Beginning Of The Journey
During the summer of 2013, Melissa and Chris Johnson anxiously awaited the birth of their second child…a baby boy. The were filled with the emotions of every new adoptive family—joy, excitement, anxiety…love.
When news came on August 31, 2013, that little Joshua had entered the world a few days early, the excited parents rushed to Florida to hold their new son for the first time and to bring him home to his lively big sister Sarah Ruth…also adopted. Life as a family of four was about to begin!
Baby Joshua was the son the Johnson’s had been longing for. He was “absolutely perfect.” The Johnson’s knew immediately that Joshua belonged with them and was meant to be part of their family.
In mid June, when Joshua was ten months old, he became ill with what seemed to be normal childhood ailments. He was irritable (teething?), sleeping more (a growth spurt?), and vomiting sporadically (a virus?). But when Joshua began to gaze aimlessly and lose focus, Melissa knew something more was happening. Something was wrong.
On August 20, 2014, the Johnson’s went to their baby boy’s pediatrician with their concerns. The doctors determined the size of Joshua’s head was much larger than normal and sent the family to Midtown Medical Center in Columbus, Georgia, for a CT scan. There the parents learned that, not only did Joshua have excessive fluid on his brain, there was also an unidentified mass present.
The doctors performed emergency surgery to place a shunt in Joshua’s head. Shortly afterwards, he was transported to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital. There the doctors pored over the MRI scans, made a plan, and on Friday, August 22nd, performed surgery to remove the tumor.
Doctors were able to remove 95% of the tumor, but sad news followed the good. Pathology reports revealed that Joshua has a rare form of cancer: embryonal tumor with abundant neuropil and true rosettes. This was a devastating blow. The Johnson’s were told that, even with the most aggressive treatment, Joshua would not live past the age of three.
In the months following Joshua’s diagnosis and surgery, Chris and Melissa spent their days loving and caring for their baby boy and never failing to pray that he would be made well again and be allowed to stay here with them. Realizing that God’s ways are not our ways and that we “see through a glass darkly” while on this earth, they also prayed that God’s will would be done and that they would have the strength to accept whatever his will held for them and Joshua.
As Joshua regained strength after the surgery, he valiantly struggled. He tried to learn to walk again as he had before the tumor took his ability away. He rustled around in bed until he found his beloved pacifier and put it back where it was supposed to be…in his mouth! He would rustle about in bed and pull himself up to stand in his crib and would sometimes wave at his big sister when she came in to see him. He fought to be.
As December rolled around, Chris and Melissa saw changes in Joshua’s behavior and abilities that forewarned them that the strong chemotherapy medicine which they faithfully prepared and gave to Joshua daily, in spite of the heartbreak it caused them to see his reaction to the bitter potion, was not working.
When Joshua returned to Atlanta in early December for a follow-up MRI, the news was devastating. The tumor had grown back to its pre-surgery size and was pressing on the brain stem. Joshua began to suffer. He was vomiting more, was more lethargic, was unable to eat or drink much, and was in a lot of pain. His medicine was increased to try and alleviate the symptoms and keep him from hurting. Chris and Melissa’s baby boy, Sarah Ruth’s baby brother was losing ground. His parents, unable to keep the pain at bay, admitted Joshua to inpatient hospice on December 23.
On Christmas morning, surrounded by those who loved him so, Joshua’s journey here on earth ended. As his daddy said, “He (Joshua) got the best gift of all…He is in the arms of Jesus.”
Joshua’s life, as we know life here in our finite, earth-bound bodies, is over, but Joshua’s journey continues. As long as those of us who knew him, loved him, or were touched by his story keep his sweet smile and the strength he exhibited throughout his short life alive in our hearts and minds, his journey will continue to inspire us to have strength for our journey, too. Remembering the precious smile that returned to his face each time his loving parents had to administer the bitter medicine they hoped would save his life, will help all of us to smile when we face the bitter pills life sends our way. Losing Joshua should serve as a daily reminder of what is really important in life.
Joshua’s journey continues in heaven, too. There he found freedom from his tired and hurting little body. Now he can walk as he struggled to here on earth. Now he can run and even fly as one of God’s littlest angels.
At Joshua’s memorial service, the pastor said that the duration of life is not what matters, but the donation that we make during our lives is what is important. Joshua donated a tremendous life lesson to all who knew him or his story. His short life had more meaning than millions who live a long but self-centered life without giving anything to those whose life paths they cross.
There is an old saying that God keeps little babies in his pocket until he’s ready to send them down to earth. There’s another saying that when little babies smile in their sleep, it’s because angels are talking to them. It makes sense that the farther we grow out of babyhood, the farther we move away from our Father in heaven, the less we’re able to hear the angels whisper in our ears. Baby Joshua didn’t have to endure that separation for long. Because he had left God’s “pocket” so recently, there’s no doubt he continued to hear the angels whispering encouragement and singing sweet lullabies until Christmas morning came. Then Jesus smiled, opened his arms, and beckoned his baby to run to him.
In the midst of their heartbreak, the Johnsons are steadfast in their faith in the Lord and cling to the promise of Joshua 1:9: “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”