"Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." –Psalm 127:3–5
It happened twenty-five years ago on Mother’s Day, the day Patty and I will always remember like yesterday. It was a crushing day, a refining/defining moment, an inflection point, and the day when we fully understood that children indeed are a gift from the Lord.
We were both a young twenty-nine years old, incredibly blessed with our nearly six-year-old daughter (Julie) and little Timmy, a few weeks shy of his third birthday. We were living in a suburb in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. where I was serving in one of the choicest assignments in the U.S. Coast Guard. After attending the morning worship service at Reston Bible Church, we went out to one of our favorite spots for a special Mother’s Day lunch, and then it was home for naptime. I was out in the garage putting the finishing touches on a handcrafted "train bed" I was making for Timmy for his upcoming birthday when Patty came outside to tell me that he had a really high temperature and to come inside.
Fast-forward a couple of hours…we had prayed for him and called both our mothers to ask them to pray for him. I can still see our son lying on the sofa next to Patty when seizure #1 hit him—his feet are trembling wildly, and his eyes are rolling back in his head, only the eerie whites of his eyes are visible. The next seizure comes a short while later, and then a third. We pack up Julie and Timmy and head to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, praying for a benign diagnosis like a fast-moving flu bug. Little did we know.
After a nightmarish evening that turned into early morning, where the emergency room doc ordered up three blood samples and a spinal tap without much of an explanation (other than meningitis was ruled out), we received word that our son needed to remain overnight at the hospital. Patty stayed with the little guy, who was dealing with being a human pincushion as well as could be expected, and I took our sleeping daughter home. I rejoined Patty the next morning at the hospital after dropping off our daughter at school. Our church prayer chain evidently worked well as our pastor, Mike Minter, arrived a few minutes later.
Tears still flood my eyes as I recall the vivid imagery of what happened next. It was 1983, Monday, mid-morning. A nice doctor asked Patty and I to follow him to a meeting to discuss Timmy’s situation. Pastor Mike joined us in a conference room filled with numerous medical staff. My heart raced when I saw the grim, somber-looking faces around the table. "We have some really hard news for you," said the physician, who identified himself as a pediatric oncologist with a specialty in hematology. "Your son has leukemia."
In a moment, the vision of a future seeing my son as a teenager and as an adult simply vanished, replaced with an image of a small burial plot. Patty was so strong as I sobbed my heart out. It was the first time she had ever seen me shed a tear in our ten years of marriage. We heard fragments of the physician’s explanation, and tried to process the more positive news that "we caught this early" and "this looks like the best type of childhood leukemia, Advanced Lymphoblastic Leukemia [ALL] to treat". We heard the news that treatment would need to begin immediately: a month-long stay in the hospital for aggressive chemotherapy protocol and followed by two weeks of radiation treatment, and then…who knows?
As Pastor Mike, Patty, and I shared in those early hours following this news, I recall how fundamentally flawed my thinking was about God. Nothing bad was supposed to happen to my family—how could the Lord let this happen? It was then I realized that as a sinner all I deserved was death and separation from God. It became clear that being married to Patty, having a beautiful daughter and son—even a son with a terminal illness—was more grace and mercy than I ever deserved. This fundamental understanding brought about an immediate, deep, hard to express sense of acceptance and peace. It felt like a special touch by the Holy Spirit. Hundreds, even thousands of people were praying across the country for our little guy, and we were pleading for Jesus to heal our son. The elders of Reston Bible came a few days later and prayed for healing, anointing our son in accordance with James 5
. That day, Timmy’s white blood cells returned to normal. Jesus had miraculously and mercifully healed our little guy. Since the chemo treatments were already in progress, and we weren’t certain how Jesus had healed him, we decided to continue the remainder of the chemo and radiation treatments.
By God’s amazing grace, it’s now a quarter century later and our son is a healthy twenty-seven-year-old man who loves Jesus and is following him. If space permitted, pages could be written about the extraordinary and unconditional love and care that a young mother gave to both our children throughout this ordeal. We were changed forever as a result of this special day twenty-five years ago.
holds a rich meaning for us. As King David writes, "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."