Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Scholarship Essay

Today I want to share with you an essay written by Chris Gage, one of Hannah's classmates. He is a senior this year, and he has granted me permission to share his college scholarship essay on my blog. The assignment was as follows: Consider an experience that has had a profound influence on any of your academic, creative, career, or service goals. Discuss how what you learned from that experience informs your future plans.

Here is what Chris wrote:

"The lessons that can be learned through the death of a friend are hard to find. The grief and shock of the death do not help in any way, but these life lessons are very important. These lessons can make something good come out of the friend's death, the silver lining of an extremely dark cloud.

Hannah Sullivan died in February of my junior year in high school. She was the person everybody liked. She was the person that people went to when they had any type of problem. If a person was having a hard time in class, Hannah would always help out. Hannah was the genius of the class and it was assumed that she was going to be valedictorian.

The summer before my sophomore year, Hannah went to a church camp and heard a sermon about the storms God gives to people to uplift Him. Hannah asked God to give her a storm; that storm was brain cancer. Hannah's storm brought the best out of her already amazing personality. She fought the brain cancer with grace, always with an unforgettable smile.

Hannah did use her storm to uplift God. She showed everybody what God could do. How his power can help any person in any way, and how God can reach any person in any way. God reached many of Hannah's classmates through Hannah.

Hannah always had faith in God. She knew God would always protect her. Her faith spread to other people. I was saved when I was seven, but Hannah's storm taught me that God would always be with me and help me with every challenge I face (writing this essay, for example). I know now that God will always protect me and never give me anything that I cannot handle. I will be able to handle all of the challenges life throws at me. All I have to do is give my all and trust that God will take care of me.

Hannah taught me to never give up and to always have faith in God. Hannah never gave up. She fought for a year. Seeing Hannah fight for as long as she did taught me to never quit. Hannah's goal was to bring as many people as possible closer to God. By bringing just one person closer to God, she accomplished her goal. I have many goals myself, and I know that if I never give up, no matter how the odds are stacked against me, I can accomplish my goals. This attitude has helped me get ready for college and this attitude will enable me to handle college.

Hannah's death affected thousands of people. She touched every person she met. The nurses that cared for Hannah said she always smiled, never complained, and was one of their best patients. That was how Hannah touched me before the cancer. She always smiled, always had an encouraging word, and never complained. Hannah's storm is how she touched everyone else and is how she taught those who already knew her a life lesson. I miss her, but am glad I found something good out of her passing. It destroys the dark cloud and turns the silver lining into gold."

I don't know who is on the scholarship board at the U of A, but if I were on it, Chris would definitely have my vote for a full scholarship! Thank you, Chris, for your kind words about Hannah and your willingness to share what you wrote...hearing stories like yours are a huge comfort to our family, and remind us what life (and death) are really all about.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Homegoing

Please be in prayer for the family of Jamie Morris tonight. After battling osteosarcoma for the ninth time in his 21 years of life, he went home to be with the Lord this afternoon. When Hannah was in the middle of her battle, he often sent her emails of encouragement. He told his mom not long ago that even if he could, he would not change anything about his life...that cancer had made him into the man he was. He was a man of strong faith, and touched many lives along the way. Please remember his mom Susan, stepdad Charles, and wife Jennifer, as they face the difficult days ahead.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hannah's First Birthday in Heaven

Eighteen years ago today, Brad and I excitedly welcomed our first baby, Hannah Joy...weighing in at 7 pounds, 6 ounces, and measuring a whopping 22 inches long. We were thrilled beyond words to have been entrusted with such an amazing little life. Her middle name was well-suited for her, because she brought us nothing but joy for 17 1/2 years.

Today, we took a day to celebrate and remember her life. Bethany and I stayed home from work and school today, and Brad worked until 12:30. Even though it was pouring rain, we had decided to go visit Hannah's grave this afternoon (about a 3 hour round trip for us). Brad came home from work with a basket of pink rose petals from the senior class, along with a note signed by all of Hannah's classmates. How perfect was that? I had wanted to put something on Hannah's grave, but just couldn't bring myself to go out and buy some plastic flowers. Rose petals were just right for today...Bethany sprinkled them all over the grave and headstone.

Our nickname for Hannah was "My Joy"...for example, we might say "Hannah My Joy, it's time to get up" or "Hannah My Joy, you need to do your homework." So, when it came time to decide what to put on the headstone, that was the obvious choice. Along the bottom, it says "We will praise God in the storm because He is good all the time."

Hannah's Aunt Maria made this beautiful cross of fall flowers and placed it here a couple of weeks ago.
I do need to be honest and admit that I have a very strained relationship with Hannah's grave. I don't normally like to spend time there. There's something about seeing your child's name in granite that brings you back to cold, hard reality. And although I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Hannah herself is not there, and that it is just her earthly shell there below the ground, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to be that close to her body and not be able to be with her. Her body was just a vessel...I know that...but I loved that vessel. I cared for that physical body, when she was a newborn and unable to do anything for herself, and then again, as the cancer stole her ability to care for herself. I know that many people are comforted by spending time at the graveside of their loved ones, but I am not one of them. Having said that, though, it was the right place for us to be today. I think it was good for all of us.

We ended the day by going out for a nice dinner, then came home and watched a home video of Hannah's 14th birthday in 2005. That was the most recent video we had...our video camera quit shortly after that (we still had one of those great big ones that sit on your shoulder, much to the girls' chagrin when we used it in public!) and we had never replaced it. It was the first time we had heard her voice since February...and the last couple months of her life, the sound of her voice had changed due to the cancer. We also got to hear her laugh...another wonderful sound. I had made a Mississippi Mud Cake this morning (Hannah's favorite) and we ate that tonight while we watched the videos.

As much as we miss her, we know that this was God's plan for her life...and for ours. She was living with a physical body that was hopelessly flawed, as we all are. I have used this quote in a previous post, but I love it. At the end of C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle it says, "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." We often refer to our recent journey as "Hannah's story", but her real story began when she entered Heaven. We rest in the knowledge that today was the best birthday Hannah has ever had!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Special Day

Tomorrow would have been Hannah's 18th birthday. Eighteen...that sounds so old! Hannah always looked forward to her birthdays (her favorite number was 22). In recent years, we always had a big family party for her birthday. She preferred getting together with her grandmas and grandpas and aunts, uncles, and cousins, to having a party with her friends.

Last year's birthday was a series of highs and lows. Less than a month before, we found out her cancer had returned and our oncologist had tearfully told us that she had less than a 5% chance of survival. She had started a new series of radiation treatments, and 4 days before her 17th birthday, she lost all of her hair. (The picture of us in the road was taken just a couple of days before that.) The bald patches had just started growing in following her first round of radiation. I shaved it off in the living room (she didn't want to do it in front of a mirror) and when I was finished, she went to look at herself and said, "I still look like me...I just don't have any hair!" She put on her wig, and went on with life.

Hannah received some wonderful gifts for her birthday last year...our extended family all got together and bought her a laptop computer (the same one I use to type these blog posts); the El Dorado High School Class of 1985 (Brad's graduating class...quite an amazing group of people) got together and gave her a TV for her bedroom, along with a DVD player, an iPod, and a pile of movies; and her high school classmates gave her a digital camera and digital frame. She also received dozens of cards, phone calls, and emails. God used so many different people to remind her of His love.

It's strange, but as I sit here tonight, I can't remember what Brad and I got her for her birthday last year. I'm just drawing a blank. The only thing I do remember is how strange it was to shop for her birthday under those circumstances, and wondering if this was going to be her last one. I also remember making a conscious decision to enjoy every moment of that day, in case we didn't have another one. I guess that's why I don't remember what we got her...it just wasn't important.

Tomorrow, we will make a conscious decision again...to take the day as a family to remember and celebrate the life of our precious daughter and sister. Please pray for us as we go through this first birthday without her.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homecoming 2009

What a difference between Magnet Cove High School Homecoming 2008 and Homecoming 2009! Last year, we had just been informed that Hannah's cancer had returned, and she had begun her second round of radiation treatments. Our school has an afternoon ceremony/pep rally where the homecoming queen is crowned, and then a pre-game homecoming court presentation. Last year, I went to the afternoon event to watch Bethany cheer while Brad stayed home with Hannah. I remember watching the events in a tearful daze, seeing all of Hannah's friends participating and feeling so sad for her that she was not able to be a part of it. I will always be grateful for my friend, Cheryl, who sat beside me and effectively acted as my "bodyguard"...talking a blue streak the whole time, keeping me from sinking into my own thoughts, and fending off the well-meaning questioners who would have truly sent me over the emotional edge.

Fast forward to this past weekend. We found out on the first day of school that Bethany had been selected to be the freshman princess for homecoming this year. Our school has a senior high queen, a senior high princess, and a freshman princess. Bethany and I have had a wonderful time over the past few weeks shopping together for a dress and all the accessories. Friday morning we went and had her hair and make-up done, and here's the result of all this hard work:

Her Daddy, whose eyes filled with tears at his first sight of her in her dress, proudly escorted her.

The girls are allowed to have more than one escort, and she asked her two grandpas if they would like the honor. Of course, they did!

There were far fewer tears this year, even though our family picture only contains three members...

...we know that Hannah is enjoying her home in Heaven, and we look forward to a far greater Homecoming celebration with her in the future! And while we are waiting, we choose to celebrate the precious family moments He gives us here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fields of Faith

Tonight was the Fields of Faith event at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs. This event was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and underwritten by the Kamo's Kids Foundation. The Kamo's Kids Foundation was established in memory of Kameron Hale, a sixteen-year-old Lake Hamilton student who died following a 4-wheeler accident in January. We never had the opportunity to meet Kameron, but from all we've heard, he was an amazing Christian kid who was a friend to everybody. We met his parents a few weeks ago, and have begun a friendship with them. It's amazing how quickly you can form a bond with someone who has experienced the same kind of heartbreak you have.

The crowd began to build by about 6:30 this evening...and eventually grew to over 1,000 people.

Bethany was one of seven student speakers this evening, all chosen from different high schools around the area. Each of the students spoke for about five minutes on different topics, and all of them did a wonderful job. Bethany was very nervous...it is a frightening thing to speak about such a personal subject in front of your peers...but she did a great job.

After the students spoke, a former professional football player shared for a few minutes (his name escapes me at the moment), and an excellent drama team performed a very moving skit. The FCA director wrapped it all up by sharing Kameron's story, and referring back to the things Bethany had said about Hannah. An invitation to follow Christ was given, and we sat there on the astroturf next to Kameron's parents and grandparents, tears rolling down our cheeks, as literally hundreds of kids went forward.

What an amazing experience! We could just imagine Hannah and Kameron as part of a great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, smiling as they watched those kids turning their lives over to Christ. How humbling it is to know that the ripples of their lives are still being felt. In fact, a little boy from our church (about 10 or 11 years old) came up to me tonight tugged on my sleeve, and said, "I want to tell you something." I leaned over, and he said in my ear, "Mrs. Jill, you know your daughter who died? Her life had an impact on me." Hannah would be so pleased.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Praise and a Prayer Request

First the praise...My brother is home! Well, he's not "home", as we think of "home", here in the United States, but he and his family have finally been able to return to their home in Indonesia. When they got back yesterday, they found that fires had burned up to the very edge of their town, even destroying some of the buildings on the outskirts. They're just so glad to be back in their own house (one they had only been in for a couple of months before they had to evacuate) and not having to share their living quarters with another family. Thank you for your prayers for them. I am grateful that they are comfortable enough in Indonesia to consider it "home".

Now the prayer request...Bethany has been asked to share her testimony tomorrow night at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes-sponsored event called "Fields of Faith". She has shared her story several times, but this will be by far her largest audience. The event will be held at a football stadium in Hot Springs, and there should be a big crowd there. There will be several speakers throughout the evening, so she will not be the only one, but she is understandably nervous about the event. Please pray that God will give her the words she needs to say, and that the students will hear what He wants them to hear. I will try to take some pictures and post them tomorrow night!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Through the Valley

"It is not for the flock of sheep to know the pasture the Shepherd has in mind. If they knew that His plans included a valley of deep shadows, they would panic. Keeping close to the One they've learned to trust is all that's necessary." ~Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot knows of which she speaks. Her first husband (of 3 years) was killed in 1956, speared to death while attempting to share Christ with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. She later returned to South America and was instrumental in leading her husband's murderers to the Lord. She remarried in 1968, and her second husband died of cancer four years later. She has written over twenty books, many of them about suffering and how God uses suffering in our lives.

I always used to wish I could see into the future. I'm a planner by nature, and I like to have everything scheduled out. I write everything in my calendar and look at it several times a day to make sure I'm on track. Suffering and grief don't follow a schedule, though, and that's taken some adjustment. The calendar is not always my friend these days. I recently emailed with a woman who lost her daughter, a junior in high school, ten years ago. Ten years sounds like an eternity right now. It's hard to imagine how all of this will feel ten years from now...in a way, it sounds great to be that distant from the heartache, yet at the same time, I can't imagine being that far separated from the last time I saw Hannah. But then, it will also be ten years closer to seeing her again...and that sounds good!

A wise pastor once said that God does not give us a roadmap of our lives, because if He did, our eyes would always be on the map, and not on Him. I don't know what the next ten years holds, or even the next ten hours. But that's okay...He knows.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sorry, Mom!

Tomorrow, October 10th, marks a milestone...It is my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. My mom and dad have never liked a lot of attention, and told my brothers and me that they did NOT want any kind of party in recognition of this event. My mom also specifically said that they did NOT want their picture in the paper...especially a "then" and "now" set of pictures. She jokingly said that the people look so OLD in the "now" picture, and she sure didn't want people talking about how old they look now! Well, sorry, Mom...I said I wouldn't put any pictures in the newspaper...but I am going to put them on my blog! So...

...here's Tom Persenaire (then)...

...and Betty Kapteyn (then)...

...the happy couple on October 10, 1959...

...and the happy couple now!

I think they look great! This picture was taken on their recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, where they went to celebrate their anniversary. I took this picture from my mom's Facebook page (that's why it's so small...I tried to make it bigger and it just got blurry) and I figure if she uses it as her Facebook profile picture, it's okay to post it here! They had a great time on their trip to Canada, and my brothers and I are sending them to the Lodge at Mount Magazine for a couple of days, where they will engage in one of their favorite pastimes...fishing!

Their marriage has been a wonderful example for their children and grandchildren, and we are so proud of them. I know that I am blessed beyond measure to have a mom and dad who love the Lord and each other. Thank You, Lord, for Christian parents!

P.S. Some people have asked how to post a comment...just click on where it says "0 comments" or "1 comment" or "2 comments" (you get the idea!) and it will link to a place where you can leave a comment.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Back in the spring of 1989, when we were newlyweds (married two years!), Brad and I planned a trip out west. We have family in Colorado, Oregon, and California, so we decided to make a big circle, stopping to see the Grand Tetons, the redwood forest, the Oregon coast, and the Grand Canyon. We also planned to visit all of our relatives along the way (free food and lodging!), and take in a San Francisco Giants baseball game. We bought tickets for the August 10th game against the Cincinnati Reds. We had a wonderful trip, camping in a tent in the Grand Tetons (we nearly froze to death!), marveling at the enormous trees, enjoying the gorgeous coastline, and being awestruck by the beauty of the Grand Canyon. We also had great visits with our family. But the highlight of the trip ended up being that baseball game.

A few days before the ballgame, it was announced that Dave Dravecky would be making his major league comeback on August 10th. Dave Dravecky was a very successful pitcher who had been sidelined by cancer in his pitching arm. He underwent surgery, a series of cancer treatments, and extensive rehab before making this very well-publicized comeback. We had seats right above the bull pen where we were able to watch all of the activity, and were amazed at the amount of press coverage that this game was generating. As a matter of fact, we were interviewed by a San Francisco TV reporter who was amazed that we had come all the way from Arkansas for this ball game...little did he know that we had bought our tickets six months before! Of course, as a huge baseball fan, Brad was loving every minute of this. The crowd went crazy as Pete Rose got thrown out of the game, and even crazier as Dave got the win. The really cool thing was that Dave Dravecky was an outspoken Christian, and he used this opportunity to very openly share his faith and give glory to God. We listened to all the post-game interviews on the radio as we sat in the parking lot stuck in traffic for what seemed like hours, and his testimony was just amazing. We headed home from our vacation a couple of days later, still talking about Dave Dravecky's story.

The next time Dave Dravecky pitched, his arm broke with a resounding crack that was heard all over the stadium. His cancer had returned, and his arm could not be saved. His arm and shoulder were eventually amputated. Years later, he wrote a couple of books about his experiences called, "Comeback" and "When You Can't Come Back." His wife, Jan, struggled with depression for years, and has also written some excellent books. Together, they have founded a ministry called "Outreach of Hope" (http://www.outreachofhope.org/) which is a designed to be a source of encouragement for those going through the cancer journey. It's a wonderful ministry, and they put out some great free literature as well.

Back when we were watching Dave Dravecky pitch and listening to his story of overcoming cancer, we didn't even have children, and we certainly never dreamed we would face the kind of situation we faced with Hannah. But his story, and his determination to give God the glory in his circumstances, made a huge impression on us...and I truly believe that our presence at the ballgame back on August 10, 1989, was divinely orchestrated. Isn't it amazing how God works in our lives, even when we're completely unaware?

Well, that was a much longer introduction than I meant to give...I was really just going to post a poem that I found in one of the Outreach of Hope publications. I found it last night as I was reading through some of their materials, and I thought some of you might be able to relate to it. I actually think it could apply to a variety of situations, not just a cancer diagnosis. I'll close with it:


When I Was Diagnosed With Cancer:

My first friend came and expressed his shock by saying, "I can't
believe that you have cancer. I always thought
you were so active and healthy."
He left and I felt alienated and somehow very "different".

My second friend came and brought me information about
different treatments being used for cancer. She said
"Whatever you do, don't take chemotherapy. It's a poison!"
She left and I felt scared and confused.

My third friend came and tried to answer my "whys?"
with the statment "Perhaps God is disciplining
you for some sin in your life?"
He left and I felt guilty.

My fourth friend came and told me,
"If your faith is just great enough God will heal you."
She left and I felt my faith must be inadequate.

My fifth friend came and told me to remember that
"All things work together for good."
He left and I felt angry.

My sixth friend never came at all.
I felt sad and alone.

My seventh friend came and held my hand and said,
"I care, I'm here, I want to help you through this."
She left and I felt loved!

Linda Mae Richardson
"Victory in the Valley"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Report from Indonesia

I've had several people ask me how my family in Indonesia is doing, following the devastating earthquakes over there. Well, they are doing fine. They actually live quite far from where the affected area...similar to living in Arkansas and an earthquake happening in California. There is an MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) presence in that part of Indonesia, though, and they are involved in the relief efforts over there. Please pray for their safety and for opportunities to share their faith in the midst of all the death and destruction. I was able to visit with my brother on Skype tonight for awhile, and he and his family are still displaced due to the heavy smoke and drought conditions in central Borneo. They are having to live with other missionary families, and it's difficult to live in such unsettled conditions. He is having a lot of opportunities to fly, though, and that's great. Please continue to pray for replenishing, cleansing rains in that part of the country so they can return home.

These are my precious nieces, Julia and Katie. And yes, though they are exactly two years apart, they are nearly the same size! Julia is very petite, and Katie is...well...not. You may remember from a previous post, Julia is the one who always called Hannah "Arnie". My brother told me a story about her tonight that I thought was so cute. He said that she has begun pretending like she's flying a plane to "mecca". At first they were very confused (and probably a little concerned!), wondering why she wanted to go to there, but they finally realized she meant "America"! What a brilliant child!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thought Life

One battle I feel that I've been constantly fighting since Hannah's death is with my thought life. When I'm busy and going through all the events of the day, it's really not an issue. But, when things get quiet and I'm alone in the house, or quite often when I'm driving somewhere by myself, my thoughts will wander back to the last couple months of Hannah's illness. Looking back on it, I've realized that I didn't really let myself think too much when we were going through it. I couldn't think too much and still get through the days...especially knowing that I always had to be strong and positive for Hannah. Especially during the times she was hospitalized, and we were together in a very small room 24 hours a day, I had to consciously make myself numb and "hard" in order to get through each day.

That's no longer necessary (although I became quite good at it and can still do it, such as when I'm in a group of moms who are talking about prom or senior pictures), and I now find myself thinking a lot. The problem is that my thoughts seem to always settle on the really bad memories of those final weeks...wondering what we might have done differently to make things easier for her, remembering those final few moments, and regretting the things we maybe should have talked about that we didn't. And, you know, for some reason I usually don't recognize this for what it is...an attack of Satan.

There's a verse I've heard all my life, but it's just recently taken on new meaning to me: "...Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8. The thoughts that I mentioned certainly don't fit this description. So, with God's help, I'm working to focus my thought life on the good memories...and there are many. I am so thankful for the almost 17 1/2 years we had with Hannah...one of the greatest blessings of my life!