the greatest gift my mom gave me

“What are you doing?  Why aren’t you out there?” I asked my son as he sat down next to me during gymnastics practice.  My oldest son is a competitive gymnast, and he has newly discovered an emotion in regards to the sport that he has taken up…

FEAR

“I just don’t want to do a back hand-spring.  I’m scared”  he said.  I went on to tell stories about my own fears, and how overcoming them have led to accomplishing fun things  – like the first time I tried clip-in cycling shoes and fell over and over again until I got it right.  He remembers watching me fall over and over again, and how I put my bike away for a few weeks, until I got it out, clipped in, and rode away determined to not let fear overcome me.

I also asked him, “Is this it?  Are you ready to quit?”  He shrugged his shoulders, and whispered the word “maybe”.  I said, “No.  Not like this.  Get out there, do your job.  You can do it.  Once you get it, you will love it.  There is nothing to be scared of.”

He finished practice and didn’t mention his fear again.  Later in the day, I told him the story of Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug who finished her last vault with a broken ankle, and in doing so, became an Olympic champion.  I talked about fear and how sometimes the hardest things we do in life are often not the easiest.

The truth is – this is NOT about gymnastics.  It is NOT about if my son will ever go on to be a champion in the sport.  No, this is not about these things at all.  Instead, it is about teaching my son that when the going gets tough, the tough keep going. In other words, it is about overcoming fears, and accepting challenges.  It’s about perseverance.

I’ve thought about this topic often, perhaps more now than I ever have before. Now that I am a mother, I admire the quality that instinctively knows how to teach children about perseverance.  It is not an easy task, and yet, it is probably one of the most important character-building values that a parent can teach a child.

This also got me to thinking about my own upbringing, and the lessons learned.  One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was not a gift at all.  It was not expensive, tangible, collectible, or desired.

It was the gift of perseverance.

Some of my earliest memories of the words my mom spoke to me include the following:

“You can be whatever you want as long as you put your heart into it.”

My mom knows a lot about life not being fair.  The youngest of ten children born in the Ozarks (southern Missouri), she experienced a life without a lot of frills.  At the age of seven, her daddy suddenly died, leaving behind her mother with children still at home.

After his death, my grandma packed up the kids who were still at home, and moved to the city to find work.  Mom has told me of having one pair of shoes per year. She has shared with me about my grandma working three jobs to keep food on the table. Sometimes, mom would come home to an empty house and eat a can of green beans for dinner.  She recalls hiding “nice things” from the social worker who stopped by to make sure grandma was not taking advantage of the welfare checks.

As you might be able to imagine, my mom and her siblings did not have the best of things growing up.  However, maybe…just maybe, they learned the best characteristics of the human experience.  They learned that family is important, hard work is required, and sometimes, life is not fair, but that is not a good enough reason to stop carrying on.  They learned the value of perseverance.

After my illness and hysterectomy in 1983, as you can imagine, mom leaned a lot on perseverance.  She had to.  She had to show me that sometimes life isn’t fair, and you just have to get up and keep going.  She also had to abide by the notion that there is a reason behind everything that happens in life, and that God allows things that we do not understand at the time, but one day, these things once thought of as being a cruel twist in life, can turn out to be incredibly strengthening lessons.  These lessons, in turn, are amazing blessings.

I remember parts of my time in the hospital, and afterward.  I do not remember how it affected my mother, though.  I look back at some pictures and can tell she became awfully thin during that time, but otherwise, she was still the same mom as she was before that sadness entered her life, my dad’s, and mine.

She got right back up, day after day, and continued to raise a daughter who learned to believe in setting her heart to the things she wanted to accomplish in life. She taught strength, courage, and perseverance by simply modeling what it is to keep going on in life, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to not allow set-backs be an excuse for giving up.

My first birthday following my hysterectomy - 1983.
My first birthday following my hysterectomy – 1983.

My mom has faced many giants in her life. The impact of my illness on her, honestly, has been lifelong. It doesn’t take much to provoke a tear out of her when talking about it. Still yet, there’s that resilience….that echo of perseverance that has resonated throughout the years.

As I reflect on my son’s own fear of accomplishing what seems to be a difficult task, I appreciate so much of the unspoken acts of intentional courage that my mother showed to me.  I appreciate more than ever the stronghold she displayed when faced with unwavering despair.

 Persevering through difficult times, hard choices, moments that take the wind out of you, seemingly simplistic fears, and times when it is hard to discern God’s reasoning, are the times when we, as parents, can make an incredible, life-altering impact on our children’s lives.

Fellow parents, and yet-to-be parents, keep on keeping on.  After all is said and done, your courage to persevere will make a lasting impression on your children, and in turn, on future generations.

Through him we have also obtained  access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that  suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character  produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been  poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to  us.  —Romans 5:2-5

My Response to the Response

The past few days I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to a blog post I wrote back in June of this year.  From what I can tell, the post titled Dear Parent of a Sick Child, was found via a Google search.  It was shared on Facebook, then shared again, and again. Since Wednesday, my blog has received over 34,000 views.  In particular, the post has been shared on Facebook over 10,000 times.

I’m completely overwhelmed and humbled by this response.  Some bloggers get this high of numbers of views on a constant basis, but not me.  I’m a pretty simple blogger who enjoys writing and sharing about my struggle with barrenness, my joy of being an adoptive parent, and my walk in the Lord.

I’ve been moved to tears by the messages from parents sitting by their terminally ill children, parents who have lost children to illness, or ones celebrating their children’s recovery.  I don’t even know what to say in response, and at times, I can barely find the words.

The funny thing is that I do not believe it is my most well-written post.  I have read it many times since, and still see flaws, and areas I would like to tweak a bit.  When discussing this with a friend, she pointed out that perhaps it is even more evident that God is moving on this one.  I cannot help but agree with her.

Back in June, I was moved to write the open letter partly in honor of my mom and dad, and the love they showed me during my illness.  I also wrote it to give voice to things I wished I would have been able to say during that fateful time in my life.  My hope was to encourage parents caring for sick children.

Ultimately though, I wanted to give a glimpse of what it is like to be cared for as an ill child.  I wanted people to know that when I think about the time spent in the hospital, I remember some moments of sadness during it all, but mostly, I remember the presence of my mom and dad.  Sure, I sensed the heaviness of what was going on, but I still felt the never-ceasing support, and genuine love given to me.

I remember the presence of love over my pain.

With all of this being said, I feel the need to share what has been on my heart this week.  Here is my response to the response thus far:

  • Nothing we do is insignificant.  Nothing.
  • Moments in time, regardless of how long ago, have the potential to come back full circle, and in ways we could not ever comprehend.
  • There are many hurting people in the world.  Tell your life story.  You never know the kind of impact it will have on someone who needs to hear it.
  • There are a tremendous amount of seriously ill children, and exhausted parents.  Please pray for those families who have read my post, and the many more who have not.
  • Please do not take your life and your little ones for granted.
  • When the Lord prompts you to do something, then do it.
  • The Lord, through His mercy of sparing my life back in 1983 and through current events in my life, has proved Himself time and again.

I especially want to thank the parents who have read my post, or commented on it by sharing a little bit about their struggle.  You all have thanked me over and over again, but I say, “Thank you.”  Thank you for sharing your stories with me.  Thank you for fighting for your babies.  Thank you for not giving up hope.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  You have touched my heart more than you will ever know.

Throughout my early years, I often wondered why I dealt with illnesses that were difficult.  I especially anguished over having a hysterectomy at such a young age.  I cannot tell you enough how truly remarkable it is to be able to share my story with the hope that it comforts others.

This was my path that the Lord laid out for me, and for that, I give thanks.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

-1 Thessalonians 5:18

Dear Parent of a Sick Child

Dear Parent of a Sick Child,

Hello there.  How are you?  No, really…how are you?  I’m sure you are tired, worried, overwhelmed, desperately seeking normalcy, and wondering when your child will get better.  I hope my words bring you encouragement.

When I was a sick child, I remember being cared for by adults.  I remember the adults that surrounded my bedside whispering encouragement into my ears.  I remember never waking up alone in my hospital room, never wondering if I would be taken care of, and never imagining that I was not loved.

My memories are mostly like flashes from a movie screen.  These moments are frozen in time.  I knew I was in an immense amount of pain, but I don’t remember the pain.  I don’t remember the struggle to survive.  I don’t remember my body being ravaged by infection.  I don’t remember these moments at all.

I do, however, remember the love I felt in the room.  I remember the gentle rubbing of my arms, the softness of someone holding my hand, the brushing away of my hair from my eyes, and the kisses on my face.  I remember these things.

I remember receiving cards, letters, balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, and just about anything else that would bring a smile to me.  I remember waking up with my parents there….all of the time.  Even when I was in and out of consciousness, I remember them.

I also remember my parents never showing their fear, despite being filled with it.  I remember how they showed great strength; even though their bodies wore the trappings of exhaustion.  I remember their caring hands, their patience with my recovery, and their filling-in to meet my daily needs.  I remember being told I was a “little trooper”, and that my will to live was stronger than any illness.  I remember my mother giving me baths in the hospital, and my dad holding my hand as often as he could.

Please, dear parent, please know that your presence is precious to your sick child. Your bravery is beautiful, and your courage is contagious.  Don’t stop fighting for your child.  Don’t stop asking questions about treatment options.  Don’t stop whispering sweet words of hope into your child’s ears.  These words will resonate deep down in your child.

Tell your child how much you love them.  Tell your child that he or she is the bravest little one you have ever seen.  Tell your child stories of healing.  Tell your child that he or she is a superhero.  Give your child the hope that you are clinging to.  Pray for your child; pray over child; and ask others to join in your prayers.

Your child knows you are there.  He or she knows it, even if not awake.  Don’t forget that.  You are the most significant person in his or her life.  You matter. Please, dear parent, please know how much you mean to your sickly child.

Hang in there.  You are in a situation that you never dreamed you would be in.  You would give anything to trade positions with your baby, but you cannot.  I know how hard that must be for you.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, get some sleep.  Ask for help.  Take care of yourself.  You are a superhero.  You are a trooper.  Your will is strong.  Don’t forget these things.

 Your child needs you.

Bless you, dear parent, bless you. Thank you for striving for the best care for your child.  Thank you for holding his or her hand in the middle of many sleepless nights.  Thank you for putting on the bravest face you can during this difficult time.

Dear Parent of a Sick Child, what you are doing matters.  Your strength, your wisdom, your love, your hope, your courage, and your presence are the greatest gifts you can give your child.  Don’t forget that, and don’t be discouraged.  

Your child will remember your presence more than the pain.

Other posts you might like:  Mother’s Resilience 

                                           Valley of Death, Mercy of Life

                                           Dear Parent of a Sick Child (letter #2)