Friday, July 26, 2013

Free-For-All Friday

Tonight's post will be a truly random collection of thoughts ... Just a few things we've been up to this summer ...

1.  My husband officially started his new job as of July 1st.  He's traded in his orange and black for purple and gold, as the new Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Fountain Lake Public Schools.  I think he looks pretty handsome (and quite happy) in his new color ...

2.  While my husband was out of town for a few days a couple weeks ago, I went to the Red Box and rented Les Miserables.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I absolutely loved it.  In fact, I loved it so much I made Brad sit down and watch it with me last weekend.  I think he actually liked it too ... after I explained it all to him.  I think to really appreciate the movie, you have to have recently read the book or be sitting next to someone who recently read it.

3.  The summer is flying by way too fast!  I've been spending a lot of time lately preparing for professional development presentations I'll be doing at our school and at a private school in Fort Smith.  Honestly, sometimes I think the worst thing about going back to work is that I'll have to put on real pants for a change ... instead of the athletic shorts and t-shirts I've been wearing pretty much every day this summer.

4.  Last week, we had the opportunity to spend a few days in southern Mississippi with our dear friends, Larry and Janice Brown, who are the co-founders of the While We're Waiting ministry.  We always have such a good time with them.  While there, we made a day trip to New Orleans, stopping to tour a beautiful sugar cane plantation on the way.  We also took a day trip to Gulfport, Mississippi, and went for a walk along the beach.  At least we were able to get our toes in the sand for a few minutes this summer!  A few pictures from our trip ...

5.  Bethany has kept busy working as a counselor at a local Christian day camp this summer.  What a great experience it has been for her!  She's had the opportunity to personally lead a number of kids to the Lord over the last several weeks.  Camp ended for the summer yesterday, and for the next few weeks, she and I will be spending our time getting her ready to start college in August ... and planning for her wedding next May.  How on earth did people plan weddings before Pinterest?  I plan to enjoy every minute we have together before she heads off to Fayetteville in a few weeks.

6.  Finally, for the rest of the summer, would you please join me in praying for a precious family?  We became acquainted with Steve and Kim Dillard through a mutual friend, because Steve has been battling brain cancer for a number of years now.  They had questions about the type of chemo that Hannah had received because they were recommending the same type for Steve.  He has done pretty well for the last year or two, but a recent MRI revealed that his tumor is growing again, and it appears to be evolving into a more aggressive type.  They have spent this past week at M.D. Anderson, and Steve will be facing another brain surgery in mid-August.  I cannot tell you what a wonderful family this is ... Steve is a former worship pastor and very talented musician, and Kim has one of the sweetest spirits of anyone I've ever met.  Even in the midst of all she's been dealing with, she has opened her home in northeast Arkansas for the past two summers to host our While We're Waiting Mini Retreats for Moms.  They have two children, Clark, and Kathryn, who has decided to postpone her freshman year of college to be able to spend this time with her dad and to assist her mom with his care.  I know the whole family would appreciate your prayers.  This picture pretty much says it all ...

You can follow the Dillards' story at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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

Wow ... I just did a little counting, and this past Saturday was our tenth While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms.  Our first one was in June of 2011, and over the past two years, we've had the privilege of hosting 46 moms and hearing the stories of their children who are in Heaven.  I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing that has been.  I really can't even imagine how much I would have missed out on by not having the opportunity to get to know these beautiful ladies and their children.  I'm actually a little bit speechless as I think back over these last two years.  Just wow.

Anyway, we hosted our tenth "Moms' Day" on Saturday, and as always, it was an amazing time of fellowship and encouragement.  Each of our Moms' Days has a theme related to the season of the year, and this month's theme was flamingos.  Our desire is to always create a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere for our get-togethers, and what could be more welcoming than flamingos?

Here were just a few of the flamingos who greeted our guests as they arrived ...


And even more as they came inside ...

 Look at this gorgeous table ...

There were even a few flamingos out on the deck, one looking longingly out at the lake ... lol!

Seven moms came this time, which is the most we've ever had at a Moms' Day event.  We even had two moms who came from out of state ... one from Texas, and one from Kansas.  Each of these moms had a beautiful story to share of a precious child who was now in Heaven.  One mom actually had two sons waiting for her there!

After we shared our stories, discussed a variety of topics specifically related to grieving moms, and had some expertly-administered private massages, it was time for dinner.

Now, at all of our Moms' Days, we always have a five-course gourmet dinner.  When we meet in Hot Springs, our dear Chef Franklin always serves up an amazing meal, and we take our Moms' Days on the road, we have Chef Laurie and her sous-chef, Jerry, who spoil us with their amazing cooking.  Well, Chef Franklin was unavailable for this date, and we didn't want to ask Laurie and Jerry to come all the way to Hot Springs on short notice, so we decided to wing it.  Janice and I decided to put our husbands to work, and here's what they came up with!

Our appetizer ... A delicious fresh tomato with sliced mozzarella and proscuitto, drizzled with an Italian dressing ...

Our salad ... Romaine lettuce with sliced strawberries, shaved Parmesan, slivered almonds, and an oil and vinegar dressing...

The intermezzo ... Raspberry sorbet with cherry juice (cherry 7-Up) and fresh blueberries ... Mine was a little melty!

Our entree was chicken with spinach and mushrooms, green beans, and cheesy potatoes.  We cheated a little here ... This was from The Daily Dish in Hot Springs, and it was delicious!

And our dessert was prepared by Kelley Brown, Janice's daughter-in-law.  It was hands down one of the best desserts I've had ... a decadent chocolate mint brownie with this beautiful little frosting topping.  Soooo good!

Here's a picture of Kelley along with our two waiters.  She helped them out in the kitchen and kept them on track with what they were supposed to be doing.  You know, sometimes men need a little help!  Don't you love the guys' Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts to go along with the flamingo theme?

After dinner, each mom headed home with a flamingo gift bag containing a pink "Jesus Calling" book and some other goodies.  More importantly, each mom headed home with a whole group of new friends who will be lifting her up in prayer, and a new determination to live well while she's waiting to be reunited with her child(ren) in Heaven one day.

Finally, here's a picture of our group of Moms.  What a special bunch of ladies these are ... I'm so blessed to have heard their stories of sorrow mixed with hope and faith.  (Yes, we are wearing flamingo leis!)

A few of the moms wrote comments to share ...

"If you can possibly attend -- do -- as you will experience a day of pure Christian conversation with parents who share the same grief as you.  Your heart will feel so much lighter when you leave."

"A day of healing.  I wasn't sure, and it wasn't easy, but I'm glad I went.  Good to be with other mothers who can understand fully and cry with me."

"This group is great.  It was good to laugh and cry with other mothers who are waiting."

Maybe you're a mom who's missing a child who is in Heaven ... Or maybe you know someone who is.  Our next While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms is scheduled for September 7, 2013, and you can register or get more information by clicking here.  We can't promise you a day full of flamingos in September, but we can promise you a day of healing, encouragement, and fellowship in a safe place with other moms who understand!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Ten Things NOT to Say to Grieving Parents

At our While We're Waiting support group meeting last month, we spent the evening discussing how we often find ourselves in the position of having to extend grace to people who ... how shall I say this ... misspeak in their attempts to comfort us.  These are well-meaning people, folks who desperately want us to feel better, often friends and family members who just want us to be back to "normal."

As you can imagine, it was a lively discussion.  Every one of us who has a child in Heaven has had an encounter with a clumsy comforter.  But we shouldn't feel alone ... that experience goes all the way back to the time of Job!  Talk about some lousy friends ... Job takes that prize for sure!  In fact, listen to what he had to say to them in his own words, "Then Job answered and said: 'I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all!'"  I guess he told them!

Here are ten things that, in my opinion, should NOT be said to a grieving parent:

1.  "I understand how you feel."  The only time this is ever appropriate is if you are a bereaved parent yourself.  And even then, everybody's experience is different.  I can't even really understand how Brad and Bethany feel, because their relationship with Hannah was different than mine.

2.  "How are you doing?"  This puts the bereaved parent in the awkward position of either forcing a smile and squeezing out an insincere, "Oh, I'm okay," or melting into uncontrollable tears at the thought of how not okay they really are.  One exception here ... If you are a very close friend or family member, it can be acceptable to ask this question, but only if you are prepared to invest the time and emotional support necessary to allow the grieving person to fully and honestly answer it.

3.  "She's gone to a better place."  All of us who have lost children are so glad there is a Heaven, and that our children, if they knew Jesus as their Savior, are there ... but I have yet to meet a bereaved parent who wouldn't rather have their child right here with them.  Heaven is a great comfort, but it does not ease the pain we feel as we miss our children.

4.  "At least you have another child/other children."  Those of us who have other surviving children are unspeakably grateful to have them ... but those children in no way take the place of the one we have lost.  And if we are young enough and choose to have another child, that child is not a replacement for the one we have lost.

5.  "God always picks His best flowers first."  Ummm ... What does that even mean?  (Shaking my head...)

6.  "God must have needed another angel in Heaven."  This one doesn't pass theological muster with me ... I believe that Scripture teaches that angels are a completely separate created order, and that humans who die do not become angels.  If God wants another angel in Heaven, He can create one!

7.  "You're so strong.  I could never survive if I lost my child."  I haven't met a bereaved parent yet who thought they could survive this type of loss either ... yet they have ... and some of them have even survived the loss of multiple children.   And most of them will tell you that they don't feel strong at all ... at times they are nearly too weak to stand.  This kind of statement can also put a lot of pressure on a bereaved parent ... It can make us feel like we have to be strong all the time because that's what people are expecting.  And that can be exhausting (not to mention impossible)!

8.  "God saves his hardest battles for his strongest soldiers."  My friend Ronnie, a bereaved mom herself, wrote a blog post addressing this very comment yesterday ... Click here to read what she has to say about it.  I agree with every word she said.

9.  "Are you over the loss of your child yet?" or "Have you gotten closure yet?"  This is sometimes a not-so-subtle implication that we should be "back to normal" by now.  The truth is that we will never be "back to normal."  What we knew as normal is gone forever.  We will get better, but we will never be the same people we were before we went through the loss of our child.

10.  Nothing.  Some people are what I call "avoiders."  I know them well, because I used to be one.  They are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all, and will go to extreme measures to keep from even being in the same room with us.

So what should you say to a grieving parent?  The list is short.  "I'm praying for you."  "I love you."  If you really have no idea what to say, just say, "I don't know what to say."  That's right ... honesty is always good.

And those of us who are bereaved parents would do well to remember Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 ... "Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others."

Two take-aways from that verse ... "Do not take to heart everything people say" and "your own heart has known that even you have cursed others."   We can't take everything people say to heart ... they are people, after all!  And how many times have we ourselves been "miserable comforters" before we received our unfortunate education?

When people inadvertently say things that add to our pain, we can choose to be touchy and hypersensitive, forcing them to leap impossibly high hurdles as they tiptoe around us ... or we can choose to extend grace to these generally sincere folks who really just want to help us.  Which of these choices is most conducive to our healing?  Which choice honors our child, and more importantly, our Lord?

Extending grace frees us from the twin burdens of resentment and bitterness.  Bad as they may be, anyone's offenses against me are far less than my offenses against God.  "As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."  Colossians 3:13

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- "Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal"

You know, you would think with it being summer, I'd be able to post more regularly.  But for some reason, it seems like I've been just as busy as ever.  True, we've had a lot going on with Bethany's graduation, birthday, and engagement, Brad's new job, and juggling While We're Waiting events and activities.  I have to confess that I've been spending a lot of my online time on Pinterest checking out wedding ideas.  So fun!

I do manage to get in an hour of reading everyday while I'm walking on my treadmill, and recently I hit on a really good book.  It has the intriguing title of "Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal" and I had been aware of it for awhile, but had not purchased it.  (I'm pretty stubborn about not paying full price for ebooks!)  I was interested in it because of the subtitle ... "A Boy, Cancer, and God."  And when Amazon temporarily dropped the price on the Kindle edition, I downloaded it right away.

Wow ... What a great book!  Michael Kelley perfectly captured the experience of having a child with cancer.  Mr. Kelley's two-year-old son Joshua was diagnosed with leukemia and began the same type of odyssey we went on with our daughter Hannah.  He tangled with the same questions, fears, and doubts that we did.  It was so refreshing to read how Mr. Kelley addressed these issues in his own life, and to find that he came to the same conclusions we did.  For example, read this excerpt from page 161, as Joshua was facing a possible new round of chemotherapy treatments ...

"If all we do is trust God for a positive outcome, we are subtly implying that we, in our own infinite knowledge and wisdom, know what is best.  That doesn't mean we don't pray specifically for healing, for an end to suffering, for whatever -- we certainly do.  But we pray undergirded with confidence not only in what God can do but in who God is.  That's really what we are choosing to believe.  We are choosing to believe not so much that He would spare us from having to do chemotherapy all over again, but if that is indeed what He chose for us, He would be faithful to uphold us with His strength.  Again."

I could relate to so many of the situations he described in the book.  For example, the author describes the surreal experience of watching his little boy eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without a care in the world, while he and his wife processed the news of his devastating leukemia diagnosis.  I still clearly remember going to Firehouse Subs in Little Rock and watching Hannah contentedly eat her Hook 'n' Ladder sandwich while Brad and I were silently reeling from what her doctor had just told us.

The title?  The author describes how Joshua would receive his chemotherapy treatments on Tuesdays, so that Wednesdays were pretty normal before all the side effects began kicking in later in the week.  Yeah, I get that, too.

Happily, Joshua is doing well and is in remission now.  As any cancer parent knows, though, life is never the same after a diagnosis like this.  Every fever, bruise, cough, or headache is cause for concern ... sometimes on bordering on abject terror.  Here's how he closes the book ...

"Until then we continue to walk with God.  To limp with God.  That limp, the brokenness that will go with us until the end, doesn't just mark us as people who have had a child with cancer.  It's a mark that reminds us of the God who is worthy of our trust.  He's the One we have wrestled, and yet He is the One who has sustained us.  Even now."

Obviously, this is a great book for anyone who has experienced a cancer journey either personally or with their child, it's also a perfect read for anyone who's endured any kind of suffering, including those who have lost children through any means.  There's so much in here about wrestling with God and living by faith in the middle of incredibly difficult circumstances.  It's not "on sale" on Amazon anymore, but it's well worth paying full price, in my opinion!