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Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I'm sitting here on her bed, and I thought I would give you a description of some of the things in her room...just to give you a little window into Hannah's personality. When you walk into her room, the first thing you see (and the most gut-wrenching for me) is her letter jacket with "Hannah Joy" on the back of it hanging over the bedpost. In one of the most ironic events of her illness, she received that jacket the day we found out that her cancer had returned with a vengeance. That was also the day she ordered her class ring. What a strange thing that was...to receive those symbolic items of high school completion on the day we first began to understand that she may never finish high school. She had looked forward to receiving her letter jacket for a long time...and she actually only wore it a few times. Her purse is hanging from the other bedpost, with her driver's license and Hunter's Education card in the wallet inside.
Her bedroom walls are painted a dark red color...the room was this color when we bought the house, and she immediately chose this room as her own. Her bedspread is white and black, as you can see in the picture, and there is a black shag rug on her floor. The rug was necessary to cover up the Nike Swoosh that the former owners had painted on the floor...who paints a Nike Swoosh on a wood floor? We didn't know it was there until we moved into the house...they, of course, had it covered up with a rug.
To my left, hanging on Hannah's wall, is a framed poster of downtown El Dorado..."Arkansas' Original Boomtown". Of all the places we've lived, El Dorado was Hannah's favorite. She had such good friends there, and she absolutely loved that place!
Hannah's room has the best view in the house. We live in the country, on a hillside, and from here, when I look out the window, all I see is trees blowing in the breeze. Some of those trees we planted the year we moved into this house, and they have really grown over the past summer. For some reason, it makes me sad that I can't show Hannah how much taller they are now than they were in February.
On the floor beside her dresser, in a stand, is a porcelain doll which once belonged to Hannah's great grandmother, Frankie Stahl Owens. Hannah adored her "Grandma Frankie", who went to Heaven in July 2008, and during the last days of her illness, she was comforted by the fact that Grandma Frankie would be waiting to greet her when she got there.
Her dresser has a bunch of stuff on top of it...a funny little trombone player that her Aunt Sarah gave her back when she played the trombone in 7th grade; a picture of her and former American Idol contestant Ace Young; the wide headband she wore every day to cover up the bald patches from radiation; a stuffed animal she received from Arkansas Children's Hospital when she had to get platelets on Christmas Eve; a picture of the high school choir wearing their Alice in Wonderland T-shirts--a performance that she did not get to participate in due to low blood counts; an All-Region Choir patch; her sunglasses; some silk flowers sent by her good friend Paige after she died; and a picture of her and her friend Brittany.
To my right is what we jokingly called her "Wall of Fame". Hannah was a highly motivated student and was extremely proud of her academic achievements. On this wall is a group of plaques (shown below) which include the following: "Outstanding Student in Social Studies, Algebra I, and Career Orientation--2006"; "Outstanding Student in Health & Physical Science--2007"; and "Outstanding Student in Spanish I, World History, and Pre-AP Biology--2008". She also has a plaque for "Miss Congeniality" in the Miss Magnet Cove pagent in 2007; and the ones she was most proud of because they were voted on by the teachers..."Outstanding Freshman Student MCHS 2007" and "Outstanding Sophomore Student MCHS 2008". Her nightstand is right beside her bed, and the drawers are full of letters from her friend Brittany (yes, Brittany, she kept them all!). I always thought it was neat that they sent letters to each other, even in this day of email, Facebook, and texting. She also has a bunch of notes in there from her youth group meetings. She has a hand-woven container from Indonesia (given to her by her aunt and uncle) in there that is full of money. On top of her nightstand is her Bible and a copy of "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers. There's also a picture of her and her Sullivan cousins, and a picture of her and her Magnet Cove friends. Her bulletin board is right above that, and it is full of pictures...church camp, Odyssey of the Mind, her 4th grade class, her cousin Julia, and two strips of pictures of her and her friends and one strip of pictures of her and Bethany from those photo machines at the mall. There's also a Valentine's Day note from Brittany, a couple of American Idol concert ticket stubs, her number from the Miss MCHS pageant, and a sticker that says, "He Died For You".
One of these days, we're going to have to do something with all of these things. How do you do that, though? We've discussed making something special out of this room...a quiet, peaceful, inviting kind of room, a place where you can study your Bible, or spend some time with the Lord. I'm ready to open the shades, let the sun shine in, and keep the door of this room open again. But I'm not sure how to do it yet...we're still waiting for God's timing.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
When he was diagnosed with glioblastoma back in May, I was actually somewhat irritated. Boy, that really makes me sound awful, doesn't it? But this is why...when Hannah was diagnosed, our doctor told us not to go home and google "glioblastoma". He said we wouldn't like what we found, and that Hannah's age put her in a more favorable position than most people who had that diagnosis. So we very carefully and deliberately avoided reading anything about glioblastoma. But then, when Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer, it was everywhere! You couldn't turn on the TV or read the newspaper without hearing about his "deadly cancer" and "grim prognosis." And, of course, we tried (unsuccessfully) to shelter Hannah from hearing any of this information. I must say, though, that it was somewhat reassuring at the time that he was getting the exact same type of treatment (radiation and Temodar) that Hannah was getting. We figured that, as a Kennedy, he was getting the very best medical care available.
God has brought me a long way since then (and He's still got a long way to take me). As the months have gone by, He has helped me see Senator Kennedy not just as a politician, but as a human being...somehow strangely bonded with my 17-year-old daughter by brain cancer.
I don't know what Senator Kennedy's spiritual status was...but I am thankful that I do know Hannah's. Today she's been in Heaven for six months. Half a year has gone by. Someone once told me that when you lose a child, the hole is always there, but the edges become less sharp. Those edges are still pretty sharp (some days sharper than others), but there is progress. More to come...
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When Hannah first became sick, my world was utterly rocked. I clearly remember going to Wal-Mart the first few times after she was diagnosed. I felt so changed inside I actually wondered if people could tell that my daughter had cancer just by looking at me! I was sure it was written all over my face. But, of course, no one could tell. I still smiled and spoke politely...I still functioned just as I always had...but I was profoundly changed inside. And then, like the proverbial ton of bricks, it hit me that Wal-Mart had to be full of people like me...people who appear fine on the outside, but are experiencing raging storms on the inside. I suddenly felt like God was giving me a glimpse of others through His eyes. The Brandon Heath song, "Give Me Your Eyes" was being played all the time on Christian radio at that time, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was actually "seeing" people.
Also, about that time, my Uncle Joe emailed me a poem. It's kind of long, but is such a great description of what I was feeling at that time:
"I did not know His love before,
the way I know it now.
I could not see my need for Him,
my pride would not allow.
I had it all, without a care,
the "Self-sufficient" lie.
My path was smooth, my sea was still,
not a cloud was in my sky.
I thought I knew His love for me,
I thought I'd seen His grace,
I thought I did not need to grow,
I thought I'd found my place.
But then the way grew rough and dark,
the storm clouds quickly rolled;
The waves began to rock my ship,
my anchor would not hold.
The ship that I had built myself
was made of foolish pride.
It fell apart and left me bare,
with nowhere else to hide.
I had no strength or faith to face
the trials that lay ahead,
And so I simply prayed to Him
and bowed my weary head.
His loving arms enveloped me,
and then He helped me stand.
He said, "You still must face this storm,
but I will hold your hand."
So through the dark and lonely night
He guided me through pain.
I could not see the light of day
or when the storm might wane.
Yet through the aches and endless tears,
my faith began to grow.
I could not see it at the time,
but my light began to glow.
I saw God's love in brand new light,
His grace and mercy, too.
For only when all self was gone
could Jesus' love shine through.
It was not easy in the storm,
I sometimes wondered, "Why?"
At times I thought, "I can't go on."
I'd hurt, and doubt, and cry.
But Jesus never left my side,
He guided me each day.
Through pain and strife,
through fire and flood,
He helped me all the way.
And now I see as never before
how great His love can be.
How in my weakness He is strong,
how Jesus cares for me!
He worked it all out for my good,
although the way was rough.
He only sent what I could bear,
and then He cried, "Enough!"
He raised His hand and said, "Be still!"
He made the storm clouds cease.
He opened up the gates of joy
and flooded me with peace.
I saw His face now clearer still,
I felt His presence strong,
I found anew His faithfulness,
He never did me wrong.
Now I know more storms will come,
but only for my good,
For pain and tears have helped me grow
as naught else ever could.
I still have so much more to learn
as Jesus works in me;
If in the storm I'll love Him more,
that's where I want to be!"
Enough for tonight...bed is calling...I plan to post more tomorrow, on the six month anniversary of Hannah's homegoing.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Bethany and Hannah had always looked forward to this school year...this would have been the first and only year that they would have been in the same building together since they are three grades apart. They had even planned to take a class together (Yearbook) since that class is open to all grade levels at the same time. Well, Bethany decided to go ahead and take Yearbook this year. She sat down in her seat on Friday, glanced to her right, and saw this:
If you look carefully, you can see, "Hannah hearts you!" This table that Bethany was sitting beside was covered with grafitti from former students. She started looking it over, and found this:
She recognized Hannah's handwriting immediately, and knew that these words had been written by her sister. It hit her hard, and she was really sad about it for awhile after she got home that afternoon. After talking it over, though, we decided that Hannah had written that message to her, without even knowing she was doing it. Whenever Hannah doodled in her notebooks, scrap paper, youth sermon notes, etc., she often wrote, "Hannah hearts you"...I knew that she did that before she died, and I've found it written in many places as I've gone through some of her things since her death. I had always kind of chuckled at it and wondered who "you" was...well, we've decided she was writing it to each of us. It's kind of fun to think that she was writing notes for us to treasure without even realizing she was doing it. We decided to go up to the school Sunday afternoon (Yes, it helps to know the principal!) and take these pictures.
Saturday morning, Brad and I had the privilege of speaking at a small church in Mabelvale, and met some wonderful folks there. And then, yesterday morning, we were able to share God's goodness through Hannah's story at our home church, Hot Springs Baptist. Our church has really been the hands, arms, and feet of Christ to us over the past 18 months, and it was wonderful to be able to share with them what God has been doing in our lives.
This weekend, we also went to a concert at First Baptist Church of Benton, that included contemporary Christian singers Mac Powell (of Third Day), Mark Hall (of Casting Crowns), Aaron Shust, and several other up and coming artists. Those of you who have followed Hannah's story from the beginning may remember that someone in Mark Hall's church in Atlanta had received some of our emails and had passed them along to him. So he knew of Hannah's prayer for a storm, and how meaningful the song "Praise You in the Storm" was to us. He called us when we were in the hospice center, four days before Hannah went to Heaven, just to encourage and pray with us. He has continued to follow Hannah's story since then. After the concert, he was gracious enough to visit with us a few minutes. It was great to be able to thank him personally for the encouragement that we have received from several of Casting Crowns' songs.
That's all for today...please continue to pray for us. Even though we know without a shadow of a doubt that Hannah is in Heaven and having a better time than we can even imagine, we still miss her. Even though we have a deep down peace, our emotions are still real, and we still struggle at times. I think that over the next few posts, I will try to describe what some of these emotions have been like for us.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Fast forward to last night, which was open house at our school district. Bethany is starting high school this year, and we had fun getting her schedule and going from class to class and visiting with all of her teachers. We are a small district, so every one of her teachers is someone who taught Hannah at some point. It was so strange to be there with Bethany, but not with Hannah. Strange to make the mental jump from thinking about Hannah's kindergarten & first grade years on Sunday to being reminded of what would have been her senior year on Monday. Strange to see students who should be Hannah's classmates this year. Strange to see all the senior posters on the wall, but none for Hannah. But then I can't help but be reminded how blessed we are to have Bethany. I'm so excited for her as she starts her freshman year of high school...she has a lot to look forward to, and plenty to keep her and us busy over the upcoming months.
I feel that, because of our experiences over the past 18 months, we have been given a unique "gift"...and that gift is the awareness of how precious life is, and what it truly means to appreciate every moment we have with our loved ones. I don't think I ever really understood what that meant until Hannah got sick. This is one part of the journey that I can truly say I am thankful for!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
My, don't they look young? We were pretty young, actually...we were both 21 at the time. We were college students with very little money but a lot of love. This was the summer of 1987, just before I started my senior year and Brad started his junior year. Both of us had always been very thrifty (some would call it "cheap"!) and we had saved enough money from our summer jobs to buy ourselves a washer and dryer and rent a tiny little HUD apartment. Between scholarships, work-study, and part-time jobs, we were able to finish our bachelor's degrees at OBU and even go on to get master's degrees at the University of Arkansas. We finished our master's programs in August of 1991, and Hannah was born in October of that same year. Bethany came along about 3 1/2 years later. God has truly been faithful to us throughout our marriage.
Would we have ever dreamed that the last 18 months of our marriage would have been marked by so much pain and heartache? Never. When we promised to be faithful "in sickness and in health", we never would have imagined that our beautiful teenage daughter would be the one to be struck by such a terrible sickness. We would never, ever have chosen this road, but I believe God has strengthened our marriage through it.
This Sunday, we will be sharing God's glory through Hannah's story at First Baptist Church of Crossett. We lived in Crossett from 1996 to 1999, moving there when Hannah was five, and leaving when she was eight. We have some wonderful, precious friends there, and we are looking forward to seeing them this weekend, as well as meeting some new friends we have come to know through Hannah's storm. Please pray that we will be able to effectively communicate what God would have us to share while we are there. And again, thank you for your faithful prayers for our family!
Friday, August 14, 2009
Over in the right hand column, underneath my profile, "Hannah's Story in E-Mails", our speaking schedule, and the followers of this blog, you'll see a section titled, "Blogs I Follow". The top six blogs are always listed in a different order...the most recently updated one will be listed first, followed by the next one, etc. Two of those blogs are "Lisa's Little Slice of Life" and "The Latest on Faith"...those belong to my sisters-in-law. "Harper House" belongs to a friend of mine who feels like a sister!
"Jamie Morris's Journal" will give you updates on Jamie, who I have frequently mentioned in this blog...he has been battling cancer for longer than anyone I know, and he and his mom are amazing people. "The McCones" is written by Melissa McCone, who will keep you up-to-date on her husband, Alan, who is battling kidney cancer. I have not actually met them yet, but hope to this weekend, when we travel to First Baptist Church of Crossett to share Hannah's story. "Everyday Miracles" is a blog about Ethan Krawiec, an 18-month-old boy who has defeated JMML leukemia. I've not met this family either (they live in Connecticut, I believe, but have family in Arkansas), but Ethan's mom, Kasey, was unknowingly a great encouragement to me as we traveled our road of cancer.
Most of the remaining blogs are CaringBridge sites, with the exception of "Steve and Laura Persenaire", which is my brother and sister-in-law's website. They are serving as missionaries in Indonesia. We were so blessed that they were home on furlough during the latter part of Hannah's illness and after she went to Heaven. They and their sweet little girls were a great encouragement to us. We miss them!
Now, to the CaringBridge sites: Tim, Ronnie, Lisa, Maggie, and Kate are all battling brain cancer, which, of course, hits close to home for us. Little Kate, in particular, is really in need of prayer...she lives in Phoenix, and I don't know the family personally, but I feel that I have come to know them through their blog. Her prognosis is not good, but they are trusting God. Blayton is a little guy from Crossett whose story I've been following for awhile...again, I don't know this family personally, but through Blayton's battle with leukemia, I feel that I've gotten to know them. Brady's mom is an old friend of mine, again from Crossett, and he has bravely battled (and defeated) neuroblastoma!
The rest of these kids (Job, Riley, Elijah, Sydney, Grace, Luke, and Drew) we got to know while we were making our trips back and forth to Children's Hospital. All of them are at different points in their battles against cancer, and thankfully, most of them are doing well, and have recently gotten good reports. Elijah's family just found out this week that after four years of battling neuroblastoma, there is still disease present in his body.
Cancer is everywhere, isn't it? It's unbelievable how many lives are touched by it. I had no idea until it touched our family. Would you consider choosing one or more of these families to follow and pray for as they travel down their cancer journey? The prayers of God's people are definitely what have carried us through the past year and a half!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
"The day that Hayley, Tyler, and I came to see Hannah, was when her condition became clear to me. Until January, I casually assumed that Hannah would recover and go on with her life as normal as anyone else. Seeing Hannah so fragile and helpless was my reality check. The next two weeks, were terrible. Even though I often thought of her unfailing faith, I was mad at God. This continued until the first Wednesday night in February. Our youth minister planned a special service in which we simply prayed over each other. This was, of course, an extremely powerful experience that could not have been timed more perfectly (he had no knowledge of my friendship with Hannah). Afterward, I told him that. He told me that his best friend also died when he was 16. Then he shared with me Hebrews 6:19. The next day, when I came home from school, the email telling of Hannah's prayer for a storm was waiting for me. I immediately made the connection: God is the anchor in the storms of life. Throughout the next week, I felt like He was sending me personal messages of encouragement. Friday, my devo focused on 'storms'. Saturday, I heard the words anchor and storm numerous times in random conversation. That Sunday, our pastor's sermon was on the storms of life. My faith grew more in four days than it had in my entire life. I felt more loved by God than ever! I truly understood the phrase, "Peace that surpasses all understanding.""
God is good, all the time!
Monday, August 10, 2009
You may wonder where the name "Anchor of Hope" came from...let me share that with you. Hannah had three really close friends when we lived in El Dorado. We moved from there when she was in the middle of sixth grade, but these girls have remained close through the years. When Hannah was sick, her dear friend, Brittany, found great comfort in the words of Hebrews 6:19: "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul...firm and secure." She, of course, knew of Hannah's prayer for a storm, and the anchor reference in this verse was just so meaningful. She decided to have some necklaces custom-made for these three friends to wear in support of Hannah. A couple of months ago, she had two more made: one for me, and one for Bethany. As you can see, Hebrews 6:19 is engraved on the front of the anchor, and Hannah's name is engraved on the back. You can also clearly see the shape of the cross in the anchor. Notice also the rope chain...perfect for an anchor!
Bethany and I wear our necklaces every day, and are often asked about them, thus giving us the opportunity to share Hannah's story, and we can now also use the opportunity to share about the cancer ministry at our church. Thank you, Brittany (and Tyler & Hayley), for your faithful friendship to Hannah and for allowing God to use you in a way that you would never have suspected!
We are not naive about our involvement in this cancer ministry...we know that it will be difficult and painful for us at times, but we firmly believe that God is in this, and that we are following His leadership in this area. So we know that there will be joy in this journey as well. Please join us in praying that God will guide and direct us as we seek to follow His will in this area, that He will continue to raise up the right people to come alongside us in this effort, and that He will bless those who will be served through this ministry.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
In the back of the yearbook, right after all the senior tribute pages, is a page with several pictures of Hannah...and this caption: "In Loving Memory of Hannah Joy Sullivan, October 22, 1991 - February 26, 2009". Wow...this was tough to look at...yet another reminder of the reality of her death. I remember having similar pages in my own high school yearbooks, but would never, ever have dreamed I would see a page like that for my daughter.
But there were not only pictures on that page, there was a poem, a song, and a tribute, all written by fellow students. The poem and tribute, in particular, I thought really captured what Hannah's storm was all about, and I wanted to include them here. It's a comfort to know that these words will be read for years to come...
"Hannah Sullivan was a devout Christian. She had a strong faith in God and knew that everything that happened was part of His plan for her. On February 20, 2008, Hannah found out that she had a brain tumor. The doctors removed the tumor and thought they had it all, but the symptoms returned a few months later. Hannah continued to battle her cancer. She and her family's faith remained strong no matter what happened. Hannah had prayed for a storm in her life so that she could use it to help change other people's lives. Through her battle with brain cancer, Hannah helped many people find a relationship with God. On February 26, 2009, Hannah entered Heaven. She is and always will be missed by her family and friends, but they know she is in a better place. Even though Hannah is gone, her story will continue to be told, just as she had wanted."
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
"...In Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." Psalm 139:16
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
But back to the love of God...now that our eyes have been opened to the incredible amount of pain and suffering out there, it's easy to wonder about God's love. If God really loves us, surely He wouldn't allow these kinds of things to happen. I find it very interesting in the story of Lazarus (which I referenced a few days ago--found in John 11), that after Mary & Martha sent for Jesus, saying that Lazarus was very sick, it says this: "Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, He stayed where He was for the next two days and did not go to them." If He loved them, why didn't He go to them right away when they were in need? Because He loved them, He wanted to deepen their faith.
Let me quote Nancy Guthrie in "The One Year Book of Hope" (she says it so much better than I can!): "...God's love is sure and certain. He is the very definition of love. We tend to interpret God's love by looking at our circumstances. Things-are-good means God loves me. Things-are-bad means God doesn't care. Instead, we must allow the strong and secure love of God to become the lens through which we interpret everything that happens in our lives. When we see our suffering through the lens of God's love, we see that our suffering has meaning and purpose. And while we may never label the suffering as good, we have the consoling confidence that God is going to use it for our good and for His glory. The love of God supports us and sustains us."
What a comfort in hard times!
Monday, August 3, 2009
Doesn't she look like she's having fun? I was able to have some "Girl Time" with two of my best friends...shopping, eating, shopping again, eating some more...what could be sweeter? We're trying to squeeze as much fun as we can out of these last couple weeks of summer!
On another topic, I spoke with another good friend at church yesterday and she shared a wonderful story with me. She and her husband just returned from a mission trip to Alaska, where she had the opportunity to share Hannah's story with a group of teenage girls. She said they were especially interested in the story because they were all around the same age as Hannah, and they listened carefully, expecting a happy ending. When Beverly got to the end of the story, they were stunned that it did not end the way they thought it should have. This opened up an opportunity for Beverly to share the hope of Christ with them, and before long three girls accepted Him as their Savior. Please pray for these girls: Bethanie, Bethany, and Hailey (interesting that two of them shared a name with our Bethany!) as they begin their Christian walk.
I also wanted to give you updates on Lauren Crook and Mallory Turner. First, Lauren...Here's today's update from her Mom:
"Lauren was able to have scans Friday under sedation. We are so thankful to announce the remaining portion of the tumor has shrunk to some degree and the MS lesions are getting better. Dr. Archer wants to do a low dosage round of chemo to help put the MS lesions in an inactive state. If you remember, this was the course of action taken almost two years ago. It was very successful then and we pray it will be successful now. We plan to see all of her doctors this week and hope to know more on the next steps in this process. There is still remaining tumor and we pray it will completely go away. I will send out additional information as I find out after these appointments later in the week. Lance and I can’t even begin to tell you how elated we are over this news. A heavy burden has been lifted from our hearts. We ask that everyone please rejoice and praise God for this wonderful news. We can’t tell you how blessed we feel over this report."
Mallory continues to recover from her injury and surgery. She has movement in her shoulders, and limited use of her arms, but cannot use her hands or her legs right now. It's hard for them to determine how much use she will get back at this point, due to swelling around the injury. Brad is in Little Rock today and tomorrow for workshops, and he is planning to stop by and visit with her and her family while he's there, so hopefully I'll have some more news to pass along soon. We are praying that she will be fully restored to health!
One other request...please take a look at Ben Fields' CaringBridge site and be praying for him (there's a link on my blog in the right-hand column--look for CaringBridge--Mr. Ben). Ben is a little guy with Menkes Syndrome, which is a condition where the body does not produce enough copper. The prognosis for babies with this syndrome is not good, and Ben is really struggling with lots of health issues right now. He was admitted to Children's Hospital yesterday with breathing problems. Please also keep his mom and dad, Jamie and Travis, in your prayers as well.
Finally...I've added something new to my blog...if you look over in the right hand column, you'll see a link that says, "Hannah's Story in E-Mails". If you click on that, you can find a summary of Hannah's story, as well as all the emails we sent during the year she was sick. I finally figured out how to group them together for easy access...I'm still figuring out how to do this blogging thing!