Sunday, May 3, 2015

From Car Seat to Baptism: Standing on the Side

A couple weeks ago I saw this picture in my news feed, as my friend Donna shared that her grandson, Eric, would be getting baptized:

Could it be?  Eric Starkes would be turning 8.  I don't even know where the time went, as I have been watching this little boy grow up from a distance.  I feel connected to him, and I always will.  I held him once when he was 5 1/2 months old, and he will hold a piece of my heart forever.  The same fateful day that changed his life also changed mine.  At his baptismal service last Sunday, it amazed me that this sweet little boy doesn't even know how much he has affected my life (and the life of my husband and parents and so many others).  

I'll never forget the moment I saw him.  I was across the road at Azure's crash site.  Melody Whipple was on site first, and we arrived right after.  As we pulled up, there was a flipped car, dust in the air, and a person on the ground.  Melody had run up next to that person who ended up being Azure Starkes and called out to us, "I have a pulse!"  My dad and husband got out of our car first and ran over.  The next thing I knew, my husband was crawling through the smashed-out, back window of the upside-down car, and he pulled out a car-seat carrier.  Then he stood up and set it momentarily on the back of the vehicle and rocked the car-seat a back and forth, "Hello, Little Guy," he said.  I had instant heartbreak.  We all did. 

I couldn't believe there was a baby in that car!  But he was a miracle baby.  No scratch.  No cut.  No bruise.  Only dirt in his eyelashes.  Dirt that he didn't want me or my mom to help wash off.  So I just took him out of his car seat.  I held him, and hugged him.  I cried.  And we stood off to the side as we watched my dad and another man take turns performing CPR on Eric's mom Azure.  The mountain wind was blowing the tall yellow grass, and we just prayed and prayed that we could help to save this girl's life so she could raise her darling little boy, who was dressed in bright orange, Tigger, footie pajamas.  This perfect little boy with his large, innocent, wide eyes, and his calm Spirit.  Why was he so calm, when he had just been in a car that had flipped 10 times?  I wondered.  How was he calm while we were all trying to help his mom from dying?  How was he quiet while surrounded by strangers, and held by someone he didn't even know?  Looking back, the only answer to me is that angels were all around - probably even his Mommy Azure was right by his side through every moment at that crash site.  Maybe he could see those angels, and that's what helped him to be okay.

It was ages until the paramedics arrived.  I handed that sweet baby boy off so he could ride in the ambulance.  Apparently I shouldn't have taken him out of the car-seat...but I couldn't help it.  His mom was dying.  I had the frantic urge to hold him like he was my own little boy - and I felt the same love.  After baby and mommy left, it wasn't until later that we found out Azure was pronounced dead.  We have prayed for her family and for her son Eric ever since.

Even though looking back I definitely believe that every single, tiny thing at that crash site was all in a loving Heavenly Father's hands, and even though I know there's a grander purpose than we can understand, and even though we did every possible thing we could do for her, I still feel bad that we couldn't save Azure that day.  I still feel sad that she died.

But through the sadness some beautiful things have happened.

It is a huge blessing that Eric has been able to grow up with another mother in his life.  Brian found Ginger, who is a sweetheart, and I was so excited when she contacted me with the details for Eric's baptism.  It is a blessing that instead of growing up with a single dad and no mom, that Eric has been blessed with his Mommy Ginger to help raise him, and now he has 5 other siblings in the mix - 2 were Ginger's before meeting Brian, and 3 little brothers have come for Eric after.

Brian and Ginger are doing an amazing job raising their kids.  I was so impressed during the baptismal service, as Eric was being asked questions.  During one of the talks about the Holy Ghost, there were a lot of visual aids, and one of them was armor.  Donna asked him what armor would be used for.  "Battle," he replied.  Then she asked him what he might have to battle for.  "Freedom," he said without hesitation.  I was so impressed!  His answer made me want to teach my own kids better.  Freedom is the answer a true American heart would give.  Not to mention, freedom from bondage and sin is what we're fighting every day in this life - it's why we need to put on the armor of the Holy Spirit and turn to the Lord.

Also, later, the Bishop asked Eric to turn around and look at everyone who came.  The bishop asked Eric why he thought all those people were there.  A regular kid would give the surface answer - something like, "For my baptism."  That was the answer I was expecting to hear.  But Eric could feel deeper.  He said, "Because they love me."

It was so sweet.

When we all gathered next to the baptismal font to watch Eric make his covenant to follow the Lord, it was beautiful.  Melody - the same woman who hugged me so tightly when all I could do was cry at Azure's crash site, gave me her awesome faith-filled hug again, and she marveled with me - "From car seat to baptism" she said.  I couldn't say it better - her words summed up so much of what I felt & I know Melody feels the same way about this little boy - we were there together standing with him by his mom's side so many years ago. 

Donna came in and hugged us - it was hard for her.  Bittersweet, I'm sure.  As I have watched my own son grow, I have mourned for Azure that she couldn't be there in person to see similar milestones for Eric.  But as Donna is Azure's mother, I can only imagine the pain that comes from seeing all those milestones, each birthday, and especially this first and huge step in Eric's life to be baptized.  It's something we wish Azure could have been there in person for.  But without a doubt, we believe Azure was there Sunday night, standing at the sideline's right along with us to support Eric at his baptism.


Mitchell and I were both so happy to go to the baptism on Sunday.  It was worth the drive, and as we left, my husband said, "That was really good!"  It was so important for us to be there - it's healing to see Eric thriving, and to be around all of these friends we now have who also feel like family.  I feel like Azure has brought us together with these wonderful people who feel like they were always meant to be in my life.  Azure has brought us so many friends.

Friends like Keith & Donna.  Keith & Donna treat us as family, and exude love like I've never known anyone to instantly extend love.  From the moment I met them, I felt like they knew me well and loved me all my life.  They have strong testimonies of the gospel & I'm glad Azure brought us together.

Friends like Kati. Kati and I have become friends during the last several years, and we talk through social media.  And because we were friends through Azure, when we miscarried together a year and a half ago, we were able to support to each other in that.  I think Kati is strong & faith filled, and and amazing mother to her 5 kids.

Friends like Brian & Ginger, and Eric.  We love to see these guys, and also in a way our families are also kind of like pen-pals.  Brian and Ginger & all their kids are so quick to smile - they are all so nice.  They're the kind of people who make you feel like you belong.  And as I said before, I think they are doing a great job raising all their kids, and I look up to them and their example.

Friends like Melody. Melody is calming, and strong, and kind.  She has great insights, and she always makes me feel good when I see her, and we stay in touch through facebook.  I hope I can achieve the same kind of constant Spirit that Melody always has with her.

Friends like Brandi.  Brandi called me after Azure died and talked to me, and we've run into each other in random places, and we also keep in touch.  I think she's beautiful & amazing.  She was the first one that found me last Sunday and talked to me to see how I'm doing - she's always like that & makes others feel important.

And Azure...she's our friend, too.  She's a girl I never really knew, but now I feel like I know her well.  I watched her from a distance when she was alive - I saw her in patriotic plays, but ever since I was at her crash site, I have felt close to her, like she was a forever friend.  I have grieved over her death as if I had been close to her even in life.  And every once in a while something will happen where I feel like she was involved in my own life, and also in helping bring people together and I will think, "Thanks, Azure."  We all love Azure.  We went to Eric's baptism for Eric, for Keith and Donna, for Brian & Ginger, and of course for Azure, too.

Eric's baptism was a happy event to witness, and I'm so honored we got to witness it standing on the side.