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.