Life lessons lead me back to ‘love’

The date: Sept. 24, 2009, exactly four months after her second birthday.

The report: Rare brain tumor … malignant.

Belle Is HereThe prognosis: Bleak.

And thus began Susanna Belle Mitchell’s cancer journey. We call her Belle, like the princess.

On one hand, she is indeed a princess. On the other, she is a rock star. There are few places Belle goes where she isn’t known, and she achieved the one-name-only status before age 3.

She captivates you almost immediately by her smile, spirit and sassiness. Her sweet giggles and silly nature draw you the rest of the way in.

And for a time her chemo-induced bald head escalated her ability to mesmerize people.

Belle draws a crowd easily, and her friend list is long. If you’ve met Belle, then you are on that list. Even her “frienemy” Sara Beth is her BFF.

Belle loves people unconditionally like … well, like Jesus. He definitely shines through her, and she is a beam of light for His glory.

I can’t imagine life without Belle. I might just be her biggest fan. (I guess I have to compete with her parents and siblings and about 30 other close friends and family members, but I’d sure give them a run for their money.)

Belle-TroubleLearning from Belle

As we approached the five-year mark of Belle’s cancer journey (Sept. 24, 2014), I reflected on five life lessons I’ve learned from Belle.

1. Mommy is impy and other Belle-invented sayings.

Be silly whenever you can and laugh a lot — A LOT. Live life to its fullest and find the joy in everything, even chemo and radiation. Love people and find the good in them. Nurture and protect your relationships.

2. Don’t forget Knuffle Bunny.Belle - Aug 2014

Belle’s go-to stuffed animal, which travels everywhere with her, is a light-green rabbit — the main character in a series of children’s books by Mo Willems. Belle received Knuffle Bunny as a gift not long after arriving at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 2009, and he has been by her side through the entire cancer journey.

We all need our own version of Knuffle Bunny — people who will love us no matter what and stick with us through the ups and downs. People who lift us up, make us more secure and give great hugs.

3. Don’t drag the bag of IV fluids alone.IMG_20140704_195726

Make sure Mommy and Aunt Jen Jen are nearby to carry it for you. And keep Daddy close at hand to scare away the monsters.

Share your burdens with others and allow them the blessing of helping you carry the weight and protecting you from what you cannot see coming.

4. Purple Gatorade is the best. Enough said.

Do your research, make an informed decision and commit to the path. Don’t look back and don’t second guess. #WinFromWithin

5. “This girl is on fire.”

Belle loves to sing and dance to many of today’s popular songs.Belle dress up Aug 2014

She practices over and over for her performances and doesn’t settle for a mediocre show. She will start over from the beginning multiple times to get it just right.

She also performs in costume and personally designs individual tickets for everyone attending the show. This girl doesn’t slack.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

A phrase made popular in the past decade — Live. Laugh. Love. — has become a bit trite, but it describes Belle to a tee.

She truly lives life, laughs consistently and loves purely and unconditionally.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

—Jennifer Davis Rash, aka Aunt Jen Jen

(To donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of Belle, click here.)

This entry was posted in Snapshots of Belle, Snapshots of faith, Snapshots of life, Snapshots of The Alabama Baptist. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Life lessons lead me back to ‘love’

  1. Very sweet way to share on a very tough subject. Prayers for Belle.

  2. Thanks so much, Stephanie.

  3. Jane is a fb friend and close fried of my friend Margaret and Belle is on my daily prayer list has been for some time now and she is a Beautiful young lady and my prayers is for a complete healing for Belle I no the God we serve is able and your story is so encouraging Thank you for sharing

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  5. Stacey Myers says:

    Hey Aunt Jen Jen. This is Stacey Myers. I just read your article, and I want to say that you portray that precious little angel perfectly. Reading your words makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I cannot imagine what the family is experiencing without Belle. I miss her so much, and that is so minimal compared to you all. I just keep picturing her in Heaven singing and dancing and telling God “what’s what”. She was such a blessing! You all are such an inspiration to others ,and Belle’s story has touched and continues to touch the hearts of many…….both those who knew her and those who didn’t. I was one of the blessed ones to have personally known her. I have to admit….when Belle started kindergarten, I begged Mrs. Williams to put her in another classroom. I knew that I would get terribly attached to her, and selfishly did not want that to happen. I am so thankful that Mrs. Williams convinced me that Belle should be in our class because now I can’t imagine our class without her. She made us complete, and though I continued to keep my distance…..again for selfish reasons….I am honored to say that I was one of her kindergarten teachers. We seemed to develop a love/ hate relationship. (Just a figure of speech….there was definetly no hate anywhere). She and I had our moments. I never knew until she walked in every day at school as to what type of moment it would be. There were moments where she loved me unconditionally. She gave me as many hugs and kisses as I wanted. She would let me and only me walk her to her car after school. She would send a honey bun home to my “youngest boy” and ask me how ticklish my “oldest boy” was. She protected my cell phone from the other kids and scrolled through my photos as she informed them that she was “Keeper of Mrs. Myers’ phone”. Such a loving little girl! And then there were those other moments. Those where every kiss I placed on her forehead were immediately and with a begrudging look on her face wiped away, and her assurance that any and all kisses were unwelcomed and would be disposed of as quickly as I could place them. Those moments where she argued with me about the Chick Fil A cow. The cow would periodically visit our school as part of the spirit night fundraisers. He would stand outside waving to the parents and kids during dismissal. I posed with the cow for a picture, and therefore had a photo of the two of us on my phone. I also had a picture of her with the cow on my phone. I declared the cow my BFC (Best Friend Cow). Of course Belle strongly disagreed with my BFC concept. (Secretly I think she was jealous…….haha). She would out of the blue start an argument that no such thing existed. I would proceed to show her proof….the photo on my phone. Physical evidence meant nothing to her. She was right and I was wrong! End of story!!!!!! I visited her just a few weeks ago at her home. She slept most of the time that I was there. She did eventually wake up before I left. She did not have a whole lot to say. I had printed the picture of her with the cow and brought it along for her to see. She looked intently at the picture for a few seconds. She then looked intently at me. She said ” That’s your BFC”. And without missing a beat, she very quickly declared “Well not really”. Some things never change. I knew then what kind of moment it was going to be. I visited with her for a while longer. Of course I did not get a kiss that day. But I was okay with that. I saw what I came to see………my stubborn little princess Belle. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I did not go back to visit anymore because I was afraid of her not being herself. I want to forever remember her the way she was. I did come to the memorial service,and I have to say it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. It was a true celebration of her life unlike any memorial service I have ever attended. I laughed and I cried, but the tears were all tears of joy. I needed that closure to assure me that her family was all right. I know that you all miss her tremendously, but that service proved that she lived life to the fullest and you all enjoyed every second of every minute you had with her. God placed her with the most wonderful family that he could have until the time he would call her home. I continue to view her Caringbridge site and watch her video every few days. It brings me joy. I see Jack and Emily at school which also brings me joy. I hope this post tells you how much I love Belle and how happy I am to have been a part of her life…….even if it was a small part. I know that I am a better person just for having known Belle and the rest of the Mitchell clan. And I would like to say that you Aunt Jen Jen are my hero. You are one of the most amazing people I have ever met. God broke the mold after he made you. I am sure you know how much Belle loved you. You were her hero too!!

  6. Oh Stacey, thank you so much for sharing your sweet memories. You certainly knew her well and were one of the honored ones to get to experience both her sweet and sassy (ahem — stubborn) side. She loved the Frozen mug you brought her. She specifically asked for it when she could still sip water, even though we could barely understand what she was saying. I have thought of you often and wanted to find you a few times. I was so glad I saw you at school last week and got a quick wave in. I also saw you at the memorial service and it warmed my heart to see your smiling face. Thank you for being such a special part of her life. I miss her desperately with every breath I take, but I also have a tremendous peace knowing she truly lived life with amazing joy, energy and boldness. She didn’t waste a second and she never lived in fear despite all she faced. I want to be like Belle when I grow up.

  7. Brenda Hyatt-Neal says:

    Aunt Jen Jen- my name is Brenda Hyatt-Neal. I am a Girls on the run coach. We are having our 5k run this Saturday in downtown Rock Hill. We are having a bake sale to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s hospital. We would like to have Susanna Belle Mitchell be our memorial and donate what we raise in her honor. May I use this post and Belle’s pictures for our poster discussing St. Jude’s? I don’t want to shock her mother just in case she will be at our after run celebration. Do you think it would be okay with her for us to post this and these pictures?

    • Absolutely, Brenda. That would be very special. Thank you so much for checking though. If you need high resolution photos or a variety of other photos, I can provide those for you also.

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