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!  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday - "Miss Havisham"

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Another Throwback Thursday post today ... This one written November 26, 2012, about 2 1/2 years after Hannah went to Heaven.  Sometimes I still feel like Miss Havisham ...

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know I've been reading through the classics on my treadmill in the mornings.  I have really enjoyed discovering these books.  You know, if I had been assigned to read these books in high school or college, I think I would have hated them.  But now, as an adult, I'm loving them.  The quality of the writing, the depth of the plots, and the richness of the character development completely eclipses anything being written today ... in my humble opinion, of course.

My most recent read was "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. Yet another amazing work of literature.  I was particularly intrigued by one character ... Miss Havisham.  Miss Havisham lives in a decrepit old mansion, and requests that a young boy, Pip, be brought in to entertain her.  Pip is escorted into the mansion by a beautiful young lady named Estella, and trails behind her through several gloomy passages and up a dark staircase, with only a single candle to light the way.  Estella leaves him alone at the door of a room, which he nervously enters.  It was a dressing room, well lit by wax candles, but without a hint of daylight in it.  Sitting at the dressing table is Miss Havisham, and here is how Pip describes her...

"She was dressed in rich materials -- satins, and lace, and silks -- all of white.  Her shoes were white.  And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white.  Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table.  Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about.  She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on -- the other was on the table near her hand -- her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed.  But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow.  I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes.  I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone.  Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state.  Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement.  Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.  I should have cried out, if I could."

Have you got the picture in your mind?  As Pip looks around a little more, he notices that Miss Havisham's watch has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, as has every other clock in the house.  He observes that the shoe on the dressing table, though yellowed, had never been worn, and that Miss Havisham's silk stocking on that foot had been trodden ragged.  On a subsequent visit, he enters an adjoining room and discovers a long table with an object upon it so covered with mold and cobwebs, it was unidentifiable.  It was crawling with spiders and black beetles ... and Miss Havisham explained to Pip that it was her wedding cake.

You can probably guess what happened.  Miss Havisham had been jilted on her wedding day, at precisely twenty minutes 'til nine ... and she had never moved forward from that moment.  Her life basically ended right there.  She was alive, but she wasn't living.

I guess Miss Havisham's character intrigued me because I could so totally relate to her.  I "get" her.  I remember when Hannah left for Heaven, it felt like time had completely stopped.  As if every clock in the world had stopped at 2:31 p.m., never to be re-started.  As we made the drive home from Little Rock on that day, it was so surreal to see all the other people just driving along the interstate, going about their everyday activities, as if nothing had happened.  Didn't they know that life as I knew it had just ended?

I can't tell you how tempting it was to just sit at my dressing table wearing my wedding dress in the weeks and months after Hannah's death.  I'm not a naturally social person anyway, and it was hard, so hard, to step back out into the world again.  It's still not always easy.  Good thing my husband is such an extrovert and tends to drag me along with him most of the time, or I might still be sitting there with one shoe on and one shoe off.

As the story goes along in "Great Expectations", we find that Miss Havisham is a bitter, angry, pathetic character, who has spent her miserable life manipulating people to do her bidding.  Her life is a complete and utter waste.

And that's exactly why we can't just stop the clocks when a devastating loss happens in our lives.  How would that be honoring to our Lord, or even to the loved one whom we've lost?  Do we really want our suffering (and our child's suffering) just go to waste?  Or do we want to grow from it, learn from it, and become a better person because of it?  We have to decide what we're going to do while we're waiting ... sit at the dressing table and gradually turn yellow from lack of use ... or put on that other shoe and get busy for the kingdom of God?

Can we do that on our own?  No, it's only through the grace of God and by His strength that we can brush away the cobwebs, sweep the moldy cake crumbs off the table, and step back out into the sunshine.  The Bridegroom is there and He's patiently waiting ... We just have to be willing to reach up and take His hand.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- How Many More Minutes?

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"How many more minutes?"

We used to hear that question a lot from our little girls riding to Grandma and Grandpa's house in the back seat of the car.

We would try to explain how much time remained in our trip in terms they could understand:  "It's two Rugrats shows and a Barney" meant that we were still an hour away.

They would settle in, satisfied, ready to be patient a little bit longer, knowing that the joy of getting to their grandparents' house was awaiting them at the end of the journey.

We no longer have little girls riding in the back seat of our car.  One of those little girls is in Heaven, and the other is happily married and I look forward to the day that she is driving her little ones to Grandma and Grandpa's house!

So now it's not our kids who are asking, "How many more minutes?"

It's us.

How long, O Lord, until we see our Hannah again?  How many more minutes (hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades) until we get to Heaven?

It's hard to be patient when you're looking forward to a time of great joy, isn't it?  It can seem like the time just crawls by.

We found that those road trips went by faster when the girls had something to do to keep them busy while they were waiting.  We played the ABC game, sometimes fighting over who got to claim the "Q" in "Antique"; we sang songs; we listened to audio books.  Anything to help the time pass ... and it worked!

The theme verse for the While We're Waiting ministry to bereaved parents is Romans 8:25:  "But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."

A ministry consultant once told us that we needed to change the name of the ministry.  He said, "It sounds like you're kicked back in a recliner, doing nothing, just waiting to get to Heaven."

Obviously, we didn't follow his advice ... because nothing could be further from the truth.  We are waiting eagerly ... persevering until that day.  Our desire is to keep busy doing what God has for us to do until this particular road trip is over.  Our goal is to live well (by God's grace alone) while we're waiting.  Nothing will make the time pass more quickly than that!

And not only does the time pass more quickly ... the trip has been made so much richer by the fellow travelers we've met along the way.

"How many more minutes?"

I asked myself this question again the other day, but in an entirely different context.  For Valentine's Day, my husband gave me a gift certificate for a 55-minute massage, and I've saved it all this time, waiting for just the right time to use it.  I finally decided there would never be a "perfect" time, so last Friday I hopped in the car and drove to the spa.

The massage therapist began to do her magic and it was Ahhhhh, so nice.  But pretty soon I started thinking, "I wonder how many minutes I have left.  I had 55 when I started ... so maybe now I have 42, or 29, or what if I only have 7?  I don't want this to be over yet!"  Before I knew it, I was no longer enjoying the massage, because I was too busy thinking about how many more minutes I had left, and wishing there were more.  I had to repeatedly remind myself to enjoy the moment I was in.

Isn't it awesome to know that when we get to Heaven, we'll never again have to ask "How many more minutes"?  The joys of Heaven will never end.  We'll never have to worry about running out of time.  No matter how many minutes pass, there will still be infinitely more to come.  Every mile of this road trip we're on will be redeemed!

"How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts day after day and have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me ... But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me."  Psalm 13:1b-2; 5-6

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Back to School

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This Throwback Thursday post was originally written on August 18, 2010, about a year and a half after our daughter, Hannah, went to Heaven. I wanted to re-post it this week because of a conversation which has been taking place on our While We're Waiting - Support for Bereaved Parents facebook page (a closed page, just for parents who have lost children.)

Many of these parents have been discussing how hard it is to see all the back-to-school posts on Facebook this week.  And it's not so much that they begrudge other families recording these milestones on social media ... most of them acknowledge that they truly are happy these families have not had to experience the loss of a child.  

No, rather it's the sorrow that so many parents describe as they drop their child off for kindergarten, middle school, high school, college, you-fill-in-the-blank.  The sadness they express about the fact that their child is growing up.  The tears they shed because their baby is getting so old.

It's a little hard for a parent who will never get to hug their child again here on earth to feel much sympathy for a parent who is tearfully hugging their child good-bye until 3:30 that afternoon or until Christmas break.  My purpose in sharing this blog post is not to be critical of these folks ... I'm sure I did the very same thing myself until Hannah's homegoing changed my perspective.  Rather, I just want to remind all of us not to waste a moment of our children's lives being sad that they are growing up, but to celebrate those milestones with them!  Every moment we have with our children is a gift from God and should be treasured.

So, here's what I wrote the week that Hannah should have started college ...

I love school supplies. There's something about brand new, never-written-in notebooks, clean loose leaf paper wrapped in plastic, binders with tabbed dividers, "bouquets of newly sharpened pencils" (one of my favorite lines from "You've Got Mail"), and neat stacks of pristine pocket folders that I just like. Every new school year is a blank slate; a fresh start. There are no crayons or safety scissors on our list this year...there haven't been for many years now...instead, we have things like protractors and compasses. And if I can't help Bethany with her geometry homework this year (which is highly likely) worries; her teacher does podcasts explaining the difficult problems! Hopefully, she can figure out how to watch them, because I probably won't be able to help her with that either.

Hannah shared my affinity for school supplies. She always wanted to shop for them as early as possible for the best selection, and the second we got home with them, she would get busy. She'd separate them all by class, then painstakingly label each item with her name, her teacher's name, the class title, etc. The loose leaf paper would go into the binders, and dividers would be put into place. Then she'd place everything in a neat stack, largest items on the bottom, smallest on the top. She would have her schedule, locker number, and combination all memorized within five minutes of receiving it. The girl just loved school! On the other hand, I won't even comment about what Bethany's heap of school supplies looks like on the kitchen table right now!

This summer, instead of buying school supplies for Hannah, we would have been buying items to furnish her college dorm room. We would have been moving her into her dorm at Ouachita Baptist University this Saturday. It's hard for me to even imagine what that would be like. I think she would have been really nervous...before she got sick, she was easily freaked out by change...but she would have been excited, too. And I wonder how I would feel.

I see lots of moms on Facebook lamenting the fact that their kids are starting college this fall, and talking about how sad they are going to be that they won't be living at home. I suppose I might feel that way too, if we had not the experience we had. But now, I really want to comment on all those posts, "Don't be sad! Be thrilled...that your child is moving on to the next step in life. You can talk to them every day on the phone. They will come home to visit on the weekends. Don't waste a moment of precious time being sad that your child is growing up. Enjoy every second of it!!"

Last night, I brought Bethany to open house at her school. I barely even remember open house last year...I was just trying to survive the night. The emotion was still so raw at that point, and it was excruciatingly difficult to be there among all of Hannah's classmates as they were starting their senior year. This year was better, but still difficult, just in a different way. Hannah was diagnosed with cancer during her sophomore year of high school...and Bethany will be starting her sophomore year tomorrow. She has the exact same slate of teachers that Hannah had in the tenth grade. So, as we went around from room to room last night, visiting with all of those teachers, it was just kind of surreal. They are wonderful teachers, and I'm so glad they will all be teaching Bethany this year, but I'm sure that it will feel kind of strange to them as well.

I'm so thankful for Heaven. I'm so thankful that there is so much more to look forward to than a dorm room at OBU. And I'm so thankful for John 16:22..."Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." No one will take away your joy...I love that!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "Weep Not For Me"

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Here's another Throwback Thursday post.
This was originally posted on March 12, 2012, and is still one of my favorites ...

I continue to be amazed at the bond that forms between parents who have lost children. It's an instant bond, that forms as soon as we meet, and it's a permanent bond, that remains even if we only meet once.

One of these dear friends sent me a message on Facebook this weekend. She and I have actually only met once, at one of our While We're Waiting Mom's Days, but as bereaved moms, we bonded instantly, and have been close ever since. Both of us lost our children to cancer, which bonds us even more closely.

In her message, she shared a beautiful story about a visit to her son's grave. It really touched me, and with her permission, I'd like to share it with you. I think it will encourage you, as it did me, especially if you've lost a loved one.

She and her husband visited their son's grave this weekend, which is located in an old cemetery where many of her dad's family members are buried. Her husband rarely comes to the cemetery with her, because he has such a difficult time emotionally...something I can definitely relate to! As they were leaving, they passed by a monument that had been broken in half. It caught her eye, and she went over to it to see what it said. She had to get down on her knees and scrape the moss off of it in order to read it. It was a monument for a nine year old girl, her grandpa's sister, and this is what it said...

"Father and Mother, weep not for me, for I am waiting in Glory for thee."

She immediately felt that it was a message from God...a reminder that her son was in Heaven waiting for them...and she was filled with His comfort and peace. She even felt that it was a turning point in her grief journey.

Then she said this ... "I can't believe I have been going to the cemetery all of my life but had to get down on my knees today to read what it said."

Wow. Did you catch the depth of that statement? She had to get down on her knees to read it.

I think there's a message there for all of us ... I know there's one for me. Thank you, my sweet friend, for sharing your story with me, and for allowing me to share it with others.