Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- Six Years in Heaven

Thanks to the absolutely beautiful snowfall we had yesterday, I've been able to enjoy a quiet day at home, remembering our girl who went to Heaven six years ago today.  It was a great opportunity to reflect, remember, and revel in the wonderful memories we have with our Hannah Joy.

My overwhelming feeling today at this six year mark is gratitude.  Gratitude that God chose me to be Hannah's mother; gratitude that we had 17 1/2 amazing years with her; gratitude that she is perfectly healed in Heaven today.

I spent the day posting my favorite photos from Hannah's life on my Facebook page.  I tried to post them at regular intervals throughout the day so I wouldn't totally gum up people's newsfeeds with them.  How fun it was to share these pictures and re-live some of my favorite memories with our girl.
As I shared these pictures, though, I found myself keenly aware of the moms and dads who did not have the blessing of so much time with their children.  Through While We're Waiting, we've had the opportunity to meet many parents who never had the opportunity to make the kind of memories we have with Hannah, and my heart breaks for them.  We were so blessed to have the time we had with Hannah.

As I thought about Hannah and all those we've met whose children have left "too soon", I remembered a book that Hannah "wrote" back when she was in junior high.  This was a project of her GT class, and is an autobiography, complete with photographs.

She drew the cover picture, which is a bell (her grandma always called her "Hannah Bell").  Clearly, she got her artistic ability from me!  ;-)  I love the words she uses to describe herself ..."joyful", "optimistic", "sweet", "Christian", "caring". She couldn't have been more correct in her choice of words.  The first page put a lump in my throat: "Dedicated to My Amazing Family". She begins with a chapter called "Before Me", in which she states that we were so ecstatic when she was born that we gave her the middle name "Joy", which is true! That chapter is followed by a chapter for each year of her life. It was so much fun reading all of these chapters, and looking at all the photographs she included. The one that really got to me though was the final chapter, which was titled "My Future Possibilities", and reads as follows:

"As I think about the future, I get so excited because I know my future is bright. I love to think about what is to come, and I do constantly. I plan to graduate high school with a 4.0 and at the top of my class. Then, I would like to enroll in Ouachita Baptist University with a full or almost full paid scholarship, and study elementary education to become an elementary teacher. I'd graduate with a bachelor's degree from OBU, and then go somewhere for my master's degree in teaching. I would hope to be married by the time I graduated college, so I would settle down in a small town in Arkansas and start a family (and teach). When I'm old enough to retire, I will probably move closer to where my grandkids live so I could be close to them and watch them grow up. I want to live a long, happy, healthy and content life that I can look back on someday and be proud of. And maybe someday I'll read this book and I'll think, "Wow, I did just that!""

The first time I read this paragraph after Hannah's death, especially the last part, it felt like a punch in the stomach. It literally left me almost breathless for a few minutes. How can someone so excited and full of plans for the future just be gone? How can her innocent desire for a long and healthy life be so unfulfilled?

And God had to gently remind me of something I already know. As we talk to grieving parents, one of the things we talk about is God's sovereignty...the fact that He is in control in and through every situation. As Hannah's illness progressed and it became apparent that, without a miracle, she would be leaving us for Heaven, we felt that we were being called to submit to His will for her life and for ours. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans that I have for you,...plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope." Hannah's future was in His hands...she had her own plans, we had our plans for her...but God had a better plan. What seemed to be a calamity to us was the best thing that ever happened to her!

I found this quote the other day:

Death is God's way of saying, "Your table is ready."  Hannah's table was ready at the age of 17.

Barbara Johnson in "Pack Up Your Gloomees in a Great Big Box, Then Sit on the Lid and Laugh" says this: "There is a finality to death that is inescapable. You can't go around it, over it, or through it. All you can do is negotiate--not for a reversal that could bring your loved one back, because there is none. Instead, you plead for some kind of understanding, some way to make sense of it all as you try to get through it, allowing your grief to take its course and let the pain eventually drain away."

We will never completely understand why Hannah's wish for a long and healthy life was unfulfilled on this earth, but she also said that she wanted to be able to look back on her life someday and be proud of it. I think that if she could see the lives that have been touched through her relatively short life (and I think maybe she can in Heaven), she would be proud.

Thank you for sharing in our life, and hers, by reading these posts, and praying for our family all these years.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

While We're Waiting Wednesday

I suppose that an update on the While We're Waiting ministry to bereaved parents is long overdue.  Honestly, we've been so busy keeping up with the day-to-day activities of the WWW ministry, the blog has taken a back seat!  Thankfully, we've had a string of snow days this week so I've got some time this evening to sit down and write for a few minutes.

There are far too many things going on with this ministry to share in a blog post, so I will just share about two of the most recent events.

This past weekend we hosted our largest parents' retreat ever at Spring Valley Anglers Rod & Gun Club in northwest Arkansas.  There were eleven families represented, one couple driving all the way from Toledo, Ohio, to participate in the weekend!  I think they get the prize for coming the farthest for a While We're Waiting event.  What an amazing weekend we had together!  Our stories were all very different, but we were quickly bonded together by our love for both our children and our Lord.

As always, the story is best told in pictures.  Spring Valley Anglers is a beautiful place ...

Set on the banks of crystal-clear Spavinaw Creek ...

During their free time, parents were able to enjoy the peace and beauty of their surroundings ...

Our sessions were filled with rich conversation ...

We talked about our beautiful children ...

Ate A LOT of delicious food ...

And made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Let me share what a few of them had to say at the end of the weekend ...

"To be honest, I was dreading this weekend and sharing our story.  But immediately I felt welcomed and at home.  Friendships were made that I will treasure for the rest of my life.  My husband and I highly recommend this retreat for parents suffering a loss.  What a blessing we received!!"  ~Dustin's mom

"This weekend has been so good for us as a couple.  We struggle to talk about our son with each other.  I was helped as well as my husband.  Thank you!"  ~Joshua's mom

"The WWW Weekend for Parents has touched our hearts greatly.  We came very timid and left forever bonded in our hearts with so many beautiful parents on this journey."  ~Eliana's mom and dad

"We feel incredibly blessed to have experienced this weekend with this group of amazing people."  ~Sophia's mom and dad

"We were very nervous about attending the While We're Waiting Weekend retreat, opening up our deepest hurt in front of strangers.  It was an absolute blessing to attend!  The support of everyone, laughter as well as tears, blessed us and took all our nervousness away.  We are so grateful for you and your ministry."  ~Colby's mom and dad

Now for Part Two of this post ...

We took the first big step today toward the building of the While We're Waiting Refuge, a retreat center designed specifically to meet the needs of bereaved parents.  Fifty acres on the outskirts of Hot Springs has been donated to the ministry for this project.  There is an existing older home on the property, which we will be completely renovating, including the addition of ten hotel-style guest rooms.  

We met with an architect out at the property a few weeks ago and talked through some ideas.  This morning we met with him again and he showed us the plans he has drawn up for this facility.  We were so excited to finally see something on paper!!

You can see the existing home in the lighter print with all the additions coming off of both sides.  This will meet our needs perfectly!  A concept drawing from the architect will be available soon, and I will share it here when it's available.  

Why are we even considering a building project like this when we can go to places like Spring Valley Anglers and Family Farm Christian Day Camp?  Because our events are filling up months in advance, and we cannot get these venues as often as we would like to in order to meet the need.  Our next retreat coming up in April has been completely booked for months, and the one we have planned for November is already nearly full.  It's important for us to keep our groups small to promote the intimacy of our discussion, so we would like to have events more often with smaller groups. (This past weekend's event was our maximum size group.)  We also offer our events at no charge to the parents to attend.  Having our own venue would help us control our costs, so we can continue to do that.

We've committed to building this facility without incurring any debt ... which means we're planning to raise all of the funds upfront.  We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry, so all donations are tax deductible.  If you are aware of any individuals or corporations who may be looking for a worthy project to donate to, please send them our way!  :-)  And if you would like to partner financially, even in a very small way, with this ministry, you may make a donation online by clicking here.  And of course, we'd love your prayer support as we seek to follow God's leadership in this ministry.  Thank you!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday Mourning -- #nationwidefail

Well, it's been a looooong time since I've written here, hasn't it?  There's really no reason for that, other than I've just been very busy!  Not the kind of busy that I used to be when Bethany was still at home, running from basketball game, to track meet, to softball field, but busy nonetheless.  My busy-ness these days is due to the rapid growth of the While We're Waiting ministry, which I'll discuss in another post.  It's a good kind of busy, but the blog is what seems to take the back burner these days.

bht_nationwide_super_bowl_ad_js_150201_16x9_992.jpg (992×558)But after last night's Super Bowl commercial for Nationwide Insurance, I just had to squeeze in a few minutes to write my thoughts this evening.  Did you see it?  It features a little boy, and sucks you right in with cuteness.  The kid is talking about all the things he's not going to have the opportunity to do, like learn to ride a bike, get "cooties" when a girl kisses him on the bus, travel with his best friend, or get married.  Then he says he won't get to do all these things because he's dead due to a household accident.  The ad then shows a very full bathtub, an open cabinet under the kitchen sink, and a large television which has fallen over, presumably on a small child, and informs us that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death in children.

For a few moments, my mind couldn't even process what I had seen.  Did I misunderstand something?  Did I really hear what I thought I heard coming out of that kid's mouth?  Surely not!  No reputable company could possibly be that insensitive to families who may have experienced the loss of a child!  I could literally feel my heart break into a thousand tiny pieces as I knew the pain this commercial would stir up in the hearts of so many.  I  had trouble sleeping last night and the icky feelings brought up by this commercial have stuck with me all day today.

Here are a few of my random thoughts ...

I don't need to be reminded (during the Superbowl, of all times!) of all the experiences I'm missing out on with Hannah.  Yes, I got to see her learn to ride a bike, but I didn't have the opportunity to see her go to college with her best friend, and I will never celebrate at her wedding.  Shoot, I can't even watch the Super Bowl with her.  I have not forgotten that I'll never experience these things with her.  I live with that knowledge every day.

BUT, these are experiences I'M missing out on ... Hannah is not missing out on a thing!  That poor, pathetic kid in the commercial (what parent would agree to have their child play that role?) made it appear that because he was dead, he was missing all the fun stuff.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I also didn't need to be reminded that children die, often in what the world calls "accidents."  Because of my role in the While We're Waiting ministry, I literally spend hours every day interacting with parents who have lost children.  Sometimes I think I have heard every possible horrific way a child can lose his or her life.  Believe me, it gets heavy.

BUT, I believe with all that is in me that God is sovereign, and that He has appointed the number of days each of us will live before we are born.  Psalm 139:16 says, "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."  And Job 14:5 says, "A person's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed."  Therefore, the word "accident" seems to be misapplied here.  The 17-year-old son of one of our WWW board members drowned in six feet of water a little over a year ago.  This dad does not refer to what happened as an "accident", but rather the "incident" by which his son was taken to Heaven.

My daughter did not die from an "accident", but from cancer.  And even in that situation, Satan still whispers in my ear from time to time that it's somehow my fault that she is no longer here with us ... If only we'd discovered her tumor sooner, or gone to a different hospital, or tried a different treatment, or had more faith, etc., etc.  Satan is the father of lies, and I don't know a single bereaved parent who is not engaged in a daily battle with him.  This commercial, which referred to "preventable accidents" plays right into his hand.  Who's supposed to prevent them, if not the parents?  I've talked to so many parents who are so heavily burdened by guilt, they can hardly breathe.

BUT, the power of life and death is not in our hands.  As a parent, there is nothing I could have done to extend Hannah's life even one day past February 26, 2009.  If it wasn't brain cancer that took her to Heaven, it might have been one of those "preventable accidents."  God's purpose for Hannah was fulfilled in the number of days He gave her. I will NOT listen to the lies of Satan and accept any responsibility for her death.

Nationwide has issued a statement saying that this ad was not an attempt to sell insurance, but rather to bring awareness to the issue of child safety.  Eh.  Maybe.  If it was an attempt to sell insurance, it was clearly an epic fail, as I've seen a number of people today stating that they'll NEVER do business with Nationwide ... and I would include myself in that number.

BUT, here's the thing ... It doesn't matter who you buy your insurance from, no amount of insurance can prevent your death or guarantee you an eternity in Heaven when you die.  We can try to create our own insurance by going to church, or being a good neighbor, or donating money to worthy causes ... but unless we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, that stuff means absolutely nothing.

If this commercial causes you to seriously consider where you're going to spend eternity, then maybe it wasn't such a failure after all.