In 2006 Michael Kelley took his then 2-year-old son to the pediatrician’s office to determine the cause of an abdominal rash. Kelley wasn’t nervous, thinking a simple skin cream could remedy the problem.
The pediatrician ordered a blood test and Joshua played with toy trucks while waiting for the results. Soon the pediatrician entered the room and declared the cause: leukemia.
In an instant, the one-word diagnosis changed Kelley’s life and sent him on a journey of grief, loss and pain. In the end, Kelley discovered a dramatically changed relationship with God.
In his book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, Kelley offers an honest portrayal of the sorrow of having a son with cancer. The book is published by B&H Publishing Group.
The book also presents a declaration of God’s grace, love and mercy told from the backdrop of Joshua’s leukemia diagnosis, treatment and remission.
“Not everyone will experience the pain and trauma of having a child with cancer,” Kelley said in a recent interview. “We all experience suffering in this life on Earth. Some people might suffer from the effects of the economy. Others might grieve over a divorce or the news of a terrible diagnosis.
“In these moments of suffering I pray that we don’t just grit our teeth to get through the trial, but realize that the Lord is with us,” he said. “That He is for us. He is working and moving in our lives. He looks deeply into our pain and can bring good from even the most desperate situations.”
The lessons of faith did not come easy for Kelley.
In the book, Kelley explains that he and his wife, Jana, who was two months pregnant with their second child, had to intentionally choose faith in the moments following Joshua’s diagnosis.
“Faith had to be as conscious as any other decision,” he writes. “Choosing faith was hard. If my family was really going to choose faith, then we would have to come to grips with the fact that there are parts of God and His plan that at best we don’t understand; at worst we don’t even like. We could no longer pick and choose certain parts of our belief system; we had to embrace all of it.”
Joshua was admitted into Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., less than 24 hours after the diagnosis. So began the years of intense chemotherapy. Joshua’s toddler world included severe mouth sores, unbearable leg pain, complete hair loss and morphine.
But in the end, the Kelleys were surprised to find that they didn’t focus much on the questions of “why.”
The “why” questions did not heal their son or soothe the anxiety of the future. Rather, the Kelleys tried to focus on the “Who” [God], because they knew the Lord was their only hope.
“In truth we didn’t even really need answers, though we thought we did,” Kelley said. “What we really needed was God. God is at the core of our hard questions. And He Himself is the answer to our pain.”
Within the first year of treatment Joshua was able to continue intravenous chemotherapy on an outpatient basis every four weeks on a Wednesday.
The routine of chemotherapy extended for several years and became normal for the Kelleys.
“Or at least a version of normal,” he said, explaining that the book is named after the Wednesday routine. Though painful, the pattern helped the family cope with Joshua’s cancer treatments.
Joshua responded well to the chemotherapy and began to recover but not before Kelley learned valuable lessons about redemption.
“Redemption doesn’t mean you stand in triumph over your circumstances,” Kelley writes. “And it doesn’t mean that the ‘new’ makes you forget about everything that happened in the ‘old.’ Redemption is about the confidence that God is bringing good out of the bad, prosperity out of desolation. God’s not interested in evening things out; He’s interested in taking those things which are so painful, earth shattering and devastating and turning them into marks of His goodness and kindness.”
Joshua, now a 7-year-old first grader, is in remission.
“If you look at him today, you would never know that he was sick,” said Kelley, who now has two more children. Andi, 4, was born during Joshua’s treatments and Christian, 2, is the youngest.
“My hope is that this book will minister to anyone who has had a moment when everything they know about God suddenly had to be processed in real life terms,” he said.
“God entrusts us with all kinds of things like experiences, money, time and talents,” Kelley added. “God has entrusted me with the experience of Joshua’s cancer. My wife and I believe that we are called to be good stewards of the experience by sharing how God brought us through and that God can bring others through, too.”
Kelley serves as director of discipleship for Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his family are members at Grace Community Church in Brentwood, Tenn.
by Kelly Shrout