On August 9 th , 2010 the life we had known and planned forever changed; this was the day our daughter Rhema was born with Myelomeningocele (Spina Bifida) and Hydrocephalus. During the first year of Rhema’s life, managing her Hydrocephalus had proven to be a monstrous challenge; she had 2 brain surgeries in the first 8 months of her life. Rhema also had a rare form of Hydrocephalus where the CSF fluid bypassed her shunt and pooled into a large bulging “sack” on the side of her head and neck. When this rare form of the Hydrocephalus was at its worst Rhema had a large goiter-looking sack of fluid on the side of her head and also a fluid sack on her chest near her throat. Less than a month into our new life in Alabama, Rhema’s Hydrocephalus hit a critical level and she was rushed into surgery for a double shunt revision. Rhema was in full-out shunt failure, as evidenced by enlarged cranial ventricles and every night for weeks she would screaming uncontrollably. We were at the lowest of our low and our precious Rhema was in her most critical state when we met the team of folks who would bring a final end to the fluid issues she had since her birth. Children’s of Birmingham was the silver lining in the dark cloud that had hung over our heads for so long. Rhema met the head of Neurosurgery and the very next day at 8am she was in surgery having her old shunt removed and a new shunt placed in a brand new location. The skilled Neurosurgeon was able to tack up the stretched areas of her skin on her head, neck and chest so they would heal and become invisible as Rhema grew. When Rhema was wheeled in her room after surgery, we were so surprised at how much smaller her head already appeared and the fluid filled sacks were all but gone! We praised the Lord; our precious girl was finally stable and on the road to recovery.
Rhema spent 48 hours at Children’s Hospital while she recovered from surgery and that, my friends, is when our vision for the Rhema Miracle Wagon Outreach was born. It was Christmas at Children’s Hospital and they celebrate in a big way! Santa came with gifts for all the children, there were so many Christmas activities at different times of the day and at all the Christmas parties each child would get a new toy —it was just one giant party place! Once Rhema was cleared to leave her room for brief periods of time, we found the closest wagon and pack her in it with pillows and blankets and off we went! We wheeled her down to see all the Christmas trees that filled the lobby, we took her to see Santa, we took her to a Christmas party and we took her down to see the clowns, Christmas carolers, and dancers who came to entertain the children in the atrium. It was wonderful to see her, in spite of our location, enjoy all-things Christmas with wide-eyed wonder!
I remember the exact location and moment in time where the Rhema Miracle Wagon Drive vision was born; I was standing in a line of wagons that were filled with children of all colors and nationalities, all ages and all diagnoses, all of them waiting to see Santa. The line was long I had time to study the faces of the children and their parents. Some of the children were obviously cancer warriors as evidenced by their beautiful bald heads, some children had IV poles that their parents rolled alongside the wagon, some children wore protective masks, some children had bandages or casts and some of the children appeared oblivious to their surroundings, but their parents brought them to see Santa just the same. I will never forget the images of those precious children, tucked away in their Radio Flyer wagons, seeking just a moment of “normal” Christmas fun. The images of their parents, huddled nearby, are also forever burned in my mind; they too, like me, were seeking a moment of levity from all they had endured alongside their precious child.
As I observed the spectacle of it all, it hit me— these children were not in wheel chairs—they were in wagons. Wonderful wagons that sent the parents scrambling to retrieve additional wagons because their sick child’s siblings wanted their own wagon too! The wagons were fun, shiny and red! Each wagon had a child and each child had a toy to play with while they waited their turn to see Santa. My own Rhema had a pillow and a blanket to keep her comfy and several toys to entertain her—this was brilliant! The more I studied the wagons around me I could see many of them had Bible scriptures and encouraging phrases painted on them. Some wagons were painted in a theme, like a fire engine, a flower garden or a race car; some just had fun, colored stickers plastered all over them. Each wagon has its own personality, but ALL of them brought joy and comfort to their passengers. I also watched many wagons being utilized by parents to haul items to and from their vehicles in the parking garages. I thought to myself, to use Radio Flyer Wagons in this environment is so very creative, fun and also so very practical. So, there, standing amidst Christmas trees, dozens of precious children and my Rhema, an Outreach vision was born.
The hospital can be a scary place to be for a child, so our heart and vision for Rhema’s Wagon Drive is to annually collect and donate numerous wagons to Children’s Hospital with the goal being to tangibly “Show Some Love” for the children and their families. Each of our wagons will be decorated with Bible scripture, encouraging phrases, drawings and stickers that we pray will bring happiness, encouragement and comfort. This year is our first Outreach and we’ve been overwhelmed with the support of our community and the amount of wagons—TWELVE TOTAL–we have collected. We are a week away from the Outreach Day and all the Rhema Miracle Team members have been busy putting the finishing touches on the TWELVE wagons that will be presented on Valentine’s Day! So, tune in all this week as we will be sharing the inspiring photos and stories of this year’s preparations for our “Show Some Love” Outreach! So many folks have come together to bless the children and families at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital and have truly been the “hands and feet” of our Lord Jesus! I guarantee you will be uplifted, and will probably need a tissue box nearby for emotional support (smile) as you read the awesome things the Lord has done this year!