Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Mourning -- Sucker Punch

Definition:  suck·er punch
noun  1.  an unexpected punch or blow.
verb  1.  hit (someone) with an unexpected punch or blow.  "Joe sucker-punched him and knocked him out"

This February will mark seven years since Hannah went to Heaven after a year-long battle with brain cancer.  In the early months after her homegoing, life in general felt like one gigantic sucker punch. As time went on, the sucker punches became fewer and farther between, and now they occur only rarely.

And then there was yesterday.

For the last several Sundays, we've had a video presentation early in the service highlighting one ministry of the church.  This Sunday was the youth ministry.

The video consisted of several youth group "alumni", now young adults, each of whom shared what God was doing in their lives and how their time in the youth group had prepared them for what they are doing now.  There were those who had been called by God to be worship leaders, those who had been called by God to attend seminary, those who had been called to by God to serve on the mission field, those who had been called by God to work with youth themselves, etc.  All these fresh young faces, brimming with anticipation and excitement about their future.  So much hope, so much expectancy, so much joy.  It's wonderful to see these young adults who are serving the Lord with such zeal.

But all I could see was the person who was missing.  These were Hannah's peers, the "kids" she had gone on mission trips with, the ones she hung out with on Wednesday and Sunday nights, the ones who attended Disciple Now weekends with her.  Yet she was not in the video, because she died when she was 17, before she ever had the opportunity to graduate high school, go to college, experience the call of God on her life.

Hannah should have been a part of that video.  She should have been flashing her trademark smile as she shared excitedly about how God had called her to be a teacher, or a missionary, or ... who knows what?

I'm one of the sign language interpreters at our church, and I happened to be the one interpreting these video vignettes.  When the video ended, my head and hands moved on, but my heart didn't.  I couldn't shake the fact that Hannah wasn't in that video, and she should have been!

That sucker punch still rankled throughout the day yesterday.  My girl should have been in that video ... but she wasn't.

But slowly, slowly God began to remind me that He did have a call on Hannah's life.  It was a different call than that of the young adults featured in the video, but it was certainly no less of a call than theirs.  What if He had called her to become a teacher or a missionary ... Would her life have had as much of an impact for His kingdom if she had become one of those things?   Or did see the bigger picture for her life, and in His loving sovereignty, call her Home early?

I still wish she had been in that video.  Oh, how I wish she had been in that video.


But I choose to rest in the knowledge that she lived well, she finished well, and she fulfilled God's call for her life in a way that makes this Mama proud.

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."  I Peter 5:10

Photo credit: tim caynes via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Bereaved Parents

As bereaved parents, we know that some days are going to be difficult ... our child's birthday, their Heaven Day, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, etc.  But another time that can be just as hard (or harder) is New Year's.

For some, there may be a sense of relief that a painful year is coming to an end, but for most, the thought of facing their first (or yet another) whole year without a precious child can be incredibly difficult.

I've never been much of a New Year's resolutions kind of person, but a few years back I put together a list of ten resolutions for myself that I like to review each year about this time.  I've posted these before, but I've tweaked them just a little bit and thought I'd share them again.

1.  I resolve to ... Look forward to the future and not spend time agonizing over the "If Onlys". These things are in the past, they cannot be changed, and it is a waste of my time and energy to be consumed by them.  These thoughts draw me away from doing the things God wants me to be doing today.  And I believe that it dishonors both my child and my Lord when I remain stuck in the past and refuse to move forward.

2.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who inadvertently add to my pain by making well-meaning, but inappropriate comments.  And I refuse to replay those hurtful words over and over in my mind, thinking about all the things I could have or should have said, that would have put them in their place.  I will remember that I, too, have said unintentionally hurtful things in my own clumsy attempts to comfort others.

3.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who avoid me, or who are clearly uncomfortable talking to me about my child.  They're just afraid.  They don't want to add to my pain, so it's easier just to steer clear of me.  I will remember that I have been that person, too.

4.  I resolve to ... Help others understand what I need from them.  If I need to talk about my child, I'll explain to them that it helps me to talk about her, even if it does make me cry.  If I need to be alone for awhile, I'll ask them to respect my solitude.  If I just don't have the energy for chit-chat and smiles, I'll explain to them why.  If I need to celebrate holidays in a different way, I'll discuss it with them ahead of time.  If I don't know what I need (which happens a lot!), I'll even tell them that.

 5.   I resolve to ... Be patient with myself.  Grief takes time ... much more time than I ever realized before.  I will give myself all the time I need, and not try to rush it (even though others may try to rush me along).  I will be gentle and kind to myself and the fellow grievers in my household.

6.  I resolve to ... Find some joy in every day.  There's a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and happiness can be pretty scarce sometimes.  But joy is God-given, and it is possible to still have joy even in the worst of circumstances.  And it doesn't have to come from big things.  It can be found in little things ... dew on a spiderweb, the sight of your favorite pet greeting you at your doorway, the sparkle of sunshine on the water, the feeling of pulling on a pair of new warm socks on a cold day.  I resolve to look for and appreciate those things.

7.  I resolve to ... Be grateful for the 17 1/2 years I had with Hannah.  I would rather have had her and lost her than to never have had her in my life at all.  And when I consider the fact that I haven't really "lost" her, but in fact, I will spend eternity with her ... the gratitude just overflows.

8.  I resolve to ... Recognize and rebuff the attacks of Satan.  He knows that I'm vulnerable right now, and he would like nothing more than to destroy my witness and to tear my family apart.  He wants me to believe his lies -- that I'm somehow responsible for my child's death; that God is punishing me for some sin; that if only I had had more faith or if I had prayed more, my child would still be here today.  I refuse to allow Satan to have a foothold in my life.

9.  I resolve to ... Depend upon what I know to be true about God, and not on what my feelings are telling me.  So much of the time, my feelings and emotions are completely out of control and unpredictable.  I can laugh and cry and be angry and happy all at the same time.  I can be fine one minute, and sobbing the next.  And I may not even know what triggered the meltdown.  My feelings will lie to me (See #8), but God's Word always tells me the truth.  To keep this resolution, I must spend time with Him, and be intentional in prayer and Bible study.

10.  I resolve to ... Remember that I can do none of these things on my own.  I have no power within myself to keep even one of these resolutions.  It helps to talk to other moms and dads who understand what it's like to miss your child so desperately.  It's great to know that I'm not alone in this thing ... that I'm not the only one who struggles with these things.  But even more than having the support of other bereaved parents, it is critical that I lean on my Heavenly Father for strength.  Because it is only in Him that I can find the strength to keep these resolutions.

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."  II Corinthians 12: 9-11 (NASB)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Never-Ending Christmas

Hannah Joy, Christmas 1992
Do you remember being a little kid on Christmas morning? The excitement of tearing into those presents with the shiny paper and sparkling bows?  The thrill of new toys, games, clothes, books?  Do you also remember that feeling of disappointment when the last gift was opened and Christmas was "over"?  I don't know about you, but I always looked carefully around the tree to make sure there wasn't just one more gift that maybe I had overlooked.  After all, I had looked forward to this day all. year. long.  It couldn't be over already!  And do you remember how quickly the newness wore off of the things that brought so much excitement under the Christmas tree?  It wasn't long before they were broken, or used up, or grown out of, or simply weren't cool anymore.  The "after" of Christmas can feel very empty.

The things, the experiences, the stuff of this world will never satisfy.  That's because we were made for another world.

Where the shine never wears off because Christmas never ends.

Where every day is better than the one before.

Where all our tears will be wiped away.

Where all that was so very wrong in this world has been made right.

Where every empty place is filled and every broken heart is mended.

Where we will sit at the feet of Jesus with our loved ones beside us (or maybe even in our laps).

And we'll never have to worry about it being "over", because it will last forever.

All because God stooped down, reached into our world, and was born as a baby in the humility of a stable.

Grace beyond imagination.

Mercy beyond merit.

Hope beyond all expectation.

Love so exquisite we cannot even begin to comprehend.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."  Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, December 7, 2015

You Might Be A Bereaved Parent ...

We bought a much-needed new car this past summer ... a Nissan Pathfinder.  Our 2007 Toyota Camry had served us well, but with over 220,000 miles on it, we just couldn't trust it for long distance trips anymore.  And as the While We're Waiting ministry continues to grow and we spend more time on the road, something bigger was needed to haul all our "stuff" around.

Our purchase included a free trial of Sirius satellite radio, and we enjoyed it while it lasted.  One station that I particularly enjoyed was one that featured brief comedy routines by stand-up comics.  As I chuckled along with Jeff Foxworthy doing one of his "You Might Be a Redneck" routines, I began to wonder what a "You Might Be a Bereaved Parent" list might include.

Here's some of what I came up with ...

If you've ever laughed and cried in the same ten-second time period, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever put an article of your child's clothing in a zip-loc bag because it smells like your child, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever left an empty Coke can sitting in one place for months (or years) because it was the last thing your child drank, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you ever find yourself seeking out a seat at the end of the aisle and close to the door so you can leave a church service/concert/ball game/school event/graduation/baby shower quickly, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever cried through an entire church service/concert/ball game/school event/graduation/baby shower, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you still have your child's phone number stored in your cell phone even though you personally canceled his phone service, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever called your child's phone number, knowing she wouldn't answer, but you just couldn't help yourself, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been dumbfounded by the insignificant things people complain about on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever smiled and said, "Fine" when someone asked, "How are you doing?" even though it was a lie, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever tried to run away from Christmas, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wanted to throat punch someone who said, "At least you have other children," "God must have needed him in Heaven," "You can always have another baby," or some other such nonsense, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever had to restrain yourself from typing a snarky comment to a parent bemoaning their child's first day of kindergarten/high school graduation/week away at summer camp on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever typed a snarky comment to a parent bemoaning their child's first day of kindergarten/high school graduation/week away at summer camp on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever stuttered around on your response when asked, "How many children do you have?" you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever lied when asked "How many children do you have?" because you just couldn't deal with the deer-in-the-headlights look at that particular moment, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever choked when the waitress asks, "How many?", you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever gotten out 4 plates for dinner and had to put one back, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever avoided an entire aisle at the grocery store because it contains your child's favorite food, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever slept with your child's hairbrush/stuffed animal/pillow, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever dreaded having a family picture taken, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been moved to unquenchable tears when singing a song about Heaven, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever found yourself marking time by "before" and "after", you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever looked at a picture of yourself "before" and wondered who that person is, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wondered if/how to plan a birthday party for someone who's not going to be there, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been told, "You're so strong ... I could never be that strong," and you know that you're really not strong at all, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever heard, "I don't know how you do it," and you don't know how you do it either, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever had to make absolutely unthinkable decisions at a time when you're least prepared to make them, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever found yourself feeling completely alone in a crowd of people you once knew very well, maybe even your own family, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wished you could just completely disappear during a particular month or months, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been left gasping when someone posts a picture of your child that you've never seen before on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever felt grief so heavy that it was literally difficult to sit upright, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been jealous of older people because they're probably going to get to Heaven before you do, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever thought you might be going crazy ... or are pretty sure you really are going crazy, you might be a bereaved parent.

That's a very negative list, isn't it?  And understandably so.  The loss of a child is an incredibly painful, life-changing experience.  But, that being said, it's not without some positive things as well, particularly if you have a sustaining faith in a good, loving God.

Here are a few which come to mind ...

If your focus on the here-and-now has been replaced with an eternal perspective, you might be a bereaved parent.

If your penchant for small talk has been replaced with a desire to discuss weighty topics of eternal significance, you might be a bereaved parent.

If your shallow relationships with others have been replaced with deep, rich, life-long friendships based on common bonds you wish you didn't have, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find yourself appreciating and savoring every moment you have with your surviving children, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find great joy in watching your surviving children grow up, because that's what children are supposed to do, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you live with a heightened awareness that bad stuff happens, and you need to make the most of every opportunity you have to spend time with your loved ones, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find yourself with a desire to learn all you can about Heaven, because your child now lives there, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you are deeply saddened and moved to heartfelt prayer every time you hear about a parent who has just lost a child, you might be a bereaved parent.

If, because of an awareness of the fragility of life, you have a new urgency to show people the hope that is only available through Jesus Christ, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you are a bereaved parent yourself, and would like to get connected with others who understand the experience of losing a child, I encourage you to check out the While We're Waiting ministry.  Click here to visit our website, or here to join our faith-based Facebook community for bereaved parents.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Celebrating When the Guest of Honor is Absent

Today I went birthday shopping for my daughter.

I went to Hobby Lobby and bought some fun fall decorating items, and even a "JOY" Christmas ornament.  

I found the cutest wooden block that says, "You are loved" ... and I just couldn't pass it up. I love the "present tense-ness" of it.

Then it was off to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for a Mississippi Mud Cake ... her all-time favorite.  This has been the cake I've made every year for her birthday; at least since she was old enough to leave the Barney and Barbie birthday cakes behind!

A little later today, I'll pick up a dozen roses, her favorite flower, and bring them to her.

That's all I'm going to get her this year, because I really don't know what else she might want.  You see, she'll be turning 24, and I haven't seen her or spoken to her since she was 17.  She was just a teenager then, interested in clothes and boys and American Idol and politics.  (Yes, politics.)

I have no idea what her interests would be as a woman of 24.  She might be married by now with a baby on the way.  Or she might be working on a master's degree in some field of interest.  She might be into travel, or gardening, or hiking, or writing.  She might be a missionary in a far-away land, or she might live right next door to me.

Compared to the joy of her first 17 birthdays, the last seven have been very quiet ... No fanfare or singing or blowing out of candles.  No anticipation of her excitement as she opens her presents.  No hugs of appreciation and affection.  No good-natured joking about getting older.  Only an emptiness and a longing for what once was.

I loaded all the birthday gifts in my car and made the 65 mile drive to Mount Zion Cemetery in Yell County, Arkansas, to deliver them.

I am so not okay with delivering my daughter's birthday gifts to a cemetery.  Nothing could feel more wrong.

It's hard to celebrate a birthday when the guest of honor is absent.

But, although my daughter is absent, she is not lost.  And she is not under that headstone.  She is where she was created to be ... I am the one who is out of place.

Does that make me miss her any less?  Absolutely not.

I can thankfully say that on a day-to-day basis, God has restored my joy and I do not grieve with the intensity that I once did.  But there are still days when the "missing" is enough to bring me to my knees, and birthdays are one of those times.

But God has given us a promise.  Isaiah 25:8 (ESV) says, "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken."

Death will be swallowed up, the sting of tears will be wiped away, and I will see my Hannah again.  I just have to wait.

Image from

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - Broken Pieces

I had the pleasure of spending last week at the beach in Navarre, Florida, with my Mom and her friend, Carol.  I've never had the opportunity to go on a "girls trip" like this with my Mom, so it was a real blessing to be able to go.

The weather was not the greatest while we were there.  In fact, it rained so hard on Tuesday that they had to close down the elevators because the shafts were flooding.  Being sixteen floors up, we were grateful that we were safe and dry inside when that call was made!

Even though the weather wasn't ideal most of the time, I was able to get in several good walks on the beach.  Navarre is known for its beautiful seashells, and I have a friend who has an amazing collection of shells from there, so I kept my eyes open for some good ones.

But as I walked along the edge of the chilly waves, with my toes in the sand and the seagulls skittering along ahead of me, searching for perfect shells, I remembered something one of our While We're Waiting moms said at a support group meeting a couple of years ago.  She and her husband had taken their first trip to the beach since the death of her 23-year-old son, and she talked about how she was walking on the beach, looking for shells, much like I was doing.  But here's what she said that struck me.  She said, "I found myself drawn to the broken shells. And I realized that as long as I remember to stay broken, God can still use me."  When she said this, it made such an impression on me that I wrote it down.

We all agreed at that evening that we, as parents who have lost children, are broken.  But we also agreed that our very brokenness may be just what God wants to use for His glory.  Our lives may not have turned out the way we thought they would ... far from it ... but God is faithful to take those broken pieces and make a new creation out of us ... something more beautiful and more useful for His Kingdom than we ever dreamed.

The prophet Jeremiah was once sent by God to observe a potter working at his wheel.  Here's what Jeremiah 18:1-4 (ESV) says about that experience.

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  'Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.'  So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do."

The potter was working hard at making a vessel of clay when something happened and the clay was "spoiled" ... broken, if you will.  But the potter didn't declare it useless and throw it away.  He reworked it, and made a new, different vessel out of it, something that was useful ... something that he saw as good, maybe even better than what he had started to make.  God can do that with us, too, as long as we stay pliable and are willing to let Him rework us as seems good to Him.

As I thought back to our discussion that evening, I decided to abandon my search for those "perfect" shells.  I came home with a Ziploc bag full of broken pieces, and I'm keeping a few of them my desk to remind myself that God is in the business of making something beautiful out of the broken.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."  Psalm 51:17 (ESV)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

While We're Waiting Wednesday - The Dedication of the WWW Refuge

This past Saturday, we held a dedication service for the While We're Waiting Refuge, a retreat facility specifically designed for bereaved parents.  I can't even begin to tell you what a blessing it was ... but I'm going to try!

We began planning this event about three months ago.  It was important to us to take some time to dedicate this facility to God before we got too far along in its construction.  We set the date for September 19th, not really knowing where we would be in the building process at that time, but trusting that God would have us right where we needed to be.

We invited our While We're Waiting family and our church family, having no idea how many people might actually come.  We publicized it on social media, via email, and in our church bulletin.  We thought maybe fifty people would come.

As it got closer, we realized that we may have a few more folks than that, so we prepared areas for parking and asked members of the Fearless Rock dive team to assist us with the parking.

It turns out that more than 150 people came to help us dedicate this facility to the Lord!  We were absolutely thrilled, humbled, and overwhelmed by the support we received that day.  As always, a story is best told through pictures, so here are a few taken by my daughter and her husband.

These dear folks sat through 90+ degree temperatures and blowing dust to show their support for this project.

A big shout out to the Fearless Rock dive team who helped us get everyone parked safely!

The program included parents who had attended past While We're Waiting retreats sharing what this ministry has meant to them.

After the program, we encircled the entire slab and had a closing prayer.  It was a very touching moment.

After the prayer, bereaved parents were invited to write on the walls and studs of the kitchen/dining area in memory of their precious children ... a very special time of remembrance.

Finally, just a few more pictures so you can get a feel of what the Refuge will actually be like.  This picture shows the full perspective of the building.  The slab where everyone is standing is the area where the ten guest bedrooms will be.  The middle section is the existing house, which includes our meeting area and sitting area/library, and is being completely renovated, and the far section is where the welcome center, the dining room, and the kitchen will be.

I love this view of the kitchen/dining area.  The dining room will have a high, arched ceiling.

One last picture.  This is the view out of the large dining room windows.  The pond is a bit low right now, as it's been very dry here lately, but it's a beautiful, peaceful spot.  We will be building a fishing dock on the pond, and plan to keep it stocked for our guests.

Each person who attended the Dedication Day on Saturday received a program which included a prayer list for this ministry.  We would be honored if you would join us in prayer for these specific requests.

1.  For God's will to be done in all aspects of the While We're Waiting ministry; that He would be glorified in all that is said and done.

2.  That every hurting parent who comes here will receive comfort, feel God's love, and ultimately be pointed to Jesus, the true source of all comfort.

3.  For laborers to help with the building project and to serve our families.

4.  For safety of all those involved in the building project.

5.  For finances for the building project and for the day-to-day operation of the ministry.

6.  For God's wisdom for the Browns and the Sullivans as they lead this ministry.

Thank you so much for your support and prayers for the While We're Waiting ministry!