Loss of a Child Part 2: Rainbows After the Storm
Loss of a Child Part 2: Rainbows After the Storm

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Loss of a Child Part 2—Rainbows After the Storm—Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA

Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos courtesy of Julianna Grace Ministry

This is Part 2 of a series on Julianna Grace Ministry, which brings comfort to families who have experienced the death of their infants. Founder Lisa Rowell shares her testimony and describes the beginning of the ministry. To read the first part of Lisa’s story, please click here. Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of this series.

Lisa Rowell's life had been full of pain long before the stillbirth of her baby, Julianna Grace, in 2013. Abandoned by her mother and abused by her father, she entered foster care at age 12. A brief adoption resulted in more abuse and a return to the system, where she bounced from home to home until she aged out. It wasn't until her Sunday School teacher, Patricia Irwin, took her in as a young adult that she became part of a loving family. To this day, she considers Patricia her true mother.

Around the same time, she began dating Stephen. Once they married, adding a child to their happy marriage made Lisa feel that she could finally put her past behind her. “I grew up with this identity crisis that no one loved me; everyone wanted to get rid of me,” she said. “Julianna felt like a chance to start new.”

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Psalm 13:2

After the doctor informed her of Julianna's death and sent her home to grieve, Lisa confronted God with years of pent-up anguish. “Why do You hate me?” she demanded. The response she felt in her heart astounded her: I want you, Lisa. I want all of you, not just on Sundays. “I wasn't a strong believer then,” she explained. “I had started going to Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA, earlier that year, and I had all the Bible answers, but they hadn't sunk into my mind or heart. I believed in God as a ticket to heaven, but I didn't really believe in His power or in the Holy Spirit. I knew I wasn't living how He wanted me to. I gave my life to the Lord that day.”

On the morning of Julianna's birth, Lisa's mother asked her, “Are you ready to give her up to the Lord?” Having entrusted herself to God, Lisa realized she needed to entrust Julianna to Him as well. She remembered, “Early that morning, I told Him, ‘You can have me—and You can have my daughter.’”

Lisa with Gabriella

Lisa Rowell, founder of Julianna Grace Ministry out of Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA, talks with her daughter Gabriella. Gabriella is a “rainbow baby” born after the death of Lisa’s first daughter.

Through A Dark Tunnel

In a journal entry nearly a month after her loss, Lisa wrote: I feel like I'm falling and falling into a dark place. I want to crawl into this darkness and not get out. I don't want to see, breathe, think, or be ... Why didn't He just take me? I don't even want to be alive right now. Nothing seems important. Nothing seems to matter ... Stephen just holds me, and I cry. I'm weak, I'm tired, and I can't seem to rest enough.

The enemy [Satan] is whispering in my ear constantly, 'End it, Lisa. You have no reason to live. Take a couple pills and go to sleep and be with your daughter.' He keeps me up at night. He tells me I'll never be happy again. The pain is getting deeper and harder to deal with. The whispers get louder and the lies keep coming.

“I felt like I was in a battle, and no one was allowed in except Allison, because no one else understood what I was going through,” she remembered. Allison, a photographer, had left a gift basket for Lisa in the hospital; having lost her own first baby, she knew the pain Lisa was feeling. “I needed a fortress to block out the voice of the enemy.” Sometimes the enemy's voice seemed louder, but God's was always closer. As she cried out to Him, words of comfort came to her heart: “He reminded me, I know your pain. I lost my Son. His Son died on the cross for us even while we turned our backs on Him. When the enemy threw fiery darts, God told me He was the only one who could heal the scars of my past.”

The contents of Allison's basket became her weapons for warfare. She plastered the Scripture cards over the walls of her house. She played the CD Allison had given her, Steven Curtis Chapman's Beauty Will Rise, which he wrote with piercing honesty after the death of his daughter. “He laments before the Lord, but repeats what the Scriptures say,” Lisa elaborated. “You may feel a certain way, but the Scriptures are truth, and they triumph over the enemy.”

One day as Lisa sat brokenhearted in church, watching others joyfully singing, she felt that God was telling her, I want you to stand up and worship Me. “I replied, ‘But I'm hurting.’ He repeated it again,” she recalled. As she obeyed, she felt His joy and peace fill her: “I realized lifting my hands up to heaven was how God poured His Spirit out on me. Learning to worship God was one of the ways He began to heal me.” She deeply identified with David's story in 2 Samuel 12:20-23, where he chose to worship God after losing his infant son. “For the first time, I understood David as a person, not a character,” she said. “Hearing that story had a huge impact on me and taught me how to worship God.”

So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. 2 Samuel 12:20a

Soon after Julianna's death, Lisa glanced up at a light and saw a rainbow. “Do you see that?” she asked Stephen, but he did not—nor did anyone else. She realized if she covered one eye, it went away; but it returned as soon as she opened it. Eventually she saw an eye specialist, but he had no explanation. The rainbow remained in Lisa's vision through her next pregnancy. The day after her daughter Gabriella's first birthday, the rainbow disappeared as suddenly as it arrived. Babies born soon after a loss have long been referred to as “rainbow babies”; in Gabriella’s case, the term was even more fitting. For Lisa, though, the rainbow promise meant even more: “It reminded me Jesus wasn't going to be like my earthly father, who disgraced me and abused me. It was God's message to me, saying, I have you and I promise, I will keep you.”

Lisa and Jeanne basket

Jeanne Doggett (left), who assists in the ministry, examines a basket with Lisa.

Endurance and Encouragement

As Lisa's healing progressed, so did the sense that she needed to use what she had experienced to help others. At first, it was just the desire to share all she had learned about God's love and faithfulness; but as time went on, nudges seemed to come from everywhere. When well-meaning friends made hurtful comments in an attempt to comfort her, she felt God's message to her was, You need to tell them what to say—and what not to say. When she heard of strangers who had lost babies, she felt compelled to make baskets for them. After a while, Stephen pointed out they could not afford to keep doing this alone, so she began posting needs on Facebook. Messages poured in; she had never realized how many people had been touched by similar pain.

After doing this for a couple of years off and on, Allison's mother Jeanne, who had become Lisa's mentor, advised her to start a Facebook group. “Little by little, people joined the group,” Lisa recalled, “and little by little, different people would provide different things. Jeanne gave “Heaven” necklaces. A woman asked if she could buy bears for the baskets—after she miscarried, she had grieved all alone, but she'd had this bear she would cry on. [The ministry] slowly became bigger as I became more organized.” She began sharing her story at different churches. She remembers speaking to a Bible study of 80- to 90-year-old women. Honestly, she expected them to be uninterested because it was an issue that wouldn't affect them in their stage of life. Afterwards, five of them approached her wanting to talk about the babies they had lost in their twenties. “I felt that God was telling me through them, They don't forget, and I don't forget. You need to talk about this. You need to be bold,” Lisa declared.

Early on, Lisa learned that when she tried running her ministry the way others told her she needed to, things fell apart. If she sought God's guidance, He would eventually make it clear. “People wanted me to do what other ministries were doing—have a board, hold banquets. But those weren't the visions God was giving me. When the Lord tells you to do something, you need to do it His way—not according to some program, but according to Him,” she testified.

Jeanne holding book

Jeanne holds a book honoring the memory of her granddaughter, who died as an infant. The ministry often includes books in its gift baskets.

For years, as Julianna Grace Ministry and Lisa's workload grew exponentially, she prayed for help managing her ministry and for non-profit status. When Pastor Dan Gillman and his wife from Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA, offered their assistance, however, she did not immediately realize that God was answering her prayers. She appreciated their enthusiasm and very much desired to be under the church umbrella, but so many people had promised help and financial support over the years, she had learned not to get her hopes up. “It didn't really hit me until I saw the non-profit paperwork,” she said. “I started crying, saying, ‘Lord, all those years I was praying, I didn't think You were listening, but You heard me.’ I still send messages to the Gillmans, thanking them.”

Dan observed, “Seeing God do such a great work through an average [person] who is just being faithful to Him, who listens and obeys even when it’s hard, and perseveres, is so encouraging to me as a pastor. I think it encourages the congregation as well. I always share what's going on with Julianna Grace Ministry; I want the church to realize the impact this ministry is having on people we've never even met.” While he hopes other churches will create similar ministries, he cautioned, “It's a great ministry but a very delicate one. You really need someone who has a heart to minister to [people with this need]. Lisa really becomes almost a counselor to them.”

“Give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3b

Lisa is excited to see what doors God opens next. She hopes to someday answer more requests internationally—currently, the ministry is limited by prohibitive shipping costs. Whatever happens, though, there is only one goal that drives her. “My greatest desire is that people would see Jesus in me, that it would be undeniable,” she revealed through tears. “I want everyone to know that Jesus can truly heal that wound you thought no one could heal. The day I get to heaven, I want so much to see Julianna, but I want even more to hear Him say, Well done, good and faithful servant.

This is the second 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.

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To read Part 3 of this series, click here.

 

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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