Monday, April 28, 2014

Tell About It Tuesday -- A Surprise In My Mailbox!

When my girls were younger, I always enjoyed watching Blues Clues with them.  I loved how the show encouraged the kids not to just watch passively, but to actually get involved.  And my favorite part was how excited Steve would get about mail time every day ...

I could totally relate to Steve.  As far back as I can remember, I've always gotten excited about the mail.  Of course, back when ALL correspondence came through the mail, it was a little more exciting.  These days, most of my communication with people is online, and my mailbox is generally just full of junk mail and bills.  But still, there's always that feeling of anticipation when I open my mailbox ... there just might be something fun and exciting in there!  Even though there usually isn't (lol), it's something I look forward to every day.

Last Wednesday, I opened up my mailbox with my usual tingle of anticipation, and for once, I was not disappointed!  In amongst the junk mail from politicians and a couple of bills, there was an envelope addressed to While We're Waiting.  The address was handwritten, and a quick glance at the upper left corner revealed that it had traveled to my mailbox all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio.  I ripped it open and pulled out a two-page, typewritten letter.

I could tell from the salutation that this was not going to be a read-it-in-the-driveway kind of letter ... this was going to be a sit-down-and-savor-it kind of letter.  So I carried it into the house and sat down at my kitchen table. 

Here's what it said ...

"Dear Followers of Christ,

Enclosed you will find a check in the amount of $450.00 that we would like to pass on to your awesome ministry.

Last month my wife and I, along with another couple, rented a home down in Florida for a week.  We rented the home because both of our daughters play fast-pitch softball on the same collegiate team here in Cincinnati, and they had games scheduled for a week in that general area.  By sharing the home together, of course, we could split the cost to save money.  My wife and I were excited about the trip as it also gave us a chance to be with each other, plus watch our daughter compete.  As the trip grew nearer, a co-worker of mine loaned me a book called "Fearless."  He told me that he thought I would enjoy it so I was ready to start it once we got down to Florida.

The evening of the third day while in Florida, my wife Holly received an email from the owners of the home.  We were shocked at the contents, as it started out by saying, "This is no joke, this is not a prank, and we are not trying to scam you in any way."  It went on to say that they wanted to show an act of kindness by refunding all of the money back to our credit card and hoped we enjoyed their home the rest of the week free of charge!  I looked at my wife in disbelief, as did the other couple.  Holly then went right to our credit card automatically thinking we were being scammed and to her amazement all the money had been put back on our credit card.  As two couples, we sat down shaking our heads about what had just happened to us.  Right away though I said there is no way Holly and I can just take that money back because it's not our nature.  The other couple agreed so we sent back an email explaining that we would like to donate the money to their favorite charity or organization.  They quickly responded back that they did not have one, and for us to just enjoy the remainder of the week.  The other couple decided then what they would do with their returned money as Holly and I pondered our thoughts.

About three or four days after we returned home to Cincinnati I completed my book, "Fearless."  I walked out into our family room and told my wife about a guy named Adam Brown.  I cannot put into words how that book talked to me as a man, son, husband, father, friend, and follower of Christ.  I told my wife that God gave me time and patience to finish the book so He could speak to me.  When I was shown God's wonderful love at work inside "While We're Waiting," I knew this is where He wanted the money to end up at.

One last thing, I wanted to give you the name and address of the person who is responsible for this donation, as you see it never really was ours in the first place.  God has blessed Holly and I with 30 years of marriage and three wonderful children.  He also placed me in a job that has given me so many personal rewards over the years.  God is good!"

This gentleman went on to give me the name and address of the person who owned the house they were renting.  

I was blown away.  What a cool story!  I was so humbled and grateful that these folks had chosen to pass their blessing on to While We're Waiting.  I immediately called our partners in this ministry, Larry & Janice Brown, about whose son the book "Fearless" was written, and shared the letter with them.  They were as excited and grateful as I was.   Then I sat down and wrote both the writer of the letter and the owner of the house lengthy thank you letters.  

I love surprises in my mailbox!    

Sing it with me ... "Here's the mail, it never fails, it makes me wanna wag my tail, when it comes I wanna wail, "MMMMAAAAIIIILLLL!"  ~Steve from Blues Clues

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- Aunt Bethany

Yesterday my daughter became an aunt.

Well, not really ... she won't be officially an aunt until she marries baby Benjamin's uncle next month ... but, hey, it's close enough.

This is a big deal.  Yes, babies are born every day, and young ladies become aunts.  But not this young lady.

You see, when she was a young teenager, her 17-year-old sister and only sibling, died of cancer.

Five years ago, I held her as she sobbed over the fact that she would never get to be an aunt.  Through my own tears, I tried to explain to her that maybe someday she would get married, and that maybe her husband would have a brother or a sister who would someday have a baby, so that maybe someday she'd still get to be an aunt.

"But no, that wouldn't be the same," she cried.  I had to admit she was probably right.  And over the years, as friends and teammates became aunts, she politely admired their baby nieces and nephews, privately mourning the fact that she would never be an aunt to her sister's children.

Well ... all those maybe somedays have now come to pass.  She's about to marry a young man who has an older brother and a precious wife (who has become like an older sister to Bethany), and yesterday little Benjamin was born.

Bethany and her fiance' drove all the way from Fayetteville to Hot Springs for his arrival.  The pictures say it all.

No, I suppose it's not the same.  But you know what?  It's pretty darn good.  And I can't help but think that Hannah is smiling down on these two young families ... one with a newborn baby, and one with an about-to-be newborn marriage.  And that makes this Mama's heart smile.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Mourning -- The Walk

Every time we have a While We're Waiting event, I come away with a new thought, concept, or perspective just from listening to the other moms and dads there.  In fact, there are usually quite a few new things I learn.  I keep a notebook in my lap and try to write these nuggets down, because my memory is completely unreliable these days.

This month's While We're Waiting Weekend was no exception.  I scribbled down several bits of wisdom I wanted to remember.  The thing that has stuck with me the most from that weekend, though, I didn't even write down.  In fact, I don't even remember who said it ... I think it was one of the dads, but I could be wrong!  But I will never forget what he (or she?) said.

He brought up Isaiah 40:31 and said that he always felt that the Scripture was a little bit backward.  He said it had always seemed to him that we walk first, then we run, then we fly.  But, since losing his child, he understood it differently.  That "walking" was last, because that was the hardest thing ... the daily walk of a bereaved parent.

Wow!  That was so profound to me.  I think that's why I didn't write it down ... I was sort of frozen in thought for a few moments.  What he (she? I wish I could remember!) said was so true.

I think that many of us who have lost children, especially those of us who are Christians, are able to fly for awhile after their deaths.  I mean, we have our faith, we have our church family supporting us ... and we have this "responsibility" to be a good witness to others in the midst of our suffering.  Hey, I'm just keeping it real!  After all, people are watching us, and we can't let God down by completely falling apart, at least in public, right?  I've got my tongue in my cheek here, but I know that many of you understand what I'm saying.  Seriously, there is a period of time when we are buoyed up by the love and prayers of family and friends, and God mercifully grants a numbness that can keep us soaring through those early days.

Eventually, the numbness begins to wear off, and we hit the ground.  At this point, though, we're still able to run.  People are still sensitive to our loss, and are still kindly (if somewhat awkwardly, at times) reaching out to us and praying for us.  Our kids are being talked about, maybe even honored, and that's a good feeling.  Maybe our faith has been shaken, but it's stood the test, and with God's help, we're still running the race.

As time continues to pass and everyone else goes back to their normal lives, enjoying vacations with their families, celebrating holidays and posting pictures of their smiling children on Facebook, and angrily complaining when McDonalds gives them regular Coke instead of Diet Coke at the drive-through ... that's when the walking begins.  Our friends and family assume that surely we are "over it" by now, and we seldom, if ever, hear our child's name spoken anymore.

And every day, every minute, we miss our child.  There's an unoccupied bedroom, an empty seat at the table, and a gaping hole in our hearts.  This is when the truly hard work of grief begins.  Reality has set in, and we are finally beginning to fully realize that life will never be the same.  It's the walk, the daily walk, that can be so very tough.  In fact, sometimes it's more like a trudge than a walk.

So how do we keep from fainting as we walk this rocky road of grief?  The first part of the verse gives us the answer ... We wait on the Lord and allow Him to renew our strength.  In fact, in the verses just prior to this one, we are assured that He Himself never grows tired or weary, and that He gives strength and power to the weary and the weak.

So maybe it's not backwards.  It makes sense to me when I think about it that way.  And that encourages me as I walk (and sometimes trudge) this road each day.

"Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:28-31

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- An Easter Epiphany

On Tuesday evening, Brad and I met in Hot Springs for a quick dinner before a Relay for Life team captains' meeting.  We went to our local Newk's restaurant for a sandwich and a salad, and seated ourselves in a booth.  We were enjoying a nice, quiet dinner when a family from our church came in with their two young children.

They seated themselves in the booth right behind ours.  We visited with them for a few minutes, talking about all the activities their kids were involved in.  Pretty soon their food came and we each turned back to our own tables.

I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn't help but hear a bit of their conversation.  It was sprinkled with phrases like, "Lean over your plate", "Be careful with that", and "Don't spill!"  I found myself internally shaking my head, remembering back to those days with our girls.  What a sweet young family they were.

And suddenly it hit me.  I had always thought of our family as one of the "young families" in our church.

But, you know what?  I don't think we qualify anymore.  Our kids are grown ... one's about to get married, and the one in Heaven would be 22 years old now.  And Brad and I are pushing fifty.

We've become one of those "middle-aged couples" that I used to look at (back when we really were a "young family") and wonder what it would be like when our kids were grown.

I'm pretty sure that means nothing to anybody but me, but for me, it was an epiphany of sorts.  A realization that we truly are moving into a new season of life.

And I'm okay with that.

This Easter, I won't be filling baskets with stuffed bunnies and sweet treats. There will be no little girls with brightly-colored Easter frocks hunting dyed eggs in our back yard.  In fact, we probably won't even see Bethany this Easter, as she will be staying at school preparing for upcoming finals.  And this will be our sixth Easter without Hannah joining us at the table.

Oh, yes, I will miss them on that special day.  But Bethany is happy, healthy, living her life in growing independence from us, just as she should be, and Hannah ... well, Hannah is exactly where she was created to be.

And, because of Easter ... because He lives ... our whole family will get to join her one day.

So if I'm really entering a new season of life, all I can say is, "Bring it on."  I'm fine with the passage of time.  As I see it, every day just brings me closer to Home.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Mourning -- When It Doesn't Feel Like Spring

When our 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of  February 2008, I remember being thankful that we were facing this challenge in the springtime.  Somehow, seeing the blooming of the flowers and the fresh new leaves on the trees made dealing with the roller coaster of cancer seem easier.  It made me feel that, no matter what happened, we had hope.

But when the "no matter what" became reality as Hannah left for Heaven in February of 2009, it seemed that even nature went into mourning.  We have a beautiful dogwood tree on our property, just off our deck, and every spring that tree unfailingly burst into glorious bloom.

But not that spring ... Not a single bloom appeared on that dogwood that year.  It went directly from bud to leaf, without flowering.  Our neighbors' dogwoods bloomed right on schedule, but ours did not.  I will never forget how God allowed that tree to mourn with us that year.  It sure didn't feel like spring to us.

Springtime is not all blooms and butterflies, either.  Along with the new life of spring comes throat-clogging pollen, rampant weeds, and in Arkansas, tornadoes.  That's the way it is with grief, too ... just when we think we're making progress in healing, along comes one of those tornadoes without any warning, and BAM, we're right back there where there are no blooms on our trees.  Or maybe it's just that ever-present lump in our throat and watering eyes, or the ugly weeds of discouragement, guilt, anger, etc., that Satan plants in our minds.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010.  The dogwood blooms were back, in all their glory ... reminding us that even though we were still mourning the loss of our precious girl ... God was in control, and He had a good plan for us.  We still had to deal with the tornadoes, pollen, and weeds, but through these beautiful blooms, He reminded us of His faithfulness to us.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

There is a legend that the cross was constructed from a dogwood tree.  It is said that the tree was greatly distressed to be used for such a purpose, and that Jesus said to it, "Because of your pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used for a cross. Henceforth, it shall be slender, bent, and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross–two long and two short petals.  In the center of the outer edge of each petal will be the print of nails. In the center of the flower, stained with blood, will be a crown of thorns so that all who see it will remember."

Yes, that's just a legend.  But dogwoods always remind me of the cross and God's sacrifice of His own Son there.  And because of that sacrifice, it can always be springtime ... even when it doesn't feel like it.

I stepped out on my deck this morning and took a picture of that tree ... God's love in full bloom.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- Faith Over Circumstances

"So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith that it will happen just as He told me."  Acts 27:25

Paul made this statement while aboard a wooden ship in the midst of a raging storm.  He was a prisoner on this ship, bound for Rome, and had been battered by this storm for a number of days ... in fact, the Bible tells us that the sailors had seen neither the sun nor the stars for many days.  The crew had already jettisoned most of their cargo to lighten the ship, and they and their passengers had already gone a number of days without food.  It appeared that all hope of survival was lost.

But Paul knew that God had work for him to do in Rome, and he had no doubt that God was going to get him there.  By all outward appearances, his circumstances were hopeless.  Finally, after fourteen days in the raging storm, Paul encouraged the men on the ship to eat something and to prepare for a rough landing on the shore, assuring them that they would all survive.

The ship ran aground on a sand bar and was pounded to pieces by the surf, but Paul and the rest of the passengers and crew made it to shore, some of them clinging precariously to pieces of the ship.  God was faithful to His word.

Sometimes it's hard to keep up our courage when we're in the midst of a storm.  The tempest seems to go on and on and on ... the sky is black with roiling clouds, the power of the wind threatens to knock us off our feet, and the nauseating surf pushes us backwards, away from our port of safety.  We know in our minds that there are blue skies somewhere, but the dark clouds in our hearts just won't let the sun peek through.

So what do we do?  We keep on paddling with our life jackets on, calling out to God in the darkness, knowing that He loves us and that He is bigger than the storm.  There's no way to paddle around a storm ... we have to go through it to get to the other side.

Paul's statement in Acts 27:25 was not an example of mind over matter, but of faith over circumstances.  

Isn't it awesome to know that no matter what kind of storm we find ourselves in today, God is in it with us, and eventually we will see the sun and the stars again?  We just have to keep up our courage and cling tightly to Him.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."  (Ephesians 3:20-21 KJV)

Every time we have one of these weekend retreats for bereaved parents, this is the Scripture that comes to mind.  I always have an idea in mind of how the weekend is going to go ... I know who's coming (at least their names and where they're from), I know a little bit about their stories, I know what activities we have planned, I know what our schedule shows.  I mean, this is the seventh one of these retreats we've hosted ... you would think it would be more or less routine by now.

But every time, every time, without fail, God does exceeding abundantly above anything I had asked for or even thought of.  He once again brought together the perfect group of parents ... exactly the folks who needed to be there at just the time they needed to be there.  We were privileged to hear the stories of their precious children.  Our conversations were rich, and I heard such strong statements of faith from these parents, even in the midst of deep pain.  Certainly there were tears, but they were diluted by fervent prayer, warm hugs, and words of compassion from other parents who truly understood.

There was laughter too ... lots of laughter.  We enjoyed all of the fun activities Family Farm has to offer.  The weather was a bit chilly for early April, but a little cool air didn't slow us down.  

On Saturday morning, we met out on the front steps of the Lodge to put on the Armor of God -- No better way to start the day!

From there, we went out to the barnyard.  There's something so therapeutic about hanging out with animals.

Later that day, we spent some time at Slide Mountain ...

The group conquered the "Islands".  Well, sort of.  The idea is to get the whole group across three wooden platforms using only three board and a rope.  The stakes are high, as the leaves on the ground are actually "boiling hot lava." 

We tried out the balance log ... And actually held it for 30 seconds!  (Although Daddy May counted pretty fast!)

A little archery ...

And it's never too cold for the zip line!

The Mays shared their son Zane's story at Salvation Station ...

And when we weren't sharing stories or playing outside, we were eating!  Our executive chef came out on Saturday evening and once again treated us to a 5-course gourmet dinner, and it was amazing!

And, in the midst of all this activity, we never forgot the reasons why we were there ... to remember our precious children ...

... and to honor our Lord by living well while we're waiting to be reunited with them in Heaven one day.

Here's what one of our guests had to say after the weekend was over ...

"I have attended the Mom's retreat, my husband attended the Dad's retreat and we attended the Couple's retreat. I was very apprehensive, nervous, almost talked myself out of going, but persevered in going. It was by God's grace and mercy, I stepped out. So glad I did. I moved forward in my healing, lifted me spiritually, made some awesome friendships, found strength, and encouragement in EVERYONE! We are almost 3 years out and it was difficult for me. So glad I did not listen to the devil and let him rob me of joy and blessings I received. I highly recommend you attend one of these events."

Our next two WWW Parent Weekends are scheduled for November 14-16, 2014, and April 10-12, 2015.  Click here to for more information or to register.  Maybe you're not a parent who's lost a child ... but we would love for you to help us spread the word about these events and this ministry.  "Like" our While We're Waiting page on Facebook to stay informed about all of our upcoming events.  We would also be glad to come share with your church, Sunday School class, or civic group about While We're Waiting.  Click on the "Contact" us tab above to get in touch with us.  Most of all, you can pray for us as we seek God's wisdom and leadership in the growth of this ministry.  I know that many of you do, and we appreciate that more than we can say.  What a privilege it is to be a part of this wonderful ministry!

While We're Waiting Parents -- April 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- Eagerly Waiting with Perseverance

In the infancy of the While We're Waiting, our board met with a ministry consultant to get some advice on how best to grow this fledgling ministry.  He had some great tips and ideas for us, and I think we benefited from most of his advice.  One of his thoughts, though, we were not too impressed with.

He said, "I think you should consider changing the name.  'While We're Waiting' sounds like you're kicked back in a recliner with your feet up, just passively waiting for your life to come to an end."

He didn't get it.  I mean, he really didn't get it at all.

You see, the While We're Waiting ministry is based on Romans 8:25, which says, "But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."

Yes, we are waiting ... but not passively, and definitely not with our feet propped up.  We are waiting eagerly, and with perseverance, for our hope to be fulfilled.  Hebrews 6:19 tells us that "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."  And what is that hope?  The hope of Heaven ... the hope of being reunited with our Savior and our children one day.  And because we have that firm and secure hope as our anchor, we can endure with perseverance the sufferings and sorrows of this world.

And we are waiting eagerly.  The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines "eager" as  "feeling a strong and impatient desire to do something or for something."  What better definition could there be for the desire we have to be reunited with our precious children?

So, we're waiting, not in our recliners, but with our boots on the ground, eagerly persevering in doing the will of our Father until He calls us to join Him in Heaven.  What better way is there to honor both our Lord and our children while we're waiting?

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." I Peter 5:10