Unfinished Stories:: Jennifer Dukes Lee

by Jennifer Dukes Lee


For the upcoming release of  “A Story Unfinished”, we are gathering writers, friends and good folk around two themes.  Feel free to join us, spread the word or just bask in some great truths.


“Honey,” I tell my husband. “I’ve got something I want you to see.” I slide my forefinger across the screen of my iPhone.

I cradle the phone in my hands, and the two of us, heads bowed low, stand with our backs against the kitchen counter on a Saturday afternoon. Our girls eat sliced apples, at the breakfast bar across the room from us. The golden afternoon pours itself into our home, straight through the picture window, illuminating our happy little life in Iowa.

I raise the tiny iPhone screen so my husband can watch the video playing in my hands. A lump is already rising up in my throat, because I’ve seen this heart-wrenching video a dozen or more times over the last few years.

It’s the one about a little guy named Eliot —

“Dear Eliot,” the daddy’s voice begins. “Right now you are two months from being born. We just found out you have Trisomy 18. … Doctors tell us you won’t likely make it to birth.”

For the next six minutes, my farmer-husband holds my iPhone, watching the glory-story of a baby named Eliot. This is a baby who wasn’t supposed to live a single day on earth. But one tiny life—the life of a boy named Eliot–can make you know that it’s still safe to pray for miracles in the 21st century.

That sweet boy lived for 99 days.

My husband holds that iPhone in his work-worn farmer hands, and tears roll down his stubbled cheeks.

Across the room, my girls, oblivious to our tears, finish up their apple slices. They start arguing about who gets to play Minecraft first when they’re done eating.

“Girlsss???” I raise my eyebrows (and my voice), and I stretch my verbal warning out long … and maybe a bit too loud. The fighting ceases. For now.

I wipe down a countertop, put dishes in the sink. And I just stand here in the kitchen, shaking my head while my husband holds Eliot’s story in his hands.

How do I just go about life on a Saturday, breaking up sibling squabbles, and sweeping wood-planked floors, and standing in warm shafts of May spring light? While outside my window, life goes down. And it goes down hard.

Out that window, there’s a world groaning with pain, like it might swallow us whole. How is this fair?

In Oklahoma, mothers grieve for their children. Here in Iowa, two girls were abducted more than a week ago. A friend in my hometown just got the worst diagnosis imaginable.

Clouds roll on. Storms hit. Accidents happen. Babies with Trisomy 18 die.

How does the sun shine like pure gold over your girls’ apple slices one day, and then shadows cast a pall over your whole world the next day?

Because we’ve had the scary-dark here, too. It’s not always bright and sunny on our farm. We’ve sat next to the hospital beds in ICU, have grieved too-early deaths, have suffered pain and rejection and unspeakable hurt.

And we never saw most of it coming.

“Dear Eliot,” comes the father’s voice on the iPhone, “Today you turned eleven days old. We are so proud of you. Today we celebrated your eleventh birthday. In fact, we do that every day at 4:59, the time you were born.”

That’s the thing about unfinished stories. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you turn the page of your life’s storybook. You don’t ever know how the plot might twist a bit, how it might twist ‘til it hurts.

Or how the story might twist to reveal a glorious, knee-buckling miracle.

We’re all living stories that are unfinished and uncertain and unknown. And frankly, it can all be a bit unnerving.

But we have a choice:

We can live terrified – in fear of what’s around the corner – or we can live glorified, knowing Who’s around the corner.

Sure, our stories are unfinished. But this—

*There really is a Finisher of our faith and of our stories; He said “it is finished” in the biggest plot twist in history; and there really is a grand finish line. That finish is actually just the beginning. And that is our hope.

I’m thinking about all of that, while I sweep crumbs into the dustpan on a Saturday afternoon in Iowa. The father’s voice on the video continues.

“Dear Eliot, Today you went to be with Jesus. … A six-pound boy with Trisomy 18. God found great pleasure to take a lowly thing in the eyes of the world to show truth.”

The world is a hard place to live, and it’s an astonishingly lovely place to live. Life is a page-turner, isn’t it?

It’s a series of “nows” that stretch out into forever, page after page. It is a series of unfinished and unrepeatable moments that only make sense in the hands of a holy Finisher.

The Eliot video ends. My farmer-husband wipes another tear from his cheek. And I dump the dustpan into the garbage. We look at each other across the room, wordless.

And we turn another page.

Jennifer Dukes Lee
Jennifer Dukes Lee used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters as an award-winning news journalist in the Midwest. Now, Jennifer uses her reporting skills to chase after the biggest story in history: the redemptive story of Christ. She blogs at www.JenniferDukesLee.com. She is a contributing editor at www.TheHighCalling.org. Soon, her words will make their way into her debut nonfiction Christian book (Tyndale). She and her husband live on the Lee family farm near Inwood, Iowa, with their two daughters. Jennifer invites you to connect with her on Twitter or on Facebook.
Jennifer Dukes Lee
Jennifer Dukes Lee

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

matt mooney May 28, 2013 at 6:32 am

Jennifer. Thank you. Your words do not gloss over the terror and yet speak of the beauty within it all.

Shelly Miller May 28, 2013 at 6:38 am

You know how to weave a story Jennifer. This is so lovely and it makes me think. It’s a hard place to live and astonishing lovely . . .so true.

Robin Dance May 28, 2013 at 7:33 am

Achingly beautiful, Jennifer. The perfect beginning to this series, your story mingling with Eliot’s…making me give pause this morning to consider the glory in my unfinished story.

Mary Bonner May 28, 2013 at 8:28 am

You are right…we all have unfinished stories. I held my baby girl in my arms as she died…she had trisomy 18. Her short life still impacts my life today. This is lovely Jennifer and it made me go back in time. Thank you.

matt mooney May 28, 2013 at 8:32 am

Mary, thanks for stopping by; I am sorry to hear of your loss, but thankful to know of your daughter.

ro elliott May 28, 2013 at 8:34 am

We can live terrified – in fear of what’s around the corner – or we can live glorified, knowing Who’s around the corner….amen….the tension we live in this world….the enemy pulling hard to bring paralizing fear…..God calling us to live in His peace….we truly live a page turner….and don’t we have a maginificant Author…..blessing~

Marty May 28, 2013 at 8:48 am

Beautifully shared…how glory and darkness exist at the same time…but ever knowing that darkness has been overcome by the glory of grace.

Melinda Todd May 28, 2013 at 10:35 am

Beautifully written. It caught my attention since today is my son’s 11th birthday. Thank you for sharing.

Lyli Dunbar May 28, 2013 at 10:46 am

My pastor reminded us this weekend that we will not find heaven on earth… but one day a lion will lay down with a lamb…. looking forward to that day when death and sickness is no more, and all beauty is restored.

I was born a “special needs” kid, so these 2 parents grabbed my heart. I am glad they are telling Elliot’s story. It needs to be told.

rachel lee May 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

this is absolutely amazing. broke my heart and restored something deep within.

you write life, Jennifer.

Carol J. Garvin May 28, 2013 at 11:58 am

A beautiful, yet heartrending story! Amidst its beauty life is full of difficult times but I love the saying, “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know Who holds our tomorrows.” That’s all I need to know to face them.

Diana Trautwein May 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Oh, Jennifer! Thank you so much for this beauty today. I’m finding myself in need of it. Thank you.

Kris Camealy May 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Such a beautiful way with words, shining light in the unfinished stories we live… Thank you for this, Jennifer, and Matt… Thanking God for the ways He finishes us, how He completes us in the incompleteness we live in.

dukeslee May 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Matt … A complete honor to be here, to help in some small way to introduce your book to the world. You know, I suppose you were envisioning an unfinished story of my own, not tied to the video. But Matt and Ginny? I’ve been so heart-changed by Eliot’s story, that I couldn’t approach this essay any other way.

Please know how much I am cheering you on, and praying for you and your family. You honor Him well with your words, and your lives.

dukeslee May 28, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Mary … Until today, I didn’t know your story. Know how I’m praying for you and your unfinished story.

Linda Chontos May 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

These beautiful words wrap around my heart Jennifer. These days I have been standing between hope and fear, struggling to hold on to hope. This is a gentle reminder of Who hope is.

Patricia W Hunter May 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Like you, Jennifer, I’ve seen the videos dozens of times over the past few years. I’ve shared it with friends who’ve walked the same path. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard. Thank you, Matt for sharing Eliot with the rest of us. Thank you for sharing hope and joy in the midst of unspeakable grief.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this beautiful glimpse of Eliot’s story and for the reminder of Who it is that is the finisher of all of our days. .

I’ve been leading a group of women through Beth Moore’s “Mercy Triumphs” study on the book of James and one of the things we talked about today was how life changes in a flash….and how James calls us to count it all joy when trials come…when we’re pushed into the pits. Praise God for His love and grace and mercy that strengthens us to persevere to the end.

disqus_CF4Jb6E9sd May 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm

HE knows.
BTW: I love the way you write, but you know that already. This just reminds me again of why I visit your blog. 🙂

Sandra Heska King May 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

This video undid me.

And remembering that life goes down outside my window while I complain about the dust floaties the streaming sun exposes–well, that undoes me, too.

MsLorretty May 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm


Laurie Byrne May 29, 2013 at 6:32 am

Tears flowing……
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I do know that someday I’ll be with Jesus. We can rest in this assurance. Thank you for your beautiful words that point me straight towards him!

Donna Brindamour-Blum May 30, 2013 at 10:30 am

Jennifer, I couldn’t agree more. Matt, Thank you so much for sharing Eliot’s story…I too am praying for you and your family. Your faith is an inspiration to us all.

Sheila Dailie June 2, 2013 at 8:09 am

Jennifer, I love the way you weave truth in and through this story of Eliot’s amazing life. The gift of a writer is to help us see the holy in the every day, or not-so-every-day!-pieces of our lives.

Guest June 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Jennifer, I have a dear friend here in Kansas City who lost his first-born son before he was 1 year old. God had given my friend prophetic promises that he would have a son but he never saw coming losing him before he was a year old. This story has reminded me to keep praying for my friend Corey, his wife, and three girls as I’m sure there are days when they get painfully reminded of their loss.

Kelly Greer June 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Yes, Jennifer, “we never saw most of it coming.” “We can live terrified or glorified.” Lord help us to live a life that glorifies you even when we are terrified because “You are right around the corner!”
Lifting this family in prayer.

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