Lenten Meditation: Character produces hope

Romans 5:3-4:  “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”


Janis Babson

I was eight years old in June 1963 when the Readers’ Digest arrived in the mail inside its little brown paper wrapper. As usual, I sat down in my favorite overstuffed chair with my skinny legs dangling over the side arm and started at the beginning,  reading the jokes, the short articles and stories on harrowing adventures and rescues, pets that had been lost and found their way home, and then toward the back came to the book excerpt: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” by Lawrence Elliott.

Something about the little girl’s picture at the start of the story captured me right away–she had such friendly eyes with a sunny smile that partially hid buck teeth.  This Canadian child, Janis Babson, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only ten, and despite all efforts to stop the illness, she died in 1961.  The story was written about her determination to donate her eyes after her death, and her courage facing death was astounding.  Being nearly the same age, I was captivated and petrified at the story, amazed at Janis’ straight forward approach to her death, her family’s incredible support of her wishes, and especially her final moments, when (as I recall 47 years later) Janis looked as if she were beholding some splendor, her smile radiant.

”Is this Heaven?” she asked.   She looked directly at her father and mother and called to them:  “Mommy… Daddy !… come… quick !”

And then she was gone.  I cried buckets of tears, reading and rereading that death scene.  My mom finally had to take the magazine away from me and shooed me outside to go run off my grief.  How could I run and play when Janis no longer could?  It was a devastating realization that a child my age could get sick and die, and that God allowed it to happen.

Yet this story was more than just a tear jerker for the readers.  Janis’ final wish was granted –those eyes that had seen the angels were donated after her death so that they would help another person see.  Janis  had hoped never to be forgotten.  Amazingly, she influenced thousands of people who read her story to consider and commit to organ donation, most of whom remember her vividly through that book excerpt in Readers’ Digest.  I know I could not sleep the night after I read her story and determined to do something significant with my life, no matter how long or short it was.  Her story influenced my eventual decision to become a physician.  She made me think about death at a very young age as that little girl’s tragic story could have been mine and I was certain I could never have been so brave and so confident in my dying moments.

She did suffer with her disease, and despite that, she persevered with a unique sense of purpose and mission for one so young.  As a ten year old, she developed character that some people never develop in a much longer lifetime.  Her faith and her deep respect for the gift she was capable of giving through her death brought hope and light to scores of people who still remember her to this day.

Out of the recesses of my memory, I recalled Janis’ story a few months ago when I learned of a local child who had been diagnosed with a serious cancer.  I could not recall Janis’ name, but in googling “Readers’  Digest girl cancer story”,  by the miracle of the internet I rediscovered her name, the name of the book and a discussion forum that included posts of people in their mid-fifties, like me,  who had been incredibly inspired by Janis when they read this same story as a child.  A number were inspired to become health care providers like myself and some became professionals in working with organ donation.

Janis and family, may you know the gift you gave so many people through your courage in suffering, your perseverance, your character and the resulting hope in the glory of the Lord–the angels are coming!

We do remember you!

To join a Facebook page set up by Janis’ family in her memory go here

For excerpts from “The Triumph of Janis Babson”, click here

7 thoughts on “Lenten Meditation: Character produces hope

  1. 1963 was a hectic summer for me, Emily; I needed a couple of credits to graduate from college and got them during the summer term, in addition to my full-time job as the night dispatcher in the district highway patrol office. Dad had a subscription to the READER’S DIGEST but I obviously missed that issue, so thanks for introducing me to Janis even after all these years. It’s not easy to explain to others one’s determination to live a purposeful life, especially in the arts, considering the emphasis on “being a star.” I never lusted for fame, although I did like the idea of being able to buy stuff along — I just wanted to enhance the public joy factor and broaden the collective perception of possibilities, but there were some who declined any assistance in my pursuits simply because I didn’t fit the profile of “a star;” hey, if I couldn’t be the next Elvis or the next James Dean, why bother? Well, I did bother, mostly because I had been admonished in the Bible to not hide my talents. Isn’t it good that we can be inspired by both those who lead and those who would be barriers if we let them?


  2. I was 10 years old when I read the Readers’ Digest book excerpt, initially drawn to the story by the fact that her first name was the same as mine–and even spelled the same way. I read the story several times, crying and praying, utterly amazed at her courage. Her story changed something inside me forever, and although I haven’t thought specifically about Janis in many years, her life, her attitude, her courage in facing death and her ultimate generosity spoke volumes to me as a child, and as I revisit her story, also now as an adult.

    Recently I downloaded into my e-reader a Pulitzer Prize winning book titled ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ which delves into the biology of cancer, with much of the story centering on childhood leukemia. As I began reading this book, Janis came to mind again. I, too, am grateful to her family for sharing her story with the world, giving the reader a glimpse into the soul of beautiful little girl…one who continues to inspire more than 50 years later.


  3. For all interested, please find a new Facebook page dedicated to my aunt Janis:

    Janis Babson Memorial

    Thank you.


  4. “The Triumph of Janis Babson” so inspired my eleven year old heart when I read it all those many years ago. I have never remembered another magazine article like I have that one. Through all these years. I have thought of Janis and the way her story inspired my young life. Because of my deep desire to serve Jesus, her testimony was one of the things that Jesus used to impress upon me the importance of doing His will. I have been in ministry for many years now, and I am thankful for the inspiration of that Reader’s Digest article at a special time in my life. Isn’t it something what the Holy Spirit will use to quicken those hearts that are tender toward Him? Jesus has so wonderfully used Janis’ short life, and because all things He ordains are eternal and will never have an end, her life continues, even to this day, to accomplish that divine will He intended for her. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t Jesus awesome and His ways past finding out? What a great joy it will be to meet Janis in that eternal Paradise one of these days and to tell her what her earthly life meant to me . . . . . .


  5. I was 14 years old when I read Janis’ story. I am now 64 and have never forgotten it. Recently, I found the little book with her story in it, I had originally read the condensed version in Reader’s Digest. You have no idea how happy I was to find this book after 50 years of looking. I also share Janis’ passion for horses and think of her many times when I enjoy my own horses.


  6. For some reason I felt drawn today to “google” the Reader’s Digest story: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” (which I mistakenly remembered as “The Trials of Janis Babson”). Frankly, I was absolutely floored to find information on it on the internet and to find that this little story made as much of an impact on other people’s lives as it had on my own. I am 61!


  7. I read it in the readers digest edition and never forgot . I looked for it for years to share with people . Her story was so touching , so inspirational that it has never been forgotten. I always wonder why there is no movie . I keep praying one will be made . One of her beloved family members could make it.


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