Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Bittersweet Visit to our Alma Mater

From the time our firstborn daughter Hannah started kindergarten, she knew where she wanted to go to college.  (She was a serious-minded student from the very beginning.)  She had a little "Future Tiger" t-shirt that she wore with great pride, and if you asked her, she would tell you she was going to Ouachita.  In fact, she would tell you even if you didn't ask.

Over the years, she never wavered.  By the time she was a sophomore in high school, she already had her roommate chosen and was looking forward to heading off to OBU in just a couple of years.

All of that changed when she was diagnosed with brain cancer in the spring of her sophomore year.  Instead of graduating from high school in 2010 and heading off to college, she graduated early in 2009 and was promoted straight to Heaven.  And as nice as the new dorms are at Ouachita, there's no comparison to the digs she has now.

Maybe she had such an affinity for Ouachita because she always heard Mom and Dad speak of it with such fondness.  We met there and graduated from there back in the late '80's.  We were excited that our oldest daughter had dreams of attending there ... and looked forward to visiting her in the dorm, hearing her stories of run-throughs, functions, and late-night serenades, seeing her perform in Tiger Tunes, and attending her graduation one day.

We made a trip to Ouachita this week, but it wasn't to do any of these things ... It was to speak to a class called "Death and Dying."  The professor knew our story and was familiar with the While We're Waiting ministry, and invited us to speak to his class.  We readily agreed when we were asked, and have been looking forward to it.

The irony was not lost on us; however, as we drove onto campus.  We weren't coming to visit Hannah, we weren't coming to watch her in Tiger Tunes, we weren't coming to her graduation.  We were coming to talk to a class of students (just a little bit younger than she would be now) about her death.


A lot of things have changed on Ouachita's campus since we were students there, but in Berry Bible Building, it was as though time had stood still over the last thirty years.  Other than some updated technology in the classrooms, everything looked exactly the same.

And other than the ubiquitous technology in their hands, the students of Ouachita are still the same.

This group of young adults was bright, kind, and compassionate.  It was a small class, and they listened attentively as we shared Hannah's story and talked about how her death has impacted our family.  They asked a number of insightful questions and even shared some tears with us.  We had the opportunity to share with them how God can bring beauty from ashes and redeem even our greatest losses when we lay them at His feet.  As we talked to them about While We're Waiting, I hope they saw a visual representation of how God can use our greatest pain to lead us to our greatest area of ministry.

Do I wish we had been at Ouachita this week for a different reason than to speak about Hannah's death?

A hundred times YES!

Am I grateful that God continues to use Hannah's story to touch lives?

Oh, yes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Little Stack of Treasures

Way back in the spring of 1991, my in-laws gave us a wonderful gift ... a Panasonic video camera.  You remember those early video cameras ... the ones that sat on your shoulder and used the big ol' VHS tapes?  This was a rather extravagant gift at that time, and we were very grateful to receive it.  They did have an ulterior motive though; they wanted videos of their very first grandchild who would be arriving that fall!  

That grandchild arrived on October 22nd of that year, and from the very start that video camera was put to good use.  We videotaped every moment of Hannah's life, starting from immediately after her birth, and including every birthday party, Christmas celebration, school program, and church activity.  When her little sister Bethany came along, the recording doubled.  It was so much fun to have two little girls to videotape!  

As they got older, we videoed less and less.  That fancy video camera became clunky and outdated, and people actually made fun of us when we used it out in public.  The girls eventually reached the age where they didn't really want their parents trailing them around with a video camera.  

By this time, though, we had built up quite a collection of VHS tapes full of memories.  We've moved a number of times through the years, but those tapes have followed us everywhere.  As time passed, VCRs went by the wayside, and we began to have fewer and fewer avenues for watching our videos.  We didn't really worry about it, though ... someday we'd do something about that.  

Then Hannah went to Heaven in 2009, and those old videotapes became priceless treasures.  All of our memories of her were on those tapes ... her facial expressions, her laugh, the sound of her voice, her funny mannerisms ... they were all there!   We had to do something to preserve them!  We bought a VHS to DVD machine, and transferred several of them ourselves, but it was a complicated process and many of them didn't work on our DVR even after I transferred them.  Clearly, I was working above my pay grade with this project.

It took eight years, but we finally decided to do something to preserve our memories.  We sent our old VHS tapes off to a company called LegacyBox to be transferred to DVDs.  It was tough to pack up that box and launch these treasures off into the U.S. mail service ... in fact, I only sent off twenty of them, so if something dreadful happened to them we at least would have some left!  

They actually sent a very nice kit with thorough instructions regarding how to pack them up and mark them for processing, so I felt a little better sending them off.  They even emailed me updates from time to time ... "We've received your videotapes," "We're cleaning your videotapes," "We're transferring your videotapes," "We're shipping your videotapes," ... so I knew our treasures were being well taken care of.

We received our DVDs in the mail on Saturday afternoon, along with our old videotapes.  I must say I was relieved to have my old treasures back home ... There's just something special about those old VHS tapes with the peeling handwritten labels.  But I was also really excited to see 20 nice new DVDs filled with memories.  They were even labeled with their contents!  

As I study my nice neat little stack of DVDs, I have some thoughts ...

** I am so incredibly grateful that I have 17 1/2 years of memories with Hannah, and that many of those moments were recorded to be re-lived again and again.  My heart hurts for those moms and dads whose children died before or shortly after birth who only have a few photographs of their child, if that.  They never had the opportunity to make the kind of memories we were able to make with Hannah, and that is just so sad.

** I am also so grateful that we took the time to document so much of our girls' lives on videotape.  I am so thankful for the technology that enabled us to do that, and the technology that enables us to watch those videos today.  My memory is not what it once was (grief brain is a real thing) and having these moments available to watch any time I want to is such a gift.

** As happy as I am with this nice neat little stack of DVDs I now have, it bothers me that Hannah's 17 years can be reduced to a two-inch tall pile of inanimate technology, or better yet, an inch-long thumb drive.  So much beauty, personality, intelligence, courage, and gritty faith contained in those shiny discs.  Even the name of the company who did the transferring bothers me a bit ... Can a person's (or a family's) legacy really be contained in a box?

** Even after eight years, it seems unthinkable to me that all future memories we make as a family will be without Hannah.  The videos have all been recorded, the pictures have all been taken ... There will be no more.  On Hannah's Heaven Day in February I wanted to post a picture of her on Facebook and for just a split second I thought to myself that I needed a new one because I always seemed to be sharing the same ones ... and then reality crashed in with the awareness that there will be no new pictures or videos of Hannah.  Ever.  I'm really not sure why that is still so hard to grasp.

** I love my new little stack of DVDs, but I haven't watched them yet.  I did stick one into the DVR to make sure it actually worked, but popped it back out right away once it came on.  Nope, I'm not ready.  It's going to take a little while to prepare myself for the flood of memories these discs will bring.  We are planning to have a family movie night with Bethany and her husband sometime soon, and I know there will be lots of laughter, but it will be mingled with tears ... the way much of life seems to be after the loss of a child.

We have some wonderful memories with Hannah ... So much to be thankful for!  Our life with her was so, so good, even through her brain cancer diagnosis and the devastation that brought to her body and mind.  It's easy to feel despondent that our time with her is all in the past.

But glory be to God!  Our time with her is not all in the past!  Because Hannah made the decision to trust Jesus as her Savior when she was eight years old, we have an amazing future to look forward to with her.  In fact, our future with her will be exceedingly abundantly better than our past!  What we have experienced here will pale in comparison to what we have to look forward to.  We will have eternity in Heaven ... a place unsoiled by sin and death and where all tears will be wiped away.  A place where video cameras and VHS tapes and DVDs and thumb drives will no longer be necessary because our minds will be whole and our memories will be perfect.  That's where our true treasure lies.

That day IS coming!  I just have to wait.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Matthew 6:19-21