Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- When I Get To Heaven

Continuing the Throwback Thursday theme for a few more weeks while waiting for the school year to wrap up enough to start writing some new posts ... Here's a post I originally wrote on July 28, 2011. Reading it again today sure got me excited about all we have to look forward to in Heaven one day!

"When I Get to Heaven"

I have to be honest...Before Hannah became a resident there, I really didn't think much about Heaven. Sure, I wanted to go there someday, but I didn't really know anybody there, other than my grandparents, and, of course, Jesus. And I looked forward to that day (distant, though it seemed, which was fine with me) because I knew it would be amazing to see Him..."I Can Only Imagine" and all that.

Well, now that Hannah is there, my feelings have changed greatly. I look forward every day to the moment I arrive there. I must admit, though, I am a little conflicted about something.

Would you think less of me if I told you that if Jesus is the first person I meet when I arrive, while He's hugging me, I'm going to be on my tiptoes peering over his shoulder looking for Hannah? It's just the truth.

Brad read a book last week on the beach in which a father said he hoped that his child was sitting on Jesus's lap when he got to Heaven, so he could see both of them at the same time. That would be pretty cool.

But Hannah was seventeen when she died, and I just can't really picture her sitting on Jesus's lap.

And that's not really how I think it's going to be when I arrive in Heaven anyway. Here's how I picture it. I have no theological basis for this whatsoever...these are just my thoughts.

If I were to go there today, I think that Hannah would be the first person I would see. As a matter of fact, for some reason, in my mind, I picture her grasping both of my hands and pulling me into Heaven from wherever I am. We would fall into each other's arms and laugh and cry and hold each other for a long, long time. When we had gotten our fill (it might take awhile), she would take me by the hand and together, we would greet all of our family members who were there....grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents, and so on.

All of this would take place at a very leisurely need to hurry like we do every day in this life...we have all the time we could ever possibly need.

After visiting with all the family, next I would want to meet the children of all the bereaved parents we've talked to over the last few years. Most of them I never got to meet on earth, but their parents have become so precious to me, and their stories have been so amazing, I've just got to meet them. And since I have this idea in my head that everytime we meet a bereaved parent here on earth, Hannah meets their child(ren) in Heaven, she'll be able to introduce me to all of them.

After visiting with all of these amazing people, I would want to meet the Old Testament patriarchs...Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, Noah, David, Solomon, etc. Can you imagine? And then the folks from the New Testament...Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, the woman at the well, Lazarus, Mary & Martha, the disciples, Paul, Silas, Timothy...the list could go on and on! What a thought!

And by this this the point where my heart is about to burst with joy and gratitude and awe and only desire would be to meet the One, the One who made all of this possible through His sacrifice. And my daughter, my daughter who is now so far superior to me in wisdom and grace, will ask me, "Are you ready?" I will be speechless, only able to nod my head in affirmation. And, still leading me by the hand, with the familiar ease of introducing me to a good friend, she will bring me to the throne of glory. And I will tremble uncontrollably, fall to my knees, worship the One who died for me, and then finally, finally my joy will be complete. Oh, glorious day!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Heavenly Wisdom

Today's Throwback Thursday post was written on July 25, 2011 ... a little over two years after Hannah went to Heaven.  It brought a smile to my face today as I considered how much more wisdom she's gained in the last four years since I wrote this ...

Will you indulge me for a few minutes of shameless boasting? Thank you.

Hannah was a very intelligent young lady. She was a straight-A student all through school, even in the second semester of her sophomore year, when she underwent brain surgery and radiation therapy. She won nearly every academic award given during her freshman and sophomore years, including overall "outstanding student" both years. Her biggest concern when she was in the hospital prior to her surgery was getting behind in her schoolwork and losing her opportunity to be the valedictorian. She was an extremely competitive student (to a fault), and always went above and beyond what was required of her in class.

Her junior year was off to a great start, when her cancer returned in late September. She had to drop out of school for a few months to do another round of extensive radiation and to start a new kind of chemotherapy. By mid-December, she was well enough to return to school for a few days before Christmas break. On her first day back to school, she walked into her World History class, only to find out that they were taking a test that day. The teacher gave them a few minutes to look over their notes before taking the test. Of course, she could have been exempt from taking the test since she had not been present for any of the material, but she chose to look over a friend's notes and take it. She got a 100%...after only a few minutes of studying completely unfamiliar material.

Right after Christmas break, Hannah's health began to deteriorate rapidly, and she never did return to school. It wasn't long before the cancer attacking her brain brought her to a state of almost child-like simplicity. It was a heartbreaking thing to watch, and to be perfectly honest, it just felt so unfair.

And then Hannah went to Heaven. And I believe that as soon as she entered her new home, her intelligence was not only restored, it was transformed into wisdom. A wisdom beyond anything I can even imagine. And I believe that the longer she is in Heaven, the more wisdom she gains.

Now, when I feel sad about all that she had to suffer through, the indignities she had to endure, the losses she had to experience ... I picture her, surrounded by the splendor of Heaven, saying, "C'mon, Mom. It's fine. All that stuff you're thinking about -- that was just a second, just the blink of an eye -- it was nothing! None of that matters now. I'm better than I've ever been. Just wait 'til you get'll see!"

And won't it be awesome when I do get there, and I'm able to sit beside her and learn from her what she's been taught by the Master Himself! 

 After I've spent the first thousand years or so just hugging her neck, that is! 

 What an amazing experience that will be....

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- My Bereaved Parent Family

Another "Throwback Thursday" post today ... This one written on September 11, 2010, just after we attended the Respite Retreat for bereaved parents hosted by David and Nancy Guthrie.  I will forever be grateful for that weekend, and the time we spent with those couples.  Meeting all those folks and hearing their stories and experiences as bereaved parents gave me a much greater understanding of the path my life was now on, and helped me see that there was still life to be lived here on earth, and that it could be full and abundant.

One of the things that was so striking to me about the weekend was how much we parents, who came from ten different states and Canada, had in common.  And how, almost five years later, those commonalities have been confirmed again and again as we've met hundreds of bereaved parents through our While We're Waiting events.  This post describes some of those things we share.  As much as I would gladly renounce my membership in this club, I have come to love my bereaved parent family.

About seventeen years ago, I was attending one of those infamous Southern Baptist committee meetings at our church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. We were engaging in some informal conversation around the table before the meeting actually began, and the pastor asked one attendee a question. She was an older lady, who had been a member of the church for a long time...the pastor knew her quite well. He said, "As a pastor, there's something I've always wondered...What is the most painful type of loss someone can endure? I know that in your lifetime, you have lost your parents, your husband, some of your brothers and sisters, and a daughter. Which loss was the most difficult for you?" The dear woman replied with shining eyes, "Oh, Pastor...the loss of my daughter was by far the greatest loss I ever experienced. The others were painful, but I still grieve the loss of my daughter every day in my heart." And our pastor answered, "That is exactly what I've heard over and over again in all the years of my ministry...that the loss of a child is the most painful loss there is."

I was about 27 years old at that time, with one young daughter and another on the way, and as I heard her response, I thought to myself, "Wow...I hope I never have to face that!" For some reason, that conversation has stuck with me all these years. And from time to time, it comes to my mind, and I wonder about it. Since I haven't experienced any of those other types of losses, I've wondered if what I heard that day is really true.

Last weekend, we spent hours listening to bereaved parents pour out their hearts, both in group meetings, and with us privately. We did our own share of pouring, as well! As I shared in my previous post, we twelve couples came from ten different states and Canada, and our stories of loss were, for the most part, very different. But here are some things that, over the course of the weekend, we discovered we had in common:

--The pain we share is deep, and it is very real. There were parents there whose son lived for only two heartbeats after birth, and parents whose daughter lived to be an adult with a child of her own. There were parents whose child had suffered months or years of illness, and parents whose child's life was gone in one earth-shattering moment. Two couples had lost two children. I still don't know if the conversation I overheard 17 years ago was completely accurate...I really think there are things that could be worse than death when it comes to your children...but the pain and grief I heard and felt last weekend was immense. It didn't matter how old our children were or how we lost them...the pain was deep, and it was real.

--Most of us who were there had come to terms with God's sovereignty in taking our children to Heaven sooner than we would have liked, but as one dad put it, "We reserve the right to protest." While we all agreed that our faith has gotten us through our experiences, nearly all of us have experienced some real spiritual struggles.

--All of us have struggled with feeling "different" or "out of place" like I mentioned a couple of posts back. Our thoughts are different, our outlook is different, our conversation is different. One mom said, "Everyone around us is talking about kindergarten and we want to talk about calculus!" Who has time for small talk and chit-chat, when there are issues of such great importance to discuss? I think that's one reason we enjoyed visiting so much...we spent all our time talking about issues and experiences we felt so passionately about.

--All of us have struggled with getting back into "real life" after the death of our children. People usually don't know what to say to us, or if they should say anything at all. And we're no help...sometimes we want them to talk to us and sometimes we don't! One mom said that they felt like they carried death with them everywhere they went, and it had deeply affected their relationships with others. Oddly enough, the place we all agreed was the most difficult to go back to was church! I think part of that is just the emotion inherent in attending a worship service, but I suspect some of it may be that we seem to feel it necessary to keep up a "front" in that others will think we are just as perfect inside as we appear to be on the outside. I don't know...I'm still pondering that one.

--Strange as it may sound, we've all experienced some degree of memory loss or "brain fog" related to our child's death and the time that's past since then. I thought it was just me, or the fact that I'll be turning 45 in a couple of months, but I guess not. Maybe it's because our thoughts are so consumed with "calculus" all the time...I don't know. I'm just glad to know that I'm not the only one!

--All of the moms felt like they had aged rapidly since the death of their child. All of us described the experience of looking in the mirror and wondering what had happened to us! And not just in seems that that extra weight of grief has taken a toll on our bodies as well.

--This may be surprising, but when one dad described their experience of losing their 3 month old baby as 100% terrible and 100% wonderful at the same time, we all murmured in agreement. We all agreed that as awful as losing our children has been, so much good has come from our experiences as well.

--All of us had a strong desire for our children to not be forgotten. Every one of us, in different ways, have sought ways to memorialize our children. I had never thought this would be a big deal for us...we truly believe Hannah's storm was more about God than it ever was about Hannah...but as time goes by, I do find myself wanting to make sure that Hannah's life is not forgotten.

--Finally, we all agreed that we could never survive these experiences without our faith in God. I often heard people at the retreat wondering aloud how people got through things like this without Him. I've said that many, many times myself. And as difficult emotionally as last weekend was, we all left there uplifted, because we all knew we would be seeing our children again. Best of all, we all left knowing that the time we've spent without them here will be redeemed in Heaven someday...every minute will be made up for. And how amazing is that?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "Strangers and Aliens"

Here's another Throwback Thursday post, this one from September 2, 2010.  The interesting thing about this post is that it was written the night before we went to a bereaved parents retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, which ultimately led to the creation of the While We're Waiting ministry.  When I wrote this post, I could not have guessed how my life was about to change once again.

"Strangers & Aliens"

Last night, I went to the first meeting of a new Beth Moore study at our church. There were not too many of us there...maybe about 7 or 8 women. About half were people I knew from our church, and the others were visitors. And I knew it was going to's inevitable at any "first meeting"...we had to go around the room, introduce ourselves, and tell a little bit about ourselves. Have you ever noticed that when women are asked to tell a little bit about themselves, they always talk about their children? They might mention their husband, they might briefly touch on their job, but they ALWAYS tell about their children.

I never know quite what to do in this situation. Do I just say that I have a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and leave it at that? Or do I risk the gasps of shock and murmurs of sympathy and say that I have two of them in Heaven? I hate making people uncomfortable or drawing undue attention to myself, but at the same time, it just doesn't feel honest to tell people that I have only have one child.

I didn't have very long to think about it last night. I was the second one in the circle. About half of the group knew my story anyway. So, I took a deep breath (I've learned that it's easier not to cry when I do that) and said my name, that my husband was a high school principal, that I was a speech pathologist, that I had a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and that I had a daughter in Heaven. I was so relieved that I managed to get it all out without choking into awkward silence, that I almost forgot to inhale. It actually took me a couple of minutes to get my breath back. The introductions continued around the circle, with all the ladies sharing about their children and families.

With that task accomplished, the leader spoke a few words to introduce the series, which is about the book of Esther, and for the next hour, we sat in semi-darkness watching the video. For awhile, I had some difficulty focusing on what Beth Moore was saying, because as I sat there in there in that room surrounded by all those very friendly women, I suddenly felt like I was a stranger and an alien. I realized for the first time--well, not really for the first time; I've been aware of it before, but this was the first time I've put words to it--that everything, absolutely everything about me is colored by the fact that I'm a mother who has lost a child. Everything I see, hear, say, and think passes through that filter. I can never take that veil is a part of my very being. I suddenly felt so "different" from all of the other women there, and I felt very alone. Not lonely, mind you, but alone. There's a difference.

But here's the cool thing. That was last night. At this time tomorrow night, I will be in another group. And in this group, I will not be alone. I will be surrounded by people who understand me...and I will understand them. Tomorrow morning, Brad and I are leaving bright and early for Nashville, Tennessee, where we will spend the weekend at a Respite Retreat for bereaved parents, hosted by Nancy & David Guthrie. I've posted a lot about Nancy Guthrie in the past. She and her husband have lost two young children, and she's written several wonderful books about their experiences. There will be 10 or 12 couples there, including the Guthries, and we will be spending the weekend together, sharing our stories and growing together in our faith. I think it's going to be an absolutely amazing experience, and we are so looking forward to it!

You know, there's another very good (actually much more accurate) reason I felt like a stranger and an alien in that room last night. It's because I really am one, and so are you, if you are a child of God. This world is not our home...we're just traveling through it on our way to Heaven. I recently read that Heaven shouldn't be called the "afterlife"...instead, this world should be called the "beforelife." I love that!

In Hebrews 11, the author lists Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, and then says this in verses 13-16:

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."

How cool is that? He has prepared a city for us...where we will finally, truly be "at home." What an incredible day that will be!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Life is Good . . .?

Continuing the Throwback Thursday theme on the blog ... Here's a post from August 8, 2010.

Life Is Good . . . ?

Have you ever seen those T-shirts that say "Life is good"? They always have some kind of relaxation-inducing picture along with those a lawn chair and a glass of lemonade, or a pair of flip-flops and a beach umbrella or something. They're nice T-shirts...they come in all different colors in sort of a weathered-looking fabric. Seems like I usually see them in sporting-good stores. I always look at them because I like them, but I've never bought one...partly because I think they're very pricey for T-shirts, but mostly because I'm not sold on the "Life is Good" sentiment. Oh, there was a time when I wouldn't have thought twice about that was good, and always had been for me. My eyes had not yet been opened to the world of childhood cancer. Sure, I knew it existed. I had seen those St. Jude fundraisers on know the ones. Of course, I always changed the channel really fast so I didn't have to look at those steroid-swollen children with no hair or eyebrows...I felt bad for those kids, but I didn't know any of them. They weren't my kids, or my neighbor's kids, or my friend's kids, so it was easy to change the channel and blithely go on my way.

When we were in Gulf Shores, Alabama, earlier this summer, we went in one of those tourist traps stores. This one is called Souvenir City, and the door is shaped like an enormous shark's mouth. If you've ever been there, you've seen it...You can't miss it! After taking the obligatory picture...

...we went in and looked around. As I wandered through the T-shirt section, I spotted a group of shirts that looked just like the "Life is Good" shirts from a distance. I walked up to them, and found that these were a little different. These shirts actually said, "Life is Crap" and had pictures like a tree falling on someone's car, or a guy hitting his thumb with a hammer. Some were kind of one that had a picture of a men's restroom and a ladies' restroom. The ladies' room had a line of about five women waiting to use it, and of course the men's room had no line. Anyway, these shirts gave me a chuckle, and then got me thinking.

Life isn't always good...but God is. Sometimes life is crap...but God is always good. In his wisdom and sovereignty, He has allowed our family to see and experience some of the more crappy parts of life. He has taken us beyond seeing young strangers with cancer on TV, to learning the names and faces and families and stories of so many cancer battlers right here in Arkansas and beyond. It is such a privilege to be able to lift these families up in prayer, and to keep up with their journeys through the storms.

In John 9:1-3, the disciples questioned Jesus about why a man was born blind, trying to determine whether it was caused by sinfulness. Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," and then He goes on to explain the purpose of the man's disability: "This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Did you catch the "so that"? The "so that" rules out bad luck, haphazardness, and neglect. God had a specific, divine purpose for the man's handicap. And today, some 2000 years later, I believe that is still true. In His sovereignty, I believe that God allows...might I even say ordains...the difficult times in our lives. But He will always, if we choose to allow Him, display His goodness through them.

So which shirt had the right message? For me, it's a combination of the two. Life is sometimes crap...but God is always good!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "But Even If He Does Not ..."

Oh, the blog has been sooooo quiet lately.

Unfortunately, it's probably going to stay that way for awhile.

Our school district is making up its snow days by tacking an extra hour to the end of each school day.  That will be wonderful at the end of May, when we're out of school and everyone else is still going ... but for now, it's making very long work days.  The remainder of the evening is spent getting caught up on While We're Waiting stuff, which I love doing ... but that doesn't leave much time for blogging.

I hate the thought of the blog just sitting dark so much, though, so I've decided to incorporate Facebook's "Throwback Thursday" theme into the blog. On Thursdays, I'm going to re-post some of my personal favorite blog posts from the past.  I hope you enjoy these, because it's probably all you're going to see on here for awhile ... at least until school is out!  :-)

Here's the first Throwback Thursday post from Saturday, March 6, 2010, just a little over a year after Hannah went to Heaven.

"But Even If He Does Not ..." 

I have such great memories of the little church where I grew up...First Baptist Church of Phillips, Wisconsin. Every Wednesday afternoon, my brother and I would walk from school to church for CYF. There were probably only about 10 or 12 kids that came, but our pastor, Arlo Little, was there every single Wednesday to play games with us and teach us a Bible lesson. 

When it was warm enough outside, we would play baseball (that's when I discovered that I was not an athlete). When it was cold outside, which was pretty much the whole school year, we would play games in the basement of the church, where we had our Bible story time. My favorite one involved a pincushion which the pastor would hide somewhere in our meeting room (it seemed like a huge room at the time, although I think it was actually quite small) and we would have to find it. He would tell us if we were hot or cold until we found it, and then we would do it all over again. I remember the excitement of getting warm, then warmer, then steaming, then boiling, then blazing as we got closer and closer to that little pincushion. 

I liked the games, but I loved it when he would tell the Bible story and get out the flannelgraph stuff. I loved the flannelgraph background, looking like it had been drawn with colorful pastels, and all those flannel-backed figures, dressed in their Bible-time robes. I especially loved the animals...the camels, donkeys, and sheep. I learned lots of Bible stories in that basement in northern Wisconsin.

Yesterday morning, I was reading my daily excerpt from "The One Year Book of Hope" by Nancy Guthrie (an excellent book for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one) and she referenced the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. I was immediately back in that church basement, seeing those flannel graph figures and hearing the story told by my pastor. And yesterday evening, I was reading "Letters from the Land of Cancer" by Walter Wangerin, Jr., (an excellent book for anyone traveling through the land of cancer) and, would you believe, he referenced the same story. And both authors emphasized a part of the story that I had never really given much thought to before. 

You may remember that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship a gold statue of the Babylonian king. Here's what they said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18.

I've always thought of them as Biblical heroes because they refused to bow down to an idol, even under threat of death. And while that was heroic, I've decided that their real heroism is reflected in the statement, "But even if He does not...". On the surface, it may look like they were giving God an escape clause, something to protect His reputation in case they burned up in the furnace. But I don't think so. They didn't pretend to know what God would do, nor did they try to tell Him what to do. I think they trusted Him to the point that they knew whatever He would do what was right, even if it resulted in their death. God was God however He chose to act.

This was the same understanding we came to as we watched Hannah's life slowly leave her. That "even if He does not", we would continue to trust Him. And I've seen this attitude replicated in the lives of several of the cancer patients we've come to know as we've traveled this journey. We've been asked by a friend to help her choose music for her own funeral, and this afternoon I will be burning a CD of songs for her to listen to. She has such a glowing peace about her as she contemplates her own death, which, according to her doctors, is approaching. She knows that "even if He does not" heal her in this life, He will in the next. 

What a difference it makes when we face life, and death, with this kind of attitude!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

While We're Waiting Wednesday -- Arkansas Gives!

Many of you who follow this blog have been wonderful supporters of the While We're Waiting ministry to bereaved parents.  In fact, you've watched it grow from the very first retreat we had in April of 2011 to where we are today, doing 8-10 completely booked WWW events per year in multiple locations, and on the verge of embarking on a major building project.  You can see pictures of the proposed While We're Waiting Refuge and find out how you can be a part of that project by clicking here!

But tonight I wanted to let you know about a unique opportunity to support the ministry of WWW financially.

Tomorrow, on Thursday, April 2, from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm, nonprofits from around the state will be participating in an event called Arkansas Gives. On that date and during that 12 hour period, a percentage of any donation you give to a participating nonprofit through the Arkansas Gives website will be matched by a $250,000 pool of money made available by the Arkansas Community Foundation. WWW will be one of the nonprofits you can donate tomorrow. If you've ever thought about making a donation to While We're Waiting, tomorrow would be a great time to do so, because your gift will be maximized!

Here's what you need to know:

-- The donation must be made on April 2nd between 8 am and 8 pm

-- The donation must be made on the Arkansas Gives website (not the WWW website)

-- There is a minimum gift of $25 and it must be made by credit card or debit card (Visa, Mastercard, or American Express)

-- Your donation will be fully tax deductible

-- You will receive a tax receipt by email immediately from Arkansas Gives

-- You do not have to live in Arkansas to donate

-- All funds raised that day go directly to WWW; the only fees taken out are those charged by the credit card companies

-- Click here to go directly to the WWW page on the Arkansas Gives website!

One more thing! As I said above, we are in the early stages of building the While We're Waiting Refuge ... a retreat center specifically designed to meet the needs of bereaved parents. If you donate $2,500 or more to WWW either during Arkansas Gives or at any other time in the weeks and months ahead, we have some exciting incentives for you ... including the option of naming a specific area of the WWW Refuge in memory of your child, one-time use of the Refuge by your family or organization, and a few other special things. If you would like more information about how you can become a sponsor of the WWW Refuge, please click here and we'll get you fixed up.

We hope you'll choose to support While We're Waiting on Thursday, April 2nd!!  Thank you!