It Takes Courage

It Takes Courage

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

It Takes Courage

You gain strength, experience and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face. . . . You must do the thing you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Her name is Nikki. She lives just down the road from me. I have been inspired by this young lady for a number of years. Her story has touched my heart and when times get tough, I reflect on her courage.

It started when she was in the seventh grade, with the doctor’s report. Everything that her family had feared was true. The diagnosis: leukemia. The next few months were filled with regular visits to the hospital. She was poked and jabbed and tested hundreds and thousands of times. Then came the chemotherapy. Along with it, and a chance to possibly save her life, she lost her hair. Losing your hair as a seventh grader is a devastating thing. The hair didn’t grow back. The family started to worry.

That summer before the eighth grade she bought a wig. It felt uncomfortable, it was scratchy, but she wore it. She was very popular and loved by so many students. She was a cheerleader and always had other kids around her, but things seemed to change. She looked strange, and you know how kids are. I guess maybe like the rest of us. Sometimes we go after laughter and do things even though it causes great pain in someone else. The wig was pulled off from behind about a half a dozen times in the first two weeks of the eighth grade. She would stop, bend down, shake from fear and embarrassment, put her wig back on, wipe away the tears and walk to class, always wondering why no one stood up for her.

This went on for two agonizing, hellish weeks. She told her parents she couldn’t take it anymore. They said, “You can stay home if you wish.” You see, if your daughter is dying in the eighth grade, you don’t care if she makes it to the ninth. Having her happy and giving her a chance at peace is all that matters. Nikki told me that to lose her hair is nothing. She said, “I can handle that.” She even said that losing her life is of little concern. “I can handle that, too,” she said, “but do you know what it’s like to lose your friends? To walk down the hall and have them part like the Red Sea because you’re coming, to go into the cafeteria on pizza day, our best meal, and have them leave with half-eaten plates? They say that they’re not hungry but you know that they’re leaving because you’re sitting there. Do you know what it’s like to have no one want to sit next to you in math class and the kids in the locker to the left and right of you have pulled out? They’re putting their books in with someone else, all because they might have to stand next to the girl wearing the wig, the one with the weird disease. It’s not even catching. They can’t get it from me. Don’t they know that I need my friends most of all? Oh, yes,” she said, “losing your life is nothing when you know that because of your belief in God you know exactly where you’re going to spend eternity. Losing your hair is nothing either, but losing your friends is so devastating.”

She had planned to stay home from school, but something happened that weekend. She heard about two boys, one in the sixth grade, one in the seventh, and their stories gave her the courage to go on. The seventh-grader was from Arkansas and even though it wasn’t popular, he took his New Testament Bible in his shirt to school. As the story goes, three boys approached him, grabbed the Bible and said, “You sissy. Religion is for sissies. Prayer is for sissies. Don’t ever again bring this Bible back to school.” He reportedly handed the Bible back to the biggest one of the three and said, “Here, see if you’ve got enough courage to carry this around school just one day.” They said that he made three friends.

The next story that inspired Nikki was a sixth-grader from Ohio named Jimmy Masterdino. He was jealous of California because California had a state motto, “Eureka!” Ohio didn’t have any. He came up with six life-changing words. He single-handedly got enough signatures. With his petitions full, he took it before the State Legislature. Today, because of a brave sixth grader, the official state motto for Ohio is “All things are possible with God.”

With Nikki’s new-found courage and inspiration, she put her wig on that next Monday morning. She got dressed as pretty and as fancy as she could. She told her mom and dad, “I’m going back to school today. There’s something I’ve got to do. There’s something I’ve got to find out.” They didn’t know what she meant and they were worried, fearing the worst, but they drove her to school. Every day for the last several weeks, Nikki would hug and kiss her mom and dad in the car before she got out. As unpopular as this was and even though many kids sneered and jeered at her, she never let it stop her. Today was different. She hugged and kissed them, but as she got out of the car, she turned quietly and said, “Mom and Dad, guess what I’m going to do today?” Her eyes were filling up with tears, but they were tears of joy and strength. Oh, yes, there was fear of the unknown, but she had a cause. They said, “What, baby?” She said, “Today I’m going to find out who my best friend is. Today I’m going to find out who my real friends are.” And with that she grabbed the wig off her head and she set it on the seat beside her. She said, “They take me for who I am, Daddy, or they don’t take me at all. I don’t have much time left. I’ve got to find out who they are today.” She started to walk, took two steps, then turned and said, “Pray for me.” They said, “We are, baby.” And as she walked toward 600 kids, she could hear her dad say, “That’s my girl.”

A miracle happened that day. She walked through that playground, into that school, and not one loudmouth or bully, no one, made fun of the little girl with all the courage.

Nikki has taught thousands of people that to be yourself, to use your own God-given talent, and to stand up for what is right even in the midst of uncertainty, pain, fear and persecution is the only true way to live.

Nikki has since graduated from high school. The marriage that was never supposed to take place happened a few years later, and Nikki is the proud mother of a little girl that she named after my little girl, Emily. Every time something that seems impossible comes before me, I think of Nikki and I gain strength.

Bill Sanders

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