Through the years the ministry God has given me has allowed me to guide many people on outdoor adventures. I’ve guided people deer hunting, turkey hunting, on quail hunts, fishing trips, kayaking, and camping adventures.
Each hunt or adventure is different but the greatest adventure I’ve had through the years has been the challenge of being a dad. Guiding children to grow in the way God would have them to go comes with many challenges under normal circumstances, but when a life-threatening illness comes to your child he needs you to be a competent guide all the more. A guide has several responsibilities to ensure a good experience for his client and these responsibilities help me see my son and our family through the hardest journey we’ve ever taken.
On January 2, 2012 my youngest son Joshua was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia. He had been having some ongoing problems since early November 2011 but the doctors could not determine what was causing the swellings. On a trip to New Orleans to visit our daughter and son-in-law his swelling became much worse but it reached a point of finally being diagnosable. The next three years proved to be one of the hardest and yet blessed journeys I’ve ever been on. It was a privilege to guide my son to the gates of heaven and to know he safely reached the other shores. Along the way I learned the following responsibilities every guide should have.
Know where you are and where you are going
I remember very vividly that evening when the first Doctor used the word “Cancer” for Joshua. I was so blindsided. It felt as if I had been sucker punched and my breath had been knocked out of me.
“This can’t be!” I thought and the tears came quickly and then I had to regain my composure. I had to come to grips with what we were facing. I could not deny where we were or the journey that was now in front of us. I also had to come to grips with the possibility of losing my son to cancer.
Joshua was our youngest child. He was always healthy. He was smart, talented, and brought joy to any room he walked into. While it seemed surreal I had to face the real journey that lay ahead for all of us.
Know the lay of the land
My wife and I were quickly aware of how little we knew of leukemia. We had no clue of where to start seeking treatment. As a guide I must always know where we are and where we are going. I know there will be obstacles and turns along the way, but I must know how to navigate safely through them.
That was our challenge. We had to learn all we could of leukemia, what type Joshua had and what treatments he needed and where to get them. Most of all we had to trust in the Lord to teach us and lead us as we led Joshua. We were very much aware that the end results may not be what we wanted but we had to navigate each day toward to the goal of being cancer free.
We had to learn a “New Normal” as it was called in the hospital. We had many “new normals” along the way. There were many twists and turns, ups and downs, and with each came a new challenge. We had to learn how to balance hospital life, home life, schooling, and ministry needs all at the same time.
We were navigating what was uncharted water for us and along the way there were dangers and beauty. There was always the danger of losing our son and we worked hard and prayed harder against that outcome. There were infections and high fevers, allergic reactions to chemo, there was the constant fear Joshua would catch viruses or colds or anything else in those times when his immune system was not only compromised it was nonexistent.
There were also the dangers of neglecting our two other children. Our daughter would give birth to our first grandchild halfway through this journey and our older son was finishing his senior year of high school with all that goes with that right of passage. We also had to maintain a strong marriage. Too often marriages are lost in the midst of these storms and I could not let that happen.
The dangers were many but so were the beautiful moments. Joshua was the first to hold our granddaughter after her birth. He went to prom with a bald head and a beautiful date. He persevered through high school and graduated in the Bone Marrow Transplant ward. He continued to serve in our ministries, working with our camps, running the sound system at church, balloon sculpting at the Sunbelt Ag Expo ministry, playing bass guitar, and learning to play the acoustical guitar. In his final piano recital his hands shook from the chemotherapy but he pressed on to finish.
There were many times of laughter from practical jokes he would pull on the doctors and nurses and many times he would beat his mom and me in Rummy. There were also many great conversations of deep faith and the grace and sovereignty of God that were an inspiration to all of us. Yes, the dangers were real every day but the beauty stood out and was often breath taking.
Know who you are leading, and stretch them to their utmost
You think you know someone but when you face the storms of life you find out what their true character is made of. Joshua was 15 when first diagnosed. He matured into a mighty warrior in the three years of his battle. He never quit or exhibited anger towards God, family, or life itself. His faith and inner strength enabled us all to fight the good fight.
However, he was still a teenager and needed the constant guidance that every teenager needs. He needed to continue growing in his faith to our Lord in the midst of the storm and to trust Him. Joshua also needed to continue in his education. We homeschooled all three of our children and much to his chagrin he was able to stay consistent in his lessons even with long stays in the hospital. He graduated on time with a special graduation ceremony in the Bone Marrow Transplant ward surrounded by family, doctors, and nurses. He never stopped growing.
Be well equipped and make sure your client is well prepared
While we were very uneducated in leukemia and had much to learn, my wife and I daily realized just how much the Lord had prepared us for the journey. Throughout our years of ministry the Lord had led us in steps of faith. Twice He had led us to start new ministries from scratch, once in Helen with the starting of Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries and then again as we stepped out to start Legacy Outdoor Ministries. Both times we had to trust Him to guide us and provide for our family and the ministries.
Many times we experienced God do what only He can do. My wife also had felt led many years earlier to homeschool our children and that too enabled us to prepare Joshua for this journey. Throughout the years our family did ministry together, it wasn’t just Dad’s job, it was our family ministry.
Joshua knew how to serve and to know life doesn’t revolve around his wants and happiness. Through the years God had established in us a life of faith and trust in Him and a life of trusting Dad to do what is best. Our faith and trust did not just show up, the Lord had been developing it for years.
To be equipped I had to seek the Lord daily. There were many prayer walks in the garden of Egleston Children’s Hospital and many long prayers as I drove from Atlanta to Alamo and back. Early on [GBC Church Minister Relations consultant] Robert Anderson challenged me to seek a verse from the Lord to carry with me and sustain me.
I prayed and the Lord led me to Psalm 86. Many times this Psalm became a prayer outline for me. God’s Word was always present and His grace truly is sufficient when our strength is gone.
There were other authors and writings that the Lord used to equip us and sustain us through this journey. We had for years used C.S. Lewis’ writings and the Chronicles of Narnia and Joshua loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both were inspirational to remind us in Christ we are a part of an epic story that goes from eternity to eternity and that evil has been defeated in Christ and we do win.
I also picked up Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. What a joy it is to look forward to what lies in store for those who are in Christ Jesus! Through it all I wanted to be able to walk my son to the gates of Heaven and hand him into the arms of my Savior.
Do your best to assure the success of the hunt
Sometimes a guide can do everything right and the hunt still not be successful from the standpoint of a trophy taken. However, through the years I have encouraged the men I’ve guided to remember that the greatest trophy is not the one placed in the back of the truck at the end of the hunt. The greatest trophy is the one that sits beside you in the cab of the truck along the way. As dads our greatest trophies are our wives and our children, not our careers or the trophies of our hobbies.
My journey with Joshua did not end as I had longed for. On December 2, 2014 Joshua walked through the gates of heaven. In his final moments it was just our immediate family surrounding Joshua in our room at the Hospice House. We had praise music softly playing and for 30 minutes it was all songs of heaven. Joshua began to speak, “I hear voices, they’re calling my name, who are they?”
I immediately thought of Hebrews 12 and that Great Crowd of Witnesses cheering us on to finish the race set out before us. Then he asked, “What do I do?”
At that time I told him it was okay, go, we will join you later. His last words were, “I see the other shores.” And then he breathed his last breaths and went home.
Looking back at that moment I realized the Lord granted my desire. My wife and I held his hands right up to the gates of heaven. As soon as he breathed his last breath you could tell his body was an empty shell and Joshua was with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My wife and I looked at each other and smiled. We had guided our son home!