Loss of a Child 3: Reaching Out Through the Pain
Loss of a Child 3: Reaching Out Through the Pain

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Loss of a Child Part 3—Reaching Out Through the Pain—Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA

Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos courtesy of Julianna Grace Ministry

This is Part 3 of a series on Julianna Grace Ministry, which provides spiritual and practical comfort to parents who have experienced the death of a baby. In this installment, we share the backstory of the ministry—bolstered by a friendship between Julianna Grace Ministry founder Lisa Rowell and Jeanne Doggett, whose granddaughter Sophie Grace died as an infant in 2011. Both women attend Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA. To read the first two parts, please click here. Check back tomorrow for Part 4.

“So, what's the assignment this time?” Jeanne Doggett asked brightly, as she did each time she babysat her infant grandson while his photographer parents were on assignment.

“Mom, it's really sad,” Allison replied. “It's someone I don't know, a stillbirth.” Suddenly Jeanne understood the heaviness in her daughter's voice. Both were reliving the devastating loss of Allison's infant daughter Sophie Grace the previous year. The wound was very fresh. No one would have blamed Allison if she had turned down this job; instead, she had volunteered and poured herself into finding ways to help these perfect strangers through their pain. She showed Jeanne the baby blanket she had crocheted in the colors of the couple's nursery and the giant basket she had packed with things she knew would be crucial in their time of grief.

While Allison and her husband Cliff were gone, Jeanne sat at home holding her grandson Isaac. His name was chosen because it meant “laughter”—something their family had sorely needed after his older sister's death. He certainly brought great joy to their lives, but he could not take away the pain of her absence. Now, like Allison, Jeanne couldn't stop thinking about a woman across town who was entering into her own unimaginable pain. All she knew about her was her name, Lisa Rowell; but she began praying for her right then, and for months afterward. Little did she know how God would later intertwine their lives.

In response to that family’s kindness, Lisa Rowell would eventually start her own ministry of bringing gift baskets to parents hurting after the death of a baby—Julianna Grace Ministry, now under the umbrella of Calvary Chapel Shreveport, LA.

Lisa and Jeanne basket

Jeanne Doggett (left) and Lisa Rowell, founder of Julianna Grace Ministry, discuss the contents of a basket for grieving parents. Jeanne’s daughter Allison Smeltzer unknowingly inspired the ministry after giving Lisa a basket following the death of her first baby.

Battered by Loss

“I wasn't new to grief when Sophie died,” Jeanne reflected. “I'd had a lot of sadness in my life. I had been married to an alcoholic for 27 years. I lived in depression and self-pity, getting a little bit of energy from people loving on me.” Shortly before Sophie's birth, Jeanne's ex-husband had died, then each of his parents, whom she had cared for. Yet nothing could have prepared her for losing Sophie.

The sorrows of [the grave] surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 18:5

Sophie was born in Natchitoches, LA, where Jeanne lived, while Allison was visiting for her grandfather's funeral. Three weeks later, Allison and her sister Nicole returned to help Jeanne clear out their grandparents’ home. The morning after they arrived, Jeanne woke to Allison's screams. “She came running into my bedroom white as a sheet, crying, 'There's something wrong with Sophie!'” Jeanne remembered. They all ran to Allison's room, where they discovered that Sophie had died during the night. “She was already blue,” Jeanne continued. “Nicole, who is a nurse, immediately started CPR, even though she knew nothing could be done.” After calling 9-1-1, Jeanne called her best friend Brian who came and prayed with her for a miracle, that God would bring Sophie back. But she was gone.

Lady with sunglasses holding baby on couch

Allison Smeltzer, a photographer, holds her baby, Sophie Grace, who later died as an infant. Allison reached out to comfort and help Lisa Rowell as she grieved the death of Julianna Grace.

Challenged by Courage

“I lived most of my life in Habakkuk 3:17,” Jeanne confessed: Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines ... and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls ...

“But finally, God had brought me into the next verse: ... Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:18). He took a whiner and a complainer and turned me into a worshiper, serving in praise and worship ministry for 15 years. When Sophie died, I prayed, 'Lord, now I need You to move me to the next verse!'” Jeanne continued.

The Lord GOD is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! Habakkuk 3:19 (AMP Classic).

Making spiritual progress in her times of trouble was exactly what Jeanne knew she needed. Her grief was trying to drag her back down into the dark pit she had lived in for so many years before; but God was big enough to lead her higher despite her pain.

The first way that God answered Jeanne's prayer was through Allison. “My grief was a double grief,” Jeanne stated. “My own grief over losing my grandbaby, and my grief for my daughter.” Yet Allison's courage amidst heartbreak repeatedly challenged Jeanne. Sophie was buried on a Friday; the following day, all of them had been scheduled to attend the first birthday party of Jeanne's grandnephew. Jeanne called her sister to say they would not be coming. Allison told her firmly, “Mom, we're all going to Tripp's birthday party tomorrow. It's about Tripp, not about us. We're going to handle this differently than you've handled some things in the past.”

Jeanne reported, “I went; I cried the whole time. I was a mess, but I needed that. My daughter ministered to me; it was the beginning of me moving forward instead of shrinking back.” Months passed. Jeanne still burst into tears when passing the baby section in stores. She began purposefully avoiding them. “At some point, I shared that with Allison,” Jeanne recalled. “She said, 'Mom, you need a perspective change. You need to purposefully go through those sections and thank God that you will have another grandchild someday.'”

Jeanne reflected, “When she died, I had all this love saved up to give, but my arms were empty.” She dreaded going to church, where she would have to see Anna-Sophia, a baby who was one month old when Sophie died. She testified, “I felt God say to me, When you go to church each Sunday, hold Anna-Sophia and give her some of the love you had for Sophie. That was part of my healing process: choosing not to be bitter, which had been my default, but instead to love on and pray over Anna-Sophia. She and I are still in touch.”

The most far-reaching of God's answers, however, would come through her own prayers for Lisa Rowell.

Jeanne holding baby

Jeanne, who helped mentor Lisa and works in the Julianna Grace ministry, cuddles her granddaughter Sophie.

Knit Together by Prayer

In 2014, Jeanne, Cliff, and Allison bought a home in Shreveport; Jeanne helped to care for Isaac, now 1½ years old. Then one day, a woman barged into their home, mistaking it for the estate sale next door. Allison was even more surprised to realize she knew the woman, who attended Calvary Chapel Shreveport, which Allison and Cliff had briefly attended years before. During the impromptu chat that followed, she convinced the household to visit that Sunday.

Jeanne knew that Calvary Chapel Shreveport was Lisa Rowell's home church. “As soon as we got to church, I asked, '[Which person] is Lisa Rowell?'” she remembered. “When we met, I cried buckets. I said, 'You don't know me, but I have prayed for you since you lost Julianna.' We connected that Sunday, and as God would have it, we became close friends.

“When I first met her, I would never have dreamed she would [eventually] speak to women's groups, heads of hospitals, or at the March for Life. She was unsure of herself; she certainly didn't see herself as a leader. At first, she was afraid to even pray out loud.” Jeanne continued attending Calvary Chapel Shreveport even after Allison and Cliff moved away. She joined a mid-week prayer meeting, which Lisa also began attending. Before long, Lisa was visiting Jeanne each Friday morning to learn more about God.

“She came to group and to my house like a baby bird with her mouth open,” Jeanne elaborated. “She was so hungry for more of God: 'How do I pray? How do I read my Bible?' She was spiritually hungry; I had a testimony to share. God just kind of knit our hearts together.” Over the years, Lisa shared her growing conviction that she was meant to pass on to others the gift Allison had given her. “But Lisa was so afraid,” Jeanne continued. “I told her, 'Then just do it afraid. God will be right there.' When she finally said Yes to God, that's when I saw the changes start to happen in her. Lisa has gone from being this shy, timid, baby Christian to this bold woman of God speaking to legislators and hospital boards.” Jeanne knows that while God used her to help Lisa start the ministry, He used the ministry to fulfill Habakkuk 3:19 in Jeanne's own life.

I miss you notebook writing

Allison writes a note in memory of her daughter Sophie. She later gave birth to a son, Isaac.

Heavenly Hope

“When Sophie died, I tried to learn everything I could about heaven,” Jeanne recounted. “I'd had loss after loss, but the others were part of a natural progression: my ex-husband died from his addiction, my in-laws from old age. But not when Sophie died. I needed to know what heaven was like. I read Scriptures and books; I listened to songs.”

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

Jeanne's boss at her new job, Donesa, understood her interest in heaven. Years ago, Donesa had suffered her own miscarriage. Though she barely knew Jeanne at the time, she surprised her with the gift of a “Heaven” necklace from Premier Designs. The accompanying booklet offered Scriptures and explanations for each of its charms: a cross representing Jesus' sacrifice as the only way to heaven, a gate representing its 12 gates, a representation of the streets of gold, and so forth. “It was so comforting to me to wear that necklace,” Jeanne asserted. “As I worked, my hands would go to it; I would clasp it and think of Sophie. As soon as my boss gave it to me, I knew it was what I wanted to contribute to the Julianna Grace baskets.”

Now, Jeanne buys the necklaces in large quantities from a distributor who, as her own contribution, sells them to her at cost. She uses them to bless not only basket recipients, but also any hurting person she may meet in airports or other 'chance' encounters. “I'll be somewhere, and I'll feel like I'm supposed to give a necklace to some person. I often don't have one of my own because I keep giving them away,” she testified. “That's the kind of impact Lisa's ministry has: it not only touches lives, but causes those lives to touch others. That's how God does things,” Jeanne proclaimed.

“When I see the fruit of Julianna Grace Ministry and how many people have been touched by receiving a basket, I realize that out of our family's loss, and Allison reaching out to someone she didn't know, God has taken our sorrow and turned it into a joy. A friend gives someone's name to Lisa, and suddenly, there's a basket of blessings to help them through the hardest times in their lives. Of course, it can't replace Sophie. I wish she was still in my life. But out of this devastating, terrible loss, God brought something beautiful.”

He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces. Isaiah 25:8a

This is the third 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 4 of this series, click here.

 

© 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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