Stay the Course
It's been quite some time since I've written for the Kyle's Kamp blog. I will honestly say that compared to the first three years I was involved in the pediatric cancer community as a volunteer, this fourth year has been a bit different. I was less engaged and less focused. I shut down my heart a bit. I don't even know that it was conscious.
I've certainly been to a number of events in the last year. I've volunteered in the clinic to play games with the patients. I continued to facilitate the Dreams Events for Kyle's Kamp. I've stood in front of groups of people to thank them for raising money for Children's Hospital Foundation through those events. I've read updates online of children I've met. I've typed out pathetically inadequate "I'm so sorry" comments on the posts of grieving mamas accompanied by yellow hearts and praying hands emojis which seem utterly ridiculous - shamefully, woefully, superbly lame efforts to remind them, "I'm still here. I still read your words. I still hold you close."
So, although I haven't been entirely absent, I've not taken time to sit and write reflections for this blog which was really the first task that I was asked to do for Kyle's Kamp. There are a zillion reasonable explanations for this absence. I have a husband and a household to run. I have three kids who need to be here and there and everywhere all at the same time. I had the not-small matter of a son who graduated this year and went away to college. We have family events and travel and sports obligations. We have mundane tasks to accomplish, challenges to tackle and joyful moments to celebrate. These people are the ones God has entrusted to me and they need me and my attention.
And those are all logical, perfectly good reasons to lessen my time in this effort.
But perhaps the truth is that it's much more than that schedule that keeps me away from this space. Sitting down to write requires something different of me. For me, writing equals feeling. It forces me to search deep and think hard and imagine myself in someone else's shoes. Writing is listening to that still, small voice that says to me, "This is what I need you to learn in this life. This is where you need to act. This is what you are not allowed to forget."
So it was that, determined to have a blog post up before the end of September which happens to be Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I sat down to write. But, it seemed as if all I could focus on was all the hopelessness and sorrow and difficulty that I have witnessed along these four years.
There is still not enough funding for children's cancers. The treatments are still archaic and dangerous. There are new diagnoses. Kids are still suffering. Some have relapsed. Some have died. And my friends who have lost their children will never, ever stop grieving. Frustrated, I clicked the computer closed and went out to for a run.
As I started out in my neighborhood along the boring, suburban sidewalks, my legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored. It was hot and tedious. Everything in my mind and my body was telling me to just quit for today. It was too hard. I was too tired. My pace was too slow. There wasn't any use because the finish line I had set for today was just too far away.
Just before I was about to stop and turn around, I looked up and saw the one short stretch on my whole boring course that was pretty. It is less than a tenth of a mile - a mere moment in the whole of my route. But it is there. In the midst of suburban bland is a perfectly beautiful path through a creek, surrounded by trees and blue sky. It is the one small glimpse of beauty that makes the miles ahead seem doable. It was then that I heard that still, small voice.
"Stay the course."
I finished my run, noticing along the way that just beyond the tedium of a boring block of sidewalk would appear a pond sparkling under the sunlight. As I reached the top of a particularly steep slope, my thighs burning with effort, I passed a sweet, sleeping baby in a stroller. As I neared the end of my run, tired and sweaty, I saw an elderly couple out for a morning walk holding hands.
"Stay the course," the voice urged.
In the Gospel of John, the Savior I worship told me straight up, "In this world you will have trouble." And I know that not one of us will escape it. He never promised us a life free of pain.
But later 2 Timothy 1:7 tells me this: "For we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
Isn't this the truest fact of our lives? That there will be difficulty and pain and exhaustion and sadness no matter the direction our life takes us? And yet, if we let fear keep us from staying the course, we are sure to miss the beautiful moments that will pop up out of no where. And for me those moments have added up to a life more abundant that I ever could have guessed.
Along this road, I have witnessed stories of strengthened faith in the face of unimaginable loss that take my breath away. I have gained more than one cherished, forever friend who will be part of me for the rest of my life.. I have witnessed courageous battles and triumphant remissions wherein children return to school and friendships and sports. I have watched hundreds and hundreds of people in a community pour all of their love and all of their prayer into one small family lifting them up when they are at their very lowest.. I have seen millions of dollars donated to pediatric cancer research. I have seen young healthy children gain an entire new appreciation for "normal" because of the voice of one brave boy. And even this: I have laughed until I can barely breathe with ladies who have suffered the greatest loss a woman can suffer. I have laughed with them. Real, true, belly-ache inducing laughter.
How in the world could I let fear keep me from that?
It is true that in certain seasons of my life, I might not be able to give as much time to this community as I did in the past. The circumstances of my family and obligations might make that difficult. It even might be appropriate at times to guard my heart. But I will not do that out of fear of feeling. I will not turn my back because it's too sad, too upsetting or too painful. I will not live in the fear that there is no hope to share, no beauty to find, no joy to experience. Because that is a lie.
Whatever it is in this life that you don't want to look at? Whatever path ahead seems too brutal, too painful, too much to handle, remember that fear only robs you of the promised joy and laughter and invaluable lessons that are sure to show up along the way.
Jim Valvano, a mere six weeks before he died of cancer, said, "If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week. You're going to have something special."
In this pediatric cancer community there is laughter and thinking and crying. There is pain and there is beauty and that makes for a heck of a life. I don't want to miss it. I think I'll stay the course.
Jenn Skinner is a Christian and a Texan(Texas Longhorn to be specific!) living in beautiful Virginia with her very patient and funny husband and her 3 very impatient and funny little boys/ball players, She joined the fight against Pediatric Cancer with Kyle's Kamp in 2013. She also writes about just about everything and nothing and the ridiculously abundant life God has gifted her at her blog, The View From Behind Home Plate