Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- How Many More Minutes?

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"How many more minutes?"

We used to hear that question a lot from our little girls riding to Grandma and Grandpa's house in the back seat of the car.

We would try to explain how much time remained in our trip in terms they could understand:  "It's two Rugrats shows and a Barney" meant that we were still an hour away.

They would settle in, satisfied, ready to be patient a little bit longer, knowing that the joy of getting to their grandparents' house was awaiting them at the end of the journey.

We no longer have little girls riding in the back seat of our car.  One of those little girls is in Heaven, and the other is happily married and I look forward to the day that she is driving her little ones to Grandma and Grandpa's house!

So now it's not our kids who are asking, "How many more minutes?"

It's us.

How long, O Lord, until we see our Hannah again?  How many more minutes (hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades) until we get to Heaven?

It's hard to be patient when you're looking forward to a time of great joy, isn't it?  It can seem like the time just crawls by.

We found that those road trips went by faster when the girls had something to do to keep them busy while they were waiting.  We played the ABC game, sometimes fighting over who got to claim the "Q" in "Antique"; we sang songs; we listened to audio books.  Anything to help the time pass ... and it worked!

The theme verse for the While We're Waiting ministry to bereaved parents is Romans 8:25:  "But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."

A ministry consultant once told us that we needed to change the name of the ministry.  He said, "It sounds like you're kicked back in a recliner, doing nothing, just waiting to get to Heaven."

Obviously, we didn't follow his advice ... because nothing could be further from the truth.  We are waiting eagerly ... persevering until that day.  Our desire is to keep busy doing what God has for us to do until this particular road trip is over.  Our goal is to live well (by God's grace alone) while we're waiting.  Nothing will make the time pass more quickly than that!

And not only does the time pass more quickly ... the trip has been made so much richer by the fellow travelers we've met along the way.

"How many more minutes?"

I asked myself this question again the other day, but in an entirely different context.  For Valentine's Day, my husband gave me a gift certificate for a 55-minute massage, and I've saved it all this time, waiting for just the right time to use it.  I finally decided there would never be a "perfect" time, so last Friday I hopped in the car and drove to the spa.

The massage therapist began to do her magic and it was Ahhhhh, so nice.  But pretty soon I started thinking, "I wonder how many minutes I have left.  I had 55 when I started ... so maybe now I have 42, or 29, or what if I only have 7?  I don't want this to be over yet!"  Before I knew it, I was no longer enjoying the massage, because I was too busy thinking about how many more minutes I had left, and wishing there were more.  I had to repeatedly remind myself to enjoy the moment I was in.

Isn't it awesome to know that when we get to Heaven, we'll never again have to ask "How many more minutes"?  The joys of Heaven will never end.  We'll never have to worry about running out of time.  No matter how many minutes pass, there will still be infinitely more to come.  Every mile of this road trip we're on will be redeemed!

"How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts day after day and have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me ... But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me."  Psalm 13:1b-2; 5-6

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- Back to School

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This Throwback Thursday post was originally written on August 18, 2010, about a year and a half after our daughter, Hannah, went to Heaven. I wanted to re-post it this week because of a conversation which has been taking place on our While We're Waiting - Support for Bereaved Parents facebook page (a closed page, just for parents who have lost children.)

Many of these parents have been discussing how hard it is to see all the back-to-school posts on Facebook this week.  And it's not so much that they begrudge other families recording these milestones on social media ... most of them acknowledge that they truly are happy these families have not had to experience the loss of a child.  

No, rather it's the sorrow that so many parents describe as they drop their child off for kindergarten, middle school, high school, college, you-fill-in-the-blank.  The sadness they express about the fact that their child is growing up.  The tears they shed because their baby is getting so old.

It's a little hard for a parent who will never get to hug their child again here on earth to feel much sympathy for a parent who is tearfully hugging their child good-bye until 3:30 that afternoon or until Christmas break.  My purpose in sharing this blog post is not to be critical of these folks ... I'm sure I did the very same thing myself until Hannah's homegoing changed my perspective.  Rather, I just want to remind all of us not to waste a moment of our children's lives being sad that they are growing up, but to celebrate those milestones with them!  Every moment we have with our children is a gift from God and should be treasured.

So, here's what I wrote the week that Hannah should have started college ...

I love school supplies. There's something about brand new, never-written-in notebooks, clean loose leaf paper wrapped in plastic, binders with tabbed dividers, "bouquets of newly sharpened pencils" (one of my favorite lines from "You've Got Mail"), and neat stacks of pristine pocket folders that I just like. Every new school year is a blank slate; a fresh start. There are no crayons or safety scissors on our list this year...there haven't been for many years now...instead, we have things like protractors and compasses. And if I can't help Bethany with her geometry homework this year (which is highly likely) worries; her teacher does podcasts explaining the difficult problems! Hopefully, she can figure out how to watch them, because I probably won't be able to help her with that either.

Hannah shared my affinity for school supplies. She always wanted to shop for them as early as possible for the best selection, and the second we got home with them, she would get busy. She'd separate them all by class, then painstakingly label each item with her name, her teacher's name, the class title, etc. The loose leaf paper would go into the binders, and dividers would be put into place. Then she'd place everything in a neat stack, largest items on the bottom, smallest on the top. She would have her schedule, locker number, and combination all memorized within five minutes of receiving it. The girl just loved school! On the other hand, I won't even comment about what Bethany's heap of school supplies looks like on the kitchen table right now!

This summer, instead of buying school supplies for Hannah, we would have been buying items to furnish her college dorm room. We would have been moving her into her dorm at Ouachita Baptist University this Saturday. It's hard for me to even imagine what that would be like. I think she would have been really nervous...before she got sick, she was easily freaked out by change...but she would have been excited, too. And I wonder how I would feel.

I see lots of moms on Facebook lamenting the fact that their kids are starting college this fall, and talking about how sad they are going to be that they won't be living at home. I suppose I might feel that way too, if we had not the experience we had. But now, I really want to comment on all those posts, "Don't be sad! Be thrilled...that your child is moving on to the next step in life. You can talk to them every day on the phone. They will come home to visit on the weekends. Don't waste a moment of precious time being sad that your child is growing up. Enjoy every second of it!!"

Last night, I brought Bethany to open house at her school. I barely even remember open house last year...I was just trying to survive the night. The emotion was still so raw at that point, and it was excruciatingly difficult to be there among all of Hannah's classmates as they were starting their senior year. This year was better, but still difficult, just in a different way. Hannah was diagnosed with cancer during her sophomore year of high school...and Bethany will be starting her sophomore year tomorrow. She has the exact same slate of teachers that Hannah had in the tenth grade. So, as we went around from room to room last night, visiting with all of those teachers, it was just kind of surreal. They are wonderful teachers, and I'm so glad they will all be teaching Bethany this year, but I'm sure that it will feel kind of strange to them as well.

I'm so thankful for Heaven. I'm so thankful that there is so much more to look forward to than a dorm room at OBU. And I'm so thankful for John 16:22..."Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." No one will take away your joy...I love that!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- "Weep Not For Me"

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Here's another Throwback Thursday post.
This was originally posted on March 12, 2012, and is still one of my favorites ...

I continue to be amazed at the bond that forms between parents who have lost children. It's an instant bond, that forms as soon as we meet, and it's a permanent bond, that remains even if we only meet once.

One of these dear friends sent me a message on Facebook this weekend. She and I have actually only met once, at one of our While We're Waiting Mom's Days, but as bereaved moms, we bonded instantly, and have been close ever since. Both of us lost our children to cancer, which bonds us even more closely.

In her message, she shared a beautiful story about a visit to her son's grave. It really touched me, and with her permission, I'd like to share it with you. I think it will encourage you, as it did me, especially if you've lost a loved one.

She and her husband visited their son's grave this weekend, which is located in an old cemetery where many of her dad's family members are buried. Her husband rarely comes to the cemetery with her, because he has such a difficult time emotionally...something I can definitely relate to! As they were leaving, they passed by a monument that had been broken in half. It caught her eye, and she went over to it to see what it said. She had to get down on her knees and scrape the moss off of it in order to read it. It was a monument for a nine year old girl, her grandpa's sister, and this is what it said...

"Father and Mother, weep not for me, for I am waiting in Glory for thee."

She immediately felt that it was a message from God...a reminder that her son was in Heaven waiting for them...and she was filled with His comfort and peace. She even felt that it was a turning point in her grief journey.

Then she said this ... "I can't believe I have been going to the cemetery all of my life but had to get down on my knees today to read what it said."

Wow. Did you catch the depth of that statement? She had to get down on her knees to read it.

I think there's a message there for all of us ... I know there's one for me. Thank you, my sweet friend, for sharing your story with me, and for allowing me to share it with others.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday -- Leaving Our Nets Behind

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One thing I've really enjoyed about the somewhat slower pace of life this summer is the ability to spend some un-rushed time in God's Word each morning.  Not that I couldn't or shouldn't do that every day, no matter how busy life is ... but I'm just keeping it real here.  Having this time in the morning is the thing I think I'm going to appreciate most about not having to run off to work each day when school starts back this year.

I use Hannah's Bible for my reading time each morning.  There's just something so special about using her Bible.  It's full of her doodling, favorite Scriptures, and notes.  Here's a peek inside ...

Of course, the irony of her using the word "healthy" as part of this acrostic is not lost on me.  And her describing herself as "athletic" makes me giggle.  Her favorite class was Spanish, thus the "alegre", which means happy or cheerful ... and that truly was our girl (with a little nosiness thrown in).

Anyway, earlier this week I was reading in Matthew chapter 4, and something I've probably read a hundred times jumped out at me in a whole new way.  (Isn't it cool when God does that?)

This is what it says, starting in verse 18 and going through verse 22:

"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

At once they left their nets.

Immediately they left the boat.

They just left.

These guys made their living as fishermen.  My guess would be that that was the only life they had ever really known.  And yet, when Jesus called them, they left all that behind ... even the tools of their trade.  They somehow knew that everything was going to be different from now on.  A profound change had taken place, changing the very trajectory of their lives.

Reading this story made me think of how our lives have changed over the past seven years.

Hannah's diagnosis with cancer in February of 2008 was the first indication that we were about to be asked to drop our nets.  As a year passed in a bewildering whirl of radiation treatments and varying chemotherapy regimens, we found ourselves being called to climb out of the boat.  And when she left us for Heaven in February of 2009, it was time to let go of those fishing implements for good.

Now I hope you don't have the idea that we dropped those things willingly, like I think the disciples did.  We fought with everything we had to hold on to the life we had known since Hannah was born seventeen years before that.  We pursued every option available to us to keep her with us ... but our sovereign and loving God had another plan ... and we had to let her go.

Oh, how I would love to get back into the boat and pick up my nets as if nothing had ever changed!  What I would give to go back to the way things used to be, before I knew that teenagers got cancer and died.  If I could cross my arms, blink and nod like Barbara Eden used to do, I would do it in the space of a heartbeat.

But when God called us to drop our nets and leave our boat behind, it was not a temporary gig.  He did not intend for us to return to life as we knew it.  Not that He wanted us to forget our life with Hannah ... far from it!  Those memories are priceless gifts from Him!  No, He wants us to use those experiences to know Him and serve Him in a more authentic way.

Even after nearly 6 1/2 years, we are still learning what that looks like.  Thankfully, He is patient with us, and understands when we try to pick up those nets again.

Lord, help us to live well while we're waiting.