On a dreary, rainy day in Chicago, I along with 7 co-workers boarded an early morning flight headed to Memphis, Tennessee. I was excited about visiting the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed - especially in wake of Rosa Park's recent death. I viewed it as visiting a man and his dream and thought it would be the inspiring moment I so desperately needed.
But that was not the intended purpose of the trip. Business comes before pleasure and Beale Street, so first we were scheduled to tour St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in preparation for a radiothon on November 17th. Little did I know I was about to be introduced to another man and his dream.
More than 50 years ago, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer with $7 in his pocket, knelt in a Detroit church before a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas asked the saint to “show me my way in life.”
His prayer was answered, and soon he moved his family to Chicago to pursue career offers. A few years later, at another turning point in his life, Thomas again prayed to St. Jude and pledged to someday build a shrine to the saint.
Throughout the next years, Thomas’ career prospered through films and television, and he became a nationally known entertainer. He remembered his pledge to build a shrine to St. Jude. And he did. Begging and borrowing money from people like Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis, Jr. of the Rat Pack fame to build the initial facility.
From the onset, St. Jude has been unlike any other pediatric treatment and research facility anywhere. It was the first integrated hospital in Memphis. And that in itself says a lot when you consider it was operating in the town where King was killed.
Since then discoveries made there have completely changed how the world treats children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Some of today's most gifted researchers are able to do more science, more quickly. Doctors across the world send their toughest cases and most vulnerable patients to St. Jude's because they know miracles happen there every day. It is America's 3rd-largest health-care charity, with a model that keeps the costs down and the funds flowing, so the science never stops. And neither do the miracles. The biggest one being that not one family or patient ever receives a bill for any of the services they receive at St. Jude. Can you imagaine a place where no one pays for treatment beyond what is covered by insurance, and those without insurance are never asked to fork over a cent.
We got a chance to talk to a family and the mother told me that as soon as she stepped on the grounds of St. Jude she could feel the annointing. I had to agree. Especially after I had heard her story. Her name is Cynthia and she has a 9 year-old daughter, Amari, that was diagnosed with Sickle Cell and subsequently cured through a bone marrow transplant. (Raise your hand if you didn't know there was a cure for Sickle Cell. That's a different blog but yet another example of the miracles that St. Jude is responsible for.) Unfortunately during the transplant, Amarie contracted another potentially fatal disease that doctors in her hometown of New Orleans were having trouble treating. Which brings me to another point - did I fail to mention all of this was going on during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? When the hospital ran out of running water, they called St. Jude who immediately sent a jet to pick up Cynthia, Amari and her 3 year-old brother. Since coming to St. Jude, Amari has gained 12 pounds and is back to doing some of the things, like playing outside, that she hasn't been able to do since long before the transplant.
According to the rules and regulations of the facility, you're not supposed to hug the children because of IV's and bandages or kiss them because of germs. They ask you to bend to their level and address them by name so they don't feel as if they are being studied like an experiment in a hospital lab. They also don't want you to tell the children that you'll see them later or that you hope they get better soon because there is the possiblity that neither of those things will happen. Of course as a mother I wanted to do all of the above. You weren't even supposed to ask the children how they were feeling. Instead the tour guide told me that the doctors, nurses and other caretakers would ask the children, "What are you hoping for today?" They even had a mural designed with that question and some of the responses from the children. The answers ran the gamut from, "experiencing less pain" to "eating more jello". Little requests that make a big difference to a child that is fighting daily just to survive.
So when I asked Amari what she was hoping for, and she responded, "to grow up to be as pretty as you", I was humbled and my world realigned itself instantly. I quickly said a little prayer, thanking God for the health of my children and found myself hoping with all my heart that Amari simply gets the chance just to grow up (she's already more beautiful than I could ever hope to be). The world simply would not be as bright a place without her light shining in it. I know that with just one smile from Amari, my life was changed in an instant.
And I say to you today, "What you're hoping for?"