Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Memories -- It's Okay

Hannah really didn't get in trouble much when she was a little girl.  She wasn't the perfect child, by any means, but she just really didn't disobey us very often.  Except for one area, that is ... She quite often got up out of bed after being tucked in for the night.  The first time she did it, we would gently, but firmly, tuck her back under the covers, explaining that it was time for her to go to sleep, and that if she got up again, she would be punished.  Of course, we made sure she wasn't truly thirsty or sick or anything like that.  Most of the time, she would go on to sleep, but some nights ... well, some nights she would push us to the limit, getting up over and over even when she was disciplined for her disobedience.

So, when we heard her come padding softly down the hallway one night when she was about seven years old, we thought it was going to be another one of those kind of nights.  But when she lisped out the reason why she had gotten up on this particular night, we knew it wasn't the same thing at all.  "I want to ask Jesus into my heart," she said ... and right there in our living room, with her mom and dad at her side, she did just that.  And a few weeks later, on Easter Sunday morning, my girl was baptized in a horse trough on the stage in the El Dorado city auditorium, where our church was holding services that day.

And that's what makes it all okay.  Her cancer diagnosis, her suffering, her death.  I don't like any of it ... would never have chosen it for my little girl ... would do anything to change it if it were possible ... I miss her so much it's physically painful ... but it's okay.

Because of what Jesus did for us at the cross, and because Hannah placed her faith in Him as her Savior that night in our living room, she is with Him today in Heaven.  And one day, I'll be there with both of them.

And that's way better than okay.  That's amazing grace.

John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Romans 10:8-9 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Free-for-all-Friday -- Things I'm Excited About

Before I list the things I'm excited about on this Free-For-All-Friday, let me give you an update on the bone marrow donor opportunity I shared about a few weeks ago.  My husband had been contacted about the possibility of being a bone marrow donor for a one year old girl with leukemia.  We've been waiting to hear back from them, and finally received an email from the National Bone Marrow Donor Program this week.  Turns out they believed he would be a suitable donor, "however, the patient is not ready for a transplant at this time."  I'm hopeful that means her treatments are working.  The email also said that the likelihood of Brad being chosen as a donor for another patient is increased because of the activity on his donor record, and, of course, he could still be chosen as a donor for this little girl if they decide to go forward with her transplant.  We would be so grateful if we could have this opportunity to give back in this way.

So what am I excited about tonight?

-- First of all ... I'm home!  It's a weeknight, and I'm at home!  Between softball games, track meets, church activities, and While We're Waiting events, our nights at home are few and far between.  But for tonight, we're home, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

-- Bethany and I are going shopping together tomorrow.  Prom is approaching, and while we already have "the dress", she still needs shoes and accessories.  I love shopping with my girl.  I cannot tell you how thankful I am to have her.  So. Thankful.

-- We have no plans for tomorrow night.  Two nights at home in a row?  Contented sigh.

-- I'm going to cook a nice Easter dinner for our family on Sunday.  No, I don't usually get that excited about cooking, but it's been so long since we've had a nice sit-down family meal together, I'm actually a little giddy about the prospect.

-- Our next While We're Waiting Weekend for Parents will be kicking off one week from tonight.  These events are always such an incredible blessing.  I can not wait for next weekend!  (We've actually had a couple of last-minute cancellations ... if you've lost a child and are interested in coming, click on the tabs above for more information or to register.)

-- I'm excited about Easter.  Not because of chocolate bunnies or colorful eggs, but because of what this holiday means to me.  At our While We're Waiting support group this past week, one of the moms said that someone had asked her if she was going to be sad because this would be her first Easter without her son.  And she said that of all of the firsts, this one would be the least hard.  And that's because she knew that it was only because of Easter that her son lives today.  And that is so true ... because He lives, our children live.  And because of His sacrifice on the cross, we will see them again one day.  And there's nothing more exciting than that!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday Mourning -- One of "Those Days"

I don't have too many of "those days" anymore.  You bereaved parents know what I mean.  Your day is going along just fine ... of course, your child was the first thing you thought of you when you woke up and you've thought about him or her pretty much all day ... but that's at least become normal.  And then all of a sudden, out of the blue, something happens that sets off that tidal wave of grief and your world is rocked.

In the early days after Hannah went to Heaven, that was nearly a daily occurrence ... sometimes several times a day, to be honest.  As time passed, and through the grace of God, those knee-buckling blows began to come less often.  "Less often" may not actually be accurate ... they probably still came just as often, but I was stronger, better able to deal with them.

So yesterday was just the average Sunday morning.  My days of dreading going to church in the early weeks after Hannah's homegoing have been behind me for quite awhile now.  We came in the back door where we always enter, visiting with our friends Larry and Janice Brown for a few minutes before stepping into our nearby Sunday School classroom.  Suddenly a friend from my Sunday School class stepped out into the hallway and asked me if I would like to have Hannah's can.  I must have had a completely blank look on my face as I said, "Huh?"  I had no idea what she was talking about.  She explained that when they renovated the upstairs Sunday School classrooms in the church, there were several cans made by kids in the cabinets, and she had saved Hannah's for me.  She again asked me if I'd like to have it, and this time I enthusiastically said "Yes!"  "OK, be right back", she said, and disappeared.

Janice and I visited for a few more minutes, when suddenly my friend reappeared with this ...

She stuck it in my hand and disappeared into our classroom.  I was immediately and unexpectedly overcome with emotion.  The handwriting was unmistakable ... This can had belonged to my girl.

It was decorated simply, just her name with a glued-on jewel and a heart at each end of her name.

Hannah was a no-frills kind of a girl.  In fact, I could just see her writing her name, decorating it just enough to indulge her teacher, then setting the cup aside and leaning forward in her chair saying, "What are we gonna do now?"

I spent the next few hours in Sunday School and church trying (more or less successfully) just to hold it together.  What was it about this simple cup that got to me so much?  I finally came up with some thoughts...

--While I'm surrounded by things that belonged to Hannah in her room, I've become "used to" seeing those things.  This was something new ... something of hers that I never even knew existed.

--I have no idea when Hannah made this cup, but I'm guessing it was before her cancer diagnosis when she was sixteen.  I pictured her making this cup, with nothing weightier on her mind than how many jewels to stick on it and where we were going to eat lunch after church.  I love remembering her as a carefree child, before cancer turned her into an instant adult.

--Hannah loved the fact that her name was a palindrome ... a word that's spelled the same way forwards and backwards.  Yes, she's a "word nerd" just like her Mom.  I can just imagine her enjoying that as she made this cup.

--It was unexpected.  After four years, I pretty much know the "triggers" ... the things that are going to bring those waves of emotion.  But this ... this I wasn't prepared for.

--It's a link to my girl.  Something from the past suddenly brought into the present.  And just knowing that Hannah's hands had touched it made me never want to let it go.

After Sunday School, my friend approached me and told me that she had actually found the cup a long time ago, and had held onto it all this time, not sure whether or not she should give it to me.  She said she didn't want to add to my pain.  As I erupted into tears, I'm pretty sure she was convinced she had really messed up!  Somehow I think I managed to convince her that she had made the right decision, and that that simple cup with my daughter's handwriting on it was a priceless gift to me.

So yesterday was one of "those days."  Did my friend really make the right decision to give me that cup?  You'd better believe it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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

Now that I'm on vacation, I finally have time to share with you about our most recent Mini-Retreat for Bereaved Moms.  It was two Saturdays ago, and, as always, it was a blessed time.

We've done enough of these special days now to have developed a "theme" for each one.  Our springtime retreat theme is purses and shoes, and our dear decorating ladies were up for the task.

And take a look at this ... One of our While We're Waiting Moms' "alumni" made these adorable little purses with a nice chocolate surprise inside each one.  Our decorating ladies used them as napkin rings.  I pulled my napkin out so you could see the purse better.  The little tag says, "Just for you."

How cute is that?  Thank you, Lori!  :)

We spent the morning sharing our children's stories, and I can't tell you what a blessing it was to hear all about these beautiful kids.  My life is richer for having heard their stories.  The afternoon time was spent in discussing topics faced by grieving moms ... we discussed how to handle our children's bedrooms, visiting the grave, surviving the holidays, issues with extended family members, and surviving siblings, among other things.  We had two mother/daughter pairs with us this time, which added an entirely new depth to our conversation, as we were able to see things from a sister's and a grandmother's perspective.

Each lady was treated to a private massage, and then it was time for dinner.  And what an amazing dinner it was!  Here are the obligatory "foodie" pictures.  I usually try to get the exact "Food Network" description of each dish from our amazing chef, but didn't get it this time, so you'll have to put up with my clumsy non-gourmet chef descriptions of each one.

The appetizer was some kind of amazing barbecued pork topped with a lime cole slaw on a soft tortilla.  It was so good!

This was followed by a delicious Caesar salad ...

The intermezzo was next.  The intermezzo is always my second favorite part of the meal.  This was a strawberry sorbet with cherry juice and blueberries.  Yummy!

The entree was Chinese dim sum.  I've never had it before, and it was quite good ... probably something I would never have been brave enough to order in a restaurant.  It was accompanied by delicious snow peas and jasmine rice.

In case you were wondering what my favorite part of the meal is ... it's dessert!  And Chef Franklin really outdid himself this time in the eyes of this chocolate lover.  Take a look at this ...

On that plate, we have whipped cream, coffee caramel ice cream, and two chocolate truffles.  That other chocolate thing with the stars on top, you ask?  OK ... get ready ... that is two double stuffed Oreos with a Reese's peanut butter cup between them, dipped in chocolate.  Oh yes, you read that right.  Take a peek inside...


 It was ah-mazing.  I happily cleaned my entire plate, and I don't even like coffee-flavored ice cream!

After dinner, we took a group photo.  We were all pretty emotionally drained ... It had been a heavy day ... But it was a cleansing kind of drained.  Sometimes you just need to take time to get all that stuff out as you work your way towards healing.  Then we parted ways ... one of our Moms had driven all the way down from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, that morning and had a long drive back home!  

These are some brave women.  Not a single one of them would ever have chosen to be a part of a group like this.  And every one of them, if somehow given the opportunity, would happily go back in time to a simpler place and time.  But each one of them has accepted the fact that that is not possible, and they are choosing to live well while they're waiting to be reunited with their children (and sister and granddaughter) one day.  And what better way is there to honor both their children and their Lord?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Spring Break in the Snow

Well, the Sullivan crew is off on another family vacation.  We decided we wanted to do a nice trip together as a family before Bethany leaves for college.  Since she'll be working this summer, spring break seemed like the perfect time.

When we first started discussing ideas for her "senior trip", several were put forth.  A trip to a tropical destination, or to the big cities of the northeast, or maybe back to Yellowstone, where we had our best family vacation ever while Hannah was still with us?  Well, as it turns out, none of the above were chosen ... instead, we are currently in Crested Butte, Colorado, where we are enjoying beautiful snowfalls and snow-covered mountain vistas.

Some of us ... that would be Brad (my husband), Bethany (my daughter), and "Other Brad" (my daughter's boyfriend) ... love to snow ski, and that's how they've been spending their day today.  And then there are some of us ... that would be me ... who are quite happy to spend the day in solitude with a good book, enjoying said snow-covered mountain vistas through a picture window before a crackling fire.

Getting here was a bit of an adventure.  Remember how just about two weeks ago Bethany was playing basketball in the state tournament?  Well, three days later, softball season started.

No, she's never played fast-pitch softball before.  Sure, she played some softball up through the sixth grade, but after Hannah got sick, softball just kind of went by the wayside.  So, now in her senior year of high school, she has decided to play again.  And she got off to a good start ... hitting a stand-up triple in her very first at bat!  Things have slowed down a little bit at the plate after that auspicious beginning, but it was a fun way to start the season.

Anyway, back to getting here.  We knew when we scheduled this trip that Bethany had some kind of softball thing on Saturday, but we confidently made our condo reservations for Sunday and bought lift tickets for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  We planned to leave after her game on Saturday and spread the trip out over two days, driving until we got tired, staying in a hotel, and finishing the trip the next day.

Well, her "softball thing" turned out to be an all-day tournament.  And wouldn't ya know it, they kept winning games and ended up qualifying for the championship game ... which was scheduled for 8:00 p.m.  And, as generally happens in tournaments, they were running behind, and it didn't start until nearly 9:00.  Of course, after seven innings of play, the score was tied.  When the game finally ended with a loss for the Lady Panthers, it was 11:15!  And we had a sixteen hour drive ahead of us!

Gone were our plans for a leisurely drive with a nice hotel stay to break up the trip.  We were now on a mission just to get there in time to check in on Sunday.  Brad took the first shift, driving until 3:00 a.m., and then I took over, driving from 3:00 'til 5:00 a.m.  Then it was Other Brad's turn to drive, and he was a trooper, driving for several hours while Brad and I tried to get some sleep ... a futile effort on my part, since I have never been able to sleep in the car.  Finally, we were within about ninety minutes of our destination.  The end was in sight ... We were all awake now and getting excited as we started climbing in elevation.  Snow started to fall, beautiful big flakes, adding to the snow we were beginning to see around us.  And it continued to fall, and continued to fall, until the road was completely covered and these Arkansas folks began to get nervous.  So did the driver of the 18-wheeler in front of us, apparently, as he slowed to less than a crawl, and we did too.  We went on that way for several miles, bemoaning the fact that our arrival at the condo was being further delayed, but taking advantage of enjoying the beauty around us.  I snapped this picture out the window just to show how deep the snow was at the roadside.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at Crested Butte and checked into our condo.  We were all still wearing the same clothes we'd put on the day before ... Bethany still in her softball uniform ... and were desperate for a shower and a toothbrush.  Bedtime came early last night, and we are all feeling much better today.

And here's the view from the condo.  That's the mountain where they're doing their thing while I'm doing mine.

It was a long drive ... but we had a lot of time to talk and reminisce.  Every family vacation brings back memories of past vacations, and we had plenty of laughs over some special times from the past.  It still seems very strange to have Bethany and her boyfriend in the back seat (or the front seat) instead of Bethany and Hannah, like it was for so many years.  In fact, Brad was calling to the two of them as we were leaving a restaurant during a break in the softball tournament and said, "C'mon, girls!"  I'm not sure if he even noticed what he said.

As with any family event since Hannah left for Heaven, her absence is glaring.  It helps that Bethany's boyfriend knew her and can comfortably participate in our conversations about her.  But, oh, do we miss her.  She would probably have been hanging around the condo with me all day ... I really can't picture her skiing ... and I sure would have enjoyed spending the time with her.  Instead I've spent the time thinking about her and wishing she was here.

But it's a nice thought to know that the place she's in is far more amazing than this one.  Just imagine ... snowfall without bitter cold, swishing through mountains without needing skis or poles, never having to worry about falling, and no sore muscles!  Is that what Heaven is like?  I really don't know.  I do know that Randy Alcorn describes the new Heaven and the new Earth that way, and he believes we'll be doing things like that there.  And right now, that sounds really good to me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- 10 Reasons Why I Enjoy Spending Time with Bereaved, But Believing, Parents

Yesterday we had another of our While We're Waiting Mini-Retreats for Bereaved Moms, and what a wonderful blessing it was.  I was reminded once again why Christian parents who have lost children are my favorite people to be around.  And here's why...

1.  They are the bravest people I know.  These are folks who have survived every parents' biggest nightmare, and find themselves with very little left to fear.

2.  They don't waste time with small talk.  Every conversation has depth and richness to it.

3.  They've learned not to judge others, because they've come to realize that they've been wrong about a whole lot of things themselves.

4.  They appreciate the little things in life ... because they've learned that the little things are really the big things.

5.  They understand that they are not in control ... and they've learned how to trust the One who is, even when they don't like what He allows.

6.  They've wrestled with the most difficult questions of life, and have come to accept that they will never have all the answers this side of Heaven.

7.  They would give anything to still have their child with them ... but they love their child too much to really want them to leave Heaven.

8.  They have learned how to accept clumsily-spoken words from well-meaning folks with grace.

9.  They know how to smile in spite of their broken hearts ... and they bravely do it every day.

10.  They live with eternity always before them.  It's what gets them up in the mornings and allows them to sleep at night.  It is the promise of Heaven that keeps them breathing every day.