies in my Bible class fits this category. She helps on the communion team, preps the elements we take together once/month. She is also a praying woman who stays updated with the needs of people and reports answers to prayer. I respect her and appreciate her service.
  • The widows and widowers. These are the folks who once fit the nice little label. Now they are alone and searching for how to find their significance. They still have multiple gifts to be used. Many of them continue to serve in the background, but a sermon series affirming their contributions might bring them hope.
  • Single moms are the group that most keenly feel rejection. In fact, 67% of single moms leave the church and never return. They no longer fit anywhere, and they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising kids alone. Sunday becomes the loneliest day of the week.

In all the years I have been associated with churches, only once did I hear a sermon about the value of being single. It was presented by a woman minister, a single woman, who underscored the work singles did in her church and community.

I sent her a thank you card.

We have no record of the dating life of Jesus. In spite of the plotline of The Da Vinci Code, we assume he stayed single so that he could focus on his goal of winning for us salvation. What would he think about the emphasis on marriage at the exclusion of singles?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to consider singleness as a positive. “God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried. So I say to those who aren’t married, better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 TLB).

Has anybody out there ever heard a sermon preached on this passage? Or is Paul considered an aberration because he stayed single to complete his mission?

Perhaps my ramblings in this post are because 2020 did an isolation number on me. To my surprise, I missed church. I was so glad when we opened again.

Then, just as I was feeling like part of the “family,” here came the sermon series on marriage. So I drove to Target and tried to comfort myself with something frivolous I did not need.

You know: chocolate, another tank top, the newest flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, another journal, gluten free blueberry muffins, more chocolate.

I guess some of us singles need to know if the institution of the church is ever going to get a clue about what being single means.

About how we know specifically that our Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4-5) totally accepts us even if the rest of his kids don’t.

About how we find our fulfillment focused on loving God and loving others, not seeking a mate.

About how we search for hope each day and find it in the solitude of being alone.

About how we love the church but can’t stand how it treats us.

Maybe the search for hope finds it own fulfillment within the search itself. Trusting that God appreciates us even if our ring finger is bare.

Believing that in our singleness — even without the affirmation of the church — we know we are loved.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner is single and dealing with a tragedy in his church. He takes a sabbatical to straighten out his head and finds hope in his heart. The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Sees the Women

The idea came in the middle of a Sunday School class — BC — before COVID. We were reading through Genesis 11 when I suddenly stopped.

Here was the tale about a young boy, Lot, who was taken from his mother and transported to another location.

For reasons we are not told, Terah (father of Abram) decided to move from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan. Perhaps he wanted to escape the idolatry of his community or maybe he felt restless and needed a change. His son, Haran, had died. Maybe Terah needed to leave the land that represented so much grief. Yet he chose to take only Abram and his wife, Sarai, plus his grandson, Lot.

But what of Lot’s mother, Haran’s wife? Nowhere is she mentioned. Her absence with this small band of travelers feels stark. What would convince this mother to let her son traipse off into a foreign land with his grandfather, uncle and aunt?

The answer lies in the story of another invisible woman, Lot’s mother, who we will call Rhondu (Excerpt from The Invisible Women of Genesis).

The untold story of this woman haunted me, so I began research. But nothing was told about Rhondu, no reasons behind her abandonment.

Then I began to find other women who were behind the scenes. Women who played important roles in the story yet were not honored — often not even named.

The patriarchal structure of scripture and the cultural significance of males buried these women under layers of historical fact.

Yet I know for certain that God loved these women and planted them in particular places and times to move His story forward.

And I know for certain that women are an equally important part of sharing God’s love with the world today.

Yet many are still invisible.

So I wrote a book, The Invisible Women of Genesis. But I wanted even more justice and wondered how to begin the conversation to make sure women are seen. I came up with a few ideas:

> Be more alert and aware of the role of women in today’s world. Male pastors get the attention standing behind the pulpit, but it was probably a female assistant who typed his sermon in readable form. How many other jobs within the church institution are performed by unseen women?

> When I address letters, I no longer use Mr & Mrs with only his name. I use both names: John & Mary Smith. Sometimes I feel radical enough to write her name first: Mary & John Smith.

> Listen to the stories of the invisible women around us: the she-ro who stays up late to launder clothes and prepare tomorrow’s meals, the she-ro who prays for the prodigal child who ignores her, the she-ro who never found the perfect mate and is left out of multiple gatherings, the she-ro who is denied human rights and education, the single mom she-ro, and countless others.

To all the invisible women, God says, “I see you. I have tattooed your name on the palm of my hand. I will never forget you. Someday I will clothe you with a royal robe, place a crown on your head and usher you into my kingdom. You are never invisible to me. You are my bride, my beloved, my beauty.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories about invisible women, check out The Invisible Women of Genesis – available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope and the Passing of Time

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google — that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year.  https://gretchenrubin.com/

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, this harried year, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin a new year, how can we determine to make each long day matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Kindness does not cost you anything, but it is priceless to those who receive it.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something — at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2021 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.  http://amzn.to/2j2fneR

Hope Wears a Tattoo

He was a large, muscular man and when he sat down on the bus, the leather seat expelled air. I peeked at him around the pages of the book I read. My writer brain started to invent a character sketch:

He’s a construction worker by day, a bartender by night and his feet hurt. It feels really good to sit down for the long ride home.

Or . . . he’s a pastor on his way to the inner city church he serves. The dirty T-shirt is a cover-up and helps him relate to the young people in his congregation.

Or . . . he’s an undercover spy and just wants me to think he’s a normal guy. Underneath that T-shirt is a 357 Magnum, holstered but loaded.

Then he crossed one leg, and I discovered he was far from normal. Tattooed on his right leg was the image of a little girl with her name inked above a likeness of her sweet face, “Kelsey Jane, beloved daughter.”

What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his massive leg? Was she one of those tragic little ones that cancer took away?

Or is she a kidnapping victim and he wears her image to help people look for her?

The creative writer at work again.

He caught me staring at the tattoo. Before I could disappear behind the pages of my book, he answered my questions with vulnerable honesty, “I’m divorced, and I don’t get to see her very often. This way, I always carry her with me.”

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I said, “That’s the greatest tattoo I’ve ever seen.”

He tipped his Royals baseball cap toward me, then turned away. I returned to my book — both of us retreating into our own worlds as people do on mass transit.

I almost wanted to find the nearest tattoo establishment and ask for a picture of my son emblazoned near my heart.

Almost.

But I could not forget the image and the question it posed, What kind of guy loves his daughter so much he tattoos her picture on his leg?

Then I remembered another guy who does the same thing — not on his leg, but on his hand — on the tender palm area where he sees it every time he reaches out to help someone.

Almighty God exclaims, “See, I have tattooed your name on my palm. . .” (Isaiah 49:16).

God Himself cares so much about each of us he has tattooed us on the palms of his powerful hands.

In the original Talmud, the meaning of this tattooed engraving was of an unbreakable bond, of a love so intense it was comparable to a mother’s love that could never forget her child.

The Hebrew word for tattoo also included the provision of God’s care, reaching out to protect his children from harm.

As God’s kids, we can depend on that mother love, that unbreakable bond, that caring and loving provision.

Always. Every. Single. Day. Forever.

I often think about that guy on the bus and hope he’s enjoying quality time with his daughter. Usually, I remember him when I’m going through a rough patch and need some encouragement.

The tattoo of Kelsey Jane still makes me smile.

And the visual of my image tattooed on the palm of God’s hand fills me with hope.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out all my books on my Amazon Author Page. Several possibilities are listed where you can read and share hope.

Hope for Happy Children

Caleb - RJT (2)He’s in a sweet spot – finally – this child of mine who has conquered so many battles: a malignant brain tumor, chemo, radiation, a disastrous hernia surgery, the death of his best friend and other challenging losses.

But now – thank you, God – he is happy. The IT training he’s enrolled in is a perfect fit. He’s already an expert in mobile technology. Now he’s moving toward a systems administrator certification. For the first time in his life, he’s excited about going to class.

He has a part-time job with perfect hours. A convenience store where he helps people pump gas and keeps the coffee brewing. Only a six-minute drive from home. Easy peasey.

He and his girlfriend are cute together. Both love dogs and Mexican food. They’re active in a small group at church. They have friends and family who support their relationship.

Sure, he still has challenges: the ever-present medical bills, car issues, icy roads. But he’s happier than I’ve seen him in a long time.

And this cheerfulness makes his mama happy as well. A boulder-sized burden has lifted from my heart.

So if I, as a human mother, feel such joy over the happiness of my child – doesn’t God feel the same when his children experience abundance?

For too long, we have been taught about a judgmental, condemning God. A divine One who delights only in the suffering of his creation. The falsity that we can only grow and thrive when we struggle.

Yes, challenges do force us to take a deep breath and pray for strength. We learn about hope and God’s faithfulness when our journey includes rocks and valleys. We discover our own power when we are forced to live from our guts.

But when things go well, we can also learn about the joy of abundance, the peace of prosperity – also topics in scripture. God blessed the last part of Job’s life.

Surely our loving Father feels a sense of relief for us when life is good. His child is following his heart. His beloved is finding her niche. I believe God finds delight in our victories and joys, just as we do when our children live in emotional prosperity.

Our hope is multiplied with God’s smile.

For now, my son and I enjoy this plateau of happiness. I am proud of my boy for staying the course, for reaching this pinnacle. I am also proud of the way he humbly lives each day, rejoicing in goodness.

Although I will continue to trust God when life unravels, now I choose to celebrate and hope these good times will be extended.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Soon I will participate in an Author Fest in my home town. My Hope Shines book will be featured. Have you read it yet?

Hope as Time Passes

The days are long but the years are short.”

According to Google – that great know-it-all in cyberspace, Gretchen Rubin is the author of the above quote. It perfectly describes how it feels to jump into a new year. 2019 image

I wonder if Rubin is a harried mom who feels as if she is working a 30 hour-day yet somehow, her sweet babies grow faster every year.

From my perspective, as a mom with a grown son, I can attest to the truth of Rubin’s quote. It seems truly impossible that my baby boy is now an incredible grown man.

But reality proves it to be true.

What this quote underscores is the importance of living each day to its fullest, giving to others and saving some joy for ourselves. Because soon we will be looking back on this particular day, hoping we lived it well.

As we begin this new year, how can we determine to make each long day within this brief year matter most?

Remember People are Important. Being kind to others and helping the needy keeps us focused on the importance of other human beings.

The book of Proverbs reminds us to “Defend those who cannot help themselves. Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:9 TLB).

Begin each day with the determination to be aware of other people. Smile. Speak kind words. Encourage others on their journey through life.

Search for Joy. What is it that fills your heart with the warmth of joy? Do more of it.

Take photos of nature, pets and family. Paint a sunset. Restore an old bookcase. Write your memoir. Sing your favorite song.

Each of us is equipped with the capacity to receive and share joy. So make joy a priority every day and do something – at least once / week – that nurtures your inner spirit.

Stay in Hope. We are living in a negative world with multiple problems everywhere. Keep a positive outlook that finds something to be grateful for and focuses on something good.

Let your “What if” statements end in positives rather than the gloom of negative thinking. Instead of “What if the stock market keeps bouncing until it no longer has any dribble left?” Try this, “What if everything evens out and Congress learns how to work together?”

A Bible verse I like to repeat is Psalm 43:5, “Stay in hope for I will yet praise God.”

Living in the “yet” helps me think about hope, move toward my dreams and focus on a positive outcome.

So let’s approach 2019 with the reality of knowing we will soon face the end of another year. With the awareness of how we can help others, with a heart filled with joy and a mindset of hope – we can make this year the best possible.

Will you join me?

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Begin the year with a hope-filled outlook. Check out Hope Shines, in regular and large print.

Hope Applauds a Strong Woman

Throughout the years, she has been pictured as the “not enough” woman. Not enough faith, not enough like her sister, not enough commitment to stop everything and listen to Jesus.

Yet, I like her. Martha.  real - not perfect

Legend says she was a wealthy widow, and it was her home in Bethany where she cared for her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

It was her home where Jesus felt comfortable enough to take a break from ministry — to just “be” for a while. Martha’s home was his retreat center.

Why do I like Martha?

Martha was a do-er.

As the owner of the home and the matriarch of the family, Martha was the one who organized the household. She got things done.

Whether planning how to feed her Savior and his group of rowdy disciples or accomplishing the daily tasks of linen weaving, grape and olive picking, laundry, management of people — Martha got ‘er done.

Sure, she occasionally slipped out of balance. Who doesn’t? We know of only one incident where she was carried way with the prep of a meal and forgot what was more important.

But how many of us would do the same? If I knew Jesus was physically coming to my house tonight, you can bet I would pull out my favorite recipe and make sure the bathroom was clean. I’m not sure I would take extra time for an hour of prayer and devotion.

Obviously, Martha was the Type A personality. Without the Martha’s of the world, churches could not operate, non-profits would fold and half the governments of the world would be defunct.

Martha was bold.  

She lived through a terrible tragedy, but she knew who to contact for help. She sent word to Jesus that her brother was sick. She trusted her God to come and heal this precious loved one.

But Jesus did not arrive in time.

Finally, after Lazarus died, Jesus came. Martha marched up to him and dared to confront him. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha was angry and felt Jesus had betrayed her and the family friendship. He didn’t show up in time. He let her beloved brother die.

How many of us have the courage to state the truth of how we feel when our prayers go unanswered and the worst happens?

We may not have the guts to speak our truth, but we feel wounded by the God we love.

Martha was honest and bold enough to state the root of her grief. She knew Jesus loved her enough that he would allow her to be angry with him. And he would love her even more with his response.

Martha was chosen.  

Jesus wasn’t upset with Martha’s bold statement. In fact, he had already planned how he was going to bless her.

He had a greater miracle in mind.

He told her to just believe, and then he instructed the people nearby to remove the stone from the grave.

Here we see bold, practical Martha again. “You’re kidding, Jesus, right? My brother has been dead four days. He’s already stinky.”

Again Jesus reminds her to believe, then he calls Lazarus out of that grave.

Imagine how exciting that moment must have been for this amazing woman. Her prayers answered in a way she could not have imagined. Her brother was alive again. Her faith in Jesus restored.

No condemnation for her boldness. Jesus understood Martha’s authenticity and chose her to be the recipient of a greater miracle.

Hope restored.

God Himself gifted, loved and chose this woman. Let’s give her a break for being human.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out the story of another amazing woman — Abigail. No Visible Scars.