"The great thing about her is that she has been such a special spirit because she has touched so many people’s lives," Ben Howington said. "It’s amazing how somebody can bless so many people’s lives without ever having met them."
Lila went through chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant before the age of 1, and although the tumor came back four months after it was removed and the process had to begin again, the cancer has not returned in five years.
"It just makes you so grateful for them. We feel blessed because it doesn't always have the same outcome for everyone, but that doesn't change the way we felt the Lord's hand in everything," Howington said.
"But we never felt like she was going to leave us, and I know that's because of the eternal nature of families because we're an eternal family."
The Howingtons' appreciation for eternal families and the Atonement of Jesus Christ grew throughout their experience with Lila.
"Nothing is more painful than watching your child suffer," Ben Howington said. "She gave me a much better appreciation and love to my Heavenly Father for allowing Christ to suffer for my sins because it's not easy watching a child suffer. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful. I don’t know how anyone can go through this without having the gospel in their lives, or something. Because nothing makes it more real, the plan of salvation we learn about it, but until it becomes real in your life, you don’t truly understand the amount of gratitude that you have for the knowledge and also just for Heavenly Father."
Through it all, Howington has learned that no matter the hardships life has brought his family, by relying on the Lord he has been able to make it through.
"The Lord builds you up, and he blesses you, and he makes you stronger," Howington said. "I truly believe that everyone has it in them to deal with any trial that's coming because we learn in the scriptures that the Lord will never give us a trial bigger than we can handle."
Since Lila went into remission, she has had an MRI every six months to make sure the cancer has not returned. Howington said these days brought back memories of what had happened and what they hope will never return.
"In between those six months, you forget everything that she's gone through, and then on that date where she goes in for the MRI, it's hard to concentrate on anything," Howington said.
"And then this five-year mark hit. You know they'll never call her cured, but it's them saying, statistically speaking, the chances of it coming back are very slim. We're just so blessed."
That's why as Lila's five-year mark approached, Ben Howington began to work on a secret video to express his gratitude. Because he didn't want it to be influenced by anyone else, he didn't even show Annie until it was complete.
But ever since Howington posted the video to YouTube and showed his family his version of "Families Can Be Together Forever," he has received an overwhelming response.
"I've had people contacting me who aren't LDS, but cancer has affected their lives, and they have felt touched by it, and I think it's a horrible disease, but what a blessing that it brings us all together," Howington said.
"I had one guy who commented on the first day and said it happened to be the four-month anniversary of his daughter who passed away from brain cancer, and he just stumbled upon my blog that morning and posted saying it's what he needed. I don't know how I could feel more honored and blessed and humbled."
Howington has continued to provide guitar tutorials on his website at www.mormonguitar.com in which his children pick a song from the LDS hymnbook for him to arrange each month.
"It's a lot of fun. I love the guitar. I love the hymns," Howington said. "I thought, there is so much crap out there on the Internet that I wanted to do something to try and offset that, and I thought what better way to do that than the hymns."
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