Thursday, May 28, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Paradigm Shifts

Keeping up the Throwback Thursday blogs ... This is a post I wrote on August 10, 2011, just a few days after 38 brave servicemen (including 17 Navy SEALS) were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in an incident now known as Extortion 17.

All this week, I've been sitting in school workshops. The last two days have been a presentation of the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and one of the big topics has been paradigm shifts. As part of his introduction, the presenter posed a question to the group, "What is something that has happened in your life that led to a paradigm shift?" A few people shared stories of events in their lives that had led to significant change. I didn't volunteer to share, but if I had, I would have said, "When my teenage daughter was diagnosed with cancer."

There's nothing like suffering and loss to change your paradigms. There are definitely some military families who've had their paradigms shifted this week.

In Randy Alcorn's book, "If God Is Good", he shares nine paradigm-shifting insights that he learned through studying the book of Job. If I wasn't so drained from sitting in workshops all day every day this week, I might be able to come up with one more on my own, thus making today a true Ten on the Tenth. But I just don't think that's going to happen tonight. So, without further ado, here are...

Nine Lessons To Be Learned from Job (from Randy Alcorn)

1. Life is not predictable or formulaic.

2. Most of life's expectations and suffering's explanations are simplistic and naive, waiting to be toppled.

3. When the day of crisis comes, we should pour out our hearts to God, who can handle our grief and even our anger.

4. We should not turn from God and internalize our anger, allowing it to become bitterness.

5. We should weigh and measure the words of friends, authors, teachers, and counselors, finding whatever truth they might speak without embracing their errors or getting derailed by their insensitivities.

6. We should not insist on taking control by demanding a rational explanation for the evils and suffering that befall us.

7. We should look to God and ask him to reveal himself to us; in contemplating his greatness we will come to see him as the Answer above all answers.

8. We should trust that God is working behind the scenes and that our suffering has hidden purposes that one day, even if not in this life, we will see.

9. We should cry out to Jesus, the mediator and friend whom Job could only glimpse, but who indwells us by grace.

Hmmmmm....Good stuff, huh?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- When I Get To Heaven

Continuing the Throwback Thursday theme for a few more weeks while waiting for the school year to wrap up enough to start writing some new posts ... Here's a post I originally wrote on July 28, 2011. Reading it again today sure got me excited about all we have to look forward to in Heaven one day!

"When I Get to Heaven"

I have to be honest...Before Hannah became a resident there, I really didn't think much about Heaven. Sure, I wanted to go there someday, but I didn't really know anybody there, other than my grandparents, and, of course, Jesus. And I looked forward to that day (distant, though it seemed, which was fine with me) because I knew it would be amazing to see Him..."I Can Only Imagine" and all that.

Well, now that Hannah is there, my feelings have changed greatly. I look forward every day to the moment I arrive there. I must admit, though, I am a little conflicted about something.

Would you think less of me if I told you that if Jesus is the first person I meet when I arrive, while He's hugging me, I'm going to be on my tiptoes peering over his shoulder looking for Hannah? It's just the truth.

Brad read a book last week on the beach in which a father said he hoped that his child was sitting on Jesus's lap when he got to Heaven, so he could see both of them at the same time. That would be pretty cool.

But Hannah was seventeen when she died, and I just can't really picture her sitting on Jesus's lap.

And that's not really how I think it's going to be when I arrive in Heaven anyway. Here's how I picture it. I have no theological basis for this whatsoever...these are just my thoughts.

If I were to go there today, I think that Hannah would be the first person I would see. As a matter of fact, for some reason, in my mind, I picture her grasping both of my hands and pulling me into Heaven from wherever I am. We would fall into each other's arms and laugh and cry and hold each other for a long, long time. When we had gotten our fill (it might take awhile), she would take me by the hand and together, we would greet all of our family members who were there....grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents, and so on.

All of this would take place at a very leisurely need to hurry like we do every day in this life...we have all the time we could ever possibly need.

After visiting with all the family, next I would want to meet the children of all the bereaved parents we've talked to over the last few years. Most of them I never got to meet on earth, but their parents have become so precious to me, and their stories have been so amazing, I've just got to meet them. And since I have this idea in my head that everytime we meet a bereaved parent here on earth, Hannah meets their child(ren) in Heaven, she'll be able to introduce me to all of them.

After visiting with all of these amazing people, I would want to meet the Old Testament patriarchs...Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, Noah, David, Solomon, etc. Can you imagine? And then the folks from the New Testament...Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, the woman at the well, Lazarus, Mary & Martha, the disciples, Paul, Silas, Timothy...the list could go on and on! What a thought!

And by this this the point where my heart is about to burst with joy and gratitude and awe and only desire would be to meet the One, the One who made all of this possible through His sacrifice. And my daughter, my daughter who is now so far superior to me in wisdom and grace, will ask me, "Are you ready?" I will be speechless, only able to nod my head in affirmation. And, still leading me by the hand, with the familiar ease of introducing me to a good friend, she will bring me to the throne of glory. And I will tremble uncontrollably, fall to my knees, worship the One who died for me, and then finally, finally my joy will be complete. Oh, glorious day!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Heavenly Wisdom

Today's Throwback Thursday post was written on July 25, 2011 ... a little over two years after Hannah went to Heaven.  It brought a smile to my face today as I considered how much more wisdom she's gained in the last four years since I wrote this ...

Will you indulge me for a few minutes of shameless boasting? Thank you.

Hannah was a very intelligent young lady. She was a straight-A student all through school, even in the second semester of her sophomore year, when she underwent brain surgery and radiation therapy. She won nearly every academic award given during her freshman and sophomore years, including overall "outstanding student" both years. Her biggest concern when she was in the hospital prior to her surgery was getting behind in her schoolwork and losing her opportunity to be the valedictorian. She was an extremely competitive student (to a fault), and always went above and beyond what was required of her in class.

Her junior year was off to a great start, when her cancer returned in late September. She had to drop out of school for a few months to do another round of extensive radiation and to start a new kind of chemotherapy. By mid-December, she was well enough to return to school for a few days before Christmas break. On her first day back to school, she walked into her World History class, only to find out that they were taking a test that day. The teacher gave them a few minutes to look over their notes before taking the test. Of course, she could have been exempt from taking the test since she had not been present for any of the material, but she chose to look over a friend's notes and take it. She got a 100%...after only a few minutes of studying completely unfamiliar material.

Right after Christmas break, Hannah's health began to deteriorate rapidly, and she never did return to school. It wasn't long before the cancer attacking her brain brought her to a state of almost child-like simplicity. It was a heartbreaking thing to watch, and to be perfectly honest, it just felt so unfair.

And then Hannah went to Heaven. And I believe that as soon as she entered her new home, her intelligence was not only restored, it was transformed into wisdom. A wisdom beyond anything I can even imagine. And I believe that the longer she is in Heaven, the more wisdom she gains.

Now, when I feel sad about all that she had to suffer through, the indignities she had to endure, the losses she had to experience ... I picture her, surrounded by the splendor of Heaven, saying, "C'mon, Mom. It's fine. All that stuff you're thinking about -- that was just a second, just the blink of an eye -- it was nothing! None of that matters now. I'm better than I've ever been. Just wait 'til you get'll see!"

And won't it be awesome when I do get there, and I'm able to sit beside her and learn from her what she's been taught by the Master Himself! 

 After I've spent the first thousand years or so just hugging her neck, that is! 

 What an amazing experience that will be....

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- My Bereaved Parent Family

Another "Throwback Thursday" post today ... This one written on September 11, 2010, just after we attended the Respite Retreat for bereaved parents hosted by David and Nancy Guthrie.  I will forever be grateful for that weekend, and the time we spent with those couples.  Meeting all those folks and hearing their stories and experiences as bereaved parents gave me a much greater understanding of the path my life was now on, and helped me see that there was still life to be lived here on earth, and that it could be full and abundant.

One of the things that was so striking to me about the weekend was how much we parents, who came from ten different states and Canada, had in common.  And how, almost five years later, those commonalities have been confirmed again and again as we've met hundreds of bereaved parents through our While We're Waiting events.  This post describes some of those things we share.  As much as I would gladly renounce my membership in this club, I have come to love my bereaved parent family.

About seventeen years ago, I was attending one of those infamous Southern Baptist committee meetings at our church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. We were engaging in some informal conversation around the table before the meeting actually began, and the pastor asked one attendee a question. She was an older lady, who had been a member of the church for a long time...the pastor knew her quite well. He said, "As a pastor, there's something I've always wondered...What is the most painful type of loss someone can endure? I know that in your lifetime, you have lost your parents, your husband, some of your brothers and sisters, and a daughter. Which loss was the most difficult for you?" The dear woman replied with shining eyes, "Oh, Pastor...the loss of my daughter was by far the greatest loss I ever experienced. The others were painful, but I still grieve the loss of my daughter every day in my heart." And our pastor answered, "That is exactly what I've heard over and over again in all the years of my ministry...that the loss of a child is the most painful loss there is."

I was about 27 years old at that time, with one young daughter and another on the way, and as I heard her response, I thought to myself, "Wow...I hope I never have to face that!" For some reason, that conversation has stuck with me all these years. And from time to time, it comes to my mind, and I wonder about it. Since I haven't experienced any of those other types of losses, I've wondered if what I heard that day is really true.

Last weekend, we spent hours listening to bereaved parents pour out their hearts, both in group meetings, and with us privately. We did our own share of pouring, as well! As I shared in my previous post, we twelve couples came from ten different states and Canada, and our stories of loss were, for the most part, very different. But here are some things that, over the course of the weekend, we discovered we had in common:

--The pain we share is deep, and it is very real. There were parents there whose son lived for only two heartbeats after birth, and parents whose daughter lived to be an adult with a child of her own. There were parents whose child had suffered months or years of illness, and parents whose child's life was gone in one earth-shattering moment. Two couples had lost two children. I still don't know if the conversation I overheard 17 years ago was completely accurate...I really think there are things that could be worse than death when it comes to your children...but the pain and grief I heard and felt last weekend was immense. It didn't matter how old our children were or how we lost them...the pain was deep, and it was real.

--Most of us who were there had come to terms with God's sovereignty in taking our children to Heaven sooner than we would have liked, but as one dad put it, "We reserve the right to protest." While we all agreed that our faith has gotten us through our experiences, nearly all of us have experienced some real spiritual struggles.

--All of us have struggled with feeling "different" or "out of place" like I mentioned a couple of posts back. Our thoughts are different, our outlook is different, our conversation is different. One mom said, "Everyone around us is talking about kindergarten and we want to talk about calculus!" Who has time for small talk and chit-chat, when there are issues of such great importance to discuss? I think that's one reason we enjoyed visiting so much...we spent all our time talking about issues and experiences we felt so passionately about.

--All of us have struggled with getting back into "real life" after the death of our children. People usually don't know what to say to us, or if they should say anything at all. And we're no help...sometimes we want them to talk to us and sometimes we don't! One mom said that they felt like they carried death with them everywhere they went, and it had deeply affected their relationships with others. Oddly enough, the place we all agreed was the most difficult to go back to was church! I think part of that is just the emotion inherent in attending a worship service, but I suspect some of it may be that we seem to feel it necessary to keep up a "front" in that others will think we are just as perfect inside as we appear to be on the outside. I don't know...I'm still pondering that one.

--Strange as it may sound, we've all experienced some degree of memory loss or "brain fog" related to our child's death and the time that's past since then. I thought it was just me, or the fact that I'll be turning 45 in a couple of months, but I guess not. Maybe it's because our thoughts are so consumed with "calculus" all the time...I don't know. I'm just glad to know that I'm not the only one!

--All of the moms felt like they had aged rapidly since the death of their child. All of us described the experience of looking in the mirror and wondering what had happened to us! And not just in seems that that extra weight of grief has taken a toll on our bodies as well.

--This may be surprising, but when one dad described their experience of losing their 3 month old baby as 100% terrible and 100% wonderful at the same time, we all murmured in agreement. We all agreed that as awful as losing our children has been, so much good has come from our experiences as well.

--All of us had a strong desire for our children to not be forgotten. Every one of us, in different ways, have sought ways to memorialize our children. I had never thought this would be a big deal for us...we truly believe Hannah's storm was more about God than it ever was about Hannah...but as time goes by, I do find myself wanting to make sure that Hannah's life is not forgotten.

--Finally, we all agreed that we could never survive these experiences without our faith in God. I often heard people at the retreat wondering aloud how people got through things like this without Him. I've said that many, many times myself. And as difficult emotionally as last weekend was, we all left there uplifted, because we all knew we would be seeing our children again. Best of all, we all left knowing that the time we've spent without them here will be redeemed in Heaven someday...every minute will be made up for. And how amazing is that?