Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Thursday 7th July 2011

A Letter to my Heart-sick Nephew

Dear Brennan,

You weren’t even three years old, but I was certain of it back then: You were extra-special, destined for greatness, designed with a unique God-given purpose. Maybe it was the way you were able to engage people at such a young age, the way you had genuine concern for others and a deep curiosity about the world around you.

I loved watching you watch the world.

You carried a stuffed bunny everywhere. He was your best friend. Bunny sat with you in grocery carts, long car rides and even in the front pew of the church on the day Scott and I were married. You served as ring-bearer, but slept through the whole service — cherub-boy and bunny both nestled on your Mema’s lap.

You lost that threadbare bunny a dozen times or more over the course of your childhood. Every time, you would double over with anguish. Your family would do anything to help you find that bunny. Anything. We scoured city parks and restaurants until Bunny was rescued from beneath a dirty merry-go-round or a vinyl-covered cafe booth.

We would have turned Earth inside-out to see that sweet smile stretch across your face.

You’re all grown up now — eighteen years old — but some things never change. I’d do anything to help you smile again. I wish it were as easy as looking for a lost stuffed bunny.

My heart feels heavy for you, my dear nephew. You’re a man now, but a man wrung dry. And maybe a part of you thinks you have to carry the whole weight on this tragedy on your shoulders. As I write, I think about our conversation the other day, and the questions you have.  Most of them begin with one word: Why?

Almost three weeks ago, so much of life was upended on an Iowa highway. You were driving the car, which makes it all so hard for you. Your cousin was in the front seat next to you. Three good friends were in the back seat.

These have been dark days.

I’ve slept at the side of your cousin, who heals in a hospital bed. He’s awake now, healing every day, and he asks about you. Yesterday, he said these words: It’s easy to see the physical recovery of a person, but you can’t see the emotional pain. I know that he was thinking about you when he said those words. Most of your cuts and scrapes have healed, but you wear wounds on the inside that none of us can see.

If I could love away the pain, I would.

When you and I talk, I just sit and listen. We are both long on questions, short on answers. I beg God for an answer — just some small word that might bring you a bit of peace. I always fall short.  

My meager efforts feel so very miniscule, but then again, maybe the best gift an aunt can give is her time and her prayers? And maybe it’s OK if we can’t find the right words to fill up the space between us? 

If I could, I’d search a park or a restaurant or under a vinyl  booth or even inside a whole ocean to find the thing that makes you smile again. But really, the answer lies within you. You carry very God in you, and I’m certain that’s why one of your first responses in that farmfield was this: prayer. The EMTs talk about how you were praying over every person when they arrived at the scene.

That is the first and best thing any one of us can ever do: pray. 

You’re a man now, standing on the doorstep to your future. My prayer is that you can move forward in faith, grow in His grace, and know that you are never, ever alone.

And I still feel what I felt back when you were little: God has a very special plan for you. He is the God who makes a habit of redeeming the most painful parts of our stories. And even if my love can’t take away the pain, I’m going to love you anyway. And you are going to make it. You are.


Aunt Jennifer

  • I hope this young man knows how much his aunt loves him, how much our Jesus loves him, and how deep and wide is the grace of God in the darkest moments of life like this. I cannot imagine this grief, and I cry with you.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      This has been my prayer, too … that he would continue to know the depth and breadth of love. He is a great young man of faith. You can’t help but love him. And God is just crazy about him.

  • Jennifer – So beautifully written! I’m so glad to hear that your nephews are healing physically and I pray that this young man will heal emotionally as the days pass by. What a wonderful, supportive family you are and what a testimony you are in spite of this dark experience.

    • Jo-Ann … Thank you for the prayer. Means so much to know that people are praying.

  • “If I could, I’d search a park or a restaurant or under a vinyl booth or even inside a whole ocean to find the thing that makes you smile again.” I think each of us reading this post would join you. I, too, believe this young man is destined for greatness. God has given him the most amazing aunt to walk with him and pray him along the way.

    • Thank you, Nancy. He really is an amazing young man — smart, fun, funny, witty, God-fearing, … and someone who puts up with his crazy Aunt Jennifer. 🙂

  • You know, when you see stories in the paper or on the news about a car accident, our minds immediately drawn to the people that were passengers– the ones that were the most injured. Many of us never stop to think about the driver that has to bear the brunt of accusations and blame. God Bless your nephew– what beautiful words you have written to him.

    • Good point, Jenni … I was a newspaper reporter in my former days, and now I teach journalism at a northwest Iowa college. I suspect that this incident will change how I teach. I want to help my future reporters handle these situations with sensitivity.

  • i’m quite new to your blog, but did read the post about your nephew in ICU. and i’ve thought about it often. and prayed over these young men. and their families. thank you for sharing your hearts today.

    • Kendal … You are a dear heart. Thank you for your prayers. Our whole family is immensely grateful for people like you. Thank ((YOU))

  • I know so much about wanting to love the pain away.

    This is so moving. And it really hit home b/c my nephew was our three-year-old ring- bearer.
    ~ Wendy

    • Being an aunt is a blessing, isn’t it? Thank you, Wendy for stopping by.

  • Wow. I wish you were my aunt! This is beautiful, especially the image of the bunny. I will carry that with me in prayer.

    • Thank you, Megan. Your prayers are the very fragrance of Christ. I, too, love strong images when I pray. Helps keep me focused.

  • cas

    Time and prayers are the best thing you can give, along with a lot of patience. There really are no words. Praying for you all.

    • Christine, Thank you for your prayers. Means so much.

  • I’ve been thinking about, praying for, this “other” nephew. What a tremendous burden on his heart. I’m so glad you’re there to love him through. And I’m with Nancy–I’d happily join the search.

    • Sheila (and Nancy) – Thanks for joining the “search party.” … I love my friends. You are all really quite amazing.

  • I have tears in my eyes. I pray for all of you. God stands with your family and weeps while your nephew does and God can carry this burden too. May you find peace in this search…

    • Thank you, Lindy, for the reminder that God is for us.

  • Kim Harbath

    Hello from Ogden, Utah-again.
    Just wanted to let you know there are prayers of healing and peace being sent to you and your nephew from our home in Ogden, Utah. Our connection would be through our wonderful, new Pastor-Gage Church. He and his partner, Tim, have graced our community here. I love your blog, it speaks to me. I know you are in hard times, please keep us informed.

    Love and lots of light sent to you and your extended famiy.
    Kim Harbath

    • Hi Kim! So glad you wrote today. It means more than you know.

      Tell Gage and Tim hello. Gage was one of my all-time favorite editors. What a great guy!

  • Tears for him…forever changed…and he prays fervent for each of the others…

    • Hi Connie … Thank you for stopping by, and for your prayers. You’ve been such a blessing.

  • P.S.

    Dear Brennan,

    Ever since I heard the news, you (and all the others) have been in my prayers. You’ve been heavy in my heart. I think of you throughout the day. I am so thankful that you know the Lord and your family does too. I know it’s hard because we want to know the WHY answers.

    Can we open our hearts and let the assurance of God’s grace & mercy & love flood out the WHYs? I think we can. I am proof that we can. And that’s what I am praying for you.

    Even though we are separated by corn fields, potato fields, countless cities, more than a thousand ribbons of asphalt, and two decades, you are my brother in Christ. Your burdens are mine. Know that you are not alone. Of course you have God and family and friends, but Brennan, you also have strangers, but family through Christ, holding your hands and heart.

    I stand in amazement and wonder and awe of how you prayed over your friends. Of how strangers and EMTs did the same. You have a lot of God on your side, young man. I will pray that He leads you along a path that shines that fact bright and clear, clear as the noonday sun.

    You have a lot of God on your side. And don’t you forget it.

    Love & Blessings,

    • Darlene … This is exquisite. Thank you for your God-given ability to encourage like that. Words can’t express how I feel about you…

  • Dear Brennan,

    God is FOR you, forever and always… FOR YOU.


    • Thank you, Jessica, for your love.

  • This is beautiful, Jennifer. Tender and real and beautiful. May the Lord give your dear nephew ears to hear and grace to receive.

    Dear Brennan,

    When my son was fifteen he nearly drowned, and now he’s a thirty-year-old man living with brain injury. I know the agony of WHY and IF ONLY. But we aren’t meant to remain in that place. The truth is, God was there with you, before, during, and after this tragedy. He could have stopped it and He didn’t — not because He is cruel, but because in His mysterious ways, this event is meant to be part of your story, part of your cousin’s story, and part of the stories of every life that has been and will be touched through it. We see so little of what God does as He redeems our brokenness, but the ripples spread far beyond us, and as they do, God creates beauty. May He grant you the grace to know that He is sovereign over all these things. Raise your eyes to His face and see that He loves you, knows your sorrow, and longs to heal your heart. You are not and never were in control. He is. Lean hard into Him.

    I agree with your Aunt Jennifer. God created you for divine purposes, and now He has set you apart to bless, to comfort others with the comfort God longs to give you now. It’s a process. Be patient with yourself. Receive His grace. And keep your eyes open. In time, you will see His goodness. Even in this.

    With love,

    • Jeanne,

      This is so very beautiful, and I am touched by your response here. I can’t wait to share this with Brennan and his family.

      Much love, dear sister …

  • Lynn S

    Beautiful, Jennifer. Tears in my eyes. Praying for your nephews and you as you care for them in the best way an aunt can – love and prayers!

    • Thank you, Lynn, for your continued prayers. You know the power of prayer! Much love to you …

  • Tay

    Jennifer, you are such an amazing and wonderful aunt! My heart aches for your family, but I am so happy that you all have God to cling onto during these dark days.

    Prayers are being sent your way as I type this.


    • Hi Tay! We really appreciate your prayers. Thank you for entering into our world to offer up prayers. You are a blessing.

  • Yes, the emotional injuries go beyond the physical. I am praying for both of your nephews…and especially for Brennan…that he would know and feel the love of Christ during this difficult time and through his whole life.

    Thank you for updating us…

    • Joan,

      Your prayers mean so much. I am in awe at the love from this body of Christ online — which has been so very, very real to us.

  • Your dear heart, your deep love, your sitting quietly and listening all speak to him of the depth of your feelings for him. I think sometimes our words aren’t really necessary. Perhaps the Spirit speaks to the heart only what He can rightly say – and we are His hands and arms and love reaching out to hold on tight.

    • Yes, Linda … You really are his hands and arms and love. I can feel it right here on a farm in Iowa. Bless you, sister.

  • I read this letter early this morning but I’ve been away all day, doing that thing that is my odd, awkward part on the fringes of this unrelenting and split second life upending. Sat across a few kitchen tables and talked to folks in the thick of it about why and if only and what are we going to do now.

    And I walk away with this: What a gift He’s given, what wisdom He had in putting the lot of you in family together. Stay where you are, doing that thing you’re doing, Aunt Jennifer. For both those boys. For your sisters. For whatever-those-crazy-names-you-gave-the-grandparents-that-I-can’t-remember-all-of-a-sudden. He knows what He’s doing.

    The light is there on Brennan’s dark road.

    Bless you guys.

    • Lyla, It is good to be reminded that the light is here. We need to know that. You’ve BEEN that for Aunt Jennifer.

  • Look at all of these words, pouring out hope on a screen. This amazes me. This is the body of Christ at its best, isn’t it? We don’t have the answers. But we have words. And The Word. The One Who knows suffering first hand and never ever leaves us by ourselves.

    • Yes, Deidra. It is the body of Christ. It is holy. And it feels like a hundred arms wrapped around us.

  • Deidra has captured it – these words, these words – they are all we have to offer, but they fly with love and hope and promise to all of you.

    And the prayers without words, too – when we simply sit in God’s presence and hold the pictures that we have of all of you in our heart’s eye and groan.

    May Brennan (and all of you) find peace from the incessant why-ness of this hard thing, gradually giving up the need to understand it all, filling that aching hole inside with the peace of Christ, with an ever increasing trust in the goodness of our God even in the middle of some terribly not-good things.

    It takes time, it takes grace, it takes prayer. May the God of all our time, the Savior, whose grace makes life possible, and the groaning prayers of the Holy Spirit in you all weave together a fully healed, strong cloak of family love with which to wrap yourselves as you walk this road.

    And SO glad to read that your other nephew is awake and talking! Thank you, Lord. And thank you, Jennifer, for keeping us all in the loop. It’s a loop we want to be in, even though most of us have never (and likely will never) meet any of you face to face. Love, prayers, blessings.

    • Diana,
      Your comments always, always minister to my heart. Thank you for taking the time to share in this place. I’m grateful for your words, and your prayers. I’m amazed by the very REAL ways that people here have been Christ to our family. These words that you all are offering are gifts to us, ones we’ll unwrap over and over again.

  • Aunt Jennifer. Hugs.
    Nephew. Hugs.

    He will somehow be blessed by this…

    May his dark journey led him to more light.

    My heart aches for all….

    • Thank you for entering in here, Harriet. Your hugs and words are a balm.

  • Very touching. I will continue to pray for this fine young man.

  • Mary

    Jennifer, your words and all of these responses are so touching! I hope Brennan will feel loved and supported by this right now when he needs it so much. I like what Jeanne said in her message to Brennan. Sometimes when we feel so small it’s really hard to see the big picture of our lives, and it’s especially hard to understand how a tragedy could possibly fit into God’s plan for us. “We live life forward but understand it backward.” Prayers for both of your nephews, for inward and outward healing.

  • I want to wrap him up with so much love he can’t escape. Oh Jennifer. So much has been broken, and the fruit of this will be years in the making. He is in my heart; hold him in yours. He will need someone who won’t just wash their hands of his sorrow.

    God is big enough for this, big enough for him, the one who may have suffered the greatest wound of all in the car that day. My heart is breaking. I am crying. I know God is big enough.

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