Thumbs Up Mission was God’s idea, not ours.  We are simply stepping into the story that He has woven together.  Anytime a child dies, it is tragic and leaves a deep sense of loss.  In response to that loss, it is very common for foundations to be birthed to carry on the name and memory of the child.

We DID endure the loss of a child in July of 2014, and have experienced all the unspeakable aches that accompany such a loss.  Keaton was 18 years old, and while he was dying of brain cancer, he showed us how to live.  His desire was to spend his life in ministry, pointing others to Jesus.  THAT is precisely what Thumbs Up Mission is designed to do.

 

So how are we planning to do that?  And what exactly dowe mean when we say the mission was “God’s idea?”

 

The answers to those questions are found in a great story.

As we reflected on our two-year journey through cancer, there actually were many blessings along the way, but one stood out in our minds as brighter than all the others.  In March of 2014, our family was given a trip by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  For five glorious days we played and laughed, and banished all cancer treatment activities from our minds.  We treasured that gift of time together, but now that Keaton is gone, the value of that treasure is priceless.  We will NEVER forget it, and will always be grateful for it.

It was during a conversation about that trip that God began the first nudges toward the creation of Thumbs Up Mission.  Keaton’s dad is part of an accountability group and these Christian men encircled us with love and support in the weeks following Keaton’s death.  We began to talk to them about the possibility of starting a foundation, because… well, that’s what we were supposed to do, right?  But frankly – it felt like work.  There was no focus, no direction, and more importantly, no passion.  The men began asking us questions about what had meant the most to us during our journey through cancer.  We told them more stories about our Make-A-Wish trip.  And then…they began to pray.

Just days later, we received a phone call.  A friend of a friend had just been diagnosed with the same kind of brain cancer that Keaton had.  We were asked to talk with the family and share in “layman’s terms” what we had learned from our personal research about treatment options.

 

During that initial conversation, we learned it was the young wife and mother (Ashlee) who had the brain tumor, not a child.  We listened to their story and we shared the scientific facts of what we had learned from our cancer research.  But as the conversations continued, the biggest thought we had was, “That family needs a trip!”

Simply stated, we want to come alongside families in medical crisis to help them make memories that transcend time.

 

Our target market will be different.  We will encourage and strengthen families with school-aged children, in which a parent has been diagnosed with life-threatening cancer.  We will help that family battle fear by infusing hope, inspiring laughter and instilling an eternal perspective.  We want them to have fun and meet Jesus, or come to know Him in a deeper way.

We did some research of a different kind.  We found a gap that we believed God was asking us to fill.  No one does trips better than the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  But their focus is to bless sick CHILDREN.  This family would not qualify under that umbrella.  An idea began to churn, and as we prayed, God began to lift the fog and provide the missing focus and the missing direction for our foundation.  And most importantly, He began to stir a strong passion in us to give to other families what we ourselves had been given.  It’s God’s idea, and we love it.

Remember Ashlee from earlier in our story?  The funding for her family’s trip has already been donated!  It seemed only fitting that our son, Keaton, pay for the inaugural trip of the Thumbs Up Mission from his life’s savings.  Keaton taught us many things during his 6,858 days on earth, but generosity was near the top.  His material needs were simple, thus his birthday and Christmas money repeatedly got shoved into a dresser drawer.  He gave to various causes.  In fact, his inclination was usually to just empty his “money drawer” completely when a cause moved his emotions.  We actually had to coach him to keep some in reserve in case another worthy cause, or just a desire of his own, came along soon. We marveled at that trait in him.  And we learned from his example. We believe he would be thrilled to fund this trip for Ashlee’s family!  This time… we DID empty that drawer, and we’ve never felt better about something.  That joy is a gift of confirmation from God.

So why the quirky name, “Thumbs Up Mission?”  Near the end of Keaton’s life, cancer had taken his ability to communicate verbally.  Instead, he would respond to questions with a smile in his eye and the “thumbs up” signal.  We loved his positive spirit, and we want our foundation to carry that positive focus into a world teeming with hurting families.

We hope this story helps you catch our vision and our passion to help families who need a break from the rigors of cancer treatment.   Keaton gave all he had to fund this first mission, but God will bring more families like Ashlee’s across our path.  How do we know that?  Simple.  This mission is His idea.  Won’t you help us provide trips and memories and faith to families battling cancer?  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21

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© 2023 by Karson Coker.