Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Mourning -- A Glimpse Into Heaven

What a great weekend we just had!  The entire Sullivan family (all 18 of us) spent the weekend at a beautiful home on Lake Hamilton celebrating my husband's parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

We rented the house several months ago, so this is a weekend we've been looking forward to for quite a while.  It is an absolutely beautiful place, with six bedrooms and seven bathrooms (those multiple bathrooms came in really handy with five teenage girls)!  Here's the front of the house ...

And the back ...

View from the middle deck (there were three!) ...

We enjoyed the infinity pool ...

And did some tubing on the lake ...

We spent time hanging out in the luxurious living room ...

And ate lots of good food, including these awesome cookies my sister-in-law had made for her folks ...

We also spent time going through old photo albums, which contained long-forgotten pictures like this one ...

Looking through old photos like that is a tough thing for me.  Every photo of our happy family of four is a bit of a punch in the gut.  I love to see them ... but I also hate to see them.  Who would have thought back when this picture was taken that the smiling girl on the left would one day wear a real wig to cover a head scarred by the ravages of cancer?  I've gotten "used to" the pictures we have of Hannah, the ones I see all the time ... but an emotional blow comes along with seeing each less familiar picture.  I did find a special treasure -- a picture of me with both of my girls.  There are not many of these, as I always bow out when pictures are being taken .... something I regret now that I can no longer take pictures with both of them.  Here it is ...

Our last evening in the house was spent with the entire crew gathered in the living room, where we listened to my in-laws reminisce about how they met, their first date, their wedding day, the early days of their marriage, and the arrival of their children and grandchildren.  They ended up by sharing dating and marriage advice for all of their granddaughters, and I was glad the affianced couple was there to hear the wisdom they'd gained over the last fifty years!

The evening culminated with the entire family circled up in a time of prayer.  What a blessing to be a part of a family like this!  My husband and I have both been blessed with wonderful Christian families, and we never take that for granted.

Hannah would have absolutely loved this weekend.  There was nothing she would rather do than spend time with her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  I couldn't help but be sad she wasn't there to share the experience with us.  She would have been laughing all weekend long.  We included her memory as best we could ... we had family pictures taken and we included her picture in many of them ... but family gatherings never feel "right" without her there.

One of the things we discussed as we gathered on that final evening together was the fact that our family might never be all together like that again.  And that is so true.  None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  Let's be sure that we don't take our loved ones for granted.

This weekend was sort of like a glimpse into Heaven, where we will have all the time in the world (literally!) to spend with those we love who have died in Christ.  But there will be a huge difference. Here it is from Revelation 21:4 -- "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- Our Cup Is Overflowing

I tell you what, it's been an exciting few weeks around the Sullivan household.  First, Bethany graduated from high school, then she turned eighteen, and then .... well, let me save that part for a minute.

First, let me share our first big announcement with you.  My husband, after eight years as a high school principal, has accepted a position as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at another school district in our area.  This will be such a welcome change for him.  A high school principal's position, particularly in a small school district where there is no assistant, is a very labor-intensive, time-intensive, and stress-intensive (is that a word?) job.

He's there every time the doors are open, and is usually the first person to arrive and the last person to leave ... making for a 60-70 hour work week every week during the school year.  There have been a lot of blessings, though ... he was able to be both of our girls' principal ... not many dads get to do that!  And our school community family was absolutely wonderful to us throughout Hannah's illness.  But it was time for a change, and God has provided him with an amazing opportunity at his new school.  This district is about a 25 minute drive from where we live now, so we will not have to move unless we want to.  I imagine we will want to move at some point, but it's nice that we don't have to be in any hurry.  And he is especially pleased about the folks he will be working with in his new central office position ... and that makes this wife very happy.

Now for the second announcement ... Bethany is engaged!  Her long-time boyfriend proposed to her on Friday night, and she said, "Yes!"  The wedding will be next summer, and we are still working on a possible date.  We are beyond excited.  Brad is a wonderful Christian young man who has treated our daughter with the utmost care and respect ever since their first date two years ago.  He was actually a classmate and friend of Hannah's, and I love that when we talk about her, he is able to join in on the conversation.  He will be starting his senior year as a mechanical engineering major at the University of Arkansas this fall, where she will be starting her freshman year, pursuing her goal to be a dental hygienist.

Early on in their dating relationship, they made a commitment not to say "I love you" to each other until they got engaged.  They didn't want to say the words flippantly like so many young couples do these days ... they wanted them to really mean something when they were finally spoken.  And they held to that commitment all this time, making the moment of their engagement even more special.  He popped the question on top of a mountain outside of town (with his brother and sister-in-law hiding in the bushes taking pictures ... heehee) and then they came to see us at Relay for Life where we were spending the evening.  I don't yet have the pictures of the actual engagement, but I'll close this post with a few that we took at Relay.  Look at the joy on those faces ...

And my favorite ...

Our cup is overflowing ... We are truly blessed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth (Times Two)

Sometimes it makes me feel really sad when I think about all the things Hannah missed out on by going to Heaven in her junior year of high school at the age of seventeen ... especially when I think about all the things Bethany's been able to do over the past couple of years.  Hence, this month's Ten on the Tenth -- Ten things Bethany has gotten to experience that Hannah never did.

1.  She was able to enjoy her senior year of high school.

2.  She went to prom.  Actually, this year was her third prom to attend.  And may I just say, I'm thrilled that it was her last.  They were all fun, but I am so done with proms.

3.  She has a serious boyfriend.  They will have been dating two years this month, and he is a wonderful Christian young man.  What a blessing he's been to our family!

4.  She won an individual state championship in high jump and a team state championship in softball.  We are thankful for the opportunities she's had to excel this year!

5.  She graduated from high school!

6.  She started her first job.  She'll be working at Family Farm Christian Day Camp as a counselor this summer.  This is the same location where we hold our While We're Waiting retreats.  I'm so thankful that she will have the opportunity to spend the summer in such an awesome Christian environment before she heads off to college this fall.

7.  She opened her first checking account.  Between her paychecks and some very generous graduation gifts, she has a nice little balance to help her get ready for college.

8.  She turned eighteen this past Friday.  She assures me that that means she is now an adult.  We'll see about that!

9.  She enrolled at the University of Arkansas.  We have not yet gone to her official freshman orientation ... that will come later this summer ... but she is all signed up.

10.  She had the opportunity to lead a child to the Lord last weekend at Family Farm.  Hopefully, this will be just the first of many kids she will have the opportunity to pray with this summer.

Now, for the "Times Two".  As I pondered the preceding list, I realized once again that Hannah really hasn't missed out on anything.  If I'm being perfectly honest, I have to admit that I'm the one who sometimes feels cheated because I didn't get to experience these things with her.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized all the things Hannah's gotten to experience that Bethany hasn't.

1.  Hannah had the opportunity to discover the depth and reality of her faith as she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and faced brain surgery.  She got to experience firsthand how God carries His children through devastating circumstances as she battled cancer.

2.  She may never have gone to prom, but she is feasting and dancing in Heaven.

3.  Although she never even went on a single date, she is now sitting at the feet of the Ultimate Bridegroom.

4.  Even though she took after her mother athletically (poor kid), I'm thinking she can now probably high jump over Mount Everest and hit a softball right out of the Milky Way.

5.  She may not have graduated high school, but she graduated life!

6.  She never experienced paid employment on this earth, but I believe that God's job for her here was perfectly fulfilled.

7.  Hannah never had a bank account, nor did she ever have much money to speak of.  But now she's hanging out with the Owner of "the cattle on a thousand hills."  (Psalm 51:10b)

8.  Her earthly existence ended when she was seventeen years and some-odd days old, but she is now ageless, living outside the realm of Time.

9.  She never attended college, but can you imagine what she's been learning at her Savior's knee?

10.  I'm not sure if Hannah ever personally prayed with someone as they received the Lord, but I do know a number of people who were saved as a direct result of her testimony.

No ... the more I think about it, Hannah hasn't missed a thing!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- "It's OK To Be Mad At God ... Or Is It?"

Now there's a thought-provoking question for ya.

This was the topic of discussion at our last While We're Waiting support group meeting ... and it did lead to quite a bit of discussion!

I heard an online presentation by Nancy Guthrie recently, and this was one of the topics she addressed.    She really challenged my thinking about this.  I've always been one to say to grieving parents, "It's OK to be mad at God.  He can take it."  And I felt like I was correct in making this statement.

And on the surface, it sounds fine.  But when we probe it a little more deeply, it doesn't really ring true.  Just spend a little time thinking about it ... When we are angry at someone, maybe our spouse or a friend ... Doesn't that mean that we feel they have wronged us in some way?  That they haven't done right by us?  And isn't that ultimately what we imply when we hold anger against God ... That He's wronged us somehow?  That given the chance, we feel we could run the universe better than He does?    That He can't be trusted to do right by us?

But, surrounded by parents who had lost their precious children the other night at our meeting, I could think of no group of people who seemed to have more of a "right" to be angry at God than us.  After all, each one of us there had prayed for our particular child's healing, or protection, or even just their safe birth ... and not one of us had our prayers answered the way we felt they should be.  One mom there had lost two children, a son to muscular dystrophy, and a daughter to a plane crash.  Surely she would be within her rights to be angry at God.

We are human.  We can't help having angry thoughts about what has happened to our family, or the situation in which we find ourselves.  But here's what Nancy said that really caught my attention:

Having angry thoughts is different from settling into a position of being angry at God.

Here's what we have to determine for ourselves ... Are we going to give anger free rein in our lives?  Are we going to keep throwing logs on that fire, stoking it higher and higher, getting some kind of strange satisfaction from watching it blaze?

Here's another question Nancy asked:

Will we let our anger turn us away from God, or will we turn to God with our anger?

Wow.  What a good question.  One that's had me thinking ever since I heard it.

So what do we do when we have those angry thoughts?

Acknowledge them ... We can't hide them or pretend they don't exist.  Bring them to God and lay them at His feet.  Spend time in His Word, focusing on verses like Psalm 145:17 ... "The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works," or Lamentations 3:22-23 ... "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."  And when we are tempted to slam our Bibles shut in anger because we don't feel that these things are true, we need to make a conscious choice to rest in what we know.

One of the moms in our group the other night very wisely said, "When we are angry at God, it keeps us from moving forward."   And this mom, who is only about eight months along on her journey of grief, is so right.  An attitude of anger with God renders us immobile, sucking us down like miry quicksand, doing nothing but increasing the misery of our position.

Just something I've been thinking about on this Thoughtful Thursday ...