Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Blue or White?

Well, the final week of 2012 was certainly an interesting one around here.  As you read in my last post, our part of the state was hit by a massive (for Arkansas) winter storm on Christmas Day.  Freezing rain began to fall around noon ... enough to glaze every limb and twig with a glistening coat of ice ...

... followed by eight inches of beautiful snow!

While all this made for a lovely white Christmas, the combination of ice and snow was more than our poor trees could handle.  Large limbs and entire trees began falling from the weight of the ice and the gusty winds, even before the snow added its bulk.  If you've ever experienced an ice storm, you know the eerie sound made by limbs popping off trees ... It's a sound you'll never forget.  Our electricity began to flicker early in the afternoon, and by 4:30, before the snow even began to fall, we were in the dark.  

It wasn't so bad at first.  Bethany had spent the morning having Christmas with her boyfriend's family, and with the weather deteriorating so rapidly, we decided to just have her stay with them rather than try to come home.  She argued vehemently, begging us to let her come home so she could be snowed in with her parents instead, but we insisted that she stay there for her own safety.  (Did you detect the sarcasm in that last statement?  I hope so.)  Anyway, it was just the two of us snowed in on Christmas Day.  We built a fire in the fireplace, and played a rousing game of Dominoes by lantern-light.

As it got later, and darker, and colder, we decided to drag the guest bedroom mattress into the living room in front of the fire.  Sounds cozy, doesn't it?  Not so much, actually.  The only cozy part was the side closest to the fire, which my gallant husband let me have.  And because our fireplace is really just designed for ambiance, not real heat, you can only fit about four logs in it at a time.  And it only takes about an hour for all of those logs to burn up.  So that means you must feed this fireplace about every hour or so, or it goes out.  And when (not if) it goes out, it gets really cold.  

We made it through the first night okay, and the second day as well.  It was still kind of an adventure at this point.  We did venture out on the highway late in the afternoon, and were amazed at the number of fallen trees and limbs.  There were parts of the main highway into town that were down to one lane.  We made it to McDonald's, where we enjoyed some warm food and charged our phones.  We played Dominoes again that second evening, although it was pretty darn chilly sitting at the table by this time.  We crawled back into our makeshift bed wearing layers of clothing and multiple pairs of socks.  We fed the fire periodically throughout the night, but sure enough, it was out by morning.

And by this time, it was cold!  We had no way of measuring the temperature in the house at this point, but maybe this will give you some idea of how cold it was.  That morning, I opened the cabinet under the sink where I keep the dog food, and reached in to scoop Lacee some food.  As I pulled the cup up out of the bag, I did a double take.  The white cup I had used for years to scoop Lacee's food had somehow been replaced by a blue one.  How could this happen, when nobody ever feeds the dog but me?  I tried to remember when I had switched to a different cup, but I sure didn't remember doing it ... not that that necessarily meant anything.  I looked at the cup more closely, saw the Summit Bank logo on it ... and then noticed that it had white splotches on it wherever I had been touching it.  Then it hit me.  It wasn't a different cup!  It was the same cup -- the kind of cup that changes color when you pour a cold liquid into it!  It was cold enough in the house to turn my white cup blue!

Here's what the cup normally looks like...

And here's what it looked like that morning...

Baby, it was cold in our house!

At that point, we decided to leave.  We packed up our stuff, and headed over to Bethany's boyfriend's family's house.  They had been inviting us to come stay, and we had been insisting we could tough it out ... until we heard that the electric company was predicting that our power wouldn't be restored until 2013 (literally)!  We spent one night there, sleeping on a mattress in front of their fireplace, and enjoyed their hospitality, as well as the lights, warmth and hot showers courtesy of their generator.  

As it began to sink in, though, that we really were in for the long haul as far as power restoration was concerned, we decided to head out of town.  Bethany begged and pleaded to come with us, but we insisted that she stay with Other Brad's family (more sarcasm).  Anyway, we spent the next two days in the tiny town of Briggsville, Arkansas, staying in my husband's grandmother's former home ... which had power.  It was so nice to have all the heat, light, and hot water we wanted, simply at the flip of a switch.  The wifi was pretty awesome, too.

Yesterday morning, we attended Briggsville United Methodist Church.  Counting the two of us and the preacher's family of four, the total attendance was 12.  Yes, that's right ... 12.  As the service was about to begin, I was asked if I played the piano.  Um, no ... at least not for the last thirty-something years.  So we sang our hymns acapella.  And it was nice.  I love singing the old hymns, accompaniment or not.

After church, we decided to take a chance and come on home.  We'd been in contact with one of our neighbors each day, and after days of no activity whatsoever, he finally reported that there were Entergy trucks working on our street.  We figured that surely we would have power back that day, so we headed home.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, the house was just as cold and dark as it was when we left it two days earlier.  We decided we would go get something to eat and decide what to do ... in other words, which friend we were going to hit up for a warm place to sleep that night.  But just as we pulled the door shut behind us ... lo and behold, our neighbor's Christmas lights came on!  After some jumping up and down and squealing (OK, that was just me), we went back inside to find our house all lit up.  I went to check the thermostat, and this is what it read...

No wonder the cup was blue!

So, we've spent last night and today just soaking up the luxury of sleeping in our own bed, being comfortably warm, and having an abundance of hot water.  I really didn't miss watching TV all that time (there's no TV at Briggsville), but it was kind of nice to watch a movie this evening.  Yes, that's how we are spending New Year's Eve ... quietly, just the way I like it.

I could draw all kinds of spiritual parallels from my experiences of this past week.  But I'm not.  I only have one simple, rather personal, thing to share.

For some reason, my mind keeps going back to that blue cup.  I think sometimes I'm like that cup ... I make myself cold and stiff and blue.  Especially when I'm trying to get through the holidays without my girl ... or driving back and forth in front of her grave beside the road at Briggsville ... or facing the start of yet another year without her.  At times that becomes my defense mechanism ... I feel like if I can make myself cold enough and hard enough, I can fend off the heartbreak.  I'm a stoic, from a long line of stoics, and that's just what we do.  But is that what my Heavenly Father wants me to do?  I don't think so.  By holding that cold cup in my hand, I could change the blue back to white.  In the same way, if I fully rest in my Father's hand and let Him hold me, my cold, hard heart begins to warm and soften.  Then, I can receive His comfort.  And then, only then, can He shape me to fit His purpose.

Just because God's purpose was complete for Hannah doesn't mean His purpose is complete for me.  I don't believe I'd still be here if He was done with me.  In fact, I feel like His purpose for me is just beginning.  And so, in 2013, my goal is to be less "blue" and more "white".  Less hard and closed up, and more flexible and open.  Less focused on me and more in tune with Him.  I don't know about you, but I don't want to miss what God has for me in 2013!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dear Hannah...

I actually wrote this post on the evening of Christmas Day.  However, due to the winter storm mentioned in the letter below, I've been unable to post it until now.  We are actually into Day 4 of no electricity, and the electric company is saying it could be 2013 (literally!) before we have our power back.  After three nights of sleeping on a mattress on the floor in front of the fireplace, we decided to head someplace warmer, and this evening, we are comfortably settled into Brad's grandmother's old house in Briggsville (where our While We're Waiting Dads' retreats are held).  We have the heat on high, I've got clothes in the washer, we are looking forward to hot showers, and we have Internet!  Amazing how exciting it is to flip a switch and have the lights come on after four days in the dark!  Anyway, I hope you all had a warm and wonderful Christmas, and enjoy this little peek into ours.

Dear Hannah,

Well, another Christmas has come and gone.  Can’t believe this is the fourth one we’ve celebrated without you here.  Let me tell you … it’s been a memorable Christmas!

As soon as school was out this past Friday, we loaded into the car and headed to Grandma & Grandpa’s house for the Sullivan family Christmas.  Bethany’s boyfriend, Brad, came with us.  I know you remember Brad … He was in your class at school, and used to sit at the same lunch table with you.  It’s kinda funny … I always wondered if the two of you might end up together … it never crossed my mind that he and Bethany would possibly end up together!  They’ve actually been dating for a year and a half now, and who knows … this could be the real thing!  Sometimes it gets a little confusing since he and your dad share the same name, so we call him “Other Brad.”  Even the cousins have started calling him that!

Anyway, we had a great time with all the family in Van Buren.  On Saturday, we celebrated Faith’s fourth birthday.  I know … can you believe she’s four years old already?  The last time you saw her, she was just a tiny little baby.  And I suppose you know about Madison … she’s about six months old and has the chubbiest cheeks you’ve ever seen!  Grandma & Grandpa rented a bounce house for the afternoon and all the cousins and the uncles jumped around in it.  Faith got a t-ball set for her birthday, and of course, her uncles opened it up, and they and all the cousins played softball in the yard with it.  We all had a good laugh about how much you would have enjoyed playing along with them … even though as Dad fondly remarked, “You couldn’t hit a watermelon with an ironing board.”  I remember how you would laugh so hard at yourself sometimes you could hardly stand up.

On Saturday evening we went to “Mr. Scrooge”, a musical production put on by Grandma & Grandpa’s church.  It was really good and reminded me so much of when you had a role in “It’s a Wonderful Life” back when we lived in El Dorado.  That was so much fun!

On Sunday morning we had breakfast and then Christmas in our PJ’s.  Well, those of us who remembered to bring presentable PJ’s wore them anyway.  Bethany woke up that morning with a fever, which took a little fun out of the present opening.  We all talked about the fact that this will be the last Christmas with all of the cousins as “kids.”  Next Christmas, Bethany and Emily will be high school graduates and halfway through their first year of college.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  After all the present-opening chaos was over and the wrapping paper, bows, and boxes had been cleared away, we spent some time talking about you and how your life had changed our lives.  Everybody misses you, girl.  Christmas is just not the same without you.  Since you’ve been gone, there have been no cousin nativity plays or sing-alongs around the piano with Grandma.  Nobody seems to have the heart for it.  I know I don’t.  We took off soon after that, wanting to get Bethany home and hopefully feeling better.

On the morning Christmas Eve, we were awaked by Bethany, who had a 102 degree fever.  She spent the entire day on the couch, and only brightened up a little bit when Other Brad came over to see her.  He ended up spending most of the day over here, leaving only to attend the Christmas Eve service at his church with his folks.  Our church also had a Christmas Eve service, and guess who the speaker was?  Dad!  He talked about the hope, peace, and joy we can have because the Christ child came to earth.  He made a great point about the fact that peace and joy is only available to us because of the hope that Christ brings.  I only know this because I typed his notes … I didn’t actually go to the service.   I stayed home with Bethany.  She was too sick to go to church, and I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her home alone on Christmas Eve!  It kind of reminded me of all those times we spent at home together while you were sick.  The rest of the world just seemed to go on by back in those days.

Both Dad and Other Brad came back to the house after the church services, and we spent the evening opening our presents.  I actually hung a stocking this year for Other Brad, and bought him a few presents.  It felt good to shop for two kids for a change, after shopping for only one for the past few years.  I think Bethany liked all her gifts … her favorite was probably a Keurig coffee maker.  Since she’s the only one in the family who likes coffee, it only makes sense to brew one cup at a time.  And she can take it to college next year, so she can stay up late and study for those final exams!

After we opened presents we watched a couple episodes of Duck Dynasty.  You’d love Duck Dynasty … the men on that show are totally obsessed with hunting.  They would remind you so much of your Dad and your uncles!  They all have long hair and beards.  Dad started growing a beard during deer season this year, and still has it … He actually kind of looks like he belongs on the show!  I think you’d be surprised at how much white silver he has in his beard now!  You remember how he used to laugh out loud when we watched America’s Funniest Home Videos … well, he does that when he watches this show.  It makes it twice as funny for the rest of us watching it.  After that, Bethany was ready for bed.  She was still feeling pretty rotten.

So, finally we get to Christmas Day.  All week, the weatherman had been forecasting a white Christmas, but you know how they are … they kept changing their predictions.  One day, they’d say it was all going to go north of us, the next day, it was all going to go south of us.  One day, it was going to be 8-10 inches, the next day, it was 1-3 inches.  Thankfully, Bethany felt much better when she woke up today, and planned to head over to Other Brad’s house to open presents with his family.  By about 10:00, light freezing rain was starting to fall, so Dad drove her over there.  He came back home, and we spent the day relaxing and watching the ice gradually begin to build on the tree branches.  By the afternoon, all the trees were glazed with ice and the wind began to howl.  Of course, Bethany was snowed in at Other Brad's house by now ... you know she hated that!  ;-)

Anyway, by 3:30, the power went off, and we knew we were in for a long, cold evening.  You know how Dad always has to go exploring when something exciting is going on, so the two of us loaded up in the car and went for a drive.  There were limbs and trees down all over the Cove … it was no wonder the power was out!  We drove on into town, and wouldn’t you know it, the Waffle House was open.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to stop there and eat.  We had a good laugh about eating Christmas dinner at Waffle House.  After that, we headed home, got the fireplace stoked up really good (so thankful we have one!), and played Dominoes by lantern light.  We dragged the guest room mattress into the living room, and we’re planning to sleep in front of the fire tonight.  At last check out the window, we have eight or more inches of snow.

Christmas sure has changed for us since the days when you and Bethany wore your matching red plaid flannel PJs and dragged us out of bed before daylight to open presents.  When you left, we went through a huge transition in the way our family celebrates the season … and now that Bethany is growing up so quickly and will soon be leaving home, we are finding ourselves transitioning again.  They say that change is a necessary part of life, and I suppose that’s true.  I would give up everything I have to go back to those red flannel PJ days … but I know that’s not possible.   And how could I ever ask you to give up everything you have now to go back?  No, I love you too much to do that. 

And so we wait with perseverance, as Romans 8:25 says, until the next big transition in our lives.  And that will happen when that Christ Child, born as a helpless baby, returns triumphantly to retrieve His bride.  Now that’s a transition I can get excited about!

I love you, Hannah My Joy, and I miss you.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- "I'll Be Home for Christmas"

"I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams..."

This has to be one of the most-loved Christmas songs of all time.  I had always liked the song just fine ... until Hannah went to Heaven, that is.  And then it just kind of made me mad.

It made me mad that Hannah wouldn't be home for Christmas ... not ever.  It made me mad to think about all those families who excitedly anticipated their children coming home for the holidays ... when my child never would.  And really, the "mad" was a result of being so sad.  

Tuesday evening, I heard that song on K-LOVE radio, and automatically reached up to change the station.  I was on my way to a "While We're Waiting" get-together at our friends, the Browns', home, and I just really didn't want to hear that song right before spending the evening with a whole group of people whose kids wouldn't be home for Christmas.

But then it hit me.  Before my hand even touched the radio button, it hit me.  

Hannah is home for Christmas.  I'm the one who's out of place.

Because of that baby born in a manger so many years ago, this world is not our home.  And aren't you glad that it's not?  It just keeps getting darker and darker.  This is not the world we were made for.

Heaven is our home.  We just haven't gotten there yet.

So, from now on, when I hear that song ... I'm going to try to change my focus.  Instead of being sad and mad that Hannah is not going to be in our home for Christmas, I will choose to rejoice that she is in her home ... which one day, will be my home, too ... and then we'll never spend another Christmas apart.  

And that's what I'm thinking about on this Thursday evening, just a few days before we celebrate our fourth Christmas without our girl.  I still miss her so much ... with every breath I take ... but I have peace in knowing she's home for Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Heavy Hearted

My heart has been so heavy ever since I heard the news of what happened in Connecticut on Friday.

I have to be honest and say that I know very few details of what actually happened at that elementary school that day.  I've read a couple of internet articles about it, just enough to have a rough idea of the events that took place, but I find that I don't really want to know too many details.  I have studiously avoided watching any television accounts of the tragedy ... I pretty much had the house to myself over the weekend, with Brad gone hunting and Bethany spending time with her boyfriend's family ... and the only time I turned on the TV on was to watch the Razorback basketball game in the background while I wrapped presents on Saturday evening.  When the Columbine shootings took place in 1999, I watched all the news coverage, and the scenes from that day are still burned into my memory.  I do not want these new images in my mind ... so I am insulating myself from it all.  Is that the right way to handle this?  I don't know, but that's where I'm at.

Part of my job at the elementary school in our little community is to do educational screenings with kindergarten and first grade students three times a year ... in the fall, mid-year, and in the spring.  Over the past two weeks, I've been doing the mid-year screenings, and I've spent several hours sitting down one-on-one with these little ones ... listening to them lisping out their ABC's, identifying sounds in words, and making up clever little sentences with words I give them.  Each one of them is so beautiful, so innocent, such an amazing creation in the image of God ... The thought of something like that happening to even just one of them is just beyond what I can imagine.

You know, back when Columbine happened, I remember feeling sad for those families.  I had a heightened interest in that story because my cousins had graduated from that high school several years previously.  In fact, that school was just down the street from where they lived.  I tried to imagine what those families were going through, but I just couldn't.  So my sorrow for these families was shallow, at best.  I just couldn't relate ... I had no idea what it must feel like to have your child suddenly ripped away from you.

I still don't.  But now I do know how it feels to receive a phone call that changes your life forever.  I know how it feels to plead with God to somehow let your child be a survivor.  I know the indescribable pain of realizing you will not see your child again in this life.  And as I ponder last Friday's events ... all of those feelings come rushing back as I know what those parents will be experiencing over the next days, weeks, months, and years.  So my heart is heavy, so heavy.

Everyone seems to have an opinion ... we need gun control, we need God back in the schools, we need better security, we need to pull our kids out of the public schools and home school them all.  Me?  I've got nothing.  I don't know how we can fix this world we live in ... In fact, I don't think we can.  The talking heads and the pundits can debate that stuff all day long (and I'm guessing they are -- yet another reason I'm avoiding the television), but they are not going to solve this kind of problem.

Remember, this is not the first time that innocents have been slaughtered at the hand of sinful men.  Herod ordered thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of babies killed right before that first Christmas.  And what about the Jewish children murdered in the holocaust, or in the killing fields of Cambodia or Rwanda?  And let's not forget the countless babies who never even had the chance to take a breath because they were purposely aborted in their mother's wombs.  What a messed-up world we live in!

In the seventh chapter of Daniel, Daniel has a dream, and in it, he has a vision of the Ancient of Days.  Here's how he describes Him, starting in verse 9.

"As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.    A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened."

That's when this world's problems will be solved.  The Ancient of Days will not be mocked.  One day all the wrongs of this world will be made right.  And days like last Friday make me say, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free-For-All Friday -- Things That Made Me Smile

Thought I'd share some photos of things that recently made me smile in today's edition of Free-For-All Friday.  Enjoy!

When Hannah went to Heaven, our church was in the process of building a new activities center/youth building.  Two dogwoods were planted out front, and one was designated as "Hannah's tree."  The week of Thanksgiving one of my sweet friends from church asked me if I had seen Hannah's tree lately.  Uh no, I hadn't paid much attention to it recently.  She said I needed to go look at it, because it had a flower on it.  Sure enough, there was a bloom on that dogwood tree ... during the week of Thanksgiving!  Made me smile!

Here's something else that made me smile.  One of our While We're Waiting board members gave birth to this beautiful little boy last week.  This guy is really a blessing to their family, after their little girl was stillborn a few years back.  God is still in the blessing business.  Look at that sweet face ... He's even got a little smile!

This picture of our dog Lacee made me smile.  She spent last Saturday morning at the doggie beauty salon, and it obviously wore her out.  Being beautiful is hard work!

We finally got our Christmas tree up this past week.  We decided to get a live tree again this year, so off we went to Lowe's to pick one out.  After critically examining what felt like every tree on the lot, Bethany finally chose the "perfect one", and we brought it home and decorated it.  We decided just to do a "JOY" tree this year, and the results made us all smile.

Take a close look at this picture.  These are the feet of Bethany and her basketball teammates.  If you look carefully at the toes of their shoes, you'll see that they spell out "PHILIPPIANS 4:13".  Isn't that cool?  Big smile from this Mom. (Oh, and Bethany is the "H"!)

Bethany's boyfriend, Brad, came home from college yesterday, beginning his five-week long Christmas break.  That makes Bethany smile ... which, of course, makes me smile!

Finally, what may be my most favorite picture ever.  A dear friend emailed this one to me, because she knows how much I love the word "JOY".  You just can't help but smile when you look at this picture, because it's just so stinkin' cute.  But, the reason I really love it is because it so perfectly captures what so many are feeling this time of year.  We know we're supposed to have the joy of the season (and deep down we do), but with all the busy-ness, stress, and emotion of the season, sometimes we just want to sit down and have a good cry.  I love the girl in the middle ... her face just makes me smile.

So, there you go ... a few things that have made me smile over the last few weeks.  Hopefully they brought a smile to your face, too!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ten on the Tenth -- 10 Grief-Related Things I Had Completely Wrong

I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life.  Like when I thought I would would grow up to be a world-class gymnast someday.  Wrong.  Or how I thought I would marry a Dutchman and move back to northern Wisconsin as soon as I was old enough.  Double wrong.  (Thank goodness!)  Or how I swore I would never give up my CD collection for an iPod or prefer e-books to real books.  I was soooo wrong on that one.

But perhaps there is no topic I've been more wrong about than that of suffering and grief.  It's been almost five years now since Hannah was diagnosed with cancer, and almost four since she left us for Heaven.  And boy, have I learned a lot -- things that I suppose can only be learned through experience, and by the grace of God.

So, here we go ... Ten Things I Was Completely, Utterly, Totally Wrong About.

1.  I believed my family was immune to suffering.  I don't think that's because I had any false notion that Christians don't suffer ... Look at Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson, and the apostle Paul!  No, I think I was just basing that idea on past history.  I honestly had never experienced any real adversity in my life up until the time of Hannah's diagnosis.  I guess I thought that was just going to continue indefinitely.  I was wrong.

2.  I believed that grief lasted a relatively short time ... that when a loved one died, you were very, very sad for awhile ... maybe somewhere between three to six months ... and then you were over it.  Maybe you were sad again at Christmas time or on that person's birthday, but for the most part, life went back to normal.  Oh boy, was I wrong on this one.  I've come to realize that I will never be "over" Hannah's death.  The grief resulting from her death has become woven into the very fiber of my life, and will be until the day I am reunited with her in Heaven.  That doesn't mean I spend my days crying ... sometimes I do; more often I don't ... but the ache of grief deep inside never leaves me.

3.  I believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to grieve.  And I was really good at identifying the things I thought were wrong.  If someone went to the grave every day, that was wrong.  And if someone hardly ever (or never) went to the grave, that was wrong.  If someone cried too much, that was wrong.  If someone didn't cry enough, that was wrong.  I now know that the only thing wrong with all those things was me and my judgmental attitude!  Everyone grieves differently, and there's nothing wrong with that.  One caveat here ... there is one way to grieve wrong ... and that is to turn away from the God of all comfort.

4.  I believed that if someone died after a prolonged illness, the grief was lessened by relief that the person was no longer suffering.  I remember I always used to feel better for the family if I heard that someone died after being sick for a long time, because I thought they wouldn't be nearly as sad as if the person had died suddenly.  How could I have been so wrong?  I can't deny that there was some relief when Hannah left for Heaven, because it was so clear she could no longer remain on this earth, but it did not lessen the grief we experienced when we lost her.

5.  I believed that parents who lost children experienced different levels of grief, depending upon what age the child was who died, how they died, and a variety of other factors.  It didn't take me long to discover how wrong I was on this one.  I've met many, many parents now who have lost children at all different ages and to all different causes, and one thing I've learned is that although our losses are all different, the pain is the same.  Grief is grief.  It all hurts.

6.  I believed that siblings did not suffer the intensity of grief that parents do upon the loss of a child.  You know, we always hear how resilient kids are ... how they can bounce back from a tragedy so easily.  Maybe the age of the sibling(s) makes a difference ... all I have personal knowledge of is a young teenage sibling ... but I was wrong on this one, too.  I think kids are sometimes better at hiding their grief than we are ... and I know some work very hard to hide their grief because they don't want to add to their parents' pain ... but their pain is deep and their suffering is real.

7.  I believed I would never forget all those little things about Hannah ... the sound of her voice, the music of her laugh, the tilt of her chin.  And I haven't, completely, but I have to say that some of those things are beginning to fade after nearly four years.  And it doesn't help that her appearance, her spirit, and even the sound of her voice, were so changed over the last year of her life by cancer.  Sometimes I long to dream about her, just to be reminded of all those things that made up who she was.  It used to really bother me that those memories were fading, but knowing that the next time I see Hannah she will be fully restored definitely helps.

8.  I believed I would never survive four days after Hannah's death, much less nearly four years.  Obviously, I was wrong about that.  It's so hard in those early days of grief to see past where you are ... I remember looking at other parents who had lost children years earlier and wondering how they could possibly even still be alive.  I could not imagine would it would be like to be one month out, six months out, a year out, five years out.  Now that I am one of those parents, all I can say is that it's only by the grace of God.

9.  I believed that bereaved parents were the scariest people around.  If I knew someone had lost a child, I avoided them at all costs.  If I saw them coming down the church hallway, I suddenly had to go to the bathroom.  If I ran into them at Walmart, I suddenly remembered something I needed on the other side of the store.  I had no idea what to say to these people.  Now that I am one of these people, there is no one else I'd rather spend time with.  I am drawn to moms and dads who have lost children like Santa is drawn to cookies.  We understand each other, and we have an instantaneous bond.  I love bereaved parents.  They are the most amazing people I know.

10.  When my daughter died, I believed my life would be impoverished from that point forward.  Of course, I knew intellectually that I would survive (in spite of #8 above), but I couldn't imagine how.  I resigned myself to a life far below what my expectations for it had been.  I mean, how could I ever really live again without my precious child?  Happily, I was wrong on this one, too.  I can honestly say, without qualification, that the last four years of my life have been the richest.  The incredible people I would never have met, the awesome experiences I never would have had, the inspiring stories I never would have heard ... now that would be true poverty!  Instead, I have had the privilege of witnessing the hand of God working in my own life and that of others.  It doesn't get any richer than that, folks.

So, there you go.  Ten Grief-Related Things I Had Completely Wrong.  I could actually probably do ten more on January 10th ... I clearly had a lot to learn.  Thankfully, my Father is a patient teacher.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ouachita LipDub 2012

After my last post about OBU, I just had to pass along this link.  Kinda makes you wish you were an OBU Tiger too, huh?  :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Mourning -- OBU or Heaven ... Hmmmmm

Ahhhh ... Good old OBU, my alma mater.  How I love that place!  I entered the hallowed halls of OBU as a shy, nerdy freshman in the fall of 1984, and left as a confident, married woman in the spring of 1988 with a bachelor's degree in speech-language pathology.  There are so many good memories wrapped up in those four years ... I would probably have to start another blog to record them all!

When my oldest daughter, Hannah, was but a preschooler, she decided she wanted to follow in her parents' footsteps and go to Ouachita.  She proudly wore her "Future Tiger" t-shirt and proclaimed to anyone who cared that she was going to go to Ouachita when she grew up.  As she got older, she never wavered in her decision, even making plans to room with her good friend, Brittany.  Brad and I excitedly looked forward to going to visit her in the dorm (especially since it's only a 40 minute drive down the interstate) and to attending all of her OBU events as proud alumni parents.  When Hannah died of cancer in the spring of her junior year of high school, all that changed.

We do go to Ouachita's campus twice a year, but it's not to visit our daughter in the dorm or to cheer her on at Tiger Tunes.  After her death, we established the Hannah Joy Scholarship in her memory.  It's not a large amount of money by any means ... just enough to help a student out with books and a few expenses ... but because of that, we get invited to a banquet in the spring and again around Christmas time.  In the spring, we have the opportunity to meet the scholarship recipient (who is chosen by an OBU scholarship committee), and the Christmas banquet is just a "Thank you for your donation" type thing.

So, on Saturday evening we went to the annual "thank you" banquet.  The dinner was nice ... the food is always amazing ... and afterward, Brad and I spent some time walking around the campus.  The weather was unseasonably warm, and I've always loved Ouachita's campus at night.  Many things have changed since we were students there years ago, but a lot of things have remained the same, and I'm glad about that.

But, as we walked, I couldn't help but be sad about why we were there at all.  This was not the way it was supposed to be.  I should be like all my Facebook friends ... going to visit my daughter at college for a special occasion, excitedly anticipating her coming home for the holidays, mailing her homemade treats to help her get through finals week.  How did my life turn out like this ... where instead of receiving hugs from my now 21-year-old daughter, I was receiving honors for giving a scholarship that I would much rather not have a reason to give at all?

It's at times like this that I have to remind myself that Hannah is not missing a thing by not being a student at OBU.  As nice as their new dorms seem to be, they sure can't compare with a mansion in Heaven!  I'm the one who feels robbed and cheated by missing out on these times with her, and I have to remember that in the eternal scheme of things, I'm really not missing anything either.  What's a 3-week visit home for the holidays compared to an eternity together in Heaven?  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

And that's what I'm thinking about on this cloudy, gray Monday "mourning" before I head off to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wacky Wednesday -- A Basketball Christmas Carol

Remember a few posts back when I said this was the "most wonderful time of the year" ... in reference to basketball season?  Well, here's a perfect combination of basketball and Christmas.  Enjoy!  :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tell About It Tuesday -- "Giving Tuesday"

So, we've survived Black Friday (no, I didn't take part in the madness!), Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.  I thought we were done with all these post-Thanksgiving "holidays".  But I've been hearing all day on K-LOVE Radio and Facebook and Twitter that today is "Giving Tuesday."  Who invents these things?

Well, I don't know who came up with the Giving Tuesday idea, but I kind of like it.  It's the perfect opportunity to tell you how you can help support the ministry of While We're Waiting.

If you're new to the blog, you're probably not familiar with While We're Waiting.  WWW is a nonprofit ministry to bereaved parents, co-founded by my husband and me and our good friends, Larry and Janice Brown.  My husband and I lost our 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, to cancer in February of 2009, and the Browns lost their 34-year-old son, Adam, in action in Afghanistan in March of 2010.

Early on in our grief journey, we found that nothing was more helpful to us in the healing process than spending time with other Christian couples who had lost children.  One Sunday after church, we had lunch with the Browns, and we discovered that we had a similar desire to help bring families who had lost children together.  Three hours later, we left that booth in Cotija's Mexican Restaurant with a God-given dream of a ministry in which we would host retreats for bereaved parents.  By the time we left the restaurant that day, we already had a location planned, dates picked out, and a name for this fledgling ministry.

Since that day in late 2010, we've had four weekend-long retreats for parents, two weekend-long retreats just for Dads, and six one-day mini-retreats for Moms.  At these retreats, we share our children's stories, lift each other up in prayer, and encourage each other as we seek to live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our kids in Heaven one day.  We have seen broken hearts begin to mend and a number of lives changed forever.  And this is not due to anything we've done.  God's presence has been so evident at each one of these events, and His hand is clearly on this ministry.  He even helped us achieve nonprofit 501(c)(3) status earlier this year, without the assistance of an accountant or an attorney.  Believe me, that is nothing short of a miracle!

When we first started our retreats, we charged the attendees a minimal fee.  We quickly abandoned that idea, and we now offer our events at no charge.  We couldn't stand the thought of a lack of finances keeping anyone from coming to a retreat.  A voluntary love offering is collected at each one, and thanks to the generosity of our attendees, we've always pretty much broken even.

The ministry of While We're Waiting is expanding in our outreach to bereaved parents.  We've started a  private Facebook page where Christian parents who have lost children can support each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other.  (If you are a bereaved parent, search for it at "While We're Waiting--Support for Bereaved Parents" and request to join.)  We have begun sending "condolence packages" to newly bereaved parents which include items that we found helpful to us as we started our grief journey.  (If you know someone we could send one to, click here to send me an email.)  We also have a dream of starting "While We're Waiting" monthly support groups around Arkansas, and someday around the country.  Do you realize that there is nothing like that (that we are aware of) specifically designed for Christian parents who have lost children?  There are secular groups, like Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents USA ... but nothing faith-based.  I could go on and on ... I am so passionate about what God is doing with this ministry!

I've never been any good at fundraising.  When my kids used to have to do fundraisers for school, we'd hit up the grandparents, and then I'd buy whatever else they had to sell myself.  I couldn't stand to ask people to spend their hard-earned money for wrapping paper, or popcorn, or whatever other little trinkets they were selling.  I'm still pretty uncomfortable with the whole fundraising idea.  But funds will be needed as the ministry grows.

Do not donate to While We're Waiting if it would cause you to give less to your local church, which is where I feel our first responsibility lies in our giving.  And we wouldn't want you to give less to any other ministry or missionary that you may already be supporting.  But if God has blessed you, and you have an abundance this year and would like to donate some of it to a worthy cause, we'd be grateful if you'd consider WWW.

So, if you'd like to participate in "Giving Tuesday" -- although I realize that by the time most of you read this, it will actually be Wednesday -- please consider making a tax-deductible donation to While We're Waiting.  You can do so by going to the While We're Waiting website and clicking on the "To Donate" tab.  You can be assured that we will be good stewards, and that every penny you give will go directly to the ministry.  Thank you so much!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Miss Havisham

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know I've been reading through the classics on my treadmill in the mornings.  I have really enjoyed discovering these books.  You know, if I had been assigned to read these books in high school or college, I think I would have hated them.  But now, as an adult, I'm loving them.  The quality of the writing, the depth of the plots, and the richness of the character development completely eclipses anything being written today ... in my humble opinion, of course.

My most recent read was "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. Yet another amazing work of literature.  I was particularly intrigued by one character ... Miss Havisham.  Miss Havisham lives in a decrepit old mansion, and requests that a young boy, Pip, be brought in to entertain her.  Pip is escorted into the mansion by a beautiful young lady named Estella, and trails behind her through several gloomy passages and up a dark staircase, with only a single candle to light the way.  Estella leaves him alone at the door of a room, which he nervously enters.  It was a dressing room, well lit by wax candles, but without a hint of daylight in it.  Sitting at the dressing table is Miss Havisham, and here is how Pip describes her...

"She was dressed in rich materials -- satins, and lace, and silks -- all of white.  Her shoes were white.  And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white.  Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table.  Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about.  She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on -- the other was on the table near her hand -- her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed.  But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow.  I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes.  I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone.  Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state.  Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement.  Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.  I should have cried out, if I could."

Have you got the picture in your mind?  As Pip looks around a little more, he notices that Miss Havisham's watch has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room has stopped at twenty minutes to nine, as has every other clock in the house.  He observes that the shoe on the dressing table, though yellowed, had never been worn, and that Miss Havisham's silk stocking on that foot had been trodden ragged.  On a subsequent visit, he enters an adjoining room and discovers a long table with an object upon it so covered with mold and cobwebs, it was unidentifiable.  It was crawling with spiders and black beetles ... and Miss Havisham explained to Pip that it was her wedding cake.

You can probably guess what happened.  Miss Havisham had been jilted on her wedding day, at precisely twenty minutes 'til nine ... and she had never moved forward from that moment.  Her life basically ended right there.  She was alive, but she wasn't living.

I guess Miss Havisham's character intrigued me because I could so totally relate to her.  I "get" her.  I remember when Hannah left for Heaven, it felt like time had completely stopped.  As if every clock in the world had stopped at 2:31 p.m., never to be re-started.  As we made the drive home from Little Rock on that day, it was so surreal to see all the other people just driving along the interstate, going about their everyday activities, as if nothing had happened.  Didn't they know that life as I knew it had just ended?

I can't tell you how tempting it was to just sit at my dressing table wearing my wedding dress in the weeks and months after Hannah's death.  I'm not a naturally social person anyway, and it was hard, so hard, to step back out into the world again.  It's still not always easy.  Good thing my husband is such an extrovert and tends to drag me along with him most of the time, or I might still be sitting there with one shoe on and one shoe off.

As the story goes along in "Great Expectations", we find that Miss Havisham is a bitter, angry, pathetic character, who has spent her miserable life manipulating people to do her bidding.  Her life is a complete and utter waste.

And that's exactly why we can't just stop the clocks when a devastating loss happens in our lives.  How would that be honoring to our Lord, or even to the loved one whom we've lost?  Do we really want our suffering (and our child's suffering) just go to waste?  Or do we want to grow from it, learn from it, and become a better person because of it?  We have to decide what we're going to do while we're waiting ... sit at the dressing table and gradually turn yellow from lack of use ... or put on that other shoe and get busy for the kingdom of God?

Can we do that on our own?  No, it's only through the grace of God and by His strength that we can brush away the cobwebs, sweep the moldy cake crumbs off the table, and step back out into the sunshine.  The Bridegroom is there and He's patiently waiting ... We just have to be willing to reach up and take His hand.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- Thinking about Thanksgiving

My heart has been heavy this week as I've thought of all my new "While We're Waiting" friends who are facing their first holiday without a precious child.  I wish so badly there was something I could do or say that would somehow make it easier, or that there was a way I could make it all just go away.  Unfortunately, there's really not anything that anyone can do or say to make it all better or to somehow turn back the clock to happier times.  The only way to get through these days is to just face them head on, knowing that God is still there, He is still faithful, and His promises are still true.

Last night, I looked back at the blog post I wrote as we were approaching our first Thanksgiving without Hannah.  I remember that I was absolutely dreading the day, and to be honest, it really was tough.  But we got through it, by the grace of God, and each Thanksgiving since then has gotten better.

The post I wrote that first Thanksgiving contained a story I had received by email.  That simple story encouraged me then, and it still encourages me now.  I share that post with you today in hopes that it may encourage you as well.

Though it is sometimes very, very hard ... let's try to be thankful for the thorns.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wacky Wednesday -- The Kids' Table

I ran across this on Facebook this week, and just had to pass it along.  I have to admit, sometimes I miss sitting at the kids' table!  :)

Let us all be thankful for our blessings tomorrow ... at whichever table you find yourself sitting!  (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Free-For-All Friday -- Back to Basketball!

It's the most wonderful time of the year ...

No ... not Thanksgiving ... or Christmas.  It's basketball season!  :)

OK, so that's a little tongue-in-cheek.  Basketball season is not really the most wonderful time of the year ... but it is pretty awesome.  Especially since Bethany is a senior this year, and I absolutely love to watch her play.  Her team made it to the Elite Eight in last year's state tournament, and I foresee another trip to state this year.  They have four returning starters, all seniors, a crackerjack junior starter, and a talented bench.

During basketball season, life in the Sullivan household gets a little crazy.  But it's a good kind of crazy.  We're busy, busy, busy ... running from one gym to another sometimes two or three nights a week ... and generally spending the entire evening there once we arrive.  But we have the best conversations on the way home ... about the referees, the other team's post player, the people in the crowd, and how many times Bethany got fouled.  And Bethany gets fouled a lot, at six feet tall and playing under the basket.  Last night, she was 8 for 8 on free throws, and finished the night with sixteen points.  Oh, sorry ... was that shameless parental bragging?  Of course, that was purely unintentional.  Please forgive me.  ;)

The other nice thing about the busy-ness of basketball season is how much it makes me appreciate a quiet evening at home.  Like tonight ... just me and Lacee (our Westie), a warm blanket on the couch, and "You've Got Mail" on TV.  Seriously ... Is there any better movie to watch on an evening at home alone?  Never mind that I can nearly quote it word for word ... I never get tired of it.  "Bouquets of sharpened pencils" ... ahhhhh.

I wonder sometimes what life will be like when Bethany is gone to college next year.  What will we do with ourselves when it's just the two of us?  I have a feeling my love for basketball will wane when my girl is no longer out on the floor in her bright orange high-tops.  We keep teasing Bethany that we're going to get an apartment in Fayetteville so we can come up and spend every weekend with her.  She always laughs kind of nervously whenever I say that, like she's half afraid we're actually going to do it!

Guess that's enough for tonight ... Joe's about to go to the Shop Around the Corner and meet Kathleen for the first time, and I think I'll go check the classifieds for apartments in Fayetteville ...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ten on the Tenth -- Surviving the Holidays After the Loss of a Child

Yes ... It's the 11th, I know ... Believe it or not, I actually started this post on the 9th, and I just now finished it!

At our While We're Waiting retreat last weekend, there were five couples who had yet to experience a holiday season without one of their precious children (or their only child), so, as you can imagine, this was a major topic of discussion.  My heart broke for these folks, knowing what they are facing in the months ahead.

I remember how I felt in September of 2009.  I did not want to live through the next three months, which included Hannah's 18th birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  I don't mean that I wanted to die (at least, not most of the time) ... I just didn't want to "live" those months.  Somehow, I just wanted to jump straight from September to January.  I just could not see how I was going to make it through those days.

Why are the holidays so incredibly hard for a family who's lost a child?  Several reasons ... Family gatherings magnify the absence of the child, holiday traditions that once brought joy are now fraught with pain and loss, tensions may arise among extended family members as everyone's emotions are raw, and Christmas shopping with one less person on the list is unspeakably painful.  There is a certain expectation of how we are supposed to feel and behave during the holiday season, and when you've lost a child, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to muster up the emotional stamina to play that role.  I can remember feeling like if one more person told me to have a "Happy Thanksgiving" or "Merry Christmas", I was gonna pop 'em in the nose.  Hey, I'm just keeping it real.

So, tonight I'm going to share a few things that we've found have worked for us over the last four years of celebrating the holidays without our girl.  Not that we've got it all figured out, or that we are able to breeze through the holidays now without difficulty.  And just because these things have worked for us, doesn't necessarily mean they'll work for other families.  Most of these things we've figured out through trial and error over the past few years; unfortunately, it seems that each family must go through that process for itself.  But, just maybe something I list here could help someone else with the process.

So, without further ado, here's this month's Ten on the Tenth ... Surviving the Holidays After the Loss of a Child.

1.  This is the one time in the life of your family that it's okay to be "selfish."  Please don't misunderstand me on this ... what I mean is, at this very vulnerable time, it is important to put the needs of your family first.  Extended family can pull you in many different directions, and that may be okay ... you may get a lot of comfort from spending time with extended family.  But you may also need to spend time focusing on just your immediate family, without the hustle and bustle of a large family gathering.  Maybe some of both is what you need.  The important thing is to figure out what will be best for your family, and do it.  Extended family members may or may not understand your needs ... but it's most important to put the needs of your immediately family first.

2.  Communicate!  Husbands and wives and surviving siblings need to talk to each other about what they want to do about the holidays.  We didn't do that on our first Thanksgiving without Hannah ... we just kind of went with the extended family flow without even discussing how we felt about it ... and it was a horrible day.  So before Christmas came around, the three of us spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to handle that day.  We came up with a plan ... and it went much better.

3.  For us, it worked well to follow Bethany's lead that first Christmas.  If it had just been Brad and I, we probably wouldn't have celebrated Christmas at all.  I know we would not have put up a Christmas tree, nor would we have done any decorating.  But we didn't want to take Christmas away from Bethany, so we let her tell us what she wanted to do, and we pretty much did that.  She wanted to keep some things the same, and she wanted to do some things differently.  For example, we had always had an artificial tree, and that year, she decided she wanted us to have a real tree.  And, you know, that helped.  Instead of the drudgery of digging out the box, bending all the branches into shape, and putting that old tree together, the three of us went out, picked out a real tree, brought it home, and put it up.  We also went out and bought a bunch of new ornaments, letting her pick most of them out.  We mixed those in with our older, more sentimental ornaments as we decorated the tree.  It made her happy, which in turn made it more bearable for us.

4.  Realize that extended family members probably do not understand what you're going through.  They want to understand, they're sincerely trying to understand, and they would do anything to make things better for you.  But they can't.  They don't live everyday with that empty bedroom and the empty chair at the supper table.  Their lives have gone on with relatively little change in day-to-day life.  But they love you and they are hurting too.  We can make the holidays easier by lowering our expectations of them, and by extending them grace when they say or do the wrong things.  Because, most likely, they will ... but they can't help it.

5.  Keep the holidays separate.  In our culture today, it seems that we basically celebrate "Hallowsgivingmas" ... running Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all together into one big three-month long observance.  You've seen the Christmas trees up in Walmart before Halloween is over ... We all have!  Ugh!  I've always hated that, but I really started hating it that first holiday season after Hannah went to Heaven.  I could only handle one holiday at a time emotionally.  It took every ounce of my emotional stamina to make it through Thanksgiving ... no way could I even think about Christmas at that point.  I needed time to recover and build my strength back up before I could prepare for Christmas.  I used to like to set the Christmas tree up on Thanksgiving afternoon or at least that weekend.  Not anymore.  I want a very clear division between my holidays, and I know that is a result of that first year without Hannah.

6.  Do something to include your child in your holiday celebration.  That first year, we asked our extended family members on the Sullivan side to write down in a card something they had done that year in Hannah's memory (such as making a donation to a charity, or sharing her story with someone who needed encouragement).  After all the presents had been opened and the Christmas chaos had settled down a bit, that stack of cards was pulled out from under the tree, opened one-by-one, and read aloud by Bethany.  It was a way of including Hannah in our celebration ... almost as if we were giving her presents.  Now, we have two Christmas trees at home, one decorated with our usual ornaments, and one covered with "JOY" ornaments, in memory of Hannah "Our Joy."  All year long, I delight in finding "JOY" items to add to it.  Knowing that we've got that tree to decorate gives me a reason to actually look forward to digging out the Christmas stuff once again.

7.  One of the hardest things about Christmas is having one less person to buy gifts for.  It can be so incredibly painful to walk into the stores and walk past all those things that would make such perfect gifts for your son or daughter who is no longer here.  Well, how about this idea?  Go ahead and buy some of those gifts, then donate them to your church nursery or to an Angel Tree child.  Hang up your child's Christmas stocking and fill it up with small gifts, then put those gifts in an Operation Christmas Child box and have it sent to a child on the other side of the world.  Doing something like this may help ease some of the pain related to the shopping aspect of Christmas.

8.  You can't run away from the pain.  Some families choose to get away for the holidays ... maybe going on a trip to a tropical destination or a heading to the mountains.  And sometimes doing something completely different like that can indeed help.  But just keep in mind that the pain will follow.  We can hide from it, we can run from it, we can pretend to ignore it ... but eventually, we must go through it.  Sometimes facing it head on is the best thing to do.

9.  Be patient with yourself.  You have suffered a terrible, devastating loss, and you are not only affected emotionally by it, you are affected physically, as well.  This is one holiday season when you don't need to feel like you have to "do it all."  I think we women are especially vulnerable to this ... we feel that we have to please everyone ... we have to cook, clean, shop, decorate, wrap, send cards, sing in the Christmas cantata, and keep a smile on our face while we do it all.  Don't do that to yourself.  Simplify.  If you don't have the energy to haul out all those boxes of decorations ... don't.  If you can't muster up the strength to fight the crowds at the grocery store and cook a big dinner ... call a caterer or a local restaurant and have them prepare the holiday meal for you.  Or let someone else in the family take care of all the cooking this year.  If you don't have the stamina to go to all those holiday parties and events ... don't feel like you have to.  Take the time you need for yourself and your family.  And be sure to get adequate rest ... I discovered early on that my grief was much harder to handle when I was fatigued.  And then I was really no good to anybody, especially my family.

10.  Take time to focus on what these holidays are really all about.  Thanksgiving was really tough for me that first year.  I'm so glad that for once, we didn't go around the table and all have to say what we were thankful for.  I'm really not sure I could have come up with anything that first year.  In fact, I probably would've left the table.  Again, I'm just keeping it real.  But, now that I can think more clearly, I can see that, even though my oldest daughter is not here with me, there is still so much to be thankful for ... the years we had with her, the fact that she is eternally healed in Heaven, and the knowledge that I will get to spend eternity with her.  And that's in addition to the day-to-day blessings I receive from my Heavenly Father.  And Christmas!  Christmas is everything!  I mean, where would we be if God had not sent His own Son, knowing full well that He was going to die a horrible, painful death on the cross?  Christmas is the source of all joy ... and the whole reason why we will be reunited with our children again if both we and they have accepted the gift of Jesus Christ.  Remembering that is how we survive Christmas!

I'll leave you with one final word of encouragement.  It gets better.  This will be our fourth holiday season since Hannah went to be with Jesus, and each one has gotten easier.  And I've come to believe that if you consciously apply yourself to seeking out the joy in the season (though it may seem so hard to find at times), God will honor that effort by bringing healing to your life.  These are His holidays, after all, and we honor Him by honoring them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

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

Ephesians 3:20-21 says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."

I posted that Scripture after our very first While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents, and I just had to post it again after our fourth one, because nothing could more adequately capture my feelings about this event.

We had our largest group ever, and what an amazing group of Moms and Dads it was.  Every group has its own personality, and this one was no different.  These were some of the bravest folks I've ever met.  Five of our couples/singles had lost their children within the last ten months ... and one of these was only seven weeks out.  One single Mom came without knowing a single soul.  One couple flew across the country to be a part of the weekend.  See what I mean?  These people were brave.

I'm not going to share the stories of their children.  The stories shared at While We're Waiting Weekends are sacred.  But these stories were told through tears and even occasional smiles, as parent after parent introduced us to their child, and then shared how they came to be with Jesus.  Among a group of parents who could uniquely understand, they shared their struggles and their victories upon the road of grief.  They were encouraged, prayed for, and loved on.

Our conversations were rich and meaningful.  There was no small talk.  Who has time for small talk when there are issues of eternal significance to discuss?  A few comments really stood out to me, and I wrote them down...
  • "I've been a believer more than half my life, but now I'm an experiencer."
  • "I thought that it wasn't normal to experience peace after my loss ... but then I realized that the peace of God isn't normal."
  • "The final piece has been put into the puzzle -- My son's puzzle is complete."
  • "As long as the sun is on my face and I can feel the wind, I know God is with me."
  • And from a dad who accepted Christ after the death of his daughter -- "What's sixty years here on earth without her compared to an eternity in Heaven with my daughter?"
My favorite quote of the weekend may have come from Donna May (aka "Mama May").  She said, "God says, 'I want you to be strong, but you don't have to be stronger than Me.'"  I needed to hear that one.

As always, the weekend is best illustrated through pictures, so here you go.  

Family Farm is a beautiful place any time of year, but I think it's particularly gorgeous in the fall.  So inviting ... 

Each parent brings a photograph of their child to share.  Look at these beautiful kids ...

Things kicked off Friday evening with dinner.  Some sweet ladies from Mountainside Methodist in Hot Springs Village came and decorated our tables and served us a delicious dinner.

 After some sharing time on Friday evening and a rousing Pickleball match, we all headed to bed.  We were up bright and early the next morning for a delicious breakfast buffet, and some more sharing time.  Then it was time to head out to the barnyard to feed the animals.

Throughout the day, we took breaks from our sharing sessions by doing outdoor activities.  A few brave folks rode the country-style carousel ...

Nearly everybody tried out Slide Mountain ...

We even had one of our sessions outside, at Salvation Station ...

Saturday evening we had a special treat, when Chef Franklin Dye prepared a five-course gourmet meal for our enjoyment.  

The sweet ladies from Mountainside Methodist came back to wait on us and make us feel pampered...

If you've followed my blog for my while, you know I always have to post pictures of our dinner for all the "foodies" out there.  And the descriptions were provided by Chef Franklin ... no way could I come up with all of that on my own!

The appetizer was slices of potatoes with cubed potatoes, pepper jack cheese, bacon bits, sour cream and topped with pork rinds...

The salad was a bed of Romaine lettuce topped with tortilla chips, mesquite grilled shrimp, chorizo sausage, tomatoes, and finished with jalapeno ranch dressing...

The intermezzo is always my favorite part of the meal.  Well, that, and the dessert, of course.  This time it was tasty lemon sorbet on a lemon slice.

Our entree was red roasted potatoes with honey and mustard glazed pork loin, spaghetti vegetables of turnips, diakon, and carrots, with a balsamic glaze...

And our yummy dessert was cornmeal pie drizzled with caramel.  It tasted like pecan pie without the pecans, which is exactly how I like my pecan pie.  :)

With their permission, I'd like to share some comments from a few of the parents who attended:

"I was reluctant to attend because I didn't really know what to expect.  I'm very grateful that I did come.  I've gained so much knowledge and hope from this weekend.  I'm glad that I was able to come.  I am leaving with so much hope.  I know it will be difficult, but I have tools that will help me."

"Amazing weekend.  We were scared to death only being 7 weeks out from our son's journey to Heaven.  We had been in a complete fog -- emotions running wild.  While others tried to help, they had not experienced our pain.  But, getting here, seeing the evident love of others in our situation, listening to everyone's story really helped.  It was heart-wrenching, but awesome evidence of God's love for us.  Being around others in similar situations (however unfortunate) really helped and blessed us."

"Thanks for the opportunity to share and to see hope again and to laugh together, the opportunity to form friendships, and to see a bigger picture that weaves us all together."

"What an amazing ministry of love and service to others who are suffering such a unique loss.  This weekend was a step forward.  It opened the door to conversation and healing."

I'll close this post with a picture of our group.  I can't tell you what these people came to mean to me just over the course of a weekend.  I will never forget their children, and my life has been forever changed and enriched by the time we spent together.