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Breck's Thoughts: The Fasten Seatbelt Sign Has Been Turned Off

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


 The tears started flowing before I could stop them.  Small ones, but tears, nonetheless.  I was sitting on my flight from Nashville to Austin, in a jet plane full of strangers.  But by the end of the flight, one stranger didn't seem so strange.

I was traveling on Southwest Airlines, where you must pick your own seat (opposed to the airlines doing that for you) and I had spotted a middle seat between two women that seemed comfortable enough.  It was the lady in the royal blue shirt that had first caught my attention.  I thought she might be nice to sit next to.

But as this lady and I began to talk, it was obvious, this woman was beyond "nice."  As our conversation continued into the air, it was obvious, this woman was beautiful.  Her words, her faith and her demeanor were such that I instantly felt like I had known her for years.  It was her grace and openness that made me feel comfortable enough to share beyond the small talk.

We both shared where we were going and why.  I shared about my girls weekend and why it felt more significant than just a trip to see friends - it was the first time that my son was doing well enough that I could get away without worry. 

She, too, had a story.  A wife and mother of three older girls, she was on her way to visit family - to comfort for her father who is battling cancer and to temporarily relieve her mother, his caretaker. 

It was quickly evident that we were both dealing with some element of grief in our lives - she, with her father and me, with my son. 

Our conversation, that had first started about how much we can stuff into our purses, quickly turned into a much deeper discussion about our pain.  This stranger, in my life for only a two hour flight home, shared with me something that will stay with me longer.

KK (Katherine), as I would later learn is her name, shared a story about close family friends who recently witnessed the death of their 20 year old daughter after her battle with a brain tumor. 

KK told me the story of how the young woman's struggle was actually a gift to her family and to those around her as her fight against cancer taught them about life, about God, and about death.

It was a similar story I had hear before - how facing death has the ability to speak volumes to us about life.  But it was what the young woman asked of her family that seems to have stuck with me.

Apparently, as she faced a limited time on earth, the young woman begged of her parents one thing:
"Just let me live."

The young woman was aware of her mortality.  She knew what lay ahead.  But she asked her parents to not keep her at home, in bed.  Instead, she asked that they help her live life more fully.  So, according to KK, the young woman's father took her to Europe, IVs and tubing and all, to see the world, so she could live.

There was something about those four words stuck with me, days after exiting the plane and leaving our conversation aboard flight 557.

Just let me live.

I have struggled, since learning of Bennett's diagnosis, how to face raising a child whose future is unknown.  Only half of CFers are expected to make it to 37 years old.  I have struggled as to what to do with that information as a mother.

Sure, all of our futures are unknown.  And, yes, there is every reason to believe Bennett may live to be much older than the life expectancy that exists right now with new medications and hope of a cure.

But deep within me, I still struggle with how to encourage my son to be whatever he wants to be - to fall in love with whomever he wants to marry - and to have as many children as he wants to have...all while knowing that the odds are against him they he'll be healthy enough, or even alive, to see it through. 

It's not that I don't plan on encouraging Bennett to dream...or that I necessarily want to treat Bennett any different.   Mr. Bennett will get an education.  He will get spankings.  And, as far as I'm concerned, he will be allowed to do everything his brother will be allowed to do.

This issue isn't about him.  It's about me. 

Within the uncertainty that exists deep within my heart, I'm trying to rationalize:
How do I raise a child who I've been told won't grow old? 

Friends and family often advise that I should ignore he has CF and "just treat him the same."  And I get that.  I really really do.

But I'm struggling with how you do that.

How do I ignore that every day he is in a fight for his life?  How do I ignore that his body is slowly deteriorating before my eyes?  How do I ignore that there are no old people with Cystic Fibrosis walking on this earth.

How, exactly, does one pretend their son is the same as everybody else...but know that their qualifies for the Make-A-Wish Foundation?  (The only way you can qualify for the Make-A-Wish foundation is if your a child fighting a life-threatening terminal illness.)  I wonder, "how am I supposed to do that?"

So, those words, "Just let me live" give me such comfort.

When KK shared the young woman's request for her parents to "just let me live," I wondered what my son's request will be - later in life when we are talking about these sorts of things.

For a moment, I allowed these words to be his own:  "Just let me live, Mom.  Do not worry about my future.  Just let me do what I've been made for.  Just let me experience the fullness what of life brings.  Just let me experience who God is.  Just let me live, for whatever time I have."

In the last few days, I have felt God near to me when I've thought about this.  A peace has replaced my fear.  No longer do I feel I am struggling over the juxtaposition of encouraging my son to dream while also knowing he may never see that dream come to fruition.

I was always going to encourage Bennett to go to college, to get married, find a career, to have children.

But now, I will not do so, simply because I "don't want to treat him differently".  Now, I want him to dream...to love...to do what he wants to do because that's what God calls us to do.


"Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God."  1Cor 10:31

However long he is given, I want him to live well.  Love deeply.  Experience life.  Know Him.

And with that new awareness, I want to embrace this myself.  The future is not guaranteed.  But I have today to live. 

After landing, we scooted past the empty the rows of seats and shared our cordial goodbyes to the pilot and flight attendants.  We exchanged "fare wells" and indicated we would be praying for each other's situations.  We knew we likely wouldn't see each other again.

But I have since thought about KK several times in the last few days.  I have prayed for her father to be comforted through his pain.  I have prayed that she and her family have the peace of God in the midst of their grief over her father's cancer.  I hope that they will just let him live - for whatever length of time he is given.

There we were, just two women sitting on an evening flight home to Texas, anxious to see our respected families.  It is there, a two hour flight that could have been no more than a nap, that God met me...and showed how I can help my son face his future.

I'm going to just let him live. 

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

7 Responses to “Breck's Thoughts: The Fasten Seatbelt Sign Has Been Turned Off”

  1. Beautiful mantra. How many times will you say this to yourself? Let him live. I love it!

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  2. This one brought tears to my eyes! What a great little motto for Bennett to live by!!

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  3. Powerful stuff, Breck!!

    We have a lady who goes to the church we used to attend that has a son, Caleb, with brain "issues" (extra fluid, etc). Outside of the sometimes shaved head, where he has had multiple shunts placed - because none have continued to work for him for long - you would never know he was any "different". She lets him play TACKLE football, wrestle with his brother, all the things little boys love to do (and all the things that would scare me to death if I had a child with his condition).

    She told us a story one time about how the boys (she has two sons) were playing football and rough housing inside the house. Caleb all of the sudden started having a seizure and then went unconscious. She said her very first thought (not knowing if he would live) was, "I'm SO glad I let him play football in the house tonight!"

    That has stuck with me for so long and I think really goes along with the story you shared. This mom could shelter Caleb, make him be extra careful, keep him from playing the one sport he ADORES, but instead she chooses to 'let him live'.

    Thanks for sharing your heart, Breck. Love you!

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  4. I dont know if I made this clear in my last comment, but Caleb *did* live after that incident and is a rambunctious, lively little boy. :)

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  5. Really beautiful and well said, Breck. I just met you last night but I already feel like I've known you for ages, just with this one post. (I found you via Lindsay's blog). I look forward to getting to know you and your sweet boy(s) better. xo

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  6. I appreciate the story on your blog, Breck. The young woman you mentioned in your note is our daughter, Meg. I found it remarkable that you chose to finish your comments with reference to John 10:10, Jesus' words that He came so we could have abundant life. Today, October 10 (or 10/10), we celebrated Meg's 24th birthday.

    I know there are difficulties in letting go so that your child with a terminal illness can live life as God intended us to live. When Meg chose to return to the University of Alabama, even though she was taking chemo treatments, it was really difficult to let go. Every time we left Tuscaloosa, or when she left Huntsville heading back to school, it was a heavy burden to leave her (typically smiling as she was heading back to the place she loved so strongly). Of course, we wanted every free minute we could have, but that ran right across the very faith that we had raised her to believe in her own heart. And so, we would smile and wave goodbye and pray that the next visit would be just as joyful as the last.

    As her illness became more challenging for her to keep her pace of life, she continued to live it to the fullest in every manner she could. In the moments just before she slipped into a coma days before her passing, she was sitting in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends, laughing as stories of happier times were being told and remembered.

    During the challenging times that Meg battled and lost her fight with cancer, we were surrounded and embraced by the most amazing collection of friends/neighbors one could imagine. What I learned is that KK and her family, and hundreds of others just like her who live in and around Hampton Cove, Alabama, are here living the abundant life God has provided for us all, and living it in the spirit in which the Lord challenges us to live. Our family truly felt the prayers of believers pulling for Meg and asking for God's peace to reign over our entire family, and it did. We were blessed with encouraging visits, more food and help than we could ever have imagined and with notes and calls from people who clearly knew God's calling to shepherd His people in need, and we felt it. Through the entire period of Meg's battle with cancer we were lifted up in our faith in a way that really made it possible for us to, as KK put it, let Meg live.

    KK and her family are wonderful people. On our refrigerator here at the house, I display a letter one of her three beautiful daughters wrote to me nearly eleven years ago. That letter has inspired me many times in the years since, in my commitment to give back to my community and in my appreciation for the hard work their daughter (and so many other young men and women in our community) put in to be the best that they can be. I know the blessing you received when sitting beside KK on the plane that day. I've been blessed with that same blessing - from KK and from so many more people who really step out to make difference in other peoples' lives ... simply because it is what God calls us to do.

    I pray for you, your son and your family. I hope you discover God's will for him to live, and to live abundantly. I hope he dreams and dreams big. I pray he finds the joy of realizing some of those dreams and I hope he occasionally discovers the amazing beauty of life through a few failures that will make his successes all the sweeter. Most of all, I pray that you and your family will be blessed with loving neighbors and friends who reach out to you in your times of need and who hold you up when you are unable to stand on your own. I learned that it is there, in your time of crisis and need, that life is lived the fullest. It is there, with the love of many surrounding you and lifting you up, that you can best appreciate the wonderful creation God gifted to us all. The world is an amazing place, the people and creatures of Earth awe-inspiring, but the experience of the gift of love from God and His people is the ultimate experience of living life full.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I appreciate the story on your blog, Breck. The young woman you mentioned in your note is our daughter, Meg. I found it remarkable that you chose to finish your comments with reference to John 10:10, Jesus' words that He came so we could have abundant life. Today, October 10 (or 10/10), we celebrated Meg's 24th birthday.

    I know there are difficulties in letting go so that your child with a terminal illness can live life as God intended us to live. When Meg chose to return to the University of Alabama, even though she was taking chemo treatments, it was really difficult to let go. Every time we left Tuscaloosa, or when she left Huntsville heading back to school, it was a heavy burden to leave her (typically smiling as she was heading back to the place she loved so strongly). Of course, we wanted every free minute we could have, but that ran right across the very faith that we had raised her to believe in her own heart. And so, we would smile and wave goodbye and pray that the next visit would be just as joyful as the last.

    As her illness became more challenging for her to keep her pace of life, she continued to live it to the fullest in every manner she could. In the moments just before she slipped into a coma days before her passing, she was sitting in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends, laughing as stories of happier times were being told and remembered.

    During the challenging times that Meg battled and lost her fight with cancer, we were surrounded and embraced by the most amazing collection of friends/neighbors one could imagine. What I learned is that KK and her family, and hundreds of others just like her who live in and around Hampton Cove, Alabama, are here living the abundant life God has provided for us all, and living it in the spirit in which the Lord challenges us to live. Our family truly felt the prayers of believers pulling for Meg and asking for God's peace to reign over our entire family, and it did. We were blessed with encouraging visits, more food and help than we could ever have imagined and with notes and calls from people who clearly knew God's calling to shepherd His people in need, and we felt it. Through the entire period of Meg's battle with cancer we were lifted up in our faith in a way that really made it possible for us to, as KK put it, let Meg live.

    KK and her family are wonderful people. On our refrigerator here at the house, I display a letter one of her three beautiful daughters wrote to me nearly eleven years ago. That letter has inspired me many times in the years since, in my commitment to give back to my community and in my appreciation for the hard work their daughter (and so many other young men and women in our community) put in to be the best that they can be. I know the blessing you received when sitting beside KK on the plane that day. I've been blessed with that same blessing - from KK and from so many more people who really step out to make difference in other peoples' lives ... simply because it is what God calls us to do.

    I pray for you, your son and your family. I hope you discover God's will for him to live, and to live abundantly. I hope he dreams and dreams big. I pray he finds the joy of realizing some of those dreams and I hope he occasionally discovers the amazing beauty of life through a few failures that will make his successes all the sweeter. Most of all, I pray that you and your family will be blessed with loving neighbors and friends who reach out to you in your times of need and who hold you up when you are unable to stand on your own. I learned that it is there, in your time of crisis and need, that life is lived the fullest. It is there, with the love of many surrounding you and lifting you up, that you can best appreciate the wonderful creation God gifted to us all. The world is an amazing place, the people and creatures of Earth awe-inspiring, but the experience of the gift of love from God and His people is the ultimate experience of living life full.

    ReplyDelete

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