Thursday, July 29, 2010

Family Portrait

Tonight we will be having a new family portrait made for our church directory. Ugh. This is not a task I am looking forward to. As a matter of fact, I think we would skip it entirely, if it were not for the repeated reminders from the church in the form of bulletin reminders, emails, and recorded phone messages that "time is running out" if we want to be included in the directory. We've put it off until almost the final day of the final week. It's not that we don't want our family represented in the church directory...we's just the thought of having a family portrait taken without Hannah.

The three of us have had our picture taken together lots of times since Hannah's been in Heaven...just casual photographs spontaneously taken here and there. But this is different. It's a "portrait", not just a picture, and we've got to decide what we're going to wear, drive to the church, wait in straight-backed chairs for our family's turn, do multiple poses for a photographer, and then probably listen to a sales pitch. Just the three of us.

Hannah had some very OCD tendencies sometimes...and one of them was that she hated odd numbers. When she adjusted the volume on the car radio, she always set it at an even number. One time I asked her why it even mattered, since the volume number display disappeared a few seconds after it was adjusted, and it couldn't even be seen anymore. She laughed and said, "I don't know...It just matters to me." She was always a good sport about her obsessive-compulsiveness, and often laughed at herself. And even now, when I adjust the volume on the radio...yes, I always put it at an even number and smile to myself.

So tonight, it will feel strange when our odd-numbered family smiles for the photographer. It will feel so incomplete, somehow. But...thank God...even as we face this glaring reminder of Hannah's absence in our family's life, we know that it is just a matter of time until our family is reunited. We are still "The Sullivan Four"...we're just separated for a little while.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

If God Is Good... (Part 4)

OK...We've had a little deviation from this topic for a few weeks now, but I really want to get back to it. Just a reminder...much of what I'll be sharing comes from Randy Alcorn's book, "If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil."

Since our experience with Hannah's cancer and ultimate homegoing, I've been very interested in the subject of suffering, particularly as it pertains to Christians. I think that as Christians, we often assume that if we "do everything right", we should be immune from suffering and hard times. God should see all the good things we are doing...going to church, giving our tithe, reading our Bibles, praying for missionaries...and exempt us from pain and heartache. But I think most of us have figured out by now that it doesn't really work that way. So how do we keep our faith from falling apart like a cheap lawn chair when suffering or tragedy comes our way?

I think one way to keep that from happening is to prepare for suffering ahead of time. When I learned how to scuba dive, I spent a great deal of time in a classroom, watching videos, reading manuals, and learning how to use the equipment before I ever did a Jacques Cousteau off the side of a boat. And breathing through a regulator under water (a totally unnatural feeling) was completely different than breathing through a regulator in my classroom at the Scuba Doo Dive Shop. Without the prior preparation, it would have been easy to panic when taking that first breath underwater. But because I had been prepared, I was able to relax and survive that first diving experience. In the same way, spending some time consciously preparing for the suffering that will inevitably come into our lives enables us to survive it when it comes.

So how do we prepare for unknown future events? Randy devotes many, many pages to the importance of our worldview. I love what he says about God's omniscience: "God knows everything, including every contingency, and He knows what is ultimately best in ways we cannot. God can see ultimate purposes and plans that we can't. He can know it is better for someone to die now rather than later: "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil" (Isaiah 57:1). We have no way of knowing, for instance, whether a disability might be used to cultivate personal qualities that would more profoundly honor God and bring the person greater eternal reward in Heaven. Because God knows all things in the past, present, and future, God is uniquely qualified to know when to ordain or permit evil and suffering and when not to."

For me, just knowing that God is fully cognizant of the big picture and that He is constantly working our His purposes is a huge help to me in understanding suffering and its purpose. We would never, ever have chosen for Hannah to die now rather than later...but in His total omniscience, that was His plan for her. Knowing that, and fully understanding that truth, makes it easier to face the continued pain of her physical absence in our home.

More to come on "If God Is Good..." in another post. That's enough on that topic for tonight.

Now a little housekeeping...You might notice a couple of additions to the blog. Just under the picture of our family in the road, there is now a place you can click if you would like to get additional information about how to schedule one of us or all three of us to come share at your church, Sunday School class, ladies' group, men's group, youth group, etc. And I've also added a link on the top of the right hand column where you can subscribe to my blog via email. To be totally honest, I'm not really sure what happens if you'll either get an email with the full text of my latest post, or an email letting you know that I've added a post to the blog. I subscribed myself, so I guess I'll find out after I publish this post! Anyway, a couple of people had asked for that, and I just now figured out how to add it. Hopefully it will work! I really do appreciate everyone who takes the time to read what I write...I always pray that God will somehow speak through me to meet a need in someone's life.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Today I'm blogging from Hannah's bedroom. Well, actually, it's no longer Hannah's bedroom, because her bed is no longer here. For quite some time, we've been wanting to do some changing around in our house, and this past weekend, we finally did it.

For Hannah's 17th birthday, her big present from us was all new bedding...a beautiful white comforter with small black flowers, and all the pillows and stuff to go with it. She and I had shopped for it together and had lots of fun picking it out. She was really excited about it! Brad and I knew she would potentially be spending a lot of time in her bed in the months ahead and we wanted her to be comfortable and surrounded by things she loved. Her bed had a beautiful cherry headboard and footboard that we had bought several years ago for $100 from some friends who were moving, and she also had a nice dresser and bedside table. When she went to Heaven four months after her birthday, we basically just shut the door to her bedroom and left it as it was. Back on August 29, 2009, I wrote a post all about her room, closing by saying that we wanted to make "something special out of this room...a quiet, peaceful, inviting kind of room, a place where you can study your Bible, or spend some time with the Lord. I'm ready to open the shades, let the sun shine in, and keep the door of this room open again. But I'm not sure how to do it yet...we're still waiting for God's timing."

Well, apparently God's timing was this past weekend! For some time, we've been talking about moving Hannah's queen size bed into Bethany's room to replace her full size bed. Bethany has gotten so tall, she could really use that bigger bed! So we finally decided to do it. And, of course, if Bethany was going to get Hannah's bed with the nice headboard and footboard, she needed to get the matching dresser and bedside table as well.

So the process began last Thursday evening (which also just happened to be exactly 1 year and 5 months from the last time Hannah was in her room), with me removing all of Hannah's "stuff" from her dresser and table. The drawers of her bedside table were full of notes she had taken during youth group meetings and church services. There were also letters from her friend, Brittany, and some notes she had apparently passed back and forth during class. There was a jar of money, some stale candy, school schedules, and lots of cheap jewelry. On top of the table was her Bible, and some other keepsakes. I carefully went through all these items and kept everything that had her personal touch on it, placing them in a beautiful, black and white fabric-covered box. Some tough decisions had to be made...I can't keep every piece of paper she ever wrote on, or every pair of earrings she ever wore. I tried to choose just those things that were special...a particular item of jewelry that she wore a lot, or papers that included personal notes or doodling. I must admit that it was hard to think of all of Hannah's "stuff" being reduced to a box.

After the bedside table was empty, I moved on to the dresser. I opened up her top drawer, which contained all her "unmentionables", and was immediately flooded by the memories. How many times had I washed and folded those items...probably even grumbling about having to do so much laundry...and now I hadn't even seen them in so long! I managed to shut off my brain for awhile and removed all these things from the drawer, placing them in a trash bag. What else do you do with this kind of stuff? I can't imagine donating a bunch of used undergarments to anyone (although I remember when the Clintons did it!)...but I haven't been able to bring myself to take that trash bag to the dump yet. It's still sitting there, just waiting. I'm not sure yet what's going to happen to it.

The second drawer was her blue jean drawer, and it was almost completely empty...because I actually took over some of her jeans for myself several months ago, and I had passed several pairs down to Hannah's cousins. There was only one pair of jeans left in there...her favorite pair, with heart-shaped stitching on the back pockets. I folded them up and put them on a shelf in her closet. Those are not going in a trash bag. Done with that drawer!

The next two drawers were overflowing with T-shirts...Magnet Cove Panthers basketball, student council, FBLA, science club, American Idol, Odyssey of the Mind, Disciple Now, Arkansas Children's Hospital, junior high band, all-region choir, church camp...She had tons of T-shirts. And she rarely wore any of them. She preferred to wear "cute" tops. I have a plan for these shirts, though...I went through and pulled out all the special ones, and I am going to have a quilt made out of them. I am really excited about that! When it's finished...and I'm sure it's going to be awhile...I'll post a picture!

The bottom drawer of her dresser was filled with pajama pants. She loved pajama pants, and she received lots of them as gifts during her illness. Lots and lots of them. Many of them have not even been worn, and I have put them in a trash bag as well, but they will be donated...maybe to a women's shelter that our church is in the process of forming.

So we got all of that done on Thursday night...and on Friday morning, we started painting Bethany's room. Painting was a necessity because her blue and brown walls would clash terribly with Hannah's white and black bedspread. She chose a very bright turquoise color for her room, and after two coats, it looked great. We moved Hannah's bed and furniture into her room that evening, and it was beautiful! She moved all of her things from her little-girl looking white furniture into Hannah's furniture, and the transformation was incredible. Her "little girl" room is's now a young lady's room. She couldn't be more pleased. Check it out!

That evening, with all the furniture now gone, I had the extremely difficult task of sweeping out Hannah's room. Remember, the door has been closed and the room untouched for almost a year and a half. As I moved the broom around the room, I of course swept up a lot of dust, but along with the dust was a lot of hair...Hannah's hair. I had an irrational desire to keep that pile of dust and hair, just because it was a connection to Hannah, but after some hesitation, I vacuumed it up. I actually do have a whole bag full of Hannah's hair in my closet...I kept it when we shaved it off during her second round of radiation treatments, thinking maybe we could somehow make a wig out of it for her. But it was too dry and brittle to be of any use. I've never even looked in that bag since that day...but I always know in the back of my mind that I have it.

After sweeping out the room and closing the closet doors (the closet is still full of her clothes and stuff...just couldn't do that yet...I'm just going to keep those doors closed for awhile), Brad and I moved our desk in here and set it right in front of the window. This is the view I now have as I sit and write...

I'm not going to take any other pictures of the room's still a work in progress. I'm looking for a comfy chaise lounge type chair to put in here along with a nice set of shelves. We're going to keep Hannah's academic awards hanging on the wall where she put them, and her bulletin board is still up with all the stuff she stuck on it. We're planning to mount a hook on the wall and hang her letter jacket on it. On one entire wall, we hung a Disciple Now '07 banner that was signed by the members of Hannah's youth group after she went to Heaven. So there is still a lot of Hannah in this room, and it feels really good to be in here. I love that there is life and light in this room again!

"For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light, we see light." Psalm 36:9

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Time in Tennessee

Before I talk about the weekend, I just have one thing to say....


Yes, I realize it's 2010 and most people have had high speed internet for a long time. We, however, live in the country, and have only had two choices...dial-up or satellite...for internet. We did dial-up for awhile, and when we just couldn't stand it anymore, we got satellite internet. Well, it never was all it was cracked up to be, especially considering the price we were paying. It was not much faster than dial-up, and during high traffic times (pretty much anytime we wanted to be online) it would slow to a crawl. Watching YouTube videos, looking at pictures posted on Facebook, blog-surfing...forget it! It wasn't worth the time investment! Then we began hearing that some of our neighbors were getting AT&T U-Verse internet service and we checked into it. We made several phone calls to AT&T and were repeatedly told that high speed internet wasn't available in our area. We finally got connected with a local AT&T rep, who was able to get us set up today. I am far too excited about this....I'm not sure this is healthy!

Anyway, back to our trip to Tennessee this past weekend. We left on Thursday and drove to Nashville, where we had dinner with Bruce & Lisa Wethey. They are incredibly talented musicians who travel around the country leading worship in various venues. Check out their website at! They came to our church back in November of 2008, and we met them at that time. Lisa had been diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor several years earlier, and she shared her story as they performed at our church that evening. Of course, it was of great interest to us, as Hannah was in the middle of her battle with glioblastoma at that time. Lisa was about to start radiation treatments at that time, and Hannah had already been through two rounds of radiation treatments, so we visited quite a while that evening. They continued to follow our journey through our emails. They came back and performed at our church a few weeks ago, and we had another opportunity to visit with them and get caught up on all that had happened since we had last seen them. Since we were planning a trip to Knoxville, we made plans to get together on the way. We ended up having dinner with them, and then sitting in our hotel lobby with them for a couple of hours. We really enjoyed our visit with them.

The next day, we traveled on to Knoxville, where we met up with some old friends of ours, Lindy & Crystal Apon. Back when we lived in Fort Smith, Lindy was the youth minister at our church and we became good friends with him and his family. Their son and Hannah used to play together a lot when they were preschoolers. We moved from Fort Smith about fifteen years ago, when Bethany was a newborn, and we had not seen them since then. It was great to get re-acquainted with them. We played frisbee golf, went whitewater rafting, played ping pong (well, at least Bethany and Brad did), and learned some new card games. Lindy is now the pastor at Parkway Baptist Church in Knoxville, and we had the great privilege of sharing our testimony there on Sunday morning. It's amazing how wherever you go, the body of Christ is there!

The main thing we came away from this weekend with was an increased desire to share our testimony of God's goodness and grace through the storms of life. Up until now, we have accepted speaking opportunities that have been offered to us, but have really not actively pursued them. We believe that God is calling us to be more intentional in seeking opportunities to share. We don't know really what that's going to look like--we have demanding jobs and a very active teenage daughter--but we want to be obedient to His call. We're beginning to work on a few projects...a website, informational materials, etc...and we'd appreciate your prayers as we seek to follow His leadership in this area. We are excited to see what God has in store for us in the days ahead!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fun With the Sullivan Family

Tonight, I'm going to take a break from the "If God is Good" posts and share some of the fun our family had over the 4th of July weekend. Over the past several years, Brad's parents have hosted what they call "G & G Camp" (Grandma & Grandpa Camp) for their grandchildren, who all happen to be girls! They've done lots of fun things over the years, including horseback riding, kayaking, visiting museums, exploring caves, rock name it, they've done it! This year, we parents were invited too, and we spent the weekend at a ranch/resort just outside of Dallas.

We all traveled to Texas from our various locations, and our first stop was the new Cowboy stadium in Arlington. We got a wonderful tour of this amazing facility, and had lots of fun taking pictures while we were there...

Here are the cousins taking in the view (the youngest cousin, Faith, didn't get to take the tour with us)...

And here they are pretending to be VIPs in the box seats...

And posing by the NFL logo...

And, of course, posing as Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders in their locker room!

And the Dads had to get in on the act in the players' locker room...

After the tour, we traveled the rest of the way to the ranch, where we met up with Brad's sister, her husband, and their sweet little girl, Faith. We don't get to see her very often, because they live in Waco, so we really enjoyed our time with her. Here she is checking out the pool...

Playing with a new toy...

And hanging out with her oldest cousin, Bethany...

We really didn't do much after we got to the ranch...other than a trip to the grocery store, we didn't even leave. We basically just hung out by the pool, grilled burgers, and played games. We had our first-ever Sullivan family Bunco tournament, and enjoyed playing Apples to Apples and Phase 10.

Hannah would have absolutely loved every minute of it. There was nothing she enjoyed more than spending time with her family. She was the oldest cousin, and thought her younger cousins were hilarious...even when they weren't trying to be. She would love playing with Faith, who was born just two months before she went to Heaven. She always loved playing games, although we never could figure out why, because she almost always lost. And while we were there, I missed her constantly, and kept feeling like she should be there...but it wasn't an unbearable weight. We shared many fond remembrances of her while we visited...and it was okay.

I dreamed about her last night. That's only the second time I've dreamed about her since she died. Most of it is pretty hazy...Someone (maybe Bethany) was shouting, "Hannah's back! She's here and she's fine!" And I ran into her room and she was sitting cross-legged on her bed and smiling. Her hair was thick and curly and she was stunningly beautiful. We hugged and talked and laughed. I have no idea what we talked about, but I could "hear" her voice and her laugh, and I was amazed that she sounded just like she did before she got sick. There was an undescribably glowing peace upon her, and my clearest memory from this dream is the unspeakable joy I felt at seeing her so healthy and whole. When I first woke up this morning, I didn't even remember the dream right just suddenly came back to me mid-morning. At first it made me sad, because I wanted so badly for it to not be a dream...but then I was reminded that she is healthy and whole and beautiful and peaceful. My joy at seeing her again is simply postponed. And that joy will just be that much sweeter after this time apart!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

If God Is Good... (Part 3)

More thoughts from Randy Alcorn's book "If God is Good..." tonight:

Randy says that most of us don't give much thought to evil and suffering until we experience them ourselves. That was definitely true for me. Before our lives were turned upside down by Hannah's cancer, it seemed like those kinds of catastrophes only happened to "other people". But, Randy points out that if we don't spend some time contemplating our response to suffering before it happens, we will be forced to "formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled and we're exhausted and consumed by pressing issues."

Consider these differing perspectives on suffering. A friend of Randy's shared this story:

"When I was admitted to the hospital in sepsis with a 50/50 chance of survival, I asked the chaplain how we could believe that God is love, when this felt like the antithesis of love. I said I wouldn't inflict this much suffering on someone I hated, let alone someone I loved. She told me she would "look it up," then left my room and never came back. I posed the same question to the social worker who came to visit me a few days later. She told me that God's like a giant and we're like little ants, and sometimes He accidentally steps on our ant hills and some of us get hurt. She said our suffering is random and God's probably not even aware of it."

Wow. Where is the hope in that? Why even bother?

Contrast that story with this one. In May 2000, James Montgomery Boice, pastor of a large church in Philadelphia, shared with his congregation that he'd been diagnosed with liver cancer. Here's what he told them:

"Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you're free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles--and He certainly can--is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they're rare by definition.... Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying Himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified Himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn't by delivering Jesus from the cross, though He could have.... God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It's not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by.... God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good.... If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you'd change it, you'd make it worse. It wouldn't be as good."

Eight weeks later, Pastor Boice stepped into Heaven. I love his perspective. There's nothing left for me to add.