To the mother of my little girl's new heart~

(This letter was written one year ago today... It has been submitted to the organ donation family correspondance team and is prayerfully in the hands of my hero, the mother of my little girl's new heart, this Mother's Day)  

 To the mother of my little girl’s new heart~

You were my first thought this morning when I awakened to celebrate this momentous Mother's Day. You are not celebrating today.  Instead, you are grieving the loss of your precious child.  Your loss brought life to mine, yet I grieve with you.  I cried out to God for you as I wept.  In your hours of deepest pain, you made a decision that would alter the course of my life and the life of the little girl I love. 

You, precious Mother, are the hero of this miraculous story and your legacy will live on, beating inside my daughter.  Without your gift, Rachel could not have lived and before long, I would have joined you in your loss.  Instead, on this Mother's Day, I am celebrating new life.  But I want you to know, more than anything, that I have not forgotten you.  I will never forget you and the imprint you have left on my life will never fade.  With your signature, you released the one you love and with mine, that love was received. 

While others slept through the early hours of May 6, I counted the moments with you. I knew precisely the hour your precious child took his last breath and you released the gift of life to make it mine. We waited outside in the cold, dark night to honor the arrival of that gift in an ambulance from the airport. My heart ached for yours as we waited.  When it finally arrived, I followed the precious cargo into a back door of the hospital and down the hallways to the Operating Room where Rachel was waiting. I could no longer hold in the pain I was carrying for you and I slid onto the floor and wept. You had taken your devastating loss and used it for the good of someone you did not know.  Your act embodied true love and witnessing the arrival of that love in an ordinary cooler literally brought me to my knees.

It would be many, many hours before I would see my little girl again.  In the early morning hours of our wait, I laid alone in the room where they would bring her after receiving your precious child's heart.  I have never before been enfolded into a miracle like this one and it left me speechless before the Lord.  I laid in His lap and simply cried.  Tears of loss… Tears of joy... Thankful for life… Thankful for you.

I remember little about Rachel when I first saw her lying there with her perfect, new heart… except her hands.  Her fingers, always blue and chilled from the lack of blood flow, were suddenly pink and warm.  Those hands symbolized the gift she had been given... the one you gave... and again I wept for you.  I doubt that I will ever look at the beautiful hands of my daughter and fail to remember you.

When the monitors play the rhythm of your child's heart, I think of you and the sound of that heart thumping in my daughter’s chest calls out your name, though I do not know it.  In the past months and years, I have memorized the shape and rhythm of Rachel’s broken heart on the echo's monitor.  I would hold my breath as it stuttered and stammered to continue pumping life into her.  I have even fallen asleep with my hand on her chest and felt the irregular pounding of her broken heart, wondering how much longer it could beat against all odds.  I stood in silence as the first images of Rachel’s new heart came up on the monitor.  It beat in perfect time.  It was strong and healthy.  It was pumping oxygen-filled blood into the body of my little girl.  In that moment, all I could see was your precious child, and you, with open hands.

That heart does not belong to me.  It doesn't even belong to my little girl.  That heart belongs to you... It always will.  In the greatest act of sacrificial love I can humanly imagine, you chose to give your child’s heart away in order to give life to mine.  I am deeply humbled and I will never forget that this immeasurable gift is a sacred trust that binds us together as mothers. 

On this Mother's Day, the sting of your child's absence must seem unbearable.  But because of you, your child lives on and still has the power to change the world through those it touches.  I promise to treat the treasure that you have entrusted to us, as I would my very own.  I will nurture it and protect it with everything in me as it beats inside of my daughter.

I pray that God will use the life you have shared to impact His Kingdom mightily and that your gift of a beating heart will send ripples into eternity.  May the HOPE of Christ shine brightly through the life of my daughter, and the beautiful miracle story that includes YOU!

My prayer will always be the one I am praying for you today... May your HOPE be renewed.  May you sense unexplainable joy in the role you have played in redeeming the broken.  Christ understands your sacrifice so much better than I ever could.  I pray that His sacrifice on your behalf would be dearer to you than ever before and that you would find His immeasurable grace to be sufficient for you today and in the days to come.

You were my first thought this morning and you will be my last as I close this day.  I hope you can hear my tear-filled whispers, as I thank God for you today.

Happy Mother's Day to my hero, the mother of my little girl's new heart... 

Wait for ME!

As I closed my eyes in sleep just after midnight last night, one of the most incredible years of my life slipped into the past.  This year marked the answer to so many long awaited prayers for our family and for me personally, I can hardly process it all.  Until now, with a few hours alone while my husband carries the load for me, I have not even found the time or the words to write it all down…  So many answers I don’t know where to begin…  So many thoughts I can hardly express them.    

From the vantage point of another new year, I honestly can’t believe how much has changed since we celebrated the beginning of 2015.  Only 365 days ago found us in a long and extended period of waiting.  My ailing father was waiting to breathe his last and finally be relieved of the earthly struggle he had known too well following a massive stroke 12 years ago.  We stood vigil by his bed and waited with him.  And yet, as we prayed for the mercy of death to come take Daddy home, we prayed for the gift of life our daughter, Rachel, needed to survive. 

It had been almost 3 years of waiting for a new heart for her and I admit that I had begun to grow weary and less hopeful with each passing day that the outcome I desired would be the culmination of that waiting. 

Just one year ago, we were also waiting far longer than expected to bring our fifth daughter home from China.  I found this wait hard to justify on any spiritual level, because it meant a 5 year old orphaned girl would spend another day, another week, another month, without a family of her own.  Yet I was helpless to speed the powers that be in China to do anything about it! 

All that waiting meant that much of my life and many of my personal desires were on what seemed an eternal “hold” for another day too.  Even my promised trip to Israel with Doug was postponed until our days of waiting were through.  “Waiting” had become my calling card and I didn’t like it.  But if there was a lesson to be learned in waiting, I certainly didn’t want to miss it or give God any excuse to repeat or prolong it, so I slowly surrendered myself to the lessons it seems only long periods of waiting have the ability to teach.

You know the rest of the story, if you have been anywhere nearby to hear the celebrations ringing through our home as God’s awaited answers came one by one…  

Daddy finally found peace in death in the early hours of January 4, 2015.  I watched as they tenderly came to collect his earthly tent and I wept as I watched one season of my life as my Daddy’s girl, give way to a world without him.  

On April 7, 2015, in Jinan, China, a 5 year old girl we would name Rebekah, walked into my heart and into my life in ways I did not expect or even know were possible and ended the long wait to wrap my arms around this precious gift from God.   I am honestly at a loss for words right now…  I keep typing and retyping words to somehow convey how one little girl can wedge herself into a 50 year old heart and leave it so radically changed I almost don’t recognize myself.   

I had only known Rebekah for about one hour when she fell asleep in my arms as we drove away from her orphanage for the last time.  Something so unimaginably huge had occurred in my heart in that hour that I literally felt that it might burst from within me.   I called Doug at home and told him to ready his own heart for what laid ahead.  If this little girl could do such things to me, I could only imagine what was to come for her softhearted Daddy!  One viewing of Rebekah’s homecoming video when she finally met her Daddy was enough proof that I was right in my warning!  Rebekah affectionately calls Doug “Baba-YeYe” and, yes, he melts at the sound of it every.single.time!

“Praise be to God for this indescribable gift!”
Then, on May 5, 2015, after 3 years and 2 months of waiting, a call came from Rachel’s beloved cardiologist, Dr Fricker.  It did not occur to me when I answered the phone that afternoon, that God’s answer had finally come!  Everything we had hoped for… prayed for… and waited for, was finally to be!  A perfect match had been found in the immeasurable loss of a mother and she had chosen to give life to our little girl.  I was waiting by the Emergency Room entrance, pacing up and down the sidewalk in the cold night, when Rachel’s new heart arrived on an ambulance at 4:30AM the next morning.  This particular wait was different than any I had ever experienced, because I knew that as this gift arrived and ushered hope to our daughter, a mother’s hopes and dreams for her own child had ended.   I followed the cooler containing Rachel’s new heart through the hallways of the hospital and to the elevator doors that would take it to the operating room where her broken heart was being removed.  On May 6, 2015, Rachel received the gift of a new heart.  The old had gone.  The new had come.  Our waiting was over.     

2015 included TWO precious grandsons, Luke and Elliot!  And then... another for next year too!

And yet, 2015 held even more unexpected gifts for me!  Another wait ended.  Precious friends flew into town, graciously took on the heavy responsibility of caring for my five daughters, and sent Doug and I away to Israel for the trip of a lifetime!    There are many blogs to follow and thoughts that have yet to find their way to paper to be shared.  But, for now, they are safely tucked away in my heart as the culmination… the sweet reward… and the immeasurable gifts from God in waiting!    

Each year I ask the Lord what He would have for me in the year ahead.  The one behind me was so monumental and the culmination of so many difficult life lessons, I wondered what God might have next.  He was not slow to direct me and that direction was so much clearer than usual that I knew He had no intention of waiting for January 1 to get started!

His words resounded through my thoughts again and again…  
I could not escape them… 
       “Be still and know that I am God”   

When I saw this bracelet in Israel with those words written in Hebrew, I knew it was a gift for me.   But it occurred to me today that, even in this New Year, God is still calling me to wait!   To “be still” is to wait.  But it is more!  God beckons me to wait for HIM! 

I have spent many of the past years waiting for the outcomes I desire or the fulfillment of my hopes and dreams.  God holds something far better in Himself… in knowing HIM.  He calls out to me for 2016 and for every year that follows…  “Be still, Lori… Wait for ME!”

Our entire family was gathered together to celebrate what Christ has done and all He is yet to do in and through our lives as we seek to serve Him!  Following are some of my favorite people in the world and some of the photos that bring a smile each time I remember our special time together!

Who wouldn't love Auntie Abby?

Rebekah is a natural born Auntie and lover of babies!

Hang on.... Abby needs a hug before we can take any more photos!

Now she's ready!!!

Poppy and his little Buddy!  All is right in the world today! 
This will never get old for this Lolli and Poppy!  May there be many, many more to come!

Oh, how this man loves his GIRLS!

This ball of JOY will either keep us young... or kill us!!!!

Sarah and Rachel

A rare treasure... Together with all EIGHT of my babies at once!

Ryan, Schaeffer, and Elliot

Russ, Steph, and Luke

           From our family to yours...  HAPPY NEW YEAR!  
                      May God's blessings overflow to you!

The Giver of LIFE... (Rachel's New Heart #4)

  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.  John 1:3-4

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist...  Acts 17:24-28

There is a part of Rachel’s story that has not been told, yet it is the most miraculous of all.  So miraculous, that I have struggled to find adequate words to tell it.  Part of my struggle is in communicating my deep belief that, regardless of how God chooses to work and move, He is good!  It is easy to proclaim God’s goodness when His sovereign choices agree with our personal desires.  But He is equally as good when His answers to our deepest prayers are disappointing and sometimes heart breaking.  His Lordship over all things often includes both.  In the giving of Rachel’s new heart and the answer to our desperate prayers, God’s way meant the devastating loss of life for another.  This is hard for me to come to terms with.  Peace only comes when I recognize that God alone holds the power of life and death.  My deepest desire is to bless His name in the giving of life and the taking away.  May my heartfelt praises always be...  "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Rachel’s new heart arrived in the operating room where she was waiting at approximately 4:50 AM on May 6, 2015.  The moment it arrived safely in the ordinary cooler that contained it, her broken heart was clamped in her chest and man-made machines would artificially sustain her life until the healthy heart was stitched in its’ place and could take over the role of pumping life-giving blood through her body again.  For all practical purposes, that moment marked the end of Rachel’s life that God had chosen to sustain for almost 11 years, in spite of a very broken heart.  The choice to bring new life through the gift of another’s heart lay solely in the hands of God… He alone could breathe new life into our precious daughter.   Man can remove a beating heart from one and stitch it into the chest of another, but he cannot breathe life into that heart… God alone is the Giver of Life!

 God has chosen to use many people to play a role in Rachel’s beautiful, redemptive story.  As the adoptive parents of a child whose prognosis was terminal, we are often penned as the heroes of that story.  But it took many, many people along the way to do what we could not have done alone!  Someone finally listed her for adoption, others advocated for her, and then many provided the funds for us to bring her home.  Skilled professionals would provide the medical care it took to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds against her.  Family, friends, teachers, nurses, doctors, technicians of every kind, and the overwhelming support of the people that love our girl as much as we do, were all a part of the miracle story God has been weaving.  

Rachel’s beloved cardiologist, Dr Fricker, was a part of her story even before she came home from China, and has now become more like a grandfather to her than a cardiologist.  He will forever be a special part of our family!

God has used Dr Bleiweis to bring healing to our girl as an incredibly skilled surgeon and, in our opinion, rivals anyone in the country as one of the best at repairing and replacing broken hearts.  He encouraged us with hope for Rachel’s heart the moment he read her file from China.  How fitting that
he would be the man performing Rachel’s heart transplant when the perfect match was finally found.  We would have it no other way!

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Job 33:4

YET… without God breathing life into Rachel, each and every moment of every single day, her story would not be the unfolding miracle it is!  He alone deserves all the glory for the work He has done in and through her!

Throughout the night, reports from the operating room were glowing.  There was a lot of scar tissue to work through, collateral vessels to gather, and even an aorta which had attached itself to the back of Rachel’s sternum that had to be disconnected before she could receive the healthy heart that was now on its’ way.  But Rachel was stable and things were progressing just as everyone had hoped.  The timing in removing the old to make way for the new was proceeding right on schedule and hopes were high that this transplant would go without a hitch! 

By around 7AM, Rachel’s broken heart had been removed and a perfectly healthy one had taken its’ place inside of her.  Everything was stitched into place and it was time to let that new heart take over for the machines that had been keeping Rachel alive throughout the night. 

But as the transplant team began to make the transition in allowing that heart to beat, it did not…   

The operation that appeared to be going perfectly, suddenly was not! 

Human hands had done all they could, but they could not make Rachel’s new heart beat!  A decision was made to clamp all blood flow surging into the new heart for a period of 20 minutes and allow the machines to carry the load, while giving it a chance to “rest” and acclimate to its’ new home.  Then they would try again and hope for a better outcome. 

I am told that the energy in the operating room suddenly fell flat.  What had been a flawless surgery, had taken a very bad turn, and tensions were very high.  While letting the new heart “rest”, Dr Bleiweis left Rachel’s side and sat down nearby in nervous disbelief.  How could we have waited over three years for the perfect match to now be met with such a disappointing result?  This was not what anyone expected after such a successful surgery and the alternatives for Rachel should this heart not begin beating seemed unacceptable.  

It is difficult to understand the immense burden on the shoulders of Rachel’s cardiologist, Dr Fricker, in that moment unless I share with you something I have not done so before.  When Rachel became ill just over a year ago, many believed that she would not be able to live much longer with her very broken heart.  Several very difficult conversations took place between Doug and I and the team of people caring for her, headed up by Dr Fricker himself.  Would we be willing to hospitalize Rachel until a new heart came?  And if her heart finally gave way, would we let her go or place her on life support in hopes that a heart might be found in time instead?

Rachel wanted only one thing and she never once wavered.  Rachel would live waiting, but she would not wait to live!  She absolutely refused to die lying down!  She had suffered a horrid existence inside the four walls of an orphanage for the first seven and a half years of her life, and now that she had been redeemed to a new life with a family she loved, she intended to live it!   Through the lips of a nine year old, with the understanding of a grown adult, she told me repeatedly that if God did not bring a new heart in time, we were to let her die.  She insisted that this was a “win-win” in her book, since living meant doing so for Jesus, and dying meant being with Him instead.  Either way, she “won”… 

"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain"  Philippians 1:21

Who was I to stand in the way when she asked Dr Fricker to sign a DNR on her behalf, should she suddenly collapse while living life to its’ fullest?  He resisted at first, but finally did so with tears in his eyes.  Now, if the heart that he had waited so long to accept for the little girl he loved, did not beat on its’ own, he would be forced to put her on the very life support she had asked him to deny.  My heart feels heavy just typing it…

I was lying alone in Rachel’s hospital room when a call came from Dr Fricker’s cell phone.  It was 7:30 AM and I expected to hear the happy news that Rachel’s new heart was beating inside of her!  Instead, I detected nervousness in Dr Fricker’s voice immediately.  “Listen,” he said, “things are not going well, and we are all very worried.  Rachel’s new heart is “sluggish” and not wanting to beat on its’ own.  We are going to let it rest for 20 minutes and then try again.  We really need you to pray.  Just pray…”

I hung up in disbelief.  Everything had been going perfectly!  What do you mean… “Her new heart doesn’t want to beat”?  How could this be?  I had not even allowed myself to believe that a heart would finally come after three years of waiting, and now that it had, I was stunned that it might end this way…   

Doug had made his way to the capital of India and was there waiting for a flight bound for Paris.  I dialed his number to Face time with him and pray.  He, too, was stunned at this update and immediately turned his questions into prayers.  I cried and agreed with him as he voiced our pleading to The Lord.  I have never heard my husband beg God for anything… but in those moments, he literally begged God to spare the life of his daughter~ that the precious gift of this heart would not result in the death of two, but that God would bring life through the one.  We encouraged one another with the Truth.  We had not been promised a happy ending.  God’s sovereign will would win and we would trust Him in that.  We vowed to glorify Him no matter how He answered and we hung up to wait. 

We didn’t know then what we know now… In those very moments of our desperate praying, sometime between 7:30 and 8 AM, God was weaving a miracle in the heart of our daughter!  At His Word- He breathed LIFE into Rachel and her new heart began to beat on its’ own in perfect rhythm!  What a surgeon could not do… God DID! 

 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

I believe with everything in me, that God perfectly purposed this event to demonstrate HIS power over life and death.  Let no man or woman, mother or father, doctor or surgeon, ever believe that the power to breathe life into a human being comes except through HIM!  Rachel lives today, because God reached out in mercy, touched her new heart, and caused life-giving blood to beat through it!  To HIM belongs all the glory!  

    You alone are the LordYou have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You."  Nehemiah 9:6

We don’t know how many days this new heart will bring for our daughter.  It may be many- it may be few.  But we have learned through Rachel, to live whatever days He gives to the fullest, and we will do so glorifying HIM- The Giver of Life!

Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.” Ezekiel 37:4-9