Gracie loved putting on her sunbonnet, grabbing her decorated basket and picking strawberries in her backyard. When her parents, John and Erin, learned that their precious two-year-old, Downs syndrome daughter had leukemia, their time spent in the Houston hospital almost equaled that of caring for their other two young children. Little did they know, that was as good as it would get. Still, the parents’ faith did not waiver, as Dave and I witnessed when we became a part of their weekly Bible study. On one of Erin’s middle-of-the-night runs to the emergency room with Gracie, an inattentive nurse left the mother-daughter pair alone for hours in the examination room. By the time Erin was allowed to take her child to the oncology floor, Gracie’s heart stopped. Doctors worked for twenty minutes to revive her, but Gracie was left with a severe brain injury.
Many encouraged John and Erin to file a lawsuit. After much prayer, they chose instead to ask the hospital for free access to bless the families of the other oncology children on that ward. The hospital agreed. His Grace Foundation was formed, and money raised went to providing support, gifts, meals, and parking for the parents. That program continues today.
Fast forward fifteen years. Now living in Georgetown, Texas, Erin visited Brookwood, a community of disabled adults in Brookshire, Texas, and was determined to create such a place in her area. In 2011, Brooktown in Georgetown (BIG) opened and began to provide meaningful work, a sense of belonging, dignity, and respect for adults with functional disabilities.
Gracie was enrolled in the public school. Wheelchair-bound, on a feeding tube and unable to talk, she became the delight of the other 3,000+ students in her school. As a senior, she was voted Homecoming Queen, an event carried by major news stations. (See insert.)
Last week, when Gracie’s color changed and her perpetual smile disappeared, Erin took her to the E.R. where a cat scan showed no problems. Gracie was sent home, but that night, when her breathing slowed, John and Erin drove their daughter back to the hospital. This time, the news was not good. Gracie had sepsis. Emergency surgery came too late.
Family members were called. Gracie’s sister was two hours from returning to her missionary job in Africa. Others were within driving distance. They praised God when they all made it to the hospital in time, and after singing hymns around Gracie’s bed, Gracie died.
Her aunt, Mollie, penned these words to God in her blog this morning: “I am convinced she (Gracie) had the benefit of enjoying a preview of heaven at three when she had no heartbeat for 20 minutes. I think she saw glorious things she simply could not un-see. Although Gracie returned to us without language we could clearly understand, she never needed words to worship You. After her experience with You “outside” her body, Gracie’s exquisite response to even the mention of Your name was unbridled bliss…I want to be more like Gracie. I want to be fully dependent on You experiencing the unbridled bliss of Your presence. In my utter weakness, please be my boundless strength.”