Saturday, December 31, 2011

Random Thoughts...

Just some random thoughts bouncing around in my head here on the last day of 2011.  Actually, most of them have nothing to do with the end of the year ... they're just things I've meant to blog about over the last few weeks but haven't had the time.  So, here we go.

1.  I turned 46 a couple weeks ago.  Kind of a strange feeling to be closer to 50 than 40.  I suppose I'll start getting stuff from AARP in the mail any day now.

2.  The best part of turning 46 was that I got a new laptop for my birthday.  Take a close look at the picture of the keyboard of my old laptop below.  Do you agree that maybe it was time for a new one?

Actually, this wasn't my laptop was Hannah's.  When she turned 17, her aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even some others, all chipped in and surprised her with it for her birthday.  It was the perfect gift for her, because at that time she was going through her second round of radiation and was out of school.  It helped keep her connected with her friends and the world around her.  Unfortunately, it wasn't long before her vision deteriorated to the point where she couldn't see well enough to use it.  At that point, I took it over, and this is the computer that accompanied us to every hospital appointment and stay, and the means by which I wrote all of the emails which chronicled our journey.  It has served our family well, but lately, it's begun to its number is being retired.

3.  Our Christmas stuff is still up, and will remain up until sometime after January 21st.  That is when we will be celebrating Christmas with my side of the family.  Why are we waiting until January 21st, you may ask?  Because that's when my brother and his family will be home on furlough from Indonesia.  The last time we saw them was just a couple of months after Hannah went to Heaven.  We are absolutely giddy at the prospect of seeing them soon!

4.  There are some very exciting things going on with the "While We're Waiting" ministry, and I can't wait to share them with you.  But, I am going to wait until my next "Tell About It Tuesday" post.  So be sure to check back next week.

5.  I'm excited about starting The 3650 Challenge tomorrow.  What is The 3650 Challenge, you ask?  It's also known as Professor Horner's Bible-Reading System -- a method in which you read ten chapters of the Bible a day, every day, for a full year.  Each of the ten chapters comes from a different book of the Bible.  If followed exactly, by the end of the year, you will have read 3,650 chapters. That would mean that over 2012 calendar year you would read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1.5 times.  Sounds interesting, doesn't it?  If anyone else is doing it, I'd love to hear from you.  There is actually a Facebook group called The 3650 Challenge to provide a forum for those of us who are doing it.  There are 1,348 members of this group, so I know I'm not the only one.  I plan to use the YouVersion Bible on my iPhone, which has this system available as one of its plans, and also another free app called Bible Bookmarks.  Anyway, I'm going to give it a try...I'll let you know how it goes.

6.  I'm totally geeked out about pulling out my new calendars tomorrow.  I may even have to put them up tonight...I just don't think I can wait!  :)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- What Would I Do If...

On the Tuesday morning before Christmas, I bid Bethany good-bye as she headed off to basketball practice.  Christmas break was already in full swing, but, of course, basketball practice never takes a break.  She walked out the door, and I went into the bathroom and started blow-drying my hair.  I hadn't been in there two minutes when Brad appeared at the bathroom door yelling that Bethany had hit a deer.  I think my heart stopped momentarily before I managed to choke out, "Is she okay?"  He hollered back over his shoulder, "I don't know.  She just called me."  And then he was gone...pulling out of the driveway in his Chevy Blazer.

I yanked on some jeans (pajama pants are my garment of choice on Christmas break), and was out the driveway just a few minutes behind him.  We live in a very rural area, where the roads are curvy, and the deer are plentiful.  I came around a curve, and there they were, both their vehicles on the side of the road, Bethany engulfed in Brad's arms.  I pulled over and joined the group hug.  Bethany was fine, just a little shaken and scared.  Once I was assured that she was okay, I turned my attention to her car...and this is what I saw.

It was pretty ugly, and I hated to see her poor little car all bashed up like this, but, oh my, it could have been so much worse.  She had come around the curve to find four deer crossing the road.  Thankfully, she remembered her dad's advice not to swerve when encountering an animal in the road...if she had left the road, she would probably have struck a tree on one side, and would have gone into a deep ditch on the other side.  And if a deer rolls up and comes through your windshield...well, let's just not go there.

The bottom line is, Bethany was fine.  We made all the necessary calls to the insurance company and summoned a tow truck, and then I drove her on to basketball practice.  The wreck happened only about a mile from our house, and the school is only about two miles farther down the road.  I did walk in with her and explained to her coach why she was late, and why she might be a little distracted at practice.

It wasn't until I was headed home from the gym that the magnitude of the event started to sink in.  "Magnitude" may not be the right word the grand scheme of things, it was really a pretty minor incident.  But to me, it was a reminder, like when Bethany had her concussion a couple months ago, that our family is not immune from further tragedy.

There's something in me that thinks, "We've lost a child to cancer.  Surely that means that nothing more can happen to us."  But I know that's not true.  When we moved from Wisconsin to Arkansas when I was twelve years old, I became friends with a girl who had lost all three of her brothers.  One had died shortly after he was born, one died at the age of ten from cancer, and one (the only one she ever knew) had died at the age of 17 in a car accident.  I knew all of this because she told me about it, but as a kid, I never even considered what her parents had gone through.  They were very kind to me, and I was always welcome in their home.  Now, after losing only one child, I wonder how in the world they survived so much loss.  I cannot even begin to imagine.

I recently read the story of Scott and Janet Willis's family in WORLD magazine.  Seventeen years ago, the Willises lost all six of their children when a piece of metal fell off a truck and punctured the gas tank of their minivan.  As they were being treated for severe burns at the scene, Scott said to Janet, "It was very quick.  And they're with the Lord now."  Then, as they were loaded into separate ambulances, he shouted out to her, "Psalm 34."  Janet, as she was surrounded by emergency workers, kept praying Psalm 34:1 out loud, "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth," with the emphasis on will.  What a beautiful picture of trust in God, despite unspeakably devastating circumstances.

Andree' Seu, the author of the article, wrote this:  "Praise meets trauma where nothing else can reach.  Praise in the face of devastation releases blessings obtainable in no other way.  The presence of God is directly related to worship."

Would that I could continue to praise God, even if another tragedy befell my family.  And even as I ask God to give me that kind of faith, I pray that I never have to find out if I really have it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wacky Wednesday -- Indonesian Instructions

I haven't had a Wacky Wednesday post for awhile, but when I saw this on my brother's blog, I just had to share it.  My brother and his wife are missionaries in Indonesia, and they celebrated Christmas just like we did this past weekend.  One of the gifts they got for their little girls was this "Funny House".

It was actually a house in two pieces...You had to buy both pieces and then put them together.  But that's not the wacky part.  Here's the part that made me chuckle...the comments on the package.

Hmmmm....Don't you wish you could encourage your exaltation kid's cognitive abilities with a toy like this?  :-)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

Well, it's 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Day...and another Christmas is almost behind us.  And I have to say that I'm glad it's coming to an end.  Christmas is just not what it used to be.

It's not what it used to be when I was a little girl...when we used to have to wait until the grown-ups finished drinking their coffee after Christmas dinner before all of us kids (my brother and me and all our cousins) could start opening presents.  Can you believe they made us wait until the afternoon before we could open our presents?!  I never knew grown-ups could drink coffee so slowly!

It's not what it used to be when my girls were little...when Brad and I were almost more excited than they were about their presents.  My girls were not early risers, and we were usually awake on Christmas morning long before they were...anxiously waiting for them to get up and tear into their presents.

And it's certainly not what it was before Hannah left our earthly home for her heavenly home.  Certainly, the pain of her absence has moderated somewhat...the edges of the hole are not quite as sharp as they once were. The sadness is still there, but it's not crippling.

This year, more than ever, what has made me sad is thinking about how small our little family is.  There are only three of us, and it just feels so incomplete.  We were never supposed to be a family of three.  Brad and I had always wanted at least two children, preferably three.  Because of complications after Bethany was born, we were never able to have that third child, but that was okay...we were very content with our family of four.

We have a very large and loving extended family.  In fact, we celebrated Christmas with the Sullivan side of the family last weekend in Waco, Texas, at my sister-in-law's home.  We had a wild, raucous, wrapping-paper-ripping time of celebration while we were there.  We are planning a Christmas celebration with my side of the family when my brother and his family come home from Indonesia on furlough in mid-January.  We are really looking forward to that time with them, especially their two little girls, since we get to see them so rarely.

That meant that our Christmas celebration at home was very quiet this year, which is fine with us.  We live such busy lives, we really enjoy just having some relaxing time to be together as a family.  We decided to open presents on Christmas Eve this year.  We knew we'd be going to church this morning, and just didn't want to have to rush that family time together.

We did have a guest join us for the evening...Bethany's boyfriend, Brad.  I don't think he had any idea how much his presence helped us.  In fact, I don't think he had a clue.  The two of them have been friends for awhile now, and he's almost become part of the family.  For a few hours, it almost felt like we were a family of four again.  And I know it helped Bethany to have someone to open presents with.  We really had a nice evening together last night.  We also spent some time video-chatting with my brother in Indonesia on Skype, and that, too, helped our family not to feel quite so small.

As we walked into church this morning, I was struck once again by how small our family seemed.  We took our place in our usual pew, and I know it's weird, but I kept thinking about what a small amount of space we filled up.  I couldn't help but look at the families around us, all sitting together with their children, and looking somehow so much more "complete" than I felt we did.  I even felt like other people were looking at us and thinking, "Awwww...look at them.  Their family is so small without Hannah."  The sermon was pretty much lost on me, and I ended up fighting tears through the whole service.   By the time it was over, I had to get out of there.  I barely held it together until I got out into the parking lot...well, okay, I didn't really hold it together, but I gave it a valiant effort.  Sometimes, that's just all you can do.

We did have a really nice afternoon and evening...eating a delicious dinner of brisket with all of our favorite side dishes, watching movies, and playing games together.  So nice just to relax and enjoy being together.

The name of this blog is "The Sullivan Four."  That name actually comes from our email address, which for a few years now has been thesullivan4 at  It was from that address that I sent all of the emails that became the journal of Hannah's journey through cancer.  I started this blog after she went to Heaven, and I knew I wanted to use that name, but wondered whether it would really be more appropriate to call it "The Sullivan Three".  After all, weren't we now a family of three?

I didn't think about it long, though.  God quickly reminded me that even though Hannah is no longer physically present with us on earth, we are still a family of four.  There is a separation between us right now...but it is only temporary.  Hannah did not cease to exist on February 26, 2009...she is actually more alive than ever before...and we will be reunited with her one day.  So, even though it feels like our family is  small and incomplete right now, it won't always be that way.  We are still a family of four, "The Sullivan Four" if you will, and we will be throughout eternity.  And there is joy to be found in that.  Yet another reminder of what Christmas is all about.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve in Heaven

I've thought a lot about what to write here on the eve of our third Christmas without Hannah.  But I've decided, for a change, not to write about our family.

I want to share the remarkable story of Hallie Green, a precious little girl who was born six days ago in Atlanta, Georgia.  About six months ago, Hallie's parents found out that she would be born with Trisomy 13, a genetic disorder which causes a multitude of birth defects.  In fact, 80% of babies born with Trisomy 13 do not survive their first year of life.

Let me share some of what Hallie's dad wrote on their blog yesterday, on Hallie's fifth day of life:

"I can't write a word until I thank all of you who have sent gifts to our house, texted, wrote on the Hope For Hallie Facebook wall, brought meals, and most importantly... prayed for our family and Hallie.

I've got to be honest, when I first saw the signs and hashtags labeled "Hope for Hallie," I was a little nervous. I guess I wanted to make sure people knew what to hope for. The prayers for a miracle of full recovery in Hallie's health have been a braver prayer than I honestly was willing to pray. Probably out of the fear that God might not "fix" her. I also didn't want to assume that Hallie's health was the indicator of God's goodness to us. We've seen God's goodness in so many ways, and greatly through each of you. The bottom line is this: please don't hinge your willingness to believe in God on Hallie's survival.

The reality is, she won't.

I want to follow that horrible sentence with this. Hallie's survival was never our "Hope for Hallie." We knew the day we heard the words "Trisomy 13," Hallie's life would be short, and maybe just hours/days if she survived birth. Our "Hope for Hallie" is that people would see life as a gift, and draw near to God. Based on your comments here, and based on the Facebook wall, I would say: mission accomplished. More people know Hallie's name within the last five days than will know my name throughout my entire life. Please don't feel sorry for Hallie...or us.

We will continue to enjoy every moment we are given with Hallie. We're heartbroken. Extremely heartbroken. We cry...probably hourly. God's purpose for Hallie does not exempt us from the pain of losing her. Don't be misled into thinking we're all laughing and celebrating all of the time.

Hallie is perfectly-made for us. She has a cleft lip and palate, no eyes, and we're pretty sure she's deaf. But she's still perfect to us. Her soul shines through her.

Finally, I'll leave you with a shot taken last night shortly after we arrived home from the hospital. One of our "Hope for Hallie" participants (and later found out, a close family friend) went to Bass Pro Shop to do some family photos with Santa. She was holding a "Hope for Hallie" sign in the photo. Santa asked about it, and was moved by our story. He wanted to help bring some Christmas cheer to our family. 9pm last night, after working a strenuous, all-day schedule, he drove the 30 miles south to our home to make us smile.

This single act of selflessness and love has got to be a top-three moment for me in my life. I would compare it to the "Move that Bus!" Extreme Home Makeover emotion. Incredible. He came with two elves (thanks Kristin and Lauren), and brought gifts for our girls and us, prayed for our family, and then lead us all in "Silent Night." I'll have a video of the girls' reaction up...well...soon. Santa, thank you for honoring our family in such a sacrificial way. (I see God's love all over this.)

Here is Santa loving on Hallie, our Christmas miracle...."

Isn't that just the most beautiful picture you've ever seen?

Hallie went to be with Jesus about 12:30 this morning, and is spending Christmas Eve with Him, which is soooo much better than spending it with Santa.

Please keep Chris and Katie Green, along with Bella and Farrah, Hallie's big sisters, in your prayers in the days ahead.  You might even write a word of encouragement to them on the "Hope for Hallie" facebook page.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday -- JOY...Because of HOPE

Wow...I have really dropped the ball when it comes to blogging!  Even though Christmas break officially began last Friday, I have literally been too busy to sit down and write.  And I really don't like to write just for the sake of writing.  There have been several times that I've done that, and I'm never happy with the results.  My posts usually begin with a "seed"...something that's planted in my mind that often takes time to grow.  If I rush it along, it just doesn't turn out well.

Anyway, enough excuses.  I'm hopeful that Christmas break will afford me the opportunity to share some of what's been on my heart over the last few weeks.

Tonight, my thoughts are full of families who are preparing to spend their first Christmas without one of their precious children.  The second and third (and so on) Christmases are difficult, but nothing compares to the deep grief families experience on that first Christmas without their child.  And it seems there has been so much loss this year.  As I write this, I see face after face passing through my mind...all children now living in Heaven with Jesus.  And their parents are left here trying to learn how to just keep breathing without them.

I'm here by myself tonight...Brad and Bethany are at the deer camp, doing some duck and squirrel hunting for the next couple of days.  I love evenings like this, when I have the house to myself.  I've got a Christmas candle burning, my iPod in the stereo on shuffle, Lacee piled up next to me sound asleep, and I may even get the fireplace going after while.  The living room is lit up by our "JOY" tree...a Christmas tree with nothing on it but JOY ornaments.  I love this tree...every ornament on it is special to me for one reason or another.  

But I can't help thinking about all of these broken-hearted physically heavy their grief is...all of them wondering if they will ever have JOY again.  I know that's how they feel, because I've been there.  Christmas of 2008 was filled with pain.  Even though Hannah was still here with us, we knew that without a miracle, it would be her last Christmas with us.  And we could see her body and mind deteriorating, bit by bit, right in front of us.  Christmas of 2009 was equally joyless as we tried to go through the motions of celebrating, but with our hearts so heavy, it was pretty much impossible.

But now, as we approach Christmas 2011, we are gradually finding our JOY again.  Not that we don't take steps backwards sometimes, but overall, we find ourselves moving forward.  And where does this JOY come from?  How can we have JOY when our family still has such a gaping hole in it?

The answer is simple, yet profound.  We have JOY because we have HOPE.  And isn't that what Christmas is all about really?  The Son of God coming to earth as a baby, living as a man, dying as a criminal, and rising again as a Savior ... all to bring us HOPE.  HOPE of forgiveness, HOPE of relationship with Him, and HOPE of Heaven when we die.  HOPE of being reunited with our children one day.  After all, He is the God of HOPE!

"May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE."  Romans 15:13

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ten Things That (Still) Make Me Smile

Before I start my list, I have to share some news....Our sweet little Glory Girl has met Jesus face to face.  She never actually had the opportunity to go home as they had hoped...recurring complications kept her in the hospital until angels carried her to her heavenly home early this morning.  I texted her mom with a message of encouragement this morning, not really expecting a reply.  Tears filled my eyes when I received this answer from Kerry, "I told Glory as I held her last night that she was going to be with Hannah."  And I thought about Hannah meeting Glory as she arrived and carrying her to Jesus.  What a beautiful picture of Glory in Glory!  Please keep Glory's family in your prayers as they face many difficult days ahead.

And now...back to my list.  Several weeks ago, I posted about Ten Things That (Still) Make Me Sad.  For quite awhile now, I've been wanting to add a new post..."Ten Things That (Still) Make Me Smile".  As a matter of fact, a couple of weeks ago I actually wrote the entire post, but then lost it when my laptop crashed.  Then basketball season began in earnest, and blogging has been on the back burner.

So, I want to make another attempt to share the "Ten Things That (Still) Make Me Smile", even though Hannah has been gone for almost three years now...

1.  Her complete lack of athleticism.  Hannah definitely took after me in her athletic ability.  Oh, she tried.  She played soccer, softball and even basketball when she was younger, but just running down the field or across the court required a supreme effort from her.  But the best thing was, she knew she wasn't an athlete.  I can't even picture her running without a smile on her face.  And that still makes me smile.

2.  Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  From the time she was little and lined up all of her bathtub toys by height along the edge of the tub...until she was old enough to drive and always had to have the volume on her radio set on an even number, her OCD made me smile.  And in her honor, I always smile as I set my volume on an even number, too (or a multiple of five, which was also okay with her)!

3.  Wearing her sweatshirts.  I always enjoy wearing her sweatshirts, even though I'm probably too old to wear clothes from Aeropostale.  It's almost like getting a hug from her, and that makes me smile.

4.  Her tendency to always lose games.  No one enjoyed family game night more than Hannah.  But no matter whether it was Mexican train dominoes, Uno, Phase Ten, or Sequence...she invariably lost.  I never could figure out why...she very well may have been the smartest one in the family...maybe she just didn't have that killer instinct.  But the fact that she was always ready to play still makes me smile.

5.  Sunflowers.  Of all the bedrooms Hannah had over the years (we moved often when the girls were growing up), my favorite one had a sunflower theme.  We painted the walls a sunny yellow, put up a sunflower border, and got a sunflower comforter.  It was such a pretty room, and ever since then, sunflowers have made me smile.

6.  Donating blood.  Over the year of Hannah's illness, she was the recipient of innumerable units of blood products.  I am so grateful for each and every blood and platelet donor who helped contribute to the length and quality of her life.  And because of that, I donate blood every time I am eligible.  Donating blood is a privilege that never fails to make me smile. 

7.  Her irrational fear of geese.  When Hannah was little, we used to go to a park in Fort Smith where we could feed the geese and ducks.  We'd bring a loaf of stale bread and spend the afternoon.  One time, Hannah was holding a bit of bread between her fingers, and a goose nipped the very tips of her fingers as it took the bread from her.  She ran to me screaming, and from that point on, she was terrified of geese.  We always laughed about that, and the thought of it still makes me smile.

8.  Our collection of JOY stuff.  A couple of years ago, I decided to start collecting JOY items, as a reminder of the JOY Hannah is experiencing in Heaven right now.  Her former bedroom is now our JOY room, and it is our goal to completely fill it with JOY stuff.  We also decorate for Christmas with JOY, which helps ease some of the pain of experiencing the holiday without Hannah.  In fact, last Sunday afternoon as we were decorating our Christmas tree, we realized that we had far too many JOY items to put on one tree.  So, Bethany and I ran out to Wal-Mart and bought another tree.  Now we have one tree with all of our traditional family ornaments, and one tree that is completely covered with JOY.  Many of these JOY items have been gifts from very special friends, and each and every one of them makes me smile.

9.  Her love of cheesy Christmas music.  Every year, when it was time to decorate the tree, Hannah would turn the TV to the satellite channel that played the classic Christmas know, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, Brenda Lee.  And she would turn it up loud, so loud we could barely hear each other talking.  Hannah always was what some people call an "old soul"...and her love of cheesy Christmas music still makes me smile.

10.  Seeing Hannah in Bethany.  When my girls were growing up, they could hardly have looked more different.  Hannah was tall, somewhat stocky, with brown, curly hair.  Bethany was average height, very slightly built, with nearly white, wispy hair.  Hannah had a rather lumbering walk (see #1 above), while Bethany skipped lithely on her toes everywhere she went.  If you didn't know they were sisters, you would probably never guess.  But now that Bethany is sixteen, I occasionally see glimpses of Hannah in her.  Something about the way she walks down the hall, something about the tilt of her head, something about the way she laughs...for the briefest of moments, I'll see or hear Hannah.  And that never, ever fails to make me smile.