You are about to meet a precious young woman, Tracie Manders. Tracie and her husband, Nathan, lost their five year old son, James, in a tragic car accident January 12, 2017. This is her story of raw pain and questioning the God she loves and ultimately her story of faith. It is a story of unbelievable heartache, yet determination to keep the memory of her son alive and to use his story for God’s glory. James was a happy child with a smile always on his face. He would light up a room when he walked in. James loved Jesus and looked forward to seeing heaven one day. As hard as these months have been, Tracie and Nathan have found the Lord to be faithful and His grace sufficient. They have found His tender mercies really are new every morning. I know their story will impact your life deeply.
On January 11, 2017 I remember awaking from a dream. In the dream a red cardinal lay in my hand. It was a very peaceful dream, not scary at all. I remember posting a picture of a cardinal on facebook with the caption, “I dreamed about a red bird last night.” Then I put it in the back of my mind.
Our family schedules were really busy at that time. Nathan and I both work full-time plus Nathan was taking night classes. Our parents helped us tremendously with our five-year-old son, James, picking him up after school and filling in the gaps when our schedules overlapped. On January 12th (a day after my dream about the cardinal), James was at my mother-in-law’s house. When I got there to pick him up, Nathan had already arrived.
We stayed to visit for awhile and listen to James’ adventures from kindergarten that day. He had gotten a box of chocolate and saved the heart chocolate for me. He gave it to me and said, “Mommy, I love you,” and hugged me.
I needed to run by Walmart on the way home. James rode with me most of the time because my car was not as old as Nathan’s and we felt it was safer. I put James in his backless booster seat. He wanted to ride with his daddy that night, but his dad said, “No, James. You will be safer with your mommy.” A part of me wanted to move him to the driver side or say to Nathan, “Can he just ride with you since he wants to?” but I went against my strange feelings and buckled him into his backless booster seat on the passenger side of the car.
I pulled on the shoulder belt and kept pulling on it and looked him in the eyes for a few moments. And then I shut the door.
I took Highway 316 to get to Walmart. People were flying down that road and it was very dark. I somehow missed my normal turn and had to travel on to an alternative light. I got in the left-hand turn lane and, once it turned green, I began to make my left-hand turn.
The next few moments happened so quickly. I felt like something hit us hard like a semi-truck at a fast rate of speed. I remember screaming and feeling something hit my chest hard. I remember the car spinning. I turned my head and screamed, “James! … James!” only to find the back end of my car was missing. James wasn’t there.
All I could think was, “Dear God, help me!”
I turned my head back around and saw the back end of my car from my windshield with only a piece of sheet metal holding it together. A woman came running with two men. She stayed with me and put her hands on my shoulders. One of the men said, “Ma’am, are you okay? Are you by yourself?”
I said, “No. My son …” I could barely get the words out. I pointed to the back end of my car where James had been. The man ran forward and screamed, “Oh, God!” He frantically started rushing around the part of the car James had been in.
I tried desperately to open my door, but couldn’t. I tried to climb out the back, but my shoulder was throbbing so bad, I couldn’t climb out. I sat in my seat and watched desperately as people rushed around the part of the car James was in.
I kept screaming, “Dear Lord, let my baby be okay. Please don’t take him from us.”
A woman named Sue came over and insisted on getting me to the hospital. After several minutes of me saying, “Please let me be with my son. Please get him to the hospital. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. Let my husband cross the street to be with him” (Nathan had been called and was being kept across the four-lane highway by the first responders and bystanders.)
After several minutes of people not telling me anything, I looked at Sue and screamed, “PLEASE tell me! Is he conscious?” She said, “Honey, no.” I screamed, “Is he BREATHING?” She took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “No, Honey. He’s gone.”
I felt like a ton of bricks were on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I screamed, “Dear God, No!!” and kept screaming. All you could hear on that normally busy highway were my loud, piercing screams.
“Please breathe life back into him, Lord.” I kept screaming, repeating those words. As they loaded me on a stretcher, I was in disbelief at what had just happened. How could this happen to us? Our baby? Our only child? The one we prayed for. How could God take him away from us?
All the way to the hospital I asked the paramedic, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do without our baby. He just got saved and was supposed to be baptized this Sunday.” I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened.
The police instructed Nathan to meet me and the ambulance at the hospital. I was able to contact my pastor’s wife and family members. At the hospital I was taken to trauma for a CT scan and examination. Afterwards I was put in a room.
Friends from church and family members were gathering to support us. I asked to see Nathan, and my pastor and his wife. I was still trying to sort through what had just happened. Why was my baby taken from me? Nathan and I were heartbroken. We held each other and cried deep, painful tears.
I had no broken bones and my vital organs were intact. I suffered a really bad bruise and was banged up, but that was it. Yet, my baby was dead. I couldn’t understand with the condition the car was in why God didn’t take me home too. How did I walk away with only a bruise and not hurt worse? I couldn’t figure out what the purpose was of keeping me here.
I started reading my Bible and pouring out my heart to the Lord. I made a decision that I wasn’t going to get angry and bitter with Him this time (I had grown very angry a couple of years earlier when I lost our little girl, Ryleigh, to miscarriage.) I was going to let Him use me. I wanted to keep James’ memory alive.
I realized very quickly He left me here to tell the story.
The following Sunday we went to our beloved church, Bold Springs Baptist Church. Never have I felt so much love poured out on us. We received so many hugs. There was a sadness in our church. At the end of the service the alter was full. The little boy everyone loved so much was missing. Our hearts were broken, but James was okay because he was with Jesus. Every Sunday he would run with excitement to the door when they released for children’s church, but not this Sunday and not ever again.
The week continued and I stayed in my Bible. A verse I clung to was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Also, 1 Corinthians 12:9, “But, He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”
We had to wait an entire week before we saw James because his death was by a car accident. Instead of sending him back to kindergarten, we signed a death certificate. Instead of seeing him baptized, we got to see his five-year-old body lay in a little white casket.
The morning of James’ funeral, we went to the funeral home and saw our baby for the very last time. I wanted that moment to last forever. I kissed his forehead and touched his cold hand and touched his beautiful red hair for the very last time while they closed his casket. I felt like getting angry. This wasn’t fair. I was a good momma. I didn’t feel like we deserved to have our only child taken from us. But then I remembered God sent His only son to watch Him die on the cross for me, so I could be forgiven of my sins.
The morning following the funeral, I was looking through my emails and came across an email from James’ art teacher. It was her ordering account of the kids’ artwork that the parents could order from. I dropped the phone and my jaw dropped because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing with my very eyes. It was a picture James had drawn of a cardinal sitting on a brown branch with snow falling down around it. Just minutes before I had been asking God, “Why James? Why us?” I had just dreamed about the cardinal laying in my hand the day before he passed away.
The Lord has used so many things in our life this year. When life seems impossible and like I can’t go on, somehow, someway, with the help of the Lord I always make it through the day. I know when I don’t pray or stay in His Word, the enemy tries to attack me and lead me into depression. But then the Lord gives me something to make me feel purpose again—every single time.
With the months ahead and the major holidays coming, I am struggling. I know Nathan and I will have difficult days ahead, but God is in control and will give us what we need to get through it. If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I pray you won’t go to bed without knowing Him because you never know when you will breathe your last breath.
More about Tracie:
I am a daughter of the King. We live about thirty minutes from Athens, Ga. Nathan and I have been married almost twelve years. When my schedule allows, I volunteer at the Walton County pregnancy resource center. We attend Bold Springs Baptist Church in Monroe, Ga. where church members are more like family. I enjoy singing specials for our church worship services, pouring myself into a song and singing praises to the Lord. I also enjoy photography. During the loss of our daughter, Ryleigh, through miscarriage the Lord used a ministry called Rock Goodbye Angel to lead me to emotional and spiritual healing. I still attend as often as possible. Please visit their website if you are suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage. I am working with local representatives and state officials to become an advocate for other families who have lost someone—gone too soon— because of dangerous highways, especially Georgia Highway 316 where many have died. I pray for the Lord to let me be a light in the darkness and I thank Him every day for the five years we had with James, instead of asking why. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, sometimes my flesh gets in the way and I feel angry or extremely sad, but my baby is doing just fine. He’s walking with Jesus!