Amber Lemons says it is a multitude of prayers that has sustained her family, helping them inch along the path of healing in the face of an unimaginable tragedy that claimed the lives of her two nieces, Cristin and Katie Grubbs, just two weeks ago.
News of the tragedy traveled fast in Stephenville. Amber and her husband, Robert, and their two sons, Reed and Cade, have been active members in the community for years. Amber is a popular science teacher at Gilbert Intermediate, where students cross their fingers in hopes of landing in her class, while Robert has worked in the banking industry for years.
Just hours after a woman hit the vehicle Amber's brother and his two daughters were traveling in near Houston, word that the girls had died circulated among the Lemons' friends, coworkers and acquaintances.
The community responded in the same way it always does when bad things happen - by wrapping their arms around a family in need and dropping to their knees.
I spoke with Amber for the first time since the accident on Thursday, just minutes before students at Henderson Junior High School released hundreds of pink balloons into the sky in remembrance of the sweet girls, just 11 and 12, who liked to cheer and tumble. The students surrounded Reed, who is a student at the school and gathered around him as the balloons were released in honor of his lost cousins.
During our conversation Thursday, Amber talked about the unspeakable loss, how her brother, sons and mother are trying to cope, and what a struggle it will be to get through the holidays.
As her voiced cracked, then shook, she refocused the conversation, shifting her thoughts to the one thing she says has given her family comfort - this community.
Amber said her ability to return to work, smile at her students and move forward are the result of prayer and tremendous support.
"Tragedy brings people together," Amber said. "My family has been on every prayer list in this community. That's what is helping us get through."
Amber and I talked about the beauty of living in Stephenville and how there is no place on earth like it. This community rallies together when kids get sick, families need financial assistance, grown women lose fathers - or two little girls hundreds miles away lose their lives.
Amber talked about the goodness of people and how that goodness has given her hope in the midst of tragedy.
"What I've really learned from this is that people are so good - they're just good," she said.
Indeed, Amber, they are.
And may the continued support and love from those around you continue to give you strength during the upcoming holidays and beyond.
Sara Vanden Berge is the managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379 ext. 240.