The last day of 1999, we had a curve ball thrown at us: We were going to have a baby. Medical specialists had told us years before that we’d probably never have any more kids after our first and only child, Rachel.

On Aug. 9, 2000, Andrew Olshine came into the world. It was a glorious time for all of us. Then 12 hours later, the doctor came into the birthing room fumbling around with the unexpected words “Andrew might have Down’s syndrome.”

We fell apart. Hit to the gut!

Two years later, my wife had thyroid cancer. Punch!

The hits kept on coming. First, my dad died. Then my step-dad. Then my aunt and uncle. What does one do when life seems cruel?

These heartaches can come at us fast and furious, usually without warning. We think, “It is so unfair. Why is God allowing this? Why me? How am I going to respond to this life-shaking event?”

The Goal: Personal Transformation
My metamorphosis has been slow, long and hard. Friends tell me these experiences have changed me. I have gone from a place of “I don’t know how I can live with a child with special needs” to “I cannot imagine life without Andrew.” My wife’s cancer and family losses have tenderized me.

All youth workers will face trials, tests and hardships. Here are some thoughts that have helped us navigate through the storms.

Good Grief
King David had the people of God write a psalm of lament for King Saul’s death. Many of David’s psalms are an outpouring of his heart to God about his sadness, anger and tragedy.

When life is hard, don’t hold your feelings inside. God can handle them. Rhonda and I have cried for about 30 days straight under an unbearable weight that we had to release.

Get Going
One day I was having a pity party; and the still, small voice said, “Get going,” meaning, “Stop wallowing and start loving this child.” I have learned Andrew teaches me more life lessons than I ever will teach him.

Lean on Community
My guys’ small group has been fully present with me through the years, tears and losses. Our church provided us meals for a month without being asked. One of my buddies forced me out of the house to a college football game. Find community in the highs and the lows of life.

Enjoy Little Victories
Andrew is being mainstreamed in a public school as a second grader. This summer we enjoyed whale-watching in Maine with him. Did I mention he won the 50-yard-dash in this year’s Special Olympics by a large margin?

Two Words from God
Pacing has to do with learning to see life through other people’s eyes. Andrew has taught us to play more, laugh more and pray more.

Spacing has to do with boundaries. Life and death have taught us to value each other, enjoy Sabbath and vacationing, to slow down, to take beach and mountain trips, to learn when to say yes and when to say no.

Tough Times Will Come
Not if but when: God will teach us insights we wouldn’t learn through any means other than pain.

Remember His promise: “All things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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About The Author

Dr. David Olshine is the director and professor of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina. He's the author of Studies on the Go: James, 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John (Zondervan/Youth Specialties) and the founder of Youth Ministry Coaches.