Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- Another Awesome App!

If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know I'm a big fan of Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts".  Her basic premise in this book (written in the most beautiful prose I've ever read) is that true joy comes through thanksgiving.  And I don't mean "Thanksgiving"...as in the once-yearly event where we gorge ourselves with rich food, watch football, and spend a few brief moments being thankful for our blessings in general.  I mean a day-in, day-out lifestyle of thanksgiving, where we recognize and thank God for each and every blessing He brings into our lives, no matter how tiny or seemingly insignificant.  The author describes how her life was transformed by simply listing every blessing in her life, up to 1,000 of them.  She then started her list all over again.

Reading this book inspired me to start my own list of 1,000 things that bring me joy, and I've even shared many of them on this blog.  It can be so easy to get caught up self-pity after suffering a great loss in life, especially when you tend to be an Eeyore like me.  This list has served as a reminder to me to look for and appreciate all the good things in life....and we truly are surrounded by them.  I've kept my list in a little notebook that I carry in my purse, and if I'm perfectly honest, I often miss writing things down because it's just too much trouble to dig it out from amongst all the other junk in there and then find something to write with.  As a result, my list has suffered from neglect.

But...would you believe there's an app for that?  It's called "One Thousand Gifts" (what else?) and it's waaaay better than a list scrawled in a notebook.  When you first open it, you get a quote from Ann's book (such as "Wherever you are, be fully there"), and then you move on to your list.  Adding an item is as simple as typing it in, and here's the coolest part....you can add a photo!  So you not only have your list, but you can have pictures of everything on your list.  You can also easily share your captured gifts to Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.  How fun is that?   As soon as I have time (not sure when that will be!) I'm going to transfer my entire list into this app, and then, hopefully, I will do a better job of keeping up with it. 

Oh, and did I mention that this app is free?  Yes, FREE!  At least it was when I downloaded it a few days ago.  I'm not sure if it's available on the Android platform or not, since I'm an iPhone girl.  And now....I've got a few minutes.  I think I'll go work on my list...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Glory Girl Update

Here's the latest update on sweet little Glory, posted by her Mom on the "Fight Like a Glory Girl" Facebook page a couple of days ago...

"We could never thank all of you enough for your encouragement, thoughtfulness, and mostly your prayers. I think a little of all of our hearts are breaking today. Every time I get negative news from Glory's doctors, I mourn another piece of the idea I had the moment I found out I was pregnant with her...the idea that she would grow up playing with her sissy...the idea that she would graduate high school, get married, and have babies of her own...even the idea (although possibly in a less conscious manner) that I would die before her. Over the past year, those hopes have been less and less as Glory fights an uphill battle.

I generally do not mention Glory’s medical diagnosis in detail or dwell on her list of defects simply because it is not what defines Glory. What defines her is her smile, the way she loves, the way she is loved by those around her, the way she talks with her eyes, the way she thinks her sissy is the best person in the world… I could go on and on. But I want to list her defects now because I want you to understand how strong (medically) she is… Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Double Outlet Right Ventricle, Atrioventricular Canal, and Heterotaxy are her heart defects. She was also born with esophageal atresia (the upper portion of her esophagus is not connected to her stomach), tracheophageal fistula, asplenia (she was born without a spleen), and bronchomalacia (her left lung is very underdeveloped and weak). It is important that you understand that she should not have survived one week. I want you to know that her life today is a miracle. I wish she was going to be with us for years and years, but the likelihood of that is getting smaller and smaller. It is worth mentioning here that I do believe that God can heal Glory at any time, but the world we live in is not perfect, and only He knows the future. Glory has already accomplished more in her 16 months than most of us do in 50 years..I could not be more proud of her. Please join me in celebrating her life in the days ahead (even though we don’t know how many)…she is here now…she is still smiling. None of us know what day is our last, so we are going to continue on and enjoy every moment we have with Glory Girl. I could not feel more blessed to be her mother and spend even one more day with her. She is, and has always been, a result of your prayers.

The picture is of her today enjoying watching The Polar Express with Mo-Mo. She has not felt well the past few weeks, but if she has any energy to do anything, she is smiling. :) Please pray for our transition home, for Glory to be happy and comfortable, for us as we make daily decisions about Glory’s care, and for Eliana.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13."

As we all celebrate Thanksgiving today, let us all hug our family members a little bit tighter and squeeze every bit of joy out of our time together.  Let us be truly thankful for the blessings of faith, family, and the hope of Heaven. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- There's An App For That!

Wow....Two posts in two days!  That hasn't happened in awhile! 

Today I wanted to share with you my two new favorite iPhone apps.  So if you don't have an iPhone, I guess you can just move on to the next blog....or maybe reading about these apps just might make you decide to take the plunge and get one!  I suppose these may be available on the Droid platform, but I really have no idea.  All I know is that these are two terrific apps that you might enjoy.

The first is called PrayerMate, and it is a great way to help you organize your quiet time.  If you're like me, you have LOTS of people on your prayer list.  In particular, I have a long list of people with cancer, and a long list of people who are grieving the loss of their children.  I used to keep this list written on a white board, and tried to pray through it each day.  It was rather unwieldly, and my prayers for each person were necessarily brief and to be honest, somewhat shallow, as the list just seemed to continue to grow each day.  I would also feel bad when a friend would ask me to pray for someone, and I would agree to do so, only to find that by the time I got home to my white board I had forgotten their name!  Or maybe I'd pray for them a time or two, and then a new prayer need would come along and I would forget all about them.

Well, this neat little app helps keep me straight.  It allows you to enter categories and then put names or items under each category heading.  For example, I have categories like "My Family, My Church, Unbelievers, Missions, Those with Cancer, Those with Illnesses, Those Who are Grieving, My Country", etc.  Then, under each category I have names or other items.  For example, under "My Church", I have listed by name each staff member, then each ministry of the church, such as Celebrate Recovery, Anchor of Hope, the youth group, Upward Soccer, etc.  Once you get all the information entered, you can set how many items under each category you want to pray for each day.  For example, I have fifty-one names under "Those with Cancer", so each day, I have it set so that three of those names will come up.  I can't possibly pray well for 51 people with cancer each day (in addition to other people on my list), but I certainly can pray for three. 

After you have all the information entered and the number of category items you want to pray for each day set, the app is very easy to use.  It works like flashcards.  You simply swipe through, card by card, and pray for each one.  It's also very easy to add new categories and new names.  So now, when someone stops you in the hallway at church and asks you to pray for their mother who's just been diagnosed with cancer, you can enter her name into your PrayerMate app, and there you go!  No more forgetting those important prayer needs.  Oh, and did I mention that this app is free?  Hang on....never mind.  When I got it, it was free, but I just checked the app store and it is now $2.99.  Still...that's pretty close to free.

The other app I just found recently and I haven't even been using it a full week yet....but I love it!  This one is called Fighter Verses, and it is also $2.99.  This is a fantastic app if you want to develop the discipline of Scripture memorization.  It is amazing!  You can choose to memorize either one or two verses a week, and it provides you with 520 pre-loaded verses, which is two complete five year collections of verses.  You can also add any verse you want, just by putting in the reference.  You don't even have to type it in there.  There are five different Bible translations available...so you can memorize in ESV, NIV, NASB, KJV or a Spanish version.  It also has built-in quizzes, where they put blanks in the verses and you tap them to fill them in or select the missing word from a word bank.  How many of you remember trying to learn memory verses in Sunday School by writing them out, erasing a few words, and trying to say them?  Well, this app does that for you! 

There are even verses selected just for children to memorize that include visual cues, AND if you use the ESV version, there are songs to help them learn them.  Where, oh where was this app when my children were in AWANA?  You can also set your weekly verse as the lock screen on your phone, so you see it everytime you turn on your phone.  Pretty awesome, if you ask me.  I am really loving this app. 

So, there you go...PrayerMate and Fighter Verses.  Six bucks well spent, if you ask me.  I'll let you go now, so you can go check out the App Store!  Happy downloading!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Mourning -- Ten Things That (Still) Make Me Sad

As we approach our third holiday season since Hannah went to Heaven, I've been dealing with the now-familiar wave of grief that always seems to come around this time of year.  After the loss of a child, there are the big, obvious things that make you sad, like the holidays, your child's birthday, the anniversary of their death, or their empty bedroom ... but there are also little things, things that would seem completely inconsequential to others, but things that must be dealt with on a daily, or nearly daily, basis. 

Since I missed this month's Ten on the Tenth (I'm going to blame that on Bethany's basketball schedule), I thought I would list ten things that still make me sad on a daily basis, even though it's been nearly three years since Hannah went to Heaven. 

1.  Grocery shopping -- Hannah loved Chex Mix and green olives...two things that no one else in the family eats.  I used to buy them just for her.  She would sit and eat green olives right out of the jar like they were candy.  As her health deteriorated and her sense of taste was affected by radiation and chemotherapy, her tastes dwindled to basically three things:  Oranges, Michelina frozen fettucini, and Special K with Red Berries cereal.  It was not uncommon for her to eat a bowl of cereal, some fettucini, and an orange in the middle of the night in the last month of her life.  It makes me very sad to go grocery shopping and not buy any of these things ... I will actually avert my eyes as I walk down the aisles so I don't have to see any of these items.

2.  Seeing her high school friends -- I was at our high school football game on Friday night, and watched as her two best high school friends walked by together, laughing and talking.  I always feel such a tug in my heart whenever I see her friends from school, knowing that they are home from college for the weekend, spending time with their families.  Really makes me miss my girl.

3.  Getting out three plates for dinner -- Even after almost three years, I never pull plates out of the cabinet without an awareness that I'm only getting three of them instead of four.  The evening we came home from the hospice center after Hannah's death in February of 2009, there was a nice, warm supper waiting for us on the counter from a sweet family in our Sunday School class.  Amazingly, we were actually hungry, not having eaten all day, and we decided to sit down and eat.  I opened up the cabinet and pulled out four plates.  I was pulling four forks out of the silverware tray, when Brad pointed out to me what I was doing.  The heartache I felt as I put one of those plates back into the cabinet is repeated every time I get out three plates for dinner.

4.  Seeing mothers and daughters together -- Whenever I see mothers and their nearly-adult daughters together, especially shopping, I feel that familiar pang.  Hannah and I were great shopping buddies.  Of course, she loved it when we shopped for her, but she would also encourage me to shop for myself.  She would find outfits for me to try on, and waited patiently while I changed into them and modeled for her.  She actually helped bring my wardrobe into the 21st century from the 1990s 1980s.  I miss those days.

5.  Going to Bethany's school events -- Bethany is very active in school and church activities, and I love watching her play basketball, high jump, and cheer.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  But there's always a sadness that Hannah is not there to cheer her on.  I know she'd be in college now and would miss a lot of these events anyway, but she'd be following her activities closely, and would come to anything she was able to.  Last week Bethany played in a basketball tournament at Ouachita Baptist University, where Hannah would have been a student, and it would have been so much fun for us to have watched those games together.  Hannah was not athletic, and she knew it, but I think that made her appreciate Bethany's athleticism even more.  She was definitely her sister's biggest fan, even coming to watch her play basketball in the last month of her life, when she couldn't even walk without assistance.  It makes me sad that Bethany doesn't get to hear her voice in the stands cheering her on.

6.  Sharing new things with her -- It seems like there's always something I want to tell her or show her, like the beauty of the changing leaves, or a new song by Switchfoot, or the new comforter I found on sale at Kohl's yesterday.  I want to show her how much the trees we planted have grown, and show her all the changes that have taken place on her high school campus in the past couple of years.  And it seems that if I ever say something like, "I wish Hannah could see this", some sweet, kind, well-meaning person will say, "Oh, she already knows about it."  And that's probably true (although with all the beauty surrounding her, does she really pay attention to what's going on here on earth....I'm not really sure about that), but it's not especially helpful when I'm missing her physical presence.

7.  The grave -- Thankfully, I don't have to deal with her grave on a daily basis.  I know that many bereaved parents get a great deal of comfort from visiting their child's grave, and that is wonderful.  There is no comfort for me there...only pain.  Her grave is located in a cemetery near the Sullivan family deer camp, which is where we often have family gatherings.  It is excruciating to drive right past her grave on the way to a family get-together.  Some completely illogical part of my brain feels like we ought to stop, pick her up, and bring her with us.  It makes me very sad that we can't.

8.  Changing seasons -- For some reason, as one season fades into another, the sadness hits me again.  I think maybe it's because the changing seasons are a sign of time passing ... stretching out the number of days since I last saw her, talked to her, held her hand. 

9.  Her cousins -- Hannah was the oldest of all her cousins by about 3 1/2 years.  As a natural-born leader, she was adored by all her younger cousins.  She kept them all in line, squelched all the bickering, and served as director and narrator of the annual cousin nativity play at Christmas time.  It absolutely breaks my heart to know that three of her cousins will never remember her ... one was almost two when she died, one only three months, and one yet unborn.  Their parents have done a wonderful job of  making sure they know who Hannah was, but it just makes me so sad that they never had the opportunity to know her.

10.  While We're Waiting -- Whenever we have a While We're Waiting event, I always wish I could sit down with her and tell her all about it, and it makes me sad that I can't, because I know she'd enjoy hearing all about it.  But then it hits me ... While We're Waiting would not exist if she were here.  The Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry would not exist if she were here.  The lives that God has used these ministries to touch would remain untouched. 

So, why write about the things that make me sad?  The other day, I found this quote by Ed Welch: “I find that there are three levels of clarity. When I only think about something, my thoughts are embryonic and muddled. When I speak about it, my thoughts become clearer, though not always. When I write about it, I jump to a new level of clarity.”  Wow, can I relate to that quote! 

I've been feeling the need lately to clarify for myself what exactly are the things that trigger my sadness.  Maybe by specifically identifying them, I can be better prepared for their onslaught.  And maybe there's someone reading this who can relate ... who might read these things and realize, like one of the Moms who came to our last While We're Waiting Weekend, that they are not the only one who deals with this kind of stuff on a daily basis. 

I've been faciliating the Beth Moore study "Patriarchs" for the last several weeks at our church.  In last week's video, she talked about how she had been the victim of sexual abuse of a child, and finally had the opportunity to confront the perpetrator.  She described being dismayed and broken-hearted by the fact that he just didn't seem to "get it."  He seemed to have no idea (or no concern) how her life had been impacted by his actions.  She concluded by stating that even if no one else "gets it", God does.  Wow!  What a comfort that was to me!  Even some of my most illogical thoughts and feelings, He "gets."  And even though those things still bring sadness to my heart, it sure helps to know that He cares and understands!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tell About It Tuesday -- The CureSearch Walk

Ahhhhhh....It's Tuesday evening and I have nothing to do and nowhere to be!  Bethany was supposed to babysit an extremely active 2-year-old boy for a few hours at our house this evening, and honestly, I've been dreading it all day.  She's done this before, and he's a sweet little guy.  But when you're not used to having a two year old around, and you have no toys for two year olds, and when the two year old's parents are not around to take care of him...and did I mention that he is a extremely active two year old...well, let's just say when I found out late this afternoon that the little fella was sick and wouldn't be coming, I breathed a sigh of relief.  OK, maybe I even did a little happy dance.  A whole evening with nothing to do!

Nothing to do but blog, that is.  Life has been so busy lately, it's been hard to get on and write regularly and I'm hopelessly behind on my blog reading.  Basketball season officially got underway last night with the start of a tournament at Ouachita Baptist University.  Bethany's team played at 8:30 p.m. (getting us home around 10:30 p.m.) and they won.  Lucky us, that means we get to play tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m.  And win or lose, we'll play again Thursday night.  Then there's the start of football playoffs Friday night.  Busy, but fun.  And I am so thankful that Bethany has sufficiently recovered from her concussion to be able to play a little bit last night.  She was not quite on her game, but she'll get there.  God is good.

I've been wanting to share a little bit about the CureSearch Walk for pediatric cancer awareness and funding that we were privileged to be a part of on October 15th.  This was the first time this event has ever been held in Little Rock, and we felt it was a huge success. 

The morning began at Murray Park in Little Rock, where a ceremony was held to honor the young cancer survivors, and then we walked a 5K.  The route took us over the Big Dam Bridge and back.  As you can see, the weather was perfect!

When we reached the end of the Big Dam Bridge, there was a banner for all of us to sign, either in honor or in memory of our children.  Just take a look at how many children, just from Arkansas, are touched by cancer. 

We walked with our friends, Bobby and Amy, whose 5-year-old son Joel went to Heaven in August after a battle with pediatric brain cancer.  We got to see several of the families whose children were fighting cancer at the same time that Hannah was.  It was wonderful (if somewhat bittersweet) to see those kids growing and thriving.  We were also able to visit with Hannah's oncologist for the first time since we walked out of Children's Hospital over two years ago, and it was great to visit with him outside of a hospital setting.  He introduced us to his wife, and said that Hannah was the "most beautiful girl he had ever seen."  Maybe he says that about all of his patients, but knowing him, I really don't think so.  Let's just say I was glad I had my sunglasses on. 

Over $50,000 was raised for pediatric cancer research that day.  We've got a long way to go to catch up to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, but it's a start.  You know...the breast cancer folks have done an incredible job of raising awareness and funding for their cause.  And it's a great cause!  I don't think you can find anyone who is not aware of the prevalence of breast cancer in this country.  But...I can not tell you how many times I've heard someone (including myself) say, "I had no idea how many children were affected by cancer until my child was diagnosed with it."  It's time to get the word out.  We are looking forward to being a part of the CureSearch Walk for years to come!

Monday, November 7, 2011

"While We're Waiting Weekend" Wrap-Up

"Now to Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21

I think I quoted that same Scripture after our last "While We're Waiting Weekend" for couples, but I just had to use it again.  Because once again, God did exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or imagine over the course of this past weekend.

You might recall from my post a couple of weeks ago that this weekend almost didn't happen.  We were this close (I'm holding my thumb and forefinger a couple of millimeters apart) to canceling this fall's retreat and just waiting until the spring.  We had a few couples registered, but things just didn't seem to be falling into place.  Several couples who wanted to come had other obligations and were unable to attend.  We host couples were all very busy with other things.  Maybe God was telling us that this just wasn't the right time...that we needed to just be patient and wait until the spring.  We were even bold enough to give God a time limit...if no one signed up in the next 24 hours....there would be no "While We're Waiting Weekend" this fall.

Well, I think God kind of chuckled at that, because within 24 hours, a sweet young widowed mom signed up, and then 24 hours later, He sent another couple.  Yes, we got the message loud and clear, and the weekend was on! 

And what a weekend it was!  

I can never adequately express everything that happened this weekend in words, so I'm going to attempt to illustrate some of it in pictures. 

First...Family Farm, our beautiful "home away from home" for the weekend...

Our hosts and hostesses...

Our kids' pictures...

Session time, both inside and outside...

Visiting the animals on the farm...

Going on a hay ride...

Trying out the land skis...Yes, the guys won this time!

Riding the two zip lines...one through the woods and one over the pond!

Taking a break and enjoying the absolutely beautiful weather...

And enjoying a gourmet dinner prepared by Chef Franklin.  Here he's making Bananas Foster for dessert....

But as great as all these activities were, they could not hold a candle to the highlight of the weekend.  Remember the young widowed mom I mentioned at the beginning of this post...the one who God used to make this whole weekend happen?

Over the course of the weekend, she realized that although she was a Christian, she had not been growing in her faith.  She had also never been baptized, and she expressed a desire to be baptized as a symbol of her new commitment to Christ....and she didn't want to wait.  Isn't God amazing?  So on Sunday morning, after a time of praise and worship, we all walked down to the pond, where Stan May and Brad baptized her in the chilly waters.  I share these pictures with her permission.

After the baptism, we had an impromptu surprise party for this sweet mom, whose birthday is coming up this week.  We were not only celebrating her birthday...we were celebrating her new commitment to her Lord!

One of our dads also rededicated his life to the Lord while we were there, and I believe every one who came left there with renewed hope for the future and a commitment to honor our children and our Lord by living well while we're waiting to be reunited with them.  Just take a look at these smiling faces!

Our next While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents is scheduled for April 20-22, 2012  For more information or to register, just go to the While We're Waiting website.  Also, please help us spread the word if you know someone who might be interested in attending an event like this!   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"While We're Waiting Weekend" Eve

Tomorrow night will mark the start of our second "While We're Waiting Weekend" for Bereaved Parents.  We'll be kicking things off with dinner around 5:30 -- a group of strangers with nothing in common but the indescribable pain of losing a child.  Well, no...that's not really the only thing we have in common.  We also share faith in God -- a faith, that for many of us, has been shaken and tested by our life experiences.  We have lived I Peter 1:6-7:  "In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -- may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."  (Thank you, Robyn, for reminding me of this passage!  Your timing was perfect!) 

I want to ask you to pray for this weekend.  First of all, that Jesus Christ would receive the praise, glory, and honor as described in I Peter 1:7.  Secondly, please pray that this weekend would be a time of refreshment, renewal, comfort, and encouragement as we come together to share our children's lives and to learn from each other.  Even though we will be arriving as strangers, I believe we will leave as dear friends.  Finally, please pray that God will take care of all those little details that can arise during an event like this.  We want to be able to keep the focus where it belongs...on Him and on our guests. 

Every time we have one of these While We're Waiting events, I have trouble sleeping the night before.  My heart is always filled with a combination of excitement, anxiety, anticipation, inadequacy, exhilaration, and even some fear.  Sounds pretty conflicted, huh?  So I just have to remind myself that I am but an earthen vessel, and that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of me...a little paraphrase of II Corinthians 4:7.  Knowing that you are praying will help me with that...so "Thanks" in advance for your prayers!