Monday, November 30, 2009

Our First Holiday

We spent Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving Day with Brad's parents and his brothers and sister at the "deer camp" in Briggsville. We knew going into it that this would probably be a difficult time...our first major holiday without Hannah. I'm not sure that I was prepared personally for how difficult it actually was. We've become pretty accustomed to life at home as a family of three...caught up in the busy-ness and routine of school, work, basketball, cheerleading, etc. As we stopped to celebrate Thanksgiving, however, especially as an extended family group, Hannah's absence was glaring. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know that the "deer camp" was one of Hannah's favorite places to be. I put "deer camp" in quotes, because it's probably not exactly the rustic, primitive place you may be picturing in your mind.

This deer camp actually consists on several hundred acres, which have been in the Sullivan/Castleberry families for many, many years. Originally, the camp consisted of a mobile home, which sits on the site of the Sullivan family homestead. The firepit outside the trailer is actually ringed by stones which at one time formed the mantel for the family fireplace. Recently, Brad's parents bought his great aunt's 4-bedroom house, which is not much more than a stone's throw from the trailer, as the crow flies. So now, the deer camp is actually made up of the mansion on the hilltop (the house) and the chateau on the lake (the trailer sits on a pond). Well, it's not exactly that fancy, but that's what we jokingly call them. It's actually very comfortable and homey...not just a hang-out for hunters.

As I said, Hannah loved spending time there with her sister, her grandparents, all of her aunts and uncles, and most of all...her cousins. The house was acquired after she became ill, so she spent most of her time at the trailer (when she wasn't hunting or riding 4-wheelers around the fields). The six cousins (all girls!) had their own room at the trailer, and their grandma gave them permission to put some grafitti on one of the walls.

If you look carefully under the words "COUSINS -4- LIFE" you can see a list of all the cousins, in order of age...Hannah, Bethany, Emily, Hayley, Allison, Caitlin, and Faith. I know, if you count that up, it's actually seven girls...Faith is only 11 months old, so she has never had the chance to spend the night in that room with her won't be long, though!

Here's some of Hannah's grafitti....

While we were there this past week, the cousins found this notebook page in a pile of stuff in that room....What a treasure! It is now prominently displayed on the "Cousins' Wall".

Hannah's family loves her too...and we sure missed her this week! It was very difficult for me to be at the deer camp, where memories of her are everywhere. Like I said earlier, we've become accustomed to the memories we encounter every day within our usual's a little more difficult when we're out of our normal setting.

Someone who began walking the same road I am on ten years ago sent me an email last week that said, "God chose you to love Hannah and to teach her to love Him. Sounds as if you completed that job." That was a unique perspective for me...I'm still rolling that thought around in my mind. I do believe that Hannah completed her job here on earth...but I had never really thought about how I had completed my job with her. I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to do that job as her mom...and I'm thankful that Hannah was able to express her thanksgiving directly to her Father Himself this year. What an awesome thought!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


This morning I looked back at the emails I sent around Thanksgiving 2008, just to refresh my memory about where we were at this time last year. Hannah had completed her second round of radiation treatments about a month previously, and we were still waiting for her bone marrow to rebound enough to start her new chemotherapy treatment. Her blood counts were still extremely low, and she was getting weekly blood transfusions, and almost daily platelet infusions. The chemo treatments were our last hope, medically speaking, for Hannah's survival. Hannah was feeling pretty good at Thanksgiving time last year...the "ground-up glass" feeling in her throat from the radiation treatments had diminished, and her sense of taste was just beginning to return, so she really enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner. It was an excruciatingly difficult time for us, though, as we were seeing daily indications that without a miraculous intervention from God, she was leaving us, little by little.

This year, I find myself with many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for my wonderful, godly husband, and my beautiful, healthy daughter. I am thankful for our extended family, and the many friends who have loved us and prayed us through the difficult months of the recent past. I am thankful for the 17 1/2 years we had with our precious daughter, Hannah, who has been a resident of Heaven nine months tomorrow. And most of all, I am thankful for Jesus's sacrifice, so that we will all be reunited in Heaven some day.

I am not a big fan of forwarded emails, often just deleting them without reading them. But, when I received this one a few months ago, I was struck by the truth it contained and I decided to save it and pass it on at the appropriate time. As I consider my blessings this Thanksgiving, I want to try to be thankful for my thorns.

"Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes when she pulled open the florist shop door, against a November gust of wind. Her life had been as sweet as a spring breeze and then, in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a "minor" automobile accident stole her joy. This was Thanksgiving week and the time she should have delivered their infant son. She grieved over their loss.

Troubles had multiplied. Her husband's company "threatened" to transfer his job to a new location. Her sister had called to say that she could not come for her long awaited holiday visit. What's worse, Sandra's friend suggested that Sandra's grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," thought Sandra with a shudder.

"Thanksgiving? Thankful for what?" she wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life, but took her child's?

"Good afternoon, can I help you?" Sandra was startled by the approach of the shop clerk. "I . . . I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra. "...For Thanksgiving. I'm convinced that flowers tell stories, "she continued.

"Are you looking for something that conveys 'gratitude' this Thanksgiving?" the shop clerk asked.

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong." Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the bell on the door rang, and the clerk greeted the new customer, "Hi, Barbara, let me get your order." She excused herself and walked back to a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and what appeared to be long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.

"Do you want these in a box?" asked the clerk. Sandra watched...was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

"Yes, please," Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. "You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again," she said, as she gently tapped her chest and left.

Sandra stammered, "Ummm, that lady just left with . .. . uh . . .she left with no flowers!" "That's right," said the clerk. "I cut off the flowers. That's the 'Special'. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet. Barbara came into the shop three years ago, feeling much as you do today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had just lost her father to cancer; the family business was failing; her son had gotten into drugs; and she was facing major surgery. That same year I had lost my husband," continued the clerk. "For the first time in my life, I had to spend the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too much debt to allow any travel."

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra.

"I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for the good things in my life and I never questioned Him why those good things happened to me, but when the bad stuff hit, I cried out, 'Why? Why me?!' It took time for me to learn that the dark times are important to our faith! I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of my life, but it took the thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort! You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath, as she thought about what her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is that I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God."

Just then someone else walked in the shop. "Hey, Phil!" the clerk greeted the balding, rotund man. "My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement . . twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems!" laughed Phil, as the clerk handed him a tissue wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

"Those are for your wife?" asked Sandra incredulously. "Do you mind telling me why she wants a bouquet that looks like that?"

"Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced," Phil replied."After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord's grace and guidance, we trudged through problem after problem. The Lord rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she had learned from "thorny" times. That was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific "problem" and give thanks for what that problem taught us." As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra,"I highly recommend the Special!"

"I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,"Sandra said to the clerk. "It's all too . . . fresh."

"Well," the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that the thorns make the roses more precious. We treasure God'sprovidential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember that it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on her resentment.. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please," she managed to choke out.

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute." As the clerk presented the bouquet of thorns, Sandra said, "Thank you. What do I owe you?" The clerk replied, "Nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first."

It read: "My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant."

Praise Him for the roses; thank Him for the thorns.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Need for a Savior

There's a danger, when someone dies before we feel they should, to view that person through rose-colored glasses. Reading this blog, with all the stories about and tributes to Hannah, might lead you to the incorrect conclusion that she was perfect. Hannah was a joy to raise, and while she never got involved in some of the destructive things teenagers do, she was far from perfect.

Let's see...There was the time that I had her and Bethany cleaning the bathroom together (they were probably about 8 and 5), and I heard a blood-curdling scream. I raced into the bathroom to find that Hannah had sprayed Bethany directly in the eyes with Windex. They had had a little tiff, and Hannah thought she would solve it by giving her sister a squirt in the face. I picked Bethany up, stuck her head under the faucet, and rinsed out her eyes with water while she screamed her lungs out. I don't know if Windex can blind somebody or not (apparently not!) but I made sure Hannah understood that she could have done permanent damage to her sister. Hannah's defense was, "I didn't know it was gonna hurt her!"

As they grew older, their arguments grew less physical and more verbal. They really didn't fight much...just picked at each other sometimes. Usually, it would start as a joke, and then escalate to the point where someone got their feelings hurt -- usually Bethany!

Hannah was a perfectionist. I clearly remember trying to teach her how to write a lowercase "a" when she was about four years old. She wanted to be able to print her name, and she had the H's and the N's down, but she just couldn't get the A's. She was quickly becoming frustrated, and after one of her attempts, I said reassuringly, "That one's doesn't have to be perfect." She looked at me sharply, and through clenched teeth, she snarled, "But I WANT it to be perfect." She remained that way throughout her school years. She was extremely competitive and couldn't stand for anyone to make a higher grade than she did. These perfectionist tendencies sometimes even affected her relationships with her peers. She was determined to be the valedictorian of her class, and was not about to let anyone get in her way!

In the previous post, I mentioned that Hannah had been caught cheating. Yes, she was, and it happened more than once. The first was on a homework assignment, when several girls worked together on something that they were supposed to do individually. Another time, she allowed a friend to look off her paper during a test. Both times, when confronted by the teacher, she readily admitted her involvement, and served time in detention. She took a lot of good-natured teasing from fellow students...after all, she was the principal's daughter...the principal's daughter is not supposed to cheat!!

No, Hannah did not ever commit what some might consider to be "serious sins". And if there was ever someone who you might think could have earned her way to Heaven by being a good person, or by enduring suffering, it was Hannah. But she was born with a sin nature, as we all are, and she needed a Savior. The Bible tells us that "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, there is a remedy for Romans 6:23, we are told that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

It seems like I've known Romans 6:23 all my life...memorized it in Sunday School when I was a little girl...spouted it off mindlessly in church...but, until my daughter's death hit me square in the face, I had never really considered its meaning. The disease and death that we experience here on earth is a direct result of living in a world that is controlled and corrupted by sin. Romans 5:12 says that "...just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." From the time of Adam, mankind has been mired in sin, sorrow, and death. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)." If we could somehow save ourselves just by being "good enough", why would God have sent His own Son to die for us? Here's the good news...Romans 10:9-10, 13 says "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved...Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." Hannah could never have been "good enough" on her own to make it to Heaven. She is there today because she called upon His name, confessed her sin, and asked Him to be her Savior when she was eight years old.

As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, I must admit that there is dread in my heart as I think of facing these days without our precious Hannah. But, with God's help, I am seeking to be consciously, purposefully grateful for the assurance of her eternal life through Jesus Christ her Lord. II Corinthians 4:18 --"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hannah's Peers

I've been sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks for the past thirty minutes or so. I'm all alone in the house tonight -- Brad and Bethany are gone to "deer camp" for the weekend, and I've been spending a lovely evening at home by myself. I'm serious...I love evenings at home by myself. I love being able to eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want on TV, and go to bed whenever I want. Or eat and watch TV in bed...what could be sweeter? I wouldn't want it this way all the time, but I do enjoy having time by myself on occasion...and, of course, I have Lacee, our Westie, to keep me company.

Well, tonight, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs that were given to us last spring, shortly after Hannah went to Heaven. One was made by Hannah's AP English classmates, and the other was a slide show made by her Spanish teacher. When they were given to us, I was grateful to receive them, but I just didn't feel emotionally ready to watch them. I put them away with the DVDs of Hannah's celebration service and burial, and didn't run across them again until earlier this week, when I was digging for a DVD on which to record a TV show for my brother in Indonesia. I decided that I was ready, and that I would watch them this weekend, while I was home alone (Brad watched them back when they were first given to us).

Wow...what an emotional experience! I watched the one from her English class first, and it completely blew me away. It was filmed outside, at different spots around campus, and in it, Hannah's classmates took turns telling what she meant to them, and what an impact her story had made on their lives. It ended with her four best friends sitting on a big rock and sharing stories of things they had done together...getting caught cheating (I'll have to explain that one a little more at some point!), eating lunch together every day, going to Magic Springs, etc., and how their lives had been impacted by hers. It was amazing to see these teenagers sharing from their hearts so openly. Hannah's English teacher closed out the video by telling about the difference Hannah had made in her life. I was completely overwhelmed.

Then I watched the second DVD. It was full of pictures of Hannah that I had never seen before. You know, I don't think I ever fully realized how really beautiful she was. And in every picture, there was her trademark smile. Then there were pictures of a ceremony that was held on the school campus on March 6, 2009, about two weeks after her death. We were unable to attend, so it was wonderful to see pictures of it. A tree was planted on campus in Hannah's memory, and the students, one at a time, sprinkled rose petals around the base of it. I can't even describe how it feels to look at those pictures.
It's really been eye-opening for me to see Hannah through the eyes of her peers. I can only see her through a mother's eyes, so it's been very interesting and enlightening for me to get a glimpse of her life from another perspective.

I want to share another college entrance essay with you this evening. This one was written by Hannah's dear friend, Tyler, who sent it to me this week and gave me permission to share it here. She titled it, "Dulled Edges".

"Death and the subsequent act of grieving are a package deal that visits all of us at some point in our lives. While the long term effects of some losses may not be immediately viewable through the overwhelming cloud of sorrow, they are always waiting. As hard as it is to believe, death has the power to bring clarity to some situations. Eight months after losing one of my best friends to brain cancer, the cloud has cleared enough for me to see the effects. My friend’s mother sent out regular e-mails both before and after Hannah’s death, and she shared a saying with us that I have now found to be true: “The hole will always be there, but the edges will become less sharp.”

Hannah Joy Sullivan’s middle name was the most fitting middle name I have ever heard. She was, in essence, the physical embodiment of the emotion. When we were children, she could be counted on to have a smile stretched across her face every single day and to be always able to point out the silver lining in any type of cloud. Her family moved when she was 12 years old, but true friendship is not deterred by distance. I, along with two other close friends, kept in touch with her via phone, e-mail, and the now antiquated AOL instant messaging. Hannah was always the friend I chose to accompany my family on our annual trip to Hot Springs, always the friend that I went to concerts with, always the friend that I stayed on the phone for hours with talking about American Idol and other current fads in our respective schools. She was actually the one who got me interested in the juggernaut that is American Idol because when I called her on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, she would actually make me hang up and wait for her to call me back when the show ended! Obviously I had to start watching whatever show was keeping her so entranced, and that kick started an entirely new interest for us to share. Hannah and I attended many post American Idol concerts when they toured, and the memories we made on those trips have become priceless.

In February of 2008, after weeks of nausea and double vision, Hannah went to the doctor and was referred to the most terrifying specialist of all – an oncologist. He delivered some of the most dreaded news possible: Hannah had a Type 4 Glioblastoma tumor in the middle of her brain stem. The diagnosis depicted a particularly vicious type of cancer, one that had a dismal 5% survival rate. I remember everything about the night when one of the two friends who also kept up with Hannah called me with the news. I was at choir rehearsal, and although I never answer my phone during practice, I did for some reason that night. I went into the art room and sat on a stool as I listened to the three words that changed my life forever: “Hannah has cancer.” I remember feeling numb for the rest of that night and the following days. I had no idea what to do with myself, and though I wanted to help or to go visit her immediately, there was nothing I could do. The tumor was successfully removed five days after it was found. I watched Hannah put on a brave face when no one else could and go through her intensive treatments with that trademark smile upon her face. For a while she was doing extraordinarily well; the medicine seemed to be working and the cancer seemed to have given up the fight for a blissful couple of months.

The very end of 2008 brought more bad news though as her cancer returned in full strength with an army of tumors to replace the original one on her brain stem. Worse yet, even more were found along her spinal cord. The news was devastating. I watched her go through changes that no 17-year-old should have to: losing her thick, beautiful hair, losing her balance, losing her eyesight. My friends and I went to visit her in January of 2009, and about an hour into our visit, she took off her wig. Her mom later told us she never went without her wig in front of company, and it was a sign we had made her feel comfortable enough to show us the prized asset that the cancer had taken. In spite of the great number of physical characteristics that the disease had ravaged, Hannah was still our Hannah. She joked and laughed and, of course, smiled.

The last time I saw Hannah was five days before her death. She had been moved to a hospice house by this point, and I was in the city for the weekend. For this visit, however, I was not accompanied by my two friends, making it infinitely harder. I entered her quiet room, and rubbed her hand while I tried to say everything I thought was absolutely necessary. I am sure now that none of it was, but how does one prioritize things that need to be said, knowing that this is the last chance? I believe that Hannah knew it was me, although I cannot be absolutely sure. She hardly talked, and the lack of her smile broke my already cracked heart. Her energy was low, so I whispered that I loved her and left her to rest. Seeing her one last time brought the closure I needed, even if it could not soften the pain of her death.

The months following her death in February were a blur. Nothing I did felt like it had meaning, and at times I felt utterly helpless. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and I began to feel happy more and more often. I knew this was what Hannah would have wanted, but experiencing happiness too soon after a death feels wrong, and it took me a long time to get re-accustomed to the feeling.

I have come to realize that Hannah’s death has subconsciously made me more appreciative of the little things in life. I make an effort to never take relationships that are dear to me for granted, and I find that forgiveness is not nearly as hard to give. I would love to be able to say that I never hold grudges anymore, or that I do not take petty things too seriously, but I would be lying. I still make mistakes, and I still take life for granted sometimes. However, I notice these things and make changes faster and more often. I would like to believe that I have learned more about the fragility of life.

A teenager in the prime of life with everything going for her, Hannah was the most unlikely candidate for brain cancer. Because of her, I have realized the importance of every day of life I am given. Life is a gift, and it should not be taken for granted. It may seem unfair for such a young and thriving person to be taken away in such a cruel manner, but, thinking back, I found the silver lining – I know Hannah would have. Because the cancer took her from us relatively slowly, we had a year to value our time with her and, most importantly, to say goodbye to her. This turned out to be the greatest gift of all, as I simply cannot imagine having her taken away without so much as a warning. I am sure the time we were given to come to terms with the inevitable softened the blow more than I can even imagine.

Grief is a common and yet mystifying emotion. Despite the fact that everyone has experienced grief, it never seems to present itself the same way in any two people. For me, it made everything insignificant for a time and then ended up showing me what I was supposed to have learned from Hannah’s story. I miss my best friend every day, and I would trade the lessons I have been taught from her death for her presence any day. However, I know I cannot bring her back, and therefore I must make the most of what the situation has given me. The incredible power grief has over each of us proves that not all of the aftermath of loss is negative and that, given time, the edges of our holes can be dulled."

~A beautiful tribute....Thank you, Tyler.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Is In Control

On February 20, 2008, Hannah and I went to National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs for an MRI, which had been recommended by our ophthalmologist due to concerns about double vision and dilated pupils. To be perfectly honest, I really was not that concerned about these symptoms, because I really thought they were due to sinus problems. At the same time that this was going on, Bethany was also having some strange medical problems, and she seemed much "sicker" than Hannah...I was actually more concerned about what was going on with her.

But as the MRI was going on, the technician leaned out of her office door (I was sitting in a chair flipping through a magazine right outside her door--would you believe there was a magazine there from 1987?) and handed me two tickets for free meals in the hospital cafeteria. She said something about Hannah and me eating lunch there when the MRI was done. I thanked her and took them, but I knew we wouldn't stay...I was anxious to get back home and check on Bethany, who was at home by herself, too sick to go to school. When the MRI was completed and Hannah came out, I tried to give her the tickets back and told her we weren't going to stay for lunch. She insisted that we go down for lunch while she checked the films and made sure everything turned out okay. She said that if something didn't turn out, Hannah might have to get back in the tube. She said we should go eat, and then check with her before we left. I thought this was a little strange, but I remembered that whenever you get an X-ray, they tell you not to get dressed until they check the films. I had never had an MRI before...maybe this was routine. So, Hannah and I went to the cafeteria and ate lunch, then headed back to the MRI suite. As we walked back through the maze of hallways, I began to feel a little uneasy...when we first arrived, the technician had told us that it would be 2 or 3 days before we got any results...surely this "checking back" was just a part of the process.

When we arrived back in the MRI suite, the technician was waiting for us. She had pulled two of the waiting room chairs close together (there were only three chairs in the room, and they had each been in a corner). She had us sit down, and then told us that our ophthalmologist was on his way over. She then disappeared into her office, leaving Hannah and I looking at each other questioningly. Before we even had a chance to say much to each other, she reappeared, telling me that our ophthalmologist was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I stepped into her office and shut the door, leaving Hannah alone in the waiting room, and picked up the phone. Now, I need to stop here and explain that our ophthalmologist was a good friend of ours...a friend from college, who sang in our wedding over twenty years ago. In a very calm voice, Tommy explained to me that the MRI showed something...he needed to talk to the radiologist before he could tell me more...but it was something that was going to require treatment. He was on his way to the hospital to talk to the radiologist and then was coming to meet with me. I asked him if Hannah should be included in this meeting, and he said that was up to me. I knew in an instant that Hannah needed to be a part of this meeting...I knew she would have lots of questions that I wouldn't be able to answer, and I knew she would want to know exactly what was going on.

I hung up the phone with Tommy, and saw the technician sitting there crying. She stopped me before I went back out to talk to Hannah and asked if I was okay. Well, I was, until she asked that question. Not really okay, but at least holding it together. I don't remember what all she said, but she was very kind as I pulled myself together and stepped back out into the waiting room where Hannah was sitting alone. By this time, she knew something was up, and I told her that something had showed up on the MRI and Tommy was on his way to talk to us about it. We cried a few tears, but held it together for the most part. While we were waiting, I showed her the magazine from 1987, and we actually laughed at some of the ads and articles.

Then, suddenly, Tommy was there, and he was taking us into the technician's office area and showing us pictures of an egg-sized tumor in the center of Hannah's brain. We sat back down in the waiting room (the technician had pulled up the other chair by this time) and Tommy explained to us that Hannah was going to need brain surgery, and that we were going to have to decide if we wanted to go to Arkansas Children's Hospital immediately or wait until the next day. He held our hands and cried and prayed with us (what a wonderful guy!), walked us out to the car, and offered to drive us home. We did have lots of questions for him, most of which he was unable to answer, and at that point, Hannah's biggest concern was whether or not they would have to shave her head for surgery. I honestly don't remember a lot of what he said that day, but one thing does stand out vividly in my memory...he said, "As much as we don't like is what it is." Nothing very spiritual, but something we said to ourselves many times as we walked through the next year. There was nothing we could do about the circumstances...we were not in control...but God was.

As I've been listening to my new Steven Curtis Chapman CD yesterday and today, I've been struck by the lyrics of another song, which so vividly expresses these feelings.

Our God Is In Control
This is not how it should be
This is not how it could be
But this is how it is
And our God is in control
This is not how it will be
When we finally will see
We'll see with our own eyes
He was always in control
And we'll sing Holy, Holy, Holy is our God
And we will finally, really understand what it means
So we'll sing Holy, Holy, Holy is our God
While we're waiting for that day
This is not where we planned to be
When we started this journey
But this is where we are
And our God is in control
Though this first taste is bitter
There will be sweetness forever
When we finally taste and see
That our God is in control
And we'll sing Holy, Holy, Holy is our God
And we will finally, really understand what it means...

I know there are many readers of this blog who are going through difficult circumstances: a prodigal son or daughter, the loss of a child or another loved one, or maybe you are traveling the cancer journey yourself or with a family member. Even as I join you in feeling that "this is not how it should be", I am comforted by the knowledge that God is still in control.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I love music...especially contemporary Christian music. I own more CDs than any one person has a right to own. Maybe someday I'll switch to an iPod..It sure would save a lot of space! But I doubt that I will, at least not any time soon. I really like being able to read the song lyrics and the liner notes included with CDs. When I'm alone in the house, the music is always TV for me!

I bought a new CD the other that I have really been looking forward to getting. It is the latest Steven Curtis Chapman CD, titled "Beauty Will Rise". On May 21, 2008, Steven's 5-year-old daughter, Maria, went to Heaven after being struck by a car driven by his son in their own driveway. The songs on this CD rise out his family's experiences and emotions following this tragic event. Before I ever listened to the CD, I sat down and read all the liner notes and song lyrics...a very emotional experience, because every one of the songs on this album captures some element of the journey we've been on for the past several months. I want to share the lyrics of one of these songs, along with the story behind it, in Steven Curtis Chapman's own words:

This little three-letter word took on enormous meaning to my family and me on May 22nd of 2008. The day after Maria went to Heaven, Mary Beth and I went to our house with friends to get some clothes for the next few days. (We had decided to stay with our friends The Andersons until we felt we could return to our house for good.) We walked from room to room feeling like we were lost in some terrible dream and tried to imagine ever living in this house again that had suddenly become so terribly quiet and empty. As I walked through the dining room I noticed a piece of paper on Maria's little art table where she and her sister would spend hours coloring and drawing and cutting and gluing. (Maria especially loved the gluing part!) On that piece of paper was a flower that had been drawn and colored with markers. It was one of Maria's signature flowers that she loved to draw, but this one appeared to be unfinished as only one of the petals was colored in with blue marker...the others were just outlined. Then I noticed something was written with marker on the back side of the paper. Now let me back up for just a minute and explain one other part of this story. Shortly after Maria had been carried away to Jesus, all of us, and particularly Caleb and I began to talk about how desperate we were just to "SEE" something...a dream or a vision...anything that would help confirm in some tangible way what we were holding onto by faith, that Maria was truly "okay", and even more than "okay", that she really was safe in the arms of Jesus. It was a plea that I heard us all say several times in those first hours..."God, please just let us "SEE" something!" So back to the flower artwork on the table--I turned the page over and was completely stunned to find a word written on the back in Maria's handwriting. To any of our knowledge she knew only 6 words that she could write..."I love you", "Mom", "Dad", and her name, "Maria". But there on the back of the paper she had written in all capital letters the word, "SEE". Even as one who is usually careful not to attach more meaning to something than it deserves, I was and still am completely convinced that this was a precious "gift" from the broken heart of our Father in Heaven delivered through our daughter's own hand the very morning before she left us for Heaven...I could picture the face of our little girl smiling at us and saying, "SEE mom and dad, SEE everybody, it's just like you said, only so much better...and I really am okay!" And it was our Father's way of saying, "SEE with eternal eyes, SEE that I have your little girl safe and sound with me, and SEE by faith My promise of the day that's coming very soon when I will make everything new and wipe every last one of these tears from your eyes." It wasn't until several days later that we also began to recognize a significance in the "unfinished" flower that she had drawn on that same paper. Of the six petals, only one was colored in with her favorite color, blue. Of our six children, only one has been completely "colored in" and made whole. The rest of us are still waiting for that coming day when finally we will clearly and completely SEE! I Corinthians 13:12.

(Song lyrics)
Right now all I can taste are bitter tears
And right now all I can SEE are clouds of sorrow
From the other side of all this pain
Is that you I hear?
Laughing loud and calling out to me?
Saying SEE, it's everything you said that it would be
And even better than you would believe
And I'm counting down the days until you're here with me
And finally you'll SEE
But right now all I can say is, "Lord how long?"
Before you come and take away this aching
This night of weeping seems to have no end
But when the morning light breaks through
We'll open up our eyes and we will SEE
It's everything He said that it would be
And even better than we would believe
And He's counting down the days 'til He says "Come with me."
And finally...
He'll wipe every tear from our eyes
And make everything new
Just like He promised
Wait and SEE
Just wait and SEE
Wait and SEE
And I'm counting down the days until I SEE
It's everything that He said that it would be
And even better than we would believe
And I'm counting down the days 'til He says, "Come with me"
And finally, we'll SEE
Wait and SEE
Oh taste and SEE that the Lord is good
The Lord is good
Oh taste and SEE that the Lord is good
The Lord is good.

While we wait to be "colored in", we look forward to SEEing what Hannah SEEs right now! It's even better than we would believe!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Basketball Season Has Begun!

Today was Bethany's first basketball game of the season. She's a starter on the junior high team, and is the tallest girl on the team, at about 5'10" tall. Last year at this time, she was probably about 5'6". She has really shot up in recent months, and takes great pride in the fact that she is now taller than me.

I missed Bethany's first game last season, because Hannah was inpatient at Arkansas Children's Hospital and I was staying there with her. She was hospitalized with fever neutropenia, which is basically extremely low blood counts accompanied by fever, leaving her with little to no immunity against infection. We actually spent about three weeks in the hospital last November, just trying to get those blood counts up. Brad and Bethany did come to visit us that evening, though, and brought a DVD of the game with them. We watched it on the TV in her room...and Hannah enjoyed it as if she were watching it live.

Hannah was her sister's biggest fan, and she hated missing her games. Even when she was not hospitalized, she got to go to very few games because her immunity was so low...she could not be around crowds. One of Hannah's last public outings (other than to the hospital or our local clinic) was to one of Bethany's games in late January. She did not feel good...that was obvious to me, because she wore an old, ill-fitting T-shirt...something she would never have normally worn to a school activity...she liked to dress "cute". We had to sit apart from the main crowd because of her ongoing immunity issues. Her friends could come up and speak to her, but had to keep their distance. A friend of ours took pictures of our family watching the game from across the gym, and when I looked at those pictures later, I was startled by how sick she looked. Being with her all the time, we didn't really see all the changes that were going on, but it sure does show up in the few pictures we have of that time. Her face was swollen from steroids, her eyes deviated from their normal position, and of course, she was wearing her wig. But she sat there at that game, ate a frito chili pie (her favorite concession stand food) and clapped and cheered for her sister all the way through it.

I'm looking forward to basketball season this year. I'm looking forward to being able to enjoy watching Bethany play, and not be worried that she's feeling neglected because her mom is not able to be there. I will miss sitting beside Hannah and hearing her yell encouragement to her sister. I may just have to get me a frito chili pie.

Oh, and the Junior Lady Panthers won this afternoon...hopefully a sign of good things to come!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Musings on Heaven (Part 2)...

Have you ever noticed how many of the old hymns of the faith refer to Heaven (usually in the last verse)? I have to say that I never really paid that much attention before...I must confess that I have often been guilty of mindlessly singing along, while my thoughts are elsewhere. But now that Hannah lives there, those words practically leap off the page -- or the screen, at our church....

"When we've been there 10,000 years; bright shining as the sun;
there's no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun."

"I heard about a mansion He has built for me in glory,
And I heard about the streets of gold beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing and the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I'll sing up there the song of victory."

"When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And there proclaim, "My God, how great Thou art!""

"O that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall
We'll join the everlasting song
And crown Him Lord of all."

I've not been able to sing those songs in church yet without getting choked up...I'm never quite able to sing that last verse. The thought of Hannah being part of that sacred throng is just a little too much. Notice, also, that all of these songs refer to singing and praising God in Heaven. I'm beginning to realize that I am closest to Hannah when I am doing what she is doing...worshiping Jesus! I don't have to wait until I get to Heaven to begin that everlasting song -- I can start now! I have to be honest and say that I don't always feel like doing that, but God is faithful, whether I am or not. And for that, I am thankful!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Musings on Heaven...

"I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus: "The Lamb is worthy--the Lamb who was slain. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:11-12

Before last February, I have to be honest and say I really didn't think that much about Heaven. I certainly didn't have what I would call a "longing" for Heaven. That has all changed. I now find myself frequently thinking of Heaven, and anxiously awaiting the day that I arrive there. There is a conflict in this longing, though...if I am completely truthful with myself, I have to recognize that it is not Jesus I am longing to see most of all; it is Hannah.

Nancy Guthrie (who has last two children) addresses this conflict in her book, "The One Year Book of Hope". She asks, "Should you feel guilty about wanting to see someone you love in Heaven? I don't think so. It is a desire God uses to awaken us to Himself. When someone we love is there, Heaven becomes more real and our longing more vivid. It is a sacred longing."

She goes on to say, "While people we love are precious to us and our reunions with them in Heaven will be grand, the fact that we long for them more than we long for Jesus reflects our current human limitations of taking in the beauty and magnificence of Jesus. In Heaven, we will see Him in His fullness, and we will not have to choose between focusing on the people we love and loving Jesus with our whole heart. We'll be swept up with the chorus of Heaven singing, "The Lamb is worthy" (Revelation 5:12). And together with those we love, we will look to Jesus."

We have not been in our home church too many Sunday mornings since Hannah left us for Heaven, because we've been traveling and sharing her story so much. And the times we have been there, we have not sat in our "usual place" (you know how everybody in church seems to have a certain spot staked out where they always sit). Yesterday, though, we found ourselves back in that spot where the four of us always used to sit. The girls usually sat between Brad and me, and I always enjoyed singing the hymns and choruses along with them. As I stood and sang yesterday morning, I could almost feel and hear Hannah standing next to me singing like she used to. And I am reminded that someday, I will stand next to her again, and sing in the actual presence of Jesus. What an awesome thought!!