Overflowing with HOPE

There are people who come into our lives who inspire us, people who challenge us, people who we meet and just immediately know that our lives will never be the same.

I have several of those people in my life. Mentors. Friends. Role models whom I haven’t met yet, but so hope to someday. Out of all these, however, there are a few who have affected me the most….two little girls, stuck in tiny 3T sized bodies, but with hearts big enough to touch the entire world. They were the unexpected inspirations. The “un-sought-after” teachers. I never dreamt that someone so small could grow me, expand me, challenge me in such drastic ways.

You all know my sister Brooke, and the impact she has made on my life. If you don’t…you can find the intro to her story HERE. But today, I want to introduce you to Lily.

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Lily is sweet; Lily is sassy. Lily is as “Empress-y” as they come; loves princesses, Hello Kitty, and her Papa’s “noodle soup”. She loves doing puzzles, does NOT like to get dirty, and heaven forbid she step out the door without her signature bow, crowning her the true princess that she is.

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And most of all, Lily is BRAVE. Lily was born with a very broken heart, one just like my Brooke’s. Emily, Lily’s mommy, and I became fast friends, after “meeting” in a yahoo group advocating for Chinese children with congenital heart defects. We soon found out that her Lily and my Brooke had almost identical hearts. Their extremely rare, “one-in-a-million” combination of heart defects, down to the “upside-down-and-backwards” nature of their hearts, was shared. We traveled to China at the same time, where Lily and Brooke first met in person, and the girls became US citizens the same day. Just a few weeks later, Lily and Brooke underwent the same heart surgery, the Fontan, just 4 days apart. Lily’s people were praying for Brooke; Brooke’s people were praying for Lily. Emily and I coined them “Heart Sisters” before they ever met, and now after watching them interact together, compare brave scars, become friends…they truly have become sisters at heart.

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Lily has gone through a great deal since coming home. Several more open heart surgeries. Two belly surgeries. Countless weeks and months spent in hospitals. And most recently? Lily received a new heart just a few days ago. A brave new hero heart, which is now beating inside of her, strong and sure.

Lily is BRAVE, friends. Lily is a miracle. Lily and her Mommy, my precious friend Emily, who has in essence become MY heart sister throughout these years, encourage me daily to choose courage. To dare. To risk. To live each day with “overflowing HOPE”.

I’ve had the privilege of having a front row seat to Lily’s miracle, watching in awe as this brave-hearted girl has undergone surgery after surgery, coming out time and time again ready to keep fighting CHD with every single heartbeat. I was able to spend countless nights with Lily and her Mommy in the hospital, fun “sleepovers” with Tangled playing ad nauseam, watching Lily win the hearts of each nurse, every doctor, and all the other patients on the hall.

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Lily chooses to live with overwhelming JOY, finding laughter in the midst of pain. She is courageous and always concerned for others, even on her “this is not my best day” kind of days, saying “Merduff, I think we should take walk. I need to check on the other patients, you know!”

Oh Lily Grace. I’m so thankful that our worlds collided. You and your sweet sisters have taught me more than you’ll ever know…more than I will probably ever fully comprehend. Your brave heart has touched thousands, and I know this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see you up, running and playing as fast as you can with your new hero heart, keeping up with your sisters and soon-to-come little brother with a special heart just like you. I can’t wait to see how you teach him to be brave, to love and embrace his brave “heart beeps”, to live with overflowing HOPE. I’ll never forget sitting up one night into the early morning hours with your Mommy, talking for hours about how we just wanted you and Brooke to live. To truly live, not held back by your heart or people saying “You can’t”. Lily Grace, we shouldn’t have worried. You CAN and you ARE living…embracing each day with more hope than most people see in a lifetime. You are one in a million, Lily girl. I can’t wait to see where you go. And someday? Someday I want to live just. like. YOU. 

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*Lily’s family is faced with many upcoming medical bills in the weeks and months to coming, following Lily’s transplant. Right now, I want their focus to be completely on Lily and her healing…not worrying about financial issues. If you would like to help contribute to Lily’s medical fund, a YouCaring site has been set up. Please feel free to contribute, and share the link if you would like. Contact me if you have any questions or concerns! Thank you!!

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/lily-grace-s-brave-new-heart/191157

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I Want To Be A Storyteller

Stories. Stories bring joy. Stories empower. Stories prove that there is something of value to be told; words that tell of hope for the future. And telling someone else’s story; showing them that their life, their story, is worth the telling? For that, stories are priceless.

Stories can change us, and can change others with us. My life was changed by a story, when I spent a summer at a special needs orphanage in China and took care of a little girl each day, a precious girl who was born with just half a heart. Her story touched my heart and opened my eyes to a world that was greater than myself; a world that needs an advocate for those who have no voice. A world that needs someone to stand for those who are unable to stand for themselves. God had greater plans than I, because that little girl who changed my heart is now my baby sister. Brooke’s heart needed healing, and my heart needed Brooke. Her future is uncertain, but her life is full of love. Her story of hope and joy, which has now become mine as well, touches lives wherever she goes.

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My life was changed by a story. My sister’s heart journey changed all my “plans,” and I began to advocate for children like Brooke, moving to Iraq, and working for an nonprofit, Preemptive Love Coalition, that provides children with the heart surgeries they desperately need. There, I learned how to truly become an advocate. Real faces, real stories, of hope, of love, of joy coming from a country where more painful stories are usually shared. I’ve used these stories to hold fundraisers, which have now funded multiple heart surgeries.

Photo Credit: Preemptive Love Coalition

Photo Credit: Preemptive Love Coalition

When I heard about the opportunity to join 9 other amazing storytellers in Rwanda, on a storytelling trip with Noonday Collection and International Justice Mission, I knew that I wanted to do the same in Rwanda. I want to tell these women’s stories. Why am I the best advocate? Because I have a voice. And I plan on using it to change the world. I’m young, but I’m a leader. I’m inexperienced, but I’m daring and I’m willing… to go wherever God calls me. I know that empowerment creates change. That seeking justice for the poor; the oppressed is not in vain. The strength of advocacy is not taken for granted, and I know I can stand beside these Rwandan sisters, and proclaim that their story is worth telling.

Why me? Because I want to continue to be a voice. I want to cheer and share and stand alongside these women around the world who are strong; women who are starting to make their voice heard, fighting their way out of poverty and violence, and standing up to greet any obstacles in their path head-on with an “I Can.” “I Will.” “I Am.”

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But the thing is, I can’t do this alone. Will you help me tell their stories?

Go HERE to vote, and share away…you can vote once per day, per device/FB account, until 11:59 PM, Monday, June 9th.

Let’s do this, team.

http://www.noondaycollection.com/styleforjustice#view/23056/2106092

Everyday Extraordinaries

Last year, I was in Iraq. Living and working; hoping and dreaming in a place that challenged me. Inspired me. Scared me. Encouraged me.

Each morning was a chance for new adventures; unknown experiences just waiting to be discovered. Exotic smells, vibrant colors, melodic languages swirling around me, sweeping me along in the excitement. Deciphering cultures; learning relationships. Working with passion; with people yearning to make a difference in this world. Knowing they could make a difference in this world, at least for some.

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New. Different. Anything but ordinary. At least at first.

Today, I’m in Tulsa. Living and working; hoping and dreaming in a place that is familiar. A place that is known. A place that has always felt like home.

A place where life is chaotic and always crazy, but there are no surprises. There are no bazaars to navigate. No need to hope and pray for the best when trying to get to a friend’s home or the store, just not really knowing if this unmarked public bus will take me where I need to go, or if this particular adventure will end in a surprise trip to Baghdad. No need to carefully check the way I’m dressed, artfully arranging scarves and sleeves just so to avoid any shameful skin peeking through. No customs to struggle to remember; no daily embarrassing cultural faux pas to add to the ever-growing list.

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Comfortable. Easy. Absolutely ordinary. At least at first.

It’s easy for me to get lost in the ordinary. It’s even easier for me to put my worth in living the extraordinary. Always daring one step further; always jumping one foot farther. To feel that my “success” is determined by the where’s, the what’s, the who’s of life. That living in the “ordinaries” of day-to-day life is somehow worth less than living in the exciting; the unknown.

But you know, I’m learning as soon as you step into that unknown, after a time, it becomes known. The longer you do those exciting, extraordinary things, the more they become your “normal”. You acclimate. You adjust. You find that life again feels ordinary, even in the most extraordinary of times.

I’m discovering that this so-called “ordinary” is beautiful. The ordinary gives us the chance to search, lean in, establish community, to truly love others well. When our eyes are opened beyond the flashy “extraordinaries”, that wear off almost before they’ve begun, when we find ourselves finally living in this new ordinary, we realize that it’s not really that ordinary after all.

Everyday extraordinaries.

Moments that are far from unusual, yet everything but ordinary.

They’re all around us. I find them in Iraq, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a friends house, sipping sugary sweet tea and sharing stories. Climbing to the rooftops and enjoying the cool that night brings to the desert. A moment. A friendship. A laugh. Ordinary. But oh, so extraordinary.

Photo Credit: Dana Sellers

Photo Credit: Dana Sellers

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I find them in Tulsa, sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing Barbies or puzzles or stories with the littles. Flipping a rental home with lifelong friends. A moment. A sisterhood. A laugh. Ordinary. But oh, so extraordinary.

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Every moment we have has meaning. How we choose to use it determines its worth. Every minute presents with a new opportunity. Will I get lost in the ordinary, or choose instead to find the extraordinary within? We have the chance to take each moment, grasp it tightly with both hands, and dare to make something extraordinary of it. Teachers enlightening; artists creating. Engineers developing; mothers and fathers parenting. You are extraordinary. These moments are extraordinary.

Life doesn’t have to be flashy. It doesn’t have to be in an “extraordinary” place. I want to be present. I want to be invested. I want to be daring, no matter where I am. In Iraq. In China. In Afghanistan. In Rwanda. Or even right here in America. I want to truly realize the everyday extraordinaries that fill our moments and days, instead of wishing them away for the next new adventure.

Photo Credit: Dana Sellers

Photo Credit: Dana Sellers

Because when that adventure day comes, and yes, its coming soon, I want to know to jump right in and quickly find the ordinary; to settle down, to become at home. To invest, to commit, to love. Because then, only then, we can truly live in the extraordinary.

I recently found out that I have the chance to join an incredible team of women on a lifechanging trip to Rwanda with a team of storytellers. Hundreds of incredible women have entered, and somehow I have been chosen as one of the top three. I need your help, however…will you help me find the ordinary within this extraordinary trip? Please vote here, friends, just scroll down until you see my photo and the big blue “Vote” button. It would truly mean so much.

http://www.noondaycollection.com/styleforjustice#view/23056/2106092

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

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