Oh, Thao.  That sweet, mischievous little boy.  I’m reading his mom’s book right now, and it’s bringing back so many memories.  Memories of him, memories of their time in the hospital, memories of our time in the hospital.  It’s hard, but it’s good.

Thao was in our kids church class that Sam and I did during another groups’ small group.  We read the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Sam did puppets and riled them up.  I did crafts and calmed them down.  It was filled with 4 & 5 year olds that are now 9 & 10 year olds.  Thao would often come in with a little snack in a bag.  PB sandwiches, maybe?  He’d stand to the side and watch.  He was so observant.  As Tiffany shares in her book, he was different than some of the other kids.  Not bad-different, but old-soul different.  Stubborn.  I felt confused by him and probably frustrated myself more than I needed to in wanting to get him to conform to the way I wanted things to go during kids church.  But he taught me through it.  He taught me that sometimes kids don’t fit in ‘the box’ we create, but it doesn’t mean they need to be fixed.  His parent’s beautiful love revealed this respect for him and his quirky personality, and it taught me.  (I mean, he still got in trouble when he was naughty, and it definitely wasn’t all roses, but being bad is not the same as being different).  I was able to see the beautiful, sweet, loyal boy that he was behind a shy exterior.

Thao taught me these things in his life, and he (and his sweet parents) taught me so much in his sickness and death, too.  Reading through it in Tiffany’s book brought so much flooding back.  Last night, I was telling Sam how different our story would be if we hadn’t watched them walk through their journey.  He gave me an ‘obvious’ look.  “Yeah, of course.  It would be so different.”

We watched our friends as they traveled this road.  We were there for some of the hard moments.  We didn’t understand or relate, but we still learned.

“I was praying during one of my sleepless nights when God so vividly asked me to give him Thao. To place my complete trust, everything in Him. To surrender all. Up until that point, I held on. I refused to let go of Thao. I needed him. Suddenly, I realized how selfish I was. I was holding on so tight. I loved Thao, and I couldn’t see past the now, this Earth. I thought that if God loved me, he would heal Thao. I thought that Thao’s story would be told by Thao for years to come. 

And that night, I realized that was my plan, but it may not be God’s. I was selfishly holding on to Thao because I couldn’t see the bigger picture. I realized that for years, parents had lost children, not because Jesus wasn’t near, but because our world is fallen and sinful. Terrible things happen to children, to good people, to Christ followers. We are told to draw near. To hold fast to His love. To embrace the goodness. To let go of our earthly ideas. His love reaches us where we are and pulls us through. This world is not the end.”

 – Tiffany Nardoni, Still (Chapter 5)

I was there that night. Sleeping on an extra twin bed in the temporary apartment near the hospital. Tiffany woke me up to tell me she was going to go in to the hospital, where Jeff and Thao were. She thanked me for being there to stay with Ava and Liam as they slept. She told me she needed to go tell Thao that it was okay, and to give him over to God. I don’t know what I said. Maybe nothing, maybe something really stupid. I remember thinking how brave she was, what a good mom she was. I remember realizing that I didn’t understand at all what she was going through. I couldn’t even imagine.  God was working right then in huge ways.  In Tiffany, in Jeff, in me, in so many others watching.

3 1/2 years later, Clive was in the same exact room that Thao was in. Room 423. 2 hours from home.  In the same room, with some of the same staff, same machines, same noises.

Clive had been moved up from the NICU after surgery, and he was on the ECMO machine to support his heart and lungs.  My only experience with the PICU and ECMO machine were Thao.  As soon as I heard ECMO, I felt dread.  That’s life support.  You don’t come off of it.  I remember wanting to hear a success story about ECMO, even looking online a little bit, but not finding anything much.  I’m sure the positive stories are there, but it was hard to feel any assurance.  

In that same room, my mama heart had to do the same thing in giving over my precious son to God.  Surrendering my will and trusting his plan.  He was never mine, anyway.  God was there in such a real way.  He gave peace.  He worked in our lives to prepare us, years in advance. Even years before Thao was sick, in moving us to Danville; in having us buy a crazy old broken-down house a block away from the Nardonis; in building this friendship.  He used our friends’ faithfulness as they walked through sickness and loss to teach us, grow us, and shape us.  They aren’t heroes or saints, just as we are not, but we are just sons and daughters following our Father.  It’s not been a journey without pain, but it also has not been a journey without Him.

Their journey and our journey aren’t even our stories, though.  They are His Story that He’s weaving and creating.  We see these tiny dots and pixels in this huge pointillism painting of the world and eternity.  It doesn’t make sense, but little “ah-ha” moments shine through when we can clearly see God’s hand at work.  God needed me there that night to see Him working in my sweet friend’s heart, to show me a glimpse of His true sovereignty and His complete love for all His children.

If you haven’t ordered it yet, please order Tiffany’s book!  I’m only halfway though, but it is such a powerful story of God working. You won’t be disappointed!

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