Loss of a Child Part 1: Beauty from Ashes
Loss of a Child Part 1: Beauty from Ashes

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Loss of a Child Part 1—Beauty from Ashes—Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA

Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos courtesy of Julianna Grace Ministry

This is the first part of this week's four-part series on Julianna Grace Ministry, which offers comfort to families who have experienced the loss of their infants. Please check back tomorrow to read founder Lisa Rowell’s full testimony.

Even as she sat in her obstetrician's waiting room that September morning, Lisa Rowell thought herself to be overreacting. Up until this point, her pregnancy with Julianna had been perfect. She and her husband Stephen had conceived very soon after deciding they wanted a child. “The second we found out we were pregnant, we were in love with her,” Lisa declared. At each appointment, their doctor congratulated them on a “textbook pregnancy.” Then suddenly, at five months, Julianna stopped moving.

As the nurses conducted her ultrasound, Lisa waited for the reassuring answer that would dispel the knot of dread she felt inside. Instead, her doctor gently told her that Julianna had passed away.

He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. Isaiah 40:11b

Lisa with Gabriella

Lisa Rowell (left) enjoys outdoor time with her daughter Gabriella Grace. Lisa is the founder of Julianna Grace Ministry, which provides spiritual and practical support to parents grieving the death of their infants. She started the ministry after the death of her first-born daughter Julianna Grace; Gabriella is called a "rainbow baby"—one born after that kind of devastating loss.

On September 9th, 2013, Julianna Grace Rowell was stillborn. There was all the pain of a normal labor, but without the hope of a happy ending. The Rowells could only hold her briefly before she was taken away, yet Lisa saw that Julianna looked like Stephen and had Lisa's skin. She was 1 pound, 5 ounces of perfection—except that her umbilical cord had gotten twisted, cutting off essential sustenance. The doctors had no explanation, only that it was extremely rare.

Everything in the next few days happened in a fog of grief: the visitors, the release from the hospital, the memorial arrangements. After a while, she finally gathered the strength to go through the belongings brought back from the hospital room. It was then she discovered the basket. Allison, the photographer who volunteered to take photographs after Julianna’s birth, was a stranger to Lisa. Having lost her own infant daughter two years earlier, however, she knew all too well what Lisa was enduring. Before leaving the hospital, she had quietly left a basket packed full of all the things she knew Lisa would need: Scripture cards, lip balm, waterproof mascara for the unending tears, books and devotionals on heaven, and much more. “When you're at your weakest, that's when [Satan] comes in,” Lisa declared. “That basket was a lifesaver. It was like a shield for me against the enemy. During the first year, it helped me see that God loved me.”

Making baskets

Lisa Rowell and two volunteers from Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA, organize baskets for grieving families.

That basket inspired Lisa to start Julianna Grace Ministry, which has sent more than 200 'baskets' to grieving parents around the nation, and even over the globe. Last year, they delivered more than 60; this year, due to COVID-19 causing so many to grieve in isolation, they expect the need to be much greater. Some are delivered to people's doorsteps; others are tightly packed into priority mailing boxes. The contents are rarely identical, but all of them offer tools for Christ-centered healing from someone who knows their recipients' pain intimately. “My goal is that when they open this basket, they see that the Lord loves them,” said Lisa. “That's what I saw when I got mine. In our deepest grief we need to know that He sees how many tears we've cried.”

Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA, is the home base for the ministry. “God has brought beauty from ashes in a big way through this ministry,” said Pastor Dan Gillman. “Lisa had every reason to be bitter and upset. Instead, she allowed God to work through her. This is a ministry that is really making a difference in people's lives, bringing life and hope to people in the depths of despair.”

Teddy bear basket

Julianna Grace Ministry has prepared hundreds of baskets for families grieving the loss of an infant. Each varies according to the family’s needs.

Not Forgotten

Even before Dan began pastoring Calvary Chapel Shreveport 11 months ago, he and his wife Lara were excited about getting involved with Julianna Grace Ministry. They met Lisa at a potluck during an early visit to the church. At the time, she was struggling with how to get non-profit status for her rapidly blossoming ministry. “We were instantly in love with this ministry,” Dan proclaimed. “It's not just another ministry to be a ministry. It's not about bringing in money or filling pews. It's about giving hope to people who are hurting and letting them know they are not forgotten—especially by God.”

After losing their previous pastor, the church had dwindled from hundreds to roughly 50 people. “It felt almost like planting a new church,” Dan confessed. “We were looking to God saying, ‘What do You want us to do?’ But here was this ministry right in front of our faces. It felt like a no-brainer.” Though Julianna Grace Ministry had existed for years, Lisa had been doing it alone. Dan invited her to officially make it part of the church. He continued, “It reaches a group of people who are often not really ministered to. I don't think it's because people don't care, but because they just don't know what to say. This basket makes a big difference for parents who are feeling alone and overwhelmed. We get emails all the time that say, 'I was in a real bad moment, and your basket arrived and gave me hope.' It's exciting to be part of that. I have seen so much fruit in the congregation as they've gotten behind this work.”

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me, … to comfort all who mourn. Isaiah 61:1, 2b

Books

Lisa Rowell often includes books about grief and heaven in her Julianna Grace baskets.

The baskets are free for anyone who requests them. The ministry relies on donations to fill them, whether money or items from its Amazon wish list. Many of those who received baskets in the past are some of the main contributors. “The type of loss determines which type of basket people receive,” Lisa explained. “Those who've gotten baskets tend to pour back into the ministry. There's a continuous chain of healing through those who give and those who receive. One woman makes photo albums for the parents of the child they have lost. Another gives waterproof mascara and face lotion because your skin cracks from crying so much. Another group sends things like chocolate and popcorn to offer comfort. I always include a card in there, talking about where God is in all of this, and that they're not alone.”

Baskets, however, are only the beginning. The ministry's website (juliannagraceministry.weebly.com) offers a myriad of resources. Lisa's blog offers intimate windows into her own struggles and victories, expounds on scriptural truth, and highlights available resources such as grief retreats. She has a series of videos addressing common questions, including Is this my fault? or What should I say or do when I hear a loved one has lost a baby? Her answers always point towards Christ. Speaking of a three-part video series, Lisa said, “People always tell me, 'I want to honor my child, but nothing ever feels like it's enough.' I try to show them what they are really looking for—the only thing that will really satisfy their heart—is the Lord.” Because many recipients are not Christians, Lisa also asked the Gillmans to make a video including a clear Gospel presentation.

“A month or two after they get the basket, people often begin messaging me,” Lisa related. “I'm able to minister to them, encourage them to keep looking to the Lord, or to find a church. That's been the coolest thing. They see this joy I have in my heart, and I'm able to share my full testimony with them.”

This is the first part of this week's four-part series on Julianna Grace Ministry. Please check back every day for each continuing story of the ministry, which offers comfort and hope to families who have experienced the loss of their infants.

juliannagraceministry.weebly.com

Lisa with cradle

Lisa Rowell donates a “Caring Cradle” to Christus Shumpert, a hospital in Shreveport.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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