I was in the bathtub, tearfully numb, and having random thoughts...thinking of problems in our church, disagreements over style of worship, traditional vs contemporary praise time. How could any of this be important? I now had a harsh reminder of what's really important. I was one day away from burying my daughter. All at once, I believe God was speaking directly to me. I jumped out of the tub, got dressed, my hair still wet; I drove to town. I had to share with pastor Gary what God was showing me at that very moment, in hopes he would in turn tell my church family. God had used each one of them to work miracles in my life.
The few times I had experienced church while growing up were so boring. Everyone shuffled in...shuffled out. I remember a pastor trying to persuade my parents to attend. He said, "Your kids will go to hell if they're not baptized."'' How scary! Needless to say, I was baptized at 18 because of opportunity, but my heart knew nothing of the Lord.
I remember hating myself. I was lonely and empty. I went to college at Bemidji State where I majored in partying. I failed classes and was soon kicked out. I found jobs so I could continue to live with my friends, believing my life was so full. I became the fastest beer drinker around. I worked and partied. I went from one so-called relationship to another, one bed to another. I believed the big lie, "If it feels good, do it." The world says it's OK and you see it on the cover of many magazines.
Sex outside of marriage is part of being a woman. Little to my knowledge, I was dying inside. My self-esteem no longer existed and I became numb in my search for love. I'd ask God, "Why can't anyone love me?" In retrospect I now believe God protected me from the thousands of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Soon I was telling my parents of my pregnancy and I moved home to be with them. I had decisions to make. My boyfriend called to suggest abortion, something I could not do. He heard this and I never heard from him again. All of this and I was also questioning paternity of my baby. Zach was born August 31, 1993 -- that was Miracle #1 in my life.
Maybe God blessed me with an opportunity to choose a different path. Zach loved me unconditionally, an ability children have. I made up my mind to be a good mom even though I was single. Paternity was established and he began to pay child support. He was cordial on the phone, but chose not to become involved in Zach's life. He was about to start his own blended family. I thought that was sad and questioned how he could not want to know his baby. It was because Zach was not conceived out of a loving relationship. Currently, we exchange photos and notes yearly, in hopes of creating a friendly environment, if Zach one day becomes curious.
Since being a young girl, I had dreamt of being a mother and homemaker. Now that would be impossible. I worked the 2pm-midnight shift at the local nursing home and missed many baby firsts. Zach and I moved into an apartment. There was a church across the street, but I never attended. Each night its cross was a glow through my living room window.
Time passes...Zach was now over the age of one. I had decided to remove Zach from a home daycare. The daycare provider came to my apartment that night. Out of anger, she told me what her husband had overheard at the local bar. It was a table of friends of the biological father... "She's a slut...just give her a few drinks." She went on to tell me, "No one will ever respect you." She later felt horrible and apologized. In retrospect, I believe God uses our adversaries to move us. Today, I can honestly thank her for that confrontation, but at that moment, I was devastated. I had no longer been sleeping around and was working hard to be a good mom.
Again, the cross was a glow that night. I called pastor Gary and he invited me over. In tears, my horrible past spilled out. He simply listened and then invited me to church. There was to be an adult Sunday school class covering parenting. I went and sat in on this small group, but just cried. I left and cried for two more days. It was then that I received a note from a lady from church. It simply said, "I could see your pain...I too have felt deep pain...Please know that I and the Lord Care... Please feel free to come back." Moreover, I did. Over time, Zach and I were invited to supper, shown bible verses, and were just plain loved. I hungered for their peace. I accepted Jesus. -- That was Miracle #2 in my life.
That spring, Zach was in his wading pool and I was potting flowers. Pastor Gary walked over and sat to visit. I shared with him my joy of being a new Christian, and also of how lonely I was and wanting to find a husband. "It will never be, I guess I have to accept that. Who would want a single mom?" He said, "I believe God has a very special person to be your husband and a father to Zach. Let's be in prayer for this." I prayed and prayed and prayed...I wanted to meet someone who could love and accept Zach, not hold my past against me, and who would grow in faith along with me. That was a big order!
The ladies from church threw a surprise birthday party for me. An older couple was there. It brought to mind this good-looking guy who had been to church with them on occasion. I whispered to Barb, "Is he single?" Her eyes lit up, she replied, "I've never thought of Gary!" However, I was nervous. How would his parents respond to a single mom having an interest in their son? And you know, God knew this and He opened a doorway. A conversation took place between Gary's mom and a former pastor's wife. This lady shared that her son was about to be married to a single mom. She had been nervous and didn't like it at first. She soon realized what a blessing the mother and child were to her son. While this was happening, Barb and Julie kept Gary from escaping out the door one Sunday. "Do you know Jennifer?"'' The ladies from church had fun watching us fall in love in the church pews. Eleven months after our first date, Gary and I were married and he adopted Zach. Gary, being a Christian, loved me for who I had become. Christ wiped the slate clean.' --That was Miracle #3!
Then about nine months later, a baby girl, Emily JoAnne Raknerud was born. She was a little sister for Zach and an apple in mommy and daddy's eyes.' -- Miracle #4!
When Emily was five and a half months old, she came down with a cold and high fever. We had her in and out of emergency rooms. On Sept. 2, 1997, she was admitted into the hospital. She started to seize and was put into a medically induced coma. Things did not look good. She had viral encephalitis. Soon prayer chains from Barnesville, Christ the King, and others were sending prayers to God. Suddenly, she improved and we were able to bring her home with only slight delays. Later, we would find out that the doctors thought she might not have lived through that episode. --The miracles just kept coming - Miracle #5.
Life was good. We enjoyed our children and took hours of video. Emily became quite the fan of goldfish crackers, gummy bears, and hanging out with daddy.' In February I found out I was pregnant. How could this have happened? Gary had a vasectomy a week before Emy had gotten sick, five months ago. The doctor said he had rejoined, a procedure with 99% reliability had failed. Another baby? Yes, we were happy. We enjoyed the summer with Zach and Emy. Many new experiences for her; zoos, swimming, and finger paints. On August 31, it was Zach's fifth birthday and he was recovering from the stomach flu. Gary's family came to celebrate. Emily partied, napped, and woke up vomiting--in and out of emergency rooms again.
It was one year to the exact day. On Sept 2, 1998, Emily was admitted to the hospital again. She started to seize and was medicated, which in turn stopped her breathing. We were terrified but assured she only had the flu and would probably go home within 24 hours. In a few hours, the staff knew things had taken an awful turn. We were told she was probably brain dead. Pastor Dan anointed her as we prayed for a miracle, but the Lord took her home. Because of the prolonged seizure and damage from the previous infection, her brain swelled and cut off the vital controls of her body. The shock was numbing...living in a bad, bad dream...holding her for the last time...knowing life was gone. Our little girl was gone.
During the grief, you feel guilty..."Why didn't we bring her in an hour earlier... Why didn't I push the issue with the doctors...Was she hurting and I didn't take it away?"' Gary comforted me by saying this, "Remember, when Emily would pinch her fingers and cry? I would pick her up, hold her close, and she would stop crying. If she felt any pain, the Lord was right there, picking her up and holding her close. Her tears of pain were gone at that moment."
I don't know what prompted our quick decision during the shock, but Emily became an organ donor. Maybe, because Gary's brother has had two kidney transplants...maybe the Lord placed that option on our hearts. Her liver went to an eight year old boy who lost his to cancer. Her kidneys went to a 53-year-old woman who had waited over 500 days. When I first read this news of the recipients, I became angry. Why is this lady living and my baby gone? I had to feel this and then give it to God. Emily did not die to donate organs...
PSALM 139:6, "YOU SAW ME BEFORE I WAS BORN. EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE WAS RECORDED IN YOUR BOOK. EVERY MOMENT WAS LAID OUT BEFORE A SINGLE DAY PASSED."
God knew the exact day Emy would be with him, nothing would change that. Not taking her to the E.R. one minute earlier...nothing can change God's plans. Moreover, that gives me some peace when the "Whys" set in. Gary wrote the following letter to Emy which was read at her service. They bring great comfort and even a greater love for my husband.
A LETTER TO EMILY FROM MOM & DAD
It's just mom and dad saying hello. While you were down here, we weren't always sure you understood everything we were saying. But now that you are in heaven, your understanding is complete and perfect, so there are a few things we would like to say. You already know this, honey, but it helps to say it anyway.
Thank you for being our little girl.
Thank you for a year and a half of amazing joy.
Thank you for the privilege it is to love you and to be loved by you.
Thank you for your beautiful smiles, your long tight hugs, and your big wet kisses.
Thank you for your infectious happiness.
Thank you for those precious moments when we could lay beside you each night, unable to look away from your beautiful face.
Thank you for all the times we would just lay around enjoying each other, splitting a bag of marshmellows or gummy bears.
Thank you for the time you spent chasing your brother and bugging the dog.
Thank you for the treasure of memories you gave us.
Our time seemed so short, but then all time on this earth is short compared to the eternity of heaven. Our time was short, but it was so full. I'm so glad that nothing between us was ever left unsaid, no promises ever broken, no hurtful words were ever spoken, not a wasted moment was ever spent between us. I take great pride in the fact that I am permanently wrapped around your finger, and that maybe we were spoiling you, just a little.
Maybe you are wondering why everyone is crying. We are crying because we miss you, Emy. We understand so very little down here. It's hard for us to imagine your perfect joy, and that you know happiness beyond our understanding. So honey, we cry for ourselves. We must seem pretty silly, huh? Crying while you are surrounded by perfect joy, bouncin' on Jesus' knee. It's just that time moves more slowly down here, peanut. It's hard for us to remember that this time we will spend apart is less than a blink of an eye compared to the eternal joy we will spend with you in heaven--but we need to remember that- above all else, we need to remember that. So, in the mean time honey, we will cry a little less and smile a little more as we get ready to join you. Until then, we will probably talk to you and Jesus a thousand times a day. It won't be long honey, so you get busy and pick out a nice comfy spot for us, so we can all lay down, snuggle up, and split a bag of gummy bears.
Love Always - Mom, Dad, Zach, and baby brother.
ROMANS 8:28 "ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD..."
I have seen a few blessings after the terrible pain of losing Emily. My faith has grown from the infant stage into toddlerhood. I've been a Christian but never had the emotional rush when thinking of eternity. Songs like "I see the Lord" brings goose bumps. Emy is in His presence, seeing His glory, and praising Him, and someday I'll be right beside her. The nursing staff was also touched by her. A staff member wrote the following and read it at the service they had for her. Remembering Emily and praising God.
"Emily...Precious little one, we wanted so many things for you...To get well, to smile, to laugh, and to live. Why did you have to be one of God's special children? We loved you; it was hard to see you go. You touched so many people in such a short time. You accomplished more in your life - numbered by days and months- than many of us do in our lives, numbered in years. You helped teach us to love every moment of everyday. You taught us patience to endure an unknown future. You taught us to trust. Trust in God...God's will be done...Though we don't understand it, and trust in each other for support. You taught us about life. Each day can be a struggle. However, each day is what we make of it. The ups and downs are tempered by the love of the people who surround us. You brought life and love...a different gift to each of us. Thank you God, for sending Emily. Perhaps we don't understand why her life was so short and filled with so much, but we know she was Your gift to us. A special child sent to touch our lives with love."
I also received this letter from the lady who received her kidneys:
Words alone cannot express the sympathy I extend to you, nor can words express the gratitude that I feel in your loving and unselfish donating of organs. I received my kidney transplant on Sept. 4, and it has given me a quality of life that I thought I would never have again. May you be comforted in knowing your child lives on in others. I will be forever grateful to you and each night I ask the Lord to keep our little angel in his loving arms. Barbara
Now that is not to say being a Christian spares you from the grieving process. Gary had panic attacks and needed to go on Prozac for half a year. Some days I needed to talk myself into faith. How could I explain her being so alive in Heaven when I visit the cemetery? It can be a hard concept to figure out...ISAIAH 55:8-9, "FOR MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS, NEITHER ARE MY WAYS YOUR WAYS...AS THE HEAVENS ARE HIGHER THAN THE EARTH, SO ARE MY WAYS HIGHER THAN YOUR WAYS, AND MY THOUGHTS THAN YOUR THOUGHTS."
Gary and I have experienced all of the stages of grief. God is holding us and He is our strength through the darkness. There are still many tears, not ones of anger, but of missing her presence. We are so thankful that God blessed us with such a beautiful girl. Thankful for the time we had with her. What a blessing on our lives.
On October 7, 1998, baby boy Carter, blessed our lives. I truly believe he was a gift from God, given in perfect timing. Even though God may have wanted Emy home one year earlier, He gave us more precious time with her. Gary has said that if she had gone then, he would not be alive today. God can give!! Ninety nine percent reliability...despite the odds, God knew we needed to fill our empty aching arms...which was Miracle #6.
God told me, at that moment in the tub, that by accepting Jesus, the plan He had could now unfold. I would not have experienced these miracles without the love and acceptance, flowing through my Christian family, when others would not forgive my past. They took me under their wings and I in turn accepted Jesus.
It has been almost seven years since Emy's heaven day. The raw physical pain has eased into a mellow sadness that will forever be a part of us.' I have made it my mission to send materials and cards to others I hear going through the loss of a child. In doing that more healing can take place. You find that you are not alone; so many people lose children, you just don't notice until it happens to you.
We were blessed with the opportunity with a vasectomy reversal. Gary had his redone after becoming pregnant with Carter and before losing Emy. Insurance doesn't cover this expensive operation and we didn't know if we could afford it. Nevertheless, a wonderful doctor in Texas does it for the fraction of the cost, as his ministry. So now, we are trying.
Thanks to everyone who comforted us during our ordeal!