Our hearts ached for this little orphan. She had been a candidate for adoption, but her papers had been returned to Beijing. She might spend the rest of her gray existence in the orphanage, and finally, on the street. It would be a short life.

She needed a home, a family, and surgery for a ventricular septal defect. She was 2 years old, and the operation should have been performed in infancy to prevent lung damage.

Already in our mid-50s, my wife and I weren’t getting any younger ourselves.

Jan and I knew it was unconventional to target a specific Chinese orphan, probably even a foolish fantasy, yet we had to try. Because China was reorganizing the adoption process at the time, all adoptions from China had ceased. Our adoption agency was honest with us. The director even said, “Don’t count on it.”

When China finally approved her adoption we knew that we were witnessing a miracle. But when it came time for us to travel, we were told that now we couldn’t have her after all. There was a glitch on the other side of the world—a technicality that made her adoption by anyone unlikely.

In all, it took 16 months of waiting, praying, the dedication of Holt International Children’s Services—and a miracle from an unexpected source. Finally we made that long trek to the far side of the world to rendezvous with our new daughter. In new suits and fresh haircuts, the little girl and her traveling companions resembled astronauts stepping out into another world.

With a new name, our Helene was 3 years old by the time she came home. The next day we visited the cardiologist. He suggested we delay the operation for a few months, until Helene could adjust to her new life.

Jan always tucked our two girls into bed, but on the evening before surgery, Helene lay her head on my shoulder and fell asleep. She knew something momentous was about to happen. I sensed her telling me, “Daddy, I’m afraid, but I’m going to trust you because I know you love me.”

We arrived at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas early in the morning on April Fool’s Day. Dr. Nikaido sutured one hole, put a Dacron patch over another, and carved away the muscle build-up that had actually constricted the blood flow in what turned out to be another miracle: Helene would not need a lung transplant.

The words from a popular country song came to mind. “A rose looks gray at midnight, but the flame is just asleep,” sang Johnny Cash. When the doctor wheeled our child out of the operating room she no longer appeared dull and pale. She was pink as a rose in the morning sun. Our foolish dream had come true.

As Helene’s English improved she commented about her surgery: “I used to have a hole in my heart,” she said, “but now I have a whole heart.” Later, I overheard her singing, “With my whole heart, Lord, let me love you with my whole heart.”

A whole heart and a trusting, thankful heart.

(Holt International Children’s Services first published this story as “Whole Heart” in their magazine in 2007).