Rooted In Wonder:
Nurturing Your Family's Faith Through God's Creation
Master Naturalist, Bible teacher, author, wife, and mama of four! Join our adventures of discovering God while adventuring in creation.
I wish you all could have seen the look on the teacher’s face. Her eyes grew big behind her glasses and she froze like a deer in the headlights. She was clearly caught off guard. The way I broke into a big smile while engulfing my daughter into a hug was probably surprising as well.
“I’m a colon cancer survivor, and I work in cancer advocacy, so we talk about it a lot at home… I’m currently in remission.”
The frozen pose began to thaw as it was clear Pandora’s box had not just been opened. In fact, I was so proud of my daughter for having the courage to say something.
And I was proud of our family’s commitment to talk about hard things things like cancer, death and dying.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 17 and again at age 25. That is the reason adoption was our path to parenthood.
Cancer isn’t only part of my and my husband’s story, it’s also woven into our daughter’s adoption story. When she was little, we made the choice to talk about cancer early and often.
Although it was uncomfortable, we talked about sickness and death because we knew she’d be paying attention. And instead of brushing her off, or letting someone else answer her questions, we decided to address it head-on.
It didn’t take much time before our suspicions of her attentiveness rang true. Around age two, she noticed the long, vertical scar that runs the length of my abdomen and asked why it was there. Every time she gets temporary tattoos she puts them on her little belly to match my (not temporary) tattoo I got to honor my cancer journey.
“Why didn’t I grow inside of your tummy?” is a question I’ve fielded multiple times. Each honest answer has come with a big dose of real life over the years.
I occasionally struggle with fearful thoughts: “What if I’m introducing ‘adult-sized’ subjects too soon?” or, “Is this traumatic for her?” And while I continue to carefully adapt what I say and explain based on how she’s coping and her maturity level, she continues to surprise me. Why?
She can handle it.
I often reflect on the story about the little children wanting to hang out with Jesus and the well-intended disciples trying to shoo them away. I can’t help but see myself on their squad – shushing the kids and distracting them with Capri Suns and fruit snacks while the Savior of the world talks to the adults.
Fellow mamas, tell me I’m not alone.
But instead of keeping kids at a distance, Jesus always brought them close. He knew what was hidden inside of their little minds and hearts: At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. – Matthew 11:25 NIV
Kids have a natural ability to see the world differently – might I say oftentimes the way God intended it: through an untainted, innocent lens.
Here’s what I mean:
My friend Patsy passed away a few years ago. The last time I saw her, she sat in a wheelchair in an elementary school field watching her son’s class host an event to benefit her cause. She was glowing. Yet very sick.
In the midst of the large crowd gathered to see her, Patsy made sure to hold my hands. Patsy told my daughter she was beautiful, and held a conversation with her stuffed animal. As we left the event, I talked to my daughter about Patsy, and her love of Jesus and her kids, knowing she would soon experience her loss with me.
A few weeks later, Patsy died. My daughter asked why I had puffy eyes and tears when she got home. I broke the news to her. I wasn’t sure how she would react – if she’d get sad like me or feel scared that this could be our story one day. But what she did surprised me – she leaned in and gave me a big hug.
“Do you remember that she liked my stuffed animal?”
My quivering lips turned upward into a grin – I did remember that sweet memory. And then with twinkles in her eyes, she reminded me: “She went to heaven – she’s with Jesus.”
As believers, we get to hope in a world unseen – a world without death and dying, cancer and sickness. A world that seems very far off when we’re stuck in the middle of our own grief cycle and surrounded by anger, sadness, denial or depression. A cycle that’s very real to anyone facing the sting of death or the injustice of sickness and pain. I’ve been there. But I’ve learned I have a choice when I’m facing loss: I can either invite my daughter into it or push her away. It’s much easier to stuff my own feelings and avoid conversations. It’s not fun to talk about this stuff.
But the more love and light we personally let in, the quicker our own acceptance of loss will come. Our kids will learn from us as we intentionality show them how to cope with grief. We can find healing together.
(*Sometimes we may need help from wise counsel to get us there and if our kids are grieving alongside us, we may humbly need to find someone to help them too.)
Talking about sickness and death never comes easily; it is usually painful and hard. But all of us will face it at some point in our lives. If we press in, we’ll find the wisdom hidden deep in our kids’ hearts is still in our hearts too. We’ll tap into the peace that surpasses all understanding, the counselor wiping every tear from our eyes.
If your family is impacted by cancer too, I wrote a blog on tips about talking to kids about cancer.
This article has helpful Dos and Donts for talking to kids about death.
In the unfortunate event your children live through a traumatic event, Wheaton’s Disaster Humanitarian Institute offers this parents guide.
Raising kids stirs something deep in our souls — an innate knowing that our time is finite. Taking my kids outside in creation, I’m discovering how to stretch our time and pack it to the brim with meaning. God’s creativity provides the riches of resources for teaching the next generation who He is and how He loves us. Join our adventure and discover inspiration and resources for refusing rush, creating habits of rest, living intentionally, and making the most of this beautiful life!