In light of Easter Week I wanted to share something I wrote from the hospital room of my son three years ago on Easter Sunday.  I pray it’s an encouragement to you.  Happy Easter, He is Risen Indeed!

April 20 – Easter Sunday 3AM
If someone were to ask me “why did God allow Elijah to get Leukemia?” I think I would have to say “because he wanted to show us how much he loves us”.

As we begin day seven of this new journey, I think about what this day seventh day, Resurrection Sunday, really means.

One week ago today, Elijah had death running through his veins, and we did not know it. The signs were there if you knew what to look for, but we were not looking. Lately Elijah had been fatigued a bit easier, his skin color was a bit more pale, he had some fevers bouncing around at strange times. But in a busy house with four kids, the signs were so subtle, we just had no idea what was going on.

And then we get a deadly, life-saving pneumonia. One week ago our little boy begins to spike a high fever, and his deep cough worsens. Monday morning, annoyed because our new insurance hasn’t rolled over into his pediatric physicians office, we begrudgingly take him to the ER for what we think will be an antibiotic and some breathing treatments. I don’t even go with Emily and Elijah originally, but come over to lend some support when they decide to put an IV bag in him to replace fluids. Sitting by his bed, working on my schedule for the next few weeks, the kind doctor gives us the news that will alter the trajectory of our lives: “you have a very sick little boy, I’m afraid his blood tests look like he might have Leukemia. We are transferring him to St. Mary’s children’s hospital right away.”

The following hours feel like days. I ride in the back of an ambulance with thoughts of panic between a growing mountain of texts that begin pouring in. I share them with my feeble boy, who is still taking in the wonder of his first ever ambulance ride: “Elijah, Rod says he’s praying for you. Pastor Matt told me to tell you his praying for you and asking Jesus to heal you. Pastor Bob just told me that he’s praying for you right now.” There is a paramedic in the back seat, he says that it seems like we are really involved with our church. He and his wife are intending to find a church, but haven’t really gotten around to it. I think I tell him something about how we trust in Jesus for our salvation and hope, but I also tell him “this isn’t the only reason, but at some point in your life there’s going to be a day where you’re really going to need a community to be there for you. And when that time comes, it’s too late to find that community.” Sitting in the back of the ambulance, I couldn’t fathom how much the community of Jesus would be there for us in this first week.

In the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of St. Marys, we get life saving blood, platelets, fluid, and oxygen. Elijah’s skin goes from yellow to pale, which is a major improvement. We are also told by the initial doctor that we must wait several days before a specific diagnosis. This first night is miserable. We trust God for eternity, but I know that doesn’t mean that things always work out on earth like we want. I take the first night’s watch at the hospital, and I lay beside him weeping, crushed, not knowing how I will be able to breathe if my boy dies. How long will we have to wait for good news? And will there be good news?

The next morning I am taken off guard when the Oncology Dr. and his team show up and tell me they have a diagnosis. The initial doctor was wrong, the lab test don’t take several days. We definitively know that Elijah has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My firstborn son has Cancer, but it’s the good Leukemia, with above a 90% cure rate. Treatment begins immediately. It will last years, but they tell me they are very optimistic our son will live.

Life by death. This is the way of Leukemia. Over the next days and weeks and months, they will introduce a mixture of chemicals to Elijahs body that will kill all of the Leukemia cells in his body, but will also kill a good deal of other things. Nurses put on masks, gloves, and protective gowns just to hang bags of these chemicals from the IV pole. It sounds horrible, because it is. But I am already familiar with life by death.

Yesterday, as we get set to push the largest dose of a chemo drug who’s possible side effects include severe allergic reaction or sudden death, I work on a lego project with Rich Mullin’s “Hold Me Jesus” playing on repeat on my phone. I echo the chorus as my prayer: “Hold me Jesus, cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been king of my glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace”. I’m reminded that Elijah is receiving a large dose of death on the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, and the parallels are striking. The Leukemia has been present for far longer that we were aware. In his blood, originating in his very bones. It is a sentence of death. As a matter of fact, several decades ago some very dear friends of mine were given this very same diagnosis when there was no cure. They were given a projection of two years with their son, and he went to Jesus within seven days of that two year mark. The family allowed his body to be autopsied for research, making their little boy a link in the reprieve of life that is now possible for Elijah. So we have a killer in his body, and they only hope from this death is to introduce death. It makes perfect sense to me, because I am so very aware of the sickness in my soul. I know the good things I want to do, and I don’t do them. The very things I hate, I find myself doing. There is a spiritual death in me, and the only freedom from this death is through death. As I sit watching my son, I am reminded that God sacrificed his very own Son to bring me from spiritual death into life. My sin has been redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ, and the proof comes with what we celebrate in the morning. Resurrection Sunday.

The treatment is ready. Emily and I get down on our knees and pray in the name of Jesus and by the power of His blood, for God to heal the blood of our boy. We pray for the chemo to kill the bad stuff and leave the good stuff alone. It seems like half the country is praying for this little boy. The treatment begins, we pass the time with some very open conversations with Elijah’s nurse. He shows no negative signs from the chemo treatment. Emily and I rejoice and get a few hours away at dinner thanks to her parents.

While at dinner we talk about what a strange week this has been. Not a horrible week, a strange week. We have received some of the most terrifying news of our life, but we are given a hopeful course of action with an amazing team in an unbelievable hospital. Our children are scattered and we haven’t seen our front door since Monday, but we have never felt more loved in our lives. When I said that I think Leukemia has been God’s way to show us that He loves us, I mean it. Words of encouragement, texts, letters, gifts, acts of love have poured in like nothing I’ve ever seen. We have lost the emotional capacity to keep up. Luke 6:38 says “give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” It’s as if God said, “I need to show the world how I lavish love”, and he picked our family as the example. I tell Emily that I wish that every person in the world got to tangibly feel loved like we have been loved this week. I wish they would understand that this is what the church is. The church is Jesus’ plan to heal the world, and the church has been the hands and feet of Jesus to our family. I want everyone to get to experience this. The love of God has been poured out in absurd ways this week. If you’re reading this, in some way you’ve been a part of that. Thank you. We love you. We truly feel like we have been swept up in the arms of Jesus. There’s no possible way for us to repay you, you’ve carried us along in our greatest hour of need.

We know that hour is not over. It may get worse before it gets better. There’s going to be more sickness, more pain, more fear, many more tears. We don’t know the outcome of this leukemia battle. But we do know that its Resurrection Sunday, and the ultimate battle has been won. We don’t want our son to have cancer. But even more than that, we don’t want people to be trapped in their own spiritual sickness. We’ve been condemned by our own sin but salvation has been won and is offered as a gift. We walk in the valley of the shadow, but today of all days, it’s High Noon in the Valley of the Shadow. Today is a day of rejoicing.

And the demons, they danced in the darkness
When that last ragged breath left his lungs
And they reveled and howled
At the war that they thought they had won

But then, in the dark of the grave
The stone rolled away
In the still of the dawn on the greatest of days

High noon in the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When Jesus took in that breath
And shattered all death with his life
So long, you wages of sin
Go on, don’t you come back again
I’ve been raised and redeemed
You’ve lost all your sting
To the victor of the battle
High noon in the valley of the shadow

Let the people rejoice
Let the heavens resound
Let the name of Jesus, who sought us
And freed us forever ring out

All praise to the fighter of the night
Who rides on the light
Whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky

High noon in the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When the mouth of the tomb
Shouted, “Glory, the Groom is alive”
So long, you wages of sin
Go on, don’t you come back again
I’ve been raised and redeemed
All praise to the king
The victor of the battle
High noon in the valley
In the valley of the shadow

Happy Easter!

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