Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Memorable Thanksgiving

This year, for the first time ever, we hosted the Sullivan/Persenaire Thanksgiving celebration at our home. My parents came, and so did Brad's parents, along with all of his siblings and their kids...Seventeen people in all. I cooked a 22 pound turkey, complete with stuffing, along with a broccoli and cheese casserole, and two pies. The rest of the family brought cornbread dressing, green bean bundles, corn casserole, tater tot casserole, sweet potato casserole, "pink stuff" (a Persenaire family tradition), and more desserts.

The whole day was made a little more interesting when a heavy rain storm moved through the area and knocked out the electricity. Yeah, the turkey was about half done at the time. We sat around and visited for about an hour, thinking surely the power would come back on soon...but it didn't! All the kids were already hungry, we still had about two hours more cooking to go, and the Cowboy Cookies I had set out as snacks were long gone by this time. What to do? Well, borrow your neighbor's oven, that's what! There was a large area without power, but we were apparently right at the edge of it, because our neighbors right up the road had power. Bethany texted her friend Stacey whose family was just leaving to go to her Grandma's house, and with their permission, we moved our giant turkey into their empty, and already warm, oven. Our electricity came back on about 45 minutes later, just in time to get all the sides heated up while the turkey was finishing. We sent the guys over to get the turkey, and by the time it was carved, everything else was hot and ready to serve. We couldn't have planned it any better. The meal was delicious, and the family fellowship was fantastic.

I also got a really fun surprise on Thanksgiving Day. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you may remember me writing a post titled "Old Grandpa's Church". You can read it here. In the post, I wrote about the church my Great Grandpa made for our family in 1965, the year I was born. I concluded the post by wondering if my Dad might make me one just like it for Christmas some day. Well, he started working on one not long after Christmas last year...I knew he'd been working on it, so it wasn't really a surprise...but I wasn't expecting to get it until Christmas! Look how pretty this little church is!

The top lifts off, just like the original, to reveal the handmade pews, pulpit, and organ inside. There is a music box that plays "Silent Night", it lights up, and the steeple lifts off and you can ring the bell.

The building of this church was truly a labor of love. My Dad's hands are gnarled and twisted with arthritis, yet he painstakingly labored over every detail. What a precious family heirloom this little church will be. Thanks Dad...I could not love it more!

This Thanksgiving holiday has been somewhat overshadowed by the illness of a very dear friend. She's been very, very sick, and just underwent her third abdominal surgery since November 16th today. Her husband has faithfully kept me informed about her condition, but it's been tough for me to just wait for each update to see how she is doing...such a helpless feeling. I've gotten a little bit of an idea of what it was like for the people who read our email updates and prayed for us while Hannah was sick. Please join me in praying for Laurie...for wisdom for her doctors, for peace of mind for her family, and for complete healing if that is His will for her.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I am so thankful for the opportunity we had to speak at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Memorial Service on Sunday. What an amazing blessing it was! The service itself was beautifully done, culminating with a slideshow of pictures of the precious children whose lives have been lost to cancer in the past year while their parents lit candles in their memories. There were 28 of them...twenty-eight! That's too many kids dying of cancer! The heartbreak represented in that room was immeasurable. It was truly an honor and a privilege to be able to share our grief experiences and our faith with them, and I pray that God was glorified in the process.

I am thankful that this year I am looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with anticipation, and not with dread, like I was last year. We are hosting it at our house, and will have a house full of people tomorrow...grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins...I think it's going to be great! I'm so thankful that all of the "firsts" are behind us. As we start this round of "seconds", I can see that, by God's grace, it's going to be easier. This poem, from the Arkansas Children's Hospital "Good Mourning" Newsletter, pretty much says it all...

A Bereaved Thanksgiving
By Darcie Sims

It doesn’t seem to get any better…
But it doesn’t seem to get any worse either.
For that, I am thankful.

There are no more pictures to be taken…
But there are memories to be cherished.
For that, I am thankful.

There is a missing chair at the table…
But the circle of family gathers close.
For that, I am thankful.

The turkey is smaller…
But there is still stuffing.
For that, I am thankful.

The days are shorter…
But the nights are softer.
For that, I am thankful.

The pain is still there...
But it only lasts moments.
For that I am thankful.

The calendar still turns,
the holidays still appear,
And they still cost too much…
But I am still here.
For that I am thankful.

The room is still empty,
the soul still aches…
But the heart remembers,
For that, I am thankful.

The guests still come, the dishes pile up…
But the dishwasher still works.
For that, I am thankful.

The name is still missing, the words still unspoken…
But the silence is shared.
For that, I am thankful.

The snow still falls, the sled still waits,
and the spirit still wants to…
For that, I am thankful.

The stillness remains…
But the sadness is smaller.
For that, I am thankful.

The moment is gone…
But the love is forever.
For that, I am blessed: for that I am grateful…

Love was once (and still is)
A part of my being…
for that, I am living.
I am living…
and for that, I am thankful.

May your holidays be filled with reasons
to be thankful. Having loved and having
been loved is perhaps the most wondrous
reason of all.

Darcie Sims—1992

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skipping Church

Yes, it's Sunday morning, and I'm still in my pajama pants and a sweatshirt, sitting in front of my computer. I'm here by myself...Brad and Bethany went hunting yesterday, and Bethany shot at, but missed, a "monster buck". That's only the second time she's ever missed something she's shot at! They were going to come home from the camp after the Razorback game last night, but it was so late by the time the game was over (double overtime), and you know, that monster buck was still out there somewhere, so they decided to stay another night and hunt this morning. So, I felt that this was the perfect opportunity to have some alone time, where I could really focus and put the finishing touches on a presentation I've been working on.

And the timing is good, too, because we are giving the presentation this afternoon! Today is the day we will be speaking at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic memorial service. It is an annual event, where all the parents who have lost children to cancer at ACH in the past year get together for a time of remembrance.

We were asked to speak at this event several weeks ago, and I've had plenty of time to prepare. Yes, the last few weeks have been very busy, with basketball starting back up and Bethany being involved with a school play...but it's not like I haven't had time to work on this speech. It's just been a very difficult speech to write, knowing that our audience will be entirely made up of grieving families. I want to be so careful not to inadvertently add to anyone's pain (see my four recent blog posts about grief), but to be an encouragement to them, and to help them see that it does get better with time. I want to share our faith in God, yet not have anyone feel that we are shoving our beliefs on them. I want to share about the things God has taught us over the past 21 months, yet not come across as if we've got it all figured out, because we certainly don't!

I have spent a lot of time in prayer about the content of this speech. I'm not sure if I can really explain it very well, but when I write something like this (and even when I write on this blog sometimes), it's as if God won't give me the words to say until my heart is right, and ready to receive them. And sometimes, He only gives me a little bit at a time. And I can tell when I go off writing on my comes off sounding stilted and often self-aggrandizing. That's how the writing of this Children's Hospital presentation has has come to me in bits and pieces, I've written it in fits and starts, and it's taken awhile for it to come together into a coherent whole. So I got up early this morning, spent some time in prayer, and I believe this speech is now in a presentable form.

Now my prayer is simply for strength to make it through this speech emotionally. I have not been back to Arkansas Children's Hospital since the terrible day when we left there to go to the hospice center. I even get a queasy feeling in my stomach on the rare occasions that we've driven by it since that day. Not that all of my memories associated with ACH are bad...Some of my very best memories were made there...I can't really explain the effect it has on me. So just going there today will be emotional for me. Thankfully, the memorial service is not in the main building where we always went, so that will help. I believe some of the Hem/Onc Clinic staff will be at this service, and I am a little nervous about seeing them. We haven't seen Hannah's oncologist since the day we left, and that will be an emotional reunion as well. He and the nurses there loved our daughter, and we've missed seeing them.

Brad just called, and they're on their way home. No monster buck. Of course, you never get anything when you hunt on Sunday morning, isn't that right? That's what I've always heard anyway!

Thanks for your prayers for us, as always. I know there are many of you who pray for us often, and we are so appreciative of that. I can't help but feel that I'd rather be anywhere today other than this memorial service...Hannah should be here with us, and we should be getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving together this week. But she's not...she's where she was created to be...and while we're waiting to be reunited with her, we will seek to honor the Lord by living well and sharing what He's taught us through Hannah's life and death.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ten on the Tenth

Let's take a break from some of the heavy topics we've been discussing lately, and do something that some of my way cooler than me blogging friends do...Ten on the Tenth! As best as I can tell, Ten on the Tenth works like this...On the tenth of each month, you make a list of ten things that fit into some type of category. So, in the spirit of good blogsmanship, here's my list of Ten Things I Love.

(Notice that I said "things", not "people", so this is not meant to be a list of people I love, although there are a couple of people who are a big part of the things I love. I've also decided not to include "food" on this list, because I think I can make that a topic for the tenth of some other month....although I may have difficulty narrowing that list down to just ten things!)

Ten Things I Love (In No Particular Order):

1. My iPhone. And not because I like to talk on the phone, because I don't. There are just so many other things about my iPhone to love, like my Kindle app, my Facebook app, my FOX News app, my ESV Bible app, my Skype app, my Weather Channel app...I could go on and on. And I do enjoy texting...I'd much rather text than talk.

2. Contemporary Christian Music. You name the artist, I probably have at least one of his/her/their albums on the aforementioned iPhone. I have a very wide range of CCM interests, from TobyMac to Chris Tomlin to Casting Crowns to Switchfoot to Skillet to Stellar Kart to Brandon Heath and everything in between. I pretty much love it all. When I'm at home alone, driving in the car, walking on the treadmill...wherever I'm at...I have music playing.

3. Storms. I love a good thunderstorm. I get all excited when storms are in the forecast, and am always disappointed if they don't happen. The louder the thunder and the brighter the lightning, the better! I think I'll become a storm chaser when I grow up!

4. Pajama pants. I love the rare evening when I can come home from work and change straight from my dress pants into my pajama pants. I'm pretty tall, so I've always had problems getting pajama pants long enough...I do not love feeling a breeze on my ankles! Fortunately, my even taller sister-in-law introduced me to a company called Long Elegant Legs, which actually makes pajama pants which are too long for me. But hey, I'm not complaining! Too long is better than too short!

5. Evenings at home. The kind of evening where I can put on my pajama pants and warm socks when I get home from work and not take them off until I go to bed. The kind of evening where there is nowhere else we have to be, no responsibilities to fulfill, nothing else we have to do. A fire in the fireplace and a good book on my Kindle make these evenings even better! The rarity of these evenings during this season in our life makes me appreciate them even more.

6. Watching Bethany play basketball. If we can't be at home for the evening, the next best thing is sitting in the stands cheering the Magnet Cove Lady Panthers to victory. Actually, I'm not usually in the stands, I'm sitting at the scorer's table keeping the book, which makes it a little hard to actually cheer, but hey, I'm still loving every minute of it!

7. Bath & Body Works hand soap. B&BW makes the best-smelling hand soap there is, and I get all excited about trying the new scents when they come out. Every once in awhile, I'll decide that it's silly to spend the extra money just for soap, and I'll try something cheaper. But it's just not the same...So, I watch for coupons and B&BW sales, and stock up when I can!

8. Falling leaves and sprouting leaves. Maybe that's two things, but since they both have to do with leaves, I'm going to count them as one thing. I love watching the leaves fall in the autumn (especially when I'm walking or driving through them) and I love seeing the new leaves grow in the spring. Maybe it's really the change of seasons that I love. Yes, I think that's it. I'm glad I live in a state with four distinct seasons, because I really enjoy each one.

9. Calendars. I actually have a rather curious obsession with calendars. I get downright giddy about choosing calendars for the new year...and yes, I said "calendars" plural. I have multiple calendars in my house. Embarrassed mumbling now...I even have one in my bathroom. (Stop laughing, Mom.) I bought a new planner for 2011 at the Christian bookstore the other day, and I was ridiculously excited about it. There's just something about turning the page on an old month (or year) and starting a new one that I really like. Yes, I know I'm really a dork at heart.

10. Shopping with my Mom. I love to shop with my Mom, even though we don't usually shop "together". Oh, we go together...we love to go to Springfield or Branson, Missouri, on our shopping trips, but as soon as we get there, we split up. "Meet you at noon", we'll say, and off we go to our various favorite stores. I hit the stores that sell calendars and contemporary Christian music, and she hits the stores that sell purses. Quite often, we'll run into each other at Bath & Body Works checking out the new varieties of hand soap, but then we'll split up again. We meet for lunch, and then split up again for the afternoon. Then, on our way home, we'll stop for some sort of decadent ice cream treat. It doesn't matter how many calories they contain, because, after all, we worked hard shopping all day! (And, there are no husbands there to see us eating them, so the calories don't count, right?) When we finally get home, we show each other all our purchases and tell each other what great bargains we got. She'll exclaim over my calendars and I'll ooh and ahh over her purses, and we'll start planning our next trip.

So there are Ten Things I Love on the Tenth of November. That was actually really fun...I like this Ten on the Tenth Thing. Hmmm....What will my topic be for December.......

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Final Thoughts On Grief...

OK, so we're finally coming to the end of my seemingly endless blogging on grief. Whew! I don't know about you, but it's been kind of a rough series of posts for me. I've just learned so much over the last couple of years...things that I had absolutely no idea about before...and I've wanted to share it all. As I said when I started all of this (please read the last three posts if this is your first visit to this blog), I just don't think we spend enough time talking about grief, especially in our churches, when we are surrounded by people slogging their way through it.

So, back to Nancy Guthrie's four needs of grieving people:
  • They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering and needs to be respected.

  • They have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

  • They have broken relationships that need to be healed.

And finally,

  • They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.

Once again, I think she's right on with this one. It has made a huge difference to us that we've been able to actually see God's purpose being fulfilled through Hannah's death. I think we've been particularly blessed in that regard due to the fact that Hannah actually prayed for a storm in order to give God glory and to bring others closer to Him. We've seen her prayer answered over and over again, and it continues to be answered even today.

I really believe there is some purpose in every loss...we sometimes just have to look a lot harder to see it. I don't believe that God does things randomly. Now, we may not find that purpose until we get to Heaven someday...and we may have to learn to live with that. He didn't promise us answers, but He did promise us Himself.

I think that Nancy could have added a subpoint under this one, but she didn' I will. Here it is.

  • They have a deep desire that their loved one be remembered.

You know, when an elderly person dies, they leave behind a legacy. They have children, grandchildren, maybe even great grandchildren...all of whom carry their DNA. They've had a lifetime to build relationships with others, and their influence in life may have been very widespread. Long after they leave this earth, their legacy lives on through their descendants and the people they've influenced during their long lifetime.

When a child dies, there is none of that. That child will never have a single descendant; their relationships have been few; and their circle of influence has been limited. After they leave this earth, their parents, siblings, extended family members and close friends are still filled with their memories, but not many others.

This is why so many bereaved parents start foundations, establish scholarships, or launch ministries following the death of their children. They have a deep desire not only for their child to be remembered, but also to bring good out of a tragic situation. Just a few great projects that have sprung up out of immense grief are the following: Keep the Faith, Kamo's Kids, and Vincent & Annabella's Garden. God has a way of bringing beauty out of ashes, but we must be willing to let Him use our sorrow for His purposes.

We've been so grateful that He's allowed us numerous opportunities to share His glory through Hannah's story, and that He's brought the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry into being as a result of our experiences with cancer. We are particularly excited about two things that He is doing right now.

We have been asked to speak at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Memorial Service on Sunday, November 21st. This is an annual service that is held for families who have lost children to cancer over the past year. I must say that I am thrilled and terrified about this opportunity all at the same time. Thrilled, because I am looking forward to sharing what God has taught us over the past 20 months, but terrified at the thought of being back at Children's Hospital. I have not been back there since the day Hannah was rolled out of there on our way to the hospice center. It will be a difficult day emotionally, so prayers would be greatly appreciated!!

We are also excited about a new venture that God has placed on our hearts. I don't want to disclose too many details yet, because it is all still coming together, but we have been meeting with another bereaved couple about it, and it is very apparent that God is at work. That's all I'm going to say about it right now, but I will share more when I'm able. We would also appreciate prayers about this project, even though I'm not going to tell you what it is at this point. Just please pray that God will keep His hand upon it, that we will follow His leadership, and that He will bring it together according to His will.

Thanks for sticking with me through this whole series on grief. I've often said that even if I knew nobody else ever read it, I'd continue to write this blog simply because it helps me so much. I am thankful that there are people who read it, though, and it always makes my day when I hear from someone that something I wrote helped them in some way. It's humbling, too, and even a little bit scary to know that so many people read what I write. I pray that I will always be careful to follow God's leadership as I write. And thank YOU for your faithful prayers in that regard!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Even More Thoughts On Grief...

Picking up where we left off.....(Please read the last two posts if you're new to this blog).....I'd like to share more about our experience with grief after losing our daughter to cancer a little over 20 months ago. Again, credit goes to Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic outline of these thoughts.

According to Nancy, grieving people have four primary needs. In my last two posts, I discussed the first two:
  • Grieving people have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.

  • Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

Now, for the third:

  • Grieving people have broken relationships that need to be healed.

A crisis or grief situation can cause enormous stress within a family, and in outside relationships as well. Again, my comments on this topic are those of a bereaved parent, since that is the only kind of grief I'm familiar with.

Have you ever heard the statistic that 75% (or 85% or 90%!) of couples divorce after the death of a child? I certainly had...and then I was actually reminded of it by a few "helpful" people after Hannah went to Heaven. But did you know that that statistic is a myth? Recent studies show that the divorce rate for bereaved couples is actually BELOW the national average! If you don't believe me, google it! A 2006 study by The Compassionate Friends (the nation's largest self-help bereavement organization for families) actually shows that only 16% of bereaved couples divorce. Who knew?

Now, that's not to say that there are not stresses on a marriage resulting from the death of a child (especially if the marriage is already strained before the loss). There certainly are...not the least of which is the fact that husbands and wives tend to grieve differently. Brad and I certainly do, and it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to allow each other the space and time to do so. There are times when we might wonder if our spouse will ever be the same...and you know what? They probably won't! Losing a child is a life-transforming experience...Neither spouse will ever be the same. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. If we allow Him, God can use our experiences to change us for the better, and to bring us into an even stronger relationship with Him and with our spouses. In one of her books, Nancy Guthrie describes the relationship between bereaved spouses as that of two wounded soldiers, limping off the battlefield, leaning heavily on each other, basically holding each other up as they are walking. Now that's a word picture I can relate to!

Relationships with extended family can also become strained, as expectations regarding holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, etc., can become a source of stress. Often, grieving families want to start completely new traditions, and extended family members may not understand. They are grieving, too, and sometimes just don't know how they can help their hurting loved ones navigate these difficult waters. Some bereaved families choose to just "skip Christmas" or other holidays for a year or so. We didn't skip Christmas last year (though we considered it!), but we did do some things differently, because some of our family traditions were just too painful. I'm chafing a little bit at the Christmas displays I'm already seeing at Wal-Mart...We just work at surviving one holiday at a time these days. Hannah's birthday is behind us...we tackle Thanksgiving next...I'll start thinking about Christmas after that.

Then there are those people outside of the grieving family...the people who love them, who are concerned about them, and who desperately want to say something to make them "feel better." These people are well-meaning, and have only the family's best interest at heart. But...some of the things they say can hurt. Or even if they don't really hurt, at best they're not helpful. Here's a list of some rather "unhelpful" things that people commonly say to grieving people:

  • "I understand what you're going through." (Unless you really, truly do...if, for example, you've also had a child who died of cancer. And even then, nobody REALLY understands another person's grief.)

  • "He/She is in a better place." (Yes, I'm glad Hannah is in a better place...but I really wish she was still here with us!)

  • "It's a good thing you have another child." (Ummm...No comment.)

  • "God always picks His best flowers first." (What does that even mean?)

  • "God must have needed him/her more than you did." (But couldn't He have left him/her here for a little longer? I really needed him/her, too!)

  • "God must have wanted another angel in Heaven." (I'm really not sure this one passes theological muster. I don't think Hannah is an angel...I believe she is far superior to the angels.)

  • "How are you doing?"...followed by a hand on your arm and a compassionate look deep into your eyes with the follow-up question..."But how are you REALLY doing?" (Especially if you are in a public place...that second question can often lead to the release of a lot of pent-up emotion that the person may not wish to share with everyone.) Let me also say...If you are a very close friend or family member of the grieving person, you are in a private place, and you are prepared for an honest response, it's okay to ask these questions.

Then there's the other extreme...the avoiders. I understand this group very well, because I have been (and still kind of am) one of them. These are the folks who see a grieving family coming down the church hallway or down the aisle at Wal-Mart, and suddenly realize that they need to go to the bathroom, or remember that there was something they forgot to pick up in another aisle. I know this because I've done it!! I've done it for two different was that I simply didn't know what to say and was afraid of saying something wrong, and the other was that I was afraid I might start crying, choke up, and not be able to say anything at all. Did you catch that both reasons involved being afraid? I really think that's the root of the avoidance issue.

Some grieving families are very hurt by the fact that people avoid them, or may spend time with them, but avoid the subject that they most want to talk about. For me, personally, this has not been a problem, because I understand the avoiders so well. For many people, though, this can be a source of great pain and lead to broken relationships.

I hope you're not beating yourself up right now and thinking, "Oh no! I've been doing (or saying) everything wrong for my grieving friend or family member!" Please don't do that! As Paul would say, "I am the chief" of wrongdoers in this area, and only learned better through the death of my own child. I still slide back into my avoiding habits from time to time...Thankfully, God is still working on me.

So, what's the "right" thing to do when you encounter a grieving person or family? I think a lot depends on how well you know the person. If they are just an acquaintance or someone you have a relatively shallow relationship with, it is probably best to say something like, "I'm sorry about what happened. I'm praying for you." This is highly preferable to "How are you doing?" because it doesn't require a response from the grieving person. If you knew the person who passed away, a brief word about what they meant to you might be appropriate. If you're in a private setting, you might share a little more deeply about what the person meant to you, but be careful about doing this in public settings. It may be more than the grieving person can handle at that particular moment. Honestly, particularly early on in my grief, when I was in, a football game, work...sometimes I was just trying to make it through the event. I would walk through a crowd thinking to myself, "Please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah." I knew that if somebody did, I would totally lose it. A brief "I'm praying for you" or a quick hug, I could handle, but not much more than that. Your prayers are absolutely the best gift you can give to a grieving person.

If you know the person well...just love them. Spend time with them. Let them talk. Don't be afraid to bring up the person who has died...I can promise you they're already thinking about them anyway! Allow them to share their questions and struggles without judging. Give them space to work through their emotions, and don't expect them to get over it quickly. Be prepared to spend a lot of time listening, and refrain from attempting to "fix" them. Only God can do that!

I'm almost done...Just a couple more thoughts to share...I promise!

Take a few moments to talk to your children about how to help people who are grieving, especially if you know of a situation they may be encountering with a friend or classmate. When Bethany returned to school a few days after Hannah's funeral, she was met with the following comments from fellow students: "I know just how you dog died last week." "Hey, I heard your sister kicked the bucket." "How come your sister had to die on my birthday?" I'm not kidding. Her classmates actually said these things to her. Please, please talk to your kids.

Sometimes grieving people have a hard time returning to church after their loss. There are a variety of reasons for this. The memories make it hard...If you've been accustomed to sitting together as a family in church, it can be extraordinarily difficult to come back without one of your family members. Oh, how I miss hearing Hannah singing next to me. The music makes it hard...Music can always trigger emotion, especially when you're grieving. And some of those praise songs can be hard to sing when your heart is heavy and your faith is shaken. The people make it hard (although they don't mean to!)...a grieving person can sometimes feel like they're in a fishbowl, and that everyone is watching them to see "how they're doing." The sermons can make it hard...some messages (particularly those about families) can be difficult for a grieving person to hear. Finally, the expectations make it hard...We tend to have a certain expectation for how people are supposed to behave at church. We dress ourselves up, pick up our Bibles, and put on our smiles. I'll be honest...sometimes it's just too much effort to keep that smile on for two (or more) straight hours. If a grieving person or family doesn't return to church right away after their loss, it may be that they are just not ready to face all of that yet.

I actually started writing this post three days ago. (I'm sorry if it feels like you started reading it three days ago :-) !) I never intended for it to be this long. I've actually lost sleep over this post...waking up early, early in the mornings and thinking about what I wanted to share. My intention is not to criticize or make anyone feel bad about something they've said to a grieving person. And I certainly can't speak for all grieving people...many of them might feel completely differently than I do about some of these things. I can only share from my own experience. And my hope and prayer in sharing all of this is that it will open your eyes and give you a better understanding of those of us who grieve.

Finally...If you are someone who is grieving, and your heart has been broken by something that someone has (or hasn't) said, let me share one last thought with you. The day I started this post, I stopped by our local Christian bookstore to pick up a new 2011 planner, and found a neat little flip calendar for my desk. It's called "Rain on Me: Daily Moments of Hope and Encouragement" by Holley Gerth. When I sat down at my desk to start writing this blog, I opened up that calendar to November 4th, and this is what it said,

"If people have said things to you in God's name that have wounded you deeply, if you sit in the pew on Sunday morning and feel utterly alone in your pain, if you have been hurt by the very ones intended to heal you--then please know that is not God's desire for you. We are imperfect people, and we are capable of tearing each other apart in ways that break our Heavenly Father's heart."

How cool is that? On the very day I sit down to write about grieving people having broken relationships, that is what my brand new calendar says. Someone must have needed to hear that. Our Heavenly Father grieves with us, and some day, He will set all things right.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More Thoughts On Grief...

In today's post, I want to share some more thoughts about grief. If this is your first visit to my blog, you might want to read my last post to get an idea where I'm going with this and why. Again, I want to give credit to books and interviews by Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic framework of this series of posts.

Nancy stated in an interview with the Gospel Coalition Blog on August 4, 2010, that grieving people have four primary needs. After countless discussions with bereaved parents, and through our own experience after losing our daughter to cancer, we've found her statements to be very accurate.

In my last post, I shared the first need:
  • Grieving people have lingering sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.

Today, I want to share her second point, and discuss it in light of our experience.

  • Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

As I've stated before, I've been in church basically my entire life. But until my teenaged daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was quite content to stay in the shallow end of the theological pool. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I had ever even learned how to swim...I really think I was still sitting in an inner tube wearing floaties. Not really a pretty picture of a 41-year-old woman!

But when that diagnosis came, I suddenly found myself in the deep end of the pool with a hole in my inner tube and the floaties stripped away. I'm so thankful that even though I'd never really had to apply them, I'd been getting "swimming lessons" my entire life. I could at least dog paddle, I knew the Master Lifeguard, and I had access to all of His written swimming lessons. I knew where to turn for help.

But, still, there were questions...deep questions that were not easily answered.

Why does a 16-year-old girl who is serving the Lord get cancer?

If God is a God of love, why doesn't He heal my child?

Why pray, when God's going to do what He's going to do anyway?

Does God even care about what happens to our family?

You may remember that we went to a Respite Retreat with other bereaved couples over Labor Day weekend. We spent hours and hours just sitting around and talking. There were no shallow conversations at that retreat...all of us were navigating the deep end of the pool, and that's what we wanted to talk about.

A common experience of bereaved parents is that they no longer enjoy "small talk." Who has time to talk about the weather, or the latest ball game, or even politics (make sure you vote today!) when there are life and death issues to discuss?! One of the moms at the retreat exclained, "I love it here! Everywhere else we go people want to talk about Kindergarten, and we want to talk about Calculus!" I knew exactly what she meant.

I still don't have all the answers to my deep theological questions. But there are a few things I know:

God is good, He is in control, and He's working out His plan. Sin, evil, cancer, death...all of these things will come to an end in His perfect time.

God is God, He sees the big picture, and He has a purpose in everything that happens (even if I don't like it...okay, even if I hate it!)

God is sovereign, and He can be trusted. I don't have to understand everything, I just have to rest in the knowledge of His care.

These are the kinds of things that grieving people need to be assured of. Don't try to answer all their questions with "Sunday School" answers, but listen to their questions without judging. Love them, pray for them, and gently guide them to the Master Lifeguard.