Saturday, December 19, 2009

Faith in the Face of Cystic Fibrosis

Several years ago, I got a job teaching preschool at the local YMCA. I was thrilled, because at the time the Y paid a higher rate for preschool teachers than most local centers. I was an afternoon teacher at the time (read: not very skilled!) and teamed with a mother and daughter who taught mornings. It was a two-year old classroom, and there were close to twenty children. I had never encountered anything like it. These women had organization down to a science. The children knew exactly what they were supposed to do and when. These teachers spent the majority of the day laughing and enjoying their work. Frustration with children wasn't really an option--if a child got off task or was having a difficult day, the teachers worked hard to help the child get back on track, and knew that a sense of humor was vital for a successful classroom. This was such a new concept for me! Over the five years I worked in that position, I learned more than I could have imagined. I became extremely close with both women. Eventually I moved into the morning spot with the daughter. She and I became close friends, and I still consider her mother to be one of the wisest people I've ever met. I had no idea when I took that position that it would literally change my life, but it did.

The daughter--her name is Christy--always treated me like an equal in the classroom. Our friendship became extremely close. She had a toddler at that time, a beautiful little girl that I'll call Hannah. As Christy and I spent more time together, I got to know Hannah well also. She was a beautiful child and loved her parents. Blonde hair often in pigtails, she would hop all over the building with a contagious laugh. After a bit of time our classroom was split into two, and Hannah was one of the children in my class. I'll never forget the day that little two-year old Hannah climbed into my teacher's chair when my back was turned. Looking at her mother across the room, she whispered "Shh!" as she began to explore the desk. That was about the time I turned around and caught her. Fighting the urge to laugh, I redirected her back to appropriate activities.

Christy became pregnant with her second child around that time. She was excited, as every new mother should be, but not everyone shared her excitement. You see, Hannah had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects breathing and digestion. The chances were small that this new baby would also have CF, but some people felt they were chances that shouldn't have been risked at all. One of the things I understood about Christy was that she refuse to live her life in fear. She had, and still has, a tremendous faith in God. She refers to fear as darkness, and was determined to live her life in the light. That included believing that whatever happened with this new baby, God would have his finger on it. Everything would be okay.

When Elizabeth was born, she was a complete momma's girl! She was also very particular about a LOT of things--if you held her, you had to keep moving, or she would cry. She also preferred alternative rock music. Any other kind of music would bring about an immediate onslaught of crying. Elizabeth also had CF.

Over the years, Christy experienced life the same way most of us do--wonderful gifts mixed in with moments of pain. I helped her through a painful divorce. She listened as I struggled with as a new mother with my children. If ever I have a soul sister, it is Christy. She knows me better than just about anyone on this planet. Our friendship is one of those rare gifts where we can pick up where we left off, whenever that is. I have beautiful memories of taking her daughters to theme parks, to the pool, even to my house for fun afternoons at the beach. Christy visited my in my hometown a few years ago and got to meet my children. I remember at one point, my daughter was having a particularly rough time and Christy told her she understood her. "I've got one at home just like you," she responded. She won my daughter over with a few yoga moves and her cheerful laugh.

As hard as it is to believe, Hannah is now seventeen and Elizabeth, fourteen. Over the last year or so, Hannah has had increasing complications with her lung functions as a result of CF. A month ago, after visiting with specialists, Hannah and Christy were told that Hannah is in need of a double lung transplant. Without one, she has limited time left. It's a cruel reminder of how life is not fair, how nothing is guaranteed.

As a parent, my immediate response was fear and sadness for my friend and for the little girl I remember so fondly. I cannot imagine being in the position that Christy is now facing so bravely, nor Hannah, who understands the doctor's prognosis. Christy continued telling me what Hannah had told her, though, and it shed tremendous light on this phenomenal mother. Hannah told her mother, "Just think, Momma, I'll be able to dance and exercise and do all the things I couldn't do before. And if I die, it will be okay, because my life won't end there."

I don't know if Hannah is afraid of what her future holds. But she believes her mother. She believes the principles her mother has taught her and has lived by for Hannah's entire life. She knows her mother is there for her and will continue to hold her hand through this journey. I know my friend is in pain but her faith continues to be one that amazes me. In so many ways she is my hero. Even if the face of losing her child, she continues to believe that God is working in her life. And because of her unyielding faith, her daughter has grown up to believe the same, and to be comforted in the face of such tremendous pain.

I often think of how naive I was when I accepted that job so many years ago. I cannot imagine my life without being impacted by Christy and her family. She has shaped who I am as much as my own family has. I often wonder if Hannah remembers any of the same memories I do, if she knows how much she and her sister are loved by someone across the country. I believe, though, that Hannah knows how precious she is, because she has been raised by someone who rejoices in life and refuses to live in the darkness that so many of us are susceptible to. Christy and Hannah and Elizabeth remind me of the purpose of life--of its joy and beauty and wonder even in the face of horrible possibilities. And because of them, I learned that God had a finger on my life as well...and He still does.

1 comment:

  1. I'm humbled and honored... God has blessed me with you for a friend.