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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“Tell Me My Story Again”

“Tell me the story about ME now.”

“Talk about me, tell me one more thing.”

“Um, now please tell me my story again.”

In May, we celebrate family days for both Erica and Brooke. May 6th marked two years for Brooke Cai Wei. May 23rd marked eight years for our Erica Xin Leigh. Two years a family. Eight years a family. These days are special to us; they have become special to the girls. A day to remember, a day to reflect. A day to recognize the invaluable gift we were given the day they became our own. A day to grieve the unknown events. The unknown families. The unknown circumstances that would necessitate this day. A day to rejoice over this thing called “family”. A day to look back and measure just how far we’ve come, how far He has brought us in this journey of restoration. This journey of mending hearts, binding hope, weaving the bond between a family formed not by blood, but by love.

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“Tell me the story. Tell me the story again”

“Was I funny? I was chubby, right Mei? The China nannies always called me “chubby girl”, didn’t they Mei?”

“I only said ‘Bu Yao’, because I was scared. Why was I scared?”

“I loved to play with those toys. Remember those toys in that picture? From when I was in China? I think I really loved those toys.”

“What did I like to do when I was a baby like Lizzie’s new baby sister? Was I a cute baby?”

“Tell me more about me. Tell me the story again.”

These past weeks, more than any other, have been filled to the brim with questions. Peppering. Bouncing. Endless. Wanting more and more, and never satisfied. One brings it up; the other quickly follows suit.

“Now me…now say something about me!”

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Asking questions. Jumping in and filling in the answers, because they’ve heard the stories told over and over again. Recounting “memories” from photos seen; photos displayed around the house. Telling new stories of their early selves that may be true; but may be not. Searching for details. Breaking into smiles when we say “Yep, you were!” “Oh my goodness, I remember that too…” “Really? Tell me more about that story! I don’t remember that one!”

My heart breaks, however, when they inevitably ask questions for which I have no answer.

“What did I look like?” “Was I bald?” “When did I learn to walk?”

In my head, all I can think is “We don’t know.” “It doesn’t say.” “We weren’t told.” “We weren’t there.”

We weren’t there.” There’s a certain twinge to “Gotcha Day”…”Family Day”…that I can never fully shake. Yes, eight years. Yes, two years. Yes, years now spent together as a family. I’m immensely thankful for those years; I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But I know that those years can never give back time. Those years will never provide me with the answers to their questions. They will never make doctors appointments easier, when a cardiologist asks for Brooke’s family medical history. They will never answer Erica when she asks if her first mama had glasses like she does now.

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It can be overwhelming. It can dishearten. Discourage. It can be painful. But just as adoption is borne from loss…creating beauty from brokenness; growing hope from pain…something incredibly beautiful can come from these unknowns.

Each year together is filled with opportunities. Countless opportunities to discover these precious souls. For every “unknown”, there are a hundred “knowns”. For every unanswered question, there are a million that can be answered. For every memory apart, there are countless more together. These years can’t replace – by any means – but these years can build. They strengthen. They create and they nurture the relationship formed, so that when the questions come, when the unknowns arise, you are there to see them together.

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So yes, sweet girls, yes…I’ll tell you your stories again, all about every moment I can. I’ll tell you all about how you became ours. Show you each picture, every tear, each grin. We’ll remember together, every detail we can, and wander together throughout the unknowns. Let’s look through the memories, yet another time. I’ll recount what I know; you do the same. I’ll remind you again how deeply you are loved, what a miracle you are to our family. You’ll scurry off again, ready to play, but know that whenever you need…

I’ll always be here, I’ll always be near, to tell you your stories again.

To Have Someone

To have someone. To know that you will not be alone. To clench tightly to another’s hand, because sometimes we can’t stand on our own. We all need a “someone”.

Today I was given an amazing opportunity. An incredible gift. Something that I would have never expected just a few years ago.

But now? After how my story has been written and shaped over the last several years, this was the chance of a lifetime…a gift of a day I had been waiting for. Hoping for. Without even knowing how deeply I desired it.

Today I sat in the waiting room of a Chinese hospital; in the pediatric surgical ward. I was waiting for a little baby girl, an orphan with no family to call her own. Waiting as she underwent her first major open-heart surgery, earning her beautiful brave scar of courage.

Today, I was her someone. Praying for her surgeons, her nurses, and her strength through the long hours of the operation. Today I sat. Hoping. Waiting. Jumping at the sight of any doctor or nurse, expectant for the news I so desperately wanted to hear. “It’s done. Finished. She’ll be moved to recovery soon. It went as well as we could have hoped.”

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Today, she is still an orphan. But today, she was not alone.

Today, she was mine. And I was hers. And the gift of being the “someone” to stand, with her and for her, is one I will treasure for the rest of my days.

Because, you see, just a short time ago, my little Brooke’s story mirrored this one. A precious little girl. Newly orphaned, with severe heart disease. Going into her first open-heart surgery in a Chinese hospital. An event and circumstance where by all intents and purposes, she could have been alone. She should have been alone.

Except she wasn’t.

She also had a “someone”. Someone who loved her, waited expectantly for her, and prayed her through those long hours and days. And that someone has given me a gift that can never be repaid. Because though I wish desperately that I HAD been there…to be the one to love her through, snuggle her tight, obsessively check every monitor alarm, oxygen sat, and medication dosage…there was someone there who loved her for me. Someone who took my place, prayed for her for the long hours of surgery, and was there by her side when it was done. And that is a gift more priceless than breath itself. She was loved. She was hoped for. And she was never alone.

I hadn’t truly grasped the magnitude of this until I found myself blinking back tears, sitting there in that metal chair next to a couple of other staff from her orphanage, amidst other parents and children in that crowded, sterile waiting room. Hearts racing with theirs as we waited for news about “our” children. Because at that moment, it didn’t matter that I had no biological claim to this child. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand exactly what was being said in the chatter of the Chinese parents filling the room around me.

All that mattered was that when it was her turn to be wheeled out through the operating room doors, someone was there to jump up for her. To exclaim over her newly pink fingernails, whisper that she was loved, and follow the team of doctors as far as my eyes could see as she was wheeled into recovery.

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She had someone. My Brooke had someone. And today, I had someone as well. Today, I had her. And the gift of being her “someone” in return, if only for today, is one that will never, ever be forgotten. Be thankful for the someones in your life. Don’t ever take them for granted. They are a gift more precious than gold.

Grow well, little one. Be strong and courageous. Wear your brave scar with pride. You are hoped for, waited for, and not forgotten. You are loved.