Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- My New Friend

I had a wonderful lunch today with a new friend.  We had such a good time visiting, neither one of us wanted to leave ... even though it was cold in the restaurant and we were both freezing!  We sat and talked for nearly two hours.

My new friend has an interesting job.  She works in a nice office and spends her time calling insurance companies and inviting them to participate in webinars that her company produces.  Spending so much time on the phone, she has all kinds of interesting conversations with people.  Some folks are not very receptive to her calls, either politely declining, simply hanging up on her, or occasionally cursing at her.  Some sign up for the webinars, and others are just happy to have someone to talk to, keeping her on the line for probably much longer than she's supposed to chat.  She had some really entertaining stories about what these folks had to say to her.

My new friend is also in the process of setting up her first household, and learning how to grocery shop and cook for her husband.  She talked about having her in-laws over for dinner for the first time a couple of nights ago, and how proud she was that her dinner turned out well.  We exchanged recipes and talked about her favorite place to grocery shop.

My new friend talked about how much she's looking forward to becoming a mother someday.  She laughed about how her husband wants them to have two boys, and is even already praying for those two boys, even though she really wants to have two girls.  Of course, she and her husband are both still in college, so she knows those babies, whether they're boys or girls, are still a few years away.

My new friend has a strong faith in God, honed and strengthened by suffering and sorrow.  She is young, but she has experienced more in her life than many adults.  Yet she has a joy that radiates from deep inside.

My new friend is beautiful, intelligent, talented, and charming.  I love spending time with her.

I've actually known my new friend for a little over nineteen years.  But until she got married about a month ago, I knew her as ... my daughter.

It's amazing how quickly our relationship has changed.  And I'm enjoying every minute of it.

This is the type of relationship I've been so sad about missing with Hannah.  In a way, having this kind of friendship with Bethany now makes me miss Hannah even more.  But at the same time, I think the fact that I did not have this opportunity with Hannah makes me appreciate what I have with Bethany more than I ever would otherwise.  And for that, I am very thankful.

I can't wait until my next lunch date with my new friend.  :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tell About It Tuesday -- While We're Waiting ... For Siblings!!

For some time now, we at While We're Waiting have had a burden to reach out to kids and adults who have lost a brother or a sister. We know from our experience with our own children that they are often the "forgotten ones" when a family loses a child.  In fact, every time we have a While We're Waiting event, at least one parent asks us what is available for their surviving children.  And sadly, we've had to shake our heads ... we just really hadn't had anything to offer.

So we have been praying for a long time that God would send someone to us who could provide us some guidance in that aspect of this ministry ... and, of course, that would need to be someone who had lost a brother or a sister.

About three months ago or so, we started a facebook page designed just for bereaved siblings. We felt that it was important to have a moderator on that page, to serve as a gatekeeper and to ensure that the discussions moved in a positive direction.  That moderator has been me, and frankly, I'm not the right person for the job. The page has been VERY quiet, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I, who have not lost a sibling, am the moderator.  Really, the page has not gotten off the ground at all.  We feel that the page could be a springboard to a more active ministry to siblings, possibly even leading to retreats for them, like the ones we do for parents. In order for that to happen, though, we knew we needed someone these kids could really relate to to lead it.

A few weeks ago, God brought us into contact with a young man named Jason Clenney. He won our hearts immediately when he told Brad and I that he had shared Hannah's story with his youth group right after she was "promoted" (his word), and seven of his students got saved!  He went on to share some of his personal story with us, about how he had lost his only sibling, his brother Clayton, in a car accident six years ago.  He talked about how God had brought him through it, and had given him a passion for reaching out to young people who had lost siblings.  Oh my!  That was all we needed to hear!

Last night, the WWW board had dinner with Jason, and we talked for over three hours. What a great visit we had! We believe he is the man God has in mind to get this ministry to siblings underway,   starting with him moderating the "While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Siblings" facebook page.  We'll see where God takes it from there.

We asked him to introduce himself on the While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Parents facebook page (many of the kids on the siblings page will be their children), and this is what he had to say ...

Hello all! I hope this finds you well. My name is Jason Clenney and I am so happy to be welcomed into the While We're Waiting family. I have been brought onboard to help facilitate healing and give hope to those among us who have lost siblings. Suffering the loss of a child is hard, impossibly difficult to deal with I'm sure. I have never been in those shoes, and pray that I never have to be. However, I am no stranger to grief. Let me share with you a bit of my story so you can know where I am coming from. I encourage you to ask questions. You are trusting me with your child/children, so I want you to be comfortable with me! 

Six years ago, I lost my only sibling. My brother Clayton was killed in an auto-incident (not an didn't catch God by surprise) near his home outside of Hot Springs. I had grown up in a Funeral Home setting, could counsel people "on the other side of the table" about death and grief, and could give all the "right answers" to the tough questions that tragedies ask. But until you have been through it, suffered, hurt, and taken ownership of your own grief, you just don't know what it is like! I have learned so much from that experience, through seeking out comfort in God's word, and from counseling with others who have lost loved ones. I have taught workshops to young people on how to deal with grief in a healthy way, even pioneering a grief recovery group for young people. And I have seen the GOOD that can come from accepting God's sovereign plan and seeking out His purpose in Clayton's passing. This season of grief in my life was actually a healthy, fruitful thing. It gave me the unique ability to identify with others who have been in my situation and empathize with their struggle. It has also given me opportunity to point others to the Healer of my hurt.

Knowing that you have lost a child, I hurt for you. Knowing that many of you have kids that are still trying to process all of the complex emotions (sometimes all at once) of losing their sibling, my heart goes out to them...and I would like to come alongside them and walk out this journey with them. I serve as the Associate Pastor: Pastor of Student and Music Ministries for Immanuel Baptist Church in Sheridan Arkansas. I am a believer in Christ, in His sacrifice, and in His power to save and restore! I also work some on the side in the Funeral Care field, having a degree in Mortuary Science and Funeral Service Education. I am an avid outdoorsman, spending as much time as I can in the woods or on the water...and was recently selected as Chaplain for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I am an aggie at heart with a small farm and a ragamuffin assortment of critters. I have a beautiful bride, Heather, and an amazing little 16 month old daughter, Ava. If you have any recommendations for me that would assist in serving your child, let me know. Especially with young people, it is difficult for them to "let you in." They are not going to trust me with their sensitive issues and make themselves vulnerable and honest with me or others until they have confidence in the relationship. I look forward to getting to know you all and growing with you.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?  A few reasons ...

First, please pray for Jason, that God would give him wisdom as he gets to know these hurting kids and young adults, builds relationships with them, and seeks to give them godly counsel.  Of course, it's also important that he balances the time he gives to WWW with the responsibilities of his full-time job, and most importantly, his sweet family!

Second, please pray for these siblings, that they would be willing to open up their hearts and share with Jason and with each other, and that God would bring healing and hope to them.

Third, please pray for While We're Waiting, as we seek to follow God's leadership in all we do. We don't want to take a single step without His leading.  We would love to see this Facebook group grow into a full-fledged ministry to siblings, but only if that's in His plan.

Finally, please help us spread the word.  If you know a teen or an adult who has lost a sibling and who would like to connect with others who understand, have them search for "While We're Waiting -- Support for Bereaved Siblings" and request to join the group.  It's a closed group, so only other members of the group can see their conversations ... it will be a safe place for them to talk about things that only other bereaved siblings can understand, and for them to pray for each other and encourage each other.

The Clenney Family

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- On Being the Mother of the Bride (x 2)

So on May 25th, this beautiful young lady became Mrs. Bethany Bird, and I still haven't quite recovered!  

Being the mother of the bride was absolutely one of the most amazing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, joy-filled, and exhausting experiences I have ever had!  The wedding day couldn't have been more perfect (except for forgetting everyone's boutonnieres and corsages until just before we all walked down the aisle, lol), and we couldn't be more thrilled with our new son-in-law.  

As the big day approached, however, I was struck with a number of similarities between Bethany's wedding and Hannah's Heaven-going.  Does that sound a little strange?  Maybe it is ... but stick with me here.

1.  From the time Bethany came home from college on May 9th, I knew her days at home were numbered.  I knew there were only a few more times we would eat dinner together as a family (just the three of us), stay up late and cheer for the Oklahoma City Thunder together, and give each other good-night hugs.  I found myself wanting to savor every moment.  I let everything else go, including blogging, to just devote myself to our time together.  The last couple months of Hannah's life, we knew the same thing.  We knew that unless God did a miracle, she would be leaving us soon.  And we dropped everything else (you know, all that stuff that seems so important but really isn't) just to be with her.  And I wouldn't take a thing for that time, with either one of my girls.

2.  Planning for Bethany's wedding at times seemed oddly like planning for Hannah's funeral.  As I went through old photographs choosing pictures for the rehearsal dinner slide show, I was reminded of how I did the same thing in preparation for Hannah's celebration service.  Bethany and I discussed all the different aspects of the ceremony sitting together in the living room.  Much of my planning for Hannah's service was done with her sleeping in the recliner in that same living room.  As I said earlier, we knew that unless there was a miracle, Hannah would be leaving us, and I wasn't sure I'd have the presence of mind to do these things after she was gone.  And, if God chose to heal her, we would have a wonderful slide show to use when we shared her miraculous story!  

3.  We knew that our lives would never be the same when Hannah went to Heaven; just as we knew our lives would once again change forever when Bethany got married.  Of course, there was a huge difference here ... We knew that we would no longer be able to see or talk to Hannah; there would be no more future (on this earth, anyway) with her.  With Bethany, we have much to look forward to ... having a "son", watching their relationship grow and mature, and someday having a grandchild or two (or several).  But in either situation, the anticipation of such a dramatic change can be a bit of a challenge.

4.  Hannah's homegoing and Bethany's wedding brought out all of our dearest friends and family members. It was so wonderful to have these folks share both of these special days with us.  We have absolutely the most amazing friends and family.  Ever.

5.  Maybe the coolest similarity between these two events came down to the bridegroom.  By far the most beautiful and touching part of Bethany's wedding day occurred as she came down the aisle to meet her groom.  The wedding was outdoors, and she and her dad had a long and winding walk down to the actual site of the ceremony.  From the moment she stepped out the door, her groom began to tear up, and by the time she stood before him at the altar, he was weeping openly.  His tears of joy were reflected in the eyes of nearly everyone in attendance, including this mother of the bride.  If there had been any doubt in my mind about his love for her (and there wasn't!), it would have been washed away by his tears.  And, as her dad turned her over to her groom, his joy was plain for all to see.  It permeated every part of the ceremony.  My Brad said later that he had no problem, as a dad, turning his girl over to a man who clearly was so humbled and overjoyed to be marrying her.

So what's the similarity there?  Hannah's dad never had the opportunity to walk her down the aisle to a waiting groom ... Or did he?  Didn't he and I, as her parents, have the privilege of walking her through 17 1/2 years of life, and and then holding her hands as she stepped into Heaven to be greeted by her Bridegroom?  I have to believe that her Bridegroom greeted her with just as much joy as Bethany's groom did.  And just like Bethany, she has started a new life with her Groom, separate from us as her parents, but full of exciting things to look forward to.  Knowing that her Heavenly Father was there to take her hand made it possible for us to let go.  

6.  And there's one more similarity ... We have the assurance of seeing both of our girls again.  We're looking forward to seeing Bethany and Brad on Saturday evening for her birthday.  And we anticipate seeing them fairly often in the years ahead.  We won't have that kind of relationship with Hannah here on earth, but we will see her again ... at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).  How cool is that?

And now, if you'll indulge me as I share a few pictures of the day.

Exchanging letters without seeing each other before the ceremony ...

The groom's tears ... (one of my absolute favorite pictures of the day!)

Tears from the bride and the father of the bride ...

Our dear friend, Larry Brown, brought the message during the ceremony ...

Brad and Bethany shared the Lord's Supper together as part of the ceremony ...

Introducing Mr. & Mrs. Brad Bird ...

Walking out.  In the background, you can see Bethany's Uncle Mark, who officiated the ceremony ...

A few pictures of the newlyweds and bridal party after the ceremony ...

A beautiful reception ...

 And finally, sky lanterns in memory of Hannah Joy ...