This week an adorable 5 year old girl named Ava captured my heart and has become a household name in our family despite the fact that we have never met. Through different mutual friends, I was directed to the blog chronicling her recent diagnosis of a rare form of leukemia. When her mother writes an entry, I inevitably feel my own mother’s heart shattering into a million little pieces. Like with this one. Or this one. One morning I cried my eyes out reading through their family’s short but tumultuous journey with cancer. On that day’s run, the strong winds and physical torture were not the cause of tears like usual, but Ava’s taking her place in my heart had them cascading down my sweaty face.
In a few short weeks Ava has already undergone some chemotherapy and may require a bone marrow transplant in the future. If you are not registered as a bone marrow donor, please consider doing so. The process is quick and easy. Once a member of the registry, you may be called upon if matched with someone in need of a transplant. You could save a life. You could save Ava. The nature of the disease is often genetic and shared ancestry helps with finding a match. The more diverse their pool the better chances there are for matches. If there are no donor drives in your area, you can simply join online with Be the Match. She and others like her are worth it.
My heart hurts. I would rather it not. Yet with each ache I know that it is working as it was meant to do. Exercise makes the physical heart stronger and bigger. Lack of such can make it out of shape and weak. Loving people is our human exercise for the heart. Otherwise it can grow hard and weak in its inward focus. We are meant to connect. We are meant to relate. We are meant to love. We know without those things not just we but the world suffers. Isolation, lack of connection, and poor or nonexistent relationships can result in the most horrific of consequences. Yet there are so many challenges to allowing ourselves to overcome the barriers to do what we were meant to do. We are naturally self-absorbed. Our tendency to insulate is protective in nature. We can allow the most meager differences to divide us to an extreme. We do not have the cognitive energy or generosity to see past Democrat or Republican or other categories we adhere to with fierce rigidity. We rage against those “others” or worse we just do not care. This happens even within the narrow subgroups in which we find ourselves. Just look at the number of denominations in the Christian faith or even the sub-denominations five layers deep within each. (On that note, I highly recommend a book I have just started but love already by Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ. Great read so far!)
It may seem strange that these complete strangers are now a part of our lives. My boys say Ava’s name in their nightly prayers with faith that I know can move mountains. It means so much to me that they are expanding their hearts to make room for her not because they are related or good friends but simply because she needs them now. They do not focus on the fact that she likes pink and they don’t or that she has painted nails and they do not. They are learning what it means to be like the One to whom they pray. They reach across the divide to care and faithfully love. If they can, so can we all. The more we expand our hearts, the more our hearts become like His. The more we connect the more we can live beyond our little lives and allow others to occupy our stronger, bigger hearts. This heart expansion may be through donating bone marrow and saving a life.
I see it happening in so many other ways as well. I see it when someone wakes up early on a Saturday to go feed the homeless at the park. I see it when someone babysits all weekend for free so a single mom can try to pay more unpaid bills. I see it when someone thinks to invite a friend to lunch. I see it when another carpools a load of kids to school every day. I see it when a card is handwritten and sent snail mail (yes, it still happens) to let a friend know they are thought of on occasion. I see it every time there is a sacrifice of money or time or energy or thought for the sake of blessing another. Yet despite knowing this truth and the various forms of acting it out, I also know my own tendency to withdraw, allow my own life and the life of my family to crowd out everyone else, and pursue the less significant. But thankfully, there is Ava and she is teaching my heart to overcome those tendencies and love like I was meant to do.