A tumbleweed of thanks

Mar 11

Part of our 2014 Palooza-ing was gifted to us.

Family and friends gave us priceless contributions towards the epic spring break trip Maren and I took to NYC last year.  Friends slipped us money and said, “Go.  We insist.  Have fun.”  Brad’s parents covered much of the cost of our Disney trip in October.  A group called Tina’s Angels sent us on an overnight to Great Wolf Lodge here in Cincinnati.  The Karen Wellington Foundation for Living with Breast Cancer (KWF) sent us to Lake Lanier, Georgia where we stayed in the vacation home of a lovely family who donated the experience.

We are so blessed, so grateful, so humbled.

When I was asked by the KWF to share part of my story to help continue to grow the foundation, I was pleased to do so.  I want more families affected by cancer to enjoy vacations.  A talented filmmaker captured our KWF story and shared it at the annual fundraiser last weekend.  Here is the video.

I am so very grateful for our experiences and for the richness of generosity that surrounds us.  It’s quite overwhelming and Brad and I struggle with our unworthiness often.  We’ve drawn a hard lot, we understand that, but plenty of other people have struggles too.  Again and again, we seek to pay our blessings forward somehow, someday.

The photo-turned-painting (photo credit: Sandy Powell) that is featured in the film is a wonderful summation of the week.  I don’t have adequate words to describe it; this is one of those times where an image is worth a thousand words.  (See the video if you want to see the photo.)

Greta is tickled at her prominent role, and I’m happy for her to have a special Greta highlight.  Little sisters need spotlights; big sister Maren gets all the firsts.

Maren has seen the video and understands it has a role in helping the foundation.  She’s perceiving that Greta and I have taken on a role in “being important” and “helping other people” in a way that she’s not privy to.  It’s a small, unfortunate fallout of a seven-year-old not quite mature enough to see the big picture.  When I boil down our conversation over the past few days, I hear from her, “I want to help.  I want to matter.  I want to be seen.”  Mama Bear Jen wants to stomp out the soft whimper of “I’m not important.”

I can’t fix everything.  Maren needs to be okay with not getting recognition, to serve without reward, to applaud her sister, to be gracious and to give grace.  She will learn all these things in time.  Today, she’s seven, and she’s the most awesome, kind-hearted, helpful, polite, room-brightening kid I know.  Today, she wants to feel like she matters, and I think that is a teachable moment.

I told her several stories, some of which I have written on this blog, about the awesomeness of Maren and how she regularly buoys the people around her.  She looks at me with her increasingly tweenage gaze and appreciates the truths I’m saying.  However, she still echoes, “But what about other people, not just my family and friends?”  (And my heart swells with pride: she gets it.)

My ‘thanks’ to the KWF and participation in the annual fundraiser has blown tumbleweed-style into my daughter’s desire to spread hope and love.  Isn’t that what giving is all about?

I swear I need to duck sometimes with the way that blessings ricochet around me.

What would be a way for Maren to share of herself in a way that would give/help/serve others, perhaps the cancer community?  That’s what I’m thinking about tonight.  (I’m asking you, too.  Any ideas?)

I find it ironic because I attend very few cancer events (there are many!); with small children, my biggest sphere of influence is still at home.  I measure and weigh activities that take me away from my inner circle.  Maren’s heartbeat to serve, however, is causing me to look at it from her perspective.    Yes, of course she wants to help.  I’m her mama and she loves me.  We’re raising her to love and serve and give.  She’s identified a need: the crappiness of a breast cancer diagnosis.  She wants to make a difference.  How can I facilitate her service?

Better yet, how can I point her in a worthy, age-appropriate direction and watch her run?


  1. Heather Rose /

    I often think- if I ever have kids how will I expose them to ways to serve and develop that giving heart. It is a tough question….
    It is sometimes overwhelming to think of all the needs that need to be filled. I have settled on the fact that I can do so much and I choose the areas to give that I am most connected to and that show up on the path and try not to feel guilty for the 10,000 others I cannot serve.
    Could you ask her? How would you like to serve? What needs to you see that could be filled and how might you meet them? I bet her bright spirit has some great ideas that she could take ownership over.
    So curious to hear how it goes…. keep us updated!!!
    Heather Rose

  2. Lori6NV /

    Does Maren like to cook and/or clean? A couple of months ago, my college alumni club did a day of service at our local Ronald McDonald house. We cooked breakfast for the residents, several of whom were kids battling cancer. We also cleaned up their backyard area a bit. My little ones (Greta aged and younger), were too little, but we had some 7-8ish year old kiddos there with parents to help out. That might be an option for her??

  3. Perhaps there is an opportunity for her to lend her voice to what a kid goes through during these times, when a parent (her mom!) is fighting cancer. A kid’s voice, or maybe even a children’s book to talk about it at a 7-year-old level. That is something that she could give to other kids who have a mom or grandmother with cancer. (Granted, it also means that someone has to walk through those paces with her, and maybe it isn’t something you should take on… but perhaps a friend? Grandma?)

    • This is a GREAT idea. In my world of heart hero issues the faces of kids bring people in, help explain things and bring donations. The face of breast cancer is women and moms. Maren is can speak about being the child of a cancer survivor and her story (either written or video) could help another kiddo going through a tough time. She can shift to teaching mode, I know my 7 yr old daughter loves to teach since she already knows everything.

  4. Connie /

    I think the ideas are great- and I truly believe you and Brad have instilled this in her- to help and be a part of something- even at her young age- the Ronald McDonald house is a fabulous idea- or even volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club if you have that in the area to serve dinner? Sometimes this is the last meal the children have- until they go to school for breakast the next morning-an opportunity will come up- and it will be perfect!

  5. Karen /

    My mind immediately went to a statement that “glass-blower” sister made when she was blowing a piece of glass aboard ship and was talking about your story and Maren – the statement was about “curly-ques in my heart”. From all that you have said about Maren, her voice is unique, heard, and is getting through in a subtle way. For me it was “glass blower” sister putting form to Maren’s words and expression.

  6. Peggy /

    A book is what immediately came to mind. Many children have relatives on a cancer journey, yet not many stories are written from a child’s prespective. I seem to remember a blog about Marengo helping to select headwear for you. There are many possible topics…I forsee an entire series… ❤️P

  7. Peggy /

    I LOVE autocorrect! I wrote Maren.

  8. Owengirl /

    The photo and the painting are stunning!

  9. Aunt Annie /

    Jen, I love the book or video idea of cancer from Maren’s perspective. Perhaps start out with Maren journaling or posting a blog. This might also give you a lead to introduce her to that camp for kids of cancer survivors. Maren would see a purpose in attending,fulfilling her desire to “help” others and feel like she’s making an important contribution.

  10. Such special girls…such a special woman!

    I found this site that has some great suggestions for kids. Maybe something will be of interest or spark an idea for Maren.


  11. Charlotte W /

    Check out this site

    It’s a camp that specifically supports kids who have parents with cancer. They have a few volunteer options, including a “Share the Magic” program. It could be something you and Maren host together.