Sunday, February 28, 2010

Farewell, February...

I'm not normally a crier...I hate to cry in front of people, even my own family members. I don't even cry very often when I'm alone. But there are times when the tears get started and they just won't stop.

One of those days was in September of 2008. I had an appointment to get a haircut that day, and I almost canceled it, knowing that I was pretty emotionally shaky. But I decided to go ahead and go, because I wasn't sure when I would have another chance to get my hair cut. It had been seven months since Hannah's surgery, and she had had several clear MRIs at that point. But she had begun having some symptoms that were very alarming, and an MRI was scheduled for the next day. I knew, deep down inside, that the cancer was back, and I was already beginning to see signs that Hannah was leaving us bit by bit. I walked into the beauty shop that day and the first thing my hairdresser asked was how Hannah was doing. I immediately started crying and never stopped the whole time I was there. And I got highlights and a haircut that day, so I was there for a long time. It wasn't a sobbing, noisy kind of crying...just a steady flow of tears that I could not stop. And since I am incapable of talking while I'm crying, I couldn't even tell my hairdresser about the MRI scheduled for the next day. Thankfully, she understood, and pretty much kept up a one-sided conversation the whole time, without requiring anything from me. I can't imagine what the other customers thought about me. I was just glad to get out of there that day! Of course, there have been plenty of other tear-filled days over the past two years, but this one just really stands out in my memory because it was so unlike me.

Today was another one of those days. For some reason, church seems to be one of the most emotionally difficult places for me to be. The music and worship time always seems to bring out the emotion in me...especially songs about Heaven. And with this weekend being the anniversary of Hannah's entrance into Heaven...well, this morning was especially tough. Usually I can pull it together during the sermon, but not today. The tears just kept coming. It felt like February of 2008 and February of 2009 were both crashing in on me at once. And I think Brad and Bethany both felt the same way. We are so grateful for our church family...they have really been there to support us throughout our journey...and they were there for us again this morning. We've actually been amazed at how many cards, notes, emails, hugs, etc., we've gotten all week long...not just from our church family, but from so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you.

Anyway, I'm glad to have this February in our rear view mirror. There are a couple more milestones in March...the first marks a year since Hannah's celebration service, and the second marks a year since we buried her physical body...but those memories don't seem to be as difficult. Maybe because I honestly don't remember them very well! A year ago tonight was the visitation...and although I clearly remember the length of the line of people, there's not much more I remember about that evening. The funeral and burial are also mostly a blur. I really think God gives us a period of numbness to help us survive those early days of grief. What I do remember about the funeral is that the gospel was clearly presented, and that there were people saved. For that I am thankful...and I'm sure Hannah was pleased.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." Revelation 21:4

Friday, February 26, 2010

One Year in Heaven

Honestly, I'm at a bit of a loss for what to post this morning. I had thought I would share some of the events of this day from a year ago...but my mind just won't compose itself enough to do that. I guess that will be another day's post.

All I can really say is that over the past year (really two years) we've seen that God is faithful, even the most difficult circumstances, and that He can be trusted, even when the darkness is impenetrable. We've seen the power of prayer to give strength when the thought of putting one foot in front of another is almost unbearable. And we've seen the love of Christ demonstrated through His people...we continue to receive cards, letters, emails, and Facebook messages from those who are praying for us almost daily. We've learned that it is possible to be completely heartbroken and yet experience deep joy at the same time. We've survived lower lows than we ever thought possible, and come through it stronger. We've found ourselves forever bonded with other families who have lost children...some of whom we've never even met! And we've learned the art of appreciating every moment we are given. And we realize that a year ago today was the best day of Hannah's life!

At Hannah's celebration service, we had a song by MercyMe played during a slide show of her life, and I think the words truly capture how those of us who loved her the most -- including her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, and her friends -- are feeling today. It's called "Homesick".

"You're in a better place, I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken...The reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you?

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now.

Help me Lord because I don't understand Your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But even if You showed me the hurt would be the same
Because I'm still here so far away from home.

In Christ there are no goodbyes
In Christ there is no end
So I'll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
To see you again.

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now."

We love you, Hannah Joy, and we can't wait to see you again!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Hospice Blessings...

On the Sunday before Hannah went to Heaven on Thursday, we received not one, but two, very special phone calls. The first call came from Mark Hall, the lead singer of Casting Crowns, the group that sings the song "Praise You in the Storm". He had received word of Hannah's story and her prayer for a storm from church members in Atlanta. There were several family members and close friends there that day, and we put him on speakerphone so everyone could hear him. He encouraged us and talked about how Hannah's testimony was already touching lives and how he believed there would be more lives touched in the future. The song "Praise You in the Storm" was such a blessing to us throughout Hannah's almost seemed as if it were written just for our family. It was wonderful to be able to let him know how much that song has meant to us and how God has touched our lives through their music.

The second call was from the winner of American Idol three years ago, Jordin Sparks. A special person (who, at that time, we had not even actually met) arranged for this to happen because he had been following Hannah's story through our emails and knew she was a big fan of American Idol. Although Hannah was unable to talk to Jordin, it seemed that she was able to hear her and understand what was being said. Jordin was wonderfully gracious and even sang part of Hannah's favorite song, "No Air." I was amazed at how bubbly and poised Jordin was. I can't imagine that she had ever been in that situation before...talking to someone very close to her age who was dying of cancer and couldn't even talk back to her. She was great, and we will always appreciate her kindness.

By far the greatest blessing that came from our time in hospice were the stories of people who began a relationship with Jesus Christ for the first time, directly due to Hannah's story. How awesome and humbling to know that our daughter's storm was being used to change people's lives for eternity!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


In this series of posts I've been doing about February memories, I would be remiss if I didn't include some good memories along with the bad. It is a testament to God's goodness that there are some real blessings to share from last February.

On Hannah's last day at Children's Hospital before we moved to hospice, some dear friends brought us a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Hannah ate a couple bites of one and remarked, "These are good, but they're not as good as spudnuts." Now, if you're wondering what in the world a "spudnut" is, let me fill you in. In El Dorado, Arkansas, there is a little hole in the wall called the Spudnut Shop, where they make the most delicious doughnuts in the world. I am told that they are made with potato flour...thus the name. If you are willing to stand in a long line on a Saturday morning, you can experience the sweet sensation of a hot spudnut melting in your mouth. We lived in El Dorado for several years, and picked up spudnuts for breakfast probably more often than we should have. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to El Dorado Spudnut Fanatics, from which I stole these pictures.

Anyway, in my email update that evening, I mentioned that she had said that...mostly for the benefit of all our friends from El Dorado who share our love for the spudnut. Would you believe that the next day a man showed up at the hospice center with four dozen spudnuts? And he wasn't from El Dorado...he was from Fort Smith, and had driven from there to El Dorado and then to Little Rock to bring Hannah these spudnuts. And that's not the next few days, we received three dozen more box even arriving in the mail. I think every nurse at the hospice center, every visitor, and every family member got to sample a spudnut at some point during the eight days we were there. We had a lot of fun with those spudnuts, and were absolutely awed by people's kindness in providing them to us.

Another kind of fun memory we have from that time is when Brad's brother Mark (better known as "Sully" to most people) came into Hannah's room one evening. Now Mark I shall I say this politely...a rather large man, sort of a gentle giant. As soon as he greeted her, she said, "Uncle Mark...You look like you've lost weight." We got a real kick out of this because this was vintage Hannah...she was a natural encourager, and she was always saying things like that to people. At this point, Hannah's vision had deteriorated to the point where she really could see very little, so we knew she really couldn't see him. She also had not spoken much at all in a couple of days. We were able to have a little bit of conversation with her that evening, and it turned out to be our last real conversation we had with her. We just thought it was neat that Hannah began this conversation with an encouraging word for her uncle. It was also a real blessing to have Hannah's Uncle Mark there with us...he was between jobs, so he spent quite a bit of time with us during those eight days...running errands, answering the innumerable phone calls, etc. It was also a blessing that by the time that week ended, he had two job offers.

Our entire family was a blessing to us during that hospice period, but we felt especially fortunate to have my brother and sister-in-law, who are missionaries in Indonesia, with us during that time. They stay on the mission field for 3 1/2 years at a time, and get to come home for six month furloughs. Their furlough had begun in December, so they got to spend some quality time with Hannah before her health really deteriorated, and they were able to share the last days of her life with us as well.

We were blessed to have many wonderful visitors during that time, but I was especially touched by the visits from Hannah's friends. I am sure that I would not have had the courage to visit someone dying of cancer when I was in high school, but these girls bravely came in to see their friend. Three of them came in together. They were on their way to a youth retreat weekend, and as they were leaving, Hannah said, "Y'all have fun." Again, a surprise to those of us who rarely heard her speak in those days.

There are a few more blessings to share... but I'll save those for another day.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


A year ago at this time we were just getting settled in to the hospice center in Little Rock. After our doctor had confirmed what we already suspected...that there was nothing more that could be done for Hannah medically...we had spent the next couple of days trying to make hospice arrangements. Most of the time, hospice care does not provide anything that's considered "life sustaining", such as blood products...their main purpose is simply to make the patient as comfortable as possible as death nears. However, we very much wanted Hannah to be able to have platelet infusions, to prevent any more bleeding like what she experienced on her last morning at home. It took a few days to work out those details with the hospice center...they had to agree to do the infusions, and our insurance had to agree to pay for it.

When we finally got all the approvals, it was time to move. I was so nervous about moving Hannah...she was in such a weakened state, I could not imagine how she was going to tolerate the ambulance ride from the hospital to hospice. As a matter of fact, for me, the moving process was the most excruciating part of the entire journey up to that point. First there were the good-byes to all the nurses who had taken such good care of us for so long. Then the ambulance guys came to the room with a rolling guerney. They deftly lifted her onto it and strapped her on. It was so hard to see how small and fragile she looked on there...with her downy soft, baby fuzz just beginning to grow back on her head. She was awake, but her eyes were closed. It seemed like they rolled her through the entire hospital to get to where the ambulance was parked. We were all trailing along behind, lugging all of our belongings, and trying not to meet the sympathetic eyes of the people we passed in the halls. I felt sure everyone knew where we were going...we were clearly leaving, and one look at Hannah would have told them we were not coming back.

We finally got outside where the ambulance was waiting, and they loaded her in. When we were still up in the room, we had asked them if Bethany and I could ride with Hannah in the ambulance, and they had told us only one of us could ride with her...policy, you know. Bethany really, really wanted to ride with her, and we had decided we would let her do it, so she could have that the memory of that time with her sister. My heart was breaking, though...I couldn't imagine not being with her for that ride. After they loaded Hannah up, one of the ambulance guys leaned out and said, "Do you still want to ride with us?" He didn't have to ask me twice...I jumped right in! Bethany sat in the front with the driver, and I sat in the back on a little ledge near Hannah's feet...I was so thankful that they broke their policy for just this one time! We drove through the city of Little Rock in no hurry, no siren blaring...just a quiet ambulance, surrounded by cars full of people going on with their daily routines. I could see them through the windows, and I was amazed at how normal their lives all seemed to be. The ambulance guy was so kind...he made some effort at conversation, and I tried, but I really couldn't talk to him. So he started filling out some paperwork and asked me a few questions, including what Hannah's social security number was. I knew her number, but at that moment, I could not, for the life of me, remember what it was. After I hemmed and hawed around for a little while, Hannah shocked both of us by reciting it! At that point, I really didn't think she was awake, much less aware of our conversation. It was just like her to know something like that, and to answer for me when I was stumped!

We finally arrived at the hospice center, and they rolled her in and transferred her from the guerney to her new bed there. Once we got her settled in and sleeping, we left her with family members and went to the hospice office and did all the necessary paperwork. The center had about 20 rooms, and only about 5 were in use at the time, so they very graciously allowed our family to have the use of two rooms. Hannah and I stayed in one room together, and Brad and Bethany had a room right next door. They also put us at the end of a wing, where there was a very nice, large sunroom...a perfect place for our family to gather and hang out together. We basically had that whole wing to ourselves. It couldn't have been a better set up for our family.

Like I said, the day we moved to the hospice center was excruciating for me. When they put Hannah on that guerney and started rolling her out of the very familiar setting of Arkansas Children's Hospital's gold floor, it felt as though whatever little bit of control we might have had in the situation was finally completely gone. The process of giving Hannah up had begun. The weight of that as we rode in the ambulance made it difficult for me to even sit upright. And as we entered the hospice center for the first time, the sense of finality was overwhelming...knowing that whenever we left that place, we would be leaving without Hannah.

Yet, even in the midst of the devastating emotions of that day, God gave peace. I don't know how...I can't explain it. Looking back at it today, I really don't know how we survived it...the only possible explanation is that God carried us through it. There were so many people praying for us, and I really believe that is what kept us going. And then there was the knowledge that when Hannah did leave that place, her next destination was Heaven. There would be no more ambulance rides, chemo treatments, platelet infusions, or radiation sessions. And what could be sweeter than that?

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 16th

Well, tonight marked the official end of Bethany's junior high basketball career. All the winter weather last week caused their district tournament to be postponed until Saturday. They played two games on Saturday and won both, putting them into the finals of the tournament. I've included a couple of pictures below...

The finals were tonight, and unfortunately, Bethany's team came up short. They were beaten by the one team who had beaten them all year. So that ends their junior high season with a record of 21-2. But that doesn't mean the end of basketball this that the junior high season is officially over, the freshman players can move up to the high school team. So as of tomorrow night, she will be playing with the senior high during their district tournament this week. Good thing we like watching basketball!

February 16th doesn't just mark the end of junior high basketball in our also marks the anniversary of Hannah's last day in our home. A year ago this morning, I went into Hannah's room about 4:30 in the morning to find that she had been bleeding heavily from her mouth and nose. She had been battling low platelets for a long time, and she was taking a chemotherapy drug which had hemorrhage as a primary side effect. I called Brad in to her room and we tried to decide whether to call an ambulance or not. We really didn't want to do that and scare Bethany to death, so we loaded Hannah up in the car and headed to Little Rock as fast as we dared to drive, figuring we could stop at the hospital in Benton on the way if we needed to. We called a precious neighbor to come over to our house to stay with Bethany, who we left sleeping in her bed. One amazing thing about that morning is that Hannah was not in any distress...she really didn't even seem to be aware that there was a problem. If she had been panicking, it would have been much harder for us to hold it together that day. We arrived at Children's Hospital in about 40 minutes (it's a 50 mile drive), and came in through the ER. By this time, the blood flow had nearly stopped.

An MRI was scheduled for that morning. And again, we were amazed at Hannah's calmness and peace as she lay in that tube for nearly an hour. We were admitted and platelet infusions were begun. By this time, a lot of our family had arrived, including Bethany, who was brought to the hospital by Brad's brother. Our doctor came in that afternoon and shared with Brad and me that the results of the MRI were "disturbing"...the cancer had progressed rapidly and had spread pretty much throughout her brain. He described what we could expect in the upcoming days...that the tumors around her brainstem (which controls the automatic functions of the body like blood pressure and respiration) were slowly going to cause her blood pressure to rise and would ultimately cause her brain to stop telling her body to breathe. Then he came into the room and told Hannah that there was no more that could be done for her medically. Hannah clearly understood what he was telling her and accepted the news with grace and without fear. Later that afternoon, while family members sat with Hannah, we met with the hospital social worker and worked out the details of transferring her to a hospice center. That night, there were no beeping monitors and no nurses coming in and out of our room all night. It was actually somewhat of a relief to be freed from all of that.

We didn't know when we helped Hannah out the door that morning that it would be the last time she would be in this house. We are so, so, so grateful that God led us to go to a hospice center for Hannah's final days rather than trying to take care of her needs at home. I am so glad that those difficult memories are not associated with this house. But it is so hard to believe that it's been a year since her physical presence was last in this living room where I am sitting tonight. Her absence has left a gaping, empty hole in our home and in our family. How thankful I am that God's presence is here in our home helping to fill that painful hole.

Just before I started this post tonight, I read a new comment on my previous post. You can see it yourself if you click on the comment section under the last post. The writer told me that this week marks a year since her best friend was saved, directly due to Hannah's storm, and that her friend has been on fire for the Lord ever since. What amazing timing for me to read tonight, as the waves of grief threaten to overturn the ship. Hannah's storm had a purpose, and that continues to be confirmed, even today, a year after one of the most difficult days of our lives. God's timing is always perfect, even when it's hard to see through the wind and waves!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day I know it's not really Valentine's Day yet, but it feels like it is. I think having Valentine's Day fall on a Sunday makes it feel like it lasts all weekend long, including the Friday before!

I've never really been a big fan of Valentine's Day. It has always seemed like a very commercialized holiday to me...just an excuse to sell a bunch of flowers, candy, and cards. I guess that's the cynic in me. And now this day has some really difficult memories associated with it.

The first symptoms of Hannah's brain tumor appeared two years ago on Valentine's Day. She woke up with a terrible headache and nausea, and was unable to go to school that day. She was disappointed to miss that day, because she really enjoyed Valentine's Day (not being a cynic like me!). Those symptoms recurred over the next few days, and you know the rest of that story.

Last year at this time, Hannah's condition was really deteriorating. Like I said in my last post, she was sleeping about 20 hours out of every day, and was becoming very confused and disoriented. At this point, she was eating only Special K cereal, oranges, and microwaveable fettucini alfredo. She would wake up in the middle of the night, and want Special K, an orange, and some fettucini. Then she would wake up in the afternoon, and want Special K, an orange, and some fettucini. Of course, we gave her whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it. Most of the time she sat in her bed and ate, but sometimes she'd come sit in the recliner in the living room for awhile.

Brad has always gotten the girls roses on Valentine's Day, and last year was no exception. They always look forward to getting this special gift from their Dad on Valentine's Day. Last year, Hannah got a lot of enjoyment out of her roses. She had almost no short-term memory by this time, and so everytime she saw the roses, it was like she had just received them for the first time. She would say, "Oh, Daddy...they're so pretty. Thank you!" This was huge, because she really was talking very little at this point. Believe me, it meant so much to him!

Last year, Bethany went to the 7th & 8th grade Valentine's dance, where she was crowned queen for the evening. The vote was taken during the school day, and her teacher called to let me know that she had won. She thought I would like to be there to see her crowned. Of course, I went. Bethany looked beautiful, and I was so glad I was able to be there for her big moment. But it was a very surreal experience for me...for one thing, I had hardly been out of the house at all (other than to Children's Hospital and back) for several weeks, and it was difficult to face all the wonderful, concerned people who wanted to know how Hannah was doing. It was hard to know how to answer that question when she was doing so badly. And how strange it was to see one daughter at a dance so vibrant and alive, while the other daughter was at home just a shell of her former self. The swirl of emotion that night was indescribable.

And that brings us to this year. My heart aches for Brad, who will only get to purchase a bouquet for one daughter. He misses Hannah so badly. His grief is always right at the surface, but his faith in God's goodness is unwavering. He's been such an amazing example to me. On Saturday night (Valentine's Eve), our senior high basketball teams will play their last regular season games. It was supposed to be on Tuesday night, but because of all the winter weather, it's been rescheduled for Saturday. The last game of the year is always "Senior Night", where each senior athlete is recognized, and comes out to the middle of the gym to stand with their parents. The announcer tells all about them...who their parents are, what sports they've played, what they like to do, etc. As the manager of the girls' basketball team, Hannah would have been one of those recognized, and we would have walked out on the floor with her. Instead, she's in Heaven, and we will be sitting in the bleachers watching this year's seniors and their parents. Just another reason to not really be looking forward to Valentine's Day this year. And just another reminder that while Hannah is where she was created to be, we are definitely out of place. And just another reason to look forward to the day when God sets all things right.

One of my favorite songs right now is by J. J. Heller, and the chorus goes like this -- "When my world is shaking, Heaven stands. And when my heart is breaking, I will never leave Your hands." So thankful that in this shaking, heart-breaking world, He is always there!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Another Snow in Arkansas

This weekend, the Hot Springs area was hit by another winter storm. It was kind of a least for our area. They had forecast snow just for the parts of the state north of Little Rock, so we were quite surprised to wake up to this Monday morning. School has been canceled for the last two days, and Bethany has been having some fun. I guess you know you're a redneck if you can sled on an inch of snow!

And they're actually talking about more snow possibly on Thursday night, and then again on next week! We'll see...

A year ago today Hannah's doctor broached the subject of hospice care with us for the first time. It was not an unexpected conversation, but was just so surreal. We had spent the first few days of February inpatient at Arkansas Children's Hospital due to fever and neutropenia (extremely low immunity) and during that hospitalization, she began sleeping almost around the clock. Hannah's original tumor (which was regrowing) was located in the pineal region of her brain, where melatonin is produced. Melatonin is the chemical your body produces that regulates your sleep patterns. Our doctor explained that some people who have tumors in this area suffer from insomnia, and some sleep all the time. We were thankful that Hannah was able to sleep, although we hated that it took away from our time with her. After talking with the doctor that day, we decided that it was time for Brad and Bethany to stop going to work and school (I had stopped working several months before) so that we could spend as much time together as possible. That was a good decision...those days together were precious, but very difficult.

I'll close tonight with a quote I saw recently...It's simple, but true. "Unshakeable faith is faith that has been shaken." I love that!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I realize we're already a week into February, but this evening is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and share my feelings about this month. February has not been good to us the last two years. Two years ago this month Hannah first began experiencing some strange symptoms. A few days later we found out she had a brain tumor and a few days after that she had brain surgery. One year ago this month she left our home for the last time, and ten days later left this life for Heaven. We have many very difficult memories associated with the month of February. I plan to share some of them as we go through these upcoming days. I actually think it's therapeutic for me to write about some of these helps me sort through my thoughts and feelings.

Brad and I have had some time alone this evening while Bethany is at a Superbowl party at our church. We were discussing someone we know who is currently battling cancer and could possibly be going to Heaven soon, and Brad said, "You know...I'm actually kind of jealous." I knew exactly what he meant...and I agreed with him. Now, don't be thinking that someone needs to stage an intervention. Neither one of us really wants to go to Heaven before it's God's time for us. But our perspective on life and death certainly has changed. There is no fear or dread of death...when it comes, we'll be ready.

And now, it's back to watching the Superbowl for the evening. I think Hannah would have been pulling for the Colts...she kind of liked the Manning brothers!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

OK...Finally the Weekend Update!

Ahhhh...a few moments of solitude. Brad and Bethany have gone to church for the evening, and I stayed home to try to get caught up on everything I've fallen behind on since even before our weekend trip. I have really enjoyed this basketball season, but I'm about ready for it to be over...and it will be in about 2 1/2 more weeks! Hopefully things will finally slow down a little bit after that!

So the weekend began with a major winter storm hitting Arkansas on Friday. As you know, our Saturday morning flight was canceled, but we were able to re-book for 2:40 on Saturday afternoon. As we started to the airport this morning, this is what the trees looked like:

And the mailboxes:

And the interstate to Little Rock:

It was slow going, as you can see. Good thing we left early...we made it to the airport in plenty of time to get through security and board the plane, which left promptly at 2:40. We landed in Chicago around 4:30, and were met by my cousin, Sharon, her husband, Mike, and her two youngest daughters, Rebecca and Courtney. Mike is an incredibly talented cabinet maker and woodworker, and he is currently working on a job in the Trump Tower in downtown Chicago. So they took us on a little side trip to the 86th floor of the Tower, where we visited what best could be described as a penthouse apartment. This is what you saw when you looked out the window (which was basically an entire wall of this apartment):

Incredible, huh? I'm not sure I'd actually want to live there, but I wouldn't mind staying there for a week or two! Then we went out for some Chicago-style pizza (what else?) and headed to their house in DeMotte, Indiana...about a 90-minute drive from Chicago.

We got up the next morning and went to Mike & Sharon's church, where we had the opportunity to share God's goodness through Hannah's story during the Sunday School hour. We talked with many wonderful people while we were there, but were especially blessed by two of our visits. One was with a man named Richard whose precious mother lives in Arkansas, attends our church, and is a part of the Anchor of Hope cancer ministry. She is bravely battling ovarian cancer with the most wonderful, positive attitude. We met Richard one time when he was visiting Arkansas from Indiana, nearly two years ago, when his mom was first diagnosed...about the same time that Hannah was. We struck up a bit of a friendship at that time, and we've become quite close to his mom, so it was great to get to have the opportunity to see him again.

The other special visit was with a couple who lost their daughter, Jill Marie, to cancer ten years ago when she was 17 years old. It's kind of an interesting story how we came to know this couple...a little over ten years ago, we visited my family in Indiana, and once again, we were touring a property that Mike had done some cabinet work in. It was actually a Tour of Homes type event, and several builders had homes on display. One in particular caught my eye, because the home itself was called "The Jill Marie". It caught my eye because Jill Marie is my name...I'd never heard of anyone with my exact same name! My cousin Sharon explained to me before we toured the home that the builder had recently lost his daughter to cancer, and their family had named the home after her. As we walked through the house, there were some family pictures displayed, and I remember looking at those pictures of Jill Marie and their family and thinking, "Wow...I cannot imagine losing a child"...never dreaming, of course, that I would be in the same situation someday. Well, after Hannah went to Heaven, Sharon introduced Jill Marie's mom and I to each other via email. We've corresponded several times over the past year, and she's been such an encouragement to me...demonstrating that it is possible to not only survive, but thrive, after such a loss. We finally got to meet her and her husband in person at church Sunday morning, and then she attended the Princess Tea that evening as well. The bond that exists between parents who've lost children is an incredible is instant and lasting. I think that their Jill Marie and our Hannah Joy would have been good friends here on earth...and I have to believe they've met in Heaven.

After church, we returned to my cousin's house and had a nice afternoon visiting with them and my aunt and uncle. We brought Bethany and Courtney to one of the youth leader's homes so they could get their hair and make-up done for the tea, and then headed to the center where it was being held about 4:45. It was beautifully decorated in pinks, greens, and oranges. I wish I had pictures to share, but our camera was temporarily misplaced and I didn't have it for the evening. The girls started arriving shortly thereafter and they all looked beautiful. I'm not sure how many actually came, but they were expecting about 95. I do have a few pictures to share which my aunt emailed to me...

Bethany and Courtney:

Bethany, Courtney, Rebecca, and my Aunt Kay:

Me, Sharon, and Rebecca:

The dinner was delicious! Several girls led in praise and worship music, and there was a really cool mixer activity where the girls were each given a different color of sand which they poured in layers into the vases on the table, symbolizing the unity we have as the body of Christ. Each one also got to create her own sand globe to take home, using the different colors of sand.

Finally, it was time for me to share. Many of the girls in attendance had followed Hannah's story from the beginning through the emails....I really didn't realize how many until afterward. Nearly all of them knew at least something about her story. And the telling of her story brought out a lot of emotion from them...making it difficult for me to continue a couple of times. I encouraged them to stay strong in their faith through their storms and to make sure they were prepared for life's storms by having a growing relationship with God. After I finished, one of the leaders provided all of the girls with pens and paper and asked them to write me a note. The highlight of the evening for the girls was a coronation, complete with a tiara, and a reminder to each individual girl that she was a daughter of the King. It was a beautiful and meaningful way to end a special night.

Afterwards, we headed back to Mike & Sharon's house, tired but revived. The next morning we were up at 3:45, at O'Hare by 6:30, on the plane at 8:30, and home by about 11:30. Bethany and Brad were at school by noon, so she could play basketball that night. A very quick, but extremely rewarding, trip.

I didn't read the notes from the girls until Monday afternoon. I was overwhelmed by their honesty, openness, and willingness to share their hearts. So many shared how they have been impacted by Hannah's story. As I read them (and there is a huge stack of them), I could only imagine what Hannah would think. How her prayer that God would use her through a storm has been answered far beyond what she could ever ask or imagine. And how humbling it is to think that God could possibly use me as an instrument to share His glory through her story...all I can do is shake my head and pray that I will be found worthy.

For all of you who prayed for our safety and for the speaking events on this trip...thank you. We could never share like this without your prayer support. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Weekend

I've been trying to get an update on here ever since we got home from Indiana on Monday...but it's late tonight, and I'm ready for bed. We landed in Little Rock about 10:15 yesterday morning and have been running ever last night and tonight, with more to come on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully I'll have some time tomorrow night to update. I'm anxious to share all of our experiences and blessings, and I want to take the time to do it right. So check back soon, and hopefully there will be an update!