Audrey’s birthday is coming up and that brings with it lots of emotions. As her mama I can hardly believe that she’s made another trip around the sun yet it feels like she’s ways been a part of our lives and how can she really only be 3? It’s hard to think about her birthday without missing her brother. It’s just normal heart stuff. This grief has taught me that it’s never just sadness and sorrow or just joy, it’s almost always many layers of both. Deep and complicated. But there is one thing that has remained consistent and I know it’s a very specific gift from God: Audrey Nole’s joy and zeal for life. It’s hard to think of her without placing joy somewhere in the description. For such a tiny person, she has been the source of joy for so many people.

When my mama died, it was only 2 weeks before my due date with Audrey Nole. Our family was broken and then we welcomed Audrey Nole. She didn’t fix us. She didn’t make my mama’s death ok or right - only God is capable of that - but what she did was bring an immense amount of joy to each of the people that was grieving my mama’s life. She carries an immense burden that she doesn’t even know is hers and she’s been given abundantly more strength than she needs in order to carry it. Her God, who breathed air into her lungs, built something special in her because he knew what was coming in her life. He knew how many grown ups were going to be reliant on her reminders of His goodness. We didn’t know when we picked her name, but it means noble strength, unconquered. It couldn’t be more fitting. She is strong and courageous and oh so joyful. Another way that God has spoken His presence into our lives.

When her brother died, she was too young to really know what was going on. She was in and out of that NICU room and was probably more interested in the coloring book and stuffed animal the NICU staff had given her. But each day that passes, I see more of her grief. Except instead of looking and feeling an awful lot like sadness or depression, it looks like love and joy and curiosity. It works itself out in hypotheticals and so often has forced me to lean into dreams about the future that I would have never entertained on my own. She held my neck as I cried and told me it was ok. She rubbed my back and asked me why I was sad. We have talked about her brother in laughter and through tears. We have dreamt about (and even named) her future siblings. When I say there is something special about her, I mean it. And what I mean, is that God made her strong and joyful with an intent purpose. He knew and He made her well. He gave her to us and it was perfect and intentional. We need her and we love her. And her brother would’ve adored her. And that’s hard, but it’s sweet and wonderful too.