Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Urgent Prayer Request

Tonight, I want to pass along a new prayer request. There is a young lady named Molly McKim who lives in Fort Smith. I've never actually met her or her family, but her mom and I have become rather close via emails. We have both experienced the helplessness of watching our daughter's health deteriorate. Molly suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Wilson's Disease, in which the liver does not metabolize copper properly. She was an active, independent college freshman when she suddenly began to suffer from increasingly debilitating neurological symptoms. She had to withdraw from school and has become completely dependent upon her parents, even having to be fed through a PEG tube. It is believed that a liver transplant could fully restore her health, and she has been at the top of the transplant list at UAMS for several months. This evening, the family received word that a liver has become available. They are currently traveling from Fort Smith to Little Rock, and her surgery is scheduled for 4:00 a.m. This is actually the third time they've been called. The first time, Molly was actually on the table, prepped for surgery, when they decided the liver was not healthy enough. The second time, they were on the way, when it was decided that that particular liver should go to someone else. So, please join with me in praying for Molly and her family tonight as they are traveling to Little Rock, and as she undergoes surgery in the morning. I know the emotions must be overwhelming right now. There is a link to her CaringBridge site in the right hand column of my blog, if you would like to follow her story.

Also, please continue to pray for Jedidiah Harper and his family. He has done really well since his surgeries last week, and he will go in tomorrow for his first chemotherapy treatment. An overwhelmingly emotional day for his parents, as well. You can link to his blog from here as well..."Harper House--Jeremiah's Testimony" in the right hand column. In her latest blog, his mom shares how much he's enjoying receiving get-well cards. If you'd like to send him one, here's the address: Jed Harper, P. O. Box 123, Story, AR 71970.

I promise, I will get back to the topic of "joy". I was going to do that tonight, but when I heard about Molly's transplant opportunity, I really felt impressed to share her story with you. Check back soon, and maybe I'll be back on topic!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Break Is Over!

Well, today marks the end of spring break week in Arkansas. For the first time ever, all public schools in Arkansas took the same week for spring break, so there have been lots of people on vacation over the last several days. I've actually spent nearly the entire week by myself, while Brad and Bethany have been on a snow skiing trip with our church youth group. I didn't say anything in my last few posts about them being gone...you can't be too careful about revealing to the world wide web that you are staying alone for a week!

Bethany had never been skiing before, and apparently she took to it like a duck to water. Very unlike her mother. I attempted snowskiing 20-something years ago, and it was a colossal fail. So rather than spend the money to accompany the youth group to Colorado and not ski, I decided to stay home and not ski for free. I am quite content to stay by myself, and I really enjoyed my time alone this week. Of course, I sure was glad to see them yesterday when they got off the bus after their 23 hour ride home. Here are a few pictures from their big adventure:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hannah "Joy"

On Valentine's Day in 1991, Brad and I went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Fayetteville. We didn't often go out to eat, because we were both full-time graduate students and money was tight, but it was Valentine's Day! I remember this dinner mainly because of the message I received in my fortune cookie that night: "A happy event will soon take place in your home." (Or something very similar to that...it was over 18 years ago!) I remember us laughing and discussing how we hoped that meant that I would soon get pregnant. Now, I don't believe in the future-telling abilities of fortune cookies, but within a couple of weeks, the stick turned blue. We were thrilled! The timing was perfect...we would both graduate in August, and our baby was due in early November.

The next several months seemed to crawl by as we wondered if we were going to have a boy or a girl. Finally it was time for the ultrasound...and the baby wouldn't cooperate. The technician could not even guess whether it was a boy or a girl. And of course, the ultrasounds 18 years ago were not anything like they are today! So we spent a lot of time discussing names. We picked out a boy's name that we both liked pretty easily, but choosing a girl's name was a little more difficult. Just a few days before the baby arrived, we finally decided on Hannah Joy. At that time, Hannah was not a common name...it was actually considered a rather old-fashioned name. Since then, of course, it has exploded in popularity...there are little Hannahs everywhere...apparently we started a trend!

When we chose the name, though, we were thinking of the story of Hannah in First Samuel. Hannah was barren and prayed and begged God for a child. She even made a bargain with God...If He would only give her a son, she would give Him back to God to serve him all the days of his life. God answered her prayer and gave her a son who she named Samuel...Can you imagine her joy? But after Samuel was weaned, she kept her promise, saying, "I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord." Of course, when we named our daughter Hannah Joy, we had no idea how our experience with her would reflect that of the biblical Hannah and her son Samuel.

Hannah loved her middle name...she had her first and middle names both put on the back of her letter jacket. We often called her Hannah "Our Joy", even putting that phrase on her headstone. The name fit her so well...she had a quiet joy about her all the time, even as her health and strength left her. And this joy was apparent to all those who knew her. I've been reminded of her joy again this week, as I've been watching all these home videos. (Yes, I'm still working on my dubbing project!)

So what exactly is joy...and is it possible to have joy when everything is falling apart around you? I have come to believe that it's not only possible...it is commanded in Scripture. More to come in future posts...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let Me Show You Around...

In our 22 years of marriage, Brad and I have lived in fifteen different residences. We got married while we were still in college at OBU, and lived in a little HUD apartment (#1). Because we were still students and basically had no income (we were living off money we had saved), we were able to live there for free. After I graduated and got my first job as a speech pathologist, the rent was going to skyrocket, so we moved into another apartment that we could actually rent a little bit cheaper (#2). When Brad graduated from OBU, we moved into a triplex in Springdale (#3), and completed our master's degrees in one year. By the time we graduated, we had jobs lined up in Fort Smith, and since we had no reason to stay in Springdale, we got ourselves a housesitting job in Mountain Home (where I was from). For a couple of months, we lived rent-free in a mobile home way out in the country (#4) and babysat a grotesquely obese chocolate lab named Dusty. Brad 'affectionately' called her "Musty." It was really quite comical...We had to promise to keep the temperature in the trailer at a constant 68 degrees and take Dusty for a ride in the car every day. But hey, it was a free place to live!

After a couple months with Dusty, we moved into a duplex in Fort Smith (#5), which is where we brought our first baby, Hannah, home. Good memories there! Then, we bought our first home, a brand new, 1380 square foot home (#6) for $67,900. That is the house we brought Bethany home to, and we lived there longer than we had lived anywhere else up until that point...about three years. Brad's master's degree was in educational administration, so when the Ashdown School District offered him a junior high assistant principal's position, we took off again. We sold our house within just a few days and moved into a rental house in Ashdown (#7). We were there for a year (maybe two...I honestly can't remember right now), when we moved to Crossett, where Brad became the high school assistant principal. In the school administration business, when they offer you a job, they usually expect you to be there within a week or two. The only place we could find to rent on a such short notice was a trailer in a trailer park (#8). It was dirty and hot, and I hated to move my two little girls into it. We started looking for a house to buy right away, found the perfect place for us, and moved into it as soon as we could (#9). It was a great house, but on a very busy through street. Brad's position at the school meant that he was the primary disciplinarian, and before long, we began to have problems with vandalism and harrassment from angry teenagers driving by the house. So...we sold that house and bought another one on a much quieter street (#10), which pretty much solved our teenager problems.

Then, Brad's alma mater came calling, and he was hired as a high school assistant principal in El Dorado. We sold our house in Crossett, (again within a matter of days) and bought a great house in El Dorado (#11). We lived in that house longer than we had lived anywhere up to that point, and we all have very fond memories of that time. Unfortunately, we began to have problems similar to those we had in Crossett, and we decided to sell that house and move to a more secluded location. God sent a sweet older couple to buy that house, and we moved into a rental house out in the country (#12). In December of that year, an assistant principal position (not involving student discipline!) arose with the Cabot School District, and Brad took a position there. We moved into a rental house (#13) and eventually bought a house there (#14). After only a year and a half, we had the opportunity to come to Magnet Cove where Brad would be the high school principal, and we took it. We bought a house (#15), and have been here ever since...almost five years now.

Wow...I really didn't mean to go into so much detail, but once I got rolling, I couldn't stop! I could really make this a long post by telling you how God's hand has been apparent through all of these moves, but I'll save that for another day.

I've been continuing my videotape dubbing project today, and I think we have video in every one of these different homes. Well, at least the ones from the time Hannah was born...that's when we got our video camera as a gift from Brad's parents. We moved so often when the girls were young that we began a tradition of videotaping them giving a tour of each new home. They took great pleasure in showing off every detail of their new bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, the bathrooms (which always resulted in lots of giggles, for some reason!) and the backyard. The tours always began by the cameraman (usually me) coming up the walk to the front door, which was opened by the girls, who would say, "Come in, come in...let us show you around!"

And as I watched some of these tours by the girls this week, I couldn't help but think about what it will be like to see Hannah again in Heaven someday. I can just imagine her greeting me at those pearly gates, giving me a hug, tucking her arm in mine, and saying, "Come in...let me show you around!" And we'll walk around together, taking all the time we want, her showing me all the sights, which will be far beyond anything I can even begin to dream of. Waaaay better than anything we have on videotape. And there will be no more packing, no more U-Hauls, no more moving. Isn't it great to know that this world is not our home...we are just passing through!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Videos

Before Hannah got sick, I had started working on a project...transferring all of our VHS home movies onto DVDs. Well, it's spring break week...time to start working on it again. And this is no small project. We have literally dozens of VHS tapes, representing hours and hours of home videos. I've been putting off picking this project back up, thinking it might be really painful to watch some of these tapes. But the rather irrational fear that something horrible could happen to these priceless tapes has driven me to pull out my VCR/DVD player instruction manual and relearn how to dub VHS to DVD.

I haven't really just sat and watched every minute of the dubbing process...too many other spring break projects to do! But, the bits and pieces that I've watched have really not been painful at all. All the videos of first steps, birthdays, newborn cousins, family pets, school and church programs, and Christmases have been a wonderful reminder of how blessed our family has been. Hannah was such a happy child...in all these videos, she is smiling and laughing, usually at the exploits of her little sister and younger cousins. As I look back on Hannah's growing up years, I am so grateful to be able to say that I have no regrets about how we spent our time together as a family. What a blessing to be able to say that!

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." Philippians 1:3

Monday, March 22, 2010

What a Week!

It seems that the blows just keep coming! Last week, we heard the news of little Jedidiah Harper's cancer. I don't know anything other than preliminary updates on him yet...they are going to be getting test results today, which will determine his plan of treatment. Please link to the Harper House blog in the right hand column for the most up-to-date information on Jed, and continue to keep him and his family in your prayers.

Then we heard the news that a true American hero lost his life in Afghanistan, drawing enemy fire away from his squadron, who were pinned down. From what we understand, his brave and selfless actions saved the lives of many American troops. His parents attend our church, and he grew up in Hot Springs. His funeral will be Wednesday, and will be an amazing opportunity for the gospel to be preached to a large and diverse audience. Please pray that God will be glorified in Adam Brown's death, even as He was during his life.

We also received word that a six-year-old boy who has been battling neuroblastoma for the last four years went to Heaven this week. He was quite often in the bed next to Hannah getting his chemo treatments while she got her platelet infusions. He was always happy and playful with the nurses while he was there. A cute little blond-headed boy.

And we received word that the husband of a friend of ours from Crossett passed away this week after battling Alzheimer's disease for several years...much younger than most who are struck down by Alzheimer's, and a very intelligent, strikingly handsome man when we knew him.

Finally, there is this healthcare debacle going on in our nation's capitol. I personally believe our country is headed in the wrong direction, and it's hard to see how we're going to be able to avert disaster for much longer.

I'm sure you could compile a similar list of tragedies and difficulties in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Aren't you glad that this world isn't all there is? One of the things God is teaching me through the experiences of the last two years is the importance of an eternal perspective. From an earthly perspective, all these things seem like tragedies...but God is in full control and has a purpose for all of it...even if we don't understand it in the least.

I love music...I constantly have music playing around me at home, in the car, and even at work when I don't have students with me. And I have a deep love for the old hymns of the faith...songs that, at least at my church, we rarely sing anymore. Now, don't get me wrong...I love all of the contemporary Christian music too...that's what I usually surround myself with...but I really miss singing those old hymns. The lyrics are just so rich, and have much more substance than so many of the songs we sing today. I have a hymnbook at home and I was paging through it this afternoon, looking at some of these hymns, and this one jumped out at me as a good way to close this post today. How sweet to know we can trust Him in all circumstances...

Have Faith In God
Text and Music by B. B. McKinney, 1934

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely,
He sees and knows all the way you have trod;
Never alone are the least of His children;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered,
Your earnest plea He will never forget;
Wait on the Lord, trust His Word and be patient,
Have faith in God, He'll answer yet.

Have faith in God in your pain and your sorrow,
His heart is touched with your grief and despair;
Cast all your cares and your burdens upon Him,
And leave them there, oh, leave them there.

Have faith in God though all else fail about you;
Have faith in God, He provides for His own;
He cannot fail though all kingdoms shall perish,
He rules, He reigns upon His throne.

Chorus: Have faith in God, He's on His throne;
Have faith in God, He watches o'er His own;
He cannot fail, He must prevail;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Request for Prayer

In my last post, I talked about cancer and how many people are affected by it. It has struck close to home again...this time touching a 3-year-old boy named Jedidiah Harper. His mom, Lori, and I have developed quite a good friendship...even though we've actually only met each other once. She has been so supportive of us through our journey, especially since Hannah went to Heaven. She's probably the most faithful reader of this blog, judging by the frequency of her comments! I even have a link to her blog, "Harper House", from my blog. Yesterday, they found out that Jed has rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer, and tomorrow, they will be at the Oncology Clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital. I've shared often about how overwhelming that first visit to the oncology clinic is...you're still just barely able to process the fact that your child has cancer, and suddenly you are sitting in a waiting room with all these bald children. You have to sign permission forms that describe in detail the devastating side effects of the very treatments that are designed to save your child's life (including causing different types of cancer in the future). You hear all these medical terms that you've never heard before in your life, and you have to somehow absorb all this information and make rational, life-altering decisions. You realize that whatever control you thought you had over your life is gone, and that you are going to have to place your precious child's care in someone else's hands. And all you really want to do is just take your child home, tuck them into their own bed, and pretend none of this ever happened. Please pray for Jed and his mom and dad as they go through these frightening experiences tomorrow, and join me in praying for complete healing of Jed's cancer.

In these kind of situations, you just want to ask God, "Why?" I've found that rather than asking "Why", it is much more constructive to ask, "For what purpose?" In chapter 9 of John, the story is told of Jesus healing a blind man. Jesus was asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" His response: "Neither this man nor His parents sinned...but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:2-3). There is a purpose in suffering, and that is to display the glory of God. It is a huge comfort to me to know that our suffering has a purpose, and it will not go to waste, as long as we are willing to display the glory of God through it. The Harper family is the kind of family who will do that, and I am looking forward to seeing how God will display His work through their lives.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Relay for Life

Last night I attended my second Relay for Life team captain's meeting. And even after over two years of traveling this road, I still couldn't believe I was at a Relay for Life meeting. I'm actually a little embarrassed by the fact that I've never even attended a Relay for Life event. Why would I? Cancer had never really touched my life...it was somebody else's problem, not mine. Sure, I felt bad for those who had it...even prayed for them when asked to. At least until I got busy with something else and forgot about it.

But then we were unexpectedly hurled into the land of cancer. And we sat in waiting rooms at CARTI and Arkansas Children's Hospital with families who were traveling the road ahead of us. We literally spent hours talking with people (actually, Brad did most of the talking...if you know us, that won't surprise you!) whose lives had been turned completely upside down by cancer. We were on a first-name basis with children who received chemo treatments in beds right beside Hannah. Most of those kids we have not seen since we left Children's Hospital for the last time a little over a year ago, but we have followed many of them through the CaringBridge website. Some of them are doing very well, and some of them are not. One of the little guys who we often saw getting his chemo while Hannah was getting platelets has recently discontinued treatments...the doctors have told their family to just enjoy the time they have left together.

It seems like every day I hear of someone new being diagnosed with cancer. Some of them have hit relatively close to home...loved ones of people I love. And then some I've never actually met, but feel that I've known for years. I've mentioned Lauren Crook in this blog before...she's been doing really well, but just last week, a new cancerous spot was found in her sinus cavity. She had surgery on Monday, and is hoping to go to M. D. Anderson for a consult. This makes the fourth time she has battled cancer.

A friend recently sent me an email, telling me about the son-in-law of a mutual friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer. I don't think she'd mind me sharing the last sentence of her email: "Jill, do you ever just wonder what God has in mind....there is so much sadness and so much bad stuff that happens to good people....people that are Christian and love Him....". It took me a couple of days to reply. I don't know the "Sunday School" answer to that question, but here's what I've learned over the last two years. The struggles and grief of this life serve to make us yearn for Heaven. Why would we desire a relationship with the Lord and look forward to Heaven if we were living in Eden here?

I really think that from here on earth, God's plan is sometimes awfully hard to see. To us, it looks like the bottom side of a cross-stitch project, without an apparent pattern and with a whole lot of loose strings. But God sees the top side, the beautiful result of all those different threads coming together in perfect order. He's the master designer...He knows what He's doing...and He is good, all the time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

But Even If He Does Not...

I have such great memories of the little church where I grew up...First Baptist Church of Phillips, Wisconsin. Every Wednesday afternoon, my brother and I would walk from school to church for CYF. There were probably only about 10 or 12 kids that came, but our pastor, Arlo Little, was there every single Wednesday to play games with us and teach us a Bible lesson. When it was warm enough outside, we would play baseball (that's when I discovered that I was not an athlete). When it was cold outside, which was pretty much the whole school year, we would play games in the basement of the church, where we had our Bible story time. My favorite one involved a pincushion which the pastor would hide somewhere in our meeting room (it seemed like a huge room at the time, although I think it was actually quite small) and we would have to find it. He would tell us if we were hot or cold until we found it, and then we would do it all over again. I remember the excitement of getting warm, then warmer, then steaming, then boiling, then blazing as we got closer and closer to that little pincushion. I liked the games, but I loved it when he would tell the Bible story and get out the flannel graph stuff. I loved the flannel graph background, looking like it had been drawn with colorful pastels, and all those flannel-backed figures, dressed in their Bible-time robes. I especially loved the animals...the camels, donkeys, and sheep. I learned lots of Bible stories in that basement in northern Wisconsin.

Yesterday morning, I was reading my daily excerpt from "The One Year Book of Hope" by Nancy Guthrie (an excellent book for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one) and she referenced the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. I was immediately back in that church basement, seeing those flannel graph figures and hearing the story told by my pastor. And yesterday evening, I was reading "Letters from the Land of Cancer" by Walter Wangerin, Jr., (an excellent book for anyone traveling through the land of cancer) and, would you believe, he referenced the same story. And both authors emphasized a part of the story that I had never really given much thought to before.

You may remember that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship a gold statue of the Babylonian king. Here's what they said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18.

I've always thought of them as Biblical heroes because they refused to bow down to an idol, even under threat of death. And while that was heroic, I've decided that their real heroism is reflected in the statement, "But even if He does not...". On the surface, it may look like they were giving God an escape clause, something to protect His reputation in case they burned up in the furnace. But I don't think so. They didn't pretend to know what God would do, nor did they try to tell Him what to do. I think they trusted Him to the point that they knew whatever He would do what was right, even if it resulted in their death. God was God however He chose to act.

This was the same understanding we came to as we watched Hannah's life slowly leave her. That "even if He does not", we would continue to trust Him. And I've seen this attitude replicated in the lives of several of the cancer patients we've come to know as we've traveled this journey. We've been asked by a friend to help her choose music for her own funeral, and this afternoon I will be burning a CD of songs for her to listen to. She has such a glowing peace about her as she contemplates her own death, which, according to her doctors, is approaching. She knows that "even if He does not" heal her in this life, He will in the next. What a difference it makes when we face life, and death, with this kind of attitude!