Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

So, maybe you noticed that #184 on my list of "Things That Bring Me Joy" was raw cookie dough.  Besides thinking that was incredibly shallow, you might have also thought that that was very unhealthy.  After all, everybody knows that you're not supposed to eat raw cookie dough ... who wants to come down with a raging case of salmonella?

But, my friends, fear not.  I have found a recipe that makes raw cookie dough healthy!  Well, not exactly healthy, but at least it won't kill you!  (Well, I guess it could, if consumed in massive quantities.)  There are no eggs in it, so at least the risk of salmonella is neutralized.

So, here you go!

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine at room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 14 oz package dark chocolate candy coating chips (I found these at Michael's in Hot Springs, and one package was really not enough...next time, I would get two)

Beat butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in milk and vanilla.  In another bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt, and gradually beat it into the first mixture until smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips. 

Cover and chill dough for an hour.

When dough is firm enough to handle, form dough into 1" balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Place sheet in freezer and let chill for 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate candy coating chips in a double boiler or microwave according to package directions.  Using a fork, dip cookie balls into candy coating to cover.  Return them to the wax paper-lined cookie sheets.  Chill until set.  Store, chilled, in an airtight container for up to one week.

If I was a really good "foodie" blogger, this is where the picture of these irresistable treats would appear.  Unfortunately, they didn't last long enough at our house to be photographed.  :-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Mourning -- Her Chains Are Gone...She's Been Set Free

In June of 2010, the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry was blessed with a new member.  "Miss Joyce", as we all came to call her, shuffled into our meeting room that evening, wearing a denim skirt and white tennis shoes.  Everyone welcomed her, and then listened in fascination as she shared her story. 

She shared with us how she had lost two husbands, both of them to cancer, if I remember correctly.  She then told us that she had been diagnosed with colon and ovarian cancer about a year and a half previously.  I'm going to quote as closely as I can recall what she said (I wish you could hear it in her sweet voice!)..."When I woke up from my surgery, the doctor told me I was terminal.  So, when I came home from the hospital, I started giving away all my stuff.  I was ready to go, and I knew I wouldn't need it anymore.  I gave away my furniture, and my car, and my clothes.  Then I waited for God to take me home.  Now, I've had to get some of my stuff back, because I'm still here a year and a half later.  But I don't have very many clothes, so you'll have to excuse me if I wear the same thing every month.  I know that I'm still terminal, but God knows the end from the beginning, and He is keeping me here for a reason.  And I'm so thankful to Him, because I never have had any pain."

She proceeded to talk about how she shared Christ with all of her doctors and nurses, and all of the other patients in the chemo room every two weeks.  Miss Joyce never missed an Anchor of Hope meeting, unless she was traveling to visit family, and she never failed to encourage every person in the room with her positive attitude and sweet spirit.  And yes, she pretty much always wore that same denim skirt and white tennis shoes.  She never, ever complained, but constantly expressed thankfulness to her Lord.  She always marveled that God had not yet taken her home, but it was obvious to all of us why He was keeping her here ... He blessed people through her.

About six months ago, Miss Joyce went to live with her son and daughter-in-law out of town a little ways and was no longer able to attend our monthly meetings.  I would call her every month to check in with her, and see how our group could pray for her, and she always assured me that she was doing well, that God was still blessing her, and that she knew that she'd be going to Heaven soon.  I talked to her last about two weeks ago, and she was happily shelling peas on the front porch while we visited.  She again acknowledge that she didn't have long on this earth, but that she was so grateful to God for all of His blessings.

This morning, while in the frozen foods aisle at Wal-Mart, I received a text informing me that Miss Joyce passed away yesterday.  After a brief moment of sadness, I was filled with a rush of joy, realizing that she was now in the place she most wanted to be.  The chains of cancer were gone, and she had finally been set free.  I do have to admit, I felt a little twinge of jealousy, too....Can you imagine the glorious reunions she's experiencing right now?  And I know she was greeted with, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

So tonight, in honor of Miss Joyce, who was always counting her blessings, I'm going to share some more of my "1,000 Things that Bring Me Joy" list:

145.  Wildflowers growing on the side of the road (especially Indian Paintbrushes and black-eyed Susans)

146.  Flip calendars

147.  Seeing Bethany all dressed up for prom

148.  Sleeping with the windows open

149.  Hearing a song on the radio that Hannah and I used to listen to on our many trips back and forth to Little Rock

150.  When the sun first breaks through on a cloudy morning

151.  Weeping willow trees

152.  Old, weathered barns

153.  Spider webs sparkling with dew in the mornings

154.  Seeing the dogwood tree planted in Hannah's memory at our church

155.  Planning and pulling off a surprise birthday party for Bethany

156.  A new haircut

157.  DVRs

158.  A new pair of sunglasses

159.  Finishing Bethany's leaf collection project

160.  Reading the same book as Bethany and discussing it with her

161.  Mississippi Mud Cake

162.  Sunflowers turning toward the sun

163.  Approaching a stoplight just as it turns green

164.  The sound of ocean waves

165.  Sand between my toes

166.  The sound of seagulls

167.  The smell of salt water

168.  Walking along the beach with my husband

169.  Coming home after a vacation (I bet you can guess where we went!)

170.  Back to school shopping with Bethany

171.  The first day of school (when I don't have to work and I'm home alone!)

172.  Hearing about Bethany's day the afternoon of the first day of school

173.  Getting an unexpected package in the mail

174.  Listening to Bethany and Brad talk about basketball

175.  Not having to pick Bethany up from school, practice, etc., anymore because she can now drive herself (although I do miss it a little bit!)

176.  Being the only person in the check-out line at Wal-Mart

177.  My new Tervis Tumbler from Lifeway that says "Count Your Blessings"

178.  That feeling right after you sneeze

179.  A good-fitting pair of jeans

180.  Pre-ordering the new Casting Crowns CD on iTunes

181.  "Peach Bellini" hand soap from Bath & Body Works (It smells like sugar-encrusted peach slices.)

182.  Bob's shoes (a cheaper version of Tom's shoes)

183.  Air conditioning!

184.  Raw cookie dough

Thank you, Miss Joyce, for reminding me to always count my blessings!  Please give my Hannah a hug for me, and tell her that I love her...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- Thought-Provoking Tweets

I realize that by posting about tweets for two days in a row I might give you the impression that I am an avid Twitter-er.  Um...that would be wrong.  I signed up for a Twitter account about a year ago...maybe even two years ago...and was surprised when several people signed up to "follow" me.  I hope they haven't been too disappointed, because I've never given them much of anything to follow.  I just don't seem to have anything to say in 140 characters or less. 

And until recently, I really didn't know who I wanted to follow.  I have no interest in following movie stars or sports figures.  I follow my former pastor, Dr. John Marshall, now at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri.  And I follow my current church, Mission Aviation Fellowship (my brother flies for them), World Magazine, and Ouachita Baptist University (my alma mater).   All fine organizations, but not exactly riveting reading...although I do enjoy Brother John's tweets.

Then I found a list of interesting tweets on someone's blog (I honestly can't remember which one it was at the moment) and I finally found some people I wanted to follow....Randy Alcorn, John Piper, and Burk Parsons.  Here are just a few of the thought-provoking tweets I read by these guys today...

@burkparsons:  "God loves us not because we are loveable but because He is love; not because He needs to receive but because He delights to give. (C.S. Lewis)"

@johnpiper:  "God doesn't give strength today for tomorrow's trouble.  That's what it means to live by faith in future grace.  It will come."    --This one is so true.  Our family has experienced it again and again.--

@randyalcorn:  "Sir Isaac Newton:  I am as a child on the seashore picking up a pebble here & a shell there, but the great ocean of truth still lies before me."     --I love this one.  Can't you just see that picture in your mind?--

Wait, I just thought of someone else I can follow -- Beth Moore, of course!  And then there's Ann Voskamp, who wrote "One Thousand Gifts."  Hmmm...I wonder if Nancy Guthrie has a Twitter account?

Sorry...Gotta go check my Twitter!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wacky Wednesday -- Earthquake Tweets

My last several posts have been pretty heavy...I think it's time for a "Wacky Wednesday" post.  This afternoon, I ran across a link to some politically-themed tweets about yesterday's earthquake in Virginia.  They made me chuckle, and I think you may enjoy them too, whatever your political persuasion.

These are from the Washington Examiner website... 

@comradescott:  "Evidently the quake occurred on a little-known fault line outside of DC called "Bush's Fault."

@calebhowe:  "Breaking:  Obama administration points out they "inherited" fault lines from previous administrations."

@MaizeBlueNation:  "Fox News claims the Washington Monument is leaning to the right; MSNBC claims it's learning to the left.  More at 11."

@charliespiering:  "I won't stop shaking until Obama makes a speech telling me everything is ok and that he has a plan."

@Ben_Howe:  "As all of DC leaves work at the same time, the United States experiences a brief economic recovery."

And then I saw this on Facebook yesterday:  "What earthquake?  That was the founding fathers turning in their graves." 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- "While We're Waiting" Mom's Mini-Retreat

Every Mom who has lost a child has been there.  She's with a group of other Moms who are all sharing funny and entertaining stories about their children.  She remembers a cute story about her child (you know, the one that's in Heaven), and she gets ready to tell it.  She waits for a break in the conversation, and maybe even takes in a breath as she readies to share her story.  But then her resolve falters.  She remembers the last time she brought up her child's name in a group of Moms...how eye contact was suddenly broken, how the laughter became stilted, how the conversation waned.  So she closes her lips together, exhales silently, and just keeps smiling as she listens to the other Moms' stories about their kids.  After all, she doesn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, or worse yet, incur the pity of these ladies. 

Maybe her child did not live past infant-hood, and she has no stories to share.  Or maybe her child had children of his or her own, whom she is now raising.  She loves those grandkids more than life itself, but she's so busy caring for them that she doesn't have time to swap stories with other Moms...or she's just too tired to talk!  Or maybe her child should be in school right now, and hearing other Moms' stories of their children's school days makes her unable to speak past the lump in her throat.

And if she did speak about her child, would the other Moms understand?  Would they be aware of the personal cost she is incurring simply by speaking her child's name out loud?  What might they do if they detected a reddening of her eyes, or God forbid, a tear?  And what if she took the risk of honestly expressing some of the thoughts, fears, and doubts she's experiencing?  Would they assume she's lost her faith?  Might they feel that she's burdening them with her grief?  And then, after she walks away, would they shake their heads and say, "Poor _____.  She's really having a hard time." 

Might a well-meaning Mom touch her hand and say, "You know, honey, you really should be over this by now.  It's time to move on."?

Most of the time, it's just easier for her to keep her mouth shut and just keep smiling.  Even when she really feels like crying.

That's what the "While We're Waiting" Mini-Retreat for Bereaved Moms is all about.  At a WWW Mini-Retreat, we bring a small group of Moms together and spend the day sharing stories about our children and discussing issues we face as grieving Moms.  It's a safe place, where we can speak openly without fear of being judged, pitied, or told that we need to move on.  Every Mom will have the opportunity to have a private massage in the afternoon...so those shoulders that have been carrying the weight of the world can finally relax for awhile.  And the food!  Breakfast and lunch will be provided, and they will be wonderful...but the dinner will be the highlight of the day.  A five-course gourmet dinner will be prepared and served for us by our own private chef.  The food will be absolutely exquisite!

As bereaved Moms, we carry an enormous load.  After all, it's up to Mom, isn't it, to keep everything going?  Sometimes it helps just to have someone to help shoulder the burden, and that's one of the goals of the WWW Mini-Retreat for Moms.  We'll laugh together, we'll cry together (none of us are made uncomfortable by tears), and we'll pray for each other.  And we'll encourage each other to live well, in a way that honors our children and our Lord, while we're waiting for that glorious reunion someday.

Our next WWW Mini-Retreat for Moms is set for September 17, 2011, and it's filling up fast.  As of right now, we have room for just two more ladies.  We purposely keep our groups small, so that everyone is able to participate equally, and to encourage a more intimate and comfortable gathering.  If you have lost a child and think you might like to attend, just click the tab above ("Mini Retreat for Bereaved Moms").  You can get more specific details about the day, including a schedule of events, and testimonials from a couple of Moms who have attended.  It also includes a link to our "While We're Waiting" website, where you can register for this event online.  Or you can send me an email at thesullivan4@gmail.com and I'll get you signed up.  We'd love to have you join us.  If you'd like to come, but you're just not ready yet, that's fine.  We'll be having more of these...our next one will probably be in January.

And Dads...We haven't forgotten about you!  Watch for information about the "While We're Waiting Weekend" for Dads (October 7-9, 2011) in a future "Tell About It Tuesday."  And we have a "While We're Waiting Weekend" for Couples coming up November 4-6, 2011.  We're currently seeking the Lord's leadership regarding a "While We're Waiting" event for siblings as well...No date has been set for that as of this time.  Siblings, we've discovered, are often the forgotten people when a child is lost. 

Maybe you've never lost a child, but you can still be involved in "While We're Waiting" by telling someone who has lost a child about these events.  We're about to begin the process of pursuing 501(c)(3) status for "While We're Waiting", so at some point, we may also ask you to support these events financially so we can continue to offer them at a minimal cost to participants.  But for right now, the most important thing you can do for "While We're Waiting" is to pray...pray for the people who attend, pray for us (Jill, Brad, Larry, Janice) as we facilitate these events, and pray that God would be honored through all we do.  Thank you!!

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Mourning -- "Empty Me"

During the year that Hannah was battling cancer, several songs came to have special meaning to our family. "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns quickly became our theme song, because of Hannah's prayer for a storm.  "Bring the Rain" by Mercy Me was also very meaningful to us.  Hannah and I spent a lot of time listening to the radio on all of our trips back and forth to Little Rock, often flipping back and forth between K-LOVE and some of her favorite secular stations. 

There was one song that it seemed like we always heard on our way to her clinic days...the song "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis.  It sounds silly now, but we would always laugh about that song about bleeding because Hannah knew she was in for 4 or 5 sticks every time she went to the clinic...they almost never could draw that girl's blood on the first try.  So, she'd sing along with, "Keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding" in an effort to psych her veins up to do what they were supposed to do! 

As the journey grew more difficult, other songs began to really speak to us.  As Hannah's health declined, Brad began to accompany us on most of our trips to Children's Hospital.  At this point, we were going every other day for platelet infusions, and Hannah was having difficulty walking.  We would often ride home from our appointments with Hannah in the front seat next to Brad and me in the back seat.  K-LOVE would alway be playing on the radio, and songs like "Cinderella" by Steven Curtis Chapman or "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me would come on.  Brad and I would lock eyes in the rear view mirror and the tears would flow.  Hannah's vision was very poor by this time, so she couldn't see her tears, and we would do our best to muffle the sounds of our sobs.  If she ever did hear us, she didn't let on.

Then there was the day Jordin Sparks, of American Idol fame, called us at the hospice center and sang her radio hit "No Air" for Hannah over the phone.  Hannah was unable to respond, but I believe she knew that Jordin was singing for her.  And then a few days later, still at the hospice center, we first heard Chris Tomlin's brand new song, "I Will Rise" and knew that song would be sung at her funeral service. 

There are many other songs that touched us in special ways throughout that year, but there was one song in particular that touched Hannah.  I actually had almost forgotten about it until I heard it on my iPod yesterday.  There I was, walking on my treadmill, listening to my iPod, and reading a book on my Kindle app (yes, I'm a multi-tasker!) when "Empty Me" by Chris Sligh (also of American Idol fame) came on.  And I was immediately transported back to December of 2008, right before Christmas, when Hannah returned to school for a few days.  She had completed her second round of radiation treatments and was completely bald.  I had just picked her up from school and we were headed home when this song came on K-LOVE. 

And Hannah, who only rarely shared the deepest parts of her heart with us over the course of her cancer journey, told me that the loss of her hair had helped her empty herself of her pride before God and she was thankful for that.  That girl never ceased to amaze me!!

You can hear the song and see the lyrics by clicking the link below.  (If you receive these updates via email, you may have to go directly to the blog to hear it.)  Listening to it still puts a lump in my throat, and makes me wonder what I need to be emptied of!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- Cardboard Boxes

My best friend in junior high was a girl whose parents had lost three sons, two of them before she was born. One died at birth, one died at the age of ten from cancer, and one died at the age of 18 in a car accident.  She was in third grade when her third brother died, and I met her when I moved to Arkansas in the summer before our seventh grade year.  Her parents were always so kind to me...I had absolutely no idea the weight of grief they must have been living under.

I ran across a poem the other day by a man named Joseph Bayly, from his book titled "Psalms of My Life".  Mr. Bayly knows something about the crushing weight of grief, having lost three children himself.  It really touched me, and I think it will touch you, too.

"A Psalm While Packing Books"

This cardboard box
see it says
Bursting limit
100 lbs. per square inch.
The box maker knew
how much strain
the box would take
what weight
would crush it.
You are wiser
than the box maker
Maker of my spirit
my mind
my body.
Does the box know
when pressure increases close to
the limit?
It knows nothing.
But I know
when my breaking point
Is near.
And so I pray
Maker of my soul
Determiner of the pressure
Stop it
lest I be broken
Or else
change the pressure rating
of this fragile container
of your grace
so that I may bear more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- Joni Eareckson Tada

I have been a fan of Joni Eareckson Tada for pretty much as long as I can remember.  For those of you who don't know her story, she broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967 at the age of 18, and became a quadriplegic.  She published an autobiography in 1976, when I was 11 years old, and it quickly became one of my favorite books. 

I think one reason why I liked it so much is because she was brutally honest about her bouts of anger and depression following her accident, even contemplating suicide at times.  Over time, though, she turned back to the Lord, and she has been a powerful witness for Him for many, many years now.  

Joni is now 62 years old, and is battling breast cancer along with enduring chronic, "jaw-splitting" pain.  Yet she still continues to serve the Lord with all her might.  Her most recent book is called "A Place of Healing:  Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty", and it is excellent.  

If you have ever questioned why God heals some people and not others (and who hasn't?), this is the book for you!  I mean, why hasn't God healed Joni?  After all, she's served him faithfully all these years...and wouldn't her miraculous healing bring thousands of people to salvation?  She explores this topic thoroughly with a wisdom and peaceful acceptance that amazes me. 

Here's just a brief excerpt: 

"In the meantime, these afflictions of mine -- this very season of multiplied pain -- is the background against which God has commanded me to show forth His praise.  It's also that thing I am to reckon as "good and acceptable and perfect," according to Romans 12.  God bids me that I not only seek to accept it, but to embrace it, knowing full well that somewhere way down deep -- in a secret place I have yet to see -- lies my highest good.

Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease; but more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise."

This book also serves as a reassurance for those of us who have lost loved ones to devastating illnesses, like cancer.  When those doubts niggle their way in..."Was Hannah not healed because we didn't have enough faith?", "Was there some sin in my life that kept God from hearing my prayers?", "Why did so-and-so get healed, and Hannah didn't?"...Joni's words serve to remind us of this truth:  "Let us then not say God cannot heal and will not do so.  Let us rather say God can heal and will do so if it is for His glory.  The saint is to remember that God is the judge as to whether or not He will display Himself and His power by a miraculous act, and also when, where, how, and with whom this will be done; and he is to keep constantly in mind that God is just as faithful and loving when He does not so display Himself as when He does."  (She is actually quoting the words of Henry Frost here.)

It's kind of funny...I had already decided yesterday that I would recommend this book by Joni in my "Tell About It Tuesday" post.  Then this morning, I was checking some of the blogs I regularly read, and found the following article posted on two of them.  Take a look at it....I think you'll find it well worth your time.  If you read it, please pay close attention to the very last line.  It is absolutely beautiful.

Why Joni Eareckson Tada Wants to Bring Her Wheelchair to Heaven

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Mourning -- Back To School

I've just got to share this picture of Bethany heading off to her "second-to-last" first day of school. 

She just looked so pretty this morning as she was preparing to start her junior year of high school.  And you moms out there...you know how you look forward all day to picking up your kid(s) from school at the end of the first day so you can hear all about it?  Well, it hit me about mid-morning that I won't be picking her up today...she'll be driving herself home.  Wow...This girl is really growing up!

I've also thought a lot today about how Hannah's "second-to-last" first day of school became her "last" first day of school.  We knew as she was starting her junior year that she was in the fight of her life, but at that time her scans were all clear and she was technically cancer free.  It wasn't until late September that the battle began anew.  And I've thought about how this is the third "back to school" we've endured without her here...beginning her sophomore year of college.  On one hand that doesn't seem possible...that there's no way that much time could have passed, but then on the other hand it feels like it's been f-o-r-e-v-e-r since I've seen her beautiful smile.

She would have been so excited about heading back to school this fall.  Much more excited than her younger sister was this morning...Ahem.  She absolutely lived for school.  And she would have loved college. 

One of the hardest things for me at this time of year is to read all the other moms' Facebook posts about their kids starting kindergarten, starting junior high, starting their senior year, leaving for college, etc.  As I read about them crying as they say good-bye when dropping off their kids at college, I find myself becoming resentful.  I hate to admit it, but I start grumbling to myself, "What are you crying about?  At least your kid is getting to go to college.  And you can text and call each other anytime you want to, and they're going to come home for weekends and Christmas!  What in the world are you crying about?"  And I think, "It's just not fair that this had to happen to our family, Lord!  What about them?"

It's ugly, I know, but I'm just being honest.  Satan just works on me that way.  But here's the thing...That kind of comparison is not God's desire for me.

Take a look at this passage from John 21.  In verse 18, Jesus is speaking to Peter:  "Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)  And after saying this, he said to him, "Follow me."  Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" [He's referring to John here.]  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?"  Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me."

Did you catch that?  Jesus gave Peter a glimpse of the type of death he would die, and Peter immediately pointed to John and said, "Well, what about him?"  And Jesus basically replied, "None of your business.  You just follow me." 

So, when I find myself grumbling and comparing and feeling sorry for myself and wondering, "What about them?", Jesus gently reminds me that He is in control, He hasn't forgotten our little family, and that His plans for me (and all those other moms out there) are perfect.  Rather than resenting, I should be rejoicing that others haven't had to endure what we have.  And I should remember that many others have endured far, far worse than what we have. 

So, with His help, I choose to rejoice in, and not resent, the calling He has put on my life to trust Him and His plan for me.  It's a daily battle, and not an easy one, but He is faithful, and for that I am thankful.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- The Land of the Living

Just a brief thought for this Thursday...

Take a look at these excerpts from Psalm 27.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?... Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident... Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me...I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."  (vv. 1, 3, 10, 13-14, Italics mine).

I've probably read that passage dozens of times.  But the other day, when I read it, verse 13 just leapt off the page.  "I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."  I had to stop reading, sit back in my chair, and let that thought wash over me. 

Since Hannah died, I often find myself "living in the days ahead"...looking forward to the joys of Heaven.  But this verse reminds me that I don't have to wait until I'm in Heaven -- I can experience His goodness right here, right now, in the land of the living! 

Just something I've really been enjoying thinking about this week...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nine on the Tenth -- Paradigm Shifts

All this week, I've been sitting in school workshops.  The last two days have been a presentation of the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and one of the big topics has been paradigm shifts.  As part of his introduction, the presenter posed a question to the group, "What is something that has happened in your life that led to a paradigm shift?"  A few people shared stories of events in their lives that had led to significant change.  I didn't volunteer to share, but if I had, I would have said, "When my teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer." 

There's nothing like suffering and loss to change your paradigms.  There are definitely some military families who've had their paradigms shifted this week.

In Randy Alcorn's book, "If God Is Good", he shares nine paradigm-shifting insights that he learned through studying the book of Job.  If I wasn't so drained from sitting in workshops all day every day this week, I might be able to come up with one more on my own, thus making today a true Ten on the Tenth.  But I just don't think that's going to happen tonight.  So, without further ado, here are...

Nine Lessons To Be Learned from Job (from Randy Alcorn)

1.  Life is not predictable or formulaic.

2.  Most of life's expectations and suffering's explanations are simplistic and naive, waiting to be toppled.

3.  When the day of crisis comes, we should pour out our hearts to God, who can handle our grief and even our anger.

4.  We should not turn from God and internalize our anger, allowing it to become bitterness.

5.  We should weigh and measure the words of friends, authors, teachers, and counselors, finding whatever truth they might speak without embracing their errors or getting derailed by their insensitivities. 

6.  We should not insist on taking control by demanding a rational explanation for the evils and suffering that befall us.

7.  We should look to God and ask him to reveal himself to us; in contemplating his greatness we will come to see him as the Answer above all answers.

8.  We should trust that God is working behind the scenes and that our suffering has hidden purposes that one day, even if not in this life, we will see.

9.  We should cry out to Jesus, the mediator and friend whom Job could only glimpse, but who indwells us by grace.

Hmmmmm....Good stuff, huh?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- True American Heroes

Yesterday I shared a little bit about Navy SEAL Adam Brown and his family.  If you'd like to learn more about Adam's amazing story, you view a documentary about his life at this website.  Once the site has loaded, click on "Patriot Profiles" in the left hand column.  From there, click on Adam's name.  Click on "View Full Story", and three videos will pop up.  The first is just a trailer of the video.  The Tribute to Adam Brown is actually in two parts, and each part takes about 12 minutes to watch.  Believe me, it will be 24 minutes well spent.  Have a box of Kleenex nearby...you'll need it.

When you watch that video, you'll see that a group of Adam's Navy SEAL teammates who came for his funeral jumped off a bridge in Hot Springs in tribute to Adam's adventurous spirit.  Here are a couple of pictures from that day. 

Every one of these young men lost their lives in the helicopter crash this weekend.

There are no words to express the magnitude of this loss for their families.  Please pray for Adam's parents, his brother, his twin sister, and his wife as they travel to Virginia this week.  God has uniquely equipped them to provide comfort and support, and they are going in obedience to Him.  I know they will appreciate your heartfelt prayers.
[8/15/11 -- Correction...Since I wrote this post, I found out that two of these young men were not on that Chinook helicopter.  However, all of the others were killed in the crash.]

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Mourning -- Navy SEALs

I was deeply saddened this weekend to hear of the tragic deaths of a large number of military personnel in Afganistan, many of whom were Navy SEALs. 

As I've shared before, until my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I honestly never really thought much about cancer.  Sure, I thought it was a sad thing when someone died from cancer, particularly a child, but because it didn't directly impact my life, it didn't take me long to forget about it and move on.  Not anymore.

In the same way, when I heard about a military death, I would feel sad for the family, and maybe have a little patriotic thrill in my heart, but honestly, that was about it.  Again, it didn't directly impact my life, and I didn't personally know any military families who had lost a loved one.

And then I met the family of Navy SEAL Adam Brown, who was killed in action in Afghanistan last year.  Adam's parents have become some of our closest friends, and Adam's widow has befriended Bethany.  We partner together with the Browns in hosting the "While We're Waiting" events and have heard them share their story of the men in dress blues coming to their door early on a March morning in 2010 several times.  The pain in their voices as they share this experience is absolutely heartrending.  Observing their overwhelming grief, even as they seek to guide their daughter-in-law and grandchildren through the grief experience, has been eye-opening.  And seeing their deep faith in God as they proudly fly their American flag in Adam's memory has been humbling. 

The men who were killed this weekend were part of SEAL Team Six, which was Adam's unit.  They were Adam's teammates and friends.  And at least one of them is now in Heaven as a direct result of Adam's Christian witness.  Adam's family knew many of these young men and their families, and will now have the opportunity to put 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 into practice.  It won't be easy...in fact, I'm sure it will be extremely difficult, as they re-live very painful memories, but I believe that God will give them the grace that they need.

Please remember all of these families in your prayers, as well as the thousands of other military families who have either lost loved ones or who live in fear of losing their loved ones.  I honestly had no idea the depth of sacrifice that these families endure ... all for our freedom.  May our nation be worthy of their sacrifice.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- Two Thought-Provoking Quotes

Two quotes from Randy Alcorn's book "If God Is Good" that really made me think this week....

"E. Stanley Jones wrote, 'Don't bear trouble, use it.  Take whatever happens -- justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, compliment and criticism -- take it up into the purpose of your life and make something out of it.  Turn it into testimony.'"

In other words, don't waste your storm.  I've said it before...I believe our greatest sorrows will result in our greatest ministry.  That is, if we allow God to use us.

And here's the second quote:

"Joni Eareckson Tada spoke of a woman, pregnant with a disabled child, who cried out in desparation to her husband, 'Things will never be the same.'  His response?  'Maybe God doesn't want them to be the same.'"

Whoa.  That one stopped me in my tracks.  That has been so, so true in our experience over the last three years.  I am a completely changed person from what I once was...I'm really not sure if there is any part of me that is the same.  And maybe that is just a part of what God wanted through all of this.  Really something to think about as we face the trials of life....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- "50 Days of Heaven"

When it became pretty clear that, unless God intervened in a miraculous way, Hannah would be going to Heaven soon, I began reading the book "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn.  It's a great book, with an incredible amount of well-documented research behind it, but it is a huge book and very, very deep.  I got nearly half way through it, and finally just had to give up.  With all the emotion and grief of that time, I just couldn't sustain my focus.

Shortly after Hannah went to Heaven, this little book, "50 Days of Heaven" fell into my hands.  I say it fell into my hands because I honestly don't remember how it got there.  I don't remember if I bought it, or if someone gave it to me (if you gave it to me, I apologize, and Thank You!).  Grief can do some really strange things to your mind and your memories.

Anyway, this is an absolutely awesome little book.  We give it out to people we know who have lost loved ones, and we keep a large supply of them in our Anchor of Hope cabinet at church to pass along to those who have lost family members to cancer.  It takes the content of "Heaven" and breaks it up into fifty daily bite-sized readings.  Each chapter includes a Scripture, a quote from a well-known Christian, a lesson about Heaven, a thought-provoking question, and a prayer.  It is perfect for someone who is in the depths of grief, who can't sustain attention to read longer than about five minutes, and who may not even be able to find the words to pray. 

Randy Alcorn also has a book titled "Heaven for Kids", which is a great read for children who are grappling with the concept of Heaven following the death of a loved one.  Bethany and all of her cousins read it after Hannah's death, and I think it was a great help to them as they tried to understand where their sister/cousin was now living. 

Actually, if you see any book by Randy Alcorn -- fiction or nonfiction -- read it!  I guarantee, it will be good!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Mourning -- Giving Thanks

"You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."  Psalm 30: 11-12

I ran across this verse this morning as I was reading "If God is Good" by Randy Alcorn.  It caught my eye first because it had the word "joy" in it, and if you've followed this blog for any length of time at all, you know that's my word.

We have re-decorated what was Hannah's bedroom with the word "joy"...as I sit here typing, I am surrounded by probably 40 or 50 different items that say "JOY" in some form or fashion.  But, as I've shared with you before, I don't always feel the joy.  I've still been keeping up with my Joy List, and one of these days, I will catch you up on that.  But even as I continue to add to the 1,000 Things That Bring Me Joy, I don't always find myself "clothed with joy." 

Maybe the secret to being clothed with joy is the final sentence of that passage.  "O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."  I believe that there is joy to be found in giving thanks.  But there's also the rub.

I give thanks for the opportunity to be Hannah's mother.

I give thanks for every minute of the 17 years I had with her.

I give thanks for the family, friends, and even strangers who have prayed us through the past 2 1/2 years.

I give thanks for the peace God has given our family, no matter what the circumstances.

I give thanks that Hannah is eternally healed and is herself in a place of unimaginable joy.

I give thanks for the eternal perspective and understanding of God's sovereignty we have gained through our experiences.

But I find myself unable to give thanks that Hannah is not here, in her bedroom, where she should be.  I'm unable to give thanks that she is not preparing for her sophomore year in college.  I'm unable to give thanks that Bethany has no sister to share secrets with.  Am I supposed to give thanks for those things?

I don't really think God expects us to be filled with gratitude for the things that are so painful in this life.  But I do think He wants us to accept them...and in acceptance, there is peace...then thankfulness...and ultimately joy.  Do you remember when Job asked his wife, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10) 

So, even though I may not have fully arrived in the thankfulness department, He is gently leading me toward that acceptance so that one day, I will truly be clothed with real joy.