It was a 15-hour nightmare that began on a January Sunday afternoon in 2002. The phone rang. It was our son, Nathan. “We’re on our way to Children’s Hospital,” he said in a bit of panic. “Noah’s been sick, having a hard time breathing. The doctor took an X-ray of his chest and thinks he sees a tumor up against his windpipe. He’s sending us right now to Children’s. Will you meet us there?” They had a two hour drive from Jonesboro, so we waited about an hour before we headed that way.
It was a quiet drive to Little Rock—not much talking, just a few tears and lot of quiet praying. Noah was born in August. He had been conceived out of wedlock. When I first heard of the pregnancy, I wondered if adoption would be the best route for two unmarried kids. Would it be the most loving thing for the baby? I thought it might. But they elected to keep the baby and even though at this point Noah had only been in our lives for about five months, we couldn’t imagine life without him. But keeping Noah was no easy thing for his parents. I don’t know how many late night calls we received from our son: “Noah’s crying and we can’t get him to stop.” It was a tough time. My son was trying to finish college and hold down pretty close to a full-time job. Nathan and his wife were kids trying to raise a kid. Everybody in the house was exhausted, and when Noah kept them up at night, it was just almost too much to take.
So as if there wasn’t enough stress in the family, now this tumor. We met at the hospital. The doctors put Noah in the ICU immediately, looking at surgery the next morning. We took turns through the night staying in ICU with Noah. I remember standing over that little kid in that ICU bed. He looked so helpless, so lifeless, a tube here and a tube there. “Please, God,” I pleaded. “Give him a break. There’s been so much trial and trouble with his mom and dad already, please don’t add to the burden. I don’t know how much more they can take. You can fix this, God. Please, please, fix this. Heal this little boy.” And I wasn’t the only one praying.
There wasn’t much sleep to be had that night for any of us. And by the time the sun began to stream through the waiting room windows, we had all kind of steeled ourselves for what we anticipated would be a long day. We were waiting for the doctor to come in and tell us the plan. About 9:30 or so, a couple of doctors entered the waiting room: “McCallum family?” We circled around the doctors. “Good news,” they announced. “After studying the X-rays we believe your son has no tumor.” They went on to explain why the doctor in Jonesboro thought he did. So they answered our questions, left the room, and we collapsed in gratitude. If we’d have had the energy to jump for joy, we would have. We were certainly jumping on the inside.
I was struck in those moments about how hard it is to be to effusive in gratitude in a room where others would not be getting good news that day. Though this wasn’t a miracle healing—there never was a tumor in the first place—we still believed that God had been kind to us that day. And though one’s thanksgiving is tempered by the hardships of others whose children may not even leave that hospital alive, we were thankful, thankful to the bone.
And after contemplating through the night what it might be like to never see Noah grow up, our gratitude was deepened all the more. It’s a gratitude we’ve carried across these eleven years of his life. It’s a gift to throw the football with him, a pleasure to watch him play whatever sport is in season, a joy when the phone rings and his name is on the caller ID, and a lot of fun to talk Razorback and Cowboys football with him. It was a thrill to baptize him when he gave his life to Jesus. And to think that such wonderful things might never have been … well, I’m just thankful to God that they have been.
God has since blessed Dayna and me with five grandchildren. We love them all. We can’t imagine life without a single one of them. But for a few hours in January of 2002, we did think about life without Noah, and it was a bitter thing to contemplate. So in this season of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my oldest grandchild, Noah Scott McCallum. May his years be many and meaningful. May he make much of Jesus in however many years God gives him. And whether those years be many or few, I will be thankful for every one.