Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Year and A Half...

Today marks 18 months since Hannah left this world for Heaven. Sometimes, it seems like forever since I last saw her face; sometimes, it seems like it was just a few minutes ago. Tonight, it feels like forever.

Before Hannah's homegoing, I was completely unacquainted with grief. I had never lost anyone close to me before, other than grandparents, who were "supposed" to die. I assumed that when you lost a loved one, you were sad for awhile...maybe three or four months or so...and then you "got over it". I'm almost embarrassed to admit that completely ignorant I was! I had no idea that that sadness lasts, and lasts, and lasts.

Early on in our grief, we were told the following: "The hole will always be there, but the edges will become less sharp." I have found that to be very true. The intensity of the grief has diminished, but the hole is definitely still there. And I guess I would have to say that I don't want the hole to go away, and I don't want to fill it with anything else either. That hole is what makes me yearn for Heaven, and for the time when God will set all things right.

I've been surprised at how, even after 18 months, Hannah never seems to leave my thoughts. It's not like I just sit around thinking about her, but as I go about my daily activities, she's always there in my mind. And they're not really sad thoughts (at least most of the time), it's more just wondering what she'd think about something, or what she's doing right now.

And I wonder what it will feel like in another 18 months...or in 18 years, for that matter. I no longer expect to be "over it" by then. All I do know is that eternity is a loooooong time, and these 18 months or 18 years will be like the blink of an eye in retrospect! In the meantime, I'm going to keep gathering manna! (See previous post.)

Good news tonight...Jed Harper had his last chemo treatment yesterday! You can click on the "Praying for Jedidiah" link in the right hand column to get caught up on his story. He's been such a courageous and faithful little fighter. He'll be having his next scans on September 8...please join me in praying for complete healing from cancer with no recurrence!

Also, we've launched our "Sovereign in the Storm" website at You can click (here) if you'd like to find out more about how you can have our family come share our testimony with your church, Sunday School class, youth group, or organization. We're excited about how God may choose to use Hannah's story to advance His kingdom!

Monday, August 23, 2010


I've always loved honey. There are not too many things better than a hot biscuit with butter and honey on it. Unless it's a peanut butter and honey favorite kind of sandwich ever since I was a little girl. And the other night, Bethany and I tried something new. We were inspired by a sopapilla she ordered at our favorite Mexican restaurant (El Parian in Malvern!). This phenomenal-looking sopapilla had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and then was doused with honey and cinnamon sugar. She grudgingly let me have a couple of bites, and it was as good as it looked. So the next night, we decided to try to duplicate it at home. Well, sort of, anyway...I'm not enough of a culinary genius to make sopapillas, so we just fixed ourselves each a bowl of vanilla ice cream, drizzled honey all over it, sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar, and put a couple of maraschino cherries on top for good measure. It was actually quite good, I must say. You'll have to try it sometime!

When I was a little girl, sitting in my Sunday School class in the basement of First Baptist Church of Phillips, Wisconsin, I learned all about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and how God gave them manna to eat. Our teacher described manna as little wafers that tasted like honey. And I can actually remember wishing I could taste manna, because I knew I would like it. Anything that tasted like honey had to be good. I remember thinking that the Israelites were really lucky that they got to eat that stuff every day. Little did I know that someday I would be eating manna every day myself. Let me explain.

When Hannah's brain tumor was found, my mind was flooded with "What If's". What if it's cancer? What if she's never the same after brain surgery? What if she dies during surgery? Then, once she had survived the surgery with basically no after-effects, and we found out it was cancer, a whole new set of "What Ifs" took over. What if she loses her hair? What if the chemo makes her really sick? What if her brain is damaged from the radiation? What if she doesn't survive this?

If you had asked me at the beginning of this journey if I could handle...

shaving my daughter's head for her...

watching her gradually lose her vision...

pushing her in a wheelchair when she could no longer walk on her own...

listening to her struggle to talk because she could no longer find the words...

feeding her when she could no longer feed herself...

holding her hand as took her last breath...

...I would have said, "No way. There is no way I could ever, EVER do any of those things! I am not strong enough to do all of that." And I would have been right...There is no way I could have done any of those things on my own. But God gave me manna in the form of His strength every day.

Do you remember what God told Moses to tell the Israelites about the manna? They were only to gather enough for each day. Did you catch that...only enough for each day! Some of them tried to save themselves a little work and gathered some extra for the next day. Do you remember what happened to that manna? According to the ESV, "it bred worms and stank." (Exodus 16:20)

In the same way, God gave our family manna for each day....just enough for each day. We couldn't look ahead into the future and worry about "What Ifs". We just had to trust God for our manna each day. If we did try to look too far ahead and let the worries and what ifs take over...well, it just got wormy and stank!

The other thing the Israelites had to do was go out and gather the manna (Exodus 16:16). It didn't just fall into baskets for them...they had to go out and get it. In the same way, I think we have to seek God's strength, and then be willing to receive it when He gives it. There were plenty of times when it would have been easier just to curl up into a fetal position and be angry about, or at least question God's plan. We had to be willing to open our hands and receive God's gift of manna.

Finally, the manna was sweet like honey (Exodus 16:31). When I look back on it now, there was a lot of sweetness during Hannah's illness. Even though there were some really, really difficult times, there are some sweet, precious memories that we wouldn't have otherwise, if not for her storm. Just the awareness of and appreciation of "good days" is a priceless gift.

Can you tell that I'm really excited about manna? I think I'll go fix myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich...or maybe a bowl of honey & cinnamon covered ice cream!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School...

I love school supplies. There's something about brand new, never-written-in notebooks, clean loose leaf paper wrapped in plastic, binders with tabbed dividers, "bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils" (one of my favorite lines from "You've Got Mail"), and neat stacks of pristine pocket folders that I just like. Every new school year is a blank slate; a fresh start. There are no crayons or safety scissors on our list this year...there haven't been for many years now...instead, we have things like protractors and compasses. And if I can't help Bethany with her geometry homework this year (which is highly likely) worries; her teacher does podcasts explaining the difficult problems! Hopefully, she can figure out how to watch them, because I probably won't be able to help her with that either.

Hannah shared my affinity for school supplies. She always wanted to shop for them as early as possible for the best selection, and the second we got home with them, she would get busy. She'd separate them all by class, then painstakingly label each item with her name, her teacher's name, the class title, etc. The loose leaf paper would go into the binders, and dividers would be put into place. Then she'd place everything in a neat stack, largest items on the bottom, smallest on the top. She would have her schedule, locker number, and combination all memorized within five minutes of receiving it. The girl just loved school! On the other hand, I won't even comment about what Bethany's heap of school supplies looks like on the kitchen table right now!

This summer, instead of buying school supplies for Hannah, we would have been buying items to furnish her college dorm room. We would have been moving her into her dorm at Ouachita Baptist University this Saturday. It's hard for me to even imagine what that would be like. I think she would have been really nervous...before she got sick, she was easily freaked out by change...but she would have been excited, too. And I wonder how I would feel.

I see lots of moms on Facebook lamenting the fact that their kids are starting college this fall, and talking about how sad they are going to be that they won't be living at home. I suppose I might feel that way too, if we had not the experience we had. But now, I really want to comment on all those posts, "Don't be sad! Be thrilled...that your child is moving on to the next step in life. You can talk to them every day on the phone. They will come home to visit on the weekends. Don't waste a moment of precious time being sad that your child is growing up. Enjoy every second of it!!"

Last night, I brought Bethany to open house at her school. I barely even remember open house last year...I was just trying to survive the night. The emotion was still so raw at that point, and it was excruciatingly difficult to be there among all of Hannah's classmates as they were starting their senior year. This year was better, but still difficult, just in a different way. Hannah was diagnosed with cancer during her sophomore year of high school...and Bethany will be starting her sophomore year tomorrow. She has the exact same slate of teachers that Hannah had in the tenth grade. So, as we went around from room to room last night, visiting with all of those teachers, it was just kind of surreal. They are wonderful teachers, and I'm so glad they will all be teaching Bethany this year, but I'm sure that it will feel kind of strange to them as well.

I'm so thankful for Heaven. I'm so thankful that there is so much more to look forward to than a dorm room at OBU. And I'm so thankful for John 16:22..."Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." No one will take away your joy...I love that!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Great Shall Be Your Joy!

I just wanted to share a couple of pictures tonight. We are still gradually working on Hannah's room, which is now our Bible study/prayer/writing room, and this is our latest addition. No, I didn't stencil it...unlike many of my other blogging friends, I am not the creative-crafty's basically a big, vinyl wall sticker. Even I can put a sticker on the wall!

I love the message here. There's just really nothing more I can add.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Life Is Good...?

Have you ever seen those T-shirts that say "Life is good"? They always have some kind of relaxation-inducing picture along with those a lawn chair and a glass of lemonade, or a pair of flip-flops and a beach umbrella or something. They're nice T-shirts...they come in all different colors in sort of a weathered-looking fabric. Seems like I usually see them in sporting-good stores. I always look at them because I like them, but I've never bought one...partly because I think they're very pricey for T-shirts, but mostly because I'm not sold on the "Life is Good" sentiment. Oh, there was a time when I wouldn't have thought twice about that was good, and always had been for me. My eyes had not yet been opened to the world of childhood cancer. Sure, I knew it existed. I had seen those St. Jude fundraisers on know the ones. Of course, I always changed the channel really fast so I didn't have to look at those steroid-swollen children with no hair or eyebrows...I felt bad for those kids, but I didn't know any of them. They weren't my kids, or my neighbor's kids, or my friend's kids, so it was easy to change the channel and blithely go on my way.

When we were in Gulf Shores, Alabama, earlier this summer, we went in one of those tourist traps stores. This one is called Souvenir City, and the door is shaped like an enormous shark's mouth. If you've ever been there, you've seen it...You can't miss it! After taking the obligatory picture...

...we went in and looked around. As I wandered through the T-shirt section, I spotted a group of shirts that looked just like the "Life is Good" shirts from a distance. I walked up to them, and found that these were a little different. These shirts actually said, "Life is Crap" and had pictures like a tree falling on someone's car, or a guy hitting his thumb with a hammer. Some were kind of one that had a picture of a men's restroom and a ladies' restroom. The ladies' room had a line of about five women waiting to use it, and of course the men's room had no line. Anyway, these shirts gave me a chuckle, and then got me thinking.

Life isn't always good...but God is. Sometimes life is crap...but God is always good. In his wisdom and sovereignty, He has allowed our family to see and experience some of the more crappy parts of life. He has taken us beyond seeing young strangers with cancer on TV, to learning the names and faces and families and stories of so many cancer battlers right here in Arkansas and beyond. It is such a privilege to be able to lift these families up in prayer, and to keep up with their journeys through the storms.

In John 9:1-3, the disciples questioned Jesus about why a man was born blind, trying to determine whether it was caused by sinfulness. Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," and then He goes on to explain the purpose of the man's disability: "This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Did you catch the "so that"? The "so that" rules out bad luck, haphazardness, and neglect. God had a specific, divine purpose for the man's handicap. And today, some 2000 years later, I believe that is still true. In His sovereignty, I believe that God allows...might I even say ordains...the difficult times in our lives. But He will always, if we choose to allow Him, display His goodness through them.

So which shirt had the right message? For me, it's a combination of the two. Life is sometimes crap...but God is always good!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Family Portraits & Some Special People

In my last post, I shared about how I was dreading getting our family portrait made for the church directory this week. My friend Wendy left a comment, suggesting that we bring a photograph of Hannah and include it in our portrait. That was actually something we had already considered doing. The promotional literature we'd received from the church encouraged people to bring family pets or other special items to include in their portraits, so we figured that if it was okay for someone to bring their cat, we could surely bring a photograph. So that's what we did. The photographer took a few pictures of just the three of us, and then took several of more of the three of us holding Hannah's picture. We liked those pictures so well, we chose one of them to include in the church directory. Our church was such an incredible support to us when Hannah was sick (and even since then), walking every step of the journey with us, it only seemed natural to use one of those pictures for the directory. So, overall, the photo session ended up being a positive experience.

But that was not the end of our photo sessions for the week. For some time, we've been wanting to take a new "middle of the road" picture. The one above has been such a vivid symbol of our journey down the road of cancer and the loss of our daughter. It was taken by my sister-in-law, Maria, in Briggsville, Arkansas, just about two miles down the road from the cemetery where Hannah is now buried. The day after this picture was taken in October of 2008, Hannah lost all of her beautiful, curly hair. The land on both sides of the road is owned by members of the Sullivan family. This is a very rural area, and not a single car passed by the whole time we were taking pictures. We took a lot of pictures that day in a variety of different settings...but the "in the road" pictures were our favorites because of the inherent symbolism.

Well, this weekend, we finally had the opportunity to do some updated pictures. There was only one problem...instead of a nice, cool day in mid October, it was a 100 degree day at the end of July. We waited until about 6:00 in the evening, when the temperature had plummeted to about 98.5 degrees, to sit down on the steaming asphalt. Needless to say, we didn't sit there very long, but we ended up with some nice pictures. Thanks, Maria!

This morning, we had the opportunity to share our testimony in at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot. We were invited by one of Hannah's nurses from the Hematology/Oncology clinic at Children's Hospital. We had not seen her since leaving Children's Hospital for the last time in February of 2009, until we ran into her and her husband at a Chris Tomlin/TobyMac concert in Little Rock about six weeks ago. We got reacquainted that evening, and they invited us to come and share with their Sunday School class. When we arrived today, we were so pleased to see three more of Hannah's nurses there. We had a Hem/Onc clinic reunion right there in the fellowship hall!

These four nurses, and the other nurses who work in the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hem/Onc clinic and the Gold floor are truly amazing people. They go to work every day and freely give their hearts to children with life-threatening cancers, and have their hearts broken again and again. I know that for me, personally, during the year that we spent so much time at Children's Hospital with Hannah, these nurses became a lifeline. Even as Hannah's health deteriorated and I know it had to be shocking for them to see her decline from visit to visit, they always greeted us with smiles and encouraging words. I remember one of our last visits to the clinic...Hannah was so ill that it was hard for her to sit up in a chair in the waiting room, and there were no beds available in the chemo infusion room. One of these nurses took us to a conference room which contained one of those pull-out sleep chairs that you find in hospital rooms, and fixed it so Hannah could lay on it while we were waiting for an available bed so she could get her chemo. That's the kind of kindness that a parent never forgets.

When we left Children's for the last time, on our way to the hospice center, one of the hardest things we did was say good-bye to these nurses. Actually, I shouldn't say "we", because I didn't do it. If you've read this blog for awhile, you know I'm a self-confessed avoider of emotional situations...I let Brad say our good-byes. These people had become such an important part of our lives, and when we left that day, we didn't know when or if we'd ever see them again. Several of them did come to Hannah's visitation, and that was such a huge blessing to us. But, until today, I'd never thought about it from their perspective...they told me today that they experience the same thing. They become involved in these children's lives, and many of them are healed and they are able to rejoice with those families as they return for follow-up visits. But, some of these children go to Heaven, and when they do, their contact with these families comes to an abrupt end. Most of the time, they never see the family again, and never know how they are faring in the aftermath of their cancer journeys. So it was a blessing for us to see them, and a blessing for them to see us. It was pretty cool how God worked that out this morning. As God brings it to your mind, please pray for these special people...that God would give them what they need to continue to minister to these kids and families each day like they do!