Ava has consistently confounded doctors with her resilience.
We truly thank God for these days. To be able to celebrate her birthday this year is nothing short of a miracle.
When we asked Ava what kind of party she would like, she told me that she'd like to have a Chopped Challenge party. The backstory to this request is that Ava and I spent many hours watching the Food Network when we were holed up in hospital rooms. It began during her transplant stay. I was 6 months pregnant when we first entered the hospital. We stayed there for two months. For that third trimester of pregnancy, I remember laying on a hospital couch after Ava went to bed, watching Chopped Challenge while eating hospital Mac and Cheese. Soon Ava picked up my affinity for these cooking shows and somehow she added it to her eclectic mix of tv programs, toggling between My Little Pony and Cut Throat Kitchen in any given hour.
I told my close girlfriends in Seattle to expect Ava's birthday to be a Chopped Challenge theme. So we anticipated cooking around the kitchen island in the home we were staying at.
But, Ava's Seattle aunt had different plans. She contacted All Recipes and told them about Ava's brave fight and her wish to have a Chopped Style birthday party. They wrote back that it would be a pleasure to host it for Ava.
From the moment we arrived, to the moment we left, our jaws were dropped wide open at the lengths they went to make sure Ava's 8th birthday was amazing. From video cameras, to secret ingredients, to famous chefs as judges, the All Recipes team poured their hearts into this celebration to make it as realistic as possible. When I looked around the room, I saw so many beaming faces and not a hint of exhaustion from all the hard work they put in. But what was most touching was when we got ready to leave. The many people involved in planning out this special day thanked Ava for allowing them to be a part of the day.
This is love.
When we got home to Chicago, my friend Stacey, President of Cal's Angels, reached out to me about granting Ava a second wish due to her relapse. Stacey and Tom founded this organization in honor of their son, Cal, who passed away from AML in 2006. Their story is so inspiring because out of their loss, something so life-giving was formed.
When Stacey heard that one thing Ava wanted to do was throw a birthday party and invite her classmates, she got straight to work to make it happen...and she pulled it off in one week.
Not only did Ava have the most incredible gymnastics party with an amazing magic show at the end, but Stacey and her team attended the event from start to finish. They dedicated most of the day on Saturday running around taking pictures, being a host to all the guests, and making sure everything went smoothly for Ava's wish. After all this, Cal's Angels also gifted Ava, Gwen, and Jude each an iPad Pro. It was unbelievably generous but also totally inline with what Cal's Angels is known for: going above and beyond not only for the child with cancer but also, and more importantly, for the siblings. (I may or may not have swiped an iPad from one of them with the excuse that they needed to learn how to share...Just kidding?).
When we got back to Seattle, we were greeted with such hoopla from our Seattle Family and many friends who sent their birthday wishes to Ava.
From care packages sent by our good friend Marissa, founder of Hope for Children, to cookies and cakes from Esther and Dave Chang from Momofuku, to a boxful of new books sent from Auntie Ling, to a fun excursion to the Seattle Seahawks training facility with our friends Sharla and Rocky-assistant head couch, to extravagant gifts from friends in Seattle, we have been showered in love.
Whenever I lose focus and my eyes begin to see the rocky road before and behind us instead of the gracious Father, I begin to grumble and groan. I wonder if we have lost favor in God's eyes.
But then I remember you, and my head snaps back to attention and my hands raise up in surrender and in praise. To the one, the only living God who has not forgotten us.
I know this is true, because there is you. Yes, there are gifts and special trips and cool parties and neat surprises but under all that is you. You are God's tangible form of love to us.
And, oh, how extravagant His love is.
*Please check out the Team Brighter Day page for more pictures from all these events!