24: Grace Anna Sings
About the Guest
- Learn more about Angela Ray Rodgers and Grace Anna and their books, Grace Anna Sings and What Do You See When You Look at Me? https://www.graceannasings.org/
- Check out all that's available on the FamilyLife Podcast Network.
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When Angela Ray Rodgers posted a video of her toddler’s cute rendition of the national anthem, Grace Anna garnered national attention. Angela talks about Grace Anna’s health challenges and the joy she shares with others. Listen for a special performance.
24: Grace Anna Sings
Angela: I was holding her when her lungs collapsed. I really feel for parents that watch their children pass away. You feel like you’re helpless. That’s what I felt like that day—totally helpless.
Kim: From the FamilyLife podcast network, this is Unfavorable Odds. I’m Kim Anthony.
Unfavorable Odds is about finding hope and help in those seasons of life when things are pretty tough. Jesus has promised us that whenever we walk through those dark valleys, He’s always with us. We will never have to go it alone. So on each episode of this podcast, we’ll be talking with people who have learned how, during those dark times, to draw their strength from Jesus.
A few years ago, a video of a three-year-old girl singing the national anthem at the top of her lungs went viral. Her name is Grace Anna. She’s a little girl who’s had some serious health challenges and has endured several life restorative surgeries. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to hit the pause button and go to our show notes to watch it. When you come back, I’ll introduce you to Grace Anna’s mother, Angela Ray Rodgers.
Angela Ray Rodgers is the mother of Grace Anna and an advocate for all children with disabilities. She’s written a book called Grace Anna Sings which tells the story of a brave little girl whose joy in the midst of her challenges has become the platform she uses to bring hope and inspiration to the world. Angela has also teamed up with her daughter, Grace Anna, to write this children’s book. It’s called Who Do You See When You Look at Me? It’s a colorful picture book that invites the reader to see if there is anything they have in common with a little girl who looks and sounds different.
As I’m talking with Angela, sometimes you may hear nine-year-old Grace Anna in the background playing her music or singing. And you may even hear her service dog playing with a squeaky toy. Basically, it’s real life in the Rodger’s household.
Angela, Grace Anna was not your first pregnancy, was she?
Angela: No, she was not. I actually have been pregnant six times counting Grace Anna. I lost a child at a very young age, at the age of 18, and then I had my son, Isaiah. Then Jeff and I lost three babies before Grace Anna was born.
Kim: I’m so sorry.
Angela: It’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve went through in my adult life. It’s very hard to mourn a child you don’t get to hold and share a few moments with. It was very difficult.
Kim: So when you got pregnant with Grace Anna, what were your thoughts? Were you afraid that maybe the same thing would happen? How did you process that?
Angela: At first, I was extremely angry with my husband. I think I was angry with him because he was there. Because like you said, I feared that this was going to be one more miscarriage and after my last one, I didn’t think I could handle another one. I really didn’t.
Kim: During your pregnancy with Grace Anna, what did the doctors find?
Angela: They found early on that they thought something was wrong, but they didn’t know exactly what it was. She was described to us as basically, what I would consider looking like a monster.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Angela: Her legs would be completely turned in. Her feet weren’t formed right, and she had a fluid sac on her brain. They didn’t give her a whole lot of hope. We went to three different specialists and all three of those specialists offered options—I’ll put it that way. Then I had one lady that I saw that she told me don’t give up hope. Don’t ever give up hope. It never was a choice for us. We wanted her from the beginning. But we went through a lot of ultra sounds and a lot of questions that nobody could answer. It continued after she was born. There were a lot of questions that nobody could answer.
Kim: Okay. Now you mention that the doctors gave you options. What were some of those options?
Angela: Well the very first option that was recommended to us was an abortion. That never entered our minds. He also offered an amniocentesis. I’m very educated about stuff like that. I taught science and I’ve researched it a lot. If you’ve had miscarriages and you have an amnio, the risk of you miscarrying that baby goes up 50 percent.
Kim: Can you explain to me what amniocentesis is?
Angela: They take a needle and they go through the top of your womb. They go in and they pull out some fluid and test it to see if the baby has any genetic markers or anything specifically wrong with it.
Kim: And so you had read that this is not good for the baby?
Angela: No, there’s a risk of miscarrying and if you’ve miscarried before it increases your chance a lot more to miscarry again.
Kim: I see. So tell me how this news of Grace Anna’s condition affected you and your husband.
Angela: I think people that have miscarried a lot of babies will understand this. We were not scared. We were not angry. We just wanted the opportunity to be parents again. So we were believing that everything was going to be fine and we could deal with what—if there was something wrong, we could deal with it—
Angela: —with God’s help. That’s one thing that I did when I was pregnant—a whole lot extra, along with a lot of people in our community and our family—was praying for her. My young son used to pray over my belly every night when he was 13. I never had that feeling, once we got passed the three or fourth month, that I couldn’t do this. I just wanted the opportunity for her to get here and give us a chance to love this little lady.
Kim: Were you able to maintain your optimism throughout the entire pregnancy?
Angela: There were moments that I was concerned and become a little depressed when I was on bed rest a lot and I was in and out of the hospital with my heart rate. It gets kind of lonely.
Kim: Yes. Well how did you cope with some of the depression you were feeling at the time? How did you get over it?
Angela: I think a lot of it was prayer because I did do a lot of praying. One thing I’ve always done is the music and I think that’s where Grace Anna gets part of it not all of it. [Laughter] But one of my favorite groups—I would put their music on. I’d put it on my belly. Third Day—we loved them. Casting Crowns—loved them also and I listened to them a lot. I had a lot of wonderful friends that would call and check on me also.
Kim: That’s great. A great support system.
Kim: Tell me about the day when Grace Anna was born.
Angela: I’m going to try to get through this without crying because every time I tell the story, I cry.
Kim: Tears are okay. [Laughter] Tears are okay, momma.
Angela: We had had a lot of big storms the night before. It was very, very hot. The storms knocked our electric out. So there I was. We were all in the living room. I was eight months pregnant. I had my leg hanging out the window with all the windows up. I was so miserable.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Angela: It finally came back on like 4:30 in the morning. My husband took off to work. He has to leave for work at 6:30 in the morning. I got up about 8:00 and as soon as my feet hit the floor my water broke. At the time, my vehicle was in the shop being fixed; my mother-in-law was gone. All I had with me was my son. [Laughter]
Angela: Yes, and I said “Isaiah, I just want to tell you your sister’s going to be here today. My water just broke.” He’s like “Oh, no, mom. We don’t have a car.” It’s like “I know. Let me call Jeff.” I called my husband at work and told him “You need to come get us. The baby’s on the way.” He said, “This is like the second or third time, Angie. Are you sure?” I said, “My water broke.” I never heard another word. [Laughter] He was gone.
So we went to a local hospital. They said we could make it on to our regular doctor in Lexington. We got up there and he said “Yes, she’s coming today. I’m going to send you to the hospital.” The hospital was full. There was not a bed open on the maternity ward. They had us in a room and her heart rate started going up and so did mine. She was under stress.
So they did a pretty quick c-section. When they pulled her out, they just left with her. Nobody told me anything. I didn’t hear her cry. My husband kept telling me everything’s all right. They’re just checking her out. They must have given me some pretty strong medication that day because I was in and out. I kept asking “When are we going to get to see her?” He wouldn’t say anything and unknown to me they had told my husband that they didn’t know if she was going to make it or not. She had swallowed the meconium—that first bowel movement.
Within two to three hours, we got a knock on the door. The doctors told my husband “She’s okay. You can see her now.” We rolled down to see her. There she lay. Little chunky cheeks. [Laughter] I didn’t even notice that she had scales on her. All I paid attention to was this beautiful face, and she was breathing.
When we went back to the room, the pediatrician came to the room and he said, “We’re going to send her somewhere else tomorrow morning,” and I couldn’t understand why. I hadn’t noticed anything. He said, “Well she has scales all over her body and there’s some other stuff going on and we can’t help her here as well as the other hospital can.”
Kim: Can you describe what the scales look like? Was it like severely dry skin? Or help me to picture that.
Angela: It looks like very thick hardened dry skin. It’s kind of a yellowish color.
Angela: It resembles fish scales. When we got to see her the next morning, I noticed it was so severe on her little hands that it made her look like she had more than five fingers on her hands. It had her fingers distorted.
Angela: But luckily that all fell off after about three months. We used a special lotion and stuff and it came off after three months. But they ended up transferring her to the University of Kentucky hospital that morning and she spent a week there. They sent us home from there with a diagnosis of chondrodysplasia punctate the recessive form. With the recessive form, they’re not supposed to live past ten years old. But Grace was breathing really well and eating really well. I’d researched what they told us, and it didn’t sound like she had that.
So, when we left the hospital that day, they actually did some genetic testing. Three weeks later, they called and said “Well we were wrong. She has chondrodysplasia but it’s the dominant type which is also known as Conradi-Hünermann Syndrome.”
Angela: But she could have a very long life. She’s just going to have some health issues.
Kim: What were some of the other outward symptoms you noticed in your daughter?
Angela: The hair—She had hardly any hair and when she was born, also, they thought she was blind. They couldn’t get a reflection out of her eyes off the retina. She actually had cataracts that were blocking the light. So she ended up having to have four eye surgeries within the first six months of her life.
Kim: Oh my.
Angela: Also, her limbs are different lengths; her arms are different lengths. One arm is longer than the other. It usually affects one side of the body greater than the other. Grace Anna’s most affected side is her right side. It is quite a bit shorter than the left side. When this happens, it causes your body to kind of grow twisted—which ends up affecting the spine and legs and other things. [Tears] Sorry.
Kim: No. Please don’t ever apologize for being real. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to know that your daughter would be facing some challenging times ahead.
Angela: The first three months my husband and I probably spent any spare time we had researching the disorder. Because we wanted to be the best parents we could be for her and find the best doctors. It was difficult because you would call places and ask if they have treated somebody with Conradi and they’d never heard of it. So it was really a challenge to find doctors that knew about it and knew how to treat it effectively.
Kim: How did you find doctors who would be able to help her?
Angela: It was a process of elimination. That’s exactly what it was. The doctor we first met to do her eye surgery had never operated on an infant. She said it would be a burden.
Kim: A burden?
Angela: Burden was the word and that appointment didn’t go well. I started crying. [Laughter]
Kim: Okay. What would be a burden? Operating on your daughter?
Angela: No, no. The doctor described her as a burden.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Angela: It would be a burden to us to go through the surgery / to address taking off the cataracts. When I left, I made sure she understood that she would not see my daughter again. It was a unique experience. We’ve not experienced that with a lot of doctors. She’s got some amazing doctors.
Kim: Now it seemed as if Grace Anna was progressing well—and I believe she was those first six months—but then you had a check-up around that six-month time period. What did you learn?
Angela: Her spine—there were some issues going on with her spine. We had started seeing Dr. Talwalkar at Shriner’s in Lexington—amazing doctor / amazing person. He’s got a lot of character as a human being. He said, “We’re going to watch it, but I think eventually she’s going to have to have it addressed.”
Angela: She ended up having to have it addressed. She had a disc in her back shaped like a triangle. Instead of it laying with the rest of them, it was pressing into her spinal cord.
Kim: That must have been really painful for her.
Angela: It was, and it was also affecting the movement of her legs. She couldn’t move her legs much. So we talked to Dr. Talwalkar and the thing that we love about Dr. Talwalkar is: if he can’t address it, he’ll admit it. He’s not an arrogant doctor and he told us the doctor to take her to. That’s what we ended up doing. It was probably one of the hardest experiences that Grace Anna has went through—that spine surgery.
Kim: How old was she when she had that spinal surgery?
Angela: She was 18 months old.
Kim: Okay. Is that when you had to fly somewhere to get treatment?
Kim: I really enjoyed reading that story about you taking your first flight. You and Grace Anna taking your first flight. Tell me about that.
Angela: My husband was on there too, but he was not sitting with us and I was angry with him. [Laughter] I was not happy getting on that seat without him. But I’ll be the first to admit I absolutely hate flying. I don’t like it and I had never flown. I thought okay I would never step on a plane but I’m going to for my daughter because she needs to get there.
Angela: Thank the Lord, I made it but there was a lot of sweating and a lot of praying. I didn’t like turbulence—still don’t like turbulence. I don’t see how people do it. I’ll take a car.
Kim: [Laughter] I’m with you. I’ll drive any day. But on that flight Grace Anna’s response was a little bit of a surprise for you. How did she respond to her first flight?
Angela: She loved it. She loved it. [Laughter] Whoo every time we fly. Whoo-hoo, here we go.
Kim: What did that do for you as a momma?
Angela: First of all, it made me feel very childish because I was so scared and allowing fear to control me. I thought this little thing is getting on this plane and flying like she’s having a party and I’m sitting here worried to death. I said, “I’m going to have to lighten up,” and I did. She really enjoys it.
Kim: Yes. One of the things you said in your book when you were describing the story is that what you learned is that Grace Anna was going to find a way to enjoy life no matter what the circumstances were.
Angela: And she does; she does every day. It’s just like this spica cast. I think if I was in her shoes / in her cast, I would probably be complaining a lot more than she does. It’s very rare. When she gets tired, she gets a little grouchy but most of the time, she’s singing, playing, playing with her dog— having a good time.
Kim: Now what were the doctors planning to correct during the surgery again?
Angela: They fused some vertebrae together and then they applied a cast. So after the surgery we found out that they had some complications with the anesthesiologist. He didn’t follow the recommendations from Cincinnati, and they had some difficulties with her airway.
So, when she got out, both of her lungs ended up collapsing and we come very close to losing her. She coded and they couldn’t get the tube in because she has shelving in her throat. It was—and I can’t attest because I’ve never lost a grown child / a child that’s made it here besides miscarriage. But watching—I was holding her when her lungs collapsed. I really feel for parents that watch their children pass away. You feel like you’re helpless. That’s what I felt like that day—totally helpless.
Kim: So as you’re sitting there watching Grace Anna, where did you think God was during that time? Did you call out to Him? Did you even have time to think to pray?
Angela: I think you’re in so much shock that’s it’s happening. It’s like you’ve heard it’s like in slow motion; that’s exactly—It’s like I was watching all these people run in and my husband, he wouldn’t leave. They were trying to get us to leave. They pulled us out and he went back in. I run to the waiting room where my mom and sister were, and I said, “You need to start calling people to pray.”
Thirty minutes went by and I thought she—they’ve not told us anything—she’s not made it. I think they were just waiting to make sure she was going to make it. My husband stayed in the entire time. I finally got tired of waiting and just walked back there and they got it in.
They had to do something different than they normally do but we called people immediately to ask them to start praying, start praying and our whole community— [Crying] I’m very thankful our community—cause the church is really and all the people in our community started praying for her. I really do think that made a huge difference of calling out God’s name to help her.
Angela: I’ve not cried this much— [Laughter]
Kim: Now you talk about the community that you had surrounding you. In your book, you write about how much of a blessing it is that you were in this small town and the town actually rallied around your daughter. That’s powerful.
Angela: Yes, and it’s you know with all communities and towns you have problems but especially in small towns when it really comes down to somebody needing something and us being here for each other, they are. You may have differences in opinions and stuff, but I really think in my little small-town people do care about each other and pray for each other and love each other. That’s one thing that we love about living in rural Kentucky. There’s still those same values that each of us matter and we can pray for each other and love each other even if we don’t agree.
Kim: I love that. It’s so important for anyone to have and especially when you’re going through such a traumatic thing as you and your husband, and Grace Anna, and Isaiah were going through.
Angela: Yes, yes.
Kim: So tell me what happened after her lungs collapsed. The community was praying. What was next?
Angela: They ended up having to put this—I don’t know if it was a CPAP or a BiPAP machine on her and it stayed on her for quite a long time. The thing about Grace Anna is with the scales she had on her body—ichthyosis is what it’s called—it scarred a lot of her body.
This causes her to overheat. She would run a fever and they thought she would have an infection. We kept telling them “We think she’s just getting really hot. She’s got that cast on. You’ve got her covered up.” They had been giving her antibiotics. She had tubes all over her body. They kept taking blood and couldn’t find an infection and finally, we had a nurse listen to us. Specifically, my mom had this bright idea to put the oxygen tube down her cast and her fever started going down. She was overheating.
So it was a total of 26 days she was in the hospital after the spine surgery. It was bumpy. It was very traumatic for all of us, but I think that’s where Grace Anna started to get her love of music. Because that’s all we could do. We couldn’t pick her up anymore. We would sing to her. She would listen to music. I thought it was so funny the day she got out of ICU; they told us “well she probably won’t eat much that first day out; just go light.” So they handed us some puddings and three puddings later [Laughter] they said “Okay! She likes to eat,” and I said “Yes, she does.”
Kim: I love it! So during the surgery did they—you said they fused her spine. Did she have a rod? Was that when they placed a rod in or was that later?
Angela: That was later. The rods came later.
Kim: But she did have a cast from her chest—was it all the way down to her leg or to her bottom?
Angela: At the top of her bottom.
Kim: At the top of her bottom. You mentioned earlier how Grace Anna, she figures out a way to enjoy life. Tell us what she did when you took her home and she’s wearing that cast on her back.
Angela: And the cast was made where you couldn’t do a whole lot of sitting up. The angle it would come down and rub against her legs. So we had her laying—we would make pallets and stuff and we were sitting there one day, and I turned around and she had rolled over on her belly and scooted out on our hardwood floor. I said What are you doing? And the next thing I know she is spinning like a top, just flying, and cackling the entire time. [Laughter] I called the doctor. I said “Do I need to let her do this? Is she—” He said, “you let her do whatever she can do, you let her do it.” I said “okay.”
Kim: [Laughter] So she’s spinning around. She found a way to have fun.
Angela: Yes, she did. She did.
Kim: Now Grace Anna was full of surprises. Tell me about the first time you heard her sing.
Angela: She had—the little corker—she picked up on singing really well. I would like to take credit for it all, but I cannot. I mean her little voice has been crazy good since she was around two years old. We would lay in the bed at night and sing like be-o-by-o-baby and stuff like that. I’d sing Amazing Grace and all of our favorite gospel hymns. We’d listen to Casting Crowns and stuff.
She’s laying in bed and she just starts belting out Amazing Grace, and it’s not like a little kid singing Amazing Grace. The vibrato in her voice was there at two years old. I would just look at her like where does that come from in that itty-bitty body because she was so tiny.
Kim: Did it surprise you that she could sing so well and remember the words?
Angela: Yes. She couldn’t speak as well as she could sing in the beginning. She started singing and could do that quite well before she started talking really well.
Kim: In your book, Grace Anna Sings, you talk about the different doctors that you’ve had to visit. You reference how you actually learned how to listen to God through your interaction with these doctors. He would tell you who to allow Grace Anna to see and who to completely avoid and you alluded to that a little bit earlier. But how did God speak to you during those times? How did you know? There are so many important decisions to make that involves the survival of your daughter.
Angela: I think sometimes almost like a punch in the gut and then sometimes it’s like a tug. I’ve experienced it two different ways. The one that called her a burden, that was pretty—you’re not going back there.
Angela: But one of the first doctors she saw, we had seen her for a while and I kept telling my husband I just—you know we pray before you go into the doctor and pray at night for discernment and guidance and you’re sitting there and you start noticing things about the doctor you’ve never noticed before.
We had one appointment with the geneticist. She’d always been real nice and greeted Grace Anna and that last visit she came in with two students, never introduced my daughter by name—"Patient has this.” This is what’s wrong, basically, with her and left the room and I stood there.
She had been a good doctor. She really had. She’d given us good advice and I was looking at my daughter and I thought “God did not make a mistake.” The doctor never mentioned any positive thing about her / never mentioned her name. I was sitting and I told my husband “we’re not coming back here,” and he said “why?”
I said “I just have this burden on my heart that this is not what our daughter needs to be around. She needs doctors that are going to see hope in her instead of just what is wrong with her.”
Kim: Yes, yes.
Angela: I think God gives you that little still voice. He sends His Spirit and He gives you that little still voice when you know you try to keep doing something you know you’re not supposed to be doing, you’re not going to feel right.
Kim: Were there ever times when God was nudging you in a particular direction, but you didn’t listen because you maybe thought it was yourself? It was something you were creating in your mind?
Angela: Yes, and we lost her doctor in Baltimore. Our insurance wouldn’t cover him anymore. We had to choose new doctors. I liked the new doctors. I liked their personality. But I had a tug to go somewhere else and they addressed something with her health at the first place we went that the second doctor had to fix. I avoided signals that I should have paid attention to, and I hate it for my daughter because I own it. That’s what I told my husband: “you and I both know we should have went to the other doctor now.” He said, “But Angie, we got thrown into a hurricane with her spine.” I said “We should have taken the trip. We should have gone and met the other doctors.”
Kim: Yes, yes. So, in a situation like that, that’s when you have to really lean into God’s grace.
Angela: Yes. Because if you don’t watch it, you’ll be beating yourself up and we have to realize we’re not perfect. “Okay, I missed up, God. I’m sorry.” I’ve told Grace Anna that. We’ve always been honest with her and I think that’s very important. She’s at the age now where she has input. The doctor’s appointments—she asks questions which I think is really good. We’ve taught her to be very active with her health.
Kim: How old is Grace Anna right now?
Angela: She’s nine going on 30.
Kim: Nine going on [Laughter] Nine going on 30. As you described just the humanness of us all and we make mistakes, the verse comes to mind: my grace is sufficient for you. God’s grace is sufficient for us. His power is made perfect in our weakness. That as we think about our weaknesses which show up every single day, we are able to lean on God in a way and trust Him and depend on Him instead of our own efforts.
Sometimes, I know for me, I think if I did not recognize my weaknesses at times, I think I might get a little full of myself and think that I am the one who created whatever it is or who made the right decision. But God uses those times to humble us and remind us that: hey, you know what? I am the One who is in control.
Angela: I think we—I do as a mom and I think a lot of moms sometimes do this—we try to fix everything.
Kim: Oh yes.
Angela: And we can’t. We can’t. I think one example when she had her leg surgery at Scottish Rite—we were so blessed to find them. They told us going in that they were going to try to do both legs and they might not be able to. So we were in the waiting room waiting to see and they called and said we’re only going to be able to do one leg.
Angela: The old me—ten years ago—would have got upset and said, “Oh no, I don’t want her to have another surgery.” I would have got upset. I said “No. Okay, God, there’s a reason that she can’t have both. I’m giving it to you. I’ll accept whatever you’ve got for me or got for her.” I said that in the waiting room and my husband’s looking at me. There’s people in there. I was like “Okay. It’s okay; You’ve got this.”
About 15–20 minutes later, they called back and said, “We’re starting on the second leg.” And I thought “Are you showing off, God?” [Laughter]
Kim: He’s like “See what I can do.”
Angela: “Are you trying to teach me something? Are you trying to reinforce something with me?” [Laughter]
Kim: He has a way of doing those things, right? He’s like “Okay, don’t even worry about it. Look what I can do. And I didn’t need your help.”
Angela: Yes. “You’ll be okay, Angie. Let go.”
Kim: Now tell me how being caregivers for Grace Anna has affected your marriage. It can’t be easy.
Angela: I hate saying this because I know people are going to think I’m crazy. It has made our marriage stronger.
Angela: It’s a sad statistic that a lot of parents that have children with disabilities or severe health issues end up in divorce. We’ve been on a journey and we’ve met a lot of families.
Like when she was in Baltimore, there were five families that we were super close to while we were in the hospital. We’re the only ones still married. I know it can be extremely tough on marriages, but I do think that you have to make time for each other. You can’t get mad at each other when things are going tough. You have to communicate and pray together and be together.
I think sometimes when you have a child like Grace Anna, one parent bears most of it and that’s when your marriage gets in trouble. I’m very blessed with a really good husband. I am. He’s very patient with me. [Laughter] and with Grace Anna. We’ve had a lot of changes in our marriage and we’ve had moments where we’ve not agreed on things and had arguments. I think most marriages do that. But what we’ve found, if you do not talk about things—communication is so vital and time and listening to each other. It is—big part.
Kim: One of the things that stood out to me in your story is that your husband, Jeff, was there. He was very present and very active in Grace Anna’s life during the difficult times and currently. How was he able to do that and still provide for the family?
Angela: He has an incredible employer. He is a plant manager for Tarter Ranch. Call out for them. [Laughter] They have been incredible to him as an employer. Also, I taught for a long time. We were also blessed with—Grace Anna when she was three received something called the Michelle P. Waiver in Kentucky. That helps with stuff like that also.
At one point, my husband stayed home for like I think it was two or three months while I went and taught. We’ve also received a Hart-Supported Living Grant, which I’m on the board of now in Kentucky, that helped pay for a bathroom / a mobility bathroom where we can wheel her in and wheel her out. It’s handicapped accessible.
So Kentucky has a lot of great programs and that’s something that we do advocate for. In Kentucky, we speak up for it yearly. But those two programs because it would have been a huge hardship because my husband would have been there regardless if we got the help. But it kept us from losing our home. So that’s really important.
Kim: I think about the families you mentioned in Baltimore where you say there were five families that you were friends with, and you two—you and Jeff—are the only ones who are still married. It makes me wonder as you mention all of the help and the assistance you’ve given.
Perhaps some of these other families received some type of assistance as well. And you also said that whether you received assistance or not, Jeff was going to be there. That is very special. What do you think it is about him that gives him the drive, the passion, and the desire to be such a significant part of Grace Anna’s life?
Angela: When I met my husband—and I think that was in the book also—he was very—I don’t want to say self-centered; maybe self-absorbed. [Laughter] He was an only child / only grandchild on both sides of the family, so he was a little spoilt. And I came from a different—I was the oldest of four in a huge family and had been on my own since I was 19 years old. So it was two different people that came together.
I really think love is the key because my husband—his family loves him but not really affectionate. When Grace Anna came—I can’t really explain it—there was a bond that formed between him. He became a totally different person when she was born.
Before he was affectionate but not like he is now. I almost think—and maybe I’m wrong but I don’t know—but the miscarriages, I think God had to break him a little and get to his heart and let him know it’s okay to be a man that cries, number one, and a man that shows affection, and it’s okay to love people and show it.
I don’t think he had really experienced that growing up and when Grace Anna came along, he had this love for her like the first time I saw Isaiah. Maybe everybody doesn’t feel that. But I think her journey and what she overcomes, I think it inspires him to be the best dad he can be. People say God may / may not put people together. I absolutely believe He put us together. There’s no doubt in my mind He did. I think God is shaping him.
Kim: Amen. And He’s using Grace Anna to do that.
Angela: Yes, absolutely. Yes.
Kim: What are some ways that God is using him to create a better life for Grace Anna?
Angela: One thing that we love to do—of course, they have their daddy daughter days. He’s the one that takes her exploring. We have a farm and they go catch butterflies together. They fish together and I think he’s showing her how she needs to be treated by men.
Kim: Oh, I love that!
Angela: That’s something that I think dads need to do and I think my husband is doing a great job at it—teaching her what to expect from a good man.
And he doesn’t limit her. He doesn’t feel sorry for her. If he gets upset or something bothers him about him, he’ll cry in front of me and sometimes he will in front of her. But I think he shows her affection and love and does stuff with her so she knows that it’s going to be okay, and she can do things on her own one day when momma and daddy’s not here anymore. She’s just as tough as everybody else. That’s the big thing.
Kim: That’s good. He actually created an apparatus where she could learn to—
Angela: Parallel bars.
Kim: Parallel bars where she could start practicing how to walk.
Angela: Yes, he did. He built those. He got online and was trying to research ways to do it and built them and she was using them. He does joke around with her all the time. She will say stuff. She’ll get discouraged sometimes and say “Dad, I don’t think I’m ever going to walk.” He’ll say “Well if you think you never will, you won’t. You got to want to, sis.”
And we both surely believe—you know she’s walked before this surgery / before her hip went out. We both truly believe she will, and the doctors believe—in Texas think she will. I think that’s something that Jeff has always instilled in her is not to give up. Even if the world tells you to, don’t do it. Don’t give up.
Kim: Not only has Grace Anna had an effect on you and Jeff, but also her brother, Isaiah.
Angela: That relationship is—one of my all-time favorites is watching those two together. My son—bless his heart—he’d always wanted a brother and sister. I’m sure you read this part where he says, “Bring my momma a man.” Everybody always likes that one where he sent Santa the letter. [Laughter] He was bound and determined he was going to get a brother or sister and if that’s what it took, Santa was going to bring me a man. [Laughter]
But I think Isaiah will be an awesome dad. He and Grace Anna have this special sweet bond that a lot of brothers and sisters don’t have, and some do, but he has never complained about all this attention she gets. He loves taking care of her.
If we say, “Hey Isaiah, can you come down from Lexington and just babysit her for a night?” “Sure! On my way.” He just loves her. He’s 22 and sort of has a life of his own now where he’s going to college and working in Lexington. But he comes home quite a bit to spend time with her and us.
Kim: You mentioned Isaiah doesn’t get jealous about all the attention Grace Anna gets. So let’s move to that portion of your story. One day you decide to record Grace Anna singing and then you posted it on social media. What happened after that?
Angela: It kind of went crazy. She sang the national anthem and I’d just given her a bath. We were sitting on our living room couch. I know people think I’m crazy when I say this, but we do sing the national anthem a lot. We just sing. I sing all the time. Grace sings all the time. My husband not as much but we’re very patriotic. We’ve got a lot of veterans in our family. So the anthem means something to us.
Angela: So I know she had heard it a million times probably—probably not that much but quite a bit, and she sang it that day with me. I was like “Sweetie, that is so good.” I was just bragging on her and posted it so all our friends could see and the people we we’re in the hospitals with.
Then Sammy Kershaw’s agent is calling me. I’m like what? It just kind of explodes. I was not expecting that; really wasn’t.
Kim: So what kind of opportunities came from that viral video?
Angela: She sang at some veteran’s galas. We went on the Katie Couric show; met Naomi Judd.
Kim: Okay, you have to tell that story. [Laughter]
Angela: That is definitely one of the memories that will stick out in my mind the rest of my life. Katie had flown us out to New York, and we checked in that morning. We hadn’t met Katie and she had a big surprise for us, and we got on the show. It’s kind of surreal seeing a celebrity sitting right beside you you’ve seen on tv your whole life.
As we’re progressing in the show, she introduces Naomi Judd. Here comes Naomi Judd with this great big container of Sesame Street. Grace loved Elmo. She sat down right beside Grace and started singing Amazing Grace and my daughter—the daughter that she is—turned to Naomi Judd and said “Stop singing my song” on national live tv. [Laughter] I was like I cannot believe she just told the queen of country music to stop singing—
Kim: —her song.
Angela: Her song—Amazing Grace is her song. You’re not allowed to sing it. Then Naomi starts singing Brickhouse. I don’t know the transition from Amazing Grace to Brickhouse but she kind of clamed down after she quit singing her song. But it was definitely an experience of a lifetime getting to be on the show.
Kim: How did you and your family adjust to this special treatment your daughter was now receiving?
Angela: Well, we are just like we always are. When I say that people think I’m crazy because we do run into a lot of fans. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming because we are who we are at all times. I think that’s why Grace Anna’s page is so popular because it’s not scripted. It is us in 100 percent authentic mode. We don’t know any other way to be and you can like that, or you cannot like it but I’m not going to script my daughter. I’m just not going to. We’re just not like that. But it’s some adapting.
Kim: It’s some adapting, for sure.
Angela: Yes, because when we go out, I have to remind people that she’s nine and that she just wants to have fun, and 99% of her fans are wonderful amazing people and understand that. Then we’ve had some situations that we’ve had to walk away from. But the majority of the time it’s been amazing. People are real sweet and kind. It’s just us being us.
Kim: Do you mind if I ask you to give an example of a situation you’ve had to walk away from?
Angela: Somebody screaming and running across at us and we just have to stand in front of her. One thing about Grace is she’s very susceptible to getting sick, especially in the winter months, because of her lungs and stuff. We’ve had people that just want to automatically touch her and tell her to sing for them. We’ve always told her you don’t sing unless you want to sing. If you decide you want to sing something, you sing—
Kim: That’s so good.
Angela: —but you’re not a circus act. I said if you don’t want to sing, don’t sing. Most people are pretty good about that, but we’ve had a few that “why won’t you sing for me? You ought to sing for me.”
We just have to politely say “Nice to meet you. Have a great day. We’re going to go now.”
Kim: Yes. I love that you protect her from those types of people. I think it may be because people see her on the internet and as they’re watching her, they’re thinking that they now know her. So when they see her in person, they’re going to treat her as if “Hey, we’re buds,” and she has never even seen them before. It’s really interesting how that happens.
Angela: We’ve had moments, too, that have been really special with some fans. We met a lady at a fast food chain one day. She come by and said “I love your daughter. I think the world of you. Keep it up.” That’s all she said. It was really sweet.
I don’t know if it was a discerning spirit in Grace Anna, but she grabbed that lady’s arm and she said, “Are you okay?” and that lady started crying. She said “No, Grace Anna, I’m not okay.” Grace Anna said, “Can I sing you a song?” She sang her a song.
Those are the moments that really mean a lot to us because Grace Anna has a special gift to make people feel better; she does. But when it comes from a place that we’re not controlling / nobody else is controlling, to me it feels like God is sending that discerning spirit in her.
She knew that lady needed that and that’s what we’ve always stressed to Grace Anna: do what God wants you to do. Don’t try to be something for somebody else or do something just to please somebody. You do what God wants you to do.
I think in our world today as parents we do not talk to our kids enough about being what God wants you to be and not worrying about what the world wants you to be. And if I do anything on this earth as a parent with my two children it’s to instill that in them: be what God wants you to be and quit worrying what the world thinks of you.
Kim: Yes. Angela, I hope that every parent who hears you say that will apply that to their lives / their children’s lives because it’s so important. When I think about the spotlight that has been shined on Grace Anna, how more important is it for her to be able to maintain her identity in Christ and not morph into what the world wants her to be.
Angela: Yes. We’ve had opportunities where we walked away from them because they’re wanting to do exactly that. My husband and I sat down one night and said she could / Grace could make a lot of money doing different things, but I said what does that say about us as parents and about her life? I said I don’t want her childhood being a sitcom for somebody.
I don’t think that’s what God would want us to provide for her. We’re supposed to be guiding her as parents not producers and other people. And when you get into certain—and I’m sure there’s probably reputable shows and stuff that would do great things, but it’s very difficult to navigate the waters now and decipher who’s genuine and who’s not.
Kim: Oh my goodness. Yes. And along those lines, you’ve had a lot of support for Grace Anna but there also have been some people who have not been as supportive.
Angela: Yes, and you’d think that you’d get one or two of those and you’d talk about them on her page and it wouldn’t happen again but we still every great once and awhile will get a letter like the lady from California. But that letter that she sent us when she said that one day our little girl would be sitting inside while everybody else is out on the playground. It just kind of put something in me that said “You know what? That’s not going to happen.”
That’s why we have become very strong advocates for recreational equipment for kids with disabilities, so they can play along with everybody else. That’s one thing that is near and dear to our hearts and brag on my community again.
Grace Anna’s homeschooled but the local school system here—Marion Sowders is the superintendent there—I went and discussed with him with another fellow about getting a playground in the school system like that. We went through the process and stuff and we were working on getting donations. They had a board meeting and announced that they were going to fund it completely.
They’ve put in a playground in our community and it’s not just a school playground. They’ve made it a community playground that’s open at nights and weekends and they let Grace Anna in before it opened and showed it to us. That’s what people can do when they work together. She’s homeschooled; they didn’t have to listen to me. It’s a God thing. It was a God thing.
Kim: I think you’re spot on because you’re sharing how God has used and is using Grace Anna to not only impact your family but the community and the world. You talk about the videos and how many people have written to you saying that she has blessed them that she has helped them to heal in some way. It’s really astounding.
I think about how you also share how your encounter with other families in the hospitals has given you a desire to help those families. So you started an organization, Gracie Bug?
Angela: Yes. Gracie Bug Bundles of Love. That is where—and we do it as a family and some of the people in our community also help out with it—It’s where we take packages to people that have long term hospital stays. When we were in Baltimore, my community sent big boxes of snacks and soap, toothpaste, letters—it made a huge difference. I don’t think—and this is something that I stressed to the rest of my family like my sisters and brothers and stuff like that—you really can’t imagine what life is like until you have a child with severe health issues or a severe disability.
I taught middle school for 14 years. I think it was the third year before I stopped teaching—I was beside a classroom that had a lot of students with disabilities. One little girl, particularly, in a wheelchair. I thought I knew what her life was about. I didn’t understand it until Grace Anna came along.
You see so many parents and families that are really struggling to pay the bills, to get to the hospitals and back, and they have to stay in the hospitals three or four days, and they can’t get back home. It’s very stressful. I know those parents want to be there for their children and that’s one thing that we just did that to try and help them.
I know in our own community we try to help the people that have those kids with opportunities. That’s one reason I was really grateful that Governor Matt Bevin appointed me to the Hart-Supported Living Council. This council—the grants go to help people with disabilities and make their lives easier.
Kim: The joy and enthusiasm Grace Anna expresses in public life can give people the impression that everything’s just fine. You mentioned how you saw a child and you never really understood what that child would go through or what her parents would go through until Grace Anna came into your life. Take us through what a day in the life is like caring for your daughter.
Angela: We start the day getting ready. She’s learning how to self-dress. She can do the upper part but the lower part of her body she has to use like a dressing stick. So she’s learning how to do all that, so I help her in that. She gets up in her wheelchair, goes and brushes her teeth, and gets to the kitchen table where we have a different chair I have to transfer into to eat at the table with.
After she eats, we do stretching and exercises—her physical therapy. Then we do homeschool. Halfway through homeschool, we do more therapy, recreational activities, and do lunch. There’s a lot of assisting and helping.
There’s not much time for things that I would get to choose to do for myself. That’s fine. I love it. Maybe some moms wouldn’t like being a care giver, but we do a lot of the pool therapy. She loves riding our side by side—going off into the farm and stuff.
But most days, we have to schedule times for therapy. We’ve got to keep track of her medicine. We keep track of bodily functions because she has some issues with spine problems that have affected her nerves through the rest of her body.
We just kind of keep a schedule and a routine and track. I love things that affect her health. I know from raising my son that is not the way our days were spent a lot of them. I find time where I have to make myself remember that she’s a little girl and she needs to go have fun.
Kim: Out of all the things that Grace Anna has gone through, what to do you think—if you can choose one—what do you think has been the most difficult?
Angela: The first months are probably the most difficult health wise. But I think the most difficult thing for her to do is to take that first step after the leg surgery. Because she’d never been able to stand up and get that leg straight—the left leg.
Angela: She was so scared that she was going to fall, and it was new to her and she threw up. She didn’t throw up because she was sick. She threw up because she was scared to death.
I think about most people when they learn to walk; you know they’re babies. They don’t think about fear and falling. They just go and get back up. But her therapist at Scottish Rite was wonderful with her and very patient. We just had to be very reassuring and say you’re going to be okay. If you do end up falling, you can get back up. It’ll be okay. But that surgery and the day she took her first step was probably been the most difficult thing on her so far.
Kim: Is it true that you continued to see one of the doctors that suggested that you abort Grace Anna?
Angela: I do. I do and I had a conversation last year when I went to the doctor with his assistant and we were talking about that it broke my heart when he suggested the abortion. I had known him for 13/14 years at that time. I would have never expected him to do it. When I met with the assistant that day, she said, “I think you may have made a difference in him. Your daughter has.” She said, “I sat with him the other day and listened to him for close to an hour try to talk somebody out of getting an abortion.”
Kim: Oh my goodness, Angela.
Angela: I know. She goes with me to my appointments and he will tell you she’s the coolest kid he’s ever met. I think that as human beings we want to hate people that don’t agree with us or that have messed up. If that one appointment I go to a year can touch his heart or show him God’s light through Grace Anna, that’s what we’re going to do.
We can’t keep punishing people forever. We can’t do that. That’s not what God wants us to do. God didn’t punish us. We all mess up and do dumb things. When she told me that, I started crying in the office. I thought “Shew, I hope you’re right.” [Laughter]
Kim: It sounds like she is right if he the same person who told you to abort your child is now talking someone else out of it. Oh, there’s been some life change!
Angela: Yes, yes.
Kim: I commend you for being persistent and not just writing him off and saying forget this guy. But you intentionally continued to go to him in the hopes that he would see your daughter’s life and believe that everyone should have a chance.
Earlier you mentioned how Grace Anna has this sense of discernment. She knew that that woman in that restaurant needed something from God and she gave it to her. She gave her a song. She really does have this special relationship with God.
Angela: Yes. One thing that happened before this last surgery. You know how moms get a little worried. It was a big surgery / the double hip surgery, and we’d went down to where they take her to surgery from the holding area. She’s sitting there and she starts singing “Oh my soul, you are not alone.” She just keeps singing gospel hymns.
Then a lady hears her; comes in. She said, “I heard her singing.” So she sings with this lady and one of the nurses holding her hand, praising the Lord, in the holding area. I got so tickled because she went from singing about Jesus to singing about, I think it was a cat. I can’t remember exactly. The nurse just started dying laughing. She said, “Well you got me crying and you got me laughing, Grace Anna.”
Then Grace Anna led us in prayer. She said, “Mommy and Daddy, I’m going to pray.” So, as they’re rolling her through the double doors—I’ll never forget it as long as I live—she looked back and said “Momma, don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright.” To be nine years old, she’s very mature in some ways especially when it comes to spiritual.
Kim: Yes. In your book you mentioned how she knew about your miscarriages even though you did not tell her.
Angela: Yes. It kind of freaked my husband out.
Kim: I think it would have freaked me out too. [Laughter]
Angela: She’s just sitting there, and she asked me if she had any brothers or sisters. I said “Well.” She said, “Well Mommy, I know I have brothers and sisters.”
When Isaiah’s dad died, she told me that he was in heaven with her brothers and sisters. We had never talked to her about the miscarriages / never said a word about them. But when she started asking about the sisters—that they’re in heaven—I got goosebumps from my head to my toe that day. My husband gets skeptical about that kind of stuff; not me. We were talking about this the other day.
When she had her last surgery, we were in the hospital and she was laying there, and I saw her keep looking over. She said “Mommy, who is that?” And I said “Where?” She said, “Who is that woman standing over there,” and she pointed over by the monitor. I looked over and said “Grace Anna, there’s nobody over there.”
She said “Yes, there is mom. There’s a woman standing over there.” We got to talking about it the other day and she said “Momma, I think that woman was an angel because she was standing there and she had her arms stretched out like this in front of me like she was protecting me.”
Angela: That night was a really rough night. Grace Anna’s heartrate got to 200.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Angela: Her oxygen level had started dropping and they couldn’t figure out what was going on. I think she may have been right. We talked about the verse where it says that little one’s angels see God’s face. I said, “That may have been one of your angels watching over you, sis.”
Kim: How have you grown personally since Grace Anna has come into your life?
Angela: I think the biggest thing is I’ve come to realize what is important and what is not, in life—what to stand for, what to sit down and back away from. But most importantly, to listen to when God’s trying to tell you something and put you in a direction.
Because I’m very stubborn and like I said earlier, I tried to fix things on my own. I don’t know if it’s an oldest child thing; I don’t know but my husband’s not like that. He’s real laid back. I’ve had to let go.
She’s taught me that life is absolutely what you make of it and you have that joy if you choose it. I think a lot of times, even Christians, we don’t—sometimes we don’t want to be happy. We don’t want to find joy in the Lord. We want to be miserable and that’s not what God wants for us and we’ve got to quit doing it. We’ve got to find joy in every situation and the only way you can do that is through God. You can’t do it on your own.
I’ve seen that with her. I can’t explain why she’s happy all the time. That doesn’t come from me. We try to be happy. [Laughter] She has that little light in there and I think that’s absolutely from the Lord.
Kim: The joy of the Lord is definitely her strength.
Angela: Do you want to say hi to her?
Kim: I would love to say hi to Grace Anna.
Angela: Come here sweet pea.
Grace Anna: That’s the longest interview you’ve ever done.
Angela: [Laughter] Longest interview I’ve ever done.
Kim: Hi Grace Anna! How are you?
Grace Anna: Good.
Kim: Good. My name is Kim. Thank you for allowing me to talk with your mommy for such a long time. [Laughter] She was telling me all about your story and how you have been impacting so many people. And let me tell you, I’ve been to your YouTube channel and I’ve seen you say “Hey, it’s your girl.” [Laughter] And I’ve sang songs alongside you and everything. I have your book. I love this book.
Grace Anna: Thank you.
Kim: You’re welcome. How are you feeling?
Grace Anna: Well, I feel fine for now.
Kim: You feel fine for now. What’s your favorite song that you’ve sang?
Grace Anna: Amazing Grace.
Kim: Amazing Grace. I hear that’s your song, right?
Grace Anna: Yes. That part where it says, “I was blind, now I can see.” I was actually blind when I was born.
Grace Anna: And I can see now.
Kim: I love that. God has been gracious.
Grace Anna: He has.
Kim: He has. Tell me about your relationship with God.
Grace Anna: Oh, He helped. When I was 18 months old, I had a back surgery—
Grace Anna: —and that anesthesiologist made a mistake.
Grace Anna: They put the wrong tube in my lungs.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Grace Anna: And my lungs just started colla—My lungs collapsed.
Kim: Oh my goodness, Grace Anna.
Grace Anna: So, God actually helped me survive. They had to go in and fix what happened. They had to fix what just happened.
Kim: Okay. Wow! God is good! I’m so glad God was able to help them to know how to fix what had happened. Because you are making an impact all around the world.
Grace Anna: Really?
Kim: Yes! Really!
Grace Anna: That’s amazing!
Kim: It is amazing! The God you serve is amazing!
Grace Anna: God is the person who is helping us.
Kim: Yes! He is! Isn’t He awesome?
Grace Anna: Yes, and let me tell you people say that—some people I’m kind of praying for right now because some of those people don’t believe in Him and I’m like just trying to tell Him about it, you know?
Kim: I love it.
Grace Anna: Trying to tell Him about it.
Kim: Trying to tell Him about it. That’s great, Grace Anna.
Grace Anna: I like to tell about it because my mom told me that not everybody believes in Him.
Kim: This is true.
Grace Anna: It’s seriously true. One day I’m going to be a chef, singer, and an actress. [Laughter] I’ll have my own show one day.
Kim: You’re going to have your own show and then you’re going to be a chef, singer, actress. Okay, I like that. [Laughter]
What would you sing to a person who doesn’t know Jesus, but you want him or her to know Jesus?
Grace Anna: I would sing Mary, Did You Know?
Kim: Would you care to sing that song for the audience that will be listening to your mom’s podcast?
Grace Anna: Yes, I would love to do it. I’m going to sing Amazing Grace because I don’t really know the lyrics to Mary, Did You Know? yet.
Kim: Okay, I think that would be a great song to sing as well.
Grace Anna: Okay. [Sings Amazing Grace]
Kim: Yes! I love it, Grace Anna! Thank you so much.
Grace Anna: You’re welcome!
Kim: It was wonderful meeting you.
Grace Anna: Wonderful meeting you.
Kim: What an unexpected surprise that Grace Anna joined us at the end of our interview. Her joy is absolutely contagious. At such a young age, she has touched the lives of literally millions of people. She’s encouraged them to live fearlessly and to believe in the impossible. And just think there were doctors who actually recommended her life be terminated before she even had a chance to take her first breath.
I can imagine that there are those who believe that if a baby is born with health challenges or any kind of disabilities, that somehow God has made a mistake. Or maybe they wonder if there even is a God. Well Grace Anna, she’s proof that God doesn’t’ make mistakes. He will use even our greatest weaknesses to accomplish His will in and through our lives.
I love how Angela and her husband, Jeff, have not allowed Grace Anna’s popularity and fame to compromise who they are in Christ. They empower her to stand up for herself and to have healthy boundaries in a world that really does want us to bow and succumb to their demands and their expectations. I think this is something we all need to do.
When I think of Grace Anna’s story, Ephesians 2:10 comes to mind. For we are his workmanship. The New Living Translation uses the word masterpiece. And when I think of a masterpiece, I think of something that is priceless / one of a kind. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Grace Anna is a one of a kind masterpiece. Before she was formed in her mother’s womb, God knew what her life would be like. Nothing she has gone through has caught Him by surprise. He knew the plans He had for her.
I thank God that Angela and Jeff did not take the advice of those doctors who thought it would be best if Grace Anna was never born. Instead they trusted God to give them the strength and courage they needed. And they also trusted Him to have His way in their lives and in the life of their precious baby girl.
Thanks for listening. If you want to find out more about Angela Ray Rodgers, or her book called Grace Anna Sings, check out our show notes on the Unfavorable Odds page at FamilyLife.com/podcasts.
If you enjoyed today’s conversation, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to the podcast. You can search for Unfavorable Odds on Apple podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you go for podcasts. Oh, and by the way, we’d love to get your feedback, and any positive reviews are greatly appreciated.
I’m Kim Anthony. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unfavorable Odds. This wraps up season three of the podcast. Stay tuned for season four, coming soon.
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