God’s Amazing Gracie

“God placed her first into our hearts and then into our arms.”


“Many people questioned why we would adopt a child who most likely would not come home from the hospital,” said Gayle Opp, a member of Bethany Alliance Church in Charles City, Iowa.

“Not once was this questioned by our church family. Instead, we felt their arms around us, as if they were adopting Gracie as their own. Gracie is not only our baby, but very much the child of our entire congregation.”

Unexpected Call

The Opp family’s journey began in the summer of 2006, when members of Bethany Alliance were planning a short-term missions trip to their sister congregation, Fullness of Life (Alliance) Church in JungLi, Taiwan. As Gayle’s husband, Curtis, prayed about his possible involvement, he felt the Lord telling him that his role in missions was going to be much different. God wanted the Opps to adopt a Chinese baby.

Although they initially requested a “healthy infant under 12 months of age,” Gayle and Curtis received a list from China of children with special needs. When the girl they chose went to another family, the adoption agency sent Curtis and Gayle the file of a child being born to a Chinese woman in the United States. Ultrasound had determined that the baby had serious health problems. “We knew immediately that this child was going to be our daughter,” said Gayle.

Gracie Yan Opp was born December 17, 2006, with heterotaxy syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which the major organs are distributed abnormally within the chest and abdomen. Her heart had two chambers instead of four, and there was no wall separating the two sides. Before Gracie was born, Gayle and Curtis were told that she had a 60–65 percent chance of survival. “We know that those statistics mean absolutely nothing to God,” Gayle wrote in an online adoption journal. “We know that His plan is perfect.”

During her first year, Gracie spent months in the hospital. “God never told us this would be easy, just that He would be with us,” said Gayle. “Bethany Alliance was our lifeline. Our church family prayed and prayed, as a Body and as individuals. Pastor Kent Sovine and his family spent many days alongside us as we prayed through long surgeries and bad news.”

Praying for Miracles

On March 15, 2007, Gayle and Curtis were told that Gracie wasn’t going to make it. She had been flown to the Mayo Clinic, where she underwent an 11-hour bypass. Her pulmonary vessels were closing, and a valve was leaking badly. “Until Gracie takes her last breath, we will continue to pray for a miracle,” Gayle wrote in her journal.

The following day, Gracie was unhooked from the ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine. The Opps were told she would live one to two hours. Curtis and Gayle prepared their other three children—Derek, Connor and Breuklyn—to say good-bye. “We had not only Gracie’s broken heart but five more broken hearts. We serve a God who provides comfort, yet He also gives us a future secure in Himself. That is what we leaned on—the only thing that made sense,” Gayle wrote on March 16.

“We sat outside her room while she was taken off the ECMO, preparing our hearts to hold her for the last time, preparing to say ‘Good-bye for now.’ But it is six hours later, and Gracie is doing well. We have hope for survival.”

“When the doctors told us we had only a couple of hours with our sweet daughter and sister, our children prayed for a miracle,” Gayle said. “And God answered them with a miracle.” Gracie was released from the hospital a few weeks later—on Good Friday—and was dedicated to the Lord on Easter Sunday. A group from Fullness of Life was visiting, so Gracie was dedicated to the Lord in English and in Chinese by Pastor Sovine and the pastor from Taiwan. “People from opposite ends of the world were under one roof singing praises to the God who created her,” said Gayle.

Surprised by God

In November 2007, Gracie’s world darkened again. She was outgrowing a shunt that was routing blood to her left lung. Without both lungs, Gracie would not be able to have the future surgeries needed for survival. The Opps were told to resign themselves to a short-term, rather than a long-term, plan for her life.

That day Gayle wrote in her journal, “We will rejoice, even through tears, that God designed this little being and placed her in our arms. We will continue to storm heaven on her behalf because we long to be her parents for years to come. We long to tell her about the miracle she is, about the days that she was in the hospital teaching doctors and nurses and janitors more than a textbook could possibly teach them.”

Two weeks later, the Opps met with the cardiologist to discuss Gracie’s future. He pulled up the lab video that had been taken of Gracie’s lung. The screen lit up with an intricate “painting” of detailed lines and curves. Her body had grown a network of fully working blood vessels around the shunt. Both of Gracie’s lungs were functioning.

The following month, Gracie celebrated her first birthday. At the Sunday morning service, all the children at Bethany Alliance sang to her. “Gracie’s life has taught us more in one year than a lifetime without her,” said Gayle. “We have witnessed God’s mighty hand moving again and again throughout her little body and holding onto her heart. At the same time, He’s been holding onto ours.”

Today, Gracie’s long-term prognosis is unclear. “We watch and wait,” said Gayle, “knowing that God has this all figured out and we will be along for the ride. God has determined Gracie’s days, so we try not to get caught up with how many she has. We believe there are truly no limits to His power!” Gayle’s journal entry dated January 29, 2008, reads:

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2a).

When we sing, Gracie “sings.” She has no words, just a loud “aaaaahhh!” Is she singing praises? In church on Sunday morning, she had her arms in the air, singing right along. Is this praise to God? We know He sees her, we know He hears her. I believe her little voice is sweet music, not only to her parents, but to the God who gave her a voice!

When I was 17 years old, I gave birth to a perfect, beautiful little boy. I left the hospital alone and my son was given to his parents, those who would love him, take care of him, provide for him and give him a home that I simply wasn’t able to do as well at that time in my life.

Today, my eldest son is back in my life. God has been faithful to both of us, separately, but faithful nonetheless. It is amazing to experience the truth of God’s promises, knowing He has a plan for each of our lives. His plan truly is to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). We have been given an amazing gift, answers to our most heartfelt and humble prayers, witnessing God’s perfect and complete timing in working out the details in our lives.

On my son’s seventeenth birthday, I decided to somehow contact him, that beautiful child who was growing into a man. But as I sat at my computer, the words just wouldn’t come. Six months later, after much prayer and seeking, I felt that it was time to go ahead and write that letter. My son and his parents received the letter the day after they had prayed for the very first time about finding his birth mom. God’s timing is amazing and His goodness never ending. In a short time, I was holding onto that beautiful boy once again.

I stand in awe at my God, who is so personal and loving. Only He can take something as ugly as sin and as humbling as a scared, pregnant teenager and turn it into something glorious.

—Gayle Opp

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