When You’re Glad You Didn’t Know What You Got Yourself Into

When Matt asked me to marry him, it’s a really good thing he didn’t say, “So, Trace. I was thinking. In 9 years do you want to leave everyone we know and love to move across the country? It’ll be fun. We’ll just pack up and make our life in a foreign place because our child, who races her big sister across the backyard and beats her friends to the top of the slide, is actually really sick. So what do you think? Want to do that with me?”

I know for certain that I would’ve declared a loud and definitive NO! That would’ve sounded completely crazy.

Lucky for all of us, instead, when Matt asked me to marry him, he said something to the effect of, “Tracy, I don’t know what the future holds for us. I know I want to find out what it holds with you. I can’t guarantee much about our unknown future. But I can promise you this: I’ll keep loving God so that I can keep loving you. I want to do that with you by my side because I think we can grow in God better together. I can promise you that instead of demanding what I want in life, I’ll ask God what He has for our life.  I think that with your encouragement of me and your commitment to Him too that we’ll have the courage to choose His ways instead of ours no matter what He calls us to.”

Now THAT sounds romantic and surrendered. Brave and authentic. That is something I could say yes to. And, well, I really loved that sparkly ring in his hand.

During our first year of marriage, we went on a small group retreat where our leaders instructed us to select a verse for our marriage. A verse that we felt defined our togetherness and that we could use as a foundation in the years ahead to anchor ourselves to God and each other.

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Matt and I chose Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (ESV).

I love how The Message version puts it too: He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

I’m very glad that when we were 25 and 27 we had no idea what those specific works God was preparing us for would look like.  I’m also glad that on our wedding day Matt and I vowed to God and each other, in front of many of you, that we would not think of our life as our own. We vowed that we would surrender ourselves to God for His ultimate purposes and glory in our marriage and through our family.

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It sounded so easy on May 9, 2009. It feels much harder today.

Because today there’s a lock box on my front door so that any realtor can let any family in to see if they want to make their home in our beloved Little Rock house. And today I’m scrolling through images of MLS listings from my realtor friend in the suburbs west of Philly.

Audrey is asking to have her 6th birthday party  in our backyard, on our big deck, on her swing set…like she always has.

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I’m having to explain to her that by the end of May, someone else will be partying on that deck, swinging in her swing.  And we’ll be trying to sprout some intentional love for the charm and character of an 80-year-old colonial with no garage, but plenty of off-street parking, in Delaware County Pennsylvania, 30 short minutes away from Annie’s cardiology team at CHOP.

On a recent car ride home from school Audrey voiced the unified wonderings of us all. “Will we live in Philadelphia forever?”

I had to admit the truth. “I thought we’d live in Little Rock forever, Auddie. So I’m really not sure,” I told her.

Then I thought back to how Matt and I began our family with his proposal that March that feels so long ago. I knew exactly what to say, “I don’t know where we’ll live for our whole lives. But God does. I can’t promise that we’ll live in Philadelphia forever or in Little Rock forever. But Daddy and me can promise you this: We will go wherever God tells us to go because He knows what’s best for our family. We will say yes to whatever God calls us to. We will trust Him and obey Him every time because He knows what He’s doing.”

Annie has accepted it. She told Matt, “Momma told us we’ll make new friends and we’ll like our new school. I can pick which bedroom I want. And if we need to, we can get a new swing set for our new backyard. And that it’s okay because y’all will always do what God says.”

I’m so thankful that in all the newness that awaits us when we relocate in early summer, our same big, faithful God is already there with His new mercies day by day that will give us the strength to walk in Jesus Christ a little baby step at a time.

And hey if you know of anybody who needs a super cute house in Roberts and Pinnacle View school districts, send them our way!

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The Day I Felt Bad For Choosing Life

These past two weeks, I’ve been really struggling with the decision we made 4 years ago when that specialist told us Annie would never live.

“Something is wrong with your baby’s heart,” he said.  “It won’t be worth it.”

Laying there watching my 18-week-old fetus kick and squirm on the theater-sized screen, I wondered if he meant she won’t be worth it. Certainly no stranger could tell me the value of my child’s life.

But in my silence, he pressed on. “Trust me. You don’t want to do this. It’ll be too hard. Too expensive. Too complicated. And she probably won’t live anyway.”

There he said it. She. We’d named her Annie the day before but he didn’t know it yet. So what he meant was Annie, growing wrongly in my womb, wouldn’t be worth all the inconvenience.

Thankfully that day we didn’t know all the “inconvenience” that her life would entail but we knew we still wanted her.

I whispered an argument, interrupted by broken sobs, that we were willing to take the chance.

He advised again, “I just don’t think she’s worth it. By Arkansas law, you still have time. We can take care of this today and you can try again for a healthy baby that you want.”

He was right. I didn’t want Annie to have only half of a heart. I had never even heard of that, but I was smart enough to know that no one can live on half of a heart. I was also determined enough to know that Annie was still a life we should say yes for.

That was the day that I stopped being myself anymore.

That was the day I found out that a mother means more than a nighttime comforter, diaper changer, and lullaby hummer. That was the day I turned into a fighter. I realized that day that I would have to defend and protect my child’s life in so many ways beyond being sure her car seat is buckled right.

That is the day that Matt and I committed to each other that, together, we would give Annie every chance at life that she could get.

That has looked like:

-Refusing another specialist’s recommendation for abortion two short weeks later.

-Leaving our 1-year-old with family to board a medical flight to Philadelphia with our 4-day-old bobble head.

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-Suffering the complete shock that our smiling 8-week-old was in severe heart failure. And again, flying to Philadelphia to live in the cardiac ICU and Ronald McDonald House for 31 days.

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-Handing our 3-month-old over for open heart surgery number 2 with only 60% chance of ever getting her back alive.

-Celebrating the miracle of healing when her surgeon announced Annie’s normal heart function on her pre-op heart echo and when she endured a seamless 5-day recovery.

-Suffering complete shock again when January 2016, her cardiologist announced Annie’s regression into severe heart failure again. Worse than before. Adding to his tearful report: not knowing how much time we had left with our happy girl who was being honored as a survivor that month.

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-Being denied the third stage surgery she needed because her heart was too sick. Being denied a new heart that she needed because her body was too well.

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-Celebrating life to the fullest for each day we have it with a once in a lifetime Make-A-Wish trip to Disney. What a total dream!

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-Having the doctors’ argument over how sick her heart still is and how severely it continues to fail, end in agreeing to the third stage surgery on August 1, 2017, to complete the Fontan physiology for Annie’s heart.

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-And finally most recently enduring another unbearable complication. Annie’s body isn’t happy with her new Fontan physiology. Just this month, she has been diagnosed with PLE, an incurable disease that ensures the days that Annie can live with her broken birth heart are fleeting.

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It’s hard to admit it, but…

-watching Annie endure countless “pokes” for blood draws and IV placements

-holding her down to shove medicine in her mouth that she spits back in my face

-knowing that her life is now guaranteed to be daily marked by her heart deficiency

…I actually confessed to a friend that I feel bad for choosing life for Annie. For fighting so hard and effectively for this difficult life that she’ll bear.

My friend reminded me of a huge truth that I had so easily forgotten.

God chose life for Annie way before I ever did. God’s purposes for Annie’s life make this version of her life and health the only way that Annie can live her best life. A heart healthy Annie wouldn’t be better for her…or me. God has given Annie all that she needs to fulfill the eternal purposes that He created her life for.

God made the right choice. And when I chose to obey Him by choosing life for Annie, so did I.

That day 4 years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into. But we knew that life is always worth it. That love is always worth it, even when it’s terrifying and hard and uncertain. We said yes to trusting God with a path we never expected that we didn’t know how to walk.  It’s been worth it.

Even in the past hardship that we have faced and in the upcoming hardship that Annie will face, we are daily proving Psalm 138:8,

“Lord, you will show that I was right to trust you.
Lord, your faithful love continues forever.
You have done so much for us, so don’t stop now.”

Today Annie’s dreaming about what she wants to be when she grows up, and I’m finally dreaming that she might grow up! She’s giggling about funny grandma names that her grandkids might call her someday, and I’m believing that she might actually get to be a Mamie or Mawmaw…or at least the aunt who babysits Audrey’s baby (date night already scheduled by big sister).

Today I’m rejoicing in all the hard days that we never wanted because all along we’ve always wanted Annie. All along we’ve agreed that our lives and our children’s lives are for God to be glorified in all things. And we continue to be amazed at how big and intimate God can show off in a life-loving little girl who fully understands the joy of every day she gets.

“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” -Isaiah 42:16

 

It’ll Never Happen to Me

I slipped soundlessly off the edge of the hospital bed, careful not to wake Annie. It was still early. And we needed her to sleep peacefully through every possible minute of her no food allowed morning. In about an hour, the team would come to take her back for her cardiac cath procedure.

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I needed to shower and think before I got up the courage to hand her over. I robotically went through my routine. Mindlessly brushing my teeth in the tiny sterile hospital bathroom mirror, I caught a glimpse of myself.

I gasped and dropped my toothbrush into the sink. I saw someone in the mirror I wasn’t expecting to see. Glasses still perched, wet hair hanging. I saw me.

I wasn’t seeing the reflection of a internet heart mom friend. I wasn’t encouraging someone else who was about to hand her baby over. I was looking right at me.

You think by now I’d understand that all of this isn’t happening to someone else. Some other family. You think by now I’d be way past believing it’ll never be us. Never be our child. You think by now I’d know it’s me. Accept that it’s my life. But it’s not all that easy to swallow right now.

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If this is really me–and the reflection in the foggy glass proved it is–then it’s my daughter about to undergo another life-threatening procedure. Then it’s my daughter who has to be held down by me and two nurses just to choke down her regular meds. It’s my daughter who has hospital life PTSD and throws thrashing trauma fits randomly late some nights, unable to be soothed by a caring, but exhausted mother.

Mostly, I don’t want to believe it’s really me because if it’s really me, then it’s really Annie. And it’s hard to admit the test result’s proof that Annie is facing a new complex, incurable diagnosis. Annie has officially been diagnosed with a rare complication of her new heart physiology.

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For the last 12 days, living in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Annie has been medically described each morning as: “Annie, our 3-year-old hypoplast, post Fontan, newly complicated by PLE.” Every morning I want to kick and scream and tell them that can’t be my Annie. Every morning the blood test result readings, the new medicine prescriptions, the 6-8 week plans for waiting on her body to respond all explain my Annie.

We’ve agreed to partner with Annie’s care team in Philadelphia to medically manage her new disease for as long as possible. We all know that the medical management of her Protein Losing Enteropathy (PLE) comes with a loudly ticking clock. We don’t know when the clock stops, but her body will decide. It might tick for a number of years, wound by a new recreated fenestration, stents in her pulmonary arteries, high doses of anticoagulation and diuretic pharmaceutical concoctions. It might tick for a few months, stopped short by high pressures, significant protein loss, and lymphatic fluid overload.

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All in the same moment, when I can’t even catch my breath because of the sadness for my daughter over the grueling amount of pokes, tests, uncertainties, and awful realities she inevitably faces, I catch my face stuck with a wide, bright grin. I’m Annie’s mom!

-Annie, who upon checking into her 6th floor room for an unexpected hospital stay, carefully carved her own name on a princess sticker paper. Then whispered, “Momma, write brave and strong above my name!”

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-Annie who charms the doctors with her old soul and understanding beyond years.

-Annie who has fight and determination.

-Annie whose strong mind convinces her weak body that it’s okay.

-Annie who  coaches herself to stay up all night to avoid sunrise pokes by yelling to her eyes, “No, no, no!” every time they threaten to close in the midnight darkness.

-Annie whose will to live has outwitted every prognosis.

-Annie whose quality of life, vibrancy, and giggle offers hope to new moms wheelchairing around the CVICU hours after delivery.

We’ve been teaching Annie, even more in the last two weeks, how God made her exactly the way He knew she needed to be made. A little easy going. A lot feisty. Not very sensitive. A mind over matter kind of girl. We’ve been teaching her to rely on Him when it feels too scary to take another step. “Fear not, for I am with you,” she’ll quote her Bible verse. We’ve been agreeing with her that she is strong and brave…not on her own, but because God can make her that way.

She admitted that sometimes she feels brave and sometimes she doesn’t want to be brave anymore. She took the words right out of my mouth. Every day now I’m scared to be Annie’s mom. I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes. That I don’t know how to comfort her. That I won’t cut up her 8 bedtime meds right. That I won’t make the best decicions regarding her delicate care. Most days lately I just don’t really want to be brave anymore.

Her bedtime book this week is about Franklin going to the hospital. Dr. Bear reminds him that “Brave is doing what you have to do no matter how scared you feel.” So, no matter how scared I feel, I’m clinging to the truth that I’m teaching Annie. We don’t have to fear. We can be strong and courageous because God is with us. And He’s working for our good.

Tonight I’m especially glad to be Annie’s mom, because Annie and her mom are free after another ICU stay. Every time I walk into the hospital with Annie, I’m never certain I’m going to walk out with her. Tonight, I’m thankful to be the mom walking out with my child.

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We have so many complicated and confusing and complex days behind us and up ahead. I’m thankful that because of those, both Annie and her mom understand the gift of every ordinary moment.

It’s Always Enough

I have to write this now while I believe it.  Because when it comes time to live it tomorrow morning at 5:45,  I’ll need to already have it etched in my soul.

When it comes time to board the plane waiting for us in the still dark night, I need to believe that I’ve had enough sleep.

When it comes time to hug my 5-year-old goodbye for who knows how long, I’ll need to know she’ll be loved enough while I’m gone.

When it comes time to kiss my husband farewell to live separate lives fighting for our daughter’s life, I’ll need to be reassured that we’re both doing enough to care for our family.

When it comes time to check into Annie’s CHOP hospital room tomorrow afternoon that is currently reserved for us, I’ll need to convince both of us that we’re brave enough to live there again.

When it comes time to listen to the doctors about Annie’s care, I need to know that they’re smart enough and caring enough to partner with me in advocating for her life.

It’s no secret that I regularly ask God for something else. For extra. For another. For more.

-More time as a family of 4 together.

-Better health for Annie.

-Extra joy so that she doesn’t know what’s happening to her failing body.

-Another chance to love her well and enjoy her for a too-short moment

-Even just one more day that she wakes up healthy enough, and I wake up brave enough, to do it all over again.

What I’ve been reminded of lately is that even though I want so much more than what I’m right now getting, what God gives is always enough.

He’s giving us enough courage to do what He’s calling us to do.  He’s giving us enough clarity to know which route to take. He’s giving us enough financial provision to travel across the country for Annie’s care. He’s giving us more days, more doctors, more possible solutions for more time with Annie.

Annie is sick. So sick that I don’t want tomorrow to ever come. I’m afraid of what the doctors will say when we check into the 6th floor. I’m afraid of the truth about what’s wrecking Annie’s body. I’m afraid of what feels like too few options we might have left.

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I want to stay here in the hallway eavesdropping on Audrey reading. I want to stay here in the hallway watching Annie sleep. But as cozy as it feels, it’s not safe here for Annie anymore. IMG_3334

So Annie’s button down pjs are zipped up tight, ready to be secured over IV lines tomorrow. My travel shampoo bottles are filled, ready to be perched on hospital bathtub edges. Our fuzzy slippers are squished down in, ready for snuggling and healing in the eerie safety of a Philadelphia hospital room.  IMG_3335

And in 12 short hours, tomorrow will surely come. But I can be certain that even though I feel so not ready, that what God gives will be enough.

When You Feel Like Wasting It

In November, I tricked myself into believing that we just might actually be a normal family now.  After 4 exhausting years since Annie’s pregnancy and broken heart diagnosis, we had finally let our guard down.  It really didn’t take a lot of convincing. I had all the tangible evidence I needed.

Annie’s 3 surgeries were behind us. At her November checkup, her heart was functioning normally, a welcome shock to everyone. She was enjoying friends (and her favorite teacher!) IMG_1553and centers and lunches and naps at preschool two days a week. She was twirling and giggling and spinning and smiling in dance class every Monday afternoon.

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Collectively we began dreaming about our normal family’s future, voiced and hoped loudly by Audrey, “When I’m 17, Annie will be 15! And when I’m 83, Annie will be 81! And next year when I’m 6, Annie will be 4. See, you just take off 2 from my age and that’ll be Annie’s age for the rest of our lives! Right, Annie?”

How do you break it to yourself and your dreaming daughters that we were all wrong?

The first clue came when each morning Annie’s face didn’t look normal anymore. It was puffy and swollen just enough to make us wonder. That same week, Matt and I noted how Annie was outgrowing her shirts…but not really her pants. Maybe she snuck some holiday helpings we hadn’t noticed? We knew that was too wishful of a reason that her tummy tightened and rounded. To confirm our findings, I had her step on the scale. Five pounds might be fair for me during the month of November, but for an active 3-year-old, the weight gain proved my suspicions.

Something was going wrong in Annie’s body. Her local cardiologist agreed and asked to see her in clinic the next day. IMG_3115

Annie endured the usual tests: echocardiogram, EKG,  blood pressure, pulse ox. But we added an assessment that always tells the truth for Annie’s complex body: “a poke.” As expected, the results of Annie’s blood test told us the truth that we never wanted to hear.

Annie’s body is presenting with PLE symptoms, a rare but serious complication that can come as an effect of her Fontan physiology. The craziest part is that her once-failing heart is happier than ever. But now some other parts of her body are not responding well to the new way her body works since her August surgery.

The worst news of a PLE diagnosis is that it’s incurable. The best news of a PLE diagnosis is that her doctors in Philadelphia would like to do a little more investigating to see what might’ve set these symptoms off in Annie’s body. The symptoms came fast (1.5 weeks). The symptoms seem so soon after a successful surgery. But all of Annie’s care team agrees: the symptoms are very real and very concerning.

We are currently waiting to hear from the scheduling center at CHOP to confirm a date when they will perform a cardiac cath on Annie. The cath will allow her doctors to investigate and trouble shoot these symptoms. The investigation will help them decide if she actually needs an official PLE diagnosis or if there’s some type of fix for the sudden onset of her new symptoms.

Right now, we have a happy girl who’s smiling through the beginnings of regular days mixed with fact finding here in Little Rock. She’s proudly showing how to breeze through 24 hours of a holter monitor that assessed her heart rhythm. Right now, she doesn’t feel bad. She has no idea that anything off is happening inside of her. She’s resilient, brave Annie going to school, playing with friends, fighting with her sister.IMG_3135

But right now, as Annie’s mom, I know there are a lot of unknowns. A lot of what ifs. A lot of serious, scary maybes. Even some heartbreaking probablys. And I know that our normal family plans and expectancy were a lie I let myself believe.

Annie’s CHOP doctor assured me that we are in fact quite the better-than-normal family: staying together, loving each other, relentlessly advocating for the life of our child, believing when there’s not a lot left to believe in, passing on a faith that works to the next generation. While I certainly believe him, I think I feel tired of being known in all the hard ways. I’m ready for our family to be normal in some small, unnoticed ways.

We’d appreciate your prayers that we can keep believing that God’s plan for our family is the best plan for our family and that He’ll give us courage to live out what He’s called us to.

What We’ve Always Wanted

“Something is wrong with your baby’s heart,” he said.  “It won’t be worth it.”

Laying there watching my 18-week-old fetus kick and squirm on the theater size screen, I wondered if he meant she won’t be worth it. Certainly no stranger could tell me the value of my child’s life.

But in my silence, he pressed on. “Trust me. You don’t want to do this. It’ll be too hard. Too expensive. Too complicated. And she probably won’t live anyway.”

There he said it. She. We’d named her Annie the day before but he didn’t know it yet. So what he meant was Annie, growing wrongly in my womb, wouldn’t be worth all the inconvenience.

Thankfully that day we didn’t know all the “inconvenience” that her life would entail but we knew we still wanted her.

I whispered an argument, interrupted by broken sobs, that we were willing to take the chance.

He advised again, “I just don’t think she’s worth it. By Arkansas law you still have time. We can take care of this today and you can try again for a healthy baby that you want.”

He was right. I didn’t want Annie to have only half of a heart. I had never even heard of that, but I was smart enough to know that no one can live on half of a heart.

I was also  determined enough to know that Annie was still the baby we wanted.

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At Annie’s gender reveal party!

That was 4 years ago, next week. Every year on November 18, we celebrate the anniversary of the day we chose life for Annie.

That was the day that I stopped being myself anymore. That was the day I found out that a mother means more than a nighttime comforter, diaper changer, and lullaby hummer. That was the day I turned into a fighter. I realized that day that I would have to defend and protect my child’s life in so many ways beyond being sure her car seat is buckled right.

That is the day that Matt and I committed to each other that together we would give Annie every chance at life that she could get.

That has looked like:

-Refusing another specialist’s recommendation for abortion two short weeks later.

-Leaving our 1-year-old with family to board a med flight to Philadelphia with our 4-day-old bobble head

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4-day-old, no scar Annie. The night before her first surgery when I finally got to hold her!

-Suffering the complete shock that our smiling 8-week-old was in severe heart failure. And again, flying to Philadelphia to live in the hospital and Ronald McDonald House for 31 days.

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-Handing our 3-month-old over for open heart surgery number 2 with only 60% chance of surviving

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Annie pre-op, wondering why I hadn’t fed her for the last 8 hours.

-Celebrating the miracle of healing when her surgeon announced Annie’s normal heart function on her pre-op heart echo and endured a seamless 5-day recovery.

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-Suffering complete shock again when January 2016, her cardiologist announced Annie’s regression into severe heart failure again. Worse than before. Adding to his tearful report: not knowing how much time we had left with our happy girl who was being honored as a survivor.

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-Being denied the third stage surgery she needed because her heart was too sick. Being denied a new heart that she needed because her body was too well.

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-Celebrating life to the fullest for each day we have it with a once in a lifetime Make-A-Wish trip to Disney. What a total dream!

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-Having the doctors’ argument over how sick her heart still is and how severely it continues to fail, end in agreeing to the third stage surgery on August 1, 2017, to complete the Fontan physiology for Annie’s heart.

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-And finally yesterday witnessing another miracle at Annie’s regular cardiology checkup. Annie’s heart that was in severe failure on her post-op discharge echo on August 10, showed normal heart function on yesterday’s echo. Normal!  Her sweet doctor just said, “Wow.”  For Annie, the Fontan physiology has literally lurched her out of severe heart failure into a healthy, thriving girl who’s satting 95!

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So 4 years ago, when that specialist told us Annie would never live, we made the choice to make her life full for as long as it lasts. We had no idea what we were getting into. But we knew that life is always worth it. That love is always worth it, even when it’s terrifying and hard and uncertain.

We said yes to trusting God with a path we never expected that we didn’t know how to walk.  It’s been worth it.

Today she’s dreaming about what she wants to be when she grows up, and I’m finally dreaming that she might grow up! She’s speculating what kind of car she wants as a teenager, and I’m imagining her riding shotgun with Audrey on their way to high school! She’s giggling about funny grandma names that her grandkids might call her someday, and I’m believing that she might actually get to be a Mamie or Mawmaw…or at least the aunt who babysits Audrey’s baby (date night already scheduled by big sister).

Today I’m rejoicing in all the hard days that we never wanted because all along we’ve always wanted Annie.

“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” -Isaiah 42:16

A Surgery Knife

“But, Mommy! How do they get to Annie’s heart?” An inquisitive big sister wanted to know the gory details hidden beneath Annie’s skin-colored patch.

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It had been hours since she stood proudly at Annie’s bedside. Smiling bravely. Seeming unscathed by the lifeless, towel-wrapped view of her sister. Audrey beamed as she meticulously sketched a giraffe, found Annie’s name poster, requested tape, and adhered markered paper love all over the walls of her sick sister’s hospital room.

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Now, back in the dark safety of a hotel room night, she had questions that needed answers. “Momma,” she pressed again and tapped my leg to see if I was listening. “How did Dr. Spray find Annie’s heart to work on it?”

I waited timidly, wondering what the appropriate five-year-old version of open heart surgery was. Before I could answer, she shouted, “SCISSORS?! Momma, was it scissors?”

“No, honey, no. First you need to know that Annie didn’t feel anything. Mommy gave Annie medicine this morning that made her go to sleep before her surgery. She slept soundly through the whole thing.”

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That tidy nonanswer wasn’t enough. “But sleep doesn’t open your heart for surgery,” she yelled.

“You’re right.” I conceded. “While Annie was asleep, Dr. Spray used a special surgery tool to open her chest.”

“SURGERY SCISSORS?!”she begged again.

“Not scissors, Audrey.” I finally caved. “There’s a special surgery tool kind of like a knife that the doctors used so that they could see Annie’s heart inside her chest.”

The answer was razor sharp. It cut Audrey to the core. She gasped, shrieked, and slunk to the ground clutching her own chest. She lay limp, sobbing for at least half an hour, never releasing the grip from over her heart.

I tried consoling her. It was no use. When her red splotchy face finally peeked up from the rough carpet, glaring eyes were glued on me.

“I know, honey. It’s so hard to think–”

She cut me off. “YOU. You LET them do that to Annie. You gave her to THEM! To CUT her!” She was right. And I certainly felt the weight of it all.

The truth that no five-year-old needs to hear is that I did in fact give Annie to them. And even though I had given her medicine that turned her quickly to drooling, snoring, dead weight in my arms, she actually somehow woke up as the comforting hands of a loving mother shifted her over to the cold hands of an invasive stranger. The minute I passed  her to the anesthesiologist, Annie thrashed wildly, kicking and clawing until she knocked the doctor’s glasses to the ground. “Momma! No, Momma!” she squawked, and Matt ushered me into the meeting room with Annie’s surgeon.

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Audrey wasn’t the only one blaming and protesting my counter intuitive act that day. How could a mother do that? It’s a question I’ve had to answer to myself on more than one occasion.

“I let them. Yes. I let them help her heart get better. I know it’s so hard to understand, but what the doctor did in surgery is to help Annie. She’ll be better once it’s healed.” Audrey collapsed into my arms, exhausted from the horror of it all and relieved that she could trust her mother again.

Annie’s carefully cut incision has healed now. So much so that I’ve started the eerie practice of nightly scar massage. Each night, just before slipping into princess pajamas, Annie reclines on Audrey’s bed–Audrey a sure witness to it all.

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I warm coconut oil between my palms and talk myself through the steps. Criss cross. Diagonal. Xs. I talk Annie through the no pain agreement. “This isn’t going to hurt. I promise. And if it does, tell me and I’ll stop.”

A couple nights ago, as I crissed and crossed a long pink line, Annie let a tiny giggle escape. Audrey, on alert, shot familiar glaring eyes up at me. “What’s wrong, Annie?” she asked protectively. I continued, my thumbs pulling ridged skin loose.

Annie burst into a full belly laugh, squirming side to side, bouncing my thumbs with each breath. “Nothing, Auddie. It tickles!!! My line tickles and tickles.”

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Audrey’s glare turned into a confused grin. “But they cut you, Annie. Don’t you remember? With a sharp surgery knife. But Momma was right. You’re all better. You don’t hurt anymore. Now you can laugh again.”

Now we can laugh again. Now we can dance again. Now we can love again. Thanks to this steady handed surgery who sliced Annie’s chest to recraft her broken heart, now we can live again. IMG_1787

The scar that Annie proudly reveals to her K3 classmates, as Audrey reports it, is a mark of victory, a mark of miracle, no longer a mark of pain.

Psalm 86:10- “For you are great and do marvelous deeds. You alone are God.”