Sunday, May 30, 2010

Amazing Grace

Well, graduation is behind us. Friday could probably best be described as a very "heavy" day for us emotionally. All day, the weight of grief was just as present and palpable as it was right after Hannah's homegoing. Brad operated pretty much on autopilot all day while he oversaw the senior breakfast, graduation practice, the senior drive (all the seniors drive their vehicles around and around the school, honking and hollering) and finally, the actual graduation ceremony. He presented the Hannah Sullivan memorial scholarship while encouraging the students to remember what the lessons they learned from Hannah's life: loyal friendship, love for family, and trust in God. Then he called the names of each graduating senior and they came forward and received their diplomas. And somehow he managed to do it with a smile on his face, even as he went through the "S's" without calling Hannah's name. I was so proud of him. One of the teachers told me later that they felt that his ability to do all that was due to "amazing grace", and I couldn't agree more. God's grace can give us strength to do things we would never dream we could do apart from it. The last sixteen months have taught me that and so much more!

Then today we had the opportunity to share our testimony at a church in Arkadelphia. It's been awhile since we've shared, and it was so refreshing. Each time, it seems, the blessing (for us) is greater than the time before. We have several more opportunities coming up this summer, and are looking forward to each one. God has given us a story to share, and we want to make the most of every opportunity we have to do so!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Graduation Eve

On Monday night, we went to our school district's athletic awards banquet. I really thought this would be a "safe" event. Hannah was not involved in athletics, other than being the manager of the girls' basketball team. She was far more interested in academics than athletics. I figured this would be one May event that I could handle without too much trouble. We arrived, and walked up to the front of the room to the tables closest to the stage...the tables that are usually reserved for the faculty and administration. As we were about to find our seats, I saw that these tables were indeed reserved...there were signs on them that said, "Reserved for Parents of Seniors". It was like a physical blow. We immediately (and somewhat awkwardly) backed away from those tables, and went to find another place to sit. Not the best way to start the evening!

We finally settled in, only to watch the senior football players, the senior basketball players, the senior golf players, the senior track athletes, etc., etc. be called up to the stage. As the basketball manager, Hannah would have received a plaque and a monogrammed blanket, and I have a feeling she would have been recognized as an outstanding student athlete. We were very proud to see Bethany recognized as part of the all-district track team (she was not eligible for any other awards since she is still technically a junior high athlete), but we sure missed seeing Hannah walk across the stage.

So tomorrow night is graduation. It has finally arrived. As the high school principal, Brad has traditionally been the person who calls out the students' names as they receive their diplomas. As of today, he still hasn't decided whether or not he'll actually be able to do it this year. He really wants to...He has a real attachment to many of the students in this class, and would very much like to do them the honor of calling out their names. But when he gets to the "S's"...I just don't know. I know I couldn't do it...There's no way I would even try! I'm honestly not sure if I'm even going to be able to stay in the audience. Calling our daughters' names and presenting them with their diplomas is something he has always looked forward to doing. It's going to be a really tough night for him...probably one of the toughest since her death.

We will have the privilege of presenting the Hannah Joy Sullivan memorial scholarship to one of these students tomorrow night. We do not choose the recipient...he or she is chosen by a scholarship committee. It would be impossible for us to do, especially considering that these are Hannah's classmates. We do know who was chosen, though, and we are very pleased. That presentation will be the highlight of the evening for us.

Lately I've seen lots of comments on Facebook from parents whose kids are graduating from high school...or junior high or preschool...and many of them talk about how sad they are to see their kids growing up. And in the fall, there will be comments from people who cry as their kids start kindergarten or middle school or college. Please, please don't waste precious time being sad about your kids growing up. Rejoice with your kids as they reach these milestones in their lives. Make a conscious decision to enjoy every minute you have with them. Every age and every stage is a blessing and a gift from God. Experience each moment in its fullness and in gratefulness to God.

This song by Chris Rice (from the album "What a Heart is Beating For") kind of sums up my feelings today. Hannah may not be able to participate in her earthly graduation, she can still take a bow...

Baby Take Your Bow

We're gonna miss your song and dance
The way you made us laugh
And we're so glad we had the pleasure for a while
But on the other side you'll find a better audience
Just be yourself and you can't help but make the angels smile.

Baby, all the world's a stage
Playwright pens your final page
And then He brings your curtain down
So blow us your kisses and drench our eyes
We'll rise to our feet to wave goodbye for now
So baby, take your bow.

The world is lovlier because you had your moment here
And we could see a friend of Heaven in your face
And in your song we heard the longing for a distant shore
And now your time has come to go, and so be on your way.

Your show is over now
It's time to lay your burdens down
So baby, take a bow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Relay for Life 2010

We had a great experience at our first ever Relay for Life on Friday night. The Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry at our church had a team, and it was quite an amazing experience to see some of our folks who are cancer survivors walk (and ride) in the survivor lap. The luminaries were also incredible to see...and, of course, there was one there for Hannah. We purchased a "photo luminary", which meant that her picture was on the bag and was also included in a slide show as part of the luminary ceremony. As the three of us stood there together looking at her bag and watching the slideshow, the overwhelming feeling we all had was: "We shouldn't be here." It just didn't seem right that we were standing there on the track, in view of the church where Hannah's funeral was held, seeing her picture in an "In Memory" slideshow. It just couldn't be.

But there we were, and it was where we needed to be. And really, we should have been there before now. Until cancer came to our home, we frankly were not that concerned about it. Cancer is an incredibly cruel disease. If Hannah had any vanity (and she did), it was in two areas...her sharp intellect and her thick, curly hair. Cancer stole both of them from her.

I really don't know if there will ever be a cure for cancer. We live in a fallen world; a world corrupted by sin and evil. I pray that it will be cured someday, but I'm just not sure if that is part of God's plan this side of Heaven. Cancer is one of those things that makes Heaven sweeter. But I do know that because of the efforts of the American Cancer Society (who gets the money raised from Relay for Life) and other organizations, there are many more survivors than there used to be. And I am so thankful for the improvements that have been made in cancer treatments over the years. As difficult as the treatments are today, they are not nearly as grueling as what patients went through even a decade ago. I am grateful for all those who traveled this path before us, leading to advances in radiation and chemotherapy which certainly extended Hannah's life.

I believe that Relay for Life will become an annual family tradition for us...but we will always remember this first one as something special!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sisters & Daughters

When I was pregnant with Bethany, I had a conversation with my mom that has always stuck in my memory. I was telling her how I was hoping this baby would be a boy, since I already had a girl, and I had always wanted at least a boy and a girl. Of course, I included the requisite, "But of course, as long as the baby's healthy, it doesn't really matter if it's a boy or a girl"...but I really was hoping for a boy. And my mother said, "Everybody always thinks they want a boy and a girl, but really, for the kids, it's nicer if they're both girls or both boys." Well, I thought about that a little bit, and realized that she was right. I have two sisters...and always felt like I missed out on something not having a sister (No offense, TJ and Steve)! My mother has such a great relationship with her sisters, and my dad's sisters are very close. And so, right then and there, I decided I wanted my second baby to be a if my wishing would make any difference!

When an ultrasound confirmed that my baby was indeed a girl, I was thrilled. I thought about how much fun it would be to call them "the girls", to dress them in matching outfits, to fix their hair...all those fun things. And it was wonderful. I loved having two girls...and I couldn't have asked for closer sisters. Bethany misses her sister terribly, but I'm so thankful for the time they had together.

And now, today, I'm so thankful that I have a daughter. On Monday of this week, we took a mother/daughter day. Bethany had a free day out of school coming to her...a reward for scoring well on the Benchmark last year...and she took it on Monday, which also happens to be my day off. She slept in (what good is a day out of school without sleeping in?) and then we went out for a yummy Mexican lunch in Hot Springs. After lunch, we went to a spa and had a Mother's Day present! I think the mother/daughter massage thing is going to have to become a Mother's Day was soooo nice. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping together.

One thing that really makes me sad about Hannah not being here is that we were just on the verge of a changing relationship...from mother/daughter to friend/friend. She would be 18 now, and about to graduate from high school. Of course, we would always be mother and daughter, but as she grew closer to adulthood, I believe our relationship would have evolved into an awesome friendship as well. Bethany and I are still in the mother/daughter stage, as evidenced by our time in the fitting room the other day. We still have the discussions about the shortness of her shorts and the appropriateness of her swimwear. But I look forward to the day when we will be friends, in addition to being mother and daughter. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have as my best friend!

Friday, May 14, 2010

. . . . .

I find myself at a loss for words tonight.

We run at such a frenzied pace all week long...especially at this time of year. The life of a high school principal in a small town in spring consists of softball games, baseball games, track meets, choir concerts, band concerts, academic awards banquets, FFA banquets, athletic banquets, school plays, booster club meetings, school board meetings, etc., etc. We find ourselves having to "stuff" our emotions a lot...just because we're always getting ready for the next event. Who has time for an emotional breakdown when you've got a banquet to go to? And who wants to be seen at a banquet with red eyes and a puffy face? Especially when it's a banquet where your daughter quite possibly would have been honored as the valedictorian of her class...people might think you're "not doing good". So you choke down the tears, clench your jaw, put on your brave face, and soldier on. The next day there is something else to push through, and the next day, and the next. Finally you come to an evening like tonight. An evening with nowhere to go, and nothing to "be". You can only keep that emotion down for so long, and then it has to come out. And it's refreshing. Not right away...I have to sleep it off overnight when I have an evening like this...but I have learned from experience that tomorrow will be a better day.

Adding to my funk tonight is the news that one of our dear friends in the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry will be starting hospice care next week. I've shared a little bit about her before...we met her a few months after Hannah was diagnosed, just as she was beginning her battle with ovarian cancer. She and her husband had moved to Arkansas from Indiana and built a pretty little log cabin in the woods...their dream retirement home. It was not too long after that when cancer struck. She is a precious lady, who has inspired many of us with her positive attitude and trust in God, in spite of her declining health over the past several months. She has been fully aware of her prognosis, and has chosen to live her life filled with the joy of the Lord. While my heart aches for her family (and for myself...I will miss her), I am happy that her long, difficult battle appears to be drawing to a close. She will be welcomed into Heaven with a hearty, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!" What could be sweeter than that?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Cancer Prayer

I have never posted twice in one day...much less twice in one evening. But I read this poem tonight on Jake Love's CaringBridge site and had to share it. I can relate to every single line of it. Jake is a little guy from Conway who has been battling brain cancer, and they just found out today that his cancer has spread to his spine. I've not met this family, but have been following their story for awhile...Please lift Jake and his family up in your prayers, and check out his website at

A Cancer Prayer
by Stephen R. Chance

Dear God, we have prayed often for you to rid our child's body of cancer and never let it come back. We have prayed often for you to spare his body the harsh effects of the treatments he must endure. We have prayed for mercy and strength. But we have not yet prayed for the things about cancer we would like to keep.

Please let us keep the love that has been laid bare and that binds our family, our friends, and our community.

Please let us keep our preference to be together.

Please let us keep our appreciation for simple pleasures.

Please let us keep our ability to not sweat the small stuff.

Please let us keep our tolerance for each other's mistakes.

Please let us keep our focus on each other's needs.

Please let us keep our patient smiles responsive to normal childhood conflicts rather than the irritation that could so easily ensue.

Please let us keep our tendency to treat others tenderly knowing that we don't know all the heartbreaks they have felt.

Please let us keep the ease with which new acquaintances become good friends.

Please let us keep our enhanced appreciation for nature.

Please let us keep our motivation to live vigorously now rather than planning to live later.

Please let us keep our calling to help others fight cancer with better weapons and smarter generals.

Please let us keep our need to reciprocate the wonderfully kind favors we have received.

Please let us keep the strength to press on when faced with other illnesses, deaths, and human tragedies.

Please let us keep You at the center of our lives during good times, too.


Mother's Day Reflections

What a difference a year can make. Last Mother's Day was difficult...actually torturous...for me. We spent the day last year in Mountain Home, visiting my parents, and watching my two precious nieces, Julia and Katie, be dedicated in church. It was all very nice, and we enjoyed spending time with them, but the constant reverberation of "Happy Mother's Day" in the air was extraordinarily painful. As much as I tried, I just couldn't find anything "happy" about that day. I felt so incomplete without Hannah beside me. The church service felt interminably long, and dinner at the restaurant afterward was excruciating. It was during that dinner that my brother told me about finding Hannah's post on Facebook (written about a month before her diagnosis): "This world has nothing for me...I will live for Him." That pretty much did me in completely. I couldn't wait to get in the car headed back home and finally release all of those pent-up emotions.

Today, my overwhelming emotion has been gratitude. Gratitude for my wonderful husband, who is always so supportive and loving, no matter what kind of day I'm having. Gratitude for my precious daughter, Bethany, who gives the best hugs in the world, and is never embarrassed to tell me she loves me. Gratitude for the 17 1/2 years I had with Hannah, and the wonderful memories of the time we had together. Gratitude for my godly mother and mother-in-law, and the legacy of godly mothers before them. My heart has been at peace today, and I've welcomed the "Happy Mother's Day" greetings. It's been a difficult day for many friends, though...I know several moms who are going through their first Mother's Day without one of their children (one who lost her only child), and several friends who are going through their first Mother's Day without their moms. I have one friend who is going through her first Mother's Day without her husband. And I really feel for them, because it is so, so hard. But I guess my message today is that, over time, it does get better. There is hope and comfort in the Lord.

"Sing for joy, Oh heavens, and exult, Oh earth; break forth, Oh mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on his afflicted." Isaiah 49:13

Friday, May 7, 2010


I think I've mentioned before how much I hate to cry in front of people. Well, nobody does...I realize that...but I almost have a phobia about it. It would be one thing if I could cry like my husband or my friend Susan...basically just silent, free-flowing tears...but that's not how it works for me. The first thing that happens to me, before the tears even start, is that my voice chokes completely off, rendering me speechless. Then I basically stop breathing, my face contorts into a grimace, and finally the tears start. When I realize that I'm running out of air, I try to inhale quietly, but it usually comes out as a strangled sob. So I end up holding my breath again, to try to prevent that, and it turns into a vicious cycle. It can be rather ugly. So, all my life, I have tried to avoid emotion-provoking situations.

Well, that's been impossible to do over the past 2+ years since Hannah was diagnosed with cancer. I still try to avoid potentially emotional situations when I can, but since basically anything can turn into an emotional situation these days, I can't avoid them all! While Hannah was sick, I became pretty much an expert at "steeling" myself. During our numerous hospital stays, when we were together in a very small room 24 hours a day, I had to be able to hold myself together. On all those drives back and forth to Little Rock, Brad and I had to contain our emotion. She always watched our reactions very closely, and if we handled things calmly and peacefully, she did too. If our emotions did escape in front of her, she would tell us, "Mom, Dad...don't cry...I'm going to be fine." And today, she is fine...much better than fine, actually! But, we are still left to grapple with our emotions.

The next three weeks are going to be filled with situations I would much prefer to avoid. This Sunday is Mother's Day...the second since my oldest daughter went to Heaven. This marks the first major holiday that we've had a "second" of. Hard to believe that much time has passed. Monday night is the Magnet Cove academic awards banquet. This banquet was always the highlight of Hannah's school year. She took great pride in her academic achievements...possibly too much! I really think she would have been more excited about this banquet than she would have been about prom...that's just the way she was. I skipped this event last year, and was planning to skip it again this year (avoidance, you know) but Bethany has received an invitation, meaning she is going to get some sort of award. So, I'm going...I am planning to take my own vehicle, though, in case I need to make a hasty exit!

Next Sunday is Senior Recognition Day at church, where all the graduates wear their regalia and come up to the front during the service. There's a slideshow with pictures of each graduate as they were growing up, and they tell about their plans for the future. We've been asked to submit some pictures of Hannah, so she will be recognized in some way during the service. Definitely an emotion-provoking situation.

The next weekend is Relay for Life, which I'm sure will be an emotional time. I am actually looking forward to it, though, because it's going to be a great opportunity to get word out around our community about the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry. I'm not so sure about staying up all night...but I think I can do it!

The following weekend, May 28th, is our high school graduation. That's going to be the toughest event of all. I actually don't want to avoid it completely...I just wish I could watch it in my own private press box. Brad is the high school principal, and he traditionally calls out the names of the graduating seniors. I'm just not sure if he's going to be able to do that this year. There's been some talk among the students about having an empty chair with a rose on it where Hannah would be sitting. Hannah's goal was to be valedictorian of her class, and she probably would have achieved it had she not gotten sick. It will be tough to listen to the student speeches that night, knowing how much she wanted to be one of those speakers. I'm going to get lots of practice trying not to cry that night!

But here's the important as all these things were to her when she was here, and as important as they seem to be to us now....they are nothing....nothing in light of eternity. Even though I am sad that Hannah is not here to be a part of all of this, I know that she is where she was created to the presence of her Lord and Savior. And the Bible tells us that our tears will be redeemed: "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126:5-6). So, as I choke my way through those tears this month, I choose to rest in that promise of joy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Quite Possibly the Longest Post Ever...

So...there's your fair warning. This could potentially be a very long post, because it's been a very long week. I've gotten myself comfortable on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table, and my laptop on my lap. Actually, it's not my's Hannah's. It was a gift for her 17th birthday from all of her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. And what a wonderful gift it was...she was able to use it when she didn't feel well enough to sit at the desktop computer, I used it to send the hundreds of emails I sent when she was in treatment, and I use it now to write my blog posts (and check my Facebook, skype with brother in Indonesia, and a great number of other things). Everytime I open it up, her name appears on the opening screen, and that makes me smile. But I digress...

The week began last Sunday with a prophecy conference at our church. The speaker was Jimmy DeYoung of the Day of Discovery program, and he was very interesting and informative. He preached the Sunday morning service, and then two hours each on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights. We attended every service. He believes that church will be raptured, the tribulation will take place over the next seven years, Christ will return, He will reign for 1000 years, then the existing heaven and earth will be destroyed and replaced with the new heaven and the new earth. He says that every prophecy leading up to the rapture has been fulfilled, and that the rapture could take place at any moment. Now, I am no theologian, and I know there are many schools of thought on this subject. There are the pre-, the post-, and the a-millenialists. I have always considered myself a "pan-millenialist"...I think it'll all pan out in the end. I have never been all that concerned about the end times, because I know that God is in control. No matter what I think about it, what's going to happen is going to happen according to His perfect timetable. But there are two things I came away with from this prophecy conference.

1. Time for a bit of honesty...Over the years, I've heard many end-times type sermons where the speaker says that the rapture could happen anytime. And I would listen, and I knew that the "Sunday School" response was, "Yes...Come Lord Jesus!", but deep down I would think, "I hope it's not too soon. After all, I want to graduate from high school/finish college/get married/have kids/see my kids grow up/have grandkids, etc." But not this time. My attachment to life here has gotten sooo much looser, and I would welcome the rapture at absolutely any moment...I can now say with enthusiasm, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

2. If our time on earth is indeed short (and it is, even if the rapture doesn't happen for another 1,000 years!), then we need to be about God's business. Brad and I are feeling a greater and greater urgency to share the testimony God has given us over the past two years. We feel that He has given us a story to tell through Hannah's storm, and we want to be faithful to do that. Up until now, we have not actively pursued opportunities to speak...we have just accepted the opportunities that have been offered to us. We are prayerfully considering now how we might begin to be more proactive in that area. Our pastor told us that when we reach the point where we feel we are wasting time on Sundays when we're not sharing at a church, that's a sign that we need to be seeking opportunities. We are rapidly reaching that point. Please pray with us as we seek guidance in this area.

So that was Sunday through Tuesday of this week (I told you this was going to be a long post)! On Wednesday night, we were blessed with the opportunity to share our testimony with the youth of Glen Rose Missionary Baptist Church, about 20 minutes from our home. It was a great evening, and although I left early to attend my friend's husband's visitation, Brad and Bethany were able to stay and visit with several of the young people and the pastor's family there.

Thursday was the state track meet for 3A high schools. Bethany had qualified for state high jump competition by placing second in the district meet. This was a big accomplishment, as she is just a freshman. We worked most of the day, then headed to Prescott to watch the competition. Most of the other jumpers were juniors and seniors, so we were very proud of Bethany when she placed fifth by jumping 4'10". Only two girls cleared 5'0" (the winning jump was 5'4"), but Bethany had several "misses", which dropped her to fifth. I wish I could claim the picture below, but it was taken by someone on our school yearbook staff...and wasn't actually taken at the state track meet...I just wanted to add a little visual aid to this part of the post. My feeble attempts to photograph Bethany jumping have been complete failures, so I've given up!

After watching the high jump competition, we drove up to Brad's brother's house in Arkadelphia, where we hurriedly changed clothes before heading to Ouachita Baptist University. Thursday night was OBU's academic awards banquet, and we were on the program to present the Hannah Sullivan memorial scholarship. This was potentially a highly emotional and difficult event for us, knowing that Hannah would have been enrolling as a freshman at OBU this fall. We were met there by a young lady named Keisha from the development office, who served as our companion for the evening. She is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed just a month after Hannah. I had a wonderful time visiting with her (you can read more about her story at if you like). It's interesting how quickly you can bond with someone who has experienced a cancer journey similar to yours. And then, as we entered the serving line, we were introduced to the recipient of Hannah's scholarship, and the evening continued to brighten up. We don't have anything to do with the recipient selection process, and until that moment we didn't know who had been selected. But as we met Brandi Hughes and her husband Matt, we were amazed by their story, and I'm going to share a little bit of it (with their permission).

They are from Malvern, our neighboring town, and Brandi is a student at OBU, planning to be a science teacher. While she's been going to school, Matt has been working on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico...yes, that oil platform...the one that exploded a couple of weeks ago and is now producing the huge oil slick. He told us a harrowing tale of explosions and flames and falling 90 feet from the platform into the ocean. He sustained some rather severe injuries in the fall, and is currently wheelchair bound, although a full recovery is expected. He freely spoke of his faith and how God was with him on that hellish night. Just another example of how fragile life is, and how everything can change in a single moment. We felt so privileged to be able to give a scholarship in Hannah's memory to this couple.

And that brings us to last night, when I laid on this very couch, watched a dvr'd episode of Monk and read my book. My idea of a perfect evening after a week full of activities, but also full of blessings.

So maybe this wasn't my longest post ever...but I think it's close!