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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.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Confessions of a Mess Maker

If you opened our guestroom door, this is what you would see.

Am I lazy? Maybe.
A terrible housewife? Possibly.
Putting off the inevitable? Definitely.

Sometimes our lives are messier than we want anyone to know about. We'd rather be seen as happy, (almost) perfect people, parents, Christians, employees, whatever. And then there are our messes.

I have other problems I could confess to, but this is the one on my heart. After a big project, like the conclusion of a production or the release of a book, I suffer with discouragement and depression. I don't know why. It doesn't have anything to do with the project's outcome. The play could have been perfect, the book can have great reviews, and yet I'm plagued with a gut-awful feeling. I'm like the kid who throws a tantrum because she doesn't want the day at Disneyland to end.

After twenty-seven full stage productions and the release of five books, I've come to realize a few things about myself. I thrive on the high energy leading up to a production. Opening Night is the greatest rush ever. The launch of a book is exposing dreams I've carried in my heart. It's scary, yet thrilling. I'm cautious, yet exhilarated. I want to live on that mountaintop forever, where I feel needed and useful and alive. But I can't stay there. Honestly, I would wear out entirely.

In the weeks leading up to the show or book release, I stay up until one or two every morning, working to reach my deadline. My to-do list is humongous. I'm tense and giddy. But there's nothing like the passion and joy I'm experiencing.

Then it's over.
In one fell swoop, my emotions plummet.
I don't like that place.

Can you relate? If you don't, imagine that time when someone you love gets on the jet to return home and you're left feeling sad and empty. Then multiply those emotions.

A year ago, after a great finale of A Taste of Joy, the high school production I'd written and directed about joy, I had the worst bout of depression--quite the opposite of joy! It was bad enough I seriously considered retiring from theater. The pain didn't seem worth the pleasure. Then, last October, when I released Summer's Dream, I had a similar reaction, although not as intense.

Since my heart's desire is to continue writing and directing--without the emotional struggle--I decided I had to try something different. Without going to a psychologist or turning to medicine, I needed a healthy plan that would work for me.

In my shed, I have over thirty, eighteen-gallon tubs filled with costumes: medieval, '20s, '50s, western. After each show, one of the biggest struggles I have is packing away costumes. I've likened the process to filling a coffin. Now, the costumes are only one aspect of a show, but it's one of the visual steps in helping young people become their character. I've made a lot of the clothes--or else searched many thrift stores for that perfect match--and I have a strong emotional attachment to them.

This year, I talked to my husband and let him know I wasn't going to pack up the costumes right away. In fact, I wouldn't do it until I was sure I could handle it. The day after the final curtain, he and I carried armloads of costumes into the guestroom and shut the door! Thus the picture at the top of this blog. A month past the show our guestroom looked like that. Good thing no guests showed up unexpectedly!

In the evenings I started setting the timer for fifteen minutes, and I'd go in and fold costumes in increments. I made sure to do this when Jason was home, so I wouldn't be facing it alone. I must confess, I haven't packed any tubs yet. It's the next thing on my agenda. Hopefully, I'm far enough removed from the emotions of the show that I can pack things without falling apart. Fortunately, my husband was understanding about the mess. At least I wasn't the mess this time! :)

The other thing I did differently was I planned things to do following the cast party. Before my production week, Jason and I talked about taking Monday off and going for a long drive. Starting early that day, we drove into Montana. It was a great time of coming down from the high emotions and talking a lot and seeing new things. We ate breakfast in Sandpoint, Idaho, lunch south of Kalispell, Montana, and dinner back home.

Also, I had another project to look forward to in the following weeks--finishing the editing and formatting for Autumn's Break. Both of those things took my full concentration and helped recapture my dreams.

I'm happy to say, my plan worked. I've had some letdown, but it's been minor. In the past I would never have admitted to being depressed. As a Christian, I like being joyful. But in truth, I was depressed, for a time. Putting off the hardest emotional part has helped me coast. As did making plans in advance of how I would spend the next weeks.

Our lives certainly have messy parts, don't they? But God is our healer. Our restorer. He gives wisdom and grace to help us through the most difficult tasks.

When you're facing something that seems too hard, what helps you get through?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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Monday, May 23, 2016

The New Baby

Please welcome Autumn's Break to the Second Chance family! Autumn's Break is book #4.

For the last seven months--minus my theatrical time--I've been living in the story with Autumn and Gar, facing their difficulties and trials, and deepening their characters. These two. Boy, oh, boy, do they get to me.

Meet Autumn! For years, she longed to have children. After going through testing and much disappointment, she finally accepts she'll never have kids of her own. Her heart is broken. She pulls deeply into herself, keeping Gar at arms' length. She eats comfort food. In truth, I can't fully imagine the pain she's going through. But I tried really hard. For the first two years of our marriage, I wasn't able to conceive, and I was fearful I wouldn't be able to have children. I tapped into those feelings to reach into Autumn's heart. In her story, there are things that help draw her out of her hurts. And I enjoyed walking that journey with her. Autumn and I have something else in common--a love for chocolate! Mmmm. She's learning how to make specialty fudge. And I was thrilled to do research on that important topic. 

Meet Gar: Gar loves youth theater and finds much of his self-worth in his onstage efforts and in his career as a teacher. I can relate! I worked for 18 years in Christian education, and I've directed 27 full-stage productions. There's nothing like the rush of Opening Night! And I'm always disappointed when the show is over. When the school board shuts down Gar's arts program, he struggles to make sense of it. Can't they see the good he's done? Gar's response to the principal is dramatic and unkind, but it was easy for me to imagine how the ending of his dreams--on top of the guilt he was already carrying over a flirtation that went too far--could bring him to the point of doing something stupid. Gar leaves his marriage. But he has much to ponder in the coming weeks as he faces his own shortcomings--and God's conviction.

The Lord is so good to put people in our lives at just the right time. While Gar is staying in Coeur d'Alene helping in his cousin Kyle's mechanics shop, he meets Ty Williams.

Ty is determined not to be pushy about discussing marriage and reconciliation with Gar. But if he gets the chance, he's going to share about his own journey back to God and his wife. Ty and Winter are going through struggles of their own. In this fourth installment, a past employee, Randi Simmons, is bent on revenge when she shows up at a women's conference in Bend, Oregon.

ThemesMarriage, teaching, directing, canoeing, fudge making, ministry.

Settings: Everett and Edmonds, Washington; Coeur d'Alene, ID, and Spokane, Washington. Bend, Oregon. Also, there's an episode outside of Moses Lake, Washington.

This series is dear to my heart because I believe that God can do amazing things in our broken relationships and bring about a beautiful healing. Beauty for ashes. Hurt and pride exchanged for His presence and peace. I look forward to the months ahead as I write the final installment to the Second Chance series: Season's Joy. 

For a full description of Autumn's Break or to purchase it on Kindle click: 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Do What's in Your Heart

Write, sing, direct, teach, pursue the things God has put in your heart. He's had a plan for us for a long time--even before we knew about it. When I look back on my childhood, some of the things I did, or other people expected of me, helped me to accomplish what I do now. I'm sure that's true in your life also.

When my brothers and I were young, our parents made us stand in front of them--and guests--and perform. We sang solos, told funny stories, played instruments, etc. TV wasn't as important then. Internet didn't exist. We were the entertainment. Today, I work with young people to help them stand boldly in front of an audience--to know beyond any doubt they can do it. I know that started in me when I was eight or so and singing "These Boots are Made for Walking" in front of my parents and aunts and uncles. Haha. Isn't it cool that God was working in our lives, nudging us, even when we were little kids?