We didn’t realize just how much at the time, but we had the tiniest inkling. That evening we showed up at the home of strangers (nothing new for us). It was a cook-out for a small group of people who had a heart for a bigger group of people: refugee families in Columbus, Ohio.
Scott and Kate, the hosts of the cook-out, worked for World Relief, and one of the couples (and two single guys) in attendance lived in an apartment complex called Abbey Lane. Our church was partnering with World Relief to offer tutoring there, and our family wanted to help.
When we walked in the door of Scott and Kate’s house, they introduced us to a couple sitting on the couch. His name was Josh. She was Laura. And the little squirmy guy under Laura’s nursing cover was two-month-old Judah.
We fell in love with them immediately.
The next morning I wrote in my journal: Good morning, God. Feeling invigorated this a.m. Great great GREAT time at the cook-out last night. Scott and Kate are awesome, and our kids loved their kids. Josh and Laura are awesome. Everybody is just so great. They all have hearts like ours. So so so blessed. God, show us if we’re supposed to move to Abbey Lane.
A little bit later, I got this email from Laura: Josh and I hopped in the car last night leaving the Ronyaks and the first thing we both said was, “What a neat family!” (referring to you guys, of course). We are excited to see what the LORD has in store here at Abbey Lane this year. We’ve enjoyed making friends and just being neighbors but have been hoping that others would join in and something more structured could develop to serve our little community. It looks like God is answering that prayer!
She invited the girls and me to their apartment while Gabe was at work. The minute I stepped inside, I thought, “We could do this. Yes, let’s do this.” We had the best chat. My heart raced the whole time at the thought of what God might have up his sleeve.
Long story short, before we knew it, it was October, our house was for sale, and we made plans to move to Abbey Lane.
Out of 300+ apartments in four big quadrants, there was one two-bedroom apartment available. We could move in December 2.
It was right next door to Josh, Laura, and Judah. (!!!) (!!!!) We couldn’t believe it.
In November, Josh and Laura got scary news. There was a problem at Judah’s five-month check-up. The doctor didn’t like the sound of his heart. They ordered an MRI. They found a tumor. A rare, aggressive kind of cancer. We were devastated.
They scheduled open-heart surgery for January. Judah would be just seven months old.
Oh, we prayed and prayed for that little boy. We had already fallen so in love with him. He came through the surgery beautifully. They couldn’t get all of the tumor, so they scheduled chemotherapy. Lots of it.
They put a port in his chest. He spent most of 2014 with gauze wrapped around the tubes that stuck out of his body. He took on seven cycles of chemotherapy like a BOSS. And he giggled and ran and jabbered and grew and made everybody everywhere fall madly in love with him.
Friends, this is where I wish I had adequate words. Words to try to describe the impact Josh, Laura, and Judah had on us in that beautiful year we lived side-by-side. The quiet faith they showed us, the way they loved others so sacrificially.
We ate meals together and borrowed things from each other. We played many a game of Catan and popped popcorn and watched movies. We played disc golf and tutored. We “babysat” Judah after he was already asleep so they could meet with their small group or run to the grocery store.
We had lots of heart-to-heart talks and prayed for each other through good times and bad.
And when we realized God was giving us the go-ahead to move to Cambodia, where we’d been longing to be, we hesitated. How could we leave Abbey Lane? How could we leave Josh, Laura, and Judah?
At the end of July, we got amazing news. Judah’s tests came back ALL CLEAR. He was cancer-free. We were still heartbroken to leave our friends, but we didn’t feel like we were abandoning them. We would just miss them like crazy.
It was a hard, sad day when we said good-bye to our precious friends at the end of December. One last hug for Judah, one last kiss, one last head-bump. Part of me knew there was a chance it would be the last time we’d see him on this earth, but I brushed that thought away and asked God to make it not true. I couldn’t bear it.
We had been in Cambodia just one month when Laura emailed me. She hated telling me what she was about to tell me. Judah’s cancer was back. And it was everywhere. His heart. His brain. And there was nothing the doctors could do.
We wept. Heartbroken. For 7 months we prayed and pleaded with God to heal him. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in Judah’s body, as it is in heaven.
He kept declining. Laura would send pictures and videos through What’s App. He was dying, but he was still our beautiful, feisty, precious Judah. My heart ached for Josh and Laura, for us.
If Judah could’ve talked, I bet he would’ve told us he wasn’t just saying hi; he was also saying good-bye.
On the morning of September 3, 2015, seven months to the day that he was re-diagnosed with cancer and two years to the day that we met him for the very first time, he went to heaven and met Jesus.
We’re thankful for every single moment we had with him, and we feel pretty darn lucky to have had the privilege of being such a big part of his short, precious life.
He was a gift. IS a gift.
We will love and remember him and miss him for always and forever.
Our girls are pretty sure he’s already met their beautiful cousin, Jubilee, and is flirting with her as I type.
We’re praying our hearts out for his mommy and daddy. We love them so much, and while their faith is strong, their hearts are broken and will never, ever be the same.
His mommy’s text to me this morning said this: Judah is in Heaven! Jesus came and got him very gently, peacefully this morning. Josh and I are covered by the Spirit. We love you guys.
Oh, my heart. The tears. The sadness and the joy.
We will see you soon, our dear, handsome Judah. Thank you for everything. You can’t even begin to know how you’ve touched our lives.
WE LOVE YOU.