Mary E Hanks Author
Winter's Past
Chapter 1

Forgive--Without Second Thoughts

Winter Cowan felt the words thud in her heart like rocks. Of all the topics to speak on, why had she chosen forgiveness?

Had she forgiven Ty?


It would be wrong of her to hold something against someone. She knew that. So what was the problem?

A few minutes ago, she'd escaped to the motel lobby to find a quiet spot away from her ministry traveling companions, to think and pray, because something about her sermon notes didn't seem quite right.

But maybe it was her. Not her notes.

Could she even speak on forgiveness--with a pure heart--when a day rarely passed that she didn't remember what Ty had done to their marriage? To her? Even though she tried to forget?

She'd gone on with her life, free of wanting retribution. Or so she'd thought.

I'm sure I forgave him, but just in case... Words she'd said a hundred times crossed her mind. I forgive Ty for ruining our marriage. For hurting me.

She waited for a comforting peace to soothe her. Instead, one word pulsed through her heart, through every sensor in her brain.


But surely I--

Excuses were cut off as Neil Quinn, her ministry adviser, rushed across the lobby, his face ashen.

She stood to meet him. "What's wrong?"

"The receptionist from First Community Church in Seattle called. The pastor's wife went into cardiac arrest last night, and--she died."

"Oh, no."

"Due to the circumstances, the church board canceled next week's conference."

A surge of compassion rushed through her. What pain the senior pastor must be going through. How awful to lose a wife, a best friend, after several decades of marriage.

Then there was Neil. He'd take this kind of news hard; six years ago, he'd lost his wife to cancer. Added to that, he carried the weight of the ministry's planning, and a week without services meant extra living expenses for the team of five.

"Things will work out. They always do." She patted his arm, hoping to ease his concern.

Neil's wounded expression lassoed her attention back to the news he'd just delivered.

"Pastor Leslie will be terribly lonely without Katie," she said.

"I know." He stared at the floor, out the window, anywhere but at her face. "Ever since I got the call, Molly's passing has been on my mind." He swiped moisture from beneath his eyes as if batting away a bit of dust, cleared his throat, collecting himself. Like she didn't know exactly what was going on. She'd seen this look on his face dozens of times. The man was like a brother to her, and she knew he still pined for his wife.

All business again, he took a deep breath. "I was trying to figure out what the team should do for the week, until I remembered my old college roommate, David Michaels." His eyes brightened. "He's pastoring in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. So I gave him a call, explained our situation, and he's interested in hosting Passion's Prayer at his church next week, even on such short notice."

His words hit her like a tennis racket across the face. Wait. Her eyes bolted to his. "You didn't say--Coeur d'Alene. Did you?" A gulp of cotton-like nothingness choked her.

"Yes, I did. It's about five hundred miles west of Billings, right off I-90."

She knew exactly where Coeur d'Alene was.

Lord, why this? Why now?

"I'll send David an e-mail attachment of our flier first thing in the morning," he continued.

"Then everything will be settled." Despite the tragic news and the unexpected turn of events, her co-leader for Passion's Prayer was handling the team's next event with his usual diligence.

She didn't know what to say, what to think. A decade had passed since she'd left Coeur d'Alene. And one thing was for certain--she had no desire to revisit that city. Not now. Not ever. The chance of running into Ty was too great.

"I'll pull the car around front," Neil said, and then pushed open the glass door of the lobby.
"We're expected at the church in fifteen minutes." His shoulders looked more relaxed as he walked away.

She, on the other hand, felt ill. Throwing up seemed likely.

Her heart raced, and she wanted to shout out nothing was settled. Instead, she sank into the hardback chair with a groan as thoughts and pictures of the past careened down on her.

Coeur d'Alene? She shook her head. I can't go there.

Why hadn't she spoken up? Why didn't she tell Neil exactly what she thought about his new scheduling plans? Couldn't they just take the week off?

Glancing at the ceiling, her eyes followed a roaming crack line in the paint, its abrupt zigzags reminding her of country roads they'd traveled in Montana. Roads that seemed to lead nowhere, but always ended up taking them right where they needed to go.

What if I haven't forgiven Ty? She held her breath for a moment. I'm sure I did.

She nibbled her lip between two teeth, pondering her dilemma, wishing for a different outcome other than the one looming on the horizon--going to Coeur d'Alene and possibly seeing Ty.

I'm being silly. She groaned. With God's help, I can preach in any city, anywhere He leads. Coeur d'Alene included. Besides, what's the real chance of me running into Ty in church? One in a thousand? She grimaced. One in a million is more like it.

For several seconds she'd almost convinced herself before doubt-filled questions ransacked her calm. How could she speak confidently at the conference if she was worried about seeing Ty? How could she walk the streets of the town where she fell in love without picturing the man's face? And if he happened to show up at the meetings--which she dearly prayed he would not--what would she say?

Another concern kicked the wind right out of her. How could she explain him to her team?


She'd avoided that for five years, and she wasn't about to change now. Somehow, she had to convince Neil to alter his plans. Of course, he knew of her brief, disastrous marriage a decade ago, but what he didn't realize was Coeur d'Alene happened to be the last place she'd seen Ty. The place where she'd made a million memories with him. And a million mistakes.


If she explained everything, would Neil decline his friend's invitation? Probably not. Neil would be the first one to tell her to face her past. Not to hide from it.

She pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead and moaned. I really don't want to go to Coeur d'Alene or see the places where I spent those six months married to Ty. I don't want to relive all the old feelings.

She bit her lip. Fought back tears.

Lord, I'm really struggling. I want to do what's right. I want to follow You. She almost hated to ask, but she had to. Is this…is this Your will?

In the answering silence, she remembered the word forgive she'd felt the Lord speak to her earlier. Did preaching in Coeur d'Alene have anything to do with that?

Standing, she paced across the tiny lobby, her red heels clicking a rhythm against the patterned floor. She pictured Lake Coeur d'Alene. The trails and beaches she and Ty had hiked. Their little apartment.

No, I can't think about those things.

Lord, please, help me.

With every step she cried out to God. She'd need His strength to get through the days ahead.


Yes, it came back to that. And her dread of facing the past.

Lord, I give it to You. My past. My future. Lead me where You want me to go. Show me Your will. I need You so much.

She continued praying and committing her life and the next week's services in Idaho into the Lord's hands.

Pictures of her ministry team brushed through her thoughts. She could see Deborah leading worship songs and glorifying God, Neil praying for the sick like he'd been doing during the meetings in Billings, and Jeremy, the newest member of their group, leading young people to the Lord. As she envisioned each person, her thoughts focused more on their journey, less on her past.

By the time Winter's team joined her in the lobby, she had a renewed sense of peace. If God wanted to use her in a town she'd never imagined stepping foot in again, so be it. She truly did want His will.

However, one question lingered to unbalance her recent calm. If going to Coeur d'Alene was in God's plan for her life--and she was beginning to think it likely was--what else might He have in store for her there?

Winter's Past is available on Kindle or paperback:

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Mary E Hanks, author and playwright

To Winter, with Love ~ Romantic Letters between Ty & Winter
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