Saturday, January 29, 2011

Our "JOY Wall"

Bethany and I had some time at home this past week (in the middle of basketball season, no less) and we used it to finally put up our "JOY Wall" in Hannah's room. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know I've been collecting JOY items for a few months now. I've been looking for some big letters to put up in the middle of the wall, which I finally found at Hobby Lobby last week. We put those up first, and then starting hanging all the other "Joy" stuff around them. My intention was to save the overtly Christmas-themed items in a box to hang on our tree next Christmas, but Bethany really wanted to put everything that's what we did. The wall is going to look a little bare when we take some of these things down to hang on our Christmas tree in December, but hey, that's okay! It actually looks a little like "JOY" exploded all over the wall, but I love it. Many of these items were gifts from precious friends and family, and each one makes me smile. It will be so much fun to add to our collection, and eventually fill up the whole wall!

There are a couple of reasons why we chose "JOY" as the theme of this room. Probably the most obvious is because Joy was Hannah's middle name. But that's not the main reason. The biggest reason we want to cover her walls with JOY is to remind us of a couple of things. One, that the JOY of the Lord is our strength, even when we are feeling our weakest. And two, that Hannah is right now experiencing indescribable JOY, a JOY that we will share with her someday.

Now, is JOY my overwhelming emotion as I walk into my oldest daughter's empty bedroom every day?

Um, no.

Believe me, there are a lot of days when I feel kind of like this...

Don't you just love that picture? It's actually a Christmas card that a sweet friend sent me. As soon as I saw it, I said, "That's me!" Look into that cat's eyes...It's like he's saying, "Yeah, I've got joy...but I just dare you to make me be happy about it!" Yes, I have a deep-down joy that's always with me because of what Christ did for me on the cross, but do I always FEEL joyful? No.

Sometimes I've wondered as I've looked around at my JOY stuff...

Am I just faking it? Am I being a hypocrite to surround myself with JOY when sometimes I'm just really not feelin' it?

And then I read this on someone's blog the other day....from the book "Kingdom of Love" by Hannah Hurnard.

"What about praising even when the disappointment feels very real? Does that mean we're faking it and fooling ourselves?

No. It means we're being obedient.

It is never hypocrisy to act as we earnestly desire to feel, even though the feeling may be very contrary at the time. Feelings follow action."

So, even though I sometimes feel like a surly feline crammed into a ill-fitting stocking, I will continue to choose JOY!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Disciple Now 2011

This past weekend, our church was involved in a youth retreat called Disciple Now. Students stay in host homes, and a special speaker is brought in who leads worship and teaching services throughout the weekend. If you've followed our story from the very beginning, you may remember that it was at a D-Now event that Hannah heard a speaker talk about how God uses storms in our lives to bring us closer to Him, and to allow others to see His glory through our storms. It was at that event that Hannah prayed that God would bring a storm into her life so that she could bring Him glory. A few months later, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now, I don't believe that God inflicted cancer upon her simply because she prayed that prayer...but I do believe that He was preparing her heart for the storm that was already on its way.

Bethany was a part of the D-Now event this past weekend, along with about 300 other students from four or five other churches in our area. Over the course of the weekend, there were 22 salvations, and 14 rededications. Awesome, huh? The event culminated in the worship service at our church on Sunday morning, with about 100 students representing our church filling the choir loft and stage area to overflowing. As I sat down in the pew and looked at all those kids, I thought to myself...."Uh oh, this could be an emotional service." You know how you have those conversations with yourself. (Or maybe it's just me.) So I told myself, "No...this doesn't have to be an emotional service. Hannah wouldn't have been a part of D-Now this year. She wouldn't have been up there in that group. She would have been too old for D-Now." And so I squared my shoulders, settled into my seat, and I was okay for a few minutes. But then I caught sight of someone up there on the stage...sitting so far back behind all the kids that I could barely see her...Hannah's best friend, Brittany, who is now a student at Ouachita Baptist University. She and Hannah had always planned to be roommates at Brittany is there, and Hannah is not. Brittany was involved with D-Now as a student leader; kind of like a "camp counselor" for the weekend. And it hit me out of the blue (I really don't know why I didn't think of it earlier in the weekend)...Yes, Hannah would have been up there! She would have been up there as a student leader, sitting next to Brittany! She would have really enjoyed leading those younger kids in devotionals and discussions. She would have been so good at that. The tears began to flow as the youth band started to play, and I felt her absence so deeply.

As some of the students began to share their testimonies of how God had worked in their lives that weekend, the tears continued to flow...but the reason for them changed. Two of the girls who spoke were friends of Hannah's, just a year younger than her, and I know their lives had been profoundly impacted by her life and death two years ago. And as I looked around that crowded platform, I thought about how many more of those kids had been influenced spiritually by Hannah's storm. And I wondered...Was God more glorified in this past D-Now weekend by Hannah's absence than He would have been by her presence? I believe He was.

Snow is anticipated for tomorrow...See my last post for the significance of that!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snow Daze...

I grew up in northern Wisconsin, where snow on the ground in winter was just as much a part of life as grass on the ground in summer. We usually got our first snow around Halloween, and if we were lucky, we might see the ground again by Easter. We did lots of fun winter time skating in gym class, playing broom hockey, jumping from the roof into the snow piles after Dad shoveled it off, building snow forts, and of course, sledding. But we never, EVER missed school because of snow.

This past Sunday afternoon, about six inches of snow fell in our part of Arkansas. And we were out of school for the entire week. Along with the unsual snowfall came some exceptionally cold temperatures, so the tiny bit of melting that took place each day froze over each night and made driving even more hazardous in the morning. Here in Arkansas, we don't have much slow-clearing equipment, so once the roads get covered, we're pretty much stuck until the temperatures get above freezing and stay there. We also don't have much in the way of sledding the kids have to get a little creative.

Looks like fun, doesn't it? And it was made even more fun by the fact that the sledders had to bail off at the bottom of the hill, just before their "sled" ran into the trees. Ahhh, the joys of sledding redneck style!

For me, the anticipation of snow is just as much fun as the snow itself. Around here, if there is even the remotest possibility of snow in the forecast, the weathermen start talking about it a week ahead of time. And for the next several days, that's the topic of everybody's conversation. Is it really going to snow? In what part of the state? As the target date gets closer, and the forecast becomes a little more refined, the questions continue. How much snow are we going to get? Will there be any sleet? The day before the snow is expected, everybody goes to the grocery store and empties the shelves of milk and bread. Will school be canceled? How long are we going to be snowed in? The weather forecasters are still hedging at this point...We could get a dusting; we could get six inches; it all depends on how far north the low pressure system goes and if the cold air arrives on time; yada, yada, yada. Finally the big day arrives and everyone's got an opinion about what's going to happen. It's going to go north of us; It's going to go south of us; We're not going to get any; This is going to be a big storm. And everybody keeps looking out the window all day long. And finally the long-awaited flakes start to fall. The kids scream for joy and declare that they're not going to do their homework because they know there'll be no school the next day, and moms start cooking all that good comfort food that goes so well with cold weather. Anticipation fulfilled.

As I was anticipating the snow all last week, I couldn't help but think about my anticipation of Heaven. As excited as I was thinking about the possibility of snow, that excitement doesn't compare, not even the tiniest bit, to the excitement I feel when I think about Heaven. And while I've often been disappointed when my snowfall expectations have not been fulfilled, I know that my anticipation of Heaven will never disappoint.

Plans for the "While We're Waiting" Weekend retreat for bereaved parents are still coming together. We had a great organizational team meeting last week (before we got snowed in!). If you've considered coming, but were maybe a little uncomfortable with the separate sleeping facilities for husbands and wives, we have made arrangements for reduced rates at the Comfort Inn ($55/night + tax) and the Holiday Inn Express ($77/night + tax) in Malvern. These hotels are both brand new and are just about ten minutes away from Family Farm, where the retreat will be held. One of the things we'll be talking about at this retreat is the anticipation of Heaven and how we are going to live while we're waiting to be reunited with our children there. As a bereaved parent, I'd really rather spend my time talking about that than whether or not it's going to snow!

"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." (Romans 8:22-25 NKJV)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ten on the Tenth

It's time for Ten on the Tenth! This month, I thought I'd share my ten favorite things in Hannah's room. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know that we changed her room into a prayer room/office a few months back.

1. Here's one of my favorite purchases...This could very well be the most comfortable chair in the world!

2. Hannah's academic awards...Still on the wall just like we hung them up as she received them. The two biggest ones in the middle are for freshman student of the year and sophomore student of the year, chosen by the teachers. Those were the ones she was most proud of. Bethany always teased her and said they looked like they were hung on the wall in the shape of a robot.
I think she's right...

3. We are using the word "JOY" as a theme for this room. Just today, a dear friend of mine passed this along to me (she saw it on Facebook, of course): "Joy is the result of faithful, trusting acceptance of God's will, even when it seems not joyous." I can not think of a better way to express our experience over the last few years. The beads you see on the shelf in front of the word JOY are Hannah's "Beads of Courage." She received a different colored bead for each part of her cancer journey...white beads are chemo treatments, blue beads are clinic visits, brown beads are for hair loss, glow-in-the-dark beads are for radiation treatments, yellow beads are hospital stays, etc. It's a really neat reminder of the courage she demonstrated during her year of battling cancer.

4. I love this picture. Hannah was a huge American Idol fan, and Ace Young was a contestant who made the top ten several years ago. We met him at a concert, and Hannah had her picture taken with him. We had an extra copy of the picture made and gave it to her Sunday School teacher, who was also an AI fan. Hannah's Sunday School teacher attended a concert a few weeks later, met Ace, and had him autograph the picture we had given her. She surprised Hannah with it a few days later. I just love the expression on Hannah's face in this picture. The mixture of awe and excitement is just really precious. Ace was a really nice guy and spent a lot of time with us that day.

5. My sweet cousin had this made for us. It's just so pretty, and I love it. I have it pinned up on the wall.

6. OK, so this isn't technically IN Hannah's room, but this is my view as I sit at my desk and blog. Of course, it's not usually white like this, but we've had a very rare six inches of snowfall this week. School was out today, and has already been canceled for tomorrow. At this point, Wednesday is looking questionable at best. But back to the favorite part of this view is the bird feeder and the birds who are always feeding there. Hannah's room was so dark and lifeless for so long, I love seeing life out the window like this.

7. Hannah painted this picture when she was at Grandma & Grandpa Camp in the summer of 2008. She had already been diagnosed with cancer, and had just completed her first round of radiation treaments. I just love it because she painted it.

8. This is a self-portrait that Hannah did when she was in third grade. I love everything about it, but she didn't like it at all. She never wanted me to hang it anywhere where anyone could see it. It's hanging in her room now, and I bet she doesn't mind anymore!

9. I LOVE this. Brad and Bethany got it for me for my birthday a few weeks ago. It's not actually IN Hannah's room either...It's hanging over the door as you enter. Just in case you can't read the verse, it says, "And this child grew and became strong; she was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon her." The last part of that is so true. I've seen enough children with cancer now to believe that God truly does bestow a special grace upon them. I know that the peace Hannah had could only have come from Him.

10. This is my favorite thing in Hannah's room. She returned to school for just a few days in December of 2008, following her second round of radiation treatments. She was always a doodler, and we found this in one of her notebooks that she was using during that time. I have it pinned to the wall right next to that window I sit in front of every day. It's as close as I can get to a daily hug from her.

So, there you have it...Ten on the Tenth for another month! Hmmmm....Wonder what my topic will be next month?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Announcing the "While We're Waiting" Weekend!

In my post on November 7th, I mentioned that there was a venture in the works that we were really excited about. I didn't want to go into detail at that point, because things had yet to "gel" completely. Well, it's finally time to share the details. First, some background...

This past Labor Day weekend, Brad and I attended a retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, for bereaved parents. You can read more about it here, if you'd like. It was an amazing experience, and one we've often talked about duplicating here in Arkansas. Well, God has worked in an amazing way to put us together with two other bereaved couples who have the same passion. The "While We're Waiting" Weekend is the result of that God-given desire.

The “While We’re Waiting” Weekend is a retreat designed specifically for couples who have faced the death of a child. It is meant to be an opportunity for couples to spend some relaxed, unhurried time with other couples who understand the devastation of losing a child, to learn from each other, encourage each other, and to discover that we are not alone. Though we will certainly shed some tears together, our intention is not to spend an entire weekend rehearsing our pain. We hope to laugh together as well as cry together, and gain perspective together. We'll deal with many practical aspects of losing a child and not solely the emotion of it. Our goal is to facilitate times together that are positive, helpful, and healing; and to discuss how we can face the time "while we're waiting" to be reunited with our children with joy and hope.

What will we do at this retreat? We’ll share our stories with each other and pray for each other. We’ll enjoy the beauty of nature, and sit in rockers on the porch sipping coffee. We’ll have large group time, couple time, and time for the men and women to share separately. Our time together will be relaxed and informal, but structured.

What will we talk about? Here are a few of the topics:

• Seeing how our faith in God can help us survive the devastation of our loss

• Understanding how husbands and wives can help each other through the grief process, even though we may grieve differently

• Dealing with the hurt caused by strained friendships and family relationships

• Allowing grief to release its grip on us

• Finding meaning and purpose in our loss, and joy in spite of our loss

• Determining how we’re going to live while we’re waiting to be reunited with our child in Heaven

The "While We're Waiting" Weekend will be April 1-3, 2011, and it will be held in the brand new lodge at Family Farm in Glen Rose, Arkansas, about 45 minutes southwest of Little Rock. Brad and I will be the primary facilitators. We are not professional grief counselors or marriage counselors, just parents who have experienced the devastating grief of losing a child. We have found that sharing these experiences with other bereaved, but believing, parents has been a valuable part of our healing process.

The cost per couple will be $150, which will include Friday and Saturday night lodging at Family Farm, as well as meals and snacks from Friday night dinner through Sunday breakfast. Registration is limited to the first nine couples who submit a $50 non-refundable deposit with a registration application. If you think you'd like to come, or you know someone who might be interested, just send me an email at, and I'll send you some additional information and the registration application. Some spots are already filled, so please let us know soon if you would like to attend. Lord willing, this will become a semi-annual event, taking place in the fall and spring of each year.

We are really excited about how God is working in this event, and how He is already bringing a phenomenal group of couples together to participate. We are intentionally keeping the group small (a total of 12 couples) in order to encourage intimacy and the building of life-long friendships. I know that one of the best things about the retreat we attended was the feeling of "safety" as we shared quality time with other couples who "got" us. What an encouragement that was! That is what we hope to provide through the "While We're Waiting" Weekend.

This verse pretty much sums it up...“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13 (NIV)