66: Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter

66: Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter

You cannot always have happiness, but you can always give happiness.

~Author Unknown

In 1998, my connective tissue disease attacked my eyes. For several weeks I could see nothing but white fog. Even after my vision was restored, I couldn’t return to work. Because of scarred corneas, I would forever view the world as if looking through a dirty window. Distinguishing details was difficult. I found myself unable to enjoy hobbies, without a worthwhile job, and sinking into depression. Sitting alone at home all day, I felt useless. My self-esteem plummeted as I was thrown into the world of disability.

To ease my boredom, I joined a prayer group. There I met a woman who told me a sad story about her grandson, Michael, who had an inoperable brain tumor. He was just two years old, the same age as my grandson, who was recovering from severe burns. I could relate to this grandma’s emotions. I understood how helpless you feel when a child you love is suffering and you can’t take his pain away.

Through the prayer group, I also met a mom desperate for emotional support. “My daughter has brain cancer,” she told me. “I feel so alone and scared. Family and friends have deserted us.”

I wondered how caring people could do that to a sick child and her mother, during their time of greatest need. “They don’t know what to say,” she explained. “Seeing my little girl’s bald head and pale skin makes them uncomfortable. They can’t stand to see her suffering.”

This heartbroken mother was searching for someone who cared enough to help her through this ordeal. She said, “I feel like running into the street screaming, ‘My child is sick! Won’t somebody do something?’”

At that moment, I decided to be that somebody. I couldn’t do a lot, but I could do something.

Because I understood pain, fear, frustration, and isolation, I could relate to families affected by illness. And, because I was “retired,” I had the time to invest in making a difference for these families.

I sent the children cheery cards and small gifts. I called and e-mailed the parents to encourage them. I created a monthly newsletter for families of ill children and I started a chat group where parents could find support. I created a website specifically for stories about kids who needed cheer. Visitors to the site could read children’s stories, pray for them, and brighten their lives through programs like providing balloon bouquets, birthday parties, or Christmas gifts for children in hospitals.

My disability, which had seemed at first to be an ending, became an asset leading to an exciting new beginning. The temporary pause, as my life train switched tracks, propelled me into a new passion and purpose.

Another surprise came when parents told me that my small efforts were having a huge impact on their families. They were encouraged by knowing people cared about what they were going through. They were building strong friendships through the chat group.

Moms were grateful that their kids now had more to look forward to than needles, pain, and hospitals. One boy told his mother, “I can’t believe so many people care about me!” His dad said, “Your group provides an invaluable gift that no other organization can.”

Over the years, I’ve added hundreds of children to the website. Now in its twelfth year as a nonprofit charity, Hugs and Hope has one simple goal: to put a little more joy into the lives of sick kids and their families.

A mother told me about her six-year-old son who was unable to see, walk, or speak. The mail he received was the highlight of each day. He would lie on the couch eagerly awaiting the arrival of the mail. When his mom brought it into the house, he would clap and giggle with excitement. “He sleeps with those cards under his pillow,” she said.

Over 3,000 volunteer “hug givers” and “hope builders” not only send hundreds of cheery cards each month; they also provide the rare gift of friendship, a listening ear, and much needed moral support to parents through the “parent pals” program.

Children like Nathan and his little brother PJ have benefited from being part of the Hugs and Hope group. They suffered from the fatal Batten’s Disease, and their parents needed $100,000 for medical treatments. As a result of volunteers contacting television producers, the boys were featured on the show 48 Hours.

After his bone marrow transplant, ten-year-old Zack had been in isolation for months. Hugs and Hope volunteers arranged for his favorite singer, Kid Rock, to call the boy and send him his own autographed guitar. Zack’s smile is something I won’t forget — especially since we were able to deliver the surprise just weeks before his death. It’s heartwarming to make a child’s last days happier.

Although disability closed some doors for me, a huge window opened. I’m not depressed these days, because I stay busy creating smiles — and some of them are my own. You see, I’ve learned that no matter what your abilities — or lack of them — there is always something you can do. And when you focus on that, amazing things can happen. I’ve even become a published writer — something I never dreamed of doing! My book is illustrated by — you guessed it — “cancer kids.”

When The Hugs and Hope Club began, I was helping one little boy named Michael. Now hundreds of hurting families are part of the circle of love. I want them to learn, as I did, that no one has to face struggles alone. I’ve discovered that joy and hope are sticky — like peanut butter. When you spread them around, you’re bound to get some on yourself.

~Marsha Jordan

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