For as long as I can remember, my oldest son, Judah, loved road trips. He enjoyed going to new places and spending concentrated time together. We would travel with Deanna and his younger siblings, but Judah and I started going on a few trips by ourselves. Maybe it was because his younger siblings were not such willing travelers, or perhaps it was to have time to spend together and away from the busyness of my work. We’d visit historical sites, museums, and churches more often than visiting amusement parks or nature.
Going places with Judah was always difficult. He was born with congenital heart defects, abnormal chromosomes, eating issues, lung disease, and more. So, a trip with Judah meant hauling along a lot of bulky and heavy things – a wheelchair, feeding tubes, and a delivery pump. Still, the biggest challenge was always oxygen equipment.
I remember one trip with Judah. It wasn’t a road trip because we wanted to go to Washington DC – too long in a car, so we flew instead. Flying with Judah was an even more significant challenge than a road trip. In the early days, there were oxygen cylinders on the airplane provided by the airline. The oxygen flow was set per the doctor’s order and could not be changed up or down. While changing planes in the airport, passengers did not have oxygen. They were on their own. We didn’t know how a 3- or 4-hour airport layover would affect Judah’s health. I arranged for the delivery of oxygen tanks to the airport in DC and more at the hotel. I am not sure if Judah was very aware of all these hassles. He would enjoy the time with his dad, or maybe, like so many other unpleasant things in his life, he just chose to ignore it. And focus on the fun things.
First, we visited Williamsburg, Virginia, where there is a colonial village set up. Each day there were re-enactments of colonial life. They’d even let the audience participate. Judah loved American history, so he was thrilled with all this. Then, we went to DC and saw the sights along the mall, the Smithsonian’s, the Lincoln, Washington, and other memorials. We had such a nice trip. Hanging out together. Seeing cool historical stuff. Just being. We learned that these new digital cameras and Dr. Pepper don’t mix. Returning home, he survived the off-oxygen sessions in the airports. In all, it was wonderful – a great time to bond and enjoy the country and each other. That trip was probably 15 years ago.
There would be more road trips and air trips too. We’d eventually change to battery-powered oxygen machines during air travel. To travel with these concentrators, you need to have 50% extra batteries – just in case. For a flight from the US to Thailand, that resulted in 17 batteries, each about the size of a book. At first, no one minded all these batteries. Then, there were a few fires on airplanes, and the whole world started regulating the amount and size of the batteries allowed. After the airline staff was trained in screening for batteries, it was increasingly difficult to satisfy the requirements. I remember one airport screener in Thailand. He looked at the oxygen concentrator and said confidently,’ 1 battery’ – as in, we are allowed only one battery. Then, I nodded to the very heavy backpack beside him, which was full of 17 batteries. I watched his reaction as he opened and looked into the pack full of all those batteries—complete shock and horror. With a lot of talking and document-pulling, they allowed us to travel onward.
As I sit here and try to write about all the challenges Judah lived with, I’m struggling. It doesn’t seem right to focus on the things that he always ignored. The pain. The disabilities. The surgeries. The near-death experiences. The sheer difficulty and unfairness of the body he was given. The dreams not realized. I think about the lessons that he emanated – long-suffering, encouragement, care for people. He’d rather talk about those things. Or maybe, even more, he would like to hang out, talk, laugh about some antic that a younger sibling did, and maybe grab a cup of coffee.
On June 14, Deanna, Azura, Gideon, and I were home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Elijah was on a YWAM adventure in Mexico. Deanna’s family was having a get-together in Minnesota. Josiah and Judah drove from Arkansas on what would be Judah’s last road trip. Shortly after they arrived at the family gathering in Minnesota, Judah passed on to be with Jesus.
I’m glad he was surrounded by family who loved him dearly. I’m glad he and Josiah could take one last road trip together. I’m glad he loved Jesus and loved others. I’m happy that he was such an excellent example for his siblings. I’m glad I had the honor of being his dad.
I, a flawed father, hand him over to the perfect Father. Please keep him and bless him until we can break bread together again.
Dan is EMA’s Executive Director and heads up the Engineering Technology program. He’s an engineer who doesn’t like to maintain things. An administrator who doesn’t want to be put in a box. He prefers to teach about interesting things rather than follow a strict lesson plan. He is always busy working but would rather hang out with his kids and wife.