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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Waiting Again?

Waiting can seem endless.
Like life is flying by for everyone.
But me.
When will my turn come?
Will things change for the better?

Ever been there?
If you’re like me, you've experienced the waiting season many times.

Waiting can be so hard. But hope keeps us watching for something good.

Maybe the house will sell this week.
I might get that job I applied for.
My acceptance letter could come soon.
Tomorrow, I'll feel better.

Do you count the days until you're going on a trip or to a special event?

I do. But there are times when we don't know how long it will take for something we're waiting for to happen.

I waited a whole year for my house to sell. We'd spent several months remodeling, and then we moved out at the end of last summer, thinking it would sell right away. But after six weeks and the place didn't sell, we moved back in, feeling a little defeated. Had we made the wrong choice in trying to sell? Did we jump the gun on God's plan for us? We didn't know the answers. So we spent the winter and spring and summer in our country home--that was quite nice since it was freshly painted and beautiful--allowing it to be shown in all the seasons, but not knowing if it would actually sell. It required special financing, so the right person had to come along. Would that happen?

We kept praying. And waiting. And I wrote a book. :)

Finally, toward the end of this summer, the house sold. Hallelujah! Our waiting time was over. Then we had a lot to accomplish to get everything out of the house again and to do the final cleaning. It was comical because the next weeks went by really fast. Time is like that. When we're hyper-focused on what's not happening and we're stuck in the waiting season, everything seems to take a long time. Then zoom. We're on the fast track, and we can't believe how quickly the days go by.

But, oh, those waiting times ...

Remember when you were a kid waiting for summer break? Then, later, did you tire of summer and get super excited for school to start? Then, did you turn around and count the days until Christmas?

Or have you waited for a highly-anticipated event, like a wedding or for a baby to be born? Those months can seem like forever.

Or, perhaps, you're in a waiting season now.

Maybe you're waiting for someone to return from military service.
Or for the grandchildren to visit.
Or to take a long-awaited trip.
Or you're waiting for a job.
Or for a healing or a personal need to be met.

Life has many waiting seasons.
Does this particular season seem to be taking forever?
If so, I totally empathize with you.

And while I admit to being a less-than-successful waiter at times, here are a few practical ideas that have helped me during my seasons of waiting. 
Try to stay busy. Start a project or hobby. Paint a picture (or the house). Do puzzles. Write a book. Time really does seem to go by faster when you're busy.

Visit with friends. Don't become a hermit, which is my tendency. Get out and have coffee and a nice chat with a friend as often as possible. Sharing your struggles with someone who understands helps. As does hearing about someone else's life, which can make our own problems, or waiting time, not seem quite as bad.

Laugh. (Snicker, giggle, guffaw.) Become childlike. Sometimes I take myself and what's happening around me way too seriously. Laughter is medicinal. Tell stories and laugh. Watch a funny movie. Really belly laugh. Life is beautiful. And honestly, even though it may not seem like it right now, life is passing by fast. Let's look for ways to enjoy it.

Read. Take an adventure through reading. A waiting season is a great time to visit the library and get a stack of books, or download books on your kindle, and experience life in someone else's shoes.

Maybe you've always been interested in treasure hunting. Now is the perfect time to read books on that topic. Maybe you've wanted to learn knitting. Grab a how-to book--and a skein of yarn and needles. No better time to learn than now!

Walk. Get a step counting app and see the world around you by walking and keeping track of your steps. Have a competitive friend or spouse? Make a race of it to see who can do the most steps in a week or month. Winner buys dinner or coffee?

Pray. Hope. Believe good is on the way. Because surely it is. Also, pray for others. Being concerned about others helps us get our mind off of our woes.

I confess that I've struggled with my waiting times. Why doesn't God answer sooner? Did I sin and that's keeping Him from resolving my dilemma? Did I miss the boat? Depression and low self-esteem can sneak in and rob my joy way too easily.

But it seems to me that waiting is a kind of testing ground of personal struggle that builds something good and strong in us. Like this verse says: "We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Rom 5:3-4) Waiting can be a form of suffering, that builds strength, which builds character, and we can learn from that process, if only we are willing.

A friend of ours would say, "What is God trying to say to you in this situation?" 

Which makes me sit back and ponder, is God teaching me something through my waiting? Do I need more character building? Um, probably so. But it can be such a painful process.

Lastly, looking for the good in a situation, and being thankful, can be a powerful stepping stone to hope. Jason and I realized we were extremely thankful for a warm house during the winter. We got the chance to say goodbye to a home that had been the last place we lived in with our four kids. It seemed we needed the sentimental time of letting go. God knows our hearts and what we need, sometimes even when we don't realize it ourselves.

If you are in a waiting time right now, I pray that you find peace and joy right in the middle of the struggle. And that you will see how hope can overcome discouragement--even in a waiting season.

And don't forget, something good may be just around the corner.

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.

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.