Wednesday January 16, 2008

We are crushed today.  Last night Madeline's pupils failed to react to light, so an emergency CT scan was ordered.  The image revealed that Maddie's precious little brain had hemorrhaged and was severely swollen.  We were hoping and praying for good news, but the opposite came.  Maddie was pronounced brain dead last night just past midnight.  We said goodbye and took her off of all life support and she died peacefully in our arms at 10:15 this morning. We are stunned and speechless.  Our hearts are broken, and we are so very sorry to have to announce this news to all of you faithful and beautiful people.  Today the King of Kings welcomed our princess home.  The worst day of our lives was the best day of hers.

We are on the way home right now to let Anna & Sam down.  They love their baby sister more than words can express, so this will be a hard one.  Please pray for peace for our family in the weeks ahead.  Leaving the hospital today was like leaving our best friends.  Every day for six months, the staff was our family, and then in one day it was all gone.  There is joy somewhere in all of this, but I cannot see it yet.  I am praying for that clarity.

Thursday January 17, 2008

Our home church was planning a blood drive in Madeline's honor this Saturday.  Now it will be in Madeline's memory.  We decided to combine the blood drive with a memorial.  This is intended to be a celebration of Maddie's life, and will take the place of a traditional funeral home viewing.  Maddie will not be there.  The actual funeral and burial will be this Monday afternoon, with a shorter reception to follow.

Saturday, January 19th
Cornerstone Alliance Church
15350 Cox Rd NW
Poulsbo, WA 98370

9:00 am - 3:00 pm 

Monday, January 21st
Christ Memorial Church
18901 8th Ave. NE
Poulsbo, WA 98370
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm  Funeral service
2:15 pm - 2:45 pm  Burial
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm  Reception

Friday January 18, 2008

Madeline and many other children born in this country are blessed to have life-saving medical technologies available to them.  To be given options for treatment is something that our family has taken for granted and come to expect.  However, this is not the case for all children, especially those born in impoverished countries.  Samaritan's Purse ministries provides assistance to hurting people all over the world in the name of Jesus Christ.  They have a Children's Heart Project that, ". . . identifies children with life-threatening heart disease in countries that lack technology and training, and matches them with North American hospitals and surgeons that donate their time and services."

We are requesting that donations be made to this charity in lieu of flowers.

Samaritan's Purse
P O Box 3000
Boone, NC 28607
If donation is made by check or phone, note it is in memory of Madeline Lester and for the Children's Heart Project.

Sunday January 20, 2008

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens;
a time to be born and a time to die...
a time to weep and a time to laugh...
a time to mourn and a time to dance...
a time to be silent and a time to speak..." Ecc. 3:1-8

Cindy writes:

How interesting this verse. All of the things in it that Dave and I and our family are doing right now are just the opposite of what Madeline is doing. We are crying, weeping, mourning, but she has been born anew and is now finally dancing, laughing and speaking her little heart out! (Oh how that child could speak!!- shhhh! Was not a concept she understood). It is true though, our hearts have quite the Maddie shaped hole carved out of them right now and it hurts. It is just too painful. However, it does not diminish our hope and we praise God that this all is not truly over, it is merely a time out. It is something like this that helps to keep us from clinging to this old world too much. It is something like this that helps us to long for heaven, and that is good. I do believe that's how it's supposed to be.

The visitation went very well and I am delighted to say that there were over 72 pints of blood donated yesterday (probably just a drop in the bucket to all that Mad's had consumed in the last 6 months, but it's a start). You can still donate in her name and honor at any blood bank - we think it is such a wonderful act of love. I can't tell you how it blessed us to see so many people come out to give of their selves that way. It probably would have been much much higher but they just ran out of beds, time and volunteers. Wow. I couldn't imagine doing a "visitation" any other way. Maddie was not your average kid, and therefore no average service will do.

There were a whole lot of people that came out. It was mind blowing the love and support that was poured out upon us. We had people come from Spokane and Puyallup, (not to mention our families from Kentucky and Tennessee), the chaplain from Children's came, as did some of our nurses and our favorite Children's family and even one of Maddie's doctors appeared (a little bit late, so we took him home for dinner)! It was amazing. And most of all, we made it through. I'm finding the verse, "as your days are, so shall your strength be.", to be true to word. These are the hardest, saddest days of our lives. My heart is groaning within me, and yet, the sun came up again today. Glory be to God. Dave and I will both be writing some thoughts later in the week about all of this. But until then, please just know how much we've appreciated all of your words, all of your prayers and all of your love. You have cocooned us with it, and we can tell.

Tuesday January 22, 2008

When I rose yesterday morning, the first thing I did was pray that the day would pass quickly, convinced that it would be one of the hardest, saddest days for our family. All week I envisioned my legs buckling at the sight of Maddie’s casket. I imagined falling on my face and sobbing at the cemetery. I thought about Anna and Sam and how they would be affected by the overwhelming gloom of the day. But you know, none of those things happened. There were occasional quiet tears and a few runny noses, but somehow peace prevailed. I looked over at Cindy a number of times and asked, “Are you okay?” and she looked back at me with the same curious disbelief and said, “Yeah, I am.” I could not understand why we were not overcome with the grief I was expecting. My suspicion was that all of you ever-faithful prayer warriors were still lifting our family up (a fact that was confirmed by the flood of emails and guest book entries). I failed to take the advice in Philippians 4 that says, “Do not be anxious about anything . . .” but the next familiar verse that says ‘God will provide a peace that transcends all understanding’ showed up anyway. I’ve said it. I’ve read it. Now we have experienced it. Madeline endured long-suffering and managed to wear a smile through most of it. How could we possibly do less? In the end, the day went by too fast.

Attendance was completely overwhelming, which blessed us tremendously, but also left us wishing we had had more time. I can think of a dozen people right off the top of my head who caught my eye, but were never able to make contact. There were so many familiar faces from our families at Christ Memorial, New Life and Cornerstone Churches. Then there were numerous families we had never met before, who learned of Maddie through friends of friends, and had been praying for her and following her story. Some of them traveled a considerable distance to say hello and goodbye. Finally, there was the hospital staff. We knew Becky and Maree were coming, because they were in the program and we figured that a few others might make it as well, but we had no idea that half the team would show up! Just about every department and discipline was represented, with doctors, nurses, specialists, therapists, etc. It felt like we were on rounds for the last time. You cannot imagine how much it meant to all of us to see you there. (Actually it kind of ticked me off, because I was holding it together until you showed up!) I know there were many more who wanted to come, but couldn’t. You were in our thoughts as well. Maddie loved you all.

We were overrun by people telling us it was the most beautiful and uplifting and hopeful funeral they had ever seen. We agree. We are so grateful to everyone who shared our Madeline and contributed to make it a perfect day. The message was perfect. The music was perfect. The weather was perfect. The walk from the church to the cemetery and up to the hilltop was perfect. The reception was perfect. And the food . . . did I mention the food? No one is going hungry in our house, thanks to the never-ending river of food that is flowing through our front door. If eating is supposed to ease pain and sorrow, then I am the happiest guy on earth! Can we just say thanks to everyone for everything? You are in our hearts and on our minds.

When the curtain came down and the crowd dispersed, Cindy and I had a chance to walk back up the hill and share some quiet time alone and consider the day. The sun was just setting over the Olympic mountains and Liberty bay below was still. It was hard to look at the ground and imagine her buried there, having just had her in our arms last week. We tell the kids that that is just an empty shell, but I still long for it. – just human I guess. I have lump in my throat that I can’t quite clear and my voice cracks if I travel too far down memory lane. She lived with grace, but I never would have thought a three year old could die with grace. Then again, Madeline did a lot of things that surprised us.

We’re not sure what the future of her legacy will be. Some folks have mentioned keeping the web page alive, but Maddie was pretty much the cornerstone of that effort. We believe that God used Maddie for His own glory. He spared her by taking her out of this place, but I cannot believe that the He would have wanted the ministry to cease. It has always been bigger than us and we really want to keep it. However, when Maddie was first diagnosed and we searched the internet for information on her condition, we found no hope in stories that ended in death. For that reason we agreed when we started Madeline’s web site, that we would take it down in the event of the ultimate bad news. We don’t want to sap the hope from another family. We will be praying and listening for direction in the coming weeks and months. Maybe we’ll slap the story in a binder and publish it.

Saturday January 26, 2008

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, goan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our boedies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope  at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
Romans 8:18-25

Cindy writes:

It is so hard to believe it's been a week since the visitation. I feel time is both my enemy and my friend right now. Every day that goes by goes with a touch of melancholy because it takes us further from our little one. And every day that goes by is a blessing to know that we've made it through yet another with another layer of healing on our hearts. It's not really gotten any easier yet. The grief comes in waves - silly waves really. It's funny the things that make Dave and I cry. We read through hundred's of cards dry-eyed until we got to the hand written card sent to us from Maddie's best friend Mina. It said, "Dear Miss Cindy, I'm sad that Maddie died. She was my best friend. ~Mina". Oh how we cried over that one. Sometimes I forget that there was a life for Maddie before the hospital. That there was a life when she was a best friend and a little sister and a crying child in the church nursery. There was life before Children's. Sometimes I forget that part of her identity. It's good to remember it, but painful all the same. It's good to be home again.

And so this last week has been full. We had so many people come to visit and they have done a great job keeping us occupied. One of our best friends from Louisville is here now visiting till Tuesday. She is also doing a great job keeping us occupied. I somewhat dread when all of this quiets down and we are left to our own. It is all just so hard, but truly God is sustaining us. He is our comforter and we glory in the knowledge that Maddie is no longer enduring the battle. Scripture tells us over and over that this world is not our home and that we are to long for our true home. I can now honestly say that I do. I long for heaven. I long for that beautiful reunion between us and our Madeline. I long for the place that there is no more tears, no more pain, no more sickness and death. But until then we will keep on keeping on and hopefully be an encouragement to others.

Speaking of encouragement. We have a crazy friend whom some of you may have been "harassed" by. Yes, she is legitimate. If you have heard from Diane (or Mary Diane), please know that she is not someone who is taking advantage of the web site. She is our friend and wants to "do something." Originally she wanted to help with the financial burden that Mad's 6 months of hospitalization was creating, but now that Mad's has passed away the intention of the blessing is to bring about our "Make-a-Wish" trip even without "Make-a-Wish". It was one of those things that we had promised our kids and Diane and her family are trying to bring it about. We've had a lot of people ask, and so, the word is that she is a dear friend with a great big heart who wants to see Sam and Anna wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Thank you to all who have responded. We are just so blessed.

Dave adds:

The above mentioned crazy friend's web site is http://MaddieShirts.Blogspot.com.  Please know that Cindy & I have already been blessed beyond measure by prayer and gifts and love and kindness and all nature of support.  You even gave 100+ pints of blood in Madeline's name.  It doesn't get much more personal than that!  We never intended to use Maddie's web site as a fund raiser and thanks to your generosity (and pushy people like Diane) we never had to.  However, we don't want to be guilty of refusing to be blessed, so there it is.  The response has already been overwhelming, as you will see for yourself.  Anything we receive will be used to make good on the promise of Disney World to Anna and Sam, and if there is any left over we will find a way to apply it in Maddie's name (maybe to help publish a book).  God bless.

Wednesday January 30, 2008

Cindy writes:

Yesterday we took the last of our visitors to the airport. Our friend Brenda (sister to "crazy Diane") had come out after the funeral to help us "adjust". It was such a blessing to have her here as we try to transition into this new life of ours. After my mom and I dropped her off at the airport I went home to an empty house. Actually, I was looking forward to going home to an empty house (the kids were at my mom's and Dave was working). For days now I have felt a "building up" of emotion - one of those build up's that you just know other people should not see or have to experience. And so, as soon as I got home I went up and put on the video of Maddie's funeral and proceeded to allow myself to cry, vent and rail. It was good to be alone for that. I then got on the phone with the first friend who would pick-up and proceeded to cry, vent and rail to her as well. When all was said and done, I felt "cleansed" and it was good. I'm so glad that God gives us the freedom to tell Him when we think He's wrong. I'm so glad He allows us to grieve and hurt. And when all is said and done, I'm so glad that I can come back to the place where I say, "Lord you are Sovereign... above all, I trust you in this place". It's not easy, and there are times I think my heart might just burst from pain - but the one thing I have learned through all of this is, I trust Him and know that He is the great filter that all things must go through before they can touch my life. It is for His glory now that we will walk through this valley.

As I was speaking with one of my friends yesterday I was reflecting on Maddie's funeral. One of the songs that we sang was "Blessed be Your Name". It was a song that prior to Maddie's surgery I could not sing. Every time they would play it in church I would have to get up and leave. There is a chorus in the song that says, "you give and take away, you give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name". I remember telling one of the older gentlemen in our church one time when I was leaving that I couldn't sing the song because it took me to a place I hadn't been called to walk yet, and therefore the pain in the words was too much. I knew when we were planning Maddie's funeral that I absolutely had to have that song. I had to call God to the carpet on it. And so we sang it, and I stood in sheer amazement that not only did I not cry during it, I was able to sing it as well. Truly God meets us where we are. It is called "dying grace" and I am so humbled how God meets us exactly where we are.

As a side note, there is one thing I have become aware of (and had heard about from other friends who have "lost" their children) and would like to address with all of you. It is the matter of what to say to us. I know that some people are afraid of saying the "wrong thing" or of making us sad by mentioning our loss or our Madeline - and so they say nothing. May I just say, it's ok - we are already sad, that is just the season we are in, your words cannot make us anymore sad except by saying nothing. If you see us, please speak to us. Please tell us that you are sorry for our loss. That you miss Madeline too. We WANT to know that she is remembered, that she was loved and that life is different now. I have already experienced quite a few encounters of people diverting their eyes from us, or just proceeding like nothing has changed. I know it is uncomfortable and I can appreciate that - but we so need to know that her presence is missed, that you may have loved her, or that you are praying for us and our family. So if you see us, please say something. Yes, I might cry, but I might cry even more if you say nothing. Thank you.

Monday February 4, 2008

Cindy writes:

Today we are off to the mountains (Leavenworth to be exact). A friend of ours has a time share up there and has very generously given us a couple of nights there to take the kids up sledding. It should be fun and I know Sam and Anna are extremely excited about it. We took them to Walmart and got them totally decked out in hats, mittens, scarves, etc. for the big adventure. So long as we make it over the pass all should be well. Of course, in true Lester fashion, we will be taking our camera and sharing some of our best photo opp's with you all when we return. I'm looking forward to it, but as with everything these days, it's tinged with melancholy undertones.

Another friend gave us a grief book and there was a quote in it that really hit home. It said something to the effect of, "that's the funny thing about grief, it doesn't matter how "effectively" you do it, it still just hurts". Very true. I would say we are doing this "grief thing" well, but it still hurts. I suppose it always will hurt, just hopefully not quite as bad as it does now.

So many people ask about Sam and Anna and how they are doing. I would have to say they are doing amazingly well. I think one of the blessing sides to having been gone for as long as we were is that they've had a 6 month head start on adjusting to life without Madeline. It would be very different if she had come home and died suddenly. Sam is very matter-of-fact about it all "I'm not sad. Maddie is in heaven and I'll be with her again someday". Anna is ready to adopt another little girl and name her "Maddie2". Sam is our little prayer warrior. He loves to pray over breakfast, lunch and dinner. These days almost every prayer Samuel lets out begins with a, "Dear Jesus, thank you for bringing Maddie home safely. Thank you that she's not in pain anymore..." I love it because it helps me to remember my whole resolution to give thanks in all things. Yes, she is home. Yes, she was suffering and that part is over. Yes, we will be with her again. I think it would be a whole different process if it weren't for the hope of heaven.

Speaking of which. We are reading Randy Alcorn's "Heaven" book. I read it a few years ago and decided it was time to revisit it. It is such a wonderful book. It helps give heaven dimension and reality. I remember the first time I read it I was so excited I got a copy for my dad Walt, who read it and then bought 2 cases to give to everyone he knew (it's just that good!!). Dave and I were speaking about what our "reunion" with Maddie will be like someday. He likes to think that we come back to where we left off, but instead of holding her in our arms saying goodbye, it's a big wonderful hello. One of the things we concluded is that we can dream and imagine it to be as beautiful a moment as our minds can come up with - but the reality is, even if we're wrong it's because it will only be better... no matter what. Now that's something worth thinking about.