Birthday boost

Happy Birthday, Belle!

Belle would have been 11 today so if you are part of Team Belle, or would like to be, the goal for today is to find 11 ways to make others smile … it might merely be smiling at them first. Belle always brought joy with her and never failed to leave enough behind to carry the rest of us for a while.

Let’s celebrate Belle with an extra outpouring of joy. The world could sure use a Belley boost — and we were trained by the best. #foreverauntjenjen #goteambelle

 

The difference a toy can make

I know you will want one as soon as you hear about it, but there is onlyIMG_20150228_093800 one that exists and it was sweet Belle’s doll. We aren’t sure where she got it but one day as she played with her Auburn-haired cuddly doll, she said, “Hey, she looks like Aunt Jen Jen.” And from there the doll’s name became “the Aunt Jen Jen doll” — not because of how cuddly she is but because of her wild Auburn hair.

Belle liked to help me attempt to tame my sometimes uncontrollable locks or “crazy hair,” as Belle described it.

The Aunt Jen Jen doll now resides among the treasured possessions in my collection of Belle memorabilia and reminds me of how much Belle, like all children, had favorite items such as blankets, dolls and other toys.

Receiving a new toy at the hospital while receiving chemo or radiation also became a consistent part of Belle’s life. Those toys provided a moment of excitement and served as a positive distraction while the not-so-fun other activities were taking place.

Belle’s mommy, Kelley, is collecting toys this month to give to the children at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., where Belle had many of her treatments. Please consider donating a toy (must be new because of the variety of health issues) for Levine or your area children’s hospital.

Email me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org or message me on Facebook or Twitter (@RashionalThts) to find out the details.

—Jennifer Davis Rash (aka Aunt Jen Jen)

Happy Belley Birthday

Happy Birthday, sweet Belle. You would have been 9 today. We love you and miss you so much. We loved being part of the big celebration in your honor this morning with several hundred of your closest friends! And what a fun way to honor you with your very own garden at India Hook Elementary School. You are still touching lives!

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Shockingly speechless

Yes, the rumors are true. I can confirm I was indeed left speechless earlier this month — not only once but twice. Many were shocked to witness the historic events.

Editor Bob Terry and The Alabama Baptist staff get all the credit as they found a way to surprise me with a feature article and a party celebrating my 20th anniversary with Alabama’s state Baptist newspaper. And if that weren’t special enough, I also received calls, emails, letters, texts, Facebook posts, tweets, video messages, gifts and personal appearances by friends and family from various parts of the state, across the nation and around the world.

It is still hard for me to believe all of that was done for me. I remain speechless and thank all of you for honoring me the way you did.

I know that finding me speechless once, much less several times, is hard to believe, especially for the number of you who referred to my “gift of gab” in the notes you wrote. And you know me well, I do like to talk — a lot.

But 2016 has discovered a more contemplative version of me so far. Along with the celebratory moments, another anniversary struck other emotions.

Marking the date

January 17 marked one year since my young niece and goddaughter Belle Mitchell left us for heaven (to read more about her cancer journey, visit the “Snapshots of Belle” category here on rashionalthoughts.com).Belle with Aunt Jen

It is true what the grief experts say — you do adapt and learn to live without the person you are missing — but the ache of missing him or her lives on. I’m not sure I realized the degree of how much I missed Belle would actually increase with time but it is happening. I find myself continually needing a hug from her, wanting desperately to hear her laugh and/or wishing for one more silly moment with her.

Still I hold on to what others have shared with me — each day we live is one day closer to being with her again. And each day we have an opportunity to do great things for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can choose to tackle each day and make a difference for the Kingdom or we can fall into a pit and let the enemy convince us we are not able to keep moving.

Believe me, I’ve fallen into the pit a few times and some days I might have been easily convinced to stay there, but every time a friend or family member came along and pulled me out, reminding me to keep my eyes on Jesus.

Again, I am overwhelmed with the love surrounding me, and I am convicted to not take it for granted nor overlook others who might slip past our gaze and be falling further and further into their own pit.

The lyrics in Sidewalk Prophets’ “Save My Life” touch on this point:

“… You come here every Friday night; I take your order and try to be polite; And hide what I’ve been going through;

“If you looked me right in the eye; Would you see the pain deep inside; Would you take the time to;

“Tell me what I need to hear; Tell me that I’m not forgotten; Show me there’s a God. …

Belle taught me how to love unconditionally (consistently showing grace, mercy and forgiveness while also showing others there is a God), live life to its fullest (despite the obstacles that undoubtedly will appear in your path) and laugh as much as possible (even amid the pain and fear). She knew how to celebrate life — and I want to be like Belle when I grow up.

—Jennifer Davis Rash (aka Aunt Jen Jen)

No amount is too small

This same Saturday a year ago today, I drove Kelley and Belle home after spending the summer at St. Jude for what would be her last radiation treatment. The photo shows what I could see in my rear view mirror as I drove them home. She was a great traveler and had fun with Knuffle Bunny and her iPad during the trip.Belle and Knuffle Bunny August 2014

It would be the last time she was in my car, at my house and walking on her own when out in public for long periods of time. She would need a pediatric wheelchair for those moments.

A pediatric wheelchair costs $650, so I would like to raise that amount between now and the end of August as I continue chipping away at my overall goal of $2,500.

Please consider helping me raise funds for another child to have access to needed resources like a pediatric wheelchair as well as the amazing research being done at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — research that benefits all children’s hospitals because they share their discoveries.

Donate now by clicking hereNo amount is too small. Thanks so much!

—Forever Aunt Jen Jen

Definitely the right decision

What do you see when you look back? What do the anniversary milestones indicate?

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Do you ever look back at past decisions and shiver when you realize what you would have missed out on if you had not made the choice you did?

Many times we think about our regrets and missteps, but what about the countless decisions we made each day that brought us to this very moment, decisions that were exactly right?

Jason and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this past Sunday (July 12), and while I could easily focus on him as why that was a right decision, there is another anniversary this week that makes me know without question I was supposed to be part of the Rash family.

Six months ago today Jason’s twin sister, Kelley, and her husband, David, released their bDSC_0391aaby girl into the arms of Jesus. Saturday, Jan. 17, was barely a reality when she left us. We had all said our goodbyes in the last hours of Friday, Jan. 16, as the minutes ticked toward the inevitable.

Belle left this life like she lived it — fearless, peaceful and full of joy. Even though physical limitations gradually overtook her ability to show her fun-loving side to its fullest, we knew she was still as sassy as ever when, despite no longer being able to walk, she demanded to go swimming that week.

She also continued her sweet attention to others by zeroing in on specific past moments with each person who dropped by to say their goodbyes. So many stood in amazement holding back the flood of tears that fought to be released as she left them with the kind of memory only Belle could give.

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As we watched her slip away over the course of that last week, we took turns sitting with her around the clock. She and I did makeup that Wednesday and talked about my doggie Rudy several times throughout the week. She and Uncle Jay played thumb wars and picked on each other like they always did. Her siblings held her iPad so she could watch her favorite shows on Netflix. She even pushed them away and scolded them when they started aggravating her — just like normal. She held on tight to her daddy as he moved her from bed to sofa and back to bed, and among her final spoken words were, “I love you, Mommy.”

Those final moments are still so real, so raw. Six months seems like an eternity some days and six seconds on other days, but most often I simply want to believe it really didn’t happen.

And while the intensity of the ache of missing Belle will permanently be etched in our beings, I remain forever thankful and blessed that God saw fit to allow me to be part of the Belle experience — and that because of His saving grace I will be with her again. She is merely a little ahead of us on the journey Home.

Born May 24, 2007, Belle’s cancer battle began in September 2009. She fought haIMG_0338ard and beat all the odds for five and a half years. What a privilege for me to serve among the ranks of Team Belle, to be Belle’s Aunt Jen Jen and god mother, to give her all of my heart and watch her transform it beyond what I could ever imagine.

If Jason had not picked me, if I had not married him and if Kelley and David had not trusted and loved me so much, I would have missed out on the very reason I was created. God used Belle to touch so many lives, chief among them mine.

What happens next? How do we push through the grief? Who are we now?

Today, at the six-month mark, I can’t yet answer those questions. But I do know the future — a future anointed by God and enhanced by Belle — is bright, bold, joyous, compassionate, full of surprises, wrapped in excitement and, of course, streaked in hot pink.

—Forever Aunt Jen Jen

January 17, 2015

Streaks of hot pink (Belle’s favorite color) engulfed the sky around Rock Hill, S.C., on Jan. 17, 2015 — the day Belle left this earth.