Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State Tournament Bound!

Today the Magnet Cove Panther basketball teams -- both boys and girls -- left for the state tournament.  If this has ever happened in our little community before -- both basketball teams qualifying for state tournament play -- it's been a LONG, LONG time!  So you can imagine how excited everyone is.  As our teams prepared to leave town this afternoon, their buses took a swing by the elementary school, and the kids all lined up to give them a big send-off.  To the great delight of the students, the players got off the buses and walked up and down the lines of kids, slapping them five and shaking their hands.  For a few moments, those ball players were treated like rock stars!  Here are a few pictures...

And, yes, that would be my child hanging out of the bus window!

The girls play at 1:00 tomorrow afternoon, and the boys play at 5:30.  We will be leaving work early and heading to Newark, Arkansas (which I'm told is somewhere north of Searcy) to watch them play.  If they win, they'll play again on Friday, and another win will get them into the semi-finals on Saturday.

Should be a fun week...I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Spring is Coming

Yesterday marked the third anniversary since Hannah left our earthly home for her heavenly one, and we took the opportunity to take a day "off" from all of our responsibilities and obligations.  We slept in a little bit, then headed to the little community of Briggsville in Yell County, Arkansas.  My husband's family owns a farmhouse and quite a bit of land in that area.  Hannah always loved to go there and spend time with the family, and that's where she is buried.  This is also where the "While We're Waiting" Dads' Retreats are held.  Bethany's friend, Brad, accompanied us as well ... and, wow, was it a beautiful day to spend some time outside!

Our first stop was Hannah's grave ... always an especially difficult stop for me.  We spent quite a bit of time there reminiscing, crying, and laughing.  Her earthly resting place is so beautiful ... I can't imagine what her heavenly home must be like!

After our time at the grave, we hopped on a couple of four-wheelers and went for a nice ride through the woods.  We eventually made our way to the "Rock Hole", which is actually a part of the Fourche La Fave River.  We spent an absolutely wonderful afternoon there.  Here are a few pictures (they are from my phone, so the quality is not the best)...

Here is the river itself...

Bethany had to show off her tree climbing skills...

And the guys had to show off their rock skipping skills...Of course, you have to find just the right rock!

Bethany even got into the rock skipping act...She's pretty good!

We enjoyed having Brad along with us ... Bethany especially enjoyed having Brad along with us!  :)

We couldn't have been in a better spot to be reminded of God's beautiful creation!

It always seems like once February 26th is behind me, it suddenly feels like spring is on its way.  Maybe it's because the date I've been dreading for so long is once again over ... the darkness has cleared, and the sun has come out.  And this year, it really does feel that way.  As we drove home from Briggsville, I suddenly noticed all the blooming trees and flowers along the road.  I would swear they were not there on the drive there ... although they probably were ... my eyes were just not open to see them.  Regardless, I felt that God had put those trees and flowers there just for me ... a reminder that spring is coming on the earth, just as surely as eternal spring will one day come!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- A Period or a Question Mark?

A friend recently forwarded me a devotional she received from Joel Osteen's ministry.  Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Joel Osteen ... he seems a little too "health and wealth gospel" to me ... but that is simply my opinion.  I could certainly be wrong on that.  (No "hate comments" please.)  Anyway, this particular devotional really spoke to me -- especially in light of my "February...Ugh!" post a few days ago.  Take a minute and read through it...

File It Away

Today's Scripture:  "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me."  Psalm 131:1, NKJV

When things happen in your life that you didn't plan, do you find yourself trying to reason it all out, or look for a "file," so to speak, in your mind?  What happens when you can't find a "file" to put it in?  What if you can't make sense of it all?

Here's the answer.  Every one of us needs to create a file in our thinking called an "I Don't Understand It" file.  When things come up that don't make sense and you can't figure it out, instead of getting frustrated or confused, simply put it in your "I Don't Understand It" file and leave it alone.  If you go through life trying to figure out why something bad happened, why it didn't work out, why my child didn't get healed, it's going to cause you to be bitter.  Part of trusting God means trusting Him when things don't make sense, knowing that His plan is always for your good; knowing that He will reveal all things in His time -- even if it means in eternity.

Here's what I've learned.  Don't put a question mark where God has put a period.  What the enemy meant for evil, God will ultimately use for your good.  Keep moving forward because God loves you, God is for you, and He has a great plan for you!

Bam!!  That hit me right between the eyes.  I find myself continually pulling out my "Hannah" file, flipping through it, studying it, analyzing it, questioning it, agonizing over it, re-living it ... you get the idea, right?  I don't think that in and of itself is necessarily wrong, because I believe God still has a lot to teach me through her life.  But here's what I do need to do ... Replace that question mark with a period.

Sometimes, even after nearly three years, I wonder if I've really accepted the fact of Hannah's death.  There are still times that none of it really seems real.  Maybe it's because I so desperately wanted there to be a different outcome to her cancer.  That's the question mark I'm referring to.  God put a period at the end of her life.  Not that there aren't still ripples on the pond resulting from her testimony of faith ... her influence continues to touch others.  But God drew a very distinct period on her earthly life on February 26, 2009, and I am not to scrawl a question mark there.

Of course, the key point to remember is that periods are earthly punctuation marks ... Since that earthly period appeared three years ago, Hannah's life has been a series of eternal exclamation points!  And that fact, if nothing else, should put to rest all the question marks!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tell About It Tuesday -- An Interesting Indonesian Experience

As a missionary pilot in Indonesia, my brother has lots of interesting experiences.  This one ranks right up there!  Click on the link below to read about what happened to him recently...

Flour and Water Equals Honor and Respect

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Mourning -- February...Ugh!

I have really come to dislike February over the past few years.  Yes, I know it's just another month on the calendar, and as months go, February is generally pretty inoffensive.  In fact, since it's such a short month, it even goes by quickly.  Most people don't seem to mind February too much.

And this year, as I flipped my calendar page, I determined that I was not going to let February get to me this year.  I mean, after all, a lot of time has gone by!  And it really IS just another month on the calendar!

And yet, I find myself feeling like a punching bag, hanging from the ceiling, swaying back and forth as one blow after another hits its mark.

You see, February is filled with dates I'd much rather forget than remember.  I can't believe that it's been four years since Valentine's Day of 2008, the day our 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, began to show the first symptoms that something was very, very wrong.  Then, four years ago today, we first heard the words, "Your daughter has a brain tumor."  We checked into Arkansas Children's Hospital on the 21st, and Hannah underwent extensive brain surgery on February 25th.  On the 26th, we heard the words, "We got it all!" and we thought that was going to be the end of our journey.  A few days later we found out differently.

Between February of 2008 and February of 2009, Hannah bravely and patiently endured extensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but to no avail.  By Valentine's Day of 2009, Hannah's mind had become very simple ... her short term memory was so damaged, she thanked her Daddy every few minutes for the roses he sent her that day.  In the wee hours of the morning of February 16th, we discovered her hemorrhaging in her bedroom and rushed her to Arkansas Children's Hospital.  She was quickly stabilized, but an MRI done that day revealed that her cancer had spread extensively.  We moved into a hospice center on February 18th, an emotionally excruciating experience in and of itself.  On February 26th, Hannah left her room at the hospice center and stepped directly into the waiting arms of Jesus.  And we left the hospice center and went home without her.

Yes, they are just dates on the calendar, but the memories brought back by each and every one of them still feel like sucker punches directly to the gut.  No ... It's not as painful as it was the first year or two ... and I'm thankful for that!  Each day of this month, though, I find myself thinking back ... thinking about what we were thinking, feeling, and experiencing each day.  Those carefree, blissful days before Valentine's Day of 2008, the terrifying, yet hope-filled days surrounding her surgery and recovery, and those heavy, heartbreaking days leading up to her death.  I can't help but re-live each one of those days again.

So, all I can say is, "February...Ugh!"  I'll be glad when yet another February is behind me.

Thank God that His mercies are new every morning!  Check this out from Lamentations (how appropriate, huh?) 3: 17-26, 31-33...

"My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord .... For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."

There are some really good promises in that passage.  Some things I definitely remember when February starts dragging me down.  Thank You, Lord, for eternal hope that is not dependent upon circumstances!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Bereaved Siblings

Think back to your childhood for a few minutes.  Think about some of your fondest childhood memories.  How many of them involve your brothers and/or sisters?  It's hard for me to remember back to my early childhood growing up in the north woods of Wisconsin without my older brother being all around the fringes of my memories.  He teased me, annoyed me, picked on me, even occasionally beat on me, but he was always there for me, and we had a lot of fun as each other's playmates growing up together.  And then, when I was 12 years old, my younger brother was born, and I was thrilled to finally  have a sibling who couldn't beat me up!

It was this younger brother and his family who stayed with us for two weeks about a month ago.  They have the two sweetest, most unspoiled little girls ever ... a result of great parenting, certainly, but also attributable to growing up in Indonesia, unaffected by American-style materialism.  Here they are after a visit to Burger King a few weeks ago...

These little girls are exactly two years apart in age, and on March 26th, they will turn 5 and 3.  They are extraordinarily close sisters, and in many ways they remind me of my girls when they were little.

Julia, the older one, is a thinker and an observer.  She will hang back from a new situation and quietly observe with serious eyes before cautiously entering in.  Katie, on the other hand, will barrel into any situation, with little or no hesitation.  Julia serves as Katie's interpreter (even though Katie doesn't usually need one), and you can see her watching over her little sister with love and concern.  Katie is a ham, and Julia is completely content with handing over the spotlight to her sister, even drawing other's attention to what Katie is doing.  It's clear that she is proud of her little sister.  As for Katie, if you watch carefully, you can see how she admires her big sister and revels in her approval.

Hannah and Bethany's relationship growing up is mirrored in the above description of Julia and Katie.  Hannah was the serious-minded, cautious, over-thinking big sister, and Bethany was the fun-loving, impetuous, afraid-of-nothing little sister.  She served as Bethany's rudder, keeping her grounded and helping her make wise decisions in spite of her flightiness.  Hannah was always content to remain in the background, while allowing and even encouraging Bethany to take the spotlight.  Hannah was Bethany's biggest fan and cheerleader, and Bethany thrived on her big sister's approval and support.

But then, Hannah got sick.  Suddenly, the big sister who was always there for her was missing her ball games, spending time in the hospital, throwing up every morning, losing her hair, and growing weaker every day.  And then she was gone.

So what happens when a child loses a sibling?  I will be the first to say that I don't really know...I've never lost a sibling, so there is no possible way I can even come close to understanding that kind of loss. But I want to share a few things I've learned over the past few years.  These things are based on conversations I've had with Bethany and with other parents who are raising bereaved children.  I share them somewhat cautiously, knowing that I am no expert in this area.  I also know that all bereaved sibling situations are different...some kids lose an older sibling, some a younger one; some kids have other siblings, others become an instant only child; some kids lose their siblings suddenly, and others watch their sibling go through a long illness; and I'm sure that the age of the child at the time of loss can have a huge impact.  In fact, before I publish this post, I'm going to have Bethany read it, because if anyone can be an expert on this topic, she is.

So here we go....Things I've learned about struggles of bereaved siblings:

1.  Bereaved siblings feel very alone.  In our case, Bethany lost her closest friend and confidante.  None of her friends could even come close to understanding her loss.  As her parents, we couldn't even understand her loss.  She often said, "You and Dad have each other.  I don't have anybody."  And she was right.

2.  Bereaved siblings struggle spiritually.  So do bereaved parents, but at least we have the benefit of life experience, and many of us have walked with the Lord for years.  We've experienced His provision and His comfort during other difficult times in our lives.  We've seen Him carry others through times of loss, and we know deep down that we can trust Him, even when we don't understand what He's doing.  Our kids don't have those advantages.  All they know is that God has let them down...disappointed them in the biggest way imaginable.  For many of them, this is the first crisis of faith they've ever faced, and they often don't have any idea how to handle it.

3.  Bereaved siblings struggle academically.  Bereaved parents are often able to take a leave of absence from work following the death of their child.  And when we do return to work, we don't get grades on our performance.  Our bosses and co-workers at least attempt to be sensitive and understanding as we muddle through those early days of grief.  Siblings are expected to return to school and pick up where they left off...all while fending off insensitive questions from curious classmates and trying to avoid being sucked into the drama that naturally occurs when a young person dies.  It's not drama for them...It's their life.  And while they struggle to maintain focus and attention on schoolwork with a grief-clouded brain, they are being graded on their performance.

4.  Bereaved siblings struggle socially.  Many of them find themselves living in the shadow of their deceased sibling.  When a young person dies, the natural tendency is to put them on a pedestal, revering their good qualities and forgetting their flaws.  This puts the surviving sibling in the difficult position of trying to live up to an impossible standard, causing them to either live in perpetual frustration, or leading them to give up on that entirely and establish themselves as a unique individual, possibly even the opposite of their sibling.  They also often find themselves in awkward situations, such as when people ask them how many brothers and sisters they have.  If it's hard for us parents to answer the dreaded "How many children do you have" question, how much more difficult is it for our children?  Do they risk the shocked expression on the asker's face when they explain that their sibling died...or do they "betray" their sibling by replying, "None.  I'm an only child."  And then what do they say to their friends who constantly complain about their own siblings, saying things like, "I hate my sister", or "I wish I was an only child"?  How much do those kinds of comments add to their pain?

5.  Bereaved siblings lose their rudder.  Think about your own siblings.  How often have they given you advice or counsel that you might not accept from anyone else (including your parents)?  Our siblings keep us us stay on the right track...even keep us humble.  What happens when that grounding influence is gone?  The surviving sibling can lose his or her way in life...finding themselves floating through life without direction, often spinning out of control, without a rudder to keep them on track.  It's sometimes incredibly difficult for them to get their feet back under them.

5.  Bereaved siblings lose their parents.  What I mean is, just when a kid needs his parents the most, the parents may be completely unavailable to him.  Oh, they may be present physically, but may be totally absent emotionally.  A parent who loses a child may be so consumed with their own grief, they have nothing left for their surviving children.  They try...they try really hard to be the kind of parent they need to be...but it is incredibly difficult.  And by the time the parent has sufficiently recovered to truly turn their attention back to their child, that child may have already developed his own way of dealing with his grief, which may or may not be healthy.  And even then, they will never, ever be the same parent that their child has always known.

OK...I know this is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think it covers most of what I've learned, anyway.  I'm going to stop right here and let Bethany read what I've written.  Then I'll find out how much I've actually learned!


All right, Bethany has given her wholehearted approval to what I've written.  So I now have permission to publish this.

One final thing...I have really come to believe that siblings are the forgotten part of the bereaved family.  Case in point:  Nearly three years have passed since Hannah left us for Heaven, and I am just now writing this post.  Not that I have forgotten Bethany or been unaware of her pain, but I feel like I am just now beginning to understand all the complexities of what she's experienced.  Maybe because I am just now able to really see past my own nose, or maybe because a sibling's pain is so much deeper and more complex than I ever imagined.

If you are reading this and you have lost a sibling, or if you are parenting a child who has lost a sibling, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences related to this topic.  Please post your comments below.  I am definitely open to learning all I can about it.  We believe that the Lord may be leading "While We're Waiting" to host a retreat for bereaved siblings at some point in the future, and this is a baby step in that direction.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ten On The Tenth -- Ten Incredibly Boring Facts About Me

Yes, I realize it is actually the 11th.  I thought up this post yesterday, but just didn't have time to sit down and type it until today....Does that count?

Actually, I had a hard time thinking of a topic for this month's Ten on the Tenth.  Then I saw where a particular blogger I follow had listed "Ten Incredibly Boring Facts" about himself.  And I thought to myself, "Hmmmm...I bet I can do that...I'm pretty boring."  So, if you really want to know Ten Incredibly Boring Facts about me, read on...

1.  After watching Nadia Comaneci receive seven perfect 10's in the 1976 summer Olympics, I made up my mind that I was going to grow up to be an Olympic gymnast.  I did not let the fact that I was already 5'8" in the fourth grade deter me.  Eventually my total lack of athletic prowess did that for me.

2.  I loved playing with snakes with I was little.  I grew up in northern Wisconsin, where there are lots and lots of snakes, but very few of them are poisonous.  So I made pets out of the grass snakes, red bellies, and garter snakes.  I wouldn't recommend that in Arkansas.

3.  My first car was a blue 1977 Chevy Monza.  It ate fuel pumps and spit them out on a regular basis, but it was my car (paid for with my own money), and I loved it.

4.  My first real job (at age 15) was as an envelope stuffer in a real estate office.  Over time, my responsibilities expanded to the position of office manager, and I even took and passed the real estate exam during my first year of college.  I worked there all through high school and during college breaks, and even one summer after I got married.  What a great job it was...and it helped pay for the aforementioned Chevy Monza and all its fuel pumps.

5.  I became a certified scuba diver when I was in high school.  Diving is a rather expensive hobby, and I don't own any of my own equipment, so I have had few opportunities to do it since becoming certified.  Brad and Bethany also got their PADI certification when we went to Jamaica a few months after Hannah's death, and we had such a wonderful time on that trip diving together.  Would definitely like to do more of that.

6.  I met my husband at a function.  What is a function, you may ask?  Brad and I attended Ouachita Baptist University, a Southern Baptist college where dancing is officially frowned upon.  However, off-campus "functions" took place nearly every weekend, and we met at the very first one of my sophomore and his freshman year.  The rest, as they say, is history.

7.  I'm a word nerd.  I love words...analyzing them, knowing their spellings, understanding their etymology, employing them in just the right situations.  I began reading when I was four years old, before starting kindergarten, and I just seem to be hard-wired for written language.

8.  I played the tuba in the high school band.  It started out as a lark...thinking it would be fun to do something that few girls would ever do...but I ended up really enjoying it.  However, when I graduated, I set down the tuba and have never picked it up again.  So don't ask me to play in the church orchestra.

9.  I love contemporary Christian music and have very eclectic taste within that genre.  My iPod has songs that range from Steve Green and Sandy Patti all the way to Lecrae and TobyMac.  I once said I would never have an iPod...I loved my extensive collection of CDs and just couldn't imagine giving them up.  Yeah, I once said the same thing about electronic books.

10.  I am directionally-challenged.  When we were engaged, Brad used to tell me that when we were married he was going to buy a really long string, and tie one end to my thumb and one end to our doorknob....That way I'd always be able to find my way home.  And you know, it's just about that bad.  It's sad, really.  I truthfully believe that whatever part of the brain that's supposed to regulate directionality is simply missing from mine.  Oh well, we've been married for 24 1/2 years now, and so far, I've always found my way home...and I hardly ever have to use the string!  :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tell About It Tuesday -- A Little Girl In Need of Prayer

I would like to introduce you to Haley Gloria.  Haley is the 7-year-old daughter of Jason & Lisa Gloria from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and she has an older sister named Hannah.  Lisa and I became acquainted through Relay for Life.  She had followed my Hannah's story, and has always taken an interest in our family.  We would always visit at the team captain's meetings, and one month she asked me if I would share "Why I Relay" with the entire group.  She was also instrumental in getting our family to be the honorary torch lighters at last year's Relay.  Although we've never really socialized outside of Relay for Life events, I've always felt a special bond with her ... maybe because we both have daughters named Hannah!

A little over a week ago, Haley had an MRI after a couple weeks of baffling symptoms, and she was immediately rushed to Arkansas Children's Hospital.  The MRI revealed the presence of a tumor in the area of her cerebellum and brainstem.  On February 2nd, she underwent a 16 hour surgery, and they were able to remove all but about a centimeter of the tumor, which was just too close to the brainstem.  The family has already been told that it is cancer, and she will be having a spinal tap this week to check for cancer cells in her spinal fluid.  

Haley and her family have a long and difficult road ahead of them.  I believe that God can bring complete healing to this precious child.  Please pray for healing for Haley, and for peace, comfort, strength, and stamina for her family.  You can follow her story on Facebook at "Prayers for Haley Gloria".  Let's surround this family with prayers and love, as only the body of Christ can!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Mourning -- A Crowded Club

We had the great privilege of making a trip to Wynne, Arkansas, yesterday, to share our testimony in a Sunday School class there.  This class is led by our dear friends and "While We're Waiting" alumni, Rex and Mary Jones.  The Jones's invited us to come quite awhile ago, and after several months of trying to find a date that would work for all of us, we finally made the trip yesterday.  And what a great day it was!

I'd like to tell you about the day in reverse order...if that makes any sense.  The highlight of the day was the Sunday School hour, and I want to save that part for last.  So, I'll start with our lunch, which was also a highlight.  We had lunch at the Jones's house with Rex and Mary and their daughter, Tori, and another couple, Steve and Kim Dillard.  Kim and I have been "e friends" for two or three years now, but had never actually met until yesterday.  I honestly can't even remember exactly how we became acquainted, but I do remember why.  Her husband, Steve, was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor back in 2002.  They were originally told that it was inoperable, but Dr. Yasargil, a surgeon at UAMS, was able to successfully remove it. His tumor returned in April of 2010, and they have been in the battle anew ever since.  We have talked often over the last couple of years, comparing chemo medications, side effects, etc. What a blessing it was to finally meet them in person.  They are a wonderful example of grace and peace in the midst of a difficult life situation.  Thankfully, Steve's most recent MRI showed shrinkage of his tumor...Praise the Lord!

The worship service at the church was also a highlight.  (Are you getting the idea by now that the whole visit was a series of highlights?  OK, good.)  Well, the worship leader for the day was none other than Dennis Jernigan.  Dennis Jernigan has written many of the choruses which are sung in today's churches..."Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus", "You Are My All In All", "There Is a Fountain", and many more.  He had been at this church leading a weekend conference for music pastors.  What a nice treat for us!  He shared his remarkable testimony about how God has set him free from homosexuality.  He has been married to his wife, Melinda, for 27 years, and has nine children.  If you ever have the opportunity to hear him in person, jump at it!

Now for the real highlight of all the day's events...the Sunday School class.  The Jones's, knowing what the topic of our testimony would be, invited everyone they knew who had lost a child or other loved one into their class that morning.  They even asked the regular members of the class to attend another class across the hall, to be sure there would be enough room for visitors.  The class ended up being standing room only, as more and more people came in who had suffered significant losses, many of them who had lost children.  It was humbling, actually, to speak to a whole room full of these folks.  Afterward, we had the opportunity to visit with many of them, and what a blessing that was.

But here is what we came away with...Just as that Sunday School classroom was crowded, this Bereaved Parents Club is crowded.  This is a club that no one...ever wants to be a part of...yet there are so many of us!  Wynne is a relatively small northeast Arkansas town, with a population of only 13,000 people, yet here was this Sunday School classroom in a relatively small church which was standing room only, filled with mostly bereaved parents.  And they represented probably only a small fraction of the people from Wynne who could have been there.  That's a lot of hurting people!

We believe that God has a plan for "While We're Waiting" to reach out to people just like these folks throughout the state of Arkansas, and maybe even someday around the country.  Will you pray for us as we seek to follow His leadership in how to minister to this unfortunately crowded club?