i am rhonel

This blog shares my sacred journey through tragedy.  I was called for audacious hope whilst grieving a living loss.  And I had to choose – will I be better or bitter? 

I have told this story many times since it happened. And every time I am newly overwhelmed by the emotions; the harsh truths; the confusion and the pain of that day. It is as if it is burned into my mind, a movie I can select and recall in infinite detail.  I am sure that it is a subjective recollection, as my experience of the day is filtered through my eyes as a mother. She was only three years old, my beautiful daughter, Juneldè. And this is the story of the day she drowned. 13 January 2013.

It was a Sunday and we were driving back from church. It was the start of the new year and we were happy to see our friends. We wanted all to catch up some more and decided to meet up for a barbeque later at our house. It was a casual affair and some of the older kids wanted to swim.  The men opened the pool; rolling up the heavy solid cover. The fire was lighted and the kids were playing in the shallow end of the pool. Us mommies were sitting on the patio, keeping an eye on the children.  I was asking questions about ballet classes, as I planned to enroll Juneldè the coming week. Soon Juneldè was standing next to me, shivering from cold, pronouncing her hunger. I took her inside, gave her some pre-lunch snacks and dressed her warmly.

Time passed through easy conversation with treasured friends. In the meantime Juneldè has decided that she wanted to change back into swimming clothes to join her friends again in the pool. I helped her into a dry set, kissed her and laughed with her. Soon the food was ready and we all moved inside.

My eyes fell upon the open pool, feeling restless, contemplating whether we should put back the cover. It was however a tedious task and the men wanted to cool of in the pool after lunch.  At that moment I made the worst decision of my life, I decided that I will sit at the table in a spot where I am sure I can keep an eye on the pool. I kept quiet about the unrest I felt. Juneldè came to get a piece of sausage from me; she sat next to her friend and was chatting away. She came to me again, asking if I would wash her hands.  I saw she still had some sausage left over in her hand, and promised to help her soonest she finished her food…

That was the last time I heard her voice calling me mommy. The last time I saw her wide open smile.

She went back sitting next to her friend again. I smiled with endearment at her animated ways. I looked down, I looked up and engaged in conversation. I looked down again and dished up more food. I looked up…And she was gone.

I was immediately irrationally concerned. My eyes fell on the open pool and I felt cemented to my seat. My head reprimanded my overreaction. My heart telling a different story. I asked my husband: “Where is Juneldè?”  At exactly the same time he uttered the same question.  I asked him to look in the pool. The urgency in my voice surprised me, but propelled him from his seat.  I didn’t understand my angst, as I could see the tranquil pool from where I sat.  My husband walked slowly towards the pool, until he reached the deep end corner. He exclaimed: “O no” in a tone of voice I have never heard from him before.

He jumped into the water and our miniature maltese started barking hysterically.

We can never be sure, but from collaboration we estimate that it was only two minutes since we last saw her until she was found.  Two minutes too long, two minutes too late. Two minutes that changed everything.

I wrote this following  piece at the fourth year anniversary of that day.  It touches on the subject of time. The clock that is ticking down our seconds, moments, our hours and years of everyday borrowed time:

Time has a way of not asking permission before moving on…4 Years, 4 YEARS! How can it be? Years filled with tears, pain, anguish, anger, grief; so much grief. Also years filled with healing, hope, grace and love, so much love. I am forever changed by that day, that moment your dead body was lifted out of the water. I am no more. And yet I have become so much more…My voice have become softer, my determination to speak out quieter. This life is so fragile, our souls so easily wounded, yet our Spirits are strong, resilient and utterly connected to Him who gave us life. I cry for what happened to you and our family that day, 4 years ago. Yet I praise Him for granting us more time with you. Your body is broken, but your essence fills our house! We live on borrowed time…4 years…4 YEARS!

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I see wisdom in my eyes.  I see the hurt and suffering of the past more than four years.  I see the depth of the lessons learned and the loss of innocence it once held.  I see a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend.  I see frailty and sadness.  I see strength and perseverance.  I see audacious hope, resilient faith and unconditional love.  I see the brokenness of being human.  I see the vulnerability of motherhood.  I see imperfection.  I see the perfection in being imperfect.  I see a story of healing through desperate tears.  I see a strong believe in tomorrow, even though life shakes every foundation of today.  I see me…I AM RHONEL

I see mee

In the still of the night, when only the noise of my thoughts keep me awake, I find myself asking this question: Where are you God?

In hindsight it is a better question than Where is God? But in that moment I very much resemble my four year old toddler with my pity party for one. Because this question, even though authentic, is also very much attention seeking. As if God would play hide and seek with me.

When Julius was retrenched the reality of it all came crashing down in waves. As the end of July drew near the disconnect between my spirit, body and soul became more pronounced. My spirit knew that it will all be okay, and that God wasn’t caught unawares by this closing door. However the insecurity of where to next and the maelstrom created by our breadwinner being without a future income tested body and soul. Anxiety was bubbling to the surface of my already delicately balanced control. All while having to make almost impossible medical decisions regarding Juneldè.

Even though I thought He was quiet truthfully He was planning our future all while teaching me to trust Him fully, wholly and completely.

During this time I received a phone call from a friend sharing that God woke her early one morning to tell us that He hasn’t forgotten about us. This message was balm to my weary soul but again my toddler state of mind challenged Him; why doesn’t He tell me himself? She also shared some other messages and asked me to test it first. I didn’t need to however because it was almost word for word a conversation Julius and I had about fighting our giants. And just the following day another friend knocked on the door with a basket readily prepared for communion. We prayed for Juneldè and drenched her in anointing oil whilst Father confirmed the exact same message that He surely wanted me to hear. He has not forgotten us. This didn’t catch him unawares…And slowly but surely I started seeing Him calm our storm. The waves subsided and the wind obeyed His voice.

The following Sunday special prayer warriors whom have been praying for us continuously came to visit. It was the first time that we have personally met and over chocolate cake and coffee a sweet communion between His children happened. They prayed for His word over us and shared Matthew 6: 25-34 & Matthew 8:5-13 as the Spirit shared with them.  The message was clear: He will never forsake us and we must hold on to the promise of healing for Juneldè.

Just the next day Julius had his first interview for what ended up being the wide open door that only God could have opened and let us walk through. Julius started on the 2nd of September in this new role and truly I can testify that God is always on time and His plans always divine. Without being retrenched and subsequently a strict Restraint of Trade lifted from Julius’s contractual obligation with his previous employers, he would not have been able to take on this new position. Truly, my lesson in trust hit home…

There once was a young boy growing up in an atheist household. But he had something different in His heart and was actively seeking God. His dad grew more and more frustrated with his son’s growing faith and decided to make placards all over the house. It read: God is nowhere. But to his astonishment his son just became more steadfast and bold in His faith. The dad one day threw up his hands in frustration and asked his son how it is possible that he now believes even more than before? Confused the son replied: It’s because of all these placards you put up dad. It says: God is now here.

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It is in the space between now and here that we rekindle our trust in Him. It is in this space that our faith is restored and our hope renewed. In this space we bow our knees and quiet our busy minds, doubts and fears. It is in this space that retrenchment, suffering, pain, weariness, cerebral palsy, near drowning, financial burdens and grief evaporates. It is in this space that we grow boldly.  This space is called faith…

Where are you God?

“I am Now Here my child…Always with you…”

Can you hear His soft whisper?

430AB52E-8440-4B11-89DC-5BBFCA1F2678Vulnerable…That is how I feel. Raw and exposed without the energy for the socially acceptable layers of pretense. I stand in front of this group of ladies, each so wonderfully and perfectly made, and I know that I need to share honestly and authentically.  When I was asked to speak at this event I was still in that positive, beginning of the year, summer holiday mindset. I believed that 2019 will be my year of stability, serenity, you know, a year for ME just as I prayed for and claimed. A year of indulgence, rest and relaxation. But I also prayed for a year of growth. And I think this is why I now have the opportunity to share the deepest parts of me with this group of ladies. Because maybe our Savior is less concerned about the superficial layers of worldly pleasures and more involved in the dissonance needed for us to uncomfortably grow in faith. However I don’t feel strong enough, worthy enough.

I was once requested to not share so much about the pain and reality of our story when speaking at events because it upsets people. I then created a metaphor for our journey, still inspiring and serving a purpose. People enjoyed my speaking and relayed to the story. However I always felt uncomfortable afterwards, can I truly say that I allowed the emotional exposure needed to let the Spirit do the work. Or did my image, persona and ego stand in the way of His light shining through the brokenness of me?

When I started praying for the theme of this event, things were unraveling rapidly in our lives. Juneldè’s constant pain escalated to where she was screaming out  like a wounded animal for a good 16 hours of every day and night. Dispersed with moments of softer moaning. For months now we have been consulting with so many doctors, all unable to provide solutions. And defeated we had to yet again take her home in anguish. Job security was shaken as our breadwinner faces restructuring and possible redundancy of his position. How will we survive without this financial security Lord? Really this isn’t fair! And then an attempted highjacking/smash-and-grab (not sure what the true intent was) where I realise divine protection of Julius’s life is the testimony rather than the event. However, I am shaken to my core. I feel unstable, rocking, hiding, grabbing desperately to any escape – wine, sugar, books, series, movies. Moments of reprieve from this hurtful life.

But back to praying; Lord what do you want me to share with this group of your children? Tell them about the audaciousness of Hope and the vulnerability of Love, came the soft voice of His whisper to my soul…But God, I don’t think I can. I am so close to breaking and losing the tight control on my image! What do I know of Hope and Love? You know…He whispered softly. You know about audaciousness and vulnerability. Talk about that, because I need you broken. Your brokenness is where I truly shine.

Oh my Lord, I am not ready! Yet here I stand, sharing my unworthiness, uncleanliness, ugly humanity and sin. And He gently communicates His worth, purity and Godliness to every woman in this group.

My testimony is less important than my willingness to expose every part of my failing, human heart. This year has allowed me to sink even deeper into the dissonance between this world and His world. His world is eternal, our world is fragile, broken, exposed…The enemy wants us empty, alone, shriveled up in the believe of our isolation. We are however NOT alone…

I have hidden away between the four walls of my home, until even they felt too exposing. Too loud to the narrowness of my own will to fight, conquer and even just endure. Between the safe blankets of my bed I found a reprieve. Playing hide and seek with Him like Adam and Eve.

Yet, as I look into the eyes of His special children, I realise that the enemies’ master plan is to divide and conquer. Let us not put our own image before His message. Let us have the confidence to expose ourselves emotionally in order for others to embrace their fragility.

It is for this reason alone that He needs us vulnerable. Vulnerable enough for us to recognize our divine calling. My calling is not to show you how determination, a polished image and positivity outlives the hard times.

None of it is about me…It’s all about Him. I am willing to shed the comfort of my ego, competent superficial veneer and shallow understanding of love and hope. Cracked open to the core of me as it blends and become more of Him.  Will you allow me the opportunity to share our journey?

**If you want me to speak unfiltered and unpretentious at your next event or to your corporate group or team please contact me today.

Hope…a word we use with so much familiarity. In everyday language we almost diminish it to something out of our control, a chance happening. “I can only hope it works out”. Or “I hope you feel better soon”. I realise I too have started viewing hope as an intangible, a place that only a select few gets to visit.  Something I believe in, but remains out of my reach. And as time passed and hope became more and more unfamiliar the fear of a hopeless end remained the only reality.

“What if she pass away?” “ What if I loose a loved one, or  have to go through a similar journey of brain injury and living loss.?” This fear slowly infiltrated my every observation… I hooked onto every news article dealing with daily accidents, trauma and loss. Confirming my every fear. The hopelessness it evoked left me with angst and an urgency to flee. I just wanted to get away. Away from the realness of everyday. Away from pain and suffering. Away from deeper connections and full commitment to life. I sensed myself becoming a robotic participant in life without allowing the vulnerability that immersion in life brings.

This was not how I wanted to be in life. I longed for hope to truly become mine. And the only way I could find it was at the feet of the One who promises this to us. Does he not say that he has plans for me of good and not evil, of a future and a HOPE. And this HOPE He offers is truly endless. It has no boundaries, no limitations, no restrictions, no time. It is for now, today, tomorrow and ever and ever.

I rested in this knowledge. Slowly opening the hard shell of self-protection I found myself in. I now know that hope isn’t a place I can go and visit. It’s a state of being. Hope is full immersion of Love into your heart. Hope is vulnerable, hope is strong, hope is energising, hope is courageous and audacious.

I hope that Hope will truly also become your companion and friend. May your hope be endless and endlessly connected in Him who gifts this sacred ability.

I have been silenced by the chaos in my heart and mind. Struggling to explain the noise of my own helplessness and the inability to quiet the fear that overtakes. I see her regress even as we fight a little harder. I am conscious of the passing of time and the societal expectation of settling in, moving on; coming to grips with…Yet I cannot. My grief intensifies as the layers of denial is chipped away. An axe hammering into the steadfast vision of hope. Tired, fatigued and battle weary I remain. Questioning the purpose of that which is now ours. Where lies the boundary between special and ordinary as I seek more of the mundane and less of this specialness I could do without. Time refuses to stand still and the great divide becomes even greater. As her preteen body develops my chest constricts with impossible decisions. How do I decide. Do we ride this wave of hormonal flux or do we get ahead of the inevitable? Unsettled becomes her status quo; uneasiness choking my motherly intuition. I cannot explain, or share, or find the words to instill some insight into our normal. However I might swallow silent tears as I see her peers. My spirit understands but my soul is weary. I feel torn, divided, removed, disconnected. A strong force pulling me from the rhythms and familiarity of aging. Her development wholly unique, her progression a continuous dance taking us back and forth. The things most take for granted; sleeping, eating, socializing, bodily functions and facial expressions mock us yet remain out of reach. A constant quest refusing to be conquered. The line between mother and child is blurry, how do I distinguish between our identities if her very existence depends on my intuitive ability to sense her needs? 

A tug of war, a push and pull, a heaviness yet it all seems superficial. To fully connect with life again, to invest when it can all be taken away so easily, so quickly, so utterly? O God, I need you to teach me… To pull me back from this place of desperation. To separate my emotions from my being. And to connect to Your Being again. I want to reach out to you in the stillness, silence and solitude of the One that transcends, transforms and forgives. Shine your Light in this moment upon my uncertainties and doubts… I need you Lord. 

Nine years ago, early summer morning in front of our home, we sit hand in hand. As husband and wife we pray and then he says, just before starting the ignition of the car: “Are you ready to meet your new best friend?” Because we are on our way to the hospital to have our firsborn – Juneldè.

She was the tiniest bundle, weighing only 2.7kg at full term. I first heard her strong feisty cry, and as she was laid upon my chest, I greeted her. “Hi my angel”; midcry she stopped, opened her eyes and stared at me with a scew little baby smile. This moment was uniquely captured on a photograph that I will treasure forever.

Earlier this week as I am browsing the clothing rack of a chain store searching for the perfect outfit for our birthday girl to wear, a sweet sadness envelopes me. I wish she could join me so that we can argue about what she wants to wear and what I want her to wear instead. However now I carefully select garments that would be easy to dress her spastic body in, that will provide accessibility to the feeding tube, that will be soft around her sensory sensitive body but still be age appropriate and gorgeous. At the same time I am so grateful to still be able to have her in my life to shop for…Moments like these remain bittersweet, the contrast between what is, what could have been and what should have been recocheting like a pendulum in my heart and mind.

This morning with nine pink cupcakes alight with colorful candles, whilst singing happy birthday, we march into her room. With sincere joy and authentic pure happiness we envelop her in love. And in that moment the bitterness subsides and only the sweetness off grace remains.

Thank you God for allowing me to be her mother these past nine beautiful, turbulent; hopeful; faith-filled years.

With my head in my hands, tears flowing freely, I’ve reached the point of complete exhaustion. This year has taken its toll, with Juneldè losing weight, becoming more spastic, not sleeping, moaning, crying, upset on a daily basis. I want to run away; flee from this helpless feeling. My hands are tied and I don’t know how to help her anymore. Everywhere I turn is a rock and a hard place with my child the victim. My hope lies shriveled up in the debris of her suffering. My faith is silenced amidst the weakness of my motherly love. I am failing her, and I just don’t have the strength to fight this fight.

Two weeks ago I have cried this out in desperation for answers I didn’t even know the questions to anymore. And now I can humbly, thankfully reflect on the quick turnaround that God has provided in spite of my dusty fallable humanness.

He sends the right people at the right time…He provides us with resources abound and in the bigger picture I now stand in awe of His perfect timing.

Only through Him is it possible for change to be so intensely visible. For time to become irrelevant in the context of His healing.

Head lifted high, with tears of gratitude flowing freely I stand humbled and thankful. Juneldè’s dad asks her during computer communication time if she knows how much he loves her, and with accurate speed comes the quick reply YES.

And in turn I quietly wonder if I would ever truly know just how much He loves me?

 

 

The artist echoes the melody of my heart, her words a reflection of my inner most suffering. Because for how long would I be able to hold on to this hope, for how long must I see my own flesh and blood, my daughter, my first born face challenges far beyond her years. With every spasm of a new seizure contorting her fragile body, her breathing labored, her lips tinted blue I helplessly wait for it to stop. I wait for an answer to my prayers; for the proof that my faith is real, for a sign, a miracle….something…everything to be revealed so I can make sense of a senseless reality.

I am challenged by my own view of life and its meaning. Because how dare I judge a life as lesser because the outcomes of walking; talking; success and contribution is absent. What is the meaning then of life? Is it to produce, to do, to achieve, to succeed and to conquer. What lies beneath it all, under the layers of complexity of our daily busyness?

Why do I assess her inability to DO as a disability to BE? Because in her silence lies a wisdom that many an elder would envy to possess. She is loved beyond what she can give purely for who she is. Her essence, her unique irreplaceable true self.

What would it take for me to be able to truly accept …miracle or not?

In vulnerability I see my own miscalculation. My need for outputs, outcomes, cause and effect that drives my faith and determines my hope. And as I listen to the soulful melody of Alisa Turner my heart and soul echoes: At the end of the day I’ll stand right here and say…I know that You love me. Miracle or not.

 

Thirteen years ago I gave my hand in marriage to a wonderful man, now my husband. We were young, but more than that our life experiences were sheltered and innocent. We were starry eyed and in love. And it was easy to be as we had good jobs, little financial strain, time for ourselves and our relationship. We certainly didn’t know about the trials that lay just around the corner of our future. We haven’t tasted loss, grief, emotional turmoil and spiritual stuntedness. Life was easy and marriage our happily ever after.

However when we promised to be faithful in the good times and the bad that promise was put to the test in a big way.  I still remember many snippets of conversations we had and one stands out. We were sitting infront of the hospital where Juneldè was fighting for her life in ICU. Blue teary eyes met brown pools of wisdom and we decided to put our marriage first. It felt counterintuitive, overindulgent and plain reckless. But we decided that we will employ our resources in order to still find the time to have date nights.  We felt strongly to ignore any ignorant judgements when we go to a dinner or coffee shop to spend time together. In truth it was far from the butterflies in the stomach, dressing up in your finest, flirting kind of dates I remembered from before. It was more of the tissues in hand, mascara smeared, blotchy nose kind of conversations. But what it did for us is remind us that we are a unit that need to stand together, side by side, guarding against blaming and projection onto the other. We wanted instead to be kind and loving, forgiving and open in our relationship – not just for ourselves but ultimately for our daughter as well.

I will not pretend to have the perfect marriage, far from it! But together with my steadfast husband I have learned that any marriage needs focus, attention and nurture to flourish. I have heard of a wise man being asked what the secret was for staying married for a long time and he answered solemnly: “Don’t get divorced”.

So after that belly laugh I humbly propose the following daily seeds to sow into your relationship:

Mercy – Be merciful towards each other.  Steer clear from judgement and focusing on the negatives. Instead love each others humanity of flaws as much as the strengths.

Acceptance – accept each other unconditionally.  Love your partner for all their intricacies, flaws, the good and the quirks that make up all that is uniquely them.

Reliability – always be reliable in your promises, your commitments, and your psychological contract towards each other.

Respect – regardless of the humanly flaws always remain respectful towards each other.

Intimacy – Remember to hold hands, to cuddle, to kiss, to giggle, to touch, to hug even in the darkest storms these gestures remind us that we are in it together.

Admiration – you deserve your partners admiration for the part each of you uniquely plays, with dedication, in making your life work.

Grace – Pray that His grace will always overflow into your relationship. With Him as a core part of you a foundation of unmoveable strength underpins your marriage.

Encouragement – Be each other’s cheer leader, dream together, build those sandcastles without reserve and believe unconditionally in the brightness of your future together.

I hope this post reminds you to hold a little tighter when you feel like letting go, to put back the rose colored glasses and exchange some of the seriousness with long lost feelings of flirting and being in love. Mostly enjoy your partner and the sacred space of your marriage that belongs exclusively to you two alone.

With nervous excitement  I start my journey towards Tucson Spur in Elarduspark. My thoughts race around while stuck in traffic. Nagging ones that I try to dismiss keep on resurfacing. What if there is no one in attendance? What if we are judged for what happened to Juneldè? What if we are critisised for needing financial support?

As I reach the front door already I see familiar faces and I feel a sudden rush of relief. I draw out Juneldè’s poster and my heart skips a beat looking at her younger smiling face. So much loss confronts me in a moment. But as I look up to the busy restaurant immense gratitude replaces the sadness. I walk along the tables and continue to greet smiling familiar faces enjoying a Spur meal with their friends and family. So many open hearts and hands enveloping us in understanding.

Juneldè is in high demand, everyone wants to meet her, chat to her and share in her energy of strength. I am so proud! She is a warrior in every sense and I am thankful for being her mom.

Pink donation boxes circle the restaurant and in amazement I see reaching hands filling them up. No questions asked!

Close to us sits a couple with their beautiful daughter. They want to know more about Juneldè’s story as they are not part of the supporters group (yet). They pledge a contribution and with a cellphone notification we are blown away by the reflection of their altruistic giving. I rarely see my strong husband cry but in an act of solidarity two fathers, mere strangers minutes before, quickly dry off wet eyes.

Overwhelmed with gratitude we end of the night. Juneldè is exhausted but remarkably content. Usually busy restaurants would be unbearable for her but this night she bathed in the attention of knowing true acceptance exists in the hearts of her community.

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As a family we would like to thank Zelda and her team from Tucson Spur for their support in making this fundraiser happen. Thank you is such a small token trying to convey the immensity of our true gratefulness. But please receive our heartfelt thanks!

To everyone whom attended the evening and opened their hearts and hands to us – Thank You!

To our Collage church family – you are all our greatest supporters in prayer, comfort and continuous support. Thanks dr. Ernrich Basson for your leadership and friendship.

And to Welda Venter for the idea, initiative and making all the arrangements for a successful fundraiser – Thank You!

 

There is no escaping pain, it comes to us all in various shapes and forms.

This past week while attending a funeral I notice all the people I have known for the past almost 20 years. When we met I was a teenager, I didn’t know then that they will become family. We have since attended each others weddings, baby showers and shared many birthday celebrations together. But now I see the pain of death reflected in their eyes but also the hope of Life in their tears. We have lost a family member, a warrior in his own right. As the men in the family fill the grave it is surely the most striking act of shared pain, love and healing…The flowers are placed on the heap of earth and I see acceptance in the faces of the mourners. They are bravely facing their pain whilst turning away from suffering.

I am reminded of Victor Frankl and his book; Man’s search for meaning. In the book Victor shares in horific detail his experiences of loss during the holocaust. He however concludes that between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space exists our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and freedom.

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Is it true then that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional? What if we experience illness, sickness, death, grief, financial ruin, loss? I remember so many times I have literally folded into myself, a fetal position of protection trying to deflect the intensity of the pain.

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It is an overwhelming spiritual, emotional and physical hurt – encompassing all your being. But somewhere after that we have to choose – continue to carry this pain into a never ending suffering or allow the breaking of your shell to find deeper understanding.

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In times of intense pain, may you find the space to allow joy. May you know that it is okay to smile whilst crying. To laugh whilst mourning. To love during grief and to hope during loss…To have peace where there is no understanding and to understand without the luxury of any answers.

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