A Book Review: In His Hands: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief and Loss

In 2008, Jenny Hess lost her four year old son, Russell, in a sledding accident. In this profound and insightful book, she writes about her journey through the grief that she experienced after her son died. And it is a journey.

But you know? As I sit here and try and figure out what to tell you about the book, it’s hard to come up with the right words. Was it harrowing? Emotionally gripping? Uniquely compelling? It was all those things, and yet those words don’t seem to do it justice. It seems better to simply call it beautiful, and real and pure.

Jenny doesn’t hold anything back in this book. She walks you through every emotion that she felt as she struggled to come to terms with Russell’s death. She shares the darkness and the desperation, which at times was heart wrenching to read, but she also shares her enduring love for Jesus Christ, and bears a near constant witness of His awareness of her.

For someone that has experienced the loss of a child, this is a book that will say, “I understand. I’ve been there. It’s okay. You’re not alone.” It is not a book that preaches or pontificates on “how” to heal; on what is or isn’t normal. It’s simply a mother sharing her heart, bearing her testimony, reaching out to lift others up and say, “this is my journey.” And by doing so, I think it might be one of the most healing books of all.

I have not experienced such loss in my life. I cannot even begin to pretend to understand what it would feel like to lose one of my children. But I know that after reading Jenny’s book I feel like I have a greater sense of awareness, and feel a stronger desire to say and do more when others in my life experience grief. I also found myself asking the question, Would my faith be enough? Would I be okay if this happened to me? This book was a reminder for me how important it is to remain close to my Heavenly Father, to trust in his plan for me, to anchor my faith around Jesus Christ and know that whatever life brings, He is there. He understands. He will help me through.

There were so many passages in this book that I loved, but this one might be my favorite:

Our family now has a new reason to choose the right and follow Jesus. We have a new reason to look to the heavens. Now we belong to heaven. We know someone there, someone who is preparing our home and awaiting our arrival, someone who showed us that the death of a righteous person is not sad for that person even though it is excruciating for those left behind. That was Russell’s gift to us. By going there first, he made heaven a real place, a place where we will be able to live together. In his own special way, Russell connected us to heaven with a bond that can never be broken.

I’m so glad I read, and I’m so glad Jenny had the courage to share her journey.

You can find Jenny’s book On Goodreads, Amazon, and Deseret Book.

To be Forgiven and to Forgive Ourselves

ImageMy family watched General Conference today. The big kids sprawled across my bed drawing pictures and coloring geometric designs; Henry and Ivy played on the floor, while Jack escaped out of the room multiple times, only to be found five minutes later in the laundry room, helping himself to fistfuls of cat litter, or dog food.

Mostly, (minus the cat litter) it was a good day. We felt spiritually uplifted and encouraged. We all got along. Except for the one moment when we didn’t. I’m not sure what it was. A lethal combination of too much noise at once combined with too many children calling my name and asking for help or whining about having to help pick up the shoes that were all over the floor. None of those were particularly good reasons for me to do so, but I snapped anyway. For about 5 minutes, I unloaded my dishwasher with such force, I’m sure my children were expecting forks and knives to go careening across the counter. I slammed doors and tossed plates and shoved drawers into place. And then I turned around and I yelled at my family, told them I was tired of the whining and the yelling (ironic as I stood there… yelling.) and the ignoring and the refusing to do what I’ve asked them to do. I was tired of cooking meals that no one liked and washing clothes that I didn’t wear and picking up messes that I didn’t’ make. When I was finished, they all looked at me like lost (and contrite) little sheep and skulked off to some corner of the house to lick their wounds.

And me? I retreated outside where I could stew in my own awareness of how ridiculously stupid my little outburst had been. Slowly, the big kids came to find me.

Sam was first. “You okay, Mom?” he asked. Lucy quickly followed.

She gave me a hug and said, “Mom, I think your meals are awesome.”

It was an amazing thing, really, to sit there and feel the love radiating from these wonderful, incredible, spectacular children. They wanted so desperately to make me happy… to give me the gift of their forgiveness.

And that is what this post is really about.

I am not, by any stretch, a perfect mother. Today I behaved like a selfish ninny. But the wonderful, glorious truth is that I’m not expected to be perfect. Clearly, my children didn’t expect it today. They were more than willing, when I took them into my arms and asked them to forgive me for yelling (and acting like a selfish ninny), to forgive me in an instant.

Another lesson was driven home even further when I tucked Ivy into bed later that night. I lay my head on her pillow, our cheeks side by side, and said, “Ivy doll, I love you.” The remainder of our conversation went something like this.

Ivy: “Mom, I don’t love you.”

Me: You don’t? Well why not?

Ivy: Well, everyone was just so loud.

Of course. She heard me yell today too.

Me: Ivy, I yelled today, didn’t I? I’m sorry if my yelling made you sad.

She reached over and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Oh mom,” she said. “I do love you.”

As I reflect on that experience I am struck first with how much of an impact our words, as parents, have on our children. They hear us. They internalize our words, our tone. They watch our actions and even when we don’t know it, when we might not realize they are watching, they are. And they are learning from us, from how we choose to be.

At the same time, when we are wiling to say those simple words–I’m sorry–they are so willing to forgive, to open their tiny hearts and make everything right with the world once more.

I don’t know why we hesitate so much to say it. Because we’re the parents and parents are never wrong. Because we can’t show weakness to our children and they have to know who’s in charge. Because so many times, pride wins.

But I believe I’m sorry is a gift. If we allow ourselves to say it, then we’re allowing ourselves to believe it too, aren’t we? We are freeing ourselves from the burden of having to be perfect. We are admitting that we can make mistakes and still be okay. God loves us that way, you know.

I think when the scriptures tell us to become like little children it is because God knows that our kids love us that way too.

Dear Young Women of the World: Your modesty isn’t about THEM

IMG_2056I have a daughter who is 9 years old. She’s a beautiful girl–happy, vibrant, full of love. She loves to play outside and pick on her brothers and walk around the house in my high heels and fancy scarves. She is all girl, and I love her for it. Occasionally, I see glimpses of her womanhood, growing closer as she grows older, and I’ll be honest. It scares the hell out of me. It scares me because there is a battle raging in our world–a fiercely brutal, demeaning war that has the potential to rip the value and sanctity of womanhood to shreds. It exists in the magazine covers that objectify a woman’s body. It exists in the filthy, shadowy corners of pornography. It exists in court rooms where defense attorneys suggest that a woman who has been raped was “asking for it” because of how she chose to dress, or what she chose to drink. 

I have a message for my daughter, and for all young women, everywhere. How you treat your body–how you dress, how you behave yourself–it isn’t about men. Your body is not to be owned, or used. You are MORE than something to look at, something to lust after. You, all alone, are important enough, valuable enough, powerful enough that you don’t have to think about what a man might think when you look at yourself in the mirror. Your value is not connected to the opinions of any boy.

I’ve heard it said before that a young woman should consider what her clothing choices mean to the young men around her. Is it fair to wear something revealing if it will tempt and torment? Do you want the young men around you to have impure thoughts? Worse yet, do you want a young man to get you drunk and in the hazy and forgetful shadows of alcohol, violate you, both body and soul?

Let me bold. You are not responsible for the thoughts and actions of boys or men. If they misbehave, it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

Don’t misinterpret my meaning. Every woman has a responsibility to protect herself. The sad truth is that we live in a world where people will take advantage. If you dress or behave like you do not value your body, or recognize your worth, you will tell others, by your clothing, that you are looking for a certain kind of attention, the kind of attention that doesn’t value your body, or your worth. By doing so, you cheapen yourself, and disrespect those men around you that are trying to do the right thing, that are trying to respect you. But that still doesn’t justify the poor behavior of others. Not one single bit.

Just like you, men both young and old, have a brain. They have a choice every morning when they wake up and look in the mirror. They can decide just like you, how they are going to behave. They can choose how they are going to treat women. And good  men–Godly men–they choose to respect and reverence the women in their lives. They choose to rise above the pervasive ideas that society sells, the idea that a woman’s body is simply an object, something to own, or conquer.

Sex is a funny thing. At the right time, in the right place, with the right person, it is powerful beyond words. It unites a man and woman together in one of life’s eternal rhythms–a blending of heart and body that elevates and lifts and strengthens. On the flip side, it can be turned into something cheap, something tawdry and worthless, a carnal act meant only to satisfy in the moment, then be forgotten.

My dear daughter, (and all daughters) don’t ever forget that you are MORE than a worthless moment. You are a powerful creature, not because of how your clothes fit, or how much skin you choose to reveal. You are powerful because you are a woman–because you have so much to offer this world. You are strong–a vessel of life and love that can and will do amazing things.

When you get dressed in the morning, I hope that you will choose to be modest because you know what you are worth. Because you don’t feel the need to buy into a society that sells sexuality–that tells you the size of your jeans or the size of your breasts are what define YOU.

You define You.

GOD defines YOU.