Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- How Many More Minutes?

Image from www.skitterphoto.com
"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

Photo from blog.500friends.com
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)...no 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 happy...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"

Photo from www.fanpop.com
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.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- Leaving Our Nets Behind

Photo from www.warriorshepherd.com

One thing I've really enjoyed about the somewhat slower pace of life this summer is the ability to spend some un-rushed time in God's Word each morning.  Not that I couldn't or shouldn't do that every day, no matter how busy life is ... but I'm just keeping it real here.  Having this time in the morning is the thing I think I'm going to appreciate most about not having to run off to work each day when school starts back this year.

I use Hannah's Bible for my reading time each morning.  There's just something so special about using her Bible.  It's full of her doodling, favorite Scriptures, and notes.  Here's a peek inside ...




Of course, the irony of her using the word "healthy" as part of this acrostic is not lost on me.  And her describing herself as "athletic" makes me giggle.  Her favorite class was Spanish, thus the "alegre", which means happy or cheerful ... and that truly was our girl (with a little nosiness thrown in).

Anyway, earlier this week I was reading in Matthew chapter 4, and something I've probably read a hundred times jumped out at me in a whole new way.  (Isn't it cool when God does that?)

This is what it says, starting in verse 18 and going through verse 22:

"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

At once they left their nets.

Immediately they left the boat.

They just left.

These guys made their living as fishermen.  My guess would be that that was the only life they had ever really known.  And yet, when Jesus called them, they left all that behind ... even the tools of their trade.  They somehow knew that everything was going to be different from now on.  A profound change had taken place, changing the very trajectory of their lives.

Reading this story made me think of how our lives have changed over the past seven years.

Hannah's diagnosis with cancer in February of 2008 was the first indication that we were about to be asked to drop our nets.  As a year passed in a bewildering whirl of radiation treatments and varying chemotherapy regimens, we found ourselves being called to climb out of the boat.  And when she left us for Heaven in February of 2009, it was time to let go of those fishing implements for good.

Now I hope you don't have the idea that we dropped those things willingly, like I think the disciples did.  We fought with everything we had to hold on to the life we had known since Hannah was born seventeen years before that.  We pursued every option available to us to keep her with us ... but our sovereign and loving God had another plan ... and we had to let her go.

Oh, how I would love to get back into the boat and pick up my nets as if nothing had ever changed!  What I would give to go back to the way things used to be, before I knew that teenagers got cancer and died.  If I could cross my arms, blink and nod like Barbara Eden used to do, I would do it in the space of a heartbeat.

But when God called us to drop our nets and leave our boat behind, it was not a temporary gig.  He did not intend for us to return to life as we knew it.  Not that He wanted us to forget our life with Hannah ... far from it!  Those memories are priceless gifts from Him!  No, He wants us to use those experiences to know Him and serve Him in a more authentic way.

Even after nearly 6 1/2 years, we are still learning what that looks like.  Thankfully, He is patient with us, and understands when we try to pick up those nets again.

Lord, help us to live well while we're waiting.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- 10 Reasons Why Bereaved Parents Are My Favorite People


I'm back in Throwback Thursday mode this week.  I just haven't had the time to sit down and formulate a fresh new post.  But that's okay, because after our While We're Waiting support group meeting last night, I was reminded again why Christian parents who have lost children are my favorite people to be around.  I just knew I had to re-post this list that I originally wrote back in March of 2013.  All ten of these statements were confirmed once again last night ...

1. They are some of the bravest people I know (although most would deny that they are brave at all). These are folks who have survived every parents' biggest nightmare, and are still breathing.

2. They don't waste time with small talk. Every conversation has depth and richness to it.

3. They've learned not to judge others, because they've come to realize that they've been wrong about a whole lot of things themselves.

4. They appreciate the little things in life ... because they've learned that the little things are really the big things.

5. They understand that they are not in control ... and they've learned how to trust the One who is, even when they don't like what He allows.

6. They've wrestled with the most difficult questions of life, and have come to accept that they will never have all the answers this side of Heaven.

7. They would give anything to still have their child with them ... but they love their child too much to really want them to leave Heaven.

8. They have learned how to accept clumsily-spoken words from well-meaning folks with grace.

9. They know how to smile in spite of their broken hearts ... and they bravely do it every day.

10. They live with eternity always before them. It's what gets them up in the mornings and lays them down at night. It is the promise of Heaven that keeps them breathing every day.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- Stealing My Stuff Again

Photo from the Huffington Post
Brad and I went to the Wednesday evening service at our church last night, and heard a wonderful message from our associate pastor based on
I Thessalonians 5:16-18.

That passage is actually a series of three commands.

Rejoice always.

Pray without ceasing.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

Three things that a person who is grieving can find very hard to do.  Yet these three things must be pretty important because verse 18 concludes by saying, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

As he shared his thoughts from this passage, he asked us, "If you came home one evening and there were robbers at your house, carrying your TV, your couch, and all your other belongings out the front door ... would you just stand there and watch?  Would you let them carry off everything you own without trying to stop them?"

I thought to myself, "Of course not!  That would be crazy!"

Here was his point ...

Of course we wouldn't stand idly by while thieves carried off all our possessions.

Yet we allow Satan free rein to do just that in our hearts.  Sometimes we even unlock the windows and doors and escort him in!  We show him around and allow him to take whatever he
wants ...

Our peace

Our joy

Our hope

Our security

Our confidence in our relationship with God

The list goes on and on.

So much of the battle in grief is spiritual in nature.  As the years have passed, I've found that the times I really find myself in a deep funk about Hannah's death, it's because I've allowed Satan to get a foothold in my head and in my heart, and he's stealing my stuff again.  Usually he's not brazen enough to carry it out the front
door ... He starts slipping it out the windows and through the attic and down into the basement and I don't even notice I'm letting him do it until I'm gasping for breath and wondering what happened.

It's at times like this that I have to remember what I know ...

God is good, and He is for me  (Nahum 1:7).

He knew the number of Hannah's days before she was born, and His plan for her was fulfilled in the number of days He gave her  (Psalm 139:15-16).

I have not been abandoned by God, nor will I be destroyed by my circumstances (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Weeping will not last forever ... there is joy coming  (Psalm 30:5b).

He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit  (Psalm 34:18).

The years I have spent separated from Hannah will be restored  (Joel 2:25).

God is in control, even when it feels like everything is spinning out of control  (Isaiah 46:9-10).

I have an eternal home in Heaven  (2 Corinthians 5:1).

God loves me with an everlasting love  (Jeremiah 31:3).

One young mom who came to our last While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents said she had made a practice of recording in her journal the lies Satan was telling her ... and then refuting each of them in writing on the next page.  What a great idea!  No way was he gonna steal her stuff!

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  John 10:10

If you have experienced the death of a child, please check out the While We're Waiting ministry.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- Shutting the Door Behind Us

We said we'd never do it again.  Move, that is.

When we moved into our home in a small community in west central Arkansas ten years ago, we really thought that could be our last move.

Our girls were doing well in eighth grade and fifth grade, my husband was the high school principal, and I was working part-time for the local school district and running the girls to and from church and school events.  We loved our home and our little community.  Life was idyllic.

Then, about three years into our time there, our 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  She battled it bravely for a year, and went to Heaven in February of 2009.  Life at that point changed forever.

Our perspective on absolutely everything changed.  Moving up the career ladder?  Making more money so we could have bigger and better things?  Worrying about the small stuff in life?  None of that mattered anymore.

There's nothing like watching your child battle cancer with God-given grace and faithfulness to bring you to your knees and show you what's really important in life.

And what's important is following God in obedience ... wherever He might lead you.

For about a year now, He's been leading us to sell our home, leave our little community, and follow Him.  A couple of months ago, He brought us some buyers ... special folks who will love this house as much as we have, and raise their family there.  He's provided us with a cute little rental house in Hot Springs until He shows us what the next step will be.  So we sold some stuff, stored some more stuff, and loaded the rest of the stuff up in trailers and the backs of pick-up trucks, and we moved.

Brad and I went back one final time to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything and to say good-bye to this house where so many good memories (and a few bad ones) were made.

It's strange to be in a house that doesn't have a stick of furniture in it.  It feels so much larger than it did before, and every footstep echoes.

It just feels so ... empty.

Our girls are all grown up now.  Hannah is in Heaven and doing amazing things beyond anything I can imagine.  Bethany is married and she and her husband are loving life with their canine "baby", Lady.

Life moves on, and that's a good thing.  Not always easy, but good.

We leave things behind, but the memories come with us.

As we prepared to leave for the last time, Brad put his arm around me and reminded me that the next home where we'll all four be together will be in Heaven.

And with that, we shut the door behind us and stepped into our next adventure.

"In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."  ~Jesus, John 14:2-3