Faith Like a Child: What I Learned From Sara

photo 7A few weeks ago, I found myself standing alone in the lobby of the Memphis International Airport. My eyes began to well with tears.  It was one of these moments where you feel a million emotions all at once and you just have to let it be.  I knew this day had been coming, but I was still unprepared for how deeply it would hit me.  Moments before, I had hugged little Sara and her precious family goodbye and watched them pass through security into the airport terminal.  They were departing for their much-anticipated journey home to Serbia, where they are from and truly belong.  I was so happy for them yet I wanted so much to keep them near. photo 9How could I have known what an impact an 9-year-old would make on my life over the course of six months?  We first met Sara and her father, Sladjan, at a volunteer event our church hosted for one of the residential facilities of St. Jude families. You see, little Sara was brought to Memphis because she was battling a rare and serious form of brain cancer. We had a great conversation while we were together and they expressed interest in our lives & ministry.  As a church downtown, we desire to embrace every opportunity to love and serve the displaced families who live in our community because of medical treatment.  But for me, this connection ran deeper. photo 3Sladjan and I realized we had a lot in common and became fast friends.  He is the director of Serbia’s only evangelical seminary (HUB Bible School), a sincere lover of Jesus & a passionate leader in God’s kingdom…. one of the kindest, gentlest, godliest men I have ever known. His selfless love and care for his daughter & family showed me more of God’s love for us.  And then Sara. Her bright smile, sincere spirit, and life-filled eyes were immediately captivating. From the beginning, I felt a deep love and connection with this precious girl.  Her bright smile and loving spirit immediately melted my heart. Later, Jaroslava (mom), Yana, and Lana came to join them. What a precious family. photo 6Walking with the Milenkovics over the last months has been one of the most rewarding, humbling seasons of my life.  I have learned so much as we have shared life together, from the fun moments of shared ice cream to the difficult seasons of intense radiation. Sara (“my girl” as I like to call her) has taught me so much about life, God, and what it looks like to walk as a child of God through seasons of great uncertainty and trial. Her attitude & actions are an example and inspiration to me and all us: photo 4(1) Simple Trust.  Sara has one of the most genuine hearts of faith I have ever seen in a child. She knows God, loves God, and trusts God.  She treasures Jesus.  She talks with Him… and I have no doubt He talks often with Her.  There is a radiant joy & quiet peace that is present in her life.  You can see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows God can be trusted and that Jesus guarantees His love & goodness.  Her faith may be simple, but it is real and it is strong.  I think this is why Jesus never hindered children from coming to Him.  They knew their need and readily trusted His promises; dependence and trust are given easily.  It seems Sara’s faith has only grown stronger in this season of trial.  I guess it’s because children bury themselves deeper into their father’s arms when they sense trouble could be near.  We need to remember Jesus’ words: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” IMG_1028(2) Tender Care. One of the most amazing things about watching Sara through her season of chemo was her continued selfless concern and care for others. When we would visit, she wanted to know about us.  I heard stories of how she would brighten nurses day with her compassion.  She was persistently trying to take care of her family – especially her two younger sisters.  Several times a week, Michelle & I would receive “gifts” and “presents” from Sara – crafts, pictures, items that Sara made or bought for us.  They were all special, chosen or crafted specifically because she thought we would like them.  In her time of need, Sara was looking to give. In a time where she could receive all the attention & care with no expectation of return, she continued to give herself away in love toward others.  This is the love of Christ. 1016685_10151462189041933_541427140_n(3) Patient Endurance.  I never saw Sara complain or grow bitter during her time in Memphis.  There were times when I knew she was hurting, felt she may be sick, or felt too weak to talk or play….. but she never spoke up about it.  Quietly, she chose to endure. Sladjan told me that he sat with her for weeks when in the Serbian hospitals through some of the most painful procedures he has ever seen …. and she never once spoke a complaint.  How can this be?  Watching her over time, I discerned it was much more than will-power; it seemed to be a willing surrender to endure whatever needed to be done to make her better.  It’s almost as if she knew complaining or resisting would not help her condition but simply sour her attitude. A living illustration of James 1:3-4. Oh, I have so much to learn. 379853_10151332937341933_1913408028_n(4) Resilient Hope.  Sara has always had a sincere confidence and assurance about her that can only be described by one thing: HOPE.  Sladjan told me that they often talk with Sara about heaven. They talk about the fact that this world is not our true home.  They say things like: “Isn’t heaven with God going to be great, where there is no more sin, suffering, problems?” At one point during chemo & these discussions, she asked her parents: “Where will I go after I die?” They answered: “To be with God.”  She asked: “And where will you go after you die?” They answered: “To be with God.”  She then said: “Well if we are going to all be with God, why is it scary to die?” Wow. Simple hope. Real hope.  Where does this come from? One who is real. Promises that are true. She eagerly looks to the their fulfillment. She will not be let down. God teaches us that hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by His Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). 970812_10151381431046933_242840688_nSara has helped me to know God & trust God more.  I am one among many who has been changed by her life.  While we said “goodbye” a few weeks ago, we know it’s not forever. We have lifelong friends and partners in the Milenkovics. We talk regularly and are already planning to visit them. Our church wants to become a partner for their gospel work through the seminary in Serbia.  And the wonderful thing about being alive with others who are in Christ is the certain hope of a real & wonderful future shared together in our true home in heaven with our Father.  Please join me in thanking God for this precious family, and praying together with us for them & Sara.  Her last scan (after chemo) showed no signs of the cancer.  St. Jude will continue her on their protocols & see her periodically to monitor her condition. The Milenkovics are full of faith and assurance in God’s sovereignty & goodness. To Him be all glory! P.S. I am so thankful for our amazing neighbor & community organization St. Jude – their work & care for families is absolutely amazing and worthy of your support!  Please consider giving .  Click below to be redirected.

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