Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday -- Elusive JOY

Joy can be elusive, can't it?

Anyone who knows me well (or who has read this blog for awhile) knows that our family has kind of adopted the word JOY as our "word."  Hannah's middle name was Joy, and it's a sweet reminder of her.  It also represents our firm belief that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and is a reminder of the great joy our daughter is now experiencing in Heaven.  Hannah's former bedroom is now wall-to-wall JOY stuff, and has become one of my favorite places to be.

But sometimes in daily life, joy is hard to hold onto.

Birthday cakes with no one to blow out the candles, anticipation of the holiday season, and an empty chair at the table day after day and year after year ... these things can really put a dent in my joy ... like a dent the size of the Grand Canyon!

Some days this is what my joy looks like ...

And some days it's a little more like this ... (This may be my favorite picture of all time.)

But then, I get a note in the mail like the one I received on Hannah's birthday this week (you can tell that this is someone who knows my love for the word "JOY") ...

... And some of that joy comes back.

Joy can come from the smallest things ... like a note on a difficult day, a hug from an understanding friend, or even a beautiful sunset.  In fact, I believe that one of the best things we can do when we're hurting is to ...

Easier said than done, I know.  When we've suffered a great loss, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever find joy again.  But little by little, if we train ourselves to look for and name those little things that bring even the faintest glimmer of joy to our hearts ... gradually, bit by bit, inch by inch ... God faithfully begins to restore our joy.  

Is it hypocritical to try to conjure up joy in our hearts when we're just really not feeling it?  Take a look at this quote from the book "Kingdom of Love" by Hannah Hurnard.

"What about praising even when the disappointment feels very real? Does that mean we're faking it and fooling ourselves?  No. It means we're being obedient.  It is never hypocrisy to act as we earnestly desire to feel, even though the feeling may be very contrary at the time. Feelings follow action."

I really like that.  

And here's what I'm going to leave you with on this Thoughtful Thursday.  I've been thinking lately about this verse in the sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes (v. 20). 

"For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart." (NKJV)

I could spend a lot of time dwelling unduly on the days of my life ... and when I do that, it seems like that's when I lose my joy.  I'd much rather let God keep me busy with the joy of my heart.  And you know how it is when you're busy and your heart is full of joy ... time goes by fast.  And hey, that sounds pretty good to me!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- Five Birthdays in Heaven


How is it possible that Hannah has spent five birthdays in Heaven now?  It seems like just yesterday that we celebrated her 17th birthday together.

How is it possible that Hannah has only spent five birthdays in Heaven now?  It seems like forever since we celebrated her 17th birthday together.

As always, the days leading up to Hannah's birthday this year were harder than the actual day has been.  Friday was tough. I came home from work and baked Hannah's favorite birthday cake -- Mississippi Mud.  Baking a birthday cake for someone who's not going to be there is ... miserable, depressing, sickening.  As odd as it sounds, though, I think it would feel worse not to make a cake.  It's just something I've gotta do.

Saturday afternoon, we headed up to Briggsville to meet our daughter Bethany and her fiance' Brad, and to visit Hannah's grave.  Bethany and Brad were on fall break this weekend, but they had to attend a wedding in Fayetteville, so they didn't get in until late that night ... actually, it was about 1:00 that morning, but I stayed up to get a hug from my girl.  After all, it had been a month since I'd seen her last!

Sunday morning we got up and headed to the cemetery.  If you know me well (or you've read my blog for a long time), you know that I get no comfort from visiting Hannah's grave.  It's just a really hard place for me to be ... there's just too much reality there.  I do hope that some day that will be different, but for now, that's just the way it is.  For now, I do well to go twice a year (on her birthday and on her Heaven day).

We spent the rest of Sunday just relaxing and watching football and movies with Bethany and her Brad.  So nice.  And then I was off yesterday, so we were able to spend most of the day together, eating lunch out and doing a little shopping.  Of course, I had to share them with Brad's family too, so I grudgingly let them go spend some time with his folks last night.  ;-)

Today I headed back to work, but stopped by basketball practice afterwards to see Bethany work out with her former team.  So glad she was able to do that with them today ... she really enjoyed it!  She was able to scrimmage with them, but then was able to kick back and watch while they did line drills and conditioning exercises ... She especially liked that part!  Then she came home, took a shower, packed up her stuff, and hit the road back to Fayetteville.  Having her home really helped make the weekend brighter.

This is the first year I've actually worked on Hannah's birthday since she went to Heaven.  This morning, I purposely did not post anything about Hannah's birthday on Facebook, because I really didn't want my co-workers to know about it.  I wasn't sure if I could hold it together if anyone said anything to me about her birthday, and I was probably right.  Thankfully, no one seemed to know, except one sweet person who emailed me.  I still felt "different" all day ... as if everyone who saw me could surely tell just by looking at me that today was Hannah's birthday.  Sounds strange, even as I write it, but I really did feel that way.

What a blessing it was to get home and see that many people had already recognized that it was her birthday and written sweet comments and posts.  I then posted a status about her birthday, and have been watching the comments roll in while I've written this blog post.  To say that I'm overwhelmed by the prayers offered up on behalf of our family and the kind remembrances of my Hannah Joy is a completely inadequate statement.  I am completely blown away, and I am so grateful.  Our family has been so blessed to have such wonderful people in our lives.

So, five years.  Hannah would be 22 years old today.  She would no longer be a girl, but a woman.  She would be a senior in college.  Would would her major be?  Would she be engaged, married?  What would her career plans be ... or would she be planning to be a stay-at-home mom to my grandchildren?  How would she be impacting the world for Christ?

Oh, wait.  I know the answer to that last one.  And I have to believe her impact for Christ is far greater now than it ever would have been if she were here celebrating her 22nd birthday with us.  Does that make me miss her any less?  No.  If I had the option of bringing her back, would I do it?  Yes.  I suppose it's a good thing God doesn't give us that option.  Because His plan is greater than mine, and He knows what is best.  And for that, I can only be grateful.

But oh, how I miss my girl ...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Praising in Prison

"...they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.  And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, 'These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.  They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.' The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep the safely.  Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them ..."  Acts 16:19b-25

Paul and Silas were in a rough spot.

They really hadn't done anything wrong.  They were serving God, witnessing to people, casting out evil spirits ... Sounds to me like they were doing everything right.  And what was their reward?

They were dragged before the authorities, falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with rods, thrown into prison, and fastened in stocks.  Some reward.

And yet, what did they do, there in the darkness of prison?  They prayed and sang hymns to God.

Reading this passage the other day, I was reminded of how we always close our While We're Waiting Weekends for Parents.  On Sunday morning, before we all head our separate ways, we spend about 30 minutes having a time of praise and worship.  This is always a very moving time for me, because I know the immense cost of these parents' praise.  These are folks who were just going along through their lives and were blindsided by unthinkable tragedy. They've been stripped of everything, beaten, and thrown into a "prison" of pain and heartache.  And yet they lift their voices in praise.  It's a beautiful thing.

But there's more.  Look at the very end of verse 25 ... " and the prisoners were listening to them."  When those of us who have suffered great loss lift our voices in praise, people take notice.  We have an opportunity to share our faith ... in a way that most folks don't ... simply because of the fact that we've suffered.  Like Paul and Silas, we just have to be prepared for these opportunities, whatever our circumstances.

"...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..."  I Peter 3:15

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Surprises for Hannah

Hannah's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, which always has a tendency to put me in a bit of a melancholy mood.  She would be 22 years old on the 22nd of this month ... her "golden birthday", as we used to call it when we were kids.  And what's more striking than that to me is that this will be the fifth birthday she is spending in Heaven.  How is it possible that that much time has passed since we celebrated her 17th birthday here on earth?  And honestly, it was hard to "celebrate" her 17th birthday, because we knew that, without a miracle, it would be the last one we would enjoy with her here.

I've been thinking lately about things that have happened since Hannah's last earthly birthday ... things she would be surprised by if she knew about them.  And who knows ... maybe she does!  So, here are ten things that I think would really surprise my girl ...

1.  Probably her biggest surprise would be finding out that her "baby" sister, Bethany, is engaged ... and to one of her old friends and classmates.  I can just see her smiling and shaking her head about that.  She'd be thrilled.

2.  She'd also be surprised that that same baby sister won a state championship in both high jump and softball her senior year.  As her biggest fan, Hannah would be very proud of her!

3.  She'd be shocked to know that her dad has a new job ... as Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Fountain Lake Schools.  She'd be proud of him, too!

4.  She would be surprised (and excited) to find out that she has a new cousin on the way!!  Yes, her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Byron are going to break from Sullivan tradition, and have a third baby.  Maybe, after eight girls, we'll finally get our boy.  Now that would be a surprise to all of us!

5.  She would be surprised (and dismayed) by the current state of our government.

6.  She would be surprised by the prevalence of technology today.  The first generation iPhone had only been out about a year when she turned 17, and the iPad was still a figment of Steve Jobs's imagination.

7.  She would be surprised by all the mutations American Idol has gone through, the fact that there is no more John & Kate Plus Eight, and the popularity of Duck Dynasty (which she would love, by the way)!

8.  She would be surprised that so many people have heard about her and her story.  She was never one to seek the spotlight, and she would be shocked (but pleased) to know that the story of her faith in the face of cancer had touched so many lives.

9.  She would be surprised by the ministry of While We're Waiting, and that the cornerstone of that ministry is the retreats we host for bereaved parents.  She, more than probably anyone else, knows that I've never been a "retreat person" ... as a natural introvert, I've never enjoyed big get-togethers, especially with a bunch of people I've never met!  But that leads into #10 ...

10.  She would be surprised to see how God has changed her mom, dad, and sister over the last five years.  How our perspective has changed from the temporary to the eternal, and how our priorities have been completely and totally altered.  How we've come to understand what the Bible means by "The peace that passes understanding", and how God has used the prayers of others to carry us on the days that we couldn't walk on our own.  And how we spend each day looking forward to the day we'll see her again ... but in the meantime, how God continues to help us live well while we're waiting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting Weekend for Dads

Awesome things happen when a group of bereaved, but believing, Dads spend a weekend together.  These guys gathered at an old farmhouse in rural Yell County, Arkansas, on Friday evening and headed their separate ways on Sunday morning.  They spent time riding four-wheelers, eating, hunting for arrowheads, eating, sitting around the pond, eating, and talking about their kids and their Savior.  Brad's mom sent her world-famous German chocolate cake, and from the sound of it, it was very well received.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend ...

I've often wished I could be a fly on the wall at one of these Dads' weekends.  But, you know, I really don't need to be there to know what a great time they have ... I can see the difference in my husband when he comes home from one of these things.

And then there's this.  One of the dads wrote a note to Brad and Larry at the end of the weekend, and with his permission, I would like to share it here.

"I want to thank you for this weekend.  I know so much more will come to me as I process these moments over the next couple of weeks, months, and years to come.  But, these are the immediate take- aways that I will leave with today:  1) I'm not alone in this walk, 2) the opportunity to bring my son alive in the open discussions and just saying his name aloud again, and 3) ways to move forward in my life but, more importantly, my faith. Thanks again and God bless you."

I think this dad pretty much summed it up.  I'm so thankful and humbled that God has allowed us to be part of a unique ministry like this.

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17 ESV

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Through the Cross

Hmmmm ... It's been awhile since I've posted, hasn't it?  We've been busy, busy, busy with While We're Waiting events.  In fact, Brad and Larry just returned home yesterday from a While We're Waiting Weekend for Dads.

I hope to post more about their weekend tomorrow, but for now, I want to share just one thing.  One of the dads who came brought along a special gift for Brad and Larry.  Here's what Brad's looks like.

The front ...

And the back ...

The back is so shiny, it was hard to take a picture without my phone reflecting in it.

Larry's is the same, except it says "Adam Lee Brown" on the back.

The gift was accompanied by a note, explaining that when this dad's son died, a friend gave him one of these.  The dad wrote that it gave him great comfort ... "perhaps it was a constant reminder of both God's and my love for my son."

Don't you love that?  I sure do.

As Brad and I sat on the deck last night talking about the weekend, our conversation turned to this pocket cross.  He said that the dads talked about it on Sunday morning ... how when you look at it, it's like seeing your child through the cross.  

Through the cross ... I had to think about that for a minute.  Oh, I really love that.

When I "see" Hannah these days, I "see" her in Heaven ... healed, whole, happy.  A gloriously transformed, yet somehow the same, version of the girl I used to see here.  But she would not be there, nor would I have any hope of ever seeing her again ... if it weren't for the cross.  If it weren't for a God who was willing to sacrifice His own son ... for her and for me ... and for you.

And I stand amazed (and so grateful), as I gaze at my Hannah Joy through the cross.