For me, I have found that life can be broken up into a few different "stages".
Life before Marriage:
My parents were consistent models of the love of Jesus Christ so becoming His follower was natural. My brothers and I not only heard about Jesus three times a week at church,...we saw it lived out every day at home.
I always knew I would be a nurse. I know this sounds hokey, but as a young girl, I really just wanted to "help people".
Enter Ralph Russell:
I met this loud dynamic Mississippi boy in the Spring of 1980 and married him a fast 6 months later. (I will have a fit if my daughters do that!) Ralph is a high school teacher which fit in well with my natural love of teenagers. He's a strong man and reminds me much of my daddy.
I have observed Ralph carve out a quiet time with God almost every morning and can say with assurance that he loves Jesus Christ more than he loves me.
And boy does he love me! In fact, I've instructed our daughters to only settle for a partner who will love them as their daddy loves me.
As of this writing, Ralph and I will have been married for 28 years. The struggles of our marriage have been pretty typical for our culture,...but through God's guidance and grace, we were able to stick it out.
It is the best decision either of us has ever made.
That is an understatement.
Being a Mother:
7 years of childlessness.
Infertility created a tremendous period of seeking God's direction for our lives. We felt overwhelmed with the choices and the consequences of each.
Was it "God's will" that we remain Childless?
Were we to adopt?
A special needs child?
Adopt sibling groups?
Was it selfish to desire a healthy infant?
On October 3rd, 1987, a healthy 7 lb little girl was born at the very hospital where I was employed. The birth mother allowed Ralph and I to adopt her child into our family and we brought Jae Lynn home on October 6th.
For fear the adoption plan would fail, we had not informed any member of our family about Jae's birth. When we called them to "come and see" her, the news spread like wildfire through our family and friends.
It was the most exciting night of my entire life.
A little more than 9 months later, Jae became a big sister to our second adopted daughter. Casey Leigh was born in Delaware on August 9th, 1988.
7 years of dreaming of a child,...and now we had two within 10 months!
Ralph and I felt loved by God and blessed beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
We marveled at God's blessing on us.
In 1994, we began to consider adding a third child to our family.
Through Bethany Christian Services, we became parents to our third daughter, Abby Rae.
Ralph and I would put the girls to bed at night with various bedtime stories. One of their favorites was "their" story of adoption.
The girls would say "Tell me the story of when you got me!"
and we would respond
"Once upon a time, there was a mama and a daddy who wanted a baby very much, but couldn't have one the way all the other mama's an daddy's did."
Then the girls would say "That was you!"
"So they prayed and prayed and prayed for a baby and one day the phone rang! It was the hospital saying that they had a little girl who needed a mama and a daddy!"
Then the girls would squeal and say "That was ME!"
We always ended their story with reminding them that they had a destiny designed by God and it began with their birth and adoption into our family.
March 18, 2004.
It was Spring break and our three girls were enjoying their time off from their school.
Jae Lynn had recently made some new friends and two of them joined her in planning an afternoon of sunbathing and fishing.
At 3:40 pm, Jae Lynn (16), Alicia Rix (16) and Taylore' Hall (15) were in our small car at a notoriously dangerous intersection.
As Jae attempted to drive across the busy highway, they was broadsided by an 18-wheeler.
Jae and Alicia were killed instantly.
Taylore' died while being airlifted to a local hospital.
After March 18, 2004
There are some things that happen in our lives which defy description.
Losing a child is one of those things.
I felt as if my body, heart, mind and soul had all been violated in an instant.
I had no idea that pain such as mine existed and the intensity of it overwhelmed each of us within the family.
Ralph made a vow as we left for the funeral home that with God's help, we would not only survive this, but would be stronger and would once again, someday, regain our joy.
I was too broken to believe him.
Now, 5 years later, I can say with a grateful heart, that Ralph was right.
God has lavished His peace and love upon us and He has proven Himself true.
I will never be "over it".
I will miss Jae with until I draw my last breath on this Earth. However, I am a walking talking testament to God's goodness, grace and the power of His healing.
So what do I do now?
Work in the largest Cardiac Rehab program in Arkansas.
Speak anywhere to anyone who would listen to my story.
Honored for three years with an invitation to speak at the National Gathering for The Bereaved Parents of the USA.
Fundraising with the Rix's (Alicia) and the Kyzer's (Taylore') to establish huge endowed scholarships in our daughter's names.
I've been a volunteer youth worker in our church since Ralph and I married. In fact, last summer I won the "You Ain't Dead Yet award"!
Continue to be the best wife I can be to the best husband I know.
Parent the two daughters who remain with me here on Earth. They are my biggest contribution to the future. Living God out daily in front of them is my biggest challenge.