Hope Embraces Gratitude

We know the health benefits of gratitude, and we focus on giving thanks—particularly during this week of the year. But every year, it’s a good spiritual practice to redefine and choose again those special things we are grateful for. This is my current list:

Hot Water. As I have watched the horrors of the war in Ukraine, I feel a special affinity for the brave women. Every night, I revel in my hot shower or bath. Hot water soothes my bones. Reminds me that winter will pass. Helps me sleep.

I cannot imagine how awful it is to have a baby when there is no hot water. To try and keep your children clean when the infrastructure has been destroyed. To soothe yourself with a cup of hot tea or coffee. To let the water warm your bones and help you forget about what Russia is doing to your country.

Each night, I thank God for hot water and try to do my part to conserve this precious resource. Each night, my prayers are for the brave hearts of Ukraine and a return to some type of normalcy.

Answered Dreams. What does it take to run down a dream? Several lifetimes of perseverance, some luck, and a whole lot of Godwinks. After my best year of book sales and after watching my coaching clients succeed, I am grateful for the answered dream of becoming a writer.

What does it take to run down a dream?

  • A young girl perched inside the barky womb of her favorite elm tree. Adolescent limbs swinging from an upper branch. Book opened. Devouring words and dreaming of becoming an author.
  • Parents who turned off the TV and encouraged more reading.
  • A high school counselor who confirmed, “You’re certainly good at English. Writing is easy for you.”
  • Straight A’s in every language arts class. Math? Not so much.
  • Notebooks and diaries filled with the detailed debris of my life.
  • Multiple rejections that strengthened my soul muscles and forced me to try again.
  • Seeing my books on a library shelf.

Spices. The sense of taste allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and of course—pumpkin pie spice.

Part of the joy of spices is how they smell up the entire house while they’re cooking. My mind easily roams back to the farm kitchen as Mom baked peppernuts. That smell evokes care, holiday fun, and love—all at the same time.

Add to those culinary smells, the herbs I grow and throw in recipes: basil, rosemary, and my goodness…Are you hungry yet?

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I share with gratitude my Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipe as a special gift for you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie 

One day previous to Turkey day, mix ½ cup whole milk with 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix. Whisk together and let the pudding set overnight in the fridge.

The next morning: Mix the set pudding with 1 TB pumpkin pie spice, 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup slivered almonds, and 1 cup mini-chocolate chips. Add ¼ tsp of ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With spatula, carefully pour the pie mixture into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust. For extra spice, crush up some ginger snaps with melted butter to make your own pie crust.

On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving by remembering single moms. Order a book and gift it. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms.

Hope Beyond the Stereotypes

Perhaps it is the coming of winter that causes moments of reflection. Or the new journal I use to record my thoughts. Or the writer in me who MUST write in order to process life. Whatever the origin, my reflection turns to a time-honored quote.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us how the Jews honored the name of God. They would not purposely step on a piece of paper, in case it contained the name Yahweh. He suggests we should apply this practice to how we treat others.

“Trample not on anyone. There may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on. It may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it. Therefore, despise it not.”

This not trampling on anyone sounds like an easy goal. A worthy purpose. Yet when I see the blatant evil perpetrated by some, it seems impossible.

How can I love every soul, no matter what they choose to do? How can I honor the second commandment of Jesus, to love others as I love myself?

  • Even the evil ruler who is bombing the life out of the citizens of Ukraine, for no other reason than to garner for himself the trophy of another country?
  • Even the knife-wielding radical who stole the eye from a courageous author who dared to confront the inequities of his religion?
  • Even the abuser who torments a puppy, then kicks it out onto the street?
  • Even the man who threatens his wife and children, using his second amendment rights to weaponize their home?
  • Even the religious leader who uses his bully pulpit as a tool for control?
  • Even the woman who allowed her boyfriend to kill their child in one of our Kansas City neighborhoods?
  • Even the murderers of 14 year-old Emmett Till?
  • Even me and the self-righteousness legalism fostered in me?

When I cannot do anything about these horrors, how do I respond? How can I pray? And how do I live in these perilous times to make sure my home is safe yet offer grace to others?

I flip the page on my journal, still not satisfied with how the processing of this question is going. For such a quandary, there surely is no easy answer. For all sin is the practice of ignoring God, and all of us have been guilty.

Some of us just hide it better than others.

Were it not for grace, any of us could be included in the above bullet list. The giving of grace seems so easy for Almighty God who loves unconditionally. Yet it did cost the life of his Son. No easy road there.

And I admit I am still learning how to receive and gift this same costly grace.

What will it cost me to release my stereotypes of these people who choose evil? Will it be to remember that trauma often begets trauma, that evil can multiply through the generations? That people who are raised without knowing the love of God will therefore act like satan?

When did it become my responsibility to judge another? Never. Not even when it became personal to my family, to my soul.

For if Christ died for me, he also died for these others who choose to ignore his grace. And his infinite patience is somehow allowing them the time to make another choice, to open their souls to his healing grace.

It is in the patience of the timing that I am stuck. When, God, when?

So although I find no answers, I will choose to live each day trusting the One who knows not only the answers but all the relatable questions.

And I will embrace the backward living suggested by Father Richard Rohr. That instead of trying to think my way into a new way of living, I should instead live myself into a new way of thinking.

Have mercy on us, oh God.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Uploading Faith addresses such reflective questions, especially for those who seek answers.

Hope for the Long Way

It would be so much easier to travel the shorter journey. But what if God calls us to the long way?

In Exodus 13, God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Freedom! And God encouraged the people with a cloud each day and a pillar of fire each night. Signals that he was indeed with them.

But in verse 17, God specifically states that he will not lead these people on a shorter route. He will take them to the Promised Land the longer way.

They will be learning more about trust and how to endure day by day.

Many people are facing their own ‘long way.’ One of my friends has a beloved daughter who is suffering through a cancer journey. We wanted it to be a fast surgery, one and done. We hoped and prayed for a quick healing. But she is enduring years of chemo, multiple surgeries, life-changing health issues.

Another friend inspires me with her motherly courage. She fostered and adopted some children. Prayed for them. Did all the right things. The short way would be deliverance from childhood trauma, acceptance into peer groups, wholesome attitudes.

Instead, it is a daily struggle dealing with attachment disorder and behavioral struggles at school. The long journey has affected the health of the entire family. Endurance is a daily need.

Didn’t we all want to see an end to the atrocities in Ukraine — sooner rather than later? Yet the war continues. More people suffer and die. The images continue to urge us to pray for those trapped in bunkers, for the pastors and missionaries trying to help their people day after bomb-shelled day.

Beginning writers want to finish their first book and watch it become a bestseller. More experienced authors know the writing journey is a marathon of work and marketing. It requires a long road to find our voice.

Caregivers face years of learning patience, searching for answers, becoming advocates for the Alzheimer’s patient. What is the purpose? Why does death wait to take those who can no longer function? The road is long.

So how do we find hope and live with a more encouraging attitude when our way is long? What can we learn from this Exodus story?

God took the Israelites the long way so they would not change their minds and want to return to the bondage of Egypt. The short way often seems more comfortable. But the long way tests our trust, our grit, our determination to keep believing. We can learn to accept the long road as a faith-building journey.

Although God chose the long way for his children, he did not leave them to face it alone. He was there every day and throughout each night. We can look for God’s presence even as we face another long day.

Athletes know it takes weeks and months to build muscle and stamina. Although their training may be painful, the dedicated athlete continues and learns to thank the coach and trainer.

The long road offers more hope when we face it with gratitude. God is designing something good within our souls. The end result will be a stronger spirit, more faith muscles for the next road.

The story in Exodus involves an entire nation of people. We find strength in being connected. Finding like souls who will lift us up gives us the stamina needed for another day, another week, possibly — another year of the journey.

God had already proven himself to the Israelites — through multiple miracles and a life-saving Passover tradition. We can look to the past and remember how God brought us through something even worse, a longer road, a deeper suffering. He did it before. He will help us again.

Ultimately, our journey contains signposts that offer strength for each day. The practice of journaling, the recitation of helpful verses and quotes, the songs we may have to force ourselves to sing — all these practices can boost our spirits for another day.

And some days, it just helps to take a nap. Zone out for a few minutes and rest.

Whatever road you’re on today, I pray it will be one that leads to the Promised Land. So I share with you one of my spiritual vitamins. This verse has carried me through many of my longer roads and offered hope:

“Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 TNIV). 

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Send Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms to a woman who needs hope for her long road.

Easter Hope

The celebration of Easter this year felt bittersweet. Although I enjoyed the holiday — who doesn’t love bunnies, colored eggs and the excited squeals of children when they wake up to find an Easter basket?

Easter falls smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful seasons in Kansas.

When life bursts from the ground in purple crocus, early yellow tulips and wild hyacinths all over my scraggly lawn.

Even my feral cats represent life as one of them lumbers with kittens in her womb — the other birthing three babies under my deck.

Still, this Easter flipped onto the calendar only four months after we buried Mom. And three of my friends in early 2022. And hundreds of Ukrainian citizens slaughtered by Russian troops. Some of those citizens probably distant cousins.

Death reminds us of our fragile existence. We are mortal, after all. We will all return to the dust that formed us.

Sobering truths are still true, no matter how we seek to avoid them.

But the converse is also true. Despite the death and destruction, life exists in that other realm. Behind that invisible veil that separates us from the spirit world.

Our loved ones wait for us there. God watches over us from that ethereal place we can barely imagine. Where life stretches without end. No more separation. No more death and destruction.

Only the beautiful burst of living color and light where we know as we are known.

Someday, I will be with my parents again. With the friends I lost this year. Someday, God will vindicate those Ukrainian souls and judge those who murdered them.

Someday, eternity will continue to burst with renewed vigor and the beauty of life. No decay. No chaos. No disruption from the beauties of creation.

In the meantime, I will focus my hope on resurrected life and continue to believe in the eternal every day of the year.

And when chaos tries to disrupt that living hope, I’ll play this song and believe all over again.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share living hope with a single mom. Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms

Hope for Ukraine

She was just a little girl when her parents told her, “We have to leave. The tzar is forcing us to leave our home. We will travel to America.”

Little Anna Barkman did not understand all the politics of the time. How the Mennonites were summoned by Catherine the Great to farm the land and produce wheat crops. How they grew so successful the next ruler shunned them.

Forced them to become refugees.

Anna only knew that the life she had led in the colony of Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) was ending. So she helped her parents pack up what little they could carry.

But before she set out to a new life, she wanted to preserve something of the old.

She sewed wheat kernels into the hem of her dress. The same variety of wheat her family and the other Mennonites had so successfully planted and harvested throughout the years.

Then little Anna Barkman followed her parents to the new land in America, to the Midwest, where the Mennonites would once again thrive.

Where freedom of religion was a promised right.

Once settled, Anna cut open the seams of her hem and handed those precious kernels to her father. He and the other Mennonites set about planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops.

The Mennonite settlements grew in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Today, every variety of wheat that is planted and harvested in the Midwest still has its hybrid roots in that Turkey Red Hard Winter Wheat from what is now known as Ukraine.

The war is personal to me, because my ancestors are buried in the Ukraine. Their bones and personal dust still attest to the truth of who they were. Putin cannot steal their identities nor the legacy of their work.

They lived and propagated the doctrine of peace. They crafted quilts and made homemade jams. Buried their arms in yeasty dough and created smells and tastes that are still replicated by their great great grandchildren.

Some of their recipes are sold at the annual relief sale where all the proceeds go to missions.

I imagine this year much of the profits will go for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

In these years of pandemic crises, I had not thought much about my ancestors or the cemetery where they are buried. Until Putin’s bombs highlighted their plight.

A stark reminder that we all come from refugee stock.

Last week, the Russian army occupied the very region where my ancestors lay. I have not heard if the staff of the Mennonite Center survived. If they did, I know they will continue the work of peace and love, reaching out to those in need.

No matter what happens, the legacy of my ancestors will survive. Every time I eat a piece of toast, I will think of little Anna and her foresight to bring the wheat kernels to America.

And I will hope that peace once again returns to Ukraine.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

The Mennonites are people of faith, basing their belief systems on the words of Jesus. Some of their strengths include an emphasis on missions and music. Before the pandemic, the 300 Mennonite Men’s Chorus presented regular concerts.

Hope Thrives in Wisdom

If you are just now joining me, let me introduce this mini-series within the Hope series. As part of my legacy and just because I want to, I am blogging about each of the Saturday Sisters.poster from Ginger

For over twenty years, we have met together – usually monthly – to eat lunch, talk about our families and prayer requests, to do life together.

Today I focus on the tallest Sister, Ginger.

None of us call her Virginia, because the moniker of Ginger sounds more friendly. She once served as a gifted lawyer, but now revels in the roles of wife, grandmother, friend and sister.

Her gift to me is Wisdom.

From the time we first met, in the welcome line for new members at First Christian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, Ginger has impressed me as the most authentic woman I have ever known.

In spite of chronic illness, Ginger wears her authenticity with the wisdom of years. She and I share a common background. As recovering Mennonites we both love music, missions and carbohydrates.

I covet her white hair because my gray is not attractive. But I really loved how she once added a streak of dark purple, an impulsive move that delighted us and underscored her creativity.

Ginger and her husband, Ken, have supported me in various ministries through the years, but it was her kind generosity and wisdom that helped me through the dark beginnings of divorce. She was practical yet soft, wise yet gentle. I will always love her for being there when the need was so great.

Her Wisdom also manifests in story as Ginger is one of the best story-tellers I know. She served on my team as an international minister, telling the stories of the Bible to children and their mothers from all over the world. She brought Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve alive to beginners in faith and seasoned saints.

I am quite certain some young adults in China or the Ukraine now believe in the amazing Yahweh God, because they saw him live through Ginger.

When we meet as Saturday Sisters, it is Ginger’s stories that enthrall us, that lead to laughter or a general sigh of agreement. While we grieve for the illnesses she bears, for the pain that often keeps her away from our meetings – we treasure our times together.

I love how Ginger speaks her truth and how she often shares on my blog comments. It makes me feel closer to her through the miles, to send a hug through cyberspace and thank her for taking the time to read and respond.

Although we are not far apart in age, Ginger seems so much stronger than I, wiser for her years of experience, grace-filled in spite of sorrows. She reminds me to persevere, to find the stories in the every dayness of living and to keep on writing, even through rejection.

A creative poster Ginger designed hangs in my office and is represented in the image above. With her usual flair for color and texture, it is the wisdom of Ginger’s words that I appreciate most: “I have always known that I would take this path, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

The Wisdom of my Sister Ginger challenges me to seek my own wisdom in the things that count, in the words I write and in the Hope I strive for.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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