Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Graduation ... And an Empty Bedroom?

Well, graduation 2013 is behind us, and it was a great event.  I mean, how could it not be memorable when your own Dad, who has been your high school principal for the last four years, is the one who gives you your diploma?

How sweet is that?

We were blessed to have several wonderful family members and friends to celebrate the occasion with us, and had a little get-together at our home afterward.  Look at this gorgeous cake!  (Not sure why these next two pictures look so squashed ... probably because they're from my phone.)

And here was my favorite part about the whole thing.  As Bethany was getting ready for graduation, she started digging through old pictures ... looking for a picture of her and Hannah together.  Then she came walking by with a scissors and tape in her hand, and I had to ask her what she was doing.  She said, "Just wait.  You'll see."  A few minutes later, she showed me this...

She had taped a picture of her sister and herself inside her mortarboard hat.  Nobody else would even know it was there, but we would.  It really touched me, because even though Hannah did not have the opportunity to graduate in 2010, it was almost as if she would be receiving her diploma right along with Bethany.  And I loved that Bethany thought of that on her own.  Made this Mama's heart smile.

I did have a very interesting conversation the morning of graduation at the senior breakfast.  Our small district has a tradition of providing the seniors with a final get-together in the form of a breakfast on the morning of graduation.  The kids go directly from breakfast to graduation practice, and then after practice, they all hop in their cars (or various other vehicles) and drive circles around the school whooping and hollering and celebrating their impending freedom.

I was visiting with another mom at the breakfast that morning.  Her youngest child was graduating that day, and we were talking about our kids' post-graduation plans.  I was telling her that Bethany would be working at a Christian camp this summer and would be gone from home a lot.  I laughed and told her that would be a good preparation for when she went to college, and that I was fine with it.

She rather ominously shook her head and folded her arms across her chest.  Then she said, "Oh, just wait until you have to walk by that empty bedroom every day.  You don't realize how much you're going to miss her."

Wait ... What?  I couldn't believe what I had just heard.  She's talking to me about an empty bedroom?!

Four years ago, when my grief was at its freshest and I was a walking, bleeding wound, I almost certainly would have burst into tears.  And then, after I recovered from my hysterical outburst, I'm pretty sure I would have been furious.  How dare she say something like that to me?

Thankfully, God has softened my heart over the past few years and has taught me how to extend grace in situations like this (at least most of the time).  This mom is a friend of mine, and I know she would never say anything to intentionally hurt me.  So instead of totally losing it, I put my hand on her arm, and calmly said, "I know all about empty bedrooms.  I walk past one every day.  Believe me, this is different."  I could see a suddenly horrified expression come over her face as it dawned on her who she was talking to and what she had said.

I quickly assured her that it was okay, and explained further.  "You see, even though Bethany's bedroom will be empty, I can pick up my iPhone and text her.  If I want to hear her voice, I can call her.  If I want to see her face, I can Skype with her.  If I want to hold her in my arms, I can drive to Fayetteville to see her, or she can come home for a weekend visit.  And her empty bedroom means she is growing up and becoming independent, which is something to celebrate ... not something to be sad about."

Again, I assured her it was okay that she had misspoken, and I think she left there with a new perspective about the empty nest she was about to face.

And actually, she's right, we will soon have two empty bedrooms in our house.  And I'm just gonna say, that will be weird.

But here's a promise from Jesus Himself, recorded in John 14:1-3 ... "Let not your hearts be troubled, Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

In my Father's house are many rooms.  I know that at least one of those rooms has an occupant who is very precious to me.  And as much as I'd like for her to be here in what I consider "her room" with me and her earthly father, I know she is at home with her Heavenly Father.  Her place was prepared for her, and now she's there.  And even though I miss her terribly, He assures me that my heart need not be troubled ... because He's preparing a place for me, too.  One day, our family will be reunited, and there will be no more empty bedrooms.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wacky Wednesday -- The Graduation Song

In celebration of graduation season, I just had to post this fun video from Rhett and Link ... I'm planning to play this for Bethany as soon as she gets home from work! :)


If you read my blog via email or RSS feed, you will probably need to click through to view the video.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- A Contrast of Lasts and Firsts

The last few weeks have been a series of "lasts" and "firsts" ...

Bethany's last day of high school

Bethany's last athletic practice (a big deal for a girl who has played three sports a year since seventh grade!)

Bethany's last ball game (which was a victory in the state championship softball game ... pictures to come in a future post!)

My last time to wash one of her uniforms

My last time to attend an academic or athletic awards banquet for one of my children

Bethany's first graduation gift

Bethany's first checking account

Bethany's first day of work (all those sports have kept her from ever having a real job!)

My first time to plan a graduation party

My first time to attend the graduation of one of my children (tomorrow night!)

My husband is the principal at our small high school, and he mentioned the other day that next year will be the first time he hasn't had one of his girls walking the halls of his school in eight years.  There was just the smallest hint of sadness in his voice ... I know he'll miss seeing Bethany at school every day next year.

But what a contrast there is between this series of lasts and firsts and another series of lasts and firsts we endured four years ago.

Hannah's last day of high school in December of her junior year

Hannah's last cancer treatment

Hannah's last day at home when we left for the hospital in a mad rush

The last time any of her clothes came through the laundry

The last time we heard her voice

Our first meal at home with an empty chair

Our first time to attend church without her

Our first Christmas, birthday, Mother's Day, fill in the blank with any day you want, without her

Our first time to see her headstone in place

Our first family vacation without her

Even just the act of typing this latter list of lasts and firsts brings a heavy weight down upon me.  My chest feels constricted, and it's harder to breathe.  The pain associated with these events is still so intense.

But, there's a big difference between your child no longer walking the high school halls because she died of cancer and your child no longer walking the high school halls because she graduated.

The first list of lasts and firsts has been full of blessings.  Walking through these events with Bethany has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  I have loved every minute of watching her grow into a beautiful and godly young woman.

Would I appreciate these lasts and firsts with Bethany as much if I hadn't experienced those other lasts and firsts with Hannah?

I honestly don't think so.  I have often said that I believe experiencing the unfathomable depths of grief expands one's capacity for experiencing true joy, and I'm finding that to be true.

So tomorrow night, when Brad calls her name, and Bethany walks across the stage and receives her high school diploma, there might be tears of joy in my eyes, but no tears of sadness or regret.  I will be rejoicing that my daughter is healthy, that she is growing up, that she is committed to serving the Lord, and that she has a bright future ahead of her.

And her big sister will be smiling her beautiful smile up in Heaven.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- When Mother's Day Is Not Happy

This weekend is Mother's Day ... perhaps one of the most dreaded days on the calendar for moms who have children in Heaven.  For those of us who find ourselves in that situation, Mother's Day can be anything but happy.

The While We're Waiting ministry has brought me into contact with a number of hurting moms over the past couple of years, and for many of them, this will be their first Mother's Day without one of their precious children ... and I know several who have lost their only child within the past twelve months.

It's so hard for me to believe that this will be my fifth Mother's Day since my oldest daughter went to Heaven at the age of seventeen.  And in those five years, I've learned a few things about surviving the day ... at least some things that have helped me.  So that's what this month's Ten on the Tenth is about ... What can we do when Mother's Day is not happy?

1.  Accept the fact that the day will be difficult.  Yeah, I know ... Duh.  Of course we know that the day will be difficult!  But knowing it and accepting it, I think, are a little different.  Accept the fact that it will be tough, but it's just another 24 hours, and know that you will get through it.

2.  Remember that the anticipation of a difficult day is quite often worse than the day itself.  Sometimes we can even make ourselves physically ill with anticipation.  A Scripture that has really helped me with this one is Psalm 94: 18-19 ... "When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.'"

3.  Have a plan.  I can't stress this one enough.  Don't wait until the day arrives and then be swept along into whatever activity is going on.  Take some time before the day gets here and think about how you want to spend the day.  Are you going to go to church or not?  Do you want to go out to eat or have a quiet meal at home?  Will you want to visit your child's grave?  Maybe you'll want to go visit your own mother.  Whatever it is you want to do, exerting some control over the situation by making a plan may help you feel less at the mercy of the day.

4.  Once you have thought through your plan, be sure to communicate it to your family and friends.  Don't assume they'll know what you need ... they won't ... so be sure to tell them how you want to spend the day.  After all, if there is any day when they should be willing to do what pleases you, it is Mother's Day.

5.  Don't feel like you have to go to church on Mother's Day.  I'm not normally one to recommend skipping church, but seeing all those other moms sitting with their children while the pastor extols the joys of motherhood may not be what you need on this particular day.  If it's too painful, don't feel guilty about not going to church.

6.  If you feel that going to church would be comforting to you, then by all means, go!  I did go to church on my first Mother's Day without Hannah, and made it through the service okay, but when it was over, all I wanted to do was get out of there before I had a complete emotional breakdown!  Unfortunately, I had not communicated this need to my husband beforehand, and he wanted to stand around and talk after church like he always does.  A good example of Point #4 ... I could have saved both of us a lot of heartache if I had told him what my needs were ahead of time.

7.  Remember that there's nothing wrong with having a good cry.  Or several, if that's what it takes to get through the day.  God gave us the gift of tears for a reason.

8.  Realize that you are not alone as a grieving mom.  I know that there are far more of us than I ever realized there were.  Remember that Mary's heart was also broken when her son died a horrendous death on a cruel cross.

9.  Look for a gift from God at some point during the day.  It was while we were eating lunch on my first Mother's Day without Hannah that my brother told me about a Facebook post she had made.  In January of 2008, one month before she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Hannah had posted, "This world has nothing for me -- I will live for Him."  What a gift that was to "hear" her say in her own words that she was not bound to the things of this world.  It was a huge comfort to me, and although much is a blur about that first Mother's Day, that is one thing I remember clearly.  Keep your eyes and your heart open ... God just might give you a Mother's Day gift this year.

10.  Remember that just because your child now lives in Heaven does not make you any less of a mom.  Nothing can change the fact that you are your child's mother.  At the beginning of the book of Job, Job loses his ten children along with his health and all of his worldly possessions.  At the end of the story, Job receives double all he had lost during his time of trial:  14,000 sheep to replace the 7,000; 6,000 camels to replace the 3,000; 1,000 oxen and donkeys to replace 500.  But there is one exception -- previously Job had seven sons and three daughters, and in the restoration, he receives seven sons and three daughters.  Why didn't he receive double the number of children he had?  I believe he did.  He still had the ten children he had before ... they were just living in Heaven now instead of on earth.  So now he had ten in Heaven and ten on earth, and one day they would all be together eternally.  Now that's a comforting thought!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Finishing the Race

While Bethany winning the state championship in high jump was pretty exciting last week, that was not the only highlight of the day for me.

One of the best races occurred nearly at the end of the day.  It was the two-mile race, and let me just say that I have the utmost respect for anyone who can run eight times around a track without stopping!  We have a very good distance runner on our track team, and she's a ninth grader who just moved up to the high school team.

We knew she had a decent chance of winning, so everyone was watching her closely as the gun was fired.  She got off to a good start, and looked strong going into the first turn.  But then the unthinkable happened.  She got tangled up with a couple of the other runners and went down hard.  You could hear the entire crowd gasp in reaction to her fall.  It appeared that her hopes of a state championship were dashed in that moment.

But, she got up and started running again.  Slowly at first, then she gained speed, and before you knew it, she had regained her lead.  And that girl ran at a steady pace, blood streaming down her leg from a gash on her knee, until she started the final lap of the race.  And then she started to sprint.  She crossed  the finish line at least half a lap ahead of her nearest competitor.  A state champion in the ninth grade.

The whole team celebrated with her.  It was truly an inspiring thing to watch.

There are so many spiritual parallels that can be drawn from this story.  But I'm just going to make one application.

Watching that girl run her race made me think about all of us who have lost children.  We've been knocked down, hard.  Harder than we ever thought possible.  We are broken and bleeding.  The pain is excruciating.  There's an incredible temptation to just keep lying on the track and let the rest of the world run on by.  And for awhile, it's okay to do that.  But eventually we have to get up, so with God's help, we do.  And even though we may walk with a limp for the rest of our lives, we keep walking, maybe eventually even working up to a steady jog.  And the closer we get to the finish line -- Heaven -- we pick up speed.  We are excited by the thought of sprinting into Heaven one day and celebrating with our Lord and our child.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is sometimes called "the roll call of faith", because it is basically a list of the many heroes of the Bible who lived by faith ... Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Rahab, and many others, some of whom are not even named.  Then Chapter 12 opens with these two verses, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Just like we were cheering this young runner on from the stands, we have a "great cloud of witnesses" who are cheering us on.  I think it's very possible that our children are part of that cloud.  Let's keep our eyes on Jesus and run with endurance, even if we are still bleeding, because there is joy set before us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- We've Got a State Champion in the House!

**Warning -- Shameless Parental Pride Post**

In last week's post, as I recited all of the activities we had going on, I mentioned that we were going to Fort Smith for state track meet.  It was just one of the many hurdles we had to leap last week (do you like that track reference ... lol?) and we really hadn't put that much thought into it.

We knew that Bethany could possibly be in contention for a state championship in the high jump.  After all, she had finished in second place last year as a junior.  But, once she decided to play softball this year, track kind of moved to the back burner.  Between softball practices and games, she just didn't have the opportunity to put the time into it that she has in years past.  She did win the district high jump title with a jump of 4'10", though, so she qualified for state competition.  Several of her teammates also qualified for the state meet in various events, so we were happy to head to Fort Smith to cheer them on.

The meet started at 9:00 a.m., and Bethany's event wasn't scheduled until 3:30 p.m., so we had a long day of waiting before it was time for her to jump.  My good friend Laurie came and hung out with us, even packing a delicious lunch for us to enjoy while we waited.  The minutes seemed to crawl by, but finally it was time for her event.  By this time, Laurie's husband Jerry, and Bethany's grandma, Aunt Maria, and cousin Emily were also there, so she had quite the cheering section.

Here's a picture of the anxious parents and grandma, watching her warm up ...  :)

She looked good in warm-ups, but we had to be realistic.  There were probably thirty girls there, and we knew that one of them had jumped 5'2" in a competition earlier this spring.  Bethany had jumped 5'0" in competition last year, but had not been able to surpass 4'10" this year.  So, although we were hopeful, and we knew she was capable, our expectations were not real high.

Finally, warm-ups were over, and the competition got underway for real.  Each athlete gets three attempts at each height.  If you manage to clear it, you sit down and wait for the bar to be raised.  If you do not jump it successfully in three tries, you're eliminated.  Each miss counts against you, and if there are two jumpers at the end who clear the same height, the one with the fewest misses is declared the winner.

They started with the bar at 4'4", and Bethany cleared it easily on her first try.  She waited through all the other girls' attempts, and then the bar was raised at 4'6".  Once again, she cleared it with no trouble.  Back under the umbrella for more waiting ...

4'8" was cleared just as easily, and then came 4'10".  Here's how she did on her first attempt ... Looking good!

By this time, there weren't very many competitors left.  Remember the girl who had jumped 5'2"?  Well, she went out at this height.  At this point, I was beginning to think she had a chance ... although I was worried about that 5'0" height.  All year, it was as if Bethany had a mental block about that height. She just couldn't clear it, no matter how hard she tried.

Well, they raised the bar to 5'.  Bethany was pacing back and forth by this time, trying to keep her focus.  I could see the confidence and determination in her step.  Finally it was her turn.  She approached the bar and did her Fosbury Flop.  This is what it looked like ...

Yeah, is it just me or does it look like she is sitting on that bar?  Well, the bar did not fall, and she cleared 5' on her first attempt.  It was then that I knew she had a chance.  All the remaining girls went out at that height but one.  That girl missed twice, then made it on her last try.  

So they moved the bar to 5'1", and it was between the two of them.  Bethany missed, and the girl missed.  Bethany missed, and the girl missed.  Bethany missed, and then turned her back because she just couldn't watch.  If the girl made it, she would come in second, and if the girl missed, she would win.  When the girl missed, the cheer of the crowd (I still kind of feel bad about that!) made Bethany spin around.  She didn't know if the cheer was because she had made it or because she had missed.  When she saw the bar on the ground, she knew she had won.

It was an emotional celebration, made even sweeter by the fact that it was totally unexpected.

They actually had an awards ceremony, where she got to stand up on a podium and receive her medal just like she was in the Olympics.  Here she is waiting to be called up to receive her award ...

And here she is with her medal.  She'll be receiving a state champion ring in a month or two.

Thanks for indulging me in some parental pride.  We've just having such a fun senior year with this girl!