In November of last year, my niece ran a fever and had minor swelling in her belly. She went to the doctor, was diagnosed with a mass in her abdomen and was sent to the hospital. It happened very quickly. No warning signs. No hints that something was growing in her 9-year-old pelvis until the fever and that little stomach bulge. She was healthy as a horse until she wasn't.
The scans were alarming:
That dark stuff? It was tumor. We didn't know much. Just that there would be a biopsy and that it didn't look good.
My sister and her family live in Houston, so my mother and I hopped on a plane and flew to Texas.
Aaliyah's cancer is rare and aggressive. It had invaded her pelvis to the point where it was impossible to see where it had begun. She would need many rounds of chemo, then surgery, then radiation, then more chemo. Even with all that, there was a chance the cancer could not be removed completely.
So, we prayed, we planned, we feared and we hoped.
Chemo began - 3 and 5 day rounds that were in-patient treatments. That meant Sara or Nate had to be at the hospital. They have three other children. It was tough. It still is.
My mother flew out several times to help. My father went with her twice. My sisters flew out. Nate's mother flew out a couple of times. We wanted to be there all the time, but our lives are in other places. We all have families and commitments.
There were gaps when none of us could be with Sara's family, and in those gaps, Sara's community stood.
Meals were made. Money was donated. Toys were bought for a Christmas that was coming much too quickly after such a horrifying diagnosis. One of Sara's friends owns a cleaning service and sent maids in to clean Sara's house. Kids were picked up from activities. Ribbons were hung from trees.
Love was shown.
I've been writing a series of books set in a town called Benevolence.
I chose the name because it made me think of gentle things at a time when I really needed to believe that those things existed - kindness, honesty, love and sacrifice.
Life can be hard.
Lupus makes it harder.
But, Benevolence exists. It lives in the same places that hatred resides - families, churches, synagogues, communities and neighborhoods. We choose what to look at, what to focus on, what to hold close to our hearts.
What to be.
Because the things we hold close, the things we focus on, those are the things we become.
So, I hold this close:
The exceptional generosity of a community to a family in need.
My niece's scan after several rounds of chemotherapy. There is no visible sign of tumor.
My writing which continues despite my illness.
Love. Which, at its core, is empathy, compassion, sacrifice and service, and which leads to heroic deeds, to small acts of kindness, and to everything wonderful in between.
Three bachelor brothers. Six orphaned kids. Finding the one place that is home. I hope those things will be a winning combination for my readers.
But, I want you to know something.
As I'm writing, I won't just be thinking of the fictional town with the lovely name. I'll be thinking about Cypress, Texas, and the wonderful people who live there. I will be thinking about the way they exemplified benevolence when my sister needed it most. I'll be thinking about family. I'll be thinking about the best things in life and how they shape us to be our best selves.
And, I'll be thinking about you, hoping that you will find soft and gentle places to land.
If you have time and inclination, please pray for my niece. Aaliyah still has a long journey ahead, but our hope rests in Him. And, He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).