Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting Moms' Mini-Retreat

On Saturday, my friend Janice and I hosted our seventh While We're Waiting Mom's Mini-Retreat.  Once again, the day was an indescribable blessing.  The strep throat/stomach bug kept a few of our moms from coming, so our group was small ... but, as always, God brought exactly the right group of women together.  Why am I always so amazed that He does that?  I really should be used to it by now.

Our moms had a range of stories ... some of us had lost sons, and some had lost daughters.  One had lost her child seventeen years ago, and two had lost their children less than six months ago.  Some of our kids were lost in car accidents, one on a foreign battlefield, and two to long-term illnesses.  But all of us agreed on one thing ... that our children weren't really "lost" at all.  We knew exactly where they were.  And because of that, we were able to smile and laugh through our tears.

The story of the day is always best told through pictures.

We always have a sparkly winter theme for our January Moms' Mini-Retreat.  Our wonderful decorating ladies always do such a fantastic job, and are we so thankful for what they do to make the day special.

 Look at our beautiful table...

And look how pretty these little birds are, perched throughout the wintry branches...

And hanging on the back of each chair (you know I love these)...

We spent the morning sharing our kids' stories and the afternoon discussing topics relevant to bereaved moms.  The moms thoroughly enjoyed the massages they received from our amazing massage therapist.  Then it was time for dinner, which is always the highlight of the day.

Our appetizer was a mini chicken enchilada...

The salad was Bibb lettuce with mandarin oranges and almonds, drizzled with an orange poppy seed dressing...

Then, to cleanse our palates, an intermezzo of blood orange sorbet...

The appetizer was a traditional Italian chicken parmigiana on a bed of angel hair pasta, with real shaved parmesan on top.  I have to tell the truth here ... I forgot to take a picture of mine until I had nearly polished it all off ... so I had to take a picture of my neighbor's plate.  She had already eaten a good bit of hers also, but we managed to turn the plate to where it looked somewhat presentable...

And, the piece d' resistance, the dessert.  This dessert was actually created by our chef's daughter, and was some sort of combination of brownie, cookie, chocolate ganache, whipped cream, and baklava ice cream.  Oh yeah, it was every bit as good as it sounds, and even better than it looks.

Finally, a picture of our moms.  Women who have endured unimaginable pain, and by the grace of God, are surviving.  Courageous women, whose greatest fear has come to pass, and who continue to trust God.  Strong women, who carry an immense burden, yet still reach out to help others.  Broken-hearted women, who still find a way to smile because of the promise of eternity with their children and their Savior.

With permission, I share this quote from one of these moms ... "I felt more healing yesterday than I have since July 29, 2011, when my son Matt went to Heaven.  God has blessed those of us who have found While We're Waiting."  I couldn't think of a better way to sum up the day.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Random Thoughts

Just a few of the thoughts running through my head this evening...

1.  Ever since my dream about Hannah the other night, I've been wondering why God gave me such an incredibly detailed dream, and then allowed me to fall back to sleep and forget so much of it.  I mean, Hannah and I had such a deep conversation about so many things, and it's just gone.  But maybe, just maybe, she told me TOO much ... things I'm not supposed to know yet.  That's probably not very theologically sound, but who knows?  It's just something I've been thinking about.

2. The other day, Brad and I were driving to a memorial service for the daughter of a dear friend, and he said, "Do you realize that Bethany has now outlived Hannah?"  I almost said, "No she hasn't!", but then stopped to think about it.  For some reason, I've just had in my head that when Bethany hits 18, that's when she'll be older than Hannah.  Well, duh.  As I thought about it, I realized that we had Hannah with us for approximately 17 years and 4 months, and Bethany is now 17 years and 7 months old.  How is it possible that my younger child is now older than my older child ever was?  Something else to think about.

3.  The twelfth season of American Idol started this week.  When Hannah was with us, our lives seemed to revolve around this show.  What sweet memories I have of the hours we spent watching it together, voting for hours after each episode, going to the concerts, and getting the contestants' autographs.  What would Hannah think about this new panel of judges?  At the age of 21, would she even care about watching it anymore?  And just now, as I'm typing this, I'm realizing she wouldn't even be here to watch it with me ... she'd be watching it from her dorm room at OBU.  Hmmmm ... another interesting thought.

4.  This Saturday, we'll be hosting our seventh While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms.  We have a wonderful group of moms who will be coming to share their kids' stories and to spend the day visiting with other moms who understand.  As always, I'm so excited to see what God has in store for the day.  He never fails to show up in a big way.  I can't tell you what a gift these mini-retreats have been for me personally.  I learn something new every time.  And I'm always humbled by the fact that God chooses to allow me to be a part of this ministry.  Definitely a thankful thought this evening!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Mourning -- I Dreamed a Dream

No, this is not a post about Les Miserables ... although I would like to see that movie sometime soon.  I don't think I'll be able to drag Brad to it ... musicals are not exactly his thing.  I may just wait until it comes out on video and watch it all by myself on my couch in front of the fire in my pajama pants.  Sounds like the perfect evening to me!

I've only dreamed about Hannah twice since she went to Heaven in February of 2009.  In the first dream, which was not long after her death, she actually didn't appear ... It was just Bethany and I roaming through the forests of Heaven looking for her.  Sounds strange, I know, but the striking thing about that dream is that we weren't in any hurry to find her.  We knew we had all of eternity ahead of us, so there was no urgency in our search.  We were just enjoying the hunt, and talking about what it would be like when we found her.

The second time was in July of 2010.  I remember the date because I blogged about it.  In that dream, she was sitting on her bed, healthy and whole, and we just talked for awhile.  I couldn't even remember what we talked about ... but I did remember the overwhelming joy of hearing her voice and seeing the glow of Heaven on her face.

I've always wished I would dream about her more.  It's a yearning that's hard to describe.  I've even asked God to give me dreams about her from time to time,but in His providence, He has not seen fit to grant that request.

Until last weekend, that is.  We were spending the night at my parents' house, where we had been enjoying some post-Christmas family time before the break ended.  I awoke with a start early on Sunday morning, my head filled with a dream about Hannah.  She and I had had a long and detailed conversation, and it was all very clear in my head.  I laid awake and reveled in the memory of my dream ... I could see her and hear her and smell her and feel her ... almost as if she were in the room with me.  If I had been at home, I probably would've gotten up and written down the details of the dream, just to be sure I wouldn't forget them.  But I didn't want to get up and disturb everyone, and it was close to morning, so I decided I'd just stay awake and review it over and over in my mind to make sure I remembered it all.

And then I fell asleep!  And when I woke up a few hours later, I didn't even remember that I'd had a dream! It wasn't until later that morning, when Bethany started to tell me about a dream she'd had, that it all came rushing back to me.  Well, not all ... sadly, I remembered only bits and pieces of it.  But those bits and pieces were enough to bring me great joy.

Just like in the last dream, Hannah was healthy and beautiful, strong and confident.  She appeared to be the age she should be now -- about 21 years old.  There was an exquisite glow about her that is impossible to describe in words.  She spoke with a peace and wisdom that was remarkable.  If only I could remember everything she said!  This much I do remember ... I asked her to tell me what Heaven was like, and she smiled (almost condescendingly) and said that our language did not have adequate words to describe it.  She assured me that it was beyond anything I could imagine and that she was very happy there.  I remember feeling as if I were the child and she were the parent, because of the authority with which she spoke.  The other details of our conversation are unfortunately lost to my memory.

Here's the other striking thing about the dream.  I knew the whole time I was talking to her that she wasn't here to stay ... that she was going to have to return to Heaven when our long conversation ended.  And, amazingly, I was okay with that.  I didn't feel the need to cling to her and beg her to stay.  I knew she needed to go back ... that Heaven is her real home now ... and that I had no claim on her.

Do I think that Hannah actually appeared and spoke to me?  Absolutely not.  This was a dream, and nothing more.  But I do believe this dream was a gift from God, and I am so grateful for it.  And I've also come to realize that the very rarity of these dreams about Hannah may also be a gift.  If I had dreams like this all the time, I'm sure I wouldn't appreciate them as much.  As it is, each time I dream a dream of Hannah, it is a treasure to be savored.  So, even if it takes another year and a half, I'm sure it will be worth the wait.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Whether By Life or By Death

I've never been much of a New Year's resolution maker, but I do like to start a new type of daily devotional plan each year.  In 2012, I tackled the Professor Horner's Bible Reading System, which involved reading ten chapters of the Bible each day.  It wasn't always easy, but somehow I managed to make it through the entire year of the plan.  And I believe it was well worth it ... I probably have a much broader knowledge of the Bible than I've ever had before.

This year, I've decided to do something different.  During the year that Hannah battled cancer, she was reading "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers as her daily devotional.  As I finally cleaned out her bedroom nearly two years after her death, that book was still sitting on her bedside table next to her clock radio.  I remember thinking at that time that I wanted to read that book someday, wondering what it might be like to read those daily excerpts through the eyes of a teenage girl diagnosed with cancer.  But I set it aside ... not quite emotionally ready for that.

Well, that's the book I've decided to use as my devotional guide this year.  I was actually a few days late getting started because of some post-Christmas celebrating with my family in northern Arkansas.  I finally picked it up a few days ago and decided to read two days at a time until I got caught up.

And I couldn't believe the topics for the first two days of January.

The Scripture passage for January First was Philippians 1:20:  "...my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death." (Italics mine.)

Whew!  What a verse for a girl who is fighting cancer!  The devotional for that day goes on to say, "But before we choose to follow God's will, a crisis must develop in our lives...If a crisis has come to you on any front, surrender your will to Jesus absolutely and irrevocably."

The Scripture passage for January Second was Hebrews 11:8:  "He went out, not knowing where he was going."  The devotional says, "...think about how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is!  Let the attitude of your life be a continual willingness to 'go out' in dependence upon God, and your life will have a sacred and inexpressible charm about it that is very satisfying to Jesus."

As I read these two devotionals, I couldn't help but picture my girl reading them in her bedroom at night, and thinking about how they applied to her own life.  And she did apply them!  By the grace of God, she was able to magnify Christ both in her life and in her death.  She followed Him in faith, not knowing where her cancer journey was going to lead her, but in continual willingness to depend on Him.  It's enough to make a mom step back in awe of her own child.  I pray that I may be found as faithful.

And that's what I'm thinking about on this Thoughtful Thursday.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wacky Wednesday -- Almost Human!

Before we get to the wackiness that is Wednesday, I just wanted to point out a couple of additions to the blog.  Check out the tabs right above this post.  I've added a page where you can register for any of the While We're Waiting retreats directly from this blog, rather than having to go to the WWW website.  I've also added a page where you can request that a "Hope Package" be sent to any newly-bereaved parent, even yourself, if you unfortunately find yourself in that situation.  I've also added a page with information about the new While We're Waiting support group being formed in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Just click on these tabs for more information.

And now for the wackiness.  Saw this video on Facebook and just had to share.  So cute.  (Click on the middle of the picture to play the video.)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- Introducing the While We're Waiting Bereaved Parent Support Group

You never know what sending an email might lead to.  You know what I mean -- when you feel like God is prompting you to do something -- like make a call, write a note, give a gift, cook a meal, or even just to send an email.  It's so easy to say, "I'm just too busy", or "I'll do that tomorrow", or "Somebody else will do that." Believe me, I've made those kinds of excuses many, many times.

I'm so glad my friend Joan obeyed that prompting the other day.  She sent me an email about one of my recent blog posts that contained some encouraging words for me.  I read it right before I got on the treadmill for my morning walk.  I always read while I'm on my treadmill, but on this particular morning, I couldn't focus on my book.  Her words just kept coming back to me.

And God used those few words to kick-start a whole new area of ministry for While We're Waiting.  For some time now, the WWW board has been mulling over the idea of starting a support group for bereaved parents.  But as much as we've discussed it, we just hadn't been able to pull the trigger to get it started.  There were so many questions.  How often would we meet?  Where would we meet?  What would we discuss at our meetings?  Who would come?  And most of all ... How could we possibly find even one night a month that we would have available to consistently meet with my husband's hectic schedule as a high school principal?

But as I walked that morning with my friend's encouraging words running through my mind ... it all started to become clear.  We could do this!  We could meet on Wednesday nights ... Duh!  That's the one night a week that a principal has no responsibilities ... well, unless there's a basketball tournament or something.  I guess I should say he rarely has responsibilities on Wednesday nights.  And to keep people from missing their own church services every Wednesday night, we'd meet just once a month.  And since our home church (Hot Springs Baptist Church) has prayer meeting on Wednesday night and is already open, what more logical place for our meetings?  Who would come?  Why, anyone within driving distance of Hot Springs who has lost a child, whether they've attended any other While We're Waiting events or not.  There are even children and youth activities available if they want to bring their children along.  And as for what we will discuss ... Each meeting will be based around a particular Scripture passage and will address a specific topic faced by grieving parents.  Some of the material may come directly from this blog.  In that one-hour walk on the treadmill, every single question was somehow answered.

As with all of our While We're Waiting events, our goal at these meetings will be to point grieving parents to our only true source of comfort, Jesus Christ.  Although our topics of discussion may be painful, and tears will be inevitable, our desire will be to honor God by seeking how we can live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our children some day.

The support group will be facilitated by my husband and I, along with Larry and Janice Brown, the co-founders of While We're Waiting.  I should say here that none of us has any training in grief counseling, and attending this group should not be viewed as a substitute for professional counseling.  We are just parents who are walking this road of grief, a few years ahead of some folks, and decades behind others.  That's why I use the term facilitating ... We will all be learning from each other.

The formation of this group in Hot Springs is actually just the first step in what we believe is a God-given dream.  Our dream is that one day, there will be While We're Waiting "chapters" hosting similar support groups all around the state of Arkansas ... and maybe even someday around the nation.  To my knowledge, there is no nationwide faith-based support group just for parents who have lost children.  God willing, we would love for While We're Waiting to fill that gaping hole.

So ... When are we going to start?  Soon.  This month, in fact.  The While We're Waiting Support Group will meet on the last Wednesday night of every month, starting in January.

The first meeting of the While We're Waiting Support Group will be January 30th, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., at Hot Springs Baptist Church located at 144 Weston Road in Hot Springs.  Anyone who has lost a child is welcome to come.  You are welcome if your child has been in Heaven for thirty days or for thirty years.  You are welcome if your child was stillborn and never took a single breath, or if your child lived to be an adult and had a family of his or her own.  Come, knowing you will be surrounded by people who care, who understand, and who will pray for you.  This will be a safe place, a place where we can discuss our struggles knowing we will not be judged, because every one of us has been there at one time or another.  We will also share our victories, and rejoice with each other as we move along the road toward healing.

I can't wait to get started.

You never know what sending an email might lead to.