> Family > Heart of Matter

Better or Bitter?

August 30, 2009 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Five-year-old Lily shows us how to get through life's challenges.

"Sometimes it really hurts when the doctor puts a needle in my arm."

I am visiting five-year-old Lily, whose mother attends my parenting classes. Last summer, Lily had some awful headaches. One night, they became so terrible that Lily woke up her parents in middle of the night. The shock upon receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumor was beyond.

Lily's initial treatments included six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and then some more chemotherapy. Besides treatment days, Lily never complained or even missed a day of school. This summer, Lily has just been put on a clinical drug trial.

We are sitting across from each other, beautiful Lily, her incredibly gracious mother, Felicia, and I. Lily is chatting and busy coloring a white tzedakah box that I had brought over.

She stops for a moment as her soft voice grows serious. "Sometimes it really hurts, you know. And I get scared."

Felicia leans towards Lily. "That's okay sweetie, we sometimes all get scared. I'm scared of spiders, did you know that?"

Lily's eyes open wide.

"And I'm scared of big bugs," I add. "Not only that, but one of my children jumps from loud thunder and lightning. It's okay to sometimes be afraid."

Lily giggles. I want to scoop this precious child into my arms and kiss all her fears away.

Driving home, I cannot get Lily out of my mind. I am trying hard to find some profound thoughts to come away with. While spending time with Lily and Felicia, I feel as if I've been privy to a most priceless moment in time. I am moved by this child and her sweet innocence as she confronts a most difficult challenge.

Our Choice

There is no life that will be spared adversity. True, some challenges are more arduous then others, but for each person, their challenge is an uphill battle. Health issues, financial problems, marital stability, difficulties while raising children, are just a few of the struggles that may come our way. We cannot choose our life challenge. But we can choose how to get through the challenge. Will we become better or bitter? That is up to us.

We cannot choose our life challenge. But we can choose how to get through the challenge.

The Hebrew word for challenge is ‘nisayon.' The root of the word is 'nes,' which can also be defined as ‘miracle' or ‘banner.' My mother once explained to me that as we go through our nisayon , our life test, and then emerge stronger and wiser, we have created our own personal banner. We have unearthed a part of ourselves that until now remained concealed deep within us. We've discovered our hidden potential. And that becomes the miracle of life.

Our banner is our legacy through which we are remembered. When going through difficulties, instead of being miserable and sinking into despair, let us ask ourselves, "How have I colored my banner?" Did I choose to create a banner filled with colors of faith, courage, and strength, or did I pull up the covers and become overwhelmed with my sadness? Did I reach out to others in my life or did I only have room for myself?

A Kindness a Day

Felicia told me that Lily's preschool class had embarked upon their own tzedakah project this year. After collecting coins, the class discussed where the charity should go. Lily's teacher called to say that Lily raised her hand and expressed her wish. She described going to the doctor and finding children in the office who had just a few toys and crayons to play with as they waited. Some toys were broken and old.

"Can we give the charity to my doctor's office?" she asked.

The decision was unanimous.

If this child, amidst her pain, can think of others and see their needs, what about us?

If this child, amidst her pain, can think of others and see their needs, what about us? Can we not sensitize ourselves despite the stress and burdens that we shoulder, to open our eyes and bring a kindness each day into this world of ours?

Parents, especially, need to remember that the greatest kindness begins at home. There are times that we have patience for the world but our own children and spouses remain longing for a compassionate word or a sympathetic ear. The next time your daughter asks for a bedtime story or your son for a game of catch, just say yes. And say it with a smile, as if you really do want to spend time together. Take a moment to call your spouse during the day, even send a text. Don't get into your daily aggravations or which bills need to be paid. Instead, simply say "I love you." "I can't wait to see you".

Lights for Lily

Jennifer, a mother who is an old college friend of Felicia's, wanted to ‘do something' for Lily, but what?

Recognizing the power of doing mitzvahs in the merit of another, Jennifer started a campaign called ‘Lights for Lily.' Each week she sends out hundreds of emails that are then forwarded to hundreds more, asking women to light their Shabbos candles and add a special prayer for Lily. Some of these women have never lit Shabbos candles before. Some have never even really prayed. But we are a family and we are responsible for each other.

So this week, and each week to come, as you kindle your Shabbos lights, please close your eyes and pierce the heavens above. Take a moment and say a prayer for Leah Chana bas Frayda Rochel. Choose a new mitzvah, do an act of kindness, give charity, and think of this little girl who has taught me how to handle life's challenges while thinking of others. And when you are done reading this article, pass it on. Let us join together as one people.

Lily has surely painted a most incredible banner. Now it is our turn.


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