Sweet Baby Lukie

(written on 5/30, posted on 5/31)

Today was one of the most difficult days of my life, but I can truly see the healing hands of God at work in all of us.  We spent about 4 1/2 hours at the funeral home together, making decisions about where to bury baby Luke (They have wisely decided to have him “held” here until they choose his final resting place).  This way, they can feel the Spirit’s urging to go where ever they feel He is calling, and then have Lukie join them there.

I was blessed to be able to see him today, and he looked so beautiful.  He just looked like a healthy, strong, big boy, ready to take on the world.  I had been worried about what that moment would feel like, looking at him in his little outfit in his tiny casket.  I felt great peace as soon as I walked into the parlor…he looked like himself to me, and that was a great comfort.  I ruffled his little hair up and talked to him for a few minutes about how much he was loved.  I held his hands and squeezed his little roly-poly thighs.  As everyone who had come to the funeral home made their way up to him, cries echoed throughout the room.  There were only a few of us, but we each spent time alone with sweet Luke. 
Often times the guttural, aching sounds gave way to hushed prayer, and I realized that this is the mark of the believer in this horrifying moment.  ”Lord, I am empty, I am angry.  I want it to be different.  You could bring him back right this second if you so chose…but, it feels like for reasons we do not understand, you have chosen this instead….and so, we come humbly, barefoot, with our heads bowed, and we just ask for you to help us survive this grief.”  
If we didn’t need Him so much, we would all be tempted to turn our backs, I’m sure.
Today, that feeling has predominated my thinking…”I need you, I trust you, but I feel like you have failed me by letting them go.”  And then two breaths later, I am saying, “Oh Lord Jesus, come and mend.  Come and heal.  Only You can fix this disaster!”  What a strange balance.  At the end of the day it comes down to this, and for years, when I have been faced with any difficult situations, minor or major, I have told Todd that I have heard God said to me: 
Either you do or you don’t.
I can’t tell you how many times He has made it that simple.  Either you believe in Me, or you don’t.  There is no grey.  
And so today, locked in the embrace of my sweet sister-in-law, standing in front of her son’s casket, I had to answer…I do.
Nicol and I still bear wounds from our surgeries, and we have no babies to make the pain feel worth it….Lord, I do.
Nicol sang at Audrey’s funeral while holding Luke…that image has brought tears to my eyes, none of us knowing what was ahead…..I do.

I stared at his sweet face, and I kept wondering in my head, “What is she doing up there Luke? Tell me what she is like…who she is….what she loves…”  I do.
There are no words to express what my eyes have seen today, I feel that even attempting it would be a disservice. It was holiness I have rarely experienced, and I am grateful, so grateful to my Lord, Who loves us enough to make Himself known.
I know that for some of you, it may seem that “luck” is not on our side as a family, that we are victims of chance.  I want you to hear me say this loud and clear.
God Himself chose this to happen. Trust me, that is not the easiest sentence I have ever written, because I am human, and I am a grieving mother. I know that none of this is a surprise to Him. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel every bit of the loss, or that we just go about our lives because it’s all okay now.  It just means that we are steady in the belief that God knows what we don’t, and none of this changes Who He is.  None of it.
I am sure that people who do not trust in the Lord will be tempted to ask why such a great God would let us suffer so much. I am not going to pretend that I don’t ask that myself sometimes, but I will tell you this, and it has made all the difference.  
I ask Him.  
I don’t let myself “reason” through it, because I can’t.  I don’t let my anger fester too long, or I will, in my own weakness, crumble into nothingness.  I just cry out to Him and tell Him that I don’t understand, that I am angry, that I want answers.  I want to know why.  And He gives me momentary peace, and reminds me of the two words that drift around us we mourn.  
We do.
Luke’s memorial service is set for Monday at 3 pm.  Details will be posted when I have all of the information, but visitors are welcome.  
In the meantime, please keep praying.  And know that they are reaching us…not one of them is in vain.  Thank you,
Angie

May 29th

Thank you for your prayers.  That sentence just looks small to me; smaller than it feels.  We have felt the presence of those who are standing in the gap today, and we are all so grateful.
I wanted to post and give you a few more updates.  I am praying as I type that you will see past my muddled thoughts and let your heart make sense of my words.  I felt like I was too tired to say anything, but I really want to ask for your continued prayer in these days.  Greg and Nicol will be going to the funeral home tomorrow to make arrangements for Luke.  Please pray for strength, clarity in decision-making, and peace as they do this.  
Luke’s memorial service will be held on Monday.  I don’t know the details yet, but I will post more about it as they make decisions in the next day or so.
As parents, we are always looking for ways that we could have done things differently.  As Christians, we know that God doesn’t leave His throne.  There is an ugly middle road that Satan would love to make each of us walk, desperate to convince us that we could have prevented tragedy.  Please ask the Lord to make Himself so big that there is no room for questioning.  
I feel like there is so much more to say, and even as I have typed I have thought of many more things I would like to ask you to pray for.  I wish I had the energy to write every one of them, but I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.  I am praying that the Holy Spirit will whisper to you, and I want to thank you in advance for listening.  
Molly (my sister in law) and I went to Greg and Nicol’s house today to gather some things for them.  They haven’t been back yet, and I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be there again.  I just looked at all of his toys and his clothes and I felt like it couldn’t possibly be real.  How can he be gone? All his things in place, waiting for another day, and no Luke.  I kept thinking about what great parents they are, and they way they love their children.  I thought about what the night they lost him must have been like, and there was something in me that felt like giving up. 
There are moments where it seems hard to believe that a good, gracious God would allow us to hurt this way.  I have told Him so.  I have told Him a million things I wish He would have done differently, but tonight when I close my eyes, I will see the cross. I will rest in the sound of His sweet voice, reminding me that all is well in a place far away, where 2 babies are rejoicing together as they are reunited in the presence of the Lord.  
Audrey and Luke, I pray that you are dancing tonight as we rest.  We long to hold you again, to sing to you, to breathe the smell of your skin.  We long to parent you, but we know you are in far greater hands now.  I wish I could ask you what it is like…I long to see what you see.
For those of you who have followed my blog, you may remember that today was my due date with Audrey.  It was certainly a day marked my the feeling of loss, and yet enough grace to allow me to hope.  
Since Luke passed away on 5-27, I looked up that verse in the Bible.  It says “…Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.”  I choose to believe that in the moments when Luke was passing away, the voice of the Lord came quietly to him and asked him the same…no pain, no fear, just a still small voice in the night saying, “follow me, Luke.”  
That thought spurred me on today…”follow Me…follow Me…through the house, though the grief, through the memories., through the anger..follow Me.”  
Lord, in every decision we make and with everything we have to offer, let it be the cry of our heart to follow you….wherever you may lead us.
Thank you for helping us to take tiny steps in the direction of healing.  
Your words are so meaningful, and I want you to encourage you to write to Nicol and Greg at sponbergfamily@gmail.com.  I know they will find refuge there, in the prayers and encouragement of the faithful.  
Thank you so much for choosing to walk this with us.  We are more grateful than words can say.  
I will post again tomorrow to keep you all informed…
Thank you,
Angie

Update on Sponbergs

Just wanted to touch base and thank you for your prayers.  We are still operating under a veil of grief, not really knowing how to even begin to process what is happening.  We spent the day crying, praying, and just being with Nicol and Greg. There are absolutely no words to express what they are feeling. Everyone is here now, and I will continue to keep you updated as we have more specifics.  The details at this point seem to indicate SIDS, but we do not know for sure.
A few things that I would ask for you to specifically pray for would be:
1. Having to deal with the planning for Luke’s service, burial, etc.  I remember the strange feeling of knowing that I had to make choices and it felt like it was the farthest thing from what I felt capable of at that moment.
2. Pray that neither Greg nor Nicol will blame themselves for Luke’s death.  As parents, we can’t help but let ourselves drift into the dangerous land of “what if….?”  Where there is a sovereign God, there are no “what if’s”. Lord, remind them of this over and over as they rest tonight…
  
3. Pray for Summer. She is young, and I don’t think she really understands what is happening, although she is asking where baby Lukie is.  
4. Please pray for us as we try to minister to them.  The wound is fresh for us, and we long to minister to them the way we have felt ministered to recently. Pray for the right words and God’s timing as we try to help them in their planning, their processing, and their grieving.
5. Please pray for Greg and Nicol’s marriage.  I am remembering the days around Audrey, and the way the hurt transforms to anger, and the way that the anger lands on whoever is closest.  They spent the day peacefully together, but I want to pray that no divisions will rise up between them, and that they will feel fully united in their sorrow.
6. Pray for God to allow their grief to be distributed….as you read these words, you may feel called to volunteer yourself through prayer to be a “carrier” of their grief.  I asked the Lord many times since we found out about Luke if He would allow me to carry a portion.  I believe He as answered my prayer and I am convinced he will answer yours as well.
7.Pray for patches of joy in a bleak, seemingly hopeless fog.  
8.Pray that God would bless Greg and Nicol with erasing the memories from last night that they cannot stand to replay over and over in their minds.  Pray that God will erase the moments, smells, sounds of those terrifying moments, and that in their place will be a feeling of peace….peace that passes all understading.
9. Pray for those who do not know our great God…that the testimony and the hearts of Greg and Nicol would minister to them in such a difficult time.  Lord, draw them to Yourself.
10.  Pray. Pray. Pray.  
So many of you have walked with us, and I know you will desire to do the same with them.  You may want to send scriptures, prayers, thoughts, and support directly to them, so I have set up a new gmail account for you to send personal notes to Greg, Nicol, and Summer. 
the email address is:  sponbergfamily@gmail.com
Please feel free to love on them there…I don’t know when they will have the opportunity to read them, but I do know how much it will mean when they do.
Thank you for loving my family through this time.
I hope to have another update tomorrow with more details.  In the meantime, we find great peace in this, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…” Romans 8:26
Our hearts are broken, our bodies depleted, and yet our hope is in our Stongtower…we will run to you, Jesus.
Angie

Luke

I cannot believe I am writing these words.  My fingers are shaking.  I have been awake for most of the night crying, and have not really managed to make any sense out of what I am about to say.

Todd’s sister Nicol (she sang in Selah) had her second child on March 17th of this year.  His name is Luke.  
Last night around 9:00 central time, she went to check on him and he was not breathing. Paramedics were called but they were unable to resuscitate him.  
Our nephew Gregory Luke Sponberg is now in heaven with Audrey, just 7 short weeks after we lost her.  
To say we covet your prayers is an understatement.  
We are on our way to Georgia where they live, and Todd’s entire family is also coming as well.
I don’t know how to ask for specific prayers, but please, be on your hands and knees for Greg, Nicol, and Summer as they grieve.
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all of their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:17-18
Thank you.  I will post again when I have more specific prayer requests.
Angie

The Past and The Pitcher


In one of my books on grieving the loss of a child, the author suggests smashing a piece of pottery as a form of therapy.

I thought this was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard.
I was on my way to pick up Todd at the airport while we were at the beach, and on the way there, I was listening to my David Crowder CD and talking to God (these two always go hand in hand). I try not to dwell on the past any more than I need to, because there are hurts that aren’t totally healed.  It was a sunny day and I was alone with my music, so I guess it was as good a time as any to remember.  As it turns out, I’m glad I did.  
Before I get to all that, let me start with my first image of Jesus.  
At my grandparent’s condo, there was an image of the Lord that hung by the fold-out couch that my sister and I used to sleep on in the guest room.  It was surrounded by photographs of my dead Italian family, mostly women who a)looked like they should have slowed down on the lasagna servings and b)decided collectively that whenever a camera was around, they would pretend they were really angry and stare at the lens.  Right there, on the wall of Sicilian terror, hung the face of Christ.
It was one of those “watch you wherever you go” faces, and I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel like He was staring at me.  I actually devised an elaborate system that involved my sister and me taking shifts, so that neither of us would be caught unaware in the event that He or any of the dead ladies decided to make a midnight visit. 
Let’s just say it wasn’t a great first impression.
Years later, 2 events occurred that shaped my life dramatically.  The first was during graduate school.  My dad called me one day and told me that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  They were going to do further testing, but things didn’t look good.  I remember the words “3 months” being tossed around.  I am a daddy’s girl in every sense of the word.  Although I had no background with the church, or with the Lord, I decided to do something crazy.
I made a bet with God.
It went something like this.  You heal him, and I will find out about you.  
It sounds kind of crazy, but I was desperate.  The closest thing to prayer I had up to that point was asking God in the fifth grade to make my bowl haircut grow out while I slept.  He failed me.  I have pictures to prove it.
On Christmas Eve, we got a phone call from the doctor.  The tests had come back.
They couldn’t find the cancer.
When I got back to Nashville (I went to Vanderbilt for grad school), I called the local Catholic Church and asked them how to learn about God.  It turned out they had classes for this kind of thing, and they were about to start (go figure). I went to classes for a year and got to know God a little better.  I decided that I needed to get rid of my boyfriend, who I had dated for almost 6 years.  He was abusive in every sense of the word, and there are a lot of deep wounds I still carry with me from that time period.  It was completely unhealthy, and one of those times I look back on and wish I could change.  It hurts because even though I didn’t have a relationship with God at the time, I feel like I was unfaithful to Him.  
Fast-forward a few years.  I was driving home from work and talking to Audra on the phone.  A woman was not paying attention and pulled out right in front of me.  I slammed on my brakes but not fast enough to prevent my car from hitting her and rolling over.  I remember the sound of glass breaking and a scream (I guess it was mine).  I climbed through the window of my Grand Cherokee and cut my shoulder on the way out.  It was the only injury I sustained. 
I noticed that the police officers who came to the scene of the accident were taking pictures of my car, now upside-down in a pool of glass.  I asked them why, and they told me that based on the way the car had rolled, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt, I should have been under the front wheel of the car.  I didn’t understand why that was interesting enough to photograph until I looked at the car.  There was only one item that had come out of the car as I flipped, and it was now pinned under the front wheel.  It was the rosary that I had been given by the Church when I finished my classes, and it was covered in my blood.  Not a single bead was broken.  I knew in that moment what many people are blessed enough to learn early in life.
He died for me.
I went to the chapel with Audra later that night (after she came flying to the hospital with wet hair because she had heard the wreck happen on the phone) and we cried together at His mercy.  The door started to open for a relationship with Christ, but I didn’t fully let Him in.  I met Todd the weekend of October 15th, 2000.  I had gone to visit the jerk the weekend before, and my new Christian friends were trying to get me to go to church.  They invited me on this retreat thing, and to be honest I thought that pulling my arm-hair out sounded like more fun, but I was desperate.
The theme of the retreat was “Grace.”  I walked by a room where Todd was rehearsing and I saw him.  He loves this story because I basically fell head-over-heels for him instantly.  I have the journal entry from that day, and this is what I wrote:
“Lord, I know I’m not good enough for him.  But could you just let me have someone like him?”
Almost 8 years and 5 kids later, I am a better person because God let me have him.
So, back to the pottery and the drive to the airport.  If you are still with me, I promise there is a point I am trying to get to…
As I was driving, God spoke to me clearly, and He asked me to do something odd.  I started thinking about this pitcher that I have in my house, and as soon as it came to mind, He told me to smash it.  I thought about the book that said to break pottery and I kind of shrugged it off, but I really felt like that’s what He wanted me to do.
Thank God my neighbors know me well enough to not call the police when I throw a perfectly good pitcher onto my front porch at ten o’clock at night.  I watched it shatter, and I must apologize to the author of that book.  It felt great.
I waited for a few moments, taking it in.  What next? I asked.
Again, He was very clear.
Put it back together again.

What I wanted to do was go to bed, but I felt like He was meaning now, so I gathered all the pieces together and brought them in the house.  I told Todd what was going on, and he took a look at the tiny shards of porcelain, knowing it was going to be a long night.  I went and got the hot glue gun and sat down in the kitchen.  It was hard to know where to start, but I found the lip and the handle relatively intact, and just kind of made it up as I went.  I talked to the Lord while my fingers worked, and He stayed near to me.  I would love to tell you that it was like a movie where it’s all sweet and perfect, but the truth is that I glued my finger to it at one point and cut myself bloody several times.  I thought about swear words that I wanted to say.  
But, still I kept at it.
And as I worked, He let me think about my past.  Mistakes that I have long regretted.  I began to realize that this pitcher was my life, and every piece was part of story that He had chosen to put together.  I started crying, and remembering things I thought I had forgotten.  It took a long time to finish, but it was time well spent.  Every nook and cranny whispered to me, until at last it stood in all its imperfection.  
Here you are, Angie.
You are mended.  You are filled with my Spirit,  and I am asking you to pour yourself out.

The image of my life as a broken pitcher was beautiful to me, but at the same time, it was hard to look at all of the cracks.
I ran my fingers along them and told Him I wish it had been different. How I wished I had always loved Him, always obeyed Him, always sought Him the way I should.  I was mad at the imperfections, years wasted, gaping holes where it should be smooth.
But God, my ever-gracious God, was gentle and yet convicting as He explained.
My dearest Angie.  How do you think the world has seen me?  If it wasn’t for the cracks, I couldn’t seep out the way I do. I chose the pitcher. I chose you,  just as you are.
At the risk of sounding like a nutcase, I am going to make a suggestion.
Find a piece of pottery, and let it shatter at your feet.  
Take the time to be with the Lord as you piece it together again (but beware the wrath of the glue gun…).  Let Him tell you who you are, and let yourself be reminded of the grace that seals us all.  You may not know Him at all, or you may be a “flannel-board Jesus” kid.  It makes no difference.  I am praying as I type these words that He will come to you and remind you that He loves the gaps because there is the potential for more of Himself revealed in you.  Let him help you smash and rebuild his most coveted posession…you.

Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.  But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him…Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand…Jeremiah 18:2-6

Angie
p.s. if you do this, I want you to send me pictures of your “new art!”  

p.p.s.  My pitcher now sits in the middle of my kitchen table, constantly displaying the work of God for all who come to my home:)  Thank you for the mending, Lord.  I love You.

My Birthday, your questions!

First of all, please let me express my deepest thanks to those of you who sent me emails, gifts, and prayers on my Birthday yesterday.  I cannot believe how many of you “strangers” thought to bless me with your acknowledgements!
It was a good, full day.  We recorded Audrey’s song, and although we got a lot of great stuff (Amy can SING….as if you didn’t already know….:) ), we decided that the demo was really special because of the timing of it.  I was still pregnant with Audrey, and I held the little headphones around my tummy while we were recording so that she could hear it.  She kicked while she listened, and every time I hear it, that is what I remember.  I also remember that Amy was crying during the recording, and we left it in the song because it just captured the moment so beautifully.  
So, although I think they are going to add some things from yesterday (as well as a string arrangement from somebody VERY special..more on that later!), we are going to leave a lot of the demo the way it is.  One thing we did do yesterday, which I am really excited about, is to create a version for people who have lost boy babies (so instead of “her” in the last verse, it says “him” etc….). This will be known as the “Elliot” version of the song, in honor of Sara’s baby Elliot.  We have had many requests for the song to be played at baby funerals etc, and I really wanted to have one for mommies that have lost their sons as well.  I have some bad news about the CD, though…the release date has been pushed back to next Spring because the business people say they need more time to market it…stinky, I know :(  BUT, it is worth the wait…it is a great, great record…
Last night we went to a benefit dinner for the Hope Clinic, and it was amazing. The woman who runs the Hope Clinic surprised me with a cake (thank you, Renee!!!) that tasted like heaven on earth.  The dinner was held at the new-ish Symphony Hall in Nashville, and celebrated 25 years of dedication to unborn lives.  I never cease to be amazed at what God has done with this ministry.  If you would like to contribute, make sure and mention Audrey Caroline on your check…we are going to do something special in honor of her there, and I will keep you posted on the details. I cannot think of a better way to have spent my Birthday! It was a blessed day, and I have no doubt that all of your prayers to that end reached me.  
I have been so excited to start answering your questions, and they are all so interesting that this may take awhile, because I would love to get to all of them. There were three that seemed to keep showing up (the same three that people have emailed me for months, so I am glad to have the opportunity to address them here!), so I will start with those. One is about writing a book, one is about how I met Todd, and the last is about how I came to Christ.
First off, the easy one.
I am humbled (not just in the way that nice people know they are supposed to say they are, but in the “I can’t believe this” crying tears of gratitude way…) that so many of you have commented on my writing.  It is something I love doing, and have never really pursued the way I wanted to.  I would love to share this with you, though, because it is so like God to do it. 
A few months before we found out Audrey’s diagnosis (I was already pregnant with her), I was working on a proposal for a Christian parenting book and was in the process of securing a publishing deal with a Christian publisher.  Before I could finish it, January 7th rolled around and I told them I needed to not be thinking about anything but the baby.  I know now what I did not know then.
That was not the book I was supposed to write.  
I mention this next part because I covet your prayers in the coming months. We have been presented with a few opportunities that are above and beyond what I could have dreamed up, and they have fallen in line with very specific prayers about how Audrey’s story will be told, if it is to be told at all.  Todd and I felt strongly that if there was an opportunity for publishing of any sort, it would not be because we sought it out, but rather because God gave it to us. We also asked that if someone was going to publish it, they would come across it because of personal experience and not because of “business.”  There were a few other requests to God in there as well, and Todd and I are prayerfully considering a few options that have come our way. As it stands, we have as much time as we need to in order to mull things over, and that may be years. We are so focused on figuring out how to “do life” again that this hasn’t really settled in, but I hope and pray that there will be a day…
What I know is that I want people to have a resource from another mommy who understands the pain of losing a baby, and I want people to meet my sweet Audrey. Please pray for discernment in this area…we feel ill-equipped and unqualified, but confident that this is the best way for God to show up. And thank you for even asking the question…if nothing else were to come of it, I would know that God had chosen you all to encourage me, and that is more than I could have asked for…thank you.  I will certainly keep you all posted if there are any developments:)
A lot of people also asked how Todd and I met…the quick version is that we met at a singles retreat…he was singing, and I got dragged to it by some friends who later became my bridesmaids and several of my dearest friends.  On the trip up there (Fall Creek Falls), I was shaking.  I had no idea why, but at one point I said to the girls, “I think one of us is going to meet our husband this weekend!”  Little did I know…
The long version involves your third question, and some details that I have hesitated to share because they are complicated.  This is the bottom line:
If God can use me, He can use anyone.
I think that before I get into that story, I should pause.  I have already made this longer than I intended, and because of my “no edit” policy, I fear that I cannot go back and make it more concise or clear:) I am my own worst enemy.
I will say this.
I did not grow up going to church.
I did not know Jesus for most of my life.
I did not know Jesus on October 15th, 2000, when I met my future husband.  
I did not know that a Savior could love me the way He does, given what He knows about my life before Him.  
If I hadn’t received so many emails from people who feel like I have it all together spiritually, I probably would never have dreamed of sharing this part of my life.  God spoke to me while I was at the beach, and He was pretty clear about what He wants me to write.  It isn’t really a pretty story, but it has a great Hero, and a beautiful courtship.  It is the most meaningful (and difficult) think I have ever tried to put on paper, but it is worth the hurt. I am planning on posting that soon, and do hope it will meet you wherever you are, and that it will whisper Jesus to you.  
I do have one request, though.  I have noticed that a lot of you write things like, “Although we will never meet…” Well, don’t:)  I want to feel like we will, and that I will get to thank you in person.  It makes me sad to think that I might not get that chance…so, instead, let’s say “When I meet you…”  That feels better.
I will have you know that in the middle of a restaurant in Destin, I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger.  Several minutes into it, Todd and the girls came over to tell me that our table was ready. I guess that triggered something in her mind, because she looked at me with a big smile and said, “I know you! You have a blog, don’t you? I have been praying for you!”  I grabbed her by the neck and squeezed her until the other patrons were sufficiently confused (security was not alerted), and then I thanked God for showing me some of the flesh behind the prayers.  I hope He continues to do this for years to come.
Thank you for listening, for loving, and for encouraging me.  
Oh, and also…I can’t wait to meet you.
Angie

SURPRISE!!!


(written on Sunday evening…5/11/08…Mother’s Day)

I feel so sneaky.

I have wanted to ask for prayer for the past few weeks, but I was working on keeping a real good secret, and I am proud to say I pulled it off.

Yesterday, I went to Texas and surprised Sara.

It was the greatest, worst day I have had in a long time. I woke up at 5 a.m. after only getting about three hours of sleep, and headed for the airport (and you all know how much I love flying, right?) Well, it’s a good thing I had no idea how bad the flight would be, or I probably wouldn’t have gotten onboard. Proof that God shields you sometimes from the hard stuff coming up because He sees what you don’t, and to get to it, sometimes you just gotta get on the plane.

The poor man next to me was very patient when I asked him if I could hold his hand and then proceeded to draw blood from his forearm while screaming “Oh, Lord…NOOOOOOO LORD ..NOOOOOO!!!!!”

In an attempt to distract me (note to anyone who tries this…if someone’s head is lodged in your armpit, asking them about their day is going NOWHERE), he asked about my travel plans. I told him I was flying to Dallas and then later that day, to Pensacola. He took his pointer finger and drew a little map in the air of my flight route with a questioning look on his face.

“That seems like a strange way to go.” He wanted me to explain.

I didn’t.

Later in the flight, he fell asleep and then we hit another “patch” of air. Let me rephrase.

I saw Auntie Em.

I woke him up because I felt weird about grabbing the hand of a sleeping man I didn’t know. And because he offered me his hand again, I offered him my story.

By the time I got off the plane, I was a wreck. He helped me get into the airport, and I thanked him and asked if he wanted to meet me in 19B on a flight to Pensacola later. I was joking. He was not. I pulled the old “I have such a tiny bladder” girl trick and ducked into the bathroom. Yikes. Not a good start to the day.

Sara’s friend Debra picked me up at the airport (here’s where it starts to get better). We had a great time chatting about the big surprise, and I started to remember why I had gotten on the dumb plane in the first place

When we got to the church for Elliot’s celebration service, Debra made the “eagle has landed” call, and we got into position. As I waited for Sara to come around the corner, I just kept thinking, She’s not going to recognize me. She is just going to stare at me and not know why everyone is acting like she should be excited.

It felt like about a half an hour passed while I waited in this little office, and then I heard someone whisper, “Here she comes.”

As she rounded the corner, her eyes looked right into mine.

I don’t know how to say this other than to say it simply.

We knew each other.

She blinked, and tears started coming down her face. Lots of them and all at once. We hugged and hugged and neither wanted to let go, because it just made sense that way. We would start to talk and then halfway through a sentence we would just start hugging again. It was one of my favorite moments ever.

I got to meet her husband Brandon and all of their family and friends, and they made me feel like part of them. They have an amazing support system, thank God. Several times throughout the day, people would be looking at me and ask, “Are you Angie?” They had been following my blog because of how similar the story was to Sara’s, and as a result, had been in prayer for Audrey. I cannot tell you how much it meant to put faces to the prayers..beautiful, sweet, sincere faces. Amazing.

The service was gorgeous and God-honoring in every way. We laughed at the way it mirrored Audrey’s, even down to some of the song choices, although we had never discussed it. I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be there and be a part of it. About fifteen minutes into it, Brandon and Sara read letters to Elliot.  I started to cry (in a pretty, “Days of Our Lives” kind of way). Approximately ten seconds after that, I shifted into the “snot flying out of your nose, making sounds that only dogs can hear” mode. 

Luckily, everyone understood.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the hardest hours of my life. It was like looking into a mirror, but from a different angle. All of a sudden it felt like it was too much to bear. I kept looking at the tiny box of Elliot’s ashes on the front podium, and all of the people weeping, and I thought of a book cover that I have seen and wanted to read. It is by one of my favorite authors, Phillip Yancy, and the title is “Disappointment With God.”
As the song “It Is Well” echoed throughout the church, Brandon stood up. A father without his son. He lifted his hands to the sky and sang out the words as tears fell down his cheeks. It was the most beautiful image of the Christian walk, and I will treasure it forever. But it stung.
I was disappointed with God.
Do I praise Him? Yes.
Do I love Him deeply and with abandon? Yes.
Do I trust Him? Yes.
Am I disappointed that our children are gone? I am.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. He isn’t intimidated by my disappointment. It doesn’t make God turn away from me because I wish that things were different sometimes, in fact, it makes Him come nearer.
I left the service and ran to the bathroom. I always thought it was a dramatic movie stunt where people acted like they were so distraught that they had to physically hold themselves up. Well, with my hands pressed into the bathroom walls, trying to remember how to breathe, I realized that there is a grief such as this. I just kept thinking, Be here with me God. Be here and hold me up. You say You are the lifter of our heads…Oh God, lift my head, lift my head…

I continued to cry through most of the conversations I had that day. I just couldn’t seem to get it together, but it felt safe. It felt tender, like a fresh wound. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it has carved me deeper, and made me trust Him for one more day when I thought I wouldn’t survive the hurt.
I loved being in Texas. The whole thing. I loved the way they love Jesus, the way they love each other and the way they love me. Thank you…you all know who you are…thank you.
And to Sara…
He gives and takes away.
After meeting you, I know He has done both.
Thank you for allowing me to love your son. Thank you for letting me in to the places that don’t feel good, and the ones that are just right. There has never been a doubt, since the day we first spoke, that God has had His hand in our lives. I am praying for you tonight…that He will lift your head on this bittersweet Mother’s Day. I am forever grateful that you took a chance in writing a stranger, and even more grateful that we are no longer strangers. You are such a special gift to me, Sara. Thank you.  I can’t wait to spend more time with you and watch our children play together (the other four).  We may actually find out we have some things in common one of these days… :)
As many of you may already know, the song “It Is Well” was written by a man whose four daughters had just drowned after their boat collided with another. He received a telegram from his wife, who had also been onboard, and it said only two words.
“Saved. Alone.”
As he sailed to be with his wife, he paced the decks of the ship. He asked the captain to tell him when they were passing over the bodies of his daughters, and when he was notified, he said that the words “When sorrows like sea billows roll…whatever my lot, though hath taught me to say, It is Well, it is well with my soul….”  
It is one o’clock in the morning and I am sitting on the balcony, listening to the waves crash onto the sand. I am thinking of Brandon’s arms raised to God, of the look on Sara’s face.  I am thinking about how my Audrey is in the presence of the God Who spoke it all into being. There are moments in your life when you know that God is speaking, and you just want to listen and be still.  
Sometimes He comes in a whisper, and other times, in a roar… tonight, it is the latter. I am not alone, and there is a rhythm to the chaos, even if it is just for a moment.
This Mother’s Day, it is well with my soul.
I love all of the questions you all have sent to me, and I can’t wait to dig in. Thank you for caring enough to write to a stranger…although I guess we all know how that works out…
Did I mention I am grateful?
Angie

Grateful

Jessica and I got together yesterday so that she could give me my Birthday present (it’s on May 19th…she’s an overachiever at planning:)), and she also gave me a little grief over the fact that I hadn’t updated my blog in the past week.  The truth is that I just don’t know what to say. This is such a strange time, because one minute I’m laughing at something someone said to me, and the next I’m crying my eyes out.  I dropped off Sawyer at a kennel this morning (we are going to the beach for a week), and I couldn’t stop myself from falling apart when he walked out of eyesight.  I told the lady that I would probably be calling later to check in on him, and she actually made me feel like I wasn’t crazy, which was nice.  I was fumbling through all of these completely unnecessary instructions (like, “Make sure he eats his food” and “I hope he plays with the other dogs…” Ummm, yeah, Angie.  It’s a dog kennel.  I’m sure they’ve worked out the whole “dogs need food to stay alive” thing…)  She just let me talk.  I finally told her the story of Audrey and felt like I was coming across as a lunatic.  
Here’s the amazing thing…she acted like I wasn’t a lunatic.  In fact, even though we might never see each other again, she made me feel like she would rather be listening to me than doing anything else.  It amazes me that people care the way they do.  God has blessed me with many of these “strangers,” and I always think about the way that the Lord has allowed them to pass through my day, images of His grace in human form.
And so, as I type, I realize that I was wrong.
I do have something to say.
I am grateful.
When I was driving home yesterday, Ellie had her feet hanging out of the back window, and I kept looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing her toes tap along to the music while the wind blew through them.
I am grateful.
I found out that my sister-in-law got a false positive on a medical test.
I am grateful.
I am shaking and sobbing as I write, because I know that you are reading this, and that you will encourage me in my grief.  
I am grateful.
My friend Jess (a different one!) from my church Community Group came over yesterday and took my girls to McDonald’s and to the Dollar Store to get me a Mother’s Day gift (one balloon, one card, three stuffed monkeys and a stuffed pig…what could be better?)
I am grateful.
Four days after Audrey died, I went on a weekend retreat with my Bible Study girls.  I have been a part of this group for about four years, and we have shared life in a way that defies the world today.  I think we are the “Ya-Ya’s who love Jesus.” We even took a candlelight pledge that involved sparkling cider and personalized hats:)  In a rustic log cabin in the woods, they loved me through the hardest days of my life.  They climbed in my bed with me while I sobbed, wiped my face, prayed over me, and made me laugh despite the pain.  
I am grateful.
Since I have started writing this entry, I have received several emails from people who will never see my face, but have chosen to enter into my story.
I am grateful.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I am the mother of five children…three here and two in heaven. I know. I haven’t told the story, so you may not know that Todd and I also lost our first baby early in pregnancy.  That sweet baby is with Audrey, and one day, I will see them both again.
I am grateful.
There are other developments in my life that I want to share with you when the time is right. God has such a way of making Himself known.  Reminding me of the life that waits up ahead. In the meantime, know this…
I am grateful.
I want to do something a little different here, so stick with me.  
I get a lot of emails where people ask me questions.  They range from the deeply spiritual to the gloriously mundane.  My goal is to answer all of them, but time has escaped me and there are many that I never have the chance to address.  I thought this would be a neat way for me to connect with you, so if you want to, write your question in the “comments” section and I will do my best to answer them in my blogs so that everyone can see.  This idea (thank you Jess #1 ) feels like community to me, and I love that.  So please, let’s share a little more life in the coming days.  Feel free to leave any other comments as well…I love hearing from you. 
Here are a few photos from my Bible Study Retreat….I hope they encourage you to make a list of some of the things that you are grateful for today.  And, Secret-Saintly-Sisters, I love you all.
Jess, Julie, Me, Amy, Jenny (with Reid), Kristin, Larissa, Jeannie, Melissa, Audra, Melissa, Cherilyn, and Katie (and Kristen, who was in England).  


Clay

This has been a hard week.
Just six words, but they pretty much sum it up.
After crying through basically every human interaction I have had for the last several days, I realized that there was something in me that needed to be broken.  Something that I hadn’t felt completely yet.  Todd left to go on the road on Wednesday night, and I sobbed like a baby. Shaking, gasping, “why can’t you be an accountant and work 9-5?” tears.  I was not ready to be alone with my thoughts yet.  I wasn’t ready to be in charge of the kids, of the house, of anything that did not involve Kleenex.  As he left the house around 11:30 p.m., I curled up in my bed and I invited the sorrow in.  She came swiftly, deeply, consumingly.  And she whispered to me in the dark of night.
I am here to stay.

We had a rainstorm yesterday (go figure), and I made up my mind that I needed to be with my daughter for awhile.  As soon as it started to let up, I called my dad and he came to watch the kids so that I could go to the cemetery. I have wanted to go to her many times before, but I haven’t had the strength to be weak.
As I walked through the tombstones in the direction of Audrey’s grave, I started to panic.  I was alone, and the grass was wet on my toes.  What is this new life? I realized as I wandered that it all looked so different from the day she was buried.  There was no white tent.  There were no benches.  No landmark to find my child.  I wandered in and out of headstones, searching and crying.  I got myself together enough to try and remember the little map that they had given us when we chose her burial spot, and I walked in that direction.  I had taken no more than a few steps when I saw the red clay in front of me.  New earth, carving out a spot no more than a foot and a half by two feet.  
There was a brief moment where I regretted my decision.  It was too soon. The grass was still wet from the storm. 
The clay was still fresh.  
I sat down, not minding that my pants became soaked through or that someone might see me sobbing hysterically.  I sat next to her, and I cried until my bones ached and goosebumps covered my legs.  I have never in my life felt so lonely.  I remembered one of the first things that Abby said after she met Audrey.  She took a long look at her and then she asked me quietly, “Do we have to dig now, mommy?”  Just a little girl trying to understand what comes next, and here I was, touching the other side of it already.
I had brought my Bible with me, and I read her a few Psalms.  All of the ones that God directed me to were about praising the Lord with every breath.  I told Him I was pretty sure I had just missed a couple.  As I read out loud, the sound of my voice started to fill the void.  I stayed that way for about an hour, reading and praying over my baby.  I know that she isn’t really in there, it’s just that her knees are, and I would have loved to kiss them after she fell.  I need to mourn the loss of the arms that cannot wrap around me here.  Braided hair, a wedding dress, her first wiggly tooth. They are deep within the ground, never to be mine.  I needed to feel that loss, and I did.  I do.
I went upstairs to change clothes when I got home, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Mascara smudged under my eyes, messy hair, wet clothes.  But that wasn’t what I saw first.  What I saw was the unmistakable patch of rust on my forehead.  Clay.  I must have gotten it on myself somehow while I sat with her.  I reached for the towel, and just as I began to wipe it away, a voice reminded me of what I know to be true.
I am here to stay.

I will permanently bear the mark of a woman who has lost her child.  There are many of us walking here…in the grocery store, at the neighborhood barbeque, at the movies.  We walk without necessarily recognizing each other, side by side and a million miles apart.  If you are one of these women, I want you to know that as I write these words, I am praying for you.  I am mourning what you have lost in this life.  I am praying that God will fill you as only He can, and that in time, you (and I) will be with our daughters and our sons again.  Know that I hurt with you tonight.
I want to include (with permission…thank you, sweet Sara) a picture of the Skaggs family, whom I referenced in my last post.  I want you to meet them and to have faces to put with the names…this is Sara, her husband Brandon, their daughter Sydney and their son Elliot.
I know how much your words have meant to me over the last months-your prayers, suggestions, and stories. If you feel so led, I would like to ask you to write to Sara.  Her email address is saraskaggs@hotmail.com.  She is a fellow believer, and a woman who appreciates the power of prayer…I just know how much your words would mean to her right now.
As you look at these pictures, I want you to notice the most amazing part of what God does for us…it is the beauty in the midst of suffering that only He can create.  
It is the mark of a woman who mourns the new earth, and yet, hopes in spite of it.