Monthly Archives: March 2008

Beauty for ashes and other stuff

Our bible school runs on a 3 weeks on, one week off cycle. Since it is so intensive, it gives everyone (including our hard-working pastor) a little time to take a breather and squeeze in all those other things we never seem to find the time for. At the end of the 3 weeks of teaching, the bible school students are required to give a 3-minute talk on something that they had learned whilst school was in session.

Last night was one of those nights. I wanted to be faithful and do my part but there were a few moments whilst I was waiting my turn to share that I thought I might have to bow out. I was getting a bit teary-eyed and emotional. The topic we have been studying is something very familiar to me at the moment: dying to self and sacrificing everything to Jesus.

I managed to get up and share…and got some good feedback afterwards. A friend, Phyllis, said something that I noted down in my bible and thought I’d write down here. Phyllis has her own heavy burden to bear and at times it seems so unsurmountable. She was telling her husband all about it over the ‘phone (he is doing missionary work in Zambia) and he told her: “Phyllis, God isn’t trying to take something from you, he is trying to get something to you.”

That’s my quote of the week/month/year.  As hard as it is to lay Jenna at Jesus’ feet and keep surrendering my life to him, I can trust that he didn’t take her from me to rob me but to add something to my life. The form that that ‘something’ is going to take is not quite clear to me yet but I know that he is faithful. I truly believe that I will one day be able to say: “He gave me beauty for ashes….”

I went to the baby shower of our assistant pastor’s wife this morning. She is expecting a little girl – in fact there is a spate of little girls being born at our church lately.  I was doing fine until another friend took me to her car to give me a yard ornament that reminded her of Jenna – a little curly-haired girl sitting on a bench holding two rabbits. The tears started flowing – and the sweet hugs and smiles of my other friends made me even more weepy. I told them to stop being so sweet to me so I could stop crying but they said there was no need to apologise for my tears, they were glad to have me there (and impressed that I had even gone) and I could cry all I wanted to.

Once we started eating and opening presents it went better, and I can honestly say I had a good time.  I love my church family!

For those of you who are curious about the current status quo in my life:

I am missing Jenna more than ever and sometimes frustrated that I can’t remember the smallest details, such as which shoes she wore the last time we went to the Ribault monument. Silly to get so hung up on details, huh. I also get frustrated when I remember something she said or did the one moment, but then it eludes me again later – I am going to start to write things down because sadly, all I have is my memories.

I am turning into a sentimental fool, tempted to save the smallest things that have some kind of connection with Jenna. This morning, throwing away the empty saline bottle that I had been using with Jenna on our trip to South Africa was a concious decision. As household items are getting used up I catch myself thinking: “I bought this with Jenna the last time we were in Walmart…” Soon many things in this house will be things that no longer had anything to do with her and that saddens me. Every time I clean, I think to myself that I might be wiping away a stray, invisible fingerprint or vacuuming up a last little strand of her hair.

I am amazed at how much more time I have at my disposal nowadays. Jenna kept me busy! I am trying to play the piano more and hoping to get to the point where I can actually lead worship. Singing and playing together isn’t quite as difficult as it was before. I also want to study the bible more diligently and sadly, I still find myself spending too much time on the computer.

Tom, Jenna’s favorite ‘big fat cat’, has lucked out and is now a coddled pet. He is a link to Jenna, and I often give him the cuddles and hugs she would have given him if she were still here. Tom often strolls around the house, miaowing loudly as if he is looking for Jenna (or most likely just trying to go outside and fight with the other cats), which drives the hubby crazy. But he tolerates it with a sigh for my sake, precious man that he is.

I ‘lost it’ a little bit on Monday. The middle boy heard me crying and found me in the tv. room/Jenna’s playroom hugging one of her soft toys. He stood around, scratching my back in an attempt to soothe me and then went to remonstrate with his brothers: “What’s wrong with you guys? Can’t you hear mom is crying?”  It ended up with all 4 of us cuddling in my bed and talking about all the silly, funny, frustrating, exasperating, cute things Jenna used to do. It was a precious time with my 3 boys.

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Cousins

The boys and Jenna had such fun with their cousins in South Africa, I thought I’d post some pics. Please excuse the red eye in some of the pictures. I still have to figure out how to eliminate them in photoshop.

Say cheese! (Since some of you asked: The two boys on top are mine, as is the one on the far right. The others are cousins or second cousins and the one second from the left on the bottom row is a very sweet girlfriend that I am so pleased to have met.)

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“Now, the ones on top may tickle the ones below.” (Can you see Kendal shouting “Nooooooo” ? LOL)

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Pandemonium:

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In the pool:

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Jenna and Taz

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Jenna and her ‘boy cousin’:

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Joking with Charl:

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Baking with Lana:

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Being silly with Adele:

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Conversation with God

Last night, after sitting here at the computer making myself stinking sad reading other blogs of women who had lost their babies, I dragged myself to bed reluctantly. My sleep lately has been interspersed with periods of wakeful reminiscing.

I took Jenna’s memorial picture to the bed-side table with me and kissed it, longing to just run my hands through her hair again or kiss those chubby cheeks or to even peel the bits of skin on her arms that were remnants of a sun-kissed day we spent walking on the farm. I had been compulsively picking at those bits of dead skin the day that picture was taken, to Jenna’s disgust.

Too consumed with longing for my baby to be able to go to sleep, I pulled my bible closer. I started reading where I left it open the night before:

Psalms 103:13 to 17: Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children,

I started talking to God. Yup, I am dust, I am frail, and I need your mercy, God. I tried to draw near to him.  I have come to know him enough to know that where he is, his mercy is too. Like he always does, he came…and with him a sense of his mercy and goodness. Which opened the floodgates so to speak, as I poured out my heart to him.

This is a hefty one, Lord.  It just about rips me apart. And it’s not just a quick do-what-you-need-to-do-Lord-and-lets-get-this-done-and-over-with kind of  trail. This hole in my heart is going to be with me for the rest of my life.

I started thinking about how people always say that God understands because he gave His own son up for dead once. It must have torn his Father-heart in two to see his son suffer the way he did. I am thankful that Jenna never had to suffer like that. But God, I said (being on a let’s-be-perfectly-honest-with-God roll), I don’t think you can quite compare my situation to yours. You knew that Jesus was going to rise again. And just in 3 days at that. You’d be seperated from Jesus for just a little while and then everything would be OK. I have a life-time to wait, armed  with only a sketchy faith of what heaven might be like. Is that really fair?

As precious as he is he reminds me that he himself is a faith-filled being. He has faith in Himself. It is by that faith that he spoke the world into existence. I can have faith in him too. In fact, the faith I have in him, is his gift to me. I can believe, and because I do, time becomes immaterial. Three days or thirty years…what are they in the scheme of things compared to eternity?

One more thing, Lord…I have this desperate longing to hold Jenna again, but I am afraid because I have no clue what to expect. When I see her again, will she still be my precious little muffin and I her ‘best’ mama? Or will she just be someone I used to know?  I cannot bear the thought that our precious relationship might be lost forever. That is the hardest and most incomprehensible, unbearable burden of all.

As I pondered this it occured to me – though he had to turn his back on his Son for a short while, it wasn’t forever.  The Father didn’t lose his relationship with Jesus after he died, they are still as intimately connected as ever, as a father and son. I have been told that God does not require us to do things he would never do himself. To ask me to step outside of his own boundaries and sever a love and a precious relationship like mine and Jenna’s, when it is something that he with his father-heart would never do and has never done…that doesn’t sound like my God. 

Still, I don’t know everything, and I can only trust. But like a wise man once said (you can read about it here), to know him is to trust him.

If I know anything about God and his generous, faithful heart, there will be more to gain, and precious treasures in store. Even on this side of heaven.

I see your mercy, Lord. Thank you for knowing my frame, and knowing that I am dust. Jenna is gone for now, but your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting,  it reaches to the heavens. I can trust in that.

Pressing in

I really want to blog but I don’t know where to start. I have a jumble of thoughts at the moment.  Soooo, excuse if this post is somewhat disjointed. 🙂

Today was a more weepy day than most for me. My natural tendency in any time of crises is to lose myself in things that will distract me from dealing with that crises. The scope of the current crises in my life makes it a bit hard to do that, but I still find that the last few days I have been running to other things to fill my time and to lose myself in, rather than Jesus. Sigh. In the first few days after Jenna went to be with the Lord my heart was so tender and sweet that I thought I would never fall into the same old patterns again.  I so want her death to effect a lasting change in me and to make the most of this opportunity to press deeper into Him.

I realised last night that I had pulled my heart away from Jesus a bit – facing Him requires a measure of surrender that is painful for me to give. Like the song says: there is pain in the offering. My spirit-man is at peace with Jenna’s death and can rest in God’s plan. But my soul (ie. my emotions), is in an uproar. I find that I constantly need to do what David did: “Lift my soul to the Lord” but more than that, ( and I haven’t done this too well) to keep a grip on it: My soul is continually in my hand…Ps 119: 109

I realise this is a journey, and a long one at that. By keeping a grip on my soul I do not imply I must keep it together and not mourn for Jenna – I realise that mourning is healthy and necessary and is a process. Being straight-up honest with God and letting those emotions out is always the way to go. I simply mean that my emotions (or my tendency to avoid them) should not have the upper hand and the last say. They shouldn’t pull me away from Jesus but towards him. When I turn to Jesus and find his sweet presence I find that my soul is ultimately quietened and comforted by Him. It is when I push through the initial pain and dying-to-self of surrendering  that I find his peace.

Anyhow, I think today was weepy because I was trying to be more ‘real’ with Jesus and yet also struggling with surrendering at the same time.

It is funny how my blogs evolve…this one went in a direction I didn’t quite anticipate. 😀

I looked through some of my old archived posts that never quite made the cut for one reason or another and didn’t get published. The day after Christmas I was posting about the wonderful day we had whilst the boys and Jenna were downstairs ‘breaking in’ their new wii. Jenna was talking up a storm and it was so cute, I tried to type out what she was saying.  I missed some details since I type so slowly, and I can’t remember what ‘rocks’ she was referring to (a game on the wii?) but finding her dialogue with her brothers in my blog archives was a pleasant surprise:

Michael, you’re my best brother. Tim, you’re my best brother too. Jonathan, you’re my best brother too, aren’t you? Hey Jonathan?  Michael, you all are my best brothers. And mommy’s my best mama, hey Michael? Oh, look at all those colors…red, and yellow, and blue. Oh, look at those mean rocks. They are mean rocks, aren’t they? Hey, Michael, are you and mommy going to put a fire in the fireplace? Then mommy’s going to get marshmellows. Ok Michael? Jonathan, that wasn’t very nice! Say sorry to me. Hey, Jonathan, say sorry to me…Jonathan…It’s Ok, Jonathan. But you’re still my best brother. Michael…sigh…you are my best brother.

This went on for a little while until she eventually got tired of talking to her distracted-by-the-wii brothers (they only gave half-hearted replies to her conversation to get her to keep quiet!) and went to amuse herself with her new toys. 

Here is Jenna and her ‘best brother’ Michael:

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And here is one of my favorite and most recent pictures of her:

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Back in action – sort of

Yesterday this time I was flat on my back in bed with a fever and cold symptoms. I am thankful though that the tummy bug the middle and oldest boy had, has escaped me. I’d rather have a runny nose than a tummy bug.

I can’t remember when last I had such a high temperature though (103) and as is so typical to my stoic self, I refused to take meds until late last night. By that time I realised that I was so hot that I wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep if I didn’t do something about it.

The two youngest boys were very cuddly and kept on coming in to snuggle up to my hot (I wish I could say figuratively 🙂 ) self. I had a good conversation with the youngest about Jenna. They all miss her terribly.

The boys were a tad too clingy yesterday though and I found out why when I took my temperature in their presence. The middle boy said: “Mom! You have to go to the doctor! People can die from high temperatures!” I assured him that I was going to be fine, that this was just a bad cold that has been going round our church.

Poor kid. He often says that if he had a time machine he would go back and just give Jenna a hug and a kiss goodbye. He says he knows God has a reason why Jenna had to go and he doesn’t want to interfere with that. (Isn’t that precious?) I wish for that last hug and kiss too – Jenna left us so unexpectedly.

I spent the evening before last surfing websites about the grief of losing a child. I found some common misconceptions about grief that I might share here at some point. All of the places I went to, and my own feeling as I am just beginning this road, seem to be in agreement on one thing. There is healing in keeping Jenna’s memory alive and remembering her as part of our family as opposed to ‘getting over it’. I am sure that with time, the periods of sadness will become patchy and pop up only once in a while. But I will always miss my little girl. She is flesh of my flesh, after all.

I remember how surprised I was once when my grandmother, then in her eighties, mentioned that it was her oldest, stillborn son’s birthday that day. Sixty-something years later, she was still remembering her lost son. I now understand. Jenna will always be a part of me. The grief will abate somewhat but boy, I am looking forward to seeing her in heaven.

So many ‘firsts.’

Ever since Jenna went to be with Jesus, I cannot help myself thinking about her at every ‘first’. Like the first time I washed my hair ‘afterwards. ‘ Initially I kept up a count of how many times I had washed my hair since that fateful Sunday. Until that became kind of silly and I dropped it.

But there has been a myriad of ‘firsts’ since that day. The first time I wore the Mudd shoes we picked out together and that I had worn throughout that visit in SA.  The first time being in Hanlie’s car, where we had sat on the open window bar and spied out the wild animals in Mabalingwe. The first visit back to Ouma’s house. My first glass of pink milk without Jenna.  The first time walking back into the Spar, Woolies, the airport, my house, my church, Michaels, Walmart, McDonalds.

I can’t help but remember being there and doing that with Jenna.

I can remember down to the underwear what I was wearing that last day. Putting those jeans in the washing machine wasn’t easy. Every time I put them on now they are a small reminder. 

There are items of clothing that I had worn and not washed since that last day, that I cannot bring myself to wash yet. I imagine her scent still clings to the pajamas I had worn the night before, so I have put them away.  My red fleecy jacket was worn at Zebula when Jenna was still in my arms, but I will have to wash it soon. Life does go on,  and I know that there will be many ‘first’ happy things too.

On my last day in South Africa I forced myself to go for a swim in the pool that took Jenna’s life.  It was a sad sad moment and I had to crawl out onto the side of the pool and cry for a while but I am glad I did it. It was kind of like a baptism.

The boys had had many fun moments with their cousins in that same pool, even after Jenna died.  I remember the day I decided to grab my camera again to start recording the boys’ precious times with their cousins there – that was a good ‘first’, that I imagine must have left Jenna smiling in approval.

We visited with friends and relatives at the patio next to the pool for the whole 10 days we stayed on in South Africa. On hubby’s first evening there he asked me how I could be around the pool at all, but I told him I had good memories there – of Jenna playing soccer in the garden with her cousins whilst dressed in her ballerina outfit, of wrapping her in a towel and cuddling her at the patio table once she had decided the pool was getting too cold, and yes, of watching her splashing and swimming and having fun with her brother in that same pool.  I could picture her everywhere, happy, sparkly, bubbly, and that was where I wanted to be.

We were sitting on that same patio 3 days after Jenna’s passing, fellowshipping with dear, long-time friends, when our friend saw something that he told me about only after Jenna’s memorial service. He said he saw Jenna standing in the garden between two angels.  There was a sense that they needed to go, but Jenna looked at my friend and said: “Tell my mommy and my daddy that I love them.”

Hubby and I had a moment’s doubt as to whether that could be scriptural or not, but there has been times in the bible where the dead has appeared to the living (such as Moses and Elijah at the mount of transfiguration) and the measure of comfort I drew from my friend’s vision was great. When Jenna left there was this great void and the relationship we knew was severed. There is so much we do not know about heaven and I had no idea whether Jenna would still be the Jenna I knew. My friend’s vision showed me that as far as Jenna was concerned, I was still her mommy, and she still loved me.  That was important for me to know. The relationship wasn’t severed, she will always be my little girl and I will always be her mommy.

Hubby encouraged me one morning to read the first chapter of 1 Peter. It is the passage that talks about the trial of your faith being much more precious than gold…etc. Preceding that verse though, Peter mentions our inheritance in heaven, which is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”  The words  leapt out at me: Jenna is my heritage. Yes, Jesus is my portion and my greatest prize, but Jenna too, is being reserved in heaven for me, incorruptible, undefiled, and never fading away.

Jenna sings some more

As promised, here are some more clips of Jenna singing.

I can imagine her singing the first song on this clip to us right now:

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This one still makes me laugh. She still kept going for a good while after the recorder thangamabob cut out!

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Today wasn’t such a bad day. It was full and busy and I didn’t have as much time to think and reminisce and miss my girly-girl. I do find that as time marches on relentlessly I miss her more. I expect the difficult part of the road lies ahead of me. I cannot predict what it will be like for me from here on out but I realise that, like Jesus said to Martha, one thing is needful. The one thing that is needful for me right now is to stay at the feet of Jesus and take each day and every step on this journey, one at a time.

If I appear to be strong through this trial it is only a testimony of how faithful our God is to provide the grace we need when we need it. I miss Jenna more acutely every day and I wonder sometimes whether the wheels will come spinning off and I will be dumped into a time of  deep and raw and bleak grieving. I do know that even there though, God will be with me.  

Psalm 18:28 For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.

On our last day here with Jenna on American soil, we rushed into the church office to get some last minute things. I grabbed two of our teaching manuals, hoping to pass it on to friends in South Africa. The one was on Walking with God, and the other on The valley experience.  Little did I know that I would be walking through a major valley of my own very soon and that I was actually carrying those manuals overseas for my own use!

What stuck with me when I listened to those teachings again was that they talk about walking through the valley. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…(Ps 23) … Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well… (Ps 84:6)

The valley experience doesn’t last forever, and there are all kinds of precious promises for those of us who pass through it.  I have studied them, and I trust that one day they will come to pass for me. But for now all I can really do is walk through it. One. step. at. a. time.