Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some Thoughts on Grief...

You know, I've been attending church for my entire life. My parents made sure we were there every time the doors were open. Sure, when I went to college, there were some Sundays that I attended Boxsprings Baptist (an old OBU joke), but for the most part, I was in church. As often as we've moved since we've been married, we've always made finding a church home a priority. So over the years, I've been in literally hundreds of church services, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes.

And in all those years, I've never heard a single sermon or Sunday School lesson on grief. Until the death of my daughter in February 2009, I didn't know ANYTHING about grief. I had never learned anything about it at church, and I certainly had never experienced it. I had never lost anyone close to me...grandparents, yes, but grandparents are "supposed" to die. I had no idea what it was like to be deeply, achingly sad. I also had no idea how many sad people there were around me. I've learned a lot over the last couple of years.

So, when Brad and I were asked to share with the deacon body at our church last week, we knew right away what we wanted to talk about...grief. And who needs to know more about ministering to grieving people than the deacons? It was the perfect opportunity to share some of what we've learned.

I'd like to share some of that presentation with you over the next few posts. Many of the thoughts I'm going to share originate with Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie, both of whom have lost children. I'll also be adding lots of our own experiences and stories. My goal is to be as transparent and honest as possible, to try to give you a window into our grief. I'll be writing from the perspective of a grieving parent, because that's the only kind of grief I know. My prayer is that God will use something I write to help you personally, if you find yourself in a season of sorrow, or that He will provide you with some sort of insight to help a grieving friend or loved one.

In a recent interview, Nancy Guthrie discussed four needs that grieving people share. The first was this:
  • They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering and needs to be respected.
Here's how ignorant I used to be about grief...I honestly thought that when someone lost a loved one, they were really sad for awhile...maybe about six months or so...and then they just kind of got over it. I had no idea how long it takes to work through grief (and it is work!). It's been twenty months since Hannah left for Heaven, and we are definitely not "over it", nor do I think we ever will be. Greg Laurie describes losing his son as somewhat similar to the amputation of a limb. The wound from an amputation heals over time, but your limb is never restored. Unlike a broken leg, which heals and allows you to return to normal life, an amputation changes your life forever.

The intense sadness of grief tends to come in waves. Sometimes the waves are fairly gentle and can be ridden out, and sometimes they are tsunamis that suck you down, spin you around, and leave you gasping for breath. Depending on the status of those waves, you may see the grieving person smiling and doing "fine", or you may see them doubled over in tears. You can't make assumptions on how a person "is doing" based on what you see at any given moment. Because in the very next moment, things could change.

We need to respect a person's need to grieve by giving them the time and space to do so. The person may not be able to return to their normal activities right away....or they might. They might find comfort in returning to a routine. They may want to talk about their loss...or they may not. Think back to the story of Job in the Bible. His friends sat with him in complete silence for seven days...things fell apart when they opened their mouths! Unless you are a very close friend or family member, don't ask them, "How are you doing?" That is an incredibly difficult question for a grieving person to answer. For one thing, the answer could vary widely depending on the status of the waves at that particular moment. And, there is no simple answer to that question. Don't ask it unless you have plenty of time to sit and listen to what might be a brutally honest response.

Saying "Let me know if you need anything" isn't particularly helpful either. Someone who is going through an intense period of grief may not be emotionally able to ask for the help they need. It is much better to figure out what their needs are and take steps to meet them. A wonderful neighbor took care of our dog when we spent long days at the hospital. People brought food to the extended family staying at our house while we were at the hospice center in Little Rock. There was a hot meal waiting on our kitchen counter the evening we arrived home after saying our final good-byes to Hannah. Dear friends collected pictures and personal items of Hannah's and arranged them beautifully at the visitation and funeral. I could never have done that on my own. We didn't ask for any of these things...people just obeyed the Holy Spirit's promptings and did them. And while a grieving person may forget a lot of things...these kinds of things are never forgotten!

Grieving people need time, space, and "permission" to be sad. That sadness may last awhile. And that's okay.

More to come in a future post...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hannah's Birthday In Pictures

The breakfast of champions...Hannah's favorite, home-made Mississippi Mud Cake (no nuts). I could absolutely eat myself into oblivion with this stuff. Good thing I only make it once a year.

Bethany and I decided to play hooky from work and school. She was our driver for the day.

Our first stop...the Wal-Mart in Jessieville to buy roses. Bethany just had to take this picture out of her window in the parking lot. If this woman only knew that she was providing us some much-needed comic relief!

We finally arrived at our destination.

Our rose petals...

Spreading the petals...

After spending some time letting the tears flow, we decided to snap a few pictures...

She figured out how to set the timer on the camera, so we got some pictures together. In case you're wondering...Our shirts say, "I wear gray for my daughter" and "I wear gray for my sister". Gray is the color for brain cancer awareness, just as pink is the color for breast cancer awareness.

...And she took some pictures of me. I've shared on this blog before about my extremely strained relationship with Hannah's grave. As a matter of fact, yesterday was the first time I've stood beside her grave since her last birthday. I still am not comfortable there...I still don't like being there...but yesterday, I believe I took the first step toward making peace with her grave.

We finally started home, but made a couple of stops on the way. Given our affinity for taking pictures in the middle of roads, we just had to stop and take a couple of pictures here...

We considered all the possible reasons why these lines look like this...Did the line painting truck driver have a little too much caffeine that morning? Did he let his kid drive the truck for a little while? Is this section of road sitting on top of a fault line? We don't know the answer, but we had a lot of fun thinking about it! Our other stop was at the Sonic in Hot Springs Village.

Mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce...

...And two cherry vanilla Diet Cokes, please!

I really couldn't believe it...but we actually had fun on our trip to visit Hannah's grave! How can that be? Only by the grace of God...and by the knowledge that she is NOT THERE!

We weren't home for long, when it was time to head to the Casting Crowns concert. As we were getting ready to go, a wonderful young couple from our church called us. They had won backstage passes in a contest on Twitter, and wanted to give them to us. They knew Hannah's story, and how Mark Hall, the lead singer of Casting Crowns, had called to encourage us during Hannah's last few days at the hospice center in Little Rock. They also knew it was her birthday, and they wanted to bless us in this way.

Here's Bethany with Mark and some of the band:

And here are all of us...

These are some of the most down-to-earth, sincere people you'd ever want to meet. We spent several minutes visiting with them and sharing some more of Hannah's story with them. We also got to meet Lindsey McCaul, an up-and-coming Christian artist who opened for Casting Crowns last night.

You know, God really is good all the time. As we listened to Casting Crowns sing "Praise You in the Storm", we were reminded again of our commitment to praise the God who gives and takes away. And it is a commitment...One that needs to be made again and again. When I find myself feeling cheated because I'm buying rose petals instead of birthday presents, I need that reminder. When I find myself becoming angry that I'm sitting on the grass beside my daughter's grave instead of sitting beside her on her bed in her dorm room, I need that reminder. And when the tears roll down my cheeks, like they've done so often in the last couple of years, these are the lyrics I need to remember:

"And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm".

Pretty powerful stuff. And just what we needed to close out our daughter's 19th birthday. And even as I breathe a sigh of relief that October 22nd won't come around again for a whole year, my heart overflows with the many blessings of yesterday. Yes, God IS good all the time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dear Hannah...

Dear Hannah My Joy,

So tomorrow is your birthday. You would be turning nineteen years old...Nineteen!! That's almost an adult! I wonder if you celebrate birthdays in Heaven? And even more than that, I wonder if you get older in Heaven? Like, if I were to join you there in twenty years, would you be 39? Are your great-grandparents all over 100 now? What about people who die as babies? Do they still have to go through infancy, childhood, and that horrendous adolescent period? Or is everyone in Heaven exactly the same age...maybe about 29? I wonder about things like that ever since you left. You'll have to fill me in on all of that when I get there.

Back to you...I'm writing this from your bedroom, looking through your window. You wouldn't believe how much the trees we planted have grown over the last couple of years. I can barely see our neighbor's house now. We moved your bed out a few months ago, and put it in Bethany's room. You know, she always wanted your queen-sized bed. We painted her room a really bright turquoise and your black and white comforter looks like really pretty in there. Yeah, we covered up all those squares we painted on her wall a few years back. Well, the ones Bethany and I painted while you directed us where to put them. Your room still has the pretty burgundy colored walls, but we've made some other changes. We put a black and white rug in there that you would just love, and a super comfortable chaise lounge. We also moved the desk in there, and put it directly in front of your window, and that's where I sit and write. We left all your stuff up on the walls...don't worry, we didn't touch all those awards of yours or your El Dorado picture. Your clothes are still hanging in the closet...except for the ones Bethany has permanently "borrowed". She wears that polka-dotted shirt of yours all the time. And I know you'd hate this, but I just had to do it. Remember that self-portrait you drew with pastels when you were in about third grade in Mrs. Mason's GT class? The one with the really cool frame? (I still can't figure out exactly how you made that.) Well, I hung it up in your room. I remember how you hated that picture, but I've always loved it. So now it's on your wall.

Speaking of Mrs. Mason, I bet you were really surprised when she showed up there a few months ago. I know we were. I'm sure you two have enjoyed getting caught up on all the good times you had at Southside Elementary. And have you seen Mr. Shorty? I remember you and Bethany sledding down Briarwood Drive with him like it was yesterday. He's probably up there passing out free popcorn like he did at the bank all those years. I still use his peanut butter cookie recipe and made some just the other day. And baby Carter is there now too. I'm sure he's proud of his mom, and the work God has been doing in her life since he left. We've met so many parents now who have children in Heaven. We've gotten a lot of comfort from talking to them and hearing how God is carrying them through these days while we're waiting. I sometimes wonder if, when we're meeting each other here, you're meeting their kids there. That would be pretty cool.

I doubt you care anything about politics now, but I know it was a big deal to you when you were here. Election Day is just around the corner and you'd probably be glad to know that it looks like the conservatives are poised for a comeback. I remember how you used to love to watch the election results come in. Kind of unusual for a teenage girl, but we had a lot of fun with it, didn't we? It was almost as exciting as watching the American Idol finale! You wouldn't even recognize American Idol now...Would you believe Paula left last year and they replaced her with Ellen? And now Ellen, Kara, and even SIMON have quit? Randy is the only original judge left...and the new judges are going to be Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. You know, the guy from Aerosmith (you used to think his name was Arrow Smith...LOL)! And then there's Jon & Kate...You don't even want to know what's happened with them. We've watched some of Dancing with the Stars this year. Sarah Palin's daughter is on that show this year. Kind of hard to imagine, huh? She's really not very good. On the other hand, Razorback football this year has been great. We went to the Texas A&M game two weeks ago, and cheered them to a victory (even though we were sitting in enemy territory). Last week, they fell victim to some particularly bad calls. The refs actually called a touchdown for Auburn when the guy clearly didn't have the ball as he crossed over the goal line. Our quarterback is rumored to be a Heismann candidate, but I'll be really surprised if he gets it. Remember when we thought Darren McFadden was going to win it?

I know how much you always enjoyed getting together with all of the family. I'm sure if you were here, we'd all be celebrating your birthday together this weekend. Your cousins are really growing up...they're not those silly little kids you used to laugh at all the time anymore. Well, sometimes they still are, but like I said, they're growing up. They really miss you, Hannah. They're just not quite the same since their leader left. They didn't even put on a Christmas play last year. And Faith would have made the perfect baby Jesus. She's so cute...all blond curly hair and blue eyes...and she's so tall. Of course, that's no surprise! I'm so glad you at least got to hold her before you left. And Julia and Katie Joy are so sweet. We sometimes chat with them on Skype, and it's so cool to be able to see them all the way from Indonesia. I wish you could have met Katie before you left...I wonder, can you see her now? Your aunts and uncles and grandparents miss you too. We all know you're where you're supposed to be, but we can't help but wish you were still here with us.

Can you believe that you would have to look up to Bethany now? I remember when you were were head and shoulders taller than all the other kids your age. We always thought you'd be about six feet tall. But you topped out at about 5'8"; and then you actually shrunk a couple of inches before you left. Bethany, who was always an average-height kid, suddenly started growing about the time you left, and she's about 5'10" now (she thinks she's 5'11", but I'm not so sure about that). She's still playing basketball, and they should have a really good team this year! They are going to be so much fun to watch! Their coach has really been practicing them hard...lots of running, which she hates...but they're going to be in shape. Bethany's playing has really improved, especially her shooting. She looks really intimidating when she walks out on the floor because of her size, but she's still having to learn to play aggressively...that just doesn't come naturally to her!

Bethany's driving all the time now. Of course, she doesn't have her license yet...that won't come until June...but she got her permit as soon as she turned fourteen, and has been driving me around ever since. Remember how she always used to holler from the back seat that you were giving her whiplash when you were learning to drive? Well, whenever she makes a quick turn or sudden stop, I always remind her of that. Actually, she's a pretty good driver...better than you ever were. I wonder now if maybe there were some vision problems interfering with your driving that we (and you) weren't even aware of at the time. We keep telling her that we're going to pass the Blazer down to her when she turns 16, but we'll probably let her have the Camry. They both have over 100,000 miles on them, but she thinks the Camry is so much cooler than the Blazer. And that's okay with me, because then I can get a new car! We sold your little red car...actually, we let Grandpa do it (you know how he loves to play car salesman). We didn't want to sell it to someone locally and then have to see someone else driving your car around. Grandpa talked to the lady who bought it just the other day, and it's still going strong!

Bethany is in tenth grade this year...the same grade you were in when you got sick...and she has the exact same teachers you had. She's even been called "Hannah" by a couple of her teachers. They both felt bad, and told me about it at parent/teacher conferences. I told them not to worry about it...what teacher hasn't called a student by their sibling's name? Even I call her Hannah sometimes! I even occasionally call her Lacee, but that's probably because I'm almost 45. And hey, she found those messages you wrote on the tables in the journalism room. I'm sure when you wrote "Hannah Hearts You" on those tables, you had no idea what it would mean to her someday. Pretty cool. And get this...when Mrs. Rockett randomly handed out the English textbooks this year and told the students to open them and write their names in them...guess whose book Bethany got! Yep, it was yours. I mean, what are the odds? Just another little God thing. Oh, and this Friday night (your birthday) is homecoming, so it's spirit week at MCHS. Guess who Bethany was for Hero Day...You! She really misses you, sweetheart. There are times she could sure use a big sister to give her advice about schoolwork, high school drama (and I'm not talking about the Thespian Club!), and boys...especially boys. It's just been too long since I've been there myself, and so much has changed since I was a teenager. You'd be proud of her, though...She's really taken a stand for her faith, and has become known as someone kids can go to for Christian advice. Her experiences throughout your storm have really grown her up.

Dad's doing good. It's been hard on him since you left. He really misses you a lot. It was tough on him going back to work after you left, seeing your empty locker and walking past your lunch table in the commons every day. He's been so careful not to waste your storm...sharing the grace of God through your story with everyone he meets. You know how he's always had the gifts of encouragement and mercy? Well, he's had lots of opportunities to put them to use since you left. And you would have been so proud of him at graduation last year. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to stand up there and call out all your classmate's names to come up and receive their diplomas. Well, I do know how he did it...It was God...but I also know it was a heartrendingly difficult thing for him to do. Did you know they left an empty chair for you? Or do you even care about things like that in Heaven? I suspect you don't. Why would you?

Me? Oh, I'm doing okay. I'm sad a lot. I miss you more than I ever imagined I could. Especially when I think about the fact that our relationship would be so different now that you're practically an adult. The mother/daughter bond would, of course, always be there, but I really think we'd be developing more of a friendship now. You would be living on your own (or at least with Brittany in the dorm at OBU!), making your own decisions, starting to find your own way through life. You'd be coming home for weekends occasionally, and I'd be washing your clothes and letting you sleep 'til noon in your own bed. We'd enjoy every minute of you being home, and then hug you good-bye as you headed back to school, already looking forward to your next visit. I'm so disappointed that we're not getting to experience that with you. And I know we'll be facing more disappointment as the years go by and your friends start getting married, having babies, etc. You would have had such beautiful children. I wonder if you would have met somebody special by now. You know, I was nineteen when I met your dad at one of those Ouachita "functions" at the Arkadelphia skating rink. Would you bring him home to meet us on one of those weekend visits? Would Dad like him? Probably not...LOL!

Did you know that I have a blog now? I know you didn't want me to have one while you were here...I understand that you didn't want any more attention focused on you than there already was. I didn't think you'd mind after you left, though. It's been such a great way for me to work through all the emotions and questions I've had since you've been gone. If you can see it, I'm sure it's probably driving you crazy that the picture at the top isn't centered, and it's bugging me too...I just can't figure out how to fix it! We've both always been a little OCD about stuff like that!

And I'll just bet that you DO know one thing...that your prayer to bring God glory through your storm has been answered over and over since you left (actually even before you left). I've got to believe that is something you're fully aware of there...actually, you've probably heard the angels rejoicing several times over decisions that have been made! Maybe you've even joined in with them. What an amazing thought! Through your storm, God has taught many people how to live well, and some, how to die well. God is still using you, even now, and for that, I am thankful.

So how are we going to celebrate your birthday tomorrow? I'm not sure yet. I did just finish making your all-time favorite Mississippi Mud Cake for us to enjoy. I wish you were here to help Bethany lick the bowl. I don't know yet if we will go to work and school, or just take the day off. Tomorrow night is homecoming at MCHS...We are definitely going to skip out on that. Homecoming without you coming home is just too painful. Our school administration is so wonderful...They're going to give Dad the night off. So we're going to a Casting Crowns concert instead. Would you believe they are going to be in Hot Springs tomorrow night? I'm not sure how I'll handle hearing Mark Hall sing "Praise You in the Storm" on your birthday, but I'm going to give it a try. Then on Saturday, Bethany and I are going to Tiger Tunes at OBU, and we're going to meet Brittany and a friend of hers there. Brittany is absolutely loving Ouachita, and it's been great to spend some time with her recently. I wish we were meeting her and you there on Saturday...and I know she wishes the same thing.

Well, this letter has gotten pretty long...much longer than I had intended. So I'll say good-night for now. We're all waiting, more or less patiently, for the day we get to celebrate your birthday together again. Somebody told us once that when we finally get there, it will be like falling asleep in the car on the way to Grandma's...We'll suddenly be there and it will feel like no time at all has passed. That sounds good to me. Until that day, we will just keep trusting Him.

I love you,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Musings...

I've always loved the fall...the month of October in particular. The crispness in the air; the first day you get to wear that favorite hoodie again; Friday night football games; and the glorious colors of the changing leaves. And my absolute favorite thing about fall...driving through falling leaves. We live in a very woodsy area and daily drive under lots of overhanging tree branches. I just love it when the wind is blowing and the leaves are falling like rain and I get to drive through them while they're falling...something about that just makes me feel a little giddy!

This has been an unusually hot, dry fall in Arkansas. I still haven't pulled my Magnet Cove Panther hoodie out of the closet. And in our area of the state, we haven't had a drop of rain in over a month. So this year, instead of the beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows typical of fall, the leaves are just turning brown and falling off the trees. So I'm still getting to drive through them...they just aren't as pretty!

Like the leaves, I've been feeling kind of dry and withered myself. This is the second October since Hannah went to Heaven, and I just haven't felt the same sense of excitement about the change of seasons as I used to. I think part of that is the fact that Hannah's birthday and the holidays are approaching, and the anticipation of those dates weighs heavily at this time of year.

Friday night football games certainly don't have as much draw for me this year. Last year I went to most of the home games, even though it was hard to see Hannah's friends there, knowing she would have been there with them enjoying her senior year. I really thought this year would be easier because her friends would all be gone to college and I wouldn't be seeing them at games anymore. But you know what...most of them went to college nearby and come home for the football games! Somehow the fact that they've been away for awhile and are home for the weekend enjoying time with their families makes it even harder! I find myself thinking about how much their parents are looking forward to seeing them, how they're cooking their favorite meals, how they're planning out every minute they're going to spend together; how they're preparing their bedrooms for them...and I feel so sad (as I sit here writing in what was formerly Hannah's bedroom) knowing that she won't be coming home for the weekend. How I wish she could! What I would give for one more weekend with her.

I watched the rescue of the Chilean miners this week with a mixture of sadness and joy. I was absolutely awed by the fact that they were able to survive for so long in those conditions, and how the world came together in support of their rescue. And I was thrilled that the rescue operation went off without a hitch...It was one of those totally amazing events that you will remember all your life. But now I'm going to give you a glimpse of my fleshly self. As I watched the footage of those miners being reunited one by one with their overjoyed families, I had a really hard time truly celebrating with them. The sight of them hugging their families was almost too much to bear. I was in tears, but it wasn't because I was happy for these people. Instead, I found myself consumed with thoughts of how unfair it was those families got to be together again, complete and whole, when our family is still one less.

And then, it was as if God thumped me upside the head. I could almost hear Him saying, "You think those reunions look good? Just wait until you see what I have in store for you someday." And just that suddenly, my perspective was transformed. The scenes of dirty miners in hard hats and sunglasses hugging their grateful families surrounded by TV cameras and clapping strangers were replaced. Instead, I could see a reunion of Heavenly much bigger than coming home for a weekend or being lifted up from half a mile below the earth's surface. And I'm reminded that I just have to wait for my reunion. I'm not very good at waiting. As a matter of fact, I really pretty much stink at it. But I really, truly believe that God is going to make it worth the wait. So...I'm waiting...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Woooo Pig Sooooie!!

Yes, I'm still calling the Hogs after their victory over Texas A & M yesterday. The old Arkansas/Texas A & M rivalry was revived yesterday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and we were there to witness it! The trip was a belated birthday present for Brad, and we had a great time. Bethany brought her good friend Stacey along, and she added to the fun. We left bright and early, and stopped at Chili's Restaurant #1,000 (there was a big plaque out front commemorating this remarkable status) somewhere between Dallas and Arlington and had lunch.

Cowboys Stadium is a pretty incredible place. We had the opportunity to tour it over the summer, and it was fun to go back and see it full of people yesterday. The giant screens are just as impressive in person as you hear about on TV (probably even more so). The picure below gives you some idea what the screens are like, but really doesn't do them justice. When you're there, you don't know whether to watch the action on the field, or just watch the big screen. For me, it was easy to forget there was an actual game going on down below, I got so caught up in watching the screen sometimes!

It took us a few minutes to locate our seats, and we were a little surprised to find that we were the only Razorback fans in our section. As we looked around a little more, we discovered that we pretty much the only Hog fans in that entire half of the stadium. There we were, all decked out in our Razorback gear, sitting in the middle of Aggie territory. Across the way, we could see all the Arkansans calling the Hogs.

Here are Bethany and Stacey at halftime. Who cares if we're sitting on the wrong side...We're having fun anyway!

You know, as a non-native Arkansan, I've never been able to call the Hogs without some degree of embarrassed self-consciousness. "Wooooooo Pig Sooooooie," just doesn't roll off my lips effortlessly, and I've never felt the need to wear one of those rubber pig noses. As someone who views sports as entertainment and not as life and death, I've always thought some Arkansas fans were just a little over the top in their enthusiasm for their team. But the Razorback fans have nothing on Texas A & M fans. The hog call is mild compared to all the crazy chants and songs that these people had. They had these cheerleader guys dressed in white who led the crowd in a huge variety of cheers, which contained a mixture of cuss words and what appeared to me to be obscene gestures. And the entire crowd participated. It was actually pretty amazing to look around us and see them going through these elaborate series of motions, chants, and cheers. They did have a very cute mascot (much cuter than Tusk!) who didn't seem to share the crowd's enthusiasm.

My favorite part of a football game is halftime, because I really enjoy watching the bands march. And I was not disappointed. The announcer informed us that this is the largest Razorback band ever, with 375 members, and they pretty much covered the entire field. They were excellent, but since we were on the Aggie side, they marched with their backs to us.

The Aggie band was also outstanding. They wear military-style uniforms and marched with true military precision. I don't think they ever stopped marching during their entire performance. Here they are as they were leaving the field.

The Aggie fans didn't really appreciate us Razorback fans, especially as we kept standing up and cheering whenever our team did anything good. Bethany and Stacey even got hollered at to sit down one time after the Hogs scored a touchdown, which I thought was a little ridiculous since the people behind us weren't going to miss anything with that giant screen hanging down. But we did try to be considerate, and I thought Brad in particular did a pretty good job of containing himself as the Hogs ended up winning the game 24-17. One Aggie fan behind us even offered to take our picture, which I thought was nice.

You know, it's kind of funny that the biggest Razorback fan in our house (besides Brad, I suppose) was Hannah. Bless her heart, she inherited her athletic ability from me, which means she got none! Oh, she enthusiastically played soccer, basketball, and softball when she was younger, just never very well. As she got older, she realized that academics were her forte, but she remained an avid sports fan. She loved watching Darren McFadden and Felix Jones when they were playing for Arkansas, and of course, she was Bethany's biggest fan as she was playing basketball. She would have loved being at that game yesterday.

But just like we found ourselves sitting rather awkwardly in the middle of all those Aggie fans yesterday, as Christians, we find ourselves out of place every day here on this earth. We couldn't really get too comfortable where we were yesterday, and I don't think God wants any of us to get too comfortable with where we are in our lives either. Hannah wasn't at the game with us yesterday, and we definitely missed her....but she is where she was created to be. She'll never have another awkward, out-of-place type experience. What an incredible thought! And until I'm reunited with her in Heaven someday, I know that I'll never be completely comfortable here again. And for that, I'm actually thankful.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Epic Faith

Tonight we had the awesome...though very emotional...opportunity to share with the youth group at Hot Springs Baptist Church. This is our home church, and the youth group that Hannah was a member of throughout her journey with cancer. Our youth has been doing a series called "Epic Faith" (I love that name!) and each week they have had different church members share their story of faith. We considered it an honor to be asked to speak, and have been looking forward to it.

It wasn't until we arrived tonight that it hit me how very difficult this was going to be. We've shared with lots of different groups in a variety of venues, but this was different. While we were still in the parking lot, I saw two girls walking in, both of them friends of Hannah's. My breath kind of caught in my throat for a minute, but I squared my shoulders and we walked on in. Hannah actually would have graduated out of the youth group last year, so I guess I was kind of thinking that most of her friends would be gone by now. But they were there...they were all there!

We were early, so Brad and I spent some time in one of the Sunday School classrooms, preparing and praying. We came out and took our seats right before the worship band started playing. Our youth has an awesome worship band, made up of some very talented students. And I noticed how close the stage was to the kids. We were literally going to be about five feet away from these students! I really didn't think I could do it. Over the last year and a half, I've become pretty comfortable sharing our story...but tonight, in front of THESE kids...I just didn't know if I could. At this point I was pleading with God, "Please, just get me through this!"

Finally, the band wrapped up and it was our turn to speak. And, praise God, just like always, He showed up. These kids knew Hannah's story...many of them had walked through it with we really had a unique opportunity to share what God has taught us over the last couple of years. And He enabled us to share these things with clarity and with our emotions under control. Thank You, Lord! After we sat down, the emotions came. It was amazing and humbling to see a number of students coming forward and praying at the altar.

We would never, ever have chosen this path that God has placed us on. However, this is where we find ourselves, and we are determined to make the most of every opportunity we have to bring Him glory through sharing Hannah's story. There is an emotional cost every time we share, yet the blessing we receive in return is immense.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared in my "Happy Birthday, Anchor of Hope" post that a reporter from the Arkansas Baptist News Service attended one of our Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry meetings. She had come to our meeting with the intention of writing a story about the cancer ministry. As she interviewed us about the Anchor of Hope, we shared a lot of Hannah's story, as it was such an integral part of the formation of the ministry. What was originally intended to be one story turned into two, and those stories appeared in the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine today. I had thought the Anchor of Hope story was going to be the featured article, with just a little side story about Hannah. I was surprised to find that Hannah's story was the featured article, with a side story about the cancer ministry. They can be read online, for at least the next two weeks, at I continue to be awed by the way God has multiplied the ripples from Hannah's storm!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Love My Kindle App!!

I've been a voracious reader my entire life...literally for as long as I can remember. When I was 3 1/2 years old, my brother started Kindergarten and he began bringing home those little beginning reading books. I picked one up, opened it, and discovered I could read it! From that day on, I was hooked. I read everything I could get my hands on.

A few weeks before my birthday last December, I began dropping some not-so-subtle hints to Bethany and Brad about the gift I wanted. I wanted a Kindle. Never one to leave things to chance, I ordered myself a Kindle from about a week before my birthday. It actually came in a couple days early, but I didn't let myself open it until the big day. When I finally got to open the box, I was soooo excited. My first book I read on my Kindle was "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall. What a great book! I had some idea what it was about, but didn't realize the storyline included a cancer journey, so it really hit close to home. I'm a "chain reader", so as soon as I finished that book, I started another one..."The Christmas Sweater" by Glenn Beck and Jason Wright. Another good one.

I carried my Kindle with me everywhere, and proudly showed it off to my family at Christmas time. When I showed it to my sister-in-law, she said, "Oh yeah, I got the free Kindle app on my iPhone." Talk about bursting my bubble! She got it for free?? Hmmmmm. I did a little research and discovered I could still return my Kindle to Amazon (I had had it less than 30 days), and get an iPod Touch for about the same price. And with an iPod Touch, I could not only download the free Kindle app, I could use our home Wifi signal and surf the internet, check my email, look at Facebook, etc. So I lovingly boxed up my Kindle and sent it back to Amazon.

A few days later, I got my iPod Touch, downloaded the FREE Kindle app, and was back in business. I just and counted them up this evening, and since that time, I've read 97 books! I do most of my reading as I'm walking on a treadmill in the morning...and believe me, electronic books are MUCH easier to read on a treadmill than real books. I also take advantage of every time I'm sitting in the car waiting for Bethany to come out of basketball practice, and usually read a little bit in bed at night. The Kindle app is backlit, unlike a regular Kindle, so it's easy to read in bed without bothering anyone else. I've been blessed with the ability to read really fast, so it doesn't take me long to blow through a book.

My most recent book was "Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope" by Mary Beth Chapman. It's the story of her life as the wife of recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman and the journey their family has been on since the death of their youngest daughter Maria. Maria was tragically killed in their driveway when she was struck by a car driven by her older brother. Mary Beth shares their struggles and victories with remarkable openness and honesty. I could relate to her story on so many levels. Once I started reading it, I could hardly put it down. It was truly a blessing to read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has lost a loved one, particularly a child.

I also recently read The Hunter Games trilogy. I don't often read secular books, because I prefer to read from a Christian worldview, but this series had been recommended to me, and the concept intrigued me. Wow! Once I got started on this series, I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I'm not normally much of a fantasy fan, but I was completedly sucked into Panem, and the arena, and the lives of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. It was an amazing read; but I did find the view of life and death somewhat depressing. Death (and there was lots of it) was just the end...there was nothing else. How incredibly tragic that would be!

I've kind of gotten into watching Dancing With the Stars this year, so when I saw Kurt Warner's book "First Things First" as a free Kindle download, of course I had to get it. I started it this morning on the treadmill, and I think it's going to be a good one, too.

If you're a reader, I'd love to hear from you. Tell me what you're reading now, or what you've read that's good. I've started a list over in the right hand column so you can see what I'm reading (or what I've just finished). Whenever I run across something particularly good, I'll let you know!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bethany's Memoir

With her permission, I'd like to share the memoir Bethany wrote this week for her tenth grade Pre-AP English class:

My whole life was completely turned upside down February 26, 2009. This was the day that my best friend and sister went to an amazing place with the name of Heaven. This memoir is a story of hope, strength, and life-changing heartache. Through this difficult journey I have had to grow up immensely. Even though there will always be a hole inside of my heart, I wouldn’t change the journey I had with my sister Hannah for the world.

Before my sister got sick, my whole family was happy all the time. I have two outstanding parents named Jill and Brad who care for me very much. My sister Hannah and I were not only sisters, we were best friends. I told her everything about me and she did the same. She was the oldest, being 3 years old when I was born; welcoming me with a stuffed animal bear. We were meant to be sisters. When we got older we were still very close. Every time we were able to hang out together, we always did. Hannah and I used to get into trouble at the dinner table, usually it was laughing during a prayer or something and, we would be sent to our rooms every single time. What our parents didn’t know (but later found out) was that there was an air vent in each of our rooms so we could talk to each other and laugh about how dumb it was that we got in trouble! I remember when I was probably 6 or 7 Hannah always would pay me to crawl in bed with her at night and we would talk about how each other’s day went. She used to yell at me through those little air vents to get in her room. As I grew up a little I realized that I actually wanted to sleep with her and talk nonstop all night, so she gladly quit paying me. When I was finally about to be in high school with my big sister she got sick with an incredibly deadly cancer in her brain. No one saw it coming.

While she was sick we were still always there for each other. I was 13 through the whole illness so it impacted me remarkably with school, sports, and my friend life. Even through this devastating year, Hannah and I still had some awesome times sharing good old memories in bed together. I struggled seeing my sister deal with pain and slowly getting worse over time. Hannah was a very strong girl and I strive to be like her every day. Even when Hannah was really sick and hurting she never complained or asked “why me.” Hannah was a very strong Christian; she was saved when she was eight years old, she presented strong faith each day of her illness. The great God we love and so dearly need was there with my family and me along this unwanted path. I went through many difficult experiences that I believe no one should have to encounter, but the hardest thing for me was to lie there with my sister in my arms as she died without being able to do anything about it.

We were in the hospital for practically a year. When Hannah let go to spend eternity with her Father in Heaven is when she handed me the torch to be strong and courageous just as she was. I will never forget the last thing she said to me, or to anyone. I was sitting beside her hospice bed crying, when she opened her beautiful eyes and looked up to me and with her weak voice she whispered “I love you.” It is a constant struggle for me to walk through life without seeing her bright smile throughout the day, but with God by my side and with the memories we shared I get through life’s toughest situations. When she took her last breath, I took my first, starting a new life without my big sister by my side.