top of page
  • Writer's pictureJJ Kissinger

Amidst the complicated and painful layers of what we see unfolding in Ukraine—the horrific violence, the heartening global support, the outrageous injustice and racism, the perplexing questions about the part we play from thousands of miles way—I find myself preoccupied by the notion of heroism in times of tragedy.

Scouring through news reports, I paused with a grin when I saw an article about President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. If I’m being honest, I had already been giggling to myself because of the way his name kept bringing to mind Wayne Szalinski, the nerdy dad hero played by Rick Moranis in my all-time favorite childhood movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” I’d also found it so endearing that President Zelenskyy was previously a comic and actor who became well-known for his star role on a satirical TV show, where he played a high school teacher who accidentally became the Ukrainian president. You can't make this stuff up! But I was most delighted when I read that he had also been the voice of the Ukrainian “Paddington Bear” AND did a stint on “Dancing with the Stars.” That’s not really the resume of someone who would become a heroic symbol of courage, fortitude, and leadership on the world’s geo-political stage…and yet, perhaps against all odds, President Zelenskyy is rising to the occasion with valor.

Listen…I am THE LAST person who needs to be commenting on what’s happening in Ukraine. I am CLEARLY not an expert, and there is so much about the conflict I do not understand. It's just, I can’t stop thinking about the arc of President Zelenskyy’s story, and the way he has risen to meet the challenges before him with so much courage, and to worldwide acclaim…just a pretty normal guy who was once on a TV show.

Over the last ten years I’ve gotten to know a lot of families who have a child with cancer. One of the most persistent and surprising frustrations I hear from parents is the way they are heroized by their friends and family. “You’re so strong / brave / amazing for how you’re handling this!” “I don’t know how you do it—I don’t think I could be so strong!” It turns out, phrases like this are not always helpful. At first, I couldn’t understand why. I mean…they’re compliments, right? How can words of praise become so irksome? My hunch is, these well-intended affirmations actually create more separation than connection, and I wonder if they leave parents feeling even more alone. How do you honestly receive a sweeping compliment about your strength and bravery and steadfast faithfulness as a parent when you’ve just finished 45 minutes of scream-crying in your car? How can you take up the mantel of "hero" when you’re just hanging on by your fingernails?

Do I believe that we all possess a measure of strength and resolve and fortitude that would shock the hell out of us if we ever had to leverage it fully during our own time of tragedy?

I do.

Do I believe that we would look at ourselves in that moment of reckoning and say, “Wow…I really AM a hero!”?

No, reader...I do not.

We’d probably recognize that we were just slogging our way through because we had no other choice. We'd probably say, "Yeah, I'm not sure how I'm doing this, either."

All of this makes me wonder how we might reconsider the way we affirm those who are suffering. Because the truth is, TV star or not, President Zelenskyy knows he needs a lot more than good ratings, or headlines praising his bravery. Like any normal person facing a crisis, he needs people who will step into the challenge with him.

I am working toward a better vocabulary to meet a suffering person where they are. When I see a parent who is mustering every ounce of their courage to face another day—another moment—in the grind of childhood cancer, and the impulse rises in me to offer praise for their courage and bravery like a sparkling trophy, I’m trying to remember to simply say, “This all sounds so hard…and I’m with you.”

125 views0 comments

I've been thinking about the persistence of light. Maybe it's the days getting longer as springtime approaches. Maybe it's the fact that the black-out drapes in my son's room can never completely block the sun from peeking through during his naptime. Somehow, with stunning insistence, light breaks through darkness.

We've created a new tradition during our Light Collective planning meetings--we begin each Zoom call with the question, "Where are you finding light?" Although a more accurate phrasing might be, "Where has light found you?" Let's be honest--some days feel heavy, and light may seem in short supply, like patches of joy along stretches of sorrow. And yet, even in the darkest of circumstances, even if it's the tiniest flicker of a smoldering wick, light somehow continues to find us.

As we do what we can to notice the light as it breaks through, and make space for those gathered lights to shine in this community, I want to offer this blessing, inspired by Jan Richardson, who writes the most honest and heart-wrenching blessings about grief and loss, life and death, hope and suffering. Just a few words to express my gratitude for the persistence of light.


This is a blessing for the light that finds us, in all its forms, even in the heaviest darkness.

Like an old flashlight, fumblingly found at the back of a drawer, we bless the light that brings a hint of relief in crisis.

Like a bonfire on a sunset beach, we bless the light that welcomes friend and stranger, providing warmth, and a reason to gather, and something to see and somewhere to sit when there’s not much to say.

Like a flickering candle, lit to remember love lost, we bless the light that illuminates the sacredness of suffering and sorrow.

Like a summertime sparkler, whose gleam is passed from one giggling child to the next, we bless the light that is shared with gleeful and glittering generosity.

Like a flashbulb of a camera, we bless the light that captures precious moments of memory making that will be cherished for years to come.

Like stadium floodlights on a Texas Friday, we bless the light that creates an arena where champions are celebrated with rousing applause.

Like a trusty old desk lamp, we bless the light that puts in the hours, illuminating the diligent preparation that is needed for the work ahead.

Like the full moon, we bless the light that reflects a source that is stronger than our own, incandescent in an otherwise terrifyingly dark sky. Though sunny midafternoons have their appeal, we bless the complicated and mysterious dance of darkness and moonlight.

And finally, like the dawn, we bless the light that is faithful. May we show up, and show up again, day after day after day with a trustworthy and reliable rhythm.

And as we wait for the light to find us again, and again, and again, may we find a hand to hold, reminding us we never wait alone.

May the light inside of me recognize the light inside of you, and may we make a brighter way, together.


So...where is the light finding you?

85 views1 comment

Remember those posters that looked like a fuzzy TV screen, but if you stood back a few feet and relaxed your eyes in a certain way, a crystal-clear 3-D image would emerge from the colorful chaos? That experience is a good analogy for the last few months of my life. Chaos turning into clarity in the most surprising way.

Earlier this fall, my role as the Director of a local outreach program serving families who have a seriously ill child came to an unexpected end. Needless to say, this added a lot of stress and grief to an already-difficult time of life. Slogging through the darkness of this painful transition, Barbara Brown Taylor's words have been deeply resonant:

“New life starts in the dark.

Whether it is a seed in the ground,

a baby in the womb,

or Jesus in the tomb,

it starts in the dark”

In the chaotic swirl of grief and fear and sadness, I found myself encircled by the generous support and encouraging words of my community…lights sparkling in the darkness, illuminating the deepest truths. And sure enough, new life has been emerging.

I have never been a person with a super-clear idea of what I should do with what Mary Oliver would call my “one wild and precious life…” Every step along my “career path” has felt more like an accidental stumble…and while I have always enjoyed my various jobs, none of them have been the result of a master plan I’d worked out years before. But this fall, given an open road before me, and a lot of targeted words of affirmation from loved ones, I felt a sense of clarity and purpose I have never experienced so strongly: I knew I was meant to continue doing this work, serving families who have a seriously ill child.

Meanwhile, a second “ah-ha” was unfolding in my brain. I’ve always been aware of the ways childhood illness creates isolation for families...but as COVID persisted, this already-terrible experience of isolation seemed to multiply to an unimaginable extent. So many services for families were constrained or cancelled. Visitors at the hospital were restricted to one family member. Support networks dissolved. This heartbreaking reality set my brain spinning as I imagined interesting new ways to help these families feel seen and loved and accompanied on their journey.

Frederik Buechner tell us, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That incredible intersection is where I found new life: painfully aware of a new and unfolding need, with a brain full of exciting ideas and a fire in my belly to keep going. Here’s the best part: I wasn’t alone! Through hours and hours of conversation with so many deeply trusted and over-the-top talented friends, a common vision began to emerge, and a collective began to form. A Board of Directors was assembled…a generous and talented lawyer offered her support with the process…enthusiastic volunteers rallied to help in one thousand ways…and before we knew it, we had built a new nonprofit organization!

The Light Collective was established to create a community where families who have a child with cancer can build resilience and share delight. Our first phase of programming is a monthly “Matchbox” family fun day, where families from across the state receive a box filled with thematic games, crafts, and activities, a meal delivered to their house, a few rounds of silly games on Zoom, and a virtual parent and caregiver support conversation later in the evening. We just hosted our second Matchbox event last weekend—a tropical theme, complete with plastic coconut cup relays, inflatable flamingo ring toss games, limbo, leis, and all kinds of other treats. For months, we've imagined how we might draw families from isolation into community--it's been an overwhelming delight to see those dreams come to life!

We're cooking up all kinds of ideas about how this vision could expand and develop, cultivating meaningful connection and deep joy for families in crisis. I would love to keep you in the loop, and welcome you to get involved if this kind of work inspires you! Check out and click “Join us” if you want to know more.

In varying degrees, we are all living through stories of darkness right now…and many of those stories are nowhere near resolution. Like the story of The Light Collective, my own story is still unfolding. Light continues to find me, bringing hope for today, and a measure of healing. I hope the same kind of light is finding you, too.

706 views2 comments
bottom of page