By Jeanette Hanscome
A week before Thanksgiving, I sat in my bedroom/office preparing to speak at my former church. It had been two years since my youngest son and I left the home that I associated with wonderful friends, a loving church family, heartbreak, and poverty.
What Was That All About?
A job transfer had moved my husband, our son, Christian, and me from the California Bay Area to Reno, Nevada, in 1998. Financial stress met us at the state line. My husband’s job turned out to be a letdown. I couldn’t find steady employment. I’m visually impaired and can’t drive, so I learned the bus system and walking routes but quickly realized that we’d chosen an apartment in an unsafe neighborhood. One blessing that we did find was a church that embraced us as family.
Life started looking brighter when we bought a house down the street from church. The neighborhood was so-so, but we couldn’t turn down the nearness to where I sang with the choir and worship team and my husband and Christian participated in Awana. Two years later, we welcomed a second son, Nathan, into our lives.
But setbacks brought on by health problems and job losses came one after the other. Ultimately, a crushing discovery led to a divorce, making me dependent on the kindness of that church family, struggling like never before.
In November 2012 I packed again, this time to move back to the Bay Area with Nathan to live with my parents. Christian, now a young adult, decided to stay in Reno.
As I sat in my bedroom planning my talk, anticipating returning to our old neighborhood, I wrestled with conflicted emotions.
God, what were those years about anyway?
You lost a lot, I sensed God acknowledge. But you gained some things too.
The longer I set aside my wallowing and considered what I’d gained from those disappointing years, the more blessings I saw in them. I remembered our church, full of friends that became our lifeline. I pictured our falling-apart-around-us, now-vacant house. My sons had grown up there, and so had I in many ways—spiritually, emotionally.
Little Miss Resourceful
As a child I’d been drawn to stories about pioneers and orphans, romanticizing the idea of persevering as I baked bread, stoked the fire, and handcrafted gifts. I now knew that there was nothing fun about hardship. However, experiencing hard times made me pioneer resourceful.
I had baked my own bread, as well as cookies, granola bars, and tortillas. And I enjoyed it! I could stretch the tightest budget, once buying a week’s worth of groceries with what some women spend at Starbucks. We heated the house with our wood-burning stove to save money, and I got really good at building fires. I learned to bead jewelry, crochet, and knit in Reno (for fun, not out of necessity), so I made a lot of homemade gifts. My friends and family loved them. I may not have been able to drive, but we had a store within walking distance, so my sons and I got a lot of exercise.
When Nathan and I moved to Mom and Dad’s, they laughed at how often I said things like, “You don’t have to buy taco seasoning; I know how to make that.” I think it comforted them to know that, if a natural disaster hit, I could make a meal out of nothing and keep the fire going.
Back in 2004, my husband had suffered a heart attack. That frightening time taught us how quickly a medical crisis can bankrupt a family. It also forced me to overcome shyness and fear and deal with insurance denials and medical billing departments. God knew I would need that boldness when my husband left me with more bills than I could cover. Years later, those skills also came in handy with pushy salespeople.
Seeing God in Action
When my husband left, I knew whom to call: our minister and church friends. From that day on, my sons and I saw the body of Christ at its best. We had bills paid for us, received anonymous gifts, and had a long list of people willing to help with transportation. So often I feared being a charity case and wanted desperately to provide for myself. “This is how God’s family is supposed to work,” friends told me. I made up my mind to receive the generosity as God’s provision.
Looking back, I was deeply thankful to him for allowing me and my sons to witness such a beautiful example of what it meant to reflect Christ’s love.
Shortly before we moved, Nathan woke me up early on a Saturday morning. It was the weekend of the Great Reno Balloon Race, and he wanted to see the hot air balloons. I couldn’t drive him to where they launched, but I knew where we could spot some. We got dressed quickly and walked to a shopping center, where we sat in front of a donut shop and watched dozens of balloon float overhead.
A picture of Nathan sipping milk, his eyes on the sky, reminded me of how often we enjoyed simple fun—celebrating a good report card, playing board games at night, making pizza with Christian. We’d cancelled cable but discovered old movies on Netflix. Nathan still talked about missing the smell of the wood-burning stove. Those years had taught me what we truly needed, what we could survive without, and the joy of seeing my sons easily pleased.
The day I was wrestling with what was that all about? Nathan pulled up an image of our house on Google Earth. It had been taken while we lived in it (we spotted our cat in a window). Once again, memories of struggling to pay bills and scraping snow off the cracked driveway surfaced. Then I looked at Nathan. He didn’t remember that house as a place where we suffered; to him it triggered thoughts of friends and fun. I needed to remember it that way too.
A New Definition of Blessed
Having returned to my childhood hometown divorced, bankrupt, and in foreclosure, I knew better than to expect life to turn out as I planned. But I also knew God was faithful to provide for all my needs and use every sad season for good. I had a long list of reasons to grieve but just as many reasons to be grateful.
I stumbled upon a photo of Nathan that I’d taken before we moved. He had an uneven haircut (probably because I trimmed it myself—sorry, Nathan) and a huge smile on his face. In all the loss and struggling, he had been happy. And even in the hardship, I had been too.
Thank you, God, for that bittersweet decade and a half. I thanked him, not only for the friends and our wonderful church, but also for all the experiences that made me dependent on him, allowed me to see the best in his people, and brought out hidden strengths.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of Running with Roselle and has written for numerous magazines and compilations (JeanetteHanscome.com).
Are you going through a difficult time or recovering from one? As you make sense of all that is painful, here are a few tips on finding reasons to thank God:
• Keep a journal. Track what you learn, how God provides and intervenes, and how the experience impacts your family in good ways.
• Underline verses in your Bible. Our Bibles can become journals in themselves. If a verse jumps out at you, underline it. Jot down the date and a short note about why it meant something to you. Later you will stumble upon them and be reminded of God’s goodness.
• Watch your kids. What are they learning about God? In what ways have they become more responsible or appreciative?
• Reflect. Consider how God worked through past trials. How has he prepared and strengthened you for what you are going through now? How might your pain benefit others later?