I find myself ruminating on the stories of Christmas, of the memories my children are making and how I will tell the stories of our life each year. This year, as I'm experiencing Christmas with our family, I find myself thinking of another family -- my brother's friends, Jamie and Daniel, who lost their son in a tragic accident a couple weeks ago. This morning in church the connection became clear. I'm thankful for this space where my mind and heart try to make meaning of my thoughts, observations and experiences.
Since we travel for Christmas, the King family always does Christmas, just the four of us, a little early. We kicked off our Christmas week with the experience of a carriage ride in Fredericksburg.
We came home to a pot of chili and the chance to have our family Christmas of gift exchange, and this year, I noticed with poignance how both Molly and Anna Cate were so excited to give gifts they had chosen for us at their school's Holiday shop and share gifts for each other they purchased with our help.
We have tried to focus on gifting experiences this year -- Molly chose to treat Anna Cate to an experience of the movies and Anna Cate chose to treat Molly to an experience of bowling.
Both the girls were gleeful in their opportunities to give to each other, and to us, gifts they picked out. As I watched their pure joy in giving gifts, I thought how this is the story of this year's Christmas: they are discovering the joy of giving. This is a big deal.
Molly gave me a beautiful necklace with a dragonfly on it, which I see as a representation of my beloved yoga studio (Dragonfly). Yoga has helped me in indescribable ways deal with the fears and sadness I've experienced with uncertainty surrounding BJ's health.
Anna Cate gave me bath salts and soap, and I appreciate her noticing how I treasure relaxing. I think about the volunteers it takes to create experiences for my children to pick out gifts with gratitude.
As our Christmas has led us to Tennessee, we have continued to experience the joy of family Christmas together and most importantly, the gift-giving experiences. I've also kept in the back of my mind and on the front of my heart, the Heard family, who are experiencing Christmas in the face of such loss; Douglas and Becki told me more of their story, so I sought the story out (on social and news media).
I'm reminded of just how powerful the act of giving can be. Below is Jamie (and Daniel's) story of how giving has provided comfort in the darkest of moments. No scene around a Christmas tree of unwrapping gifts can speak more clearly to the power of giving than this. Below is a post detailing Jamie's story of her son and the comfort she has felt in giving in their unspeakable moment of grief.
Jamie Heard with Daniel Heard and 2 others.
It’s #willywednesday, which means I’d normally be searching through the images on my phone to find just the right picture of William to post on Instagram. So it is with tears in my eyes that I share this part of Willy’s story with you today.
When I first arrived at Williamson Medical Center and saw William, he had no pulse. Daniel and I held each other and cried as the doctors came and told us that they would give him one more round of medicine, their 11th attempt, to try and get his heart working. Within moments, his heart had begun to beat again.
William was then taken to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital where we spent the next three days. He never showed any sign of brain activity and as hard as it was, we knew early on that our little boy was in the arms of Jesus. I prayed for him to “go home” as soon as I saw him there because I didn’t want him to suffer at all. It was painful to see his perfect looking body lying there in bed and know he wasn’t ever going to wake up.
We later realized just why his heart came back to life. We spent the next few days holding William’s hand and running our fingers through his perfect, sandy blond hair. Friends and family came from all parts of the world to say goodbye to our sweet boy. We wouldn’t trade those two days for anything and we are so grateful for that time with his precious little body.
After sitting in a meeting with the “what’s next” guy at the hospital, we realized another reason why William’s heart started beating again. He presented us with the opportunity for William to become an organ donor and we immediately felt led to do so. The thought of our son being able to help someone else have a new chance at life gave us a feeling of hope that something good was going to come out of this tragic situation. We began praying that God would allow William’s organs to benefit someone in need of help.
We were thrilled to hear that his heart had been matched and an OR time was set for Monday morning. It meant so much to me that his sweet little heart was going to keep beating. Daniel and I were able to spend several hours with William that morning snuggling and loving on him. We watched as the medical team performed some last tests on William’s heart to make sure it was healthy. It was perfect. We didn’t want to let go of our boy that morning but we prayed that he would be able to give life to another child. Little did we know that hundreds of strangers were praying for our family as a little girl in Chicago was desperately waiting for a new heart.
The next day, through a friend of a friend, we learned about sweet Ava Martin, a one- year-old who had been in the hospital for 111 days awaiting a heart transplant. We wondered if she could be the recipient that we had prayed for. We found a news story online from the night before that detailed her heart transplant journey. Her parents, Brian and Amie Martin, were interviewed and the joy on their faces was priceless. We began to piece together a timeline. The same day that William’s heart was removed from him, Ava received a new healthy heart. The couple was interviewed and explained how they were praying for a family that in their darkest hour chose life and that they would honor that life everyday. We felt a joy after watching that video that I didn’t think it would be possible to feel for a long time. A true answered prayer.
My girlfriends and I began to search Facebook for more information about Ava. We researched blood types that were compatible in a pediatric heart transplant. One by one, the pieces of the puzzle came together. I was hesitant to believe that we could have identified William’s heart recipient so quickly, but something told me that Ava was our match. After finding Ava’s mom on Facebook, I decided to send her a personal message. I could tell from the video what a kind and compassionate believer she was and I just had to reach out to her.
Amie got right back to me and we spent the next few hours sharing our stories with each other. We sent pictures and videos of our kids. Before long, we both knew that little William’s heart was now beating strong in sweet Ava’s body. That same heart that Daniel and I prayed over before he went to surgery was the same heart that Amie and Brian said was, “The most beautiful sound in the world. Your gift of life, your son’s gift of life.” It was an answered prayer for both of us. I was so thankful for such a positive distraction amidst our incomprehensible pain. God is so good.
This past week we have seen Ava make tremendous progress. Leading up to the transplant, she had been on a ventilator for about two months. She is now breathing on her own. Her color has returned and her parents tell us that her hands are warm to the touch. They are now discussing discharging Ava from the hospital in the near future. Praise God!
For the many people that have been praying that Daniel and I would feel comfort and peace, please know that we have felt God wrap his arms around our family. In the midst of overwhelming sadness we are comforted by the fact that sweet Ava lives because of William’s strong heart. Yet, our hope is not in Ava, but in a God that meets our every need. Even in the most difficult circumstances, we serve a God that is faithful and grants us peace, a peace that can ONLY be found in Him.
When I read of how giving has provided this dear family peace, comfort and the loving embrace of God in such darkness, I am reminded of the meaning of Christmas. It seems this joy for giving, made manifest in the strength of the Holy spirit and the grace and beauty of a mother and father who gave in the face of loss, reveals the story of Christmas for the family of mankind.
"For it is in giving that we receive" - Saint Francis of Assisi