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Hope When Life Unravels

Unexpected Blessings in Dark Places

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

How can we make this work? Heather fought back tears as she tried to process the mixed emotions that gripped her. We sat in what felt like eternal silence, occasionally looking at one another but without words to articulate our feelings. During the darkest valley of our adult lives, this news was the last “blessing” we expected to receive. 

Our routine was already regimented and exhausting. Every Tuesday we boarded an early flight to Memphis, TN for Carson’s weekly chemotherapy at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Usually arriving before dinner, we ate a quick meal at what was formerly the Grizzly House (now Tri-Delta Place) before heading over to the hospital for lab work meant to measure his immunity levels. Then, early the next morning, we met Carson’s attending physician in the clinic in order to be cleared for his weekly cocktail of medication. Despite the occasional lumbar puncture sprinkled in every few months, we usually finished by lunch on Wednesday before returning to the airport for the reverse flight home. 

The only ingredient worse than the grueling pace of this drill was the daunting prospect of maintaining its grind for 128 consecutive weeks. Early on, Heather and I decided to alternate trips, but with 75% of them remaining everything was about to change. Fighting childhood cancer was difficult enough with two children. How could we possibly add a third to such a frantic schedule? With Carson needing so much attention, how could we adequately care for a newborn? How could we manage another responsibility?

But the test did not lie. 

Thankfully, neither did God’s Word. I knew and believed that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). I understood that all human life is valuable because every person is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). I also remembered that Jesus compared the pain of childbirth to the sorrow surrounding his death, while also insisting that the joy of giving birth will mirror the joy of his disciples after His resurrection (John 16:21). God seemed to whisper through my doubts, “Consider this an unexpected blessing.”

But in the interest of transparency, can I admit that it did not feel like a blessing? Don’t misunderstand, we wanted more children. Our plan, however, was to weather our storm before expanding our family. Surely, God knew the timing was all wrong! Anyone could see this was too much to ask in our situation! Yet, the Lord’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Now, all these years later, I am embarrassed by my shortsightedness. That unexpected blessing was my third son, Jacob Bradley. Though the news of his arrival initially felt like an ill-timed intrusion, it actually became a healthy distraction. Yes, some days were challenging, and we often wrestled with anxiety, but it was also impossible to dwell on our trial and wallow in our misery. God, in His goodness, gave us joy in the midst of our darkness. As unexpected as it was, the birth of our son was exactly what we needed at precisely the right time. Because of our new addition, we laughed, we celebrated, and we marveled over our God instead of living in doubt.

When I look at Jacob today, I see myself behind his piercing brown eyes. He is smart, mischievous, and the life the party. Neither Heather nor I can imagine life without him.

I still grieve that I did not see it at first.

God has many purposes through our suffering, many of which we may never understand. Yet, undoubtedly, the Lord often works in the midst of our pain to drop unexpected blessings into our lives. He may gift you with greater character and hope (Rom. 5:3-5). He may comfort you in order to make you a blessing to others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Maybe He desires to correct your waywardness and to protect you from problems you don’t see coming (Heb. 12:5-11). Whether the goal is greater humility (2 Cor. 12:7), deeper intimacy with the Lord (Psalm 119:64-68), or increased heavenly reward (2 Cor. 4:16-18), you can rest knowing that God is working in ways you cannot see to provide blessings you do not expect.

Trials are deceptive, not only because of the wounds they leave behind, but also because of the vision they steal from us. Be careful. The light of God’s faithfulness will always penetrate the darkness of our heaviest burdens, even if not immediately. You may not see it now, but you will one day.

So, look around. You are likely more blessed than you think. In fact, the very trial that you hate may be the means God chooses to deliver an unexpected blessing that you do not deserve.

Trust Him (Rom. 8:28).
Follow Him (James 1:2-4). Rest in Him (Matt. 11:28-29).

You will be glad that you did.

It’s not too early to preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels. Click here to reserve yours today!

Joy Comes in the Morning

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

My palms were sweaty as we waited in a changing room before the worship service began. I had envisioned this day for years, but our bout with childhood cancer made it even more special. Just three years removed from Carson’s last chemo treatment, the occasional anxieties that previously accompanied me daily were now just flashing evidences of a battle that was finally over. Though I still wrestle with fears over my son’s welfare, a new emotion weighs much heavier on my heart now. What was once trepidation over the possibility that Carson might miss the numerous rites of passage into manhood has now been replaced by the sheer delight of watching him navigate and experience the milestones that all parents anticipate sharing with their children. 

This was one of those days.

Grandparents drove from out of state. Teachers from his school gathered to celebrate. A joyful congregation gathered round us to share in our gratitude. After professing Christ as his Savior and Lord, Carson was finally ready to take the step of baptism. Presiding over this ordinance is a highlight for every pastor, but to baptize my firstborn son, particularly after all he lived through in order to reach that moment, may be the greatest honor of my ministry. The trial that was now behind us made our appreciation deeper, our love fuller, and our worship meaningful.

Before we stepped into the baptistry, I bowed my headed in order to lift my thanksgiving. As I prayed, my mind raced to Psalm 30:2, “O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me.” No wonder King David added, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5b).” It reminded me that most trials are temporary, and even those that are not must yield to the redemptive purpose of God in the life to come. 

The majority of our problems are not permanent experiences.  Chances are, you WILL come out on the other side of whatever you are facing.  This simple reminder was a constant motivation for me during the uncertain days of Carson’s battle. Even when our trials stretch over a lifetime and seem unending, our earthly agonies are but temporary discomforts against the backdrop of eternity.

Joy really does come in the morning, regardless of when the morning comes.

It’s not too early to preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels. Click here to reserve yours today!
**All Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Lessons from the Furnace (Part 2)

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

One of the reasons I believe God prompted me to write Hope When Life Unravels is so that my family will be able to hold onto the many lessons He taught us along the way. As with any book, however, the burden of every author is to speak as concisely as possible. Thus, every memory did not make it into the pages of my manuscript and, unfortunately, a number of spiritual realizations had to be omitted as well. Below are a few more insights that neither time nor space permitted me to share.  If you would like to read part one of this post, click here.

  1. Faith does not give us the power to eliminate trials, but to endure them instead.  The health and prosperity gospel has always been offensive to me, but more deeply so after battling this cancer as a family.  I do not mean to say that God cannot or does not heal at times.  The notion, however, that all sickness can be removed by faith is patently false.  Sometimes God develops us through trials rather than rescuing us from them.  I have no doubt that Carson will be a better man because of what he faced.  Others also benefited from the pain he endured. Our family grew in the Lord; several friends trusted Christ as their Savior; and a number of St. Jude families dared to believe they could beat cancer too as they observed Carson’s milestones.
  1. Fatherhood matters. Why did God make me sick, Daddy?  The question took my breath away.  His big blue eyes peered over his medical mask and the plane engine hummed beneath us.  My son was searching for answers, trying to make sense of the God who loved him and the trial that wrecked his life of innocence. That was just one of many moments where Carson looked to me for reassurance and stability. Children need an active, spiritual father to guide them through life.  Motherhood is equally important, to be sure, but fathers play a unique role in the spiritual development and nurture of their kids.  Because God expects husbands and fathers to lead their families, refusing to do so creates a damaging vacuum in the home.  Teaching my children to love and trust God at all times is my responsibility.  I must connect with them.  They need my example.  I should encourage them while also holding them accountable.  I cannot delegate this sacred duty (Deut. 6:5-7).  Though I would like to tell you this came natural for me, I cannot.  Despite my view that Carson should be a better kid because of his dad, in reality, I am a much better father because of him.  Battling leukemia left no room for my laziness; and I’m grateful.
  1. Life is not about me, or even the people I love.  

Though I frequently wonder what God most wanted to teach us through Carson’s sickness, I realize this trial may not have been primarily about the Dooley family.  Throughout the three-year journey, I continually reminded Carson that God had a plan for his sickness even if we didn’t know what it was and even if it did not relate directly to us.  With child-like faith, he accepted my assurance as true.  Amazingly, I do not remember one instance when Carson complained about his illness.  Perhaps those incidents are merely lost in the fog of our darkest moments, but I do not recall them.  Instinctively, he seemed to know that more was at stake than the outcome of his suffering.  

The same is true for you. 

How can I be so sure? The story of Job is often a source of strength for those facing hardship, but tucked behind the drama of the opening chapters is a powerful truth to help us face tragedy with a different perspective. After Satan mocked the notion that people worship God for who He is rather than what He does for them the Lord presented Job as a test case. The real focus of the scene, however, is the glory of God rather than the character of His servant. Despite our tendency to look insatiably for the cause and effect behind every trial we face, sometimes we are mere background characters in much bigger story. Yes, we can learn important life lessons during seasons of pain, but even then, the promotion of divine glory is often the main agenda.

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

Lessons from the Furnace (Part 1)

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

We all have days that live in infamy.  For our family, one word at one moment changed us forever.  Sitting in a tiny examining room with wood panel on the walls, I knew deep down whatever the doctor was about to share would not be good. “I wish I had better news,” she said, “but I believe Carson has leukemia.”  Leukemia?  Not Carson.  How is that possible? I’m ashamed to say that I knew little about pediatric cancer at this point and my knowledge about cancer in general was frightening.  Fear immediately invaded my heart and tears quickly followed.  By now my wife Heather was breaking down beside me.

Now, six years after sickness put everything we believe about God and our faith to the test, Carson is completely cancer-free.  Sometimes I find myself paralyzed with amazement and gratitude while watching him play sports, laugh with his friends, or sing in church.  Normal, mundane things are more beautiful to me than would have ever been possible apart from the trial that rocked us to the core.  Carson endured over 130 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy that included over twenty lumbar punctures and twenty-eight weeks of steroids.  Fever hospitalized him on six occasions, and we spent multiple nights in the ER battling viruses.  He battled nausea, soreness, mood swings, and exhaustion.  Yet, by God’s grace, my son is not only alive, but he is also thriving now that cancer is in our rearview mirror.  

People often ask me what valuable lessons I learned through Carson’s ordeal. My new book, Hope When Life Unravels, chronicles most of the valuable truths God taught our family during the ordeal. Here is a glimpse of what you will read in its pages, as well as some cherished insights eliminated due to space. 

  1. It is okay to ask God why. Why is God letting this happen?  Why my son?  Why now?  These questions ran wildly through my mind after Carson’s initial diagnosis.  Initially, it embarrassed me to bring such trivial inquiries before God.  Even as I sought answers to my anxieties, Carson had questions of his own that needed answering.  Why do those nurses have to poke me?  Why do I need this medicine?  Why can’t we just go home?  Why are you and mommy crying?  Why?  Why?  Why?  

Then it dawned on me.  I do not resent these questions from my son.  In fact, I am eager to comfort and reassure him that everything will be okay.  Even when certain answers were not helpful for him, I withheld them out of concern rather than frustration.  Could it be that this is how God hears our cries for information?  Occasionally, well meaning Christians or Bible teachers will either explicitly or implicitly caution that asking God why is out of bounds.  Yet, the Bible nowhere teaches that it is sinful to ask God why.  Job asked God why twenty different times.  Moses asked God why He sent him to lead the nation of Israel (Ex 5:22), Joshua asked God why He was allowing Israel to be destroyed (Joshua 7:7), and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah asked God why He dealt so harshly with Israel (Is 63:17; Jer 14:19).  Perhaps most stunning of all, however, is the remarkable lament of Jesus on the cross when He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Matt 27:46)?”  

In none of these instances will you find God irritated or angry because of the question.  Questioning His work in your life is permissible even though demanding an answer is not.  Feel free to ask God why, just don’t chastise Him if you don’t like the answer.

  1. Jesus really is enough.  The issue is not whether God is real, but whether He is enough during seasons of difficulty.  For years, I preached and encouraged others who were hurting to trust God no matter the circumstances.  Though I sincerely believed this was true, I lacked an experience that tested my knowledge.  That is no longer the case.  Carson helped me to see that having God in your life is always better than any answers He might give to explain your plight.  I found God to be faithful, not because I read it in a book, but because I lived it with my son.

If these observations encourage you, preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today. Simply click here. I’ll share more lessons like these in part 2 of “Lessons from the Furnace.”

A Tribute to My Wife

By Hope When Life Unravels

In sickness and in health. When Heather and I shared those vows on our wedding day I envisioned growing old together until one of us took our last breath. I imagined that, if God allowed, our final days on Earth would likely be filled with doctor appointments and hospital stays as the nemesis of old age encroached upon our love story. I was determined, however, to be just as faithful in those latter years as I was at the beginning of our life together. Now, all these years later, I remain just as committed to that promise.

What I could not have imagined, though, was that the severe illness plaguing our marriage the most would not wait until our golden years to put us to the test. Nor did I predict that the most trying disease we would face as a couple would not be our own. Married just eight years when Carson was diagnosed with leukemia, Heather and I were deeply content with one another and still very much in love. Yet, the three years that followed were a whirlwind of exhausting trips to Memphis, abiding fear for our son’s welfare, and isolation from many of the people we loved and the things we enjoyed doing. It was terrible.

The ever-present stresses that accompany a battle with pediatric cancer are enough to ruin the best marriages. Though I have no concrete data to support it, a common word of caution passed around St. Jude Hospital was that as many as half of the couples who began caring for a child with cancer would separate before treatment ended. I understand why. Yet, this is where our story diverges from this common plight. 

Though we did not emerge unscathed, I can truthfully say that Heather and I are much closer as husband and wife after walking through our familial valley. Why? Largely because of her. My wife would never fancy herself as a strong woman. She loathes public speaking; she doesn’t enjoy taking the lead; and she despises being the center of attention. Working behind the scenes is where she shines, pushing others into the limelight rather than taking it for herself. 

Yet, what she perceives to be weaknesses is actually what makes her so strong. I saw it firsthand when Carson was ill, and I remain in awe of her courage and resolve to this day. Heather fought for normalcy during those years. She transformed our home into a fortress of rest and protection. Whenever I was discouraged, she insisted that we were making progress. She kept our home germ free so that our son could thrive. She prepared meals that were in line with his strict diet. She cared for our youngest child at the time (Brady) as he learned to walk and talk. And when news came that our third son was on the way, she chose to view it as a healthy distraction despite the added stress to an overwhelmed schedule. 

Now, with five kids in the house, Heather continues to juggle daily routines, balance fun with responsibilities, and point all of us to what matters most in life. She was, and she is, the glue that holds our family together. She is the strongest woman that I know, and I am a better man for having married her. Hope When Life Unravels focuses on all that God taught our family through our son Carson, but another volume could be written about how the Lord speaks to us through the wife and mother who is at the center of it all.

Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels here. 

Why Did You Write a Book?

By Hope When Life Unravels

Writing a book requires a certain amount of presumption. Penning a collection of your life experiences even greater still. You must assume that your thoughts are worth gathering in a single volume. You must discern that others will somehow benefit from your words. Finally, you must trust that people will take the time to actually read what you have written. These determinations are a milestone in and of themselves. The hope and vulnerability that follows any kind of publication are not lost on those who have braved an audience full of cynics and critics. So why have I chosen to take a leap of faith in order to share Hope When Life Unravels?

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, divine compulsion. During my son Carson’s battle against leukemia, it quickly became apparent that God was teaching me the most significant lessons in my life thus far. Though the trial was truly horrific, it was also formative. Truths I had been sharing with others for years became more precious to me as I had to rest on them every day for nearly three years. My initial prompting was to keep a detailed journal that I could one day present to my son so that he, too, could benefit from the hope we found during his illness. Knowing that Carson would forget the ordeal as he aged, preserving a record of the events surrounding his treatment became my priority. 

Then, over lunch at the hospital cafeteria, it seemed that the Holy Spirit stirred within me a calling to articulate God’s comfort and hope in order to share with other people as well. Though the idea frightened me initially, I could not shake it. Despite my apprehension for sharing these intimate details from our journey, a profound sense of responsibility and stewardship emerged. God’s investment in me, it seemed, was not just for me

Hope When Life Unravels is more than a book. These pages represent over six years of prayerfully seeking the Lord to discern what to include and how to encourage those who might be hurting. My prayer is that you will benefit these lifelines as much as we did. Every trial is different, but God’s truth remains the same. May the Lord give you hope under the weight of your greatest burdens!

Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels here. 

Our Story

By Hope When Life Unravels One Comment

Shortly after Carson finished chemotherapy, we had the following video made to capture key highlights from his journey. Long before the life-changing lessons God taught us were in book form, we knew that holding on to these formative experiences was important. I still cry every time I watch these scenes. Much has changed since then, but the hope we found in Christ remains.

Believing that others might benefit from the comfort we received from the Lord, I began writing down biblical answers to the questions we wrestled with during Carson’s sickness. Many of the moments you will see in this short video are described in detail throughout my new book Hope When Life Unravels. Would you help us launch this effort successfully by preordering your copy today? Would you do us the honor of sharing the book with someone who is hurting or by mentioning it on social media?

Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels here.