Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- A Christmas Contrast

Christmas 2008 was a really difficult Christmas for us.  Three months prior, our daughter Hannah's cancer had returned with a vengeance, with multiple tumors on her brainstem and up and down her spine.  Her oncologist had told us, with tears in his eyes, that she had less than a five percent chance of survival, but we were still in the battle, going into the clinic for platelet infusions both the day before and the day after Christmas.

Hannah was a good sport about it all, never complaining about a thing ... and she really seemed to be feeling pretty good that Christmas.  We could see the signs, though, subtle at first, and then accelerating rapidly, that she would be leaving us soon.

That Christmas was so surreal.  She was here with us, yet we knew (without a miraculous intervention from God) that she would be leaving us soon.  And we knew that Christmas would never been the same.  Yet, for our girls' sake, we had to carry on as if everything was just fine.  The only word I can think of to describe that day is agonizing.  There was such a feeling of hopelessness pervading the entire day.

Fast forward five years to Christmas 2013.  Instead of my two girls helping me decorate the tree, these two did the job all by themselves this year.  Notice the JOY all over our tree (and all over their faces)!

This Christmas, too, had a touch of the surreal to it.  Because this year, we knew that Bethany would be leaving us soon.  Ah, but it's different ... In just under five months, her dad will be walking her down an aisle, and she'll be saying her vows and changing her name.  And once again, our family Christmas will never be the same.  

But this time, there was no hopelessness, no despair, no dread of what was to come.  Instead there was excitement and joyful anticipation of the future.  

And when I really stop and think about it ... should the two Christmases really have been so different? Yes ... one is clearly very painful, and one is not.  And yet ... No.  

Both Hannah and Bethany had/have much to look forward to.  Bethany has a wedding and marriage to look forward to, and all that goes along with that.  But Hannah ... she had Heaven to look forward to! And a godly marriage, as wonderful as that is, pales in comparison to Heaven.

And the cool thing about all of this is that (because of God's gift at Christmas) one day our family will be reunited in Heaven at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Thank God, there will be no empty chairs around our family table that day.  And that will be better than any Christmas dinner we can imagine!

"Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, 'Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure' -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  And the angel said to me, 'Write this:  Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are the true words of God.'"  Revelation 19:6-9

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Mourning -- It's Not MY Birthday Anyway

When I was a little girl, Christmas was my absolute favorite holiday.  We would always travel from our home in northern Wisconsin to visit my relatives in Illinois, and I would have the best time playing with all my cousins.  Of course, the best part of Christmas was when we got to open our presents ... I was always so excited to get a bunch of new toys to play with! 

Except for that one Christmas ... when I was sorely disappointed.  I had asked for a Fisher Price farm set.  You remember the one ... it had a silo, a hay loft, a fence, all these neat little animals ... and best of all, it made a mooing sound when you opened and closed the barn doors!  I'm sure I got some really awesome gifts that year, but the only thing I can remember is that this farm set was not one of them.

And to make it worse, my cousin did get one!  And this particular cousin actually lived on a farm, and she even had horses!  I mean, how unfair was that??  I was soooooo disappointed, and I let everyone know.  I'm pretty sure I received a hearty lecture about my lack of gratitude ... and deservedly so.

This past weekend we celebrated Christmas with the Sullivan family in Van Buren.  Yesterday morning we went to church with them, and enjoyed a great sermon from my in-laws' pastor.  He opened his message by sharing an illustration which really caught my attention.

It seems there was a little boy attending a church Christmas party.  Each child who came to the party stood in line to receive a present, and this little guy was at the very end of the line.  He patiently awaited his turn, but just as he got to the front of the line, they ran out of presents.  The pastor felt terrible about this and apologized profusely, but the little boy smilingly said, "That's okay.  It's not MY birthday anyway."

It's not MY birthday anyway.

Wow, did I need that reminder.  

When I'm feeling second-rate because my house is not Pinterest perfect ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

When I'm frustrated because I haven't had the time or energy to get my Christmas cards done ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

When I'm aggravated by the rudeness of the crowds in the stores ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

When I'm disappointed and sad that our family Christmas is not what it once was ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

When everyone else seems to have what I want so desperately for myself ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

And most of all, when I want to kick and scream and rant about how unfair it is that Hannah is not here to celebrate with us ... (Sigh) ... It's not MY birthday anyway.

No, it's not MY birthday ... it's HIS.  

Because it is HIS birthday, all of these things that are so hard, painful, sad, disappointing, frustrating, aggravating, and unfair today will one day be redeemed.  

Because it is HIS birthday, Hannah is more alive today than she has ever been.

And because it is HIS birthday, I will see my girl again, and not just see her again, but spend eternity with her.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."  John 3:16-17

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Birthday Reflections

Birthdays sure are different than they used to be.

Even just a few years back, I could go through an entire birthday without anyone even knowing it was my birthday.  Oh sure, my mom and dad knew, and my husband and kids knew ... but that was about it.  And I was fine with that.  I could go to work or church or wherever, and as far as anyone else was concerned, it was just another day.

With the way technology keeps us all connected now ... those days are over.

The birthday messages actually started on Facebook yesterday.  My brother, who lives in Indonesia where my birthday arrives 13 hours earlier than it does here, posted a Happy Birthday message on my wall, and the flood of greetings began.  Nothing makes you feel loved like 180+ people wishing you a happy birthday online.

Over the past few days, I've received a handful of birthday cards from family members and sweet friends, and I was greeted with a couple of e-cards from my nieces in Indonesia this morning.  Today, my phone was continually sending me text message alerts.  Really made my day.

And then there were the greetings some not-so-expected sources ... my dentist's office, the American Red Cross, Stage Department Stores, the University of Arkansas Alumni Association, the Arkansas Blood Institute, and even the Arkansas Speech-Language Hearing Association.  Sure makes a girl feel special.

I remember my first couple of birthdays after Hannah went to Heaven.  Honestly, every "Happy Birthday" wish at that time felt like a sucker punch to the gut. How could anybody expect me to have a happy birthday (or Mother's Day, or Easter, or New Year, or Christmas) when my child was gone?!  What were these people thinking ... ordering me to have a happy birthday?  Didn't they know that was impossible?  That I would probably never have a truly happy birthday again?  It really made me want to karate chop somebody in the neck, to borrow one of Bethany's favorite sayings.

I'm so glad that feeling hasn't lasted.  That was a miserable way to be.  Over time, God has brought healing.  I no longer spend my birthdays mourning what I've lost ... instead, I find myself in awe of what I've gained:

  • A deeper faith than I've ever had before
  • An appreciation for the "little things" in life (which are actually the big things)
  • An eternal perspective
  • A God-given compassion for hurting people
  • A fresh excitement about the future
  • A new group of life-long friends (all of whom have children in Heaven)
  • A grown daughter who makes me very proud
  • A soon to be son-in-law who we are thrilled to welcome into the family
  • The privilege of being a part of the While We're Waiting ministry

Am I still sad that Hannah is not here to share this day with me?  Of course.  There will always be a sadness in my heart ... at least until the day I see her again.  But that doesn't mean that I can't also have joy.  In fact, I think it's amazing that God created us with the capacity for both great sadness and great joy ... and we can even experience both at the same time.  Only He could do that, and I'm so glad He did.  

So tonight, I'm five birthdays closer to seeing Hannah again than I was when she left.  And that's the best birthday gift of the day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Five Things that Don't Comfort, and Five Things that Do

One part of the While We're Waiting ministry is a Facebook page which is dedicated to discussions about issues that bereaved parents deal with on a day-to-day basis.  It is a truly vibrant group of moms and dads, all of whom have children in Heaven, and all of whom are seeking to live well while they're waiting to be reunited with them one day.  It's a closed group, limited to just parents who have lost children, along with a very few others who are close friends of the While We're Waiting ministry, so it's a safe place to discuss things that others may not understand.

This past weekend, one of the moms on the page, Kimberly Hughes, whose son Drew went to Heaven this past July, posted a list that drew a number of comments from those on the page.  It appears that her list resonates with most, if not all of us, who have children in Heaven.  So, with her permission, I'm presenting her list to you as this month's Ten on the Tenth ...

Top 5 Things People Say That DON'T Comfort me:

5. "Everything happens for a reason"

4. "I know how you feel, I lost my grandmother, etc" Unless you have lost a child, you really don't know how I feel and that's a good thing- be thankful.

3. "At least you have two other sons"

2. "You are so strong. If I lost my child, I'd..." and you can fill in the rest. It makes me feel like you are implying your love for your child is stronger than mine. There is nobody anywhere in the world who loves their children MORE than I love mine- just FYI.

1. By far the worst one for me is "I've lost a child, too, and believe me it never gets better. People will say it does, but it doesn't." This I think is the worst. I think it implies I shouldn't have hope and it is a LIE. I AM better than I was when I couldn't breathe, didn't want to get out of bed and was completely numb and there IS hope for joy in my life again.

Top 5 Things People Say That DO Comfort Me

5. Any wonderful memories of Drew Hughes, especially stories of when he made others laugh or smile. That was his gift and I want his memory to be shared and kept alive.

4. "I think about and pray for you and your family often."

3. Lots of scripture including Corinthians 13:4-8, Psalm 34:18 and Isaiah 41:10

2. "God loves you and He is good. Trust that He will carry you through this."

1. "Drew is safe and secure and you will see and be with him again one day."

I think Kimberly hit the nail right on the head with her list, and I appreciate her willingness to let me share it with you.  I've posted similar types of lists before, but I think she has a unique perspective, especially since she is still in the early months of her grief journey.

As you think of families you know who have lost children during this Christmas season, please take a moment and lift them up before the Heavenly Father.  No matter how long it's been since someone's child went to Heaven, it's still a really tough time of the year.  Memories of Christmases past, gifts un-bought, watching intact families merrily enjoying the season, an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table ... the presence of that child's absence is enormous, and can be overwhelming.  The best gift you can give them is to let them know that you do remember their child, and that you are praying for them.  They will appreciate that more than they can ever say.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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 (which I enthusiastically participated in) and now it's time for Giving Tuesday.

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

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 hosted six weekend-long retreats for parents

...We've hosted three weekend-long retreats for Dads

...We've hosted eleven one-day mini-retreats for Moms

At these retreats we've ...

...Shared our children's stories

...Prayed for each other

...Eaten delicious food

...Cuddled baby bunnies, ridden a redneck carousel, flown down Slide Mountain, and zip lined across a pond

...Cried together and laughed together

...And encouraged one another to live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our kids in Heaven one day.

We've met parents from ...

...Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Florida, and Arkansas

We've 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.

And we've expanded our outreach...

...We have a vibrant, growing community of bereaved, but believing, parents participating on our Facebook page ("While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Parents")

...We have a monthly While We're Waiting faith-based support group meeting, which has been a great blessing to so many

...We have sent 58 Hope Packages to newly-bereaved parents just in the year 2013

And, most exciting of all, we are in the very early stages of a building project.  We believe God is leading us to build a facility which will be dedicated just to the While We're Waiting ministry.  This will be a lodge-style building on 50 acres, which will contain 8-10 private bedrooms with baths for retreat attendees to use.

Our desire is to create a warm, welcoming, safe place ... a refuge ... for parents who have lost children to come "home" to.  

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 especially as we undertake this building project, funds will be needed.  We do not charge for any of our events or for sending out the Hope Packages, although we do receive a love offering at our events.  We never want cost to be a prohibitive factor for anyone who would like to attend one of our retreats or receive a Hope Package.

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" -- 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.  If you prefer not to do online giving, you can send a check made out to While We're Waiting to this address:

While We're Waiting
c/o Jill Sullivan
307 Canon Lane
Malvern, Arkansas 72104

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 25, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Thankful for Salvation

As a school-based speech pathologist, I spend a lot of time walking students to and from my classroom.  At regular intervals throughout the day, I show up at various teachers' doors and say, "Time for my group!"  The kids jump up and join me in the hallway, all of them excitedly jabbering about some story they want to tell me.

One Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago, I called for my usual group of four kids from one of the second grade classrooms.  As soon as one of the little girls stepped out into the hallway, she excitedly told me, "Mrs. Sullivan ... I got saved last night!"  She said it so quickly, I really didn't catch what she said, so I asked her to repeat herself.  Her blue eyes literally glowed as she told me again, "I got saved last night!"  Oh, what a thrill!  I gave her a big hug and told her how proud I was of her for making such an important decision.  I loved how excited she was to tell me.  It was obvious that she'd been waiting for me to show up at the door just so she could share her good news.

The next week, I was walking that same group back to their classroom after our session and we passed one of the teacher's aides in the hallway ... someone that this little girl doesn't see every day.  She immediately stopped and called out the aide's name and said, "Guess what ... I got saved!"  That teacher also gave her a big hug and told her how happy she was for her.  This was clearly a big deal to her. I was impressed .... and a little ashamed.  This little girl was telling everybody she knew about what had happened in her life.  She was a far better witness for Christ than I usually am.

The following week, she told me that she had gotten baptized, and she asked me if I had been baptized.  When I told her I had, she grabbed my arm and hugged it, saying, "Now we're sisters in Christ."  My heart absolutely melted.  What joy this little girl had!

As I thought about this little girl, and what I believe is a true salvation experience for her, my heart was so happy.  This child does not come from a good home situation.  In fact, she told me something earlier this school year that caused me to go visit with the school counselor about her.  She is only in second grade.  I have no idea what she might encounter in the years ahead, but I suspect her life won't be easy.

But here's the thing.  Because she has Jesus in her heart, this little girl can face whatever lies ahead.  No matter what her future holds, she won't go through it alone.  I pray that she continues to hold fast to her faith as the years go by.

This little girl reminded me of another little girl who was saved and baptized about fourteen years ago.  And because of the decision she made at that time, she was able to face a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of sixteen.  She never got angry, she never asked why, and she never lost her faith as she engaged in a year-long battle for her life.  And because of that decision to follow Christ, she stepped into Heaven when that battle ended.  And because I made the same decision when I was a little girl, I will see her again one day.

And that is why, in this week of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for salvation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Observations from the Empty Nest

Whoops!  It's the 11th, isn't it?  Oh well, yesterday I was too busy with my little "chick" who was home for the weekend to post anyway.

I can't seem to go anywhere these days without someone asking me how we are doing with our empty nest.  So, here are a few observations I've made in the first three months of having an empty nest ...

1.  I only do laundry once, maybe twice, a week.  When Bethany was home, our washing machine was running pretty much every day because of all of her sweaty, smelly practice clothes and uniforms.

2.  Two people make a lot less trash than three people.  How can one person make such a difference?

3.  I do a lot less cooking when it's just the two of us at home.  In fact, I rarely turn on the oven.  Sandwiches, cereal, soup, carry-out pizza, and meals out meet our needs for sustenance.

4.  I do far less grocery shopping (see #3).

5.  I rarely run the dishwasher (see #3).

6.  I clean the house ... and it stays clean!  Especially Bethany's bathroom.  And her bedroom.  I kind of like that.

7.  I'm no longer running from sporting event to sporting event.  Most nights, I come home from work and I shut the garage door behind my car.  I can put on my pajama pants and relax at home for the evening.  Ahhhhh, bliss!

8.  Maybe because I'm no longer attending sporting events in person, I find myself much more interested in watching sports on TV.  And maybe because that's something Brad and I can enjoy doing together.  Speaking of which, we actually have time to enjoy doing things together again, just the two of us.  I like that, too.

9.  It is so much fun to sit back and watch Bethany grow into a responsible, mature young woman.  She's working hard and it's paying off in the form of excellent grades.  She is learning how to manage her time and how to discipline herself to study even when she'd rather do something else.  It's also wonderful to see her begin to appreciate her mom and dad a little more.  When I get texts from her thanking us for raising her the way we did and talking about how much she loves and misses us ... Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

10.  I'm beginning to see Bethany as an individual, someone separate and distinct from me, with her own unique gifts and talents and her own life to live.  Of course, intellectually, I've always known that, but my heart is starting to accept that as well.  And I can only rejoice in that!  I'm also beginning to see Brad and I as a couple again ... no longer as "just" our children's parents.  And that can only be a good thing.

Do I miss Bethany?  Of course I do.  Our house is so quiet without her here.  This past Halloweeen was the first time in 22 years that we haven't had a child at home for that occasion.  And this upcoming Christmas will be the last time we'll have a child at home on Christmas morning ... by next Christmas Bethany will be married.  Life is changing for the Sullivan family.

One thing, though, that makes it kind of fun to miss Bethany is the joyful anticipation of seeing her again.  She does not come home very often ... about once a month up to this point.  So it's a real treat when she does.  I get all excited and run to the grocery store to get the ingredients for her favorite foods and come home and cook them up.  She brings home a pile of dirty laundry and messes up that clean bedroom and bathroom.  We stay up late watching wedding shows on TV and talking about college life.  And before I know it, it's Sunday afternoon and she's hitting the road for "home", and our home is quiet and still once again.  And there's no sadness, because she's doing what she's supposed to be doing ... growing up and becoming the woman God wants her to be.

But the "missing" we have for Bethany is altogether different from the "missing" in our hearts for Hannah.  When Hannah left for Heaven, we experienced many of the things I listed above.  We had less laundry.  Her bed stayed made and her room stayed clean.  I no longer bought as many groceries as I used to.  But there was no joy to be found in these things, only emptiness and heartbreak.

There is one similarity, though, and that is the joyful anticipation of seeing her again.  Granted, it will probably be longer than a month before I see her again (although, if God wills, it could be much sooner).  Four and a half years ago, she hit the road for "home", and our nest became partially empty way before I ever thought it would.  But, just like Bethany, she is doing what she's supposed to be doing ... sitting around the throne, worshipping her Lord and Savior.

And though my nest may be empty, my heart is full ... because both of my girls are happy, and I will see them both again ... sooner or later.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting Weekend Recap

Wow.  It happened again.  We had an absolutely wonderful weekend with some amazing parents ... all of whom have children in Heaven.  These folks came from all over the country, and we were honored that they chose to come to Arkansas and share their precious children with us.  God blessed us with perfect fall weather ... crisp, cold mornings and bright blue afternoon skies without a cloud in sight.  Family Farm is beautiful in the fall, and everyone quickly made themselves at home.

We kicked off the weekend with a delicious meal together on Friday evening, and then began the process of sharing our children's stories.  There's nothing like sharing your child's story with other moms and dads who truly understand and who sincerely want to hear about your child.  

As the time grew late, we all headed to bed, waking up bright and early on Saturday morning for a good Southern-style breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, and biscuits and gravy.

After breakfast, it was back to sharing our stories for awhile, then we headed out to feed the animals.  We paused for a few moments on the front steps of the Lodge to put on the Armor of God (Family Farm style!), and then made our way to the barnyard.  "Daddy May" introduced us to all the animals by name, and then we got to visit with them ... up close and personal!

A few brave folks went for a ride on the "Redneck Carousel" ...

The Mays (who own Family Farm) shared their son's story at Salvation Station ...

We went back inside for a few more stories and a lunch from Chick-Fil-A.  Then it was back outside for some more outdoor activities.  

Slide Mountain ...

Islands ...

the Balance Log ...

a hay ride (which unfortunately was cut short by a flat tire) ...

and, of course, the zip line ...

We checked out the new Family Farm teepee ...

And enjoyed an incredible 5-course gourmet meal prepared and served by our very own professional chef ...

We spent the evening discussing issues that we all deal with as parents with children in Heaven ... things like how we handle birthdays, how we answer the dreaded question, "How many children do you have?", how we deal with the clumsy things well-meaning people often say to us, and how men and women grieve differently, along with a number of other topics.   

Our weekend wrapped up on Sunday morning with a devotional about how we can live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our children in Heaven one day followed by a time of praise and worship.  This is always the most moving time for me, as this group of people who has lost so much lift their voices in praise to their Savior.  Words cannot describe it.

Let me close with the words of a couple of our parents ...

Molly's mom said, "The most wonderful, caring people you will ever meet.  They will show you how living well while we wait is our act of obedience to Jesus and our way to honor our child in Heaven."

Melody's mom said, "This was such a blessing.  Thank you for helping us as we walk through our grief journey."

If you have a child in Heaven, we'd love to see you at our next While We're Waiting Weekend, which is scheduled for April 4-6, 2014.  Just click on the "Register for a While We're Waiting Event" tab above and sign up.  Our retreats fill up quickly, so don't wait!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Elusive JOY

Joy can be elusive, can't it?

Anyone who knows me well (or who has read this blog for awhile) knows that our family has kind of adopted the word JOY as our "word."  Hannah's middle name was Joy, and it's a sweet reminder of her.  It also represents our firm belief that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and is a reminder of the great joy our daughter is now experiencing in Heaven.  Hannah's former bedroom is now wall-to-wall JOY stuff, and has become one of my favorite places to be.

But sometimes in daily life, joy is hard to hold onto.

Birthday cakes with no one to blow out the candles, anticipation of the holiday season, and an empty chair at the table day after day and year after year ... these things can really put a dent in my joy ... like a dent the size of the Grand Canyon!

Some days this is what my joy looks like ...

And some days it's a little more like this ... (This may be my favorite picture of all time.)

But then, I get a note in the mail like the one I received on Hannah's birthday this week (you can tell that this is someone who knows my love for the word "JOY") ...

... And some of that joy comes back.

Joy can come from the smallest things ... like a note on a difficult day, a hug from an understanding friend, or even a beautiful sunset.  In fact, I believe that one of the best things we can do when we're hurting is to ...

Easier said than done, I know.  When we've suffered a great loss, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever find joy again.  But little by little, if we train ourselves to look for and name those little things that bring even the faintest glimmer of joy to our hearts ... gradually, bit by bit, inch by inch ... God faithfully begins to restore our joy.  

Is it hypocritical to try to conjure up joy in our hearts when we're just really not feeling it?  Take a look at this quote from the book "Kingdom of Love" by Hannah Hurnard.

"What about praising even when the disappointment feels very real? Does that mean we're faking it and fooling ourselves?  No. It means we're being obedient.  It is never hypocrisy to act as we earnestly desire to feel, even though the feeling may be very contrary at the time. Feelings follow action."

I really like that.  

And here's what I'm going to leave you with on this Thoughtful Thursday.  I've been thinking lately about this verse in the sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes (v. 20). 

"For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart." (NKJV)

I could spend a lot of time dwelling unduly on the days of my life ... and when I do that, it seems like that's when I lose my joy.  I'd much rather let God keep me busy with the joy of my heart.  And you know how it is when you're busy and your heart is full of joy ... time goes by fast.  And hey, that sounds pretty good to me!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- Five Birthdays in Heaven


How is it possible that Hannah has spent five birthdays in Heaven now?  It seems like just yesterday that we celebrated her 17th birthday together.

How is it possible that Hannah has only spent five birthdays in Heaven now?  It seems like forever since we celebrated her 17th birthday together.

As always, the days leading up to Hannah's birthday this year were harder than the actual day has been.  Friday was tough. I came home from work and baked Hannah's favorite birthday cake -- Mississippi Mud.  Baking a birthday cake for someone who's not going to be there is ... miserable, depressing, sickening.  As odd as it sounds, though, I think it would feel worse not to make a cake.  It's just something I've gotta do.

Saturday afternoon, we headed up to Briggsville to meet our daughter Bethany and her fiance' Brad, and to visit Hannah's grave.  Bethany and Brad were on fall break this weekend, but they had to attend a wedding in Fayetteville, so they didn't get in until late that night ... actually, it was about 1:00 that morning, but I stayed up to get a hug from my girl.  After all, it had been a month since I'd seen her last!

Sunday morning we got up and headed to the cemetery.  If you know me well (or you've read my blog for a long time), you know that I get no comfort from visiting Hannah's grave.  It's just a really hard place for me to be ... there's just too much reality there.  I do hope that some day that will be different, but for now, that's just the way it is.  For now, I do well to go twice a year (on her birthday and on her Heaven day).

We spent the rest of Sunday just relaxing and watching football and movies with Bethany and her Brad.  So nice.  And then I was off yesterday, so we were able to spend most of the day together, eating lunch out and doing a little shopping.  Of course, I had to share them with Brad's family too, so I grudgingly let them go spend some time with his folks last night.  ;-)

Today I headed back to work, but stopped by basketball practice afterwards to see Bethany work out with her former team.  So glad she was able to do that with them today ... she really enjoyed it!  She was able to scrimmage with them, but then was able to kick back and watch while they did line drills and conditioning exercises ... She especially liked that part!  Then she came home, took a shower, packed up her stuff, and hit the road back to Fayetteville.  Having her home really helped make the weekend brighter.

This is the first year I've actually worked on Hannah's birthday since she went to Heaven.  This morning, I purposely did not post anything about Hannah's birthday on Facebook, because I really didn't want my co-workers to know about it.  I wasn't sure if I could hold it together if anyone said anything to me about her birthday, and I was probably right.  Thankfully, no one seemed to know, except one sweet person who emailed me.  I still felt "different" all day ... as if everyone who saw me could surely tell just by looking at me that today was Hannah's birthday.  Sounds strange, even as I write it, but I really did feel that way.

What a blessing it was to get home and see that many people had already recognized that it was her birthday and written sweet comments and posts.  I then posted a status about her birthday, and have been watching the comments roll in while I've written this blog post.  To say that I'm overwhelmed by the prayers offered up on behalf of our family and the kind remembrances of my Hannah Joy is a completely inadequate statement.  I am completely blown away, and I am so grateful.  Our family has been so blessed to have such wonderful people in our lives.

So, five years.  Hannah would be 22 years old today.  She would no longer be a girl, but a woman.  She would be a senior in college.  Would would her major be?  Would she be engaged, married?  What would her career plans be ... or would she be planning to be a stay-at-home mom to my grandchildren?  How would she be impacting the world for Christ?

Oh, wait.  I know the answer to that last one.  And I have to believe her impact for Christ is far greater now than it ever would have been if she were here celebrating her 22nd birthday with us.  Does that make me miss her any less?  No.  If I had the option of bringing her back, would I do it?  Yes.  I suppose it's a good thing God doesn't give us that option.  Because His plan is greater than mine, and He knows what is best.  And for that, I can only be grateful.

But oh, how I miss my girl ...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Praising in Prison

"...they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.  And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, 'These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.  They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.' The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep the safely.  Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them ..."  Acts 16:19b-25

Paul and Silas were in a rough spot.

They really hadn't done anything wrong.  They were serving God, witnessing to people, casting out evil spirits ... Sounds to me like they were doing everything right.  And what was their reward?

They were dragged before the authorities, falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with rods, thrown into prison, and fastened in stocks.  Some reward.

And yet, what did they do, there in the darkness of prison?  They prayed and sang hymns to God.

Reading this passage the other day, I was reminded of how we always close our While We're Waiting Weekends for Parents.  On Sunday morning, before we all head our separate ways, we spend about 30 minutes having a time of praise and worship.  This is always a very moving time for me, because I know the immense cost of these parents' praise.  These are folks who were just going along through their lives and were blindsided by unthinkable tragedy. They've been stripped of everything, beaten, and thrown into a "prison" of pain and heartache.  And yet they lift their voices in praise.  It's a beautiful thing.

But there's more.  Look at the very end of verse 25 ... " and the prisoners were listening to them."  When those of us who have suffered great loss lift our voices in praise, people take notice.  We have an opportunity to share our faith ... in a way that most folks don't ... simply because of the fact that we've suffered.  Like Paul and Silas, we just have to be prepared for these opportunities, whatever our circumstances.

"...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..."  I Peter 3:15

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Surprises for Hannah

Hannah's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, which always has a tendency to put me in a bit of a melancholy mood.  She would be 22 years old on the 22nd of this month ... her "golden birthday", as we used to call it when we were kids.  And what's more striking than that to me is that this will be the fifth birthday she is spending in Heaven.  How is it possible that that much time has passed since we celebrated her 17th birthday here on earth?  And honestly, it was hard to "celebrate" her 17th birthday, because we knew that, without a miracle, it would be the last one we would enjoy with her here.

I've been thinking lately about things that have happened since Hannah's last earthly birthday ... things she would be surprised by if she knew about them.  And who knows ... maybe she does!  So, here are ten things that I think would really surprise my girl ...

1.  Probably her biggest surprise would be finding out that her "baby" sister, Bethany, is engaged ... and to one of her old friends and classmates.  I can just see her smiling and shaking her head about that.  She'd be thrilled.

2.  She'd also be surprised that that same baby sister won a state championship in both high jump and softball her senior year.  As her biggest fan, Hannah would be very proud of her!

3.  She'd be shocked to know that her dad has a new job ... as Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Fountain Lake Schools.  She'd be proud of him, too!

4.  She would be surprised (and excited) to find out that she has a new cousin on the way!!  Yes, her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Byron are going to break from Sullivan tradition, and have a third baby.  Maybe, after eight girls, we'll finally get our boy.  Now that would be a surprise to all of us!

5.  She would be surprised (and dismayed) by the current state of our government.

6.  She would be surprised by the prevalence of technology today.  The first generation iPhone had only been out about a year when she turned 17, and the iPad was still a figment of Steve Jobs's imagination.

7.  She would be surprised by all the mutations American Idol has gone through, the fact that there is no more John & Kate Plus Eight, and the popularity of Duck Dynasty (which she would love, by the way)!

8.  She would be surprised that so many people have heard about her and her story.  She was never one to seek the spotlight, and she would be shocked (but pleased) to know that the story of her faith in the face of cancer had touched so many lives.

9.  She would be surprised by the ministry of While We're Waiting, and that the cornerstone of that ministry is the retreats we host for bereaved parents.  She, more than probably anyone else, knows that I've never been a "retreat person" ... as a natural introvert, I've never enjoyed big get-togethers, especially with a bunch of people I've never met!  But that leads into #10 ...

10.  She would be surprised to see how God has changed her mom, dad, and sister over the last five years.  How our perspective has changed from the temporary to the eternal, and how our priorities have been completely and totally altered.  How we've come to understand what the Bible means by "The peace that passes understanding", and how God has used the prayers of others to carry us on the days that we couldn't walk on our own.  And how we spend each day looking forward to the day we'll see her again ... but in the meantime, how God continues to help us live well while we're waiting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

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

Awesome things happen when a group of bereaved, but believing, Dads spend a weekend together.  These guys gathered at an old farmhouse in rural Yell County, Arkansas, on Friday evening and headed their separate ways on Sunday morning.  They spent time riding four-wheelers, eating, hunting for arrowheads, eating, sitting around the pond, eating, and talking about their kids and their Savior.  Brad's mom sent her world-famous German chocolate cake, and from the sound of it, it was very well received.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend ...

I've often wished I could be a fly on the wall at one of these Dads' weekends.  But, you know, I really don't need to be there to know what a great time they have ... I can see the difference in my husband when he comes home from one of these things.

And then there's this.  One of the dads wrote a note to Brad and Larry at the end of the weekend, and with his permission, I would like to share it here.

"I want to thank you for this weekend.  I know so much more will come to me as I process these moments over the next couple of weeks, months, and years to come.  But, these are the immediate take- aways that I will leave with today:  1) I'm not alone in this walk, 2) the opportunity to bring my son alive in the open discussions and just saying his name aloud again, and 3) ways to move forward in my life but, more importantly, my faith. Thanks again and God bless you."

I think this dad pretty much summed it up.  I'm so thankful and humbled that God has allowed us to be part of a unique ministry like this.

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17 ESV

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Through the Cross

Hmmmm ... It's been awhile since I've posted, hasn't it?  We've been busy, busy, busy with While We're Waiting events.  In fact, Brad and Larry just returned home yesterday from a While We're Waiting Weekend for Dads.

I hope to post more about their weekend tomorrow, but for now, I want to share just one thing.  One of the dads who came brought along a special gift for Brad and Larry.  Here's what Brad's looks like.

The front ...

And the back ...

The back is so shiny, it was hard to take a picture without my phone reflecting in it.

Larry's is the same, except it says "Adam Lee Brown" on the back.

The gift was accompanied by a note, explaining that when this dad's son died, a friend gave him one of these.  The dad wrote that it gave him great comfort ... "perhaps it was a constant reminder of both God's and my love for my son."

Don't you love that?  I sure do.

As Brad and I sat on the deck last night talking about the weekend, our conversation turned to this pocket cross.  He said that the dads talked about it on Sunday morning ... how when you look at it, it's like seeing your child through the cross.  

Through the cross ... I had to think about that for a minute.  Oh, I really love that.

When I "see" Hannah these days, I "see" her in Heaven ... healed, whole, happy.  A gloriously transformed, yet somehow the same, version of the girl I used to see here.  But she would not be there, nor would I have any hope of ever seeing her again ... if it weren't for the cross.  If it weren't for a God who was willing to sacrifice His own son ... for her and for me ... and for you.

And I stand amazed (and so grateful), as I gaze at my Hannah Joy through the cross.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Laughter

A couple weeks ago, we met three other couples for dinner on a Saturday evening.  We knew we wanted to have the opportunity to really visit, so we purposely chose a restaurant which is typically not very busy and does not play loud music.

The waitstaff pulled together a couple of tables right in the middle of the restaurant so we could all be seated together.  We had all met previously, but all eight of us had never been together at the same time before, and most of us didn't know each other well at all.  Nonetheless, as soon as we were seated, we began talking, and the waitress had to return a couple of times before we were ready to order because we were too busy visiting to look over the menus.

We had chosen the restaurant well, because it was quiet and uncrowded ... perfect for a relaxing dinner and conversation.  The food was delicious, but secondary to the richness of the fellowship.  It's a good thing there weren't very many people there that evening, because I'm afraid we might have disturbed them with our frequent outbursts of loud laughter.

Three hours later, we finally pushed our chairs back and prepared to leave.  The restaurant would be closing soon, and we all needed to be getting home.  We said our good-byes in the parking lot and headed our separate ways.

If you had asked any of the patrons in the restaurant that evening what our group was doing there, they might have thought we were there celebrating someone's birthday.  Or maybe we were a group of lifelong friends enjoying an evening out on the town.  Or perhaps we were members of the same extended family, reunited for the evening.

Actually, that final guess would have been the closest.  Although the four of us couples were not related in any way, we were all part of the same family.  First and foremost, we were all members of the family of God.  But we were also members of another family ... a family no one wants to be a member of ... parents who are waiting to be reunited with their children in Heaven.  All of us were at least three years along on the road of grief.

I'm pretty sure no one who observed us visiting and laughing in that restaurant that evening would have guessed that that was the bond between us!

But that's the way it is when Christian parents who have lost children get together.  We have a bond that is instantaneous and incredibly strong.  And what may be most mystifying to those looking on, we have a surprising ability to laugh together.  Yes, we have a deep sadness ... yes, we miss our children ... but we have assurance that we will see them again.  And because of that hope, we can still smile and laugh.  And I think this is what our children would have us do while we're waiting.   

Job 8:21 (NIV) -- "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Observations from the Hiking Trail

Now that we are "empty nesters", and no longer running from high school sporting event to high school sporting event, we have picked up a new hobby ... hiking.  We usually hike with our friends, the Browns, but occasionally go alone.  We don't go on really long hikes ... generally somewhere between 4-6 miles ... just enough to work up a good sweat and get the ol' heart rate up.

So for this month's Ten on the Tenth ... here are a few observations I've made while hiking over the last few weeks.  Some of these thoughts are a little more profound than others ...

1.  "You are here" signs on a trail have absolutely no meaning to me.

2.  Men hike faster than women.  Especially when the women are talking the whole time.  This is our usual view.

3.  The first few times I hiked, I realized that I had a tendency to hike with my eyes on the trail.  I didn't want to step on a loose rock and twist my ankle, or brush up against my nemesis, poison ivy.  But if I keep my eyes on the trail all the time, I miss the beauty around me.  I don't see the big picture and I miss out on things like this ...

I have a tendency to do that in life, too ... focusing on just the narrow little area immediately around me ... and when I do that, I sure do miss out on a lot of good stuff.

4.  Hiking is easier with a friend.  The other day, Brad and I went hiking together on a trail that we had previously hiked with the Browns.  As I huffed and puffed my way up the incline, I asked him, "Are you sure this is the same trail we hiked with the Browns?  I don't remember it being this hard!"  "Of course it is!" he replied, and I realized that when I'm hiking with my friend Janice, nothing seems as hard.  So thankful for those God-given friends along life's journey!

5.  Water is essential while hiking.  I'm not much of a water drinker normally, but I carry my water bottle while hiking and take regular sips.  But I sure get tired of carrying that bottle around.  One day we won't have to carry water bottles anymore ... "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  Mmmmm ... can't wait.

6.  MapMyRun is a nifty little app.  Sure is encouraging to hear that lady call out every mile you've completed and nothing makes you want to hike faster than hearing that her telling you what your split time is. 

7.  Referring back to #3, I've noticed that if I look too far ahead down the trail, I can get discouraged.  This is especially true when we're climbing up a steep incline.  If it goes up, up, up as far as I can see, I suddenly become a lot more tired, my feet start dragging, and pretty soon I'm ready to give up.  If I concentrate on conquering a little bit at a time, I do much better.

8.  Maybe because it's been so hot lately, the gnats and mosquitos on the trail have been vicious.  Why is it that they want to buzz right in front of your eyes and in your ears?  And no amount of swatting can drive them away.  Reminds me of all the things that distract us along our daily walk, not to mention the relentless attacks of Satan that can wear us down.  

9.  I know better than to go hiking alone.  If I did, I would probably never find my way home (See #1).  I might spend days wandering Deaf Chief Trail.  (Yes, there really is a Dead Chief Trail.)   Those trails go off in all kinds of different directions.  I need a guide to keep me on the right trail.  Just like in real life.

10.  Hiking is more fun when there is the promise of a reward.  It could be a beautiful view ...

or an ice cream cone at the end of the hike.  And these rewards can't even begin to compare with what awaits us at the end of our life's hike!  Hmmmm ... I wonder what the view is like from Heaven?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Being "On"

This past Saturday, we had the great joy of hosting another While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms.  Once again, the day was a huge blessing, not only for the moms who attended, but for me personally.  Due to a variety circumstances, we ended up having the smallest group we've ever had ... but it really didn't matter.  In fact, because we had a small group, we were able to really relax and take the day at a slower pace than usual.

It's always interesting to me to see how God brings a particular group of people together.  On this particular day, we had a group of moms whose losses had been relatively high-profile losses.  All of us, in one way or another, were forced to deal with the loss of our children in a somewhat public way.  So for us, there was comfort to be found in just relaxing and sharing honestly together.

One of moms summed it up when she said, "It's so nice not to have to be 'on.'"  And I knew exactly what she meant.  I really don't feel that way so much anymore at 4 1/2 years out, but in the early days, weeks, and months after Hannah's death, I felt like I was always being watched.  Because we had taken a strong stand of faith as we dealt with her cancer, using "God is good all the time" as our daily motto ... lots of folks were watching us, waiting to see if our faith would crumble after our prayers for healing were not answered the way we had desired.

And because of that, I dutifully played the role of the strong Christian woman in public, even in the face of devastating loss and disappointment.  Now please don't misunderstand ... I never did lose my faith or doubt God's goodness ... but there were many, many, many days that I did not feel strong or Christlike.  But because I knew it was expected of me, I presented my happy face to the world and kept all the ugly painful stuff hidden away.  There were times when I longed to go to a place where no one knew me and I didn't have to keep my chin up all the time.  It was only with other bereaved parents that I could truly be honest and real.

I know I'm not the only one who has felt this way.  I think all of us do it to some extent ... some more than others.  Some of us get really, really good at it ... I'm thinking of lots of the bereaved parents I know who are incredibly good at hiding their hurts from the world.  This becomes a very heavy burden over time.

It seems that maybe this is just part of life for parents who have lost children, but God certainly does not require it of us.  In fact, Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30).

God never intended for us to carry this kind of burden.  Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved."  We need to let Him carry that burden of being "on" for us ... He promises that He will sustain us and keep us steady.

Does that mean that it's appropriate to spill our pain out on everyone we encounter?  No, I don't think so ... there's probably no quicker way to run off our friends and acquaintances.  But I think we need to continuously cast our burden on the Lord, and find a few Christian friends we can trust to pray for us, encourage us, and listen to us without judging us.  Most of the time, but not always, these friends will be people who have experienced losses similar to ours ... and may be a few miles farther down the road than we are.

That's what the While We're Waiting events provide ... a safe place to share our deepest hurts without fear of judgment.  Caring people who want to hear about our children and look at their pictures.  And a reminder that our pain is not for nothing ... that God is still in control and that there is hope for the future.  A place where, for awhile at least, we don't have to be "on" ... and where we can gain strength for the next step of the journey.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- "Until Then"

At our While We're Waiting events, we always spend a lot of time talking about all the things we're looking forward to about Heaven ... meeting Jesus in person, wrapping our arms around child's neck (and holding on for a REALLY long time), getting caught up with other loved ones, and enjoying that whole "no more tears" thing.

But in our WWW support group meeting last night, we spent some time talking about what we're supposed to do until then.  A long time ago, the children of Israel were wondering the same thing.

Our Scripture reference was from Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 10-11.  Here's what it says ...

"These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ... 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent  you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  For thus says the Lord:  When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'"

The Israelites found themselves in a very uncomfortable place.  They were in captivity, in exile, in a foreign land, and they had no idea how long they were going to be there.  They hoped that eventually they would be freed, but they didn't know what they were supposed to do until then.  The prophet Jeremiah sent them this letter to tell them that it was going to be awhile (70 years to be exact), and that they needed to settle in for the long haul.

As parents who have lost children, I think everyone in our group last night could relate to these folks.  We are in an uncomfortable, difficult situation ... a place we never thought we would be ... a place that feels foreign to us, where everything is new and different and we don't like it.  We feel like we've been exiled from the life we once had, and we just want things back the way they were.  We know that someday this "captivity" will end ... when we get to Heaven ... but what are we supposed to do until then?

Well, Jeremiah, under God's direction, gave the people of Israel some pretty good advice.  Basically, it was, "Settle in, because it's going to be awhile.  Build houses, plant gardens, enjoy your family ... find joy in life."  We don't know how long we have here ... for some of us, it could be a matter of days, for others, it could be decades.  Whichever it is, I don't think God wants us to waste that time.  Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10b), and I think that is still possible, even if our life hasn't turned out the way we thought it might.

Jeremiah also told them (and us) to seek the welfare of the city where they'd been sent.  How do we do that?  I think we can do that by finding our place of service.  I've come to believe over the last few years that God wants us to heal, and reaching out and serving others right where we are is one of the best ways to do that.  That's a great way to make the world around us better.

God made the Israelites a promise ... that their time of exile would eventually end.  And at the conclusion of their captivity, He would bring them back home.  He also assures them that He has a plan for their good and not for evil, plans to give them a future and a hope.

He makes that same promise to us today.  We have a future and a hope.  Our exile will come to an end, and when it's over, He'll take us home to Heaven.  Our job is just to keep on living ... trusting Him and serving Him, until then.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Missing My Girl

Well, it's official.  Bethany's been away from home longer than she's ever been away before.  It's been nine days since we've seen her.  She started classes at the U of A today, and she's already called me and told me all about them.  So far, it seems that her biggest dilemma is going to be deciphering her music lit professor's Serbian accent.  She said she couldn't understand a word he said and his slides were blurry so she couldn't read them.  (We did have her eyes checked this summer, and the doc said she has 20/20 vision.  Hmmmmm.....)  The bright spot of her day was finding out that the guy sitting right behind her used to be a classmate of hers in elementary school in El Dorado.  On a campus with more than 24,000 students, that's pretty amazing.

I bet that, based on the title of this post, you thought I was going to write about missing Bethany.  Would you think me a bad mother ... if I said that I don't really miss her?  I mean, I miss her, but I don't miss her, if that makes any sense at all.  And no one is more surprised about that than me.  For all my big talk about how this separation was going to be so different from our separation with Hannah, I really thought I'd still miss Bethany an awful lot.

But I've heard from Bethany several times a day every day since she's been gone.  She's texted me lots of pictures of herself doing fun things with "Other Brad" and we've talked on the phone nearly every day.  She's been having the time of her life.  And, you know what?  I've had a really good time, too.  Brad and I have been hiking twice with our friends, the Browns.  We've gone out to eat with other friends.  We've had some quiet evenings at home just watching TV.  I'm not spending time cleaning house, because it's staying clean!  I'm not doing laundry all the time, because two people just don't make that many dirty clothes.  Honestly, it's been kind of nice!

So what's with the title of this post?  Well, for some reason, Bethany's transition to college has made me miss Hannah more.  I can't quite figure out why, but a lot of the old sadness has surfaced recently.  I think it's a number of things ... I'm sad that Hannah never got to experience what Bethany is experiencing now.  I'm sad that Hannah can't text me pictures of what she's seeing and doing in Heaven.  I'm sad that I never get to hear her voice or her laugh over the phone.  I'm sad that she's not going to be coming home next weekend after the football game.  I'm sad that Hannah never got to see what life was like after the age of seventeen.  I'm sad that the last year of her life was spent in the grip of cancer.  I'm sad that she never got to experience a love like Brad and Bethany's.  And I'm sad for me ... I just miss her.

You know, one of the nice things about Bethany being gone is the excited anticipation I feel about seeing her again.  And that will be in exactly five days (not that I'm counting :) ), when she comes home after Saturday's Razorback game.  Then she'll head back to school, and I can eagerly look forward to seeing her again on September 14th, when we'll be coming to Fayetteville for a ball game.  Our separation will make seeing her again just that much more sweet.

And really, that's how it will be with Hannah, too.  It's different in that I can't count a specific number of days until I see her again ... I have no idea how long it may be.  Could be tomorrow, could be forty years from now.  But I do know this ... the long separation we've had is sure going to make for a sweet, sweet reunion.  And that reunion will last forever ... we'll never be separated again.  What a beautiful thought!

A few pics from Bethany's first week at college ... Going to church with her sweet fiance' ...

Going to a drive-through zoo ...

Settling into her dorm room ...

Getting crafty ...

And getting a quick visit from her dad when he came to northwest Arkansas for a funeral ...

So thankful that she has the opportunity to experience all of this.  We are truly blessed.