Wednesday, March 16, 2016

With Gratitude

Lately my thoughts drift back to over a year ago when Mike and I were told Ava needed a transplant. It was such an overwhelming thing to process. Not only were we entering an unknown territory of cancer treatment but we had also decided that we wouldn't be pursuing the transplant in our hometown of Chicago. We researched multiple institutions across the country and narrowed it down to three places: Ohio, Minnesota, and Washington.

We piled in our minivan and pretended that we were going on a fun family vacation as we visited two out of the three hospitals. Time was scarce. "She's a ticking time bomb," we were told. So we decided to make memories from these consultation trips because we didn't have the luxury of a separate vacation. The girls did not know that Mike and I were taking notes, sweating bullets, weeping in prayer for the wisdom to choose the right place. They just saw that we were squashed in a car together, laughing, playing, spending time together. Hopefully their memories of that time are only of swimming pools, fun hotel stays, and endless movies in the car. 

The Children's Hospital in Ohio was one of our top choices because of the distance to our home state but we just didn't feel it was the right place. Next, we drove to Minnesota and we were so impressed at all that it had to offer. It seemed like the perfect choice in so many ways. But Mike had already visited Seattle by himself and really appreciated everything about their program, so we had to make a tough choice. Our last night in Minnesota, while sitting in our cousin's home, we drafted a pro/con list together to compare University of Minnesota and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. 

It looked something like this:
University of Minn:
PROS: a great transplant center, plenty of friends and family that would support us during the intense months ahead, covered by insurance, closer to Chicago, Pippin could come with us, similar weather as Chicago (ie. plenty of sunshine).

CONS: nothing we could immediately thing of.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance:
PROS: a great transplant program, a handful of family and friends

CONS: not covered by insurance (at the time), rain, no community, practically across the country from Chicago, rain, no Pippin, no place to live, rain.

But something compelled us to forget what the list said and go with the prompting of our hearts. We choose Seattle and never looked back. We called to ask what the costs were for out-of-network services. We were told that the transplant, alone, would cost $999,000. When Mike told me, I laughed at the insanity of it. Then I cried.

It didn't matter; we knew we had to go. So we began to pack our lives into 8 suitcases, 2 for each member of the family. As we packed, we prayed and our friends prayed. That's when the miracles started to happen. For one, we were told that since I recently resigned from my position as a teacher, I had a special window to change my insurance. That is how we were able to secure a company that had Seattle in-network.  

On our flight to Seattle, we bumped into my long time friend who also happened to be on the same flight. Once we landed, he helped us load our very many suitcases onto a cart and find our ride. 

The rest of our story is steeped in one blessing after another.

Never could we have imagined what God had already prepared for us in Seattle. We had people lending us their cars, their homes, their services, food, gift cards, cheer-up services, prayers, outings for Gwen, pampering for me, baby stuff for Jude, friendships for Mike and, most importantly, a community to lean on.

This was a hard post to write. I had it written out in my mind for a while now but to put it on paper was intimidating. You see, I wanted to thank you well. Because you have loved us so well.

We came to Seattle in such a pathetic state of mind and health but God literally breathed life into our broken family with love, in all its forms, from the Body of Christ. The power of this love was so great that it began to course through our blown veins of despair and brought renewed faith, hope, and love.

There are still many of you who we have not met and some of you whom we haven't thanked. We want you to know that we thank you, we honor you and we are privileged to call you friend.

Even now, during our second run in Seattle to help Ava fight this disease, we were met with a chorus of beautiful voices asking how they might serve us. 

And this is why we can wake up each morning with new joy and hope. In the midst of voices that tell us it is likely our child will die, there are louder more loving voices whose prayers rise like incense to the healer of broken hearts, not just broken bodies. This is how we know that God is good even when circumstances are so, so bad. He has given us more than we deserve, more than we ever could imagine or ask for. He gave us you. 

You have read this blog, prayed with tears, sent love in the form of meals, sometimes twice a day. You have timidly written emails that begin with, "Hi, you don't know me and I hope you don't think I'm a stalker but I want you to know that I'm praying for you..." You have written cards, shared our story, taught your children to pray for Ava by name. We still remember the things you lent us, from bikes to diaper changing pads. You asked how you could serve us, how you could pray for us, how you might brighten up our days. You have implored your friends, your pastors, your family to pray for us. You willingly opened up your home to a family of 7 knowing that things would break or get broken in early. You dipped into your accounts to make sure we could keep up with our medical bills. You stopped by the hospital and played in the halls with us. You visited to pray, to talk, to laugh, to cry. From Chicago, you sent birthday messages and cards and presents. You made sure Gwen was not lost and forgotten but loved so well. You lavished us with gifts to distract from the suffering. You emailed Ava faithfully despite your busy season. You drove all the way to Kent to pick up an allergy friendly cake so that Gwen could join us in the birthday celebrations. You cried over time lost as a family, future dreams possibly stolen by death. You had cupcakes delivered to the door so that I could remember that it was okay to celebrate life even during this broken time. You brought warm and abundant food to the hospital at the exact time when loneliness had wiggled its way into my heart. You have helped me keep up with my business by taking on my customers. You lent us your family car and made do without it for weeks to make sure we were not with want. Your texts and messages rang through the night to tell me that you did not forget, that you were on your knees for Ava. You visited us when your own child was recovering from transplant. You made sure that when we arrived, even though it was raining and damp, the rooms were lit up with surprises that were dreamt up with love. 

Love. Love. Love. Everywhere we turn, there is love. We know this is God but we also know this is your obedience to His call. It has been a lifeline to us. So even when we can't thank you in person, we cherish your kindness and praise God for His daily reminders that He has not forgotten us. How could we deny His abundant care when we see all you have done? 

And to the three ladies that God has gifted me dear friendship with, despite rumors of the Seattle Freeze, my heart is deeply moved with thankfulness. With laughter and tears, while slurping down ramen noodles, I thank the Lord that He has ministered to my heart by providing such faithful women of God to speak into my life and to walk alongside us during the hardest journey of our lives.

As I sit here with Ava, who is battling high fevers from RSV, we remind each other that God is love. You have been the greatest example of this. 

And as I tell her often, Love will win. It already has.

Jude baby and Ava's duet needs some work

Gwen learning how to skate

Ava's Easter dress courtesy of Auntie KC

Amusing the baby brother

Last day of this round of chemo-Cheers!

Showing off her new obsession: clip on earrings!

The two (self proclaimed) princesses

Spoiled Blessed child

The nicest birthday dinner ever courtesy of Auntie Margaret and Uncle Raymond

These ladies + dessert = one happy birthday girl


Anonymous said...

Pretty. =)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog through a friend of mine and I wanted to tell you that your faith is absolutely inspiring. I work with children like Ava as a pediatric medical speech-language pathologist and I truly see God through families like yours as you endure the hardest thing I've ever seen: caring for a very sick child who God loves so dearly while wrestling with God and your faith. I'm so sorry that you and your family are fighting this uphill battle but I know God has chosen to use you and your family in more ways than you may ever know. Thank you for serving as an amazing example of faith for someone like me who has never met you before. May God continue to heal your little girl and may she get to go through many, many more "normal" experiences in her life.