Jen (Duff) Stevens (’00)
“How many kids would you like to have?” Jen Duff and Dan Stevens were asked during a premarital counseling session. She wrote “a few.” He wrote “a hockey team.” They married in 2009 and soon started working on plans for Stevens family hockey.
Stevens was 16 weeks pregnant when doctors told them to prepare for pregnancy loss or a baby with severe defects. Through tears, they answered the grim prognosis with, ”You don’t know what our God can do!” Abraham Levi Stevens was later born completely healthy. His little brother Oliver Daniel arrived with no complications.
Pregnant with her third child, Stevens’ excitement swelled as she saw the baby jump during an ultrasound. At her routine four-month visit, the doctor had trouble finding a heartbeat and did another ultrasound. Stevens stared at the screen trying to see her little one move, but the baby never did. “I’m sorry,” the doctor repeated with tears in her eyes.
“I was trying to hold back tears knowing God was just as good to me in this moment as He was when we got the news that Abraham was healed,” Stevens recalls. Curled in a ball on the doctor office floor, she cried out to God for “the peace which transcends all understanding” from Philippians 4:7. “I had been through a lot in my life,” she admits, “but my heart had never ached like this before!”
The doctor walked the Stevens through next steps. Surgery. Delivering the baby. “I was very scared of the unexpected, but I kept praying that God being sovereign over my life in that moment would be hope enough. He had never left me before, and He wouldn’t stop being there for me in this moment either.”
The couple went back to the hospital to be induced, walking the same hall they had happily walked to greet their first two children. A bright spot came when the nurse, a pastor’s wife, offered to pray with them. “So much peace washed over me that in my deepest moment of uncertainty, God assured me He was right there with me and put others who loved Him beside me through the night,” says Stevens. “What an amazing God!”
Tears flowed freely as the doctor gave labor-inducing medicines and sleep aids. Then, in the midst of her heaviest sleep, she was abruptly awakened. It was time for him to come. At 4:32 a.m. God saw fit to birth little Ezra Jude.
The Hebrew meaning for “Ezra” is “helper.” “Jude” was chosen to reflect Jude 1:21, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” She recalls holding her son, “He was so small but so beautifully created by a God who numbered his days, who created him with purpose and loved him far more than we ever could. It’s an odd feeling to leave a maternity floor without a baby. There is such an emptiness.”
But the Stevens’ story does not end in emptiness. She knew EJ’s life could matter for eternity by giving hope to others facing a similar loss. Two days after EJ’s birthday, The Ezra Project was born.
Anchored in Hope
The Stevens family made a few gift bags for other families at Detroit-area hospitals who lost a pre-born baby. “We wanted parents to feel God’s love lavished on them in their darkest moments of grief,” she says, crediting His love as what has sustained them (1 John 3:1). The Ezra Project grew as people donated to the cause, including the CSU family. The women’s softball team donated a box of “EJ Bears.” As a CSU student, Rachel Deman led a Christmas donation drive. Stevens shares “Miscarriage: You Are Not Alone,” by Stephanie Green, one of Stevens’ resident hall directors at CSU.
Ezra bags are now distributed at seven hospitals in the Detrot/Metro Detroit area and have reached nearly 1,000 grieving families. The bags contain practical and sentimental items such as journals, candles, thank-you cards, picture frames and teddy bears. Stevens includes a booklet about hope in the midst of miscarriage along with her contact information. After receiving a bag, a woman can reach out to Stevens, who then prays for her by name and offers Christ-centered resources. “It is our hope that The Ezra Project would be a blessing to families in their time of heartache, a simple gift to let them know they’re not alone and to provide some tangible love and hope,” she explains.
An estimated 15 percent of known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage. One in four women will experience a miscarriage. “I knew that if I was hurting this much knowing the sovereignty of God, how would others going to go through this without this hope in our Sure Anchor survive? I wanted to be a voice of encouragement to mommies out there who had to bear such a silent grief.”
“Even as I recount these events through tears, I can see God orchestrating every detail of my life,” Stevens declares, standing soundly on Hebrews 6:19–20a, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.”
Erika A. Bruckner (’04)
“Those I met at CSU still encourage me to run hard after Jesus! This is what sets CSU apart,” says Stevens, who studied women’s ministries and missions at CSU. The Stevens family welcomed their fourth child, Naomi Rose, earlier this year.
Stevens’ Advice for Those Grieving
- Don’t go at it alone. Surround yourself with godly people, and let Jesus love you!
- Don’t give up! Your life isn’t over. He will finish the work He has started in you!
- Don’t make it about you. Make it about GOD! He has purpose in everything He does!
- Get into the Word! Hide it in your heart, so God can use what is stored up to help you think about His sovereignty.
- Remember, there is hope in Jesus! You are loved by an infinite God!
Change the World Through The Ezra Project
- Start something in a hospital in your area (Stevens would love to come alongside you to help.).
- Collect items for Ezra Bags.
- Stock your church library with solid Christian materials to help moms who go through this. Buy a few books for secular groups in your area; many are open to faith-based books.
- Purchase mini books/pamphlets to pass out to hospitals.
- Visit the Ezra Project on Facebook. If you see someone post about receiving a bag, pray for and encourage them!