We had been told by a few Sandy Hook family members that the town had been collecting donations and letters sent to the victims’ families and holding them at a warehouse in town. We understood that many people had been touched by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, but because we weren’t following the news, it still amazed us to know how many people were moved to respond. It was hard to grasp that what for us was a private pain was shared by thousands of strangers.
Nearly a month passed before we made it to the donation center for the first time. I had heard that many things had been donated, but entering the warehouse and seeing it for myself literally took my breath away. The large building contained aisle after aisle of donations stacked floor to ceiling, with barely room to walk between the stacks. Toys, school supplies, letters, teddy bears, and paintings filled large bins around six feet square, each emblazoned with the name of one of the victims at Sandy Hook. The sheer number of those names still had the power to shock me.
We walked down the line reading each name, looking for Emilie’s name. Not only was her box full, but the stack reached all the way up to the ceiling and had begun to spill over the side. I asked the volunteer who accompanied us why our pile was so high. She explained that the other boxes had been that full for all the families; we were just one of the last to come and collect. I couldn’t believe what we were seeing! There were homemade blankets, drawings and paintings of Emilie, toys for Madeline and Samantha, books, crosses, letters, flags, jewelry, children’s drawings, poems, music, Christmas ornaments, shawls, and many more things. We filled our van completely and had to make several trips back that day to finally empty our bin. . . .
I was touched by the effort of those who had sent us all these gifts, and I wanted to take time to read and acknowledge each message. I was especially stirred by the many offers of prayers for our family. I was filled with gratitude for the love expressed in the prayers of strangers. It was a completely new feeling for me, but somehow I could actually sense the power of so many prayers supporting and bearing us up, not abstractly, but in a real and tangible way. Blessings were all around me, and I was beginning to see where they were coming from.
After the shooting, I was shocked—the nation was shocked—to see the power and impact one man’s evil act had on so many innocent people. It was hard not to feel that the power of evil was winning in the world. But at the same time, God’s love had touched thousands and thousands of people’s hearts and prompted them to take a stand against evil, to send some token of love and kindness. I was given the unique opportunity to be a witness to many of those defiantly kind acts. People from all different walks of life, all different faiths and backgrounds, wrote to us and to other suffering families with unified love and power. It was beautiful, and it helped me see the power of goodness again.
One of the letters that touched me most was from a 17-year-old artist. When I opened her package, I gasped at the beautiful charcoal sketch she had drawn of Emilie. The likeness was perfect and the drawing literally took my breath away. I pulled out the accompanying letter and read:
"My name is Lacey. First of all I am so sorry for your loss. At 17 I cannot begin to fathom the pain you feel and my prayers are with you. I am also an artist and enclosed is a drawing inspired by your daughter Emilie. On the day of the tragedy, I felt a strong feeling that I needed to use my God-given gift to help the ailing families in the only way I possibly could, which would be to draw the picture as a memorial to their loved ones.
"As I later flipped through photos of the victims of the tragedy, for some unknown reason, a young girl with piercing blue eyes really stood out to me. Her name was Emilie. Later, a link to a video of her dad caught my eye so I clicked on it. I saw an emotional father, describing his daughter as loving, and to my surprise, an artist who drew pictures and cards to cheer people up. This was simply too much for me to handle. I wept. It all made sense now. I saw a glimpse into God’s plan.
"You see, I’d like to think this drawing is from Emilie and me. For I believe she was sitting in the lap of Jesus asking Him to do for you what she had done for so many others, to help you through your pain with pictures. He reached down to me and compelled me to do the work of Emilie. For that I am grateful.
"Also your daughter touched one more life—my own. At the time all of this was occurring I was pleading with God to give me a sign on which path to take with my life: to be an artist, a path that was unsure and I feared, or to pursue a more generic career, that may not mean happiness. This is the sign I was asking for. I realized my passion is for art; it is what I was meant to do. Next year I’m attending Pittsburg State University and I’m going to major in art. I will always remember that little girl who inspired me to follow my dreams, that beautiful little girl named Emilie."
Lead image courtesy of the Parker family, found in An Unseen Angel.
Learn more about Alissa and Robbie's story of pain and forgiveness in An Unseen Angel.