When our son Pete was three, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and from one moment to the next, our lives changed drastically. There are no instruction manuals that can prepare you for how to cope when your child is facing a life-threatening disease. Even though we found shelter in the loving arms of Jesus, our tender Shepherd, we still had to find a way to face the scary events of the following weeks and months.
Andja was born in 1962 in the former Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When war broke out in the 1990s, Andja’s family fled as refugees to Vojnic, a small town in Croatia. Her husband was mentally scarred from the atrocities of ethnic cleansing and had to be permanently hospitalized, and she found herself struggling to raise their three sons alone while struggling with diabetes and psoriasis. She survived by working the land around her hut and through the aid of humanitarian organizations. And that’s how we first met in May 2000.
Some months ago while visiting Keith and Caryn1 in San Antonio, Texas, they invited me to accompany them on a visit to their friend Phoebe. Phoebe, just 22 years old, had been diagnosed with leukemia and was undergoing treatment.
During our dinner together, Phoebe told me that she had just found out two days earlier that the cancer was found to no longer be in remission and that it was very aggressive. She probably had no more than four months to live.
They’re not coming back!
I remember how I felt when it finally hit home. Alone. Afraid. Unsure. For years I had been working on a social service project in an impoverished South Asian nation. I was busy and made a contribution to the work, yet it didn’t depend upon me; I was a cog in the overall machine, and that suited me just fine. I felt secure benefiting from others’ years of experience, not to mention their financial backing. There wasn’t much for me to worry about.
Our jeep bumped along the rugged trail that was going to take us to the main road and back home to Nairobi, after a successful humanitarian aid project in a distant rural area of Kenya. My thoughts were already traveling to the busy week ahead. The next project was around the corner and needed to be planned and organized, and there seemed to be too few hours in the day to get it all done.
The walls of my bedroom are brightening with a new day’s sun. I rub my eyes, stretch, and yawn, allowing my thoughts to travel far on memory lane. Through the twists and turns of my life, I’ve made what I like to think is a discovery—though surely many others have long found this secret. I have discovered what makes a person happy and how I can be happy too.
Over forty years later, this episode from a holiday in Scotland is still vivid in my mind. That morning, my friend Adrian and I set out from the youth hostel in Fort William, intent on climbing Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain (1,344 meters [4,409 ft]). We were a pair of adventurous teenagers and brushed off warnings from the locals that it was not a good day to climb.
It was the hot, dry season. With no rain in almost a month, crops were dying, cows had stopped giving milk, streams had long dried up, and we, like other farmers in the area, faced bankcruptcy if we didn’t see some rain soon.
I was in the kitchen making lunch when I saw my six-year-old son, Billy, walking purposefully and carefully toward the woods. I could only see his back. Minutes after he disappeared, he came running back.