By Ralphine Major
It was around lunchtime one Saturday at a Chick-fil-A Restaurant when we first saw them. They had attended an Upward Basketball program at nearby Wallace Memorial Baptist Church. Full of energy and full of life, they were a young family with children ranging from teenagers to toddlers. Had we not seen Brian’s mother and sister with her family, we would not have recognized them. They seemed so happy and ordinary. To appreciate their smiles and laughter, I thought back to a few years ago when we first heard about them. No one could have known what they had been through. But, we knew.
Rhonda Lawson and Brian Julian met while students at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville in a Portuguese class. After college, she became a physical therapist; he became the manager of Hawkins County Farmers Co-op. They married and made their home in beautiful, rural Greene County in Upper East Tennessee where Rhonda’s family lives on a farm. The Julians had four adorable children: two boys and two girls. All was well for their perfect little family—until 2003.
Brian’s mother, Barbara Sears, was our Sunday School teacher. She shared with us that Rhonda had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I remember one Sunday when Barbara told how the family traveled to Seattle, Washington, for Rhonda to begin treatment for a bone marrow transplant. It was a first for the youngsters as they boarded a big, private jet provided by a businessman who also left the credit card on file for them to use the whole time they were there. Such generosity and offers of help spoke volumes about the Julian family. Barbara kept us posted on Rhonda’s progress and always requested prayer for her. With her background as a registered nurse and many years of overseeing hospice care, Barbara understood what Rhonda was going through. Her young daughter-in-law fought the disease courageously for two years; but, in July 2005, it claimed the young mother’s life. She left behind a grieving husband and their four precious children: Andrew, 12; Caleb, 10; Hannah Grace, 8; and little Faith who was 6.
This beautiful family, now broken by death, became an inspiration to those of us who heard about them. It was a life experience that came much too soon for children to face. Follow the Julian family’s awesome story about faith and hope and the amazing way God has worked in their lives in a future column. I close with one of Rhonda’s favorite Bible passages from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (KJV): “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”