Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Bereaved Parents

As bereaved parents, we know that some days are going to be difficult ... our child's birthday, their Heaven Day, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, etc.  But another time that can be just as hard (or harder) is New Year's.

For some, there may be a sense of relief that a painful year is coming to an end, but for most, the thought of facing their first (or yet another) whole year without a precious child can be incredibly difficult.

I've never been much of a New Year's resolutions kind of person, but a few years back I put together a list of ten resolutions for myself that I like to review each year about this time.  I've posted these before, but I've tweaked them just a little bit and thought I'd share them again.

1.  I resolve to ... Look forward to the future and not spend time agonizing over the "If Onlys". These things are in the past, they cannot be changed, and it is a waste of my time and energy to be consumed by them.  These thoughts draw me away from doing the things God wants me to be doing today.  And I believe that it dishonors both my child and my Lord when I remain stuck in the past and refuse to move forward.

2.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who inadvertently add to my pain by making well-meaning, but inappropriate comments.  And I refuse to replay those hurtful words over and over in my mind, thinking about all the things I could have or should have said, that would have put them in their place.  I will remember that I, too, have said unintentionally hurtful things in my own clumsy attempts to comfort others.

3.  I resolve to ... Extend grace to those who avoid me, or who are clearly uncomfortable talking to me about my child.  They're just afraid.  They don't want to add to my pain, so it's easier just to steer clear of me.  I will remember that I have been that person, too.

4.  I resolve to ... Help others understand what I need from them.  If I need to talk about my child, I'll explain to them that it helps me to talk about her, even if it does make me cry.  If I need to be alone for awhile, I'll ask them to respect my solitude.  If I just don't have the energy for chit-chat and smiles, I'll explain to them why.  If I need to celebrate holidays in a different way, I'll discuss it with them ahead of time.  If I don't know what I need (which happens a lot!), I'll even tell them that.

 5.   I resolve to ... Be patient with myself.  Grief takes time ... much more time than I ever realized before.  I will give myself all the time I need, and not try to rush it (even though others may try to rush me along).  I will be gentle and kind to myself and the fellow grievers in my household.

6.  I resolve to ... Find some joy in every day.  There's a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and happiness can be pretty scarce sometimes.  But joy is God-given, and it is possible to still have joy even in the worst of circumstances.  And it doesn't have to come from big things.  It can be found in little things ... dew on a spiderweb, the sight of your favorite pet greeting you at your doorway, the sparkle of sunshine on the water, the feeling of pulling on a pair of new warm socks on a cold day.  I resolve to look for and appreciate those things.

7.  I resolve to ... Be grateful for the 17 1/2 years I had with Hannah.  I would rather have had her and lost her than to never have had her in my life at all.  And when I consider the fact that I haven't really "lost" her, but in fact, I will spend eternity with her ... the gratitude just overflows.

8.  I resolve to ... Recognize and rebuff the attacks of Satan.  He knows that I'm vulnerable right now, and he would like nothing more than to destroy my witness and to tear my family apart.  He wants me to believe his lies -- that I'm somehow responsible for my child's death; that God is punishing me for some sin; that if only I had had more faith or if I had prayed more, my child would still be here today.  I refuse to allow Satan to have a foothold in my life.

9.  I resolve to ... Depend upon what I know to be true about God, and not on what my feelings are telling me.  So much of the time, my feelings and emotions are completely out of control and unpredictable.  I can laugh and cry and be angry and happy all at the same time.  I can be fine one minute, and sobbing the next.  And I may not even know what triggered the meltdown.  My feelings will lie to me (See #8), but God's Word always tells me the truth.  To keep this resolution, I must spend time with Him, and be intentional in prayer and Bible study.

10.  I resolve to ... Remember that I can do none of these things on my own.  I have no power within myself to keep even one of these resolutions.  It helps to talk to other moms and dads who understand what it's like to miss your child so desperately.  It's great to know that I'm not alone in this thing ... that I'm not the only one who struggles with these things.  But even more than having the support of other bereaved parents, it is critical that I lean on my Heavenly Father for strength.  Because it is only in Him that I can find the strength to keep these resolutions.

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."  II Corinthians 12: 9-11 (NASB)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Never-Ending Christmas

Hannah Joy, Christmas 1992
Do you remember being a little kid on Christmas morning? The excitement of tearing into those presents with the shiny paper and sparkling bows?  The thrill of new toys, games, clothes, books?  Do you also remember that feeling of disappointment when the last gift was opened and Christmas was "over"?  I don't know about you, but I always looked carefully around the tree to make sure there wasn't just one more gift that maybe I had overlooked.  After all, I had looked forward to this day all. year. long.  It couldn't be over already!  And do you remember how quickly the newness wore off of the things that brought so much excitement under the Christmas tree?  It wasn't long before they were broken, or used up, or grown out of, or simply weren't cool anymore.  The "after" of Christmas can feel very empty.

The things, the experiences, the stuff of this world will never satisfy.  That's because we were made for another world.

Where the shine never wears off because Christmas never ends.

Where every day is better than the one before.

Where all our tears will be wiped away.

Where all that was so very wrong in this world has been made right.

Where every empty place is filled and every broken heart is mended.

Where we will sit at the feet of Jesus with our loved ones beside us (or maybe even in our laps).

And we'll never have to worry about it being "over", because it will last forever.

All because God stooped down, reached into our world, and was born as a baby in the humility of a stable.

Grace beyond imagination.

Mercy beyond merit.

Hope beyond all expectation.

Love so exquisite we cannot even begin to comprehend.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."  Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, December 7, 2015

You Might Be A Bereaved Parent ...


We bought a much-needed new car this past summer ... a Nissan Pathfinder.  Our 2007 Toyota Camry had served us well, but with over 220,000 miles on it, we just couldn't trust it for long distance trips anymore.  And as the While We're Waiting ministry continues to grow and we spend more time on the road, something bigger was needed to haul all our "stuff" around.

Our purchase included a free trial of Sirius satellite radio, and we enjoyed it while it lasted.  One station that I particularly enjoyed was one that featured brief comedy routines by stand-up comics.  As I chuckled along with Jeff Foxworthy doing one of his "You Might Be a Redneck" routines, I began to wonder what a "You Might Be a Bereaved Parent" list might include.

Here's some of what I came up with ...

If you've ever laughed and cried in the same ten-second time period, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever put an article of your child's clothing in a zip-loc bag because it smells like your child, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever left an empty Coke can sitting in one place for months (or years) because it was the last thing your child drank, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you ever find yourself seeking out a seat at the end of the aisle and close to the door so you can leave a church service/concert/ball game/school event/graduation/baby shower quickly, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever cried through an entire church service/concert/ball game/school event/graduation/baby shower, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you still have your child's phone number stored in your cell phone even though you personally canceled his phone service, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever called your child's phone number, knowing she wouldn't answer, but you just couldn't help yourself, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been dumbfounded by the insignificant things people complain about on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever smiled and said, "Fine" when someone asked, "How are you doing?" even though it was a lie, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever tried to run away from Christmas, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wanted to throat punch someone who said, "At least you have other children," "God must have needed him in Heaven," "You can always have another baby," or some other such nonsense, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever had to restrain yourself from typing a snarky comment to a parent bemoaning their child's first day of kindergarten/high school graduation/week away at summer camp on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever typed a snarky comment to a parent bemoaning their child's first day of kindergarten/high school graduation/week away at summer camp on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever stuttered around on your response when asked, "How many children do you have?" you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever lied when asked "How many children do you have?" because you just couldn't deal with the deer-in-the-headlights look at that particular moment, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever choked when the waitress asks, "How many?", you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever gotten out 4 plates for dinner and had to put one back, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever avoided an entire aisle at the grocery store because it contains your child's favorite food, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever slept with your child's hairbrush/stuffed animal/pillow, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever dreaded having a family picture taken, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been moved to unquenchable tears when singing a song about Heaven, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever found yourself marking time by "before" and "after", you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever looked at a picture of yourself "before" and wondered who that person is, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wondered if/how to plan a birthday party for someone who's not going to be there, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been told, "You're so strong ... I could never be that strong," and you know that you're really not strong at all, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever heard, "I don't know how you do it," and you don't know how you do it either, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever had to make absolutely unthinkable decisions at a time when you're least prepared to make them, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever found yourself feeling completely alone in a crowd of people you once knew very well, maybe even your own family, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever wished you could just completely disappear during a particular month or months, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been left gasping when someone posts a picture of your child that you've never seen before on Facebook, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever felt grief so heavy that it was literally difficult to sit upright, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever been jealous of older people because they're probably going to get to Heaven before you do, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you've ever thought you might be going crazy ... or are pretty sure you really are going crazy, you might be a bereaved parent.


That's a very negative list, isn't it?  And understandably so.  The loss of a child is an incredibly painful, life-changing experience.  But, that being said, it's not without some positive things as well, particularly if you have a sustaining faith in a good, loving God.

Here are a few which come to mind ...

If your focus on the here-and-now has been replaced with an eternal perspective, you might be a bereaved parent.

If your penchant for small talk has been replaced with a desire to discuss weighty topics of eternal significance, you might be a bereaved parent.

If your shallow relationships with others have been replaced with deep, rich, life-long friendships based on common bonds you wish you didn't have, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find yourself appreciating and savoring every moment you have with your surviving children, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find great joy in watching your surviving children grow up, because that's what children are supposed to do, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you live with a heightened awareness that bad stuff happens, and you need to make the most of every opportunity you have to spend time with your loved ones, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you find yourself with a desire to learn all you can about Heaven, because your child now lives there, you might be a bereaved parent.

If you are deeply saddened and moved to heartfelt prayer every time you hear about a parent who has just lost a child, you might be a bereaved parent.

If, because of an awareness of the fragility of life, you have a new urgency to show people the hope that is only available through Jesus Christ, you might be a bereaved parent.


If you are a bereaved parent yourself, and would like to get connected with others who understand the experience of losing a child, I encourage you to check out the While We're Waiting ministry.  Click here to visit our website, or here to join our faith-based Facebook community for bereaved parents.

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 www.redbubble.com

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"

Photo from paulineconnelly.com
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?

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday ... Overcoming Life

About six weeks after Hannah went to Heaven, I attended my first (and nearly my last!) grief support group meeting. I drove to a town about a hour away for this meeting … and I was scared to death. We sat in a circle, and our first task was to go around the room and share our stories. By the time it came around to me, all I could do was choke out, “Pass.” I literally could not speak the words aloud that my daughter had died.

I left that meeting more depressed than I was when I arrived, and here’s why. A few (not all) of those people, as they shared their stories, said something similar to this … “It’s been ten years since my child died, and it has never gotten any better,” or “It hurts just as much today as it did the day my child died.” Anybody ever heard someone say something like that?  I was so upset all the way home … How was I possibly going to live for the rest of my life this way?  If it wasn’t going to get any better, Brad might as well just bury me now, because I was done.

But deep inside, deep down in my spirit, I knew that wasn’t true. I knew that God was a good God and that He would never leave me stuck where I was in this pit of grief.

He tells us in His Word that He came to give us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

John Chapter 5 tells the story of a man in need of healing from the Lord. It’s familiar to many of us. Let’s pick up the story in Verse 2:

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate, a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

Now, that’s a strange question, isn’t it? Of course he wanted to be healed … he’d been sick (he hadn’t gotten better) for 38 years!

“The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’”

So yes, he did want to be healed. But no matter how hard he tried, he’d been unable to get better on his own. He didn’t have anyone who could help him, and he couldn’t do it himself. He had probably given up hope of ever getting better.

But what did Jesus say?

“Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed and he took up his bed and walked.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Here, I’ll help you get into the water.”

He didn’t say, “Well, good luck to you, keep trying, and maybe someday you’ll make it.”

He didn’t say, “Oh well, it is what it is … you need to learn to live with it.”

He didn't say, "Why don't you just get over it already?"

Instead, He told the man to do the impossible. He asked the man to take an action that he was clearly incapable of doing on his own. But in that moment, He gave the man the ability to do it.

He also told him to take up his bed, indicating that he wasn’t going to need it anymore. He wasn’t going back to THAT place again.

Then He told the man to walk, clearly indicating that he was to move forward from there.

Isn’t that amazing? Can you see how that relates to us, lying helpless on our beds of grief? He is reaching out His hand, saying, “Do you want to be healed?”

Sometimes there’s a measure of comfort in staying where we are. We become familiar with the pain … it becomes like a friend to us … and we feel that it keeps us connected to our child. And in a sense, it does. But here’s a quote from Nancy Guthrie that I think is so true … “Your love for your child is not defined by the level of your ongoing misery.”

Of course, we will always have a place inside that hurts deeply. We will miss our children until the day we are reunited with them in Heaven. But must we live in misery for the rest of our lives? I don’t believe that’s what God wants for any of us.

But we must take the initiative. In Matthew 12:13, Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to “Stretch out your hand.” When he did so, his hand was healed. But he had to take the initiative to stretch out his hand.

Oswald Chambers, in “My Utmost for His Highest”, says, “The remarkable thing about spiritual initiative is that the life and power comes after we get up and get going. God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome.”

Thank You, Lord, for the strength to overcome!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- A Period or a Question Mark?

Another Throwback Thursday post today ... This one was written on February 23, 2012.

A friend recently forwarded me a devotional she received from Joel Osteen's ministry. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Joel Osteen ... he seems a little too "health and wealth gospel" to me ... but that is simply my opinion. I could certainly be wrong on that. (No "hate comments" please, haha.) Anyway, this particular devotional really spoke to me. Take a minute and read through it...


File It Away

Today's Scripture: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me." Psalm 131:1, NKJV

When things happen in your life that you didn't plan, do you find yourself trying to reason it all out, or look for a "file," so to speak, in your mind? What happens when you can't find a "file" to put it in? What if you can't make sense of it all?

Here's the answer. Every one of us needs to create a file in our thinking called an "I Don't Understand It" file. When things come up that don't make sense and you can't figure it out, instead of getting frustrated or confused, simply put it in your "I Don't Understand It" file and leave it alone. If you go through life trying to figure out why something bad happened, why it didn't work out, why my child didn't get healed, it's going to cause you to be bitter. Part of trusting God means trusting Him when things don't make sense, knowing that His plan is always for your good; knowing that He will reveal all things in His time -- even if it means in eternity.

Here's what I've learned. Don't put a question mark where God has put a period. What the enemy meant for evil, God will ultimately use for your good. Keep moving forward because God loves you, God is for you, and He has a great plan for you!


Bam!! That hit me right between the eyes. I find myself continually pulling out my "Hannah" file, flipping through it, studying it, analyzing it, questioning it, agonizing over it, re-living it ... you get the idea, right? I don't think that in and of itself is necessarily wrong, because I believe God still has a lot to teach me through her life. But here's what I do need to do ... Replace that question mark with a period.

Sometimes, even after nearly three years, I wonder if I've really accepted the fact of Hannah's death. There are still times that none of it really seems real. Maybe it's because I so desperately wanted there to be a different outcome to her cancer. That's the question mark I'm referring to.  But God put a period at the end of her life. Not that there aren't still ripples on the pond resulting from her testimony of faith ... her influence continues to touch others. But God drew a very distinct period on her earthly life on February 26, 2009, and I am not to scrawl a question mark there.

Of course, the key point to remember is that periods are earthly punctuation marks ... Since that earthly period appeared three years ago, Hannah's life has been a series of eternal exclamation points! And that fact, if nothing else, should put to rest all the question marks!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- 14 Things I Wish I'd Known 5 Years Ago

My Throwback Thursday post for today is one I wrote on the five year anniversary of Hannah's homegoing.  These fourteen things are just as true for me today as they were the day I wrote them ...


Today marks five years since Hannah drew her last earthly breath and stepped into the arms of Jesus.

I have to be honest and say that my immediate reaction at that moment was relief that she was no longer suffering from cancer. But that relief was quickly swallowed up by grief ... overwhelming, nearly debilitating sorrow at the loss of my precious daughter.

In those raw early days of grief, I remember looking at other people who had lost children several years previously and wondering how on earth those people had made it. I could not fathom making it through five weeks, much less five years.

And yet, here I am.

It still doesn't seem possible.

I am not the same person I was 1,826 days ago, nor will I ever be that person again. And that's not all bad ... in fact, that's probably a really good thing.

God has done a lot of work in my life over the last five years ... work that needed to be done. And, oh my, He's got a lot more to do. But, if you'll bear with me, I'd like to share a few of the things I've learned over the last five years ... Things I wish I'd known from the beginning.

1. The loss of a child is indescribably difficult. It impacts every fiber of your being, and shakes you to your very core. There are times (even now) when it seems unsurvivable. BUT ... but ... it does, it really does, get better. There are those who will tell you that it never gets better. Do not believe them. However, we must earnestly desire to get better, and actively take steps to make that happen. We are not given a choice about having grief, but we do have a choice in how we grieve.

2. Much of the battle on this journey is spiritual. Actually, "much" may be the wrong word ... "all" is probably closer to the truth. At the time when we are the most vulnerable, Satan is absolutely relentless. He bashes us in the head again and again with "if onlys" and "what ifs". He fills our minds with memories of horrific sights, sounds, and smells. He causes us to question God's goodness and mercy. For me, the best way to fight this battle is to recognize it for what it is ... spiritual warfare. Whenever I get really down, it is always because I've allowed Satan to get a foothold in my mind.

3. This is not a competition. In those early days, I spent a lot of time wondering which was "worse" ... losing a child suddenly and not being able to say good-bye, or having the opportunity to say good-bye but being forced to watch your child suffer in horrific ways. I wondered if it was "easier" if the child you lost was an infant, or maybe it was "easier" if he or she was an adult when they went to Heaven. I wondered how my grief stacked against with that of others. I've learned that it does not matter. After talking to hundreds of bereaved parents over the past five years, I've found that even though our losses are all different, our pain is the same. The loss of a child is heartrending, no matter the child's age or the circumstances of his or her death.

4. There is no time limit on grief. I used to be so ignorant. I actually used to think people "got over" the death of a loved one within a couple of months ... a year at the very most. I now know that one does not "get over" the death of a child ... they just learn how to live without them. I will be "over" the loss of my child when I put my arms around her neck in Heaven.

5. Pain is not wasted in God's economy. God can take our pain and bring good from it. I've learned that one of the best ways to ease my pain is to stop focusing inward and begin looking for ways to serve Him and others. It could be something "big", like starting a ministry or a foundation in your child's memory ... or it could be something "smaller." One sweet mom I know watches the obituaries for parents who lose children close to her son's age when he died, and writes them encouraging notes. Believe me, this is not a "small" thing to those who receive these gifts of love from her.

6. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and since the day Hannah was diagnosed with cancer just over six years ago, my circumstances have not been what I have wanted them to be. Absolutely everything I do is tinged with sorrow to some degree, whether it's just going to work each day, celebrating a family birthday, or planning my younger daughter's wedding. Hannah is not here, and that means there is sadness in my heart all the time. But, I can still have joy in my life, because that is not dependent upon my circumstances. Joy is unassailable, because it comes from my relationship with God. Joy is that deep-down, rugged knowledge that God will one day make all things right, even a 17-year-old girl dying of cancer.

7. I don't have to be strong all the time ... In fact, my greatest strength lies in weakness. I am not strong enough to do this on my own. I must allow myself to be weak and lean fully on Him. That is the only way to walk this road. 2 Corinthians 2:9 -- "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." As my dear friend Donna says, God tells us, "I want you to be strong, but you don't have to be stronger than me."

8. C. S. Lewis once said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear." In the early days of my grief, I felt very cavalier. The thing I had feared most in life had happened ... What else was there to be afraid of? As time has passed, I've begun to experience more fear. I've met parents who have lost two, three, even four children. If it happened to me once, why couldn't it happen again? This fear could easily become paralyzing, even debilitating. But, I've learned that I must give that fear to God, and put my loved ones in His hand. I want to love having them more than I fear losing them.

9. I have to remember that I am living in the temporary. This world that seems so real to us now will dissolve in a moment someday. I love these lines from the last book in the Narnia series, "The Last Battle" by C. S. Lewis, "‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.’" When this life in the Shadowlands (but a dream) is over, the holidays will truly begin!

10. I also have to remember this ... My future with my daughter is going to be so much greater than my past with her. What an amazing thought.

11. I cannot put a question mark where God has put a period. God put a period at the end of Hannah's earthly life on February 26, 2009. I can question His wisdom in that all I want to (and believe me, I have) but the period is still there. I cannot change that; and I don't believe He wants me to waste the life He has given me in arguing with Him. The period has not yet been placed at the end of my earthly life, and there are so much better things I can be doing with my energy and my time. God still has work for me to do here.

12. Everyone says stupid things to people who have lost children ... even other people who have lost children (I know I've said dumb things myself)! I can choose to replay the hurtful things people have said over and over in my mind -- along with the snarky comebacks I wish I'd hit them with -- or I can choose to extend grace to those folks and move forward. There is only one perfect Comforter ... the rest of us fall far short.

13. God is sovereign. God knew the number of Hannah's days before she was born (Psalm 139:16). There is not a thing we could have done to extend her life by even a single day. It does no good to question whether we should have gone to a different hospital or tried a different treatment. She lived exactly the number of days God had ordained for her.

14. Finally, I've learned that a short life is not an incomplete life. I've talked to parents whose child never took a breath outside of the womb whose lives have been changed for eternity by that brief life. Hannah's life may have been short, but it was definitely not incomplete. In the early months following her death, we heard quite often from people whose lives had been touched by hers ... even a number of salvations directly due to her testimony. As time has gone on, we've heard those kinds of reports less and less. But may I share something with you? A little less than a month ago, out of the blue, we received an email from an old high school friend of my husband's. Brad had not heard from this friend in years; in fact, we did not even know he had followed Hannah's story. Here's what he wrote in his email:

Brad,

Just a quick note to tell you what a blessing your journey has been to me, my patients and students that rotate through my facility. I made copies of every email you sent out over the years of Hannah's battle and kept them in a bound folder. [The emails he's referring to are available on this blog. Look in the right hand column and click on "Hannah's Story in Emails."]

Each night as the emails came I would read them to my daughter and son and we as a family would pray for Hannah and your family. I will never forget the day in Feb that I sat down and shared the email that Hannah had lost her battle with this disease. We all cried because of your transparency allowed us to be vested in your journey.

Even today I make all our nursing, x-ray, and oncology students to read the collection of emails at the start of their clinical rotation and it helps remind them we are not treating diseases...we are treating beautiful people like Hannah.

My continued prayers for you guys. God bless and thank you for allowing others to see the beauty that continues to be Hannah's legacy.

Ah ... to know that my daughter is remembered, and that her life is still having an impact on others ... there is no greater gift that can be given to a parent who's lost a child.

Five years. It's a long time. But it's five years closer to Home ... and that's just fine with me. Even so, come Lord Jesus.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- In the Dark


Another Throwback Thursday post -- This one is from September 8, 2011.

Do you remember being a child alone in your bedroom at night? I remember that I always had to sleep with my door open...I felt so alone if the door was shut. As a matter of fact, if I was acting up, not wanting to sleep, fussing, or whatever, my parents could always shut me up just by threatening to shut my door. No way did I want my bedroom door closed. I think I found a lot of comfort in just hearing their voices in the living room as I was drifting off to sleep. Now, I can't sleep if the bedroom door is open. Go figure.

The other day, I was reading the book "Stronger" by Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and he shared a very interesting illustration. He was referring to those times in our lives when God seems absent, when we just can't seem to feel His presence. See if this illustration speaks to you like it does to me...

"I think in this case, it's a little like being a child in your bedroom at night. It's dark, and so black that you can't see anything. Your door is closed, so you can't hear anything outside your room. Yet your favorite pillow and nightstand are still there. Your parents are nearby, too. They haven't left you. In fact, your mother is in the kitchen preparing lunch for the next day. She's humming as she works, because she's baking chocolate chip cookies to surprise you.

It's a simple illustration, but you get the idea -- circumstances may make it hard to sense God's presence, yet He's still there. He hasn't left us. And more often than we realize, His "hiddenness" allows Him to work on our behalf in a way that wouldn't be possible if we could see Him.

To take the analogy further, if you're a child in bed at night, you could jump out of bed, turn on the light, and rush into the kitchen to make sure Mom is still around. You could do that all night long. But that isn't what's best for you, is it? It would leave you exhausted the next day, and it would spoil the surprise of the chocolate chip cookies. You'd be far better off to trust that Mom is there, that she has things under control, and that all you need to do now is go to sleep."

I love that! What a great reminder to continue trusting God, even when we can't feel His presence. Or when the bedroom door is closed, and we just don't understand what He is up to in our lives. Definitely something to think about during the darkest of times.

And I don't know about you...but I don't want to miss out on the chocolate chip cookies!