Hope Inspires When Art Becomes Life

Oscar Wilde opined that life often imitates art, but once in a while, the philosophy reverses and art becomes life. I’ve seen it happen with my Reverend G series and recently, it happened again.Art-Becomes-Life

In the third Reverend G book – to be released late spring, 2015 – Reverend G purchases birthday cards for her son, Jacob, long before she begins to recede into the shadows of Alzheimer’s. She wants to celebrate with him even when she no longer remembers his birth date.

My son recently celebrated his 29th birthday and he received an interesting card from his grandmother. Although Mom hasn’t read any of the Reverend G books nor have I told her anything about Book # 3, art became life.

My sister found a birthday card for Caleb that Mom purchased several years ago, signed and wrote Caleb’s name on the envelope. In her tiny scrawl were the same words she once used for all his birthday cards, “Love you bunches – Grandma Arlene.”

Did she have some sort of premonition that this one card would be sent when she no longer remembered dates, when time itself became an extinct commodity in her mind?

Did she hope that her first grandchild would still cherish the grandmother who sits in assisted living and makes up stories that she believes are true? Did she want him to know that although she cannot remember his age or his career, she cares enough to ask the same questions over and over, “How’s Caleb? Is he doing okay? Tell him I think about him all the time.”

Did she wonder if she would still be living when that card was delivered? Or would it be the last greeting she would send to this boy she has loved?

When art becomes life, it gives me pause as a writer. Because I dedicate my words to the One who is the Word, I wonder how much of what pours out of me will manifest in the future.

Writers often use words for therapy as many of our past experiences show up in our books and characters. But we also face the responsibility of knowing that the words we use today might actually become reality tomorrow.

In that case, it behooves Christian writers to be even more cautious and ever alert for the voice of the Word within.

May the words of my mouth and those of my pen be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Savior and my God.

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

Writing Insecure

What is it with us writers? We have such a hard time admitting to our vocation, our “calling” to write.

Several of my coaching clients struggle with this topic – and truthfully, sometimes, so do I. We are challenged to call ourselves writers because we haven’t won the Pulitzer or landed our books on the New York Times bestseller’s list. Can we truly be writers if we haven’t experienced such lofty goals?

Yet everyday, we put butt in chair, fingers on keyboard and invent stories. We create practical articles and send them to magazines. We reap from our souls the phrases that become poetry. And we wonder … are we really writers?

Recently, I’ve been reading “The Eternal Wonder” by Pearl S. Buck, a wonderfully-crafted novel about a genius boy who grows up with an intense sense of wonder. The first chapter includes the most beautiful expression of the birth process I’ve ever read.eternal wonder

In the forward section, Pearl’s son wrote that his mother struggled to admit she was a writer. Really? It was only after she won the Nobel Prize in 1938 for “The Good Earth” did she feel validated as a writer. She then became “serious” about penning her stories – completing 43 novels, 28 nonfiction books, 242 short stories, 37 children’s books, 18 scripts for film and television and 580 articles and essays. But only after she won the Nobel.

So what is it with us writers? Why do we have such a hard time admitting who we are?

Part of the reason may be that we observe19 year-old boys who sweat for one year, then become instant millionaires as a result of the one-and-done NBA draft. Yet we work for years before we sell that first article for two cents a word, just enough money to buy a Snickers ice cream bar.

Another reason may be that our culture defines success as graduate degrees and titles rather than the toil of trial and error. The successful person is the one who wins on American Idol, not the one who attempts the audition, fails and drives home alone.

A third reason might be that many writers are wired with melancholy – the common temperament for artists. We feel insecure because we are insecure. We struggle with our calling because we live in our introverted worlds and nobody tells us how wonderful we are for making the attempt, for trying to write, for sending out that blasted article one more time.

The only solution is to keep writing, to hand out our business cards and carry our laptops into Starbucks – to dare the world to ask us what we do so that we can stand up straight and answer with confidence, “I’m a writer.” So there !

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

An Incredible Woman of Words

She has been one of my favorite authors – forever – and I think I have read everything she ever wrote. For years, I listened to her “GateWay to Joy” devotions on the radio, mesmerized by her mellow voice and inspired by her story.Elisabeth Elliott

Elisabeth Elliott was one of the wives of the missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in 1956. I remember sitting in church when the news came in. Even then, I prayed for Elisabeth and her infant daughter.

But what really inspired me was how Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador and continued to minister to the Indians. She even allowed one of her husband’s killers to baptize her daughter, Valerie. The killer, of course, was by then a genuine Christian – but what level of forgiveness is that? How in the world can a mother trust her child to a former murderer? Elisabeth’s story was one of complete redemption and restoration.

When Elisabeth returned to the United States, she filled her days with writing and speaking. That was how I began to know her – through her words, through the wisdom contained in the pages of her books.

Oh, how I wanted to be like her. How I wanted to be that type of writer and that brave a woman.

Now, Elisabeth lives with dementia. She is several years into the disease and can barely speak legibly anymore. Her husband, Lars, cares for her and tries to communicate for her. I cannot imagine how painful it must be that her words have been taken from her, but the one foundation Elisabeth has based her life on – is still strong.

She believes in the sovereignty of God and for whatever reason, the Almighty has allowed her to walk through this dementia challenge. True to form, the courage to trust God buoys Elisabeth’s spirit even now. Her words may have been silenced, but her brave heart continues to beat with love for her Savior.

While I hate the disease that has removed Elisabeth’s words from her, I am still inspired by her life and by how she deals with daily challenges. She is a woman of strong faith and incomparable courage.

As a writer who wanted to emulate her, I salute my sister of faith, Elisabeth Elliott. And I ask God to be the Word within her and continue to let her former words remain in print.

You can read more about Elisabeth’s life and work at: http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html

2014 RJ Thesman

How Do Authors Work a Blog Chain?

I’ve been asked to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Sally Jadlow tagged me. Visit her blog at  www.sallyjadlow.com.

Sally writes poetry and devotions. Her book “The Late Sooner” chronicles the land run in Oklahoma while her “God’s Little Miracle Books I and II” describe the many miracles Sally has observed as a corporate chaplain. Her latest book, “Family Favorites from the Heartland” shares recipes and stories from Sally’s family gatherings. 

The Author’s Blog Chain asks four questions. Here are my answers:

What are you currently working on?writing4502.jpg

I just finished the first draft of my memoir, so in a couple of months I’ll go back and start those edits. I’m also doing the final edits on the third book in the Reverend G series. The first book, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” was released by CrossRiver Media in 2012. The second book, “Intermission for Reverend G” will be released in April, 2014. This series follows the fictional story of a woman minister who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Then I’m beginning to do some character sketches and plots for the next novel that I have in my heart. No name for that one yet, so I’m keeping it a secret.

How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Because my family is dealing with Alzheimer’s personally, through my mother’s struggle with the disease, I wanted to explore what the Alzheimer’s patient might be thinking and experiencing inside her soul. So I wrote the Reverend G series from the deep viewpoint. I wanted my readers to feel what Reverend G feels and think as she thinks, to understand how devastating this disease is but at the same time, find some nuggets of hope.

I’ve also included lots of funny stories with the other characters Reverend G meets. Because laughter is healing, I wanted my readers to understand that even in the midst of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to look for the humor.

Most books about Alzheimer’s are nonfiction, telling about the latest research. Rarely do any of them deal with the disease from the spiritual viewpoint.

Why do you write what you write?

Sometimes I write because the words just come pouring out of me, but other times – I have a definite purpose.

I wrote my memoir because I wanted my son to understand his roots and why his family does what they do. I wanted him to experience the security of our cozy Oklahoma roots in the 1950’s, the turbulence of the 1960’s and the insecurities of my world in the early 21st century. Although he can study these decades in history books, I wanted him to see them through my eyes.

I wrote the Reverend G series because of my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s dementia. Whenever I visited them, I tried to communicate and wondered what they were thinking about, what they were trying to communicate to me yet couldn’t make any sense of the words. I also wanted to encourage caregivers who work so hard during those 36-hour days to take care of their loved ones.

I write mostly about hope, on my blog and in my books, because we all need to experience hope – especially when times are tough.

How does your writing process work?

As a bivocational writer, I work another job. So my writing begins after I come home. Although I feel as if I’m always writing, getting new ideas, forming characters in my mind, jotting down notes – the real grist of the work comes when I sit down and type out the words.

I follow a weekly writing plan of working on shorter pieces and my blog during the week. Then on the weekends, I work on the books because I have a longer period of time to devote to them. Each weekend, I try to finish a chapter and then go back the next day and work on some edits.

I write a bimonthly column for the Johnson County Gazette, and a monthly blog post for Trochia online. My own blog posts are scheduled for Tuesdays of every week and then I answer all the comments that come from those posts.

My editorial calendar keeps me on track, and that’s the first document I open every night. Once I get in the zone of writing, it’s difficult to stop and that’s when it’s really fun – until the next day when I realize I’ve missed several hours of sleep because I was spending time with my characters.

I’m tagging Author Nancy Kay Grace who has been published in four anthologies and speaks on the topics of grace and faith. She also writes regular devotions on line and in print, titled “Grace Notes.” Nancy Kay’s book, “Grace Notes: 30 Days of Grace” is scheduled for publication in September, 2014 by CrossRiver Media.

Her contact info follows:

Website http://www.nancykaygrace.com/

Facebook Author Page: Nancy Kay Grace/ GraceNotes
Twitter:  @nancykaygrace
LinkedIn: Nancy Kay Grace profile on Linked In

 

 

Saturday Sisters

SAMSUNGWe’ve done life together, these five women and I. Once part of the same church fellowship, we became a team. They interceded for me and supported me when I served as  international minister at KU. They continue to intercede and support me in my ministries as writer and life coach.

We’ve laughed together and cried together as women do so well. All it takes is a phone call or an email to bring us together either physically or in prayer.

They are warriors, each and every one, ready to fight for each other, provide intervention when needed and encouragement when we don’t even know that’s what we need.

With this group of women, I can be real. I talk about my fears and my troubles without having to wrap them around Bible verses or a mask of faith.

My Saturday sisters understand. We share some of the same aches and pains yet we explore hope together, knowing we are headed for a better life in eternity.

Once a month we meet, on a Saturday. We put together a spontaneous pot luck, reconnect, hug and record prayer requests. We nurture each other as we check up on our needs and our joys. We bring special recipes and understand when one or more of us just can’t think of a single thing to cook. We keep each other accountable in faith and in the realities of life.

These Saturday sisters live out authenticity and know how to be real.

Two of us struggled through mid life divorce while the other four have lived many years with the same husband. We’ve prayed each other through those situations, too – through perseverance and heartache, joy and frustration.

Three of us know the pain of dealing with a parent who has Alzheimer’s. They tell me their stories so I can learn and include new passages in my books. We hope and pray that we won’t have to face the same battle ourselves.

We have prayed for each others’ children and grandchildren for they, too, have been underlined on our prayer lists. It feels as if we have raised six families together and indeed, we have needed each others’ village.

Some day I may write a book about my Saturday sisters and honor each of them in chapters that speak of their gifts and our bond of friendship.

I love them each, and I love them all together. Every time we meet, I consider it a blessing to peer into their pure hearts. And I respect how they love me back, just for who I am.

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

Freedom to Write

It’s one of those things we take for granted, because it’s always been part of our lives – but only since 1791 when the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

James Madison and George Mason, the men credited with writing the Bill of Rights, must have realized how important free speech would become to the new republic, so they made sure that the First Amendment stated that freedom clearly:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It is this freedom that allows me to post this blog and write whatever I feel – as long as I don’t slander anyone or commit an act of treason.

It is this freedom that feeds my creativity so that when I type out the story in my head, I know it can be submitted and published without fear.

It is this freedom that helps me appreciate all the publishers, agents and editors who work so hard to make sure that writers tell the absolute truth with the most effective words.

It is this freedom that warms my soul every time someone asks me what I do and I reply, “I work as Program Director and Life Coach at a women’s ministry and that is what I do. But a writer – that is who I am.”

It is this freedom that allows me to question when someone speaks or writes a sentence I might not agree with. Analyzing and digging for the truth is also who I am as a writer and to not have the right to disagree would be appalling.

It is this freedom that I salute every time I finish a manuscript and send it through cyberspace – hoping that someone somewhere will see my words and be moved in some way, perhaps even to the point of taking action and finding hope.

It is this freedom that gives me the right to say, “Thank you” to my readers and respond when my words bring comments.

It is this freedom that keeps the libraries and the bookstores open, feeding the dreams of young boys and girls who want more than anything else to become writers.

And it is this freedom that allows us to cherish the oldest and longest-selling book, the one manuscript that has been on the best-seller lists over and over and continues to sell in its various versions, dialects and languages. The truth sets us free, and the freedom to read the Bible is still one of our greatest treasures.

Amer flagSo writers and readers, be thankful this Fourth of July. Be grateful that you live in the land of the free where your words can fly from your fingers to your computer screen into a reader’s soul.

Be grateful for the freedom to write what you feel and what stirs your creative juices. And celebrate the freedoms of America.

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

Image: Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID http://www.garrisonphoto.org

How Do Writers Research?

One year ago, my friend and I drove to Santa Fe, NM. We planned it as a research / vacation trip in the wonderful Southwest, with side trips to Taos and Red River.santa fe

Why Santa Fe? Because I knew that my main character, Reverend G, loved the Southwest and particularly Santa Fe. I also knew that I wanted to include something about that region in the third Reverend G book – which is still in its first draft stage.

So we drove to Santa Fe, enjoying the mountain scenery and the warmer weather. After a hard Kansas winter, we needed to soak up the sun as well as to soak in the culture.

Writers can, of course, do research on the internet. In fact, that’s where I started – looking up the main sites of Santa Fe. But the internet can only provide facts and stats for a region.

If you want to write credibly and make your stories real – you have to actually experience a region.

The writer needs to know how people communicate in a particular area, how characters dress and talk, what it feels like to stand in line at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and then spend several hours drinking in the colors and textures of her paintings.

The writer needs to discover new artists who craft incredible sculptures out of metal, pictures of women on horses that seem to fly through the studio, textiles that flap their colors in the wind.

The writer keeps a journal of the trip and gathers brochures, maps, postcards, photos wherever she goes. But the writer also records the emotions she feels, touring a particular city.

I wrote about our tour of the Plaza: “Native Americans spread out their creativity: jewelry on black mats, shining silver and bountiful turquoise, coral, copper bracelets, earrings, necklaces – nothing that Reverend G would buy but all of it – she would enjoy. The pottery – some with colors of the earth, some with the brightness of primary colors.”

We talked with tourists, but also with the locals – interesting blends of Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American and some Asians. Reverend G and I both loved the diversity of the Southwest.

These friendly people, women in broomstick skirts of various colors. Men with tanned and wrinkled faces. They seem to live an idyllic life where they have the freedom to leave workplaces and spend time with a writer from Kansas, to tell her how long they’ve lived in Santa Fe and why they moved out of corporate America to operate a coffee shop in New Mexico.

We ate at a little café with different colors painted on each wall – purple blended into orange, yellow beside red. Small salads with walnuts, salmon and bleu cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. Iced chai tea in tall glasses – spicy yet sweet and so refreshing.

So many variations of wildflowers, splayed in gardens along with buckets of pansies and Indian blanket daisies. A momentary wrong turn and we were lost, but then found in a rose garden at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bathing our hot faces in the fountain that promised health. Snapping my promo picture while surrounded by lavender roses.

Statues of Mary everywhere and the creativity of God surrounding us. Worship all around us and in us as my friend played a Native American flute, and I wrote in my journal and savored the day.

The Loretto Chapel, famous for its spiral staircase. You can’t imagine what happens to Reverend G in the chapel, but you’ll have to wait for the third book to find out.

Although we smelled smoke from mountain wildfires, the resulting atmospheric change brought us colorful sunsets – a sacred end to a busy day.

We left a few sites for the next trip – whenever that will be. But I found enough material and soaked in enough of the Southwest to add to my book and make it credible.

How do writers research? They live in the area for a while. They let every one of their senses open fully to the people and the places where they exist. They look for the inner soul and the textures and colors around them. They listen for dialects and observe relationships. They take time to literally smell roses and meld new friendships. Then they come home, organize their notes and write about it.

And a year later – they wish they could return.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”