Marching To The Beat Of A Different Reality

Monday, August 18, 2014

Losing Marshall - Finding Jesus

Just recently, I had an acquaintance ask about my testimony.  I wrote it down just after my conversion happened nearly a decade ago now and I thought I would add it to my personal blog.  It is my prayer it will strengthen your faith and bring you joy.  Jenni White

          Though we met in 1989, it wasn’t until June of ‘97 that David and I married and created a legitimate family from an eclectic ensemble comprising my 14-year-old daughter Bryna, two enormous rescue dogs, three once-feral cats, two lab-liberated white rabbits and a parrot.
          Thirty-four at the time, I declared my desire to increase the human number of our family with my usual flare for immediacy, while Dave exercised his typical ritual of thinking out the process through every angle before committing.  With uncharacteristic longsuffering, I waited nearly four years until 2001, when the stars aligned, Dave agreed to become a father and within months, we became pregnant. 
Just as effortlessly, our son Coleman arrived the following June in time to play the part of Bryna’s high school graduation present.
Though we loved spending time with Coleman, we knew the giant age gap between he and his sister wouldn’t make for an ideal sibling relationship, so we decided to try and remedy that situation in the spring of 2003. 
Thrilled to find ourselves pregnant right away, I couldn’t help staring at the lines in the test window with an indescribable feeling nibbling at the edges of my happiness.  Vomiting daily for the first month didn’t help, and many days I had to choke back a lumbering sense of doubt and concern about the progression of my pregnancy.
The doctor gave the baby and me a clean bill of health at my 8 week ultrasound, but I fretted over the picture.  No matter how hard I squinted my eyes or what direction I tilted my head, I saw a fish and none of the various anatomical details to which the doctor confidently pointed.
Lacking the misery of illness, and deprived of anything specific upon which to pin my vague qualms, I did my best to resume my regular schedule of activities and watch my belly grow until our 20 week ultrasound.
That Tuesday morning in late August with Dave by my side, I wrestled myself up on the table in the neonatologist’s office with a mixture of uncertainty, anticipation and exhilaration.  
As soon as the technician touched the wand to my belly, the image of a baby popped up on the screen and my previously nebulous feelings of dread crystalized.
Though the technician described hands and feet and such as though everything was perfectly fine, I watched our baby float across the monitor fully extended like an astronaut walking in space; quietly, peacefully - still.  
Five minutes of superficial, stilted and uncomfortable conversation later, the technician left the room. 
“What’s wrong?  I need to know right now!”  I barked like a cornered animal before the doctor could even clear the doorjamb. 
"Jenni, I'm sorry to have to tell you this," the doctor agonized, "but your baby boy died during some point in your pregnancy – maybe even as long ago as a week."
The words hit me with the force of a tsunami; thousand pound water walls powdered my very bones as they hit me one after another.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t cry, or speak, or scream.  My brain ceased processing.
I vaguely remember some discussion about the immediate future and Dave helping me out the back door of the office, but the next thing I really remember was slumping wretchedly into the mandatory pleather recliner of a nondescript hospital room sobbing uncontrollably.
Hovering somewhere around my head was a woman who identified herself as my PRIDE (Parents Responding to an Infant Death Experience) counselor.  Apparently she was telling me what to expect during our stay, but I could hear bare few words over the sounds of my pathetic bawling until, swimming to the top of my saturated consciousness, the words, “You’ll need to decide if you want a casket and a service, have the baby cremated, or treated as simple medical waste”, entered my brain.
Slamming my hands against my ears, I began to repeat, “This isn’t happening to me. This isn’t happening to me. THIS ISN’T HAPPENING TO ME!”
While blunting her grating voice, this mantra did nothing to dull the obsession that had overtaken me since leaving the doctor’s office:  there was a dead baby in my belly.  This thought consumed me, repulsed me, morphed into unimaginable guilt and started over again in a gruesome endless feedback loop.
Suddenly I couldn’t stand another minute in that room – another minute carrying a dead baby - another minute listening to my own thoughts - another minute in that pleather chair.  I felt I might actually, physically explode.
Seemingly unbidden, the words erupted from a place so deep and raw they hurt to vocalize.  Without a beat, a very quiet, sincere and commanding voice cut through the clamor in my head as though the world had simply stopped in its tracks.
"Don't worry - everything will be all right. I am here with you,” He said. 
Instantaneously I had the acute sensation of warm water being poured over the top of my head, cascading slowly down over every inch of my body to the floor, leaving in its wake a sense of peace I had never previously known.   
I stopped sobbing.  The noise in my brain faded away.  I lifted my head and took the breath of an oyster diver after a long swim to the surface.
Still wretchedly heartsick, an unexplainable calm came over me.  I knew without a doubt I had felt the touch of the Holy Spirit Himself.  I had heard His voice.  Everything would indeed be alright.
David and I elected to stay in the hospital and induce labor – a divinely-inspired choice if ever there was one.  Thanks to a condition called placenta previa, I began to hemorrhage as my contractions squeezed the placenta between the baby and my cervix.
For hours I drifted in and out of consciousness until the perpetual IV’s and blood transfusions stabilized my blood pressure, yet my labor drug on.  For some reason, no matter how hard I tried to push, or how much medicine they gave me to facilitate his birth, our baby boy just wouldn’t come.
Day and night David and my PRIDE counselors sat with me, talked with me, cared for me and encouraged me.  Sometimes I was even able to smile and laugh with them.  In fact, though there was always a clear sense of sadness and even times when I cried out in frustration with the situation, I never despaired again.  I never felt alone or angry.  I felt only peace; simple peace to the core of my being.
Very early Thursday morning, in one last ditch effort to push him out before he had to be removed by C-section, Marshall Hudson White entered the world in a moment so intensely emotional I wept copiously off and on for nearly an hour after from sorrow and relief.  Gently, Marshall was taken from me, bathed, swaddled and returned to be blessed by our minister before Dave and I said a last tearful goodbye and released his tiny body to the funeral home.
Thankfully, the hospital let us go home that evening.
I will never forget the drive home.  That air was so hot that night I could see the street lights and house lights shimmer desert-like in the air.  My unoccupied belly felt hollow and small.  The realization we weren’t taking our son home with us - that we would never see Marshall grow up, hear his baby giggle, witness the man he could have been - might have crushed me but for the peace I carried which surpassed all understanding.
Coming home was hard.  I was emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted to the point where nearly everything from breathing to the TV sounded like fingernails on a blackboard.  Fortunately, my nerves quieted quickly and several nights later Dave and I discussed where we wanted to scatter Marshall’s ashes.  After sparse conversation on the topic, we inexplicably and simultaneously declared, "Mt. Scott" – the highest peak in Oklahoma.
This seemed a God-inspired choice.  Dave, Bryna and I had made many precious family memories camping nearby in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge where we would lay awake in our sleeping bags in the frosty air of spring listening to the eerie call of the bull elk, fishing until we were sunburned black and blue and return home smelling of wood smoke and worms.
We decided to leave that Monday, Labor Day. 
Odd for early September in Oklahoma, we drove out under gray skies, on wet pavement, dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, Marshall riding reverently in a box on my lap.
The weather an hour and a half south was no different.  As we wound up the little road along the side of the mountain to the top, the wind hurled dark clouds against the rocks beside us hard enough to scatter a cold mist into the air.
Just before the summit, we parked in a turnout near a place where two huge rocks jutted magically out of the craggy side, creating a granite platform.  We climbed in silence onto the top of the ledge and looked out over the remarkable scenery as the damp, chilly air buffeted our faces.  Before us – as far as we could see – lay the flat August-browned land of Oklahoma waiting as if for us to complete our task. 
Tears mixing with the raindrops on my cheeks, I removed the sack containing Marshall’s remains from the box and handed it carefully to David.  After a brief prayer of gratitude for his short life, David opened the sack and lifted it above his head.  A gust of wind quickly caught the ashes, propelling them skyward at the same moment the clouds above our heads parted long enough for the sun’s rays to splash our upturned faces.  Just as quickly the clouds slammed closed.  Marshall was gone.
Dave and I locked eyes in amazement.  It was clear.  We had just witnessed God gather our son into His arms and into his new home in Heaven.
Following those fateful August days my life completely changed.  My soul completely changed.  I had experienced something amazing.  I had SEEN God at work in my life.  I had FELT Him plumb the very depths of my being.  
Not having a baby arrive that December was a tough adjustment, as was the feeling that maybe another baby wasn’t in God’s plans for us, yet the following February I received word through a Bible study that we were to expect another son and call him Samuel. 
The next month I was pregnant and, because God is faithful, December 28th, 2004, we welcomed Samuel Hudson White - Christening him ‘Hudson’ as a remembrance of both his brother and my maternal grandmother for whom Marshall had been named.
Since that time, God has continued his plans and provision for our family.
In 2006 I was compelled to travel half way around the world to adopt two little Zambian girls into our family, which I did in 2007 while being treated for cervical cancer. 
From 2008 to 2014 I was called into political activism and helped repeal Common Core in our state, during which time our family transitioned from city life to farm life, public school to home school and Coleman was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
          In fact, though my life since August 2001 has been marked by a level of fluctuation and adjustment never previously experienced, God has brought our family through each situation whole and intact, with greater love for one another and knowledge of His awesome affection, protection and work in our lives.
I still miss Marshall and life is still unpredictable, hectic and hard at times, yet through every up and down I’m sustained by knowledge no one can ever take away:  God is real, God is love and God is here with us, and for us, every day we acknowledge Him as the Lord of our lives. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Judging When You Are NOT A Judge

I used to think people who schooled their kids at home were nuts.  I mean, seriously deranged.  Why in the world would you want to have your kids running around under your feet for an entire day when a giant chunk of your property taxes paid for a perfectly decent school right down the street?  Not only that, but who made these parents kings and queens of their kids' educations?  Who anointed them with 'home school teaching certificates' that would allow them to be able to teach their kids better than the teacher who went to school for years to learn to teach everyone's kids?

My first child, Bryna (affectionately known as 'B' who turned 30 in 2013!) attended public school from the time she was in Kindergarten.  She'd done fine.  In fact, Dave and I LOVED going to her band concerts in middle and high school and then watching her march in the band from 9th to 12th grade!  We used to joke that we had come to see the band play and a football game had broken out!  She was in journalism and wrote for the school paper...I mean, what parent couldn't love that?  She went on to study journalism at UCO in Edmond (more on that in a later post!) and graduated within her allotted time period.  What's not to like there? 

In fact, before I even graduated with my Master's Degree in Biology, I was teaching at Deer Creek Public Schools myself.  I LOVED teaching!  I think I come by it naturally, as my mom has 3 Master's in English and taught for nearly 30 years, my dad still teaches at OU in the journalism department and my grandpa was a Law Professor!

Consequently, when Dave and I decided to have a second round of children (ok, I began to beg him mercilessly once I hit 35 because the clamoring of my biological clock was driving me insane!), we made plans.  Once I became pregnant in 2001 (Coleman, our first son, was born in June of 2002), I tendered my resignation to Independence Charter Middle School (where I taught 7th grade science and my mom taught 7th grade English next door!  Good times!) and we began to think about moving out of the little 1940's home we had spent so many years fixing up, and into a bigger place.  Of course the first thing we thought about was neighborhoods and their associated school districts.

After much discussion, we decided we'd move back to the neighborhood where I had grown up in north Oklahoma City.  My sister and I had both gone to the elementary there, and though we weren't particularly happy with the middle and high school prospects, we figured we'd worry about that when the time came.  Quail Creek Elementary was smack dab in the middle of a nice middle/upper middle income neighborhood where there was little to worry about in terms of discipline issues, parents were engaged and it had been a Blue Ribbon school more than one time.  This was enough for us.  

We 'accidentally' sold our home in one week during October of Coleman's first year and though we didn't really have a 'dream' home in which to move, we found something we could live with in the neighborhood and took the plunge.

The road from move to Kindergarten involved detours into cancer, adoption and the loss of B's father, the loss of Coleman's brother Marshall and the birth of his brother Samuel - none of which I'm going to cover in this post (dang, you wouldn't figure much would happen to you in life and then, well, it kinda does!), but let's suffice it to say that I was all in for the kids heading to Kindergarten.  By this time kindergarten had become an ALL DAY proposition - a condition for which I not only lobbied heavily - but was 12th in line for which to sign up so as not to miss a spot!

Coleman had attended our church's Mother's Day Out program from the time he was an infant.  After all, it was CHURCH, he needed SOCIALIZATION and I needed a MOTHER'S DAY OUT.  Where's the argument there?  We thought he'd be more than ready for his Kindergarten year and we were fired up about it!

Betty (our youngest adopted 12/2001) and Coleman both began Kindergarten in 2008.  Though I had become politically involved and elections were right around the corner, I kept my focus and divided my time between two Kindergarten classes and one in 3rd grade (Betty's sister Barbara 6/1998).  

Everything seemed great!  Cupcake parties, Christmas (yes, not 'holiday') shows, Valentine's day parties and nothing in the backpack that stuck out as anything other than Kindergarten work!  I really loved both their teachers - wonderful ladies, Mrs. Doolin and Mrs. Bentley.   Both kids loved going to school, had made friends and were coming home at night with plenty of good wholesome kid news!

Though we asked Mrs. Doolin to hold Coleman over for another year in Kindergarten and Betty veritably SAILED on to first grade, we began first grade with nothing less than the highest expectations.

That year, Coleman made the lateral move to Mrs. Bentley's Kindergarten class and Betty moved up.  Though Mrs. Bentley was fabulous again that year, Betty's teacher left a bit to be desired.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around why first graders - just learning to read and write - were writing words they had no idea how to spell down in a journal that was to tell a story, all while spending seemingly inordinate amounts of time learning about mummies and Egypt.

Though Betty and I struggled with her reading (she was a word-for-word memorizer from the first time she heard ANY story which made it sometimes impossible to determine if she was 'reading' or 'reciting') at home, I would dutifully spend the required time at night before bed, helping her to learn to read.  Betty is a very social kid who is just ridiculously smart.  She has, from the beginning, thought of education as a 'social' instrument more than something to help her in her future life.  Schooling this kind of kiddo can be challenging I soon learned.

Coleman fared a little bit better at this stage, but he has always been a very emotional kid.  When he was a baby, he would get so mad when you changed his diaper, he would LITERALLY turn blue in the face.  He used to become infuriated when the cat (yes, a cat) would touch his toys.  We were constantly repeating the mantra, "Toones (the cat) has paws, not fingers", which was to mean that Toonces was not going to carry away his highly prized play things so it was perfectly all right for her to be able to sit near him and watch - and maybe even touch - his toys!

Though frustrated easily, Coleman always wanted to read so he could read his OWN books (!). Plus, he was getting an extra year of 'basics' under him, which definitely helped bring down his frustration level and elevate his sense of accomplishment and confidence in reading.  I'm certain it also helped that Mrs. Bentley was great at staying true to the basics of phonics.

I joined the PTA that year and began to attend meetings.  I found them to be boring, as a rule, and very squarely centered on money-raising, which chapped my hind end.  After all, we pay for the school, why in the world would we having to be raising money on the side for a computer lab?

Unfortunately, for me, I was becoming more and more educated every day about silly things I never learned, like the Constitution and free-market economy and the political structures of communism, socialism and capitalism.  It's ultimately frustrating...the fact that ignorance really IS bliss and judgement is so much easier to pronounce when you have only one side of a story...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why This Blog?

One morning, as I sat on my floor finishing a kind of 'freestyle' yoga invention while watching FOX news, I heard a story that made me stop and listen.  Yea, I used to watch the news pretty regularly, but I had a lot on my plate and actual politics was the FURTHEST thing from my mind.**  At the time, we were still 'fresh' in a new house, and as such, working to get it more in line with our expectations.  This was requiring painting, more painting, carpet-laying, and etc.  Our oldest son, Coleman, was barely one (if that) and I was spending virtually all my time between new baby, house and Bible study.

Don't get me wrong, by saying I didn't engage in politics I just mean I didn't pay much attention to politics.  I ALWAYS voted.  I mean I voted even in school board elections.  I KNEW (?) my civic duty.  I don't think you could have called me an 'informed' voter, but I figured, I'm a Republican, I vote Republican - go team!

Right now, you're thinking of ways to describe me, but before I continue, let me briefly describe myself a bit more fully; yes, I am NOW a political Conservative, Independent Baptist and lover of Jesus.  I HAVE been an atheist, agnostic (you can thank my M.S. in Biology for that) and a political liberal (though I have been a registered Republican since I was able to vote in 1982 - you can thank Reagan for that).  In the past, I have used 'labels' to help me navigate my way in the world.  Today, I see 'labels' as an impediment to navigating the world.

In fact, the ENTIRE point of this blog is that in 50 years, I've run an entire gamut of ideas, ideals and 'truths' through my brain.  I'm not the same person I was in my 20's.  I'm not the same person I was in my early 40's.  I'm not the same person I was 2 years ago.  Heck, I'm probably not the same person I was 15 minutes ago simply because life continually happens - if you let it. 

So, back to the news story that made me listen.  The news story recorded GW Bush signing a bill to make prescription drugs available to everyone.  Though I have no interest in seeing old people dying in the streets because they can't afford prescriptions that would keep them alive, it stuck in my craw that a Republican - ostensibly the party of 'smaller' government, free enterprise and a supposed 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' mentality - would be telling Americans, "Here!  I'm gonna take money from your neighbor by force and give it to you so you can do something that philanthropic organizations and BigPharma could do on their own without being forced if I'd let them."

That was 2003.  This one thing - for whatever reason - made a major impression on me.  I began to pay more attention to 'politics' on the news from that day on.  In fact, I started reading online blogs (American Thinker, Drudge Report, Michelle Malkin) instead of reading the paper or watching the TV news and it was then that I started to realize that government was no longer in the box in which I had kept it.  The government had become an entity unto itself which really seemed to care little about the patrons that kept it in business.

As the 2008 election cycle began in earnest, I REALLY started to dig into the candidates the media was feeding Americans - John McCain and Barack Obama.  After researching these candidates for months, I came to the conclusion that Obama was a Communist and McCain (while I'll always hold him in high esteem for his military record) was a Comm. (an abbreviated Communist - not really a Communist, but not a small-government capitalist either).

After the election of President Obama, I became politically active for the first time in my  life.  In fact, you could say I became an ACTIVIST.  I helped a group of other concerned individuals start the Oklahoma City 9/12 Project and then I became so concerned about the education our children were getting in public schools, I started an organization called Restore Oklahoma Public Education soon after.

Before 2009 I may have been to the state Capital twice - once when I was in middle school!  Today, I'm there frequently.  Where, before 2009, I had made only one phone call to one of my elected officials (another long story I hope to impart one day), I now know many by name and don't just call and email them, but meet with them in person to better help them understand my concerns.

And so, here I am today, (1/2014) beginning a personal blog that really all hinges on that one fateful day in 2003.  That one day when my perception about my 'reality' changed.  My view of 'reality' changed.  I hope you'll find we have some common ground.

**I had to take a WHOLE, very long sentence out here!  I was thinking 2008, but this incident happened in 2003.  Consequently, I went back to make the post actually reflective of where I was in the process.  As you can now probably see, I have now aged to the point of senility!