Cameron Cole will never forget the morning of Nov. 11, 2013. When he woke up from a night on a retreat with the youth from Cathedral Church of the Advent, his phone showed a series of missed calls from his wife, Lauren. When he called her back, she told him news that changed their lives forever: their 3-year-old son Cam had died in his sleep.
“The Lord put a word in my mouth that surprised me,” Cameron writes of that moment in his new book Therefore I Have Hope. “When Lauren delivered the tragic news, I said to her, ‘Lauren, Christ is risen from the dead. God is good. This doesn’t change that fact.’”
For the Coles, the weeks and months that followed that morning were every parent’s worst nightmare: dealing with the death of a child. There was no apparent medical reason for Cam’s death. The best answer they got was a rare syndrome, Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC), that occurs in approximately one out of 100,000 children.
Cameron, who serves as minister to families and youth at Cathedral Church of the Advent, will tell you that only because of their faith that he and Lauren were able to survive the onslaught of pain and grief that filled their every waking moment. In the midst of tragedy, though, little Cam’s own words became the seed that compelled his dad to confront that pain and tell Cam’s story so that others might be better able to survive their own tragedies without losing their faith.
Little Boy, Big Thoughts
Cam Cole was a bright-eyed, curly-haired boy who loved fire trucks and Legos. On the Sunday afternoon before he died, a lost Lego piece led to what Cameron called “the most magical conversation of my life.” During a discussion that ranged from Adam and Eve to Jesus’s death and resurrection, Cameron and Lauren realized the depth of their young son’s understanding about spiritual truths—truths that many adults find difficult to understand. “Cam said he wanted to see Jesus,” Cameron says. Their son’s words would bring them immense comfort in the dark days ahead.
As the reality of Cam’s death set in for the Coles, Cameron found himself clinging to 12 truths about God that helped him frame his loss and his pain. Writing became his way to process his grief. “I would go into Cam’s room almost every single night and write,” he says. “It was the best thing I could have done for my own healing and processing.”
For him, it was more than therapeutic, it was “pure survival.” It was also a task that stripped the emotions of both Cameron and Lauren completely bare. Lauren says it was difficult for her to read the early drafts: “When he first started writing, it seemed a little crazy to me because we were not very far removed from Cam’s death. I didn’t know how he could bring such insight into how you navigate grief and tragedy when we were just starting our own journey.” But she understood her husband’s need to work through his grief. “I tried to support Cameron along the way by providing him time to write and to process some things with me,” she says.
Cameron had no idea as he poured out his thoughts in Cam’s room in the evenings that those words would become a book. “I never saw myself as a writer,” he says. Despite having authored a well-received book on Christian youth ministry, he had no ambition to write another one. When the videos of a series of talks he gave on those 12 truths went viral, however, the response was overwhelming. He saw how those talks resonated with listeners, and the idea for a book was born.
The book couldn’t have happened without the support and guidance of his friends, Cameron says. He relied heavily on a number of Mountain Brook advisors to help with writing and editing along the way. Collin Hansen, journalist and editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, “basically walked me through the whole process,” he says. Charlotte Botsford Getz, a friend and former Mountain Brook resident who’s authored a book of her own, was his first editor. Even how Kathy Lawrence, his seventh-grade English teacher at Mountain Brook Junior High, met with him at the Emmett Neal Library over a course of a few months and painstakingly edited every chapter.
Therefore I Have Hope was released this past July after four years and four rewrites. Each time Cameron eliminated a little more personal narrative. The emotion expressed in the book is raw and honest, but through it, Cameron offers a lifeline for the hopelessness many feel when their “worst” happens. For the Coles, it was the loss of their child. For others, it might be a debilitating illness, a tragic accident or a costly personal failing. “We all need hope in our ‘worst,’” he says. “What I find exciting is that the book has been helpful for people who’ve experienced things besides losing a child.”
These days the Cole house buzzes with activity. Cameron continues to serve at Cathedral Church of the Advent and as the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization devoted to encouraging and equipping youth pastors and parents of teens. Lauren manages the busy household—quite the task with three children under the age of six. Even amidst the craziness of life with young children, Lauren and Cameron stress the importance of remembering and celebrating Cam as a family.
Each year they mark Cam’s birthday with a party at one of his favorite places, Overton Park. It’s also where Cam celebrated his first three birthdays, and where fire truck-themed playground equipment – Cam’s Corner–has honored him since friends helped place it there on Cam’s fourth birthday, just shy of a year after his passing. “We’ll invite some of his friends, have cupcakes, and release balloons,” Cameron says. “It’s a really sweet day.”
The family continues their friendship with others who were important to Cam too. “We try to maintain a relationship with some of the firemen we’ve gotten to know over the years, especially the ones that were either at his third birthday party or who responded on November 11, 2013,” Lauren says. Their kids deliver doughnuts to the firemen at the station close to their house, which was one of Cam’s favorite ways to visit with his heroes.
These doughnut deliveries that mark small, everyday ways to remember a little boy with a huge smile, a trusting heart, and a firm belief in the goodness of God. “Cam taught me the importance of investing spiritually in your kids at an early age,” Cameron says. “I think a lot of times our expectations for what kids can know and believe is too low. We get so caught up in the day-to-day earthly things.” He pauses. “I see how many lives have been touched through his life.”
It’s a pretty big impact for such a little boy.
Read the Book
Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy
By Cameron Cole
Available at local booksellers including Barnes and Noble at The Summit and on amazon.com
“Stories like the Coles’ embody the type of flourishing available on the other side or our very worst fears, and this book offers practical ways to find a hope that does not put us to shame no matter what storms may come.”
-Jay and Katherine Wolf, founders of Hope Heals ministry and authors Hope Heals