I just retired from the United States Navy, and plan to run Jo’el full time now. Over the years, in my military service, I’ve witnessed some of the world’s poorest people, families affected by natural disasters, war-torn environments, deaths of innocent civilians, and friends and colleagues dying in service to their countries.
While I was raised in the Christian Faith, baptized, and even a church musician for years, somewhere between higher education, liberalism, my own horrifying memories of a childhood abduction and rape, plus the death and destruction I saw in Afghanistan, I had almost fully abandoned my belief in God. There was obviously a glimmer of hope still left in me, but unfortunately, I only used it to curse at God for the world’s injustices and violence that I saw around me. I’d get so angry when I’d see the daily struggles of the orphaned Afghan boys I’d befriended outside my military base, that I’d shake my fist at the heavens.
In January 2016, the military diagnosed me with systemic lupus, and another officer who’d become a good friend of mine, while I was on medical hold, invited me to stay a weekend with his family in Florida. His youngest, a little six year old boy named Andrew, was jumping on the couch and running around the house when we arrived. After his wife LeeAnne showed me to the guest room, their older child Hannah, showed me her room, her toys and some drawings she’d done. Her parents wanted Hannah to leave me alone so I could relax, but I was having a blast with her, feeling like a kid again!
I’d been working for a military combatant command division when I’d taken ill with lupus, and every day had become a stressful grind to get through due to the poor condition I was in healthwise. Hannah was a breath of fresh air! At the time, Andrew, their six year old, was beginning treatment and chemotherapy for an extremely rare cancerous brain tumor, and while my friend had explained his son’s rare condition, I just couldn’t wrapped my mind around it when all I could see was an extremely active and happy little boy.
Fast forward to my military retirement this January 27th….My same friend Orlando and his family attended my ceremony. In texts, he’d mentioned that Andrew’s brain tumor had gotten much worse. Still, he’d expressed hope, and they were pursuing treatment options. When I saw Andrew though, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was wheelchair bound, couldn’t hold his head up, and was unable to speak or even move. Still, LeeAnne and Orlando looked hopeful. So, I bent down to kiss his silky little forehead, and once again, I found myself cursing God, but this time as I stood there in my ceremonial whites with my medals on my chest. I felt like ripping every last one of them off my jacket and pinning them on to Andrew’s little shirt instead. After all, he was a hero, at just seven years of age. While I maintained composure, I secretly brooded inside for what I believed to be a lack of love of God for his innocent little children.
Me, I hate attending funerals, and I usually find “an easy out” by saying I’ll be out of town for military service. In fact, the day of Andrew’s funeral, I was actually planning to leave for the United Kingdom. I just couldn’t do it though. So, I mustered up some courage to attend the church service, and my life was changed. My attitude shifted from anger towards God to pure amazement over Andrew’s perceptions of God, based on part of a story LeeAnne shared.
She said that Andrew had mentioned several times during his years of illness that he could see, and even hear angels and prophets. No one had taken him too seriously when he was very young, but as he got older, his stories became specific, and this one in particular changed the truth for me.
In December 2017, as Andrew’s condition seemed to be holding, he and his mother decided to pray for his wellness. Before they began though, Andrew said he was afraid because there were “bad” angels near him. LeeAnne tried to comfort him and suggested they ask God to make them go away. When they did, Andrew told her that while the bad ones were still visible to him, he no longer feared them. When she asked him why, he told her that Elijah had arrived and was standing beside her. She admitted she wasn’t familiar with Elijah, or his role in the Bible, so she Googled his name.
I wondered how any little boy would ever know about Elijah? The first instance of “raising the dead” in scriptures was when Elijah asked God to bring a little boy back to life….(1 Kings 17:22) God “listened to the voice of Elijah; and, the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”
Shortly after Andrew’s death, one of LeeAnne’s close friends had a vision of him alive and well, in a beautiful gold robe. He simply said to her, “Tell my Mom, I love her.” From the mouths of babes, we sometimes learn much more than we bargain for….and from the other side, I feel Andrew has prophesized that there is definitely a God and life after death.
Muslims, Jews, and Christians all know the name of Elijah, and while I still have questions for God someday about the suffering of others, I know without a doubt that if Andrew, a little dying boy, can so clearly keep his abiding faith in God, I can too. Thank you Andrew Lorie!