Baby Jenna died today. She was nine months old. At 9:40 in the morning she passed away quietly in her mother’s arms in a hospital in Indiana. I’ve been praying for Jenna for a few months. Praying for a sick child is not something to brag about, so I kept it to myself, unless I was encouraging others to pray for her, too. I do not know Jenna or her mother. I have few details about her illness. She had a heart defect and was a candidate for a heart transplant. Her doctors did everything they could for her.
I have a soft spot for cardiac kids. My daughter was born with a congenital heart defect that nearly took her life when she was four months old. When she was sick I witnessed something that was utterly amazing. She received prayers from around the world. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of having complete strangers contacting me to tell me that they were praying for Captain Chaos, that their churches were praying for Captain Chaos, that their relatives were looking for updates on her condition. It was a good thing, too. In the heat of the battle, praying was very hard to do. I prayed. I prayed earnestly, but I was mentally and emotionally numb during a great deal of the experience, and if God was answering me, I couldn’t hear it. It took all of my power to make it through each day and digest the diet of complicated medical information that had become my daily fare. Praying for Jenna was far easier, far more satisfying, and far more cathartic. I prayed with a clear head. I prayed with confidence. I prayed with peace of mind.
I received news of Jenna’s passing from a cousin through a Facebook message. While I wrote a response to her message, Captain Chaos decided she was hungry. Against my directions not to forage for food, she climbed onto the kitchen counter, opened a cabinet door, and knocked a jar of instant coffee off of the shelf. It fell onto my USS Portsmouth coffee mug, an irreplaceable souvenir from my submarine days, and chipped off a huge section of mug, instantly transforming it into a pencil holder. And in that moment I was reminded of a lesson I have learned over and over again since bringing my daughter home from the hospital.
I prayed for this.
When your child is near death, you pray for their survival. There is little else about which to think. I wasn’t praying for her first steps or her first day of kindergarten or her first date. I simply prayed for her to remain with us. That meant, of course, the good with the bad. Throughout the years, with all of its challenges, with the View Master disks in the aquarium and her love for eating dog food and the writing on the walls with permanent marker, I kept remembering how hard I prayed for her survival. My prayers were answered, answered positively, and I would not be ungrateful. It didn’t alleviate my frustration but it did prevent me from getting angry. And the goldfish got to see Mount Rushmore.
After her timeout, and after her lunch, I returned to the computer to complete my message to my cousin. Captain Chaos decided that it was time to show me her Hula Hoop skills. She stood next to me wearing her “kajamas,” gyrating violently to keep the hoop spinning. Of course, her kajama pants were a bit too big for her, so after five or six revolutions they slid down past her bare butt, causing her to burst out laughing while dropping the hoop to pull up her pants before she started spinning again. She just might be learning a bit of modesty, but obviously not enough to stop and put on underwear before continuing.
With the start of the school year a few days away I take great delight in adding my daughter to the class as my third fulltime student. I take great delight in her enthusiasm for life, expressed last Wednesday night at Cabela’s where she walked into the bargain basement with her mother, pointed to a black rifle on display, and said, “Oh, yeah! Let’s take that baby out and see what she can do!” I marveled at her sincerity today when she walked up to me and apologized for breaking my coffee mug. She’s learning. It’s wonderful.
My heart breaks for Jenna and her parents. I shed a few silent tears before asking God to help them. I’ve walked a mile in their shoes, but their journey is far harder than anything that I’ve ever gone through. Because baby Jenna died today.