MCCLURE - The day Natasha Aitkin's son was born, she believed he would be a pastor.
Leland James Aitkins, the second son born to Natasha and Shawn Aitkins, of McClure, arrived on Sept. 1, 2009.
Leland, however, had a short time on earth. He died as the result of an accident on March 15 at 2 1/2 years old.
Natasha Aitkins holds up an ‘L’ to symbolize 2-year-old son, Leland, who died in an accident on March 15. Leland’s picture was printed on a notebook for brother, Aiden, to remember him by.
Natasha and Shawn believe the story of Leland's life and his journey to heaven are like a pastor's service to the people.
Since the spring, the couple has spoken in 15 churches locally, sharing their story of what happened to Leland and how life can end "in the blink of an eye," Natasha said, referring to scripture in I Corinthians 15:52 in which it is explained that Christ will return "in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown."
The petite woman speaks with joy about her pain, wearing a large cross around her neck and clutching a notebook with Leland's portrait on the cover.
"This story is not about Shawn and Natasha," she said, as she sat inside a Beaver Springs restaurant. "This is about how you can still have joy amidst the pain."
March 15 began as a normal day for the Aitkins family. Shawn kissed his wife and children, Aiden, 5, and Leland, 2, told them he loved them and left for work. Natasha recalled that Leland came to her crying shortly after her husband left about a cut on his finger. It looked deep, she said, so she packed up the boys in their vehicle and visited their family doctor in Middleburg. Leland received three stitches. Natasha was so proud of Leland for not making a fuss over the stitches.
As a treat, she decided to get the boys a sandbox they had wanted at a local store. She then visited her parent's home and took the sandbox out of the vehicle, sitting it off to the side just a few feet from her uncle's pick-up truck.
The boys were playing outside as Natasha went inside to chat with her uncle.
"We were talking about salvation of all thingsI was telling him that for anyone it could be your last day here on earth."
They ended their discussion and her uncle told her he had to get going. He headed out to his truck, near where the boys were playing.
"He started the truck. I heard it start and I just ran outside," Natasha said, recalling that her boys were close to the sandbox beside the truck.
"I just had this feeling of 'Oh, no.'"
Her instinct kicked in and she flung her body at the door, swinging it open, she said, and ran outside.
"All I heard him say was 'Momma, Momma,'" Natasha said, and then it was over.
Five-year-old Aiden was away from the truck as it went in reverse but saw the wheels back over his brother.
As Natasha ran to Leland to respond to his cry, she, too, watched the wheel run over his body.
She instantly knew it was his last words she had just heard.
"I ran over to himI remember picking him up" she said as she held out her hands reliving the moment.
As she cried and mourned, she held onto Aiden in one arm as she cradled Leland in the other.
"What are we going to do, mommy?" Aiden asked.
"We're going to pray," she told him, and they prayed for a peace for their family and that God be with them as Leland had gone to be with Jesus.
"I normally would have prayed, 'God save him, please save him.' But it was like God was telling me 'Natasha he is mine.' It was then that I had acceptance."
She noted Leland did not suffer or cry or scream in pain. His departure was instant, and for that she is grateful.
"I was spared to witness that. He went peacefully."
When emergency crews arrived, they were unsure as to what to do since the boy had already passed away.
The responders to the scene asked the grieving mother, "What do you want us to do?" She replied, "I want you to pray with me."
From that moment on, the family decided they would not question the circumstance or ask all of the 'what ifs.'
Two weeks after Leland passed away, the Atkins asked their church leaders at Bannerville Christian and Missionary Alliance if they could hold a revival service with local pastors preaching each night and the couple would share their testimony of how God was helping them with the grieving process.
"I mention how Leland was gone in 'the blink of an eye.' I tell them there is no time to wait. Don't be gambling with your last five minutes of life," she said, referring to how people have told her they would wait to decide about accepting Jesus when the moment of death is near.
She said as she stands in those church sanctuaries telling her story, it does not take long until she sees the faces of those unsure of where they will spend eternity give looks of fear and uncertainty and the tears start to flow.
The Aitkins also share the peace they have in their hearts despite tragedy. They openly share how they grieve their son and cry for him daily and also how they are content knowing God is in control of their lives and that one day they will embrace Leland again.
"I'm so homesick," she said as she looked off into the corner of the restaurant.
On Sept. 1, the couple is holding a party for what would have been Leland's third birthday. They are inviting the public to join them as they release balloons in his honor. The River Church of Mifflintown will provide music with their praise team as the attendees praise God for Leland's life.
The party will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 1, at 595 Walk Snook Road, McClure.
The Aitkins have also started a foundation known as the "Love Jesus Always" Foundation which shares the same beginning letters as Leland James Aitkins. The foundation will help families facing sudden crisis and tragedy with Christian counseling and other needs. The foundation is in infant stages at this time and more decisions need to be made about the details of the group, she noted.
The message, though, is unwavering.
"We want people to understand that in the midst of pain, God is most glorified," she shared.
Natasha said on the day of Leland's accident, many individuals stood on their lawn and in their home for hours showing love and support. Among them were several pastors who were also friends of the family. More than one of them approached Natasha and reminded her of what she had said when Leland entered the world how she felt he would be a pastor.
Each of those pastors then told her as she grieved her son that Leland was and will continue to be a pastor. People will come to know Jesus through this tragedy, they each told her.
"I'm so proud of Leland," Natasha said as she clutched the cross around her neck, "He is our little pastor."