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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tori is STILL Making a Difference

This journey called life is an interesting one. I believe God allows us to go through things so we can reach out to others who are going through the same thing.

For some of us, the journey of life has involved losing a child. When you hear of someone who has also lost a child, you become part of an unfortunate fraternity. It's a fraternity you would never have chosen to join, but it truly is a fraternity, because only those who have experienced it can truly understand what it is like.

I first "met" Tori Wilhoit in December. I put "met" in parenthesis because I never really met her face to face, but I feel like I know her. I first heard of Tori when her grandfather emailed me in October to tell me she was in our NICU and to thank me for what Melissa's Fund had done for the NICU. I emailed him back and thanked him for his kind words. Then, in December, Chris and I ran into him while buying Christmas decorations. He told me that Tori had gotten worse and had been transferred to Vanderbilt. I told him I would pray for her and their family. I was saddened that she hadn't been able to come home yet.

That same week, a NICU nurse told me that Tori's mother, Melissa, had created a Caring Bridge web page. I signed up to receive the updates. They soon became a daily part of my life.

Each update gave me insight into Tori's life and her daily struggles. And as I began to receive them, I became more and more connected to this family. Each day, I couldn't wait to receive Melissa's updates about Tori. I cried each time the news was bad. And I rejoiced each time it looked like she was getting better. I became connected to this little girl, who I had never even met.

There were days when I thought, "Lord, this family can't take any more. Please spare them more pain." And what struck me the most was Melissa's faith. At times she was so exhausted. She was traveling back and forth to Nashville, and she and her husband also had a little three-year-old girl. She was torn between being with Tori and being with Savannah. I couldn't imagine how hard it must have been.

Melissa's faith could have moved mountains. She believed that God's hand was on Tori. She believed that he was strong enough to heal her. She believed that they were going through this for a reason. She was an inspiration to everyone who read her web page.

One morning I was reading the paper as my daughters ate their breakfast, and my gaze fell on a name in the obituaries - Victoria Wilhoit. "No," I said out loud. And I began to cry. I had been away from my computer for the past couple of days, and didn't know that Tori had passed away. Her death touched me so profoundly.

As I began to think about Tori, and all she had been through, I began to realize: just as my Melissa did, Tori had a purpose. God's purpose for her life was never for her to live longer than she did. As much as her mommy and daddy wanted that, his purpose for her was much greater.

You see, Tori's life touched so many people. Her mother's faith touched so many people. God used this little girl to bring others closer to him. I saw it each day as I read comments posted in her guestbook.

God's purpose is often not our purpose. His purpose is "big picture." Ours is not. Yes, God could have healed Tori. But, that wasn't his purpose. His purpose was for her short life to have a huge impact on so many around her.

I write this because last week I was on her mother's blog, and Melissa had written a post asking people to raise money for Swim for Melissa in memory of Tori. This is a mother who could have just walked away from the hurt, and wanted nothing else to do with anything related to NICU. Instead, she is using Tori's life to help other babies have a fighting chance. I believe with all of my heart that Tori is incredibly proud of her.

To visit Tori's Swim for Melissa page, click here. And to read Melissa's blog, click here. I think you'll be blessed.

I believe Tori and my Melissa know each other. I thing they probably like to play together on that giant playground in Heaven. I take comfort in the fact that they aren't in pain and that they are perfect.

I have often said that the best way to honor your child's life once they die, is to keep living. Melissa Wilhoit is doing just that. It doesn't mean it's easy, or that there isn't still hurt and grief. But, each day that she continues to live and make a difference, she carries on Tori's fighting spirit.

Even in her death, Tori is still making a difference. Premature babies in our NICU have a fighting chance thanks to her - and her mommy's faith.

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