Monday, April 26, 2010

A Couple of Prayer Requests & An Update

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Molly McKim, a young lady who suffers from Wilson's Disease. She's been in need of a liver transplant and has had three "false alarms" in recent months...twice where she's actually completed the pre-op procedures and the liver was determined not to be healthy enough for transplant. Well, at 12:45 this afternoon, she went into surgery to be transplanted with a healthy liver! Her mom updated about 2:45, saying that "all was going well" in surgery, but that's the last I've heard. Please keep Molly and her family in your prayers tonight, and check out for the latest updates (or click on the link in the right hand column below). Her story was recently featured in a northwest Arkansas newspaper, and her mom said this at the end of the article: "Anyone can give up. It's the easiest thing in the world to do, but to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength." I really like that quote...the only thing I would add is that true strength only comes from God.

I've also been saddened to hear yesterday of the sudden death of a friend's husband. He was only 41 years old and had a heart attack. My friend's name is Jennifer, and she has two young children. If you would, please keep Jennifer and her family in your prayers as well. I hope to be able to attend the visitation and/or funeral later this week.

Bethany is doing fine and her appointment went well on Friday. We will be addressing her problem with medication and will return in three months for follow-up. Thank you for your prayers for her. She is looking forward to Thursday, when she will be competing in the state track meet (as a freshman!) in the high jump. I don't know how she manages to get those long legs over that bar, but she does!

On Thursday evening, we will have the great honor of presenting the Hannah Joy Sullivan Memorial Scholarship to a student at Ouachita Baptist University (our alma mater). We don't choose the student ourselves, but we have specified that the scholarship go to a junior or senior who is majoring in either education or medicine. It will be bittersweet, knowing that Hannah would be starting as a freshman at OBU this fall, but we are looking forward to it. The scholarship was made possible by the gifts of many generous people during and following Hannah's illness. We truly feel humbled that we are able to honor her memory in this way.

I know this post has sort of wandered all over the place tonight. Sorry about that. I actually have several things on my mind I want to share, but they haven't quite "gelled" yet. And it's getting bed is I will save those thoughts for another day. Good night!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Joy Stealers

A few weeks ago I started a series of posts about the topic of joy. Well, it was sort of a series...I've interrupted myself a few times to post about other things. Those posts actually came from a presentation I did for the ladies ministry at Hot Springs Baptist Church back in February. And many of the ideas for that presentation originated with Nancy Guthrie's books. I've mentioned Nancy in several of my previous posts, because I just love her books and have found them to be so helpful as we've traveled our journey. She and her husband have started holding "Respite Retreats" in the Nashville area, where they live. These are weekend retreats for 11 couples at a time, all of whom have lost a child. We have signed up to attend one over Labor Day weekend. We are really looking forward to it...we have found that talking to other people have lost children is one of the most healing things we can do.

But, back to the "joy" topic. I want to share a little more of what I shared with those ladies in February. If you read my last post, you know that even though I have a deep-down joy, I still struggle. And that's because there are several things that can steal my joy if I let them. One of those is anxiety or worry.

I so clearly remember the intense anxiety I felt in the days before Hannah's brain tumor was found. She was having some very strange symptoms..severe headaches and nausea and vomiting in the mornings...but was fine by the evening each day. I remember standing in the pharmacy section at Wal-Mart, seraching through the migraine medications, trying to find something that would ease Hannah's headaches...and being filled with dread and worry that we were not just dealing with migraines. I remember the anxiety I felt as Hannah lay in the MRI machine for the very first time, and the choking feeling in my heart as the doctor showed Hannah and me the picture of the tumor invading her brain.

But I also remember the release of that anxiety and worry as we prayed together as a family that night, placing Hannah's future in God's hands. That anxiety resurfaced many times over the next year, with each MRI and every meeting with the doctors. There were always so many unknowns...and what we did know wasn't good. I finally had to determine, though God's strength, to live by Matthew 6:34: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Our time with Hannah was too precious to spend it worrying about what the next day held.

Anxiety and worry don't solve any of our problems...they simply strangle the joy out of our lives. Jesus offers to carrying our anxiety and worry for us...we just have to be willing to let him. Sometimes we seem to get a strange sort of satisfaction from worrying about things...or maybe that's just me. But Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." And I have found this to be true.

Am I saying that I never have to deal with anxiety or worry? This very day I find myself battling anxiety and worry. This afternoon I am taking Bethany to the doctor for a health concern...something that is apparently fairly common among teenage girls...but after the past two years, any type of problem is a little disconcerting. So yes, the anxiety and worry are there, but I will not let them steal my joy. If God is good all the time (and I believe He is) and if He is in control (and I believe He is), then what do I have to worry about?

One more thing--Former President George W. Bush was in El Dorado, Arkansas, yesterday speaking to the 2010 graduating class, and he closed his speech with the words "God is good all the time." How cool is that? Those of you who followed Hannah's story through our emails know the significance of those words to us!

Friday, April 16, 2010


You know, when I post about joy and miracles, I never want to give the impression that I've got this grief thing all figured out. I do have joy...that deep down, rugged kind of joy I've spoken of, and I do believe that God's will was fulfilled in the very brevity of Hannah's life. But that doesn't mean that I don't struggle daily with the pain of losing my oldest daughter. There are reminders of her absence everywhere and in everything I do. Her bedroom remains the same as I described it in a post several months ago. Her room is at the end of our long hallway, and so I rarely go back there...there's no need. I don't need to make sure she's up in the mornings, there are no clean clothes to bring to her room, and no "tucking in" is necessary. I would like to at least start keeping her bedroom door open, just so it wouldn't be so closed-up and dark back there, but if I do, our dog likes to go hang out under her bed and chew on things she's not supposed to chew on. So her room remains dark and secluded. Her clothes are still hanging in the closet (other than a few items that Bethany took over), her diary is still on the shelf, and her Bible is still beside her bed. Her letter jacket, with "Hannah Joy" on the back and "Class of 2010" on the sleeve, is hanging on her bedpost.

I made the mistake of going into our local party store the other day, on a quest to get balloons to mark the finish line of a 5K race that I was helping with. The store was full of "Class of 2010" graduation party supplies...plates, napkins, hats, blowers, balloons, yard name it, they had it. I just ducked my head, set my jaw, got my errand done, and got out of there! And it's not just me facing these struggles...

Bethany came home from school yesterday and began crying as she told me about an assembly she had attended. It was about the dangers of drinking and driving, and the speaker asked the students to raise their hands if they had a brother or a sister. She said she felt like everyone in the room raised their hands but her, and she didn't know if she should raise her hand or not. Then the speaker asked them to raise their hands if they ever fought with their brother or sister. I know it sounds unbelievable...but Bethany and Hannah really didn't fight. Oh, they picked at each other...mostly just making each other laugh...but they didn't really fight like so many siblings do. Then the speaker asked them how they would feel if they lost their brother or sister. Well, that part just about did her in...I can only imagine how difficult this situation was for her. And last night, as I often do, I held her as she sobbed...she was just missing having her sister to talk to about school, boys, friends...all that kind of stuff that sisters share. I wish I could make it all better for her, but I can't.

Brad is the principal at the school that Hannah attended (and that Bethany does attend), so he has to deal every day with her absence at school. She would often give him a hug between classes, and he would always visit with her at lunch. It's difficult every day for him to walk into that building knowing that she will not be there. I wish I could fix that for him, but I can't. And next Friday is prom...something she would have really been looking forward to. As the high school principal, he should be at the prom, but thankfully, our assistant superintendent has offered to take his place this year. We're going to go to a family reunion next weekend instead, and just kind of get away from the whole thing.

So we struggle. Even though God has given us a tangible peace, and a remarkable understanding of His work through Hannah's life and death...we struggle daily. It's not easy, and it hurts. As I consider these daily struggles, I'm reminded of what Paul says in II Corinthians 12:9-10 after pleading with God to remove his thorn in the flesh, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Delight? Nope...I haven't made it to delight yet...but I am glad I don't have to depend on my own strength to get me through!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I am an avid reader of World magazine, which is basically like Time or Newsweek, but written with a Christian worldview. It is primarily a newsmagazine, but contains some op-ed type pieces as well. This morning, I read an article titled "Age of Miracles" by Janie B. Cheaney. Ms. Cheaney began the article by stating that "though skeptics characterize the Bible as a collection of fairy tales, miraculous events are not that common" and "He can prove that He's the one true God as easily as a man swats a mosquito. Why doesn't He?" She states that the answer to that question may have more to do with who we are than who He is. She points out that the reports of the parting of the Red Sea frightened the residents of Jericho, but only Rahab and her family changed their allegiance because of it. Even when fire fell from heaven and devoured Elijah's altar, the Israelites' zeal didn't last (I Kings 18-19). Cheaney states that the Israelites shouting, "'The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!' had as much staying power as shouting 'USA! USA!' at victorious Olympic events: a feel-good moment that may glow for a week or a month, but won't change a life." She points out that the manner of Christ's conception was known to only two people; His birth to perhaps a dozen; His healing miracles were often performed one-on-one, and often a warning was given to keep it quiet. Even for large miracles like the feeding of the 5,000, probably only a small fraction of those present knew for sure what was happening. The author's overall conclusion was that while the miracles recorded in the Bible meant a great deal to those directly involved, they generally didn't have life-changing effects on many others. Then I went to Sunday School this morning, and would you believe...our Sunday School teacher talked about the fact that in general, miracles don't draw people toward salvation.

It seems like so many times since Hannah's death, I've heard about people who have been miraculously healed of cancer. A tumor has been found, an ominous prognosis has been given, and when the person returns to the doctor for treatment, the cancer is inexplicably gone. And while I'm truly happy for those people and rejoice with them that they don't have to go through radiation and chemotherapy, as I walk away I can't help feeling a little dig of "Why didn't that happen for Hannah?" We and so many others were praying for that kind of healing for her, but it did not happen. During Hannah's illness, so many people made comments like, "What a testimony she will have someday when she is healed." Or, "Maybe God will do a miracle and just think how much glory He will receive through Hannah's life." Well, today I've been wondering...what if Hannah had been miraculously healed, like we so earnestly desired? Would her life have had the same far-reaching effects it has had? Would lives have been changed and people saved? Or would people have just gotten a warm, fuzzy feeling about God, which would soon be forgotten?

I don't know the answer to these questions, and won't know the answers this side of Heaven. But I've got some new things to think about...and I know that in God's sovereignty, His purpose has been fulfilled for Hannah's life. And while we didn't get the miraculous healing we prayed for here on earth, we know she is eternally healed in Heaven. And when it comes down to it, what could be more miraculous than that?

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Paradox

You know, the Christian life is really a paradox....and so is the thought of having joy when your heart is breaking. I love this quote from A. W. Tozer: "A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to Heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge."

Experiencing sorrow does not need to eliminate joy. In fact, I've come to believe that experiencing deep sorrow only broadens our capacity for true joy. For me personally, experiencing deep sorrow has expanded my ability to feel everything deeply. I have felt sadder than I have ever thought possible, sadder than I have ever thought I would be able to survive, but that has prepared me to experience a more satisfying and solid joy than ever before...a durable, "rugged joy", formed through suffering. It is not a joy produced by pleasant is a joy that can only be given by the Holy Spirit in the middle of difficult circumstances.

We have a large dogwood tree in our yard, just off the corner of our deck. In all the springs we've lived in this house, it has bloomed beautifully...covered with gorgeous white blossoms...until last spring. Last spring, that tree hardly bloomed at all. It was the strangest thing...there were only two or three blossoms on the entire tree. It leafed out as usual and seemed healthy all just seemed to skip straight from buds to leaves. It was almost as if that tree was grieving Hannah's passing right along with us. I clearly remember thinking that last year. This spring...well, I took a picture of it today. See for yourself.

What a beautiful picture of renewal! And what a perfect illustration of Psalm 30:5, "Weeping may go on for the night, but joy comes in the morning." Is our weeping over? No...not by a long shot. But there is joy in the morning...Praise God!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy....

OK...back to the topic I started a few posts ago...Joy. Romans 12:12 says, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Sounds like one of those "command" sentences I remember learning about in elementary English class. And remember the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, etc.? Joy is second only to love. Joy comes easy when things are going well for us...but what about when we are going through a time of suffering or heartbreak? And what exactly is joy? Does that mean we are happy all the time?

How many of you sang this song in Sunday School growing up: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart! WHERE? Down in my heart! WHERE? Down in my heart...". You remember it, don't you? I remember we always yelled "WHERE?" as loud as we could. That song had several verses: "I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, down in my heart", "I've got the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer way down in the depths of my heart", and even "And if the Devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack!" Maybe we only sang that last one in my Sunday School, I don't know. Anyway, that song had a bridge...a part that we sang in between those verses...that went like this: "And I'm so happy, so very happy, I've got the love of Jesus in my heart. And I'm so happy, so very happy, I've got the love of Jesus in my heart."

You know, right now, I could sing the "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy" part with sincerity. But, that bridge, the "I'm so happy" part...well, to be honest, I don't always feel happy. As a matter of fact, I'm often very, very sad. My heart has been broken. There are times that I miss my daughter so much I find it hard to sit upright. But even in those moments, there is a deep down joy. In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul says, "Our hearts ache, but we always have joy." It could not be better said. This kind of joy, the kind that doesn't depend on circumstances, can only come from God. We can't manufacture it...we can't just decide we're going to be joyful. But, we can rejoice in the Lord at all times, in any circumstance, because He is who He says He is.

Hebrews 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." As we approach this Easter season, I am so grateful that He endured that cross for me, for Brad, for Bethany, for Hannah, and for you...and that we can share in that joy!

Prayer Request Update

I just wanted to give a quick update on Molly McKim this morning. After traveling all the way to Little Rock and getting partially through pre-op procedures, it was determined that the liver was not healthy enough for transplant. So, for the third time, Molly and her family had to travel home with great disappointment. Please continue to lift them up in your prayers...that God will give them strength for each day and fill them with peace as they await the perfect liver for Molly. Thank you for your prayers...I know from personal experience how much they mean to a hurting family!