Thursday, April 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "Strangers and Aliens"

Here's another Throwback Thursday post, this one from September 2, 2010.  The interesting thing about this post is that it was written the night before we went to a bereaved parents retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, which ultimately led to the creation of the While We're Waiting ministry.  When I wrote this post, I could not have guessed how my life was about to change once again.

"Strangers & Aliens"

Last night, I went to the first meeting of a new Beth Moore study at our church. There were not too many of us there...maybe about 7 or 8 women. About half were people I knew from our church, and the others were visitors. And I knew it was going to's inevitable at any "first meeting"...we had to go around the room, introduce ourselves, and tell a little bit about ourselves. Have you ever noticed that when women are asked to tell a little bit about themselves, they always talk about their children? They might mention their husband, they might briefly touch on their job, but they ALWAYS tell about their children.

I never know quite what to do in this situation. Do I just say that I have a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and leave it at that? Or do I risk the gasps of shock and murmurs of sympathy and say that I have two of them in Heaven? I hate making people uncomfortable or drawing undue attention to myself, but at the same time, it just doesn't feel honest to tell people that I have only have one child.

I didn't have very long to think about it last night. I was the second one in the circle. About half of the group knew my story anyway. So, I took a deep breath (I've learned that it's easier not to cry when I do that) and said my name, that my husband was a high school principal, that I was a speech pathologist, that I had a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and that I had a daughter in Heaven. I was so relieved that I managed to get it all out without choking into awkward silence, that I almost forgot to inhale. It actually took me a couple of minutes to get my breath back. The introductions continued around the circle, with all the ladies sharing about their children and families.

With that task accomplished, the leader spoke a few words to introduce the series, which is about the book of Esther, and for the next hour, we sat in semi-darkness watching the video. For awhile, I had some difficulty focusing on what Beth Moore was saying, because as I sat there in there in that room surrounded by all those very friendly women, I suddenly felt like I was a stranger and an alien. I realized for the first time--well, not really for the first time; I've been aware of it before, but this was the first time I've put words to it--that everything, absolutely everything about me is colored by the fact that I'm a mother who has lost a child. Everything I see, hear, say, and think passes through that filter. I can never take that veil is a part of my very being. I suddenly felt so "different" from all of the other women there, and I felt very alone. Not lonely, mind you, but alone. There's a difference.

But here's the cool thing. That was last night. At this time tomorrow night, I will be in another group. And in this group, I will not be alone. I will be surrounded by people who understand me...and I will understand them. Tomorrow morning, Brad and I are leaving bright and early for Nashville, Tennessee, where we will spend the weekend at a Respite Retreat for bereaved parents, hosted by Nancy & David Guthrie. I've posted a lot about Nancy Guthrie in the past. She and her husband have lost two young children, and she's written several wonderful books about their experiences. There will be 10 or 12 couples there, including the Guthries, and we will be spending the weekend together, sharing our stories and growing together in our faith. I think it's going to be an absolutely amazing experience, and we are so looking forward to it!

You know, there's another very good (actually much more accurate) reason I felt like a stranger and an alien in that room last night. It's because I really am one, and so are you, if you are a child of God. This world is not our home...we're just traveling through it on our way to Heaven. I recently read that Heaven shouldn't be called the "afterlife"...instead, this world should be called the "beforelife." I love that!

In Hebrews 11, the author lists Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, and then says this in verses 13-16:

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."

How cool is that? He has prepared a city for us...where we will finally, truly be "at home." What an incredible day that will be!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Life is Good . . .?

Continuing the Throwback Thursday theme on the blog ... Here's a post from August 8, 2010.

Life Is Good . . . ?

Have you ever seen those T-shirts that say "Life is good"? They always have some kind of relaxation-inducing picture along with those a lawn chair and a glass of lemonade, or a pair of flip-flops and a beach umbrella or something. They're nice T-shirts...they come in all different colors in sort of a weathered-looking fabric. Seems like I usually see them in sporting-good stores. I always look at them because I like them, but I've never bought one...partly because I think they're very pricey for T-shirts, but mostly because I'm not sold on the "Life is Good" sentiment. Oh, there was a time when I wouldn't have thought twice about that was good, and always had been for me. My eyes had not yet been opened to the world of childhood cancer. Sure, I knew it existed. I had seen those St. Jude fundraisers on know the ones. Of course, I always changed the channel really fast so I didn't have to look at those steroid-swollen children with no hair or eyebrows...I felt bad for those kids, but I didn't know any of them. They weren't my kids, or my neighbor's kids, or my friend's kids, so it was easy to change the channel and blithely go on my way.

When we were in Gulf Shores, Alabama, earlier this summer, we went in one of those tourist traps stores. This one is called Souvenir City, and the door is shaped like an enormous shark's mouth. If you've ever been there, you've seen it...You can't miss it! After taking the obligatory picture...

...we went in and looked around. As I wandered through the T-shirt section, I spotted a group of shirts that looked just like the "Life is Good" shirts from a distance. I walked up to them, and found that these were a little different. These shirts actually said, "Life is Crap" and had pictures like a tree falling on someone's car, or a guy hitting his thumb with a hammer. Some were kind of one that had a picture of a men's restroom and a ladies' restroom. The ladies' room had a line of about five women waiting to use it, and of course the men's room had no line. Anyway, these shirts gave me a chuckle, and then got me thinking.

Life isn't always good...but God is. Sometimes life is crap...but God is always good. In his wisdom and sovereignty, He has allowed our family to see and experience some of the more crappy parts of life. He has taken us beyond seeing young strangers with cancer on TV, to learning the names and faces and families and stories of so many cancer battlers right here in Arkansas and beyond. It is such a privilege to be able to lift these families up in prayer, and to keep up with their journeys through the storms.

In John 9:1-3, the disciples questioned Jesus about why a man was born blind, trying to determine whether it was caused by sinfulness. Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," and then He goes on to explain the purpose of the man's disability: "This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Did you catch the "so that"? The "so that" rules out bad luck, haphazardness, and neglect. God had a specific, divine purpose for the man's handicap. And today, some 2000 years later, I believe that is still true. In His sovereignty, I believe that God allows...might I even say ordains...the difficult times in our lives. But He will always, if we choose to allow Him, display His goodness through them.

So which shirt had the right message? For me, it's a combination of the two. Life is sometimes crap...but God is always good!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "But Even If He Does Not ..."

Oh, the blog has been sooooo quiet lately.

Unfortunately, it's probably going to stay that way for awhile.

Our school district is making up its snow days by tacking an extra hour to the end of each school day.  That will be wonderful at the end of May, when we're out of school and everyone else is still going ... but for now, it's making very long work days.  The remainder of the evening is spent getting caught up on While We're Waiting stuff, which I love doing ... but that doesn't leave much time for blogging.

I hate the thought of the blog just sitting dark so much, though, so I've decided to incorporate Facebook's "Throwback Thursday" theme into the blog. On Thursdays, I'm going to re-post some of my personal favorite blog posts from the past.  I hope you enjoy these, because it's probably all you're going to see on here for awhile ... at least until school is out!  :-)

Here's the first Throwback Thursday post from Saturday, March 6, 2010, just a little over a year after Hannah went to Heaven.

"But Even If He Does Not ..." 

I have such great memories of the little church where I grew up...First Baptist Church of Phillips, Wisconsin. Every Wednesday afternoon, my brother and I would walk from school to church for CYF. There were probably only about 10 or 12 kids that came, but our pastor, Arlo Little, was there every single Wednesday to play games with us and teach us a Bible lesson. 

When it was warm enough outside, we would play baseball (that's when I discovered that I was not an athlete). When it was cold outside, which was pretty much the whole school year, we would play games in the basement of the church, where we had our Bible story time. My favorite one involved a pincushion which the pastor would hide somewhere in our meeting room (it seemed like a huge room at the time, although I think it was actually quite small) and we would have to find it. He would tell us if we were hot or cold until we found it, and then we would do it all over again. I remember the excitement of getting warm, then warmer, then steaming, then boiling, then blazing as we got closer and closer to that little pincushion. 

I liked the games, but I loved it when he would tell the Bible story and get out the flannelgraph stuff. I loved the flannelgraph background, looking like it had been drawn with colorful pastels, and all those flannel-backed figures, dressed in their Bible-time robes. I especially loved the animals...the camels, donkeys, and sheep. I learned lots of Bible stories in that basement in northern Wisconsin.

Yesterday morning, I was reading my daily excerpt from "The One Year Book of Hope" by Nancy Guthrie (an excellent book for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one) and she referenced the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. I was immediately back in that church basement, seeing those flannel graph figures and hearing the story told by my pastor. And yesterday evening, I was reading "Letters from the Land of Cancer" by Walter Wangerin, Jr., (an excellent book for anyone traveling through the land of cancer) and, would you believe, he referenced the same story. And both authors emphasized a part of the story that I had never really given much thought to before. 

You may remember that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship a gold statue of the Babylonian king. Here's what they said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18.

I've always thought of them as Biblical heroes because they refused to bow down to an idol, even under threat of death. And while that was heroic, I've decided that their real heroism is reflected in the statement, "But even if He does not...". On the surface, it may look like they were giving God an escape clause, something to protect His reputation in case they burned up in the furnace. But I don't think so. They didn't pretend to know what God would do, nor did they try to tell Him what to do. I think they trusted Him to the point that they knew whatever He would do what was right, even if it resulted in their death. God was God however He chose to act.

This was the same understanding we came to as we watched Hannah's life slowly leave her. That "even if He does not", we would continue to trust Him. And I've seen this attitude replicated in the lives of several of the cancer patients we've come to know as we've traveled this journey. We've been asked by a friend to help her choose music for her own funeral, and this afternoon I will be burning a CD of songs for her to listen to. She has such a glowing peace about her as she contemplates her own death, which, according to her doctors, is approaching. She knows that "even if He does not" heal her in this life, He will in the next. 

What a difference it makes when we face life, and death, with this kind of attitude!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

While We're Waiting Wednesday -- Arkansas Gives!

Many of you who follow this blog have been wonderful supporters of the While We're Waiting ministry to bereaved parents.  In fact, you've watched it grow from the very first retreat we had in April of 2011 to where we are today, doing 8-10 completely booked WWW events per year in multiple locations, and on the verge of embarking on a major building project.  You can see pictures of the proposed While We're Waiting Refuge and find out how you can be a part of that project by clicking here!

But tonight I wanted to let you know about a unique opportunity to support the ministry of WWW financially.

Tomorrow, on Thursday, April 2, from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm, nonprofits from around the state will be participating in an event called Arkansas Gives. On that date and during that 12 hour period, a percentage of any donation you give to a participating nonprofit through the Arkansas Gives website will be matched by a $250,000 pool of money made available by the Arkansas Community Foundation. WWW will be one of the nonprofits you can donate tomorrow. If you've ever thought about making a donation to While We're Waiting, tomorrow would be a great time to do so, because your gift will be maximized!

Here's what you need to know:

-- The donation must be made on April 2nd between 8 am and 8 pm

-- The donation must be made on the Arkansas Gives website (not the WWW website)

-- There is a minimum gift of $25 and it must be made by credit card or debit card (Visa, Mastercard, or American Express)

-- Your donation will be fully tax deductible

-- You will receive a tax receipt by email immediately from Arkansas Gives

-- You do not have to live in Arkansas to donate

-- All funds raised that day go directly to WWW; the only fees taken out are those charged by the credit card companies

-- Click here to go directly to the WWW page on the Arkansas Gives website!

One more thing! As I said above, we are in the early stages of building the While We're Waiting Refuge ... a retreat center specifically designed to meet the needs of bereaved parents. If you donate $2,500 or more to WWW either during Arkansas Gives or at any other time in the weeks and months ahead, we have some exciting incentives for you ... including the option of naming a specific area of the WWW Refuge in memory of your child, one-time use of the Refuge by your family or organization, and a few other special things. If you would like more information about how you can become a sponsor of the WWW Refuge, please click here and we'll get you fixed up.

We hope you'll choose to support While We're Waiting on Thursday, April 2nd!!  Thank you!