Dear Hannah My Joy,
So tomorrow is your birthday. You would be turning nineteen years old...Nineteen!! That's almost an adult! I wonder if you celebrate birthdays in Heaven? And even more than that, I wonder if you get older in Heaven? Like, if I were to join you there in twenty years, would you be 39? Are your great-grandparents all over 100 now? What about people who die as babies? Do they still have to go through infancy, childhood, and that horrendous adolescent period? Or is everyone in Heaven exactly the same age...maybe about 29? I wonder about things like that ever since you left. You'll have to fill me in on all of that when I get there.
Back to you...I'm writing this from your bedroom, looking through your window. You wouldn't believe how much the trees we planted have grown over the last couple of years. I can barely see our neighbor's house now. We moved your bed out a few months ago, and put it in Bethany's room. You know, she always wanted your queen-sized bed. We painted her room a really bright turquoise and your black and white comforter looks like really pretty in there. Yeah, we covered up all those squares we painted on her wall a few years back. Well, the ones Bethany and I painted while you directed us where to put them. Your room still has the pretty burgundy colored walls, but we've made some other changes. We put a black and white rug in there that you would just love, and a super comfortable chaise lounge. We also moved the desk in there, and put it directly in front of your window, and that's where I sit and write. We left all your stuff up on the walls...don't worry, we didn't touch all those awards of yours or your El Dorado picture. Your clothes are still hanging in the closet...except for the ones Bethany has permanently "borrowed". She wears that polka-dotted shirt of yours all the time. And I know you'd hate this, but I just had to do it. Remember that self-portrait you drew with pastels when you were in about third grade in Mrs. Mason's GT class? The one with the really cool frame? (I still can't figure out exactly how you made that.) Well, I hung it up in your room. I remember how you hated that picture, but I've always loved it. So now it's on your wall.
Speaking of Mrs. Mason, I bet you were really surprised when she showed up there a few months ago. I know we were. I'm sure you two have enjoyed getting caught up on all the good times you had at Southside Elementary. And have you seen Mr. Shorty? I remember you and Bethany sledding down Briarwood Drive with him like it was yesterday. He's probably up there passing out free popcorn like he did at the bank all those years. I still use his peanut butter cookie recipe and made some just the other day. And baby Carter is there now too. I'm sure he's proud of his mom, and the work God has been doing in her life since he left. We've met so many parents now who have children in Heaven. We've gotten a lot of comfort from talking to them and hearing how God is carrying them through these days while we're waiting. I sometimes wonder if, when we're meeting each other here, you're meeting their kids there. That would be pretty cool.
I doubt you care anything about politics now, but I know it was a big deal to you when you were here. Election Day is just around the corner and you'd probably be glad to know that it looks like the conservatives are poised for a comeback. I remember how you used to love to watch the election results come in. Kind of unusual for a teenage girl, but we had a lot of fun with it, didn't we? It was almost as exciting as watching the American Idol finale! You wouldn't even recognize American Idol now...Would you believe Paula left last year and they replaced her with Ellen? And now Ellen, Kara, and even SIMON have quit? Randy is the only original judge left...and the new judges are going to be Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. You know, the guy from Aerosmith (you used to think his name was Arrow Smith...LOL)! And then there's Jon & Kate...You don't even want to know what's happened with them. We've watched some of Dancing with the Stars this year. Sarah Palin's daughter is on that show this year. Kind of hard to imagine, huh? She's really not very good. On the other hand, Razorback football this year has been great. We went to the Texas A&M game two weeks ago, and cheered them to a victory (even though we were sitting in enemy territory). Last week, they fell victim to some particularly bad calls. The refs actually called a touchdown for Auburn when the guy clearly didn't have the ball as he crossed over the goal line. Our quarterback is rumored to be a Heismann candidate, but I'll be really surprised if he gets it. Remember when we thought Darren McFadden was going to win it?
I know how much you always enjoyed getting together with all of the family. I'm sure if you were here, we'd all be celebrating your birthday together this weekend. Your cousins are really growing up...they're not those silly little kids you used to laugh at all the time anymore. Well, sometimes they still are, but like I said, they're growing up. They really miss you, Hannah. They're just not quite the same since their leader left. They didn't even put on a Christmas play last year. And Faith would have made the perfect baby Jesus. She's so cute...all blond curly hair and blue eyes...and she's so tall. Of course, that's no surprise! I'm so glad you at least got to hold her before you left. And Julia and Katie Joy are so sweet. We sometimes chat with them on Skype, and it's so cool to be able to see them all the way from Indonesia. I wish you could have met Katie before you left...I wonder, can you see her now? Your aunts and uncles and grandparents miss you too. We all know you're where you're supposed to be, but we can't help but wish you were still here with us.
Can you believe that you would have to look up to Bethany now? I remember when you were little...you were head and shoulders taller than all the other kids your age. We always thought you'd be about six feet tall. But you topped out at about 5'8"; and then you actually shrunk a couple of inches before you left. Bethany, who was always an average-height kid, suddenly started growing about the time you left, and she's about 5'10" now (she thinks she's 5'11", but I'm not so sure about that). She's still playing basketball, and they should have a really good team this year! They are going to be so much fun to watch! Their coach has really been practicing them hard...lots of running, which she hates...but they're going to be in shape. Bethany's playing has really improved, especially her shooting. She looks really intimidating when she walks out on the floor because of her size, but she's still having to learn to play aggressively...that just doesn't come naturally to her!
Bethany's driving all the time now. Of course, she doesn't have her license yet...that won't come until June...but she got her permit as soon as she turned fourteen, and has been driving me around ever since. Remember how she always used to holler from the back seat that you were giving her whiplash when you were learning to drive? Well, whenever she makes a quick turn or sudden stop, I always remind her of that. Actually, she's a pretty good driver...better than you ever were. I wonder now if maybe there were some vision problems interfering with your driving that we (and you) weren't even aware of at the time. We keep telling her that we're going to pass the Blazer down to her when she turns 16, but we'll probably let her have the Camry. They both have over 100,000 miles on them, but she thinks the Camry is so much cooler than the Blazer. And that's okay with me, because then I can get a new car! We sold your little red car...actually, we let Grandpa do it (you know how he loves to play car salesman). We didn't want to sell it to someone locally and then have to see someone else driving your car around. Grandpa talked to the lady who bought it just the other day, and it's still going strong!
Bethany is in tenth grade this year...the same grade you were in when you got sick...and she has the exact same teachers you had. She's even been called "Hannah" by a couple of her teachers. They both felt bad, and told me about it at parent/teacher conferences. I told them not to worry about it...what teacher hasn't called a student by their sibling's name? Even I call her Hannah sometimes! I even occasionally call her Lacee, but that's probably because I'm almost 45. And hey, she found those messages you wrote on the tables in the journalism room. I'm sure when you wrote "Hannah Hearts You" on those tables, you had no idea what it would mean to her someday. Pretty cool. And get this...when Mrs. Rockett randomly handed out the English textbooks this year and told the students to open them and write their names in them...guess whose book Bethany got! Yep, it was yours. I mean, what are the odds? Just another little God thing. Oh, and this Friday night (your birthday) is homecoming, so it's spirit week at MCHS. Guess who Bethany was for Hero Day...You! She really misses you, sweetheart. There are times she could sure use a big sister to give her advice about schoolwork, high school drama (and I'm not talking about the Thespian Club!), and boys...especially boys. It's just been too long since I've been there myself, and so much has changed since I was a teenager. You'd be proud of her, though...She's really taken a stand for her faith, and has become known as someone kids can go to for Christian advice. Her experiences throughout your storm have really grown her up.
Dad's doing good. It's been hard on him since you left. He really misses you a lot. It was tough on him going back to work after you left, seeing your empty locker and walking past your lunch table in the commons every day. He's been so careful not to waste your storm...sharing the grace of God through your story with everyone he meets. You know how he's always had the gifts of encouragement and mercy? Well, he's had lots of opportunities to put them to use since you left. And you would have been so proud of him at graduation last year. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to stand up there and call out all your classmate's names to come up and receive their diplomas. Well, I do know how he did it...It was God...but I also know it was a heartrendingly difficult thing for him to do. Did you know they left an empty chair for you? Or do you even care about things like that in Heaven? I suspect you don't. Why would you?
Me? Oh, I'm doing okay. I'm sad a lot. I miss you more than I ever imagined I could. Especially when I think about the fact that our relationship would be so different now that you're practically an adult. The mother/daughter bond would, of course, always be there, but I really think we'd be developing more of a friendship now. You would be living on your own (or at least with Brittany in the dorm at OBU!), making your own decisions, starting to find your own way through life. You'd be coming home for weekends occasionally, and I'd be washing your clothes and letting you sleep 'til noon in your own bed. We'd enjoy every minute of you being home, and then hug you good-bye as you headed back to school, already looking forward to your next visit. I'm so disappointed that we're not getting to experience that with you. And I know we'll be facing more disappointment as the years go by and your friends start getting married, having babies, etc. You would have had such beautiful children. I wonder if you would have met somebody special by now. You know, I was nineteen when I met your dad at one of those Ouachita "functions" at the Arkadelphia skating rink. Would you bring him home to meet us on one of those weekend visits? Would Dad like him? Probably not...LOL!
Did you know that I have a blog now? I know you didn't want me to have one while you were here...I understand that you didn't want any more attention focused on you than there already was. I didn't think you'd mind after you left, though. It's been such a great way for me to work through all the emotions and questions I've had since you've been gone. If you can see it, I'm sure it's probably driving you crazy that the picture at the top isn't centered, and it's bugging me too...I just can't figure out how to fix it! We've both always been a little OCD about stuff like that!
And I'll just bet that you DO know one thing...that your prayer to bring God glory through your storm has been answered over and over since you left (actually even before you left). I've got to believe that is something you're fully aware of there...actually, you've probably heard the angels rejoicing several times over decisions that have been made! Maybe you've even joined in with them. What an amazing thought! Through your storm, God has taught many people how to live well, and some, how to die well. God is still using you, even now, and for that, I am thankful.
So how are we going to celebrate your birthday tomorrow? I'm not sure yet. I did just finish making your all-time favorite Mississippi Mud Cake for us to enjoy. I wish you were here to help Bethany lick the bowl. I don't know yet if we will go to work and school, or just take the day off. Tomorrow night is homecoming at MCHS...We are definitely going to skip out on that. Homecoming without you coming home is just too painful. Our school administration is so wonderful...They're going to give Dad the night off. So we're going to a Casting Crowns concert instead. Would you believe they are going to be in Hot Springs tomorrow night? I'm not sure how I'll handle hearing Mark Hall sing "Praise You in the Storm" on your birthday, but I'm going to give it a try. Then on Saturday, Bethany and I are going to Tiger Tunes at OBU, and we're going to meet Brittany and a friend of hers there. Brittany is absolutely loving Ouachita, and it's been great to spend some time with her recently. I wish we were meeting her and you there on Saturday...and I know she wishes the same thing.
Well, this letter has gotten pretty long...much longer than I had intended. So I'll say good-night for now. We're all waiting, more or less patiently, for the day we get to celebrate your birthday together again. Somebody told us once that when we finally get there, it will be like falling asleep in the car on the way to Grandma's...We'll suddenly be there and it will feel like no time at all has passed. That sounds good to me. Until that day, we will just keep trusting Him.
I love you,