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Friday, June 21, 2013

Praying for a Smile: An Ollie Story

Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest packages. When I first read about Ollie, I knew he was one of those great gifts, so I begged Ollie’s Auntie, Melissa Tagg, to come to LBOC and tell my readers a little something about him.

Given Ollie is one of her favorite topics to talk about, she said yes … with one stipulation—I post it on his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Ollie!!!

Ollie and MelissaToday one of my favorite kids in the whoooole world turns three—my nephew, Oliver (Ollie) Reece.

Ollie was born in 2010 with multiple heart defects and Down syndrome. He spent the bulk of that first year at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, enduring a slew of open heart surgeries and other operations.

Now I will admit something here: I’m not a big crier. At least, not in public. If I’m going to go all red-eyed and snotty-nosed, I’d prefer to do it in the privacy of my own home, thank you very much.

But when it comes to Ollie, I’ve been known to tear up at, um, everything. Usually happy things: a surgeon announcing an operation was a success, seeing a video of Ollie sitting up for the first time, just watching him sleep and realizing I’m looking at a miracle in the flesh.

Sometimes harder things, though, too: like the first time I saw my sister and brother-in-law (Amy and Chip) work together to change Ollie’s trach. I honestly couldn’t handle watching Ollie’s silent cries and had to leave the room. (Although, these days he handles trach changes amazingly—as he does everything else, it seems!)

But my most poignant memory of, well, pretty much losing it in tears was just after Ollie’s first birthday. Health-wise, he’d been doing pretty great for a few months. But about a week after his first birthday, he went downhill quickly and was flown back to Children’s Mercy in preparation for another critical heart surgery. This is the one he’d needed since birth and his other surgeries were mainly “band-aids” to give him time to get strong enough for this big one.

The day after he was flown back to K.C., I drove down to spend time withOllie in swing my sister and brother-in-law at the hospital. Because only two people were allowed in the NICU at a time, first I visited Ollie with Amy. So many tubes. So many machines. My heart ached seeing him so sick again. But as we stood over his bed, holding his fingers and whispering encouragement, his eyes fluttered open…and he smiled.

That’s not the part where I lost it, though. :)

Later on, my sister and brother-in-law switched places. So this time I stood over Ollie’s bed with Chip. We’d told Chip about Ollie smiling. And I’m telling you, in those stretched-out minutes, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than for Ollie to smile again…this time at his dad. In fact, I think I turned a little toddler-ish with my mental prayers in those moments. I can still hear myself: “God, with everything Ollie needs right now, this might sound dumb. But pleasepleasepleaseplease let Chip see Ollie smile.”

And Ollie opened his eyes.

And smiled.

And I lost it. (And confession: might be close to losing it again as I type this.)

Praying for a smile. Maybe it’s a silly thing. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of those few minutes since—and about the people around me who need to see a smile. Or feel a touch. Or hear a word of encouragement.

And about Ollie. His grins. The amazing amounts of joy he’s brought to Amy and Chip and our whole family and probably every person who’s ever met him. His infectious happiness in the midst of heart and health challenges.

And I think, man, I just want to be Ollie to the people around me.

I want to be God’s answer to someone else’s prayer for a smile.

For a laugh.

For a reminder of God’s amazing goodness and faithfulness.

Like Ollie.

Has God shown Himself to you through a little one? Share it with us below.


Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter and total Iowa girl. Her debut novel, Made to Last, releases from Bethany House in September 2013. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, she is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers.  When she's not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies and daydreaming about her next book. She's passionate about humor, grace and happy endings. Melissa loves connecting at melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg).

You can also find her here:

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/MelissaTagg

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/MelissaTagg

Other posts you might like:

A No-Matter-What Kind of Joy

How to Treat a Child with Autism

Am I an Autism Mom or the Mother of a Boy with Autism?


  1. "An Ollie Story" ...
    Oh, I'm so thankful for all the Ollie Stories you've shared with us, Melissa. And I have a feeling there will be many, many more in years to come. He's a precious boy, here with a God-given purpose that we are just beginning to see revealed.
    Thank you for sharing him with us.

    1. And I'm thankful for all your prayers throughout the past three years, Beth. The fact that you got to meet Ollie is the cherry on top! :)

  2. Thanks a lot Melissa. Now everyone in the Barnes and Noble cafe are wondering why I'm blubbering. They are trying to comfort me. Call someone to come get me. Ahhh... to be like Ollie to the world. Now that is something to aspire to!

    1. Is it wrong that I giggled at the picture in my head of you blubbering in B&N? :)

  3. Yes, he is precious. And those pictures ... that's a smile with reckless abandon. You can't help but smile back and somehow your day is better than what it was beforehand.

    1. Thanks for the invite, Connie! I love writing about Ollie!

  4. What a sweet story!! It's amazing what a smile can do, truly. It's an unbelievable connection--and a gift we can offer people every day.

    1. So true...I feel like you offer me virtual smiles every day, Linz. :)

  5. Count it all joy...those are the words that come to mind as I read this. Ollie's journey hasn't been easy for your family, but you are able to find JOY in it. Praise the Lord!

  6. And you made me tear up! But I always tear up when I hear Ollie stories. Happy tearing up. Thanks for making my day today, Melissa!

    1. Yep, stories about Ollie tend to be the happy tear producing kind. :) Thanks, Pat!