Thursday, March 31, 2011

Prayers Please!

Just a quick note tonight to earnestly ask for your prayers for this weekend.  This is the eve of the While We're Waiting Weekend, and my emotions are all over the place.  I'm simultaneously feeling exhilarated, nervous, stoked, terrified, excited...but the overriding feeling may be that of inadequacy.  And as I ponder that feeling, I've decided that maybe that's a good thing.  2 Corinthians 4:7 comes to mind..."But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."  This weekend, Brad and I feel so honored to simply be jars of clay, with the opportunity to allow the power of God to shine through us. 

Some specific prayer requests for this weekend:

--Please pray for each couple who is coming.  I don't want to share any names, in the interest of confidentiality, but I fully believe that God has specifically ordained for each of these couples to be there.  I know that coming to a retreat like this can be a very frightening thing (I know this because we've done it)!  It's scary to even think about spending an entire weekend with total strangers, talking about the most painful part of your life.  These are some brave folks! Please pray that their fears will be allayed, that they will be able to relax and feel at home within a few minutes of arriving, and that this will be a time of great encouragement and healing for each of them.

--Please pray for all the big and small details of the weekend...the meals, the sleeping arrangements, the schedule, and all those tiny little things that we may not have even thought of. 

--Please pray for each "session" time of the weekend.  We are going to have a time for each couple to share their story including a prayer time for each one after they share, a couple of sessions where we discuss issues that grieving parents face, and a structured time for couples to spend alone together (did that even make sense?).  We'll close the weekend on Sunday morning with a session discussing how we can live well while we're waiting, along with a praise and worship time.  And we're going to include some fun...we plan to take full advantage of the beautiful weather forecast and the outdoor activities available at Family Farm.  And there's always the possibility that a spontaneous game of Pictionary or Minute to Win It could break out!

--Please pray for Brad and I as we facilitate these sessions.  "Facilitate" is the key word...There are several couples coming who are much farther down the road of grief than we ourselves are.  We plan to glean as much as we can from their wisdom and experience.  However, someone has to sit in front and take a leadership role, and that will be us.  Like I said, we are completely inadequate for the job...So, please pray that God would take our lack, and make much of it.

--Finally, and most importantly, pray that God would be glorified throughout the events of this weekend.  That a group of people in pain could still find it in them to praise the Lord for His goodness.  That He would take our shared grief and channel it into ministry.  That He would teach all of us how to live while we're waiting for that glorious reunion one day.

Thank you for your prayers.  They mean more than we can say!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Less Than a Week Away!

The While We're Waiting Weekend Retreat is now less than a week away!  We are so excited about the group of people God has brought together for this weekend.  There is a couple coming whose child went to Heaven less than a year ago...and a couple whose child has been in Heaven for thirty years.  There is a couple coming who lost a full-term, preborn baby, and a couple who lost a 36 year old son in Afghanistan.  Some of us lost our children after long illnesses, and some of us lost our children suddenly and unexpectedly.  We are bound together by a common sorrow, but also by an uncommon Savior.  We are looking forward to sharing some delicious food and amazing fellowship.  There is nothing like spending unhurried, relaxed time with people who share your faith in God, and who understand you so completely.  Nobody can understand a parent who's lost a child like another parent who's lost a child.   

The other day on Facebook, I saw a post by someone whose dog had just died.  She had had this dog for many years, and I'm sure she was very sad to lose him.  But, she included in her post these words..."I feel like I've just lost my child."  And I thought to myself, "Wow...She really doesn't have a clue."  Until you've lost a child, you just don't get it.  I know I didn't.  And I'm really looking forward to spending all of next weekend with a group of people who do. 

There are still a few slots available for next weekend's retreat, if you'd like to come and be a part of it.  Lord willing, we'll be hosting another one this fall, tentatively scheduled for November 4-6, 2011.  Click on the "Weekend Retreat for Bereaved Parents" button over in the left hand column for additional information and to find out how you can register.  We believe that God is going to use these retreats in a mighty way to provide encouragement and support to those of us who are seeking to live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our children in Heaven someday. 

"...But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."  Romans 8:25

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Small Steps

So, the 71st entry in my 1,000 Item Joy List from my previous post was "small steps forward in the grief journey."  You may be wondering why, since it's been a little over two years now since Hannah went to Heaven, the grief journey is still going on.  You know..."Shouldn't she be over that by now?"...kind of mumbled into your sleeve?  I would have thought the same thing myself three years ago.

Since then, I've learned that grief is not a sprint, and the steps of the process are small, sometimes even imperceptible.  Imagine trying to run a marathon, but only being able to take baby steps.  It's gonna take you awhile, isn't it?  In fact, you might not ever finish.  But every one of those baby steps does take you closer to the finish line, and as my former marathon-ing husband will tell you, it's continuing to move forward that really matters.

So...a couple of those baby steps...

Last year, we participated in Relay for Life for the first time.  The Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry had a team, and I was the team captain.  As the captain, it was my job to attend all of the team captain "rallies" leading up the actual event.  And I'm just going to be honest with was hard to attend those meetings.  I had a constant refrain running through my head -- I don't belong there...I shouldn't be here...My child shouldn't have died of cancer...I don't want to be here...Let me out of here!  But, of course, nobody saw that...I sat there smiling politely at everybody...just not talking to anybody, because you already know that I can't talk when I'm about to cry.  That was pretty easy to do, because I didn't really know anybody at the meetings anyway.  I would duck out as soon as the meeting was over, and let the pent-up tears flow as I drove home.  Every meeting was like that, and deep down, I was dreading the night of Relay.  If just the meetings were that hard, how could I possibly make it through the whole night of Relay?  But, you know what, the Relay itself was not bad.  Surrounded by our friends from Anchor of Hope, we were actually able to enjoy ourselves...and realized that Relay for Life was something we should have been involved with before our daughter was ever diagnosed with cancer.  Here's a picture from last year...

Sorry...I've digressed a little bit.  Let me get back to that baby step I was talking about.  This year, I am once again the captain of the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry team.  The team captain rallies have been going on for awhile already, but I haven't been able to get to one due to basketball season.  That's over now, so I was finally able to go to last week's meeting.  I came in, signed up my team, picked up my bag of goodies, found a seat, chatted a little bit with the people around me, listened to all the different committee representatives, and then headed out.  I had driven maybe a mile down the road when it suddenly hit me.  I wasn't crying!  I wasn't even choked up.  And I realized that I had sat through that entire meeting without a single verse of that old refrain running through my head.  On the other hand, I had felt very comfortable and confident that if I actually belonged there.  I can't describe the lightness I felt in my heart as I drove the rest of the way home.  It was a almost imperceptible one at first...but a step forward...a reminder that healing is taking place.

One other little step to share.  For a long time now, really ever since Hannah went to Heaven, I've wanted to have a quilt made out of her old t-shirts.  When we cleaned out her room several months ago, I went through her dresser drawer and picked out all of the shirts I wanted to use.  But then I put them away, because I didn't think there was any way that I was going to be able to actually talk to a quilt-maker about them...remember the aforementioned lack of speaking ability in emotional situations.  How could I possibly explain to someone which parts of the shirts I wanted to use, the design I wanted, the colors I liked...if I couldn't even talk? 

I did do some research, and identified the person I wanted to make the quilt...a family friend of a co-worker.  She lives about an hour away, and she does absolutely beautiful work.  With spring break coming up, I knew I would have time to carefully go through the shirts and make the trip to the quilt-maker's house.  So I screwed up my courage, and last Saturday, Brad and I took our precious cargo to this sweet lady's house.  She invited us into her home, which was filled with some fascinating antiques...a beautiful juke box, an old Coke machine, an ancient cash register...and she put us immediately at ease.  Turns out she and her husband are OBU alumni, so immediately we were family, as all former OBU Tigers are.  And I was able to hold Hannah's t-shirts in my hands, coherently explain to her what I wanted, and smile and laugh while we chatted.  No tears.  My voice worked.  Another step on the path to healing.

And I can't wait to show you my new quilt when it's done!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


"And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them..." (Luke 22:19 NIV)

With less than twelve hours to live, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and shared it with His disciples. He gave thanks. Knowing what was ahead of Him.

Ann Voskamp points out in her book "One Thousand Gifts" that in the original language, "He gave thanks" reads "eucharisteo." She explains that the root word of "eucharisteo" is "charis", meaning "grace." When Jesus took the bread, He recognized it as a gift from God and gave thanks. She goes on to explain that the word "eucharisteo" also holds a derivative of "charis", which is "chara", a Greek word meaning "joy."

Ann asks the question, "Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?" She points out that joy is always possible, right here, right long as we are willing to be thankful. True joy is not in some exotic location or mountain top experience. I love this statement: "The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now."

Grace...Thanksgiving...Joy. It's that simple.

Thanksgiving isn't always easy...In fact, sometimes it's downright hard!

"He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God." (Psalm 50:23 NIV)

Sometimes thanksgiving is a sacrifice. When you've been deeply hurt, it costs something to be thankful. Yet when we recognize God for who He is, when we truly see His grace, we can be thankful in any circumstance, and that is where fullness of joy comes from.

Paul says this in Philippians 4:11-12: "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little."

What did Paul say? Twice he says, "I have learned..." It appears that we have to learn "eucharisteo". I don't think it comes least it doesn't to me. But as my "Joy List" grows, so does my capacity for thanksgiving. It's a process. But I'm learning...learning to live with my eyes open to the "charis" grace all around me.

And my list continues...

#61 "Blue Jeans" Fridays at work
#62 Morning dew
#63 Full moons
#64 Seeing all the kids at school wearing green on St. Patrick's Day
#65 Finding Mary Engelbreit notecards at Michael's for 50 cents (I mean packages of 8 cards for 50 cents! 50 cents!!!)
#66 Cherry vanilla Diet Coke from Sonic
#67 Getting Blizzards from Dairy Queen on Sunday nights after church
#68 Reading on my treadmill
#69 Downloading free books on my Kindle app
#70 How my dog always manages to find the TV remote on the couch and lays down on top of it
#71 Small steps forward in the grief journey

More about those small steps in the next post...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Common Things

So after our brief digression for Ten on the Tenth, I want to get back to the "One Thousand Gifts" book by Ann Voskamp. Prior to finding the link to her article on Facebook, I had never heard of her. After reading her book, though, I almost feel like I know her. When she was a child, her younger sister, Aimee, was killed before her eyes, run over by a delivery truck on their farm. She grew up in a home filled with ambivalence (if not animosity) toward God, and completely devoid of joy. She came to know the Lord as her Savior later in her life. She is now a farmer's wife in Ontario, a homeschooling mother of six.

One night she dreams that she's been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and has only a short time to live. When she awakens, she realizes how much she really, really wants to live. She also realizes how really, really inevitable her death is. She begins to think about all the things she's never going to get to do with her life..."scaling the summit of emerald Machu Picchu", "witnessing the dance of gazelles migrating up by the millions from the Serengeti", or "swimming the sapphire waters of some South Pacific Grotto." And she questions why it is that we seem to feel compelled to accomplish certain things or visit certain places before we die. Could it be that there is beauty and wonder in the common things we see every day?

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about Hannah's bucket list, or rather, her lack of one. I think she had discovered the truth that Ann was talking about in her book. That God has surrounded us right where we are with more love and beauty than we can possibly take in in a lifetime. Good thing we've got eternity, huh? Our eyes just have to be open to see it. More about that in a future post...

In the meantime, my list continues...

1000 Things That Bring Me Joy (continued)

#36 Bath & Body Works hand soap
#37 Stepping in puddles on purpose
#38 Mail in the mailbox
#39 The Bible app on my iPhone
#40 The sound of rain on the roof
#41 Crystal Light packets (you know, the kind you add to water bottles)
#42 Bath & Body Works body spray
#43 The sight of horses grazing in a field
#44 A sky full of stars on a clear night
#45 Beth Moore Bible studies
#46 Deer in our yard at night
#47 My new necklaces from The Vintage Pearl
#48 Meeting with the While We're Waiting Weekend leadership team
#49 Reading in bed
#50 72 degree days
#51 Buds on the trees
#52 The anticipation of spring
#53 Bright yellow forsythias
#54 Reading good news on kids' Caring Bridge sites
#55 A 2 hour nap on a Saturday afternoon
#56 Finishing our tax returns and getting a refund
#57 The sound of handbells
#58 Rainy mornings when I don't have to go anywhere
#59 Watching birds on the feeder outside Hannah's window
#60 Sunshine after 3 dark, cold, cloudy days!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ten on the Tenth

Since my focus recently has been on slowing down and really seeing the blessings in life, I thought that in this month's "Ten on the Tenth" I'd share some of the "gifts" that our experience with cancer gave us.

Cancer has taken so much from us....and from so many others. It may seem strange to even think that it can give anything...other than pain and grief. But God, through the mystery of His grace, can take something even as ugly and destructive as cancer, and bring some good from it.

So, in no particular order, here are ten "gifts" that our experience with cancer brought to our family:

1. Cancer has brought us a heightened awareness of the treasure we have in our family...and an appreciation of every minute we spend together.

2. Cancer has revealed the love and concern of our family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers...all of whom have reached out to us in different ways over the past few years. Cancer showed us how to receive God's blessings through other people, and has given us a greater desire to be a channel of God's blessing ourselves.

3. Cancer has taught us about the power of prayer. Yes, we prayed for Hannah's healing...and no, she was not healed as we would have chosen. However, we know that every prayer lifted up on her (and our) behalf was heard. And we continue to feel the strength of those prayers as we are still learning how to live life without her here.

4. Cancer has opened our eyes to the heartache in the world around us. Our hearts are much more tender now, knowing that we don't know the heartbreaks those around us have experienced.

5. Cancer has showed us (me, in particular) that we are not in control. When a member of your family is undergoing treatment for cancer, you never know what the next week, day, or even hour may bring. Cancer brought us to the point of releasing what semblance of control we thought we had, and placing our schedules and our lives fully in the hands of God.

6. Cancer has helped us recognize the joy of an ordinary day. Just time, spent together, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

7. Cancer allowed us to spend more quality time with Hannah than we probably ever would have if she had been a normal teenager, busy with school and all its activities. The hours we spent in the car driving back and forth to Little Rock every day, the time we spent at home when she was unable to go to school, and even the days and nights we spent in the hospital together watching Facts of Life reruns...Those are moments we will always treasure.

8. Cancer has brought some amazing people into our life. Something about a cancer diagnosis immediately bonds you with others who have also gone through the cancer experience. God has blessed us with friendships that will be life-long...and this may sound crazy, but some of these people we've never even actually met! Pretty amazing how God can do that, huh?

9. Cancer has given us a desire to serve God well right now, and not wait until sometime in the maybe when we're less busy. (Does that time ever come?) Cancer has given us an eternal perspective and focus we didn't have before.

10. Cancer has filled us with a yearning for Heaven. Our ties to this earth have been loosened, and we are earnestly looking forward to the day when cancer is thrown into the lake of fire along with Satan and all of his angels. That's where it belongs. And our God, who will make all things right in the end, will be glorified forever.

Thank You, Lord, for taking something as hideous and painful as cancer, and somehow wringing a little bit of beauty out of it. And thank you for opening our eyes to see it, even in the midst of all the pain and grief that cancer has brought us. You truly are good, all the time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ripping Up Paper

I absolutely love this video. I saw it posted on Facebook a couple of times this past week, and I thought, "What a perfect example of pure, unadulterated joy." And from something as simple as ripping up paper! How is it that we, as adults, don't seem to have that kind of joy?

Is it the "big" things that drag us down...the debts, the divorces, the diseases, the deaths? Certainly, those things can steal our joy. Sometimes, I wonder, though, if it isn't the multiple accumulation of all those "little" things...aggravations, irritations, frustrations...that tend to really bring us down.

Today is Monday...My opportunity to get all my necessary errands done before focusing my attention on preparing for our next speaking engagement and the While We're Waiting Weekend. I will have Tuesday to work on those things before going back to my real job on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Each week, my Monday morning is filled with hour on the treadmill, a quick shower, and then all my running around, post office, drug store, Wal-Mart, etc. (Can you tell I'm a "task-oriented" person?) This morning I was feeling particularly pressed for time, as my "to-do" list was even more lengthy than usual. So I had my work out, my shower, my Bible study/prayer time, and then hopped in the car with my day's agenda running through my head.

As I drive into town, I pass by Wal-Mart on the way to my other stops, and the sign by the Murphy gas station catches my eye. $3.45 a gallon for regular unleaded?! Yikes!! Good thing I still have half a tank. Then I pass the next gas station...$3.32 a gallon for regular unleaded. I flip on my turn signal and quickly wheel in, thinking to myself that I better grab this bargain while I can. I top off my tank, and pull out, heading for the bank and the post office. I get those errands completed quickly, and I'm feeling pretty good about how the morning is going so far. I turn back toward Wal-Mart, and as I'm driving along I pass the station where I just got gas less than ten minutes earlier. The sign now says $3.49 a gallon for regular unleaded! So, I'm feeling pretty smart and rather proud of myself for my savvy purchase...ahhhh, something to add to my joy list!

I pull into Wal-Mart parking lot, still basking in the glow of my 17 cents a gallon savings, and head into the store. Now Wal-Mart is not generally a place that inspires joy in me, but like I said, I'm feeling pretty good about how the morning has gone so far. I buzz up and down the aisles, quickly picking up all of our weekly necessities, and approach the check-out area, carefully surveying the lines to see which one is the shortest. After all, I've got things to do when I get out of there! I choose the shortest line and stand there for a couple of minutes, perusing the candy, gum, breath mints, etc., while I wait. It begins to dawn on me that there doesn't seem to be a lot going on down there by the register and I take a look. Well, I was right, there isn't anything going on down at the register...everybody's just standing there, kind of looking at each other, and the cashier is holding a twenty dollar bill. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going on, and cast several questioning looks in that direction. The cashier finally noticed me and said, "The guy had to run out to his truck to get some change." Huh? Isn't giving change the cashier's job? But I nodded politely as if I understood, and continued to wait. And wait. And wait. I don't know where this guy's truck was parked, but apparently it wasn't in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Finally the guy comes in (walking very slowly, I might add), and hands the cashier a handful of change. Ahhhhh...Now I see. His total bill was apparently $20.00 and some change, and he had to go out to his truck to get the additional cash. I would have gladly given him the 72 cents or whatever it was he needed!

Anyway, he takes his stuff and goes, and now I'm just one customer away from checking out. The cashier rings up all his items, and the young man runs his debit card through the little card swiping machine...and it is denied. He insists he has enough money in his account, and so he runs it through again, and again, and again. He and the cashier decide that it must be the little card swiping machine's problem, and decide that the best thing to do would be to go to the ATM machine in the customer service area and use his card to get cash to pay for his stuff. At this point, I would have just changed lanes, but I had already placed all my purchases on the conveyer belt, and I really didn't want to have to move everything back into my cart, and look for another short line. So, I waited "patiently" for the guy to come back from the ATM. Well, there must have been a line of people waiting to use that ATM, because several more minutes ticked by. By this time, I was beginning to feel the wisps of smoke curling out of my ears. There were so many other things I needed to be doing besides standing in that blogging about joy!

He finally returned with a rather sheepish look on his face. Turns out he didn't have enough money in his account to cover all he wanted to purchase, but he had withdrawn enough cash to pay for some of it. He and the cashier painstakingly went through his items, and the cashier scanned them back in one by one until his total bill was a little less than the amount of cash in his hand. Needless to say, the afterglow from my gas purchase was long gone by this time. All I wanted to do was get out of there!

Finally, it was my turn. Zip, zip, zip and my items were scanned. The little card swiping machine worked just fine for me, thankfully, and before I knew it, I was loading my purchases into my trunk. But my feelings of well-being and joy were gone! I had allowed them to be stolen away by a moment (okay, more than a moment) of inconvenience. And I thought I had learned how "not to sweat the small stuff" when Hannah had cancer! Apparently it didn't take. How could I allow such a minor thing to have such a major impact on my day?

In my last post, I talked about my decision to make a list of 1,000 things that bring me joy. One reason I have made the commitment to write out this list is because of my tendency to be so task-focused all the time that I fail to notice what's really going on around me. I am always in a hurry...always thinking about the next thing I need to do, and the next thing, and the next. My prayer is that making this list will force me to slow actually see the blessings around me, to take time to physically write them down, and to consciously thank God for each and every one of them. Even if it's something as simple as ripping up paper.

As I re-read the article from the Huffington Post for my last blog post, I noticed at the bottom of the article that Ann Voskamp has actually written a book on this subject, titled "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are." I immediately downloaded it on my Kindle app, and read it in about three days. I'm re-reading it now, more slowly (see, I'm slowing down!), and over my next few posts, I'd like to share some of what really spoke to me in this book. It's an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.

My list? In my last post, I shared items 1-3...Here's what I've written down since then.

1,000 Things That Bring Me Joy

#4 The bird building a nest in the birdhouse on my porch
#5 The feeling I have when I first get into bed after a long day
#6 Clean sheets
#7 Spring thunderstorms
#8 The crispness of the air in the morning after a stormy night
#9 The way my dog follows me from room to room when it's just she and I alone in the house
#10 Turning a new page on the calendar
#11 Daffodils on a hillside
#12 Opening the blinds first thing in the morning
#13 Having the house to myself
#14 My iPod on shuffle -- I love not knowing what song is going to play next
#15 Cadbury eggs
#16 Old family recipes
#17 The magic of email
#18 Picking Bethany up from school and hearing about her day
#19 The pink orange purple of the sunrise
#20 The bright green of new spring grass
#21 That He is the Good Shepherd
#22 Blooming Bradford pear trees
#23 That "sore muscles" feeling after a good work out (but not too sore)
#24 Shopping with Bethany
#25 Buying little girl clothes again...for my nieces in Indonesia
#26 The sounds of high school baseball practice outside my classroom window
#27 A whole evening at home with my family
#28 Trying a new recipe that turns out good
#29 Ghirardelli chocolate squares
#30 Annette (my hair stylist) washing my hair for me
#31 Annette blow drying my hair for me
#32 New socks
#33 The sound of a mandolin
#34 Walking my first 5K in honor of an American hero
#35 Filling up my gas tank right before the price jumps 17 cents :-)

Thank You, Lord, for the joy in my life. Forgive me for letting it be stolen away so easily.