Three months ago I wrote a column for Aish.com called Better or Bitter. I described spending a day with five-year-old Lily, whose mother, Felicia, attends my parenting classes. Lily received a diagnosis of a brain tumor and I went to visit with her as she was facing the battle of her life.
I was moved beyond words. This little girl taught me a lesson that inspired me and touched the innermost crevices of my soul.
We were sitting at Lily’s little play table as she was coloring a tzedakah box that I had brought over. Lily carefully peeled off the little Hebrew stickers that spelled her name and decorated her box. She chose the most vibrant colors that she could find and eagerly colored despite her pain. It was obviously hard for her, but she giggled her sweet little giggle with each colorful stroke. Then she asked her mother if she could fill her charity box. But only the shiniest and most beautiful pennies would do. Carefully, Lily counted each coin as they clinked inside.
“One…two…three...” Her face filled with delight as she dropped each bright penny inside.
In the article, I recounted how Felicia told me that Lily’s preschool class had a discussion deciding what to do with their class tzedakah box. Where should the money go? Lily’s teacher called to say that Lily raised her hand and described children waiting in her doctor’s office with broken toys or none at all. Lily asked if the charity could go to her doctor’s office. The decision was unanimous.
Living with Joy
I was awed by this little child. I returned home and I was inspired to write. How could this be, I thought to myself, that this child who must be so frightened and pained can rise above it all and feel the pain of another? So often, we adults are stressed or feeling hurt and we cannot see beyond our own reflection. We cannot feel beyond the throbbing aches that beat within ourselves. Whether emotional or physical, it doesn’t really matter. The test of life is this: when I go through my challenge, will I grow better or bitter? This beautiful child taught me the way to go.
When I go through my challenge, will I grow better or bitter?
Despite her constant challenges and difficult tests, she grew kinder and sweeter with each day. She wrapped herself in pink ribbons, purple dress up feathers, shiny jeweled necklaces and happily insisted on getting to school on time despite her difficult chemotherapy treatments. She called her father ‘my cheerleader’ and swallowed her awful medications just to see her daddy smile.
Each week Lily embraced the mitzvah of Shabbos with heart and soul. She’d count the days till it was time for the whole family to sit together and bask in the comfort of the Shabbos candles. As the candles danced she’d proudly sing her Shabbos songs and dance beside them. She’d love the feeling of being blessed by her mother at the Shabbos table. Lily’s fifth birthday was celebrated in school as the special ‘Shabbos girl.’ What a great day, Shabbos and a birthday combined!
Every sunrise would bring Lily another day, another opportunity to love life and teach us adults how to live with joy despite it all.
From One Heart to Another
Last week, I traveled to Silver Springs, Maryland to speak about parenting. As I stood at the podium, a woman approached me.
"I saw your article about Lily on Aish.com,” she said. “My children and I were so inspired. This child has real courage and my girls want to be a part of her tzedakah.”
She handed me an envelope that had been decorated with bright red magic markers. I could feel the coins and dollars inside. There were hearts colored all around and in middle of the envelope in huge letters was written, "LILY’S TZEDAKAH." And at the bottom in children’s scrawl: "Samantha and Hannah, Silver Springs, Maryland," along with more red hearts.
Here I was about to make a speech and I found myself speechless. What special children we have! Two children inspired to bring goodness into this world through a little girl that they only read about but never met! Isn’t this all that we pray for and try to bequeath to our children? Feel for others, think about others, do well for others and rise above yourselves.
Touched by an Angel
Thursday morning, I returned home. I must have just walked through the door when I received the painful news. Lily. Our sweet, beautiful Leah Chana returned her soul to the heavens above. I gave out a gasp and realized that I was crying.
This past summer, I was touched by an angel…
So began my words about Lily at her funeral. I described Lily’s tzedakah project and her ability to rise above her challenges by growing better instead of bitter. I then held up the envelope with "LILY’S TZEDAKAH" written boldly across the center and told the story behind the bright red hearts.
I wanted to share this message with Lily’s parents and family. I wanted to convey this thought to the hundreds and hundreds of people who filled the room that morning. And I want to impart my words from that day to you, my dear readers:
As Lily was taking her last breaths we could not imagine that this child was still accomplishing in this world. Though it was her final day here on earth she was still inspiring others. Unbelievably, she was bringing mitzvot and good deeds into this universe. And this is the magic of our sweet Lily.
For the past 16 months hundreds of women have kindled their Shabbos candles with a prayer for Lily on their lips. We have taken this mitzvah upon ourselves as Felicia’s friend, Jennifer, sent out hundreds of emails each Friday that were then forwarded to countless more women. Some of these women never lit Shabbos candles before. Many never knew Lily but were praying for her and kindling their ‘lights for Lily’ with great love.
I can tell you this: When Lily’s soul returned to shamayim, to the heavens above, she was surrounded by thousands of magnificent lights that had been kindled in her honor. Lily was lifted upon the wings of thousands of prayers. We will continue to light our Shabbos candles and through our mitzvahs, honor our Leah Chana.
Felicia and Greg, it is written that in the heavens, God has a treasure house of souls. The purest of souls are kept beneath the throne of God. These are the holiest of souls. These are God’s diamonds. They must only come into this world for a short amount of time before they complete their mission. They then return to the heavens above.
To whom should God entrust His precious jewels?
Only to the kindest and most trustworthy parents. Only to those parents who safeguard this diamond, watch over it, and guard it well. Parent’s like you who have been chosen to watch over God’s jewel and though it is incredibly painful, to return the diamond when it is time.
I know that I speak for countless people when I tell you that it has been our privilege to be a part of this beautiful child’s life. In her five years she has accomplished and taught us more life lessons that some adults do with their long years. She is our pure soul, our treasured jewel and her radiant light will live on in our hearts.
After hearing about Lily’s glorious life on that very painful day, many people who have never studied Torah before asked how they can begin to learn about Jewish wisdom. In my heart I know that Lily is still working her magic.