One. That is the number of times I’ve seen my cousin cry. And ironically enough, they were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. I’ll explain in a bit, but first I need to back up and introduce you to a young woman who has taught me much in her twenty-two years.
I was nineteen when she was born. She’s the youngest of thirteen cousins, all of whom I spent a great deal of time with growing up. I remember her baby years well, as missed developmental milestones evolved into concerns and then unknowns and fearful questions surrounding what her future would hold. For a time, there was a lot of hushed talk among the adults and I remember a concerted effort to keep the doctor’s reports from reaching the ears and heart of my grandmother; fragile from living under the weight of her worried nature for so many years. The amount of information compiled about the condition of her health seemed to parallel the growing number of prescription bottles that lined the counter during her family’s cherished visits with us.
Once my cousin’s diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy was clear, the growing weakness in her muscles was defiantly counteracted by an undeniable and remarkable strength in the will of her family to create the most fulfilling life she could lead. Both her mom and dad always were, and continue to be, open and direct about her condition and the resulting physical limitations. However, they have also always been resolute in their determination to provide any opportunity for this amazing cousin of mine to move mountains. From ballet classes as a toddler to dancing at family weddings in her wheelchair to making Dean’s list in college, this young woman, teamed with the relentless support of her family, is truly one-of-a-kind. From day one of learning of her diagnosis, my aunt and uncle dug deep, they did their research, perfected the skills needed to care for their daughter and set forth on a journey that would show everyone around them exactly what being a parent means.
I know I speak for each member of my family in saying we have deep admiration and respect for the selfless and tireless way my aunt and uncle love and provide for their children. Her older brother, just as much an amazing force behind her success and smiles, is now studying to be a doctor. He will bless the field of medicine immensely, not only as a result of his knowledge and dedication, but perhaps even more from his intimate understanding of the challenges set before someone with such significant health concerns. His compassion has been beautifully refined after years of loving and caring for his sister.
As my cousin grew, her physical strength continued to decline. She endured major surgeries that had the potential to crush the spirit of the strongest soul out there. But my cousin persevered and we all sat back and watched this unique force of a girl fight her way back to that smile we have all come to cherish. Years ago, when it became necessary for my cousin to receive a tracheostomy, there was concern that she may not be able to learn how to “talk around” the tube that would help her breathe. I remember vividly the moment we received the news that the surgery was a success and shortly after learned that she was talking again. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that will keep this girl from sharing a good story:)
Seventeen. That is the number of Hunter Hayes concerts my cousin has seen. She loves him, totally and unabashedly loves the guy; his music, his country charm, his cute face, his concerts. A few years ago, the Make-A-Wish foundation granted my cousin her dream of attending the Grammy Awards. It was during this fairy tale of an evening that she came face-to-face with her beloved young country star. And this was the big moment the floodgates opened and this girl started to cry. Tears. Of. Joy. Just last week, myself and several of our cousins got to share a piece of this joy with her when we all attended a Hunter Hayes concert together. Front row, close enough to see Hunter sweat and marvel at the dread locks sported by his band mate. I didn’t know a single word of his songs, it was a steamy 100 degrees in the venue and I was smooshed up against one-too-many sweaty strangers; and I got to watch my cousin smile from ear to ear from start to finish. It was awesome.
Countless. That is the number of hearts my cousin has touched in the past twenty-two years. There are people in this world that stand and shout and teach nothing. Then there’s my cousin who sits and talks at a whisper and everyone stops and listens because her message is one of remarkable strength and hope and because our hearts are yearning to see God in this way. There are those who run mile after mile, train for hours in the weight room and take pride in their bulky muscles; all in vain if one’s spirit is weak. Then there’s my cousin who shows us all that a positive and grateful spirit will bring you further in life than the strongest legs could carry you. We live in a world in which the definition of a valued life is becoming smaller and more misconstrued every day. Judgments swirl around us with the force and destruction of the fiercest tornado. Then there’s this young woman with a small frame and the largest of hearts that helps us all see through the storm and realize a cherished life is defined in the way it is lived.
Thank you, my sweet cousin and cherished friend, for your example of resilience and for showing all of us just how to “rock” this gift of life.