Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- "Until Then"

At our While We're Waiting events, we always spend a lot of time talking about all the things we're looking forward to about Heaven ... meeting Jesus in person, wrapping our arms around child's neck (and holding on for a REALLY long time), getting caught up with other loved ones, and enjoying that whole "no more tears" thing.

But in our WWW support group meeting last night, we spent some time talking about what we're supposed to do until then.  A long time ago, the children of Israel were wondering the same thing.

Our Scripture reference was from Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 10-11.  Here's what it says ...

"These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ... 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent  you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  For thus says the Lord:  When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'"

The Israelites found themselves in a very uncomfortable place.  They were in captivity, in exile, in a foreign land, and they had no idea how long they were going to be there.  They hoped that eventually they would be freed, but they didn't know what they were supposed to do until then.  The prophet Jeremiah sent them this letter to tell them that it was going to be awhile (70 years to be exact), and that they needed to settle in for the long haul.

As parents who have lost children, I think everyone in our group last night could relate to these folks.  We are in an uncomfortable, difficult situation ... a place we never thought we would be ... a place that feels foreign to us, where everything is new and different and we don't like it.  We feel like we've been exiled from the life we once had, and we just want things back the way they were.  We know that someday this "captivity" will end ... when we get to Heaven ... but what are we supposed to do until then?

Well, Jeremiah, under God's direction, gave the people of Israel some pretty good advice.  Basically, it was, "Settle in, because it's going to be awhile.  Build houses, plant gardens, enjoy your family ... find joy in life."  We don't know how long we have here ... for some of us, it could be a matter of days, for others, it could be decades.  Whichever it is, I don't think God wants us to waste that time.  Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10b), and I think that is still possible, even if our life hasn't turned out the way we thought it might.

Jeremiah also told them (and us) to seek the welfare of the city where they'd been sent.  How do we do that?  I think we can do that by finding our place of service.  I've come to believe over the last few years that God wants us to heal, and reaching out and serving others right where we are is one of the best ways to do that.  That's a great way to make the world around us better.

God made the Israelites a promise ... that their time of exile would eventually end.  And at the conclusion of their captivity, He would bring them back home.  He also assures them that He has a plan for their good and not for evil, plans to give them a future and a hope.

He makes that same promise to us today.  We have a future and a hope.  Our exile will come to an end, and when it's over, He'll take us home to Heaven.  Our job is just to keep on living ... trusting Him and serving Him, until then.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Missing My Girl

Well, it's official.  Bethany's been away from home longer than she's ever been away before.  It's been nine days since we've seen her.  She started classes at the U of A today, and she's already called me and told me all about them.  So far, it seems that her biggest dilemma is going to be deciphering her music lit professor's Serbian accent.  She said she couldn't understand a word he said and his slides were blurry so she couldn't read them.  (We did have her eyes checked this summer, and the doc said she has 20/20 vision.  Hmmmmm.....)  The bright spot of her day was finding out that the guy sitting right behind her used to be a classmate of hers in elementary school in El Dorado.  On a campus with more than 24,000 students, that's pretty amazing.

I bet that, based on the title of this post, you thought I was going to write about missing Bethany.  Would you think me a bad mother ... if I said that I don't really miss her?  I mean, I miss her, but I don't miss her, if that makes any sense at all.  And no one is more surprised about that than me.  For all my big talk about how this separation was going to be so different from our separation with Hannah, I really thought I'd still miss Bethany an awful lot.

But I've heard from Bethany several times a day every day since she's been gone.  She's texted me lots of pictures of herself doing fun things with "Other Brad" and we've talked on the phone nearly every day.  She's been having the time of her life.  And, you know what?  I've had a really good time, too.  Brad and I have been hiking twice with our friends, the Browns.  We've gone out to eat with other friends.  We've had some quiet evenings at home just watching TV.  I'm not spending time cleaning house, because it's staying clean!  I'm not doing laundry all the time, because two people just don't make that many dirty clothes.  Honestly, it's been kind of nice!

So what's with the title of this post?  Well, for some reason, Bethany's transition to college has made me miss Hannah more.  I can't quite figure out why, but a lot of the old sadness has surfaced recently.  I think it's a number of things ... I'm sad that Hannah never got to experience what Bethany is experiencing now.  I'm sad that Hannah can't text me pictures of what she's seeing and doing in Heaven.  I'm sad that I never get to hear her voice or her laugh over the phone.  I'm sad that she's not going to be coming home next weekend after the football game.  I'm sad that Hannah never got to see what life was like after the age of seventeen.  I'm sad that the last year of her life was spent in the grip of cancer.  I'm sad that she never got to experience a love like Brad and Bethany's.  And I'm sad for me ... I just miss her.

You know, one of the nice things about Bethany being gone is the excited anticipation I feel about seeing her again.  And that will be in exactly five days (not that I'm counting :) ), when she comes home after Saturday's Razorback game.  Then she'll head back to school, and I can eagerly look forward to seeing her again on September 14th, when we'll be coming to Fayetteville for a ball game.  Our separation will make seeing her again just that much more sweet.

And really, that's how it will be with Hannah, too.  It's different in that I can't count a specific number of days until I see her again ... I have no idea how long it may be.  Could be tomorrow, could be forty years from now.  But I do know this ... the long separation we've had is sure going to make for a sweet, sweet reunion.  And that reunion will last forever ... we'll never be separated again.  What a beautiful thought!

A few pics from Bethany's first week at college ... Going to church with her sweet fiance' ...

Going to a drive-through zoo ...

Settling into her dorm room ...

Getting crafty ...

And getting a quick visit from her dad when he came to northwest Arkansas for a funeral ...

So thankful that she has the opportunity to experience all of this.  We are truly blessed.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- The "Empty Nest"

I've never really liked the term "empty nest."  Ever since Bethany graduated from high school in May, lots of people have asked me if I'm feeling sad about having an empty nest.  And there have been a few folks who've given me an elbow nudge accompanied by a conspiratorial wink, telling me how much I'm going to enjoy my empty nest.

Well, since my nest has been half empty since February of 2009, I'm not really sure how to respond to these folks.  Maybe that's because I'm not really sure how I feel about it.  It's one thing for your nest to be emptied by a child's death, and an entirely different thing when a child leaves the nest to head to college.

So ... since we'll be moving Bethany into her dorm at the University of Arkansas one week from today, here are just a few (well, ten) of my thoughts ...

1.  I'm so excited for her.  Even though it's been almost thirty years ago, I clearly remember how excited I was to be leaving home and heading off to college.  I couldn't wait, and she can't either.

2.  We've had fun doing some pre-college shopping together.  Since she'll be getting married after just one year in the dorm, we've tried to stick to buying things she'll be able to use in her home next year ... and that's pretty fun to think about, too.

3.  I'm praying that she'll have a good roommate and suitemates.  She has never met these girls in person, but they've "met" on Facebook, and they text each other a lot.  They seem to be compatible, but you never know until you live in a tiny little dorm room with someone!

4.  I'm so glad that her fiance' (aka "Other Brad") will be there with her.  He will be starting his senior year there, so he knows the ropes at the U of A.  He can help her find her way around that enormous campus, make sure she gets to where she's going safely, and help her get plugged in to some good Christian ministries there.  I'm so thankful for that ... it makes this Mama feel much better!

5.  She has spent her summer working as a counselor at Family Farm Christian Day Camp ... the same place where we hold our While We're Waiting Parents' Weekends.  She had such a great experience there, and really grew in her walk with the Lord.  I'm so glad she had that opportunity before heading off to a secular university.

6.  Her career goal is to be a dental hygienist, and she's going to spend the first three days of next week "shadowing" at our dentist's office.  And guess who just happens to have an appointment on Monday afternoon?  Me!  I wonder if they'll let her practice on me ... It's actually kind of a scary thought!  ;-)

7.  She is so ready to get out on her own.  From seventh grade on, her dad has been her principal, and I've also worked in her school.  She's never really been away from us ... at least when it comes to school.  She's looking forward to the independence that college will provide.  We keep teasing her that we're going to get an apartment in Fayetteville and come up every weekend ... I think she's half afraid that we're serious!

8.  I'm beginning to think about how our lives will change when she's not home all the time.  No more ball games, for one thing.  The ability to focus on each other as a couple for a change.  The opportunity to take up a new hobby.  Learning how to cook for two ... or maybe going out to eat more often! There will definitely be some good things about it!

9.  She doesn't think she's going to miss us.  I remember feeling that way about my parents when I went to college, too.  It didn't take long for me to gain a whole new appreciation of my folks!

10.  I'm going to miss her terribly.  She's been away from us for a week at a time, but never longer than that.  She's such a bright spot in our lives ... always smiling, laughing, and being silly.  It will be very different around here without her, and I'm really not sure how I'm going to like it.

So how do I feel about my "empty nest"?  I'm really okay with it.  Yes, I'll miss my girl, but she's only going to Fayetteville!  If I want to, I can call her five times a day ... Because she'd love that! ;-)

But I can text her, message her on Facebook, even Skype with her if I want to see her face.  Of course we won't really get an apartment up there, but we can go up from time to time and visit her.  She can come home for a weekend occasionally, and we'll see her at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And next May, she'll be home in time to get ready for her wedding at the end of the month.

And I can rejoice in the fact that she's growing up, the way kids are supposed to.  She has so much to look forward to ... and so do I.  You know, when I think about it, my "nest" may be empty, but my heart is full.  Bethany is growing into a lovely young woman and Hannah is in good hands with her Heavenly Father.  I am a blessed Mom.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- Exciting Changes In Store for "While We're Waiting"!!

If you've followed this blog for awhile, you are very familiar with While We're Waiting, because I talk about it all the time!  But, just in case you're not, let me take just a moment in fill you in.

While We're Waiting is a ministry to parents who have experienced the loss of a child.  God put us together with Larry and Janice Brown about 18 months after Hannah went to Heaven and about 3 months after their son Adam joined her there.  At the outset of the ministry, our desire was to host retreats for couples who had lost children.  We had all experienced how healing it can be to spend time with other parents who truly understood our struggles and victories along the road of grief.  As we discussed where we might hold these retreats, God brought Stan and Donna May to our minds.  The Mays own and operate a local Christian day camp called Family Farm.  And the May's son, Zane, went to Heaven in 1996, so they had a unique understanding of what we wanted to do.  When we approached them with the idea, they embraced us with open arms.

We held our first retreat in April of 2011 (which you can read about here), and since that time, the ministry has grown exponentially.  Our "couples" retreat is now called a "parents" retreat, because we have opened it up to both couples and singles, and we'll be hosting our sixth one this coming November at Family Farm.  We have also expanded our retreat offerings to include annual weekend-long retreats for dads, and quarterly day-long mini-retreats for moms.  (For more information about any of these events, just click the corresponding tab above.)

In addition to our retreats, we now host a monthly support group for parents who are waiting to be reunited with their kids in Heaven.  We also send "Hope Packages" to newly-bereaved parents, and maintain a Facebook page.  We do not charge a fee for any of our events, because we never want a lack of finances to keep someone from participating.  We filed for and received nonprofit status a year ago (which is nothing less than a miraculous accomplishment!), and are now able to offer a tax deduction for donations.

Our retreats have been filling up rapidly, with our November retreat already booked up.  We have folks registered from Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, New York, Indiana, and Arkansas.  God has blessed the ministry abundantly.

Up to this point, our events have been held in four different locations.  Our Parents' Retreats are held at Family Farm, our Dads' Weekends are held at Sullivan family property in west central Arkansas, our Moms' Mini-Retreats are held at Janice Brown's home, and we have our support group meetings at Hot Springs Baptist Church.  As the ministry has grown, we've reached the point that we'd like to host events on a more frequent basis, but we are limited by the availability of some of our venues.

We recently had the opportunity to have our own "retreat" of sorts with Larry and Janice Brown.  We spent a few days in southern Mississippi, as I wrote about in my last post.  While we were together, we spent a lot of time talking and praying about where God may be taking While We're Waiting.  And we concluded that it's time to take a step of faith.  We believe that it's time for While We're Waiting to have a place of its own.

The Browns own fifty rolling, wooded acres just outside of Hot Springs.  There is an older home on the property, and it is our plan to add six to eight bedrooms, each with its own private bath, to the house.  The existing structure will be modified to include a kitchen, a dining area, and a cozy great room/meeting area.  There is a beautiful pond on the property which can be stocked with fish, and lots of space to build walking trails with benches along them.  We've envisioned a gazebo on the hill overlooking the pond, and maybe some paddleboats and a fishing dock on the pond.  We'd like to have a horseshoe pit and possibly even a frisbee golf course.  Our desire is to make it a comfortable, safe, relaxing, home-like place of healing.  A place where parents who have children in Heaven can get together and talk ... about our kids, about our Savior, about Heaven, and about how we're going to live well while we're waiting to join them there one day.

Last night, we sat down with Stan and Donna May, who have been such a big part of While We're Waiting from the very beginning by allowing us to hold our retreats at Family Farm.  They were so wonderful and encouraging, and gave us some great advice as we move forward.  We will still be holding our November 2013 and April 2014 retreats at Family Farm (as well as next month's reunion), and the Mays will continue to be an integral part of While We're Waiting even as we eventually begin holding events at the new "While We're Waiting Ranch."  They are special folks and we dearly love them.

So, there you have it.  While We're Waiting will be building its own retreat facility, where all of our events will eventually be held.  We would love for you to join us in prayer as we undertake this monumental task.  We will need wisdom, discernment, and Heavenly guidance to do this right ... We do not want to take a single step unless we know that God is leading us.  As we move forward, of course, there will be a need for funding.  Our desire is to be good stewards of the finances God provides as we begin this project; doing as much of the work ourselves as possible, and seeking donations of labor and materials to keep the costs down.  As we begin to build and furnish bedrooms and place outdoor benches, etc., we'd love to offer people the opportunity to donate items and/or funds in memory of a precious child in Heaven.

We are so excited.  Mostly because we can't wait to see what God is going to do with While We're Waiting.  We are incredibly blessed just to be a part of what He's up to!  Thank you so much for your prayers as we move forward!