Liz Dooley daughters Rowan (left) and Finley (right). Photo credit: Crystal Pettit Photography.
My newborn daughter lay in the NICU, fighting for her life. Nothing I could do would fix her situation (which is especially challenging for a person like me who is wired as a strong Builder-type personality). I prayed and pressed into God like I never had before. I searched for and listened to sermons about waiting and suffering online. One sermon in particular grabbed my heart. A local pastor said, “What do you do while waiting in a season of difficulty? Get busy doing good. Move the focus from yourself onto others. We are blessed to be a blessing.”
We are blessed to BE a blessing.
When I look back on my own life, I see several examples of how God used other people to step in to BE my blessing. They were His hands and feet loving me, protecting me, and providing for me. Many times over I was blessed by the way people shared God’s love with me tangibly.
When I was 12, an evangelical pastor moved into my backyard. (Literally, our back yards butted up against each other.) I started babysitting for their two children and our relationship grew. Their home became a refuge for me; I would escape there when things got difficult in my own home, run by alcoholics. On multiple occasions they asked me to attend church with them and eventually I ran out of reasons to avoid saying ‘yes.’ On the first day of a new year, I answered the altar call and asked Jesus into my heart. This family didn’t have to look far for a life to impact. They looked around at where God had planted them and sowed seeds for the Kingdom in their own back yard.
A few years later, things reached a boiling point within my own family. I was 16 years old with an ulcer eating away inside of me. Eventually, I felt like it was no longer possible to remain in my own house and asked a friend if I could live out the rest of my senior year with her family. They said ‘yes,’ and I spent my final months of high school living with the Mousseau family. Being 17 years old, I didn’t spend much time pondering about what things might have been like if they had not said ‘yes.’ I just felt assured that I had a soft place to land as I stepped independently away from my dysfunctional home.
From that point on, people consistently showed up to hem me in, offering protection and help over the next few years. With support, I graduated college, began volunteering, and got married. Excitement abounded when we learned we would be growing our family with the birth of our first daughter. It seemed like life was on the upward swing. Shortly thereafter, we got pregnant with our second child. At the 20-week ultrasound, which we hoped would tell us the gender, we got a life changing diagnosis.
This baby I was carrying had a condition called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), and we were told that she had a 40% chance of survival. (I have since learned we were given an outdated statistic. CDH reportedly has a 50% chance of survival, but this number varies depending on the hospital.) CDH occurs when there is a hole in the diaphragm. This hole allows lower organs to migrate into the chest cavity, often compromising lung development and displacing the heart, potentially causing secondary heart defects.
After the initial shock wore off and my non-strop crying waned, I was blown away with how people showed up for us. Thoughtful gifts, emails, texts, and calls — all helped to ease the sadness and doubt we felt over the next five months of pregnancy and beyond. The way we were loved and supported while we walked through this dark valley became the light we walked towards. Meals made and delivered. Special gifts brought to our two-year-old so she wouldn’t feel forgotten. Jesus showed up through the hands and feet of many!
It is hard to invite others to walk with you during painful seasons. Self-protection speaks lies to us and tells us to cocoon ourselves away; it tells us that no one can understand or handle the level of pain we are burdening alone. Not only does this lie hurt us, but we miss out on blessing others who we might allow to walk next to us, carrying just the slightest bit with us — being blessed to BE a blessing.
Staring at my newborn in her NICU bassinet, attached to so many wires and tubes, dependent on a ventilator to help her breathe and medicines to reduce the carbon dioxide in her blood, I thought about how I had never given much thought to breathing. None of us do, until it becomes hard to do naturally. God planted a dream in my heart that day. I decided that regardless of the outcome, we would hold a race to raise money for CDH treatment. We would move our bodies in celebration and gratitude for our breath. We would be blessed by blessing, despite the darkness that the blessing came from.
Finley had surgery on her 19th day of life, and spent 49 days in the NICU before coming home. She returned to the hospital at four and a half months for another surgery, and once again our village showed up. Meal trains activated, text messages streamed in with prayers and encouragement at just the right times, and love flowed through the actions of people through both large and small gestures. It all felt like a message from God saying, ‘I see you. I’m here. You are not alone.’
One year later, Ladybug CDH Foundation and its race, Ladybug Run for CDH Awareness, was born. Both exist out of the abundant generosity of individuals and families who have come alongside us to make it happen. The Foundation exists to offer similar support and love to other families, to help give to them what was given to us.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Beyond our own foundation, there are several organizations near and dear to our hearts that we link arms with. I don’t think of volunteering as something separate from my daily life. It is a piece of my life — a crucial, breath-giving part of this life, where blessings flow through us, and sometimes back to us. It seems appropriate now, in the midst of a global respiratory pandemic, to be reminded of the blessing of breath and to find gratitude for the ways our bodies work. Take a minute to close your eyes and breathe. Listen for the small voice that shows up to guide us on our blessing path. Can you hear it? Will you respond?
Some days ‘being the blessing’ looks like supporting an organization or responding to a call for help. Other times it is just looking around to notice where God has you planted, then seeing more clearly how you can make an impact in your own backyard. Here are some ideas: send a note of encouragement or gratitude to someone struggling, isolated or on the frontlines, a meal or game for a single mama, check in to see how your friend is really doing, a phone call, a text, giving someone a safe place to stay. During this difficult season, it doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day and be a light to others. Love has so many different faces. Just listen for the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit and respond with action.
I’ve found that my girls have a natural desire to help others and we say ‘yes’ as much as possible when they have philanthropic inspirations. From a bake sale for a nonprofit, to blessing bags or a hot meal to those living on the streets…we want them to see other people and to be people that want to love others the way Jesus loves us. In the end, I think this is the best way to share the gospel with our children: by actually living it out. Less words, more action. As my favorite human, Bob Goff, says, “Love does.”
Let us let the love of Christ flow like a river through our families and pour over the streets of our neighborhoods. Let us be blessed to be the blessing.