When Nature Invites Hope

She was such a tiny thing — this feral mama cat who suddenly moved to my deck. Black, with a couple of white spots on her face. A tail that reminded me of a possum. Hard cartilage. Not inviting to touch.

She didn’t even look pregnant. Just hungry. Desperate. Why else would she dare to climb the steps and stare at me?

I know the drill. Never feed a feral cat. They’ll keep coming back and bring the entire clan. They’ll never be domesticated. Take them to the shelter. Pay for the spaying. Decrease the local litters.

Yet somehow, this unwanted and unlovely creature touched my heart. I could not trap her. She was too fast. I could not hurt her. She needed me.

We began with a tiny bit of food which she greedily accepted. Her reflexes tuned to mine. One tiny move on my part, and she was gone.

Over the weeks, she gradually let me inch closer. But not too close. If I reached out my hand, she disappeared. Came back two days later. Starving.

One morning, the summer wind turned cool. I decided to have my morning quiet time on the deck. Journal, Bible, pen. And the feral cat in a corner.

I watched her circle around the deck, then a bit closer on the next round. A couple of figure eights around one of the potted flowers. Another trip around. Closer. Ever closer.

As I tried to ignore her, yet watch her, she eyed me. Took another dance around the deck. I returned to my study.

Then I felt a soft brush against my leg, a tiny whisper of acceptance. Without looking, I reached down. She brushed against my arm. Allowed me to pet her. Once. Twice.

She disappeared for several days, then returned a bit thinner. We continued our sometimes-on-sometimes off dance. A few days of petting. Another day of skittering away.

But I knew she had finally accepted me when she brought her three babies. She dared to trust me with her family.

Beautiful kittens. Two black and whites. One fully black. The black one immediately let me pet him. The other two repeated their mother’s elusive dance.

They grew up and eventually left. But Mama cat stayed. Greeted me every morning. Begged for food.

One day I reached to pet her, and she shied away. As if we had never been friends. As if we were starting over again.

After all this time and all this food, you still don’t trust me?

I felt the rejection. Huffed inside and shut the door. Then shook my head as the allegory formed its meaning.

How many times has God answered my prayers, gifted me with a miracle, sent an encouragement? Multiple times during my life’s journey.

How many times has he drawn near as I danced closer, waited until I trusted him with the next transition in life, the next question of “What do I do?” Thousands of times.

How many times have I brought my child to the Divine and asked for blessings? Received the same. Gushed my gratitude.

Yet when another hard place threatens, when the latest questions shadow me with doubt, when I wonder again Does this deity really love me — I shy away. Cry awhile and disappear from what he longs to give me.

He returns each day. Offers me the bread of life. Lays an occasional treat in my bowl of need. And once again proves he is trustworthy.

My doubt disappoints me and hurts his gigantic heart. My faith takes a hit.

Yet the next day, there he is again. Reaching out for me. Asking me to trust him for another day, another transition. Being his hope-filled self.

Scripture reminds us that nature is a constant mirror of God’s grace. We see him in the changing of the leaves from verdant green to bronze. We sense him in the blessed rain shower after a season of drought. We honor him when animals gift us with unconditional love.

And even when we struggle to accept what is right before us, he continues to reach out. To provide. To be with us — his feral children.

Some days, hope seems to hide. Yet if we listen carefully, tune our souls to the intensity of nature, we can hear his whisper, “Yes, I still love you.”

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more stories of hope, check out Hope Shines. Available on Amazon and in Large Print.

Finding Hope When Expectations Change

A friend and I were talking about changing expectations. By now, we both expected certain things in life to have occurred. Situations such as:

  • The house paid for — free and clear
  • Our children settled and happy
  • 2.5 grandchildren
  • A lifetime of marriage to draw on — the whole happily-ever-after dream (cue the Disney music)
  • Plenty of retirement money safely tucked away in trusts and investments
  • Trips planned and enjoyed at least twice / year
  • Good friends meeting regularly for coffee, tea, some sort of chocolate treat (obviously BC – before COVID)
  • The certainty that our lives had impacted people / that we had made a difference in somebody’s world
  • The blessings of the abundant life
  • Looking forward to the next family gathering / maybe a vacation in the mountains or near the beach

Instead, we were both experiencing the following:

  • Financial struggles
  • Bodies that betrayed us and hurt in weird places
  • The solitude of facing life alone
  • Close friends and multiple family members now lying in cemeteries
  • Children struggling to find their way in an uncertain world
  • The over-used word “unprecedented” now a descriptive of daily life
  • Searching for a cheaper place to live / trying to decide whether to downsize or hunker down for whatever comes after COVID
  • Not sure our lives have meant anything to anyone
  • A gray sense of despair
  • Watching blessings happen to others / not so much to us

These were supposed to be the Golden Years. Not so golden. Not even gold-plated.

Promises unfulfilled. Dreams shattered.

So how do we find hope when the expectations have not come through? When what we were promised has not happened?

Simple, yet tough.

Stop looking at the outcomes. Results don’t always describe the journey’s intention.

We are living in the hyphen years, that space on gravestones between birth date and death. We cannot know the impact of the hyphen until eternity.

When we meet those we never knew. Perhaps a reader who found a particular blog post or book we wrote impactful. Maybe another person in despair who saw our smile and decided to live another day.

Perhaps that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who watched us live and learn, grow and fail. They cheered us on. Their whispers merely a nudge in our souls.

Since we cannot know our true impact, we can only trust Abba God for the results. Even when the outcomes look so different from what we expected.

When the answers are not what we want to hear. When life does not match up with our expectations. When we tend to focus on what did NOT happen. When we live in the gloom of unanswered prayers.

That is when we must trust hard. To focus instead on the Who rather than the What.

The Who that says:

  • I AM with you, no matter what the circumstances.
  • I AM stronger than the pain of what is happening right now.
  • I AM helping you through this mess, one day, one moment at a time.
  • I AM going to meet every need. Just wait for me.
  • I AM still loving you. Nothing will ever stop my loving you.
  • I AM your ally, the one who will defend you to the end.
  • I AM.

So when the days seem longer than 24 hours, when the expectations fizzle, keep holding on to hope. Check out this video for a dash of strength. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-HIKxnSZSA

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a few moments of hope, check out my newest e-book Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Embraces Holy Indifference

During a conference last spring, I won the opportunity to pick a book from the freebie table. But the conference administrator decided to run the contest again – something about the numbers not being equal and fair to everyone.

I didn’t really care but when they repeated the contest – once again – I won. It seemed like a divine coincidence I shouldn’t ignore.

So I approached the book table and prayed I would make the right decision. Only one book seemed interesting, so I grabbed it and put it in my bag to take home.

Then I forgot about it. Months later, I pulled it out of my bag and started thumbing through it – then reading more closely – then highlighting text and writing in the margins.

This book has become a necessary piece of my limbo land puzzle. “Living into the Answers – a Workbook for Personal Spiritual Discernment” is now my traveling companion with journal prompts and prayers for spiritual direction.

Authors Valerie Isenhower and Judith Todd devised an individualized plan for discerning God’s will. With questions such as:

  • What is God’s longing for you?
  • When do you most sense God’s presence?
  • How does God fit into your life story?

I was soon hooked into the value of this little workbook. After I finished, I put it aside for a while and last week – picked it up again.

One of the chapters held a keynote for me which became a prayer, a journal entry and now – this blog post. That keynote is the principle of Holy Indifference.

Ignatius of Loyola actually penned the term back in the sixteenth century – pretty smart for a dead saint. He described Holy Indifference as a state of inner freedom, openness and balance.

But Isenhower and Todd take the principle a bit deeper. Their idea involves a willingness to follow the longings of God for our lives so no matter what he designs for us, we are indifferent to our own versions.

To live within the balance of holy indifference, we determine that we don’t really care about the outcome of a decision. However it turns out – whenever and whatever God designs – is okay. We’ll take it – no matter what.

The point is not to worry about the results and not to lean on our own understanding or even our reasoning capabilities.

This practice of spiritual discernment shifts away from self and centers on God. When we come to a crossroads, we’re not afraid to follow him because we know he has the best in mind for us.

He has considered all our objections and all our feeble plans. He asks us to trust him with everything we are and all that we desire – to walk boldly into the future with him.

Every spiritual question seems to circle back to trust – at least in my life.

Can I trust God enough to move me to a place I will love – even if I can’t see it right now?

Will I trust that God has the best outcome already planned for me – even if it might include doing something I don’t like or giving up something I have treasured?

Am I willing to trust that God’s longing for me will eventually result in something good and beautiful?

Hmm. Holy Indifference replies, “I have considered all the options and God knows best. I will put myself and this decision into his capable hands and trust his heart.”

Sort of makes limbo land less threatening and the outcome more exciting.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy