Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update on Mallory

Here's an update on Mallory from a member of her church:

"Mallory got out of surgery about 9:00 last night. The doctor said the fracture was worse than he expected, but not unusual as they can't see everything on the MRI. He removed the 5th & 6th vertebrae and replaced with what hecalled a "cage" made out of carbon. They filled the inside of the cage with her own bone and some cadaver bone, then attached it to the 4th & 7th vertebrae with plates and screws.

There was lots of bleeding, but he said that was to be expected. They will keep a very close watch on that tomorrow. He said it was really a mess in there, but that it is always worse than it looks on an MRI, so that wasn't a shock to him. The good news is that there was no spinal fluid leakage. There was a fracture in her lower back, but he said that should heal on its own. If not, and if she complains with pain, they will put a soft brace on it. They will try to sit her up today.

The disappointing news he said was that the electrode test did not detect any nerve sensation to speak of. That sounds and is bad, but he stressed that he had had patients make a lot of progress when the swelling goes down. Sherri said he stressed over and over that this is where their faith and prayers come in. She said he was the kindest, most compassionate doctor (Dr. Ali Raja). What a blessing to have someone like that! Thank you, Lord! Mal does have good shoulder movement, but minimal hand and arm control at this point. We pray that improves."

Again, thank you for your prayers for Mallory...I'll keep you updated as I hear more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prayer Needed...

Please pray for Mallory Turner, a teenage girl from a nearby community who was in a serious car accident a couple of days ago. She has some crushed vertebrae in her neck, and underwent several hours of surgery tonight to repair she will have a long recovery ahead of her. We don't personally know her, but we've been told that she is an amazing Christian girl who has heard Hannah's story, and she is actually viewing what has happened to her as her "storm". She says that if Hannah can go through what she did, then she can handle this. I can't tell you what that means to me as a know that God is using Hannah's story to minister to this girl in her time of's just amazing! Please pray for Mallory's family, too...I know they are exhausted! The prayers of God's people mean more than you can imagine in a situation like this, and I know from personal experience that they will be felt and appreciated.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

For the Glory of God...

Two very familiar Bible stories have recently taken on new meaning for me. I've heard both of these stories all my life, but the emphasis was always on the "healing" part of the story...until recently, I had never really noticed the other part...

The first is the story of Jesus healing a blind man, recorded in John 9: "As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (vv. 1-3)

The second is the story of Lazarus, recorded in John 11. When Lazarus became ill, his sisters, Mary and Martha, "sent to Him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it He said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."" (vv. 3-4)

Interesting, huh? God clearly has a purpose for the difficulties and suffering of this life. We don't know why Hannah had to have cancer or why God did not choose to heal her physical body, but we can certainly see that He had a purpose for her life. And that is a great source of comfort and assurance!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Busy Weekend!

From all reports, G & G Camp 2009 was a huge success! The cousins all had a great time with each other and with their grandparents. They traveled to Wichita, Kansas, together and did all kinds of fun skating, museum visits, trips to the zoo and the botanical gardens (including a digital scavenger hunt), sewing, swimming, and even cooking egg rolls.

They wore matching G&G Camp shirts all week, and you may be able to see in the above picture that all of their names were listed on the back...even baby Faith, who was not big enough to come this year. Hannah's name was on there too, with a gray ribbon in front of it...gray is the color for brain cancer awareness. Of course, the girls and their grandparents all missed the oldest, she was always sort of the "head cousin". I think it was a good time of togetherness and healing for all of them. It sure was great to get Bethany back home on Friday night...we really missed that girl!

Saturday night, Bethany and I (along with Bethany's best friend, Kristen, and her mom) went to the American Idol concert in Little Rock. We had a great time at the concert, but it ended up being a surprisingly emotional experience for me. You see, Hannah was the real American Idol fan in our family, and she and I had been to AI concerts together for the last four years. We have lots of good memories associated with AI, and some not so good. At last year's concert, which we attended in September in Oklahoma City, Hannah really wasn't feeling well, and we actually left early. It was just about a week after that when we found out that her cancer had returned. Watching the show this year was also very different. The show starts in January every year, and she was really looking forward to it. But by the time it started, she was beginning to have some problems with short-term memory and had trouble following it from episode to episode. She never really grasped that there was a guy from Arkansas in it this year. After she went to Heaven in February, we continued to watch the show, and thought of her through every episode. Wouldn't she have been surprised when that guy from Arkansas, Kris Allen, actually won! She would have loved the concert this year...especially the screaming that erupted when THIS showed up on the big screen! A lot of that screaming came from Bethany and Kristen, sitting right next to me! Kris did a great job, and Hannah would have loved it.

We finished up the weekend by speaking at a wonderful little church in Umpire, Arkansas, on Sunday. It was a sweet fellowship, and a perfect way to mark the five month anniversary of Hannah's first day in Heaven.

Please continue to remember Jamie Morris and Lauren Crook in your prayers. Jamie is still inpatient at St. Jude's and waiting for his counts to rise enough to continue his chemotherapy. In the meantime, he has had a couple of rough days. Lauren will be having scans on Friday. They will put her to sleep for these scans since she has been unable to lie still enough. Finally, please add Alan McCone to your prayer list...he is a young husband and father who is being treated for Stage IV kidney cancer. I've been visiting with his sweet wife via Facebook. I've also added links to several more websites of children and adults who are in need of prayer. So many needs...but God remains faithful. I am so thankful for this promise: "I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the old Heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain." Revelation 21:1,4. He truly is good, all the time!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

From Nancy Guthrie's "The One Year Book of Hope":

"Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse was one of America's great preachers. His first wife died from cancer when she was in her thirties, leaving behind three children under the age of twelve. Dr. Barnhouse was driving home from the funeral service with his children when a huge truck stopped next to them at a traffic light, blocking the sunlight and covering the car with its shadow. He turned to his children and said, "Death is like that. It blocks the sunshine, but the sun is still shining.""

I think the truth of that statement applies not just to death, but to any of the storms we face in life...cancer, relationship problems, financial struggles. No matter how strong the storm and how dark the clouds, the sun is still shining...even if we can't see it at the time! We just have to continue to trust in God's goodness.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Little Things...

"Congrats! It's Official...You're a Senior! Have a Great Year!" ~This was in our mailbox when we got home from our invitation to visit the campus of Arkansas State University addressed to Hannah Sullivan. These are the kind of little things that are painful sometimes. Things like walking into a restaurant and having to say "three" when they ask "how many". Things like only setting three places at the table, or only folding laundry for three people. This week all the seniors are getting their senior pictures taken at our school, but Hannah won't be there. Seeing all the school supplies showing up in the aisles at Wal-Mart reminds me that we would be getting all geared up for Hannah to start her senior year in a few weeks. She loved getting her school supplies every year...something about those brand new notebooks and those freshly organized binders really appealed to her. Of course, she got that from me...I love that kind of stuff, too...weird, huh? Brad and Bethany have always thought we were a little crazy...but, I digress.

Even as I grieve the fact that Hannah will not get to experience her senior year of high school, I am reminded that what she is experiencing now is SO much better than anything we feel that she may be missing on earth. How can high school compare to Heaven? What a question! So, as the "little things" continue to jab away, I cling to Hebrews 13:14: "For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in Heaven, which is yet to come." God truly is good, all the time!

P.S. Just as a funny side note, we get lots of these college invitations in the mail these days, but someone made a computer error somewhere, and many of them come addressed to "Hannah Skink" instead of "Hannah Sullivan". That always gets a chuckle out of us...she would think that was hilarious!

Monday, July 20, 2009

G & G Camp 2009

We had a wonderful time in Texas! Meeting the members of the Cancer Ministry Support group in Allen was such a blessing...those folks are living proof of the fact that you can really continue to "live", even though you have (or have had) cancer. We also had some great family time while we were there, enjoying our visit with baby Faith (and her parents, of course!) and doing some fun things together, just the three of, eating, and going to a Texas Rangers baseball game. We ended up the weekend in Van Buren, Arkansas, sharing God's goodness through Hannah's story at Cross Pointe Community Church, and meeting some wonderful people there.
Today is the first day of G & G Camp 2009! Every year for the last four or five years, Brad's parents have hosted "Grandma & Grandpa Camp" for their granddaughters (they don't have any grandsons!). Hannah was the oldest of their granddaughters, and the other five range in age from 14 to 9. Of course, this year, they also have Faith, who at seven months old, is not quite ready for G & G Camp....just wait 'til next year! They actually set it up like a summer camp, with planned activities for each day and a devotional time each evening. They even have G & G Camp T-shirts with all their names on them. This year, they are traveling to Wichita, Kansas, to spend some time with Grandma's sister, and they will be doing lots of fun activities around the city. Although they will be having lots of fun, we know that there may be some difficult times emotionally, since this will be their first G & G Camp without Hannah. As the oldest, Hannah was the natural leader of the cousin crew, and was always the peacemaker when the inevitable conflicts arose. I think she will be sorely missed, but it should be a good time of healing and bonding for the cousins and their grandparents.

The Sullivan Cousins (January, 2009)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Visit to Texas

We had a wonderful time last night at a Cancer Ministry Support group meeting in Allen, Texas. We began the evening by having dinner with the founders of the group. Tom has been living with kidney cancer (in various manifestations) for eight years, and he and his wife are a wonderful example of trusting God's goodness in the midst of difficult circumstances. Then we went to the church where the meeting took place.

There were three women there who were long-time cancer survivors (one had ovarian cancer, another had lung cancer, and another had rectal cancer followed by breast cancer). They were there both to give and receive support. There was a man there who had lost his wife to glioblastoma (the same kind of cancer Hannah had); he has since remarried, but still attends the group to both give and receive support. There was a lady there for the first time...her husband has been battling melanoma, and it has recently spread throughout his body. There was another lady there who will be having scans today...she has battled cancer in the past, and they have found some suspicious spots on her lungs. It was amazing to see how the group surrounded these two women with love and support. Cancer patients and their caregivers can learn so much just from talking to each other! A nurse and a marriage & family counselor were also there to help offer support and practical assistance. This support group basically provided the members with a safe place to discuss their experiences, emotions, struggles, fears, and victories.

The group leaders graciously stayed and visited with us for a long time afterward, answering our questions, telling us how their group got started, etc. We spent some time in prayer, giving the possibility of starting a similar ministry in our church to the Lord. Please join us in praying that God will guide and direct as we pursue this possibility.

We've also had the opportunity to visit Brad's sister, her husband and baby daughter, Faith. Faith was born on December 23rd, right about the time that Hannah was really getting sick, and, although we saw her in January and again in February when they came for Hannah's celebration service, we really weren't able to focus on her. It was nice to be able to visit with them and finally get to know sweet Faith a little bit! Here are some pictures from our visit:

Bethany & Faith

Bethany, Faith, & Brad's sister, Sarah

Tonight, we are hoping to go to a Texas Rangers baseball game, and then tomorrow we'll be leaving Texas and heading to Brad's mom and dad's house in Van Buren. We will be speaking at a church there on Sunday, and we are looking forward to once again sharing God's goodness through Hannah's story. Again, thanks for your prayers!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Couple of Prayer Requests...

When Hannah was sick, we were so blessed to be surrounded by the love of God's people. We received an incredible amount of support from our friends and, financial gifts, cards, letters, emails, phone calls, visits, and most of all, prayer...we were absolutely overwhelmed (in a good way!!) with all that we received. These things did so much to help us along the way as we went through our cancer journey. As we walked our road, though, we met many people along the way who clearly did not have the kind of support we had. We also discovered how helpful it was to get together with other people who were traveling similar journeys, just to share stories, compare experiences, etc.

This week, we will be traveling to Allen, Texas, to visit a church that has a Cancer Ministry. This ministry includes five parts: a monthly support group for cancer patients and their families, organized prayer support, a cancer education program, a special events program (Relay for Life, blood drives, etc.), and a ministry to meet the physical needs of those with cancer (meals, mowing grass, etc.). We feel that God may be calling us to start a similar type of ministry at our church in Hot Springs, and we will be visiting this church to see how theirs is organized, what has/has not worked for them, etc. We're just in the very beginning stages of this project...we don't yet know in what form God may choose to create this ministry in our church.

Please pray for us as we make this trip...that God will show us what we need to see and teach us what we need to learn about this ministry, and how best it can be implemented in our church. We're also going to squeeze in a family visit while we're there...Brad's sister and her husband live in Waco, and we're looking forward to seeing them and their six-month-old daughter, Faith, while we're there!

Also, please continue to pray for Jamie Morris...currently battling osteosarcoma for the ninth time! He has started a blog of his own--check it out at Also, Lauren Crook, who I've mentioned several times over the past few months, is scheduled for scans on Friday...please keep her in your prayers as well.

Thank you so much for your all continue to carry us through this journey day by day! Let me close with a paragraph from an email we received last week...what an encouraging word!

"I remember you guys often in my prayers. Based on your previous mailings, I know your faith has been strengthened through all this, but I also suspect that the human side (that still exists) can sometimes get you down. What a conflicting condition we live in here and now; our spirit with its eternal perspective and our bodies with its limitations and emotions. How amazing is it that even though what you’ve gone through has to be the worst of the worst, that you know and sense the presence of the Father, and that he’s carrying you through. His presence during the worst of the worst and the “peace that surpasses understanding” just confirms that He is God; He is Love; He is Mercy; He is Grace; He is Everything. What a Mighty God we serve!!!!!!!"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Suffering Is Like Baking A Cake

I mentioned in my last post that I've been reading Barbara Johnson's book "Pack Up Your Gloomees in a Great Big Box and Sit on the Lid and Laugh". Mrs. Johnson has lost two sons--one in Viet Nam, one in a car accident. Her third son disowned his family and faith, changed his name, and disappeared into the gay lifestyle for 11 years (he has since returned to the Lord). She knows a little bit about suffering and hard times! She has a paragraph in her book titled "Suffering Is Like Baking a Cake", and I'd like to quote it here:

"I like to compare suffering to making a cake. No one sits down, gets out a box of baking powder, eats a big spoonful, and says, "Hmmmm, that's good!" And you don't do that with a spoonful of shortening or raw eggs or flour, either. The tribulation and suffering in our lives can be compared with swallowing a spoonful of baking powder or shortening. By themselves these things are distasteful and they turn your stomach. But God takes all of these ingredients, stirs them up, and puts them in His own special oven. He knows just how long to let the cake bake; sometimes it stays in God's oven for YEARS. We get impatient and want to open the oven, thinking Surely the cake must be done by now. But not yet, no not yet. What really matters is that the cake is BAKING and the marvelous aroma is filling the house.

I find that people who trust God with their suffering have an invisible something, like the invisible aroma of a freshly baked cake, that draws people to them. As Paul put it, "all things [all the ingredients of pain and suffering] work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28).

When we believe that nothing comes to us except through our Heavenly Father, then suffering begins to make a little sense to us--not much, I admit, but a little bit, and that's all God needs to work in our lives, just a mustard seed of faith. Then we can see that God is using our pain to work something in us that is redemptive. Every trial or broken relationship goes into God's oven and eventually we begin to "smell" like cake or fresh bread. Even our suffering counts for something!"

Isn't that good? It's great to know that God can take our suffering and our hard times and make something beautiful of them!

We will be sharing the story of our "cake baking" this Sunday evening at 6:00 at New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church in Benton...please pray that God will continue to use Hannah's story to draw people to Himself.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Great Discovery!

Yesterday, I decided it was time to do some spring cleaning (in July!) and I began by straightening out my bookshelves. I've acquired a lot of books over the past several months, and they've just kind of been stacking up...piles I've read, piles I haven't read but plan to get the idea. As I was going through these bookshelves, I discovered a book that said "Hannah Joy Sullivan" on the spine. I quickly pulled it out, and it was a book that Hannah made in her GT class when she was in eighth grade. It's an autobiography, complete with pictures. I had completely forgotten that we even had it.

She drew the cover picture, which is a bell (her grandma always called her "Hannah Bell") with five self-descriptive words under it..."joyful", "optimistic", "sweet", "Christian", "caring". The first page put a lump in my throat: "Dedicated to My Amazing Family". She begins with a chapter called "Before Me", in which she states that we were so ecstatic when she was born that we gave her the middle name "Joy", which is true! That chapter is followed by a chapter for each year of her life. It was so much fun reading all of these chapters, and looking at all the photographs she included. The one that really got to me was the final chapter, which was titled "My Future Possibilities", and reads as follows:

"As I think about the future, I get so excited because I know my future is bright. I love to think about what is to come, and I do constantly. I plan to graduate high school with a 4.0 and at the top of my class. Then, I would like to enroll in Ouachita Baptist University with a full or almost full paid scholarship, and study elementary education to become an elementary teacher. I'd graduate with a bachelor's degree from OBU, and then go somewhere for my master's degree in teaching. I would hope to be married by the time I graduated college, so I would settle down in a small town in Arkansas and start a family (and teach). When I'm old enough to retire, I will probably move closer to where my grandkids live so I could be close to them and watch them grow up. I want to live a long, happy, healthy and content life that I can look back on someday and be proud of. And maybe someday I'll read this book and I'll think, "Wow, I did just that!""

...As you can imagine, reading this paragraph, especially the last part, felt like a punch in the stomach. It literally left me almost breathless for a few minutes. How can someone so excited and full of plans for the future just be gone? How can her innocent desire for a long and healthy life be so unfulfilled?

And God had to gently remind me of something I already know. As we speak to groups and churches, one of the things we talk about is God's sovereignty...the fact that He is in control in and through every situation. As Hannah's illness progressed and it became apparent that, without a miracle, she would be leaving us for Heaven, we felt that we were being called to submit to His will for her life and for ours. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans that I have for you,...plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope." Hannah's future was in His hands...she had her own plans, we had our plans for her...but God had a better plan. What seemed to be a calamity to us was the best thing that ever happened to her!

I found this quote the other day:

Death is God's way of saying, "Your table is ready."

I love that! Barbara Johnson in "Pack Up Your Gloomees in a Great Big Box, Then Sit on the Lid and Laugh" says this: "There is a finality to death that is inescapable. You can't go around it, over it, or through it. All you can do is negotiate--not for a reversal that could bring your loved one back, because there is none. Instead, you plead for some kind of understanding, some way to make sense of it all as you try to get through it, allowing your grief to take its course and let the pain eventually drain away."

We will never completely understand why Hannah's wish for a long and healthy life was unfulfilled on this earth, but she also said that she wanted to be able to look back on her life someday and be proud of it. I think that if she could see the lives that have been touched through her relatively short life (and I think maybe she can in Heaven), she would be proud. Thank you for being part of her story by reading these postings!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The 4th of July and C. S. Lewis

We were so blessed this past weekend to be able to spend time with family over the Fourth of July. We traveled to Mountain Home, where we saw my cousin Sharon & her family (visiting from Indiana), my parents, and my brother, T. J., and his family. We got to see two fireworks shows while we were there, and even squeezed in a shopping trip to Branson. We brought Hannah's car to Mountain Home with us, and my dad is going to sell it for us. It's a little difficult to part with it...just one more link to Hannah gone...but it's time.

As always, we really feel Hannah's absence when we're with family. But, I had a wonderful reminder of where she is, right when I needed it, after we got home. I am an avid reader of World magazine, which is similar to Time or Newsweek, but written with a Christian worldview. A few months ago, they announced a contest in which people could nominate "Best Last Lines" of books, and their most recent issue lists the winners. One of the most popular last lines was from C. S. Lewis's "The Last Battle" (the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia), and I thought it was wonderful:

"All their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Isn't that an awesome description of Heaven?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Cancer Cannot Do...

Cancer is so limited....
  • It cannot cripple God's love
  • It cannot shatter hope
  • It cannot corrode faith
  • It cannot destroy peace
  • It cannot kill friendship
  • It cannot shut out memories
  • It cannot silence courage
  • It cannot invade the soul
  • It cannot steal eternal life
  • It cannot conquer the spirit

"What Cancer Cannot Do", Zondervan Corporation, 2006.