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.

The Magic in a Book

When I was a little girl, I had a tendency to get lost. To daydream, hoping that someday my Hogwarts letter would come and I could finally enroll in that Transfiguration class. To adventure through far-off lands, truly believing that I was carrying the Ring with Frodo and had to make it to Mount Doom to destroy it in time. To be caring and courageous, loving with Mother Teresa and Amy Carmichael as they cared for precious soul after precious soul. To go back in history to different exotic places, dancing in the Russian ballroom with little Anastasia, journeying into Narnia and meeting Aslan.

Not in real life, of course, but I believed it to be. No, I would get lost in my books; I lived hundreds of lives through the stories of others. Stories of courage, of great hope, of sadness, of mystery.

My nose was constantly stuck in a book, soaking up stories that moved me; taught me. Stories that struck me right in the heart. Stories that still, to this day, I pick up over and over again and open that cover, to get lost for yet another time in the magic of the words covering each page.

 My parents joked that my best friends were my books, and it’s true. It would seem that “I was born with a reading list I will never finish”. It’s still true. Books take me where I cannot go. Books open doors to our future. Books inspire me to be greater than I am. Books show me that there is so much about the world that is more important than myself. And the ability to read? Seeing squiggles and scratches on a page of paper transform themselves into strings of words and sentences right before my eyes is something more magical than anything I’ve ever experienced in my vicarious adventures with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

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Reading is empowering. Education is empowering. We take that for granted every day. Each time we are handed an informational flyer, we glance at it and toss it aside. Every day we read street signs, menus, notes home from the teacher. We read. We process. We write. Over and over again.

There are millions around the world who have never been taught. To millions, those squiggles and scratches don’t magically transform themselves into words and sentences. To millions, those incomprehensible symbols represent the impenetrable barrier to education that they cannot even dream to overcome. Girls who believe that, because of social stigmas, they are not worth the time and resources an education requires.

But the time has come. The world is shaking, crying out for change. Hope is rising from all corners to tell them “You are worth it. Your education is important to me. Your future is important to me.”

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My dear friend Caroline has been working for the last couple years with an organization in Pakistan, an organization that works to empower young women with an education. In places where gender inequalities and minority prejudices threaten to destroy the hope of education, Primary Education Project works to provide opportunity. They work to empower. They work to provide this hope.

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Education should matter to you. Everyone deserves this chance. Everyone deserves this hope. But what can you do? Fight for awareness. Educate yourself. Watch films like Girl Rising. Read books like Half the Sky. Understand why education, and the empowerment it brings, especially for girls, is so important.

Follow organizations like Primary Education Project. Support them in their work and share their story. It matters.

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Today is May 7. The time is now. There is an incredible opportunity today to have any gift to the organization increased by 30%, thanks to a matching gift. Share their story today. Join in the fight for equality, education, and empowerment around the world. It’s an uphill battle, but it is a hopeful battle. Join us. Join them. And hope. Hope for day when everyone can get lost in the magic of a book. 

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”- Mother Teresa

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For Children Like Her.

“To desire and strive to be of some service to the world, to aim at doing something which shall really increase the happiness and welfare and virtue of mankind – this is a choice which is possible for all of us; and surely it is a good haven to sail for.”
– Henry van Dyke

This is why we work. This is why PLC exists. So that children like Parzheen have a chance to thrive. She is beautiful…and her future is now bright. What a celebration her life is!

God is good. What a beautiful thing.

A Lifesaving Heart Surgery & An Epic After Party from Preemptive Love on Vimeo.

Through the Pain…Hope is Rising

Sometimes, things are beautiful. So beautiful they make you want to sing and jump and cry- all at the same time. Sometimes, you can so clearly see the work that God is doing it’s as if you can almost taste the goodness.

Those things are beautiful.

 A few days ago, we experienced something beautiful. An international team was in the area, and we were able to go into villages to screen hundreds of children for heart defects. Performing hundreds of echocardiograms; hundreds of EKGs. So many squirming, wriggling, oh so precious little bodies…heartbeat after heartbeat echoing down through the rooms. The emotion in each room was high.  Anxious parents holding their hopes and dreams in their arms, waiting to hear the coveted words…”Your child has a beautiful, healthy heart”…while bracing for the worst. Sighs of relief at good news heard are palpable, then quickly followed by endless thanks. But the sharp intakes of breath- the dashing of those hopes and dreams- are what pierce my heart instead.

 Please…please help us. This is my child.

 A family came to this clinic, with a precious twenty day old gift. The little boy was clearly very sick, with a tell-tale blue-ish tint. Again, the familiar chorus from the wearied father…”Please. He is my baby boy. Please help him”. He was diagnosed with Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA)…a complex CHD. There wasn’t much time, but the visiting surgeon thought that he could give him a chance. In God’s perfect timing, he had come into town…just in time to meet this little gem.  He agreed to operate as soon as possible, as early as the next day! Plans were made and things fell into place…this little one had hope. As soon as he could arrive at a city much farther south, he would have his chance. A chance to grow. A chance to flourish. A chance to live.

 This. This, my friends, is beautiful.

 But sometimes, sometimes things are painful. Sometimes things are so painful that you can’t begin to understand. You can’t think. You can’t shout. Sometimes, you can’t even cry. You can only sit stunned, and pray that things will begin to make sense. Pray that it’s wrong…that this can’t be true…that there must be some mistake.

These things are painful.

 Yesterday, we experienced something painful. Something that wrenched my heart, pierced my soul, and left me raw…questioning…trembling. This precious one, for whom mountains had been moved and great hope had been placed…

He passed away.

 Just minutes after reaching the hospital in the south. Just minutes before a life-giving surgery could begin. And it was too late. It was shocking. It was unexpected. It did not match in the slightest our expectations of the hope and joy in this day…for this boy….for his family. Hope was dashed. Life was lost. The reality stings.

 This. This, my friends, is painful.

 But there is beauty in this pain. Because you see, this little one had a chance. He had a hope. He was not turned away…sent home due to a broken medical system…or given up on. His story here was rewritten, and the hope in it shines through.

 He was fought for. He was given a chance for life. And he was loved.

 In a country where this type of medical care is rarely seen…where thousands of children with heart defects have previously sat on medical waiting lists without a chance or a hope for an unbroken life…this story infuses hope. Because maybe someday, all the children of Iraq will have the same chance at life this little one was given. Maybe someday, all the children with broken hearts will be mended, learning to run and jump and play, experiencing life like they never have before.

 This little one was so worth it. He is the symbol of the hope that is to come. Because out of this dusty, broken country where hope is dry…He is creating beautiful things. Because his chance, his fight, his life…is the beauty.

 Hope is rising. Can you feel it?

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All around,

Hope is springing up from this old ground.

Out of chaos, life is being found in You.

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of dust.

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of us”

– Gungor “Beautiful Things”