Monday, October 31, 2011

One Of Those Weeks....

Have you ever had one of those weeks?  You know, the kind where you just try to make it through each day, thinking there's got to be some light at the end of this crazy tunnel?  Well, our family had one of those last week.

It all started with a phone call I received from my husband last Sunday evening.  Our Sunday evening schedules are rather crazy...I have handbell practice, my husband is partipating in a study of the book "Radical", and Bethany has been taking part in block parties which have been sponsored by her youth group around the city of Hot Springs.  All of these events start and end at different times, so we end up taking three vehicles to church.  I had already arrived home and was looking forward to a relaxing remainder of the evening when I received said phone call.

I knew it was Brad calling by the ring tone, but when I said "Hello", all I could hear was a bunch of commotion in the background.  As I was trying to piece together what I was hearing, he said, "Hey, Bethany hit her head at the block party, and she's kind of confused."  About that time I figured out what the commotion was...It was Bethany, crying, and saying, "What's going on?  What's happening to me?"  After a few seconds of this, I told him to bring her to the hospital, and that I would meet them there.  He quickly agreed and we hung up.

I changed out of my pajama pants (so much for my relaxing evening) and whipped the car out of the garage.  I drove to Hot Springs with my flashers on, and Bethany's terrified voice echoing in my ears.  Thankfully, I am not someone who "freaks out" easily, and I am able to remain calm even when I'm extremely worried about something.  This ability has served me well over the last few years!  I arrived at the emergency room at the same time they did, and hugged her in the parking lot.  She was scared and completely and totally disoriented.  She had no idea why we were going to the hospital or what had happened to her.  We got her checked in, while she asked me questions like, "I've been out of town, right?", "Did I miss school today?", and "Am I on break?", all through tears.

As we sat in the waiting room and then later went to a room, she began to calm down a little bit.  She showed off her new "watch" (her hospital bracelet!), told all the nurses that she had strep throat, and talked about the dinosaur on her finger (the pulse-ox device).  She also insisted that she had been to the eye doctor that day.  As far as what had happened to her at the block party, she still had no idea.  The doctor recommended a CT scan, which thankfully revealed no bleeding or other problems.  After a couple of hours, she was a little more oriented, and they sent us home with a concussion diagnosis, and directions to wake her up every few hours, watch for signs of seizure activity, and to be sure she could move both sides of her body.

OK......With those instructions, I wasn't about to let her out of my sight, so she slept with me that night, while Brad camped out in the guest room.  I didn't have to worry about waking her up every few hours, because she basically didn't sleep at all.  She talked and talked all night...some of it making sense, and some of it not.  By the wee hours of the morning, she finally conked out.

I kept her home from school on Monday, and discovered through our conversations during the course of the day that not only did she not have any memory of the incident the night before, she had very little memory of the events of the last two weeks.  She did not remember going to Hannah's grave on her birthday or spending the night with Brittany at the dorm that night.  A couple of weeks ago she had hyperextended her big toe in basketball practice and had even been on crutches for a few days...she had no memory of any of that. 

On Tuesday, she went back to school with a splitting headache, only to be faced first period with a Trig/Pre-Cal test that she had no memory was coming up.  Nor did she have any memory of learning any of the material covered on the test.  Needless to say, she bombed the test!  On Wednesday morning, she went back to school, only to come home in the early afternoon with a fever of 102 degrees. 

We called our doctor, who told us to immediately bring her in.  He explained to us the possibility of meningitis occurring after a blow to the head, due to leakage of cerebrospinal fluid.  He sent us back over the hospital for another CT scan, which thankfully was good, and did bloodwork, which did not indicate a high white blood cell count, a harbinger of meningitis.  So back home we went, with instructions to return the next day for more blood tests.

Her fever was still high on Thursday, her head still pounding, but again her white cell counts were good, so the doctor told us she probably had a very poorly-timed virus, completely unrelated to the concussion she had sustained on Sunday evening.  Boy, was he right.  Over the next 36 hours, the fever morphed into a full-blown stomach virus, almost sending us back to the ER on Friday night to be treated for dehydration.  We decided to give it one more night, and bring her in Saturday morning if she was still sick...but thankfully, she woke up and asked for toast that morning...and things have been on the upswing ever since.

So why am I spilling this whole story to you?  I guess it makes me feel better to vent about the week.  Like I said, I'm not a "freaker-outter"...I tend to hold my emotions very tightly inside during a crisis situation.  And this week felt like one crisis situation after another.  Seeing Bethany lying in a hospital bed not making sense, having brain scans done, and wondering what was going to happen next brought back some all-to-familiar feelings.  It feels good to let some of that out!

But, in spite of all the nerve-wracking events of the week, some good things came out of it, too.  For one thing, we have two clean CT scans of Bethany's brain....a nice reassurance after you've lost a daughter to a brain tumor.  It also brought our incredibly busy lives to a grinding halt, and gave us the opportunity to spend some quality time together.  Bethany and I had some great conversations this past week, and once the initial crisis passed, we had some really good laughs about her behavior immediately after the concussion.  And it was a great reminder of what I talked about in my last post about Glory....that we need to appreciate every moment we have with our loved ones.  Life can change in the blink of an eye. 

Thankfully, our Savior is with us every step of the way!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Visit with Glory Girl!

If you've been following my blog for the last few months, you've already "met" Glory, a precious little girl who was born with extensive heart problems.  She has spent most of her 15 months in the CVICU at Arkansas Children's Hospital, with just a few months at home (actually a place they've rented near the hospital).  This picture was taken the day before she had her most recent heart surgery.  Is that not one of the most precious faces you've ever seen?

Well, I had never actually met Glory or her mom, except online, and decided that a workshop in Little Rock on Monday would give me the perfect opportunity to stop by for a visit.  I was nervous about going...after all, I had not been back in the main part of Children's Hospital since the day I left there for the last time with Hannah.  And I was afraid I would be in the way...I knew that Glory had had a lot of complications since her last surgery and had been running a high fever for the last couple of days.  And I'm an introvert by nature...meeting new people is really not my thing.  I wasn't really sure why I was going...just that I really wanted to meet this mother/daughter pair who has inspired me so much.

Turns out that my fears were completely unfounded.  Glory's mom, Kerry, immediately put me at ease.  We hit it off as if we'd know each other all our lives.  Once again, I experienced that bond that forms between believers who have walked similar roads.  We talked about what it's like to become isolated from the world as you spend weeks beside your child's hospital bed, what it's like to not have any idea what the next day (or the next minute) holds, and what it's like to be a parent of a child who has an uncertain future. 

We both agreed that even when life seems to be spinning completely out of control, there is peace to be found in trusting the Lord.  And then she said something that most people could never possibly understand.  She said something along the lines of, "Sometimes I look at my life and I wonder how in the world I got here (gesturing at the ICU room around us), and sometimes I look at my life and feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world." 

Here we were, standing beside her little Glory, who has tubes and monitors running from every conceivable spot on her body, burning up with fever, and she says she feels like the luckiest person in the world?  How can she say that?  I think (and I don't mean to put words in her mouth), but I think it's because she has been given The Gift.  The Gift of appreciation.  The Gift of opened eyes.  The Gift of awareness.  Appreciation of every moment with those you love.  Eyes that have been opened to the beautiful things of life (even in the middle of ugliness).  Awareness of the things that are truly important and an ability to see beyond those things that are not.  When you have The Gift, it is possible to feel like you are the luckiest person in the world, even when circumstances would make that seem impossible.  Thank you, Kerry, for that reminder.

Here is Glory today, with her Halloween bow in her hair.  I felt so fortunate that while I was there on Monday, she woke up and smiled at me repeatedly -- a total stranger to her -- giving me several peeks of that little sticky-outy tongue even through all the tape and tubes.  She's a sweet, happy baby, completely unaware that her life is any different from any other fifteen-month-old.  She is loved, and she knows it. 

Her life is different, however.  As her name indicates, her life brings glory to God.  Her smile and her Mom's smile are proof of His love and faithfulness.  And that's why Glory's mom can say that she's the luckiest person in the world.

"But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head."  Psalm 3:3

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- "While We're Waiting Weekend" for Bereaved Parents

Our next "While We're Waiting Weekend" is almost upon us, and we couldn't be more excited about it.  And here's the amazing thing ... we were actually on the verge of postponing the weekend until the spring because we didn't have as many couples coming as we had hoped for.  In fact, our leadership team got together Sunday afternoon, prayed about that very thing, and decided to give it 24 hours, just to see how we felt that the Lord was leading us.  Well, less than 24 hours later, we had a widowed mom who has lost a son ask to come, and then today we had another couple sign up.  So, we took that as our answer from God ... the weekend is on!  And I honestly will not be surprised if we are completely filled up by the time we start on the evening of November 4th!  Forgive us, Lord, for trying to take it out of Your hands!

Following our first couples' retreat in April, I wrote a post telling all about it and shared a whole bunch of pictures.  To see that post, click here.  If you read that post, you'll see how much fun we had that weekend.  Yes, I did say "fun".  It doesn't seem possible that a group of strangers, who get together to talk about losing their children, could possibly have fun, but that's exactly what we did.  Sure, there were some tears over the course of the weekend, but they were cleansing tears, healing tears.  The tears and the laughter we shared that weekend formed bonds between us that remain strong even today.

I'll close tonight's post by sharing what some of our last WWWW attendees had to say about the weekend.  And we do still have a few openings for the upcoming retreat, which will be November 4-6, beginning around 5:00 on Friday evening, and ending around 10:00 on Sunday morning.  Go to our website for more information or to register. 

"I have never felt so connected to a group of people I didn't know. Our personal storms of losing a child had a unique way of bonding us together. It was refreshing to be around people that truly knew how we felt. To hear that others had the same questions we did and faced some of the same problems, it was great to know we weren't alone. From losing a child months ago to several years ago, It was great to see and hear how we can choose to see the good and continue to live by Fully Relying On God and each other! A GREAT weekend with GREAT strides towards healing." -Leightyn's Dad, Fort Smith, Arkansas, WWWW Spring 2011

"I am just so thankful that God gave you two the strength and courage to put this past weekend together!! I know you don't take the credit but I just want to you share with you how much it has changed my views on my life. This weekend enabled me to really grieve the loss of our little girl. God is truly amazing. The WWWW was structured in the perfect way to allow each and every couple a chance to share their own story of their loss of their child. It was inviting and peaceful. God was there each and every minute giving us the strength to share with others the most intimate details that we might not share with everyone. I did not want to go to bed at night but wanted to keep on talking to everyone. We made some life long friendships and connections that only God could have ordained. He was more evident in that 45 hours of being together than any other time that I can recall. This platform was awesome. It was facilitated smoothly and I just know that God has so much more to unveil in the future WWWWs. It was a perfect mixture of sharing, crying, laughing, talking, and relaxing that we all needed which, of course, God knew. We are forever changed and forever grateful for a loving, powerful, caring God that we all serve." -Lily's Mom, Hot Springs, Arkansas, WWWW Spring 2011

"For a long time after the loss of my daughter, Lily, I was convinced that if I were to speak too much about her I would be burdening people with my grief. God knew my heart and I believed that would be enough for me to understand and handle the feelings experienced with the loss. So, sharing my story with a group of people wasn't something I had expected to sign up to do, but apparently my wife did. During the retreat, however, I quickly learned I had been wrong. God had put these people in front of me with their stories, and instead of feeling as if I was burdening them with my pain, I realized these people were a blessing, and were willing to put their shoulders under the weight of my loss. The collective experience of sharing, praying, and teaching each other through our own experience has created an extended family of loving people that can sympathize with me, and for that I thank God (and my wife.) Now, I constantly pray for the families willing to let me into their grief, and for the children we are waiting to see. I am sure my daughter has babysitters in Heaven, and I know I am cared for on earth. The While We're Waiting Weekend was a celebration of the many wonders of God in our lives." -Lily's Dad, Hot Springs, Arkansas, WWWW Spring 2011

"As we loaded up the car to head east, if I am honest there were a lot of mixed emotions going on...

1. Malvern Arkansas is 4 1/2 hours away.
2. We were going to be spending the weekend with complete strangers.
3. We knew we was going to be sharing our daughters journey through cancer that hurts so bad.

I will just say in few words that the above statements WERE all true on Friday as we pulled out of the driveway, but if I'm honest all that was proved wrong by the time I went to bed Friday night. The weekend for me personally was amazing and I know God was all in it with each of us. The Family Farm is incredible. MOMMA MAY AND DADDY MAY are some of the most authentic people I have ever met. The weekend was structured well and organized in my eyes perfectly.

Did we cry? Yes
Did we laugh? Yes
Did we rejoice in H O P E? Yes
Did we feel like family? Yes.
We are excited about going to the next WWWW.

Thank you for a great weekend.
Thank you for loving on us.
Thank you for understanding.

My wife and I have been ignited and on fire to bring others H O P E like the WWWW brought us." -Laurren's Dad, Forney, TX, WWWW Spring 2011

"I walked into this retreat feeling numb, empty, struggling with isolation and feeling disconnected from God. As the weekend came to a close, I regained my hope that there is a tomorrow and gained so much wisdom to understand that our children who are now in Heaven WANT US TO HEAL and that we should never waste a storm, even as tragic as this. Such profound words that impacted me so deeply. We walked into the weekend as strangers with not many expectations but we walked away as one large family, forever changed because of the love and grace that only comes from God as Brad and Jill Sullivan opened their lives to us all. The weekend was peaceful, well structured, and every moment of the weekend seemed to refuel my soul and allow me to release so much grief and renew my relationship with Christ. What a powerful, uplifting weekend. Thank you Brad and Jill, and thank you to all the families who held hands to pray together, laugh together, cry together and most importantly, share our faith together to know that there is HOPE in tomorrow. We love and miss you guys."  -Laurren's Mom, Forney, Texas, WWWW Spring 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dear Hannah Joy...

Dear Hannah My Joy,

Whew!  We've made it through another birthday without you here.  This year, we've been so incredibly busy, I honestly didn't have time to really think much about your upcoming birthday until the night before.  It's not like it used to be, you know, when I thought about it for weeks in advance ... planning a party, inviting your friends, choosing just the right gifts that I knew you'd love ... I haven't shopped for your birthday for three years now.  And I can't help but remember your 17th birthday.  The doctor had already told us that there was a less than five percent chance you'd ever see your 18th birthday.  How unreal it was to buy birthday gifts for you that year, knowing what the doctor had said, while still praying for a miracle!

We spent the day yesterday doing things we knew you would enjoy.  I made your all-time favorite birthday cake -- Mississippi Mud -- and we had tacos, cheese dip, and cake while we watched the Razorbacks beat Ole Miss.  I know you remember Houston Nutt ... he's coaching for Ole Miss now, and the Hogs coach is Bobby Petrino.  I think you'd really enjoy watching the Razorbacks this year.  They're ranked 9th in the nation, and their quarterback is pretty cute!  :)

When the Hogs finally put the game away in the fourth quarter, we headed to Briggsville.  We were so happy to have Brittany come along with us this year.  You'd be so proud of Brittany.  She is a sophomore at Ouachita now, and is a speech pathology major.  She pledged Tri Chi last spring, and was in Tiger Tunes this year.  She really misses you, though, and I know she wishes you were her roommate, like you two had always planned.  Anyway, she had never been to Briggsville before, so after we spent some time at your grave, we took a four-wheeler ride and gave her a tour of the whole place.  We took her by all the deer stands, and down to the Rock Hole.  It was really a pretty evening for late October, but the gnats were terrible!  We figured out pretty quick that we didn't need to try to talk to each other while we were riding, if you know what I mean!

Last night I read over the letter I wrote to you last year on your birthday.  So much has happened since then!  Let me get you caught up just a little bit....

Remember last year, when I told you that you'd have to look up to Bethany now...that she was 5'10" tall?  Well, she is now an even six feet, and still growing.  Who would've thought it when she was such a little thing for so long?  Comes in handy for basketball and track, though!  They should have a great basketball season this year.  I know you'd love watching her play!  She has her driver's license now, and we got her a cute little 2006 Honda Civic that she drives all over the place.  She got her letter jacket and ordered her class ring a few weeks ago.  I'll never forget the day you got your letter jacket and ordered your class ring ... that was the same day we found out your cancer had returned with a vengeance.  I have to say it's been a little weird going through all the "junior in high school" experiences with her, when your junior year of high school was so out of the ordinary.  You'd be very proud of Bethany.  She's had to grow up fast, and she misses you terribly.  There are times that a girl just needs her sister to talk to -- Mom just won't do.  She's really had to learn to depend on the Lord. 

Dad and I have become very close to Larry and Janice Brown, who lost their son, Adam, in Afghanistan about a year after you went to Heaven.  I imagine you and Adam have already become acquainted.  I bet he's a great guy....I'm really looking forward to meeting him someday myself.  Anyway, we believe God has put us together with the Browns for a reason.  We have started hosting weekend retreats for bereaved parents, and we call them "While We're Waiting" Weekends.  We've had a couples' retreat, a dads' retreat, and two special moms' days.  We absolutely love hosting these events, where we parents have an opportunity to share about our children, discuss our common experiences and emotions, and talk about how we're going to live for the Lord while we're waiting to be reunited with you all. 

We also spend a lot of time just visiting with parents who have lost children, whether they come to retreats or not...we just really enjoy talking to other moms and dads who have experienced what we have.  I always feel like when we meet bereaved parents here on earth, that you meet their children in Heaven.  I don't know if that's true or not, but I like to imagine that it is.  And if it is true, then just in the past year you've met Zane, Leightyn, Timothy, Lily, Laurren, Robert, Zach, Kaitlyn, Matt, Michael, Ann, Vicki, Joel, Hudson, Glendon, Charly, Eric, Trina, Lauren, Morgan, Maddie, Jill, Hope, Gabriel, Lilly, Micah, David, Levi, Lydia, Annabella, and Vincent.  Every one of these young lives is precious, and deeply missed by those of us still here on earth.

Back to yesterday...Of course, we miss you every day, but we REALLY missed you yesterday.  Visiting your grave is NOT how we would have chosen to celebrate your twentieth birthday.  As beautiful as your gravesite is, it is an extremely poor substitute for your physical presence.  I still find very little peace at that rocky mound.

But I know that you are not there...and for that I am so thankful!  How could I ever walk away from that spot if I didn't have that assurance?  And in spite of the grief that still dogs my every step and colors my every thought, I know that there are good things yet to come in this life ... things to look forward to and enjoy ... joys to experience and life to live ... all while looking ahead to the day when the waiting will be over and we'll be together for eternity.  Can't wait for that day, sweetheart!

I Love You,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- "WWWW for Dads" Report

Well, the first "While We're Waiting Weekend for Dads" is in the book, and from all accounts, it was a huge success.  The guys all arrived at the farmhouse in Briggsville on Friday evening after work, and things officially kicked off with a huge country breakfast on Saturday morning.  They spent the day sharing their kids' stories...

...riding 4-wheelers, finding arrowheads, and sitting around the pond eating lunch and talking...

...climbing up in deer stands and taking pictures of wildlife (sorry, don't have any of those to share); and then having a steak dinner waiting for them when they got back to the house.  Brad's dad and brother did a great job of cooking for the guys and waiting on them throughout the weekend.

After dinner, I'm told they stayed up until nearly midnight discussing various topics they all face as Dads who have lost children.  The weekend wrapped up on Sunday morning, with a time of reflection on how they can live their lives for the Lord while they're waiting to be reunited with their children in Heaven.

What an awesome group of Dads...Dads who love and miss their children and are traveling a road they would never have chosen to travel, but who are determined to honor their kids and their Lord by living with purpose while they're waiting!

**The next "While We're Waiting Weekend for Dads" is scheduled for May 4-6, 2012.  Click here for more information or to register!**

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ten on the Tenth -- 10 Things My Parents Did Right

In honor of my parents' 52nd wedding anniversary, which happens to be today, I've decided to dedicate this month's Ten on the Tenth post to the things they did right while raising my two brothers and me.  Now, let me hasten to say that when I was a kid, I wasn't so sure that they were doing all of these things right.  In fact, I was pretty sure they were dead wrong on a couple of these!  But with age comes wisdom, right?  And as I've been a parent myself for nearly twenty years now, I've realized that they actually were right about a lot of things.  So, without further ado ... Ten Things My Parents Did Right.

1.  They had us at church every time the doors were open.  There was never a question about whether or not we were going to church ... it was just understood that we were going.  My love for the body of Christ was developed through all that time spent in the pews as a child.

2.  They gave us freedom to roam as children.  We always lived in country settings, and I would head outside in the morning, come in for some lunch, and head back out until nearly dark.  I would ride my bike for miles, wander through the woods, build forts out of sticks, make cities out of mud, swim, paddle our canoe around, catch turtles, or play on the balance beam my brother fashioned out of a fallen tree.  To my knowledge, they never worried about me, and I had absolutely no fear of being kidnapped or being accosted by a sexual predator.  Yes, that was a different time, but I think the children of today have missed out on so much because we have tended to over-protect them and even made them afraid to explore on their own.  Sadly, that's sometimes necessary these days.

3.  We ate supper together as a family nearly every night, and we almost always had dessert!  Even as we got into our busy teenage years, I still remember us sitting down together as a family to eat together several times a week.  Going out to eat was an extremely special and uncommon treat, and fast food was rarely a substitute for a home-cooked meal. 

4.  They limited our TV viewing.  Of course, we only got three channels through most of my growing-up years, but there were several shows that were off-limits in our home ... Three's Company, The Love Boat, even Bewitched come to mind.  Of course, I was too busy playing outside to really care too much about TV!

5.  They encouraged us to fight our own battles.  If there was some sort of conflict with a classmate, a teacher, a boss, whoever...they did not immediately step in and intervene on our behalf.  They encouraged us to work it out, to solve it on our own.  In my opinion, too many parents today try to "fix" everything for their kids, never allowing them the freedom to try and possibly fail, learning valuable lessons from those failures.

6.  They encouraged us to get jobs in high school.  I started working at a real estate office stuffing envelopes when I was fourteen years old.  I worked there all through high school and even worked there in the summers while I was in college.  Even after I got married, I worked there on occasion.  I loved earning my own money and the independence that gave me.  It also taught me the value of a dollar and the importance of saving money for what I wanted.

7.  They made us buy our own cars.  Because of the $3.35 an hour I was pulling in at the real estate office, I was able to put some money down and make monthly payments on a 1977 Chevy Monza.  What a car!  It was sporty-looking, midnight blue, had a very temperamental fuel pump, and it was all mine!  I loved it.

8.  They taught us to respect adults.  We always called our parents' friends "Mr. or Mrs. Last Name"...Never "Ms. Jill" or "Mr. Brad".  Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, and I do think that type of address is more typical of the southern culture than the north woods of Wisconsin where we grew up.   But I do feel that the formality of addressing adults that way encouraged us to respect our elders.

9.  They taught us to tell the truth.  I will always remember when I told a lie in Kindergarten that rapidly spread out of control.  When I finally confessed my transgression to my parents, my mother personally brought me to each person who was involved, including my teacher, and had me tearfully confess the truth to them.  That was a lesson I never forgot.

10.  Finally, they demonstrated what a good marriage is all about.  For fifty-two years, they've faithfully upheld their marriage vows, while they've raised three children, moved residences across the country, owned a variety of businesses, had a brush with breast cancer, sent one son off to Indonesia, and lost their oldest granddaughter.  Through all the changes over the years, their relationship has remained constant.  We never had to wonder if our parents were going to stay together like many of our friends did.  We knew they would always be together...and they still are.

So, there you have it...Ten Things My Parents Did Right.  No, they didn't do everything right, and Brad and I certainly don't either.  None of us do.  But if God is at the center of your marriage, I think you're going to do a lot more right than you do wrong.  So I guess that makes 11 things my parents did right!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- "While We're Waiting" Weekend for Dads

I am so excited today to tell you about our very first "While We're Waiting" Weekend for Dads, which is coming up this weekend, October 7-9.  Brad and I and our friends, Larry and Janice Brown, have been spending the last few weeks preparing for this event, and I just have to say that it's going to be awesome.

The Sullivan family owns several hundred acres in the tiny town of Briggsville, Arkansas, which is located in Yell County.  You've probably never heard of it.  According to Wikipedia, the entire county has a population of only 22,185 people, and the population of Briggsville is a grand total of 114 people.  So yeah, it's a pretty rural area.  This is where Brad and Bethany do most of their deer hunting, and where our family "picture in the road" was taken. There is a four bedroom house on the property that used to belong to Brad's aunt, and when she passed away, it became the "hunting lodge."  That's where the guys will be hanging out this weekend.

They're going to be gathering on Friday evening, with no specific arrival time since they all have different work schedules.  The plan is to spend Friday evening just hanging out, snacking, and getting to know each other a little bit.  Things will really kick off on Saturday morning, with a big country breakfast, followed by a time of sharing their children's stories.  They'll take a break mid-morning and spend some time riding 4-wheelers on the numerous trails around the property.  If they're lucky, they might even spot a few arrowheads where the soil has been plowed up around the recently planted foot plots.

They'll have lunch beside one of the ponds on the property, and then spend the rest of the afternoon finishing up sharing their children's stories.  In the late afternoon, the guys are going to pair up and sit on deer stands around the property, armed with digital cameras.  They'll be instructed to basically take pictures of anything that moves, and prizes will be given for the guys who take a picture of the biggest wildlife (whether that's a deer, a wild hog, or possibly even a bear) and for the guys who take pictures of the biggest variety of wildlife.  Larry is bringing his laptop, so they will be able to download all their pictures for viewing and judging.

By the time they return to the house, a steak dinner with all the trimmings will be ready for them.  After dinner, they'll spend the remainder of the evening discussing issues they all face as bereaved dads, and then hit the sack.  Sunday morning will start out with another delicious breakfast, and the weekend will wrap up with a worship time and a presentation about how Dads can live well while they're waiting to be reunited with their children in Heaven.

Sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it?  If you know a bereaved Dad who might enjoy spending a weekend with a bunch of guys who share both his faith and his experiences, send him to the While We're Waiting website, and have him register.  There's only room for one more Dad for the upcoming weekend, but Brad and Larry will be hosting another Dad's event the weekend of May 4-6, 2012, and he might want to go ahead and reserve his spot now.  Should be good fishing that weekend!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Mourning -- October Again

Before I start in on "October Again", let me give you just a brief update on Miss Glory.  She has done well since her surgery, although she has remained sedated this whole time.  Following the surgery, her chest was left open to allow for any swelling, and she is doing well enough that the surgeon is closing her up today.  She will continue to need our prayers in the days ahead, though, and if you're on Facebook, you can follow her progress on her "Fight Like a Glory Girl" page.

So, back to October.  There are so many things I love about this season of the year...the cooler weather, the falling leaves, my favorite hoodies, the colors of fall, and let's not forget the candy corn!  But I don't have quite the same relationship with fall as I used to have.  Now when I flip the calendar to October, I begin to feel very Eeyore-ish.  Even though I'm surrounded by things I enjoy, my heart just sinks a little as I look ahead into the next three months.

Tomorrow is Brad's birthday...something we always enjoy celebrating with a trip to our favorite restaurant...Outback!  But as much as we enjoy celebrating family birthdays together, they are just not the same when there's such a gaping hole in our family.  Anytime there's a family occasion, the sharp knife of Hannah's absence inflicts fresh pain.  Hannah absolutely loved getting together with the family, whether it was just the four of us, or our rather large extended family...and it's just not the same without her.

The 22nd of October is Hannah's birthday...and she would have been turning 20 years old this year.  What a milestone in a young woman's life!  It's so hard to imagine that we'll be observing her 20th birthday without her...and that this will be her third birthday in Heaven.  And while I don't begrudge her those heavenly birthdays, I sure wish she was going to be here to help us eat the Mississippi Mud cake I'll be baking in her honor on October 22nd!

November and December will bring more family gatherings...and I've just told you how I feel about that.  We'll continue to seek out new holiday traditions in an effort to make these events more palatable. 

Now, I really don't mean for this to sound all doom and gloom.  Compared to the first time I turned the calendar to October after Hannah's death -- Well, there's no comparison.  That first year, I literally felt physically sick from October through December.  And then that sickness started back up again in February, the month that marked the anniversary of her death.  Since then, I've learned a few things...

1.  The anticipation of a birthday, holiday, anniversary, etc., is almost always worse than the actual date once it arrives.

2.  It is still possible to enjoy these events...not only that, it's okay to enjoy these events.  Laughing, smiling, relaxing, and enjoying your remaining family is not a betrayal of your loved's a very valid way to honor their memory and the joy they brought to your life.

3.  It's also okay not to enjoy every minute of these events.  As a matter of fact, it's pretty safe to say you won't.  I've learned to be patient with myself and acknowledge that I have suffered a very deep loss, and that my emotions may not always be predictable or under control.

4.  I know now that there are still things to look forward to and joy to be found.  I really couldn't see that when I was deep in that first year of grief, but I do see it now.  God is good, and He has much good in store for each of us ... but if we are too blinded by our own grief and sorrow, we can't see it. 

So, it's October again.  As I look ahead into the next three months, I am going to make a conscious choice to keep my eyes open, because I don't want to miss a single one of God's good gifts.