Saturday, February 26, 2011

1,000 Things

This is one of my very favorite pictures of Hannah. It was taken at my in-law's house in El Dorado one Easter. I just love the sweetness of it...the simple joy of blowing bubbles in the sunshine on a beautiful spring day.

Today marked two years since Hannah stepped into the arms of Jesus. Two years that feel like two hundred. Could it possibly be only two years since I last held her in my arms?

How does one commemorate the two year anniversary of the most difficult day of your life? Over the last couple of years, we've come up with some new Christmas traditions and birthday traditions that have given us a measure of comfort...but somehow, we've not been able to establish any "death anniversary" traditions.

We did have a really neat diversion today, though. A month or two ago, I mentioned in a post that a Magnet Cove High School student was making a documentary about Hannah as part of a class project. She came out to our house, set up cameras from three different angles, and interviewed us...asking some really emotion-provoking questions. We provided her with an assortment of pictures and home videos for her to include as she chose. At the time, I thought she was just doing it for her multi-media class...I didn't realize that this documentary was going to be a part of the Tri-Lakes Youth Film Festival, and shown at the Ritz Theater in Malvern. And wouldn't you know it...that film festival was scheduled for this weekend, and that movie was shown at 3:00 today. (It will also be shown at 2:30 tomorrow.) Of course, we went to see it, and it was wonderful. I was thankful that the theater was dark, and there were several other videos by Magnet Cove students that we sat through before they turned the lights back on, so I had time to pull myself together. I was glad we had the opportunity to do that today.

Something else that helped get us through this day was the outpouring of love and support we've received over the last few days in the form of cards, emails, and Facebook postings. I've been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to us in love...And it's made a difference. It truly does lighten the burden when there are so many people to share it with you. The three of us thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support.

So what does the title "1,000 Things" have to do with this post? Well, you know how I've shared with you many times that "Joy" has become our theme over the past year or so? Even to the point that we've created a Joy Wall in Hannah's room? And how sometimes I have to admit that I'm just not really feelin' that joy?

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling down my news feed on Facebook and something caught my eye. A friend had posted a link to an article entitled, "How to Find the Holy Grail of Joy." Of course, I had to click on it. The link took me to the article, which was written by Ann Voskamp and published on the Huffington Post. Here are some excerpts:

"I think the fall in Eden was ultimately a failure to give thanks. It's strange how we'd rather live tripping and stumbling than murmur that one word. Augustine claimed that 'without exception...all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.' The wild crusade of my life has been just this--this straining after elusive joy while the virus of bitterness, of ungratefulness, keeps destroying.

I wasn't feeling particularly in need of a cure when I took up a friend's silly dare to write down a thousand things that made me happy. I knew she was just goading me, a way to prove that I had plenty of things to enjoy. So I grabbed a notebook. And began scribbling down whatever made me smile. Morning shadows across old floors. Jam piled high on toast. The cry of a blue jay high in the spruce.

It didn't seem I was fixing anything in the beginning. But each day I kept at it. It was easy and it made me happy, so I kept going.

Every day I'd number another five, another ten, and the game became a hunt to see if I could find a bit of God's glory in my days. Washing dishes, at the stove stirring soup, I'd see the afternoon light spark on the rim of a pot and it'd spark me. I'd wipe my hands on my apron and reach for the pen. Although the world is ugly, it is beautiful.

I was waking up. Something in me started to stir. I realized how numbed and jaded I'd become. And I couldn't stop scratching it down -- blessings, graces -- God in the moment. Why hadn't I realized that joy was right in the middle of life, unlocked in the moments? Where did I think it should be? After all, it's only moments that make up a life. And if the riddle of life isn't unlocked in the moments, where is it found? Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life is made up of the minute parts, and if the infinitesimals are missed, the whole is missed too. Maybe I was starting to find what I couldn't miss.

Because what if the holy grail of joy isn't somewhere else but in the small things, in the moments? Maybe the secret was just this: To keep seeking God where we doubt He is.

It's only when we wake to how blessed we are, when we take life as grace and give thanks for it, that we become the bread to be given to a starving world. This is our great weapon in the war."

Hmmmm...When I read that article, I was instantly intrigued. A list of 1,000 things that bring me joy? I could do that. But could I really? 1,000 things is a lot of things...a rather mind-boggling number when you really think about it. I mean, it might take a whole year to make a list of 1,000 things!

And that's when it hit me. Yes, it probably would take a whole year to make a list of 1,000 things that bring me joy. And what if I were to start my list on February 26, 2011, with the goal of finishing it on February 26, 2012? How might that change the way I live this third year of my life without Hannah's physical presence?

And so begins my Joy Odyssey. And as I wrap up this post, I see by the clock in the corner of my computer screen that February 26, 2011, has already ended. But, that's okay, I started my list before the midnight hour. I plan to keep you updated about how the list is coming along, and I'm looking forward to sharing with you some of the joys I discover along the way. And I hope that some of you might decide to join me on this year-long Joy Odyssey, and that you'll share some of your joys with me. For after all, my goal in doing this is not simply to identify what makes me happy (really, how self-centered would that be?), but instead to keep me focused on the ultimate Joy-Giver, and to yield to Him the gratitude that He so richly deserves.

Oh, those first few items on my list?

1,000 Things That Bring Me Joy

1. The knowledge that I will be reunited with Hannah in Heaven some day.
2. The love and concern of family and friends that was shown so freely to our family today.
3. The warmth of Bethany's hugs.

More to come...!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"While We're Waiting" Weekend Update

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know about the "While We're Waiting" Weekend retreat we are planning for bereaved parents in April. Our leadership team met on Tuesday night of this week, and there's been a very exciting development.

A corporate sponsor has stepped forward and offered to underwrite the cost of all of the meals for the retreat! This will enable us to reduce the cost of the retreat significantly...from $150 to just $50 for the entire weekend! We are excited that this will make the retreat more accessible to anyone who would like to attend. We are still wanting to keep the total number of our group relatively small (no more than twelve couples in all), in order to promote deep conversations and the development of rich friendships.

If you've ever lost a child, you know how quickly a bond forms between you and another bereaved parent. It's almost as if you've known each other all your lives. Brad and I had the privilege of attending a Valentine banquet at Third Baptist Church in Malvern a couple of weeks ago, where Brad shared our testimony. After he sat down, an older couple at our table (whom we had been sitting with all evening), leaned over and whispered to us that they had lost a child, too. I couldn't wait for the banquet to end so we could share stories. Would you believe that they had lost a 17-year-old daughter to cancer? I'm not sure how old they were, but I'm guessing that loss had occurred at least 50 or 60 years ago. But you know, we were immediately drawn to each other in a way that is hard to describe. Even though we were literally decades apart in age, we "got" each other. And I believe that both of us couples left that night encouraged...knowing that God brought us together, even if only for an evening, to gain strength from each other.

And that's what the "While We're Waiting" Weekend is all about...An opportunity for people who share a common grief and an uncommon Savior to spend some quality time together, sharing our hurts and our joys in a safe environment, where we all "get" each other. We will cry together and laugh together, learn from each other, gain strength from each other, and encourage each other. And most of all, we will focus on how we can move through our grief and focus on how we can become what God wants us to be "while we're waiting" to be reunited with our children in Heaven.

We still have a few spots open for this April's "While We're Waiting" Weekend. If you're interested in attending, or you know someone who might be interested, click the "While We're Waiting Weekend Retreat" tab at the top of this page for more information. Or, send me an email at, and I'll email you the information directly. We'd love to see you there!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Hero of the Faith

This beautiful young lady is Lauren Crook. If you've followed this blog for awhile, you've read about her before. She lives with her parents and sister in Benton, Arkansas, and is now receiving home hospice care after battling cancer for five years. This picture was taken in her senior year of high school, just before she was diagnosed for the first time.

Her testimony is amazing, and is so very similar to Hannah's. As a matter of fact, if she and Hannah had ever met, I'm sure they would have been fast friends. Their gentle natures are a great deal alike, they shared a life-long desire to go to Ouachita Baptist University (Lauren did attend there between cancer battles), and they each have an outgoing younger sister who adores them. But the thing that really binds them together is their desire to serve God and to bring Him glory through some incredibly difficult storms.

With her permission, I'd like to share with you an excerpt from an email update Lauren's mom , Lisa, recently sent out...

"I would like to share something that Lauren has felt and believed through this struggle over the last 5 years. Most of you know Lauren has always kept a journal of her daily thought. She showed us her journal about a year after she was diagnosed with cancer. She had written in it that she had been praying for God to give her testimony, because she felt she did not have one to share. Lauren felt that by growing up in a Christian Home and attending a Christian School that she just really did not have something to share with the lost. Boy, did she get one! She told Lance and me that one thing she wanted to see out of this experience with cancer, would be for lives to be changed and people to come and know the Lord. There are many family and friends that Lauren had told us she was concerned about their salvation and praying for them. Now, for the ones of you that do not know the Lord as your personal Savior, please do not think there is not a God in all of this who does not care. God has never left her or our side. The Bible says the just and unjust will all suffer. That means none of us are immune from suffering. Being a Christian does not mean you will not suffer or you will stop sinning....I am just a sinner saved by God’s wonderful grace. Salvation gives you eternal life with Christ Jesus. You see, Lauren wanted a testimony that she could share with the lost and lead them to the Lord. She wanted to see souls saved. I am not telling you anything she not has not told Lance, Paul, Leah, Heather, friends, or church groups. With Lauren not being in her right mind and able to share this, I want to share her message that she has shared with us. What ever happens in Lauren’s life, God had a reason. He in control! This is one of the hardest updates I have written. We want to share Lauren’s testimony and her story, of what she wants told to all. Please feel free to share with others. This is Lauren’s wish and what she would want to share with everyone hearing her story."

Why does God allow beautiful, intelligent, Christian young women get cancer? I don't have an answer for that on this side of Heaven. But I take comfort in knowing that He doesn't let their suffering go to waste...that He uses it for His glory, and that there are souls saved because of it. It's one of those awesome mysteries of God.

I am grateful that I can have a small part in sharing Lauren's story. Countless lives have already been touched by her testimony, and I pray that many more will find eternal life after hearing of her mighty faith and the faith of her family. She is truly a hero, and an example to us all. Please keep Lauren, her mom and dad (Lance & Lisa), her sister (Leah), and her fiance' (Paul) in your prayers.

Revelation 21:1 says, "He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new.'" How I look forward to that day!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Eeyore Kind of Day

Do you remember the Winnie the Pooh books? Or maybe the animated Disney version of the stories? I loved those books when I was a kid...still do, actually! And the Winnie the Pooh character I've always most strongly identified with is Eeyore. I'm married to a Pooh (Brad's gonna love that when he reads this), I'm the mother of a Tigger (Bethany), and a Kanga (Hannah)...but I'm an Eeyore. I don't really want to be an Eeyore...I mean, who wants to be a gloomy donkey whose tail always falls off and has to be tacked back on...but hey, it is what it is.

Today I'm feeling particularly Eeyore-ish. I've never been a big fan of Valentine's Day...I've always thought it was a conspiracy between the flower, candy, and card making industries to get otherwise sensible people to shell out tons of money for their products in an effort to prove their true love to someone. See, I told you I'm an Eeyore. But even with that in mind, I've always enjoyed the holiday. Nowadays, it just makes me melancholy.

You see, it was three years ago on Valentine's Day that my oldest daughter woke up with a headache. And two years ago, after brain surgery and a year of intensive radiation and chemotherapy, my beautiful, brilliant daughter was bald, nearly blind, and no longer able to walk on her own. And her mind was as simple as a little old lady with advanced Alzheimer's...repeatedly thanking her Dad for the Valentine's roses he had gotten her that day, because she couldn't remember that she had just seen them and thanked him for them thirty minutes earlier. It was just two days later that she left our earthly home for the last time, and ten days after that when she entered her Heavenly home.

Three years since this all began? It doesn't even seem possible.

But here's the thing...God has taken this Eeyore heart and kept it beating through all the ups and downs of the last three years. And every time my tail has fallen off (and believe me, it has!), He has patiently tacked it back on. And He's given me some things that Eeyore never had...the JOY and HOPE that's only available through Him. And for that, even on this melancholy Valentine's Day, I am grateful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ten on the Tenth

Wow! It's hard to believe it's already the tenth of the month again. Time seems to be flying by this winter. Maybe it's because we've been snowed in so many times this past month. We missed a full week of school in January, we missed last Friday, and we've been out again yesterday, today, and will probably be out again tomorrow. We have no snow days built into our school calendar, so these days will all be added on to the end of the school year. Bethany will be going to school on her birthday (June 7th) for the first time in her life!

But back to "Ten on the Tenth". I've mulled over several "list" possibilities, and have finally decided on something. In my lifetime, I've lived in twenty-two different houses/dorms/trailers/apartments. Hmmm...even as I type that, it's hard to believe that's actually true. But I sat down this morning, made a list, and actually counted them up. Wow! It makes me tired just thinking about it! Fifteen of those residences have been since Brad and I got married in 1987. In this post that I wrote last March, I went into some detail about those different homes. But today, in "Ten on the Tenth", I decided to make a list of the first ten places I've lived. It's quite possible that this list may not be of interest to anyone but me, so if you find yourself dozing off halfway through it, don't feel bad!

1. I spent the first three years of my life in a home in Crete, Illinois. Since I was only three years old when we moved from there, I would have no memory of that home, except for the fact that my grandparents bought it from us. So, all my early memories of visiting my grandparents are at that house. It was a nice house with a huge yard (although it's probably not as big as I remember it), and I have great memories of many happy, noisy, Persenaire family Christmases spent there.

2. When I was three, we moved to Minocqua, a town in northern Wisconsin. We bought a house there that was on the shores of beautiful, crystal-clear Blue Lake. We spent a lot of time swimming, boating, and playing with our pet ducks. Yes, I said pet ducks. My brother ordered an incubator out of the back of a comic book and tried to hatch some quail eggs in it. The quail eggs were duds, so my dad got us some duck eggs. We kept them for a few weeks in that little yellow incubator, and one day they finally hatched. They were mallard ducks, a hen and a drake, and we named them Waddles and Nickels. Nickels was my duck...don't ask me where that name came from...and Waddles belonged to my brother. Those little ducks thought we were their parents, and followed us everywhere...even waiting for the school bus with us in the morning. The funniest thing was the friendship between those two little ducks and our dog Maggie, a Weimeraner/Labrador mix, who treated them as if they were her own puppies. Once their flying feathers grew in, I guess they figured out there was more to life than hanging out with two kids and a dog, and they took off.

3. When I was about 8 years old, we moved to Phillips, another town in northern Wisconsin. Well, actually we moved to a house that was eleven miles from Phillips, which at a population of 1,500 people was the biggest city in the county. This house was also on a lake, but a completely different kind of lake than Blue Lake. Musser Lake was a brown, muddy, lily-paddy, leach-infested body of water. That didn't keep me from swimming in it, although I actually spent more time canoeing in it than anything else. It was a great lake for turtle-catching, and I could spend hours paddling around in our canoe all by myself, scooping up turtles in a fishing net. Back then, summer seemed to last forever.

4. When I was 12, my parents made two big announcements. One was that our family would be moving to Mountain Home, Arkansas, and the other, far more shocking announcement, was that we were going to be getting a little brother or sister. I was indescribably ecstatic about the latter news, but not so excited about the former. We sold our house on Musser Lake and moved into a rent house for a few months while we were waiting to move to Arkansas. This rent house was an old, two-story farmhouse. I thought it was cool because my bedroom was upstairs. It was while we were living in this house that my baby brother was born in the middle of an April blizzard. What great memories I have of my parents bringing him home from the hospital...I don't think there could have been a more loving and attentive big sister!

5. Like I said, I was not too excited about moving from Wisconsin to Arkansas. I was in seventh grade, I had a "boyfriend", and my parents pretty much dragged me kicking and screaming to Arkansas. I vowed that I would move back to Wisconsin as soon as I was old enough to live on my own. Well, you can see how that worked out. We moved into a pretty house that was in a secluded part of a subdivision. Growing up in the rural north woods like I had, I didn't even know what a subdivision was until then! I soon discovered that if I walked about a half mile through the woods behind my house, I could reach the house of Susan, a girl my age who had a HORSE! She quickly became my best friend and we had all kinds of adventures together...I don't think there were too many nights that went by during the summertime that we weren't spending the night at either my house or hers. We trampled quite a path between our houses.

6. After a couple of years in that house, my parents decided to buy a mobile home park. It was in Mountain Home, but it required us to move so that we could live on the premises. So, we sold our house and moved across town. Owning a trailer park was an interesting experience...we certainly met all kinds of people during those years. This was the house we lived in during my high school years. Lots of good memories here, too...mostly of playing with my little brother, who was a preschooler by this time.

7. After high school, I moved into the dorms at Ouachita Baptist University. I actually lived in two different dorms during my years there, (Flippen-Perrin & Frances Crawford), but I'm just counting them as one residence. I LOVED my years in the dorm. I had some fantastic roommates and suitemates, established life-long friendships, and made some great memories. It was while I was a resident of Frances Crawford West that I fell in love with a boy from El Dorado.

8. That boy from El Dorado and I got married the summer before my senior year and his junior year, and since OBU doesn't have married student housing, we moved into Powder Mill...a government-subsidized apartment complex in Arkadelphia. Our two bedroom apartment was tiny, really tiny, but we loved it. We were young, poor, in love, and just happy to be together. We pretty much lived on deer meat and macaroni and cheese. But we had our own washer and dryer...No more Sunday afternoon trips to the laundromat! Ahhhhh...Good times!

9. After I graduated from OBU with my degree in speech pathology, I got a job working for the Murfreesboro and Amity school districts. Since we now had some actual income, our government-subsidized apartment was no longer an option, so we moved into another apartment in Arkadelphia. This one was a little bigger, and even had a fireplace. And the most exciting part...this apartment complex allowed pets. So, we got our first dog, a black cocker spaniel that we named Mindy. We really thought we were grown up then...a real apartment, a real job, and a real pet. Our next step....graduate school.

10. We briefly took on a house-sitting job in Mountain Home before heading to graduate school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville that fall. We lived in a trailer in a beautiful setting out in the country. Our primary responsibility that summer (besides our jobs and saving money for grad school) was taking care of Dusty, the trailer-owner's obese chocolate lab. Dusty required a daily drive in the car and a constant temperature of 68 degrees in the trailer. Those were good was studying or paper-writing, no commitments, no responsibility for anyone but ourselves and, of course, Dusty.

I hope this tour of the first half of my life hasn't been too boring for you. Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Thank you for indulging me as I've reminisced. It's been so nice to think back to those times when life was simple, and I had never even thought about the difficult questions of life. I'm so thankful for my happy Christian upbringing...that undergirding is what has enabled me to get through the last three years with my faith intact!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hannah's Bucket List

Remember the movie "The Bucket List"? It was made in 2007, and Brad and I went to see it on a very rare date back when it was in theaters. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play a couple of mismatched strangers, who are diagnosed with terminal cancer and end up sharing a room in the hospital. Together, they come up with a list of things they want to do before they die, and escape from the cancer ward to fulfill their mission. I wanted to see this movie because I found the concept intriguing. Of course, when we went to see it, we had no earthly idea that our oldest daughter would be diagnosed with a terminal illness just about a year later.

The other day, I caught the end of "The Bucket List" on TV, and it got me to thinking. If Hannah had made a bucket list, what would have been on it? We never discussed anything like that with her, because we really never discussed the possibility that she might die from her cancer. Not that she didn't know...she was sitting right there when the doctor told the four of us that she had less than a 5% chance of survival...but after that day, we really never talked about it. After all, we knew that God could still heal her, if He chose to do so.

We did meet with the Make-A-Wish people, and she was approved to have a wish fulfilled. So we spent some time discussing what her wish would be...and she was torn between a Caribbean beach vacation, or an RV trip to Yellowstone. We had taken a family vacation to Yellowstone the summer before she got sick, and the girls had absolutely loved it there. And she and Bethany had always thought traveling in an RV would be the funnest thing ever. But...she was adamant that she did not want to do either of these things until she was done with her treatments. She did not want to go to the beach without hair, and she did not want to travel across the country feeling sick. So, we told the Make-A-Wish people that we wanted to wait. She never completed her treatments, so we never contacted the Make-A-Wish folks again.

But as I thought about what Hannah might have put on a "bucket list", I couldn't come up with a thing. She was not the adventuresome sort, so skydiving would definitely have been out of the question. She had no burning desire to see the Egyptian pyramids or climb Mount Everest. She was never one to seek attention, so I don't think she would have wanted to be on stage doing anything. Money was not important to this day, there is still a couple hundred dollars of hers sitting in a little woven container that her aunt and uncle sent her from I don't think she would have sought riches.

After all my thinking, I could only come up with two things that Hannah might have included on her "bucket list", and those would have been to spend as much time as possible with her family, and to bring God glory through her storm. And I get a great deal of satisfaction and comfort from knowing that both of those items could be crossed off the list as fulfilled. One of her favorite things to do was spend time with her extended family...grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. And pretty much from the moment of her initial diagnosis up until the very end, she was surrounded by those she loved. And as for bringing God glory, we still see the evidence of that pretty much on a daily basis. Just watch the video from my preceding post, which captures some of the ripples which are still being felt from her storm.

Thank you, Lord, for a fulfilled "bucket list"!