Monday, June 28, 2010

If God is Good... (Part 2)

This is the book I'll be referring to a lot in the next couple of posts. As I said last time, I'm no theologian, so I'm happy to defer to Randy Alcorn on most of what I'll be sharing. I want to be sure it's clear that these thoughts are not original with me. Some of what he says is hard to hear, but I think there's real value in it.

A Barna poll asked, "If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?" The most common response was, "Why is there pain and suffering in the world?" John Stott says, "The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God's justice and love." The problem of evil in the world is sometimes used as the "ultimate trump card" to argue against the Christian faith. Atheists often use this argument to "prove" that God does not exist.

Now here's the statement from Randy (I think I've read enough of his books to be on a first-name basis with him!) that really struck me: A faith that leaves us unprepared for suffering is a faith that deserves to be lost. He quotes John Piper: "Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. And wimpy Christians won't survive the days ahead." Then he quotes Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl: "Just as the small fire is extinguished by the storm whereas a large fire is enhanced by it, likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them." He says that when people lose their faith because of suffering, it's usually a weak or nominal faith that doesn't account for or prepare them for evil or suffering, and that any faith not based on the truth needs to be lost.

Here come the big guns....He says, "If you base your faith on lack of affliction, your faith lives on the brink of extinction and will fall apart because of a frightening diagnosis or a shattering phone call. Token faith will not survive suffering, nor should it. Losing your faith may be God's gift to you. Only when you jettison ungrounded and untrue faith can you replace it with valid faith in the true God--faith that can pass, and even find strength in, the most formidable of life's tests."

Whew! Food for thought, huh? That's enough for one night...More to follow on another day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

If God Is Good...

On the day we found out Hannah had a brain tumor, I sent an email to a few close friends and family members letting them know the news and requesting prayer for our family. This email was the first of over one hundred that were sent out during her year-long battle with cancer. (See "Hannah's Story in Emails" over in the right-hand column.) These emails were forwarded many times over, resulting in prayer for our family literally around the world. I always closed my emails with the words "God is good, all the time". I believed those words then, and I still believe them now.

So I was intrigued when I found a book by Randy Alcorn titled "If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil". I am an avid reader, and Randy Alcorn is one of my favorite authors ever. He's written several excellent fiction books including "Deadline", "Dominion", and my personal favorite, "Safely Home". In his fiction works, there is always at least one character who dies, but whose story is continued from their perspective in Heaven. Fascinating stuff. He's also written several non-fiction books, including "Heaven", which can only be described as a tome. It's extremely well-researched, very deep theologically, and extremely long. I started reading it when Hannah entered hospice care, and just couldn't get through it all. There's a much more manageable version called "Fifty Days of Heaven", which is basically the same book divided into fifty daily readings. Brad and I both read it in the days after Hannah's death, and he is currently re-reading it. There's also a version called "Heaven for Kids", which is fantastic for children who are seeking an understanding of Heaven. Bethany and her cousins read it after Hannah went to Heaven, and I think it was really helpful for them.

So back to "If God is Good". Before Hannah's illness, I was so very insulated from the pain in the world. One visit to the Hematology/Oncology clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital ended that. During our year there, we met so many suffering children and families. And as I follow Jedidiah Harper's cancer journey (see "Harper House--Jedidiah's Testimony" in the column on the right), I am amazed that I don't know any of the people Jed's mom has met since they've been going there. That can only mean that many, many more families have started their own cancer journeys over the past year and four months...and many others' journeys have ended. If God is good...why do children get cancer?

A couple of weeks ago a sudden heavy rainstorm hit southwest Arkansas in the middle of the night, just a couple of counties over from where we live. It resulted in a flash flood which swept like lightning through a popular camping area, washing away twenty lives along with it. Many of those lost were children, and some families lost multiple members. It took several days for all the victims to be found, as their families waited in agony. If God is could lives be torn apart in this way?

We were at the Gulf Coast a few weeks ago and visited with several people whose way of life is about to be dramatically changed by the oil spill. Their livelihood, their future, their very identities are intimately tied to what happens to in the Gulf. If God is could He allow a disaster of this magnitude to continue unabated?

There are so many more examples. If God is can He sit back while people in Haiti suffer; how can He allow young men and women to be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; how can people suffer from incurable diseases like ALS and multiple sclerosis; how can terrorists strap on bombs and detonate them in crowded marketplaces?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but this is the topic that Randy Alcorn addresses in his book. And over my next several posts, I want to share with you what I'm learning as I've been reading his book. I'm no theologian--not by a long shot--but what he says rings true to me, and hopefully it will be of help to you as you face whatever your personal storm happens to be. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thoughts on Cancer, Death, and Heaven

What a morbid title this would be for a post...if not for that last word, right? It's that last word that makes the other two words bearable.

Yesterday afternoon I visited two ladies who are very close to Heaven. Both of them have been a part of the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry over the last year, and both of them have been encouragement to so many people, in spite of (or maybe because of) their illness. One of these ladies said to me yesterday, "You definitely chose the right name for the cancer ministry...If we didn't have hope, where would we be? That hope has really been my anchor." What a testimony from someone who is facing imminent death, unless God should choose to perform a miraculous healing in her life.

While I was visiting these two precious ladies, Brad was visiting a family in our community who had just lost a husband/father to glioblastoma, the same kind of cancer Hannah had. This man had lived almost two and a half years with this disease, practically an eternity in glioblastoma time. He had his initial brain surgery the same day that Hannah experienced her first symptoms, Valentine's Day of 2008. One of his daughters, a former classmate of Hannah's, once asked Hannah at school if she was scared about her cancer, and Hannah replied that no, she wasn't. Her mom told Brad that this simple statement from Hannah had really been an encouragement to her daughter as she watched her father battle the same cancer. This gentleman kept a picture of Hannah in his workshop, and now he has joined her in Heaven.

Last night was our Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry support group meeting, and we had a couple of new members there. One was a dear, sweet lady who shared how she was diagnosed with liver cancer and was told by her doctor that she was "terminal." She said that was fine with her...she'd just get to see Jesus sooner. As soon as she came home from the hospital after surgery, she began giving away all of her belongings...her car, her clothes, her furniture...figuring she wouldn't need them anymore. That was almost two years ago. She went on to share about how she witnesses to everyone around her at every doctor's appointment and every scan. One of the other members of the group remarked that apparently God had lots more people for her to witness to!

The other new lady who was there is a multiple-year breast cancer survivor, and made this statement, "Cancer is the 'best worst' thing that ever happened to me." She went on to explain how having cancer had completely changed her life, for the better. She also shared how her own mother had lived for 23 years following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and a prognosis of three weeks to three months to live. Her one regret was that she was not with her mother when she died...she was on a mission trip and was unable to get home.

On the way home from our meeting, I thought about some regrets I have surrounding Hannah's death. I can honestly say (and I am so happy to be able to say) that I have no regrets about her life...we had a wonderful family life and have so many great memories of time spent together. There's nothing I would go back and change about the life we had together. There are some regrets I have about the last year of her life, though. I regret that for a long time we really didn't understand how very sick she was...that we made her go to school, even when she didn't feel well (although she was the one who insisted on going most of the time). I regret that we never had any deep conversations about what she was thinking and feeling as her health deteriorated. She was a very private person and never was one to share her feelings, and we were also very careful never to let her think that we had "given up" on her healing. By the time it became apparent that her healing could only come from a miracle, she was unable to have that conversation anymore. I regret that I didn't spend more time just lying in bed with her and holding her in those last days--even though she was 17 years old. In my head I know that she wouldn't have liked that, though...she liked her personal space, and didn't even like to be rocked as a baby. And I regret that she suffered unnecessary discomfort in her last 48 hours due to an oversight by the nursing staff at the hospice center.

But...these things that seem to be such a big deal to me are nothing...nothing! her. When I do find my mind drifting toward these things, I can almost hear her saying, "C'mon, Mom, it's fine. Don't worry about it. I'm great!" And she is. I recently downloaded a song by Mandisa (a former American Idol contestant...Hannah could tell you which season) called "You Wouldn't Cry". Take a look at the lyrics as you consider the awesomeness (is that a word?) of Heaven for a moment:

All you saw was pain
All you saw was rain
But you should see me now
Moments filled with tears
Lasted all those years
Disappeared somehow
You never said goodbye
On your knees you cry
You're still asking why, but

Blue has never been bluer
True has never been truer
Honey never tasted so sweet
There's a song in the breeze
A million voices in praise
A rose has never smelled redder
The sun has never been brighter
If I could find the right words to say
If you could look at my face
If you could just see this place
You wouldn't cry for me today

What you think you see
Isn't really me
I'm already home
You've got to lay it down
'Cause Jesus holds me now
And I am not alone
Your faith is wearing thin
But I am watching Him
And He's holding you, too

What may see like years will just be a moment
Oh, the day will come
When I'll show you where you're going
I can't wait to show you that

Blue has never been bluer
True has never been truer
Honey never tasted so sweet
There's a song in the breeze
A million voices in praise
A rose has never smelled redder
The sun has never been brighter
If I could find the right words to say
If you could look at my face
If you could just see this place
You wouldn't cry for me today.

We were really very blessed that we knew Hannah's death was approaching. Even though she couldn't talk back to us, we were able to tell her good-bye and how much we loved her. I can't imagine the pain for those who don't have the privilege to have those kind of last moments with their loved ones. All I do know is that in Heaven, God will make everything right again, and until then, He is holding us in His hands. He truly is our Anchor of Hope!

Stained glass window from Oyster Bay Baptist Church in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where we shared our testimony on June 6th

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Weekend of Reunions

We spent last weekend in southern Arkansas...El Dorado, to be exact...attending Brad's 25th high school reunion. Brad grew up there, and our family lived there for 4 1/2 years. El Dorado sometimes gets a bad rap, and it does have its share of problems (as does any city), but we enjoyed living there, and really have some great memories of our time there. The kids were the perfect ages at that time...between toddlerhood and tweenhood...and they have always considered El Dorado as the place "they grew up". (Even though they were only 12 and 9 when we left there!)

There are some really nice things about El Dorado (correctly pronounced "Elduhrayduh"...all one word!). My personal favorite is the Spudnuts! Ordinarily, I wouldn't give you a nickel for a plain glazed donut...add a little chocolate and a few sprinkles and we'll talk...but Spudnuts are like no other donut you've ever tasted. A hot Spudnut will absolutely melt in your mouth. So, of course, we had to get some while we were there. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that we got two dozen! Well, we had to have enough for Saturday morning and Sunday morning....

El Dorado is known as "Arkansas' Original Boom Town" because of its history of oil production. The town square is decorated with barrels, painted and shaped in all kinds of fun designs.

They even have working telephone booths! Here's Bethany pretending she's starring in the Matrix...

But, back to the reunions. We attended El Dorado Class of 1985 events on Friday night and a good part of the day and evening on Saturday. I was relegated to this status...

...which I didn't mind a bit! I know a lot of Brad's classmates since we lived there for so long, and it was nice getting caught up with them. Some of them I hadn't met, though, and it was interesting (and humbling) to see their faces light up with recognition as they said, "You're Hannah's Mom!" I was amazed at how many people had been praying for us...even from as far away as South Africa! The family of God is everywhere!

We had another reunion, of sorts, while we were in El Dorado. We had the opportunity to share our testimony at St. Paul United Methodist, the church Brad attended from birth until he went to college. Again, it was great to see some folks we had not seen for many years and it was humbling to talk to all the people who had prayed for us during our cancer journey. Several of Brad's former classmates attended the service as well, which made it even more special.

After church, we had another reunion...this time with three of Hannah's former classmates. These three girls were Hannah's best friends when we lived in El Dorado, and their friendship truly stood the test of time. These girls came to visit her when she was sick, and even came to see her at the hospice center, when she was barely even able to communicate with them anymore. I thought that was extremely brave of them...I don't think I could have done it. These three girls graduated from high school this year, and are all going off to different colleges, one in Arkansas, one in Tennessee, and one in Texas. I couldn't help but wonder if it would be the last time we would be with all three of these girls together. And I couldn't help but think about how much Hannah would have enjoyed visiting with them.

Our final "reunion" of the weekend was with our old house. As we always do when we're in El Dorado, we drove past all of our old stomping grounds and took some pictures. We took a couple pictures of our old house, drove around the block, and as we drove back past the house, we were waved down by the current homeowner. We obediently pulled over and opened the car window. The gentleman was actually quite angry and wanted to know why we were taking pictures of his house. We explained to him who we were, and were relieved when recognition dawned on his face. He then asked us if we wanted to come in and see the inside of the house. My initial reaction was to shake my head (I'm an avoider, remember?), but Brad and Bethany enthusiastically said, "Yes!" So we all piled out of the car and went into the house. And it was like stepping into a time warp...other than the furniture, nothing had changed. Paint colors, wallpaper, borders, the was all the same. I even noticed a couple of thumbtacks I had used to hang up some of the girls' school papers in the sunroom...still there. It was like we had never left. As Bethany explained to the homeowners how she and Hannah used to talk to each other through the vents in their floors when we sent them to their rooms for misbehavior, I floated through the memories that still clung to everything in that house. By the time we left, I was having a hard time holding it together, and all three of us lost it when we got into the car.

Our comfort is found, though, in John 14: 2-3: "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." As much as we miss living in our earthly house with Hannah, we will be able to spend eternity in the Father's house with her! And it's going to be so much better than we can even imagine! Now that is a reunion I am looking forward to!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vacation Ramblings...

On our way to the beach last week, we had the unique opportunity to be interviewed on a Gulf Shores talk radio station. The night before we left, we made all the arrangements...the talk show host would call my cell phone at 8:00 in the morning. Since we were leaving home at 5:00 a.m., we knew we'd have plenty of time to prepare on the way. Everything was going along fine until it was about time to get the call, and we realized that we had absolutely no cell phone service. At that particular time, we were traveling through the delta of Louisiana, and were going through the tiny community of Transylvania. Who knew there was even such a place as Transylvania, Louisiana?

We kept rolling down the highway, and as soon as we detected the tiniest bit of a signal, we pulled off the road and called in to the station. We finally were able to start the interview (it was about 8:15 by this time) and although we lost our signal a couple of times, we managed to get through it. Bethany and Kristin had been asleep in the back seat, and when the motion of the car stopped and they heard us talking loudly on the phone, they woke up. You know how teenage girls (and sometimes even adult women) can get the giggles for no apparent reason? As they looked out the windows, trying to figure out what was going on, they saw that we were sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere next to "Mom and Pop's Produce" and started getting tickled. And then, when they saw Mom and Pop, actually working in the garden beside the stand, they really set them off. I thought I was going to have to kick them out of the car for a few minutes, but they finally pulled it together! Even with all the bumps, this interview was really an exciting way to share God's goodness through Hannah's story.

We had another great oppportunity to share while we were Oyster Bay Baptist Church in Gulf Shores. Brad's former baseball coach from OBU attends that church, and that is how this speaking opportunity came about. We came away feeling very blessed and encouraged after visiting with the staff and members there. They had been praying for us throughout Hannah's illness, so it felt like we already knew each other. It's pretty cool how the family of God is matter where you go!

It was also nice to get caught up with Coach Barrett. He and his wife taught our Sunday School class when we were college students, about five years after they lost their oldest son to neuroblastoma. We got an up-close look at a couple who had experienced a devastating loss and come out the other side. They were just the first of several couples God placed in our lives over the years...people who have lost children and not only survived, but thrived. We never suspected at that time what an impact their examples would have upon our lives as we faced a storm of our own.

The time on the beach was great too. It was a very interesting time to be on the gulf coast, with all the oil spill chaos going on. Idyllic scenes like this...

were intermingled with scenes like this....

It was really strange to see these guys with their heavy rubber boots and gloves walking around in the midst of all the people in bikinis and bare feet. We did run into a few of the infamous tar balls one day. We were coming in from a sand bar just off the regular beach (where we found 57 sand dollars, by the way) when we saw some of them floating in the water. I picked one up and squeezed it between my thumb and forefinger. When it smeared, I rubbed my hands together to try to get it off....and the more I rubbed, the "smearier" it got. I tried scraping it off in the wet sand to no avail. I finally had to go inside and scrub it off with soap. I'm sure there's a spiritual application here...something about how just a little "pinch" of sin can work its way deeper and deeper into your we can't get it out by desperately we need cleansing...I'll let you complete the analogy!

We were so grateful for the opportunity to get away and have some time to recharge and relax together as a family. We arrived home last night, and are leaving again this afternoon...heading to El Dorado for Brad's 25th high school reunion. He has a very unique graduating class, in that they've stayed very close over the years. As a matter of fact, during Hannah's illness and after her death, his former class members surrounded us with love and support, even giving Hannah some very generous presents for her 17th birthday. We're looking forward to spending time this weekend getting caught up with some old friends, and having the opportunity to express our appreciation for all they've done for our family. We're also excited about sharing our testimony at St. Paul United Methodist Church on Sunday morning. This is the church where Brad grew up, and it will be a real blessing to be able to share with them. And...if you've followed my blog for any length of also know I am excited about eating some hot Spudnuts tomorrow morning!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago today I received one of the greatest blessings of my daughter, Bethany. I can't even begin to express the amount of joy she brings to our lives. She has an outgoing, fun-loving personality...pretty much the opposite of me, actually. She definitely got that from her dad, along with her athletic ability. She's had a difficult path to walk over the past couple of years...sometimes she feels very alone, because there's really no one in her life who truly understands what she's experienced. There are just not very many kids her age who have lost a sibling. She does have a good friend named Kristin, who was really there for her throughout Hannah's illness.

During the final ten days or so of Hannah's life, Kristin's mom brought her to Little Rock every evening (about an hour's drive each way) so Bethany could spend some time with her friend each day. What an amazing blessing that was! It was great for Bethany to be able to decompress with a friend during those extraordinarily difficult days.

Right now, we are enjoying some much-anticipated vacation time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Kristin is spending the week with us, and we are really enjoying her company. We had some rainy, chilly weather for the first few days of our trip, but today dawned bright and beautiful...not a cloud in the sky. And not a tar ball on the beach, either, by the way. We've had lots of Coast Guard helicopters flying over, and we've seen some official-looking people on the beach, but so far, so good. It is so beautiful will be a real tragedy if the oil does come in.

Tonight, we drove to Pensacola to eat at Outback Steakhouse to celebrate Bethany's birthday. We kind of hated to eat somewhere we could go in Hot Springs, but over the years, it's become sort of a family tradition to go to Outback on, of course, we had to go there. On the way, we stopped and got Bethany's birthday iPhone! She was sooooo excited. Hope we can get her back out on the beach! (-: Enjoy the pics....

Thursday, June 3, 2010


When I was a little girl, my most prized possession was a tacklebox full of plastic farm animals. Yes, that's what I said...a tacklebox full of plastic farm animals. As a matter of fact, I loved this tacklebox so much I always kept it by my bedroom door so that if there was ever a fire in my house, I could grab it on my way out the door. (My mother is laughing as she reads this.) It was a big green tacklebox, and after you opened the lid, you could grab the top tray, lift it up, and suddenly you had three levels of little compartments. I thought that was quite a feat of engineering. And in those little compartments, I kept all my plastic farm animals. I had compartments for horses, compartments for pigs, compartments for cows, compartments for sheep, compartments for chickens...separated, of course, by mamas and babies, spotted cows and solid-color cows, brown horses and black horses, etc. And down in the bottom part of the tacklebox, I kept all my little plastic fence pieces. I would spend hours playing with those little animals, and then meticulously put each one back into its place. I don't remember how old I was when I finally stopped playing with my tacklebox of animals...but I've never lost my love of compartments. I love roll-top desks with all their little cubbyholes and drawers, and the Container Store is one of my favorite places to shop.

I like for everything in my life to be in its place. And up until February of 2008, my tacklebox was in perfect order. All the little pieces were exactly where I wanted them to nice, neat compartments where they belonged. And then cancer came along, turned my tacklebox upside down, and shook everything out. And even now, 16 months later, I'm still picking the pieces up off the floor. Some days I feel like I'm making lots of progress...and some days I feel like the pieces keep slipping out of my hands. I'm so thankful that my Heavenly Father is with me to help me pick everything up and put it back where it is supposed to go. And I can tell that He's not putting all the pieces back in the same little compartments...and I think that's a good thing.

"And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new..." Revelation 21:5