2015 Rose Parade--Blessed Beyond Measure

Taken during the parade. The open book at the front represents the lives of all those affected by organ donation. So many stories. The butterflies represent the number of people who can be helped through ONE donor--only 8 receiving organs, the rest received bone, eyes, skin or other tissue.. The books are individual stories that need to be told for the precious gifts they've given to so many. Consider becoming an organ donor. 

I open with a confession. It has taken me nearly three weeks to write this. I hope I have done so in a way to honor those involved while sharing the joy of this experience. This was a mixed batch of emotions for me and found it difficult to write for a while.  


I once wrote, “How do you say ‘thank you’ to someone you do not know and may never know? I answered my own question with the only answer I could assemble at that time, “You just pray, giving thanks to God, from whom all blessings flow.” 
It worked for me then, and in fact, I was satisfied with it . . . until I wasn’t. Something was still missing.
It’s been almost 14 years since I received my liver transplant, and eight years since I wrote my last ‘Thank You’ letter to a donor family whose identity I’ve yet to learn. I wrote three letters within the first five years of my transplant, sending each through the proper channels, hoping for a returned response expressing their desire to meet me and to know how their loved one changed my life.
But no replies.
I’ve had to accept it’s just not meant to be this side of heaven. 

But as they say, God works in mysterious and wonderful ways. 
I received a phone call last summer informing me that I had been chosen to ride the Donate Life Rose Parade float for the 2015 Rose Parade. As far as travel goes, our cross-country expeditions consist mostly of circling through our neighboring states. World travelers—or even country travelers—we are not. Due partly to the extra wings on various hospitals that we were regularly funding.
To be chosen to ride the Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade was an honor I could not and would not miss. I had been watching the Rose Parade since I was a child when Mom set the television to the parade while she and Grandma fixed New Year’s dinner. It was tradition. I never would have imagined I would ever have had an opportunity to ride IN the Rose Parade

Monday, Dec. 29th - When the day finally arrived, before leaving the house en route to the airport, we prayed not only for safety in our travel, but I always pray before leaving the house that God may in some way bring opportunities for me to encourage or inspire someone in need, and always bring glory to Him.
Little did I know, that "someone in need" would me me
Because I can easily overdo, I was very protective of the parade morning and wanted nothing preventing me from this amazing opportunity, so I opted out of the offer to help decorate the float, and instead watched as others meticulously placed spices, fruit, beans, petals, and flowers onto the design. Others tenderly crafted floragraphs of their loved ones—something I had never seen and cannot even write without getting choked up all over again.
Floragraphs are photographs that have been covered in organic materials: coffee, spices, ground petals, etc. The only items on the float that were not covered in organic materials were the metal bars beneath riders’ feet and behind their back, along with seat belt.

The Life Share CEO told us at a Rose Parade meeting held in early November that the Donate Life float always attracted the largest crowds, and indeed, I couldn’t believe the number of people that gathered on that Wednesday morning-- the day before the parade— Judging Day. 
Small segment of those inside the building as the float set outside on Judging Day.

Riders and walkers assumed their assigned positions on and around the float that had been moved outside the barn in which it was constructed. Filling the building now was row after row of folding chairs filled with those whose lives were changed one way or another by organ donation. Many were family and friend of donors whose floragraph graced the skillfully decorated spine of each book on the float. Others were family and friends of those whose lives were spared or improved by a donor.
As I sat in my designated place, just inches from my back were the book spines and floragraphs, giving me the opportunity to look closely at the materials used for various colors. A green book on my right caught my eye. From a distance, it just looked green, but up close, I could see it was long green leaves of some kind, reminding me of the leaves on corn stalks. 
My spot
Click pics to enlarge

As an artist, I love detail and have always admired the beauty of God’s ingenious designs in plant life, but then my eyes caught something even more beautiful. In the middle of the book was the floragraph of a handsome young boy, with eyes that pierced my soul. My heart broke for a family I didn’t know, and this precious face captured me. There was something about this face!
Click for amazing detail.

After the judges finished their...well...judging, the crowd of mixed emotions made their way to the float to visit with riders and walkers, as well as to finally examine the elaborate detail of the float. A young man approached me whose eyes I thought I’d seen before—so kind, so tender, but with a hint of sadness. From his chair inside the building, he had noticed my attention to the book on my right.   

“That’s my son.”
My heart fell into my stomach.

Click for his story.
He held out a button bearing the same picture as the one on my right whose eyes had just captured me.
'No wonder I thought I’d seen those eyes before'.
“I would be honored to wear the button,” I replied, and thanked him for the opportunity. We spoke a little more after disembarking the float and snapped a pic of me and my new friend from New York. 

Me and my new friend, Mr. Vega!

But God wasn’t finished just yet. 

Desperately trying to hold back tears.

Any event such as this, where from the minute you arrive to the moment you leave, there is a whirlwind of activities and not a lot of time for reflection. The schedule consisted of dinners, a fancy Gala with dancing (which I had not done in years), and tour (in lieu of decorating), souvenir shopping, the Rose Parade, of course, followed immediately by the Rose Bowl game. Exhausted from the day that began at 4:00 a.m., we left the game at halftime, and I said goodbye to so many to whom I had grown so close that week. And the tears began to flow...
And flow…
Now that the activities were over, with no need to reserve energy for anything else except the trip home, so many emotions now began rising to the surface.

A New Story to Tell 
Friday, Jan. 2, 2015
Thinking I surely hadn’t purchased enough souvenirs, I visited the hotel gift shop while my husband checked out. So many of the guests in the hotel that week were associated with Donate Life and the Rose Parade and so the gift shop clerk asked about my experience. I told her the short story of my transplant, but now, I had a new story I was eager to tell.  
I began telling her about the special button I proudly wore through the parade, but didn’t get very far as the tears began to flow again. With a comforting hug, she expressed her thanks for sharing that tender moment with her. I shared the story again with the woman seated next to me on the plane and the tears flowed again. I called my mom to tell her about the trip and my new story and, once again, tears.Why can I not stop crying?   
Once we finally returned home, I was able to decompress in my own space, spend some quiet time with the Lord, and begin to process these new feelings... and these tears that wouldn't stop.  
But the tears, I learned, were like healing oil. The overflow of a heart that could no longer contain all that God had poured into me that week.
There are no coincidences with God. Only Divine purpose.
God, in His love and kindness, gave me a beautiful gift that week. I can only imagine the smile on God’s face the morning I prayed before our trip for an opportunity to encourage someone in need, while in that moment, knowing that, 'Daughter. It is you who are in need.' He was already orchestrating the very healing that I needed, to fill a void and brokenness of which I was not even aware.
As I mentioned earlier in the post— I had to accept the fact that I would never learn of my donor or meet my donor family. But, God chose an individual from the Eastern Time Zone to bring healing to someone from the Central Time Zone by crossing our paths in the Pacific Time Zone. Chance meeting? Hardly.
I learned after returning home that Mr.Vega had never received any letters from those whose lives were either saved or changed by his son’s precious gifts. Though this individual was a donor father and I was an organ recipient-- opposite sides of the organ donation spectrum, so to speak--our feelings were very much the same. We both shared a void we longed to fill.
So we decided to adopt one another—he as my donor family, and I as his son’s recipient, by proxy.  
Healing comes in many forms and so often when we least expect it. 
It was such an honor to ride aboard the Donate Life float in the 2015 Rose Parade; an experience I will cherish forever. Not just because it was an amazing opportunity; that's a given, but because I simply would have never imagined how life changing the experience would be for me when God used the event to bring healing to two separate individuals through the eyes of one child.
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." - Eph. 3:20-21
“You have anointed my head with (healing) oil;
My cup overflows.” Ps. 23:5
How Great is our God!!

 Below are additional pictures of the week. Hard to get them in order on this blog. Click on any picture for detail or more information.
Oklahoma LifeShare CEO Jeff Orlowski

7:30 am- the morning of the parade and it's 34 degrees in Pasadena, CA!  What's up with that?  I wore  4 layers under the coat and a pair of leggings under my jeans. 
Parade starts in 20 minutes. I thought we left this weather in Oklahoma.
My husband and I standing in front of my spot

Judging Day
Amazing detail of butterflies, one of 60 on the float
My riding buddy, also from New York. Click for more.

Materials used on the Donate Life float. 

Picture taken of the television by a friend during the parade when they found me

After the parade. Boarded at about 7:15. Got off at 11:30. Nearly 6 mile parade

2015 Donate Life Rose Parade team- Riders and Walkers


Float is fully built and painted. Workers only decorate with materials

Worker gently gluing a single petal in place on the wings of a butterly

Tuesday Tour Day. Walked around the park and took in sights

And there's the Good Year blimp!

Exhibit Hall Ballroom - Gala held here
He cleans up really nice, huh?