Thursday, October 22, 2015

Celebrating When the Guest of Honor is Absent

Today I went birthday shopping for my daughter.

I went to Hobby Lobby and bought some fun fall decorating items, and even a "JOY" Christmas ornament.  

I found the cutest wooden block that says, "You are loved" ... and I just couldn't pass it up. I love the "present tense-ness" of it.

Then it was off to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for a Mississippi Mud Cake ... her all-time favorite.  This has been the cake I've made every year for her birthday; at least since she was old enough to leave the Barney and Barbie birthday cakes behind!

A little later today, I'll pick up a dozen roses, her favorite flower, and bring them to her.

That's all I'm going to get her this year, because I really don't know what else she might want.  You see, she'll be turning 24, and I haven't seen her or spoken to her since she was 17.  She was just a teenager then, interested in clothes and boys and American Idol and politics.  (Yes, politics.)

I have no idea what her interests would be as a woman of 24.  She might be married by now with a baby on the way.  Or she might be working on a master's degree in some field of interest.  She might be into travel, or gardening, or hiking, or writing.  She might be a missionary in a far-away land, or she might live right next door to me.

Compared to the joy of her first 17 birthdays, the last seven have been very quiet ... No fanfare or singing or blowing out of candles.  No anticipation of her excitement as she opens her presents.  No hugs of appreciation and affection.  No good-natured joking about getting older.  Only an emptiness and a longing for what once was.

I loaded all the birthday gifts in my car and made the 65 mile drive to Mount Zion Cemetery in Yell County, Arkansas, to deliver them.

I am so not okay with delivering my daughter's birthday gifts to a cemetery.  Nothing could feel more wrong.

It's hard to celebrate a birthday when the guest of honor is absent.

But, although my daughter is absent, she is not lost.  And she is not under that headstone.  She is where she was created to be ... I am the one who is out of place.

Does that make me miss her any less?  Absolutely not.

I can thankfully say that on a day-to-day basis, God has restored my joy and I do not grieve with the intensity that I once did.  But there are still days when the "missing" is enough to bring me to my knees, and birthdays are one of those times.

But God has given us a promise.  Isaiah 25:8 (ESV) says, "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken."

Death will be swallowed up, the sting of tears will be wiped away, and I will see my Hannah again.  I just have to wait.

Image from

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughtful Thursday - Broken Pieces

I had the pleasure of spending last week at the beach in Navarre, Florida, with my Mom and her friend, Carol.  I've never had the opportunity to go on a "girls trip" like this with my Mom, so it was a real blessing to be able to go.

The weather was not the greatest while we were there.  In fact, it rained so hard on Tuesday that they had to close down the elevators because the shafts were flooding.  Being sixteen floors up, we were grateful that we were safe and dry inside when that call was made!

Even though the weather wasn't ideal most of the time, I was able to get in several good walks on the beach.  Navarre is known for its beautiful seashells, and I have a friend who has an amazing collection of shells from there, so I kept my eyes open for some good ones.

But as I walked along the edge of the chilly waves, with my toes in the sand and the seagulls skittering along ahead of me, searching for perfect shells, I remembered something one of our While We're Waiting moms said at a support group meeting a couple of years ago.  She and her husband had taken their first trip to the beach since the death of her 23-year-old son, and she talked about how she was walking on the beach, looking for shells, much like I was doing.  But here's what she said that struck me.  She said, "I found myself drawn to the broken shells. And I realized that as long as I remember to stay broken, God can still use me."  When she said this, it made such an impression on me that I wrote it down.

We all agreed at that evening that we, as parents who have lost children, are broken.  But we also agreed that our very brokenness may be just what God wants to use for His glory.  Our lives may not have turned out the way we thought they would ... far from it ... but God is faithful to take those broken pieces and make a new creation out of us ... something more beautiful and more useful for His Kingdom than we ever dreamed.

The prophet Jeremiah was once sent by God to observe a potter working at his wheel.  Here's what Jeremiah 18:1-4 (ESV) says about that experience.

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  'Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.'  So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do."

The potter was working hard at making a vessel of clay when something happened and the clay was "spoiled" ... broken, if you will.  But the potter didn't declare it useless and throw it away.  He reworked it, and made a new, different vessel out of it, something that was useful ... something that he saw as good, maybe even better than what he had started to make.  God can do that with us, too, as long as we stay pliable and are willing to let Him rework us as seems good to Him.

As I thought back to our discussion that evening, I decided to abandon my search for those "perfect" shells.  I came home with a Ziploc bag full of broken pieces, and I'm keeping a few of them my desk to remind myself that God is in the business of making something beautiful out of the broken.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."  Psalm 51:17 (ESV)