Losing a Friend.

“Ma’am?”

I looked up, jerked away from my thoughts. The checkout guy at the grocery store was looking at me.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I asked if you had any fun plans this afternoon.”  I looked down at the checkout conveyor belt next to me, piled high with lettuce, sour cream, salsa, cheese, and tortillas.

“Making a lot of tacos, I guess.”

“Well, that does sound like fun!”  The checkout guy responded cheerily. I smiled politely, but didn’t respond. It wasn’t really going to be fun making these tacos, but I didn’t want to explain why. They were for one of my favorite families in the world, but not for a celebration.

Just yesterday morning, Alex and I sat at church, sharing a row with this family. There were seventeen of them, so they took up the better part of two rows with just enough room left for Alex and myself. Today, though, there are only sixteen. Yesterday, our dear friend, Jenny, wife and mother of fifteen, died tragically.

It is so odd to even type that, because I’m still having so much trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that it is true. I’ve felt like I’ve been in some sort of fog ever since I found out, so much so that I think I honestly convinced myself once or twice that I was probably just dreaming.

I’ve never had someone close to me die unexpectedly before, and the fact that it is Jenny makes it so much harder to fathom. She was the most full of life person I have ever known, which makes it impossible to think of life going on without her.

I know I am only one of many people who considered Jenny a friend and mentor. She was just that kind of person. I only hope she knew how much of an impact she had on me. There have been three major decisions that I have made with my husband since we married and moved here to Iowa, and God gave Jenny a big role in all three—more than she probably realized.

The first happened almost exactly three years ago. I was newly married and new to the area, finishing up an internship and looking for a job in ministry. We hadn’t found a church home, and I was attending a women’s Bible study with my sister-in-law, which was led by Jenny’s sister. I was in the middle of sharing a prayer request with the group about looking for a ministry job in town when Jenny burst into the room, in true Jenny fashion. She rambled off some story about how she was driving down the road and really had to use the restroom, and remembering that her sister was leading a Bible study here, she thought she would stop and a quick bathroom break and “Hello” … yada, yada, yada.

She said she could stay for just a minute, but told us to go on with what we had been doing. So, I continued where I left off, asking for prayer for a job to become available. Jenny interjected again.

“What kind of ministry?”

“Um, well I have a degree in Youth Ministry & Christian Education. So, something with kids or teens.”

Jenny smiled. “Perfect. My church is looking for a Children’s Ministry Director. I think you should apply. Marantha Bible Church. Check the website.”

And just like that, she was up and out the door as quickly as she had come. The next day, I was sitting in the office of that church’s pastor, handing him my resume. A few weeks later, I was moving into the office next to his, with a fantastic job in Children’s Ministry and a new church family.

The second decision came about a year ago. We had become friends with the family since that first chance interaction, and Jenny and her husband, Brad, invited Alex and me to breakfast at this awesome Cuban restaurant downtown. We were in the very early stages of considering adoption and hadn’t told a soul. We had been researching it, but felt like we had a long ways to go before we understood the process enough to consider beginning. At least a year. Yet, the invitation to breakfast with these two seemed like some sort of divine providence (as I now know it was). Brad and Jenny had fifteen children, including eight adopted. We decided to share with them our thoughts and get their opinion.

“Do it,”  They said without hesitating. “Do it now. Don’t wait until you feel ‘ready’ or like you understand what you are doing, because that day will never come. Just do it. God will show you how.”

Our breakfast date rolled into a lunch date, and we ate and drank and listened to their stories about God’s provision throughout their nine adoptions. A few weeks later, we were signing a contract with an adoption agency.

The third decision came last October. We were in the early stages of our adoption, and were sitting around our dining room table with Brad, Jenny, and another adoptive couple in our church. We were planning a children’s event at our church for Orphan Sunday—something we had never done before. As tends to happen when you get adoptive families together, the conversation quickly turned from the topic at hand to our own adoption processes. Alex and I had already decided at this point to pursue a special needs adoption, but I was still more than a little terrified about this.

But something changed that night. I listened to Jenny describe her own adopted children with special needs, and I realized something. Jenny had always seemed like some sort of Superwoman to me. Mother to fifteen, incredible wife, and a lover of the Lord unlike anyone I had ever known. There was something special about her, and I felt that I could never be that—I especially could never be a mother to a special needs child the way she could. Listening, though, I realized that Jenny didn’t see herself that way. She saw herself as a regular person who just said “yes” to the Lord when it would have made much more practical sense to say “no”. I remember her talking about how she wondered how many people missed out on amazing gifts from the Lord (like her fifteen precious children) because they were too afraid to say “yes”.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that this is something that has stuck with me ever since. On that day I decided I wouldn’t let myself be stopped by fear. I would say “yes” to God and see where the adventure took me, just like it had taken Jenny.

That third decision is why we said “yes” to adopting Baby M just a few weeks later. It is why, when that fell through, we abandoned a lot of what made practical sense to answer the call to adopt Baby W instead.

It breaks my heart to know that after all of that, Jenny won’t get to meet Baby W when we bring him home. She won’t be there to answer my thousands of adoption questions like she has so far, to come to help with our fundraising events like she did in the past, or to go on more double dates for Cuban food. Even more so, it breaks my heart that this incredible family that she pulled together from all over the world is now missing her.

Jenny had an uncanny ability to see good in everyone and everything, and I’ve always tried to emulate that. It’s difficult to do that now, but I do know one good thing: Jenny is where she has always wanted to be. She is with her Savior. In fact, she is probably up there teaching Him to Zumba, because if there is anyone who could get The Good Lord on the Zumba floor, it is Jenny Groothuis.

Because of that, my grief isn’t for Jenny, but for all of those left behind without her. She touched so many lives, and was loved by more people than anyone else I know. If you were also touched by Jenny and her life, or would just like to do something to help her family during this devastating time, here is a couple ways you can do so:

 

“Take Them A Meal” Ministry

The Jenny Groothuis Memorial Fund

 

We’ll miss you, Jenny.

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“I would have despaired, had I not expected to see the glory of the Lord.” -Psalm 27:13

 

 

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  • Nichole Davis Huffaker

    I did not have the privilege to know this Jenny, even though we live in the same town and knew many of the same people. Thank you for helping me get to know her in this way. My family is praying for her family. May you feel the nearness of Jesus as you move through this difficult time.

  • Mary B

    I remember when Brad was born. I know his parents and siblings well. I never had the honor of meeting Jenny, but knew from hundreds of others who she was and what she believed in. We have been praying without ceasing since hearing the news yesterday morning and will continue to do so…Praising the Lord that we have the confidence that she is now in His presence!! Often times, especially in circumstances such as this, I find myself saying “Even so, come Lord Jesus”! But I know his work here is not done. May the Lord wrap his arms around that family in a way that none of us could ever comprehend…!! People are praying for Brad and the children and their families and friends across this country and around the world. Jenny touched so very many lives, many, many of which she was probably completely unaware…!!! God rest her beautiful soul!! Thank you so much for sharing your story! It deeply touched my heart…♥♡♥♡

  • Jane Martin

    I’ve been reading about her death and my heart breaks for the families, especially the children that already lost their bio-mother in one way or another and now this. May GOD and He alone grant them strength and grace!

  • Joyce Brown Kuethe

    This is beautifully written. It brings comfort in thinking of her being with the Savior. Thank you.

  • Sharon Carroll

    Thank you for a beautiful memoir. I was a high school classmate of Jenny’s and your touching post brought back the very essence of the Jenny I knew. My heart goes out to her family and friends, including yours: wishing you all peace and comfort to face the days ahead and loving memories to hold forever in your hearts.

  • Brandis5

    I stumbled upon the story by Bruce Aune, and for some strange reason, I looked her up on FB. She really was an angel on earth. What a true hero. What an amazing person. She has reopened my mind about looking into foster adoption. Something I had always thought I would do, but fear won me over. God does reach us in many ways. My heart aches so much for her family. I pray for the strength to get them through this horrible tragedy. Thank you for the blog.

    • There is nothing that would honor her legacy more than others being inspired to adopt because of her story and her incredible life! As I wrote in this post, witnessing how her confidence in God outweighed her fear of the unknown was a huge part of beginning our own adoption journey! She taught me that HIS plan is always infinitely better than the plans we come with for ourselves. I’ll be praying for you that God will show you your path – please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you ever want to talk adoption! 🙂

  • Abby J Clark

    What a beautiful memorial. God bless your family, and hers.

  • JoAnne Nibbelink

    I have never met the subject of this wonderful tribute but my children went to school with Brad at WRBA. Even then, he and his brother went through life with grace, diginity, and a smile on their faces. It could only happen then, that he found a wife that reflected his values. My own daughter has 7 adopted children and several of them are also special needs so I understand the drive and desire to serve the world with love for these children who need so much. The love of Jesus radiated through their faces when you look at her pictures. The difference she has made in this world will be long remembered.

  • Tom Pietz

    Thank you. My wife Kris and I were blessed to be invited in their home a few times for a meal. Your sharing inspired me to know Jenny more. We adopted too and they are truly an inspiration to opening our homes to children who need a loving family.

  • Thank you for this insight into a special life. As the adoptive mom of seven, my heart grieves with this family that I have never met.

  • sarah

    Thank you for this. It fits how my cousin lived and loved and I have struggled to even wrap my head around her not being here to touch the world like she did daily. She will be missed by so many and I hope her story touches people who may not have had the privilege of knowing her. RIP sweet angel of god!

  • I never met Jenny. I live in MN. I heard about her death from another precious adoptive bloggy mom. I was so touched, hurt, confused, sad and well frustrated. We live in MN. We’ve adopted from IA and driven thru many times to adopt from TX. We also adopted from CT, AZ, Korea, Bulgaria. I remember being a mom of 15. (we were blessed to add more) It was/is just as Jenny portrayed- just a normal life. God does show you how! :o)
    You wrote about her so beautifully. She is precious. Thank You for sharing. I feel like she is my Sister in adoption. We never met, never knew of each other, but we knew the same life, she got it. Adoption connects everyone of us- just like the Church.
    (p.s. I linked my Down Syndrome blog, if you click on the house it goes to the “rest” of our gifts! :o)
    Many-many ((((((((HUGS)))))))))) and prayers from us to you ALL as God shows you how to get through this very difficult time.

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