Hope Sings

Woman-celebratingMy deck umbrella waves in the slight August wind as I sit in its shade. God has granted a beautiful summer morning and time for reflection.

So beautiful outside yet not so lovely within.

Still struggling with an illness and wondering why healing waits. Disgusted with myself that I cannot find joy when I face uncomfortable circumstances.

Count it all joy,” James demands.

I am not in a joyful place. My faith is too weak.

Let endurance, steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work.” Waiting is so hard for me.

Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Rest. Not the rest that revives during a vacation to the mountains of New Mexico, but the emotional and lovely rest of a contented soul.

I think of the brave women I know who live with chronic pain. Somehow, they find their joy even in the midst of the struggle. They live with gratitude and accomplish what they can while setting healthy boundaries. My she-roes, every one of them.

But I cannot reproduce what they own.


My joy button needs to be re-set, and I cannot find the mechanism.


Although I DO know joy resides within me, somehow I cannot feel it on this beauteous August morning. I attempt joyful activities, because I know I should and must. I journal through the struggle, work on my Southwest puzzle, bang on the piano.

But the feeling of joy – that inner light sparkling in the eyes of my friend who has multiple sclerosis, laughter bubblings from infants, the glow shining from weathered saints’ faces – somehow that brand of joy eludes me.

Can I only be joyful when every circumstance feels perfect and in sync? How shallow is my faith!

Yet hope peeks from behind the curtain of Psalm 68 as the divine calls me to find the page. “God is beginning to rise….”

Somehow just knowing there will indeed be a beginning brings hope and the knowing that God is present. A sudden blip of peace.

The Psalm urges me onward to nuggets of hope:

  • Let the uncompromisingly righteous be glad. Have I somehow compromised my joy?
  • Let them be in high spirits. I cannot remember the last time I was in high spirits.
  • Let them glory before God, to rejoice in him.

How can this “letting” happen? How can I manufacture this feeling of joy once again?

The solution whispers in Psalm 68:4:

  • Sing to God.
  • Sing praises to his name.
  • His name is the Lord. Jehovah, my eternal Husband and Maker, Friend, Lover of my soul.
  • Be in high spirits and glory before him.

So I obey, moving to my back yard to dance near the strawberry patch. I lift my hands upward. The song comes timidly at first, a familiar melody yet different words.

No soul response yet, so I dig deeper and sing louder – uncaring if the neighbors look out and see me cavorting with God in my back yard.

The hallelujahs of melody begin to ring true. I sing the words of Psalm 68:4 and forget the rules of musical theory. The important focus is on the spirit of the words.

I ignore the enemy’s taunts, the memories of the past week, the frailties of my humanity. Instead, I lift my praises to the only one who truly knows the condition of my soul.

And glory – there it comes – a bubble of joy resurfacing and lighting my inner self with its purity.

God sends a dragonfly to cheer me, to flap his lacey wings in response to the beat of creative worship. He flicks his beady eyes in my direction and dares me to imagine a creator who fashioned his spindly body one day and a sturdy oak the next.

God is beginning to rise. I praise him for the beginnings and glorify him for the rising of his presence once again.

Hope sings and joy responds.

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

Advertisements

Hope Finds Its Sanctuary

Praying_HandsDuring the winter months, I often journal and pray in the bathroom. My bathroom is tiny, so it’s the warmest room in the house. I sit on the heater vent, put a pillow behind my back and proceed to write my thoughts and communicate with God.

I figure God knows all about our physical bodies anyway and he doesn’t care where we meet – as long as we continue the relationship.

In the movie, “Oh God,” John Denver was embarrassed when God showed up while he was taking a shower.

“What?” God said, a la George Burns. “You think I don’t know what your body looks like? I made you.”

So I figure God doesn’t care that his daughter needs to stay warm and chooses the bathroom to keep from freezing even while her heart forms words of praise.

It seems a strange place to set up sanctuary, but then again – I’m close to the Kleenex if I cry and the cat also likes spending time with me in private places.

One of my friends, however, chooses a different way to worship – on the broad plains of Kansas or tucked into a booth at a unique coffee shop. Jane Tucker writes on her blog about wonderful Midwest locations as she revels in the expanse her camera sees, the grasses of the Flint Hills and the sun-colored flatlands of her homeland Iowa. Her blog’s tag line “Postcards from the Heartland” aptly describes the homey feel of her verbiage and the joy of finding the divine within natural wonders.

Her worship is just as genuine as mine, although hers is a wide and colorful expanse while mine is in a tiny room.


I have a feeling God loves spending time with his children and he doesn’t really care how we worship. Whether we dance with colorful scarves, sing off-key in the shower or sway to the harmonies of an old hymn – the important point is that we take time to meet with our maker.


The poet King David described places of worship, “From the ends of the earth” or “Within the sanctuary” or “With all that is within me.”

Places and people vary yet the creativity of methods to thank God for his many blessings helps us treasure relationship with him.

So wherever we are and however we choose, let’s find our sanctuary and plant hope by spending time with God.

Among my followers, I’m wondering where and how you worship? Do any of you find joy in a tiny room? Or is your worship best expressed within the confines of the traditional church building? Does a particular location stir you to praise the God who created you?

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

Hope Finds Holiness in Surprising Places

During a recent trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, and the missional atmosphere of this shop impressed us.Rev G quote on Ft Scott wall

Their bookshelves were filled with classics and some Christian fiction. I donated the Reverend G books and promised to bring the third book after its release in August.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning, so we put it on our calendars and showed up along with about 30 other folks of all ages.

I looked around the room and thought, what a wonderful way to attract those who might be curious about faith. A great way to think outside the box!

I was a bit disappointed when we were handed bulletins – not so outside the box – but even churchy habits are hard to break.

The video sermon was taken from Romans. Seriously? Romans? How can you attract seekers with one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned believers find difficult to understand.

But it soon became apparent that everyone in attendance was a believer or a seasoned church-goer so we discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine. It was fun to meet saints from another town who worship the same God and aren’t afraid to welcome strangers.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the building. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door – Tuscan colors and the rough textures I love. We each took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to the questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door and this wall as the main focus?

Hope finds believers in interesting and surprising places all over the world. We so often root ourselves in our comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our own spirituality.

But when we move outside our comfortable walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family that makes us Christian.

I’m encouraged to find pockets of believers in various places, worshiping in unique ways and spreading the love of Jesus without the confines of traditional walls. The texture and color of different congregants provide a rich setting for the stories we are all writing within our spiritual selves.

I think God must be glad about these creative venues. He is always able to create a new plan even while His attributes remain the same.

And as one of those creative types who yearns for more spiritual experiences outside the norm, I, too, am glad and filled with hope.

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

Hope in a Love Language

On this blog, I have mentioned the importance of my deck. Because I love nature and the fresh beauty of the outdoors, my deck becomes a sanctuary – the place where I most often meet with God.20141002_182454

On my deck, cardinals chirp a chorus from their beautiful repertoire. Blue jays squawk while squirrels run across the deck railing and try to steal food from the feeder. I study the clouds and the way the sun outlines their fluffy exteriors at dusk. On my glider, I rock back and forth in time to the songs I sing to the Creator of everything I see and hear.

But the past couple of years, my sanctuary has been marred by the weathering of nature. I wondered how long my deck would last when the next winter blasted through our Kansas heartland. Never treated, the wood showed wear and made me worry about the dollars and time involved to fix it. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I had little time to Google “deck staining.”

Then one weekend in September, a most marvelous occurrence took that worry away. Two deacons from my church and my wonderful son stained my deck. I had no idea that a stain could be so beautiful. Sienna brown was the color. Fantastic was my adjective.

These three men worked all day and made sure that every part was sufficiently covered. As I surveyed the finished results, I was amazed at how the color added richness to my terracotta pots yet contrasted splendidly with the creamy yellow of my home’s siding.

My primary love language is acts of service, and lately – I have felt the depletion of my soul’s resources. I knew I needed some TLC – somehow. In this act of service, this staining of a single mom’s deck, these men provided that care and helped to once again fill up my love tank.

I worship God for the way these men underscored what the church is supposed to be as we help each other with practical needs. And in my sanctuary of the outdoors, I thank God for the kindness offered me on one Saturday in September.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Gratitude Attitudes

Out on my deck, I consider the last gasp of summer – this season I enjoy with its plantings and harvests, its colors and textures. In my gratitude journal, I record the sights and sounds so that in the cold misery of winter – I will not forget what my heart is now thankful for.20140822_095730

A baby cardinal, his downy feathers fluffed as he learns to fly.

Deep purple campanula that hangs over my terra cotta pot, a reminder of New Mexico and the Southwest colors I love.

Tinkling wind chimes in the briefest of leftover wind.

Relentless sunshine – a heat advisory now but in the winter when I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder – these sweltering days will be reminders of healthier moments.

A squirrel lying on the deck railing, lazily munching on seed – his own breakfast in bed.

My yellow umbrella that reminds me if we continue to pray and wait long enough – we will see God answer. https://rjthesman.net/2014/07/22/god-winks/

A nail that needs hammered deeper into the board – a visual sacrament to the God/man who took the nails for me.

My cup of hot tea that I brewed and chose myself, grateful I still have choices and can make my own sustenance.

A quickie prayer for Mom whose choices are fewer than ever within the fog of Alzheimer’s. Her choices will eventually all disappear.

Sparrows who compete with chickadees for my offered seed – tiny symbols that God’s eye is on me – His own sparrow who depends on the feeding from His hand.

Words and more words that illustrate the joyful flow within of the gift God gave me. In the beginning was the Word and the Word is in me.

Blueberry bushes – emblems of Reverend G’s favorite dessert, now past bearing yet still gorgeous as their leaves morph into early reds. http://amzn.to/11QATC1

A monarch who pulsates his wings in a happy dance, sucking morning dew from the lantana I planted, hoping to attract him and his choir of butterflies.

My herb garden: rosemary, thyme, chives, lavender and cilantro that provide flavor and health throughout the year, reminding me to eat what God has created rather than what man manufactures.

The sunflowers that reach heavenward, moving their cheery faces toward the Kansas sky.

My cat who watches from inside the house, begging me to take her outside. “Later, Betsy. After I finish meeting with God.”

Do we ever finish meeting with God? Even when I return inside to dump a load into the laundry, baste the marinating chicken again and steer the dust mop over dirty floors – my thoughts will float to this early morning tabernacle.

I will remember how these hallowed moments prepared me for the day, somehow strengthened my resolve to be more present with God and encouraged my lonely heart.

Out on my deck, I find my solace and there, in an attitude of grateful praise, I find the reality of my faith ensconced in the creatures and plants God made before he made my species. In concert with Him, I whisper, “It is good.”

I finish writing in my gratitude journal and spin around in a final chorus of praise. My deck becomes an altar and the outside world a sanctuary. Together, the rocks, the birds, the plants and I cry out in spontaneous worship.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

 

 

 

Discovering the Saints in Assisted Living

When I visited my mother-in-law at her assisted living, we talked about the passing of seasons. Besides the obvious winter season of November and Thanksgiving, we discussed the particular seasons of life.old woman

Her season now includes living in the beautiful and secure setting of assisted living where she is surrounded by those who help her remember when lunch is served and when it is time to visit the hair salon.

Her nails have grown long and are carefully manicured because her daughters make sure she receives that treat. I remember her as the hard-working housewife during a previous season, puttering around her kitchen with brittle fingernails thrust into dishwater several times a day.

But life is different now. She has no dishes to wash and no floors to scrub, so she grows her nails long and chooses any color she likes for the nail tech who paints them. I am glad for her this tiny yet significant joy.

I accompany her to lunch and as we visit, I see the faces of my past. The father of one of my high school friends holds himself erect even as he slowly makes his way to the lunch buffet. I remember the quiet dignity of this aging saint, the way he encouraged us to sing and pray and trust. His hair, once a flaming red, now reflects over 80 years of pigment change while wrinkles line the face that once smiled at us from a left side pew, half-way down in the sanctuary.

Another gentleman recognizes me and I him. He once worked the land even as my father did. I remember one harvest when my family had to leave the fields to attend the funeral of my uncle.

While we were gone, this farmer gathered his family together, left his own fields untended and cut our family’s wheat. A necessary kindness that farmers often presented to their neighbors – a way to pay it forward. They knew we would reciprocate if they ever needed the same kindness.

This man stands before me and explains that his Thanksgiving this year was sad. A second son has preceded him to heaven – the backwards motion of life that tragically surprises, reminding us there are no guarantees no matter what our age. Each day is precious and can never be retrieved.

I understand the grief behind his eyes, yet he still smiles – a reminder that our shared faith reaches much farther than the cemetery.

Another saint eats in the dining room, and I recognize the gracious woman who once served in various hospitality ministries. She is now confined to a wheelchair and the daughter who tends her wears the same smile, bearing resemblance not only to the physical family traits but also to the holy inhabitant within.

My mother-in-law finishes her lunch, and I manage to snag a piece of pecan pie for her, remembering her own pecan pies during past seasons. I could never replicate her pecan pie, even when I explicitly followed the recipe.

The seasons of the past flow around me in the aging faces of faith – these elders who passed on to a young girl the importance of church attendance and scripture memory, the joy of interceding for each other as we responded in worship together.

I feel gratitude for the examples of these saints, these living images of the Hebrews 11 heroes who whispered advice through the ages. These are the folks who now wait out their timelines in assisted living while I continue in the ministry of my current season.

One season blends into another and each season is affected by the weather of the previous, just as the faith behaviors of these aged saints once affected me.

I can only hope that my life is also a favorable influence on the generations younger than I who may someday visit me in the winter season of my life.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

Finding Hope When Stress Unravels

I know better.

I even teach how to do it better – how to live a creative life that feeds on play.

Yet recently, the stresses of life gained the advantage and play disappeared. It was all I could do to get up in the morning and look at my longer-than-ever list of tasks that “must” be completed.

But even though I knew better, I continued to live in the pattern of extreme hurry-ness, checking off each task as if its completion kept my world rotating in the proper direction.

Then, just as I began to wonder how long I could keep up the pace, I crashed. I sat on my deck during a beautiful autumn afternoon and instead of enjoying the colors and feeling gratitude for the moment, I wept.

Stress tears finally broke and leaked from my soul. In that moment, I knew something had to change.

As if to confirm my self-diagnosis, that evening I tried to write.

For me, writing is the same as breathing. Words go in through the books I read and on any given day at any given moment, words expel in creative bangles that treat my soul to its beauty sound.

I write when I’m happy and I write when I’m sad. I write books and articles and character sketches and sometimes – a type of poetry that somehow morphs into prose.

But when I am too stressed, my soul replies with a sort of dis-ease and the words become blocked and lost behind a stiff wall of pain.

When I am stressed, writing becomes a chore and everything else revolves around its unhappiness and the unsettling of soul regret.

Worse, when I cannot write because of stress, I feel bereft of the gift God gave me for creativity and connection with Him. Typing the words He whispers brings a sort of completion of the gift – His breath in me, His words coming from me, then His words back within me.

When I write, I feel Him smile. The joy of the Creator resides in my soul, cached in that holy of holies within.

When I cannot write from stress, that block keeps joy from bubbling to the surface and instead becomes a tentacle of aloofness. I cannot feel God. I cannot breathe.

So how do I fight against the stresses that tempt me to self-destruct?

First, I say, “No.” When someone asks me to do another task that steals my joy – I say, “No.” I set the boundaries that protect my soul and keep that God-given creativity fresh and alive.

Second, I find ways to play. The best remedy for stress is play. So I sit at the piano and make up a new tune. I pull out my wonderful box of 64 crayons and fill in the lines in my coloring book. Who cares if the frog is purple? No one grades my coloring.

I take long walks and this time of year, search for pretty leaves to take home and plant on my sink so that I can see them as I do the dishes and remember to keep a joyful heart.autumn-leaves.jpg

I browse through bookstores and search for other words that nurture my sentences. I read books from authors I admire and wish to emulate.

I stroll through a garden nursery and touch the flowers that God designed, marvel at all the intricate shapes and colors and remind Him how much I love Him.

Then I go home and defy the stress to leave me alone as I sit down once again and search for my creative source.

Once defeated, stress has a harder time finding me. I am camouflaged within hope and joy, able to find peace again and offer my treasure back to God.

Then my writing becomes worship, and my work reflects joy.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1