Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living with grief...

We walk through life not knowing when grief will hit us.

But it will.

After all, "Jesus wept."

Sometimes we don't even know it's there.

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes.

A lost dream...

A lost career...

A lost relationship...

Lost health...

The death of someone we love...

Someone we needed...

I just finished a 5 week class titled "Grief Release".

I learned I've been doing some things right as I've grieved over these last 6 years.

I discovered past losses I still need to process.

I was able to say good-bye to my family before childhood cancer.

Accepting my family now...

and what is...

I gained important tools to help me for future losses.

I discovered how to stay strong even as I minister to other

childhood cancer families.

Grief pierces a hole deep in our hearts, but with help and hard work...

the hole will heal.

It will forever be a scar made up of pain covered in

the Joy and Hope of God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jael and my daughters

Just the other day, my second daughter sent me this picture. She's holding a metal stake in her hand. She entitled it "Jael". I laughed out loud remembering how often I'd told my girls while they were growing up that my favorite Bible story was Jael.

If you don't know the story it's found in Judges 4 and it happened during the time Deborah was Judge and Prophetess over Israel. Sisera, the military leader of Canaan had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Interestingly enough God had placed them under that oppression because they had kept right on ignoring God and doing evil.

Deborah knew God wanted to change that fact and so she summoned Barak, the military leader of Israel, telling him to go into battle against Sisera and his 900 iron chariots. God would make sure Barak won, she said. But Barak was afraid and refused to go without her. Deborah agreed to go with him making sure he knew he was a wimp and prophesying that Sisera would die at the hand of a woman.

And that's where Jael comes in. She was the wife of Heber a Kenite, who was friends with the king of Canaan, King Jabin. She lived in a tent. In that culture the men had multiple wives and each wife had their own tent, which they made themselves, maintained and lived in with their children.

So as Sisera's running for his life, because Barak is kicking his butt in battle, he runs to Heber's tents, after all; Heber is a friend of the Canaanites. He figures he's safe and as he runs by, Jael steps out of her tent and says, "Come in sir. Stay with me. Do not be afraid."

So he goes into the tent and lies down. She covers him with a blanket. He asks for water and she gives him milk. Then when he falls asleep because he was exhausted, she takes a tent stake and hammers it into the temple of his head all the way through into the ground killing him. Gruesome!

Finally in Judges 5 a song is sung about Jael calling her a hero and blessed among women! After Sisera's death, Isreal had 40 years of quiet in their land.

Jael was very brave. She lived in a society that placed very little value on women. She could not vote. She could not own property. She had to have a husband in order to survive and must produce children for him. She went against the social rules by inviting a man into her tent. Only her husband was allowed in her tent. She risked much for Israel. What happened to her later in her life? What did her husband say and do when he found out what she'd done? What motivated her to kill Sisera? Did she love Israel's God too?

This part of Israel's history in Judges 4 & 5 is interesting to me because it's a time when a woman was the leader of Israel. Deborah, their Judge and Prophetess put in leadership by God! And it was a women who completed the defeat of Israel's enemy.

I have a confession to make, I tend to be a Christian feminist which is why I love the stories of the strong women of the Bible: Deborah, Jael, Esther, Naomi, Ruth, Rahab and of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus etc. I love how they heard God's voice and did what He asked by going against their culture, the social norms and against their patriarchal society. I love how they risked it all for their God.

And as I contemplated this story, I think of my own 4 daughters. I realize that as a young mother, I thought I had the answers on how to raise them. I had the "godly" formula that would mold them into "godly" women. I thought I knew what they should be when they grew up. How they should conduct themselves, dress, what kind of man they should marry even how they should raise their own children. And I hung out with other mothers who thought the same way.

We only wanted what we thought was best for our daughters. But I view many things differently now. I do not have all the answers, but I do know there is no "godly" formula or any formula at all for that matter. I know God cannot be put in a box. And I know God is working in my life and my daughter's lives non-stop despite our errors and misconceptions.

Today I received a precious note from this same daughter along with an invitation to her Senior Art Exhibition at her college's new art museum. Her words of love and gratitude brought tears to my eyes and her father's eyes as well. She thanked us for allowing her to freely explore who she is and who she will become. She was grateful for our continued support and unconditional love. She commented on how blessed she is not to have parents pressuring her to become something or someone she is not. She is an artist, after all, and somehow along the way, I (we) have allowed her to be who God created her to be.

"You are so open and understanding and I feel like the whole world is so much more open to me because of it." "Thank you for understanding me..." she wrote.

When did this change come about for me as a parent? When did I stop putting each of my children in my mold trying to make them be what I thought the Christian culture demanded? Much of the change evolved out of my journey through childhood cancer with my son. I've grasped deeply the fact that I do not have control and with that comes the acknowledgment of complete TRUST in GOD in all things. This has also opened my eyes to the uniqueness of each of my children with their personality styles, their passions and their talents. It's allowed me to honor and respect their personhood.

And I won't lie. It's scary. It's risky. It can be painful.
And it feels so... out of control!

Allowing our girls to go out into the world seems wrong when in the Christian culture the world is seen as evil. Wouldn't it be better to keep them at home, insulating them from the world? Maybe. But what about their growth and knowledge of all God's people, the myriades of cultures and worldviews across the planet? Wouldn't it be best to learn about the world first hand by being in it? What about allowing them to make mistakes even those hard mistakes that impact the rest of their lives?

I want them to make their faith their own by being in the world and learning what faith is and what it means to walk it day by day. I want them to seek Him and see Him in the world. Because I know He is there. And I know He hears my prayers.

It would be so much easier just to keep them safe at home in a box alongside God. But it wouldn't be best. It wouldn't make them strong.

So this last picture is this same daughter apprenticing at an ironworks and forge out in the world somewhere.

I wonder if she's forging tent stakes?

Sunday, March 20, 2011


On March 16th I said Hello and squeezed my daughter as she came home on the train.
Her smile fills my heart.
Her singing and piano music fill the air!
She sleeps in and sighs with contentment.
Too soon I'll have to say Good-bye when she heads back to school.

On March 17th, I said Good-bye to my baby girl as she flew to see her sister in California.

We skyped on March 18th as we celebrated their father's birthday. The girls wrestled and giggled and sighed over the paella they could see but not smell or taste.

Touring college campuses, she called me after each appointment with coaches and professors. "Do you feel like a grown up girl now?" I asked. "No. It's scary" she answered in a tiny voice.

When did she become old enough to look at colleges?
I look forward to saying Hello to her on Wednesday.

Later that same day, St. Patrick's Day, I said Good-bye to Danny.
I touched his hand and thanked him for teaching me to appreciate each birthday I celebrate as a true gift.

I think from now on March 17th will be called St. Danny's Day.

His smile is infectious and I look forward to saying Hello to him again in heaven.

And early on the morning of March 19th I hugged Saku Good-bye and wished her Godspeed on her flight home to Tokyo, Japan.

Though her program had ended, we offered for her to stay longer with us knowing the chaos of Japan.

"I have thought on it well" she said. "I need to return to my family."
And when she saw my tears, she said, "Japan is strong."

She is returning with a Japanese/English Bible. A gift from us after she had expressed an interest in reading about Jesus.

I hope to say Hello to her again someday.

Monday, March 14, 2011

As I contemplate LENT...

Phos Hilaron
(Song of Light)
Hail Gladdening Light
Of His pure glory poured
Who is the Immortal Father, Heavenly blest
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ our Lord
Now we are come to the sun's hour of rest
The lights of evening round us shine
We hymn the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit divine
Worthiest art thou, at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue
Son of our God, Giver of life alone
Therefore in all the world
Thy glories Lord
Thine own

verse: an ancient Greek canticle

photos by Don Brenneman and Joy Brenneman

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Today Saku is grateful her parents are safe.

She Tweeted her friends letting them know our church and friends were praying for Japan and the Japanese people. They are very thankful.

She made a point of thanking our pastor before church began.

Her friends tell her no one in Japan is sleeping well as the aftershocks continue shaking the land every 2 hours.

And her government's earthquake scientists are warning there may be another "big" earthquake within the next 3 days. She is hoping that like our weathermen, her government's scientists are wrong. The fear is strong.

This sweet, gentle, gracious girl has opened our hearts to her people.
We pray and we hope...

And today, as I reflect on Gage and Danny and Lesly's lives, I smile.

I smile as I realize the gifts they each have given me.

I smile as I know they are no longer paralyzed or in pain or afraid.

I smile because I KNOW they have passed through the tunnel of death into eternal life.

And I pray for their parents and siblings who are left with a hole in their hearts.

" Each time we grieve we learn sorrow and joy walk hand in hand. Heartache and happiness dance side by side."
April Brenneman

Gage's Angel Warrior

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 11, 2011...

Yesterday was a very difficult day...

I awoke to the news of an 8.9 earthquake in Japan. Later that night I hugged our Japanese exchange student as she cried in my arms. She hasn't been able to reach her parents.

I whispered prayers of hope into her ear...

I said good-bye to Gage Alexander Dole. An incredible 9 year old boy who battled cancer for 6 years and was a friend to my son. We celebrated his life by dancing to his song.

And on my way home, I read that Danny Keagbine took his last breath with family and friends surrounding him. Danny was an inspiration to me as he endure much pain, but always smiled and never complained.

Danny's words to me..."Happy late birthday April. Hope ur day was awesome. Birthdays are a great thing! Celebrating one more year of the awesome gift of life."

Good-bye Danny.

And today is the one year anniversary of Lesly Magli Foster's journey into heaven.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then shall you begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance."

Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Shadow Survivors...

are the siblings of a childhood cancer survivor.

Their hearts are forever altered.
Warriors for life.
They are SURVIVORS too!

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are messangers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love." Washington Irving

Do NOT forget the Shadow Survivors...
They are STRONG.
They have survived childhood cancer too!

How did we get here?

How did we lose our dear friend, Gage Dole?
Our Angel Worrior died on Valentine's Day after battling for 6 years.
Friday we will attend his memorial.
What will we decide on growth hormone therapy?
Growth hormone deficiency can be treated, but at what risks?
God will lead us.

How did he earn his yellow belt in TaeKwonDo in only 6 classes?
What will he do next?

5 years post cancer treatment and he's cancer FREE!

Josh: "Am I in remission now?"

Dr. Norwood: " Well, Josh, in my book you are cured!"

How did we get here?

But by the grace of God...