“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1
When Phil and I were first married twenty-five years ago, if you would have told us we would be parents to seven daughters, we would have told you that would be impossible. And yet step by step, the Lord has led us down a path and called us to “run a race” that we never expected to “run” and now we are parents to seven precious daughters – four with congenital heart defects.
After giving birth to our first two daughters and then traveling half way around the world to bring home our 3rd daughter from China, we thought our family was complete. Thankfully, the Lord had other ideas.
In 2006, we attended a FamilyLife “If You Were Mine” Conference with another couple from our church. Our intent was to map out a plan to begin an adoption ministry for our church and community. The burden of knowing that 143 million orphans waited around the world for a home and family of their own weighed on our hearts. Surprisingly, to us but not to Him, after the 1st day of the conference we were both convicted that we were not supposed to begin the ministry right away, but instead we were supposed to adopt again.
By 2006 the face of the China adoption program had changed significantly, and we felt the wait for a “healthy” child was too long since we were not young parents anymore. After much prayer, we decided we would adopt a minor special needs daughter.
After looking at our agency waiting list, we saw the sweet face of a waiting child with a complete AV Canal Defect. We knew nothing about the heart condition, but after our cardiologist reviewed her file, he thought there was no way she had the defect. Typically children with this condition do not survive and thrive for 16 months with no surgery. We felt they had made an error in her diagnosis and stepped out in faith saying “yes” to her file.
Almost one year later, Sarah MeiQing Horton was placed in our arms. She was a happy, well-adjusted, joyful child that was completely on-target developmentally; however, much to all of our surprise, her diagnosis was correct. Two open-heart surgeries later we were introduced to the world of cardiac defects, cardiologists, and cardio-thoracic surgeons.
We look back and smile, because the Lord used Sarah Mei’s relatively simple heart defect to prepare us to adopt our next daughter in 2010, Isabelle Xianghe Horton, who had one of the most complicated heart defects possible, hypoplastic left heart syndrome along with many other heart anomalies. She was on a “not suitable for treatment” list in China. Her situation was so severe; it was thought she would not survive a surgery. When they put her in my arms in China her oxygen saturations levels were dipping into the 50’s (normal is 98-100), and I truly knew she would only survive the plane ride home by God’s grace. Now a Glen and Fontan open-heart surgery later, she is stable and full of life.
In 2011, the Lord called us back to China and we came home with Lily Rose Jinli Horton, almost 4 at the time of her adoption, with Double Outlet Right Ventricle. She also needed the Fontan open-heart surgery upon joining our family.
And in 2012, the Lord nudged our hearts once again to go back. Lord-willing, on March 1st of this year, we’ll be traveling to pick up Savannah Faith Yuandian Horton who has Transposition of the Great Arteries. She will also need one or more open-heart surgeries to repair her heart condition.
Living with three (soon to be four daughters) with congenital heart defects has taught us so much about life, ourselves and our dependence upon the Lord. Our girls are not guaranteed a long life but we are reminded none of us are guaranteed that. Each of our girls reminds us to enjoy every day and to count it as a gift.
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
He is the author of our family story! Who else would give us seven daughters? What blessings we would have missed if we would have stopped when we thought we were done. What blessings we would have missed if we would have taken the “healthy” path of adoption.
Living this life reminds us daily that we are not equipped to handle these needs, but He is. We are thankful He has called us to run “this race” of living with daughters with congenital heart defects. It teaches us to lean on Him daily and to live each day to the fullest.
“every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” James 1:17