Courageously Incomplete

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Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

While at my daughter’s sixth grade Open House, we listened to the teachers discuss the curriculum and then we toured her classrooms.  A booklet was on her desk that included a letter from my daughter, a scavenger hunt, and a blank page for me to write a note to her.  As we checked the items off the scavenger hunt list, we wrote down her locker number and searched for various items in her classroom.  Then, we moved to another one of her classrooms.  She started looking through a bin searching for a project she wanted to show me.  As she shuffled through the papers, she warned me several times that it wasn’t finished.

It was a picture of sneakers that she started to color with markers.  I thought it was just a typical art project.  I noticed all the colors she used on the sneakers and how neatly she colored it.  She was very artistic so it didn’t surprise me.  Then, I noticed that around the shoes were incomplete statements like “I am…”, “I wonder … “, and “I feel…”.

As I read her responses, I was taken back by what I read. Around the colorful shoes, she she finished the statements and her answers were like windows that looked directly into her heart.

I am … creative and courageous.

I wonder … what life will be like when I am older. 

I hear … birds sunnily chirping in the chilly fall weather. 

I want … love shown to others and I. 

I feel … very upset when people aren’t kind. 

I cry … when upsetting news is brought to me. 

I understand … that everything will work out in the end. 

I say … life only gets better. 

I try … to make people feel good about themselves every day. 

I hope … that my family and friends will live a happy and healthy life. 

I had been feeling pretty emotional lately.  A few weeks ago, I had some symptoms that pointed to the very real possibility that my cancer had progressed.  It was pretty intense as I waited for the scan … and then waited for the results.  I cried. I prayed.  And I did a lot of thinking.

One of my greatest fears was leaving my children.  When I was diagnosed with cancer the first time, my kids were little.  They needed their mom to read them stories, to kiss them good night, to fix their boo-boos.  When I was diagnosed the second time, my kids were a little older.  They needed me to bake them cookies, take them to the park, fix their hair and pick out their clothes. When I was waiting for those results, my kids seemed more grown than little, more independent than needy, more adult than child. I started to look into their future and I saw the things I wanted for them.  I saw the things I wanted to be to them. I saw the things I wanted yet to teach them …

I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough time on this earth to be the mother they needed.

Praise God, my prayers were answered. Even my doctor seemed surprised that the scan showed no progression. I was so very grateful…and so very much relieved. Still, the thoughts that I allowed to creep into my mind during those dark hours were weighing on my mind.  I wasn’t going to leave my children soon, as I had feared .. but it opened up my eyes to how much I still wanted to pour into them. I wanted to teach them and guide them. I wanted to tell them all those things that would help them in their later years. I wanted to hug them so tightly that they be able to feel my love long after I was gone.

Honestly, I felt desperate after the scan results. Those feelings were unexpected. It was a relief so heavy, I couldn’t shake it.  I received wonderful news but that news brought about a new urgency.  That phone call could have easily gone the other way.  Instead of celebration, it could have been devastation. God had given me more time – but what I was going to do with the time became that much more important. My priorities were going to change again and I was going to have to become even more selfish with my time, giving it to the people and things I loved the most. That bad scan didn’t come this time … but it would come one day.  There was so much more I wanted to do before that happened.

My daughter had been going through some typical pre-teen girl stuff. That yucky stuff. That drama that tends to follow girls.  That sting of betrayal. That first lesson about how people surprise you, how people hurt you, and how people don’t always treat you how you treat them.  That first lesson about how friends sometimes grow away from each other, how friends come and go at different times in your life, and how friends aren’t alway who we think they are.

It had been a tough few weeks for me, personally, with the scan and other issues; but an even tougher few weeks as a parent.  My heart broke as I watched my daughter question herself, wondering what she did to make people behave the way they did. I watched my daughter’s confidence waver as she wondered what she did wrong. Ugh. Still, as we sat up and talked that night, I was impressed with how very mature she had become. Although her heart was broken, she was the one that made the decision to break ties with a friend who wasn’t treating her right.  She was the one who didn’t understand why a friend would abandon her; especially when she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong. She was the one who didn’t want to waste her time on people who didn’t care about her.

She told me she walked through the halls by herself sometimes, but she would rather do that than walk someone who wasn’t really her friend.  She told me didn’t like a lot of the same things as her friends did, but she wasn’t going to pretend she did to fit in with them.  She told me that she talked to a lot of people at school, but she was learning the difference between the people she ‘talked to’ and the people she considered friends.

I held back tears that night as we cuddled in my bed and I stroked her hair like I did when she was little. As hard as it was, these were the moments I prayed for, these were the moments that I wanted as a parent.  I wanted the privilege to be there for her.  I wanted the privilege to talk her through those situations. These were the moments I feared I wouldn’t get when I was diagnosed the first time. It was never easy to watch your child suffer; but I still thanked God that night that I was there to help her through it.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (Thessalonians 5:16-18)

My heart broke for her, but she was so strong. My heart swelled with pride that she was going through it with strength, with the knowledge of who she was, and with the determination to hold true to herself.  I saw a glimpse of the young woman she was growing up to be.  God allowed me to see that even though it seemed like she never listened to me at times; she heard me loud and clear.  She may have rolled her eyes and looked like her mind was somewhere else; but it was clear that night that those things I told her over and over again, those lessons I shared with her – she was listening and taking it all in, even if she didn’t let me know it.

She got it.  She was going to have to walk through it, just like we all did as we grew up; but, in her eleven years, she already knew way more than I did at her age.  In her eleven years, she already had a pretty good idea of who she was, and that she wasn’t interested in being anyone else.  In her eleven years, she already knew that when people didn’t treat you right, you didn’t have to stick around.  It took me a lot longer than eleven years to figure that one out.  She already knew that it was often better to be alone, than in the company of false friends.

I took a picture of that sneaker project and once I got home and had time to reflect, I looked at her answers again. I tried to read the answers she wrote as I would have read the answers of a young woman I didn’t know. I tried to see inside that young woman’s heart.

Then, I read them again as her mother, who often worried that I might be forced to leave my job as her Mom unfinished…

My daughter hears birds sunnily (her word) chirping in the fall weather.  She takes notice of the little things. She appreciates the beauty around her.  It is always the little things that matter the most. She knows that already and if she remembers that; then she can look forward to a lifetime of happiness.

My daughter wants love shown to others and to herself.  She wants this world to be a better place. She wants people to treat each other with kindness and respect.  I know that even in this world that is often cold and cruel, she will be someone who will show warmth and kindness to others.

My daughter cries when she hears upsetting news. She feels things. She is empathetic.  Her heart hasn’t been hardened by the things she has endured in her young life.  Her heart is wide open. She is vulnerable.  She may shed tears, but I believe that vulnerability is a sign of strength and a sign of God’s love that lives in her heart. She can reach others by showing her own weakness.

My daughter gets upset when people aren’t kind. She doesn’t like when people are mean to each other.  She is bothered when people don’t do the right thing, when people hurt each other.  I believe that people who are aware of injustice, who pay attention to the people who have no voice – those are the people that make real change.  My daughter is going to be one of those people.

My daughter tries to make people feel good about themselves.  My daughter likes to make people happy.  My daughter sees things in people that they don’t see in themselves. My daughter knows how it feels to not have confidence in herself so she doesn’t want others to feel that way.  My daughter is learning that she will gain confidence in herself simply by giving it to others.

My daughter understands that everything will work out in the end. My daughter has lived through some pretty hard things.  She watched me lose my hair. She watched me go through cancer treatment.  She watched me lose friends during my treatment. She also watched me power through.  She watched me grow stronger.  When I told her my last scan was clear, she said, “Your scans are always clear”. It was more than just confidence that spilled out of her mouth that day. It was faith. She has it.  With faith like that, God is going to bless her in so many wonderful ways.

My daughter says life only gets better. My daughter knows that we will all go through difficult times; but she also knows that those difficult times are temporary. She knows that we struggle sometimes, but things will turn out alright.  If my daughter continues to focus on the good things ahead while paddling through the storm; she can look forward to a bright future.

My daughter hopes that her family and friends live a happy and healthy life. My daughter values those people closest to her. My daughter takes care of those around her.  My daughter thinks of others.  My daughter wants the best for those she loves.  If my daughter shows love like that to those around her, that love is going to come back to her tenfold.

My daughter is creative and courageous. She sure is!  My daughter is creative. My daughter’s emotions flow out of her in many ways – through words, through pen, and through a lens.  She creates beautiful works of art. She has an eye for color. She thinks about things in ways no one has done before.  She is courageous. I have watched her step up to that plate in the middle of a softball game when tensions were high and all she wanted to do was go to the dugout and cry. I have watched her try new things that she didn’t think she could do and she excelled at them. My daughter helped me try on wigs when my hair fell out.  My daughter put on creative shows for me when I was too sick to take her fun places.  My daughter made me cards when I was in too much pain to get out of bed.  My daughter watches me fight for my life every single day; but she is the courageous one. My daughter is my hero.

My daughter was worried about showing me that picture with the colorful sneakers because she wasn’t done with it.  There were still blank spaces that needed some color and some areas that needed work. When she found it, she told me to look at it, but know that it was unfinished and not to expect it to be perfect.

Ever since my scan, I had worried about my own blank spaces and the places that needed some color in my own life, personally, and in my work as a Mom. I had worried too that I was going to leave so many projects unfinished. Then, God used my own daughter and her school project with the colorful sneakers to show me that my daughter was going to be okay, that the love and work I had poured into my daughter was never lost and was never wasted. God showed me that I had already made an impact on my daughter, even if I feared that I hadn’t done enough.

God used my daughter to remind me that we are all unfinished and nothing is ever perfect…but everything is going to work out in the end.

Oh, baby girl, you are far more finished and far more courageous than I could ever be.

Keep on filling in those blank spaces and adding to your beautiful colors.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

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