Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Mourning -- "Resurrection"?

So, have you seen ABC's new show called "Resurrection"?  I confess I have not seen a single episode, but the commercials for it have made me a bit ... uncomfortable.

The premise of the show is this ... Small-town families find their long-dead loved ones suddenly arriving, unchanged after decades, on their doorsteps.  Nearly 14 million people tuned in for the premiere episode, making it the highest Sunday drama debut for ABC since 2006.

There was a time when I probably would have thought that was an awesome concept for a show, and I just might have tuned in with great anticipation.

Not anymore.

Now, I think watching it would be akin to torture.

The first time I saw the commercial for this new series (and, oh my, the promotion for it has been relentless), it honestly left me a bit breathless.  The looks on the older couples' faces as they saw their still-8-year-old son Jacob for the first time after he died in a drowning accident 32 years earlier ...!  Yes, they're just actors, and cognitively I know that ... but, oh, what a tug in my heart!  And then, the actress sitting on a church pew (who looks to be about the age Hannah would be now) saying tearfully, "Did I really die?"

This is the fondest dream of every parent who has lost a child ... to be reunited with them here on earth.  To wrap our arms around that child's neck and hold on for all we're worth.  To feel their arms wrap around us and squeeze us back.  To breathe in their scent, to hear their voice, to see their smile, to just look into their eyes and be still.  And then, finally, to talk to them.  And talk and talk and talk.  To say, "Yes, you really died, but now you're back!  And I'm never going to let you go again!"


But that's not the way it works.  I will never see Hannah again here on this earth.  I won't hug her, hold her hand, hear her voice, or sit beside her on her bed and giggle with her again.  People just aren't "resurrected" here on this earth.

But thank God, that's not the end of the story.  I believe that because Hannah trusted Jesus here on earth, she already lives again ... in Heaven.  And as much as I'd like to see her again here on this earth (and believe me, I do!), an earthly resurrection can't compare with a heavenly one.

An earthly resurrection is only temporary.  At some point, we'd have to say good-bye again.  Either she would die, or I would die.  And because of the fact that we have sin natures, our relationship would not be perfect ... we'd have disagreements and misunderstandings, and we might even get angry with each other sometimes.  We'd have to deal with all that comes along with living in a fallen world ... illness, injustice, terrorism, pain, grief, hunger, loss ... the list goes on and on.

A heavenly resurrection is eternal.  We'll never have to say good-bye again.  Our sin natures will be destroyed, so our relationship will be perfect, unmarred by any type of strife.  And we will live in a perfect world ... one without tears, one where we'll worship our Savior with nothing to hinder us.

So will I be watching the TV show "Resurrection"?  Nope, not me.  Why waste my time longing for something that can never happen, and even if it did, would only be a dim shadow of the real resurrection?  I prefer to fix my mind on the great resurrection that is to come in the future, because that's where my real hope lies!

"Jesus said to her (Martha), 'I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he lives.'"  John 11:25

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- The Finish Line

I think that something we all wrestle with as parents who have lost children is the "Why" question.  Why did this have to happen to my child?  Why, when my son was serving the Lord, and his peers were not, was his life taken?  Why didn't God protect my daughter?  Why didn't God heal my son?  Why didn't God allow my daughter to live outside the womb?  Why?  Why?  Why?  This question is a cruel taskmaster.

On Monday, Brad and I attended a funeral where that “Why” question certainly seemed applicable.  This funeral was for a young man named Ben Crowley.  Ben was our sister-in-law’s brother.  He was a handsome guy, 38 years old, had a beautiful godly wife, and a baby girl on the way.  He was a rabid Auburn Tigers fan, and he loved the Lord.  He had overcome a lot in his life, including drug and alcohol addiction as a younger man.  He also was fighting a battle that had gone on for many years … a battle against mental illness.  And on the evening of March 20th, somewhere between 5:30 p.m., when he talked to his wife on the phone and told her he was cooking dinner for her, and 8:30 p.m., when she arrived home, he took his own life.

His family and friends were stunned and heartbroken.  How could this happen?  Ben was doing so well … He loved his wife, he was excited about his baby on the way, and he was making plans for the future.  Yet on that evening, his mental illness took over, and his earthly life ended.

His dad preached his funeral on Monday, and did a wonderful job of sharing who the real Ben was.  Anyone who came that day who did not know Ben left there feeling like they had “met” him.

One of the things his dad said really stuck with me.  He quoted 2 Timothy 4: 6-8 -- "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."

I have to confess, when he read that, I thought to myself, “But Ben didn’t finish the race.  He took his own life.”

But then, Ben’s dad said the same thing I had been thinking ... “When I read that, I thought to myself, ‘But Ben didn’t finish the race.  He took his own life.’  And he continued on, saying, "But then God reminded me of something … God is the one who draws the finish line.  God had drawn the finish line in Ben’s life on the evening of March 20th, and Ben reached it.”  He reminded us that God drew the finish line in His own Son's life after six hours on the cross.  Death by crucifixion usually took two or three days, but God determined that Jesus had suffered enough ... and He drew the finish line.

Wow!  God draws the finish line.  God drew the finish line in Ben's life, just as He drew the finish line in Hannah's life ... and they both finished the race that He had set out for them.

That doesn’t mean that we have to like the course of this race.  I would much preferred to have reached my finish line before Hannah did … I mean, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?  I know Ben's family feels the same way.

But sometimes God had a different plan for our children, and for us, as their parents.  And my job now is to continue to fight that good fight, to keep the faith, and to run that race.  And one day, when I receive my own crown of righteousness, Hannah will be there smiling her big bright smile, and saying, “That’s my Mom!”

Please keep Ben's mom and dad, his wife, his unborn daughter, his siblings, and his many friends in your prayers as they face the difficult days ahead.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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

A couple of weeks ago, the While We're Waiting ministry hosted our fourth weekend retreat for bereaved dads.  This event was facilitated by my husband (Brad) and Larry Brown, and from everything I've heard, it was amazing!

For the first time, our WWW Weekend for Dads was held at Spring Valley Anglers Rod & Gun Club.  This is a beautiful retreat facility located on the limestone banks of Spavinaw Creek in northwest Arkansas.  Nine dads with children in Heaven, in addition to Brad and Larry, had the opportunity to do some fly fishing and skeet shooting in this beautiful setting.  They also spent a good bit of time sitting in comfy chairs around the cozy firepit, and got to enjoy a fabulous steak dinner prepared and served by a professional chef.  

And as they participated in these activities, they talked.  They talked about their kids who are now in Heaven, and the kids they still have here on earth.  They discussed how their grief has impacted their job performance, their spiritual lives, and their relationships with their wives and others.  Some of these men lost sons, and some lost daughters.  Their children's ages ranged from 5 years old to 38 years old. Three went to Heaven after battling cancer, three young men drowned, two were involved in car accidents, one was killed in action in Afghanistan, one was involved in a drug-related tragedy, and one was murdered.  

I am told that while there were certainly some tears over the course of the weekend as these dads shared their most painful experiences with each other, there was also a whole lot of laughter.  And why not?  Each of these dads had experienced a different type of loss ... but they all shared something in common ... a rock solid faith in Christ, and an assurance that they will see their dear children again one day.  And each one of these dads is committed to living well while he's waiting for that great reunion.  They understand that that is the best way to honor both their children and their Lord until that day comes.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend.  Fishing in the sparkling creek ...

Skeet shooting ...

Enjoying some good food ...

And soaking up the warmth of a good fire ...

All while remembering some great kids ...

Here's what a couple of the dads who attended had to say about the weekend ...

I had a wonderful time -- sharing with other dads who have lost their child.  Being able to hear their stories and learn how they are surviving and moving forward is very important.  This is a very important and needed resource for families walking this road.  ~Dustin's dad

Attended Dads' weekend in northwest Arkansas.  What a blessing to spend time with dads who truly understand.  ~Ryan's dad

We at While We're Waiting feel so humbled and privileged to have the opportunity to host events like this.  Will you please help us spread the word about this ministry?  We have another Dads' Weekend scheduled for October 10-12, 2014.  This one will be held at a different location in west central Arkansas ... Click here to read about one of our previous events there.  We also host weekend events for couples/singles and mini-retreats for moms.  Click here to go to our website and get more information or to register for any of these events.  You can also support us by praying for this ministry, and if you feel led to, you can help support us financially.  We do not charge for any of our retreats, and rely solely on donations to keep the ministry going.  You can make a donation on our website via Paypal ... just click here.  We are a 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations are tax-deductible.  

The WWW theme verse is Romans 8:25 -- "But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."  We are so thankful for the hope of Heaven, and while we're waiting, we pray that we will persevere eagerly!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- He Understands

Last week, our Sunday School teacher shared the following illustration ...

There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk in a third grade classroom.  Suddenly ... there is a puddle between his feet, and the front of his pants is wet.  He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot believe this has just happened.  It's never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out, he will never hear the end of it.  And when the girls find out, they'll never speak to him again as long as he lives!

The boy puts his head down on his desk and prays, "Dear God, this is an emergency!  I need help now!  Five minutes from now, I'm dead meat!"

He looks up from his prayer, and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered.  As the teacher is coming to snatch him up, a classmate named Susie is walking by carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water.  Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl in the boy's lap.  The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying with great relief, "Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus!"

Now, just as suddenly, he is the object of sympathy.  The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out.  All the children are on their hands and knees around his desk, cleaning up the mess.  The sympathy is wonderful!

The ridicule that should have been his was transferred to someone else ... Susie.

As the day progresses, the sympathy grows better and Susie's ridicule grows worse.  At the end of the day, they are waiting for the bus.  Susie has been shunned by the other children.  The boy walks over to Susie and says, "Susie, you did that on purpose, didn't you?"

Susie whispers back, "I wet my pants once, too."

What a perfect picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross!  He took our sin and our shame, and willingly transferred it to Himself.

And as if that wasn't enough, take a second and read Hebrews 4:15-16 ...

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who was in all things tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Just like Susie ... He understands!  He not only understands, He sympathizes with our weaknesses.

That means I can approach Him with confidence, even boldness, with my doubts, my struggles, my pain, my sorrows, my disappointments ... and my grief.  And He is there, freely passing out mercy and grace to all who ask.  What a comfort in the time of need!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Mourning -- A Gift of Memories

Would you indulge me for just one more post about Hannah's five-year Heaven Day?

I really just have to share one more thing ... really, just one more.

You know, parents who have lost children (and I suppose anyone who has lost a loved one ... my only real experience with this is losing my daughter) live in dread of these kinds of dates.  I've actually named it ... I call it "The Tyranny of Dates."  You can't get away from them.  Just when you get through one -- your child's birthday, for example -- there's another one on the horizon.  Christmas, Mother's Day, the day she should have graduated from kindergarten or high school, the day he should have been born.  The calendar is relentless ... It never stops!

Now, I did learn pretty early on that the anticipation of the day is usually worse than the day itself.  Knowing that usually helps me in dealing with these days.  And this year, I was a bit distracted from the upcoming date by my dad's very unexpected open heart surgery (5 bypasses!) a week earlier.

I spent several days with my mom and dad as he dealt with numerous complications following his surgery.  Finally, he stabilized, and I was able to return home a couple of days before that dreaded date.

I knew this year was going to be different than any other, because I was going to be all alone.  My husband was in Phoenix, and Bethany was four hours away at the University of Arkansas.  I just really wasn't sure how the day was going to go.

I had decided a few days earlier to start out the day by making a post on Facebook asking people to share their memories of Hannah.  I almost talked myself out of it.  After all, Hannah was only a teenager when she died ... she didn't know that many people.  And besides, she was so quiet, a real homebody, a girl who would rather stay home with her family on Saturday nights than hang out with friends.  Would anybody really have any memories to share?  What if nobody wrote anything?

I decided to go ahead and post it anyway.  I knew that family members would write something, and maybe a few of her friends.  Here's what I wrote:

Five years ago today, our beautiful daughter and sister, Hannah Joy, went to Heaven after bravely battling brain cancer for a year. Would you mind giving our family a gift today? Would you take just a moment and share a memory you have of Hannah with us? We have so many wonderful memories with her, and it would really be a blessing to us to hear some of yours. Thank you so much!

I then went on about my day, most of which you know about if you've read my last few posts.  All through the day, I heard the notification chirps coming in from my phone.  A couple of times, I started to pick it up and look at the posts, but I would immediately tear up and have to put it down.  I had to lead the While We're Waiting support group meeting that evening, and I had to be able to hold myself together.  I knew if I read those posts, I would be done for the day.  So I decided to wait.

We had a great WWW meeting that night, and then I had the wonderful God-surprise of the wind chimes and the rock after I got home.  Once I had somewhat recovered from that awesome moment, I put on my pajama pants, curled up on the couch with some Kleenex, and opened up my laptop.  I was completely unprepared for what I found.

There were 90 comments on my post.

There were memories from relatives, family friends, former teachers, acquaintances, nurses, church leaders, peers, and a large people who had never even met her, but had been somehow touched by her life.  There were remembrances of her smile, her laugh, her "sweet spirit", her servant's heart, and her curly hair.  There were memories of her caring for younger children, bantering with her sister, playing Barbies, eating pizza, letting a friend copy her biology paper, helping in Vacation Bible School, and managing the high school basketball team.  And as much as I hate to rank one comment above the others, this one had to mean the most to me ...

Our daughter, Madelyn, began to ask questions about Jesus, eternal salvation and Heaven during Hannah's courageous battle. Hannah was a light for Christ during her dark days and Madelyn accepted Christ as her Savior on 2-23-09 because of Hannah's testimony. Hannah will always hold a special place in our family's heart! 

Y'all ... It just doesn't get any better than that.  That right there is what it's all about.

Would I have chosen for Hannah to battle cancer for a year and go to Heaven at the age of 17?  No.  Never.  If it were possible, would I turn back time to January 2008 and write a different ending for her story?  You betcha.

Would her life have had the impact it's had if things had been different?  I don't think so.

Is God's master plan better than mine?  Yes (somewhat grudgingly).

I think my role is to be thankful for the countless wonderful memories that I (and apparently many others) have of my girl, and to be grateful that God has chosen to use her in the way He has.

So, thank you, Lord.  And let me say a huge thank you to all of those who gave us the gift of your memories.  You blessed our family more than you could ever know.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- The Rest of the Story

As promised, here's the continuation of my last post about Wind Chimes and Rocks.

Because as with any great story, there's more to be told.

First, though ... a couple of pictures so you can see how special these gifts really were.

The wind chimes hanging on the archway, just where I imagined them that morning ...

And the JOY rock on Hannah's windowsill, taking the place of the one I left on her grave that day ...

When I opened the gift bag that night and found these wonderful surprises, I sat right down at my computer and wrote my friend Christy a private message.  I was so excited, and I told her the whole story, including the fact that I just couldn't stop shaking my head about the way God had worked through her gifts.  With her permission, I'd like to share with you a little of what she said in reply.

Thank you for sharing that with me !!  As I was reading your message I too was shaking my head and saying WOW !!   That truly was a God thing.    As I said, I had remembered you saying that the next time we met would be 5 Years, well as it got closer I knew I wanted to give you something. I had looked for something on about 3 different occasions, not really having anything specific in mind but nothing just really jumped out at me.   Well I had to pick up a few things in Hot Springs on Monday and was a little short on time,    But I continued to look.   Well I found a couple of things, had them in my hand but for some reason put them back.  Well I then turned around and there was the chimes and the rock , as I picked them up I glanced at the time so I said ok I will just get these. It's the thought that really counts right.  When I got in the car to leave it hit me. I just bought Jill a "Rock".  And I kept imagining the look of "what is this" you would have when you received it and yes for the next 2 days, I really felt silly for giving you a rock.   But at the same time I had a peace about it.  Still, that's why when I handed you the gift, I said " I know this is not much but".   Wow, that is all I can say, except for praying and thanking Him for using me in such a way.   With a Rock and chimes none the less!!  I stand more and more amazed each day!! 

Here's the thing that's so cool to me.  Christy was prompted by God to do something for me, and she was obedient to that prompting ... even though she didn't know why she was doing what she was doing.  Not only that, but she even felt a little bit silly about it.  But she didn't let that stop her.  She did it anyway, and something that seemed like such a little thing (and maybe even a silly thing) to her, was absolutely huge to me.

We never know how our actions of obedience impact others.

Two other examples of this. A little over five years ago, a lady obeyed God's prompting and anonymously left a book at the desk of the hospice center where we were spending Hannah's last days. A small gift, and maybe one that she felt a little funny about giving since that book was about the loss of a baby (actually two babies) and here we were in a hospice center with a 17-year-old. Nonetheless, she was obedient, and ultimately, that gift led to the formation of While We're Waiting, our ministry to bereaved parents.  A small act of obedience with huge ramifications.

Let me leave you with my final example, and I share it with my friend Christy's permission.  Christy is the one who gave me the gifts pictured above, and Christy's 17-year-old son, Ryan, went to Heaven back in September.  Back when Ryan was little more than a toddler, their family was living their lives far from God, and were content with that lifestyle.  One day, their neighbor, an 11-year-old girl, came over to their house, handed them some tickets, and invited them to a "Heavens' Gates & Hell's Flames" drama taking place at their church.  They didn't really want to go, but they didn't want to disappoint this sweet little girl, so they did.  That night was a turning point in their lives as a family.  From that point on, they dedicated their lives to the Lord, became involved in church, and raised their son in a Christian home.  As a result, Ryan turned his life over to the Lord as a young child.

And today, Ryan is in Heaven with his Lord and Savior ... all due to an 11-year-old girl's obedience.

Don't ever disregard the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  The implications of a single act of obedience can have eternal ramifications.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tell About It Tuesday -- Wind Chimes and Rocks

I have always been what I would call a realist.  I'm not a sentimentalist.  I'm not a person who sees a message from God in every rainbow or heart-shaped rock.  I never have been.

But sometimes, God smacks me upside the head with something (as we say in the south), and even I can't dismiss it as a coincidence or explain it away with logic.

Last Wednesday marked five years since our 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, went to Heaven after a year-long battle with brain cancer.  For the past four years, the three of us have made that anniversary a family day, taking off work and school, traveling to her grave (approximately 90 minutes away), and going out to eat at one of Hannah's favorite restaurants.

This year was different.  Brad was in Phoenix, traveling for work, and Bethany was at the U of A in Fayetteville, unable to skip class.  So it was just me on that day.

I knew ahead of time that I would be alone of that day, and I knew I needed to have a plan.  I decided that I would go to her grave and decorate it.  Now that may not seem like much to you ... but that is something I've never been able to do.  I've never been able to bring myself to shop for items to decorate my daughter's grave.  It was just too painful ... I couldn't do it.  But this year, I thought, "I can do this."

So Tuesday evening, I went to Hobby Lobby (my favorite store!) and did some shopping.  I picked out some "spring-y" things that made me feel happy.  And it was okay ... even kind of nice.  I actually enjoyed the shopping process.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and cold.  I got up, put my dog on her leash, and walked her out into the yard.  It was a beautiful morning, and I had a profound feeling of peace as I thought about the day.  As I looked around the yard, my eyes lit upon a landscaping archway we have in one of our flowerbeds.  And out of nowhere, a thought popped into my head.

"I would like to have some wind chimes to hang from that archway.  I think the sound of the wind blowing through them would remind me of Hannah."

I've never wanted wind chimes before.  To be honest, I'm really not even a big fan of wind chimes.  It was a completely random thought.  But at that moment, I decided that I would look for some wind chimes to hang from that archway.

I came back in and gathered my things to take to the cemetery.  On an impulse, I went into Hannah's room and picked up a decorative rock off her windowsill.  It had the word JOY on it, along with a mosaic dragonfly.  Since I was taking this giant step of decorating her grave, I wanted to include something with the word JOY on it.  I really didn't want to "give up" this particular rock, because it was one of the first JOY items I purchased after Hannah's death, but I knew it was a good, durable item I could place on her grave that would withstand outdoor conditions ... so I somewhat reluctantly placed it in my car with the other items.

It was an uneventful drive to Briggsville, and I had probably the best visit to Hannah's grave I've ever had.  I think I felt better having a "job" to do when I got there, and I got busy decorating as soon as I arrived.  I worked quickly, since it was 32 degrees outside with a stiff north wind!  I was pretty pleased with the results.

If you look in the lower right hand corner of the above picture, you can see the JOY rock I placed there.

I chose the bird to represent Bethany and her fiance', Brad Bird, who were unable to come themselves.

I came home after that, wrote my last blog post about the 14 Things, and prepared for that evening's While We're Waiting support group meeting.  I knew it would be an emotional evening for me, considering the significance of the day, and indeed it was.  

As our meeting came to a close, and we all prepared to leave, one of the sweet moms in our group discreetly handed me a gift bag, saying that she and her husband knew it was a special day for our family and that they had gotten us something.  "It's not much," she said, almost a little sheepishly.  I thanked her for it and told her I'd wait to open it until I got home.  I had had enough public displays of emotion for one night!

I arrived home a little while later, and walked into a dark, lonely house.  I flipped on a few lights, greeted my dog, and turned my attention to the little gift bag. I read the sweet card, which brought tears to my eyes, then lifted out the paper on top.  Inside were two items, each one well wrapped in tissue paper.  I picked up the first one and unwrapped it.

It was a set of wind chimes.  

My mouth literally dropped open.  One of my first thoughts that morning had been a wish for some wind chimes, and now, at the end of the day, here they were.

I almost forgot that there was still another item in that bag.  Still shaking my head over those wind chimes, I reached in and pulled it out.  It was a little heavier than the first item, and I had to unwrap several layers of tissue paper.  I couldn't help but exclaim out loud when I saw what it was.

It was a rock.

A JOY rock to replace the one I had put on Hannah's grave that morning.  

Y'all ... How does that even happen?  

Only God can do that.  Only God can know the deep desires of our heart ... the things that we cannot even articulate.  He knows just what we need to encourage us, even when we don't know what that is ourselves.  His timing could not be more perfect.  And I am humbled and awed to be the recipient of one (actually two) of his wonderful gifts.

"Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear."  Isaiah 65:24 (ESV)

To be continued on Thoughtful Thursday ...