Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday ... Overcoming Life

About six weeks after Hannah went to Heaven, I attended my first (and nearly my last!) grief support group meeting. I drove to a town about a hour away for this meeting … and I was scared to death. We sat in a circle, and our first task was to go around the room and share our stories. By the time it came around to me, all I could do was choke out, “Pass.” I literally could not speak the words aloud that my daughter had died.

I left that meeting more depressed than I was when I arrived, and here’s why. A few (not all) of those people, as they shared their stories, said something similar to this … “It’s been ten years since my child died, and it has never gotten any better,” or “It hurts just as much today as it did the day my child died.” Anybody ever heard someone say something like that?  I was so upset all the way home … How was I possibly going to live for the rest of my life this way?  If it wasn’t going to get any better, Brad might as well just bury me now, because I was done.

But deep inside, deep down in my spirit, I knew that wasn’t true. I knew that God was a good God and that He would never leave me stuck where I was in this pit of grief.

He tells us in His Word that He came to give us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

John Chapter 5 tells the story of a man in need of healing from the Lord. It’s familiar to many of us. Let’s pick up the story in Verse 2:

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate, a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

Now, that’s a strange question, isn’t it? Of course he wanted to be healed … he’d been sick (he hadn’t gotten better) for 38 years!

“The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’”

So yes, he did want to be healed. But no matter how hard he tried, he’d been unable to get better on his own. He didn’t have anyone who could help him, and he couldn’t do it himself. He had probably given up hope of ever getting better.

But what did Jesus say?

“Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed and he took up his bed and walked.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Here, I’ll help you get into the water.”

He didn’t say, “Well, good luck to you, keep trying, and maybe someday you’ll make it.”

He didn’t say, “Oh well, it is what it is … you need to learn to live with it.”

He didn't say, "Why don't you just get over it already?"

Instead, He told the man to do the impossible. He asked the man to take an action that he was clearly incapable of doing on his own. But in that moment, He gave the man the ability to do it.

He also told him to take up his bed, indicating that he wasn’t going to need it anymore. He wasn’t going back to THAT place again.

Then He told the man to walk, clearly indicating that he was to move forward from there.

Isn’t that amazing? Can you see how that relates to us, lying helpless on our beds of grief? He is reaching out His hand, saying, “Do you want to be healed?”

Sometimes there’s a measure of comfort in staying where we are. We become familiar with the pain … it becomes like a friend to us … and we feel that it keeps us connected to our child. And in a sense, it does. But here’s a quote from Nancy Guthrie that I think is so true … “Your love for your child is not defined by the level of your ongoing misery.”

Of course, we will always have a place inside that hurts deeply. We will miss our children until the day we are reunited with them in Heaven. But must we live in misery for the rest of our lives? I don’t believe that’s what God wants for any of us.

But we must take the initiative. In Matthew 12:13, Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to “Stretch out your hand.” When he did so, his hand was healed. But he had to take the initiative to stretch out his hand.

Oswald Chambers, in “My Utmost for His Highest”, says, “The remarkable thing about spiritual initiative is that the life and power comes after we get up and get going. God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome.”

Thank You, Lord, for the strength to overcome!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- A Period or a Question Mark?

Another Throwback Thursday post today ... This one was written on February 23, 2012.

A friend recently forwarded me a devotional she received from Joel Osteen's ministry. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Joel Osteen ... he seems a little too "health and wealth gospel" to me ... but that is simply my opinion. I could certainly be wrong on that. (No "hate comments" please, haha.) Anyway, this particular devotional really spoke to me. Take a minute and read through it...

File It Away

Today's Scripture: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me." Psalm 131:1, NKJV

When things happen in your life that you didn't plan, do you find yourself trying to reason it all out, or look for a "file," so to speak, in your mind? What happens when you can't find a "file" to put it in? What if you can't make sense of it all?

Here's the answer. Every one of us needs to create a file in our thinking called an "I Don't Understand It" file. When things come up that don't make sense and you can't figure it out, instead of getting frustrated or confused, simply put it in your "I Don't Understand It" file and leave it alone. If you go through life trying to figure out why something bad happened, why it didn't work out, why my child didn't get healed, it's going to cause you to be bitter. Part of trusting God means trusting Him when things don't make sense, knowing that His plan is always for your good; knowing that He will reveal all things in His time -- even if it means in eternity.

Here's what I've learned. Don't put a question mark where God has put a period. What the enemy meant for evil, God will ultimately use for your good. Keep moving forward because God loves you, God is for you, and He has a great plan for you!

Bam!! That hit me right between the eyes. I find myself continually pulling out my "Hannah" file, flipping through it, studying it, analyzing it, questioning it, agonizing over it, re-living it ... you get the idea, right? I don't think that in and of itself is necessarily wrong, because I believe God still has a lot to teach me through her life. But here's what I do need to do ... Replace that question mark with a period.

Sometimes, even after nearly three years, I wonder if I've really accepted the fact of Hannah's death. There are still times that none of it really seems real. Maybe it's because I so desperately wanted there to be a different outcome to her cancer. That's the question mark I'm referring to.  But God put a period at the end of her life. Not that there aren't still ripples on the pond resulting from her testimony of faith ... her influence continues to touch others. But God drew a very distinct period on her earthly life on February 26, 2009, and I am not to scrawl a question mark there.

Of course, the key point to remember is that periods are earthly punctuation marks ... Since that earthly period appeared three years ago, Hannah's life has been a series of eternal exclamation points! And that fact, if nothing else, should put to rest all the question marks!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- 14 Things I Wish I'd Known 5 Years Ago

My Throwback Thursday post for today is one I wrote on the five year anniversary of Hannah's homegoing.  These fourteen things are just as true for me today as they were the day I wrote them ...

Today marks five years since Hannah drew her last earthly breath and stepped into the arms of Jesus.

I have to be honest and say that my immediate reaction at that moment was relief that she was no longer suffering from cancer. But that relief was quickly swallowed up by grief ... overwhelming, nearly debilitating sorrow at the loss of my precious daughter.

In those raw early days of grief, I remember looking at other people who had lost children several years previously and wondering how on earth those people had made it. I could not fathom making it through five weeks, much less five years.

And yet, here I am.

It still doesn't seem possible.

I am not the same person I was 1,826 days ago, nor will I ever be that person again. And that's not all bad ... in fact, that's probably a really good thing.

God has done a lot of work in my life over the last five years ... work that needed to be done. And, oh my, He's got a lot more to do. But, if you'll bear with me, I'd like to share a few of the things I've learned over the last five years ... Things I wish I'd known from the beginning.

1. The loss of a child is indescribably difficult. It impacts every fiber of your being, and shakes you to your very core. There are times (even now) when it seems unsurvivable. BUT ... but ... it does, it really does, get better. There are those who will tell you that it never gets better. Do not believe them. However, we must earnestly desire to get better, and actively take steps to make that happen. We are not given a choice about having grief, but we do have a choice in how we grieve.

2. Much of the battle on this journey is spiritual. Actually, "much" may be the wrong word ... "all" is probably closer to the truth. At the time when we are the most vulnerable, Satan is absolutely relentless. He bashes us in the head again and again with "if onlys" and "what ifs". He fills our minds with memories of horrific sights, sounds, and smells. He causes us to question God's goodness and mercy. For me, the best way to fight this battle is to recognize it for what it is ... spiritual warfare. Whenever I get really down, it is always because I've allowed Satan to get a foothold in my mind.

3. This is not a competition. In those early days, I spent a lot of time wondering which was "worse" ... losing a child suddenly and not being able to say good-bye, or having the opportunity to say good-bye but being forced to watch your child suffer in horrific ways. I wondered if it was "easier" if the child you lost was an infant, or maybe it was "easier" if he or she was an adult when they went to Heaven. I wondered how my grief stacked against with that of others. I've learned that it does not matter. After talking to hundreds of bereaved parents over the past five years, I've found that even though our losses are all different, our pain is the same. The loss of a child is heartrending, no matter the child's age or the circumstances of his or her death.

4. There is no time limit on grief. I used to be so ignorant. I actually used to think people "got over" the death of a loved one within a couple of months ... a year at the very most. I now know that one does not "get over" the death of a child ... they just learn how to live without them. I will be "over" the loss of my child when I put my arms around her neck in Heaven.

5. Pain is not wasted in God's economy. God can take our pain and bring good from it. I've learned that one of the best ways to ease my pain is to stop focusing inward and begin looking for ways to serve Him and others. It could be something "big", like starting a ministry or a foundation in your child's memory ... or it could be something "smaller." One sweet mom I know watches the obituaries for parents who lose children close to her son's age when he died, and writes them encouraging notes. Believe me, this is not a "small" thing to those who receive these gifts of love from her.

6. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, and since the day Hannah was diagnosed with cancer just over six years ago, my circumstances have not been what I have wanted them to be. Absolutely everything I do is tinged with sorrow to some degree, whether it's just going to work each day, celebrating a family birthday, or planning my younger daughter's wedding. Hannah is not here, and that means there is sadness in my heart all the time. But, I can still have joy in my life, because that is not dependent upon my circumstances. Joy is unassailable, because it comes from my relationship with God. Joy is that deep-down, rugged knowledge that God will one day make all things right, even a 17-year-old girl dying of cancer.

7. I don't have to be strong all the time ... In fact, my greatest strength lies in weakness. I am not strong enough to do this on my own. I must allow myself to be weak and lean fully on Him. That is the only way to walk this road. 2 Corinthians 2:9 -- "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." As my dear friend Donna says, God tells us, "I want you to be strong, but you don't have to be stronger than me."

8. C. S. Lewis once said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear." In the early days of my grief, I felt very cavalier. The thing I had feared most in life had happened ... What else was there to be afraid of? As time has passed, I've begun to experience more fear. I've met parents who have lost two, three, even four children. If it happened to me once, why couldn't it happen again? This fear could easily become paralyzing, even debilitating. But, I've learned that I must give that fear to God, and put my loved ones in His hand. I want to love having them more than I fear losing them.

9. I have to remember that I am living in the temporary. This world that seems so real to us now will dissolve in a moment someday. I love these lines from the last book in the Narnia series, "The Last Battle" by C. S. Lewis, "‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.’" When this life in the Shadowlands (but a dream) is over, the holidays will truly begin!

10. I also have to remember this ... My future with my daughter is going to be so much greater than my past with her. What an amazing thought.

11. I cannot put a question mark where God has put a period. God put a period at the end of Hannah's earthly life on February 26, 2009. I can question His wisdom in that all I want to (and believe me, I have) but the period is still there. I cannot change that; and I don't believe He wants me to waste the life He has given me in arguing with Him. The period has not yet been placed at the end of my earthly life, and there are so much better things I can be doing with my energy and my time. God still has work for me to do here.

12. Everyone says stupid things to people who have lost children ... even other people who have lost children (I know I've said dumb things myself)! I can choose to replay the hurtful things people have said over and over in my mind -- along with the snarky comebacks I wish I'd hit them with -- or I can choose to extend grace to those folks and move forward. There is only one perfect Comforter ... the rest of us fall far short.

13. God is sovereign. God knew the number of Hannah's days before she was born (Psalm 139:16). There is not a thing we could have done to extend her life by even a single day. It does no good to question whether we should have gone to a different hospital or tried a different treatment. She lived exactly the number of days God had ordained for her.

14. Finally, I've learned that a short life is not an incomplete life. I've talked to parents whose child never took a breath outside of the womb whose lives have been changed for eternity by that brief life. Hannah's life may have been short, but it was definitely not incomplete. In the early months following her death, we heard quite often from people whose lives had been touched by hers ... even a number of salvations directly due to her testimony. As time has gone on, we've heard those kinds of reports less and less. But may I share something with you? A little less than a month ago, out of the blue, we received an email from an old high school friend of my husband's. Brad had not heard from this friend in years; in fact, we did not even know he had followed Hannah's story. Here's what he wrote in his email:


Just a quick note to tell you what a blessing your journey has been to me, my patients and students that rotate through my facility. I made copies of every email you sent out over the years of Hannah's battle and kept them in a bound folder. [The emails he's referring to are available on this blog. Look in the right hand column and click on "Hannah's Story in Emails."]

Each night as the emails came I would read them to my daughter and son and we as a family would pray for Hannah and your family. I will never forget the day in Feb that I sat down and shared the email that Hannah had lost her battle with this disease. We all cried because of your transparency allowed us to be vested in your journey.

Even today I make all our nursing, x-ray, and oncology students to read the collection of emails at the start of their clinical rotation and it helps remind them we are not treating diseases...we are treating beautiful people like Hannah.

My continued prayers for you guys. God bless and thank you for allowing others to see the beauty that continues to be Hannah's legacy.

Ah ... to know that my daughter is remembered, and that her life is still having an impact on others ... there is no greater gift that can be given to a parent who's lost a child.

Five years. It's a long time. But it's five years closer to Home ... and that's just fine with me. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- In the Dark

Another Throwback Thursday post -- This one is from September 8, 2011.

Do you remember being a child alone in your bedroom at night? I remember that I always had to sleep with my door open...I felt so alone if the door was shut. As a matter of fact, if I was acting up, not wanting to sleep, fussing, or whatever, my parents could always shut me up just by threatening to shut my door. No way did I want my bedroom door closed. I think I found a lot of comfort in just hearing their voices in the living room as I was drifting off to sleep. Now, I can't sleep if the bedroom door is open. Go figure.

The other day, I was reading the book "Stronger" by Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and he shared a very interesting illustration. He was referring to those times in our lives when God seems absent, when we just can't seem to feel His presence. See if this illustration speaks to you like it does to me...

"I think in this case, it's a little like being a child in your bedroom at night. It's dark, and so black that you can't see anything. Your door is closed, so you can't hear anything outside your room. Yet your favorite pillow and nightstand are still there. Your parents are nearby, too. They haven't left you. In fact, your mother is in the kitchen preparing lunch for the next day. She's humming as she works, because she's baking chocolate chip cookies to surprise you.

It's a simple illustration, but you get the idea -- circumstances may make it hard to sense God's presence, yet He's still there. He hasn't left us. And more often than we realize, His "hiddenness" allows Him to work on our behalf in a way that wouldn't be possible if we could see Him.

To take the analogy further, if you're a child in bed at night, you could jump out of bed, turn on the light, and rush into the kitchen to make sure Mom is still around. You could do that all night long. But that isn't what's best for you, is it? It would leave you exhausted the next day, and it would spoil the surprise of the chocolate chip cookies. You'd be far better off to trust that Mom is there, that she has things under control, and that all you need to do now is go to sleep."

I love that! What a great reminder to continue trusting God, even when we can't feel His presence. Or when the bedroom door is closed, and we just don't understand what He is up to in our lives. Definitely something to think about during the darkest of times.

And I don't know about you...but I don't want to miss out on the chocolate chip cookies!