Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Mourning -- Thankful for Salvation

As a school-based speech pathologist, I spend a lot of time walking students to and from my classroom.  At regular intervals throughout the day, I show up at various teachers' doors and say, "Time for my group!"  The kids jump up and join me in the hallway, all of them excitedly jabbering about some story they want to tell me.

One Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago, I called for my usual group of four kids from one of the second grade classrooms.  As soon as one of the little girls stepped out into the hallway, she excitedly told me, "Mrs. Sullivan ... I got saved last night!"  She said it so quickly, I really didn't catch what she said, so I asked her to repeat herself.  Her blue eyes literally glowed as she told me again, "I got saved last night!"  Oh, what a thrill!  I gave her a big hug and told her how proud I was of her for making such an important decision.  I loved how excited she was to tell me.  It was obvious that she'd been waiting for me to show up at the door just so she could share her good news.

The next week, I was walking that same group back to their classroom after our session and we passed one of the teacher's aides in the hallway ... someone that this little girl doesn't see every day.  She immediately stopped and called out the aide's name and said, "Guess what ... I got saved!"  That teacher also gave her a big hug and told her how happy she was for her.  This was clearly a big deal to her. I was impressed .... and a little ashamed.  This little girl was telling everybody she knew about what had happened in her life.  She was a far better witness for Christ than I usually am.

The following week, she told me that she had gotten baptized, and she asked me if I had been baptized.  When I told her I had, she grabbed my arm and hugged it, saying, "Now we're sisters in Christ."  My heart absolutely melted.  What joy this little girl had!

As I thought about this little girl, and what I believe is a true salvation experience for her, my heart was so happy.  This child does not come from a good home situation.  In fact, she told me something earlier this school year that caused me to go visit with the school counselor about her.  She is only in second grade.  I have no idea what she might encounter in the years ahead, but I suspect her life won't be easy.

But here's the thing.  Because she has Jesus in her heart, this little girl can face whatever lies ahead.  No matter what her future holds, she won't go through it alone.  I pray that she continues to hold fast to her faith as the years go by.

This little girl reminded me of another little girl who was saved and baptized about fourteen years ago.  And because of the decision she made at that time, she was able to face a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of sixteen.  She never got angry, she never asked why, and she never lost her faith as she engaged in a year-long battle for her life.  And because of that decision to follow Christ, she stepped into Heaven when that battle ended.  And because I made the same decision when I was a little girl, I will see her again one day.

And that is why, in this week of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for salvation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ten on the Tenth -- Observations from the Empty Nest

Whoops!  It's the 11th, isn't it?  Oh well, yesterday I was too busy with my little "chick" who was home for the weekend to post anyway.

I can't seem to go anywhere these days without someone asking me how we are doing with our empty nest.  So, here are a few observations I've made in the first three months of having an empty nest ...

1.  I only do laundry once, maybe twice, a week.  When Bethany was home, our washing machine was running pretty much every day because of all of her sweaty, smelly practice clothes and uniforms.

2.  Two people make a lot less trash than three people.  How can one person make such a difference?

3.  I do a lot less cooking when it's just the two of us at home.  In fact, I rarely turn on the oven.  Sandwiches, cereal, soup, carry-out pizza, and meals out meet our needs for sustenance.

4.  I do far less grocery shopping (see #3).

5.  I rarely run the dishwasher (see #3).

6.  I clean the house ... and it stays clean!  Especially Bethany's bathroom.  And her bedroom.  I kind of like that.

7.  I'm no longer running from sporting event to sporting event.  Most nights, I come home from work and I shut the garage door behind my car.  I can put on my pajama pants and relax at home for the evening.  Ahhhhh, bliss!

8.  Maybe because I'm no longer attending sporting events in person, I find myself much more interested in watching sports on TV.  And maybe because that's something Brad and I can enjoy doing together.  Speaking of which, we actually have time to enjoy doing things together again, just the two of us.  I like that, too.

9.  It is so much fun to sit back and watch Bethany grow into a responsible, mature young woman.  She's working hard and it's paying off in the form of excellent grades.  She is learning how to manage her time and how to discipline herself to study even when she'd rather do something else.  It's also wonderful to see her begin to appreciate her mom and dad a little more.  When I get texts from her thanking us for raising her the way we did and talking about how much she loves and misses us ... Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

10.  I'm beginning to see Bethany as an individual, someone separate and distinct from me, with her own unique gifts and talents and her own life to live.  Of course, intellectually, I've always known that, but my heart is starting to accept that as well.  And I can only rejoice in that!  I'm also beginning to see Brad and I as a couple again ... no longer as "just" our children's parents.  And that can only be a good thing.

Do I miss Bethany?  Of course I do.  Our house is so quiet without her here.  This past Halloweeen was the first time in 22 years that we haven't had a child at home for that occasion.  And this upcoming Christmas will be the last time we'll have a child at home on Christmas morning ... by next Christmas Bethany will be married.  Life is changing for the Sullivan family.

One thing, though, that makes it kind of fun to miss Bethany is the joyful anticipation of seeing her again.  She does not come home very often ... about once a month up to this point.  So it's a real treat when she does.  I get all excited and run to the grocery store to get the ingredients for her favorite foods and come home and cook them up.  She brings home a pile of dirty laundry and messes up that clean bedroom and bathroom.  We stay up late watching wedding shows on TV and talking about college life.  And before I know it, it's Sunday afternoon and she's hitting the road for "home", and our home is quiet and still once again.  And there's no sadness, because she's doing what she's supposed to be doing ... growing up and becoming the woman God wants her to be.

But the "missing" we have for Bethany is altogether different from the "missing" in our hearts for Hannah.  When Hannah left for Heaven, we experienced many of the things I listed above.  We had less laundry.  Her bed stayed made and her room stayed clean.  I no longer bought as many groceries as I used to.  But there was no joy to be found in these things, only emptiness and heartbreak.

There is one similarity, though, and that is the joyful anticipation of seeing her again.  Granted, it will probably be longer than a month before I see her again (although, if God wills, it could be much sooner).  Four and a half years ago, she hit the road for "home", and our nest became partially empty way before I ever thought it would.  But, just like Bethany, she is doing what she's supposed to be doing ... sitting around the throne, worshipping her Lord and Savior.

And though my nest may be empty, my heart is full ... because both of my girls are happy, and I will see them both again ... sooner or later.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting Weekend Recap

Wow.  It happened again.  We had an absolutely wonderful weekend with some amazing parents ... all of whom have children in Heaven.  These folks came from all over the country, and we were honored that they chose to come to Arkansas and share their precious children with us.  God blessed us with perfect fall weather ... crisp, cold mornings and bright blue afternoon skies without a cloud in sight.  Family Farm is beautiful in the fall, and everyone quickly made themselves at home.

We kicked off the weekend with a delicious meal together on Friday evening, and then began the process of sharing our children's stories.  There's nothing like sharing your child's story with other moms and dads who truly understand and who sincerely want to hear about your child.  

As the time grew late, we all headed to bed, waking up bright and early on Saturday morning for a good Southern-style breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, and biscuits and gravy.

After breakfast, it was back to sharing our stories for awhile, then we headed out to feed the animals.  We paused for a few moments on the front steps of the Lodge to put on the Armor of God (Family Farm style!), and then made our way to the barnyard.  "Daddy May" introduced us to all the animals by name, and then we got to visit with them ... up close and personal!

A few brave folks went for a ride on the "Redneck Carousel" ...

The Mays (who own Family Farm) shared their son's story at Salvation Station ...

We went back inside for a few more stories and a lunch from Chick-Fil-A.  Then it was back outside for some more outdoor activities.  

Slide Mountain ...

Islands ...

the Balance Log ...

a hay ride (which unfortunately was cut short by a flat tire) ...

and, of course, the zip line ...

We checked out the new Family Farm teepee ...

And enjoyed an incredible 5-course gourmet meal prepared and served by our very own professional chef ...

We spent the evening discussing issues that we all deal with as parents with children in Heaven ... things like how we handle birthdays, how we answer the dreaded question, "How many children do you have?", how we deal with the clumsy things well-meaning people often say to us, and how men and women grieve differently, along with a number of other topics.   

Our weekend wrapped up on Sunday morning with a devotional about how we can live well while we're waiting to be reunited with our children in Heaven one day followed by a time of praise and worship.  This is always the most moving time for me, as this group of people who has lost so much lift their voices in praise to their Savior.  Words cannot describe it.

Let me close with the words of a couple of our parents ...

Molly's mom said, "The most wonderful, caring people you will ever meet.  They will show you how living well while we wait is our act of obedience to Jesus and our way to honor our child in Heaven."

Melody's mom said, "This was such a blessing.  Thank you for helping us as we walk through our grief journey."

If you have a child in Heaven, we'd love to see you at our next While We're Waiting Weekend, which is scheduled for April 4-6, 2014.  Just click on the "Register for a While We're Waiting Event" tab above and sign up.  Our retreats fill up quickly, so don't wait!