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Friday, May 12, 2017

Let's Dream Again!

I must admit, I was totally an idealist when I got married at seventeen. Youthful bliss? Or ignorance, perhaps?

Check out these synonyms for idealist: utopian, visionary, wishful thinker, pipe-dreamer, fantasist, romantic, dreamer, daydreamer, stargazer.

In other words, ME!! Do you see yourself in there too?

Back then, I thought I knew so much. I had everything figured out. Hand in hand, Jason and I were going to take on the world. Nothing was impossible. Don’t even dare cast a shadow of doubt on anything we imagined doing! I believed in “happily ever after” in a glorious this-is-going-to-be-so-easy sort of way. We were in love. And love conquers all!!!

Ahem. (I clear my throat. Squirm in my chair.)

Looking back over a few decades of life, marriage, and motherhood, I find that my “visionary” thinking has drastically changed. Wilted a bit. “My pipe-dreamer” tendency has been replaced with reality. And sometimes reality hurts. No more rocking in a “utopian” bliss fantasizing over what my life could be like. Daydreamer? Wishful thinker? Kaput. Zip?

Ever been there?

Last night, I attended a Bob Goff event. A couple of years ago, two of my adult children traveled across the country to hear him speak. So this was my chance to listen to him at a local fundraiser. I tell you, I've never seen anyone more comfortable in his own skin. The guy is totally relaxed onstage. Dresses simply. Tells stories in such a heartwarming, endearing, and simplistic way, I had tears in my eyes and was laughing, almost non-stop. The humorous thing? He laughs like crazy throughout his presentation. Completely real. And I loved how he spoke to my heart through simple stories.

Today, hours later, I’m still pondering his handheld mirror object lesson. When his kids were young, he’d hold up a mirror and have them gaze at themselves. Then, while they were doing so, he’d tell them what he saw in them. Almost like prophesying good stuff into his kids’ lives, even when they were little. Isn’t that cool? (How many times have I gazed into the mirror and thought derogatory things about myself?) Through Bob’s life lesson, he was instilling a positive inner self-image about who those youngsters were: “I see you. You are strong. Capable. Going to do great things.” Talk about a visionary!

I think it’s time you and I picked up a mirror and told ourselves some good things about ourselves.

No, I’m not talking about your gorgeous eyes Mama gave you. Or that cute mole above your lip. 

Let’s gaze into that mirror and tell ourselves something amazing about who we still are on the inside. “You are brave. Courageous. Kind. You offer friendship to the lonely. You help missionaries. You see good in people! You want to spread  hope.”

It's seeing the good stuff God has already put inside of you. It's seeing the real you.

So, I have to ask myself, and I hope you will too, why have I given up on being a “dreamer?” Aging? I surely am. Disappointments? Had a few. Lost hope? Traveled that road, been there, done that, and it didn’t work out? Sound familiar?

But what if all those dreams and ideals and creative thoughts haven’t really died like I thought? What if, somewhere deep inside, on the edge of where faith and doubt collide, I could see myself as that kid who still imagines big things? What if I could find the girl who likes to swing and balance on fallen logs and loves the color blue, and there I find my dreams have been sleeping, dormant, just waiting for me. And all it takes is a little zap of what-ifs flowing through my veins again, or a nudge of inspiration from a friend, or from God Himself, or maybe even, a slight kick in the seat of the pants??

What if you sat on the porch tonight and did a little “star-gazing” of your own? And while you were there, you remembered who you were when you were a little kid and believed you could do anything. What if you and I became dreamers again? People willing to try something. To take a chance again. To stomp on doubt and say, “You know what, I do believe!”

I want to be that girl again.
How about you?

Mary Hanks writes stories about redemption, restoration, and romance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happily Ever After

Awww. The movie ends, and we’re left with such dreamy feelings.

“Happily ever after.” Sounds almost perfect, doesn’t it?

Yet I wonder, does that quote sneakily imply when we marry we’ll never have problems? That a wife will meet her husband’s every need? That he’ll keep her happy and free from being sad or lonely for the rest of her life?

In movies, happiness seems to be a deal breaker. Like if they aren’t happy they can walk away. When did happiness become the on-demand ingredient in marriage?

While marriage certainly has its blissful moments, I can guarantee that a husband and wife—being human like me—will err one or two or a bunch of times. Someone will get mad or jealous or irritated. Someone may storm out of the house. Or cry. Or yell. Stuff happens. Hurts will come. But so will forgiveness. Healing. Peace. And reconciliation, if we let it.

“’Til death do us part” is all about being sold on loving our spouse and choosing to remain by his or her side—no matter what. Through thick and thin and all the ups and downs of life, our love and promises hold us together with a magical super glue.

However, no marriage partners get it right all the time.

Jas and I aren’t living “happily” ever after. We’ve had problems. We’ve also experienced crazy joy and love. We are best friends. But we’re still working on some things. We’ve fallen out of love. We’ve also fallen deeply in love with each other—over and over.

In fact, I fell in love with him just a few days before Christmas.

Ever heard of a cuddle chair? It’s a chair that’s narrower than a loveseat, yet wider than a regular recliner, and built for two. By the name, I think you basically have to cuddle in it.

Due to us trying to selling our house, we didn’t have much furniture left in the place. In the evenings we were sitting in uncomfortable office chairs to watch movies, not in our old loveseat like we used to. The arrangement didn’t promote closeness or romantic interactions.

In need of a solution, we went on a furniture hunt. As soon as I spotted the cuddle recliners, I wanted one! We store-hopped for a while, trying out various recliners built for two. Finally, we chose the most comfortable fit for us and brought the new piece home.

We were now able to sit very close. We ate dinner next to each other. We watched movies in the evenings side by side—and sometimes fell asleep there.

Jas had two weeks off for Christmas. Almost from the first day of his vacation he was more relaxed and attentive than he'd been in a long time. Seemed he might just be on the lookout for ways to romance me. And me being the romantic girl I am, my heart melted with the attention! One night, we were sitting on our cuddle chair watching something, and we turned and stared into each other’s eyes—held gazes just like they do in the movies. A cute smile crossed his lips. Romantic sparkles lit his green eyes. I was seeing into the same heart of the man I’d fallen in love with as a teenager.

We closed our eyes and tenderly kissed. There was healing and hope in that moment. For a while, I just gazed at him, loving him all over again.

Yep. I think every married couple should buy a cuddle chair. ;)

When was the last time you gazed deeply into your spouse’s eyes and let yourself become vulnerable enough to let him/her peer into yours? How long since you kissed each other like you were eighteen and madly in love? How about having some intentional romance this weekend? Not because it’s Valentine’s week. But because he or she is the love of your life! You both deserve some quality alone time to get to know each other again.

Go on a date. Hold hands. Sit in the car and kiss passionately. And love your life together. Remember, you are so blessed to have each other!

You and I may not live “happily ever after.” But a lot of ever after sure is going to be happy!

Mary Hanks writes stories of second chances.

We all need a second chance sometime.

Friday, February 10, 2017

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ever said something you regret?

Sharp words burned on Autumn’s tongue, and she didn’t hold them back. “Leave, for all I care.” (Autumn's Break)

As soon as the door closed, she regretted what she'd said. That her husband was leaving was ripping her apart, but mean-spirited words had popped out faster than she could control them. 

Ever said something in the heat of the moment that you regret? I have.

After church one day, something really irked me. (I know ... after church, right? How could that happen?) I must admit, I’d been feeling grumpy for a while, and my husband had been edgy—perfect tinder for a fight. I hopped in the car and the first thing out of my mouth reeked of accusation. My normally mild-mannered hubby responded with words that churned in my gut for hours.

You’re probably curious about what I said, and if you’re acquainted with the man I’m married to, you want to know what he said because you know he’s a decent guy.

But let’s just say, we were spitting mad at each other.
More about what we’d been feeling than anything that was said.
Soup simmering on the burner long enough is going to boil over!
And it did. Not in a very Christ-like way either.

With stony faces, we rode in silence the rest of the way home.

Ever been there? Angst roiling in your stomach. Tension thick as mud. Hurts building a brick wall between two people who would die for each other under normal circumstances. But not that day.

At the house, I tromped inside and shoved my feet into hiking boots. Within minutes I was trudging into the woods, ranting. A cougar would have met its match if it dared approach me. Oh I wrestled with troubling thoughts that day!

I bet when we get all riled at our spouse the devil does a victory dance! If he has his way, he’ll break us up. Even he knows the good a husband and wife can do for the kingdom of God if they are living in love and unity and praying together. He wants to ruin that. How foolish I was to listen to him that day. But for a few ugly hours I did.

Of course, I worked off my angst. We apologized right away. Lived happily ever after. (Insert romantic music here.)

Ha! Not

Things were icy between us the rest of the day. We barely spoke. Some problems take time to unravel.

I can say ... eventually ... sincere, heartfelt apologies were expressed. Forgiveness was offered and accepted on both sides. But our hearts took a while to mend from our outbursts.

Stuff happens in marriage. In all relationships, for that matter.

Everyone is on a journey, and we never know what struggles a person may be going through. So we should offer lots of grace, right? Seems doubly true for husbands and wives. We don’t fully comprehend everything our sweetheart is experiencing. I don’t know the stress my husband is under at work. What the road conditions were like on the long drive home. What he’s wrestling with inside. He doesn’t know how lonely I’ve been. How much I need for him to come home and talk with me. He doesn’t know my deepest thoughts.

We are human. We make mistakes. I do, for sure!

So let's at least offer our spouse the same kindness we’d extend to friends, family, and coworkers. Then add an extra dose of grace—because, after all, that guy or gal we're married to is the love of our life!

Over the years of our marriage—40+—Jason and I have needed lots of second chances. Maybe a bazillion or so. But that’s okay. We are in this journey of life together. Walking in love most of the time, and offering grace and forgiveness on a daily basis.

How about you? Ever needed a second chance to make things right?

Mary Hanks writes stories of second chances.

We all need a second chance sometime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Got Hope? Share It!

I’ve gone through some rough patches lately. Maybe you have too. So many times I’ve wanted to open my heart and tell someone—other than my husband who didn’t quite understand, but I love him anyway—about the things I was struggling with. I promised myself in 2016 to be more vulnerable in writing and in real life, yet when the storm came, I shriveled into myself. Hey, secrets were a way of life when I was a child. I learned how to keep everything to myself really well. It’s hard to bust out of that mode.

I do wish I could express myself better. I’ve found it’s easier to do that through stories where bits and pieces of me are revealed.

I often think about sharing life experiences through blogging. I ponder how other women and wives reveal their struggles so magnificently, and I wish I could be vulnerable and expose my flaws too. Then I remember I’m me, and I think no one wants to hear about that stuff anyway. For me, it takes time and trust to even crack open the door to people I’ve known for a long time. And I wonder about the gal who tells all about her marriage and kids. How does her family feel about the personal stuff she reveals?

So when 2017 rolled around and—Hallelujah!—I’d survived, and the Lord assured me He could fix me, I sat down to type out my feelings, hoping to release my first blog of the new year. I wrote, edited, and rewrote for about three hours. The result? Blech. How could I write about the low place I’d hit that left me with no will to write, lost confidence, and disappointments in life that made me feel like a big failure. It was a wilderness I’d never been to before. My husband didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me.

Back to writing ... the next day I tackled the same topic using a lighter tone. What I needed was some wit! I know people who can write with such great humor, and I wish I could write funnier. In the midst of my struggle, I could have used a dose of laughter. Instead, it was foggy and empty and nothing to laugh about. Even in my writing, I didn’t want to relive the hurt. The blog couldn’t encompass the reality of my journey. But maybe writing it out, struggling through the words, helped me look back and understand some things.

We all go through difficulties. No, I’m not prophesying. It’s life. Of course, we don’t want the rough patches. Who would choose that? But we can “count it all joy.” Even the people who I admire the most, the ones who have the strongest, seemingly unmovable, faith have gone through trials and struggles. They rarely mention it. Oh, they tell me glorious faith stories of God moving powerfully in their lives, of inspirational times when God came through for them in miraculous ways. Yet, here and there, in a quiet conversation, I’ve heard small nuggets of their hard times. Which is good for me to hear. To relate to. I marvel at how they came through ... stronger, more resilient, more confident in a loving God who worked in their lives, their kids’ lives, and their destinies ... even when they didn’t know what He was doing. That gives me hope.

Hope reaches out to us like a tiny light in our darkest hour. Sometimes it’s through a friend’s hug of encouragement. That whispered “It’s going to be okay.” Sometimes it finds us through a scripture, a poem, even one of those thoughtful memes. Or maybe it’s through a story. And sometimes, God speaks right to our heart. “Hold on, kiddo. Good is on its way.”

If you find yourself going through suffering—family difficulties, job issues, sickness, grieving, disappointments and life’s struggles, to name a few—hold on. God loves you so much. He hasn’t forgotten you. There’s a deep river of peace and joy and hope that we can tap into. Think on good things. Look at the beauty in God’s creation. Read the Psalms or your favorite verses. Do something you enjoy. And breathe. It is going to be okay. You will get through this.

I was at a craft fair in December, and someone I’ve known for a long time came to my booth. We exchanged the casual “How are things going?” And for some reason, I shared just a little of how I’d been feeling down. She told me something very similar. In the middle of a crowded auditorium of customers and booths, we hugged and shared our feelings of inadequacy—and our hope in a big God who brings us through stuff.

If you know someone who is struggling in life, listen and be sympathetic, but also share hope. Tell them it’s going to be okay. God will see them through. If someone trusts you enough to tell you what they’ve been going through, just listen. It’s okay to share something similar you’ve experienced—that’s relating and understanding. But your story doesn’t have to be worse or harder or more devastating. They are the ones in the struggle right then. Listen. Hug them, if they’ll allow it. Pray for them. It’s good to hear that someone cares.

God is restoring me. This writing—my third attempt—is proof. Joy and peace have wiggled back into my heart—almost when I wasn’t looking. I’m still trusting Jesus for complete healing. His grace and understanding are beyond measure. I won’t give up on Him; He never gave up on me. He has the words of eternal life. He is my stability in the midst of an unstable world. He is my peace in the middle of chaos. He is love when I feel unlovable. He is light in the dark.

I need hope. You need hope.
When something good happened unexpectedly, my mother used to say, “Isn’t that just a sweet caress from the Lord?”
Yes, it is.
May you feel His gentle hug of hope today. And then share it!

Mary Hanks writes stories of second chances.
We all need a second chance sometime.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Summer to Remember

Some summers shine in our memories like the brightest star.
Others we'd rather forget.

The summer I turned ten, we moved to Alaska. What an adventure! We were going to live on an island, swim in the ocean, and eat fish. That year I discovered I was allergic to crab. A breathing attack and a high-speed ride to the emergency room, and I haven't tried the delicacy since.

August 1975, I married the cutest boy in church. He could sing and preach and was enthusiastic about the Lord. I loved his smile. Still do.

Other summers brought babies, youth camps, and new adventures as we grew up together. I can't even imagine being married at seventeen! Can you?

Then there's the summer of '06. We don't like thinking about that one. We lived in a double-wide trailer, and everyone on our block was evicted so the land owner could build a subdivision. (Ten years later, he still hasn't built anything on that property!) We had to find somewhere to move our home--fast. Ever since we'd left Alaska, Jason and I had been hoping to live in the country on some rustic land. Like pioneers. The wilderness family. All that. So we found our little piece of paradise and began the arduous task of prepping for the arrival of our home. So much work, effort, blood, and tears went into that move. I won't go into all the troubles. The weeks of no electricity. Camping in the backyard. Delay upon delay. But finally...we got settled enough to survive. Definitely a summer to remember. Er, forget.

(my brother and me at our land in '06)

Last year was Jason's and my 40th anniversary, so that was a fun one. We took time to do things we enjoy. Several days at Pensacola Beach was a highlight of our trip.

Then there's this year.
Sometimes the thing we want is not the thing we want at all. Because getting to the thing we want will just about kill us. Ha. After ten years of living on the land, we decided to do something different. A new adventure. My husband lost his job, and we decided that the weeks in between employment would be the perfect opportunity to remodel, paint everything, get rid of junk, and find a way to live small in a big world. What did that mean for us? Ten weeks of remodeling. Morning til dark tasks. Removing wallpaper, repairing damage, texturing, painting, then moving to the next room and doing it all over again. Plus all the outdoor stuff. (My camera stopped working so no before and after shots to share. Sorry.)

Jason did get a different job. But poor guy, he worked through his entire break!

There are seasons in life when things just seem hard. But I wanted this, right? Well, I wanted the outcome, not necessarily all the work. (haha) It certainly came at a cost. Aside from my exhaustion, I've given up writing for two months. That's been sad for me. However, I have had lots of quiet hours to contemplate writing.

We are coming to the end of this journey. Our house listed yesterday. Soon--God willings--we will launch into a new season of living smaller. I hope to write about that. 

I'm eager for the opportunity to finish my second chance series. I don't know how I'm going to wrap up the whole thing. A friend told me she couldn't wait to find out what happens in the last book. And I agreed, "Me too!"

Here's what my new office will look like. I told Jason we should write the word "family" after "Wilderness." :)

If you've had a difficult summer, hang in there. Surely, good is around the corner. I'm convinced troubles and hardships and struggles create new levels of strength and determination within us. We are stronger than we think. And we can do everything through Him who gives strength.

I'm praying for you for a new sense of adventure and renewed hope and dreams in the upcoming fall.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Don't Like My Writing?

If you don’t like my stories, that's okay!
Not everyone will.
I respect that.

There are books and movies I don’t like.
Some people love what I absolutely dislike.
We all have different things that appeal to us.

Look at a painting in a gallery.

If a hundred people stood in front of the exact picture and offered comments, there would be one hundred views. Some would delight in it. Ooh and aah. They’d say how the lighting was perfect. The colors enchanting. While others would think “blech.” Some would question why the painting was even allowed to hang on the wall.

We ALL have our opinions.

Go to any page on Amazon. In fact, go to the product page of a book or movie you love, and you will see negative reviews. (Of course, there are exceptions.) I always wonder how someone could say such an awful thing about a book or movie I enjoyed.

One of my favorite reconciliation stories is A Time to Dance by Karen Kingsbury. Hallmark recently made this outstanding story of marital healing into a movie, which I’m excited to see. On Amazon, the book has received 257 reviews.

“This is the book that made me love Karen Kingsbury's books.”~5 stars
“This one will not disappoint anyone!”~5 stars

And then ...
“I found this book emotionally exhausting.”~2 stars
“I was appalled by the story line of this book.”~1 star

How can we read the same book and look at it so differently?
I think it comes down to opinions, tastes, expectations, and sunglasses.

Let’s imagine differing views on a marriage-themed fiction book:

I don’t like reading about a married couple going through difficulties.
I like stories about couples finding hope and healing in their relationship.

I prefer boy-meets-girl stories. I like the excitement leading up to marriage.
I’m excited to see how God is going to bring hope and healing to a married couple.

I want a simple story of love or adventure. Nothing too deep.
I enjoy a book that challenges me to look at life and my marriage differently. 

Sunglasses: We all look at the world through our own past experiences.
I’ve gone through my own tough times. I sure don’t want to read about someone else's.
I relate to hurts and struggles in marriage. I’m encouraged by the characters trusting God and working to make their relationship better.

A friend went through a painful struggle in her marriage. She told me during that difficult time, she searched for books having to do with what she was going through. During my marriage crises, books like the one I mentioned above, A Time to Dance, and Francine Rivers’s And the Shofar Blew encouraged me.

Our journey through life is better because of the uplifting tales we read. So many times I’ve learned something in a marriage-themed book that has made me a better wife ... and person. Stories have uplifted me, challenged me, and spurred me toward a positive change.

But these types of books are not for everyone.
That’s okay.

A lady at church explained why she doesn't read my women's fiction books. As a single, she doesn’t read romantic stories at all. Yet, she continues to ask about my youth-theater stories as a way to encourage me. I appreciate that. And I’d like to say “thank you” to friends and family who don’t care for marriage-themed stories, yet still encourage me as a writer. You are a blessing.

I hope that just because a story has a married couple as main characters, people won’t give it a thumbs down. The world needs to see the love of God in the hearts of married people and families as they work through brokenness and hurts. God is the healer and redeemer. He changes people--and married couples--for the better. I can testify to this.

Stories of healing, redemption, and reconciliation are the kinds of stories I love.
I hope to keep writing and reading them.
Stories should reflect life.
God is a real part of my life.
He's shown up in my desperate hour. He’s walked me through the storms. He’s been the glue in my marriage. He's here for you and me today.

I want to experience more of His hope and healing.
In writing. In life. In second chances.