The Formation of a Heart, part 2

He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good.

Back when Bart and I were dating in college, we had the privilege of working for and forming a relationship with a local, godly family. This family was quite unlike any other family we had ever known. The more we got to know them, the more we enjoyed them and were inspired by the overflowing love, joy, and light heartedness of their large family’s culture. We developed such a respect and a bond with them that by the time we were engaged to be married, we asked the parents of the clan to do our pre-marital counseling- one of the best investments we ever could have made in our marriage. Among many pertinent issues that they probed us to dive into before marriage, one of significant value was to challenge us on our views on methods of family planning.

The more we learned from them and researched ourselves, the more our hearts shifted away from the accepted cultural norms of family planning and expectations. By the time our wedding rolled around, my answer to questions of how many kids we thought we’d have was always, “Lord willing, 4-6”….which was often met with understandable laughter!

As our story goes, with each child born to us, that number changed. Isaac, our honeymoon baby, was born and then we thought maybe 5 was a good number. Then after a miscarriage came Ellie and we said, hopefully 4 children. Finally, on our 6th wedding anniversary Caleb came with all the fireworks of his July 3rd entrance and with full hands we said we were DONE.

Gradually, our hearts shifted away from those early visions and openness of having a “large” family to raise for God’s glory and toward building our careers and investing in the home of our dreams out on the edge of town. Only in reflecting back do I see how we, oh so slowly, slipped into a lapse of calloused, unsurrendered hearts which we all do from time to time.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757

In ways that only God’s grace can work, He used the trials of 2015- particularly my Grandad’s death and Rachel’s cancer relapse- to jolt us and begin to peel away the layers of worldly callousness that had grown over our once moldable hearts. We began to really think again about what kind of life we were building. Was it one that was founded on the wisdom of the rock solid foundation of God’s kingdom principles or were we investing ourselves too much in the things of this temporal life? I believe it was on the heels of this reflection and repentance that we had an unexpected wave of thoughts come over us.

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:15-21

In light of the “mistiness” of life paraded before us, our appetite to pour our resources into things that won’t last began to dissolve. I didn’t want to spend my life “building bigger barns” and continually redecorating them. We began to see with fresh perspective a desire planted in our hearts to spend our lives investing more deeply in human souls- the only thing that is eternal.

And so that summer, thoughts began to stir in us that maybe we should re-open the conversation about Caleb being our grand finale. To be honest, I selfishly wanted to shut those thoughts down immediately. Afterall, we were done with diapers, naps, tantrums, and strollers. Caleb was 5 and about to start kindergarten. But the thoughts pressed in and with the callouses softening, we finally put our fleece out (Judges 6:36-40) and surrendered our future plans to God.

By God’s grace and the advice from our pre-marital counseling, our previous experiences told us that having more children was only to be a matter of timing. So, with fear and trepidation but also hopeful anticipation, we decided we would put our family size in the hand of God and let the Lord decide if another human soul was to be created. Our “fleece” was also known as a string of fertile days in June and if needed, another in July. I marked those dates on my calendar, sure I would need them for my first doctor’s appointment, and we only told a couple of people about this unexpected detour we were taking. We figured it was now or never!

Much to our confusion, we barrelled into another hot, August school year feeling peace about our surrender to His plans, but wondering what that was all about. School started for our family and with it, the confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant. Admittedly, we were a little bummed. I thought surely we had sensed the nudging of the Lord to open our hearts to more life in the King family, but maybe we were wrong?

As any educator knows, the first few weeks of the school year are super exhausting. I was partly relieved I wasn’t struggling through my usual 1st trimester morning sickness. Needless to say, time moved on and so did the burden to get pregnant. We didn’t have a pretty bow to wrap up that detour- it just kind of hung there, unresolved. It was just this weird sort of surrender we felt He had called us to lean into but never really had clarity beyond that.


Photos from July 2016 :: Our family in South Carolina, Esther’s 100th day in Qingdao SWI

Flash forward 3.5 years to just 2 weeks ago- Esther’s heart cath. As I had said in my previous post, I spent a lot of time and energy meditating on Psalm 139 before, during, and after her procedure. Those Scriptures became so alive to me in a new way as I praised God for the beautiful way He knitted and formed her heart in her mother’s womb. I thanked Him for the way He used something broken, like her single ventricle heart, to lead her to our family. I worshipped Him in light of the knowledge that a little ring, called a pulmonary stenosis, was saving her life and keeping her so healthy. I offered my gratitude that this beautiful toddler calls me Momma and looks to me to meet her needs- what a privilege!

When we got home the next day, as I was journaling and thanking God again for the news that we had received from the cardiologist, I had another weird thought come over me. I began to be curious to know more about the process for how a heart forms in utero and the timeline therein. So I turned my curiosity to google. The nerd in me loves to learn these kinds of things. The Believer in me loves to learn these things in light of the knowledge of the intimate ways God is involved in Creation.

As one who believes that God was sovereign over the design of Esther’s inward parts- particularly her heart in all of its miraculously functioning “abnormalities”- I was especially curious about approximately when her heart started to beat. My heart and my head wanted to know when the unique and beautiful sound of her throbbing heart first broke into this world. It didn’t take long for me to learn that only 21 days after conception, her blood was flowing. Then around 8 weeks, her heart had partitioned into the 3 functioning chambers she has now. It’s truly a miracle!

One weird thing I often do when I learn dates of things or see pictures of things Esther was doing in the orphanage is to go back and look at my old google photos and see what our family was doing on that particular day. It always fascinates me that we lived halfway around the world from her for 2.5 years, unaware of the existence of the other; but the Lord watched both of our lives unfold and brought them together in perfect harmony. When we were first matched and I found out her birthdate, I looked back at past photos. What were we doing that glorious day she was born, you ask? Well, the King Fam was making DubSmash videos of course. This seems so fitting as much as she loves her music!!!

King Family DubSmash Video Fun in Carmi, IL: 4-26-16

The hospital where Esther Bei was born in Qingdao, China: 4-26-16

It goes without saying that as I was following this rabbit trail of investigation over the formation of her heart, I was curious about the dates that her heart would’ve been forming in her mother’s womb…and curious if I could figure out what our lives looked like at that time. So, back to my research. This time I went to a website called “babyMed” and typed in her birthdate, thinking I could easily calculate to figure out the approximate date of 21 days post conception, then 8 weeks, etc.

Esther overlooking the city of her birthplace: Qingdao, China

What I discovered has unveiled an entirely new sense of awestruck wonder about the plans of God. Honestly, I can’t get over it and I don’t want to. When I read the information on the babyMed website, formulated from Esther’s birthdate: April 26, 2016, I suddenly had bells going off in my brain….those dates looked very familiar….but it couldn’t be!!!

Being the weirdo that I am, I still keep a paper and pencil daily planner/calendar for our family life- my Mom gets me a new one for Christmas every year and I love it. Also, being a complete weirdo, I save them ALL. So, it didn’t take 5 seconds for me to hop up, dig out my 2015 planner and find those dates. The last week of July had stars on them- my secret code- our fleece of fertility for another King baby.

Instead of opening my physical womb at the end of July 2015, God opened another woman’s womb all the way across the globe in China. At that time, He began knitting together our Esther Bei. What we didn’t understand was that when he said “no” to us during our surrender, He was planning for us a greater “yes” that we couldn’t have conceived of. He was opening our hearts to raise a baby that would come to us in a beautifully unconventional way- almost 2 years before we said yes to adoption. And just about the same time that baby’s heart was forming in the secret places, we were accepting the disappointing news that I wasn’t pregnant and wondering what that was all about.

“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:27-28

Aren’t His ways just amazing?! He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good. We sag our shoulders or shake our fists at the heavens because we don’t understand the plan. We get angry because we can’t always control the plan and from our perspective nothing good could come; but our God knows what He is orchestrating. His timing is not our timing, but it’s better. No surrender is ever in vain. When we let go of the reins and trust Him with outcomes, even when life doesn’t go like we originally imagined, I think we can trust Him to surprise us with His secret plans. He’s a good, good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to those who trust in Him.

April, 2017: We told the kids about our desire to pursue a path of adoption with a family game night…… meanwhile in China, Esther celebrated her 1st Birthday!

April 2018- Esther celebrated her 2nd Birthday in Qingdao while we celebrated Easter and were anxiously awaiting a match to our “missing piece”

The Formation of a Heart, Part 1

Both the critically abnormal and the wonderfully life saving features of her heart were not accidental. They were knitted together by the Hand of God, in the secret unseen places of her mother’s womb.

Psalm 51:10 has been like a steady fountain of prayer over the past several months of my life.  

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

They are words scratched across a tiny post-it note, in a 7 year old’s print taped to my bathroom mirror.  It was a gift from one precious heart warrior with a scarred chest, days before we flew to China. Words are powerful and effective to build up and tear down.  These words have ministered to me morning by morning. They remind me to pray for a pure and clean heart in my own inward places and then overflow as a prayer of intercession, knocking on the door of heaven that God might lay a path to restore my daughter’s broken heart to one of wholeness and health.  These particular words continually tear down my fears over Esther’s future and build up my faith in the God who creates purity and renews….and so I cling to these words of hope.

As most know, when we were matched with “Bei Bei” back in October, we began our gradual journey of education into the unknown world of cardiology.  As a child with a single ventricle heart, we were immediately told that she had “complex” special needs, but our minds didn’t need to know all the details of those needs just yet.  We just knew she was ours and we were in love at first sight from the few pictures we had and a limited amount of medical information. Bart and I quickly learned that the range of severity and symptoms of children with a single ventricle heart is quite varied, but they all have one thing in common: extensive open heart surgery is necessary for a good quality and potential length of life.

Just 2 weeks after we were matched I sent this text message to my Bible study girls:

“A lot of things are happening in our adoption world today and a lot of helpful, but scary info is being thrown at me about our girl. We are throwing our lives at the feet of Jesus in trusting His complete goodness and sovereignty over every detail of life, plans, and normalcy…..knowing that everything He does is good, even if it seems bad and terrifying. As our eyes open to the severity of her heart needs, even beyond the attachment/orphan needs, we are praying for miraculous answers to prayer in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  We know that God formed her perfectly, fearfully, and wonderfully. & we feel immeasurably blessed that we get the privilege of meeting her global needs of love, care, and family. But these kinds of words & phrasing puts a pit in my stomach. Please just join me in pleading for God’s manifest presence to do wonders among us in her little body!

:: While outcomes have improved, single ventricle defects remain one of the most challenging congenital heart defects to manage….The mortality rate during this time period {between the 2 necessary heart surgeries} is estimated to be 10-15 percent. ::

Since beginning our trail of appointments to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital back on December 31, we have received quite an education on healthy heart function, single ventricle hearts, and the unique function and “abnormalities” of our Esther Bei’s heart. Each trip to the hospital has brought a new experience and opened our world into all the highs and lows of caring and advocating for a child with special needs. From facing medical trauma, to restraining a screaming toddler during blood draws and xrays, to looking into the sympathetic and compassionate eyes of doctors as they attempt to explain the rare and complicated abnormalities hidden inside of her chest. All of these experiences have been opportunities to draw near to Jesus.

This past week, we had another string of appointments for Esther’s heart, culminating in a heart catheterization.  This procedure was intended mostly for the purpose of diagnostics, a final step to understanding all the complexities of her heart anatomy and the pressures therein before they pry open her chest for the big surgery later on.  And so, another learning experience ensued for Bart and me to accept the fact that for Esther’s good, she was going to have to be put to sleep for 3+ hours in the operating room, while they snake a tiny catheter into her groin and up through her veins and arteries to explore the secret places of her physical beating heart…the places that thus far have only been touched or seen by the hand of God.

By God’s grace, I can’t really say that Bart and I were really afraid during this particular string of appointments.  Obviously, it’s never fun to see your baby cry or be afraid, but somehow we have both grown to accept the beauty of this path that He had called us to walk with her, for her, and to be a sort of covering for her in the midst of scenarios she hates.

The truths of Psalm 139 were an anchor for my soul as we stood watch over Esther last Monday and Tuesday.  Specifically, I was clinging to the reminders that He has already searched out and is acquainted with the path we’re on (vs 3), that He hems us in with His hand upon us (vs 3), that even the unknown darkness of the future is as light to Him (vs 12), and that every one of the days of our lives is already written in His book (vs 16).  Therefore, there was no need to be afraid. Our stability and peace is hidden in our ability to keep trusting in Him.

All praise to God, when our time in the waiting room was over, the cardiologist came out to show us the images and explain what he found.  With joy, the team shared with us that given the unique anatomy of her heart, she has unbelievably healthy function and pressures in her heart. Obviously, this explains why she appears to be the picture of health on the outside.

He also commented on one of her multiple diagnosed abnormalities, called a pulmonary stenosis. For the second time, we were able to hear the miraculous explanations of how this tiny little ring, or band, around her pulmonary artery has thus far saved and preserved her life.  It has been made clear to us that if she did not have this pulmonary stenosis squeezing the blood flow from her ventricle to her lungs, she would have died as an infant. Or, best case scenario, they would have had to do emergency surgery to put an artificial band around it, to save her life.  Instead, her Maker put it there as a natural survival mechanism. Overall, she’s defying the odds and doesn’t even know that her body is a functioning real life miracle.

As we waited bedside for Esther to wake up from her induced slumber, my heart continued to meditate on Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16 and worship God for the way He made Esther:

For you created {her} inmost being;
   you knit {her} together in {her} mother’s womb.
I praise you because {she is} fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
{Her} frame was not hidden from you
   When {she} was made in the secret place,
   when {she} was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw {her} unformed body;
   all the days ordained for {her} were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139: 13-16

Both the critically abnormal and the wonderfully life saving features of her heart were not accidental.  They were knitted together by the Hand of God, in the secret unseen places of her mother’s womb. And we believe that it was that wonderfully and uniquely created heart that caused a little baby born in China to find herself on a very windy, bleak, and broken road that led her to becoming Esther Bei, a beloved daughter and sister of the King family.  That broken path has brought exponential and unexpected JOY and healing to her family just as we pray the same over her. Most importantly, as a direct result of that complex congenital heart defect, our sweet and spunky Asian beauty is learning about the saving blood of Jesus. That’s redemption! She already loves to sing and declare His praises all day long:

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus”

Just like other children born with a single ventricle heart, Esther will still have to undergo open heart surgery to re-route the plumbing in her cardiovasular system. The surgery itself comes with many scary risks and threat of further complications later on. However, we can press on with illuminated hope in the trustworthy plans of a God who formed her just as she is. The testimonies of his past faithfulness will continue to inform the ways we can place our trust in His future grace & ward off unnecessary anxieties about what is ahead. He formed her for His own glory and no matter what windy road she has endured or will face in the future, we can continue to put our hope in Christ- who is our steady hope of glory.

As he {Jesus} went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3