"Our Little Trooper"

"Our Little Trooper"
"Let me live, that I may praise you!" Psalm 119:175

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"God is in the details": Everything happens for a reason... even in a cemetery...part 2

This story will likely blow your minds...I know it did our family, and Olivia's family.

You probably saw me post about our friends young daughter, Olivia, who passed away last month, on May 19th, 2017 at just 6 years old from a DIPG brain tumor.  I shared how we had a photo of Rowan and Olivia, fist-bumping 3 years prior to their deaths, before he was even considered for transplant, before she was even diagnosed. 

There is so much more to their story though.

"God works in mysterious ways"..."God's ways are perfect"...we have all heard those statements time and again.  Well our two families, are living proof, in many ways.  Here is one story that exemplifies it the most...and again, it brings us to a cemetery...

I'm sure you all remember Rowan's beautiful "Iron Man" casket, designed and created by the beautifully talented soul, Trey Ganem of Trey Ganem Designs. 

Well, when Olivia passed away, so soon after Rowan (just 5 months later), I knew immediately that I wanted to have Trey do her casket.  Brian agreed 100%!  Ian and I went to Olivia's home, the evening of the morning that she passed, and sat down with her Mom, Dad, brother and sister.  We told them that we wanted to gift her casket to them, and asked them about all the special details they would like included.  Ian and I took notes of the scriptures her parents had rested on, her favorite colors, all of their favorite family photos, her favorite stuffed animal "Pippy Lippie", etc.  We conveyed those ideas to Trey the next day, and what he came up with was just beautiful.  It was the perfect "Olivia" piece of art!  It was pink and purple, and even had some of her own artwork on it, and the photo of Rowan and her, meeting 3 years before...

Over the next 2 weeks, I tried to be there for her family as much as possible, as they planned her funeral and burial.  It was so soon, too close to when I made Rowan's final plans, but God gave me the strength.  Just as Lorraine had helped me with Rowan's (even though she had buried her own daughter as well), I tried to be there for these dear friends too.  I obviously could not be there for it all... but God still kept our lives, our stories, our faith, intertwined. 

Here is where it gets good...

The day of the Marrow Ambassador Golf Tournament, which was held in Rowan's memory, to benefit Gencure/Be the Match, Olivia's parents went out on their own and visited 4 different cemeteries.  They just drove through, or walked around them, trying to get a feel for where they would like to have her body laid to rest.  I apologized for not being able to join them, since I was at the golf tournament, but they understood and just asked me to come by that evening or the next day to talk about the different options.  I went the next morning, and Olivia's mom and I sat in the front room of their house as she explained the 4 different cemeteries they had visited.  She couldn't remember the name of each of them, but she described what she liked the most about them.  One that she described, sounded beautiful and peaceful, like it may have been one she liked the most.  At that moment, Olivia's Daddy came out from the back room, from making phone calls, and said "Well, the first and only one to call back was Hill Country Memorial Gardens, so it looks like we will go with that one."  Vivian, said "That's it, that's the one I was talking about, out in the hill country".  I smiled from ear to ear.  See, Charles had been at Rowan's funeral, but they had not been able to be at his burial.  They did not realize that they had been led to choose the exact cemetery that Rowan had just been laid to rest at.  I was in awe.

But that's not all...

They went to meet with the owner of the cemetery a couple of days later, to go over the details and to choose her plot.  The day and time had changed because the owner had a personal matter to tend to, so again, I was not with them when they went.  While they were there, they sent me a photo of Charles, in the location they were choosing to bury their sweet Olivia.  My breath was taken away immediately as I looked at the photo on my phone...my knees almost gave out. 

As I mentioned earlier, they originally did not know which cemetery Rowan was buried at, and they certainly did not know the exact spot.  Well, Charles was standing about 10 feet from Rowan's grave in the photo.  They chose a plot for Olivia that was one row away from Rowan's plot.  In the entire cemetery, they chose that specific spot...or should I say God did.  I cannot explain the feeling of peace that gave both of our families.  Our babies, yes our babies...they were 10 and 6, but they are the youngest members of our families, so they are our babies...would be laid to rest a mere 10 feet apart from each other.  I get chills every time I think about it.

Attending her burial was so difficult, but so important to me.  I took Rowan flowers first (pink and orange-pink for Olivia, orange for Rowan), before heading to the covered pavilion to where Olivia's casket was. 

Rowan's grave is on the left, with the orange and pink flowers laying on the ground, Olivia's plot is where the tent and green tarp lay, in preparation to lower her casket that day.  The proximity again, took my breath away.

Even writing that sounds crazy.  You shouldn't have to bury your child, and then attend another service just a few months later, where your friends bury their child too, let alone just a few feet away.  But as difficult as it was (is)... I have to remember, "God's ways are perfect".  This whole story has been God directed.

I have visited Rowan's grave weekly since he passed.  I sit and talk to him, I journal, I listen to the sounds of nature around me, I feel the breeze, and yes sometimes I lay down and weep... for a long, long time.  But now, I visit them both...actually all 3 of them (Rowan, Justin and Olivia are all 3 laid to rest there now).

If you ever doubt that God is in the details...look at these photos, of these children's fresh graves...

Rowan's is in the foreground, Olivia's in the top right of the photo.

In this one, Rowan's is on the left, Olivia's is on the right.

Brian and Charles have known each other for many years.  Rowan and Olivia met 3 years before their deaths.  Our families have shared meals, and many prayers over these children.  I sat and held Olivia's hand every Wednesday for weeks, the final time being less than 48 hours before she passed.  Olivia's family has had the picture of Rowan and Olivia on their living room wall for over a year...and it is still there.  And now, because of God's divine intervention, their tiny bodies are buried one row apart in a small cemetery in the Texas hill country, even though we both live in two different cities nearly 30 miles apart.


Please don't misinterpret this post, or my placing such importance on where Rowan and Olivia's Earthly bodies now lay.  Both of our families have the blessed assurance that our babies are running around Heaven together, healthy, whole and new...with no disease, no sickness, no pain.  But, their cemetery plots remind us daily, that God is in all of the details.  He puts people in your life for a reason, even when you would throw that friendship away in a heartbeat to have your child back (sorry Charles and Vivian, but I know you agree)...we have to trust that God has a purpose.  In the meantime, we lean on each other, pray for each other, stand in the gap for each other's families, laugh and cry together, visit our babies' graves, share our grief, remember their life messages, and wait for the glorious day that we are reunited with our sweet angels.

And though we did not intend 3 years ago, for this verse to mean what it does today, we still believe...that Rowan and Olivia are healed, truly, truly, healed!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Everything happens for a reason...even in a cemetery...part 1

A few Fridays ago, after the cereal drive presentation in San Antonio, Ian and I had planned to go take flowers out to Rowan's grave in the Hill Country, like I do every Friday.  It should have only taken us about an hour to stop at HEB for flowers and get out to the cemetery.  However, mishap after mishap (or so that's what we thought they were) kept happening, and after about 3 hours...we never even made it inside the cemetery grounds, instead we turned around and went home.  Let me explain...

Nearly half way there, I decided to exit off of FM 3009 to buy the flowers at the HEB there instead of the one on TX-46.  As I started to exit, we immediately noticed that a wrong way driver was coming up the ramp, towards us and the cars in front of us.  I pulled over to the side and we saw the car crash into multiple other vehicles that were exiting up ahead of us.  Ian and I could not believe how quickly multiple Schertz PD, fire trucks and EMS arrived on the scene.  First responders jumped into action so quickly, tending to the drivers and passengers of the multiple cars involved.  There was obviously no exiting at that point, and traffic backed up for quite a bit.  So after the accident was cleared, we decided to keep traveling on I35 all the way to New Braunfels, and to go to the HEB on TX-46 for the flowers instead.

When we finally made it to that HEB, I clipped my car keys on the shopping cart, because I didn't have a purse with me.  Ian and I picked up a couple things, and chose the flowers we wanted to leave Rowan, and headed to the check out.  As soon as we got to the cashier, I told Ian, "Here, go ahead and put the cart back".  It wasn't until we had fully checked out and started walking back to the car that I realized I didn't have my keys! I told Ian to go grab them from the front where he returned our cart, but he said, "Mom, I handed the cart to someone who was walking in, it's in the store somewhere".  I felt so stupid.  Ian went looking all through the grocery, up and down the aisles, searching for someone with a cart with my keys on it.  I went up to the front and tried to find a manager who would make an announcement about my keys.  We were there for 45 minutes or more, until Ian finally spotted the man who had the cart with my keys hooked on them.  We laughed with relief, and finally headed to the car to continue out to the cemetery.

After the final 10-15 minutes of the drive to the cemetery, we neared the entrance from the highway, and we realized that they were in the middle of a HUGE memorial service for someone else.  There were cars overflowing the cemetery parking, and lining the sides of the highway.  We could have still parked and walked in to visit Rowan's grave, but Rowan's spot is so close to the pavilion, that I did not want interrupt a burial or their family's private service.  So, Ian and I looked at each other and I said, "I don't know why, but we we're just not meant to come out here today. Sorry.  Is it ok if we just go home now?"  He agreed, and we did.

The next morning, Saturday morning, I woke up early and drove out to the cemetery myself.  I didn't want to wake Ian up so early, especially after the crazy time we had trying to get out there the afternoon before, so I went alone.  It was so cool and peaceful in the morning, much different than my typical afternoon visits.  I really enjoyed my time there that morning.  I was about to pack up and leave when my sister texted me a link to a song, Ed Sheeran's "Supermarket Flowers".  I sat on my blanket, listening to the video, and started bawling.  I was heading out to Ohio to bury my Mom in a matter of days, and the song is about losing your Mother...so you can imagine.

All of the sudden, someone grabbed me from behind and hugged me.  I was so startled! Apparently, because I was crying and listening to the song, I had not heard them approach me.  It was two people actually.  I had not heard my dear friend Juan say "hey, beautiful" as he reached out to hug and console me.  I had not noticed his beautiful, very pregnant wife, Carissa walking up alongside him.  As my eyes finally cleared from the tears, I was able to make them out...and I burst into happy tears instead of mournful ones.  We hugged tightly, and I apologized for almost punching Juan, as they apologized for scaring me.  It didn't take long before it all came together and started to make sense.

I finally knew the reason why Ian and I had never made it to the cemetery the night before.  If we had, I would not have gone the next morning.  If I had not, I would not have been there when our dear friends, Juan and Carissa, just happened to be stopping by to visit Rowan's grave themselves that morning.  I learned that they had visited his grave on other occasions too (which I did not know), and that Carissa's daughter, Isabella, sometimes played with the little army man on Rowan's grave when she joined her Mommy there, which touched my heart so deeply.  I had not seen them since they joined us in our home the night of Rowan's memorial service and burial, so I was so overwhelmed to see them there on this morning. 

Now, it all made sense.  Everything happens for a reason...

even in a cemetery...

there is "Hope"...

Juan and Carissa stayed with me quite a while that Saturday morning, in the cemetery, hugging me... letting me cry, crying with me... letting me laugh, laughing with me... sharing details with me about their own upcoming life changing event, the birth of their first child. 

Talking about births and deaths, inside a cemetery, next to a child's grave (especially your own child's), with a beautiful, glowing pregnant Momma...I can't even begin to explain how surreally special that moment was...it was a God moment, undoubtedly.  Beauty and pain, became one in the same... that is the only way I can describe it.

I have been so overwhelmed with life lately, that I have barely blogged even half of the things that I have wanted to for weeks... this blog post is one of the ones that has been waiting to be written.  Ironically (or not), tonight is the first night I have had time to finish this post.  I started it 18 days ago!  However, there is a perfect explanation for why I finally had time to finish it tonight...

Congratulations to Juan and Carissa Galvis, on the birth of your precious, beautiful, "fearfully and wonderfully made" daughter, Alejandra Sofia, this week. 

Isabella is going to be a terrific big sister to Alejandra! 

We love your happy, growing family with all of our hearts! 

Cannot wait to get to hold that precious baby girl of yours!

And thank you for loving and continuing to remember our precious baby boy, Rowan, all these days... we cannot wait to love on Alejandra, with the same beautiful hearts that you have shown us.

She is absolutely gorgeous!  Like her Momma...

And silly, like her Daddy, already...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Art with Charlotte...therapy for me...

Rowan's sweet friend Charlotte brought him so many smiles, giggles and belly laughs when he was with her.  Whether they were having a picnic at Landa Park, visiting the zoo, putting on disguises at the Doseum, making animals at Build-a-bear and recording their voices inside them, or even if they were playing Life or doing art together in the hospital play room...they were both always smiling from ear to ear when they were together.  And she has the best smile ever!  Rowan even told me once that he thought her name meant "beautiful smile". 

I've missed that so much since Rowan passed away.  Yesterday, I got to go spend some time with her again by myself though.  At first, I was a little afraid it would be too hard...but it wasn't, not at all.  Just being with her brought me so much joy, and reminded me of so many happy times I spent watching the two of them together.  And Charlotte and I never stopped smiling, and shared many belly laughs of our own yesterday.  I'm sure Rowan was there with us, smiling from ear to ear himself too.

Charlotte loves loves loves arts and crafts! So I brought a water color pencil painting set, so we could do it together.  She was excited to try it out, so we got started on it pretty quickly.  She knows I love to take pictures, so she kept telling me, "Ok, take another picture of it like this", "we're almost done, take another picture", "ok here is the final masterpiece", etc.  I of course obliged, and I got these wonderful pictures of our day.  I will cherish them as I do all the photos I have of her and Rowan together.

The first step was coloring in the peacock with the water color pencils...and she did a great job...

Next, she used a wet paintbrush to turn the colored pencil into water color paint...

It turned out so beautifully vibrant.

Charlotte's sense of humor is so much like Rowan's.  She cracked me up when she asked me to take this following picture...

I showed her the photo and asked her what that silly face was, she said "It's my mean Italian man face, and that's me holding a pizza". 

Then she said "Ok, now you can take a regular picture."

Charlotte didn't want me to leave (and I didn't want to go), but I had an appointment I needed to get to.  I promised her I would bring back a different kind of art project soon, and we would have some more fun.  She gave me a big hug, and then her family gave me a wonderful surprise. 

They brought me this out...

Charlotte's older sister had drawn this portrait of Rowan and Charlotte.  It was from the last day they ever saw each other...just days before he left for Seattle.  She is so talented.  It is so beautiful. 

I cry tears of joy looking at it because it reminds me of such a fun day...such a happy time.

Even though Charlotte and Rowan can't have their playdates on Earth any longer, I thank God for how many they did share together over the past couple years, and that I witnessed and photographed them all.  And I thank Charlotte's family, for allowing me to remain in their lives, and for letting me spend my own time with her, even without Rowan.  It was more healing for me than they can imagine.  It was Art Therapy for my soul, and I can't wait to come back and do it again.

*Please continue to pray for Charlotte and she continues treatment for leukemia.  She relapsed after Rowan passed away, and is fighting for the second time.  She is doing well, but has a long course of treatment to finally rid her body of this disease. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rowan Windham Memorial Cereal Drive... fighting hunger, feeding Hope, serving humanity, honoring God, making the good...

Today the 2017 Rowan Windham Memorial Cereal Drive concluded at Methodist Children's Hospital in San Antonio... and it was a true honor to be a part of this amazing event. 

Walking in, Ian and I were emotional, but joyful.  There were blue t-shirts everywhere, bearing Rowan's name and the logos of this wonderful hospital system that cared for him for ten years of his life, as well as that of the SA Food Bank, whom he helped collect thousands of servings of cereal over the past 3 years.

A huge truck from the food bank sat empty outside, waiting to be filled with this years donations...

Inside, I saw this goal board, and I burst into tears...

I have never seen so much cereal in one place in my life...not even at the grocery store...

The collection boxes were so fun and creative!  Everyone did a great job.

I was able to visit with so many hospital staff members, get healing hugs from them, laugh with them and cry with them...just as I have for the past ten years...

Michael Guerra (CDO SA Food Bank), myself, and Robert Lenza (CEO Methodist Children's Hospital).  I am not sure I have met two more compassionate, Godly, hardworking businessmen.  Thank you for your love for my son, and your commitment to the entire community.  I am blessed to know you, proud to be a part of this event with you, and I look forward to all of our future endeavors!

The hospital asked me to speak, and as I've said before, I am a much better writer than I am speaker.  However, I tried to convey to them all, how much they have meant to Rowan and our family over the years...how they were his extended family, and how proud he must be to be honored this way...to be remembered for being a giver, to have inspired them to give back even more than they already do, and that I knew he was looking down, proud of everyone for "making the good".

Michael Guerra from the SA Food Bank spoke about how Rowan impacted his life, and how he shares his story often.  He called Ian and I up to receive a framed poster that the staff at the SA Food Bank had all signed, along with a note from him.  It was so special.

They had warned me ahead of time that they would also be doing a video presentation, sharing a letter from one of Rowan's long-term PICU nurses, along with photos of Rowan over the past ten years there.  It was the most beautiful dedication, not just to Rowan, but I felt it also showed the life they were able to help us give him in these ten (short) years, even though 1/3 of it was spent inside hospital walls.  He was smiling in every picture, whether he had tubes, needles, lines, or oxygen attached to his little body...those things were outshined by the smile, the smile that so many of the staff at Methodist Children's Hospital helped put on his face, so many times.  It was beautiful, and I was so deeply touched (and a blubbering mess:).  Thank you Trudy for the letter.  Thank you to Cheri and all who worked on the video and presentation.  I don't think there was a dry eye in the room, but I know that every heart was full... full of loving memories of our sweet Rowan.


Now, back to that goal board... 

Last year, the drive collected over 70,000 servings of cereal for the SA Food Bank, to help fill the gap of Summer hunger, for children who depend on breakfast at school during the school year.  This year the goal was 100,000 servings.  They blew that goal out of the water!

120,136 servings of cereal !

Thank you to every single person who helped...whether you donated 1 box or 20+ boxes! 

Thank you to Copa Wine Bar, Keller Williams City View, Woodlawn Theatre, GenCure/South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, Wells Fargo and every friend who dropped boxes off at one of those locations, mailed or sent me donations for cereal via paypal, etc.  We personally had donations come in not just from Texas, but all the way from Ohio to Seattle!!!  Ian and I took 2 van loads full of cereal to the hospital in the past 3 days.  Rowan's personal total was 6241 servings this year... which is nearly 1000 more than he brought in last year.  I know he is so excited about that.

Just look at all of this cereal being taken out and loaded into the truck this afternoon...

None of this could have happened without these beautiful people from Methodist Hospital, Methodist Children's Hospital, and the SA Food Bank.  You all help our children on a daily basis, and you still find ways to give back even more to children out in the community, with events like this one. 

God bless you all, for renaming the drive after our son, and for "making the good"... 

in memory of Rowan...

for countless others!

Rowan Windham Memorial Cereal Drive... (Methodist Children's Hospital, Methodist Hospital, SA Food Bank)... fighting hunger, feeding Hope, serving humanity, honoring God, making the good...