In 1999, the David and Debbie Landis family of Green Lane, Pa., pulled up stakes, leaving a thriving small business as well as loving relatives and friends, to settle some 1,000 miles southwest in Atmore, Ala. It was the type of move often venerated in Mennonite circles like the Landises’ — following the call of God to full-time Christian service. It was a decision that, in theory, should have led to some version of “happily ever after.”
Instead, the Landises and their three young children would soon find themselves confronted with a challenge that all parents hope never to face.
David Landis tells their story of hope and faith born out of pain and loss in Daddy Hold.
Debbie was six months into a pregnancy that somehow didn’t seem quite normal. After a difficult delivery, Darla Joy immediately exhibited problems requiring transfer to a hospital offering a higher level of care. At six months Darla experienced the first of many seizures.
This was frightening but only the beginning, David writes, of a “grueling 12-year journey of sickness, hospitalizations, medicine, procedures, tests, therapy and little in the form of solid answers.”
The Landises are people of faith — in themselves, in physicians, in medical science — and, most of all, in God as revealed in Jesus Christ: the loving Creator, Healer and Deliverer.
They felt God’s leading to Alabama, and there they stayed, having found a loving Christian community that faithfully supported them through it all.
Debbie seems to have quickly accepted the role of Darla’s primary caretaker. After a year as a volunteer chaplain with the Alabama Department of Corrections, Dave’s administrative skills and experience led to his appointment as president of the We Care prison ministry.
This is David’s story, not Debbie’s nor that of their three older children. It’s a story filled with hope that slowly erodes over the years of Darla’s worsening seizures, of innumerable prayers, of following every lead pointing to a medical solution, and finally of acceptance that Darla’s care will always be a major focus of their life.
When Darla was 2 years old, David wrote in his journal: “The last several days have been somewhat of a valley as Debbie and I slowly come to the realization that Darla’s condition is more serious than we thought. We can understand the kidney problems, and we can handle the seizures, but is there also a mental disorder? . . . We must somehow rest in the fact that God knows best and has chosen us to care for this special child of His.”
At another place David writes similarly: “But it became clearer over the years that Darla was a gift — a special treasure — a ‘thorn in the flesh’ lovingly allowed by God with the intention of building character and trust in myself, our family and, I suppose, others as well.”
The crux of David’s memoir is the final days of Darla’s life, days of renewed hope and then crashing despair as the procedure that had brought significant improvement in more than 80 previous surgeries inexplicably left Darla comatose and clinically lifeless. The physicians may have taken this turn even harder than the Landises did, as they had expected a positive outcome.
In the nearly six years since, the Landis family has moved on. The surviving children have married. David is ending his chaplaincy commitments and has been ordained as an overseer for Good News Fellowship, a conference of Anabaptist churches in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and beyond.
After Darla’s death, Debbie eventually rejoined the workforce as a pharmacy tech. Plans are for David to start a graphic design business in Atmore and for Debbie to join him as the enterprise expands.
Daddy Hold is self-published and contains several of the less-than-optimal aspects of such ventures. A petite 144 pages, it is available through Amazon.
Darla never spoke more than a few words, and even those disappeared as her seizure disorder worsened. In a personal email, David wrote, “ ‘Daddy hold’ was a term we used, and Darla knew exactly what it meant. I would often ask, ‘Daddy hold?,’ and most of the time she would lift her arms as much as she was able” — asking as plainly as if she could happily form the words, to be scooped up in his arms and held close to his heart.
This book captures the heart, and faith, of that father.
Delmar Yoder lives in Decatur, Ga.
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