Kim’s Sermon

And now the inspiring words of wisdom spoken by our dear friend and pastor, Kim Botto:

KimBotto

Welcome. I’m Kim Botto and I’m a pastor here at Crossroads. I’m also a friend of Aleisa and William and my life, like yours, has been impacted by Nora Rose Yusko. On behalf of Aleisa and William and Nora’s big brother Gavin and big sister Greta, thank you for being here. Today we honor and celebrate Nora while we support her family. In evaluating a life based on years, Nora’s life was short – way too short, but that little bitty life made a huge impact on those of us here today as well as people across the nation and literally across the world.

Nora overcame so many obstacles during her two-years here on earth. So it seems surprising that she is gone. We believed that this was another challenge where once again God would miraculously intervene and she’d bounce back and be back at home enjoying her baths, milkies and her family.

But that’s not the way it played out. The Bible refers to our bodies as an earthly tent. Here’s what scripture says:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down — when we die and leave these bodies — we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

These verses call our bodies earthly tents. Just imagine living in at tent instead of your house or apartment. Tents can be really fun. But would you really want to live in a tent every day? Tents often leak when it rains. At night they get very dark and cold. And there are no bathrooms in tents. Tent living would definitely have some problems.

So even though we like our tent, we know that there is a better place to live. And that’s what God says it’s like living on earth in these bodies, our earthly tents. I like living in this body, but I know there is something better. Our bodies have limits. They can get hurt. They need food. They get sick. And they die.

But one day we’ll trade these earthly tents, for a new and amazing body. It will be a body that will never die, never get sick and never hurt.

Early Tuesday morning, as her mom and dad stroked her precious little head, kissed her chubby cheeks, rubbed the creases in her adorable little wrists and whispered & whistled in her ear, Nora left her earthly tent, and God gave Nora her heavenly body, one that will last forever. Nora’s new body doesn’t need tubes to supply oxygen. No tests are needed to evaluate her heart function or oxygen levels. Nora is pain free. And while we miss her physical presence immensely, we’re celebrating that Nora is home and in the presence of Jesus.

God thank you for the precious gift of Elanora Rose Yusko. Her life blessed us. Her hats made us laugh. Her squeals delighted us. We grew in our faith as we prayed for her.

Today we celebrate the richness of her life. We don’t understand why she had to be taken so soon. There are a wide range of emotions in this room – confusion, anger, disbelief and unbelief. My prayer is that the time we spend together this morning is a comfort to everyone gathered, and in our grief that we are drawn closer to you.

As we reflect on Nora’s life and the legacy she leaves, may we be encouraged and reminded that we too have the opportunity to positively impact those around us. God we ask that you comfort Nora’s family, who love her deeply and miss her greatly. We ask that they feel a peace and a hope that is only possible through your son Jesus. Amen.

This morning, we’ll remember Nora and celebrate her life by hearing from those who were closest to her.

{Tribute – Sarah ward}

{Tribute – Kelly}

{Parents’ Tributes}

{Eulogy – Kate Rewwer}

Closing

While we have heard beautiful tributes today, there are two people who were very special to Nora that we have not yet heard from. Nora’s brother and sister, Gavin and Greta have written some of their favorite memories of Nora that I’ll read.

Gavin wrote: I used to smell her fuzz, giver her kisses, say silly voices to her, played with her xylophone or piano with her. I sometimes fed her milks. I’d go on walks with her, carried her upstairs to the “baff, squeeze her knee muffins, played some of Nora’s games on the Ipad with her, and before bed she used to come up and say goodnight and cuddles with me in my bed.

Greta’s letter is titled “Nora’s Project” What I like to do with Nora is read her books and sniff her fuzz. I like to talk to her and play with her toys and with her! I like to hold her and squeeze her “litter” arms! She is so pretty and sweet. I also liked to play the piano with her and she would always smile. I liked to carry her up to the bath. I liked letting her fall asleep on my lap. I liked to rock her in her little chair.

Greta and Gavin, you loved your little sister well. And we know that there is now an empty place in your life where Nora used to squeal and laugh and splash in the bath.

Aleisa and William, thanks for being so generous and for sharing her with us.

In the midst of our grief and uncertainty, scripture says: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Faith to take the next step. While we’re broken hearted and not sure how to go on – it’s taking just one step forward in faith.

And hope. Hope beyond the world that we live in now. We have hope because we trust in Jesus and know that one day, you will experience an amazing reunion with Nora.

And love. We experienced love through Nora’s life. And as we leave here we have the opportunity to continue to love the Yuskos.

We can love them by sharing our memories of Nora and how she impacted our lives. We can send them cards, cook casseroles and let them know that we remember Nora.

Lives were changed because of the life of Elanora Rose Yusko. People came to know Jesus as they read about how your family praised Him in this storm. People who were losing hope, found hope again, their faith fortified. Some talked to God for the very first time, thanking him when Nora once again defied all odds and experienced another miracle. People who didn’t even know each other came together to pray for healing. And our prayers of healing have been answered. Nora is now fully healed. And we thank God for that.

Aleisa, William, Gavin and Greta your life will never be the same without Nora here on earth. But also, your life will never be the same because of Nora’s time here on earth. Take a look at the people sitting in this room. And know you are loved. And Nora is remembered.

God thank you for the gift of Nora Rose. Thank you for her family who openly shared their hopes and dreams for Nora as well as their fears and challenges. Through Nora’s family, we’ve seen faith in action. Real faith. A faith that isn’t always pretty, is sometimes shaky, but is built on your promises.

Your promise that this is not our home. That one day, we’ll leave these earthly tents and enter into a place that we can not even imagine. A place that no man can comprehend. A place where Nora now resides with you. Give her family the strength to carry own. Help us, their community, to be your hands and feet. Hands that comfort and feet that serve and ears that listen. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for giving us a hope that never fades. Bless and comfort Aleisa, William, Greta and Gavin. Give them peace. Be their refuge and strength. Amen.

Kate’s Eulogy

This is the eloquently delivered eulogy that was given by our dear friend Kate, who was also one of Nora’s caregivers. I believe I can speak for all of us there by saying that we were captivated by every word. If you don’t have time to read it all in one sitting, it is definitely worth coming back to. And now Kate:

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When William asked me if I would do the eulogy at Nora’s funeral, I was first and foremost, humbled. And then I panicked. What in the world could I possibly say that would display the life of Nora as it really was? How could I talk about this baby’s impact on the world? Though we are all seeing it clearly, there are no words to describe it. And so I did what I’ve learned to do in times that I have a job to complete and no clue how or where to begin. I went to God. In the quiet corner of my living room with a cup of coffee in the early hours of the morning, I asked God to give me the words I needed to let His glory shine through this tiny life.

Before my prayer ended, I knew where I was going to start. I knew that I needed to go back nearly two thousand years ago, when a young peasant girl, named Mary, was approached by an angel. Mary was probably only about 12 or 13 years old when the angel Gabriel came to her. She had recently become engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl, looking forward to marriage. Suddenly her life would forever be changed.

Mary was fearful and troubled in the presence of the angel. She could never have expected what the angel would say— that she would have a child, and her son would be the Messiah. And He would change the world and He would save humanity. Though terribly frightened, she responded to God with belief and obedience… “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your word.”

Although Mary’s life held great honor, her calling would demand great suffering as well. Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.

Fast forward to nearly two thousand years later. A young couple sits in a room with their obstetrician. This couple had recently received the devastating news that their child in utero had a genetic disorder known as trisomy 18. With this diagnosis, comes the knowledge that the disorder is, “incompatible with life.” What does this mean? It means that the extra 18th chromosome causes life ending biologic conditions with the heart, brain, lungs and/or other organs. It meant a death sentence.

The couple was presented two options, neither of which would be easy. They could choose to end the pregnancy, sparing themselves and possibly their unborn baby from the pain and devastation of this condition. Or they could carry this baby until God decided it was time to call His child home. They would suffer loss and heartache, but they would have no clue when or how it would happen. They were terribly frightened, but responded to God with belief and obedience…”We would like to continue the pregnancy.” At that moment, the young woman made a promise to her unborn child, “I will carry you.” I have often thought of how Aleisa reminded me of the mother of God. Her faith in God, her obedience and her willingness to suffer at all costs to carry out His will for her parallels that of our Blessed Mother. In fact, on the mantle of their living room sits a small figure of Mary holding Jesus as a baby. On the nights I would care for Nora, that never failed to catch my eye and I never failed to recognize the similarities between these two women.

It is nearly impossible to tell the story of Nora without first beginning with her parents. When William and Aleisa committed to choosing life for Nora, they committed to a terrifying road of uncertainty. They knew that to travel this road, they would absolutely need to cling to God. They did not know how long Nora would live or if she would even be born alive. Almost every day, Aleisa kept an account of this scary road, and every single day she wrote, she displayed the love and tenderness of God as He carried she and William through the pregnancy. She solicited prayers from her blog followers, which were growing in numbers as a result of Aleisa’s incredible gift to capture attention through the written word. Aleisa fell in love with her unborn baby and had one wish… to hold her alive, if only for just a short time. “I just want to hold her alive.” She began to document visible signs from God that this would happen. One of the first ones that I can recall was her entry about Greta’s Dream. Before they knew that Nora was a girl, when the news was still quite fresh, William walked past Greta’s room one morning and heard her laughing. Intrigued because it was too early for her to be awake, he walked in to discover his daughter was still asleep. He woke her up and asked her what she was dreaming about. Greta told William that she had a dream that mommy had a baby girl and that he and mommy were feeding the baby while she and Gavin played on the floor. Aleisa felt comforted by Greta’s dream, wondering if perhaps God was sending her a message. Over and over again, Aleisa documented these accounts, which she began to firmly believe were tangible signs from God. Within the depths of her soul, she KNEW He was telling her to trust him. That he would not fail her and that He had control of everything.

I will never forget the day my sister, Maggie, told me Aleisa wanted me present for Nora’s delivery. As her best friend’s sister and someone who had 12 years of experience as a Labor and Delivery nurse, Aleisa felt comfortable having me there. I was extremely honored to have been asked. I adored Aleisa, who provided so much for our family when my brother-in-law, Mitch passed away suddenly.

On April 17th, 2012, Maggie and I drove to Bethesda North Hospital. We prayed the rosary on the way, taking comfort in knowing that God heard us. The day was filled with bright sunshine and was gloriously beautiful.

After an uneventful labor (in Labor and Delivery, an uneventful labor is truly a wonderful thing), at 5:12 in the evening, Miss Nora Rose made her grand entrance into the world with a hearty cry. The room was filled with joy that she had made it safely into the world and that her mother’s one wish had indeed come true. She would hold her baby alive!

From Nora’s first days on earth, Aleisa blogged daily. Initially, in that hospital room, there was joy, the next day, there was despair over the thought of losing her precious girl. In the first few days at home, the feeling turned to anxiety over when the hourglass of sand of Nora’s life would be emptying. Unknown to them, this pattern of emotions would be what they experienced for two years. But day after day, Aleisa and William clung to God in this time of uncertainty. And day after day, more and more people from around the world logged on to their computers to check in on Nora and her family and to gain a bit of footing and perspective as Aleisa documented their journey so openly, honestly, joyfully, painfully and with un-wavering faith in God.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Nora every once in while. There were nights I would go over to the Yuskos and take over her nighttime care. Little did I know just how much these precious hours with her would change my perspective, my mothering and my life. Most nights, both William and Aleisa were awake when I got there. As William went up to bed, he always said, “Thank you, Kate.” And I always said, “No. Thank YOU!” He never quite understood that and thought it was so backwards for me to be thanking him. As Nora got older and he was seeing her impact on so many others, I believe he began to understand. Aleisa would usually stay up a bit later, finishing up her to-do list and chatting with me. I treasured these moments, as most of them I recall to be filled with laughter, as this is one hilarious lady! Sometimes I was there for an hour before she would go up to bed! She found it too tempting to see Nora sitting or lying there and not give her one last kiss, hug or sniff for the day.

Nora took to the role of the house baby princess quite well. This baby visibly LOVED her family. And how could you not love people who showered you with 24/7 love, kisses, playtime, cuddling, music and silly noises? I don’t know if I ever visibly recognized the love a child has for a parent until Nora. One night, when Aleisa was taking her sweet time handing over Nora before heading to bed, I happened to catch an exchange between Nora and her mother that I will never forget. Aleisa was talking to her in one of her many “Nora” voices and Nora was listening intently. I happened to be watching her eyes and I swear, I saw something incredible. If Nora could have talked, she would have said, “Mommy, I love you so, so much. Thank you, mommy. Thank you.” The eyes say so much. They can display incredible love. They can display hatred. They can dance with joy or be filled with sorrow. Nora’s were indescribably radiant… almost sparkling. That moment is imprinted on my brain forever. I never told Aleisa this and perhaps innately, I knew there would come a time when she needed to hear it most. I got up from the couch and walked to my purse as tears welled up in my eyes… I may have muttered something about “allergies”, which I actually don’t suffer from… who knows. What a gift to have witnessed that brief, but life altering moment between mother and child. I am certain Nora looked at her parents and at Greta and Gavin like that quite often. I am so lucky to have witnessed it one of those times.

I once told my sister Maggie that I read somewhere that you can gauge how much a child is loved by the number of nicknames he or she has. I prided myself on the fact that my own children had a few, hence proving that I loved them a lot. Well if that is the case, William and Aleisa put John and me to shame. Nora had a very long list, some of which included: Fuzzy Lady, Lady, Lady Baby, Big Lady, Happy Baby, Sad Baby, Dis, Dassy, Dis Das, Dasser, Norns, Nornor, Norsicle, Norsies and the ever infamous high octave prolonged “E” sound that I will not even attempt to do, but heard Aleisa do a million times. Nora LOVED it when her mom made that sound because she knew that was just for her! Even Gavin had a special name for Nora and often told her how much he loved her “smelly fuzzy head”.

The world knew through Aleisa’s blog that there were two things Nora especially loved… one was her “milkies”, the other were her “baffs”. Aleisa joked once that she wondered if Nora were really a mermaid as often times a nice bath was the ONLY thing that comforted her on a bad day when all else was failing. Nora also loved to play and really enjoyed the cause and effect toys she had. She was so proud of herself when she would hit a toy a certain way and music would play or it would light up. She would do it again and again and was quite the showoff. Nora also loved to sit in her little chair and play with this container of dried beans. Seems simple, but she enjoyed the fact that she could push them around and make them go wherever she wanted. Nora clearly loved to be in control and enjoyed flaunting her authority to her toys and playthings. To Greta and Gavin, Nora was their treasured baby sister. They showered her with love and attention, made camps with blankets and invited her in and played with her all the time. Greta often drew pictures and wrote notes for Nora and hung them up in the kitchen. Aleisa noticed how much Nora missed her brother and sister when they were not home. Nora also loved her nanny, and the Yuskos adopted family member, Kelly. Or as the world knows her, “Our Kelly.” And Kelly reciprocated that love for Nora. Nora also captured the hearts of her the nurses that helped with her care… Amy, who was Aleisa’s nurse when Nora was born and has been caring for her from the beginning, Kristy and Tracy. She captivated her grandparents, aunts and uncles, all who showered her with love. What an incredibly lucky baby!

Nora also loved music, particularly lullabies. The Mission Main theme, by Ennio Marricone was introduced to her by one of her nurses, Tracy and was often used to sooth her in the car on the way to appointments or other places. There was one other song that Nora loved and which notably soothed her, particularly in the hospital. It was the Happy Birthday song. As she lays her precious baby to rest on her birthday, Aleisa can feel comforted by knowing that her daughter is joyfully singing this song to her mother from heaven above. I imagine her eyes sparkling as she uses her newfound words and her legs to carry her around and around as she dances. Though some may think, “How horribly sad for Aleisa, on her birthday, to have to say her final goodbye to Nora,” I see this is as one of God’s many gifts to Aleisa as every year when that song is sung to her, she can know how loudly one joyous little toddler is singing one of her favorite songs from heaven above.

Nora brought so much joy to that house that I completely understood the anxiety and fear that gripped William and Aleisa with the knowledge that Nora’s life on earth would likely be short. We all have our crosses to bear in life and his has to be one of the heaviest. Their cross was NOT in the day to day duties required to care for a special needs child. In fact, they LOVED taking care of Nora. They loved watching her grow and thrive as the weeks and months flew by. She was their daughter and loved every single thing about being her parents.

My sister, Ruth, once told me that in life we all have crosses. At times, our cross is heavy and at other times it is light. In those moments when ours are light, we are called to be Simon. We are called to help those with heavy crosses carry theirs and help lighten their load just like Simon did for Jesus. Aleisa and William bore the very heavy cross of fear and anxiety. They reached for God over and over for His calm reassurance and they found it in the many Simons that God sent to minister to them during this time. From the beginning, they found Simon in their obstetrician, Dr. Sullivan, who lovingly encouraged their decision to continue the pregnancy. They found him in their pediatrician, Dr. Bolling, in their cardiologist, Dr. Hirsch, and in all the doctors that were part of her care. Meanwhile, Nora impressed and sometimes baffled them with her health, progress and growth. One Simon that is fresh in my memory is Andre. Andre is the UPS driver that delivers to William’s downtown office. Every day, Andre would stop in, have a kind and uplifting word or phrase about the Lord for William, and move on with his workday. This exchange went on for a long time. One day, after a particularly trying and difficult morning, William pulled into the parking lot of his office building. Andre simultaneously pulled up and looked over at William and they locked eyes. Again, the eyes reveal so much. Andre got out of his truck, walked over to William and said, “William, the Lord just told me to give you a hug.” As William explained it, “So there we were, two dudes, one in a UPS uniform, hugging in a parking lot, in the middle of downtown.” Andre was also at the hospital on Monday evening when things were going very badly with Nora. I remember all of us there, standing around her bed, as Andre, fresh from work and still in his uniform, boldly and beautifully prayed over her. The entire time he had the most radiant smile on his face as he exhibited pure love for and trust in God’s mercy and compassion. If real angels in the flesh roam the earth, I am certain Andre is one of them.

In the midst of carrying their cross, Aleisa and William were also being Simon to many others who were finding comfort, perspective and ultimately, God, through Aleisa’s willingness to document and share their journey. They carried a heavy cross, yet were such a comfort to others while doing so. It is impossible for me to put that kind of service to the Lord into words. So I won’t try. I just ask that we all let that sink in.

Nora’s purpose for being here is evident. God and His ways are often a mystery, but I believe when we fulfill what He is asking of us and carry out His will for us, He becomes amazingly transparent. God’s message is clear, or at least it is for me. God showed the world through Nora and through her parents that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN LIFE HAS IMMEASUABLE VALUE. He took an ordinary couple, who did not realize the potential He had gifted them with at their birth, gave them a child, who in the eyes of the some in the world did not have much value, and asked them to give her life. This child would not walk and she would not talk. She would not feed herself. She would be completely dependent on them. She would require constant care. She would be healthy, yet medically fragile and every illness would ignite incredible fear within their hearts. And God’s plan, if they said yes, was to ignite passion from the depths of His daughter, Aleisa’s, soul with the gift of writing that He gave her. God’s plan was to use her to show the world how much she and William loved this child, her adorable and fun personality, and the joy she brought to them day after day after day. God’s plan was to use her to show the world how much He loved Aleisa and William, took care of them, sent angels for them. God’s plan was to show us the power of prayer and to show each of us He loves us and that we matter so much. God’s plan was to use this family to bring thousands of people, from all over the world, to Him. God’s plan was to show that He is imprinted in every human life.

Years ago, my father attended a conference in Moscow, Russia. Speaking at the conference was French pediatrician and geneticist, Dr. Jerome Legeune. Dr. Legeune was best known for his discovery that Down syndrome was the result of an extra 21st chromosome. At this conference, were a group of Russian doctors. Dr. Legeune began to describe the science of cell division. He went on to say that at conception, the single cell formed from the sperm and egg, called a zygote, divided into two cells. The two cells became four, the four divided and became eight and the eight divided and became sixteen. At the sixteen -cell stage of division, the cells broke apart and formed two groups of cells… one a group of thirteen and the other a group of three. The group of thirteen became supporting structures for the new life and the group of three became the recognizable child. He then said: “Right from the beginning, there is the imprint of the trinity on the human person.”

“This was more than just a statement”, my father said. “It was a proclamation made to an audience made up of entirely non-believers.”

We are masterpieces of God… each and every one of us.

Last weekend, I convinced Aleisa to let me come to the hospital and spend the night with Nora on Sunday. Nora seemed to be having some good days, and besides, I missed her and knew that the Yuskos could use some sleep. I had no idea when I left that Monday morning that Nora was approaching the finish line of life on earth. I had no idea that we I would be back later that evening under much different circumstances. But when I left, I did know something was different. Aleisa and William had a very difficult time sleeping in the parent room throughout their two -week stay. It was very loud and doors were always opening and closing (loudly) all night long. On Sunday night, Aleisa taped a homemade sign reminding other guests (parents of sick children) of the need for quiet. When she came to Nora’s room on Monday morning, I asked her how she slept. Her response was, “Good!” I had not heard once that she had slept well during Nora’s hospitalization. My immediate feeling was, “Something is coming. She needed that sleep last night for something big.”

I have thought so much about Nora’s last few hours on earth and am overwhelmed with the evidence of God’s presence during that difficult, but miraculously beautiful time. From the family and friends that rushed to the Yusko’s side, to the incredibly compassionate and loving Dr. Hirsch, Nora’s cardiologist, and the beautiful way he spoke to them about their precious girl’s prognosis, God tended to their every need right then. Whatever they seemed to need, He provided on the spot. He tended to us all, listening to our prayers and comforting us continuously.

If I live to be two hundred years old, I don’t think I will ever witness a moment like the one when Jesus came to bring Nora to Heaven. The room was dimly lit and there was soft and beautiful music playing. Aleisa lay next to Nora, talking softly to her and singing, her hand over Nora’s heart. As I stood at the bedside behind Aleisa, one hand reached over onto Nora’s forehead and one arm linked together with Amy’s, I heard William praying through his heartache. In between sobs of sorrow, he was thanking God for the two years he gave them with Nora. He thanked Him over and over and in an instant, my mind went to the last supper, “On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it and gave thanks…” On the night Jesus was betrayed, knowing that He was to be horrifically beaten and then crucified, he thanked His father. During the most painful, soul crushing moment of William’s life, He was thankful. I have never witnessed a more Christ like display of emotions.

We all have our visions of what it will be like when we go to Heaven. I know I have mine and I have imagined over and over this week about the beautiful reunion with Nora that William and Aleisa will experience when they arrive. I imagine an overly excited toddler knowing the time is near. I imagine her running to the huge, beautiful gate at the entrance of Heaven and her cheeks pressing through the gate’s gold and pearl bars, like a child awaiting a parent returning home and running to the window. I imagine her squeals and her delight as she sees them approaching, each one at different times, but with the same reaction from Nora. As the Gates begin to open, they see her jumping, laughing and clapping with the sheer joy of a two year old. Nora will run toward them, arms outstretched and jump into their arms, wrapping her sweet chubby arms around their necks. Before Nora can pull them to the best place to be after returning home from a long journey (a relaxing bubble baff), they will be welcomed into the arms of Jesus, who will lovingly whisper:

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Aleisa and William, THANK YOU, for allowing me to be part of Nora’s life. I will carry her sweet smell, soft skin, sparkling eyes and beautiful smile in my heart forever.

Kelly’s Tribute

The second of these moving tributes was given by Our Kelly. We have been so blessed to have her as a part of our family.

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Sometime in November of two thousand twelve, I needed a job. I created a profile on a babysitters’ website, hoping to find a few new families to babysit while I attended school full time. After several weeks went by, things were going well. I was considering taking my care profile off of the website, assuming I couldn’t possibly fit any more new sitting commitments in my schedule.
Around that time, I had a new message from another user on the website, a user named “William Y.” The subject line read simply, “A Little Help.” I opened it, and learned that William Y. needed some care for his three children, especially their baby named Nora. After setting up and completing an interview with William Y., who I now knew as William Yusko, I learned more about his family, and about this sweet baby named Nora, who had a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18, or Edward’s Syndrome. We planned on my stopping by their home that Friday night so I could meet his wife Aleisa, and their children Gavin, Greta, and baby Nora. That evening finally arrived, and I was nervous to meet Nora, and to be responsible for her and her siblings while their parents went out to dinner. Since everyone knows the end of this story, you probably think that that first night that I babysat Gavin, Greta, and Nora went perfectly. I wish I could tell you that; but it wasn’t. It was basically a babysitting fail.

For starters, a terrible thunderstorm raged all night and the house shook with every crack of lightening. Gavin and Greta were understandable shy and didn’t really feel comfortable talking to, or even coming near this strange new person in their home. I accidentally froze their TV screen and didn’t know how to fix it, so the kids couldn’t watch their movie. Worst of all, this tiny, seemingly fragile and oh-so-breakable baby named Nora would not stop crying, no matter WHAT I did to try and appease her. From the moment her parents left, the house was filled with her wailing, as Gavin and Greta looked on nervously. At one point, even sweet little Greta began to cry. By the time William and Aleisa returned, paid me, and I left, I had already chalked that night up to “a learning experience,” knowing that this poor family would never be calling me to babysit again.

Less than a week went by, and to my great surprise, the phone rang. It was William Yusko, asking me to come by the next weeknight to spend some time with Nora. I was shocked, to say the least. I remembered thinking, “Wow, they must have either really liked me, or they are SO desperate!”
That weeknight came and went, and a few more weeks went by. By then, sitting for the Yuskos had become a regular gig. However, I still felt pretty discouraged.

If you had the privilege to know Nora while she was here on this earth, then you know she’s a VERY “particular” little lady. She knows what she likes and knows what she wants, and she has NO problem letting you know “you’re doing it wrong.” So every time my phone rang and the Yuskos wanted me to babysit or provide respite with Nora, I was surprised. I felt like I did nothing right with Nora. On top of it all, I hardly knew how to interact with Gavin and Greta because I was always so stressed about getting it right with Nora.

But, as you may have surmised, things began to change. One afternoon I was standing in the Yuskos’ kitchen and making a bottle, when a breathless and red-faced Greta burst through the front door, home from school. “I ran all the way home from the bus stop!” she cheerfully explained. I asked her why. “Because I saw your car in our driveway!” , she smiled. Soon after, Gavin and I discovered that our sense of humor and maturity level were about the same.

And best of all, on a snowy December night, sometime around 3 AM, I rocked a certain fussy baby. Her sweet blue eyes looked into mine, her tiny mouth gave a content smile, her little body drifted off to sleep, and her little baby finger now had a nanny named Kelly wrapped tightly around it.
As the months went on and 2012 became 2013, my love for Nora and for the Yuskos grew. I started staying later and later after my scheduled time, just to play with the kids or have dinner with the family. My cell phone soon became filled with nothing but pictures of the kids. My friends and family commented how all I talked about anymore were those Yusko kids. In June of 2013, I moved into the lower level of their home. I started going to nearly all family functions, feeling not just at home with the Yuskos, but with their extended family as well. These three children began to consume my heart.

By now, I knew this miracle baby inside and out. Her likes and dislikes, her moods, her different cries, her sleeping patterns, and her sweet and oh so sassy disposition. Before my eyes, that fussy little baby became a big, chubby toddler, and my very best friend. And like a true best friend, Nora began to change my life for the better, in ways I’d never imagined. I began listening to almost nothing but Christian radio, since that’s what Nora loved. I discovered my love for Crossroads church and a renewed relationship with Christ, and got baptized on April 30th, 2014.
I know I’m not the only one whom Nora brought closer to Christ. Hundreds and hundreds of followers on Aleisa’s blog have been touched by Nora’s story, and by the miracle of her life. When Nora was hospitalized this past January, a family member of mine told me that she literally got down on her knees and prayed for Nora’s health, something this woman had not done in over ten years.

My dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on February 25th of this year, at the age of 48. Nora has been my rock through this storm. I wasn’t able to check out and fall apart through my pain, because my sweet Nora needed me. She would let me hold her and didn’t mind if I sobbed uncontrollably, but would smile and rub my arm.

Nora inspired me every day to live my life better. I loved to watch her wake up from a nap or a deep sleep. She would open her eyes, look around, and just smile. She was happy to be awake. Happy she was in her house. Happy that it was a plain old rainy Tuesday. If this child, who has overcome so many obstacles and likely had more to face, could wake up every day with such hope and joy, couldn’t I? Couldn’t we all? It shouldn’t surprise anyone when I confess that Nora is my hero. She will forever be my hero.

So now the question is, what are we going to do? How can we go on without this sweet girl? How can we live on earth without Nora Rose? Well, I’ll let you know when I figure that out, but what I CAN tell you is this: We have been left a great responsibility. Nora’s Mother. Nora’s Father. Nora’s Nanny. Nora’s Nurse. Nora’s Follower. These are our titles. Our job now is to live up to them, to work the rest of our lives to somehow be worthy enough to be associated with this angel, this miracle, this Prophet to the Nations. Thank you.

Sarah’s Tribute

The previous post was the tribute I wrote and shared at Nora’s funeral service. There were 2 others who gave beautiful tributes and then the amazing eulogy. I want to share their words with those of you who were unable to be there. The first of the three is from Sarah, my dear sister.

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I’m Sarah.  I’m blessed beyond belief to say that I am Aleisa’s younger sister.  I know I speak for our other siblings, Joe and Emily, when I say that she has been a pioneer on so many fronts, paving paths for us.  She has been a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a source of incredibly creative silliness, and most importantly, a vessel for sharing God’s Word and God’s Truth.  The best advice I have EVER gotten came from her.  In my time of despair begging her, “What should I do?!”  She replied with a quote from Psalm 46, “Be still.  Be still and know”. That, my friends, is powerful advice!  She has the most gigantic heart anyone could ever imagine.  Many of you may not know, but today is her birthday.  Who on this earth could be so selfless to be accepting of an event such as this on her birthday?!

I know there is a lot of hype these days with the dislike of social media and the “put your phone down” activists, but look what such technology has allowed with Nora’s story! The sharing of hardships, happiness, tears and joy, not only quoting scripture but sharing with the world how a humble family applies it to real life!

My Mom shared “Today’s Word” from Joel Osteen with me yesterday and we thought it was worth sharing to describe exactly what I’m talking about:

The scripture is from 2Timothy, “Every scripture is God-breathed…so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Joel continues to say, “God has equipped you with everything you need to fulfill your destiny though His Word.  The scripture tells us that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are anointed.  The word “anointing is the power of God which gives you courage, strength and ability.  When you put the Word of God in you, you are receiving that anointing, you are building your faith, and you are being equipped for every good work.  The next time you start to wonder if you have what it takes, go to God’s Word and stir up your faith.  Focus on His Truth which says you are well able to do what he has called you to do.  You can accomplish your goals.  You have the ideas, the creativity and the talent to be successful.  You can overcome every obstacle!  You’ve been armed with strength for every battle; the forces that are with you are greater than the forces that are against you and you are thoroughly equipped!

Based on a quote from Matthew chapter 6, the Lyrics of one of my favorite songs goes, “Tweet tweet tweet way up high in the sky fly the little birds, without a care in the world, and how much more does the Father provide for the ones He loves?”

God does care about even the tiniest creatures, as tiny as a common house sparrow like the one that Aleisa nurtured as once a tiny featherless bird, who was named Ava and cared for & loved for 9 years…

Speaking of such care, the book of Matthew, chapter 25 says, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your Master’s happiness.’

God saw Aleisa’s gentle and loving ways. He saw William’s strength and willingness to follow His plan. He carefully and purposely chose them to be Nora’s Mom and Dad. He knew they would accept this calling on their lives with love and understanding, even though they knew how difficult it would be.

I quote Aleisa as she has said without hesitation, “If we were asked to carry, care for and love a very special baby,,,but then we’d have to give her back after 2 years,,,we’d still do it.”

The amount of time spent on this earth matters very little. A man can live 90 years and never find God, know Him or accomplish His plan. Someone like Nora, on the other hand, only living on this earth for 2 years, has taught thousands of people the meaning of love, she brings people to the Lord and teaches us the fragile nature of life. That little girl loved her life! She loved her Mom and Dad, her brother Gavin and her sister Greta, her Kelly.  She loved her baffs and her milkies she loved to squeal it out and let everyone know just how happy she was to be alive! She had such a strong and distinct personality…When you focus on all that somebody IS rather than what somebody ISN’T, beautiful things happen.

I was reading back in Aleisa’s blog. Pregnancy day 42, it says: “Dear Nora, As I write to you I’m resting in my bed reveling in your spritely flutters and wiggles.  I think of your sweetest little cheeks, your tiny button nose and your beautiful little eyes. Those beautiful little eyes that I dream will one day soon look up at your Mommy and Daddy expecting nothing but love.  We have an over abundance of love for you, sweet Nora, if only that were enough.”

But don’t we all see it now?! Love was enough! Love is enough! Love will always be enough!

NOT ONE of us in here can say that our lives aren’t better from having Nora in it.  How can anyone doubt God’s words to our little modern day Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations”.    Can you imagine her welcome into heaven?!  I can hear the shouts of glory and victory: “Nora!  You did it!  You did it”!

Nora couldn’t have fulfilled the calling of her life without her parents love and stewardship.  Without her parent’s unwavering faith in God’s plan.

Her little life’s works will continue to go on in so many ways. As I stood in the hospital room with them after Nora had passed away, William came back with the news that Nora was eligible to donate cartilage. I quickly prayed for the Holy Spirit to lead them to the right decision. Aleisa was very truthful in her words, “You know, people are always like, yeah yeah, organ donation….but when the decision comes down to your own child?!”

Seconds of silence went by, “This isn’t Nora anymore,” she said, “If we can help other children by donating her cartilage, I say we do it”. William quickly agreed and the decision was made. How bold. How selfless. How giving. What Love.

I know I speak for every person in this room when I say, thank you Nora, thank you Aleisa, thank you William.

Now let us today, not only honor the life of our precious angel Nora Rose who will be so painfully missed, but let us also honor the birthday of Aleisa, whose own birth and life allowed, embraced and cherished Nora’s beautiful life.

How lucky we are to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Thank you.

Praise You in This Storm

This is the tribute I wrote for Nora’s funeral service. {Post note: I was actually given the strength to get up and read it!}

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As I put my hand on my forehead in despair I feel the tender strain of the muscles and sinew beneath. They’ve been contracted and skewed with unfathomable grief over the past days as I’ve tried to absorb the reality of a life without Nora in it. For a moment I was angry with God, “If this was her time to go, why was it prolonged??? Why didn’t You just take her that horrifying day in the shock and trauma bay??” Just as quickly as I yelled out, I realized. How often after we lose a loved one suddenly do we wish for “just one more day”. Although we weren’t thinking along those lines, AS it seemed like Nora was getting better, I now realize that God gave us not “just one more day”, but he gave us FIFTEEN OF THEM. Those 15 days were spent focused on Nora, PRAYING for her and loving her profoundly. He gave us the gift of one last smile, one last visit from her brudder and her sister, her Kelly and her beloved relatives and friends before He took her home. He gave me the GIFT of laying peacefully next to her in her little hospital crib in the dark, her Daddy on the other side, and surrounded by everyone who loves her. There was no longer a crisis or an emergency. It just WAS. It was her time. So we held her little hands and we whistled and we sang. We stroked her little head and kissed her precious cheeks and told her how much we love her, as we walked her to Heaven’s Door. My heart is wrapped in a mysterious shroud of peace as I look back at how God so tenderly prepared us for these final moments. The 2 week hospitalization in January prepared us for the gift of these 15 days. We got to know the doctors and the nurses and they got to know us and Nora. We were all too familiar with the parent sleep rooms, the teams of doctors rounding, the food menu, medical terminology and on and on. This wasn’t a foreign land that we were suddenly thrust into. There was one part of the hospital that we had never been, but it was exactly as horrible as I had imagined it. My eyes scanned past the skids of medical equipment, diapers, and sanitizing supplies there in the bowels of this huge ship as we trekked along with the clergy and a nurse. Nora’s Daddy held her tightly as if to protect her from it all, a trail of tears behind us. And then there they were. In such a hallway where it seems almost laughable and senseless to hang any type of artwork — THERE THEY WERE.

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I probably seemed hysterical and out of my mind as I pointed out not one, but two framed photos featuring the THREE BIRDS. The three birds, signifying the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who have revealed themselves to us over and over and over again were THERE in that ugly hallway. It was exactly that little bit of reassurance that we needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep breathing, just like so many other times. The chain of unexplainable “coincidences”, for lack of a better word, were put in place as guideposts. They have made us keenly aware that this path is NO ACCIDENT, nor are we walking on it alone.

Late Thursday night as I was rummaging through computer files trying to compile music and two years worth of photos, I stumbled across a short story I had written for a writing class back in 2001. It’s called:

M I S S E D
© 2001 Aleisa
The sun was shining down warmly upon my skin that day. I clearly remember the sound of the dry grass crackling beneath my feet as we walked to that tiny plot of land. There were no clouds, only a hot summer breeze that danced with wisps of my hair. Never had I seen such a delicate baby, but never for a moment did I give up hope. The words of the pastor were soft background noise, as I was completely distracted by your sweet memory. Was there nothing I could have said? Nothing I could have done? I walked away from there without you in my arms, but instead forever in my heart, my love.
A strange emptiness fills our home, neighbors give their silent nods of remorse. I try to keep my empty hands busy and for short periods of time, I forget. But just as soon as I forgot, I hear the echoes of your first cries. I remember the loveliest little baby and the day I was your mother. God will take care of you my little flower. God will rock you in his arms.

Eerily prophetic, but yet another instance of how God was preparing my heart with empathy before He commissioned me with my own assignment. There have been so MANY instances, I could stand up here and ramble on about them all day long.

There have been no mistakes and there is nothing that we wish we would have done differently. I thank and praise God who entrusted us with this beautiful little miracle named Nora. I thank Him for giving us the strength to say YES when the world suggested we opt out. I give thanks and praise to God for the gift of writing and a creative mind that enabled me to share Nora with the world. Thank you GOD for the indescribable joys, and yes thank you too for our sorrows. Book of Romans, Chapter 8, verses 18 – 19 states, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that WILL be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”

Nora was loved every millisecond of her life not only by us, but by all of you and the thousands around the world who have followed along on our journey. Her beautiful two years of LIFE are the fruit of your prayers, when the odds and statistics were stacked against her. She only knew love, as is evidenced by her beautiful little smile. The little bit of suffering that she did endure, is not worth comparing with the GLORY that has now been revealed in her.

As we continue along on our journey, I am boldly confident that God will continue to reveal His presence to us in these days, months and years to come with the hearts, the trios of birds, songs on the radio, etc. Many of you also see them and we are so touched when you share them with us. In a book called “When God Winks” by Squire Rushnell he refers to these coincidences as God winks, “Like a wink from your grandfather, these winks are communicating God’s message to you: ‘Hey kid, I’m thinking about you — right now.”

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His Way is Perfect

From Jesus Calling

I am involved in each moment of your life. I have carefully mapped out every inch of your journey through this day, even though much of it may feel haphazard. Because the world is in a fallen condition, things always seem to be unraveling around the edges. Expect to find trouble in this day. At the same time, trust that My way is perfect, even in the midst of such messy imperfection.

Stay conscious of Me as you go through this day, remembering that I never leave your side. Let the Holy Spirit guide you step by step, protecting you from unnecessary trials and equipping you to get through whatever must be endured. As you trudge through the sludge of this fallen world, keep your mind in heavenly places with Me. Thus the Light of My Presence shines on you, giving you Peace and Joy that circumstances cannot touch.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
—Psalm 18:30

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
—Isaiah 41:13

Update from June 3:

It is with great, great sorrow that I write. Nora passed on into heaven in the very early hours of Tuesday morning, June 3rd. She was surrounded by family and friends who love her — most who were present at her birth, including her Labor & Delivery nurse. I laid next to her, her Daddy stood on her other side. We sang songs to her, whistled to her and stroked her soft hair as she was born into heaven. God has in fact answered our prayers for healing. She is completely restored, made new, and freed from all of the tubes, wires, tape, alarms and monitors. We are so grateful that God chose us to be her parents for the beautiful two years she was on loan to us. She defied all odds and statistics because so many people loved her and prayed for her. She touched thousands of lives in a way I never could hope to do if I lived to be 120. What an amazing Lady Baby, what a gift. Please pray for us as we seemingly grasp in vain at this new “normal”.

Hospital – Day 15

This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:24 NIV)

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The ultrasound revealed that the fluid mass is still there on Nora’s lung. It hasn’t gotten any bigger, so that’s the good news. They know to keep an eye on it.

Right now the “Trouble du Jour” is bright red blood draining from her g-tube along with some other colored fluid which had been the norm, minus the blood. Not sure what to make of it. Earlier someone came in from surgery to assess. The surgeon didn’t seem to be too alarmed by the blood, yes, it’s a little unusual, but said to call her back if it got worse. If see blood where I’m not used to seeing blood and it doesn’t seem to be stopping, I process that as “worse” … when maybe it’s not.

At any rate, I have to go to bed. Thankful I got to go to church this morning and spend some time at home with our Kelly and the kids. Just wish I had more energy. Goodnight and thank you for your prayers!!!!!