Hope in the Steps

trustOne of my friends is a man of great wisdom. When he speaks, I listen. Recently, I explained to him some of my struggles and the enormous question marks hanging over my life.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I’m a planner, and I need to know my direction. But it’s foggy.”

“Just take one step at a time,” he said.

After our meeting, I opened my journal and added his wisdom to one of the most famous trust verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. It seemed to outline a simple formula that added some security to my questioning heart.

Trust in the Lord” – one step at a time.

Most of life’s decisions require some amount of trust — either in God Himself, in our ability to make wise decisions or in how the circumstances play out. Being able to trust only one step at a time seems more manageable and less overwhelming.

“With all your heart” – one step at a time.

Most of us glibly declare that we trust God, yet do we really believe with all our hearts, with the entire soul and being? Isn’t there always a piece of reticence in decision-making? Trusting with our wholistic self, one step at a time, seems more authentic.

“Lean not on your own understanding” – one step at a time.

Letting go of my self-sufficiency cannot happen in one giant leap, will not preclude every deletion of my pride. Because my true self has served me well, I cannot massively change my attitude all at once. Refusing to lean on myself can only be surrendered one tiny step at a time.

“In all your ways” – one step at a time.

Not just for one big decision, but for all my directionless life. Every ordinary walk-through-life day. As I take the one-step-at-a-time approach in one area of my being, it will foster more trust in every facet — from finances to relationships to choice of décor to nutrition to everything in between.

“Acknowledge Him” – one step at a time.

God is too big to understand his omnipotence and all-knowing power, because we live in the every day, one-day-at-a-time life. As I acknowledge divine wisdom and guidance one step at a time, I experience the relational value of knowing God. This is the difference between religion and relationship, legalism versus love.

“He will make your path straight” – one step at a time.

The cobblestones in my garden set up the perfect analogy. Each stone was mortared, set in pea gravel and arranged to make the perfect pathway. A step off-target would have changed the course.

Although the pathway of life sometimes feels like a meandering current, when we look back on its finished course, we see how it led us straight to the best outcome — into God’s arms.

So as I take one step at a time, each moment becomes a sacred cobblestone, a multi-colored piece to create the finished journey.

Then the questions about direction become hope-filled expressions, and the final destiny shines with joy.

©2019 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For other analogies about hope, check out Hope Shines – also available in Large Print.

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

Check out my books on my Amazon Author page.

Hope is Present

When I worked for a national organization of chaplains, we often talked about the ministry of presence. As people struggle with grief and face challenges, they need someone to show up and be with them. To be present.hugs at beach

Henri Nouwen eloquently explained this ministry of presence, “I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”   

Somehow we think we must always come up with a perfect quote or a special Bible verse to help another person over the hump.

But my quote is not your quote. Your Bible verse may not help me at all.

So feeling the need to impart great wisdom rarely shares hope, especially for those who are suffering.

During this year of grief, my son’s illness and unanswered questions, hope has shown itself in the ministry of presence.

I have been blessed by special friends who were determined to just be present: An invite for morning coffee or a spontaneous offer of iced tea which then morphed into supper at Red Robin. Hugs. A plate of gluten free treats. A listening ear. An “I’m thinking about you” card or an “I’m praying for you” text.

No wise quotes. No Bible verses. No “You should do this” statements.

These “present” friends granted me space and allowed me the time to heal in my own way. No expectations. No judgment.

Plenty of hope.

Now I am determined to pay it forward – to just be present when I meet another struggling pilgrim.

When others are suffering, to offer that cup of coffee or the iced tea that sweats all over the table or the meal at Red Robin with bottomless fries which I don’t need but sometimes taste really good.

To be the one who shares hope without words of wisdom, sans my ideas of what might help. To just be there as a person who cares.

Hopefully, I can do for others what others have done for me.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For nuggets of hope, check out Hope Shines – now available in regular or large print.

Hope Inches Toward Acceptance

acceptanceA copy of the Serenity Prayer is posted on my refrigerator. Such a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,  and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom was a frequent prayer as I worked in various ministries, raised my son, made life-changing decisions.

But change happened with or without courage. The seasons of life determined new directions, transitions and different pathways. Change has never been my problem.

But acceptance—now that is a different story.

Growing up on the farm, we made do with what we had but if we needed something, we actually made it. Created it from the bits and pieces around us. We changed the situation to make it better.

That work ethic has followed me through life and added to the quality of my life. I have no regrets for changes made, for improvements accomplished, even for risks taken.

But acceptance is not easy for a change-maker. To sit around and just let life happen is not in my DNA. I am always ready to do what is necessary to make a situation better or to at least make it tolerable.

I revise manuscripts until they feel completely right. I add another exercise to my routine to strengthen aging knees and a threatening muffin-top waist. I delete from my diet the chemicals that are harmful. Make the necessary changes.

Even as a coach, my questions to clients include, “What are the action points we can work on this week? How can we move forward and make the changes that will improve your book, help you find a publisher, complete the process?”

Change is easier, because it allows me to do something—anything—to make improvements. But what if the situation cannot be changed? Ever.

I am frustrated and trying to learn how to work through this whole acceptance thing. How can I find the hope needed in doing nothing?

With the help of a gifted therapist and friends who care, I am inching toward the acceptance of Deb’s death. My life has changed and will never be exactly the same. She is gone.

Somehow, I must make peace with how her absence has affected my calendar days and the future we planned together.

As we age, some things must clearly become an accepted piece of life. In her book, “Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist writes, “It’s okay to be medium.”

She’s referring to the size of clothing she now wears. After years of being petite, she now must wear the medium sizes.

My mother has accepted her life in assisted living. She is content living day by day in her safe and beautiful environment. No stresses. No bills to pay. No worrying about the car and the next oil change. Just get up every morning, eat when they tell you to eat and play Bingo.

Done. Accepted.

To stay in hope and live in peace, we have to sometimes let go of the need to change. We have to accept what cannot be changed and know that even within the acceptance—we will be okay.

So change what you can but accept what cannot be tampered with. Then pray for the peace to live within that acceptance and find joy in each day.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to read about a woman who was able to change her life, check out “No Visible Scars.

Hope Falters

She was a lovely woman and an expert in her field – the stager sent by the realtor to prepare my house for sale. At the outset, she warned me, “I’m not here to offend anyone. I just want you to get the most money for your house.”

I was prepared for her to move things around and give me some decorating ideas, but I was emotionally blindsided by the number of my treasures she declared, “This has to go.” Basically, she dismantled my house and my personal stuff.Debris of move

She left piles of things in every room to get rid of in order to most effectively sell the house. She was very good at her job, and I learned so many things about spacing, color, lighting, even the size of pictures as they become a statement beside a bed or on a wall.

Buyers will be looking for the feeling of space and for a neutral territory where they can set up their home. Anything personal of mine will interrupt that neutral feeling, so it cannot be in sight.

The stager showed me how to hide certain things, such as the litter box, so buyers are unaware the house once was ruled by a cat. Betsey, aka Gabriel, would disagree, but she will find her box and discreetly do her business – a bit perturbed that her abode has been disturbed.

I learned how important my stuff is to me. Most of my things are the early attic variety, garage sale finds or something I have restored that another person threw away. Nothing has great intrinsic value – except in my soul.

While I know we are not defined by our stuff, in a way – yes, we are.

Quilts, a cradle, an antique telephone – all carry sentimental value for me. The quilt my grandmother and her sisters made for my wedding – a creamy yellow, with butterflies made from the scraps of their lives, babies’ bonnets, a favorite shirt.

The cradle, fashioned by my dad, held my newborn son as we rocked him to sleep that first Christmas. The fire blazed and kept my baby warm. Dad woke up every thirty minutes to check on the heat emanating off the logs. A sweet memory, a grief rekindled.

The old telephone my parents pieced together by visiting scores of flea markets and antique shops, then proudly gave to me one Christmas – long before Alzheimers invaded our lives and stole that precious memory.

Yet none of these treasures made the cut. “Get rid of them or find a place to store them – out of the way,” the stager instructed.

How can I shove my lifetime out of the way?

As she finished her work, the stager and I learned a bit more about each other. Both of us write. Both of us have journeyed through divorce and experienced pre-judgement by the established church. Both of us love cats.

When she left, we hugged and I was glad for a new friend, for her many suggestions which I know on some level are right and will help me sell the house.

But somehow, I also felt violated and discouraged, certain my life was going to change, wondering how I could decide what to let go.

The piles of my life’s debris reminded me how mortal we are and how fleeting is life – a mere breath – a candle that should be given away to bring another person joy, a sofa table so out of date no one would want it even if it was free.

My son was shocked and upset by the suggestions made for how we needed to purge more and more and more. As we talked through our emotions, he finally said, “Change is hard for me, Mom. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s bad.” 

A wise young man. I admire his honesty.

Although the purging pains my soul, my journal entries speak the truth. This duplex has never been home for me; it was only a place to settle while I worked in this town.

Now that all my pictures have been stripped off the walls, my mantel decoration has been condemned and the detritus of my life lies in piles on the floor – it feels even less like the place where I can freely write, create stories and be my authentic self.

So my son and I are trusting God to provide something wonderful for us again, just as he has done through every step of the post-divorce journey. If we have to stay in this duplex, then we’ll be grateful for a roof over our heads. And it will be cleaner, sans the stuff we no longer need.

In “Jesus Calling” Sarah Young writes, “Anticipate coming face-to-face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle…When you see armies of problems marching toward you, cry out to God! Allow him to fight for you. Watch him working on your behalf.”

So that’s where I am this day – purging, mourning the loss of stuff, and waiting for next steps – clinging to God and trying to find hope.

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

Hope Releases

Woman-celebratingWe learn to release in tiny increments, although those steps represent monumental heart blips in life.

When we help our five year-olds zip up their new backpacks, then watch them walk away from us toward the kindergarten room. They feel excitement as they begin the educational journey. With tears, we pray for strength to let them go. We release them to the system, to the process of learning, to embracing social skills and finding their direction in life.

Release continues: the first time they drive alone, first dates, first college visit. Then 18 short years after we push them through the birth canal, we release them as they launch toward college or the workplace.


Release carries with it the stretching grief of necessary growth.

During this season, I work on releasing Mom into the final stages of Alzheimers, knowing what the end result will be – what it must be.

Release for her will result in a glorious heavenly welcome while it spontaneously leaves us missing her and longing for our own release. The hope of a future release and the relief of eternity with God.

Last week, I posted about the prayers I have whispered and my place in God’s waiting room.

For a life-long planner like me, it is difficult to make the plan a reality when I cannot hear the answer and do not know the direction. Waiting requires a type of release – letting God work his miracle timing and trust that he knows – always – the best ending for my questionings.

The prophet Isaiah foreshadowed our need for release. “These things you carry about are loaded as burdens on the weary beasts” (Isaiah 46:1).

We can choose to carry the burdens – to sacrifice peace by loading our hearts with worry and fear.

Or we can release our prayers, visions and dreams into the capable hands of a wise God who knows the end from the beginning.

My task is to speak God’s truth, write his words, then release everything to his care.

His role is to work it all out so that others will be drawn to his love and ultimately find their final release in his home.

Still waiting and staying in hope, but trusting that release will usher in the answers.

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

Stage 2 of Alzheimer’s – Questions

As told by Reverend G … Stage 2 - Alz

Such a subtle change, but scary nonetheless. I wonder what is happening to me but don’t feel the need to check with Doc Sanders.

Tiny signs. A forgotten phrase during the Lord’s Prayer. A trip to the grocery store, then realize I forgot my list and can’t remember anything I need.

Surely it’s only stress or maybe a weird virus where neurons stop firing together. Maybe a simultaneous mix of allergies that somehow have attacked my memory bank.

Why God? Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? I can’t stand it.

Again, you send me to the book of Isaiah – this brave prophet who carried your message so faithfully.

Today I read from Isaiah 48:1-2, “Hear me, my people, you swear allegiance to the Lord…and brag about depending on the God of Israel.”


So if I believe in God’s power to keep me safe and if I depend on him for everything, then I need to live it out.


When I forget my own birthday, rely on God to help me.

When I miss a line in the Lord’s Prayer or the Doxology in front of my entire congregation and I am so embarrassed, trust that God will cover me with grace. He is never too embarrassed to love me.

When I don’t understand what’s happening to me, depend on God’s wisdom.

If, as his follower, I believe I belong to him…if I boast that he is faithful…then I must continue to walk down this road, believing he will walk with me.

I am afraid. I do not understand and yet – I am held in the palm of his mighty hand.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – http://bit.ly/1RH27AT