Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And the Stockings were hung by the Chimney with Care

Well, we have finally hung up our stockings, read the Christmas story from Luke and the girls are all snuggled in their beds (not asleep but in bed).

No easy way to handle our emotions for today, just to have some reassurance that our Heavenly Father is caring for Claire in a way that we could not compare to. Just imagine the Christmas Celebration Claire is enjoying, actually, I can't begin to imagine. Don't you think it is the biggest party ever?

As we celebrate Christmas this evening I can only reflect upon the fact that Jesus Christ came to earth as a precious newborn baby. An infant whose mother held him in her arms, she nursed him at her breast, she took care of his every need. She kissed his "boo boos"' she taught him to use his manners, she taught him to be polite. She directed him as an adolescent, she edified him as a teenager. And when it came time she encouraged him to begin his ministry. And then at 33 years of age Mary watched her son, her precious son, suffer and die a brutal death so that you and I could have eternal life with our Heavenly Father the one who created each and every one of us.

As a mother I cannot imagine the pain and agony that Mary felt within her heart and soul knowing that her son was sacrificing himself for her, everyone else standing around and those of us who would come generations later. I am certain that her prayers to God, in those moments, were in desperation for another way, any other way. God had prepared her for those moments, I'm sure, but her flesh must have cried out.

God has been preparing Jeff and me for these days without Claire, but that doesn't stop us from crying out in desperation that there must have been another way. And then I am reminded that Claire is celebrating that eternal life that we long for. So as we celebrate Christmas by watching the sparkle in our children's eyes and open those presents from loved ones, let's remember the true reason we are celebrating. Yes, Jesus' birth was a miraculous event but his death and resurection was much more than a miracle, it was the reason we can sit here in the midst of tears and pain and know that Claire has received the gift of eternal salvation promised to each of us.

I believe that God is a merciful and gracious God and wants our eternal presence with him.

Merry Christmas to You and May God Blessings abound in the coming year!!

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68;79

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Well here we are 9 days from Christmas! I really don't want to be here, I want to be back in July celebrating the 4th of July with all of my girls! Watching the fireworks over Asheville with the children running all around! But time does move forward even when our hearts and souls don't seem to.

Last night we were able to get out a few decorations to try and make our home at least look "a little like Christmas." Abbigayle supervised Caroline and Sarah as they set out part of our "It's A Wonderful Life" (Jeff's favortie movie) Christmas village. Jeff helped me put out our Nativity Scene. Claire helped me pack it up last year.

One tradition that we have in our home is rotating each year who gets to place the Angel on top of the tree. Jeff and I purchased a beautiful Angel for our first Christmas together and once Abbigayle was old enough to place it on top of the tree Jeff has helped each of the girls place her on top of the tree. Each of the girls have had at least one turn. I had counted in my mind and thought it might be Claire's year to place the Angel, but I wasn't sure. Last night Jeff checked his list and then we knew for certain that this was Claire's year. With tears in our eyes and an almost unbearable pain in our guts we decided that there would be no Angel on top of our tree this year, she will sit underneath the tree.

I have shared the picture of the last time Claire placed our Angel on our Christmas Tree. We were still living in Weaverville.

Please keep us in your hearts and prayers, right now we are living moment by moment.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

So Much To Be Thankful For!

What a day this has been! I must admit we have not been looking forward to Thanksgiving (or Christmas for that matter) without Claire! Halloween was a very difficult evening for all of us, so you can imagine what November has been and December will be!

This time of year I seem to reflect upon all the Lord has done for me and my family over the past 12 months. In doing this over the past 5 years or so, I have begun to realize how quickly our lives can change in a year! As I write this I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for! Honestly, it is hard to look past the "Great Sadness" that is upon our family and understand that God does in fact have a perfect plan for us! We miss Claire more than words can express and not a moment goes by that I don't yearn for her arms and legs to tighly wrap around my body! In our prayer time together the other day, Jeff was thankful for how Clarie stretched us individually and as a family in ways that no one else ever has or ever will. Man, how I miss that strongwilled, independent, funloving, spirited person always full of life!

Through what we believe was divine appointment (and a little help from Claire), we decided to road trip to NYC to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!! I know, can you believe it!! Let me just say that if this is on your "Bucket List" then do it! It has been great!!

So for today, Thanksgiving 2008, I am so thankful for:
* a Godly Christian husband who loves me and has held me many a moments these past four months while I sob in his arms and questions God's plan for our lives
* three daughters (Abbigayle, Caroline and Sarah) who bring more joy and pride to my heart and soul than I ever thought possible
* friends and family who have remained faithful to minister to us on a daily basis these past four months
* friends who are willing to follow a God Size Dream with us!
* and most importantly I am thankful for a Heavenly Father that has a plan designed especially for my life; Jesus Christ who was willing to sacrifice himself in order that I would have eternal life in His presence and the assurance and comfort that Clarie is resting in His presence and a Holy Spirit that is amidst my every move, thought and feeling (even when I cry out to God for understanding)

"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Psalm 69:30 (KJV)

What are you thankful for this evening?

Hugs those babies a little tighter, kiss your husband a little longer, tell your parents how much you love them, send your friends and family a note of encouragement and praise God for what He has done in your life!! You never know what the next 12 months will bring so make the most of them!

May God give you a special blessing today!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Look Homeward Angel"

OK! I actually have never read that book, but I thought it was a great Blog title for what I want to say, so maybe I should read the book (in my spare time :))!

I want to follow up on my last blog, Jonathan is doing great!! Praise God!! He is home and is recovering well! God is still so evidently in the miracle business.

Even though Claire's outcome was not as humanly favorable it was certainly a spiritual victory! Jeff and I can look back on the three days that we spent dealing with Claire's medical crisis and count the miracles that Our Heavenly performed right in front of our eyes! Thank You Jesus!!

We are still recovering as a family and as I have said before, life is hard!!!! Even though, God continues to share His mercies with us and we continue to be blessed!

Last week was a particularly difficult week for us. We came off of several weekends in a row filled with activity, Jeff has had a lot of things going on at work and we were just exhausted. Wednesday and Thursday were probably the most difficult days that I have had!! Several things occurred on Wednesday that were totally out of my control and they just got the best of me!

I have heard and read several times about how the waves of grief come and go, well there was an undertow with the wave I felt last week! Thanks to a terrific husband, wonderful children and remarkable friends I was able to give in to that undertow and have the day to deal with my grief as I needed to!!

Thursday morning Jeff and I got up and helped Abbigayle and Caroline get ready for school! After they left for the bus, Jeff suggested we have a picnic breakfast at the cemetery! So, Jeff, Sarah and I got dressed and off to the cemetery we went to have breakfast with Claire! As we pulled up to her grave I thought "you know a cemetery is a rather clean place to have a picnic" and at the same time I felt this nudging from God that said "don't look here for comfort." Well, as I walked up to Claire's grave I noticed a fresh pile of dog poop in the middle of her grave! I thought "you have got to be kidding!!" Jeff was kind enough to clean it up and we proceeded with our breakfast. It was a sweet time!

When we got home, Jeff made plans for the children for the rest of the day and I went to bed! That was the first day I have spent in bed since Claire died! I really needed it!! When I woke up (about 3pm) I noticed a reflection on the bedroom door frame, it was of a fist with the index pointing straight up toward Heaven. Again, I felt God whispering "look to me for comfort."

I was able to spend Thursday crying out to My God, begging Him for a different outcome, trying to make sense of Claire's death and trying to be still and listen to His voice. And then, just when I needed it the most, the scripture God brought to me on this day of sorrow is from 2 Corithians:

"So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever." 2 Corinthians 4:16~18 (The Message)

Blessings To You!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Please Be Praying

I wanted to get all of you prayer warriors on board!!

A very dear family to us has a child in Boston having surgery (as I type) to remove an AVM in his brain. This is the same diagnosis that Claire had; however, Jonathan's AVM is in the frontal portion of his brain and is operable!! Please check out the Caring Bridge Website and be praying for Jonathan, his parents, sister, family, medical and surgical staff!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Blessings!! Angela

Monday, October 27, 2008

"The Days Are Long but The Years Are Short"

It is so amazing to me how quickly time passes by! A couple of years ago, I kind of adopted the phrase "the days are long but the years are short" and have tried to remember it when I am exhausted and think that I cannot deal with one more request from my children. Prayerfully, I will look back on this season of my life and realize that I made the most of those long days and relished the simple things along the way!

We have had a couple of amazing weeks! Jeff, Abbigayle and I spent last weekend together going through the Passport2Purity curriculum! It was incredible!!!! Let me challenge anyone who has a middle school aged child in their home to work through this program with them!! Jeff and I have been preparing for this weekend for probably 6 years or so!! And let me just say it was well worth the anticipation and preparation!! The premise for the weekend was to spend focused time with Abbigayle praying with her and for her and preparing her as she enters into life as a teenager. We worked through 5 separate challenges, studies and object lessons, all of them dealing with different challenges that teenagers face! Abbigayle has a great head on her shoulders and it was refreshing for all of us to spend time together! We are really excited about what God will do in her life over the next few years!

Saturday night we went to the Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith concert in Spartanburg! WOW!!! It was fantastic!! We enjoyed their music and listened to SCC talk about some of the difficult times their family is facing right now! We could relate so easily to his heart and lyrics to his songs! They began the concert with "How Great Is Our God" and ended it with "How Great Is Our God!" (What does that tell you about Our God?)

For no particular reason, last week was an especially sad and difficult week for us! Jeff and I have rarely been away from our children for more than a day or two and it has now been over three months since we held Claire in our arms for the last time! The reality that Claire is not coming back is sinking in for all of us and there have been a lot of tears! It is so evident that the seasons are changing and as I type this there are snow flurries whirling around outside! Tough to imagine the next couple of months without Claire Bear to enjoy them with!

Jeremiah 29:11 continues to be a scripture verse that is frequently brought to our attention! We have heard, read and seen this scripture placed in front of us many times since July 17th. Lord, I don't have a clue what your plan is for our lives nor do I understand how we will prosper from Claire's death, but I do believe that your word is true and I do believe that we have hope and peace in knowing that your plan is so much greater than our plan and our future will be so much richer because of our trust in you!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, October 13, 2008

"No, Really, How are you doing?"

We probably hear that question several times a day! So, I thought I would attempt to tell you all how we are doing!

We are OK! Life is really difficult!! The reality of life without Claire is settling in more and more each day and that is not getting easier! We miss her so much!! Really everyday is so hard and some days are more difficult than others!

Jeff and I are attending a Grief Share group and it is fantastic!!! It is a 13 week video series and support group for people who have had a recent death of a loved one! We highly recommend it!! ( Our group has met 4 times now and we always come away feeling loved on, understood and ready for the next group!! Jeff and I work together on the weekly discussion questions and use that as our devotions. It has been great to work on this together!! I feel so blessed that Jeff and I openly and honestly talk about our thoughts and feelings!

Abbigayle is doing well! I read somewhere that it may take a while for "surviving" siblings to get back into the groove at school, but Abbigayle and Caroline both have jumped right back in and are doing great!! I think some of that has to do with our tight community! They both have fabulous teachers and staff who are loving on them when we are not with them ~ Thank You Greenlee and Harris!!! Abbigayle has her last football game this evening and she has really enjoyed cheering!! That has been a great experience for her and we are very thankful for the diversion!! Go Blue Devils!! Our church family continues to wrap their arms around us and Abbigayle enjoys being a part of the youth group!! Abbigayle really appreciates the comments on her blog entries and checks her e-mails everyday, so feel free to send her an e-mail to lift her spirits! She doesn't talk as much as the other girls, but, this past Sunday our devotion focused around emotions/feelings and she said her primary emotion is confusion! She also said when people ask "how are you doing?" that question just doesn't matter anymore! Abbie now has a room to herself and hibernates in there to maintain her privacy (remember being 12)! Abbigayle does much better when she has one on one time with Jeff and I or when we spend time together as a family, we are taking her away this weekend to work through the Passport 2 Purity curriculum and we have a surprise for Saturday night that she will love!! (shhh!! keep it a secret!!) She is really wanting to spend time with our extended family, also, and with the holidays quickly approaching I'm glad she will have several opportunities to be with them!! Abbigayle is a great girl and I am so humbled to be her mother, she has insights far beyond her years!

Sweet Caroline!! She seems to be doing great also! She loves school and has a new story to share everyday! She has been to the cemetery several times in the last couple of weeks and that has seemed to be very comforting to her! She talks about Claire a lot!! And regularly gets quiet and will just say "I'm missing her!" Caroline is particularly working hard at reading, bicycling and piano, she will often say "Claire's with me!" Caroline loves clogging and is so thankful to have Tommy as her partner!

And Sarah! Jeff and I do not know what we would do without Sarah, right now!! She has turned in to the "court jester" and tries to get a laugh out of us all, whenever she can!! Several times a day, Sarah will hug me and say, "I miss Clarie Bear!" How much she understands, I don't know, but I do know she is helping to keep the rest of us going!!

So, "Really, how are we doing?" I don't know! I know that I don't let a day go by that I don't hug and kiss my girls and husband as often as I can, I do know that I cherish every moment with my friends and family, I do know that my heart breaks continually as my desire is to have Claire back with us, but I also know that Jeremiah 29:11 is so true "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I know the rest of the world is continuing on their paths and for this season we are traveling along our own path and one day, maybe one day, we will have an indescribable joy in our hearts again, at least I believe that we will; "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." John 16:20-22

So keep us in your thoughts and prayers, that is truly sustaining us! Blessings!! Angela

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are Those Ray Bans You're Wearing?

For really cheap entertainment, Jeff and I used to go to the mall and get a couple of cookies and milk (or coffee) and watch people! We would watch as people passed by and decide what their "story" was! When we are out, alone, we will say to each other "so what's their story?" and then we will make up some elaborate story about the lives of strangers based on their interactions with the other people they're with.

I have wondered several times over the past two months, "what do people think our story is?" By the way we interact with each other, would they ever know that we have recently buried one of our precious daughters. Or that it takes just about all the energy we can muster to get out of bed in the morning and even more energy to say "goodbye" to each other, when Jeff leaves for work. Would they ever know that only through prayer, encouragement from others and love for each other we can keep on each day? Would they ever imagine that our faith in God has sustained us through some of the darkest moments of our lives? Would they know that we are the parents of 4 beautiful daughters and not just 3?

Years ago, we were in Pigeon Forge and saw some friends (who shall remain totally anonymous)! We saw an interaction that was really out of character for who we knew they were and still know them to be. I have wondered many (I'd rather say a few, but, OK several) times, since that day, if I loose my patience with Jeff or the girls and we are out in public, who just saw that? What kind of witness was that, to my spouse, children or others around me?

I think my take home message is this: you never really know what someone else is going through, especially if you don't know them on a personal level. Even then, we may not truly understand or appreciate what others around are dealing with inside of their spirit. You know the saying "you cannot truly understand until you have walked a mile in another man's moccasins." Well, I have decided you can never truly understand what anyone else is going through because God wired us all so differently that our emotions, experiences and spirit direct us in different paths. As close as Jeff and I are, we truly do NOT know what the other is dealing with. We are each grieving on different levels for Claire.

So again, my take home message, be patient with one another, including those in your home, those in your workplace, those in your communities and those strangers that you will meet today (you know the salesclerk, the waiter or the bank teller) for you do not know what they are dealing with inside of their soul!

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Romans 14:13 (NIV)

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Y2K OK!!"

Claire was born July 8, 2000.

You may remember all of the hype about the year 2000 and the concern or (for some) expectation that at 12:01 am on January 1st 2000 all of the computers were going to crash because of some programing glitch! Jeff and I decided that if the world was going to come to an end we wanted to be doing something great! So we got tickets to the Gaither New Year's Celebration in Charlotte, NC. My parents met us there and we enjoyed a wonderful night of celebration and worship. Mark Lowery was there and he came out on stage with a yellow hard hat with "Y2K OK" written on it and a flashlight taped to it. It was a great evening! Abbigayle was with us and she retold stories from that night for a very long time, she would probably recount a few now, if asked!

Of course, we all know now that the midnight hour came and went with little disruption!! Throughout my entire pregnancy with Claire, I prayed and wondered many times what the world with be like for this child. With the heightened awareness of the "end times" around December 31st 1999, it was concerning to me what my child might deal with in his/her lifetime. What would a child born in the year 2000 face?

Even though Caroline and Sarah were born after Claire, I never had those same wondering thoughts as I did with Claire.

Today, almost all news stories are centered around the upcoming presidential election, the gas crisis or Wall Street. This is a pivotal time in our nation's history! Jeff and I are praying for our national leadership to seek God's wisdom in decisions that must be made for the betterment of our great nation.

Honestly, it is difficult to not be anxious about what tomorrow may bring, in light of all we have been through, but we try to daily surrender our anxieties to God and trust that He knows what is best for us and we continue to believe in that truth!

"As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, 'Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain.' Jesus said, 'I'll come and heal him.'

'Oh, no,' said the captain. 'I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it.'

Taken aback, Jesus said, 'I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.'" Matthew 8:5-10 (The Message)

If the Centurion, not a follower of Christ, had such great faith and recognized that Jesus had such incredible power, then shouldn't we have that same faith?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Alternative Ending

Angela and I are always looking for ways to be together as a family, even more so since Claire's death, so when I had to go to Boone last Friday to hold a training meeting Angela decided to bring Caroline and Sarah over for some shopping and family time. We had lots of fun with the girls and some GREAT people watching.

The girls fell asleep on the way home, so Angela and I decided to rent a movie for the two of us. Angela wanted a good "chic flick" so I proceeded to hunt for a good romantic comedy that is not “R” rated. Not an easy task these days. I found a movie that seemed like it met the profile called Married Life. It was not what I expected but it did hold our interest since I did not start the movie until after 10:00pm and Angela stayed up for the entire movie (not the norm).

At the end of the movie I looked to see what was in the special features and they had three alternative endings. As I was flipping through the different endings with my remote control it struck me of how bad I wanted to choose an alternative ending for my Claire. I wish that I could choose an ending where she wakes up from surgery and climbs up in my lap and snuggles up with me with her new cast on her right arm or where I take her with me to run errands so she is not even home to fall from the tree. But I have no remote control that will let me do that, so I turn to my heavenly Father and He reassures me that He is in control, that He knows the pain that I am feeling and that He will be with me every step of the way.

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.’As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

Well, Jeff, Abbigayle and I are home from our very emotional day in Winston-Salem!

We met with two of the doctors who cared for Claire and reviewed her autopsy report. Following the meeting we were able to visit with another doctor who cared for her! They have reviewed her case numerous times and brought in colleagues within other specialty areas to discuss her case (and care) with!

We really did not hear any new news! In most ways that was a relief. It was determined that Claire did have a cerebral AVM. In layman's terms, she had a cluster of vessels deep inside of her brain. They all concurred that there could not have been a worse place to have this malformation. Even if diagnosed it would not have been operable!

God truly showed us mercy the day that Clarie died, and for that we are ever so thankful!

Thanks to everyone for your love, support and encouragement! We are certainly at the beginning of a very long journey and continue to be amazed at the outpouring of love from everyone! You have been a powerful testimony to the staff at Wake Medical Center!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Brringg! Brrringgg!! Brrringgg!!!

Last Monday, I received the phone call I have been waiting on since we drove away from Brenner's Children's Hospital on July 18th!! Dr. Nakagawa's secretary called and said that he wanted to set up an appointment to meet with us regarding Claire's autopsy report! As I hung up the phone I honestly felt I might be sick to my stomach!! That phone call hit me a lot harder than I had ever expected!!

With that one phone call so much spoke to my heart!!
*It told me that it has been "six to eight weeks" that we have lived without Claire in our arms!!
*It said Claire is no longer with us and the reality of her death is so certain!
*It said that after Wednesday we may have answers about Claire's death or we may have more questions about Claire's death!
*It said God's is in control!

Please keep us in your prayers as we travel to Winston-Salem on Wednesday! Our appointment is at 11am.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My God IS Real!!

I want to share with you some words of wisdom from Claire!! I have been going through Claire's things and found this story in one of her composition books and thought you could all use a challenge from her!! I know I did!!

Claire's doleirg story
by Claire Atkins

My name is Claire I like to drole it is so mutch fun because you can drole thing that are not rele and thing that are rele like munsters gowst skeltins those where the thing that where not rele these will be the thing that are rele. people kids Evrath lion Jesus and God night and day water Anamls.

(for those of you who do not read 2nd gradeese)
Claire's drawing story
by Claire Atkins
My name is Claire and I like to draw. It is so much fun because you can draw things that are not real and things that are real. Like monsters, ghosts and skeletons those were the things that were not real. These will be the things that are real. People, kids, Earth, lions, Jesus and God, night and day, water and Animals.

Which side of this story does your God belong real or not? I know that My God is Real!!

"God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!"

Ephesians 3:20-21 (The Message)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Calgon!! Take Me Away!!

WOW!! I know it's been a week!! Life just keeps moving forward and I feel like the hamster in her perpetual wheel!!

With three active children in our home, there is never a dull moment (I sure wish we had four active children)! Dishes continue to pile up; laundry must be done; food must be cooked; homework to help with; dance class to attend; cheer leading practice; piano lessons to practice; church activities and the list goes on and on!!!

Everyday brings about a new emotion for me and yesterday was "out of control"! The equilibrium or balance in our life is totally gone, right now!!

Two very dear friends came to clean our home, yesterday, and as I was preparing for them to come (you know try to clean before someone cleans) I quickly realized that some of the tasks I would normally be attentive to, I had not been!! Sadness came over me, because somehow I understood for a brief moment, again, the magnitude of our loss!!

Throughout the past two months, there has not been one single day to go by that someone has not reached out to us!! THANK YOU JESUS!!!! Everyday, we continue to receive phone calls; e-mails; cards; meals; visitors; love; love and more love!!!

You guys are incredible!!! We sure do need you right now!!

"The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ's body—that's who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your "part" mean anything." 1 Corinthians 12:25~27 (The Message)

As the body of Christ, you have all continually cared for us, grieved with us, loved on us and are helping us through this most unimaginable of times, we could never make through this experience without your prayers and support!! Thank You all from the bottom of our hearts for all you have done for us and are continuing to do!! Our Prayer for you is that Our Lord will Bless You in a Mighty Mighty Way!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Life Is Good!

Alright, how many of us have Jake on a shirt, window sticker, coffee mug or other such paraphernalia? I do and have really enjoyed his companionship over the past few years! I really fell in love with him almost four years ago when our dear friends The Rectors were going through, yet another crisis in their lives. Kim's mother was fighting cancer and they took on the "Life Is Good" theme for their family! We bought a window sticker in honor of Mrs. Mason then and have kept one on our vehicles since!

You know honestly, there have been several days recently that I would choose a different saying! And then I remember Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I look at the path that God has given our family and I am gently reminded that Life Is Good!! Our Heavenly Father knows where we have been and He, alone, knows what is in store for our future!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Take It From The Top!

Well, I thought it was about time I began to share our story and how God placed us on this new path that He has chosen for Our Lives!

We moved to Spruce Pine three years ago and in our yard is a Red Bud tree. Claire climbed that tree almost every single day since we moved here!! Her personal goal was to make it to the top of that tree! She was a very good tree climber!!

About 6:45pm on Wednesday, July 16th she made it to the top of that tree!!! She told me so several times the evening of July 16th! As she was coming back down a limb broke causing her to fall to the ground (probably between 6~8 feet)!

WOW!! This is harder than I thought, the words are just not coming to me!?

Abbigayle was in Atlanta and Jeff had just returned home from a business trip. Jeff went to CVS and Pizza Hut and then we were going to church to help "clean-up"! I went downstairs to change out laundry, Claire and Caroline went outside. As I was changing out clothes, Caroline came running to the basement yelling "It's an emergency, Claire has fallen out of the tree!" I think I made it from the basement to Claire's side in about 5 steps! Caroline was so brave to run and get me, I am so proud of how calm she stayed and how fast she ran!! Way to go Caroline!!!

When I got to Claire's side she was sitting up holding her right elbow with her left hand. I asked her if she could wiggle her fingers, she did. I picked her up and ran her to the car (we live less than a mile from the hospital)! I called our dear friends and neighbors, the Stricklands, and told Michelle I was taking Claire to the hospital and she sent her oldest son Eli to get Caroline and Sarah. While I drove Claire to the hospital, I called and left Jeff a message to meet us there.

Claire was our one child that we always felt we would end up in the ER with!! Not because she was careless, she was always very careful but very adventurous! If it could be swung on, climbed up~down~on~over, jumped up~down~on or over she would try it!!

I carried Claire through the ER doors within minutes of her fall!! I was asked the necessary questions and signed the necessary paperwork and then they called Claire's name to go back into the patient care area.

Claire's arm was broken just above her elbow and even though the bone did not break through the skin, I knew from the moment I saw her arm that it was broken, however, as soon as the nurse began to assess Claire I grasped the seriousness of her injury. Even though the nurse was not alarming, I have been in way too many patient assessments to not have noticed that she was concerned about something. She attempted several times to feel a pulse in the lower part of Claire's arm. She explained that she could not feel a pulse and that she would have another nurse check; however, sometimes in breaks like Claire's the arteries can get pinched causing the blood not to flow to the lower part of the arm. I knew in that moment that we may be looking at a surgery for Claire. Even before we left our driveway I began praying to God for His mercies upon my child, but I know my pleas were elevated to a new level in those moments.

I carried Claire as the nurse walked us down the hallway into another room where a second nurse attempted to locate a pulse on Claire's arm, to no avail. About this time Jeff came walking through the door and Claire and I both sensed his calming presence. The ER doctor was in Claire's room moments later to meet us and assess Claire's condition, again, no pulse was detected in Claire's arm. An X-Ray Technician walked into the room with a portable X-Ray machine, he was so wonderful and gentle with Claire. He successfully had pictures of Claire's fracture in moments. The orthapedic surgeon walked into our room shortly thereafter, and stated they were very concerned about Claire's arm and felt they needed to send her to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem "and I don't mean tomorrow!" He and the ER staff immediately began making arrangements for Claire to be transferred to Baptist, because she needed a Pediatric Vascular Surgeon to operate on her and they had the closest one. Dr. Flint felt Claire was medically stable enough to be transferred by ground transportation and would arrive at Baptist as fast or faster than air ambulance.

By 8:45pm Claire was placed in the back of an ambulance and I was allowed to ride in the back with her. Jeff got in our car and we took off on the ride of our life!

Let me just stop here and share with you the mercies that we see throughout this story thus far:
#1 Jeff had been home about an hour!
#2 Caroline remained calm and ran immediately to get me!
#3 Claire was sitting up, alert and conscience when I got to her!
#4 Michelle was home!
#5 We live less than a mile from the hospital!
#6 The Emergency Room was not busy!!
#7 Dr. Flint (orthopedist) was in the hospital at 7pm!
#8 The ambulance was in Spruce Pine, not out of town transporting another patient!
#9 I was allowed to ride in the back of the ambulance with Claire!
#10 Claire made it to the top of the tree and she knew she had!!!! :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Dressmaker's Daughter

Jeff and I have been able to reflect about the ways God prepared us for the events of July, 16th~18th. We truly serve an Awesome, Mighty and Powerful Saviour and I would like to share one of these reflections with you!

I love to sew!! Having four daughters there is always an occasion to sew for!! My mother sewed for my two sisters and me, she spent countless hours with needle and thread in hand. Easter Dresses, Halloween Costumes, Prom Dresses, Bridesmaid Dresses and many other requests were filled by her loving hands!! So naturally when Abbigayle was born, I decided I needed to learn to sew. I took several sewing classes and learned to smock and do other French hand sewing techniques. Through the years I have made Christmas Dresses, Easter Dresses, Halloween Costumes and many other desired items!!

However, there is one dress that I will never be more pleased that I made!! This past May, Greenlee Primary had there annual Heritage Day! Prizes were being awarded for Costumes and Claire asked me if I would make her a dress like "Laura Ingles". In the midst of all of those end of the school year activities, I agreed. Claire and I went and picked out a pattern and material. The dress seemed simple but it was a little more involved than I thought (isn't that always the way it works)! The night before Heritage Day I stayed up all night long finishing this dress just for Claire! I was tired by midnight and exhausted by daybreak, but the dress was complete and Claire trotted off to school proud of my accomplishment (labor of love :)!)

Thank you, Mom for placing the desire and importance to sew for my daughters within me!

Thank you, Jesus, for giving me the strength to stay up all night and sew for my precious Claire, that is one Labor of Love I will never regret seeing to completion!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Table for Four, Please?

Dinner at the Atkins household can be in many different forms; however, we do try very hard to eat together. Although with a budding teenager and all of the activities we get involved with, it does not always happen.

Tonight, well let me share about tonight's meal. Middle School football began tonight, so Abbigayle attended the Middle School Social Event of the evening (GO BLUE DEVILS!!!!) That left Jeff, Caroline, Sarah and myself to dine together. It was difficult setting the table for four instead of five or six. I honestly do not remember the last time there were just four of us eating, together! Usually, Sarah sits beside me and the other girls bicker about who gets to sit next to Daddy. Jeff would try to rotate seating, but they would still fuss about whose turn it was. Well tonight there was no fussing, there was no negotiating, there was no need to assign seats.

We enjoyed our dinner (thanks again, Trish~ the casserole really was delicious) and as Jeff and I cleared the table we held each other and cried about the quietness before dinner!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Now we only have two girls in the tub! As difficult and time consuming bathing 4 daughters has been over the past few years, I sure did miss that this evening!! Claire, Caroline and Sarah almost always took their baths together. Tonight, it was just Caroline and Sarah, they had so much fun and they laughed and played, but wow!! for me, it was quiet!!

In those moments of hectic family life, Jeff and I have looked at each other, totally exhausted and said "One day we will wish we were this exhausted from the daily routines of 4 daughters!" and then with refreshed joy in our hearts we would finish the task at hand! But tonight, for me, as I bathed two girls, in my exhaustion, I thought "I didn't realize I would wish for that utter exhaustion from 4 girls to bath and get ready for bed so soon in my life!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Would You Like Mustard On That?

OK!! As you can tell I was feeling pretty down last night!! The days seem to be getting harder and the nights are especially hard!! I laid down in bed last night with Abbigayle and we talked for a little bit about how we are feeling. She said she feels so lonely, WOW! That's exactly how I feel, here we are surrounded by each other, friends, family and so many loving on us and praying for us and we still feel lonely!! We pinky promised each other to continue to be real with each other!!
It was great to spend that time connecting with Abbigayle and sharing our thoughts~ she is amazing!!!!!

Today, well today has been a really good day!! Some moments I feel like I have the faith of a speck of dust on a coffee table in Whoville (those of you without preschoolers read the great philospher Dr. Seuss and you will get it)compared to a mustard seed. "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20 Jesus said this to his disciples after healing a young boy from seizures (those who know our entire story with Claire will understand the significance of seizures). His disciples were not able to heal this child, they lacked faith.

According to Mark 4:30-32 Jesus said, "What can we say God's kingdom is like? What story can we use to explain it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed planted in the ground. But when you plant the seed, it grows. It becomes the largest of all garden plants. Its branches are so big that birds can rest in its shade."

HOW INCREDIBLE!!!!! All we need is the faith of a mustard seed and we can move mountains!? This morning I had the faith of that speck of dust in Whoville. What a shame, all that the Lord has done for me in the past 4 weeks and I have so little faith! Once again, today, God poured out new mercies on me! So today, yes for today I can say it has been a good day!!

What seed will you plant today? Plant a mustard seed in someone else's life and watch it grow into a Sheltering Tree that will allow someone else rest in the shade of your seed!

God's Blessings to You!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Mother May I"

Do you remember the game "Mother May I"? I sure would like to play that game, today. My game would be called "Father May I" and I would say "Father, May I take 5 steps forward while everyone else stays on their square?" Maybe that way when I slide back 3 steps I will be even with somebody, because right now I feel so far behind there is no way to catch up! I feel like the rest of the world is spinning on it's axis and I am standing still somewhere in the middle in s l o w m o t i o n!! I would love to be caught up on something (I did take a bath this morning, so I guess I am caught up there :)

When Jesus was preparing for his crucifixion, he went up into the Mount of Olives to pray: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief." Luke 22:42-45

I think I am exhausted from grief, I know that is OK and where I need to be right now, but it's also hard to "just be" when I am normally such a "doer"! Doing even the mundane things in life right now are just so overwhelming for me! Actually the mundane doesn't seem so mundane. The important things, or at least the one's that seemed important have somehow taken a back seat to survival.

Continue to pray as we try to get our home back in order and find a routine within our chaos!

Thanks for reading!!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple

Open it up where's all the people? Let me just tell you where all the people are... they are caring for us!!!!!

I can not even begin to tell you how very thankful and full of gratitude we are for all of our friends and family who have wrapped themselves around us, loved on us and carried us through the past 4 weeks!!!!! Many times through this valley I have actually felt loving arms wrapped around my back and knees and carrying me through to the next moment. A dear friend said to me, "It's times like these that we realize how large the body of Christ really is!" We continue to receive cards, phone calls, e-mails, meals and visits, these are all truly sustaining us through the next moment!! Others are sharing with us resources about dealing with grief, one thing I read this morning said grief is not normal it is necessary. WOW is that a truth.

Some moments I feel like what else can we deal with. This has been a very difficult week for us. The reality that Claire is no longer with us, here on earth, is setting in and we are caught in the undertow of that grief and reality. Abbigayle and Caroline are in full swing at school. I went to have a root canal on Wednesday and after 1 1/2 hours, being very numb and $400 later was told the procedure could not be completed and I would have to come back for surgery :). And this morning I sat down on a wasp!! I know the Lord does not give us more than we can handle, however, I certainly wonder some moments!

And then I am reminded of a sermon Jim shared with our congregation the week after Claire's service. God placed us around each other to comfort and care for one another.
3-5"All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
6-7When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it."
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (The Message)

Jeff, Abbigayle, Caroline, Sarah and I are continuing to pray God's blessing upon each of you, as you continue to minister (and comfort) to us!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

May THE Force Be With You

"May THE Force Be With You!" OK, I'm not a Star Wars fan (give me a good chick flick, popcorn and chocolate and I'm happy) but I sure have heard this phrase many times. Well, it gave a whole new meaning to my life last night!

I truly believe there are two forces in our world and they are constantly struggling for power over our hearts. We recently completed a Bible Study series that addressed the evil forces that are present in our daily lives. There are so many undertones within our culture that try to deceive us into thinking (or enticing us) that something may be good for us when in fact it is very harmful! Satan has a way of packaging events, words, culture, etc. that make us desire the undesireable. Jesus was even tempted by Satan. (So once again, our Savior has been in our shoes.) However, Jesus was very clear >"It is also written: do not put the Lord your God to the test." Matthew 5:12"

Last night, Jeff and I were tempted by Satan. We have given God the glory for all that has happened in our live these past 4 weeks, and we truly believe that Claire's death was His Will for Claire's life and our life. Claire's death has brought us so very close to our Lord and to each other. Last night Satan tried to put doubt in our relationship with our Lord. Thankfully, Jeff and I have adopted Proverbs 27:12 "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it", so went to the altar at our church we cried, held each other, read God's word and prayed together. (I have such a Godly husband)

We will take away the good things from last night:
* pray for God's discernment about all of the decisions we are making
* not everything is as it seems
* remain faithful in God's word
* we are doing really good!!

Please pray for us that we will seek God's direction in all the counsel we seek!!
Abbigayle and Sarah are both home sick this evening! Please pray for God's healing touch on them!

So "May THE (God's) Force Be With!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

It's Sunday and Monday's A Comin'

Well, I must say that the response to our blog has been fantastic!!

Abbigayle decided she wanted to start blogging also, so please check out her link!! Abbie is such a special girl and my heart breaks that she, Caroline and Sarah must live their lives without Claire in the middle of it.

Claire will be in their hearts and they all have a special piece of her with them. Abbigayle and Claire shared a bedroom and with that they shared their love for each other and our Heavenly Father, as each night Jeff would tuck them in with a devotion, reflection on their day and prayer. Caroline has worn almost every item of clothing these past few weeks that belonged to Claire. Claire and Caroline were practically the same size, but they each have a few clothing items that they did not have to share. I totally get how Caroline must feel right now. One night last week, I slept in Claire's bed. I must say that was the best night's sleep I have had in 3 weeks!! I sure do miss Claire!! Sarah has all of Claire's adventure and spirit!! Claire had taken on the role of Director for all of our evening living room performances. (Abbigayle outgrew that role a couple of years ago) I remember thinking, the day or two after Claire's death, "who will direct and organize our evening plays?" Well, Sarah has worn every costume she can get on and has said more than one time "watch this!" God really is so merciful!!! So many things Sarah has done the past few days reminds me of Claire. We have large tile floors in our kitchen and Sarah was standing on one color, counting to 3 and jumping to the next tile, very accurately (definitely a Claire thing)!

Please pray for us as we begin another week! My parents have been with us this weekend and we have been surrounded with our church family most of the weekend! Nighttime is very hard for me and we must begin to get back into some type of routine. Pray for guidance and direction!

Until next time! Blessings to you and your family!!
PS Hug your babies a little longer this evening!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

God's Mercies

WOW!!!! How a few weeks can certainly change our lives!!

As many of you know, our daughter Claire, went to play with Jesus on Thursday, July 17th. I will share more of this story in the days to come! Our Lord has been with us every step of the way and shown incredible mercies through this journey. We have recieved so many prayers and concerns for our family and we have certainly been held up by those prayers.

I want to begin this "blog" journey by sharing with you the mercies God gave us two days ago when Abbigayle and Caroline started back to school. Jeff and I pray every morning that God will give us new mercies because the mercies He gave us the day before will not sustain us through another day. I was not sure what God had in store for us Thursday morning. (Why do we expect so little out of Him?) We went to McDonald's for breakfast (a family tradition we began on Abbigayle's first day of Kindergarten 8 years ago). Then we took Abbigayle to the Middle School, she wanted me to walk her inside to her classroom!!!! (mercy #1 for the day) We then drove Caroline to her school and she wanted all of us to walk her to her classroom. She said "This is so 1st grade!" We walked into Caroline's class and her seat was assigned next to Hannah Ruth, her best friend from Kindergarten!! (mercy #2 for the day) Jeff, Sarah and I began walking down the hall to the front of the school, we were met at the front door by the principal, music teacher and many other faculty/staff who embraced us with love. Mrs. Spurling, the librarian, asked me to come to her office and began to tell me that she went through the list of books that Claire checked out over the past three years. One week it was a joke book, the next week a chapter book and so on. Claire loved to read and would enjoy any book she chose. Mrs. Spurling wanted to give me the last book Claire checked out! It was "Small Gifts in God's Hands" by Max Lucado!!!!! (mercies #3, #4 and #5) What a blessing that Mrs. Spurling took the time and thought to look at the books Claire enjoyed reading and wanted to give me a book; but this particular book was in my child's school library to choose and my precious Claire chose this book!! Again, God is so merciful!!

Dawn, Mackenzie and Mallorie Keel were all at my house when we got back with a wonderful breakfast!! We enjoyed time together and were able to talk about Claire and what she meant to all of us!! (plus breakfast was delicious~mercy #6)

When the mail arrived so did mercy #7!!! We received a packet of information from Carolina Donor Services about the people whom Claire's organs went to!! Her right kidney went to a 46 year old man, her left kidney went to a 40 year old man and her liver went to a 10 year old boy! We do not yet have information about her heart valves! We will be sending these families letters and sharing Claire's story with them!! Please pray for us as we write these letters!!

Mercy #8~ Abbigayle and Caroline came bouncing off of the school bus exclaiming their first day of school was GREAT!!!

I look forward to sharing more of our story in the days to come!! But for now it's time to say "good night!"

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11~13