Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Mourning -- Not Because of How We Feel

Many of you know that the While We're Waiting ministry hosts a Facebook page.  Actually, we host two Facebook pages -- a public one, which we encourage anyone who is interested in this ministry to "like" and follow -- and a private one, with membership limited just to parents who have lost a child.

Something amazing has been going on on that private page this month.

While the rest of Facebook has been filled with posts from people doing their obligatory "30 Days of Thanks" during the month of November ... stating their thankfulness for everything from the health of their children to the fact that the lines at Wal-Mart were short on that particular day ... the members of the "While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Parents" page have been sharing the things they're grateful for as well.

And the list has been nothing short of astounding.  And humbling.

The fact that these statements of thanks come from hearts which have been crushed into pieces make them all the more precious.  I believe that they are a sweet aroma to the Lord, made all the sweeter by the sacrifice required to see these things as gifts from Him.

Here is just a peek into this amazing list.  These parents are thankful:

  • for the fog of grief that helped them survive the initial days, weeks, and months after their child's death
  • that their child is no longer suffering from physical illness, addiction, or mental illness; or for those who died young, that they never experienced heartache
  • that they already had appropriate clothing to wear to the funeral; or that they had friends who helped "dress them"
  • for their dog, who forced them to get outside every day for walks
  • for the opportunity to be transparent and authentic with their surviving children
  • for co-workers who did not expect them to be "back to normal" right away
  • that their son had not had a haircut recently so they could save a lock of his hair
  • for people who opened their homes so extended family had a place to stay around the time of the funeral
  • for items they found after their child's death with their child's handwriting on them
  • for a friend who brought their son a birthday cake after his death 
  • for a friend who brought toilet paper to their home
  • that their child died in their own backyard
  • that their child died doing something he or she loved
  • that they were able to hold their child as she took her last breaths
  • for supportive teachers and administrators at their child's school
  • for friends who organized pictures, details, etc., for their child's funeral
  • for their child's salvation
  • that their child's death makes the need for a Savior so very real
  • for people who began a relationship with Jesus or renewed that relationship because of their child's death
  • that their last words to their child were, "I love you."

Not exactly the typical "What I'm Thankful For" list we often hear at this time of year.

The picture above, from Ann Voskamp, perfectly captures what is happening here.  These parents are thankful to God, not because of how they feel, but because of Who He is.  I've made that picture my Facebook profile picture this month, just to remind myself of the truth of it.

Many of these precious folks also expressed thankfulness for the While We're Waiting ministry, and I can't tell you how humble and grateful that makes me feel.  WWW is a gift God has given us as part of our healing process after Hannah's homegoing, and we feel privileged that He has entrusted us with it.  

May we always be thankful to God for Who He is, and not because of how we feel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

While We're Waiting Wednesday -- WWW Retreat for Bereaved Parents

Once again, God did above and beyond all that we could ask or imagine at our While We're Waiting Retreat for Bereaved Parents this past weekend!  Two of our couples had to cancel at the last minute, but we still had a wonderful group of moms and dads.  What a blessing it was to hear the stories of their precious children ... something we consider a sacred privilege.

As always, the story is best told through pictures.

Family Farm is beautiful any time of the year, but I especially love it in the fall.

It just so happened that the infamous polar vortex, bringing record cold temperatures to Arkansas, coincided with our weekend together.  There was literally frost on the pumpkin on Saturday morning!

We didn't spend as much time outside as we usually do, thanks to the unseasonable chill, but we did visit the animals ...

And a few brave folks took a trip down Slide Mountain ...

But we spent most of our time inside by the cozy fireplace.  Discussing issues faced by bereaved parents ...

Sharing the stories of our precious kids ...

And, of course, eating lots of good food prepared by our awesome chef ...

One of the highlights of the weekend, and a first for our While We're Waiting Weekend, took place on Saturday evening.  After dinner we went outside and launched sky lanterns. We talked about how these lanterns were flat and lifeless when we took them out of the packages, kind of like our lives when we are grieving. But, as the warmth of the flame filled them, they began to rise and give light for all to see. We discussed how we wanted to live our lives as lights in the world, in honor of both our children and our Lord.  It was a very special time.

We wrapped up this event on Sunday morning with a time of praise and worship, along with an object lesson to help us remember some of the things we discussed over the course of the weekend.

And this group of folks, who were complete strangers to one another on Friday evening, left as close friends, bound together by our love for our children and for our Savior.

Can't wait for our next While We're Waiting Weekend!

Our While We're Waiting Weekends for Bereaved Parents are offered at no cost to the attendees.  If you're interested in attending one of these events, please click here for more information.  Or, if you'd like to make a tax-deductible donation to While We're Waiting so that we can continue to offer events like this, please click here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

While We're Waiting Wednesday -- An Update!

It's been awhile since I've posted an updated on the While We're Waiting ministry ... so I'm going to take advantage of a quiet evening at home to try to catch you up.

There's been a lot going on!  We continue to host retreat events for bereaved parents every few months ... some here in Arkansas, and some on the road.  Our most recent parents' weekend was in Wichita Falls, Texas, and we were blessed to meet some wonderful moms and dads there.  We were so grateful to Ron and Kathleen Duncan, who opened their home to our group for that event.  We have two more "on the road" parents' weekends on the schedule, one in northwest Arkansas in February, which is already completely booked, and one in Madison, Mississippi, in June.

We have Mini-Retreats for Bereaved Moms on the calendar in January, March, and June.  January and March are already full, but we have a few openings left for our June 27th date.  We've got a Dads' Weekend scheduled for the last weekend in April, and the guys are really looking forward to that event.

We will be kicking off a Parents' Weekend at our "home" site, Family Farm, in just ten days.  This event has been completely booked for several months now, and there are moms and dads from six different states who will be in attendance.  We cannot wait to meet these parents and hear their children's stories.

Attendance at our monthly support group meetings continues to increase each month.  It's hard to say that that's a good thing, because we sincerely wish there was no need for a group like this, but since there is, we are grateful that God chooses to use WWW in this way.

And since January of 2014, we've mailed 128 Hope Packages to recently-bereaved parents.  Truly a labor of love.

But here's what we're most excited about!!!

For some time now, we've felt God calling us to build a facility which will be dedicated to serving bereaved parents through these While We're Waiting events.  Our desire has been to create a comfortable, safe, warm, home-like lodge where parents who have lost children can gather, with no need to wear a "mask", knowing that they are surrounded by those who understand.  A place where hurting moms and dads can be pointed to our one true source of hope, Jesus Christ.  A refuge, where we can encourage each other to live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our children in Heaven.

Fifty acres with an older home at the edge of Hot Springs is being donated to the While We're Waiting ministry, and that will be the site of the While We're Waiting Refuge.  It's out in the country, surrounded by acres and acres of thoroughbred farms.  Brad and Larry have been spending some of their Saturdays clearing the property ...

Can you picture a "While We're Waiting Refuge" sign hanging here at the entrance?  :-)

And just this past week, we had a drawing done of what the inside of the lodge is going to look like ...

I don't know if you can tell much from this drawing, but if you look closely, you can see the existing house at the top, with an extension drawn toward the bottom of the page which includes six 16'x16' bedrooms, each with a closet and private bath.  The driveway comes up from the bottom of the picture and curves around, circling a separate building which will have four more of these 16'x16' bedrooms.  There will be a vaulted roof area connecting the main lodge to those four bedrooms, and the driveway will go under it so folks will have a covered area in which to unload.  If you look back up to the top of the drawing, you'll see a large meeting room drawn in, which will overlook the rolling hills and pond on that part of the property.  We are having a concept drawing done now, and I can't wait to see it!

All these wonderful things require funds, and God is faithfully providing.  Our events are offered at no cost to the participants (although donations are accepted), so all of our funding comes solely from gifts and contributions.  Little by little, we've watched God grow our bank account, and we are so grateful.  

We are committed to building this facility without incurring any debt, so we are praying for more supporters who will come alongside and assist us financially (and/or physically!) with this project.  We've recently updated the donation page on our While We're Waiting website to make it easier to partner with us.  You can now choose the amount you'd like to donate, and even sign up to make a recurring donation if you choose to.  You can specify if you'd like to make your donation in memory or in honor of someone, and we'll even send a card to notify that person or that person's family of your donation if you'd like for us to do so.  It's completely secure, and because we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, all donations are tax deductible.  We'll send you a receipt for the IRS at the end of the year.  Click here to go straight to our donation page if you'd like to be a part of this project.  

So ... Now you're all caught up on the While We're Waiting ministry.  I'm going to try to make "While We're Waiting Wednesdays" a regular feature on this blog, so if you're interested in following what God is doing in WWW, be sure to check in from time to time.  I hope to be posting a ground-breaking picture soon!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Mourning -- When Your Soul Hurts

It's October.  Almost the 22nd of October, in fact.  A day that I once anticipated with great joy ... the day I met this little beauty.  She was induced, so I knew when I woke up that Tuesday morning 23 years ago (Did I really sleep the night before? I don't think so!) I would finally get to see our baby for the first time.  To add to the anticipation, we did not know if this baby was going to be a girl or a boy ... something almost unheard of these days!

I remember the doctor exclaiming, "It's a girl!"  Such a joy flooded my soul.  I had only brothers growing up.  I knew nothing about raising girls ... but I was thrilled, nonetheless.

From that day on, October 22nd was a day to look forward to.  Carefully selecting birthday presents, lovingly wrapping them, anticipating her excitement as she opened them.  Choosing a theme for her birthday party, making (or usually buying, ha!) her a cake, sending invitations to her friends.  Watching her grow from a baby to a toddler, a toddler to a child, a child to an awkward pre-teen, an awkward pre-teen to a beautiful young lady.  October 22nd was a joyful mile marker, a date to celebrate another year of our precious girl's life.

On October 22, 2008, Hannah turned 16 ... truly a milestone birthday!  Her gift that year was a bright red Mazda Protege'.  It was a hand-me-down from me, but that didn't matter to her.  She was thrilled!  She drove it around proudly for about four months before she was diagnosed with cancer.  The effects of brain surgery and radiation made her unable to drive and she surrendered her keys without a word of complaint.

Hannah's 17th birthday came around about three weeks after we found out that her cancer had returned with a vengeance.  Three weeks after her doctor, with tears in his eyes, told us that she had less than a five percent chance of survival.  And two days before she lost every strand of her thick, curly hair.  That was a tough birthday.  How do you celebrate your child's birthday, knowing that unless God does a miracle, it will be her last?  Somehow He gave us the grace to get through that day and the months that followed.

Hannah's 18th birthday came around eight months after she went to Heaven.  Oh, how I dreaded that day!  I really don't remember much about it, but I know that Brad, Bethany, and I went to her grave and covered it with rose petals.  I also made a Mississippi Mud Cake, which had become Hannah's annual birthday request once she outgrew the Barney and Barbie cakes.  Over the past several years, those two things have become a tradition on her birthday.  Not exactly the way we envisioned marking October 22nd for the rest of our lives.

That brings us to this week ... the week Hannah would be turning 23.  Twenty-three?  Twenty-three is a grown woman, a college graduate, someone who is starting a career, possibly married, maybe even with a new baby in her arms. It's so hard to see a 23-year-old woman standing in the place of the 17-year-old girl who left us.

I'm not going to lie.  Weeks like this are tough ... even though this will be Hannah's sixth birthday in Heaven.  My heart hurts.  My soul hurts.  Especially when I contrast these October 22nds with the October 22nds of the past.

In Psalm 42, the psalmist writes these words ...

3 "My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng."

Even as he weeps, he remembers how he used to shout with joy and praise while he participated in festivities.

Just like our family used to get so much joy from celebrating our girl on October 22nd, a day that is now marked by tears.

But, thankfully, he doesn't stop there.  In the very next verse he says this ...

5 "Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God."

Did you catch that?  The psalmist talks to himself!  Well, actually, he talks to his soul ... and he reminds it that there's really no reason to be downcast and disturbed.  He reminds it (and us) that we need to put our hope in God, and that even though our heart and soul are hurting, we can still praise Him.  Truly a sacrifice of praise.

My parents always told me it wasn't nice to "talk back" when I was growing up, and we taught our girls the same thing.  But you know what?  This week, when my soul tells me I should be downcast and disturbed because I'll be visiting Hannah's grave on her birthday, instead of celebrating with her in person, I'm going to talk back to it.  I'm going to tell it where my hope is, and that that I'm going to choose to praise my God.  Because He is my Savior, and He was Hannah's Savior, I will spend eternity celebrating October 22nds with her!  Truly a reason to rejoice, even on those days when my soul hurts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday Mourning -- Candy Land

Anybody remember the game Candy Land?  I absolutely loved playing Candy Land when I was a kid, and my girls loved it, too.

It was our favorite game to play together, and was always our go-to game when one of them had to stay home from school because they were sick.

I can still remember how excited Hannah would get when she got to take one of the shortcuts.  She'd say, "Look Mommy!  I get to go up the 'Wainbow Twail!'"  For the uninitiated, she was referring to the "Rainbow Trail" ... a shortcut that allowed you to skip a large portion of the long, winding trail.  There was another shortcut called the Gumdrop Pass, which took you through the Gumdrop Mountains, but that one wasn't nearly as exciting because you didn't get to skip as much.

The game was also a lot of fun (or not!) because of the unpredictability.  Your little gingerbread person could just be racing along, making great progress, almost to the Candy Castle, and BAM, you'd draw a Plumpy card and you're almost back to the beginning.  Or, you could be dragging along, feeling like you're getting nowhere, and WOO HOO, you'd pull a Queen Frostine card, and suddenly you're back in the running.

For some reason, I was thinking about Candy Land the other day (I know, random, right?) and it struck me how much this simple children's game is like the journey of the grieving parent.

I guess because we hear so much about the "stages of grief", we sometimes get the idea that the road of grief is a straight shot through all those stages, and that everybody travels the same route.  In truth, it's much more like the path on a Candy Land board, constantly meandering back and forth and folding in on itself.  Our path to the Candy Castle (healing) is a winding one, and it's different for every person.

And as much as we'd like to take the Rainbow Trail or even the Mountain Pass to skip some of the really tough parts, we can't.  We have to take every step through the Gumdrop Mountains, the Lollipop Woods, and the Molasses Swamp.

Sometimes we'll be moving along the trail and think we're doing okay ... even pretty well ... when Wham! Something hits us out of the blue, and knocks us back the way we came, maybe even almost all the way back to the beginning.  And sometimes we feel like we're not making any progress at all, when God gives us a special boost of encouragement and suddenly we're at the Ice Cream Sea.

One thing I do know about Candy Land ... the only way to finish the game is to keep on playing.  If we grow weary of the setbacks, and we lay our little gingerbread person down beside the trail, we'll never make it to the Candy Castle.  Or if we conclude that the game is just not fair and throw it up in the air, scattering playing pieces and cards everywhere, healing becomes even more elusive.

And the only way we can keep playing is to hold the hand of Jesus as we walk.  Maybe that's why the people who made the Candy Land game made those little playing pieces with their hands out to the sides like that ... to remind us to hold His hand on the journey.

Or maybe I'm the only one who sees all these crazy parallels between Candy Land and the grief journey.  That is certainly possible.  :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 4)

This will be the final installment of a series of posts I wrote back in November of 2010 about how to help those who are grieving.  I hope the re-posting of this series has been helpful to you as you encounter those who are hurting and heartbroken by their circumstances in life.

As I read over this post today, I had to smile when I read the second to the last paragraph, where I refer to a "new venture" God had placed on our hearts.  That "new venture" is now known as "While We're Waiting", and God has indeed blessed it beyond our wildest dreams.  I'm so grateful and humbled that God has entrusted this ministry to us.

OK, so we're finally coming to the end of my seemingly endless blogging on grief. Whew! I don't know about you, but it's been kind of a rough series of posts for me. I've just learned so much over the last couple of years...things that I had absolutely no idea about before...and I've wanted to share it all. As I said when I started all of this (please read the last three posts if this is your first visit to this blog), I just don't think we spend enough time talking about grief, especially in our churches, when we are surrounded by people slogging their way through it.

So, back to Nancy Guthrie's four needs of grieving people:

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

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

They have broken relationships that need to be healed.

And finally,

They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.

Once again, I think she's right on with this one. It has made a huge difference to us that we've been able to actually see God's purpose being fulfilled through Hannah's death. I think we've been particularly blessed in that regard due to the fact that Hannah actually prayed for a storm in order to give God glory and to bring others closer to Him. We've seen her prayer answered over and over again, and it continues to be answered even today.

I really believe there is some purpose in every loss...we sometimes just have to look a lot harder to see it. I don't believe that God does things randomly. Now, we may not find that purpose until we get to Heaven someday...and we may have to learn to live with that. He didn't promise us answers, but He did promise us Himself.

I think that Nancy could have added a subpoint under this one, but she didn' I will. Here it is.

They have a deep desire that their loved one be remembered.

You know, when an elderly person dies, they leave behind a legacy. They have children, grandchildren, maybe even great grandchildren...all of whom carry their DNA. They've had a lifetime to build relationships with others, and their influence in life may have been very widespread. Long after they leave this earth, their legacy lives on through their descendants and the people they've influenced during their long lifetime.

When a child dies, there is none of that. That child will never have a single descendant; their relationships have been few; and their circle of influence has been limited. After they leave this earth, their parents, siblings, extended family members and close friends are still filled with their memories, but not many others.

This is why so many bereaved parents start foundations, establish scholarships, or launch ministries following the death of their children. They have a deep desire not only for their child to be remembered, but also to bring good out of a tragic situation. Just a few great projects that have sprung up out of immense grief are the following: Keep the Faith, Kamo's Kids, and Vincent & Annabella's Garden. God has a way of bringing beauty out of ashes, but we must be willing to let Him use our sorrow for His purposes.

We've been so grateful that He's allowed us numerous opportunities to share His glory through Hannah's story, and that He's brought the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry into being as a result of our experiences with cancer. We are particularly excited about two things that He is doing right now.

We have been asked to speak at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Memorial Service on Sunday, November 21st. This is an annual service that is held for families who have lost children to cancer over the past year. I must say that I am thrilled and terrified about this opportunity all at the same time. Thrilled, because I am looking forward to sharing what God has taught us over the past 20 months, but terrified at the thought of being back at Children's Hospital. I have not been back there since the day Hannah was rolled out of there on our way to the hospice center. It will be a difficult day emotionally, so prayers would be greatly appreciated!!

We are also excited about a new venture that God has placed on our hearts. I don't want to disclose too many details yet, because it is all still coming together, but we have been meeting with another bereaved couple about it, and it is very apparent that God is at work. That's all I'm going to say about it right now, but I will share more when I'm able. We would also appreciate prayers about this project, even though I'm not going to tell you what it is at this point. Just please pray that God will keep His hand upon it, that we will follow His leadership, and that He will bring it together according to His will.

Thanks for sticking with me through this whole series on grief. I've often said that even if I knew nobody else ever read it, I'd continue to write this blog simply because it helps me so much. I am thankful that there are people who read it, though, and it always makes my day when I hear from someone that something I wrote helped them in some way. It's humbling, too, and even a little bit scary to know that so many people read what I write. I pray that I will always be careful to follow God's leadership as I write. And thank YOU for your faithful prayers in that regard!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- On Guilt

Take a minute and think back to, oh, maybe about sixth grade.  You’re sitting in your classroom at school, minding your own business, when the kid sitting behind you fires off a large spitball at the teacher, hitting her square in the back of the head.  The teacher whirls around and says, “All right, who did that?”  Of course, no one raises their hand.  So she says, “All right, class, we’re all just going to sit here until the guilty person confesses.”  She crosses her arms and waits, tapping her foot on the floor.  As the seconds tick by, and the silence lengthens, you start squirming in your seat.  You may even begin to sweat a little bit.  You KNOW you didn’t do it, but for some reason you begin to feel guilty.  Should you confess, just to end the tension?  You finally breathe a huge sigh of relief when the kid behind you says, “It was me.”

Guilt.  It's a heavy weight to bear.  Paralyzing, really.

Guilt is a common emotion among parents.  From the time our kids are born, it seems like there’s something to feel guilty about.  For us moms, it starts even before they’re born … “Oh man, I shouldn’t have had that sip of Diet Coke.”  Then, as they grow, there are more and more things to feel guilty about … not sterilizing that pacifier that was dropped on the floor, letting your kids watch too much TV, eating ice cream for supper occasionally.  The list could go on and on.  It seems that, as parents, we are just wired to feel guilt.

When a child dies, that guilt can be overwhelming.  I think every parent who has lost a child deals with guilt to some degree or another.  As parents, we believe that our main responsibility is to protect our child, so it just follows that sometimes we feel that our child’s death must somehow be our fault.

This idea is as old as the oldest book in the Bible.  Even Job’s friends told Job that he must somehow be responsible for all the tragedy that had befallen him.

But this idea assumes that the power of life and death are in our hands, and our child died because we dropped the ball somehow.  The Bible tells us again and again that only God is sovereign over life and death.  Job 14:5  (NIV) says, "A person's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed."  And Psalm 139:16 reminds us that God ordained our days before we were ever born.

We talk with a lot of parents as we host While We're Waiting events, and we sometimes encounter parents who believe their child’s death is a punishment from God because of some kind of sin in their own life.

We always remind them that the price for all of our sins was paid by Jesus’ death on the cross.  Most everyone is familiar with John 3:16 … “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  But, we often neglect the following verse, John 3:17 … “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

And listen to what Romans 8:31-34 has to say about this topic …

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

And then there’s Romans 8:1, which says …

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."

When we continue to wallow in guilt, we are demonstrating a lack of trust in God.  If we are Christians, and we believe Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sin, yet we continue to believe that the loss of our child is somehow a punishment from God, we are saying that we do not trust Him to hold up His end of the bargain in forgiving us.

We must continually make the choice to put our trust in God’s Word and not our feelings.  Our feelings will lie to us every time.  This choice must be made daily, or even moment by moment.

Romans 8:34 says that Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. As long as we remain shackled by guilt, we can do nothing for Him ... and Satan loves that!  We honor our Lord and His sacrifice for us by accepting the grace and peace He so freely offers.