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Amber Lynn's Story
by Glenn Frontin
10/09/2008 / Womens Interest
I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing Christian brothers
and sisters who have suffered many various trials. Their lives have
been testimonies of how God will work through those who will trust
in Him. If you look around, you will find spiritual strength and power,
sometimes in unlikely places through unexpected people. If we are discerning
enough, we can be blessed by those around us.
One of those unexpected times occurred a few years ago. I had a
lunch seminar scheduled at a veterinary clinic at noon and I needed
to stop and prepare my PowerPoint slides for the presentation. It was
such a warm sunny day I decided I'd park somewhere and get myself
organized. Ahead was a parking lot I could pull into, but on my left
was a pretty cemetery. You know the type. It had rolling hills with
fresh new grass, budding trees and winding carriage lanes that were too
pretty to pass up. I drove through the beautiful scene with my windows
down and the blaring radio turned off. Toward the back, I found a
secluded spot among some trees, parked the car, and got to work.
As I occasionally looked up to take in the scenery, I noticed one section
of tombstones stood out among the others. The stones were of various
sizes and looked just like the others, except for the bright ribbons,
balloons, and various toys scattered throughout them. The tranquility
of the scene was lost as I realized this was the children's section.
I walked over and started to read the inscriptions.
Some stones were already 10 or 15 years old while others were very new.
The dates revealed some of the children were 2 or 3 years old, a few 8 or 9.
The names were familiar first names we hear all the time at church or in
playgrounds at school. Some stones announced the birth and death as the
very same day. A few truly sad ones just said Baby Boy or Baby Girl.
Maybe you have to be a parent to understand, but the lump in my
throat was not so much for these little ones, whom I knew were now
with Jesus, but for their parents. I thought about all the heartache and
sorrow every one of these stones meant.
The worst part was the toys and trinkets the parents had left. There
were old helium balloons, now sitting on the ground, windmill toys
slowly turning in the spring breeze, a toy truck, and so many stuffed
animals. I could almost feel the parent's aching, wishing their little
ones were hugging and kissing those little bears and sheep so lovingly,
like my own little Emma at home. Yet these little Teddies were worn
and dirtied by the elements. There would be no cuddles, no kisses. I
was headed back to the car when I noticed a lengthy inscription on the
back of one particular granite stone. I decided to stroll over to read it
before I left. As I crouched down and started to read, I heard a voice
call out, "Is that your little girl?"
At first I was startled, not realizing someone else was nearby, but
hearing someone ask if this beautiful granite grave stone was for my
precious Emma tore at my heart. The idea of it, even though it wasn't
true, rocked me.
She was an elderly woman, with a very peaceful face and sparkling
blue eyes that I noticed right away.
"No, it's not," I said, shocked that my voice cracked with emotion,
still reeling from the thought of this grave being Emma's. I told her I had
noticed the poem written on the back of the stone. She said she walked
by it often and never had noticed it. "May I read it with you?" she asked.
As we both read the stone, we read a poem of a very special little
girl who could not walk or talk or play like the other boys and girls,
but whom God still saw as precious. This little girl would be a special
blessing to those whose life she touched. Then, too soon, she would
leave them. The poem was written by her mommy.
As I finished reading I realized we both were sobbing. We couldn't
say or do anything but cry together. I suppose I should have felt strange.
Here we were, two perfect strangers crying over the grave of a little girl
neither of us knew. But I didn't. I just cried.
The woman pulled out some tissues from nowhere, an ability my
grandmother had. We wiped our eyes and noses. "She was only five
years old," I was just barely able to get out. Her name was Amber, but
I didn't attempt to talk more.
The sweet woman looked up at me, her blue eyes still full of tears,
and told me she had lost her own child, a son. I tried to say, "I'm sorry,"
but I don't think it came out audibly. She explained he was grown, in
his thirties. Cancer. It had been ten years now, yet her eyes revealed a
pain that never went away, and for both of us, more tears came.
She told me of an old saying she had never forgotten. It explained
how when a wife dies, the husband is called a widower. When a husband
dies, the wife is called a widow. When parents die, the child is
called an orphan. But when a child dies there is no name for the parent.
There is no name because none could describe the sorrow and pain.
Nonetheless, she told me she was a Christian and that we need to
trust in God's plan. I told her I was relieved that Jesus had said that all
children were welcomed into His kingdom. I told her we all need to
trust in the scriptures, yet I think I was saying it more for me than for
this faithful saint.
I shared with her my own wife and my two boys and little girl. They
seemed even more precious to me as I spoke. She said, "You love them and
remember they truly are a gift from God." I told her I would and I said
simply, "God bless you," as she walked away down the tiny, tree-lined lane.
I hadn't even gotten her name, but that sweet woman and I had
shared a special moment together and I thank God for it. It was evident
that she knew what suffering was. She knew what it was like to
grieve. Yet I could see the power and grace of God in those deep blue
eyes and that joy that Peter spoke of.
As I remembered all those grave stones from the morning, I thought
of the Apostle Paul reminding us of the prophet Isaiah's words, "Where,
Oh death, is your victory? Where is your sting?"
I wished I had gotten her name before we had parted ways but
thanks to our Savior, I thought of a time we would meet again in the
future. She'll be with her son, never to be separated again. And perhaps
God will introduce both of us to little Amber, with her perfect, glorified
body. Then finally, the last tears will be washed away.
That experience with that woman had been such a blessing and
a source of inspiration. Through the months that followed I would
occasionally stop by the cemetery to pray and just to rethink my priorities
in the peace and quiet of the place. The silly problems of the day
seemed so trivial when I went there. Now and then I would read the
poem etched on the back of the stone, its words always bringing me
to the brink of tears. I left flowers more than once. I always wondered
how this little girl's family had survived the tragic loss of their daughter.
I always prayed for them there.
One day, in late August, I decided to leave a note at the base of the
tombstone about how the poem had so touched the woman and me. I
wrote, "To Amber's parents." It seemed like such a strange thing to do
and felt like I was intruding on their privacy, so I didn't leave my name.
I never knew if they had received it or not.
In mid January, I stopped by Amber's grave again. It was a cold,
windy day with a gray sky, but there was a pretty Christmas tree about
two feet tall with angels all over it beside the stone. As I looked at the
stone, I realized the next day would be the anniversary of Amber's
passing away. I knew, as a parent, that Amber's parents would be visiting
the cemetery tomorrow, so I decided to leave my business card
tucked into the tiny limbs of the tree.
The next day, a woman named Cathy, Amber's mom, called me. It was
strange to finally talk with someone I did not know, but had been praying
for. She said she wondered if I was the man who had left the letter that
past summer. She immediately started sharing her story with me.
Little Amber Lynn had been born extremely handicapped, with
very little brain tissue, an extreme cleft palette, and no eyes. The doctors
expected her to live only 24 hours.
The little girl did survive her first 24 hours, which turned into days,
and then weeks. Her mom realized that a life hooked up to machines
was no way to live, so one day she bought a beautiful lacey dress for
Amber Lynn, and went to the hospital. Against the hospital's wishes,
she unplugged her daughter, lifted her from the incubator, dressed her
in the pretty dress, and sat down and rocked her in her arms, expecting
her to pass away. To the doctor's amazement, Amber lived.
When Cathy decided to bring her daughter home, her husband
refused, feeling she should be institutionalized. When Cathy insisted,
he left her, never to return.
Cathy's life became consumed with caring for her daughter. At
first, friends and family were there to support her, but over time they
all had to get on with their lives.
Well-meaning friends and family urged her to consider putting
Amber in a facility. The little girl did not make a sound the first year, so
there was no way of knowing if she even knew Cathy was there. There
were countless surgeries, countless seizures, each time threatening to
take Amber, countless hours in the hospital. Cathy stayed by Amber's
side always, not even leaving the house to get milk. She could never
forgive herself if Amber died while she was away.
In her second year, Amber Lynn started crying and responding to
her mom. It became obvious that she knew when her mom touched
her and talked to her. She seemed to enjoy music. She would even
shake a rattle ever so slightly with her one hand.
Cathy wrote a poem to her daughter that year, the very poem that
had touched me so deeply that day in the cemetery.
As Cathy told her story, I marveled at her courage and strength.
I asked her how she got through it. She said she was very angry with
God in the beginning. Why her? Why her daughter? Though she had
no church and knew little of the Bible, she came to realize she had to
trust God. It was in His plan that all this was happening and she would
accept it. Instead of feeling cursed by God, in time she realized she had
been given a precious gift in Amber Lynn. Even through the toughest
times, she accepted God's will. But even in her acceptance, she still
yearned for her daughter to hug her and say, "I love you, mommy."
Cathy tried to do the normal things parents do with their kids. When
her daughter turned four, she had a birthday party for Amber at Chucky
Cheese, inviting all the cousins of the family. The other children had fun,
but the spirit was dampened when the adults asked Cathy why she was
doing it. "After all, Amber doesn't even know she's here," they said.
Cathy told me her favorite times with Amber Lynn were during
Christmas. Unlike other families caught up in the hustle and bustle and
the presents, for the two of them, it was simply remembering Christ's
birth and cherishing the time they had together. She had a little tree
that she would decorate with mauve ornaments and little angels each
year, every year adding a special ornament for Amber.
She told me she would spend nights lying with her daughter, pleading
with her and with God that she would never leave her. Amber
Lynn was her whole life. Cathy then told me of a cold, snowy night in
January that changed all that.
She watched a movie on TV called "A Heart for Olivia." It was a
story of a young couple whose little daughter was dying and needed a
heart transplant. As the story unfolded, they finally found a heart, but
the little girl died in the operation. Cathy said she watched the funeral
scene, imagining how awful that would be. But when the movie was
over, she went to Amber's bed and slid in beside her. That night she
told her little daughter it was okay. If she was tired of fighting, tired
of the seizures, weary of the surgeries, mommy understood and was
releasing her. She would not plead with her or God any longer. The
very next morning when Cathy awoke, little Amber Lynn was gone,
now with her Lord.
At the funeral, the church was standing room only. Cathy said she
saw so many doctors and nurses, friends and family and many people
she didn't even know. Even her ex-husband, Amber's dad, was there.
She hadn't planned it, but she read the poem she had written for
Amber, adding a few lines at the end. She is still amazed she had the
strength to get through it.
The one thing Cathy knew she had to do was to put her poem to
her daughter on the stone. Though it cost an incredible amount of
money that she didn't have, the whole poem was engraved.
Cathy said it was hard to let go. She would bring things to the
cemetery, even Easter outfits and toys. Amber had been everything
to her. She considered suicide but knew that was not the answer. She
fought extreme depression. But time went on, and she got through it.
Each year, she would bring the little Christmas tree and place it beside
Amber's stone, adding a new ornament; the same tree I saw the last
time I was there.
As Cathy shared her story, I shared verses from scripture that
reflected what she was saying. I was sharing the Word of God and
she was sharing those words lived out in her life. I so wanted to share
the gospel with her, and didn't know how to ask until she asked me,
"What's your religion?"
She said her ex-husband's family was members of a particular
church but she didn't like it at all. But she had remembered going to a
Baptist Church for a short time as a nine year old girl.
I explained the difference between receiving God's gift of salvation
and trying to earn it through good works of religion. I used Amber's total
dependency as an example of how helpless and dependent we are without
God's grace. I told her how God wants to be not only our Father but even
our daddy, as Paul tells us in Romans. I shared His unconditional love,
like the love she has for her daughter. I told Cathy I knew I would see
Amber one day in heaven and how God promises that.
It was then that she mentioned she had remembered praying a
prayer at nine years old in that Baptist church, accepting Jesus as her
Savior. I told her I believed that is why God was with her through all
that suffering she had been through. She agreed, saying her life was
not better because of accepting Him, but He was with her through it
all. I told her God loved her so much and now she could see how He
was working in her life even back then. We talked about the deeper
meaning of Romans 8:28 in all our lives.
Even God's grace on the evening before Amber passed away was so
evident. Cathy had felt guilty telling her daughter she could go, believing
somehow she had killed her. I pointed out to her that perhaps God,
in His patience and mercy, was waiting for her to reach the point of
being ready, that point of acceptance, and then He took Amber home
to be with Him; all in His timing, not ours. She had been faithful with
what He had given her; faithful indeed.
I asked her what God was doing in her life now. She told me she
remarried and had a healthy baby boy who was now five years old, and
just four months ago, she had a healthy baby girl.
She was dealing with the guilty feelings, having a healthy baby girl.
Even family and friends suggested she stop going to the cemetery, now
that she had a healthy daughter. I told her I disagreed. She has two
daughters now. She had done such a wonderful job taking care of the
first, now God was entrusting her with another. He was honoring her
faithfulness and she should enjoy the blessing!
I confessed to Cathy that I would walk the lane of the cemetery
in prayer, thinking about all the blessings God has given me, but I
could still go home and when the kids misbehaved or something went
wrong, lose control and get upset. How could that be?
She shared with me the fact that she gets upset sometimes when her
son is out of control and misbehaving. If anyone should know better,
it's her! She would have given anything to see Amber Lynn running
and playing with such reckless abandon. We agreed to stay focused;
remembering what are truly the precious things God has given us.
When Cathy's phone started beeping, she told me it was a cordless
phone and it meant the battery was running out. We hadn't even realized
we'd been on the phone over two hours! We had to say our good
byes quickly. I told her that she was a true hero and an inspiration to
me. She thanked me that at least she knew two people who had been
touched by the poem she had written for Amber Lynn.
When I hung up, I realized I felt drained of energy, yet so encouraged
and excited over it all. I was so grateful to God I had made the
effort to find out about this little girl and the story behind that wonderful
poem. I had been so blessed by the old woman in the cemetery
that day the year before, now blessed by this faithful young mother.
And blessed to see how God had worked through it all.
I thought of the heroes of faith we read of in Hebrews 11. This
young mother had a faith as great as theirs, a wonderful gift given to
her as a young nine year old girl, to take her safely through the valley
of the shadow of death and despair that would come.
I thought of the faithful saint from that little church who had
shared the gospel with that nine year old girl, never knowing how God
was working. It comforted me to know one day the Lord in glory will
show him or her the results of their faithful service.
Glenn Frontin is the author of A River Calling, a book for Christian dads raising sons. It takes the reader down the entire length of the Missouri River, filled with wilderness adventure, Lewis and Clark history, military training, spiritual warfare; all the stuff guys love...all the stuff we love.
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