A decade ago, Debbie Jenkins of Strongville, Ohio, was hanging by a hair and entering the most challenging season of her life.
The years to following brought the flavor of heartache that can be impossible to overcome. The elementary school teacher had suffered through a painful divorce. She’d been crushed by the death of a sweet young student in her classroom and survived a fire that gutted her apartment.
Emotionally bent but not broken, Jenkins turned to inspirational and self-help books to find peace. Her reading spurred something she called her “happiness project.” Every day, no matter what stones life hurled at her, she wrote in a journal at least three beautiful bits of good that made her happy.
A cute cat. A delicious piece of chocolate cake. A spectacular sunset.
She discovered that even on the toughest days, there were things happening all around her that brought joy. The project was an anchor to peace during other trials to come and Jenkins was happier and more hopeful than she’d been in years.
Before long, she met Jeremy, a new friend who soon became her new husband. The marriage began with the shared visualization of two future children and even more happiness than either had ever known.
Conceiving proved challenging but two years later and just days before they were scheduled to finally seeing a fertility specialist, Jenkins was pregnant.
A few appointments later and their dream of two children became reality with the distinct sound of two heartbeats — identical twins.
During a recent interview from her home just outside Cleveland, Debbie described the emotions of the day. “Because it took so long to get pregnant, when we found out there were two we felt like we were being blessed for our patience.”
Her pregnancy progressed so well that her doctors accused her of being a boring patient. One of them goodnaturedly joked, “I’m not making any money off you!”
The pages of her happiness journal practically danced with joy.
Baby A and Baby B, already named Dylan and Nash, were healthy and strong and prepping for their big debut. But on Jan. 31, a routine checkup at exactly 35 weeks raised warning flags. Within an hour of walking in expecting another dose of happy news, the doctor’s expression during the ultrasound told a different story.
Just one heartbeat.
Dylan had died, probably two days earlier, and an immediate C-section was ordered to save Nash. Surgery went well, although Nash’s introduction to his mother was brief as nurses needed to swiftly whisk him off to NICU.
“I had time to kiss his forehead,” Jenkins said. “And tell him he was beautiful. That was it.”
News trickled in slowly over the next 24 hours. Nash had lost both oxygen and blood when his brother passed away. His fragile digestive system wasn’t working, and doctors began scanning and tracking seizures.
Hope faded fast and just four days after his arrival, Nash was gone.
“As hard as it was to say goodbye to not just one, but both of them,” Jenkins said, “the final moments were peaceful and strangely comforting.”
Jenkins, a Lutheran, credits prayers and her happiness project for their emotional and spiritual progress since losing their babies. “Without prayer, it’s hard to trust in tomorrow. You can’t see it, but you know it’s working.”
Despite her grief, Jenkins finds plenty of entries for her journal. They’ve been overwhelmed by the love, support, food, cards and prayers of their friends and family. “And yes, there are angels on earth. They work in hospital NICUs.”
When pondering the greatest lessons of the last month, Jenkins says she believes more than ever that life isn’t about the inevitable trials — it’s how you deal with them.
“Hard things happen, accidents happen, but it doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It’s not a punishment, and it doesn’t mean God doesn’t still love you and want you to be happy.”
Debbie and Jeremy are anxious to try again for the children they believe they’re meant to raise. But no matter what may come, the traditions of prayer and the happiness journal will live on.
Such inspiring ideas. And, just maybe, great ideas for the rest of us, too.
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