We began the memorial service with worship, and then we shared some of the things that Joel really loved.  If you watched the memorial live you probably weren’t able to see the videos very well, so here they are:

.

Joel loved music and he loved to dance.  Even though he was moderately to severely deaf I would often find him dancing along to music I hadn’t even noticed was playing yet.

.

.

Joel loved to eat.  After Joel’s first tumor resection surgery he couldn’t swallow solid food for ten months.  So he chewed things and spit them out, but once he could swallow again he would pack his mouth so full of food, and on more than one occasion his mouth was so full there was no room left to chew, so we had to fish out food with our fingers.  We’ve both been bitten more times than we can count.

.

.

Joel loved dogs.  He loved dogs so much that even though he never bothered to learn how to say Caleb or Isaac, he would learn a new dogs name within five minutes and be calling out “mocha” or “tucker.”  Joel thought sitting in a dog kennell was one of the most entertaining ways to spend an afternoon, and he once fed Pastor Jeff’s dog 30 dog treats in about 15 minutes.

.

.

Joel loved Elijah.  We never let Joel have a dog, but we did get him a baby.  From the moment Joel met Elijah he adored him.  He was as rough on Elijah as he was on puppies but only because he loved him so exuberantly, and I’m pretty sure nothing ever gave Joel more joy than a kiss from Elijah.

.

.

As passionately as Joel loved Elijah, I’m pretty sure Joel’s older brothers loved him more. Caleb and Isaac loved Joel selflessly, they had endless reservoirs of patience and compassion.  They rejoiced over every new accomplishment Joel achieved and made sure to include him in everything.  They doted on him, often stopping whatever they were doing to give him a quick hug or a kiss.  I was always proudest of my family when I watched the way Caleb and Isaac cared for Joel.

.

.

Joel loved water.  For the first year of Joel’s treatment he couldn’t even take a bath because his broviac couldn’t be submerged in water.  As soon as he had a port that could be de-accessed, we took him swimming and he loved it.

.

.

Joel loved horses.  He loved to sign horse.  Whether it was a rocking horse or a real live horse Joel was always ready to ride.  At Chuck E. Cheese or Disneyland it did not matter how many amazing rides awaited, Joel only wanted to ride the carousel again and again.  Just before we left for San Francisco, we took Joel to Hearts and Horses in Loveland, and watching him ride around the arena he was filled with more joy and energy than I had seen in a long time.  We cried as we watched him ride with sheer excitement.  Our family was able to do a lot of amazing things in these last four years, but watching Joel ride that horse is very close to the top of the best experiences in my life.

.

.

Joel melted into his daddy.  There is nowhere on earth Joel felt more content than in his daddy’s arms.  Anyone who knew them, knew that Joel and Ryan had a special relationship, one that I could almost be jealous of, except that how could I be anything but glad that Joel had someone who could comfort him at all times, someone he loved so entirely.  If Ryan left the room for five minutes, Joel’s excitement at his return rivaled any military homecoming I’ve ever seen.  In the last week of Joel’s life I was the most grateful I have ever been that Joel could find a peace in his daddy’s arms that eclipsed any pain or suffering he experienced.  When I saw the way Ryan loved Joel I understood why God calls Himself our Father.  There is not greater love than that.

.

.

Joel loved to laugh.  Joel had an amazing sense of humor.  Since he couldn’t talk, I was always shocked at the way he understood humor.  We took him to a children’s play once and he laughed at every joke, before most of the audience began to laugh, sometimes even catching a joke other people missed.  He thought people falling down was the funniest thing in the world, and almost as soon as he could stand on his own, he learned to “fake fall” to earn the laughter of other people.  No sound I have ever heard compared to the sound of Joel’s laughter.

.

.

Joel’s preschool teachers shared amazing accounts of their relationships with Joel.  (I may type them out or ask them for the files of what they said to copy over at some point.)

.

Ryan and I each shared what Joel taught us during his life.  Here is what I said:

.

How do I sum up what five years with my beautiful son meant to me?  Raising Joel was a delight.  He was so full of joy.  Every time Ryan and I got heartbreaking news we would tell each other that, you know, if all of this we had gone through was just so three people would be saved and spend eternity in heaven, we would live it all over again.  The truth is, now I’d live it all over again now, just to have him back.  I am not the same person I was when I first sat in the intensive care unit with Joel.

.

Joel has taught me to live deeply.  I was used to investing the minimum amount necessary, always afraid of failing, knowing that if at least I hadn’t tried very hard it wouldn’t be much of a loss, if it didn’t work out, but Joel required all of me.  I remember the weeks after we were first told Joel was terminal.  Watching him do something new or unexpected and feeling love well up in me, but only so far.  Suddenly my love for him was a liability.  The  more I loved Joel the more I stood to lose.  For the first time I understood what sacrificial love meant.  Love was not safe.  Love made me vulnerable.  Everything within me urged me to hold back, to protect myself from being even more hurt than I already could be.  After many heart-wrenching months Joel taught me that he was worth loving, he was worth all the pain that my love for him could bring.  I was risking my whole heart, and he was worth the risk.  Eventually loving Joel fully didn’t make my heart ache with the fear of promised pain.

.

Loving deeply helped me learn to believe deeply.  I had grown up believing God’s promises were true.  I knew that God meant for us to live powerful lives that displayed His glory, but I had never sacrificed anything to live that life.  Over and over again, Joel’s fight with cancer forced me to decide if I could expect great things from God in the middle of tragic circumstances.  Once again, I knew that my expectation opened me up to the possibility of disappointment.  If I expected very little at least I wouldn’t be let down.

.

I’m not sure when I made an active choice to risk my whole heart to trust God, to believe that He had the most glorious outcome possible for Joel.  I think as soon as I stopped protecting myself from loving too deeply, I didn’t want to protect myself from believing too deeply either.  My life became forfeit to God’s plan for Joel.  I wasn’t sure a month ago that I could really walk Joel to eternity, believing the entire time with all of my heart that he would be healed, raised from the dead if necessary.  I wanted to be able to do that, but I wasn’t sure I could face the pain and hold on to hope at the same time.  Then Joel’s eye turned in, and his face drooped, he stopped swallowing, stopped walking, stopped standing, until eventually he stopped smiling, stopped talking, stopped laughing, stopped having facial expressions at all.  All the things I feared were happening before my eyes.  I knew that Joel was dying, and by the time he needed oxygen and pain medicine, it was clear that the moment I had expected for three long terminal years had come.  Joel would have his mighty miracle or be lost to us on earth.  I held nothing back, I fully believed that Joel would be healed, not only healed but fully restored, and grow into a man who lived a powerful life that displayed God’s glory.  The fact that Joel was dying before my eyes only meant we were closer to seeing a miracle than we have ever been, and I know now that I had held nothing back in my belief for that miracle.  I know that I did not protect myself in my pursuit of God and His glory.  I invested everything I have.  I know it because when Joel died I was shocked.  After three years of his being terminal and watching him die before my eyes I was still surprised that he was dead.  We had never made plans for his death, because he really wasn’t going to die.  I had invested my whole heart and God would be faithful.

.

Love is not safe.  Believing God is not safe.  I risked everything, and my reward is pain.  Deep pain and anger, more anger than I have ever let myself feel in my life, and this is Joel’s last lesson to me.  Joel, in his delightfulness taught me to love deeply, in Joel’s great need he taught me to believe deeply, and in the emptiness he left behind he is teaching me now to feel deeply, to cry openly, to let myself stay mad, not even trying to explain it away or understand it.  I risked everything and now, I am broken.  As angry as I am, that cancer won when I know that Jesus defeated it at the cross, angry that the victory I was promised never came through, as justified as my anger feels I trust God to heal me. I know God is good, and I know that He loves me and right now I feel like that’s all I know, except for this one other thing, I know that even though Joel has died I don’t regret investing everything I had into this little boy and this big God, because I wouldn’t want to sit in this moment now, composed and not surprised.  I earned this pain it is mine.  I feel it so deeply because I believed God so fully.  I didn’t believe I could be disappointed and I was, but I would rather own my disappointment and confusion than know that I held anything back, protected any part of myself from living as deeply as these last four years invited me to live. I would rather have my heart ripped from chest than to have a heart that didn’t believe that resurrection life was ours for the taking, that it is still our promise and inheritance.  I would rather have my victory unjustly stolen from me, than to think it was never really mine to start with.

.

Along the way I discovered that God had strategically placed around us people who were just as fully invested.  It took a dying son for me to learn to live so fully, but somehow all of these people in our church and community were all-in from day one.  More people than I can count have prayed impossible things with us.  We have been given special experiences again and again by people and organizations who never got tired of encouraging us.  Somehow, four years in, no one was done loving us.  Even today when I stand before you unsure of so many things, I have seen God’s faithfulness poured out to overflowing, meeting every need we have, financial, emotional, physical, through people who love deeply, believe deeply and feel deeply.  You have held nothing back in your support of us, and if it weren’t for Joel I would never have known how deeply we could be loved, how faithful God could be, even when I’m angry.

.

Here is what Ryan shared:

.

Loving Joel has taught me that love isn’t safe.

But love is good.

.

Losing Joel is shown me that trusting God isn’t safe.

But trust is good.

.

Being Joel’s Daddy has revealed to me that though I could not keep him safe.

My love for him.

My trust in Him.

Was good.

.

I want to share with you what it means to me to be an earthly father, with a broken child.

I want to shout at you how much I loved Joel, though he was not able to work for my love.

And I want to show you why Joel’s trust in me, his willingness to abide with me, to melt into my side as we sat for hours and days and weeks with him in my arms, was the greatest joy of my life.

I want to reveal the love of a father to you.

Because it is good.

.

I’ve said before that Joel’s brokeness did not cause me to love him less.  It compelled me to love him more.  His inability to talk to me made me want to connect with him in any way that I could find. His inability to walk made want to carry him where ever we went.  His inability to eat caused me to feed him at every meal.  His brokeness did not cause me to reject him.  It stirred up in me a longing to love him, and comfort him; to connect with him and know him.

.

I loved Joel, and Joel could do nothing for me.  He could not obey me, or work for me, he could not talk to me, or learn from me, and so all I desired is that he could be with me; In my arms or on my lap.  All I desired was that he would desire to rest beside me so that I could be the one to comfort him, and feed him, and scratch his little arms because he like it, and watch Barney the Dinosaur for the 8th time in so many hours because he wanted it.

.

I longed to heal Joel and to see him restored physically and mentally.

I longed to know him, to know his thoughts, fears, and favorite things.

I longed to protect him and have him run to me in times of danger.

I longed to have him imitate me and trade a loud joke and a quiet I love you.

I longed to be his rest.

.

I learned from Joel what a good father is.

I learned from Joel the significance of the words

“Our Father who art in heaven”

.

Our Father who feeds us our daily bread and living water that we may not hunger or thirst

Our Father who longs to gather us to himself as a hen gathers her chicks.

Our Father who rides in on the clouds with fire in his nostrils to rescue us from those bent on destruction.

Our Father who is our rest.

Who would not spare even his own son, so that He might show us what it means to love and forgive and heal and show grace to our messy broken lives.

.

“Our Father who art in heaven”

Abba

Da da

Who prepared a place and an eternity to spend with his son Joel, my son Joel; so that Joel might find rest for his soul, healing for his body, and life eternal, so that Joel’s earthly father, his son Ryan might hold Joel again.

Comments

There are 8 comments for this post.

  1. Anne on March 24, 2014 1:07 pm

    Amy and Ryan,
    Thank you for sharing this. Everyone, especially you and your family, lost something special when Joel left us. The world is less brighter somehow.
    What really came through the videos and the testimonies is the incredible love that surrounded Joel. I don’t think he could have had a more loving and supportive family.
    There’s a lot of stuff to get through right now. There’s grief and emptiness and feeling abandoned (”why did he leave?”) and all of that is normal. Anger is too. Those feelings will lessen with time. But the love will never fade or go away; that is the biggest miracle of all.
    I wish you and your family healing and peace. Let go of the grief when you’re ready, but always hang on to the love.
    Anne

  2. Melanie Davis on March 25, 2014 10:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your hearts, memories, and videos of Joel. I love you all. Your family is precious. You are on my heart. By the way..Andrew Peterson, Andy Gullahorn, and Jill Phillips are some of my favorites. I will think if Joel and you now when I hear those songs.

  3. dc mama on March 26, 2014 6:55 am

    thank you so much for sharing these. tears are flowing freely … but i could still listen to that laugh all day. so adorable and sweet.

  4. Randi Steeves on March 26, 2014 7:52 pm

    My heart aches for your family. There have been times in my life where I desperately wanted God to heal my too young to die sisters. I don’t understand His grand plan. Listening to music helped me get through the rough first year. Unfortunately there is no escape the pain, the day after the first anniversary, bricks fall off the shoulders and the pain eases. My prayers are with you.
    Looking forward to seeing pictures of your boys with Zoe

  5. Christine on March 26, 2014 9:22 pm

    Joel’s service was beautiful. My heart aches for you as I know too well about how you two are feeling! My husband told me the other day reflecting on the last months we had with out daughter, he said that the worst times are sometimes the best times! He’s absolutely right, all those memories that you had with Joel are all good memories! I know Zoe should be making her entrance in the world soon and I can only wish you two the best! Be sure to take good care of yourself and it’s okay to be a little selfish and take care of YOU! Joel’s with god. He is free from pain and suffering but most of all free from that horrific cancer AT/RT. He’s laughing and playing with other angels and soon enough he will make his presence known to you. Joel maybe gone but never forgotten. Know that he loves all of you. The only thing that separates you and Joel is time. You too will see him again when it’s time…until then, I hope he makes his presence known throughout your lifetime! God bless!!!

  6. Kerri on March 26, 2014 10:42 pm

    hello, Ryan and Amy. I’m Kerri from British Columbia Canada and have seen your family’s story at LifeTree Cafe at our church. Though there are no words, no actions, nothing that I can say to heal your intense grief and pain, I want you to know that the honesty, hope, and faith in God, even in the midst of this tragedy is remarkable.

  7. Kerri on March 26, 2014 10:49 pm

    Hello, Ryan and Amy. I’m Kerri from British columbia and I attend lifeTree cafe at our church where we saw your family’s testimony. Though I have no words and cannot physically assist, I want you to know that your family’s openness, honesty, hope and faith in God was remarkable. Though this has left you grief stricken, you openly share your pain, anger and yet hope and trust in God and for that I thank you.

  8. Dave on October 14, 2016 5:17 am

    Hi Ryan & Amy, I just learned of your story after purchasing your game through iTunes. I have been really moved by Joel’s battle with cancer, perhaps more moved than by anything else in my life to date. My son, Horatio, looks very similar to Joel from certain angles. When Joel was being put in the MRI scanner, they looked like twins! They have other similarities, like asking for “more” and a fondness of feeding other people. If you would like some photos of Horatio, give me an email.

Write a Comment

Let me know what you think?