Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 3)

It's Monday ... That means it's time for the third installment of "How to Help a Grieving Friend", a reprise of a series of blog posts I wrote back in the fall of 2010.  This one is a bit lengthy (sorry about that!) but I hope it is helpful to you as you encounter those who are hurting.  It's from November 4, 2010 ...

Picking up where we left off.....(Please read the last two posts if you're new to this blog).....I'd like to share more about our experience with grief after losing our daughter to cancer a little over 20 months ago. Again, credit goes to Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic outline of these thoughts.

According to Nancy, grieving people have four primary needs. In my last two posts, I discussed the first two:

Grieving people have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.

Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.
Now, for the third:

Grieving people have broken relationships that need to be healed.

A crisis or grief situation can cause enormous stress within a family, and in outside relationships as well. Again, my comments on this topic are those of a bereaved parent, since that is the only kind of grief I'm familiar with.

Have you ever heard the statistic that 75% (or 85% or 90%!) of couples divorce after the death of a child? I certainly had...and then I was actually reminded of it by a few "helpful" people after Hannah went to Heaven. But did you know that that statistic is a myth? Recent studies show that the divorce rate for bereaved couples is actually BELOW the national average! If you don't believe me, google it! A 2006 study by The Compassionate Friends (the nation's largest self-help bereavement organization for families) actually shows that only 16% of bereaved couples divorce. Who knew?

Now, that's not to say that there are not stresses on a marriage resulting from the death of a child (especially if the marriage is already strained before the loss). There certainly are...not the least of which is the fact that husbands and wives tend to grieve differently. Brad and I certainly do, and it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to allow each other the space and time to do so. There are times when we might wonder if our spouse will ever be the same...and you know what? They probably won't! Losing a child is a life-transforming experience...Neither spouse will ever be the same. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. If we allow Him, God can use our experiences to change us for the better, and to bring us into an even stronger relationship with Him and with our spouses. In one of her books, Nancy Guthrie describes the relationship between bereaved spouses as that of two wounded soldiers, limping off the battlefield, leaning heavily on each other, basically holding each other up as they are walking. Now that's a word picture I can relate to!

Relationships with extended family can also become strained, as expectations regarding holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, etc., can become a source of stress. Often, grieving families want to start completely new traditions, and extended family members may not understand. They are grieving, too, and sometimes just don't know how they can help their hurting loved ones navigate these difficult waters. Some bereaved families choose to just "skip Christmas" or other holidays for a year or so. We didn't skip Christmas last year (though we considered it!), but we did do some things differently, because some of our family traditions were just too painful. I'm chafing a little bit at the Christmas displays I'm already seeing at Wal-Mart...We just work at surviving one holiday at a time these days. Hannah's birthday is behind us...we tackle Thanksgiving next...I'll start thinking about Christmas after that.

Then there are those people outside of the grieving family...the people who love them, who are concerned about them, and who desperately want to say something to make them "feel better." These people are well-meaning, and have only the family's best interest at heart. But...some of the things they say can hurt. Or even if they don't really hurt, at best they're not helpful. Here's a list of some rather "unhelpful" things that people commonly say to grieving people:

"I understand what you're going through." (Unless you really, truly do...if, for example, you've also had a child who died of cancer. And even then, nobody REALLY understands another person's grief.)

"He/She is in a better place." (Yes, I'm glad Hannah is in a better place...but I really wish she was still here with us!)

"It's a good thing you have another child." (Ummm...No comment.)

"God always picks His best flowers first." (What does that even mean?)

"God must have needed him/her more than you did." (But couldn't He have left him/her here for a little longer? I really needed him/her, too!)

"God must have wanted another angel in Heaven." (I'm really not sure this one passes theological muster. I don't think Hannah is an angel...I believe she is far superior to the angels.)

"How are you doing?"...followed by a hand on your arm and a compassionate look deep into your eyes with the follow-up question..."But how are you REALLY doing?" (Especially if you are in a public place...that second question can often lead to the release of a lot of pent-up emotion that the person may not wish to share with everyone.) Let me also say...If you are a very close friend or family member of the grieving person, you are in a private place, and you are prepared for an honest response, it's okay to ask these questions.

Then there's the other extreme...the avoiders. I understand this group very well, because I have been (and still kind of am) one of them. These are the folks who see a grieving family coming down the church hallway or down the aisle at Wal-Mart, and suddenly realize that they need to go to the bathroom, or remember that there was something they forgot to pick up in another aisle. I know this because I've done it!! I've done it for two different reasons...one was that I simply didn't know what to say and was afraid of saying something wrong, and the other was that I was afraid I might start crying, choke up, and not be able to say anything at all. Did you catch that both reasons involved being afraid? I really think that's the root of the avoidance issue.

Some grieving families are very hurt by the fact that people avoid them, or may spend time with them, but avoid the subject that they most want to talk about. For me, personally, this has not been a problem, because I understand the avoiders so well. For many people, though, this can be a source of great pain and lead to broken relationships.

I hope you're not beating yourself up right now and thinking, "Oh no! I've been doing (or saying) everything wrong for my grieving friend or family member!" Please don't do that! As Paul would say, "I am the chief" of wrongdoers in this area, and only learned better through the death of my own child. I still slide back into my avoiding habits from time to time...Thankfully, God is still working on me.

So, what's the "right" thing to do when you encounter a grieving person or family? I think a lot depends on how well you know the person. If they are just an acquaintance or someone you have a relatively shallow relationship with, it is probably best to say something like, "I'm sorry about what happened. I'm praying for you." This is highly preferable to "How are you doing?" because it doesn't require a response from the grieving person. If you knew the person who passed away, a brief word about what they meant to you might be appropriate. If you're in a private setting, you might share a little more deeply about what the person meant to you, but be careful about doing this in public settings. It may be more than the grieving person can handle at that particular moment. Honestly, particularly early on in my grief, when I was in public...church, a football game, work...sometimes I was just trying to make it through the event. I would walk through a crowd thinking to myself, "Please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah." I knew that if somebody did, I would totally lose it. A brief "I'm praying for you" or a quick hug, I could handle, but not much more than that. Your prayers are absolutely the best gift you can give to a grieving person.

If you know the person well...just love them. Spend time with them. Let them talk. Don't be afraid to bring up the person who has died...I can promise you they're already thinking about them anyway! Allow them to share their questions and struggles without judging. Give them space to work through their emotions, and don't expect them to get over it quickly. Be prepared to spend a lot of time listening, and refrain from attempting to "fix" them. Only God can do that!

I'm almost done...Just a couple more thoughts to share...I promise!

Take a few moments to talk to your children about how to help people who are grieving, especially if you know of a situation they may be encountering with a friend or classmate. When Bethany returned to school a few days after Hannah's funeral, she was met with the following comments from fellow students: "I know just how you feel...my dog died last week." "Hey, I heard your sister kicked the bucket." "How come your sister had to die on my birthday?" I'm not kidding. Her classmates actually said these things to her. Please, please talk to your kids.

Sometimes grieving people have a hard time returning to church after their loss. There are a variety of reasons for this. The memories make it hard...If you've been accustomed to sitting together as a family in church, it can be extraordinarily difficult to come back without one of your family members. Oh, how I miss hearing Hannah singing next to me. The music makes it hard...Music can always trigger emotion, especially when you're grieving. And some of those praise songs can be hard to sing when your heart is heavy and your faith is shaken. The people make it hard (although they don't mean to!)...a grieving person can sometimes feel like they're in a fishbowl, and that everyone is watching them to see "how they're doing." The sermons can make it hard...some messages (particularly those about families) can be difficult for a grieving person to hear. Finally, the expectations make it hard...We tend to have a certain expectation for how people are supposed to behave at church. We dress ourselves up, pick up our Bibles, and put on our smiles. I'll be honest...sometimes it's just too much effort to keep that smile on for two (or more) straight hours. If a grieving person or family doesn't return to church right away after their loss, it may be that they are just not ready to face all of that yet.

I actually started writing this post three days ago. (I'm sorry if it feels like you started reading it three days ago :-) !) I never intended for it to be this long. I've actually lost sleep over this post...waking up early, early in the mornings and thinking about what I wanted to share. My intention is not to criticize or make anyone feel bad about something they've said to a grieving person. And I certainly can't speak for all grieving people...many of them might feel completely differently than I do about some of these things. I can only share from my own experience. And my hope and prayer in sharing all of this is that it will open your eyes and give you a better understanding of those of us who grieve.

Finally...If you are someone who is grieving, and your heart has been broken by something that someone has (or hasn't) said, let me share one last thought with you. The day I started this post, I stopped by our local Christian bookstore to pick up a new 2011 planner, and found a neat little flip calendar for my desk. It's called "Rain on Me: Daily Moments of Hope and Encouragement" by Holley Gerth. When I sat down at my desk to start writing this blog, I opened up that calendar to November 4th, and this is what it said,

"If people have said things to you in God's name that have wounded you deeply, if you sit in the pew on Sunday morning and feel utterly alone in your pain, if you have been hurt by the very ones intended to heal you--then please know that is not God's desire for you. We are imperfect people, and we are capable of tearing each other apart in ways that break our Heavenly Father's heart."

How cool is that? On the very day I sit down to write about grieving people having broken relationships, that is what my brand new calendar says. Someone must have needed to hear that. Our Heavenly Father grieves with us, and some day, He will set all things right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"While We're Waiting" Wednesday -- A Weekend in Mississippi

Many of you ask us often how things are going with the While We're Waiting ministry, so I thought I would start using Wednesdays on the blog as my day to "catch you up" with what we've been up to.  And lately, that's been a lot!

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to hold a While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents in Carriere, Mississippi.  How did we end up in southern Mississippi, you ask?  A couple from that part of the country came to our April 2013 retreat at Family Farm near Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we normally hold our events.  They felt the weekend was very helpful for them and they asked if we would consider doing one in their area.  That began a year-long process of planning, preparing, and praying for this past weekend's event.

This weekend was a bit different than our usual weekends.  For this event, we used the couple's lake home as our meeting place, and our guests either stayed in hotels or in their own homes if they lived locally.  It was a very relaxing setting, and we were able to take part in some fun outdoor activities (dodging rain showers all weekend), and enjoy some amazing food.

And of course, we shared the stories of our precious children and discussed a variety of topics faced each day by parents who have children in Heaven.  We cried together and we laughed together.  We sang together and we prayed together.  And we formed bonds of friendship that will last forever.

Here's what Allyson's mom had to say after our weekend together ...

"For those of you who haven't been to a W.W.W retreat I would highly encourage you to go.  In the Lord we are ok and we are going make it. Doesn't mean we don't ache, hurt, or are sad; it just means that because of His strength we can get through another day that brings us closer to eternity.  I choose to praise Him through this storm and watch for His hand to move each day."

A few pictures from the weekend ...










Wish you could have smelled those ribs cooking!  And I still have to snicker a little bit when I think of those Mississippi folks playing with that Arkansas Razorback Baggo set.

On our way home after the retreat, we spent the night with some good friends of ours in Madison, Mississippi, and had the privilege of meeting three more "waiting" families.  These families shared in an unthinkable tragedy ... their three college-age sons were all killed in a car accident together.  We had never met these people ... but within minutes, we were talking as if we had known each other our entire lives.  We were immediately bound together by our love for our children and our love for the Lord.  Before we knew it, five hours had raced by.  What a blessing it was to share both tears and laughter with them!  I went to bed that night with heavy eyes, but a full heart.

This weekend, we'll be traveling to Little Elm, Texas, to share at Point Church. The co-founders of While We're Waiting, Larry & Janice Brown, will be joining us, and all four of us will be speaking.  We'll be sharing our Hannah's story, their Adam's story, and the story of While We're Waiting ... all of which is ultimately God's story!  If you're in the area, we'd love for you to join us.  The church meets at Lakeview Elementary School, 1800 Waterside Drive, at 10:30 a.m.

There's a lot more going on with While We're Waiting, but this post is long enough already.  Tune in next week for another episode of "While We're Waiting" Wednesday.  :-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 2)

This past weekend, we had the amazing opportunity to spend a great deal of time with some wonderful moms and dads ... all of whom have children in Heaven.  We hosted our very first While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents "on the road" this weekend ... traveling all the way to southern Mississippi to share a few days with several couples and singles at a beautiful lake home.  On our way home last night, we had the privilege of meeting with three more bereaved, but believing, couples in the Jackson, Mississippi, area.  We started our visit at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, and by the time we looked up, it was 9:30 at night!  It's always amazing to me how quickly time flies by when like-minded moms and dads get together.

But that's not what I want to write about tonight.  I do plan to share more about our weekend, but, honestly, I need a couple of days to regroup ... I'm exhausted!  But it's a good kind of tired, if you know what I mean.

Last Monday, I began the reprisal of a series of blog posts I shared in the fall of 2010.  All of these posts have to do with grief in general, and how we can help friends who are grieving specifically.  So tonight, here's the second of these posts.  Look for the third one next week.

 In today's post, I want to share some more thoughts about grief. If this is your first visit to my blog, you might want to read my last post to get an idea where I'm going with this and why. Again, I want to give credit to books and interviews by Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic framework of this series of posts.

Nancy stated in an interview with the Gospel Coalition Blog on August 4, 2010, that grieving people have four primary needs. After countless discussions with bereaved parents, and through our own experience after losing our daughter to cancer, we've found her statements to be very accurate. 

In my last post, I shared the first need:

Grieving people have lingering sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.
Today, I want to share her second point, and discuss it in light of our experience.

Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

As I've stated before, I've been in church basically my entire life. But until my teenaged daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was quite content to stay in the shallow end of the theological pool. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I had ever even learned how to swim...I really think I was still sitting in an inner tube wearing floaties. Not really a pretty picture of a 41-year-old woman!

But when that diagnosis came, I suddenly found myself in the deep end of the pool with a hole in my inner tube and the floaties stripped away. I'm so thankful that even though I'd never really had to apply them, I'd been getting "swimming lessons" my entire life. I could at least dog paddle, I knew the Master Lifeguard, and I had access to all of His written swimming lessons. I knew where to turn for help.

But, still, there were questions...deep questions that were not easily answered.

Why does a 16-year-old girl who is serving the Lord get cancer?

If God is a God of love, why doesn't He heal my child?

Why pray, when God's going to do what He's going to do anyway?

Does God even care about what happens to our family?

You may remember that we went to a Respite Retreat with other bereaved couples over Labor Day weekend. We spent hours and hours just sitting around and talking. There were no shallow conversations at that retreat...all of us were navigating the deep end of the pool, and that's what we wanted to talk about.

A common experience of bereaved parents is that they no longer enjoy "small talk." Who has time to talk about the weather, or the latest ball game, or even politics (make sure you vote today!) when there are life and death issues to discuss?! One of the moms at the retreat exclained, "I love it here! Everywhere else we go people want to talk about Kindergarten, and we want to talk about Calculus!" I knew exactly what she meant.

I still don't have all the answers to my deep theological questions. But there are a few things I know:

God is good, He is in control, and He's working out His plan. Sin, evil, cancer, death...all of these things will come to an end in His perfect time.

God is God, He sees the big picture, and He has a purpose in everything that happens (even if I don't like it...okay, even if I hate it!)

God is sovereign, and He can be trusted. I don't have to understand everything, I just have to rest in the knowledge of His care.

These are the kinds of things that grieving people need to be assured of. Don't try to answer all their questions with "Sunday School" answers, but listen to their questions without judging. Love them, pray for them, and gently guide them to the comfort that comes only from the Master Lifeguard.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend

People often ask me how they can help a friend who has lost a child.  They see the tears, they feel the heartbreak, they hear the grief in their friend's voice ... but they have no idea what to do and say or what not to do or say.  A few years back, I wrote a series of posts about that very thing, and I often direct people to those posts when I'm asked that question.  Since I've been hearing that question more and more recently, I thought I'd reprise that series of posts.  I'll be posting one each "Monday Mourning" for the next four weeks.

So here we go ... This one originally appeared on the blog on October 31, 2010:

You know, I've been attending church for my entire life. My parents made sure we were there every time the doors were open. Sure, when I went to college, there were some Sundays that I attended Boxsprings Baptist (an old OBU joke), but for the most part, I was in church. As often as we've moved since we've been married, we've always made finding a church home a priority. So over the years, I've been in literally hundreds of church services, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes.

And in all those years, I've never heard a single sermon or Sunday School lesson on grief. Until the death of my daughter in February 2009, I didn't know ANYTHING about grief. I had never learned anything about it at church, and I certainly had never experienced it. I had never lost anyone close to me...grandparents, yes, but grandparents are "supposed" to die. I had no idea what it was like to be deeply, achingly sad. I also had no idea how many sad people there were around me. I've learned a lot over the last couple of years.

So, when Brad and I were asked to share with the deacon body at our church last week, we knew right away what we wanted to talk about...grief. And who needs to know more about ministering to grieving people than the deacons? It was the perfect opportunity to share some of what we've learned.

I'd like to share some of that presentation with you over the next few posts. Many of the thoughts I'm going to share originate with Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie, both of whom have lost children. I'll also be adding lots of our own experiences and stories. My goal is to be as transparent and honest as possible, to try to give you a window into our grief. I'll be writing from the perspective of a grieving parent, because that's the only kind of grief I know. My prayer is that God will use something I write to help you personally, if you find yourself in a season of sorrow, or that He will provide you with some sort of insight to help a grieving friend or loved one.

In a recent interview, Nancy Guthrie discussed four needs that grieving people share. The first was this:

They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering and needs to be respected.

Here's how ignorant I used to be about grief...I honestly thought that when someone lost a loved one, they were really sad for awhile...maybe about six months or so...and then they just kind of got over it. I had no idea how long it takes to work through grief (and it is work!). It's been twenty months since Hannah left for Heaven, and we are definitely not "over it", nor do I think we ever will be. Greg Laurie describes losing his son as somewhat similar to the amputation of a limb. The wound from an amputation heals over time, but your limb is never restored. Unlike a broken leg, which heals and allows you to return to normal life, an amputation changes your life forever. 

The intense sadness of grief tends to come in waves. Sometimes the waves are fairly gentle and can be ridden out, and sometimes they are tsunamis that suck you down, spin you around, and leave you gasping for breath. Depending on the status of those waves, you may see the grieving person smiling and doing "fine", or you may see them doubled over in tears. You can't make assumptions on how a person "is doing" based on what you see at any given moment. Because in the very next moment, things could change. 

We need to respect a person's need to grieve by giving them the time and space to do so. The person may not be able to return to their normal activities right away....or they might. They might find comfort in returning to a routine. They may want to talk about their loss...or they may not. Think back to the story of Job in the Bible. His friends sat with him in complete silence for seven days...things fell apart when they opened their mouths! Unless you are a very close friend or family member, don't ask them, "How are you doing?" That is an incredibly difficult question for a grieving person to answer. For one thing, the answer could vary widely depending on the status of the waves at that particular moment. And, there is no simple answer to that question. Don't ask it unless you have plenty of time to sit and listen to what might be a brutally honest response. 

Saying "Let me know if you need anything" isn't particularly helpful either. Someone who is going through an intense period of grief may not be emotionally able to ask for the help they need. It is much better to figure out what their needs are and take steps to meet them. A wonderful neighbor took care of our dog when we spent long days at the hospital. People brought food to the extended family staying at our house while we were at the hospice center in Little Rock. There was a hot meal waiting on our kitchen counter the evening we arrived home after saying our final good-byes to Hannah. Dear friends collected pictures and personal items of Hannah's and arranged them beautifully at the visitation and funeral. I could never have done that on my own. We didn't ask for any of these things...people just obeyed the Holy Spirit's promptings and did them. And while a grieving person may forget a lot of things...these kinds of things are never forgotten!

Grieving people need time, space, and "permission" to be sad. That sadness may last awhile. And that's okay.

More to come on my next Monday Mourning post ...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Mourning -- The Highest Form of Love



This past Sunday, we had the opportunity to visit a rather large church where we set up a table with information about While We're Waiting and handed out brochures to those who were interested in learning more about the ministry.  We spent some time visiting with one of the pastors of this church who had lost his wife to cancer several years ago.  

This gentleman was very interested in While We're Waiting and the fact that its outreach is specifically to parents who have lost children, unlike other grief ministries which are more broadly focused, addressing all types of loss equally.

He said that, in his opinion, the loss of a child is a unique type of loss ... something different from any other ... and, as such, it needs to be addressed differently.  Which, of course, is exactly the need that While We're Waiting is seeking to meet.

Then he went on to say something that really struck me.  He said, "In fact, the bond between a parent and child is so strong, that is why I believe God chose to use that relationship to demonstrate His love for us.  When He gave up His own Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins, He was showing the highest form of love."

It's worth saying again ... The bond between a parent and child is so strong, that is why God chose to use that relationship to demonstrate the magnitude of His love for us.  When He gave up His own Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to redeem us from our sin, He was illustrating the highest form of love.

Honestly, I had never thought about it in that way before.  But, wow, does it make God's gift of His Son just that much more meaningful.  And it makes me that much more grateful!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- My New Friend

I had a wonderful lunch today with a new friend.  We had such a good time visiting, neither one of us wanted to leave ... even though it was cold in the restaurant and we were both freezing!  We sat and talked for nearly two hours.

My new friend has an interesting job.  She works in a nice office and spends her time calling insurance companies and inviting them to participate in webinars that her company produces.  Spending so much time on the phone, she has all kinds of interesting conversations with people.  Some folks are not very receptive to her calls, either politely declining, simply hanging up on her, or occasionally cursing at her.  Some sign up for the webinars, and others are just happy to have someone to talk to, keeping her on the line for probably much longer than she's supposed to chat.  She had some really entertaining stories about what these folks had to say to her.

My new friend is also in the process of setting up her first household, and learning how to grocery shop and cook for her husband.  She talked about having her in-laws over for dinner for the first time a couple of nights ago, and how proud she was that her dinner turned out well.  We exchanged recipes and talked about her favorite place to grocery shop.

My new friend talked about how much she's looking forward to becoming a mother someday.  She laughed about how her husband wants them to have two boys, and is even already praying for those two boys, even though she really wants to have two girls.  Of course, she and her husband are both still in college, so she knows those babies, whether they're boys or girls, are still a few years away.

My new friend has a strong faith in God, honed and strengthened by suffering and sorrow.  She is young, but she has experienced more in her life than many adults.  Yet she has a joy that radiates from deep inside.

My new friend is beautiful, intelligent, talented, and charming.  I love spending time with her.

I've actually known my new friend for a little over nineteen years.  But until she got married about a month ago, I knew her as ... my daughter.

It's amazing how quickly our relationship has changed.  And I'm enjoying every minute of it.

This is the type of relationship I've been so sad about missing with Hannah.  In a way, having this kind of friendship with Bethany now makes me miss Hannah even more.  But at the same time, I think the fact that I did not have this opportunity with Hannah makes me appreciate what I have with Bethany more than I ever would otherwise.  And for that, I am very thankful.

I can't wait until my next lunch date with my new friend.  :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting ... For Siblings!!

For some time now, we at While We're Waiting have had a burden to reach out to kids and adults who have lost a brother or a sister. We know from our experience with our own children that they are often the "forgotten ones" when a family loses a child.  In fact, every time we have a While We're Waiting event, at least one parent asks us what is available for their surviving children.  And sadly, we've had to shake our heads ... we just really hadn't had anything to offer.

So we have been praying for a long time that God would send someone to us who could provide us some guidance in that aspect of this ministry ... and, of course, that would need to be someone who had lost a brother or a sister.

About three months ago or so, we started a facebook page designed just for bereaved siblings. We felt that it was important to have a moderator on that page, to serve as a gatekeeper and to ensure that the discussions moved in a positive direction.  That moderator has been me, and frankly, I'm not the right person for the job. The page has been VERY quiet, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I, who have not lost a sibling, am the moderator.  Really, the page has not gotten off the ground at all.  We feel that the page could be a springboard to a more active ministry to siblings, possibly even leading to retreats for them, like the ones we do for parents. In order for that to happen, though, we knew we needed someone these kids could really relate to to lead it.

A few weeks ago, God brought us into contact with a young man named Jason Clenney. He won our hearts immediately when he told Brad and I that he had shared Hannah's story with his youth group right after she was "promoted" (his word), and seven of his students got saved!  He went on to share some of his personal story with us, about how he had lost his only sibling, his brother Clayton, in a car accident six years ago.  He talked about how God had brought him through it, and had given him a passion for reaching out to young people who had lost siblings.  Oh my!  That was all we needed to hear!

Last night, the WWW board had dinner with Jason, and we talked for over three hours. What a great visit we had! We believe he is the man God has in mind to get this ministry to siblings underway,   starting with him moderating the "While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Siblings" facebook page.  We'll see where God takes it from there.

We asked him to introduce himself on the While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Parents facebook page (many of the kids on the siblings page will be their children), and this is what he had to say ...

Hello all! I hope this finds you well. My name is Jason Clenney and I am so happy to be welcomed into the While We're Waiting family. I have been brought onboard to help facilitate healing and give hope to those among us who have lost siblings. Suffering the loss of a child is hard, impossibly difficult to deal with I'm sure. I have never been in those shoes, and pray that I never have to be. However, I am no stranger to grief. Let me share with you a bit of my story so you can know where I am coming from. I encourage you to ask questions. You are trusting me with your child/children, so I want you to be comfortable with me! 

Six years ago, I lost my only sibling. My brother Clayton was killed in an auto-incident (not an accident...it didn't catch God by surprise) near his home outside of Hot Springs. I had grown up in a Funeral Home setting, could counsel people "on the other side of the table" about death and grief, and could give all the "right answers" to the tough questions that tragedies ask. But until you have been through it, suffered, hurt, and taken ownership of your own grief, you just don't know what it is like! I have learned so much from that experience, through seeking out comfort in God's word, and from counseling with others who have lost loved ones. I have taught workshops to young people on how to deal with grief in a healthy way, even pioneering a grief recovery group for young people. And I have seen the GOOD that can come from accepting God's sovereign plan and seeking out His purpose in Clayton's passing. This season of grief in my life was actually a healthy, fruitful thing. It gave me the unique ability to identify with others who have been in my situation and empathize with their struggle. It has also given me opportunity to point others to the Healer of my hurt.

Knowing that you have lost a child, I hurt for you. Knowing that many of you have kids that are still trying to process all of the complex emotions (sometimes all at once) of losing their sibling, my heart goes out to them...and I would like to come alongside them and walk out this journey with them. I serve as the Associate Pastor: Pastor of Student and Music Ministries for Immanuel Baptist Church in Sheridan Arkansas. I am a believer in Christ, in His sacrifice, and in His power to save and restore! I also work some on the side in the Funeral Care field, having a degree in Mortuary Science and Funeral Service Education. I am an avid outdoorsman, spending as much time as I can in the woods or on the water...and was recently selected as Chaplain for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I am an aggie at heart with a small farm and a ragamuffin assortment of critters. I have a beautiful bride, Heather, and an amazing little 16 month old daughter, Ava. If you have any recommendations for me that would assist in serving your child, let me know. Especially with young people, it is difficult for them to "let you in." They are not going to trust me with their sensitive issues and make themselves vulnerable and honest with me or others until they have confidence in the relationship. I look forward to getting to know you all and growing with you.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  A few reasons ...

First, please pray for Jason, that God would give him wisdom as he gets to know these hurting kids and young adults, builds relationships with them, and seeks to give them godly counsel.  Of course, it's also important that he balances the time he gives to WWW with the responsibilities of his full-time job, and most importantly, his sweet family!

Second, please pray for these siblings, that they would be willing to open up their hearts and share with Jason and with each other, and that God would bring healing and hope to them.

Third, please pray for While We're Waiting, as we seek to follow God's leadership in all we do. We don't want to take a single step without His leading.  We would love to see this Facebook group grow into a full-fledged ministry to siblings, but only if that's in His plan.

Finally, please help us spread the word.  If you know a teen or an adult who has lost a sibling and who would like to connect with others who understand, have them search for "While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Siblings" and request to join the group.  It's a closed group, so only other members of the group can see their conversations ... it will be a safe place for them to talk about things that only other bereaved siblings can understand, and for them to pray for each other and encourage each other.

The Clenney Family