Friday, June 12, 2015

Long overdue

I will never be able to forget the night we first heard what is still too hard to believe is actually true. The way Lucy burst into my room just as I was drifting into sleep--screaming, pacing, gripping her head and unable to form the words that I was anxiously begging her to release. She finally spit them into the air and I immediately wished to return them to her mouth.

Our sweet Njeri was dead.

The first stage of grief immediately busied my mind. Surely this was a mistake. There's no way. Calm down. Let me talk to them. Did they check for a pulse? Is she at the hospital? No. Just no. Sorry, but no. This can't be true and I will not accept this. Are you sure we are taking about the right person? Not this Njeri, or that Njeri, or her mom or her neighbor or her cousin, but OUR Njeri??? The six year old with the raspy voice and constantly runny nose and the millions of questions and the best laugh ever. It couldn't be real. There was just no way.

The anger came as soon as enough people had confirmed that the horrible news echoing through the phone was real. It was not a mistake and it had already happened. It was done. There was no breath left in her lungs and the helplessness of that fact and the distance I felt from her in that moment brought on an anger I have never felt and honestly hope to never feel again. I was three hours away from the man who did this and it was past midnight, but all I wanted was to get to him and to pay him back just an ounce of what he deserved. At that point, I decided I would gladly give up my freedom and/or my life to punish him-- to stand up for Njeri in the way I wasn't able to when it mattered.

I was so angry in the beginning. I was angry with him mostly, a man I knew and actually had once had compassion for, and also angry with God for seemingly not looking out for this precious girl who loved Him. Lucy and I laid on her twin mattress on the floor (it was our first night in a new house) and tried to get a grip on this whole thing that was now a reality. Those long hours until the sun finally rose housed the most honest utterances and grumblings and grievances and pleas and confessions and frustrations that I have ever had with God. He loved me by listening to every ache expressed in every way they spilled out.

He was so sweetly close in the days and weeks that followed. I had prayed for that thick presence over many people walking difficult paths, but I don't think I myself had ever experienced the deep NEED of His nearness in such a way. Eventually the anger faded and our focus became honoring the precious girl who was no longer with us, but thankfully knew and loved God and now had no memory of the pain she endured as she left this world.

Sitting down with the kids who considered Njeri a big sister and explaining how she would no longer be a friend/sister that we could see and touch and play with and race and tattle on was one of the most strangely and unexpectedly peace-filled conversations of my life. I remember just a couple of months before when our beloved puppy died, I had to tell the children that Happy would no longer be with us and I couldn't even get through the first sentence without crying. About a DOG. A dog they had only known for two months. I didn't want their hearts to feel pain over that loss, but how could this even compare?

Telling the kids about Njeri initially and all of the little conversations that followed, even to this day, have brought me so much closer to the God that I so desperately want to trust is always good. We talked about how she had gone to live with Jesus and that is the best place to be. We talked with joy about how it is such an incredible place because the very best company, Jesus, is there. We talked about how we love Jesus like Njeri did, so we will get to go there someday too. We talked about how we won't get to play with her anymore, but we are so happy for every day we did get to play with her and we won't ever forget her or stop thanking God that we got to be part of her family. We talked about how we will miss her so much and even though we are happy for her, we are sad for ourselves because we won't get to be with her anymore.

This family we have here -- this unconventional, nobody's first choice, response to tragedy, lots of pain and lots of redemption family -- are all so very excited about eternity with Jesus. I love that about us and I never want it to change. I don't think it can ever change, considering how much pain this little family has already endured and how much pain is all around us on a daily basis and how much pain is still yet to come.

The kids don't know any of the details of her death and I know someday we will be ready to talk about it and I fear the junk out of them questioning what we always talk about -- that God is always always with us -- when they hear how she died. But that is exactly why I need to be reminded on a daily basis that He was with her up to her very last breath. That she does not even remember a bit of the pain she endured and that God is good and He is and was FOR Njeri and is and will be FOR us, too. I need to believe it because I cannot share it with my sweet little ones if I do not even believe it myself. I want to throw out all of the cliche and simply untrue junk that we like to believe about death and heaven and eternity because the truth is hard, but it is the truth. I want the three year old hearts under my care to know that only people who know and love Jesus get to spend forever with Him. It is an incredible gift that we get to thank Him for every day.

Elly and I were asked to speak at her burial and we both felt so strongly that this was to be a celebration of a sweet and precious life simply because God is who He says He is. It turned out to be a much more political, women/children's rights type of day and we actually didn't even get to share our tribute to Njeri and testimony of God's goodness, even still. I think missing that opportunity actually encouraged me even more to live in a way that daily declares His glory through pain. A six year old who hasn't even lost her first tooth yet dying in a brutal murder committed by someone she loved is one of the shittiest things imaginable ……. Yes. No one disagrees with that. But God is still good. So good. And I feel so confident that Njeri agrees. That is worth declaring daily -- more than just once at a funeral.

It was six months ago that she died and I had never been able to write anything about it publicly, but God's goodness needs declaring - even and maybe especially six months down the road. I cannot possibly end having only talked about my personal experience and really want to tell you more about Njeri's life and how thankful we are for the time we got to know her, so that post will be on it's way shortly. I worry about a day going by when I don't remember her and consciously miss her and so I keep pictures of her all over. But I'd still love an opportunity to share a bit more of her life (the small part of it that we got to share with her) with y'all so she can be honored and celebrated and God can be praised for still knitting her into her sweet mom's womb, even knowing that she would leave us way before any of us wanted. That post will be next. :)


  1. This is heartbreaking. I'm so sorry for your loss but grateful for the way you still point to God's goodness. Praying you still feel Him near.

  2. Annie,
    A powerful tribute. Please write about her. Tell a story that others will tell to others. I want to read it.