Lessons Learned Through My Son's Life and Death

Laura Sobiech's son Zach died of cancer last year. At 14, Zach, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, and he died on May 20, just days after his 18th birthday.During the final year of his life, Zach wrote the song, "Clouds," which became a huge international hit, rising to the top of the Billboard Top 100 list the week after his death, and racking up more than 12 million views on YouTube.

Laura has written a memoir about how God used her son's battle with cancer to touch the lives of millions. Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom's Small Prayer in a Big Way, will be released by Nelson Books this week.

God has given me a unique story to tell. It is one of agony and joy, of struggle and resolution, of turmoil and of peace. It is a story of God's extraordinary grace being revealed in miraculous and wondrous ways that I could have never imagined. And it is a story of grief and suffering.

Over the course of our four-year struggle with Zach's illness, I was enlightened to realize how much he was teaching me about how life ought to be lived. Here I give you the seven lessons I learned through Zach's life and death. They're lessons that can be applied in our lives today and everyday, and with practice, have the potential to change who we are. This is who Zach was.

1. Be empathetic. Zach had an enormous capacity for empathy; the ability to put himself in another's shoes. He took the time to pause and understand those he met, no matter how brief that time was; and his ability to connect with people in this way helped him to think outside of himself while battling cancer, often times freeing him from the temptation to despair.

2. Be present. We live in this very small space in time called "the present." Don't squander the joy that can be found in the moment by worrying about a future that doesn't exist yet. Tomorrow will come, but not today.

3. Find joy. Joy and happiness are different. Happiness depends on things outside of ourselves and is fleeting; joy comes from within despite our circumstances. Look for joy every day and nurture it. With every moment of joy comes a choice to allow it or to stifle it with resentment, anger and bitterness. Hard days are full of beautiful moments; look for them and embrace them. It is in the deepest suffering that the sweetest joy can be found.

4. Know you'll suffer. Suffering can be a channel of grace into the world, if you let it. Suffering gives us the platform of a story that people will listen to. Offering the story of our suffering for God to use is a powerful way of unleashing grace into the world. Unbelievable things can happen when we unite our suffering with God's grace.

5. Share yourself. Don't let fear or circumstances stop you from becoming what you were meant to be. Zach didn't start writing songs or singing until the last year of his life. He was willing to share himself and work through a time when many would have closed themselves up. As a result he was able to achieve some amazing things in the last months before he died.

6. Be kind. Use what you have to make the world better. At Zach's visitation I had several teenagers tell me that he changed their day by simply acknowledging them. Zach was passionate about making life better for those around him. A simple smile at someone who is hurting can turn their day completely around. A word of encouragement or sympathy can give someone the strength they need to move forward. Never pass up an opportunity to make life better for someone else.

7. Be open. Open yourself to the twists and turns that life throws at you. Life won't always go the way you plan and that's okay. Roll with it and be open to the lessons to be learned and growth to be gained. And prepare to be surprised by the grace that you will be given and where you end up.

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