I met Teresa as she was battling her sixth month of brain cancer. She had her first brain tumor removed in November 2012 and through months of therapy and hard work she was getting better. When I met her she was walking, talking, holding her head up on her own, and smiling. Her parents hired me to be her summer nanny for the mornings. I remember her big smile when we talked about art projects we were going to do and the yummy snacks we were going to bake.
One week after I met her she found out she had another tumor. While I was on my mission trip to Africa, she had this tumor removed and went back to stage one of recovery. When I came into her house to start taking care of her she was paralyzed on her left side, needed help holding her head up, struggled with communicating and often cried when we couldn’t figure out what she was saying, and needed an extra hand with everything.
It’s been three months since I met this little girl and have began to love her deeply as a little sister. In three months I have learned what certain hand signals mean, how to understand her grunts and attempts at words, observed her progressing and learning how to use certain parts of her body again, sat through emotional breakdowns and failed attempts at progress, and laughed together at our own inside jokes and stories.
It’s been an incredible journey to see her gain more mobility and make steps towards recovery. It was exciting every week when Teresa would get emotional and I could tell her about all the progress I was seeing. It was exciting talking about the day she was going to walk again.
It was all exciting until a couple weeks ago. I’ve been noticing Teresa struggling to say words she had learned to say with ease and working much harder with her exercises with less result. She went with her parents to the hospital for a check up and routine brain scan. They discovered the cancer is back and it has spread. The fight is over. It cannot be won.
How do you tell a seven year old she is going to die?
When I sit with her it is hard not to cry. When I hold her little hands I have a string of thoughts “God loves His little children. God loves you. I love you. He created you and He knows. His love for you is beautiful and sovereign. My love can’t comprehend the way He loves you. Go and be in the arms of Jesus…”
I’m really big on name meanings. The name Teresa means “reap”, which means to obtain a return or reward.
Teresa was named after Mother Teresa, who carries her name very well. Mother Teresa gave and gave to people throughout her life. She is known by some to be the kindest person to have lived. She once said “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do…but how much love we put into that action”. Mother Teresa gave with her life. Her life she laid down in order for others to gain. Her life was a reaping of sorts that produced a harvest by all the lives she impacted.
I can’t help but think of the ways that this sweet seven-year-old Teresa, named after Mother Teresa, has given to me.
There have been so many ups and downs along the way. One of the most impactful moments for me was one day when Teresa was trying and trying to say the word walk. Once I finally understood the word, she began to cry and cry because she couldn’t walk. She was seven and couldn’t walk. Instead she had to sit there and watch her baby brother, who is a year and a half, run and walk and fall down and stand back up and roam around. She started asking me “why? Why is God letting this happen to me?” It brought tears to my eyes to have to tell her I didn’t know. All I could do was squeeze her hand and tell her “I don’t know, but I love you and I hate this, but He loves you more and knows what I don’t”. Her mom sat down with us then. Teresa asked her mom “Why Is God letting me hurt?” Her mom said “Teresa, you’re asking the wrong question. You’re asking God why. You need to be asking how. Ask God how He wants you to serve Him. Ask Him how to show your love for Him in your sickness. Sometimes we love God in our healthy state. Other times we love Him when we are sick. You have an important role to reflect Him”.
That spoke volumes to me about God’s sovereignty. It really puts things in perspective to me about the times I am lazy in serving Him. Who am I to ask why and pity myself? Why don’t I ask the how question more?
When I think of Teresa and the end that is coming I think of the peace that comes in the fight being over for her. I think of the love she has shared with me through her smiles, laughter, questions, and hunger for healing. I think of the way she has helped me to understand the love of God a little better.
I wish she could be going back to school with her cousins in a couple weeks learning her multiplication tables and running around in the backyard and getting her new school clothes dirty like I did when I was her age. I wish I could do something to change what is coming, but then I am reminded of where she is going and whose arms she is going to and I know that the arms of Jesus are much sweeter to be in than the little hands I have.
“Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies” –Mother Teresa