*5* & a beautiful gift.

I glanced down at my phone and saw a text from my editor (and dear friend) Jennifer Lyell. It said “Listen to your voicemail:)”

I’m terrible with voicemail. And she knows me well enough to know that if she doesn’t explicitly tell me to, I will likely never hear her messages.

So I listened.

And I cried.

It’s a minute and 58 seconds, and it’s one of the most beautiful messages I have ever received. I will save it to play over and over in the moments when I’m tempted to believe what the enemy whispers to me.

She is forgotten.

Audrey would have been 5 years old today. She would have been blowing out candles and running around the house and giving me the privilege of having one more load of laundry. She would have been getting ready for summer to start, excited to try and swim independently and celebrate the sunshine with her friends.

She would have been laughing, I just know it.

She isn’t forgotten, I know that because I carry her with me every moment of every day, and I will continue to. As the leaves changed this year I wondered if her tree would bloom as it has every other, and indeed it did. Just before Easter, reminding me again that it is only in the resurrection that I find the strength to wait for the flowers to dance again on barren branches.

They don’t stay long. Just a few weeks at most, and often not even that.

It’s still, in the grand scheme of things, a young tree.

It has years to go before it’s strong enough to bear more. I will remember that instead of mourning the fleeting glance, and I will believe it a gift that He knows how much beauty I can stand each year and He gives me grace in proportion.

He has, in so many ways, reminded me of the tender way He involves Himself in the details. One particular story has blessed me tremendously, and I wanted to take today to share it in honor of Audrey.

I have known for awhile that one day I would write a children’s book about her in some form, but it wasn’t until last year that I put my pen to paper. There were so many different ways I wanted to do it, so many stories I wanted to share. I struggled through the emotion of trying to convey the profound juxtaposition of sadness and God’s perfect love, not just for the book, but for myself.

And finally the words were written and the art began. The illustrator was tremendous in her gifting and a delight to work with, but as the first few pages came in I felt a tug in my heart.

My friend Kelsey had been over and we were looking at illustrations online when a friend of hers mentioned a young girl she had come across on Etsy. Kelsey clicked on the link and both of us stared at the screen, while page after page of her work confirmed what I was hesitant to say out loud.

She’s the one.

It made no sense from any angle. She was barely 20, didn’t do custom work, and had never illustrated a children’s book. And since we already had a contract with another illustrator, it was a moot point. I knew the book would turn out beautifully, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this girl and I would connect. Her name is Breezy Brookshire, and I am so happy to tell you a little more of how this is unfolding.

I’m in the process of writing a children’s Bible storybook for girls as well, and I mentioned Breezy to them in the hopes of talking to her about illustrating it. I explained to my precious B&H team that I wanted a previously unpublished, teenaged girl to do the entire Bible. As you can imagine, it sounded like a foolproof plan. :)

We had coffee one afternoon and I scrolled through her art, watching their faces do exactly what mine had. They told me they would reach out to her immediately and see if she would be willing to discuss the storybook Bible.

She told me later that when she received the message from Dan Lynch at B&H, she checked the website to see if I was writing a children’s book because she was hoping it might be me. As God would have it, she knew of my blog and had read about Audrey. She and her family had prayed for me during that time, and were familiar with her story.

In any case, she wrote back to both of us and said she would love to talk more about it. I was third in line checking out at Hobby Lobby with Kelsey when I got the message. Not that I remember it that well.

Believe it or not (shocking, right?!?) she and her family had plans to come very near to Nashville in the following weeks and we decided to get together and see where things went. Before our “business meeting” with the B&H team, I invited the family for coffee and to my house because I wanted them to have a chance to express any concerns they might have and also just to get to know us a little. This was a young girl, a big project, and a lot of unknowns. I wanted to reassure them that the team at B&H was amazing and that I would do everything I could to support her in the process.

Sufficed to say, we fell in love with them. The Brookshire’s are one of the kindest, most pure-hearted and gracious families I have ever met, and we were delighted to be in their company. All kindred spirits, eyes on the work the Lord was encouraging us to partner in, humbly accepting the grace that would allow such a beautiful friendship.

At one point I stood up to get something in the kitchen and while standing at the sink, I turned to Breezy at the table and all of a sudden my eyes just filled up with tears. I don’t know how to explain the connection that happens sometimes between people, but the Lord just fosters a knowledge of someone in a way that defies the fact that you’re essentially strangers.

And although I had felt it before, I had a deep conviction in that moment about Audrey’s story, and I told them through tears that I felt like she was supposed to illustrate it.

We prayed about everything, we cried, we giggled, we just loved each other. It was wonderful. They felt like home. While we chatted, Breezy’s amazing sister Emily Rose was playing with Kate in a nearby room, and I could hear them telling stories and connecting. It was a beautiful puzzle; the lot of us put together for a greater purpose.

{That’s Emily Rose on the left and Breezy on the right in the top photo}

We had our business meeting the following day and it went exceptionally well; naturally all parties involved were excited and the focus was on the Bible storybook. After saying goodbye (yes, we were all crying. It may have been the air in the restaurant, I don’t know.) I walked into another shop in downtown Franklin and sat down on a bench to try and catch my breath. We hadn’t talked about Audrey’s book because it was out of the question, but I asked about it in a later conversation with B&H.

They explained that it would basically take an act of God for that work out, but that they would pray.

They did. I did.

And He honored our prayer with a series of events so bizarre and inexplicable that I am tempted to say it is the most convinced I have ever been that God enters into even the small things on our behalf. Every single detail of what looked impossible was taken care of, every person overjoyed at the outcome.

In the end, Breezy signed an official contract as the illustrator of Audrey’s story on January 7th, which was the five year mark of the ultrasound that told us she wouldn’t survive.

And as the sketches for each page came in, my heart would pound as I studied the face of the girl in the story. Her name is Caroline, and she has bright red hair.

She’s about 5, I’d say.

And it was clear to me in those moments that the Lord had orchestrated all of it, and that by His grace He let me see this little girl dance and run and play dress-up with her bunny Audrey.

And she has life.

She has so much life…

I don’t know why He wrote the story this way. There’s no question it isn’t the way I would have. I hasten to say that every one of you reading this can think of something in your own life that feels the same. An area where you’re tempted to listen to the enemy as well, wondering if it’s been forgotten entirely.

I can tell you with assurance that He cares, and I can point you to the verses that declare that truth. But more than that, I pray you’ll experience it for yourself.

A tree was planted in my yard in honor of a little girl who never got to run in it.

I could spend the rest of my life imagining her bare feet in the grass, but in the end it wouldn’t change a thing.

So, instead, I wait.

I wait for the blossoms to come, and when they do, in whatever form they are given, I treasure them as long as I can. I praise the God who brings life, and in so doing, I praise the God who takes it

I believe He mourns with me while I wait, but I also believe He rejoices in ways I can’t yet. He sees it as it will be, when all is made right, and it’s beautiful.

It’s easy to cry when the flowers fall, because to our eye the beauty has passed.

My prayer for myself today and for all of you is that you will hear the still-strong voice of the Lord comforting you as He reminds you that you can only see a bit of the page.

The roots are strong, love.

There is life deeper than you’ll ever know here.

Savor the fragrance and revel in the brightness when it comes, and grieve it when it goes. It’s the nature of our flesh to do so.

But also, remember you too are a very young tree.

And there are many things ahead that you couldn’t begin to manage beholding, not even in your wildest daydreams.

They’re better than bare feet in grass, and better even than candles on a cake.They’re the pages that are yet to come, and this is a chapter that declares you believe it is so.

I believe it is so.

Jennifer’s message said that she had just received the final pages for Audrey’s book, and she was overcome by emotion. She cried as she told me how much her life pointed to the Lord, and I listened to her heart break with mine.

It’s beautiful, she said, her voice breaking.

I can’t help but agree.

It is a spectacular work of art, and I want to give my public and heartfelt gratitude for Breezy.

Breezy-you showed me  life in her I didn’t think I would ever get to see, and I’m forever indebted to you for all the tenderness you approached this project with. You are one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received, and your love for her makes me weak with gratitude. May the Lord be blessed through the spectacular work of your hands, and may you always carry with you my unending esteem for your work ethic, your breath-taking ability, and more than that, your passionate love of our Father God. And may His name be lifted because of your offering-now and forever.  I love you more than I know how to say and I recognize it is only He who could weave this together. All praises to the One who cares intimately about our circumstance.

Sweet Audrey- I pray our Lord is glorified through this book, and that you know how very much we miss and love you. Every day we are closer to where you are, and we will rejoice to see you again.

I’ve cried today, sweet girl, because I wanted to have you with me and the emptiness breaks my heart. Most of my days that’s enough to get me through, but sometimes I can’t stop the tears. It’s okay. It’s just the way it is, I guess.

I wish you were here, love.

Any yet, our Father has given is so many gifts, so many promises, and so many reasons to remain steadfast as we wait.

We do the best we can, love.

So until then…

Happy Birthday, Audrey Girl.

We love you more than we can ever say with words.

*It won’t release for several more months but I wanted to include the image of the front cover so you could see it. Can’t wait to share the rest. Isn’t she beautiful?*