A Smiling Six

Abby Mae turned six on Friday.

Her smile says it all.  I have zillions of pictures of her, but this one makes the top ten without question.  Sheer joy encompassed her in the Chuckie Cheese ticket blaster as she frantically grabbed at colored scraps swirling all around, shrieking with delight.

And to think I almost didn’t get to write this.

Nothing short of miraculous is her life.  Even her birthdate, 3-16, symbolizes the hand of God upon her soul.  I tell the whole story in one of my favorite blog posts titled 3-16, linked below.

https://drinkingfromthewell.com/2017/03/16/3-16/

 

Boo Boo Bear

I must tell you a story.

Friday night, my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, brought her fuzzy friend, Tashi, to the Tim Tebow Foundation‘s Night to Shine event at Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, PA.  Both Hannah and I volunteered as makeup artists at this amazing prom for people with special needs, but I had no idea how deeply and in what ways the evening would impact her.

I would drive the 200 miles again.  In a heartbeat.

Nine years ago, my sister, Krissie, had given a huggable, lovable Winnie-the-Pooh to Hannah on her second birthday.  She had fallen in love with it instantly.

“Oh, Aunt KiKi, I just love her!  I’m naming her Tashi.”

From that moment on, Tashi ate at our table and shared Hannah’s bed, rode in the backseat and sat alongside the bathtub.  They were inseparable, these two.

Until one dreadful evening.

We’d gone to my in-laws’ for Chicken Scampi when, lo and behold, sweet Tashi slipped under the table and fell prey to their frisky Labrador Retriever named Bodi.  Papa came to her rescue, but not before she lost her right arm from the shoulder down.  Try as he may, Papa couldn’t repair the severed appendage.  Sweet Hannah had to settle for a simple seam in place of the arm that once was.

And it was hard.

Hannah grieved the loss for her friend.  No more dancing in the fall leaves like princesses do at a ball.  No more patty-cake.  No more two-armed hugs.

She asked for a new bear, one that could do all of those things.  Aunt KiKi complied as did my mother-in-law.  One of those new animals got lost on a grocery trip, so the remaining bear assumed the role of “Tashi” in Hannah’s life.

During our next basement spring cleaning as we thinned out all the toys and stuffed animals, Hannah found herself unable to part with her disabled friend and decided to rename the original Tashi “Boo Boo Bear”.  It was a great segway into talking about how upset Hannah been when Boo Boo had gotten hurt.  Hannah realized how much she’d missed Boo Boo and that she was still a really good friend because her heart mattered more than her arms ever did.

“I want to keep her forever, Mommy.  I love her.”

Years passed with few ups and several drastic downs in Hannah’s life.  One of the worst was when Aunt Ki Ki was in a terrible accident.

She lost her right arm above the shoulder.  Just like Boo Boo Bear.

I’ll never forget telling Hannah and her siblings about Aunt KiKi’s arm.  After everyone cried together, I brought out Boo Boo Bear.  Hannah’s small smile spread through her tears.

“See how much we love Boo Boo Bear?” I asked.  Everyone nodded.  “Aunt Ki Ki is still the same wonderful amazing person inside.  A missing arm can’t change that, right, Hannah?”

She nodded gently and reached for Boo Boo, hugging her fiercely.

Five years later, Hannah has remained sensitive to her aunt’s disabilities and asked to volunteer with me at Night to Shine.  Right before we left for PA, she got the dreadful news that Tashi, the Second, who’d been MIA since a beachside hotel stay, had been discarded the previous month.  We’d had trouble tracking her down, so by the time we connected with the person in-the-know, it was too late.  The staff had held onto Tashi for a while, realizing she was special to someone, hoping she would be claimed but had finally given up.

Hannah’s heart broke.

She was inconsolable, and I ached for her.  Dear God, what can I do?

He put it in my heart to go down to the bin in the basement and resurrect Boo Boo Bear, the original Tashi.  I complied and then made my cautious approach.

“I thought you might like to hold her – Boo Boo Bear.”  I held out the fluffy golden animal. Hannah refused to touch it.

“But, Mom,” she said, “I still miss the other Tashi!”  Hannah’s defenses rose, and I felt the drawbridge of her heart begin its creaky rise above the moat.

“Of course you do,” I said, intentionally pausing long, hugging her close.  “Tashi was and will always be a special friend.”  I felt Hannah relax against me as I sat next to her.

After she cried a little, I reached over and placed Boo Boo Bear on her lap.  Hannah gingerly grasped her torso and then carefully fingered the seam on the bear’s right shoulder.

“I think it’s amazing you still have this one,” I said.  “She was your first friend, you know.”

Hannah stared for a long moment.  Then, ever-so-slowly, she nodded as the corners of her mouth turned up.  “That is neat.”  She gave Boo Boo a warm embrace and spun around the room.  “I’m going to call her Tashi again.”  Hannah glanced at me.

“I think that’s a a wonderful idea, Sweetheart.”

“Can she come with us to Night to Shine?”

“Absolutely!”  I smiled, elated and relieved.  I checked my watch.  “You’d better hustle upstairs and get Tashi ready – we need to leave soon.”

“That’s right!”  Hannah beamed, staring with love at her dear friend.  “Come on, Tashi!  I’ve got just the dress for you.  And wait until you see my new JoJo Siwa bows I got for my birthday!”  The pair disappeared down the hallway.

My heart sang the rest of the night to see how my daughter had blossomed and grown through painful loss and challenging times.  How she delighted to volunteer and be blessed by Night to Shine.  How she was moved to tears many times throughout the night.  She had been given the opportunity to not only apply the guests’ eye shadow and lip gloss but also experience the importance of making people with special needs feel valued, honored, and beautiful.

Because they are.

How fitting, how touching, how amazing, the timing of it all, these three precious ladies sharing this evening together, dancing the night away.

Aunt KiKi, Hannah, and Tashi.

Shining.

 

Night to Shine

I want to remember last night forever.

My sister, Krissie, was absolutely stunning in her lacy black gown, her makeup and curls, but I’ll never forget how she “looked”.

Full of sheer joy, glowing and radiant, wearing a wide, full smile that lingered, resting across her pretty, glittered face all evening long.  She practically floated around the dance floor with her wonderful Buddy, Leah, at the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine event in Allentown, PA, sighing dreamily.

Utter bliss.

Krissie wasn’t the only one.  Continual displays of delight from guests at this prom for people with special needs made the night.  These precious souls hit the limelight running, posing for the paparazzi, waving from the limo, strolling the red carpet, cutting super-slick moves – the dance floor was packed, especially during the crowning ceremony at the end of the night.  Kings and Queens of the Prom, royal in their right, children of the King, displaying the splendor of His love as they basked in it.

I’ve been to proms and parties in rooms filled with glitter and gowns, tuxes and roses, DJs and treats.  The element that sets Night to Shine apart?

Love.  Unbridled, ardent, beautiful love in its purest form.

Years ago, I’d volunteered at Krissie’s Special Olympics swimming practice, and I’d noticed a new volunteer standing off to the side.  I walked over, shook his hand, and introduced myself, asking how he’d gotten involved.  After glancing downward for several seconds, he raised his eyes to mine.

“I want to find God – I thought maybe I’d find Him here.”

God’s presence was undeniable at last night’s event.  He has deep affection for people with special needs, and the many who served at Night to Shine passed His love onto guests in a way they could see, touch, hug, and feel, allowing them to experience Him through the heart of another, a person not bound to them by blood or by paycheck, a person who wanted to give of their time and attention because their King/Queen was worth it.

And so much more.

From the radiant guests strolling the red carpet in fancy attire to the volunteers steadfastly serving and smiling, all present were blessed by each other.  Every person, young or old, small or tall, needs to feel loved and valued for who they are. Last night, that need was fully met in an arena that was safe, loving, and celebratory of each person as a unique and beautiful child of God.

Tears and tissues were everywhere.

Parents oscillated between beaming and tearing up.  That night meant the world to their children, who longed for a place outside of their home where they could be free to be themselves and be fully loved, appreciated, and celebrated for who they are.  Throughout the evening, parents enjoyed the opportunity to gaze from afar as others buddied up with their son/daughter.

Krissie hadn’t wanted me to be her Buddy.  At first, I was a little disappointed, but I soon realized why.  She wanted somebody new to love her that didn’t “have to” – she wanted the chance to be loved solely for the person that she is, the chance to receive love from another because they want to give it as she gives her love to others.

Completely.  Unreservedly.  Wholeheartedly.

Buddy slots for the event filled to capacity as volunteers came out in droves from all over the Valley – and beyond – to love on their honored guests.  So organized, so united in their mission to make every guest feel like the royalty the are.  It was evident that the event impacted every person involved, from the parking lot attendants to the photographers, the hairstylists to the foodservice workers.

It impacted me.  Deeply.  To see my sweet sister, this one I love so much, beautified and honored in countless, thoughtful ways.

I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.

Thank you, Riverbend Church and Pastor Joe Velarde, for opening your doors and hosting this incredible event.  Thank you, to the Tim Tebow Foundation, for having the vision and heart to make every person feel loved and valued.  Thank you to every volunteer who made my sister feel like the Queen that she is.

Thank you all for making this her Night to Shine.

 

 

 

3-16

My little Abby Mae turns five today.

Tears blind me now, for I cannot recall her birth without remembering how close she came to death.  Many, many times.

We praise God for the gift of her life and love.  Although we celebrate today with butterflies and flowers, sparkly ribbons and bows, strawberries and sunshine, my heart trembles under the crushing weight of memory, ushering in mingled wonder and sorrow, hope and pain, joy and suffering.

And to think, the first specialist to diagnose Abby’s heart defect recommended I abort her.

I distinctly recall gasping at the mere mention.

“Mrs. Morgan, really!  Think of it.  The baby’s heart is a mess, her organs are positioned backwards . . . ”  The doctor shook her head and folded her arms with disgust.  “Why rush to CHOP (the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and make them go through all sorts of heroics to try and salvage this?”  She swallowed and softly said, “Besides, haven’t you been through enough already?”

She referred to my son, John, who’d received his diagnosis in the same office some two years earlier, a boy with intestines forming outside a large hole in his belly, intestines that were also blocked and likely damaged severely if not fatally.

The doctors had given him a 15% chance of making it.

I numbed out as the specialist built her case.  The inconvenience, the expense, the unknown outcomes.  As the doctor prattled on, I inhaled deeply.  I looked full into her fiery eyes and calmly said, “We’re going to CHOP.”

I will not lie.  Christian and I had both looked forward to a pregnancy without problems, a wondrous time we could spend with our children and heal from John’s traumatic birth and infancy experience.  What a crushing blow.  Thrust into the nightmare once again, same storyline, different details.

After extensive testing, CHOP informed us that our daughter did indeed have a severe heart defect, as well as Heterotaxy Syndrome (where the organs are abnormally placed within the body).  This five person team, although not nearly as blunt and insensitive as the first physician, waited for my decision about procuring further care.

I swallowed hard.  Then I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks.

“We’re cheerleaders.  And besides, we already know where to park, the cafeteria menu cycle, and how to avoid the construction traffic.”  I cried a little, and then I said, “As long as there’s hope, we’re in.”

My father sat at the table in lieu of my husband’s presence, his tears saying it all.  I knew I needn’t call Christian, for I knew what he would have me do, what God would have us do, what the mother in me longed to do, and what the warrior in me was destined to do.

FIGHT!!!

On our knees, day and night, night and day, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, fight for this little life we did.  Born with little chance in this world, but oh, how her cries and the prayers of all those who loved her moved the Heart of heaven.

And today SHE TURNED FIVE!

My thoughts began to swirl a few weeks ago when my church sent out a general email announcing the annual fundraising banquet of Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center (LPRC).  In the past, our family had participated in various support opportunities, and since we continue to lay down roots here in NJ, I spoke and prayed with Christian at length about contributing.

We decided to attend the banquet, but I neglected to make the necessary connections until after the deadline had passed.  As I sat up late one evening reviewing past emails, I discovered my error and froze.  I hadn’t realized until that moment how important it was to me but couldn’t explain why.

I had no idea how personal the connection would become.

Believing that God would make a way if He wanted us to attend, I shot an email to the Lighthouse events team, expecting to be graciously turned away.  Then I clicked to Facebook to check my most recent blog post picture.  Somehow as I scrolled along, a man’s voice came over the speaker, startling the daylights out of me (I thought I’d muted it).

Our family friend, Eric Bugbee, had shared a link to Wildcard’s video of Tim Tebow’s recent interview about keeping his priorities straight, which greatly aided him in keeping his cool on the field.  He recounted picking up castaways in Haiti, not mincing words as he declared his desire to be known as one who emits faith, hope, and love rather than as a  successful ball player.  While thankful for the platform sports has given him, his obvious passion is serving others, namely those who have no voice.

I was highly impressed.

I continued scrolling over the next few days and found that another family friend, Aegis Boyer Stuart, had posted a link to a live event at none other than the Tim Tebow Foundation!  Riveted, I viewed her video.  Again, Tim spoke from his heart, sharing his vision to supporters and proclaiming undying devotion to “those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”

I’d heard Tim mentioned among our homeschool community and knew he played ball, but I didn’t know about his foundation nor the parties it served around the world.  Curiosity caused me to thoroughly investigate, and sure enough, what I discovered blew me away.

Hospitals and play rooms.  Proms for the mentally challenged.  Dreams fulfilled for the terminally and chronically ill.  Outreach to orphans.  Surgeries for the sick and disabled.  Rescue for victims of human trafficking.

All totally up our alley.

Everything I saw and viewed resonated loudly with the call God’s placed on my life, and witnessing others living it out in such amazing and far-reaching ways stirred me to the core of my being.  Not only Tim but also his parents and siblings have long been involved with these causes, in years past as missionaries in the Philippines and currently in different countries and capacities.

As I researched the amazing Tebow family, I grew more excited about the possibility of attending the Lighthouse banquet.  It seemed a wonderful way to take another step forward in the same direction as they, a way to serve families in crisis with no voice.

I checked my email one more time after my research binge and read the Lighthouse event flyer one more time.  Lo and behold, I’d glossed over the name of the banquet speaker earlier in the evening, but now, it jumped out at me as if arrayed in Broadway lights.

Pam Tebow.

By the grace of God, two seats opened up.  Christian and I headed to the Venetian awed and humbled, for I had shared with him all that had transpired that week.  We knew that He had something special in store.

Pam shared her testimony about how, when she was extremely ill in the Philippines and carrying her fifth child (Tim), her obstetrician recommended an abortion in order to try and save her life.  She obviously declined and gave birth to not only an incredible athlete but more importantly, an amazing servant.

She also told of how her son wore the reference John 3:16 on his eye black during the 2009 college football national championship, during which 94 million people googled John 3:16. Exactly three years later to the day, Tim led the Denver Broncos to a win in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and after the game, his rep informed Tim that all of his stats included the digits 3-1-6.

He threw for 316 yards.  Yards per rush: 3.16.  Yards per completion 31.6.  Ratings for the game: 31.6.  Time of possession: 31.6

No coincidence.

Thank you, Pam Tebow, for sharing your story around the world.  Thank you for all you are doing to encourage mothers to give their babies life and inspire them to bravely face the challenges ahead.  And thank you for the reminder that every life is precious.

Even the most delicate of hearts.

Thank you, Abby Mae, for lighting up every room with your smile and song.  For the way you curl up in the arms of grizzly bears and melt their hearts like butter.  For the way you paint away problems, encourage the pessimist, and dance into the loneliest of hearts.

Young in years, yet a wise old soul.  Mistress of joy, deep and unspoiled, lavishly given and freely enjoyed.  Forever may you blossom and grow, little girl, spreading your sunshine and adoring ways.

Thank you, God, for this precious life.

Born on 3-16.