Monday night was our monthly Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry support group meeting. These meetings are always a great time of fellowship and encouragement, but this month was a special blessing. We were excited to welcome some guests...Alan and Melissa McCone from Crossett. When we lived in Crossett fourteen years ago, and Brad was the assistant principal at the high school there, Melissa was one of his students. She and her husband have been on their own cancer journey for the last couple of years. Alan was diagnosed with Stage IV renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) in September of 2008, and they have had quite a battle on their hands since that time. You can read more about their story here. They came to our meeting because they are considering starting a cancer support group in the Crossett area. We had a really neat time of sharing and praying with them. The whole evening was just really special. As I drove home alone that night (Brad and I were in separate vehicles), it really hit me that none of what had occurred that night would have happened had it not been for Hannah's storm. We certainly would not have been leading a cancer support group, we would never have gotten reacquainted with the McCones, and none of the people in that room would have experienced the sweet fellowship and encouragement that group has provided over the past year. The feeling I had could best be described as a sense of awe about what God has done and is still doing through Hannah's life and death.
On Tuesday, we were visited by a Magnet Cove High School student who is doing a documentary about Hannah for her multi-media class. She handed us a list of interview questions to look over while she set up her three cameras in our living room. I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing...after all, we've shared our testimony numerous times. Then I read over the list of questions and nearly lost it. I can tell the story...I can talk about her diagnosis and her treatments and what God has taught us without breaking down (most of the time anyway)...but answering questions like, "What was your favorite thing to do with Hannah?", "If you had a chance to talk to Hannah, what would you say and why?", "As a mother, what was the hardest thing to watch your daughter do?", and "What is the one thing you wished you could have seen your daughter do?"...That's a whole different ball game! Those are incredibly hard questions! It's not that I don't know the answers, because I definitely do, but those are questions that really trigger an emotional response. We managed to get through the interview, holding it together most of the time, and hopefully, she got some material she can use. And, you know, even though it was emotionally taxing, I think it was really good for me to spend a little time thinking about some of those things. We always welcome any chance we have to talk about our girl, and this was a really unique type of opportunity. We were able to share our faith and give glory to God through Hannah's story, and that is always our desire.
On Wednesday evening, we received word that Brad's Aunt Anna Jewel had gone to Heaven. She's been quite ill for a few years now, and we knew for a couple of days that her death was imminent. Aunt Anna Jewel loved both of our girls, but she and Hannah had a particularly close bond. Hannah was the oldest grandchild on the Sullivan side of the family until Bethany was born, so she always got a lot of attention. When she was little, she spent a lot of time on Aunt Anna Jewel's lap, listening to her read stories. As they both got older, Hannah always enjoyed visiting with her, sitting and listening patiently to all her stories of the good ol' days. Back then, we would never have imagined that Hannah would beat her to Heaven. To think that Hannah was there to greet her as she arrived is truly awe-inspiring.
Then, on Thursday, we went to visit a special family, the Crooks. I've requested prayer for Lauren Crook and her family several times over the last couple of years on this blog. Lauren has battled cancer off and on for almost five years now, and is just 22 years old. When Hannah was diagnosed with cancer, Lauren was a student at OBU, and she heard about Hannah's story through the grapevine. She reached out to Hannah via email, while her mom, Lisa, reached out to me. They were both such an encouragement to us...although we never actually physically met them. At that time, Lauren was cancer-free and doing well. Just as Hannah's health really began to decline, Lauren's cancer returned with a vengeance. She has gone through many months of exceptionally grueling treatments, but to no avail at this point. At this time, she is at home receiving hospice care. We decided it was finally time to meet this family, so we drove to Benton to see them yesterday. What a blessing it was to spend some time with them! God has truly given Lauren and her family a special grace as they've walked this difficult road, and innumerable lives have been touched by their testimony. Hannah and Lauren would have been great friends had they met on this earth, and I can just imagine how they're going to hit it off in Heaven. Of course, I do believe that God may yet choose to heal Lauren...it may be many more years before they meet in Heaven, and I pray that is the case!
As I sit here on Christmas Eve in front of the fireplace and reflect on the past week, I am struck by how differently we would have spent our time if Hannah were still here with us. The Anchor of Hope Cancer ministry would not exist, there would have been no interview in our living room, we would have viewed Aunt Anna Jewel's passing through a completely different perspective, and we wouldn't even know the Crooks. How would we have spent our time? Welcoming Hannah home for her first Christmas break from college, for one thing. It hurts to know that other families are enjoying time all together tonight...I'm not going to lie. Our family of three, though precious to me, feels sorely incomplete at times like this.
Back to those interview questions....There was one I didn't even attempt to answer on Tuesday. "If you had a chance to talk to Hannah, what would you say and why?" If I could talk to Hannah tonight, I would tell her that I am so proud of her. Because of the courage and grace with which she walked through her storm, lives are still being touched today. Because of her determination to bring glory to God, He is still being glorified today. Because of what we perceive to be her early departure to Heaven, we now live with an eternal perspective. And it's because of that eternal perspective that we can celebrate the true meaning of this season with JOY in our hearts. We pray that you will do the same.