Saturday, June 23, 2012

Free-For-All Friday (On Saturday)

I was doing so well this week ... I managed to write a new post every day ... at least until yesterday.  Oh well, I'm going to make up for it today.  And since it's Free-For-All Friday (sort of), I can write about anything I want.  So here goes...

1.  I've been reading some of the classics on my Kindle app lately.  I mean, they're free ... Why not?  Over the last few months, I've read "Tale of Two Cities", "Les Miserables, "Treasure Island", and now I'm reading "The Three Musketeers".  I didn't just love "Tale of Two Cities", but I've really enjoyed the others.  Really makes me realize how shallow most of the stuff that passes for literature today is.

2.  We've really had fun as a family watching both the NBA finals and the college world series this past week.  We were pulling hard for Oklahoma City in the NBA finals, and, of course, the Razorbacks in the college world series.  Unfortunately, both of our teams were eliminated.  What in the world are we going to watch on TV now?  ;-)

3.  I'm missing my girl right now.  Bethany left early this morning for Destin, Florida, with "other Brad's" family.  I'm sure she's going to have a wonderful time!  I've been thinking about it, though, and I think this is the first time she's really been away from us since Hannah went to Heaven.  Oh, she's been to camp and stuff, just an hour or two down the road, but this is the first time she's been away away.  Guess I'd better get used to it...she'll be going to college next year!  Thank goodness for cell phones and texting!

4.  While Bethany is gone, we're going to slip off for a few days ourselves.  Our anniversary is August 15th, but when we got married 25 years ago this summer, we didn't take into consideration that as a high school principal, Brad would never be able to get away for an anniversary trip at that time of year.  So, we just try to take off when we can, and pretend it's actually our anniversary.  Twenty-five years ago, we went to Eureka Springs for our anniversary, and that will be our destination this week.  Not sure if we'll have internet access where we're going, but that may be a good thing!  So looking forward to a little time away!

5.  I know that many of you who read this blog do so because you have lost a child.  If you're on Facebook, search for "While We're Waiting--Support for Bereaved Parents" and request to join.  It is an amazing group of Christian moms and dads from all over the country who have lost children.  At last check, we had 96 members!  The greatest thing about this group is the faith we have in common.  Everyone is so positive and encouraging, even as we share our struggles and prayer needs with each other.  Check it out!

Happy Weekend!  :-)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- Because Of ... Not In Spite Of

I've been a fan of Joni Eareckson Tada ever since I first picked up the book "Joni" when I was a pre-teen.  Joni was injured in a diving accident in late 1960s when she was a teenager, and has been a quadriplegic ever since.

I absolutely love her most recent book, "A Place of Healing:  Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty" and I've actually already written about it twice on my blog:  here and here.  Recently, I have felt the need to pick up this book again.  (And actually, the Kindle edition is available for FREE on Amazon right now ... get it before the price goes back up!)

I think that every person who loses a loved one to a disease that causes pain and suffering wonders why their prayers for healing were not answered in the way they would have chosen.  Did they not pray hard enough?  Did they not have enough faith?  Was there some sin in their life that prevented healing?  Joni, who has been serving the Lord from a wheelchair since 1967 (without a miraculous healing, mind you), has a unique perspective on these kinds of questions.

Every chapter in this book is full of things that make me think.  So I've decided to go back through it slowly this summer, and share some of those things on Thoughtful Thursdays.  Maybe we can think through some of these things together.

Here's what caught my eye this week.  In the introduction of the book, she reveals the fact that in addition to her paralysis, she is now dealing with intense, chronic pain.  And here's what she says about it...

Do I pray for miraculous healing for my chronic pain?  You bet I do.  

Am I expecting it?  If God wills, yes.

"Whatever You want, Lord," I pray.  "If it would give You more glory and advance Your gospel more quickly, I'm all for it!"  Always and always I want to be in submission to the Father and obedient to the Word of Jesus -- knowing full well that if I had everything else in life and lacked that, I would have nothing at all.  

Because isn't that the bottom line?  That Jesus gets the glory, whether I jump out of my wheelchair pain free and tell people that my healing is genuine evidence of God's awesome power ... or whether I continue smiling in my chair, not in spite of my pain but because of it, knowing I've got lessons to learn, a character to be honed, other wounded people to identify with, a hurting world to reach with the gospel, and a suffering Savior with whom I can enjoy greater intimacy.  And every bit of it genuine evidence of God's love and grace.

Here's the part that caught my eye and made me think -- "...whether I continue smiling in my chair, not in spite of my pain but because of it...".

It made me wonder ... Can I do that?  Can I smile, not in spite of my pain, but because of it?  Can I smile because of what I've experienced in my life, because of what God continues to teach me on a daily basis?

Hmmmmm.....let me think about that a little more...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wacky Wednesday -- Father's Day with the Huxtables

Since this past Sunday was Father's Day, I thought I would share this great clip from the classic Cosby Show...

Just in case you were guilty of giving your dad one of these kinds of gifts this year, there's still time to make it up to him.  Head to your local bookstore or and get him a copy of "Fearless"!  That's what my father and my father-in-law got from us this year.  I can guarantee you that book would make even Cliff Huxtable happy on Father's Day!  :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tell About It Tuesday -- No Wonder!

This is a shift from the usual type of subject matter for my blog, but I ran across this the other day in World Magazine, and just had to share.  You know, so often when we see figures related to the federal budget, we just can't get our minds around them because they're just so incredibly huge.  At least I can't.  But this illustration really brought it home to me.

Here's the current U.S. federal budget in a nutshell:

U.S. annual tax revenue -- $2,340,000,000,000
Federal annual spending budget -- $3,590,000,000,000
New annual debt from
   overspending this year -- $1,250,000,000,000
National debt -- $15,400,000,000,000
Last year's budget cut by Congress -- $38,500,000,000

If you're like me, those numbers just kind of go Whoooosh! over my head.

Now, remove 8 zeros and pretend this is your household budget:

Annual family income -- $23,400
Money the family spends annually -- $35,900
New debt added to credit cards this year -- $12,500
Outstanding balance on credit cards -- $154,000
Total cuts to the family budget -- $385

Now those are figures I can understand!  How long could you operate your household with that kind of budget?  No wonder our nation is in trouble!  Just another reason to lift our nation and its leaders up in prayer...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Blinded by Grief

In John's gospel, we read the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection.  Let's pick up the story in the 20th chapter, verse 10...

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"  "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus.  "Woman," He said, "Why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?"  Thinking He was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him."  Jesus said to her, "Mary."  She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).  Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  "I have seen the Lord!"  And she told them that He had said these things to her.

Did you catch the significance of the part of the passage that I typed in bold print?  Mary was face to face with Jesus, even talking with Him, but she did not even recognize Him.  Not only that, but she was searching for Him!  Wouldn't you think she would recognize Him?

I can remember reading this passage in the years before Hannah's illness and death and wondering how it could be that Mary didn't recognize Jesus.  I figured that her vision must have been clouded with tears, and maybe that was why.  But why didn't she recognize His voice?  Maybe she was just so shocked to see Him that she couldn't believe it was Him.

But now I get it.  Sure, she had tears in her eyes, but that is not what blinded her.  It was the enormity of her grief that made her unable to see her Savior.  Grief can do that to us.  Even if we're searching for Him, even if we're looking right at Him, even if He's speaking to us ... we don't realize it is Him.  Grief can either make us too numb to feel His presence, or it can make us too raw to experience Him.

But Mary didn't stay blinded.  Jesus spoke her name, and immediately a wave of recognition washed over her.  She must have reached out and "hugged His neck" (as we say here in Arkansas), and she clearly did not want to let go.

In the same way, we who have been blinded by grief must remain open to His presence.  Even though it may feel like He is far away, He is right here with us, waiting patiently for us to reach out to Him.  What a comfort in the darkest of times!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Free-For-All Friday -- Three Years of Blogging

Today makes three years since I started on this blogging adventure.  Hard to believe.  But I can say, without a doubt, that God has used this blog to bring an enormous amount of healing in my life since Hannah went to Heaven.  I seem to do a much better job of expressing myself in writing than with the spoken word.  In fact, I can really relate to this quote by John Piper:  "Writing became the lever of my thinking and the outlet of my feelings.  If I didn't pull the lever, the wheel of thinking did not turn.  It jerked and squeaked and halted.  But once a pen was in hand, or a keyboard, the fog began to clear and the wheel of thought began to spin with clarity and insight."  This blog has helped clear the fog and get my "wheel of thinking" turning again.

To all of you who read this blog ... Thank you.  I've often said that I would continue to write, even if I knew no one ever read it, simply because it helps me so much, but I am grateful for every person who takes the time to actually read what I've written.  I read and appreciate every comment that is left, and I'm going to try to do a better job of responding to them.  I would love to be more interactive with you.

Please note that you can sign up to receive my blog right in your email inbox ... All you have to do is click where indicated in the left hand column.  When you subscribe, you'll receive a verification that you must reply to in order to start your subscription.  Make sure you do that, or you will not be officially subscribed.

I look forward to starting my fourth year of blogging.  God teaches me as I write, and I'm excited about where He may lead.  Thanks for coming along on the ride!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- What's In a Name?

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the Garland County Relay for Life.  Relay has actually become a pretty big part of our lives since Hannah was ushered into Heaven via cancer.  We always have a tent for our Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry group, and we always have a great time celebrating another year of life with all of them.  Here are a few of our sweet folks...

I was on the luminary committee this year, so I was REALLY busy for the whole evening.  Someone did manage to snap a quick picture of Brad and me, though...

As a member of the luminary committee, my Relay day started at 7:00 a.m., labeling, filling, and setting out the nearly 1,500 luminary bags which had been purchased in honor and in memory of those touched by cancer.  This year, our Relay offered people the option of purchasing "Torches of Hope" in addition to the luminary bags.  These were basically tiki torches adorned with purple ribbons and a brass plaque with a loved one's name on it.  We decided to purchase one of those in memory of Hannah this year, deciding that that would be a unique way to honor our girl's memory.  I was actually pretty excited about this torch, thinking it would make a great memento.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw her brass plaque, and it looked like this...

Yes, that's right ... it says "In Memory of Hanny Joy Sullivan".  What?  Are you kidding me?

I wish I could adequate describe the emotions that ran through me for the next few hours as I went through the motions of my responsibilities on the committee.  Thank goodness for sunglasses!  I cried tears of anger, frustration, and sadness off and on for quite awhile.  How could something like this happen?  I mean, who would name their kid "Hanny"?  Shouldn't someone at the brass plaque factory have caught that?  I know that's not how I filled out the order form!  How were Bethany and Brad going to feel when they saw this glaring error?

And then, as the turbulence of my initial emotions began to subside, I began to ask myself different questions.  Why did this bother me so much?  What was I so upset about?  Why had this simple spelling error thrown me into such a tailspin?  After all, it really wasn't that big of a deal ... Was it?

As I began to think more rationally, it started to become clear to me.  When a parent loses a child, that child's name becomes more precious to them than ever before.  Especially as time goes by, and you rarely hear their name or see it in writing anymore.  In kind of a strange way, that name becomes proof ... something concrete to show that your child did actually exist.

Once I was able to identify what made me so upset, I began to get my feet back under me.  The error, while unfortunate, couldn't be helped, and it really wasn't that big of a deal.  I mean ... a rose by any other name still smells as sweet ... right?

It just goes to show that the road of grief is not a wide, straight, clear path from hurt to healing.  It's a twisted, bumpy road with lots of detours and obstacles along the way.  And just when you think you're making good progress, along comes a big old pothole to give you a good jar.  A good reminder that we need to stick close to the One who holds the map!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wacky Wednesday -- Good One!

Thought this was pretty cute....  :-)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Mourning -- Sharing Hannah

One thing I didn't mention in my "Ten Things About Hannah" post yesterday was that Hannah was a very private person.  In fact, as we were walking to the car right after being told she had a brain tumor, she said that she didn't want anyone to know, and she wanted me to promise her that we wouldn't tell anybody.  Of course, I did not make that promise, because we wanted people to be praying for her!  Once we explained that to her, she understood, and was fine with me sending the emails which chronicled her journey.  However, she did NOT want to have a CaringBridge site, and she did NOT want me to write a blog while she was sick.  She always shunned the spotlight, even before she was diagnosed ... always content to remain in the background.

So it's always been a little strange to me that her story captured so much attention, and that it still does today.  I started this blog about four months after she went to Heaven, fully confident that she would no longer mind me writing about her.  And we have traveled around and shared her story in a variety of churches and other settings, and I know she would be fine with that.  We had the opportunity to do that just yesterday, when we shared our testimony at Parker's Chapel First Baptist Church in El Dorado.  We love to do that, and God always blesses when we do. 

And it kind of hit me yesterday ... when Hannah was here on earth with us, she was "our daughter", meaning mine and Brad's.  She "belonged" to us.  Now, it's almost as if we are literally "sharing" her with the thousands of other people who have been touched by her story.  Does that make sense?

As I ponder this thought, I can't help but think of our good friends, Larry and Janice Brown.  Their son, Adam, was a member of SEAL Team Six, and was killed in Afghanistan in March of 2010.  A book has been written about his life, ("Fearless"), and at last check, it was #7 on the New York Times Best Seller list.  They've been traveling around doing interviews and book signings, and talking to people whose lives have been changed after reading Adam's story.  The book reveals both the high points and the very low points of Adam's life.  Talk about "sharing" your child ... they are now "sharing" their Adam with literally millions of other people.

I think I can speak for the Browns as well as for us when I say that we don't mind "sharing" our children.  What better way to remember and to honor their lives than to allow others to see how God carried them through their respective journeys?  To God be the glory.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ten on the Tenth -- Ten Things I'd Like People to Remember About Hannah

Early on after Hannah went to Heaven, I heard other parents who had lost children talk about how much they worried about people forgetting about their children.  And I remember thinking to myself that I would never be that way ... I certainly didn't want people to forget about Hannah, but I just didn't see myself worrying about it. 

Well, now it's 3 1/2 years later, and I must admit that those kinds of thoughts do creep up on me from time to time.  I don't really worry that people are going to forget about her, I just worry that people might forget things about her ... if that makes sense.  I even sometimes worry that I will forget things about her! 

Thus, this list of Ten Things I'd Like People to Remember About Hannah:

1.  She loved her family -- Whether it was a noisy extended family gathering or a quiet evening at home with just the four of us, she would rather spend time with her family than do just about anything else.  She loved spending time with her cousins, who always made her laugh.

2.  She loved school -- She was all about learning, and took great pride in excelling academically.

3.  She was a Hog fan -- The Arkansas Razorbacks, that is.  She had no athletic ability of her own (remember, she was my child!), but she really enjoyed a good Razorback football game.

4.  She was a "girly girl" -- She loved flashy earrings, colorful tops, and pretty shoes.  You would never catch her going to school in a t-shirt and tennis shoes. 

5.  But, she was also a "tomboy" -- She loved dressing up in camo and boots, riding 4-wheelers, and deer hunting.  Maybe it was just because she liked hanging out with her dad.

6.  She looked just like her dad, but she acted just like me -- She had my good character traits as well as the bad.  It's almost scary how similar our personalities were, and I would love to see what our relationship might be like now that she would be twenty years old. 

7.  She was a deep thinker -- I'll never forget the question she asked me when she was 5 or 6 years old.  Having been told her whole life that she looked just like her dad, she asked, "How can a kid look like their dad when their mom has them?"  I think my reply was something along the lines of, "Isn't it amazing how God does that?"  From that point on, she kept me on my toes!

8.  She had a strong faith in God -- In fact, a few months prior to her cancer diagnosis, she prayed that God would send a storm into her life to help her grow closer to Him, and so that others could see Him through her storm.  Not long after that, she posted on her Facebook page, "This world has nothing for me...I will live for Him."  When her diagnosis came, she accepted it as her storm, and her faith never wavered.  She never asked, "Why me?", and she never complained about her situation.

9.  But, she was not perfect -- Often, when someone dies young, there is a tendency to put them on a pedestal, to almost venerate them as some sort of saint.  This seemed to be especially true of Hannah, because many people knew about her prayer for a storm and watched her valiantly battle cancer for a year.  But she was not perfect (her sister can attest to that!) ... she was a sinner in need of a Savior. 

10.  She lived -- Perhaps most of all, when people think of Hannah, I don't want them to think of her as that girl who died of cancer ... I want them to remember the girl who lived for 17 1/2 years.  And I want them to know that she still lives today ... in fact, she's more alive than ever before!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Free-For-All-Friday -- "State of the Blog"

It seems that lately the state of this blog could be summed up with just a few words ... "a little bit of nothing going on."  This entire spring has just been so crazy busy, and it has carried right on into the summer.  We've had company, then Relay for Life, then basketball camp, then Bethany's birthday ... so, today, I'm taking a breath.

I had only two things on my "to do" list today ... one was to donate blood, which once again was an epic fail.  Every time I've tried to donate recently, my iron has been too low, so I've been taking daily supplements.  I was just sure I'd be able to donate today, but no, my iron was one measly point too low.  I'm such a proponent of blood product donation because I've seen the difference it makes in so many lives, and I'm so frustrated when I'm unable to donate.  I'm going to keep taking my supplements and start eating raisins every day and try again in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, the other item on my "to do" list for today was to write a little "state of the blog" address.  My goal for this summer is to get back to blogging every day, (or as close to that as possible), following the format I started about this time last year ... Monday Mourning, which will feature posts related to grief/losing a child, Tell-About-It Tuesday, which will feature something I'm really excited about and what to share, Wacky Wednesday, which will feature something that I've found amusing during the week, Thoughtful Thursdays, which will feature something that's really had me thinking, and Free-For-All Fridays, which could be just about anything.  I'll also continue with my Ten on the Tenth posts, providing I can continue to come up with topics!

I also plan to acquire some blog design skills, which I hope to use in updating and making the blog more user-friendly.  That's what YouTube is for, right?  I know I could pay someone to do it for me, but I'd like to try to learn how to do it myself.  So, depending on my learning curve, you'll start seeing some changes to the blog over the next week or two, which I hope will make it a more enjoyable reading experience.

One thing that will not change ... my goal in writing this blog is to encourage others, especially those who are traveling the road of grief, and to exalt the name of Jesus.  I will prayerfully be pursuing that goal this summer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- "Seventeen"

Today my girl turns seventeen.  I spent a few minutes searching through my pictures for a recent picture of her, but settled on this one...

This picture was actually taken three years ago, but it so perfectly captures her personality, I just had to use it!  She is bubbly and beautiful, loving and kind, and brings so much joy to our lives.  I'm looking forward to spending a fun-filled day with her today.

I can't help, though, thinking back to Hannah's 17th birthday about 3 1/2 years ago.  We spent that day getting a radiation treatment at CARTI in Little Rock.  The staff there was wonderful, and they gave her a little birthday party, but it just was not a great way to spend your birthday.  In fact, two days later, she lost all of her hair.

About three weeks before her birthday, we had received the news that her cancer had returned with a vengeance, in the form of multiple tumors in her brain and spinal column.  Our oncologist had told us that there was virtually no chance of survival.  Of course, we knew that God could heal her at any time, but we also knew that in His omniscience, He may choose not to.

What kind of birthday gifts do you get for a teenager who is not expected to live?  And how do you "celebrate" a birthday in that situation?  With God's help, and the support of wonderful family and friends who made her birthday special, we managed to do just that.

Fast forward now to today ... Bethany's seventeenth birthday.  What a contrast!  She is vibrant, healthy, full of life.  She is looking forward to the future with great anticipation ... in fact, she would skip summer break and start her senior year tomorrow if she could!  Yes, she misses her sister every day and is still learning to deal with that grief, but she has also discovered the truth of Psalm 27:13 -- "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" -- in other words, she's beginning to find her joy again.

And what a blessing that is to me as a know that both of my girls are right where they need to be in life.  Hannah is in Heaven, fully healed and complete in Christ, and Bethany is here, healthy and growing in Christ.  Yes, I would rather have Hannah here with us ... of course I would!  There is nothing I would want more!  But I know that is not an option, and knowing she is in Heaven makes the waiting bearable.  And in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy every minute of Bethany's 17th year with her!