Over the past nine months I have learned so many lessons, some of them beautiful, some of them have been learned by the difficult circumstances we have found ourselves in the midst of. Having a child with cancer can bring the greatest feelings of inspiration; courage; thankfulness; and joy. It can also bring the lowest of lows….helplessness; fear; sadness; hopelessness; etc…It has been the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows as a dad during this time. Daily I try to ask God what would he have me see and act on for the day. This isn’t easy…ever, but when I am obedient and give my time or attention to the people and moments He seems to highlight I am usually blessed beyond measure. Today was no exception, and I am honestly still processing my feelings.
After a long day spent at St Jude, we let the Warrior Princess pick what she wanted for dinner. Food with a 6yr old fighting cancer is a “pick your battle” affair…we would desire to eat a perfect diet but we also desire for Kiara to eat so tonight we ended up at Chik-Fil-A. We were in the middle of our dining routine- making sure all condiment needs are met, setting the number of bites that result in Kylie being “finished” with her meal, Jameson fulfilling his role as the runner for more napkins, forks, bbq sauce, and whatever else we requested… During all of this a homeless man sat down in the booth across from us and began pulling pennies out of his backpack and counting them. Keren told me in Spanish to give him some money…problem one- I had almost none. Earlier in the day Keren had given Jameson $4 so I told him to give it to me and with the $5 I had gave the gentlemen the $9 cash we had. He was shocked and thanked us- mentioning how hot it was outside and all he wanted was something cold to drink. It brought us joy to bless him and when he returned with his frosted lemonade it was cool to see the satisfaction and pleasure on his face.
Then, the wheels fell off. Our operation turned into what I best could describe as a dumpster fire…..Kiara’s counts are low, which in turn means Kylie cannot play in the germ infested petri dish known as the play area…too risky for Kiara. Our standard operation is if Kylie eats her food, play area is the reward. Kylie knowing that this is usually standard operating procedure, proceeded to stuff all four of her remaining chicken nuggets in her mouth at once and declare that she was off to play. This is where it got ugly…we broke the news of no play area to Kylie while her cheeks were still packed with nuggets. The sobs and cries of a 4 year old scorned ensued….We managed to calm her down and she managed to swallow her nuggets. Keren began reading Warrior Princess the book that came in the kids meal and Kylie ran to her side of the table to listen in…..and then it happened….
The nuggets, the fruit punch from earlier in the day, her lunch, her snacks, everything that Kylie had eaten for just by sheer quantity seemed like a month came projecting out of her stomach and mouth into Keren’s lap and hands….I sat frozen in disbelief….Keren managed to catch a good portion in her hands (as parents of a child going through chemo, we have actually gotten quite good at this) the rest was on Kiara’s wheelchair and all over the floor. Then bad became worse…upon the sight of Kylie’s puke Kiara began to gag…Keren told Kiara “don’t you dare” but alas….it was too late. Warrior Princess quickly emptied her stomach of any and all food and drink that had been consumed during the course of her day. I managed to actually respond this time and caught some in my hands…Keren and I made eye contact and then did what was only appropriate…laughed. We laughed, holding our daughters puke for a good 10-15 seconds without doing anything else…Jameson wanted no part of the clean-up; Kylie made her way back to the other side of the table and wanted to open and drink her chocolate milk… The homeless man was gracious enough to alert the staff to help clean up.
We began cleaning up, and the homeless man returned and asked if Kiara had cancer. I confirmed his suspicions and his response was heartfelt. He went on to tell us “I would trade places with him in a heartbeat” (it didn’t matter in that moment that he referred to Kiara as he) “I don’t understand it, a child so innocent, why do they have to suffer through it, look at me, look at my life, why couldn’t it be me instead of him” It was not words in passing, words to make us feel better for the puke fiasco that we just unleashed in the Chik Fil A, but this stranger was genuinely asking a question we have asked ourselves about our precious princess. It was heartfelt. I couldn’t look him in the eye- I was holding on and not breaking down with everything I had. Keren managed to tell him “God loves you, and has a purpose for your life” he left us with “I’m sorry, I wish I could do something” This interaction left a mark on my heart…I don’t have a moral to the story ending, or a nice bow to wrap up this ridiculous evening, but am left mesmerized at the compassion of a stranger not in any generous act, but in an honest, heartfelt, evaluation of self-worth and life value, deeming my daughters life significantly more important than his own. I don’t know what I think about this, other than it was a profound interaction. I am left with the beauty that is the gospel, regardless of where you are at today God’s grace and mercy are not only sufficient but they are available to us all. God loves that man just as much as He loves my little princess, just as much as He loves you- IN SPITE of everything you have done, and even the things you will do..this love cannot be earned or lost and it is waiting for you to receive it. Because of Jesus, we have hope. And because of hope, even in the midst of the worst storms of life, we have an anchor for our souls.